Page images
PDF
EPUB

he forbade the use of common arms such as the bow—which in those days were seldom out of the hand of the English yeoman

It is not improbable, indeed, that the regulation in regard to the bow and other weapons of a similar character, had more immediately for its object to preserve the lives of the King's deer than his own. During the insurrection, either from the want of power to restrain the people, or for the purpose of detaching them from the rebels, the King's forests had been left almost entirely free for any one who might think fit to take the game contained therein; and it is even asserted by the best contemporary writers, that Richard de Lucy the Grand Justiciary openly produced a letter from the King authorising him to throw open all the royal forests of England to the people. Notwithstanding such motives for moderation, however, Henry proceeded against those who had transgressed the forest laws, in a severe and cruel manner, causing a strict inquisition to be made into all cases of trespass on his woodlands, and authorising the judges appointed for the trial of such causes to take hearsay evidence against the accused. * In this unpopular

* The words in which Diceto mentions these facts are as follows :-" Inquisitio generalis facta per Angliam pari discrimine Comites, Barones, milites, privatorum quoque multitudinem infinitam involvit. Omnes quidem hi juris jurandi religione minus reverenter artati, modo regi, modo justiciariis publicarunt quos à tempore dissensionis inter regem patrem et filium habitæ vitæ ferarum insidias tetendisse vel auditu solo perceperant. Hoc ergo

proceeding he displayed none of the better qualities which distinguished him, except impartiality. The loyal and the rebellious were treated exactly in the same manner, and according to the magnitude of their offence were punished with death or maiming, or pecuniary amercement. The latter, indeed, was the course which the King so frequently adopted, that writers have suspected he was moved less by indignation for the violation of his rights, than by the desire of remedying the penury of his treasury. Whatever was the cause, Henry's conduct was most unpopular through the whole transaction; and the course of proceeding which he permitted or ordered was evidently unjust, and cal. culated to bring condemnation on the innocent. Whatever might be the motive, it was ungenerous and unwise, to punish offences of such a character, which had taken place in times of general disorder and anarchy; and, if the object was to wring from his people fresh supplies of money by the means employed, no words are sufficient to express the reprobation which such conduct deserved in the case of one who knew what was just so well as Henry the Second.

Such a view of Henry's behaviour on this occa

prætextu multi clericorum quos sola fama resperserat, venatoriis occupationibus irretitos fuisse, jussu vicecomitum ad forum civile pertrahebantur; archiepiscopo vel espiscopis non reclamantibus. Quorum quidam ut regiam indignationem evaderent offerentes pecuniam audiebantur.

sion is entirely distinct from the consideration of whether the forest laws were in themselves just or unjust. The vague and illogical pieces of declamation which have been current against the preservation of game by kings and private persons on their own lands, scarcely require refutation; for so long as the idea of property exists, so long must it be admitted, that each man has a right to apportion a part of that which he possesses for the purpose of his own amusement and recreation. It might, indeed, be objected, and justly, in countries where a dense population exists, that the occupation of large tracts of ground by forests, reserved for the purposes of the chace, produces a general evil, by withdrawing soil from cultivation, the continuance of which no individual right can justify. But the case of a dense population and a scanty soil did not exist in those days; and even if it had existed, we must recollect that, the principal fuel of the whole country consisting at that time of wood, much larger forests were then absolutely necessary than are now required for the mere supply of timber. Wherever the forests did exist, there the right of the proprietor to the animals of all kinds which were fed and nourished therein, was as clear and distinct as the right of a grazier to his sheep or other cattle, or that of the agriculturist to the corn which he has grown. The distinction between the wild and the tame is a mere subtlety, unworthy of the law, and is still less applicable to those days, when the beasts were not migratory, but were kept in particular tracts, tended with care, and often provided with food* besides that which the soil itself afforded them. There were, however, two considerations which, with perfect justice, might greatly affect the decisions of a lawgiver in regard to beasts of the chase; and those considerations would operate in the most opposite directions. The first of these was, the much greater difficulty. of preserving this kind of property than almost any other; the second, the much greater temptation that existed to plunder it on every occasion. The legislators of those times seem to have directed their attention solely to the first of these considerations, and, consequently, to have endeavoured to guard those objects which were naturally exposed, by sanguinary and cruel laws, which, as all cruel laws must be, were without effect. If it were an ascertained fact, that man couid be deterred from crime by the fear of punishment, the severest laws would be the most merciful; for by them alone we could hope, by preventing the offence, to spare the chastisement. But if it be recognised, as is now very generally the case, that lenient laws, firmly administered, afford the surest means of arriving at the least possible portion of evil, then we must recur to the first

* The deer were, for many ages, during the first and second race of French monarchs, regarded exactly as domestic animals; and in the laws and regulations of those times, we find them spoken of with the cow and the horse.

principles of justice, and, in apportioning the punishment, weigh the temptation with the crime.

The lawgivers of Henry's time, however, in the infancy of a science regarding which much is still to be learnt in our own day, could hardly be expected to arrive at conclusions which are, unfortunately, only furnished by experience. To guard, therefore, the property of the lord of the soil in the beasts which it fed, they rendered the laws severe in proportion to the facility of infringing them. No forests, however, could ever be fenced round by fears; and in the endeavours, on the one part, to snatch the forbidden pleasure, and, on the other, to preserve the law, frequent crimes occurred of a still more serious character than the infraction of the rights of property. Scarcely, indeed, had Henry returned to England, when a case of this kind was brought before him. Four knights were charged at Woodstock with having killed one of his foresters, doubtless in some dispute regarding the royal chace. The facts, it would seem, were proved, and the criminals were condemned by the King and hanged without mercy.

Wherever he went the King pursued the same course of severity, showing especial harshness at Nottingham, and the districts adjacent to any of the large forests belonging to the crown. He was in general willing, however, to accept a pecuniary fine instead of corporeal punishment; and by this means

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »