Infomotions, Inc.The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 07 (of 12) / Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797

Author: Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797
Title: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. 07 (of 12)
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Title: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. VII. (of 12)

Author: Edmund Burke

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  SPEECH ON THE ACTS OF UNIFORMITY, February 6, 1772                   3

    March 7, 1773                                                     21



    May 8, 1780                                                       69


    COPY OF THE PROPOSED BILL                                        105

    June 15, 1781                                                    129

    February 17, 1772                                                137

HINTS FOR AN ESSAY ON THE DRAMA                                      143


                             BOOK I.

CHAP.  I. Causes of the Connection between the Romans and
          Britons.--Caesar's two Invasions of Britain                 159

      II. Some Account of the Ancient Inhabitants of Britain         170

     III. The Reduction of Britain by the Romans                     189

      IV. The Fall of the Roman Power in Britain                     214

                             BOOK II.

CHAP.   I. The Entry and Settlement of the Saxons, and their
          Conversion to Christianity                                 227

      II. Establishment of Christianity--of Monastic Institutions
          --and of their Effects                                     240

     III. Series of Anglo-Saxon Kings from Ethelbert to Alfred:
          with the Invasion of the Danes                             255

      IV. Reign of King Alfred                                       261

       V. Succession of Kings from Alfred to Harold                  269

      VI. Harold II.--Invasion of the Normans.--Account of that
          People, and of the State of England at the Time of the
          Invasion                                                   280

     VII. Of the Laws and Institutions of the Saxons                 291

                            BOOK III.

CHAP.  I. View of the State of Europe at the Time of the Norman
          Invasion                                                   327

      II. Reign of William the Conqueror                             335

     III. Reign of William the Second, surnamed Rufus                364

      IV. Reign of Henry I                                           375

       V. Reign of Stephen                                           386

      VI. Reign of Henry II                                          394

     VII. Reign of Richard I                                         425

    VIII. Reign of John                                              437

      IX. Fragment.--An Essay towards an History of the Laws of
          England                                                    475




During the period of Mr. Burke's Parliamentary labors, some alterations
in the Acts of Uniformity, and the repeal of the Test and Corporation
Acts, were agitated at various times in the House of Commons. It appears
from the state of his manuscript papers, that he had designed to publish
some of the Speeches which he delivered in those discussions, and with
that view had preserved the following Fragments and detached Notes,
which are now given to the public with as much order and connection as
their imperfect condition renders them capable of receiving. The
Speeches on the Middlesex Election, on shortening the Duration of
Parliaments, on the Reform of the Representation in Parliament, on the
Bill for explaining the Power of Juries in Prosecutions for libels, and
on the Repeal of the Marriage Act, were found in the same imperfect




FEBRUARY 6, 1772.


The following Speech was occasioned by a petition to the House of
Commons from certain clergymen of the Church of England, and certain of
the two professions of Civil Law and Physic, and others, praying to be
relieved from subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles, as required by
the Acts of Uniformity. The persona associated for this purpose were
distinguished at the time by the name of "The Feathers Tavern
Association," from the place where their meetings were usually held.
Their petition was presented on the 6th of February, 1772; and on a
motion that it should be brought up, the same was negatived on a
division, in which Mr. Burke voted in the majority, by 217 against 71.


Mr. Speaker,--I should not trouble the House upon this question, if I
could at all acquiesce in many of the arguments, or justify the vote I
shall give upon several of the reasons which have been urged in favor of
it. I should, indeed, be very much concerned, if I were thought to be
influenced to that vote by those arguments.

In particular, I do most exceedingly condemn all such arguments as
involve any kind of reflection on the personal character of the
gentlemen who have brought in a petition so decent in the style of it,
and so constitutional in the mode. Besides the unimpeachable integrity
and piety of many of the promoters of this petition, which render those
aspersions as idle as they are unjust, such a way of treating the
subject can have no other effect than to turn the attention of the House
from the merits of the petition, the only thing properly before us, and
which we are sufficiently competent to decide upon, to the motives of
the petitioners, which belong exclusively to the Great Searcher of

We all know that those who loll at their ease in high dignities, whether
of the Church or of the State, are commonly averse to all reformation.
It is hard to persuade them that there can be anything amiss in
establishments which by feeling experience they find to be so very
comfortable. It is as true, that, from the same selfish motives, those
who are struggling upwards are apt to find everything wrong and out of
order. These are truths upon one side and on the other; and neither on
the one side or the other in argument are they worth a single farthing.
I wish, therefore, so much had not been said upon these ill-chosen, and
worse than ill-chosen, these very invidious topics.

I wish still more that the dissensions and animosities which had slept
for a century had not been just now most unseasonably revived. But if we
must be driven, whether we will or not, to recollect these unhappy
transactions, let our memory be complete and equitable, let us recollect
the whole of them together. If the Dissenters, as an honorable gentleman
has described them, have formerly risen from a "whining, canting,
snivelling generation," to be a body dreadful and ruinous to all our
establishments, let him call to mind the follies, the violences, the
outrages, and persecutions, that conjured up, very blamably, but very
naturally, that same spirit of retaliation. Let him recollect, along
with the injuries, the services which Dissenters have done to our Church
and to our State. If they have once destroyed, more than once they have
saved them. This is but common justice, which they and all mankind have
a right to.

There are, Mr. Speaker, besides these prejudices and animosities, which
I would have wholly removed from the debate, things more regularly and
argumentatively urged against the petition, which, however, do not at
all appear to me conclusive.

First, two honorable gentlemen, one near me, the other, I think, on the
other side of the House, assert, that, if you alter her symbols, you
destroy the being of the Church of England. This, for the sake of the
liberty of that Church, I must absolutely deny. The Church, like every
body corporate, may alter her laws without changing her identity. As an
independent church, professing fallibility, she has claimed a right of
acting without the consent of any other; as a church, she claims, and
has always exercised, a right of reforming whatever appeared amiss in
her doctrine, her discipline, or her rites. She did so, when she shook
off the Papal supremacy in the reign of Henry the Eighth, which was an
act of the body of the English Church, as well as of the State (I don't
inquire how obtained). She did so, when she twice changed the Liturgy in
the reign of King Edward, when she then established Articles, which were
themselves a variation from former professions. She did so, when she cut
off three articles from her original forty-two, and reduced them to the
present thirty-nine; and she certainly would not lose her corporate
identity, nor subvert her fundamental principles, though she were to
leave ten of the thirty-nine which remain out of any future confession
of her faith. She would limit her corporate powers, on the contrary, and
she would oppose her fundamental principles, if she were to deny herself
the prudential exercise of such capacity of reformation. This,
therefore, can be no objection to your receiving the petition.

In the next place, Sir, I am clear, that the Act of Union, reciting and
ratifying one Scotch and one English act of Parliament, has not rendered
any change whatsoever in our Church impossible, but by a dissolution of
the union between the two kingdoms.

The honorable gentleman who has last touched upon that point has not
gone quite so far as the gentlemen who first insisted upon it. However,
as none of them wholly abandon that post, it will not be safe to leave
it behind me unattacked. I believe no one will wish their interpretation
of that act to be considered as authentic. What shall we think of the
wisdom (to say nothing of the competence) of that legislature which
should ordain to itself such a fundamental law, at its outset, as to
disable itself from executing its own functions,--which should prevent
it from making any further laws, however wanted, and that, too, on the
most interesting subject that belongs to human society, and where she
most frequently wants its interposition,--which should fix those
fundamental laws that are forever to prevent it from adapting itself to
its opinions, however clear, or to its own necessities, however urgent?
Such an act, Mr. Speaker, would forever put the Church out of its own
power; it certainly would put it far above the State, and erect it into
that species of independency which it has been the great principle of
our policy to prevent.

The act never meant, I am sure, any such unnatural restraint on the
joint legislature it was then forming. History shows us what it meant,
and all that it could mean with any degree of common sense.

In the reign of Charles the First a violent and ill-considered attempt
was made unjustly to establish the platform of the government and the
rites of the Church of England in Scotland, contrary to the genius and
desires of far the majority of that nation. This usurpation excited a
most mutinous spirit in that country. It produced that shocking
fanatical Covenant (I mean the Covenant of '36) for forcing their ideas
of religion on England, and indeed on all mankind. This became the
occasion, at length, of other covenants, and of a Scotch army marching
into England to fulfil them; and the Parliament of England (for its own
purposes) adopted their scheme, took their last covenant, and destroyed
the Church of England. The Parliament, in their ordinance of 1648,
expressly assign their desire of conforming to the Church of Scotland as
a motive for their alteration.

To prevent such violent enterprises on the one side or on the other,
since each Church was going to be disarmed of a legislature wholly and
peculiarly affected to it, and lest this new uniformity in the State
should be urged as a reason and ground of ecclesiastical uniformity, the
Act of Union provided that presbytery should continue the Scotch, as
episcopacy the English establishment, and that this separate and
mutually independent Church-government was to be considered as a part of
the Union, without aiming at putting the regulation within each Church
out of its own power, without putting both Churches out of the power of
the State. It could not mean to forbid us to set anything ecclesiastical
in order, but at the expense of tearing up all foundations, and
forfeiting the inestimable benefits (for inestimable they are) which we
derive from the happy union of the two kingdoms. To suppose otherwise is
to suppose that the act intended we could not meddle at all with the
Church, but we must as a preliminary destroy the State.

Well, then, Sir, this is, I hope, satisfactory. The Act of Union does
not stand in our way. But, Sir, gentlemen think we are not competent to
the reformation desired, chiefly from our want of theological learning.
If we were the legal assembly....

If ever there was anything to which, from reason, nature, habit, and
principle, I am totally averse, it is persecution for conscientious
difference in opinion. If these gentlemen complained justly of any
compulsion upon them on that article, I would hardly wait for their
petitions; as soon as I knew the evil, I would haste to the cure; I
would even run before their complaints.

I will not enter into the abstract merits of our Articles and Liturgy.
Perhaps there are some things in them which one would wish had not been
there. They are not without the marks and characters of human frailty.

But it is not human frailty and imperfection, and even a considerable
degree of them, that becomes a ground for your alteration; for by no
alteration will you get rid of those errors, however you may delight
yourselves in varying to infinity the fashion of them. But the ground
for a legislative alteration of a legal establishment is this, and this
only,--that you find the inclinations of the majority of the people,
concurring with your own sense of the intolerable nature of the abuse,
are in favor of a change.

If this be the case in the present instance, certainly you ought to make
the alteration that is proposed, to satisfy your own consciences, and to
give content to your people. But if you have no evidence of this nature,
it ill becomes your gravity, on the petition of a few gentlemen, to
listen to anything that tends to shake one of the capital pillars of the
state, and alarm the body of your people upon that one ground, in which
every hope and fear, every interest, passion, prejudice, everything
which can affect the human breast, are all involved together. If you
make this a season for religious alterations, depend upon it, you will
soon find it a season of religious tumults and religious wars.

These gentlemen complain of hardship. No considerable number shows
discontent; but, in order to give satisfaction to any number of
respectable men, who come in so decent and constitutional a mode before
us, let us examine a little what that hardship is. They want to be
preferred clergymen in the Church of England as by law established; but
their consciences will not suffer them to conform to the doctrines and
practices of that Church: that is, they want to be teachers in a church
to which they do not belong; and it is an odd sort of hardship. They
want to receive the emoluments appropriated for teaching one set of
doctrines, whilst they are teaching another. A church, in any legal
sense, is only a certain system of religious doctrines and practices
fixed and ascertained by some law,--by the difference of which laws
different churches (as different commonwealths) are made in various
parts of the world; and the establishment is a tax laid by the same
sovereign authority for payment of those who so teach and so practise:
for no legislature was ever so absurd as to tax its people to support
men for teaching and acting as they please, but by some prescribed rule.

The hardship amounts to this,--that the people of England are not taxed
two shillings in the pound to pay them for teaching, as divine truths,
their own particular fancies. For the state has so taxed the people; and
by way of relieving these gentlemen, it would be a cruel hardship on the
people to be compelled to pay, from the sweat of their brow, the most
heavy of all taxes to men, to condemn as heretical the doctrines which
they repute to be orthodox, and to reprobate as superstitious the
practices which they use as pious and holy. If a man leaves by will an
establishment for preaching, such as Boyle's Lectures, or for charity
sermons, or funeral sermons, shall any one complain of an hardship,
because he has an excellent sermon upon matrimony, or on the martyrdom
of King Charles, or on the Restoration, which I, the trustee of the
establishment, will not pay him for preaching?--S. Jenyns, Origin of
Evil.--Such is the hardship which they complain of under the present
Church establishment, that they have not the power of taxing the people
of England for the maintenance of their private opinions.

The laws of toleration provide for every real grievance that these
gentlemen can rationally complain of Are they hindered from professing
their belief of what they think to be truth? If they do not like the
Establishment, there are an hundred different modes of Dissent in which
they may teach. But even if they are so unfortunately circumstanced that
of all that variety none will please them, they have free liberty to
assemble a congregation of their own; and if any persons think their
fancies (they may be brilliant imaginations) worth paying for, they are
at liberty to maintain them as their clergy: nothing hinders it. But if
they cannot get an hundred people together who will pay for their
reading a liturgy after their form, with what face can they insist upon
the nation's conforming to their ideas, for no other visible purpose
than the enabling them to receive with a good conscience the tenth part
of the produce of your lands?

Therefore, beforehand, the Constitution has thought proper to take a
security that the tax raised on the people shall be applied only to
those who profess such doctrines and follow such a mode of worship as
the legislature, representing the people, has thought most agreeable to
their general sense,--binding, as usual, the minority, not to an assent
to the doctrines, but to a payment of the tax.

