« ZurückWeiter »
De Montfort. Let lambs and pouting chickens look to it!
HALLAM. The progress of towns in several continental countries, from a condition bordering on servitude to wealth and liberty, has more than once attracted our attention in other parts of the present work. Their growth in England, both from general causes and imitative policy, was very similar and nearly co-incident. Under the Anglo-Saxon line of sovereigns, we scarcely can discover in our scanty records the condition of their inhabitants ; except retrospectively from the great survey of Domesday Book, which displays the state of England under Edward the Confessor. Sorne attention to commerce had been shown by Alfred and Athelstan ; and a merchant who had made three voyages beyond sea, was raised by a law of the latter monarch, to the dignity of a Thane. This privilege was not perhaps often claimed; but the burgesses of towns were already a distinct class from the ceorls or rustics, and, though hardly free according to our estimation, seem to have laid the foundation of more extensive immunities. It is probable, at least, that the English towns had made full as great advances towards emancipation as those of France. At the conquest, we find the burgesses or inhabitants of towns, living under the superiority or protection of the king, or of some other lord to whom they paid annual rents, and determinate dues or customs. Sometimes they belonged to different lords ; and sometimes the same burgess paid customs to one master, while he was under the jurisdiction of another. They frequently enjoyed special privileges as to inheritance ; and in two or three instances they seem to have possessed common property, belonging to a sort of guild or corporation ; but never, as far as appears by any evidence, had they a municipal administration by magistrates of their own choice. Besides the regular payments, which were in general not heavy, they were liable to tallages, at the discretion of their lords. This burthen continued for two centuries, with no limitation, except that the barons were latterly forced to ask permission of the king before they set a tallage on their tenants, which was commonly done when he imposed one upon his own. Still the towns became considerably richer ; for the profits of their traffic were undiminished by competition ; and the consciousness that they could not be individually despoiled of their possessions, like the villeins of the country around, inspired an industry and perseverance, which all the rapacity of Norman kings and barons was unable to daunt or
One of the earliest and most important changes in the condition of the burgesses was the conversion of their individual tributes into a perpetual rent from the whole borough. The town was then said to be affirmed, or let in fee-farm to the burgesses and their successors for ever. Previously to such a grant, the lord held the town in his demesne, and was the legal proprietor of the soil and tenements ; though I by no means apprehend that the burgesses were destitute of a certain estate in their possessions. But of a town in fee-farm he only kept the superiority, and the inheritance of the annual rent, which he might recover by distress. The burgesses held their lands by burgage-tenure, nearly analogous to, or rather a species of, free socage. Perhaps before the grant they might correspond to modern copy holders. It is of some importance to observe, that the lord by such a grant of the town in fee-farm, whatever we may think of its previous condition, divested himself of his property, or lucrative dominion over the soil, in return for the perpetual rent; so that tallages subsequently set at his own discretion upon the inhabitants, however common, can hardly be considered as a just exercise of the rights of proprietorship.
Under such a system of arbitrary taxation, however, it was evident to the most selfish tyrant, that the wealth of his burgesses was his wealth, and their prosperity his interest ; much more were liberal and sagacious monarchs, like Henry II., inclined to encourage them by privileges. From the time of William Rufus, there was no reign in which charters were not granted to different towns, of exemption from tolls on rivers and at markets, those lighter manacles of feudal tyranny; or of commercial franchises ; or of immunity from the ordinary jurisdictions; or, lastly, of internal self-regulation. Thus the original charter of Henry I. to the city of London, concedes to the citizens, in addition to valuable commercial and fiscal immunities, the right of choosing their own sheriff and justice, to the exclusion of every foreign jurisdiction. These grants, however, were not in general so extensive till the reign of John. Before that time, the interior arrangement of towns had received a new organization. In the Saxon period, we find voluntary associations, sometimes religious, sometimes secular ; in some cases for mutual defence against injury, in others for mutual relief in poverty. These were called guilds, from the Saxon verb gildan, to pay or contribute, and exhibited the natural, if not the legal character of corporations. At the time of the conquest, as has been mentioned above, such voluntary incorporations of the burgesses possessed in some towns either landed property of their own, or rights of superiority over those of others. An internal elective government seems to have been required for the administration of a common revenue, and of other business incident to their association. They became more numerous, and more peculiarly commercial after that æra, as well from the increase of trade, as through imitation of similar fraternities existing in many towns of France. The spirit of monopoly gave strength to those institutions, each class of traders forming itself into a body, in order to exclude competition. Thus were established the companies in corporate towns, that of the Weavers in London being perhaps the earliest ; and these were successively consolidated and sanctioned by charters from the crown. In towns not large enough to admit of distinct companies, one merchant guild comprehended the traders in general, or the chief of them; and this, from the reign of Henry II. downwards, became the subject of incorporating charters. The management of their internal concerns, previously to any incorporation, fell naturally enough into a sort of oligarchy, which the tenor of the charter generally preserved. Though the immunities might be very extensive, the powers were more or less restrained to a small number. Except in a few places, the right of choosing magistrates was first given by king John; and certainly must rather be ascribed to his poverty, than to any enlarged policy, of which he was utterly incapable.
