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

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the law of general humanity and kindness requires it*.

Against these principles Selden does not argue, but
demonstrates that all history proves that treaties, alli-
ances, and the dictates of power have perpetually modified
and regulated them, as the safety or the interest of
particular nations have dictated.

The " Mare Clausum," was translated into English by
Marchmont Needham, in 1652; the period when the war
occurred between this country, under the parliament, and
the Dutch. This translator substituted a dedication,
" to the Supreme Authority of the Nation, the Parlia-
ment," for Selden's similar address to the king. He also

* Law of Nature and Nations, b. \y, c. 5, s. 8 & 10.


added an appendix containing some additional documents,
contributed by President Bradshaw. An improved trans-
lation by J. H. was published in 1663,

The next four years are nearly a total blank in the
biography of Selden. This period certainly was not
passed in idleness, for at its termination he published his
work, " De Jure Naturale et Gentium juxta Disciplinam
Ebraeorum." We are therefore assured that he was
engaged in his favourite study of legal antiquities. It is
also probable that he was holding communion with that
party of moderate politicians with whom he had con-
sistently co-operated, and who would naturally consult
together, and arrange their plans for rescuing their
country from that tyranny, of which tlie recital even now
cannot be perused unmoved. The period of effective
exertion arrived in 1640, but previously to entering into
that fresh era of Selden's life, some notice must be taken
of the principal public events that occurred during the
years that had elapsed without a parliament.

Lord Clarendon says that in this space of time " the
king was resolved to try if he could not give his people a
taste of happiness, and let them see the equity of his
government in a single state." The experiment was a
signal faihu-e, for the opponents of absolute monarchy
need not quote a period better illustrating its evils than the
eleven years over which we will take a Parthian glance.

The reader may refer to Clarendon, Whitelocke, Rusli-
worth, and Franklvn, writers tinctured with widely

212 MEMOIRS or

differing prejudices, yet he will find they concur in
acknowledging the facts, although they occasionally
attribute to thein different characteristics.

They agree that during this period the agricultural
and commercial interests were particularly flourishing.
From this it has been deduced that an arbitrary monarchy
is not opposed to the welfare of the people, and if our
view is confined to its effect upon their wealth, we might,
except in its worst possible extreme in some eastern
nations, assent to the induction. But every reader who
has one ray of generous feeling in his nature will at once
acknowledge that there are other securities necessary to
him, and much more essential to his happiness; the
security that the money he contributes to the state is
justly demanded, and duly expended in its service ; the
security that he may maintain his innocent opinions
without any danger of being fined for them to a ruinous
amount, or of being tortured and perpetually imprisoned
for their maintenance. These securities did not exist in
the unparliamentary times of Charles ; even Clarendon
acknowledges that the Council Board and Star Chamber
struck at the very foundations of the national liberties, and
consequently, though peace was maintained abroad, and
riches accumulated at home, the nation could not have
been contented and happy. That it was not, is maintained
by the fact that the people subverted the government,
and strove to replace it by one that promised to be less


It is the impolicy of the aristocracy of all ages to con-
duct themselves for the most part as if they considered
themselves a distinct race to the rest of their fellow-
subjects, and this conduct became so marked at this
period — they were so overbearing in their demeanour —
there was such a diversity in the law that was measured
out to the nobility and to the commons — the appropriately
named Star Chamber had such respect for those who wore
that badge — that the spirit of the nation revolted against
those who instead of being its honour and ornament, were in
too many instances its oppressors and disgrace. Finally the
feeling against them became too soured to allow them as a
body any acknowledgment of superiority ; and Secretary
Nicholas informed Charles the First, in a private letter,
that " the committees of both Houses had met at a con-
ference, and both Lords and Commons were bare-headed
at it, a private intimation being given that if the Lords
should have put on their hats, the Commons were resolved
to have done so likewise*."

