Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XI.: ON THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, A PROPOS OF MR. HENRY HALLAM'S WORK, ENTITLED THE CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND. * - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XI.: ON THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, A PROPOS OF MR. HENRY HALLAM’S WORK, ENTITLED “THE CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND.” * - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, A PROPOS OF MR. HENRY HALLAM’S WORK, ENTITLED “THE CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND.”*
Mr. Henry Hallam is the author of a work called “Europe during the Middle Ages,” of which a French translation appeared some years ago. It is one of those historical compositions, very common in England, in which the changes of the government and the legislation of the country are endeavoured to be described in an abstract manner. These kind of writings, seductive at the first glance, are far from really giving the instruction they seem to promise. They have one essential fault, that of supposing the civil and even the political history to be well known, and thus presenting the legislative acts apart from the circumstances which gave rise to them, and a faithful picture of which can alone give their true signification. The author of a constitutional history directs all his attention to the study of laws and administrative documents; and for the series of historical facts, he generally trusts to the first narrator he finds, without submitting the facts to a fresh examination, and without making the least effort to penetrate more deeply into the social state, the revolutions of which have brought about the different phases of the legislative constitution. It is thus that Mr. Hallam, when writing his “Europe during the Middle Ages,” ten years ago, in the part of that work which relates to France, has hardly risen above Velly and his continuators, who appeared to him to have given a satisfactory idea of the national manners of the French people, from the sixth to the sixteenth century. The same faults, quite as remarkable in the chapters devoted to the empire of Germany, to Italy, and the other states of Europe, are less felt in those which treat of England. In this part of his work, the author, naturally better informed of the history of his own country, required less special studies; he ought therefore to be congratulated on having renounced his former plan, and having limited himself to continuing the constitutional history of England from the sixteenth down to the middle of the eighteenth century. Mr. Hallam’s vast erudition as a lawyer renders his work the most complete and accurate catalogue of the English parliamentary acts; but the real motives of these laws and acts can be but feebly discerned in the small number of historical facts which fall by chance from the pen of the historian. We see the constitution of the English people, in its various stages; but the English people itself never appears.
It is against abstraction in history, that the new school which has commenced the regeneration of historical studies in France, has principally raised its voice. This school has struck a mortal blow at the monarchical version of the history of France. We believe that it is likewise destined to strike hard blows at the constitutional version of the history of England. Already have three French writers presented in a new light three of the principal events of the political history of Great Britain, the Norman Conquest, the popular Revolution of 1640, and the aristocratic Revolution of 1688.* Certainly, nothing in their works can take the place of Mr. Hallam’s voluminous work on English legislation; but the works of the historians, connected with that of the lawyer, might give this immense compilation the life it requires. For, we repeat, the comprehension of events is not Mr. Hallam’s predominant faculty; and generally speaking, this quality by no means predominates among English writers. Whatever there is characteristic in the different periods of their national history, is smothered by them under a covering of conventional formulas and metaphysical expressions. The word parliament has done more harm to the history of England than the thing itself has done good. It has been the cause of a number of anachronisms of the grossest sort, those which transpose from one period to another, not material circumstances, but moral facts and political situations; it is owing to it that the English constitution prolongs its existence in the writings of historians, from the invasion of William the Conqueror to the present day. And the invasion itself, the most important event in the history of England, figured in modern narratives only as a change of succession, feebly contested and quickly accomplished until Walter Scott, in one of his poetical creations, showed his countrymen, for the first time, what the Norman Conquest really was.
The false aspect under which the historians of England have considered this conquest, not only prejudices the truth of their narratives during the short space of time which separates the battle of Hastings and the last Saxon insurrection; but it gives great inexactness to the judgments pronounced on most of the great succeeding events. It is truly impossible that a country in which there really were for several centuries, two distinct and mutually hostile nations, although the strangers confounded them all under one name, should not present something peculiar in its political revolutions, something not to be found in states in which society is homogeneous. The words aristocracy, democracy, and even monarchy, which we have borrowed from the books of the ancients, to apply them, properly or improperly, to the different forms adopted by the social state of our time, are incapable of giving an exact idea of the various changes which have taken place in the institutions of the middle ages. The most certain plan would be to abandon them entirely, when it is necessary to bring on the scene men who employed perfectly different formulas to express their ideas, their wants or their political passions. The most certain, but the most difficult way, would be to get at the facts, and describe them just as they present themselves, without endeavouring to give them any general qualification, and bringing them into frames traced out beforehand.
By applying this method to the history of England, it would be deprived of that species of philosophical marvellousness, which seems to surround it, to the exclusion of all other modern histories. If, turning away our eyes from the present, that we may not remain under its influence, we look back dispassionately, if we cease to colour the past with a reflex of cotemporaneous opinions, we shall perceive entirely different things under the same names. The words Parliament, House of Peers, House of Commons, will lose the prestige with which the present liberty of the English people surrounds them. We shall see liberty, that fruit of modern civilization, spring, at a recent period, out of an order of society, the principle of which was the most illiberal that can be conceived, in which the powerful portion of the nation boasted of its foreign origin, and of having usurped its inheritance, titles and nobility, at the edge of the sword; in which, distinction between various classes was only the expression of the distance between the conqueror and the conquered, in which all social authority was tainted by this violent origin, and in which, royalty, belonging by right to the line of the chief of the conquest, was not, properly speaking, an institution, but a fact. From the midst of all this has arisen modern England, which is, in almost every point, the reverse of ancient England. The interval which separates them one from the other, presents rather the gradual decay of a violent order of things, than the slow formation of a society, destined to serve as a model to others. The latter opinion, however, has prevailed; it reigns almost universally among the historians of the English constitution, not that they appear to have preferred it to the other after a ripe examination, because they all forget to place at the head of their constitutional history the great fact of a territorial conquest. The conquest is the common source of all the political powers which have continued to exist in England ever since the twelfth century: we must keep our attention to this primitive fact, before following its progressive alterations down to the present time. We will endeavour to apply this method to the history of royalty, the Parliament, and the elective system in England.
On the nature of the Regal Power.
