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The Reign of James I (Continued) page 2


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In the face of all this, James proceeded immediately to raise Rochester to the dignity of earl of Somerset, that he might equal in rank, if not in iniquity, the murder-breathing countess. The marriage, moreover, was celebrated on the 26th of December, at the royal chapel in Whitehall, the king making it his own affair, being himself present, with prince Charles, and a great crowd of bishops and noblemen. The queen kept herself commendably apart from the whole infamous business. The blood-stained bride, with a shamelessness unparalleled, appeared with her hair hanging loose on her shoulders, in the character of a virgin! Montague, bishop of Bath and Wells, married the guilty couple, and Mountain, dean of Westminster, pronounced a blessing upon them. Then the king gave a series of banquets and masques at Whitehall in honour of them, which continued till the 4th of January, 1614; and, as if all classes of public men were eager to disgrace themselves by sanctioning this court wickedness, the lord mayor and aldermen invited the adulterous couple to a splendid banquet, given at Merchant Tailors' Flail, on the same 4th of January, whither they were accompanied by the duke of Lennox, the earl of Northampton, lord privy seal, the lord chamberlain, and the earls of Worcester, Pembroke, and Montgomery, As it was to do honour to the king's especial favourite, the whole civic body were arrayed in their robes of office, and the dinner was served by citizens selected out of the twelve companies, in the costumes of those companies. There was, moreover, a masque, a ball, dancing, and a play, and then the guilty and feted pair returned to Whitehall.

This city ovation was followed by another at Gray's Inn, on Twelfth Night, which the lord chancellor Bacon had forced, in a manner, on the reluctant lawyers. The marriage of the princess Elizabeth, the king's own daughter, had been a most simple and tame affair to this, and the public, of every class and denomination, regarded with horror and indignation, this deification of lust and murder. Puritans, churchmen, catholics, people of every and of no religion were equally loud in venting their anathemas on the foolish king, the sycophantic prelates, and compliant ministers. James gave such indulgence to debauch in the midst of these atrocious festivities, that he grew into a most cumbersome and disgusting spectacle. "This year," says Roger Coke, "as it was the meridian of the king's reign in England, so it was of his pleasures. He was excessively addicted to hunting and drinking, not ordinary French and Spanish wines, but strong Greek wines; and though he would divide his hunting from drinking these wines, yet he would compound his hunting with drinking; and to that purpose he was attended with a special officer, who was, as much as could be, always at hand to fill the king's cup in his hunting, when he called for it. Whether it were the drinking these wines, or from some other cause, the king became so lazy and unwieldy, that he was trussed on horseback, and as he was set, so he would ride, without otherwise poising himself in his saddle; nay, when his hat was set on his head, he would not take the pains to alter it, but it sate as it was put on."

From his gaieties James was called, by his eternal want of money, to face his parliament. Since 1611, when he dissolved his last house of commons, he had endeavoured to carry on by any illegal and unconstitutional means that tiie people would submit to. But the Dutch did not keep their engagement to pay off their debt of upwards of eight hundred thousand pounds by annual instalments of sixty thousand pounds, and James was too pusillanimous to adopt the means which a Cromwell would have done. He threatened war, and threatened only; and therefore became despised by his debtors, who thenceforth made no movement towards paying. Disappointed here, the only alternative was to fleece his own subjects. He resorted to the scandalous measure of selling all the places of honour and trust, and all kind of dignities for money. He sold several peerages for high prices. Every place under government was to be had only for cash; nor did the proceeds of this infamous traffic always reach the king's hands, but fell into those of his minion Somerset, and the Howards, the relatives of Somerset's wife. The wicked countess of Somerset and lady Suffolk, her mother, got four thousand pounds as a bribe from Sir Fulke Greville, for the chancellorship of the exchequer. The example thus set at court, ran through all departments, and the whole management of the country was given up to corruption and venality.

So little of these proceeds of iniquity reached the king, and that little was so foolishly and recklessly given away amongst his hangers-on, that the salaries of all who were not in a situation to be bribed, and thus pay themselves, remained unpaid. In this difficulty, James hit upon a notable scheme, and originated a new order of aristocracy; namely, baronets, or little barons, a link betwixt the barons, or lowest peers, and knights. These new titles he sold at one thousand pounds apiece. Sir Nicholas Bacon was the first created for England, and Sir Francis Blundell for Ireland, in 1619. Baronets for Nova Scotia were added, to extend this source of income, in 1625, of whom Sir Robert Gordon was the first. "Some of these new honourable men" says Arthur Wilson, in his life of James, "whose wives' pride and their own prodigalities had pumpt up to it, were so drained, that they had not moisture to maintain the radical humour, but withered to nothing. This money thus raised is pretended for the planting of Ireland, but it found many other channels before it came to that sea. And though, at our king's first access to the crown, there was a glut of knights made, yet after some time he held his hand, lest the kingdom should be cloyed with them; and the world thrived so well with some, that the price was afterwards brought up to three hundred pounds apiece. But now again, the poor courtiers were so indigent, that sixty pounds would purchase a knighthood."

Lord Northampton died at this crisis, and the iniquitous countess's kith and kin got the benefit. Suffolk, her father, succeeded as lord treasurer; Somerset, her husband, as lord chamberlain; and their dependents rushed in a stream, all the other offices being sold by them for all they could get. Amongst others lord Knollys was made master of the court of wards, because he had married a sister of the infamous countess.

The attempts upon the constitution at this period were in strict keeping with the base practices just detailed; and in these lord Bacon, as pitiable a time-server as he was a great philosopher, and as base a traitor to liberty as he was a deep lawyer, stood foremost. He had concocted a notable scheme for managing parliaments, and it was the broaching of this scheme which alone induced James to venture on calling one. Bacon's plan was this, and he had regularly weighed it, and drawn it up for the king's consideration That, according to a principle afterwards made a maxim by Sir Robert Walpole, every one had his price. That the leaders of the late opposition, Neville, Yelverton, Hyde Crew, and Sir Dudley Digges, were chiefly lawyers, and there were plenty of means, by prospects of promotion skilfully applied, to bring them zealously to the king's side That they being once brought over, he had the talking persuasive power of the house; and that much might be done beforehand also with the city men and country gentlemen each in their own way, and where any obstinate man appeared, means might be used to keep him out. At the same time Bacon assured James that it was necessary to make a show of some concession. That as he had promised to abolish abuses, he should, at least, give up some of the lesser ones; and on his accepting this plan, he and his friends were ready to undertake to manage parliament, and to guarantee his majesty plenty of money and little trouble, provided James would only avoid irritating speeches.

James's necessities were such that there was little use in objecting to the scheme; it was agreed upon, and Bacon, the favourite Somerset, and Neville, an unscrupulous and ambitious man, were made the managers, and very soon, with their coadjutors, acquired the name of undertakers, because they undertook to manage parliament; "a generation," says Wilson, "about the court, that, to please and humour greatness, undertook a parliament, as men presuming to have friends in every county and borough, who by their power amongst the people would combine to return such members as should comply solely to the king's desires." This base scheme, we shall find, did not succeed well at first, but it was too well suited to arbitrary power to be forgotten; and in after years, and almost to our own time, was in extensive practice by the ministers of the crown.

James's parliament met on the 5th of April, 1614, and he endeavoured to put in practice the Machiavellian instructions of Bacon by delivering a very popular speech, - popular because it promised plentiful persecution for religion, which was the spirit of the day, and a liberal removal of grievances; but, as usual, first of all, he placed the supply of his necessities. But the undertakers had not succeeded in their first out-of-door efforts; there was a sturdy assemblage of popular members, and such faces appeared amongst them, according to a writer of the time, as made the court to droop. The house of commons at once reversed the topics of the king's speech, placing the grievances in the front, and making the supplies conditional on their abolition. The royal party which the undertakers had got together, found their pleas for slavish obedience drowned in a storm of angry demand for justice; and the house demanded a conference with the lords on the subject. The lords asked the opinion of the judges on the question; and especially that of Coke, the lord chief justice. Coke, who remembered the endeavours of Bacon to supplant him in the good graces of the king, and who hoped for no higher preferment, took the opportunity to throw cold water on the conference, asserting that the judges, after consultation among themselves, felt that they were bound "by their office to decide betwixt the, king and his subjects, and were, therefore, equally bound not to appear as disputants or partisans on either side. The lords, on hearing this, declined the conference, and Neale, who had recently been transferred from the see of Lichfield to the wealthier one of Lincoln, for his services in procuring the countess of Essex's divorce, rose and uttered a most unbecoming tirade against the commons, charging them with striking at the root of the royal prerogative, and anticipating that if admitted to a conference, they might use very disloyal and seditious language.

This roused the indignation of the commons: they did not understand the etiquette of our time, which supposes what passes in one house unknown in the other; but they immediately demanded of the lords the punishment of the man who had thus dared to slander their loyalty. On this the bishop, who was as cowardly as he was insolent, and. who was hated by the puritans as a merciless persecutor, instantly recanted in his place; and with many tears, and fervent declarations of his high respect for the commons, denied many of the offensive expressions attributed to him. But the house was not thus to be appeased. The members were greatly exasperated at the plan of managing them, which had become public, and fell on Bacon as the author of the scheme. The facile lord chancellor pretended to ridicule the very idea of any such scheme being in existence, as the king had done in his opening speech, but the house gave him no credit; they proceeded to question even his right to sit in their house, on his accepting the office of attorney-general, and only permitted it as a special indulgence, which was not to be drawn into a precedent.

The king, who saw no chance of supplies in the present temper of the house, sent them a sharp message, desiring them to proceed to the business of the supplies, attended with a threat of immediate dissolution in case of non-compliance. This produced no effect, and the house was dissolved on the 7th of June. Having thus broken the immediate power of retaliation in the house, he, the next morning, arrested the most refractory members, and committed five of them to the Tower, amongst whom was Wentworth, a lawyer, destined to act a very prominent part in the next reign. These members were not discharged till they had, by their admissions, occasioned the king to arrest others, who were committed in their turn. This parliament obtained the name of the Addle parliament, because it had not passed a single bill, but it had displayed a spirit which was pregnant "with the most momentous consequences. It had laid the foundation of the rights of the commons, and at the same time had displayed its rigid temperament, by issuing an order which excluded all catholics, by making it necessary for every member, before taking his seat, to receive the sacrament according to the form of the church of England.

James had indeed received a fright from the determined one of the house which lasted him nearly seven years. He returned to his usual unconstitutional modes of extorting revenue. Besides the sale of monopolies and privileges, he compelled the payment of benevolences, an odious tax, not only because raised without sanction of parliament, but because its name implied a free gift. Those who resisted these modes of royal robbery were dragged into the star-chamber, and there sentenced to enormous fines, Mr. Oliver St. John, a gentleman who had not only refused such payment, but had vindicated his conduct in an able letter, in which he commented freely on the king's violation of Magna Charta, was fined by the tyrannic star-chamber five thousand pounds, and ordered to be imprisoned during the king's pleasure.

But the tyranny of the government went far beyond this. It adopted the worst practices of the Spanish inquisition - violation of private houses and desks, the torture of suspected persons, and their punishment without any trial by a jury. James has been described by historians and romancers as an uncouth and ludicrous creature, a sort of learned and pedantic biped to be laughed at; but he was something worse than that, as the whole course of his history shows; a most cruel and arbitrary monarch, who had no belief in the rights of any living thing but himself, and who, with the same licence, seized the property and crushed the consciences of his subjects. He wanted only the martial rashness of his son Charles, to take arms for the enforcement of his will, and he would have reaped the reward of popular vengeance which fell upon his son. Such a king naturally was surrounded by base sycophants, one of the most crawling of whom was that bishop Neale, just mentioned. Waller the poet relates that when a youth he went to James's court, and stood in the circle to see the king dine. At the table with James were bishops Andrews and Neale. James asked them whether it was not lawful for him to take his subjects' money without all this formality of parliaments. Neale replied, "God forbid that you should not, for you are the breath of our nostrils." Andrews was silent, but James would not let him escape, but repeated the question to him, and said that he would admit of no evasion; whereupon Andrews said," Why, then, I think your majesty may lawfully take my brother Neale's money, for he offers it."

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Pictures for The Reign of James I (Continued) page 2

Arrest of Nonconformists
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