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The Progress of the Nation page 3

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The laws which Edward I. passed have drawn the highest praise from our greatest legal authorities. Coke calls him the English Justinian; and Sir Matthew Hale asserts that he made the scheme, mould, and model of the common law substantially what it still remains; that before his time it was very rude; and that since, the great fundamental principles of common law, as it relates to justice between man and man, are very much what he made and left them. By his wise statutes he enforced the administration of justice, set bounds to the power of the Pope by the famous statute of provisors; to that of the clergy and the spiritual courts, being the first to pass a statute of mortmain; restrained the crown from imposing taxes without consent of Parliament; regulated and strengthened the internal police of the country; and greatly fostered trade by protecting and encouraging both foreign and English merchants. In his reign the famous mercantile society called the "Merchant Adventurers" was established to promote woollen manufactures; and foreign merchants were allowed trial by jury, the jury consisting half of foreigners: and they had a justiciary in London for their protection, evidently the origin of consuls.

In all that related to his own prerogative, however. Edward was very arbitrary, continually breaking the charter, exercising purveyances, and exacting taxes without consent of Parliament; and one of the worst evils of his reign was his empowering the nobles to entail their estates by a direct statute which has given the aristocracy of to-day its overwhelming and dangerous influence. He passed the famous statute De tallagio cum concidendo, prohibiting the levy of tallages, or arbitrary imposition; but nobody paid less attention to the statute than himself.

The unsettled reign of Edward II. left the constitution pretty much as it found it; but in the following reign great progress was made. Edward III. had incessant demands for money to carry on his wars in Scotland and France; and, therefore, he was in the constant habit of calling together his Parliament. There remain no fewer than-seventy writs of summons to Parliament and great councils issued during his reign. The difference between Parliaments and great councils at that time seems to be that in Parliament he required the Commons to grant taxes; in great councils only the barons and great officers to consult on matters in which money-raising was not concerned.

In Edward III.'s reign Parliament resolved itself into three great elements - the Lords, the Commons, and the Clergy. In the Parliament which met in Westminster in 1339, the barons voted a tenth sheaf, fleece, and lamb; the knights objected to so large a contribution till they. had consulted their constituents. This led to the knights of shires, who were representatives, meeting also with the Commons, who were representatives, and thus the representative house became separated from the hereditary house, It required time to amalgamate the two classes of knights and citizens in one house; the knights, as belonging to the aristocracy, looking down on the citizens, and they in their turn having a very humble idea of themselves; but we shall see that all that gradually corrected itself. The clergy now regularly voted their funds in Convocation, and no longer sat in the Commons by their proxies. It does not appear exactly when the judges ceased to sit ex-officio in Parliament, but they had ceased to do so in Richard II.'s time. In the forty-sixth of Edward III., practising lawyers were excluded by statute from. Parliament, a position which they have since regained.

The knowledge of political economy possessed by Parliament in this famous reign was lamentably low. The topographical knowledge of the Commons was ludicrous. They granted the king, in 1371, 50,000, by a tax of 22s. 3d. on each parish, supposing the number of parishes to be about 45,000; but finding they were not one-fifth of that number, they had to alter the rate to 5 10s. per parish. But this was not a more amazing mistake than that of the English ambassador at Rome six years afterwards, who, finding that the Pope had created Lewis of Spain prince of the Fortunate Islands, meaning the Canary Isles, immediately hurried home with all his suite to convey the alarming news that the Pope had given the British Isles to the King of Spain! The statute books of this famous king show the most absurd endeavours to disturb the freedom of trade, betraying as little knowledge of the principles of political economy as our own legislators on the corn laws. Wishing to raise a manufacturing system, it was forbidden to import woollen cloths before we could supply the people with home-made goods. Money was prohibited from being carried out of the country. They were obliged to let in foreign cloth, or the people would soon have been naked; yet after awhile they prohibited it again. A famine having taken place, they passed an act to keep down the price of all articles of food; the consequence of which was, nobody would bring any such articles to market; and they were compelled to abolish that. Then they did the same thing by labour, fixing the rate of wages; and yet when Wat Tyler's party in the following reign wanted to regulate the price of land, the attempt was pronounced barbarous.

