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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

387 The secretaries about the King were incessantly busy


Hence

this sovereign appeared in complete contradiction with himself. Careless, petty, and at the same time most unusually proud; a lover of pomp and ceremony, yet fond of solitude and retirement; fiery and at the same time lax; a man of genius and yet pedantic; eager to acquire and reckless in giving away; confidential and imperious; even in little matters of daily life not master of himself, he often did what he would afterwards rather have left undone. With all his knowledge and acuteness, the high flight of his thoughts was often allied to a moral weakness which among all circles did serious injury to that reverence which had hitherto been reserved for those who held the highest authority, and which was partly bestowed even on him. It could not seem likely that such a man should be able to exercise great influence on the fortunes of Britain.

He did however exercise such an influence. He gave the tone to the policy of the Stuart dynasty, and introduced the complication in which the destiny of his descendants was involved.

In the first years of his reign in England, so long as Robert Cecil was alive, King James exercised no deep influence. The Privy Council possessed to the full the authority which belonged to it by old custom. James used simply to confirm the resolutions which were adopted in the bosom of the Council under the influence of the Treasurer: he appears in the reports of ambassadors as a phantom-king,

and the minister as the real ruler of the country.[386] After the death of Cecil all this was changed. The King knew the party-divisions which prevailed in the Council: he let its members have their own way, and even connived at the relations they formed with foreign powers for their own interest; but he knew how to hold the balance between them, and in the midst of their divisions to carry out his own views. In those country seats, where no one seemed to take thought for anything except the pleasures of the chase and learned pursuits, the business of the state also was carried on in course of time with ever-increasing ardour.[387] The secretaries about the King were incessantly busy, while the secretaries' chambers in London were idle. Great affairs were generally transacted between the King and the favourite in the ascendant at the time, in conferences to which only a few others were admitted, and sometimes not even these. The King himself decided; and the resolutions which were taken were communicated to the Privy Council, which gradually became accustomed to do nothing more than invest them with the customary forms. If it be asked what the object of the King's efforts was, the answer must be that it was to set the exercise of the supreme power free from the controlling influence of the men of high rank to whom the King had deferred on his first accession. This was generally the aim of the great rulers of that century. This had been the principal end of the policy of Philip II of Spain during his long political life: however the Kings and Queens of France may have differed on other points, they were all, both Henry III and Henry IV, Mary de' Medici while she was regent, and Lewis XIII so soon as he succeeded to the exercise of power, at one in this endeavour. James, who was a new sovereign in one of his kingdoms, and almost always absent from the other, had more difficulties in his way than other monarchs. Wherever it was possible he proceeded with energy and rigour. People were astonished when they reckoned up the number of considerable men who served him in high offices, and were then deprived of them. He laboured incessantly to make way for the impartial exercise of justice in the King's name throughout Scotland, in spite of the privileges of the great Scottish


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