Many of the concerns that Parliament attempted to expose through Sir Thomas Fairfax’s publication of The King’s Cabinet Opened can be found within the correspondence between King Charles I and Queen Henrietta. The one that I found to be extremely controversial was letter XXXI.
This letter is addressed from Queen Henrietta to King Charles I and was sent during her stay in Paris during January of 1644—although it’s hard to tell since the end of the year is cut off. In the letter, the Queen explains to the King that a man named Tom Eliot had informed her not only of the King’s safety, but he also mistakenly informed her that the King was traveling to London to sign a peace treaty. Even though the Ambassador of Portugal delivers a letter from the King, explaining that the treaty is actually going to be signed at Vxbridge instead of London, the Queen boldly cautions the King against going to London and consequently, against the counsel of those who may have suggested such a trip to him.
She blatantly warns, “for the honour of God trust not your selfe in the hands of these people. And if you ever goe to London before the Parliament be ended, or without a good Army, you are lost” (31). What may initially seem to be a wife’s concern for her husband’s well-being can be easily interpreted as threatening by others of a different opinion—especially those of Parliament—when she writes in the next line: “I understand that the propositions for the peace must begin by disbanding the Army; if you conform to this, you shall be lost, they having the whole power of the Militia, they have done and will doe whatsoever you will” (31). She is bold enough to suggest to her husband the idea of sacrificing terms of peace in order to survive: take an army, just in case, even if it means risking the creation of this peace treaty. She goes on to inform him that the Duke of Lorraine—who would later aid the Irish Catholics in their struggle against Oliver Cromwell—is willing to provide 10,000 men to the King’s cause. It’s almost as if the Queen is recruiting men for the king, despite the fact that peace between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians seems to be dependent upon the disbanding of these armies.
She continues to insist that she’ll do anything to aid her husband, even if it means starving to death in order to write him. Her letter reveals that she’s been using both the Duke of Lorraine and a resident of France as means of corresponding with her husband. She urges him to do the same. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, she urges her husband to “above all, have a care not to abandon those who have served you, as well as the Bishops as the poor Catholics,” (31). Although England, and thus the King, is Protestant by law, she urges him to have mercy on these people of opposing religion—heaven forbid!
We may ask, why is this letter so controversial? Well, not only is the female queen suggesting a military tactic to her husband that could potentially jeopardize the peace treaty, but she’s also implicated other countries—mainly France and Portugal—through her use of them as mediators between her husband and her. Worst of all, she’s suggested that the King recognize and look after the very people he should be persecuting, at least in the eyes of English Protestant law: the Bishops and the Catholics. In the annotation, we see the Parliamentarians’ response to these letters and their anxiety over how the queen seems “implacable to [England’s] Religion, Nation, and Government” (44).
Fairfax reveals his purpose behind exposing these letters. He insists that “it concerns you to look both forward and backward, and having now taken the dimension of the Kings minde by his secret Letters, turne about awhile and look upon the same in his publike Declarations,” (49). Similar to the beliefs of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Wiki Leaks, Fairfax felt he had a moral principle to uphold by informing the public of the King’s hypocrisy. At that time, the power of Parliament had been secondary to that of the King’s. In the minds of the Parliamentarian’s, the King’s hypocrisy of his letters and his actions threatened certain ideologies—i.e. those of religion and traditional gender roles. As Peter Ludlow writes in his article, “The Banality of Systemic Evil,” sometimes “systems [of obedience] are optimized for their own survival and preventing the system from doing evil may well require breaking with organizational niceties, protocols or laws,” (Ludlow). Parliament thoroughly considered the King’s compromise of traditional English ideologies to be evil. Therefore, they felt it necessary to step out of this traditional system of obedience in order to prevent the continuation of certain other “evils.”
What I find interesting is the demonizing effect that the exposure of these letters had on certain groups of people, not just the King. Similar to how Jeffrey Tobin questions the “real impact” of Edward Snowden’s exposure of government secrets—in his article titled, “The Real Impact of Edward Snowden”—I think it’s important to consider the impact that such exposure of the King’s letters must have had on others, such as Catholics. Yes, the idea of parliament promoting the voice of the people over that of a hypocritical monarch’s seems positive. But it’s also important to look at the ideologies they use to condemn the King’s hypocrisy. They feel threatened by Catholicism and the idea of a female influence. These letters show the King and Queen to be working together to advise one another on important, political affairs. At some points, they even seem to promote a type of religious toleration. So why should asking for input, especially from your spouse, be a bad thing? Why does religious toleration of Catholics, or any other religion for that matter, have to be so threatening in the first place? These are the types of questions that should be raised and used to consider the anxiety created by the exposure of these letters. Even though the idea of Parliament’s civil disobedience is respectable, the grounds they use for disobeying are often exclusively narrow.