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Some memorials of John Hampden : his party and his times online

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recommended itself to men's minds gave a habit of bold
speculation, probably beyond what its first doctors intended or
foresaw ; and this, their successors soon found it impossible to
extinguish, and difficult to control. The advance of public
information, and of the spirit of liberty, and the decay of the
feudal principle, have, by some writers, been attributed to the
increasing number of large towns. But, besides the error of
ascribing to one favourite cause a great event, which, like
most other great events, arises out of the concurrence of many,
the rapid increase of large towns must surely be rather classed
among the effects than the causes of this spirit. It is unques-
tionably so in all the most remarkable examples, from the
most ancient to the later instances of the republican towns of
Italy and the Netherlands. In truth, the habit of associating
in cities cannot be considered as a primary cause of the spirit
of liberty, although doubtless tending to strengthen and
diffuse that love of a government of known laws, which is so
obviously~o~rie of the first moral advantages of a state of civil
freedom, and in so especial a degree to men assembled to


enrich themselves in such situations as are the most exempt
from all feudal control.

Meantime, the rapidly prevailing influence of letters over
the actions of men and the affairs of states forbade that the
advances of liberty should keep a tranquil and even pace.
Wit and learning, which had begun to flourish high under the
sway of Elizabeth (so liberal in its character when compared
with the factious violence of Edward's reign, or the dark
intolerance of Mary's), did not always array themselves on the
side of that fostering principle under which they had found
protection. The court of her successor had its writers and its
preachers, and powerful ones too, for the doctrines of
divine right and unconditional obedience ; but indirectly and
unconsciously they helped to prepare the public mind for the
overthrow of the very principle which they laboured to
uphold. Even the vanity which led King James to range
himself among the metaphysical dogmatists with whom that
age abounded, engaged him, and encouraged others, in a taste
for speculative inquiry, which always in the end works for
liberty.* At the same time that these elements were thus
forming and disposing themselves, the successful struggles of
the reformers in Scotland, the gallant triumph of the Low
Countries over their Spanish tyrants, and the desperate efforts
of the Huguenots in France, which subsided but for a time
in the union of parties under the healing government of
Henry IV., had combined to raise new and more practical
views among a people, like the English, always fond of a repu-
tation for liberty, and now contemplating the principle in its
progress abroad.

* The poets of Elizabeth's time (and poets understand better thau
philosophers how to make their addresses acceptable to sovereigns), even
the poets and ' writers of the presence,' would speak of the throne rather
as founded on the people's love than on any other title. Fulke Greville,
though one of the most adroit of courtiers and of ministers, ' servant of
Queen Elizabeth, and counsellor to King James,' and receiving \Yarwick
Castle as a royal grant from a monarch who, unlike his predecessor,
objected not to be complimented on his divine right, yet put forth some
strong opinions as to the origin and duties of kingship in his poems of
' Monarchy and Religion,' in which there are several passages written in a
spirit of this sort :

' Princes again, o'errack not your creation,

Lest power return to that whence it began ;
But keep up sceptres by that reputation

Which raiseth one to rule this world of man.'

The Beginning of Monarchy. Lord BKOOKE'S Works.


