HotFreeBooks.com
The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. VII. (of 12)
by Edmund Burke
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There is nothing more memorable in history than the actions, fortunes, and character of this great man,—whether we consider the grandeur of the plans he formed, the courage and wisdom with which they were executed, or the splendor of that success which, adorning his youth, continued without the smallest reverse to support his age, even to the last moments of his life. He lived above seventy years, and reigned within ten years as long as he lived, sixty over his dukedom, above twenty over England,—both of which he acquired or kept by his own magnanimity, with hardly any other title than he derived from his arms: so that he might be reputed, in all respects, as happy as the highest ambition, the most fully gratified, can make a man. The silent inward satisfactions of domestic happiness he neither had nor sought. He had a body suited to the character of his mind, erect, firm, large, and active, whilst to be active was a praise,—a countenance stern, and which became command. Magnificent in his living, reserved in his conversation, grave in his common deportment, but relaxing with a wise facetiousness, he knew how to relieve his mind and preserve his dignity: for he never forfeited by a personal acquaintance that esteem he had acquired by his great actions. Unlearned in books, he formed his understanding by the rigid discipline of a large and complicated experience. He knew men much, and therefore generally trusted them but little; but when he knew any man to be good, he reposed in him an entire confidence, which prevented his prudence from degenerating into a vice. He had vices in his composition, and great ones; but they were the vices of a great mind: ambition, the malady of every extensive genius,—and avarice, the madness of the wise: one chiefly actuated his youth,—the other governed his age. The vices of young and light minds, the joys of wine and the pleasures of love, never reached his aspiring nature. The general run of men he looked on with contempt, and treated with cruelty when they opposed him. Nor was the rigor of his mind to be softened but with the appearance of extraordinary fortitude in his enemies, which, by a sympathy congenial to his own virtues, always excited his admiration and insured his mercy. So that there were often seen in this one man, at the same time, the extremes of a savage cruelty, and a generosity that does honor to human nature. Religion, too, seemed to have a great influence on his mind, from policy, or from better motives; but his religion was displayed in the regularity with which he performed its duties, not in the submission he showed to its ministers, which was never more than what good government required. Yet his choice of a counsellor and favorite was, not according to the mode of the time, out of that order, and a choice that does honor to his memory. This was Lanfranc, a man of great learning for the times, and extraordinary piety. He owed his elevation to William; but though always inviolably faithful, he never was the tool or flatterer of the power which raised him; and the greater freedom he showed, the higher he rose in the confidence of his master. By mixing with the concerns of state he did not lose his religion and conscience, or make them the covers or instruments of ambition; but tempering the fierce policy of a new power by the mild lights of religion, he became a blessing to the country in which he was promoted. The English owed to the virtue of this stranger, and the influence he had on the king, the little remains of liberty they continued to enjoy, and at last such a degree of his confidence as in some sort counterbalanced the severities of the former part of his reign.

FOOTNOTES:

[72] I have known, myself, great mistakes in calculation by computing, as the produce of every day in the year, that of one extraordinary day.

[73] The Bishop of Winchester fined for not putting the king in mind to give a girdle to the Countess of Albemarle.—Robertus de Vallibus debet quinque optimos palafredos, ut rex taceret de uxore Henrici Pinel.—The wife of Hugh do Nevil fined in two hundred hens, that she might lie with, her husband for one night; another, that he might rise from, his infirmity; a third, that he might eat.

[74] For some particulars of the condition of the English of this time, vide Eadmer, p. 110.

[75] Upon occasion of a ward refused in marriage. Wright thinks the feudal right of marriage not then introduced.



CHAPTER III.

REIGN OF WILLIAM THE SECOND, SURNAMED RUFUS.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1087.]

William had by his queen Matilda three sons, who survived him,—Robert, William, and Henry. Robert, though in an advanced age at his father's death, was even then more remarkable for those virtues which make us entertain hopes of a young man than for that steady prudence which is necessary when the short career we are to run will not allow us to make many mistakes. He had, indeed, a temper suitable to the genius of the time he lived in, and which therefore enabled him to make a considerable figure in the transactions which distinguished that period. He was of a sincere, open, candid nature; passionately fond of glory; ambitious, without having any determinate object in view; vehement in his pursuits, but inconstant; much in war, which he understood and loved. But guiding himself, both in war and peace, solely by the impulses of an unbounded and irregular spirit, he filled the world with an equal admiration and pity of his splendid qualities and great misfortunes. William was of a character very different. His views were short, his designs few, his genius narrow, and his manners brutal; full of craft, rapacious, without faith, without religion; but circumspect, steady, and courageous for his ends, not for glory. These qualities secured to him that fortune which the virtues of Robert deserved. Of Henry we shall speak hereafter.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1088.]

We have seen the quarrels, together with the causes of them, which embroiled the Conqueror with his eldest son, Robert. Although the wound was skinned over by several temporary and palliative accommodations, it still left a soreness in the father's mind, which influenced him by his last will to cut off Robert from the inheritance of his English dominions. Those he declared he derived from his sword, and therefore he would dispose of them, to that son whose dutiful behavior had made him the most worthy. To William, therefore, he left his crown; to Henry he devised his treasures: Robert possessed nothing but the Duchy, which was his birthright. William had some advantages to enforce the execution of a bequest which was not included even in any of the modes of succession which then were admitted. He was at the time of his father's death in England, and had an opportunity of seizing the vacant government, a thing of great moment in all disputed rights. He had also, by his presence, an opportunity of engaging some of the most considerable leading men in his interests. But his greatest strength was derived from the adherence to his cause of Lanfranc, a prelate of the greatest authority amongst the English as well as the Normans, both from the place he had held in the Conqueror's esteem, whose memory all men respected, and from his own great and excellent qualities. By the advice of this prelate the new monarch professed to be entirely governed. And as an earnest of his future reign, he renounced all the rigid maxims of conquest, and swore to protect the Church and the people, and to govern by St. Edward's Laws,—a promise extremely grateful and popular to all parties: for the Normans, finding the English passionately desirous of these laws, and only knowing that they were in general favorable to liberty and conducive to peace and order, became equally clamorous for their reestablishment. By these measures, and the weakness of those which were adopted by Robert, William established himself on his throne, and suppressed a dangerous conspiracy formed by some Norman noblemen in the interests of his brother, although it was fomented by all the art and intrigue which his uncle Odo could put in practice, the most bold and politic man of that age.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1089.]

The security he began to enjoy from this success, and the strength which government receives by merely continuing, gave room to his natural dispositions to break out in several acts of tyranny and injustice. The forest laws were executed with rigor, the old impositions revived, and new laid on. Lanfranc made representations to the king on this conduct, but they produced no other effect than the abatement of his credit, which from that moment to his death, which happened soon after, was very little in the government. The revenue of the vacant see was seized into the king's hands. When the Church lands were made subject to military service, they seemed to partake all the qualities of the military tenure, and to be subject to the same burdens; and as on the death of a military vassal his land was in wardship of the lord until the heir had attained his age, so there arose a pretence, on the vacancy of a bishopric, to suppose the land in ward with the king until the seat should be filled. This principle, once established, opened a large field for various lucrative abuses; nor could it be supposed, whilst the vacancy turned to such good account, that a necessitous or avaricious king would show any extraordinary haste to put the bishoprics and abbacies out of his power. In effect, William always kept them a long time vacant, and in the vacancy granted away much of their possessions, particularly several manors belonging to the see of Canterbury; and when he filled this see, it was only to prostitute that dignity by disposing of it to the highest bidder.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1093.]

To support him in these courses he chose for his minister Ralph Flambard, a fit instrument in his designs, and possessed of such art and eloquence as to color them in a specious manner. This man inflamed all the king's passions, and encouraged him in his unjust enterprises. It is hard to say which was most unpopular, the king or his minister. But Flambard, having escaped a conspiracy against his life, and having punished the conspirators severely, struck such a general terror into the nation, that none dared to oppose him. Robert's title alone stood in the king's way, and he knew that this must be a perpetual source of disturbance to him. He resolved, therefore, to put him in peril for his own dominions. He collected a large army, and entering into Normandy, he began a war, at first with great success, on account of a difference between the Duke and his brother Henry. But their common dread of William reconciled them; and this reconciliation put them in a condition of procuring an equal peace, the chief conditions of which were, that Robert should be put in possession of certain seigniories in England, and that each, in case of survival, should succeed to the other's dominions. William concluded this peace the more readily, because Malcolm, King of Scotland, who hung over him, was ready upon every advantage to invade his territories, and had now actually entered England with a powerful army. Robert, who courted action, without regarding what interest might have dictated, immediately on concluding the treaty entered into his brother's service in this war against the Scots; which, on the king's return, being in appearance laid asleep by an accommodation, broke out with redoubled fury the following year. The King of Scotland, provoked to this rupture by the haughtiness of William, was circumvented by the artifice and fraud of one of his ministers: under an appearance of negotiation, he was attacked and killed, together with his only son. This was a grievous wound to Scotland, in the loss of one of the wisest and bravest of her kings, and in the domestic distractions which afterwards tore that kingdom to pieces.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1094.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1096.]

