XIII. The Management of the Commons
Available from Cambridge University Press
Under the Tudors it was clearly understood that the right to manage the Commons, like the right of summons and dissolution, lay exclusively with the monarch. For this reason, the Speaker, who was expected to control the royal agenda, was chosen by the monarch rather than by the Commons, whose Members merely confirmed the Crown’s own nominee.1 A Speaker might, like Edward Coke in 1593, describe himself as ‘a servant to the House’, but in reality he was first and foremost the servant of the Crown.2
The Speaker was customarily supported by a team of privy councillors, who positioned themselves strategically around the chair. Indeed, those councillors without peerages were normally expected to find seats. However, no matter how numerous they were or how skilful they may have been as parliamentary managers, the councillors in the Commons were always too few to control business. Consequently, under Elizabeth they often called upon the assistance of a network of friends, kinsmen and fellow officeholders with seats in the House. The members of this network, dubbed by Elizabethan scholars ‘men-of-business’, have been described as ‘the key to top-down management of the Elizabethan House of Commons’, though they did not constitute a formal organization or party.3
Sir Francis Bacon, a veteran of seven Elizabethan parliaments, was in little doubt that this system had served the late queen well. Parliaments under Elizabeth had been ‘so well settled and disposed’, he wrote, that whenever the queen had demanded something ‘it was seldom denied’, and whenever she had laid claim to something it was ‘never inquired’ into.4 Any Member who tried to pursue his own agenda contrary to the queen’s wishes was unlikely to succeed. When James Morice introduced two bills in 1593 criticizing the ex officio oath and Whitgift’s articles, his measures not only went unread, but he himself was placed under house arrest until the end of the session.5
To some degree the view that Elizabethan parliaments were invariably well managed reflects the Gloriana myth that grew up after the queen’s death. Neale concluded that the Crown lost control of the Commons in the 1584/5 Parliament, while Graves has maintained that the 1601 assembly ‘was not a well managed Parliament’.6 In 1597-8 the Commons simply ignored the queen’s instruction, conveyed to the House by the lord keeper at the beginning of the Parliament, to spend part of its time codifying existing law.7 Though the parliaments of the 1560s and 1570s were well handled to the extent that they did not ‘raise needless trouble’, as Elton put it,8 the Council found it increasingly difficult to manage the Commons during the last two decades of Elizabeth’s reign. In 1587, for example, the Council proved unable to prevent Peter Wentworth from challenging the Crown’s right to control the House’s business.9 In part this was because the Commons had become larger and busier, but mainly it was because most of the Council’s experienced parliamentary managers died between 1586 and 1601, chief among them Lord Treasurer Burghley. A sharp decline in the size of the Council – from eighteen to thirteen over the course of the reign – also played its part, for as the Council got smaller and more aristocratic, fewer of its members sat in the Commons. In 1589 eight councillors held seats, but in 1601 that number had fallen to five (and in 1593 there were just three). This reduction might have mattered less had the Council still been able to rely upon men-of-business, whose strength lay in the fact that they were not reliant on the Crown for their standing in the House. However, during the 1580s and 1590s these figures virtually disappeared, to be replaced by a raft of ambitious common lawyers. Consequently, by 1601 not only was the Council’s presence in the Commons alarmingly small but its men-of-business, such as the solicitor general, Sir Thomas Fleming, were so obviously official spokesmen that their views carried little weight with most of their colleagues. The late Elizabethan Council was thus, according to Graves, ‘in danger of isolating itself from popular and aggrieved opinion in the lower House’.10
However, the extent of the Council’s managerial difficulties towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign should not be exaggerated. Despite their dwindling numbers, the Crown’s spokesmen in 1601 performed remarkably well. In addition to stifling the widespread hostility towards grants of monopoly, they secured for the queen the largest grant of subsidies of her reign, in spite of the economic hardship of the previous decade.11 When James VI of Scotland ascended the throne of England in 1603, the Crown had not yet lost the ability to manage the House of Commons.
The parliamentary assumptions of James I
Neither by training nor temperament was the new king well equipped to handle the Commons. Although he learned a great deal about English affairs in the years leading up to Elizabeth’s death as a result of his correspondence with both the queen and Robert Cecil, James had never before visited England.12 Nowhere was his unfamiliarity with his new realm more apparent than in regard to its Parliament. In Scotland James had been used to two representative bodies, both of which had been relatively easy for him to dominate. The first was a unicameral Parliament consisting of about 200 members (and often far fewer), whose affairs were run by an agenda committee to which the king appointed members of the Scottish Privy Council (‘the lords of the articles’). James himself attended this committee, and often spoke. The second was the convention of estates which, though it sometimes succeeded in resisting the king’s will, has been described as being ‘on some occasions little more than an enlarged Privy Council’.13 The English Parliament, by contrast, was entirely alien to James, who not only ignored this fact but also angrily reminded the Commons in 1607 that he was ‘the eldest Parliament man in Scotland’, having sat ‘in more parliaments than any of my predecessors’.14
In the first place England’s Parliament – the largest representative institution in Europe – was far bigger than Scotland’s. Indeed, in March 1604 the House of Commons alone was composed of 478 Members. The size of the Westminster Parliament presented the Crown with formidable problems of management, but publicly James alluded only to the difficulty this gave the Commons. ‘It is not possible’, he told the House in May 1614, ‘but you must in such a multitude be divided in opinion how to deal and proceed with me’.15 Privately, however, James remarked to the Spanish ambassador that he envied the king of Spain, as ‘the Cortes of Castile were composed of little more than thirty persons’, whereas the Commons was ‘made up of little less than five hundred’, who lacked a head and voted ‘without order, nothing being heard but cries, shouts and confusion’.16
One of the key differences between the English and Scottish parliaments was their attitude to free speech. In Scotland views regarded as unwelcome by the Crown were easily stifled, not everyone was entitled to participate in debate and ‘business did not wait upon the discussion of grievances and principle’.17 In England, by contrast, any Member might speak, and the Commons jealously guarded its right to debate freely, for without this privilege it would have been unable to perform one of its core functions – that of providing the king with faithful counsel. The advantages of this system had been well understood by previous monarchs, although it undeniably had several drawbacks. Among the most considerable was that in any Parliament there was invariably a hardcore of troublemakers, most of whom, prior to the erection of the Commons’ gallery in 1621, tended to cluster together in a corner near the door.18
There can be little doubt about which of these two parliamentary systems – the English and the Scottish – James preferred. Following Sir Christopher Pigott’s violent outburst against the Scots in February 1607, an angry James drew the Commons’ attention to the practice of the Scottish Parliament, where Members ‘must not speak without the lord chancellor’s leave; and if any man speak seditious or uncomely speeches, he is straight interrupted and silenced by the chancellor’s authority’. By contrast, in the English House of Commons, he complained, any Member enjoyed the liberty ‘to speak what he list, and as long as he list’.19 It came as a profound shock to James that the Commons not only subjected his proposals to minute scrutiny but was also prepared to reject them. In July 1604, at the end of a bruising opening session, he declared with unconcealed incredulity that
In my government by-past of Scotland (where I ruled amongst men not of the best temper) I was heard not only as a king, but, suppose I say it, as a counsellor. Contrary, here nothing but curiosity from morning to evening to find fault with my propositions. There, all things warranted that come from me; here all things suspected ...20
Far from challenging and questioning his every wish, James expected the Commons to acquiesce in his demands, but instead, as he found during the Union debates of 1604, the majority of Members were ‘transported with the curiosity of a few giddy heads’.21 At the very least he expected his proposals to be treated with courtesy. The lower House naturally denied behaving in a disrespectful fashion, but its repeated failure to show him civility or reverence was one of James’s most frequent refrains over the coming months and years.22
Just as shocking for James as the Commons’ rude and uncooperative behaviour was the independent-minded nature of many of its Members. Even the friends, clients and kinsmen of privy councillors could not necessarily be relied on for their support. This was made apparent as early as April 1604, during the Buckinghamshire election dispute. Francis Moore, Ellesmere’s unofficial spokesman in the Commons, opposed the right of Chancery to adjudge election returns even though he owed his legal preferment to the lord chancellor, to whom he may have been distantly related.23 Likewise, Cecil’s first cousin Sir Robert Wingfield, who represented the Cecil-controlled borough of Stamford, not only launched a fierce defence of Sir Francis Goodwin’s election but also declared that the king was ‘seduced by ill counsel’ and had ‘many misinformers’, whom he prayed God would ‘cut ... off’.24
The degree to which many Members were not amenable to conciliar control was something that James, inexperienced as he was in English parliaments, found difficult to grasp. To him it was axiomatic that clients ought to be politically subservient to their patrons, and he often upbraided Cecil for his inability to control his kinsman Henry Yelverton, who between 1604 and 1607 caused considerable trouble in the Commons. Cecil was obliged to explain that ‘I have no such interest in Mr. Yelverton as to think to lead him, he stands so even on his own grounds’. On the contrary, Yelverton ‘lays such sure foundations, and so prosecutes them with such strength, as he is liker to draw me than I remove him’.25
Cecil’s admission was not so much a confession of weakness as a statement of political reality, but it was lost on James, who suspected from the outset that his chief minister was giving tacit support to leading troublemakers in the Commons. These suspicions were not without some justification. On 26 April 1604, the day on which Sir Edwin Sandys delivered his devastating criticism of the Union, the French ambassador reported that those in the Commons most opposed to the Union were secretly receiving comfort and assistance from members of the Council.26 Cecil was naturally unable to disavow the Union publicly, but after the judges pronounced that the Commons had been correct to assert that the Union would extinguish the Common Law of England, he revealingly told the Scottish secretary of state that the ruling was ‘a very good stop to the work so much desired of [by] His Majesty’.27 The view that the Council, most of whose members had seats in the Lords, were playing a double game at the expense of the Commons was certainly held by the Nottinghamshire knight Sir John Holles, who declared that the Lords had ‘made their profit of us from the first day of this assembly’. Whereas the Commons had opposed the Union ‘like countrymen, plainly’, the Lords, he protested, had acted ‘more covertly’ so as to preserve their standing in the eyes of the king. Consequently, the Commons had ‘fried in the furnace of the king’s displeasure’, while the Lords had continued to bask in the royal sun.28
The expectation that English parliaments would prove as compliant as their Scottish counterparts was one of several mistaken assumptions with which James ascended the English throne. Another was that James expected his English subjects to share his view, expressed in print in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies of 1598, that monarchies predated parliaments.29 The belief that kings were older than parliaments was of more than merely antiquarian interest, for if parliaments post-dated monarchies then it followed that they owed their liberties to the king rather than to law or custom. Unless the English Parliament was prepared to be reduced to a mere cipher, this was not a view that its Members could readily endorse. However, the belief that kings existed before parliaments was fundamental to James’s view of monarchy, and in January 1621 he dismissed as foolish those who thought differently from him.30 When the Commons directly challenged this belief in December 1621 by claiming that it held its liberties by right, James reacted violently, accusing its Members of behaving in an ‘anti-monarchical’ fashion.31
Since he held that parliaments owed their existence to the king, James was inclined to believe that kings resorted to parliaments out of convenience rather than necessity. From this it followed that, were parliaments to prove troublesome or obstructive, they might be dispensed with, despite legislation enacted in the fourteenth century guaranteeing their summons every year. James expressed this view most clearly in May 1610, at the height of the impositions debate, when he declared that:
Many things I may do without Parliament, which I will do in Parliament, for good kings are helped by Parliament not for power but for convenience … But … be not misled that the more wayward you shall be I shall be the more unwilling to call you to Parliament, for such behaviour will make me call you the seldomer to council. If a great action of war were in hand, would not I be glad of your advice in it, yet you know I can do it without you.32
This outlook goes a long way towards explaining James’s determination to rule without parliaments for as long as possible after 1610.33
Another of James’s assumptions, and one which followed logically from the premise that parliaments existed for reasons of convenience rather than necessity, was that the king was entitled to levy taxes without reference to Parliament. Many Englishmen, however, were deeply wedded to the principle that taxation required the consent of the subject in Parliament, and were shocked that James, being a Scot, did not share their constitutional outlook. Nicholas Fuller undoubtedly spoke for many in May 1610 when he remarked that ‘though the king were in truth very wise yet is he a stranger to this government. … The king speaks of France and Spain what they may do; I pray ... let him know what by the laws of England he may do’.34
These fundamental differences between the king and his English subjects might have remained confined to the realm of theory had James proved capable of managing his finances. However, James’s notorious prodigality, coupled with underlying weaknesses in the Crown’s financial base, meant that, within two or three years of ascending the throne, he was obliged to raise regular extra-parliamentary taxation in the form of impositions. These were additional duties on luxury imports, and although a few were in existence from the middle of the sixteenth century, their scope was greatly increased after 1605 by Salisbury and Lord Treasurer Dorset, both of whom were desperate to plug the deficit in the Crown’s finances caused primarily by James’s fecklessness. The Commons was appalled, particularly after the king’s right to levy impositions was upheld by the judges in Bate’s Case (1606). Were a monarch to be capable of raising taxes without consent, there would soon be little need for further parliaments. As James Whitelocke reportedly remarked in July 1610, ‘if this power of imposing were quietly settled in our kings, considering what is the greatest use they make of assembling of parliaments, which is the supply of money, I do not see any likelihood to hope for often meetings in that kind, because they would provide themselves by that other means’.35 By 1610 James had, by his conduct outside Parliament, so mismanaged the first meeting of his reign that he had called the future existence of parliaments into question.
Since James was, as he himself later confessed, ‘an apprentice’ in English affairs, a monarch who ‘knew not the laws and customs of this land’, prudence dictated that, initially at least, he would rely upon his Council for advice regarding the handling of Parliament. Both at the time and in later years, James was keen to foster the impression that, in respect of Parliament, as in other matters, his ministers had guided him, often very poorly. At the start of the 1621 Parliament, as in 1614, he protested to the Commons that at his ‘first coming’, when he ‘knew not the laws and customs of this land’, he had been ‘led by the old councillors that I found, which the old queen had left’.36 In 1614 he also publicly blamed the late earl of Salisbury for introducing impositions ‘without my consent and knowledge’, before proceeding to accuse his existing councillors of ‘forgetfulness’ and lack of diligence in neglecting to bring before the Commons some important items of legislation.37 As early as April 1604 James told the French ambassador that he had been badly advised over the Buckinghamshire election dispute. Whereas the Commons regarded the dispute as ‘an usual controversy between courts about their pre-eminences and privileges’, as the authors of the Form of Apology and Satisfaction subsequently pointed out, James was mistakenly encouraged to believe by his Council that his honour was at stake.38 In March 1607 the Venetian ambassador reported that James had cast the blame for the Commons’ opposition to the Union on his advisers, who, in ‘representing the achievement of the Union as an easy affair’, had ‘committed him to a labyrinth in which his honour is involved’.39
James’s belief that his Council misled him, particularly during the early years of his reign, was not without some justification, but it should not be taken wholly at face value.40 Blaming the Council served to insulate James from criticism and was far from being the whole story. Councillors who wished to remain in favour soon learned that it was unwise to tender advice known to run counter to the king’s own wishes.41 While James undoubtedly looked to the Council for advice, from the outset of his reign he took a hand in managing the English Parliament himself. In 1604, for instance, he conspicuously broke with convention by delivering in person the customary oration to both Houses, in which he set out in detail his case for a Union between England and Scotland. Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, who as lord keeper had performed the task of delivering the oration in both 1597 and 1601, was relegated to giving a short speech requiring the Commons to choose its Speaker.42 Thereafter, far from remaining on the sidelines, as Elizabeth had generally done, James frequently involved himself in the Commons’ affairs. In April 1604, for example, without any apparent thought for the independence of the lower House, James sought to compel the Commons to confer with the judges over the Buckinghamshire dispute and with Convocation in respect of church reform. In so doing James believed he was being helpful, but the Commons reacted to his command ‘as an absolute king’ to confer with the judges with ‘amazement and silence’, and to his instruction to confer with Convocation with a blunt refusal.43
Aside from causing irritation by frequent and often ill-judged interventions, James was apt to bore the Commons with long-winded speeches, as he himself confessed. These ‘tedious discourses’ – often delivered with a smile that suggested insincerity – were also frequently counter-productive. At the opening of the 1621 Parliament, James declared that in earlier sessions many in the Commons, ‘through a spice of envy’, had ‘made all my speech heretofore turn like spittle against the wind upon mine own face and contrary to my expectation’.44 It is not necessary to hunt far for examples of what James meant by this. In 1604 James had told the Commons that it was better to ensure that existing good laws were carried out rather than enact new laws, but in 1607 he reacted with horror when the lower House, taking him at his word, made it clear that it intended to petition him to enforce the laws against Jesuits, seminary priests and recusants.45
Perhaps the most striking illustration of the Commons’ tendency to throw James’s words back in his face is to be found in the Union debates of 1607. On 31 March, as Parliament was about to rise for Easter, James attempted to reassure the doubters in the Commons while at the same time rebutting in detail many of the arguments employed by the leading opponents of the Union.46 It was in many respects an accomplished speech, for as the Venetian ambassador observed, James ‘very wisely flattered the small fry with soft words’ while at the same time showing ‘his displeasure in vigorous terms against some of the great, who were seducing the others to oppose his will’.47 However, during the course of his address James, who had been forced to shelve his plans for a full statutory Union after the 1604 session in favour of more modest proposals, made the fatal mistake of declaring that ‘every honest man desireth a perfect Union’.48 When Parliament reassembled after Easter, Sir Edwin Sandys, one of the chief opponents of the Union, seized upon these words to argue disingenuously that the Commons should now work to bring about a fuller merger of the two kingdoms as James had originally intended. James was incensed, and told the Commons on 2 May that ‘I understand that some have interpreted my words as expressing a desire and proposition for a perfect Union’. Though he certainly desired ‘an absolute and full Union’, he no longer required a perfect Union, which he knew from past experience was not acceptable.49 However, the damage was now done, and James himself had inadvertently handed Sandys the ammunition with which to kill off the Union.
While careless utterances and lengthy speeches helped to make James his own worst enemy, so too did ignorance. James initially failed to appreciate the extent of English hostility towards the Scots or the legal complexities involved in merging his two kingdoms. As early as April 1604 he expressed astonishment, through Bacon, that the Union had given rise to ‘so many discourses and disputes’. He had expected that it should have passed as easily as the Act recognizing his right to the English throne.50 Three years later he confessed to the Commons that
when I first propounded the Union, I then thought there could have been no more question of it than of your declaration and acknowledgement of my right unto this Crown; and that as two twins, they would have grown up together. The error was my mistaking: I knew mine own end, but not others’ fears.51
This extraordinary admission may partly be explained by the fact that James was ‘not learned in the laws of his realm of England’, as Sir Edward Coke pointed out in 1608.52 Nevertheless, even to Sir Robert Wingfield, whose study of the law was limited to a brief stint at one of the Inns of Court in his youth, it was obviously ‘impossible that so great a matter can be concluded without difficulty and hardness’.53
The Privy Council and the management of the Commons, 1604-1610
Following James’s accession it soon became apparent that reversing the decline in the number of councillors who sat in the Commons formed no part of the new king’s strategy for managing the lower House. In 1603 James conferred peerages on several members of the privy, most notably his chief minister Sir Robert Cecil, the treasurer of the Household Sir William Knollys and the comptroller of the Household Sir Edward Wotton, all of whom might otherwise have been eligible to sit. By the time elections were held early in 1604 only three councillors were capable of holding seats in the Commons. Of these, one – the vice-chamberlain of the Household, Sir John Stanhope – was a figure of only moderate importance while the other – Secretary of State Sir John Herbert – was a parliamentary nonentity. According to the Venetian ambassador, whose dispatches for this period are remarkably well informed, James considered that weak conciliar control of the Commons was vital to the success of the Union. By dispensing with the services of an ‘undertaker’ – by which the ambassador meant the principal member of the Council charged with laying ‘all matters before the House’ – James reasoned that he would earn the gratitude of the Commons, which would then embrace a statutory union of England and Scotland without demur. Furthermore, by reducing the emphasis on conciliar control of the Commons, James consciously rejected the methods of his predecessor, Elizabeth, whom he was never able to forgive for the execution of his mother.54
Shortly after the Parliament assembled, James weakened still further the Council’s presence in the Commons. The most experienced member of the trio of councillors elected to the lower House was the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Fortescue, whose return for Buckinghamshire was deemed invalid by the House. Asked by the Commons ‘to hear, moderate and judge the case himself’, James initially supported Fortescue against Chancery, which claimed the sole right to adjudge election returns itself. However, driven by the fear that unless he gave way the Commons would not consider let alone endorse the Union, he quickly capitulated.55 In so doing, James traded the most experienced councillor in the Commons for the goodwill of the lower House, and thereby inflicted a public defeat on his own Council, which had rallied to defend Fortescue.56 Had this goodwill been forthcoming, the sacrifice of Fortescue might have been worthwhile, but it soon became apparent that, while the Commons was indeed grateful for James’s support, it was resolutely opposed to the Union. Three weeks later, it was clear to the Venetian ambassador, if not to James himself, that conceding to the Commons greater control over its own affairs had been a dreadful mistake.57
There were now only two, largely ineffective, councillors in the Commons. This situation – without parallel under the Tudors – created the potentially dangerous impression that the new king held the Commons in contempt. It was a view that was certainly held by the veteran Member Sir Edward Hoby. As early as May 1604 Hoby pointedly told the Commons that it enjoyed the right to debate foreign policy ‘how slightly soever others may esteem of us’. Two years later he privately opined that ‘the State scorneth to have any privy councillors of any understanding in the House’.58 The impression that James regarded the lower House with contempt was exacerbated by the king’s occasional outbursts of anger. On 1 May 1604, after the judges sided with the Commons in respect of the Union, a furious James sent the lower House a handwritten letter in which he accused its Members of being motivated by ‘jealousy and distrust’ and of spitting in God’s face. Two months later, on proroguing the session, James declared that he was ‘not such a stock as to praise fools’ and told the Commons that it contained within its ranks ‘a roll of knavery’.59 On both of these occasions James’s anger was understandable, but Elizabeth had never resorted to such abuse, which was hardly calculated to make the Commons more amenable. Faced with this verbal assault, the Commons not surprisingly displayed an extreme sensitivity to its own standing. This is most readily apparent in the bitter complaints, found in the Form of Apology and Satisfaction of the Commons, directed at the warden of the Fleet, the bishop of Bristol and the lesser clergy, all of whom were accused of having shown the Commons ‘extreme contempt’.60
Despite damaging the Commons’ sense of its own standing in the eyes of the king, the Council’s inadequate representation in the Commons did not necessarily pose an insuperable obstacle to the Crown’s successful management of the lower House. Although the two councillors with seats in the House were both relatively insubstantial figures, Stanhope at least proved useful in mustering support for the 1604 bill to confirm the Berwick property of Sir George Home, chancellor of the Exchequer and lord treasurer of Scotland.61 Moreover, both enjoyed the support of the solicitor general Sir Thomas Fleming, the queen’s attorney-general Sir Thomas Hitcham and the Crown lawyer Sir Francis Bacon, all of whom had Commons’ seats. Bacon at least was no parliamentary flyweight, and between 1604 and 1606 he effectively assumed the mantle of the Crown’s chief spokesman in the Commons, taking his instructions directly from either James or Cecil, who subsequently became earl of Salisbury.62 Although Fleming left the Commons in October 1604, his replacement as solicitor general – the Horsham Member John Doddridge – was a client of Cecil’s. In addition to these senior lawyers, the Crown naturally also looked for assistance to the Speaker, Sir Edward Phelips, a veteran of five Elizabethan parliaments and one of the Crown’s law officers himself.
