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Memoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time online

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or until the sheriff has amended his return.

"Your lordships have heard the resolution of the
House of Commons, touching the enlargement of a man
committed by command of the king or privy council, or
any other, without cause being shown of such commit-
ment ; which resolution, as it is grounded upon acts of


parliament already shown (the reason of the law of the
land being committed to the charge of another to open to
you), so it is strengthened by many precedents and

Selden then quoted a chronological series of cases, in
which the judges had invariably admitted to bail, or
discharged all persons committed to prisons upon causes
so undefined ; and to animadvert upon such as had been
cited in support of a contrary practice. A more distinct,
lucid, and ably supported argument, perhaps, cannot be
found in our legal annals. In conclusion, he said, " Having
thus gone through the charge committed to me, lest your
lordships should be put to much trouble and expense of
time, in finding and getting copies at large, of those
things which I have cited, we offer unto your lordships
authentic copies of them all ; and so I leave them, and
whatsoever else I have said, to your lordships' further
consideration *."

When the attorney general intimated his dissent to
the arguments and authorities produced by Sir Edward
Coke and Selden, Coke pledged his credit as a lawyer,
that " it lay not under Mr. Attorney's cap to answer any
one of them." Selden added, that, with his own hand, he
had copied the authorities as preserved in the records of
the Tower, the Exchequer, and the King's Bench, and

* Lansdowne MSS. in the British Museum, 173. pi. 77, c. Opera
Omnia, iii. 1958. Rnshworth, i. 3.30. Parliament. Hist. vii. 415.


" would engage his head, that Mr. Attorney should not
find in all those archives, a single precedent omitted ; "
and Mr. Littleton further observed, that he had examined
them syUahatim, and whoever said they were not faithful
spoke falsely *.

To be certain that the copies of precedents were cor-
rectly made, the peers, with commendable strictness,
appear to have referred to the original records ; and, in the
course of this reference, to have found some of them were
deficient or destroyed. This seems to be a reasonable
conclusion ; and that with a less praiseworthy desire to
blacken the cause of the petitioners, the court party
at once promulgated, that Selden was the person who had
committed this larceny upon justice ; for Sir James
Strangeways reported to the House, that as he was going
upon business into the Committee Chamber of the House
of Lords, some one asked him " If he had heard nothing? "
and upon his entering the room, the Earl of Suffolk
inquired, whether it was not intended by the House " to
hang Selden ? for by God he had rased a record, and was
worthy to be hanged for it."

Selden immediately replied, " As for erasing records, I
hope no man believes I ever did, therefore, I cannot guess
what the earl means. I did deliver in whole copies of
divers records, examined by myself and several other
gentlemen of this House. These I delivered into the

* D'lsraeli's Curiosities of Literature, 2nfl Series, iii. 428.


House of Lords, and the clerk of the crown brought in
the records of his office. I desire that it may be a
message from this House to the lords at the bar, to make
out a charge against the earl that spoke this, and I hope
we shall have justice."

Sir Robert Phillips was directed by the House tem-
perately to require an explanation, and he reported that
the earl had openly protested, " upon his honour and soul,
he had used no such words." However, Sir Christopher
Neville and Mr. Littleton bore direct testimony to the
truth of Sir James Strangeways' statement, and they
further testified, that the earl said, that Selden endeavoured
to divide the king and his people; that the lords ought
to join in a petition to the king to have him hanged, and
that he would not be in his case for ten thousand pounds.
This and other confirmatory evidence, justified the com-
mittee in resolving, that, notwithstanding the earl's denial,
they were convinced he had brought a most unjust and
scandalous charge against Mr. Selden. They concluded
by requesting the lords to visit the earl with such punish-
ment as he deserved *. Other more important transactions
engaging the attention of parliament, any further pro-
ceedings upon this subject seem to have been neglected.

The remainder of the session was chiefly occupied in
drawing up the Petition of Right. In justifying its
various clauses, Selden bore a very efficient part ; and it

* Journals of both Houses, in temp. — Parliamont. Hist. vii. 451.

L 2


would be difficult to find any series of legal arguments
more logical, or better supported by authorities, than
those which he delivered on this occasion *.

