356 Petition of Right


As so often, war demands money, and in England, money meant parliament. So the outcome of ‘The Favourites’ War’, Buckingham’s attempt to relieve La Rochelle in 1627, would be  critical.

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So we left last week with the Forced Loan, and it’s glittering financial success, but probable dark and gloomy political cost, and a story of resistance left without a focus. Well, while that rumbled on, the political world rumbled right on with it.

There Five people not only refused to pay but decided to fight back. So All were knights, and all had been dully thrown into prison on their refusal. So far, so standard. Now normally id they had read the script, Thomas Darnell, John Corbet, Walter Erle, John Heveningham and Edmund Hampden would bow to pressure and hand over the dough, or stay silently at the king’s pleasure. But instead, they decided to challenge the king by using the law. They appealed for a writ of Habeas Corpus, which demanded the king state specifically why they had been arrested – or be released instead on bail. Since the ground on which they had been in fact arrested for non payment of a loan that a Chief Justice had ruled to be illegal, this was a touchy sort of case the king would rather not come to court.

So, the king sat on the writs until November, and until he considered them warm enough to be hatched and finally agreed the case should proceed.

The PC argued that the king had a right of special command, a discretionary right to arrest anyone on high matters of state. And in fact usually this would not have been that contentious, and a good solid defence – odd as that sounds to the modern ear – if, like the Gunpowder plot, this had been about treason, murder and mayhem. But it wasn’t; it was instead about refusal to pay a tax, and a pretty dodgy tax to boot.

The defence was led by the MP and lawyer John Selden, and you may be amazed to learn that he thought differently, and instead got proper het up and argued furiously that this imprisonment transgressed the Magna Carta

no man can be justly imprisoned by either of them [the king or the privy council], without a cause of the commitment expressed in the return’ and doing otherwise jeopardised the “ancient liberties of freeborn Englishmen

The Attorney General for the prosecution doubled down – which is a good thing, for that was of course his job. He argued that the king could not only order arrest at his discretion for matters of State, but he wasn’t even then bound to say what the relevant matters of State actually were – after all they were his personal matters, in the business of being kingly.

The new Chief justice, Nicholas Hyde, was not emotionally inclined to stick it to the man – the man was his boss, and he’d got the job when his predecessor had been sacked for disagreeing with this boss. Instead, Nicholas tried to avoid the issue. He gave a curious ruling, which said that on the basis he couldn’t find a specific law had been broken, so the prisoners should be refused bail. He gave it as a temporary order, so that it shouldn’t set a precedent and be taken as judge made law. Essentially, he tried to steer the ship between scylla and Charbodis, between both views of the parliament and king. The king was satisfied – his actions had not been declared illegal, the knights remained in the king’s power. Yet, law had not been made, so on paper at least the rights of his subjects under Magna carta had not been clipped. Chief Justice knew himself to be a peacemaker as blessed as any maker of dairy products.

The alternative view to this comfortable one was that no one was really happy, because people like being seen to win, so they can wave to the crowd. Many in parliament were thoroughly unhappy; and on the royal side it seemed as though there was both unhappiness, and possibly even underhand efforts to rewrite the record of history. Listen to this. John Seldon angrily claimed that Attorney General Heath later sneakily falsified the public record so that the case should be taken as a final, legally binding judgement, rather than a temporary one. And thus be judge made law. And most historians accept that he did, indeed commit this crime. Either way – imprisonment without cause, seen as an inalienable right of all freeborn Englishmen – seemed to be once more worryingl  alienable.

One of the Five Knights, Walter Erle, would become  something of a parliamentarian radical, and would say this:

Take away my religion and you take away my life, and not only mine but the life of the whole state and kingdom. For I may boldly say never was there a more near conjunction between matter of religion and matter of state in any kingdom in the world than there is in this kingdom at this day.

I use this quote out of its timeline because it neatly links the strands of religious and secular motivations in the struggle for the English soul – for Walter Erle, the two are inextricably linked. And the church was therefore deeply thoroughly involved, couldn’t keep from messing with the pie.

