353 Lawyers Vs Clerics

As the 1626 parliament opens, full of hope once more, we take a while to introduce William Laud, and discuss the idea that a theme of the English civil wars is an ideological struggle between lawyers and Arminian clerics

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I am speaking this on Friday 9th September, the day after Elizabeth II died. I know its not that unexpected; she was getting on a bit after all; but it still comes as a shock. She was a very impressive person, constant, seemingly unflappable, with such a strong and impressive sense of duty. She has been around all my life – she’d been 12 years on the throne before I came along – and it will be very strange not to have her around. We will miss her, and may she rest in peace.

We need to start I am afraid to say, with religion again, in January 1626 – so sorry, that’ll be a theme I have to say. But it is important; because over the first 5 years of Charles’s reign there was a de facto religious settlement, even if it was never called that.

And we probably need to talk a bit about William Laud, because his name does keep bobbing to the surface like an apple in one of those water tubs at the village fete, and it now becomes urgent because he would play a small but important initial role in the next parliament, and of course he’ll be our companion for many a year from here on in, becoming at some stage Charles’ ABC.  So let me give you a brief introduction to William Laud and his history so far.

William Laud was the son of a prosperous clothier from the fair town of Reading in Berkshire, born in 1573; as a result he’d have to suffer the slings and arrows of jokes about his lowly origins, and whereas today of course he’d wear that badge proudly, back then it wasn’t seen as something to be proud of – he was always sensitive about it. He went to Oxford University, to St Johns around whose corridors the whiff of high church/Catholicism continued to creep. He came early to controversy; in 1602 he earned the wrath of the Calvinist ABC, George Abbot, for his views; Laud would not forget Abbot’s criticism, and would have his revenge. By 1604 he was already claiming there could be no true church without diocesan bishops, and being accused by his profs of seeking to sow dissention in the Church of England. This stuff is significant; while I’ve heard it casually claimed that England cut itself off from the continent by the Reformation, such a claim is of course absurd – the English church was very much part of the international community of Reformed Churches. Already by 1606, through his views about the authority of Bishops, Laud was being accused of unchurching the foreign Reformed churches.[1] By 1611 Laud had been introduced to the court, preaching before King James through the offices of Richard Neile, an Arminian leaning bishop who rose to become ABY. During the writing of this programme gentle listeners, I became aware of two Facts, capital F worthy of comment. The first is a little biddy fact, which is that Neile was the target of Oliver Cromwell’s first speech in the 1628-9 parliament, a speech apparently poorly received, but probably attaxcking Neile’s Arminianism. The Second Fact demands a Digression.

I learn that it was Richard Neile who was involved in condemning the last person to be burned at the stake in England, whose name was Edward Wightman, a Leicestershire man from Hinckley, in 1612. Edward was described as an Anabaptist, who denied things like the trinity, and the divinity of Jesus, things which at the time would have almost certainly got up most people’s noses. He was interrogated by various clerics including Laud as it happens, but he was condemned finally at Lichfield, where Neile was Bishop and therefore officiating. Wightman seemed to have believed he could convince people of his case to the last, arguing it furiously, even sending a text to James; this was a bit like struggling in a snare or being caught in quick sand – the harder you struggle the tighter the snare or the deeper you sink. Not that I have ever been caught in a snare or in quicksand, but this is one of the things I have seen in films so I assume it must be true. Anyway, his efforts just made him look increasingly dangerous.

So Edward Wightman was taken to the stake in front of a crowd. The pain of the flames caused him to cry out, more than ouch I mean, and some of the crowd saw this as recantation, and rushed to pull him off, though they also were burned in the process, and Wightman was, and I quote, ‘well scorched’ which makes him sound a bit like a carpet, poor man. But within a couple of weeks Wightman was unrepentant, condemned again and this time the burning was completed, on Easter Saturday. The courage of that is astounding.

