Source Problems in English History


World History



It can readily be seen that freedom of speech had made a good deal of progress under Elizabeth. Not because Elizabeth made concessions—for she made few of them—but because, thanks to the persistence of Paul and Peter Wentworth and men like them, the question had become an issue. Peter Wentworth had given it publicity; he had done more, by spending days and nights in prison he had made it a good cause. Parliament had been aroused, even the Privy Councilors had scarcely been able to forbear a discreet sympathy. Not only was the privilege being more naturally assumed in theory, but it was being more frequently adopted in practice. Never had the Commons talked so freely, never had they better reason. They feared a successor to Elizabeth who might carry the country back to the religious polity of Mary. The most of them were distressed at episcopal innovation and shocked at increasing persecution of those who did not conform. They could not remain silent. All the active pressure of Puritan zeal was behind the demand for liberty of discussion. And there was a new consciousness which would give to that demand a general sanction, a sense of the meaning of limited government, a sense that "this sceptred isle. . . this dear, dear land, dear for her reputation throughout the world" deserved the "envy of less happier nations" not only because its kings were renowned, but because they were under law.

Into such a land came a Scottish king, full of bookish notions about the divine right of kings whose state is the "supremest thing on earth," cocksure in his opinions and utterly unaware of the English discovery of limited monarchy. On the issue of free speech, if on no other, there was sure to be trouble.


Parliamentary History,

I, pp. 1033–34. Apology of the Commons. [June 20, 1604.]

. . . Now concerning the ancient rights of the subjects of this realm, chiefly consisting in the privilege, of this House of Parliament, the misinformation openly delivered to your Majesty hath been in three things: 1st. That we held not privileges of right, but of grace only, renewed every Parliament by way of donature upon petition, and so to be limited.

[The two other points do not concern this subject.] . . . We most truly avouch, 1st. That our privileges and liberties are our right and due inheritance, no less than our very lands and goods. Secondly, That they cannot be withheld from us, denied, or impaired, but with apparent wrong to the whole state of the realm. Thirdly, and that our making of request, in the entrance of Parliament to enjoy our privilege is an act only of manners, and doth weaken our right no more than our suing to the King for our lands by petition.

In the first Parliament of the happy reign of your Majesty the privileges of our House and therein the liberties and stability of the whole kingdom, have been more universally and dangerously impugned than ever (as we suppose), since the beginnings of parliaments.—Besides that in regard of her sex and age which we had great cause to tender, and much more upon care to avoid all trouble. . . these actions were then passed over, which we hoped in succeeding times of freer access to your Highness of renowned grace and justice, to redress, restore and rectify. Whereas contrarywise in this Parliament . . . not privileges, but the whole freedom of Parliament . . . have been mainly hewed at us. . . . Secondly the freedom of our speech prejudiced by often reproofs. Thirdly, particular persons noted with taunt and disgrace who have spoken their consciences in matters proposed to the House. . . .

What cause we your poor Commons have to watch over our privileges is manifest in itself to all men. The prerogatives of princes may easily and do daily grow. The privileges of the subject are for the most part at an everlasting stand. They may be by good providence and care preserved, but being once lost, are not recovered but with much disquiet.

[In the Bate’s. case in 1606 the Barons of the Exchequer gave a decision that the crown could levy impositions— i. e., certain added duties, without consent of Parliament. In consequence the Lord Treasurer in 1608 issued a "book of rates." Parliament found its control over the purse-strings seriously lessened, and lessened by a means hard to circumvent—a court decision. When it set about in 1610 to discuss the matter the King sent word "not to dispute of the King’s prerogative in imposing upon merchandise exported or imported." A few days later he received the Commons and repeated his injunction. This proved "distasteful" to the Commons and "divers speeches were made."]


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Chicago: "Part B," Source Problems in English History in Source Problems in English History, ed. Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915), 202–205. Original Sources, accessed October 13, 2019,

MLA: . "Part B." Source Problems in English History, Vol. I, in Source Problems in English History, edited by Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915, pp. 202–205. Original Sources. 13 Oct. 2019.

Harvard: , 'Part B' in Source Problems in English History. cited in 1915, Source Problems in English History, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.202–205. Original Sources, retrieved 13 October 2019, from