In English history there are two great names to conjure by, at least to the imaginative. One is Plantagenet, which seems to contain within itself the very essence of all that is patrician, magnificent, and royal. It calls to memory at once the lion-hearted Richard, whose short reign was replete with romance in England and France and Austria and the Holy Land.
But perhaps a name of greater influence is that which links the royal family of Britain today with the traditions of the past, and which summons up legend and story and great deeds of history. This is the name of Stuart, about which a whole volume might be written to recall its suggestions and its reminiscences.
The first Stuart (then Stewart) of whom anything is known got his name from the title of “Steward of Scotland,” which remained in the family for generations, until the sixth of the line, by marriage with Princess Marjory Bruce, acquired the Scottish crown. That was in the early years of the fourteenth century; and finally, after the death of Elizabeth of England, her rival’s son, James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, united under one crown two kingdoms that had so long been at almost constant war.
It is almost characteristic of the Scot that, having small territory, little wealth, and a seat among his peers that is almost ostentatiously humble, he should bit by bit absorb the possessions of all the rest and become their master. Surely, the proud Tudors, whose line ended with Elizabeth, must have despised the “Stewards,” whose kingdom was small and bleak and cold, and who could not control their own vassals.
One can imagine also, with Sir Walter Scott, the haughty nobles of the English court sneering covertly at the awkward, shambling James, pedant and bookworm. Nevertheless, his diplomacy was almost as good as that of Elizabeth herself; and, though he did some foolish things, he was very far from being a fool.
In his appearance James was not unlike Abraham Lincoln—an unkingly figure; and yet, like Lincoln, when occasion required it he could rise to the dignity which makes one feel the presence of a king. He was the only Stuart who lacked anything in form or feature or external grace. His son, Charles I., was perhaps one of the worst rulers that England has ever had; yet his uprightness of life, his melancholy yet handsome face, his graceful bearing, and the strong religious element in his character, together with the fact that he was put to death after being treacherously surrendered to his enemies—all these have combined to make almost a saint of him. There are Englishmen to-day who speak of him as “the martyr king,” and who, on certain days of the year, say prayers that beg the Lord’s forgiveness because of Charles’s execution.