But how do you ease and relieve? How do you know, that, in making a new
door into the Church for these gentlemen, you do not drive ten times
their number out of it? Supposing the contents and not-contents strictly
equal in numbers and consequence, the possession, to avoid disturbance,
ought to carry it. You displease all the clergy of England now actually
in office, for the chance of obliging a score or two, perhaps, of
gentlemen, who are, or want to be, beneficed clergymen: and do you
oblige? Alter your Liturgy,--will it please all even, of those who wish,
an alteration? will they agree in what ought to be altered? And after it
is altered to the mind of every one, you are no further advanced than if
you had not taken a single step; because a large body of men will then
say you ought to have no liturgy at all: and then these men, who now
complain so bitterly that they are shut out, will themselves bar the
door against thousands of others. Dissent, not satisfied with
toleration, is not conscience, but ambition.

You altered the Liturgy for the Directory. This was settled by a set of
most learned divines and learned laymen: Selden sat amongst them. Did
this please? It was considered upon both sides as a most unchristian
imposition. Well, at the Restoration they rejected the Directory, and
reformed the Common Prayer,--which, by the way, had been three times
reformed before. Were they then contented? Two thousand (or some great
number) of clergy resigned their livings in one day rather than read it:
and truly, rather than raise that second idol, I should have adhered to
the Directory, as I now adhere to the Common Prayer. Nor can you content
other men's conscience, real or pretended, by any concessions: follow
your own; seek peace and ensue it. You have no symptoms of discontent in
the people to their Establishment. The churches are too small for their
congregations. The livings are too few for their candidates. The spirit
of religious controversy has slackened by the nature of things: by act
you may revive it. I will not enter into the question, how much truth is
preferable to peace. Perhaps truth may be far better. But as we have
scarcely ever the same certainty in the one that we have in the other, I
would, unless the truth were evident indeed, hold fast to peace, which
has in her company charity, the highest of the virtues.

This business appears in two points of view: 1st, Whether it is a matter
of grievance; 2nd, Whether it is within our province to redress it with
propriety and prudence. Whether it comes properly before us on a
petition upon matter of grievance I would not inquire too curiously. I
know, technically speaking, that nothing agreeable to law can be
considered as a grievance. But an over-attention to the rules of any act
does sometimes defeat the ends of it; and I think it does so in this
Parliamentary act, as much at least as in any other. I know many
gentlemen think that the very essence of liberty consists in being
governed according to law, as if grievances had nothing real and
intrinsic; but I cannot be of that opinion. Grievances may subsist by
law. Nay, I do not know whether any grievance can be considered as
intolerable, until it is established and sanctified by law. If the Act
of Toleration were not perfect, if there were a complaint of it, I would
gladly consent to amend it. But when I heard a complaint of a pressure
on religious liberty, to my astonishment I find that there was no
complaint whatsoever of the insufficiency of the act of King William,
nor any attempt to make it more sufficient. The matter, therefore, does
not concern toleration, but establishment; and it is not the rights of
private conscience that are in question, but the propriety of the terms
which are proposed by law as a title to public emoluments: so that the
complaint is not, that there is not toleration of diversity in opinion,
but that diversity in opinion is not rewarded by bishoprics, rectories,
and collegiate stalls. When gentlemen complain of the subscription as
matter of grievance, the complaint arises from confounding private
judgment, whose rights are anterior to law, and the qualifications which
the law creates for its own magistracies, whether civil or religious. To
take away from men their lives, their liberty, or their property, those
things for the protection of which society was introduced, is great
hardship and intolerable tyranny; but to annex any condition you please
to benefits artificially created is the most just, natural, and proper
thing in the world. When _e nova_ you form an arbitrary benefit, an
advantage, preeminence, or emolument, not by Nature, but institution,
you order and modify it with all the power of a creator over his
creature. Such benefits of institution are royalty, nobility,
priesthood, all of which you may limit to birth; you might prescribe
even shape and stature. The Jewish priesthood was hereditary. Founders'
kinsmen have a preference in the election of fellows in many colleges of
our universities: the qualifications at All Souls are, that they should
be _optime nati, bene vestiti, mediocriter docti_.

By contending for liberty in the candidate for orders, you take away the
liberty of the elector, which is the people, that is, the state. If they
can choose, they may assign a reason for their choice; if they can
assign a reason, they may do it in writing, and prescribe it as a
condition; they may transfer their authority to their representatives,
and enable them to exercise the same. In all human institutions, a great
part, almost all regulations, are made from the mere necessity of the
case, let the theoretical merits of the question be what they will. For
nothing happened at the Reformation but what will happen in all such
revolutions. When tyranny is extreme, and abuses of government
intolerable, men resort to the rights of Nature to shake it off. When
they have done so, the very same principle of necessity of human affairs
to establish some other authority, which shall preserve the order of
this new institution, must be obeyed, until they grow intolerable; and
you shall not be suffered to plead original liberty against such an
institution. See Holland, Switzerland.

If you will have religion publicly practised and publicly taught, you
must have a power to say what that religion will be which you will
protect and encourage, and to distinguish it by such marks and
characteristics as you in your wisdom shall think fit. As I said before,
your determination may be unwise in this as in other matters; but it
cannot be unjust, hard, or oppressive, or contrary to the liberty of
any man, or in the least degree exceeding your province. It is,
therefore, as a grievance, fairly none at all,--nothing but what is
essential, not only to the order, but to the liberty, of the whole

The petitioners are so sensible of the force of these arguments, that
they do admit of one subscription,--that is, to the Scripture. I shall
not consider how forcibly this argument militates with their whole
principle against subscription as an usurpation on the rights of
Providence: I content myself with submitting to the consideration of the
House, that, if that rule were once established, it must have some
authority to enforce the obedience; because, you well know, a law
without a sanction will be ridiculous. Somebody must sit in judgment on
his conformity; he must judge on the charge; if he judges, he must
ordain execution. These things are necessary consequences one of the
other; and then, this judgment is an equal and a superior violation of
private judgment; the right of private judgment is violated in a much
greater degree than it can be by any previous subscription. You come
round again to subscription, as the best and easiest method; men must
judge of his doctrine, and judge definitively: so that either his test
is nugatory, or men must first or last prescribe his public
interpretation of it.

If the Church be, as Mr. Locke defines it, _a voluntary society_, &c,
then it is essential to this voluntary society to exclude from her
voluntary society any member she thinks fit, or to oppose the entrance
of any upon such conditions as she thinks proper. For, otherwise, it
would be a voluntary society acting contrary to her will, which is a
contradiction in terms. And this is Mr. Locke's opinion, the advocate
for the largest scheme of ecclesiastical and civil toleration to
Protestants (for to Papists he allows no toleration at all).

They dispute only the extent of the subscription; they therefore tacitly
admit the equity of the principle itself. Here they do not resort to the
original rights of Nature, because it is manifest that those rights give
as large a power of controverting every part of Scripture, or even the
authority of the whole, as they do to the controverting any articles
whatsoever. When a man requires you to sign an assent to Scripture, he
requires you to assent to a doctrine as contrary to your natural
understanding, and to your rights of free inquiry, as those who require
your conformity to any one article whatsoever.

The subscription to Scripture is the most astonishing idea I ever heard,
and will amount to just nothing at all. Gentlemen so acute have not,
that I have heard, ever thought of answering a plain, obvious question:
What is that Scripture to which they are content to subscribe? They do
not think that a book becomes of divine authority because it is bound in
blue morocco, and is printed by John Baskett and his assigns. The Bible
is a vast collection of different treatises: a man who holds the divine
authority of one may consider the other as merely human. What is his
Canon? The Jewish? St. Jerome's? that of the Thirty-Nine Articles?
Luther's? There are some who reject the Canticles; others, six of the
Epistles; the Apocalypse has been suspected even as heretical, and was
doubted of for many ages, and by many great men. As these narrow the
Canon, others have enlarged it by admitting St. Barnabas's Epistles, the
Apostolic Constitutions, to say nothing of many other Gospels.
Therefore, to ascertain. Scripture, you must have one article more; and
you must define what that Scripture is which, you mean to teach. There
are, I believe, very few who, when Scripture is so ascertained, do not
see the absolute necessity of knowing what general doctrine a man draws
from it, before he is sent down authorized by the state to teach, it as
pure doctrine, and receive a tenth of the produce of our lands.

The Scripture is no one summary of doctrines regularly digested, in
which, a man could not mistake his way. It is a most venerable, but most
multifarious, collection of the records of the divine economy: a
collection of an infinite variety,--of cosmogony, theology, history,
prophecy, psalmody, morality, apologue, allegory, legislation, ethics,
carried through different books, by different authors, at different
ages, for different ends and purposes. It is necessary to sort out what
is intended for example, what only as narrative,--what to be understood
literally, what figuratively,--where one precept is to be controlled and
modified by another,--what is used directly, and what only as an
argument _ad hominem_,--what is temporary, and what of perpetual
obligation,--what appropriated to one state and to one set of men, and
what the general duty of all Christians. If we do not get some security
for this, we not only permit, but we actually pay for, all the dangerous
fanaticism which, can be produced to corrupt our people, and to derange
the public worship of the country. We owe the best we can (not
infallibility, but prudence) to the subject,--first sound doctrine, then
ability to use it.




MARCH 17, 1773.


This speech is given partly from the manuscript papers of Mr. Burke, and
partly from a very imperfect short-hand note taken at the time by a
member of the House of Commons. The bill under discussion was opposed by
petitions from several congregations calling themselves "Protestant
Dissenters," who appear to have been principally composed of the people
who are generally known under the denomination of "Methodists," and
particularly by a petition from a congregation of that description
residing in the town of Chatham.


I assure you, Sir, that the honorable gentleman who spoke last but one
need not be in the least fear that I should make a war of particles upon
his opinion, whether the Church of England _should, would_, or _ought_
to be alarmed. I am very clear that this House has no one reason in the
world to think she is alarmed by the bill brought before you. It is
something extraordinary that the only symptom of alarm in the Church of
England should appear in the petition of some Dissenters, with whom, I
believe very few in this House are yet acquainted, and of whom you know
no more than that you are assured by the honorable gentleman that they
are not Mahometans. Of the Church we know they are not, by the name that
they assume. They are, then, Dissenters. The first symptom of an alarm,
comes from some Dissenters assembled round the lines of Chatham: these
lines become the security of the Church of England! The honorable
gentleman, in speaking of the lines of Chatham, tells us that they serve
not only for the security of the wooden walls of England, but for the
defence of the Church of England. I suspect the wooden walls of England
secure the lines of Chatham, rather than the lines of Chatham secure the
wooden walls of England.

Sir, the Church of England, if only defended by this miserable petition
upon your table, must, I am afraid, upon the principles of true
fortification, be soon destroyed. But, fortunately, her walls, bulwarks,
and bastions are constructed of other materials than of stubble and
straw,--are built up with the strong and stable matter of the gospel of
liberty, and founded on a true, constitutional, legal establishment.
But, Sir, she has other securities: she has the security of her own
doctrines; she has the security of the piety, the sanctity, of her own
professors,--their learning is a bulwark to defend her; she has the
security of the two universities, not shook in any single battlement, in
any single pinnacle.

But the honorable gentleman has mentioned, indeed, principles which
astonish me rather more than ever. The honorable gentleman thinks that
the Dissenters enjoy a large share of liberty under a connivance; and he
thinks that the establishing toleration by law is an attack upon

The first of these is a contradiction in terms. Liberty under a
connivance! Connivance is a relaxation from slavery, not a definition of
liberty. What is connivance, but a state under which all slaves live? If
I was to describe slavery, I would say, with those who _hate_ it, it is
living under will, not under law; if as it is stated by its advocates, I
would say, that, like earthquakes, like thunder, or other wars the
elements make upon mankind, it happens rarely, it occasionally comes now
and then upon people, who, upon ordinary occasions, enjoy the same legal
government of liberty. Take it under the description of those who would
soften those features, the state of slavery and connivance is the same
thing. If the liberty enjoyed be a liberty not of toleration, but of
connivance, the only question is, whether establishing such by law is an
attack upon Christianity. Toleration an attack upon Christianity! What,
then! are we come to this pass, to suppose that nothing can support
Christianity but the principles of persecution? Is that, then, the idea
of establishment? Is it, then, the idea of Christianity itself, that it
ought to have establishments, that it ought to have laws against
Dissenters, but the breach of which laws is to be connived at? What a
picture of toleration! what a picture of laws, of establishments! what a
picture of religious and civil liberty! I am persuaded the honorable
gentleman, does not see it in this light. But these very terms become
the strongest reasons for my support of the bill: for I am persuaded
that toleration, so far from being an attack upon Christianity, becomes
the best and surest support that possibly can be given, to it. The
Christian religion itself arose without establishment,--it arose even
without toleration; and whilst its own principles were not tolerated, it
conquered all the powers of darkness, it conquered all the powers of the
world. The moment it began to depart from these principles, it converted
the establishment into tyranny; it subverted its foundations from that
very hour. Zealous as I am for the principle of an establishment, so
just an abhorrence do I conceive against whatever may shake it. I know
nothing but the supposed necessity of persecution that can make an
establishment disgusting. I would have toleration a part of
establishment, as a principle favorable to Christianity, and as a part
of Christianity.

