The Earl of Shaftesbury's Speech in the House of Lords, March 25, 1679

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Editing The Earl of Shaftesbury's Speech in the House of Lords, March 25, 1679  (1679) 
by Anthony Ashley Cooper

My Lords,

You are appointing the consideration of the state of England to be taken up, in a committee of the whole house, some day next week. I do not know how well what I have to say may be received, for I never study either to make my court or to be popular: I always speak what I am commanded by the dictates of the spirit within me.

There are some considerations that concern England so nearly, that without them you will come far short of safety and quiet at home. "We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts; what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? If she be a wall, we will build on her a palace of silver; if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar."[1] We have several little sisters without breasts; the French protestant churches, the two kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland. The foreign protestants are a wall, the only wall of defence of England. Upon it you may build palaces of silver, glorious palaces.

The protection of the protestants abroad is the greatest power and security the crown of England can attain to, and which can only help us to give a check to the growing greatness of France. Scotland and Ireland are two doors, either to let in good or mischief upon us: they are much weakened by the artifice of our cunning enemies, and we ought to inclose them with boards of cedar.

Popery and slavery, like two sisters, go hand-in-hand. Sometimes one goes first, sometimes the other, in-a-doors; but wherever the one enters, the other is always following close at hand.

In England, popery was to have brought in slavery; in Scotland, slavery went before, and popery was to follow.

I do not think your lordships or the parliament have jurisdiction there. It is a noble and ancient kingdom: they have an illustrious nobility, a gallant gentry, a learned clergy, and an understanding worthy people; but yet we cannot think of England as we ought without reflecting on the condition they are in. They are under the same prince, and the influence of the same favourites and counsels. When they are hardly dealt with, can we, that are the richer, expect better usage? for it is certain, that, in all absolute governments, the poorest countries are always most favourably dealt with.

When the ancient nobility and gentry there cannot enjoy their royalties, their shrevaldoms, and their stewardaries, which they and their ancestors have possessed for several hundreds of years, but that now they are enjoined by the lords of the council to make deputations of their authorities to such as are their known enemies; can we expect to enjoy our Magna Charta long, under the same persons and administration of affairs? If the council-table there can imprison any nobleman or gentleman for several years, without bringing him to trial, or giving him the least reason for what they do, can we expect the same men will preserve the liberty of the subject here?

I will acknowledge that I am not well versed in the particular laws of Scotland; but this I do know, that all the northern countries have, by their laws, an undoubted and invioalble right to their liberties and properties; yet Scotland hath outdone all the eastern and southern countries in having their lives, liberties, and estates subjected to the arbitrary will and pleasure of those that govern. They have lately plundered and harassed the richest and wealthiest countries of that kingdom, and brought down the barbarous Highlanders to devour them; and all this without almost a colourable pretence to do it. Nor can there be found a reason of state for what they have done but that those wicked ministers designed to procure a rebellion at any rate, which, as they managed, was only prevented by the miraculous hand of God; or otherwise all the papists in England would have been armed, and the fairest opportunity given, in the just time, for the execution of that wicked and bloody design the papists had: and it is not possible for any many that duly considers it to think other but that those ministers who acted so were as guilty of the plot as any of the lords that are in question for it.

My lords, I am forced to speak this the plainer, because, till the pressure be fully and clearly taken off from Scotland, it is not possible for me, or any thinking man, to believe that good is meant us here.

We must still be upon our guard, apprehending that the principle is not changed at court, and that these men that are still in place and authority have that influence upon the mind of our excellent prince, that he is not, nor cannot be that to us, which his own nature and goodness would incline him to.

I know your lordships can order nothing in this; but there are those that hear me can put a perfect cure to it. Until that be done, the Scottish weed is like death in the pot, mors in olla. But there is something too, now I consider, that most immediately concerns us, — their act of twenty-two thousand men to be ready to invade us on all occasions. This, I hear, the lords of council there have treated as they do all other laws, and expounding it into a standing army of six thousand men. I am sure we have reason and right to beseech the king that that act may be better considered in the next parliament there.

I shall say no more for Scotland at this time. I am afraid your lordships will think I have said too much, having no concern there. But if a French nobleman should come to dwell in my house and family, I should think it concerned me to ask what he did in France; for if he were there a felon, a rogue, a plunderer, I should desire him to live elsewhere; and I hope your lordships will do the same thing for the nation, if you find the same cause.

My lords, give me leave to speak two or three words concerning our other sister, Ireland. Thither, I hear, is sent Douglas's regiment, to secure us against the French. Besides, I am credibly informed that the papists have their arms restored, and the protestants are not many of them yet recovered from being the suspected party. The sea towns, as well as the inland, are full of papists. That kingdom cannot long continue in the English hands if some better care is not taken of it. This is in your power, and there is nothing there but is under your laws. Therefore I beg that this kingdom, at least, may be taken into consideration together with the state of England; for I am sure there can be no safety here, if these doors be not shut up and made sure.


  1. Song of Solomon 8: 8-9.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.