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

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arduous and urgent affairs concerning the king, state, and
defence of the realm, and of the church of England, and
the maintenance and making of laws and redress of
mischiefs and grievances which daily happen within this
realm, are proper subjects and matter of debate and
counsel in parliament; and that in the handling and

* Another contemporary says, " The king- retired not long since, to
Newmarket, not very well pleased, and this week there went thither
twelve from the House of Commons, to whom Sir Richard Weston was
the mouth; the king not liking- the message they broug-ht, called them
his ambassadors" — (Howell's Letters, sect. 3, p. 52. Edit. 1645.)


proceeding of those businesses, every member of the
House of Parliament hath, and of right ought to have,
freedom of speech, to propound, treat, reason, and bring to
conclusion the same. And that the Commons in parlia-
ment have like liberty and freedom to treat of these
matters, in such order as in their judgments shall seem
fittest ; and that every member of the said House, hath
like freedom from all impeachment, imprisonment, and
molestation (other than by censure of the House itself)
for or concerning any speaking, reasoning, or declaring
any matter or matters touching the parliament, or parlia-
ment business ; and that if any of the said members be
complained of, and questioned for any thing done or said
in parliament, the same is to be showed to the king, by
the advice and consent of all the Commons assembled in
parliament, before the king give credence to any private
information *."

This protestation was entered in the journals on the
18th of December, and was evidently called forth by a
letter addressed to the House by the king on the previous
day, in which he stated, " The plain truth is, that we
cannot with patience endure our subjects to use such anti-
monarchical words to us, concerning their liberties, except
they subjoined, that they were granted unto them by
grace and favour of our predecessors t."

* Rushworth, i. 53.
t Journ. of the House of (Commons, 19 James I. Petyt's Jus
Parliament., 305.


Previously to drawing up their protest, Selden had
been consulted by the House of Commons, concerning
the authorities by which their rights and privileges were
supported. Being introduced before the house, he spoke
very fully upon these topics, aud with patriotic ardour
digressed to express his opinions vipon the prospect of
popery being re-established ; concluding by anathema-
tising those courtiers who endeavoured to alienate the
affections of the king from the parliament. If Selden
did not draw up the protestation, he certainly advised its
composition. It was agreed to, upon the motion of
Mr. Crew, supported by Mr. Alford, Sir John Hilliard,
Sir George Moore, Mr. Finch, Mr. Noy, and Sir Edward

Of the privileges claimed by the commons in the above
protest, no one will now entertain an opposing doubt.
They have been admitted and sanctioned since by all true
patriots, such as Selden declared himself proud to associate
with ; namely, those who are " lovers equally of the royal
prerogative, and of the just liberty of their country.''
James formed of it a different estimate, and at a council
held at Whitehall, on the 30ih of the month in which
the protest was agreed to, he tore it with his own hands
from the Journals of the House*.

* Rushworth, i. 34. In a memorial concerning- this protest, the
king mentions as an aggravation of the Commons' oflFence, that their
protest was agreed upon at so late an hour as " six o'clock at night,''
and " by candlelight !" The usual custom of the parliament was, to


Although the Register of Council Cases relates that the
judges and privy council were present at this inroad upon
the records of parliament ; and although the king caused
to be inserted in the above-mentioned Register, that the
protest was " invalid, annulled, void, and of no effect,"
yet the true nature of this erasure cannot be disguised.
It betrays the impotent petulance of a despotic mind,
vented upon the record of opinions which it could not
overcome ; opinions which in succeeding years have been
admitted as correct, whilst the erasure that would have
swept them away, only serves to chronicle another proof
that the struggle of despotism against the liberties of an
united people is eventually vain.

meet in the morning-, and to rise at twelve, that the committees, upon
whom lay the chief business, might have the afternoon uninterrupted.
It afterwards became a custom to continue debating until four. — (Cla-
rendon's Hist, of the Rebellion, i. 105 — 107. Fol. ed.)