The history of removing the penalty of burning permanently is then a little confused, but seems to be this; at the Long Parliament with the removal of Bishops, the rights of ecclesiastical courts were effectively removed; everything was restored at the Restoration which is rather the nature of Restorations of course. But finally in 1677, the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act actively banned the burning of heretics. The Wightman family emigrated later to America; there is a tradition that the poet Walt Whitman was a descendant, but I haven’t looked into that, so probably shouldn’t have mentioned it. Anyway, there you go, another baby step, and here endeth the Digression.

In 1617, Laud became the Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, where he placed the Altar at the east end of the church, and insisted that people bow as they approached it. This is a central trigger of controversy, both here and in Scotland where your Calvinist or indeed Church of England might place a communion table where folks could gather round it, rather than the sort of pompous holy of holies stuff. Through all of this, Neile is playing Dumbledore to Laud’s Harry, or Gandalf to Laud’s Frodo – the role of protector, because controversy and argument follows him all along his career path like flies after a blackcurrant sandwich, and someone has to hold the shield and keep the darts off while Laud concentrates on advancing the cause of Arminianism, True religion, or Crypto Catholicism, depending on your point of view. There is a tradition that James identified Laud as trouble on this quote attributed to him:

I keep Laud back from all Place of Rule and Authority, because I find he hath a restless Spirit, and cannot see when matters are well, but loves to toss and change, and to bring Things to a pitch of Reformation in his own Brain … take him to you, but upon my Soul you will repent it

The authenticity of the quote is disputed; and also it is worth saying that the process I am involved in here – of focussing on one character to make the story more immediate to everyone, carries with it the same danger as when civil war historians complain that it’s not all about Oliver bloody Cromwell. Laud was just one person out of a multitude of clerics that took a more or less Arminian view of church ceremonial and theology. Nonetheless, he was deeply influential, and become the target for his opponents, and no one, or no one I have become aware of, ever said to Laud ‘Oh come on Billy, turn the volume up would you, stop sitting on the fence and being so darned emollient’. This stuff mattered to Laud as it did to everyone, life and death stuff, more than that, eternal life and death stuff.



Whether or not the quote was from James, he did keep him a little at arm’s length in 1621 by appointing him not to the Deanery of Westminster, for which he was a candidate, but at Bishop of St Davids. But it did mean Laud was now a Bishop of course and when he was in London during the 1620s he became part of the Durham House group. Durham house was Richard Neile’s palatial house on the Strand and it became a meeting place for like-minded, Arminian divines. It was big enough to house the households of more than one Bishop on the move like Laud; and it seems to have developed a homely, corporate atmosphere, which has been credited to the abilities of Dorothy Neile at supporting the divines in their comings and goings and debates. The Durham House group will have a critical influence on royal attitudes towards the religious settlement that emerges by 1630.

Meanwhile Laud also became Buckingham’s Chaplain and religious confidente; so Buckingham tended to use Laud as a channel of communication between himself and Charles. This is critical; Laud was now at the centre of affairs with direct access to the king. But it also meant that in public Laud often had to tone down the virulence of his pronouncements; because Buckingham was much more aware of the need to work with parliament, and steer that middle way James had found, and so Laud was forced sometimes to keep quiet.

On James’ death though, it was Charles that commissioned Laud for advice on the leading churchmen he could rely on. In the struggle between Calvinist and Arminian, Laud’s list was to prove a hammer blow. He sent back a list of names marked O for Orthodox and P for puritan. Note there was no marker for Arminian – they, of course, as far as Laud was concerned, were no more than orthodox. Laud’s list began the process of securing the virtual exclusion of Calvinists from a critical group of ecclesiastical committees, and a growing Arminian dominance of Bishoprics.

Next, Charles asked for general advice about what he should do as regards church policy – and asked William Laud to do so after discussing the idea with Lancelot Andrews, the venerable and venerated cleric – also, you guessed it, a leading Arminian. So switching back to January 1626 and Charles then, I am building a picture of a Charles who already has a leaning quite strongly to what might be described as an Arminian + position. He is already favouring the Arminian view; plus he has views on the central importance of bishops that would make many of them blench.

Now there is a difference of opinion about this.  New Revisionists such Kevin Sharpe and Julian Davies argue that Charles was not really interested about the ins and outs of doctrine, and particularly not about the central issue of Predestination – and all he really cared about was conformity and personal devotion. And from after the June 1626 parliament, there are signs that in terms of doctrinal debate, Charles begins to realise that in encouraging debate about doctrine he had released the furies on the world, and returns to his father’s approach of trying to squish the furies back into an air tight box surrounded by space through which no one could hear the screams. But at the start of the realm that was not the case, as demonstrated by the York House conference when he invited divines from both sides to come and have a full and frank exchange of views under the auspices of Buckingham, and get this thing trashed out in a way that the thing was just not capable of being thrashed.

The fact the York house conference took place owed a lot to a counterattack by the Calvinists, seriously alarmed by the leap in influence of the Arminians. But in their counterattack they showed a split in strategy that would weaken the Calvinist party throughout. The most zealous included the ABC, George Abbot, William Fiennes,  lord Saye and Sele; and Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick. They favoured a full frontal, pistols at dawn; they wanted a complete condemnation of Montague’s writings, and a restatement of the orthodoxy of the Church of England that incorporated the Synod of Dort. Incidentally, there are billions of names that will come and go. So for those of you who can bear to go to the web, I have started something I wanted to call a gazetteer of people, but I  understand that I can’t call it that, because gazetteer is something geographical – which is, frankly, quite irritating of it and I would like the word to consider, please, changing its meaning to that which I would like it to mean – a bit like those people who wish that irregardless was actually a word. But until that happens, I am going to use the phrase British Revolutionary Biographies. Basically there’s a list of names, Scottish, Irish, English of the 1625-1660 period broadly with a brief bio if you get lost about who’s who. Warwick and Saye and Sele will be common names on the puritan side.

So Warwick, Saye & Sele, Abbot favoured full frontal. The old guard, led by William Herbert the Earl of Pembroke tried to use emollients; a middle ground in line with the Synod of Dort, a generous reading of Montagu’s works and a return to James’ approach on just not allowing debate on the vexed matter of predestination. It would effectively be a return to the Jimmy I strategy. The split in strategic approach, though, would ultimately prove a problem for the Calvinists; a united front is always best.

So, the Abbot, Warwick, Saye and Sele faction got their way and a debate at York house; but they did not get their way with a clear, Calvinist outcome, in fact it was no better for either side than a no score draw. Although the Arminian’s took the traditional approach of declaring victory anyway. So; the hopes of Warwick and Saye & Sele turned to parliament. Because Parliament could provide a counter balance to the growing influence of Arminian clergy; the composition of the Commons was almost exclusively Calvinist – Nicholas Tyake the historian, identified just two Arminian members of the commons in the 1620s, so it was driven by a largely Calvinist agenda. In parliament lay the Calvinists best chance to put real pressure on the king – if he wanted a subsidy, he would have to keep Calvinists happy on religion. And it happens they were to be lucky – Events would shortly lead Charles and his council to decide that a new Parliament should indeed be called.

One reason for this of course was the hideous failure at Cadiz; something needed to be done about that. And foreign policy was to deliver another reason, because another decision taken in Council there, an absolutely humungeous, cry it out on the mountain kind of decision – was the decision to do a 180 degree turn on their strategy toward France. France would no longer be an ally; their status would be changed from ally we love them and want to be close to them, to enemy, we condemn them and all their works to the 7th circle et etc.  The decision was taken to support the Huguenots in La Rochelle rather than build an anti Hapsburg alliance.

It’s entirely understandable; the thinking went that Richelieu had treated them thoroughly shabbily by using English ships against Huguenots against Buckingham’s express instructions they were not leant on that basis. It embarrassed Charles who saw himself as the inheritor of Elizabeth’s mantle as defender of the French Calvinists. It also meant that rather than bones thrown to keep parliament on board and vote for subsidies, red meat could be used – the penal recusancy laws could once more be turned back on. Hopefully that would mean the money tap would be turned on, armies and navies raised, glorious victory ensue, life of art collecting follow and so on and so forth.

