Monopolies, a grievance that had previously been raised in 1571 and 1597-8, became a major talking point in Elizabeth’s final Parliament. The queen’s failure to fulfil her promise to expose all patents to the ‘tryall and true touchstone of the lawe’ produced a more cogent attack upon monopolies than had hitherto been attempted concerning any single issue in the earlier Parliaments of the reign.1 The proceedings were recorded in great detail by Hayward Townshend, whose private journal surpasses the surviving record of any previous assembly including his own diary of the 1597 Parliament. John Croke, Recorder of London, was appointed Speaker of the Lower House. In granting his customary request for freedom of speech, Elizabeth warned the Commons not to waste time on ‘ydle and vayne matter’, nor to indulge in ‘speeches made ffor contencion or contradiction sake’. She also instructed Lord Keeper Thomas Egerton to make clear in his opening oration her ‘desier of dissolucion before Christmas’; although there was a vast array of business on the agenda the session lasted only 42 working days.2
Egerton’s speech, relayed to the Commons by Sir Robert Cecil, set out the main reason for summoning Parliament: to replenish the queen’s coffers that had been bled dry by war in Ireland and the ongoing threat of Spanish invasion. News that Philip III of Spain had landed forces at Kinsale only a few weeks earlier added even greater urgency to the need for supply.3 A general committee was appointed at which on 7 Nov. Cecil declared that £300,000 must be raised before Easter; the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Fortescue therefore requested an unprecedented grant of four subsidies with eight fifteenths and tenths. This was debated before the Commons turned to consideration of grievances, despite the appointment of a committee for the latter on 3 November. The substance of the subsidy bill had been agreed by 9 Nov. with an unanimous vote that the first instalment should be collected by February 1602; following as it did upon grants of three subsidies in 1593 and again in 1597-8 this amounted to relatively steep annual taxation throughout the final decade of Elizabeth’s reign.4
No mention was made of monopolies until 18 Nov. when Lawrence Hyde produced a bill which he described as ‘an exposicion of the common lawe touchinge ... monopolyes’. Before this was read, however, a word from Cecil in the Speaker’s ear brought the day’s business to an abrupt end.5 Many Members in the days that followed prefaced complaints about abusive patentees by first expressing their fear of offending the queen. The courtier Sir Walter Ralegh, himself a monopolist of tin, was observed to blush and the ‘sharpe speeche’ he made in his own defence was met with silence.