Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION 28: The English Nation has always been governed by itself or its Representatives. - Discourses Concerning Government
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SECTION 28: The English Nation has always been governed by itself or its Representatives. - Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government 
Discourses Concerning Government, ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996).
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The English Nation has always been governed by itself or its Representatives.
Having proved that the people of England have never acknowledged any other human law than their own, and that our parliaments having the power of making and abrogating laws, they only can interpret them and decide hard cases, it plainly appears there can be no truth in our author’s assertion, that the king is the author, corrector and moderator of both statute and common law: and nothing can be more frivolous than what he adds, that neither of them can be a diminution of that natural power which kings have over their people as fathers;1 in as much as the differences between paternal and monarchical power (as he asserts it) are vast and irreconcilable in principle and practice, as I have proved at large in the former parts of this work.
But lest we should be too proud of the honour he is pleased to do to our parliaments by making use of their authority, he says, We are first to remember that till the conquest (which name for the glory of our nation he gives to the coming in of the Normans) there could be no parliament assembled of the general states, because we cannot learn that until those days it was entirely united in one. Secondly he doubts, Whether the parliament in the time of the Saxons were composed of the nobility and clergy, or whether the commons were also called; but concludes, there could be no knights of any shires, because there were no shires. Thirdly, That Henry the first caused the commons first to assemble knights and burgesses of their own chusing; and would make this to be an act of grace and favour from that king: but adds, that it had been more for the honour of parliaments, if a king whose title to the crown had been better, had been the author of the form of it.2
In answer to the first, I do not think myself obliged to insist upon the name or form of the parliament; for the authority of a magistracy proceeds not from the number of years that it has continued, but the rectitude of the institution, and the authority of those that instituted it. The power of Saul, David and Jeroboam, was the same with that which belonged to the last kings of Israel and Judah. The authority of the Roman consuls, dictators, praetors and tribunes, was the same as soon as it was established; was as legal and just as that of the kings of Denmark, which is said to have continued above three thousand years. For as time can make nothing lawful or just, that is not so of itself (tho men are unwilling to change that which has pleased their ancestors, unless they discover great inconveniences in it) that which a people does rightly establish for their own good, is of as much force the first day, as continuance can ever give to it: and therefore in matters of the greatest importance, wise and good men do not so much inquire what has been, as what is good and ought to be; for that which of itself is evil, by continuance is made worse, and upon the first opportunity is justly to be abolished. But if that liberty in which God created man, can receive any strength from continuance, and the rights of Englishmen can be render’d more unquestionable by prescription, I say that the nations whose rights we inherit, have ever enjoy’d the liberties we claim, and always exercised them in governing themselves popularly, or by such representatives as have been instituted by themselves, from the time they were first known in the world.
The Britains and Saxons lay so long hid in the obscurity that accompanies barbarism, that ’tis in vain to seek what was done by either in any writers more ancient than Caesar and Tacitus. The first describes the Britains to have been a fierce people zealous for liberty, and so obstinately valiant in the defence of it, that tho they wanted skill, and were overpower’d by the Romans, their country could no otherwise be subdued, than by the slaughter of all the inhabitants that were able to bear arms. He calls them a free people, in as much as they were not like the Gauls, governed by laws made by the great men, but by the people. In his time they chose Cassivellaunus, and afterwards Caratacus, Arviragus, Galgacus, and others to command them in their wars, but they retain’d the government in themselves. That no force might be put upon them, they met arm’d in their general assemblies; and tho the smaller matters were left to the determination of the chief men chosen by themselves for that purpose, they reserved the most important (amongst which the chusing of those men was one) to themselves. When the Romans had brought them low, they set up certain kings to govern such as were within their territories:3 but those who defended themselves by the natural strength of their situation, or retired into the north, or the islands, were still governed by their own customs, and were never acquainted with domestick or foreign slavery. The Saxons, from whom we chiefly derive our original and manners, were no less lovers of liberty, and better understood the ways of defending it. They were certainly the most powerful and valiant people of Germany; and what the Germans performed under Ariovistus, Arminius and Maroboduus, shews both their force and their temper. If ever fear enter’d into the heart of Caesar, it seems to have been when he was to deal with Ariovistus. The advantages that the brave Germanicus