Gambar halaman

assembly, who withstood the design of a besotted woman and Ler unprincipled councilors to transfer this kingdom under the voke of Spain." Except in rare instances, however, the House of Commons, during the reigns of the first four of the Tudore was content with the semblance of power without the reality, and obediently passed such laws as were desired by the Court. During the reign of Elizabeth a much bolder spirit was manifested by the Commons and but for the love borne by her subjects for Elizabeth and the tact of the queen, the great contest for English liberty, fought out in the Stuart period, might have begun in the closing years of the sixteenth century.

$36. The accession of the House of Stuart.-Perhaps no other ruler in history ever came to a throne with so remarkable a hereditary title as did James I of England. Not only was he descended, as had also been his predecessors, the Tudors, from both the Houses of York and Lancaster, but he was also the descendant in the right line from the West Saxon royal family of Cedric, Ecgberht, and Aelfred. This union in James of the right to the throne from both of these ancient royal lines exerted a powerful influence upon his character and actions. The central point in his belief, the pivot around which all his actions revolved, was his belief in the divine right of Kings. In his mind the King was something more than a mere mortal ruler, he was the divinely appointed of God; resistance to whom was a hardly less heinous sin than rebellion against the only superior whom a King should own.

Such was the condition of mind with which the first of the House of Stuart came to the throne, and such was the belief of cach King of this House, until the last of the line was finally driven into exile. This was not the view of the Kingly office held by the mass of the seventeenth century Englishmen. The great majority, it is true, were imbrued with a deep love of the King and the kingly office, and the idea of a Republic even in the times of the most bitter conflicts with the King, was espoused by only a few radicals like Hazlerig, and was as repugnant to the mass of the people as the idea of anarchy is today to their descendants. This love and respect, however, was no such unreasoning surrender as the subjects of an oriental despot exhibit towards their masters; it was a love and reverence for the King as one of the ancient inherent parts of the English Government, and it was such a love as they felt for the House of Commons or for the English Common Law. The King existed and was revered because he was the King of England and because he existed for the English nation. The English Nation was not considered to exist for the pleasure or profit of the English King. In the minds of the English people the true government of their forefathers was one in which both the King and Parliament had a share. It was not the desire or the intention of the Englishmen of this century to allow either of these constituent elements of their government to be abolished. The extreme adherents of the Stuarts were in as decided a minority as were the zealous republicans or the independents. The exc'esses on either side were in turn followed by a reaction.

3 Hallam 's Constitutional History of England.

The contest between James and the Commons was begun at the very outset of his reign by his attempt to interfere with the election of the members of his Parliament. In vindication of their rights the first of James' Parliaments set forth:

"First. That our privileges and liberties are of right and due inheritance no less than our very lands and goods.

"Second. That they cannot be withheld from us, denied or impaired but with an apparent wrong to the whole State of the realm.

“Third. That our making of request, in the entrance of Parliament, to enjoy our privileges is an act of manners only, and doth not weaken our right, no more than our suing to the King for our land by petition, which form, though new and more decent than the old principle, yet the subject's right is no less now than of old.

“Fourth. That our House is a Court of Record and so ever esteemed.

"Fifth. That there is not the highest standing court in this land that ought to enter into competency either for dignity or authority, with this high court of Parliament, which, with your Majesty's royal assent, gives laws to other courts, but from other courts receives neither laws nor orders.

"Sixth. And lastly, that the House of Commons is the sole proper judge of the return of all such writs and of the election of such members as belong unto it, without which the freedom of election were not entire; and that though your Majesty's Court of Chancery send out writs and receive the returns and preserve them, yet the same is done only for the use of Parliament over which neither the Chancery, nor any other court ever had, or ought to have, any manner of jurisdiction.”

Throughout the reign of James I the King is the aggressor and the House of Commons only stands on the defensive. The King attempts in every way to break the spirit of the House of Commons, even at times causing the imprisonment of their leaders. The Commons, however, throughout his reign continue to manifest a spirit of dogged resistance which argued ill for the final success of the Stuart's theory of government. The parliamentary history of this reign showed the two great weapons in the hands of Parliament, weapons that were liable to become more and more effective as time went on, to be the power of impeachment and the right to make the granting of supplies conditional upon the redress of grievances. But for the resistance of the House of Commons James I would have met with few obstacles to his plans. The old union of the Lords and Commons had passed away; the nobility were never again to show that spirit exhibited at Runnymede and under the leadership of Simon de Montfort. The degenerate successors of the barons of the thirteenth century were ready to rally around the despots of the Stuart dynasty, content to see the ancient English liberties destroyed, provided only some slight crumbs of class privilege fell to their own order. A few honorable exceptions only served to emphasize the baseness and servility of the position held in general by the nobility of England during the great contests of the seventeenth century.

Turning from the House of Lords to the judiciary we see, if possible, an even darker picture. The judges with few exceptions were the abject tools of the King, ready and anxious to earn his smiles and favor by any depths of subserviency and obedience to his orders. The resistance of the great Chief Justice ('oke led to his removal from the bench and to continued persecution at the hands of the King.

It was, however, this very isolation of the House of Commons which secured for England the retention of her liberties. Deserted by her allies of an earlier century she was compelled to rely upon herself and upon the people of England for the task. The victory, when it came, thus became one for the whole people and not for the favored classes. The ultimate result was to make the victorious House of ('ommons the governing body of the Kingdom. What the House of ('ommons did accomplish during this reign has been thus summed up: "The Commons had now been engaged for more than twenty years in a struggle to restore and to fortify their own and their fellow subjects' liberties. They had obtained in this period but one legislative measure of importance, the late declaratory act against monopolies. But they had secured from disuse their ancient right of impeachment. They had placed on record a protestation of their claim to debate all matters of public concern. They had remonstrated against the usurped prerogatives of binding the subject by proclamation, and of levying customs at the out-ports. They had secured beyond controversy their exclusive privilege of determining contested elections of their members. Of these advantages some were evidently incomplete, and it would require the most vigorous exertions of future Parliaments to realize them."'+

It was during the reign of James I that the first steps were taken towards the creation of the greater England. The accession of James to the English throne united Scotland and England under a common ruler, and it was also during the reign of this King that the first successful English colonies were founded in America.

$ 37. Charles I.—The first three years of the reign of Charles I are, from a Constitutional point of view, a continuation of the reign of his father. The passage of the Petition of Rights, in 1628, marked the close of the first period of Stuart history. The Petition of Rights consisted of a statement of the grievances which the people of England had suffered under the different Kings, and the enactment that such grievances should cease for the future. The principal grievances thus petitioned against were:

* Hallam 's Constitutional History of England.

First. Illegal exactions under the form of loans.

Second. Arbitrary imprisonments, especially of parliamentary leaders.

Third. The billeting of soldiers upon the people; and
Fourth. The infliction of punishment by martial law.

It was hoped that granting the Petition of Rights would end the controversy between the King and the Commons. Such hope, however, rested upon a misunderstanding of the true character of the King. The belief was firmly embedded in the mind of King Charles that a King was so far removed by Divine Providence above his subjects that he could not be held bound by any promises or contracts made with them. Events soon showed that Charles never intended to keep the promises contained in the Petition of Rights and such promises were, in fact, not kept. The session of Parliament in 1629 was tumultous in the extreme; the King refused to listen to the remonstrances of Parliament and finally commanded the House of Commons to adjourn. 'pon learning that the House was preparing to pass a series of resolutions condemnatory of his actions the king decided to send his guard to the House to force immediate adjournment. This action occassioned one of the most dramatic scenes in the Parliamentary history of England, as with the doors locked against the admittance of the King's guard, Sir John Elliot read the resolution to the House, while Valentine and Holles held the speaker in his chair. These resolutions, the last remonstrances which Parliament was able to utter for years, being passed, the doors were then opened and Parliament was adjourned by force. This adjournment was followed by one of the worst periods of Stuart tyranny. For eleven years the King endeavored to rule the country entirely by his own will, independently of Parliament. The King's first act of tyranny was the imprisonment of the rebellious members of this Parliament, and Sir John Elliot, the leader of the pop

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »