Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- The History of England - 10/23 -

reactionaries were reduced to impotent silence, or driven abroad to side openly with the enemy. Pius V's bull excommunicating and deposing Elizabeth (1570) shattered in a similar way the old Catholic party. The majority acquiesced in the national religion; the extremists fled to become conspirators at foreign courts or Jesuit and missionary priests. The antagonism between England and Spain in the New World did more, perhaps, than Spanish Catholicism to make Philip the natural patron of these exiles and of their plots against the English government; and as Spain and England drew apart, England and France drew together. In 1572 a defensive alliance was formed between them, and there seemed a prospect of their co-operation to drive the Spaniards out of the Netherlands. But Catholic France resented this Huguenot policy, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew put a violent end to the scheme, while Elizabeth and Philip patched up a truce for some years. There could, however, be no permanent compromise, on the one hand, between Spanish exclusiveness and the determination of Englishmen to force open the door of the New World and, on the other, between English nationalism and the papal resolve to reconquer England for the Catholic church. Philip made common cause with the papacy and with its British champion, Mary Queen of Scots, while Englishmen made common cause with Philip's revolted subjects in the Netherlands. The acquisition of Portugal, its fleet, and its colonial empire by Philip in 1580, the assassination of William of Orange in 1584, and the victories of Alexander of Parma in the Netherlands forced Elizabeth into decisive action. The Dutch were taken under her wing, a national expedition led by Drake paralyzed Spanish dominion in the West Indies in 1585 and then destroyed Philip's fleet at Cadiz in 1587, and the Queen of Scots was executed.

At last Philip attempted a tardy retaliation with the Spanish Armada. Its naval inefficiency was matched by political miscalculations. Philip never imagined that a united England could be conquered; but he laboured under the delusion, spread by English Catholic exiles, that the majority of the English people only awaited a signal to rise against their queen. When this delusion was exploded and the naval incompetence of Spain exposed, his dreams of conquest vanished, and he continued the war merely in the hope of securing guarantees against English interference in the New World, in the Netherlands, and in France, where he was helping the Catholic League to keep Henry of Navarre off the French throne. Ireland, however, was his most promising sphere of operations. There religious and racial hostility to the English was fusing discordant Irish septs into an Irish nation, and the appearance of a Spanish expedition was the signal for something like a national revolt. England had not been rich enough in men or money to give Ireland a really efficient government, but the extent of the danger in 1598-1602 stimulated an effort which resulted in the first real conquest of Ireland; and Englishmen set themselves to do the same work, with about the same amount of benevolence, for the Irish that the Normans had done for the Anglo-Saxons.

So far Tudor monarchy had proved an adequate exponent of English nationalism, because nationalism had been concerned mainly with the external problems of defence against foreign powers and jurisdictions. But with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the urgency of those problems passed away; and during the last fifteen years of Elizabeth's reign national feelings found increasing expression in parliament and in popular literature. In all forms of literature, but especially in the Shakespearean drama, the keynote of the age was the evolution of a national spirit and technique, and their emancipation from the influence of classical and foreign models. In domestic politics a rift appeared between the monarchy and the nation. For one thing the alliance, forged by Henry VIII between the crown and parliament, against the church, was being changed into an alliance between the crown and church against the parliament, because parliament was beginning to give expression to democratic ideas of government in state and church which threatened the principle of personal rule common to monarchy and to episcopacy. "No Bishop, no King," was a shrewd aphorism of James I, which was in the making before he reached the throne. In other respects--such as monopolies, the power of the crown to levy indirect taxation without consent of parliament, to imprison subjects without cause shown, and to tamper with the privileges of the House of Commons--the royal prerogative was called in question. Popular acquiescence in strong personal monarchy was beginning to waver now that the need for it was disappearing with the growing security of national independence. People could afford the luxuries of liberty and party strife when their national existence was placed beyond the reach of danger; and a national demand for a greater share of self- government, which was to wreck the House of Stuart, was making itself heard before, on March 24, 1603, the last sovereign of the line which had made England a really national state passed away.




National independence and popular self-government, although they were intimately associated as the two cardinal dogmas of nineteenth-century liberalism, are very different things; and the achievement of complete national independence under the Tudors did not in the least involve any solution of the question of popular self-government. Still, that achievement had been largely the work of the nation itself, and a nation which had braved the spiritual thunders of the papacy and the temporal arms of Philip II would not be naturally submissive under domestic tyranny. Perhaps the fact that James I was an alien hastened the admonition, which parliament addressed to him in the first session of the reign, to the effect that it was not prepared to tolerate in him many things which, on account of her age and sex, it had overlooked in Elizabeth.

Parliament began the constitutional conflict thus foreshadowed with no clear constitutional theory; and its views only crystallized under pressure of James I's pretensions. James possessed an aptitude for political speculation, which was rendered all the more dangerous by the facilities he enjoyed for putting his theories into practice. He tried to reduce monarchy to a logical system, and to enforce that system as practical politics. He had succeeded to the English throne in spite of Henry VIII's will, which had been given the force of a parliamentary statute, and in spite of the common law which disabled an alien from inheriting English land. His only claim was by heredity, which had never been legally recognized to the exclusion of other principles of succession. James was not content to ascribe his accession to such mundane circumstances as the personal unfitness of his rivals and the obvious advantages of a union of the English and Scottish crowns; and he was led to attribute a supernatural virtue to the hereditary principle which had overcome obstacles so tremendous. Hence his theory of divine hereditary right. It must be distinguished from the divine right which the Tudors claimed; that was a right which was not necessarily hereditary, but might be varied by the God of battles, as at Bosworth. It must also be distinguished from the Catholic theory, which gave the church a voice in the election and deposition of kings. According to James's view, Providence had not merely ordained the king _de facto_, but had pre-ordained the kings that were to be, by selecting heredity as the principle by which the succession was to be determined for ever and ever. This ordinance, being divine, was beyond the power of man to alter. The fitness of the king to rule, the justice or efficiency of his government, were irrelevant details. Parliament could no more alter the succession, depose a sovereign, or limit his authority than it could amend the constitution of the universe. From this premiss James deduced a number of conclusions. Royal power was absolute; the king could do no wrong for which his subjects could call him to account; he was responsible to God but not to man--a doctrine which the Reformation had encouraged by proclaiming the Royal Supremacy over the church. He might, if he chose, make concessions to his people, and a wise sovereign like himself would respect the concessions of his predecessors. But parliamentary and popular privileges existed by royal grace; they could not be claimed as rights.

This dogmatic assurance, to which the Tudors had never resorted, embittered parliamentary opposition and obscured the historical justification for many of James's claims. Historically, there was much more to be said for the contention that parliament existed by grace of the monarchy than for the counterclaim that the monarchy existed by grace of parliament; and for the plea that parliament only possessed such powers as the crown had granted, than for the counter-assertion that the crown only enjoyed such rights as parliament had conceded. Few of James's arbitrary acts could not be justified by precedent, and not a little of his unpopularity was due to his efforts to exact from local gentry the performance of duties which had been imposed upon them by earlier parliaments. The main cause of dissatisfaction was the growing popular conviction that constitutional weapons, used by the Tudors for national purposes, were now being used by the Stuarts in the interests of the monarchy against those of the nation; and as the breach widened, the more the Stuarts were led to rely on these weapons and on their theory of the divine right of kings, and the more parliament was driven to insist upon its privileges and upon an alternative theory to that of James I.

This alternative theory was difficult to elaborate. There was no idea of democracy. Complete popular self-government is, indeed, impossible; for the mass of men cannot rule, and the actual administration must always be in the hands of a comparatively few experts. The problem was and is how to control them and where to limit their authority; and this is a question of degree. In 1603 no one claimed that ministers were responsible to any one but the king; administration was his exclusive function. It was, however, claimed that parliamentary sanction must be obtained for the general principles upon which the people were to be governed--that is to say, for legislation. The crown might appoint what bishops it pleased, but it could not repeal the Act of Uniformity; it might make war or peace, but could not impose direct and general taxation; it selected judges, but they could only condemn men to death or imprisonment for offences recognized by the law. The subject was not at the mercy of the king except when he placed himself outside the law.

The disadvantage, however, of an unwritten constitution is that there are always a number of cases for which the law does not provide; and there were many more in the seventeenth century than there are to-day. These cases constituted the debatable land between the crown and parliament. Parliament assumed that the crown could neither diminish parliamentary privilege nor develop its own prerogative without parliamentary sanction; and it read this assumption back into history. Nothing was legal unless it had been sanctioned by parliament; unless the crown could vouch a parliamentary statute for its claims they were denounced as void. This theory would have disposed of much of the constitution, including the crown itself; even parliament had grown by precedent rather than by statute. There were, as always, precedents on both sides. The question was, which were the precedents of growth and which were those of decay? That could only be decided by the force of circumstances, and the control of parliament over the national purse was the decisive factor in the situation.

The Stuarts, indeed, were held in a cleft stick. Their revenue was steadily decreasing because the direct taxes, instead of growing with the nation's income, had remained fixed amounts since the fourteenth century, and the real value of those amounts declined rapidly with the influx of precious metals from the New World. Yet the expense of

The History of England - 10/23

Previous Page     Next Page

  1    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12   13   14   15   20   23 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything