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LECTURE 2 - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Sketch of the History of England, from William the Conqueror to John Lackland (1066‒1199). ~ William the Conqueror (1066‒1087). ~ William Rufus (1087‒1100). ~ Henry I. ~ (1100‒1135). ~ Stephen (1135‒115). ~ Henry II. ~ (1154‒1189). ~ Constitutions of Clarendon. ~ Richard Coeur de Lion (1189‒1199).
Before entering upon the history of representative government in England, I think it necessary, in the first place, to remind you of the facts which served, as it were, as its cradle—of the movements of the different nations which successively occupied England—the conquest of the Normans—the state of the country at the period of this conquest, about the middle of the eleventh century—and the principal events which succeeded it. A knowledge of facts must always precede the study of institutions.
The Britons—Gauls or Celts in origin—were the first inhabitants of Great Britain. Julius Caesar subjugated them, and the Roman dominion substituted a false and enervating civilization in the place of their barbarian energy. On being abandoned by Rome, when that city abdicated piecemeal the empire of the world, the Britons were unable to defend themselves, and summoned the Saxons to their assistance. The latter, finding them already conquered, from their allies became ere long their masters, and exterminated or drove back into the mountains of Wales, the people whom the Romans had subdued. After a long series of incursions, the Danes established themselves in the north of England, during the ninth century, and in the latter part of the eleventh century, the Normans conquered the whole country.
Towards the middle of the eleventh century, and before the Norman conquest, great enmity still subsisted between the Saxons and the Danes, whereas between the Danes and Normans the recollections of a common origin were still fresh and vivid. Edward the Confessor had been brought up at the Court of Normandy, and the Normans were held in great favour by him. He had appointed several of them to great offices in his realm. The primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a Norman; and Norman was spoken at the Court of Edward. All these circumstances seemed to prepare the way for the invasion of England by the Normans.
The internal state of England was equally favourable to it. The Saxon aristocracy had risen in proportion as the royal power had declined; but the power of the great land-holders was a divided power, and their dissensions opened a door for foreign interference. Harold, the brother-in-law of king Edward, who had died without issue, had just usurped the crown; so that William had not even to oppose a legitimate monarch. “Whether the English make Harold or another their duke or king, I grant it,” said William on the death of Edward; but he, nevertheless, assumed to be heir of the kingdom, by virtue of a will of the deceased monarch, and came to assert his right at the head of an army of 40,000 men. On the 14th of October, 1065, Harold lost both the crown and his life at the battle of Hastings. The primate then offered the crown of England to William, who accepted it after some show of hesitation, and was crowned on the 6th of December. He at first treated his Saxon subjects with mildness, but ordered the construction of a number of fortresses, and gave large grants of lands to his Norman comrades. During a journey which he made into Normandy, in the month of March, 1067, the Saxons revolted against the tyranny of the Normans. William suppressed the revolt, and continued for some time still faithful to his policy of conciliation. But rebellions continued to arise, and William now had recourse to rigorous measures. By repeated confiscations he ensured the sovereign establishment of the Normans, and of the feudal system. The Saxons were excluded from all great public employments, and particularly from the bishoprics. William covered England with forts, substituted the Norman language for the Anglo-Saxon, and made it the language of law—a privilege which subsisted until the reign of Edward III. He enacted very severe laws of police, among others the law of curfew, so greatly detested by the Saxons, but which already existed in Normandy; and finally, he laid waste the county of Yorkshire, the stronghold of the Saxon insurgents.
The Pope had given his approval to William’s enterprise, and had excommunicated Harold. Nevertheless, William boldly repulsed the pretensions of Gregory VII, and forbade his subjects to recognize any one as Pope, until he had done so himself. The canons of every council were to be submitted to him for his sanction or rejection. No bull or letter of the Pope might be published without the permission of the king. He protected his ministers and barons against excommunication. He subjected the clergy to feudal military service. And finally, during his reign, the ecclesiastical and civil courts, which had previously been commingled in the county courts, were separated.
After the death of William, in 1087, his States were divided among his three sons, Robert, William, and Henry. William Rufus succeeded to the throne of England, and Robert to the dukedom of Normandy. William’s reign is remarkable only for acts of tyranny, for the extension of the royal forests, and for odious exactions; he would not appoint bishops to any of the vacant episcopal sees, but appropriated their revenues to his own use, considering them as fiefs whose possessors were dead.
William Rufus was almost constantly at war with his brother Robert. He ended by buying Normandy of him, or, to speak more correctly, he received it in pledge for thirteen thousand silver marks which he lent to Robert when about to join the Crusaders. In the year 1100, he made a similar bargain with William, Count of Poitou and Duke of Guienne. The Norman barons bitterly regretted that Robert was not King of England, as well as Duke of Normandy. They rebelled several times against William; and various facts indicate that the Saxon nation gained something by these revolts, and was rather better treated, in consequence, by its Norman monarch. But the relations of the two peoples were still extremely hostile when William Rufus was killed while hunting, on the 2nd of August, 1100.
Henry I. usurped the crown of England from his brother Robert, to whom it rightfully belonged; and the Norman barons, who preferred Robert, offered only a feeble resistance to Henry; he was crowned in London. His first act was a charter, in which, to gain forgiveness for his usurpation, he promised not to seize upon the revenues of the church during the vacancy of benefices; to admit the heirs of the crown vassals to the possession of their estates, without exposing them to such violent exactions as had been usual during the preceding reigns; to moderate the taxes, to pardon the past, and finally to confirm the authority of the laws of St. Edward, which were so dear to the nation. A short time after the concession of this charter, Henry married Matilda, the daughter of the King of Scotland, and niece of Edgar Atheling, the last heir of the Saxon dynasty; by this marriage he hoped to conciliate the attachment of the Saxon people. In order to marry him, Matilda was liberated from her vows, for she had taken the veil, not with the intention of becoming a nun, says Eadmer, but in order to escape from the brutal violence of the Normans.
In 1101, Robert returned from the Crusades, and invaded England, but a treaty soon put a stop to his progress, and he renounced his pretensions on receiving a pension of 3000 marks, and the promise of succeeding to Henry’s inheritance. The bad government of Robert in Normandy occasioned continual disturbances in that country, and maintained the ever-increasing tendency towards the union of Normandy with England. Henry, taking advantage of this state of things, invaded Normandy, where he had many powerful adherents, and after three years of war, in 1106, the battle of Tenchebray decided the fate of Robert, who was taken prisoner and confined in Cardiff Castle, where he languished twenty-eight years. Normandy was then united to England.
The reign of Henry I. was disturbed by continual quarrels with the clergy; he was obliged to renounce the right of investiture, which was held to confer spiritual dignity, but the bishops continued to swear to him fidelity and homage, by reason of their temporal possessions. In the midst of the obstacles which lay in his path, Henry governed with vigour and prudence; he humbled the great barons, restored order, and restrained the clergy; and these were the qualities which then constituted a great king. The pretended code which is ascribed to Henry I. is a later compilation; but he effected several important reforms, among others, by repressing the abuses of the right of purveyance, by which the socage tenants of the king were bound gratuitously to supply the court, while journeying, with provisions and carriages. It is also said that he substituted, for tenants of this class, the payment of a money rent instead of the rent in kind which they had formerly paid; but it is not probable that this was a general rule.
Henry I. died in 1135. His reign promoted, to some extent, the fusion of the two peoples: but the separation was still wide. His son William being dead, Henry had appointed as his successor his daughter Matilda, the wife of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou; and an assembly of barons had ratified his choice. But, during the absence of Matilda, Stephen, Count of Boulogne, the grandson of William the Conqueror by his mother Adela, the wife of Stephen, Count of Blois, usurped the crown of England; but only a few barons attended at his coronation, on the 22nd of December, 1135. Stephen was anxious, by making large concessions, to obtain pardon for his usurpation; and he published two charters, which promised all that those issued by Henry had promised, including the maintenance of the laws of Edward the Confessor. The clergy and barons, however, swore to him only a conditional oath; and wishing to make him pay dearly for their support, the church exacted from him the sanction of all its privileges, and the barons obtained permission to build fortresses upon their estates. The kingdom soon bristled with castles and ramparts. Eleven hundred and fifteen were erected during the reign of Stephen, and assured, far more effectually than his charters, the power and independence of the barons.
In 1139, an insurrection broke out in favour of Matilda. King Stephen was defeated and made prisoner at the battle of Lincoln, on the 26th of February, 1141. A synod of ecclesiastics, without the co-operation of any laymen, gave the crown to Matilda; the deputies of the city of London were the only laymen present, and they demanded the liberation of King Stephen, but in vain; they were admitted into the synod merely to receive orders. A conspiracy against Matilda overthrew, ere long, the bold work of the clergy; Stephen regained his liberty in 1142, and the civil war recommenced. But a new enemy had now arisen against him. Prince Henry, the son of Matilda, though still young, had already rendered himself remarkable for his bravery and prudence. His mother promised him the dukedom of Normandy; the death of his father, Geoffrey Plantagenet, had given him Maine and Poitou; and his marriage with Eleanor of Guienne had gained him two other vast provinces of France. In 1154, he appeared in England with an army, but a negotiation speedily terminated the conflict, and Henry was acknowledged as the successor of Stephen, who died a year afterwards, on the 25th of October, 1154.
A variety of circumstances were favourable to the power of Henry II. at his accession. He united in his own person the rights of both the Saxon and Norman dynasties. He possessed immense dominions on the Continent; he was Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Guienne Maine, Saintonge, Poitou, Auvergne, Périgord, Augoumois and Limousin. He married his third son, Geoffrey, while still a child, to the infant heiress of the duchy of Brittany. He soon became engaged in war with the nobility and the clergy. He revoked all the gifts of the royal domains which had been granted by Stephen and Matilda, and regained by arms all that was not restored to him peaceably. He demolished a large number of the feudal fortresses. No coalition of the barons had as yet been formed, and their individual power was utterly unable to compete with that of Henry; they therefore submitted. The king also rallied around him a great number of interests by the maintenance of strict order, and by the appointment of itinerant justices to secure a more equitable administration of the laws. His struggle with the clergy was more stormy, and its success less complete; for the clergy, who were already constituted into a most powerful corporation, and were sustained from without by the Holy See, had found within their own body a chieftain capable of resisting even the greatest monarch. Thomas Becket, born in London in 1119, had advanced so far in the favour of Henry as to be appointed his Lord High Chancellor. His services, his devotedness, the magnificence of his mode of life, all combined to persuade Henry that, by elevating Becket to the highest ecclesiastical dignities, he would gain a powerful supporter in the church; he, therefore, had him appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the kingdom. But no sooner was Becket appointed to this office than he devoted himself to the interests of his order, and boldly undertook to exercise, and even to extend the rights of his position. A clerk had committed a murder; Becket punished him according to the laws of the clergy: Henry desired to have him judged by the civil law; Becket resisted; and Henry seized this opportunity for attacking openly and systematically the ecclesiastical power. He assembled the bishops, and inquired of them whether they would submit to the ancient laws of the realm, or not; and they were forced to consent to do so. The famous Council of Clarendon was convoked in 1164 to define these laws, and fix the limits of the two powers. The king had conciliated the support of the lay barons. Sixteen articles resulted from the deliberations of this assembly; they are to the following effect:
1. All suits concerning the advowson and presentation of churches shall be determined in the civil courts. 2. Ecclesiastics, when accused of any crime, shall appear before the king’s justices, who shall determine whether the case ought to be tried in the secular or episcopal courts. The king’s justices shall inquire into the manner in which causes of this kind are judged by the ecclesiastical courts; and if the clerk is convicted or confesses his crime, he shall lose his benefit of clergy. 3. No archbishop, bishop, or ecclesiastic of high rank shall leave the kingdom without the king’s permission. If he should go abroad, he must give surety to the king for his return, and for his good conduct in all matters affecting the interests of the king. 4. Excommunicated persons shall not be bound to give security for continuing in their present place of abode, but merely for presenting themselves to suffer the judgment of the church and to receive absolution. 5. No tenant in chief of the king, no officer of his household, or of his demesnes, shall be excommunicated, or his lands put under an interdict, until application has been made to the king, or, in his absence, to the grand justiciary, in order to obtain justice at his hands. 6. All appeals in spiritual causes shall be carried from the archdeacon to the bishop, from the bishop to the primate, and from him to the king, and shall be carried no further without the king’s consent. 7. If any law-suit arise between a layman and an ecclesiastic concerning the nature of a fief, the question shall be decided by the king’s chief justice, by the verdict of twelve probi homines;1 and according as the nature of the fief may be determined, further proceedings shall be carried on before the civil or ecclesiastical courts. 8. Any inhabitant of a city, town, borough or manor in the king’s demesnes, who has been cited before an ecclesiastical court to answer for some offence, and who has refused to appear, may be placed under an interdict; but no one may be excommunicated till the chief officer of the place where he resides be consulted, that he may compel him by the civil authority to give satisfaction to the church. 9. The judgment of all causes, for debts contracted by oath or otherwise, is referred to the civil courts. 10. When any archbishopric, or bishopric, or abbey, or priory of royal foundation is vacant, the king shall enjoy its revenues; and when it becomes necessary to fill up a see, the king shall summon a chapter to proceed, in the royal chapel, to the election, which must obtain the sanction of the king, according to the advice of the prelates whom he may have thought proper to consult; and the bishop-elect shall swear fealty and homage to the king as to his lord, for all his temporal possessions, with the exception of the rights of his order. 11. Churches belonging to the king’s fee shall not be granted in perpetuity without his consent. 12. No layman shall be accused before a bishop, except by legal and reputable promoters and witnesses; and if the culprit be of such high rank that no one dares to accuse him, the sheriff, upon the demand of the bishop, shall appoint twelve lawful men of the neighbourhood, who, in presence of the bishop, shall pronounce upon the facts of the case, according to their conscience. 13. Archbishops, bishops, and other spiritual dignitaries who are immediate vassals of the king, shall be regarded as barons of the realm, and shall possess the privileges and be subjected to the burdens belonging to that rank, except in the case of condemnation to death or to the loss of a limb. 14. That if any person resist a sentence legally pronounced upon him by an ecclesiastical court, the king shall employ his authority in obliging him to make submission. In like manner, if any one throw off his allegiance to the king, the prelates shall assist the king with their censures in reducing him. 15. Goods forfeited to the king shall not be protected in churches or churchyards. 16. No villein shall be ordained a clerk without the consent of the lord on whose estate he was born.
When the constitutions of Clarendon had once been adopted, the king required that the bishops should affix their seals thereto; all consented with the exception of Becket, who resisted for a long while, but yielded at length, and promised “legally, with good faith, and without fraud or reserve,” to observe the constitutions. The king sent a copy of them to Pope Alexander, who approved only the last six articles, and annulled all the rest. Strong in the support of the Pope, Becket did penance for his submission, and renewed the conflict. It soon became desperate. The king harassed Becket with persecutions of all kinds, requiring him to give an account of his administration while Chancellor, and charging him with embezzlement; the bishops became alarmed and deserted the cause of the primate. Becket resisted with indomitable courage; but he was finally compelled to fly to the Continent. Henry confiscated all his property, and banished all his relatives and servants, to the number of four hundred. Becket excommunicated the servants of the king, and, from his retirement in a French monastery, made Henry totter on his throne. At length, the Pope with his legates, and the King of France, interfered to put an end to this conflict. Henry, who was embarrassed by a multitude of other affairs, yielded, and Becket returned to his see. But his conscience united with his pride to rekindle the war. He censured the prelates who had failed to support him, and excommunicated some of the king’s servants who had been active in their persecution of the clergy. “What!” cried Henry, in a transport of passion, “of the cowards who eat my bread, is there not one who will free me from this turbulent priest?” He was then at Bayeux; four of his gentlemen set out at once for Canterbury, and assassinated Becket on the steps of the altar of his cathedral, on the 29th of December, 1170. The king dispatched a courier in pursuit of them, but he arrived too late to prevent the consummation of the deed. Henry manifested the utmost grief at the death of Becket; we may, however, suppose his sorrow to have been feigned. In order to avert the consequences, he at once sent envoys to Rome to attest his innocence, and the Pope contented himself with fulminating a general excommunication against the authors, fautors, or instigators of the assassination.
Other events, wars with Scotland and France, and an expedition into Ireland, diverted the public attention from Becket’s death. In 1172, Henry resumed his negotiations with Rome, and concluded a treaty which, on the whole, ratified the enactments of the Council of Clarendon. When he had thus become reconciled with the Pope, he made his peace with his subjects, whose enmity he feared, by a public penance on the tomb of Becket, who was honoured by all England as a martyr.
In 1172, some English adventurers conquered without difficulty, and almost without a battle, a part of Ireland. Henry led an expedition into that country, and his authority was recognized. The remainder of his life was agitated by continual wars in defence of his possessions on the Continent, and by the rebellions of his children, who were anxious to divide his power and dominions before his death. He died of grief at their conduct on the 6th of July, 1189, at Chinon, near Saumur; and the corpse of one of the greatest kings of England and of his age was left for some time, deserted and stripped, upon the steps of an altar. His eldest son, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, succeeded him without difficulty.
In every age, and at every great epoch of history, we almost invariably witness the appearance of some individuals who seem to be the types of the general spirit and dominant dispositions of their time. Richard, the adventurer-king, is an exact representation of the chivalrous spirit of the feudal system and of the twelfth century. Immediately upon his accession, his only thought was the accumulation of money for the Crusades; he alienated his domains; he publicly sold offices, honours, and even the loftiest dignities, to the highest bidder; he even sold permissions not to go on the Crusade; and he was ready to sell London, he said, if he could find a purchaser. And while he was sacrificing everything to his passion for pious adventures, his people massacred the Jews because some of them had appeared at the coronation of the king, notwithstanding the prohibition.
Richard set out at length for the Crusades, leaving as Regent during his absence his mother Eleanor, who had excited the princes her sons to rebellion against the king their father; and he associated the Bishops of Durham and Ely with her in the regency. The tyranny of the Bishop of Ely spread confusion throughout England; he placed his colleague under arrest, and governed alone with boundless arrogance, until at last Prince John had him deposed by a council of barons and prelates. Richard, on his return from the Crusades, was, as is well known, detained prisoner in Austria, from the 20th of December, 1193, to the 4th of February, 1194, when he recovered his liberty by the devotedness of one of his vassals. The power of feudal feelings and ties was also manifested in the eagerness of his subjects to pay his ransom. Richard, when restored to his kingdom, spent the remainder of his life in continual wars in France, and died, on the 6th of April, 1199, of a wound received at the siege of the castle of Chalus, near Limoges, while endeavouring to gain possession of a treasure which, it was said, the Count of Limoges had found.
During the reign of Richard, the liberties of the towns and boroughs, which had commenced under William Rufus, made considerable progress, and prepared the way for that decisive advance of national liberties and representative government in England—the Great Charter of King John.
[1. ]Upright men.