The History of England - A Study in Political Evolution
by A. F. Pollard
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55 B.C.—A.D. 1066

"Ah, well," an American visitor is said to have soliloquized on the site of the battle of Hastings, "it is but a little island, and it has often been conquered." We have in these few pages to trace the evolution of a great empire, which has often conquered others, out of the little island which was often conquered itself. The mere incidents of this growth, which satisfied the childlike curiosity of earlier generations, hardly appeal to a public which is learning to look upon historical narrative not as a simple story, but as an interpretation of human development, and upon historical fact as the complex resultant of character and conditions; and introspective readers will look less for a list of facts and dates marking the milestones on this national march than for suggestions to explain the formation of the army, the spirit of its leaders and its men, the progress made, and the obstacles overcome. No solution of the problems presented by history will be complete until the knowledge of man is perfect; but we cannot approach the threshold of understanding without realizing that our national achievement has been the outcome of singular powers of assimilation, of adaptation to changing circumstances, and of elasticity of system. Change has been, and is, the breath of our existence and the condition of our growth.

Change began with the Creation, and ages of momentous development are shrouded from our eyes. The land and the people are the two foundations of English history; but before history began, the land had received the insular configuration which has largely determined its fortune; and the various peoples, who were to mould and be moulded by the land, had differentiated from the other races of the world. Several of these peoples had occupied the land before its conquest by the Anglo-Saxons, some before it was even Britain. Whether neolithic man superseded palaeolithic man in these islands by invasion or by domestic evolution, we do not know; but centuries before the Christian era the Britons overran the country and superimposed themselves upon its swarthy, squat inhabitants. They mounted comparatively high in the scale of civilization; they tilled the soil, worked mines, cultivated various forms of art, and even built towns. But their loose tribal organization left them at the mercy of the Romans; and though Julius Caesar's two raids in 55 B.C. and 54 B.C. left no permanent results, the conquest was soon completed when the Romans came in earnest in A.D. 43.

The extent to which the Romans during the three and a half centuries of their rule in Britain civilized its inhabitants is a matter of doubtful inference. The remains of Roman roads, Roman walls, and Roman villas still bear witness to their material activity; and an occupation of the land by Roman troops and Roman officials, spread over three hundred and fifty years, must have impressed upon the upper classes of the Britons at least some acquaintance with the language, religion, administration, and social and economic arrangements of the conquerors. But, on the whole, the evidence points rather to military occupation than to colonization; and the Roman province resembled more nearly a German than a British colony of to-day. Rome had then no surplus population with which to fill new territory; the only emigrants were the soldiers, the officials, and a few traders or prospectors; and of these most were partially Romanized provincials from other parts of the empire, for a Roman soldier of the third century A.D. was not generally a Roman or even an Italian. The imperial government, moreover, considered the interests of Britain not in themselves but only as subordinate to the empire, which any sort of distinctive national organization would have threatened. This distinguishes Roman rule in Britain from British rule in India; and if the army in Britain gradually grew more British, it was due to the weakness and not to the policy of the imperial government. There was no attempt to form a British constitution, or weld British tribes into a nation; for Rome brought to birth no daughter states, lest she should dismember her all-embracing unity. So the nascent nations warred within and rent her; and when, enfeebled and distracted by the struggle, she relaxed her hold on Britain, she left it more cultivated, perhaps, but more enervated and hardly stronger or more united than before.

Hardier peoples were already hovering over the prey. The Romans had themselves established a "count of the Saxon shore" to defend the eastern coasts of Britain against the pirates of the German Ocean; and it was not long after its revolt from Rome in 410, that the Angles and Saxons and Jutes discovered a chance to meddle in Britain, torn as it was by domestic anarchy, and threatened with inroads by the Picts and Scots in the north. Neither this temptation nor the alleged invitation from the British chief Vortigern to come over and help, supplied the original impulse which drove the Angles and Saxons across the sea. Whatever its origin—whether pressure from other tribes behind, internal dissensions, or the economic necessities of a population growing too fast for the produce of primitive farming—the restlessness was general; but while the Goths and the Franks poured south over the Roman frontiers on land, the Angles and Saxons obeyed a prophetic call to the sea and the setting sun.

This migration by sea is a strange phenomenon. That nations should wander by land was no new thing; but how in those days whole tribes transported themselves, their wives and their chattels, from the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser to those of the Thames and the Humber, we are at a loss to understand. Yet come they did, and the name of the Angles at least, which clung to the land they reached, was blotted out from the home they left. It is clear that they came in detachments, as their descendants went, centuries later, to a land still further west; and the process was spread over a hundred years or more. They conquered Britain blindly and piecemeal; and the traditional three years which are said to have elapsed between the occupation of Sheppey and the landing in Kent prove not that the puny arm of the intervening sea deterred those who had crossed the ocean, but that Sheppey was as much as these petrels of the storm could manage. The failure to dislodge them, and the absence of centralized government and national consciousness among the Britons encouraged further invaders; and Kent, east of the Medway, and the Isle of Wight may have been the next morsels they swallowed. These early comers were Jutes, but their easy success led to imitation by their more numerous southern neighbours, the Angles and Saxons; and the torrent of conquest grew in volume and rapidity. Invaders by sea naturally sailed or rowed up the rivers, and all conquerors master the plains before the hills, which are the home of lost causes and the refuge of native states. Their progress may be traced in the names of English kingdoms and shires: in the south the Saxons founded the kingdoms of Sussex, Essex, Middlesex, and Wessex; in the east the Anglians founded East Anglia, though in the north they retained the Celtic names, Bernicia and Deira. The districts in which they met and mingled have less distinctive names; Surrey was perhaps disputed between all the Saxon kingdoms, Hampshire between West Saxons, South Saxons, and Jutes; while in the centre Mercia was a mixed march or borderland of Angles and Saxons against the retiring Britons or Welsh.

It used to be almost a point of honour with champions of the superiority of Anglo-Saxon virtues to maintain that the invaders, like the Israelites of old, massacred their enemies to a man, if not also to a woman and child. Massacre there certainly was at Anderida and other places taken by storm, and no doubt whole British villages fled at the approach of their bloodthirsty foes; but as the wave of conquest rolled from east to west, and the concentration of the Britons grew while that of the invader relaxed, there was less and less extermination. The English hordes cannot have been as numerous in women as in men; and in that case some of the British women would be spared. It no more required wholesale slaughter of the Britons to establish English language and institutions in Britain than it required wholesale slaughter of the Irish to produce the same results in Ireland; and a large admixture of Celtic blood in the English race can hardly be denied.

Moreover, the Anglo-Saxons began to fight one another before they ceased to fight their common enemy, who must have profited by this internecine strife. Of the process by which the migrating clans and families were blended into tribal kingdoms, we learn nothing; but the blending favoured expansion, and expansion brought the tribal kingdoms into hostile contact with tougher rivals than the Britons. The expansion of Sussex and Kent was checked by Saxons who had landed in Essex or advanced up the Thames and the Itchen; East Anglia was hemmed in by tribes who had sailed up the Wash, the Humber, and their tributaries; and the three great kingdoms which emerged out of the anarchy—Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex—seem to have owed the supremacy, which they wielded in turn, to the circumstance that each possessed a British hinterland into which it could expand. For Northumbria there was Strathclyde on the west and Scotland on the north; for Mercia there was Wales; and for Wessex there were the British remnants in Devon and in Cornwall.

But a kingdom may have too much hinterland. Scotland taxed for centuries the assimilative capacity of united England; it was too much for Northumbria to digest. Northumbria's supremacy was distinguished by the religious labours of Aidan and Cuthbert and Wilfrid in England, by the missions of Willibrord on the Continent, and by the revival of literature and learning under Caedmon and Bede; but it spent its substance in efforts to conquer Scotland, and then fell a victim to the barbaric strength of Mercia and to civil strife between its component parts, Bernicia and Deira. Mercia was even less homogeneous than Northumbria; it had no frontiers worth mention; and in spite of its military prowess it could not absorb a hinterland treble the size of the Wales which troubled Edward I. Wessex, with serviceable frontiers consisting of the Thames, the Cotswolds, the Severn, and the sea, and with a hinterland narrowing down to the Cornish peninsula, developed a slower but more lasting strength. Political organization seems to have been its forte, and it had set its own house in some sort of order before it was summoned by Ecgberht to assume the lead in English politics. From that day to this the sceptre has remained in his house without a permanent break.