The Saxon population, having lost by its subjection all political existence, and the power of its ancient kings having passed into the hands of a stranger, the title of king changed its signification to the vanquished, and only preserved its ancient meaning to the conquerors.* To the first, the Saxon word king, which the Normans translated by that of rey, expressed only a violent and illegitimate authority: and it was only when applied to the new inhabitants of England that this title conveyed the idea of a delegated authority. The singular ambiguity of these two entirely different significations, soon rendered uncertain the extent of the prerogatives of the person who bore the title of king. The Saxon, trembling before a master, was disposed to unlimited submission and to servile complaisances, which the son of the Norman, prouder because he was stronger, did not reckon amongst his duties to his lord. By a natural tendency, the kings inclined to believe, and endeavoured to make others believe, that the title they bore gave them a right to an equal submission on the part of all their inferiors, and they aspired to level to the same condition with respect to themselves, the two races of men who inhabited the country with such different destinies. Thence proceeded, among the Anglo-Norman kings, a tendency to egotism and isolation, which early offended the sons of the companions of Duke William.† They were indignant that, confounding together the two distinct parties of his royal power, their chief pretended to treat them as he treated the Saxons who peopled his towns and boroughs. Their resistance to this pretension brought about troubles and wars. The different events which distinguished this struggle, inclined the undecided authority of the kings, sometimes towards its violent, and sometimes its legal side. There were fluctuations on this subject which had never occurred in the time of the Anglo-Saxon royalty, when all was simple, because the nation was one.*
In the debates which this singular situation gave rise to, when hostilities were suspended, and each party exposed his rights in order to prevail upon the opposite party to acknowledge them, the Normans invoked the traditions of Anglo-Saxon royalty against the ambition of their chief. They maintained that the ancient limits of royal power ought to be re-established, and collected every thing that tradition furnished for fixing these limits. The Norman jurisconsults drew up methodically from verbal information, the customs which had ruled England before the Conquest, and adorned this collection with the name of Laws of King Edward the Confessor. Such was the origin of that clamour for the laws of Edward, so often reproduced in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by the Anglo-Norman barons against the kings. The object of their complaints and insurrections was not to obtain for all the inhabitants of the country, without distinction of origin, securities against a common oppression. The charters which resulted from a momentary agreement of the two parties, prove that it was a question of security only for the possessors of the lands distributed after the Conquest; those who dwelt on domains that did not belong to themselves, remained in the class over which the royal power was absolute, and could only change their class by means of personal emancipation. Indeed, the customs which had existed in the times of Saxon independence, could be revived beneficially only for those who were, after the Conquest, in the position of the former Saxon freemen; and the Anglo-Saxon race was almost entirely fallen from this position. In losing its landed property, it had also lost the privilege of freedom, which, during the middle ages, had belonged exclusively to it; it had fallen into that class of farmers and tributaries which the old laws of the country called keorls, and for whom these same laws, previous to the conquest, had been extremely severe. The Saxons, inhabitants of towns, were in the condition of servitude which weighed upon the non-proprietors in the country; for they were regarded as simple farmers of the city which was their common domicile. The possession of most of the towns, distributed at the partition of the conquest, like great undivided shares, was the principal attribute of the royal prerogative in its arbitrary portion.
The first charter of liberty which the Anglo-Norman nobles forced their chief to Consent to, was that of Henry I. This charter, drawn up less than forty years after the Conquest, seems to have had for its sole object the better preservation to the sons of the conquerors of their natural right to be exempted from all the vexations which the natives were forced to submit to. It declared that all proprietors (and no right of property anterior to the conquest was then recognized) should inherit their possessions entirely and freely, without paying the king any sort of duty. It insured, moreover, to all the barons and knights, that is to say, to the men of Norman birth, the liberty of marrying their daughters and relations without the king’s permission, and of retaining the guardianship of their near relations during their minority, a right which was refused to the Saxons, or from which they were forced to buy their exemption by more or less heavy taxes. This act, thus destined to distinguish, in a more certain manner, the two opposite phases of the royal prerogative, was solemnly sworn, then openly infringed, on account of the tendency of the kings towards an order of things in which the conquest should exist for their benefit alone, and in which the entire population should be degraded to the same level. But thirty-six years after the signing of the charter of Henry I., the barons demanded of King Stephen the oath to observe this charter, and moreover exacted from him securities against the king’s endeavours to interdict to Normans as well as to Saxons the bearing of arms in the forests. These new acts were signed and deposited in Westminster Church, near London. But they soon disappeared, and the royal power recommenced confounding together the two orders of men which it ought to have distinguished. An armed opposition and a civil war were the consequences of this new attempt. A confederation of the descendants of the companions of William was formed against King John.* They represented to him Henry I.’s charters, and threatened, that if he persisted in forgetting his duties toward them, they would seize his castles, possessions, towns, every thing which he had inherited of the fruits of the great victory gained in common by their ancestors. The quarrel was bloody; more than once the king promised, and violated his promise; at last a truce was concluded, and a treaty signed in the plain of Runnymede, near Windsor, between the two armies.† The treaty of peace consisted of two distinct charters, one called the charter of common liberties, the other called the forest charter. The latter only reproduced the contents of the old charter of King Stephen; but the other, which has become so celebrated in the history of England, under the name of the Magna Charta, is expressed in a more formal and more detailed manner than all preceding charters.
The charter of common liberties established the strict obligation the king was under, not to raise money on the class of landed proprietors, unless it had itself consented to it by the free vote of its chiefs and representatives. Three cases only were reserved, in which the king, without a previous vote, might of his own authority levy a moderate contribution. On all other occasions, the archbishops, bishops, abbots, counts, and chief barons were to be summoned by letters addressed to each individually, and a certain number of inferior barons and knights domiciled in the provinces, were to receive from the royal officers a collective warning to assemble on a day fixed, as a deliberative assembly. This warning was to precede the meeting forty days. It was determined that no man of rank should be fined but by the judgment of his peers; that no free man should in any way be destroyed or ruined in body or estate except by the same judgment; that, without judgment, he should not be banished, imprisoned, or despoiled of his inheritance. The securities granted to free persons extended even over their domains, and the agricultural implements they used in their improvements. The carts and harness which belonged to the lord of the manor, could not be put in requisition for the repairing of fortresses, bridges, and roads, the expense and labour of which thus necessarily fell on the sons of the Saxons, the vassals of low estate, farmers and cottagers, in a word, on that numerous class of men whom the Normans designated by the name of villains. One clause only moderated the king’s administrative and judiciary acts towards them; the implements of labour, which the charter calls their gagnage, or, as we would call it, their means of gaining a livelihood, were excepted from the seizure of effects, which they frequently incurred for delay in the payment of taxes, or for contests of interests with the bailiffs of their lords. In this treaty of peace there is no mention made of the citizens of England, excepting those of London, a city in which a great number of Norman families had taken up their residence, and the inhabitants of which, for this reason, participated in some measure in the privileges of foreign descent. The citizens of London, who took the title of barons like the proprietors of estates, obtained as well as they, the assurance of never being taxed but with the consent of the great national council, which, in the Norman or French language, was called Parliament. No similar concession was made for the other towns and boroughs: only a declaration was made, that the immunities of various kinds which the royal authority had granted them, must be maintained. In confirmation of the contents of this act, the insurgents, that is to say, all the barons of England, except seven, chose twenty-five from amongst them to form a permanent commission, entrusted with watching the exact observation of the tenour of the Great Charter; moreover, the free proprietors of each county were to name twelve knights entrusted with seeking and denouncing to the twenty-five preservers of liberty, all bad customs which required to be extirpated.
