The Diary of Thomas Burton: 16 February 1658-9

Pages 296-307

Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 3, January - March 1659. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.

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Wednesday, February 16, 1658–9.

I came late into the House and found them engaged upon a great debate, touching an accusation of a member, Mr. Neville, for atheism and blasphemy.

Mr. Bulkeley was speaking, and it seems he first stirred it, having been put on by three ministers, who, it seems, heard Mr. Neville speak words to the same purpose; but there was no information in writing.

Divers members had spoken pro and con.

Sir Arthur Haslerigge. You ought to be very tender of a member. The charge ought to be certain as to time and place; else it is in vain to produce witnesses to clear a man. He knows not what to plead to.

Mr. Attorney-general. This gentleman has had ill fortune. Not long since, he was accused here of another crime. I would have a time appointed when, for your own honour, and the honour of the gentleman, you will hear this business at the bar; and let the charge be brought in certain, as to the circumstances of time and place, in the nature of an indictment; that the gentleman may know how to make a certain defence.

Colonel Bennet. It is reasonable that an accusation should be certain. The world pass by the circumstances in cases of this nature, and only take a charge subscribed by some person. Godly opposites are apt to consider one another as monsters, and heretics. Let us all live by a law, whatever a man be. He has but an accusation upon him unproved. For a member to be guilty of atheism and blasphemy, you cannot in honour let it go. Let the accusers post down their names, and as to time and place in positive terms; not ambiguous and doubtful, but certain, and appoint a day of hearing. In the meantime, we ought to look upon the person as innocent.

Major-general Kelsey. Consider how to vindicate your own justice. The charge is high, but it becomes you that the charge be certain, and the persons accusing, to affix time and place; and not to appoint a Committee, but to hear it at the bar, and have witnesses on both sides heard.

The gentleman will lie under doubtful thoughts by his friends. I would give him a copy of the charge, and time to answer it.

Mr. Ashe. I had not troubled you now, but that I can assure you I was this gentleman's protemporary beyond sea, and no man could better defend the Protestant religion and the Parliament's cause.

Mr. Onslow. I would have your members have as much benefit of the law as another. This is not ripe for your judgment. I am sorry it puts out the orders of the day. The charge ought, to have been certain. You ought first to have a charge before you that may circumstantiate time and place. Here is no formal accusation, nor signed. The accusation may slide off.

Appoint a day, that if any will inform, they may come in, and when you are possessed of a formal charge signed by the accuser, let the gentleman have a copy, and a day assigned him to answer in.

Mr. Gewen. I would not have you stand upon those punctilios of the law as to form. I would have you appoint a day to hear it at the bar, upon the charge you have before you.

Mr. Scot. I would have the gentleman that brought in the charge, put it into such a form as he will now abide by. If every thing spoken in discourse be taken from persons, it is hard. What can you have more than a clear renunciation, and an acknowledgment of faith.

The Instrument of Government said, if a man held faith in Jesus Christ; (fn. 1) and he that denied Jesus Christ to be the son of God, (fn. 2) was within protection by that act. (fn. 3)

I would have a day assigned to bring in a certain charge, as was before moved.

Mr. Raleigh. The gentleman was acquitted of the former charge, and the reflection tended to his vindication. I would have a short day appointed for hearing at your bar.

Serjeant Maynard. It is gone too far to put it off your hands, both for your own and the gentleman's honour. Appoint a time to hear it at the bar, and the gentleman that will accuse, to be there.

Mr. Speaker. I must acquaint the House, that no paper is in at all, nor is the gentleman that charged him here, at this time.

Sir Henry Vane. No member of the House ought to take notice of the charge, till it come in writing, subscribed by the accuser. The charge comes not certainly in. It neither comprehends certainty of time, place, fact, or person. When they could accuse our Saviour of nothing else, they brought in blasphemy. (fn. 4) Till this certainty be made out, he ought not to answer.

Mr. Lechmere. It is impossible for any man to make an swer to a charge of this nature; neither time, place, nor person certain. It is your honour that your door is open to formal and regular charges. I would have you lay it aside, till it come in formally.

Major Beake. You have made two precedents. (fn. 5) There was nothing in those two cases but the information of two members. Records were said to be against them, but none were produced. I have observed a great deal of tenderness to this person in all the debate. Have equal respect to all your members.

Order the gentleman that brought in the accusation, at a certain day to bring in a charge; and then order a day to hear both sides. You cannot pass off a matter of this nature without a strict inquiry.

Mr. Steward. I am not to have it laid aside. It is either a great crime or a great calumny. Appoint a time to bring in a formal charge of the crime, and if it come not in that day, then call it a calumny. When the charge is certain, then appoint a day of hearing.

Mr. Mauley. I cannot down with that doctrine that punctilios should be waved. General terms in an accusation will not carry. I shall offer that worthy case of Susanna, (fn. 6) who was acquitted by assigning certainty of time and place. To be accused of words after so long, they had need to be certainly assigned.

I would have you wave it for the present, and go to your other business.

Mr. Speaker. I observe by your debate that the charge is imperfect, for want of time and place and persons to own it. I observe you are not willing to wave it nor let it sleep.

Mr. Bulkeley. I am sorry to see this charge compared to Susanna and the monsters of the elders. You will never have a charge of this nature, if you tie persons to sign the charge, and if they prove not all things punctually, then to be left to be undone. They may fail in circumstances, and yet prove the substance.

As I would not have you encourage trivial complaints, so I would not have matters of this nature discouraged. Encourage those that aim at God's glory in their complaints, and distinguish such from mal.cious and light accusations. I cannot assign a time.

It is said, Why not an indictment at law ? I would be tender of life; (fn. 7) but to be capable of sitting in the House, I would not have it passed by. Manifest your prudence at this time. I would have as much charity as any man, if I could hear the gentleman say he did it in heat of discourse.

I would have you appoint a day of hearing, and if the gentlemen cannot make it appear, then let them be severely punished.

Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper. A matter of this nature ought to be made clearly out. To make a man an offender for a word, is hard. Manifest and open offences may be punished with more severity. I would have the charge clear, that the defence may also be clear and certain.

Mr. St. Nicholas. In a business of this nature, it must be proved malitiose. I would have the business laid aside.

Mr. Attorney-general. I would neither have discouragement nor invitation to charge men. Let them appear, and their charge shall be heard. Leave it indifferent.

Colonel Terrill. Neither time, place, nor person, is certain. I would then put it, whether you have by this charge ground to proceed upon.

Sir Arthur Haslerigge. Here is a high breach of privilege, the highest that ever was but that of the King. (fn. 8) A charge against a member and no hand to it. I would have this considered when you come to speak of your privilege. Therefore I would have no notice taken of it at present; but to vindicate your honour and that of the gentleman, appoint a day when you will be ready to hear any charge against this gentleman. It is a huge breach of your privilege to take notice of this in your book, that further charges shall come in, and yet no charge made.

Mr. Bulkeley. I am ready to make good the charge; so have not broken your privilege, which I shall defend as much as any man.

Mr. Swinfen. If I were now just come into the House, I should not know whether you were proceeding against the person accused or accusing. You seem to lay all upon the accusers, without hearing them. In the accusations against two members, no circumstance of time or place was assigned. You have cast out two members (fn. 9) and committed an accusation against another, (fn. 10) without any circumstance at all, only upon general terms.

Mr. Reynolds. Those members were accused of matters-offact that were upon record. Every man may read it. These are but words. Those gentlemen confessed the facts. That against the other gentleman was by way of petition of some eminent person. Those cases differ clearly.

Since it is undertaken to be made good, let us have a charge circumstantiated as to time, place, &c., and if he be found guilty, I will go as high in punishing him as any man.

Mr. Bulkeley. I know the persons that informed me of this so well, that I durst venture to make it good; not that I desire to add fuel to fire, but rather to pass it by, seeing the gentleman seems to disclaim it. I shall acquiesce or proceed, as you please. I know nothing of it myself, but believe it as much as I do any thing that I did not see.

Mr. Onslow. Appoint a day that you will be ready to Hear it.

Mr. Neville. I would not have it left sine die, but that you would examine it. If this gentleman accuse me, there needs no more. If not, appoint me an accuser, and a day to answer.

Mr. Speaker moved if any person should be named to prosecute.

Sir John Lenthall. I am as great a stranger to the gen tleman as to any that I have long known by sight. If you pass by this, I doubt it is not for your honour. It is fit every person should know his accuser; and that all punctilios and circumstances should be as well observed in this House, as in Westminster Hall.

If you cast dirt somewhat will stick. This is as much as ever was laid upon any member. It is likely he might argue in the third person, as I have often done. Let your doors be open to all complaints, but let things of this nature come in formally; so that if the accuser fail, either this House may give us satisfaction, or else we may have it in Westminster Hall, against such clamours.

Mr. Bulkeley. I am sorry I should be accounted clamorous. I took myself to be a member. I have not so much elocution as that gentleman, but speak in plainness.