Thus was a great moral revolution at work, checked and
delayed for a time by the power, the address, and the
popularity of Queen Elizabeth, but still tending forwards, when
the sceptre of this mighty princess passed into the hands of her
kinsman. Such a spirit it required a sovereign of more than
ordinary qualities so to direct, as that the reform should
advance by steady and controllable degrees, and in such a
manner as might carry with it the appearance rather of a wise
agreement between prerogative and liberty, than of a forcible
abridgment of the one, and a contested triumph of the other.
In the later reigns, all the recorded precedents had leaned
towards the claims of prerogative ; but all the feelings of the
people strengthened those of liberty. The feudal dues and
tenures, although not abolished by statute till near a century
afterwards, had one by one faded away ; and with them had
ceased all the protection which, during times when law was
weak, and civil rights imperfectly understood, the feudal power
had afforded to the people. The feudal lords had, in their
jealousy, established certain securities for themselves, and had
maintained them by their power. These became incidentally
a protection to other classes also. Upon the decay of this
power, therefore, it was necessary that some new barrier should
be raised against the crown, or additional strength and effect
given to some old one. By the common law of Parliaments,
Magna Charta, the Forest Charter, the Statute de Tallagio,
and the Statute of Provisors, severally, the monarchy of
England had been declared to be a limited one; and, so
long as the military force of the country remained in the hands
of the nobles, it did not concern them to look further than to
military force for means whereby the limitations might be pre-
served. But that power had lately been withdrawn from
them by the policy of Henry "VII., who had provided for the
maintenance of peace and the succession by rigorous edicts,
limiting suit and service. The army, such as it was, had
become now, for the first time, the king's army ; for personal
service had been commuted for rent, and those who had once
been vassals had now become tenants. A little later, in
Prance, and under the able government of Xiraenes in Spain,
the influence of the nobles had been in like manner
weakened. Then the commercial spirit arose and extended
rapidly, and the luxuries which it introduced gradually
increased the expenses and wants of the great families which


had outlasted the wars. But it was imperfectly and ill-directed.
Wealth changed hands, and, among the labouring classes (as
is often the case upon the sudden introduction of any new
system for applying capital), there was a grievous want of the
means of subsistence. Public begging, and the unappeasable
tumults of starving men, ensued. It is true that, in the cities
and sea-ports, the third estate was becoming enlightened and
rich. But it had not yet power. All saw the means of power
increasing in their hands, but few saw the manner of giving
them direction or effect. The popular influences could be per-
manently secured, and usefully administered, only by a Parlia-
ment more freely representing and more intimately connected
with a people, particularly the citizens, who were so manifestly
increasing their share in the general stock of wealth and
intelligence. The control over the revenue had been
repeatedly contested, and finally acknowledged as an undoubted
privilege of parliament; but, under different names, the
means of supply were still left by usage in the sovereign's
hands, and the sovereign had never been reduced to the
necessity of making terms on this matter with his people.
Mr. Hume, however inconclusive the argument which he founds
upon it, is surely right in this position that, of the two great
contending principles of these times, it was the popular spirit
which first encroached upon the prerogative, and not the pre-
rogative on liberty. It is clear that, in exact proportion to the
improvement in the intelligence, and consequently in the
manners of a people, their influence in government will, and
ought to, increase. A wise prince would have perceived that
this tendency was not to be rudely thwarted, and would have
bent his policy to meet with grace the growing genius and
demands of the times. Not so King James. His under-
standing, though shrewd, busy, and cautious, was yet by
nature capable of little more than the narrowest artifices of
dissimulation and intrigue. The vices of his heart have been
too mildly dealt with in general history ; nor has there been
wanting of late a class of writers who appear strangely to con-
sider it good service to monarchy, and to the memory of the
Stuarts, to endeavour, by perverting all documentary testimony
and all moral reasoning, to do the work of apology for him
who did more to bring that institution to hazard, and that
family to ruin, than any other sovereign who ever filled the
English throne. To enumerate evil qualities, particularly such


as denote a base and perverse nature, and to show their
influence over the public, as well as private, acts of men, is an
occupation neither adding to the pleasures of history, nor
generally among its duties ; but it is indeed no exaggerated
measure of censure to say that, of all the kings of that
unhappy race of which he was the first in England, he was the
most absolutely destitute of all that could win the affections or
command the esteem of men who desire any higher motive for
reverencing a sovereign than the mere feeling of 'homage due
to his "office. Insincere, like Charles I., mean, profligate,
and unprincipled, like Charles II., vindictive, prejudiced, and
irresolute, like James II., he had not the amiable or
respectable cpjalities of any. Without the dignity or courage
of the first, the pliant and popular temper of the second, or
even the obstinate and perverse conscientiousness of the last,
he went near to unite in his character the worst vices of
each, with others in addition which belonged to none. Amongst
the latter was great inconstancy in friendship, joined with a
degree of personal pusillanimity, which seldom fails, in
public life, to make men implacable and cruel. For the
rest, his honour, and even his partialities, were ever ready to
be sacrificed to his fears. His fears had surrendered Raleigh
to the jealousies of Cecil and the menaces of Spain ; and the
fickleness of his temper, which had already triumphed over his
shameful fondness for three successive favourites, transferred to
a fourth, upon his first appearance at court, the undivided
stewardship of the prerogative ; thus proving equally to his
courtiers and to the country that their only sure defence
against the inconstancy of his character was what might be
maintained by an appeal to its timidity. Even in Somerset's
case, it appears to have been the awe in which that great
criminal held the king bound, rather than any pity or fondness,
which saved him from the just punishment which James had
solemnly, and in the presence of the judges and of his whole
court, sworn, under a dreadful condition of the curse of the
Almighty on himself and his posterity, to execute impartially
upon the murderers of Overbury, whosoever they might be,
against whom that act should be proved.*