No sooner was this war ended, than William, freed from an enemy which had given himself and his father so many alarms, renewed his ill treatment of his brother, and refused to abide by the terms of the late treaty. Robert, incensed at these repeated perfidies, returned to Normandy with thoughts full of revenge and war. But he found that the artifices and bribes of the King of England had corrupted the greatest part of his barons, and filled the country with faction and disloyalty. His own facility of temper had relaxed all the bands of government, and contributed greatly to these disorders. In this distress he was obliged to have recourse to the King of France for succor. Philip, who was then on the throne, entered into his quarrel. Nor was William, on his side, backward; though prodigal to the highest degree, the resources of his tyranny and extortion were inexhaustible. He was enabled to enter Normandy once more with a considerable army. But the opposition, too, was considerable; and the war had probably been spun out to a great length, and had drawn on very bloody consequences, if one of the most extraordinary events which are contained in the history of mankind had not suspended their arms, and drawn, all inferior views, sentiments, and designs into the vortex of one grand project. This was the Crusade, which, with astonishing success, now began to be preached through all Europe. This design was then, and it continued long after, the principle which influenced the transactions of that period both at home and abroad; it will, therefore, not be foreign to our subject to trace it to its source.

As the power of the Papacy spread, the see of Rome began to be more and more an object of ambition; the most refined intrigues were put in practice to attain it; and all the princes of Europe interested themselves in the contest. The election of Pope was not regulated by those prudent dispositions which have since taken place; there were frequent pretences to controvert the validity of the election, and of course several persons at the same time laid claim to that dignity. Popes and Antipopes arose. Europe was rent asunder by these disputes, whilst some princes maintained the rights of one party, and some defended the pretensions of the other: sometimes the prince acknowledged one Pope, whilst his subjects adhered to his rival. The scandals occasioned by these schisms were infinite; and they threatened a deadly wound to that authority whose greatness had occasioned them. Princes were taught to know their own power. That Pope who this day was a suppliant to a monarch to be recognized by him could with an ill grace pretend to govern him with an high hand the next. The lustre of the Holy See began to be tarnished, when Urban the Second, after a long contest of this nature, was universally acknowledged. That Pope, sensible by his own experience of the ill consequence of such disputes, sought to turn the minds of the people into another channel, and by exerting it vigorously to give a new strength to the Papal power. In an age so ignorant, it was very natural that men should think a great deal in religion depended upon the very scene where the work of our Redemption was accomplished. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were therefore judged highly meritorious, and became very frequent. But the country which was the object of them, as well as several of those through which the journey lay, were in the hands of Mahometans, who, against all the rules of humanity and good policy, treated the Christian pilgrims with great indignity. These, on their return, filled the minds of their neighbors with hatred and resentment against those infidels. Pope Urban laid hold on this disposition, and encouraged Peter the Hermit, a man visionary, zealous, enthusiastic, and possessed of a warm irregular eloquence adapted to the pitch of his hearers, to preach an expedition for the delivery of the Holy Land.

Great designs may be started and the spirit of them inspired by enthusiasts, but cool heads are required to bring them into form. The Pope, not relying solely on Peter, called a council at Clermont, where an infinite number of people of all sorts were assembled. Here he dispensed with a full hand benedictions and indulgences to all persons who should engage in the expedition; and preaching with great vehemence in a large plain, towards the end of his discourse, somebody, by design or by accident, cried out, "It is the will of God!" This voice was repeated by the next, and in a moment it circulated through this innumerable people, which rang with the acclamation of "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"[76] The neighboring villages caught up those oracular words, and it is incredible with what celerity they spread everywhere around into places the most distant. This circumstance, then considered as miraculous, contributed greatly to the success of the Hermit's mission. No less did the disposition of the nobility throughout Europe, wholly actuated with devotion and chivalry, contribute to forward an enterprise so suited to the gratification of both these passions. Everything was now in motion; both sexes, and every station and age and condition of life, engaged with transport in this holy warfare.[77] There was even a danger that Europe would be entirely exhausted by the torrents that were rushing out to deluge Asia. These vast bodies, collected without choice, were conducted without skill or order; and they succeeded accordingly. Women and children composed no small part of those armies, which were headed by priests; and it is hard to say which is most lamentable, the destruction of such multitudes of men, or the frenzy which drew it upon them. But this design, after innumerable calamities, began at last to be conducted in a manner worthy of so grand and bold a project. Raimond, Count of Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, and several other princes, who were great captains as well as devotees, engaged in the expedition, and with suitable effects. But none burned more to signalize his zeal and courage on this occasion than Robert, Duke of Normandy, who was fired with the thoughts of an enterprise which seemed to be made for his genius. He immediately suspended his interesting quarrel with his brother, and, instead of contesting with him the crown to which he had such fair pretensions, or the duchy of which he was in possession, he proposed to mortgage to him the latter during five years for a sum of thirteen thousand marks of gold. William, who had neither sense of religion nor thirst of glory, intrenched in his secure and narrow policy, laughed at a design that had deceived all the great minds in Europe. He extorted, as usual, this sum from his subjects, and immediately took possession of Normandy; whilst Robert, at the head of a gallant army, leaving his hereditary dominions, is gone to cut out unknown kingdoms in Asia.

Some conspiracies disturbed the course of the reign, or rather tyranny, of this prince: as plots usually do, they ended in the ruin of those who contrived them, but proved no check to the ill government of William. Some disturbances, too, he had from the incursions of the Welsh, from revolts in Normandy, and from a war, that began and ended without anything memorable either in the cause or consequence, with France.

He had a dispute at home which at another time had raised great disturbances; but nothing was now considered but the expedition to the Holy Land. After the death of Lanfranc, William omitted for a long time to fill up that see, and had even alienated a considerable portion of the revenue. A fit of sickness, however, softened his mind; and the clergy, taking advantage of those happy moments, among other parts of misgovernment which they advised him to correct, particularly urged him to fill the vacant sees. He filled that of Canterbury with Anselm, Bishop of Bec, a man of great piety and learning, but inflexible and rigid in whatever related to the rights, real or supposed, of the Church. This prelate refused to accept the see of Canterbury, foreseeing the troubles that must arise from his own dispositions and those of the king; nor was he prevailed upon to accept it, but on a promise of indemnification for what the temporalities of the see had suffered. But William's sickness and pious resolutions ending together, little care was taken about the execution of this agreement. Thus began a quarrel between this rapacious king and inflexible archbishop. Soon after, Anselm declared in favor of Pope Urban, before the king had recognized him, and thus subjected himself to the law which William the Conqueror had made against accepting a Pope without his consent. The quarrel was inflamed to the highest pitch; and Anselm desiring to depart the kingdom, the king consented.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1100.]

The eyes of all men being now turned towards the great transactions in the East, William, Duke of Guienne, fired by the success and glory that attended the holy adventurers, resolved to take the cross; but his revenues were not sufficient to support the figure his rank required in this expedition. He applied to the King of England, who, being master of the purses of his subjects, never wanted money; and he was politician enough to avail himself of the prodigal, inconsiderate zeal of the times to lay out this money to great advantage. He acted the part of usurer to the Croises; and as he had taken Normandy in mortgage from his brother Robert, having advanced the Duke of Guienne a sum on the same conditions, he was ready to confirm his bargain by taking possession, when he was killed in hunting by an accidental stroke of an arrow which pierced his heart. This accident happened in the New Forest, which his father with such infinite oppression of the people had made, and in which they both delighted extremely. In the same forest the Conqueror's eldest son, a youth of great hopes, had several years before met his death from the horns of a stag; and these so memorable fates to the same family and in the same place easily inclined men to think this a judgment from Heaven: the people consoling themselves under their sufferings with these equivocal marks of the vengeance of Providence upon their oppressors.

We have painted this prince in the colors in which he is drawn by all the writers who lived the nearest to his time. Although the monkish historians, affected with the partiality of their character, and with the sense of recent injuries, expressed themselves with passion concerning him, we have no other guides to follow. Nothing, indeed, in his life appears to vindicate his character; and it makes strongly for his disadvantage, that, without any great end of government, he contradicted the prejudices of the age in which he lived, the general and common foundation of honor, and thereby made himself obnoxious to that body of men who had the sole custody of fame, and could alone transmit his name with glory or disgrace to posterity.

FOOTNOTES:

[76] Maimbourg.

[77] Chron. Sax. 204.



CHAPTER IV.

REIGN OF HENRY I.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1100.]

Henry, the youngest son of the Conqueror, was hunting at the same time and in the same forest in which his brother met his fate. He was not long before he came to a resolution of seizing on the vacant crown. The order of succession had already been broken; the absence of Duke Robert, and the concurrence of many circumstances altogether resembling those which had been so favorable to the late monarch, incited him to a similar attempt. To lose no time at a juncture when the use of a moment is often decisive, he went directly to Winchester, where the regalia and the treasures of the crown were deposited. But the governor, a man of resolution, and firmly attached to Robert, positively refused to deliver them. Henry, conscious that great enterprises are not to be conducted in a middle course, prepared to reduce him by force of arms. During this contest, the news of the king's death, and the attempts of Henry, drew great numbers of the nobility to Winchester, and with them a vast concourse of the inferior people. To the nobility he set forth his title to the crown in the most plausible manner it could bear: he alleged that he was born after his father had acquired his kingdom, and that he was therefore natural heir of the crown; but that his brother was, at best, only born to the inheritance of a dukedom. The nobility heard the claim of this prince; but they were more generally inclined to Robert, whose birthright, less questionable in itself, had been also confirmed by a solemn treaty. But whilst they retired to consult, Henry, well apprised of their dispositions, and who therefore was little inclined to wait the result of their debates, threw himself entirely upon the populace. To them he said little concerning his title, as he knew such an audience is little moved with a discussion of rights, but much with the spirit and manner in which they are claimed; for which reason he began by drawing his sword, and swearing, with a bold and determined air, to persist in his pretensions to his last breath. Then turning to the crowd, and remitting of his severity, he began to soothe them with the promises of a milder government than they had experienced either beneath his brother or his father; the Church should enjoy her immunities, the people their liberties, the nobles their pleasures; the forest laws should cease; the distinction of Englishman and Norman be heard no more. Next he expatiated on the grievances of the former reigns, and promised to redress them all. Lastly, he spoke of his brother Robert, whose dissoluteness, whose inactivity, whose unsteady temper, nay, whose very virtues, threatened nothing but ruin to any country which he should govern. The people received this popular harangue, delivered by a prince whose person was full of grace and majesty, with shouts of joy and rapture. Immediately they rush to the house where the council is held, which they surround, and with clamor and menaces demand Henry for their king. The nobility were terrified by the sedition; and remembering how little present Robert had been on a former occasion to his own interests, or to those who defended him, they joined their voice to that of the people, and Henry was proclaimed without opposition. The treasure which he seized he divided amongst those that seemed wavering in his cause; and that he might secure his new and disputed right by every method, he proceeded without delay to London to be crowned, and to sanctify by the solemnity of the unction the choice of the people. As the churchmen in those days were the arbiters of everything, and as no churchman possessed more credit than Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been persecuted and banished by his brother, he recalled that prelate, and by every mark of confidence confirmed him in his interests. Two other steps he took, equally prudent and politic: he confirmed and enlarged the privileges of the city of London, and gave to the whole kingdom a charter of liberties, which was the first of the kind, and laid the foundation of those successive charters which at last completed the freedom of the subject. In fine, he cemented the whole fabric of his power by marrying Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scotland, by the sister of Edgar Atheling,—thus to insure the affection, of the English, and, as he flattered himself, to have a sure succession to his children.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1101.]

The Crusade being successfully finished by the taking of Jerusalem, Robert returned into Europe. He had acquired great reputation in that war, in which he had no interest; his real and valuable rights he prosecuted with languor. Yet such was the respect paid to his title, and such the attraction of his personal accomplishments, that, when he had at last taken possession of his Norman territories, and entered England with an army to assert his birthright, he found most of the Norman barons, and many of the English, in readiness to join him. But the diligence of Anselm, who employed all his credit to keep the people firm to the oath they had taken, prevented him from profiting of the general inclination in his favor. His friends began to fall off by degrees, so that he was induced, as well by the situation of his affairs as the flexibility of his temper, to submit to a treaty on the plan of that he had formerly entered into with his brother Rufus.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1103.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1106.]

This treaty being made, Robert returned to his dukedom, and gave himself over to his natural indolence and dissipation. Uncured by his misfortunes of a loose generosity that flowed indiscriminately on all, he mortgaged every branch of his revenue, and almost his whole domain. His barons, despising his indigence, and secure in the benignity of his temper, began to assume the unhappy privilege of sovereigns. They made war on each other at pleasure, and, pursuing their hostilities with the most scandalous license, they reduced that fine country to a deplorable condition. In vain did the people, ruined by the tyranny and divisions of the great, apply to Robert for protection: neither from his circumstances nor his character was he able to afford them any effectual relief; whilst Henry, who by his bribes and artifices kept alive the disorder of which he complained and profited, formed a party in Normandy to call him over, and to put the dukedom under his protection. Accordingly, he prepared a considerable force for the expedition, and taxed his own subjects, arbitrarily, and without mercy, for the relief he pretended to afford those of his brother. His preparations roused Robert from his indolence, and united likewise the greater part of his barons to his cause, unwilling to change a master whose only fault was his indulgence of them for the severe vigilance of Henry. The King of France espoused the same side; and even in England some emotions were excited in favor of the Duke by indignation for the wrongs he had suffered and those he was going to suffer. Henry was alarmed, but did not renounce his design. He was to the last degree jealous of his prerogative; but knowing what immense resources kings may have in popularity, he called on this occasion a great council of his barons and prelates, and there, by his arts and his eloquence, in both which he was powerful, he persuaded the assembly to a hearty declaration in his favor, and to a large supply. Thus secured at home, he lost no time to pass over to the continent, and to bring the Norman army to a speedy engagement. They fought under the walls of Tinchebrai, where the bravery and military genius of Robert, never more conspicuous than on that day, were borne down by the superior fortune and numbers of his ambitious brother. He was made prisoner; and notwithstanding all the tender pleas of their common blood, in spite of his virtues, and even of his misfortunes, which pleaded so strongly for mercy, the rigid conqueror held him in various prisons until his death, which did not happen until after a rigorous confinement of eighteen, some say twenty-seven, years. This was the end of a prince born with a thousand excellent qualities, which served no other purpose than to confirm, from the example of his misfortunes, that a facility of disposition and a weak beneficence are the greatest vices that can enter into the composition of a monarch, equally ruinous to himself and to his subjects.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1107.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1108.]

The success of this battle put Henry in possession of Normandy, which he held ever after with very little disturbance. He fortified his new acquisition by demolishing the castles of those turbulent barons who had wasted and afterwards enslaved their country by their dissensions. Order and justice took place, until everything was reduced to obedience; then a severe and regular oppression succeeded the former disorderly tyranny. In England things took the same course. The king no longer doubted his fortune, and therefore no longer respected his promises or his charter. The forests, the savage passion of the Norman princes, for which both the prince and people paid so dearly, were maintained, increased, and guarded with laws more rigorous than before. Taxes were largely and arbitrarily assessed. But all this tyranny did not weaken, though it vexed the nation, because the great men were kept in proper subjection, and justice was steadily administered.

The politics of this remarkable reign consisted of three branches: to redress the gross abuses which prevailed in the civil government and the revenue, to humble the great barons, and keep the aspiring spirit of the clergy within proper bounds. The introduction of a new law with a new people at the Conquest had unsettled everything: for whilst some adhered to the Conqueror's regulations, and others contended for those of St. Edward, neither of them were well executed or properly obeyed. The king, therefore, with the assistance of his justiciaries, compiled a new body of laws, in order to find a temper between both. The coin had been miserably debased, but it was restored by the king's vigilance, and preserved by punishments, cruel, but terrifying in their example. There was a savageness in all the judicial proceedings of those days, that gave even justice itself the complexion of tyranny: for whilst a number of men were seen in all parts of the kingdom, some castrated, some without hands, others with their feet cut off, and in various ways cruelly mangled, the view of a perpetual punishment blotted out the memory of the transient crime, and government was the more odious, which, out of a cruel and mistaken mercy, to avoid punishing with death, devised torments far more terrible than death itself.

But nothing called for redress more than the disorders in the king's own household. It was considered as an incident annexed to their tenure, that the socage vassals of the crown, and so of all the subordinate barons, should receive their lord and all his followers, and supply them in their progresses and journeys, which custom continued for some ages after in Ireland, under the name of coshering. But this indefinite and ill-contrived charge on the tenant was easily perverted to an instrument of much oppression by the disorders of a rude and licentious court; insomuch that the tenants, in fear for their substance, for the honor of their women, and often for their lives, deserted their habitations and fled into the woods on the king's approach. No circumstance could be more dishonorable to a prince; but happily, like many other great abuses, it gave rise to a great reform, which went much further than its immediate purposes. This disorder, which the punishment of offenders could only palliate, was entirely taken away by commuting personal service for a rent in money; which regulation, passing from the king to all the inferior lords, in a short time wrought a great change in the state of the nation. To humble the great men, more arbitrary methods were used. The adherence to the title of Robert was a cause, or a pretence, of depriving many of their vast possessions, which were split or parcelled out amongst the king's creatures, with great injustice to particulars, but in the consequences with general and lasting benefit. The king held his courts, according to the custom, at Christmas and Easter, but he seldom kept both festivals in the same place. He made continual progresses into all parts of his kingdom, and brought the royal authority and person home to the doors of his haughty barons, which kept them in strict obedience during his long and severe reign.

