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Collection Title: Great Britain, Parliament, English Parliamentary Acts

Collection Number: M165

Dates: July 30, November 4, 1653

Volume: 2 items

Provenance: Unknown

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical/Historical Sketch:

With the execution of King Charles I on January 30, 1649, the sole political agency in England was Parliament, but the true power in the land lay in the hands of Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army which he commanded. Pride's Purge, in which Colonel Pride expelled those members of Parliament who Cromwell saw as dangerous, left only a partial or "rump" parliament. Cromwell governed with the Rump Parliament in a Commonwealth until 1653, when he moved to have the now troublesome Rump Parliament replaced with a body of men that were more concerned with spiritual affairs. The resulting legislature would be known as the Assembly of Saints, or, more commonly, as Barebone's Parliament (so named for one of its members, the very devout Praise-God Barebone, a London leatherseller, who seemed to typify the new legislators).

Barebone's Parliament was a mixture of moderate and radical Puritans who were frequently at prayer and even more frequently at odds with each other. Consequently, very little in the way of government business was transacted during the five months in which Barebone's Parliament was the chief legislative body in England. Of the thirty-nine acts which were passed, few were of any real significance. Among the first passed was "An Act for Setling the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty." The jurisdiction established was based upon previous acts of a similar nature, but in light of the 1651 Navigation Act and the ongoing naval war with Holland, the case load of the court promised to be substantial. The bill was debated in Parliament for six days, which showed numerous differences between Parliament and Cromwell's executive Council of State. The choice of judges for the Court of Admiralty was a particularly contentious affair.

Even more contentious would be the debates over legal reform. The Hale Commission, appointed to investigate the unsatisfactory condition of the English legal system, was formed at the beginning of 1652 as the result of pressure from the New Model Army. The commission drew its authority from the Rump Parliament, but found itself reporting to Barebone's Parliament in late 1653. Many of the Hale Commission's proposals were extremely radical for the time, including the one passed by Parliament on November 4, 1653, "An Act for Redress of Delays and Mischiefs Arising by Writs of Error and Writs of False Judgement in Several Cases;" this act abolished a great deal of the appellate process in English Courts.

Dissatisfied with the conduct of the legislative assemblies he had created, Oliver Cromwell dissolved the last, Barebone's Parliament, on December 13, 1653. Cromwell then installed himself as Lord Protector (an essentially dictatorial position) on December 16, 1653, thus ending the republican, Puritan Commonwealth and beginning the absolutist, essentially secular Protectorate.

Scope and Content:

This collection contains two acts of the English Parliament which were passed in 1653. Both printed acts appear to be leaves from a published collection of parliamentary legislation. "An Act for Setling the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty" and "An Act for Redress of Delays and Mischiefs Arising by Writs of Error and Writs of False Judgement in Several Cases" are apparently from A Collection of Several Acts of Parliament for 1653. Henry Scobell, Clerk of the Parliament, periodically published such collections of parliamentary acts. Both acts contained here were passed by "Barebone's Parliament" (a.k.a. the Assembly of Saints), a body constituted more of religious men than practical politicians.

"An Act for Setling the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty" was passed on July 30, 1653. The court was given jurisdiction over all cases involving maritime commerce, including ships and their equipment, the provisioning of seagoing vessels, international contracts for shipping and navigation, mariners' wages, damage to cargoes, and damages resulting from the collision of vessels or the faulty laying of buoys. The court was prohibited from having jurisdiction over bills of exchange or accounts between merchants. John Godolphin, William Clark, and Charls-George Cock were appointed as Judges of the Court of Admiralty.

"An Act for Redress of Delays Arising by Writs of Error, and Writs of False Judgement in Several Cases" was passed on November 4, 1653. It identifies certain abuses of justice caused by the delaying of the execution of court sentences through what are deemed excessive appeals. From November 7, 1653, the staying of a court sentence through appeal by a writ of error or a writ of false judgement would be abolished. Furthermore, the act declared that all such writs issued before November 7 were null and void. Also, no future court judgements could be stayed or reversed for any reason whatsoever, except for a lack of substance (i.e. evidence). Those who violated this act would be subject to double costs as assessed by the court in which the original verdict was given. Actions brought by the government and actions regarding penal statutes were exempt from inclusion in this act, as were official indictments, presentments, inquisitions, informations, and appeals.

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