obtained against Arminius, were at least thought equal to the greatest victories that had been gain’d by any Roman captain; because these nations fought not for riches, or any instruments of luxury and pleasure, which they despised, but for liberty. This was the principle in which they lived, as appears by their words and actions; so that Arminius when his brother Flavius, who served the Romans, boasted of the increase of his pay, and the marks of honour he had received, in scorn call’d them the rewards of the vilest servitude;4 but when he himself endeavour’d to usurp a power over the liberty of his country which he had so bravely defended, he was killed by those he would have oppress’d. Tacitus farther describing the nature of the Germans, shews that the Romans had run greater hazards from them than from the Samnites, Carthaginians and Parthians, and attributes their bravery to the liberty they enjoyed;5 for they are, says he, neither exhausted by tributes, nor vexed by publicans:6 and lest this liberty should be violated, the chief men consult about things of lesser moment; but the most important matters are determined by all.7 Whoever would know the opinion of that wise author concerning the German liberty, may read his excellent treatise concerning their manners and customs; but I presume this may be enough to prove that they lived free under such magistrates as they chose, regulated by such laws as they made, and retained the principal powers of the government in their general or particular councils. Their kings and princes had no other power than was conferred upon them by these assemblies, who having all in themselves could receive nothing from them, who had nothing to give.8
’Tis as easily proved that the Saxons or Angles, from whom we descend, were eminent among those, whose power, virtue, and love to liberty the abovementioned historian so highly extols, in as much as besides what he says in general of the Saxons, he names the Angles; describes their habitation near the Elbe, and their religious worship of the goddess Erthum, or the earth, celebrated in an island lying in the mouth of that river, thought to be Heligoland; in resemblance of which a small one lying over against Berwick, is called Holy Island. If they were free in their own country, they must be so when they came hither. The manner of their coming shews they were more likely to impose, than submit to slavery; and if they had not the name of parliament, it was because they did not speak French; or, not being yet joined with the Normans, they had not thought fit to put their affairs into that method: but having the root of power and liberty in themselves, they could not but have a right of establishing the one in such a form as best pleased them, for the preservation of the other.
This being, as I suppose, undeniable, it imports not whether the assemblies in which the supreme power of each nation did reside, were frequent or rare; composed of many or few persons, sitting altogether in one place, or in more; what name they had; or whether every free man did meet and vote in his own person, or a few were delegated by many. For they who have a right inherent in themselves, may resign it to others; and they who can give a power to others, may exercise it themselves, unless they recede from it by their own act; for it is only matter of convenience, of which they alone can be the judges, because ’tis for themselves only that they judge. If this were not so, it would be very prejudicial to kings: for ’tis certain that Cassivellaunus, Caratacus, Arviragus, Galgacus, Hengist, Horsa, and others amongst the Britains and Saxons, what name soever may have been abusively given to them, were only temporary magistrates chosen upon occasion of present wars; but we know of no time in which the Britains had not their great council to determine their most important affairs: and the Saxons in their own country had their councils, where all were present, and in which Tacitus assures us they dispatched their greatest business. These were the same with the micklegemotes which they afterwards held here, and might have been called by the same name, if Tacitus had spoken Dutch.9
If a people therefore have not a power to create at any time a magistracy which they had not before, none could be created at all, for no magistracy is eternal: And if for the validity of the constitution it be necessary, that the beginning must be unknown, or that no other could have been before it, the monarchy amongst us cannot be established upon any right; for tho our ancestors had their councils and magistrates, as well here as in Germany, they had no monarchs. This appears plainly by the testimony of Caesar and Tacitus; and our later histories show, that as soon as the Saxons came into this country, they had their micklegemotes, which were general assemblies of the noble and free men, who had in themselves the power of the nation: and tho when they increased in numbers, they erected seven kingdoms, yet every one retained the same usage within itself. These assemblies were evidently the same in power with our parliaments; and tho they differ’d in name or form, it matters not, for they who could act in the one, could not but have a power of instituting the other; that is, the same people that could meet together in their own persons, and according to their own pleasure order all matters relating to themselves, whilst three or four counties only were under one government, and their numbers were not so great, or their habitation so far distant, that they might not meet altogether without inconvenience, with the same right might depute others to represent them, when being joined in one, no place was capable of receiving so great a multitude, and that the frontiers would have been exposed to the danger of foreign invasions, if any such thing had been practiced.
But if the authority of parliaments, for many ages representing the whole nation, were less to be valued (as our author insinuates) because they could not represent the whole, when it was not joined in one body, that of kings must come to nothing; for there could be no one king over all, when the nation was divided into seven distinct governments: And ’tis most absurd to think that the nation, which had seven great councils, or micklegemotes, at the same time they had seven kingdoms, could not as well unite the seven councils as the seven kingdoms into one. ’Tis to as little purpose to say, that the nation did not unite itself, but the several parcels came to be inherited by one; for that one could inherit no more from the others than what they had; and the seven being only magistrates set up by the micklegemotes, &c. the one must be so also. And ’tis neither reasonable to imagine, nor possible to prove, that a fierce nation, jealous of liberty, and who had obstinately defended it in Germany against all invaders, should conquer this country to enslave themselves, and purchase nothing by their valour but that servitude which they abhorred; or be less free when they were united into one state, than they had been when they were divided into seven; and least of all, that one man could first subdue his own people, and then all the rest, when by endeavouring to subdue his own, he had broken the trust reposed in him, and lost the right conferred upon him, and without them had not power to subdue any. But as it is my fate almost ever to dissent from our author, I affirm, that the variety of government, which is observed to have been amongst the Saxons, who in some ages were divided, in others united; sometimes under captains, in other times under kings; sometimes meeting personally in the micklegemotes, sometimes by their delegates in the witenagemotes, does evidently testify, that they ordered all things according to their own pleasure; which being the utmost act of liberty, it remained inviolable under all those changes, as we have already proved by the confession of Offa, Ine, Alfred, Canute, Edward, and other particular, as well as universal kings: And we may be sure those of the Norman race can have no more power, since they came in by the same way, and swore to govern by the same laws.
2. I am no way concerned in our author’s doubt, Whether parliaments did in those days consist of nobility and clergy; or whether the commons were also called. For if it were true, as he asserts, that according to the eternal law of God and nature, there can be no government in the world but that of an absolute monarch, whose sovereign majesty can be diminished by no law or custom, there could be no parliaments, or other magistracies, that did not derive their power and being from his will. But having proved that the Saxons had their general councils and assemblies when they had no kings; that by them kings were made, and the greatest affairs determined, whether they had kings or not; it can be of no importance, whether in one or more ages the commons had a part in the government, or not. For the same power that instituted a parliament without them, might, when they thought fit, receive them into it: or rather, if they who had the government in their hands, did, for reasons known to themselves, recede from the exercise of it, they might resume it when they pleased.
Nevertheless it may be worth our pains to enquire, what our author means by nobility. If such, as at this day by means of patents obtained for money, or by favour, without any regard to merit in the persons or their ancestors, are called dukes, marquesses, &c. I give him leave to impute as late and base an original to them as he pleases, without fearing that the rights of our nation can thereby be impaired; and am content, that if the king do not think fit to support the dignity of his own creatures, they may fall to the ground. But if by noblemen we are to understand such as have been ennobled by the virtues of their ancestors, manifested in services done to their country, I say, that all nations, amongst whom virtue has been esteemed, have had a great regard to them and their posterity: And tho kings, when they were made, have been intrusted by the Saxons, and other nations, with a power of ennobling those who by services render’d to their country might deserve that honor; yet the body of the nobility was more ancient than such; for it had been equally impossible to take kings (according to Tacitus) out of the nobility if there had been no nobility, as to take captains for their virtue if there had been no virtue;10 and princes could not, without breach of that trust, confer honors upon those that did not deserve them; which is so true, that this practice was objected as the greatest crime against Vortigern, the last and the worst of the British kings:11 and tho he might pretend (according to such cavils as are usual in our time) that the judgment of those matters was referred to him; yet the world judged of his crimes, and when he had render’d himself odious to God and men by them, he perished in them, and brought destruction upon his country that had suffer’d them too long.
As among the Turks, and most of the Eastern tyrannies, there is no nobility, and no man has any considerable advantage above the common people, unless by the immediate favour of the prince; so in all the legal kingdoms of the North, the strength of the government has always been placed in the nobility; and no better defence has been found against the encroachments of ill kings, than by setting up an order of men, who by holding large territories, and having great numbers of tenants and dependents, might be able to restrain the exorbitances, that either the kings or the commons might run into. For this end Spain, Germany, France, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and England, were almost wholly divided into lordships under several names, by which every particular possessor owed allegiance (that is, such an obedience as the law requires) to the king, and he reciprocally swore to perform that which the same law exacted from him.