Although these Crown servants were needed to support the two lone councillors in the Commons, it was also imperative for Cecil to guide proceedings from his seat in the Lords. At the beginning of the 1604 session this must have seemed to Cecil an entirely realistic objective. After all, more than thirty years earlier his own father, the queen’s chief minister, Sir William Cecil, had done precisely that by means of a network of men-of-business after being elevated to the peerage. Sure enough, within days of the opening of the new Parliament, it became clear that Cecil had adopted his father’s strategy. Through Sir Robert Wroth, a longstanding Cecil client, he signalled to the Commons that the king might be willing to abolish the unpopular feudal duty known as wardship in return for an annual cash payment. Over the next few months, Wroth acted ‘as the faithful and regularly briefed spokesman for Salisbury’s plans for wardship’.63 During the 1604 session Wroth may have been supported behind the scenes by Sir Edwin Sandys who, as late as the spring of 1601, considered himself one of Cecil’s confidants.64 In May 1604 Sandys apparently tried to link the abolition of purveyance with composition for wardship, a scheme that Cecil himself then favoured.65
By falling back on his father’s tried and trusted methods, Cecil appeared to be well able to manage a large part of the Commons’ business from the Lords. However, despite having formulated his plan to ask the Commons to compound for wardship as early as the summer of 1603, Cecil had failed to take the elementary precaution of sounding out the officers of the Court of Wards. By 24 May it was apparent not merely that the officers were implacably opposed to the scheme but that the Crown could not afford to compensate them for the loss of their offices. After checking the calculations himself, Cecil announced on 26 May, through his spokesman Wroth, that he was no longer in favour of composition, a change of tack that has not only been described as ‘staggering’ but which also created turmoil and resentment in the Commons, whose Members understandably felt that they had been led up the garden path. Sir John Holles was doubtless speaking for many when he declared that ‘it is bootless to endeavour good for the public when the ablest operators disavow us’.66
Cecil’s employment of Wroth to advance and then disown a scheme of which he himself was the author cast grave doubt on his ability to handle the Commons from his seat in the Lords. However, worse was yet to come, for from the middle of May Cecil and the rest of the Council were preoccupied in negotiating a formal end to the Elizabethan war with Spain. These negotiations inevitably kept Cecil from giving the Commons his full attention, and afforded James, who left the treaty with Spain to the Council,67 an opportunity to involve himself directly in parliamentary management, with unfortunate results.
The matter on which James chose to intervene was subsidies. Early in the session it was reported that James had resolved not to apply for subsidies unless he was sure that he would get them. However, after the Commons rejected his proposal for a statutory Union, James allowed himself to be persuaded ‘that it was a thing both honourable and reasonable’ for him to seek supply.68 It was, after all, customary for a new monarch to receive a subsidy in the first Parliament of his reign, and a tax grant would signify that the session had not been entirely unproductive. The fact that the Commons had not yet voted supply was raised on 26 May during a conference between both Houses, perhaps by Cecil in a clumsy attempt to divert attention away from the fact that he had just pulled the rug out from under the Commons’ feet over wardship. Consequently, on 2 June a motion to vote two subsidies was heard in the Commons only to be rebuffed, the matter being postponed ‘till the next session’.69
Despite this setback, Sir Francis Hastings, a veteran of seven parliaments and a hot Protestant, was instructed to sound out the mood of the Commons and to report back to the king. This instruction, and the fact that Hastings was not a Cecil client, indicates that James was now personally involved, and that it was he rather than Cecil who picked Hastings for this delicate task. Certainly James and Hastings were in contact, for during the previous month the committee for religion, of which Hastings was the chairman, had attended a series of meetings in the Council chamber, some of which James had attended in person.70 Although evidence is lacking, it seems likely that Hastings agreed to help James in return for an assurance that the articles relating to the rites and ceremonies of the Church contained in the new Canons then in preparation would not be enforced.71 Before Hastings could report back, however, James decamped to Greenwich, leaving Hastings to relay his findings in writing to Sir George Home, chancellor of the Exchequer. Hastings began by admitting that it was ‘a fault not to be excused’ to let the king ‘want our best supplies’, but he considered a request for subsidies untimely since the collection of the subsidies granted in 1601 was still incomplete. He also drew attention to ‘the poverty the country is generally grown into’ and the widespread expectation that peace with Spain would result in a lessening of the burden of taxation.72 Home seems to have forwarded Hastings’ letter to Cecil, as it now resides among the latter’s manuscripts.
Hastings’ advice was unequivocal, and ought to have persuaded James and Cecil to abandon any further thought of obtaining a grant of supply. Instead, one week later, Hastings, seconded by Cecil’s cousin Sir Edward Hoby, moved a vote of subsidies.73 During the ensuing debate Hastings and Hoby were supported by Secretary Herbert and Sir Francis Bacon, who declared that the Parliament should not end ‘like a Dutch feast, with salt meats, but like an English feast, in sweet meats’.74 Despite this carefully orchestrated appeal, the House refused to loosen its purse strings. John Hoskins pointedly declared that ‘we have no sheep that yields two fleeces in a year’, while Sir Richard Spencer condemned ‘subsidies in reversion’.75 In the aftermath of this failure, Hastings apologized to the Commons for his motion, while James sent a message to the House explaining that he had only decided to seek subsidies after learning that some Members had been ‘striving amongst themselves’ for the honour of being the first to propose a grant.76
The Commons’ rejection of the Crown’s request was a humiliating rebuff to James, whose predecessor Elizabeth had never been denied supply. As an object lesson in managerial failure it ranks alongside Cecil’s earlier mishandling of the issue of wardship. Had Cecil not then been distracted by the peace negotiations with Spain it might, perhaps, have been avoided, but as matters stood it was not until Parliament assembled for its second session that Cecil was in a position to give its affairs his full attention. Fortunately for the Crown he proved more sure-footed than he had in 1604.
One of Cecil’s first tasks, when the Commons reassembled in January 1606 after a brief meeting the previous November, was to seek legislation to prevent the king’s subjects from serving in the armed forces of Spain and her allies. Under the terms of the 1604 Treaty, Englishmen remained free to volunteer to enlist in the armies of either Spain or the United Provinces if they wished. Little thinking that Spain or her Flemish allies would benefit by this provision, Cecil and the Council had thereby hoped to maintain the flow of English recruits to the Dutch. However, to Cecil’s embarrassment, many English Catholics proved only too willing to take service with the Spanish forces in the Low Countries. Fortunately for him, the wave of anti-Catholic feeling generated by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, provided a golden opportunity to close the loophole in the 1604 peace treaty.
Initially at least, Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, may have intended to employ Wroth as his spokesman, but shortly after the Commons assembled Sir Robert died unexpectedly. Salisbury turned instead to his client Sir Christopher Parkins, and also to Sir Edwin Sandys. On 6 February Parkins, supported by Sandys, eloquently drew attention to the ‘seminary of martial men’ in the Spanish Netherlands. Those among the king’s subjects who served the archduke ‘did not aim at the Low Countries’, declared Parkins, ‘but intended all their purposes against England’. Parkins’ intervention, playing as it did on the fears aroused by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, was so well judged that later that session service in the armies of Spain and her allies was prohibited by statute.77
Four days after Parkins delivered his well-received speech, the Crown made a fresh attempt to secure supply. On 7 February Salisbury, hoping to exploit the general mood of relief at the narrow escape of the king and Parliament from destruction at the hands of the Gunpowder plotters,78 requested a ‘gratification’ from the Commons. Three days later Sir Thomas Ridgeway, brother-in-law to one of the two councillors in the Commons, Sir John Stanhope, initiated a debate on the subject. Ridgeway gave a detailed account of the Crown’s financial needs, for which he had obviously been briefed, and requested a grant of two subsidies and four fifteenths. His intervention was clearly carefully orchestrated, since his colleague on Anne of Denmark’s Council, Sir Maurice Berkeley, seconded his proposal for the establishment of a committee to draft a subsidy bill, as did the solicitor general, John Doddridge.79 Ridgeway, the senior knight for Devon, was a shrewd choice of spokesman, for despite his relationship with Stanhope he had impeccable credentials as an independent-minded Member, having supported John Hare’s radical bill for reforming purveyance in May 1604. He had a strong following in the Commons – Stanhope declared him to be ‘strong with his Devonshire crew’ – and it had been at his suggestion that the 1604 Form of Apology had been drafted.80 Ridgeway’s motion, despite privately drawing scorn from Sir Edward Hoby,81 succeeded in its immediate intention, as the House subsequently appointed a committee to draft a subsidy bill.
The size of grant agreed by the Commons represented quite a coup for Salisbury, since it was hard to justify a large vote of supply when England was no longer at war. Unfortunately, however, it soon became apparent that James remained dissatisfied. On 14 February Lord Treasurer Dorset, addressing the representatives of both Houses, implied that the proposed grant would be insufficient to restore the royal finances to health, since the king was in debt to the tune of £734,000. Consequently, Salisbury found himself in the awkward position of having to ask for an increase. This was a tall order, for by now many in the House were alert to James’s spendthrift habits. During the supply debate of 12 March, for example, Thomas Gawen queried whether it would ever be possible to fill the king’s coffers, ‘for if the bottoms be out then can they not be filled’, while John Hoskins declared that whatever they decided to give ‘we cannot give that [which] may suffice’.82 Moreover, many Members were unwilling to vote subsidies at all, as the Elizabethan war with Spain was now at an end and during time of peace kings had traditionally been expected to live of their own. Some were also angry that the king was refusing to abolish purveyance, which was deeply unpopular with their constituents and had recently been discovered by the Commons to be illegal. Salisbury hoped to ‘temper that particular grievance’ by putting forward a bill to punish those who abused the king’s right of purveyance for their own ends, but he could not agree to abolish purveyance itself as it was worth to the king £50,000 a year.83
It took all of Salisbury’s managerial skills to accomplish the king’s wishes. An initial attempt to persuade the Commons to grant an increase was spearheaded on 6 March by Ridgeway and Sir William Maurice, and supported the following day by Secretary Herbert. When this failed to bear fruit, the attorney of the Court of Wards, Sir Henry Hobart, was ordered to take charge. According to his own account, Hobart not only briefed the recorder of London, Sir Henry Montagu, but repeatedly pressed the House to consider the matter. Salisbury, however, seems to have been unconvinced that Hobart was trying hard enough, and despite the attorney’s protestations he had Sir Robert Hitcham present the Crown’s case on 14 March. Hobart nevertheless remained keen to lend a hand, and when Hitcham’s motion ran into a barrage of criticism he came to the rescue by setting out in detail the king’s financial position. Salisbury, meanwhile, concerned himself not only with senior figures in the Commons who might help, but also with some of the lesser fry, for behind the scenes he also enlisted the support of his kinsman, Sir Robert Drury, who sat for Suffolk. Drury’s support ultimately proved crucial, for when the House divided on 18 March over whether to increase the supply to be granted, Drury’s last-minute appearance in the chamber enabled those who favoured the motion to win the vote by the narrowest possible margin.84
The time and trouble taken by Salisbury to cultivate minor parliamentary figures like Drury demonstrates clearly that by 1606 the Crown was belatedly seeking to build up a body of supporters in the Commons. Before the start of the 1604 session the king, being a stranger to the English parliamentary system, had largely neglected the Crown’s electoral interests, and although it was the case that around ten per cent of the House were members of the royal Household this did not mean that the king had at his disposal a loyal body of followers in the Commons.85 By the summer of 1605 at the latest James had realized his mistake, and he and his ministers subsequently sought to fill vacancies caused by the death or ennoblement of sitting Members with men of their own choosing.86 Some of these attempts to find seats naturally came to nothing. In October 1605 Salisbury’s request for the right to nominate John Bowyer’s replacement at Newcastle-under-Lyme was rebuffed, as was his letter to the electors of Ludlow in support of John Leveson, the eldest son of one of his clients, in December 1609. However, many of Salisbury’s overtures certainly bore fruit. In October 1605 Sir William Waad was returned for West Looe, and in May 1606 Helston returned the Cecil client Robert Naunton. In November 1606 the borough of Wells elected Cecil’s servant Edward Forsett following the death of Sir Robert Stapleton. Forsett was one of only a handful of Englishmen who enthusiastically endorsed the Union, which he described in print as a reunion.87 Three months later the Privy Council clerk in extraordinary, John Corbet, was elected for Portsmouth, almost certainly at Salisbury’s request. In addition, Salisbury used his patronage to confer the position of attorney of the Court of Wards on Sir Henry Hobart, who was then sitting for Norwich. As a result, Hobart acted as a government spokesman in the second session, taking a leading role both in the Crown’s response to the threat posed by militant Catholicism in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot and (as has been seen) in the subsidy debates of March 1606. Sir John Fortescue, who now belatedly entered the Commons, joined Hobart as one of the Crown’s spokesmen in February 1606, increasing the number of councillors with seats there to three. However, plagued with ill health, Fortescue failed to make a major impact on proceedings and died in December 1607.
Both before and during the negotiations for the Great Contract, Salisbury made strenuous efforts to populate the Commons with as many of his friends, clients and relatives as possible, with the result that men like George Calvert, Sir Edward Conway and Sir Arthur Ingram entered the chamber in 1610.88 Furthermore, shortly before Parliament reconvened in February 1610, Salisbury’s supporters in the House were bolstered by the defection of Henry Yelverton, whose outspoken criticism of purveyors and hostility to the Scots during the Union debates of 1607 had enraged the king. Yelverton, an ambitious lawyer, had reached the conclusion that he was unlikely to secure preferment if he remained a stern critic of the government. Salisbury was naturally delighted at Yelverton’s change of heart, and declared that his kinsman would be able to do him ‘as good service as any man in the deck’.89
Undoubtedly the most important Member to join the Commons during the Contract negotiations was Sir Julius Caesar. In July 1607 Caesar was returned for the borough of Westminster, where Salisbury was high steward, following the ennoblement of the previous Member, Sir Thomas Knyvett. As well as being a welcome addition to the privy councillors in the Commons, Caesar was chancellor of the Exchequer, and as such was intimately familiar with Salisbury’s proposed Great Contract. Not surprisingly, during the spring session of 1610 Caesar served as the Crown’s chief spokesman in the Commons, where he vigorously pressed the case for the Contract. Caesar was the first of two privy councillors who joined the Commons in the latter stages of the Parliament. The second, Sir Thomas Parry, was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and was returned for St. Albans following a by-election in January 1610.
Although Salisbury strengthened the Crown’s position in the Commons between 1605 and 1610, his clients were too few to stem the avalanche of hostility towards the Union, nor was he able to prevent the Commons from formulating and presenting to the king enormous petitions of grievance in 1606 and 1610. Furthermore, despite securing the Commons’ agreement in principle in July 1610 to provide the king with £200,000 each year by way of ‘support’, Salisbury ultimately proved unable to muster the majority needed to persuade the Commons to endorse the Great Contract. For this latter failure James held Salisbury largely to blame, telling his chief minister after the dissolution that it had been Salisbury’s idea to summon Parliament in 1610 and Salisbury’s hope, not his, ‘to draw honey out of gall’.90 However, ultimate responsibility for the failure of the Contract lay with James himself, since many in the Commons saw no reason why they and their constituents should eliminate a debt caused exclusively, as they supposed, by the king’s improvidence. Over the autumn of 1609 Salisbury had done his best to persuade James of the need for frugality, but to no avail.91 It was, of course, true that James’s financial difficulties were not entirely of his own making, as his under-spending on essentials greatly exceeded his over-spending on inessentials.92 Besides, unlike Elizabeth, James had a family to support and a reputation to uphold, and as he himself pointed out in 1610, had he ‘spared any of those things which caused a great part of my expense, I should have dishonoured the kingdom’.93 However, by failing to curb his extravagance James made it impossible to avoid resorting to extra-parliamentary taxation, in the form of impositions. He thereby made a rod for his own back, for it was pointless for the Commons to vote the king supply if James retained the right to help himself to his subjects’ goods at will. If it is true that ‘James’s central failure was his failure to convince the House of Commons he needed as much as in fact he did’,94 then it is also true that the fault lay squarely with James himself.
In the dying days of the Parliament the king evidently despaired of Salisbury’s abilities as a parliamentary manager as he decided once more to take matters into his own hands. Desperate for supply, in mid-November he privately summoned thirty of the leading Members of the House to Whitehall in the hope of persuading them to use their influence with their colleagues.95 When this approach failed Salisbury was instructed, through Sir Thomas Lake, to ‘put the matter of supply to the question, preparing men as well as you can, and warning his servants and well-willers to be present on the day’.96 Salisbury lost no time, for the matter was raised in the Commons later the same day. However it was immediately obvious that, for a variety of reasons, there was little appetite for subsidies. John Hoskins declared that the king might solve his financial difficulties were he to live more frugally, before hinting, none too subtly, that those responsible for draining the Exchequer ‘as fast as we fill it’ were the king’s Scottish courtiers. Anthony Dyott agreed to vote supply, but only ‘so as we may have a law to restrain hereafter the king from imposing’. Nicholas Fuller, a passionate advocate of bills to reform the Church as well as an ardent opponent of impositions, declared that the House would have been happy to give liberally had its bills passed into law. ‘But without reformation of those things by us so earnestly and humbly sought’, he added, ‘we cannot give much to the supply spoken of, seeing we certainly know not what shall remain to ourselves after our gift’.97
On learning of the outcome of the debate James was incandescent with rage, for this was the second time that his demand for subsidies had been flatly refused. In a letter written by Lake two days later, Salisbury was reminded that James ‘hath now had patience with this assembly these seven years, and from them received more disgraces, censures and ignominies than ever prince did endure’. Even were the Commons to vote supply in a future session, James would not accept it were it to be offered with the same ‘taunts and disgraces’ to which he had been subjected, some of which ‘reach very near to the point of treason’.98
James was now convinced that the lower House, far from being amenable to royal control, had made itself ‘a confederacy and bulwark for the protection of all extravagant humours and conceits among the people’. Its repeated assaults on ‘his dignity, his sovereignty and all things that are near to a prince (his soul only excepted)’ mystified him, but he had begun to suspect the existence of a sinister purpose, that of ‘a desiring to lay the foundations of a popular state’.99 This suspicion was, of course, entirely groundless, though it resurfaced in November 1620, when James was heard to remark angrily that ‘his people are becoming too republicanizing’, and again in December 1621, when he accused the Commons of behaving in an ‘anti-monarchical’ manner.100 However, James was perhaps more prone to such fears than most, for it had been popular rebellion that had helped destroy the rule of both his grandmother and mother in Scotland.101 On the final day of 1610, after a last-ditch attempt behind the scenes mounted by ‘His Majesty’s party’ to muster support for supply, he dissolved the Parliament.102 Thereafter his energies were focussed on avoiding a further meeting rather than on trying to manage a new one.103
Undertakers, Sir Henry Neville and the Addled Parliament
In his belief that the Commons was a hot bed of anti-monarchical radicalism, James was encouraged by Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, who had himself suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Commons in 1604. In a paper prepared for the king shortly after the dissolution, Ellesmere complained that ‘the popular state, ever since the beginning of His Majesty’s gracious and sweet government, hath grown big and audacious’. In each successive session, he claimed, the ‘popular’ element within the Commons had ‘swelled more and more’, and if the king continued to give way to this group ‘it is to be doubted what the end will be’, for ‘grant wilful folly what it desireth, it will never be satisfied’. Instead of pursuing the king’s agenda, ‘which ought to have been first treated of’, the Commons had chosen to pursue ‘some men’s private devices’. Indeed, some Members had held private meetings at which they had ‘devised and set down special plots for the carrying of business in the House according to their own humour and drifts’. Six of the leading Members, he added, had even planned to sabotage the subsidy debate of July 1610.104
Despite James’s distaste for the English Parliament, the state of the Crown’s finances was so parlous that a fresh meeting in the near future could not be discounted. Shortly after the death of Salisbury in May 1612, James was urged to summon another Parliament by the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar, who concluded that it was impossible to eliminate the royal debt, which had now fallen to £500,000, except ‘by aid of Parliament’. In order to ensure that this new Parliament was more successful than the last, Caesar recommended that, before it met, the king and his Council should ‘remember the defects hindering the good success of the last Parliament’ and ‘amend them in substance or manner of proceeding’. To help them in this task, he added, they should seek ‘the advice of some besides ourselves who are like to be principal members of that House [of Commons]’.105
As a result of Caesar’s suggestion, two months later James turned to Sir Henry Neville, who had been lobbying to manage the Commons on behalf of the king as early as October 1611, ‘to know his opinion in [sic] Parliament’.106 Neville, a disgraced former diplomat whose hopes of further office had been thwarted by Salisbury, had been one of the ‘thirty doges’ summoned by James to Whitehall in November 1610, and he believed that he could succeed where Salisbury had failed. Following this meeting, Neville set down in writing, at James’s behest, a blueprint for the future management of the Commons. Entitled ‘An Advice Touching the Holding of a Parliament’, its most important recommendation was that James should deal directly with the Commons, which should be required to nominate ‘thirty or forty or fewer’ of their Members to treat with James in person. Such an arrangement would ‘much expedite the business, avoid jealousies and give good satisfaction to the most when they shall see that the king shall understand their desires immediately from themselves without any interposition or danger of misinterpretation’.107
Neville’s assumption that the problems that had beset the first Jacobean Parliament could be avoided if only James became more closely involved in the affairs of the Commons took no account of the fact that many of the difficulties encountered by the king in 1604 had actually stemmed from James’s attempts to manage the Commons in person. Moreover, despite Neville’s assurance that his scheme would ‘avoid jealousies’, the Commons was unlikely to relish allowing only a handful of its Members access to the king. Those selected, rather than the House in general, would naturally gain the credit for anything done by the Commons at the request of the king. Moreover, their privileged status would threaten the right of the Commons to consider its affairs in private, since James would inevitably discover from these chosen Members the details of every important debate. As William Hakewill observed in November 1610, were James to send for twenty or thirty Members at a time to ‘know the opinion of the whole House’ it would be ‘a great infringing of our privileges’.108 Any attempt to create an exclusive body with privileged access to the king would also undermine the principle that all Members were equal. This point was clearly spelled out in April 1614 by the Maldon Member Sir John Sammes, who remarked that ‘no man ought here to be of the quorum’.109
Despite these obvious objections, Neville, desperate to be appointed to the vacant position of secretary of state, carefully tailored his advice to suit James’s preferred method for managing the Commons. This preference, which owed much to James’s Scottish background and experience, had been made clear to Neville and the rest of the Commons in May 1610. Then, at the height of the crisis over impositions, the king had most unusually dined a delegation of Members sent to him at Greenwich, and then invited the lower House to send him groups of ten or twelve Members to consult him informally from time to time.110 Six months later, following the collapse of the Great Contract, James had also, as has been mentioned, privately summoned thirty Members to Whitehall – among them Neville – to discover for himself whether something might be salvaged from the wreckage.111 This had provoked howls of protest from the Commons, but Ellesmere at least considered that James had been acting well within his rights as he was ‘head of that Council’.112 The events of 1604-7, far from persuading him to remain in the background, had convinced James that he needed to become more personally involved in the affairs of the Commons. During one angry moment in 1608, James even told the judges that he was quite entitled to sit in Parliament like his medieval predecessors (and, he might have added, as he had been accustomed to doing in Scotland) and that, were he to revive this practice, he would ‘be the better respected’ by the Commons.113
Neville tried to add weight to his ‘Advice’ by claiming that it reflected the views of many of the leading Members of the previous Parliament, with whom he had ‘conversed inwardly’. He also pointed out that, since the dissolution of the previous Parliament, he had remained in contact with many of the leading lights in the Commons. This was something which James knew to be true, since in June 1612, after observing that many of the former leading Members of the Commons were flocking to Neville thinking that he would soon be promoted, he declared he would not have a secretary of state foisted upon him by Parliament.114 As a result of these private consultations, which may have involved as many as eighty former Members of the Commons,115 Neville compiled a ‘Memorial’ to accompany his ‘Advice’ containing a list of those things ‘that will be demanded or expected by the Parliament in the behalf of the people’. This list dealt mainly with such matters as the exaction of unwarranted fees by Exchequer officials, grievances which would, if remedied, cost the king little by way of lost revenue and leave his prerogative powers intact.116 It was a list that, despite Neville’s distaste for the methods employed by the late lord treasurer, was also based heavily upon the bills of grace offered by Salisbury in 1610 as a sweetener during the negotiations for the Great Contract. Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of how to head off discussion of the king’s right to levy impositions, even though it was all but inevitable that the legality of these duties would again be challenged once Parliament met. However, as Neville later confessed to Sir Edwin Sandys, the problem posed by impositions ‘was of that difficulty as he could not tell how to include it’.117
Following the presentation of the ‘Advice’ and ‘Memorial’, Neville was granted a second interview with the king lasting two hours. At this fresh meeting, held in September 1612, Neville received ‘good approbation in the most of his advices, and by conference made good the rest’.118 However, shortly thereafter, James’s willingness to countenance a new Parliament evaporated as he focussed instead on securing from France a large dowry for Prince Charles. It was not until February 1614, when his alternative strategy to a Parliament appeared to collapse, that James reluctantly resolved to call a fresh assembly.119
In deciding to summon another Parliament, James had taken the advice of his Council, most of whose members were adamantly opposed to a French marriage for the prince. Those councillors most keenly in favour of a Parliament – the earls of Suffolk and Pembroke – calculated that, were the Parliament to vote substantial supply, James might be persuaded to shelve his plans for a French Match. However, it was clear that if the Commons were to be induced to loosen its purse-strings it would need careful management. Since both Suffolk and Pembroke had scant experience of the Commons, having never sat in the lower House themselves, they not surprisingly turned to Neville, who demanded as the price of his support the office of secretary of state. Attaining this position would not only enable Neville to realize a long-cherished ambition but would also mean that, once in the Commons, he would be well placed to steer the business of the lower House on behalf of the Crown. Suffolk, though, was unwilling to disappoint his own client, Sir Thomas Lake, who wished to secure the secretary’s seals of office for himself. Rather than let Neville know this, Suffolk resolved ‘to play the knave’ with Neville and his allies, as he privately admitted to his son-in-law the earl of Somerset. He explained that James would only bestow the secretaryship on Neville once he and the rest of the Commons had made amends for ‘the faults they made last Parliament’.120 This plausible fabrication might have induced Neville to be cooperative were it not for the fact that James, mindful that he needed a secretary of state to take charge of the Crown’s business in the Commons, decided to appoint Neville’s arch-rival, Sir Ralph Winwood. At a stroke any hope that Neville would manage a Parliament on behalf of the king thereby evaporated.