It will be sufficient to quote two of the most prominent
instances of individual oppression that marked this period.
Prynne, for the second time, with Burton and Bastwick,
were publicly mutilated and consigned to solitary and
distant prisons. Let a reference be made to the state-
ment of their mock, iniquitous trial ; to the insults offered
them by their judges; and to the cruel cuttings and

* Evelyn's Diary, hy Bray, ii. 32.


burnings tliey endured *, and then let the reader ask his
heart and his reason if there is any cause to wonder that the
people resolved to shake off the government that permitted
such tyranny. Many were willing to escape from it
rather than to witness the horrors of a civil strife, and
many were the emigrants who desired to seek a home
without oppression in the wilds of Connecticut. Eight
ships laden with these exiles lay in the Thames. John
Hampden and his cousin Oliver Cromwell were among
them, having actually embarked, when an order of
Council prohibited the emigration, and Charles thus
unconsciously retained the chiefest instruments of his

The persecution of Dr. Williams, Bishop of Lincoln,
and at one time Lord Keeper, was another blot upon this
decade without a parliament. He had been the supporter
of Buckingham, and the patron of Laud ; but having too
wisely opposed their plans, they resolved upon his ruin.
He was accused in the court of Star Chamber of betraying
the king's counsels, and the course of iniquity that was
pursued by his accusers, from the tampering with his
witnesses to the secret advising with his judges, may be
read in the prolix, learned pages of his biographer f.

Years elapsed in the pursuit of his condemnation ;
charges, against every rule of justice, were abandoned to
institute others that seemed to arise from the evidence ;

* State Trials, i. 459—482.

t Hacket's Life of Williams, 112—126.


and finally, not satisfied with inflicting a fine often thousand
pounds, and committing him to an imprisonment that was
to last during the king's pleasure. Laud and others, who
were his enemies and his judges, lamented that they could
not add to his sufferings by some personal degradation.

Though so much time was occupied in the concoction
of his trial, yet when the final period arrived, there was as
little lenity sliowai in allowing time for the defence, as there
had been in shortening the period of suspense, when
activity would have been a mercy. The following letter
to Selden from the bishop will afford some new light upon
the subject.

" My very worthy friend,

" It is not a voluntary resolution, but pure and
(in a manner) last necessity which makes this unreasonable
motion unto you. My causes are both to be heard, and
the last first. And that with such a precipitancy of the
hearing, as, though all men speak loud against, yet cannot
be prevented. Upon Friday next they will begin. And
although my counsel have certified the impossibility of
running over 3,500 sheets of paper, examining and brevi-
ating the same ; yet upon the king's strict resolution not
to change the day, they are so kind as to strive to under-
take the defence. To wit — Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Fountain,
and Mr. Vaughan. They only desire your company by
way of advice, for three days and no more. My house is
now private, and one end thereof empty, which would be


at your service. And if your health, occasions, and other
respects, will permit you to put upon an old friend this
great obligation, you shall never again encounter an oppor-
tunity that will more honour you with good and merciful
people, and more bind unto you in eternal chains of new-

" Your somewhat troubled, but innocent and hopeful

" J. Lincoln."

" Westminster Coll.
this 9th of June, 1637*."

The despotism of the government was not confined to
acts of individual tyranny, it extended its oppressions to
active endeavours to subjugate the religious opinions of
the people ; as well as to general invasions of their
property and freedom. The Scotch nation dared to differ
with our government upon ecclesiastical affairs, and our
national arms were resorted to and disgraced in the vain
endeavour to bring about an opposite conviction.

The attempt to controul by force the religious opinions
of the subject also extended to England. Although there
was no parliament sitting, the convocation was allowed
to continue in assembly, and in 1640, by *' the king's
majesty's licence," its resolutions, under the title of
•' constitutions and canons ecclesiastical," were published.

* Harleian MSS. 7001, Ixvii. f.