In this reign an act was passed ordering all pleas to be conducted in English and enrolled in Latin, they having been hitherto, since the Norman Conquest, chiefly conducted and enrolled in Norman-French, which was quite an unknown tongue to the bulk of the common people. The statutes, however, had been recorded in Latin till 1266, when they began to be written in French. This took place at Winchester in some statutes concerning the exchequer, and not in the statute of Westminster in 1675, as asserted by some historians. The practice of pleading in French was not uniform in the reign of Edward L, but became more and more, till in Edward III.'s reign it was almost exclusively used. In the same Parliament of Winchester there were penalties enacted against the extortions of bakers and brewers. The bakers were punished by the pillory; the brewers, who, it appears, were all women, by the ducking-stool. The wars with France had now created an anti-French feeling, and so far tended to develop the English language as well as spirit, and make it the language of all classes.

The reign of Richard II, is distinguished constitutionally by the more regular and established separate assembling of the two Houses of Parliament, and by the rapidly rising power of the Commons- This house had now its duly appointed speaker, Sir Peter de la Mare being particularly noted in that office, and the Commons proceeded to impeach the king's ministers for maladministration. Having, however, given the king supplies for life, the Commons lost its influence, became servile and debased, and led more than anything to the deposition and destruction of the monarch.

During the period now under review, Wales was added permanently to England by Edward II., and its laws and constitution made identical. The laws of Scotland, also, during this time were very similar to those of England. The great Robert Bruce, after his power was established by the battle of Bannockburn, summoned a Parliament, which met at Scone, in 1319, and passed a capitulary, or collection of statutes; and in 1328 a second system or capitulary was passed, consisting of thirty-eight chapters. Many of these are clearly framed from the English statutes of Henry III. and Edward I., and some of them are transcribed almost verbatim; a proof of the wisdom and magnanimity of Bruce, who did not disdain to benefit by the good laws of an enemy. The Parliament held at Cambuskenneth, in 1326, included not only burgesses, but all the other freeholders of the kingdom. In a word, so great was the resemblance between the laws and constitutions of the two countries during this period, that it is not necessary to note the minor differences. The Parliament of Scotland never divided itself into Lords and Commons.

It is difficult to ascertain the annual revenues of the crown in those ages. That of Henry III. is stated at 60,000 marks, or 40,000; and that of Edward III., at 150,000; and taking these sums at ten times their present value, the revenue of Henry III. must be equivalent to 400,000 now, and Edward III's to 1,500,000. If, however, we recollect the enormous and irregular exactions of those ages, especially on the Jews, the expenditure of the crown must have been immensely larger.


Between the reign of John and the termination of that of Richard II. a striking change had taken place in the power of the Church in England. From the zenith of that marvellous dominion over the kingdoms of this world, such as no Church or religion had yet exercised in the annals of mankind, it had begun sensibly to wane. From that extraordinary spectacle when, at Torcy, on the Loire, in 1162, the two greatest kings of Christendom, those of England and France, were seen holding the stirrups of the servant of servants, Alexander III., and leading his horse by the reins, to the day when John, just half a century afterwards, laid the crown of this fair empire at the feet of the Pope, "and became a servant unto tribute," everything had seemed to root the Papacy deeper into the heart of the world. Kings, nobles, and people bowed down to it, and received its foot on their necks with profound humility, only occasionally evincing a slight wincing under its exactions. At that period the Church of Rome had reached the summit of its glory; but before the era at which we have now arrived it had received a stern warning that its days in this country were numbered as the established hierarchy. So long as the people were kept ignorant of the Bible, the opposition of king or peer mattered little to it; but the people withdrew their allegiance, and it fell rapidly.

