The Reign of James I (Continued) page 14
To add to the ill-humour generated by this imbecile transaction, the public had been greatly incensed by the arrest of a number of liberal-minded men - the earls of Oxford and Southampton, Sutcliffe, dean of Exeter, Brise, a puritan preacher, Sir Christopher Neville, Sir Edward Sandys, and Selden, the great lawyer and antiquary; and a prosecution had been commenced against Sir Edward Coke, on no less than eleven charges of misdemeanour during the time that he was a judge. Coke, unlike Bacon, had amassed great wealth during his official life, and it was understood that these charges of peculation and bribery had been got up at the suggestion of Bacon and Coke's own wife, lady Hatton.
The commons took up zealously the cause of their members, Sandys and Coke. Sandys had been examined on some secret charge before the council, and after a month's detention was discharged. Being confined to his bed at the commencement of the session, two members were ap pointed to wait on him and learn the cause of his arrest, notwithstanding the assurance of the secretary of state that it had no connection with his conduct in the house. They also ordered the serjeant-at-arms to take into custody the accusers of Coke, and appointed a committee to examine witnesses. They felt assured that the proceedings against these gentlemen originated with their popular conduct in parliament.
At the same time Coke, in the commons, proposed a petition to the king against the increase of popery and the marriage of the prince of Wales to a catholic. It represented that the success in Germany against the prince palatine had so encouraged the papists, that they flocked in crowds to the chapels of the foreign ambassadors; sent their children abroad for education, and were treated with so much lenity that, if not prevented, they would soon again be in the ascendant. Spain was represented, without directly naming it, as the worst enemy of this country, and the king was implored to recall all the children of catholic noblemen and gentlemen from abroad, marry his son to a protestant princess, and enforce the laws with rigour against the papists.
James received a private copy of this petition, and was thrown into a paroxysm of rage at its perusal. To dictate to him how he should marry his son; that he should invade the territories of Spain, as it recommended; and to reflect on the honour of his ally, the Spanish king, were examples of intolerable interference with his dearly valued prerogative. He wrote at once to the speaker, denouncing certain "fiery, popular, and turbulent spirits" in the house, and desiring them not to concern themselves about such matters as were included in the petition, Adverting to Sandys, he denied that his offence was connected with the house of commons, but at the same time declared that the crown possessed a right to punish subjects, whether members of parliament or not, and would not fail to exercise it.
The house received this missive with high dissatisfaction, but with dignity, and vindicated their right of liberty of speech in a firm memorial. James replied that though their privileges were no undoubted right, but were derived from the grace of his ancestors on the throne, yet go long as they kept them within the limits of duty, he should not exercise his prerogative and withdraw those privileges. The house expressed its high resentment at this language, which reduced their right into mere matter of royal favour, and the expression of feeling ran so high that James became alarmed, and wrote to secretary Calvert, instructing him to qualify his assertions a little. But the house was not thus to be satisfied where the question of its privileges was directly raised, and on the 18th of December it drew up the following protest: - "That the liberties and jurisdictions of parliament are the most ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England; that arduous and urgent affairs concerning the king, the state, and defence of the realm, and the church of England, the making and maintenance of laws, and the redress of grievances, are proper subjects of counsel and debate in parliament; that in the handling of these businesses, every member hath and ought to have freedom of speech; that the commons in parliament have like liberty to treat of these matters in such order as they think proper; that every member hath like freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, and molestation, other than by the censure of the house itself, concerning any bill, speaking or reasoning touching parliament matters; and that if any be complained of for anything said or done in parliament, the same is to be showed to the king by assent of the commons before the king give evidence to any private information."
This was speaking out; the parliament threw down the gage, and James, in his wrath, took it up. Forgetting that he was represented as ill, he rode up to London in a fury, ordered the clerk of the commons to bring him the journals of the house - according to Rushworth, tore the obnoxious protest out of it with his own hands, in full council, and in presence of the judges; at all events he cancelled it; had what he had done entered in the council-book, and on the 6th of January, 1622, by an insulting proclamation, dissolved parliament; assuring the public that it was on account of its evil temper that he had dissolved the house of commons, and not with any intention of doing without one; that he should soon call another; and in the meantime the country might rest assured that he would endeavour to govern well.
The first proofs of his notions of governing well were the summoning of the earls of Oxford and Southampton from the house of peers, and of Coke, Philips, Pym, and Mallory, from the commons, to appear before the council, some of whom were committed to the Tower, some to the Fleet, and others to the custody of private individuals. It was pretended that nothing in either house had occasioned these arrests, and various reasons were assigned; amongst others, that Selden was not a member of the commons, and he therefore could have incurred no blame there. But Selden was the legal adviser of Sandys and others, who had made themselves prominent in the popular cause, and he was known as one of the ablest legal advocates of parliamentary and public rights. The two peers were also at the head of a popular party, which had sprung up in the lords, and the whole matter was too palpable for mistake. Nothing could, however, be fixed on any of the prisoners which the government dared to charge as a crime, and after a sharp rebuke, they were liberated. There were still other members whose conduct had excited the anger of the court, but against whom no specific charge could be established. These were Sir Dudley Digges, Sir James Parrott, Sir Nathaniel Rich, and Sir Thomas Carew. To punish them a singular mode was devised. They were appointed to a commission in Ireland to inquire into the state of the army and navy, into the condition of the church and of public schools, into the abuses in the collection of revenue and in the settlement of the plantations, and into the existence of illegal and mischievous patents. As it was extremely inconvenient for these gentlemen to absent themselves on such business, they protested decidedly against it; but they were told that the king had a right to the services of his subjects, in any way that he pleased; and though these gentlemen had stood boldly with their fellows in a collective capacity for the rights of the subject, they were not sufficiently screwed up to the pitch of martyrdom, to stand upon their individual freedom, and refuse at all costs. Coke, who had now taken the lead in the popular cause, because the court had repelled and dismissed him, offered to accompany them, and assist them with his legal advice and experience, but his offer was declined. The subjects of inquiry, of themselves, were of a nature to furnish much strength and intelligence to the reformers, and the mode of punishing these men was as short-sighted as it was arbitrary. But the great contest was now fully begun, in which the blindness and tyranny of the Stuarts, and the firm intelligence of the people, were to fight out the great question of constitutional government. Those who regard this as a matter only of Charles I.'s reign, have strangely overlooked the doings and doctrines of James, who was the great author of the conflict, and opened it himself with all the blind dogmatism which distinguished the royal side to the end. This very session prince Charles had been a diligent attender of the house of lords, but seems to have had no perception whatever of the spirit which was dominant in the house of commons, and rapidly diffusing its electric fire through the nation. The names of Pym, Coke, Wentworth, and Laud, were already in men's mouths, the heralds of that mighty host, which, for good or for evil, were soon to engage in terrible combat; whose victory was to be the morning-star of governmental science to the nations, determining the true powers, uses, and limitations of governments, and the liberty of the people protected by its own popular safeguards, from licence and anarchy.
