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statistical fact of interest came under their investigation; and from the information thus acquired, was compiled the famous Doom’s-day Book, the most extraordinary and interesting of our national records. What were the real views with which this survey was ordered, I cannot tell; but one of the results was, to enable the sovereign to ascertain at once the number of men which each barony was bound to furnish; and I find no clear proof of such a statistical proceeding having taken place in any other part of Europe before the invasion of England.
Such may be received as a very brief and imperfect sketch of the constitution of this kingdom towards the end of William's reign; but even while advancing towards perfection, the germs of decay were sown in the feudal system, and before the accession of Richard I., they had made considerable progress. The two great deviations from the true feudal constitution, which, more than any of all the many causes that were ultimately brought into operation against feudalism, contributed to overthrow that wonderful system, owed their admission to the jealousy and ambition of kings. Those two deviations were the institution of communes, or free corporations, and the compounding of military service for money.
Notwithstanding all that the learned Savigni has done, and the light which he has thrown upon the Roman law during the middle ages, it may be doubted whether in any one single instance the
old Roman municipal forms descended direct to feudal times in the government of any provincial city. Nevertheless there is much reason to believe that the prëexistence of such municipal forms in particular towns, had a great effect in producing the communes of the middle ages, and offered the type, if not the foundation, of those institutions. These communes first began to start into life, I think, in the beginning of the eleventh century; and I believe the town of Laon has the honour of being the first. Horrible oppression, frequent warfare, and the claims and exactions of contending Barons, rendered it absolutely necessary that monarchs should either afford effectual protection to the laborious and increasing inhabitants of cities and towns, or should justify them in defending themselves. The latter alternative, as the most certain, was the one most desired by the citizens; and kings saw therein the seeds of a force, which they clearly perceived might counterbalance, in some degree, the overgrown power of their ambitious baronage, though they did not look forward to the time when that force might become dangerous to their own authority. The crown therefore encouraged the erections of communes, gave charters to towns and cities, daily enlarged their privileges and immunities, employed the troops raised by the citizens in its own wars, and created a militia, which rendered it less dependant upon the great vassals for military support.
We find that, at first, the outcry raised against the communes was immense; the feudal proprietors clamoured loudly in regard to the new institution, and in some instances endeavoured to crush it with the strong hand; while all their scribes wrote against it as an unheard-of and monstrous invention. But still a commune rose here and a commune rose there ; in most cases the neighbouring Barons formed but a small force, unable to contend with the monarch; the rest of the vassals of the crown did not interest themselves much in matters at a distance from their own estates; and the struggle was completed, the victory gained, and the institution established by prudence and resolution, before the great body of feudal lords knew how fatal it might become to their power and influence. How far back such institutions may be traced in this country, I do not know; but they certainly existed in England long before the accession of Richard I.*
The second of those deviations from the feudal principle to which I have alluded, is the commutation of military service for the pecuniary aid, called scutage or escuage. This custom was gradually, but very easily introduced; and there was no outcry against it as against the communes. Though the military spirit of the nobility might not wax faint, yet each man, especially in times of civil commotion, and in an unsettled state of society, might have quite enough to do on his own lands, in repelling turbulent or grasping neighbours, in repressing refractory vassals, and in strengthening himself in possession of lately acquired estates, without following his sovereign to a war in which he had no interest, where he could gain little and might lose all. Every Baron indeed was himself bound to personal service, but he was not bound to divide his lands amongst military followers according to the exact number of knights' fees that it contained. On the contrary, only a small part was generally so divided ; but still he was obliged, when called upon, to produce the number of armed men required by the extent of his fief, and consequently some of these were always hired. He was expected to serve for forty days beyond the realm; but if he continued with the army after that term, it was at the King's charge; and in order to engage him to prolong his services, the monarch was obliged to hold out various inducements, which were almost always either pecuniary or territorial rewards. Thus the custom of serving for pay was very general, even at an early period of the feudal history; and nothing was wanting to make a breach in this point of the feudal constitution but the establishment of a right, on the part of those who were bound by tenure to personal service, of substituting hired representatives.
* Lord Lyttleton shows that communes existed in England in the reign of Henry I. I myself believe that we might go still farther back.
Women had always been permitted to perform the feudal duties repugnant to the delicacy of their sex by deputy. When William rendered the lands of the clergy feudal, he permitted the holders to enjoy the like immunity from a personal performance of acts inconsistent with their sacred office. In carrying on foreign wars, sovereigns found many inconveniences arise from the constitution of feudal armies, from the limitation of the time of service, and from their utter dependance upon their Barons' good will for any farther aid. The nobles, on the other hand, often murmured at being called, for even forty days, from their own affairs, to contentions in which they had no interest. The convenience of both parties might be consulted by the expedient of commuting military service for a sum of money; and perhaps the sovereign saw in that arrangement the means of selecting such of his Barons to follow him as his political views might require, while he left behind him those whose presence might be burdensome or useless. He might also look forward to the time when a mercenary army would become a new counterpoise to the growing power of the Barons.
Lord Lyttleton, in his history of Henry II., informs us that the first distinct example of this innovation took place in the reign of that monarch, who, during a war with the Welsh, permitted not only the spiritual Barons of the realm, but their military tenants to compound for their due service in the field, by payment of a pecuniary fine. He