Maitland: Administration of Justice, Ecclesiastical Courts and the Star Chamber.
Administration of Justice, Ecclesiastical Courts and the Star Chamber.
Maitland on the Revolution of 1688.
The Constitutional History of England.
Cambridge University Press 1909.
“The greatest event that we have to notice under this heading is the abolition of the Star Chamber—accomplished by an act of the Long Parliament, to which the king gave assent on 5 July, 1641^ More and more the theory had grown, that it derived its only authority from the act of Henry VH, that all that it did beyond the authority of that statute was illegal. This theory was adopted by the act which abolished the court. It abolished the court commonly called the Star Chamber—it also forbad the council to meddle with civil causes—it abolished the jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches, and the Council of the North; it declared that no court should exercise the same or the like jurisdiction as had been exercised by the Star Chamber. On the same day, by
^ Macaulay, History of England, c. XXV.
^ Gardiner, Constitutional Docufnenis, pp. 179—86,
another act, the Court of High Commission was abolished, and it was declared that no similar court should be erected for the future. This act used very large words as to the abolition of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction. During the commonwealth episcopacy disappeared. In 1661, after the Restoration, an act was passed, explaining that the old ecclesiastical courts were to retain their old powers—the act of 1641 was abolished save as far as related to the Court of High Commission. Loyal as was the parliament of 1661, it did not me^n to have either the Star Chamber or the High Commission back again. However, in 1686 James H, in the teeth of these statutes, entrusted the whole government of the church to seven commissioners with large powers of suspending, depriving and excommunicating the clergy. His hardly disguised object was to force the Roman religion on the national church. It is one of the offences reckoned up against him in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights that he has issued and caused to be executed a commission under the great seal for erecting a court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes : this is ' illegal and pernicious.'
^ Macaulay, History of England, c. XXV.
“The tribunals afforded no protection to the subject against the civil and ecclesiastical tyranny of that period. The judges of the common law, holding their situations during the pleasure of the King, were scandalously obsequious. Yet, obsequious as they were, they were less ready and less efficient instruments of arbitrary power than a class of courts, the memory of which is still, after the lapse of more than two centuries, held in deep abhorrence by the nation. Foremost among these courts in power and in infamy were the Star Chamber and the High Commission, the former a political, the latter a religious inquisition. Neither was a part of the old constitution of England. The Star Chamber had been remodelled, and the High Commission created, by the Tudors. The power which these boards had possessed before the accession of Charles had been extensive and formidable, but had been small indeed when compared with that which they now usurped. Guided chiefly by the violent spirit of the primate, and free from the control of Parliament, they displayed a rapacity, a violence, a malignant energy, which had been unknown to any former age. The government was able through their instrumentality, to fine, imprison, pillory, and mutilate without restraint. A separate council which sate at York, under the presidency of Wentworth, was armed, in defiance of law, by a pure act of prerogative, with almost boundless power over the northern counties. All these tribunals insulted and defied the authority of Westminster Hall, and daily committed excesses which the most distinguished Royalists have warmly condemned. We are informed by Clarendon that there was hardly a man of note in the realm who had not personal experience of the harshness and greediness of the Star Chamber, that the High Commission had so conducted itself that it had scarce a friend left in the kingdom, and that the tyranny of the Council of York had made the Great Charter a dead letter on the north of the Trent…”.
In November, 1640, met that renowned Parliament which, in spite of many errors and disasters, is justly entitled to the reverence and gratitude of all who, in any part of the world. enjoy the blessings of constitutional government. During the year which followed, no very important division of opinion appeared in the Houses. The civil and ecclesiastical administration had, through a period of nearly twelve years, been so oppressive and so unconstitutional that even those classes of which the inclinations are generally on the side of order and authority were eager to promote popular reforms and to bring the instruments of tyranny to justice. It was enacted that no interval of more than three years should ever elapse between Parliament and Parliament, and that, if writs under the Great Seal were not issued at the proper time, the returning officers should, without such writs, call the constituent bodies together for the choice of representatives. The Star Chamber, the High Commission, the Council of York were swept away. Men who, after suffering cruel mutilations, had been confined in remote dungeons, regained their liberty. On the chief ministers of the crown the vengeance of the nation was unsparingly wreaked. The Lord Keeper, the Primate, the Lord Lieutenant were impeached. Finch saved himself by flight. Laud was flung into the Tower. Strafford was put to death by act of attainder. On the day on which this act passed, the King gave his assent to a law by which he bound himself not to adjourn, prorogue, or dissolve the existing Parliament without its own consent…”.
The History of England from the Accession of James II, Vol. 1
by Thomas Babington Macaulay.
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