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Dec. 17.

able concession. He had, at Williams's suggestion, lowered his demands till he asked for nothing more than a mere polite acknowledgment of a historical fact. But he had not adopted Williams's suggestion that he should himself acknowledge that time had converted privileges which were once precarious into rights inherent in the persons of the members of the House. He allowed it to be seen that, though he had no intention of putting forth his powers of interference with the present House, he refused to abandon the rights which he supposed himself to possess. What those rights precisely were he did not think fit to state, and it is probable that if he had attempted to do so it would have appeared at once that his pretensions were incompatible with those of the House. Now that the question had been stirred, the Commons, with every desire to make their peace with the King, were driven to ask for more than this. No sooner, therefore, was the letter read in the House on Monday morning, than Coke rose. Rugged and irascible as he was, he had an ingrained reverence for his Sovereign, and from the very commencement of the proposal. session he had aimed at bringing about a close union between the King and the Houses, by the simple process of inducing both to accept the doctrines which he himself pronounced to be right. He now stood forth as a peacemaker, by giving his support to the proposition which had been made by Wentworth at the last meeting. The King's message, he said, contained an allowance of all their privileges. For they claimed nothing but what was theirs already by law, by prececedent, and by Act of Parliament. What was needed now was to know precisely what those privileges were. If they were to set them down in writing, it would clear them of all these rubs.1 The next morning, just as the members were preparing to Dec. 18. take Coke's proposal into consideration, they were The King's met by one more letter from the King. If they offer to relinquish wished, he said, to have the session ended at Christmas, they must go to business at once. If they did that, he would be willing to postpone the passing of the Subsidy Bill till the next session.2

Coke's

the subsidy.

1 Proceedings and Debates, ii. 341.

2 The King to the Speaker, Dec. 17, Proceedings and Debates, ii. 350.

1621

THE COMMONS' PROTESTATION.

Such a letter was a direct insult to the Commons.

261

James,

it seemed, was prepared to bribe them into a surrender of their privileges by relinquishing a grant of money which his ministers, speaking again and again in his name, had declared to be absolutely needed for the defence of the Palatinate. Yet such was the temper of these loyal subjects, that they refused to see what the King meant. They sent a deputation to thank him for his gracious letter, and, after intimating that they would prefer a simple adjournment, proceeded to appoint a sub-committee to draw up the protestation suggested by Wentworth and Coke.

Those who were entrusted with the duty knew that their time was short. The next morning the Parliament might be adjourned or prorogued, and the opportunity would be gone. It was, therefore, ordered that the House should meet in the afternoon to receive the protestation.

By the dim candle-light in the gloom of that December afternoon, the Commons-ready as they were, in the warmth of their inflexible loyalty, to trust their King with everything save with those liberties which, handed down to them from generations, had been sometimes infringed, but never, save in a moment of thoughtlessness, relinquished-laid claim to the rights which, for the sake of themselves and their posterity, they dared not abandon.

"The Commons now assembled in Parliament," So ran The Pro- this memorable protest, "being justly occasioned testation. thereunto, concerning sundry liberties, franchises, and privileges of Parliament, amongst others not herein mentioned, do make this protestation following:

"That the liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England; and that the arduous and urgent affairs concerning the King, state, and defence of the realm and of the Church of England, and the making and maintenance of laws, and redress of grievances, which daily happen within this realm, are proper subjects and matter of counsel and debate in Parliament; and that in the handling and proceeding of those businesses every member

of the House hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech, to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the

same :

"That the Commons in Parliament have like liberty and freedom to treat of those matters, in such order as in their judgments shall seem fittest, and that every such member of the said House hath like freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, and molestation other than by the censure of the House itself, for or concerning any bill, speaking, reasoning, or declaring of any matter or matters, touching the Parliament or Parliament business; and that, if any of the said members be complained of and questioned for anything said or done in Parliament, the same is to be shewed to the King by the advice and assent of all the Commons assembled in Parliament, before the King give credence to any private information."1

It is entered on the

journals.