When these nations were converted to the Christian religion, they had a great veneration for the clergy; and not doubting that the men whom they esteemed holy, would be just, thought their liberties could not be better secured, than by joining those who had the direction of their consciences, to the noblemen who had the command of their forces. This succeeded so well (in relation to the defence of the publick rights) that in all the forementioned states, the bishops, abbots, &c. were no less zealous or bold in defending the publick liberty, than the best and greatest of the lords: And if it were true, that things being thus established, the commons did neither personally, nor by their representatives, enter into the general assemblies, it could be of no advantage to kings; for such a power as is above-mentioned, is equally inconsistent with the absolute sovereignty of kings, if placed in the nobility and clergy, as if the commons had a part. If the king has all, no other man, nor number of men can have any. If the nobility and clergy have the power, the commons may have their share also. But I affirm, that those whom we now call commons, have always had a part in the government, and their place in the councils that managed it; for if there was a distinction, it must have been by patent, birth, or tenure.
As for patents, we know they began long after the coming of the Normans, and those that now have them cannot pretend to any advantage on account of birth or tenure, beyond many of those who have them not. Nay, besides the several branches of the families that now enjoy the most ancient honors, which consequently are as noble as they, and some of them of the elder houses, we know many that are now called commoners, who in antiquity and eminency are no way inferior to the chief of the titular nobility: and nothing can be more absurd, than to give a prerogative of birth to Cr-v-n, T-ft-n, H-de, B-nnt, Osb-rn,12 and others, before the Cliftons, Hampdens, Courtneys, Pelhams, St. Johns, Baintons, Wilbrahams, Hungerfords, and many others.13 And if the tenures of their estates be consider’d, they have the same, and as ancient as any of those who go under the names of duke, or marquess. I forbear to mention the sordid ways of attaining to titles in our days; but whoever will take the pains to examine them, shall find that they rather defile than ennoble the possessors. And whereas men are truly ennobled only by virtue, and respect is due to such as are descended from those who have bravely serv’d their country, because it is presumed (till they shew the contrary) that they will resemble their ancestors, these modern courtiers, by their names and titles, frequently oblige us to call to mind such things as are not to be mentioned without blushing. Whatever the ancient noblemen of England were, we are sure they were not such as these. And tho it should be confess’d that no others than dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons, had their places in the councils mentioned by Caesar and Tacitus, or in the great assemblies of the Saxons, it could be of no advantage to such as now are called by those names. They were the titles of offices conferred upon those, who did and could best conduct the people in time of war, give counsel to the king, administer justice, and perform other publick duties; but were never made hereditary except by abuse; much less were they sold for money, or given as recompences of the vilest services. If the ancient order be totally inverted, and the ends of its institution perverted, they who from thence pretend to be distinguished from other men, must build their claim upon something very different from antiquity.
This being sufficient (if I mistake not) to make it appear, that the ancient councils of our nation did not consist of such as we now call noblemen, it may be worth our pains to examine, of what sort of men they did consist: And tho I cannot much rely upon the credit of Camden, which he has forfeited by a great number of untruths, I will begin with him, because he is cited by our author.14 If we will believe him, That which the Saxons called witenagemote, we may justly name parliament, which has the supreme and most sacred authority of making, abrogating and interpreting laws, and generally of all things relating to the safety of the commonwealth.15 This witenagemote was, according to William of Malmesbury, The general meeting of the senate and people;16 and Sir Harry Spelman calls it, The general council of the clergy and people.17 In the assembly at Calchuth it was decreed by the archbishops, bishops, abbots, dukes, senators, and the people of the land (populo terrae) that the kings should be elected by the priests and elders of the people.18 By these Offa, Ine, and others, were made kings; and Alfred in his will acknowledged his crown from them.19 Edgar was elected by all the people, and not long after deposed by them, and again restored in a general assembly.20 These things being sometimes said to be done by the assent of the barons of the kingdom, Camden says, that under the name of the baronage, all the orders of the kingdom are in a manner comprehended;21 and it cannot be otherwise understood, if we consider that those called noblemen, or the nobility of England, are often by the historians said to be (infinita multitudo) an infinite multitude.
If any man ask how the nobility came to be so numerous; I answer, that the Northern nations, who were perpetually in arms, put a high esteem upon military valour; sought by conquest to acquire better countries than their own; valu’d themselves according to the numbers of men they could bring into the field; and to distinguish them from villains, called those noblemen, who nobly defended and enlarged their dominions by war; and for a reward of their services, in the division of lands gained by conquest, they distributed to them freeholds, under the obligation of continuing the same service to their country. This appears by the name of knight’s service, a knight being no more than a soldier, and a knight’s fee no more than was sufficient to maintain one. ’Tis plain, that knighthood was always esteemed nobility; so that no man, of what quality soever, thought a knight inferior to him, and those of the highest birth could not act as noblemen till they were knighted. Among the Goths in Spain, the cutting off the hair (which being long was the mark of knighthood) was accounted [as] degrading, and looked upon to be so great a mark of infamy, that he who had suffer’d it, could never bear any honor or office in the commonwealth; and there was no dignity so high, but every knight was capable of it. There was no distinction of men above it, and even to this day baron, or varon, in their language, signifies no more than vir in Latin, which is not properly given to any man unless he be free. The like was in France, till the coming in of the third race of kings, in which time the 12 peers (of whom 6 only were laymen) were raised to a higher dignity, and the commands annexed made hereditary; but the honour of knighthood was thereby no way diminished. Tho there were dukes, earls, marquesses and barons in the time of Froissart, yet he usually calls them knights: And Philippe de Comines, speaking of the most eminent men of his time, calls them good, wise or valiant knights. Even to this day the name of gentleman comprehends all that is raised above the common people; Henry the fourth usually called himself the first gentleman in France; and ’tis an ordinary phrase among them, when they speak of a gentleman of good birth, to say, il est noble comme le roy; He is as noble as the king. In their general assembly of estates, the Chamber of the Noblesse, which is one of three, is composed of the deputies sent by the gentry of every province; and in the inquiry made about the year 1668 concerning nobility, no notice was taken of such as had assumed the titles of earl, marquess, viscount, or baron, but only of those who called themselves gentlemen; and if they could prove that name to belong to them, they were left to use the other titles as they pleased. When duels were in fashion (as all know they were lately) no man except the princes of the blood, and marshals of France, could with honour refuse a challenge from any gentleman: The first, because it was thought unfit, that he who might be king, should fight with a subject to the danger of the commonwealth, which might by that means be deprived of its head: The others being by their office commanders of the nobility, and judges of all the controversies relating to honour that happen amongst them, cannot reasonably be brought into private contests with any. In Denmark, nobleman and gentleman is the same thing; and till the year 1660, they had the principal part of the government in their hands. When Charles Gustavus, king of Sweden, invaded Poland in the year 1655, ’tis said, that there were above three hundred thousand gentlemen in arms to resist him. This is the nobility of that country, kings are chosen by them: Every one of them will say, as in France, He is noble as the king. The last king was a private man among them, not thought to have had more than four hundred pounds a year.22 He who now reigns was not at all above him in birth or estate, till he had raised himself by great services done for his country in many wars; and there was not one gentleman in the nation who might not have been chosen as well as he, if it had pleased the assembly that did it.
This being the nobility of the Northern nations, and the true baronage of England, ’tis no wonder that they were called nobiles; the most eminent among them magnates, principes, proceres; and so numerous that they were esteemed to be multitudo infinita. One place was hardly able to contain them; and the inconveniences of calling them all together appeared to be so great, that they in time chose rather to meet by representatives, than every one in his own person. The power therefore remaining in them, it matters not what method they observed in the execution. They who had the substance in their hands, might give it what form they pleased. Our author sufficiently manifests his ignorance, in saying there could be no knights of the shires in the time of the Saxons, because there were no shires;23 for the very word is Saxon, and we find the names of Berkshire, Wiltshire, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, and others most frequently in the writings of those times; and dukes, earls, thanes or aldermen, appointed to command the forces, and look to the distribution of justice in them. Selden cites Ingulph for saying, that Alfred was the first that changed the provinces, &c. into counties: but refutes him, and proves that the distinction of the land into shires or counties (for shire signified no more than the share or part committed to the care of the earl or comes) was far more ancient.24 Whether the first divisions by the Saxons were greater or lesser than the shires or counties now are, is nothing to the question: they who made them to be as they were, could have made them greater or lesser as they pleased. And whether they did immediately, or some ages after that distinction, cease to come to their great assemblies, and rather chuse to send their deputies, or, whether such deputies were chosen by counties, cities and boroughs, as in our days, or in any other manner, can be of no advantage or prejudice to the cause that I maintain. If the power of the nation, when it was divided into seven kingdoms, or united under one, did reside in the micklegemotes or witenagemotes; if these consisted of the nobility and people, who were sometimes so numerous that no one place could well contain them; and if the preference given to the chief among them, was on account of the offices they executed, either in relation to war or justice, which no man can deny, I have as much as serves for my purpose. ’Tis indifferent to me, whether they were called earls, dukes, aldermen, herotoghs or thanes; for ’tis certain that the titular nobility now in mode amongst us has no resemblance to this ancient nobility of England. The novelty therefore is on the other side, and that of the worst sort; because by giving the name of noblemen (which anciently belonged to such as had the greatest interests in nations, and were the supporters of their liberty) to court-creatures, who often have none, and either acquire their honours by money, or are preferr’d for servile and sometimes impure services render’d to the person that reigns, or else for mischiefs done to their country, the constitution has been wholly inverted, and the trust reposed in the kings (who in some measure had the disposal of offices and honours) misemploy’d. This is farther aggravated by appropriating the name of noblemen solely to them; whereas the nation having been anciently divided only into freemen or noblemen (who were the same) and villains; the first were, as Tacitus says of their ancestors the Germans, exempted from burdens and contributions, and reserved like arms for the uses of war,25 whilst the others were little better than slaves, appointed to cultivate the lands, or to other servile offices. And I leave any reasonable man to judge, whether the latter condition be that of those we now call commoners. Nevertheless, he that will believe the title of noblemen still to belong to those only who are so by patent, may guess how well our wars would be managed if they were left solely to such as are so by that title. If this be approved, his majesty may do well with his hundred and fifty noblemen, eminent in valour and military experience as they are known to be, to make such wars as may fall upon him, and leave the despised commons under the name of villains, to provide for themselves if the success do not answer his expectations. But if the commons are as free as the nobles, many of them in birth equal to the patentees, in estate superior to most of them; and that it is not only expected they should assist him in wars with their persons and purses, but acknowledged by all, that the strength and virtue of the nation is in them, it must be confess’d, that they are true noblemen of England, and that all the privileges anciently enjoy’d by such, must necessarily belong to them, since they perform the offices to which they were annexed. This shews how the nobility were justly said to be almost infinite in number, so that no one place was able to contain them. The Saxon armies that came over into this country to a wholesome and generative climate, might well increase in four or five ages to those vast numbers, as the Franks, Goths and others had done in Spain, France, Italy, and other parts: and when they were grown so numerous, they found themselves necessarily obliged to put the power into the hands of representatives chosen by themselves, which they had before exercised in their own persons. But these two ways differing rather in form than essentially, the one tending to democracy, the other to aristocracy, they are equally opposite to the absolute dominion of one man reigning for himself, and governing the nation as his patrimony; and equally assert the rights of the people to put the government into such a form as best pleases themselves. This was suitable to what they had practised in their own country; De minoribus consultant principes, de majoribus omnes.26 Nay, even these smaller matters cannot be said properly to relate to the king; for he is but one, and the word principes is in the plural number, and can only signify such principal men, as the same author says were chosen by the general assemblies to do justice, &c. and to each of them one hundred comites joined, not only to give advice, but authority to their actions.