His contests with the Church, concerning the right of investiture, were more obstinate and more dangerous. As this is an affair that troubled all Europe as well as England, and holds deservedly a principal place in the story of those times, it will not be impertinent to trace it up to its original. In the early times of Christianity, when religion was only drawn from its obscurity to be persecuted, when a bishop was only a candidate for martyrdom, neither the preferment, nor the right of bestowing it, were sought with great ambition. Bishops were then elected, and often against their desire, by their clergy and the people: the subordinate ecclesiastical districts were provided for in the same manner. After the Roman Empire became Christian, this usage, so generally established, still maintained its ground. However, in the principal cities, the Emperor frequently exercised the privilege of giving a sanction to the choice, and sometimes of appointing the bishop; though, for the most part, the popular election still prevailed. But when, the Barbarians, after destroying the Empire, had at length submitted their necks to the Gospel, their kings and great men, full of zeal and gratitude to their instructors, endowed the Church with large territories and great privileges. In this case it was but natural that they should be the patrons of those dignities and nominate to that power which arose from their own free bounty. Hence the bishoprics in the greatest part of Europe became in effect, whatever some few might have been in appearance, merely donative. And as the bishoprics formed so many seigniories, when the feudal establishment was completed, they partook of the feudal nature, so far as they were subjects capable of it; homage and fealty were required on the part of the spiritual vassal; the king, on his part, gave the bishop the investiture, or livery and seizin of his temporalities, by the delivery of a ring and staff. This was the original manner of granting feudal property, and something like it is still practised in our base-courts. Pope Adrian confirmed this privilege to Charlemagne by an express grant. The clergy of that time, ignorant, but inquisitive, were very ready at finding types and mysteries in every ceremony: they construed the staff into an emblem of the pastoral care, and the ring into a type of the bishop's allegorical marriage to his church, and therefore supposed them designed as emblems of a jurisdiction merely spiritual. The Papal pretensions increased with the general ignorance and superstition; and the better to support these pretensions, it was necessary at once to exalt the clergy extremely, and, by breaking off all ties between them and their natural sovereigns, to attach them wholly to the Roman see. In pursuance of this project, the Pope first strictly forbade the clergy to receive investitures from laymen, or to do them homage. A council held at Rome entirely condemned this practice; and the condemnation was the less unpopular, because the investiture gave rise to frequent and flagrant abuses, especially in England, where the sees were on this pretence with much scandal long held in the king's hands, and afterwards as scandalously and publicly sold to the highest bidder. So it had been in the last reign, and so it continued in this.

Henry, though vigorously attacked, with great resolution maintained the rights of his crown with regard to investitures, whilst he saw the Emperor, who claimed a right of investing the Pope himself, subdued by the thunder of the Vatican. His chief opposition was within his own kingdom. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of unblamable life, and of learning for his time, but blindly attached to the rights of the Church, real or supposed, refused to consecrate those who received investitures from the king. The parties appealed to Rome. Rome, unwilling either to recede from her pretensions or to provoke a powerful monarch, gives a dubious answer. Meanwhile the contest grows hotter. Anselm is obliged to quit the kingdom, but is still inflexible. At last, the king, who, from the delicate situation of his affairs in the beginning of his reign, had been obliged to temporize for a long time, by his usual prudent mixture of management with force obliged the Pope to a temperament which seemed extremely judicious. The king received homage and fealty from his vassal; the investiture, as it was generally understood to relate to spiritual jurisdiction, was given up, and on this equal bottom peace was established. The secret of the Pope's moderation was this: he was at that juncture close pressed by the Emperor, and it might be highly dangerous to contend with two such enemies at once; and he was much more ready to yield to Henry, who had no reciprocal demands on him, than to the Emperor, who had many and just ones, and to whom he could not yield any one point without giving up an infinite number of others very material and interesting.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1120.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1127.]

As the king extricated himself happily from so great an affair, so all the other difficulties of his reign only exercised, without endangering him. The efforts of France in favor of the son of Robert were late, desultory, and therefore unsuccessful. That youth, endued with equal virtue and more prudence than his father, after exerting many useless acts of unfortunate bravery, fell in battle, and freed Henry from all disturbance on the side of France. The incursions of the Welsh in this reign only gave him an opportunity of confining that people within narrower bounds. At home he was well obeyed by his subjects; abroad he dignified his family by splendid alliances. His daughter Matilda he married to the Emperor. But his private fortunes did not flow with so even a course as his public affairs. His only son, William, with a natural daughter, and many of the flower of the young nobility, perished at sea between Normandy and England. From that fatal accident the king was never seen to smile. He sought in vain from a second marriage to provide a male successor; but when he saw all prospect of this at an end, he called a great council of his barons and prelates. His daughter Matilda, after the decease of the Emperor, he had given in marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. As she was his only remaining issue, he caused her to be acknowledged as his successor by the great council; he enforced this acknowledgment by solemn oaths of fealty,—a sanction which he weakened rather than confirmed by frequent repetition: vainly imagining that on his death any ties would bind to the respect of a succession so little respected by himself, and by the violation of which he had procured his crown. Having taken these measures in favor of his daughter, he died in Normandy, but in a good old age, and in the thirty-sixth year of a prosperous reign.



CHAPTER V.

REIGN OF STEPHEN.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1135.]

Although the authority of the crown had been exercised with very little restraint during the three preceding reigns, the succession to it, or even the principles of the succession, were but ill ascertained: so that a doubt might justly have arisen, whether the crown was not in a great measure elective. This uncertainty exposed the nation, at the death of every king, to all the calamities of a civil war; but it was a circumstance favorable to the designs of Stephen, Earl of Boulogne, who was son of Stephen, Earl of Blois, by a daughter of the Conqueror. The late king had raised him to great employments, and enriched him by the grant of several lordships. His brother had been made Bishop of Winchester; and by adding to it the place of his chief justiciary, the king gave him an opportunity of becoming one of the richest subjects in Europe, and of extending an unlimited influence over the clergy and the people. Henry trusted, by the promotion of two persons so near him in blood, and so bound by benefits, that he had formed an impenetrable fence about the succession; but he only inspired into Stephen the design of seizing on the crown by bringing him so near it. The opportunity was favorable. The king died abroad; Matilda was absent with her husband; and the Bishop of Winchester, by his universal credit, disposed the churchmen to elect his brother, with the concurrence of the greatest part of the nobility, who forgot their oaths, and vainly hoped that a bad title would necessarily produce a good government. Stephen, in the flower of youth, bold, active, and courageous, full of generosity and a noble affability, that seemed to reproach the state and avarice of the preceding kings, was not wanting to his fortune. He seized immediately the immense treasures of Henry, and by distributing them with a judicious profusion removed all doubts concerning his title to them. He did not spare even the royal demesne, but secured himself a vast number of adherents by involving their guilt and interest in his own. He raised a considerable army of Flemings, in order to strengthen himself against another turn of the same instability which had raised him to the throne; and, in imitation of the measures of the late king, he concluded all by giving a charter of liberties as ample as the people at that time aspired to. This charter contained a renunciation of the forests made by his predecessor, a grant to the ecclesiastics of a jurisdiction over their own vassals, and to the people in general an immunity from unjust tallages and exactions. It is remarkable, that the oath of allegiance taken by the nobility on this occasion was conditional: it was to be observed so long as the king observed the terms of his charter,—a condition which added no real security to the rights of the subject, but which proved a fruitful source of dissension, tumult, and civil violence.

The measures which the king hitherto pursued were dictated by sound policy; but he took another step to secure his throne, which in fact took away all its security, and at the same time brought the country to extreme misery, and to the brink of utter ruin.

At the Conquest there were very few fortifications in the kingdom. William found it necessary for his security to erect several. During the struggles of the English, the Norman nobility were permitted (as in reason it could not be refused) to fortify their own houses. It was, however, still understood that no new fortress could be erected without the king's special license. These private castles began very early to embarrass the government. The royal castles were scarcely less troublesome: for, as everything was then in tenure, the governor held his place by the tenure of castle-guard; and thus, instead of a simple officer, subject to his pleasure, the king had to deal with a feudal tenant, secure against him by law, if he performed his services, and by force, if he was unwilling to perform them. Every resolution of government required a sort of civil war to put it in execution. The two last kings had taken, and demolished several of these castles; but when they found the reduction, of any of them difficult, their custom frequently was, to erect another close by it, tower against tower, ditch against ditch: these were called Malvoisins, from their purpose and situation. Thus, instead of removing, they in fact doubled the mischief. Stephen, perceiving the passion of the barons for these castles, among other popular acts in the beginning of his reign, gave a general license for erecting them. Then was seen to arise in every corner of the kingdom, in every petty seigniory, an inconceivable multitude of strongholds, the seats of violence, and the receptacles of murderers, felons, debasers of the coin, and all manner of desperate and abandoned villains. Eleven hundred and fifteen of these castles were built in this single reign. The barons, having thus shut out the law, made continual inroads upon each other, and spread war, rapine, burning, and desolation throughout the whole kingdom. They infested the highroads, and put a stop to all trade by plundering the merchants and travellers. Those who dwelt in the open country they forced into their castles, and after pillaging them of all their visible substance, these tyrants held them in dungeons, and tortured them with a thousand cruel inventions to extort a discovery of their hidden wealth. The lamentable representation given by history of those barbarous times justifies the pictures in the old romances of the castles of giants and magicians. A great part of Europe was in the same deplorable condition. It was then that some gallant spirits, struck with a generous indignation at the tyranny of these miscreants, blessed solemnly by the bishop, and followed by the praises and vows of the people, sallied forth to vindicate the chastity of women and to redress the wrongs of travellers and peaceable men. The adventurous humor inspired by the Crusade heightened and extended this spirit; and thus the idea of knight-errantry was formed.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1138.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1139.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1141.]

