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touched by the statute of monopolies in 1624, and it is to this day held by lawyers to be in accordance with the law of England.1

Accordingly the objection raised in the following session against the patents of 1611 and 1616 was not that they conferred a monopoly upon a manufacture introduced from abroad, but that, in point of fact, the manufacture was not introduced by the patentees at all. To do them justice, those who spoke on behalf of the Government always acknowledged that, according to the strict letter of the law, this was true. Gold thread, they said, had been manufactured in England before. Stripped of its technicalities, their language amounts to this :-Though the patentees were not the first to make the thread in England, they were the first to set up a manufacture on a sufficient scale to compete with the importation from the Continent. The object of the grant had not been primarily to reward the patentees, but to benefit the nation; and, if it had been shown that, owing to the efforts of the patentees, the manufacture could be introduced on a large scale into England, the Government had been justified in overriding the claims of those whose labours, whatever they were, had failed in bringing the manufacture into English hands.

Such ideas, which had justified the monopoly in the eyes of Ellesmere, were likely to have their full weight with Bacon. Yet it must be acknowledged that, in refusing to submit his case to the Court of Exchequer, he could hardly fail to have been led by stronger reasoning. Nor is it difficult to discover what that reasoning was. To him and to his contemporaries a trade in gold and silver stood upon a peculiar footing. To us a dealer in the precious metals is no more than a dealer in cotton or iron. To the men of the seventeenth century he was a dealer

1 By the statute of monopolies patents for fourteen years may be granted for the 'sole working or making of any manner of new manufactures within this realm.' The interpretation put upon this is, that 'a person who first imports an invention publicly known abroad into this country is the first inventor within these realms.' Chitty, Collection of Statutes, ed. 1853, iii. 445, note b.

in the very wealth of the country. To allow gold and silver to be tampered with by artisans who were under no supervision, was to authorise the most unblushing robbery of the commonwealth. The patentees had offered to meet the difficulty. They had engaged to import 5,000l. worth of bullion every year, and the King's agents would of course inherit the engagements of the patentees. If wealth were to be frittered away in adorning the dress of fine ladies and fine gentlemen, it should be the wealth of Spaniards and Frenchmen, and not the wealth of Englishmen. Such arguments sound strange enough to us, but we cannot hope to arrive at truth if we do not take them into consideration.


In an Act of the reign of Henry VII., Bacon found the weapon that he needed. The goldsmiths had urged that they The Act of had made gold thread before Dike and Fowle. Henry VII. reply of the Government was that, if this was the case, they had broken the law; for the law expressly forbade any goldsmith to melt or sell gold and silver except for certain special objects, amongst which the manufacture of gold or silver lace was not to be found. The action in the Court of Exchequer had therefore become irrelevant, and as no one else had a right to make the thread, the King might properly take the manufacture into his own hands.

The first

That in pursuance of a great public object Bacon should have thought himself justified in raking up an obsolete statute is easily conceivable. But it must have required all commission. his belief in the prerogative to bring him to consent to set aside entirely the jurisdiction of the ordinary law courts by the issue of a commission for the discovery and punishment of offenders against the proclamation.

It was not long before the new Commissioners, the most active of whom was Sir Francis Michell, were hard at work.

Imprisonment of workmen.

Instruments were seized and artificers imprisoned on every side. Yet even these stringent measures were insufficient to suppress competition. The King was again appealed to, and, upon the advice of Bacon, Montague, and Yelverton, a fresh commission was issued in October, increasing the powers of the members and authorising




the prosecution of offenders in the Star Chamber. Several

Second commission.

new names were added to the list of Commissioners, amongst others, that of the notorious Mompesson, whose unscrupulous energy in carrying out the patent for inns marked him out as a person who would render good service in hunting down the opponents of the monopoly of gold and silver thread.

A prosecution was accordingly commenced in the Star Chamber; but, for some reason or another, it was not proceeded with. On the other hand the Commissioners were more active than ever. In the spring of 1619 there were fresh imprisonments; houses were broken into, and tools and engines seized.

