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

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members. The lord keeper, Sir Edward Littleton *,
refused to seal this proclamation, consequently it was
pasted up at Whitehall-gate, but went no further, being
a few days after suppressed by order of the parliament,
upon pain of death t.

This, and other conduct of the lord keeper, which
showed that he disapproved, or was afraid to support the
measures of the government, determined the king to
remove him from his office. Charles had now removed
to York, and he thence " sent an order to the Lord
Falkland, to require the seal from the lord keeper, in
which the king was very positive, though he was not
resolved to what hand to commit it. His majesty wished
them (for he always included Sir John Colepepper and
Mr. Hyde in such references) to consider ' whether he

* Lord Clarendon g-ives him a very high character for professional
learnings and personal bravery, but there are recorded too many instances
of his vacillation, duplicity, and positive falsehood, to allow us to
esteem him. Clarendon says, " he had taken great pains in the hardest
and most knotty part of the law, as well as that which is most customary,
and was not only very ready and expert in the books, but exceedingly
versed in the records, in studying and examining whereof he had kept
Mr. Selden company, with whom he had great friendship, and who had
much assisted him." — (Hist, of Rebellion, i. 443.)

t Harleian MSS. 4931, 67 d.


should give it to the Lord Chief Justice Banks (against
whom he made some objection himself), or into the hands
of Mr. Selden,' and to send their opinions to him. The
order was positive for requiring it of the present officer,
but they knew not who to advise for a successor. The
Lord Chief Justice Banks appeared to be as much afraid
as the other, and was not thought equal to the charge in
a time of so much disorder, though otherwise he was a
man of great abilities, and unblemished integrity ; they
did not doubt of Mr. Selden's affection to the king, but
they knew him so well, that they concluded he would
absolutely refuse the place if it was offered to him. He
was in years and of a tender constitution ; he had for
many years enjoyed his ease, which he loved ; was rich,
and would not have made a journey to York, or have lain
out of his own bed for any preferment, which he had
never affected *."

This reasoning evidently was correct, for although it is
not certain that the offer of the lord keepership was made
to Selden, and, eventually, Littleton continued to hold the
seals, yet the following letter fully confirms Lord Claren-
don's opinion.

" Mr. Selden to the Marquis of Hertford.
*' My Lord,

" I received from his most excellent majesty a
command for my waiting on him at York, and he is most

* Clarendon's Hist, of the Rebellion, i. 445.


graciously pleased to say, that I should make as much
haste as my health will permit. I have been for many
weeks, my lord, very ill, and am still so infirm that I have
not so much as any hope of being able to endure any kind
of travel, much less such a journey. Yet, if that were all,
I should willingly venture any loss of myself rather than
not perform my duty to his majesty. But, if I were able
to come, I call God to witness, I have no apprehension of
any possibility of doing his majesty service there. On
the other side it is most probable, or rather apparent, that
a member of the House of Commons, and of my condition,
by coming thither, might thereby soon be a cause of some
very unseasonable disturbance ; by this name I call what-
soever will at this time (as this would) doubtless occasion
some further or other difference betwixt his majesty and
that House *. My legal and humble affections to his
majesty and his service are, and shall be, as great and as
hearty as any man's, and therefore, when I am able, I
shall really express them. But, I beseech your lordship,
be pleased, upon what I have represented, to preserve me
from his majesty's displeasure, which I hope too from his

* Selden was always opposed to the policy that reduced the number
of the king's friends in the parliament at Westminster. He observed
upon another occasion, " the king- calling his friends from the parlia-
ment, because he had use of them at Oxford, is, as if a man should
require a little piece of wood, and run down into the cellar, and took
the spiggot ; in the meantime all the beer runs about the house.
When his frienda are absent the king will be lotit." — (Table Talk,
s. The King.)


most excellent goodness towards me. Your lordship's
great and continued favours to me embolden me to make
this suit, which granted will be a singular happiness to

" Your lordship's &c. *"

This transaction seems not to have escaped the know-
ledge of the parliament. The best check to desertion
would be to insist upon a regular attendance in the
House, and on the 4th of February there was issued a
peremptory order for Mr. Selden and others to attend
within three days at furthest, and to continue their service
at the House t.

