Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- The History of England - 6/23 -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The growth of national feeling led also to limitations of papal power. Early in Edward III's reign a claim was made that the king, in virtue of his anointing at coronation, could exercise spiritual jurisdiction, and the statutes of _Praemunire_ and _Provisors_ prohibited the

The History of England - 6/23

Previous Page     Next Page

  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   20   23 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything