If they had waived their right to deal with these matters during the old age of Elizabeth, they asserted it now. "Let your Majesty be pleased to receive public information from your Commons in Parliament, as well of the abuses in the Church, as in the civil state and government." The claim of absolutism was met in words which sound like a prelude to the Petition of Right. "Your Majesty would be misinformed," said the address, "if any man should deliver that the Kings of England have any absolute power in themselves either to alter religion, or to make any laws concerning the same, otherwise than as in temporal causes, by consent of Parliament." The address was met by a petulant scolding from James, and the Houses were adjourned. The support of the Crown emboldened the bishops to a fresh defiance of the Puritan pressure. The act of Elizabeth which sanctioned the Thirty-nine Articles compelled ministers to subscribe only to those which concerned the faith and the sacraments; but the Convocation of 1604 by its canons required subscription to the articles touching rites and ceremonies. The new archbishop, Bancroft, added a requirement of rigid conformity with the rubrics on the part of all beneficed clergymen.
In the following spring three hundred of the Puritan clergy were driven from their livings for a refusal to comply with these demands.
The breach with the Puritans was followed by a breach with the Catholics. The increase in their numbers since the remission of fines had spread a general panic; and Parliament had re-enacted the penal laws. A rumour of his own conversion so angered the King that these were now put in force with even more severity than of old. The despair of the Catholics gave fresh life to a conspiracy which had long been ripening. Hopeless of aid from abroad, or of success in an open rising at home, a small knot of desperate men, with Robert Catesby, who had taken part in the rising of Essex, at their head, resolved to destroy at a blow both King and Parliament. Barrels of powder were placed in a cellar beneath the Parliament House; and while waiting for the fifth of November, when the Parliament was summoned to meet, the plans of the little group widened into a formidable conspiracy. Catholics of greater fortune, such as Sir Everard Digby and Francis Tresham, were admitted to their confidence, and supplied money for the larger projects they designed. Arms were bought in Flanders, horses were held in readiness, a meeting of Catholic gentlemen was brought about under show of a hunting party to serve as the beginning of a rising.
The destruction of the King was to be followed by the seizure of his children and an open revolt, in which aid might be called for from the Spaniards in Flanders. Wonderful as was the secrecy with which the plot was concealed, the family affection of Tresham at the last moment gave a clue to it by a letter to Lord Monteagle, his relative, which warned him to absent himself from the Parliament on the fatal day; and further information brought about the discovery of the cellar and of Guido Fawkes, a soldier of fortune, who was charged with the custody of it. The hunting party broke up in despair, the conspirators were chased from county to county, and either killed or sent to the block, and Garnet, the Provincial of the English Jesuits, was brought to trial and executed. He had shrunk from all part in the plot, but its existence had been made known to him by another Jesuit, Greenway, and horror-stricken as he represented himself to have been he had kept the secret and left the Parliament to its doom.
Parliament was drawn closer to the King by deliverance from a common peril, and when the Houses met in 1606 the Commons were willing to vote a sum large enough to pay the debt left by Elizabeth after the war. But the prodigality of James was fast raising his peace expenditure to the level of the war expenditure of Elizabeth; and he was driven by the needs of his treasury, and the desire to free himself from Parliamentary control, to seek new sources of revenue. His first great innovation was the imposition of customs duties. It had long been declared illegal for the Crown to levy any duties ungranted by Parliament save those on wool, leather, and tin. A duty on imports indeed had been imposed in one or two instances by Mary, and this impost had been extended by Elizabeth to currants and wine; but these instances were too trivial and exceptional to break in upon the general usage. A more dangerous precedent lay in the duties which the great trading companies, such as those to the Levant and to the Indies, ex-actedfrom merchants,in exchange - as was held - for the protection they afforded them in far-off seas. The Levant Company was now dissolved, and James seized on the duties it had levied as lapsing to the Crown. Parliament protested in vain.
James cared quite as much to assert his absolute authority as to fill his treasury. A case therefore was brought before the Exchequer Chamber, and the judgement of the Court asserted the King's right to levy what customs duties he would at his pleasure. "All customs," said the Judges, "are the effects of foreign commerce, but all affairs of commerce and treaties with foreign nations belong to the King's absolute power. He therefore, who has power over the cause, has power over the effect." [The importance of a decision which would go far to free the Crown from the necessity of resorting to Parliament was seen keenly enough by James.] English commerce was growing fast, and English merchants were fighting their way to the Spice Islands, and establishing settlements in the dominions of the Mogul. The judgement gave James a revenue which was sure to grow rapidly, and the needs of his treasury forced him to action. After two years' hesitation a royal proclamation imposed a system of customs duties on many articles of export and import. But if the new impositions came in fast, the royal debt grew faster.