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Polydore Vergil attributes the trial by jury to this reign, but, Selden says, erroneously. Lambarde's explication of law terms informs us, that this admirable custom is to be traced in a law of Ethelred's: another of considerable importance, which still creates infinite interest in the Metropolis, was ordained by William — the four lawterms, when the different judges sit to hear and determine causes. When the antient monarchs of this island
governed it in despotic sway, necessity compelled them to attach many powerful chiefs to their interest: this they had various methods of accomplishing; amongst the number was hospitality, or what we now term a splendid establishment for the table. The custom of eating delicious viands, and indulging, not in the pleasures of the bottle, but of the horn or cup, was a bait for the most ferocions leader ; to provide those, the king had his purveyors, to whom payments were made, by his subjects, in oxen, sheep, corn, &c. &c. from which a sufficient supply was selected for the use of the palace: in some cases money was received ; and in a later period, the whole was commuted for sums in specie.
A country involved in disputes for territory with a foreign invader must have presented to the observer scenes calculated to invert every step towards refinement or amelioration of manners : indeed, the history of this period affords but few
opportunities of describing the habits of the people. Those of the court do not appear in a very favourable light, which we derive from the conduct of Judith, niece of William of Normandy; who, having married Waltheof, an English nobleman, was entrusted by him with the heads of a conspiracy against William, formed in his presence, in the midst of the inflamed indulgencies of the table, of which he heartily repented. The doubly faithless lady, attached to another, sent an express to her uncle, then in Normandy, to inform him of her husband's guilt in aggravated terms.
This unfortunate man afterwards attended the monarch to solicit his pardon, and plead the king's escape, through his means, in extenuation of punishment; which it is probable he would have obtained, had not Judith exerted all her influence against him, and at length with complete
The concurrent testimony of our Historians represent William of Normandy as a man whose handsome and muscular frame was improved by his easy and graceful performance of martial exercises, and address in riding: towards the close of his life he became corpulent, and his features at all times presented a stern character, which might be traced in his actions as a hunter and as an invader. He was religious, temperate, and chaste; but did not hesitate to injure the
professors of Religion when a favourite point could be gained by that means : whether the opposite vices of ambition, avarice, and cruelty, can be reconciled with the possession of the preceding virtues, must be left to the moralist to decide ; that he was equally ambitious, avaricious, and cruel, is demonstrated by his conquest of England, the treasures he amassed in consequence, and the universal dismissal of every Englishman from places of honour and trust, exclusive of minor acts of despotism. What avails it then that he has the term of the Conqueror annexed to his name, or that he was the greatest general of his
William Rufus doth not appear to have made any regulation immediately affecting the metropolis, if we except that he rendered it necessary for its inhabitants, as well as those of England, generally to obtain passports for leaving it.
The character we have received of William Rufus is that of a most complete and obdurate tyrant, and of a base and contemptible man; one who ridiculed religion, indulged in excessive eating and drinking, encouraged the licentious of both sexes, and was as profligate in his language as his vulgar favourites. Pride, vanity in dress, cruelty, ambition, and avarice, rendered him odious; and his total contempt of all the laws and customs of his subjects, made them execrate him. Flambard his favourite, and his soldiers,
the instruments of his oppression, were the only persons who profited by the reign of Rufus: the latter had in him an experienced and courageous leader; but these qualities were perverted, and his uncommon strength and activity were wasted in pursuits every way unjust and reprehensible.
Henry, surnamed Beauclerc through his literary acquirements, explained the rights of his people, in an instrument which he issued upon ascending the throne: part of this will serve as an explanation of the then state of society :
“ If any of my barons, or other men, homagers or tenants of mine, shall have a mind to give his daughter or sister, or niece, or kinswoman, in marriage, let him speak with me about it. But neither will I take any thing of his for this leave and licence, nor will I hinder him from betrothing her, except he shall have a design of giving her to an enemy of mine. If upon the death of a baron, or any other homager of inine, there be left a daughter that is an heiress, I will bestow her, with the advice of my barons, together with her land.
“ If upon the death of the husband the wife be left without children, she shall have her dowry and right of marriage, as long as she shall keep her body according to law; and I will not bestow her but according to her own liking. And if there be children, either the wife, or some one else near of
kin, shall be their guardian, and trustee of their land, who ought to be just.
“ I give order that my homagers do in like manner regulate themselves towards the sons and daughters and wives of their homagers."
From these ordinances it will be observed, that it was and had been expected, that all marriages were to be regulated by the king, who had the latitude of judging of their propriety, without consulting the wishes of the parties: thus if the children of two barons felt a mutual affection, the consent of the parents was but one step towards the contract; the king possessed the veto, and a person interested in preventing the proposed union had only to represent the youth as an enemy to the state, and all further proceedings were stopped.
Nor did this evil rest with the chiefs alone, who were permitted to exercise a petty tyranny over their vassals, according to the caprice of the day, without assigning any motive whatever, or being liable to any responsibility. From a custom like this, let us be thankful that our ancestors have delivered us, at the expence of their lives.
Canute set a very excellent example to his successors, by decreeing that the lord or possessor should make a distribution of his property to his wife, children, and relations, to the best of his discretion; and Henry emulated it: