HENRY THE SECOND
MRS. J. R. GREEN
THE ANGEVIN EMPIRE
THE GOVERNMENT OF ENGLAND
THE FIRST REFORMS
THE CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON
THE ASSIZE OF CLARENDON
THE STRIFE WITH THE CHURCH
THE CONQUEST OF IRELAND
REVOLT OF THE BARONAGE
THE COURT OF HENRY
THE DEATH OF HENRY
The history of the English people would have been a great and a noble history whatever king had ruled over the land seven hundred years ago. But the history as we know it, and the mode of government which has actually grown up among us is in fact due to the genius of the great king by whose will England was guided from 1154 to 1189. He was a foreign king who never spoke the English tongue, who lived and moved for the most part in a foreign camp, surrounded with a motley host of Brabancons and hirelings; and who in intervals snatched from foreign wars hurried for a few months to his island-kingdom to carry out a policy which took little heed of the great moral forces that were at work among the people. It was under the rule of a foreigner such as this, however, that the races of conquerors and conquered in England first learnt to feel that they were one. It was by his power that England, Scotland, and Ireland were brought to some vague acknowledgment of a common suzerain lord, and the foundations laid of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was he who abolished feudalism as a system of government, and left it little more than a system of land-tenure. It was he who defined the relations established between Church and State, and decreed that in England churchman as well as baron was to be held under the Common law. It was he who preserved the traditions of self-government which had been handed down in borough and shire-moot from the earliest times of English history. His reforms established the judicial system whose main outlines have been preserved to our own day. It was through his “Constitutions” and his “Assizes” that it came to pass that over all the world the English-speaking races are governed by English and not by Roman law. It was by his genius for government that the servants of the royal household became transformed into Ministers of State. It was he who gave England a foreign policy which decided our continental relations for seven hundred years. The impress which the personality of Henry II. left upon his time meets us wherever we turn. The more clearly we understand his work, the more enduring does his influence display itself even upon the political conflicts and political action of our own days.
For seventy years three Norman kings had held England in subjection William the Conqueror, using his double position as conqueror and king, had established a royal authority unknown in any other feudal country William Rufus, poorer than his father when the hoard captured at Winchester and the plunder of the Conquest were spent, and urged alike by his necessities and his greed, laid the foundation of an organized system of finance. Henry I., after his overthrow of the baronage, found his absolute power only limited by the fact that there was no machinery sufficient to put in exercise his boundless personal power; and for its support he built up his wonderful administrative system. There no longer existed any constitutional check on the royal authority. The Great Council still survived as the relic and heir both of the English Witenagemot and the Norman Feudal Court. But in matters of State its “counsel” was scarcely asked or given; its “consent” was yielded as a mere matter of form; no discussion or hesitation interrupted the formal and pompous display of final submission to the royal will. The Church under its Norman bishops, foreign officials trained in the King’s chapel, was no longer a united national force, as it had been in the time of the Saxon kings. The mass of the people was of no account in politics. The trading class scarcely as yet existed. The villeins tied to the soil of the manor on which they had been born, and shut out from all courts save those of their lord; inhabitants of the little hamlets that lay along the river-courses in clearings among dense woods, suspicious of strangers, isolated by an intense jealousy of all that lay beyond their own boundaries or by traditional feuds, had no part in the political life of the nation.
But the central government had proved in the long run too weak to check the growth of feudal tendencies. The land was studded with fortresses–the homes of lords who exercised criminal jurisdiction without appeal, and who had their private prisons and private gallows. Their manor courts, whether they were feudal courts established by the new nobility of the Conquest, or whether they represented ancient franchises in which Norman lords succeeded to the jurisdiction of earlier English rulers, were more and more turned into mere feudal courts. In the Shire courts themselves the English sheriff who used to preside over the court was replaced by a Norman “_vicecomes_,” who practically did as he chose, or as he was used to do in Normandy, in questions of procedure, proof, and judgment. The old English hundred courts, where the peasants’ petty crimes had once been judged by the freemen of the district, had now in most cases become part of the fief of the lord, whose newly-built castle towered over the wretched hovels of his tenants, and the peasants came for justice to the baron’s court, and paid their fees to the baron’s treasury. The right of private coinage added to his wealth, as the multitude of retainers bound to follow them in war added to his power. The barons were naturally roused to a passion of revolt when the new administrative system threatened to cut them off from all share in the rights of government, which in other feudal countries were held to go along with the possession of land. They hated the “new men” who were taking their places at the council-board; and they revolted against the new order which cut them off from useful sources of revenue, from unchecked plunder, from fines at will in their courts of hundred and manor, from the possibility of returning fancy accounts, and of profitable “farming” of the shires; they were jealous of the clergy, who played so great a part in the administration, and who threatened to surpass them in the greatness of their wealth, their towns and their castles; and they only waited for a favourable moment to declare open war on the government of the court.
In this uncertain balance of forces in the State order rested ultimately on the personal character of the king; no sooner did a ruler appear who was without the sense of government than the whole administration was at once shattered to pieces. The only son of Henry I. had perished in the wreck of the _White Ship_; and his daughter Matilda had been sent to Germany as a child of eight years old, to become the wife of the Emperor Henry V. On his death in 1125 her father summoned her back to receive the homage of the English people as heiress of the kingdom. The homage was given with as little warmth as it was received. Matilda was a mere stranger and a foreigner in England, and the rule of a woman was resented by the baronage. Two years later, in 1128, Henry sought by means of a marriage between the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey, the son of Count Fulk of Anjou, to secure the peace of Normandy, and provide an heir for the English throne; and Matilda unwillingly bent once more to her father’s will. A year after the marriage Count Fulk left his European dominions for the throne of Jerusalem; and Geoffrey entered on the great inheritance which had been slowly built up in three hundred years, since the days of the legendary Tortulf the Forester. Anjou, Maine, and Touraine already formed a state whose power equaled that of the French kingdom; to north and south successive counts had made advances towards winning fragments of Britanny and Poitou; the Norman marriage was the triumphant close of a long struggle with Normandy; but to Fulk was reserved the greatest triumph of all, when he saw his son heir, not only of the Norman duchy, but of the great realm which Normandy had won.
But, for all this glory, the match was an ill-assorted one, and from first to last circumstances dealt hardly with the poor young Count. Matilda was twenty-six, a proud ambitious woman “with the nature of a man in the frame of a woman.” Her husband was a boy of fifteen. Geoffrey the Handsome, called Plantagenet from his love of hunting over heath and broom, inherited few of the great qualities which had made his race powerful. Like his son Henry II. he was always on horseback; he had his son’s wonderful memory, his son’s love of disputations and law-suits; we catch a glimpse of him studying beneath the walls of a beleaguered town the art of siege in Vegetius. But the darker sides of Henry’s character might also be discerned in his father; genial and seductive as he was, he won neither confidence nor love; wife and barons alike feared the silence with which he listened unmoved to the bitterest taunts, but kept them treasured and unforgotten for some sure hour of revenge; the fierce Angevin temper turned in him to restlessness and petulance in the long series of revolts which filled his reign with wearisome monotony from the moment when he first rode out to claim his duchy of Normandy, and along its southern frontier peasant and churl turned out at the sound of the tocsin, and with fork and flail drove the hated “Guirribecs” back over the border. Five years after his marriage, in 1133, his first child was born at Le Mans. Englishmen saw in the grandson of “good Queen Maud” the direct descendant of the old English line of kings of Alfred and of Cerdic. The name Henry which the boy bore after his grandfather marked him as lawful inheritor of the broad dominions of Henry I., “the greatest of all kings in the memory of ourselves and our fathers.” From his father he received, with the surname of Plantagenet by which he was known in later times, the inheritance of the Counts of Anjou. Through his mother Matilda he claimed all rights and honours that pertained to the Norman dukes.
Heir of three ruling houses, Henry was brought up wherever the chances of war or rebellion gave opportunity. He was to know neither home nor country. His infancy was spent at Rouen “in the home,” as Henry I. said, “of his forefather Rollo.” In 1135 his grandfather died, and left him, before he was yet three years old, the succession to the English throne. But Geoffrey and Matilda were at the moment hard pressed by one of their ceaseless wars. The Church was openly opposed to the rule of the House of Anjou; the Norman baronage on either side of the water inherited a long tradition of hatred to the Angevin. Stephen of Blois, a son of the Conqueror’s daughter Adela, seized the English throne, and claimed the dukedom of Normandy. Henry was driven from Rouen to take refuge in Angers, in the great palace of the counts, overlooking the river and the vine-covered hills beyond. There he lived in one of the most ecclesiastical cities of the day, already famous for its shrines, its colleges, the saints whose tombs lay within its walls, and the ring of priories and churches and abbeys that circled it about.
The policy of the Norman kings was rudely interrupted by the reign of Stephen of Blois. Trembling for the safety of his throne, he at first rested on the support of the Church and the ministers who represented Henry’s system. But sides were quickly changed. The great churchmen and the ministers were soon cast off by the new ruler. “By my Lady St. Mary,” said Roger of Salisbury, when he was summoned to one of Stephen’s councils, “my heart is unwilling for this journey; for I shall be of as much use in court as is a foal in battle.” The revolution was completed in 1139, when the king in a mad panic seized and imprisoned Roger, the representative alike of Church and ministers. With the ruin of Roger who for thirty years had been head of the government, of his son Roger the chancellor, and his nephew Nigel the treasurer, the ministerial system was utterly destroyed, and the whole Church was alienated. Stephen sank into the mere puppet of the nobles. The work of the Exchequer and the Curia Regis almost came to an end. A little money was still gathered into the royal treasury; some judicial business seems to have been still carried on, but it was only amid overwhelming difficulties, and over limited districts. Sheriffs were no longer appointed over the shires, and the local administration broke down as the central government had done. Civil war was added to the confusion of anarchy, as Matilda again and again sought to recover her right. In 1139 she crossed to England, wherein siege, in battle, in council, in hair-breadth escapes from pursuing hosts, from famine, from perils of the sea, she showed the masterful authority, the impetuous daring, the pertinacity which she had inherited from her Norman ancestors. Stephen fell back on his last source–a body of mercenary troops from Flanders,–but the Brabancon troops were hated in England as foreigners and as riotous robbers, and there was no payment for them in the royal treasury. The barons were all alike ready to change sides as often as the shifting of parties gave opportunity to make a gain of dishonour; an oath to Stephen was as easy to break as an oath to Matilda or to her son. Great districts, especially in the south and middle of England, and on the Welsh marches, suffered terribly from war and pillage; all trade was stopped; great tracts of land went out of cultivation; there was universal famine.
In 1142 Henry, then nine years old, was brought to England with a chosen band of Norman and Angevin knights; and while Matilda held her rough court at Gloucester as acknowledged sovereign of the West, he lived at Bristol in the house of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of Henry I., who was still in these troubled days loyal to the cultured traditions of his father’s court, and a zealous patron of learning. Amid all the confusion of a war of pillage and slaughter, surrounded by half-wild Welsh mercenaries, by the lawless Norman-Welsh knights, by savage Brabancons, he learned his lessons for four years with his cousin, the son of Robert, from Master Matthew, afterwards his chancellor and bishop of Angers. As Matilda’s prospects grew darker in England, Geoffrey recalled Henry in 1147 to Anjou; and the next year he joined his mother in Normandy, where she had retired after the death of Earl Robert. There was a pause of five years in the civil war; but Stephen’s efforts to assert his authority and restore the reign of law were almost unavailing. All the country north of the Tyne had fallen into the hands of the Scot king; the Earl of Chester ruled at his own will in the northwest; the Earl of Aumale was king beyond the Humber.
With the failure of Matilda’s effort the whole burden of securing his future prospects fell upon Henry himself, then a boy of fifteen. Nor was he slow to accept the charge. A year later, in 1149, he placed himself in open opposition to Stephen as claimant to the English throne, by visiting the court of his great-uncle, David of Scotland, at Carlisle; he was knighted by the Scot king, and made a compact to yield up to David the land beyond the Tyne when he should himself have won the English throne. But he found England cold, indifferent, without courage; his most powerful friends were dead, and he returned to Normandy to wait for better days. Geoffrey was still carrying on the defence of the duchy against Stephen’s son Eustace, and his ally, the King of France; and Henry joined his father’s army till peace was made in 1151. In that year he was invested with his mother’s heritage and became at eighteen Duke of Normandy; at nineteen his father’s death made him Count of Anjou, Lorraine, and Maine.