In the absence of Neville’s support, James and his councillors were thrown back on their own resources. The strategy that was adopted owed much to both Neville and the late earl of Salisbury. In return for a generous vote of supply, the Commons would be offered a series of grace bills, among which was a bill to forbid the taking up of carts by royal purveyors, a measure which James expected to be particularly prized.121 The Pembroke client Sir James Perrot was evidently briefed to urge the Commons to endorse these measures, for after Winwood outlined the government’s case for supply on 12 April, Perrot, who had shown little interest in the grace bills when they had come before the Commons four years earlier, declared that the bills on offer were ‘of good use for divers, most to landholders, some to particular places’. Thereafter Perrot continued to urge the case for the grace bills. Eight days later, as the House was about to break for Easter, he proposed that Members should sit for two days longer as eleven of the grace bills had received only a single reading.122
Although he hoped that the grace bills would induce the Commons to be cooperative, James wished to make doubly sure from the outset that the lower House was more compliant than its predecessor. He had not forgotten that before the last Parliament he and his Council had failed to exploit their electoral patronage to the full, a mistake that he was determined not to repeat. On 19 February, the day on which writs of election were issued, he instructed the members of his Council to use their influence in those boroughs where they had ‘credit or power’ to ensure ‘that the House be furnished of men of good disposition and apt to have due consideration of him and his estate’.123 A few weeks later Chamberlain reported that ‘letters fly from great persons extraordinarily’.124
James had also learned from bitter experience the value of having a sufficient body of capable councillors in the lower House. His scope for increasing their number was severely limited, however, since most of his councillors now had peerages. As early as June 1612 James tried to persuade the comptroller of the Household, Edward, Lord Wotton, and the treasurer of the Household, William, Lord Knollys, to surrender their staffs of office in return for cash payments so that he might appoint replacements capable of sitting in the Commons.125 However, neither Wotton nor Knollys, both of whom had security of tenure, had relinquished their posts by the time the Parliament met. The team of councillors which entered the Commons in 1614 therefore consisted of just four members: Winwood, Sir Julius Caesar (chancellor of the Exchequer), Sir Thomas Parry (chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster) and Sir Thomas Lake. They were supplemented by the Speaker, Sir Ranulphe Crewe; the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon; the solicitor general, Sir Henry Yelverton; and the king’s serjeant, Sir Henry Montagu.
It was not only the size of this team that was inadequate: its principal member, Winwood, had never before sat in the Commons and was therefore ill equipped to manage the lower House. The Speaker, too, was largely inexperienced, having sat only once before, in the short session of 1593. He seems to have been chosen because he was a client of Lord Chancellor Ellesmere rather than because it was thought that he might command respect. The inexperience of both Winwood and the Speaker was exacerbated by divisions within the councillors in the Commons. Winwood was hated by his colleague Lake, who resented having been passed over for the secretaryship, and also, to a lesser extent, by Caesar, who had now lost the supremacy that he had enjoyed in 1610. Both men conspicuously did nothing to assist Winwood when he ran into difficulty, although Caesar’s disappearance from the parliamentary record between mid April and the end of May was perhaps caused by the death of his wife rather than sour grapes. Bacon, who after the Parliament pointedly told the king that in future he ‘should go to a Parliament with a Council united and not distracted’,126 proved more reliable, as did Montagu. Yelverton, on the other hand, took a backseat throughout the proceedings, having forfeited the respect he had once enjoyed in the Commons by his enthusiastic support of impositions in 1610.
The smallness of the team of royal spokesmen, and the divisions among its members, augured badly for the Parliament, but it is doubtful whether a larger, less divided team could have prevented the assembly from collapsing only two months after it began. Neville’s well-advertized offer to manage a future Parliament for the king had created the worst of all possible worlds. The king had failed to strike an agreement with Neville, and yet it was widely believed that he had. When, only a week after the Parliament opened, Winwood demanded an immediate vote of supply, the suspicion of a secret undertaking appeared to be confirmed, as it was unusual to raise the subject of subsidies so early in a Parliament. Even Sir Edwin Sandys, himself previously vilified as an ‘undertaker’ for having met the earl of Salisbury privately in Hyde Park in July 1610 to discuss the Great Contract, declared that he suspected that the rumours of an undertaking were well founded on the grounds that subsidies were ‘too eagerly followed’ by some of his colleagues.127
Further evidence that a secret undertaking existed appeared to be provided by James’s attempts to secure seats ahead of the Parliament for his own servants. To James, who only wanted to find places for those on whose support he could count, it must have seemed that he was doing no more than following the example set by Salisbury between 1605 and 1610. To the world at large, however, it looked to be ‘a kind of packing’, as Chamberlain remarked.128 This impression was almost certainly reinforced by the fact that James had recently created eighty-four new seats in order to secure a Protestant majority in the Irish Parliament. James refused to brook any criticism of these new creations, and on 20 April 1614, just two weeks after the English Parliament assembled, he told a deputation from the Irish Parliament that he could have created 400 new parliamentary boroughs had he wished – ‘the more the merrier’.129
The perception that the king was trying to pack the English Parliament was likely to be extremely damaging, as James well knew, since it was a fear that had helped to poison the atmosphere of the 1604 session. During the Buckinghamshire election dispute, one Member had observed that if Goodwin’s election were quashed ‘a chancellor may call a Parliament of what persons he will by this course’.130 Consequently, on the very first day of the 1614 Parliament, James was forced to deny publicly that he had tried to pack the Commons. His protests were not believed, partly because they were so obviously untrue, but also because rumours of packing seemed to dovetail perfectly with the widespread belief in a secret undertaking, which James was also obliged to deny. 131 These two sets of fears were brought together at the beginning of the Parliament by the discovery that one of the members of the ministerial team in the Commons, Sir Thomas Parry, had unduly influenced the Stockbridge election. To Sir Robert Phelips it was plain that ‘here appeared an undertaker and undertaking’,132 and since many of Phelips’ Commons’ colleagues also made the connection between packing and undertaking, Parry, despite professing himself guiltless, was expelled. History thereby repeated itself, as James once again lost a member of his ministerial team shortly after the opening of a Parliament.
The principal casualty of the rumours of a secret undertaking was not Parry, however, but the cohesion of the House, as such rumours engendered suspicion and distrust. Ignorant of the fact that they were barking up the wrong tree, those Members not privy to the plans laid by Neville were indignant ‘that a House of Parliament should become the shadows and followers of a few’. Sir Roger Owen, who chaired the committee to draft a petition intended to reassure James that whatever Members decided to do would be motivated ‘merely out of the love of the whole House to him’, made the extreme claim on 2 May that undertakers were ‘worse than the powder traitors’ because they had subverted the House by stealth.133 Many Members realized, as Sir Robert Phelips later recalled, that were the undertakers to go unchallenged it would set a dangerous precedent.134 Behind the scenes, the crypto-Catholic earl of Northampton, who had opposed the summoning of a Parliament because he wished James to solve his financial difficulties by means of a Spanish Match, stoked these fears and suspicions for his own ends. As early as February 1614 Northampton told the earl of Suffolk that ‘you incline before the Council too much to these undertakers’.135 According to Bacon, who was in a good position to know, Northampton subsequently ‘set up a kind of flag unto all those that opposed the Undertakers and would frustrate the success of the Parliament’.136 Incontrovertible evidence that Northampton tried to sabotage the Parliament is always likely to remain elusive, but it is surely significant that Neville’s grandson later claimed that it was Northampton who encouraged the Essex Member Sir Richard Weston to broach the subject of a secret undertaking, just one week after the Parliament commenced.137 Like Northampton, Weston was a secret Catholic sympathizer and strongly inclined to Spain.
Faced with a witch-hunt, and resentful at being cast as disloyal, those Members who had encouraged Neville in his scheme to manage a Parliament for the king fought back. As a result the Commons was riven with faction fighting. ‘The manifest distraction which reigned in the House between the Undertakers and the Anti-undertakers’, declared Bacon, caused the House greater trouble than anything else, and made Members so suspicious of their fellows that they did ‘look rather upon the persons one of another how they were sided, rather than regard the matter they spake’, a state of affairs ‘which did cut off all means of persuasion and consent’.138 On 12 May, the day after Parry was expelled, passions reached such a height that an attempt was made to pull the anti-undertaker Owen from the chair of the committee over which he presided by two of his colleagues, who accused him of partiality.139
Until the rumours of a secret undertaking were dispelled, the likelihood of persuading the Commons to vote subsidies was remote. On 4 May, one month after the Parliament assembled, James attempted to clear the logjam. He told the Commons that, although he had indeed been approached with a scheme to manage a Parliament, he had not taken up the authors on their offer. He also implied that those responsible were worthy of thanks rather than condemnation, as they had helped persuade him that his subjects ‘did not hate me’.140 However, it took another ten days before the rumours of a secret undertaking were finally put to rest. On 14 May Sir Roger Owen delivered his report from committee and Sir Henry Neville explained the background to the events that had led him to draw up his ‘Advice’ and ‘Memorial’. On hearing this explanation the Commons, according to one newsletter writer, was so satisfied that it declared that Neville ‘had done nothing which became not a good subject and an honest man’. This was not entirely accurate, as Sir John Sammes observed that the contents of the ‘Advice’ ‘should have sprung out of this House’.141 Moreover, a Protestation was subsequently sent to James which condemned as ‘vain and idle’ all ‘undertakers’, who ‘by their ambition … make themselves and all their former merits contemptible and despised’. It also declared that the rumours of an undertaking had ‘much hindered the public affairs and Your Majesty’s private service’.142
To the king and his ministers, it seemed that the way was now clear for the Commons to vote supply, the purpose for which the Parliament had been summoned. However, far from paving the way for a debate on subsidies, Neville’s confession and exoneration provided the cue for the House to turn its full attention to impositions, which many Members wanted to see abolished before they agreed to vote supply. Aside from the marriage of the prince to a Catholic, this was the one issue that the king was anxious to prevent the Commons from discussing, for were he to consent to the abolition of impositions his annual income, already too small to meet his needs, would fall by £70,000.143 No grant of subsidies, no matter how generous, was likely to compensate him for this loss. Consequently, on 4 May, after the House reassembled after Easter, James attempted to warn off the Commons. After declaring that he had inherited impositions on his succession and that his Council had assured him of their legality, he told Members that if they persisted in their examination of impositions and refused to vote him supply they ‘must not look for more parliaments in haste’. Instead of summoning further meetings, he added, he would be ‘forced to stretch my prerogative’ to provide for his necessities.144
James clearly calculated that these threats would suffice to cow the Commons, which had already given a bill condemning impositions two readings, into submission. Instead, he merely provoked expressions of disbelief. Speaking the following morning, John Hoskins declared that there was ‘no fear of not calling of Parliament[s]’, as ‘the king gains by them, not the subject’, while Edward Alford announced that ‘his only fear’ was that ‘we shall not part with the king in love’. The one Member to take James’s threat seriously was Sir Thomas Roe, who four weeks later described the impending dissolution as ‘the ending, not only of this, but of all parliaments’.145
Since a majority in the Commons clearly believed that James was bluffing, there was no immediate possibility of forcing the Commons to debate supply. When Sir Herbert Croft proposed on 5 May that the House turn its attention to subsidies the following morning, his motion was ignored. Instead, most Members were inclined to agree with Sir Edwin Sandys, who urged that the matter of supply ‘might stay’ till the issue of impositions had been determined.146 By 28 May James was so desperate that he reverted to the tactic he had employed in 1610, when he had tried to deal in person with the leaders of the House. He invited the Speaker and up to forty Members to meet him the following morning in the Stone Gallery at Whitehall. This approach also failed, and it was not until 6 June, the day on which Ellesmere appeared in the Lords with a commission of dissolution, that the Commons finally and reluctantly debated supply. Even then most Members favoured a grant of just one or two subsidies at the most, whereas James was rumoured to want about twelve.147 As two subsidies would yield only £140,000, equivalent to just two years’ income from impositions, James was faced with either abandoning impositions on unfavourable terms or dissolving the Parliament. Given that he had called the Parliament to improve his finances rather than weaken them, it is scarcely surprising that he chose dissolution over abolition.
The collapse in the Speaker’s authority
The king’s inability to compel the Commons to debate supply rather than impositions demonstrates quite clearly that James had lost the power to control the parliamentary agenda. This was an astonishing development, for under Elizabeth the Commons had generally been kept on a tight rein. However, it was an inevitable consequence of the king’s refusal to accept that taxation necessarily required the subject’s consent. Before 1614 it would have been unthinkable to challenge openly the king’s ultimate right to determine the agenda, but James’s attempt to close down the debate on impositions caused one Member at least to fall back on the argument that the Commons’ right to free speech trumped the king’s right of veto. On 5 May, after Leonard Bawtree, one of the few lawyers in the House prepared to defend impositions, argued that there was ‘not always freedom of speech here’, Lawrence Hyde retorted that there was ‘no power in the king to direct our proceedings’, for when the House sat it did so as ‘a free council, to proceed as we shall think fit’.148 Perhaps only Peter Wentworth had come close to telling Elizabeth this sort of thing, and he, unlike Hyde, had been sent to the Tower for his temerity.
The collapse in the king’s ability to manage the Commons was mirrored by a decline in the authority of the officer primarily responsible for controlling the agenda on behalf of the king – the Speaker. Traditionally the occupant of this office was a Crown servant, and as such he was expected to do the monarch’s bidding, but he was also the mouthpiece of the Commons, and for that reason he was entitled to be regarded as ‘the best commoner in England’.149 Under normal circumstances the Speaker performed the task of balancing the demands of the monarch against the wishes of the Commons without serious difficulty. However, as relations between the king and the lower House deteriorated, the Speaker increasingly found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Since it was plainly impossible for him to serve two competing interests, he was repeatedly forced to set aside the wishes of his parliamentary colleagues for the sake of the king, whose nominee he was and at whose hands he might expect to receive further advancement.
The Speaker of the first Jacobean Parliament, Sir Edward Phelips, was an unpopular choice among his fellow Members. Under Elizabeth the Commons had always acquiesced without demur in the Crown’s choice of Speaker, but in 1604, for reasons that remain unclear, several Members openly suggested alternative candidates.150 It soon became apparent that Phelips was little more than a pliant creature of the king’s. During the debate on the assarts bill, a measure which evidently threatened a valuable source of Crown revenue, Phelips even led the attack on behalf of the king, declaring that the bill contained ‘thirty-two gross absurdities’.151 Not surprisingly, therefore, Phelips soon began to attract adverse comments from his colleagues. Tobie Matthew, sitting for York, complained to John Donne that ‘most days’ the Speaker succeeded in making himself ‘ridiculous’, and that Phelips’ attempts to guide the House too closely was ‘a fault’.152 However, it was not until 1610 that Phelips’ partisan behaviour aroused open hostility. In May 1610, after incurring the wrath of the Commons for attempting to prevent discussion of impositions, Phelips protested that Members no longer referred to him by his proper title of ‘Mr. Speaker’, and begged them to ‘let me have that addition’.153 Two months later, Sir Edward Herbert, angry that Phelips had shown undue favour towards a particular bill, not only failed to doff his hat on passing the Speaker in the street but also twice ‘put his finger in his mouth’ and made ‘a pop at him’.154
Phelips’s successor as Speaker, Sir Ranulphe Crewe, ultimately fared no better. On 5 May Sir John Savile and Sir Herbert Croft complained of the ‘disorders of the House’ and wished that ‘better respect’ be shown towards the Speaker by those who failed to observe the rule requiring the Speaker to leave the chamber first at the end of each day’s proceedings.155 This complaint evidently went unheeded, for on 30 May Crewe himself requested that ‘according to the ancient order of the House’ he ‘might pass out of the House without crowding’.156 Despite the high proportion of novice Members then in the Commons, these repeated snubs were probably the result of Crewe’s attempts to suppress the impositions debate rather than the product of procedural ignorance. When Sir John Savile moved on 5 May ‘to have Sir Edwin Sandys questioned for his slackness in the report of the matter of impositions’, he remarked that it was ‘Mr. Speaker’s unwillingness’ that was ‘in fault’.157 Crewe’s attempts to remind Members that they were expected to debate supply proved so unwelcome that Sandys rose to declare ‘that when Mr. Speaker offered to speak, every man ought to be silent’.158 Eleven days later, with the Commons still preoccupied with impositions, Crewe tried to divert attention by introducing a new bill, whereupon Edward Alford ‘desired to have the House moved whether the Speaker could speak or read a bill at any time without leave of the House’. At this the humiliated Speaker was forced to seek guidance from the House regarding his proper remit. He was again overruled on 23 May when he sought to delay a report criticizing the new order of baronets, which had been established by James three years earlier.159
Just as the king was ultimately powerless to force the Commons to do his bidding, so too Members found it impossible to force the Speaker to do theirs. This did not prevent some of them from trying. After Speaker Phelips repeatedly failed to attend the Commons at a critical moment in the Union debates of March 1607, Nicholas Fuller, a Member not known for his moderation, assured his colleagues that they had the power to elect another Speaker if they wished, since he is ‘but one of ourselves’ and is ‘only to moderate’. He was answered by Sir George More, one of the king’s most loyal supporters, who correctly observed that ‘the king must give leave, and must approve after choice’.160 On 26 May 1614 Sir Roger Owen hinted that the Commons might, if it wished, take at face value its power to appoint a Speaker of its own choosing when he remarked that the chief difference between the Speaker of the Commons and the Speaker of the Lords was that the latter, being lord chancellor, was chosen by the king. His words were clearly intended as a warning to Speaker Crewe not to interfere after a general call for all business, including the voting of subsidies, to be suspended in protest at Bishop Neile’s charge that the Commons was a hotbed of sedition.161
Before 1629, however, few in the Commons were willing to challenge the king’s right to appoint the Speaker. This meant that the only option left was to bypass the Speaker altogether. One of the key parliamentary developments of the early seventeenth century was the emergence of the committee of the whole House, which met under the auspices of a chairman chosen by the Commons itself rather than the Speaker. These grand committees, which first made their appearance in 1606, were ostensibly developed for procedural reasons, since Members were not restricted to speaking only once during debate as they were when the Speaker was in the chair.162 However, it soon became clear that one of their chief advantages was that they allowed the Commons to dispose of the Speaker whenever it wished. William Mallory certainly let the cat out of the bag in December 1621 when he proposed that the House turn itself into grand committee in order that ‘we be not troubled this day with the Speaker’.163 Over the course of the spring session of 1610 three standing grand committees were created, while in 1614, despite opposition from the procedural expert William Hakewill, it was agreed that the grand committee for petitions should meet at a fixed time two or three times per week.164 The implications of the rapid development and proliferation of grand committees for the Crown’s ability to manage the Commons were not lost on the king’s advisers, for in 1615 Attorney-General Bacon recommended that James warn a future House of Commons not to make so many grand committees as they ‘hindereth all business’.165 Unfortunately for James, however, the Commons had an unquestionable right to establish any committee that it pleased. The king was therefore powerless to halt the growth in the number of grand committees, which were to mushroom during the 1620s. The effect on the Speaker, who was often obliged to leave the chamber when grand committees sat, was to render him largely incapable of controlling the Commons’ agenda.
The Jacobean Personal Rule and the advice of Sir Francis Bacon
In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of 1614, James blamed the failure of the Parliament not on his own inability to manage the Commons, but on the Commons itself, which, he angrily told the Spanish ambassador, was too large to be handled, leaderless and unruly.166 Consequently, instead of planning for a further meeting with his subjects, James determined to avoid another Parliament for as long as possible. Unfortunately for him, his finances remained so precarious that in December 1615 he reluctantly agreed to summon another Parliament the following spring.167
Although James attributed the failure of his first two parliaments to the lower House, it was plain that he needed help if a future House of Commons were to be managed successfully. Consequently, in September 1615 the Council, after agreeing that James should call another meeting, turned its attention to this problem. Correctly, the Council appreciated that it was just as important to remove any obstacles to a successful meeting before Parliament assembled as it was to manage the Commons when it finally met.168 It therefore concentrated its efforts on discussing how to create the conditions needed to persuade the Commons to vote supply. Lord Wotton recommended that these include a successful meeting of the Scottish Parliament. Like the late earl of Northampton, who had remarked in February 1614 that the disorderly conduct of the Irish House of Commons in 1613 owed much to the example it had been set by its English counterpart,169 Wotton believed that each of the parliaments of James’s three kingdoms was influenced by the behaviour of the others. Were the Scottish Parliament to vote the king supply, he argued, it ‘would be a good inducement here and a leading example’.170 On the face of it, this proposition was not entirely fanciful, since Members of the English House of Commons were well informed about the behaviour of their Irish and Scottish counterparts. When William Hakewill learned that an attempt had been made to drag Sir Roger Owen from the chair of the undertakers’ committee in May 1614, he remarked that this was a ‘good countenance of the proceedings in the Irish Parliament’, which had recently elected rival Speakers.171 However, as the Scots on the Council were quick to point out, the Edinburgh Parliament had voted subsidies as recently as 1612.172 Not only did this make it difficult to seek a further grant, it also cast doubt on the claim that the behaviour of one assembly might influence the other, as the English House of Commons had failed to vote supply in 1614.
