Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
By Bulstrode Whitelocke (16051675)
MR. JOHN HAMPDEN, my countryman and kinsman, a gentleman of an ancient family in Buckinghamshire, and of a great estate and parts, denied the payment of ship money, as an illegal tax. He often advised in this great business with Holborn, St. John, myself, and others of his friends and council. Several other gentlemen refused the payment of this tax of ship money: whereupon the king was advised by the Lord Chief Justice Finch, and others, to require the opinion of his judges, which he did, stating the case in a letter to them.
After much solicitation by the chief Justice Finch, promising preferment to some, and highly threatening others whom he found doubting, as themselves reported to me, he got from them in answer to the kings letter and case, their opinions in these words:
We are of opinion, that when the good and safety of the kingdom in general is concerned, and the whole kingdom in danger, your majesty may by writ under the great seal of England, command all your subjects of this your kingdom, at their charge, to provide and furnish such number of ships, with men, victuals, and ammunition, and for such time as your majesty shall think fit, for the defence and safeguard of the kingdom, from such peril and danger. And that by law your majesty may compel the doing thereof in case of refusal, or refractoriness. And we are also of opinion, that in such case your majesty is the sole judge, both of the dangers, and when, and how the same is to be prevented and avoided.
This opinion and subscription of the judges, was inrolled in all the courts of Westminster, and much distasted many gentlemen of the country, and of their own profession, as a thing extrajudicial, unusual, and of very ill consequence in this great business, or in any other.
The king, upon this opinion of his judges, gave order for proceeding against Hampden in the exchequer, where he pleaded, and the kings council demurring, the point in law came to be argued for the king by his council, and for Hampden by his council, and afterwards the judges particularly argued this great point at the bench, and all of them (except Hutton and Croke) argued, and gave their judgments for the king.
Judge Croke (of whom I speak knowingly) was resolved to deliver his opinion for the king, and to that end had prepared his argument. Yet a few days before he was to argue, upon discourse with some of his nearest relations, and most serious thoughts of this business, and being heartened by his lady, who was a very good and pious woman, and told her husband upon this occasion, that she hoped he would do nothing against his conscience, for fear of any danger or prejudice to him, or his family; and that she would be contented to suffer want or any misery with him, rather than be an occasion for him to do, or say any thing against his judgment and conscience.
Upon these and many the like encouragements, but chiefly upon his better thoughts, he suddenly altered his purpose and arguments; and when it came to his turn, contrary to expectation, he argued and declared his opinion against the king.
But Hampden, and many others of quality and interest in their countries, were unsatisfied with this judgment, and continued to the utmost of their power in opposition to it; yet could not at that time give any farther stop or hindrance to the prosecution of the business of ship money, but it remained alta mente repostum.1