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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

At the opening of Parliament in April 1614


[Sidenote:

A.D. 1614.]

At the opening of Parliament in April 1614, and on two occasions afterwards, the King addressed the Lower House. Among all the scholastic distinctions, complaints of the past, and assurances for the future, in which after his usual fashion he indulges, we can still perceive the fundamental idea, that if even the subsidies which he required and asked were granted him, he would notwithstanding agree to no conditions on his side, and take upon himself no distinct pledges. He was resolved no longer to play the game of making concessions in order to ask for something in return, as he had done some years before; he found that far beneath his dignity. Still less could he consent that all the grievances that might have arisen should be heaped up and presented to him, for that would be injurious to the honour of the government. Each one, he said, might lay before him the grievances which he experienced in his own town or in his own county; he would then attend to their redress one by one. In the same way he would deal with each House separately. If he is reproached with endeavouring to extend his prerogatives he denies the charge; but he affirms that he cannot allow them to be abridged, but that, in exercising them, he would behave as well as the best prince England ever had.[373] He has no conception of a relation based on mutual rights; he acknowledges only a relation of confidence and affection. In return for liberal concessions he promises

liberal favour.

This was a view of things resting upon a patriarchal conception of kingly power, in favour of which analogies might no doubt have been found in the early state of the kingdoms of the West, but which was now becoming more and more obsolete. What had still been possible under Elizabeth, when the sovereign and her Parliament formed one party, was no longer so now; especially as a man who had attracted universal hatred stood at the head of affairs. Besides this a dispute was already going on which we cannot pass over in silence.

It arose upon the same matter which had caused such grave embarrassment to the Earl of Salisbury, the unlimited exercise of the right of levying tonnage and poundage entirely at the discretion of the government. It was affirmed that the Custom-House receipts had increased more than twentyfold since the commencement of James's reign, and that a great part of the increased returns was enjoyed by favoured private individuals. The Lower House demanded first of all an examination into the right of the government, and declared that without it they would not proceed to vote any grant.[374]

In the Lower House itself on one occasion a lively debate arose on the subject. The opinion was advanced on the part of the friends of the government that, in this respect as in others, a difference existed between hereditary and elective monarchies, that in the first class, which included England, the prerogative was far more extensive than in the latter. Henry Wotton, and Winwood, who had been long employed on foreign embassies, explained what a great advantage in regard to their collective revenues other states derived from indirect taxes and customs. But by this statement they awakened redoubled opposition. They were told that the raising of these imposts in France had not been approved by the Estates and was in fact illegal; that the King of Spain had been forced to atone for the attempt to introduce them into the Netherlands by the loss of the greater part of the provinces. Thomas Wentworth especially broke out into violent invectives against the neighbouring sovereigns, which even called forth remonstrances from the embassies. He warned the King of England that in his case also similar measures would lead to his complete ruin.[375] It was not only urged that England ought not to take example by any foreign country, but the very distinction drawn between elective and hereditary monarchies suggested a question whether England after all was so entirely a hereditary monarchy as was asserted. It was asked if it might not rather be said that James I, who was one of a number of claimants who had all equally good rights, owed his accession to a voluntary preference on the part of the nation, which might be regarded as a sort of election. These were ideas of unlimited range, and flatly contradicted those which James had formed on the rights of birth and inheritance. He felt himself outraged by their expression in the Lower House.


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