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The Reign of James I page 7

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The king, on his part, was as little satisfied as the people. He laboured under no mistake as to where the victory lay: he felt keenly that he was defeated in his soaring claims of prerogative, and the commons went on to let him know that they were resolved on an exercise of power still greater. They attacked the monopolies which James had declared by proclamation that he would abolish, but towards which not a step was taken. They complained of the continuance of the feudal grievances of assarts, wardships, aids for royal marriages, and purveyance. The right of guardianship of minors of estate continued a source of vast emolument to the crown, which received the proceeds of these estates, and rendered no account. This was, moreover, a source of equal peculation to the minister for the time being, and Cecil was judged to draw enormous wealth from this abuse; and as for purveyance, it appears to have been as recklessly and insolently pursued as under any of the kings of York or Lancaster. The royal purveyors seized the property of the subject just as they pleased: took horses, carts, carriages, and provisions at will, called out men to labour for the royal pleasure, paying or not as suited them, felling trees, and committing sundry other depredations.

After much debate these grievances were referred to a committee; but as the lords would have nothing to do with it, the matter was obliged to be dropped. Bacon, who was assiduously climbing into royal favour, played a contemptible part on this occasion in the house, affecting the character of a patriot, and discoursing feelingly of abuses, and the sufferings of the people; whilst in the council, before the king, he declared that his majesty was the voice of God in man, the good spirit of God in the mouth of man.

The struggle continued betwixt the crown and the commons through the whole session. As the crown would not agree to reform the abuses complained of, the commons declined to grant the king any money beyond the usual rate of tonnage and poundage. So apprehensive, in fact, was the king of another defeat in the present temper of the house, that he sent a message to it requesting them not to enter on the business of subsidy, notwithstanding his urgent need of money.

The struggle regarding religious liberty was carried on by the puritans in the house with equal obstinacy. The convocation sitting at the same time with parliament, occupied itself in framing a new code of ecclesiastical canons. In spite of the resolution of the conference at Hampton Court, which declared that no excommunication should issue except Tor very grave offences, these canons, one hundred and forty-one in number, equalled in ecclesiastical despotism anything which had been decreed under Henry VIII. Excommunication was pronounced against all who denied the supremacy of the king or the orthodoxy of the church; who affirmed the book of common prayer to be superstitious or unlawful, that any one of the thirty-nine articles was erroneous, or that the ordinal was opposed to the word of God. All who should separate from the established church, or establish conventicles, were equally denounced; and this bigoted code James ratified by letters patent under the great seal. But it did not pass without severe comment from the puritan members of the house, in the midst of which the king prorogued parliament; and so remained the question of the canon law of England, which in reality was and is a law binding only on the clergy, having received their own sanction and that of their head the king, but not that of the legislature; for which reason the judges in Westminster Hall have always held that it binds the clergy who framed, but not the people whose representatives refused it.

No sooner was the canon law promulgated, and parliament prorogued, than Bancroft, the new archbishop, let loose the fury of the church against the nonconformists, whether catholic or protestant. All were called on to conform to the new regulations, and no less than three hundred clergymen were forced from their livings. The catholics, on their part, were equally harassed, fined, and insulted, The legal penalty of twenty pounds a month for recusancy was again enforced, notwithstanding James had promised to overlook this; and it was executed with a new rigour of barbarity, the fines for the whole time during which James had been professing leniency being levied. Thus the sufferers were called on to pay thirteen payments at one time, which at once reduced a vast number of families to absolute beggary. What rendered these oppressions the more intolerable was, that the court was now crowded by whole shoals of hungry Scots, who had flocked after their king into this new land of Goshen, and were clamorous for place, pension, and grants of the estates of the recusants. From the book of Free Gifts, it appears that James, in his first year, gave out of the goods of recusants, 150 to Sir Richard Person; in his third, 3,000 to John Gibb, the Scotch messenger; in his fourth, 2,000 to John Murray, and 1,500 to Sir James Sandilands: in his fifth, 2,000 to John Auchmoutie, 3,000 to Martin and Abraham Hardaret, and 200 to John Potten; in his eleventh, 3,000 to Charles Chambers, 6,000 to the lord of Loreston, 2,000 to Sir William Wade, 1,000 to Sir Ralph Bowes, 1,000 to Sir Richard Wigmore, 4,000 to Sir James Simple and Thomas Lee, and 3,000 to Sir Hugh Beeston.

