In 1621, when he was in the Fleet Prison at the instance of the Privy Council, he was impeached in the House of Commons for having said:
I have heard that Prague is taken; and Goodman Palsgrave and Goodwife Palsgrave have taken their heels; and as I have heard, Goodwife Palsgrave is taken prisoner.
These words, it was alleged, were spoken by him in a scornful manner, to insult the Prince Palatine and his wife Elizabeth of Bohemia, who was daughter to James I of England. The case led to an important constitutional decision. Shortly before the case, the Commons had looked for precedents supporting their judicial role. They found none except in cases of contempt for the house. During the proceedings against Floyd they obfuscated these findings, but later had to concede the point.
Case in the Commons
The case came to the House of Commons on 30 April. By then it had been in session since February, but had done nothing related to the situation in Bohemia, where Elector Palatine and his English wife had been heavily defeated in a conflict that formed the first phase of the Thirty Years War. On that day the influential parliamentarian Sir Edwin Sandys encouraged the Commons to take punitive action. The feeling of the House was that in this matter they could make their mark in foreign policy, not otherwise in their remit.
The Commons agreed on 1 May that Floyd should pay a fine of £1,000, stand in the pillory in three different places for two hours each time, and be carried from place to place on a horse without a saddle, with his face towards the horse's tail, and holding the tail in his hand. The king, however, objected to the Commons taking up the matter. The next morning he sent to inquire upon what precedents the Commons grounded their claim to act as a judicial body in regard to offences which did not concern their privileges. He also pointed out that they had failed to get his approval, and had not granted Floyd due process. Sandys by now had thought better of the course of direct judgement on Floyd; he argued that as the Speaker had signed nothing, the decision of the Commons was not yet effective. The momentum of the House was against him. Sir Edward Coke pushed for action, invoking his favoured view of the Commons as court of record. William Noy warned against passing judgement on overseas matters.
On 3 May the Commons petitioned the king to be allowed their sentence. He argued that it was quite unclear what jurisdiction they were claiming; but agreed to consider the petition and to act in the matter of Floyd. But on 4 May he sent the matter to the House of Lords, troublesome timing because (as Sandys had already argued) the upper house was preoccupied, with efforts to undermine George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.
The House of Lords intervenes
On 5 May the Commons and Lords conferred on the case. Coke worked to salvage the concept of the Commons as court of record, by having the prior record annulled as the lesser of two evils, since the king and Lords appeared set to deny the claim.
A debate of several days then led to a conference of the two houses, when it was agreed that the accused should be arraigned before the Lords, and that a declaration should be entered on the journals that his trial before the commons should not prejudice the just rights of either house.
Second sentence and its execution
The Lords added to the severity of the first judgment. On 26 May Floyd was condemned to be degraded from the estate of a gentleman; his testimony not to be received; he was to be branded, whipped at the cart's tail, fined £5,000, and imprisoned in Newgate Prison for life. When he was branded in Cheapside he declared that he would have given £1,000 to be hanged in order that he might be a martyr in so good a cause.
Some days later, on the motion of Prince Charles, it was agreed by the lords that the whipping should not be inflicted, and an order was made that in future judgment should not be pronounced, when the sentence was more than imprisonment, on the same day on which it was voted. The remainder of the sentence on Floyd seems to have been carried into effect. But he was liberated on 16 July 1621, after the new Lord Chancellor John Williams had prevailed with George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham to recommend to James I an exercise of his prerogative of mercy in the case of political prisoners.
On the petition of Joane, his wife, the Lords on 6 December 1621 ordered his trunk and writings to be delivered up to her; the clerk first taking out Catholic books and religious objects.
Henry Hallam later criticised the proceedings. Joseph Robson Tanner wrote that the House of Commons had clearly exceeded their jurisdiction. Charles Howard McIlwain commented that the claim made by the Commons for jurisdiction under parliamentary privilege was "the most extensive and the least justifiable, perhaps, in all parliamentary history; and the far-fetched arguments brought forward in debates in support of the claim are of great interest", citing the record in Thomas Barrington's diary of the parliament.
- Theodore Rabb, Jacobean Gentleman: Sir Edwin Sandys, 1561-1629 (Princeton, 1998)
- "Floyd, Edward". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Frederic William Maitland, Herbert Albert Laurens Fisher. The Constitutional History of England: a course of lectures (2001), p. 245; Google Books.
- Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Jacobean England (2001), p. 165; Google Books.
- Rabb, pp. 230–2.
- Rabb, p. 244.
- Stephen D. White, Sir Edward Coke and the Grievances of the Commonwealth (1979), p. 159; Google Books.
- Joseph Robson Tanner, Constitutional Documents of the Reign of James I: A, Parts 1603-1625 (1930), p. 319; Google Books.
- Charles Howard McIlwain, Constitutionalism and the Changing World: Collected Papers (2010), p. 187; Google Books.