Although the king received advice from his Council, he also turned to the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon. Though not yet a member of the Council, Bacon had long experience of the Commons. Moreover he had drafted for the king a memorandum in 1613 advocating the summoning of a fresh assembly and had helped James prepare his opening speech to Parliament in 1614.173 Sometime during the summer Bacon compiled for James a series of ‘articles of advice touching a Parliament’, only one of which is known to survive.174 In this surviving treatise, Bacon heavily criticized the methods that had been employed in recent years to manage the Commons. He was especially scathing towards the Crown’s repeated attempts to bargain with the lower House. In previous reigns the Commons had provided for the king’s financial necessities without the expectation of reward or compensation, but the late earl of Salisbury, in offering to surrender certain unpopular financial duties such as wardship and purveyance in return for a fixed annual income, had given the Commons a taste for ‘matter of bargain’. As a result, ‘the generous disposition of free giving unto the king, and the politic arguments of persuading it upon reason of estate, became dry things’. To Bacon, it should have been apparent that this policy had proved largely fruitless, as the spring session of 1610 had yielded just one subsidy and one fifteenth. Instead, the error of ‘merchandising’ had been repeated in 1614, despite the fact that James had declared on the opening day of the Parliament that he would no longer deal with the Commons by way of bargain, for ‘where a contract begins affection ceases’. The offer of various grace bills in return for supply had caused men to ‘take weights and measures into their hands’, with the result that these bills ‘grew to be despised and to be termed Veneficia instead of Beneficia’. Rather than engage in bargaining with the Commons, the king should seek to return things to their ‘ancient course’.175
Although bargaining with the Commons had weakened the king’s ability to manage a Parliament, Bacon declared that an even greater error had been committed at the start of the 1614 assembly by Secretary Winwood, who had announced that the sole purpose of the meeting was to supply the king’s wants and pay off his debts. In Bacon’s eyes this admission, while entirely honest, had done ‘great hurt, by putting upon the king the person of a mendicant’. Rather than go to the Commons cap in hand, James should make it appear that he was capable of solving his financial difficulties without the help of a Parliament, even if, in reality, this was quite impossible. To this end he ought to enter into marriage negotiations with Spain, whose king had made it clear he would pay a large dowry if James were to agree to match Prince Charles to a Spanish Infanta. The Commons, most of whose Members were notoriously anti-Spanish, would be desperate to prevent such a marriage and would therefore be only too eager to furnish the king with money. Consequently, Bacon advised that, when a Parliament finally met, ‘let there be an utter silence, as of the king’s part, of matter of money or supply, or of the king’s debts or wants’. Sooner or later ‘some honest man’ would rise to his feet and urge the House to vote money, as had happened in 1606, when Sir Edward Montagu had initiated a subsidy debate. This latter observation was incorrect, as in 1606 it had been Sir Thomas Ridgeway rather than Montagu who had proposed a vote of subsidies, and he had almost certainly been acting on Council instruction. However, Bacon undoubtedly had a point when he observed that ‘the meeting and parting of the king and his Parliament ... will ever suffer as long as money is made the mere object of the Parliament’.176
At least two members of James’s Council did not share this view. In September 1615 Bacon’s hated rival Sir Edward Coke, far from advising the king to remain silent about his financial needs, recommended that the best way to induce the Commons to vote supply would be for James to disclose to the Commons the details of his spending since his accession. This would demonstrate that James’s demands ‘proceeded not only out of facility and prodigality’ but from unavoidable necessity, and so combat the belief, prevalent in the Commons, that James was primarily the author of his own financial misfortunes. This view was naturally warmly endorsed by Coke’s ally, Winwood. Yet, despite their sharply different approaches, Bacon and Coke saw eye to eye with respect to another aspect of Commons’ management. Both men agreed that the attempt to pack the previous Parliament had been ill advised. In Bacon’s opinion it had detracted from the ‘ancient dignity and splendour’ that parliaments had once enjoyed, while Coke argued that the interference of councillors and other ‘great men’ in elections had not only been widely regarded as ‘very offensive’ but had also proved counterproductive, since it had created a backlash whereby ‘many had crept in ... who had shown themselves most adverse from the king’.177
A great deal of Bacon’s advice to James can be reduced to the proposition that if the king wished to manage the Commons successfully he should eschew the novel practices of recent years and revert to the tried and trusted methods of his predecessors. This meant not only abandoning such things as bargaining and packing but also restoring to the lord chancellor the right to make the oration customarily delivered to the Commons at the beginning of each Parliament.178 This address was a valuable tool in helping the Crown manage the Commons, as it meant that the lord chancellor or the lord keeper, not the king, was responsible for issuing unpopular guidance to the lower House. However, both in 1604 and in 1614 James had assumed the performance of this task in person.
Bacon assured James that the failure of the 1614 Parliament was not sufficient reason to avoid calling another meeting, any more than ‘the opening of a body dead of disease ought to fear a man in health’. However, James remained unconvinced, and when the Dutch ambassador offered to buy back the Cautionary Towns he abandoned his plans to summon another Parliament in 1616.179 Not until October 1620, as a result of the Bohemian crisis, did James finally turn his thoughts to the issuing of writs.
In view of his attempts to tutor James in the art of Commons’ management, it is hardly surprising that Bacon, by now lord chancellor, was entrusted with the prime responsibility for planning the forthcoming Parliament. At first it appeared that James had taken careful note of Bacon’s advice, for on 2 October 1620 the king instructed Bacon and the members of the committee who were to assist him to avoid ‘packing or degenerate arts’.180 However, while James now agreed that packing was undesirable, he still hoped to prevent those whom he found offensive from seeking election to Parliament. Consequently, against the advice of Bacon and Pembroke, he insisted on inserting into the Proclamation announcing a Parliament a prohibition against the election of ‘curious and wrangling lawyers, who may seek reputation by stirring needless questions’.181 Bacon also found himself thwarted with respect to his advice over grants of monopoly, though here the chief obstacle was not James but the royal favourite, George Villiers, marquess of Buckingham. On 29 November, three weeks after James finally agreed to call a Parliament, Bacon and his fellow committee members advised Buckingham to abandon three patents of monopoly held by the favourite’s ‘special friends’ because they were likely to be complained of in Parliament. However, when this recommendation was debated in mid December, the Council resolved to do nothing except in response to particular complaints in Parliament. Most of the councillors present agreed with Buckingham that to revoke individual patents before the Parliament would lay the Council open to charges of ‘humouring of the Parliament’.182 In reaching this conclusion the Council repeated its mistake of ignoring the advice of Lord Treasurer Buckhurst to call in as many monopolies ‘as shall be thought fit’ ahead of the 1601 Parliament.183
Bacon also enjoyed only mixed success with respect to his advice to James on handling the opening of the new Parliament. His principal achievement was to persuade James to restore the lord chancellor’s oration. In this address, delivered on 3 February, Bacon set out at some length the behaviour that the king expected of the Commons. For example, while Members were encouraged to bring the complaints of their constituents to Parliament they were warned not to ‘hunt after grievances’ and to ‘be careful not to cast scandal upon the state’.184 However, the king, who also addressed the Commons, entirely disregarded Bacon’s advice to play down his financial problems. In his opening speech to the Parliament on 30 January, James declared that ‘the main errand why this Parliament is called ... is for to sustain me in my urgent necessities’. He added by way of complaint that ‘I have had less supply from my people than ever king or queen had, I know not for how many hundred years’. He admitted having previously been ‘liberal’ in his spending, but he declared that he was now engaged in retrenching his finances, and he argued that his open-handedness was not ‘the main occasion of the decay of my estate’.185 This was precisely the sort of display of weakness that Bacon had urged James to avoid. After this speech Bacon must have remonstrated with the king privately because, quite extraordinarily, James returned to the Commons four days later to repair the damage he had caused. In a much shorter address, he now declared that the Parliament had been called ‘for the making of good laws’ as well as to relieve his necessities, ‘the which are not so great but they have been, so as I shall not desire any but a moderate sum’. This transparent piece of back-peddling was followed up two days later by the privy councillor and former treasury commissioner Sir Edward Coke, who told the Commons that the king’s financial situation was ‘not so desperate’ as it might appear because his ordinary expenditure and receipts were now almost balanced, a feat that had been accomplished largely thanks to the economies achieved by the master of the Wards, Sir Lionel Cranfield. All that the king needed was extraordinary funding, which was ‘ever borne by the subject’, and therefore James was ‘no beggar’.186 Coke’s intervention, and the king’s own earlier attempt to extricate himself from the hole into which he had dug himself, serves as a sharp reminder that James, no matter how much good advice he received, found it hard to subordinate his own opinions to those of his advisers.
The first parliamentary sitting of 1621
If the unwillingness of James and Buckingham to heed Bacon’s advice augured badly for the Crown, so too did the outcome of many key elections to the Commons. Writing to Buckingham on 16 December, Bacon declared that the election returns thus far sent into Chancery indicated that ‘the prognostics are not so good as I expected’.187 At the Middlesex election nine days earlier, the privy councillors Sir Julius Caesar and Sir Thomas Edmondes had both been defeated, while on 14 December the county of Sussex had re-elected Christopher Neville, one of the most troublesome Members of the previous Parliament. The defeat of the two councillors was particularly ominous, since no councillor in living memory, not even Sir John Fortescue in 1604, had suffered the humiliation of losing a contested election. Over the next few weeks Bacon received more cheering news, as both Caesar and Edmondes eventually found seats, as did the councillors Sir George Calvert, Sir Robert Naunton, Sir Edward Coke, Sir Henry Carey and Sir Lionel Cranfield. On the face of it, the Council team in the Commons was now larger than at any time since 1589. However, this impression was misleading, for by the time the Parliament met Naunton was under long term house arrest and so was never able to take his seat. Moreover, as in 1604 and 1614, the Crown lost a member of its ministerial team shortly after the Parliament opened, as Carey, being the holder of a Scottish peerage, was prevented from serving. To make matters worse, it soon became apparent that Coke, having conspicuously failed to obtain office since his restoration to the Privy Council in 1618, was at best only a semi-detached Member of the ministerial team. In February 1621 he crossed swords in the Commons with his fellow councillor Calvert, and by June 1621 he had made such a nuisance of himself in the House that he was dismissed from the Council. Consequently, for most of the first sitting of the 1621 Parliament there were in reality only four councillors in the Commons. During the second, winter, sitting this small team shrank still further. Although the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Weston, was added in the autumn, both Cranfield and Greville were ennobled and transferred to the Lords.
The difficulties posed by the meagre complement of councillors in the House were exacerbated by the selection of Sir Thomas Richardson as Speaker. Richardson had never before sat in the Commons, and consequently was unfamiliar with the procedural rules that he was expected to uphold. No previous Speaker – or certainly none during the preceding century – had been so destitute of parliamentary experience, and it is therefore not altogether surprising that when Richardson, as custom required, announced at the beginning of the Parliament that he was a poor choice for Speaker he was taken at his word by Arthur Goodwin, who recommended that another be elected in his stead.188
Richardson’s inexperience quickly caused irritation among his fellow Members. In March 1621, after two Members rose simultaneously to speak, he flippantly remarked ‘that he hoped the wisest would sit down first’, whereupon William Noye demanded that he be punished.189 Equally infuriating was the fact that Richardson, like Phelips and Crewe before him, ultimately took his marching orders from the king and his ministers rather than the Commons. This was demonstrated most clearly in March 1621, when Richardson quit the chamber without the House’s permission in order to prevent an attack on those who had advised the king to grant a series of unpopular monopolies. In so doing he caused a storm of pent up frustration to be unleashed against him. Sir Robert Phelips complained that Richardson sometimes ‘neglecteth his duty to the House in intricating or deferring the question’, while Christopher Neville claimed that he ‘hath made many plausible motions abortive’.190 Sir George Manners, too, was drawn to remark that the Speaker was ‘but a servant to the House, and not a master, nor a master’s mate’.191
Ultimate responsibility for selecting Richardson lay with James and his chief minister, Buckingham, but it was almost certainly Bacon who was behind his nomination, since Richardson was a client of his and owed his seat at St. Albans to him. Certainly, Bacon was deeply involved in the selection process, for on 29 November 1620 he had sent Buckingham a shortlist of names, along with a strong verbal recommendation in favour of one of the candidates.192 Like Salisbury before him, Bacon clearly hoped to be able to manage the Commons from his seat in the Lords.
Aside from the obvious weaknesses in the Speaker and the team of Crown spokesmen in the Commons, one of the surest signs that the government was ill prepared to manage the 1621 Parliament was its failure to solve the explosive problem of impositions. Supported by Bacon, Sir Lionel Cranfield had recommended turning all existing impositions into legitimate customs duties by revising the Book of Rates.193 However, the crisis in the cloth trade that followed the collapse of the Cockayne Project and the subsequent collapse of cloth markets in central Europe made it politically impossible to increase customs duties at a time of economic hardship. Even before the writs of summons were issued, the unresolved problem of impositions created a widespread sense that, even before it met, the Parliament was doomed to failure. On 20 October 1620, the Venetian ambassador observed that James’s subjects ‘seem determined to take up the business in the Parliament at the very point where they broke off the last time ... They claim the reformation of various impositions laid on by His Majesty’s sole authority without the consent of Parliament’. Eight days later, John Chamberlain gloomily observed that ‘impositions and patents [of monopoly] are grown so grievous that of necessity they must be spoken of’ in Parliament.194
A further ill omen was the wording of the Proclamation issued ahead of the writs of summons. On 24 October James, anxious that both the Spanish Match and the crisis in the Palatinate had become popular subjects of conversation among the people at large, had issued a Proclamation ‘against excess of lavish and licentious speech of matters of state’.195 Since the Proclamation included no exemption in respect of Parliament, this instruction might fairly appear to suggest that James was trying to assert his right to control the parliamentary agenda. As it had been his attempt to control the subject of debate which had helped precipitate the collapse of the 1614 assembly, James’s proclamation appeared to contain within it the seeds of the Parliament’s destruction.
By the time the Parliament assembled in February 1621, it must have seemed to many observers that the stage was now set for another violent confrontation between James and the Commons. The Crown’s failure to resolve the problem of impositions, Buckingham’s unwillingness to take action against the most unpopular monopolies before Parliament met, and the size and composition of the team of royal spokesmen in the Commons, all pointed to an unsuccessful meeting, as did the Proclamation that apparently prevented the Commons from exercising its traditional right to free speech. Yet seven weeks into the new Parliament the Venetian ambassador observed ‘that Parliament is working harmoniously with the king and each strives [to see] which can please the other most’, while John Chamberlain remarked that James was ‘very graciously inclined’ towards the Commons, which ‘receives daily very gracious messages, ... whereby they are much animated’.196 The city of York’s representatives, both Commons veterans, were astonished. ‘We have never seen, known or heard of any Parliament where there was so good concurrency and correspondence between the king and his people’, they declared. The Parliament, they predicted, would go down to posterity as the ‘Pacificum Parliamentum or Parliamentum Concordiae’.197
James himself later looked back on the period before Easter 1621 with nostalgia. Writing in January 1622, he declared that ‘the House of Commons at the first ... showed greater love and more respect than ever any House of Commons did to us, or we think to any king before us’. Before Easter there had been ‘such harmony between us and our people as cannot be paralleled by any former time’.198 Although the Parliament had opened, predictably enough, with a dispute over free speech, this had quickly been resolved after James agreed to allow the Commons the same degree of freedom as his predecessors. Moreover, contrary to expectations, the Commons failed to raise a storm over the king’s right to levy impositions. When Sir Edward Giles tried to start a debate on the subject one week into the Parliament he was simply ignored.199 The closest the House came to debating this vexed constitutional question was on 26 March, after Secretary Calvert tried to prevent the Commons from discussing the imposts levied by the Merchant Adventurers, thereby arousing the anger of Edward Alford. Members failed to demonstrate the same degree of reticence with respect to monopolies, but astonishingly James, far from obstructing their assault, placed few obstacles in the way of their investigations.200 The Parliament even survived the destruction of Bacon, whose fall from office at the hands of both Houses removed the very man on whom the king apparently depended to manage Parliament for him. It was perhaps because the king proved so cooperative that the Commons fell into line when James forbade Members from debating either Ireland or Virginia in April.201
The relatively harmonious atmosphere in which the Commons met between February and April 1621 is one of the unexplained mysteries of early Stuart parliamentary history. By all accounts the Parliament should, like its immediate predecessor, have collapsed quickly. That it did not do so points to either a remarkable transformation in the managerial abilities of James and his ministers, or to some other, hitherto unidentified factor.
One possible explanation for the extraordinary outbreak of harmony is that, before the Parliament opened, an agreement was secretly reached with the leading Members of the Commons. In return for a swift vote of supply and a willingness to turn a blind-eye to impositions, James may have promised to allow the Commons a free hand, most notably over monopolies. However, if such a backstairs agreement was ever brokered, some trace of it ought to be discernible in the surviving records. After all, as the parliaments of 1614 and 1624 clearly demonstrate, secret undertakings were extremely hard to conceal. In fact, beyond a statement made by the French ambassador shortly before the election writs were issued, that the ‘puritans’ had promised not to touch the royal prerogative,202 there is no evidence that any such deal was hammered out.
A more likely explanation for the Commons’ willingness to vote supply and unwillingness to debate the legality of impositions is that many of its Members were desperate to avoid a premature dissolution. Recent events on the Continent, in particular the Spanish invasion of the Lower Palatinate and the defeat of James’s son-in-law the Elector Palatine, made it essential that England should be capable of entering the Thirty Years’ War on the Protestant side. This might prove impossible, however, if the Commons resumed its earlier quarrel with the king over impositions and refused to vote subsidies. Moreover, in 1614 many had assumed that James had been bluffing when he threatened to dispense with further meetings with his subjects unless the Commons voted subsidies and abandoned its opposition to impositions. The events of the last six-and-a-half years, however, had demonstrated that he had been in deadly earnest. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Addled Parliament it was widely believed ‘that no Parliament will be held again in England’.203 When, against all the odds, a fresh Parliament assembled in January 1621, it was made clear by the Crown that Parliament was now on probation: Lord Chancellor Bacon, in his opening address, expressed the hope that the Parliament would prove profitable, ‘that it may be generative, begetting others hereafter’, and two weeks later the treasurer of the Household, Sir Thomas Edmondes, confirmed that ‘to give liberally will procure more frequent parliaments’.204 Several times during the first few months of the session, the privy councillor Sir Edward Coke expressed the belief that parliaments were facing extinction by drawing attention to the fourteenth century law requiring them to meet annually.205
The fear that James might at any moment dissolve the Parliament and revert to personal rule was never very far from the minds of Members in 1621. Indeed, it helps to explain much of the panic that gripped the Commons following James’s announcement, on 28 May, of an imminent adjournment. The recorder of London, Heneage Finch urged that, ‘whatsoever becomes of the bills’ that had not yet passed, ‘let us have a care to preserve the Parliament’,206 while the Lichfield Member, Richard Weston, pressed the House to pass some bills before it rose, ‘because we are not sure to meet again, for divers occasions may cross it’. On 2 June Sir William Strode, in a speech which ought perhaps to be read as whistling in the dark, expressed the hope ‘that there is no man that doubteth we shall meet here again, albeit the sessions should end’.207
The one sure way to realize these fears and precipitate a swift return to personal rule was to broach the subject of impositions. Since most Members had no wish to trigger the collapse of the Parliament, they were understandably wary of doing so. Against a backdrop of a serious trade depression, avoiding the subject of impositions was easier said than done, as the burden on trade created by these duties inevitably made a bad situation worse. Members overcame this difficulty by restricting their complaints to the economic impact of impositions rather than the king’s right to levy them and by directing their anger at a private corporation, the Merchant Adventurers’ Company, rather than at the king. In so doing, as one historian correctly observed, ‘they were walking a tightrope’.208
The awareness of Members that they were treading on eggshells was not restricted to the subject of impositions, though, as any quarrel with James over the House’s right to free speech was capable of causing the Parliament to collapse.209 It was because this was widely understood that the free speech debates of February 1621, precipitated by James’s ill-advised Proclamation of October 1620, were so obviously half-hearted.210 Fear of precipitating the premature collapse of the Parliament also helps to explain why the Commons failed to protest after James, insisting that it was a matter for the royal prerogative, prohibited discussion of Ireland’s maladministration in March 1621. In taking what, in effect, amounted to a self-denying ordinance in respect of impositions and Ireland, Members not only gagged themselves but also, as Sir Robert Phelips ruefully observed in December 1621, broke their own privileges in respect of free speech ‘to make this a Parliament ... of union’.211
There is no need to invoke a private agreement between the Crown and the leading Commons Members to explain why the lower House fought shy of debating the legality of impositions in 1621 or proved so willing to vote supply. However, the principal men in the Commons must certainly have arrived at an understanding among themselves. Unofficial meetings between Members to debate strategy and tactics, though impossible to document, were perfectly commonplace. In 1628 Edward Alford, who had first entered the Commons in 1593, observed that ‘in ancient times 14 of us or more usually went privately and had conference together what was fit to be moved’.212 In the light of this tradition, the unexpected harmony of the opening months of the 1621 Parliament looks less like the result of sound parliamentary management by the Crown and more like the product of self-regulation by the Commons’ leaders.
The collapse of the 1621 Parliament
Although the opening months of the 1621 Parliament proved unexpectedly harmonious, John Chamberlain correctly predicted that ‘this fair weather cannot always last’.213 After the Easter recess, the Lords learned that a few years earlier the royal favourite, the marquess of Buckingham, had threatened to bring about the dismissal of the then attorney-general, Sir Henry Yelverton, unless he cooperated with the notorious monopolist Sir Giles Mompesson. Buckingham’s enemies in the Lords, principally the earls of Arundel and Southampton, accused the favourite of having exceeded his authority, and by the beginning of May their allies in the Commons were trying to unsettle the favourite by attacking his half-brother, Sir Edward Villiers. To Buckingham, it appeared that elements of both Houses were conspiring to bring about his fall from power. He and his chief ally in the Commons, the privy councillor Sir Lionel Cranfield, were therefore understandably suspicious on learning that Southampton was holding private meetings with several of the most troublesome peers and Members of the Commons. Over the summer, Southampton was accused of having ‘consorted ... with those young Lords in the upper and those knights and the burgesses in the lower House which were most stirring and active to cross the general proceedings and to asperse and infame the present government’.214 To Buckingham it appeared plain that Southampton and his allies were secretly manipulating both Houses for their own ends. Under interrogation, Southampton admitted holding regular meetings with Members of the Commons, but he denied any wrongdoing, pointing out that he had only done what ‘everyone else did’.215 This was undeniably true, and indeed, during the course of the 1625 Parliament, Buckingham himself would hold at least one midnight meeting with his clients in the Commons. However, the Crown was always deeply suspicious of private gatherings to debate parliamentary tactics. In 1586 Peter Wentworth had been sent to the Tower for conferring with some of his fellow Members about the succession, and in 1611 Lord Chancellor Ellesmere had complained to James of those Members of the first Jacobean Parliament who had kept ‘secret and private conventicles’.216 A Parliament managed in the king’s interests was one thing, but a Parliament managed in the interests of private individuals was quite another.
The main focus of Cranfield’s suspicion in the Commons was Sir Edwin Sandys, who was closely linked to Southampton through the Virginia Company. In mid June, after the Commons adjourned, Sandys, like Southampton, was arrested on the king’s orders. In the list of interrogatories that was subsequently put to him was the question ‘what conference he had [had], and with which of the Lords, at any time, in the committee chamber of the upper House?’ Sandys was also quizzed about his dining arrangements on 28 May, the day on which the adjournment had been announced.217 It had not escaped the notice of the Crown’s spokesmen in the Commons that on the morning of the 28th Sandys had greeted the news of the adjournment with a mixture of despair and resignation, but that after lunch he and several other Members had demanded that the session be extended. How Sandys answered these questions remains unknown, but the Crown’s suspicion that he had closely coordinated his activities in the Commons with those of Southampton in the Lords was clearly justified.
The government’s fear that private interests were secretly managing the 1621 Parliament helps to explain why James called a temporary halt to its proceedings in early June. When the Parliament reconvened in November, these fears had evidently abated, as both Sandys and Southampton conspicuously failed to resume their seats. The purpose of the fresh meeting was spelled out by the lord keeper and the lord treasurer at a conference between both Houses on 21 November. Ordinary business would be deferred until money was voted to help defend the Lower Palatinate, which was in imminent danger of being overrun. The subsidies that had already been granted were now all spent, and the king remained heavily indebted. In order to keep an army in the field for one year, the Commons was told that £900,000 would be needed.218 For James, a grant of supply was the sole reason for keeping the Parliament in being. Indeed, before the Commons reconvened, he told the Spanish ambassador that he would dissolve the Parliament if it ‘wanted to meddle in any other matter apart from granting him a supply of money for the assistance of the Palatinate’.219
In demanding a further grant of subsidies, James evidently believed that he was being realistic. After all, shortly before the summer recess had not the Commons given vent to its anti-Spanish feelings by promising ‘to adventure the lives and estates of all that belong unto us, or wherein we have interest, for the maintenance of the cause of God, and of His Majesty’s royal issue’?220 According to the Venetian ambassador, James was sure ‘that the Parliament will readily afford him every means of making war’.221 It was perhaps a sign of this newly found confidence that before the session resumed the king decamped to Newmarket.