The young Count had visited the court of Paris to do homage for Normandy and Anjou, and there he first saw the French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her marriage with Louis VII. had been the crowning success of the astute and far-sighted policy of Louis VI.; for the dowry Eleanor had brought to the French crown, the great province of the South, had doubled the territories and the wealth of the struggling little kingdom of France. In the Crusade of 1147 she had accompanied king and nobles to the Holy Land as feudal head of the forces of Aquitaine; and had there baffled the temper and sagacity of Louis by her political intrigues. Sprung of a house which represented to the full the licentious temper of the South, she scornfully rejected a husband indifferent to love, and ineffective in war as in politics. She had “married a monk and not a king,” she said, wearied with a superstition that showed itself in long fasts of more than monkish austerity, and in the humiliating reverence with which the king would wait for the meanest clerk to pass before him. In the square-shouldered ruddy youth who came to receive his fiefs, with his “countenance of fire,” his vivacious talk and overwhelming energy and scant ceremoniousness at mass, she saw a man destined by fate and character to be in truth a “king.” Her decision was as swift and practical as that of the keen Angevin, who was doubtless looking to the southern lands so long coveted by his race. A divorce from her husband was procured in March 1152; and two months after she was hastily, for fear of any hindrance, married to the young Count of Anjou, “without the pomp or ceremony which befitted their rank.” At nineteen, therefore, Henry found himself the husband of a wife about twenty-seven years of age, and the lord, besides his own hereditary lands and his Norman duchy, of Poitou, Saintonge, Perigord, Limousin, Angoumois, and Gascony, with claims of suzerainty over Auvergne and Toulouse. In a moment the whole balance of forces in France had changed; the French dominions were shorn to half their size; the most brilliant prospects that had ever opened before the monarchy were ruined; and the Count of Anjou at one bound became ruler of lands which in extent and wealth were more than double those of his suzerain lord.
The rise of this great power to the west was necessarily the absorbing political question of the day. It menaced every potentate in France; and before a month was out a ring of foes had gathered round the upstart Angevin ruler. The outraged King of France; Stephen, King of England, and Henry’s rival in the Norman duchy; Stephen’s nephew, the Count of Champagne, brother of the Count of Blois; the Count of Perche; and Henry’s own brother, Geoffrey, were at once united by a common alarm; and their joint attack on Normandy a month after the marriage was but the first step in a comprehensive design of depriving the common enemy of the whole of his possessions. Henry met the danger with all the qualities which mark a great general and a great statesman. Cool, untroubled, impetuous, dashing from point to point of danger, so that horses sank and died on the road in his desperate marches, he was ready wherever a foe threatened, or a friend prayed help. Foreign armies were driven back, rebel nobles crushed, robber castles broken down; Normandy was secured and Anjou mastered before the year was out. The strife, however, had forced him for the first time into open war with Stephen, and at twenty Henry turned to add the English crown to his dominions.
Already the glory of success hung about him; his footsteps were guided by prophecies of Merlin; portents and wonders marked his way. When he landed on the English shores in January 1153, he turned into a church “to pray for a space, after the manner of soldiers,” at the moment when the priest opened the office of the mass for that day with the words, “Behold there cometh the Lord, the Ruler, and the kingdom is in his hand.” In his first battle at Malmesbury the wintry storm and driving rain which beat in the face of Stephen’s troops showed on which side Heaven fought. As the king rode out to the next great fight at Wallingford, men noted fearfully that he fell three times from his horse. Terror spread among the barons, whose interests lay altogether in anarchy, as they saw the rapid increase of Henry’s strength; and they sought by a mock compromise to paralyse the power of both Stephen and his rival. “Then arose the barons, or rather the betrayers of England, treating of concord, although they loved nothing better than discord; but they would not join battle, for they desired to exalt neither of the two, lest if the one were overcome the other should be free to govern them; they knew that so long as one was in awe of the other he could exercise no royal authority over them.” Henry subdued his wrath to his political sagacity. He agreed to meet Stephen face to face at Wallingford; and there, with a branch of the Thames between them, they fixed upon terms of peace. Stephen’s son Eustace, however, refused to lay down arms, and the war lingered on, Stephen being driven back to the eastern counties, while Henry held mid-England. In August, however, Eustace died suddenly, “by the favour of God,” said lovers of peace; and Stephen, utterly broken in spirit, soon after yielded.
The strife died out, in fact, through sheer exhaustion, for years of anarchy and war had broken the strength of both sides; and at last “that happened which would least be believed, that the division of the kingdom was not settled by the sword.” The only body of men who still possessed any public feeling, any political sagacity, or unity of purpose, found its opportunity in the general confusion. The English Church, “to whose right it principally belongs to elect the king,” as Theobald had once said in words which Gregory VII. would have approved, beat down all opposition of the angry nobles; and in November 1153 Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester and brother of Stephen, brought about a final compromise. The treaty which had been drawn up at Wallingford was confirmed at Westminster. Henry was made the adopted son of Stephen, a sharer of his kingdom while he lived, its heir when he should die. “In the business of the kingdom,” the king promised, “I will work by the counsel of the duke; but in the whole realm of England, as well in the duke’s part as my own, I will exercise royal justice.” Henry did homage and swore fealty to Stephen, while, as they embraced, “the bystanders burst into tears of joy,” and the nobles, who had stood sullenly aloof from counsel and consent, took oaths of allegiance to both princes. For a few months Henry remained in England, months marked by suspicions and treacheries on all sides. Stephen was helpless, the nobles defiant, their strongholds were untouched, and the treaty remained practically a dead letter. After the discovery of a conspiracy against his life supported by Stephen’s second son and the Flemish troops, Henry gave up for the moment the hopeless task, and left England. But before long Stephen’s death gave the full lordship into his hands. On the 19th of December 1154 he was crowned at Winchester King of England, amid the acclamations of crowds who had already learned “to bear him great love and fear.”
King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine, Count of Poitou, Duke of Aquitaine, suzerain lord of Britanny, Henry found himself at twenty-one ruler of dominions such as no king before him had ever dreamed of uniting. He was master of both sides of the English Channel, and by his alliance with his uncle, the Count of Flanders, he had command of the French coast from the Scheldt to the Pyrenees, while his claims on Toulouse would carry him to the shores of the Mediterranean. His subjects told with pride how “his empire reached from the Arctic Ocean to the Pyrenees;” there was no monarch save the Emperor himself who ruled over such vast domains. But even the Emperor did not gather under his sway a grouping of peoples so strangely divided in race, in tongue, in aims, in history. No common tie of custom or of sympathy united the unwieldy bundle of states bound together in a common subjection; the men of Aquitaine hated Anjou with as intense a bitterness as they hated France; Angevin and Norman had been parted for generations by traditional feuds; the Breton was at war with both; to all England was “another world”–strange in speech, in law, and in custom. And to all the subjects of his heterogeneous empire Henry himself was a mere foreigner. To Gascon or to Breton he was a man of hated race and alien speech, just as much as he was to Scot or Welshman; he seemed a stranger alike to Angevin and Norman, and to Englishmen he came as a ruler with foreign tastes and foreign aims as well as a foreign tongue.
We see in descriptions of the time the strange rough figure of the new king, “Henry Curtmantel,” as he was nicknamed from the short Angevin cape which hung on his shoulders, and marked him out oddly as a foreigner amid the English and Norman knights, with their long fur-lined cloaks hanging to the ground. The square stout form, the bull-neck and broad shoulders, the powerful arms and coarse rough hands, the legs bowed from incessant riding, showed a frame fashioned to an extraordinary strength. His head was large and round; his hair red, close-cut for fear of baldness; his fiery face much freckled; his voice harsh and cracked. Those about him saw something “lion-like” in his face; his gray eyes, clear and soft in his peaceful moments, shone like fire when he was moved, and few men were brave enough to confront him when his face was lighted up by rising wrath, and when his eyes rolled and became bloodshot in a paroxysm of passion. His overpowering energy found an outlet in violent physical exertion. “With an immoderate love of hunting he led unquiet days,” following the chase over waste and wood and mountain; and when he came home at night he was never seen to sit down save for supper, but wore out his court with walking or standing till after nightfall, even when his own feet and legs were covered with sores from incessant exertion. Bitter were the complaints of his courtiers that there was never any moment of rest for himself or his servants; in war time indeed, they grumbled, excessive toil was natural, but time of peace was ill-consumed in continual vigils and labours and in incessant travel–one day following another in merciless and intolerable journeyings. Henry had inherited the qualities of the Angevin race–its tenacity, its courage, its endurance, the sagacity that was without impatience, and the craft that was never at fault. With the ruddy face and unwieldy frame of the Normans other gifts had come to him; he had their sense of strong government and their wisdom; he was laborious, patient, industrious, politic. He never forgot a face he had once seen, nor anything that he heard which he deemed worthy of remembering; where he once loved he never turned to hate, and where he once hated he was never brought to love. Sparing in diet, wasting little care on his dress–perhaps the plainest in his court,–frugal, “so much as was lawful to a prince,” he was lavish in matters of State or in public affairs. A great soldier and general, he was yet an earnest striver after peace, hating to refer to the doubtful decision of battle that which might be settled by any other means, and stirred always by a great pity, strange in such an age and in such a man, for lives poured out in war. “He was more tender to dead soldiers than to the living,” says a chronicler querulously; “and found far more sorrow in the loss of those who were slain than comfort in the love of those who remained.” His pitiful temper was early shown in his determination to put down the barbarous treatment of shipwrecked sailors. He abolished the traditions of the civil war by forbidding plunder, and by a resolute fidelity to his plighted word. In political craft he was matchless; in great perils none was gentler than he, but when the danger was past none was harsher; and common talk hinted that he was a willing breaker of his word, deeming that in the pressure of difficulty it was easier to repent of word than deed, and to render vain a saying than a fact. “His mother’s teaching, as we have heard, was this: That he should delay all the business of all men; that whatever fell into his hands he should retain along while and enjoy the fruit of it, and keep suspended in hope those who aspired to it; confirming her sentences with this cruel parable, ‘Glut a hawk with his quarry and he will hunt no more; show it him and then draw it back and you will ever keep him tractable and obedient.’ She taught him also that he should be frequently in his chamber, rarely in public; that he should give nothing to any one upon any testimony but what he had seen and known; and many other evil things of the same kind. We, indeed,” adds this good hater of Matilda, “confidently attributed to her teaching everything in which he displeased us.”
A king of those days, indeed, was not shielded from criticism. He lived altogether in public, with scarcely a trace of etiquette or ceremony. When a bishop of Lincoln kept Henry waiting for dinner while he performed a service, the king’s only remedy was to send messenger after messenger to urge him to hurry in pity to the royal hunger. The first-comer seems to have been able to go straight to his presence at any hour, whether in hall or chapel or sleeping-chamber; and the king was soundly rated by every one who had seen a vision, or desired a favour, or felt himself aggrieved in any way, with a rude plainness of speech which made sorely necessary his proverbial patience under such harangues. “Our king,” says Walter Map, “whose power all the world fears, … does not presume to be haughty, nor speak with a proud tongue, nor exalt himself over any man.” The feudal barons of medieval times had, indeed, few of the qualities that made the courtiers of later days, and Henry, violent as he was, could bear much rough counsel and plain reproof. No flatterer found favour at his court. His special friends were men of learning or of saintly life. Eager and eloquent in talk, his curiosity was boundless. He is said to have known all languages from Gaul to the Jordan, though he only spoke French and Latin. Very discreet in all business of the kingdom, and a subtle finder out of legal puzzles, he had “knowledge of almost all histories, and experience of all things ready to his hand.” Henry was, in fact, learned far beyond the learning of his day. “The king,” wrote Peter of Blois to the Archbishop of Palermo, “has always in his hands bows and arrows, swords and hunting-spears, save when he is busy in council or over his books. For as often as he can get breathing-time amid his business cares, he occupies himself with private reading, or takes pains in working out some knotty question among his clerks. Your king is a good scholar, but ours is far better. I know the abilities and accomplishments of both. You know that the King of Sicily was my pupil for a year; you yourself taught him the element of verse-making and literary composition; from me he had further and deeper lessons, but as soon as I left the kingdom he threw away his books, and took to the easy-going ways of the court. But with the King of England there is school every day, constant conversation of the best scholars and discussion of questions.”
