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LXI.

House of Commons, whose powers were as yet very undefined, CHAP. took the case up as a fit subject of impeachment, and contended that they had judicial criminal jurisdiction as much as the Lords. They never pretended that any offence had been given to their body, or to any member of it; but they alleged that a public crime had been committed, of which they had cognizance. He was accordingly "impeached before the Commons in parliament assembled," and the words being proved, a heavy sentence was passed upon him. He appealed to the King, who next morning sent to the Commons to inquire on what precedents they grounded their claim to judge offences which did not concern their privileges, and by what reasoning it could be shown, that a court which did not receive evidence upon oath, could justly condemn a prisoner who asserted his innocence. This led to a conference between the two Houses, the Lords contending that their judicature was trenched upon,—and the leaders of the Commons finding that this new pretension could not be supported, it was agreed that Floyde should be impeached before the Lords, - an entry being made in the Journals to soften the defeat, "that his trial before the Commons should not prejudice the rights of either House."

Impeach-
ment of
Floyd by
Floyde
Commons

Coventry now conducted the prosecution at the bar of the House of Lords, not as Attorney General, but as manager for the Commons. He stated the case with moderation, and proved it by certain written depositions which he read. The Lords defendant having been heard, he was found guilty, nemine dissentiente.

Coventry then came to the clerk's table, and recapitulating his offence, prayed judgment against him, whereupon sentence was pronounced, "That he should be incapable to bear arms as a gentleman, that he should ever be held infamous, and his testimony not taken in any court or cause,—that he should be set on a horse's back at Westminster Hall, with his face to the horse's tail, and holding the tail in his hands, with papers on his head and breast declaring his offence, — that he should ride to the pillory in Cheapside, there to stand two hours on the pillory, and be branded on the forehead with the letter K.,

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before

CHAP.
LXI.

March, 1625.

Coventry made Lord Keeper by Buckingham.

Sept. 13. 1625.

from the Fleet to Westminster Hall, at the cart's tail, and then stand on the pillory there two hours, that he should be fined in the sum of 5000l., -and that he should be imprisoned in Newgate during life." So shocked were the Lords themselves with this inhuman punishment, that they made a standing order, "That in future when upon any person prosecuted before the House being found guilty, judgment shall not be given till a future day, that time may be taken to consider thereof." Still upon this occasion, the Lords were acting in the exercise of their power of trying commoners for misdemeanours on the accusation of the Commons, and there is no pretence for citing the case to throw odium upon parliamentary privilege.

Buckingham had found some difficulty in getting rid of Williams as Lord Keeper in the latter end of James's reign, but had the Crown in his pocket on the accession of "Baby Charles." Sir Henry Hobart, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who was first thought of for the Great Seal, having shown some symptoms of independence, he resolved to give it to the discreet Coventry, on whom he thought he might implicitly rely. He accordingly wrote him an offer "to step into the shoes of my Lord of Lincoln,”— giving him time to consider of it. Mr. Attorney returned an answer, in which he affected to say, that he had undergone a great conflict and perplexity of thoughts in measuring his fitness for such promotion, but concludes by expressing the dutiful resolution, "to lay himself in all humility and submission at the feet of his Sovereign, to dispose of him as should seem best to his own princely wisdom and goodness," which, says he, "if it be that way as your Grace told me his Highness did incline, I shall dutifully obey, and faithfully undergo it, my hope being that God and the King's Majesty will bear with my infirmities, and accept my true heart and willing endeavour."

Before his formal appointment, when his approaching elevation was known, Lord Bacon now living in retirement in his Chambers in Gray's Inn, applied to him to provide for an

* 2 St. Tr. 1153.

"as for

CHAP.

LXI.

Bacon.

old dependant who had been cast away like his master, and was now in great straits. His refusal is unfeeling and discreditable. After adverting to Bacon's polite compliment on His letter his appointment, and declaring "his unaptness to so great an to Lord employment, nothingtheless his submission to stand in that station where his Majesty will have him," he says, the request you make for your servant, though I protest I am not yet engaged by promise to any, because I held it too much boldness towards my Master, and discourtesy towards my Lord Keeper, to dispose of places while he had the Seal; yet in respect I have some servants, and some of my kindred apt for the place you speak of, and have been already so much importuned by noble persons when I lately was with his Majesty at Salisbury, as it will be hard for me to give them all denial; I am not able to discern how I am able to accommodate your servant; though for your sake, and in respect of the former knowledge myself have had of the merit and worth of the gentleman, I should be most ready and willing to perform your desire, if it were in my power." How different from this heartless civility would have been his reply to a worthless courtier basking in the sunshine of court favour!

Nov. 1.

1625.

His patent.