The word omnes spoken by a Roman, must likewise be understood as it was used by them, and imports all the citizens, or such as made up the body of the commonwealth. If he had spoken of Rome or Athens whilst they remained free, he must have used the same word (because all those of whom the city consisted had votes) how great soever the number of slaves or strangers might have been. The Spartans are rightly said to have gained, lost and recovered the lordship or principality of Greece. They were all lords in relation to their helots, and so were the Dorians in relation to that sort of men, which under several names they kept, as the Saxons did their villains, for the performance of the offices which they thought too mean for those who were ennobled by liberty, and the use of arms, by which the commonwealth was defended and enlarged. Tho the Romans scorned to give the title of lord to those who had usurped a power over their lives and fortunes; yet every one of them was a lord in relation to his own servants, and altogether are often called lords of the world:27 the like is seen almost everywhere. The government of Venice having continued for many ages in the same families, has ennobled them all. No phrase is more common in Switzerland, than the lords of Bern, or the lords of Zurich and other places, tho perhaps there is not a man amongst them who pretends to be a gentleman, according to the modern sense put upon that word. The states of the United Provinces are called high and mighty lords, and the same title is given to each of them in particular. Nay, the word Herr, which signifies lord both in high and low Dutch, is as common as monsieur in France, signor in Italy, or señor in Spain; and is given to everyone who is not of a sordid condition, but especially to soldiers: and tho a common soldier be now a much meaner thing than it was anciently, no man speaking to a company of soldiers in Italian, uses any other stile than signori soldati; and the like is done in other languages. ’Tis not therefore to be thought strange, if the Saxons, who in their own country had scorned any other employment than that of the sword, should think themselves farther ennobled, when by their arms they had acquired a great and rich country, and driven out or subdued the former inhabitants. They might well distinguish themselves from the villains they brought with them, or the Britains they had enslaved. They might well be called magnates, proceres regni, nobiles, Angliae nobilitas, barones; and the assemblies of them justly called concilium regni generale, universitas totius Angliae nobilium, universitas baronagii,28 according to the variety of times and other occurrences. We have such footsteps remaining of the name of baron, as plainly shew the signification of it. The barons of London and the Cinque Ports are known to be only the freemen of those places. In the petty court-barons, every man who may be of a jury is a baron. These are noblemen; for there are noble nations as well as noble men in nations. The Mamelukes accounted themselves to be all noble, tho born slaves; and when they had ennobled themselves by the use of arms, they look’d upon the noblest of the Egyptians as their slaves. Tertullian writing, not to some eminent men, but to the whole people of Carthage, calls them antiquitate nobiles, nobilitate felices.29 Such were the Saxons, ennobled by a perpetual application to those exercises that belong to noblemen, and an abhorrence to anything that is vile and sordid.
Lest this should seem far fetch’d, to those who please themselves with cavilling, they are to know, that the same general councils are expressed by other authors in other words. They are called the general council of the bishops, noblemen, counts, all the wise men, elders, and people of the whole kingdom,30 in the time of Ine. In that of Edward the elder, the great council of the bishops, abbots, noblemen and people.31 William of Malmesbury calls them, the general senate and assembly of the people.32 Sometimes they are in short called clergy and people; but all express the same power, neither received from, nor limitable by kings, who are always said to be chosen or made, and sometimes deposed by them. William the Norman found, and left the nation in this condition: Henry the second, John and Henry third, who had nothing but what was conferred upon them by the same clergy and people, did so too. Magna Charta could give nothing to the people, who in themselves had all; and only reduced into a small volume the rights which the nation was resolved to maintain; brought the king to confess, they were perpetually inherent, and time out of mind enjoyed, and to swear that he would no way violate them; if he did, he was ipso facto excommunicated; and being thereby declared to be an execrable perjur’d person, they knew how to deal with him. This act has been confirmed by thirty parliaments; and the proceedings with kings, who have violated their oaths, as well before as after the time of Henry the third, which have been already mentioned, are sufficient to shew, that England has always been governed by itself, and never acknowledged any other lord than such as they thought fit to set up.
[Patriarcha, ch. 28, p. 113.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 30 (“The People, When First Called to Parliament. The Liberties of Parliaments Not from Nature, but from the Grace of Princes”), pp. 114, 115, 118.]
Inter instrumenta servitutis reges habuere. C. Tacit. [“They had kings among their instruments of (keeping others in) servitude.” Tacitus, Life of Agricola, ch. 14.]
Vilis servitii praemia. Tacit. [Tacitus, Annals, bk. 2, ch. 9.]
Quippe gravior est Arsacis regno Germanorum libertas. [“The liberty of the Germans is stronger than the kingdom of an Arsaces.” The Arsaces family ruled Parthia, Rome’s strongest enemy in the Middle East. Tacitus contrasts Western freedom with Eastern despotism, Germania, ch. 37.]
Exempti oneribus & collationibus, & tantum in usum praeliorum sepositi, velut tela & arma bellis reservantur. [“(The Batavians), exempted from taxes and tributes, and set aside for use in battles only, are reserved for war, like weapons and arms.” Ibid., ch. 29.]
De minoribus principes consultant, de maioribus omnes. C. Tacit. de mor. Germ. [Ibid., ch. 1 l .]
Ut turbae placuit considunt armati, silentium per sacerdotes, quibus tum coercendi jus est, imperatur. Mox rex vel princeps prout aetas cuique, prout nobilitas, prout decus bellorum, prout facundia est, audiuntur, auctoritate suadendi, magis quam ju bendi potestate. Si displicuit sententia, fremitu aspernantur; si placuit, frameas concutiunt, &c. Ibid. [“When the crowd resolves, they assemble, armed; silence is ordered by the priests, who then have the right to compel it. Next a king or leading man is heard, in order of age, nobility, glory in battle, or eloquence, with the authority that comes from his counsel, rather than from his power to order them. If they dislike the advice, they spurn it with a groan; if they like it, they clash their spears together.”]
