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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Which Parliament maintained was


The

Speaker of the House, Sir John Finch, one of those men who had passed over from the side of the Commons to that of the King, announced to the assembled members after the opening of the sitting on the 2nd of March, that the King adjourned the House till the 10th. But this was the very hour when Sir John Eliot, who had drawn up the new Remonstrance had with his friends intended to carry it through Parliament. The House declared it illegal for the Speaker to make himself the mouthpiece of the royal will: and when he tried to withdraw, he was held on his chair by a couple of strong and resolute members. The Usher of the Black Rod, whose business it was to declare the House adjourned, had already appeared in the ante-room; but the doors of the hall were shut. In this tumult the Remonstrance had to be read and voted on. The Speaker refused to have anything to do with it, although it was declared 'to be his duty to put it to the vote. Sir John Eliot and Denzil Holles must have delivered the sense of the Remonstrance orally, rather than read it properly through: but even in this fashion the majority of the House made known their assent, and in this way the immediate object was attained, as well as the circumstances allowed. On a threat that the doors should be broken through, they were now opened, and the members left the chamber.[497]

An extraordinary act of disobedience, considering that it was intended to be the means of securing the legal forms of

Parliament! It was the last step in this stage of the proceedings. It involved an open breach between the two authorities.

In later times the responsibility for this act has been thrown on the King. Contemporaries of moderate views, and who favoured the Parliament, were of opinion however that the responsibility rather lay with those fiery and crafty men who had possessed themselves of the control of Parliament. For they thought that the King had seriously striven to compose the quarrel: that people might well have accepted his first declaration, and that the greater part of the members had been inclined to do so; but that the seeming zeal of some few for the liberties of the country had, unfortunately for England, prevented them from yielding.[498] It is difficult to suppose that the strength and depth of the opposition would any longer have permitted an adjustment. It was now fully apparent at all events that the King and the Lower House could no longer work together.

In the Privy Council the opinion was once more expressed, that Parliament should be treated with indulgence. This was the wish of the Lord Keeper Coventry: but the Treasurer recommended the strict enforcement of the prerogative, and the King sided with this view. Not only was the dissolution of Parliament pronounced, but just as Henry VIII and Elizabeth had done, Charles I proceeded to punish the members who had offended against his dignity in their speeches. He first of all decided not to call Parliament together again. He declared that he had now abundantly proved that he loved to rule by the help of Parliament; that he had been compelled against his wish by the last proceedings to desist from the attempt, and that he would not renew it until his people had learnt to know him better. He said that he should consider it presumption if any time were prescribed to him for reassembling Parliament; that Parliament ought to be summoned, held, and dissolved, solely at the discretion of the King.

The great advantage of Parliament in this conflict consisted in its ability to appeal to legal precedents of past centuries in its favour. What had once rendered the continuance of the ascendancy of Parliament impossible, the danger into which it had plunged the common interests of the kingdom, was now forgotten. The laws of those times had not been repealed, but had only been modified and curtailed in its own favour by the sovereign power, which had grown strong since that time. Every position, new or unusual at the moment, which Parliament maintained was, if not laid down in former ordinances, yet at all events so logically inferred from them, that it appeared customary and in accordance with primitive law. If on the contrary Charles I maintained the prerogative which his father had exercised, and which Queen Elizabeth and the House of Tudor in general had possessed, he was placed in the awkward position of appearing to act without the countenance of the laws. He now resolved to govern, at least for a time, without the aid of Parliament. Many of his ancestors had done exactly the same; but since their time attachment to parliamentary government had become part of the national feeling. It now appeared not only to represent fully the liberties, but also especially the most popular religious tendencies of the country.


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