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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

In fact the impression spread that Parliament


We

can see how opinion wavered from a speech of Sir Benjamin Rudyard, who maintains on the one hand that it is impossible to find laws beforehand for every case, but that a circle must be drawn within which the royal authority shall prevail; while on the other hand he lays emphasis also on the danger arising from the plea of mere reasons of state, which he said would only too easily come into conflict with the laws and with religion itself. The best arrangement according to him would be, if Parliament were held so often that the irregular power which could not be broken at once, might by degrees 'moulder away.' A copy of this speech with observations by Laud is extant in the archives. Laud calls attention to the contradiction which lies in first acknowledging the necessity of liberty of movement on the part of the government, and then notwithstanding considering it to be the destination of Parliament by degrees to absorb its power, as it was at present exercised.[475]

And certainly it may have been the idea of the moderate members of the House of Commons, gradually to break up such a power as that exercised by the minister and favourite, by coming to a better understanding with the King, and at the same time by strictly limiting his arbitrary authority.

The impression however gained ground that even the indispensable functions of the supreme authority would be restricted by the enactments proposed. The right of

arresting persons dangerous and troublesome to the government was just then exercised in France to the widest extent; Cardinal Richelieu could never have maintained himself but for his quick and energetic use of it. In all other states, as well republican as monarchical, it was a weapon with which the government thought that it could not dispense. Was it to be dropped in England alone? And that too at a moment when the opposition of factions was constantly becoming more active? In fact the impression spread that Parliament, not content with full promises from the King, while it checked abuses, was impairing his authority.

In the Upper House, where there was a strong party in favour of the King's prerogative, these and similar considerations influenced votes. Men were agreed that abuses like those which had occurred must be for ever put a stop to. Even the proposals introduced for securing individual freedom were not properly speaking rejected: but it was desired to limit them by a clause to the effect that the sovereign power with which the King was entrusted should remain in his hands undiminished for the protection of his people. The Lower House however would not accept any such addition: for the provisions of the Petition would thus be rendered useless. They foresaw that what those provisions forbade would pass as lawful in virtue of the plenitude of the sovereign power: yet the expression 'sovereign power' was unknown in the English Parliament: that body was familiar only with the prerogative of the King, which at the same time was embodied in the laws. The Upper House on this declared that it did not think of departing from the Oath by which each one of them was pledged to maintain the prerogative of the King. Even in the Lower House the members were reminded of this, and no one raised his voice against it; for who would have been willing to confess that he was withstanding the lawful prerogative of the King? The only question was as to its extent.


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