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Sir Francis Mitchell was the last British knight of the realm to be publicly degraded[1] (stripped of his knighthood), after being found guilty of extorting money from licensees via his monopoly on the licensing of inns.

While Parliament was dissolved under the order of James I, grievances against monopolists grew to such an extent that it was one of the first orders of business that the House of Commons discussed when Parliament sat in 1621. Early in James' reign it had been established in the case of Darcy v. Allein that monopolies were in breach of both common and statute law, because they raised the price of the commodity, lowered the standard of the product and put craftsmen out of work. The judges in the Darcy case ruled that monopolies were only acceptable when a new invention was introduced or when the interests of the state demanded it. The grants of monopolies had continued nevertheless, and despite Parliament's complaints in 1606, 1610, and 1614 little action had been taken. Grants of monopolies were a method of rewarding the supporters of the current royal favourite - at that time George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Mitchell and Giles Mompesson had been granted monopolies over the licencing of inns. This monopoly aroused particularly bad feeling. They were called before the Commons, where Mitchell was sentenced, without a hearing, for his 'grievous exactions' in the first impeachment for 162 years. (The previous impeachment was that of Lord Stanley in 1459, for not sending his troops to the Battle of Blore Heath.)

After the sentencing had taken place, doubt as to the legality of the impeachment was raised, as the Commons did not have jurisdiction over areas that did not concern their privileges. Having failed to find a precedent for their actions, the Commons were forced to refer the matter to the House of Lords. The Lords quickly confirmed the verdict, sentencing Mitchell to be fined, imprisoned and degraded.[2] The impeachments of Mitchell, Mompesson and Sir Francis Bacon are registered in the Parliament of 1621.[3] James and Buckingham did little to defend their dependents, being more eager to distance themselves from the charges.

Mitchell's degradation at Westminster Hall took the form of his spurs being broken and thrown away, his belt cut and his sword broken over his head. Finally, he was pronounced to be 'no longer a Knight but Knave'. After the ceremony, he was made to march through the streets to the Tower of London where he was imprisoned. Mompesson was also sentenced to degradation but fled to France to avoid punishment.[4]

References

  1. ^ Royal House website
  2. ^ Godfrey Davies. "The Early Stuarts, 1603 to 1660". http://www.gracenotes.info/documents/TOPICS_DOC/James_EarlyStuarts.doc. Retrieved 3 January 2007.  
  3. ^ "Chronological Table of the Private and Personal Acts". OPSI (UK Government). http://www.opsi.gov.uk/chron-tables/private/p-chron02.htm. Retrieved 3 January 2007.  
  4. ^ Lee, Sidney and Sean Kelsy (2004). "Giles Mompesson". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography vol. 38. London: Oxford University Press. pp. 569–572.  
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