Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

tent than had been done by her predecessors. To her frugal temper this seemed a thrifty mode of gratifying her courtiers, and rewarding the meritorious. The grantees sold their patents to companies of traders, who put on their articles the highest possible prices that purchasers could pay : salt, for example, being thus raised from 15d. to 15s. a bushel.* Scarcely a single article of consumption had escaped the rapacity of the courtiers :t but, in 1601, when the matter had produced a great ferment in the commons, the prudent queen promised that she would revoke all such patents as should be proved injurious.

The reign of Elizabeth was also a period of literary glory. Hitherto the name of Chaucer had stood al. most alone on the rolls of poetic genius : but now a noble band appeared, who were to place England on a level with Greece and Italy. Who is not familiar with the great names of Shakspeare and Spenser, the chiefs of this poetic choir? In prose, too, Hooker was the first to give proof of the depth and force, the dignity and harmony, of which the English language is susceptible.

Newspapers, now so numerous and of such importance, first appeared in England during the reign of Elizabeth. In the year of the Armada, a gazette, called the Mercury, was established.

* From 30 cts. to $3 60.

+ When the list was read in the house in 1601, a member cried, " Is not bread in the number ?” “Bread !" cried the rest, in amaze.

Nay," said he, "if no remedy is found for this, bread will be there before the next parliament."

CHAPTER IV.

ENGLAND UNDER THE TUDORS.

Power of the Crown.- House of Commons.-Court of Star Cham

ber.-Court of High Commission.-- Wardship.—Younger Broth ers.-Leigers or Resident Ambassadors.

The period during which the throne of England was occupied by the house of Tudor was one of transition both in politics and religion. The crown, during this period, acquired a degree of strength and influence unknown to the Plantagenets: but the power which was to control it was also secretly growing up. This new power was the commons; for those who had in reality withstood the prerogative of the Edwards and the Henries were the ancient nobility, the feudal aristocracy, beneath whose protection the house of commons acted against the crown.

But the war of the Roses, and various natural and political causes, had thinned the ranks and broken the power of the feudal baronage; and the commons, without leaders or support, had become timid and submissive. A new nobility, indebted to royal favour for its honours, and to royal munificence or profusion for its wealth, by degrees sprang up. * It was naturally cautious, subservient, and self-seeking; and we have seen, on numerous occasions, how abjectly it obeyed the royal will. Had it not been for the spirit breathed by the Reformation, which gradually, infused vigour and courage into the breasts of the commons, the sacred flame of liberty might have become extinct. It is not to be denied, that to the Puritans we are mainly indebted for its conservation.

Under Henry VIII. the commons were in their

* Only a small portion of the English nobility, such as the Howards, the Stanleys, the Nevilles, the Percies, and the Courteneys, can trace their honours beyond the time of the Tudors.

POWER OF THE CROWN.

131

most feeble condition: for the very circumstance to which they owed their future strength, namely, the Reformation, contributed to augment the power of the despot, who, holding the balance between the two parties, was courted by both; and neither would risk the forfeiture of his favour or incur his displeasure by any efforts in the cause of the national liberties. Yet, servile as was the house of commons under Henry, it sometimes ventured to resist the attempts of the crown to obtain money.

Under Edward VI. the commons began to show some symptoms of returning vigour. They ventured to reject several bills sent down from the lords. The parliaments of Mary proved, as we have seen, refractory on several points ; and the Puritanic spirit, which began to assume strength in the time of Elizabeth, manifested itself, on various occasions, by an opposition to the court, so strong as to cause that prudent princess to recede from measures which she had proposed, and to promise compliance with the wishes of the commons.