* The baseness of James's mind, and the corruption of his habits, are not
subjects of an inviting sort. To such as can find amusement in the loath-
some infirmities of the king, and the shameless insolence of his favourites,
it has been already afforded elsewhere in abundant measure.


Nor does his reputation stand better for steadiness in
religion than for constancy in friendship. Educated in the
bosom of the Kirk, he was afterwards won over to defend, in
the famous controversy at Hampton Court, that Armiuian
discipline, and those remains of Popish ceremonial, which
(contrary to the Articles, as the Calvinists contended) were
maintained by the prelatical party in England. So that, in the
end, it may be doubted whether he was ever sincerely
attached to the religion of either of his kingdoms. We find him,
on the one hand, secretly favouring the lloman Catholics at
court, from dread of private conspiracy ; while, on the other, to
humour the popular inveteracy against them, he openly
authorised the most violent persecutions, and ostentatiously
took God to witness before his Parliament that he never
harboured the thought of extending to them even toleration."
Having entered the lists of public controversy against
Bellarmine, he, at the same time (as is shown by many original
papers, some published), \vas secretly corresponding with him
in terms of confidence on those very dogmas which were the
matter of their apparently fierce encounter.t Thus did he,
alternately, and with as much impartiality as the spirit of the
times would permit, show favour to the churches of England
and of Rome, in order to strengthen, at all events, episcopacy,
as a useful state engine against the democratic tendency of
the Presbyterian discipline.

It is truly remarked by Lord Bolingbroke,J that the causes
of the Parliamentary war were laid in the conduct of James as
early as his accession to the throne of England. At that
period, opportunities of the utmost value to a good prince, but
full of difficulty and peril to a bad one, surrounded him on
every side. Nor did they ever quite desert him throughout his
shameful reign. The strength and glory of this kingdom
had already reached the consummation to which Elizabeth's
long and brilliant administration had tended to raise them.
!Not only had foreign states been compelled, by the wisdom
of her councils, and the power of her arms, to leave her in
the enjoyment of triumphant peace ; not only had she with-

* Burnet gives, in proof of James's early bias to Popery, a curious
account of his overtures to the court of Rome made through Elphinstone,
Lord Balmerinoch, and Seaton, Earl of Dumferling, with which Bellarmine
afterwards reproaches him. Hist. Own Times, 8vo. i. 13, 14.

t Holkham Papers. J Remarks on English History.


stood the assaults of the mightiest prince in Europe, and
unallied, and alone, baffled his projects of universal monarchy;
not only were the maritime rights of England secured, her
public credit redeemed, the independence of her church
established, the French Protestants protected from persecution,
and Holland placed, by her generous aid, in a condition to
break the Spanish yoke ; but faction at home had yielded to the
strength, the prudence, and the popularity of her sway. What-
ever there remained of hostile spirit among the Scots, after the
death of their Queen, was now reconciled by the union of
claims in James's person. England and Scotland, each
powerful to disturb, though unable to subdue, the other,
mutuo metu, et montibus, divisi, had, in effect, fallen under
the rule of one sceptre ; and the English jealousy of a Scottish
King was merged in the general goodwill which the memory of
Elizabeth bespoke for her appointed successor. Thus favoured
by every circumstance that could promise stability to a throne,
James had, in addition, received the legacy of her example, and
had before him her experience in the art of controlling the
English people.

If any further elements of public prosperity remained to be
desired by James, they were to be found in the great weakness
of every power in Europe, whose enmity was to be apprehended,
or Avhose friendship was doubtful. Spain, the proud, the
warlike, and the ambitious, was slumbering under the feeble
s\v;iy of Philip III., a prince of small abilities and no appli-
cation, and entirely governed by the Cardinal Duke of Lerma,
who was labouring to repair, by the improvement of her
colonial resources, the loss of power and reputation which she
had sustained in the Netherlands. For, though the inde-
pendence of those provinces had not yet been established by
treaty, the inability of Spain to continue the. war had been
acknowledged in the truce. This sovereign, shortly after
James's accession, was succeeded by his son, a boy of sixteen,
governed as absolutely by the favourite Olivarez, as his father
had been by Lerma. The defeat of Tyrone, and of Don
John d'Aguila, in Ireland, had terminated the hopes of the
Spaniards in that quarter ; and, in four years after, the United
Provinces were treated with at Antwerp as ;m independent
power, a fresh and important triumph to the Protest ant

Meanwhile, France, stunned and dismayed by the blow


which had deprived her of the best of her kings, was left
under the rule of an infant, and perplexed by the disquieting
prospects of all she might have to endure, throughout a long
minority of the Crown, from a turbulent nobility, inflamed at
the same time by both civil and religious animosities. Poland
and Sweden were at war with each other, and the tranquillity
of the German Empire seemed secured by the weak and
indolent character of Rudolph. Nothing threatened to disturb
tlu's general repose abroad, or to distract King James from the
business of improving all these mighty advantages, till the
war of 1618, concerning the claims of the Protestant Elector
Palatine, his own son-in-law, to the throne of Bohemia.

But scarcely was the first year of James's reign completed
when he became involved in disputes with his Parliament.
He assumed by proclamation a direct control over returns of
elections, all of which he commanded should be filed in
Chancery: and, charging the electors to avoid choosing
persons ' noted for their superstitious blindness one way, or
' for their turbulent humour other ways,' he threatened with
fine all places that should make returns contrary to such
proclamation; and with fine and imprisonment all persons
who should be so returned.* These monstrous pretensions
were instantly resisted, in the case of Sir Francis Goodwin, t
who had been elected by the county of Buckingham, in
opposition to Sir John Fortescue. After a dispute of nearly
tliree weeks, the matter of privilege was compromised, upon
the proposal of the King, but not without an expression of
strong dissatisfaction from the Commons. The house, how-
ever, had thus in some sort gained an admission of its right
of final judgment. J

James had begun his reign with a plain declaration of
absolute authority, founded on divine commission. With an

* Parliamentary History. + Carte. Parliamentary History.

+ ' Concerning our refusing conference with the Lords, there was none
' desired till after our sentence passed. And then we thought that, in a
' matter private to our own House, which, by rules of order, might not be
' by us revoked, we might, without any imputation, refuse to confer. Yet,
' understanding that your Majesty had been informed against us, we made
' haste (as in all duty we were bound) to lay open to your Majesty the
' whole manner of our proceeding. Not doubting, though we were but part of
' a body, as to make new laws, yet, for any matter of privileges of our House, we
' are, and ever have been, a court, of ourselves of sufficient power to discern and
1 determine, without their lordships, as their lordships have used always to do
f for theirs without us.' Comm. Journ., 3rd April, 1604.


