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Roger L’Estrange, A Plea for Limited Monarchy - Joyce Lee Malcom, The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, vol. 1 
The Struggle for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts, 2 vols, ed. Joyce Lee Malcolm (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 1.
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Roger L’Estrange, A Plea for Limited Monarchy
[Sir Roger L’Estrange, 1616-1704]
A Plea for limited
As it was Established in this
Before the late WAR.
In an Humble Addresse to his Excellency,
By a Zealot for the Good Old Laws of his Country, before any Faction or Caprice, with Additions.
Optima Libertas, ubi Rex, cum Lege, Gubernat.
Printed by T. Mabb, for William Shears in Bedford street, neer Coven-Garden, at the Blew Bible, 1660.
Authorship of this tract has been attributed to Roger L’Estrange, an ardent royalist and prolific pamphleteer. In 1639 L’Estrange accompanied Charles I and his army to war in Scotland. With the outbreak of the civil war his father served as royalist governor of Lynn. After that city fell to Parliament Roger moved to Oxford where he became active in the royalist army, serving in Prince Rupert’s cavalry troop. He was anxious that Lynn be retaken but a plot he devised to seize the city was betrayed. L’Estrange was captured and sentenced to death. The Commons reprieved him and, if he had agreed to take the Solemn League and Covenant, would even have pardoned him. However, L’Estrange brashly declined the offer of a pardon. He was kept prisoner in Newgate until he managed to escape in the spring of 1648. He fled to Kent where he plunged into planning an uprising in that county. When the plan failed L’Estrange fled to Holland. Seven years later he returned to England to face an act of indemnity and was released upon payment of a substantial fine.
L’Estrange was a busy pamphleteer, writing from his cell in Newgate about his misfortunes and in 1659 publishing a series of anonymous broadsides attacking the leaders of the army. These last were republished after the Restoration under his name.
His “Plea for a Limited Monarchy” appeared on 20 February 1660 little more than two weeks after George Monck and his troops entered London. It was specifically addressed to Monck. In it L’Estrange pleads eloquently for a return to the traditional constitution of England, which he describes in language reminiscent of the early seventeenth century. The tract appeared in two editions and mirrored the sentiments and nostalgia of Englishmen for their old, limited monarchy.
Ironically, the measured government he praises in this tract was at odds with his own intolerance in his official role after the Restoration. L’Estrange was placed in charge of the new regime’s censorship which he administered with extreme rigor. He led a great assault on freedom of the press, silencing all opposition while continuing to publish furiously himself. In his tracts he blamed the civil war on the Presbyterians whom he branded as inveterate rebels. He has been described during this period as the greatest of Tory pamphleteers—prolific, unscrupulous, and deaf to ridicule.
A Plea for Limited Monarchy, as It Was Established in This Nation Before the Late War.
Finding, by several Letters, published in Your Name, that you professe a more than ordinary zeal to popular Government; and not knowing anything herein, that can so mislead you, but the glorious pretence of a Free State (a notion, which hath, even, intoxicated many; otherwise, great and worthy Persons); I held it my Duty, first, to acquaint you, how necessary it is to distinguish betwixt the Form and Essence of a Common-wealth, the mistake whereof (each for the other) hath proved so fatall in our times. Next to examine, whether those that surfeited of our Kingly Government, and longed for Novelty have not, indeed (like the Dog in the Fable) lost the substance of Liberty and happinesse, in pursuit of the shadow.
Our fierce Champions of a free State will not, I presume, maintain, that it is subject to no violations, least wofull experience confute, and force them to confesse, either that a Common-wealth may degenerate; or, at least, that this never was a Commonwealth. And, as they must renounce their senses, so they must deny the Faith of Story, which proves, that Republicks have been sometimes invaded with Usurpation, sometimes Debauched, and Embased with Oligarchy; mostly (by reason of their weaknesse, and divisions) subdued, or forced to truckle under their neighbouring Princes, alwayes tormented with faction. Neither, indeed do they, themselves offer any argument but such, as, in effect, beg the question, by presupposing great unity in the Coalition, great probity in the Intention, and great purity in the Exercise; which doubtlesse, being admitted, we should so little need to differ about Forms, that perhaps, we should scarce need any Government at all. The stoutest assertors of Monarchy, likewise, must acknowledg, That it, being but earthen ware, (though the finest and strongest) is subject to divers accidents; For nothing under heaven is perfect. And when we constitute Governments, we must not think to build Babels against the Deluge, but embank against floods and enclose the best we can against Trespassours. This being premised, let us consider these two Governments, not Metaphysically, in notions, abstracted from their subjects, (a pastime, which our Platonicks much delight in) but morally and reasonably, as concrete, & adapted to times, places, and persons, viz. our own.