Since James was no longer on hand, the detailed management of the Commons fell to the Privy Council, many of whose members had been pressing for a war since the summer of 1620. However, their chances of obtaining subsidies were nearly spoiled by the Commons’ reaction to the absence of Sir Edwin Sandys. Many in the Commons believed that Sandys was being prevented from resuming his seat for offences committed during the previous sitting.222 Were this suspicion to prove correct it would mean, in effect, that a senior Member was being prevented from taking his seat for fear that he might express unwelcome opinions. To the Commons in general, which had already accepted curbs on its right to discuss impositions and Ireland, this was intolerable. The angry debates that ensued lasted a week, and only ended after Speaker Richardson produced a letter from Sandys, who explained that his absence was due to sickness, and after Secretary Calvert assured the House that Sandys had not been committed for anything said or done in Parliament.
Once the furore over Sandys had died down, the Commons turned its attention to supply. Not surprisingly, the subsidy debate of 26 November bears all the hallmarks of having been carefully stage-managed. It was initiated by Sir Dudley Digges, a former pupil of Archbishop Abbot, one of the principal members of the war party on the Council. He was supported by Sir Benjamin Rudyard and Sir James Perrot, both of whom were clients of Abbot’s close ally, the earl of Pembroke, and by Sir Miles Fleetwood, the receiver-general of the Court of Wards and a man later closely associated with Buckingham.223 Conspicuous by their absence were the councillors with seats in the Commons, whose early involvement was perhaps discouraged on the grounds that it would probably prove counter-productive. However, when Sir Robert Phelips declared that ‘the Palatinate may be otherwise supplied’, Secretary Calvert pitched in, replying that those who sought to defer subsidies would merely keep the king’s sword sheathed in its scabbard.224 Council involvement was more pronounced the following day, when Edmondes and Weston spoke alongside Digges and Perrot.
Despite its careful attempts to orchestrate the subsidy debate, the Council enjoyed only limited success. The proposition that supply should be voted twice in one year proved to be highly controversial. Just as John Hoskins had observed in 1604 that he knew of no sheep that produced two fleeces in a year, so Thomas Crewe and Edward Alford now remarked that two grants of subsidy required two harvests.225 However, the hostility to a fresh grant in 1621 must also have reflected the fact that the recent harvest had failed. Moreover, many Members were deeply concerned that the king expected the Commons to set aside its legislative programme in favour of a further grant of subsidies. The previous sitting had ended with no legislation reaching the statute book aside from the bill of subsidy, giving rise to complaints among Members’ constituents, so that it was said that ‘it will be a dangerous precedent for us to give more subsidies without having some bills’.226
These concerns were both genuine and entirely predictable, but the Crown’s only strategy for dealing with them was to promise that Parliament would reconvene in February 1622 to deal with bills and grievances. This unsatisfactory state of affairs was compounded by James’s blithe assumption that he could rely for additional supply on the desire of Protestant Englishmen to rally to the defence of the Palatinate. For a variety of reasons this assumption was misplaced. First, it was unclear what sort of war James envisaged, as he had not stated whether he was demanding money to fund a general war with Spain or a more limited struggle to defend the Palatinate. If the latter, then the Commons was being asked, as Sir Edward Giles put it, to ‘fight with the Spaniards in the Palatinate and be friends with them everywhere else’, which was absurd.227 Secondly, it was apparent that in demanding money for a war James was pursuing two mutually incompatible policies, for while on the one hand he seemed willing to countenance a war with Spain on the other he was continuing to pursue a Spanish Match for Prince Charles. These marriage negotiations not only cast doubt on James’s willingness to defend the Palatinate – and by extension his intention to spend any subsidies voted on a war rather than on payment of his debts – but also on his commitment to maintain England as a solidly Protestant country, as a Spanish Match might well result in greater religious freedoms being granted to England’s Catholic population.
The king’s failure to address the Commons’ understandable concerns meant that Members were placed on the horns of a dilemma. ‘If we should not now give’, observed John Pym on 27 November, ‘we frustrate the king’s expectation grounded on our own declaration, and we lose assuredly the Palatinate and our reputation’, but ‘if we do nothing but give we shall have the discontent of the people, and increase their fears of religion, and bring a disreputation to ourselves, having sat so long and effected no bills’.228 In the short term, the Commons decided that the wisest course of action would be to vote just one subsidy. That way the king could not say that the Commons had reneged on its earlier promise to provide him with material assistance for the defence of the Palatinate, while Members themselves would minimize the amount of ill feeling directed towards them in the localities. Moreover, rather than rush to draft a subsidy bill it was decided to delay consideration of the necessary legislation until such time as the rest of the Commons’ bills were ready to pass. This was very far from the outcome that James had anticipated, but in a sense he had only himself to blame. By failing to lay the groundwork for this meeting more carefully, he had virtually ensured that his request for a substantial money grant would fail. The well co-ordinated efforts of the Crown’s spokesmen on 26 and 27 November were no substitute for sound policy.
James’s failure to set clear policies that would enable his councillors to manage the Commons successfully on his behalf ultimately led not only to a disappointing outcome to the subsidy debate but also to the eventual collapse of the Parliament. Ever since the Parliament began, the Commons had quietly accepted limitations to its right of free speech, on the grounds that not offending the king was more important than risking extinction. However, if there was one issue more important than the survival of parliaments it was the survival of English Protestantism. On 3 December the Commons petitioned the king to have Prince Charles ‘timely and happily married to one of our own religion’.229 This request followed logically from the concerns raised during the earlier subsidy debate about the inconsistency between James’s pursuit of a Spanish Match and his request for war funding, but it was well understood that royal marriages were matters exclusively for the royal prerogative. Even during the 1614 Parliament, which had met against the backdrop of negotiations for a French marriage, Members of the Commons, with one possible exception, had not dared to raise the subject of the prince’s marriage, though many had been desperate to do so.230 On hearing the petition read, a shocked Sir Edward Sackville observed that ‘it was the privilege of princes to marry where they list’. However, for a majority of Members, the urgent need to speak freely on the subject of the prince’s marriage clearly took priority over the convention that barred them from doing so. Besides, as Sir Edward Coke pointed out, the Commons was both entitled and duty-bound to petition ‘for anything concerning the king, the state and religion’.231 This viewpoint was not, of course, shared by James, for on learning of the contents of the Commons’ petition he exploded with rage. Despite having invited the Commons to debate matters of foreign policy, he ordered the House to desist from further discussion of matters of state. In so doing he sparked off a furious row over the Commons’ right to free speech, which resulted in the Commons’ Protestation of 17 December. He thereby lit the touch-paper that brought about the Parliament’s collapse.
The failure of the 1621 Parliament confirmed, if indeed confirmation were needed, that James was incapable of managing the Commons, despite the tuition he had received from Bacon. It could, of course, be argued that James did not actually seek to manage this Parliament at all after it reconvened in November. Not only did he retire to Newmarket, thereby making rapid communication between himself and the Commons impossible, but he is also said to have sabotaged the Parliament’s proceedings in order to avoid a war with Spain.232 However, this is to read too much into James’s statement, made to the Spanish ambassador before the Parliament convened, that he would dissolve the assembly if it discussed matters other than supply. Since it was the Protestation that caused the king to end the Parliament, and since it was Sir Edward Coke who was primarily responsible for drafting this document, it is difficult to see how James, even given his poor track record in managing the Commons, can have been guilty of sabotage. The only evidence that might point to an act of royal sabotage is the motion made by Sir George Goring on 29 November. Goring, a well-known client of the royal favourite Buckingham, had suggested that the Commons petition James to declare war on Spain and the emperor. The Commons, assuming that Goring must have been speaking not only for Buckingham but also for James, enthusiastically endorsed this suggestion. However, it was not Goring’s suggestion that wrecked the Parliament – Goring himself was entirely unaware of having said anything provocative – but the Commons’ decision to include within his proposed petition the demand that the king marry his son to a Protestant.233 Until it is known who was responsible for adding this explosive demand to the petition, it is unsafe to conclude that James sabotaged the Parliament.
The Parliament of 1624
Following the collapse of the 1621 assembly James was more determined than ever to dispense with parliaments.234 However, in October 1623 Prince Charles and Buckingham, now a duke, returned from a surprise visit to Spain claiming that the Spanish had never had any intention of bringing the negotiations for a marriage alliance to a successful conclusion. It was now apparent that the only way the Palatinate would be recovered was by force, and this meant that another Parliament would be needed to pay for a war with Spain. James was horrified, but in December 1623 he reluctantly bowed to the inevitable. However, in order to make it possible to manage the forthcoming assembly, he demanded that two of the principal leaders of the previous Parliament – Sir Edwin Sandys and Sir Edward Coke – be packed off to Ireland to survey the administration there, so preventing them from seeking election to Westminster.
The idea of excluding individual troublemakers in order to make it easier to manage the Commons was a new departure, though the idea had been floated before 1623. In the winter of 1615 James had pricked Sandys as sheriff of Kent ahead of the Parliament that was planned to meet the following spring, and in November 1622, when there had been talk of calling another Parliament following the loss of Heidelberg and Mannheim, it was rumoured that many of those chosen to serve as sheriffs had been selected because of their awkward behaviour in the Commons.235 Those pricked on that occasion included Sir Guy Palmes, who in December 1621 had been vigorous in defence of the Commons’ right to free speech.
In the aftermath of the 1621 Parliament, those in favour of a fresh meeting were forced to confront James’s frustration at not being able to exercise some control over the composition of the Commons. This explains why, in October 1622, it was suggested to James that he institute a new order of knighthood, that of ‘vidom’, whose holders would be senior to knights-bachelor but junior to baronets. Apart from raising badly needed money, this dignity’s chief advantage to the Crown was that its holders would automatically enjoy a ‘place in the lower House of Parliament as the barons have in the Higher House’.236 That James did not take up a proposal that would have allowed him to turn the Commons into a partly nominated assembly is less significant than the fact that someone thought that he might be prepared to do so.
Up until then, James, like Elizabeth before him, had normally used his powers of patronage to strip troublesome Members of the Commons of local office rather than to disqualify them from service altogether. In 1607, for example, several were struck off the commission of the peace for their outspoken hostility to the Union, while Nicholas Fuller, who had also attacked the court of High Commission, was removed from the London and Middlesex commissions for gaol delivery and oyer and terminer.237 Perhaps mindful of Bacon’s advice of 1608 ‘not to call serjeants before Parliament’ in order to ‘keep the lawyers in awe’,238 James had also exploited to the full his power to blight or advance the careers of able lawyers in the hope that he would be able to buy their goodwill. In this he was not entirely unsuccessful. In 1610, as has been seen, Sir Henry Yelverton, realizing that his previous carriage in Parliament had ruined his chances of advancement, made his peace with James, thereby turning him from a severe critic of the Crown into one of its most loyal spokesmen. Shortly after the dissolution in 1614 the barrister Leonard Bawtree was rewarded for speaking in defence of impositions by being made a serjeant-at-law, whereas his more able colleague, William Hakewill, who condemned these levies, never achieved comparable recognition.
James’s determination to exclude Sandys and Coke threatened to make managing the forthcoming Parliament difficult, since barring two of its leading Members would create a breach with the Commons from the outset. This was clearly understood by the earl of Pembroke and the marquess of Hamilton, both of whom remonstrated with James in Council.239 However, James was only persuaded to relent in the case of Coke after Prince Charles, who much admired him, intervened on his behalf.240 Sandys, too, was eventually permitted to remain in England, but in his case his intercessor was probably not Charles but Buckingham, for in July 1622 Sandys had become one of the duke’s kinsmen by marriage.
The intervention of Charles and Buckingham is scarcely surprising, since the 1624 Parliament came about largely as a result of the pressure they exerted on James. To prevent this Parliament from failing as ignominiously as the three previous assemblies had done, Charles and Buckingham evidently arranged to manage this meeting themselves, thereby freeing James from all responsibility. To this end, and before the Parliament met, Buckingham opened up communication with many of those Members who had been punished after the collapse of the 1621 Parliament. Chief among them was Coke’s close ally Sir Robert Phelips, the son of the former Speaker Sir Edward Phelips. Sometime over the autumn of 1623 Phelips and Buckingham thrashed out a deal, the details of which may have been mediated by Phelips’ Court contact, Nathaniel Tomkins, clerk of the prince’s Council. This agreement, preserved among Phelips’s own papers in the form of a written dialogue between a courtier and a gentleman, committed Buckingham to undertake to persuade the king and Council to call a Parliament. Buckingham also promised to try to get James to break off the Spanish marriage negotiations and bring about a war with Spain. In return, Phelips undertook, albeit reluctantly, not to mention impositions.241 Similar agreements were evidently reached between Buckingham on the one hand and Sir Edwin Sandys and Sir Dudley Digges on the other,242 but not, it would seem, with Sir Francis Seymour.
These undertakings were astonishing. In effect, several leaders of the Commons had consented to help manage the lower House in the interests of the Crown. This was precisely the sort of arrangement that had been envisaged by Sir Henry Neville ten years earlier, and though Neville’s scheme had never been carried into effect, it was generally acknowledged that its existence had done much to poison the atmosphere in which the Parliament of 1614 had met. However, while news of these private agreements soon became widespread, the Commons did not divide along the lines of undertakers and anti-undertakers as it had in 1614, nor did it institute an inquiry. Most Members were just as anxious as Buckingham and Phelips to end the Spanish Match and commence hostilities with Spain, and were therefore unwilling to upset the apple cart. Even so, news of the deals aroused widespread disgust. In March 1624 Chamberlain reported that the Commons refused to be led along by Sandys, Digges and Phelips, who ‘have so little credit among them that though they speak well and to the purpose sometimes, yet it is not so well taken at their hands for still they suspect them to prevaricate, and hold them for undertakers’.243 A year later the earl of Clare scornfully observed that ‘my masters of the lower House’ had ‘become servers of turns and the instruments of great men’.244 Sandys incurred particular disapproval, for in March 1624 he suggested that the Commons should adopt a proposal devised by the earls of Pembroke and Southampton. This was a transparent attempt to manage the House on behalf of others, and the only surprise is not that Sandys was heavily criticized for his presumption but that William Mallory’s call for him to be expelled was not more widely supported.245 Given the disapproval which Sandys and his fellow Commons leaders incurred for presuming that they were entitled to manage the House on behalf of Charles and Buckingham, it is probably a mistake to argue, as one historian has done, that the accords reached ahead of the Parliament were ‘critical to the course of the 1624 session’.246
Although the agreements reached with the Commons’ leaders may have done more harm than good, they formed an important part of Charles and Buckingham’s strategy for managing the Commons. Another key part of the planning process involved the choice of Speaker. In the previous three parliaments the Speaker had been poorly regarded by many of his colleagues in the Commons because he was justifiably regarded as little more than a tool of the king. In 1624, however, the Crown chose as Speaker Sir Thomas Crewe, who had been severe in his criticism of impositions in 1610 and 1614, and had narrowly escaped arrest for his role in the latter stages of the 1621 Parliament. It seems unlikely that James was directly responsible for his selection, for in 1618 he had declared that Crewe was the one man in the kingdom whose candidacy for the recordership of London he absolutely forbade. It is much more likely that Crewe was singled out by Lord Keeper Williams, who made him a serjeant and recommended him to the king as a man ‘warm in the care of religion, and a chief among them that were popular in the defence of it; a great lover of the laws of the land, and the liberties of the people’.247 Not since 1572, when Elizabeth had chosen the former troublemaker Robert Bell, had the Crown made such a conciliatory gesture in respect of its choice of Speaker. Williams’s nominee was clearly approved by Prince Charles, since the duchy of Cornwall subsequently tried to find a seat for Crewe.
As is well known, the Parliament of 1624 was the most harmonious meeting of James’s reign. The Commons and Lords were broadly united behind Charles and Buckingham in their desire to break off the Spanish Match and wage war with Spain, and thanks to Buckingham the Commons found a way of ensuring that the money voted for war would not be misappropriated for the payment of the king’s debts. In legislative terms, too, the Parliament was more successful than its immediate predecessors. Whereas the previous two meetings had failed to enact any legislation (with the sole exception of the Subsidy Act in 1621) the 1624 Parliament passed a whole raft of new laws. Moreover, in the Commons Sir Thomas Crewe enjoyed such a cordial relationship with the House that on the final day of the session Edward Nicholas declared him to have been ‘the most able Speaker ... that had held that place in many years before’.248 On the face of it, Charles and Buckingham had succeeded where James had failed; they had discovered the secret of managing the Commons. However, it soon became clear that this was far from being the case. Not only did the harmony achieved in 1624 quickly evaporate, but also, within a few years, king and Commons became locked in a bitter struggle for control of the parliamentary agenda.
The Parliament of 1625
The accession of Charles I in March 1625 held out the prospect of a permanent improvement in relations between the king and the House of Commons. Unlike his late father, Charles had no direct experience of the Scottish Parliament, nor had he yet developed any great distaste for the English Parliament, for despite having privately described in November 1621 some individual Members of the Commons as ‘seditious fellows’, the new king appears to have been sincere when he professed in 1628 that ‘at the first I liked parliaments’.249 For their part Members of the Commons were equally hopeful, since memories of Charles’s alliance with the House’s leadership in 1624 were still fresh in their minds. ‘If His Majesty when he was prince and had but a mediating interest did us so many good offices, so many gracious favours’, declared Sir Benjamin Rudyard shortly after the start of the 1625 Parliament, ‘what may we expect now that he is king and has absolute power in his hands?’ The directness and brevity with which Charles addressed Parliament was regarded as particularly refreshing. For its ‘sense and shortness’, Charles’s opening speech to the 1625 Parliament ‘drew a great applause’ from a Commons ‘wearied with the long orations of King James’.250 Only later did Charles’s bluntness come to be regarded as a serious defect.
Buoyed up in the knowledge that he enjoyed the goodwill of his subjects, Charles approached the first Parliament of his reign with the same feeling of optimism as his father in 1604. However, whereas James had been determined to make a clean break with the practices of his predecessor, Charles expected to be able to continue where the 1624 Parliament had left off. Consequently Sir Thomas Crewe was selected to serve a second term as Speaker. Many contemporaries regarded Crewe’s reappointment as ‘a good omen to the work’ and a symbol of the ‘new marriage and conjunction between the king and people’,251 but this portent was deceptive. As in 1604, little attempt was made to recruit a body of Crown supporters in the Commons, even though Lord Keeper Williams reminded Charles before the Parliament that hitherto ‘the king’s servants and trustiest friends’ had used their influence at elections on behalf of the monarch.252 Moreover, the group of ‘undertakers’ who had cooperated with Charles and Buckingham in 1624 had been allowed to break up. Chief among them was Sir Robert Phelips, who had expected, on the accession of the new king, to be rewarded for his earlier loyalty. Neither he nor Sir Edwin Sandys, who was sent for shortly after Charles’s accession,253 were granted office. Although Sandys remained loyal to Buckingham, Phelips resented his treatment, and came to the Parliament armed with a list of grievances.254 These failings were compounded by the fact that, early in the Parliament, the Commons was given no clear guidance regarding the size of grant that would be needed to pay for the war with Spain. On the opening day of the session the lord keeper merely announced that the subsidies voted in 1624 had all been spent; that more money was needed; and that ‘a supply too late is none’. He also declared that subsidies were to be the main business of the session and that ‘domestical business’ should be postponed to a later meeting.255
These errors and oversights might have proved less serious had the Commons not met against the backdrop of a serious outbreak of plague. Many Members were desperate to leave Westminster as early as possible to avoid infection but, despite the sense of urgency communicated by the lord keeper, more than two weeks elapsed, during which time the Crown’s spokesmen failed to raise the subject of supply. Eventually, on 30 June, Sir Francis Seymour sparked off such a debate on his own initiative. Seymour was no friend of Buckingham’s, and far from proposing a large grant he offered just a single subsidy and one fifteenth. As there were then no councillors present, it fell to the Pembroke client Sir Benjamin Rudyard to protest that the sum this would yield was entirely inadequate. However, Rudyard’s objections fell on deaf ears, as a majority of Members present shared Seymour’s concern to restrict the size of the grant. Led by Phelips, who reminded the House that it had not yet received an account of the subsidies voted in 1624, it was agreed that the king should receive just two subsidies. Less than a week later a bill for such a grant received a second reading.256
On learning that the subsidy bill was close to completion, Buckingham, far from feeling grateful to the Commons, was horrified. Two subsidies would yield only around £160,000, whereas the Crown’s financial needs were far higher. He immediately rode to Hampton Court, where the king was staying.257 Left to his own devices, Charles would have been prepared to accept that the size of grant offered was the most that could be obtained. Indeed, on 4 July he sent a message to both Houses expressing ‘great satisfaction and contentment’ in the Commons’ gift, ‘both for the form and matter’.258 However, following the duke’s visit he experienced a change of heart.
After convincing the king to seek additional subsidies, Buckingham returned to London at around midnight on 7 July. Despite the late hour, he summoned those of his friends and clients with seats in the Commons and informed them that he wished the matter of supply to be reopened the next day.259 This course of action evidently struck Buckingham as entirely reasonable. After all, as recently as November 1621 the Commons had agreed in principle, albeit reluctantly, to grant subsidies twice in one year. He may also have been aware that in 1593 the Lords had persuaded the Commons to increase the size of its intended grant,260 and that Salisbury had done the same by the narrowest of margins in 1606, although in neither case had the Commons been obliged to pass a second subsidy bill.
By the time the Commons reassembled the following morning, many of its Members, thinking that their duty was done, had fled the capital. Those who remained behind gave the subsidy bill its third and final reading as soon as morning prayers were said. A short while later, however, Buckingham’s client John Coke rose to his feet and, after thanking his colleagues for voting subsidies without waiting to be asked, declared that the sum to be provided was wholly insufficient. After detailing the size of the king’s financial engagements, he announced that ‘a present resolution for money is not expected’. However, he advised the Commons to provide the king with a line of credit by promising to finance the war for as long as it lasted, for otherwise Charles would be forced to ‘strain some other way’ to raise the necessary funds. Many Members were naturally offended at this sign of royal ingratitude, and at the brazen attempt to exploit a thinly attended chamber. As Sir Robert Phelips later remarked, Coke’s intervention looked more like a ‘surprise of enemies’ than ‘an overture from friends’.261 Others, too, resented the manner of Coke’s delivery, which Sir John Eliot privately described as ‘more proper for a school than for a state or Council’.262 Sensing that the House was unwilling to countenance Coke’s motion, the solicitor general ‘took care ... to lay it aside quietly’.263
Coke was extremely angry at the hostile reaction to his speech, which he had carefully prepared overnight on the express instructions of Buckingham, but the Commons’ response had been entirely predictable. When, early that morning, the privy councillors with seats in the House had learned that Buckingham intended to seek a further grant of supply, they had been horrified, since it was unusual to vote subsidies twice in one session. Sir Humphrey May, the chancellor of the duchy, understood that any attempt to revisit the question of supply immediately would poison relations with the Commons, and he remonstrated with the duke’s client Sir John Eliot, whom he urged to speak to Buckingham. In the meantime he undertook to prevent Coke from delivering his speech until Eliot’s return. Eliot, who shared May’s concern, thereupon made his way to Buckingham’s Thames-side residence, where he found the duke still in bed. Over the course of the next two hours he attempted to persuade Buckingham to countermand his instructions to Coke, but to no avail. The displeasure of the councillors in the Commons on learning that their wishes had been set aside was evident from the fact that none of them rose to second Coke after he had finished speaking.264
In the aftermath of this fiasco Buckingham blamed everyone but himself for the failure of Coke’s motion. Those whom he had summoned to the midnight meeting – his ‘privados’, as his close friends and confidants were known – were roundly ‘condemned as remiss and negligent in the service’.265 However, by his ill-judged intervention Buckingham had destroyed the harmony that, up until then, had existed between king and Commons. Furthermore, he had driven a wedge between himself and the councillors in the Commons. Not only had he refused to heed their advice, he had also turned for help to one of his clients. Later that year Coke would join the Privy Council as principal secretary of state, but in July 1625 he was still a mere master of requests. One reason that none of the councillors in the House seconded Coke was that on the evening of 7/8 July Buckingham had consulted him rather than them.266
Buckingham’s failure to act in concert with the councillors in the Commons was a serious error of judgment, but whether it was due to hubris, as Eliot believed, or to the fact that the two chief councillors in the Commons – Sir Humphrey May and Sir Thomas Edmondes – were not his clients is unclear. One hitherto unexplored possibility is that Buckingham’s confidence in the effectiveness of the Crown’s official spokesmen in the Commons had diminished sharply. At the beginning of a new reign it was customary for Parliament to grant the monarch the right to collect the customs duties known as Tunnage and Poundage for life. However, on 5 July the Commons, fearful that these duties would be used to justify the continued levy of impositions, which many Members still regarded as illegal, placed the Tunnage and Poundage bill in committee for alteration. This anxiety was by no means unreasonable, for in 1624 the Tunnage and Poundage Act of 1604 had been used to justify the raising of additional duties known as the pretermitted customs, which the Commons had condemned as a grievance. Rather than enact legislation for the lifetime of the new king, the Commons decided, on the recommendation of Sir Robert Phelips, to redraft the bill so that it would expire in a year. That would give time to draft a satisfactory measure while still allowing the king to receive Tunnage and Poundage. Not surprisingly, the councillors present opposed Phelips’ suggestion ‘with much solicitation and endeavour’, arguing that a temporary measure would incline the king to think that his subjects held him in less regard than his predecessors. However, despite the force with which they pressed their case, their wishes were disregarded, and on 7 July, the day before the subsidy bill received its third and final reading, the newly reworded Tunnage and Poundage bill was ordered to be engrossed.267 This marked a humiliating and very public defeat for the Council. Since it came so soon after the councillors’ failure to take charge of the subsidy debate on 30 June, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Buckingham turned to his circle of clients and friends within the House to obtain a second grant of subsidies rather than to the Crown’s team of ministers and law officers.
