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Reign of Charles I. page 12

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The case of a merchant and member of the house, Mr. Rolles, was then related. His goods had been seized by the officers of the customs for refusing to pay the rates demanded, though he told them that whatever was declared due by law, he would discharge. This case, amongst a multitude of others, threw the house into a great ferment. "They knew the party was a parliament man," said Sir Robert Philips; "nay, they said if all the parliament was with him, or concerned in the goods, they would seize them just, the same."

The king, perceiving the storm he had raised, sent word by secretary Coke to stay further debate on that case till three o'clock the next day, when he would speak with both houses at Whitehall. Accordingly, meeting them there, Charles, after complimenting the lords at the expense of the commons, then said, addressing the members of the lower house, "The complaint of staying men's goods for tonnage and poundage, may have a short and easy conclusion. By passing the bill as my ancestors have had it, my past actions will be concluded, and my future proceedings authorised. I take not these duties as appertaining to my hereditary prerogative. It ever was, and still is, my meaning, by the gift of my subjects to enjoy the same. In my speech of last session, I did not challenge them as right, but showed you the necessity by which I was to take them, till you had granted them, assuring myself that you wanted only time, and not goodwill. So make good your professions, and put an end to all questions arising from the subject."

These assertions were in direct contradiction to his declaration in that very speech which we have already quoted, that the tonnage and poundage was a thing that parliament had nothing to do with. But the concession gratified the commons; still they did not grant the customs duties, but employed themselves strenuously in calling to account those who had been concerned in furthering or executing the king's illegal orders. They summoned to their bar Acton, the sheriff of London, who had seized the goods of Rolles and other merchants, and sent him to the Tower. They summoned also the officers of the customs who made the seizure, who pleaded the king's warrant, and also his own express command; and the king declared, through secretary Coke, that he would defend them. This caused loud outcries in the house, but did not check their proceedings, for they sent messages to the chancellor and barons of the exchequer, who excused themselves by saying all those aggrieved had their remedy at law. Thus they did not attempt to justify their proceedings.

On the 25th of February, two days later than these determined inquisitions, showing that the commons were assuming high and most ominous ground, the committee of religion presented to the house a report, entitled u Heads of articles agreed upon, and to be insisted on by the house." In these they complained that the bishops licensed books in favour of popery, and suppressed books opposed to popery; that such books as those of Mainwaring and Montague should be burnt, and some better order taken for the licensing of books. They demanded that candlesticks should 36 removed from the communion-tables, now impiously styled high altars; that pictures, lights, images, should be taken away, and crossing and praying towards the east for-bidden. That more learned, pious, and orthodox men should be put into livings, and better provision made for a good minister in every parish.

Again Charles sent them an order to adjourn to the 2nd of March, which they did, but only to assemble on that day in the same resolute and unbending spirit. Sir John Elliot immediately denounced Neale, of Winchester, as a rank abettor of Arminianism, and thence passed on to the lord treasurer Weston, who he declared was his grand supporter in it. This Sir Eichard Weston had been seeking his fortune at court many years, and had nearly spent a private fortune of his own before he obtained any promotion. At last he got employed as ambassador to archduke Albert in Flanders, and afterwards to the court of Germany, in which he discharged his trust so well, that on his return he was made chancellor of the exchequer, and a few months before the death of Buckingham, Charles had removed the earl of Marlborough from the office of lord treasurer, and given it to him. Weston was highly elated, and devoted himself with all his ardour to succeed to the place of favourite which Buckingham had held. But though Charles showed him much favour, and eventually made him earl of Portland, he allowed Weston to succeed to the arbitrary offices and public odium of the duke, but not to the ascendancy which Buckingham possessed over him.

Sir John Elliot now pointed out his criminal subservience to the worst designs of the king. "In his person," he said, "all evil is concentrated, both for the innovation of religion, and the-invasion of our liberties. He is now the great enemy of the Commonwealth. I have traced him in all his actions, and I find him building on those grounds laid by his master, the great duke. He secretly is moving for this interruption; and from this fear they go about to break parliament, lest parliament should break them."

