Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Duties of Judges of Assize
By Francis Bacon (15611626)
The speech which was used by the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in the Star Chamber, before the Summer Circuits, the King being then in Scotland, 1617
THE KING by his perfect declaration published in this place concerning judges and justices, hath made the speech of his Chancellor, accustomed before the Circuits, rather of ceremony than of use. For, as in his book to his son he hath set forth a true character and platform of a king, so in this his speech he hath done the like of a judge and justice; which showeth that as his majesty is excellently able to govern in chief, so he is likewise well seen and skilful in the inferior offices and stages of justice and government; which is a thing very rare in kings.
Yet nevertheless somewhat must be said, to fulfil an old observance; but yet upon the kings grounds, and very briefly: for as Solomon saith in another case, In these things who is he that can come after the king?
First, you that are the Judges of Circuits are as it were the planets of the kingdom (I do you no dishonour in giving you that name), and no doubt you have a great stroke in the frame of this government, as the other have in the great frame of the world. Do therefore as they do; move always and be carried with the motion of your first mover, which is your sovereign. A popular judge is a deformed thing; and plaudites are fitter for players than for magistrates. Do good to the people, love them and give them justice. But let it be, as the Psalm saith, nihil inde expectantes; looking for nothing, neither praise nor profit.
Yet my meaning is not, when I wish you to take heed of popularity, that you should be imperious and strange to the gentlemen of the country. You are above them in power, but your rank is not much unequal; and learn this, that power is ever of greatest strength when it is civilly carried.
Secondly, You must remember, that besides your ordinary administration of justice, you do carry the two glasses or mirrors of the state; for it is your duty in these your visitations to represent to the people the graces and care of the king; and again, upon your return, to present to the king the distastes and griefs of the people.
Mark what the king says in his book: Procure reverence to the king and the law; inform my people truly of me (which we know is hard to do according to the excellency of his merit, but yet endeavour it), how zealous I am for religion; how I desire law may be maintained and flourish; that every court should have his jurisdiction; that every subject should submit himself to the law. And of this you have had of late no small occasion of notice and remembrance, by the great and strait charge that the king hath given me, as keeper of his seal, for the governing of the Chancery without tumour or excess.
Again, e re nata, you at this present ought to make the people know and consider the kings blessed care and providence in governing this realm in his absence; so that sitting at the helm of another kingdom, not without great affairs and business, yet he governs all things here by his letters and directions, as punctually and perfectly as if he were present.
I give but a few instances of a public nature; the secrets of counsel I may not enter into; though his dispatches into France, Spain, and the Low Countries, now in his absence, are also notorious as to the outward sending. So that I must conclude that his majesty wants but more kingdoms, for I see he could suffice to all.
As for the other glass I told you of, of representing to the king the griefs of his people, without doubt it is properly your part; for the king ought to be informed of anything amiss in the state of his countries from the observations and relations of the judges (that indeed know the pulse of the country) rather than from discourse. But for this glass (thanks be to God), I do hear from you all that there never was greater peace, obedience, and contentment in the country; though the best governments be always like the fairest crystals, wherein every little icicle or grain is seen, which in a fouler stone is never perceived.
Now to some particulars, and not many. Of all other things I must begin as the king begins; that is, with the cause of religion; and especially the hollow church-papist. St. Augustin hath a good comparison of such men, affirming that they are like the roots of nettles, which themselves sting not, but yet they bear all the stinging leaves. Let me know of such roots, and I will root them out of the country.
Next, for the matter of religion. In the principal place, I recommend both to you and to the justices the countenancing of godly and zealous preachers. I mean, not sectaries or novellists, but those which are sound and conform; but yet pious and reverend. For there will be a perpetual defection, except you keep men in by preaching, as well as law doth by punishing; and commonly spiritual diseases are not cured but by spiritual remedies.
Next, let me commend unto you the repressing (as much as may be) of faction in the countries, of which ensue infinite inconveniences, and perturbations of all good order, and crossing of all good service in court or country, or wheresoever. Cicero, when he was consul, had devised a fine remedy (a mild one, but an effectual and apt one), for he saith, Eos qui otium perturbant, reddam otiosos. Those that trouble others quiet, I will give them quiet: they shall have nothing to do, nor no authority shall be put into their hands. If I may know from you of any who are in the country that are heads or hands of faction, or men of turbulent spirits, I shall give them Ciceros reward, as much as in me is.
To conclude, study the kings book, and study yourselves how you profit by it, and all shall be well. And you the Justices of Peace in particular, let me say this to you. Never King of this realm did so much honour as the king hath done you in his speech, by being your immediate director and by sorting you and your service with the service of ambassadors, and of his nearest attendants. Nay more, it seems his majesty is willing to do the state of Justice of Peace honour actively also; by bringing in, with time, the like form of commission into the government of Scotland, as that glorious king, Edward the third, did plant this commission here in this kingdom. And therefore you are not fit to be copies, except you be fair written, without blots or blurs, or anything unworthy your authority. And so I will trouble you no longer for this time.