Stephen felt personally these inconveniences; but because the evil was too stubborn to be redressed at once, he resolved to proceed gradually, and to begin with the castles of the bishops,—as they evidently held them, not only against the interests of the crown, but against the canons of the Church. From the nobles he expected no opposition to this design: they beheld with envy the pride of these ecclesiastical fortresses, whose battlements seemed to insult the poverty of the lay barons. This disposition, and a want of unanimity among the clergy themselves, enabled Stephen to succeed in his attempt against the Bishop of Salisbury, one of the first whom he attacked, and whose castles, from their strength and situation, were of the greatest importance. But the affairs of this prince were so circumstanced that he could pursue no council that was not dangerous. His breach with the clergy let in the party of his rival, Matilda. This party was supported by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, natural son to the late king,—a man powerful by his vast possessions, but more formidable through his popularity, and the courage and abilities by which he had acquired it. Several other circumstances weakened the cause of Stephen. The charter, and the other favorable acts, the scaffolding of his ambition, when he saw the structure raised, he threw down and contemned. In order to maintain his troops, as well as to attach men to his cause, where no principle bound them, vast and continual largesses became necessary: all his legal revenue had been dissipated; and he was therefore obliged to have recourse to such methods of raising money as were evidently illegal. These causes every day gave some accession of strength to the party against him; the friends of Matilda were encouraged to appear in arms; a civil war ensued, long and bloody, prosecuted as chance or a blind rage directed, by mutual acts of cruelty and treachery, by frequent surprisals and assaults of castles, and by a number of battles and skirmishes fought to no determinate end, and in which nothing of the military art appeared, but the destruction which it caused. Various, on this occasion, were the reverses of fortune, while Stephen, though embarrassed by the weakness of his title, by the scantiness of his finances, and all the disorders which arose from both, supported his tottering throne with wonderful activity and courage; but being at length defeated and made prisoner under the walls of Lincoln, the clergy openly declare for Matilda. The city of London, though unwillingly, follows the example of the clergy. The defection from Stephen was growing universal.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1153.]

But Matilda, puffed up with a greatness which as yet had no solid foundation and stood merely in personal favor, shook it in the minds of all men by assuming, together with the insolence of conquest, the haughty rigor of an established dominion. Her title appeared but too good in the resemblance she bore to the pride of the former kings. This made the first ill success in her affairs fatal. Her great support, the Earl of Gloucester, was in his turn made prisoner. In exchange for his liberty that of Stephen was procured, who renewed the war with his usual vigor. As he apprehended an attempt from Scotland in favor of Matilda, descended from the blood royal of that nation, to balance this weight, he persuaded the King of France to declare in his favor, alarmed as he was by the progress of Henry, the son of Matilda, and Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. This prince, no more than sixteen years of age, after receiving knighthood from David, King of Scotland, began to display a courage and capacity destined to the greatest things. Of a complexion which strongly inclined to pleasure, he listened to nothing but ambition; at an age which is usually given up to passion, he submitted delicacy to politics, and even in his marriage only remembered the interests of a sovereign,—for, without examining too scrupulously into her character, he married Eleanor, the heiress of Guienne, though divorced from her husband for her supposed gallantries in the Holy Land. He made use of the accession of power which he acquired by this match to assert his birthright to Normandy. This he did with great success, because he was favored by the general inclination of the people for the blood of their ancient lords. Flushed with this prosperous beginning, he aspired to greater things; he obliged the King of France to submit to a truce; and then he turned his arms to support the rights of his family in England, from whence Matilda retired, unequal to the troublesome part she had long acted. Worn out with age, and the clashing of furious factions, she shut herself up in a monastery, and left to her son the succession of a civil war. Stephen was now pressed with renewed vigor. Henry had rather the advantage in the field; Stephen had the possession, of the government. Their fortunes appearing nearly balanced, and the fuel of dissension being consumed by a continual and bloody war of thirteen years, an accommodation was proposed and accepted. Henry found it dangerous to refuse his consent, as the bishops and barons, even of his own party, dreaded the consequences, if a prince, in the prime of an ambitious youth, should establish an hereditary title by the force of foreign arms. This treaty, signed at Wallingford, left the possession of the crown for his life to Stephen, but secured the succession to Henry, whom that prince adopted. The castles erected in this reign were to be demolished; the exorbitant grants of the royal demesne to be resumed. To the son of Stephen all his private possessions were secured.

Thus ended this tedious and ruinous civil war. Stephen survived it near two years; and now, finding himself more secure as the lawful tenant than he had been as the usurping proprietor of the crown, he no longer governed on the maxims of necessity. He made no new attempts in favor of his family, but spent the remainder of his reign in correcting the disorders which arose from his steps in its commencement, and in healing the wounds of so long and cruel a war. Thus he left the kingdom in peace to his successor, but his character, as it is usual where party is concerned, greatly disputed. Wherever his natural dispositions had room to exert themselves, they appeared virtuous and princely; but the lust to reign, which often attends great virtues, was fatal to his, frequently hid them, and always rendered them suspected.



CHAPTER VI.

REIGN OF HENRY II.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1154.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1158.]

The death of Stephen left an undisputed succession for the first time since the death of Edward the Confessor. Henry, descended equally from the Norman Conqueror and the old English kings, adopted by Stephen, acknowledged by the barons, united in himself every kind of title. It was grown into a custom for the king to grant a charter of liberties on his accession to the crown. Henry also granted a charter of that kind, confirming that of his grandfather; but as his situation was very different from that of his predecessors, his charter was different,—reserved, short, dry, conceived in general terms,—a gift, not a bargain. And, indeed, there seems to have been at that juncture but little occasion to limit a power which seemed not more than sufficient to correct all the evils of an unlimited liberty. Henry spent the beginning of his reign in repairing the ruins of the royal authority, and in restoring to the kingdom peace and order, along with its ancient limits; and he may well be considered as the restorer of the English monarchy. Stephen had sacrificed the demesne of the crown, and many of its rights, to his subjects; and the necessity of the times obliged both that prince and the Empress Matilda to purchase, in their turns, the precarious friendship of the King of Scotland by a cession of almost all the country north of the Humber. But Henry obliged the King of Scotland to restore his acquisitions, and to renew his homage. He took the same methods with his barons. Not sparing the grants of his mother, he resumed what had been so lavishly squandered by both of the contending parties, who, to establish their claims, had given away almost everything that made them valuable. There never was a prince in Europe who better understood the advantages to be derived from its peculiar constitution, in which greater acquisitions of dominion are made by judicious marriages than by success in war: for, having added to his patrimonial territories of Anjou and Normandy the Duchy of Guienne by his own marriage, the male issue of the Dukes of Brittany failing, he took the opportunity of marrying his third son, Geoffrey, then an infant, to the heiress of that important province, an infant also; and thus uniting by so strong a link his northern to his southern dominions, he possessed in his own name, or in those of his wife and son, all that fine and extensive country that is washed by the Atlantic Ocean, from Picardy quite to the foot of the Pyrenees.

Henry, possessed of such extensive territories, and aiming at further acquisitions, saw with indignation that the sovereign authority in all of them, especially in England, had been greatly diminished. By his resumptions he had, indeed, lessened the greatness of several of the nobility. He had by force of arms reduced those who forcibly held the crown lands, and deprived them of their own estates for their rebellion. He demolished many castles, those perpetual resources of rebellion and disorder. But the great aim of his policy was to break the power of the clergy, which each of his predecessors, since Edward, had alternately strove to raise and to depress,—at first in order to gain that potent body to their interests, and then to preserve them in subjection to the authority which they had conferred. The clergy had elected Stephen; they had deposed Stephen, and elected Matilda; and in the instruments which they used on these occasions they affirmed in themselves a general right of electing the kings of England. Their share both in the elevation and depression of that prince showed that they possessed a power inconsistent with the safety and dignity of the state. The immunities which they enjoyed seemed no less prejudicial to the civil economy,—and the rather, as, in the confusion of Stephen's reign, many, to protect themselves from the prevailing violence of the time, or to sanctify their own disorders, had taken refuge in the clerical character. The Church was never so full of scandalous persons, who, being accountable only in the ecclesiastical courts, where no crime is punished with death, were guilty of every crime. A priest had about this time committed a murder attended with very aggravating circumstances. The king, willing at once to restore order and to depress the clergy, laid hold of this favorable opportunity to convoke the cause to his own court, when the atrociousness of the crime made all men look with an evil eye upon the claim of any privilege which might prevent the severest justice. The nation in general seemed but little inclined to controvert so useful a regulation with so potent a prince.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1162.]

Amidst this general acquiescence one man was found bold enough to oppose him, who for eight years together embroiled all his affairs, poisoned his satisfactions, endangered his dominions, and at length in his death triumphed over all the power and policy of this wise and potent monarch. This was Thomas a-Becket, a man memorable for the great glory and the bitter reproaches he has met with from posterity. This person was the son of a respectable citizen of London. He was bred to the study of the civil and canon law, the education, then, used to qualify a man for public affairs, in which he soon made a distinguished figure. By the royal favor and his own abilities, he rose, in a rapid succession through several considerable employments, from an office under the sheriff of London, to be High Chancellor of the kingdom. In this high post he showed a spirit as elevated; but it was rather a military spirit than that of the gownman,—magnificent to excess in his living and appearance, and distinguishing himself in the tournaments and other martial sports of that age with much ostentation of courage and expense. The king, who favored him greatly, and expected a suitable return, on the vacancy, destined Becket, yet a layman, to the see of Canterbury, and hoped to find in him a warm promoter of the reformation he intended. Hardly a priest, he was made the first prelate in the kingdom. But no sooner was he invested with the clerical character than the whole tenor of his conduct was seen to change all at once: of his pompous retinue a few plain servants only remained; a monastic temperance regulated his table; and his life, in all respects formed to the most rigid austerity, seemed to prepare him for that superiority he was resolved to assume, and the conflicts he foresaw he must undergo in this attempt.

It will not be unpleasing to pause a moment at this remarkable period, in order to view in what consisted that greatness of the clergy, which enabled them to bear so very considerable a sway in all public affairs,—what foundations supported the weight of so vast a power,—whence it had its origin,—what was the nature, and what the ground, of the immunities they claimed,—that we may the more fully enter into this important controversy, and may not judge, as some have inconsiderately done, of the affairs of those times by ideas taken from the present manners and opinions.

It is sufficiently known, that the first Christians, avoiding the Pagan tribunals, tried most even of their civil causes before the bishop, who, though he had no direct coercive power, yet, wielding the sword of excommunication, had wherewithal to enforce the execution of his judgments. Thus the bishop had a considerable sway in temporal affairs, even before he was owned by the temporal power. But the Emperors no sooner became Christian than, the idea of profaneness being removed from the secular tribunals, the causes of the Christian laity naturally passed to that resort where those of the generality had been before. But the reverence for the bishop still remained, and the remembrance of his former jurisdiction. It was not thought decent, that he, who had been a judge in his own court, should become a suitor in the court of another. The body of the clergy likewise, who were supposed to have no secular concerns for which they could litigate, and removed by their character from all suspicion of violence, were left to be tried by their own ecclesiastical superiors. This was, with a little variation, sometimes in extending, sometimes in restraining the bishops' jurisdiction, the condition of things whilst the Roman Empire subsisted. But though their immunities were great and their possessions ample, yet, living under an absolute form of government, they were powerful only by influence. No jurisdictions were annexed to their lands; they had no place in the senate; they were no order in the state.

From the settlement of the Northern nations the clergy must be considered in another light. The Barbarians gave them large landed possessions; and by giving them land, they gave them jurisdiction, which, according to their notions, was inseparable from it. They made them an order in the state; and as all the orders had their privileges, the clergy had theirs, and were no less steady to preserve and ambitious to extend them. Our ancestors, having united the Church dignities to the secular dignities of baronies, had so blended the ecclesiastical with the temporal power in the same persons that it became almost impossible to separate them. The ecclesiastical was, however, prevalent in this composition, drew to it the other, supported it, and was supported by it. But it was not the devotion only, but the necessity of the tunes, that raised the clergy to the excess of this greatness. The little learning which then subsisted remained wholly in their hands. Few among the laity could even read; consequently the clergy alone were proper for public affairs. They were the statesmen, they were the lawyers; from them were often taken the bailiffs of the seigneurial courts, sometimes the sheriffs of counties, and almost constantly the justiciaries of the kingdom.[78] The Norman kings, always jealous of their order, were always forced to employ them. In abbeys the law was studied; abbeys were the palladiums of the public liberty by the custody of the royal charters and most of the records. Thus, necessary to the great by their knowledge, venerable to the poor by their hospitality, dreadful to all by the power of excommunication, the character of the clergy was exalted above everything in the state; and it could no more be otherwise in those days than it is possible it should be so in ours.

William the Conqueror made it one principal point of his politics to reduce the clergy; but all the steps he took in it were not equally well calculated to answer this intention. When he subjected the Church lands to military service, the clergy complained bitterly, as it lessened their revenue: but I imagine it did not lessen their power in proportion; for by this regulation they came, like other great lords, to have their military vassals, who owed them homage and fealty: and this rather increased their consideration amongst so martial a people. The kings who succeeded him, though they also aimed at reducing the ecclesiastical power, never pursued their scheme on a great or legislative principle. They seemed rather desirous of enriching themselves by the abuses in the Church than earnest to correct them. One day they plundered and the next day they founded monasteries, as their rapaciousness or their scruples chanced to predominate; so that every attempt of that kind, having rather the air of tyranny than reformation, could never be heartily approved or seconded by the body of the people.

The bishops must always be considered in the double capacity of clerks and barons. Their courts, therefore, had a double jurisdiction: over the clergy and laity of their diocese for the cognizance of crimes against ecclesiastical law, and over the vassals of their barony as lords paramount. But these two departments, so different in their nature, they frequently confounded, by making use of the spiritual weapon of excommunication to enforce the judgments of both; and this sentence, cutting off the party from the common society of mankind, lay equally heavy on all ranks: for, as it deprived the lower sort of the fellowship of their equals and the protection of their lord, so it deprived the lord of the services of his vassals, whether he or they lay under the sentence. This was one of the grievances which the king proposed to redress.

As some sanction of religion is mixed with almost every concern of civil life, and as the ecclesiastical court took cognizance of all religious matters, it drew to itself not only all questions relative to tithes and advowsons, but whatever related to marriages, wills, the estate of intestates, the breaches of oaths and contracts,—in a word, everything which did not touch life or feudal property.

The ignorance of the bailiffs in lay courts, who were only possessed of some feudal maxims and the traditions of an uncertain custom, made this recourse to the spiritual courts the more necessary, where they could judge with a little more exactness by the lights of the canon and civil laws.

This jurisdiction extended itself by connivance, by necessity, by custom, by abuse, over lay persons and affairs. But the immunity of the clergy from lay cognizances was claimed, not only as a privilege essential to the dignity of their order, supported by the canons, and countenanced by the Roman law, but as a right confirmed by all the ancient laws of England.

Christianity, coming into England out of the bosom of the Roman Empire, brought along with it all those ideas of immunity. The first trace we can find of this exemption from lay jurisdiction in England is in the laws of Ethelred;[79] it is more fully established in those of Canute;[80] but in the code of Henry I. it is twice distinctly affirmed.[81] This immunity from the secular jurisdiction, whilst it seemed to encourage acts of violence in the clergy towards others, encouraged also the violence of others against them. The murder of a clerk could not be punished at this time by death; it was against a spiritual person, an offence wholly spiritual, of which the secular courts took no sort of cognizance. In the Saxon times two circumstances made such an exemption less a cause of jealousy: the sheriff sat with the bishop, and the spiritual jurisdiction was, if not under the control, at least under the inspection of the lay officer; and then, as neither laity nor clergy were capitally punished for any offence, this privilege did not create so invidious and glaring a distinction between them. Such was the power of the clergy, and such the immunities, which the king proposed to diminish.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1164.]

Becket, who had punished the ecclesiastic for his crime by ecclesiastical law, refused to deliver him over to the secular judges for farther punishment, on the principle of law, that no man ought to be twice questioned for the same offence. The king, provoked at this opposition, summoned a council of the barons and bishops at Clarendon; and here, amongst others of less moment, the following were unanimously declared to be the ancient prerogatives of the crown. And it is something remarkable, and certainly makes much for the honor of their moderation, that the bishops and abbots who must have composed so large and weighty a part of the great council seem not only to have made no opposition to regulations which so remarkably contracted their jurisdiction, but even seem to have forwarded them.

1st. A clerk accused of any crime shall appear in the king's court, that it may be judged whether he belongs to ecclesiastical or secular cognizance. If to the former, a deputy shall go into the bishop's court to observe the trial; if the clerk be convicted, he shall be delivered over to the king's justiciary to be punished.

2nd. All causes concerning presentation, all causes concerning Frankalmoign, all actions concerning breach of faith, shall be tried in the king's court.

3rd. The king's tenant in capite shall not be excommunicated without the king's license.

4th. No clerk shall go out of the kingdom without giving security that he will do nothing to the prejudice of the king or nation. And all appeals shall be tried at home.

