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THE OCTAVIANS-TUMULT OF THE SEVENTEENTH OF DECEX
BER-PUBLICATION OF THE BASILICON DOROX.
In January 1595-6, James resolved upon a measure, which eventually had a very material effect upon the character of his government, and, in a more particular manner, upon the fortunes of the church. Finding, as he himself declares in a proclamation, that the rents of his crown were in a state of confusion and decay, and that, by the maladministration of his finances, he was at last ar. rived at such a pitch of poverty, that there was neither wheat nor beir (barley), silver nor other rent, to serve his house sufficiently in bread and drink, or otherways ;' he selected eight gentle men of the law, the most acute in talent, and the most expert in business, upon whom he devolved the whole management of his revenue in every department, binding himself, upon the word of a prince, to interfere in no manner with their proceedings, and allowing them the important privilege of filling up every vacancy that might occur in their own number. So extensive were the powers which seemed to be conferred upon this body, or rather so completely did the King appear to have resigned his own power into their hands, that the people, on hearing the proclamation, universally remarked, that he had only left to himself the name of sovereign. The gentlemen of his court had the same impression ; and it was generally supposed that he must now lose the services of even that small portion of his subjects, from inability to hold out the
proper emoluments. But the results were quite of a contrary nature.
The first acts of the Octavians—so they were popularly called from their number-had reference only to their proper business, the public finances. By and by, however, being enabled, by the control they acquired over money matters, to extend their views further, they began to seize the principal offices of the state, and to exercise a more direct influence over the machinery of government. The offices of Treasurer, King's Advocate, Comptroller, and Lord Privy Seal, successively fell into their hands : their president was only prevented from gaining the Chancellorship, which was the very highest office in the kingdom, by the circumstance of his being obnoxious to public suspicion on account of Catholicism. Their rapid advances to supreme power excited the alarm of the church, because a moiety of them were Catholics---and the hostility of the nobles, in so far as they were all younger brothers, or men of no family; whereas, to give an office to any other man than a peer, was looked upon in Scotland as something monstrous. Yet, notwithstanding all the outcry raised against them, they kept their places, and managed the affairs of the kingdom with an amazing degree of vigour. Talent, the naked quality for which
the King had selected them, was found, even in this rude age, so far to transcend all merely external pretensions.
The arrangement was found to be, in every respect, a fortunate one for James. It supplied bim with what he most wanted in personal character, the power of saying, “ No,” to unreasonable requests, and of acting with firmness in the protection of bis prerogative against the frequent invasions which were made upon it. Nor was he exposed to the least danger of having his power altogether transferred into the hands of the Octavians. They were forced, by the hostility of the nobles, the church, and the people, to keep close under his wing: their power depended too immediately and too exclusively upon his personal will, to put him. self in the least danger. In effect, his government acquired, by this arrangement, all the advantages of vigour and accuracy; and there was now exhibited, for the first time, in Scotland, a minis.. try selected upon principles at all approaching to those which dictate the construction of a British cabinet in modern times.
It was hardly to be expected that the clergy would behold such an alteration in the government without great alarm. This order of men entertained sentiments on the subject of an administra. tion not less exclusive than those entertained by the nobility The latter conceived that birth and fol. lowing were the only requisites in a ministry: the clergy thought it enough if they were sound Protestants and favourable to the church. Hitherto, it had been only by the weakness of James's government, that the church acquired or held its privileges; of course, the clergy supposed that this immense addition to its strength augured unfavourably to their long possession of its privileges. They, therefore, took every opportunity of inveighing against the Octavians ; declaimed against the King on every occasion for his overlooking religious principle in the selection of his advisers ; and did not scruple, in their private interviews, to rebuke him in language of the most poignant severity.
But it is evident that the clergy had now arrived at that pitch when vaulting ambition overleaps itself, and falls on the other side. Prosperity bad, to a certain extent, spoilt them. The power they had acquired over the public mind; their exemption from the control of the state ; the deference paid to them of late years by the government, which ventured upon no measure without begging their consent ; the rapturous idea in which they lived, that they were the immediate officers of the Divinity:-all these circumstances had had their proper effect in inspiring them with that degree of pride which bodes a fall. One circumstance, out of hundreds which are recorded in their church-histories, will be sufficient to prove this to the satisfaction of the reader.
James was now anxious to restore the Catholic lords. Finding that the persecution with which he had been compelled to visit them, alienated from him the affections of the English Catholics, and that, by their continuing longer abroad, they were in danger of really attaching themselves to the service of his enemies, he conceived it to be best, both for himself and his country, that they should be permitted to return. As it was necessary to gain the consent of the church to this scheme, he took an opportunity, one day, of sound
ing Mr Robert Bruce, as to the view which his
so, I will oppose it. You must either lose Huntly or me. Take your
choice between us, for both you cannot keep!” It is said that, though James had formerly entertained a sincere friendship for Brucewhom, as has been seen, he trusted a good deal while in Denmark, and even employed to put the crown upon his this exhibition of intolerance and pride was too much for even his nature, and he henceforth studied different measures with this order of his subjects."
In August 1596, James succeeded in procuring the restoration of the Catholic Lords, notwithstanding all that the clergy could urge against it. Inflamed to the last degree by this offence against their authority, they established a small oligarchy
Sportiswood, 417, See also Maxwell's Burden of Issachar.