The Pope, who strenuously supported John against his barons, was equally friendly to his infant son, Henry III. Cardinal Lang ton, now in the ascendant, held a synod at Oxford in 1222, in which fifty canons were passed, some of which let in a curious light on the internal condition of the Church. The twenty-eighth canon forbids the keeping of concubines by the clergy openly in their houses, or visiting them openly, as they did, to the great scandal of religion. In 1237 a council was held at London by Otho, the Papal legate, in which were passed what were afterwards known as the "Constitutions of Otho." The fifteenth and sixteenth canons of this constitution were aimed at the same practices, and at clandestine marriages of the priests, which were declared to be very common.

But the great object of the Church was to collect all the English moneys, and in this pursuit there was no slackness. A cardinal legate generally resided in this country, whose chief function this was. During Otho's abode here, 300 Italians came over, and were installed in lucrative livings in the churches and abbeys. In pursuance of Magna Charta, that the Church should be free, it became the only free thing in the kingdom; every class of men were its vassals, and England was one great sponge which the Italian pontiff squeezed vigorously. The barons in 1245 became so exasperated that they sent orders to the wardens of the sea-ports to seize all persons bringing bulls or mandates from Rome. The legate remonstrated, and the barons then told the king that the Church preferments alone held by Italians in England, independent of other exactions, amounted to 60,000 marks per annum, a greater sum than the revenues of the crown. The barons went further; they sent an embassy to the Papal council of Lyons, where the Pope was presiding in person, when they declared, "We can no longer with any patience bear these oppressions. They are as detestable to God and man as they are intolerable to us; and, by the grace of God, we will no longer endure them." But, so far from relaxing his hold, the Pope soon after sent an order demanding the half of all revenues of the non-resident clergy, and a third of those of the resident ones. This outrageous attempt roused the English clergy to determined resistance, and the rapacious Pope was defeated. Amongst the most patriotic of the English prelates was the celebrated Robert Grosteste, or Grosted, or literally Greathead, Bishop of Lincoln. Innocent IV., one of the most imperious pontiffs that ever filled the Papal chair, had sent Grosted a bull containing a clause which created a wonderful ferment in the Church and the public mind, commencing with the words Non olstante, which meant, notwithstanding all that the English clergy had to advance, the holy father was determined to have his will, and he commanded the venerable bishop to bestow a benefice upon an infant. The honest bishop tore up the bull, and wrote to the Pope, declaring that the conduct of the see of Rome "shook the very foundations of faith and security amongst mankind," and that to put an infant into a living would be next to the sins of Lucifer and of Antichrist, was in direct opposition to the precepts of Christ, and would be the destruction of souls by depriving them of the benefits of the pastoral office. He refused to comply, and said plainly that the sins of those who attempted such a thing rose as high as their office.

The astonished Pope was seized with a furious passion on receiving this epistle, and swore by St. Peter and St. Paul that he would utterly confound that old, impertinent, deaf, doting fellow, and make him the astonishment of the world. "What!" he exclaimed, "is not England our possession, and its king our vassal, or rather our slave?"

The resistance of the English clergy only inflamed the cupidity and despotism of the pontiffs. Boniface, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the servile tool of Rome, and after him Kilwarby, Peckham, and Winchelsey, carried things with a high hand. At various synods and councils held at Merton, Lambeth, London, Reading, and other places, they passed canons, which went to give the Church unlimited power over everything and everybody. The Church was to appoint to all livings and dignities; no layman was to imprison a clergyman; the Church was to enjoy peaceably all pious legacies and donations. The barons wrote to the Pope, remonstrating and complaining against the immorality of the clergy. The Pope replied that he did not suppose the English clergy were any more licentious than they had always been. The possessions of the Church went on growing to such an extent, from the arts of the priests and superstition of the wealthy, that they are said to have amounted to three-fourths of the property of the whole kingdom, and threatened to swallow up all its lands. To put a stop to this fearful condition of things, Edward I. passed his famous statute of mortmain in 1279, and arrested the progress, for a considerable time, of the Papal avarice.

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