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Charles II page 4

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Blackstone, however, in his Commentaries, vol. i. pp. 289 and 309, and vol. ii. pp. 77 and 767, throws a far broader light on these transactions and their consequences. He reminds us of the imposition of the various feudal burdens by William the Conqueror on those of his followers, to whom, according to the feudal system, he granted lands. For every grant of a certain quantity of land, called a knight's feud, fief, or fee, the said grantee was bound to do personal service in the army of the granter, or feudal lord, forty days in every year, if called upon. "But," says Blackstone, "this personal attendance growing troublesome in many respects, the tenants found means of compounding for it, by first sending others in their stead, and in process of time, by making pecuniary satisfaction to the crown in lieu of it. This pecuniary satisfaction came to be levied by assessment, at so much for every knight's fee, under the name of scutages."

But this knight service, as it was called, involved other exactions, taxes, and subjections, as first - aids, or sums to be paid by the tenant to ransom his lord if taken prisoner, or to make his eldest son a knight, or to marry his eldest daughter. "To which," adds Blackstone, " the tyranny of lords by degrees exacted more and more, as aids to pay the lord's debts, and to enable him to pay aids or reliefs to his superior lord, from which last the king's tenants, in capite, of course, were exempt, as they held immediately of the king, who had no superior, but were paid by those who, according to the feudal system, received grants at second or third hand. Second - reliefs, or fines paid to the lord by the new tenant on taking up his land, upon the death of the father or old tenant. Third - prim er seizin, which was paid only by the king's tenants in capite, and was a whole year's profits of the estate, or first fruits, afterwards, by the avarice of the popes, demanded from the clergy. Fourth - wardship, or the custody of the body and estate of minors who held under the king. This not only implied that the lord had custody of the body and lands of the ward, without giving any account of the profits till the male ward was twenty- one, and the female sixteen, but also the right to give them in marriage, or levy heavy exactions on them: " These," he continues, " were the principal qualities, fruits, and consequences of tenure by knight service, or tenure by which the greatest part of the lands in these kingdom were holden, and that principally of the king in capite, till the middle of the last century."

"The families of all our nobles," he says, "groaned under these intolerable burdens, which, in consequence of the fiction adopted after the Conquest, were introduced and levied upon them by the subtlety and finesse of the Norman lawyers. For "he adds," summing up the facts to which we have referred, besides the scutages to which they were liable in defect of personal attendance, which, however, were assessed by themselves in parliament, they might be called upon by the king or lord paramount for aids, when his eldest son was to be knighted or his eldest daughter married, not to forget the ransom of his own person. The heir, on the death of his ancestor, if of full age, was plundered of the first emoluments arising from his inheritance by way of relief and primer seizin, and if under age, of the whole of his estate during infancy. Add to this the untimely and expensive honour of knighthood."

But the simple fact is, that these were the natural burdens of these lands. They Were the conditions attending these magnificent grants from the crown of, as he admits, "the greatest part of the lands in these kingdoms." They were, by magna charta, secured to, assessed, and regulated by these landholders themselves in parliament. Burdensome and irritating, therefore, as were many of these conditions,, they were not, as a whole, at all disproportionate to the vast benefit given and enjoyed - that of the bulk of the lands of these realms. The annoyances and real hardships of them were capable of being rooted out by act of parliament. But this was not what the aristocracy wanted. They wanted to retain the splendid gift, and get rid of the whole mass of conditions by which it was clogged in the bestowal.

When the people, nowadays, cry out for abolition of tithes and church rates, the aristocracy, and their sons and kinsmen, the clergy, tell us that we have bought our estates subject to these burdens, and that it is nothing but fair and proper that we should bear them. But very different were their feelings and mode of reasoning as to their own natural burdens, the feudal services. These services and payments were, in truth, the reservations made by the crown on giving away the lands, for the maintenance of the crown and government of the country. They were the composition of the aristocracy to the necessary taxation of the realm, or in Blackstone's own words, "were in the nature of a modern land tax." The aristocracy, therefore, wanted neither more nor less than to get rid of their whole land tax, and fling the necessary burden of taxation on the people. They attempted this, it seems, in James I.'s days, and Blackstone tells us that James had, in fact, consented for a proper equivalent, that is, an equivalent tax drawn from the people, to exchange the military tenures for a general fee-farm rent; an expedient, says Blackstone, much better than the hereditary excise. But that scheme with James came to nothing; with Charles they succeeded, for the dissolute and needy monarch was ready to make any terms for money to spend on his mistresses. The bargain was struck, and, to use Blackstone's own words, "the military tenures, with all their heavy appendages, were destroyed at one blow by the statute 12 Car. II. c. 24, which enacts, that the court of wards and liveries, and all wardships, liveries, primer seizins, and oustre le mains, values and forfeitures of marriages, by reason of any tenure of the king or others, be totally taken away, and that all fines for alienations, tenures by homage, knights' service and escuage, and also aids for marrying the daughter or knighting the son, and all tenures of the king in capite, be likewise taken away, and that all sorts of tenures held of the king or others be turned into free and common exchange, save only in tenures in frankalmaign, copyholds, and the honorary services (without the slavish part) of grand seijeantry. A statute, which was a greater acquisition to the civil property of this kingdom than all magna charta itself, since that only pruned the luxuriances that had grown out of the military tenures, and thereby preserved them in vigour; but the statute of king Charles extirpated the whole, and demolished both root and branches."

