The Oxford Companion to British History

By John Cannon | Go to book overview


habeas corpus. Before Magna Carta, the writ of habeas corpus constituted a command in the king's name to have a defendant brought physically before the court, It had then no libertarian function. In the 15th and 16th cents. it was used to remove a case from an inferior court to the central courts. By the mid-15th cent. it tested the legality of detention and the common law courts used it to release litigants who had been imprisoned by the Court of Chancery. In the 17th cent. it was employed to challenge arbitrary arrests by the royal government and, as such, played a crucial role in the constitutional disputes. In Darnel's case in 1627, which arose out of a forced loan, the judges refused to allow bail to a person detained 'at the special command of the king'. The *petition of right ( 1628) protested at the practice, but opponents of the crown such as Sir John *Eliot and John *Selden ( 1629) continued to be committed for political purposes.

When the king lost control of the situation in 1640, his adversaries moved to defend habeas corpus. The Act of 1641 which abolished *Star Chamber declared that the writ could ensure that a person imprisoned by king and council should be brought before the court without delay with the cause of imprisonment shown, the court should pronounce on the legality of the detention, and should bail, discharge, or remand the prisoner.

After the Restoration, the struggle was resumed, since many loopholes in the law remained. In Bushell's case ( 1670) habeas corpus was used to release a juryman who had been gaoled for returning what the court regarded as a perverse verdict. After several attempts, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 blocked up many of the loopholes and improved the mechanism of enforcement. Though habeas corpus was suspended at many times subsequently, the suspension had to be justified and aroused concern for civil liberty. In Scotland, the equivalent to habeas corpus was obtained by an Act for Preventing Wrongous Imprisonments in 1701. There was considerable agitation throughout the 18th cent. for the extension of habeas corpus to Ireland, but governments insisted that the situation was too volatile. It was one of the concessions gained in 1781 by the Irish *Volunteer movement.


Habsburgs, relations with. The addition of the Low Countries to the Habsburg empire in 1482 made the latter a force in northern Europe. Henry VIII was at times allied with the Habsburgs against France, but the divorce of *Catherine of Aragon turned her nephew, the Emperor Charles V, into an obdurate opponent. The central European parts of Charles's empire did not greatly interest the English until, with the accession of William III, the Habsburgs joined the Austro-Dutch alliance against Louis XIV. Notable successes were achieved in the War of the *Spanish Succession, including the remarkable co-operation of *Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy at the battle of * Blenheim ( 1704). Their alliance in the War of the *Austrian Succession ( 1740-8) was, however, marred by mutual recriminations. A renewed threat from France and a common interest in the exclusion of that power from the Low Countries brought the two together again from 1793. Years of frustration and fractiousness followed until 1814 when *Castlereagh and Metternich began an eight-year partnership to preserve the balance of power in Europe against Russia as well as France. Britain's subsequent relations with Austria were frequently upset by the latter's determination to uphold autocracy, notably during the revolutions of 1848-9. Although * Palmerston saw the Habsburg empire as an essential component of the European balance, he began to treat its presence in northern Italy as injurious to the Italians and itself. Both Britain and Austria were fearful of Russian ambitions in the Near East in 1854-6, 1878, and again in 1887-97 when the two powers were loosely bound by the Mediterranean agreements. The * First World War ranged them on opposite sides, but even so the British, until late in the war, showed some interest in the survival of at least part of the Habsburg empire as a component of the balance of power.


Haddington, Thomas Hamilton, 1st earl of [S] ( 1563-1637). Hamilton's father was a lord of Session as Lord Priestfield. Hamilton studied law at Paris and at 29 became a lord of Session himself as Lord Drumcairn. He was appointed by James VI one of the *Octavians to control royal finances and in 1596 became king's advocate. Knighted in 1603, he was created Lord Binning ( 1613), earl of Melrose ( 1619), and earl of Haddington ( 1627). He was secretary of state [S] 1612-26, president of the Court of Session from 1616 until 1626, and lord privy seal [S] 1627-37. For many years Haddington was one of James VI's chief administrators in Scotland, attempting to restrain the king's zeal for his episcopal policy. James's nickname for him -- taken from


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The Oxford Companion to British History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Ppreace vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Note to the Reader xii
  • A 1
  • B 71
  • C 149
  • D 273
  • E 318
  • F 363
  • G 399
  • H 445
  • I 503
  • J 523
  • K 541
  • L 553
  • M 602
  • N 666
  • O 701
  • P 717
  • Q 782
  • R 785
  • S 831
  • T 907
  • U 941
  • V 951
  • W 960
  • Y 1008
  • Z 1015
  • Subject Index 1034


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