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James I
of England

the judges in the exchequer chamber a decision that the post-nati, that is to say Scotsmen born after his own accession to the throne of England, were natural subjects of the king of England. At the same time, James's partiality to worthless Scotsmen, if only they were sprightly and active, was shown by the rapid rise in favour of Robert Carr [q. v.], to whom, in January 1609, he granted the estate of Sherborne, which he took away, though not without compensation, from Raleigh.

The other side of James's nature appeared in the controversy in which he engaged with Cardinal Bellarmine. After Gunpowder plot (1605) he published anonymously ‘A Discourse of the Manner of the Discovery of the Powder Treason,’ and in February 1606 he published, also anonymously, ‘An Apology for the Oath of Allegiance,’ in answer to two breves of Paul V, in which the new oath of allegiance was denounced, and also to a letter from Bellarmine to the archpriest Blackwell. This ‘Apology’ was answered by Bellarmine under the name of one of his chaplains, Matthew Tortus, and the answer reached James in October 1608. The view of the matter taken at Rome was that no catholic ought to be asked to swear that the pope had no right to absolve from allegiance to kings. But the controversialists on that side laid greater stress on any thing which might discredit their royal antagonist. Tortus had accordingly pointed out that when James was still in Scotland his ministers had held out hopes of his becoming a catholic, and that he had himself written a letter to the pope of that day recommending the Bishop of Vaison to the cardinalate. James soon obtained from his former secretary, Elphinstone, now Lord Balmerino, an acknowledgment of having foisted that letter on him and hid one of his Scottish favourites, Hay, in a neighbouring room, of which the door was left open, so that the confession might not be without witnesses. James was overjoyed at this proof of his cleverness and innocence (see extracts from the Hatfield MSS. in Gardiner's Hist. of Engl. 1603–42, ii. 33). In 1609 he reissued his ‘Apology,’ this time with his name attached to it, together with ‘A Premonition to all most Mighty Monarchies, Kings, Free Princes, and States of Christendom,’ in which he warned his brother sovereigns of the danger of acknowledging the claims of the papacy to exert authority over themselves.

James's view of the position of the monarchy at home, as that of a moderating power to avoid conflicts between administrative and judicial officers, was thrown into prominence by the claim of the common law courts to issue prohibitions annulling the action of the ecclesiastical courts. In 1605 Archbishop Bancroft presented to James certain articuli cleri directed against these proceedings, and in November 1607 James, having had an altercation on the subject with Chief-justice Coke, told him ‘he thought that the law was founded on reason, and that he and others had reason as well as the judges.’ On Coke's argument for the supremacy of the law, which practically meant the supremacy of the judges, James replied in heat: ‘Then I shall be under the law, which it is treason to affirm.’ In February 1609 there was a still hotter argument, and in the following July the whole matter was discussed before the king. James expressed his wish to be impartial, but ordered that for the present the issue of prohibitions was to cease.

To maintain the position which he had taken up James needed the strength of popularity behind him, and that he had taken no pains to secure. Moreover, his finance was in a deplorable condition, and when he met parliament for its fourth session, in 1610, Cecil, who was now earl of Salisbury and lord treasurer, as well as secretary of state, attempted to choke the deficit by what was known as the Great Contract, a bargain with the commons by which the king was to sacrifice his feudal revenue, most of which arose from the court of wards, and to receive in return 200,000l. a year. The contract was agreed to in general terms, on the understanding that parliament was to meet again in November to consider the manner in which the new grant was to be raised. The House of Commons would not have proceeded so far as this unless James had been conciliatory in another matter. In 1606 the court of exchequer had decided in Bate's case that the crown had a right to levy impositions—that is to say, customs duties—without a parliamentary grant, and in 1608 Salisbury, taking advantage of this decision, had ordered the levy of new impositions bringing in about 70,000l. a year. In 1610 James agreed to abandon the most burdensome of them, reducing his income from that source, and to consent to a bill declaring illegal all further levying of impositions without consent of parliament, provided that they would confirm by a parliamentary grant those impositions to which he now laid claim. This, too, was left over to the winter session. When that arrived a dispute broke out between the king and the commons on the Great Contract, which was therefore abandoned. Warm language was used in the house, and on 9 Feb.