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affect to have conquered England, but to have conquered the crown of England; the term conquest not being in feudal language understood in its modern sense, but signifying simply acquisition in any way other than by inheritance; and as William claimed to have acquired the crown, not by inheritance, but by a real or pretended grant from Edward the Confessor, and was thus the original acquirer of it to his family, he was called the conqueror, i. e., the acquirer of the crown of England. He did not consequently pretend to have subjugated England by the sword, but by the sword to have won his rightful crown from Harold. At his coronation he took the same oaths as the Saxon kings had taken theretofore, and swore in the same formula to support and defend the laws of the realm. It is true that William, like more modern rulers, held official oaths but lightly, and completely overturned the Anglo-Saxon constitutions. Yet in some respects the former institutions still remained. The shire and burgh courts—now called courts of assize--and the hun. dred courts—now called the quarter sessions—continued to be held. In these the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom were preserved; in many matters they retained that local sovereignty which was their great characteristic before the Conquest; and in all of them tradition still spoke of a time when laws and statutes were not emanations from the arbitrary will of a despotic king, but were enacted by a free and independent council of the kingdom, to whose laws the prince and people were alike amenable. Thus the idea of constitutional government was preserved. When groaning under the oppressions of the kings, the Norman barons, no less than the Saxons, clamored for the laws of Edward the Confessor; and as the necessities of the crown afforded opportunity, they called for and obtained successive charters recognizing the ancient Saxon laws. Such charters were, however, always looked upon as acts of royal grace. No parliament or council ventured to assume the functions of the Saxon witena.gemote ; nor, till the time of Richard I. did Parliament assert any authority beyond that of a council of advice. In their subjection to the throne, their only hope lay in the partial recollection of the ancient liberties of England, which was kept alive by a few feeble remnants of the Anglo-Saxon polity.
For a hundred and fifty years after the Conquest, the history of England, so far as it relates to constitutional developments, may be sumined up in a few sentences.
WILLIAM Rufus, the immediate successor of the Conqueror, followed in the footsteps of his father, and extended his oppressions to the church. He seized upon the temporalities of vacant bishoprics and abbeys, and delayed appointments to them, that he might continue to enjoy their revenues. In many instances he sold or gave away the church lands to his favorites. When he purchased the duchy of Normandy from his brother Robert for 10,000 marks, this sum was raised by general extortions both from church and laity, so rigorous that convents were compelled to melt their plate in order to supply the amounts required of them.”
HENRY I., having usurped the crown in defiance of the right of his brother Robert, duke of Normandy, endeavored to secure himself in his possession by concessions to his subjects. He immediately gave a charter which professed to do away with the abuses of his predecessor's reign; and as an earnest of his purpose he degraded and imprisoned Ralph Flambard, bishop of Durham, who had been the agent of his brother's tyranny. He also reconciled the Saxons to his government by marrying Matilda, daughter of Malcolm III. of Scotland, and niece to Edgar Atheling. Thus both the Normans and the Saxons looked to better days under the rule of Henry; but though by no means so unscrupulous a prince as Rufus, he had hardly given his charter before he broke it by seizing on the temporalities of the see of Durham, which he held for five years; and when he went on his invasion of Normandy, he raised the means for his expedition by exactions not less ruinous than those of Rufus.
STEPHEN, a usurper like his predecessor, sought, like him, to win the barons to his cause by a pretended abolition of abuses. He gave a solemn charter in which he promised that church benefices falling vacant should immediately be filled, and that the crown should no more seize their temporalities; that the royal forests should be diminished; that certain obnoxious taxes levied for fictitious purposes should be abolished, and that the wholesome laws of Edward the Confessor should be restored. To win the favor of the barons, be allowed them privileges hitherto unknown. The baronial strongholds became dens of highway robbers. New castles, built at first for safety, were in turn applied to purposes of violence; and England in the reign of Stephen was one scene of turbulence and bloodshed. Charters and laws in such a reign were of but little value. When Stephen thought his crown safe on his head, he spurned the solemn obligations he had sworn before the altar to fulfil; and the historian tells us that not laws nor charters, but his “power, was the sole measure of his conduct.” Such a monarch could not be otherwise than hateful to his subjects of all classes ; and the anarchy which overspread the realm must have impressed them with the absolute necessity of fixed laws founded, not in the caprice or the necessities of vicious princes, but on the eternal principles of right. Hence, when MATILDA, the true heir to the succession came with her son Henry to assert her right, she found the people of all classes ready to support her claims, and Stephen was before long beaten and made prisoner. But England had by this time learned that her prosperity depended, not upon the person of their king, but on the equitable administration of just laws. When the queen was in the pride of her triumph, it was firmly but respectfully demanded by the people that she should promise to govern them by the laws of Edward. Their prayer was haughtily refused; and the result was the desertion of her standard by the people, her defeat by Stephen's partisans, and, ere long, the restoration of a king who, faithless as he was, at least was willing to confess his obligation to obey the fundamental constitutions of the kingdom over which he ruled.
