Friday, 29 June 2012

Be this Cicero reborn?

Harbottle Grimston was the eldest surviving son of Sir Harbottle Grimston Bt of Bradfield Hall, Manningtree in Essex, near the town of Colchester. Grimston had been elected one of the MPs for Colchester in April 1640 in the parliament that ran until May 5th that year, and is known as the Short Parliament.

Charles I had dissolved parliament in 1629 and instigated what became known as personal rule, which he maintained until April 1640. During this period, as you can imagine, a lot of grievances built up and so when parliament was recalled, because Charles had run out of ways to raise money, parliament presented him with the Grand Remonstrance.

The reason Charles had recalled parliament was so he could be granted the funds to fight the Bishops War, which was an attempt by the Scottish church to resist the reform of its Presbyterianism system. Although Scotland was still nominally independent at this time, because Charles' father, James I, had also been King of Scotland (James VI) they shared a single monarch.

Therefore there was an inevitable clash between the desires of the King and parliament, and as agreement seemed impossible, Charles dissolved the House after only three weeks.

The title of this blog is inspired by a poem written in the 17th century and published in the Essex Review as part of an article on the Essex Petition of 1679-80. Entitled 'The Essex Ballad' it is a tale of Essex, and more specifically Colchester, with its references to oysters, the Dutch and bays. The second and third verses read:

The Squire, whose Name does famous grow
As Marcus Tullius Cicero
And keeps true time with Sir A________ _______ A___________

As freely gave himself his hand.
As once his Voice to rule the Land
By such as should not understand
Too rashly.

The author believes the squire mentioned to be Harbottle Grimston, who like Cicero had been a lawyer,  before he entered parliament. Marcus Tullius Cicero had been a Roman statesman noted for his oration, and also a rebel in his own way, so the allusion is perhaps doubly apt.

As a new MP in 1640 Grimston had a reputation to gain, and having taken the parliamentary side in the arguments regarding supply versus grievances, and like Cicero, he used his speaking skills to attack the organs of the state, particualarly the advisors to the King. The poem, if it is Grimston, probably refers to a speech made in 1679 protesting against an action of Charles II, but you'll have to read the book to find out about that, unless nobody wants to publish it of course.

Grimston had made a number of interventions since parliament's recall by Charles I, but his first really noted one came in 1641, when he spoke in a debate in which he accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of high treason.

Throughout the period of personal rule, Laud had been one of Charles' key advisers, and this, for puritans such as Grimston was a problem. One of their greatest grievances was a belief that Charles and Laud wanted to return England to Catholicism. Although untrue, what they they did like was ceremony and glamour, and their high church faith which included many Catholic element, which they believed was driven by arminianism.

But I am not intending to give a history of these arguments, they are stated in great detail elsewhere, and I will save my views on it all for the book. However, to Grimston these accusations put William Laud amongst the worst possible men. Some of Grimston's ire may well have been driven by his father suffering imprisonment for refusing to pay ship money (a tax Charles used to raise funds during his personal rule), but as we look at the speech, we can perhaps see where his reputation came from?

The previous day, a House committee had agreed to sequester the Archbishop, but as Grimston began he wished to, "offer my reasons, why I concieve it more necessary we should proceed a little further than the desire of bare sequestration only."

But early into his speech, Harbottle Grimston tells us exactly what he thinks of Archbishop Laud:

We are now fallen upon the great man, the Archbishop of Canterbury; look upon him as he is in highness, and he is the sty of all pestilential filth, that hath infested the state and government of this commonwealth. Look upon him in his dependencies, and he is the only man, the only man who hath raised and advanced, that together with himself, have been the authors and causers of all our ruins, miseries and calamities we now groan under.

The members sitting in the chamber can have had no doubt what Grimton's intentions were, and as he followed this with an excoriating attack on those that Laud had promoted to positions of prominence, the 'popish bishops.'

The men advanced were not, of course, Catholic, but to puritans such as Grimston (Pym, Prynne, Hampden and others you will hear of in the book) their love of splendour and ritual meant they were not followers of the true faith.

He accuses them of 'devouring the flock' when they should have fed them, although this includes a convenient amnesia regarding the actions of Henry VIII and Edward VI when he said:

It was the happiness of our church, when the zeal of God's house eat up the bishops, glorious and brave martyrs, that went to the stake in the defence of the protestant religion, but the zeal of the bishops hath only been to persecute and eat up the church.

To the puritans, this percieved attack on the church was the most important of their battles. Although there were many other grievances that had been stated in the Grand Remonstrance, it was this that was galvanising them into action.

However, Grimston cleverly extends the insidious reach of Laud into trade, particularly that of tobacco, and how it was affecting the day to day lives of those employed in the trade, and was causing people to lose livelihoods they'd been in since apprentices. Grimston is accusing Laud of spending more of his time raking in money from this trade, rather than in the pulpit.

There were few rules guiding 'unparliamentary' language in those days (indeed it was actually illegal to record debates, but many did by various methods), and so Grimston's attack on Laud became even more vociferous. He gets into his stride as he expounds:

Mr Speaker, we know what he hath been charged withal in this House, crimes of a dangerous consequence, and of a transcendent nature, no less than the subversion of the government of this kingdom, and the alteration of the protestant religion.

The assault is relantless as Grimston says that there is 'clear and manifest proof' that Laud's hand is present in every complaint and grievance, and he was like a buzzing and angry wasp, "his sting is in the tail of everything."

After this build up, there was only one place Grimston had left to go:

Mr Speaker, he hath been the great and common enemy of all goodness, and good men, and it is not safe that he should be near His Majesty's person, to distil his poison into his sacred ears, nor is it fit for the commonwealth that he fit in so eminent a place in government, being thus accused....This man is a corrupt fountain, that hath corrupted all the streams, and until the fountain be purged, we can never expect, nor hope to have clear channels.

Then comes the killer blow:

I concieve it is most necessary and fit that we should take up a resolution to do somewhat, to strike while the iron is hot, and to go up to the Lords...and accuse him of high treason..

The Archbishop of Canterbury was indeed subsequently imprisoned in the Tower, and eventually executed in 1645. Although there were other speeches that day in support of Grimston's motion, his was almost certainly the clinching argument.

At the opening of this blog, I posted a couple of verses from a poem, in which a man, believed by the author to be Grimston, was compared to Cicero because of his oratorical skills.Whilst having read many Harbottle Grimston speeches during my research, and agreeing he was a good speaker capable of making points in a powerful way, he lacked the rhetorical flourishes that resound down the ages:

Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

“For books are more than books, they are the life, the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.” 

“What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage. The mere act of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious.” 

So I think we can say the anonymous author of the poem was using poetic licence in comparing Harbottle Grimston to Marcus Tullius Cicero, what he did do, was draw attention to a man whose rhetoric made a great impact in his time.

With this speech Grimston cemented his place amongst the leading lights of the Parliamentary Party, and he was placed on many of the House's most important committees, including chairing some of them. The next taster will deal with the commission which was sent to the Isle of Wight to try and negotiate with Charles, and end the first war, of which Grimston was a member.


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