Behind all this amazing activity, however, lay the dark and terrible side of Henry’s character. All the violent contrasts and contradictions of the age, which make it so hard to grasp, were gathered up in his varied heritage; the half-savage nature which at that time we meet with again and again united with first-class intellectual gifts; the fierce defiance born of a time when every man had to look solely to his own right hand for security of life and limb and earthly regard–a defiance caught now and again in the grip of an overwhelming awe before the portents of the invisible world; the sudden mad outbreaks of irresponsible passion which still mark certain classes in our own day, but which then swept over a violent and undisciplined society. Even to his own time, used as it was to such strange contrasts, Henry was a puzzle. Men saw him diligently attend mass every day, and restlessly busy himself during the most solemn moments in scribbling, in drawing pictures, in talking to his courtiers, in settling the affairs of State; or heard how he refused confession till forced to it by terror in the last extremity of sickness, and then turned it into a surprising ceremony of apology and self-justification. At one time they saw him, conscience-smitten at the warning of some seer of visions, sitting up through the night amid a tumultuous crowd to avert the wrath of Heaven by hastily restoring rights and dues which he was said to have unjustly taken, and when the dawning light of day brought cooler counsel, swift to send the rest of his murmuring suitors empty away; at another bowing panic-stricken in his chapel before some sudden word of ominous prophecy; or as a pilgrim, barefoot, with staff in hand; or kneeling through the night before a shrine, with scourgings and fastings and tears. His steady sense of order, justice, and government, broken as it was by fits of violent passion, resumed its sway as soon as the storm was over; but the awful wrath which would suddenly break forth, when the king’s face changed, and he rolled on the ground in a paroxysm of madness, seemed to have something of diabolic origin. A story was told of a demon ancestress of the Angevin princes: “From the devil they came, and to the devil they will go,” said the grim fatalism of the day.
THE ANGEVIN EMPIRE
The new kingdom which Henry had added to his dominions in France might well seem to a man of less inexhaustible energy to make the task of government impossible. The imperial system of his dreams was as recklessly defiant of physical difficulties as it was heedless of all the sentiments of national tradition. In the two halves of his empire no common political interest and no common peril could arise; the histories of north and south were carried on apart, as completely as the histories of America and England when they were apparently united under one king, and were in fact utterly severed by the ocean which defined the limits of two worlds. England had little part or lot in the history of Europe. Foreign policy it had none; when its kings passed to Normandy, English chroniclers knew nothing of their doings or their wars. Some little trade was carried on with the nearest lands across the sea,–with Normandy, with Flanders, or with Scandinavia,–but the country was almost wholly agricultural. Feudal in its social structure, governed by tradition, with little movement of inner life or contact with the world about it, its people had remained jealous of strangers, and as yet distinguished from the nations of Europe by a strange immobility and want of sympathy with the intellectual and moral movements around them. Sometimes strangers visited its kings; sometimes English pilgrims made their way to Rome by a dangerous and troublesome journey. But even the connection with the Papacy was slight. A foreign legate had scarcely ever landed on its shores; hardly any appeals were carried to the Roman Curia; the Church managed its own business after a customary fashion which was in harmony with English traditions, which had grown up during centuries of undisturbed and separate life.
On the other side of the Channel Henry ruled over a straggling line of loosely compacted states equal in extent to almost half of the present France. His long line of ill-defended frontier brought him in contact with the lands of the Count of Flanders, one of the chief military powers of the day; with the kingdom of France, which, after two hundred years of insignificance, was beginning to assert its sway over the great feudal vassals, and preparing to build up a powerful monarchy; and with the Spanish kingdoms which were emerging from the first successful effort of the Christian states to throw back the power of the Moors. Normandy and Auvergne were separated only by a narrow belt of country from the Empire, which, under the greatest ruler and warrior of the age, Frederick Barbarossa, was extending its power over Burgundy, Provence, and Italy. His claims to the over-lordship of Toulouse gave Henry an interest in the affairs of the great Mediterranean power–the kingdom of Sicily; and his later attempts on the territories of the Count of Maurienne brought him into close connection with Italian politics. No ruler of his time was forced more directly than Henry into the range of such international politics as were possible in the then dim and inchoate state of European affairs. England, which in the mind of the Norman kings had taken the first place, fell into the second rank of interests with her Angevin rulers. Henry’s thoughts and hopes and ambitions centred in his continental domains. Lord of Rouen, of Angers, of Bordeaux, master of the sea-coast from Flanders to the Pyrenees, he seemed to hold in his hand the feeble King of Paris and of Orleans, who was still without a son to inherit his dignities and lands. The balance of power, as of ability and military skill, lay on his side; and, long as the House of Anjou had been the bulwark of the French throne, it even seemed as if the time might come peaceably to mount it themselves. Looking from our own island at the work which Henry did, and seeing more clearly by the light of later events, we may almost forget the European ruler in the English king. But this was far from being the view of his own day. In the thirty-five years of his reign little more than thirteen years were spent in England and over twenty-one in France. Thrice only did he remain in the kingdom as much as two years at a time; for the most part his visits were but for a few months torn from the incessant tumult and toil of government abroad; and it was only after long years of battling against invincible forces that he at last recognized England as the main factor of his policy, and in great crises chose rather to act as an English king than as the creator of an empire.
The first year after Henry’s coronation as King of England was spent in securing his newly-won possession. On Christmas Day, 1154, he called together the solemn assembly of prelates, barons, and wise men which had not met for fifteen years. The royal state of the court was restored; the great officers of the household returned to their posts. The Primate was again set in the place he held from early English times as the chief adviser of the crown. The nephew of Roger of Salisbury, Nigel, Bishop of Ely, was restored to the post of treasurer from which Stephen had driven him fifteen years before. Richard de Lucy and the Earl of Leicester were made justiciars. One new man was appointed among these older officers. Thomas, the son of Gilbert Becket, was born in Cheapside in 1117. His father, a Norman merchant who had settled by the Thames, had prospered in the world; he had been portreeve of London, the predecessor of the modern mayor, and visitors of all kinds gathered at his house,–London merchants and Norman nobles and learned clerks of Italy and Gaul His son was first taught by the Augustinian canons of Merton Priory, afterwards he attended schools in London, and at twenty was sent to Paris for a year’s study. After his return he served in a London office, and as clerk to the sheriffs he was directly concerned during the time of the civil war with the government of the city. It was during these years that the Archbishop of Canterbury began to form his household into the most famous school of learning in England, and some of his chaplains in their visits to Cheapside had been struck by the brilliant talents of the young clerk. At Theobald’s request Thomas, then twenty-four years old, entered the Primate’s household, somewhat reluctantly it would seem, for he had as yet shown little zeal either for religion or for study. He was at once brought into the most brilliant circle of that day. The chancellor and secretary was John of Salisbury, the pupil of Abelard, the friend of St. Bernard and of Pope Adrian IV., the first among English men of letters, in whom all the learning of the day was summed up. With him were Roger of Pont l’Eveque, afterwards archbishop of York; John of Canterbury, later archbishop of Lyons; Ralph of Sarr, later dean of Reims; and a distinguished group of lesser men; but from the time when Thomas entered the household “there was none dearer to the archbishop than he.” “Slight and pale, with dark hair, long nose, and straightly-featured face, blithe of countenance, keen of thought, winning and lovable in conversation, frank of speech, but slightly stuttering in his talk,” he had a singular gift of winning affection; and even from his youth he was “a prudent son of the world.” It was Theobald who had first brought the Canon law to England, and Thomas at once received his due training in it, being sent to Bologna to study under Gratian, and then to Auxerre. He was very quickly employed in important negotiations. When in 1152 Stephen sought to have his son Eustace anointed king, Thomas was sent to Rome, and by his skilful plea that the papal claims had not been duly recognized in Stephen’s scheme he induced the Pope to forbid the coronation. In his first political act therefore he definitely took his place not only as an adherent of the Angevin claim, but as a resolute asserter of papal and ecclesiastical rights. At his return favours were poured out upon him. While in the lowest grade of orders, not yet a deacon, various livings and prebends fell to his lot. A fortnight before Stephen’s death Theobald ordained him deacon, and gave him the archdeaconry of Canterbury, the first place in the English Church after the bishops and abbots; and he must have taken part under the Primate in the work of governing the kingdom until Henry’s arrival. The archbishop was above all anxious to secure in the councils of the new king the due influence not only of the Church, but of the new school of the canon lawyers who were so profoundly modifying the Church. He saw in Thomas the fittest instrument to carryout his plans; and by his influence the archdeacon of Canterbury found himself, a week after the coronation of Henry, the king’s chancellor.
Thomas was now thirty-eight; Theobald, Nigel, and Leicester were all old men, and the young king of twenty-two must have seemed a mere boy to his new counsellors. The Empress had been left in Normandy to avoid the revival of old quarrels. Hated in England for her proud contempt of the burgher, her scorn of the churchman, her insolence to her adherents, she won in Normandy a fairer fame, as “a woman of excellent disposition, kind to all, bountiful in almsgiving, the friend of religion, of honest life.” The political activity of Queen Eleanor was brought to an abrupt close by her marriage. In Henry she found a master very different from Louis of France, and her enforced withdrawal from public affairs during her husband’s life contrasts strangely, not only with her former career, but with the energy which, when the heavy yoke was taken off her neck, she displayed as an old woman of nearly seventy during the reign of her son. Henry, in fact, stood alone among his new people. No debt of gratitude, no ties of friendship, bound the king to the lords whose aims he had first learned to know at Wallingford. The great barons who thronged round him in his court had all been rebels; the younger among them had never known what order, government, or loyalty meant. The Church was hesitating and timorous. To the people he was an utter stranger, unable even to speak their tongue. But from the first Henry took his place as absolute master and leader. “A strict regard to justice was apparent in him, and at the very outset he bore the appearance of a great prince.”
The king at once put in force the scheme of reform which had been drawn up the year before at Wallingford, and of which the provisions have comedown to us in phrases drawn from the two sources which were most familiar to the learned and the vulgar of that day,–the Bible, and the prophecies of Merlin, the seer of King Arthur. The nobles were to give up all illegal rights and estates which they had usurped. The castles built by the warring barons were to be destroyed. The king was to bring back husbandmen to the desolate fields, and to stock pastures and forests and hillsides with cattle and deer and sheep. The clergy were henceforth to live in quiet, not vexed by unaccustomed burdens. Sheriffs were to be restored to the counties, who should do justice without corruption, nor persecute any for malice; thieves and robbers were to be hanged; the armed forces were to be disbanded; the knights were to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; the hired Flemish soldiers were to turn from the camp to the plough, from tents to workshops, there to render as servants the obedience they had once demanded as masters. The work which Stephen had failed to do was now swiftly accomplished. The Flemish mercenaries vanished “like phantoms,” or “like wax before the fire,” and their leader, William of Ypres, the lord of Kent, turned with weeping to a monastery in his own land. The feudal lords were forced to give up such castles and lands as they had wrongfully usurped; and the newly-created earls were deprived of titles which they had wrung from King or Empress in the civil wars.
The great nobles of both parties made a last effort at resistance. In the north the Count of Aumale ruled almost as king. He was of the House of Champagne, son of that Count Stephen who had once been set up as claimant to the English throne, and near kinsman both of Henry and of Stephen. He now refused to give up Scarborough Castle; behind him lay the armies of the Scot king, and if Aumale’s rebellion were successful the whole north must be lost. A rising on the Welsh border marked the revival of the old danger of which Henry himself had had experience in the castle of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester, when the Empress and Robert, with his Welsh connections and alliances, had dominated the whole of the south-west. Hugh Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, Cleobury, and Bridgenorth, the most powerful lord on the Welsh border, and Roger, Earl of Hereford and lord of Gloucester, and connected by his mother with the royal house of Wales, prepared for war. Immediately after his crowning Henry hurried to the north, accompanied by Theobald, and forced Aumale to submission. The fear of him fell on the barons. Roger of Hereford submitted, and the earldom of Hereford and city of Gloucester were placed in Henry’s hands. The whole force of the kingdom was called out against Hugh Mortimer, and Bridgenorth, fortified fifty years before by Robert of Belesme, was reduced in July. The next year William of Warenne, the son of Stephen, gave up all his castles in England and Normandy, and the power of the House of Blois in the realm was finally extinguished. Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, was deprived of his fortresses, and the eastern counties were thus secured as those of the north and west had been.
The borders of the kingdom were now safe; its worst elements of disorder were suppressed; and the bishops and barons had taken an oath of allegiance to his son William, and in case of William’s death to the infant Henry, born in February 1155. When Henry was called abroad in January 1156, he could safely leave the kingdom for a year in the charge of Queen Eleanor and of the justiciars. His return was marked by a new triumph. The death of David and the succession of his grandson Malcolm, a boy of twelve years old, gave opportunity for asserting his suzerainty over Scotland, and freeing himself from his oath made in 1149 at Carlisle to grant the land beyond the Tyne to David and his heirs for ever. Malcolm was brought to do homage to him at Chester in June 1157, and Northumberland and Cumberland passed into Henry’s hands. Malcolm and his successor William followed him in his wars and attended at his courts, and whatever Henry’s actual authority might be, in the eyes of his English subjects at least he ruled to the farthest borders of Scotland. He next turned to the settlement of Wales. The civil war had violently interrupted the peaceful processes by which Henry I. sought to bring the Welsh under English law. The princes of Wales had practically regained their independence, while the Norman lords who had carved out estates for themselves along its borders, indignant at Stephen’s desertion of them, and driven to provide for their own safety, had formed alliances by marriage with the native rulers. Henry had, in fact, to reconquer the country, and to provide safeguards against any military union between the feudal lords of the border and its hostile princes, Owen Gwynneth of the North, and Rhys ap-Gryffyth of the South. In 1157 he undertook the first of his three expeditions against Wales. His troops, however, unused to mountain warfare, had but ill success; and it was only when Henry had secured the castles of Flintshire, and gathered a fleet along the coast to stop the importation of corn that Owen was driven in August to do homage for his land. The next year he penetrated into the mountains of South Wales and took hostages from its ruler, Rhys-ap-Gryffyth; “the honour and glory and beauty and invincible strength of the knights; Rhys, the pillar and saviour of his country, the harbour and defender of the weak, the admiration and terror of his enemies, the sole pillar and hope of South Wales.”
The triumph of the Angevin conqueror was now complete. The baronage lay crushed at his feet. The Church was silent. The royal authority had been pushed, at least in name, to the utmost limits of the island. The close of this first work of settlement was marked by a royal progress between September 1157 and January 1158 through the whole length of England from Malmesbury to Carlisle. It was the king’s first visit to the northern shires which he had restored to the English crown; he visited and fortified the most important border castles, and then through the bitter winter months he journeyed to Yorkshire, the fastnesses of the Peak, Nottingham, and the midland and southern counties. The progress ended at Worcester on Easter Day, 1158. There the king and queen for the last time wore their crowns in solemn state before the people. A strange ceremony followed. In Worcester Cathedral stood the shrine of St. Wulfstan, the last of the English bishops, the saint who had preserved the glory of the old English Church in the days of the Confessor, and carried it on through the troubled time of the Conquest, to whose supernatural resources the Conqueror himself had been forced to yield, and who had since by ever-ready miracle defended his city of Worcester from danger. On this shrine the king and Queen now laid their crowns, with a solemn vow never again to wear them. To the people of the West such an act may perhaps have seemed a token that Henry came among them as heir of the English line of kings, and as defender of the English Church and people.
From England Henry was called away in August 1158, by the troubles of his dominions across the sea. The power of Anjou had been built up by centuries of tyranny, treason, and greed. Nantes had been robbed from Britanny, Tours had been wrested from Blois, the southern borderland from Poitou. A hundred years of feud with Maine could not lightly be forgotten. Normandy still cherished the ancient hatred of pirate and Frenchman. To the Breton, as to the Norman and the Gascon, the rule of Anjou was a foreign rule; and if they must have a foreign ruler, better the King of France than these upstart Counts. Henry held his various states too by wholly different titles, and to every one of them his right was more or less disputed. To add to the confusion, his barons in every province held under him according to different customs and laws of feudal tenure; and many of them, moreover, owed a double allegiance, and did homage for part of their estates to Henry and for part to the King of France. In the general uncertainty as to every question of succession, or title, or law, or constitution, or feudal relations, the authority which had been won by the sword could be kept only by sheer military force. The rebellious array of the feudal nobles, eager to spring to arms against the new imperial system, could count on the help of the great French vassals along the border, jealous of their own independence, and ever watching the Angevin policy with vigilant hostility. And behind these princes of France stood the French king, Henry’s suzerain lord and his most determined and restless foe, from whom the Angevin count had already taken away his wife and half his dominions, a foe to whom, however, through all the perplexed and intermittent wars of thirty years, he was bound by the indissoluble tie of the feudal relation, which remained the dominant and authoritative fact of the political morality of that day. For twenty years to come the two kings, both of them hampered by overwhelming difficulties, strove to avoid war each after his own fashion: Henry by money lavishly spent, and by wary diplomacy; Louis more economically by a restless cunning, by incessant watching of his adversary’s weak points, by dexterously using the arms of Henry’s rebellious subjects rather than those of Frenchmen.
Henry’s first care was to secure his ill-defined and ill-defended frontier, and to recover those border fortresses which had been wrested from Geoffrey by his enemies. In Normandy the Vexin, which was the true military frontier between him and France, and commanded the road to Paris, had been lost. In Anjou he had to win back the castles which had fallen to the House of Blois. His brother Geoffrey, Earl of Nantes, was dead, and he must secure his own succession to the earldom. Two rival claimants were disputing the lordship of Britanny, but Britanny must at all costs be brought into obedience to Henry. There were hostile forces in Angoumois, La Marche, Saintonge, and the Limousin, which had to be finally destroyed. And besides all this, it was necessary to enforce Eleanor’s rights over Berri, and her disputed claims to supremacy over Toulouse and Auvergne. Every one of these projects was at once taken in hand. Henry’s chancellor, Thomas Becket, was sent from England in 1158 at the head of a splendid embassy to the French court, and when Henry landed in France the success of this mission was declared. A marriage was arranged between his little son Henry, now three years old, and Louis’ daughter Margaret, aged six months; and the Vexin was to be restored to Normandy as Margaret’s dowry. The English king obtained from Louis the right to judge as lord of Anjou and seneschal of France between the claimants to Britanny; his first entry into that province was with full authority as the officer of France, and the whole army of Normandy was summoned to Avranches to enforce his judgment. Conan was made Duke of Britanny under Henry’s lordship, and Nantes was given up into his hands. He secured by treaty with the House of Blois the fortresses which had fallen into their hands, and before the year was out he thus saw his inheritance in Anjou and Normandy, as he had before seen his inheritance in England, completely restored. In November he conducted the King of France on a magnificent progress through Normandy and Britanny, not now as a vassal requiring his help, but with all the pomp of an equal king.
Meanwhile Henry had been preparing an army to assert his sovereignty over Toulouse–a sovereignty which would have carried his dominions to the Mediterranean and the Rhone. The Count of St. Gilles, to whom it had been pledged by a former Duke of Aquitaine, and who had eighteen years before refused to surrender it on Eleanor’s first marriage, now resisted the claims of her second husband also, and he was joined by Louis, who under the altered circumstances took a different view of the legal rights of Eleanor’s husband to suzerainty. To France, indeed, the question was a matter of life and death. The success of Henry would have left her hemmed in on three sides by the Angevin dominions, cut off from the Mediterranean as from the Channel, with the lower Rhone in the hands of the powerful rival that already held the Seine, the Loire, and the Garonne. When, therefore, Henry’s forces occupied the passes of the province, and in September 1159 closed round Toulouse itself, Louis threw himself into the city. Henry, profoundly influenced by the feudal code of honour of his day, inheriting the traditional loyalty of his house to the French monarchy, too sagacious lightly to incur war with France, too politic to weaken in the eyes of his own vassals the authority of feudal law, and possibly mindful of the succession to the French throne which might yet pass through Margaret to his son Henry, refused to carry on war against the person of his suzerain. He broke up the siege in spite of the urgent advice of his chancellor Thomas; and for nearly forty years the quarrel lingered on with the French monarchy, till the question was settled in 1196 by the marriage of Henry’s daughter Joanna to Count Raymond VI. Thomas, who had proved himself a mighty warrior, was left in charge of the newly-conquered Cahors, while Henry returned to Normandy, and concluded in May a temporary peace with Louis. His enemies, however, were drawn together by a common fear, and France became the battle-ground of the rival ambitions of the Houses of Blois and Anjou. Louis allied himself with the three brothers of the House of Blois–the Counts of Champagne, of Sancerre, and of Blois–by a marriage with their sister only a month after the death of his own queen in September; and a joint attack was planned upon Henry. His answer was rapid and decisive. Margaret was in his keeping, and he at once married her to his son, took the Vexin into his own hands and fortified it with castles. His position in fact was so strong that the forced his enemies to a truce in June 1161.
The political complications with which Henry was surrounded were still further confused by a new question which now arose, and which was to threaten the peace of Europe for eighteen years. On the death of the English Pope, Hadrian IV., on the 1st of September 1159, two rivals, Alexander III. and Victor IV., disputed the see of Rome, and the strife between the Empire and the Papacy, now nearly one hundred years old, broke out afresh on a far greater scale than in the time of Gregory. Frederick Barbarossa asserted the imperial right of judging between the rivals, and declared Victor pope, supported by the princes of the Empire and by the kings of Hungary, Bohemia, and Denmark. Alexander claimed the aid of the French king–the traditional defender of the Church and protector of the Popes; and after the strife had raged for nearly three years, he fled in 1162 to France. In the great schism Henry joined the side of Louis in support of Alexander and of the orthodox cause; the two kings met at Chouzy, near Blois, to do honour to the Pope; they walked on either side of his horse and held his reins. The meeting marked a great triumph for Alexander; the union of the Teutonic nations against the policy of Rome was to be delayed for three centuries and a half. It marked, too, the highest point of Henry’s success. He had checked the Emperor’s schemes; he had won the gratitude of both Louis and the Pope; he had defeated the plots of the House of Blois, and shown how easily any alliance between France and Champagne might be broken to pieces by his military power and his astute diplomacy. He had rounded off his dominions; he had conquered the county of Cahors; he had recovered the Vexin and the border castles of Freteval and Amboise; the fiefs of William of Boulogne had passed into his hands on William’s death; he was master of Nantes and Dol, and lord of Britanny; he had been appointed Protector of Flanders.
At this moment, indeed, Henry stood only second to the Emperor among the princes of Christendom, and his aim seems to have been to rival in some sort the Empire of the West, and to reign as an over-king, with sub-kings of his various provinces, and England as one of them, around him. He was connected with all the great ruling houses. His eldest son was married to the daughter of the King of France; the baby Richard, eighteen months old, was betrothed during the war of Toulouse to a daughter of the King of Aragon. He was himself a distant kinsman of the Emperor. He was head of the house of the Norman kings in Sicily. He was nearest heir of the kings of Jerusalem. Through his wife he was head of the house of Antioch, and claimed to be head of the house of Tripoli. Already in these first years of his reign the glory of the English king had been acknowledged by ambassadors from the Emperor, from the King of Jerusalem, from Norway, from Sweden, from the Moorish kings of Valencia and Murcia, bearing the gifts of an Eastern world–gold, silk, horses, and camels. England was forced out of her old isolation; her interest in the world without was suddenly awakened. English scholars thronged the foreign universities; English chroniclers questioned travellers, scholars, ambassadors, as to what was passing abroad. The influence of English learning and English statecraft made itself felt all over Europe. Never, perhaps, in all the history of England was there a time when Englishmen played so great apart abroad. English statesmen and bishops were set over the conduct of affairs in Provence, in Sicily, in Gascony, in Britanny, in Normandy. English archbishops and bishops and abbots held some of the highest posts in France, in Anjou, in Flanders, in Portugal, in Italy, in Sicily. Henry himself welcomed trained men from Normandy or Sicily or wherever he could find them, to help in his work of administration; but in England foreigners were not greatly welcomed in any place of power, and his court was, with but one or two exceptions, made up of men who, of whatever descent they might be, looked on themselves as Englishmen, and bore the impress of English training. The mass of Englishmen meanwhile looked after their own affairs and cared nothing about foreign wars fought by Brabancon mercenaries, and paid for by foreign gold. But if they had nothing to win from all these wars, they were none the less at last drawn into the political alliances and sympathies of their master. Shut out as she was by her narrow strip of sea from any real concern in the military movements of the continental peoples, England was still dragged by the policy of her Angevin rulers into all the complications of European politics. The friendships and the hatreds of her king settled who were to be the allies and who the foes of England, and practically fixed the course of her foreign policy for seven hundred years. A traditional sympathy lingered on from Henry’s days with Germany, Italy, Sicily, and Spain; but the connection with Anjou forced England into a hostility with France which had no real ground in English feeling or English interests; the national hatred took a deeper character when the feudal nobles clung to the support of the French king against the English sovereign and the English people, and “generation handed on to generation an enmity whose origin had long been forgotten.” From the disastrous Crusade of 1191, “from the siege of Acre,” to use the words of Dr. Stubbs, “and the battle of Arsouf to the siege of Sebastopol and the battles of the Crimea, English and French armies never met again except as enemies.”
THE GOVERNMENT OF ENGLAND
The building up of his mighty empire was not the only task which filled the first years of Henry’s reign. Side by side with this went on another work of peaceful internal administration which we can but dimly trace in the dearth of all written records, but which was ultimately to prove of far greater significance than the imperial schemes that in the eyes of his contemporaries took so much larger proportions and shone with so much brighter lustre.
The restoration of outward order had not been difficult, for the anarchy of Stephen’s reign, terrible as it was, had only passed over the surface of the national life and had been vanquished by a single effort. But the new ruler of England had to begin his work of administration not only amid the temporary difficulties of a general disorganization, but amid the more permanent difficulties of a time of transition, when society was seeking to order itself anew in its passage from the medieval to the modern world; and his victory over the most obvious and aggressive forms of disorder was the least part of his task. Through all the time of anarchy powerful forces had been steadily at work with which the king had now to reckon. A new temper and new aspirations had been kindled by the troubles of the last years. The deposition of Stephen, the elections of Matilda and of Henry, had been so many formal declarations that the king ruled by virtue of a bargain made between him and his people, and that if he broke his contract he justly forfeited his authority. The routine of silent and submissive councils had been broken through, and the earliest signs of discussion and deliberation had discovered themselves, while the Church, exerting in its assemblies an authority which the late king had helplessly laid down, formed a new and effective centre of organized resistance to tyranny in the future Even the rising towns had seized the moment when the central administration was paralysed to extend their own privileges, and to acquire large powers of self-government which were to prove the fruitful sources of liberty for the whole people.
We see everywhere, in fact, signs of the great contest which in one form or another runs through the whole of the twelfth century, and gives its main interest in our eyes to the English history of the time,–the struggle between the iron organization of medieval feudalism and those nascent forces of modern civilization which were fated in the end to shatter and supersede it. In spite of the cry of lamentation which the chroniclers carry down to us over the misery of a land stricken by plague and famine and rapine, it is still plain that even through the terrible years of Stephen’s reign England had its share in the universal movement by which the squalor and misery of the Middle Ages were giving place to a larger activity and a better order of things A class unknown before was fast growing into power,–the middle class of burghers and traders, who desired above all things order, and hated above all things the medieval enemy of order, the feudal lord. Merchant and cultivator and wool-grower found better work ready to their hand than fighting, and the appearance of mercenary soldiers marked everywhere the development of peaceful industries. Amid all the confusion of civil war the industrial activities of the country had developed with bewildering rapidity; while knights and barons led their foreign hirelings to mutual slaughter, monks and canons were raising their religious houses in all the waste places of the land, and silently laying the foundations of English enterprise and English commerce. To the great body of the Benedictines and the Cluniacs were added in the middle of the twelfth century the Cistercians, who founded their houses among the desolate moorlands of Yorkshire in solitary places which had known no inhabitants since the Conqueror’s ravages, or among the swamps of Lincolnshire. A hundred and fifteen monasteries were built during the nineteen years of Stephen’s reign, more than had been founded in the whole previous century; a hundred and thirteen were added to these during the reign of Henry. In half a century sixty-four religious houses were built in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire alone. Monastery and priory, in which the decorated Romanesque was giving way to the first-pointed architecture, towered above the wretched mud-hovels in which the whole of the population below the class of barons crowded; their churches were distinguished by the rare and novel luxury of glass windows, which, as they caught the red light of the setting sun, startled the peasant with omens of coming ill. Multitudes of men were busied in raising the vast pile of buildings which made up a religious house,–cloisters, dormitories, chapels, hospitals, granaries, barns, storehouses, whose foundations when all else is gone still show in the rugged surface of some modern field. Regular and secular clergy were alike spurred on in their work by jealous rivalry. Archbishop Roger of York was at the opening of Henry’s reign building his beautiful church at Ripon, of whose rich decoration traces still remain, while he gave scant sympathy and encouragement to the Cistercian monks still busy with the austere mass of buildings which they had raised at Fountains almost within sight of the Ripon towers.
We may gain some faint idea of the amazing stir and industry which the founding of these monasteries implied by following in our modern farms and pasture lands the traces which may even now be seen of the toil of these great preachers of labour. The whole water supply of a countryside for miles round was gathered up by vast drainage works; stagnant pools were transformed into running waters closed in by embankments, which still serve as ditches for the modern farmer; swamps were reclaimed that are only now preserved for cultivation by maintaining the dykes and channels first cut by medieval monks; mills rose on the banks of the newly-created streams; roads were made by which the corn of surrounding villages might be carried to the central mill and the produce of the land brought to the central storehouse. The new settlers showed a measureless cunning and industry in reclaiming worthless soil; and so eager were they for land at last, that the Cistercians were even said to desecrate churchyards, and to encroach on the borders of royal forests. They grew famous for the breeding of horses according to the exacting taste of the day, learned in the various species of palfreys and sumpter horses and knight’s chargers and horses for ambling or for trotting. They thanked Heaven for the “blessings of fatness and fleeces,” as foreign weavers sought their wool and the gold of Flanders was poured into their treasure-houses. The same enterprise and energy which in modern days made England the first manufacturing country of the world was then, in fact, fast pressing her forward to the place which Australia now holds towards modern Europe,–the great wool-growing country, the centre from whence the raw material for commerce was supplied. In vain the Church by its canons steadily resisted the economic changes of a time when wealth began to gather again and capital found new uses, and bitterly as it declaimed against usury and mortgages, angry complaints still increased “that many people laying aside business practised usury almost openly.”
Nor were the towns behindhand in activity. As yet, indeed, the little boroughs were for the most part busy in fighting for the most elementary of liberties–for freedom of trade within the town, for permission to hold a market, for leave to come and go freely to some great fair, for the right to buy and sell in some neighbouring borough, for liberty to carry out their own justice and regulate the affairs of their town. They were buying from the lord, in whose “demesne” they lay, permission to gather wood in the forest, right of common in its pasture, the commutation of their services in harvest-time for “reap-silver,” and of their bondage to the lord’s mill for “multure-penny.” Or they were fighting a sturdy battle with the king’s justices to preserve some ancient privilege, the right of the borough perhaps to “swear by itself,”–that is, to a jury of its own or its freedom from the general custom of “frank-pledge.” As trade advanced commercial bodies grew up in the boroughs and formed themselves into gilds; and these gilds gradually drew into their own hands the government of the town, which in old days had been decided by the general voice of the whole body of its burghers–that is, of those who held land within its walls. The English borough began, in fact, to resemble the foreign “Commune.” Gilds of bakers, of weavers, of mercers, of fullers, of butchers, goldsmiths, pepperers, clothiers, and pilgrims appeared in London, York, Gloucester, Nottingham, even in little boroughs such as that of St. Edmunds; while in distant Cornwall, Totnes, Lidford, and Bodmin set up their gilds. How Henry regarded the movement it is hard to say. The gilds had to pay, as everything had to pay, to the needy Treasury; but otherwise they were not interfered with, and went on steadily increasing in power and numbers.
Prosperity brought with it the struggle for supremacy, and the history of nations was rehearsed on a petty stage, with equal passions if with less glory. A thriving village or township would begin to encroach on the common land of its weaker neighbours, would try to seize some of its rights of pannage in the forest, or fishing in the stream. But its most strenuous efforts were given to secure the exclusive right of trading. Free trade between village and village in England was then, in fact, as much unknown as free trade at this day between the countries of modern Europe. Producer, merchant, manufacturer saw in “protection” his only hope of wealth or security. Jealously enclosed within its own borders, each borough watched the progress of its neighbours “with anxious suspicion.” If one of them dared defiantly to set up a right to make and sell its own bread and ale, or if it bought a charter granting the right to a market, it found itself surrounded by foes. The new market was clearly an injury to the rights of a neighbouring abbot or baron or town gild, or it lessened the profits of the “king’s market” in some borough on the royal demesne. Then began a war, half legal, half of lawless violence. Perhaps the village came off victorious, and kept its new market on condition that it should never change the day without a royal order (unless in deference to the governing religious feeling of the time, it should change it from Sunday to a week day). Perhaps, on the other hand, it saw its charter vanish, and all the money it had cost with it, its butchers’ and bakers’ stalls shattered, its scales carried off, its ovens destroyed, the “tumbril” for the correction of fraudulent baker or brewer destroyed. Of such a strife we have an instance in the fight which the burghers of Wallingford carried on with their neighbours. They first sought to crush the rising prosperity of Abingdon by declaring that its fair was an illegal innovation, and that in old days nothing might be sold in the town save bread and ale. Oxford, which had had a long quarrel with Abingdon over boat cargoes and river tolls, readily joined in the attack, but ultimately by the king’s judgment Abingdon was declared to have had right to a “full market”, and Wallingford was discomfited. A little later its wrath was kindled afresh by the men of Crowmarsh, who, instead of coming to the Wallingford market, actually began to make their own bread and ale–by what warrant no one knew, said the Wallingford bakers and brewers. Crowmarsh held out through the later years of Henry’s reign and Richard’s, had a sore struggle under John, and at last under Henry III. saw the officers of justice come down upon them a second time, and make a general wreck of ovens and “tumbril,” while the weights were carried off to triumphant Wallingford.
But if an era of industrial activity had opened, the new intellectual impulse of the time was yet more striking. Great forces had everywhere worked together under the one name of the Church: the ecclesiastical organization which was represented in Rome, in the Episcopate, and in the Canon law; the democratic monachism; the intellectual temper with its pursuit of pure knowledge; the religious mystical spirit which was included in all the rest and yet separate from them. But other elements than these were at work in the twelfth century,–the literary and historic movement, the legal revival, the new scepticism, the spirit of wide imperialism, the romantic impulse. Education had up to this time been wholly undertaken by the Church. The work of teaching had been one of the main objects of the cathedral; the school and its chancellor were as essential parts of the foundation as dean or precentor. No rivals to the cathedral schools existed save those of the monasteries, and education naturally bore the impress given to it in these great institutions; profane learning was only valued so far as it could be used to illustrate the Bible, and the ordinary teaching was almost wholly founded on four or five authors, who wrote when the struggle of the Empire against the barbarians was almost over, and who represented the last efforts of a learning which was ready to vanish. The monastic libraries show how narrow was the range of reading. The great monastery of Bec had about fifty books. At Canterbury the library of Christ Church, which a century later possessed seven hundred volumes, had at this time but a hundred and fifty. Its single Greek work was a grammar; and if it could boast of a copy of the Institutes of Justinian, it did not yet possess a single book of civil law, not even Gratian’s _Decretum_. The age of Universities, however, had now begun, and English scholars went abroad in numbers to study law at Bologna and the Italian universities, or to learn philosophy and the arts at Paris, or at some of the less costly schools in Gaul. On all sides they met with the stir of political and religious speculation. The crusades and the intercourse with the East had broken down the boundaries between Christian and Mohammedan thought; the Jews were teaching science and medicine, and had just brought from the East the philosophy of Aristotle. France struck the first note of a new literature in her chronicles, her national poems, and the songs of her troubadours. All Paris was ringing with the struggle of Abelard and St. Bernard. At its university Peter Lombard was preparing to publish his _Sentences_, which were to form the framework for the dogmatic theology of centuries to come. New theories of liberty were quickened by classical studies which made men familiar with the heroes of Greece and Rome. Abelard’s disciple, Arnold of Brescia, was preaching his theory of political and religious freedom; civil government was to return to the old republican forms of ancient Rome, and the clergy were to be separated from all secular jurisdiction. In Lombardy the growth of wealth, population, and trade, demanded a more developed jurisprudence, and a new study had sprung up of Roman law. Bolognese lawyers lectured on the Pandects of Justinian, and by their work the whole legal education of the day was transformed; old prejudices and old traditions lost the authority which had long hedged them about, and the new code threatened to destroy everywhere the imperfect systems of the past with which it came in contact. The revival of the study of civil law was followed by a new scientific study of Canon law; and a recognized code was for the first time developed, as well as a minute system of legal procedure, when Gratian published in 1151 the _Decretum_, a great text-book of ecclesiastical law.
Amid all the intellectual activity which surrounded the English students abroad it is, curious to note what they carried home with them across the Channel, and what they left simply untouched. The zeal for learning quickly showed itself in the growth of the Universities. As early as 1133 Robert Pulleyn was teaching Latin at Oxford. In 1149 Archbishop Theobald brought to it Master Vacarius, a famous Lombard lawyer, who lectured on the Civil law until he was expelled by Stephen, half fearful of the new teaching and half influenced by the pressure of the older and more conservative of the English bishops. There was much of the foreign movement, however, which found no place in England. Difference of tongue shut out Norman and Englishman from the influence of the new Provencal poetry, and for a century to come England owed nothing to the finished art of the South. The strip of sea which kept aloof all European tumults shut out also the speculations in politics and government which were making their way abroad. Even the religious movement which overran one half of France under the Albigenses, or that which counted its followers and martyrs by multitudes in Flanders never crossed the Channel, in spite of the constant intercourse between the peoples; and missionaries from Germany during the reign of Henry only succeeded in converting one poor woman in England who immediately recanted. It was in other directions that the energies of the people found their exercise. If Englishmen were heedless of foreign philosophers, they were quick to notice that the fruit of the vine had failed, and forthwith the unheard-of novelty of taverns where beer and mead were sold sprang up in France, probably by the help of those English traders whose beer was the marvel of Frenchmen.
It was these new conditions of the national life which constituted the real problem of government–a problem far more slow and difficult to work out than the mere suppression of a turbulent baronage. In the rapid movement towards material prosperity, the energies of the people were in all directions breaking away from the channels and limits in which they had been so long confined. Rules which had been sufficient for the guidance of a simple society began to break down under the new fullness and complexity of the national life, and the simple decisions by which questions of property and public order had been solved in earlier times were no longer possible. Moreover, a new confusion and uncertainty had been brought into the law in the last hundred years by the effort to fuse together Norman and English custom. Norman landlord or Norman sheriff naturally knew little of English law or custom, and his tendency was always to enforce the feudal rules which he practised on his Norman estates. In course of time it came about that all questions of land-tenure and of the relations of classes were regulated by a kind of double system. The Englishman as well as the Norman became the “man” of his lord as in Norman law, and was bound by the duties which this involved. On the other hand, the Norman as well as the Englishman held his land subject to the customary burdens and rights recognized by English law. Both races were thus made equal before the law, and no legal distinction was recognized between conqueror and conquered. There was, however, every element of confusion and perplexity in the theory and administration of the law itself, in the variety of systems which were contending for the mastery, and in the inefficiency of the courts in which they were applied. English law had grown up out of Teutonic custom, into which Roman tradition had been slowly filtering through the Dark Ages Feudal law still bore traces of its double origin in the system of the Teutonic “comitatus” and of the Roman “beneficium.” Forest law, which governed the vast extent of the king’s domains, was bound neither by Norman forms nor by English traditions, but was framed absolutely at the king’s will. Canon law had been developed out of customs and precedents which had served to regulate the first Christian communities, and which had been largely formed out of the civil law of Rome. There was a multitude of local customs which varied in every hundred and in every manor, and which were preserved by the jealousy that prevailed between one village and another, the strong sense of local life and jurisdiction, and the strict adherence to immemorial traditions.
These different codes of law were administered in various courts of divers origins. The tenant-in-chief of the king who was rich enough had his cause carried to the King’s Court of barons, where he was tried by his peers. The poorer vassals, with the mass of the people, sought such justice as was to be had in the old English courts, the Shire Court held by the sheriff, and, where this survived, the Hundred Court summoned by the bailiff. The lowest orders of the peasant class, shut out from the royal courts, could only plead in questions of property in the manor courts of their lords. The governing bodies of the richer towns were winning the right to exercise absolute jurisdiction over the burghers within their own walls. The Forest courts were held by royal officers, who were themselves exempt from all jurisdiction save that of the king. And under one plea or another all men in the State were liable for certain causes to be brought under the jurisdiction of the newly established Church courts. This system of conflicting laws was an endless source of perplexity. The country was moreover divided into two nationalities, who imperfectly understood one another’s customary rights; and it was further broken into various classes which stood in different relations to the law. Those who had sufficient property were not only deemed entirely trustworthy themselves, but were also considered answerable for the men under them; a second class of freeholders held property sufficient to serve as security for their own good behaviour, but not sufficient to make them pledges for others; there was a third and lower class without property, for whose good conduct the law required the pledge of some superior. In a state of things so complicated, so uncertain and so shifting, it is hard to understand how justice can ever have been secured; nor, indeed, could any general order have been preserved, save for the fact that these early courts of law, having all sprung out of the same conditions of primitive life, and being all more or less influenced and so brought to some common likeness by the Roman law, did not differ very materially in their view of the relations between the subjects of the State, and fundamentally administered the same justice. Until this time too there had been but little legal business to bring before the courts. There was practically no commerce; there was little sale of land; questions of property were defined within very narrow limits; a mass of contracts, bills of exchange, and all the complicated transactions which trade brings with it, were only beginning to be known. As soon, however, as industry developed, and the needs of a growing society made themselves felt, the imperfections of the old order became intolerable. The rude methods and savage punishments of the law grew more and more burdensome as the number of trials increased; and the popular courts were found to be fast breaking down under the weight of their own ignorance and inefficiency.
The most important of these was the Shire Court. It still retained its old constitution; it preserved some tradition of a tribunal where the king was not the sole fountain of justice, and the memory of a law which was not the “king’s law.” It administered the old customary English codes, and carried on its business by the old procedure. There came to it the lords of the manors with their stewards, the abbots and priors of the county with their officers, the legal men of the hundreds who were qualified by holding property or by social freedom, and from every township the parish priest, with the reeve and four men, the smiths, farmers, millers, carpenters, who had been chosen in the little community to represent their neighbours; and along with them stood the pledges, the witnesses, the finders of dead bodies, men suspected of crime. The court was, in fact, a great public meeting of the whole county; there was no rank or order which did not send some of its number to swell the confused crowd that stood round the sheriff. The criminal was generally put on his trial by accusation of an injured neighbour, who, accompanied by his friends, swore that he did not bring his charge for hatred, or for envy, or for unlawful lust of gain. The defendant claimed the testimony of his lord, and further proved his innocence by a simple or threefold compurgation–that is, by the oath of a certain number of freemen among his neighbours, whose property gave them the required value in the eye of the law, and who swore together as “compurgators” that they believed his oath of denial to be “clean and unperjured.” The faith of the compurgator was measured by his landed property, and the value of the joint-oath which was required depended on a most intricate and baffling set of arithmetical calculations, and differed according to the kind of crime, the rank of the criminal, and the amount of property which was in dispute, besides other differences dependent on local customs. Witnesses might also be called from among neighbours who held property and were acquainted with the facts to which they would “dare” to swear. The final judgment was given by acclamation of the “suitors” of the court–that is, by the owners of property and the elected men of the hundreds or townships; in other words, by the public opinion of the neighbourhood. If the accused man were of bad character by common report, or if he could find no friends to swear in his behalf, “the oath burst,” and there remained for him only the ordeal or trial by battle, which he might accept or refuse at his own peril. In the simple ordeal he dipped his hand in boiling water to the wrist, or carried a bar of redhot iron three paces. If in consequence of his lord’s testimony being against him the triple ordeal was used, he had to plunge his arm in water up to the elbow, or to carry the iron for nine paces. If he were condemned to the ordeal by water, his death seems to have been certain, since sinking was the sign of innocence, and if the prisoner floated he was put to death as guilty. The other alternative, trial by battle, which had been introduced by the Normans, was extremely unpopular in England; it told hardly against men who were weak or untrained to arms, or against the man of humble birth, who was allowed against his armed opponent neither horse nor the arms of a knight, but simply a leathern jacket, a shield of leather or wood, and a stick without knots or points.
At the beginning of the reign of Henry II, the Shire courts seem to have been nearly as bad as they could be. Scarcely any attempt had been made, perhaps none had till now been greatly needed, to improve a system which had grown up in a dim and ruder past. The Norman kings, indeed, had introduced into England a new method of deciding doubtful questions of property by the “recognition” of sworn witness instead of by the English process of compurgation or ordeal. Twelve men, who must be freemen and hold property, were chosen from the neighbourhood, and as “jurors” were sworn to state truly what they knew about the question in dispute, and the matter was decided according to their witness or “recognition.” If those who were summoned were unacquainted with the facts, they were dismissed and others called; if they knew the facts but differed in their statement, others were added to their number, till twelve at least were found whose testimony agreed together. These inquests on oath had been used by the Conqueror for fiscal purposes in the drawing up of Doomsday Book. From that time special “writs” from king or justice were occasionally granted, by which cases were withdrawn from the usual modes of trial in the local courts, and were decided by the method of recognition, which undoubtedly provided a far better chance of justice to the suitor, replacing as it did the rude appeal to the ordeal or to battle by the sworn testimony of the chosen representatives, the good men and true, of the neighbourhood. But the custom was not yet governed by any positive and inviolable rules, and the action of the King’s Court in this respect was imperfectly developed, uncertain, and irregular.
It is scarcely possible, indeed, to estimate the difficulties in the way of justice when Henry came to the throne. The wretched freeholders summoned to the Shire Court from farm and cattle, from mill or anvil or carpenter’s bench, knew well the terrors of the journey through marsh and fen and forest, the dangers of flood and torrent, and perhaps of outlawed thief or murderer, the privations and hardships of the way; and the heavy fines which occur in the king’s rolls for non-attendance show how anxiously great numbers of the suitors avoided joining in the troublesome and thankless business of the court. When they reached the place of trial a strange medley of business awaited them as questions arose of criminal jurisdiction, of feudal tenure, of English “sac and soc,” of Norman franchises and Saxon liberties, with procedure sometimes of the one people, sometimes of the other. The days dragged painfully on as, without any help from trained lawyers, the “suitors” sought to settle perplexed questions between opposing claims of national, provincial, ecclesiastical, and civic laws, or made arduous journeys to visit the scene of some murder or outrage, or sought for evidence on some difficult problem of fact. Evidence, indeed, was not easy to find when the question in dispute dated perhaps from some time before the civil war and the suppression of the sheriff’s courts, for no written record was ever kept of the proceedings in court, and everything depended on the memory of witnesses. The difficulties of taking evidence by compurgation increased daily. A method which centuries before had been successfully applied to the local crimes of small and stationary communities bound together by the closest ties of kinship and of fellowship in possession of the soil, when every transaction was inevitably known to the whole village or township, became useless when new social and industrial conditions had destroyed the older and simpler modes of life. The procedure of the courts was antiquated and no longer guided by consistent principles. Their modes of trial were so cumbrous, formal, and inflexible that it was scarcely possible to avoid some minute technical mistake which might invalidate the final decision.
The business of the larger courts, too, was for the most part carried on in French under sheriff, or bailiff, or lord of the manor. The Norman nobles did not know Latin, they were but gradually learning English; the bulk of the lesser clergy perhaps spoke Latin, but did not know Norman; the poorer people spoke only English; the clerks who from this time began to note down the proceedings of the king’s judges in Latin must often have been puzzled by dialects of English strange to him. When each side in a trial claimed its own customary law, and neither side understood the speech of the other, the president of the court had every temptation to be despotic and corrupt, and the interpreter between him and his suitors became an important person who had much influence in deciding what mode of procedure was to be followed. The sheriff, often holding a hereditary post and fearing therefore no check to his despotism, added to the burden of the unhappy freeholders by a custom of summoning at his own fancy special courts, and laying heavy fines on those who did not attend them. Even when the law was fairly administered there was a growing number of cases in which the rigid forms of the court actually inflicted injustice, as questions constantly arose which lay far outside the limits of the old customary law of the Germanic tribes, or of the scanty knowledge of Roman law which had penetrated into other codes. The men of that day looked too often with utter hopelessness to the administration of justice; there was no peril so great in all the dangers that surrounded their lives as the peril of the law; there was no oppression so cruel as the oppression wrought by the harsh and rigid forms of the courts. From such calamities the miserable and despairing victims could look for no help save from the miraculous aid of the saints; and society at that time, as indeed it has been known to do in later days, was for ever appealing from the iniquity of law to God,–to a God who protected murderers if they murdered Jews, and defended robbers if they plundered usurers, who was, indeed, above all law, and was supposed to distribute a violent and arbitrary justice, answering to the vulgar notion of an equity unknown on earth.
