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wise and salutary purposes, was, in the end, like the evoking the spirit of mischief without a corresponding power in reserve to lay it, or check its excesses if inclined to abuse its authority. Instead, therefore, of its power becoming weaker, as the occasion which called it into being passed away, it continued to draw to itself new elements of strength, while it enlarged the extent of its jurisdiction and the sphere of its action. It is not easy at this day to trace the steps through which it attained the summit of its power, though it is not difficult to understand how it could be made a most potent engine of despotic rule and bigoted intolerance in the hands of ambitious leaders and unscrupulous prelates, such as flourished during the reigns of Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and the first two Stuarts. In the 21st of Henry VII., the President of the Council was added to this court, showing that hitherto the two bodies had been kept distinct in their action. It underwent changes during the administration of Wolsey, and in the time of James, we are told, all the peers had acquired a right somehow to sit as members of this court; and Barrington states the number of its judges at from twenty-six to forty-two. Sir Thomas Smith also states that Cardinal Wolsey greatly extended its powers, in order to curb some of the nobility in the north of England, and that in his time those who were prosecuted in this court were generally too stout for the ordinary course of justice. It was not, however, a court of exclusively criminal jurisdiction, though it was chiefly in the exercise of its criminal powers that it has come down in history to the present day. The Lord Chancellor usually presided at its meetings, though instances occurred, especially during the reign of James, when the king himself sat and presided at the trials of cases.
One of the strangest circumstances that gave to the crown a hold and control over the action of this court was, that all its principal officers received their appointment and held their place by the power of the king, while the odium of an unjust judgment before the public was divided among a large and numerous body of judges. Nor were the proceedings of the court so far public as to render the action of any particular member obnoxious to public censure.
The mode of its proceedings, moreover, was particularly well adapted to the purposes of injustice and unfair advantage. One of the most important rights secured to an Englishman by the common law was, that he should not be obliged to accuse himself in a court of justice, if charged with the commission of a crime. Torture, which was in its very nature repugnant to the spirit of the common law, and only to a limited extent obtained a place in the administration of justice in England, was often resorted to to compel confession in the courts of the Continent. But, in utter violation of this cherished right, the Star Chamber required the party charged with an offence to answer fully in relation to the same, upon oath, to interrogatories the most searching and inquisitorial. In the account which we have of the prosecution of Lilburne, a famous Puritan in the time of Charles I., the proceedings seem to have commenced with interrogatories designed to extort from him a confession of the very matters upon which they intended to found the charges upon which he was to be tried. When called before this body, though but a young man, hardly twenty years of age, he was set upon by all manner of threats and suggestions by the various members of the court, to induce him to submit to the oath. He resolutely refused to answer; and was whipped, branded, and committed to close prison, and denied all access to his friends, upon the ground that, by such refusal, he had been guilty of a contempt of court.
We may have occasion to recur to this case again, and have referred to it here as illustrating this part of the mode of prosecuting offenders in this court. Another objectionable feature in its mode of investigating causes was in the form of examining witnesses. In carrying out the spirit of trial by jury, all proceedings are in open court, including the examination of witnesses in the presence of the parties and of the jurors, who are to weigh the degree of credit to which they are entitled. Every one familiar at all with the trial of causes knows how vastly superior in eliciting the truth is such an oral examination of witnesses in the presence of the court to an ex parte one taken in the form of depositions. And yet the latter was the mode in which all evidence was taken which was submitted to this court. Indeed, so open is such a course of proceeding to censure and reproach, that a writer who was himself a practitioner in this court, and sufficiently disposed to eulogize it wherever it could claim any advantage or superiority over others, remarks: “Now, concerning the persons of witnesses examined in court, it is a great imputation to our English courts that witnesses are privately
produced, and how base or simple soever they be, although they be tested diabolases, yet they make as good a sound, being read out of paper, as the best. Yea, though a lewd and beggarly fellow take upon him the name and person of an honest man, and he be privately examined, this may be easily overpassed, and not easily found out." This obvious violation of the first principle of justice seems to have been tolerated to its full extent for more than a hundred years, when Lord Ellesmere, as chancellor, passed an order by which every witness who was to be examined in court should be showed to the attorney of the other side, and his name and place of abode delivered, to the end that he might be known to be the same person, and that the other side might examine him if he pleased. But he might not, at any time, examine as to the credit of the witnesses offered against him, or notify the court what their condition was as to credibility ; " for that causes being for the king, if witnesses' lives should be so ripped up, no man would willingly be produced to testify.” And so far was this principle carried in favor of the crown, that it was held by “ many of the circuits of judges,” that “a witness for the king, upon an indictment, shall not be questioned for perjury; yea, this court hath ordered a great reward to witnesses in this court, by yielding their testimonies for the king ;” or, in other words, one of the usual modes of corrupting the fountains of justice in this court was by means of hired informers, who might commit perjury with impunity.
