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fore moved that these referees might be sent for, in order that the House might know upon what grounds they had acted.

Coke's position in the House.

Noy's proposal was seconded by Coke. The old lawyer, now once more after a long lapse of years a member of the House of Commons, took up at once the foremost position amongst his colleagues. His amazing selfconfidence, and the facility with which he drew from the vast stores of his legal knowledge the precise argument most applicable to the occasion, made his services indispensable to an assembly of which the great majority were without much experience in the details of public business. With the feelings and prejudices of the House he was, on his own narrow ground, thoroughly in unison. It is true that in attacking the referees he was attacking Bacon, and that long rivalry, ending as it had in his own final discomfiture, had embittered his feelings towards the Chancellor. But it would be unfair to think of him as merely actuated by personal motives. Of justice in the highest sense of the word he knew nothing. Of the worth of liberty, or of the principles of political economy, he knew as little. But he had high ideas of his own duty to wage war with corruption and maladministration, and the idolatry with which he regarded the system of the Common Law made him intolerant of any attempt to thrust it aside from its supremacy. He was fortunate in the disgrace which had deprived him of the power to oppress, and had converted him into the opponent of oppression. He was, above all, fortunate in the epoch in which he lived. Two hundred years later his name would have gone down to posterity, with Eldon's, as that of a bigoted adversary of all reform. As it was, his lot was cast in an age in which the defence of the technicalities of law was almost equivalent to a defence of law itself. It is better, in the end, that the popular ideas of right should be enlarged, than that the administration of justice should be improved; and so it came to pass that Coke, in the stand which he made against the arbitrary tribunals, which had of late years been so plentifully introduced, was, in his blind and rugged fashion, paving the way

1621

THE PATENTS ATTACKED.

41

for the advent of a justice which he would himself have been the first to denounce.

The patent for inns.

Feb. 20.

One

Great was the joy of the House at this accession of a Privy Councillor to the views which the vast majority entertained. "This," said Alford, an old member, who had represented Colchester ever since the death of Elizabeth, "is the first Parliament that ever I saw Councillors of State have such care of the State." The Commons did not indeed adopt Noy's proposal for an inquiry into the conduct of the referees, but the next day a Committee of the whole House commenced an investigation into the patent for inns. Mompesson, who was himself a member of the House, was subjected to a rigorous examination. One speaker after another rose to denounce his extortions. At last a letter was produced in which he had threatened a justice of the peace with punishment, unless he desisted from his efforts to shut up an inn which was notoriously a mere haunt of thieves and drunkards. Bad as were Mompesson's own oppressions, those of his subordinates were worse. evening, the Committee was informed, an agent of the Commissioners, named Ferrett, knocked at the door of a certain Cooke, an old man of eighty, who kept an alehouse at Brewood in Staffordshire, but who, not having an innkeeper's licence, was, at least according to Mompesson's interpretation of the law, liable to a fine if he took in strangers at night. Eager to appropriate a portion of the expected fine, the informer hit upon a mode of proceeding as simple as it was infamous. The night, he said, was coming on, and unless shelter were given him, he was certain to fall into thẻ hands of thieves. Cooke listened to his tale with compassion, left his own bed to make room for him, and turned his cow into the field to provide shelter for the traveller's horse. Ferrett had got what he wanted. He turned sharply upon his bewildered host. "This is well," he said. "You are one of those that I look for; you keep an inn, you receive a horse and man." It is true that the Commissioners did not support their agent in his iniquity; but it was no slight matter that the poor old man should have been compelled to incur the

trouble and expense of pleading his cause in London before redress was to be had.1 So at least the Committee thought. The patent was unanimously condemned, and Coke was chosen to report the decision to the House.2

The patent for alehouses.

The patent for alehouses came next. It was discovered that behind the names of Dixon and Almon, the nominal February. patentees, were concealed those of Christopher Villiers and other hangers-on of the Court. Instead of seriously setting to work to suppress drunkenness, the patentees had contented themselves with extorting fines from such alehouse-keepers as were ready to purchase permission to break the law with impunity.3

Sir F.
Michell.

