Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 1, July 1653 - April 1657. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.
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Thursday, January 8, 1656–7.
Sir Thomas Wroth. I move that, in respect of the Speaker's weakness, (fn. 1) (who had stayed till almost ten) (fn. 2) you would adjourn the business'of the day, and go into a Grand Committee. If this motion is not liked, I shall desire to say some, thing to the business.
Mr. Robinson. I. should as much respect your ease and health as any man, but I look upon this business of the day as of as great concernment as any thing; and I can have no heart to go to any business else, till we know how we shall be secured as to our sitting here. For, if we contend so about easing our enemies, I fear me we shall forfeit and discontent our friends. If you will not go on with this, I would not have us admit any other business, but adjourn for some time.
Lord Lambert. This is a business of such consequence, that I see not how we can proceed upon any thing till it be over. I wish, if it had been possible, we might have gone on with it. It is a great discouragement to your friends to see us scruple at this business so much, and encourages our enemies. I would have us do nothing till this be ended.
Major-General Whalley. A great many of us are very heartless to go on with any other business, till it be known what testimony we shall show to the old interest of England. If you will admit of any business, I desire you would go on with that which is the business of the day; but I doubt it will not be with your ease to go upon the debate now.
Major-General Goffe. I am much troubled that a postnight should pass, before you come to a resolution in this business. I wish it had been otherwise. I doubt the consequences of it, when it comes to be noised in the country. It is a matter of such weight, that I confess I should have thought myself happy if we could have gone on with this debate, but we must be merciful to you and not debate you to death. However, let us not admit new business till we have done this.
Lord Chief-Justice. It is very clear; and looking into Journals you will find, that, without special order to save Committees, Committees cannot sit. When the House adjourned into London, (fn. 3) there was a special order that Committees should sit, notwithstanding the adjournment of the House. If the House should rise, you may come back again and sit, if you please, but that must be by order.
Mr. Nathaniel Bacon. Before you adjourn, take care that the fast-day (fn. 4) be kept in the House, on Friday.
Mr. Downing and Colonel White. If we cannot go on with one business, let us not exclude all business; to do nothing, because we cannot do that which is the business of the day. I desire we may go on in a Grand Committee upon the Bill for Excise.
Major-General Disbrowe. I never knew any success of a Grand Committee sitting one day, and reporting it another time; never knew any fruits of it, for then any member may speak when it is reported, as well as at the debate. I desire the question may be, to adjourn.
Sir William Strickland. We might go on in a Grand Committee upon the Excise Bill, and no doubt but success enough may come of it. We do but spend our time, to stay here, and do nothing. I desire that the Committee may sit as well on Saturday as this day.
Sir Richard Onslow. I know, in the Long Parliament, (fn. 5) when the House was adjourned into the city for ten days, that the Grand Committee sat, from day to day, upon the business of the five members.
Mr. Speaker left the chair, and Mr. Fowell was called to the Grand Committee chair by Mr. Ashe the elder, who, to excuse his neighbour, Baron Parker, (who was also called on to the chair,) stood up and called Mr. Fowell.
Captain Baynes. This gentleman spoke before for the merchants: now he speaks against them; for the Committee considered if 3l. per ton be not paid by the vintners for the wine in their cellars, their charge will be unequal to the merchants'. They paid but 6l. and the merchants shall pay 9l. a ton. This is unequal, and will cause the vintners to undersell the merchants.
Colonel Cooper. The retailers ought not to pay over again. It is very hard. They have once paid all their duty that could be demanded of them. This is but 6l. per ton upon the merchants, which is but 6d. per gallon.
Captain Baynes. The vintners have been a long time gainers. They sell for 967. per ton, and buy it for 50l. per ton. The merchants ought to be rather spared; for the retailers pay but 3l. out of all their gain.
Colonel White. If you lay not this upon the vintners, you had as good take it off the merchant too; for I believe the retailers have filled their cellars already, and it will do you no service this year.
Mr. Highland. This is not just. I hope it will never pass this House. I am afraid it will not advance your excise. Raising of your charge will carry your merchants to another place. This is against the liberty of the people of England to double charge one with duty. I wonder who would break into their cellars, if you did not provide a clause for it. I hope it will not pass the House.
Lord Strickland. You punish the Spaniard by this means, and not the merchants, or vintners; and if customs or excise must be laid, it is most justly upon the wines. We vend more than all Europe besides. If you lay it not now upon the vintners, they will say still, it is old wine in their cellars.
Mr. Godfrey. In punishing the Spaniard, I would not have you punish your own people. It is against all equity to lay a further excise upon what has already paid the full duty that can be demanded. By the same rule you may increase the excise upon any other commodity which the retailer hath paid the duty for.
Sir William Strickland. If you had this House full of gold, you ought in justice to punish the vintners; for they have oppressed the nation, and enriched themselves, and got more wealth than any profession whatsoever.
Captain Hatsel. The merchants have been oppressed, the vintners have got the riches. They have bought their wines at 50l, per ton, and have sold at 100l. per ton. Their gain was certain, for the price never fell, after it was once raised; for from 12d to 2s. it came sometimes to 2s. 6d. This was treble excise that we paid.
Mr. Highland. Let us not judge of the gains of merchants and vintners. The merchants have gained excessively. I have seen their bills where they have taken 40l. a pipe. They venture, and sell their commodities at excessive rates. Time was when excise was thought an odious thing in this nation. Let us not give occasion to the people to call it odious still.
Mr. Ashe the Elder. I wonder how that gentleman has a face to say that the. merchants have the gain. It is known the Spaniard has raised the customs upon the merchants; the vintners have been constant gainers; and, under colour of excise, have made us pay treble excise, from 12d. per quart to 2s. 6d. and 2s.
Mr. Attorney-General. If you lay not this upon the vintners, it is not the merchants that will lose by it, but it is the commonwealth will be cheated; for most of the wine of this vintage is now in the vintners' cellars. The vintners have gained excessively, and raised the price of their wines double.
Mr. Downing. Unless you lay it upon the vintners you will have no benefit at all of this clause, for we know that the time of year for such wine to come in is only now, and most of it is already in the merchants' cellars. Again, this clause has once passed the House upon a long debate.
Mr. Robinson, moved that there might be commissioners appointed in every county, in this Bill, to the end things may be better regulated in the country than now they are. That the sub-commissioners may not be parties, farmers of the excise, to be judges in their own cases, to imprison men's persons, and distrain men's goods.
Mr. Noel. If you have any exception against your officers now in commission, you may put others in; but if not, it will not admit of a delay to do it by new hands. The commodities exciseable, are daily consuming. You are necessitated to make use of your officers now in commission.
Mr. Robinson. This necessity has been an argument these twelve years, for continuing men in office. I would have it made use of no more. It is fit we should know who are the officers, that we may expect an account from them, and that they may know their masters. If a Parliament lay a tax, let them appoint officers to lay it, and regulate the collection, &c.
Sir Lislebone Long stood up and said, it is not so seasonable at this time to appoint officers. I never knew any success of Parliaments appointing officers. He that has four offices must have five. I desire you would go on with the Bill, and put this to the House.
Mr. Robinson. I doubt the gentleman of the long robe is mistaken, that none can be removed but by Parliament for any misdemeanour. He may remember judges' commissions run quamdiu se bene gesserit. Let us not lose our privilege of Parliament, for we find that officers for tonnage and poundage were appointed in Parliament.
Mr. Bampfield. I desire you would put the question for naming Commissioners in the Bill. It is fit we should know those to whom we give power to enter into men's houses, and break doors, &c. By the same power that they may enter, they may rob or steal.
Captain Baynes. This clause will do better afterwards, when you come to the. compulsive clause, as to the breaking open doors. If the officers be not opposed, there is no need of a sworn officer; for, by consent of the vintner, night or day, the officer may enter.
Mr. Highland. I hope you will never put the trouble upon the constable, to run at every motion of a petty officer. They shall have trouble endless. I think where there is no opposition, there is no occasion for a constable.
Mr. Downing. This looks like arresting of a man; to take a constable along, to every act that the exciseman does. This is very impracticable, and it will lose your excise. You had better make your constable exciseman, and so save a labour.
Mr. Robinson. It is usual in London for a landlord to take a constable along with him, when he goes to demand his rent. I would have this bear as much of the civil authority as may be, and that it may be between sun-set and sun-rising.
Alderman Foot. I doubt, by limiting a time for the officers to enter, you will destroy your excise, for there will be a great advantage taken, if the retailers have any time to convey away their commodities. I fear this will not be made practicable.
Mr. Bampfield. I desire it may stand between sun and sun, for there will be time enough for the officer to search in winter days as well as summer. The sun shines in winter as well as summer, in England. It may be, it does not shine in some part of Scotland.
Mr. Bampfield. I desire you would adjourn, that we may sleep in quiet in our beds this night, now that you are debating the breaking open of mens' doors, &c. There are many things in this clause which will be spoken to, and you have little time for it now.
In the inner painted chamber sat the Committee for Leicester Hospital. (fn. 6)
In the Speaker's chamber some of the Committee for Bibles, and for Judge-Advocate Whalley's diabolical book (fn. 7) met, but could not make a Committee.
Captain Lister went this day out of town to Edmonton, to bury Lieutenant-Colonel Cobbett, who was Lieutenant-Colonel to Major-General Lambert, a very honest sociable man, they said; who got his death at Dunbar (fn. 8) by marching in a great sweat to fight the enemy off a hill, and was there commanded on duty to stay all night, where it rained terribly, and there he got such a cold as he never recovered.
That night I was with Mr. Moore and Mr. Paine at the Bull's Head, and with Mr. Booth and Colonel Browne at the Half-moon. They observed that Captain Philip Jones, who has now 7,000l. per annum, was born but to 8 or 10l. a year, Sir John Barkstead was a thimble-maker, Kelsey sold leather-points, Major-General Bridge was a common dragooner in Yorkshire, not long since a sneaking, &c.; and they reckoned up the mean extraction of many more Major-Generals.
The question being propounded, that the House do sit in a Grand Committee of the whole House on this day, and on Saturday morning next, upon the Bill of Excise, notwithstanding the adjournment of the House, and that the House be resolved into a Grand Committee accordingly:
And the question being put, that that question should now be put, it passed in the affirmative. And the main question being put, it was resolved, that the House, in a Grand Committee of the whole House, &c. ut supra.
Mr. Disbrowe told Mr. West and me, that, this night, about eleven or twelve, the plot for the firing of Whitehall chapel was discovered by the smell of a match, by an officer of the guard. He heard two of the plotters examined by his Highness. He said it was thus.
They had cut a hole in a back-door, entering into the chapel, the next seat to Lord Lambert's, and there pulled back the spring lock, and in the seat set a basket of wild-fire, made up of all combustibles, as tar, pitch, tow, gunpowder, &c. in little pieces, and hung a lighted match, about half-ayard long, out of the basket, which, by their computation, would have burnt up to the basket within half-an-hour. With this they would have set the chapel on fire, and haply a great part of the House, for, as one of the plotters confessed, it was such wild stuff it would have burned through stone walls.
In this flame, some great villany was to be acted upon his Highness's person, that the offenders might better escape in the smoke, as will appear by the sequel, when it comes to be further discovered.
The council were sent for after they were risen; and it was once purposed to have set some seats on fire and doubled the guard, and so watched the consequence: but this was thought to raise too great a tumult, and call down the city, and make the people believe it was only a purposed plot to try men's spirits.
Next morning two of the offenders were discovered. One confessed something. The other was a stout, sturdy fellow. He had been a soldier all along in the Parliament army, and quarter-master to Sir John Reynolds. He was loth to be taken, so had his nose cut off almost, by three of the guard, who went to apprehend him. He told them he wanted his weapon, else he would not have been taken upon such slender terms.
His Highness asked him if he were not in the chapel that night about five and six. He answered no. But his Highness said he would prove it by two or three witnesses, who saw him there at that time. He told him further, he could prove that he was the man should have pistoled him in his coach, one time; and another time, he and some others were upon the same attempt in Hyde-park; they hoping to escape by their horse-heels, having filed the hinges of a gate so small that it would yield at first offer: and that he knew all their plots, and how long they have been about it, and how that he was to have 1500l. paid him as soon as he had done the feat, by the appointment of one Sexby, who is now with Charles Stuart. (fn. 9) This Sexby was a colonel in the Parliament's army, and one of Overton's party, who should have surprised General Monk in Scotland; all persons very much discontented. Sexby was once an adjutator.
There is more at the bottom of this plot than we know of. It seems there are six more of the plotters discovered, and it is found, that this Quartermaster (Cinderton, (fn. 10) I think his name is) had one hundred good horses in town, not above two at a stable, for what purpose time will experience. This will make work for the High Court of Justice. It was high time to erect one. They are all Levellers, (fn. 11) and discontented persons, as I hear.