By the time the king adjourned the Parliament on 11 July it was clear, as Eliot later observed, that ‘the winds were turned’.268 Buckingham was rapidly becoming the object of suspicion and resentment, and not simply because of his mismanagement of the Commons. His leadership of the Navy, for example, began to be called into question, as the expedition that was busily preparing at Plymouth had still not sailed for Spain, even though the campaign season was well underway. There were also demands to know what had become of the subsidies voted in 1624. Charles was made fully aware of the mounting criticism of his favourite by Lord Keeper Williams, who told him privately on 10 July that Buckingham now had many enemies in the Commons who had ‘contrived complaints’ against him. Were the Parliament to reassemble, Williams warned, these malcontents would have ‘no other aim’ but to attack Buckingham. Charles, however, was convinced that the only reason the Commons had failed to vote additional supply was that its Members had been desperate to escape the capital for fear of the plague. Were the Parliament to reconvene at Oxford the lower House might, given the change of air, prove more amenable. Williams was appalled, and pointed out that ‘it was not another place but another time that must speed the work’. Neither the Lords nor the Commons would take kindly to being required to travel to Oxford ‘in such a mortal time’. Were they to be compelled to do so it was likely that they would ‘vote out of discontent and displeasure’. It would be a mistake for the king ‘to give offences, though small ones, in the bud of his reign’. Besides, Members had already voted two subsidies and were unlikely to be persuaded to give more, for ‘though they remove to Oxford, it is the same session’. It would be better, he urged, if Parliament did not meet again until after Christmas, ‘for I hope to give such account by that time, by undertaking with the chief sticklers, that they shall supersede from their bitterness against your great servant, and that passage to your weighty counsels shall be made smooth and peaceable’.269
Williams’ offer to manage the Commons on behalf of the king was not taken up, nor was his advice to avoid summoning the Parliament to Oxford heeded. When the Parliament reconvened in early August the demand for additional supply was repeated. This time the Crown’s spokesmen presented a united front, as the councillors in the Commons, doubtless under direct instructions from the king, seconded John Coke, who once again made the case for a second grant. However, as Williams had predicted, this fresh request provided the cue for a full-scale assault on Buckingham. On 5 August, the day after further subsidies were demanded, Sir Robert Phelips and Sir Edward Coke launched a scathing attack on the mismanagement of the royal finances, during the course of which Buckingham was deemed unfit to hold high office. Both men accused the duke of monopolizing power, while Phelips asserted that the king had received bad advice.270 It was clear that there were many in the Commons who sympathized with these complaints, but ranged against them stood a phalanx of the Crown’s supporters led by Sir Humphrey May, Sir Richard Weston and the solicitor general, Sir Robert Heath. During the ensuing debate, the Commons, in effect, divided into two main camps. For the rest of the day both sides tried to recruit additional support from the small body of Members who remained uncommitted. According to Eliot, the king’s spokesmen succeeded in winning over some of the more ambitious among the neutrals by making it appear that they had the Crown’s patronage at their disposal.271
The fate of the Parliament was now on a knife-edge. Several of Buckingham’s closest supporters impressed upon the duke the need ‘to endeavour an accommodation with the Parliament’. Sir John Eliot in particular urged Buckingham to cast the blame for the failures in naval administration on the Navy Commissioners, who were led by Eliot’s arch enemy John Coke. He was also urged to withdraw the royal protection accorded to the Arminian cleric Richard Montagu, whose published writings, coupled with the king’s recent marriage to a French princess (Henrietta Maria), had continued to fuel fears for the survival of English Protestantism. At first it seemed that Buckingham would adopt the course of action suggested by Eliot,272 but in the event he proved unwilling to cast aside either Coke, whom he counted among his most loyal supporters, or Montagu. On 8 August he addressed both Houses of Parliament, and answered his critics in detail. Far from satisfying his enemies in the lower House, Buckingham, both by his words and his demeanour, enraged them still further. ‘Many things of arrogance were observed’, recalled Eliot, and ‘many things were judged imperfect in his answers’. To make matters worse, the key role played by Buckingham in summoning the Parliament to Oxford, against the strong advice of Lord Keeper Williams, was revealed by the duke’s enemies, news which ‘cast no small prejudice both on his person and his acts’.273
By now it was plain that control of the Commons had slipped out of the hands of Charles and Buckingham. Egged on by the duke’s enemies in the House of Lords, most Members were more interested in pursuing their own agenda than the king’s. On 10 August the king announced that, while he was pleased that the Commons desired ‘to reform many things tending to his particular service’, he required that immediate attention be given to the matter of supply, ‘that he may send his navy’.274 Were this to be done, he promised, the Parliament would meet again over the winter to ‘bring to maturity those things which were propounded’. If not, he warned, he would ‘take more care of your safety than yourselves’ and bring the meeting to a close. Two days later, however, the Commons answered only that it would be ready to give ‘in convenient time’.275 Since it was clear that the Commons’ idea of ‘convenient time’ was not identical to Charles’s, and since it was no less obvious that the Commons would not be satisfied until it had inflicted serious damage on Buckingham, the Parliament was immediately dissolved.
The Parliament of 1626
Before Parliament met again it was plain that Charles and Buckingham would need to be both better prepared and more receptive to the advice of those around them. It was also essential to clear away the obstacles that would otherwise hinder the king’s smooth management of the Commons. One of the chief barriers to success was the fact that, following his marriage, the king had relaxed the penal laws against Catholics. Shortly after the dissolution Charles took steps to remedy this situation, issuing a Proclamation requiring that the laws against Catholics be more vigorously enforced. However, if Charles hoped that this concession would suffice to win over a future House of Commons he was, as the Tuscan ambassador shrewdly observed in September 1625, bound to be disappointed.276 This was because the main obstacle to a future harmonious meeting between the king and his subjects was not the Catholic threat at home but the continuing dominance of Buckingham.
Charles may have hoped that the opposition to Buckingham would melt away once the fleet, which finally sailed in early October, returned in triumph. Certainly a victory over the Spanish would have made it difficult for Buckingham’s enemies to mount a second attack on him. However, planning for a new Parliament could not be postponed until the fleet returned, for whatever the outcome of the expedition, additional money would be needed the following year. Consequently, as early as September 1625 the king began to contemplate a fresh meeting with his subjects. Despite the unhappy experience of his first Parliament, Charles was not unduly troubled by the attacks on Buckingham, and believed that the stormy mood of the Commons had been entirely attributable to ‘the distemper of 5 or 6 men’.277 Were these ringleaders to be removed, the way would be clear to rebuild the warm relationship he had enjoyed with the Commons in 1624. In order to accomplish this end Charles hit upon a strategy that harked back to his father’s abortive plan to send Sir Edward Coke and Sir Edwin Sandys to Ireland ahead of the 1624 assembly. Seven of the leading Members of the 1625 Parliament – among them Coke and Phelips – were pricked to serve as sheriffs in order to disqualify them from membership of the Commons. This development was warmly welcomed by Rudyard, one of the Crown’s leading spokesmen in 1625, who declared that ‘the rank weeds of the Parliament are rooted up so that we may expect a plentiful harvest the next’.278 At around the same time, Bishop Williams was dismissed as lord keeper, for despite having warned Charles in advance that the Oxford meeting was likely to prove disastrous he was suspected, with some justification, of having fomented the discontent himself.279 Williams, however, vehemently denied that he had consorted with any of the ‘stirring men’ at Oxford apart from Sir Thomas Wentworth and Phelips, whom he had approached on behalf of Buckingham. Besides, he added, his own power in the Commons at that time was much diminished ‘by reason of the paucity of the lawyers, who were in the circuit’.280
By reversing the limited toleration granted to Catholics at the beginning of his reign, and by ensuring that the most troublesome Members of his first Parliament would not be able to sit, Charles hoped to create the conditions necessary to manage the Commons. However, his chances of handling a future lower House were dealt a devastating blow at the end of the year, when the fleet returned from Cadiz, battered and broken, having accomplished nothing. Now, instead of summoning Parliament in the warm glow of victory, Charles would be compelled to order it to meet against a backdrop of defeat. To make matters worse, the attempt to draw France into the war against Spain had gone disastrously wrong. A squadron of English ships loaned to the French king in anticipation of an Anglo-French naval assault on the Spanish held port of Genoa had been used, without English permission, to quell the rebellious Huguenots of La Rochelle. English guns had therefore been turned not on the Spanish, but on England’s co-religionists. Charles was incensed, but he was denied the opportunity to repair the damage and so save the reputation of Buckingham, because in January 1626 the French king and the Huguenots signed a treaty of peace.281
When the Parliament opened the following month it quickly became clear that the exclusion from the Commons of several of its former Members had accomplished little. Charles soon discovered that the Commons was like a hydra, as cutting off some of its heads only resulted in others taking their place.282 One of the Members who now stepped into the breach was Buckingham’s own former client, Sir John Eliot, who had been appalled at the failure of the Cadiz expedition and at the fact that his rival, John Coke, now knighted, had been promoted to secretary of state. Sometime during early 1626 Eliot transferred his allegiance from Buckingham to the lord chamberlain, the earl of Pembroke, who together with Archbishop Abbot headed a powerful group on the Privy Council opposed to the duke. The day after the Parliament opened, on 10 February, Eliot launched a vehement attack on Buckingham. ‘Our honour is ruined’, he complained, ‘ours ships are sunk, our men perished, not by the sword, not by an enemy, not by chance, but ... by those we trust’.283 At first many of Eliot’s listeners were reluctant to renew the assault on Buckingham, but by the fourth week in February a large section of the Commons again had the duke in its sights after Eliot succeeded in linking Buckingham to the recent disruption to trade with France.
The principal mechanism by which the House now pursued the favourite was the committee of the whole House. On 24 February, at the suggestion of Christopher Wandesford, the House established a special grand committee known as the committee for evils, causes and remedies. Existing alongside the grand committee for grievances, which it largely overshadowed, and chaired by Wandesford himself, the committee was instructed to ‘hear the people’ and ‘search into the causes of those evils that like an inundation have overwhelmed us’.284 Described by one historian as ‘the nerve centre of the Commons’ in 1626,285 the committee for evils took less than a month to identify most of the grievances that it wished to investigate. In order to establish the cause of these complaints a subcommittee was established at Eliot’s suggestion on 20 March. Chaired by Eliot, and christened the committee for the causes of causes, this new body set about attributing the grievances to Buckingham. Its initial report was produced with lightning-like rapidity, being presented to its parent committee just four days later. A second report was submitted on 21 April.286
Like its parent body, Eliot’s subcommittee consisted of the entire membership of the Commons rather than a select group of Members. However, on 21 April the House established a select committee consisting of just twelve named Members, ostensibly for the purpose of reducing the charges into form and to search out precedents. The four chairmen of the standing grand committees were included, as was Eliot, the chairman of the subcommittee for the causes of causes, and the other leading malcontents in the Commons, among them Sir Dudley Digges, John Glanville and John Selden. However, it soon became clear that the new committee of twelve wished to conduct its own investigations, independently of the grand committee for evils, causes and remedies, for the next day various Members with close links to Buckingham were instructed by the committee to give their attendance. Unlike the earlier investigations carried out by the committee for evils, these inquiries were conducted in private, to the dismay of many ordinary Members, since it was virtually unheard of for Members to be barred from attending any committee. Not surprisingly, on 24 April a complaint was lodged and a division was forced. Under normal circumstances the committee of twelve might have expected to lose this vote, but in the event it not only won the ensuing division by a comfortable margin but also received carte blanche to investigate any new matter that was brought to its attention. This was an astonishing development, for never before had the leadership of the House separated itself formally from the rank and file. The reason for this extraordinary turn of events lies in the extreme sensitivity of a particular piece of information that had recently been brought to the attention of the Commons’ leaders. The committee of twelve had learned that Buckingham had administered certain medicines to James in his final illness without the sanction of the royal physicians. The implications of this revelation were potentially explosive, because they might ultimately lead to the conclusion that Buckingham had poisoned the late king. However, were the committee of twelve to be forced to carry out its investigation of this charge in the full glare of an open committee, the king would inevitably discover what was afoot and cause the inquiry to be stopped. The only way to prevent this was to allow the committee to conduct its investigations in secret.287
The Commons’ investigation into Buckingham constituted a direct challenge to the king’s control of the House’s agenda. Charles clearly understood this, and from the outset he tried to close down this inquiry and force the Commons to attend to the matter that he regarded as forming the main business of the Parliament, the voting of subsidies. On 15 March, four days after Pembroke’s client Dr. Turner declared that there must be a general cause for all the nation’s grievances, and that ‘common fame presents one man to be this cause’, Charles expressed astonishment that the Commons had Buckingham in its sights, declared that he would not allow his servants to be questioned and demanded that the House turn its attention to preparing a subsidy bill. These words fell on deaf ears, and therefore on 29 March Lord Keeper Coventry informed the House that it was the king’s ‘express and final command’ that it desist from attacking Buckingham. Far from bringing the Commons to heel, however, Charles’s instructions merely ‘roused a bitter and obstinate feeling’ among a majority of Members, who not only ‘adhered resolutely to the course which they had begun’ but also ‘resumed their debates with equal ardour’.288
Faced with a Commons that defiantly refused to do his bidding, Charles might have been expected to dissolve the Parliament forthwith and resort to extra-parliamentary methods of raising money to solve his financial difficulties. This, after all, is what his father had done in 1614 when the Commons, after repeated warnings, had refused to cease debating impositions. More than once during the Parliament, Charles certainly threatened to return to personal rule. On 29 March he famously reminded the Commons that ‘parliaments are altogether in my power for the calling, sitting and continuance of them’, before adding that ‘as I find the fruits either good or evil they are for to continue or not to be’. Moreover, on 20 April he instructed the House to tell him within four or five days how much money it was prepared to vote, otherwise ‘both the time of the year and occurrences ... will force him to new counsels’.289 However, it was not until 15 June that Charles finally carried out his threat to dissolve the Parliament.
Charles’s reluctance to bring down the curtain on his second Parliament was due to financial weakness rather than a lack of resolve, for it was difficult to see, in the midst of a war, how the king could do without parliamentary supply. While there remained a reasonable prospect that the Commons would eventually grant him subsidies, Charles knew, as did the Commons, that his threats were empty. By exploiting the king’s financial weakness, the Commons, in effect, now controlled the agenda, as Charles himself angrily conceded on 29 March. ‘Now ... you have things according to your own wishes, and I am so far engaged that you think there is no retreat’, he complained, ‘you begin to set the dice and make your own prize’. Charles was adamant that ‘this is not a parliamentary way, nor a way to deal with kings’,290 but until the middle of June, when he ultimately decided that he was unwilling to exchange Buckingham for subsidies, he effectively allowed himself to become the prisoner of his Parliament.
There were only two ways open to Charles to regain control of the agenda. The first was to increase the number of Buckingham’s supporters in the Commons. According to the Tuscan ambassador, Charles hoped to use the Easter recess to win over some Members.291 However, these efforts, if they were made at all, proved unavailing, for when the Commons divided on 27 April over whether to add to the charges against Buckingham the accusation of poisoning the late king, the motion’s supporters won by 191 votes to 150, a majority of 41. To add insult to injury, several Members with offices in the royal Household evidently voted against the duke, as before the end of the day Sir William Croft, Sir Francis Stewart and Sir Ralph Clare were all suspended from their posts.292 Four days later the House divided again, over whether to add a second charge to the list. Once more Buckingham’s supporters were defeated, by 37 votes. The only occasion on which the duke’s friends carried the House – by a margin of just six – was on 11 March, when many of the lawyer-Members were absent at the assizes.293 Over the course of the Parliament, Buckingham’s support in the Commons may actually have shrunk rather than risen. In mid March the privy councillor Sir Thomas Edmondes, who might have been expected to cast his vote for the duke, was unseated on the pretext that he was unduly elected, leaving, in the words of James Palmer, ‘never a white staff in the House to beat a dog with’. At around the same time his fellow councillor, Sir John Suckling, was excluded for his part in the imprisonment and excommunication of Sir Robert Howard.294 On 9 May one of Buckingham’s most earnest supporters, the Lichfield Member Richard Dyott, was suspended for angrily defending the duke, and was not permitted to resume his seat until 23 May.295
The second way in which Charles might hope to restore a degree of control over the Commons was to reach an accommodation with Buckingham’s enemies. In return for abandoning their attack on the duke, Buckingham would mend his ways, perhaps by giving up some of his offices. An attempt to strike just such a deal seems to have been made at the end of April and beginning of May, as the Commons stood poised to transmit the charges of impeachment to the Lords. On 29 April, in an apparent reversal of policy, Charles announced that he would, after all, allow the investigation into the duke to proceed.296 It soon became clear, though, that Charles had no intention of letting Buckingham stand trial, for on 2 May Buckingham’s friends and clients in the lower House sought to persuade the Commons to aim for the reformation rather than the punishment of the duke. However, by the end of the day any hope that Charles might halt the impeachment proceedings in their tracks and reassert his authority over the Commons had evaporated.297
Although Buckingham’s enemies in the Commons clearly had the upper hand for much of the time, they were acutely aware from the outset that if they concentrated on drawing up charges against Buckingham to the exclusion of considering supply they would merely bring about an early dissolution. It is significant that on the day that he proposed the creation of the committee for evils, causes and remedies, Christopher Wandesford mentioned the king’s need for money.298 In order to buy the time needed to put together their case, Buckingham’s enemies had to ensure that the question of supply was dealt with in stages. It took five weeks before the Commons gave Charles its assurance that it fully intended to ‘supply Your Majesty in such a way and in so ample a measure as may make you safe at home and feared abroad’, and another twelve days elapsed before the House agreed in principle to vote three subsidies and three fifteenths. Since the sum on offer – approximately £240,000 if Sir Richard Weston is to be believed – was clearly insufficient, the Commons was then able to spin out the debate about the size of grant for a further month. On 26 April the House resolved to add a fourth subsidy to the three that had already been agreed, and by the time the king had signalled his acceptance of this improved offer, on 2 May, the Commons was ready to transmit the impeachment charges to the Lords.
Protracting the subsidy negotiations so that they did not outstrip the impeachment proceedings involved considerable managerial skill on the part of the Commons’ leaders, and every now and then the king seemed poised to take back charge of the agenda. One such moment occurred on 23 March, when Secretary Coke tried to initiate a subsidy debate. After setting out in detail the king’s wants, Coke was seconded by Rudyard. Taken by surprise, a panic-stricken Wandesford declared that whatever sum was asked for ‘we cannot possibly give’, and demanded that continuation of the debate be postponed until the following Monday (the 27th).299 His alarm was evidently occasioned by the fact that Eliot had not reported the findings of his committee for the causes of causes, a task that was not accomplished until the following day.
In general, however, it proved impossible for Charles to force the Commons to set aside its business in favour of his. When Eliot and Digges were arrested on his orders for traducing Buckingham on 8 May the Commons, far from feeling cowed, simply refused to conduct any more business until the two men had been restored to the House. One of the clearest symptoms of the king’s loss of control is to be found in the changed attitude of many in the Commons to their Speaker. In 1624 Sir Thomas Crewe had enjoyed such amicable relations with his colleagues that he had been feted on all sides for his successful management of the Commons. However, this improvement in the relations between the Commons and its Speaker had not been a reflection of Crewe’s own talents but had primarily stemmed from the fact that Charles and Buckingham were then held in high regard by the lower House. Crewe conspicuously failed to gain the same approval from his fellow Members in 1625, as six days into the Parliament Members had to be reminded that they would be fined if they rushed out of the chamber ahead of the Speaker when the House rose.300 A similar lack of respect for the Speaker was shown in 1626. After the Commons learned that Eliot and Digges had been arrested by the king, the Speaker, Sir Heneage Finch, announced that he regretted the House’s decision to abandon all further business, whereupon he was greeted with shouts of ‘sit down’.301
The decline in the Speaker’s standing was mirrored by his loss of role. As in 1621, those Members determined to manage their own affairs increasingly regarded the Speaker as an irrelevance. On 1 July 1625, when the Commons was debating a particular matter in grand committee, Crewe told Secretary Conway that his colleagues did not require his presence, and so ‘I come not unless I be sent for’.302 In 1626 Finch, under pressure from Charles to force the Commons to turn its attention to subsidies, was elbowed aside by the committee for evils, causes and remedies, whose business between 11 and 20 March swallowed up most of eight consecutive working days, prompting the king to complain of the Commons’ ‘unreasonable slowness’.303 No wonder that Finch confided to his commonplace book that Parliament was ‘a sea unmanageable, especially if you sail by another compass’.304
The Parliament of 1628-9
In the aftermath of the 1626 Parliament a disillusioned Charles reportedly questioned the queen’s almoner, the bishop of Mende, about ‘the means used by the kings of France to rid themselves of Parliament’.305 Like his father before him, the new king had discovered, to his dismay, that he was quite incapable of controlling the House of Commons. Over the course of the next eighteen months, Charles dispensed with parliaments and levied money instead by means of a Forced Loan. This levy, which yielded the equivalent of around five subsidies, helped pay for the opening campaign of the war that had now broken out with France, but by the end of 1627 the Exchequer was once again empty. Since Charles had no desire to abandon the wars with France and Spain, he was forced to choose between continuing to raise money by means of his prerogative – either in the form of an excise or Ship Money – and summoning another Parliament.
Charles’s decision to call a fresh Parliament represented a victory of the moderate members of his Council, among whom were Sir John Coke and Sir Humphrey May, over the hardliners led by Sir John Savile, the earl of Dorset and Bishop Laud, who warned that the Commons would ‘begin where they left’ or ‘at least ... look to sacrifice somebody’.306 As a gesture of goodwill, those gentlemen who had been imprisoned for failing to pay the Forced Loan were released, among them several prominent Members of the House of Commons. However, Charles made it clear from the outset that Parliament was now on probation. In his opening speech to Parliament on 13 March 1628, he told the Commons that ‘if you do neglect your duties herein I must then be forced, for the preservation of the public ... to take some other course’. The fear that Charles might at any moment return to personal rule cast a long shadow over the Parliament. Nine days after Charles delivered his warning, Sir Benjamin Rudyard famously declared that ‘this is the crisis of parliaments. We shall know by this if parliaments live or die’. Sir Edward Coke, too, expressed his fear of extinction by reminding the House that, by medieval law, ‘parliaments ought to be every year’.307
By opening his third Parliament with a threat to close it down should it fail to act as required, Charles has attracted scholarly criticism for ‘showing his usual lack of tact’.308 Threatening the Commons was surely no way to ensure its goodwill. In fact, by opening proceedings in this way, Charles was doing precisely what his father had done in 1621. Against the backdrop of the Jacobean Personal Rule, James, through his spokesmen, had warned the Commons in no uncertain terms that Parliament was on probation and might at any moment be dissolved if it displeased him. Far from adding to the ill feeling that had previously existed, James’s threat had helped to create the most harmonious period in relations between king and Commons since his accession. The Commons had scrupulously avoided debating impositions, while James, in return, had allowed the lower House to carry out an investigation into grants of monopoly. This harmony had lasted for around three months, and was only dispelled at the end of May 1621, when it appeared to the Commons that, despite its attempts to mollify the king, James was about to return to ruling without reference to parliaments.