From the middle of the twelfth century to that of the thirteenth, the traders of England became more and more prosperous. The towns on the southern coast exported tin and other metals in exchange for the wines of France ; those on the eastern sent corn to Norway; the Cinque-ports bartered wool against the stuffs of Flanders. Though bearing no comparison with the cities of Italy or the empire, they increased sufficiently to acquire importance at home. That vigorous prerogative of the Norman monarchs, which kept down the feudal aristocracy, compensated for whatever inferiority there might be in the population and defensible strength of the English towns, compared with those on the continent. They had to fear no petty oppressors, no local hostility; and if they could satisfy the rapacity of the crown, were secure from all other grievances. London, far above the rest, our ancient and noble capital, might, even in those early times, be justly termed a member of the political system. This great city, so admirably situated, was rich and populous long before the conquest. Bede, at the beginning of the eighth century, speaks of London as a great market, which traders frequented by land and sea. It paid fifteen thousand pounds out of eighty-two thousand pounds, raised by Canute upon the kingdom. If we believe Roger Hovedon, the citizens of London, on the death of Ethelred II., joined with part of the nobility in raising Edmund Ironside to the throne. Harold I., according to better authority, the Saxon Chronicle, and William of Malmsbury, was elected by their concurrence. Descending to later history, we find them active in the civil war of Stephen and Matilda. The famous bishop of Winchester tells the Londoners, that they are almost accounted as noblemen on account of the greatness of their city ; into the community of which it appears that some barons had been received. Indeed the citizens themselves, or at least the principal of them, were called barons. It was certainly by far the greatest city in England. There have been different estimates of its population, some of which are extravagant; but I think it could hardly have contained less than thirty or forty thousand souls within its walls ; and the suburbs were very populous. These numbers, the enjoyment of privileges, and the consciousness of strength, infused a free and even mutinous spirit into their conduct. The Londoners were always on the barons' side in their contests with the crown. They bore a part in deposing William Longchamp, the chancellor and justiciary of Richard I. They were distinguished in the great struggle for Magna Charta ; the privileges of their city are expressly confirmed in it; and the Mayor of London was one of the twenty-five barons to whom the maintenance of its provisions was delegated. In the subsequent reign, the citizens of London were regarded with much dislike and jealousy by the court, and sometimes suffered pretty severely by its hands, especially after the battle of Evesham.
Notwithstanding the influence of London in these seasons of disturbance, we do not perceive that it was distinguished from the most insignificant town by greater participation in national councils. Rich, powerful, honourable, and high-spirited as its citizens had become, it was very long before they found a regular place in parliament. The prerogative of imposing tallages at pleasure, unsparingly exercised by Henry III. even over London, left the crown no inducement to summon the inhabitants of cities and boroughs. As these indeed were daily growing more considerable, they were certain, in a monarchy so limited as that of England became in the thirteenth century, of attaining, sooner or later, this eminent privilege. Although therefore the object of Simon de Montfort in calling them to his parliament after the battle of Lewes was merely to strengthen his own faction, which prevailed among the commonalty, yet their permanent admission into the legislature may be ascribed to a more general cause. For otherwise it is not easy to see, why the innovation of an usurper should be drawn into precedent, though it might perhaps accelerate what the course of affairs was gradually preparing.
It is well known, that the earliest writs of summons to cities and boroughs, of which we can prove the existence, are those of Simnon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, bearing date 12th of December, 1264, in the forty-ninth year of Henry III. After a long controversy, almost all judicious inquirers seem to have acquiesced in admitting this origin of popular representation. The argument may be very concisely stated. We find from innumerable records that the king imposed tallages upon his demesne towns at discretion. No public instrument previous to the fortyninth of Henry III. names the citizens and burgesses as constituent parts of parliament; though prelates, barons, knights, and sometimes free-holders are enumerated; while since the undoubted admission of the commons, they are almost invariably mentioned. No historian speaks of representatives appearing for the people, or uses the word citizen or burgess in describing those present in parliament. Such convincing, though negative, evidence is not to be invalidated by some general and ambiguous phrases, whether in writs and records, or in historians. Those monkish annalists are poor authorities upon any point where their language is to be delicately measured. But it is hardly possible, that writing circumstantially, as Roger de Hoveden and Matthew Paris sometimes did, concerning proceedings in parliament, they could have failed to mention the commons in unequivocal expressions, if any representatives from that order had actually formed a part of the assembly.
96.--THE BATTLE OF EVESHAM.
From “ Old England." When John died, what a state of confusion surrounded his helpless son-Louis the French Dauphin in the land with an army of French troops, and supported by the chief English barons, who had invited him over as their last refuge against John's tyranny. But a great and good man was then living—Pembroke, soon afterwards declared the Protector ; who, collecting together at Gloucester the different branches of the royal family, as well as a host of the principal men of both political parties, suddenly appeared among them, and placing the young Henry, with all due honour and ceremony, before the assembled prelates and nobles, said “ Albeit the father of this prince, whom here you see before you, for his evil demeanours hath worthily undergone our persecution, yet this young child, as he is in years tender, so is he pure and innocent from those of his father's doings,” and so called upon them to appoint him their king and governor, and drive the French from the land. The assembly received the speech with cordial greeting, and the coronation ceremony was immediately hurried on. The crown had been lost in the Wash, so a plain circlet of gold was used. Pembroke was appointed the royal guardian, and the governor of the kingdom. That appointment saved Henry his throne, and the people of England their nationality. Pembroke, who fully appreciated the motives of the disappointed barons, caused the Magna Charta to be revised and confirmed, with the view of satisfying them, and his character testified to all men that the act was done in good faith. The result was soon perceptible in the breaking up of the moral strength of the dangerous and unnatural confederacy. Then came the battle, or “Fair,” of Lincoln, in 1217, in which the French and English allies were completely overthrown ; and when Pembroke, hurrying from the ancient city with its bloody streets the same evening to Stow, was able to assure the trembling boy-king for the first time that he was really lord of England. Pembroke dealt firmly but generously with the allies, and before long Louis had returned to France, and the barons of England were once more united in support of their own monarch. Englishmen could again look on one another without rage or humiliation.
Henry's marriage with Eleanor, daughter of the Count of Provence, seems to mark with tolerable accuracy the period of the commencement of the struggle between him and his subjects. His minister, the Poictevin bishop, Des Roches, had given him a double course of practical instruction as to how he should rule, although the people and the barons so little appreciated their share in the example, that they compelled Henry, in 1234, to dismiss him, with a whole host of his countrymen, not only from power, but from the island. Henry comforted himself on his marriage by taking Gascons and Provençals into his favour, since they would not let him have Poictevins; and upon them he lavished all possible wealth and honours. The barons remonstrated, and the king, wanting money, promised to behave better. When he next asked for funds, he was told of broken promises, and an oath was exacted. That broken too, the barons became more and more annoying and disrespectful; charged Henry with extravagance, and at last said in the most unmistakable English, they would trust him no longer, and therefore, if he wanted them to give him money, he must allow them to add to the gift a few public officers of their choice, such as the chief Justiciary, Chancellor, and so on. The king thought he would much rather stretch his prerogative a little over those especially subject to it, in matters of fine, benevolence, and purveyance; rob the Jews; and beg from everybody else; and admirably he did all these things. Even this hardly sufficed, so in 1248 he again met his barons in parliament, to see what they would do for him, but soon left them in disgust; they would provide nothing but lectures upon his past conduct, and advice as to his future ; except, indeed, on their own conditions. That there were men in England who peither could nor would endure such government was to be expected ; but one's admiration is especially warmed to find there were English women who could tell the king plain truths in plain words. The young widowed Countess of Arundel having failed to obtain what she alleged to be hers in equity, thus addressed him before his court: “0, my lord king, why do you turn away from justice? We cannot now obtain that which is right in your court. You are placed as a mean between God and us, but you neither govern us nor yourself, neither dread you to vex the church diversely, as is not only felt in present, but hath been heretofore. Moreover, you doubt not manifoldly to afflict the nobles of the kingdom.” Henry listened with a scornful and angry look, and then cried out in a loud voice, “0, my lady countess, what ? have the lords of England, because you have a tongue at will, made a charter, and hired you to be their orator and advocate ?" But the lady had as much wit and presence of mind as courage, and answered, “Not so, my lord ; for they have made to me no charter. But that charter which your father made, and yourself confirmed, swearing to keep the same inviolably and constantly, and often extorting money upon the promise that the liberties therein contained should be faithfully observed, you have not kept, but, without regard to conscience or honour, broken. Therefore are you found to be a manifest violator of your faith and oath. For where are the liberties of England, so often fairly engrossed in writing ? so often granted ? so often bought? I, therefore, though a woman, and all the natural loyal people of the land, appeal against you to the tribunal of the fearful judgo," &c. The king was overawed, but of course remained unchanged ; and the lady, as Matthew Paris tells us, lost her charges, hopes, and travail. When women thus speak, men must begin to act.
A confederacy was soon formed, and the barons “determined to come strong to Oxford at Saint Barnabas day.” According to their agreement they appeared in an imposing body before the king, “ exquisitely armed, and appointed, that so the king and his aliens should be enforced, if they would not willingly assent." Of course their demand was the old demand-the Charter ; but there was a new and very important addendum, that the country should be ruled, according to its provisions, by twenty-four men, to be then and there chosen by the assembly. The leader of the confederated barons was the king's brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, a Frenchman by the father's side, but in every other respect one of the truest of Englishmen. Before events had shown Henry the lofty and