The puritans did not submit to the outrages perpetrated on them without sturdy resistance and remonstrance. The catholics, or at least a section of them, proceeded to something more dangerous. James, amid all this discontent and distress of his subjects, was very comfortably and unconcernedly pursuing his great pastime of hunting. The crowds of courtiers and expectants which flocked to the neighbourhood of his sporting sojourn, were such as to eat up all the resources of those districts, and create distress of another kind, for the visits of royal purveyors were neither pleasant nor profitable. The archbishop of York, whilst writing to Cecil praying for a more vigorous prosecution of the catholics, ventured to entreat him to advise the king "against the wasting of the treasure of the realm, and for more moderation in the lawful exercise of hunting, both that poor men's corn may be less spoiled, and other his majesty's subjects more spared."

Cecil, with the tact of a courtier, replied to the archbishop before mentioning it to the king, letting him know that his majesty, amid his amusement, did not neglect the due chastisement of recusants; and that as to his hunting, it was a manly exercise, and ought to be a joy to him to behold the king so able of constitution, promising long life and a plentiful posterity. This answer he then laid before James, who was duly delighted with it, telling Cecil that he had "payed" the archbishop soundly, against whom he was extremely incensed for his plain suggestion as to the wasting of the treasure and excess in hunting, declaring it the most foolish letter that he ever read. He announced to Cecil that he meant to proceed from Royston, where he then was, to Newmarket, to hunt, and thence to Thetford. But other subjects were as foolish as the archbishop. The people of Royston caught a favourite hound of the king's, and put a label round his neck, saying, "Pray, good Mr. Jowler, speak to the king, for he heareth you every day, and so doth he not us, and entreat that it will please his majesty to go back to London, or else the country will be undone; all our provision is spent already, and we are not able to entertain him longer." The puritans also, who were expelled from their livings, continually presented themselves amid his hunting with petitions, and as these were disregarded, their friends proceeded to diffuse their complaints through the press. On the printers and publishers of these papers James let loose Cecil, whom he designated his "little beagle."

From hunting James was called on to perform a task equally congenial to his disposition. This was to decide on what would now be at once recognised as a case of mesmeric clairvoyance. One Richard Haddock, of New College, Oxford, who practised medicine there, and was equally ignorant of Latin and Greek, as well as of divinity, had fallen into the habit of preaching in his sleep, during which he not only astonished his hearers by the depth and eloquence of his discourses, but by his accurate quotations of the learned languages. When awake, which is almost invariably the case with clairvoyants, he knew nothing of what he had said or done in his sleep, and could not pronounce a word of the classical tongues. The man was sent for to court, and first heard in his sleep and then examined by the king, who dealt with him in his usual way of imagined shrewdness, till he had satisfied himself that the man had assumed this peculiarity to attract attention, and badgered and cross-questioned the poor man till he prevailed on him to confess that this was so. The king's profundity, however, did not attempt to solve the mystery of a man's speaking Greek and Latin who knew none; and it is probable that with his subtle questionings, he mingled more persuasive promises for he sent the man back to Oxford, arid soon after gave him preferment in the church, a singular mode, certainly, of punishing religious imposture.

From sleeping preachers, however, James was very soon called to the proceedings of men who were wide awake. The catholics, smarting under their renewed persecutions, felt it useless to remonstrate like the puritans, for both the church party and nonconformists were against them. They, therefore, as a body, brooded in silence over their sufferings; but there were amongst the oppressed spirits those who could not thus endure in patience, but planned a desperate revenge. Amongst these was Robert Catesby, the descendant of an ancient catholic family, seated for centuries at Ashby St. Legers, in Northamptonshire, and also possessing considerable property in Warwickshire. Catesby's father had been a great sufferer for recusancy, having several times been imprisoned, in addition to the plundering of his substance. In his youth the younger Catesby, who was wild and extravagant, was not disposed to sacrifice his jollity for the maintenance of a persecuted faith. He embraced protestantism, but in 1598 he returned to his original belief, and feeling the bitter force of persecution, he became stimulated to an active hatred of the government. He joined the insurrection of Essex on condition that lie should enjoy full religious freedom; and escaping the fate of his leader by the forfeiture of three thousand pounds, he then secretly joined himself to the Spanish party amongst the catholics, in order to prevent the succession of the Scottish prince. This hope being defeated, and the catholics not only seeing James prepared to falsify his promises of catholic indulgence, but all the heads of the catholic world abroad - the kings of France and Spain, and the pope himself - seeking the friendship of James, Catesby conceived the gloomy idea that deliverance could only proceed from the English catholics themselves. In following out this desperate idea, he gradually evolved a scheme of vengeance and annihilation of all the persecutors of his faith - the king, the lords, and the commons together - which would have enraptured Nero, and struck the modern world on its discovery with an appalling consternation. This was no other than to blow up the king and parliament with gunpowder.

The idea was not original, for it is stated in a letter by Persons, in Butler's Historical Memoirs, that "There be recounted in histories many attempts of the same kynds, and some also by protestants in our dayes; as that of men who at Antwerp placed a whole barrel of powder in the great street of that city, where the prince of Parma with his nobility was to passe; and of him in the Hague, that would have blown up the whole council of Hollande upon private revenge." But if it was not the first design of the kind, it certainly was second to none in its daring and wholesale atrocity.

Catesby first made a confidant in his terrible project of Thomas Winter, the younger brother of Robert Winter, of Huddington, in Worcestershire. Winter was the intimate friend of Catesby, and had been long associated with him in his plans for the relief of the catholics. He had been a volunteer in the wars of the Netherlands, and then was sent to Madrid as the secret agent of the Spanish party in England, amongst whom his friend Catesby was an active partisan. But familiar as Winter was with the sufferings and projects of the catholics, this bloody revelation struck him with horror, and he denounced it vehemently as most criminal and inhuman. But Catesby spared no labour to reconcile his mind to the idea; he painted in vivid colours the long, the pitiless, and the unmerited cruelties inflicted on the catholics. He enumerated the numbers who had been exterminated by the axe and the rope of the executioner; who had perished in their prisons, or who had been reduced from affluence and honour to beggary by the relentless bigotry of the government. He demanded whence relief was to come. What hope there was left of effectual intercession from abroad, or of resolute resistance from the dispirited catholics at home. He appealed to him whether God had not given to every man the right to repel force by force, and whether the whole world besides afforded them any other chance.

Winter was staggered but not convinced, and declared that he would not consent to any such frightful measure before fresh attempts were made to procure a mitigation of their sufferings by milder means. He, therefore, hastened over to the Netherlands, where the Spanish ambassador, Velasco, had arrived, in order to conclude a peace betwixt England and Spain. At Bergen, near Dunkirk, he had an interview with the ambassador, and urged upon him to demand a clause in the treaty for the protection of the catholics. He was soon convinced that Velasco, though promising to use his influence for that end, would not risk the completion of the peace by the advocacy of such a stipulation.

Indignant at this apathy, he hastened to Ostend on his return, where he accidentally encountered an old comrade in the Netherland wars, of the name of Guido or Guy Fawkes, a native of Yorkshire, and a man of determined courage, as well as of great experience and address. He had been Winter's companion in his mission to Madrid, and he now solicited him to accompany him to England, and unite his endeavours with other friends for catholic relief. Winter, it would seem, had now made up his mind to enter into Catesby's plot, but did not let Fawkes into the full secret for some time.

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