The Parliament of 1614
Available from Cambridge University Press
The Parliament of 1614
Date of writs of election: 19 Feb. 16141
5 Apr.-20 Apr. 1614 (adjourned for Easter)2
2 May-1 June 1614 (adjourned for Ascension Day)3
3 June-7 June 1614 (dissolved)4
Following the dissolution of his first, unsuccessful Parliament, James avoided another meeting with his subjects for as long as possible. Rather than rely upon a Parliament to restore his failing finances, he now sought to retrench his spending and raise fresh revenue through a variety of fiscal expedients. However, his main hope for financial relief rested on securing a substantial dowry for his eldest son, Henry, Prince of Wales. When Henry died suddenly and unexpectedly in November 1612, the marriage negotiations with France continued, but with James’s second son, Prince Charles, taking the place of the deceased prince. However, these negotiations soon became bogged down, and James did not receive a firm offer from the French until January 1614, by which time France, whose political elite was deeply divided on religious lines, seemed on the verge of sliding into civil war. Reluctantly, therefore, James decided that he had little choice but to summon another Parliament.5
In calling a Parliament James was acting with the encouragement of the Privy Council, a majority of whose members were anxious to prevent a marriage alliance with France for fear of strengthening the position of the Scots at Court, France and Scotland being traditional allies. Chief among the architects of the new Parliament were Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, and William Herbert, 3rd earl of Pembroke. However, neither Suffolk nor Pembroke had any idea how to prevent the Commons from again debating the legality of impositions, one of the main issues on which the previous Parliament had ultimately foundered. Shortly before the Parliament began, Suffolk entered into negotiations for managing the new House of Commons with Sir Henry Neville, who had represented Berkshire in the previous assembly and had made just such an offer as early as October 1611. However, Neville was just as bereft of ideas for dealing with impositions as Pembroke and Suffolk. Instead, he pinned his hopes for managing the Commons on various bills of grace. These were intended as concessions by the Crown to the subject, and many of them had already been offered to the Commons in 1610 by Lord Treasurer Salisbury, who was now dead. Neville demanded as the price for his support that he be appointed secretary of state, but in the event his services were not secured as James decided to bestow the secretaryship on another.
James hoped that the ensuing Parliament would come to be known as ‘the Parliament of Love’, and that it would prove possible, as he told the Commons in his opening address, to ‘take away the misunderstanding between you and me which was in the last Parliament’.6 In fact, the new assembly met in an atmosphere of deep distrust, as rumours that a secret undertaking to manage the Parliament on behalf of the king were now in circulation. When it was discovered that the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry, had unduly influenced the outcome of the parliamentary election at Stockbridge in Hampshire it seemed as though the king’s ministers were not only secretly trying to manage the Parliament but also to pack it. The Commons was soon bitterly divided between those who believed in the existence of a secret undertaking and those who felt certain that no such arrangement existed. Matters reached such a pitch that on 12 May the chairman of one committee was pulled from his seat by two of his fellow committee members, who accused him of partiality. It seems likely that this conflict was fomented by the lord privy seal, Henry Howard, earl of Northampton, who opposed both the meeting of Parliament and the French marriage negotiations. Northampton, a crypto-Catholic, favoured instead a marriage alliance with Spain, and encouraged James to believe that a Spanish dowry alone would give him the wherewithal to subsist without parliaments.
Not until 14 May – more than six weeks into the new assembly – was the rumour of a secret undertaking finally dispelled. By then the Commons had turned its attention once again to impositions, the continued levy of which now threatened to jeopardize the king’s urgent need for subsidies. On 21 May the House sent a message to the Lords asking for a conference on the matter in the hope that the peers would join the Commons in petitioning the king. To widespread astonishment, however, the Lords declined the invitation. Suffolk declared that if the Lords refused to discuss impositions the Commons would be forced to cease further discussion of the subject, while the bishop of Lincoln, Richard Neile, announced that impositions were a matter for the royal prerogative alone, and that if the Commons’ request were granted the Lords would be forced to listen to mutiny and sedition. The Commons was outraged, and on receiving the peers’ formal refusal on 26 May it resolved to suspend all further business until Neile had been punished for his offensive words, a threat which elicited no more than a tearful apology from the bishop.
The king was now fast running out of patience, and on 3 June he announced that unless the House immediately turned its attention to supply he would dissolve the assembly forthwith. Far from galvanizing the Commons into action, however, James’s message merely served to harden the attitudes of the malcontents in the chamber, many of whom clearly thought that the king was bluffing. After all, James’s finances were so weak he could not dispense with the Parliament even if he wished to. Instead of debating supply, many Members accused the king of being the author of his own financial misfortune. James, it was said, could easily forgo impositions if only he curbed his profligate tendencies and sent home the Scottish courtiers who weakened his estate and whose lives, one Member darkly intimated, were now in danger. Emboldened by these reckless spirits, the Commons informed James the next day that until ‘it shall please God to ease us of these impositions wherewith the whole kingdom doth groan, we cannot without wrong to our country give Your Majesty that relief which we desire’.7 However, James’s finances were so weak that he could not afford to trade impositions for supply.