Page images
PDF
EPUB

СНАР.

LXI.

The two Houses admonished.

Question, whether the Sove

reign can be
examined
as a wit-
ness.

the House of Commons to hasten the supply, they there talked only of grievances, and Clement Coke, Sir Edward's eldest son, said, "it was better to die by an enemy than to suffer at home."

By the Lord Keeper's advice both Houses were summoned to attend the King at Whitehall, when the King gently, and the Lord Keeper bitterly, reproached them for their refractory conduct. The latter was particularly severe upon the Commons for the language they had permitted Clement Coke to hold among them, -dwelt upon their unfounded charges against the Duke of Buckingham,—and went through all their proceedings since the commencement of the session, which, he said, showed an entire forgetfulness of duty.* The King, at parting, no doubt prompted by Coventry, plainly intimated to them that, as parliaments were altogether in his power for their calling, sitting, and dissolution, if they were not more submissive he must govern without them.+

A curious constitutional question arose a few days after, which very much perplexed the Lord Keeper, and remains to this day undetermined. The Earl of Bristol, in his defence, relied upon communications which had passed between him and the King when Prince at Madrid, and to prove these proposed to call the King himself as a witness. The Lord Keeper gave it as his opinion, that the Sovereign cannot be examined in any judicial proceeding under an oath or without an oath, as he is the fountain of justice, and since no wrong may be imputed to him, the evidence would be without temporal sanction. On the other side, they pointed out the hardship of an innocent man being deprived of his defence by the heir to the crown becoming King, and urged that substantial justice ought to be paramount to all technical rules. A proposal was made which could not be resisted, that the

One complaint which he makes shows how searching the inquiries were which the popular leaders were now disposed to institute, and excuses the warrants of Secretaries of State to open letters at the Post Office. "Your committees have presumed to examine the letters of secretaries of state, nay his own (the King's), and sent a general warrant to his signet office, and commanded his officers not only to produce and show the records, but their books and private notes which they made for his Majesty's service. This his Majesty holds as insufferable as it was in former times unusual,"

† 2 Parl. Hist. 60.

Judges should be consulted, and two questions were propounded for their consideration: 1. Whether, in case of treason or felony, the King's testimony was to be admitted or not? 2. "Whether words spoken to the Prince, who is after King, makes any alteration in this case?" But when the Judges, on a subsequent day, declared by the Lord Chief Justice that his Majesty, by his Attorney General, had informed them that, "not being able to discern the consequence which might happen to the prejudice of his crown from these general questions, his pleasure was that they should forbear to give an answer thereto." *

CHAP.

LXI.

Arundel

Tower.

The Lord Keeper further increased the irritation in the Earl of Lords by committing to the Tower the Earl of Arundel, committed Earl Marshal, for marrying, without the King's consent, his to the son to a daughter of the Duke of Lennox, allied to the royal family. The Lords voted his imprisonment pending the Session an infringement of their privileges, and refused to proceed with any business till he was restored to liberty. This interposition was a heavy blow to the Court, as he held five proxies, which he was resolved to use in favour of Bristol and against Buckingham.

Seeing that all threats and violent measures were unavail- Dissolution of parliaing to sway the parliament, the usual resolution of the Stuarts ment. under such circumstances was taken of an abrupt dissolu

tion. The Lords so far sympathised with the Commons, that, hearing of what was intended, they petitioned the King for a short delay. His answer, the Lord Keeper being at his elbow, was, "No, not of one minute."†

Angry recriminations were circulated through the country, under the titles of "The King's Reasons for dissolving Parliament," and "The intended Remonstrance of the Com

I humbly apprehend that the Sovereign, if so pleased, might be examined as a witness in any case civil or criminal, but must be sworn, although there would be no temporal sanction to the oath. See 2 Rol. Ab. 686. The simple certificate of King James I. as to what had passed in his hearing, was received as evidence in the Court of Chancery. — Abigny v. Clifford, Hob. 213. But Willes, C. B., stated that in every other case the King's certificate had been refused. Omichund v. Barker, Willis, 550. In the Berkeley Peerage case before the House of Lords in 1811, there was an intention of calling George IV., then Prince Regent, as a witness, and I believe the general opinion was that he might have been examined, but not without being sworn.

СНАР.
LXI.

A new parliament.

March 17. 1628.

King's speech.

mons."

The Earls of Bristol and Arundel, with the popular leaders of the Commons, were imprisoned by order of the King in Council. An attempt was now made to commit in the King's name, without specifying any offence; and if it had succeeded, "Lettres de cachet" would have been established in England.

But the exhausted state of the Exchequer on this, as on many other occasions during the seventeenth century, proved the safeguard of our liberties. Buckingham's inglorious expedition to the Isle of Rhe caused a lavish expenditure, which all the irregular modes of raising money resorted to were unable to supply. The Lord Keeper was so imprudent as to sanction an attempt directly to impose new duties on merchandise by proclamation; but this being a palpable attempt to violate existing statutes, and not to evade them,—even the Judges declared it to be illegal. At last, in the beginning of 1628, such was the want of money, that no expedient remained but the calling of a fresh parliament. As a slight concession to public opinion, the gaols were all cleared of their patriotic inmates; but the obstinacy of the King was not subdued, and he was not prepared to lower his pretensions.

On the first day of the session he said to the two Houses, -"Should you not do your duties in contributing what the state at this time needs, I must, in discharge of my conscience, use those other means which God hath put in my hands to save that which the follies of other men may otherwise hazard to lose ;" and the Lord Keeper concluded a long oration with these words: "Therefore, so resolve of your supplies that they may be timely and sufficient, sorting the occasion your aid is lost if too little or too late, and his Majesty is resolved that his affairs cannot permit him to expect it overlong. This way of parliamentary supplies, as his Majesty hath told you, he hath chosen not as the only way, but as the fittest; not because he is destitute of others, but because it is most agreeable to the goodness of his own most gracious disposition, and to the desire and weal of his people. If this be deferred, necessity and the sword of the enemy

make way for others. Remember his Majesty's admonition; CHAP. I say, remember it." *

To the intelligence, moderation, and firmness of this parliament, we are mainly indebted for the liberty we now enjoy.

LXI.

the Parlia

A sufficient aid being voted, but not definitively, subject of arbitrary imprisonment was taken up by the two Houses, and many conferences were held between them, in which Sir Edward Coke displayed the fire of youth with the wariness of age.† Pym, in spite of his minute subdivisions, gained the admiration of the House and of the country by his energy, and laid the foundation of that reputation which shone out with such splendour in the Long Parliament. Wentworth, still a patriot, showed what ascendency he could give to whichever side he espoused.

mentary

leaders.

to the two Houses.

A plan was laid to put an end to these discussions by Declaration calling the two Houses before the King, and making a declaration to them of the King's respect for liberty. Accordingly the Lord Keeper, in his presence, said, "He holdeth Magna Charta, and the other six statutes insisted upon for the subjects' liberty, to be all in force, and assures you that he will maintain all his subjects in the just freedom of their persons and safety of their estates, and that he will govern according to the laws and statutes of this realm, and that you shall find as much security in his Majesty's royal word and promise as in the strength of any law ye can make, so that hereafter ye shall never have cause to complain."

The answer to this speech was "the Petition of Right," Petition of Wentworth exclaiming, sarcastically, "Never parliament right. trusted more in the goodness of their King, so far as re

Rush. i. 477. 2 Parl. Hist. 221.

Yet he sometimes discoursed as if commenting on a section of Littleton. He says that an Englishman hath and ought to have a fee in his liberty, and not a mere tenancy at will; "for no tenant at will will support or improve any thing, because he hath no certain estate; ergo, to make men tenants at will of their liberties, destroys all industry and endeavours whatsoever; and so much for these six principal reasons: —

"Taken

A re ipsa,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

CHAP. gardeth ourselves; but we are ambitious that his Majesty's goodness may remain to posterity." A statutable recog

LXI.

Tonnage and poundage.

solution.

nition was required of the illegality of raising money in the shape of loans, or by any other contrivance, without the authority of parliament; of commitments by the King, without stating a sufficient cause in the warrant; of quartering soldiers in private houses; and of trying soldiers, mariners, and their accomplices, in time of peace, by martial law.

Coventry assisted in all the shifts and contrivances by which Charles attempted to evade giving an unqualified assent to this act, but stood by his side when he at last, with his own lips, pronounced the words, "Soit droit fait come il est désiré," amidst the plaudits of all present, followed by unbounded rejoicings throughout the nation.*

The good understanding, however, was of short duration, for the King, receiving very bad advice from Coventry and other courtiers, insisted on his authority to levy tonnage and poundage by his prerogative alone; and the Commons resumed with fresh ardour the impeachment of Buckingham. Abrupt dis- To put an end to these proceedings, the King came to the House of Lords one morning at nine o'clock, without his crown or his robes, the Peers likewise being unrobed. Mounting the throne, he ordered the Black Rod to summon the Commons, who had met at eight, and were framing a remonstrance to remind him that by the Petition of Right he was precluded from levying duties on merchandise without the previous consent of parliament.

-

When they had come to the bar he made a speech, trying to explain away the Petition of Right, which, he said, he had been told, would not interfere with his lawful prerogative; and he insisted on his inherent and hereditary title to tonnage and poundage. He then gave the royal assent to the subsidy and other Bills which had passed, and the Lord Keeper, by his orders, prorogued the parliament.

Coventry's conduct during the Session had given so much satisfaction to the Court, that he was now raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Coventry, of Aylesborough, in the county of Worcester.

* 2 Parl. Hist. 374.

« PreviousContinue »