« ZurückWeiter »
palaces. But in the case of the king of England, the constant conversation of learned men, and the discussion of questions, makes his court a daily school. No one can be more dignified in speaking, more cautious at table, more moderate in drinking, more splendid in gifts, more generous in alms. He is pacific in heart, victorious in war, but glorious in peace, which he desires for his people as the most precious of earthly gifts. It is with a view to this that he receives, collects, and dispenses such an immensity of money. He is equally skilful and liberal in erecting walls, towers, fortifications, moats, and places of enclosure for fish and birds. His father was a very powerful and noble count, and did much to extend his territory, but he has gone far beyond his father, and has added the dukedorns of Normandy, of Aquitaine, and Brittany, the kingdoms of England, Scotland, [?] Ireland, and Wales, so as to increase, beyond all comparison, the titles of his father's splendour. No one is more gentle to the distressed, more affable to the poor, more overbearing to the proud. It has always, indeed, been his study, by a certain carriage of himself like a deity, to put down the insolent, to encourage the oppressed, and to repress the swellings of pride continual and deadly persecution. Although, by the customs of the kingdom, he has the chief and most influential part in elections (of bishops?], his hands have always been pure from anything like venality. But these and other excellent gifts of mind and body with which nature has enriched him, I can but briefly touch. I profess my own incompetence to describe them ;-and believe that Cicero or Virgil would labour in vain.'
In a letter to a certain archdeacon or dean (Roger) who had business with the king, Peter of Blois mentions that he had lately occasion to go to his majesty on matters respecting the church of Canterbury, and that he entered the presence with cheerfulness, in his usual way; but, says he,
* Reading and understanding in his face the disturbance of his spirit, I immediately suppressed what I was about to say, and held my tongue, for I was afraid that if I spoke I should give further occasion to the irritation which his face, the faithful index of his mind, betrayed. I deferred my business, therefore, till a luckier bour and serener countenance should favour my wishes. To speak to an angry prince on business seems to me throwing out your fishing nets in a storm. He who does so, and will not wait till the gale is over, destroys himself and his nets. I know you are sent with a very harsh message to the king, and you must, therefore, be the more careful. Things which are in themselves pleasant, very often give offence, if related without consideration ; while an unpleasant message may be so managed as to give pleasure. Pray take care not to approach the king about your affair till you are advised by me, or by some one else who knows him, to go into the presence ; for he is a lamb when in good humour, but he is a lion, or worse than a lion, when seriously angry. It is no joke to incur the indignation of one in whose hands are honour and disgrace.'
"I often wonder how one who has been used to the service of scholarship and the camps of learning can endure the annoyances of a court life. Among courtiers there is no order, no plan, no moderation, either in food, in horse exercises, or in watchings. A priest or a soldier attached to the court has bread put before him which is not kneaded, not leavened, made of the dregs of beer ; bread like lead, full of bran, and unbaked; wine, spoilt either by being sour, or mouldy—thick, greasy, rancid, tasting of pitch, and vapid. I have sometimes seen wine so full of dregs put before noblemen, that they were compelled rather to filter than drink it, with their eyes shut and their teeth closed, with loathing and reaching. The beer at court is horrid to taste and filthy to look at. On account of the great demand, meat, whether sweet or not, is sold alike; the fish is four days old; yet its stinking does not lessen its price. The servants care nothing whatever whether the unlucky guests are sick or dead, provided there are fuller dishes sent up to their master's tables. Indeed, the tables are filled (sometimes) with carrion, and the guests' stomachs thus become the tombs for those who die in the course of nature. Indeed, many more deaths would ensue from this putrid food were not that the famishing greediness of the stomach, (which, like a whirlpool, will suck in
any thing,) by the help of powerful exercise, gets rid of everything. But if the courtiers cannot have exercise (which is the case if the court stays for a time in a town), some of them always stay behind at the point of death,
To say nothing of other matters, I cannot endure the annoyances of the Marshals. They are most wily flatterers, infamous slanderers, shameful swindlers, most importunate till they get something from you, and most ungrateful when they have ; nay, open enemies, unless your hand is continually in your pocket. I have seen very many who have been most generous to them; and yet, when, after the fatigue of a long journey, these persons had got a lodging, when their meat was half dressed, or when they were actually at table, nay, sometimes, when they were asleep on their rugs, the marshals would come in with insolence and abuse, cut their horses' halters, tumble their baggage out of doors, without any distinction, and (with great loss to the owners) turn them out of their lodgings shamefully ; and thus, when they had lost everything which they had brought for their comfort, at night they could not, though rich, find a place to hide their heads in.
* This, too, must be added to the miseries of court. If the king announces his intention of moving three days hence, and particularly if the royal pleasure has been announced by the heralds, you may be quite sure that the king will start by daybreak, and put every body's plans to the rout by his unexpected dispatch. Thus it frequently happens that persons who have been let blood, or have taken physic, follow the king without regard to themselves, place their existence at the hazard of a die, and, for fear of losing what they neither do nor ever will possess, are not afraid of losing their own lives. You may see men running about like madmen, sumpter-horses pressing on sumpter-horses, and carriages jostling against carriages; all, in short, in utter confusion. So that, from the thorough disturbance and misery, one might get a good description of the look of hell. But if his majesty has given notice beforehand that he will move to such a place very early the next day, his plan will certainly be changed, and you may therefore be sure that he will sleep till mid-day. You will see the sumpter-horses waiting with their burdeps on, the carriages all quiet, the pioneers asleep, the court purveyors in a worry, and all muttering to one another ; then they run to the prostitutes and the court shopkeepers to inquire of them whether the prince will go, for this class of court followers very often know the secrets of the palace. The king's court, indeed, is regularly followed by stage-players, washerwomen, dice-players, confectioners, tavern-keepers, buffoons, barbers, pick-pockets—in short, the whole race of this kind. I have often known that, when the king was asleep, and every thing in deep silence, a message came from the royal quarters, (not omnipotent, perhaps, but still awaking all,) and told us the city or town to which we were to go. After we had been worn out with expectation, it was some comfort at all events that we were to be fixed where we might hope to find plenty of lodgings and provisions. There was then such a hurried and confused rush of horse and foot immediately, that you would think all hell had broken loose. However, when the pioneers had quite or nearly finished their day's journey, the king would change his mind, and go to some other place, where, perhaps, he had the only house, and a plenty of provisions, none of which were given to any one else. And, if I dare say so, I really think that his pleasure was increased by our annoyance. We had to travel three or four miles through unknown woods, and often in the dark, and thought ourselves too happy if at length we could find a dirty and miserable hut. There was often a violent quarrel among the courtiers about the cottages, and they would fight with swords about a place for which pigs would have been ashamed to quarrel. How things were with me and my attendants on such nights, you will have no doubt. My people and I were separated, and it would be three days before I could collect them again
Oh! God, who art King of kings, and Lord of lords, to be feared by earthly kings, in whose hands the hearts of kings are, and who turnest them as thou wilt, turn the heart of this king from these pestilent customs ! Make him know that he is a man, and let him have and practise the grace of royal bounty and kindness to those who are compelled to follow him, not from ambition but necessity! Free me, I beseech thee, from the necessity of returning to the odious and troublesome court, which lies in the shadow of death, and where order and peace are unknown !