After a series of tedious conferences and debates, the
two Houses agreed as to the wording of this celebrated
petition. It expresses a desire, that, in conformity with
long sanctioned statutes, the people may not be taxed
in any form without the consent of Parliament ; that no
one shall be imprisoned upon warrants that do not specify
the offence with which he is charg-ed : that soldiers mav
not be billeted upon the people against the will of the
latter; and that martial law may not be enforced, nor
any person be punished, but according to the law of the

At the present day we may be inclined to feel surprise
that such requests should be made, the subjects of so
formal a petition, for we live at a happy period in which
their denial or infringement is unknown. It was not so
during the days of which we are now sketching the events,
for the Petition of Right contained a statement of
examples of the invasion of all those rights. It requires
then no apology; and on other occasions in this anxious
and critical struggle, which was to decide the termination
or establishment of an absolute monarchy, the parliament
may be excused, if they occasionally asked for what was
superfluous or even wrong ; and we ought to lament that

* Journal of the House of Commons, i. 883. Parliament. Hist. vi.
and vii., contain a full report of them.


we have at all to blame those who strove and suffered to
maintain the liberties we enjoy, and of which we are so
justly and so jealously proud.

The answer of the king to this petition was favourable,
but the House of Commons was not satisfied until the
king in full parliament gave his assent in the usual form.
To this, after some delay, Charles consented, and having
directed the clerk of parliament to cut out his first answer,
the petition was again read, and the customary affirmation,
Soit droit fait comme il est desire, was given*. The
parliament was right in requiring conformance to the
regular form ; for the court evidently intended to take
advantage of its defect. The king objected to adopt it,
and subsequently an endeavour was made to conceal its

In the interval between the first and second assent of
the king to the Petition of Right, a scene occurred in the
House of Commons, that ought not to be passed over
without notice. It fully demonstrates the sincerity of its
members, and the deep desire that animated them to
perform their duty : it informs us how firmly public
opinion set against the Duke of Buckingham ; and to what
extent the king was willing to proceed in support of his

Sir John Eliot, in the course of one of his speeches,
approaching to some reflection upon the duke, the speaker
(Sir John Finch) rose from his chair and announced with

* Parliiuuent. IIi>,t. viii. 14(3 — 202.

150 MEMOlllS OF

emotion, " There is a command laid upon me to interrupt
any that shall go about to lay an aspersion on the ministers
of state." The effect of this announcement on the
members was electric. Sir John Eliot resumed his seat ;
and though one or two others attempted to address the
House, their pained feelings would not allow them to
proceed. Among these was Sir Edward Coke ; but even
he, who had faced unmoved the opposition of courts, nor
melted for the sorrows of those who smarted beneath his
invectives, confessed by his faultering voice, and the tears
upon his aged cheeks, the mental agitation that compelled
him to desist. The speaker of the House pretended to
share in the general feeling, and declaring that he could
no longer endure the spectacle of such sorrow in the Com-
mons of England, he obtained leave to pass from the
chair, and hastened to the king; from whom, after an
absence of three hours, he returned with a message
desiring them to adjourn until the following morning.

During the absence of the speaker, in a committee of
the whole House, they voted the Duke of Buckingham to
be the principal cause of the evils of which they com-
jjlained. A remonstrance to this effect, eloquently
expressed, in the promotion of which Selden was very
active, was presented to the king.

They subsequently prepared another remonstrance,
declaring that the impost of tonnage and poundage was
no prerogative of the crown, but was always granted to the
king by parliament. In support of this, Selden, as usual

JOilX SEl.DEN. 151

argued most satisfactorily from precedents. In this con-
sisted his strength as a debater. He was a living Bib-
liotheca of authorities, — a literary Ajax, ready to hurl a
mass of facts upon his opponents *.

Sir Edward Coke moved, that the remonstrance which
implicated the duke of Buckingham should be presented
by the House in a body ; and Selden, in seconding this
motion, proposed a declaration against him, with the
addition of a request that lis might ba removed from
authority, from personal attendance upon the king, and
that judgment be required against him upon the impeach-
ment in the last Parliament f. The remonstrance was
drawn up and digested by Sir Henry Martin, Sir Nathaniel
Rich, Sir Thomas Wentworth, Sir John Eliot, Mr.
Prynn, Mr. Littleton, and Selden t.

* Rushworth, i. 609— 62S. Parliament. Hist. viii. 191—236.
t Whitelock's Memorials, 10, &c.
X Harleian MSS. 2217. pi. 61, h.













It is too often the case that a people attribute their
adversities to some unpopular leader ; and history affords
many examples where their complaints have been by their
government diverted and concentrated upon one unhappy
scape-goat, whose blood has been poured out to appease
the wrath that should have visited many and greater
culprits. Such however was not the case of the Uuke of
Buckingham, the prime favourite of the monarch, and the
most influential member of his ministry. Contemporaries
of every political grade and hue acknowledge him to have
been a selfish and despotic politician. This opinion was
entertained by his friends, as well as by the nation
generally, and the knowledge of his offences was whispered
to him by his well-wishers, and was forced upon his


jitteiition by the outcries of the multitude. Mr. Howel
warned him of his danger in a calm and disinterested
letter, and that " it were not amiss if he would be pleased
to part with some of the places he held," and to conduct
himself with less haughtiness, and more attention to the
wishes of the people *. The opinion of these is told in
one sentence of Lord Clarendon's Autobiography ; he says
the death of the duke " produced a due observation of and
obedience to the laws t." He fell by the hand of Feltou
on the 2i3rd of August, 1628, another warning of the
untimely end, that, in some form or other, has usually
fallen upon the favourite courtiers of the kings of Eng-

It is a fact, though not a surprising one, that scarcely
one of those ftivourites has been worthy of such distinction.
It is not surprising, because none but a weak monarch
singles out an individual on whom he may lavish his
favours ; and he who renders himself particularly agreeable
to the imbecile, cannot be expected to be very wise, very
undesigning, or very virtuous.

George Villiers was not an exception. He was one of
those thoroughly base characters in whom no historian,
contemporary or subsequent, has been able to discover a
redeeming quality. To advance his own fortunes was his
chief object of action, and to the hindrance of this no
friendship, no tie of kindred, no regard for his country's

* Ilowel's Letters, sect. iv. p. 25. Ed. 1645.
f Octavo edition, i. 10.


welfare, was allowed to interfere. Honourable ambition
was degraded in him into the most engrossing selfishness ;
and having no scruple as to the means he adopted for its
gratification, he was continually acting criminally by
design. These are hard words, but they are justified by
the facts recorded by contemporary annalists. But one of
the least known of these need be quoted.

His intention to overturn Episcopacy in order to secure
the support of the Presbyterians, when he considered
himself declining in the favour of King James, is recorded
by Hacket, and is mentioned by Hume. Dr. Preston was
then at the head of the anti-episcopal party, and to his
friends the doctor acknowledged that, although he used
the duke as a tool, he found him to be as vile and profli-
gate as any man could be *.

The occasion of the duke first obtaining the notice of
King James, was w^orthy of them both. " The king, *'
says Roger Coke, "about the beginning of March, 1612,
according to his usual methods, went to take his hunting
pleasures at Newmarket, and the scholars (as they termed
them) at Cambridge, who knew the king's humour, in-
vited him to a play called "Ignoramus" (written by
Ruggles), to ridicule the practice of the common law.
Never did anything so hit the king's humour as this play
did ; so that he would have it acted and acted again ; and

* Hacket's Life of Lord Keeper Williams, 205. Lansdowne MSS.
932 — 88. Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature. Second Series, iii.
347, &c.

J(3HN SEl.DEN. 1.55

it was increased with several additions, which yet more
pleased the king. At this play it was so contrived, that
George A^illiers should appear with all the advantages his
mother could set him forth ; and the king, so soon as he
had seen him, fell into admiration of him *." James
made him his cup-bearer ; and finally, when this capricious
monarch became weary of his then favourite, the Earl of
Somerset, he selected Villiers to be his successor.

" It was now observed," says Archbishop Abbot, " that
the king began to cast his eye upon George Villiers, who
was theu his cup-bearer, and seemed a modest and
courteous youth. But King James had a fashion that he
would not admit any to nearness about himself but such
a one as the queen commended unto him, and made some
suit on his behalf; that if the queen afterwards, being
ill-intreated, should complain — ' Dear one,' he might
answer, ' it is 'long of yourself, for you were the party
that commended him unto me.' " The queen could never
be induced to interest herself in favour of "\"illiers, and
when the archbishop spoke to her in his favour, she
replied, " My lord, you and the rest of your friends, know
not what you do. I know your master better than you
all, and if this young man be once brought in, the first
persons that he will plague must be you that labour for
him ; yea, I shall have my part also. The king will teach
him to despise and hardly intreat us all, that he may
seem to be beholden to none but himself." " Noble

* Coke's Detection of the Court and State, 75.


queen," concludes the prelate, "how like a prophetess did
you speak *."

Wilson gives a spirited sketch of Buckingham's subse-
quent promotion. " To speak of his advancement by
degrees,'" says this merry, unprejudiced historian of his
own times, " were to lessen the king's love ; for titles were
heaped upon him ; they came rather like showers than
drops. As soon as Somerset declined, he mounted. Such
is the court motion. He now reigns sole monarch in the
king's affection ; every thing he doth is admired for the
doer's sake. No man dances better ; no man runs or
jumps better; and indeed he jumped higher than ever
Englishman did in so short a time f." This last stroke
of satire was certainly not groundless, for in 1617 he was
only cupbearer, and in 1621, when he was impeached by
the House of Commons, his titles are thus enumerated.

" George, Duke, Marquis, and Earl of Buckingham,
Earl of Coventry, Viscount Villiers, Baron of Whaddon,
Great Admiral of the kingdoms of England and Ireland,
and of the principality of Wales, and of the dominions
and islands of the same, of the town of Calais, and of the
marches of the same, and of Normandy, Gascoign, and
Guienne ; General, Governor of the Seas and Ships of the
said kingdom ; Lieutenant-General, Admiral, Captain-
General and Governor of his Majesty's Royal Fleet and
Army lately set forth ; Master of the Horse of our
Sovereign Lord the King ; Lord Warden, Chancellor, and

* Rushwortl), i. 456. f Wilson's Jumes the First, IOj.


Admiral of the Cinque Ports, and of the members thereof;
Constable of Dover Castle ; Justice in Eyre of the Forests
and Chases on this side the Trent; Constable of the
Castle of Windsor; Gentleman of his Majesty's Bed-
chamber; one of his Majesty's most honorable Privy
Council in England, Scotland, and Ireland ; and Knight
of the most honorable Order of the Garter*.'*

If Buckingham had lived, it is certain that he still
would have obtained the shelter of the royal prerogative,
for the remonstrances of the Commons were received by
the king with marked impatience, and after passing the
Bill of Subsidies, he prorogued the parliament.

Being thus discharged from his parliamentary duties,
Selden now retired to those literary occupations which
were so much more in unison with his taste than the
excitement of political life. The place of his repose was
at the seat of the Earl of Kent, at Wrest, in Bedfordshire.
Aubrey has informed us, that this nobleman was a very
early patron of Selden, and that previously to this period
he had appointed him his solicitor and steward t." Sucli
appointments were not unusual at that period by those
who had much landed property, and the salary at that time
of his life must have been with Selden a worthy consi-
deration. It is true, that, intimate as they were, it would
seem more generous if the earl had allowed him an

* Rushworth, i. 303.

t Aubrey MSS. in the Ashmolean Museum. Wood's Athenoe
Oxon. by Bliss, iii. 378.


annuity, without the exaction of services; hut Selden
would then have had to endure the distasteful feeling
that will always come upon the generous spirited who
suffer an eleemosynary benefit.

The follow ing characteristic letter to Sir Robert Cotton,
is a further attestation of Selden's early connection with
the Kent family. The earl, whose '* office" is mentioned,
was probably Charles, the seventh earl, who died the
previous year*. The Bishop of Lincoln spoken of was
liis friend Dr. Williams, the lord keeper ; and the Bishop
of Winchester, whose death he mentions, was Dr. Andrews.