Whether Charles was consciously emulating his father is unclear, but it soon became apparent that there were some in the Commons who were desperate to please him. Chief among them was Sir Edward Coke, who had been prevented from sitting in 1626 by the king himself. During the subsidy debate of 2 April Coke declared himself to be in favour of a ‘bountiful supply’, and two days later he not only advocated a grant of five subsidies but also drew attention to the decline in the value of the subsidy caused by under-assessment. Coke’s enthusiasm for subsidies was so marked that during the martial law debate of 11 April he broke off in mid speech to remind Members that they had so far failed to appoint a time for the collection of the money they had voted in principle. Criticized by Sir Francis Nethersole as ‘untimely’, this motion was regarded with such suspicion that Coke was obliged to protest that it ‘came merely from myself, not from Court’.309
One of the main ways in which the Commons pleased the king early in the Parliament was by not renewing its attack on Buckingham. According to the Venetian ambassador, Contarini, there were still many in the Commons who, given the recent failure of the expedition to the Ile de Ré, would dearly have liked to force the king to replace the duke as lord admiral with someone more experienced in naval affairs, but were prevented from doing so by ‘fear of destruction’.310 The same fear of extinction that had driven the Commons to avoid debating impositions in 1621 also served to prevent a further attack on Buckingham in 1628. However, the avoidance of any direct criticism of the favourite also owed much to the rapprochement that was reached in July 1626 between Buckingham and one of his chief opponents on the Council, William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke. The latter had a moderately large following in the Commons,311 and some of his supporters had spearheaded the impeachment proceedings in the lower House in 1626. In the absence of Herbert support, those who still wished to mount an attack on the duke – among them, perhaps, Sir John Eliot – had no chance of succeeding, as Contarini observed.312
How the decision to avoid attacking Buckingham was reached remains uncertain. It has been widely assumed that before the Parliament opened some of the Commons’ leaders privately met the Crown’s representatives.313 Such a meeting, if it took place, would certainly help to explain why Sir Edward Coke proved keen to further the king’s financial interests in April 1628. However, as in 1621, there is no evidence that any such meeting ever occurred, nor, given the reconciliation between Buckingham and Pembroke and the general fear that parliaments would be extinguished unless the Commons cooperated with the king, is it necessary to invoke one. The closest thing to such a meeting that can now be found in the surviving records is a large supper party hosted by the earl of Leicester at Essex House, in The Strand, on 26 January, five days before the election writs were issued. At this were present the earls of Pembroke, Warwick and Carlisle, Algernon, Lord Percy, Sir William Herbert, Sir Benjamin Rudyard, Sir George Goring, Sir William Croft and ‘Mr. Jerman’ (either Henry or Thomas Jermyn).314 However, this gathering, though it included the head of the Herbert faction and Buckingham’s close ally Carlisle, did not include any of the key players in the Commons, with the notable exception of Rudyard.
Although it remains impossible to establish whether the Commons’ leaders privately came to an arrangement with the Crown before the Parliament, the moderates on the Council with seats in the Commons quickly sought to take charge of proceedings. Led by Secretary Coke, Sir Humphrey May and Sir Thomas Edmondes, they initially proved surprisingly successful. Just eighteen days into the meeting the Commons agreed in principle to vote five subsidies, an unprecedented grant. On hearing the news Charles was so pleased that he declared ‘I shall delight to meet with my people often’. Buckingham was equally ecstatic, and announced that henceforth he would dedicate himself to promoting unity.315 The chief architect of this triumph was Secretary Coke who, just five days into the meeting, helped remove one of the main obstacles to harmony by conceding, with disarming frankness, that since the previous Parliament the Crown had resorted to illegal methods of raising money.316 It was also Coke who, in early April, succeeded in diverting attention away from the Forced Loan, discussion of which had been threatening to monopolize proceedings, to subsidies. In a speech delivered with strong emotion, Coke revealed that Charles had assured him most vigorously that the Commons would be allowed to proceed with its grievances.317 The next day, 4 April, he announced that the king was willing to confirm the rights and liberties of the subject as they had been enjoyed ‘under the best of our kings’. This was the assurance that the House had been looking for, and it unlocked the Commons’ purse-strings as if by magic.318
For one brief moment the Crown appeared at last to have found the secret of managing the Commons. However, the moderate councillors’ success in obtaining an agreement to vote subsidies was more apparent than real, as the Commons had not yet drafted, let alone passed, a subsidy bill. Moreover, during the early stages of the Parliament Secretary Coke had not been quite as successful in managing the Commons as is sometimes claimed.319 Indeed, on 24 March he was obliged to retreat from his initial demand, made two days earlier, that the Commons give precedence to subsidies. Now, he said, Charles would be willing to accept ‘the precedence of honour, if not of time’. By the next day he had given up even this modest demand, declaring that Charles would settle for having his business go hand in glove with grievances.320 This staged withdrawal in the face of widespread hostility was scarcely the behaviour of a minister fully in control of the Commons.
The hollowness of the moderate councillors’ triumph was exposed on 11 April when the Commons, fearing that if it passed the subsidy bill before grievances were redressed the king would dissolve the Parliament, resolved that completion of the subsidy bill would be delayed until the heads of a bill to preserve the liberties of the subject had been agreed. On learning of this decision, Charles was furious. He complained of ‘an unexpected stop, almost beyond all expectation after so good [a] beginning’.321 It had been his intention to allow the subsidy bill and the House’s business in respect of the subject’s liberties to proceed together, ‘not that the one should give interruption to the other,’ nor that time should be ‘spun out upon any pretence, upon which the common cause of Christendom doth so much depend’. The Commons was warned to take heed that it did not force him ‘to make an unpleasing end of that which was so well begun’.322 However, this thinly veiled threat to dissolve the Parliament was empty, for unless he was prepared to forgo subsidies Charles would again find himself the prisoner of the Commons. Far from causing Members to turn their attention to the subsidy bill, Charles’s message only served to antagonize the Commons, which proceeded to draft a petition justifying its actions.
For the remainder of the session it was the Commons, not the king, who set both the agenda and the pace of proceedings. In mid May Charles again came within a hair’s breadth of dissolving the Parliament,323 but when the fleet under the earl of Denbigh returned to England, having failed to break into the harbour of La Rochelle, he was again left with little option but to keep the assembly in being. Only in one respect did Charles hamper the Commons in its attempt to obtain redress for its grievances. At the beginning of May Charles, fearful that the Commons was aiming at extending the liberties of the subject, announced that he would not accept any bill that sought to explain the fundamental laws of England. This threw the Commons into a state of blind panic and led within a few days to the abandonment of its bill. However, the House was not thereby forced to accept the king’s word that he would uphold the law, as Charles wished. Instead, Members chose to obtain confirmation of the subject’s liberties by means of a petition of right, which was presented to the king in early June. When Charles gave only a lukewarm response to the Petition, all that he accomplished was to provoke a further attack on Buckingham. Since the subsidy bill did not receive its third and final reading until 12 June,324 Charles was obliged to provide a more satisfactory answer to the Petition.
Charles was deeply resentful at having been forced to pursue an agenda dictated to him by the Commons, and once the subsidy bill had completed its passage he gave vent to his anger. When the Commons presented him with its Remonstrance against Buckingham on 17 June he refused to dignify it with an answer, but merely declared, on the final day of the session, that ‘I am sure no wise man can justify it’.325 Yet despite Charles’s annoyance, the session had proved considerably more successful than the previous Parliament. Moderate members of the Council had clearly demonstrated to Charles that Parliament, and in particular the Commons, could be managed in the interests of the king. During the early stages of the assembly they had succeeded in obtaining an agreement in principle to vote five subsidies in record time. Moreover it was probably the moderates who were responsible for subsequently persuading Charles behind the scenes to make the concessions necessary to induce the Commons to translate this vote in principle into a concrete grant.326 However, while Charles could take some comfort from the outcome of the session, it was clear that the Commons had only been prepared to comply with his wishes on condition that its grievances were dealt with first. This was remarkable, as for the first time since the Middle Ages the Commons had succeeded in making supply conditional on redress of grievances.327
Such an arrangement can hardly be described as the king managing the Commons. Nevertheless, Sir John Coke at least believed that a corner had been turned. Writing in November 1628 to the earl of Carlisle, he declared that the king had eliminated ‘all distempers which have transported men’s minds’ and prophesied that Parliament would ‘settle our home affairs in unity and regularity’. One reason for Coke’s new-found optimism was that over the summer Buckingham, who was widely hated, had been assassinated by a disgruntled soldier while inspecting the fleet at Portsmouth. Like many of the king’s subjects, Coke did not mourn the death of his former patron, who had done so much to hinder the smooth management of parliaments. Instead, he looked hopefully to Sir Richard Weston, who had recently been elevated to the peerage as Lord Weston and promoted to lord treasurer, to steer the Commons from his seat in the Lords.328 Another reason that Coke may have expected a more congenial meeting when Parliament reassembled was that during the winter of 1628/9 the king made strenuous attempts to neutralize the problem posed by Arminianism, which had helped to poison the atmosphere in his first three parliaments. In January 1629 Richard Montagu’s controversial book, Appello Caesarem, was called in, and Montagu himself was persuaded to repudiate the teachings of Arminius.329
When the Parliament reconvened in January 1629, however, it soon became clear that little had changed. The main business of the session, so far as the king was concerned, was the bill for Tunnage and Poundage. In 1625 the Commons had proposed to put this legislation on a temporary footing to allow time for a more satisfactory version to be drafted, but the Lords had rejected this manner of proceeding, leaving Charles with little option but to levy Tunnage and Poundage without statutory authority. He continued to raise these duties even after he signified his acceptance of the Petition of Right, thereby contravening the Petition, which prohibited him from levying any taxes not warranted by Parliament. Charles was aware that this situation was unsatisfactory, and at the start of the new session Secretary Coke laid a draft measure before the Commons with a request that it should be given precedence over all other matters. However, the Commons flatly refused to agree to this, ostensibly on the grounds that it would be improper to deal with a subsidy bill so early in the session. Two days later Coke tried again, whereupon the Commons promised merely to deal with the matter ‘in fit time’.330
Far from giving priority to the king’s wish to place Tunnage and Poundage on a statutory footing, the Commons, emboldened by its success in setting the agenda the previous year, was instead intent on dealing with matters that it considered of greater importance. The first was the threat to the Church of England posed by the creeping Arminianism within its ranks, for although Charles had ordered the suppression of Appello Caesarem he had also, since the previous session, preferred those clergymen most suspected of Arminian sympathies – Laud, Neile, Montagu and Manwaring. The second was the seizure by the customs officers (known as customers) of the goods of those merchants who had refused to pay Tunnage and Poundage on the grounds that it was illegal. This latter issue was political dynamite, partly because one of the merchants concerned – John Rolle – was a Member of the Commons, entitled to parliamentary privilege for his goods, but also because the customers were supported by the king, who claimed that they had been acting on his direct authority. Were the customers to be punished as delinquents for obeying Charles’s instructions, no servant of the Crown could be expected to carry out the king’s commands, and royal government would grind to a halt. For this reason Sir Humphrey May urged the Commons to let the matter rest. However, by now, as Lockyer has remarked, the Commons ‘had ceased to defer to the wishes of the privy councillors’,331 and, led by Sir John Eliot, a majority persisted in demanding redress.
In refusing to back down, Eliot and his allies greatly miscalculated their strength. The Commons now enjoyed far less bargaining power than it had in recent sessions, since the king was asking for parliamentary confirmation of Tunnage and Poundage ‘out of goodwill, not out of need’. Moreover, he had no intention of seeking a further grant of supply, for now that La Rochelle had fallen and Buckingham was dead there seemed little point in continuing the war with Spain and France. Besides, not all the subsidies voted in 1628 had yet been collected.332 Since the Commons had no means of forcing the king to do its bidding, and the king had no means of forcing the Commons to do his, Charles ultimately saw no reason to continue the Parliament. Consequently, on the morning of 2 March, the Speaker, Sir John Finch, was instructed to adjourn proceedings.
By preventing the Commons from continuing to pursue its own agenda, Charles now brought to a head the struggle for control of the Speaker that had been taking place ever since 1604. When Finch, in accordance with the king’s instructions, tried to leave the chamber after announcing the adjournment, Eliot and his supporters insisted that he should first read a Remonstrance condemning Arminianism and the continued levy of Tunnage and Poundage. Finch was thereupon faced with a terrible dilemma, for he could not carry out both of these instructions. Not surprisingly, he chose to obey Charles, but on making for the door he was dragged back to his seat and held down. In the ensuing fracas, punches were thrown as the privy councillors present vainly tried to free the Speaker. Eliot’s supporters were livid that Finch had decided to set aside the Commons’ wishes, and some of them demanded that another Speaker be chosen in his stead. At this Finch protested that he dared not disobey the king, and demanded to know ‘what would you have me to do, if you were in my place?’ His question led William Strode to reply that the Speaker’s principal obedience was to the House rather than the king: ‘his servant you are to whom you obey; if not us you are none of our servant’. This was nub of the issue, but rather than admit that he was first and foremost the king’s servant, Finch took refuge behind the age-old fiction that the Speaker acknowledged two masters: ‘it doth not make me to be none of your servant because I am the king’s servant’.333
The events of 1629 demonstrated clearly that the king’s automatic right to determine the Commons’ main agenda was now no longer accepted by many Members of the lower House. To Charles they showed, with equal clarity, that the Commons was no longer capable of being managed by the Crown, for although he conceded that the House still contained many dutiful subjects, he had been powerless to prevent the ‘few vipers amongst them’ from casting a ‘mist of undutifulness over most of their eyes’. Charles now recognized that his late father’s suspicion that there were elements within the lower House which sought ‘to erect an universal over-swaying power to themselves’ was correct.334 Since a large section of the Commons refused to accept that parliaments existed primarily to serve the interests of the monarch, it was hardly surprising that, for the next eleven years, he decided that he had no more use for them. In seeking to determine and manage its own affairs the Commons had unquestionably achieved a considerable degree of success, but in the process its Members had unwittingly driven parliaments to the brink of extinction.
An unmanageable Commons?
The Crown’s attempt to manage the Commons between 1604 and 1629 is, very largely, a story of failure. Aside from the Parliament of 1624, none of the meetings between monarch and subjects were well managed, even allowing for such episodes as Salisbury’s success in narrowly securing an increase in supply in March 1606, or the triumph of the moderate members of Charles’s Council in the early stages of the 1628 session. Elizabeth’s parliaments, by contrast, were on the whole better handled. Although many of the meetings between the queen and her subjects were far from harmonious, it was rare for Elizabeth’s councillors to lose control of business in the Commons, and unlike the early Stuarts she was never refused supply.
The contrast between Elizabeth and her early Stuart successors did not escape contemporary notice. In the dialogue between a courtier and a gentleman compiled shortly before the 1624 Parliament, Sir Robert Phelips, in the guise of the gentleman, noted that Elizabeth, unlike James, had never detested parliaments. Instead she, ‘like a wise princess, well understood the frame and structure of this commonwealth, and that parliaments were most necessary to order and regulate her government, and to preserve her people ... from being oppressed by corrupt and naughty ministers’. The clear implication of Phelips’s remark was that Elizabeth had succeeded where James had failed. Phelips was far from being the only Englishman to come to this conclusion, for the 1620s witnessed a revival of interest in engravings and paintings of Elizabeth, a revival which tells us as much about the popularity of James as it does of the last of the Tudors. However, Buckingham, while conceding that ‘happy success in Parliament was none of the least glories which attended the late queen’s government and memory’, carefully refused to be drawn into a discussion of Elizabeth’s skills as a parliamentary manager, except to say that he was unable to discern whether Elizabeth’s ‘prosperousness’ was down to ‘the wise conduct of her affairs, or to the disposition of the times’.335
On the face of it, the inability of the early Stuarts to manage the Commons is puzzling, since many of the techniques they used had been employed successfully under Elizabeth. When Charles had Eliot and Digges arrested in the midst of a Parliament in May 1626 he was doing no more than Elizabeth had done in 1587, when she sent Peter Wentworth and his allies to the Tower, or in 1593, when James Morice was placed under house arrest. Yet whereas the prompt action of Elizabeth and her Council had served to nip danger in the bud, Charles’s incarceration of Eliot and Digges served only to enrage the Commons, which refused to transact any further business until the two Members had been freed.
One reason why Elizabeth was more successful in managing her parliaments than James was that she, unlike her immediate successor, did not threaten England’s existence as an independent, sovereign state, nor did she set aside the constitutional convention that required the monarch to obtain the subject’s consent to taxation. Writing in the aftermath of the Addled Parliament, Sir Walter Ralegh condemned impositions and noted that under the late queen there had been no new fiscal expedients based on the prerogative, ‘neither head-money, nor sheep-money, nor escuage ... but only the ordinary subsidies, and those as easily granted as demanded’.336 In September 1620 the king’s own Council informed James that prerogative finance had ‘bred many private murmurings amongst a great number of the better sort of people’.337 Only by abandoning non-parliamentary methods of raising extraordinary revenue could James have hoped to manage his parliaments more successfully, but since his poverty was such that he could not afford to do so he was condemned either to lose control of his parliaments or to do without them.
The accession of Charles I in 1625 did nothing to bring England closer to the way it had been governed under Elizabeth, and because of this Charles found it just as hard to manage the Commons as his father. Under Charles, the erosion of the subject’s property rights continued. Most Members of the Commons believed that these rights were protected by Magna Carta, and were horrified to discover that those who refused to contribute to the Forced Loan were liable to arbitrary imprisonment. A thoroughly frightened and angry Commons was therefore forced to insist in 1628 that, before it would attend to the king’s business, Charles should give binding assurances that he would rule in accordance with the law.
Another factor that made the Commons less manageable than it had been under Elizabeth was religion. During the queen’s reign religious divisions within the Church of England had certainly existed, but there was never any suspicion that Elizabeth and her ministers were quietly steering the Church back to Rome. The Spanish Match, the relaxation of the penal laws following Charles’s marriage to Henrietta Maria, and the growth of Arminianism within the English Church changed all that. Now the Calvinist majority in the Commons had not only to worry about the erosion of the subject’s property rights and the future existence of parliaments, but also the survival of English Protestantism. The failure of the early Stuart kings to settle these fears goes a long way towards explaining why the Commons proved impossible to manage for much of the 1620s.
The Crown’s mismanagement of the Commons was not, however, entirely attributable to the fears that were set in train under James and Charles. It was also, in part, down to a mixture of poor judgement, complacency and incompetence. Both James and Charles neglected to make adequate preparation for the first parliaments of their reign since both assumed, falsely, that the goodwill of their subjects meant that no preparation was needed. James’s belief that, as a monarch of longstanding, he was automatically qualified to manage an English Parliament proved no less disastrous, since it led him to weaken the presence of official Crown spokesmen in the Commons in favour of managing affairs in person. Similar arrogance led him to persist with the Union after 1604, when it ought to have been obvious that a formal fusion of the two kingdoms was unachievable. To his credit, James seems to have realized in the aftermath of his first Parliament that he needed help if he were not to repeat his earlier mistakes. However it was unfortunate, to say the least, that he initially turned for assistance to Sir Henry Neville, whose desire for advancement led him to offer the sort of advice that James wished to hear. By ignoring the fundamental difficulty posed by impositions, and by offering to manage a Parliament for the king through his own extensive network of kinsmen and friends, Neville did more to wreck the 1614 Parliament than anyone else, with the possible exception of the earl of Northampton.
Charles proved just as inept as his father, for while it was fortunate that he was not verbose like James, he had not, as Bishop Williams observed, ‘the art to please’.338 His bluntness, though initially regarded as a virtue by the Commons, was very far from being an asset, and his unwillingness to sacrifice Buckingham in exchange for subsidies in 1626, though admirable at a personal level, condemned the second Parliament of his reign to abject failure. The refusal to abandon Buckingham was, however, only one of a series of misjudgements. By adjourning his first Parliament to Oxford against the advice of Bishop Williams, Charles betrayed a cavalier disregard for the convention that subsidies were to be voted only once every session, and his initial, unsatisfactory answer to the Petition of Right three years later merely provoked a further attack on Buckingham. His attempt to dampen down religious passions ahead of the 1629 session was equally ill judged, for although he called in Appello Caesarem he also both protected and preferred those suspected of holding Arminian views within the Church. Perhaps only the fact that he allowed the moderates on his Council to take charge of proceedings in 1628 can be said to stand to Charles’s credit.
By their behaviour outside Parliament, James and Charles unwittingly encouraged the Commons to assume greater control of its own affairs. Through the committee of the whole House, which emerged in 1606, the Commons developed a mechanism that not only freed up debate but also enabled it to bypass the Speaker. However, the inability of James and Charles to control the lower House was not entirely of their own making. The opportunity to make a fresh start in 1625 was ruined as much by the plague as by Crown mismanagement. Had Members not been so anxious to quit Westminster, it seems unlikely that an inadequate subsidy bill would have been rushed through the House in June 1625. There would then have been no need for the Crown to insist on a second grant, a demand which did so much to poison the parliamentary atmosphere.
There are also grounds for claiming that both monarchs were not always well served. While Cecil moved heaven and earth to increase the number of those in the Commons who would be willing to support the Great Contract in 1610, he and his fellow councillors mismanaged business in 1604. Moreover, Cecil and his colleagues on the Council may actually have connived with leading Members of the Commons to wreck James’s cherished hopes of achieving a formal Union. Likewise, in 1614 Pembroke and Suffolk, neither of whom had ever sat in the Commons, mistakenly encouraged James to believe that they were capable of managing a Parliament for the king out of a desire to sabotage the French marriage negotiations. However, it is Buckingham, who also had never held a parliamentary seat, who provides the most striking example of ministerial incompetence. In July 1625 the duke did much to destroy the goodwill that had been created in 1624 by refusing to listen either to his own client Eliot or to the councillors in the Commons, all of whom warned him that it was folly to demand additional supply. Had the amount demanded been large his behaviour might have been understandable, but during the Oxford sitting it became clear that the Crown needed only an extra £40,000 to set out the fleet.339 It is difficult to believe that Elizabeth would have risked jeopardizing her good relations with the Commons for such a paltry sum.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. For a more detailed discussion of the manner of the Speaker’s appointment, see Chapter 8.
- 2. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 89.
- 3. Graves, ‘Management of the Elizabethan House of Commons’, 19; idem, ‘Managing Elizabethan Parls.’, in The Parls. of Elizabethan Eng. ed. D.M. Dean and N.L. Jones, 55; P. Collinson, ‘Puritans, Men of Business and Elizabethan Parls.’, PH, vii. 196.
- 4. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 177.
- 5. HP Commons 1558-1603, iii. 99; Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 76-80, 84-5.
- 6. Neale, Eliz. I and Her Parls. 1584-1601, pp. 82-3; M.A.R. Graves, ‘The Common Lawyers and the Privy Council’s Parliamentary Men-of-Business, 1584-1601’, PH, viii. 210. However, it should be noted that Croft has argued that the Crown’s spokesmen displayed considerable skill in containing the issue of monopolies in 1601: P. Croft, ‘Parliamentary Preparations, September 1605: Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury on Free Trade and Monopolies’, PH, vi. 127.
- 7. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, 186.
- 8. Elton, Parl. of Eng. 324.
- 9. Neale, Eliz. I and Her Parls. 1584-1601, pp. 154-7; Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, ii. 320-3.
- 10. Graves, ‘Managing Elizabethan Parls.’, 63.
- 11. Neale, Eliz. I and Her Parls. 1584-1601, pp. 386-8, 413.
- 12. Conrad Russell observed that James, at his accession, ‘probably knew as much about France as he did England’, but in fact he was briefed in detail on the state of English affairs by Robert Cecil prior to Elizabeth’s death: C. Russell, ‘Jas. VI and I and Rule over Two Kingdoms: an English View’, HR, lxxvi. 158; Corresp. of King Jas. VI with Robert Cecil and others in Eng. during the Reign of Queen Eliz. ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxxviii).
- 13. P. Croft, King James, 36-7, 62. For the successful resistance of the towns and lairds in June 1600, see ibid. 45.