But it was a massive risk. Little England, population around 4.5m, was now at war with two of Europe’s most powerful kingdoms, with combined populations of 30m in Europe alone. Talk about brave, talk about David and Goliath stuff. And actually when parliament opened, the French crown would have suddenly signed a peace treaty with the Huguenots which then absolutely robbed Charles of any foreign strategy at all, though that was pretty short lived it has to be said. But anyway – you get the point – a Brave strategy, principled which is Charles all over, also foolhardy.

As planning for parliament got underway – because Charles and Buckingham accepted they’d not managed the last one well – how the Arminian and Calvinist split was to be handled was part of the discussion. Charles expressed in council his core concern that the 1625 Commons had sought

To touch his sovereignty[2]

But at this point he believed parliament was still an organisation he could and should work with; the problem he believed was just a small group of troublemakers. The word around court was that

For the distemper of 5 or 6 men he would not be angry with his people but still endeavour to preserve their love to him

So the argument of necessity for time of war, some red meat in anti recusancy laws, would leavened with a message of a requirement for loyalty and obligation to their monarch. And to deliver this message, Charles would turn to an Arminian – William Laud, to give the customary sermon to the combined houses of Parliament.

Much to your pain and distress, however, I have to tell you now I am afraid I am going to noodle away from the events of the 1626 parliament, which we will leave until next time, and digress to address the main title of this episode, Clerics Vs Lawyers – although I simply cannot get Monsters Vs Aliens out of my mind. No idea which is which, just can’t get it out of my mind. Anyway, as a backdrop to the 1626 parliament, I would like to discuss if there is any mileage in the old and mainly whiggish history tradition that has mused about the difference in attitude between Lawyers and clerics in Charles’ reign and the influence they have. The contention is that if you are looking for a rebellious element in parliament, and specifically in the House of Commons, you might do very well to have a look at the impact of legal training; quite a few of the names we’ve come across – Robert Phelips, Edward Coke for example – were either lawyers or educated at the inns of Court. Meanwhile, if you are looking for folks that support the idea of an all powerful, divinely appointed monarch you might simply enter the word clergy into your search box.





Before I go into this, it is a theory that comes with a health warning. As the story unfolds, and people are forced to pick sides, there is absolutely no guarantee at all that someone who cuts up rough against Charles in 1625 to 1630 will fight against him when it comes to the dust up; there are many reasons why people take sides as we will discuss when we get there. On the other side, there was of course a tradition that Calvinist clergy were equivocal about royal authority, as natural inheritors of the idea that a ruler could be removed where they acted against true religion; so there are no hard and fast rules here, no on-off switch. However, I would contend that there is something in this theory, if only in the statement that Arminian clergy tended to support royal supremacy and divine right; and a respect and veneration for the common law and its primacy over royal authority was bolstered by a number of people with legal training within parliament.

In general, the rationale goes like this.  Arminianism stressed order, ceremony, form, structure and episcopal governance in religion; a top down approach to religion, that looked at the reformation as a top down process rather than as a popular expression of will and belief. So it is perhaps unsurprising that this mapped on the order and structure inherent in Royal supremacy – and incidentally also unsurprising that Charles preferred the cut of the Arminian jib to that of Calvinists – or at least of the more extreme Calvinists, as puritans. John Buckeridge was the Bishop of Ely (Arminian) and Laud’s old tutor. In 1606 in a sermon he taught that you gave king’s subsidies because it was their right

You pay tribute & custome, and Subsidies of duetie and Justice; You give them not of courtesie; and they are stipendium Regis, not praemium, they are the King’s stipend or pay, not his reward

David Owen, a clergyman in 1610 wrote that

Kings have their authority from God and are his viceregents on earth to execute justice and judgement for him

The Arminian Bishop of London George Montaigne in 1622 claimed that the king could tax as he wished because

What we have is not our own, and what we gave was but rendering and restoring

Whoa…so that’s private property isn’t really private then, just borrowing it for a while from the king. Golly. Bishop Lancelot Andrews, another Arminian, also held that the king had a divine right to be supported in case of necessity.