The new Lord Keeper was appointed by patent, whereby he was empowered "to hear, examine, and determine such causes, matters, and suits as shall happen to be, as well in the Chancery as in the Star Chamber, like as the Chancellor of England might and was accustomed to do." The Close Roll of this year is lost, and I find no account of the delivery of the Great Seal to him by the King, or of his installation. He set to work very assiduously in the Court of Chancery, Good and there were many re-hearings before him,-as he was conEquity sidered an accomplished Equity lawyer, and so little confidence could be placed in the skill of his right reverend predecessor. He is said to have behaved with great moderation, always speaking of Williams respectfully, reversing as seldom as possible, and under colour of some fresh evidence, or of some new point being taken before him.

"At his first accession to the Seal he found 200 causes in the paper ready for hearing, all which (with such as fell in

Judge.

CHAP.
LXI.

A parliament.

Feb. 6. 1626.

Lord Keeper's speech.

of the Court did not languish in expectation of the issue of their causes.

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But although he was allowed to be an able Judge, it is plain that the jurisdiction of the Court was still in a very unsettled state. We have a report of one of the earliest cases before him, showing that, while he decided legal rights himself, when difficult questions of equity arose, he sent a case to the common-law Judges. †

A commission was issued to Sir Julius Cæsar, Master of the Rolls, and others, to assist him in hearing causes; but, unless at the commencement of his judicial career, he had no distraction from parliaments, and he himself did the great bulk of the business of the Court.

In his second term he took his place on the woolsack, and was obliged to watch over a short but stormy session.‡

One reason of Charles I.'s dislike of parliaments may have been his repugnance to speaking in public, from the hesitation in his utterance. At the opening of his second parliament, he merely said that he hated long speeches, and was not a very good hand at speaking, and therefore he meant to bring in the old custom which many of his predecessors had used, that my Lord Keeper should explain the royal will.

The Lord Keeper, going through the usual form of conferring with the King, as if taking instructions from him at the moment, then made a long and elaborate oration. The practice of taking a text of Scripture for a theme, which we have so often noticed, had now fallen into desuetude, and, I believe, was never adopted by lay Chancellors. Coventry, having dwelt much upon the use of parliaments, proceeded to an eulogium on the new Sovereign, "who doth strive whether he should be accounted major or melior, a greater King or a better man," justly complimenting him on “his daily and unwearied access to this House before his access to the Crown, and his gracious readiness in all conferences of

* MS. Life of Lord Coventrie in the British Museum.

† See Farmer v. Compton, Chancery Reports in reign of Charles I., p. 1. At this time the judicial and political duties of the Lord Chancellor clashed much, for the Court of Chancery and the House of Lords both met punctually at eight o'clock in the morning. The Commons assembled at the same hour, never sitting later than twelve, and giving the afternoon to committees.

LXI.

importance.' Then came a declaration of his Majesty's CHAP. good intentions during his future reign. "For his Majesty doth consider that the royal throne on which God, out of his mercy to us, hath set him, is the fountain of all justice, and that good laws are the streams and rills by which the benefit and use of this fountain is dispersed to his people. And it is his Majesty's care and study that his people may see, with comfort and joy of heart, that this fountain is not dry."†

Coventry was not yet a Peer, and he acted only as Speaker in putting the question, without taking a share in the debates; but he must be considered responsible for the measures of the government as far as law was concerned, and they were very unfortunate. The Commons were incensed by the trick of trying to disqualify Sir Edward Coke and several of the popular leaders, by nominating them Sheriffs of their counties.

Expedient Sir E. Coke a sheriff.

of making

Bristol re

fused writ

of sum

mons.

The same policy was pursued, with the like effect, in the Earl of Upper House. Buckingham, greatly dreading the disclosures which might be made respecting his Spanish negotiations by the Earl of Bristol, a writ of summons was not sent to that nobleman; and on this being complained of as a breach of privilege, the Lord Keeper accompanied the writ with a mandate, that "his Lordship's personal attendance should be forborne." Bristol insisting on his right to take his seat as a Peer, the Attorney General was directed to exhibit articles of impeachment against him for high treason, and he was committed to the Tower. But these violent pro- Sent to ceedings only irritated both Houses the more. The Com- the Tower. mons impeached Buckingham, and the Lords showed no disinclination to listen to the charges against him. Notwithstanding an urgent letter of the King to the Speaker of

Notwithstanding the errors into which Charles was led when he came to the throne, it is impossible not to admire his amiable and praiseworthy demeanour during his father's lifetime. The Journals of the House of Lords show that he was constant in his attendance there, and he seems to have been ever anxious to quiet all disputes, and to do a good turn to every body.

† 2 Parl. Hist. 39.

I have often thought that it must have been an amusing spectacle at the Bucks assizes, to see the great Ex-chief Justice with his white wand attending the Judges, who must have found it very convenient, if they were puzzled by any point of law which arose, to take the opinion upon it of the High Sheriff.

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