This and other attempts made by the king to obtain
councillors of moderate principles was now too late. He
had clung to despotic power too ardently not to evince, or,
what produced the same effects, not to raise the fear that
it was coveted by his heart. What was extorted from
him, therefore, was likely to be returned to with avidity,
and even if he had appointed Hollis secretary of state ;
Pym, chancellor of the exchequer ; St. John, solicitor
general ; Selden, lord keeper ; and Hampden, preceptor
to the Prince of Wales, as w^as once proposed and partially
effected, still the confidence of the parliament would hardly
have been gained to their administration. Charles had
been the deceiver too often and too long.

* Harding MSS. in Biographia Britaiinica.
■j- Journal of the House of Commons, ii. 955.


Every day added to the width of the breach between
the king and the parliament. The paper-warfare between
them became more decisive in its tone, for " the pen-
militant had as many sharp encounters as the sword," and
the chance of agreement was proportionately and daily-
less. It soon became apparent that the contest must be
decided by an appeal to the ultimate of human decisions
— that of arms, and consequently it was of the utmost
importance to secure an advantage in levying men and
providing the requisite stores. Fully aware of this, the
])arliament passed a bill, enacting, that the lieutenants of
the various counties were to be guided in that duty of their
office by such directions as might be signified to them by
the parliament. It never could have expected that at
this crisis the king would give his assent to this measure,
yet it was foreseen that his refusal would give additional
colour to the charge that he contemplated making war
against them. The king rejected the bill, and the
parliament then informed him, that it should be carried
into execution without his concurrence. This accordingly
was done, accompanied by a declaration which was com-
municated to the king by a committee of both Houses.
The Earl of Pembroke, who was one of this deputation,
asked the king whether the regulation of the militia might
not be granted as was desired by the parliament for
awhile? but Charles energetically replied, "By God, not
for an hour ; vou have asked that of me which was never


asked of a king, and with which I will not trust my wife
and my children *."

The parliament then issued an ordinance, naming
lieutenants for all the counties, and conferring upon
them the command of the militia within their respective
districts. To this the king had previously issued a com-
mission of Array, empowering certain noblemen, upon
whom he could depend, to raise soldiers for his service.

It has been disputed who first commenced the active
preparation for hostilities, but when both parties had
resolved to appeal to the sword, it seems of little conse"
quence to inquire who was most prompt in executing the
resolution. There is no doubt, however, that Charles
first imsheathed his arms, for in April, 1642, when Hull
was refused to be surrendered to his summons, he gathered
forces together for its reduction, Hacket, who was a
contemporary, and wrote strenuously against the parlia-
ment, says decidedly, " the king opened the Temple of
Janus, that was close shut before, and let out wart."
Selden's opinion of the non-importance of this inquiry
appears in this passage. " The king and the parliament
now falling out are just as when there is foul play offered
amongst gamesters, one snatches the other's stake, — they
seize what thev can of one another's. It is not to be
asked whether it belongs not to the king to do this or
that ; before, when there was fair play, it did ; but now

* Parliament. Hist., x. 353. f Lift- of [.. K. Williams, IRS.


they will do what is most convenient for their own

Selden was equally opposed to either party raising
troops, for he always argued for obedience to existing
laws ; and in this instance they clearly enacted that the
consent of all the branches of the legislature were neces-
sary to be given before this very important power of the
executive should be exercised. Both parties, therefore,
acted illegally. Even Judge Blackstone douhted whether
the commission of Array issued by the king was legal,
and therefore we may conclude, that there is authority to
convince any one who is more moderate in his ideas of
monarchical rights.

