It may not be amiss to subjoin some passages of these speeches; which may serve to give us a just idea of the government of that age, and of the political principles, which prevailed during the reign of Elizabeth. Mr. Laurence Hyde proposed a bill, entituled, An act for the explanation of the common law in certain cases of letters patent. Mr. Spicer said, This bill may touch the prerogative royal, which, as I learned the last parliament, is so transcendent, that the——of the subject may not aspire thereunto. Far be it therefore from me, that the state and prerogative royal of the prince should be tied by me, or by the act of any other subiect. Mr. Francis Bacon said, As to the prerogative-royal of the prince, for my own part, I ever allowed of it; and it is such as l hope will never be discussed. The queen, as she is our sovereign, hath both an enlarging and restraining power. For by her prerogative she may set at liberty things restrained by statute law or otherwise, and secondly, by her prerogative she may restrain things which be at liberty. For the first, she may grant a non obstante contrary to the penal laws.——With regard to monopolies and such like cases, the case hath ever been to humble ourselves unto her majesty, and by petition desire to have our grievances remedied, especially when the remedy toucheth her so nigh in point of prerogative——I say, and I say it again, that we ought not to deal, to judge, or meddle with her majesty's prerogative. I wish therefore every man to be careful of this business. Dr. Bennet said, He that goeth about to debate her majesty's prerogative had need to walk warily. Mr. Laurence Hyde said, For the bill itself, I made it, and I think I understand it: And far be it from this heart of mine to think, this tongue to speak, or this hand to write any thing either in prejudice or derogation of her majesty's prerogative-royal and the state.——Mr. Speaker, quoth Serjeant Harris, for ought I see, the house moveth to have this bill in the nature of a petition. It must then begin with more humiliation. And truly, Sir, the bill is good of itself, but the penning of it is somewhat out of course. Mr. Montagu said, The matter is good and honest, and I like this manner of proceeding by bill well enough in this matter. The grievances are great, and I would note only unto you thus much, that the last parliament we proceeded by way of petition, which had no successful effect. Mr. Francis More said, I know the queen's prerogative is a thing cunous to be dealt withal: yet all grievances are not comparable. I cannot utter with my tongue or conceive with my heart the great grievances that the town and country, for which I serve, suffereth by some of these monopolies. It bringeth the general profit into a private hand, and the end of all this is beggary and bondage to the subjects. We have a law for the true and faithful currying of leather: There is a patent sets all at liberty, notwithstanding that statute. And to what purpose is it to do any thing by act of parliament, when the queen will undo the same by her prerogative? Out of the spirit of humiliation, Mr. Speaker, I do speak it, there is no act of her's that hath been or is more derogatory to her own majesty, more odious to the subiect, more dangerous to the commonwealth than the granting of these monopolies. Mr. Martin said, I do speak for a town that grieves and pines, for a country that groaneth and languisheth under the burden of monstrous and unconscionable substitutes to the monopolitans of starch, tin, fish, cloth, oil, vinegar, salt, and I know not what; nay, what not? The principalest commodities both of my town and country are engrost into the hands of these blood-suckers of the commonwealth. If a body, Mr. Speaker, being let blood, be left still languishing without any remedy, how can the good estate of that body still remain? Such is the state of my town and country; the traffic is taken away, the inward and private commodities are taken away, and dare not be used without the license of these monopolitans. If these blood-suckers be still let alone to suck up the best and principalest commodities, which the earth there hath given us, what will become of us, from whom the fruits of our own soil and the commodities of our own labour, which with the sweat of our brows, even up to the knees in mire and dirt, we have laboured for, shall be taken by warrant of supreme authority, which the poor subject dare not gainsay? Mr. George Moore said, We know the power of her majesty cannot be restrained by any act: why therefore should we thus talk? Admit we should make this statute with a non obstante: yet the queen may grant a patent with a non obstante, to cross this non obstante. I think therefore it agreeth more with the gravity and wisdom of this house to proceed with all humbleness by petition than bill. Mr. Downland said, As I would be no let or over-vehement in any thing, so I am not sottish or senseless of the common grievance of the commonwealth. If we proceed by way of petition, we can have no more gracious answer, than we had the last parliament to our petition. But since that parliament, we have no reformation. Sir Robert Wroth said, I speak, and I speak it boldly, these patentees are worse than ever they were. Mr. Hayward Townsend proposed, that they should make suit to her majesty, not only to repeal all monopolies grievous to the subject, but also that it would please her majesty to give the parliament leave to make an act that they might be of no more force, validity, or effect, than they are at the common law, without the strength of her prerogative. Which though we might now do, and the act being so reasonable, we might assure ourselves her majesty would not delay the passing thereof, yet we, her loving subjects, &c. would not offer without her privity and consent (the cause so nearly touching her prerogative) or go about to do any such act.
