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13 January, 2012
The Glory Of English Prose|
4. Act Of Parliament, 1532
by Coleridge, Stephen
|My Dear Antony,
In looking through some very old Acts of Parliament not long ago
I was rather surprised to find that in those old times our
forefathers drew up their statutes in very stately English.
In our own times Acts of Parliament frequently violate the
simplest rules of grammar, and are sometimes so unintelligible as
to need the labours of learned judges to find out what they
But it seems that in the great days of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth
Acts of Parliament were often written in resounding periods of
solemn splendour of which the meaning is perfectly clear.
In the twenty-fourth year of the great Henry, the Act denying
and forbidding any jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome in England was
This Act, depriving the Pope of all power in England, marked a
turning-point in history.
It is headed with these words:—
THE PRE-EMINENCE, POWER, AND AUTHORITY OF THE KING OF ENGLAND.
The words "Empire" and "Imperial" are in the present day
degraded from their ancient high estate by an appropriation of them
to advertise soap or cigarettes or what not; and we even are
confronted with the "Imperial" Cancer Research Fund, the money of
which has been employed in artificially inflicting cancer on
hundreds of thousands of living animals—a performance utterly
repugnant to a great many of the inhabitants in the "Empire"!
"Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles
it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England
is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by
one supreme head and King having the dignity and royal estate of
the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of
all sorts and degrees of people, divided in terms and by names of
spiritualty and temporalty being bounden and owen to bear next to
God a natural and humble obedience; he being also institute and
furnished by the goodness and sufferance of Almighty God with
plenary whole and entire power pre-eminence authority prerogative
and jurisdiction to render and yield justice and final
determination to all manner of folk residents or subjects within
this his realm, in all causes matters debates contentions happening
to occur insurge or begin within the limits thereof without
restraint or provocation to any foreign princes or potentates of
the world ... all causes testamentary, causes of matrimony and
divorces, rights of tithes, oblations and obventions ... shall be
from hence-forth heard examined licenced clearly finally and
definitely adjudged and determined within the King's jurisdiction
and authority and not elsewhere."
But people indifferent to the dictates of mercy are not likely
to have much reverence for words, however august.
Henry VIII., we may be sure, would never have allowed these
solemn words to be used by people with something to sell, or by
They were great people who could draw up their statutes in
splendid passages of sustained nobility.
Let us, Antony, salute them across the centuries.
Your loving old