Page images

without calling together the representatives of the people, the ministry found themselves under the necessity of assembling a third parliament in March, 1628; and as it was impossible by any stratagem to exclude Sir Edward Coke, he was now elected knight of the shire for the county of Bucks; in which capacity he contended most intrepidly for the redress of grievances of every description.

At length the five following gentlemen, whose names deserve to be for ever recorded with honour, Sir Thomas Darnel, Sir John Corbett, Sir Walter Earl, Sir John Heveningham, and Sir Edmuna Hampden, who had been imprisoned for refusing to pay some illegal contributions, determined at their own expense and peril to assert the liberty of the subject, and to demand their discharge not as a matter of favour (which some had foolishly done, by petition to the King) but as their right by the laws of the land. Their claim was agitated in the Court of King's Bench, where the Judges refused either to set them at liberty, or to accept unexceptionable bail; Heath, the Attorney General, requiring from the Court a general, judgement, “ that no bail could be granted upon a commitment by the King and Council.' But the Judges did not choose to carry their compliance to such an extremity. Upon this occasion, Sir Edward Coke distinguished himself in the House of Commons by an elaborate speech, in which he directed the whole force of his logic to prove, that “if Englishmen might be imprisoned at the will of the Monarch, then were they in worse case than bondmen or villains.' This he demonstrated by a chain of unanswerable arguments, both from reason and from law. He next entered upon a deep discussion of the principles of the constitution in point of personal liberty; and concluded by showing, that • no virtuous operations of state could be affected by leaving to subjects that jewel, which distinguishes not only freemen from slaves, but the living from the dead.'

In consequence of his spirited conduct, which had deterred the Judges indeed from entering the abovementioned general judgement, the House resolved, that

some new law should be enacted for the better securing of the rights and privileges of the people. Previously, however, to bringing in a bill for this purpose, it was thought proper to draw up a declaration of those rights and privileges, and to present it to the King, under the denomination of · THE PETITION OF RIGHT,' praying among other particulars,

1. That no loan or tax might be levied, but by consent of parliament;

2. That no man might be imprisoned, but by legal process;

3. That soldiers might not be quartered on people against their wills; and

4. That no commissions might be granted for executing martial law.

Sir Edward had a principal hand in framing this celebrated Petition, and in advising the Commons not to trust any longer to the King's evasive replies. In the course of the various debates upon the subject, he made the following manly remarks : “ Was it ever known, that general words were a sufficient satisfaction for particular grievances ? Was ever a verbal declaration of the King (esteemed to be) the word of the Sovereign? When grievances are complained of, the parliament is to re

dress them. Did ever the parliament rely on messages? They have ever put up petitions of their grievances : and the King has ever answered them. The King's message is very gracious; but what iš the law of the realm ? That is the question. I put no diffidence in his Majesty, but the King must speak by record, and in particulars. Did you ever know the King's message come into a bill of subsidies? All succeeding Kings will say, “Ye must trust me, as ye did my predecessor, and ye must have the same confidence in my messages. But messages of love never come into a parliament. Let us put up A PETITION OF RIGHT: not that I distrust the King; but that I cannot give trust, but in a parliamentary way.”

This Petition the King was extremely unwilling to pass into a law.

The Lords sent down propositions to the Commons, in which the prerogative was preserved, and the ministry were privileged to oppress the subject, under pretence of reasons of state. Sir Thomas Coventry, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, assured them that his Majesty had commanded him to let them know, that he held the statute of Magna Charta, and the other six statutes which had been insisted on, to be in full force, and that he would maintain all his subjects in the just freedom of their persons and safety of their estates; that he would govern them according to the laws and statutes of the realm ; and that they should find as much security in his Majesty's royal word and promise, as in the strength of any law they could make; so that, hereafter, they should have no cause to complain. But this did not suffice: the Commons inflexibly adhered to their resolution of having a public remedy, as there had been a public grievance ; upon which his Majesty not very graciously replied, that he was content a bill should be drawn for a confirmation of Magna Charta and the other six statutes, if they chose that as the best way, but so as it might be without additions, paraphrases, or explanations.? This bill, however, still met with delays; and the Commons were again urged by the Secretary to rely on the royal word. The King, likewise, addressed a letter to the House of Peers, in which he declared, 'that without the overthrow of the sovereignty, he could not suffer the power of commitment without showing cause to be impeached ;' upon which, the Lords expressed a wish to amend the bill, by adding a saving clause with respect to the sovereign power in extraordinary cases. But this was rejected; and the two Houses having in the end agreed, the PETITION OF RIGHT was read the first time on the second of June, 1628; and the King's answer was thus delivered to it: “ The King willeth, that right be done according to the laws and customs of the realm; and that the statutes be put in due execution, that his subjects may have no cause to complain of any wrong or oppressions, contrary to their just rights and liberties; to the preservation whereof he holds himself in conscience as well obliged, as of his prerogative.” This answer did not satisfy the Commons, who saw through the evasion ; and the King insisted, for some time, that'he would give no other.' At last, upon the petition of both Houses, he replied in the usual form, Soit droit fait comme il est desiré, · Let justice be done as it is desired;' and in this they, of course, acquiesced.

But, though Charles was thus constrained to give

on the

the royal assent to this important measure, he took care to show how displeasing the conduct of parliament had been: and in order to intercept any farther molestation from that quarter, he informed the Lower House, through their Speaker, Sir John Finch, that he had fixed a day for putting an end to their session, and therefore required that they should not enter upon any new business, or lay any aspersions

government or it's ministers. This produced a warm debate, in which Sir John Elliot with his accustomed freedom threw out some reflexions on the Duke of Buckingham; upon which the Speaker rose, and addressed him in these words : “ There is a command upon me, that I must command you not to proceed.” For some minutes a profound silence, the effect of astonishment, ensued: at length it was resolved, in a Committee of the whole House, to take into consideration what was to be done upon this extraordinary occasion; and it was ordered that no member should quit the house, on pain of being sent to the Tower. The Speaker however, desiring to withdraw, had leave so to do; and Mr. Whitby being in the chair, Sir Edward Coke for the last time stood forth an able champion in the cause of his country. The speech, which he then delivered, does honour to "his memory:

$ We have dealt with that daty and moderation that never was the like, rebus sic stantibus: after such a violation of the liberties of the subject, let us take this to heart. In the 30 Edward III., were they then in doubt in parliament to name men that misled the King ? They accused John de Gaunt the King's son, and Lord Latimer, and Lord Nevil for misad'vising the King; and they went to the Tower for it,

« PreviousContinue »