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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

In reality they were directed principally against Buckingham


Coke,

who moreover did not think it necessary to ask the King's consent for liberty of speech, because this was, he thought, an independent right of Parliament, vindicated the position that no royal proclamation had validity if it contradicted an act of Parliament or an existing law. He took his stand on the times of the later Plantagenet and of the Lancastrian kings: and he considered that the form which the relation between the government and Parliament then assumed was the only legal form. But the government of James I had granted extraordinarily obnoxious privileges--for instance, the right of setting up taverns with a restriction on the entertainment of guests by private individuals, or by the old inns; and again the right of arresting acknowledged vagrants. But the most obnoxious grants were those of patents for the monopoly of some trade, which were annoying to the whole mercantile class, and brought profit only to a few favoured individuals. Coke argued that the patents were either in themselves illegal, or injurious in their enforcement, or both together. While he proved to Parliament its forgotten or disregarded rights, Coke won the full confidence of both Houses alike: the Upper and the Lower House made common cause. Thus the system of government as it had been developed under the Tudors and continued under the Stuarts was encountered face to face by another system, which rested upon other precedents and principles.

And people were not content

with merely declaring the patents invalid; they called those to account who had got possession of them, and even the high officials who had contributed to issue them. A general commotion ensued: every day fresh information came in and fresh complaints were drawn up.[409]

The Lord Chancellor Bacon had been already brought into danger by this affair. He had assisted in introducing monopolies of different manufactures under the pretence that work would be found for the poor by means of them. It was well known that in matters of this sort he had for the most part followed the suggestions of the Prime Minister. While Bacon was defending the ideal mission of the monarchy, he had the weakness to identify himself too closely with the accidental form which authority just at that particular moment took. In return he found on the other hand that the attacks really aimed at the government recoiled in the first instance upon him. In reality they were directed principally against Buckingham. In order to save him from destruction, suggestions had been made to the King that he might prefer to dissolve Parliament, as it seemed plain that he had far more reason to expect harm from the attacks than advantage from the grants made by that body. Buckingham saved himself only by coming forward against the monopolies himself, in accordance with the advice of his ecclesiastical confidant, Dean Williams. Claims had been made against two of his brothers also on account of the monopolies. Far from taking them under his protection, he said on the contrary that his father had still a third son who was determined to root out abuses; and that not until the present proceedings had been taken had he recognised the advantages of parliamentary government. Upon this, the leading men with whom Williams had formed a connexion, desisted from attacking the First Minister. It even came about that a person of high rank, accused at the bar of the House of Lords, who had let fall an expression, comparing Buckingham to old favourites of hateful memory, was obliged to retract it with considerable ceremony. But a victim was required: one was found in the Lord Chancellor Bacon.

Although condemned by law and morality, an evil practice still prevailed of receiving presents of money in official transactions. The sums were known and have been registered, by means of which Gondomar retained the services of a number of statesmen in the interest of Spain. How many similar abuses in the control of the Treasury had been brought to light only a short time before! Even the great philosopher, who in his writings is so zealous against bribes, contracted during his administration the stain of receiving them. That he might stand on an equality with the great lords, he incurred inordinate expenses, which these bribes assisted him to meet. Edward Coke was wholly in the right when he exclaimed that a corrupt judge was 'the grievance of grievances.'[410] Two-and-twenty cases were proved in which the supreme judge, the Lord Chancellor of England, had taken presents from the parties concerned. Lord Bacon made no attempt to justify his conduct; he only affirmed--and this appears in fact to have been the case--that in his decisions he never was influenced by the presents that had been made him. When he was called to account for them, he acquiesced himself in the justice of the proceeding, for he allowed that a reform was necessary, and only deemed himself unfortunate in being the person with whom it began. The Lords pronounced sentence upon him that he should never again fill an official position, nor be capable of sitting in Parliament, and that he should be banished from the precincts of the court.


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