As it did once more in February 1627, when one Robert Sibthorpe enters the stage of English history, bible in hand. Sibthorpe was a Vicar in Northamptonshire, and he preached to the upturned faces of his flock that the king’s subjects were ‘bound in duty’ to their princes ‘according to the laws and customes of the kingdome’. Well that sounds OK, but he then got a bit excited and went on further about the king’s awesomeness and puissance

Hee doth whatsoever pleaseth him for where the word of the king is, there is power

Warming to his theme, he argued that basically tribute was due to the king, and he came close to arguing that the king’s power was absolute; that if a

prince impose an immoderate, yea and unjust taxe’ still the subject had no right to ‘withdraw his obedience and dutie’

Getting genuinely flushed now and a little sweaty, he condemned the schismatics as he called them – referring specifically to the Scots, Knox and Buchanan, but also Jesuits and their resistance theories,

The one of which makes the church above the King, and the pope above the church and so dethrones princes

I have to tell you this is not the sort of thing dear old Reverend Walters muttered on about when I was slumbering peacefully in church in my youth. But Charles was listening and he knew a good thing when he heard it; here was the perfect background music to the play being enacted on the stage of the Forced loan, the perfect musak to be played as subjects were ordered to pay up, to get the audience in the right mood, the theological equivalent of the smell of freshly baked bread in the supermarket of financial necessity. So he turned to his ABC, George Abbot and instructed him to licence the sermon, so that it would be backed by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. A sort of official retweeting

Well we’ve already heard how uncomfortable the Forced Loan had made George. And this pushed him over the line. We wouldn’t do it he said, it didn’t sit well with his conscience. Anyway, he pointed out that Sibthorpe had in fact said that princes must abide by the laws and customs of the kingdom; and since the previous Chief Justice had declared the loan illegal, Sibthorpe’s sermon couldn’t be used to justify the loan.

Red rags, bulls and all that spring to mind.  Charles’ head exploded, and he insisted his ABC do as he was told by his supreme governor. Abbot sang that that he would stand his ground, that you could back him up to the gates of hell but he would not back down. Or words to that effect. Faced with this, Charles first of all went round the immoveable object; he found Bishop Montaigne, an Arminian of suitably enthusiastic views about royal authority, and had him issue a note saying that well, he approved of Sibthorpe’s sermon. Now that’s not the same as having the ABC’s official mark on it, but hey, a retweet is a retweet whatever the disclaimer says about retweets not meaning approval.

Then he settled down with a rocket launcher over his shoulder in the tall grass, took good careful aim at the rock in the road called George, and in October he pressed the big red button. Abbot was sequestered from his position – fired essentially, although he couldn’t be actually stripped of his position as ABC – and his powers and authority were placed into ‘commission’. That bit of legal gobbledygook meant his the ABC was now, in practice, a group of five Bishops managing his powers – Montaigne, Neile, Buckeridge, Howson and Laud. And hey – look at that, quite by chance, all were Arminians. The arrival of parliament in 1628 nominally restored his powers, but by that stage he was ill, and would not effectively wield the powers of Canterbury again before his death in 1633. The removal of Abbot was a massive blow to the Calvinist cause; it was also taken as a very bad sign in Scotland, where Abbot’s presence, as an unassailably reliable Calvinist, had been reassuring. Now the Kirk there were having the same palpitations as the English and Welsh Calvinists.

But there was more in the world of ecclesiastical pie-messing. In July, one Roger Mainwaring another gobby cleric, preached two sermons before the king, on the happy theme that the king’s power came ‘immediately from God’ that is to say, not some wonky route via the people or council or any of that stuff.

Royall pleasure has the force of command and that ‘no one should ‘call in question the judgement of a king

There’s more, so much so much more but you are bored of Arminian quotes now I can tell so I won’t go on. Suffice to say that they were so extreme in support of royal authority that they even turned William Laud’s stomach and he advised Charles not to publish the sermons because they contained

‘Many things…distasteful to the people

Tish, stuff and indeed nonsense replied the King gaily with a little hop skip and a jump, don’t be such a stuffy killjoy. The sermons were published, marked ‘by his majesty’s special command’

Things looked bad, very bad for the Calvinistas. They now really had only one big friend in the playground to save them. To remind you, parliament was stuffed full of lay Calvinists. If money troubles forced the king to call parliament again, maybe then the Calvinists would have a chance to fight back. But something dramatic would have to happen to force the king to take that route.

War simultaneously with the two most powerful states in Europe might be considered dramatic it has to be said. But surely that couldn’t be allowed to happen; in fact Buckingham had put peace feelers out to Spain, would you believe it, and that most certainly put the wind up both the French and Danes – what could he be doing? Relationships between Richelieu and the Buck were rock bottom – so much so that their letters even lacked the utterly standard rhetorical flourishes beloved of diplomats.

England and France sort of slipped towards war, with little baby steps. The French maintained a fleet of 50 ships in the channel which seemed way more than needed unless you were up to no good or planning to be up to no good in the foreseeable future. The threat to La Rochelle from Richelieu and his king grew; the short-lived peace deal was off, and military preparations under way. The king very significantly took possession of the Isle de Rhe. This dominated the approach to La Rochelle by sea, and at last allowed it to be tightly besieged in a way it not been possible to achieve before. Attempts at friendship withered on the vine; a French diplomat had come to England and negotiated an agreement in response to the expulsion of the Queen’s household, so that’s good then; but when he got back home, it was roundly rejected by Richelieu.

Meanwhile, English warships, enforcing an embargo on Spanish shipments, stopped and sold the Spanish cargo carried by a French bottom – not being rude, just being nautical you know. The French retaliated by seizing the English wine fleet at Bordeaux. By March, once more the Privy Council were preparing for war against France – dusting off the decision that the French could not be trusted anymore, and the Huguenots would need to be defended.

In a sense, the war started in a thoroughly traditional English way parliament would have totally approved of; in June 1627, English ships were issued letters of marque to be able to attack French shipping. It was in one sense, dramatically successful; in the first two weeks of June, £10,000 worth of goods were seized; and in fact this stage of the conflict, along with the forced loan, paid itself for a campaign against the French, should it happen; the raids may have raised £120,000 worth.

There’s a certain amount of confusion about how England and France ended up in a scrap. As we’ve seen other nations thought of it in rather personal terms as a battle between favourites, Buckingham Vs Richelieu – and to be brutal there’s some truth in that it seems. At least the pair distrusted each other, so it was a contributory factor. So much so, that Buckingham’s European strategy now consisted of fusing an alliance with minor states like Lorraine and Savoy to clip French wings, and supporting the Huguenot minority in France – which policy would also incidentally satisfy protestant opinion back home. And within the mix is a sort of messy little trade war. It’s difficult to believe that all of this could not have been sorted out diplomatically – except perhaps the problem of the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle; that, Richelieu wanted gone; the Huguenot state within a state was not compatible with the objective of a centralised absolutist monarchy. Either way by June Buckingham was ready to sail against France, and the War with France was a GO.

There is a variety of opinion among historians about the quality of the fleet that sailed; but the prospects of the fleet didn’t necessarily look bad. Buckingham had without doubt worked hard and with great energy to prepare the fleet and its provisioning; furthermore, plans were put in place to resupply – a project which Charles was to oversee. Whether or not the strategy was right – starting a war against France while still at war with Spain – is certainly questionable, and the ultimate objective of restoring Elizabeth and Frederick to Bohemia seems a long way off – but tactically, the Isle de Rhe was without doubt critical to the survival of La Rochelle, and not a bad target to choose.

On the other hand, ships’ captains moaned about the quality of the seamen they received. There’s a ballad describing drafts marching to their rendez vous in Portsmouth

With an old motley coat and a malmsey nose

With an old jerkin that’s out at the elbows

And with an old pair of boots drawn on without hose

Stuffed with rags instead of toes

But then to be honest I suspect complaining about the quality of recruits is a bit like an Engineering prof complaining about the low mathematical abilities of their first year students – it’s just a ritual you have to go through. There were cock ups without doubt – there was plenty of wheat but no means to bake it initially for example. Though I had to laugh at Buckingham’s own personal set up which most certainly was not ignored – £10,000 spent on equipping himself and his household, oxen, milch cows, goats and poultry, a retinue of servants, one of his most sumptuous coaches and richly embroidered clothes for his coachmen, footmen and pages. If you are looking to cut a dash on a military adventure, you can’t scrimp. He even packed a harp for those long, boring evenings of blood soaked warfare.

And so the force of 6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry set sail at the end of June – not a bad schedule for once, for campaigning. This time, Buckingham was in control – if you want a job doing well, do it yourself sort of principal, he wasn’t going to have the Wimbledon scenario at Cadiz again. The campaign again has been described as a farce, and surely there were questionable decisions; the tactic adopted was to go for broke, straight for the main fortress on Rhe, the Fortress of St Martin. It was considered impregnable. But there was an early success capturing a fortress defending it so things started well; unfortunately for Buckingham, St Martin itself had just been resupplied.

This meant a long siege was needed which dragged on and dragged on deep into September; but Buckingham was everywhere – in the trenches, inspecting guns, praising the officers, encouraging the men, he didn’t sit around playing his harp. And at last the citadel was indeed ready to fall, the French supplies exhausted – English supplies were not much better, but two relief fleets had set off, organised by Charles. But then, at the critical time, a change in the prevailing wind allowed the French to break the blockage and get more supplies into St Martins, and the English were faced with the prospect of starting all over again. Meanwhile to add insult to injury Charles’ relief fleets were scattered by storms, so the English were now the ones without food on the table.

In desperation Buckingham, against all advice, tried a final desperate throw of the dice – a full frontal assault against St Martin. And this is where farce does indeed come into the story – it failed, because the scaling ladders were too short. Oops. Easy mistake to make. In November, the besiegers became the besieged, with the French sallying out to attack Buckingham in camp, and there was nothing to do but withdraw in abject failure – 5,000 men did not return, and 40 regimental colours were left behind on what wags were calling the Isle of Rue.

Now look, it was in fact a close run thing; Buckingham had worked hard, organised a credible military campaign, pushed the French very hard, and could with some justice claim he had won the silver medal by right. But in a two horse race, there were no buttered parsnips here. The Rochellois were left in a hideously exposed state meanwhile there were rumours of a French Spanish rapprochement. Rather cutely, and indeed generously, Charles blamed himself, not Buckingham, focussing on the failure of re-supply to reach Buckingham in time. Also quite unusually, Buckingham took considerable time and effort to make sure the men that returned this time were looked after 0 something Elizabeth signally failed to do. But none of that were focused on by the libellers and ballad writers, as I am sure you can imagine. They did not go for the ‘well played jolly hard luck, better luck next time old chap’ line at all. Here’s one:

And art returned again with all thy faults,

Thou great commander of the all-go-naughts,

And left the Isle behind thee? What’s the matter?

Did winter make thy teeth begin to chatter?

Here’s a couple of lines of another:

These things have lost our honour, men surmise:

Thy treachery, neglect and cowardice

There were wilder rumours; Buckingham was actually leading a subtle popish plot to wipe out Protestantism in France under the guise of a protestant campaign. Thomas Wentworth, who had not only been kept from the 1626 parliament, but now refused to pay the forced loan, wrote that the whole affair had been

‘ill begun, worse ordered in every particular, and the success accordingly most lamentable…This only every man knows, that since England was England it received not so dishonourable a blow.’

Even a painter and decorator in Antwerp, Rubens by name declared Buckingham to be

Nothing but the sport of fortune and the laughing stock of his enemies

Though as a side note you might be interested to know that while Buckingham was away fighting in France, relationships between Charles and Henrietta Maria thawed, quite dramatically. After all the queen had been horrified at the war on her brother – but nonetheless in August Charles was able to write

My wife and I were never better together

And Henrietta told her husband that while she was sorry for the war, still

She was more concerned with his affairs than those of anyone else.

So – there’s no cloud without a silvery lining, though I’m not sure starting a major continental war would be recommended as a strategy by more than a handful of marriage counsellors.

To give them their due, Charles and Buckingham remained determined not to desert La Rochelle, and a new fleet was prepared under the Earl of Denbigh, but the lack of money was crippling; the privy council considered alternatives such as ship money, interestingly, a tax designed to support the fleet specifically, usually only levied on coastal counties, proposed now to be extended to the whole country; or a new imposition on beer and wine. Laud argued that in the light of the sermons by Sibthorpe, Montague and Mainwaring, Charles should just go ahead and impose the taxation required, no consent was needed. But the moderates on the PC knew full well how desperately unpopular these would be. And so it was to be a parliament, and in March, the writs were issued.

Well I am not going to lie to you good people, the 1628-1629 parliament moves along tracks that you will recognise; the exact same issues. Supply and subsidies – yup; liberties of the people  – that’s in there; religion oh yes, that comes up too. The elections went badly for the government; 27 of the loan refusers were elected for example, the number of contested elections was unusually high, there had been much billeting of troops for all these military operations- and seriously having a bunch of hairy hungry soldiers dumped in your house was not a way to win friends. So, Thomas Wentworth was back, Francis Seymour, John Eliot, all those rabble rousers. And there was a general feeling that this was the Big One, capital B capital On. One of the moderate MPs, a client of Pembroke, Benjamin Rudyerd said

This is the crisis of parliaments. We shall know by this whether parliaments live or die…if the king draws one way and the people another we must all sink[1]

Quite apocalyptic. Charles did not really help. The lord Keeper at the parliament spoke of the dire necessity and the generally really rubbish condition that protestant states were in all over Germany – he didn’t need to exaggerate there it must be said the Thirty Years war wasn’t going well for them; Charles spoke briefly saying that these were times for action and that he’d called parliament because it was

The ancient, speediest and best way…for the defence of ourselves and our allies

But then added a threat; that if they didn’t pony up he would be forced to take what he called ‘other courses’.