Some slight semblance of political unity was thus achieved, but it was already threatened by the Northmen and Danes, who were harrying England in much the same way as the English, three centuries earlier, had harried Britain. The invaders were invaded because they had forsaken the sea to fight one another on land; and then Christianity had come to tame their turbulent vigour. A wave of missionary zeal from Rome and a backwash from unconquered Ireland had met at the synod of Whitby in 664, and Roman priests recovered what Roman soldiers had lost. But the church had not yet armed itself with the weapons of the world, and Christian England was no more a match than Christian Britain had been for a heathen foe. Ecgberht's feeble successors in Wessex, and their feebler rivals in the subordinate kingdoms, gave way step by step before the Danes, until in 879 Ecgberht's grandson Alfred the Great was, like a second King Arthur, a fugitive lurking in the recesses of his disappearing realm.

Wessex, however, was more closely knit than any Celtic realm had been; the Danes were fewer than their Anglo-Saxon predecessors; and Alfred was made of sterner stuff than early British princes. He was typical of Wessex; moral strength and all-round capacity rather than supreme ability in any one direction are his title-deeds to greatness. After hard fighting he imposed terms of peace upon the Danish leader Guthrum. England south-west of Watling Street, which ran from London to Chester, was to be Alfred's, the rest to be Danish; and Guthrum succumbed to the pacifying influence of Christianity. Not the least of Alfred's gains was the destruction of Mercia's unity; its royal house had disappeared in the struggle, and the kingdom was now divided; while Alfred lost his nominal suzerainty over north-east England, he gained a real sovereignty over south-west Mercia. His children, Edward the Elder and Ethelfleda, the Lady of the Mercians, and his grandson Athelstan, pushed on the expansion of Wessex thus begun, dividing the land as they won it into shires, each with a burh (borough) or fortified centre for its military organization; and Anglo-Saxon monarchy reached its zenith under Edgar, who ruled over the whole of England and asserted a suzerainty over most of Britain.

It was transitory glory and superficial unity; for there was no real possibility of a national state in Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Danish England, and the whole meaning of English history is missed in antedating that achievement by several hundred years. Edgar could do no more than evade difficulties and temporize with problems which imperceptible growth alone could solve; and the idealistic pictures of early England are not drawn from life, but inspired by a belief in good old days and an unconscious appreciation of the polemical value of such a theory in political controversy. Tacitus, a splenetic Roman aristocrat, had satirized the degeneracy of the empire under the guise of a description of the primitive virtues of a Utopian Germany; and modern theorists have found in his Germania an armoury of democratic weapons against aristocracy and despotism. From this golden age the Angles and Saxons are supposed to have derived a political system in which most men were free and equal, owning their land in common, debating and deciding in folkmoots the issues of peace and war, electing their kings (if any), and obeying them only so far as they inspired respect. These idyllic arrangements, if they ever existed, did not survive the stress of the migration and the struggle with the Celts. War begat the king, and soon the church baptized him and confirmed his power with unction and biblical precedents. The moot of the folk became the moot of the Wise (Witan), and only those were wise whose wisdom was apparent to the king. Community of goods and equality of property broke down in the vast appropriation involved in the conquest of Britain; and when, after their conversion to Christianity, the barbarians learnt to write and left authentic records, they reveal a state of society which bears some resemblance to that of medieval England but little to that of the mythical golden age.

Upon a nation of freemen in arms had been superimposed a class of military specialists, of whom the king was head. Specialization had broken down the system by which all men did an equal amount of everything. The few, who were called thegns, served the king, generally by fighting his enemies, while the many worked for themselves and for those who served the king. All holders of land, however, had to serve in the national levy and to help in maintaining the bridges and primitive fortifications. But there were endless degrees of inequality in wealth; some now owned but a fraction of what had been the normal share of a household in the land; others held many shares, and the possession of five shares became the dividing line between the class from which the servants of the king were chosen and the rest of the community. While this inequality increased, the tenure of land grew more and more important as the basis of social position and political influence. Land has little value for nomads, but so soon as they settle its worth begins to grow; and the more labour they put into the land, the higher rises its value and the less they want to leave it; in a purely agricultural community land is the great source of everything worth having, and therefore the main object of desire.

But it became increasingly difficult for the small man to retain his holding. He needed protection, especially during the civil wars of the Heptarchy and the Danish inroads which followed. There was, however, no government strong enough to afford protection, and he had to seek it from the nearest magnate, who might possess armed servants to defend him, and perhaps a rudimentary stronghold within which he might shelter himself and his belongings till the storm was past. The magnate naturally wanted his price for these commodities, and the only price that would satisfy him was the poor man's land. So many poor men surrendered the ownership of their land, receiving it back to be held by them as tenants on condition of rendering various services to the landlord, such as ploughing his land, reaping his crops, and other work. Generally, too, the tenant became the landlord's "man," and did him homage; and, thirdly, he would be bound to attend the court in which the lord or his steward exercised jurisdiction.

This growth of private jurisdiction was another sign of the times. Justice had once been administered in the popular moots, though from very early times there had been social distinctions. Each village had its "best" men, generally four in number, who attended the moots of the larger districts called the Hundreds; and the "best" were probably those who had inherited or acquired the best homesteads. This aristocracy sometimes shrank to one, and the magnate, to whom the poor surrendered their land in return for protection, often acquired also rights of jurisdiction, receiving the fines and forfeits imposed for breaches of the law. He was made responsible, too, for the conduct of his poorer neighbours. Originally the family had been made to answer for the offences of its members; but the tie of blood-relationship weakened as the bond of neighbourhood grew stronger with attachment to the soil; and instead of the natural unit of the family, an artificial unit was created for the purpose of responsibility to the law by associating neighbours together in groups of ten, called peace-pledges or frith-borhs. It is at least possible that the "Hundred" was a further association of ten frith-borhs as a higher and more responsible unit for the administration of justice. But the landless man was worthless as a member of a frith-borh, for the law had little hold over a man who had no land to forfeit and no fixed habitation. So the landless man was compelled by law to submit to a lord, who was held responsible for the behaviour of all his "men"; his estate became, so to speak, a private frith-borh, consisting of dependents instead of the freemen of the public frith-borhs. These two systems, with many variations, existed side by side; but there was a general tendency for the freemen to get fewer and for the lords to grow more powerful.

This growth of over-mighty subjects was due to the fact that a government which could not protect the poorest could not restrain the local magnates to whom the poor were forced to turn; and the weakness of the government was due ultimately to the lack of political education and of material resources. The mass of Englishmen were locally minded; there was nothing to suggest national unity to their imagination. They could not read, they had no maps, nor pictures of crowned sovereigns, not even a flag to wave; none, indeed, of those symbols which bring home to the peasant or artisan a consciousness that he belongs to a national entity. Their interests centred round the village green; the "best" men travelled further afield to the hundred and shire-moot, but anything beyond these limits was distant and unreal, the affair of an outside world with which they had no concern. Anglo-Saxon patriotism never transcended provincial boundaries.

The government, on the other hand, possessed no proper roads, no regular means of communication, none of those nerves which enable it to feel what goes on in distant parts. The king, indeed, was beginning to supply the deficiencies of local and popular organization: a special royal peace or protection, which meant specially severe penalties to the offender, was being thrown over special places like highways, markets, boroughs, and churches; over special times like Sundays, holy days, and the meeting-days of moots; and over special persons like priests and royal officials. The church, too, strove to set an example of centralized administration; but its organization was still monastic rather than parochial and episcopal, and even Dunstan failed to cleanse it of sloth and simony. With no regular system of taxation, little government machinery, and no police, standing army, or royal judges, it was impossible to enforce royal protection adequately, or to check the centrifugal tendency of England to break up into its component parts. The monarchy was a man rather than a machine; a vigorous ruler could make some impression, but whenever the crown passed to a feeble king, the reign of anarchy recommenced.

Alfred's successors annexed the Danelaw which Alfred had left to Guthrum, but their efforts to assimilate the Danes provoked in the first place a reaction against West Saxon influence which threatened more than once to separate England north of the Thames from Wessex, and, secondly, a determination on the part of Danes across the sea to save their fellow-countrymen in England from absorption. Other causes no doubt assisted to bring about a renewal of Danish invasion; but the Danes who came at the end of the tenth century, if they began as haphazard bands of rovers, greedy of spoil and ransom, developed into the emissaries of an organized government bent on political conquest. Ethelred, who had to suffer from evils that were incurable as well as for his predecessors' neglect, bought off the raiders with ever- increasing bribes which tempted them to return; and by levying Danegeld to stop invasion, set a precedent for direct taxation which the invaders eventually used as the financial basis of efficient government. At length a foolish massacre of the Danish "uitlanders" in England precipitated the ruin of Anglo-Saxon monarchy; and after heroic resistance by Edmund Ironside, England was absorbed in the empire of Canute.

