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The Reign of James I page 14


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This viscount Haddington. was the Sir John Ramsay who stabbed the earl of Gowrie, at the time of the singular Gowrie conspiracy; and James went on promoting him till he became earl of Holderness, with many grants of lands, gifts, and pensions. The second in James's regard, in the early part of his reign, was another Scotchman, James Hay, whom he successively created lord Hay, viscount Doncaster, and earl of Carlisle. Clarendon says that this man, in the course of a very licentious career, spent above four hundred thousand pounds, and left neither house nor child to be remembered by. James, in England, also chose several English favourites. The first of those was Sir Philip Herbert, brother of the earl of Pembroke, and a son of the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. He was created earl of Montgomery, and was especially agreeable to James because he despised all learning - for James was jealous of all such - and took pleasure only, like his royal master, in dogs and horses. Montgomery was in the ascendant till the king's eye fell on one Robert Carr, destined to a strange history; and the English and Scottish favourites, by their mutual hatred of each other, their quarrels and duels, gave James sufficient trouble. Haddington and Montgomery had an affray in which Montgomery showed the white feather, and James sent Haddington for a short time to the Tower. Douglas, the master of the horse, was killed in one of these squabbles j and some years later lord Sanquhar had an eye thrust out by a fencing master, for which his lordship killed him, and was executed for the deed. Such was the disgraceful condition of the court of the Scottish Solomon.

During the years 1608 and 1609, negotiations were pending betwixt the United Provinces of the Netherlands and Spain. James, who had a claim on these provinces for above eight hundred thousand pounds, on account of advances and services by Elizabeth, for which he held the towns of Flushing, Brill, and Rammekens, would have been glad to obtain possession of the money. So well was this known, that there were rumours that, as he could not obtain the sum due, he was intending to sell the towns to Philip III. of Spain. The archduke Albert was still in Flanders, not having abandoned the hope of recovering the revolted states; and catholics from England were in the habit of volunteering to assist him in undoing what queen Elizabeth had done there. But much as James was pressed for money, he was scarcely daring enough to aid Spain in its views. The spirit of protestantism was too strong in England tamely to witness such an anti-protestant policy; and, in fact, James himself was rather afraid of an attack from Spain, than hoping for a coalition with it. The earl of Tyrone had fallen under suspicion of fresh rebellion, and had fled to the Spaniards in the Netherlands for security,. Cecil apprehended that Philip might be disposed to attempt his restoration, and sent to Sir Charles Cornwallis, at Madrid, to use bold language on the occasion. This appears to have had effect, for Tyrone retired to Italy. But a new danger presented itself in the rumour of negotiations for peace betwixt Holland and Spain. Cecil dreaded a pacification betwixt these powers, as it would allow Philip more opportunity to turn his attention to Ireland, if so disposed.

The English government was surprised and mortified to learn that such negotiations were actually proceeding, and that the king of France had been invited to join in them. At length James, who had so deep a stake in the Netherlands, received a formal notice to the same effect, soliciting his cooperation. These negotiations were conducted at the Hague, but it was not till March, 1609, that they were brought to a conclusion. The result was a truce for twelve years, which was, in fact, equivalent to a peace, acknowledging the independence of the Dutch states, after a brave conflict for liberty of forty years. The debt of James, amounting to eight hundred and eighteen thousand pounds, was acknowledged, and engagements entered into for its payment by annual instalments of sixty thousand pounds. But the first payment was not to be made till the end of two years, and James was still to retain the cautionary towns till the whole was discharged.

The postponement of the payment of the debt of Holland was extremely embarrassing to Cecil. On the death of the earl of Dorset, in 1608, he succeeded to the office of treasurer, and to the clamorous demands which had been made upon Dorset. His carriage had been stopped in the streets by the servants of the king's household, who were loud in their demands for their long arrears of wages, and the purveyors refused to bring in any more supplies till they were paid their advances. Cecil, on examining the accounts, found James one million three hundred thousand pounds in debt, and exceeding his income at the rate of upwards of eighty thousand pounds per annum. He set to work resolutely to curtail this expenditure, and to devise means of raising money. James always claimed an authority paramount to all laws; and Cecil ventured to put in practice the idea of prerogative in raising the necessary funds. He called in rigorously the unpaid remains of the last voted subsidies, and then proceeded to lay on duties and impose monopolies of the most odious nature, without any sanction of parliament. His predecessor Dorset has set him the example by levying an import duty on currants by letters patent. This illegal demand had been resisted, and Bates, a Turkey merchant, was proceeded against for refusal to pay, in the court of exchequer. This court was base enough to decide in favour of this unconstitutional stretch of power, and James was delighted at so auspicious a concession of the justice of his doctrine of prerogative. Cecil pressed on in the path thus opened, and laid on import and export duties on various articles by orders under the great seal. He imposed a feudal aid to wards the knighting of the prince Henry, of twenty shillings on each knight's fee; but this produced only twenty-eight thousand pounds. He then extended his duties to almost every species of imported and exported goods, at the rate of five pounds per cent, on the value of the goods, which he calculated would produce three hundred thousand pounds per annum; and he sold to the Dutch a right of fishing on the coasts of England and Scotland. Cecil himself was the farmer of these duties. They were, however, of a character to excite the utmost dissatisfaction; trade fell off under their influence, fewer ships came into the English ports, and there was at length no alternative but to summon a parliament, which met on the 24th of February, 1610.

The great topics which occupied this parliament were, of course, the king's want of money, and his continual violations of magna charta. Cecil, seeing the desperate state of the royal finances, made a bold demand that six hundred thousand pounds should be at once voted to liquidate his debts, and that an annual addition of two hundred thousand pounds should be consented to, as a permanent pension, to prevent his getting into debt again. But Cecil committed a great blunder, both in business routine and in sound policy, by proposing this money measure to the lords instead of to the commons, whose proper business it was. The commons resented this course, and were more determined than ever in demanding a departure from the unconstitutional practice of imposing duties without their consent, They declared that the imprisonment of Bates for opposing this practice, though sanctioned by the exchequer, was nevertheless illegal. Francis Bacon and Sir John Davis endeavoured to justify the despotic proceeding, but only to the greater exasperation of the house. It was declared that if the taxing of merchandise by prerogative was permitted, the taxing of their lands would soon follow. James sent them word to desist from such discussions; but the commons were not to be thus silenced, whereupon James sent for both houses to Whitehall, and delivered a most blasphemous speech in vindication of his inflated notions of kingly authority. "Kings," said he, "are justly called gods, for they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power upon earth. For if you will consider the attributes of God, you shall see how they agree in the person of a king. God hath power to create or destroy, to make or unmake, at his pleasure; to give life or send death, to judge all, and to be judged of nor accountable to none; to raise low things, and to make high things low, at his pleasure; and to God both body and soul are due. And the like power have kings. They make and unmake their subjects; they have power of raising and casting down, of life and of death; judges over all their subjects, and in all cases, and yet accountable to none but God only. They have power to exalt low things and abase high things, and make of their subjects like men of chess - a pawn to take a bishop or a knight; and to cry up or down any of their subjects as they do their money. And to the king is due both the affection of the soul, and the service of the body of his subjects." To resist the king in any of his acts or impositions, he declared was sedition; for the king was above all law, and laws were, in fact, but granted by kings to the people as a matter of favour.

We, who have seen the result of this spirit and this language, cannot but recognise in them the fatal power which placed the block and whetted the axe for his son. James had the mind essentially of a pedant, and not of a philosopher. With all his affected wisdom, and with occasional gleams of knowingness, he saw only the surface of things; and could no more penetrate into the depths of their causation, than a butterfly in a flower can dream of the roots which supply the honey to its glands. He was the incurable fool of absolutism. Before him stood a rising and mighty power, a people growing rich, independent, and cognisant of their rights; but he was as blind to the formidable apparition as Balaam was to the angel in his way, though his very ass could see it.

The commons would not listen to such insane language. They told the king that in extolling the power of kings, he forgot the existence of magna charta, which set eternal and impassable bounds to that power; and they appointed a committee to search for the legality or illegality of all such practices. The crown lawyers in committee argued that "the reverence of past ages, and the possession of present times," sanctioned the king's doctrine; and that the right of imposing duties had been exercised by the three first Edwards by their own will, and independent of parliament; and that if it had been interrupted from Richard II. to Mary, yet that princess had reassumed the royal privilege, and that it was continued by Elizabeth. But the commons replied that in all these cases the monarchs had violated magna charta, the statute de tallagio non concedendo, and twelve other parliamentary enactments; that no time or practice could establish a right against those great bulwarks of popular Liberty. And the commons therefore demanded that a law should be made during this session, declaring that all such impositions of duties or taxes, without consent of parliament, should be pronounced for ever void. And they accordingly passed such a bill, which, however, was rejected by the more subservient lords.