I might, perhaps decide the question, in few words, by alledging the manifest inclination of the whole people, now to Monarchy; For, As no man can be wronged with his consent, so neither is any to be obliged against his will, and how should a Government founded upon inequality and force, ever subsist without it? Or a State, which is the meer Adjective of an Army, become a Substantive; beginnings of this kinde being so ominous? As reasonably might I object matter of Title, and foreign pretence; For the same estate, with a flaw in the Conveyance, or clogged with Statutes and Judgements, is not, surely, of like value, as if it had descended clearly from the great Grandfather, and were free both from Claimes and Incumbrances; and one that hath little, yet owes nothing, is likelier to thrive than he, who owing vast sums (which he resolves never to pay) dares not walk the streets for fear of Serjeants. But my intent, is only, to shew, that, our former Government (as it excellently complied with the Laws Genius, & Interest of this Nation) so it comprehended all the benefits of a Common-wealth, in great perfection. And this I shall doe, as briefly, as I can.
To shew how it complied with our Laws and Constitutions, let it suffice that (Monarchy in these Nations, being more ancient than story or record, more Venerable than Tradition itself) our Laws were (as it were) under that Climate, habituated to that air and diet, grafted into that stock; and though they have (God be thanked) forgot their Norman, yet they will hardly learn Greek, much lesse Utopian. That, in the late Protectour’s times, our Lawyers with one voice, importuned him, rather to assume the style and power of a King, to which, they found all our Laws were shaped, than retain that of a Protectour, unknown to the Law. That nothing hath rendered our Architects of a Common-wealth more obnoxious, than that their infinite discords in other things, generally, agreed in the necessity of subverting all our Fundamentals, in order to their Designe; which hath likewise obliged all sober men, and true Patriots (even the chiefest Pillars of the Parliament’s Cause, in the late War) to unite themselves, with the Royall Interest, as not enduring to hear of those violent and dangerous alterations, which they see a Republick must introduce.
For its compliance with our Genius, consider, that as our English nature is not like the French, supple to oppression, and apt to delight in that pompe and magnificence of their Lords, which they know, is supported with their slavery and hunger; Nor like the Highland Scots, where the honour and Interest of the Chief is the glory of the whole Clan; so doth it, as little or lesse, agree with the Dutch humour, addicted only to Traffick, Navigation, Handy-crafts, and sordid Thrift; and (in defiance of Herauldry) every man fancying his own Scutcheon. Doth not every one amongst us, that hath the name of a Gentleman, aim his utmost to uphold it? Every one that hath not, to raise one? To this end, do not our very Yeomen commonly leave their Lands to the eldest Son, and to the others, nothing but a Flail or Plough? Did not every one, that had anything like an estate, pinch himself in his condition, to purchase a knighthood or small Patent? What need further proof? Our late experience of that glimpse and shadow of Monarchy, (though in persons hated, and scorned, and upon a most scandalous account) yet (for meere resemblance) admitted as tolerable, and in respect of a Common-wealth, Courted, clearly evinces, how gratefull the substance would be to Englishmen.
For our Interest, briefly (to waive tedious and politick discourses), certain it is, that our Republick, (were it like to settle) would alarme all our Neighbours, would make our best Allies, our bitterest enemies, and (upon several accounts) probably draw upon us, the united forces of Christendome to crush the Embrio. Which (the Nation being so weakened, and divided, as it is), must evidently endanger our totall oppression, or at least, to bring in the King by Conquest. Besides, by what Title shall we pretend to hold Scotland and Ireland, since that of Descent is now avoided, and Consent we know there is none, nor, indeed, can any be expected?