Canute tried to put himself into the position, while avoiding the mistakes, of his English predecessors. He adopted the Christian religion and set up a force of hus-earls to terrify local magnates and enforce obedience to the English laws which he re-enacted. His division of England into four great earldoms seems to have been merely a casual arrangement, but he does not appear to have checked the dangerous practice by which under Edgar and Ethelred the ealdormen had begun to concentrate in their hands the control of various shires. The greater the sphere of a subject's jurisdiction, the more it menaced the monarchy and national unity; and after Canute's empire had fallen to pieces under his worthless sons, the restoration of Ecgberht's line in the person of Edward the Confessor merely provided a figurehead under whose nominal rule the great earls of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, and East Anglia fought at first for control of the monarchy and at length for the crown itself. The strife resolved itself into a faction fight between the Mercian house of Leofric and the West Saxon house of Godwine, whose dynastic policy has been magnified into patriotism by a great West Saxon historian. The prize fell for the moment on Edward's death to Godwine's son, Harold, whose ambition to sit on a throne cost him his life and the glory, which otherwise might have been his, of saving his country from William the Norman. As regent for one of the scions of Ecgberht's house, he might have relied on the co-operation of his rivals; as an upstart on the throne he could only count on the veiled or open enmity of Mercians and Northumbrians, who regarded him, and were regarded by him, as hardly less foreign than the invader from France.

The battle of Hastings sums up a series and clinches an argument. Anglo-Saxondom had only been saved from Danish marauders by the personal greatness of Alfred; it had utterly failed to respond to Edmund's call to arms against Canute, and the respite under Edward the Confessor had been frittered away. Angles and Saxons invited foreign conquest by a civil war; and when Harold beat back Tostig and his Norwegian ally, the sullen north left him alone to do the same by William. William's was the third and decisive Danish conquest of a house divided against itself; for his Normans were Northmen with a French polish, and they conquered a country in which the soundest elements were already Danish. The stoutest resistance, not only in the military but in the constitutional and social sense, to the Norman Conquest was offered not by Wessex but by the Danelaw, where personal freedom had outlived its hey-day elsewhere; and the reflection that, had the English re-conquest of the Danelaw been more complete, so, too, would have been the Norman Conquest of England, may modify the view that everything great and good in England is Anglo-Saxon in origin. England, indeed, was still in the crudest stages of its making; it had as yet no law worth the name, no trial by jury, no parliament, no real constitution, no effective army or navy, no universities, few schools, hardly any literature, and little art. The disjointed and unruly members of which it consisted in 1066 had to undergo a severe discipline before they could form an organic national state.




For nearly two centuries after the Norman Conquest there is no history of the English people. There is history enough of England, but it is the history of a foreign government. We may now feel pride in the strength of our conqueror or pretend claims to descent from William's companions. We may boast of the empire of Henry II and the prowess of Richard I, and we may celebrate the organized law and justice, the scholarship and the architecture, of the early Plantagenet period; but these things were no more English than the government of India to-day is Hindu. With Waltheof and Hereward English names disappear from English history, from the roll of sovereigns, ministers, bishops, earls, and sheriffs; and their place is taken by names beginning with "fitz" and distinguished by "de." No William, Thomas, Henry, Geoffrey, Gilbert, John, Stephen, Richard, or Robert had played any part in Anglo-Saxon affairs, but they fill the pages of England's history from the days of Harold to those of Edward I. The English language went underground, and became the patois of peasants; the thin trickle of Anglo-Saxon literature dried up, for there was no demand for Anglo- Saxon among an upper class which wrote Latin and spoke French. Foreigners ruled and owned the land, and "native" became synonymous with "serf."

Their common lot, however, gave birth to a common feeling. The Norman was more alien to the Mercian than had been Northumbrian or West-Saxon, and rival tribes at last discovered a bond of unity in the impartial rigour of their masters. The Norman, coming from outside and exempt from local prejudice, applied the same methods of government and exploitation to all parts of England, just as Englishmen bring the same ideas to bear upon all parts of India; and in both cases the steady pressure of a superimposed civilization tended to obliterate local and class divisions. Unwittingly Norman and Angevin despotism made an English nation out of Anglo-Saxon tribes, as English despotism has made a nation out of Irish septs, and will make another out of the hundred races and religions of our Indian empire. The more efficient a despotism, the sooner it makes itself impossible, and the greater the problems it stores up for the future, unless it can divest itself of its despotic attributes and make common cause with the nation it has created.

The provision of this even-handed tyranny was the great contribution of the Normans to the making of England. They had no written law of their own, but to secure themselves they had to enforce order upon their schismatic subjects; and they were able to enforce it because, as military experts, they had no equals in that age. They could not have stood against a nation in arms; but the increasing cost of equipment and the growth of poor and landless classes among the Anglo-Saxons had transferred the military business of the nation into the hands of large landowning specialists; and the Anglo-Saxon warrior was no match for his Norman rival, either individually or collectively. His burh was inferior to the Norman castle, his shield and battle-axe to the weapons of the mailed and mounted knight; and he had none of the coherence that was forced upon the conquerors by the iron hand of William and by their situation amid a hostile people.

The problem for William and his companions was how to organize this military superiority as a means of orderly government, and this problem wore a twofold aspect. William had to control his barons, and his barons had to control their vassals. Their methods have been summed up in the phrase, the "feudal system," which William is still popularly supposed to have introduced into England. On the other hand, it has been humourously suggested that the feudal system was really introduced into England by Sir Henry Spelman, a seventeenth-century scholar. Others have maintained that, so far from feudalism being introduced from Normandy into England, it would be truer to say that feudalism was introduced from England into Normandy, and thence spread throughout France. These speculations serve, at any rate, to show that feudalism was a very vague and elusive system, consisting of generalizations from a vast number of conflicting data. Spelman was the first to attempt to reduce these data to a system, and his successors tended to forget more and more the exceptions to his rules. It is now clear that much that we call feudal existed in England before the Norman Conquest; that much of it was not developed until after the Norman period; and that at no time did feudalism exist as a completely rounded and logical system outside historical and legal text-books.

The political and social arrangements summed up in the phrase related primarily to the land and the conditions of service upon which it was held. Commerce and manufactures, and the organization of towns which grew out of them, were always exceptions to the feudal system; the monarchy saved itself, its sheriffs, and the shires to some extent from feudal influence; and soon it set to work to redeem the administration of justice from its clutches. In all parts of the country, moreover, there was land, the tenure of which was never feudalized. Generally, however, the theory was applied that all land was held directly or indirectly from the king, who was the sole owner of it, that there was no land without a lord, and that from every acre of land some sort of service was due to some one or other. A great deal of it was held by military service; the tenant-in-chief of this land, who might be either a layman or an ecclesiastic, had to render this military service to the king, while the sub-tenants had to render it to the tenants-in-chief. When the tenant died his land reverted to the lord, who only granted it to the heir after the payment of a year's revenue, and on condition of the same service being rendered. If the heir were a minor, and thus incapable of rendering military service, the land was retained by the lord until the heir came of age; heiresses could only marry with the lord's leave some one who could perform his services. The tenant had further to attend the lord's court—whether the lord was his king or not—submit to his jurisdiction, and pay aids to the lord whenever he was captured and needed ransom, when his eldest son was made a knight, and when his eldest daughter married.

Other land was held by churchmen on condition of praying or singing for the soul of the lord, and the importance of this tenure was that it was subject to the church courts and not to those of the king. Some was held in what was called free socage, the terms of which varied; but its distinguishing feature seems to have been that the service, which was not military, was fixed, and that when it was performed the lord had no further hold on the tenant. The great mass of the population were, however, villeins, who were always at the beck and call of their lords, and had to do as much ploughing, sowing, and reaping of his land as he could make them. Theoretically they were his goods and chattels, who could obtain no redress against any one except in the lord's court, and none at all against him. They could not leave their land, nor marry, nor enter the church, nor go to school without his leave. All these forms of tenure and kinds of service, however, shaded off into one another, so that it is impossible to draw hard and fast lines between them. Any one, moreover, might hold different lands on different terms of service, so that there was little of caste in the English system; it was upon the land and not the person that the service was imposed; and William's Domesday Book was not a record of the ranks and classes of the people, but a survey of the land, detailing the rents and service due from every part.

