« ZurückWeiter »
1066–1087.] THE KING's councLL. 33
of Concilium, Magnum Concilium, and Commune Concilium. The first was the council of confidential advisers, or ministers. These consisted of the Chief Justiciar, the Constable, the Mareschal, the Steward, the Chamberlain, and the Chancellor. The Chief Justiciar was the highest in rank. He was generally a high hereditary baron, and next to the king himself, he was chief in power and authority. When the king went beyond sea the justiciar governed the realm, like a viceroy. He also presided, next to the king, in the king's chief or sovereign court of justice, called the Aula Regis, or Curia Regis. It assembled three times a year at whatever place the King held his court, at the great feasts of Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, and sometimes also at Michaelmas." The Great Council and Common Council were for more general purposes. In early documents after the Conquest, the persons summoned to then are described as magnates or proceres, and sometimes by the word Barones. Sometimes, instead of these general terms, the several ranks of the Assembly are given, as archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, and barons. It is supposed that these Assemblies exercised certain legislative functions; but what they were, or to what extent the Assembly was permitted to control the authority of the King, the most learned inquiry has been unable to discover.” By means of the various sources of income before described, William acquired great riches and power, and his chieftains also were enriched and ennobled. They erected castles on their demesnes, living in them as garrisons, at the same time oppressing the people and protecting themselves from their vengeance; so that, although they proved a curb to the king, they were over their vassals quot domini, tot tyranni.” By the end of William's reign almost all the lands of the old Saxon proprietors had been confiscated, and them
1 Madox's History of the Exchequer, vol. i. p. 31.
selves driven out of the country, or reduced to great poverty. A large part of the Saxon population, above the state of actual slavery, were in the condition of farmers, or labourers and handicraftsmen. The city of London and almost all the principal cities and boroughs were in the hands of the king." Yet there was peace and safety in the land. William, through his justiciars, or judges, exercised the sternest justice; crimes were severely punished; and the repression of outrage and crime was so complete, that it was boasted that a man could travel with gold, unprotected, throughout the land, without fear of robbery or injury.” The Norman, or French, language was adopted for the laws and legal proceedings, and was used generally by the higher classes. The main body of the people was still AngloSaxon; they retained the use of the Saxon language, and they made the restoration of the laws of Edward the Confessor the chief object of their petition and desire. The Normans were, however, considerable in numbers; and with the almost exclusive possession of the landed property, and of the favour of the Conqueror, they had the chief influence in the country.* If we test the power of the Conqueror by the theoretic principles of government, we find that his sovereignty was not absolute. His executive authority was perhaps entire, but his legislative power was restrained by the Council of Barons. If, in the plenitude of the Conqueror's sovereignty, the interposition of the Council was often merely formal, yet the principle of control was recognized; so that in this reign—perhaps the culminating point of monarchy in England, when it was least opposed by rival powers—the king did not govern absolutely and despotically; and to William might have been applied the constitutional language of Fortescue:—“A king of England cannot, at his pleasure, make any alterations in the laws of the land, for the nature * Peers' Report, vol. i. p. 51. * Palgrave's Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 288. * Idem, vol. i. p. 26.
106-1087.] WILLIAM's PowER NOT ABsoLUTE. 35
of his government is not only regal, but political ; nor is his the sort of government which the civil laws point out, when they declare * Quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem.” 1 ' Fortescue, De Laudibus Legum Angliæ ; Lord Chief-Justice ot
the King's Bench, temp. Henry VI. See Hallam's Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 284.
HENRY I. . . . . . 1100 » 35 ,
Charters of Liberties.—William Rufus.-Henry I.-Charters granted by him.—No Legislative Assembly in his reign.—Stephen.—Henry II. —Separation of the Clergy from the Laity.—Constitutions of Clarendon.—New Laws.-Ireland united to the Crown of England.—Richard I.—Charters to Boroughs.-Effect of the Crusades.—Growth of National Property.
ALTHough by the Conquest Monarchy was placed in the ascendant, and power little less than absolute centred in the Conqueror, yet the genius of the Saxon polity could not be repressed, and the aristocratic principle gradually assumed a controlling influence. The moderating influence of the aristocratic class was shown by the concession of their demands, or petitions, in the form of charters from the sovereign, such charters having the name of Charters of Liberties. These were in the nature of compacts between the Crown and its immediate tenants, the barons; the Crown, on its part, granting exemption from its oppressive prerogatives, as they affected the barons, and through them subordinately favouring the body of the people. There is extant what is considered to be a copy of such a charter, issued by the authority of the
1087–1100.] CHARTERS OF LIBERTIES. 37
Conqueror, by which he granted that “omnes liberi homines,” or the freehold tenants by military service, should hold their lands free from unjust exactions and from all tallage; and in which the existence of “the Common Council of the whole kingdom” is made apparent, for it is referred to as convened. This charter is supposed to make a distinction in the legislative acts of the sovereign, between those which imposed charges on the people, and those which applied to the general law. In the former cases, it is supposed that the consent of the barons in council was necessary; in the latter, that the king had independent authority. In this charter the King, as a concession to the people, commanded that in addition to the laws which he had decreed, those of Edward the Confessor should be observed." WILLIAM RUFUs, the second son of the Conqueror, although he obtained the throne, in 1087, against the right of his elder brother Robert, was arbitrary and tyrannical; and no trace can be found of any charter or concession to the barons or to the people, or of any legislative assembly in his reign.” HENRY THE FIRST, the Conqueror's youngest son, seized the crown, in 1100, after the death of his brother William Rufus, and whilst his elder brother Robert was absent at the Crusades. He caused himself to be immediately crowned; and, to give validity to his title and to gain the goodwill of the people, he, after his coronation, and in the first year of his reign, issued a charter, which states that he had been crowned with the consent of the Common Council of Barons, “Communi Concilio Baronum Regni Anglie coronatum.” This charter makes some concessions to the Church, in regard to the enjoyment of its revenues. It then declares that “omnes malae consuetudines,” by which the kingdom had been oppressed, should be taken away. It makes con
* Rymer's Foedera (Record Commissioners' edition, 1816), vol. i. p. 1. Peers' Report, vol. i. p. 29. * Peers' Report, vol. i. p. 36.