chapter  4
36 Pages

1621 — 22: ‘The only Author of all Grievances and Oppressions’ ....................................................................................... Parliament: the attack on monopolists 89 Buckingham’s

Monopolies and the like were unacceptable at the best of times, but particularly so in the early 1620s, when the economy was depressed. John Cham-

berlain, commenting in the autumn of 1620 upon reports that the King had decided to summon Parliament, declared that ‘impositions and patents are grown so grievous that of necessity they must be spoken of’. ‘Many new patents come forth,’ he added, ‘and more daily expected.’ He listed some of these — including that for saltpetre (an essential ingredient of gunpowder) which the Earl of Worcester had been more or less compelled to give up ‘by reason of the continual complaints’ but which was ‘not like to be lighter or less burdenous in the Lord of Buckingham’s hands’. Buckingham was not, in fact, a major monopolist in his own right, but he had been responsible for procuring a number of monopoly grants, particularly to his relatives. Indeed, among the new devices that Chamberlain mentioned was one for an office for the probate of wills, the profits from which were to go to Buckingham’s brother, Kit Villiers. Kit was also involved, along with his halfbrother Sir Edward Villiers, in Sir Giles Mompesson’s patent for regulating inns. This was a function which belonged in law to the assize judges, but they were usually too busy to deal with it, and complaints about the large numbers of inns, and the poor management of them, were frequent. Justices of the Peace, who had the requisite local knowledge, were only empowered to deal with ale-houses, not inns, and on the face of it there was much to be said for the idea of setting up a separate office for licensing inns and supervising their management. In practice, however, the patent was a device to make money, for Mompesson cared little who ran the inns, or how many there were, so long as his profits increased. This particular patent became notorious for the abuses with which it was associated, and in November 1620, after a Parliament had definitely been decided on, Bacon wrote to Buckingham suggesting that he should encourage the King to cancel it, along with other patents which were likely to be attacked in the Commons. ‘I thought it appertained to the singular love and affection which I bear you,’ he told the favourite, ‘that your lordship . . . would put off the envy of these things (which I think in themselves bear no great fruit) and rather take the thanks for ceasing them than the note for maintaining them.’1