Sir William Wheeler. I am sorry to see time spent about words. Clamour is a good word. (fn. 11)

The House must be possessed of something, but you are possessed of nothing. There must either be a charge, viva voce, in the House, or in writing from without doors. The gentleman can say nothing. You ought to make no order at all in this case, because not possessed of it.

Colonel Allured. This is a high breach of privilege, to accuse an honourable member. Westminster Hall would not receive such a charge. I suspect it, because the gentleman said he kept it in his pocket a fortnight. It may be out of design to dishonour his great business to-morrow. There is no certainty.

Mr. Hobart. I would neither have an accuser deterred nor encouraged; but it is not before you. I would have a day appointed to bring in a charge; else account it a calumny.

Colonel Birch. I am of opinion that this is not before you. I would have it laid aside till it come in formally; and go to the business of the report from your treasury. I am glad the word charged can admit of so candid an interpretation. I always understood it in the worst sense. I shall now take it in the best sense.

Lord Lambert. I could pass by an atheist, a drunkard, &c., in Westminster Hall, or any other place, but not sit with him here. I would have nothing done or said in this House that may exclude just complaints against any member, be they brothers, or never so near. I have not much known the gentleman, but have heard well of him. Strong conclusions have been drawn from disputes, even by pious men, as the minister told you. I have known a charge brought in, and no particular time nor place. I shall not mention it. It wanted both circumstances. I would have you lay aside the debate till the charge come formally before you.

Mr. Bodurda. I would have it ordered that a week's time be allowed to bring in a formal charge against this gentleman; and that the gentleman that informs you, give notice to the gentleman that informed him, to be here.

Mr. Bulkeley. I should rejoice to ask the gentleman forgiveness; but I doubt it will be too clearly proved. I wish it may not.

Mr. Solicitor-general. I would have no day appointed, and no further time spent in the debate. If any have a mind to prosecute, they may. Your doors are open.

Sir Arthur Haslerigge. For your honour, I would not have you spend four or five hours' time in it, then put it off, and leave it sine die.

Sir Henry Vane moved the like.

Serjeant Maynard. Against what I moved in the morning, I am convinced that it is not before you to pass any question.

Colonel White. I would have no question, but lay it aside.

Colonel Kenrick. Now that you have received it, I would, for vindicating the, gentleman's honour, have a day appointed to bring in an inquiry.

Mr. Jenkinson. You cannot put any question without reflections on one side or the other. Your doors are, and ought to be, open to all complaints.

Mr. Disbrowe. I would have had all reflections spared. It tends to grieve the spirits of one another. I would have no question put, lest it be understood that you shut your doors against complaint. I would have the question, if the question shall now be put.

Captain Baynes. I would have no question at all put. The gentleman that gave the information is bound, in order to vindicate himself, to bring in a charge. I would not have you invite accusations.

A general inquiry has been over all the county against this gentleman, of all that ever he has done, or has been, since he was chosen for the last Parliament.

I would have no question remain on your books.

Mr. Onslow. Consider the consequences, to lay aside the debate. A member singly accuses a member of atheism and blasphemy, and he denies it. You pass it by. Either he shall go away as a guilty person, or else you shall be strangely thought on without doors.

Mr. Scot. I move to have no question at all put.

Sir Thomas Barnardiston. Seeing it is insisted on, put the question, if the question shall be put.

Lord Lambert. I should be loth that this should be carried in the negative. If in the affirmative, it will be a kind of proclamation to all to come in and accuse your members; an invitation to all inquirers.

Mr. Reynolds. There are five hundred members, and every member might have such a charge against him. They would take up every one a day, and then the Dutch might indeed give you 2000l. a day, as it was moved before. (fn. 12) I would have you go to the orders of the day. This gentleman's business (fn. 13) is to come in to-morrow. I would not have that to be shut out by any other business.

Colonel Matthews. I move that the gentleman's business be taken up to-morrow.

Sir. Henry Vane. This business came unfortunately upon you, to hinder the orders of the day for money. I would have Mr. Neville's business, that should have been heard tomorrow, give way to the business of the Accounts, and appoint another day for Mr. Neville's other business.

It was ordered to be heard on Saturday next, between him and the late Sheriff of Berkshire. (fn. 14)

As to the charge against Mr. Neville, (fn. 15) it fell asleep after five hours' debate, nobody knows how. Mr. Neville was present all the time.

