Home  »  Great Britain: I (710–1777)  »  On Grievances in the Reign of Charles I.

The World’s Famous Orations.
Great Britain: I. (710–1777). 1906.

John Pym

On Grievances in the Reign of Charles I.

NEVER Parliament had greater business to dispatch, nor more difficulties to encounter; therefore we have reason to take all advantages of order and address, and hereby we shall not only do our own work, but dispose and enable ourselves for the better satisfaction of his majesty’s desire of supply. The grievances being removed, our affections will carry us with speed and cheerfulness, to give his majesty that which may be sufficient both for his honor and support. Those that in the very first place shall endeavor to redress the grievances, will be found not to hinder, but to be the best furtherers of his majesty’s service. He that takes away weights, doth as much advantage motion, as he that addeth wings.

He [that is, the speaker, Pym] said he would labor to contract those manifold affairs both of the Church and State, which did so earnestly require the wisdom and faithfulness of this house, into a double method of grievances and cures. And because there wanted not some who pretended that these things, wherewith the commonwealth is now grieved, are much for the advantage of the king, and that the redress of them will be to his majesty’s great disadvantage and loss, he doubted not but to make it appear, that in discovering the present great distempers and disorders, and procuring remedy for them, we should be no less serviceable to his majesty, who has summoned us to this great council, than useful to those whom we do here represent. For the better effecting whereof, he propounded three main branches of his discourse: In the first, he would offer them the several heads of some principal grievances, under which the kingdom groaned. In the second, he undertook to prove that the disorders from whence those grievances issued, were as hurtful to the king as to the people. In the third, he would advise such a way of healing, and removing those grievances, as might be equally effectual to maintain the honor and greatness of the king, and to procure the prosperity and contentment of the people.

The greatest liberty of the kingdom is religion; thereby we are freed from spiritual evils, and no impositions are so grievous as those that are laid upon the soul.

The next great liberty is justice, whereby we are preserved from injuries in our persons and estates; from this is derived into the commonwealth, peace, and order, and safety; and when this is interrupted, confusion and danger are ready to overwhelm all.

The third great liberty consists in the power and privilege of parliaments; for this is the fountain of law, the great council of the kingdom, the highest court; this is enabled by the legislative and conciliary power, to prevent evils to come; by the judiciary power, to suppress and remove evils present. If you consider these three great liberties in the order of dignity, this last is inferior to the other two, as means are inferior to the end; but, if you consider them in the order of necessity and use, this may justly claim the first place in our care, because the end can not be obtained without the means; and if we do not preserve this, we can not long hope to enjoy either of the others. Therefore, being to speak of those grievances which lie upon the kingdom, he would observe this order.

The privileges of Parliament were not given for the ornament or advantage of those who are the members of Parliament. They have a real use and efficacy toward that which is the end of parliaments. We are free from suits that we may the more entirely addict ourselves to the public services; we have, therefore, liberty of speech, that our counsels may not be corrupted with fear, or our judgments perverted with self-respects. Those three great faculties and functions of Parliament, the legislative, judiciary, and conciliary power, can not be well exercised without such privileges as these. The wisdom of our laws, the faithfulness of our counsels, the righteousness of our judgments, can hardly be kept pure and untainted if they proceed from distracted and restrained minds.

Then he propounded divers particular points wherein the privileges of Parliament had been broken. First, in restraining the members of the House from speaking. Secondly, in forbidding the Speaker to put any question.

These two were practised the last day of the last Parliament (and, as was alleged, by his majesty’s command), and both of them trench upon the very life and being of parliaments; for if such a restraining power as this should take root, and be admitted, it will be impossible for us to bring any resolution to perfection in such matters as shall displease those about the king.

Thirdly, by imprisoning divers members of the House, for matters done in Parliament. Fourthly, by indictments, informations, and judgments in ordinary and inferior courts, for speeches and proceedings in parliaments. Fifthly, by the disgraceful order of the king’s bench, whereby some members of this House were enjoined to put in security of their good behavior; and for refusal thereof, were continued in prison divers years, without any particular allegation against them. One of them was freed by death. Others were not dismissed till his majesty had declared his intention to summon the present Parliament. And this he noted not only as a breach of privilege, but as a violation of the common justice of the kingdom. Sixthly, by the sudden and abrupt dissolution of parliaments, contrary to the law and custom.

Often hath it been declared in parliaments, that the Parliament should not be dissolved till the petitions be answered. This (he said) was a great grievance because it doth prevent the redress of other grievances. It were a hard case that a private man should be put to death without being heard. As this representative body of the Commons receives a being by the summons, so it receives a civil death by the dissolution. Is it not a much more heavy doom by which we lose our being, to have this civil death inflicted on us in displeasure, and not to be allowed time and liberty to answer for ourselves? That we should not only die, but have this mark of infamy laid upon us? to be made intestables, disabled to make our wills, to dispose of our business, as this House hath always used to do before adjournments or dissolutions? Yet this hath often been our case! We have not been permitted to pour out our last sighs and groans into the bosom of our dear sovereign. The words of dying men are full of piercing affections; if we might be heard to speak, no doubt we should so fully express our love and faithfulness to our prince, as might take off the false suggestions and aspersions of others; at least we should in our humble supplications recommend some such things to him in the name of his people, as would make for his own honor, and the public good of his kingdom.

Thus he concluded the first sort of grievances, being such as were against the privilege of Parliament, and passed on to the next, concerning religion; all which he conveyed under these four heads. The first, was the great encouragement given to popery, of which he produced these particular evidences. A suspension of all laws against papists, whereby they enjoy a free and almost public exercise of that religion. Those good statutes which were made for restraint of idolatry and superstition, are now a ground of security to them in the practise of both; being used to no other end but to get money into the king’s purse; which as it is clearly against the intentions of the law, so it is full of mischief to the kingdom. By this means a dangerous party is cherished and increased, who are ready to close with any opportunity of disturbing the peace and safety of the state. Yet he did not desire any new laws against popery, or any rigorous courses in the execution of those already in force; he was far from seeking the ruin of their persons or estates, only he wished they might be kept in such a condition as should restrain them from doing hurt.

A second encouragement is, their admission into places of power and trust in the Commonwealth, whereby they get many dependents and adherents, not only of their own, but even of such as make profession to be Protestants.

A third, their freedom of resorting to London and the court, whereby they have opportunity, not only of communicating their counsels and designs, one to another, but of diving into his majesty’s counsels, by the frequent access of those who are active men among them, to the tables and company of great men; and under subtle pretenses and disguises they want not means of cherishing their own projects and of endeavoring to mold and bias the public affairs to the great advantage of that party.

A fourth, that as they have a congregation of cardinals at Rome, to consider of the aptest ways and means of establishing the pope’s authority and religion in England, so they have a nuncio here, to act and dispose that party to the execution of those counsels, and, by the assistance of such cunning and Jesuitical spirits as swarm in this town, to order and manage all actions and events, to the furtherance of that main end.

Having despatched these several points, he proceeded to the third kind of grievances, being such as are against the common justice of the realm, in the liberty of our persons, and propriety of our estates, of which he had many to propound; in doing whereof, he would rather observe the order of time, wherein they were acted, than of consequence; but when he should come to the cure, he should then persuade the House to begin with those which were of most importance, as being now in execution, and very much pressing and exhausting the commonwealth.

Since the breach of the last Parliament, his majesty hath, by a new book of rates, very much increased the burden upon merchandise, and now tonnage and poundage, old and new impositions, are all taken by prerogative, without any grant in Parliament, or authority of law, as we conceive; from whence divers inconveniences and mischiefs are produced. The danger of the precedent, that a judgment in one court, and in one case, is made binding to all the kingdom. Men’s goods are seized, their legal suits are stopped, and justice denied to those that desire to take the benefit of the law. The great sums of money received upon these impositions, intended for the guard of the seas, claimed and defended upon no ground but of public trust, for protection of merchants and defense of the ports, are dispersed to other uses, and a new tax raised for the same purposes.

These burdens are so excessive, that trade is thereby very much hindered, the commodities of our own growth extremely abased, and those imported much enhanced; all which lies not upon the merchant alone, but upon the generality of the subject; and by this means the stock of the kingdom is much diminished, our exportation being less profitable, and our importation more changeable. And if the wars and troubles in the neighbor parts had not brought almost the whole stream of trade into this kingdom, we should have found many more prejudicial effects of these impositions, long before this time, than yet we have done. Especially they have been insupportable to the poor plantations, whither many of his majesty’s subjects have been transported, in divers parts of the Continent and islands of America, in furtherance of a design enlargement of his majesty’s dominions. The adventurers in this noble work have for the most part no other support but tobacco, upon which such a heavy rate is set that the king receives twice as much as the true value of the commodity to the owner. Whereas these great burdens have caused divers merchants to apply themselves to a way of traffic abroad by transporting goods from one country to another, without bringing them home into England. But now it hath been lately endeavored to set an imposition upon this trade, so that the king will have a duty even out of those commodities which never come within his dominions, to the great discouragement of such active and industrious men.

The third general head of civil grievances was, the great inundation of monopolies, whereby heavy burdens are laid, not only upon foreign, but also native commodities. These began in the soap patent. The principal undertakers in this were divers popish recusants, men of estate and quality, such as in likelihood did not only aim at their private gain, but that by this open breach of law, the king and his people might be more fully divided, and the ways of Parliament men more thoroughly obstructed. Among the infinite inconveniences and mischiefs which this did produce, these few may be observed: The impairing the goodness, and enhancing the price of most of the commodities and manufactures of the realm, yea, of those which are of most necessary and common use, as salt, soap, beer, coals, and infinite others.

That, under color of licenses, trades and manufactures are restrained to a few hands, and many of the subjects deprived of their ordinary way of livelihood. That, upon such illegal grants, a great number of persons had been unjustly vexed by pursuivants, imprisonments, attendance upon the council table, forfeiture of goods, and many other ways.

The fourth head of civil grievances was that great and unparalleled grievance of the ship money, which, tho it may seem to have more warrant of law than the rest, because there hath a judgment passed for it, yet in truth it is thereby aggravated, if it be considered that the judgment is founded upon the naked opinion of some judges without any written law, without any custom, or authority of law books, yea, without any one precedent for it. Many express laws, many declarations in parliaments, and the constant practise and judgment at all times are against it! Yea, in the very nature of it, it will be found to be disproportionable to the case of “necessity” which is pretended to be the ground of it! Necessity excludes all formalities and solemnities. It is no time then to make levies and taxes to build and prepare ships. Every man’s person, every man’s ships are to be employed for the resisting of an invading enemy. The right on the subject’s part was so clear, and the pretenses against it so weak, that he thought no man would venture his reputation or conscience in the defense of that judgment, being so contrary to the grounds of the law, to the practise of former times, and so inconsistent in itself.

The seventh great civil grievance hath been the military charges laid upon the several counties of the kingdom—sometimes by warrant under his majesty’s signature, sometimes by letters from the council table, and sometimes (such had been the boldness and presumption of some men) by the order of the lord lieutenants, or deputy lieutenant alone. This is a growing evil; still multiplying and increasing from a few particulars to many, from small sums to great. It began first to be practised as a loan, for supply of coat and conduct money; and for this it hath some countenance from the use in Queen Elizabeth’s time, when the lords of the council did often desire the deputy lieutenants to procure so much money to be laid out in the country as the service did require, with a promise to pay it again in London; for which purpose there was a constant warrant in the exchequer. This was the practise in her time, and in a great part of King James’. But the payments were then so certain, as it was little otherwise than taking up money upon bills of exchange. At this day they follow these precedents in the manner of the demand (for it is with a promise of a repayment), but not in the certainty and readiness of satisfaction.

The first particular brought into a tax (as he thought) was the muster master’s wages, at which many repined; but being for small sums, it began to be generally digested; yet, in the last Parliament, this House was sensible of it, and to avoid the danger of the precedent that the subjects should be forced to make any payments without consent in Parliament they thought upon a bill that might be a rule to the lieutenants what to demand, and to the people what to pay. But the hopes of this bill were dashed in the dissolution of that Parliament. Now of late divers other particulars are growing into practise, which make the grievance much more heavy. Those mentioned were these: 1. Pressing men against their will, and forcing them which are rich or unwilling to serve, to find others in their place. 2. The provision of public magazines for powder, and other munitions, spades and pickaxes. 3. The salary of divers officers besides the muster master. 4. The buying of cart horses and carts, and hiring of carts for carriages.

The next head of civil grievances was comprised in the high court of star chamber, which some think succeeded that which in the parliament rolls is called magnum concilium, and to which parliaments were wont so often to refer those important matters which they had no time to determine. But now this court, which in the late restoration or erection of it in Henry VII.’s time, was especially designed to restrain the oppression of great men, and to remove the obstructions and impediments of the law,—this, which is both a court of counsel and a court of justice, hath been made an instrument of erecting, and defending monopolies and other grievances; to set a face of right upon those things which are unlawful in their own nature, a face of public good upon such as are pernicious in their use and execution. The soap patent and divers other evidences thereof may be given, so well known as not to require a particular relation. And as if this were not enough, this court hath lately intermeddled with the ship money! Divers sheriffs have been questioned for not levying and collecting such sums as their counties have been charged with; and if this beginning be not prevented, the star chamber will become a court of revenue, and it shall be made a crime not to collect or pay such taxes as the State shall require!

The eleventh head of civil grievances was now come to. He said, he was gone very high, yet he must go a little higher. That great and most eminent power of the king, of making edicts and proclamations, which are said to be leges temporis, and by means of which our princes have used to encounter with such sudden and unexpected danger, as would not endure so much delay, as assembling the great council of the kingdom—this, which is one of the most glorious beams of majesty, most rigorous in commanding reverence and subjection, has, to our unspeakable grief, been often exercised of late for the enjoining and maintaining sundry monopolies and other grants—exceeding burdensome and prejudicial to the people.

