Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: To the meeting of the Third Parliament of Charles I. [—— 1628.] - The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
I.: To the meeting of the Third Parliament of Charles I. [—— 1628.] - Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660 
The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, selected and edited by Samuel Rawson Gardiner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
To the meeting of the Third Parliament of Charles I.
Revolutions, no less than smaller political changes, are to be accounted for as steps in the historical development of nations. They are more violent, and of longer duration, in proportion to the stubborn resistance opposed to them by the institutions which stand in their way; and the stubbornness of that resistance is derived from the services which the assailed institutions have rendered in the past, and which are remembered in their favour after they have ceased to be applicable to the real work of the day, or at least have become inapplicable without serious modification.
On the other hand, many who, throwing off the conservatism of habit, have bent themselves to sweep away the hindrances which bar the path of political progress, show an eagerness to put all established authority to the test, and to replace all existing institutions by new ones more in accordance with their ideal of a perfect State—an ideal which, under all circumstances, is necessarily imperfect. Revolutions, therefore, unavoidably teem with disappointment to their promoters. Schemes are carried out, either blundering in themselves or too little in accordance with the general opinion of the time to root themselves in the conscience of the nation; and, before many years have passed away, those who were the most ardent revolutionists, looking back upon their baffled hopes, declare that nothing worthy of the occasion has been accomplished.
The historian writing in a later generation is distracted neither by these buoyant hopes, nor by this melancholy despair. He knows, on the one hand, that, in great measure, the dreams of the idealists were but anticipations of future progress; and on the other hand, that the conservative misgivings of those who turned back were but the instrument through which the steadiness of progress indispensable to all healthy growth was maintained. A Revolution, in short, as an object of study, has an unrivalled attraction for him, not because it is exciting, but because it reveals more clearly than smaller changes the law of human progress.
One feature, therefore, is common to all Revolutions, that the nation in which they appear is content, perhaps after years of agitation, with just so much change as is sufficient to modify or abolish the institution which, so to speak, rankles in the flesh of the body politic. In the French Revolution, for instance, the existence of privileged classes was the evil which the vast majority of the nation was resolved to eradicate; and after blood had been shed in torrents, the achievement of equality under a despot satisfied, for a time at least, this united demand of the nation. Not the taking of the Bastille nor the execution of Louis XVI, but the night of August 4, when feudal privileges were thrown to the winds, was the central fact of the French Revolution. It was of the essence of the movement that there should cease to be privileged orders. It was a secondary consequence that the King’s authority was restricted or his person misused.
In the English Revolution, on the other hand, it was of the essence of the movement that the authority of the King should be restricted. The Kingship had done too much service in the recent past, and might do too much service again, to be absolutely abolished, and there was no widespread desire for any social improvements. The abolition of the House of Lords and the sweeping away of Episcopacy were secondary consequences of the movement. Its central facts are to be traced in the legislation of the first months of the Long Parliament, especially in the Triennial Act, the Tonnage and Poundage Act, and the Acts for the abolition of the Star Chamber and the High Commission. Then, just as in the French Revolution the Reign of Terror followed upon the abolition of privileges on account of the suspicion that those who had lost by the change were conspiring with foreign armies to get them back; so in the English Revolution there followed, first the Civil War and then the trial and execution of the King, on account of the suspicion that Charles was personally unwilling to consent to the loss of power and was conspiring with foreign armies to recover it.
The authority inherited by Charles at his accession was derived from the Tudor monarchy, which had come into power in defence of the middle classes against the great landowners, and had maintained itself in power as the champion of a National Church against a foreign ecclesiastical organisation backed by foreign governments. No such conflict could be successfully waged without reliance on spiritual forces, as well as on the craving for the material advantages to be obtained by casting off the oppressions of the nobility at home or by repelling invaders from abroad. To some extent the spiritual force grew out of the struggle itself, and the exaggerated expressions of loyalty to the wearer of the crown, which fall so strangely on modern ears, were but the tokens of a patriotic tide of feeling which was indeed very far from clearing away evil passions, but which at all events did something to elevate the men who were subject to them. In the main, however, the spiritual force which bore Elizabeth to triumph was religious zeal, or at least zeal which was permeated by the influence of religion.
Of this combined effort of patriotism and religion the Tudor institutions bore the impress. Not only were the judges removable by the Crown, but the Court of Star Chamber, which could fine, imprison, and in certain cases sentence to the pillory, without the intervention of a jury, was composed of all the members of the Privy Council and of two of the judges, thus enabling the Sovereign to secure the decision in cases in which he was personally affected by a court in manifest dependence on himself. The same thing may be said of the Court of High Commission, which dealt with ecclesiastical offences and in which the judicial authority was practically exercised by the Bishops and the lawyers of the Ecclesiastical Courts, as the laymen named in the commission seldom or never attended to their duties. Again, the right exercised by Elizabeth of levying Impositions, or Customs-duties not voted by Parliament, was the germ of an unparliamentary revenue which might make it needless, except in times of great necessity, to consult Parliament at all. It is true that Elizabeth exercised her powers with extreme sagacity and moderation, and that the nation, confident in her leadership, had not been ready to take offence; but it was certain, that if the time should arrive when a ruler less trusted and less respected was on the throne, there would be a strong disposition to lessen his authority, especially if, as was the case at the opening of the seventeenth century, the reasons for entrusting the Crown with such extensive powers had ceased to exist.
This was precisely what happened during the twenty-two years of the reign of James I. James was out of touch with the national feeling, and though he was often wiser in his aims than the House of Commons, he usually sought to attain them in an unwise way. He was not tyrannical, but his policy and his conduct struck no roots in the heart of the nation; and it soon became impossible to regard him as in any sense a leader of the national action. At the same time his financial difficulties, caused partly by an unavoidable growth of expenditure, but partly also by his lavish generosity to his favourites, led him to press the real or supposed rights of the Crown farther than Elizabeth had cared to press them. Twice in his reign he raised a Benevolence, not indeed by positive order under the Great Seal, but by invitation conveyed in letters from the Privy Council. The most important financial step taken by him, however, was the levy of largely increased Impositions. Elizabeth had, indeed, for special reasons, levied a few; and one of these, the Imposition on currants, was in 1607 the subject of a trial in the Court of Exchequer, known as Bates’s case. Bates, a merchant who refused to pay the duty, on the ground that the King had no legal power to take it without a grant from Parliament, was declared to be in the wrong, and the Crown found itself, by the opinion of the Court which was constitutionally entrusted with the decision of such questions, entitled to raise, in addition to the Tonnage and Poundage—which, according to established precedent, had been voted to James for life by the first Parliament of his reign—as much revenue from exports and imports as the amount of the consumption of foreign articles would permit.
The claim of James to levy Impositions naturally raised opposition in the House of Commons, as it effected not merely the pockets of the members and their constituents, but the constitutional position of Parliament. According to the tradition of generations, the King ought in ordinary times ‘to live of his own;’ that is to say, to supply his needs from his hereditary revenue and from the Tonnage and Poundage which was intended to enable him to defend the realm by sea. In extraordinary times, when there was war or rebellion or any other demand for unusual expenditure, he might fairly expect Parliament to vote him subsidies, a form of direct taxation loosely resembling the modern Income Tax. In the early part of James’s reign, however, the increasing necessities of the Crown seemed likely to set at naught this old theory, and subsidies were sometimes demanded and even granted when there was neither war nor rebellion. The frequent convocation of Parliament became a necessity for the Crown, and the House of Commons, in proportion as the Crown entered on unpopular courses, saw its opportunity of bringing the Crown to act in accordance with its wishes by delaying or refusing a grant of subsidies. If however the King could substitute a certain revenue from Impositions levied by prerogative for an uncertain revenue from subsidies granted by Parliament, he would be relieved from the necessity of consulting Parliament except in really momentous crises.
The suspicion of danger which may have been entertained when Bates’s case was adjudged in the Exchequer was converted into a certainty in 1608, when James ordered by letters patent the raising of new Impositions to the value of about £75,000, a sum which would increase in future years with the increasing trade of the country. When Parliament met in 1610 his right to do so was contested by the Commons, and a compromise was agreed to, by which James was to strike off about a third of the new duties as specially burdensome to the merchants, whilst the remainder, as matters then stood, about £50,000, was to be secured to him by an Act of Parliament in which words were to be inserted precluding him and his successors from ever again levying duties without Parliamentary consent. This compromise, however, was dependent on a larger bargain, known as the Great Contract, for the sale by the Crown in return of certain feudal rights, of which the principal was that of Wardship, for £200,000 a-year, and when the Great Contract failed, the compromise relating to the Impositions fell through as well. When the second Parliament of James I met in 1614, the Commons renewed their protests against the Impositions, but the Lords refused to discuss the question, and an early dissolution prevented any further steps from being taken.
This dispute on the subject of taxation affected the whole constitutional edifice. It raised the question which is at the bottom of all constitutional struggles, the question between the national will and the national law. Whatever may have been the value of the statutes and precedents quoted at the bar and on the bench in Bates’s case, the judges were the only authorised exponents of the law, and the judges had decided that James’s claim was legal. Against this there was nothing to allege but a resolution of the House of Commons, and a resolution of the House of Commons could not change the law. Only an Act of Parliament could do that, and in those days an Act of Parliament was not to be had without the real assent of King, Lords, and Commons. In this case, however, the assent of King and Lords was not to be had.
When the national will is strongly asserted, some way is certain to be found, in spite of all constitutional difficulties, to change the law. It is not to be supposed that any such assertion was likely to be made in 1610 or in 1614. Though the members of the House of Commons were dissatisfied, they were not as yet disaffected to the Crown, and even their dissatisfaction was not fully shared by the nation at large.
Nor were difficulties about religion likely, at this stage of our history, to incite to resistance. The Church of England during the Middle Ages had been to a great extent national, and when Henry VIII threw off the Papal jurisdiction she became entirely national. More than any other Church, indeed, she retained a connection with the past historical development of Catholic Christianity, and she claimed that in casting off the innovations of the Middle Ages she appealed to the Scriptures, and, in cases of doubt, to their interpretation by the Christian writers of the early centuries. Basing herself on this foundation, she retained the Episcopal office, which could be shown to have been in existence at least in very early times.
In theory a descendant of the Church of the first ages of Christianity, the Church of England cut off from Papal authority could not fail to be subjected to the influences of an age of religious change. On the one hand she was subjected to the Crown, because the nation was subjected to the Crown, and on the other hand her clergy and people were liable to be drawn this way and that by tides of opinion flowing in from the perturbed Continent. To enter into these matters in detail would be to write the religious history of the England of the sixteenth century, and it is enough to say that at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, whilst the Queen had succeeded in maintaining Episcopacy and to a great extent the use of the Common Prayer Book as it had been settled soon after her accession, the doctrine taught and accepted by the vast majority of that part of the clergy which was in any real sense of the word religious was Calvinistic. Elizabeth was, however, slow to mark offences, and though she had insisted on the complete use of the Prayer Book and on conformity to the rubrics in important places such as Cathedrals and College Chapels, she had winked at refusals by the incumbents of country parishes to wear the surplice and to carry out certain other ceremonial rules. After the abortive Hampton Court Conference in 1604 James resolved to enforce conformity, and a considerable number of the clergy were deprived of their benefices for refusing to conform. These Puritans, as they were called, found support in the House of Commons on the ground that it would be well at a time when there was a dearth of good preachers to retain the services of men who were notoriously conscientious, and who were morally and intellectually qualified for the fulfilment of their ministerial office. The position of the non-conforming Puritans who appeared at Hampton Court and of their lay supporters may at this time be easily defined. Both accepted the Episcopal constitution of the Church and its relations with the Crown. Both accepted the Prayer Book as a whole, and the Calvinistic doctrine commonly taught in the pulpits. On the other hand, whilst the laymen did not offer any direct opposition to such ceremonies as the use of the surplice, some of the clergy resigned their cures rather than conform to them. Obviously the temper of the laity who sympathised with the non-conforming clergy was still less likely to lead to resistance than the temper roused in them by the levy of the new Impositions. Yet, though internal peace was maintained, there was a rift between the Crown and the House of Commons, and the rift was widened during the latter part of James’s reign by difference of opinion on foreign politics. The proposed marriage of the Prince of Wales with a Spanish Infanta, and James’s desire to settle the troubles on the Continent caused by the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War by means of the Spanish alliance, was received with disapprobation by all classes of Englishmen; and when, in the Parliament of 1621, the Commons petitioned the King to abandon the Spanish marriage, James denied the right of the House to treat of matters other than those on which he asked its advice. On this the Commons drew up a Protestation, claiming the right to discuss all matters relating to the affairs of the kingdom. James dissolved Parliament, and tore the Protestation out of the Journal Book.
In 1624 another Parliament met, which at first seemed likely to come to terms with the King; as after the failure of his negotiations with Spain he was about to take arms for the restoration of his son-in-law, the Elector Palatine. Differences of opinion, however, soon arose between James and the House of Commons as to the principles on which the war was to be conducted. An expedition sent out under Count Mansfeld ended in desperate failure. Under these circumstances James died in 1625. His successor, Charles I, was anxious to carry on war with Spain, but he was completely under the influence of the Duke of Buckingham, and all that went wrong was naturally attributed to Buckingham’s mismanagement. Accordingly, the Commons in the first Parliament of Charles, which met in 1625, after showing their reluctance to grant supplies for the war, using Sir Nathaniel Rich as their mouthpiece in a last effort to find a compromise (No. 1, p. 1), proceeded to ask that the King should take the advice of counsellors in whom Parliament could confide. They did not indeed propose that he should dismiss Buckingham, but the granting of their request would have been a long step towards the establishment of a responsible ministry, and would have cut at the root of the Tudor system, under which the supremacy of the Crown was secured by the responsibility of ministers to itself alone. Charles, seeing the diminution of his authority which would result from the change, dissolved Parliament.
Charles’s second Parliament met in 1626. An expedition to Cadiz had in the interval failed to accomplish anything, and there were reasons for believing that Buckingham was about to pick a quarrel with France in addition to the quarrel with Spain. All Buckingham’s misdeeds were imputed to the most sordid motives, and the Commons had every inducement to believe the worst of his actions. Charges of crime in order to obtain the dismissal of a minister would commend themselves to a House which had no power to dismiss by simple resolution or petition, and Buckingham was therefore impeached as guilty, not of incompetence, but of high crimes and misdemeanours against the state (No. 3, p. 3). Charles, however, again interfered and dissolved his second Parliament as sharply as he had dissolved the first. Charles’s failure in the same Parliament to keep under restraint the Earls of Arundel and Bristol (No. 4, p. 44), might have served as a warning to him that there were limits to the devotion even of the House of Lords.
In the autumn of 1626 Charles, finding his financial necessities pressing, and having failed to persuade his subjects to present him with a free gift (No. 5, p. 46), issued a commission for the levy of tonnage and poundage by prerogative (No. 6, p. 49), after which he proceeded to levy a forced loan (No. 7, p. 51). In 1627 he engaged in a war with France, and sent out a fleet and army under Buckingham to relieve the Huguenot stronghold of Rochelle which was being besieged by the King of France. This expedition, like the preceding one, ended in failure, and public opinion was even more excited against Buckingham than before. In the meanwhile the execution of the forced loan had been resisted, and Charles had imprisoned leading personages who had refused payment. Five of their number had applied for a writ of Habeas Corpus, and the King’s claim to imprison without showing cause,—and thus by stating no issue which could go before a jury, to prevent the imprisoned person from obtaining a trial—was argued before the Court of King’s Bench in what is known as The Five Knights’ Case (No. 8, p. 57). In the end the five knights were remanded to prison, but the judges expressed so much doubt as to the King’s right permanently to imprison that Charles’s authority in the matter was considerably shaken. The general result was that the judges treated the King’s power as something exceptional, to be employed in special crises, and though they were willing to trust the King to judge when such a crisis existed, they were unable to regard arbitrary imprisonment as an ordinary instrument of government.
Meanwhile, the soldiers who had returned from Rhé were billeted in private houses in order that they might be kept in readiness for a fresh expedition in the following year, and were subjected to the discipline of Martial Law. Complaints were soon heard of the oppressive nature of the system. The Courts Martial too did not content themselves with the punishment of soldiers, but also punished civilians upon the complaint of soldiers.