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REIGN OF JAMES I..
Civil government of England during this period.Ecclefiaftical government.Manners
-Learning and arts.
T may not be improper, at this period, to make a pause; and to take a furvey of the state of the kingdom, with regard to government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning. Where a juft notion is not formed of the fe particulars, hiftory can be very little instructive, and often will not be intelligible.
WE may fafely pronounce, that the English govern- Civil goment, at the acceffion of the Scottish line, was much vernment more arbitrary, than it is at prefent; the prerogative less of Englimited, the liberties of the fubject lefs accurately de- land. fined and fecured. Without mentioning other particulars, the courts alone of high commiffion and star-chamber were fufficient to lay the whole kingdom at the mercy of the prince.
THE Court of high commiffion had been erected by Elizabeth, in confequence of an act of parliament, paffed at the beginning of her reign: By this act, it was thought proper, during the great revolution of religion, to arm the fovereign with full powers, in order to discourage and fupprefs oppofition. All appeals from the inferi or ecclefiaftical courts were carried before the high commiffion; and, of confequence, the whole life and doctrine
The hiftory of the house of Stuart was written and publifhed by the author before the hiftory of the houfe of Tudor. Hence it happens that fome paffages, particularly in the prefent Appendix, may feem to be repetitions of what was for. merly delivered in the reign of Elizabeth. The author, in order to obviate this objection, has cancelled fome few paffages in the foregoing chapters.
Appendix. of the clergy lay directly under its infpection. Every breach of the act of uniformity, every refufal of the ceremonies, was cognizable in this court; and during the reign of Elizabeth, had been punished by deprivation, by fines, confifcations, and imprifonment. James contented himfelf with the gentler penalty of deprivation; nor was that punishment inflicted with rigour on every offender B. All the catholics too were liable to be punished by this court, if they exercised any act of their religion, or fent abroad their children or other relations, to receive that education, which they could not procure them in their own country. Popish priests were thrown into prison, and might be delivered up to the law, which punished them with death; though that feverity had been sparingly exercised by Elizabeth, and never almost by James. In a word, that liberty of confcience, which we fo highly and justly value at prefent, was totally fuppreffed; and no exercife of any religion, but the established, was permitted throughout the kingdom. Any word or writing, which tended towards herefy or schifm, was punishable by the high commiffioners or any three of them: They alone were judges what expreffions had that tendency: They proceeded not by information, but upon rumour, fufpicion, or according to their own fancy: They administered an oath, by which the party cited before them, was bound to answer any question, which should be propounded to him: Whoever refused this oath, though he pleaded ever fo justly, that he might thereby be brought to accuse himself or his dearest friend, was punishable by imprisonment: And in fhort, an inquifitorial tribunal, with all its terrors and iniquities, was erected in the kingdom. Full difcretionary powers were bestowed with regard to the inquiry, trial, fentence, and penalty inflicted; excepting only that corporal punishments were reftrained by that patent of the prince, which erected that court, not by the act of parliament, which empowered him. By reafon of the uncertain limits, which separate ecclesiastical from civil causes, all accufations of adultery and incelt were tried by the court of high commission; and every complaint of wives against their husbands was there examined
B Archbishop Spotfwood tells us, that he was informed by Bancroft, feveral years after the king's acceffion, that not above forty-five clergymen had been deprived.
examined and difcuffed C. On like pretences, every caufe, Appendix. which regarded confcience, that is, every caufe, could have been brought under their jurifdiction.
BUT there was a fufficient reason, why the king would not be folicitous to ftretch the jurifdiction of this court: The ftar-chamber poffeffed the fame authority in civil matters; and its methods of proceeding were equally arbitrary and unlimited. The origin of this court was derived from the moft remote antiquity D; though, it is pretended, that its power had been firft carried to the greatest height by Henry VII. In all times, however, it is confeffed, it enjoyed authority; and at no time was its authority circumfcribed, or method of proceeding directed, by any precise law or statute.
WE have had already, or shall have fufficient occafion, during the course of this hiftory, to mention the difpenfing power, the power of imprisonment, of exacting forced loans E and benevolence, of preffing and quartering foldiers, of altering the customs, of erecting monopolies. These branches of power, if not directly oppofite to the principles of all free government, must, at least, be acknowledged dangerous to freedom in a monarchical conftitution; where an eternal jealoufy must be preserved against the sovereign, and no difcretionary powers must ever be entrusted to him, by which the property or perfonal liberty of any subject can be affected. The kings of England, however, had almost constantly exercised thefe powers; and if, on any occafion, the prince had been obliged to fubmit to laws enacted against them, he had ever, in practice, eluded thefe laws, and returned to the fame arbitrary administration. During more than a century before the acceffion of James, the regal authority, in almost all these particulars, had never been once called in question.
Rymer, tom. xvii. p. 200.
D Rushworth, vol. ii. p. 473. In Chamber's cafe it was the unanimous opinion of all the court of King's Bench, that the court of star-chamber was not derived from the ftatute of Henry VII. but was a court many years before, and one of the most high and honourable courts of justice. See Croke's rep. term, Mich. 5 Car. I. See further Camden's Brit. vol. i. introd. p. 254. Edit. of Gibson.
E During the two laft centuries, no reign had paffed without fome forced loans from the fubject.
WE may also observe, that the principles in general, which prevailed during that age, were fo favourable to monarchy, that they bestowed on it an authority almost abfolute and unlimited, facred and indefeasible.
THE meetings of parliament were fo precarious; their feffions fo fhort, compared to the vacations; that when men's eyes were turned upwards in fearch of a fovereign power, the prince alone was apt to strike them as the only permanent magiftrate, invefted with the whole majefty and authority of the ftate. The great complaifance too of parliaments, during fo long a period, had extremely degraded and obfcured thofe affemblies; and as all inftances of oppofition to prerogative must have been drawn from a remote age, they were unknown to a great many, and had the lefs authority even with thofe, who were acquainted with them. These examples, befides, of liberty, had commonly, in antient times, been accompanied with fuch circumstances of violence, convulfion, civil war, and disorder, that they reprefented but a difagreeable idea to the inquifitive part of the people, and afforded small inducement to renew fuch difmal fcenes. By a great many, therefore, monarchy, fimple and unmixed, was conceived to be the government of England; and thofe popular affemblies were fuppofed to form only the ornament of the fabric, without being, in any degree, effential to its being and existence F. The prerogative of the crown was represented by lawyers as fomething real and durable; like those eternal effences of the schools, which no time or force could alter. The fanction of religion was, by divines, called in aid; and the monarch of heaven was supposed to be interested in fupporting the authority of his earthly vicegerent. And though these doctrines were perhaps more openly inculcated and more ftrenuously insisted on during the reign of the Stuarts, they were not then invented; and was only found by the court to be more neceffary at that period, by reafon of the oppofite doctrines, which began to be proinulgated by the puritanical party G.
IN confequence of these exalted ideas of kingly authority, the prerogative, befides the inftances of jurifdiction,
See note at the end of the volume. G See note at the end of the volume.
diction, founded on precedent, was, by many, fuppofed Appendix, to poffefs an inexhauftible fund of latent powers, which might be exerted on any emergence. In every government, neceffity, when real, fuperfedes all laws, and levels all limitations: But, in the English government, convenience alone was conceived to authorize any extraordinary act of regal power, and to render it obligatory on the people. Hence the ftrict obedience required to proclamations, during all periods of the English history; and, if James has incurred blame on account of his edicts, it is only because he too frequently issued them, at a time when they began to be lefs regarded, not because he firft affumed or extended to an unusual degree that exercise of authority. Of his maxims in a parallel cafe, the following is a pretty remarkable instance.
QUEEN Elizabeth had appointed commiffioners for the infpection of prifons, and had beftowed on them full difcretionary powers to adjust all differences between prifoners and their creditors, to compound debts, and to give liberty to fuch debtors as they found honeft, and infolvent. From the uncertain and undefined nature of the English conftitution, doubts fprang up in many, that this commiffion was contrary to law; and it was represented in that light to James. He forebore therefore renewing the commiffion, till the fifteenth of his reign; when complaints rose so high, with regard to the abuses practised in prisons, that he thought himself obliged to overcome his fcruples, and to appoint new commiffioners, invefted with the fame difcretionary power, which Elizabeth had formerly conferred H.
UPON the whole, we muft conceive that monarchy, on the acceffion of the house of Stuart, was poffeffed of a very extensive authority: An authority, in the judgment of all, not exactly limited; in the judgment of fome, not limitable. But, at the fame time, this authority was founded merely on the opinion of the people, influenced by antient precedent and example. It was not fupported either by money or by force of arms. And, for this reafon, we need not wonder, that the princes of that line were fo extremely jealous of their prerogative; being fenfible, that, when thofe claims