We catch a glimpse of a trial of the time in the story of a certain Ailward, whose neighbour had refused to pay a debt which he owed him. Ailward took the law into his own hands, and broke into the house of his debtor, who had gone to the tavern and had left his door fastened with the lock hanging down outside, and his children playing within. Ailward carried off as security for his debt the lock, a gimlet, and some tools, and a whetstone which hung from the roof. As he sauntered home, however, his furious neighbour overtook him, having heard from the children what had been done. He snatched the whetstone from Ailward’s hand and dealt him a blow on the head with it, stabbed him in the arm with a knife, and then triumphantly carried him to the house which, he had robbed, and there bound him as “an open thief” with the stolen goods upon him. A crowd gathered round, and an evil fellow, one Fulk, the apparitor, an underling of the sheriff employed to summon criminals to the court, remarked that as a thief could not legally be mutilated unless he had taken to the value of a shilling, it would be well to add a few articles to the list of stolen goods. Perhaps Ailward had won ill-fame as a creditor, or even, it may be, a money-lender in the village, for his neighbours clearly bore him little goodwill. The crowd readily consented. A few odds and ends were gathered–a bundle of skins, gowns, linen, and an iron tool,–and were laid by Ailward’s side; and the next day, with the bundle hung about his neck, he was taken before the sheriff and the knights, who were then holding a Shire Court. The matter was thought doubtful; judgment was delayed, and Ailward was made fast in Bedford jail for a month, till the next county court. There the luckless man sent for a priest of the neighbourhood, and confessing his sins from his youth up, he was bidden to hope in the prayers of the blessed Virgin and of all the saints against the awful terrors of the law, and received a rod to scourge himself five times daily; while through the gloom shone the glimmer of hope that having been baptized on the vigil of Pentecost, water could not drown him nor fire burn him if he were sent to the ordeal. At last the month went by and he was again carried to the Shire Court, now at Leighton Buzzard. In vain he demanded single combat with Fulk, or the ordeal by fire; Fulk, who had been bribed with an ox, insisted on the ordeal of water, so that he should by no means escape. Another month passed in the jail of Bedford before he was given up to be examined by the ordeal. Whether he underwent it or whether he pleaded guilty when the judges met is uncertain, but however this might be, “he received the melancholy sentence of condemnation; and being taken to the place of punishment, his eyes were pulled out and he was mutilated, and his members were buried in the earth in the presence of a multitude of persons.”
Nor was there for the mass of the people any real help or security to be found in an appeal to the supreme tribunal of the realm where the king sat in council with his ministers. This still remained a tribunal of exceptional resort to which appeals were rare. There was one Richard Anesty, who, in these first years of Henry’s reign, desired to prove in the King’s Court his right to hold a certain property. For five years Richard, his brother, and a multitude of helpers, were incessantly busied in this arduous task. The court followed the king, and the king might be anywhere from York to the Garonne. The unhappy suitor might well have joined in a complaint once made by a secretary of Henry in search of his master: “Solomon saith there be three things difficult to be found out, and a fourth which may hardly be discovered: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a ship in the sea; the way of a serpent on the ground; and the way of a man in his youth. I can add a fifth: the way of a king in England.” The whole business now done by post had then to be carried on by laborious journeyings, in which we hear again and again that horses died on the road; if a writ were needed from king or queen, if the royal seal were required, or a certificate from a bishop, or a letter from an archbishop, special messengers posted across country; then the writ must be carried in the same way to York, Lincoln, or elsewhere to be examined by some famous lawyer, sometimes an Italian learned in the last legal fashions of the day; perhaps it was pronounced faulty, or it might be that the seal of justiciar or archbishop was refused on its return from the lawyer, and the same business had to begin all over again; twice messengers had to be sent to Rome, the journey each way taking at least forty days of incessant and dangerous travelling. When at last the appointed day for judgment by the justiciar came, friends, helpers, and witnesses had to be called together in the same laborious way, and transported at great cost to the place of trial, and there kept waiting till news was brought that the plea could not then be heard; and thus again and again the luckless suitor was summoned, each time to a different town in England. In every town he was forced by his necessities to borrow money from some Jew, who demanded about eighty-seven per cent for the loan; and when at last, as Richard was worn out with the delays of justiciars, Henry appeared on the scene, and, “thanks to our lord the king,” the land was adjudged to the suitor, he had to raise fresh money to fee the lawyers, the bishop’s staff, the officers of the King’s Court, the king’s physicians, the king and queen, besides the sums which must be given to his helpers and pleaders. The end of the story leaves him mournfully counting up a long list of Jewish creditors, who bid fair to exhaust the profits of his new possessions.
Such were in brief outline some of the difficulties which made order and justice hard to win. Society was helpless to protect itself: news spread slowly, the communication of thought was difficult, common action was impossible. Amid all the shifting and half understood problems of medieval times there was only one power to which men could look to protect them against lawlessness, and that was the power of the king. No external restraints were set upon his action; his will was without contradiction. The medieval world with fervent faith believed that he was the very spring and source of justice. In an age when all about him was changing, and when there was no organized machinery for the administration of law, the king had himself to be judge, lawgiver, soldier, financier, and administrator; the great highways and rivers of the kingdom were in “his peace;” the greater towns were in his demesne; he was guardian of the poor and defender of the trader; he was finance minister in a society where economic conditions were rapidly changing; here presented a developed system of law as opposed to the primitive customs of feud and private war; he was the only arbiter of questions that grew out of the new conflict of classes and interests; he alone could decree laws at his absolute will and pleasure, and could command the power to carry out his decrees; there was not even a professional lawyer who was not in his court and bound to his service.
Henry saw and used his opportunity. Even as a youth of twenty-one he assumed absolute control in his courts with a knowledge and capacity which made him fully able to meet trained lawyers, such as his chancellor, Thomas, or his justiciar, De Lucy. Cool, businesslike, and prompt, he set himself to meet the vast mass of arrears, the questions of jurisdiction and of disputed property, which had arisen even as far back as the time of Henry I., and had gone unsettled through the whole reign of Stephen, to the ruin and havoc of the lands in question. He examined every charter that came before him; if any was imperfect he was ready to draw one up with his own hand; he watched every difficult point of law, noted every technical detail, laid down his own position with brief decision. In the uncertain and transitional state of the law the king’s personal interference knew scarcely any limits, and Henry used his power freely. But his unswerving justice never faltered. Gilbert de Bailleul, in some claim to property, ventured to make light of the charter of Henry I., by which it was held. The king’s wrath blazed up. “By the eyes of God,” he cried, “if you can prove this charter false, it would be worth a thousand pounds to me! If,” he went on, “the monks here could present such a charter to prove their possession of Clarendon, which I love above all places, there is no pretence by which I could refuse to give it up to them!”
It is hard to realise the amazing physical endurance and activity which was needed to do the work of a medieval king. Henry was never at rest. It was only by the most arduous labour, by travel, by readiness of access to all men, by inexhaustible patience in weighing complaint and criticism, that he learned how the law actually worked in the remotest corners of his land. He was scarcely ever a week in the same place; his life in England was spent in continual progresses from south to north, from east to west. The journeyings by rough trackways through “desert” and swamp and forest, through the bleak moorlands of the Pennine Hills, or the thickets and fens that choked the lower grounds, proved indeed a sore trial for the temper of his courtiers; and bitter were the complaints of the hardships that fell to the lot of the disorderly train that swept after the king, the army of secretaries and lawyers, the mail-clad knights and barons followed by their retainers, the archbishop and his household, bishops and abbots and judges and suitors, with the “actors, singers, dicers, confectioners, huxters, gamblers, buffoons, barbers, who diligently followed the court.” Knights and barons and clerks, accustomed to the plenty and comfort of palace and castle, found themselves at the mercy of every freak of the king’s marshals, who on the least excuse would roughly thrust them out into the night from the miserable hut in which they sought shelter and cut loose their horses’ halters, and whose hearts were hardly softened by heavy bribes. They were often half-starved; if food was to be had at all, it was at the best stale fish, sour beer and wine, coarse black bread, and meat scarcely eatable, even with the rough appetite of travellers of that age. Matters were made ten times worse by Henry’s mode of travelling. “If the king has proclaimed that he intends to stop late in any place, you may be sure that he will start very early in the morning, and with his sudden haste destroy every one’s plans. It often happens that those who have let blood or taken medicine are obliged at the hazard of their lives to follow. You will see men running about like mad; urging forward their pack-horses, driving their waggons into one another, everything in confusion, as if hell had broken loose. Whereas, if the king has given out that he will start early in the morning, he will certainly change his mind, and you may be sure he will snore till noon. You will see the pack-horses drooping under their loads, waggons waiting, drivers nodding, tradesmen fretting, all grumbling at one another. Men hurry to ask the loose women and the liquor retailers who follow the court when the king will start; for these are the people who know most of the secrets of the court.” Sometimes, on the other hand, when the din of the camp was silenced for a while in sleep, a sudden message from the royal lodging would again set all in commotion. A wild clatter of horsemen and footmen would fill the darkness. The stout pack-horses, probably borrowed from a neighbouring monastery to carry the heavy Rolls in which state business was chronicled, were hastily laden. Baggage of every kind was slung across the backs of horses, or stowed into cumbrous two-wheeled waggons made of rough planks, or of laths covered with twisted osiers, which had been seized from farmer or peasant for the king’s journey. The forerunners pushed on in front to give notice of the king’s arrival, and in the dim morning light the motley train of riders at last crowded along the narrow trackway, followed heavily by the waggons dragged by single file of horses, which too often foundered in the muddy hollows, or half-plunged into the torrents through rents and chasms in the low, narrow bridges that threatened at every instant to crumble away under the strain. But before the weary day’s journey was over the king would suddenly change his mind, stop short of the town towards which all were toiling in hope of food and shelter, and turn aside to some spot in the woods where there was perhaps a solitary hut and food only for himself: “And I believe, if I dare to say so, that he took delight in our distresses,” groans the poor secretary as he pictures the knights wandering by twos and threes in the thickets, separated in the darkness from their followers, and drawing their swords one against another in furious strife for the possession of some shelter for which pigs would scarcely have quarrelled. “Oh, Lord God Almighty,” he ends, “turn and convert the heart of the king from this pestilent habit, that he may know himself to be but man, and that he may show a royal mercy and human compassion to those who are driven after him not by ambition but by necessity.”
But at whatever inconvenience to his courtiers Henry carried out his own purposes, and kept pace with the enormous mass of business that came to him. In all his hurried journeys we see busy royal clerks scribbling away at each halt charters, grants, letters patent and letters close, the king too fighting, riding, dictating, signing, sometimes dating his letters from three places on the same day. A travelling king such as this was well known to all his people. He was no constitutional fiction, but a living man; his character, his look and presence, his oaths and jests, his wrath, all were noted and talked over; the chroniclers who followed his court with their gossip and their graver news spread the knowledge of his doings. A new sense of law and justice grew up under a sovereign who himself journeyed through the length and breadth of the land, subduing the unruly, hearing pleas, revising unjust sentences, drawing up charters with his own hand, setting the machinery of government to work from end to end of England. More than this, the king himself had learned to know his people. He had seen for himself the castles of the barons, the huts of the peasants, the little villages in the clearings; he had seen the sheriff sitting in the shire court, the lord of the manor doing justice in his “hall-moot,” the bishop and archdeacon dispensing the law in the church courts. By his sudden journeys, his unexpected movements and rapid change of plans, he arrived at the very moment and the very place where no one looked for him; nothing was safe from his eye and ear; no false sheriff or rebellious lord could be sure when his terrible master might be at his doors. Foreigner as the king was, there was soon no Englishman who knew the affairs of his kingdom so well. His penetrating curiosity, his wide experience, his practised judgment, rapidly made him one of the most sagacious administrators and wisest legislators that ever guided England in a very critical moment of her history; and when he finally drew up his system of reform there was not a single point of principle in it from which he or his successors found it necessary afterwards to draw back.
