Page images
PDF
EPUB

1618

THE PATENT FOR ALEHOUSES.

5

their duties, and had granted licences in profusion. They had accordingly been admonished to be more careful in future.1 Certain forms were to be observed in the granting of licences, and the proceedings were to be certified to the Council. A small fee was to be charged upon the licences, for the benefit of the Exchequer. Against this latter innovation, the Commons protested in 1610, as an infringement of their rights of taxation; and the order for the fee was at once withdrawn. As, however, no objection was raised to the demand for a certificate to the Council, it is to be inferred that no scruple was felt on that score.2

Still, in spite of all that the Council could do, the number of alehouses increased. In 1616, James complained bitterly of the evil. These houses, he said, were the lurking-places of thieves and desperadoes. They even afforded shelter to deerstealers. At last some one proposed that he should take them under his own supervision. There was, it was true, a legal difficulty in the way, as the right of granting licences was vested by Act of Parliament in the justices of the peace. But, a device was discovered by which the Act could be circumvented. The justices were to continue to grant the licences, and to take the recognisances; but the recognisances, as soon as they were taken, were to be certified into the King's Bench. Two persons, Dixon and Almon, were nominated by patent to keep an eye upon offenders, and to see that those alehousekeepers who deserved punishment did not escape through the undue leniency of the justices.

Some arrangement of the kind may possibly have been needed in many parts of the country, but the method adopted conveyed a deadly affront to the country gentlemen, who were held to be incapable of keeping order in their own neighbourhood. Nor was the ill-feeling aroused likely to be allayed when it was known that the forfeitures accruing to the Exchequer from the activity of the patentees were already shared in

1 The King to the Mayor and Justices of Southampton, March 30, 1608, Cott. MSS. Tit. B. iii. fol. 1.

2 Cott. MSS. Tit. B. iii. fol. 2.

3 Speech in the Star Chamber, King James's Works, 522.

advance by half-a-dozen courtiers, amongst whom the name of Christopher Villiers was conspicuous.1

Patents of this character were objectionable on many grounds. Far greater indignation was, however, directed against those which conferred grants to which the hated name of Monopolies. monopoly could be affixed. Yet a careful examination of these grants will convince us that they were not open to the charges which are habitually brought against them. They

1 Grant to Dixon and Almon, March 11, 1618, Patent Rolls, 15 Jac. I. Part 23. Buckingham to Bacon, Jan. II. Bacon to Buckingham, Jan. 25, 1618, Letters and Life, vi. 289, 294. The following notes show that after the patent was granted the affair was laid before the judges "Conference of the King with the judges at Greenwich, June 28,

1618.

[ocr errors]

"Then touching alehouses there was a project, as it seems, delivered to the King, which he read; whereupon it was thought fit (because it was said that the Justices of the Peace were to blame, either in not taking or not certifying their recognisances) that therefore no licences should be granted but in open sessions, and that they should be of the sufficienter sort of men.

"But where it was now put in practice that all such recognisances were by certiorari fetched into the King's Bench, it was holden very inconvenient, for it is said that every recognisance brought in doth cost in fees more than 20s. there. When they are there, they are asleep; for who can come hither to inform the breach? It was used for a favour when a recusant was indicted, to remove the indictment into the King's Bench; for that made a surcease of proceedings. And when the pretence was that recognisances were not returned, and that this way should discover that abuse :-Nihil minus; for how shall they know what recognisances are wanting, except they be sure of all the alehouses licensed through the several shires, which is impossible for the judges ever to take knowledge of. But in the several counties it is not hard both to know all the faults both in the justices and in the alehouses, and to punish and redress them ; and therefore the law left them there to be prosecuted.

"In the end his Majesty left it to the consideration of the judges in point of conveniency touching this new use of recovering the recognisances."-Tanner MSS. lxxiv. fol. 79.

Unfortunately we have not the final answer of the judges. But it will be seen that no point of law was raised against the patent, and that though the opinion of the judges, so far as it went, was adverse, there was no attempt to override it, but that the question was left to their further consideration.

1618

THEORIES ABOUT MONOPOLIES.

7

were not made with the object of filling the Exchequer. They were not made, primarily, at least, with the object of filling the pockets of the courtiers. They were, it is impossible to doubt, the result of a desire on the part of official persons to encourage commerce, and to promote the welfare of the State, though it cannot be denied that their zeal was often greater than their knowledge, and that their best efforts were not unfrequently tainted by that atmosphere of favouritism and corruption which clung like a dank exhalation to everything that was best at the Court of James.

