Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

person of William, Duke of Normandy, who was cousin to William, Eadward the Confessor through that king's mother, Emma Duke of

Normandy. of Normandy, and now claimed the throne under an alleged earlier appointment of his late kinsman. If such appointment or promise had indeed been made, which seems probable, it was superseded by the last cxpression of King Eadward's wishes. Under any circumstances it could merely amount to a recommendation to the Witan. A King of the English had never possessed a constitutional right to bequeath his kingdom like a private estate. The The kingright of electing a king resided in the Witan alone, acting ship elective. on behalf of the whole nation. Their choice, it is true, had hitherto, when frccly exercised, been restricted to the nicmbers of thic royal house ; but failing an eligible descendant of Cerdic, the choice of the nation was unlimited.

William, however, professed to be merely asserting his The Conlegal right. Having secured the moral and religious sup- quest. port of the papal benediction, which the Roman See in its anxiety to reduce the independence of the National English Church was most ready to bestow, and leading a large army of Normans and other foreigners, all inured to warfare and eager for booty, William landed in England to decide by the fate of arms between himself and the 'usurper' Harold. At the decisive battle of Senlac the 14 Oct. 1066. Normans were victorious, Harold, his brothers, and the flower of the English thegnhood being left dead on the field. Although, on the news of Harold's death, the Londoners at once chose Eadgar Ætheling for king, disunion and the lack of effective organization prevented any successful resistance to the onward march of the invaders. William William had as yet conquered but a very small portion of the elected and kingdom, but such was the panic of the nation, that he was 'King of

the English. elected King by the Witan, and crowned at Westminster on Christmas Day, 1066, by the same Archbishop Ealdred who had crowned the unfortunate Harold. In conformity

I See Freeman, Norm. Conq. ii. 296-304.

? Will. Pictav., Gesta Willelmi (ed. Maseres), p. 145 ; Flor. Wigorn. an. 1066.

with his original pretensions, he assumed the title of King of the English,' and entered into the usual compact with

the nation in the ancient coronation oath. Theoreti

William evidently began with the intention of reigning cally a con. stitutional as the appointed heir of Eadward and the lawful successor king. of the English kings. In that character he was obliged to

respect the laws and customs of the kingdom. Theoretically he continued to govern as a constitutional king, though

practically in dcfiance of everything but his own wislies. Continuity The continuity of the English constitution was not broken of the con stitution.

by the Norman conquest. That cvent ought to be regarded not as a fresh starting point, but as the great turning-point' in the history of the Englislı nation. •The laws, with a few changes in detail, remained the same; the language of public documents remained the same; the powers which were vested in King William and his Witan

remained constitutionally the same.' The Norman The infusion of Norman blood has been considered

extensive enough to count as one of the four chief elements of the present English nation; but it was still only an infusion. In the course of little more than a century it became absorbed, as the smaller Celtic and larger Danish elements had been absorbed previously, in the predominant English nationality. The fusion was doubtless facilitated by the common Teutonic descent of the two peoples. The Normans were in fact Northmen, who, instead of coming direct from Scandinavia, had sojourned for a century and a half in a French home. While retaining much of the Norse character, they had acquired, during the interval, the language and civilization of the Romanized Gauls and Franks, developing in the process a brilliant nationality distinct alike from the nationality of their origin and of their new home. The conquerors, moreover, were by no means utter strangers to the people whom they subdued. The vicinity of so remarkable a nation as the Normans

race.

| Freeman, Vorm. Conq. i. 72.
? Supra, p. 3.

mans.

had early begun to produce an influence upon the public mind of England, and had to some extent prepared the way for their ultimate supremacy. 'Before the Conquest, English princes received their education in Normandy. English sees and English estates were bestowed on Nor

The l'rench of Normandy was familiarly spoken in the palace of Westminster. The court of Rouen seems to have been to the court of Eadward the Confessor what the court of Versailles long afterwards was to the court of Charles the Second.'?

The immediate changes which the Conquest introduced Effects of were undoubtedly treat. but they were practical rather than the Con

quest. formal. The power of the Crown was vastly increased. Is the government became more centralized, local self. government, the essential characteristic of our Teutonic constitution, was for a time depressed ; but only to arise again later on, when the nobles and people became united against the tyranny of the Crown. The social aspect of England was enormously changed. The old dynasty had been supplanted by an alien family. The old aristocracy was superseded by a new nobility. The old offices received new names—the ealdorman, or earl, became the comes, the sheriff the vice-comes; and with the new names and alien officials, the old laws, though retained, and even promulgated anew, must have been considerably modified in practical administration.