The strongest proof which could be afforded of the growing power, of the house of commons was the anxiety of the court to proçure influence in it. This was effected either by creating new boroughs, or by restoring the right of election to such old boroughs ás, on account of the expense of paying their representatives, had neglected its use. Care, of course, was always taken to select those places in which the crown or its supporters had influence; and in this manner numbers of the servants of the court obtained seats in the house of commons. In the reign of Edward, twoand-twenty boroughs were thus created or restored ; Mary added fourteen more, and Elizabeth continued the practice. We thus see that Time was not the only agent in the production of rotten boroughs.*

Thus the power of the crown, independent of the * An opprobrious designation applied to such small boroughs as, with no just claim, had, either by royal favour or otherwise, acquired a right to elect a representative to the house of commons. During the progress of reform in England within the last few years, the most objectionable of these borough privileges have been parliament, was almost overwhelming, even under the later Tudors : it retained all its feudal prerogatives, with the addition of the ecclesiastical authority acquired by Henry VIII., and in the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission it had two mighty engines of oppression.

The origin of the court of Star Chamber was as follows. The Curia Regis, or royal council, had all along exercised a very arbitrary degree of power. As it usually sat in the apartment named the Star Chamber (from the stars with which it was adorned), it thence derived its appellation. It silently acquired the powers vested in the court erected by statute 3 of Henry VII. It served, as Sir Thomas Smith expresses it, "to bridle such stout noblemen or gentlemen which would offer wrong by force to any manner of men, and cannot be content to demand or defend the right by order of the law;" and so far it was beneficial. But it gradually extended its jurisdiction much farther, and took cognizance of such a number of offences as rendered it a powerful instrument of despotism. Thus it punished for scandalous reports with regard to persons in power, and for the spreading of seditious news. If a man refused to lend money as a benevolence,* he was summoned before the council : as also were jurors who found verdicts contrary to the wishes of the crown. It punished by fine and imprisonment, and there was no appeal from its sentence.

Severe and arbitrary as the Star Chamber was in civil matters, a still more tyrannic tribunal took cognizance of affairs relating to religion. This was the court of High Commission : a miniature Inquisition, which was completed in the year 1580. The spirit of the times, which knew not toleration, was the true origin of this tribunal : but its germe appears to have been a com

suppressed, and the elective franchise has been somewhat es. tended and equalized, though much still remains to be done to give to the English people a fair and honest representation.- Am. Ed.

* That is, to lend money to the king on his request, which he gave himself very little trouble to repay.-Am. Ed.

[blocks in formation]

mission granted by Queen Mary, in 1557, to certain prelates and others, inquire after heresies, and to punish those who did not come to church, or who misbehaved themselves there, etc. The court of High Commission consisted of forty-four members, of whom twelve were bishops. They were to take cognizance of all violations of the acts of supremacy and uniformity, and of two other acts, either by deed, speech, or writing They could punish those who absented themselves from church, and those guilty of incest, adultery, etc.; they might, ex officio, examine suspected persons on their oaths, and punish by fine, imprisonment, etc.; and they could visit and reform heresies and schisms, and deprive beneficed persons for holding doctrines contrary to the thirty-nine articles. In a word, their power had scarcely any limits, and by means of it a perfect despotism over opinion was established. The feudal burdens continued to be as oppressive

The lower orders of the people were sorely aggrieved by the abuses of purveyance ;* and wardship was a source of ruin to numbers of the gentry. The following picture of its evils is from the pen of an able statesman in the reign of Elizabeth.

Many men,” says Sir Thomas Smith,t “ do es

as ever.

* Osborne relates the following anecdote. “A purveyor having abused the county of Kent, upon the queen's remove to Greenwich, a countryman, watching the time she went to walk, which was commonly early, and being wise enough to take his time when she stood unbent and quiet from the ordinary occasions she was taken up with, placing himself within the reach of her ear, did, after the fashion of his

caste, cry aloud, Which is the queen ?' whereupon, as her manner was, she turned about towards him, and he continuing still his question, she herself answered,' I am your queen: what wouldst thou have with me?' • You,' replied the fellow, are one of the rarest women I ever saw, and can eat no more than my daughter Madge, who is thought the properest lass in our parish, though short of you; but that Queen Elizabeth I look for devours so many of my hens, ducks, and capons that I am not able to live.'

it is added, pleased with the praise of her beauty, inquired who the purveyor was, and, as the story went, caused him to be hanged.

+ Commonwealth of England, book iii., ch. 5. VOL. III.-M

The queen,

« ZurückWeiter »