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what can be eafier than to reply, that it can be accounted for only by the credulity of mankind. So if any inquifitive perfon fhould defire to be informed of the caufe of the oppofite impreffions, which feem indelibly fixed on the minds of the public, refpecting the characters and conduct of thefe fucceffive Sovereigns, the anfwer is equally ready, it is whim, caprice, and fashion. As I have, from my earliest recollection, been accustomed to hold the name and memory of Elizabeth in the utmost esteem and veneration, I cannot now adopt other sentiments, without feeling a reluctance, which, that it may not appear altogether the effect of prejudice, I fhall attempt in fome degree to account for, and juftify, by a general review of the leading features of her political character and administration, contrafted with thofe of her fucceffors of the house of Stuart.
During the civil contests which so long prevailed between the rival houses of York and Lancaster, the regal authority, irregular as the exertions of it fometimes appear, was fubjected to a variety of import ant and falutary restraints. As the one or the other party prevailed, popular laws were enacted, in order to acquire and preferve the good will of the nation, which the opposite faction, when in power, could not venture to repeal; and in the reign of Edward IV Lord Fortefcue was able to demonstrate, in striking colours, the superiority of the English conftitution and government, compared
with thofe of the furrounding nations *; which indeed was fufficiently manifest from the reign of our English Juftinian, Edward I. In the fhort period that Richard III. held the fceptre, many excellent political regulations were made. And when the battle of Bofworth placed Henry VII. upon the throne, he endeavoured, at least for fome years, to recommend himself to the nation, who, were in general much attached to the house of York, by fimilar means; though it must be confeffed that, upon the whole, the authority of the monarch was during this reign confiderably augmented, the difcretionary jurifdiction of the Court of Star Chamber being much enlarged, and the power of the aristocracy in a great measure broken; and towards the latter end of the reign of his fucceffor, by a remarkable concurrence of causes, the royal prerogative had established itself, to appearance, above all control; but in proportion as thofe adventitious circumstances
*«Non poteft rex Angliæ ad libitum fuum leges mutare regni fui. Principatu namque nodum regali, fed et politico ipfe fuo populo dominatur. Si regali tantum præeffet eis, leges regni fui mutare ille poffet; tallagia quoque et cætera onera eis imponere, ipfis inconfultis; quale dominium denotant leges civiles cum dicant, "Quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem." Sed longè aliter poteft lex politicè imperans genti fuæ, quia nec leges ipfe fine fubditorum affenfu mutare poterit, nec fubjectum populum retinentem onerare impofitionibus peregrinis: quare populus ejus liberè fruetur bonis fuis: legibus quas cupit regulatus, nec per regem aut quemvis alium depilatur." FORTESCUE, DE LEG. ANG.
which had occafioned this extraordinary exaltation disappeared, new limits were fet to the power of the crown; and during the minority of Edward VI. the constitution was, in a great measure, restored; and, notwithstanding the violence of religious perfecution in the fucceeding reign, the parliament gave fignal proofs of its attention to the fecurity and preservation of the civil privileges of the nation; and Queen Elizabeth, at her acceffion, found herself in poffeffion of a crown, invested indeed with ample and fplendid, and in fome measure indefinite, powers; but these powers were to be exercised over fubjects poffeffing privileges of the most important nature: fome of them of high antiquity, of the value of which they were perfectly fenfible, and which nothing fhort of the most outrageous violence could deprive them of. It may even be affirmed, that the condition of the lower claffes of people was at that time, in many respects, preferable to what it now is.
In the middle of the fixteenth century the feudal system was expiring, villanage was virtually abolished, and all orders of men enjoyed the protection and benefit of the fame general system of laws. In those days juftices of the peace were not, as at prefent, a fort of cadies, the objects of dread and terror to the furrounding villages; nor were there game laws, or poor laws, or revenuelaws at that time exifting, to be made the inftruments of tyranny, oppreffion, or revenge. The liberty and property of the higher ranks were effectually fecured by the equitable and fimple maxims of the common law, aided by the establifhed
blished forms of judicial proceedings, and by many wife and falutary ftatutes; and though it was not at that period fuppofed poffible to fupport the authority of government, without exercifing, upon certain occafions, a degree of difcretionary power, which in the prefent advanced ftate of fociety would juftly excite the higheft alarm; yet, as this interference, comparatively fpeaking, did not often occur, and only in cafes which were fuppofed more immediately to affect the fafety of government, it did not in fact give any great fhock to the general fystem of liberty; and the arbitrary acts of the council, or the Star Chamber, while a firm confidence in the wisdom and juftice of the government prevailed, did not more disturb the public tranquillity, than the eccentric motions of comets interrupt the general order and harmony of the folar fyftem. The itinerant judges, and the courts in Westminster Hall, were the ufual and regular channels through which juftice and judgment were distributed to the whole kingdom; and every true and loyal fubject, to use the words of the great dramatic bard, could" in her days eat in fafety,"
"Under his own vine, what he planted, and fing "The merry fongs of peace to all his neighbours."
This princefs fucceeded her fifter, the deteftable Mary, at a very critical period. The nation was divided between two powerful and implacable religious factions, and moreover involved in a war with France, equally unpopular and unfuccefs→ ful; her title was by many thought questionable. She was deftitute of foreign alliances, and even of the fupport
fupport of any perfons eminently distinguished for authority or influence at home. In this precarious fituation, her great dependence was on the fidelity and affection of her people; thefe fhe refolved by every means in her power to cultivate and her fuccefs was equal to the highest expectations fhe could form.-The English nation, with lifhed forms of judicial proceedings, and by many all that ardour and generofity which conftitute a diftinguished part of their character, repaid her attention and folicitude for their welfare, with an affection and gratitude which knew no bounds; and, in the warmth of mutual confidence, and mutual attachment, it was fcarcely perceived that the extenfive and undefined powers of the crown were incompatible with the liberty of the fubject, or that the neceffary fecurity of that liberty loudly called for a diminution or circumfcription of that prerogative which they faw exercifed fo much to the advantage of the public. As the limits of this effay do not allow me to enter into a chronologiċal review of this remarkable reign, in order to preferve fome degree of method, I fhall mention feveral particulars, in which the political character and conduct of Elizabeth differ very effentially from those of her immediate fucceffors.
And, ft, Nothing can be more evident, throughout the whole courfe of her reign, than her conftant and anxious folicitude that all her political tranfactions fhould have the ftamp and fanction of national approbation. Her great popularity is fometimes represented as the D 4 effect