Debates in the House of Commons. From the Year 1667, to the Year 1694.
Thursday, February 15, 1676-7.
THE Parliament met [When the King in his Speech
(which was afterwards read by the Speaker) informed
the Houses, "That he had called them together again,
after a long Prorogation, that they might have an opportunity
to repair the misfortunes of the last Session, and to recover and
restore the right use of Parliaments. The time (he said) he had
given them to recollect themselves in, and to consider whither
those differences tend, which had been so unhappily managed and
improved between him and them, was enough to leave them
without all excuse, if ever they fell into the like again. He professed him self now resolved to let the world see, that it should
not be his fault if they were not made happy by the consultations in Parliament. He declared himself ready to give them all
reasonable satisfaction that could consist with Christian prudence,
in the great concerns of the Protestant Religion, as established in
the Church of England; and as ready to ratify them in a farther security of their liberty and property (if they could think
they wanted it) by as many good Laws as they could propose,
and as could consist with the safety of the Government."
"As to what he expected from them; first, he did require that
all occasions of differences between the two Houses might be
carefully avoided. In the next place, he desires them to consider the necessity of building more ships. And, since the additional revenue of excise would shortly expire, they that know
him to be under a great burthen of debts, and how hard a shift he
was making to pay them off as fast as he could, he hoped would
never deny him the continuance of that revenue, and some reasonable supply to make his condition more easy."
He concluded, "with recommending to them the peace of
the Kingdom, in the careful prevention of all differences; the
safety of the Kingdom in providing some greater strength at sea;
and the prosperity of the Kingdom, in assisting the necessary
charge and support of the Government. And, if any of these
good ends should happen to be disappointed, he calls God and
men to witness that the misfortune of that disappointment
should not lie at his door."
The rest he referred to the Lord Chancellor.]
Mr Secretary Williamson.] When the King's Speech
has been read, it has usually some place given it; and
would have it considered the first thing after reading a
Bill, as the custom is upon the first opening a Session.
Sir Thomas Lee.] He cares not how soon the King's
Speech is taken into consideration, but would not lose
the method and order of Parliament. You always begin with reading a Bill. The King's Speech is usually
about "supply", and that ought to be the last thing considered here. He takes this occasion to put in a claim
to method. He is transported with the King's Speech
as much any man; but would keep method.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Nobody opposes the consideration of the King's Speech, but because of custom of
respect—As the King speaks to us, so we to him, without compliment. There are all things in the King's
Speech that can be spoken of in this House, "Religion and Property, &c."—Would look upon the genus
before the species—Supposes thanks to the King, with
due consideration of his Speech, very proper.
Sir John Mallet.] Mr Speaker, Since we were last in
this place, there having been much discourse abroad,
and some considerable doubts concerning our coming
hither again, it is my duty (having always had as true
loyalty and affection to his Majesty's service, as any
within these walls, or nation, hath or can have) humbly to offer my advice in this matter of so great weight
and moment. That I conceive, before we enter upon
any other business, it will be the best way for removing
the doubts, which are, or may hereafter, arise, concerning his last prorogation; without letting so tender a
matter remain under any doubt or Question, and also
that It will be the safest and spcediest way for satisfying
his Majesty, with satisfaction to all his people, and that
they may be assured of such good Laws as shall be
made (for his Majesty is so gracious, as he accounts as
great satisfaction to himself, to give us the good Laws
we desire of him, as to receive the Supply we shall give
him) humbly to present our desires to his Majesty, "that
he will be pleased to dissolve this, and very quickly call
another Parliament." For I verily believe, whatsoever
he would have in this, may more conveniently, in a very
short time, be had and done in another Parliament.
Sir, I could present you with several reasons for it, but
I humbly crave leave to forbear mentioning them till
you please to admit of this my humble Motion (fn. 1) .
Sir Philip Monckton.] No man is more rejoiced to see
you here, than he is. It would be a great satisfaction
to the Nation to have the two Acts of Edw. III. about
annual Parliaments, cleared; and moves it.