1619. Renewed imprison


upon the


It was at this time that a new plan was suggested to James by Bacon and Montague.1 The goldsmiths and silkmen, they Bonds forced thought, might be required to enter into bonds not to sell their wares to unlicensed persons. The King and silkmen. accepted the proposal, and wrote a letter recommending it to the Commissioners.2 Mompesson and Michell at once hastened to carry the scheme into execution. Five silk-mercers were brought before the commission. Mompesson told them that if they refused to seal the bonds 'all the prisons in London should be filled, and thousands should rot in prison.' Those, however, who were interested in the monopoly were anxious to secure higher authority on their side than Mompesson and Michell. Yelverton was one of the Commissioners, and his support would be worth having; but it was known that, frightened at the irritation aroused, he was growing cold in the affair. Sir Edward Villiers accordingly visited him, hoping to spur him on to action. The business, he said, lay a bleeding, and if he did not help him all would be lost. Yelverton hardly knew what to do. He was afraid of giving offence to Buckingham, and he was no less afraid of giving offence to everybody else. At last he decided upon a middle course. He committed the silk-mercers to the Fleet, but at the same time threw the whole burden of the responsibility upon


Elsing's Notes, 43.

2 Ibid.

Bacon. If the Lord Chancellor, he said, did not confirm the commitment, he would instantly release them. Bacon, who never shrank from responsibility, had the men brought before him, heard what they had to say, and sent them back to prison.

The whole City was in an uproar. Four aldermen offered to stand bail for the prisoners in 100,000l. A deputation was sent to the King, who, after listening to the objections against the proceedings of the Commissioners, answered that he would not govern his subjects by bond, and ordered the men to be set at liberty.1

Such, at least, is the story in the only form in which it has come down to us. It rests upon Yelverton's evidence, which Bacon never had an opportunity of correcting. It is of course possible that Bacon, with his high ideas of the prerogative, might have felt it right to commit the prisoners simply for contempt and that he may have cheerfully acquiesced in the appearance of the King upon the scene, to smooth down the asperities which had been the result of the conduct of the Commissioners.2 However this may have been, the concession thus made was not the commencement of any change clamation. of policy. On October 10, a fresh proclamation was issued, authorising the continuance of the system.

Second pro


Whereas," such was the preamble of the proclamation, "the art or mystery of making gold and silver thread (a commodity of continual use in this our kingdom of England) hath formerly been used and made by strangers in foreign parts only, and from thence transported into this our realm, but of late hath been practised by some of our loving subjects, who

1 The fact that the liberation by the King occurred at this stage of the proceedings, which was a matter of inference before, is placed beyond doubt by a passage in Serjeant Crewe's statement before the House of Lords on April 18, 1621. "The second proclamation came after the commitment and the King's enlargement."-Elsing's Notes, 5. In the printed volume this stands: "The two proclamations," &c. I have not the MS. to refer to, but I suspect the words as here given are correct. They were taken from the original by myself, and if the other reading is right, Crewe must have said what was obviously untrue.

2 See Mr. Spedding's remarks in Bacon's Letters and Life, vii. 205.




by their great charge and industry have so well profited therein, and attained to such perfection in that art that they equal the strangers in the skilful making thereof, and are able by the labours of our own people to make such store as shall be sufficient to furnish the expense of this whole kingdom :—And whereas we, esteeming it a principal part of our office as a king and sovereign prince to cherish and encourage the knowledge and invention of good and profitable arts and mysteries, and to make them frequent amongst our own people, especially such wherein our people may employ their labours comfortably and profitably, and many thereby may be kept from idleness, hereby to preserve and increase the honour and wealth of our State and people-And finding that the exercising of this art or mystery (considering the continual use of bullion to be spent in the manufacture thereof) is a matter of great importance, and therefore fitter for our own immediate care than to be trusted into the hands of any private persons, for that the consumption or preservation of bullion, whereof our coins, the sinews and strength of our state, are made, is a matter of so high consequence as it is only proper for ourself to take care and account of :-We have heretofore, to the good liking of the inventors thereof, taken the said manufacture of gold and silver thread into our hands, and so purpose to retain and con tinue it, to be exercised only by agents for ourselves, who shall from time to time be accountable to us for the same."

These words may fairly be taken as Bacon's defence of himself. It is impossible for any candid person to read them without coming to the conclusion that he was conBacon's policy. tending for a great public policy. That his policy was erroneous there can be no doubt whatever. It was not really of the slightest importance that bullion should be kept within the realm by artificial means. It was of the very highest importance that questions arising from royal grants should not be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, to be placed in the hands of a Royal Commission. But in justice. to Bacon it must be remembered that his constitutional theory was never fairly carried out. He would have assigned large powers to the Crown, but he would have kept those powers

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