Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

called “ CONFIRMATIO CHARTARUM.” It enjoined that the charters should be sent, under the king's seal, as well to the Justices of the Forest as to others,—to all sheriffs of shires, and other officers, and to all cities, - with the king's writs, directing them to cause the charters to be published, and to declare to the people, that he had confirmed them in all points ; and that “ the justices, sheriffs, mayors, and other ministers which bad, under the king, the laws of the land to guide, should allow the charters to be pleaded before them in judgment, in all their points; the Great Charter as the common law, and the Charter of the Forest according to the assize of the forest, for the wealth of the realm.” It was also declared that “judgments contrary to the points of the charters, should be undone and holden for nought;"—that the charters should be sent, under seal, to cathedral churches throughout the realm, there to remain, and should be read before the people two times by the year;"—and that “all archbishops and bishops should pronounce the sentence of excommunication against all those that by word, deed, or counsel, did contrary to the charters; and that the curses be twice a year denounced and published by the prelates."

These provisions seem to have been insufficient, for, in three years afterwards another statute appears, entitled “ ARTICULI SUPER CHARTAS.' It states that “forasmuch as the charters had not been observed nor kept, because there was no punishment executed upon them which offended against the points of the charters; the King had again granted, renewed, and confirmed them, at the request of his prelates, earls, and barons, assembled in his Parliament holden at Westminster; and had ordained, enacted, and established certain articles against all those that offend contrary to the points of the charters, or that in anywise transgress them." These articles required that the charters be delivered to every sheriff of England, under the king's seal, to be read four times in the year before the people in

* 25 Edw. I., Stat. 1, 1297. 2 28 Edw. I., Stat. 3, 1300.

[ocr errors]

1300.] CONFIRMATIONS OF MAGNA CHARTA.

67 the full county, at the usual quarterly feasts ;--and for these two charters to be firmly observed in every point and article (where before no remedy was at the common law) there should be chosen, in every shire-court, by the commonalty of the shire, three substantial men, knights or other lawful, wise, or well-disposed persons, which should be justices, sworn and assigned by the king's letters-patent, to hear (without any other writ, but only their commission) such plaints as should be made upon all those that commit or offend against the charters ;-and to determine them without allowing the delays wbich should be allowed by the common law ;-with power to punish by imprisonment, by ransom, or by amerciament, according to the trespass.

This statute afterwards states that, “ besides these things granted upon the articles of the charters aforesaid, the King, of his special grace, for redress of the grievances that his people had sustained by reason of his wars, and for the amendment of their estate, and to the intent that they may be more ready to do him service, and more willing to assist and aid him in time of need, had granted certain articles, the which he supposeth shall not only be observed of his liege people, but also shall be as much profitable, or more than the articles heretofore granted.” Nineteen articles then follow, which relate to matters that have little bearing on our modern constitution, but which so far as they appear to be interesting, will be hereafter noticed.

There is no further evidence in the statute-book that Magna Charta continued to be unobserved; unless it be so inferred from the fact that, between the twenty-eighth year of Edward I. and the fourth year of Henry V.,—the last statute of confirmation,—there are no less than twenty-nine statutes for confirming it. It seems to have been the first proceeding of each new Parliament, to pass a short statute to confirm the great charter. There are fourteen statutes of confirmation in the reign of Edward III. In the first Parliament of Richard II. it appears that the Great Charter, and the Charter of the Forest, were read before the Parlia

ment, at the request of the Commons. Assuming then that Magna Charta was generally observed from the time of the statute of Articuli super Chartas, 28 Edw. I., it occupied, from its grant by King John in 1215, eighty-five years of incessant contest and struggle to establish it as settled law; and when it is considered that Magna Charta was itself the issue of struggles for charters carried on with every successive Norman king, from the Conqueror to John, we have a period of no less than two hundred and thirty-four years occupied in the parturition and operative establishment of the code of Magna Charta.

CHAPTER VI.

RISE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.

BETWEEN

HENRY III., 49th year of his reign, 1265,

AND

EDWARD I., 23rd year of his reign, 1295.

Revenue and independent state of the Monarchs.-Rise of Representation.—Greater and Lesser Barons.-Knights.—Provisions of Oxford.

-Leicester's Parliament.-- Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses summoned. First Instance.—Their Wages.—Representation discontinued.-Edward I.-Statutes passed by his Council and Barons.Knights again Summoned.—Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses.-Representation of the Commons established.

The relation between the king and the people in the days of the Plantagenets did not produce that community of interest which now exists. The king possessed the kingdom like a private estate. He derived a large revenue from the royal lands or demesnes; and besides these, by the feudal laws, he received pecuniary aids and other contributions from the estates of his barons ; and in some instances, such as wardship and escheat, their entire incomes. He also received scutage or escuage, a pecuniary commutation for military service, which being levied on every knight's-feel produced a large return ; and on the royal towns he levied toll or tallage, or, where these had been commuted, a fee-farm rent. He levied customs upon

merchandise imported and exported, especially on wool exported; and he took the prisage of wine, or two casks out of every

1 The number of Knights’-Fees established at the Conquest was 60,215.

;

ship. The money so derived passed into his treasury; and he spent it according to his own uncontrolled pleasure, or as his necessities required,- in the expenses of his government, in his own household, in peace or in war. When this revenue was sufficient, the people were spared and were content; but when the king found it necessary to require an extraordinary aid or subsidy from his subjects, he then had to assemble his great council, and to obtain their consent. The executive power was entirely in his hands; and the legislative power was also exercised by him as the originator of all the laws, subject only to the assent, oftentimes probably merely formal, of the prelates and barons, as the great men of the realm.

But in the reign of Henry III. circumstances occurred which were destined to bring about an important change in the legislative element of the government,—to remove from the king, and to a great extent from the lords, the

power

of taxation, and to place it in other hands. The development of the great principle of the REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE in Parliament is here referred to, which has given to the English constitution its peculiar excellence and distinction; and which has contributed, as a main cause, to establish the eminence which the Anglo-Saxon race has attained in freedom, commerce, wealth, public spirit, and power.

It is not unlikely that the principle of representation may have been put in action in ancient times, when large bodies of men found themselves opposed to each other, on questions of public interest. Convenience would naturally suggest the selection of representatives; and in ecclesiastical councils, the various churches were represented by members who attended as delegates or representatives. There are even instances, in our early history, of the selection of knights to assess the proportion of an aid or subsidy to be borne by the respective counties of the kingdom. But popular representation, as a principle and constituent part of government, it is generally admitted, had its birth in the circumstances about to be related. But it originated in no premeditated

1 The representative government of this nation (England) is the only

« ZurückWeiter »