Sir John Morton.] Would do all things regularly.
Would first read a Bill, and then consider the King's
Sir Thomas Meres.] Though forms seem but little
things, yet they are of great consequence. He will
thank the King as much as any man. When a Bill is
read, then we are sit for any Motion. We have, indeed, broke that Order of reading a Bill; but when we
last met, we did not. Would now read a Bill, and fix
Lord Cavendish.] The Motion is of no light nature,
since we are told it is a doubt, all over the Nation,
whether the Prorogation be legal—Thinks it not for
our credit to pass it over without a Question. Though
the doubt may easily be removed, yet 'tis sit to be removed.We are told of two Acts of Edw. III. and
this Prorogation is contrary to them. Desires, that,
since these Acts are known, we may see how far these
Acts limit the King in his Prorogation. Moves for a
Question, Whether the two Acts mentioned be repealed, or not.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Moves to Order. If you
admit that Question, you may lay down your Mace, you
are no more a Parliament. Who shall dissolve it? Who
shall end it? We have nothing to do here.
Lord Cavendish.] Desires to explain himself. Moves
to Order; to clear a doubt. There are books printed
of an odd nature. Moves only to know, Whether
those two Acts, mentioned, are in force against the
Serjeant Maynard.] The Question determines what
you cannot determine, viz. That you are an unlawful
assembly. The Question will be, Whether, as a Parliament, you cannot dissolve yourselves. No Question,
Whether those Laws are in force, or not, can be put;
for you read the very Question as a Parliament.
Sir Harbottle Grimstone, Master of the Rolls. (fn. 2) ] If we
appear here in either capacity, by the Proclamation, or
by the King's Writ, it does not therefore follow, that
because we appear, we are a Parliament. (Being called
upon to look towards the Chair, when he spoke said,) He
had almost forgot the Chair, it was so long since he saw it.
If by freedom of Debate we may obviate doubts, which
have troubled worthy and learned men, why should we
not? He denies Maynard's logic, "That the King's
Proclamation will justify our assembly," though we had
no more to show for it on the Table. He hoped it had
been tumbled out of his brain, but it has been in it,
and if the doubt be not at an end, he wishes it was.
This may be a Question somewhere else, as well as here,
and would remove moot points and doubts in succeeding Parliaments. Many doubts have been so desperate
as never to be retracted, unless you remove them here.
But, as to his private opinion, he believes we are a Parliament, therefore moves, that the thing may make no
more noise, but be pleased to read a Bill, and clear the
Mr Sacheverell.] Doubts not but we are as much a
Parliament, as at our last Prorogation, and believes
that Gentlemen, upon Debate of it, will be as fully satisfied in the matter as he is. The Bill offered to be
read is the same as in the last Session. He looks upon this
Prorogation as illegal, but yet that it is a good Parlia
ment still, and that we properly stand upon an Adjournment. Would look back to the time those Statutes
mentioned were made in, and you shall see then Prorogations and Adjournments were all one, and for hundreds of years they went on to the same business they
left, without beginning again as we have done in Adjournments in later times. There have been Prorogations before the Parliament had once met, and for some
reasons, as the King being detained by business, that he
could not in person open this Parliament, or for want of a
full apperance of Members, put off to a longer day. In
E. I. E. III E. IV. it runs thus. Sic Dom. Rex adjournavit et prorogavit, &c. And he takes this to be an
Adjournment. Adjournment is the Act of the two
Houses, Prorogation of the King only; and so by Adjournment, your business remains where it did.
Sir Robert Howard.] You are upon the most dangerous Debate that may be, and from which no good
consequence can arise. If we meet upon an Adjournment now, then all Privileges of Members stand
good, and you lay all people by the heels that have arrested any of your Members. If you debate upon deducible arguments, you set the town at work, and enter the lists at the coffee-houses. If you run once to
countenance great things by deducible arguments, you
shake laws and mighty things; as your usual Adjournment to eight of the clock in the morning, and you
meet not till ten—That [then] must be a Dissolution. In
your prudence you should not countenance this so tacitly, by entering into a Debate. Moves to lay aside this
Mr Vaughan.] We are out of Order. If the Question be, "Whether by this Prorogation exceeding a year
we be dissolved," we debate, and then our result dissolves it. If you resolve Dissolution in the affirmative,
you do it in your own case; it may happen that a Parliament intends all the good imaginable, and any one
stands up and says, "tis dissolved—No man will come
to Parliaments for the future, by confounding your laws,
thus, as not good; and so it will be a ready way to bring
in the new Government so much talked of.
