Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

ed right, received from our ancestors, without which we cannot freely debate, nor clearly discourse of things in question before us, nor truly inform your majesty, -we are, therefore, now again enforced, in all humbleness, to pray your majesty to allow the same."

The king sent the Commons a written answer on the 11th of December, 1621, drawn up in his usual scholastic style, and often treating the positions of the Commons sarcastically and contemptuously. Referring to their request to him not to trust reports against them, he said, “ We wish you to remember that we are an old and experienced king, needing no such lessons ; being in our conscience, freest of any king alive, from hearing or trusting idle reports; which many in your house could bear witness, if ye would give as good ear to them as you do to some tribunitial orators among you. . . In your petition you usurp upon our prerogative royal, and meddle with things far above your reach ; and then, in a conclusion, you protest the contrary; as if a robber would take a man's purse, and then protest he meant not to rob him. For first you presume to give us your advice concerning the match of our dearest son with some Protestant (we cannot say princess, for we know of none of these fit for him), and dissuade him from his match with Spain, urging us to a war with that king; and yet, in the conclusion, forsooth, ye protest ye intend not to press upon our most undoubted and royal prerogative."

Adverting to their excuse of not determining anything concerning the match, but only to tell their opinion, and lay it at his feet, he desired to know " how ye could have presumed to determine on that point, without committing high treason." And as to the receiving of their former petition, he justly rejected that suit; “ for what have you left unattempted in the highest points of sovereignty in that petition of yours, except the striking of coin? For it contains the violation of leagues, the particular way how to govern a war, and the marriage of our dearest son. These are unfit things to be handled by Parliament, except your king should require it of you. For who could have wisdom to judge of things of this nature, but such as are daily acquainted with the particulars of treaties, and of the variable and fixed connection of affairs

of state, together with the knowledge of the secret ways, ends, and intentions of princes in their several negotiations ? Otherwise, a small mistake of matters of this nature may produce more effects than can be imagined. And, therefore, ne sutor ultra crepidam. And besides, the intermeddling of Parliament with peace or war, and the marriage of our dearest son, would be such a diminution to us and our crown in foreign countries, as would make any prince neglect to treat with us, except they might be assured by the assent of Parliament. We cannot omit to show you how strange we think it, that you think we meant to restrain you of your ancient privileges in Parliament. Although we cannot allow of the style calling it your ancient and undoubted right of inheritance, but could rather have wished that ye had said that your privileges were derived from the grace and permission of our ancestors (for most of them grew from precedents, which shows rather a toleration than an inheritance), yet we are pleased to give our royal assurance that, so long as you contain yourselves within the limits of your duty, we will be as careful to maintain your lawful liberties and privileges as ever any of our predecessors were ; nay, as to preserve our own royal prerogative."

The Commons met the king's answer (which even the lord keeper considered so harsh that he wished it to be mitigated) by giving over all business, and foreseeing that the king, despairing of supply, would dissolve the Parliament, they resolved to place on record a declaration of their privileges. They, therefore, drew up a bold and comprehensive protestation, in vindication of their privileges, which was recorded in the journals of the house on the 18th of December. On the same day the prince, by virtue of a commission from the king, adjourned the Parliament to the 8th of February following. This great constitutional protestation is as follows:

“The Commons now assembled in Parliament, being justly occasioned thereunto concerning sundry liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdictions of Parliament, 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 the defence of the realm and of the Church of England, and the maintenance and making of laws, and redress of mischiefs and grievances which daily happen within the 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 of Parliament hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech, to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the same; and that the commons in Parliament have like liberty and freedom to treat of those matters, in such order as in their judgment shall seem fittest; and that every member of the said house have like freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, and molestation (other than by the censure of the house itself), for or concerning any speaking, reasoning, or declaring 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 done or said in Parliament, the same is to be showed to the king, by the advice and assent of all the commons assembled in Parliament, before the king give credence to any private information.”

[graphic]

The king sent for the journals, and he “rent out the protestation with his own hand ;” and afterwards published a declaration, declaring it invalid, annulled, void, and of no effect. In a subsequent proclamation he reviewed the proceedings of the Parliament, and attributed its failure to "some ill-tempered spirits, who by their cunning diversions had imposed on him the necessity of discontinuing it.” But he stated his intention to govern his people in the same manner as his predecessors; and in due time to call another Parliament. The “ill-tempered spirits” to whom the king referred, were soon made known, by the steps taken to punish them. Some were committed to the Tower; some were imprisoned or confined ; some, by a sort of honorable banishment, were sent to Ireland as commissioners, under a royal commission, to inquire into sundry matters for his majesty's service; and a few were raised to the peerage.

A new Parliament met on the 19th of February, 1623. The first period of its sitting was occupied chiefly with the treaties with Spain touching the proposed match of the Prince with the Infanta,

which was speedily broken off. They, moreover, sanctioned the king's entering into a war for the recovery of the Palatinate, for which they granted the largest aid ever given by Parliamentthree entire subsidies and three fifteenths-stipulating only for a commission to see that the money was appropriated according to the purpose of Parliament.

But the great subjects which occupied the attention of this Parliament, were the grants of monopolies, and the power of dispensing with penal laws and forfeitures exercised by the crown. In the time of Elizabeth, Parliament had remonstrated against the injury done by monopolies to trade and manufactures; but in this reign they were still continued to a great extent. The crown now also assumed as its prerogative a power, called the dispensing power, to dispense with the action of laws; and by this prerogative it exempted favored individuals from the operation of penal laws, and from the forfeitures which a breach of them demanded. By another nearly similar prerogative, called the suspending power, it made royal grants to favored individuals, contrary to the terms of existing statutes, by inserting in the grants or letters patent a non obstante clause—i. e., notwithstanding the particular statute which the grants contravened. It also made to its friends and courtiers grants of fines and penalties, which had accrued, or were expected to accrue to the crown, from persons convicted, or expected to be convicted under penal statutes; and of the profits to be derived from escheats.

No prerogatives could be more unjust or more injurious than these ; and they were effectually ended by an act of this Parliament. Its title is, “An Act concerning Monopolies, and Dispensations with Penal Laws and the Forfeitures thereof." In its preamble it refers, as the foundation of its enactments, “ to a royal judg. ment which King James did, in 1610, publish in print to the whole realm, and to all posterity, that all grants of monopolies, and of the benefit of penal laws, or of power to dispense with the law, or to compound for the forfeiture, were contrary to the laws;—which royal declaration was truly consonant and agreeable to the ancient and fundamental laws of the realm."

It, therefore, declared that all monopolies, commissions, grants, licenses, charters, and letters patent for the sole buying, selling, making, working, or using anything within the realm, or of any other monopolies ; or of power, liberty, or faculty to dispense with any others; or to give license or toleration to do, use, or exercise anything against the tenor or purport of any law or statute; or to give or make warrant for any such dispensation, license, or toleration to be bad and made; or to agree or compound with any others for any penalty or forfeitures limited by any statute; or of any grant or promise of the benefit, profit, or commodity of any forfeiture, penalty, or sum of money that was or, should be due by any statute, before judgment thereupon had; and all proclamations, inhibitions, restraints, warrants of assistance, and all matters and things whatsoever, any way tending to the strengthening, furthering, or countenancing of the same or any of them were altogether contrary to the laws of the realm, and so were, and should be, utterly void, and in no wise be put in use or executed.

This declaration of the law is enforced by provisions for making monopolies impracticable; and one provision saves from the operation of the act, and declares that it “shall not extend to letters patent and grants of privilege for the term of fourteen years and under, thereafter to be made, of the sole working or making of any manner of new manufactures within this realm, to the true and first inventor or inventors of such manufactures, which others, at the time of making such letters patent and grants, shall not use.” It is under this exception from the act, that the British crown has exercised, and now exercises, the right of granting letters patent for new inventions.

With this great act of Parliament we leave the reigu of James. The pretensions of prerogative were now clearly understood, and had been manfully resisted. The seeds of civil discord had been sown; and in the following reign of the unfortunate and misguided Charles, a harvest of contention was to be gathered, to be followed, at a later and a better time, by liberty and peace. In their disputes with James, no lover of the people will admit that Parliament made one false or imprudent step. They were in all their acts calm, and, though firm, conciliatory and respectful. In religion, it is true, they were not yet advanced to our opinions in regard to

« ForrigeFortsett »