Thus did the aristocracy, as our commentator says, "at one blow " abolish the original compact and conditions by which they acquired possession of all their lands, the bulk of the soil of England, getting rid at the same time of the heavy rights of purveyance and subsidies on those lands. By this act they established that extraordinary value of their landed property, which has made them at the present day the most astoundingly opulent and powerful aristocracy that ever existed, and has enabled them, by this overwhelming wealth and power, to overthrow the balance of the constitution, and thrust the people out of their rights and their house of representatives. But their selfish proceedings did not stop there. Whilst they freed themselves from their obligations towards their feudal lord, they took care not to free their tenants from their obligations towards them. The copyholders were excepted, and but recently an act, passed to convert copyhold into freehold, shows what a monstrous burden that is, for the cost of freeing about an acre of land, has amounted within our own knowledge to five hundred pounds.

Nor did their selfish proceedings end even there. We shall find that when William III., a stranger and foreigner, came to the throne, they managed to get nearly all his crown lands from him, making him dependent on themselves; and when his wars compelled the imposition of a land tax, they took care that it was a light one, and for the main part falling on personal property. As their lands grew rapidly in value by these exemptions and the industry of the people, this tax would, notwithstanding, have grown to something considerable, and we shall find, as we proceed, that in 1797 they passed an act, declaring that the tax should only be levied on the original assessment of William III. Thus, whilst the land of the aristocracy has been rising to our time to tenfold the value of that period, and the taxation on the public at large has risen from four hundred thousand to upwards of fifty millions sterling a year, the land tax has been stereotyped at two millions thirty-seven thousand six hundred and twenty-seven pounds. At a later day they imposed the corn laws to raise the value of their lands still more at the cost of the people.

It may be said that still the aristocracy bore their share of the taxation thus thrown upon the people. True, but according to their numbers, a very small share in comparison with that from which they exempted themselves. And we have yet to contemplate the greatest of all the changes which this revolution produced. From the moment that the public at large began to pay the taxes, and not the land, the extravagance of government expenditure grew amazingly, and a national debt was commenced. When the people paid, and the aristocracy and their sons and kinsfolk received through government offices, in the army or navy, from that moment the history of our boundless profusion commences. Before this great transfer of taxation from the land to customs, excise, and other popular burdens, it must be borne in mind that there was no debt: So long as the land had to pay the taxes, the aristocracy were not willing to incur a national debt; the moment they had made this transfer, and could, living on their exempted lands, revel in the sweets of taxation, a debt was commenced. Charles, we shall find, borrowed nine hundred thousand pounds of the merchants of London, and soon informed them that he never could repay it, it must remain a debt on the nation, the interest alone being obtainable. The debt thus commenced, has now grown, as the direct consequence of this grand fiscal revolution, to upwards of eight hundred million sterling. Macaulay has well said that this was not the first age of borrowing, but the first of funding.

We have dwelt on this most impudent and greedy transaction of the aristocracy of the restoration - a transaction so glaringly unjust, that it was vehemently opposed by the upright members of the commons, and only passed by a majority of two, the more particularly - because it is the turning point of our whole modern system of taxation, of extravagance, of gigantic wars, which could not otherwise have been carried on, of the huge pressure of our debt, the growth of our taxation, and of the power of that aristocracy and aristocratic interest, by which we are yet mastered, and the perpetual struggle which constitutes the great and onerous warfare of our parliamentary and political life. Englishmen cannot make themselves too intimately familiar with the origin, growth, and all the wonderful ramifications of this grand fiscal revolution.