These are the most material of the Constitutions or Assizes of Clarendon, famous for having been the first legal check given to the power of the clergy in England. To give these constitutions the greater weight, it was thought proper that they should be confirmed by a bull from the Pope. By this step the king seemed to doubt the entireness of his own authority in his dominions; and by calling in foreign aid when it served his purpose, he gave it a force and a sort of legal sanction when it came to be employed against himself. But as no negotiation had prepared the Pope in favor of laws designed in reality to abridge his own power, it was no wonder that he rejected them with indignation. Becket, who had not been prevailed on to accept them but with infinite reluctance, was no sooner apprised of the Pope's disapprobation than he openly declared his own; he did penance in the humblest manner for his former acquiescence, and resolved to make amends for it by opposing the new constitutions with the utmost zeal. In this disposition the king saw that the Archbishop might be more easily ruined than humbled, and his ruin was resolved. Immediately a number of suits, on various pretences, were commenced against him, in every one of which he was sure to be foiled; but these making no deadly blow at his fortunes, he was called to account for thirty thousand pounds which he was accused of having embezzled during his chancellorship. It was in vain that he pleaded a full acquittance from the king's son, and Richard de Lucy, the guardian and justiciary of the kingdom, on his resignation of the seals; he saw it was already determined against him. Far from yielding under these repeated blows, he raised still higher the ecclesiastical pretensions, now become necessary to his own protection. He refused to answer to the charge, and appealed to the Pope, to whom alone he seemed to acknowledge any real subjection. A great ferment ensued on this appeal. The courtiers advised that he should be thrown into prison, and that his temporalities should be seized. The bishops, willing to reduce Becket without reducing their own order, proposed to accuse him before the Pope, and to pursue him to degradation. Some of his friends pressed him to give up his cause; others urged him to resign his dignity. The king's servants threw out menaces against his life. Amidst this general confusion of passions and councils, whilst every one according to his interests expected the event with much anxiety, Becket, in the disguise of a monk, escaped out of the nation, and threw himself into the arms of the King of France.

Henry was greatly alarmed at this secession, which put the Archbishop out of his power, but left him in full possession of all his ecclesiastical weapons. An embassy was immediately dispatched to Rome, in order to accuse Becket; but as Becket pleaded the Pope's own cause before the Pope himself, he obtained an easy victory over the king's ambassadors. Henry, on the other hand, took every measure to maintain his authority: he did everything worthy of an able politician, and of a king tenacious of his just authority. He likewise took measures not only to humble Becket, but also to lower that chair whose exaltation had an ill influence on the throne: for he encouraged the Bishop of London to revive a claim to the primacy; and thus, by making the rights of the see at least dubious, he hoped to render future prelates more cautious in the exercise of them. He inhibited, under the penalty of high treason, all ecclesiastics from going out of his dominions without license, or any emissary of the Pope's or Archbishop's from entering them with letters of excommunication or interdict. And that he might not supply arms against himself, the Peter-pence were collected with the former care, but detained in the royal treasury, that matter might be left to Rome both for hope and fear. In the personal treatment of Becket all the proceedings were full of anger, and by an unnecessary and unjust severity greatly discredited both the cause and character of the king; for he stripped of their goods and banished all the Archbishop's kindred, all who were in any sort connected with him, without the least regard to sex, age, or condition. In the mean time, Becket, stung with these affronts, impatient of his banishment, and burning with all the fury and the same zeal which had occasioned it, continually threatened the king with the last exertions of ecclesiastical power; and all things were thereby, and by the absence and enmity of the head of the English Church, kept in great confusion.

During this unhappy contention several treaties were set on foot; but the disposition of all the parties who interested themselves in this quarrel very much protracted a determination in favor of either side. With regard to Rome, the then Pope was Alexander the Third, one of the wisest prelates who had ever governed that see, and the most zealous for extending its authority. However, though incessantly solicited by Becket to excommunicate the king and to lay the kingdom under an interdict, he was unwilling to keep pace with the violence of that enraged bishop. Becket's view was single; but the Pope had many things to consider: an Antipope then subsisted, who was strongly supported by the Emperor; and Henry had actually entered into a negotiation with this Emperor and this pretended Pope. On the other hand, the king knew that the lower sort of people in England were generally affected to the Archbishop, and much under the influence of the clergy. He was therefore fearful to drive the Pope to extremities by wholly renouncing his authority. These dispositions in the two principal powers made way for several conferences leading to peace. But for a long time all their endeavors seemed rather to inflame than to allay the quarrel. Whilst the king, steady in asserting his rights, remembered with bitterness the Archbishop's opposition, and whilst the Archbishop maintained the claims of the Church with an haughtiness natural to him, and which was only augmented by his sufferings, the King of France appeared sometimes to forward, sometimes to perplex the negotiation: and this duplicity seemed to be dictated by the situation of his affairs. He was desirous of nourishing a quarrel which put so redoubted a vassal on the defensive; but he was also justly fearful of driving so powerful a prince to forget that he was a vassal. All parties, however, wearied at length with a contest by which all were distracted, and which in its issue promised nothing favorable to any of them, yielded at length to an accommodation, founded rather on an oblivion and silence of past disputes than on the settlement of terms for preserving future tranquillity. Becket returned in a sort of triumph to his see. Many of the dignified clergy, and not a few of the barons, lay under excommunication for the share they had in his persecution; but, neither broken by adversity nor softened by good fortune, he relented nothing of his severity, but referred them all for their absolution to the Pope. Their resentments were revived with additional bitterness; new affronts were offered to the Archbishop, which brought on new excommunications and interdicts. The contention thickened on all sides, and things seemed running precipitately to the former dangerous extremities, when the account of these contests was brought, with much aggravation against Becket, to the ears of the king, then in Normandy, who, foreseeing a new series of troubles, broke out in a violent passion of grief and anger,—"I have no friends, or I had not so long been insulted by this haughty priest!" Four knights who attended near his person, thinking that the complaints of a king are orders for revenge, and hoping a reward equal to the importance and even guilt of the service, silently departed; and passing with great diligence into England, in a short time they arrived at Canterbury. They entered the cathedral; they fell on the Archbishop, just on the point of celebrating divine service, and with repeated blows of their clubs they beat him to the ground, they broke his skull in pieces, and covered the altar with his blood and brains.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1171.]

The horror of this barbarous action, increased by the sacredness of the person who suffered and of the place where it was committed, diffused itself on all sides with incredible rapidity. The clergy, in whose cause he fell, equalled him to the most holy martyrs; compassion for his fate made all men forget his faults; and the report of frequent miracles at his tomb sanctified his cause and character, and threw a general odium on the king. What became of the murderers is uncertain: they were neither protected by the king nor punished by the laws, for the reason we have not long since mentioned. The king with infinite difficulty extricated himself from the consequences of this murder, which threatened, under the Papal banners, to arm all Europe against him; nor was he absolved, but by renouncing the most material parts of the Constitutions of Clarendon, by purging himself upon oath of the murder of Becket, by doing a very humiliating penance at his tomb to expiate the rash words which had given occasion to his death, and by engaging to furnish a large sum of money for the relief of the Holy Land, and taking the cross himself as soon as his affairs should admit it. The king probably thought his freedom from the haughtiness of Becket cheaply purchased by these condescensions: and without question, though Becket might have been justifiable, perhaps even laudable, for his steady maintenance of the privileges which his Church and his order had acquired by the care of his predecessors, and of which he by his place was the depository, yet the principles upon which he supported these privileges, subversive of all good government, his extravagant ideas of Church power, the schemes he meditated, even to his death, to extend it yet further, his violent and unreserved attachment to the Papacy, and that inflexible spirit which all his virtues rendered but the more dangerous, made his death as advantageous, at that time, as the means by which it was effected were sacrilegious and detestable.

Between the death of Becket and the king's absolution he resolved on the execution of a design by which he reduced under his dominion a country not more separated from the rest of Europe by its situation than by the laws, customs, and way of life of the inhabitants: for the people of Ireland, with no difference but that of religion, still retained the native manners of the original Celts. The king had meditated this design from the very beginning of his reign, and had obtained a bull from the then Pope, Adrian the fourth, an Englishman, to authorize the attempt. He well knew, from the internal weakness and advantageous situation of this noble island, the easiness and importance of such a conquest. But at this particular time he was strongly urged to his engaging personally in the enterprise by two other powerful motives. For, first, the murder of Becket had bred very ill humors in his subjects, the chiefs of whom, always impatient of a long peace, were glad of any pretence for rebellion; it was therefore expedient, and serviceable to the crown, to find an employment abroad for this spirit, which could not exert itself without being destructive at home. And next, as he had obtained the grant of Ireland from the Pope, upon condition of subjecting it to Peter-pence, he knew that the speedy performance of this condition would greatly facilitate his recovering the good graces of the court of Rome. Before we give a short narrative of the reduction of Ireland, I propose to lay open to the reader the state of that kingdom, that we may see what grounds Henry had to hope for success in this expedition.