The local agency by which the Normans enforced these arrangements was the manor. The Anglo-Saxons had organized shires and hundreds, but the lowest unit, township or vill seems to have had no organization except, perhaps, for agricultural purposes. The Danegeld, which William imposed after the Domesday survey, was assessed on the hundreds, as though there were no smaller units from which it could be levied. But the hundred was found too cumbrous for the efficient control of local details; it was divided into manors, the Normans using for this purpose the germs of dependent townships which had long been growing up in England; and the agricultural organization of the township was dovetailed into the jurisdictional organization of the manor. The lord became the lord of all the land on the manor, the owner of a court which tried local disputes; but he rarely possessed that criminal jurisdiction in matters of life and death which was common in continental feudalism; and if he did, it was only by special royal grant, and he was gradually deprived of it by the development of royal courts of justice, which drew to themselves large parts of manorial jurisdiction.

These and other matters were reserved for the old courts of the shire and hundred, which the Norman kings found it advisable to encourage as a check upon their barons; for the more completely the natives and villagers were subjected to their lords, the more necessary was it for the king to maintain his hold upon their masters. For this reason William imposed the famous Salisbury oath. In France the sub-tenant was bound to follow and obey his immediate lord rather than the king. William was determined that every man's duty to the king should come first. Similarly, he separated church courts from the secular courts, in order that the former might be saved from the feudal influence of the latter; and he enforced the ecclesiastical reforms of Hildebrand, especially the prohibition of the marriage of the clergy, lest they should convert their benefices into hereditary fiefs for the benefit of their children.

For the principles of heredity and primogeniture were among the strongest of feudal tendencies. Primogeniture had proved politically advantageous; and one of the best things in the Anglo-Saxon monarchy had been its avoidance of the practice, prevalent on the Continent, of kings dividing their dominions among their sons, instead of leaving all united to the eldest. But the principle of heredity, sound enough in national monarchy, was to prove very dangerous in the other spheres of politics. Office tended to become hereditary, and to be regarded as the private property of the family rather than a position of national trust, thus escaping national control and being prostituted for personal ends. The earldoms in England were so perverted; originally they were offices like the modern lords-lieutenancies of the shires; gradually they became hereditary titles. The only remedy the king had was to deprive the earls of their power, and entrust it to a nominal deputy, the sheriff. In France, the sheriff (vice-comes, vicomte) became hereditary in his turn, and a prolonged struggle over the same tendency was fought in England. Fortunately, the crown and country triumphed over the hereditary principle in this respect; the sheriff remained an official, and when viscounts were created later, in imitation of the French nobility, they received only a meaningless and comparatively innocuous title.

Some slight check, too, was retained upon the crown owing to a series of disputed successions to the throne. The Anglo-Saxon monarchy had always been in theory elective, and William had been careful to observe the form. His son, William II, had to obtain election in order to secure the throne against the claims of his elder brother Robert, and Henry I followed his example for similar reasons. Each had to make election promises in the form of a charter; and election promises, although they were seldom kept, had some value as reminders to kings of their duties and theoretical dependence upon the electors. Gradually, too, the kings began to look for support outside their Norman baronage, and to realize that even the submerged English might serve as a makeweight in a balance of opposing forces. Henry I bid for London's support by the grant of a notable charter; for, assisted by the order and communications with the Continent fostered by Norman rule, commerce was beginning to flourish and towns to grow. London was already distancing Winchester in their common ambition to be the capital of the kingdom, and the support of it and of other towns began to be worth buying by grants of local government, more especially as their encouragement provided another check on feudal magnates. Henry, too, made a great appeal to English sentiment by marrying Matilda, the granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, and by revenging the battle of Hastings through a conquest of Normandy from his brother Robert, effected partly by English troops.

But the order, which the three Norman sovereigns evolved out of chaos, was still due more to their personal vigour than to the strength of the administrative machinery which they sought to develop; and though that machinery continued to work during the anarchy which followed, it could not restrain the feudal barons, when the crown was disputed between Henry's daughter Matilda and his nephew Stephen. The barons, indeed, had been more successful in riveting their baronial yoke on the people than the kings had been in riveting a monarchical yoke on the barons; and nothing more vividly illustrates the utter subjection of Anglo- Saxons than the fact that the conquerors could afford to tear each other to pieces for nineteen years (1135-1154) without the least attempt on the part of their subjects to throw off their tyranny. There was no English nation yet; each feudal magnate did what he pleased with his own without fear of royal or popular vengeance, and for once in English history, at any rate, the lords vindicated their independence. The church was the only other body which profited by the strife; within its portals and its courts there was some law and order, some peace and refuge from the worldly welter; and it seized the opportunity to broaden its jurisdiction, magnify its law, exalt its privileges, and assert that to it belonged principally the right to elect and to depose sovereigns. Greater still would have been its services to civilization, had it been able to assert a power of putting down the barons from their castles and raising the peasantry from their bondage.

Deliverance could only come by royal power, and in Henry II, Matilda's son, Anjou gave England a greater king than Normandy had done in William the Bastard. Although a foreigner, who ruled a vast continental empire and spent but a fraction of his days on this side of the Channel, he stands second to none of England's makers. He fashioned the government which hammered together the framework of a national state. First, he gathered up such fragments of royal authority as survived the anarchy; then, with the conservative instincts and pretences of a radical, he looked about for precedents in the customs of his grandfather, proclaiming his intention of restoring good old laws. This reaction brought him up against the encroachments of the church, and the untoward incident of Becket's murder impaired the success of Henry's efforts to establish royal supremacy. But this supremacy must not be exaggerated. Henry did not usurp ecclesiastical jurisdiction; he wanted to see that the clerical courts did their duty; he claimed the power of moving them in this direction; and he hoped to make the crown the arbiter of disputes between the rival spiritual and temporal jurisdictions, realizing that the only alternative to this supreme authority was the arbitrament of war. He also contended that clergy who had been unfrocked in the clerical courts for murder or other crimes should be handed over as laymen to be further punished according to the law of the land, while Becket maintained that unfrocking was a sufficient penalty for the first offence, and that it required a second murder to hang a former priest.

Next, he sought to curb the barons. He instituted scutage, by which the great feudatories granted a money payment instead of bringing with them to the army hordes of their sub-tenants who might obey them rather than the king; this enabled the king to hire mercenaries who respected him but not the feudatories. He cashiered all the sheriffs at once, to explode their pretensions to hereditary tenure of their office. By the assize of arms he called the mass of Englishmen to redress the military balance between the barons and the crown. By other assizes he enabled the owners and possessors of property to appeal to the protection of the royal court of justice: instead of trial by battle they could submit their case to a jury of neighbours; and the weapons of the military expert were thus superseded by the verdicts of peaceful citizens.

This method, which was extended to criminal as well as civil cases, of ascertaining the truth and deciding disputes by means of juratores, men sworn to tell the truth impartially, involved a vast educational process. Hitherto men had regarded the ascertainment of truth as a supernatural task, and they had abandoned it to Providence or the priests. Each party to a dispute had been required to produce oath- helpers or compurgators and each compurgator's oath was valued according to his property, just as the number of a man's votes is still proportioned to some extent to his possessions. But if, as commonly happened, both parties produced the requisite oath-helpers, there was nothing for it but the ordeal by fire or water; the man who sank was innocent, he who floated guilty; and the only rational element in the ritual was its supervision by the priests, who knew something of their parishioners' character. Military tenants, however, preferred their privilege of trial by battle. Now Henry began to teach men to rely upon their judgment; and by degrees a distinction was even made between murder and homicide, which had hitherto been confounded because "the thought of man shall not be tried, for the devil himself knoweth not the thought of man."

In order to carry out his judicial reforms, Henry developed the curia regis, or royal court of justice. That court had simply been the court of the king's barons corresponding to the court of his tenants which every feudal lord possessed. Its financial aspect had already been specialized as the exchequer by the Norman kings, who had realized that finance is the first essential of efficient government. From finance Henry I had gone on to the administration of justice, because justitia magnum emolumentum, the administration of justice is a great source of profit. Henry II's zeal for justice sprang from similar motives: the more justice he could draw from the feudal courts to his own, the greater the revenue he would divert from his unruly barons into the royal exchequer. From the central stores of the curia regis he dispensed a justice that was cheaper, more expeditious, and more expert, than that provided by the local courts. He threw open its doors to all except villeins, he transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike barons into a regular court of trained lawyers—mere servants of the royal household, the barons called them; and by means of justices in eyre he brought it into touch with all localities in the kingdom, and convinced his people that there was a king who meant to govern with their help.