The tendency of a court thus constituted, and thus irresponsible, was to extend its jurisdiction and arrogate to itself new powers; and so far was this practically carried, that it was difficult to draw any line short of crimes that were capital, which limited the class or character of offences against the power or prerogative of the government, of which this court did not take cognizance. Nor would it allow any one to question its authority. By the rules of the court, it seems, whoever was charged with an offence was required to put in an answer to the information against him in writing, signed by two counsel ; and, unless this rule was complied with, it was deemed to be a confession of the charge, although the defendant was himself in court, and orally denied his guilt. Thus in the case of the famous Prynne, whose treatment in this court will be further noticed, he offered his answer signed by one of his counsel, and applied to the court to have it allowed, with the addition of his own signature, on the ground that his other counsel was afraid to sign it, lest he might thereby incur the censure of the court. But he was denied this privilege, and, for contempt in not filing his reply signed by both his counsel, the information was taken pro confe880, and the court proceeded to pass sentence upon him accordingly. It has been the pride and glory of the profession in courts of common law, that, with rare exceptions, counsel have been found willing and bold enough to stand by a party charged with an offence, and to sustain his rights, even against the insolence of power or the exasperated passions of the populace, wherever the right of employing counsel has been recognized by law. Curran's memory is indelibly associated with the bold and eloquent defence of the Irish patriots, and the trial of the British soldiers for the part they took in the so-called “ Boston massacre,” in 1770, is a memorable instance of the power of argument and persuasion on the part of legal counsel in successfully maintaining the cause of justice against the clamor of the public and the passions of a jury.
There were, as has already been stated, counsel admitted to practise in the Star Chamber, and without their aid, it would seem from the cases reported, a party could not be heard even in his own defence. But the seeming advantage which was thus accorded to the accused, was, at times, more than neutralized by the acts of intimidation by which the court suppressed every thing like a free exercise of this privilege of counsel. Thus it is stated that in Prynne's case, who was complained of in connection with two others, his counsel, Mr. Holt, prepared his answer, but refused to sign it, “ saying he had an express order to the contrary.” He did, however, sign the answer of one of the parties accused, and, upon its being alleged that it was “scandalous," it was referred to the two Chief Justices, Brampton and Finch, when Finch “ reviled Holt exceedingly, and told him he ought to have his gown pulled over his ears for drawing it," although, in fact, “ it was only a confession or explanation of the charge in the bill, and a recital of acts of Parliament."
This, however, was but in keeping with the general course of dealing of this court with any one who presumed to question their power, or throw obstacles in the way of accomplishing their purposes. Thus we have three instances reported of counsel questioning the jurisdiction of this court, by insisting by way of demurrer, as it was called, that the matter upon which they were assuming to act was not within the subject-matter delegated to them by the act of Henry VII. One of these was the case of Mr. Plowden, whose age and standing probably sheltered him from any thing more than a refusal to consider the objection. In another, the counsel was pardoned on account of his youth and inexperience. But in the third, the Sergeant was sharply rebuked by the court for such a flagrant violation of the dignity of the court, as to question the extent of its power. The case of Fuller is still more remarkable. He was a bencher of Gray's Inn, and was employed to sue out a writ of habeas corpus to test the validity of a warrant from the High Commission court, by which two Puritans were imprisoned for refusing to take a certain oath. For this he was, at Bancroft's instigation, imprisoned by the Star Chamber, and lay in jail till his death. Whitelock, a barrister, and afterwards a judge, having given a private opinion to a client, that a certain commission issued by the crown was illegal, was brought before this court for contempt and slandering the king's prerogative, and was only let off upon making a humble submission.
Such, in general terms, were the constitution and powers of this famous court; and, when we come to examine its proceedings in particular cases, we shall find that they were such as might naturally be expected under a corrupt and despotic government, from judges acting directly under the eye of the monarch. But, before considering these, it is proper to say a few words upon the name of the court itself. A great deal has been written upon this subject, and writers are, to this day, divided upon the question. The more commonly received notion has been, what is probably true, that it took its name from the chamber in which its sittings were held, the ceiling of which, it is said, was ornamented with stars. Hence the name camera stellata. Blackstone, however, states that there were no stars remaining there in the time of Elizabeth. Others have found the origin of the term in the fact that, by a law prior to Edward I., the contracts of the Jews, called “starrs,” were deposited in the exchequer of the king, in Westminster, in chests or boxes, in the chamber or apartment in which this court used to assemble. Others trace it to the Saxon word steran, to steer or rule, “ as doth the pilot," in