Stuart petitions and the failure of "good rule" protests of commoners over administrative corruption: 1603-1642

Marianne Felletter LaPointe, Fordham University


This study describes how ordinary or common people perceived administrative corruption and how the early Stuarts had failed to encourage "good rule." England in this period lends itself well to this political analysis because the seventeenth century was the age of constitutional collision. Theorists including King James I held diverse notions on the history of the constitution and on the interrelationship between the king and the people. Within popular politics, there existed a strong regard for legitimate authority coterminous with an expectation that those in power would respect rights based upon ancient custom, thereby engendering the trust on which the constitution rested. When the government transgressed this standard of good rule, resistance could ensue, which would include complaint. This study focuses on one such customary right and its transgression by the government: the principle of private property. While the issue of private property revolved around the taxation controversy, ship money, it also found inclusion in other controversial matters such as billeting, purveyance, land confiscation for fen draining, and even monopolies, for the same circumstance prevailed: Englishmen had a proprietary right in maintaining their goods (including their homes) without suffering their forced confiscation. The right of private property or subjects' possessions (which James I listed among the fundamental laws of the kingdom) formed a main element within the subjects' liberties that were in question as Stuart tendencies toward absolutism advanced. While endeavoring to determine the views of English commoners, this study relies on petitions (and other sources) from individuals or groups addressed to the government: the king, his officials, the privy council, or the Houses of Parliament. As a resource for information about ordinary people, petitions have been under used, yet provide an opportunity for reconstituted historiographic analysis. The petitions show that the commoners believed the attack on their right to hold private property damaged them economically, fractured local relationships, and contributed to the failure of good rule.

Subject Area

History|European history

Recommended Citation

LaPointe, Marianne Felletter, "Stuart petitions and the failure of "good rule" protests of commoners over administrative corruption: 1603-1642" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9730098.