The Lord Keeper's speech in Star Chamber, 1638

Pages 156-158

Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 3, 1639-40. Originally published by D Browne, London, 1721.

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The Lord Keeper's Speech in the Star-Chamber at such time as he delivered the Judges their Charge from his Majesty before they went their Circuits, Anno. 1638.

My Lords the Judges,
His gracious Majesty ever studious and careful of the Weal of his People, remembering the Term being now at an end, and that the Assizes draw near for you the Judges of the Realm to depart into your Circuits, and to divide your selves into all the parts of the Kingdom, and therefore hath required, that according to the usual custom in former times, something should be said unto you in this place, that your selves may know and acknowledge to others the singular Care and Zeal of his Majesty, for the maintenance of Religion, Justice, and Government throughout his Kingdom. The Service and Performance of your Circuits in the Minds of some, obtains no further place, but only as a matter of Course, but they would soon change their Minds if they wanted it but a while, and through the wisdom and deep Judgment of his Majesty's Circuits in England, have place as one of the chiefest ways of Peace and Government, and upon a just and sure Ground, for by the Circuits comes an infinite ease to the Subjects both for travel and charge, to have publick Justice in all parts of the Kingdom distributed to Men at home, even at their own Doors as it were; The Circuits of the Justices of Assize did succeed the seat of the Justices in Oyer, and by their Tryal and Experience thereof so long it is found so much better to the Conditio of the Government of this Kingdom, as that they have antiquated the form.

I have often spoke unto your Lordships in this place of many particular things examinable inn your Assizes and Circuits, and therefore I may well both for your ease and my own for bear now any long discourse, and contain my self to some few Particulars.

Religion requires the first place, for it is bruited, that Recusants in many parts of this Kingdom do exceedingly increase, which I am sorry and unwilling to believe, if but for your fakes; for I do not well see, if it be true, how the Judges of the Realm will be esteemed blameless, for sure I am that from his Majesty in this place you have been constantly and continually call'd upon; and therefore if they encrease so much in your Circuits, and so little in the King's Treasure, certainly there is a Fault, that there is so few convicted. Besides your selves, others owe a Duty to their Conviction, but they are subordinate, the Justices of Peace they bear a great sway in this Business; certainly from them, the Service receives stronger or weaker Prosecution.

This I hold more seriously to be considered in this time, because it is said, and I am afraid too truly, that many Men, popishly affected, endeavour to pervert others, or deceive them for worse Ends; they do not stick to say, that the Bishops and Prelates of our Church of England are inwardly affected that way, and they do not spare the Sacred Person of the King himself, but give out that the King in Heart is a Papist, by the Statute of 2 R 2 these are stiled to be Horrible and False Lies, of which great Peril and quick Destruction may ensue to the whole Kingdom; and therefore to the singular Honour of his Majesty, the blessed comfort to his Subjects well affected, and Terrours of such as cast such aspersions upon him, or the Prelates of the Kingdom.

An exemplary and remarkable Piece of Justice hath this Term been done in this Court upon one Pickering, a Shorpshire Man, for such a Scandal against the King; He was brought from thence by Master Attorney to be here prosecuted against, tho' not in an ordinary way, but by the King's own and immediate Direction, and therefore held it my Duty to make this mention of it here, that you may mention it in all places in your Circuits and beat down those scandalous Rumours, that all Men may know the Sincerity of the King's Heart, and how he doth distaste all backsliding in Religion.

Next to the case of Religion, I am to put you in Mind of the Discovering and Apprehending of Felons and other Capital Offenders, and of doing Justice between Party and Party in all Causes that shall come before you in your Circuits, his Majesty doth expect a due and careful Execution of Justice, according to the Duty you owe to God, his Majesty, and your Country.

But I may not forbear to mention a Particular which I have often given you in charge concerning the King's Printed Orders above Eight Years ago, wherein excellent Rules are set down for the repressing and punishing of Vagabonds, imploying of Houses of Correction, abridging of the Number, and reforming the Abuses of Ale-houses and Tippling-houses, binding of Apprentices, and setting of Work of poor People: Of these the Sheriffs and Justices of Peace were to give an Account to you of the Judges of the Realm, and you to render your Account to the Council Board, wherein you have failed to do as it was expected from you: Therefore I am to put you in Mind that a more exact Account will be required from you herein, and therefore be more careful to call on the Sheriffs and Justices of Peace, that you may return an Answer thereof to the King and State.

There is a great and general Complaint at this time of Rates and Prizes, to which all things are enhaunsed, in Hay, Corn, Cattle, Victuals, and all other things appertaining to the Food or use of Man. The time hath been when the Court of King's Bench, and the Justices of Oyer, who are next unto the Justices of Assize, took these things to Heart; there was never more need of a Reformation in this Kind than now, tho' in some things it may be attributed to God's Punishment upon us by unseasonable Weather in the last and some former Years, yet without doubt the greatest part of it cometh from the Malice adn hard heartedness of Men, from Ingrossers and Forestallers; that do it to keep up the Market for their own Advantage. There can none so well give Remedy to this as you the Justices of the Assize, and the Justices of Peace should take care of this for their own Commodity and Benefit, methinks that should prevail with them, tho' it were not for the publick Good. The Mayor that hath the Clerkship of the Market ought to seek this Reformation, he hath it by Charter, but a great many of the Deputies under them take more care for their Fees, than to look to the Duty of their Places, therefore it behoves you the Justices [of] Assize to take some Pains to reform these Abuses.

One thing more I am to insist upon, you have formerly received Admonition from the King and Council Board, that care be taken that equal Rates throughout all your Circuits be made on the King's Subjects; this is a thing worthy of his Majesty's care and your Endeavour, it is a heavy thing that in cases of publick Services, that those that are Rich should put off all from themselves, and lay it upon the Poor and Friendless that is the general Case, whether for the levying of Men, providing of Munition, &c. generally I find the Landlord finds a way to case his own Demeasn, and lays the Burthen upon his Tenant, and the Rich Man upon his poor Neighbours; I know well you have given this in charge to the Justices of Peace in your Circuits; but for all I see, it is follow'd so slowly in the Country, as is it were a thing not sit the undertaking, and so it vanishes, but his Majesty will not be so satisfied, for every Day at Council Board Petitions come and complain of their great Grievances in being so unequally Taxed. And therefore his Majesty doth require, that I should declare in this place and command in his Majesty's Name, that proceed heartily and quickly in this Service, that his Majesty may receive a speedy Account of it.

I might speak many things more, but I know to whom I speak, you know them before I speak them. Therefore for all other things that shall fall out to be examinable, or enquirable in your Circuits, as his Majesty leaveth them, so do I, to your Wisdoms and Judgments; and I do heartily pray, that both his Majesty may receive Honour, and his People a Comfort, by the performance of your Service.