Other courses eh? It’s a sort of ‘don’t make me use this unspecified big stick’ comment. But look Charles went on, don’t take this as a threat (a general relaxation of the crowd at this point – – because he said, he scorned to

Threaten any but his equals

Ouch, patronising or what. Cheeky little so and so. I am put in mind of the Emperor’s new groove and the ‘I don’t make deals with peasants’ line I do love that film. Well, MPs in the Commons were little daunted by this it must be said, and set off on their allotted tracks. Francis Seymour returned to his happy ways of 1626, refused to be

Possessed of fear or with flattery

And started talking about grievances.

But there were peacemakers. From the Lords Pembroke and his client in the commons Benjamin Rudyerd intervened, working with the tireless Secretary of State John Coke, and tried to steer the Commons back to their duty – to supply, money for the king. And actually it worked after a fashion, and the likes of Edward Coke even argued that they must help the king in his necessity. Even Seymour went along with it, though with a major caveat, which had caused such damage at the last parliament; what guarantee did they have that this money would be well spent, the omens were hardly good?

Other members, however, thought

‘unless His Majesty employ men of integrity and experience . . . all that we give will be as cast into a bottomless bag’

Possibly the bottomless bag known as Buckingham shifted uncomfortably in his seat in the Lords when this was reported to him. The Commons was full of elephants. They didn’t forget.

Still, Pembroke and Rudyerd’s gambit worked. The Commons agreed to offer five subsidies, yay and Charles was delighted, and gushed.

But He gushed too soon. There was of course no date for submitting the bills, and despite increasingly grumpy ‘get on with it’ messages from Whitehall, darn me if those blessed MPs didn’t start warbling on about grievances again. And came to the resolution that they should have a general statement of rights enacted in law, and if that had been done then maybe England would have had some ringing declaration of rights about which we could talk in pubs and that sort of thing – as you do. But as ever in English, and then British constitutional history, what we end up with is another bit of daub applied to the wattle that is Burke’s matchless constitution. Because Charles wasn’t having some act of parliament hanging round his neck.

So Edward Coke it was, that hoary old troublemaker, who came up in fact with a very clever alternative. Alright he said – we’ll make this a petition, not a law. The advantage of this is that it would be a specific statement of what parliament believed existing law to be, and invite Charles to agree. It lay between what Charles wanted – a hand waving ‘oh yes I confirm all the existing liberties of the subject’, which he could then cheerfully then define as he wished; and the detailed drawing up of a long tedious constitution which would without doubt end in either a fight, or as bumf for use by the Groom of the Stool. Charles thought, OK, this might work.

So there’s quite an interesting period where the houses of Commons and Lords negotiate their way through this, with an increasingly impatient Charles chewing his nails and tearing at his hair in the background, desperate for his dosh. I’m not going to inflict the detail on you but essentially, remember that the Lords and Commons sit and debate and enact separately; that Lords can still initiate legislation. I have not done a good job at keeping them separate in the narrative, but while they do have different viewpoints, it is interesting that they clearly see themselves as a joint body, and of course the client, patronage and regional links between the members of each house are very close. So groups in the Lords, especially a group led by Buckingham, try to soften the Petition; too and fro the wording goes, discussed in joint and separate committees. But the Commons hold their line, and in the lords there is a very strong group, led by lord Saye and Sele and George Abbot who insisted that nothing should be done without the cooperation of the Lower House. The Earl of Bristol was influential here; now he might be thought to be an incendiary, given his personal spat with Charles we talked about in 1626; but actually, it is the spirit of compromise and getting to yes which is most notable here in his actions; everyone, Eliot, Coke, Saye and Sele, Bristol included want to get an agreement, not to provoke a fight.

