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Reign of Charles I. page 9

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As we have already stated, during the past year many gentlemen had been imprisoned for refusing to pay the demands of the king made without sanction of parliament. Five of them had been, at their own request, brought before the King's Bench by writ of habeas corpus, and their counsel demanded that, as they were charged with no particular offence, but merely committed at the particular command of the king, they should be discharged or admitted to bail; but both were refused. The question was now discussed by the house, and it was resolved that no subsidy should pass without a remedy granted against this royal licence. "It will in us be wrong done to ourselves," said Sir Francis Seymour, "to our posterity, to our consciences, if we forego this just claim and pretension."

"We must vindicate what?" demanded Wentworth; "new things? No; our ancient, legal, and vital liberties, by enforcing the laws enacted by our ancestors; by setting such a stamp upon them that no licentious spirit shall dare henceforth to invade them." In the repeated debates which followed. Sir Edward Coke particularly distinguished himself, old as he was, by his powerful and undaunted speeches. He called upon the members to stand by the ancient laws, and was stoutly seconded by other members, who narrated the infringement of those laws by the abuses of raising money by loans, by benevolences, and privy seals; by billeting soldiers, and imprisonment of men for refusing these illegal demands, and their refusal of the benefit of the habeas corpus. In vain were the speakers warned by the court party to beware of distrusting the king, who had been driven to these measures by necessity, and by others, who declared that such was the king's goodness that it was next only to that of God. But Coke cried out, "Let us work whilst we have time! I am absolutely for giving supply to his majesty, but yet with some caution. Let us not flatter ourselves. Who will give subsidies if the king may impose what he will? I know he is a religious king, free from personal vices, but he deals with other men's hands, and sees with other men's eyes."

This was approaching the subject of the favourite, which even the boldest were afraid of touching, but which Coke soon after entered upon plainly, and with all courage.

On the 8th of May the house passed the four following resolutions, without a dissentient voice even from the courtiers - 1st, That no freeman ought to be restrained or imprisoned, unless some lawful cause of such restraint or imprisonment be expressed. 2nd, That the writ of habeas corpus ought to be granted to every man imprisoned or restrained, though it be at the command of the king or privy council, if lie pray for the same. 3rd, That when the return expresses no cause of commitment or restraint, the party ought to be delivered or bailed. 4th. That it is the ancient and undoubted right of every free man, that he hath a full and absolute property in his goods and estates, and that no tax, loan, or benevolence ought to be levied by the king or his ministers, without common consent by act of parliament.

It was clear from these resolutions, that unless Charles chose to forego his illegal practices of raising money without consent of parliament, and imprisoning the subjects without any warrant but his own will, he must abandon all idea of the five subsidies; but his necessities were too great, and the difficulties in the way of continuing to plunder people at his pleasure too formidable to allow him lightly to give up the tempting offer. The lords were less determined than the commons, and this gave him some encouragement. The subject was argued in the commons on his behalf by the attorney-general and the king's counsel, but they found the leading members of the house too strong in their knowledge of constitutional law to be moved from their grand propositions. In the course of the debate the interference of Buckingham was felt, and the brave Sir John Elliot did not let that pass without criticism. "I know not," he said, "by what fatality or importunity it has crept in, but I observe in the close of Mr. Secretary's relation, mention made of another in addition to his majesty, and that which hath been formerly a matter of complaint, I find here still, - a mixture with his majesty, not only in business, but in name. Let me beseech you, sir, let no man hereafter within these walls, take this boldness to introduce it."

On the 28th of May the commons presented to his majesty their celebrated petition of right; a document destined to become celebrated, a confirmation of Magna Charta, and the origin of our Bill of Right secured in 1688, on which rests all the fabric of our present liberties. This petition was based on the four resolutions. It commenced by reminding the monarch of the great statutes passed by some of the most celebrated of his ancestors, which he had been so long and pertinaciously outraging. That the statute De Tallagio non concedendo, made in the reign of Edward I., provided that no tallage nor aid could be levied by the king without consent of parliament. That by another statute of the 25th year of Edward III., no person could be compelled to make any loan to the king without such sanction; such loans being against reason and the charters of the land. There could be no dispute here - the king stood palpably convicted, and had he acted in ignorance, could do so no longer. It then went on: - "And by other laws of this realm, it is provided that none shall be charged by any charge or imposition called a benevolence, nor by such like charge; by which statutes before mentioned, and the other good laws and statutes of the realm, your subjects have inherited this freedom, that they should not be compelled to contribute to any tax, tallage, aid, or other like charge, not set by common consent in parliament: yet, nevertheless, of late, divers commissions, directed to sundry commissioners, in several counties, with instructions, have issued, by pretext whereof your people have been in divers places assembled, and required to lend certain sums of money unto your majesty; and many of them, upon their refusal to do so, have had an. unlawful oath administered unto them, not warrantable by the laws and statutes of this realm, and have been constrained to become bound to make appearance and give attendance before your privy council in other places; and others of them have therefore been imprisoned, confined, and sundry other ways molested and disquieted; and divers other charges have been laid and levied upon your people in several counties, by lords-lieutenant, commissioners for musters, justices of peace, and others, by command or direction from your majesty or your privy council, against the laws and free customs of this realm."

The petition next set forth that divers persons refusing to pay these impositions had been imprisoned without cause shown, and on being brought up by habeas corpus to have their cause examined, had been sent back to prison without such fair trial and examination. From this it proceeded to the fact that numbers of soldiers had been billeted in private houses, contrary to the laws, and persons tried by martial law, in cases where they were only amenable to the common law of the land; and moreover, officers and ministers of the king had screened soldiers and sailors who had committed robberies, murders, and other felonies, on the plea that they were only responsible to military tribunals. All these breaches of the statutes, the petition prayed the king to cause to cease, as being contrary to the rights and liberties of the subject, as secured by the laws of the land.

The petition was so clear, and the statutes quoted were so undeniable, that Charles was puzzled what to do. To refuse the prayer of the commons was to forfeit the five tempting subsidies; to admit it simply and fully was to confess that he had hitherto been altogether wrong, and to leave himself no loop-hole of excuse for the future. Instead, therefore, of adopting the established form of saying, in the old Norman words, "Soit droit fait comme il est desire" he wrote at the foot of the petition, this loose and most absurd assent - "The king willeth that right be done according to the laws and customs of the realm; and that the statutes be put in due execution, that his subjects may have no cause to complain of any wrongs or oppressions, contrary to their just rights and liberties, to the preservation whereof he holds himself in conscience as well obliged as of his own prerogative."

This left the matter precisely where it was, for the king had always contended that he did nothing but what was warranted by his prerogative. The house felt this, and at once expressed their grievous disappointment. To add to their chagrin, Charles sent a message to them, informing them that he should dissolve parliament on the 11th of June, it now being the 5th. A deep and melancholy silence pervaded the house, which locked the doors to prevent interruption, and debated the matter in all earnestness. A second message from his majesty, commanding them not to cast or lay aspersions on any minister of his majesty, added greatly to the concern of the house. On the day but one before Sir John Elliot had urged the necessity of a "declaration" to his majesty, showing the decay and contempt of religion, and the insufficiency of his ministers; the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster had styled Sir John's speech "strange language," and had declared that if Sir John went on, he would go out; upon which the house told him plainly to take himself off. This had brought down the king's second message. A Mr. Alured, or Aldred, writing on the 6th to a friend, describes the 5th, on which the king's message came to the house, as "a day of desolation amongst us in parliament." The debate went on amid tears and deep emotion from strong and long practised men; as if they perceived that the great crisis of the nation was come, and foresaw the bloodshed and misery which were to follow if they stood firm to their knowledge of the right; the slavery and degradation of England if they did not.

Sir Robert Philips, interrupted by sobs and weeping, said, "I perceive that towards God and towards man there is little hope, after our humble and careful endeavours, seeing our sins are many and so great. I consider my own infirmities, and if ever my passions were wrought upon, it is now. This message stirs.me up, especially when I remember with what moderation we have proceeded." These earnest and religious men feared that God was hardening the heart of the king as he had done that of Pharaoh, in order to punish the nation for its backslidings and wickedness. "Our sins," said Sir John Elliot, "are so exceeding great, that unless we speedily turn to God, God will remove himself farther from us. You know with what affection and integrity we have proceeded hitherto, to gain his majesty's heart; and, out of the necessity of our duty, were brought to that course we were in: I doubt a misrepresentation to his majesty hath drawn this mark of his displeasure upon us. I observe in the message, amongst other sad particulars, it is conceived that we were about to lay some aspersions upon the government. Give me leave to protest that so clear

were our intentions, that we desire only to vindicate these dishonours to our king and country. It is said also as if we cast some aspersions on his majesty's ministers; I am confident no minister, how dear soever, can -----" Elliot was interrupted by Sir John Finch, the speaker, who had for some time been more and more sidling away to the favour of the king, starting up and exclaiming, "There is a command laid upon me, to interrupt any that shall go about to lay an aspersion on the ministers of state." A clear infringement of the privilege of parliament, which the house was not disposed to pass by. Sir John Elliot, thus snubbed, sate down, and there remained a significant silence for some minutes. Then Sir Dudley Digges rose and said, "Unless we may speak of these things, let us arise and begone, or sit still and do nothing." There was another deep silence, at length broken by Sir Nathaniel Rich, who said, "We must now speak, or for ever hold our peace. For us to be silent when king and kingdom are in this calamity, is not fit. The question is, whether we shall secure ourselves by our silence - yea or no? Let us go to the lords and show our dangers, that we may then go to the king together with our representation thereof." Prynne, Coke, and others, spoke to the same effect, and Coke was so overwhelmed with his feelings, grown old as he was, at the bar, on the bench, and in the house, that he was obliged to sit down.

The house resolved itself into a committee for more freedom of discussion, and put Mr. Whitly into the chair. Finch, the speaker, begged leave, as he was leaving the chair, for half an hour's absence. The house knew very well that he only wanted to run off and tell the king what was going on, but they let him go, and away he bustled to Whitehall. The I house then passed an order, declaring that no man should leave the house under penalty of being committed to the Tower. Then Mr. Kirton rose, and declaring that the king in himself was as good a prince (as ever reigned, said "it was high time to find out the enemies of the commonwealth, who had so prevailed with him, and then he doubted not but God would send them hearts, hands, and swords, to cut all their throats," He added that the speaker to desire to leave the house as he had done, was unprecedented, and to his mind ominous. Sir Edward Coke once more endeavoured to say what he had not been able to say before, but which must be said, and none so proper as this veteran statesman to say it. "I now see," he observed, "that God has not accepted our humble and moderate carriages and fair proceedings; and I fear the reason is that we have not dealt sincerely with the king, and made a true representation of the causes of all these miseries. Let us take this to heart. In the time of Edward III. had parliament any doubt as to naming men that misled the king? They accused John of Gaunt, the king's son, lord Latimer, and lord Neville, for misadvising the king; and they went to the Tower for it. And now, when there is such a downfall of the state, shall we hold our tongues? Why," continued he, "may we not name those who are the cause of all our evils?" And he added, "Let us palliate no longer; if we do, God will not prosper us. I think the duke of Buckingham is the cause, and till the duke be informed thereof, we shall never go out with honour, nor sit with honour here. That man is the grievance of grievances! Let us set down the causes of all our disasters, arid they will all reflect upon him. As to going to the lords, that is not via regia; our liberties are now impeached; we are deeply concerned; it is not via regia, for the lords are not participant with our liberties. It is not the king but the duke that saith, We require you not to meddle with state aifairs, or the ministers thereof. Did not his majesty, when prince, attend the upper house in our prosecution of lord chancellor Bacon and the lord treasurer Middlesex?"

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