These experts had a free hand as regards the law they administered. The old Anglo-Saxon customs which had done duty for law had degenerated into antiquated formalities, varying in almost every shire and hundred, which were perforce ignored by Henry's judges because they were incomprehensible. So much as they understood and approved they blended with principles drawn from the revived study of Roman law and with Frankish and Norman customs. The legal rules thus elaborated by the king's court were applied by the justices in eyre where-ever their circuits took them, and became in time the common law of England, common because it admitted no local bars and no provincial prejudices. One great stride had been taken in the making of the English nation, when the king's court, trespassing upon local popular and feudal jurisdiction, dumped upon the Anglo-Saxon market the following among other foreign legal concepts—assize, circuit, suit, plaintiff, defendant, maintenance, livery, possession, property, probate, recovery, trespass, treason, felony, fine, coroner, court, inquest, judge, jury, justice, verdict, taxation, charter, liberty, representation, parliament, and constitution. It is difficult to over- estimate the debt the English people owe to their powers of absorbing imports. The very watchwords of progress and catchwords of liberty, from the trial by jury which was ascribed to Alfred the Great to the charter extorted from John, were alien immigrants. We call them alien because they were alien to the Anglo-Saxons; but they are the warp and woof of English institutions, which are too great and too complex to have sprung from purely insular sources.

In spite of the fierce opposition of the barons, who rebelled in 1173, and of disputes with his fractious children which embittered his closing years, Henry II had laid the foundations of national monarchy. But in completing one part of the Norman Conquest, namely, the establishment of royal supremacy over disorderly feudatories, he had modified the other, the arbitrary rule of the barons over the subject people. William had only conquered the people by the help of his barons; Henry II only crushed the barons with the help of lower orders and of ministers raised from the ranks. It was left for his sons to alienate the support which he had enlisted, and to show that, if the first condition of progress was the restraint of the barons, the second was the curbing of the crown. Their reigns illustrate the ineradicable defect of arbitrary rule: a monarch of genius creates an efficient despotism, and is allowed to create it, to deal with evils that yield to no milder treatment. His successors proceed to use that machinery for personal ends. Richard I gilded his abuse of his father's power with the glory of his crusade, and the end afforded a plausible justification for the means he adopted. But John cloaked his tyranny with no specious pretences; his greed and violence spared no section of the community, and forced all into a coalition which extorted from him the Great Charter.

This famous document betrays its composite authorship; no section of the community entered the coalition without something to gain, and none went entirely unrewarded from Runnymede. But if Sir Henry Spelman introduced feudalism into England, his contemporary, Chief-justice Coke, invented Magna Carta: and in view of the profound misconceptions which prevail with regard to its character, it is necessary to insist rather upon its reactionary than upon its reforming elements. The great source of error lies in the change which is always insensibly, but sometimes completely, transforming the meaning of words. Generally the change has been from the concrete to the abstract, because in their earlier stages of education men find it very difficult to grasp anything which is not concrete. The word "liberty" affords a good illustration: in 1215 a "liberty" was the possession by a definite person or group of persons of very definite and tangible privileges, such as having a court of your own with its perquisites, or exemption from the duties of attending the public courts of the shire or hundred, of rendering the services or of paying the dues to which the majority were liable. The value of a "liberty" was that through its enjoyment you were not as other men; the barons would have eared little for liberties which they had to share with the common herd. To them liberty meant privilege and monopoly; it was not a general right to be enjoyed in common. Now Magna Carta is a charter not of "liberty," but of "liberties"; it guaranteed to each section of the coalition those special privileges which Henry II and his sons had threatened or taken away. Some of these liberties were dangerous obstacles to the common welfare—for instance the "liberty" of every lord of the manor to try all suits relating to property and possession in his own manorial court, or to be punished by his fellow-barons instead of by the judges of the king's court. This was what the barons meant by their famous demand in Magna Carta that every man should be judged by his peers; they insisted that the royal judges were not their peers, but only servants of the crown, and their demands in these respects were reactionary proposals which might have been fatal to liberty as we conceive it.

Nor is there anything about trial by jury or "no taxation without representation" in Magna Carta. What we mean by "trial by jury" was not developed till long after 1215; there was still no national, but only class taxation; and the great council, which was to give its assent to royal demands for money, represented nobody but the tenants-in-chief of whom it was composed. All that the barons meant by this clause was that they, as feudal tenants-in-chief, were not to pay more than the ordinary feudal dues. But they left to the king, and they reserved to themselves, the right to tallage their villeins as arbitrarily as they pleased; and even where they seem to be protecting the villeins, they are only preventing the king from levying such judicial fines from their villeins as would make it impossible for those villeins to render their services to the lords. It was to be no affair of the king or nation if a lord exacted the uttermost farthing from his own chattels; legally, the villeins, who were the bulk of the nation, remained after Magna Carta, as before, in the position of a man's ox or horse to-day, except that there was no law for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Finally, the provision that no one was to be arrested until he had been convicted would, if carried out, have made impossible the administration of justice.

On the other hand, the provisions for the fixing of the court of common pleas at Westminster, for standard weights and measures, for the administration of law by men acquainted with English customs, and some others were wholesome reforms. The first clause, guaranteeing that the church should be free from royal (not papal) encroachments, was sound enough when John was king, and the general restraint of his authority, even in the interests of the barons, was not an unmixed evil. But it is as absurd to think that John conceded modern liberty when he granted the charter of medieval liberties, as to think that he permitted some one to found a new religion when he licensed him to endow a new religious house (novam religionem); and to regard Magna Carta as a great popular achievement, when no vernacular version of it is known to have existed before the sixteenth century, and when it contains hardly a word or an idea of popular English origin, involves complete misunderstanding of its meaning and a serious antedating of English nationality.

At no time, indeed, did foreign influence appear more dominant in English politics than during the generation which saw Richard I surrender his kingdom to be held as a fief of the empire, and John surrender it to be held as a temporal fief of the papacy; or when, in the reign of Henry III, a papal legate, Gualo, administered England as a province of the Papal States; when a foreign freebooter was sheriff of six English shires; and when aliens held in their hands the castles and keys of the kingdom. It was a dark hour which preceded the dawn of English nationality, and so far there was no sign of English indignation at the bartering of England's independence. Resistance there was, but it came from men who were only a degree less alien than those whose domination they resented.

Yet a governing class, planted by Henry II, was striking root in English soil and drawing nourishment and inspiration from English feelings. It was reinforced by John's loss of Normandy, which compelled bi-national barons who held lands in both countries to choose between their French and English sovereigns; and those who preferred England became more English than they had been before. The French invasion of England, which followed John's repudiation of the charter, widened the cleavage; and there was something national, if little that was English, in the government of Hubert de Burgh, and still more in the naval victory which Hubert and the men of the Cinque Ports won over the French in the Straits of Dover in 1217. But not a vestige of national feeling animated Henry III; and for twenty-five wearisome years after he had attained his majority he strove to govern England by means of alien relatives and dependents.

The opposition offered by the great council was baronial rather than national; the revolt in which it ended was a revolt of the half-breeds rather than a revolt of the English; and the government they established in 1258 was merely a legalized form of baronial anarchy. But there was this difference between the anarchy of Stephen's reign and that of Henry III's: now, when the foreigners fell out, the English began to come by their own. A sort of "young England" party fell foul of both the barons and the king; Simon de Montfort detached himself from the baronial brethren with whom he had acted, and boldly placed himself at the head of a movement for securing England for the English. He summoned representatives from cities and boroughs to sit side by side with greater and lesser barons in the great council of the realm, which now became an English parliament; and for the first time since the Norman Conquest men of the subject race were called up to deliberate on national affairs. It does not matter whether this was the stroke of a statesman's genius or the lucky improvisation of a party- leader. Simon fell, but his work remained; Prince Edward, who copied his tactics at Evesham, copied his politics in 1275 and afterwards at Westminster; and under the first sovereign since the Norman Conquest who bore an English name, the English people received their national livery and the seisin of their inheritance.




In 1265, simultaneously with the appearance of English townsfolk in parliament, an official document couched in the English tongue appeared like a first peak above the subsiding flood of foreign language. When, three generations back, Abbot Samson had preached English sermons, they were noted as exceptions; but now the vernacular language of the subject race was forcing its way into higher circles, and even into literary use. The upper classes were learning English, and those whose normal tongue was English were thrusting themselves into, or at any rate upon the notice of, the higher strata of society.

The two normal ranks of feudal society had in England naturally been French lords and English tillers of the soil; but commerce had never accommodated itself to this agricultural system, and the growth of trade, of towns, of other forms of wealth than land, tended concurrently to break down French and feudal domination. A large number of towns had been granted, or rather sold, charters by Richard I and John, not because those monarchs were interested in municipal development, but because they wanted money, and in their rights of jurisdiction over towns on the royal domain they possessed a ready marketable commodity. The body which had the means to pay the king's price was generally the local merchant guild; and while these transactions developed local government, they did not necessarily promote popular self-government, because the merchant guild was a wealthy oligarchical body, and it might exercise the jurisdiction it had bought from the king in quite as narrow and harsh a spirit as he had done. The consequent quarrels between town oligarchies and town democracies do not, however, justify the common assumption that there had once been an era of municipal democracy which gradually gave way to oligarchy and corruption. Nevertheless, these local bodies were English, and legally their members had been villeins; and their experience in local government prepared them for admittance to that share in national government which the development of taxation made almost necessary.

Henry II's scheme of active and comprehensive administration, indeed, led by a natural sequence to the parliament of Edward I and further. The more a government tries to do, the more taxation it must impose; and the broadening of the basis of taxation led gradually to the broadening of the basis of representation, for taxation is the mother of representation. So long as real property only—that is to say, the ownership of land—was taxed, the great council contained only the great landowners. But Henry II had found it necessary to tax personalty as well, both clerical and lay, and so by slow steps his successors in the thirteenth century were driven to admit payers of taxes on personalty to the great council. This representative system must not be regarded as a concession to a popular demand for national self- government. When in 1791 a beneficent British parliament granted a popular assembly to the French Canadians, they looked askance and muttered, "C'est une machine anglaise pour nous taxer"; and Edward I's people would have been justified in entertaining the suspicion that it was their money he wanted, not their advice, and still less their control. He wished taxes to be voted in the royal palace at Westminster, just as Henry I had insisted upon bishops being elected in the royal chapel. In the royal presence burgesses and knights of the shire would be more liberal with their constituents' money than those constituents would be with their own when there were neighbours to encourage resistance to a merely distant terror.

The representation people had enjoyed in the shire and hundred moots had been a boon, not because it enabled a few privileged persons to attend, but because by their attendance the mass were enabled to stay away. If the lord or his steward would go in person, his attendance exempted all his tenants; if he would not, the reeve and four "best" men from each township had to go. The "best," moreover, were not chosen by election; the duty and burden was attached to the "best" holdings in the township, and in the thirteenth century the sheriff was hard put to it to secure an adequate representation. This "suit of court" was, in fact, an obligatory service, and membership of parliament was long regarded in a similar light. Parliament did not clamour to be created; it was forced by an enlightened monarchy on a less enlightened people. A parliamentary "summons" had the imperative, minatory sound which now only attaches to its police court use; and centuries later members were occasionally "bound over" to attend at Westminster, and prosecuted if they failed. On one occasion the two knights for Oxfordshire fled the country on hearing of their election, and were proclaimed outlaws. Members of parliament were, in fact, the scapegoats for the people, who were all "intended" or understood to be present in parliament, but enjoyed the privilege of absence through representation. The greater barons never secured this privilege; they had to come in person when summoned, just as they had to serve in person when the king went to the wars. Gradually, of course, this attitude towards representation changed as parliament grasped control of the public purse, and with it the power of taxing its foes and sparing its friends. In other than financial matters it began to pay to be a member; and then it suited magnates not only to come in person but to represent the people in the Lower House, the social quality of which developed with the growth of its power. Only in very recent times has the House of Commons again included such representatives as these whose names are taken from the official returns for the parliaments of Edward I: John the Baker, William the Tailor, Thomas the Summoner, Andrew the Piper, Walter the Spicer, Roger the Draper, Richard the Dyer, Henry the Butcher, Durant the Cordwainer, John the Taverner, William the Red of Bideford, Citizen Richard (Ricardus Civis), and William the priest's son.

The appearance of emancipated villeins side by side with earls and prelates in the great council of the realm is the most significant fact of thirteenth-century English history. The people of England were beginning to have a history which was not merely that of an alien government; and their emergence is traceable not only in language, literature, and local and national politics, but also in the art of war. Edward I discovered in his Welsh wars that the long-bow was more efficient than the weapons of the knight; and his grandson won English victories at Crecy and Poitiers with a weapon which was within the reach of the simple yeoman. The discovery of gunpowder and development of artillery soon proved as fatal to the feudal castle as the long-bow had to the mailed knight; and when the feudal classes had lost their predominance in the art of war, and with it their monopoly of the power of protection, both the reasons for their existence and their capacity to maintain it were undermined. They took to trade, or, at least, to money-making out of land, like ordinary citizens, and thus entered into a competition in which they had not the same assurance of success.

Edward I's greatness consists mainly in his practical appreciation of these tendencies. He was less original, but more fortunate in his opportunity, than Henry II. The time had come to set limits to the encroachments of feudalism and of the church, and Edward was able to impose them because, unlike Henry II, he had the elements of a nation at his back. He was not able to sweep back these inroads, but he placed high-water marks along the frontiers of the state, and saw that they were not transgressed. He inquired into the titles by which the great lords held those portions of sovereign authority which they called their liberties; but he could take no further action when Earl Warenne produced a rusty sword as his effective title-deeds. He prohibited further subinfeudation by enacting that when an estate was sold, the purchaser should become the vassal of the vendor's lord and not of the vendor himself; and the social pyramid was thus rendered more stable, because its base was broadened instead of its height being increased. He expelled the Jews as aliens, in spite of their usefulness to the crown; he encouraged commerce by making profits from land liable to seizure for debt; and he defined the jurisdiction of the church, though he had to leave it authority over all matters relating to marriage, wills, perjury, tithes, offences against the clergy, and ecclesiastical buildings. He succeeded, however, in defiance of its opposition, in making church property liable to temporal taxation, and in passing a Mortmain Act which prohibited the giving of land to monasteries or other corporations without the royal licence.

By thus increasing the national control over the church in England, he made the church itself more national. It is sometimes implied that the church was equally national throughout the Middle Ages; but it is difficult to speak of a national church before there was a nation, or to see that there was anything really English in a church ruled by Lanfranc or Anselm, when there was not an Englishman on the bishops' bench, when the vast majority of Englishmen were legally incapable as villeins of even taking orders in the church, and when the vernacular language had been ousted from its services. But with the English nation grew an English church; Grosseteste denounced the dominance of aliens in the church, while Simon de Montfort denounced it in the state. It was, however, by secular authority that the English church was differentiated from the church abroad. It was the barons and not the bishops who had resisted the assimilation of English to Roman canon law, and it was Edward I, and not Archbishops Peckham and Winchilsey, who defied Pope Boniface VIII. Archbishops, indeed, still placed their allegiance to the pope above that to their king.

The same sense of national and insular solidarity which led Edward to defy the papacy also inspired his efforts to conquer Wales and Scotland. Indeed, it was the refusal of the church to pay taxes in the crisis of the Scottish war that provoked the quarrel with Boniface. But, while Edward was successful in Wales, he encountered in Scotland a growing national spirit not altogether unlike that upon which Edward himself relied in England. Nor was English patriotism sufficiently developed to counteract the sectional feelings which took advantage of the king's embarrassments. The king's necessity was his subjects' opportunity, and the Confirmation of Charters extorted from him in 1297 stands, it is said, to the Great Charter of 1215 in the relation of substance to shadow, of achievement to promise. Edward, however, gave away much less than has often been imagined; he certainly did not abandon his right to tallage the towns, and the lustre of his motto, "Keep troth," is tarnished by his application to the pope for absolution from his promises. Still, he was a great king who served England well by his efforts to eliminate feudalism from the sphere of government, and by his insistence on the doctrine that what touches all should be approved by all. If to some catholic medievalists his reign seems a climax in the ascent of the English people, a climax to be followed by a prolonged recessional, it is because the national forces which he fostered were soon to make irreparable breaches in the superficial unity of Christendom.

The miserable reign of his worthless successor, Edward II, illustrated the importance of the personal factor in the monarchy, and also showed how incapable the barons were of supplying the place of the feeblest king. Both parties failed because they took no account of the commons of England or of national interests. The leading baron, Thomas of Lancaster, was executed; Edward II was murdered; and his assassin, Mortimer, was put to death by Edward III, who grasped some of the significance of his grandfather's success and his father's failure. He felt the national impulse, but he twisted it to serve a selfish and dynastic end. It must not, however, be supposed that the Hundred Years' War originated in Edward's claim to the French throne; that claim was invented to provide a colourable pretext for French feudatories to fight their sovereign in a war which was due to other causes. There was Scotland, for instance, which France wished to save from Edward's clutches; there were the English possessions in Gascony and Guienne, from which the French king hoped to oust his rival; there were bickerings about the lordship of the Narrow Seas which England claimed under Edward II; and there was the wool-market in the Netherlands which England wanted to control. The French nation, in fact, was feeling its feet as well as the English; and a collision was only natural, especially in Guienne and Gascony. Henry II had been as natural a sovereign in France as in England, because he was quite as much a Frenchman as an Englishman. But since then the kings of England had grown English, and their dominion over soil which was growing French became more and more unnatural. The claim to the throne, however, gave the struggle a bitter and fruitless character; and the national means, which Edward employed to maintain the war, only delayed its inevitably futile end. It was supported by wealth derived from national commerce with Flanders and Gascony; national armies were raised by enlistment to replace the feudal levy; the national long-bow and not the feudal war- horse won the battles of Crecy and Poitiers; and command of the sea secured by a national navy enabled Edward to win the victory of Sluys and complete the reduction of Calais. War, moreover, required extra supplies in unprecedented amounts, and they took the form of national taxes, voted by the House of Commons, which supplemented and then supplanted the feudal aids as the mainstay of royal finance.

Control of these supplies brought the House of Commons into constitutional prominence. It was no mere Third Estate after the continental model, for knights of the shire sat side by side with burgesses and citizens; and knights of the shire were the lesser barons, who, receiving no special writ of summons, cast in their lot with the Lower and not with the Upper House. Parliament had separated into two Houses in the reign of Edward II—for Edward I's Model Parliament had been a Single Chamber, though doubtless it voted by classes—but the House of Commons represented the communities of the realm, and not its lower orders; or rather, it concentrated all these communities—shires, cities, and boroughs—and welded them into a single community of the realm. It thus created a nucleus for national feeling, which gradually cured the localism of early England and the sectionalism of feudal society; and it developed an esprit de corps which counteracted the influence of the court. The advantages which the crown may have hoped to secure by bringing representatives up to Westminster, and thus detaching them from their basis of local resistance, were frustrated by the solidarity and consistency which grew up among members of parliament; and this growing national consciousness supplanted local consciousness as the safeguard of constitutional liberty.

Most of the principles and expedients of representative government were adumbrated during this first flush of English nationalism, which has been called "the age of the Commons." The petitions, by which alone parliament had been able to express its grievances, were turned into bills which the crown had to answer, not evasively, but by a thinly veiled "yes" or "no." The granting of taxes was made conditional upon the redress of grievances; the crown finally lost its right to tallage; and its powers of independent taxation were restricted to the levying of the "ancient customs" upon dry goods and wines. If it required more than these and than the proceeds from the royal domains, royal jurisdiction, and diminishing feudal aids, it had to apply to parliament. The expense of the Hundred Years' War rendered such applications frequent; and they were used by the Commons to increase their constitutional power. Attempts were made with varying success to assert that the ministers of the crown, both local and national, were responsible to parliament, and that money-grants could only originate in the House of Commons, which might appropriate taxes to specific objects and audit accounts so as to see that the appropriation was carried out.

The growth of national feeling led also to limitations of papal power. Early in Edward III's reign a claim was made that the king, in virtue of his anointing at coronation, could exercise spiritual jurisdiction, and the statutes of Praemunire and Provisors prohibited the exercise in England of the pope's powers of judicature and appointment to benefices without the royal licence, though royal connivance and popular acquiescence enabled the papacy to enjoy these privileges for nearly two centuries longer. National feeling was particularly inflamed against the papacy because the "Babylonish captivity" of the pope at Avignon made him appear an instrument in the hands of England's enemy, the king of France; and that captivity was followed by the "Great Schism," during which the quarrels of two, and then three, popes, simultaneously claiming to be the only head of the church on earth, undermined respect for their office. These circumstances combined with the wealth and corruption of the church to provoke the Lollard movement, which was the ecclesiastical aspect of the democratic tendencies of the age.

One of the most striking illustrations of popular development was the demand for vernacular versions of the Scriptures, which Wycliffe met by his translation of the Bible. At the same time Langland made literature for the common people out of their common lot, a fact that can hardly be understood unless we remember that villeins, although they might be fined by their lords for so doing, were sending their sons in increasing numbers to schools, which were eventually thrown open to them by the Statute of Labourers in 1406. The fact that Chaucer wrote in English shows how the popular tongue was becoming the language of the court and educated classes. Town chronicles and the records of guilds and companies began to be written in English; legal proceedings are taken in the same tongue, though the law-reports continued to be written in French; and after a struggle between French and Latin, even the laws are drawn up in English. That the church persisted, naturally enough, in its usage of catholic Latin, tended to increase its alienation from popular sympathies. Wycliffe represented this national feeling when he appealed to national authority to reform a corrupt Catholic church, and when he finally denied that power of miraculous transubstantiation, upon which ultimately was based the claim of the priesthood to special privileges and estimation. But his association with the extreme forms of social agitation, which accompanied the Lollard movement, is less clear.

Before the end of Edward III's reign the French war had produced a crop of disgrace, disorder, and discontent. Heavy taxation had not availed to retain the provinces ceded to England at the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, and hordes of disbanded soldiery exploited the social disorganization produced by the Black Death; a third of the population was swept away, and many villeins deserted their land to take up the more attractive labour provided in towns by growing crafts and manufactures. The lords tried by drastic measures to exact the services from villeins which there were not enough villeins to perform; and the imposition of a poll-tax was the signal for a comprehensive revolt of town artisans and agricultural labourers in 1381. Its failure did not long impede their emancipation, and the process of commuting services for rent seems to have gone on more rapidly in the first half of the fifteenth than in the fourteenth century. But the passionate preaching of social equality which inflamed the minds of the insurgents produced no further results; in their existing condition of political education, the peasant and artisan had perforce to be content with watching the struggles of higher classes for power.

Richard II, who had succeeded his grandfather in 1377, reaped the whirlwind of Edward's sowing, not so much in the consequences of the war as in the fruits of his peerage policy. The fourteenth century which nationalized the Commons, isolated the Lords; and the baronage shrank into the peerage. The word "peer" is not of English origin, nor has it any real English meaning. Its etymological meaning of "equal" does not carry us very far; for a peer may be equal to anything. But the peers, consisting as they do of archbishops, dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, bishops, and barons, of peers who are lords of parliament and of peers who are neither lords of parliament nor electors to the House of Commons, are not even equal to one another; and certainly they would deny that other people were equal to them. The use of the word in its modern sense was borrowed from France in the fourteenth century; but in France it had a meaning which it could not have in England. A peer in France claimed equality with the crown; that is to say, he was the ruler of one of the great fiefs which had been equal to the county of Paris when the count of Paris had been elected by his equals king of France. If the king of Wessex had been elected king of England by the other kings of the Heptarchy, and if those other kings had left successors, those successors might have claimed to be peers in a real sense. But they had no such pretensions; they were simply greater barons, who had been the tenants-at-will of their king.

The barons, however, of William I or Henry II had been a large class of comparatively small men, while the peers of Richard II were a small class of big men. The mass of lesser barons had been separated from the greater barons, and had been merged in the landed gentry who were represented by the knights of the shire in the House of Commons. The greater barons were summoned by special and individual writs to the House of Lords; but there was nothing to fetter the crown in its issue of these writs. The fact that a great baron was summoned once, did not mean that he need be summoned again, and the summons of the father did not involve the summons of his eldest son and successor. But gradually the greater barons made this summons hereditary and robbed the crown of all discretion in the matter, though it was not till the reign of Charles I that the House of Lords decided in its own favour the question whether the crown had the power to refuse a writ of summons to a peer who had once received one.

With this narrowing of the baronage, the barons lost the position they had held in the thirteenth century as leaders of constitutional reform, and this part was played in the fourteenth century by the knights of the shire. The greater barons devoted themselves rather to family than to national politics; and a system of breeding-in amalgamated many small houses into a few great ones. Thomas of Lancaster held five earldoms; he was the rival of Edward II, and might well be called a peer of the crown. Edward III, perceiving the menace of these great houses to the crown, tried to capture them in its interests by means of marriages between his sons and great heiresses. The Black Prince married the daughter of the Earl of Kent; Lionel became Earl of Ulster in the right of his wife; John of Gaunt married the heiress of Lancaster and became Duke of Lancaster; Thomas of Woodstock married the heiress of the Bohuns, Earls of Essex and of Hereford; the descendants of Edmund, Duke of York, absorbed the great rival house of Mortimer; and other great houses were brought within the royal family circle. New titles were imported from abroad to emphasize the new dignity of the greater barons. Hitherto there had been barons only, and a few earls whose dignity was an office; now by Edward III and Richard II there were added dukes, marquises, and viscounts, and England might boast of a peerage nearly, if not quite, as dangerous to the crown as that of France. For Edward's policy failed: instead of securing the great houses in the interests of the crown, it degraded the crown to the arena of peerage rivalries, and ultimately made it the prize of noble factions.