James writhed under this plain and direct denial of his assumed authority, and refused to surrender the question. He found in the bishops a body, on the whole, ready to cooperate with him in his attempt to destroy the constitution; arid Bancroft, the primate, led the way with most unblushing baseness. Under his leadership the whole high church party echoed the king's most absolute dogmas, and claimed for him all the divinity which he professed to possess. The king, according to their creed, being divine, so were the bishops who were appointed by him, and therefore this divine crown and church were above all law. The ecclesiastical courts carried this pernicious theory into daily practice, and encroached on the temporal ones as pertinaciously as the king did on parliament. There was a grand struggle betwixt the common and the civil law. The judges, who saw this arrogance of the clergy with jealousy and disgust, began to relax their enmity against the puritans, and to regard them as the natural allies of the law against absolutism.

On the other hand, the king and the bishops sought out fresh means, and one of these was to bring forward a base slave, called Dr. Cowell, who, in his "Interpreter, or Law Dictionary," broached the most unmitigated maxims of tyranny. He declared that the king inherited all the powers which had been exercised by the emperors of Rome; as if the empire of the Romans had never ceased in this country, or as if the civil law being still used by the church, it became in all its forms imperative on the nation. It was dedicated to Bancroft, and he and the king highly eulogised this infamous production, which maintained all the rampant maxims of absolutism which James had ever uttered. The king, Cowell declared, was solutus a legibus, freed from all restraint of laws; and though he took an oath at his coronation to maintain all the laws unchanged, yet he was at full liberty to quash any laws that he pleased; and, in a word, "that the king of England is an absolute king."

The commons called upon the lords to unite with them in punishing this miscreant, who, not content with selling his own birthright for a mess of pottage, was endeavouring to sell that of the entire nation. The case was so flagrant that the lords could not decline the challenge. And Bacon, who had shortly before been the advocate of the royal prerogative, now conducted the case for the commons in the conference against Cowell, who was sent to prison for a time, and his book was suppressed by the king's proclamation, poor James himself being obliged to condemn his own champion.

Having triumphed in this particular, the commons proceeded to much older grievances. They demanded the abolition of that den of injustice and extortion the Court of High Commission, in which the king exercised that unrestrained despotism which he claimed over the whole kingdom; where men were sentenced and fined at the arbitrary will of the king and of its council, without jury or evidence admitted in their defence: but this was an institution so dear to James's heart, that he would not listen to any abatement of its power. They next complained of the growing abuse of substituting royal proclamations for established law, "by reason of which," said the commons, "there is a general fear conceived and spread amongst your majesty's people, that proclamations will, by degrees, grow up and increase to the strength and nature of laws." To this James simply replied that his proclamations should not exceed the warranty of law. They further complained of the delay of the courts in granting writs of habeas corpus and prohibition, and of the encroachment of the council of Wales, which extended its jurisdiction over various neighbouring counties, where it had no real authority; as well as of various monopolies, taxes on public-houses, and on sea-coal.

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Pictures for The Reign of James I page 14

King James I.
King James I. >>>>
Coronation of King James I.
Coronation of King James I. >>>>
Dog of James I. with a petition
Dog of James I. with a petition >>>>
Great Seal of King James I.
Great Seal of King James I. >>>>
George Buchanan
George Buchanan >>>>
Chamber in which Sir Walter Raleigh was Imprisoned
Chamber in which Sir Walter Raleigh was Imprisoned >>>>
Sir Walter Raleigh in prison
Sir Walter Raleigh in prison >>>>
Old House at Lambeth
Old House at Lambeth >>>>
King James and his Courtiers setting out for the Hunt
King James and his Courtiers setting out for the Hunt >>>>
The Gunpowder Conspirators at work in the Vault
The Gunpowder Conspirators at work in the Vault >>>>
Cellars under the Parliament House
Cellars under the Parliament House >>>>
Arresr of Guy Fawkes
Arresr of Guy Fawkes >>>>
Hendlip House
Hendlip House >>>>
Arabella Stuart
Arabella Stuart >>>>
Great Hall at Theobalds
Great Hall at Theobalds >>>>
Arabella Stuart in male attire
Arabella Stuart in male attire >>>>
The Fifth of November, 1611.
The Fifth of November, 1611. >>>>
Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson >>>>

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