« PreviousContinue »
the prominent men of the Middle Class are advanced to titles and dignities.
The conspicuous feature of this social organization was the free Middle Class; and it is to this class, as we shall see, the masses of the world owe their enfranchisement. No such class existed elsewhere in Europe, or had ever existed before. The Franks, like the Saxons, were of German origin; like the Saxons, they enslaved the inhabitants of the conquered country, but then they established the Feudal System; under which two classes of society only existed, the Nobility and the slaves. The Saxons, on the contrary, who conquered Britain and enslaved the inhabitants about the same period, broke up into the three classes mentioned, because the Feudal System was unknown there. We shall see its effect when introduced by the French. It is true the Saxon Middle Class possessed no political or municipal privileges till the thirteenth century; whereas the French communes or Middle Class which had sprung up, as already described, from the abuses of the Feudal System, were endowed with Municipal liberty in the twelfth century. There was this immense distinction, however, in the two cases. The Saxon Middle Class, which existed since the conquest of Britain, say in the sixth century, had always been Freemen, and were consequently inspired by a spirit of independence which could never be broken, and which was the parent, finally, of the Independence of the United States and of the French Revolution in 1789. The French Middle Class, on the other hand, emerged from bands of fugitive serfs accustomed to obedience and submission ; and therefore, though enfranchised by one King, was easily
deprived of self-government by another at a later period, as we have already seen.
The last Saxon King was Harold II., who usurped the throne on the death of Edward the Confessor, his brother-in-law, in 1066.
THE NORMAN CONQUEST
THE cursory review of England during the Saxon Régime will convey some general idea of the civilization of the country prior to the Norman Conquest. October of 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, landed at Hastings with 60,000 men, claiming the English throne. A battle ensued in which Harold was slain, and the Saxon dynasty overthrown. Many of the Saxon Nobility were killed, many emigrated, and others accepted the new King.
This event was the grandest in its results that history records, for it led ultimately to the birth of civil and religious liberty. The Norman Conquest introduced a new people and a new language, but more important still, a new political organization into England. The Duke of Normandy imported his Coutume de Normandie, as it was then called the Custom of Normandy -which was nothing else than the Feudal System as then established in France: and thus the Feudal System was transplanted to English soil, with its Military service, its Primogeniture, Knighthood, Armorial bearings, and all its "pomp, pride, and circumstance."
William divided the lands of England among his captains, as the King of the Franks had done with Gaul. The conquered country was split up into
Baronies, with a Norman Chief as the Lord of each. The share given was proportioned to the rank of the Lord, the number of his vassals, and the supplies furnished to the expedition. For himself the Conqueror appropriated fourteen hundred and twenty-two large estates in different shires, besides other lands and farms recently the property of the Saxon Kings and the great Thanes.
The foundations of the Feudal System were thus laid, but William insisted that it should be acknowledged and consecrated by a solemn ceremony. Accordingly, all the great landowners met the King at Sarum, 1085, went on their knees one after the other before him, and declared that they had received their lands from him as their Lord Paramount. In Norman-French they thus spoke :-"I become your man from this day forward, of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and unto you shall be true and faithful, and bear to you faith for the tenements I claim to hold of you." The King then kissed each liegeman on the cheek, and the Oath of Fealty was taken :-"Hear this, my lord; I will be faithful and loyal to you, and will bear to you faith for the tenements I hold of you, and will loyally perform the customs and services which I owe to you, at the times assigned. So help me God and his Saints."
This was not all an idle form, for every landowner was bound under it to furnish the King a soldier fully accoutred for war for every twenty pounds a year he received from his land. In this way the King raised troops, before those standing armies appeared which in other countries ultimately broke up the Feudal System. The Conqueror took care, like Charlemagne and Hugh
Capet, to conciliate the Clergy by bestowing large quantities of land on the Church; but under the Feudal System no immunity was granted to ecclesiastical property. Every Bishop and Abbot was called on to provide soldiers for every twenty pounds of revenue. We shall see how little the Saxon Clergy liked this feudal usage, and how gladly they always united with the Barons to diminish the Royal Power. It will also be seen how much English history differed from French, although the Feudal System prevailed in both countries during the Middle Ages. In England the Priests and Nobles worked cordially against the King, which in France was not the case. In England the Middle Class saw their interest was to sustain the Barons; but in France they allowed themselves to be utilized by the King against the Aristocracy until the rise of a standing army destroyed their importance as allies. In England the Barons and the citizens shrewdly opposed any standing army. King John, it will be remarked, was obliged to employ foreign troops during the struggle for Magna Charta.
The Conqueror, as King of England, took a different. view of Feudalism from that he took as Duke of Normandy. In France, as a feudal Lord, he sought to increase his power and to weaken the Monarchy; but in England, as King, he curtailed the influence of the Barons and augmented his own authority. This was not Feudalism as the French Lords understood it, and they would have at once taken up arms against the King, as had been the practice for so many centuries in France, but that serious obstacles compelled them for a time to submit.
One of these obstacles was William himself. His