Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

!

man will never willingly accept. Whenever, in his master, he beholds a mere man, from the moment that the will which oppresses him appears a merely human and individual will like his own, he becomes indignant, and supports the yoke wrathfully. Such was the true and distinguishing character of feudal power; and such was also the origin of the antipathy which it has ever inspired.History of Civilization.

2. Act of Homage and Fealty. It may be worth while here to give the ceremonies performed in conferring feudal tenures :

“The manner of entering into the homage of another is this : that is to say, the feudal seigneur must be requested, with bare head, by the man who wishes to do faith and homage, to be received into his faith; and if the seigneur will, he sits down, and the vassal unbuckles his girdle, if he have one, lays down his sword and staff, kneels on one knee, and says these words: 'I become your man from this day forth, of life and limb, and will hold faith to you for the lands I claim to hold of you.' And when the freeholder shall do fealty to his lord, he sha!l put his right hand upon a book, and shall say these words : This hear, my ·lord, that I will be faithful and loyal to you, and will keep faith to you for the lands which I claim to hold of you, and will loyally fulfil unto you the customs and services that I shall owe you on the conditions belonging thereto, so help me God and the saints.' And then he shall kiss the book; but he shall not kneel when he does fealty, nor make so humble a reverence as is before prescribed for homage. And there is a great difference between doing fealty and doing homage ; for homage can only be done to the seigneur himself, whereas the seneschal of the seigneur's court or his bailiff may receive fealty in his name."

enormous.

3. Oppressions of the Feudal System in England. “In England, women and even men, simply as tenants in chief, and not as wards, fined to the crown for leave to marry whom they would, or not to be compelled to marry any other. Towns not only fined for original grants of franchises, but for repeated confirmations. The Jews paid exorbitant sums for every common right of mankind, for protection, for justice. In return they were sustained against their Christian debtors in demands of usury, which superstition and tyranny rendered

Men fined for the king's good will; or that he would remit his anger; or to have his mediation with their adversaries. Many fines seem, as it were, imposed in sport, if we look to the cause, though their extent and the solemnity with which they were recorded, prove the humor to have been differently relished by the two parties. Thus the bishop of Winchester paid a tun of good wine for not reminding the king (John) to give a girdle to the countess of Albemarle; and Robert de Vaux five best palfreys, that he might hold his peace about Henry Pinel's wife. Another paid four marks for leave to eat (pro licentia comedendi). But of all the abuses which deformed the Anglo-Norman government, none was so pernicious as the sule of judicial redress. The king,

we are often told, is the fountain of justice ; but in those ages it was one which gold alone could unseal. Men fined to have right done them; to sue in a certain court; to implead a certain person; to have a restitution of land which they had recovered at law. From the sale of that justice which every citizen has a right to demand, it was an easy transition to withhold or deny it. Fines were received for the king's help against the adverse suitor; that is, for the perversion of justice, or for delay. Sometimes they were paid by opposite parties, and, of course, for opposite ends. These were called counter fines; but the money was sometimes, or as Lord Lyttleton thinks, invariably, returned to the unsuccessful suitor."—HALLAM's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 316.

Abuses of PrerogativePurveyance.—“The real prerogatives that might formerly be exerted, were sometimes of so injurious a nature, that we can hardly separate them from their abuse: a striking instance is that of purveyance, which will at once illustrate the definition above given of a prerogative, the limits within which it was to be exercised, and its tendency to transgress them. This was a right of purchasing whatever was necessary for the king's household, at a fair price, in preference to every competitor, and without the consent of the owner. By the same prerogative, carriages and horses were impressed for the king's journeys, and lodgings provided for his attendants. This was defended on a pretext of necessity, or at least of great convenience to the sovereign, and was both of high antiquity and universal practice throughout Europe. But the royal purveyors had the utmost temptation, and doubtless no small store of precedents, to stretch this power beyond its legal boundary, and not only to fix their own price too low, but to seize what they wanted without any payment at all, or with tallies, which were carried in vain to an empty exchequer. This gave rise to a number of petitions from the commons, upon which statutes were often framed ; but the evil was almost incurable in its nature, and never ceased till that prerog. ative was itself abolished. Purveyance, as I have already said; may serve to distinguish the defects from the abuses of our Constitution. It was a reproach to the law that men should be compelled to send their goods without their consent; it was a reproach to the administration that they were deprived of them without payment.

The right of purchasing men's goods for the use of the king was extended by a sort of analogy to their labor. Thus Edward III. announces to all sheriffs that William of Walsingham had a commission to collect as many painters as might suffice for our works in St. Stephen's chapel, Westminster, to be at our wages as long as shall be necessary,' and to arrest and keep in prison all who should refuse or be refractory; and enjoins them to lend their assistance. Windsor Castle owes its massive magnificence to laborers impressed from every part of the kingdom. There is even a commission from Edward IV. to take as many workmen in gold as were wanting, and to employ them at the king's cost upon the trappings of himself and his household.”—Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. iii. p. 148.

CHAPTER III.

ENGLAND UNDER THE YOKE.