They maintained the divine right of kings, and the
absolute unlawfulness, under any circumstances, of re-
sisting his commands. By them popish recusants, and all
sectarians, were ordered to attend upon the services of the
established church, or to suffer excommunication ; and in
case of continued adherence to their opinions, the judges
of assize were solemnly and profanely adjured, in the
name of the Almighty, to punish them. In a similar
persecuting spirit, all schoolmasters, lawyers, physicians,
and clergymen were required to swear that they approved
of, and would preserve the doctrines and policy of the
established church *.

Corruption as well as oppression, was successfully busy,
and we are powerfully tempted to believe with Lord
Walpole, that " every man has his price," when we read
that Mr. Noy, and Mr. Littleton, were bought to the go-
vernment interest, by being promoted to the offices of the
attorney and solicitor-generalships. These men had been

* Sparrow's Collection of Articles, &c, 345. Ed. 1684. It is a
melancholy fact, that every religious sect, when allowed to have poli-
tical power, seems to acquire a persecuting spirit. It is needless to more
than mention the Roman CathoUcs. Even the Presbyterians and
Independents are not exempt. When ascendant during the interreg-
num, their assembly of divines were equally intolerant. " They
taught," says Milton, " compulsion without conviction, which not long-
before they complained of as executed unchristianly against themselves."
— (Milton's Prose Works, iv. 84. Ed. 1806.) The parliament went to
the extreme of religious persecution, by even adjudging various sectaries
to be guilty of felony, and worthy of capital punishment.— (Scobell's
Collection, part I. p. 149. Kd. 1658.)


prominent defenders of the people's rights, and though we
do not assent to Walpole's axiom, yet these apostates
warn us of a degrading result of experience, that profes-
sion and principle are not inseparable.

Proclamations during this period, of course, were
equivalent to laws, and Rushworth enumerates an
abundance, regulating and altering the commerce and
internal policy of the nation.

The obtaining supplies was of first importance, and
these were procured by means of tonnage and poundage,
and other still more burdensome levies upon the shipping
interest, and by selling the grants of innumerable patents
and monopolies. " These," said Sir John Culpepper,
" like the frogs of Egypt, have gotten possession of our
dwellings, and we have scarcely a room free from them.
They sip in our cup ; they dip in our dish ; they sit by
our fire ; we find them in the dye-vat, washing-bowl, and
])owdering-tub. They share with the butler in his box.
They have marked and sealed us from head to foot.
They will not bate us a pin *."

* These were allusions to the unparliamentary duties upon wines,
tavern licences to dress meat, an imposition upon coals, a monopoly of
soap, a duty upon salt, and the patents for cards and dice, for beaver
hats, lace, pins, &c. — (Rushworth, ii. 917.)

" The odious and crying project of soap," so emphatically denounced
by Clarendon, was a suggestion of the new attorney-general, Noy. It
was pursued by him with all the acrimony of a new convert. The use
of any soap, but such as was made by the king's patentee, was prohibited,
though that was so vile a compound as to be injurious to the articles
upon which it was employed as a detergent.


Another oppressive source of supply, was levying fines
upon such individuals, as, having a certain amount of
property, refused to accept knighthood, to which they
were entitled by the obsolete feudal law. The fines now
levied under the old forest laws were similarly obnoxious
and oppressive. Lord Clarendon states, that these, and
many other projects for raising money, " some ridiculous,
and some scandalous, but all very grievous," originated
with the privy council.

The impost of ship money, if it were not the most
irritating exaction, is the one most connected in our
memories with these times because it gave the people the
first opportunity of legally opposing the unjust demands
of the court, and first introduced to public notice the
individual whose name, and that of patriot have become
almost synonymous. It was a tax rendered still more
impopular by its being the occasion of demonstrating that
the judges betrayed the sacred charge with which they
were intrusted. Neither was it less obnoxious by being
suggested by Mr. Noy, who the people could not but
view as a traitor to their cause.

It was first proposed to be levied upon the maritime
towns, for the ostensible purpose of maintaining the navy,
but as Selden observed, that was like putting in a little
auger, that afterwards a larger might be inserted, for the
tax was extended over the inland counties.

In common with others of the county of Buckingham,
John Hampden, Esfj[., of Stoke Mandcville, was assessed


to pay twenty shillings. He refused to comply with the
demand upon the ground that it was illegal, not being
sanctioned by parliament. The cause was very ably
argued before the twelve judges, of whom Sir Richard
Hutton, and Sir George Croke alone, had courage suffi-
cient to give their opinion against the king. Before the
case was thus argued, their judgment in writing had been
IJrivately obtained, and to this, which was in favour of the
prosecution, even Hutton and Croke had subscribed.

Rebuked by his conscience, Croke nobly dared to confess
his error, and in his public judgment, he unanswerably
showed his reasons for pronouncing against the king's
levy of the tax. In a statement of these reasons laid
before his majesty, he candidly acknowledged that he had
suffered himself to be overruled in the first instance, by
his brethren of the coif, but, he continued, " if I had been
of the same opinion that was subscribed, yet upon better
advisement being absolutely settled in my judgment and
conscience in a contrary opinion, I think it no shame to
retract that opinion, for humanum est errare, rather than
to argue against my conscience." Judge Hutton spoke
in words nearly similar*.

* State Trials, fol. Ed. i. 624. The Lord Keeper Finch, confirmed
these statements in his defence before the House of Commons. — (Par-
liament. Hist. ix. 172.) This worthy once openly declared in court,
that no man need dispute before him an order of the privy council, for
it •' should always be ground enough for him to make a decree in


It deserves again to be recorded that in his wife, Croke
found a sustainer and guardian of his innocence*. He
hesitated to tread the path of duty, when she urged him
from his suspense, and bade him without any fear to dare
to do right. This is woman's own dominion — it is here
that she is a helpmate for man, — and he degrades her and
weakens himself, if he does not teach her to be more than
his plaything. Let our daughters as well as our sons
have impressed upon them, that public virtue is to the
full as important as private morality, and we shall add a
mighty strength to the buttresses of our integrity, for we
shall have on its side the deep though quiet influences of
home. Let it not be argued for a moment, that w^oman
should be taught to neglect one domestic care, or that she
should join in the turmoil of politics ; but the education
that formed the wives of Sir George Croke, of Sir John
Bankes, of the Earl of Derby, and of George Canning,
did not take away one grace, or one quality, which should
have had its abiding place in their bosoms.

That the decision of the majority of the judges was
iniquitous has long since been determined. Even Cla-
rendon says, that the cause was adjudged " upon such
grounds and reasons as every by-stander was able to swear
were not law."

Selden, in common with every patriot, applauded those
who refused to pay the imposition until it was legally
approved, but as justly condemns those who factiously

* Wliitelocke's Memorials.

222 jNIEMoirs of

continued to resist its payment after the judicial decision
in its favour. " They that at first would not pay ship
money," he said, " till it was decided, did like brave men
(though perhaps they did no good by the trial) but they
that stand out since and suffer themselves to be distrained,
never questioning those that do it, do pitifully, for they
only pay twice as much as they need *." An observation
to which many extravagant politicians of the present day
would be wiser in attending.

Selden evidently doubted whether Hampden's contest
against the payment of ship money, though praiseworthy
and correct, was of any benefit to the country, and we may
consider that his doubt was founded upon a just fear that
it would aggravate the growing enmity between the people
and the sovereign, and would involve in one feeling of
dislike all the constituted branches of the executive.

All the arbitrary measures for enriching the exchequer
having failed ; crippled in resources, and defeated in
measures, the king, hoping that it would be less untract-
able to his wishes than its predecessors, summoned a
parliament. It met in the April of 1640. Of this Selden
was not a member.

