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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The electoral rights of the Estates


The

Elector Frederick however did not yet declare his decision. The question of the acceptance of the crown of Bohemia was debated from every point of view by the very councillors who had just been present at the election of the Emperor. Their decision was in favour of the prince inviting first of all the advice of his friends in the empire, of the States-General, but especially of the King of England, and making sure of their support.[401] The Bohemian envoys, who most urgently requested an immediate answer, were put off with the reply that the Elector must first of all be certain of the consent of the father of his consort. Count Christopher Dohna was sent to England to persuade King James to give it. He was commissioned to deliver to him a letter from the Princess-Electress in which she most urgently entreated her father to support her husband and to prove his paternal love to them both.

King James came now face to face with the greatest question of his life, which summed up and brought to light, so to speak, all the cross purposes and conflicting political aims among which he had long moved. A word from him was now of the greater consequence, as the States-General declared that they would act as he did. But what was his decision to be? He was not unmoved by the thought that the prospect of possessing a crown was opened to his son-in-law and grandchildren. On the other hand he was greatly impressed by a representation which the King of Spain forwarded

to him, that his right to the crown of Bohemia was indisputable--as in fact the Spanish line had a contingent claim to the succession--and that he would contend for it with all his strength: on which King James said that he also as a great sovereign had an interest in seeing that no one was deprived of his own. The theories of James I about the hereditary rights of princes, the electoral rights of the Estates, and the influence of religious profession in these matters, presented themselves to his mind together with his wishes on the question of the aggrandisement of his dynasty. He remarked that it could not be allowed that subjects should presume to fall away from their sovereign on a question of religion; he even feared that this doctrine might react to his own prejudice on England. In these considerations the balance evidently was in favour of a refusal. James would have deserved well of the world if he had given utterance to that refusal, and had decisively dissuaded his son-in-law from accepting the crown. And from his oft-repeated assertions at a later period, to the effect that the Elector had proceeded on his own responsibility, we might think that he had expressed himself in definite terms in favour of a different course.

In reality however this is not the case. He condemned the revolt of the Bohemians against Matthias: in regard to Ferdinand it was his opinion that they should prove from the old capitulations their right to declare his election and coronation invalid, and to proceed to a new election, in which case he would himself support them.[402] He expressed himself in such a manner, that even members of the Privy Council received the impression that he would approve of and even support the acceptance of the crown when once it had taken place. Christopher Dohna relates that in the negotiations at that time he one day declared that his master, the Elector, was ready to refuse the crown if the King required him to do so; and that James replied, 'I do not say that.'[403]

Monarchs are set in authority in order that they may pronounce definitive decisions according to the best of their own judgment. It is sometimes their duty to take a decided line. James, who hitherto had always stood between different parties, could not nerve himself at this eventful moment for a firm and straightforward resolve. In the monstrous dilemma in which the various questions at issue were becoming involved he could not come to any decision. The kindest thing that can be said of him is that at this moment his nature was not equal to the requirements of the situation.


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