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, 556-7, 563-6.


 
          . . . 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 my great-grandfather.
            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 all.
            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.
          Secondly, that 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 respect.
            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.
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            As 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 repetita placebit.
            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. . . .