[That is, German.]
Reges ex nobilitate, duces ex virtute sumere. [Tacitus, Germania, ch. 7.]
Sublimato eo coepit lues omnium scelerum crescere: saeviebat scurrilis nequitia, odium veritatis, &c. ut vas omnium scelerum solus videretur Vortigernus; & quod maxime regiae honestati contrarium est, nobiles deprimens, & moribus & sanguine ignobiles extollens, Deo & hominibus efficitur odiosus. Mat. Westm. An. 446. [“When he had been raised (to the throne), the plague of all his crimes began to grow: there was such a raging of base worthlessness, hatred of the truth, etc., that Vortigern alone seemed the receptacle of all crimes; and what is most contrary to royal honor, namely, suppressing the nobles and exalting those who were ignoble both in manners and in birth, rendered him odious to God and men.” Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History (the year 446).]
[William, Earl of Craven, Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester; Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington; and Sir Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby, were leading ministers under Charles II. Nicholas Tufton, Earl of Thanet, supported Charles before the Restoration and was imprisoned for it in 1655.]
[These were supporters of the rights of Parliament against royal prerogative during the Civil War and Commonwealth. The two most important were John Hampden and Oliver St. John, leading parliamentary opponents of Charles I.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 29, p. 113 .]
Quod Saxones olim wittenagemot, parliamentum & pananglicum recte dici possit, summamque et sacrosanctam habet autoritatem in legibus ferendis, antiquandis, conformandis, interpretandis, & in omnibus quae ad reipublicae salutem spectant. Brit. fol. 63. [William Camden, Britannia (1586; repub. 1806; repr. Adler’s Foreign Books), vol. 1, p. cxcv.]
Generalis senatus & populi conventus. Malms. [William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, bk. 3, p. 271.]
Commune concilium tam cleri quam populi. Spelm. [Spelman, Concilia, decreta, leges, constitutiones in re ecclesiarum orbis Britannici (the year 605, Council of Canterbury).]
Ut reges a sacerdotibus & senioribus populi eligantur. [Ibid., Council of Calchuth, 787.]
Quam Deus & principes cum senioribus populi misericorditer & benigne dederunt. [“Which God and the chiefs and elders of the people have kindly and mercifully given.” Asser, Life of Alfred.]
Coram omni multitudine populi Anglorum. [Spelman, Concilia (the year 969).]
Nomine Baronagii omnes quodam modo regni ordines continentur. Camd. [William Camden, Britannia, vol. 1, p. cxcv.]
[Michael (Korybut) Wisniowiecki (1669–73). “He who now reigns” in the sentence that follows was John III Sobieski.]
[Patriarcha, ch. 30, p. 115.]
Selden’s Tit. of Hon. p. 2. c. 5. [Selden, Titles of Honour, pt. 2, ch. 5, p. 509.]
Exempti oneribus & collationibus, & tantum in usum praeliorum repositi, veluti tela & arma bellis reservantur. Corn. Tacit. de morib. Germ. [Tacitus, Germania, ch. 29.]
Tacit. de mor. Germ. [“The chief men (principes) consult about smaller matters, the whole people about greater ones.” Ibid., ch. 11.]
Romanos rerum dominos. Virg. [Virgil, Aeneid, bk. 1, li. 282.]
[Magnates, chiefs of the kingdom, nobles, nobility of England, barons . . . general council of the kingdom, the whole of the nobility of all England, the whole of the baronage.]
[“Noble for antiquity, fortunate in nobility.” De Pallio, ch. 1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, pp. 5–12.]
Commune concilium episcoporum, procerum, comitum & omnium sapientum, seniorum & populorum totius regni. Bed. Eccl. Hist. [Actually in Laws of King Edward, ch. 35, in William Lambarde, Archaionomia. Published in 1644 in a volume with Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.]
Magnum concilium episcoporum, abbatum, fidelium, procerum & populorum. [Matthew Parker, De antiquitate britannicae ecclesiae (London, 1572), ch. 19.]
Senatum generalem et populi conventum. [William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, bk. 3, p. 272.]