But to return to the court officers. By exceeding complaisance you may sometimes keep in favour with the outer porters for two days, but this will not last to a third, unless you buy it with continued gifts and flattery. They will tell the most unblushing falsehoods, and say that the king is ill, or asleep, or at council. And if you are an honest and religious man, but have given them nothing the day before, they will keep you an unreasonable time standing in the rain and mire; and to annoy you the more, and move your bile, they will allow a set of hairdressers and thieves to go in at the first word! As to the doorkeepers of the presence, may the most high confound them! For they are not afraid put every good man to the blush, and cover him with confusion. Have you got by the terrible porters without ? It is of no avail unless you have bribed the doorkeeper! “Si nihil attuleris, ibis, Homere, foras.” After the first Cerberus, there is another worse than Cerberus, more terrible than Briareus, more wicked than Pygmalion, and more cruel than the Minotaur. If you were in the greatest danger of losing your life, or your fortune, to the king you cannot go ; nay, it often happens, to make things ten thousand times worse, “rumpantur ut ilia Codro," that while you are kept out, these wretches let your enemy in. Oh ! Lord Jesus Christ, if this is the way of living, if this is the life of the court, may I never go back to it again! I cannot attempt to reckon the grievous loss of time which I have already sustained in years of trifling about the court.'
74.-CHARACTER OF THE NORMAN GOVERNMENT.
HALLAM. Unrestrained, comparatively speaking, by the aristocratic principles which influenced other feudal countries, the administration acquired a tone of rigour and arbitrariness under William the Conqueror, which, though sometimes perhaps a little mitigated, did not cease during a century and a half. For the first threo reigns we must have recourse to historians; whose language, though vague, and perhaps exaggerated, is too uniform and impressive to leave a doubt of the tyrannical character of the government. The intolerable exactions of tribute, the rapine of purveyance, the iniquity of royal courts, are continually in their mouths. “God sees the wretched people,” says the Saxon Chronicler, “ most unjustly oppressed, first they are despoiled of their possessions, then butchered. This was a grievouş
year (1124). Whoever had any property lost it by heavy taxes and unjust decrees.” The same ancient Chronicle, which appears to have been continued from time to time in the abbey of Peterborough, frequently utters similar notes of lamentation.
From the reign of Stephen, the miseries of which are not to my immediate purpose, so far as they proceeded from anarchy and intestine war, we are able to trace the character of government by existing records. These, digested by the industrious Madox into his History of the Exchequer, give us far more insight into the spirit of the constitution, if we may use such a word, than all our monkish chroniclers. It was not a sanguinary despotism. Henry II. was a prince of remarkable clemency; and none of the Conqueror's successors were as grossly tyrannical as himself. But the system of rapacious extortion from their subjects prevailed to a degree which we should rather expect to find among eastern slaves, than that high-spirited race of Normandy, whose renown then filled Europe and Asia. The right of wardship was abused by selling the heir and his land to the highest bidder. That of marriage was carried to a still grosser excess. The kings of France indeed claimed the prerogative of forbidding the marriage of their vassals' daughters to such persoris as they thought unfriendly or dangerous to themselves; but I am not aware that they ever compelled them to marry, much less that they turned this attribute of sovereignty into a means of revenue. But in England, women, and even men, simply as tenants in chief, and not as wards, fined to the crown for leave to marry whom they would, or not to be compelled to marry any other. Towns not only fined for original grants of franchises, but for repeated confirmations. The Jews paid exorbitant sums for every common right of mankind, for protection, for justice. In return, they were sustained against their Christian debtors in demands of usury, which superstition and tyranny rendered enormous. Men fined for the king's good-will; or that he would remit his anger ; or to have his mediation with their adversaries. Many fines seem as it were imposed in sport, if we look to the cause ; though their extent, and the solemnity with which they were recorded, prove the humour to have been differently relished by the two parties. Thus the bishop of Winchester paid a tun of good wine for not reminding the king (John) to give a girdle to the Countess of Albemarle ; and Robert de Faux five best palfreys, that the same king might hold his peace about Henry Pinel's wife. Another paid four marks for leave to eat (pro licentiâ comedendi). But of all the abuses which deformed the Anglo-Norman government, none was so flagitious as the sale of judicial redress. The king, we are often told, is the fountain of justice ; but in those ages it was one which gold alone could unscal. Men fined to have right done them; to sue in a certain court; to implead a certain person ; to have restitution of land which they had recovered at law. From the sale of that justice which every citizen has a right to demand, it was an easy transition to withhold, deny it. Fines were received for the king's help against the adverse suitor ; that is, for perversion of justice, or for delay. Sometimes they were paid by opposite parties, and, of course, for opposite ends. These were called counter-fines; but the money was, sometimes, or as Lord Lyttleton thinks, invariably returned to the unsuccessful suitor.
