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A SPEECH OF THE KING'S SOLICITOR, PERSUADING THE HOUSE OF COMMONS TO DESIST FROM FARTHER QUESTION OF RECEIVING THE KING'S MESSAGES BY THEIR SPEAKER, AND FROM THE BODY OF THE COUNCIL, AS WELL AS FROM THE KING'S PERSON. IN THE PARLIAMENT 7 JACOBI.2
It is my desire that if any the King's business either of honour or profit shall pass the house, it may be not only with external prevailing but with satisfaction of the inward man. For in consent where tongue-strings not heart-strings make the music, that harmony may end in discord. To this I shall always bend my endeavours.3
The King's Sovereignty and the Liberty of Parliament are as the two elements and principles of this estate; which, though the one be more active the other more passive, yet they do not cross or destroy the one the other, but they strengthen and maintain the one the other. Take away liberty of Parliament, the griefs of the subject will bleed inwards: sharp and eager humours will not evaporate, and then they must exulcerate, and so may endanger the sovereignty itself. On the other side, if the King's sovereignty receive diminution or any degree of contempt with us that are born under an hereditary monarchy (so as the motions of our estate cannot work in any other frame or engine) it must follow that we shall be a meteor or corpus imperfecte mistum; which kind of bodies come speedily to confusion and dissolution. And herein it is our happiness that we may make the same judgment of the King which Tacitus made of Nerva. Divus Nerva res olim dissociabiles miscuit, Imperium et Libertatem. Nerva did temper things that before were thought incompatible or insociable, Sovereignty and Liberty. And it is not amiss in a great council and a great cause to put the other part of the difference which was significantly expressed by the judgment which Apollonius made of Nero, which was thus: when Vespasian came out of Judea towards Italy to receive the empire, as he passed by Alexandria he spake with Apollonius, a man much admired, and asked him a question of state: What was Nero's fall or overthrow? Apollonius answered again, Nero 1 The rest of the heading is added in Bacon's hand.
2 Harl. MSS. 6797, p. 159.
3 The words "which when they fail I will fall to my prayers" (which followed in the MS.) have a line drawn through them.
could tune the harp well: but in government he always either wound up the pins too high and strained the strings too far, or let them down too low and slackened the strings too much. Here we see the difference between regular and able princes and irregular and incapable, Nerva and Nero. The one tempers and mingles the sovereignty with the liberty of the subject wisely; and the other doth interchange it and vary it unequally and absurdly. Since therefore we have a prince of so excellent wisdom and moderation, of whose authority we ought to be tender as he is likewise of our liberty, let us enter into a true and indifferent consideration how far forth the cause in question may touch his authority, and how far forth our liberty. And to speak clearly, in my opinion it concerns his authority much, and our liberty nothing at all.
The questions are two. The one whether our Speaker be exempted from delivery of a message from the King without our licence. The other, whether it is not all one whether he receive it from the body of the council, as if he received it immediately from the King; and I will speak of the last first, because it is the circumstance of the present case.
First I say let us see how it concerns the King, and then how it concerns us. For the King, certainly if it be observed it cannot be denied but if you may not receive his pleasure by his representative body, which is his council of estate, you both straiten his Majesty in point of conveniency, and weaken the reputation of his council. All kings, though they be gods on earth, yet as he said they are gods of earth, frail as other men; they may be children, they may be of extreme age, they may be indisposed in health, they may be absent. In these cases, if their council may not supply their person, to what infinite accidents do you expose them? Nay more, sometimes in policy kings will not be seen but cover themselves with their council, and if this be taken from them a great part of their safety is taken away. For the other point of weakening the council, you know they are nothing without the King. They are no body-politic. They have no commission under seal. So as if you begin to distinguish and disjoin them from the King, they are corpus opacum, for they have lumen de lumine, and so by distinguishing you extinguish the principal engine of the estate. For it is truly affirmed that Concilium non habet potes-.
tatem delegatam sed inhærentem, and it is but Rex in cathedra, the King in his chair or consistory, where his will and decrees, which are in privacy more changeable, are settled and fixed.
Now for that which concerns ourselves. First for dignity, no man must think this a disparagement to us: for the greatest kings in Europe by their ambassadors receive answers and directions from the council in the King's absence; and if that negociation be fit for the fraternity and parity of kings, it may much less be excepted to by subjects. For use or benefit, no man can be so raw and unacquainted in the affairs of the world. as to conceive there should be any disadvantage in it, as if such answers were less firm and certain. For it cannot be supposed that men of so great caution as counsellors of estate commonly are (whether you take caution for wisdom or providence or for pledge of estate or fortune) will ever err or adventure so far as to exceed their warrant. And therefore I conclude that in this point there can be unto us neither disgrace nor disadvantage.
For the point of the Speaker. First on the King's part it may have a shrewd illation: for it hath a shew as if there could be a stronger duty than the duty of a subject to a king. We see the degrees and differences of duties in families between father and son, master and servant; in corporate bodies between communalties and their officers, recorders, stewards, and the like; yet all these give place to the King's commandments. The bonds are more special but not so forcible. On our part it concerns us nothing. For first it is but de canali, of the pipe, how the King's message shall be conveyed to us, and not of the matter. Neither hath the Speaker any such great dominion as that coming out of his mouth it presseth us more than out of a privy councillor's. Nay it seems to be a great trust of the King towards the house, when the King doubteth not to put his message into their mouth, as if he should speak to the city by their Recorder. Therefore methinks we should not entertain this unnecessary doubt. It is one use of wit to make clear things doubtful. But it is a much better use of wit to make doubtful things clear; and to that I would men would bend themselves.
Though there can be little doubt that this advice was judicious, and that the scruple they stood upon was ill chosen for a ground of
quarrel with the King, the recent proceedings of the Council (as represented by Salisbury, who was always the chief spokesman) had given them some just cause of suspicion and distrust, and they were not in a complying humour. With respect to messages sent by the Speaker immediately from the King himself, whether in word or in writing, they were ready to say that they would receive them as usual "being delivered unto them according to the ancient order of the House." But "concerning the latter part of the question, which touched the Council, the general resolution of the Committee was to make answer that they would receive no messages coming from the Council as messages sent from his Majesty."
If this was all that could be got, it was better to let the matter rest where it was: and the King sent word in the morning that they need not trouble themselves to answer his question. But what was to be done with the resolution of the House which had led him to ask it? Upon that resolution the Committee of Privileges had framed an order, which had been allowed, and should have been entered in the records. As long as this remained among the precedents it was useless to withdraw the question, for it contained the answer. By this time however a disposition had come over them to relent and make the matter up; and when in the course of further discussion it was found that the clerk had not yet entered the order, they had the sense to leave it there; following Bacon's advice in not standing upon the point-(" Sovereignty and Liberty to pass in silence: not to be textual" is the note that remains of what he said?)-as they might now see it would have been better to do five days before, when he advised them not to contest it. "But in the end" (says Chamberlain)" they saw that motos præstat componere fluctus, and with a moderate answer pacified his Majesty."
A difficulty which ought never to have been made was thus easily disposed of a few fair words and the withdrawal of a needless scruple set it at rest, and no further trouble was to be apprehended from it. But unfortunately it left the real difficulty behind. The scruple about the form of the message had merely postponed the question, what should be done with the message itself; "which was" (says the reporter) "to command the House not to dispute of the King's power and prerogative in imposing upon merchandises exported or imported."4 This was a point in which it was not so easy to give way on either side. It was the old dispute between
1 Parl. Deb. 1610, p. 33.
2 C. J., 19 May.
4 Parl. Deb. 1610, p. 32.
Prerogative and Privilege, aggravated by the fact that the question at issue was one of incalculable importance. It is scarcely too much to say that it involved the whole question whether the Commons were to be thenceforth at the mercy of the Crown, or the Crown at the mercy of the Commons. If the King had the power of laying duties at will upon exports and imports, he could carry on the government without the aid of Parliament; if not, the help or consent of the House of Commons being indispensable, they could always control the government by stopping the supplies. The King (who, to do him justice, was always ready to give reasons for what he did, and to believe that if he might but state them in his own way he could convince everybody that he was right) thought to remove the difficulty by a speech. And on this occasion it must be admitted that he had that to say which was much to the purpose, and might if properly managed have done a great deal to clear the way. He was prepared to make some substantial concessions. He was prepared not only to concede to the House of Commons without reserve the right of discussing particular impositions in respect of conveniency or inconveniency, and of complaining of them as grievances (which for practical purposes was almost the same as discussing the right itself of imposing); but also to put a limit upon the exercise of the power which he assumed, by engaging himself not to use it without consulting Parliament.' If he could but have confined himself in speech to an intimation of what he would concede, and let silence say for him what he would not concede, such a declaration from his own mouth might have done much to conciliate opposition. But silence was a gift which had not been given to him. He could not say what he would do, without also saying what he would not do: could not promise to forego the exercise of a right, without first proving that he had it could not admit that a liberty went so far, without denying that it went further. The consequence was that meaning to tell the Commons that their right to "complain of any just grievance," and therefore to enquire of " the burden and inconvenience" of impositions, was not questioned, he began by warning them not to dispute the King's power to impose; and meaning to put an important restriction upon himself in the exercise of that power, he began with an argument in justification of it, which (followed to its logical consequences) implied a pretension to tax not imports and exports only, but all other property. And the general
1 "Because he may err in the form of laying Impositions upon misinformation, he would never do it but in Parliament. He would hear what both houses could
say." Parl. Deb. 1610, p. 35, n.
"In the end he fell into a long speech concerning his power to impose upon merchandises (though his speech was general, and concerned all his subjects' goods)." Parl. Deb. 1610, p. 36.