Mr Sawyer.] You cannot go to this Question. Admitting the Prorogation void, and that we meet now
by Proclamation—Called to Order by Mr Stanhope.
Col. Titus.] The Session is confessed to be legally
opened by reading a Bill. Some gentlemen are for
considering the King's speech, and some for our being
a Parliament. Read the Bill, and—that's out of doubt.
Sir Thomas Meres.] If you read the Bill, 'tis said, "you
are precluded; you read it as a Session, and so yield the
point in dispute." If it be a Prorogation fifteen months
ago, 'tis said to be against law, but he will speak to
that another time. This Debate is new; he has not
heard of it before, but it must be heard now—And
you read a Bill that has been before you at the last meeting—If you determine it an Adjournment, then call
for the Report from the Committee, who had it in their
care the last Session; else, reading this Bill fixes the matter.
Mr Sawyer.] Starting the reading this Bill makes the
Question. You ought to begin the Session with reading a Bill, and you meet in no capacity but as a Parliament, not as a Convention. Your Vote will not mar
nor mend the matter. If you are no Parliament, will
you then depart from hence? There have been books
written about this Question—He hopes you will not give
countenance to such libels, that say, "we are traytors in
meeting, and acting as a Parliament," like the libels of
1641. Moves, therefore, that you will begin the Session with reading a Bill.
Sir John Birkenhead.] That a Session must be opened
by reading a Bill, is the most popular mistake that can
be. Not done, but in the Long Parliament, for 200
years. See if they began the Parliament by reading a
Bill in E. III's time, or Rd. II's time. Till of late,
'twas no essential Order of the House the reading of a
Bill—Because books are printed, and papers set upon
Westminster-Hall door, that we are no Parliament, shall
we regard such loose objections?—Would have those
two laws, spoken of, in force, and if all be allowed, it
makes nothing. They say "Parliaments shall be called
once a year, and oftner, if need requires."
The Speaker.] Birkenhead stood up to Order, and enters into Debate of the merits, as Sawyer did, irregularly.
Sir George Downing.] Several Questions, no less than
four, are on foot. Pray keep us to Order.
Sir Robert Carr.] Leave has not been asked to bring
in a Bill.
Col. Birch.] Intreats the strong to bear with the
weak, and he is one of the weak. Grimstone told you
"that great pains had been taken about this Question of
our meeting; but with much difficulty in the resolution."
He may therefore doubt—
Mr Secretary Williamson.] Birch speaks against Orders. Is it not in your Power to debate, whether we are
a House or not? Therefore 'tis the proper Question,
Whether that Debate shall be proceeded in or not.
Col. Birch.] When he hears learned persons speak
of the danger in not determining the thing, he is more
shaken in his doubts than when he came in.
Mr Vaughan.] Of what use is your affirmative, or
negative, in this matter of doubt, grounded only upon
rumours in the streets?
The Speaker.] The Session is not begun till a Bill
be read; 'tis the ancient Order, and if so, your Question is, Whether you will break that Order, or not.
Mr Garroway.] Knows not whether he shall be so
happy in his service as to extricate you out of this
doubt. He thinks we may safely read the Bill, and
yet the Debate may be reserved. He is one who
believes this as good a Parliament as when we
first sat. Though yet he is not very fond of it neither.
You may read a Bill, but not this Bill offered; let it
be any Bill the last Session that had but one reading.
Then you may enter into the Debate, Whether this
meeting now be by Adjournment, or Prorogation.