THE FIRST REFORMS
Henry began his work of reorganization by taking up the work which his grandfather had begun–that of replacing the mere arbitrary power of the sovereign by a uniform system of administration, and bringing into order the various conflicting authorities which had been handed down from ancient times, royal courts and manor courts, church courts, shire courts, hundred courts, forest courts, and local courts in special franchises, with all their inextricable confusion of law and custom and procedure. Under Henry I. two courts, the _Exchequer_ and the _Curia Regis_, had control of all the financial and judicial business of the kingdom. The Exchequer filled a far more important place in the national life than the Curia Regis, for the power of the king was simply measured by the state of the treasury, when wars began to be fought by mercenaries, and justice to be administered by paid officials. The court had to keep a careful watch over the provincial accounts, over the moneys received from the king’s domains, and the fines from the local courts. It had to regulate changes in the mode of payment as the use of money gradually replaced the custom of payments in kind. It had to watch alterations in the ownership and cultivation of land, to modify the settlement of Doomsday Book so as to meet new conditions, and to make new distribution of taxes. There was no class of questions concerning property in the most remote way which might not be brought before its judges for decision. Twice a year the officers of the royal household, the Chancellor, Treasurer, two Chamberlains, Constable, and Marshal, with a few barons chosen from their knowledge of the law, sat with the Justiciar at their head, as “Barons of the Exchequer” in the palace at Westminster, round the table covered with its “chequered” cloth from which they took their name. In one chamber, the Exchequer of Account, the “Barons” received the reports of the sheriffs from every county, and fixed the sums to be levied. In a second chamber, the Exchequer of Receipt, the sheriff or tax-farmer paid in his dues and took his receipts. The accounts were carefully entered on the treasurer’s roll, which was called from its shape the Great Roll of the Pipe, and which may still be seen in our Record Office; the chancellor kept a duplicate of this, known as the Roll of the Chancery; and an officer of the king registered in a third Roll matters of any special importance. Before the death of Henry I. the vast amount and the complexity of business in the Exchequer Court made it impossible that it should any longer be carried on wholly in London. The “Barons” began to travel as itinerant judges through the country; as the king’s special officers they held courts in the provinces, where difficult local questions were tried and decided on the spot. So important did the work of finance become that the study of the Exchequer is in effect the key to English history at this time. It was not from any philosophic love of good government, but because the license of outrage would have interrupted there turns of the revenue that Henry I. claimed the title of the “Lion of justice.” It was in great measure from a wish to sweep the fees of the Church courts into the royal Hoard that the second Henry began the strife with Becket in the Constitutions of Clarendon, and the increase of revenue was the efficient cause of the great reforms of justice which form the glory of his reign. It was the fount of English law and English freedom.
The Curia Regis was composed of the same great officers of the household as those who sat in the Exchequer, and of a few men chosen by the king for their legal learning; but in this court they were not known as “Barons” but as “Justices,” and their head was the Chief Justice. The Curia Regis dealt with legal business, with all causes in which the king’s interest was concerned, with appeals from the local courts, and from vassals who were too strong to submit to their arbitration, with pleas from wealthy barons who had bought the privilege of laying their suit before the king, besides all the perplexed questions which lay far beyond the powers of the customary courts, and in which the equitable judgment of the king himself was required. In theory its powers were great, but in practice little business was actually brought to it in the time of Henry I; the distance of the court from country places, and the expense of carrying a suit to it, would alone have proved an effectual hindrance to its usefulness, even if the rules by which it was guided had been much more complete and satisfactory than they actually were.
The routine of this system of administration, as well as the mass of business to be done, effectually interfered with arbitrary action on the king’s part, and the regular and methodical work of the organized courts gave to the people a fair measure of protection against the tyranny or caprice of the sovereign. But the royal power which was given over to justices and barons did not pass out of the hands of the king. He was still in theory the fount of all authority and law, and could, whenever he chose, resume the powers that he had granted. His control was never relaxed; and in later days we find that while judges on circuit who gave unjust judgment were summoned before the Curia Regis at Westminster, the judges of the Curia Regis itself were called for trial before the king himself in his council.
The reorganization of these courts was fast completed under Henry’s great justiciar, De Lucy, and the chancellor Thomas. The next few years show an amount of work done in every department of government which is simply astonishing. The clerks of the Exchequer took up the accounts and began once more regular entries in the Pipe Roll; plans of taxation were devised to fill the empty hoard, and to check the misery and tyranny under which the tax payers groaned. The king ordered a new coinage which should establish a uniform system of money over the whole land. As late as the reign of Henry I. the dues were paid in kind, and the sheriffs took their receipts for honey, fowls, eggs, corn, wax, wool, beer, oxen, dogs, or hawks. When, by Henry’s orders, all payments were first made in coin to the Exchequer, the immediate convenience was great, but the state of the coinage made the change tell heavily against the crown. It was impossible to adulterate dues in kind; it was easy to debase the coin when they were paid in money, and that money received by weight, whether it were coin from the royal mints, or the local coinages that had continued from the time of the early English kingdoms, or debased money from the private mints of the barons. Roger of Salisbury, in fact, when placed at the head of the Exchequer, found a great difference between the weight and the actual value of the coin received. He fell back on a simple expedient; in many places there had been a provision as old at least as Doomsday, which enacted that the money weighed out for town-geld should if needful be tested by re-melting. The treasurer extended this to the whole system of the Exchequer. He ordered that all money brought to the Exchequer should itself be tested, and the difference between its weight and real value paid by the sheriff who brought it. The burden thus fell on the country, for the sheriff would of course protect himself as far as he could by exacting the same tests on all sums paid to him. If the pound was worth but ten shillings in the market, no doubt the sheriff only took it for ten shillings in his court. Practically each tax, each due, must have been at least doubled, and the sheriff himself was at the mercy of the Exchequer moneyers. There was but one way to remedy the evil, by securing the purity of the coin, and twice during his reign Henry made this his special care.
In the absence of records we can only dimly trace the work of legal reform which was carried out by Henry’s legal officers; but it is plain that before 1164 certain great changes had already been fully established. A new and elaborate system of rules seems gradually to have been drawn up for the guidance of the justices who sat in the Curia Regis; and a new set of legal remedies in course of time made the chances of justice in this court greater than in any other court of the realm. The _Great Assize_, an edict whose date is uncertain, but which was probably issued during the first years of his reign, developed and set in full working order the imperfect system of “recognition” established by the Norman kings. Henceforth the man, whose right to his freehold was disputed, need but apply to the Curia Regis to issue an order that all proceedings in the local courts should be stopped until the “recognition” of twelve chosen men had decided who was the rightful owner according to the common knowledge of the district, and the barbarous foreign custom of settling the matter by combat was done away with. Under the new system the Curia Regis eventually became the recognized court of appeal for the whole kingdom. So great a mass of business was drawn under its control that the king and his regular ministers could no longer suffice for the work, and new judges had to be added to the former staff; and at last the positions of the two chief courts of the kingdom were reversed, and the King’s Court took the foremost place in the amount and importance of its business.
The same system of trial by sworn witnesses was also gradually extended to the local courts. By the new-fashioned royal system the legal men of hundreds and townships, the knights and freeholders, were ordered to search out the criminals of their district, and “present” them for trial at the Shire Court,–something after the fashion of the “grand jury” of to-day, save that in early times the jurors had themselves to bear witness, to declare what they knew of the prisoner’s character, to say if stolen goods had been divided in a certain barn, to testify to a coat by a patch on the shoulder. By a slow series of changes which wholly reversed their duties, the “legal men” of the juries of “presentment” and of “recognition” were gradually transformed into the “jury” of to-day; and even now curious traces survive in our courts of the work done by the ancestors of the modern jury. In criminal cases in Scotland the oath still administered by the clerk to jurymen carries us back to an ancient time: “You fifteen swear by Almighty God, and as you shall answer to God at the great day of judgment, you will truth say and no truth conceal, in so far as you are to pass on this assize.”
The provincial administration was set in working order. New sheriffs took up again the administration of the shires, and judges from the King’s Court travelled, as they had done in the time of Henry I., through the land. The worst fears of the baronage were justified. They were disabled by one blow after another. Their political humiliation was complete. The heirs of the great lords who had followed the Conqueror, and who with their vast estates in Normandy and in England had inherited the arrogant pretensions of their fathers, found themselves of little account in the national councils. The mercenary forces were no longer at their disposal. The sources of wealth which they had found in plunder and in private coinage were cut off. Their rights of jurisdiction were curtailed. A final blow was struck at their military power by the adoption of scutage. In the Welsh campaign of 1157 Henry opened his military reforms by introducing a system new to England in the formation of his army. Every two knights bound to service were ordered to furnish in their place one knight who should remain with the king’s army as long as he required. It was the first step towards getting rid of the cumbrous machinery of the feudal array, and securing an efficient and manageable force which should be absolutely at the king’s control. In the war of Toulouse in 1159 the problem was for the first time raised as to the obligation of feudal vassals to foreign service, and Henry gladly seized the opportunity to carry out his plan yet more fully. The chief vassals who were unwilling to join the army were allowed to pay a fixed tax or “scutage” instead of giving their personal service. Henry, the chroniclers tell us, careful of his people’s prosperity, was anxious not to annoy the knights throughout the country, nor the men of the rising towns, nor the body of yeomen, by dragging them to foreign war against their will; at the same time he himself profited greatly by the change. The new system broke up the old feudal array, and set the king at the head of something like a standing army paid by the taxes of the barons.
Henry had, indeed, won a signal victory over feudalism. But feudalism had no roots on English soil; it was forced to borrow Brabancons, and to work by means alien to the whole feudal tradition and system, and Henry had easily overthrown the baronage by the help of the Church. But in the process the ecclesiastical party had learned to know its strength, and the king had to meet a more formidable resistance to his will when, instead of a lawless baronage, he was confronted by the Church with its mighty organization, always vigilant and menacing. The clergy had from the first looked with a very jealous eye on his projects. A sharp quarrel as to the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts had early arisen between Henry and Archbishop Theobald, but the matter had been compromised for a time. Thomas had taken office pledged to defend ecclesiastical interests, and he was so far true to his pledge, that while he was chancellor he put an end to the abuse of keeping bishoprics and abbeys vacant. He had, however, as was said at the time, “put off the deacon” to put on the chancellor; and in an ecclesiastical trial which took place soon after Henry’s crowning, he appears as an energetic exponent of the king’s legal views. A dispute had raged for years as to the jurisdiction of the bishops of Chichester over the abbots of Battle. On Henry’s accession Bishop Hilary of Chichester vigorously renewed the struggle, and a great trial was held in May 1157 to decide the matter. Hilary failing after much discussion to effect a compromise, emphatically and solemnly declared in words such as Henry was to hear a few years later from another mouth, that there were two powers, secular and spiritual, and that the secular authority could not interfere with the spiritual jurisdiction, or depose any bishop or ecclesiastic without leave from Rome. “True enough, he cannot be ‘deposed,'” cried the young king, “but by a shove like this he may be clean thrust out!” and he suited the action to the words. A laugh ran round the assembly at the king’s jest; but Hilary, taking no notice of the hint, went on to urge that no layman, not even the king, could by the law of Rome confer ecclesiastical dignity or exemptions without the Pope’s leave and confirmation. “What next!” broke in Henry angrily, “you think with your practised cunning to set yourself up against the authority of my kingly prerogative granted me by God Himself! I command you by the allegiance you have sworn to keep within proper bounds language against my crown and dignity!” A general clamour rose against the prelate, and the chancellor, louder than the rest, talked of the bishop’s oath of fealty to the king, and warned him to take heed to himself. Hilary, seeing himself thus beset, obsequiously declared that he had no wish to take aught from the kingly honour and dignity, which he had always bent every effort to magnify and increase; but Henry bluntly retorted that it was plain to all that his honour and dignity would be speedily removed far from him by the fair and deceitful talk of those who would annul his just prerogatives. The bishop could not find a single friend. Chancellor and justiciar and constable rivalled one another in taunts and sharp phrases. When he went on to urge the revision of the Conqueror’s charter to Battle by the archbishop, and to appeal to ecclesiastical custom, Henry’s wrath rose again. “A wonderful and marvellous thing truly is this we hear, that the charters, forsooth, of my kingly predecessors, confirmed by the prerogative of the Crown of England, and witnessed by the magnates, should be deemed beyond our powers by you, my lord bishop. God forbid, God forbid, that in my kingdom what is decreed by me at the instance of