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fullest and most authentic evidence, and that which comes nearest to the times in question, is to be found in the records published by Sir Harris Nicolas.
"They appear to have been summoned (he says) whenever affairs of greater moment occurred than the 'Continual Council' thought proper to determine, but were not of such a nature or such a degree of importance as to render it advisable to bring them before Parliament." The Peers spiritual and temporal were considered as belonging to the Great Council of 66 course; Lords of the Great Council appears to have been one of their titles. And it is probable that in ordinary cases it was composed (according to Mr. Hallam's conjecture; "Middle Ages" vol. iii. p. 213.) of these alone, in conjunction with the members of the "Continual" Council. But it is certain that on some special occasions many commoners were joined with them; specially selected from various qualities, professions, and localities, according to the nature of the question in debate. Thus, in the second year of Henry the Fourth, on the 20th of July, 1401, letters were addressed to the "Continual Council," commanding them (pour certaines chargeantes matires touchantes nous et notre roiaume) to summon all the Prelates, Earls, and Barons of the realm, and from four to eight of the most sufficient and discreet Knights of each County, to attend a Council at Westminster on the Feast of the Assumption next ensuing. And a second letter was addressed to them on the following day commanding that a certain number of Esquires should be likewise summoned to attend this Council. The object was as was done claus. 27. E. 3. m. 12. dors upon the making of the ordinance of the staple. But this magnum consilium had nothing of legislative power nor jurisdiction; and therefore the ordinances of the staple were after enacted by Parliament to supply the defect of a law. I never yet saw any private petition, or footsteps of jurisdiction exercised by such a Grand Council. These Grand Councils have been rarely summoned of late years; businesses of state being usually despatched by the Privy Council, and if of very great importance in Parliament. The only Grand Council that hath been in my remembrance was that at York, at the coming in of the Scots.". Hale's Jurisdiction of the House of Lords, chap. 2. § 3.
to have their advice with regard to the war with France; and it appears from a list annexed that the Council was attended by about 150 Knights and Esquires, besides the Lords spiritual and temporal. (See Proceedings and Ordinances of the P. C. vol. i. p. 155., and Rymer viii. 213.)
Again, a minute of Council dated the 7th of March, 1442-3, (21 Hen. 6.) directs that there be "made letters under privy seal to all the King's freemen, and also to the King's Great Council, to be with the King in his Great Council at Westminster at the 15th of Pasque, all excusations ceasing, for the good of his realm, lordships, and subjects." (Proceedings and Ordinances, v. p. 237.) The occasion of this was also a French war.
I have selected these two instances as containing the most distinct mention that I can find of the summoning of persons who were not members of the King's Council by rank or office, and of their character and quality. In other cases they are less distinctly mentioned as "et plusieurs autres," or "et aliorum ad illud convocatorum." In others, and indeed in the majority, there are no traces of the presence of any persons besides the Lords and the members of the Continual Council. The questions on which they were summoned to advise and deliberate were not always questions of peace and war. Sometimes it was a question of raising money; as in the first year of Henry the Fourth, when in order to avoid the necessity of calling a Parliament and taxing the Commons, it was agreed that the Peers themselves should grant the King an aid, and that letters of Privy Seal should be sent to all the Abbots for the same purpose. (See Vol. I. p. 102.) And again in the third year of Henry the Fifth, when the Lords temporal, who had undertaken in a previous Parliament to do the King service in his wars upon certain terms of payment, consented to allow him a longer day for the payment, considering that the supplies granted by Parliament for the purpose could not be levied soon enough. (II. p. 150.) In the seventh year of Henry the Sixth, a
Great Council was summoned to advise upon a proposal that the King should be crowned in France, and also upon the means of supplying a deficiency in the revenue. In his ninth year a Great Council was summoned to advise upon the expediency of calling a Parliament. (IV. p. 67.) In the next year the question of the salary of the Lieutenant of England was referred to a Great Council. (IV. p. 105.) In his twelfth year, a proposal having been made for peace with Scotland by marriage of the King with one of the Scottish King's daughters, and the Continual Council having considered the proposition, but not liking to give advice on a matter of such weight, referred it to the King's uncles; who in their turn "doubting greatly to take upon them sole so great a charge," requested that a "Great Council" might be called to deliberate upon it. (IV. p. 191.) The minutes of the Council which was called in consequence (IV. 210–213.) and which met soon after the siege of Orleans and the beginning of the English reverses in France, make no mention of this subject; but of a dispute between the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester, and a question as to the ways and means of raising 40 or 50,000l. for carrying on the war, according to a proposition of the Duke of Bedford. In the sixteenth year of Edward the Fourth, Sir John Paston informs his correspondent (vol. ii. p. 205.) that "yesterday began the Great Council; to which all the estates of the land shall come but if it be for great and reasonable excuses. And I suppose the. chief cause of this assembly is to commune what is best to do now upon the great change by the death of the Duke of Burgoyne and for the keeping of Calais and the marches, and for the preservation of the amities taken late as well with France as now with the members of Flanders."