In the course of the inquiry the name of Sir Francis Michell had been prominently brought forward as having abused his powers as a magistrate by using them to support the iniquities complained of. He replied by handing in a petition in defence of his conduct. All that he had done, he said, had been approved by the most eminent lawyers. The House refused to listen to his excuse. He was, it was said, one of the first advisers of the patent. He had appropriated a large share of the booty. He had written letters authorising some of the worst extortions. Coke moved that he should be sent to the Tower, and declared to be unfit to remain on the Commission of the Peace. The excitement in the House rose with the prospect of finding a victim. Member after member declared that this would not be enough. Let the wretch be disabled from sitting upon any commission whatever. Let a paper setting forth his offences be fixed upon his hat as he rode to the Tower. Let him for the future be dubbed an Ale-knight. Let him be exempted from the general pardon at the end of the session. At last, however, Coke's motion was carried without substantial alteration.1

The story was adopted by the House and inserted in their charge against Mompesson, from which I have printed extracts in a paper On Four Letters from Lord Bacon, in vol. xli. of the Archæologia. ? Proceedings and Debates, i. 63, 69, 73.

3 Ibid. i. 75, 78.

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1621

ATTACK ON MOMPESSON.

43

Those who declaim against Bacon's dread of placing the supreme power at once in the hands of the House of Commons, would do well to ponder over these proceedings.

Michell was no doubt a knave; but, for the sake of innocent men, it was not well that even knaves should be treated thus. He had not been heard in his own defence. So far from having been brought to a legal trial, he had not been allowed the ordinary formality of a stated charge. Never, in its worst days, was the Star Chamber guilty of a more contemptuous disregard of the barriers which have been thrown up for the preservation of innocence by the laws of England.

Sir G.

Alarmed by Michell's fate, Mompesson threw himself upon the mercy of the House. He acknowledged that the patent for inns had been justly condemned as a grievance, Mompesson. and that he had been to blame for permitting the abuses which had attended its execution. His admission was treated by the House with the silence of contempt. On the 27th, Coke reported that Mompesson had been the original projector of the scheme; that much oppression had been exercised by him as a commissioner; and that no less than 3,320 innkeepers had been vexed with prosecutions for the breach of obsolete statutes. Finally, he added, that it had been proved that out of sixty inns licensed in the single county of Hants, no less than sixteen had been previously closed by the justices as disorderly houses.1

The jurisdiction

of the Commons.

In spite of the severity of his language, Coke did not conclude with a motion that Mompesson should share the fortunes of Michell. He had been reminded, no doubt, that the House had not merely broken through the usual safeguards of justice, but that it had assumed a jurisdiction to which it had no claim whatever. He now spoke as a man who is put upon his defence. With his usual fertility of resource, he acknowledged that the Commons had no jurisdiction over Michell's original crime ; but he had presented an insolent petition, and they had a right

1 Proceedings and Debates, i. 89, 100, 102.

to punish him for that, as for an insult to themselves. Having thus covered his retreat, he made no opposition to a proposal that Noy and Hakewill should be sent to search for precedents amongst the records in the Tower.

A very short time sufficed for the investigation. As every lawyer knew, no precedent was in existence by which the jurisdiction assumed in the case of Michell could be justified for an instant. Coke accordingly turned round with the stream, and poured forth a flood of precedents in condemnation of a claim which had been put forward at his own motion a few days before. The House at once followed him in his retractation, and acknowledged by its vote that it had no right to inflict punishment for any general grievance without the concurrence of the House of Lords. It declared that if Mompesson had been committed to the custody of the Serjeant-atArms, it was merely as a measure of precaution, till the Lords had decided upon his fate.

Mompesson's escape.

The Commons accordingly asked for a conference. Every day charges were accumulating against Mompesson. The part which he had played in carrying out the patent for gold and silver thread, and another patent for the discovery of Crown estates which had improperly found their way into the hands of private owners, was not forgotten. Before the last-named patent, it was said, no man's property would be safe. A century of quiet possession would not suffice, if the slightest flaw could be discovered in his title. Coke immediately brought in a bill to bar the claim of the Crown after sixty years' possession. But it was evident, from the language used, that the House would not be satisfied with providing for the future. Mompesson was thoroughly alarmed. When the officers were sent to arrest him, he asked leave to step for an instant into another room, jumped out of window, and fled for his life. As soon as his escape was known, the ports were stopped; and at the request of the two Houses a proclamation was issued for his apprehension. It was too late, as he had already succeeded in crossing the Channel; and the Commons were forced to content themselves with the ex

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