This was tender ground, and Sir John Finch, the speaker, who was a regular courtier, immediately said he had a command from his majesty to adjourn the house till Tuesday come seven-night following. Several members declared the message to be vexatious and out of order; that adjournment was a function of their own, but since the speaker had delivered the message and that was sufficient, they would settle a few matters, and do as his majesty desired. Sir John Elliot produced a remonstrance addressed to the king against levying tonnage and poundage, and desired the speaker to read it, but he refused, saying the house was adjourned by the king. Elliot then desired the clerk of the house to read it, but he also refused, and so Sir John read it himself; but the speaker refused to put it to the vote. Selden then told the speaker that if he would not put the question to the vote, they would all continue sitting still.

The speaker, however, declared that he had his majesty's command immediately to rise, when he had delivered the message; whereupon he was rising, but Hollis, the son of the earl of Clare, and Valentine, who had placed themselves on each side of him for the purpose, held him down in his chair. He made a great outcry and resistance: several of the courtiers rushed to his assistance, but Hollis swore that he should sit as long as they pleased. The doors were locked, and there was a great scuffle and blows, but the opposition members compelled the speaker to continue sitting, notwithstanding his struggles, tears, and entreaties. Selden delivered an address to the imprisoned speaker, on his duties and his obedience owed to the house, which sate under the great seal, and had power of adjournment as the king had that of prorogation. Sir Peter Hayman told him that he blushed at being his kinsman, that he was a blot on his family, and would be held in scorn and contempt by posterity; and concluded by recommending that if he would not do his duty, he should be brought to the bar of the house, dismissed, and another chosen at once in his place. Mr. Hollis proceeded to read the following set of resolutions, which were loudly cheered, and assented to by the house, namely: - 1. That whoever shall seek to bring in popery, Arminianism, or other opinions, disagreeing from the true and orthodox church, shall be reputed a capital enemy to this kingdom and commonwealth. 2. Whoever shall advise the taking of tonnage and poundage, not being granted by parliament, or shall be an actor or instrument therein, shall be reputed a capital enemy to this kingdom and parliament. 3. Whatever merchant or other person shall pay tonnage and poundage, not being granted by parliament, shall be reputed a betrayer of the liberties of England, and an enemy to the same.

Whilst these extraordinary scenes were acting, the king had come down to the house of lords, but not finding the speaker there, as he expected, sent a messenger to bring away the sergeant with his mace, without which there could be no house. The doors were locked, and the messenger could get no admittance. Charles then sent the usher of the black rod to summon the commons to his presence, but he could no more obtain an entrance than the messenger. On hearing this, in a transport of rage, the king ordered the captain of the guard to break open the door; but this catastrophe was prevented by the house just then adjourning to the 10th of March, according to the king's message.

On the 10th of March the king went to the house of lords, and without summoning the commons, proceeded to dissolve parliament. He then addressed the lords, complaining grievously of the conduct of the commons, which compelled him at that time to dissolve parliament. He expressed much comfort in the lords, and conceded that there were in the commons many who were as dutiful and loyal subjects as any in the world, but that they had some vipers amongst them, that created all this trouble. He intimated that these evil disposed persons would meet with their rewards, and bade the lord keeper do as he had commanded. Then the lord keeper said, "My lords, and gentlemen of the commons, the king's majesty doth dissolve this parliament;" though the commons, with the exception of a few individuals, were not there, nor represented by their speaker.

This question of the right of the commons to determine their own adjournment, and to deny to the king the right of preventing the speaker putting any question from the chair, was a most vital one, and hitherto undetermined. If the king could at any moment adjourn the commons as well as prorogue parliament altogether, and could decide what topics should be entertained by the house, there was an end of the existence of the commons as an independent branch of the legislature: it sunk at once into the mere creature of the crown. There was a great battle for this as for other popular rights, and the determined conduct of the members showed that it was coming fast to a crisis. But at this moment Charles was as determined to conquer the parliament, as parliament was not to be conquered.

No sooner did this unprecedented scene with the speaker take place, than he adopted measures to punish those most prominently concerned in it. The compulsory detention of the speaker took place on the 2nd of March; on the 5th he issued warrants to arrest the "vipers" - Elliot, Selden, Hollis, Valentine, Hobart, Hayman, Coriton, Long, and Stroud, and commit them to the Tower or other prisons. Stroud and Long were not immediately caught, but on the issue of a proclamation for their apprehension they surrendered. The houses of Elliot, Hollis, Selden, Long, and Valentine, were forcibly entered, their desks broken open, and their papers seized.

Charles issued a proclamation dated 22nd of March, explaining the reasons for his now dissolving parliament, and plainly intimating that he meant to do without parliaments unless he could make them submit passively to his will. "We have showed," it said, "by our frequently meeting our people, our love to the use of parliaments; yet, the late abuse having for the present driven us unwillingly out of that course, we shall account it presumption for any to prescribe any time unto us for parliaments, the calling, continuing, and dissolving of which is always in our power; and shall be more inclinable to meet in parliament again, when our people shall see more clearly into our interests and actions, and when such as have bred this interruption shall have received their condign punishment."

From the last expression it was expected that the irate monarch would endeavour to bring these offenders to the block; but he found the judges more sensible of the real power of parliament and public opinion than himself. He put a series of questions to the judges, whose answers did not prove very satisfactory, and judge Whitelock even ventured to attribute the mischief to Laud, and said that if he went on in that way he would kindle a flame in the nation. The judge proved quite prophetically right. The prisoners sued for their habeas corpus, and were brought by its means into the Court of King's Bench, where the court counsel stated that they were imprisoned for notable contempt, and for stirring up sedition. Their own counsel argued that they had acted expressly on the king's confirmation of the Petition of Eight, and had been perfectly within the law in their proceedings. But the attorney-general Heath openly avowed that the king had bound himself to nothing that was not law before, and that a petition was no law; that the matter stood just as it had done before the Petition of Eight. Whilst he thus made a most deplorable case of it for the king, describing the granting of the petition as a mere excusable shuffle to get rid of a difficulty, and thus sinking Charles deeper than ever in the public opinion, as unprincipled and unworthy of all credit, at the same time, by admitting that what the Petition of Eight defined as right, was already the old established right of the kingdom, he convicted the king of having violated that right wilfully and repeatedly, and by consequence fully justified the prisoners.

Heath, who was a thoroughly bred tool of despotism, declared that prisoners committed by the king or privy council were not bailable; but the judges wrote to the king to apprise him that they were bound by their oaths to bail the prisoners. On this the lord keeper informed them that his majesty desired to see them at Greenwich. There he gave them a sharp lecture, and forbade them to grant bail till they had consulted the rest of the judges. These other judges, obviously prepared to serve the crown, delayed their opinion till the end of term, and when the writs of habeas corpus were served on the keepers of the prisons where the prisoners had been first confined, to whom they were addressed, they were found to be removed to other gaols, so that the writs became void. This was one of the ingenious tricks of tyranny which Charles had hit upon, and extensively practised to defeat justice; "prisoners," says White-lock, "being removed from pursuivant to pursuivant, and thus could have no benefit of law."

Charles, sensible of the odium of this proceeding, informed the judges of the King's Bench that he had done this, "not, as some people might say, to decline the course of justice, but because the prisoners had carried themselves insolently and unmannerly to himself and their lordships." Thus the prisoners were compelled to lie during the long vacation, without books, without papers, or admission of their friends. On the first day of Michaelmas term, they were brought into court, and ordered to find bail, and also to give security for their good behaviour. They were all ready to give bail, but all positively refused to give security for good behaviour, as that implied the commission of some crime, which they denied. They were then put upon their trial, but excepted to the jurisdiction of the court, being amenable only to their own high court of parliament for what was done therein. But they were told that their conduct had not been parliamentary, and that the common law could deal with all offences there by word or deed, as well as anywhere else. This was another attack on the privileges of parliament, which, if allowed, would have finished its independence; and these were not the men to surrender a jot of the outworks and defences of parliament. They were then sentenced as follows: - Sir John Elliot to be imprisoned in the Tower, the other prisoners in other prisons at the king's pleasure. None of them to be delivered out of prison till they have given security for their good behaviour, acknowledged their offence, and paid the following fines: - Sir John Elliot, as the ringleader and chief offender, two thousand pounds; Hollis, one thousand marks; Valentine, fire hundred pounds.

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