The King's Speech to the Judges, 1616
This speech was delivered to the judges assembled in the Star Chamber,
20 June, 1616. It is transcribed from James I, Works (1616), 553,
. . . For the
Common Law, you can all bear me witness I never pressed alteration of it
in Parliament; but on the contrary, when I endeavoured most an union real,
as was already in my person, my desire was to conform the laws of Scotland
to the law of England and not the law of England to the law of Scotland,
and so the prophecy to be true of my wise grandfather (This could be applied
to any male ancestor.) Henry the Seventh, who foretold that the lesser
kingdom by marriage would follow the greater and not the greater the lesser;
and therefore married his eldest daughter Margaret to James the Fourth
It was a foolish quirk of some Judges who held that the Parliament of England
could not unite Scotland and England by the name of Great Britain, but
that it would make an alteration of the laws; though I am since come to
that knowledge that an Act of Parliament can do greater wonders, and that
old wise man the Treasurer Burghley was wont to say, he knew not what an
Act of Parliament could not do in England; for my intention was always
to effect union by uniting Scotland to England and not England to Scotland.
For I ever meant, being ever resolved, that this law should continue in
this kingdom, and two things moved me thereunto: one is, that in matter
of policy and State you shall never see anything anciently and maturely
established but by innovation or alteration it is worse than it was, -
I mean not by purging of it from corruptions and restoring it to the ancient
integrity. Another reason was, I was sworn to maintain the law of
the land, and therefore I had been perjured if I had altered it; and this
I speak to root out the conceit and misapprehension, if it be in any heart,
that I would change, damnify, vilify, or suppress the law of this land.
God is my judge I never meant it, and this confirmation I make before you
To this I join the point of justice, which I call unicuigue suum tribuere.
All my Council, and Judges dead and alive, can and could bear me witness
how unpartial I have been in declaring of law. . . .
And though the laws be in many places obscure, and not so well known to
the multitude as to you, and that there are many parts that come not into
ordinary practice which are known to you because you can find out the reason
thereof by books and precedents; yet know this, that your interpretations
must be always subject to common sense and reason. For I will never trust
any interpretation that agreeth not with my common sense and reason and
true logic, for Ratio est anima Legis in all human laws without
exception; it must not be sophistry or strains of wit that must interpret,
but either clear law or solid reason.
Now having spoken of your office in general, I am next to come to the limits
wherein you are to bound yourselves, which likewise are three. First, encroach
not upon the prerogative of the Crown. If there fall out a question that
concerns my prerogative or mystery of State, deal not with it till you
consult with the King or his Council or both; for they are transcendent
matters, and must not be slubberly (The word in the text is 'sliberely';
but the sense is evidently hurriedly or carelessly.) carried with over-rash
wilfulness, or so may you wound the King through the sides of a private
person: and this I commend unto your special care, as some of you of late
have done very well to blunt the sharp edge and vain popular humour of
some lawyers at the bar that think they are not eloquent and bold-spirited
enough except they meddle with the King's prerogative. But do not you suffer
this; for certainly if this liberty be suffered, the King's prerogative,
the Crown, and I shall be as much wounded by their pleadino, as if you
resolved what they disputed. That which concerns the mystery of the King's
power is not lawful to be disputed, for that is to wade into the weakness
of Princes and to take away the mystical reverence that belongs unto them
that sit in the throne of God.
you keep yourselves within your own Benches; not to invade other jurisdictions,
which is unfit, and an unlawful thing.
Keep you therefore all in your own bounds, and for my part I desire you
to give me no more right in my private prerogative than you give to any
subject, and therein I will be acquiescent. As for the absolute prerogative
of the Crown, that is no subject for the tongue of a lawyer, nor is lawful
to be disputed. It is atheism and blasphemy to dispute what God can
do; good Christians content themselves with his will revealed in his Word.
So it is presumption and high contempt in a subject to dispute what a King
can do, or say that a King cannot do this or that; but rest in that which
is the King's revealed will in his law.
And this you shall find, that even as a King (let him be never so godly,
wise, righteous, and just), yet if the subaltern magistrates do not their
parts under him the kingdom must needs suffer; so let the Judges be never
so careful and industrious, if the justices of peace under them put not
to their helping hands in vain is all your labour, for they are the King's
eyes and ears in the country.
It was an ancient custom that all the judges, both immediately before their
going to their circuits and immediately upon their return, repaired to
the Lord Chancellor of England, both to receive what directions it should
please the King by his mouth to give unto them, as also to give him an
accompt of their labours, who was to acquaint the King therewith; and this
good ancient custom hath likewise been too much slacked of late. And therefore,
first of all, I am to exhort and command you that you be careful to give
a good accompt to me and my Chancellor of the duties performed by all justices
of peace in your circuits. Which government by justices is so laudable
and so highly esteemed by me, that I have made Scotland to be governed
by justices and constables as England is. And let not gentlemen be ashamed
of this place, for it is a place of high honour and great reputation to
be made a minister of the King's justice in service of the common-wealth.
