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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

At last the Lord Treasurer adhered to the demand for L200


Of

the institutions by which the Normans and Plantagenets held their feudal state together, none perhaps was more effectual than the right of guardianship over minors, whose property the kings managed for their own advantage. They stepped as it were into the rights of fathers; even the marriage of wards depended on their pleasure. From the time of Henry VIII a court for the exercise of this jurisdiction and for feudal tenures generally had existed, which instituted enquiries into the neglect of prescriptive custom, and punished it. One of the most important offices was that of President of the Court, which was very lucrative, and conferred personal influence in various ways. It had been long filled by Robert Cecil himself.

The Lower House now proposed in the first place that this right and the machinery created to enforce it, which gave birth to various acts of despotism, should be abolished. How often had the property of wards been ruined by those to whom the rights of the state were transferred. The debts which were chargeable against them were never paid.[366] The Lower House desired that not only the royal prerogatives, but also that the kindred rights of the great men of the kingdom over their vassals should cease, and especially that property held on feudal tenures should be made allodial.

It is evident what great interests were involved in this scheme, which was thoroughly monarchical, and at the same time

was opposed to feudalism. Its execution would have put an end to the feudal tie which now had no more vitality, and appeared nothing more than a burden; but at the same time the crown would have been provided with a regular and sufficient income, and, what is more, would have been tolerably independent of the grants of Parliament, so soon as an orderly domestic system was introduced. We can understand that in bringing this matter to an issue a minister of monarchical views might see an appropriate conclusion to a life or rather two lives, his father's and his own, dedicated to the service of the sovereign. And it appeared that he might well hope to succeed, as a considerable alleviation was offered at the same time to the King's subjects as well.

The King reminded them that the feudal prerogative formed one of the fairest jewels of his crown, that it was an heirloom from his forefathers which he could not surrender; honour, conscience, and interest, equally forbade it. The Lower House replied that it would not dispute about honour and conscience, but as to interest, that might be arranged. They were ready by formal contract to indemnify the crown for the loss which it would suffer.[367]

The crown demanded L100,000 as a compensation for the loss it would suffer; and besides this, the L200,000 before mentioned which it required for restoring the balance between income and expenditure. We need not here reproduce the repulsive spectacle presented by the abatement of demands on the one side, and the increase of offers on the other. At last the Lord Treasurer adhered to the demand for L200,000 everything included. He declared that if this was refused the King would never again make a similar offer. On this at last the Parliament declared itself ready to grant the sum; but, even then, set up further conditions about which they could not come to an immediate agreement, so that their mutual claims were not yet definitively adjusted.


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