The general principle almost universally recognised at this time on the subject of monopolies, was much the same as that

Theories held on them.

which has lain at the root of all subsequent legislation on the subject. As a rule, such grants were held to be illegal, as encroaching upon the rights of the subject to the exercise of his trade. Exceptions might be made whenever anyone either invented or introduced from other countries a new method of manufacture. By such a grant no one, except the purchaser, would be injured; and even he would, in the long run, be compensated for the high price which he would at first be called upon to pay, by the cheapness which would be the eventual result of enterprise and invention.

[ocr errors]

This rule having once been laid down, it is evident that there would be considerable difference of opinion as to the proper mode of applying it in practice. The great body of purchasers would demand that it should be interpreted as strictly as possible, and that nothing beyond the actual invention should be covered by the guarantee; whilst the official, who had to consider the propriety of making the grant, might either be induced through negligence to encourage a lax interpretation of the rule, or might even, from a mistaken sense of duty, be led to stretch the concession so as to cover manufactures which were not in any sense new inventions, but which it was thought to be in accordance with the public interest to place under a special supervision.

Of the many grants of this nature which are to be found upon the Patent Rolls, there are not a few which never provoked

1616.

lobsters.

any adverse criticism at all. They were mere protections to new inventions, such as might be granted at the present day. But the features of others were more or less objectionable. In 1616, two men named Bassano and Vandrey asked for a patent on the ground that they had invented a method by Salmon and which fish might be kept alive in boats, thereby enabling them to bring salmon and lobsters from Ireland to the London market. Their petition was supported by the Company of Fishmongers, and they obtained a patent, granting to them the sole right of bringing in fish from such rivers and seas as had not hitherto furnished supplies to the population of London. It was a patent which would not indeed be in accordance with modern practice; for it was always possible that it might prevent some other person from attaining the same result by a different and improved method; but practically no great harm would have been done, if the patentees had kept within the letter of their privilege. They soon found that it was easier to plunder poor fishermen than to establish extensive fisheries in Ireland. Their agents lay in wait for the boatmen at the mouth of the Thames, and ordered them to make over to them the contents of their lobster-pots for a mere pittance, far below the value of the fish, in order that they might themselves sell them at a monopoly price.1

1620.

Such grievances were widely felt. But they were caused rather by the difficulty of obtaining redress from a patentee than by the inherent defects of the patents themselves. There were other cases calculated to rouse far deeper indignation; for in these it seemed that the rule, which was generally accepted, had been deliberately broken through. It will be sufficient to mention two instances: that of the patent for the manufacture of glass, and that of the patent for the manufacture of gold and silver thread.

In 1574, an attempt was made by a Venetian, named Versellini, to rival in England the products of the world-famous

1 Grant to Bassano and Vandrey, Jan. 27, 1616, Patent Rolls, 13 Jac. I., Part 16, Proceedings and Debates, i. 295.

1574

THE GLASS MANUFACTURE.

9

glass-works of Murano. A patent had been granted to him by Elizabeth, conferring upon him the sole right of making such glass in England. Upon the expiration of the patent it had been re-granted to

1574. The manu facture of glass.

Sir Jerome Bowes.1

1611.

1613.

The glass thus made had been produced in furnaces heated with wood. In 1611, Sir Edward Zouch and three other persons obtained a patent for a process which enabled them to use coal.2 In 1613, Zouch and his partners applied for an extension of their powers. They had been originally directed not to infringe upon Bowes's patent, and they had accordingly confined themselves to the manufacture of the commoner kinds of glass. They now stated that their furnaces had been put to the test of experience, and were answering their purpose admirably. They had spent 5,000l. in the process, and they could not expect to recover their expenses unless the whole manufacture were placed in their hands by the overthrow of all existing patents except their own.

As a mere matter of political economy, no demand could be more outrageous. But to the Privy Council it was something more than a mere matter of political economy. For some time the waste of wood in England had attracted attention, and fears were frequently expressed that unless some remedy were provided, it would soon be impossible to find timber for the navy. Bowes was accordingly informed that his patent was injurious to the commonwealth. After some

negotiation, a compromise was effected. A new patent was granted to his rivals, by which a rent of 1,000l. a year was reserved to the Crown; and this sum was made over to Bowes

1 Grant to Versellini, Dec. 15, 1574, Patent Rolls, 17 Eliz., Part 13. Grant to Bowes, Oct. 5, 1606, Patent Rolls, 4 Jac. I., Part 21. Its reversion was granted to Hart and Forset, Oct. 8, 1607, Patent Rolls, 5 Jac. I., Part 24. On Feb. 15, 1609, there was a grant to Salter for making certain glass, not mentioned in Bowes's patent.

2 Grant to Zouch and others, March 25, 1611, Patent Rolls, 9 Jac. I., Part 29.

« PreviousContinue »