In 1627, so very soon, we will come up against two more clerics, Roger Mainwaring and Robert Sibthrope who draw the thunder of parliamentary outrage down on their heads by being very specific and extreme about what royal authority meant in terms of rights – I’ll save that bit of fun for later don’t want to spoil anything for you. William Beale preached that

All we had was the king’s. He might command all wives, children, estates and all

Let me be clear; this is not just the view of clerics. Some Lay people, and legal folk held similar views. Ranulph Crew, English Judge and Speaker of the House of parliament in 1614 acknowledged that James was

The image and representation of God upon earth, for kings be gods upon earth

An anonymous courtier in 1629 wrote that the king could

Justly and honestly raise levies without parliament[3]

We have arrived at constitutional theory again. There is a general point always worth remembering that even among the more radical opponents of the king, the view that the king was God’s representative on earth with vice regal powers was entirely standard, even that law derived from the king. Historian Glen Burgess[4] makes the point that the trouble really starts when people are too specific about what that means in practice as regards specific taxes and actions – the general principle is widely accepted.  It’s really a horribly, horribly nuanced discussion – I really wish it was just a royalist vs freedom fighters discussion, the binary world is so much easier. Sigh, and #makehistoryasoundbite. But let me make three points.

  • If you wanted a high view of the extent of divine authority in theory and practice, Arminians were a good place to go
  • Royal authority was closely identified with the religious view of king as God’s vice regent
  • When these rights were expressed in forms that challenged rights of property – such as William Beale’s everything we have is the kings, or were specific, such as customs dues could be imposed by the king – many in society started to come out in spots and question royal authority.

In addition, many by the time of James’ reign held a firm view that clerics were a menace to the rule of parliament and law, and were polluting the king’s mind by advocating arbitrary government. In 1610, parliament opened legal proceedings against John Cowell, Vicar-General to the ABC because he denied that the king was bound to rule in accordance with the laws of the land. In 1614, Bishop Richard Neile cast aspersions on the loyalty of the house of commons because they opposed customs impositions. And if these clerical dudes were saying this openly, people wondered what on earth might they be whispering in the royal shell like when the lights were low and the camera’s were gone? One MP wished that

There were none near his Majestie that do infuse this doctrine of absolute sovereignty

When complaining of the work of the cleric Roger Mainwaring – for whom watch this space remember, exciting – the MP Digges argued

A great many churchmen are gone too far in this kind

By 1640 the side eye against clerical influence was widespread – did I use the side eye idiom correctly there? Answers on a postcard. Francis Seymour, back from the exile of sheriffdom in the 1628 parliament, denounced clerics who

‘Betrayed the king to himself’ by telling him ‘his prerogative is above all laws and that his subjects are but slaves’

Laud famously was accused of trying

to bring in an arbitrary government

I could go on, but I think you have suffered enough. For James and Charles, the clergy looked like a good source of support for their comfortably high view of royal authority, and Arminian clergy provided it in spades, espousing as they did not only the authority of the king, but a highly ordered, ceremonial and top down view of religious practice. In contrast, the hotter type of Calvinst, your puritan, looked dangerously populist and open to the idea of resistance theory.

So if that’s the aliens – or the monsters, whichever label you’d prefer to attach to cleric – what about the other lot?

Well, in the background during our story of England, the legal profession has been generating a constant sort of rumble. Like the sound of your neighbour’s wheelie bin being put out – so part of the scenery, so barely noticeable, but if it wasn’t there – well, there’d be a whiff eventually. Sadly the way things go is that I get into a topic, find out loads of cool stuff and then have to tell you so before we get onto the link between lawyers and pressure for constitutional reform, I’m going on a log digression about the legal profession, sorry about that. Hold your breath, here we go.

There had been increasing use of litigation in England to replace physical means of settling land disputes, such as hitting your neighbour hard in the face when they move the markers, although as the history of the Pastons rather demonstrates, that’s a process that overlaps quite a bit – since they jousted in both court and field. There’s been a growth of the sort of lawyers who like John Stonor, the 14th century lawyer and judge, son of an Oxfordshire freeholder, came to found a family elevated to the peerage, and in my hood at Stonor park even now. A source of some sort of social mobility.

In the main, the medieval model was very much a professional one, and as you may, or indeed who knows, may not be aware, the Inns of Court form the basis of legal education by this time. They seem to have developed from legal guilds after the Church banned clerics from teaching anything other than Roman law – and of course common law was not that. So guilds formed in London to do the dirty work of teaching common law, and from somewhere around in the 14th century begin to become to be called the Inns of Court. There were also Inns of Chancery and originally there were five inns, but Serjeants’ Inn was melted down in 1877, and so we are left with four these days – Gray’s, Lincolns, Inner temple and Middle Temple. They were run by senior members of the legal profession, known a benchers.

Well by the 16th and early 17th century, the Inns of court had rather taken off, as had the legal profession. A university education is all very well, but often not always particularly vocational unless you want to go into the church; I mean knowing the word of God is important, clearly, and the words of Cicero too, but you can’t butter parsnips with Cicero. Universities didn’t do law – they left that to the Inns of Court.

So there are two aspects to the growth of the inns of court. One is that in the century up to about 1640 or 1660 the number of people attending them explodes because if you are a landowner or trader in anyway shape or form, a legal training is handy, super handy. So many people went into the Inns never expecting to become lawyers, but as training for life. But they would nonetheless spend seven years there learning about the law and maybe picking up a degree of reverence for it – though familiarity as my mother told me sometimes breeds something else than reverence of course. And the other thing driving growth is that all that litigation, as opposed to hitting each other, meant an explosion in the number of lawyers. Now I really need not to get too carried away with the subject, but it is worth noting that we already have two types of professional – attorneys and barristers, and the former are of course much less grand than the latter carrying out the more humdrum local work. But as an example of the explosion in the business, at the start of Elizabeth’s reign there was about one attorney for every 20,000 people. Less than a hundred years later, by 1640, there was 1 attorney for every 2,500 people.  Now that is some sort of increase, and reflects how central law was in society. There were also probably something like 2,000 practising barristers in 1600.

As far as social origin is concerned, lawyers of all types seem to have been closely connected to the upper reaches of society; 60% were from the gentry, but that means that 40% were not, which for early modern Europe still represents a fairly high degree of social mobility. As an aside I read an article by Christopher Hill, famously Marxist in tone who uses the figure to demonstrate how much property and the elite dominated the law, and one by J A Sharpe, who uses it to demonstrate the diversity of social background. Isn’t history fun? One fact, two completely different interpretations. As one further wrinkle a man called John Cooke was studying for the law around this time. Now, I am sorry about all these Cookes. This John Cooke has nothing to do with Edward Coke, and is not to be confused with the Secretary of State and naval administrator – John Cook. This  John Cooke is the lawyer who will produce detailed, and sadly ignored, plans for reform of the legal profession – oh, and will prepare the brief used at the trial of Charles I. John Cooke was born in Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire, and came from the relatively lowly Husbandmen class, and managed to afford it because his family saw the law as the route to a better life, and started his 7 year apprenticeship; so although the Inns of Court were supposed only to accept ‘gentlemen’, they clearly accepted a wider range of backgrounds, and John would have joined members of the minor gentry, but men from also framing, trade, and merchant backgrounds. While we are on the topic, another feature of the law is that three-quarters of those involved as litigants at King’s Bench and Common Pleas came from sub-gentry social groups.[5] Law, both in access and professionals, ran deep in society.

Lawyers liked to think of themselves in a very different way to that which society often viewed them. Christopher Hill is probably grinding an axe when he points to the attitude of radicals like Oliver Cromwell and Gerrard Winstanley who denounced the common law as a conspiracy of the rich to keep the poor in due subjection, and to what was called in 1648 [6]

“the general inbred hatred… in our common people against both our laws and lawyers.”

Even adjusting for Hill’s view that the law was primarily a tool to protect the rights of property, it’s pretty clear that lawyers as a general profession, especially attorneys, were viewed at best as a necessary evil, and would probably be placed by contemporaries towards the monster end of the Monsters-Aliens continuum. Barristers in particular thought differently – they saw themselves as the image of the ideal Roman judge of classical literature, a gentleman well versed in the law who served the public good disinterestedly. Irritatingly, the Gen Pub continued to think of them as charging outrageous fees and being more concerned with their own welfare than advancing the welfare of the nation. You pays your money and takes your choice, but as noted you certainly pays your money.





So, back to it then, here endeth the digression. There have been a few common views of how all of this affected parliament. Well, James apparently had a poor view of the influence of lawyers, and held them responsible for the bother about his entirely reasonable customs impositions. So he issued a proclamation before parliament against

‘curious and wrangling lawyers, who may seek reputation by stirring needless questions’.

Interestingly, James was joined in his dislike of lawyers in parliaments by two others who had been through legal training Edwin Sandys, master of parliamentary organisation in James’ parliaments, claimed that

‘the violence of lawyers hath, in former times, abused this House’,

And that he also complained that matters relating to the Church had, through the ‘cunning of lawyers’, been carried ‘clean contrary to the meaning of the House’. And then there’s the royalist Francis Knyaston, who went to Lincoln’s Inn, and wrote a book refuting the claims to antiquity of parliament from the Anglo Saxons by the likes of Edward Coke. Nonsense said Knyaston with far greater historical accuracy it must be said than Coke, parliaments only emerged in the reign of Henry III.  Parliament’s proper function he wrote was to offer the king advice and assistance solely with respect to those issues he and his council laid before it.

Despite such antipathy, lawyers in parliament were a significant grouping; they rose to a height a bit earlier than our period – there were about 100 of them in the parliaments that caused James so much trouble between 1604 and 1610, which was about 20% of the composition of the house. Actually for reason or reasons unknown, their proportion of the house fell to 1628; but none the less in a House of Commons of 489 MPs, there are still 78 in 1626 and 64 in 1628, so a significant block.[7] Also, I think this figure, from the estimable History of Parliament.org, ‘For all  your Parliamentary history needs’ is folks actually practising or currently training in law – so the figure of those who had some legal training is probably higher than that. The point is though, that there are plenty of people who understand the law and the history of the law, for whom it is their business; and furthermore whose training gives them a respect and reverence; one historian described the period as

“the only period of English history when the policy of the government has actually been based on historical research”

Their priorities are not always clear though, and they categorically do not come as a block; the story I think is similar to that of the Aliens, sorry I mean clerics. That you can find them on either side of the divide, both of religion and the disputes over parliamentary privileges and liberties. So there is a tradition that the lawyers tended towards puritanism; and certainly John Cooke was of that persuasion.  Cooke went to Grays Inn and was taught by the noted puritan preacher Richard Sibbes – John calls him the ‘heavenly Dr Sibbes’. The evidence of an overwhelmingly close link between puritanism and the Inns of Court though appears dodgy in the historian Wilfred Prest’s work, but there was a tendency. That might be centred in particular Inns – Lincoln’s inn for example had a definite connection, and Lincoln’s Inn consistently returned the most lawyers to parliament. And Prest concludes that the inns were significant in that they provided a central point of contact for puritan lawyers and Gentry from all over England.  They gave an opportunity for puritans to get in touch with each other; and lawyers at the inns were very much drawn from a wide geographical range, all around England.

So; lawyers and gentry with legal training there were aplenty in the house. There was an association with puritanism, and traditionally puritans sems to be more likely to kick against the idea of royal absolutism and prerogative. King James clearly believed lawyers were trouble. In 1616 in a speech to Star Chamber, James castigated

“the vain and popular humour of some lawyers at the bar that think they are not eloquent and bold spirited enough, except they meddle with the king’s prerogative.”

And there are plenty of specific examples of lawyers leading the argument for the primacy of common law, and arguing that while, yes, monarchs were accountable to God, and maybe even accountable only to God, their power was limited by custom and the law. Edward Coke is an obvious example we’ve talked about before, but there were many others, such as Thomas Hedley who used the argument when speaking against John Cowell in 1610.

A substantial number believed that ultimately royal power and authority derived from the people. It’s argued by revisionists that this argument was a post ipso facto thing, made up only from 1642 when things were kicking off. But it was the line taken by John Hoskins in 1610, Edwin Sandys in 1614, and Robert Phelips in 1628. Heneage Finch, Speaker of the House and absolutely no anti royalist radical whatsoever, rather the reverse, put it that

It is the highest prerogative of the king that he cannot do against law

Maybe the ultimate question is – how did things fall out when the brown stuff hit the whirly thing, when forced to choose, which way did the lawyers jump? Well, of the 128 Benchers in the Inns of court, the senior members of the inns remember, here is how it fell out. 61 of the went with parliament, 34 with the king and 33 managed to duck. So, where a choice was made 2/3rds of lawyers chose parliament.

This itself is no more definitive than the arguments about clerical and lay opinions. So it’s been pointed out that the Inns were of course in an area controlled by parliament during the civil war – maybe the numbers would have been different if they had been in royalist Oxford. On the other hand, there was a strong traditional loyalty towards the monarch – there are many MPs that stand with parliament and the petition of right, but ultimately join the king’s side, since they believe they owe the king that much; on that basis, maybe some of those royalist lawyers were acting against their basic instincts.

But looking at all the evidence, the balance has to be that Lawyers were more likely to tend towards a view that royal power was and should be limited, either in principle or practice; there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of their beliefs, as has been claimed by New Revisionists. Conversely, it seems equally clear that Arminian clerics in particular tended to support royal absolutism – and nor is there any reason to doubt the sincerity of their views. As with everything in the civil wars, there are no hard and fast rules, there are no black and whites.

But; I think we can conclude, that the Clerics and Lawyers thing has some legs. It may not offer an failing predictor of performance; but it does provide some explanation for the motivations of a significant number of individuals. And it does seem to have been explicitly recognised at the time; and as we’ll see, Charles’ reaction to perceived troublemakers in the house, and suspicion of Calvinist clerics, would have far reaching consequences.

[1] Milton, A, William Laud, ODNB

[2] Cust, R ‘Charles: A Political Life’, p49

[3] Sommerville ‘Ideology, Property and the Constitution’ in Cust Conflict in Early Stuart England’, p51

[4] Burgess, G ‘The Divine Right of Kings Reconsidered’

[5] Sharpe, J, Review of Books in The English Historical Review , Jan., 1988

[6] Hill, C  Review of Prest, in History of Education Quarterly , Winter, 1972

[7] http://historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/survey/v-composition-house-commons


2 thoughts on “353 Lawyers Vs Clerics

  1. Seems very odd to suddenly have Charles III when we’re talking about the first of his predecessors. When people refer to the King, I keep wanting to say, “Who?”

    Speaking of Charles I, however, the Clerics vs Lawyers thing does indeed have legs. As many of Elizabeth’s Council members trained at the Inns of Court and served amicably with clerics, seems odd to see their successors facing off. Successive episodes make Charles I sound like the kind of person who can turn a delicate situation into a crisis by harping on the details of his own view, which gets everyone else arguing over differences best left unaired. Sort of a chronic waker of sleeping dogs, if that makes sense.

  2. David, Another interesting and entertaining installment. Having started listening from the beginning only a little over a year ago I am finally current, Hurray! In celebration I become a member and as you have been saying, there certainly is a trove of great material available for members. Hope the tour is going well. Some great pictures have been posted. Best Regards, Larry

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