Parliament's Views on Monopolies and the 'Golden Speech'

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Monopolies and the Golden Speech
Among other sources of revenue that the Elizabethan government felt compelled to exploit were
purveyance and monopolies . Purveyance was the cause of so much ill-will that Elizabeth would
have been well advised to abandon it. But had she does so she would have had to pay market
prices for supplier to her court, and this would have cost her some £40,000 a year ­ not a great
amount but more than the hard-pressed Queen could afford. Instead, she instructed her Privy
Councillors to improve the existing system, and in the 1590s they extended the practice of
`composition', whereby every country made a contract with purveyors agreeing to provide
specified amounts of provisions for a fixed sum. The difference between the market price and that
which the purveyors were prepared to pay was made up by a local tax. By removing uncertainty
from the system, composition made it more acceptable, but purveyance still remained deeply
The Queen took the steam out of a bitter debate in the 1597 Parliament by promising to reform
abuses in monopolies. But there was no improvement by the time her last Parliament assembled
in 1601, and members were in a distinctly bad temper, as is shown by the speech of Francis
"I cannot utter with my tongue, or conceive with my heart, the great grievances that the town and
country for which I serve suffer by some of these monopolies. It bringeth the general profit into a
private hand, and the end of all is beggary and bondage to the subject... And to what purpose is it
to do anything by Act of Parliament when the Queen will undo the same by her prerogative?...
There is no act of hers that hath been or is more derogatory to her own majesty, or more odious
to the subject, or more dangerous to the commonwealth, than the granting of these monopolies."
Once again the Queen intervened, assuring members that anyone with a complaint against a
monopolist could seek redress in a common law court. She also ordered the cancellation of those
monopolies which had been singled out for criticism. In this way she defused a dangerous
situation, but the problem of monopolies ­ which was part and parcel of the problem of the royal
finances ­ remained to plague her Stuart successors.
After the end of her last, stormy Parliament, in November 1601, she summoned the Commons to
her palace of Whitehall and delivered what they christened her `golden speech'. IT ended with:
"I have ever used to set the last judgement day before mine eyes, and so to rule as I shall be
judged to answer before a higher judge. To whose judgement seat I do appeal, that never thought
was cherished in my heart that tended to me people's good... And though you have had and may
have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had or shall have any
that will be more careful and loving... And so I commit you all to your best fortunes and further
counsels. And I pray you, Mr Controller, MR Secretary, and you of my Council, that before these
gentlemen depart into their countries [i.e. counties] you bring them all to kiss my hand."


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