HENRY II. was a monarch of another stamp. Firm and determined, he applied himself to the correction of the multiform abuses which had grown up in the previous reign. His first act was to dismiss the mercenaries who had been collected by his predecessor at a ruinous expense to overawe the barons. Then he demolished the baronial castles which had been productive of such monstrous evils; but required that every man throughout the country should be armed and practised in the use of weapons suited to his rank in life; thus aiming to establish peace within the country and security against invasions from without. Still more to repress the violence of the barons, he commissioned four justiciaries, whose duty was to
travel through the country, holding courts in the king's name; and being armed with full power to decide the causes brought before them, they were able to curb the barons in their very strongholds.
Henry's disposition was unquestionably to do right; yet one important act of this reign shows how loose were all ideas both of parliaments and legislation. A law was made that if a feudal lord contracted debts, bis vassal's goods should not be seized to satisfy the creditor; but that, until the debt were paid, the creditor should be entitled to receive the rents paid by the vassal to his lord. This equitable law was not enacted by an English parliament, but was made at Verneuil, in a council of prelates and barons of Normandy, Poictou, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, and Brittany; yet it was readily accepted as a valid law in England—so completely had the royal power at this time overshadowed, and indeed extinguished the remembrance of the national legislature.
In the next reign, favorable circumstances tended to the reëstablishment of the authority of Parliament. During the protracted absence of King Richard in the Crusades, William Longchamp, who had been left joint regent and judiciary with the bishop of Durham, wielded his power with so high a hand, that Parliament, on its own responsibility, removed him from his office. There is reason to believe that Richard was not displeased with this act of his barons, but, at all events, the act stood ; and for the first time since the days of Saxon witena-gemotes, another voice than that of the sovereign was heard in the administration of the national affairs. The first blow had been struck at the unlimited autocracy established by the Norman conqueror in England. The first step toward the building up of a free government with a well-balanced constitution had been taken. Centuries of conflict still had to be passed through ere the work could be accomplished; but in this act of the barons the great work had been begun. The Parliament of England was by this act reëstablished ; and before that generation passed away, the abject baseness and the treacherous tyranny of John inspired the will, afforded the occasion, and called forth the power to set the liberties of England on a permanent foundation.
1. Character of the Reign of the Conqueror.—"The commencement of his (William the Conqueror's) administration was tolerably equitable. Though many confiscations took place in order to gratify the Norman army, yet the mass of the property was left in the hands of its former possessors. Offices of high trust were bestowed upon Englishmen, even upon those whose family renown might have raised the most aspiring thoughts. But partly through the insolence and injustice of William's Norman vassals, partly through the suspiciousness natural to a man conscious of having overturned the national government, his yoke soon be. came more heavy. The English were oppressed ; they rebelled, were subdued, and oppressed again. All their risings were without concert and desperate ; they wanted men fit to head them, and fortresses to sustain their revolt. After a very few years they sank in despair, and yielded for a century to the indignities of a comparatively small body of strangers without a single tumult. So possible is it for a nation to be kept in permanent servitude, even without losing its reputation for individual courage, or its desire of freedom.”—Hallau's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 301.
" England passed under the yoke; she endured the annoyance of foreign conquerors; her children, even though their loss in revenue may have been exag. gerated, and still it was enormous, became a lower race, not called to the councils of their sovereign, not sharing his.trust or his bounty. They were in a far different condition from the provincial Romans after the conquest of Gaul, even if, which is hardly possible to determine, their actual deprivation of lands should have been less extensive ; for, not only they did not for several reigns occupy the honorable stations which sometimes fell to the lot of the Roman subject of Clovis or Alaric, but they had a great deal more freedom and importance to lose. Nor had they a protecting church to mitigate barbarous superiority. Their bishops were degraded and in exile ; the footstep of the invader was at their altars ; their monasteries were plundered and the native monks insulted. Rome herself looked with little favor on a church which had preserved some measure of independence. Strange contrast to the triumphant episcopate of the Merovingian kings !”—Ibid, vol ii, p. 308.
“The tyranny of William displayed less of passion or insolence than of that indifference about human suffering which distinguishes a cold and far-sighted statesman. Impressed by the frequent risings of the English at the commencement of his reign, and by the recollection, as one historian observes, that the mild government of Canute had only ended in the expulsion of the Danish line, he formed the scheme of riveting such fetters upon the conquered nation that all resistance should become impracticable. Those who had obtained honorable offices were successively deprired of them; even the bishops and abbots of