Richard II was not the man to deal with these over-mighty subjects. He may perhaps be described as a "New" monarch born before his time. He had some of the notions which the Tudors subsequently developed with success; but he had none of their power and self-control, and he was faced from his accession by a band of insubordinate uncles. Moreover, it needed the Wars of the Roses finally to convince the country of the meaning of the independence of the peerage. Richard fell a victim to his own impatience and their turbulence. Henry IV came to the throne as the king of the peers, and hardly maintained his uneasy crown against their rival ambitions. The Commons, by constitutional reform, reduced almost to insignificance a sovereignty which the Lords could not overthrow by rebellion; and by insisting that the king should "live of his own," without taxing the country, deprived him of the means of orderly government. Their ideal constitution approached so nearly to anarchy that it is impossible not to suspect collusion between them and the Lords. The church alone could Henry placate by passing his statute for burning heretics.

Henry V took refuge from this domestic imbroglio in a spirited foreign policy, and put forward a claim more hollow than Edward III's to the throne of France. There were temptations in the hopeless condition of French affairs which no one but a statesman could have resisted; Henry, a brilliant soldier and a bigoted churchman, was anything but a statesman; and the value of his churchmanship may be gauged from the fact that he assumed the insolence of a crusader against a nation more catholic than his own. He won a deplorably splendid victory at Agincourt, married the French king's daughter, and was crowned king of France. Then he died in 1422, leaving a son nine months old, with nothing but success in the impossible task of subduing France to save the Lancastrian dynasty from the nemesis of vaulting ambition abroad and problems shelved at home.

Step by step the curse of war came home to roost. Henry V's abler but less brilliant brother, Bedford, stemmed till his death the rising tide of English faction and French patriotism. Then the expulsion of the English from France began, and a long tale of failure discredited the government. The nation had spirit enough to resent defeat, but not the means to avoid it; and strife between the peace party and the war party in the government resolved itself into a faction fight between Lancastrians and Yorkists. The consequent impotence of the government provoked a bastard feudal anarchy, maintained by hirelings instead of liegemen. Local factions fought with no respect for the law, which was administered, if at all, in the interests of one or other of the great factions at court; and these two great factions fostered and organized local parties till the strife between them grew into the Wars of the Roses.

Those wars are perhaps the most puzzling episode in English history. The action of an organized government is comparatively easy to follow, but it is impossible to analyze the politics of anarchy. The Yorkist claim to the throne was not the cause of the war; it was, like Edward III's claim to the throne of France, merely a matter of tactics, and was only played as a trump card. No political, constitutional, or religious principle was at stake; and the more peaceable, organized parts of the community took little share in the struggle. No great battle was fought south of the Thames, and no town stood a siege. It looks as though the great military and feudal specialists, whose power lay principally on the Borders, were engaged in a final internecine struggle for the control of England, in somewhat the same way as the Ostmark or East Border of the Empire became Austria, and the Nordmark or North Border became Prussia, and in turn dominated Germany. Certainly the defeat of these forces was a victory for southern and eastern England, and for the commercial and maritime interests on which its growing wealth and prosperity hung; and the most important point in the wars was not the triumph of Edward IV over the Lancastrians in 1461, but his triumph over Warwick, the kingmaker, ten years later. The New Monarchy has been plausibly dated from 1471; but Edward IV had not the political genius to work out in detailed administration the results of the victory which he owed to his military skill, and Richard III, who possessed the ability, made himself impossible as a king by the crimes he had to commit in order to reach the throne. The reconstruction of English government on a broader and firmer national basis was therefore left to Henry VII and the House of Tudor.




England had passed through the Middle Ages without giving any sign of the greatness which awaited its future development. Edward III and Henry V had won temporary renown in France, but English sovereigns had failed to subjugate the smaller countries of Scotland and Ireland, which were more immediately their concern. Wycliffe and Chaucer, with perhaps Roger Bacon, are the only English names of first importance in the realms of medieval thought and literature, unless we put Bede (673- 735) in the Middle Ages; for insular genius does not seem to have flourished under ecumenical inspiration; and even Wycliffe and Chaucer may be claimed as products of the national rather than of the catholic spirit. But with the transition from medieval to modern history, the conditions were altered in England's favour. The geographical expansion of Europe made the outposts of the Old World the entrepts for the New; the development of navigation and sea-power changed the ocean from the limit into the link of empires; and the growth of industry and commerce revolutionized the social and financial foundations of power. National states were forming; the state which could best adapt itself to these changed and changing conditions would outdistance its rivals; and its capacity to adapt itself to them would largely depend on the strength and flexibility of its national organization. It was the achievement of the New Monarchy to fashion this organization, and to rescue the country from an anarchy which had already given other powers the start in the race and promised little success for England.

Henry VII had to begin in a quiet, unostentatious way with very scanty materials. With a bad title and many pretenders, with an evil heritage of social disorder, he must have been sorely tempted to indulge in the heroics of Henry V. He followed a sounder business policy, and his reign is dull, because he gave peace and prosperity at home without fighting a battle abroad. His foreign policy was dictated by insular interests regardless of personal glory; and the security of his kingdom and the trade of his people were the aims of all his treaties with other powers. At home he carefully depressed the over-mighty subjects who had made the Wars of the Roses; he kept down their number with such success that he left behind him only one English duke and one English marquis; he limited their retainers, and restrained by means of the Star Chamber their habits of maintaining lawbreakers, packing juries, and intimidating judges. By a careful distribution of fines and benevolences he filled his exchequer without taxing the mass of his people; and by giving office to ecclesiastics and men of humble origin he both secured cheaper and more efficient administration, and established a check upon feudal influence. He was determined that no Englishman should build any castle walls over which the English king could not look, and that, as far as possible, no private person should possess a franchise in which the king's writ did not run. He left to his son, Henry VIII, a stable throne and a united kingdom.

The first half of Henry VIII's reign left little mark on English history. Wolsey played a brilliant but essentially futile part on the diplomatic stage, where the rivalry and balance of forces between the Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France helped him to pose as the arbiter of Christendom. But he obtained no permanent national gains; and the final result of his foreign policy was to make the emperor master of the papacy at the moment when Henry wanted the pope to annul his marriage with the emperor's aunt, Catherine of Aragon. Henry desired a son to succeed him and to prevent the recurrence of dynastic wars; he had only a daughter, Mary, and no woman had yet ruled or reigned in England. The death of all his male children by Catherine convinced him that his marriage with his deceased brother Arthur's widow was invalid; and his passion for Anne Boleyn added zest to his suit for a divorce. The pope could not afford to quarrel with Charles V, who cared little, indeed, for the cause of his aunt, but much for his cousin Mary's claim to the English throne; and in 1529 Henry began the process, completed in the acts of Annates, Appeals, and Supremacy, by which England severed its connexion with Rome, and the king became head of an English church.

It is irrational to pretend that so durable an achievement was due to so transient a cause as Henry's passion for Anne Boleyn or desire for a son; vaster, older, and more deeply seated forces were at work. In one sense the breach was simply the ecclesiastical consummation of the forces which had long been making for national independence, and the religious complement of the changes which had emancipated the English state, language, and literature from foreign control.

The Catholic church naturally resisted its disintegration, and the severance was effected by the secular arms of parliament and the crown. The nationalism of the English church was the result rather than the cause of the breach with Rome, and its national characteristics— supreme governance by the king, the disappearance of cosmopolitan religious orders, the parliamentary authorization of services in the vernacular, of English books of Common Prayer, of English versions of the Bible, and of the Thirty-nine Articles—were all imposed by parliament after, and not adopted by the church before, the separation. There were, indeed, no legal means by which the church in England could have accomplished these things for itself; there were the convocations of Canterbury and York, but these were two subordinate provinces of the Catholic church; and, whatever may be said for provincial autonomy in the medieval church, the only marks of national autonomy were stamped upon it by the state. York was more independent of Canterbury than Canterbury was of Rome; and the unity as well as the independence of the national church depends upon the common subjection of both its provinces to the crown. This predominance of state over church was a consequence of its nationalization; for where the boundaries of the two coincide, the state generally has the upper hand. The papacy was only made possible by the fall of the Western Empire; in the Eastern Empire the state, so long as it survived, controlled the church; and the independence of the medieval church was due to its catholicity, while the state at best was only national. It was in defence of the catholicity, as opposed to the nationalism, of the church that More and Fisher went to the scaffold in 1535, and nearly the whole bench of bishops was deprived in 1559. Henry VIII and Elizabeth were bent on destroying the medieval discord between the Catholic church and the national state. Catholicity had broken down in the state with the decline of the empire, and was fast breaking down in the church; nationalism had triumphed in the state, and was now to triumph in the church.

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