It was moved, that the Accounts from the Commissioners of the Army and Navy, &c., be brought in in the morning, and it was ordered accordingly. (fn. 16)

The order of the day was read in relation to the great debate adjourned. Ordered to be resumed to-morrow morning. (fn. 17)

The House rose at past one.

There was nothing more done this day, but Captain Whalley made his election for Nottingham, and prayed a new writ for Shoreham, he being chosen for both places; which was ordered accordingly.

The Committee of Grievances sat, Colonel Terrill in the chair, on the petition of Rodney and Cole, (fn. 18) and a petition from Major Portman, who is a prisoner in the Tower. (fn. 19)

Ordered, that the Lieutenant of the Tower do bring the prisoner, with the cause of his imprisonment.

There was no other Committee sat this day.


  • 1. Faith in God by Jesus Christ."See vol i. p. 50, note.
  • 2. Probably meaning in the Trinitarian sense.
  • 3. "Though differing in judgment," &c.
  • 4. Mat. xxvi. 65; Mark xvi. 64.
  • 5. See supra, pp. 241, 249.
  • 6. "History of Susanna." Apocrypha.
  • 7. See the Act, 1648, supra, p. 208, note.
  • 8. Probably referring to the outrage described supra, p. 92, note ‡.
  • 9. See supra, pp. 241, 249.
  • 10. "Mr. Streete." See supra, p 255.
  • 11. "He cited a case, in 44, against a member. The case was heard at bar, and the party acquitted."MS.
  • 12. See supra, pp. 117,128,164.
  • 13. See supra, pp. 52, 192.
  • 14. "Mr. Strowde," and "that counsel on both sides be heard at the bar." Journals.
  • 15. There appears to have been a similar charge against another member, of which there is no report. Thus Barwick to Hyde: "Feb. 16. This day Young of Shropshire, a Protectorist, and Neville of Berkshire, a prime republican, have been accused of atheism." See "Thurloe State Papers," vii. 616.
  • 16. "That the accompts, concerning the public treasure, left in the hands of Mr. Sherwyn, one of the members of this House, by the Commissioners of the Treasury, be delivered into the House by him to-morrow morning, at the first coming of the Speaker to the chair. "And that the establishment of the army, from the committee of the army, and the accompt of the present charge and debt, owing to the Navy from the Commissioners of the Admiralty and Navy, be then also delivered into the House, by the members of this House, who are employed in those services, and in whose hands respectively the said establishment and accompt do remain." Ibid.
  • 17. "At nine of the clock. That this House do take into consideration the additional clauses to be part of the Bill, intituled, an Act of Recognition, &c." Ibid.
  • 18. See vol. i. p. 300. ii. 130,131.
  • 19. " To the Right Honourable, the Representatives of the People of England assembled in Parliament. "The humble petition of Elizabeth Portman, the afflicted wife of John Portman, late principal Secretary to the Generals at Sea, now close prisoner in the Tower of London, "Humbly sheweth, that your petitioner's husband hath been always of true and sincere affections to the public cause of God in this nation, and personally engaged in that cause to the utmost of his power. That, notwithstanding the premises, he was, about a year since, violently, and by armed force, taken from his house, by virtue of a warrant from the Lieutenant of the Tower, and committed to the Tower of London; and hath been there, ever since, strictly confined, without any notice of the reason of his commitment, and without bringing him to a legal trial, though the same hath been earnestly endeavoured and desired, by the application of several of his friends to those who were in power. "Your petitioner, therefore, doth most humbly pray, that your honours will be pleased to take the premises into your tender consideration, and to take such effectual order herein, as to your wisdoms, upon examining the true merits of the cause, shall seem meet; that so, your petitioner and her suffering family be not unjustly pressed down, and overwhelmed by this affliction." See "Thurloe State Papers," vii. 619. "Tower of London, January 1, 1658–9. One Mr. Portman, a prisoner in the Tower, who was, with other fifth-monarchy men, committed by his late Highness, for endeavouring to asperse, withstand, and subvert the governors and government of this Commonwealth, and for having been at work, and seeking by all means to alienate and exasperate the hearts and spirits of persons, so as to disturb the public peace, raise seditions and commotions in the Commonwealth, that, if it were possible, they might bring the nation again into blood. "This Mr. Portman yesterday, in the evening, made his escape hence, but being suddenly missed and closely followed, was immediately apprehended at one Mr. Oram's house, in Water Lane, near the Custom House, London, and brought back again hither. Yet he had often, and the very night before, declared both to his keeper and others, that if the Tower gates were set open, he would not go forth till he had received satisfaction for his imprisonment." Mercurius Politicus, No. 548.