Diary of Thomas Burton Esq: Volume 3, January - March 1659. Originally published by H Colburn, London, 1828.
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Saturday, February 26, 1658–9.
Colonel Terrill reported from the Grand Committee of the House for Grievances and Courts of Justice, their resolution and opinion touching Mr. John Portman ; (fn. 1) that his imprisonment by the Lieutenant of the Tower was, and is, unjust and illegal, and that he ought to be discharged without any fees or charge. (fn. 2)
Mr. Jessop (fn. 3) made a narrative of the Book of Characters found with the Fifth Monarchy-men, which, with the help of some members now present, he did decipher, and found this Mr. Fortman often named in the book.
There was a great deal of humility in it, and often seeking of God. They came to several resolutions to go into arms, told the manner how, and arms and horses prepared. The Mews was intended to be seized on.
Mr. Knightley. He ought to be proceeded against, if there is any law. The gentleman does not charge any action against him. If any man should come and say I am a Fifth Monarchy-man, I should be thrown into prison, and never brought to trial in a twelvemonth.
He tells you, the character was deciphered, and that this gentleman, or one of his name, was in the business. They were drawing into arms. If they had been under another name, I believe this had hardly come before you; but I will say no more of that.
I would have the letter and warrant read, but in that, not a word of what is reported of the character. If the deciphering of a character by any man that shall pretend to be master of it, be enough of evidence, few will escape. The Gatehouse was filled with divers persons upon. this score, and they laid in a miserable case, and were released but a little before this Parliament.
Mr. Godfrey. I cannot agree with the Committee. Those persons were about to raise arms. The Chief Magistrate's vigilance in this business was not to be blamed. It appears his name was in the book. (fn. 4)
There is a just imprisonment upon suspicion of treason. It is hard to go so far, as to condemn the whole. I cannot agree with the Committee, as to his imprisonment to be unjust ; but of the illegality of the detainer, I shall agree.
If there were justice for his commitment; there was the same justice for his trial. But the proceedings touching his imprisonment are unjust. The letter for warrant is no just ground of his imprisonment. Though the crime were true, no law gives the Chief Magistrate power to commit any man, of his own accord. If any man was committed upon mandatum domini regis, it was not of the king himself, but per significationem privati consilii. Yet these imprisonments were condemned in the Arguments, Tertio Caroli (fn. 5). This is much higher than ever the King pretended to.
Serjeant Seys. I agree with that noble knight, (fn. 6) that it is a dangerous proceeding, to make a man a criminal, by deciphering a book; though I should suspect them to work under ground, like moles.
This letter came at five o'clock in the morning. If there had not been good cause, the Chief Magistrate would not at that time have broken his sleep. I think the detaining, or trying a man upon this ground is hard, and the precedent dangerous; but as to the imprisonment, there are grounds enough for it.
Mr. Neville. Admit that by the book of characters, the persons had been guilty of high treason; your question is whether the proceeding be according to law. No cause is shown in the warrant. Every warrant ought to bear in it the crime. A Fifth Monarchy-man is not defined, what it is. Put the question to agree with the Committee.
Mr. Starkey. I wonder to see the difference amongst the gentlemen of the Long Robe, in their opinions. I cannot say that the imprisonment is legal. The law is otherwise. Multa tenent facta, qua fieri non deberent.
Mr. Attorney of the Duchy. The report is not according to the sense of the Committee, upon the account of the Lieutenant tearing, by soldiers, the prisoner out of his own house. They did not proceed upon the papers, but upon the act of the Lieutenant. Let it go upon the proper sense, and I shall agree with the Committee.
Resolved, that this House doth agree with the Committee. That the apprehending, imprisonment, and detaining of Mr. John Portman a prisoner in the Tower, by the Lieutenant of the Tower, was, and is illegal, and unjust: and that the said John Portman be discharged from his imprisonment in the Tower, without any fees or other charges to be paid by him. (fn. 7)
The Counsel and parties were called into the bar, to hear the case of Neville and Strowde. (fn. 8)
Mr. Finch (fn. 9) made a learned discourse in defence of the action, on Mr. Neville's side, and said it was well brought, and no new case. He prayed a procedendo in the Common Pleas.
Mr. Green, (for Mr. Strowde.) It is a case primœ impressionis. The Judges (as able as ever) were unsatisfied how to pass their judgment in it. A Committee of the last Parliament did conclude that election void. (He recited all the pleading; damages 2000l. The Jury have given 1500l. damages.)
Lord Coke (Instit. part 4,) saith: "It is lex et consuetudo parliamenti that must determine matters of this nature; the Judges are not to meddle." The Bishop of Winchester's, and Mr. Plowden's cases, clear this point. The privileges of both Houses are to determine, and not the Judges. 27 Henry. VI. in a case between two Lords for precedency, the Judges would not meddle.
Though a Parliament be dissolved, the Judges cannot meddle in any cases happening there. Justice Jones would not meddle. He did declare it as a settled ground and maxim. Take the case wholly, and it will prove only fit for a Parliament, not fit to be determined by an inferior Court. Matters of Election are not properly determinable by strict rules of common law.
It was resolved in this House, that a person might sit in this House, contrary to the opinion of the Judges. I have the case here at large. To serve in Parliament, is certainly a great honour, but it is also an onus; (fn. 10) yet the law takes care that the Sheriff do cause the members to appear ; which argues the unwillingness of some persons to serve; and therefore there is no particular damage if the Sheriff return them not.
Mr. Wentworth, (for Strowde.) I shall show this case is proper for this House. It concerns, as Lord Coke (on Littleton) says, "the very being and heart-strings of Parliament." It is a good ground for a man to judge that an action ought not to lie, where it has never been brought. Thence I may conclude stronger, that no action since the Conquest, 500 years since, was ever brought; so that this cannot properly be brought.
I shall therefore humbly move that the whole business may be heard here, and that it may not be transmitted to the Common Fleas. (fn. 11)
Sir Henry Fane. We cannot spend our time better than in asserting the liberty of the subject. I am sure it was better employed in thus bounding him, (fn. 12) than in giving him such an unlimited power. Yet I move that it be adjourned till another day, for a final determination of the business.
Sir George Booth and Sir Henry Pane, and others, moved that none that were accountable, or were farmers of any tithes, should be of the Committee for maintenance of ministers in Wales. (Query if Colonel Freeman be not one.)
The debate held a long time about wording the question; but at last it was ordered ut supra, or to that purpose. (fn. 13)
Sir Arthur Haslerigge (and others). It was agreed that a great deal of time was spent about precedency of those debates, and it was resolved that the other House be first proceeded upon. I therefore would not have us go back again, but proceed upon the debate adjourned. I move that it be taken up on Monday morning, and nought to intervene.
Resolved accordingly. (fn. 14)
Upon information given to the House, that certain articles were ready to be presented to the House, concerning some discourses had, and words spoken, by Mr. Neville, one of the members of this House, (fn. 15)
Resolved, that Tuesday next a sevennight, be appointed to receive and read the articles informed of, to be now ready to be presented concerning any discourse had, or words supposed to have been spoken, by Mr. Henry Neville, one of the members of this House.
Resolved, that the Lord Viscount Falkland (fn. 16) shall have leave to go into the country for ten days.
Mr. Alien was counsel for Mr. Howard and Mr. Marwood; Mr. Green and Mr. Winstanly, for Major-general Lilburne and Mr. Robinson. (fn. 17)
The Commonwealth party strove mainly to make all things right on their side, but it would not be. At last it came to the question. They had but sixteen, and the other at least twenty-six. The debate held till nine.