extremely imperfect title by descent, he was foolish enough to
dispute the power of Parliament to confer or confirm one.
Unfurnished with troops, or money to enable him to support
them, and untaught by his early experience in Scotland to
deal wisely with the mounting spirit of party, he proceeded
to form new projects of arbitrary taxation, and to lavish the
greater part of the treasure so raised in grants to unworthy
favourites. The laws were set at nought by the Scottish and
English courtiers in the course of the quarrels, arising out of
their national jealousies. Frequent duels arose between them,
the deadliest feuds, the bitterest machinations of private
intrigue, and not unfrequent attempts at assassination both
secret and open.* The influence of the prelates increased ;
the Established Church was discredited by the servility of the
court divines ; and the ancient nobility were insulted by the
vulgar sale of public honours by the King, to feed the vanity
of his creatures, and to meet the demands of his own cupidity
and of their corruption. Though betaking himself freely to
those expedients for revenue, he, nevertheless, does not appear
to have deceived himself as to the disgrace which they brought
upon his person and government. James had discernment ;
he had, moreover, some powers of drollery, which, however,
generally broke forth in such sallies as are easiest to all men
when they are not controlled by feelings of honourable shame.
It is given as one of his sharp and ingenious sayings, that,
M'hen conferring a purchased knighthood on a country
gentleman, who was receiving it bashfully and in confusion,
he exclaimed 'AY hat! hold up thy head, man; I have more
' reason to be ashamed than thou/ t

The examples of profusion, debauchery, and riot, given by
the court, spread their baneful influence throughout the
country ; all sort of shameful vices, according to Lord Brooke,
abounding among the higher orders, and even the ladies of the
nobility dishonouring themselves and their names to support
the luxury of their families ; ' there being/ says he, ' as much
' extortion for sinne as racking for rentes. So our ancient
' customes were abandoned, and that strictness and severity

I' that had wont to be amongst us, the English, scorned and
'contemned, every one applauding strange or new things,
' though never so costly, and, for the attaining of them,
* Fulke Lord Brooke's Five Years of Kiug James. t Miss Aikin.



' neither sparing purse nor credit/ * Then began that love
of excess, and that tyranny of private manners, so simply but
eloquently described by Mrs. Hutchinson in one of the most
striking passages in her Memoirs. Men of sober habits,
particularly those who combined with a dislike of the dissolute
manners of the court a leaning in favour of popular rights,
were reviled as puritans ; and those who ventured to uphold
the authority of the laws for the protection of the subject
were marked out for calumny and oppression. 'Pollutae
' cseremonise, magna adulteria, plenum exsiliis mare, infecti
' csedibus scopuli, atrocius in urbe saevitum. Nobilitas, opes,
' omissi gestique honores pro crimine, et ob virtutes certis-
' simum exitium. Nee minus praemia delatorum invisa quam
' scelera. Cum alii sacerdotia et consulatus ut spolia adepti,
' procurationes alii et interiorem potentiam .... Non
' tainen adeb virtutum sterile sseculum ut non et bona exempla
' prodiderit/ f

The natural consequence of an unjust proscription ensued.
The friends of liberty were all drawn together to make common
cause with the oppressed sectarians; and the oppressed
sectarians all learned to be friends of liberty.

The sturdy opposition excited in the first Parliament of
1603-4 increased and spread; it produced in the King's mind
a feeling of violent and deep resentment ; and, after six years
of almost unremitting conflict, came a sudden and angry
dissolution, December 81, 1610.

A second Parliament was convened in a little more than
three years after. Of this House of Commons, Mr. Hume
says, that they discovered ' an extraordinary alarm on account
' of the rumours spread abroad concerning Undertakers. It
' was reported that several persons attached to the King had
' entered into a confederacy, and, having laid a regular plan
' for the new elections, had distributed their interest all over
' England, and had undertaken to secure a majority for the
'court. So ignorant/ continues he, 'were the Commons,
'that they knew not this incident to be the first infallible
' symptom of any regular or established liberty/

All attempts to manage returns are unquestionably symptoms
of the advance of liberty, inasmuch as they shew how great is
the value which those who would manage them attach to the

* Fulke Lord Brooke's Five Years of King James.
* Tacitus, Hist., lib. i.


support of Parliament, and to the influence of the public voice.
Yet surely it is a singular conclusion, that the alarm manifested
by the Commons shewed their ignorance of this obvious truth.
On the contrary, the jealousy of such influence cannot but be
considered a proof, on the part of the Commons (as the use
of such influence was on the part of the court), of a quick

Online LibraryGeorge Nugent Grenville NugentSome memorials of John Hampden : his party and his times → online text (page 8 of 45)