- 14. CJ, i. 362b. James’s claim in respect of his Scottish parliaments looks to be correct: Brown and Mann note that before he ascended the throne of England in 1603, James evidently attended all 11 of his Scottish parliaments and all 60 or so conventions of estates: Parl. and Pols. in Scot. 18.
- 15. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 140.
- 16. Narrative of the Spanish Marriage Treaty, 288.
- 17. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 153; J. Wormald, ‘James VI and I: Two Kings or One?’, History, lxviii. 201.
- 18. Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 238; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 160-1. On the building of the gallery, see Chapter 7.
- 19. CJ, i. 362a.
- 20. The Stuart Constitution, 41.
- 21. CJ, i. 194a.
- 22. Ibid. 163a; The Stuart Constitution, 41; HEHL, EL 1763; Archaeologia, xv. 42; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 195.
- 23. For supporting evidence, see the entry on him.
- 24. CJ, i. 939a.
- 25. Archaeologia, xv. 51.
- 26. PRO31/3/37, f. 112v.
- 27. Russell, ‘Jas. VI and I’, 159.
- 28. HMC Portland, ix. 12-13.
- 29. The Political Works of Jas. I ed. C.H. McIlwain, 62.
- 30. CD 1621, ii. 3.
- 31. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 340.
- 32. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 105.
- 33. For a detailed consideration of James’s attempts to dispense with parliaments, see A. Thrush, ‘The Personal Rule of Jas. I, 1611-20’ in Pols., Religion and Popularity ed. T. Cogswell, R. Cust and P. Lake.
- 34. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 109.
- 35. Constitutional Docs. 262. For a discussion of whether Whitelocke actually spoke these words at the time, see Chapter 8.
- 36. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 10; CD 1621, ii. 12.
- 37. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 141-3.
- 38. C. Russell, Jas. VI and I and his English Parls. (forthcoming), citing PRO31/3/37, p. 93; Constitutional Docs. 224-5.
- 39. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 485.
- 40. For a sympathetic response to James’s complaints, see Wormald, 202.
- 41. On the Council’s fear of advising James honestly, see Thrush, ‘Personal Rule of Jas. I’, 99.
- 42. For the lord keeper’s orations in 1597 and 1601, see Procs. in Parls. of Eliz. I, iii. 185-7, 299. For Ellesmere’s ‘short speech’ to the Commons in 1604, see LJ, ii. 264b.
- 43. For the details, see Chapter 12.
- 44. CD 1621, ii. 2; J. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata (1693), pt. 2, p. 9.
- 45. CJ, i. 145a, 384a.
- 46. Ibid. 358b-59b.
- 47. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 494.
- 48. CJ, i. 359a.
- 49. Ibid. 366b.
- 50. Ibid. 953a.
- 51. Ibid. 358a.
- 52. For Coke’s observation, and for James’s extraordinary belief that, despite his ignorance of the law, the judges were merely his deputies and that he was fully entitled to preside over an English court of law if he wished, see E. Coke, 12th Rep. 63-5. I am grateful to Pauline Croft for drawing to my attention the importance of James’s lack of a legal training.
- 53. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 457.
- 54. CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 142, 509. James erected a larger, more expensive funeral monument for his mother than the one he set up for Elizabeth. See P. Sherlock, ‘The Monuments of Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart: King James and the Manipulation of Memory’, in JBS, xlvi. 273-4. I am grateful to Pauline Croft for this reference.
- 55. For a more detailed discussion of this point, see Thrush, ‘Commons v. Chancery’, 307-8.
- 56. CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 142-3.
- 57. Ibid. 150.
- 58. A. Thrush, ‘The Parliamentary Opposition to Peace with Spain in 1604: A Speech of Sir Edward Hoby’, PH, xxiii. 314; Bowyer Diary, 31n.
- 59. CJ, i. 194a; The Stuart Constitution, 40.
- 60. Constitutional Docs. 222.
- 61. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 264.
- 62. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iii. 294.
- 63. P. Croft, ‘Wardship in the Parl. of 1604’, PH, ii. 42.
- 64. Rabb, Jacobean Gentleman, 46-7.
- 65. For a discussion of this point, see the entry on Sandys.
- 66. HMC Portland, ix. 13.
- 67. P. Croft, ‘Rex Pacificus, Robert Cecil, and the 1604 Peace with Spain’, in The Accession of James I: Historical and Cultural Consequences ed. G. Burgess, R. Wymer and J. Lawrence, 149-51.
- 68. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 142; CJ, i. 246b.
- 69. HMC Portland, ix. 12; CJ, i. 231b.
- 70. CJ, i. 212b, 214a, 215a, 235a, 988b; LJ, ii. 302a, 305b. For a discussion of the use of the Council chamber for committee purposes, see Chapter 12.
- 71. For a detailed consideration of the evidence, see Chapter 1.
- 72. Letters of Sir Francis Hastings, 85-6.
- 73. CJ, i. 241a.
- 74. Ibid. 235a, 238a.
- 75. Ibid. 994b, 995a.
- 76. Ibid. 988a, 246b.
- 77. P. Croft, ‘Serving the Archduke’, BIHR, lxiv. 297-303; Bowyer Diary, 29.
- 78. On this point, see ‘A Collection of Several Speeches and Treatises of the late Lord Treasurer Cecil’ ed. P. Croft, in Cam. Misc. XXIX (Cam. Soc. 4th ser. xxxiv), 262.
- 79. CJ, i. 265a, 266a.
- 80. Ibid. 230b, 974b; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 264.
- 81. Bowyer Diary, 31n.
- 82. Ibid. 43-4, 77-8.
- 83. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 285; SP14/9/27.
- 84. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 94; CJ, i. 286a, 286b.
- 85. For a discussion of the number of Household officials in the Commons, see Chapter 5.
- 86. CSP Ven. 1603-7, p. 268.
- 87. E. Forset, A Comparative Discourse in the Bodies Natural and Politique (1606).
- 88. Other Cecil clients returned during this period include Dudley Digges, returned for Tewkesbury on Salisbury’s recommendation in April 1610; Sir John Digby, returned for Hedon that same month; and the Exchequer official John Bingley, who came in for Chester in September 1610. In addition, Salisbury’s son, William Cecil, Viscount Cranborne, was elected for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in June 1610, and his nephew Sir Edward Cecil procured a seat at Stamford in December 1609. It seems likely that William Byrd, judge of the high court of delegates, and Clement Edmondes, recently sworn a clerk of the Privy Council, both of whom were returned in November 1609, were elected on the Cecil interest.
- 89. Archaeologia, xv. 51.
- 90. HMC Hatfield, xxi. 266.
- 91. Croft, King James, 75, 80.
- 92. C. Russell, The Addled Parl. of 1614: The Limits of Revision, 9.
- 93. The Political Works of Jas. I, 319.
- 94. Russell, Addled Parl. 9.
- 95. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 337. For further discussion of this episode, see Chapter 12.
- 96. SP14/58/31.
- 97. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 142, 145; Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 344-5, 410.
- 98. SP14/58/35.
- 99. SP14/58/26.
- 100. CSP Ven. 1619-21, p. 490.
- 101. On this point, and on James’s fears of ‘popularity’ in general, see R. Cust, ‘Chas. I and Popularity’ in Pols., Religion and Popularity ed. T. Cogswell, R. Cust and P. Lake, 241-2.
- 102. Winwood’s Memorials, iii. 235; CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 92.
- 103. Thrush, ‘Personal Rule of James I’, 84-102; CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 100.
- 104. Knafla, Law and Pols. in Jacobean Eng. 254-5, 258.
- 105. Lansd. 165, ff. 211v-12.
- 106. HMC Buccleuch, i. 101-2; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 238.
- 107. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 252.
- 108. Procs. 1610, ii. 342n.
- 109. CJ, i. 470a.
- 110. Procs. 1610, ii. 116.
- 111. Winwood’s Memorials, ii. 235.
- 112. Knafla, 261-2.
- 113. HEHL, EL1763.
- 114. Chamberlain Letters, i. 359.
- 115. Diary of Thomas Burton, iv. 346-7.
- 116. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 253-6.
- 117. Ibid. 246.
- 118. HMC Buccleuch, i. 113.
- 119. Thrush, ‘The French Marriage and the Origins of the 1614 Parl.’, 25-32.
- 120. Cott., Titus F.IV, f. 340v.
- 121. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 140.
- 122. Ibid. 62, 109, 115.
- 123. Cott., Titus F.IV, f. 342r-v.
- 124. Chamberlain Letters, i. 515.
- 125. Ibid. 359.
- 126. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vi. 233.
- 127. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 246.
- 128. Chamberlain Letters, i. 359.
- 129. CSP Carew 1603-24, p. 290; Russell, Addled Parl. 19.
- 130. CJ, i. 159b.
- 131. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 17, 475.
- 132. Ibid. 181-2.
- 133. Ibid. 120.
- 134. Som. RO, DD/PH/227/16.
- 135. Cott., Titus F.IV, f. 341.
- 136. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 182.
- 137. H. Neville, Plato Redivivus (1681), p. 171. For Weston’s speech of 12 April, see Procs. 1614 (Commons), 64. Linda Levy Peck exonerates Northampton from the charge of trying to wreck the Parliament by pointing the finger of suspicion instead at the earl of Suffolk, but this is unconvincing, as Suffolk was one of the twin architects of the Parliament. L. Levy Peck, Northampton, 210.
- 138. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 182.
- 139. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 231.
- 140. Ibid. 143.
- 141. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 315; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 238, 244-6.
- 142. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 479. For another copy, which differs slightly in its wording, see Soc. Antiq. ms 291, f. 23.
- 143. Russell, Addled Parl. 5.
- 144. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 144.
- 145. Ibid. 152, 420.
- 146. Ibid. 147.
- 147. CSP Ven. 1613-15, p. 129.
- 148. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 150.
- 149. CD 1621, ii. 412.
- 150. CJ, i. 141b, 934b.
- 151. Ibid. 226a; Russell, Jas. VI and I and his Parls. (forthcoming).
- 152. A Collection of Letters, made by Sir Tobie Mathews (1660), p. 291.
- 153. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 85.
- 154. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 26; CJ, i. 451-2.
- 155. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 155-6.
- 156. Ibid. 386.
- 157. Ibid. 146, 158.
- 158. Ibid. 145.
- 159. Ibid. 31-3, 155, 158, 264, 321, 325, 388.
- 160. CJ, i. 1031, 1032. More also asserted that there was ‘no such precedent’, but recent work on the Speaker during the mid 15th century casts doubt on the accuracy of this statement. A. Curry, ‘Speakers at War in the Late 14th and 15th Centuries’, PH, xxix. 20.
- 161. CJ, i. 498b.
- 162. See Chapter 10.
- 163. Zaller, The Parl. of 1621, p. 168. Following the dissolution, Mallory was arraigned before the Council and accused of having been ‘careful to look … to the Speaker’: C. Russell, Unrevolutionary Eng. 84.
- 164. For a more detailed treatment of this subject, see Chapter 6.
- 165. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 191.
- 166. Narrative of the Spanish Marriage Treaty, 288.
- 167. Thrush, ‘Personal Rule of James I’, 89 – 91.
- 168. Lord Chancellor Ellesmere even prepared a paper on the subject: Knafla, Law and Pols. 273.
- 169. Cott., Titus F.IV, f. 329.
- 170. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 201.
- 171. CJ, i. 483a.
- 172. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 204, 206.
- 173. For the Council’s advice, see ibid. 24-30. For Bacon’s 1613 memorandum, two versions of which survive, see ibid. iv. 365-8. For James’s opening speech, see Procs. 1614 (Commons), 473-6.
- 174. Printed in extenso in Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 176-91. For the evidence that this treatise was part of a series, see ibid. 189.
- 175. Ibid. 179-80; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 17. Bacon attributed this fault to ‘certain gentlemen’, whose ‘leader ... was gone to another world’. This was a clear allusion to Neville, who died in June 1615.
- 176. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, v. 184-5.
- 177. Ibid. 177, 200.
- 178. Ibid. 190. James’s usurpation of the lord chancellor’s function explains why Sir Edward Coke, writing in the later 1620s, stated that the oration, while it was ‘most commonly’ given by the lord chancellor or lord keeper, might be delivered by the king. Coke, Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of Eng. (1671), p. 7.
- 179. Thrush, ‘Personal Rule of James I’, 91-2.
- 180. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 114-15.
- 181. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 328; Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 494.
- 182. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 148-9, 151.
- 183. HMC Hatfield, xi. 325; J.E. Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parls. 1584-1601, p. 376.
- 184. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 178; ‘Hastings Journal 1621’, p. 5.
- 185. CD 1621, ii. 7-8, 11.
- 186. CJ, i. 510a; CD 1621, iv. 16.
- 187. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 151-2.
- 188. SP14/119/67.
- 189. CD 1621, iv. 196-7.
- 190. Zaller, 66; CJ, i. 546b.
- 191. CJ, i. 547b.
- 192. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 150.
- 193. Ibid. v. 187.
- 194. CSP Ven. 1619-21, p. 459 (the date given here is Old Style); Chamberlain Letters, ii. 322-3.
- 195. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 495-6.
- 196. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 2; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 354-6.
- 197. York City Archives, House bk. 34, ff. 217v-18. See also the statement made by the Yorkshire Member Sir Thomas Wentworth to the subsidy collectors for Yorkshire in April 1621, that there had been ‘a most happy union twixt the king and his people’. Wentworth Papers ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam.Soc. 4th ser. xii), 152.
- 198. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 528.
- 199. CD 1621, ii. 55.
- 200. ‘One of the most striking features of the Commons’ attack on patents is the absence of any royal resistance to it, or even of any sign of royal displeasure at it’: Russell, PEP, 100.
- 201. For further details, see Chapter 1.
- 202. Stuart Royal Proclamations I, 494 n.2, citing BN, Français 15988, f. 536.
- 203. J.H. Baker, The Legal Profession and the Common Law: Historical Essays, 222.
- 204. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, vii. 173; CD 1621, ii. 86.
- 205. CD 1621, ii. 22, 197-8, 211. An anonymous tract, widely circulated at the time, made precisely the same point: P. Croft, ‘Annual Parls. and the Long Parl.’, HR, lix. 155-71.
- 206. CD 1621, v. 187.
- 207. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 139, 158.
- 208. Russell, PEP, 93.
- 209. Edward Alford, in a speech prepared, but not delivered, in February 1621, observed that it had been want of free speech (not Impositions) that had caused the collapse of the 1614 Parliament: CD 1621, ii. 83 n.11.
- 210. Russell described the debate as ‘lukewarm’: PEP, 92.
- 211. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 280; CJ, i. 658.
- 212. CD 1621, ii. 502; CD 1628, iv. 66-7, 75.
- 213. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 356.
- 214. CD 1621, vii. 616; Rabb, Jacobean Gentleman, 215.
- 215. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. appendix.
- 216. P. Collinson, ‘Puritans, Men of Business and Elizabethan Parls.’, PH, vii. 194; Knafla, 258.
- 217. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. appendix.
- 218. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 184-90; Russell, PEP, 125-6.
- 219. B. Pursell, ‘War or Peace? Jacobean Pols. and the Parl. of 1621’, in Parl., Pols. and Elections 1604-48 ed. C.R. Kyle (Cam. Soc. 5th ser. xvii), 162.
- 220. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 169.
- 221. CSP Ven. 1621-3, p. 172.
- 222. C. Thompson, ‘Reaction of the House of Commons in Nov. and Dec. 1621 to the Confinement of Sir Edwin Sandys’, HJ, xl. 781-2.
- 223. Russell, PEP, 129.
- 224. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 212-14.
- 225. CD 1621, ii. 466-7; vi. 208.
- 226. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 220.
- 227. Russell, PEP, 125.
- 228. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 218-19.
- 229. Russell, PEP, 134.
- 230. Thrush, ‘The French Marriage and the Origins of the 1614 Parl.’, 25.
- 231. Nicholas, Procs. 1621, ii. 269; CD 1621, vi. 223.
- 232. B. Pursell, ‘James I, Gondomar and the Dissolution of the Parl. of 1621’, History, lxxxv. 428-9.
- 233. Russell, PEP, 134-5.
- 234. CSP Ven. 1621-3, pp. 207-8.
- 235. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 463.
- 236. Ibid. i. 460; SP14/63/61.
- 237. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 98. On Fuller, see his biographical entry.
- 238. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, iv. 43.
- 239. CSP Ven. 1623-5, pp. 182-3.
- 240. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 536. For Charles’ s admiration of Coke, see CD 1621, ii. 231.
- 241. Russell, PEP, 149-51; Som. RO, DDPH/227/16.
- 242. Cogswell claims that an agreement with Sir Edward Coke was also reached, but though this is likely the evidence is wanting. T. Cogswell, Blessed Revolution, 148. Shortly before the formal opening of the 1624 Parliament, Buckingham’s client the earl of Carlisle told James that he was in contact with ‘divers gentlemen of quality who are Parliament men’: Cabala Sive Scrinia Sacra (1691), p. 197.
- 243. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 549.
- 244. Letters of John Holles ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. Ser. xxxv), ii. 299.
- 245. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 51; ‘Spring 1624’, pp. 84-8.
- 246. Cogswell, 150.
- 247. Hacket, pt. 1, p. 176.
- 248. SP14/165/61.
- 249. R. Cust, Charles I, 7-8, 39; CD 1628, ii. 324-5.
- 250. Procs. 1625, pp. 219, 493. The observation is Eliot’s.
- 251. Ibid. 494.
- 252. Cust, Charles I, 45.
- 253. Som. RO, DD/PH/219/64; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 613.
- 254. C. Thompson, ‘Court Pols. and Parliamentary Conflict in 1625’, in Conflict in Early Stuart Eng. ed. R. Cust and A. Hughes, 174.
- 255. Procs. 1625, pp. 190-1.
- 256. Ibid. 274-5, 507-8.
- 257. R. Lockyer, Buckingham, 246.
- 258. Procs. 1625, p. 510; Thompson, 176.
- 259. Procs. 1625, pp. 313, 519.
- 260. For this episode, see Neale, Elizabeth and Her Parls. 1584-1601, pp. 302-7.
- 261. Procs. 1625, p. 540.
- 262. Ibid. 521.
- 263. Ibid. 352-3.
- 264. Ibid. 519.
- 265. Ibid. 523.
- 266. Ibid. 522.
- 267. Ibid. 313-14, 317-18, 330, 510-11.
- 268. Ibid. 519.
- 269. Hacket, pt. 2, pp. 13-14.
- 270. Procs. 1625, pp. 386, 395-6, 398-401, 540-6.
- 271. Ibid. 548.
- 272. Ibid. 550-1. On the Commons’ complaints against Montagu’s writings, see Chapter 1.
- 273. Procs. 1625, pp. 554-5; Lockyer, Buckingham, 262-5.
- 274. Procs. 1625, p. 447.
- 275. Ibid. 475.
- 276. HMC 11th Rep. pt. 1, p. 31.
- 277. Cust, Charles I, 49.
- 278. Procs. 1625, p. 725.
- 279. Lockyer, Buckingham, 259.
- 280. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata, pt. 2, p. 17. For the impact of the assizes on lawyers’ attendance, see Chapter 9.
- 281. Cust, Charles I, 51.
- 282. Charles used this very word to describe the Commons in a letter to Lord Deputy Wentworth in 1634: Cust, ‘Chas. I and Popularity’, 247.
- 283. Lockyer, Buckingham, 309.
- 284. Procs. 1626, ii. 114, 119.
- 285. Lockyer, Buckingham, 310.
- 286. Procs. 1626, ii. 323, 362-3; iii. 40-1.
- 287. Ibid. iii. 38, 47, 53.
- 288. HMC 11th Rep. pt. 1, p. 55.
- 289. Procs. 1626, ii. 395; iii. 31.
- 290. Ibid. ii. 395.
- 291. HMC 11th Rep. pt. 1, p. 56.
- 292. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 97-8.
- 293. Procs. 1626, ii. 257; iii. 84, 108.
- 294. C115/N5/8633. According to the Venetian ambassador, Buckingham’s enemies, having claimed the scalps of two councillors, had their eyes on a third (Secretary Coke’s): CSP Ven. 1625-6, pp. 380-1.
- 295. Procs. 1626, iii. 201, 203, 208-9, 311-13; iv. 284.
- 296. Russell, PEP, 271.
- 297. Ibid. 294-9; Lockyer, Buckingham, 320.
- 298. Procs. 1626, ii. 119.
- 299. Ibid. 349-50; iv. 207-8.
- 300. Procs. 1625, p. 239.
- 301. Procs. 1626, iii. 233, 236.
- 302. Procs. 1625, p. 717.
- 303. Procs. 1626, ii. 253-325, esp. 324.
- 304. Leics. RO, DG7 box 4966, end of vol., f. 2v.
- 305. Cust, Charles I, 62.
- 306. R. Cust, The Forced Loan, 79.
- 307. CD 1628, ii. 58, 65.
- 308. Cust, Charles I, 70-1.
- 309. CD 1628, ii. 65, 70-1.
- 310. CSP Ven. 1628-9, pp. 59-60. Those who desired Buckingham’s removal as lord admiral were almost certainly in favour of replacing him with the 2nd earl of Warwick.
- 311. For a discussion of the size of Pembroke’s support in the Commons, see Chapter 5.
- 312. Russell, PEP, 342.
- 313. Ibid.; R. Lockyer, The Early Stuarts (2nd edn.), 269.
- 314. Cent. Kent. Stud., U1475/A28/1, unfol. The supper guests also included a Mrs. Kirke. It seems likely that it was Henry Jermyn who attended as there are regular payments to him for horsemeat in Leicester’s accounts.
- 315. Cust, Charles I, 71-2; Cust, ‘Chas. I, the Privy Council and the Parl. of 1628’, TRHS, 6th ser. ii. 25, 31-2.
- 316. CD 1628, ii. 65.
- 317. Ibid. 277, 282; vi. 204; Lockyer, Buckingham, 429.
- 318. CD 1628, ii. 297, 309.
- 319. Cust, ‘Chas. I, the Privy Council and the Parl. of 1628, p. 31, describes Coke as ‘the star turn for the Council’.
- 320. CD 1628, ii. 65, 70, 82, 97, 105.
- 321. Procs. 1628, vi. 67.
- 322. CD 1628, ii. 430.
- 323. For a detailed study of this episode, see R. Cust, ‘Charles I and a Draft Declaration for the 1628 Parl.’, HR, lxiii. 144-61.
- 324. CJ, i. 912a.
- 325. Lockyer, Buckingham, 443.
- 326. Cust, Charles I, 75.
- 327. Cogswell, who show that this development was new in 1628, argues unpersuasively that this meant that parliaments were not headed for extinction: T. Cogswell, ‘A Low Road to Extinction? Supply and Redress of Grievances in the Parls. of the 1620s’, HJ, xxxiii. esp. pp. 295-9. For the medieval origins of the establishment of the link between supply and the redress of grievances, see G.L. Harriss, King, Parl. and Public Finance in Eng. to 1369, pp. 257-9.
- 328. M. Young, Servility and Service: The Life and Work of Sir John Coke, 179; SP92/14, f. 145r-v. On Coke’s failure to mourn the death of Buckingham, see his biographical entry.
- 329. Stuart Royal Proclamations II, 218-19; S.R. Gardiner, Hist. of Eng. vii. 23-4.
- 330. CJ, i. 923b.
- 331. Lockyer, Early Stuarts (2nd edn.) 279.
- 332. Russell, PEP, 400.
- 333. CD 1629, p. 241.
- 334. LJ, iv. 43b; Cust, ‘Chas. I and Popularity’, 245-6.
- 335. Som. RO, DD/PH227/16. For the revival of interest in images of Elizabeth in the 1620s, see R. Strong, Gloriana: The Portrait of Queen Eliz. I, 164; J.M. Walker, The Elizabeth Icon: 1603-2003, pp. 37-8, 48. I owe this point to Pauline Croft.
- 336. W. Ralegh, ‘The Prerogative of Parls. in Eng. Proved’, in Harl. Misc. v. 220-1.
- 337. Thrush, ‘Personal Rule of Jas. I’, 101.
- 338. Hacket, Scrinia Reserata, pt. 2, p. 8.
- 339. Lockyer, Buckingham, 256.