Page images

William the First, by his great statistical efforts, did indeed accomplish much to bring about or to restore a degree of regularity; but William Rufus saw many of the evils without removing them; and Henry the First contented himself with palliating existing inconveniences, without any view towards future improvement. Henry the Second, however, made vast efforts to effect a beneficial change; and there is evidently throughout all his proceedings, a tendency to establish the uniformity, order, and stability of laws and institutions, which afford to the mind of man the best assurance of peace, security, and justice.

Still we must not forget that he was but making the efforts, that he had not succeeded, that he was constantly frustrated by the passions and the ignorance of others, and that he was himself affected by the general inexperience of the age in the very science which was necessary to accomplish his purpose. He was like a man arranging various objects in a dark room,—and surely it is not at all wonderful that, such being the case, various things should be found amiss when a light is brought in. Many, nay most modern writers have forgotten this fact, and have expected to find regularity, and fixed forms, at least in the institutions which did exist. No such things, however, were then in being; and the very want of regularity itself was much more apparent than any other want, and a much greater evil also, for it brought a thousand others in its train.


Numerous instances have been given to exemplify this fact already. The greatest and most important territories seldom remained fifty years undisputed; in a less space of time the county of Toulouse and many of its dependencies were three or four times not only the subject of controversy, but actually in possession of different persons who could show no right to them. Matthew, the brother of the Count of Flanders, obtained the county of Boulogne, by carrying off from a convent the daughter of Stephen. He sent her back to her convent and married another woman, but yet retained the county without dispute. The Lord of Porhoet laid claim to Britanny, in right of his wife, and apparently to the county of Richmond also, to neither which she had any right but that which she derived from her first husband, who was dead and had left a son. Many, however, supported his claim, and even after the death of his wife, the Lord of Porhoet still contended for the Duchy, and found people to aid him strenuously in making his claim good by the sword against her son. The same occurred in a thousand other instances, and everything showed that no ascertained rule was established in such cases. The illegitimate children succeeded in one part of the country, the legitimate only could inherit in another; and even the very names and titles by which people were known, changed from year to year, so that a prince was called Duke of Aquitaine or Britanny one day, Count of Poitou or Count of Britanny the

[ocr errors]

next.* Territories were granted this year which were resumed the year after; and the fact of the barons often sealing treaties and deeds with the pommel of their swords, afforded no bad emblem of the manner in which such covenants were kept, for arms always had a share, and that the greatest, in the maintenance of every title and of every compact. It is in vain therefore that we endeavour to deduce the existence of certain rules from the acts of men living in a state the great characteristic of which was disorder, or attempt to reconcile anomalies with one another at a period when most things were anomalous. Rules, institutions, and laws, were forming themselves gradually, by the accumulation of precedents; but in a thousand cases no established regulation as yet existed, and difficulties were decided for the first time

* I have noticed already some of these variations, and ere long I shall have to show, that in the case of Richard as great a change took place in the fact as in the name. Henry, apparently, never considered any of his engagements with his sons as permanent ; and not even the fact of receiving homage from them for a particular territory, which was the strongest feudal title that they could show, was regarded by that monarch, it would seem, as giving any right whatsoever to absolute possession of the lands. Lord Lyttleton has endeavoured by various suppositions to reconcile these acts with the general principles of justice, and, on the part of Henry, the laws of that day. But it seems to me that the effort to do so has been made perfectly in vain, and that the only explanation of such transactions is to be found in the passions and the purposes of the King, and the ill-defined and unascertained state of all rights and privileges at the time.

often by man's general sense of equity, but often by passion, violence, and fraud.

While the division of the country ito circuits, the appointment of Judges to visit those circuits regularly, the definitions of the functions and powers of the Judges, and various other particulars set forth in the assize of Northampton, all showed the progress of society, and announced that an ameliorating spirit had gone forth to establish civil order and afford security to all, numerous other portions of the very same laws displayed in a striking and horrible manner the folly, the superstition, and the ignorance of the very first principles of justice, which yet overshadowed the age.

Into all the particulars of those statutes it is not my purpose here to enter. Suffice it as an exemplification of what I have just asserted, that the three ordeals, by water, by fire, and by battle, were now solemnly recognized and appointed by the law. That is to say, the peculiar sort or kind of evidence, which by no possibility could have any reference whatsoever to the cause tried, was admitted as conclusive in cases where life and death were concerned. To the honour of the Church of Rome be it spoken, the clergy as a body, had generally set their faces against this most iniquitous and absurd manner of judging; but princes and barons still retained it, clinging with the fondness of old habit to every remnant of the fierce and superstitious code which they had derived from their

[ocr errors]


ancestors; and the clergy themselves could hardly hope to do away such practices, when they were proceeding against heretics, and all persons from whom they differed in religious opinion, in a manner as unjust, cruel, and barbarous.

I must not pause to discuss these questions any further ; but before I go on to notice the events in the life of Richard which took place rapidly, now that he had fully entered upon that active career from which he never drew back till the close of his life, it may be as well to notice briefly various proceedings which occurred in England and the neighbouring countries at this period, displaying in a remarkable manner, the spirit of the times and the character of the people.

About the time of which I now speak, several changes occured in the domestic circle of Henry the Second, the effects of which were felt afterwards on many occasions. In the year 1175, a few months after Henry's return from France, his uncle Reginald, Earl of Cornwall, died. He was a natural son of Henry the First, and had shown very great attachment to his nephew, supporting his cause in periods of the utmost difficulty with his whole power and military skill. He lived to see the King triumphant over all his enemies, and to meet him on his return to England, but died almost immediately afterwards, in the commencement of the month of July. Another faithful servant of the monarch did not long survive the termination of the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »