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LECTURE 3 - 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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Anglo-Saxon institutions. ~ Effects of the Norman Conquest upon Anglo-Saxon institutions. ~ Effects of the Conquest upon Norman institutions. ~ Causes which made the Norman Conquest favourable to the establishment of a system of free institutions in England.
After having given a summary, in the preceding lecture, of the principal historical facts, we are now about to survey Anglo-Norman institutions during the period to which we have just turned our attention, namely, from the middle of the eleventh century until the end of the twelfth.
How came it that free institutions were established from this time forth among this people, and not in other countries? The answer to this question may be found in the general facts of English history, for institutions are much more the work of circumstances than of the texts of laws.
The States which were founded in Europe, from the fifth to the seventh century, were established by hordes of wandering Barbarians, the conquerors of the degraded Roman population. On the side of the victors, there existed no fixed and determinate form of social life; on the side of the vanquished, forms and institutions crumbled into dust; social life died of inanition. Hence arose long disorders, ignorance and impossibility of a general system of organization, the reign of force, and the dismemberment of sovereignty.
Nothing of the kind occurred in England in the eleventh century, in consequence of the Norman Conquest. A Barbarian people which had already been established in a country for two hundred years conquered another Barbarian people which had been territorially established for six hundred years. For this reason, many decisive differences may be observed between this conquest and those which took place on the Continent.
1. There was much more resemblance, and consequently much more equality, between the two peoples; their origin was the same, their manners and language were analogous, their civilization was almost identical, and the warlike spirit was as powerful among the vanquished as among the victors. Thus, two nations under almost similar conditions, found themselves in presence of one another, and the conquered nation was able, as well as disposed, to defend its liberties. Hence arose many individual evils, but no general and permanent abasement of one race before the other. Oppressed at first, but retaining its warlike character, the Saxon race offered an energetic resistance, and gradually raised itself from its inferior position.
2. The two peoples also possessed political institutions of a singularly analogous nature, whereas elsewhere, in France and in Italy, the Roman populations, to speak the truth, possessed no institutions at all. The communes and the clergy were required to maintain, even obscurely, the Roman law among societies on the Continent; whereas in England, Saxon institutions were never stifled by Norman institutions, but associated with them, and finally even changed their character. On the Continent, we behold the successful sway of barbarism, feudalism, and absolute power, derived either from Roman or ecclesiastical ideas. In England, absolute power was never able to obtain a footing; oppression was frequently practised in fact, but it was never established by law.
3. The two peoples professed the same religion; one had not to convert the other. On the Continent, the more Barbarian victor adopted the religion of the vanquished, and the clergy were almost entirely Romans; in England, they were both Saxons and Normans. Hence resulted an important fact. The English clergy, instead of enrolling themselves in the retinue of the kings, naturally assumed a place among the landed aristocracy, and in the nation. Thus the political order has almost constantly predominated in England over the religious order; and ever since the Norman Conquest, the political power of the clergy, always called in question, has always been on the decline.
This is the decisive circumstance in the history of England—the circumstance which has caused its civilization to take an altogether different course to that taken by the civilization of the Continent. Of necessity, and at an early period, a compromise and amalgamation took place between the victors and the vanquished, both of whom had institutions to bring into common use; institutions more analogous than existed anywhere else—stronger and more fully developed, because they belonged to peoples which had already been territorially established for a considerable time.
Thus, Saxon institutions and Norman institutions are the two sources of the English government. The English commonly refer their political liberties to the former source; they see that, on the Continent, feudalism did not produce liberty; and they attribute their feudalism to the Normans, and their liberty to the Saxons. This distinction has even become a symbol of modern political parties; the Tories, in general, affect a neglect of Saxon institutions, whilst the Whigs attach to them the greatest importance. This view of events appears to me to be neither exact nor complete. Saxon institutions were not, by themselves, the principle of English liberties. The forced assimilation of the two peoples and of the two systems of institutions, was their true cause. There is even room for doubt whether, without the Conquest, liberty would have resulted from Saxon institutions; and we may believe that they would have produced in England results analogous to those which occurred on the Continent. The Conquest inspired them with new virtue, and caused them to produce results which, if they had been left to themselves, they would not have produced. Political liberty issued from them, but was begotten by the influence of the Conquest, and in consequence of the position in which the Conquest placed the two peoples and their laws.
I will now recall to your recollection Anglo-Saxon institutions as they existed before the Conquest; and you will soon see that it was the forced approximation of the two peoples which gave them vitality, and brought forth the liberties of England.
Among local institutions, some were based upon common deliberation, and others upon hierarchical subordination; that is to say, some upon a principle of liberty, and others upon a principle of dependence. On one side, were the courts of hundred and the county-courts; on the other, the great landowners and their vassals: every man of fourteen years old and upwards was obliged to belong either to a hundred or to a lord, that is, to be free or vassal. These two hostile systems, then, placed in presence of one another, conflicted as upon the Continent. There is some doubt about the question whether, before the Conquest, feudalism existed with regard to lands: that it existed with regard to persons there can be no doubt, for their hierarchical classification was real and progressive. In localities, although the system of free institutions subsisted, the system of feudal institutions was gaining ground; seignorial jurisdictions were encroaching upon free jurisdictions; and almost the same process, in fact, was going on as upon the Continent.