The old tendency to assimilate the proprietors of estates to the citizens, and the sons of the conquerors to those of the conquered, manifested itself anew, although the Great Charter had been solemnly deposited in most of the churches. The successor of King John raised up against himself a confederacy similar to that which had armed against his father.* These treaties gained by the sword, were represented to him at the point of the sword; he swore to maintain them, his hand on the New Testament, in presence of the assembled bishops, who, holding lighted tapers, threw them all down at once, saying, “May he who violates this oath be thus extinguished in hell!” Notwithstanding this anathema, the king soon forgot what he had so solemnly promised, and the sons of the Normans were forced a second time to have recourse to arms to claim the rights of their ancestors. They compelled Henry III. to give them an act signed with his seal, in confirmation of the charter;* but, whether the fatigue of these wars led them to avoid their return, or whether the energy of the Anglo-Norman barons was overcome by the perseverance of royal authority, they relinquished some of the privileges which the Great Charter insured to them, and allowed their condition gradually to share the character of uncertainty and dependence which predominated in that of the descendants of the conquered. In the course of a century and a half, their fathers and themselves had imposed five charters on the kings. Edward I., Henry III.’s son, confirmed the last;† but after him commenced the reaction of royalty against the power and independence of the baronage. Richard II. went too hastily to the point of annihilating political rights for the benefit of the royal prerogative; he was defeated and made prisoner by the army of barons raised against him.‡ Meanwhile, the doctrines on which the prerogative was founded, were already passing from the privy council into the Parliament, where a second assembly, partly composed of citizens accustomed to regard royalty as an absolute authority, had taken its place by the side of the great council of barons. Moreover, it was difficult to lower the sovereign and free class, without raising a little the subject and despised class. This felt it, and its present interest led it to lend all its forces in the service of royalty. The tendency to the assimilation of the two races under the absolute power of one man, was equivalent to the gradual overthrow of the order at first established by the Conquest. And as the masses, once put in motion by political interest, never stop but at the end of their progress, from the moment that the citizens or sons of the conquered became, under the king’s auspices, members of the House of Commons, from that moment commenced, although feeble and uncertain in the beginning, a great reaction of the inferior agaist the superior classes, with the intention of effacing from England all trace of the Norman Conquest, and of destroying all power which derived thence its origin, even royalty itself.
During the fourteenth century, the fusion of the least rich class among the men of Norman race with that portion of the other race which had enriched itself by industry and commerce, as well as the progress of a great number of citizens of the class of capitalists to that of territorial proprietors, had taken place with great activity, owing to the assistance of several laws or statutes relative to the possession of lands. Until then, the different divisions made at the time of the Conquest, had remained unalienable in the family of the original possessor, and moreover, were unable to pass from one race to another, on account of the customs which forbade the sale of a titled estate to a person who was not decorated with an equivalent title of nobility. New statutes compelled the feudal superior to receive as a vassal, the buyer, whoever he was, of the land of one of his vassals, and elevated to the same rank the proprietors of domains with equal titles, whatever their origin.* These measures, destructive of the ancient political order, did not pass without opposition on the part of the sons of those barons who had twice made war on the kings to maintain their privileges of the Conquest; but their resistance was far from being as energetic as that of their ancestors; they confined themselves to soliciting legislative measures capable of attenuating the effect of those that displeased them. Entails, and the privilege of rendering a portion of land eternally unalienable, were established to resist the movement which was about to throw all the domains into the hands of whoever was able to purchase them. By the help of this privilege, a few fragments of the ancient race of conquerors was enabled to float up through centuries, and remain distinct from the rest of the population.
The kings did not entirely succeed in executing the project of the fresh conquest which they meditated against all the inhabitants of England, without distinction of race; they soon stopped willingly in their pursuit of this enterprise. Frightened at seeing their authority separated from the ancient supports which had surrounded it for several centuries, they changed their policy in time, and worked to re-establish part of what they had destroyed; they created orders of knighthood and other aristocratic corporations; they reproduced the distinction of races under new forms. It was very unwillingly, however, that they yielded to this necessity. Their conduct during the fifteenth century often presented disparities, and a mixture of two opposite tendencies, according as they were led by the desire of reigning alone, or the fear of being nothing if they remained alone. The nobility of the sixteenth century, a class of mixed origin, showed no remains of the spirit of independence of the ancient Norman nobility against the extension of the royal prerogative; but the will and power to act began to manifest themselves among the citizens represented in Parliament by the House of Commons. This immense class, issuing at the end of five centuries from the state of humiliation into which the Conquest had plunged it, made its revolution with the energy which is the characteristic of great masses of men when they appear for the first time on the political scene. It drew into its movement a part of the heirs of the privileges, domains, and titles which the Conquest had founded, whether Normans or English by origin. But these men, whom their position attached to the ancient order of things, surprised and grieved to see their project of moderate reform far surpassed by the violence of a multitude anxious to change every thing, mostly deserted the cause which they no longer understood, and ranged themselves against it, with the king and the descendants of the nobles of the fourteenth, the barons of the thirteenth, and the conquerors of the twelfth century under the Norman standard with three lions.* Nothing external indicated there a quarrel of race; but, to see the animosity with which war was still carried on against all ancient political existences, any one would have said that an old leaven of national hostility was still fermenting in the depths of the hearts of the sons of the Anglo-Saxons, and that the shade of Harold had appeared to the adversaries of Charles I.
On the Transmission of the Regal Power
The appropriation of the royalty of England by William the Conqueror, by altering the nature of that royalty, naturally influenced the mode of its future transmission.† The royal authority among the Saxons was essentially elective. In endeavouring to make good, armed against the last king elected by the Saxon nation, a pretended will of a predecessor of that king, the Duke of Normandy, setting aside the slavery of the Saxons, gave an entirely new character to the title he claimed; he made it dependent on the will of the titulary, and no longer on that of the nation. The electoral right, which participation in the conquest seemed to confer on the Norman warriors with regard to their chief, was even attacked by his usurpation of royalty over the vanquished. The Duke of Normandy felt it, and put in action all the stratagems of his policy to persuade his companions in fortune that they would gain rather than lose, if he took the title of King of England. He endeavoured even to make them believe that it was on his side a sacrifice made for the common interest of the entire victorious army. William the First disposed of royalty, as he pretended that Edward the Confessor had disposed of it for him, and at his death be bequeathed it to his second son, William Rufus. Robert, the eldest, relying on the tendency of the Anglo-Norman chiefs to repossess themselves of the right of election which they had hoped to enjoy, placed himself at the head of a party which made war on the king by succession; this war was that of the elective against the hereditary principle. The latter triumphed, owing to the support William the Second found among the Saxon population, to whom he made false promises, and who, with singular sincerity placed at his service the animosity it entertained against all the Normans.‡ The struggle was not ended, however, in a single combat; it was long renewed at the commencement of every reign.
