Three Petitions—Liberty of Speech, Freedom from Arrest, and Free Access for Parliamentarians; Laws; Coke as Speaker
The Parliament of 1593 was a triumph for Coke. He navigated the conflict that arose regarding members’ privileges in a series of incidents beginning when Thomas Fitzherbert was arrested for debt between his election to Parliament and the receipt of his election by the sheriff, deflecting his claim that, as a member, he was free from arrest. Coke was a loyal lieutenant to the Queen, burying a bill on reformation of the ecclesiastical courts, while promoting bills to more closely regulate both Puritans and Catholics, and helping to deliver large new subsidies, or taxes. He did much to protect Parliament’s recently acquired “ancient” rights.—Ed.
February 22, 1593
Speech to the Queen, in the House of Lords
The Speaker’s Speech. The queen being come again to the Upper House, the Commons presented the famous Edward Coke, esq. solicitor-general, as their Speaker; who, being placed at the bar of the house, delivered himself as follows: “Your maj.’s most loving subjects, the knights, citizens, and burgesses, of the house of commons, have nominated me, your grace’s poor servant and subject, to be their Speaker. Though their nomination hath hitherto proceeded, that they present me to speak before your maj.; yet this their nomination is, only as yet, a nomination and no election, until your maj. giveth allowance and approbation. For, as in the heavens, a star is but opacum corpus, until it have received light from the sun; so stand I corpus opacum, a mute body, until your highness’s bright-shining wisdom hath looked upon me, and allowedme. How great a charge this is, to be the mouth of such a body as your whole Commons represent, to utter what is spoken, Grandia Regni, my small experience, being a poor professor of the law, can tell. But, how unable I am to do this office, my present speech doth tell, that of a number in this house, I am most unfit. For, amongst them are many grave, many learned, many deep wise men, and those of ripe judgments: but I am untimely fruit, not yet ripe, but a bud scarcely blossomed. So, as I fear me, your maj. will say, Neglectâ frugi eliguntur folia: amongst so many fair fruit ye have plucked a shaken leaf.—If I may be so bold as to remember a speech (which I cannot forget) used the last parl. in your maj.’s own mouth, Many come hither ‘ad consulendum qui nesciunt quid sit consulendum’; a just reprehension to many as to myself also, an untimely fruit, my years and judgment ill befitting the gravity of this place. But, howsoever, I know myself the meanest, and inferior unto all that ever were before me in this place; yet, in faithfulness of service, and dutifulness of love, I think not myself inferior to any that ever were before me. And, amidst my many imperfections, yet this is my comfort; I never knew any in this place, but if your maj. gave them favour, God, who called them to the place, gave them also the blessing to discharge it.”
The Lord Keeper’s Answer. The Lord Keeper having received instructionsfrom the queen, answered him: “Mr. Solicitor, her grace’s most excellent maj. hath willed me to signify unto you, that she hath ever well conceived of you since she first heard of you, which will appear, when her highness elected you from others to serve herself. But, by this your modest, wise, and well-composed speech, you give her maj. further occasion to conceive of you, above that which ever she thought was in you; by endeavouring to deject and abase yourself and your desert, you have discovered and made known your worthiness and sufficiency to discharge the place you are called to. And, whereas you account yourself corpus opacum, her maj. by the influence of her virtue and wisdom, doth enlighten you; and not only alloweth and approveth you, but much thanketh the lower house, and commendeth their discretion in making so good a choice, and electing so fit a man. Wherefore now, mr. Speaker, proceed in your office, and go forward, to your commendation, as you have begun.”
