Billeder på siden

towards God, his sovereign lord, and his country, may go about by his malicious forwardness to silence all the rest, be they never so well disposed to use good words and amiable behaviour to induce men to contribute; but if any person, notwithstanding their gentle solicitations, should, alleging either poverty, or some other pretence which should be deemed unfit to be allowed, &c.*

The commission issued in 1557 authorises the persons named in it to inquire, by any means they could devise, into charges of heresy, or other religious offences, and in some instances to punish the guilty. A proclamation in the last year of Mary's reign, after denouncing the importation of books filled with heresy and treason from beyond sea, declares, that whoever should be found to have such books in his possession, should be reported and taken for a rebel, and executed according to martial law. ‡

In the subsequent reign, Queen Elizabeth made constant use of her prerogative of purveyance and wardship. Burleigh, in one of his speeches, proposes to the Queen, that she should confer on commissioners a general inquisitorial power over the whole kingdom. He sets before her the example of her wise grandfather, Henry VII., who, by such

* Instructions of Henry VIII.'s Council to the Commissioners for raising a benevolence from the people in 1545. — Lodge's Illustrations of British Hist., vol. i. p. 711. † Lingard, vol. vii. p. 200.

Strype, vol. iii. p. 459.

methods extremely augmented his revenue; and he recommends that this new court should proceed, "as well by the direction and ordinary course of the laws, as by virtue of her Majesty's supreme regimen and absolute power, from whence law proceeded. If the sovereign had not possessed absolute power, no minister of the character of Burleigh could have entertained such an idea, or made such a proposition.


The members of the court of Star Chamber were men who enjoyed their offices during pleasure. When the prince was present, he was the sole judge, and all others could only interpose their advice. A writer favourable to the Stuarts observes, "There needed but this one court in any government, to put an end to all regular, legal, and exact plans of liberty; for who dared to set himself in opposition to the crown or ministry, or aspire to the character of being a patron of freedom, while exposed to so arbitrary a jurisdiction? It is a question whether any of the absolute monarchies in Europe contain at present so illegal and despotic a tribunal."† Another power, often exercised, existed in that age, namely, imprisonment in any jail, and during any time that ministers thought proper, without any other authority than an order from the secretary of state, or privy council. Similar punishments might also be inflicted by inferior

* Annals, vol. iii. p. 234.

† Hume's Hist., Appendix iii.

magistrates. In 1588, several citizens were committed to prison by the Lord Mayor, because they refused to pay the loan demanded of them." *

Hume, when speaking of Elizabeth's reign, observes, "It appears that those members (of the Commons) who had been committed, were detained in custody till the Queen thought proper to release them. Certain questions of Mr. Wentworth, father of Lord Strafford (concerning the Queen's prerogative), are curious, because they contain some faint dawn of the present English constitution, though suddenly eclipsed by the arbitrary government of Elizabeth. Wentworth was, indeed, the true forerunner of the Hampdens, the Pyms, and the Hollises, who in the next age, with less courage, because with less danger, rendered their principles so triumphant. I shall only ask, whether it be not sufficiently clear, from all these transactions, that in the two succeeding reigns it was the people who encroached upon the sovereign, not the sovereign who attempted, as is pretended, to usurp upon the people?" †

In the speech of a member of the Commons, in opposition to the Queen at that time, is the following passage:" If it were a charge imposed upon us by her Majesty's commandment, or a demand proceeding from her Majesty by way of request, there is no one amongst us all, either so disobedient a subject in regard to our duty, or so unthankful, * Murden, p. 632.

Hume's Hist., note, vol. v.


which would not with frank consent, both of voice and heart, most willingly submit himself thereunto, without any unreserved inquiry into the causes thereof. For it is continually in the mouths of us all, that our lands, goods, and lives, are at our prince's disposing; and it agreeth very well with that position of the civil law which sayeth, 'quod omnia regis sunt.' In a debate on an act concerning common law in cases of letters-patent, one member said, "This bill may touch the prerogative royal, which is so transcendant that the subject may not aspire thereto." Another said, "As to the prerogative royal of the prince, for my own part, I ever allowed it; and it is such as I hope will never be discussed." On a subsequent debate on the bill against monopolies, a member † said, "It is to no purpose to offer to tie her Majesty's hands by act of Parliament, when she may loosen herself at pleasure." Another said, "God hath given that power to absolute princes, which he attributes to himself— Dixi quod Dii estis." Mr. Secretary § said, "I am servant to the Queen, and before I would speak and give consent to a case that would debase her prerogative, or abridge it, I would wish that my tongue were cut out of my head. I am sure there were law-makers (meaning that the sovereign was above the laws) before there were laws. ||

† Mr. Spicer.

§ Cecil.

|| D'Ewes, p. 619.

* Strype, vol. iii. p. 239. + Mr. Davies.

In the year 1591, the judges made a solemn decree, that England was an absolute empire, of which the monarch was the head: in consequence they determined, that as head of the church the sovereign might by her prerogative erect such a court of ecclesiastical commission, and the inference is, that her power was equally absolute over the laity.* Even so late as the year 1685, an assertion is made, that "a man is bound to obey the King's command against law, nay, in some cases, against divine law." General laws made in Parliament may, by the King's authority, be mitigated or suspended upon causes known to him alone: by the coronation oath he is only bound to obey good laws, of which he is the judge. †

If any other proofs are required that the English were governed by despotic monarchs, and in fact had no constitution previously to the Revolution in 1688, the following instances in the reign of James I., may place the question beyond the shadow of


In the conference which took place, by order of that monarch, between the House of Commons and the judges, James said, "This conference he commanded as an absolute king, and that all their privileges were derived from his grant, and he hoped they would not turn them against him.

Not only

* Coke's Rep., p. 5.; Caudrey's case.
† Sir R. Filmer, Patriarcha, pp. 98-100.
Journals, 25th March and 5th April, 1604.

« ForrigeFortsæt »