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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

And alleged its most important grievances


[Sidenote:

A.D. 1610.]

James I expresses himself with a sort of naive ingenuousness in a letter to the Lords of Council of the year 1607. In this letter he exhorts them not to present to him any 'sute wherof none of yourselves can guess what the vallew may prove,' but rather to help him to cut off superfluous expenses, as far as was consistent with the honour of the kingdom, and to assist him to new lawful sources of revenue, without throwing an unjust burden upon the people. 'The only disease and consumption which I can ever apprehend as likeliest to endanger me, is this eating canker of want, which being removed I could think myself as happy in all other respects as any other king or monarch that ever was since the birth of Christ: in this disease I am the patient, and yee have promised to be the physicians, and to use the best care uppon me that your witte, faithfulnes and diligence can reach unto.'[364]

As Lord Treasurer, Robert Cecil had the task of taking in hand the conduct of this affair also. He had refused to make disbursements which he thought improper, but to which the King had notwithstanding allowed himself to be led away: he would not hear of increasing the revenue by such means as the sale of offices, a custom which seemed to be at that time transplanting itself from France into England. He sought to add to the revenue in the first place by further taxation of the largely increasing commerce of the country.

And as tonnage and poundage had been once for all granted to the King, he thought it appropriate and permissible to raise the custom-house duties as an administrative measure. Soon after the new government had come into power it had undertaken the rearrangement of the tariff to suit the circumstances of the time. Cecil, who was confirmed in his purpose by a decision of the judges to the effect that his conduct was perfectly legal, conferred with the principal members of the commercial class on the amount and nature of the increase of duty.[365] The plan which they embraced in accordance with the views prevalent at the time contemplated that the burden should principally fall upon foreigners.

The advantages which were obtained by this means were not inconsiderable. The Custom-House receipts were gradually increased under King James by one-half; but yet this was a slow process and could not meet the wants that likewise kept growing. The Lord Treasurer decided to submit a comprehensive scheme to Parliament, in order to effect a radical cure of the evil. The importance of the matter will be our excuse for examining it in detail.

He explained to them that a considerable increase of income (which he put down at L82,000) was required to cover the regular expenditure, but that a still greater sum was needed for casual expenses, for which in the state, as in every household, certainly a quarter of the sum reached by the regular expenditure was required. He therefore proposed that L600,000 should be at once granted him for paying off the debt, and that in future years the royal income should be raised by L200,000.

This request was so comprehensive and so far beyond all precedent, that it could never have been made without a corresponding offer of concessions on a large scale. The Earl of Salisbury in his proposal formally invited the Parliament to adduce the grievances which it had, and promised in the King's name to redress all such so far as lay in his power. It is affirmed that his clear-sighted and vigorous speech made a favourable impression. Parliament in turn acceded to the proposal, and alleged its most important grievances. They affected both ecclesiastical and financial interests: among the latter class that which concerned the Court of Wards is the most important historically.


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