Every year the expenditure of James reached a higher level, and necessity forced on the King a fresh assembling of Parliament. The "great contract" drawn up by Cecil, now Earl of Salisbury, proposed that James should waive certain oppressive feudal rights, such as those of wardship and marriage, and the right of purveyance, on condition that the Commons raised the royal revenue by a sum of two hundred thousand a year. The bargain failed however before the distrust of the Commons: and the King's demand for a grant to pay off the royal debt was met by a petition of grievances. They had jealously watched the new character given by James to royal proclamations, by which he created new offences, imposed new penalties, and called offenders before courts which had no legal jurisdiction over them. The province of the spiritual courts had been as busily enlarged. It was in vain that the judges, spurred no doubt by the old jealousy between civil and ecclesiastical lawyers, entertained appeals against the High Commission, and strove by a series of decisions to set bounds to its limitless claims of jurisdiction, or to restrict its powers of imprisonment to cases of schism and heresy.
The judges were powerless against the Crown; and James was vehement in his support of courts which were closely bound up with his own prerogative. Were the treasury once full no means remained of redressing these evils. Nor were the Commons willing to pass over silently the illegalities of the past years. James forbade them to enter on the subject of the new duties, but their remonstrance was none the less vigorous. "Finding that your Majesty without advice or counsel of Parliament hath lately in time of peace set both greater impositions and more in number than any of your noble ancestors did ever in time of war," they prayed "that all impositions set without the assent of Parliament may be quite abolished and taken away," and that " a law be made to declare that all impositions set upon your people, their goods or merchandise, save only by common consent in Parliament, are and shall be void" As to Church grievances their demands were in the same spirit. They prayed that the deposed ministers might be suffered to preach, and that the jurisdiction of the High Commission should be regulated by statute; in other words, that ecclesiastical like financial matters should be taken out of the sphere of the prerogative and be owned as lying henceforth within the cognizance of Parliament. Whatever concessions James might offer on other subjects, he would allow no interference with his ecclesiastical prerogative; the Parliament was dissolved, and three years passed before the financial straits of the Government forced James to face the two Houses again.
But the spirit of resistance was now fairly roused. Never had an election stirred so much popular passion as that of 1614. In every case where rejection was possible, the court candidates were rejected. All the leading members of the popular party, or as we should now call it, the Opposition, were again returned. But three hundred of the members were wholly new men; and among these we note for the first time the names of two leaders in the later struggle with the Crown. Yorkshire returned Thomas Wentworth; St. Germans, John Eliot. Signs of an unprecedented excitement were seen in the vehement cheering and hissing which for the first time marked the proceedings of the Commons. But the policy of the Parliament was precisely the same as that of its predecessors. It refused to grant supplies till it had considered public grievances, and it fixed on the impositions and the abuses of the Church as the first to be redressed. Unluckily the inexperience of the bulk of the House of Commons led it into quarrelling on a point of privilege with the Lords; and the King, who had been frightened beyond his wont at the vehemence of their tone and language, seized on the quarrel as a pretext for their dissolution.
Four of the leading members in the dissolved Parliament were sent to the Tower; and the terror and resentment which it had roused in the King's mind were seen in the obstinacy with which he long persisted in governing without any Parliament at all. For seven years he carried out with a blind recklessness his theory of an absolute rule, unfettered by any scruples as to the past, or any dread of the future. All the abuses which Parliament after Parliament had denounced were not only continued, but carried to a greater extent than before. The spiritual courts were encouraged in fresh encroachments. Though the Crown lawyers admitted the illegality of proclamations they were issued in greater numbers than ever. Impositions were strictly levied. But the treasury was still empty; and a fatal necessity at last drove James to a formal breach of law. He fell back on a resource which even Wolsey in the height of the Tudor power had been forced to abandon. But the letters from the Council demanding benevolences or gifts from the richer landowners remained generally unanswered.
In the three years which followed the dissolution of 1614 the strenuous efforts of the sheriffs only raised sixty thousand pounds, a sum less than two-thirds of the value of a single subsidy; and although the remonstrances of the western counties were roughly silenced by the threats of the Council, two counties, those of Hereford and Stafford, sent not a penny to the last. In his distress for money James was driven to expedients which widened the breach between the gentry and the Crown. He had refused to part with the feudal rights which came down to him from the Middle Ages, such as his right to the wardship of young heirs and the marriage of heiresses, and these were steadily used as a means of extortion. He degraded the nobility by a shameless sale of peerages. Of the forty-five lay peers whom he added to the Upper House during his reign, many were created by sheer bargaining. A proclamation which forbade the increase of houses in London brought heavy fines into the treasury. By shifts such as these James put off from day to day the necessity for again encountering the one body which could permanently arrest his effort after despotic rule. But there still remained a body whose tradition was strong enough, not indeed to arrest, but to check it.