In the preceding debates, it had been suggested by some speakers that the protestation should be laid before the King. The House would not hear of it. There was to be no attempt to bandy words with their Sovereign any further. He might, if he pleased, consider that nothing more had been done than to carry out the suggestions of his own letter. He should not be asked to retract or to explain away his words. The protestation was simply to be entered on their Journals, there to remain as of record. 2

Its value.

The House by which this protestation was adopted was, as James afterwards contemptuously asserted, not a full one. Some may have stayed away through fear of offending the Court; but there may well have been others whose minds were distracted by opposing duties. There can have been few who really expected anything else than a rupture with the King after the step which was being taken, and it was certain that a rupture with the King would cloud the prospects of an English intervention in the Palatinate. Yet, much as we must sympathize with the feeling which urged these men to risk the loss of their own privileges in the defence of the Con2 Ibid. ii. 360.

1 Proceedings and Debates, ii. 359.

1621

THE COMMONS' PROTESTATION.

263 tinental Protestants, it is indubitable that those who saw their first duty in the needs of their own country, chose the better part. Even if there had been more chance than there was that anything worthy of England would be effected by James upon the Continent, the cause of political liberty at home was at least as worth struggling for as the cause of such religious liberty as was represented by Frederick abroad. It is, indeed, true, that to us who look upon the dispute with the assistance of a long series of historical investigations, there is something unreal in the weapons which were used on both sides. The privileges of the House, growing up as they did in the midst of the living forces by which the constitution was moulded, and swaying backwards and forwards with the fortunes of contending parties, were certainly not acquired, as James asserted, by the mere grace and permission of the Crown. Nor can they be said, at least to the extent to which they were claimed by the House of Commons, to be the ancient and undoubted inheritance of Englishmen. There had been times when the Lower House had been far too weak to take up the prominent position to which it was now entitled; but in its spirit, at least, the assertion made by the House of Commons was true to the fullest extent. By the old constitution of England, long before the Norman Conquest placed its mark for good and for evil upon our polity, the burden of government had been shared between the kings of English race and that free assembly which was formed promiscuously, and as it were by hazard, out of all classes of the community. Nor had the change which followed upon the defeat of Hastings effected any permanent alteration. If the voice of the ordinary freeman was no longer to be heard, still the Great Council gathered round the Sovereign, ready to vindicate, sword in hand, any attempt to crush down into silence the voice of the Norman Baronage. When once more the Commons appeared by representation on the scene, it was not at first to take the government of the nation into their hands, but to add weight by their voices either to the Crown or to the nobility in turn. That the position which they now claimed was in some respects new it is impossible to deny. They, and not the

lords, stepped forth as the representatives and the leaders of the English nation. All precedents of ancient freedom and right now centred in them. It was nothing to them that their predecessors in the Plantaganet reigns had sometimes spoken with bated breath, and had often been reluctant to meddle with affairs of state. It was for them to take up the part which had been played by the barons who had resisted John, and by the earls who had resisted Edward. Here and there, it might be, their case was not without a flaw; but the spirit of the old constitution was upon their side. The rights which they demanded had been sometimes in abeyance, but had never been formally abandoned. What was more to the purpose, it was absolutely necessary that they should be vindicated if England was any longer to be a land of freemen. If they were lost, the last refuge of free speech was gone. At the will of the King the clergy could be disciplined, and the judges could be dismissed. At the will of the King, books could be suppressed, and their authors imprisoned. Within the walls of Parliament alone could words be spoken which must reach his ears, and not only did he refuse to listen to those words, but he claimed the right of punishing those by whom they were uttered. If this claim were allowed, all other liberties were at an end. If it were successfully resisted, all other liberties, civil and religious, would revive and flourish.

To lead his subjects, or to be thrust aside by them, is the choice set before every man who attempts to govern men. James, at his very best-and in listening to Digby's counsel he was at his very best-could never govern England. All that he could do was to set up barricades, by which to thwart and hamper the onward march of those who were stepping into his place.

The last sitting of the House on the morning of the 19th passed off quietly. The Commons were told that in compliance with their request, Parliament would be adThe last journed til February. They were able to separate with a dim hope that their efforts to serve both their King and their country had not been thrown away.1

Dec. 19.

sitting.

James took some days to consider what he would do. At Proceedings and Debates, ii. 361.

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