I come now to assert, that our former Government, eminently, included all the perfections of a Free-State, and was the Kernel, as it were, of a Common-wealth, in the shell of Monarchy. First I will begin with the essentiall parts of a Common-wealth, which are three, viz. The Senate proposing, the People Resolving, the Magistrate Executing. For the Senate or Parliament, if, ever there were a free, and honourable one, it was here; where the Deputies of the whole Nation, most freely chosen, did, with like freedome, meet, propound, debate and vote all matters of common Interest. No danger escaped their Representing; no grievance, their complaint; no publick right, their Claim; or good, their Demand; In all which the least breach of Priviledge was branded as a civil sacriledge. And though there lay no Appeal to the dispersed body of the People (a decision manifestly impracticable in Government, and fitter indeed for Tribunes to move, than Nations to admit) yet (Elections being so popular, and Assemblies frequent) the same end was attained with much more safety and convenience. The Prince had, likewise (in effect) but an executive Power, which he exercised by Ministers and Officers, not only sworn, but severely accomptable. For though both he and the Lords had their Negatives in making Laws; yet (no Tax being impossible, but by Consent of the Commons, nor any Law, (without it) of such validity, that the Ministers of Justice durst enforce it); There was a wise and sweet necessity for the King, and likewise for the Lords (who were but as a grain in the Royall Scale) to confirm all such Bills, as were convenient for the People and not greatly hurtfull to the Prince; and so this Bugbear Negative,1 was resolved into a meer Target, to shelter and preserve the Government from being altered, at the Will of the Commons, if, at any time they should prove Factious: which (being in reason manifest) hath been also confirmed by great experience: Our Kings having, rarely, obstructed any Bill, which they might safely grant; but on the other side, passed many high Acts of meer Grace, circumscribing their Prerogative, and clipping its Wings; nay, I could wish they had not pierced its bowels. This was that triple Cord, which one would think, could not be broken; nor indeed, was it broken, but cut asunder. This was our Gold, seven times refined; for every Bill, being thrice read, debated and agreed, in either House, was at last, brought to the King, for his Royal Assent, the Mint of our Laws. A triall so exact, that surely, no drosse could escape it; since all Interests must thereto concur (as truly, it was but fit they should, in the establishment of that, which must binde them all). This was that Temperament, which poised our Humours, and at once endued us, with health, vigour and beauty. No Vote was precipitated, no act was huddled up; As by sad events, we have since seen, that, Power being engrossed by one of the Estates, purged and modelled to the Interests of a faction; a consequence natural to such premises: (As in a Ballance consisting but of one scale) nothing hath been weighed, our laws have been Mandrakes of a Night’s growths, and our times as fickle as the weather or multitude.
The King indeed, had the Power of making War, but he had not the means; And then, it signified no more, than giving him leave to flye, if he could get wings; or to go beyond Sea, so he went without shipping. He had a Sword, but he alone could never draw it; for the Trained Bands were a Weapon, which he (decently) wore, but the Nation, only, could use. He chose his Ministers, (as who doth not his servants?) But alas, he was accomptable for them, to the Trienniall Parliament, which none but the soundest Integrity could abide. He could hinder the stroke of Justice with his Pardon (though still, the jaws not being muzzled, it would bite terribly) but certainly, it was great wisdom, rather to give way; since (with his own scandall) he could afford offenders but a lame and scurvy Protection; and since the Power of relieving his Wants rested in the Commons, to ballance his Will, and oblige him to a Correspondence with Parliaments.
That his Person should be most Sacred, it was but needfull; to avoid circulation of accompt; reasonable, since it carries with it, the Consent of Nations; Just, that he should not be the meer But of Faction and Malice, in worse condition, than the basest of Vassals; Honourable, that the nakednesse of Government might not be daily uncovered; Wise, in the constitution, not at once, to trust and provoke, by forcing him to shift for his own Indemnity, no danger to the Publick seeming so extream, as the Outlawry of a Prince; no task by daily experience so difficult, as the arraigning of any Power, whether Regall or Popular. And since we make golden Bridges, for flying enemies, much more may we afford them to relenting Soveraignes; (upon which account, in our neighbour Kingdome of France, even Princes of the blood are not subjected to capitall Punishments). Finally, very safe, in the consequent, for (being (by the danger, threatening his corrupt Ministers) in all probability, stript of Agents) his personall impunity might, well, signifie somewhat to himself, but nothing to the People.
A Revenue he had, for the support of his State and Family, ample; for the ordinary Protection of his People, sufficient; but for any undertaking, defective; and for publick oppression, so inconsiderable, that when Prerogative was most Rampant, our greatest Princes (and some doubtlesse, we have had, the most renowned Warriours of their Ages) could never prudently aspire to make themselves sole Legislatours, nor presumed to maintain Red-coats in times of Peace.2 If any object, (as some, concerned, are ready enough) that Kingly Power could here, no longer, subsist, for want of Revenew; It is easily answered, That a King of France, indeed, could not, and God forbid, he should; but a King of England might, and (for ought I see) still may (the sale of Crown Lands, which exceeded not the value of £.100000 per annum, being, methinks, no matter of utter ruine, but rather of easie compensation). For the publick Revenue was proportioned to the maintenance of Courts, not Campes and Fleets. A Gentleman of reasonable estate may live well on his Rents; But then, it is not convenient, he should keep Wenches, or hangers on, nor build, nor study Chimistry. In fine, the Revenue was very competent for ordinary disbursements, as for extraordinary, if he resorted to Parliaments, the wiser he, the safer and happier, we.
