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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

If he accepted the petition of the Commons


This

question now presented itself to the King himself. Was he to accept the proposal of the Commons, and to content himself with a general reservation of his prerogative? It is very instructive, and forms one of the most important steps in his career, that he thought it advisable to inform himself first of all what rights in this matter he really possessed.

On the 26th of May, just when the heat of the quarrel was most intense, he summoned the two Chief Justices, Hyde and Richardson, to Whitehall, and submitted to them the question whether or not he had the right of ordering the arrest of his subjects without specifying the reason at the same time. On this the Judges were assembled by their two chiefs in the profoundest secrecy, to pronounce on the question. They decided that it certainly was the rule to specify the reasons; but that there might be cases in which the secrecy required made it necessary for some time to withhold them. A further question was then followed by a decision of the same import, that the judges in such a case were not bound to give up the prisoner even if a writ of habeas corpus were presented. Charles then proceeded to a third question, to which no doubt he attached the most importance. If he accepted the petition of the Commons, did he surrender for ever the right of ordering imprisonment without assigning a cause? The judges assembled again, and on the 31st of May, after deliberating together, they gave in their answer,

signed with their names. Every law, they said, had its own interpretation; and so must this petition: and the answer must always depend upon the circumstances of the case in question, which could not be determined until the case arose; but the King certainly did not give up his right beforehand by granting the petition.[476]

At a later time and in another epoch these questions were finally settled in a different way. The Judges of this time decided them in favour of the power of the time. If we might apply a parallel, though certainly one borrowed from a very different form of government, we might say that the fettah of men learned in the law, the sentence of the mufti, was in favour of the King. In this, as in other respects, a difference is found to exist between the constitutions of the East and those of the West: such a sentence in the West does not finally decide a case; but even here, nevertheless, it always carries great weight. Charles I felt that according to the existing state of the law, he did not exceed his rights by maintaining the prerogative which he had hitherto exercised. The last decision raised him even above the apprehension of losing it by acceding to a petition which was opposed to it.

He could not however resolve on this step without further consideration.

To accede to the petition, and at the same time to reserve in his own favour the declaration made by the Judges, was an act of duplicity, which he wished to escape by giving an assurance couched in general terms.

On the 2nd of June he came down to the House in full assembly, and had his answer read. Its tenor was, that the laws should be observed and the statutes put in force, and his subjects freed from oppression; that he the King was as anxious for their true rights and liberties as for his own prerogative.

But it is easily intelligible that these words


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