The clauses finally proposed were these:

  1. That no person be forced to provide a gift, loan or tax without an Act of Parliament
  2. None should imprisoned without cause
  3. Military folk should not be billeted without the free consent of the owner
  4. That martial law could only be used in war or against direct rebellion, not by commissions.

Remember, commission of martial law had caused such mayhem under Elizabeth in Ireland

Charles was indeed also willing to compromise.  Except the one about imprisonment; that related to the Five Knights, still claiming their writs of Habeas Corpus and he hated, hated that one; as far as he was concerned, the king had a right to do what was required in an emergency, that was a clear royal prerogative. But his agreement to all the others is quite surprising, and I commend it to you in support of Kishlansky’s view that Charles did indeed compromise on occasion.

However there is much distrust; Charles continued to see the commons as driven by a group not looking to re-establish what they saw as their established, existing liberties, but by innovators, launching an attack on his royal prerogative. This is important. So the Petition of Right appeals to statutes of Edward I, Edward III and of course, to good old Magna Carta. You either take the view that the likes of Edward Coke genuinely believed that the Petition is just about clarifying that these liberties already exist; or that Charles was right – that was just window dressing for a raid on the royal prerogative. Here’s what Charles said about it.

Some members of the house, blinded with a popular applause, have, under show of redeeming the liberty of the subject, endeavoured to destroy our just power of sovereignty

However, Charles’ room for manoeuvre was limited, and the reality of his position was rammed home when news of Denbigh’s fleet and it’s brave mission to relieve La Rochelle arrived home. Denbigh had sailed and rocked up at La Rochelle. Where he discovered not only Richelieu’s French squadron all ready to receive and repel him – but a squadron of Spanish ships. This was Armageddon – Hapsburg and France combined. Oh dear, clearly at very least, Denbigh needed a bigger stick. He ran away. And bigger sticks cost money. The asking price was carefully considered by the PC – and was thought to be in the £1.3m region.

In the Lords meanwhile the discussion was about the petition of right. Should the wording demanded by the Commons be softened, which was Buckingham’s contention; or accepted in full to maintain unity with the Commons, which was the position taken up by the party led by Lord Saye and Sele. It was Saye and Sele’s party who won out.

‘If we petition by ourselves and they by themselves, the Petition will be of no strength.

The lords voted unanimously to use the Commons wording. On 28th May the Petition of Right was presented to Charles formally.

Charles had already decided he must concede in full, even giving up his much-loved right to imprison without cause where he considered it necessary. Por at least, he decided he must appear to concede in full. And if he had done so, and with grace, we might be talking about the 1628 parliament, and how it put the Stuart monarchy back on track. But, he proceeded to throw away much of the advantage; whether because he still didn’t really concede, or just through cack handed ness, you decide.

So this is what happened next. The accepted form of a positive royal response, which would give the petition the impact of law, which judges would therefore have to take into account in their judgements, was ‘let it be done as is desired’. In this case, the response from Charles when it came was not that. It was

That right be done according to the laws and customs of the realm

The Commons went bonkers. This said precisely nothing – these are the same laws and customs whose interpretation was causing the problem; this answer allowed Charles to continue interpreting the petition in his own way. The Commons objected and no doubt the Speakers briefing to the king was accompanied by furrowed brows, and meanwhile in the Commons they responded by getting back on the King’s case to keep the heat turned up. They prepared a Remonstrance against Buckingham. They also reopened the war of Calvinist vs Arminian; so, remember what we said earlier – it appeared that if the Calvinists were to keep their position in the church of England, they must look to parliament; and now parliament responded. They demanded that the Arminian cleric Roger Mainwaring be prosecuted and his sermons, far from being supported by the king, be condemned. Both requests were sent to the Lords for agreement.

The pressure seemed to be working. Rumours began to circulate that the king was preparing to renounce Arminianism. As excitement grew, it appeared to be true; in extraordinary scenes at the Privy Council Charles announced of the recent Arminian pronouncements – Mainwaring, Sibthorpe and the like – that he

Did utterly dislike these novelties

Whereupon Bishops Laud and Neile, the arch Arminians of course, who had been sitting smugly on the back of a string of recent victories over the Calvinist faction, suddenly themselves facing a dramatic reverse and the seeming anger of their king. In a panic, they threw themselves on their knees in the Council meeting, and declared that they

Disavow and protest that they did renounce the opinions of Arminius

A week could once be a long time in religion. But methinks the Bishops doth disavow and protest too much. But we’ll see.

