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Book i. That these London records had once belonged to the LirKo" citizens is now unquestioned. That Cotton—both in 1607
The DisPute About
and again in the following year—asserted a title, of some sort, to those of them which were then in his hands, seems also to be established. Is the fair inference this: 'Their then holder, in 1007, had obtained them wrongfully, and he persisted, despite all remonstrance, in his wrongful possession'? Is it not rather to be inferred that, whosoever may have been the original wrongdoer, Sir cm Robert Cotton had acquired them by a lawful purchase? KC0 *' If that should have been the fact, he may possibly have had a valid reason for declining to give what he had, ineffectually and rudely, been commanded to restore.
On the other hand, it is impossible to defend Sir Robert's occasional mode of dealing with MSS.,—some of which, it is plain, were but lent to him,—when, by misplacement of leaves, or by insertions, and sometimes by both together, he confused their true sequence and aspect. Of this unjustifiable manipulation I shall have to speak hereafter.
The years which followed close upon this little civic interlude were amongst the busiest years of Cotton's public life. He testified the sincerity of his desire to serve his country faithfully, by the choice of the subjects to the study Cottoh's of which he voluntarily bent his powers.
Abuses in the management of the navy and of naval establishments have been at most periods of our history fruitful topics for reformers, competent or other. In the early years of James there was a special tendency to the increase of such abuses in the growing unfitness for exertion of the Lord High Admiral. Nottingham had yet many years to live,—near as he had been to the threescore and ten when the new reign began. But even his large
Memorial On Abuses In THE Navy.
appetencies were now almost sated with wealth, employments, and honours; and ever since his return from his Life or splendid embassy to Spain, he seemed bent on compensat- Cotton?" ing himself for his hard labour under Elizabeth by his indolent luxury under James. The repose of their chief had so favoured the illegitimate activities of his subordinates, that when Cotton addressed himself to the task of investigating the state of the naval administration he soon found that it would be much easier to prove the existence and the gravity of the abuses than to point to an effectual remedy.
The abuses were manifold. Some of them were, at that moment, scarcely assailable. To Cotton, in particular, the approach to the subject was beset with many difficulties. He was, however, much in earnest. When he found that some of the obstacles must, for the present, T^1"*tm
'r > INSTITUTED
be rather turned by evasion than be encountered—with By Cotton
■ /> i Into Abuses
any fair chance ot success—by an open attack in front, he TM The betook himself to the weaker side of the enemy. He *tv" obtained careful information as to naval account-keeping; discovered serious frauds; and opened the assault by a conflict with officials not too powerful for immediate encounter,—though far indeed from being unprotected.
Of Sir Robert's Memorial to the King, I can give but one brief extract, by way of sample: 'Upon a dangerous CMaa-m
• m «*» i Memorial on
advantage, he writes, 'which the Treasurer of the Navy Mnvtfti* taketh by the strict letter of his Patent, to be discharged of all his accounts by the only vouchee and allowance of two JJ^j chief officers, it falls out, strangely, at this time—by the TMi.*u,P.2i. weakness of the Controller and cunning of the Surveyor— that these two offices are, in effect, but one, which is the Surveyor himself, who—joining with the Treasurer as a Purveyor of all provisions—becomes a paymaster to himself .... at such rates as he thinks good.' It is a suggestive statement.
Booki, Cotton's most intimate political friendships were at this Life Of time with the Howards. Henry Howard (now Earl of Cotm°nbmt Northampton),—whatever the intrinsic baseness and perfidy of his nature, was a man of large capacity. He was not unfriendly to reform,—when abuses put no pelf in his own pocket. To naval reforms, his nearness of blood to NotTingham, the Lord High Admiral, tended rather to predispose him; for when near relatives dislike one another, the intensity of their dislike is sometimes wonderful to all bystanders. Interest made these two sometimes allies, but it never made them friends. Northampton gave his whole influence in favour of Sir Robert's plan. He began the inquiries into this wide subject by persuading the King to appoint a Commission. On the 30th of April, 1608, Letters Patent were issued, in the preamble of which the pith of the Memorial is thus recited: 'We are informed that very great and considerable abuses, deceits, frauds, corruptions, negligences, misdemeanours and offences have been and daily are perpetrated .... against the continual admonitions and directions of you, our Lord High Admiral, by other the officers of and concerning our Navy Royal, and by the Clerks of the Prick and Check, and divers other inferior officers, ministers, mariners, soldiers, and others working or labouring in or about our said Commission Navyand thereupon full powers are given to the ComOn"tm'1111" missioners so appointed to make full inquiry into the ra«TM^ allegations; and to certify their proceedings and opinions. Cotton was made a member of the Commission, and at the head of it were placed the Earls of Northampton and of Nottingham. It was directed that the inquiry should be carried at least as far back as the year 1598. The Admiral's share was little more than nominal. The proceedings were opened on the 7th of May, 1608, when, as
Cotton himself reports, an 'elegant speech was made Booki, by Lord Northampton, of His Majesty's provident and Li«'o»' princely purposes for reformation of the abuses.' North- %£^'m ampton, he adds, 'took especial pains and care for a full and faithful discharge of that trust.' At his instance Sir Robert was made Chairman of a sort of sub-committee, to which the preliminary inquiries and general array of the fT0CKiiriga business were entrusted; 'Sir Robert Cotton, during all i»*fl»
_ . - ' _ . . ■ * ■ mission for
the time of this service, entertaining his assistants at his the Navy house at the Blackfriars as often as occasion served.' cm juiini
The inquiry lasted from May, 1608, to June, 1609. f^011 Cotton was then requested by his fellow-commissioners to make an abstract of the depositions to be reported to the King. It abundantly justified the Memorial of 1608. James, when he had read it, ordered a final meeting of the Commissioners to be held in his presence, at which all the inculpated officers were to attend that they might adduce whatever answers or pleas of defence might be in their power. 'In the end,' says Sir Robert, 'they were advised rather to cast themselves at the feet of his grace and goodness for pardon, than to rely upon their weak replies; which they readily did.' The most important outcome of the inquiry was the preparation of a 'Book of Ordinances for the Navy Boyal,' in the framing of which Sir Robert Cotton had the largest share. It led to many improvements. But, in subsequent years, measures of a still more stringent character were found needful.
In the next year after the presentation of this Report on the Navy, Sir Robert addressed to the King another Report T"» ih
, . . (JCIKT INTO
on the Revenues of the Crown. The question is treated C«owi«r*. historically rather than politically, but the long induction of fiscal records is frequently enlivened by keen glances both at underlying principles and at practical results.
Book I. Once or twice, at least, these side glances are such as, when un ol we novv regard them, in the light of the subsequent history Bn Robert 0f JAMES'S own reign and of that of his next successor, seem
to have in them more of irony than of earnest. The style of the treatise is clear, terse, and pointed.
On no branch of the subject does the author go into more minute detail than on that delicate one of the historical precedents for 'abating and reforming excesses of the Royal Household, Retinue, and Favourites.' He points the moral by express reference to existing circumstances. Thus, for example, in treating of the arrangements of the royal household, he says, 'There is never a back-door at Court that costs not the king £2000 yearly;' and again, when treating of gifts to royal favourites: 'It is one of the greatest accusations against the Duke of Somerset for suffering the King [edward VI] to give away the possessions and profits of the Crown in manner of a spoil.'
Not less plainspoken are Cotton's words about a question that was destined, in a short time, to excite the whole kingdom. Tonnage and poundage, he says, were granted simply for defence of the State, 'so they may be employed in the wars; and particular Treasurers account in ParliaProatding, ment' for that employment. 'They are so granted,' he adds, mmionfor 'in express words; and that they proceed of goodwill, not 'foJUiXc; of duty. Precedents of this nature are plentiful in all the u above. Rolls.' A final example of this sort may be found in the pithy warning grounded upon Richard The Second's grant to a minion of the power of compounding with delinquents. It was fatal, he says, both to the king and to his instrument. 'It grew the death of the one and the deposition of the other.'
Cotton's Report on the Crown Revenues has also an