On the very day of the dissolution of parliament, James very nearly finished his mortal career. "The same day," says Meade, in Ellis's Original Letters, "his majesty rode by coach to Theobalds to dinner, not intending, as the speech is, to return till Easter. After dinner, riding on horseback abroad, his horse stumbled, and cast his majesty into the New River, when the ice brake; he fell in, so that nothing but his boots were seen. Sir Richard Young was next, who alighted, went into the water, and lifted him out. Then came much water out of his mouth and body. His majesty rid back to Theobalds, went into a warm bed, and, as we hear, is well, which God continue."
In foreign affairs James was placed in particular difficulties. The two objects which he had more than all others at heart, were the marriage of his son, the prince of Wales, to the Infanta of Spain, and the restoration of the elector palatine to his hereditary possessions. He had tried too late to secure the princess Christine of France. She was already affianced to Philip of Spain. He had since negotiated for the hand of Donna Maria of Spain. If he could accomplish this marriage, he should be at once able to secure by it his other grand desire, the restoration of the palsgrave, for Spain would then be induced to withdraw its forces from the assistance of the emperor against the Palatinate, and to add its earnest co-operation in arranging for the palsgrave's re-instatement.
But against this project of marriage - the stepping-stone to these measures in Germany - stood the aversion of the public in England to a match with so bigotedly catholic a country as Spain, and equally bigoted a family as that of its sovereign. Just as adverse were the Spaniards, and especially the priests, to the young Infanta coming into an heretical country, and to any impediment thrown in the way of the emperor of Germany exterminating the protestants there. During the life of Philip III., the father of Donna Maria, little progress could be made, but on the accession of his son, Philip IV., in 1621, a more promising prospect opened. Both James and Charles wrote to the new king and his favourite Olivarez. In England Gondomar, the Spanish minister, was warmly in favour of the alliance, seeing in it a guarantee for the relief of the catholics here, and of increased strength against France. Lord Digby, now earl of Bristol, late ambassador at Madrid, was equally zealous for the marriage; and James was the more eager for it as he saw no hope of aid in his German project from France. There the feeble monarch, Louis XIII, was wholly in the hands of a despicable favourite, De Luynes, who was insolently opposed to the English interests, though the French people, from their hereditary hatred of the house of Austria, would have gladly marched against the invaders of the Palatinate.
The affairs of Frederick, the prince palatine, were desperate. The Palatinate, in fact, was already lost. Count Mansfeldt, the ablest general who had fought for the elector's interests, and the prince Christian of Brunswick, had evacuated the Palatinate - Heidelberg and Mannheim were in the hands of the enemy - and these generals had entered the service of the Dutch. The emperor, in reward for the successful services of Maximilian of Bavaria, had conferred on him the electorate of the Palatinate, with the greater part of the territory.
James himself, to get rid of the maintenance of the garrison, had given up Frankenthal to the Spaniards, on condition that if, within eighteen months, a satisfactory peace were not made, it should be returned. Everything, there fore, was lost, and James fondly hoped that the Spanish match might yet recover everything.
Circumstances appeared to favour his hopes. The young king of Spain and his minister, Olivarez, responded cordially to James's proposal; Gondomar hastened on to Madrid to promote the object, and was soon followed by the earl of Bristol, equally earnest for the accomplishment of the marriage. It was, however, necessary to procure a dispensation for this union from the pope, and this the king of Spain undertook to procure through his ambassador at Borne. James was not to appear at all in the affair, but with the unconquerable propensity to be meddling personally in all negotiations, he could not help despatching George Gage, a catholic, with letters to the pontiff, as well as to the cardinals Ludovisio and Bandini; and Buckingham, to complete the intercession, sent Bennet, a catholic priest, on the same errand.
The pope was not likely to grant the favour to James without a quid pro quo, and therefore, as might have been expected, replied that the canons of the church could only be suspended for the benefit of the church; that the king of England had been very liberal of his promises to the late king of Spain, but had performed nothing; he must now give proof of his sincerity by relieving the English catholics from the pressure of his penal laws, and the request would be accorded. This was a demand in limine, which would have shown to any prudent monarch the dangerous path he was entering upon; but James trusted to his tortuous art of king-craft, and rashly set to work to undo all that he had done throughout his reign against the catholics. He caused an order under the great seal to be issued, granting pardons to all recusants who should apply for them within five years; and the judges were commanded to discharge from prison all such as gave security for their compliance with these terms.
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