During several centuries, the Anglo-Norman royalty remained wavering between inheritance and election; a sort of compromise between the two principles limited the competitors to the sole descendants of William the Conqueror, either by the male or female line; and it was among these that the dispute took place. Almost always at the death of a king, two or three competitors arose out of the same family; thence periodically resulted the most frightful of civil wars, that of brother against brother, of relations agsinst relations, the war of men against children in the cradle, a struggle of murders and treachery. The chronicles relate, that William the Bastard, at the moment when he felt himself in presence of the terrors of the next life, was seized with fear at the remembrance of the actions which had procured royalty for him; and said, that he dared to bequeath to God alone that kingdom of England, acquired at the price of so much blood.* The possession which caused him so much remorse, seemed cursed in the hands of his family. His sons fought for it; and more than once, the male posterity becoming extinct in the civil wars, the title descended to that of the females. In consequence of these revolutions, William’s crown devolved to an Angevine family, then to the children of a Welshman, and finally to a Scotchman. During several generations, two families of brothers cut one another’s throats, and according as each had the upper hand, the kings were seen proscribing as traitors the friends of their predecessors, and branding them with the name of usurpers, or kings in fact.† The assembly of the barons, or Parliament, which had been unable to establish its right of election, could only divide itself between the pretensions of the rival families, and render their feuds more bloody by drawing more men into them. Its legislative authority was exercised only to sanction the right acquired by victory, and fixing it in the posterity of him who was strongest. Parliament still sometimes pronounced the ancient formula,—We elect or we depose; but, in fact, it had no share in the changes which were the effect of war, and it was reduced to the discussion of genealogies and titles of succession, and the declaring them good or bad, according to the events of the day. Such was the order of things which lasted through the long disputes of the houses of York and Lancaster; and ceased only because Henry the Seventh, the collateral descendant of one of these royal branches, married the sole remaining heiress of the other branch.‡
The peace that was suddenly enjoyed under the domination of the grandsons of the Welsh Tudor, suggested the idea of preventing the return of the quarrels respecting the succession, which had so often disturbed it; and an act of Parliament gave Henry the Eighth the absolute power of bequeathing the royal authority to whoever he thought fit.§ He transmitted the crown to his son Edward, and by this new law rendered it similar to personal property. Thenceforward the ancient ceremony observed at the coronation of the kings was reformed; and at Edward the Sixth’s, Henry the Eighth’s first successor, instead of presenting the new king to the assembly, demanding if they accepted him as their lord and master, and awaiting their answer although only for the sake of form, this remaining mark of a right completely abolished, was banished, and a ready-made king presented to the people, with the request that he should be saluted by their acclamations.* Edward the Sixth died young, and his elder sister Mary succeeded him, according to the orders of his father’s will. It was the first time that a woman occupied, uncontested, the throne of the conqueror of England: this novelty indicated a great change in the nature of the royal power, if not with regard to the class of citizens, at least with regard to the nobles descended from those Norman barons who violated the oath sworn to the daughter of Henry the First, “because, they said, warriors could not obey a woman.” The accession of Mary as Queen of England was a sign of the extension of royal prerogative, which had reached the point of rendering the government similar to a domain, and of confounding the two classes of inhabitants under a rule, analogous if not equal.† Some ambitious nobles vainly attempted to form a party for Lady Jane Grey, a great niece of Henry the Eighth: this young and interesting woman was punished with death after her defeat, like all the unfortunate competitors of the race of William the Conqueror. It was the last time that blood flowed in England for a dispute of succession; it was to be shed only in a far graver struggle, and in which were involved with royalty itself all the institutions which emanated from the Conquest.
The political movement which had separated from their own nation, that is to say, from the ancient nobility, the kings of the House of Tudor, that revolution which placed all real power in their hands, and caused every oppression to proceed from the royal prerogative, had also the effect of directing him against them all the complaints of the lower classes. Moreover, the perhaps gratuitous popularity which royalty had enjoyed in its struggle with the nobility, the feeling which induced the peasants of 1382, when rebelling against the latter, to exclaim, “Let us go to the king and expose our wrongs to him,” had vanished, in the expectation of a succour which never came. The royal seal impressed upon all sufferings since the royal mantle had been spread over all authority, roused against royalty alone the remains of hereditary hatreds, which the violent order established by the Conquest had perpetuated. When Charles the First had perished, a victim to the fearful responsibility to which the royal power was liable on becoming universal and uncontrolled, and presenting itself alone before all the hatreds produced by centuries of oppression, his son, Charles the Second, took the title of king, according to the principle which subjected royalty to the same rule of succession established for private inheritance.‡ This taking possession signified nothing, because the new king was out of England; but when he returned, the conqueror of the revolution, there was for the first time under one royalty, two aristocracies, the ancient nobility, and those who, to ennoble themselves, had betrayed the popular cause.* Jealousy divided them; but royalty having endeavoured to make a party for itself, and destroying them by means of one another, interest finally united them under the mantle of the established religion, and twenty-eight years after its restoration, the royal power was taken away from Charles the First’s second son. The conqueror of that day, William, Prince of Orange, bore the same name as the conqueror of Hastings; but the new William was far from occupying so simple a position as that of the first one. He had announced himself beforehand as the disinterested auxiliary of the antagonists of James the Second; he had written on his standards, I will maintain. He had therefore a long space to clear between the royalty of fact, which he possessed as a victorious general, and the royalty of right, which he had imposed on himself the necessity of awaiting. A long period had elapsed since royalty had been bestowed by a body, free in its choice; it belonged to him whom his rank assigned it to, when the titulary was dead; and in the present case civil and not natural death was in question; for James the Second was only exiled. Unanimity existed, it is true, against James, but not in favour of William. He therefore found himself in moments of doubt and perplexity. In the conference between the members of the Parliament in what was called, by a word borrowed from the last revolution but little applicable to this one, the establishment of the nation, opinions were not all favourable to the new candidate. The lawyers compared him to Henry the Seventh, who dethroned Richard the Third, and following the example of that king, they counselled him to take the crown as the conqueror of the king his rival. Taking certain other historical precedents as authorities, others maintained that James the Second had given proof of madness by his bad administration; that a regent, a guardian of the kingdom, ought to be named, but that the regal title should remain to him. Others wished royalty to pass to the nearest heir, that was, to Mary, daughter of James the Second, and wife of the Prince of Orange. Others, also, though in a small number, spoke of proposing conditions to James the Second, such as the barons of the thirteenth century had imposed on King John and his successors. These various opinions covered positive interests. Those who had crossed the sea with the Prince of Orange, who had heard him develop his plans of future conduct, and thought themselves certain of his good graces, desired him as king; but those who had not come with him were less eager for his interests; the upper clergy especially and their dependents wished for a king who should not forget them, to favour the nobility of the sword; some men of this party inclined again to King James; but most of them joined the Princess of Orange, who had the advantage over her husband of not being a Calvinist. William was alarmed by the preference for his wife manifested by the Anglican Church, the credit of which was immense, and the rebellion of which against James the Second had decided the Revolution. He kept Mary in Holland, that he might act the more efficaciously in her absence; he even uttered against those who refused what they had tacitly promised him in return for his assistance, the threat of retiring and leaving them alone to struggle with King James. Placed between the fear of alarming by his ambition the minds of those with whom he had drawn the sword, and the danger of remaining long without title, abandoned to political discussions, he called together, as a species of House of Commons, the members of the three last Parliaments of the Stuarts, with the mayor and other municipal magistrates of the city of London; he demanded of that assembly, and of the peers of the realm, the right of summoning a Parliament in the legal form. Here the authority of precedents again presented obstacles to his progress. It was objected that no convocation of Parliaments could be made except by the king’s letters, and that the lawful king was still James the Second; but the majority set this aside, and it was decided that the Prince of Orange might send letters not signed by him to the sheriff and other officers, to make elections in the old way, and name deputies of boroughs and knights of counties.
The new Parliament conciliated all opinions, and ended all difficulties, by proclaiming the husband and wife king and queen together. They were crowned with all the pomp of the ancient ceremony, and the details of what was done for them resemble in every point what had taken place exactly five hundred years before, at the coronation of Richard Cœur de Lion. This revolution of 1688 changed nothing either in the external appearance, or in the nature of the royal power in England. In their essential acts of royalty, that is to say, when they approved or rejected the laws voted by the Parliament, the successors of William the Third continued, like him, to employ no other language than old French language, which was that of the Conquest. Le roy le veult; le roy s’advisera; le roy mercie ses loyaulx subjects, et ainsy le veult. These formulas of an idiom which for the space of four centuries has ceased to exist on the other side of the Channel, seem to have been preserved by those who still pronounce them, when no one around them understand them, to remind the nation they govern of the origin of their power, and the foundation of their right over it.
On the Constitution of the Parliament.
William the Conqueror summoned during his reign several assemblies of the Normans settled in England: some of them, which might be compared to staff meetings, were composed only of the chiefs of the conquering army, and bishops of the country; the others, much more numerous, united the generality of those whom the Conquest had made proprietors of domains, whether great or small. It was an assembly of this kind that was held at Salisbury in the year 1086, after the compilation of the famous territorial register (Domesday book,) which was to serve as an authentic title to all the new possessors of estates. Under the successors of the Conqueror, there were in the same way two sorts of national assemblies or parliaments; for that word, a generic one in the French language of that period, expressed only a vague idea of political conferences. At the four great yearly festivals, most of the counts, barons and prelates of England repaired to the royal residence to celebrate the day’s solemnity, and occupy themselves with the king, about diversions and affairs; moreover, if any great political event took place—a war to undertake, a treaty to conclude, or if the treasury had any extraordinary demands on it—the king specially convoked his vassals and liege men into a parliament. On these important occasions he wished to assemble round him the greatest number possible, in order that the decision taken in common might appear more imposing to those who had taken no part in it, and acquire in the eyes of the kingdom the character of a law consented to by the majority of men enjoying political rights. But except in times of revolution, the generality of men feel repugnance at being diverted from their private interests, to occupy themselves actively with regard to general interests. The change of place and expense are dreaded, and participation in the legislative power is regarded more as an onerous duty than as a right which it is necessary to preserve. This was what happened to the men of Norman race in England, when they felt themselves safe in their new settlement, and without fear of being obliged to cross the sea again, and restore the manors, fiefs and tenures to the natives.
The richest among them, those who exercised in their provinces part of the military or civil authority, those who, possessing a large patronage over vassals and retainers, saw the career of ambition and honours open before them, rarely missed the assemblies in which great political questions were decided. Thus at the Parliament, or at the king’s court, either at the periodical convocations, or in the extraordinary assemblies, were seen many counts, viscounts or barons, but few of those knights, who, heirs of the moderate patrimony acquired by one of the soldiers of the Conquest, were anxious not to leave the domain they were improving with all their endeavours, nor to spend in one day in the company of men of rank, the income of a year. The impossibility for all of them to go personally to the great council caused them to have recourse to a practice which has been preserved to our days, that of the election of certain proxies chosen by the free tenants of each county under the name of knights of the shire, which they still bear. During the Norman period, when it was necessary to assemble a new Parliament—and generally they only lasted the time of their sessions—the royal chancery addressed personal invitations to men in office, and the great landholders; at the same time, orders were given to the different governors of provinces, who were called viscounts in Norman, and sheriffs in English, to summon all those freeholders who had not received special summons. United under the presidency of the sheriff of their county, they chose a certain number amongst them to represent them in parliament, and fill there the political functions which their small fortunes compelled them to renounce. This difference in the manner of summoning the members of Parliament according to the degree of their riches and importance, soon created a distinction, although they were all assembled together, between those who came in their own name, and those who were sent to vote for the community of freemen. The distinction between the great barons and the representatives of the community of baronage, as it was then expressed, was the foundation of the separation into two houses, to which it is difficult to assign a certain date. The name of the assembly of the commonalties or commons of England belonged to the elective portion of the great national council. When citizens or deputies of the towns were called to this council, the method of their convocation, as well as their inferior situation, gave them more affinity with the representatives of the small landholders than with the great nobles of the counties, the king’s officers, and the courtiers. Perhaps the habit of joining them to the knights of the shire gave rise to the formation of two distinct assemblies; perhaps this separation might have taken place, even if the English Parliament had never been composed but of territorial proprietors: this cannot now be decided, as events followed another course.
The history of the election of knights of the shire offers but one interesting fact, namely, that from the period at which the mixture of races betrayed itself by the uniformity of the language, the possessors of lands originally designated in authentic acts as lands either free or occupied by men of Norman race, were the only ones who enjoyed the privilege of voting for the election of representatives. As to the domains subjected to services or duties towards the seignorial manor, and which announced by that very subjection that they formed part of the lands abandoned to the Saxon population after the division of the Conquest, they did not enjoy the privilege of freeholds, although often more extensive. The statutes of the sixteenth century limited this right to the proprietors of free lands, producing, at least, an annual income of forty shillings. Thus, although the mixture of the two races caused the domain which invested their possessor with the right of voting for the representation of the counties, to pass several times into the hands of men of Saxon descent, this part of the House of Commons was essentially Norman.
Respecting the other part, the representation of the boroughs and cities, we must have recourse to history to find its origin and understand its nature. The cities of England at the period of the Conquest could not be divided into small portions like the country; their population could not be divided or despoiled like the population of the fields. Considered as indivisible property, it entered into the king’s domain, or into that of the principal Norman chiefs. The shopkeepers and artisans who peopled the cities were not expelled from their humble dwellings by strangers who did not envy them: they were first given up to plunder, and subjected to the perquisitions of suspicious tyranny; but they were afterwards able to sleep in peace on condition of paying a heavy tribute. Frequently the steward of the king or noble, who was called mayor or bailiff in Norman, came with an escort of armed men to inspect the merchant’s stores, inform himself what he was able to pay, and impose a poll-tax proportioned to his revenue. In this new state of dependence, the condition of the citizens changed, but not to the same extent as that of the inhabitants of the country, who were turned out of their dwellings, if large and in good condition, received out of charity as labourers on the fields they had possessed, and attached by force to the land which no longer belonged to them, to suffer all the chances of its destiny, to be sold, given up, and bequeathed with it. This steward, whatever his title, had a discretionary power over the government of the city, which was entrusted to him as a kind of farm, and sometimes even confirmed by lease. As the Conquest had no intention of giving one form of government an advantage over the other, the bailiffs of the conquerors found no advantage in destroying the municipal institutions, the associations and meetings of shopkeepers and artisans, which in Saxon were called guilds, but only placing them in harmony with the new order of things. It was even felt that the way of maintaining the value of the towns at its highest rate, (these are the expressions of ancient acts,) was, to alter the usages and customs of the inhabitants as little as possible, provided they contained nothing which could favour a spirit of rebellion. Thus, after the Conquest, the cities of England partly preserved their ancient commercial corporations, their periodical assemblies in the guild-hall or hustings, and the election of their aldermen, or elders of the city. Members of a species of small political body, assembled in fraternity with men of the same race, the English citizens’ only slavery was that of paying heavy taxes, capriciously imposed, and exacted with severity. The peasants, therefore, who were called in Norman villains or natives, descendants of the men whom the Conquest had deprived of their lands, took refuge, as soon as they were able, in the cities and boroughs, to enjoy there a more favourable destiny. In this manner the king and counts who possessed the cities, gained subjects at the expense of the barons of the country. There even were royal edicts favouring this emigration of the serfs, by according them a year’s exemption from the pursuit made after them by their natural lords. In the great insurrection of the peasants of England in 1382, a great number of men took refuge in the cities to escape the anger of their masters. A law was made to oblige the municipal corporations to denounce and deliver them up. This was not the only time that the royal power, though unwillingly (for the enlargement of the towns increased their revenue), consented, at the demand of the landed barons, to laws directed against the tendency of the sons of the peasantry to settle in towns. Every man exercising any trade whatever was forbidden to receive as an apprentice a child who, up to the age of twelve years, had been employed on the soil.*
Notwithstanding these concessions made to the interests of the great rural property, the kings, who were the largest possessors of boroughs, occupied themselves in ameliorating the revenues of their property, by rendering the habitation of commercial towns more and more convenient to the labouring classes. They went so far as to withdraw certain cities from all administration derived from the Conquest. London, Bristol, Coventry, and Lincoln had the right of being governed by their Saxon magistracy alone, and of electing the men commissioned to raise and send the taxes and subsidies to the royal exchequer. Some of the cities freed in this manner, and which, in the language of the ancient laws, were called incorporated cities, had the privilege of extending their municipal jurisdiction without the walls, and ruling a certain extent of territory withdrawn from the power of the bailiff and royal officers. The cities which had received this privilege (the greatest of all) were called counties by themselves, and the territory thus annexed to the municipal jurisdiction was called liberty. According to some acts, the king let, on a perpetual lease, a city to its own inhabitants, on the condition of certain fixed rents, payable by the local magistrates under their responsibility. In other places, he agreed to the subscription of a certain tax, in consideration of which the city was delivered from the pursuit of the collectors; finally, in other places, by a more singular contract, he made a double arrangement with the proprietor of the castle which ruled a town, and with the town itself, in order that the citizens should possess the castle and have no fear, on condition of a rent payable to the king and the ancient lord of the place. In one word, interest varied endlessly the combinations of the arrangements: the result was, that municipal corporations arose everywhere in the hearts of cities, under the security of solemn acts and charters sealed with the royal seal. But these charters were more than once infringed; and if the cities showed themselves exact in paying their rent, the kings, who were the stronger, unscrupulously exacted more than was due to them. Under the specious names of assistances, subsidies, and benevolences, the cities that owed nothing more than the rent stipulated by their contract of freedom, saw themselves entirely plucked like the serfs of the soil; they complained, and they were sometimes attended to, when the want of money was over.
When, at the close of the thirteenth century, royal mandates cited delegates from the principal freed towns, to appear before the king and the barons of the Parliament, to answer demands of money, violent despair must have seized those men who paid each year the price of their municipal liberty, and could only see in this novelty an attempt to render legal the extraordinary exactions which were committed against them in despite of the sworn charters. Such was, in fact, if we are to judge from the complaints expressed in the acts of the period, the impression produced by the birth of that portion of the House of Commons which later struggled so nobly for the liberties of England. The deputies of the cities and boroughs, summoned to appear before the king, nobles, and knights assembled in Parliament, did not come there to be consulted on the public affairs, to which they were considered strangers, and the discussion of which took place in a language which they did not speak, the language of the Conquest. Their part, an entirely passive one, was limited to consenting for their constituents to the new taxes demanded; and when the demand for a subsidy was at the same time addressed to the knights of the shire, the latter always voted less considerable sums, the fifteenth, for example, of the revenue of their constituents, whilst the citizens unwillingly granted a tenth. It would be a false way of viewing history, to suppose that the first election of deputies in the boroughs of England was accompanied with as much popular rejoicing as is seen every seven years round the hustings of London. When the aldermen and common council of each town had named as many deputies as were prescribed in the royal order transmitted by the sheriff, these deputies gave securities for their appearance before the king in his Parliament, a certain sign of their want of alacrity in going there.
The order of electing was not at first intimated to all boroughs. Those from whom the crown had most money to hope for, were those summoned to appear in the persons of their representatives: this was, it is true, a milder way than open force, to obtain an extraordinary contribution from the commercial population; but this population had more reason to fear it, because force is temporary, whilst institutions last and perpetuate themselves. For some time the boroughs were thus assembled singly and without rule: their deputies, who appeared invested with the right of granting in their name, granted whilst disputing on the sum. The following year, either new representatives were called, or the taxes were levied according to the votes of the preceding year, or else commissioners were sent to renew the votes on the spot itself. The assembling became gradually general and regular. From the close of the fourteenth century, the royal letter which commanded the election of two knights for each county, joined to this demand that of two of the most discreet and experienced merchants of each borough. The great cities, notwithstanding their repugnance, were forced to comply with the summons thus made them; but the unimportant boroughs endeavoured to elude the law, representing that they were too insignificant to be consulted in Parliament, and too poor to supply the expenses of the journey and return of the deputies demanded of them. The first orders of the election sent to the sheriff did not bear the names of the different boroughs of their counties; it was permitted to that officer to extend or suppress certain names in the list of places considered of sufficient consequence to be represented. Far from complaining of his neglect on their account, or of these voluntary omissions, the citizens thanked him as for some kind action; and often those whom he remembered, after appearing to forget them for some time, exclaimed against this attention, and lamented that they were constrained by malice to send men to Parliament.
The boroughs who sent no deputies expected not to be overcharged with taxes; but although there was really no other profit in not electing representatives, save the exemption from the expense of removing and the journey, the inhabitants of boroughs continued to seize with alacrity all occasions of freeing themselves from this uselessly expensive obligation. But the government managed to lose nothing by the omissions; they made all the boroughs pay, as if all had consented to it, whatever had been voted by the deputies of the majority of them. There was thus no more refuge against extraordinary subsidies; and thence proceed the interruptions which the public acts of England present in the sending of the deputies of boroughs to Parliament. These interruptions, frequently renewed and of long duration, were afterwards opposed as a motive of prescription, to the cities without representatives who wished to name some when representation became of use. The same power which had compelled them to be represented opposed itself to their having representatives, and this inability still exists for some of them.
The deputies of boroughs were at first called simply to consent to their share of taxes and then retire; whilst the landed deputies, representatives of the Norman race, who deliberated with their lords on the affairs of the state, obtained gradually by their habitual presence, and especially by the decay of the French language, the faculty of voting legislatively on all sorts of matters. Thenceforth their votes became precious to the different parties who governed or aspired to govern. The kings, better known to the boroughs which owed their existence to the royal charters and still felt some gratitude for their often violated privileges, had more credit with the deputies of the citizens. This portion of the House of Commons rendered them frequent services in the constantly renewed disputes between the power of the king and that of the nobility. Views different from those which had first caused them to assemble the deputies of the boroughs, made them then augment the House of Commons by a fresh supply of deputies. They gave many cities which had none, charters of incorporation, and granted them all the freedoms, privileges and immunities of the royal boroughs, which contained for them the power of being represented in Parliament. A number of insignificant places, without revenues and almost without inhabitants, were thus obliged to send deputies. The kings of the sixteenth century frequently put this expedient in practice. The small boroughs on their domains, on whose devotion they could rely, helped them to procure votes, which had then acquired great political importance.
Henry the Seventh gave the example; and Henry the Eighth in following it, confirmed as a principle, that a royal charter conferred, on any part of the kingdom whatsoever, the right of naming representatives in Parliament. He conferred this right on twelve counties and twelve boroughs of the recently conquered country of Wales, where submission to the royal power was more absolute than in England. In his domains he created twenty boroughs, each sending two deputies; and not content with that, he restored the right to several small places which had lost it from not making use of it. Edward the Sixth and Mary created twenty-five new Parliamentary boroughs; Elizabeth created thirty-one; James the First and Charles the First created twenty-three.
Such is the origin of that famous House of Commons which, in the seventeenth century, undertook so energetically the struggle of liberty against power. At this period, the most ardent of its members were the sons of those same citizens who, three hundred years before, considered as onerous the right of being represented; and the king they dethroned was the successor of those who had forced the cities to send deputies to Parliament against their will.
Thus a great mistake would be made, if, separating some institution from the great contemporaneous events and the political state of the country, the same effects were attributed to it at all periods of its existence. The name of parliament predominates in the entire history of England, from the Norman Conquest to the present day; but what a diversity of things there are under this unaltered name! When a man wishes to be an historian, he must penetrate things, and discern their real variety under the uniformity of language; he must especially avoid proceeding by abstraction, and separating political establishments from the circumstances which formerly accompanied them in the midst of which they swam, so to speak, and which has impregnated them with its colour. The parliaments of barons and knights sitting entirely armed in the centuries which succeeded the Conquest, the subsidiary parliaments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the revolutionary parliament of 1640, have nothing but the name in common. Nothing of their nature is known unless we enter deeply into an examination of the special epoch to which they correspond; unless, in one word, we are able clearly to distinguish the three great periods of the history of England since the Conquest; namely, the Norman epoch, ending with the mixture of races which was complete under Henry the Seventh; the epoch of the royal government, from Henry the Seventh to Charles the First; and finally, the epoch of social reforms, which commenced in 1640.
On the mode of Electing the Representatives of Cities and Boroughs.
Amongst the cities anciently represented, and to which this antiquity serves as a title, the number of representatives was never proportioned to the population. The idea of proportioning the number of representatives to the population of the localities sending them, this idea, which appears so simple to us according to our modern opinions on the nature and object of national representation, could not present itself to the minds, either of the kings who first assembled the deputies of the English cities, or of the inhabitants of those cities. The deputies of early times, properly speaking, played no other part than that of diplomatic agents entrusted with a pecuniary negotiation; their number was unimportant to the two contracting parties; and if on one side there existed a tendency to demand a larger number of representatives, it was on the side of the kings, rather than on that of the cities, which complained very much of the expense. This disposition changed only at a comparatively modern epoch, and when, from the heart of the society formed of the mixture of the two races, theoretic opinions arose on the rights of citizens, and the source of government. If, during several centuries, the right of sending representatives was little desired by the cities, and if the right of being elected as a representative was rarely contended for, the right of voting as an elector was as little desired as the two others. In whatever manner the municipal administration chose, or caused to be chosen, those who were to plead for the borough before the king and nobles assembled in Parliament, it was always supposed to do right, and that it entrusted with a mission of which it was the best judge, the men most capable of fulfilling it. Besides, these men were not elected to discuss great political questions; they were not going to represent any opinions, and minds could not be divided on the fact of paying more or less.
The municipal administration, which was called corporation, had therefore almost every where the discretionary choice of deputies; there where the administration was more numerous, the electors were more numerous; and sometimes the electors employed to name the municipal magistrates also named the deputies. In this latter case there was still but a small number of active citizens; for, in the heart of those small societies which had no independent existence, and in which the common interest could hardly have two sides, negligent confidence was almost always the only rule of internal policy; the richest, the most ancient citizens, the men of certain employments, possessed almost always the privilege of elections without opposition and without jealousy. When the part of the representatives of the boroughs became quite different, when the smallest city could not choose its deputies without influencing the country for good or for evil; in a word, when the principle of deputation had completely changed, opinions turned towards an analogous change in the principle of election. But authority undertook the defence of old customs, and found an auxiliary in habit, a tyrannical power which often makes itself heard above interest. Those into whose hands the neglect of the citizens had allowed the right of election to pass, became the sole electors by exclusive privilege. In those places where election had been allowed to fall into the hands of some magistrates, this invariably transmitted privilege was attached to that magistracy, to that class of inhabitants to the exclusion of the others; and what is still more singular, to that spot, to that part of the town, to those houses inhabited by the ancient voters. Political right ceased to belong to men; it resided in some measure in old walls, often in ruins, which had the power of communicating it to their proprietors. Sometimes, when the tide of civilization or a change in habits had changed the situation of a city, the privilege of naming members of Parliament for it remained outside its new walls, attached to certain lands covered with its ancient remains, and divided into as many compartments as the old city had votes. Great personages and rich men bought these lands and the hovels that covered them; they name a deputy for it, and dispose of his vote in Parliament.
The nomination of the deputies of the cities of England by a small number of electors, although it may seem an abuse by the care authority takes to maintain it, reaches back therefore to the early times of the assembling of boroughs in Parliament. Few then cared to send deputies chosen by the majority or universality of the citizens; and none could be cited as having formerly followed a contrary custom, excepting the five large maritime cities nearest to the coast of France, and still designated by the French name of Cinque Ports, which the Normans had given them. But this peculiarity is the consequence of the existence of these cities after the Conquest. Hastings, Dover, Sandwich, Hythe, and Seaford, were the places of landing and passage of the Norman troops, who, after the first battle, successively attacked England. These towns were the marts of their ammunition, their points of observation between their native country and the recently conquered land. The first occupied in the invasion, it is probable that their population was in a great measure renewed by the soldiers, the artisans, and the merchants from the other side of the Channel. This population, sprung from the conquerors, could never be reduced to the same level as the Saxon population of the other towns. It became equal in condition and privileges to the most numerous class of the new proprietors. When the great council of men of Norman race assembled, it was called there, not simply to grant taxes, but to deliberate on affairs; not to pay, but to discuss. Unable to transport itself entirely, it sent deputies chosen with the formalities of a general assembly, a course which men have always adopted whenever they have had to name real representatives of their will. These representatives bore the common title of men belonging to the victorious nation; they called themselves in Norman barons of the Cinque Ports; and this name, a remnant of the Conquest, they bear at the present day.
The inhabitants of the Cinque Ports were even formerly regarded as of a superior condition to that of the citizens of London: these had required a charter from William the Conqueror to reinstate them in their rights destroyed by the Conquest, to exempt them from the servitude which weighed over all the inhabitants of the conquered cities; that is to say, they were allowed to remain possessors of their property, and transmit their inheritances to their sons. But no act of freedom is found for the Cinque Ports. The Great Charter stipulates for their rights by the side of those of the barons of the country, and all the acts destined to fix the condition of the free men of England mention this original liberty, always scrupulously maintained on account of its origin being owing neither to concession nor tolerance. Two other places, Winchelsea and Romney, and later the town of Rye, were annexed to the condition and privilege of the first five, and notwithstanding the increase of number, the old name of Cinque Ports still existed to designate them collectively. But these towns, privileged during the Norman period, saw their importance decrease when the mixture of the two races and the progress of English industry had raised the condition of the other boroughs; the mass of their inhabitants lost the title of baron, which became in some sort monopolized to the profit of a minority of landed proprietors. During the long system of commercial prohibitions, these maritime cities became peopled with officers and custom-house clerks, and the representatives they sent were almost always ministerial.
The history of the English cities may convey an idea of what the royal government had to do when it wanted to make sure of the deputies of such or such a borough. It annulled under various pretexts the ancient charter of the corporation, and gave it a new one, which distributed the electoral right in a manner more conformable to its views. Several kings laboured successively at this reformation of the charters. James the First, and Charles the Second especially, made great efforts to place throughout England the choice of the municipal magistrates and the representatives of the cities, into the hands of their creatures. The latter, with one single blow, put in doubt the legitimacy of the immemorial organization of most of the cities and boroughs; he compelled them to produce before justice the legal title in virtue of which they enjoyed them. Two hundred cities were thus deprived of a privilege consecrated by several centuries of existence, and forced to trust for the future to the king’s decision.
The city of London was not forgotten in this tentative of reform; an attempt was made to obtain by intrigues the consent of the municipal council to a surrender of charters, apparently against the wish of the city. The members of this council were found immovable, and an action was brought before the Court of King’s Bench. The council of the city was accused of having signed a seditious petition, and it was said that for this conduct the entire city had transgressed the conditions of its freedom. To make the sentence more certain, several judges were replaced by others, and the city of London was condemned. This measure, the results of which were neither complete nor lasting, had not the object of rendering uniform for all England the mode of election of the members of the House of Commons. Since that time, the English government has not thought about it any more; and it is one of the points on which it struggles with the greatest obstinacy against the opposite party. To this project of reform we can retrace all those which the two revolutions of 1640 and 1688 seem to have left in reserve for a third revolution, more fundamental, or, as it is now called in England, more radical than the two first. Delayed perhaps half a century by the ill-success of the French revolution, will it be long in coming? This is as impossible to guess at the present moment, as it is to be blind to the causes which render it inevitable.*
[* ] This Essay was published in 1827.
[* ]The History of the English Revolution by M. Guizot. The History of the counter Revolution in England, under Charles the Second and James the Second, by M. Armand Carrel.
[* ] 1066.
[† ] From the year 1074.
[* ] The reigns of William Rufus, Henry the First, and Stephen, 1087-1154.
[* ] 1214.
[† ] The 15th of June, 1215.
[* ] 1255, Henry the Third.
[* ] 1265.
[† ] 1274.
[‡ ] 1399.
[* ] Statutes of the reign of Edward the Third, 1327—1377.
[* ] 1642.
[† ] 1066.
[‡ ] 1088.
[* ] Orderic Vital. p. 659.
[† ] From the reign of Henry the Fourth to that of Henry the Eighth, 1399-1485.
[‡ ] 1485.
[§ ] 1509.
[* ] 1547.
[† ] 1553.
[‡ ] 1649.
[* ] 1660.
[* ] Statutes of Richard the Second, 1382—1399.
[* ] It must be borne in mind that this Essay was written in 1827, several years before Lord Grey’s ministry and parliamentary reform.