NECESSITIES OF DESPOTISM-SUPPRESSION OF THE ANGLO-SAXON SYSTEM AND LAN

GUAGE-CONFISCATION - THE NEW FOREST AND

FOREST

LAWS-TYRANNY

OF THE KING OVER THE NOBLES-EXACT DEFINITION OF CONQCEST-REMNANTS AND TRADITIONS OF THE SAXON SYSTEM-CHARTERS--RUFUS-HENRY

1. STEPHEN MATILDA-HENRY II, RICHARD II.FIRST IMPEACHMENT BY

PARLIAMENT,

DESPOTIC power can only be sustained by acts of despotism. In the idea of subjection to the will of a mere mortal, there is something so revolting to our nature that the bare conception rouses an involuntary spirit of resistance. Despotism is war with human nature; and the first necessity of despots is defence against the instincts of mankind. The necessities of their position force them to crush out the spirit of resistance to their usurpation. It is not enough to crush resistance. They must crush the spirit which inspires resistance, or they cannot be secure. It is a combat a l'outrance. The law of self-defence demands relentless war upon their foe, and that foe is the nature God has breathed into the nostrils of mankind. Hence it is that tyrants, naturally amiable and humane, have not unfrequently become the scourges of their race. Compelled at first to use brute force against their open enemies, and then to wage a ceaseless warfare with their hidden foe, in the heart of every man worthy of the name of freeman, habit has at last brought them to be willingly what tyrants must be actually -enemies of man. Self-preservation, calling for continual intimi. dation, leads to an inveterate habit of trampling on all human rights and obligations, till the tyrant learns that his true enemy is human nature. Then his task is clear. The arm of power and the allurements of temptation are his only instruments; and he becomes the corrupter and destroyer of his race.

The English people felt the full force of these horrible necessities during the first five Norman reigns. Under the iron hand of William, almost every vestige of the Anglo-Saxon system disappeared. The great mass of the freemen were disfranchised and made serfs. The ealdormen and corls were attainted and exiled, and their lands delivered to the Norman followers of the king. The AngloSaxon priests and prelates were degraded from their offices, and Norman creatures of the king appointed in their stead. The Saxon language was proscribed, and the procedures of the courts required to be in Norman French. The native people, ground down by exactions and exasperated by the insults heaped upon them by their foreign masters, were lashed into occasional revolt; and thus furnished to the king pretexts for further confiscations, and excuses for more violent oppressions. From the Domesday Book we learn that of seven hundred tenants in capite, or immediate vassals of the crown, not one was a Saxon; and though of the 60,215 knights' fees in England, it is probable that some—perhaps many—were still held by Saxons, we must recollect that they were now no longer freeholders, but were compelled to surrender their own lands into the hands of Norman barons, and to receive them back as vassals, burdened with the usual imposts of the feudal tenure. As the landless Saxon freemen were degraded into serfs, so were the free proprietors of lands degraded into feudal vassals.

Thus the people felt the full weight of the conqueror's heel. But the necessities of arbitrary power demand intimidation of its subjects, and the conqueror proceeded to strike terror to the people's hearts by acts of ruthless cruelty which, if not prompted by this cause, could only be described as acts of fiendish wantonness. Under the thin pretence that he was apprehensive of a Danish invasion, he caused the whole region from the Tyne to the Humber to be laid waste. Thousands of the people died of want beside the ruins of their wasted homes; and for nine years, thoughout the desolated district there was not one village-scarcely one houseleft for human occupation. Fear of an invasion, flimsy as the reason was, was yet some reason for this wholesale cruelty; but no excuse

was even attempted for a similar destruction, both of life and property, caused in the making of the king's "New Forest." Thousands of persons died of hunger, that the king's deer might be fed. Thousands of homes were given to the torch, that in their ruins the wild boar might make his lair. Thousands of acres were withdrawn from cultivation for the use and benefit of man, to furnish pastures for the royal game. And if the starving Saxon churl presumed to kill a boar or deer, his punishment was the loss of his eyes. This trampling on the common instincts of humanity was not mere wantonness. It was part of the policy of the conqueror, and was intended to inspire his subjects with a terror of his power. To overawe his Norman as well as his Saxon vassals, be kept up a standing army of mercenary soldiers from the Continent, and their support he furnished by the manifold exactions which the feudal system gave the opportunity of making. The comparative smallness of the fiefs enabled him to put down that pernicious system of marauding by the barons which prevailed upon the Continent. This he did, not as an act of justice, but as a means of making his power felt and respected. In his realm of England he endured no robber but himself. Rightly, indeed, does Hallam say that "England had passed under the yoke; "yet England bore no other yoke than that which any free people must endure which yields its freedom to the hand of foreign or domestic usurpation. The necessities of tyranny are everywhere the same. It has the same position to maintain; the same war with the inborn instincts of mankind to wage; the same means of corruption and intimidation to apply; and the same heartless recklessness in working out its aims.'

It was not long before the Normans, under William and his immediate successors, found out that the royal despotism was not a despotism merely to the Saxons. With that they might have been content; but they were not long in discovering that they themselves were as much objects of oppression to their sovereign as the subjugated Saxons. The effect of this was to make common cause between them and the Saxons as against the crown : and it is singular to notice that the causes which eventually led to the deliverance both from kingly tyranny were the few remnants of the ancient Saxon institutions that had been permitted to remain. William did not

« ForrigeFortsett »