On a subsequent day, the bill against monopolies was again introduced, and Mr. Spicer said, It is to no purpose to offer to tie her majesty's hands by act of parliament, when she may loosen herself at her pleasure. Mr. Davies said, God hath given that power to absolute princes, which he attributes to himself. Dixi quod Dii estis. (N. B. This axiom he applies to the kings of England.) Mr. secretary Cecil said, I am servant to the queen, and before I would speak and give consent to a case that should debase her prerogative, or abridge it, I would wish that my tongue were cut out of my head, I am sure there were law-makers before there were laws: (Meaning, I suppose, that the sovereign was above the laws.) One gentleman went about to possess us, with the execution of the law in an ancient record of 5 or 7 of Edward the third. Likely enough to be true in that time, when the king was afraid of the subject. If you stand upon the law, and dispute of the prerogative, hark ye what Bracton says, Praerogativam nostram nemo audeat disputare. And for my own part, I like not these courses should be taken. And you, Mr. Speaker, should perform the charge her majesty gave unto you, in the beginning of this parliament, not to receive bills of this nature: For her majesty's ears be open to all grievances, and her hands stretched out to every man's petitions.——When the prince dispenses with a penal law, that is left to the alteration of sovereignty, that is good and irrevocable. Mr. Montague said, I am loth to speak what I know, lest, perhaps, I should displease. The prerogative-royal is that which is now in question, and which the laws of the land have ever allowed and maintained. Let us therefore apply by petition to her majesty.
After the speaker told the house that the queen had annulled many of the patents, Mr. Francis More said, I must confess, Mr. Speaker, I moved the house both the last parliament and this, touching this point; but I never meant (and I hope the house thinketh so) to set limits and bounds to the prerogative royal. He proceeds to move, that thanks should be given to her majesty; and also, that whereas divers speeches have been moved extravagantly in the house, which doubtless have been told her majesty, and perhaps ill conceived of by her, Mr. Speaker would apologize, and humbly crave pardon for the same. N. B. These extracts were taken by Townsend, a member of the house, who was no courtier; and the extravagance of the speeches seems rather to be on the other side: It will certainly appear strange to us that this liberty should be thought extravagant. However, the queen, notwithstanding her cajoling the house, was so ill satisfied with these proceedings, that she spoke of them peevishly in her concluding speech, and told them, that she perceived that private respects with them were privately masqued under public presence. D'Ewes, p. 619.
There were some other topics, in favour of prerogative, still more extravagant, advanced in the house this parliament. When the question of the subsidy was before them, Mr. Serjeant Heyle said, Mr. Speaker, I marvel much that the house should stand upon granting of a subsidy or the time of payment, when all we have is her majesty's, and she may lawfully at her pleasure take it from us: Yea, she hath as much right to all our lands and goods as to any revenue of her crown. At which all the house hemmed, and laughed and talked. Well, quoth serjeant Heyle, all your hemming shall not put me out of countenance. So Mr. Speaker stood up and said, It is a great disorder, that this house should be used——So the said serjeant proceeded, and when he had spoken a little while the house hemmed again; and so he sat down. In his latter speech, he said, he could prove his former position by precedents in the time of Henry the third, king John, king Stephen, &c. which was the occasion of their hemming. D'Ewes, p. 633. It is observable, that Heyle was an eminent lawyer, a man of character. Winwood, vol. i. p. 290. And though the house in general shewed their disapprobation, no one cared to take him down, or oppose these monstrous positions. It was also asserted this session, that in the same manner as the Roman consul was possessed of the power of rejecting or admitting motions in the senate, the speaker might either admit or reject bills in the house. D'Ewes, p. 677. The house declared themselves against this opinion; but the very proposal of it is a proof at what a low ebb liberty was at that time in England.
In the year 1591, the judges made a solemn decree, that England was an absolute empire, of which the king was the head. In consequence of this opinion, they determined, that even if the act of the first of Elizabeth had never been made, the king was supreme head of the church; and might have erected, by his prerogative, such a court as the ecclesiastical commission: For that he was the head of all his subjects. Now that court was plainly arbitrary: The inference is, that his power was equally absolute over the laity. See Coke's Reports, p. 5. Caudrey's case.