At the state opening on 19 Feb. 1593 the Lord Keeper Sir John Puckering stressed the ‘weightie and urgent causes of this present tyme’, principally the ongoing threat of Spanish invasion, and the queen’s ‘extraordinarye and most excessive expenses’ as the reasons for summoning this Parliament despite Elizabeth being generally ‘most loth’ to do so. She bade him instruct both Houses ‘only to conferre upon speedie and effectuall remedies against these great and fearse dangers, and not to spend the tyme in devising of new lawes and statutes; whereof there is already so great store’. Solicitor-general Edward Coke was appointed Speaker, and in response to his customary request for freedom of speech Elizabeth granted the Commons ‘liberall but not licentious speech, libertie therefore, but with dew limitacion’, and furthermore charged Coke to decline ‘any bill that passeth the reach of a subiecte’s brayne’.1 We have two private accounts of this Parliament: the journal of an anonymous Member which survives in several copies, and a recently discovered diary kept by George Strode, MP for Wareham.2 On the first full day of business, 26 Feb., a standing committee for privileges and returns was appointed upon a motion by Robert Wroth; this became standard practice in Parliaments thereafter.
Contrary to Elizabeth’s commandment an experienced troublemaker Peter Wentworth approached Puckering on 24 Jan. with a petition and bill ‘for intayling the [royal] succession’, which he proposed might be presented to the queen jointly by both Houses. For this he was sent to the Tower, wherein he had been incarcerated between Aug. 1591-Feb. 1592 for writing a tract on the succession. Four other Members involved in Wentworth’s scheme were also imprisoned in the Fleet for the duration of the session.3 Much greater disturbance was caused by James Morice, who a few days later delivered a ‘long premeditated speach’ introducing two bills ‘against the bushoppes’ jurisdiction’. The diarist Strode greatly sympathized with Morice, as did many other Members; even the aged privy councillor Sir Francis Knollys called for the bills to be read. Nevertheless Speaker Coke refused and instead delivered a reprimand from Elizabeth, who was ‘heightlie offended’ and re-iterated her orders that the Commons should not ‘medle in matters of state or in causes ecclesiasticall’. Morice underwent a thorough cross-examination in which he admitted that he had been approached by Wentworth but refused to endorse the latter’s petition. Although unrepentant about his own speech he was spared the fate of his colleague and instead held under house arrest until after the end of the Parliament.4 Wroth’s attempt on 10 Mar. to secure the release of all detained Members was ignored.5
The dangers posed by Spain were set out again at greater length on 26 Jan. by privy councillors Robert Cecil, John Wolley, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir John Fortescue who all moved for the appointment of a subsidy drafting committee.6 A bill had already been read that morning containing harsh measures against recusancy that were perhaps intended as much to raise revenue as to induce religious conformity. As well as confiscating the lands and goods of convicted Catholic recusants, barring them from public office, and committing their children into wardship, it was proposed to extend certain penalties to any other nonconformists who ‘doth nott com to Churche’ for reasons ‘of conscience and religion’. This caused such heated debate at subsequent readings that it was decided upon a division to refer the bill to a general committee held in the Parliament house, an early instance of the ‘committee of the whole House’ that became an established procedure during the early seventeenth century.7 The Commons agreed on 28 Feb. to vote two subsidies and four fifteenths; however, the Lords sent word on 2 Mar. that this was inadequate. Despite the best efforts of Cecil and his father Lord Treasurer Burghley in the Lower and Upper Houses respectively the result was a major row that dominated proceedings for a week, including accusations of tale-telling and infringement of the ancient liberties of the Commons. It was eventually ‘resolved gladlie and cherefullie’ to offer three subsidies and six fifteenths, although several Members objected to the wording of the subsidy bill’s preamble that promised they would prostrate ‘our selves, our lyves, and landes at her Majestie’s feet’.8
The Commons’ general committee for the recusants bill after great deliberation produced a new measure that was first read on 12 Mar. but then became imbroiled in further wrangling with the Lords. With the session running out of time Cecil managed to secure a conference on 8 Apr. at which a compromise was agreed. The anonymous Commons diarist commented after it had passed that the resulting bill was ‘intended against Brownestes only’, meaning Protestant nonconformist ‘conventiclers’, and had been pushed through by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift. It was supplemented by an anti-Catholic measure from the Lords ‘for reducing recusantes to some certaine place of aboad’; both were finally enacted as separate statutes.9 Cecil was also prominent in promoting a bill for relief of maimed soldiers that eventually passed after extensive modification.10 At the dissolution Elizabeth scolded the Commons for their ‘irreverence’ shown towards privy councillors, and cautioned Members against discussing politics outside the House, saying that she ‘would not have her people feared with reporte of great danger, but rather encoraged to boldenesse against the enemyes of this state’. A total of 14 public and 13 private statutes received the royal assent.
For further information on this Parliament, see the Appendix to the 1558-1603 Introductory Survey.
Ref Volumes: 1558-1603
Author: Rosemary Sgroi
- 1. Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I, ed. T.E. Hartley, iii. 14-22.
- 2. Strode’s manuscript, Bodleian Library Dep. e. 468, remains unpublished.
- 3. Procs. iii. 68.
- 4. Procs. iii. 30-49, 52-3, 76-80, 83-5.
- 5. Procs. iii. 120-1.
- 6. Procs. iii. 23-7, 71-5.
- 7. Procs. iii. 50-1, 69-70, 80-2.
- 8. Procs. iii. 54-7, 82-114; 122-4.