It is clear therefore that the reference to a “Great Couneil" of such questions as formed the subject of deliberation on the three occasions to which my conjecture refers was quite according to precedent. It would appear moreover from the minutes that the proceedings always began with a
speech by the Chancellor, setting forth the questions upon which they were called to deliberate and advise. So that in all but the name and the account of laws passed (which were in fact passed by the Parliament that met just before or just after), Bacon's narrative may be a correct report of the proceeding in each case.
Perkyn Werbecks his Proclamation
published in the time of his Rebellion in the beginning of the Reign of H. 7.
RICHARD by the grace of God King of England and of France, Lord of Ireland, Prince of Wales, to all those that these our present letters shall see hear or read, and to every of them, greeting: and whereas we in our tender age escaped by God's might out of the tower of London, and were secretly conveyed over the sea into other divers countries, there remaining certain years as unknown; in the which season it happened one Henry, son to Edmund Tydder, Earl of Richmond created, son to Owen Tydder, of low birth, in the country of Wales, to come from France and entered into this our realm; and by subtle false means to obtain the crown of the same unto us of right appertaining; which Henry is our extreme and mortal enemy as soon as he had knowledge of our being one live, imagined, compassed and wrought all the subtle ways and means he could devise to our
1 Harl. MSS. 283. fo. 123. b. "The original of this, in an old written hand, is in the hands of Sir Robert Cotton; 18 August, 1616." — Note in the hand of the transcriber.
final destruction, insomuch as he hath not only falsely surmised us to be a feigned person, giving us nicknames so abusing your minds, but also to defer and put us from our entry into this our realm, hath offered large sums of money to corrupt the princes in every land and country and that we have been retained with and made importune labour to certain of our servants about our person some of them to murder our person, us [sic] and other to forsake and leave our righteous quarrel, and to depart from our service, as by Sir Robert Clifford and others was verified and openly proved, and to bring his cursed and malicious intent aforesaid to his purpose he hath subtilly and by crafty means levied outrageous and importable sums of moneys upon the whole body of our realm, to the great hurt and impoverishing of the same all which subtle and corrupt labours by him made to our great jeopardy and peril, we have by God's might graciously escaped and overpassed, as well by land as by sea, and be now with the right high and mighty prince our dearest cousin the King of Scots, which without any gift or other thing by him desyred or demanded to the prejudice or hurt of us our crown or realm, hath full lovingly and kindly retained us, by whose aid and supportation we in proper person be now by God's grace entered into this our realm of England, where we shall shew ourselves openly unto you, also confounding our foresaid enemy in all his false sayings and also every man of reason and discretion may well understand that him needed not to have made the foresaid costages and importune labour if we had been such a feigned person as he untruly surmiseth, ascertaining you how the mind and intent of the foresaid noble prince our dearest cousin is, if that he may find or see our subjects and natural liege people according to right and the duty of their allegiance resort lovingly unto us with such power as by their puissance shall move, [sic, nowe?] be able of likelyhood to distress and subdue our enemies, he is fully set and determined to return home again quietly with his people into his own land, without doing or