was that he was an absolute prince; and that if the Commons, who assembled by bis permission, did not perform their duty of raising supplies with the least inconvenience to the people, he was empowered by his prerogative to tax them without consent of Parliament. The Commons had practically admitted this theory in the reigns of the Tudors; but the spirit and freedom of the Plantagenet period were now revived; and, led by men of commanding intellect and great determination of purpose, the Commons presented an unwav. ering opposition to every illegal or enlarged exercise of the royal prerogative. Sir Thomas Coventry, the new lord keeper, opened the Parliament in a high prerogative speech. The Commons, on the other hand, widened the difference between the king and them. selves by impeaching the Duke of Buckingham; and whilst they were preparing materials for the charges, the king sent a letter to the speaker, urging for a full and perfect answer of what they would give for his supply, according to his expectation and their promises. The Commons, full of their intended impeachment of the Duke of Buckingham, answered “that because they could not doubt that the king would be pleased graciously to accept the faithful and necessary information and advice of his Parliament (which could have no end but the king's honor and safety of his realm) in discovering the causes, and proposing the remedies, of those great evils which had occasioned his wants and his people's griefs; they therefore in full confidence and full assurance of redress therein, did with one consent propose that they really intend to supply and assist the king, in such a way, and in so ample a manner, as might make him safe at home, and feared abroad."

Charles received their observations as directed against Buckingham, and be sent a baughty reply to the speaker. After thanking the Commons for their answer, he observed that he must let them know that he would not allow any of his servants to be questioned among them, much less such as were of eminent place and near unto him. He concluded by saying, “ I wish you would hasten my supply, or else it will be worse for yourselves; for, if any ill happen, I think I shall be the last that shall feel it;"-a threat which shows that Charles had not calculated the difficulty of his position in a contest with the Parliament, or that he confidently reckoned on obtaining sufficient money by force of his prerogative.

The Commons resolved that three subsidies and three fifteenths should be granted to the king, payable at three different times; the bill to be brought in when they had presented their grievances and received the king's answer to them. That resolution, which was an indefinite procrastination of the supply, gave the king great offence; and on the following day he sent a message to both houses, requir. ing their attendance at Whitehall on the next day. He addressed them in a speech in which he complimented and thanked the Lords for their care of the kingdom, and expressed his sorrow to the Commons that he might not justly give the same thanks to them; but he must show them their errors and, as he might call it, their unparliamentary proceedings. The lord keeper, as on the former occasion, enforced the king's speech, requiring, as their final answer, what further supply they would add to that they had already agreed on; and that to be without condition either directly or indirectly, for the supply of the king's great and important affairs.

The king's rebukes and his lord keeper's demands called forth a remonstrance from the Commons to the king, which was presented to him on the 5th of April by a select committee. They justified their proceedings against Buckingham by one of those declarations of rights which had now become usual on important occasions ; by which, as they could not resist, they recorded on their journals their protest against the prerogatives assumed by the king. They declared “that it had been the usual, constant, and undoubted right and usage of Parliament to question and complain of all persons, of what degree soever, found grievous to the commonwealth, in abusing the power and trust committed to them by their sovereign. And as to the supply, that though it had been the long custom of parliaments to handle the matter of supply with the last of their businesses; yet, at that time, out of extraordinary respect to his

person and care of his affairs, they had taken the same into speedy consideration, and had agreed to a resolution for a present supply, as was well known to the king.”

Having thus asserted their sonstitutional rights, the Commons proceeded to the consideration of the supply. It was pointed out, on the part of the king, that the subsidies had decreased in productiveness, and therefore that one subsidy and one fifteenth more ought to be given, payable after the three agreed to had been col. lected. A bill for a grant of tonnage and poundage was also in the course of preparation by the house; but concurrently with it, the house ordered to be drawn up a remonstrance to the king against his taking those duties without grant of Parliament. The addition of a fourth subsidy was agreed to, and when the account of the whole grant was signified to the king, he said “ that he accepted it in very good part, but desired such speed might be used in it that it might do him good.”

It would not promote the object we have in view, to enter into the details of the impeachment of Buckingham which now took place. The charges against hin were founded on the abuse of his influence with the king, and thus obtaining a plurality of appointments—trafficking in offices—and the abuse of his power as lord high admiral; and they conclude with a charge of having given a posset and a plaister to the late King James in his last illness, referring to suspicions of poison, which were publicly talked of at the death of James. These were not treated otherwise than as personal charges. No constitutional question of ministerial responsibility was involved. But there arose a question of privilege of constitutional importance, which requires our notice. The Commons presented their charges against the duke to the Lords, and appointed eight of their most distinguished members to support the charges before a committee of the upper house. Two of them, Sir Dudley Diggs and Sir John Elliot, gave offence to the king in their speeches before the Lords, and he committed them to the tower.

The Commons resented the imprisonment of their two members, and resolved to suspend all business till they should be righted in their privileges. The Lords came forward to the relief of this difficulty with the assurance of a large number of the peers that there had been a misapprehension as to the words used by Sir Dudley at the conference; and the king being satisfied that Sir Dudley had not spoken the words imputed to him, he was released from the tower. On the next day be took his seat in the house, and made a protestation" that the words charged on him were so far from being his words, that they never came into his thoughts.”

But the case of Sir John Elliot was not so easily disposed of. In addition to the freedom of his remarks on Buckingham, he had used in speaking of him contemptuous expressions. It was particularly complained that he had spoken of him as “ that man." chancellor of the exchequer informed the house that “although the king disliked the whole manner of his delivery of that which he had commandment from the house to speak, yet the king charged Sir John Elliot with things extra-judicial to that authority.” It was desired that the word extra-judicial should be explained. Mr. Chancellor said it was the king's own word, and therefore he could not do it. On the 20th of May a motion was made, with apparent irony, that Sir John Elliot should come and take his seat, having been charged with high crimes, extra-judicial to that house. The ministers allowed of his coming, and the vice-chamberlain having repeated the charges, Sir John justified what he had said, as authorized by his instructions from the house. The house resolved that Sir John Elliot had not exceeded the commission given him in the late conference with the Lords; and a like resolution was carried in the case of Sir Dudley Diggs—both without one negative.

The subsidies, which the House of Commons had agreed to, were a very liberal supply, and, as we have seen, were approved by Charles, “provided he had them with speed, so that they might do him good.” But several weeks elapsed without any progress towards completing the grant. Charles, impatient of delay, and, it would seem, having taken the resolution to punish it by a dissolution of Parliament, showed his displeasure in a letter to the speaker, which he desired to be read publicly to the house. He pointed out that unless the supply were presently concluded, it would be of little use; and if by their denial or delay, anything of ill consequence should fall out, either at home or abroad, he called God and man to witness that he had done his best to prevent it, by calling his people together to advise with him; by opening the weight of his occasion to them; and by requiring their timely help and assistance in those actions wherein he stood engaged by their own counsel. The Commons prepared a declaration by way of answer to the king's letter. It was agreed to on the 14th of June, and ordered to be presented to the king by the speaker, attended by the whole house. But in the mean time the king had determined to dissolve the Par. liament; and on the 15th of June the Commons were summoned to the House of Lords, to hear the royal commission for the dissolution read. The peers petitioned the king, and offered him their loyal and faithful advice to continue the Parliament, by which the dangers at home and abroad might be prevented, and his majesty made happy in the duty and love of his people. The king, angry and impetuous, answered, “ No, not a minute,” and the Parliament was dissolved.

This abrupt and ill-considered measure forced the king upon the old illegal projects for supplying his necessities. An order in council commanded all the tonnage and poundage duties to be levied and paid. A commission was issued to arrange with Jesuits, popish priests, and recusants, to dispense with the laws and penalties affecting them, in consideration of money to be paid to the king. The nobility were applied to; and a loan of £100,000 was demanded from the city of London. All the sea-port towns were ordered to fit out ships for the guarding of their own coasts—the city of London being ordered to set out twenty of the best that lay in the Thames.

Many persons refused payment of the imposed loan, and were committed to prison. Amongst these we find the eminent names of Sir Thomas Wentworth and John Hampden, who were, by an order in council, removed to prisons distant from their own counties. Other five gentlemen, so imprisoned, obtained writs of habeas corpus; but they were remanded to prison by the judges, as being imprisoned by the command of the king. Sir Peter Hayman, refusing payment, was called before the council, who sent him on service to the Palatinate. But the opposition of these eminent men, on constitutional grounds, did not prevent the compliance of great numbers of the people, and a large sum was raised. It was employed in fitting out an expedition for the relief of the Protestants of Rochelle. The conduct of the affair was entrusted to Buckingham, who abandoned the Protestants to the tender mercy of the French king, and made a descent on the Isle of Rhé.

« ForrigeFortsett »