Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

about the year 1583, and was confined to a company. * The merchants of the Hanse Towns began at this time to complain, and to entertain some jealousy of the growing commerce of England.

Thus we see the gentle flow of the elements of civilisation and of public opinion, from the very low ebb at which they were in the early part and middle of the sixteenth century.

It required all the absolute control, and the great command of means, as already stated, possessed by Henry VIII. from the wealth of the monasteries, to enable him successfully to throw off the yoke of Rome; the same apathy and ignorance that is discernible in his reign, continued to the day of Elizabeth; even then it needed the power and influence of the Government to effect a change in the national religion.

Much, however, must the requisites for civilisation have increased in the English nation, when we observe, that within the short period of a century and a half the almost universal sentiments of the community were in favour of reformation and of civil liberty, that to secure them James II. was expelled from his throne, which he might have preserved, had both been conceded to the nation.

[ocr errors]

External trade and commerce had much increased from the days of Elizabeth, which tended to augment the middle class, and spread information

*Birch's Mem., vol. i. p. 36.

through the community. Puffendorff observes: "The sea is very advantageous to England, for thereby the English, being separated from their neighbouring nations, cannot easily be attacked; whereas they may easily invade others: and because this island is situated in the very middle of Europe in a narrow sea, where all ships which either go east or westward must pass by, and having a deep coast and commodious harbours, it lies most convenient for commerce or trade, which the English carry on in most parts of the world.”*

* Puffendorff, Intro. History of Europe, sect. 34. p. 157. 8vo edit.

137

CHAPTER V.

THE REBELLION.

State of the Nation. - Undefined Power of the Crown incompatible with the Growth and Increase of the Middle Class. Absolute Power of James I.—Policy of placing Persons of Property in possession of political Influence. - Mistakes committed by Charles I. Great Property of the third Parlia

ment.

As Clarendon observes, this is a melancholy period in our history. It is one of which the account cannot be perused without sentiments of regret ; but it was an event which necessarily arose from the state of society, and the growing influence of the middle class, amongst which the requisites for civilisation were disseminated to a moderate extent, yet sufficiently to have shown the well-meaning, but misguided monarch, that it was his interest and his duty to yield to public opinion, and by diminishing the unbounded prerogative of the crown, to grant that security to the people which they had a right to demand, and power to enforce.

Let us take a brief survey of the state of the laws of England, and of the manner in which they were administered previously to the Rebellion, and as

certain the amount of security of person and property enjoyed by the nation.

?"

If Henry VIII. assumed the right to send any consort of his that displeased him to the block, he had also power to sacrifice any other individual in his kingdom. Should any doubts yet remain as to his despotism, the following passage will dispel them. One of the influential members of the Commons (Montague) being on his knees before Henry, had the mortification to hear him speak in these words: "Ho! man! will they not suffer bill to pass my After which, laying his hand on Montague's head, who was still on his knees, he added: "Get my bill passed by to-morrow, or else to-morrow this head of thine shall be off."* In the same reign, Cardinal Wolsey, endeavouring to terrify the citizens of London into the general loan exacted at that time, told them, "It were better that some people suffer indigence, than that the King, at this time, should lack; and therefore beware and resist not, nor ruffle not in this case, for it may fortune to cost some people their heads."† There are innumerable proofs of the similar absolute sway exercised also by Henry's successors.

The following, of many instances, will show the kind of liberty enjoyed in former times. A law passed in the reign of Henry VIII.‡ giving to the King's proclamations, to a certain extent, the force

Grant's Life of Wolsey.
31 Henry VIII. chap. 8.

† Hall, fol. 38.

of acts of parliament, enacts, that offenders convicted of breaking any such proclamations shall be brought before certain persons (members of the privy council, with some bishops) in the Star Chamber, or elsewhere, and shall suffer such penalties of fine and imprisonment as they shall adjudge.

When, in the same reign, Wolsey required 800,000l. from the Commons, they declared their inability to grant the demand, as it exceeded the amount of the current coin of the realm. After a long debate of many days it was determined, that part of the sum should be granted. Wolsey, greatly dissatisfied with the Commons, compelled the people to pay up the whole subsidy at once. After this occurrence, no parliament was assembled by Henry VIII. for seven years, and commissioners were appointed throughout the kingdom to swear every man to the value of his possessions, requiring a rateable part according to such declaration.

In 1545, commissioners were again appointed by Henry VIII. to obtain money from the people by what was miscalled "a benevolence." These commissioners intimated, that his Majesty could not take less than twenty-pence in the pound on the yearly value of land, and half that sum on moveable goods. They were to summon few at one time, and to commune with them apart, lest some one unreasonable man amongst so many, forgetting his duty

[blocks in formation]
« ForrigeFortsæt »