In the proclamation which dissolved the Parliament,
the king spoke of certain " evil-affected and discontented
persons," and of " some ill-tempered spirits," who " took
such inordinate liberty, not only to treat of his high
prerogative, and of sundry things, that, without his special
direction, were no fit subjects to be treated of in parlia-
ment ; but also, to speak with a less respect of foreign
princes, his allies, than was fit for any subject to do of
any anointed king *."

* Rymer's Foedera, xvii. 344.


In the same spirit of tyranny, and disregard for the
privileges of Parliament, that had previously been mani-
fested by James and his ministers, some of the evil-
affected persons, and ill-tempered spirits above alluded to,
were arrested upon warrants issued by the Privy Council.
Sir Edward Coke and Sir Robert Philips were committed
to the Tower ; and Mr. Pym, Mr. Mallory, the Earl of
Southampton, Sir Edwin Sandys, and Selden, to other
places of confinement *.

The warrant for Selden's imprisonment was signed by
five of the Privy Council. It directed his committal to
the Tower "for certain reasons of state known unto his
majesty," and prohibited his having communication with
any body but the sheriff, the executor of the warrant
(Cuthbert Lamplugh), or the necessary attendant, unless
in the presence of the above named officer t.

Instead of being confined in the Tower, Selden was

* Rushworth, i. 55. Harleian MSS. 161, pi. 33 e. p. 35. One
authority erroneoiisly says that Selden was a member of Parliament at
this time. This is Mr. Hacket, who states, " Mr. J. Selden (my
great friend while he lived) was clapt up, because, being a member of
the House of Commons, he had preferred the danger of telling- truth,
before the safety of silence." — (Memoir of L. K. Williams, 69.) Sehien
himself is a better authority upon this point. He says — " I was com-
mitted to custody for certain parliamentary matters, with some leading
statesmen who were lovers of the prerogative of the sovereign, as well
as of the true liberty of their country, not because I had acted rashly,
but because I had mingled with them as a counsellor (for as yet I
was not one among the members of parliament)." — (Viudicise Maris
Clausi, 28.)

t Harl. MSS. 2217. pi. 61. h.

II 2


retained in the custody of the Sheriff of London (Mr.
Robert Ducie, afterwcards a baronet), who lodged him in
his own house, and Selden acknowledges his treatment by
that gentleman to have been friendly and liberal. How-
ever, he was for a time restrained from the society of his
friends, and the unnecessary punishment was superadded
of denying him the free enjoyment of his books ; but his
keeper ventured, at his particular request, to indulge him
with the use of two works ; the Alexiad of Anna Comnena,
and Eadmer's History, which last then existed only in
manuscript. Of the first named, he translated a part into
Latin ; the latter work he afterwards published with
copious notes.

Immediately after he was arrested, Selden wrote the
following letter to Sir George Calvert, Principal Secretary
of State.

" Most honoured Sir,

" This most unlooked for imprisonment which I now
suffer (but why, on my soul I cannot guess), falls in a
time, when I have divers businesses of private men in my
hands and under my direction. The warrant of my
commitment is somewhat rigorous.

" My humble suit to your honour is, that through your
favour, I may have granted me so much liberty here, as
that I may have speech with my friends upon such kinds
of business, openly, in the hearing of those gentlemen who
are trusted with me. And I profess it on the hope of


my salvation, that there is not a secret (that hath, or can
possibly have any reference to the public) touching which
I desire either to hear or tell anything from or to any
person living. So clear is my breast. And, I beseech
your honour, let me be dispatched in the making it
appear. So I humbly beseech you also, that my papers
(which are the labours of many hours, and a great part of
the furniture of my study in my profession, among which
there is nothing that was written for secret) may be safe.
Let me obtain these suits now, and my liberty once had,
(which I know I never deserved to lose) shall express me,
" Humbly at your honour's service,

"J. Selden."

''June 18, 1621.
" From Mr. Sheriff Ducie, his house*."