Col. Birch.] Will speak again, but not contrary to
Order. 'Tis now in your choice whether to take a safe
or dangerous way in this thing. Does not see you can
go on in safety under a Prorogation. It has not been
practised, 'tis true (what you have been told) but all
that can be said in short, is, whether it be advisable
for the Commons of England, willingly and knowingly,
to act in a Prorogation, contrary to law. One gentleman tells you, "of books and pamphlets abroad on
this subject." It may be, he is of that courage, as not
to heed them; but he does. Those in the Long Parliment were willing to keep their places, and he never
yet met with any that were willing to part with theirs—
But he would prevent dogs barking, "that we do contrary to law by sitting as in a Prorogation," and would
be provided against this, not knowing what this may
overturn hereafter. The last Convention met upon a
new foundation—Should we now give money, and the
people deny it, and twelve men come to dispute it, in
a jury, what will become of us that made that Act?
Therefore would act as in an Adjournment, and read
such a Bill. If not, would adjourn till Monday.
Mr Harwood.] We have the title put upon us as a
lawful Parliament. He is not very fond of this Parliament—His understanding reaches not so far, as to
judge of these statutes mentioned, but, if they are in
force, would know whether a Prorogation of above
twelve months puts us not out of capacity of being a
Parliament; and then, whether our being then called together by Proclamation can make us a Parliament. If
those laws be in force, we do ill to break them,
and we do them great violence to meet now as
a Parliament. Discourse of people abroad is a great
thing, and not to be slighted—We are not safe from
the law taking hold upon us. No man has the impudence to break the King's Prorogation, and yet he
would not part with the people's liberty. Would talk
no more of it now, but adjourn till Monday.
Sir Charles Harbord.] All Parliaments are in being
till dissolved by death of the King, or by word of his
mouth. There have been several Prorogations of fifteen months.
Mr Vaughan.] If any man without doors should tell
him "that he has broken a law, by meeting as a Parliament," he knows how he should use him; and if people
say "no Parliament," they may say "no King."
Mr Powle.] There has been great noise and clamour
about this long Prorogation abroad. This is not so
slight a thing, but ought to have some resolution. 'Tis
a new thing, and therefore rationally to be resolved.
But reading a Bill does tacitly determine the Question.
Suppose the next Successor to the Crown, should call
the same men again of the Parliament of his Predecessor; he believes that every man would unanimously
represent it to the King as no Parliament. He is not
of opinion that either we sit by Adjournment, or that
'tis a Dissolution, but that 'tis good. Would adjourn
now, and settle the matter afterwards.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] Would have the Question
stated in Order. If it be not a Parliament, how shall
you adjourn? State the Question about the Bill, and
the other Debate may follow.
Mr Russel.] He is no great reader of Statutes, and
therefore is no competent judge of those mentioned,
but since 'tis a Question, whether they be in force, or
no, men must be satisfied. Therefore he moves for an
Address to the King, That we may (to put all things
out of doubt) be dissolved.
Sir Richard Temple.] Because the legality of our meeting is questioned by libels without doors, must we
therefore make it a Question within doors? Heretofore,
at the opening a Session, the Speaker chose some Bill
to be read, that would probably take up least Debate—
And would punish those who have dispersed these libels.
The King has had advice, without all doubt, about this
Prorogation—And when a Bill is read, you may proceed to punish the authors of these libels.
Sir John Coventry.] Would have the House, in the
least of our actions, express our loyalty. He believes this
to be a Parliament, and as good as ever it was, but
hopes we sit not by Proclamation-law. He plainly sees
we have sat so long that the people are weary of us;
and seconds the motion for an Address to the King to
Mr Williams.] He is of opinion, that the Parliament
is in being, but whether by Prorogation or Adjournment, is the Question. He is against reading that Bill,
because 'twill stop the mouths of gentlemen in the Debate, and by it we must admit ourselves to meet now
under a Prorogation, and, for the like reason, is for reading the other Bill, and reserving the farther Debate.
He hears discourses abroad that we are dissolved by this
long Prorogation. We cannot constitute ourselves a
Parliament, if we be none; but by our solemn Debates, with reason, we may, in some measure, satisfy the
world. Therefore moves for the Bill to be read a second time.
Sir George Reeves.] Offers a Bill "for regulating Elections of Members of Parliament," ordered to be brought
in the last Session.
Lord Cavendish.] Either we are under a Prorogation,
or an Adjournment; if under an Adjournment, a Bill
ought not to be read; therefore of necessity that Question must be determined.
Sir Thomas Meres.] 'Tis a matter of great weight,
and great use; it may be, it clears that point—We are
not dissolved, 'tis late in the day, and would have
Reeves's Bill read.
Which was read accordingly, and ordered a second reading.
Sir Thomas Meres.] A Bill is now read, and, before
it, the King's Speech was read; doubts not of hearts
full of thanks for the King's gracious expressions in his
Speech—No man doubts but the matters of it are of
great weight, and we should have, at least, two or three
days time to consider it; therefore moves for Tuesday
morning to take it into consideration.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] 'Tis not you that dissolve or
call Parliaments, but he fears 'twill put the Kingdom
in an uproar, to leave the thing at large, whether 'tis
an Adjournment, or Prorogation. Moves, for respect to
the King, That his Speech may be the first thing taken
in hand. No man thinks to settle the affairs of the
Kingdom in one day. "To take the King's Speech into
consideration", without saying any day, would be a disrespect.
Sir John Holland.] What is propounded to, and required from us, is for the King's service and our greater
security. The preservation of liberty of speech is so
necessary to be allowed and enjoyed, that without it nothing can be brought to good effect. His reason of
saying this is, because that, at the last meeting, he took
upon him to represent the poverty of the Kingdom,
and he thinks that discourse is as seasonable and necessary still. But he was so unhappy, as, by some amongst us, to be represented to the King, as a person
ill-affected, and [one who] had made a dangerous, and
seditious speech. Had he done so, you, Mr Speaker,
would have reproved him. But one amongst the rest
said to the King "that he sat by him in this House,
in 1640, in the Long Parliament, when he made the
same speech." Whoever that person was, he said false;
and he appeals to any gentleman, whether he ever made
any such speech in 1640; and whether what he said
could, in any measure, be suitable to those times. Possibly this person might thus represent it to ingratiate
himself with the King. What subject can bear the displeasure of the King? 'Tis possible that the person that
informed this, or some other, may suggest that he now
started this complaint to interrupt "the King's business" (as of late "Supply" has been called) but he
looks upon Supply to be as much ours and the Kingdom's business as the King's, and must stand together. No man can be so malicious as to say he has
spoken now to delay the consideration of the King's
Speech, and hopes we shall hear no more of that. But
he designs this complaint, not for reparation of the injury he has received, but for the sake of his fellowMembers, for the future, that they may not be so represented. Therefore he moves you to consider of a Petition to the King, "to represent the ancient right, and
necessary Privilege, of freedom of speech in Parliament,
and that he would be graciously pleased not to give any
credit to such reports." Consult but the Journals, and
you will find the thing frequently done. In the 19th
of King James, 'twas done, on the like occasion, and
as anciently as H. IV's time. Cotton's records take notice of it. "The Commons, in full Parliament, thanked
the King for the maintenance of the Catholic Faith (fn. 3) ,
and desired him not to give ear to common reports, till
the end might try the thing." (Which seems to him to
have the face and force of a law.) In the 19th of
K. James, in the treaty of the Spanish match, concerning
the indulgences then given to Catholics: Some of the
Commons thereupon making some smart speeches, which
were reported to the King, 'twas then humbly desired
"that he would not give credit to common report, till he
was informed of the transactions of their House, by
themselves." And he moves for a Committee to draw
up an Address now to the same effect.
Sir Harbottle Grimstone, Master of the Rolls.] Holland
has given a long and sharp charge, and he desires that
the person he accuses may be named, that has so represented him to the King.
Sir John Morton.] His blood rises at this, and would
have those flattering courtiers that have done this named.
Sir Tho. Lee.] He thinks that no man can live happily,
or safely, under his Prince's discountenance. He thinks
that the representation of Holland thus to the King is
a reflection upon the whole House, if the person who
has made such a speech, as is represented, should be let
go here, without reproof. You ought to require Holland
to name the person that has done this, or to give you
some inducements to believe it. Till you do yourselves
right in this business, you cannot proceed to farther business.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] A complaint not made within a certain time ought not farther to be enquired into,
as he conceives this to be.
Sir Anthony Irby.] Possibly Holland knew it not till
lately, and he complains as soon as he can.
Sir Thomas Meres.] Holland says "that in consideration of Debate on the King's Speech, he desires freedom, &c." Would have him tell you what inducements
he has to believe it, and the motion cannot die; you
can proceed no farther till this be over.
Sir Thomas Clarges.] This strikes at the root of all
affairs before us, religion, safety, all our liberties and
laws. They have opportunities about the King, by
frequent conversation with the King, to expose us
according to the fancy of those about him. Since we
met last, many were traduced, and some thrust out of
Court, and employed in the country. No man ought
to be forbid the Court, and we cannot by law be forbid
our right of application to the King. This destroys
confidence between the King and his people. When
once a man, that has borrowed money, breaks his word
in payment, lands must be mortgaged, and so disputes
arise. This will destroy all course of Parliament, and
moves to have the person named.
Sir John Holland.] What he said was, that this might
not be brought into example, nor upon the stage; and
makes it his suit not to name the person; though he can
name him. But humbly begs to be excused. (But being commanded to declare the person, said,) He will always give obedience to this House, and will declare
who the person was. He looked upon the person as his
friend. He who first told him of this is since dead, and
he did not name the person. At that time two of our
Members were present, when my Lord Chief Baron
Turner told him, "that a person told the King of his
speech, that it was the same he made in 1640,
&c." as before. He did not press the Chief Baron to
tell him the person that told the King so, but a noble
Lord told him, "that the person that told the King so
was Mr Ashburnham, the Cofferer."
Mr Ashburnham.] He should have thought himself
to have been the last man named for it. But he had rather that Holland should chuse him than any other, because he has the least reason to accuse him. He desires
that the Lord who told Holland this may be named. He
does positively affirm that not one word of truth is in
the thing. He abhors it more than Holland and all the
Mr Sawyer.] If ever this was done, would have it
proved, or the person named that can prove it.
Sir John Holland.] That Lord who told him it is a
person of great honour. He did apply to that Lord, by
letter, for leave to name him. 'Tis Lord Townshend; and
he will avow that the Lord Chief Baron told it him.
Sir Thomas Lee.] Hears it said, that Sir Francis Clarke
was present, when the Lord Chief Baron told it to Holland.
Sir Francis Clarke.] He knows nothing of it, to the
best of his memory.
Sir John Holland.] Clarke was present, when my Lord
Chief Baron said it, at dinner.
Mr Secretary Coventry.] If one should rise from the
dead, they would not believe, was said in another case.
But if the Chief Baron should, you would not believe
the thing upon this ground. Unless Holland will bring
in one that heard Ashburnham say the words, or say he
heard them himself, 'tis nothing.
Mr Secretary Williamson.] Is sorry that it came in,
and sorry that it must go out thus. A gentleman has been
named, and he would have some satisfaction given him.
Mr Ashburnham.] He desires no other satisfaction, but
that he despises the information.
Resolved, That it doth not appear [to this House] that Mr
Cofferer Ashburnham hath failed in his duty to this House, by
traducing Sir John Holland to his Majesty, for having made
any scandalous or seditious speech [in the House, against his Majesty, the last Session]—And so this went off.
Mr Neale.] Thinks Tuesday a great while to defer
the consideration of the King's Speech, considering you
give him no thanks for it in the mean time. Moves for
Monday, and no business to intervene, no, not Privilege, till the safety of the nation be provided for.
Resolved, That the King's Speech be taken into consideration