The twelfth next. Now, altho he was come as high as he could upon earth, yet the presumption of evil men did lead him one step higher—even as high as heaven—as high as the throne of God! It was now (he said) grown common for ambitious and corrupt men of the clergy to abuse the truth of God and the bond of conscience; preaching down the laws and liberties of the kingdom, and pretending Divine authority for an absolute power in the king, to do what he would without persons and goods. This hath been so often published in sermons and printed books, that it is now the highway to preferment!

The thirteenth head of civil grievances he would thus express: The long intermission of parliaments, contrary to the two statutes yet in force, whereby it is appointed there should be parliaments once a year, at the least; and most contrary to the public good of the kingdom, since, this being well remedied, it would generate remedies for all the rest.

Having gone through the several heads of grievances, he came to the second main branch propounded in the beginning: that the disorders from whence these grievances issued were as hurtful to the king as to the people, of which he gave divers reasons.

As to the interruption of the sweet communion which ought to be betwixt the king and his people, in matters of grace and supply. They have need of him by his general pardon—to be secured from projectors and informers, to be freed from absolute laws, from the subtle devices of such as seek to restrain the prerogative to their own private advantage, and the public hurt; and he hath need of them for counsel and support in great and extraordinary occasions. This mutual intercourse, if indeed sustained, would so weave the affections and interests of his subjects into his actions and designs that their wealth and their persons would be his; his own estate would be managed to most advantage; and public undertakings would be prosecuted at the charge and adventure of the subject. The victorious attempts in Queen Elizabeth’s time upon Portugal, Spain, and the Indies, were for the greatest part made upon the subjects’ purses, and not upon the queen’s; tho the honor and profit of the success did most accrue to her.

Those often breaches and discontentments betwixt the king and the people are very apt to diminish his reputation abroad, and disadvantage his treaties and alliances.

The apprehension of the favor and encouragement given to popery hath much weakened his majesty’s party beyond the sea, and impaired that advantage which Queen Elizabeth and his royal father have heretofore made, of being heads of the Protestant union.

The innovations in religion and rigor of ecclesiastical courts have forced a great many of his majesty’s subjects to forsake the land; whereby not only their persons and their posterity, but their wealth and their industry are lost to this kingdom, much to the reduction, also, of his majesty’s customs and subsidies. And, among other inconveniences of such a sort, this was especially to be observed, that divers clothiers, driven out of the country, had set up the manufacture of cloth beyond the seas; whereby this state is like to suffer much by abatement of the price of wools, and by want of employment for the poor; both which likewise tend to his majesty’s particular loss.

The differences and discontents betwixt his majesty and the people at home, have in all likelihood diverted his royal thoughts and counsels from those great opportunities which he might have, not only to weaken the House of Austria, and to restore the palatinate, but to gain himself a higher pitch of power and greatness than any of his ancestors. For it is not unknown how weak, how distracted, how discontented the Spanish colonies are in the West Indies. There are now in those parts in New England, Virginia, and the Caribbean Islands, and in the Bermudas, at least 60,000 able persons of this nation, many of them well armed and their bodies seasoned to that climate, which with a very small charge, might be set down in some advantageous parts of these pleasant, rich, and fruitful countries, and easily make his majesty master of all that treasure, which not only foments the war, but is the great support of popery in all parts of Christendom.

Having thus passed through the two first general branches, he was now come to the third, wherein he was to set down the ways of healing and removing those grievances which consisted of two main branches: first, in declaring the law where it was doubtful; the second, in better provision for the execution of law, where it is clear. But (he said) because he had already spent much time, and begun to find some confusion in his memory, he would refer the particulars to another opportunity, and for the present only move that which was general to all, and which would give weight and advantage to all the particular ways of redress. That is, that we should speedily desire a conference with the lords, and acquaint them with the miserable condition wherein we find the Church and State; and as we have already resolved to join in a religious seeking of God, in a day of fast and humiliation, so to entreat them to concur with us in a parliamentary course of petitioning the king, as there should be occasion, and in searching out the causes and remedies of these many insupportable grievances under which we lie. That so, by the united wisdom and authority of both Houses, such courses may be taken as (through God’s blessing) may advance the honor and greatness of his majesty, and restore and establish the peace and prosperity of the kingdom.

This, he said, we might undertake with comfort and hope of success; for tho there be a darkness upon the land, a thick and palpable darkness, like that of Egypt, yet, as in that, the sun had not lost his light, nor the Egyptians their sight (the interruption was only in the medium), so with us, there is still (God be thanked!) light in the sun—wisdom and justice in his majesty—to dispel this darkness; and in us there remains a visual faculty, whereby we are enabled to apprehend, and moved to desire, light. And when we shall be blessed in the enjoying of it, we shall thereby be incited to return his majesty such thanks as may make it shine more clearly in the world, to his own glory, and in the hearts of his people, to their joy and contentment.