But there was more. Charles now also revised his formal answer to the petition of Right, and was then read to the parliament – soit droit fait comme est desires, ‘let it be done as is desired’. It was a victory.

The Commons erupted in a roar of applause. And in case you think that no one else cared about all these goings on in parliamwent, the news spread into the city, and far from being greeted with confusion or indifference, everyone went bonkers there too. The traditional form of celebration was fully indulged in – there was ringing of bells, and bonfires were lit everywhere, such a bad idea in a city of wood, but that’s the way London rolled, nothing to be done, like Motorhead, they apparently did not wish to live for ever. So many Bonfires were there that one report had it that there were more even than when the Prince and Buckingham had returned from Spain. Interestingly, it seems that the lads of London assumed this also meant that Buckingham would be entoasted; so a band of City boys pulled down the scaffold on Tower Hill, declaring that they must have a new one built just for Buckingham.

On 10th June the petition of right was instructed to be entered on the statute roll and printed. On 14th June the Lords threw the book at Roger Mainwaring, ordered him to pay a £1000 fine and acknowledge his offences in writing and ordered his sermons to be burned. The Commons presented a remonstrance about Buckingham to the king, and asked for him to be removed from the royal presence. Buckingham it was this time who threw himself on his knees and begged to be able to answer these charges – Charles refused, said he’d think about the remonstrance to the Commons, though in point of fact he really didn’t.

The Summer recess loomed; there was one rather crucial thing remaining which was to vote the king tonnage and poundage. The Commons again said there really wasn’t time, they’d do it later, but ‘meanwhile king, don’t collect any customs dues because that will be in contravention of our new petition of right’. Here again the snake slithered into the garden of Eden, because Charles was furious. Not just because look, just get it done it’s urgent, on which I have to say I’d be on Charles’ side. But because he started to claim that tonnage and poundage – hey that’s no way covered by the petition of right…that just confirmed ancient liberties. Oh please, come on, we’ve just been through all of this! But before that incendiary pronouncement claim could reignite the conflagration of conflict, Charles had prorogued parliament until October. Next time, we’ll find out how this new world of peace, light and harmony pans out for everyone.

But before I go a quick Word of the week, which is bumf. I used the expression earlier – bumf for the Groom of the stool, and actually I was going to launch into a digression about the word then but thought I’d leave it to the end. Anyway, I went to the OED entry against the word which described it as ‘somewhat archaic’. This was a bad moment for me, I have to tell you. This word is part of my everyday life, I kid you not, and apparently my everyday life is somewhat archaic. Not saying that’s unfair, actually, but it hits hard.

Anyway, my quick word of the week is did you know by the way that bumf is a genuine shortening of the expression bum fodder? And that the phrase bumfodder is a real thing, a phrase for toilet paper. It appears to originate during the English Revolution as it happens, which is topical; the earliest entry in OED is for 1650 from an Epigram by one Robert Heath which reads

Write to me oftner pray! so I may..bum-fodder have

Rude. The other entries are also quite fun. In 1699 in an article in a journal there’s the line

Their upper lips look’d as if they excreted thro’ the Nostrils, and had forgot to use Bumfodder

Gross, rude – but funny. And then an anti Jacobite one in 1705, saying of a Jacobite pamphlet

The People won’t use ’em as Bum-Fodder, for fear of getting the Piles.

Yet again rude. But also made me laugh. So nice to see previous generations as being rude and sarcastic. Anyway, the diminutive of Bum fodder, bumf, apparently originated in English public schools in the late 19th century, but was also military slang. Anyway, I hope that has brought light where there is usually darkness, harmony where there was discord, as it were.

[1] Harris, T ‘Rebellion’, p262


2 thoughts on “356 Petition of Right

  1. David, I’m a little unclear about the outcome of the habeas corpus litigation against the five knights who refused the forced loan in light of CJ Hyde’s decision. It was a temporary order and thus of no precedential value and thus technically did not confirm any rights of the king. But bail was still denied. Did the five knights remain imprisoned until they paid? Regards, Jerry

    1. Hi Jerry – the writ was never answered as I understand it; the judges ducked it, ruling that since they could identify the law the defendants had broken, it was probably concerning matters of public interest, as defined by the king, which were too dangerous for public discussions. So it was essentially allowing Charles’ claim that he had a right to imprison based on his own prerogative, without needing to define the offence. Hence the 1628 Petition of Right

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