" Noble Sir,

" Had I not thought with assurance to have seen you
again long ere this, you had long since heard from me ;
that so my service might have been presented to you,
and I might also have received the comfort of your
being well.

" Till Saturday we despatched not my Lord of Kent's
office. Now that is done I shall soon come up again.

" My Lord of Lincoln remembered you especially when

* An Inquisition of Office was an inquiry made by the sheriff or
other king's officer, &c,, concerning- any matter that entitles the king-
to the possession of lands, or tenements, or goods. Thus, when one of
his tenants died, an inquest of this kind was held, called an inquisitio
post mortem, to inquire whether he was entitled to any of those
oppressive advantages which accrued to the crown under the feudal
system. They were not abolished until the restoration of Charles the
Second. Rlackstone's Comment, iii. 2.58.


I was with him the last week at Biigden, where he hves
finely within doors and without, and deserves the love and
honour of good men.

" My Lady of Kent presents you with a red deer pie
by this bearer. For she gave it me to send you ; and
with it you have the entire affection of

" Your most acknowledging servant,

" J. Selden.

" Sept, 25, 1626. Wrest, in Beds.

" Since I wrote this, I hear of the loss of my Lord of
Winchester. His lingering sickness hath, together with
his age, made his best friends the easier take it, I doubt
not. It was rather nature than death that took him away,
if they might be divided in him. I heartily wish his
library may be kept together, at least till we may see it.
Something I have in it that I value much, and something
else of slighter moment. That which I would take care
of for myself is an Armenian Dictionary. I never saw
another copy, and my lord borrowed it of me some two
years since. A Cedrinus also he hath of mine, which
I must render to Mr. Boswell. These two I would not
willingly lose. What else his library hath of mine is of
no great moment ; but I shall know when I come into
mine own, where I have something also that was his. I
shall soon see you I hope now, though, if it please you to
write, I shall receive it before I shall see you*."

* r

Cotton MSS. Vespasian. F. xiii. 165, b.


The literary subjects which now occupied Selden's
attention, may be learned from the three works which he
published about this period.

The two first, *' Of the Original of Ecclesiastical
Jurisdiction of Testaments," and " Of the Disposition
or Administration of Intestates' Goods," are composed of
authorities and deductions relative to the ancient practice
in those branches of the law% and are supposed to have
been suggested to him by debates in the House of
Commons, concerning the king's right to the goods of
bastards who die intestate.

His other publication, entitled " Marmora Arundel-
liana, sive Saxa Grseca incisa," was of more popular

The Arundelian Marbles w^re so called from having
been obtained for the Earl of Arundel, by Mr. William
Petty, whom the earl employed in the year 1624 to procure
for him antiquarian remains in various countries of the
East. They are also known as the Oxford JNIarbles,
because they are in the possession of that University by
the gift of the grandson of the first importer. They have
the third designation of the Parian Chronicle, because
they declare themselves to have been engraved in the Isle
of Paros, 264 years before the Christian era.

They reached England about 1627, and being seen in
the gardens of Arundel House by Sir Robert Cotton, he
engaged Selden to examine them during the ensuing
morning. He obtained permission to associate with


himself in this examination Mr. Patrick Young and Mr.
Richard James, two of the best scholars of the age.

Their delight and ardour in the pursuit is told by
Selden in one sentence : ** At the first dawn of day we
triumvirs came to the Arundelian Gardens." The marbles
were broken in many fragments, disfigured with dirt,
and imperfect — the deficiencies and erasures were many —
but they continued in the mutual labour of cleansing,
washing, and adapting with the natural unweariedness of
antiquaries. They first discovered the decrees of the
Smyrneans, and their treaty with the Magnesians for the
safety of King Seleucus Callinicus.

The intelligence of this discovery was soon diffiised, for,
as Selden observed, every one loves to impart information,
and numerous applications were the consequence for more
explanatory particulars. Selden declined giving any copies
of the inscriptions, even to his most intimate friends,
fearing the publication of errors in such frequent trans-
criptions, but promising to publish the whole collectively.

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Online LibraryGeorge William JohnsonMemoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time → online text (page 10 of 23)