Among a people imperfectly civilized, the most outrageous injustice towards individuals may pass without the slightest notice, while in matters affecting the community, the powers of government are exceedingly controlled. It becomes therefore an important question, what prerogative these Norman kings were used to exercise in raising money, and in general legislation. By the prevailing feudal customs, the lord was entitled to demand a pecuniary aid of his vassals in certain cases. These were, in England, to make his eldest son a knight, to marry his eldest daughter and to ransom himself from captivity. Accordingly, when such circum
stances occurred, aids were levied by the crown upon its tenants, at the rate of a mark or a pound for every knight's fee. These aids, being strictly due, in the prescribed cases, were taken without requiring the consent of parliament. Escuage, which was a commutation for the personal service of military tenants in war, having rather the appearance of an indulgence than an imposition, might reasonably be levid by the king. It was not till the charter of John that escuage became a parliamentary assessment; the custom of commuting service having then grown general, and the rate of commutation being variable.
None but military tenants could be liable for escuage ; but the inferior subjects of the crown were oppressed by tallages. The demesne lands of the king and all royal towns were liable to tallage ; an imposition far more rigorous and irregular than those which fell upon the gentry. Tallages were continually raised upon different towns during all the Norman reigns, without the consent of parliament, which neither represented them nor cared for their interests. The itinerant justices in their circuits usually set this tax. Sometimes the tallage was assessed in gross upon a town, and collected hy the burgesses ; sometimes individually at the judgment of the justices. There was an appeal from an excessive assessment to the barons of the Exchequer. Inferior lords might tallage their own tenants and demesne towns, though not, it seems, without the king's permission. Customs upon the import and export of merchandize, of which the presage of wine, that is, a right of taking two casks out of each vessel, seems the most material, were immemorially exacted by the crown. There is no appearance that these originated with parliament. Another tax, extending to all the lands of the kingdom, was Danegeld, the ship-money of those times. This name had been originally given to the tax imposed under Ethelred II., in order to raise a tribute exacted by the Danes. It was afterwards applied to a permanent contribution for the public defence against the same enemies. But after the conquest this tax is said to have been only occasionally required; and the latest instance on record of its payment is in the twentieth of Henry II. Its imposition appears to have been at the king's discretion.
The right of general legislation was undoubtedly placed in the king, conjointly with his great council, or, if the expression be thought more proper, with their advice. So little opposition was found in these assemblies by the early Norman kings, that they gratified their own love of pomp, as well as the pride of their barons, by corsulting them in every important business. But the limits of legislative power were extremely indefinite. New laws, like new taxes, affecting the community, required the sanction of that assembly which was supposed to represent it; but there was no security for individuals against acts of prerogative, which we should justly consider as most tyrannical. Henry II, the best of these monarchs, banished from England the relations and friends of Becket, to the number of four hundred. At another time, he sent over from Normandy an injunction, that all the kindred of those who obeyed a papal interdict should be banished, and their estates confiscated.
The statutes of these reigns do not exhibit to us many provisions calculated to maintain public liberty on a broad and general foundation. And although the laws then enacted have not all been preserved, yet it is unlikely that any of an extensively remedial nature should have left no trace of their existence. We find, however what has sometimes been called the Magna Charta of William the Conqueror, preserved in Roger de Hoveden's collection of his laws. We will, enjoin, and grant, says the king, that all freemen of our kingdom shall enjoy their lands in peace, free from all tallage, and from every unjust exaction, so that nothing but their service lawfully due to us shall be demanded at their hands. The laws of the Con