The Lord Keeper Williams pleaded for the favourite
Buckingham's interest in behalf of Selden. Having
asked a similar favour for the Earl of Southampton, who
had been committed to his custody, he added, in the same

** Poor Mr. Selden flies to the same Altar of Mercy,
and humbly petitioneth your Lordship's mediation and
furtherance. He and the world, take knowledge of that
favour your Lordship hath ever afforded my motions and
myself without the motion of any, and so draweth me
along to entreat for him. The which I more boldly do,

* Harl. MSS. 286, pi. 67 c.

102 MEMO Ills OF

because by his letter enclosed, he hath utterly denied,
that ever he gave the least approbation of that power
of judicature lately usurped by the House of Commons.
My Lord, the man hath excellent parts, which may be
diverted from an affectation of applause of idle people, to
do some good and useful service to his majesty *.'*

Either the interest made in his favour prevailed, or it
was found there was not a cause of detention sufficient,
even to satisfy the Court, though willing to punish, and
consequently Selden's confinement was of no very long
duration. He was committed to the Sheriff's custody on
the 16th of June, and was liberated on the 18th of July t.

Previously to his liberation, he was, together with the
Earl of Southampton, the Earl of Oxford, and Sir Edwin
Sandys, examined before the Privy Council. There is a
narrative of this examination among the Harleian Manu-
scripts. Only one question is stated as being put to
Selden, and to that no reply is mentioned. It was, " Do
you not wish that the House of Commons had power of
Judicature t? " Another question proposed to him was,
"What power has the Parliament without the King§?'*
To these queries, it appears, he was prevented replying
by his friend Bishop Andrews, who justly regarded them
as captious questions.

* Hacket's Memoir of L. K. Williams, 69.
f Camden's Annal. Appar. Jacobi I. 72, 73.
X Harl. MSS. 161, pi. 33 e. p. 35.
§ Opera Omnia, ii. 443.


The usurpation of the power of judicature by the
House of Commons, alluded to in the above examination,
and in the Lord Keeper's letter, was in the case of a Mr.
Edward Lloyde, who had spoken disrespectfully of the
Princess Palatine. They had examined witnesses against
him, imprisoned, and finally sentenced him to the pillory,
and a fine of one thousand pounds. To these proceedings
the House of Lords objected, as an infringement of their
privileges ; correctly and effectually insisting, " that the
House of Commons have no power of judicature, and no
coercion against any, but in matters concerning their own
house *."

Whatever may have been the colourable plea urged by
King James and his Ministers, for infringing upon the
liberty, and marking their displeasure of Selden, it is very
certain that the gravamen of his offence with them was
his advocating the cause of the people, and his firmly
expressed opinions in opposition to their grievances and
the infringement of their liberties.

With regard to the charges which are implied by the
queries addressed to him, even supposing them to be
supported by truth, they inculpated him of no more than
the entertaining of an erroneous opinion ; to punish for
which, is a parallel specimen to that other absurd effort
of tyranny, of which the fitting parent was Henry the
Eighth, commanding, that no one should presume to

* Parliament Hist. v. 427—435.


think that his marriage with Anne of Cleves was valid.
Selden, as the Lord Keejier stated, in his letter to Buck-
ingham, condemned the assumption of judicature by the
House of Commons, and in an Essay on The Judicature
of Parliament, which he wrote about this time, though it
was not published until 1681, he expressly states that
the Commons have no judicial voice over the subject

The Lord Keeper hints, in the same letter, that Selden
might be "diverted" from the popular party ; a sugges-
tion that is degrading only to its author. Selden had
given no cause for a surmise that he was venal, and in
the course of a long political life, he showed by his con-
sistent course, though courted by the opposite extremes of
party, that neither dignities or emoluments could tempt
him to become a partisan ; for he rejected all such offers,
and died as he had lived, the friend of moderate liberty
as insured by a restricted monarchy.

The high estimation which was entertained of Selden's
legal and antiquarian knowledge is attested by the fact,
that the House of Peers, by special application in 1621,
induced him to compose a work, in which was collected
the authorities relating to The Privileges of tJie Baron-
age of England*. This other example of his learning
and industry was not published until 1642. It contains
a great body of precedents, relating to them collectively
as a branch of the legislature, and as individual barons.

* Opera Omnia, iii. 1474.


Selden had now retired to his most cherished mode of
life, — the quiet inquiry after the knowledge and customs
of preceding ages, upon any particular point of which,
no man was so capable of concentrating information, for
none had such a general yet deep knowledge of the
authorities in which it is contained. In 162'3, he pub-
lished Eadmer's Historice Novorum, sive sui seculi, lihr
sex. Upon this previously unprinted chronicle, we have
seen that Selden was engaged whilst in the custody of the
Sheriff; and although various other works, requiring varied
and voluminous references, had engaged his attention
during the intervening two years, yet his notes to this
History show no mark of neglect, or of hasty editorship.
They are replete with curious legal and historical infor-
mation, especially relative to the period concerning which
Eadmer wrote. Bale and Pits had confounded this
author with the Abbot of St. Albans, who bore a similar
name ; but Selden, in his preface, shows that they were
distinct persons.

The History embraces the public transactions from the
Norman Invasion to the twenty-second year of the reign
of Henry the First (1066 — 1122).

The literary retirement of Selden was soon disturbed,
for in the struggle between the people and their govern-
ment, he was again called upon to be active.

In the absence of a Parliament, James had recourse for
raising money to another Benevolence, or, as it was more
aptly termed at the time, another Malevolence. In the


order to each Sheriff, for raising it, there was again the
very significant sentence, significant in that era of High
Commission and Star Chamber citations, " if any person
shall, out of obstinacy or disaffection, refuse to contribute
herein, proportionably to their estates and means, you are
to certify their names to this the Council Board."

This extortion failed to replenish effectually the Royal
Exchequer, and the Committee of Peers, who sat once a
week at Whitehall to receive the petitions of the people,
was equally inefficient in satisfying the nation that its
grievances were noticed as attentively as they would be by
its representatives in Parliament*.

The people of England were not to be thus deceived,
and their discontent was so general and determined, that
as the Earl of Carlisle informed the king, some of the
members of the late parliament had been actually pro-
ceeded against, after its dissolution, for having voted
subsidies without a redress of grievances being previously
obtained. In the same letter of advice, this nobleman
recommended his majesty to summon a parliament ; to
strengthen his interest with the Protestant powers of the
continent; and to "cast off and remove all jealousies "
that he entertained of his people. " Your majesty," he
eloquently and wisely concludes, " must begin with the
last ; for upon that foundation you may afterwards set
what frame of building you please. And when should

* Rush worth, i. 61. Rymer's Public Acts, xvii. 452.


you begin, Sir, but at this overture of your parliament,
by a gracious, clear, and confident discovery of your
intentions to your people? Fear them not. Sir; never
was there a better king that had better subjects, if your
majesty would trust them. Let them but see that you
love them, and constantly rely upon their humble advice
and ready assistance, and your majesty will see, how they
will give you their hearts ; and, having them, your
majesty is sure of their hands and purses. Cast but
away some crumbs of your crown amongst them, and
your majesty will see those crumbs will work a miracle ; —
they will satisfy thousands. Give them assurance that
your heart was always at home, though your eyes were
abroad ; invite them to look forward, and not backward ;
and constantly maintain what with confidence you under-
take, and your majesty will find admirable effects of this
harmonious concord *."

James was at length compelled by his necessities
again to summon a parliament. In this, which met in
February, 1624, Selden sat as one of the representatives
of the borough of Lancaster. It does not appear whether
it was through some particular interest, by his own active
canvas, or owing to reputation for talents and independent
politics, that he obtained this national honour. Dr. Aikin
was probably right in concluding that " his being known
as an able supporter of popular rights, and as a sufferer

* Cabala, 198. Rushworth, i. 11.5.


in the cause, pointed liim out to the electors at a time
when the House of Commons was regarded as the great
barrier against the claims of regal prerogative, and
members were chosen rather for their public principles
than for their private connections.'*

The King's Speech at the opening of Parliament was
conformable to the advice given by the Earl of Carlisle,
and the conduct of both houses seems to have met with
his majesty's entire approbation, for he told them that
" this parliament would be crowned with the greatest
happiness that ever was held by a king */' Yet to this
parliament the king voluntarily allowed the previously
almost unthought of privilege of appointing the treasurers
and commissioners for managing the disbursement of the
money they had voted for the relief of the palatinate f-
They had also successfully impeached the lord treasurer ;
brought charges against the Bishop of Norwich ; and laid
restrictions upon impeachments and monopolies. These,
and other facts unnecessary to be here detailed, lead to the
conclusion, that now James was freed from the influence
of the Spanish court, and that Buckingham was not so
over-ruling a favourite as in former years, he would have
assumed less despotic measures, and have been, as in
private life, though impetuous and liable to sudden
impulse, eventually moderate and kind. However, these

* Parliament. Hist. vi. 4—339. f Rushworth, i. 130.


can be but speculations, for James died on the 27tli of
March, 1625.

Selden took no prominent part in the debates of this
session. It was one of unusual concord between all the
branches of the legislature, and therefore there were no
exciting subjects of debate, when even the apathetic are
roused to energy, and the inexperienced forget their
timidity. But one question was mooted, in which his
particular services as an authority were required.

This was the memorable election committee, of which
its chairman, Serjeant Glanville, published the Reports.
No committee was ever constituted of more distinguished
individuals than this. Besides Selden and Glanville,
among its members were Sir Edward Coke, Noy, Pym,
and Finch.

It was an opinion defended by James and others, who
desired to maintain the influence that such authority
afforded to the monarch, that as the writs for the sum-
moning a parliament issue from, and are returned into
the Court of Chancery, so the determination of the validity
of the returns to those writs is, and ought to be, part of
the jurisdiction of that court.

In those days the Lord Chancellor was invariably an
instrument of the court ; and the House of Commons duly
appreciated that if he had to decide the legal qualification
of the elected, he would be dangerously liable to lend his
opinion in favour of the claimant who was supported by
the court influence. This committee therefore laboured,


and succeeded in the effort, to establish the right of the
House of Commons, to determine all disputes relative
to the return of its own members. This is now the
undisputed practice, ratified by enactments of the legis-
lature ; but until this committee successfully terminated
its labours, and gained this bulwark of the independence
of the House of Commons, it was an undecided point of
contested jurisdiction.

The reports of this committee are luminous upon the
subject submitted to its consideration. The law of
elections was then entangled by contradictory decisions ;
and had never been submitted to a general rational exa-
mination. There was a host of prejudices against in-
fringing upon the power of the king and his judges to be
removed. Yet this committee surmounted every difficulty ;
and established not only the jurisdiction of the house over
the elections of its members, but also upon the basis of
the common law, that the right of election in boroughs is
in those who possess property within their precincts, and
is not founded upon the royal grant.

Selden's name occurs as being a member of several other
committees, and these duties, added to his literary pur-
suits, appear to have fully occupied his time; for he
refused to engage in the duties of reader of Lyon's Inn,
to which he was chosen by the benchers of the Inner
Temple. His refusal, and the consequent displeasure of
the benchers, is thus recorded in their Register :

" Whereas an order was made at the Bench Table this


term, since the last parliament*, and entered into the
Buttery-Book in these words : — Jovis, 21 Die Octobris,
1624. Memorandum, That whereas John Selden, Esq.
one of the utter barristers of this house, was, in Trinity
term last, chosen Reader of Lyon's Inn, by the gentlemen
of the same house, according to the order of their house,
which he then refused to take upon him and perform the
same, without some sufficient cause or good reason, not-
withstanding many courteous and fair persuasions and
admonitions by the masters of the bench made to him ;
for which cause he having been twice convented before
the masters of the bench, it was then ordered, that there
should be a ne recipiatur entered upon his name, which

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Online LibraryGeorge William JohnsonMemoirs of John Selden : and notices of the political contest during his time → online text (page 7 of 23)