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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The limits of legislative power


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nobles as its administrators.

In his ecclesiastical arrangements in that country, he was fond of insisting on his personal wishes: in cases of emergency indeed he made known that all the treasures of India were not of so much value in his eyes as the observance of his ordinances; and he threatened the opponents of the royal will with the King's anger, to which he then gave unbridled indulgence.[388] As he looked upon the Church of England as the best bulwark against the influence of the Jesuits which he feared on the one side, and that of the Puritans which he hated on the other, it was naturally his foremost endeavour to fortify his power, and to unite the two kingdoms with one another by the promotion and spread of the forms of that Church. The essential motive of his system of colonisation in Ireland was the wish to establish the Church, by the aid of which he designed to subjugate or to suppress hostile elements. In England he imparted to it a character still more clerical and removed from Presbyterianism than that which had previously distinguished it: he wished it to be as much withdrawn as possible from the action of civil legislation. But in proportion as he supported himself on the Church he fell out with the Parliament, in which aristocratic tendencies and sympathies with popular rights and with Puritanism were blended with a feeling of independence that was hateful to him. He once said that five hundred kings were assembled there, and he thought that he was fulfilling a duty in resisting them. The
most momentous questions affecting constitutional rights in regard to the freedom of elections, freedom of speech, the limits of legislative power, and above all the right of granting taxes, were brought forward under King James. And on every other side he saw himself involved in a struggle with hostile privileges and proud independent powers, from whose ascendancy both in Church and State he was careful to keep himself free, while at the same time he did not proceed to extremities or come to an absolute rupture. He was naturally disposed, and was moreover led by circumstances, to make it a leading rule of conduct, to adhere immovably to principles which he had once espoused, and never to lose sight of them; but, having done this, to appear vacillating and irresolute in matters of detail. His position abroad involved the same apparent contradiction. Placed in the midst of great rival powers, and never completely certain of the obedience of his subjects, he sought to ensure the future for himself by crafty and hesitating conduct. All the world complained that they could not depend on him; each party thought that he was blinded by the other. Those however who knew him more intimately assure us that we must not suppose that he did not apprehend the snares which were laid for him; that if only he were willing to use his eyes, he was as clear-sighted as Argus; that there was no prince in the world who had more insight into affairs or more cleverness in transacting them. They say that if he appeared to lack decision, this arose from his fine perception of the difficulties arising from the nature of things and their necessary consequences; that he was just as slow and circumspect in the execution as he was lively and expeditious in the discussion of measures; that he knew how to moderate his choleric temperament by an intentional reserve,[389] and that even his absence from the capital and his residence in the country were made to second this systematic hesitation; that, if a disputed point awaited decision, instead of attending a meeting with the Privy Councillors who were with him, he would take advantage of a fine day to fly his falcons, for he thought that something might happen in the meanwhile, or some news be brought in, and that the delay of an hour had often ere now been found profitable.


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