The most important result of the Conquest, in its con- Feudalism. stitutional aspect, was the assimilation of all the institutions of the country, from the highest to the lowest, to the feudal type. This was a consequence of the immense confiscations of landed estates, which, occurring not all at

· Macaulay, Hist. Eng. i. 10. 2 The Conquest' did not expel or transplant the English nation or any part of it, but it gradually deprived the leadling men and families of England of their lands and offices, and thrust them down into a secondary position under alien intruders. It did not at once sweep away the old laws and liberties of the land ; but it at once changed the manner and spirit of their administration, and it opened the way for endless later chan in the laws themselves.' Freeman, Norm. Conq. i. 4.

E

ment.

once but from time to time, ultimately placed King William in the position of supreme landowner, and established the

Feudal System in England. Its gradual The steps by which this great change was brought about, establish:

and the nature of the system of tenurc thus established, demand some consideration.

At first thc Conqueror with an appearance of strict legality, appropriated merely the extensive royal domainsthe folkland, now finally changed into terra regis—and the large forfeited estates of the Godwinc family and of all those who had, or were suspected of having, taken up arms against him. Reserving to himself as the demesne of the Crown more than 1400 large manors scattered over various counties, he divided the rest among his companions in arms. Although William affected to regard all Englishmen as more or less tainted with treason and liable to forfeiture of their estates, inasmuch as they had either fought against him or failed to range themselves on his

side, yet the bulk of the landholders were at first suffered The English to retain their possessions. But there is reason to believe

that this was subject to the condition of accepting a re-grant from the Conqueror; the more important personages, in return for their adhesion, receiving back their estates as a free gist, the smaller owners on payment of a money consideration. By this means William procured a peaceable

recleem their lands.

" It is perhaps scarcely necessary to remark that the term 'Conqueror' did not in the language of the time of which we are treating imply subjugation, but signified merely one who ‘had sought and obtained his right.' In reality, however, the modern meaning of the term more accurately describes Willian's practical position, which was, as he himself once expressed it, ‘King by the edge of the sword.

The Peterborough (contemporary) chronicler speaks of all who did homage to William at or soon after his coronation, as buying their land ; 'And menn guldon him syld and gislas sealdon, and sys8an heora land bohtan' (Chron. A. Sax. 1066). This statement is contirmed by an incidental reserence in Domesday to a time when the English as a body redeemed their lands. Of some of the lands of St. Eadmundsbury we read : Hanc terram habet Abbas in vadimonio pro xi marcas auri, concessu Engelrici quando redimebant Anglici terras suas' (Domesday, ii. 360 ; Freeman, Norm. Conq. iv. 25). The Inquisitio Eliensis also confirms this view : 'Hoc totum tripliciter ; scilicet tempore Regis Eaduardi, et quando Rex Willelmus dedit; et quomodo sit modo.'

acknowledgment of his title over extensive districts into which his arms had not yet penetrated.

During the Conqueror's first absence from England a reaction set in after the panic; and the oppression and insolence of the Normans, Odo of Bayeux and William FitzOsbern, who had been left in charge of the kingdom as justices regent, excited the natives to rcbcl. Onc rising Insurrecwas no sooner suppressed than others broke out in dif- tions, fol.

lowed by ferent parts of the kingdom, and the first four years of his extensive

contiscation. reign were occupied by William in acquiring the actual sovereignty of his new dominions. Each insurrection as it occurred was followed by a confiscation of the estatcs of those who in the eye of the law were rebels, however patriotic and niorally justifiable may have been the motives by which they were actuated. Thus, by a gradual process and with an outward show of legality;' nearly all the lands of the kingdom came into the hands of the King, and were by him granted out to his Norman nobles, to be held by the feudal tenure, to which they were alone accustomed in their own country. The maxim of later times, •Tout fuit en lui et vient de lui al commencement,'' seems to have been something more than a fiction. At the time of the Domesday survey there still remained some few exceptions to the general feudal tenure, but before the accession of Henry I, all tenures seem to have become uniformly feudal.3 At the period of the Norman Conquest feudalism in Continental

. both tenure and government was fully established in feudalism. France, the country of its historic development, and in most of the continental countries of Europe. It had grown up gradually, deriving its elements partly from a Roman, partly from a Teutonic source. Indirectly and in part, it may be traced to the Roman system of usufructuary ownership and to the practice, under the Empire, of grant

Nulli Gallo datum quod Anglo cuiquam injuste suerit ablatum.'-Orderic.
Vital.

? Year Book, 24 Edw. III. 65.
3 Stubbs, Select Chart., Introductory Sketch, 14.

« AnteriorContinuar »