Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 8, 1640-41. Originally published by D Browne, London, 1721.
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The Trial of Thomas Earl of Strafford, was, and is, some way or other, the Concern of every Man of England; and the Commissioners of Scotland and Ireland, thought those Kingdoms also Sufferers by his Deportment, and joined in the Prosecution against him.
The Matter of his Charge had Reference to every English Man, and all their Posterities; He was accused of designing to destroy the security of every of their Estates, Liberties and Lives, and to reduce them all to be subject to meer Will and Pleasure.
It may therefore be said in the Maxim of our Government, not much varying the sense, Quod Omnes tangit, ab omnibus tractari debet. Every man ought doubtless to know his own Cafe, to understand whether that Great Man was justly accused of such a bainous Crime; and whether the Kingdom escaped such a fatal blow, as was then alledged by his exemplary Fall, under the Judgement of the King and Parliament.
For this purpose I expose to the common view, the whole Proceedings of his Trial, being the most solemn, deliberate, and every way the greatest Trail, whereof we have any Account in our English Story.
The usual places for Administring Justice, and Tryals of Offenders, were thought too mean upon so great an occasion, and therefore Scaffolds were erected in Westminster-Hall, fit to receive so great an Assembly, as were to attend his Trial.
His Majesty had a Closet provided for him, the Queen and Prince near the place, where the House of Peers sate, and was every day at the Tryal of the said Earl, and might hear what was said, and see what Witnesses were produced, and take a full view of the greatness of the Assembly, and yet remain privately in His Closet unseen. Seats were prepared for the Lord High Steward, and all the House of Lords, who sate as his Judges; Woolsacks were placed for all the Justices or Judges to be their Assistants: There were also Seats provided for all the Commons in Parliament, though they came not with their Speaker and his Mace, as a House of Parliament, but as a Committee of the whole House; Seats were likewise prepared for the Commissioners of the Kingdom of Scotland and Ireland, which made it an Assembly of Three Kingdoms.
At the lower end of the Scaffolds, a place was provided for Thirteen Members of the House of Commons, who were appointed for the Earls Prosecutors, to manage the Evidence against him; near to them stood the Prisoner with a Table before him, and a Desk to write upon, and a Chair was set for him to rest himself when he found it needful.
The Author of the ensuing Papers was purposely placed near the Earl, to take in Characters whatsoever should be said, either against or for him, and to the best of his skill, he did impartially put in Writing what was said in the Case Pro and Con: he hath not wittingly or willingly omitted the least Particle said in the Prisoners Defence, either by himself or any body in his behalf; he hath not varied the form or manner of his Expressions, being full of Eloquence, and pleasing Rhetorick, and excellently adapted to move compassion, both in his Judges, and the numerous Assembly of Auditors.
The Greatness of this Minister of State's Tryal every way answered the High Station and Employments, unto which he had been advanced; and the lofty Designs he had managed. And the Books of his Life, from the time of his admission in the Cabinet of his Princes Council, were exposed to the Worlds View and the most profound Learning of the Laws of our Countrey, the sharpest Wit, and the deepest wisdom of our Kingdom were employed to examine and measure what he had done. Not only by those Rules of Justice, whereby all our ordinary Courts of Justice are wisely bound by our Ancestors, to proceed in the Trial of Criminals, but by those Fundamental Rules, and Maxims of our English Government, which that Parliament asserted to be the safeguard, both of the King and People, and to be so reserved in the custody of the Supream Legislative Power, that no Criminals, by the violation of those First Principles, which they said gave the Being to our Government, can be judged otherwise than in parliament, the ordinary Judges being obliged by that famous Statute of the 25th of Edw.3. concerning Treasons, to Respit Judgment in all such Cases, until the matter be declared in Parliament, and Judgment there given; whether the offence whereof any shall be accused, be Treason, or other Felony.
This Tryal being upon an Impeachment for Treasons, not specially named and declared in the Statute of the 25th Edw.3. occasioned more industrious and exquisite searches to be made into the most antient Records of the Kingdom, than had been for some hundreds of years, and also caused the most Learned of the Long Robe to tumble over their Law-Books, and to apply their minds to look into the bowels of our antient Laws, and the reason of them, from whence they had their Being, and doubtless the Counsel on either side brought out of their most secret Treasuries, the Quintescence of all their Learning and Studies; besides the weight of the Cause, every mans Reputation pushed him to shew his utmost skill before so great and to grave an assembly of such Critical and excellent Judges and Auditors.
The Reader may find in these Papers all the sweetness of Learning, Wisdom, and Policy, which was the issue of the long Labours and Travels of many industrious Bees, in the whole spring of their youth and vigor.
The long continuance of this Trial, is another Evidence of its greatness; it begun the 22 of March 1640. and continued with the interposition of divers Intervals, for deliberation, and providing Evidence, until the 12th of April 1641. And an ACT for Judgment in a Bill of Attainder, passed against the Earl in the House of Commons the 21 of the same month, and in the House of Peers on the 10th of May following.
I ought not to anticipate the Reader with any thing that happened during this solemn Tryal, nor to point at matter of Law or Fact; every Reader ought to suppose himself present at the Tryal, and to make his own Comments upon the Law and Fact, as it appeared; every Professor or Student of the Law may transcribe into his Common place Book, what he shall judge of most use, and every States-man may do the like in his Studies; and every Man great and small, may, if he please, make excellent Moral Reflections upon the Rise, Greatness, and fall of this seeming Fortunate, and yet at last Unfortunate Gentleman.
This Great Mans principal Crime, objected against him by the Parliament, was his attempts to subvert that excellent Law called The Petition of Right, which he himself (especially in a Speech made by him in Parliament, on the 22 of March, in the year 1627/8. had promoted and pressed with the most ardent Zeal, as the best Inheritance he could leave his Posterity, and all the Laws confirmed and renewed in that Petition of Right, were said to be the most invenomed Arrows that gave him his mortal wound; but how justly these were urged against him, is not my part to determine.
I with my Labours in Collecting truly the Matter of Fact, may be an occasion to many, to make True and Righteous Judgment in this particular Case so much Controverted, and that from these Matters of Law and Fact, such right measure may be taken, that all our future Ministers of State may escape the conjoyned Complaints of the Three Kingdoms against them; and that the Government may be so Administred, as shall best conduce to the happiness of the King and Kingdom.