If we look at central institutions, we observe the same phenomenon. On the Continent, feudalism was produced by the aggrandizement of the king’s vassals, and by the dislocation of the sovereignty. The national unity, which resided in the assembly of the nation, became dissolved; the monarchical unity was unable to resist; and monarchy and liberty perished together. Events had taken the same course among the Anglo-Saxons. Under Edward the Confessor, the decay of the royal authority is evident. Earl Godwin, Siward, Duke of Northumberland, Leofric, Duke of Mercia, and many other great vassals, are rivals rather than subjects of the king; and Harold usurping the crown from Edgar Atheling, the legitimate heir, bears a strong resemblance to Hugh Capet. The sovereignty tends to dismemberment. Monarchical unity is in danger; national unity is in the same declining state, as is proved by the history of the Wittenagemot. This general assembly of the nation was at first the assembly of the warriors; afterwards the general assembly of the land-owners, both great and small; and at a later period, the assembly of the great land-owners alone, or of the king’s thanes. Even these at last neglect to attend its meetings; and isolate themselves upon their estates, in which each of them exercises his share of the dismembered sovereignty. This is almost identical with the course of affairs on the Continent. Only, the system of free institutions still subsists in England with some energy in local institutions, and especially in the county-courts. The feudal system is in a less advanced state than on the Continent.
What would have happened if the Conquest had not occurred? It is impossible to say with certainty, but probably just what happened on the Continent. The same symptoms are manifested, the decay of the royal authority and of the national assembly; and the formation of a hierarchical landed aristocracy, almost entirely independent of the central power, and exercising almost undisputed sovereignty in its domains, excepting only feudal liberties.
While Anglo-Saxon institutions were in this state, the Normans conquered England. What new elements did they introduce, and what effect did the Conquest produce upon the Saxons?
The feudal system was completely established in Normandy; the relations of the duke with his vassals, the general council of the barons, the seignorial administration of justice, the superior courts of the duke, were all organized already. This system is impracticable in a large State, especially when manners have made but little progress; it leads to the dislocation of the State and of the sovereignty, and to a federation of powerful individuals, who dismember the royal power. But in a State of limited extent, like Normandy, the feudal system may subsist without destroying unity; and notwithstanding William’s continual wars with some of his vassals, he was in very reality the powerful chieftain of his feudal aristocracy. The proof of this is contained in the very enterprize upon which he led them. He had, say the chronicles, from forty to sixty thousand men, of whom twenty-five thousand were hired adventurers or men who joined his standard in the hope of obtaining booty. He was not a leader of Barbarians, but a sovereign undertaking an invasion at the head of his barons.
After the Conquest and their territorial establishment, the bonds which united the Norman aristocracy were necessarily drawn still closer together. Encamped in the midst of a people who regarded them with hostility and were capable of vigorous resistance, the conquerors felt the need of unity; so they linked themselves together, and fortified the central power. On the Continent, after the Barbarian invasions, we hear of hardly any insurrections of the original inhabitants: the wars and conflicts are between the conquerors themselves; but in England they are between the conquerors and the conquered people. We indeed meet, from time to time, with revolts of the Norman barons against the king; but these two powers generally acted in concert, for their interest was their bond of union. Moreover, William had found a royal domain of large extent, already in existence: and it received immense increase from confiscations of the lands of Anglo-Saxon rebels. Although the spoliation was not universal, it was carried out with unexampled promptitude and regularity. William soon had 600 direct vassals, nearly all of whom were Normans, and his landed property was divided into 60,215 knight’s fees, a large quantity of which frequently belonged to the same master; for example, Robert de Mortaigne alone possessed 973 manors, the Earl of Warrenne 278, and Roger Bigod 123; but they were all scattered through different counties, for though the prudent William was willing to make his vassals rich, he was not desirous of making them too powerful.
Another proof of the cohesion of the Norman aristocracy is supplied by the Doomsday Book; a statistical account of the royal fiefs, and register of the demesne lands and direct vassals of the king, which was begun in 1081 and terminated in 1086: it was compiled by royal commissioners. King Alfred had also directed the compilation of a similar register, but it has been lost. Nothing of the kind was ever done in any other country.
The same cause which rendered Norman feudalism in England more compact and regular than on the Continent, produced a corresponding effect upon the Saxons. Oppressed by a powerful and thoroughly united enemy, they formed in serried ranks, constituted themselves into a national body, and clung resolutely to their ancient laws. And in the first instance, the establishment of William did not appear to have been entirely the work of force; there were even some forms of election; after the battle of Hastings, the crown was offered to him by the Saxons, and at his coronation at Westminster, he swore to govern the Saxons and Normans by equal laws. After this period, we incessantly find the Saxons claiming to be ruled by the laws of Edward the Confessor, that is to say, by the Saxon laws, and they obtained this right from all the Norman kings in succession. These laws thus became their rallying point, their primitive and permanent code. The county-courts, which continued to exist, also served to maintain the Saxon liberties. Feudal jurisdiction had made but little progress among the Saxons; it received extension on the arrival of the Normans; but it had no time to strike deep root, for it found itself limited on the one hand by the county-courts, and on the other by the royal jurisdiction. On the Continent, the royal authority conquered judicial power from feudalism; in England, the royal authority was superimposed upon the county-courts. Hence arises the immense difference between the two judicial systems.
Lastly, the Saxons still possessed landed property, which they defended or claimed in reliance upon titles anterior to the Conquest, and the validity of these titles was recognised.
To sum up the whole matter, the Norman Conquest did not destroy right among the Saxons, either in political or civil order. It opposed in both nations that tendency to isolation, to the dissolution of society and of power, which was the general course of things in Europe. It bound the Normans to one another, and united the Saxons among themselves; it brought them into presence of each other with mutual powers and rights, and thus effected, in a certain measure, an amalgamation of the two nations and of the two systems of institutions, under the sway of a strong central power. The Saxons retained their manners as well as their laws; their interests were for a long time interests of liberty, and they were able to defend them. This position, far more than the intrinsic character of Saxon institutions, led to the predominance of a system of free government in England.