The Speaker’s Reply. The lord keeper’s speech being ended, the speaker began a new speech: “Considering the great and wonderful blessings, besides the long peace we have enjoyed under your grace’s most happy and victorious reign, and remembering with what wisdom and justice your grace hath reigned over us, we have cause daily to praise God that ever you were given us; and the hazard that your maj. hath adventured, and the charge that you have borne for us and our safety, ought to make us ready to lay down ourselves and all our living, at your feet, to do you service.—After this he related the great attempts of her maj.’s enemies against us, especially the Pope, and the king of Spain, who adhered unto him. How wonderfully we were delivered in 88, and what a favour God therein manifest unto her maj. His speech, after this, tended wholly to shew, out of the history of England and the old state, how the kings of England, ever since Hen. III.’s time, have maintained themselves to be the supreme head over all causes within their own dominions. And then reciting the laws that every one made in his time, for maintaining their own supremacy, and excluding the Pope, he drew down this proof by a statute of every king since Hen. III. to Edw. VI. This ended, he came to speak of laws, that they were so great, and so many already, that they were fit to be termed ‘elephantinae leges.’ Therefore to make more laws it might seem superfluous. And to him that might ask, Quid causa ut crescant tot magna volumina legis? It may be answered, In promptu causa est, crescit in orbe malum. The malice of our arch-enemy, the devil, though it were always great, yet never greater than now; and that ‘dolus et malum’ being crept in so far amongst men, it was requisite that sharp ordinances should be provided to prevent them, and all care be used for her maj.’s preservation. Now am I to make unto your maj. 3 Petitions, in the name of the Commons; 1st, That Liberty of Speech, and Freedom from arrests, according to the ancient custom of parl. be granted to your subjects; 2d, That we may have access unto your royal person, to present those things that shall be considered amongst us; lastly, That your maj. will give your royal assent to the things that are agreed upon. And, for myself, I humbly beseech your maj. if any speech shall fall from me, or behaviour found in me, not decent and fit, it may not be imputed blame upon the house, but laid upon me, and pardoned in me.”
The lord Keeper’s further Answer. To this speech, the Lord Keeper, having received new instructions from the queen, made his reply. “In which he first commended the Speaker greatly for it; and then he added some examples of history for the king’s supremacy in Hen. II. and other kings before the conquest. As to the deliverance we received from our enemies, and the peace we enjoyed, the queen would have the praise of all those attributed to God only. And, touching the commendations given to herself, she said, ‘Well might we have a wiser prince, but never should they have one that more regarded them, and in justice would carry an evener stroke, without exception of persons; such a prince she wished they might always have.’ To your 3 demands the Queen answereth; Liberty of Speech is granted you; but how far this is to be thought on, there be two things of most necessity, and those two do most harm, which are wit and speech: the one exercised in invention, and the other in uttering things invented. Privilege of speech is granted, but you must know what privilege you have; not to speak every one what he listeth, or whatcometh in his brain to utter that; but your privilege is, aye or no. Wherefore, mr. Speaker, her maj.’s pleasure is, That if you perceive any idle heads, which will not stick to hazard their own estates; which will meddle with reforming the Church, and transforming the Common-wealth; and do exhibit any bills to such purpose, that you receive them not, until they be viewed and considered by those, who it is fitter should consider of such things, and can better judge of them. To your Persons all privileges is granted, with this caveat, that under colour of this privilege, no man’s ill-doings, or not performing of duties, be covered and protected. The last; Free Access is granted to her maj.’s person, so that it be upon urgent and weighty causes, and at times convenient; and when her maj. may be at leisure from other important causes of the realm.”
April 10, 1593.
Speech to the Queen at the House of Lords
The Speaker’s Speech to the Queen at the Close of the Session. April 10, the Queen came to the House of Lords; and the Commons being called up, the Speaker, on delivering the bills, made the following most elaborate Speech on the Dignity and Antiquity of Parliaments:—“The high court of parl. most high and mighty prince, is the greatest and most ancient court within this your realm. For before the Conquest in the high places of the West-Saxons, we read of a parl. holden; and since the Conquest they have been holden by all your noble predecessors kings of England.—In the time of the West-Saxons a parl. was holden by the noble king Ina, by these words: ‘I, Ina, king of the West-Saxons, have caused all my Fatherhood, Aldermen and wisest Commons, with the godly men of my kingdom, to consult of weighty matters, &c.’ Which words do plainly shew all the parts of this high court still observed to this day. For by king Ina is your maj.’s most royal person represented. The Fatherhood, in ancient time, were these which we call bps. and still we call them rev. Fathers, an ancient and chief part of our state.—By Aldermen were meant your noblemen. For so honourable was the word Alderman in ancient time, that the nobility only were called Aldermen.—By Wisest Commons is meant and signified knights and burgesses, and so is your maj.’s writ, de discretioribus & magis sufficientibus. —By Godliest Men is meant your convocation-house. It consisteth of such as are devoted to religion. And as godliest men do consult of weightiest matters, so is your highness’s writ at this day pro quibusdam arduis & urgentibus negotiis, nos, statum & defensionem regni nostri & ecclesiae tangentibus. Your highness’s wisdom and exceeding judgment withall-careful Providence needed not our councils: but yet so urgent causes there were of this parl. so important considerations, as that we may say (for that we cannot judge) never parl. was so needful as now, nor any so honourable as this. If I may be bold to say it, I must presume to say that which hath been often said (but what is well said cannot be too often spoken) this sweet council of ours I would compare to that sweet Commonwealth of the little bees:
Sic enim parvis componere magna solebam.
The little bees have but one governor whom they all serve, he is their king, quia latera habet latiora; he is placed in the midst of their habitations, ut in tutissima turri. They forage abroad, sucking honey from every flower to bring to their king. Ignavum fucos pecus à praesepibus arcent. The drones they drive away out of their hives, non habentes aculeos. And whoso assails their king, in him immittunt aculeos, & tamen rex ipse est sine aculeo. —Your maj. is that princely governor and noble queen, whom we all serve; being protected under the shadow of your wings we live, and wish you may ever sit upon your throne over us. And whosoever shall not say Amen, for them we pray ut convertantur ne pereant, & ut confundantur ne noceant. Under your happy govt. we live upon honey, we suck upon every sweet flower: but where the bee sucketh honey, there also the spider draweth poison. Some such venoms there be. But such drones and door bees we will expel the hive and serve your maj. and withstand any enemy that shall assault you. Our lands, our goods, our lives are prostrate at your feet to be commanded. Yea, and (thanked be God, and honour be to your maj. for it) such is the power and force of your subjects, that of their own strength they are able to encounter your greatest enemies. And though we be such, yet have we a prince that is sine aculco; so full of that clemency is your maj. I fear I have been too long, and therefore to come now to your Laws.—The Laws we have conferred upon this session of so honourable a parl. are of two natures; the one such as have life but are ready to die, except your maj. breathe life into them again; the other are laws that never had life, but, being void of life, do come to your maj. to seek life.—The first sort are those laws that had continuances until this parl. and are now to receive new life or are to die for ever. The other, that I term capable of life, are those which are newly made, but have no essence until your maj. giveth them life.—Two laws there are, but I must give the honour where it is due; for they come from the noble wise Lords of the upper house; the most hon. and beneficial laws that could be desired: the one a Confirmation of all Letters Patents, from your maj.’s most noble father, of all Ecclesiastical Livings, which that king took from those superstitious monasteries and priories, and translated them to the erecting and setting up of many foundations of Cathedral Churches and Colleges, greatly furthering the maintenance of learning and true religion.—The other law to suppress the obstinate Recusant and the dangerous sectary, both very pernicious to your govt.—Lastly, your loving and obedient subjects, the Commons of the lower house, humbly and with all dutiful thanks, stand bound unto your gracious goodness for your general and large Pardon granted unto them, wherein many great offences are pardoned. But it extendeth only to offences done before the parl. I have many ways, since the beginning of this parl. by ignorance and insufficiency to perform that which I should have done, offended your maj.; I therefore most humbly crave to be partaker of your maj.’s most gracious pardon.”