Of these there are two sorts, as there is of all companies, especially
where there is a great number: that is, good and bad justices. For the
good, you are to inform me of them, that I may know them, thank them, and
reward them, as occasion serves.
For I hold a good justice of peace in his country to do me as good service
as he that waits upon me in my Privy Chamber, and as ready will I be to
reward him; for I accompt him as capable of any honour, office, or preferment
about my person, or for any place of counsel or State, as well as any courtier
that is near about me or any that have deserved well of me in foreign employments;
yea, I esteem the service done me by a good justice of peace three hundred
miles, yea, six hundred miles out of my sight as well as the service done
me in my presence. For as God hath given me large limits, so must I be
careful that my providence may reach to the farthest parts of them; and
as law cannot be honoured except honour be given to Judges so without due
respect to justices of peace what regard will be had of the service?
Therefore let none be ashamed of this office, or be discouraged in being
a justice of peace, if he serve worthily in it.
The Chancellor, under me, makes justices and puts them out; but neither
I nor he can tell what they are. Therefore we must be informed by
you judges, who can only tell, who do well and who do ill; without which
how can the good be cherished and maintained and the rest put out?
The good justices are careful to attend the service of the King and country
for thanks only of the King and love to their country, and for no other
The bad are either idle slow-bellies, that abide always at home, given
to a life of ease and delight, liker ladies than men, and think it is enough
to contemplate justice, whenas virtues in actions consist: contemplative
justice is no justice, and contemplative justices are fit to be put out.
Another sort of justices are busybodies, and will have all men dance after
their pipe and follow their greatness, or else will not be content,—a sort
of men qui se primos omnium esseputant, nec sunt tamen: these proud
spirits must know that the country is ordained to obey and follow God and
the King, and not them.
Another sort are they that go seldom to the King's service but when it
is to help some of their kindred or alliance; so as when they come it is
to help their friends or hurt their enemies, making justice to serve for
a shadow to faction, and tumultuating the country.
Another sort are gentlemen of great worth in their own conceit, and cannot
be content with the present form of government, but must have a kind of
liberty in the people, and must be gracious lords and redeemers of their
liberty; and in every cause that concerns prerogative give a snatch against
a monarchy, through their Puritanical itching after popularity. Some of
them have shewed themselves too bold of late in the Lower House of Parliament;
and when all is done, if there were not a King they would be less cared
for than other men.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
to the charge you are to give the justices, I can but repeat what formerly
I have told you; yet in so good a business Lectio recta placer, decies
And as I began with fulfilling the proverb, a Jove principium, so
will I begin this charge you are to give to the justices with Church matters;
for God will bless every good business the better that he and his Church
have the precedence. That which I am now to speak is anent recusants
and Papists. . . .
There are three sorts of recusants: the first are they that for themselves
will be no recusants, but their wives and their families are; and they
themselves do come to church but once or twice in a year, enforced by law
or for fashion sake. These may be formal to the law, but more false to
God than the other sort. The second sort are they that are recusants and
have their conscience mis-led, and therefore refuse to come to church,
but otherwise live as peaceable subjects.
The third sort are practising recusants. These force all their servants
to be recusants with them; they will suffer none of their tenants but they
must be recusants, and their neighbours, if they would live by them in
peace, must be recusants also. These you may find out as a fox by the foul
smell a great way round about his hole. This is a high pride and presumption
that they for whose souls I must answer to God, and who enjoy their lives
and liberties under me, will not only be recusants themselves but infect
and draw others after them.
As I have said in Parliament House, I can love the person of a Papist being
otherwise a good man and honestly bred, never having known any other religion;
but the person of an apostate Papist I hate. And surely for those polypragmatic
Papists, I would you would study out some severe punishment for them, for
they keep not infection in their own hearts only but also infect others
our good subjects. And that which I say for recusants the same I say for
priests. I confess I am loath to hang a priest only for religion sake and
saying mass, but if he refuse the oath of allegiance which (let the Pope
and all the devils in Hell say what they will) yet (as you find by my book
and by divers others) is merely civil, those that so refuse the oath and
are polypragmatic recusants I leave them to the law; it is no persecution
but good justice.
And those priests also that out of my grace and mercy have been let go
out of prisons and banished upon condition not to return, ask me no questions
touching these; quit me of them and let me not hear of them. And
to them I join those that break prison; for such priests as the prison
will not hold, it is a plain sign nothing will hold them but a halter:
such are no martyrs that refuse to suffer for their conscience. Paul,
notwithstanding the doors were open, would not come forth, and Peter came
not out of the prison till led by the angel of God; but these will go forth
though with the angel of the Devil.
I have given order to my Lord of Canterbury and my Lord of London for the
distinction, etc., of the degrees of priests; and when I have an accompt
from them then will I give you another charge concerning them. . . .