Ireland is about half as large as England. In the temperature of the climate there is little difference, other than that more rain falls; as the country is more mountainous, and exposed full to the westerly wind, which, blowing from the Atlantic Ocean, prevails during the greater part of the year. This moisture, as it has enriched the country with large and frequent rivers, and spread out a number of fair and magnificent lakes beyond the proportion of other places, has on the other hand incumbered the island with an uncommon multitude of bogs and morasses; so that in general it is less praised for corn than pasturage, in which no soil is more rich and luxuriant. Whilst it possesses these internal means of wealth, it opens on all sides a great number of ports, spacious and secure, and by their advantageous situation inviting to universal commerce. But on these ports, better known than those of Britain in the time of the Romans, at this time there were few towns, scarce any fortifications, and no trade that deserves to be mentioned.

The people of Ireland lay claim to a very extravagant antiquity, through a vanity common to all nations. The accounts which are given by their ancient chronicles of their first settlements are generally tales confuted by their own absurdity. The settlement of the greatest consequence, the best authenticated, and from which the Irish deduce the pedigree of the best families, is derived from Spain: it was called Clan Milea, or the descendants of Milesius, and Kin Scuit, or the race of Scyths, afterwards known by the name of Scots. The Irish historians suppose this race descended from a person called Gathel, a Scythian by birth, an Egyptian by education, the contemporary and friend of the prophet Moses. But these histories, seeming clear-sighted in the obscure affairs of so blind an antiquity, instead of passing for treasuries of ancient facts, are regarded by the judicious as modern fictions. In cases of this sort rational conjectures are more to be relied on than improbable relations. It is most probable that Ireland was first peopled from Britain. The coasts of these countries are in some places in sight of each other. The language, the manners, and religion of the most ancient inhabitants of both are nearly the same. The Milesian colony, whenever it arrived in Ireland, could have made no great change in the manners or language; as the ancient Spaniards were a branch of the Celtae, as well as the old inhabitants of Ireland. The Irish language is not different from that of all other nations, as Temple and Rapin, from ignorance of it, have asserted; on the contrary, many of its words bear a remarkable resemblance not only to those of the Welsh and Armoric, but also to the Greek and Latin. Neither is the figure of the letters very different from the vulgar character, though their order is not the same with that of other nations, nor the names, which are taken from the Irish proper names of several species of trees: a circumstance which, notwithstanding their similitude to the Roman letters, argues a different original and great antiquity. The Druid discipline anciently flourished in that island. In the fourth century it fell down before the preaching of St. Patrick. Then the Christian religion was embraced and cultivated with an uncommon zeal, which displayed itself in the number and consequence of the persons who in all parts embraced the contemplative life. This mode of life, and the situation of Ireland, removed from the horror of those devastations which shook the rest of Europe, made it a refuge for learning, almost extinguished everywhere else. Science flourished in Ireland during the seventh and eighth centuries. The same cause which destroyed it in other countries also destroyed it there. The Danes, then pagans, made themselves masters of the island, after a long and wasteful war, in which they destroyed the sciences along with the monasteries in which they were cultivated. By as destructive a war they were at length expelled; but neither their ancient science nor repose returned to the Irish, who, falling into domestic distractions as soon as they were freed from their foreign enemies, sunk quickly into a state of ignorance, poverty, and barbarism, which must have been very great, since it exceeded that of the rest of Europe. The disorders in the Church were equal to those in the civil economy, and furnished to the Pope a plausible pretext for giving Henry a commission to conquer the kingdom, in order to reform it.

The Irish were divided into a number of tribes or clans, each clan forming within itself a separate government. It was ordered by a chief, who was not raised to that dignity either by election or by the ordinary course of descent, but as the eldest and worthiest of the blood of the deceased lord. This order of succession, called Tanistry, was said to have been invented in the Danish troubles, lest the tribe, during a minority, should have been endangered for want of a sufficient leader. It was probably much more ancient: but it was, however, attended with very great and pernicious inconveniencies, as it was obviously an affair of difficulty to determine who should be called the worthiest of the blood; and a door being always left open for ambition, this order introduced a greater mischief than it was intended to remedy. Almost every tribe, besides its contention with the neighboring tribes, nourished faction and discontent within itself. The chiefs we speak of were in general called Tierna, or Lords, and those of more consideration Riagh, or Kings. Over these were placed five kings more eminent than the rest, answerable to the five provinces into which the island was anciently divided. These again were subordinate to one head, who was called Monarch of all Ireland, raised to that power by election, or, more properly speaking, by violence.

Whilst the dignities of the state were disposed of by a sort of election, the office of judges, who were called Brehons, the trades of mechanics, and even those arts which we are apt to consider as depending principally on natural genius, such as poetry and music, were confined in succession to certain races: the Irish imagining that greater advantages were to be derived from an early institution, and the affection of parents desirous of perpetuating the secrets of their art in their families, than from the casual efforts of particular fancy and application. This is much in the strain of the Eastern policy; but these and many other of the Irish institutions, well enough calculated to preserve good arts and useful discipline, when these arts came to degenerate, were equally well calculated to prevent all improvement and to perpetuate corruption, by infusing an invincible tenaciousness of ancient customs.

The people of Ireland were much more addicted to pasturage than agriculture, not more from the quality of their soil than from a remnant of the Scythian manners. They had but few towns, and those not fortified, each clan living dispersed over its own territory. The few walled towns they had lay on the sea-coast; they were built by the Danes, and held after they had lost their conquests in the inland parts: here was carried on the little foreign trade which the island then possessed.

The Irish militia was of two kinds: one called kerns, which were foot, slightly armed with a long knife or dagger, and almost naked; the other, galloglasses, who were horse, poorly mounted, and generally armed only with a battle-axe. Neither horse nor foot made much use of the spear, the sword, or the bow. With indifferent arms, they had still worse discipline. In these circumstances, their natural bravery, which, though considerable, was not superior to that of their invaders, stood them in little stead.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1167.]

Such was the situation of things in Ireland, when Dermot, King of Leinster, having violently carried away the wife of one of the neighboring petty sovereigns, Roderic, King of Connaught and Monarch of Ireland, joined with the injured husband to punish so flagrant an outrage, and with their united forces spoiled Dermot of his territories, and obliged him to abandon the kingdom. The fugitive prince, not unapprised of Henry's designs upon his country, threw himself at his feet, implored his protection, and promised to hold of him, as his feudatory, the sovereignty he should recover by his assistance. Henry was at this time at Guienne. Nothing could be more agreeable to him than such an incident; but as his French dominions actually lay under an interdict, on account of his quarrel with Becket, and all his affairs, both at home and abroad, were in a troubled and dubious situation, it was not prudent to remove his person, nor venture any considerable body of his forces on a distant enterprise. Yet not willing to lose so favorable an opportunity, he warmly recommended the cause of Dermot to his regency in England, permitting and encouraging all persons to arm in his favor: a permission, in this age of enterprise, greedily accepted by many; but the person who brought the most assistance to it, and indeed gave a form and spirit to the whole design, was Richard, Earl of Strigul, commonly known by the name of Strongbow. Dermot, to confirm in his interest this potent and warlike peer, promised him his daughter in marriage, with the reversion of his crown.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1169.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1171.]

The beginnings of so great an enterprise were formed with a very slender force. Not four hundred men landed near Wexford: they took the town by storm. When reinforced, they did not exceed twelve hundred; but, being joined with three thousand men by Dermot, with an incredible rapidity of success they reduced Waterford, Dublin, Limerick, the only considerable cities in Ireland. By the novelty of their arms they had obtained some striking advantages in their first engagements; and by these advantages they attained a superiority of opinion over the Irish, which every success Increased. Before the effect of this first impression had time to wear off, Henry, having settled his affairs abroad, entered the harbor of Cork with a fleet of four hundred sail, at once to secure the conquest, and the allegiance of the conquerors. The fame of so great a force arriving under a prince dreaded by all Europe very soon disposed all the petty princes, with their King Roderic, to submit and do homage to Henry. They had not been able to resist the arms of his vassals, and they hoped better treatment from submitting to the ambition of a great king, who left them everything but the honor of their independency, than from the avarice of adventurers, from which nothing was secure. The bishops and the body of the clergy greatly contributed to this submission, from respect to the Pope, and the horror of their late defeats, which they began to regard as judgments. A national council was held at Cashel for bringing the Church of Ireland to a perfect conformity in rites and discipline to that of England. It is not to be thought that in this council the temporal interests of England were entirely forgotten. Many of the English were established in their particular conquests under the tenure of knights' service, now first introduced into Ireland: a tenure which, if it has not proved the best calculated to secure the obedience of the vassal to the sovereign, has never failed in any instance of preserving a vanquished people in obedience to the conquerors. The English lords built strong castles on their demesnes; they put themselves at the head of the tribes whose chiefs they had slain; they assumed the Irish garb and manners; and thus, partly by force, partly by policy, the first English families took a firm root in Ireland. It was, indeed, long before they were able entirely to subdue the island to the laws of England; but the continual efforts of the Irish for more than four hundred years proved insufficient to dislodge them.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse