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The Reign of James I page 13

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Meantime the king addicted himself to his own low mode of life in spite of conjugal appeal or ministerial remonstrance. We are assured by various authorities of the time that twice a week he went to the cock-pit, and the rest of the week was given up to the pleasures of the chase, from dawn till twilight, and the night was wound up by a gormandising supper and a drunken debauch. Business was the last thing he could be led to. For weeks together foreign ambassadors on pressing occasions could obtain no access to him, though his ministers on their knees implored him to give attention to urgent affairs. Anonymous letters were addressed to him, calling him to remember his royal duties; and the actors even introduced him on the stage in the character of a mad huntsman, cursing his hounds and hawks, striking his attendants in his fury, and drinking like a bacchanal every evening. But these freedoms only irritated without reforming him. He declared that his health demanded active life, that he did not come to England to be a slave, and would sooner go back to Scotland than mope his time away in a closet or chained to the council table.

The visit of his brother-in-law of Denmark had led James into greater excess than ever, and no sooner was lie gone than prince Vaudemont, a relative of James's, of the house of Guise, made his appearance with a gay and numerous retinue. This led to fresh hunting, fresh jovialities, and James was more than ever intractable as to business. After the departure of Vaudemont, however, he consented to meet his parliament. The great business of parliament now for several sessions, that is, from 1604 to 1607, was that of discussing James's proposition for the union of the two kingdoms. This very proposition, so immediately brought forward, was a glaring proof of James's want of solid judgment. The least reflection might have satisfied the least reflecting mind, that two nations which had for so many ages been inflamed against each other by wars, injustice, mutual cruelties, political jealousies, and the taunts which the most embittered passions had caused them to fling on each other, would require a long time to reconcile them to the idea of entire amalgamation. The centuries of attempted usurpation on the part of the English, and the determined resistance, even to the death, on the part of the Scots, made the latter people sensitively apprehensive of the union. They saw in it only the accomplishment of the same end by different means. They felt assured that the stronger nation in such a coalition would seek to domineer, and they had no intention to wipe out all the glories of their more than Spartan valour in defence of their independence, all the cherished fame of their Wallaces and their Bruces, by a tamely accepted yoke of diplomatic subtlety. They were the more indisposed by the foolish boastings of James of his absolute power. His high notions of prerogative appeared to have grown wonderfully since his accession to the English throne. He compared himself to a god upon earth, and had already given out his style and title as king of Great Britain. The Scotch were, therefore, naturally apprehensive of a union which would wonderfully augment his powers. Still more, his new and excessive leaning towards episcopacy alarmed the Scots. They saw nothing but its attempted imposition on them in the union of the kingdoms, and they were not inclined thus easily to give up their freedom of conscience which they had fought out at so much cost. On the other hand, James's imprudent lavishment of posts and honours on Scotchmen in England, offended and disgusted the English. They asked whether they were to be overrun by a regular inundation of proud and hungry adventurers from the north. In the commons the expressions of contempt and aversion to the Scottish race grew to the height of insolence and insult, and were sure to excite the most indignant feeling in that people. Sir Christopher Pigot, the member for Buckinghamshire, especially distinguished himself by the vituperation of Scotchmen. He professed the utmost horror at the idea of union betwixt a rich and fertile country like England, and a sterile and poor one like Scotland; betwixt a people wealthy, frank, and generous, and one at once haughty, beggarly, and penurious. This put the climax to the patience of Scotland, and James declared he could no longer tolerate language which insulted himself as a Scot.

Cecil at the command of the king took up the matter warmly, and the House of Commons, persuaded by him, expelled Pigot, and he was committed to the Tower. Defeated in the commons, James betook himself to the courts of law. He had proposed to the commons to pass an act, naturalising all Scots, even those born before his accession to the English throne; but when they rejected this, he obtained a decision from the judges sanctioning the admission of the inhabitants of each kingdom to all the rights of subjects in both. This would in a few years have made the Scots as much subjects of the English crown as the English themselves, but James was not content with this. He used very angry and impudent language, threatening to leave London and fix his court at York or Berwick; telling his English subjects to remember that he was a king, who had to govern them and to answer for their errors; who was made of flesh and blood like them selves, and might be tempted to do what they would not like.

The commons resented this language: they sent their speaker to desire that he would receive no reports of their debates or proceedings except from themselves, and that they might be permitted to feel that they were at liberty to deliver their opinions in their own house without restraint or fear. James, who was easily alarmed, professed to have no desire to encroach on their liberty of speech, but no sooner did they put him to the test than he renewed his interference. A petition being presented to the house complaining of the oppressions upon the Puritans, and the abuses of the church, James sent an order to the speaker to inform the house that they were meddling with what belonged alone to him. The members declared this to be a violation of their privileges, but the speaker informed them that there were plenty of precedents for such restraint on the house by the crown. The house on this proposed to appoint a committee to inquire into these precedents, and how far they were founded in constitutional right; but here again, James, fearing he had gone too far, sent them word, that although the matter in question properly belonged to him, lie should not object to their reading the petition.

But the crown and the house very soon came into collision on the subject of the powers of the commons. A petition was presented from the merchants, representing the injuries their ships and commerce received from Spain, particularly on the coasts of South America, the ports of which the Spanish were endeavouring to close against all other nations. The commons thought it a subject of that national character that they should have the co-operation of the peers with them, and therefore sent to the upper house proposing conference. But the lords demurred, thinking it a subject which the commons were scarcely authorised to enter upon. The difficulty, however, was mutually obviated; the lords agreed to the conference. But it proved only an occasion seized upon by the crown to deliver a lecture to the commons on their aspiring to deal with subjects too high for them. James was, in fact, contemplating an alliance with Spain, and was by no means disposed to offend its rulers. Cecil, therefore, and lord Henry Howard, now earl of Northampton, read the commons a very plain lecture, instructing them that all matters appertaining to peace or war, and all such topics as led to these results, belonged especially to the crown; which indeed occasionally consulted the commons, not out of right or necessity, but as a matter of favour, and also of policy, when it was advisable to have the sympathy and co-operation of, the representatives of the people. That the declaration of war or concession of peace were the absolute prerogative of the crown; the business of the commons was more private and local, such as furnishing funds, and when money was wanted, they would be sure to hear of it.

The commons allowed the petition of the merchants to stand over for the time, but out of doors the spirit of dissatisfaction rose high, and the leaning of James towards Spain was narrowly watched and commented upon.

Whilst the government and the commons were engaged in this discussion, a serious insurrection called the attention of the council another way. The lucky courtiers who had obtained amongst them the estates of the gentlemen forfeited for their share in the gunpowder plot, whilst dividing and inclosing, like their predecessors who had obtained the estates of the church, cast greedy eyes on the adjacent common lands, and inclosed as much as they could of them with the rest. The people, deprived of their right of pasturage, rose in resistance, as they had done in the reign of Edward VI. They had the statutes regarding inclosures in their favour, and assembling in numbers from one to five thousand, they broke clown the new fences, filled up the ditches, and restored the usurped fields to their ancient state as common. Like the agrarian reformer, Ket of Norfolk, they confined themselves strictly to their legitimate object. They conducted themselves with perfect order; committed no depredations on really private property, nor perpetrated any excesses, to which their numbers might have tempted them. They appeared in great force at Hill Norton, in Warwickshire, an estate of Tresham's, and in their largest amount of five thousand at Coleshill. Their leaders, whoever they were, appeared in masks, except one man of the name of Reynolds, who was an enthusiast, and set all danger at defiance; declaring that he was sent of God to satisfy men of all degrees, and had, moreover, authority from the king to level all the new fences. He acquired the name of Captain Pouch, from a large pocket which he wore at his side, and in which he boasted that he carried a charm which not only made him invulnerable to sword or bullet, but which would protect them from all harm.

The insurgents broke out about the middle of May, having in vain previously presented their memorials to the council, the members of which were too much interested in the lands in question to pay any attention to them. At first James and the court were greatly alarmed, supposing it to be a demonstration of the catholics or puritans. The guards at the palace were doubled, and orders were issued to the lord mayor to watch the motions of the apprentices in the city. A little time, however, revealed the real nature of the movement, and the insurgents were ordered by proclamation to disperse; but they stood their ground, assuring the magistrates that they were only executing the statutes against inclosures, and were under orders not to violate the law in any manner, nor even to indulge in swearing. The lieutenants then endeavoured to raise the counties, but the yeomanry displayed no desire to interfere in such a cause -, and many gentlemen even contended that it was best to concede the matter to the poor, advice which, if followed, would no doubt have insured speedy quietness without bloodshed. But this did not suit the views of the interested council, and the earls of Huntingdon and Exeter and lord Zouch were sent down with a considerable force to quell them. Sir Edward Montague and Sir Anthony Mildmay came upon a number of them busy levelling the inclosures at Newton, another estate forfeited by Tresham. They found them well armed with bills and bows, pikes and stones. The officers commanded them to disperse, but they refused, and after twice reading the riot act in vain, they ordered a charge. The trained bands showed no relish for the business; but the regular cavalry, and the servants of Mildmay and Montague, attacked them briskly. The insurgents returned the attack with much bravery, but at the second charge broke and fled. Forty or fifty of them were killed, and a great number wounded. Sir Henry Fookes, who led on the infantry against them, was severely wounded.

After this defeat "the levellers," as they were called, were pursued in all directions, and everywhere put down and dispersed. Many prisoners were made, and a commission, with Sir Edward Coke at its head, was appointed to try them.

James, with a good feeling that did him honour, instructed the commission to use moderation in punishing the prisoners, declaring that the council had been more to blame than them, for neglecting their petitions. Had they not intercepted them, he pretended to say that they would have received redress from him. He maintained that they had oppressed and driven to resistance by the rapacity of the gentry and the neglect of ministers. Pouch and some of his associates were condemned and executed as traitors on the 28th of June; and some of the others were hanged as felons because they had not dispersed on the reading of the riot act.

The king could now return to his beloved chase. On the 4th of July he prorogued parliament till November, but having got a considerable sum of money from it, and little other satisfaction, he did not call it together again till the February of 1610. Could he have found sufficient funds any other way, it is quite certain that he would never have called it any more. In his suit of Lincoln green, with a little feather in his hat, and a horn by his side instead of a sword, he followed his hounds through the forest, happy as Nimrod himself, so long as the means lasted. But James's court was altogether on an extravagant scale. Like a youthful heir, whose guardians have kept him close, and who makes up for a long abstinence by tenfold profuseness on coming to his estate, James, escaped from the poverty of his Scottish establishment, where he had mainly lived on his pension from Elizabeth, now gave a loose to extravagance, as if nothing could exhaust the affluence of England. He had a most expensive menage, and he gave away money to his favourites as though he had the wishing-cap of Fortunatus.

We have already seen how liberally his queen was provided for. His own household was on a scale of proportionate expenditure. Even those of Henry and Elizabeth, two children, consisted of one hundred and forty personages. In 1610, but three years after this period, that of prince Henry was increased to four hundred and twenty-six individuals, of whom two hundred and ninety-seven were in receipt of salaries, besides a number of workmen employed under Inigo Jones, the architect.

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