Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

publicly to inculcate in the king's presence, that, if any inevitable necessity ever obliged the sovereign to violate the laws, this license ought to be practised with extreme reserve, and, as soon as possible, a just atonement be made to the constitution for any injury which it might sustain from such dangerous precedents. The first parliament after the restoration reversed the bill of attainder; and even a few weeks after Strafford's. execution, this very parliament remitted to his children the more severe consequences of his sentence; as if conscious of the violence with which the prosecution had been conducted.

In vain did Charles expect, as a return for so inany instances of unbounded compliance, that the parliament would at last show him some indulgence, and would cordially fall into that unanimity to which, at the expense of his own power and of his friend's life, he so earnestly courted them. All his concessions were poisoned by their suspicion of his want of cordiality; and the supposed attempt to engage the army against them, served with many as a confirmation of this jealousy. It was natural for the king to seek some resource, while all the world seemed to desert him, or combine against him; and this probably was the utmost of that embryo scheme which was formed with regard to the army. But the popular leaders still insisted, that a desperate plot was laid to bring up the forces immediately, and offer violence to the parliament; a design of which Piercy's evidence acquits the king, and which the near neighborhood of the Scottish army seems to render absolutely impracticable.t By means, however, of these suspicions, was the same implacable spirit still kept alive; and the commons, without giving the king any satisfaction in the settlement of his revenue, proceeded to carry their inroads with great vigor into his now defenceless prerogative. I

Oi

* Rush. vol. iv. p. 567, 568, 569, 570.

The project of bringing up the army to London, according to Piercy, was proposed to the king : but he rejected it' as foolish; because the Scots, who were in arms, and lying in their neighborhood, must be at London as soon as the English army. This reason is so solid and convincing, that it leaves no room to doubt of the veracity of Piercy's evidence; and consequently acquits the king of this terrible plot of bringing up the army, which made such a noise at the time, and was a pretence for so many violences. I Clarendon, vol. i, p. 266. 15

H

VOL. V.

The two ruling passions of this parliament were, zeal for liberty, and an aversion to the church ; and to both of these, nothing could appear more exceptionable than the court of high commission, whose institution rendered it entirely arbitrary, and assigned to it the defence of the ecclesiastical establishment. The star chamber also was a court which exerted higa discretionary powers and had no precise rule or limit, either with regard to the causes which came under its jurisdiction, or the decisions which it formed. A bill unanimously passed the houses to abolish these two courts; and in them to annihilate the principal and most dangerous articles of the king's prerogative. By the same bill, the jurisdiction of the council was regulated, and its authority abridged.* Charles hesitated before he gave his assent. But finding that he had gone too far to retreat, and that he possessed no resource in case of a rupture, he at last affixed the royal sanction to this excellent bill. But to show the parliament that he was sufficiently apprised of the importance of his grant, he observed to them, that this statute altered in a great measure the fundamental laws, ecclesiastical and civil, which many of his predecessors had established. *

By removing the star chamber, the king's power of binding the people by his proclamations was indirectly abolished ; and that important branch of prerogative, the strong symbol of arbitrary power, and unintelligible in a limited constitution, being at last removed, left the system of government more consistent and uniform. The star chamber alone was accus. tomed to punish infractions of the king's edicts : but as no courts of judicature now remained except those in Westminster Hall, which take cognizance only of common and statute law, the king may thenceforth issue proclamations, but no man is bound to obey them. It must, however, be confessed, that the experiment here made by the parliament was not a little rash and adventurous. No government at that time appeared in the world, nor is perhaps to be found in the records of any history, which subsisted without the mixture of some arbitrary authority committed to some magistrate ; and it might reasonably, beforehand, appear doubtful, whether human society could ever reach that

ܪ

* Clarendon, vol. i. p. 283, 284. Whitlocke, p. 47. Rush, vol. iü. p. 1383, 1384.

* Rush. vol. v. p. 307.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

state of perfection, as to support itself with no other control than the general and rigid maxims of law and equity. But the parliament justly tnought, that the king was too eminent a magistrate to be trusted with discretionary power, which he might so easily turn to the destruction of liberty. And in the event, it has hitherto been found, that, though some sensible inconveniencies arise from the maxim of adhering strictly to law, yet the advantages overbalance them, and should render the English grateful to the memory of their ancestors, who, after repeated contests, at last established that noble, though dangerous principle.

At the request of the parliament, Charles, instead of the patents during pleasure, gave all the judges patents during their good behavior; a circumstance of the greatest moment towards securing their independency, and barring the entrance of arbitrary power into the ordinary courts of judicature.

The marshal's court, which took cognizance of offensive words, and was not thought sufficiently limited by law, was also for that reason abolished. The stannary courts, which exercised jurisdiction over the miners, being liable to a like objection, underwent a like fate. The abolition of the council of the north and the council of Wales followed from the same principles. The authority of the clerk of the market, who had a general inspection over the weights and measures throughout the kingdom, was transferred to the mayors, sheriffs, and ordinary magistrates.

In short, if we take a survey of the transactions of this memorable parliament during the first period of its operations, we shall find that, excepting Strafford's attainder, which was a coinplication of cruel iniquity, their merits in other respects so much outweigh their mistakes, as to entitle them to praise from all lovers of liberty. Not only were former abuses remedied, and grievances redressed; great provision for the future was made by law against the return of like complaints. And if the means by which they obtained such advantages savor ofter. of artifice, sometimes of violence, it is to be considered, that revolutions of government cannot be effected by the mere force of argument and reasoning; and that faccions being once excited, men can neither so firmly regulate the tempers of others, nor their own, as to insure themselves against all exorbitancies.

* May, p. 107.

† Nalson, vol. 1. p. 778.

172

HISTORY OF ENGLAND.

[ocr errors]

The parliameat now came to a pause. The king had promised his Scottish subjects that he would this summer pay them a visit, in order to settle their government; and though the English parliament was very importunate with him, that he should lay aside that journey, they could not prevail with him so much as to delay it. As he must necessarily, in his journey, have passed through the troops of both nations, the commons seem to have entertained great jealousy on that account, and to have now hurried on, as much as they formerly delayed, the disbanding of the armies. The arrears, therefore, of the Scots were fully paid them; and those of the English in part. The Scots returned home, and the English were separated into their several counties, and dismissed.

After this, the parliament adjourned to the twentieth of October; and a committee of both houses

- a thing unprecedented was appointed to sit during the recess, with very ample powers. ** Pym was elected chairman of the committee of the lower house. Further attempts were made by the parliament while it sat, and even by the commons alone for assuming sovereign executive powers, and publishing their ordinances, as they called thèm, instead of laws. The committee too, on their part, was ready to imitate the example.

A small committee of both houses was appointed to attend the king into Scotland, in order, as was pretended, to see that the articles of pacification were executed; but really to be spies upon him, and extend still further the ideas of parliamentary authority, as well as eclipse the majesty of the king. The earl of Bedford, Lord Howard, Sir Philip Stapleton, Sir William Armyne, Fiennes, and Hambden, were the persons chosen.

Endeavors were used, before Charles's departure, to have a protector of the kingdom appointed, with a power to pass laws without having recourse to the king: so little regard was now paid to royal authority, or to the established constitution of the kingdom.

Amidst the great variety of affairs which occurred during this busy period, we have almost overlooked the marriage of She princess Mary with William, prince of Oranfge. The king concluded not this alliance without communicating his inten. tions to the parliament, who received the proposal with satisfaction. * This was the commencement of the connections with the family of Orange ; connections which were afterwards attended with the most important consequences, both to the kingdom and to the house of Stuart.

* Rush. vol. v. p. 387.

+ Rush. vol. v. p. 376

* Whitlocke, p. 38.

15*

« ZurückWeiter »