The metaphor of the fountain, used so frequently to describe the justice and bounty of God and the king, was invoked in parliament in 1621 to describe the pollution caused by corruption. In presenting the report of the committee on abuses in the Courts of Justice Sir Robert Phelips put the issue this way: “The principal thing…was whether at the time of giving those gifts to the Lord Chancellor there was any suit depending before him.” Those concerned were not only immediate parties to the suit but all of the king’s subjects who were wronged by corruption. Phelips concluded with “It’s a cause of great weight. It concerns every man here. For if the fountains be muddy, what will the streams be? If the great dispenser of the king’s conscience be corrupt, who can have any courage to plead before him?” 1
In 1621 James I called parliament into session for the first time in seven years against the backdrop of a trade depression and war on the continent. The previous session in 1614 had been dubbed the “addled parliament” because it had passed no statutes and had been dissolved after two months. Parliaments were an occasion for the redress of grievances. In 1621, the list of grievances presented to parliament and the king focused primarily on monopolies.
The procedure of impeachment originated in the late fourteenth century and, after fifty years of use by parliament to remove royal officials, lay dormant for 150 years until its revival in the 1620s. 2 But from 1621 to 1628 parliament repeatedly turned to impeachment to challenge government policy and to indict and remove government officials on the grounds of abuse of office. That abuse was almost invariably on the grounds of corruption.