This great bargain having been completed at the close of the year, the convention parliament was dissolved. The year 1661 opened with a fifth-monarchy riot. Though Harrison and some others of that faith were put to death, and others, as Overton, Desborough, Day, and Courtenay, were in the Tower, there were secret conventicles of these fanatics in the city, and one of these in Coleman Street was headed by a wine cooper, of the name of Yenner, who, as we have already seen, gave Cromwell, trouble in his time. On the night of the 6th of January, Yenner, with fifty or sixty other enthusiasts, rushed from their conventicle, where he had been counselling his followers not to preach, but to act. They marched through the city towards St. Paul's, calling on the people to come forth and declare themselves for king Jesus. They drove some of the train-bands before them, broke the heads of opposing watchmen, but were at length dispersed by the lord mayor, supported by the citizens, and fled to Caen Wood, betwixt Highgate and Hampstead. On the 9th, however, they returned again, confident that no weapons or bullets could harm them, and once more they put the train-bands and the king's life-guards to the rout. At length, however, they were surrounded, overpowered, and, after a considerable number were killed, sixteen were taken prisoners, including Yenner himself, who, with eleven others, were hanged, the rest being acquitted for want of evidence. Pepys says there were five hundred of the insurgents, and their cry was, "The king Jesus, and their heads upon the gates!" that is, the heads of their leaders who had been executed and stuck there.

Charles at the time was at Portsmouth with his mother, and Clarendon made the most of the riot, representing it as an attempt to liberate the regicides in the Tower, and restore the commonwealth. Fresh troops were raised and officered with stanch royalists, and a large standing army of that stamp would soon have been raised, had not strong remonstrances been made by the earl of Southampton and others, and equally strong obstacles being existent in the want of money. The house of commons, moreover, spoke out plainly before its dissolution, as to the raising of a new army, saying they were grown too wise to be fooled into another army, for they had discovered that the man who "had the command of it could make a king of himself, though he was none before. The known intention to put the duke of York at the head of it, was another strong objection. So the design for the present was abandoned.

In England, Scotland, and Ireland, the king was, of course, beset by the claims of those who had stood by his father, or could set up any plea of service. There were claims for restoration of estates, and claims for rewards. Charles was not the man to trouble himself much about such matters, except to get rid of them. In Ireland the catholics and protestants equally advanced their claims. The protestants declared that they had been the first in Ireland to invite him back, and the catholics that they had been strongly on the late king's side, had fought for him both in Scotland and England, and had suffered severely from the late usurpers. The protestants, however, were in possession of the forfeited estates, and Charles dared not rouse a protestant opposition by doing justice to the catholics, who, though the most numerous, were far the wölkest party. Besides, the different interests of the claiming parties were so conflicting, that to satisfy all sides was impossible. Some of the protestants were episcopalians, some presbyterians. The latter had been vehement for the commonwealth, but to ward off the royal vengeance they had, on the fall of Richard Cromwell, been the first to tender their allegiance to Charles, and. propitiate him by an offer of a considerable sum of money. Then there were protestant loyalists, whose property under the commonwealth had been confiscated, and there were the catholics, who had suffered from both parties, even when ready to serve the king. There were officers who had served in the royal army before 1649, and had never received the arrears of their pay; there were also the widows and orphans of such. To decide these incompatible demands Charles appointed a commission. But little good could possibly accrue from this, for though there were lands unclaimed sufficient to have pacified all who had just claims, these had been lavishly bestowed on Monk, the duke of York, Ormond, Kingston, and others. Every attempt to take back lands, however unjustly held by protestants, threatened to excite a protestant cry of a dangerous favouring of catholics, and of a design to reinstate the papists, who, they averred, had massacred a hundred thousand protestants during the rebellion. Charles satisfied himself with restoring the bishops and the property of the episcopalian church, and left the commission to settle the matter. But appeals from this impassable tribunal were made to himself, and he at length published his celebrated declaration for the settlement of Ireland, by which the adventurers and soldiers who had been planted on the estates of the Irish by the commonwealth were to retain them, except they were the estates of persons who had remained entirely neuter, in which case the adventurers and soldiers were to have an equivalent from the fund for reprisals. But this, in fact, settled nothing, for so many charges were advanced against those who pleaded innocence, that few were allowed to be so. The matter was next brought before the Irish parliament, and there again was division. The commons, who had been appointed through the influence of the soldiers and adventurers, voted that the king's declaration should pass into a law; the lords, on the contrary, protested that it would ruin all the old families, both catholic and protestant; and the contending parties once more appealed to the king, who, wearied with the interminable strife, seized the opportunity of the discovery of a paper formerly signed by Sir Nicholas Plunket, one of the agents of the appellants, offering Ireland to the pope, or any catholic power who would defend them against the parliament - their appeal was dismissed, and the bill, based on the royal declaration, was passed. It was soon found, however, that it was not easy to carry this law into execution; but we must take up these struggles again at their proper date.

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