Though ardent in the pursuit of grievances, yet its
desires were expressed moderately, and Clarendon says it
was " exceedingly disposed to please the king and to do
him service.'* Notwithstanding, Charles dissolved it after
a transient session of three weeks. The same historian

* Table Talk, s. Ship Money.


remarked that, " it could never be hoped that more sober
and dispassionate men would ever meet together in that
place, or fewer who brought ill-purposes with them ; nor
could any man imagine what offence they had given
which put the king upon that resolution*." This was
no subsequent conclusion of the earl's, for previous to
the dissolution he urged his persuasion upon the atten-
tion of Laud in a private conference!. He is equally
clear in expressing his opinion of the effect produced
by these frequent and abrupt dissolutions of the par-
liament. Such measures were unreasonable, unskilful,
and precipitate. The king and his people parted at these
seasons with no other respect and charity one towards
the other, than persons who never meant to meet but in
their own defence ; and he laments that there should
then have been traitorous counsellors about his majesty
who fomented this mutual mistrust. He acknowledges
the people were liberally and well-inclined towards the
government, if it had not by its indiscretions confirmed
and enlarged their jealousies of some of its members. Of
these jealousies the king was aware, for at the opening of
the next parliament he requested the Commons to unite
with him in laying aside " all suspicion one of another,"

* Mrs. Hutchinson says, the reason of this abi'upt dissolution was,
that the king feared the parliament intended to vote against the war
with Scotland, upon which he was violently determined. — Mem. of
Colonel Hutchinson, 71.

t Clarendon's Autobiography, fol. Ed. 38.


but, unfortunately, he was not wise or not firm enough
to act candidly in accordance with that advice. The
leaders of the ultra opposition party rejoiced at the disso-
lution of this parliament, as they did at all the other
violent and short-sighted measures of the court, for they
knew that by strengthening and increasing the national
dissatisfaction, the resolution for reform was rendered
proportionately firm and uncompromising. Within an
hour after the dismissal of the parliament, Clarendon met
Oliver St. John, who usually taciturn and melancholy,
was now smiling and communicative, for he said, " he
foresaw that the progress of events was all well ; that
affairs must be worse before they were better, and that the
parliament just terminated would never have done what
was necessary *."

* Clarendon's Hist, of the Rebellion, i. 110 fol.













The parliament that had been so rashly dissolved in
May, had to be re-assembled in November, and its mem-
bers must have come with feelings additionally irritated,
for they had witnessed a continuance of the national
misrule, and repeated experience convinced them that
every attempt at reformation brought upon them the
displeasure of the government, contumely, inconvenience,
and expense.

In the intervening six months, ship money had been
levied with severity, and the mayor and sheriffs of Lon-
don prosecuted for too much leniency. Arbitrary loans
exacted, especially in those counties where the soldiers
were quartered, and the government condescended to the
swindling practice of purcliasing merchandise upon long



credit, and selling it for ready money. It was even
proposed to debase the currency. These profligate at-
tempts to supply the exchequer, were still more odious,
because they were made to support the Scottish war of
persecution. Disgrace again fell upon the English army.
It would not face the enemy. It mutinied rather than be
employed upon such a service. Defeated — beggared —
the king was willing to adopt any resource rather than
the legitimate one of a parliament. He summoned a
council of peers, but even this failed, and all subterfuges
being exhausted, he reluctantly ordered the usual writs to
be issued.

This parliament, which, it was remarked, many thought
would never have had a beginning, and afterwards that it
would never have had an end, is well known as the Long
Parliament^ and finally, as the Rump. It well merited
the first designation by lasting thirteen years, and the
latter from being gradually reduced in numbers, until, as
Clement Walker, a hostile contemporary observed, it
became " a fag-end, a rump of a parliament, with corrupt
maggots in it*."

The high reputation which Selden had gained by his
mental exertions, added to his well-known detestation of
violent political measures, may have recommended him to
the University of Oxford at this crisis, for he was returned
by it unanimously as one of its representatives in this

* History of Independency, ii. 32.


parliament : but it is not improbable that his moderation
had been mistaken by the court party for an inclination to
support their measures, and that they had recommended
him to their partisan university. It is certain that Laud
had declared that he would bring him over.

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Online LibraryGeorge William JohnsonMemoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time → online text (page 14 of 23)