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Book i, In January, 1628 [N. S.], he delivered, at the Board, LiKEor the substance of the remarkable Discourse which has Cot-tm."ElT keen more than once printed under the title, 'Tfie Danger wherein this Kingdom now Standefh, and the Biscornai! Jtcmedy.y The courtUness of its tone no more detracts
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Caiuno or from its incisiveness of stroke, than a jewelled hilt would detract from the cleaving sweep of a Damascus blade, when
1828. j«ny. wje](jeci Dy well-knit sinews. It led instantly to the calling of the Parliament. But neither its essential and true loyalty
Ms. LAK.D, t0 the King, nor the opportune service which it rendered
854, ff. 258, ° rr
Kqq. to the country was to make the fortunes of its author any exception to those which—sooner or later—befell every councillor of Charles the First, who, in substance if not in form, was wont to put Country before King.
In that third Parliament of Charles Sir Robert himself had no seat. In the Parliament which preceded it he sat for Old Sarum, having lost his seat for Huntingdonshire. But he continued to be the active ally and the influential councillor of the leaders of opposition to strained prerogatives. When the Parliament assailed Bishops Neile and Laud, the inculpated prelates, it is said, threw upon Cotton as much of their anger as they well could have done had he led the assault in person.
The opportunity was not very far to seek. Not long after the dissolution in March, 1629, of that Parliament Tin 'pbopo- of the assembling of which Sir Robert Cotton's patriotic effort had been the immediate occasion, and to some of the effective blows of which he had helped to give vigour, October. some courtier or other brought to Charles' hands a political tract, in manuscript, and told him that copies of it were in the possession of several statesmen. Those—with one exception—who were then named to the King were men wont to be held in greater regard in the country than at
Court. The pamphlet bore for its title: 'The Proposition Book I, for Your Majesties Service . . . to secure your Estate and w« Of to bridle the impertinencie of Parliaments' 00TM°TM"
The consequences of this small incident were destined to prove of large moment. The earliest mention we have of it occurs in a letter written by the Archbishop of York—himself a Privy Councillor—to Sir Henry Vane, in November, 1629: 'The ViceChancellor,' says Archbishop Harsnet, 'was sent to Sir Robert Cotton to seal up his library, and to bring himself before the Lords of the Council.' In the words that follow
the Archbishop is evidently speaking from what he had chariwi, been told, not from his personal knowledge. 'There was (R. Ho found,' he proceeds to say, 'in his custody a pestilential tractate which he had fostered as a child, containing a project how a Prince may make himself an absolute tyrant. This pernicious device he had communicated to divers n. Lords.'
Charles was presently in intense excitement about the matter. Its next stage cannot be better or more briefly told, than in the words which the King himself addressed to his assembled Councillors—in unusual array, for they were twenty-one in number—and afterwards caused to be entered upon the Council Book:
'This day His Majestie, sitting in Counsell, was pleased to imparte to the whole Boarde the cause for which the r„ ., _
r [Council lie
Erles of Clare, Somerset, and Bedforde, Sir Robert Iww.tolt,
. , , p. «5j
Cotton, and sundry other persons of inferior qualitie,
had bene lately restrained and examined by a speciall Committee appointed by him for that purpose, which cause was this :—
'His Majestie declared that there came to his handes, by meere accedent, the coppie of a certain "Discourse"
Sir Robert Cotton In The Privt
Book I, or "Proposition" (which was then, by his commandement, read at the Boarde), pretended to be written "for His Majesties service," and bearing this title—" The Proposition for Your Jfajestie's Service conteineth twoe partes: Prockd- The one to secure your Estate, and to bridle the impertinencie AGAINST of Parlements; the other to encrease Your Majeslie's Revenue much more then it is."