The judges, and others who advised the king to issue
this commission, founded its justification ui)on a statute
passed in the fifth year of the reign of Henry the Fourth ;
but the parliament voted it to be contrary to the laws, and
to the-liberty of the subject. " Selden in the debate upon
this subject declared himself very positively, and with much
sharpness against it, as a thing expressly without any legal
authority : the statute upon which it was grounded being,
as he said, repealed ; and he discoursed very much of the
ill consequences which might result from submitting to it.
He answered the arguments which had been used to
support it ; and easily prevailed with the House not to
like a proceeding which they knew was intended to do

'• TabJe Talk, s. The King.


them hurt. But his authority and reputation prevailed
much further than the House, and begot a prejudice
against it in many well-affected men without doors.
When the king was informed of it he was much troubled,
having looked upon Mr. Selden as well-disposed to his
service ; and the Lord Falkland, with his majesty's leave,
wrote a friendly letter to him, ' to know his reason, why,
in such a conjuncture, whatever his opinions were, he would
oppose the submission to the commission of Array, which
nobody could deny to have its original from law, and
which many learned men still believed to be very legal,
to make way for the establishment of an ordinance which
had no manner of pretence to right*? ' "

To this inquiry Selden frankly replied in a letter to
Lord Falkland ; of which this is an extract : —

" That of the vote your lordship speaks is true, as I
presume you by this see in print. But in what degree it
was grounded upon my authority (which doubtless goes
here for little or nothing), you may guess by this that I
was not in the House at that voting, or any other time
when any agitation or mention of it was there, till
yesterday, when there was a declaration passed there to
show the reasons of that vote. But it is true, that I Avas
of the committee of Lords and Commons, to whom some
days since it was referred, and amongst the rest my
opinion, upon the best consideration 1 could give, was,

* Claren'lon's Hit>t. of the I^'elu'llioii, i. •)I7.

284 MEMOiiis or

that it is against law ; and so is my opinion still, which
shall change, as in all other things, when I shall be taught
the contrary*."

In this, or in some other letter written at the same
time, Selden, according to Clarendon, " did as frankly
inveigh against the ordinance for the militia," which he
said, " was without any shadow of law, or pretence of
precedent, and most destructive to the government of the
kingdom ; and he acknowledged that he had been the
more inclined to make that discourse in the House against
the commission, that he might with the more freedom
argue against the ordinance, which was to be considered
upon a day then appointed, and he was confident that he
should likewise overthrow the ordinance, which he con-
fessed could be less supported ; and he did believe that it
would be much better if both were rejected than that
either of tliem should stand and remain uncontrolled t.'*

In his opinion that he should be able to prevent the
passing of the ordinance, Selden w^as deceived, for at the
conclusion of the debate which decided upon it, he was
one of the tellers of a minority of forty-five, who were
defeated by a majority of nearly three times that number t.

A statement made by Whitelocke has been thought to
involve Selden's claim to the merit of consistency in
his conduct relative to this transaction. He says that

* Biographia Britan. from the Harding MSS.
f Clarendon's Hist, of the Rebellion, i. 517.
X Parliament. Hist., xi. 281.


*' Maynard, Glyn, Grimston, St. John, Selden, and divers
other gentlemen of great parts and interest, accepted
commissions of deputy lieutenancy, and continued in their
service in parliament*." Dr. Aikin inclines to think
that the name of Selden was erroneously inserted in this
list, not only because it is scarcely credible that he should
so grossly have violated his consistency, but because his
habits of life and state of health rendered him very
unlikely to undertake a military commission, for the
furtherance of which he had no familv or local influence t.
In this reasoning there is not much weight, for we have
seen that Clarendon acknowledges that the authority of
Selden's name was very influential with the people ; a
deputy lieutenant is seldom a military officer ; and he had
the influence of the Kent family at command.

If Selden did accept a deputy lieutenancy, he was not
personally active in the office, for the debates upon the
ordinance did not terminate until the beginning of May,
and his name appears on the 23rd of that month as one
of a committee to consider of an order for raising volun-
teers for an expedition to Ireland ; on June the 2nd, in a

* Whitelocke's Memorials, 56. Wood says that Selden is affirmed
to have written " An Answer to his Majesty's Declaration about the
Commission of Array," supporting the legality of the people's oppo-
sition to the crown. As much more copious, and more accurate
biographers of Selden do not mention this, we are not obliged to admit
as a fact what is doubted by an author so liable to error as Wood. —
(Athense Oxon. 182.)

f Aikin's Lives of Selden and Usher, 121.


committee to frame an ordinance for augmenting the
naval forces ; and vve shall see that other occupations
must have permanently detained him in London. But
granting that Selden accepted the appointment, and if he
did, as regards turpitude, it signifies little whether he was
an active or passive officer; it does not affix any conviction
of inconsistency upon his character. However resolutely
he opposed the proceedings of the parliament which he
considered erroneous, yet it is certain that he considered
its cause fundamentally just — it was the party with which
he generally acted. Therefore, although he equally
objected to the issuing of the commission and of the
ordinance for raising troops, yet when he saw the king
persistent in his purpose, he would have been unreasonable
then to have maintained that his own friends ought still
to remain passive. He had opposed an appeal to arms,
yet when one party prepared an army, he must have
acknowledged that self-defence called upon the other to
follow the example ; and when it obeyed the call there
could be neither inconsistency nor error in aiding its

About this period the comparative merits and autho-
rities in support of the opponent forms of episcopal and
presbyterian church government were disputed, with
much acrimony, by Petau, Saumaise, and other learned
writers of continental Europe. The political state of
England rendered it here a peculiarly interesting con-
troversy, for, as already noticed, episcopalians and


presbyterians were almost synouymes of royalists and
parliamentarians. The friends of episcopacy were not
without advocates in this country. Of these it will be
sufficient to mention Dr. Hall, whose " Episcopacy by
Divine Right asserted," published in 1640, is considered
a bulwark of that form of church government. This
work, which benefited by the correction of Laud, was
written to confute the assertions of the Scotch, that
episcopacy is uncln-istian, and therefore unlawful *.

One particular point in this controversy was, whether
in the early ages of the church, the episcopal and pres-
byterial orders were of equal or different powers. A
celebrated passage in the works of Jerome mentions, that
in the Church of Alexandria, from its first foundation to
nearly the close of the second century, the presbyters
always elected a bishop from among themselves by their
own authority. Of this fact, a remarkable confirmation
exists in the account of the Alexandrian church, contained
in the Annals of the Patriarch Eutychius, or Said Ibn
Batrik, who flourished in the early part of the tenth
century. Of these annals which were written in the
Arabic language, and then untranslated, Selden procured
two manuscripts, from which he published a work thus
entitled : " Eutychii ^^^^gyptii, Patriarchal orthodoxorum
Alexandrini, Scriptoris, ut in Oriente admodum vetusti et
illustris, itain Occidente tum paucissimis visi, tum per raro

* Heylin's Life of Laud, .375, &c.


auditi, Ecclesiae suae Origenes." The part relating to the
before-mentioned controversy, is a statement that the
Evangelist Mark, having converted and baptized one
Hananias, a shoemaker of Alexandria, and having consti-
tuted him a patriarch of that city, appointed eleven other
persons to be presbyters, with the injunction that when
the patriarchate became vacant, they should choose one
of their number and consecrate him patriarch by the
imposition of hands, at the same time electing a person
to fill his place in the presbytery : so that there should
always be twelve presbyters, the patriarch being reckoned
as one ; and that this mode continued in practice to the
time of the Patriarch Alexander, who directed that
thenceforth, on the decease of a patriarch, a new one
should be ordained by an assembly of bishops.

Selden's production of this passage, with his accompa-
nying criticisms, involved him in hostilities with the
zealous advocates of episcopacy, both protestant and papal.
Petau animadverted upon the work with moderation ;
but Abraham Ecchelensis, a Maronite priest in the pay of
the Roman pontiff, employed so much personal abuse in
an attempt to refute Selden's notes, that he injured his
own reputation more than that of him whom he attacked.
John Morin and Eusebius Renaudot engaged in the same
cause. The latter expresses far too much and too general
contempt for Selden's oriental learning *.

* Aikin's Lives of Selden and Usher, 122.


Seidell had imbibed a great opinion of Eutycliius as an
author, from Erpenius, who, as he says, gave him a copy
of this work wlien in London. Selden in the same year
persuaded Dr. Pococke to undertake its translation, and
to print this with the original Arabic at Oxford, engaging
himself to be at the whole expense of publishing the
edition. It appeared in 1656 *.

It would be erroneous to conclude that, by publishing
this work, Selden intended to declare his enmity to the
episcopal form of church government, for in many parts
of his other works he expressly declares himself in its
favour t. He undoubtedly published it, prompted by his
general love of truth, and because it favoured his own
opinion that the government of the church, as much as

* Dr. Langbaine, who at the desire of Selden, assisted in the trans-
lation, writing' to Dr. Pococke soon after Selden's decease, says that
he saw him the day previous to his death, and that he told him, in the
hearing of one of his executors, Mr. Hayward, how he had disposed of
his impression of Eutychius to the two translators, by a codicil made
to his will in June, 1653. "I mentioned to him," adds Dr. Lang-
baine, " that he had often spoken of intended notes, upon which he
gave orders, that all letters or notes concerning that author should be
delivered to us."— (Twell's Life of Dr. Pococke, i. 189, &c. Ed. 181G.

f Upon this point we have the unimpeachable testimony of Mr.
Baillie, who at that very period exultingly informed the presbytery of
Irvine, that " the House of Commons had given the bishops the first
wound, by taking away their votes in parliament, and one of these
days they will cast down their cathedrals, deaneries, and prebendaries,
and also spoil them of their usurped ordination and jurisdiction, to
erect presbyteries in all the land, let Selden and some few others gnash
their teeth as they will."— (Baillie's Letters and .Journals, i. 231.)



the government of the rest of the state, is subject to the
will of the legislature *.

The outcry that lately arose against the bishops has its
parallel in the time of Selden, and now, as then, the
multitude extravagantly conceive that mal-administration
arises from the nature of the office, rather than from the
disposition and qualifications of its holder. No one who
gives an unbiassed opinion, can argue that there have not
been bishops unworthy of their stations, but there have
been a far greater number distinguished for their exemplary
piety and learning. It would occupy more space than can
be permitted in these pages to detail the conflicting
arguments that have been urged in favour and in repre-
hension of an episcopal form of church government, but
it is certain and satisfactory to those who would maintain
our establishment, that a politician, temperate and learned
as Selden, thought it the form most consonant with a
monarchy. At the same time he firmly maintained his
opinion that they are subject to the regulating power of
the nation. " They are equally mad," he said, *' who
maintain that bishops are so jure divino that they must
be continued ; and they who say they are so unchristian,

* Those who consider the discipline of the church to be properly a
part of the civil poHty of a state, have been named Ei-astians, after
Erastus, who, in the 16th century, publicly maintained this opinion.
Baillie calls Selden "the head of the Erastians." — (Ibid. ii. 96.)
Baxter, another contemporary, speaks of him similarly.


that they must be put away: all is as the state pleases*."
However justly the general form of our church govern-
ment is maintained, it is vain to argue that some of its
details do not need amendment, or that some of its
excrescences might riot be advantageously removed. It is
injudicious to allow the fear that innovation will become
uncontrollable to render us indisposed to the application
of rational remedies ; for it is a truth without any excep-
tions, that errors pertinaciously clung to, will sooner or
later bring to ruin that system to which they are chained,
yet to strengthen these shackles is the effort of those
unfortunate minds that cannot distinguish between the
attempt to improve and the attempt to subvert ; which
see in every change a revolution, and in every reformer
a destroyer.

* Table Talk, s. Bishops out of Parliament.

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Online LibraryGeorge William JohnsonMemoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time → online text (page 18 of 23)