All seem agreed that the law, as it stands, inflicting penalties on
all-religious teachers and on schoolmasters who do not sign the
Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, ought not to be executed. We are all
agreed that _the law is not good_: for that, I presume, is undoubtedly
the idea of a law that ought not to be executed. The question,
therefore, is, whether in a well-constituted commonwealth, which we
desire ours to be thought, and I trust intend that it should be, whether
in such a commonwealth it is wise to retain those laws which it is not
proper to execute. A penal law not ordinarily put in execution seems to
me to be a very absurd and a very dangerous thing. For if its principle
be right, if the object of its prohibitions and penalties be a real
evil, then you do in effect permit that very evil, which not only the
reason of the thing, but your very law, declares ought not to be
permitted; and thus it reflects exceedingly on the wisdom, and
consequently derogates not a little from the authority, of a legislature
who can at once forbid and suffer, and in the same breath promulgate
penalty and indemnity to the same persons and for the very same actions.
But if the object of the law be no moral or political evil, then you
ought not to hold even a terror to those whom you ought certainly not to
punish: for if it is not right to hurt, it is neither right nor wise to
menace. Such laws, therefore, as they must be defective either in
justice or wisdom or both, so they cannot exist without a considerable
degree of danger. Take them which way you will, they are pressed with
ugly alternatives.

1st. All penal laws are either upon popular prosecution, or on the part
of the crown. Now if they may be roused from their sleep, whenever a
minister thinks proper, as instruments of oppression, then they put vast
bodies of men into a state of slavery and court dependence; since their
liberty of conscience and their power of executing their functions
depend entirely on his will. I would have no man derive his means of
continuing any function, or his being restrained from it, but from the
laws only: they should be his only superior and sovereign lords.

2nd. They put statesmen and magistrates into an habit of playing fast
and loose with the laws, straining or relaxing them as may best suit
their political purposes,--and in that light tend to corrupt the
executive power through all its offices.

3rd. If they are taken up on popular actions, their operation in that
light also is exceedingly evil. They become the instruments of private
malice, private avarice, and not of public regulation; they nourish the
worst of men to the prejudice of the best, punishing tender consciences,
and rewarding informers.

Shall we, as the honorable gentleman tells us we may with perfect
security, trust to the manners of the age? I am well pleased with the
general manners of the times; but the desultory execution of penal laws,
the thing I condemn, does not depend on the manners of the times. I
would, however, have the laws tuned in unison with the manners. Very
dissonant are a gentle country and cruel laws; very dissonant, that your
reason is furious, but your passions moderate, and that you are always
equitable except in your courts of justice.

I will beg leave to state to the House one argument which has been much
relied upon: that the Dissenters are not unanimous upon this business;
that many persons are alarmed; that it will create a disunion among the

When any Dissenters, or any body of people, come here with a petition,
it is not the number of people, but the reasonableness of the request,
that should weigh with the House. A body of Dissenters come to this
House, and say, "Tolerate us: we desire neither the parochial advantage
of tithes, nor dignities, nor the stalls of your cathedrals: no! let the
venerable orders of the hierarchy exist with all their advantages." And
shall I tell them, "I reject your just and reasonable petition, not
because it shakes the Church, but because there are others, while you
lie grovelling upon the earth, that will kick and bite you"? Judge which
of these descriptions of men comes with a fair request: that which says,
"Sir, I desire liberty for my own, because I trespass on no man's
conscience,"--or the other, which says, "I desire that these men should
not be suffered to act according to their consciences, though I am
tolerated to act according to mine. But I sign a body of Articles, which
is my title to toleration; I sign no more, because more are against my
conscience. But I desire that you will not tolerate these men, because
they will not go so far as I, though I desire to be tolerated, who will
not go as far as you. No, imprison them, if they come within five miles
of a corporate town, because they do not believe what I do in point of
doctrines." Shall I not say to these men, _Arrangez-vous, canaille?_
You, who are not the predominant power, will not give to others the
relaxation under which you are yourself suffered to live. I have as high
an opinion of the doctrines of the Church as you. I receive them
implicitly, or I put my own explanation on them, or take that which
seems to me to come best recommended by authority. There are those of
the Dissenters who think more rigidly of the doctrine of the Articles
relative to Predestination than others do. They sign the Article
relative to it _ex animo_, and literally. Others allow a latitude of
construction. These two parties are in the Church, as well as among the
Dissenters; yet in the Church we live quietly under the same roof. I do
not see why, as long as Providence gives us no further light into this
great mystery, we should not leave things as the Divine Wisdom has left
them. But suppose all these things to me to be clear, (which Providence,
however, seems to have left obscure,) yet, whilst Dissenters claim a
toleration in things which, seeming clear to me, are obscure to them,
without entering into the merit of the Articles, with what face can
these men say, "Tolerate us, but do not tolerate them"? Toleration is
good for all, or it is good for none.

The discussion this day is not between establishment on one hand and
toleration on the other, but between those who, being tolerated
themselves, refuse toleration to others. That power should be puffed up
with pride, that authority should degenerate into rigor, if not
laudable, is but too natural. But this proceeding of theirs is much
beyond the usual allowance to human weakness: it not only is shocking to
our reason, but it provokes our indignation. _Quid domini facient,
audent cum talia fures?_ It is not the proud prelate thundering in his
Commission Court, but a pack of manumitted slaves, with the lash of the
beadle flagrant on their backs, and their legs still galled with their
fetters, that would drive their brethren into that prison-house from
whence they have just been permitted to escape. If, instead of puzzling
themselves in the depths of the Divine counsels, they would turn, to the
mild morality of the Gospel, they would read their own
condemnation:--"O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt
because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have compassion on
thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?"

In my opinion, Sir, a magistrate, whenever he goes to put any restraint
upon religious freedom, can only do it upon this ground,--that the
person dissenting does not dissent from the scruples of ill-informed
conscience, but from a party ground of dissension, in order to raise a
faction in the state. We give, with regard to rites and ceremonies, an
indulgence to tender consciences. But if dissent is at all punished in
any country, if at all it can be punished upon any pretence, it is upon
a presumption, not that a man is supposed to differ conscientiously from
the establishment, but that he resists truth for the sake of
faction,--that he abets diversity of opinions in religion to distract
the state, and to destroy the peace of his country. This is the only
plausible,--for there is no true ground of persecution. As the laws
stand, therefore, let us see how we have thought fit to act.

If there is any one thing within the competency of a magistrate with
regard to religion, it is this: that he has a right to direct the
exterior ceremonies of religion; that, whilst interior religion is
within the jurisdiction of God alone, the external part, bodily action,
is within the province of the chief governor. Hooker, and all the great
lights of the Church, have constantly argued this to be a part within
the province of the civil magistrate. But look at the Act of Toleration
of William and Mary: there you will see the civil magistrate has not
only dispensed with those things which are more particularly within his
province, with those things which faction might be supposed to take up
for the sake of making visible and external divisions and raising a
standard of revolt, but has also from sound politic considerations
relaxed on those points which are confessedly without his province.

The honorable gentleman, speaking of the heathens, certainly could not
mean to recommend anything that is derived from that impure source. But
he has praised the tolerating spirit of the heathens. Well! but the
honorable gentleman will recollect that heathens, that polytheists, must
permit a number of divinities. It is the very essence of its
constitution. But was it ever heard that polytheism tolerated a dissent
from a polytheistic establishment,--the belief of one God only? Never!
never! Sir, they constantly carried on persecution against that
doctrine. I will not give heathens the glory of a doctrine which I
consider the best part of Christianity. The honorable gentleman must
recollect the Roman law, that was clearly against the introduction of
any foreign rites in matters of religion. You have it at large in Livy,
how they persecuted in the first introduction the rites of Bacchus; and
even before Christ, to say nothing of their subsequent persecutions,
they persecuted the Druids and others. Heathenism, therefore, as in
other respects erroneous, was erroneous in point of persecution. I do
not say every heathen who persecuted was therefore an impious man: I
only say he was mistaken, as such a man is now. But, says the honorable
gentleman, they did not persecute Epicureans. No: the Epicureans had no
quarrel with their religious establishment, nor desired any religion for
themselves. It would have been very extraordinary, if irreligious
heathens had desired either a religious establishment or toleration.
But, says the honorable gentleman, the Epicureans entered, as others,
into the temples. They did so; they defied all subscription; they defied
all sorts of conformity; there was no subscription to which they were
not ready to set their hands, no ceremonies they refused to practise;
they made it a principle of their irreligion outwardly to conform to any
religion. These atheists eluded all that you could do: so will all
freethinkers forever. Then you suffer, or the weakness of your law has
suffered, those great dangerous animals to escape notice, whilst you
have nets that entangle the poor fluttering silken wings of a tender

The honorable gentleman insists much upon this circumstance of
objection,--namely, the division amongst the Dissenters. Why, Sir, the
Dissenters, by the nature of the term, are open to have a division among
themselves. They are Dissenters because they differ from the Church of
England: not that they agree among themselves. There are Presbyterians,
there are Independents,--some that do not agree to infant baptism,
others that do not agree to the baptism of adults, or any baptism. All
these are, however, tolerated under the acts of King William, and
subsequent acts; and their diversity of sentiments with one another did
not and could not furnish an argument against their toleration, when
their difference with ourselves furnished none.

But, says the honorable gentleman, if you suffer them to go on, they
will shake the fundamental principles of Christianity. Let it be
considered, that this argument goes as strongly against connivance,
which you allow, as against toleration, which you reject. The gentleman
sets out with a principle of perfect liberty, or, as he describes it,
connivance. But, for fear of dangerous opinions, you leave it in your
power to vex a man who has not held any one dangerous opinion
whatsoever. If one man is a professed atheist, another man the best
Christian, but dissents from two of the Thirty-Nine Articles, I may let
escape the atheist, because I know him to be an atheist, because I am,
perhaps, so inclined myself, and because I may connive where I think
proper; but the conscientious Dissenter, on account of his attachment to
that general religion which perhaps I hate, I shall take care to punish,
because I may punish when I think proper. Therefore, connivance being an
engine of private malice or private favor, not of good government,--an
engine which totally fails of suppressing atheism, but oppresses
conscience,--I say that principle becomes, not serviceable, but
dangerous to Christianity; that it is not toleration, but contrary to
it, even contrary to peace; that the penal system to which it belongs is
a dangerous principle in the economy either of religion or government.
The honorable gentleman (and in him I comprehend all those who oppose
the bill) bestowed in support of their side of the question as much
argument as it could bear, and much more of learning and decoration than
it deserved. He thinks connivance consistent, but legal toleration
inconsistent, with the interests of Christianity. Perhaps I would go as
far as that honorable gentleman, if I thought toleration inconsistent
with those interests. God forbid! I may be mistaken, but I take
toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would
sacrifice: I would keep them both: it is not necessary I should
sacrifice either. I do not like the idea of tolerating the doctrines of
Epicurus: but nothing in the world propagates them so much as the
oppression of the poor, of the honest and candid disciples of the
religion we profess in common,--I mean revealed religion; nothing sooner
makes them take a short cut out of the bondage of sectarian vexation
into open and direct infidelity than tormenting men for every
difference. My opinion is, that, in establishing the Christian religion
wherever you find it, curiosity or research is its best security; and in
this way a man is a great deal better justified in saying, Tolerate all
kinds of consciences, than in imitating the heathens, whom the honorable
gentleman quotes, in tolerating those who have none. I am not over-fond
of calling for the secular arm upon these misguided or misguiding men;
but if ever it ought to be raised, it ought surely to be raised against
these very men, not against others, whose liberty of religion you make a
pretext for proceedings which drive them into the bondage of impiety.
What figure do I make in saying, I do not attack the works of these
atheistical writers, but I will keep a rod hanging over the
conscientious man, their bitterest enemy, because these atheists may
take advantage of the liberty of their foes to introduce irreligion? The
best book that ever, perhaps, has been written against these people is
that in which the author has collected in a body the whole of the
infidel code, and has brought the writers into one body to cut them all
off together. This was done by a Dissenter, who never did subscribe the
Thirty-Nine Articles,--Dr. Leland. But if, after all this, danger is to
be apprehended, if you are really fearful that Christianity will
indirectly suffer by this liberty, you have my free consent: go
directly, and by the straight way, and not by a circuit in which, in
your road you may destroy your friends; point your arms against these
men who do the mischief you fear promoting; point your arms against men
who, not contented with endeavoring to turn your eyes from the blaze and
effulgence of light by which life and immortality is so gloriously
demonstrated by the Gospel, would even extinguish that faint glimmering
of Nature, that only comfort supplied to ignorant man before this great
illumination,--them, who, by attacking even the possibility of all
revelation, arraign all the dispensations of Providence to man. These
are the wicked Dissenters you ought to fear; these are the people
against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are the men to
whom, arrayed in all the terrors of government, I would say, You shall
not degrade us into brutes! These men, these factious men, as the
honorable gentleman properly called them, are the just objects of
vengeance, not the conscientious Dissenter,--these men, who would take
away whatever ennobles the rank or consoles the misfortunes of human
nature, by breaking off that connection of observances, of affections,
of hopes and fears, which bind us to the Divinity, and constitute the
glorious and distinguishing prerogative of humanity, that of being a
religious creature: against these I would have the laws rise in all
their majesty of terrors, to fulminate such vain and impious wretches,
and to awe them into impotence by the only dread they can fear or
believe, to learn that eternal lesson, _Discite justitiam moniti, et non
temnere Divos_!

At the same time that I would cut up the very root of atheism, I would
respect all conscience,--all conscience that is really such, and which
perhaps its very tenderness proves to be sincere. I wish to see the
Established Church of England great and powerful; I wish to see her
foundations laid low and deep, that she may crush the giant powers of
rebellious darkness; I would have her head raised up to that heaven to
which she conducts us. I would have her open wide her hospitable gates
by a noble and liberal comprehension, but I would have no breaches in
her wall; I would have her cherish all those who are within, and pity
all those who are without; I would have her a common blessing to the
world, an example, if not an instructor, to those who have not the
happiness to belong to her; I would have her give a lesson of peace to
mankind, that a vexed and wandering generation might be taught to seek
for repose and toleration in the maternal bosom of Christian charity,
and not in the harlot lap of infidelity and indifference. Nothing has
driven people more into that house of seduction than the mutual hatred
of Christian congregations. Long may we enjoy our church under a learned
and edifying episcopacy! But episcopacy may fail, and religion exist.
The most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is
through atheism. Do not promote diversity; when you have it, bear it;
have as many sorts of religion as you find in your country; there is a
reasonable worship in them all. The others, the infidels, are outlaws of
the constitution, not of this country, but of the human race. They are
never, never to be supported, never to be tolerated. Under the
systematic attacks of these people, I see some of the props of good
government already begin to fail; I see propagated principles which will
not leave to religion even a toleration. I see myself sinking every day
under the attacks of these wretched people. How shall I arm myself
against them? By uniting all those in affection, who are united in the
belief of the great principles of the Godhead that made and sustains the
world. They who hold revelation give double assurance to their country.
Even the man who does not hold revelation, yet who wishes that it were
proved to him, who observes a pious silence with regard to it, such a
man, though not a Christian, is governed by religious principles. Let
him be tolerated in this country. Let it be but a serious religion,
natural or revealed, take what you can get. Cherish, blow up the
slightest spark: one day it may be a pure and holy flame. By this
proceeding you form an alliance offensive and defensive against those
great ministers of darkness in the world who are endeavoring to shake
all the works of God established in order and beauty.

Perhaps I am carried too far; but it is in the road into which the
honorable gentleman has led me. The honorable gentleman would have us
fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of
the Church of England,--would have us not only fight against infidelity,
but fight at the same time with all the faith in the world except our
own. In the moment we make a front against the common enemy, we have to
combat with all those who are the natural friends of our cause. Strong
as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the Church of England
is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the Church of
England. I will stand up at all times for the rights of conscience, as
it is such,--not for its particular modes against its general
principles. One may be right, another mistaken; but if I have more
strength than my brother, it shall be employed to support, not to
oppress his weakness; if I have more light, it shall be used to guide,
not to dazzle him....




MAY 11, 1793,





I never govern myself, no rational man ever did govern himself, by
abstractions and universals. I do not put abstract ideas wholly out of
any question; because I well know that under that name I should dismiss
principles, and that without the guide and light of sound,
well-understood principles, all reasonings in politics, as in everything
else, would be only a confused jumble of particular facts and details,
without the means of drawing out any sort of theoretical or practical
conclusion. A statesman differs from a professor in an university: the
latter has only the general view of society; the former, the statesman,
has a number of circumstances to combine with those general ideas, and
to take into his consideration. Circumstances are infinite, are
infinitely combined, are variable and transient: he who does not take
them into consideration is not erroneous, but stark mad; _dat operam ut
cum ratione insaniat_; he is metaphysically mad. A statesman, never
losing sight of principles, is to be guided by circumstances; and
judging contrary to the exigencies of the moment, he may ruin his
country forever.

I go on this ground,--that government, representing the society, has a
general superintending control over all the actions and over all the
publicly propagated doctrines of men, without which it never could
provide adequately for all the wants of society: but then it is to use
this power with an equitable discretion, the only bond of sovereign
authority. For it is not, perhaps, so much by the assumption of unlawful
powers as by the unwise or unwarrantable use of those which are most
legal, that governments oppose their true end and object: for there is
such a thing as tyranny, as well as usurpation. You can hardly state to
me a case to which legislature is the most confessedly competent, in
which, if the rules of benignity and prudence are not observed, the most
mischievous and oppressive things may not be done. So that, after all,
it is a moral and virtuous discretion, and not any abstract theory of
right, which keeps governments faithful to their ends. Crude,
unconnected truths are in the world of practice what falsehoods are in
theory. A reasonable, prudent, provident, and moderate coercion may be a
means of preventing acts of extreme ferocity and rigor: for by
propagating excessive and extravagant doctrines, such extravagant
disorders take place as require the most perilous and fierce corrections
to oppose them.

It is not morally true that we are bound to establish in every country
that form of religion which in _our_ minds is most agreeable to truth,
and conduces most to the eternal happiness of mankind. In the same
manner, it is not true that we are, against the conviction of our own
judgment, to establish a system of opinions and practices directly
contrary to those ends, only because some majority of the people, told
by the head, may prefer it. No conscientious man would willingly
establish what he knew to be false and mischievous in religion, or in
anything else. No wise man, on the contrary, would tyrannically set up
his own sense so as to reprobate that of the great prevailing body of
the community, and pay no regard to the established opinions and
prejudices of mankind, or refuse to them the means of securing a
religious instruction suitable to these prejudices. A great deal depends
on the state in which you find men....

An alliance between Church and State in a Christian commonwealth is, in
my opinion, an idle and a fanciful speculation. An alliance is between
two things that are in their nature distinct and independent, such as
between two sovereign states. But in a Christian commonwealth the Church
and the State are one and the, same thing, being different integral
parts of the same whole. For the Church has been always divided into two
parts, the clergy and the laity,--of which the laity is as much an
essential integral part, and has as much its duties and privileges, as
the clerical member, and in the rule, order, and government of the
Church has its share. Religion is so far, in my opinion, from being out
of the province or the duty of a Christian magistrate, that it is, and
it ought to be, not only his care, but the principal thing in his care;
because it is one of the great bonds of human society, and its object
the supreme good, the ultimate end and object of man himself. The
magistrate, who is a man, and charged with the concerns of men, and to
whom very specially nothing human is remote and indifferent, has a right
and a duty to watch over it with an unceasing vigilance, to protect, to
promote, to forward it by every rational, just, and prudent means. It is
principally his duty to prevent the abuses which grow out of every
strong and efficient principle that actuates the human mind. As
religion is one of the bonds of society, he ought not to suffer it to be
made the pretext of destroying its peace, order, liberty, and its
security. Above all, he ought strictly to look to it, when men begin to
form new combinations, to be distinguished by new names, and especially
when they mingle a political system with their religious opinions, true
or false, plausible or implausible.

It is the interest, and it is the duty, and because it is the interest
and the duty, it is the right of government to attend much to opinions;
because, as opinions soon combine with passions, even when they do not
produce them, they have much influence on actions. Factions are formed
upon opinions, which factions become in effect bodies corporate in the
state; nay, factions generate opinions, in order to become a centre of
union, and to furnish watchwords to parties; and this may make it
expedient for government to forbid things in themselves innocent and
neutral. I am not fond of defining with precision what the ultimate
rights of the sovereign supreme power, in providing for the safety of
the commonwealth, may be, or may not extend to. It will signify very
little what my notions or what their own notions on the subject may be;
because, according to the exigence, they will take, in fact, the steps
which seem to them necessary for the preservation of the whole: for as
self-preservation in individuals is the first law of Nature, the same
will prevail in societies, who will, right or wrong, make that an object
paramount to all other rights whatsoever. There are ways and means by
which a good man would not even save the commonwealth.... All things
founded on the idea of danger ought in a great degree to be temporary.
All policy is very suspicious that sacrifices any part to the ideal good
of the whole. The object of the state is (as far as may be) the
happiness of the whole. Whatever makes multitudes of men utterly
miserable can never answer that object; indeed, it contradicts it wholly
and entirely; and the happiness or misery of mankind, estimated by their
feelings and sentiments, and not by any theories of their rights, is,
and ought to be, the standard for the conduct of legislators towards the
people. This naturally and necessarily conducts us to the peculiar and
characteristic situation of a people, and to a knowledge of their
opinions, prejudices, habits, and all the circumstances that diversify
and color life. The first question a good statesman would ask himself,
therefore, would be, How and in what circumstances do you find the
society? and to act upon them.

To the other laws relating to other sects I have nothing to say: I only
look to the petition which has given rise to this proceeding. I confine
myself to that, because in my opinion its merits have little or no
relation to that of the other laws which the right honorable gentleman
has with so much ability blended with it. With the Catholics, with the
Presbyterians, with the Anabaptists, with the Independents, with the
Quakers, I have nothing at all to do. They are in _possession_,--a great
title in all human affairs. The tenor and spirit of our laws, whether
they were restraining or whether they were relaxing, have hitherto taken
another course. The spirit of our laws has applied their penalty or
their relief to the supposed abuse to be repressed or the grievance to
be relieved; and the provision for a Catholic and a Quaker has been
totally different, according to his exigence: you did not give a
Catholic liberty to be freed from an oath, or a Quaker power of saying
mass with impunity. You have done this, because you never have laid it
down as an universal proposition, as a maxim, that nothing relative to
religion was your concern, but the direct contrary; and therefore you
have always examined whether there was a grievance. It has been so at
all times: the legislature, whether right or wrong, went no other way to
work but by circumstances, times, and necessities. My mind marches the
same road; my school is the practice and usage of Parliament.

Old religious factions are volcanoes burnt out; on the lava and ashes
and squalid scoriae of old eruptions grow the peaceful olive, the
cheering vine, and the sustaining corn. Such was the first, such the
second condition of Vesuvius. But when a now fire bursts out, a face of
desolations comes on, not to be rectified in ages. Therefore, when men
come before us, and rise up like an exhalation from the ground, they
come in a questionable shape, and we must _exorcise_ them, and try
whether their intents be wicked or charitable, whether they bring airs
from heaven or blasts from hell. This is the first time that our records
of Parliament have heard, or our experience or history given us an
account of any religious congregation or association known by the name
which these petitioners have assumed. We are now to see by what people,
of what character, and under what temporary circumstances, this business
is brought before you. We are to see whether there be any and what
mixture of political dogmas and political practices with their religious
tenets, of what nature they are, and how far they are at present
practically separable from them. This faction (the authors of the
petition) are not confined to a _theological_ sect, but are also a
_political_ faction. 1st, As theological, we are to show that they do
not aim at the quiet enjoyment of their own liberty, but are
_associated_ for the express purpose of proselytism. In proof of this
first proposition, read their primary association. 2nd, That their
purpose of proselytism is to collect a multitude sufficient by force and
violence to overturn the Church. In proof of the second proposition, see
the letter of Priestley to Mr. Pitt, and extracts from his works. 3rd,
That the designs against the Church are concurrent with a design to
subvert the State. In proof of the third proposition, read the
advertisement of the Unitarian Society for celebrating the 14th of July.
4th, On what _model_ they intend to build,--that it is the _French_. In
proof of the fourth proposition, read the correspondence of the
Revolution Society with the clubs of France, read Priestley's adherence
to their opinions. 5th, What the _French_ is with regard to religious
toleration, and with regard to, 1. Religion,--2. Civil happiness,--3.
Virtue, order, and real liberty,--4. Commercial opulence,--5. National
defence. In proof of the fifth proposition, read the representation of
the French minister of the Home Department, and the report of the
committee upon it.

Formerly, when the superiority of two parties contending for dogmas and
an establishment was the question, we knew in such a contest the whole
of the evil. We knew, for instance, that Calvinism would prevail
according to the Westminster Catechism with regard to _tenets_. We knew
that Presbytery would prevail in _church government_. But we do not
know what opinions would prevail, if the present Dissenters should
become masters. They will not tell us their present opinions; and one
principle of modern Dissent is, not to discover them. Next, as their
religion, is in a continual fluctuation, and is so by principle and in
profession, it is impossible for us to know what it will be. If religion
only related to the individual, and was a question between God and the
conscience, it would not be wise, nor in my opinion equitable, for human
authority to step in. But when religion is embodied into faction, and
factions have objects to pursue, it will and must, more or less, become
a question of power between them. If even, when embodied into
congregations, they limited their principle to their own congregations,
and were satisfied themselves to abstain from what they thought
unlawful, it would be cruel, in my opinion, to molest them in that
tenet, and a consequent practice. But we know that they not only
entertain these opinions, but entertain them with a zeal for propagating
them by force, and employing the power of law and place to destroy
establishments, if ever they should come to power sufficient to effect
their purpose: that is, in other words, they declare they would
persecute the heads of our Church; and the question is, whether you
should keep them within the bounds of toleration, or subject yourself to
their persecution.

A bad and very censurable practice it is to warp doubtful and ambiguous
expressions to a perverted sense, which makes the charge not the crime
of others, but the construction of your own malice; nor is it allowed to
draw conclusions from allowed premises, which those who lay down the
premises utterly deny, and disown as their conclusions. For this,
though it may possibly be good logic, cannot by any possibility
whatsoever be a fair or charitable representation of any man or any set
of men. It may show the erroneous nature of principles, but it argues
nothing as to dispositions and intentions. Far be such a mode from me! A
mean and unworthy jealousy it would be to do anything upon, the mere
speculative apprehension of what men will do. But let us pass by _our_
opinions concerning the danger of the Church. What do the gentlemen
themselves think of that danger? They from, whom the danger is
apprehended, what do they declare to be their own designs? What do they
conceive to be their own forces? And what do they proclaim to be their
means? Their designs they declare to be to destroy the Established
Church; and not to set up a new one of their own. See Priestley. If they
should find the State stick to the Church, the question is, whether they
love the constitution in _State_ so well as that they would not destroy
the constitution of the State in order to destroy that of the Church.
Most certainly they do not.

The foundations on which obedience to governments is founded are not to
be constantly discussed. That we are here supposes the discussion
already made and the dispute settled. We must assume the rights of what
represents the public to control the individual, to make his will and
his acts to submit to their will, until some intolerable grievance shall
make us know that it does not answer its end, and will submit neither to
reformation nor restraint. Otherwise we should dispute all the points of
morality, before we can punish a murderer, robber, and adulterer; we
should analyze all society. Dangers by being despised grow great; so
they do by absurd provision against them. _Stulti est dixisse, Non
putaram_. Whether an early discovery of evil designs, an early
declaration, and an early precaution against them be more wise than to
stifle all inquiry about them, for fear they should declare themselves
more early than otherwise they would, and therefore precipitate the
evil,--all this depends on the reality of the danger. Is it only an
unbookish jealousy, as Shakspeare calls it? It is a question of fact.
Does a design against the Constitution of this country exist? If it
does, and if it is carried on with increasing vigor and activity by a
restless faction, and if it receives countenance by the most ardent and
enthusiastic applauses of its object in the great council of this
kingdom, by men of the first parts which this kingdom produces, perhaps
by the first it has ever produced, can I think that there is no danger?
If there be danger, must there be no precaution at all against it? If
you ask whether I think the danger urgent and immediate, I answer, Thank
God, I do not. The body of the people is yet sound, the Constitution is
in their hearts, while wicked men are endeavoring to put another into
their heads. But if I see the very same beginnings which have commonly
ended in great calamities, I ought to act as if they might produce the
very same effects. Early and provident fear is the mother of safety;
because in that state of things the mind is firm and collected, and the
judgment unembarrassed. But when the fear and the evil feared come on
together, and press at once upon us, deliberation itself is ruinous,
which saves upon all other occasions; because, when perils are instant,
it delays decision: the man is in a flutter, and in a hurry, and his
judgment is gone,--as the judgment of the deposed King of France and his
ministers was gone, if the latter did not premeditately betray him. He
was just come from his usual amusement of hunting, when the head of the
column of treason and assassination was arrived at his house. Let not
the king, let not the Prince of Wales, be surprised in this manner. Let
not both Houses of Parliament be led in triumph along with him, and have
law dictated to them, by the Constitutional, the Revolution, and the
Unitarian Societies. These insect reptiles, whilst they go on only
caballing and toasting, only fill us with disgust; if they get above
their natural size, and increase the quantity whilst they keep the
quality of their venom, they become objects of the greatest terror. A
spider in his natural size is only a spider, ugly and loathsome; and his
flimsy net is only fit for catching flies. But, good God! suppose a
spider as large as an ox, and that he spread cables about us, all the
wilds of Africa would not produce anything so dreadful:--

    Quale portentum neque militaris
    Daunia in latis alit esculetis,
    Nec Jubae tellus generat, leonum
        Arida nutrix.

Think of them who dare menace in the way they do in their present state,
what would they do, if they had power commensurate to their malice? God
forbid I ever should have a despotic master!--but if I must, my choice
is made. I will have Louis the Sixteenth rather than Monsieur Bailly, or
Brissot, or Chabot,--rather George the Third, or George the Fourth,
than. Dr. Priestley, or Dr. Kippis,--persons who would not load a
tyrannous power by the poisoned taunts of a vulgar, low-bred insolence.
I hope we have still spirit enough to keep us from the one or the other.
The contumelies of tyranny are the worst parts of it.

But if the danger be existing in reality, and silently maturing itself
to our destruction, what! is it not better to take _treason_ unprepared
than that _treason_ should come by surprise upon us and take us
unprepared? If we must have a conflict, let us have it with all our
forces fresh about us, with our government in full function and full
strength, our troops uncorrupted, our revenues in the legal hands, our
arsenals filled and possessed by government,--and not wait till the
conspirators met to commemorate the 14th of July shall seize on the
Tower of London and the magazines it contains, murder the governor, and
the mayor of London, seize upon the king's person, drive out the House
of Lords, occupy your gallery, and thence, as from an high tribunal,
dictate to you. The degree of danger is not only from the circumstances
which threaten, but from the value of the objects which are threatened.
A small danger menacing an inestimable object is of more importance than
the greatest perils which regard one that is indifferent to us. The
whole question of the danger depends upon facts. The first fact is,
whether those who sway in France at present confine themselves to the
regulation of their internal affairs,--or whether upon system they
nourish cabals in all other countries, to extend their power by
producing revolutions similar to their own. 2. The next is, whether we
have any cabals formed or forming within these kingdoms, to cooeperate
with them for the destruction of our Constitution. On the solution of
these two questions, joined with our opinion of the value of the object
to be affected by their machinations, the justness of our alarm and the
necessity of our vigilance must depend. Every private conspiracy, every
open attack upon the laws, is dangerous. One robbery is an alarm to all
property; else I am sure we exceed measure in our punishment. As
robberies increase in number and audacity, the alarm increases. These
wretches are at war with us upon principle. They hold this government to
be an usurpation. See the language of the Department.

The whole question is on the _reality_ of the danger. Is it such a
danger as would justify that fear _qui cadere potest in hominem
constantem et non metuentem_? This is the fear which the principles of
jurisprudence declare to be a lawful and justifiable fear. When a man
threatens my life openly and publicly, I may demand from him securities
of the peace. When every act of a man's life manifests such a design
stronger than by words, even though he does not make such a declaration,
I am justified in being on my guard. They are of opinion that they are
already one fifth of the kingdom. If so, their force is naturally not
contemptible. To say that in all contests the decision will of course be
in favor of the greater number is by no means true in fact. For, first,
the greater number is generally composed of men of sluggish tempers,
slow to act, and unwilling to attempt, and, by being in possession, are
so disposed to peace that they are unwilling to take early and vigorous
measures for their defence, and they are almost always caught

    Nec coiere pares: alter vergentibus annis
    In senium, longoque togae tranquillior usu.
    Dedidicit jam pace ducem;...
    Nec reparare novas vires, multumque priori
    Credere fortunae: stat magni nominis umbra.[1]

A smaller number, more expedite, awakened, active, vigorous, and
courageous, who make amends for what they want in weight by their
superabundance of velocity, will create an acting power of the greatest
possible strength. When men are furiously and fanatically fond of an
object, they will prefer it, as is well known, to their own peace, to
their own property, and to their own lives: and can there be a doubt, in
such a case, that they would prefer it to the peace of their country? Is
it to be doubted, that, if they have not strength enough at home, they
will call in foreign force to aid them?

Would you deny them _what is reasonable_, for fear they should?
Certainly not. It would be barbarous to pretend to look into the minds
of men. I would go further: it would not be just even to trace
consequences from principles which, though evident to me, were denied by
them. Let them disband as a faction, and let them act as individuals,
and when I see them with no other views than to enjoy their own
conscience in peace, I, for one, shall most cheerfully vote for their

A tender conscience, of all things, ought to be tenderly handled; for if
you do not, you injure not only the conscience, but the whole moral
frame and constitution is injured, recurring at times to remorse, and
seeking refuge only in making the conscience callous. But the conscience
of faction,--the conscience of sedition,--the conscience of conspiracy,
war, and confusion....

Whether anything be proper to be denied, which is right in itself,
because it may lead to the demand of others which it is improper to
grant? Abstractedly speaking, there can be no doubt that this question
ought to be decided in the negative. But as no moral questions are ever
abstract questions, this, before I judge upon any abstract proposition,
must be embodied in circumstances; for, since things are right or wrong,
morally speaking, only by their relation and connection with other
things, this very question of what it is politically right to grant
depends upon this relation to its effects. It is the direct office of
wisdom to look to the consequences of the acts we do: if it be not this,
it is worth nothing, it is out of place and of function, and a downright
fool is as capable of government as Charles Fox. A man desires a sword:
why should he be refused? A sword is a means of defence, and defence is
the natural right of man,--nay, the first of all his rights, and which
comprehends them all. But if I know that the sword desired is to be
employed to cut my own throat, common sense, and my own self-defence,
dictate to me to keep out of his hands this natural right of the sword.
But whether this denial be wise or foolish, just or unjust, prudent or
cowardly, depends entirely on the state of the man's means. A man may
have very ill dispositions, and yet be so very weak as to make all
precaution foolish. See whether this be the case of these Dissenters, as
to their designs, as to their means, numbers, activity, zeal, foreign

The first question, to be decided, when we talk of the Church's being in
danger from any particular measure, is, whether the danger to the Church
is a public evil: for to those who think that the national Church
Establishment is itself a national grievance, to desire them to forward
or to resist any measure, upon account of its conducing to the safety of
the Church or averting its danger, would be to the last degree absurd.
If you have reason to think thus of it, take the reformation instantly
into your own hands, whilst you are yet cool, and can do it in measure
and proportion, and not under the influence of election tests and
popular fury. But here I assume that by far the greater number of those
who compose the House are of opinion that this national Church
Establishment is a great national benefit, a great public blessing, and
that its existence or its non-existence of course is a thing by no means
indifferent to the public welfare: then to them its danger or its safety
must enter deeply into every question which has a relation to it. It is
not because ungrounded alarms have been given that there never can exist
a real danger: perhaps the worst effect of an ungrounded alarm is to
make people insensible to the approach of a real peril. Quakerism is
strict, methodical, in its nature highly aristocratical, and so regular
that it has brought the whole community to the condition of one family;
but it does not actually interfere with the government. The principle of
your petitioners is no passive conscientious dissent, on account of an
over-scrupulous habit of mind: the dissent on their part is fundamental,
goes to the very root; and it is at issue not upon this rite or that
ceremony, on this or that school opinion, but upon this one question of
an Establishment, as unchristian, unlawful, contrary to the Gospel and
to natural right, Popish and idolatrous. These are the principles
violently and fanatically held and pursued,--taught to their children,
who are sworn at the altar like Hannibal. The war is with the
Establishment itself,--no quarter, no compromise. As a party, they are
infinitely mischievous: see the declarations of Priestley and
Price,--declarations, you will say, of _hot_ men. Likely enough: but who
are the _cool_ men who have disclaimed them? Not one,--no, not one.
Which of them has ever told you that they do not mean to _destroy the
Church_, if ever it should be in their power? Which of them has told you
that this would not be the first and favorite use of any power they
should get? Not one,--no, not one. Declarations of hot men! The danger
is thence, that they are under the _conduct_ of hot men: _falsos in
amore odia non fingere_.

They say they are well affected to the State, and mean only to destroy
the Church. If this be the utmost of their meaning, you must first
consider whether you wish your Church Establishment to be destroyed. If
you do, you had much better do it now in temper, in a grave, moderate,
and parliamentary way. But if you think otherwise, and that you think it
to be an invaluable blessing, a way fully sufficient to nourish a manly,
rational, solid, and at the same time humble piety,--if you find it well
fitted to the frame and pattern of your civil constitution,--if you find
it a barrier against fanaticism, infidelity, and atheism,--if you find
that it furnishes support to the human mind in the afflictions and
distresses of the world, consolation in sickness, pain, poverty, and
death,--if it dignifies our nature with the hope of immortality, leaves
inquiry free, whilst it preserves an authority to teach, where authority
only can teach, _communia altaria, aeque ac patriam, diligite, colite,

In the discussion of this subject which took place in the year 1790, Mr.
Burke declared his intention, in case the motion for repealing the Test
Acts had been agreed to, of proposing to substitute the following test
in the room of what was intended to be repealed:--

"I, _A.B._, do, in the presence of God, sincerely profess and believe
that a religious establishment in this state is not contrary to the law
of God, or disagreeable to the law of Nature, or to the true principles
of the Christian religion, or that it is noxious to the community; and I
do sincerely promise and engage, before God, that I never will, by any
conspiracy, contrivance, or political device whatever, attempt, or abet
others in any attempt, to subvert the constitution of the Church of
England, as the same is now by law established, and that I will not
employ any power or influence which I may derive from any office
corporate, or any other office which I hold or shall hold under his
Majesty, his heirs and successors, to destroy and subvert the same, or
to cause members to be elected into any corporation or into Parliament,
give my vote in the election of any member or members of Parliament, or
into any office, for or on account of their attachment to any other or
different religious opinions or establishments, or with any hope that
they may promote the same to the prejudice of the Established Church,
but will dutifully and peaceably content myself with my private liberty
of conscience, as the same is allowed by law. So help me God."


[1] Lucan, I. 129 to 135.




FEBRUARY 7, 1771,




The motion supported in the following Speech, which was for leave to
bring in a bill to ascertain the rights of the electors in respect to
the eligibility of persons to serve in Parliament, was rejected by a
majority of 167 against 103.


In every complicated constitution (and every free constitution is
complicated) cases will arise when the several orders of the state will
clash with one another, and disputes will arise about the limits of
their several rights and privileges. It may be almost impossible to
reconcile them....

Carry the principle on by which you expelled Mr. Wilkes, there is not a
man in the House, hardly a man in the nation, who may not be
disqualified. That this House should have no power of expulsion is an
hard saying: that this House should have a general discretionary power
of disqualification is a dangerous saying. That the people should not
choose their own representative is a saying that shakes the
Constitution: that this House should name the representative is a saying
which, followed by practice, subverts the Constitution. They have the
right of electing; you have a right of expelling: they of choosing; you
of judging, and only of judging, of the choice. What bounds shall be set
to the freedom of that choice? Their right is prior to ours: we all
originate there. They are the mortal enemies of the House of Commons who
would persuade them to think or to act as if they were a self-originated
magistracy, independent of the people, and unconnected with their
opinions and feelings. Under a pretence of exalting the dignity, they
undermine the very foundations of this House. When the question is asked
_here_, What disturbs the people? whence all this clamor? we apply to
the Treasury bench, and they tell us it is from the efforts of
libellers, and the wickedness of the people: a worn-out ministerial
pretence. If abroad the people are deceived by popular, within we are
deluded by ministerial cant.