I desire all our Projectours of Common-wealths, to contrive greater freedom for their Citizens, than is provided by Magna Charta, and the Petition of Right; Or shew us, that it is not much easier to violate, than to mend them. For, thereby our Lives, Liberties, and estates were, under Monarchy secured, and established, I think, as well as anything, on this side Heaven. It were no soloecisme to say, the Subject had his Prerogative as well, as the King; And sure I am, he was in as good (if not better) condition to maintain it, the dependance being lesse on his side. Liberty was no lesse sacred than Majesty; Noli me tangere,3 was likewise its Motto. And in case of any, the least infringement (as escapes in Government may happen even in the most perfect); It was resented, as if the Nation had received a box on the Ear. If it be, as they say, the glory of a Free-State, to exalt, the scandall of Tyranny, to Embase our Spirits; doubtlesse, this was our only Common-wealth: for, ever since, me thinks, we have learned quietly to take the Bastonade.
I wish we now could, or could ever hope, under our Common-wealth (whatever promises may be made us) so perfectly to distinguish the Legislative from the Ministerial Authority, as once we did; when the House of Commons had not the power of a Court Leet4 to give an Oath, nor of a Justice of the Peace, to make a Mittimus:5 Which distinction, doubtlesse, is the most vitall part of Freedome, and far more considerable to poor Subjects, than the pretended Rotation; As on the contrary, the confusion of them is an accomplishment of servitude; For which the best Republicks, I fear, have more to answer, than any limited Prince can have. Certain it is, that as our King in his personall capacity, made no Laws, so neither did he, by himself, execute or interpret any. No Judge took notice of his single Command, to justifie any Trespass; no, not so much, as the breaking of an Hedge; his Power limited by his Justice, he was (equally with the meanest of his Subjects) concerned in that honest Maxime, We may do just so much and no more, than we have right to do. And it was most properly said, He could do no wrong: because if it were wrong, he did it not, he could not do it; It was void in the act, punishable in his agent. His Officers, as they were alike liable, so perhaps, they were more obnoxious to Indictments and suits, than any other, by how much their trespasse seemed to be of a higher nature, and gave greater alarm. His private Will could not countermand his Publick; his Privy seal, ever buckled to the great Seal, as being the Nation’s, more than his; his Order superseded no Processe, and his displeasure threatened no man with an hour’s imprisonment, after the return of Habeas Corpus. An Under Sheriff was more terrible, a Constable more sawcy, a Bailiff more troublesome than he. And yet, by his gentle Authority, this Scabbard of Prerogative (as some in derision, have called it) which (if it would) could scarce oppresse an Orphan, Tumult was curbed, Faction moderated, Usurpation forestalled, Intervales prevented, Perpetuities obviated, Equity administered, Clemency exalted, and the people made, only nice and wanton with their happinesse, as appears by their (now so impatient) calling for that Mannah, which they so causelessely loathed.
To Conclude, what shall I add? The Act, enjoining the Keepers of the great Seal, under pain of High Treason, to summon a Triennial Parliament, of course, by virtue of the Act without further Warrant; The Act, forbidding the Privy Councel, under like penalty, to intermeddle with Meum & Tuum, the Laws abolished the Star-chamber, High-commission, &c. branding all past, and bridling all future enormities; the Statutes limiting the King’s Claimes, and relieving his Tenants from exaction of Forfeitures; Besides many other principal immunities, wherewith (by the speciall favour of God, and bounty of our Princes) we were blessed, farr beyond any of our Neighbours. Above all, our assurance, that we might readily, have obtained such further addition and perfection of Liberty (if, yet, any such, there were) as would consist with modesty, or liberty itself to ask. Do they not, aloud, proclaim, that we were then, the mirrour of Governments, envy of Monarchies, and shame of Commonwealths; who could not but blush, to see themselves so ecclipsed and silenced, in all their pretences to Freedome? Do they not more than justifie my Assertion, That with all the Ornaments of the noblest Kingdome, we had likewise, all the enjoyments of the Freest State.
[1. ]There was considerable debate in the Long Parliament and the Interregnum parliaments over the issue of an executive veto, the so-called “negative voice.” See, for example, Charles’s comments on the Militia Ordinance in his “Answer to the Nineteen Propositions,” 154-55, above.
[2. ]The redcoats referred to are presumably professional soldiers.
[3. ]Touch me not. Noli me tangere is the Vulgate translation of the Risen Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene after she found the empty tomb and recognized Jesus risen from the dead.
[4. ]A court leet was a court of criminal justice.
[5. ]A mittimus is a writ enclosing a record sent to be tried in a county palatine. It commands the county officer to order the sheriff to summon a jury for the trial of the particular cause.