Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

shut our eyes to the faults and the crimes which they committed in the use of the power that they acquired. Their conduct towards individuals and parties was almost always profligate and unjust in the greatest possible degree, and their submission to the tyranny of those who for the time had the mastery was uniform and shameful. During all Henry VI.'s reign, all Edward IV.'s, and Richard III.'s, down to the accession of Henry VII., they blindly obeyed the dictates of the faction that had the upper hand, the Prince whose success in the field had defeated his competitors. The history of those proceedings is a succession of contrary decisions on the same questions, conflicting laws on the same title, attainders and reversals, consigning one day all the adherents of a party to confiscation and the scaffold, reinstating them the next and placing their adversaries in the same cruel predicament. The reign of Richard II. did not present a more disgraceful picture of this kind, though the proceedings of Parliament were in a less fixed and regular course, and the prerogative of the Crown was more uncontrolled.

It is not correct to state, as some writers have done, that the privilege of Parliament was in any material respect confirmed or extended in Henry VI.'s reign.1 But a very important change was made in the election law, indeed in the constitution of the House of Commons, soon after his accession, by the restriction of the elective franchise in counties. The

• Note LII.

original structure both of the Parliament and of the constituent body is involved in great obscurity. But there is every reason to suppose that the knights of the shire were the representatives or delegates of the lesser barons, the less considerable tenants in capite of the Crown, when these had ceased to sit in person, and that afterwards the rear vassals, or those holding of mesne lords, were considered as standing in the same predicament, and had the right of choosing the representatives. It is at least certain that this franchise was enjoyed without any regard to the extent or value of the freehold, the subject of the tenure. Consequently, when the division of property multiplied those holdings, the number of electors was exceedingly increased. It was to prevent the disorders consequent upon the crowds which attended the county courts at the election of knights, that the restraining law in the eighth year of Henry's reign was passed. The preamble plainly shows that a seat in Parliament had already become an object of ambition; for it sets forth the danger to the public peace from "excessive numbers," and "riots and divisions among the gentlemen and other people," and the remedy affirmed to be necessary is preventing all from voting who have not forty shillings a year, clear of all charges, from their freehold, equal to above twenty pounds at the present day. Important regulations were added to control the returning officer, and the residence of the voter was required—a salutary condition, and which has long since been dispensed with. It would be wrong

[ocr errors]

to deprive of their vote all who do not reside where their property lies; but it is quite as wrong to give votes to the same individual in a great number of counties: each should choose his district, and there alone give his vote.

The marriages of Catherine, the King's mother, and Jaquette, Bedford's widow, gave rise, the former to an act of Parliament, the latter to a proceeding under the feudal law. Owen Tudor having been twice arrested for marrying the Queen Dowager, and escaped, no further steps were taken against him for what was then only the offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment, of marrying a tenant of the Crown without royal licence. But the act made it punishable with forfeiture of lands and goods. Woodville, who married the Duchess of Bedford, was fined for the feudal misdemeanour. Henry's wonted kindness of disposition was shown in his treatment of Catherine's sons, whom he always acknowledged as brothers. One became a priest; but on the other two he conferred earldoms; and his nephew, heir to that of Richmond, afterwards became King of England under the name of Henry the Seventh.

The Regency which was occasioned in France by the illness of Charles VI., and by the death of Henry V., was in England first occasioned by his decease and afterwards by the illness of his son; but before this could affect the Government of France, his reign had ceased over that kingdom.

It appears from the Ordinances made at different times that in France, as in England, the law has never fixed generally in what manner the defect of the Royal authority is to be supplied. The King frequently provided for the expected event of a minority after his decease, by declaring at what age the majority of his successor should commence, and by whom the Royal authority should be in the mean time exercised. But little regard was paid to such Ordinances: the Princes of full age took possession of the Government, agreeing among themselves as to the distribution of its powers; or some one of more capacity and more influence than the rest engrossed the whole to himself. When the reigning Sovereign was disabled by absence or sickness, the heir apparent either took upon himself the Government, or was, if young and inexperienced, controlled by one or more of the Princes. Sometimes recourse was had to the States General or to the Parliament of Paris for their sanction both in the case of disputed succession to the Regency, and in that of the heir apparent claiming it. Sometimes every thing was transacted without any such appeal. In England, no rule had been laid down either by the declaration of the Sovereign's pleasure in the particular case, or by an Act of Parliament to settle the course of proceeding generally. The proceeding in Henry VI.'s time formed, as we have seen, the precedent most relied on in all the discussions to which the King's illness in 1788 gave rise.1

' KotcLXlV.

The last Ordinances on the subject before Henry V.'s invasion were those of Charles VI. in 1403 and 1407, the latter having been registered by the Parliament after a hot dispute. The King is thereby declared to be of full age, whatever years he may have attained on the King's decease; but if an infant, then the Government is to be carried on in his name by the Queen-mother, with the concurrence of the Princes of the Blood, and of a Council who are to have the whole authority in the event of her death or incapacity. These Ordinances were entirely the work of the Queen and Orleans: that of 1403 was made while the King had a lucid interval, by a Council of the Princes and officers of State; that of 1407 was made by the Queen, with the consent of the Parliament, while the King was in confinement. All the sons were at both periods infants of a few years old. This arrangement, however, was never acted upon. The custody of the King's person, and the power of governing in his name, were assumed by the chiefs of whichever of the two factions had the preponderance for the time. At length the Queen, having quarrelled with the Dauphin Charles, threw herself into the hands of the Burgundian; and, on his death, continued her hostility to her son, siding with the Burgundian's successor. By the Treaty of Troyes, which the States General ratified, Henry V. was declared Regent on Charles VI.'s decease; but during the remaining part of that unhappy Prince's reign he exercised the Royal au

« ZurückWeiter »