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received the blow, and, giving him the cutlass, commanded him to chop off the worthless member, which had dared to lift itself against the law. In vain his counsellors and prelates implored forgiveness for the culprit; James was inexorable, and the sentence would have been carried into execution, had not the queen, in an agony of distress, thrown herself at the feet of her husband, who, moved by her tears, consented to change the sentence into banishment. *
It is remarkable, however, what dissimilar qualities were found united in this prince. Prudence, political sagacity, generosity to his friends, courtesy, and even gentleness to those who submitted themselves to his authority, were conspicuous features in his character; and, if distinguished for the inexorable severity with which he pursued the proudest offender, he was no less remarkable for his anxiety to consult the interests of the lowest classes of his subjects, and to give redress to the poorest sufferer. His first endeavours had been directed to the redress of abuses in the administration of justice; but nothing escaped his attention. By the frequency with which he assembled his Parliaments, the barons and prelates were accustomed to the operation of an established and regular government; they were compelled to respect the character of the sovereign, of whose wisdom and vigour they were constant witnesses; and, no longer able to remain for an indefinite period at their castles, where they had been accustomed to live in an independence which owned no superior,
* Fordun a Hearne, vol. iv. pp. 1334, 1335.
they dared no longer to disobey the laws, for the execution of which they were sure, within a short period, to be made personally responsible.
These observations are, however, principally applicable to the highest ranks of the feudal nobility, for the lesser barons appear soon to have complained against the grievance of a too frequent attendance upon Parliament, and this remonstrance led to a change which is well worthy of notice. It was declared in a General Council held at Perth, on the 1st of March, 1427, that the smaller barons and free-tenants who had hitherto been summoned to Parliament, should be excused their attendance, provided from their number there were chosen for each sheriffdom two or more, in proportion to its extent, who should be returned to Parliament as the representatives of the sheriffdom from which they came.
The commissaries or representatives were next directed to elect from their body an expert and able person, to be called the Common Speaker of the Parliament, whose duty it should be to bring forward all cases of importance involving the rights and privileges of the Commons; and it was declared that they should enjoy a delegated power from their constituents, to discuss and determine all such causes involving the rights of the lesser barons, which it might be expedient to bring before the Great Council or Parliament. The expenses of these commissaries were directed to be paid by the electors who owed suit and presence in the Parliament, but were thus excused their attendance, whilst it was added, that this should in no
way interfere with the bishops, abbots, earls, and other lords, who were to be summoned as usual by the king's special precept.* This remarkable law contains the first introduction of the principles of a representative government in Scotland; and, although expressed in brief and simple terms, we can discern in them the rude draught of a Lower House, under the form of a Committee or Assembly of the Commissaries of the Shires, who deliberated by themselves on the various subjects which they thought proper to be brought by their Speaker before the higher court of Parliament. It is thus evident that an institution, which was afterwards to be claimed as the most valuable privilege of every free subject—the right of having a voice, by means of his representative, in the great council of the nation-arose, by a singular contradiction, out of an attempt to avoid it; the lesser barons considered the necessity of attending Parliament an expensive grievance, and the king permitted them to be absent, on condition of their electing a substitute and defraying his expenses.
There were few subjects, in any way connected with the prosperity of the kingdom, which escaped the attention of this monarch; the agriculture, the manufactures, the foreign commerce, the fisheries, the state of the labouring classes, the provision regarding the increase of pauperism, the prices of manufactured commodities, and of labour, all were included in his inquiries, and became the subject of parliamentary enactment, if not always of parliamentary wisdom. It was
* Acts of Parliament of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 16, c. 2.
made incumbent upon the farmers and husbandmen, and the greater barons, that they should annually sow a stated proportion of grain, pease, and beans, under a fixed penalty; a provision was introduced for the repair of the castles, fortalices, and manor places, which had been allowed to fall into decay in the remoter mountainous districts of the kingdom; the transportation of bullion out of the realm was strictly prohibited; four times in the year regular days were appointed in each barony for hunting the wolves, and a reward fixed for every wolf's whelp which should be brought in, whilst the tenantry were enjoined, under a heavy penalty, to assist their masters in the extirpation of such noxious animals.
In these homely but not unenlightened cares for the prosperity ofhis kingdom, James was interrupted by a second embassy from France, to arrange more definitely the preliminaries for the marriage of the Princess Margaret with the Dauphin. At this moment the Scottish king was little able to advance a dowry suitable to the rank of the royal bride; for his revenues were still impoverished by the dilapidations of Albany and the payment of the heavy debt incurred during his detention in England. But the circumstances of France rendered men more acceptable than money; James agreed to send to that country a force of six thousand soldiers, in transports to be furnished by Charles the Seventh. In return, the Scottish princess was to be provided in an income as ample as any hitherto settled upon
of France, and the county of Xaintonge and lordship of Rochfort were made over in property to her royal father.
It is by no
means improbable, that a jealousy on the part of England, of this intimate connexion with their enemy, led to a proposal of Cardinal Beaufort, at this time the leading person in the English government, for a personal interview with James, but it was declined. The monarch deemed it beneath his dignity to confer in person with a subject, although he declared his anxiety that the amicable relations of the two kingdoms should be inviolably preserved.
His attention to the interests of the poorer classes has been already noticed; and in a Parliament held at Perth in April, 1429, a new proof of this was given, which, as leading to one of the most important rights of the subject, deserves attention. It had not escaped the notice of the king, that a fertile source of distress to the poorer tenantry, and the labourers of the soil, arose from the right possessed by their landlords, of expelling them from their farms whenever they chose to grant a lease of the estate to a new proprietor. This hardship James was anxious to remove; but he was compelled also to respect the customary law of the land; and by it such was then the miserable condition of a great proportion of the lower classes in Scotland, that their over-lord had a right to remove and dispose of them as if they were little better than the cattle upon his property. It was beyond the power of the prince at once to raise them from this degraded state, but he remonstrated with his prelates and barons, upon the evil consequences of its continuance, and he at least paved the way for its removal, by making it a request to them, (which, coming from