'Now the meanes propounded in this Discourse for the effecting thereof are such as are fitter to be practised in a Turkish State then amongst Christians, being contrarie to the justice and mildnesse of His Majestie's Government, and the synceritie of his intentions, and therefore cannot be otherwise taken then for a most scandalous invention, proccding from a pernitious dessein, both against His Majestie and the State, which, notwithstanding, the aforesaid persons had not onely read—and concealed the same from His Majestie and his Counsell—but also communicated and divulged it to others.
'Whereupon His Majestie did farther declare that it is his pleasure that the aforesaid three Erles, and Sir Robert Cotton, shall answere this their offense in the Court of Star Chamber, to which ende they had alreadie bene summoned, and that now they shoulde be discharged and freed from their restraint and permitted to retourne to their severall houses, to the ende that they mighte have the better meanes to prepare themselves for their answere and defense.
'And, lastly, he commanded that this his pleasure should be signified by the bearer unto them, who were then attending without,—having, for that purpose, bene sent for. His Majestic, having given this Order and direccion, rose from the Boarde, and when he was gone, the three flrles were called in severally and the Lorde Keeper signified to each of them His Majestie's pleasure in Booki, that behalfe; shewing them, with all, how gratiously he u^ll' had bene pleased to deale with them, both in the maner of ^J*1" the restraint, which was only during the time of the examination of the cause (a thing usuall and requisite specially in cases of that consequence), and in that they had bene committed to the custodie of eminent and honorable persons by whom they were treated according to their qualities; and lykewise in the discharge of them now from their restraint that they may have the better convenience and meanes to prepare themselves for the defense of their cause in that legall coursse by which His Majestie had thought fit to call them to an account and try all.
'The like was also signified by his Lordship to Sir Robert Cotton, who was further tolde that although it was His Majestie's pleasure that his Studies' [meaning, that is, his Library and Museum,] 'shoulde, as yett, , remaine shut up, yet he might enter into them and take such writtings wherof he shoulde have use, provided that he did it in the presence of a Clerke of the Counsell; and whereas the Clerke attending hath the keyes of two of his jjT^. Studies he might put a seconde lock on either of them so cim». i, TMi that neither dores might be opened, but by him and the (c.oo.' said Clerke both together.'
A reader who now looks back on this singular transaction—and who has therefore the advantage of looking at it by the stern-lights of history,—will be likely to believe that the chief offence of the pamphlet lay (in a certain Cbabactm sense,) vn its truth. It was the much too frank exposition Thorstmp or of a policy which clung very close to Charles' heart, TMIT,P0E„°TO though he could ill afford—in 1629—to have it openly BRIDL" P*Bavowed. The undeniable fact that this 'Proposition for
Book I, Your Majesty's Service' was indeed fitter for the latitude Liraor of Constantinople, than for that of London, sounds but Cottoh*" awkwardly on the royal lips, when connected with an assertion (in the same breath,) of the 'justice and mildness' of the King's own government. The indictment which his Parliament brought against Charles,—and which History has endorsed,—could hardly be packed into briefer words than those which the King himself used that day at the Council Board. His notions of kingly rule, like his father's, were in truth much better suited for the government of Turkey than for the government of England.
Sir Robert Cotton, however, had no more to do with the authorship of the 'Proposition' than had Charles himself. The author was Sir Robert Dudley. The time of its composition was at least fifteen years before the date of the imprisonment of Cotton and his companions in disfavour. The place of its birth was Florence. It cannot even be proved that Cotton had any personal knowledge of the fact that the offensive tract had been found in his own library. He had recently read it, indeed,—in common with Bedford, Clare, and Oliver Saint-john, and no doubt, like them, had read it with many surging thoughts, —but he had' read it in a recent transcript, written by a clerk.
Of Robert Dudley's motive in writing his 'Proposition ' we have also no proof. But the presumptive and internal evidence is so strong, as to make proof almost superfluous. The tract bears witness, between the lines, that it was composed to win the favour—or at least to arrest the despoiling hand—of King James. And there is hardly a suggestion in it which might not be backed by some parallel passage in the writings, or the speeches, of James himself, when expatiating on kingly prerogatives in