The question amounts to this: Whether you mean to be a legal tribunal,
or an arbitrary and despotic assembly? I see and I feel the delicacy and
difficulty of the ground upon which we stand in this question. I could
wish, indeed, that they who advise the crown had not left Parliament in
this very ungraceful distress, in which they can neither retract with
dignity nor persist with justice. Another Parliament might have
satisfied the people without lowering themselves. But our situation is
not in our own choice: our conduct in that situation is all that is in
our own option. The substance of the question is, to put bounds to your
own power by the rules and principles of law. This is, I am sensible, a
difficult thing to the corrupt, grasping, and ambitious part of human
nature. But the very difficulty argues and enforces the necessity of it.
First, because the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.
Since the Revolution, at least, the power of the nation has all flowed
with a full tide into the House of Commons. Secondly, because the House
of Commons, as it is the most powerful, is the most corruptible part of
the whole Constitution. Our public wounds cannot be concealed; to be
cured, they must be laid open. The public does think we are a corrupt
body. In our _legislative capacity_, we are, in most instances,
esteemed a very wise body; in our judicial, we have no credit, no
character at all. Our judgments stink in the nostrils of the people.
They think us to be not only without virtue, but without shame.
Therefore the greatness of our power, and the great and just opinion of
our corruptibility and our corruption, render it necessary to fix some
bound, to plant some landmark, which we are never to exceed. This is
what the bill proposes.

First, on this head, I lay it down as a fundamental rule in the law and
Constitution of this country, that this House has not by itself alone a
legislative authority in any case whatsoever. I know that the contrary
was the doctrine of the usurping House of Commons, which threw down the
fences and bulwarks of law, which annihilated first the lords, then the
crown, then its constituents. But the first thing that was done on the
restoration of the Constitution was to settle this point. Secondly, I
lay it down as a rule, that the power of occasional incapacitation, on
discretionary grounds, is a legislative power. In order to establish
this principle, if it should not be sufficiently proved by being stated,
tell me what are the criteria, the characteristics, by which you
distinguish between a legislative and a juridical act. It will be
necessary to state, shortly, the difference between a legislative and a
juridical act.

A legislative act has no reference to any rule but these two,--original
justice, and discretionary application. Therefore it can give
rights,--rights where no rights existed before; and it can take away
rights where they were before established. For the law, which binds all
others, does not and cannot bind the law-maker: he, and he alone, is
above the law. But a judge, a person exercising a judicial capacity, is
neither to apply to original justice nor to a discretionary application
of it. He goes to justice and discretion only at second hand, and
through the medium of some superiors. He is to work neither upon his
opinion of the one nor of the other, but upon a fixed rule, of which he
has not the making, but singly and solely the _application_ to the case.

The power assumed by the House neither is nor can be judicial power
exercised according to known law. The properties of law are, first, that
it should be known; secondly, that it should be fixed, and not
occasional. First, this power cannot be according to the first property
of law; because no man does or can know it, nor do you yourselves know
upon what grounds you will vote the incapacity of any man. No man in
Westminster Hall, or in any court upon earth, will say that is law, upon
which, if a man going to his counsel should say to him, "What is my
tenure in law of this estate?" he would answer, "Truly, Sir, I know not;
the court has no rule but its own discretion; they will determine." It
is not a fixed law; because you profess you vary it according to the
occasion, exercise it according to your discretion, no man can call for
it as a right. It is argued, that the incapacity is not originally
voted, but a consequence of a power of expulsion. But if you expel, not
upon legal, but upon arbitrary, that is, upon discretionary grounds, and
the incapacity is _ex vi termini_ and inclusively comprehended in the
expulsion, is not the incapacity voted in the expulsion? Are they not
convertible terms? And if incapacity is voted to be inherent in
expulsion, if expulsion be arbitrary, incapacity is arbitrary also. I
have therefore shown that the power of incapacitation is a legislative
power; I have shown that legislative power does not belong to the House
of Commons; and therefore it follows that the House of Commons has not a
power of incapacitation.

I know not the origin of the House of Commons, but am very sure that it
did not create itself; the electors were prior to the elected, whose
rights originated either from the people at large, or from some other
form of legislature, which never could intend for the chosen a power of
superseding the choosers.

If you have not a power of declaring an incapacity simply by the mere
act of declaring it, it is evident to the most ordinary reason you
cannot have a right of expulsion, inferring, or rather including, an
incapacity. For as the law, when it gives any direct right, gives also
as necessary incidents all the means of acquiring the possession of that
right, so, where it does not give a right directly, it refuses all the
means by which such a right may by any mediums be exercised, or in
effect be indirectly acquired. Else it is very obvious that the
intention of the law in refusing that right might be entirely
frustrated, and the whole power of the legislature baffled. If there be
no certain, invariable rule of eligibility, it were better to get
simplicity, if certainty is not to be had, and to resolve all the
franchises of the subject into this one short proposition,--the will and
pleasure of the House of Commons.

The argument drawn from the courts of law applying the principles of law
to new cases as they emerge is altogether frivolous, inapplicable, and
arises from a total ignorance of the bounds between civil and criminal
jurisdiction, and of the separate maxims that govern these two
provinces of law, that are eternally separate. Undoubtedly the courts of
law, where a new case comes before them, as they do every hour, then,
that there may be no defect in justice, call in similar principles, and
the example of the nearest determination, and do everything to draw the
law to as near a conformity to general equity and right reason as they
can bring it with its being a fixed principle. _Boni judicis est
ampliare justitiam_,--that is, to make open and liberal justice. But in
criminal matters this parity of reason and these analogies ever have
been and ever ought to be shunned.

Whatever is incident to a court of judicature is necessary to the House
of Commons as judging in elections. But a power of making incapacities
is not necessary to a court of judicature: therefore a power of making
incapacities is not necessary to the House of Commons.

Incapacity, declared by whatever authority, stands upon two principles:
first, an incapacity arising from the supposed incongruity of two duties
in the commonwealth; secondly, an incapacity arising from unfitness by
infirmity of nature or the criminality of conduct. As to the first class
of incapacities, they have no _hardship_ annexed to them. The persons so
incapacitated are paid by one dignity for what they abandon in another,
and for the most part the situation arises from their own choice. But as
to the second, arising from an unfitness not fixed by Nature, but
superinduced by some positive acts, or arising from honorable motives,
such as an occasional personal disability, of all things it ought to be
defined by the fixed rule of law, what Lord Coke calls the golden
metwand of the law, and not by the crooked cord of discretion. Whatever
is general is better borne. We take our common lot with men of the same
description. But to be selected and marked out by a particular brand of
unworthiness among our fellow-citizens is a lot of all others the
hardest to be borne, and consequently is of all others that act winch
ought only to be trusted to the legislature, as not only _legislative_
in its nature, but of all parts of legislature the most odious. The
question is over, if this is shown not to be a legislative act.

But what is very usual and natural is, to corrupt judicature into
legislature. On this point it is proper to inquire whether a court of
judicature which decides without appeal has it as a necessary incident
of such judicature, that whatever it decides is _de jure_ law. Nobody
will, I hope, assert this; because the direct consequence would be the
entire extinction of the difference between true and false judgments.
For if the judgment makes the law, and not the law directs the judgment,
it is impossible there should be such a thing as an illegal judgment

But instead of standing upon this ground, they introduce another
question wholly foreign to it: Whether it ought not to be submitted to
as if it were law? And then the question is,--By the Constitution of
this country, what degree of submission is due to the authoritative acts
of a limited power? This question of submission, determine it how you
please, has nothing to do in this discussion and in this House. Here it
is not, how long the people are bound to tolerate the illegality of our
judgments, but whether we have a right to substitute our occasional
opinion in the place of law, so as to deprive the citizen of his




MAY 8, 1780.

It is always to be lamented, when men are driven to search into the
foundations of the commonwealth. It is certainly necessary to resort to
the theory of your government, whenever you propose any alteration in
the frame of it,--whether that alteration means the revival of some
former antiquated and forsaken constitution of state, or the
introduction of some new improvement in the commonwealth. The object of
our deliberation is, to promote the good purposes for which elections
have been instituted, and to prevent their inconveniences. If we thought
frequent elections attended with no inconvenience, or with but a
trifling inconvenience, the strong overruling principle of the
Constitution would sweep us like a torrent towards them. But your remedy
is to be suited to your disease, your present disease, and to your whole
disease. That man thinks much too highly, and therefore he thinks weakly
and delusively, of any contrivance of human wisdom, who believes that it
can make any sort of approach to perfection. There is not, there never
was, a principle of government under heaven, that does not, in the very
pursuit of the good it proposes, naturally and inevitably lead into some
inconvenience which makes it absolutely necessary to counterwork and
weaken the application of that first principle itself, and to abandon
something of the extent of the advantage you proposed by it, in order
to prevent also the inconveniences which have arisen from the instrument
of all the good you had in view.

To govern according to the sense and agreeably to the interests of the
people is a great and glorious object of government. This object cannot
be obtained but through the medium of popular election; and popular
election is a mighty evil. It is such and so great an evil, that, though
there are few nations whose monarchs were not originally elective, very
few are now elected. They are the distempers of elections that have
destroyed all free states. To cure these distempers is difficult, if not
impossible; the only thing, therefore, left to save the commonwealth is,
to prevent their return too frequently. The objects in view are, to have
Parliaments as frequent as they can be without distracting them in the
prosecution of public business: on one hand, to secure their dependence
upon the people; on the other, to give them that quiet in their minds
and that ease in their fortunes as to enable them to perform the most
arduous and most painful duty in the world with spirit, with efficiency,
with independency, and with experience, as real public counsellors, not
as the canvassers at a perpetual election. It is wise to compass as many
good ends as possibly you can, and, seeing there are inconveniences on
both sides, with benefits on both, to give up a part of the benefit to
soften the inconvenience. The perfect cure is impracticable; because the
disorder is dear to those from whom alone the cure can possibly be
derived. The utmost to be done is to palliate, to mitigate, to respite,
to put off the evil day of the Constitution to its latest possible
hour,--and may it be a very late one!

This bill, I fear, would precipitate one of two consequences,--I know
not which most likely, or which most dangerous: either that the crown,
by its constant, stated power, influence, and revenue, would wear out
all opposition in elections, or that a violent and furious popular
spirit would arise. I must see, to satisfy me, the remedies; I must see,
from their operation in the cure of the old evil, and in the cure of
those new evils which are inseparable from all remedies, how they
balance each other, and what is the total result. The excellence of
mathematics and metaphysics is, to have but one thing before you; but he
forms the best judgment in all moral disquisitions who has the greatest
number and variety of considerations in one view before him, and can
take them in with the best possible consideration of the middle results
of all.

We of the opposition, who are not friends to the bill, give this pledge
at least of our integrity and sincerity to the people,--that in our
situation of systematic opposition to the present ministers, in which
all our hope of rendering it effectual depends upon popular interest and
favor, we will not flatter them by a surrender of our uninfluenced
judgment and opinion; we give a security, that, if ever we should be in
another situation, no flattery to any other sort of power and influence
would induce us to act against the true interests of the people.

All are agreed that Parliaments should not be perpetual; the only
question is, What is the most convenient time for their duration?--on
which there are three opinions. We are agreed, too, that the term ought
not to be chosen most likely in its operation to spread corruption, and
to augment the already overgrown influence of the crown. On these
principles I mean to debate the question. It is easy to pretend a zeal
for liberty. Those who think themselves not likely to be incumbered with
the performance of their promises, either from their known inability or
total indifference about the performance, never fail to entertain the
most lofty ideas. They are certainly the most specious; and they cost
them neither reflection to frame, nor pains to modify, nor management to
support. The task is of another nature to those who mean to promise
nothing that it is not in their intention, or may possibly be in their
power to perform,--to those who are bound and principled no more to
delude the understandings than to violate the liberty of their
fellow-subjects. Faithful watchmen we ought to be over the rights and
privileges of the people. But our duty, if we are qualified for it as we
ought, is to give them information, and not to receive it from them: we
are not to go to school to them, to learn the principles of law and
government. In doing so, we should not dutifully serve, but we should
basely and scandalously betray the people, who are not capable of this
service by nature, nor in any instance called to it by the Constitution.
I reverentially look up to the opinion of the people, and with an awe
that is almost superstitious. I should be ashamed to show my face before
them, if I changed my ground as they cried up or cried down men or
things or opinions,--if I wavered and shifted about with every change,
and joined in it or opposed as best answered any low interest or
passion,--if I held them up hopes which I knew I never intended, or
promised what I well knew I could not perform. Of all these things they
are perfect sovereign judges without appeal; but as to the detail of
particular measures, or to any general schemes of policy, they have
neither enough of speculation in the closet nor of experience in
business to decide upon it. They can well see whether we are tools of a
court or their honest servants. Of that they can well judge,--and I wish
that they always exercised their judgment; but of the particular merits
of a measure I have other standards....

That the frequency of elections proposed by this bill has a tendency to
increase the power and consideration of the electors, not lessen
corruptibility, I do most readily allow: so far it is desirable. This is
what it has: I will tell you now what it has not. 1st. It has no sort of
tendency to increase their integrity and public spirit, unless an
increase of power has an operation upon voters in elections, that it has
in no other situation in the world, and upon no other part of mankind.
2nd. This bill has no tendency to limit the quantity of influence in the
crown, to render its operation more difficult, or to counteract that
operation which it cannot prevent in any way whatsoever. It has its full
weight, its full range, and its uncontrolled operation on the electors
exactly as it had before. 3rd. Nor, thirdly, does it abate the interest
or inclination of ministers to apply that influence to the electors: on
the contrary, it renders it much more necessary to them, if they seek to
have a majority in Parliament, to increase the means of that influence,
and redouble their diligence, and to sharpen dexterity in the
application. The whole effect of the bill is, therefore, the removing
the application of some part of the influence from the elected to the
electors, and further to strengthen and extend a court interest already
great and powerful in boroughs: here to fix their magazines and places
of arms, and thus to make them the principal, not the secondary, theatre
of their manoeuvres for securing a determined majority in Parliament.

I believe nobody will deny that the electors are corruptible. They are
men,--it is saying nothing worse of them; many of them are but ill
informed in their minds, many feeble in their circumstances, easily
overreached, easily seduced. If they are many, the wages of corruption
are the lower; and would to God it were not rather a contemptible and
hypocritical adulation than a charitable sentiment, to say that there is
already no debauchery, no corruption, no bribery, no perjury, no blind
fury and interested faction among the electors in many parts of this
kingdom!--nor is it surprising, or at all blamable, in that class of
private men, when they see their neighbors aggrandized, and themselves
poor and virtuous without that _eclat_ or dignity which attends men in
higher situations.

But admit it were true that the great mass of the electors were too vast
an object for court influence to grasp or extend to, and that in despair
they must abandon it; he must be very ignorant of the state of every
popular interest, who does not know that in all the corporations, all
the open boroughs, indeed in every district of the kingdom, there is
some leading man, some agitator, some wealthy merchant or considerable
manufacturer, some active attorney, some popular preacher, some
money-lender, _&c., &c.,_ who is followed by the whole flock. This is
the style of all free countries.

        Multum in Fabia valet hic, valet ille Velina;
    Cuilibet hic fasces dabit, eripietque curule.

These spirits, each of which informs and governs his own little orb, are
neither so many, nor so little powerful, nor so incorruptible, but that
a minister may, as he does frequently, find means of gaining them, and
through, them all their followers. To establish, therefore, a very
general influence among electors will no more be found an impracticable
project than to gain an undue influence over members of Parliament.
Therefore I am apprehensive that this bill, though it shifts the place
of the disorder, does by no means relieve the Constitution. I went
through almost every contested election in the beginning of this
Parliament, and acted as a manager in very many of them; by which,
though as at a school of pretty severe and rugged discipline, I came to
have some degree of instruction concerning the means by which
Parliamentary interests are in general procured and supported.

Theory, I know, would suppose that every general election is to the
representative a day of judgment, in which he appears before his
constituents to account for the use of the talent with which they
intrusted him, and for the improvement he has made of it for the public
advantage. It would be so, if every corruptible representative were to
find an enlightened and incorruptible constituent. But the practice and
knowledge of the world will not suffer us to be ignorant that the
Constitution on paper is one thing, and in fact and experience is
another. We must know that the candidate, instead of trusting at his
election to the testimony of his behavior in Parliament, must bring the
testimony of a large sum of money, the capacity of liberal expense in
entertainments, the power of serving and obliging the rulers of
corporations, of winning over the popular leaders of political clubs,
associations, and neighborhoods. It is ten thousand times more necessary
to show himself a man of power than a man of integrity, in almost all
the elections with which I have been acquainted. Elections, therefore,
become a matter of heavy expense; and if contests are frequent, to many
they will become a matter of an expense totally ruinous, which no
fortunes can bear, but least of all the landed fortunes, incumbered as
they often, indeed as they mostly are, with debts, with portions, with
jointures, and tied up in the hands of the possessor by the limitations
of settlement. It is a material, it is in my opinion a lasting
consideration, in all the questions concerning election. Let no one
think the charges of elections a trivial matter.

The charge, therefore, of elections ought never to be lost sight of in a
question concerning their frequency; because the grand object you seek
is independence. Independence of mind will ever be more or less
influenced by independence of fortune; and if every three years the
exhausting sluices of entertainments, drinkings, open houses, to say
nothing of bribery, are to be periodically drawn up and renewed,--if
government favors, for which now, in some shape or other, the whole race
of men are candidates, are to be called for upon every occasion, I see
that private fortunes will be washed away, and every, even to the least,
trace of independence borne down by the torrent. I do not seriously
think this Constitution, even to the wrecks of it, could survive five
triennial elections. If you are to fight the battle, you must put on
the armor of the ministry, you must call in the public to the aid of
private money. The expense of the last election has been computed (and I
am persuaded that it has not been overrated) at 1,500,000_l._,--three
shillings in the pound more in [than?] the land-tax. About the close of
the last Parliament and the beginning of this, several agents for
boroughs went about, and I remember well that it was in every one of
their mouths, "Sir, your election will cost you three thousand pounds,
if you are independent; but if the ministry supports you, it may be done
for two, and perhaps for less." And, indeed, the thing spoke itself.
Where a living was to be got for one, a commission in the army for
another, a lift in the navy for a third, and custom-house offices
scattered about without measure or number, who doubts but money may be
saved? The Treasury may even add money: but, indeed, it is superfluous.
A gentleman of two thousand a year, who meets another of the same
fortune, fights with equal arms; but if to one of the candidates you add
a thousand a year in places for himself, and a power of giving away as
much among others, one must, or there is no truth in arithmetical
demonstration, ruin his adversary, if he is to meet him and to fight
with him every third year. It will be said I do not allow for the
operation of character: but I do; and I know it will have its weight in
most elections,--perhaps it may be decisive in some; but there are few
in which it will prevent great expenses. The destruction of independent
fortunes will be the consequence on the part of the candidate. What will
be the consequence of triennial corruption, triennial drunkenness,
triennial idleness, triennial lawsuits, litigations, prosecutions,
triennial frenzy,--of society dissolved, industry interrupted,
ruined,--of those personal hatreds that will never be suffered to
soften, those animosities and feuds which will be rendered immortal,
those quarrels which are never to be appeased,--morals vitiated and
gangrened to the vitals? I think no stable and useful advantages were
ever made by the money got at elections by the voter, but all he gets is
doubly lost to the public: it is money given to diminish the general
stock of the community, which is in the industry of the subject. I am
sure that it is a good while before he or his family settle again to
their business. Their heads will never cool; the temptations of
elections will be forever glittering before their eyes. They will all
grow politicians; every one, quitting his business, will choose to
enrich himself by his vote. They will all take the gauging-rod; new
places will be made for them; they will run to the custom-house quay;
their looms and ploughs will be deserted.

So was Rome destroyed by the disorders of continual elections, though
those of Rome were sober disorders. They had nothing but faction,
bribery, bread, and stage-plays, to debauch them: we have the
inflammation of liquor superadded, a fury hotter than any of them. There
the contest was only between citizen and citizen: here you have the
contests of ambitious citizens of one side supported by the crown to
oppose to the efforts (let it be so) of private and unsupported ambition
on the other. Yet Rome was destroyed by the frequency and charge of
elections, and the monstrous expense of an unremitted courtship to the
people. I think, therefore, the independent candidate and elector may
each be destroyed by it, the whole body of the community be an infinite
sufferer, and a vicious ministry the only gainer.

Gentlemen, I know, feel the weight of this argument; they agree, that
this would be the consequence of more frequent elections, if things were
to continue as they are. But they think the greatness and frequency of
the evil would itself be, a remedy for it,--that, sitting but for a
short time, the member would not find it worth while to make such vast
expenses, while the fear of their constituents will hold them the more
effectually to their duty.

To this I answer, that experience is full against them. This is no new
thing; we have had triennial Parliaments; at no period of time were
seats more eagerly contested. The expenses of elections ran higher,
taking the state of all charges, than they do now. The expense of
entertainments was such, that an act, equally, severe and ineffectual,
was made against it; every monument of the time bears witness of the
expense, and most of the acts against corruption in elections were then
made; all the writers talked of it and lamented it. Will any one think
that a corporation will be contented with a bowl of punch or a piece of
beef the less, because elections are every three, instead of every seven
years? Will they change their wine for ale, because they are to get more
ale three years hence? Don't think it. Will they make fewer demands for
the advantages oL patronage in favors and offices, because their member
is brought more under their power? We have not only our own historical
experience in England upon this subject, but we have the experience
coexisting with us in Ireland, where, since their Parliament has been
shortened, the expense of elections has been so far from being lowered,
that it has been very near doubled. Formerly they sat for the king's
life; the ordinary charge of a seat in Parliament was then fifteen
hundred pounds. They now sit eight years, four sessions; it is now
twenty-five hundred pounds, and upwards. The spirit of _emulation_ has
also been extremely increased, and all who are acquainted with the tone
of that country have no doubt that the spirit is still growing, that new
candidates will take the field, that the contests will be more violent,
and the expenses of elections larger than ever.

It never can be otherwise. A seat in this House, for good purposes, for
bad purposes, for no purposes at all, (except the mere consideration
derived from being concerned in the public counsels,) will ever be a
first-rate object of ambition in England. Ambition is no exact
calculator. Avarice itself does not calculate strictly, when it games.
One thing is certain,--that in this political game the great lottery of
power is that into which men will purchase with millions of chances
against them. In Turkey, where the place, where the fortune, where the
head itself are so insecure that scarcely any have died in their beds
for ages, so that the bowstring is the natural death of bashaws, yet in
no country is power and distinction (precarious enough, God knows, in
all) sought for with such boundless avidity,--as if the value of place
was enhanced by the danger and insecurity of its tenure. Nothing will
ever make a seat in this House not an object of desire to numbers by any
means or at any charge, but the depriving it of all power and all
dignity. This would do it. This is the true and only nostrum for that
purpose. But an House of Commons without power and without dignity,
either in itself or in its members, is no House of Commons for the
purposes of this Constitution.

But they will be afraid to act ill, if they know that the day of their
account is always near. I wish it were true; but it is not: here again
we have experience, and experience is against us. The distemper of this
age is a poverty of spirit and of genius: it is trifling, it is futile,
worse than ignorant, superficially taught, with the politics and morals
of girls at a boarding-school rather than of men and statesmen: but it
is not yet desperately wicked, or so scandalously venal as in former
times. Did not a triennial Parliament give up the national dignity,
approve the peace of Utrecht, and almost give up everything else, in
taking every step to defeat the Protestant succession? Was not the
Constitution saved by those who had no election at all to go to, the
Lords, because the court applied to electors, and by various means
carried them from their true interests, so that the Tory ministry had a
majority without an application to a single member? Now as to the
conduct of the members, it was then far from pure and independent.
Bribery was infinitely more flagrant. A predecessor of yours, Mr.
Speaker, put the question of his own expulsion for bribery. Sir William
Musgrave was a wise man, a grave man, an independent man, a man of good
fortune and good family; however, he carried on, while in opposition, a
traffic, a shameful traffic, with the ministry. Bishop Burnet knew of
six thousand pounds which he had received at one payment. I believe the
payment of sums in hard money, plain, naked bribery, is rare amongst us.
It was then far from uncommon.

A triennial was near ruining, a septennial Parliament saved your
Constitution; nor, perhaps, have you ever known a more flourishing
period, for the union of national prosperity, dignity, and liberty,
than the sixty years you have passed under that constitution of

The shortness of time in which they are to reap the profits of iniquity
is far from checking the avidity of corrupt men; it renders them
infinitely more ravenous. They rush violently and precipitately on their
object; they lose all regard to decorum. The moments of profits are
precious; never are men so wicked as during a general mortality. It was
so in the great plague at Athens, every symptom of which (and this its
worse symptom amongst the rest) is so finely related by a great
historian of antiquity. It was so in the plague of London in 1665. It
appears in soldiers, sailors, &c. Whoever would contrive to render the
life of man much shorter than it is would, I am satisfied, find the
surest receipt for increasing the wickedness of our nature.

Thus, in my opinion, the shortness of a triennial sitting would have the
following ill effects: It would make the member more shamelessly and
shockingly corrupt; it would increase his dependence on those who could
best support him at his election; it would wrack and tear to pieces the
fortunes of those who stood upon their own fortunes and their private
interest; it would make the electors infinitely more venal; and it would
make the whole body of the people, who are, whether they have votes or
not, concerned in elections, more lawless, more idle, more debauched; it
would utterly destroy the sobriety, the industry, the integrity, the
simplicity of all the people, and undermine, I am much afraid, the
deepest and best-laid foundations of the commonwealth.

Those who have spoken and written upon this subject without doors do
not so much deny the probable existence of these inconveniences in their
measure as they trust for their prevention to remedies of various sorts
which they propose. First, a place bill. But if this will not do, as
they fear it will not, then, they say, We will have a rotation, and a
certain number of you shall be rendered incapable of being elected for
ten years. Then for the electors, they shall ballot. The members of
Parliament also shall decide by ballot. A fifth project is the change of
the present legal representation of the kingdom. On all this I shall
observe, that it will be very unsuitable to your wisdom to adopt the
project of a bill to which there are objections insuperable by anything
in the bill itself, upon the hope that those objections may be removed
by subsequent projects, every one of which is full of difficulties of
its own, and which are all of them very essential alterations in the
Constitution. This seems very irregular and unusual. If anything should
make this a very doubtful measure, what can make it more so than that in
the opinion of its advocates it would aggravate all our old
inconveniences in such a manner as to require a total alteration in the
Constitution of the kingdom? If the remedies are proper in triennial,
they will not be less so in septennial elections. Let us try them
first,--see how the House relishes them,--see how they will operate in
the nation,--and then, having felt your way, and prepared against these

The honorable gentleman sees that I respect the principle upon which he
goes, as well as his intentions and his abilities. He will believe that
I do not differ from him wantonly and on trivial grounds. He is very
sure that it was not his embracing one way which determined me to take
the other. _I_ have not in newspapers, to derogate from his fair fame
with the nation, printed the first rude sketch of his bill with
ungenerous and invidious comments. _I_ have not, in conversations
industriously circulated about the town, and talked on the benches of
this House, attributed his conduct to motives low and unworthy, and as
groundless as they are injurious. _I_ do not affect to be frightened
with this proposition, as if some hideous spectre had started from hell,
which was to be sent back again by every form of exorcism and every kind
of incantation. _I_ invoke no Acheron to overwhelm him in the whirlpools
of its muddy gulf. _I_ do not tell the respectable mover and seconder,
by a perversion of their sense and expressions, that their proposition
halts between the ridiculous and the dangerous. _I_ am not one of those
who start up, three at a time, and fall upon and strike at him with so
much eagerness that our daggers hack one another in his sides. My
honorable friend has not brought down a spirited imp of chivalry to win
the first achievement and blazon of arms on his milk-white shield in a
field listed against him,--nor brought out the generous offspring of
lions, and said to them,--"Not against that side of the forest! beware
of that!--here is the prey, where you are to fasten your paws!"--and
seasoning his unpractised jaws with blood, tell him,--"This is the milk
for which you are to thirst hereafter!" _We_ furnish at his expense no
holiday,--nor suspend hell, that a crafty Ixion may have rest from his
wheel,--nor give the common adversary (if he be a common adversary)
reason to say,--"I would have put in my word to oppose, but the
eagerness of your allies in your social war was such that I could not
break in upon you." I hope he sees and feels, and that every member sees
and feels along with him, the difference between amicable dissent and
civil discord.




MAY 7, 1782,



Mr. Speaker,--We have now discovered, at the close of the eighteenth
century, that the Constitution of England, which for a series of ages
had been the proud distinction of this country, always the admiration
and sometimes the envy of the wise and learned in every other
nation,--we have discovered that this boasted Constitution, in the most
boasted part of it, is a gross imposition upon the understanding of
mankind, an insult to their feelings, and acting by contrivances
destructive to the best and most valuable interests of the people. Our
political architects have taken a survey of the fabric of the British
Constitution. It is singular that they report nothing against the crown,
nothing against the lords: but in the House of Commons everything is
unsound; it is ruinous in every part; it is infested by the dry rot, and
ready to tumble about our ears without their immediate help. You know by
the faults they find what are their ideas of the alteration. As all
government stands upon opinion, they know that the way utterly to
destroy it is to remove that opinion, to take away all reverence, all
confidence from it; and then, at the first blast of public discontent
and popular tumult, it tumbles to the ground.

In considering this question, they who oppose it oppose it on different
grounds. One is in the nature of a previous question: that some
alterations may be expedient, but that this is not the time for making
them. The other is, that no essential alterations are at all wanting,
and that neither _now_ nor at _any_ time is it prudent or safe to be
meddling with the fundamental principles and ancient tried usages of our
Constitution,--that our representation is as nearly perfect as the
necessary imperfection of human affairs and of human creatures will
suffer it to be,--and that it is a subject of prudent and honest use and
thankful enjoyment, and not of captious criticism and rash experiment.

On the other side there are two parties, who proceed on two grounds, in
my opinion, as they state them, utterly irreconcilable. The one is
juridical, the other political. The one is in the nature of a claim of
right, on the supposed rights of man as man: this party desire the
decision of a suit. The other ground, as far as I can divine what it
directly means, is, that the representation is not so politically framed
as to answer the theory of its institution. As to the claim of _right_,
the meanest petitioner, the most gross and ignorant, is as good as the
best: in some respects his claim is more favorable, on account of his
ignorance; his weakness, his poverty, and distress only add to his
titles; he sues _in forma pauperis_; he ought to be a favorite of the
court. But when the _other_ ground is taken, when the question is
political, when a new constitution is to be made on a sound theory of
government, then the presumptuous pride of didactic ignorance is to be
excluded from the counsel in this high and arduous matter, which often
bids defiance to the experience of the wisest. The first claims a
personal representation; the latter rejects it with scorn and fervor.
The language of the first party is plain and intelligible; they who
plead an absolute right cannot be satisfied with anything short of
personal representation, because all _natural_ rights must be the rights
of individuals, as by _nature_ there is no such thing as politic or
corporate personality: all these ideas are mere fictions of law, they
are creatures of voluntary institution; men as men are individuals, and
nothing else. They, therefore, who reject the principle of natural and
personal representation are essentially and eternally at variance with
those who claim it. As to the first sort of reformers, it is ridiculous
to talk to them of the British Constitution upon any or upon all of its
bases: for they lay it down, that every man ought to govern, himself,
and that, where he cannot go, himself, he must send his representative;
that all other government is usurpation, and is so far from having a
claim to our obedience, it is not only our right, but our duty, to
resist it. Nine tenths of the reformers argue thus,--that is, on the
natural right.

It is impossible not to make some reflection on the nature of this
claim, or avoid a comparison between the extent of the principle and the
present object of the demand. If this claim be founded, it is clear to
what it goes. The House of Commons, in that light, undoubtedly, is no
representative of the people, as a collection of individuals. Nobody
pretends it, nobody can justify such an assertion. When you come to
examine into this claim of right, founded on the right of
self-government in each individual, you find the thing demanded
infinitely short of the principle of the demand. What! _one third_ only
of the legislature, and of the government no share at all? What sort of
treaty of partition is this for those who have an inherent right to the
whole? Give them all they ask, and your grant is still a cheat: for how
comes only a third to be their younger-children's fortune in this
settlement? How came they neither to have the choice of kings, or lords,
or judges, or generals, or admirals, or bishops, or priests, or
ministers, or justices of peace? Why, what have you to answer in favor
of the prior rights of the crown and peerage but this: Our Constitution
is a prescriptive constitution; it is a constitution whose sole
authority is, that it has existed time out of mind? It is settled in
these _two_ portions against one, legislatively,--and in the whole of
the judicature, the whole of the federal capacity, of the executive, the
prudential, and the financial administration, in one alone. Nor was your
House of Lords and the prerogatives of the crown settled on any
adjudication in favor of natural rights: for they could never be so
partitioned. Your king, your lords, your judges, your juries, grand and
little, all are prescriptive; and what proves it is the disputes, not
yet concluded, and never near becoming so, when any of them first
originated. Prescription is the most solid of all titles, not only to
property, but, which is to secure that property, to government. They
harmonize with each other, and give mutual aid to one another. It is
accompanied with another ground of authority in the constitution of the
human mind, presumption. It is a presumption in favor of any settled
scheme of government against any untried project, that a nation has long
existed and flourished under it. It is a better presumption even of the
_choice_ of a nation,--far better than any sudden and temporary
arrangement by actual election. Because a nation is not an idea only of
local extent and individual momentary aggregation, but it is an idea of
continuity which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And
this is a choice not of one day or one set of people, not a tumultuary
and giddy choice; it is a deliberate election of ages and of
generations; it is a constitution, made by what is ten thousand times
better than choice; it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions,
tempers, dispositions, and moral, civil, and social habitudes of the
people, which, disclose themselves only in a long space of time. It is a
vestment which accommodates itself to the body. Nor is prescription of
government formed upon blind, unmeaning prejudices. For man is a most
unwise and a most wise being. The individual is foolish; the multitude,
for the moment, is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the
species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species, it almost
always acts right.

The reason for the crown as it is, for the lords as they are, is my
reason for the commons as they are, the electors as they are. Now if the
crown, and the lords, and the judicatures are all prescriptive, so is
the House of Commons of the very same origin, and of no other. We and
our electors have their powers and privileges both made and
circumscribed by prescription, as much to the full as the other parts;
and as such we have always claimed them, and on no other title. The
House of Commons is a legislative body corporate by prescription, not
made upon any given theory, but existing prescriptively,--just like the
rest. This proscription has made it essentially what it is, an aggregate
collection of three parts, knights, citizens, burgesses. The question
is, whether this has been always so, since the House of Commons has
taken its present shape and circumstances, and has been an essential
operative part of the Constitution,--which, I take it, it has been for
at least five hundred years.

This I resolve to myself in the affirmative: and then another question
arises:--Whether this House stands firm upon its ancient foundations,
and is not, by time and accidents, so declined from its perpendicular as
to want the hand of the wise and experienced architects of the day to
set it upright again, and to prop and buttress it up for
duration;--whether it continues true to the principles upon which it has
hitherto stood;--whether this be _de facto_ the constitution of the
House of Commons, as it has been since the time that the House of
Commons has without dispute become a necessary and an efficient part of
the British Constitution. To ask whether a thing which has always been
the same stands to its usual principle seems to me to be perfectly
absurd: for how do you know the principles, but from the construction?
and if that remains the same, the principles remain the same. It is true
that to say your Constitution is what it has been is no sufficient
defence for those who say it is a bad constitution. It is an answer to
those who say that it is a degenerate constitution. To those who say it
is a bad one, I answer, Look to its effects. In all moral machinery, the
moral results are its test.

On what grounds do we go to restore our Constitution to what it has been
at some given period, or to reform and reconstruct it upon principles
more conformable to a sound theory of government? A prescriptive
government, such as ours, never was the work of any legislator, never
was made upon any foregone theory. It seems to me a preposterous way of
reasoning, and a perfect confusion of ideas, to take the theories which
learned and speculative men have made from that government, and then,
supposing it made on those theories which were made from it, to accuse
the government as not corresponding with them. I do not vilify theory
and speculation: no, because that would be to vilify reason itself,
_Neque decipitur ratio, neque decipit unquam_. No,--whenever I speak
against theory, I mean always a weak, erroneous, fallacious, unfounded,
or imperfect theory; and one of the ways of discovering that it is a
false theory is by comparing it with practice. This is the true
touchstone of all theories which regard man and the affairs of
men,--Does it suit his nature in general?--does it suit his nature as
modified by his habits?

The more frequently this affair is discussed, the stronger the case
appears to the sense and the feelings of mankind. I have no more doubt
than I entertain of my existence, that this very thing, which is stated
as an horrible thing, is the means of the preservation of our
Constitution whilst it lasts,--of curing it of many of the disorders
which, attending every species of institution, would attend the
principle of an exact local representation, or a representation on the
principle of numbers. If you reject personal representation, you are
pushed upon expedience; and, then what they wish us to do is, to prefer
their speculations on that subject to the happy experience of this
country, of a growing liberty and a growing prosperity for five hundred
years. Whatever respect I have for their talents, this, for one, I will
not do. Then what is the standard of expedience? Expedience is that
which is good for the community, and good for every individual in it.
Now this expedience is the _desideratum_, to be sought either without
the experience of means or with that experience. If without, as in case
of the fabrication of a new commonwealth, I will hear the learned
arguing what promises to be expedient; but if we are to judge of a
commonwealth actually existing, the first thing I inquire is, What has
been _found_ expedient or inexpedient? And I will not take their
_promise_ rather than the _performance_ of the Constitution.

.... But no, this was not the cause of the discontents. I went through
most of the northern parts,--the Yorkshire election was then raging; the
year before, through most of the western counties,--Bath, Bristol,
Gloucester: not one word, either in the towns or country, on the subject
of representation; much on the receipt tax, something on Mr. Fox's
ambition; much greater apprehension of danger from thence than from want
of representation. One would think that the ballast of the ship was
shifted with us, and that our Constitution had the gunwale under water.
But can you fairly and distinctly point out what one evil or grievance
has happened which you can refer to the representative not following the
opinion of his constituents? What one symptom do we find of this
inequality? But it is not an arithmetical inequality with which we ought
to trouble ourselves. If there be a moral, a political equality, this is
the _desideratum_ in our Constitution, and in every constitution in the
world. Moral inequality is as between places and between classes. Now,
I ask, what advantage do you find that the places which abound in
representation possess over others in which it is more scanty, in
security for freedom, in security for justice, or in any one of those
means of procuring temporal prosperity and eternal happiness the ends
for which society was formed? Are the local interests of Cornwall and
Wiltshire, for instance, their roads, canals, their prisons, their
police, better than Yorkshire, Warwickshire, or Staffordshire? Warwick
has members: is Warwick or Stafford more opulent, happy, or free than
Newcastle, or than Birmingham? Is Wiltshire the pampered favorite,
whilst Yorkshire, like the child of the bondwoman, is turned out to the
desert? This is like the unhappy persons who live, if they can be said
to live, in the statical chair,--who are ever feeling their pulse, and
who do not judge of health by the aptitude of the body to perform its
functions, but by their ideas of what ought to be the true balance
between the several secretions. Is a committee of Cornwall, &c,
thronged, and the others deserted? No. You have an equal representation,
because you have men equally interested in the prosperity of the whole,
who are involved in the general interest and the general sympathy; and,
perhaps, these places furnishing a superfluity of public agents and
administrators, (whether in strictness they are representatives or not I
do not mean to inquire, but they are agents and administrators,) they
will stand clearer of local interests, passions, prejudices, and cabals
than the others, and therefore preserve the balance of the parts, and
with a more general view and a more steady hand than the rest....

In every political proposal we must not leave out of the question the
political views and object of the proposer; and these we discover, not
by what he says, but by the principles he lays down. "I mean," says he,
"a moderate and temperate reform: that is, I mean to do as little good
as possible." If the Constitution be what you represent it, and there be
no danger in the change, you do wrong not to make the reform
commensurate to the abuse. Fine reformer, indeed! generous donor! What
is the cause of this parsimony of the liberty which you dole out to the
people? Why all this limitation in giving blessings and benefits to
mankind? You admit that there is an extreme in liberty, which may be
infinitely noxious to those who are to receive it, and which in the end
will leave them no liberty at all. I think so, too. They know it, and
they feel it. The question is, then, What is the standard of that
extreme? What that gentleman, and the associations, or some parts of
their phalanxes, think proper? Then our liberties are in their pleasure;
it depends on their arbitrary will how far I shall be free. I will have
none of that freedom. If, therefore, the standard of moderation be
sought for, I will seek for it. Where? Not in their fancies, nor in my
own: I will seek for it where I know it is to be found,--in the
Constitution I actually enjoy. Here it says to an encroaching
prerogative,--"Your sceptre has its length; you cannot add an hair to
your head, or a gem to your crown, but what an eternal law has given to
it." Here it says to an overweening peerage,--"Your pride finds banks
that it cannot overflow": here to a tumultuous and giddy people,--"There
is a bound to the raging of the sea." Our Constitution is like our
island, which uses and restrains its subject sea; in vain the waves
roar. In that Constitution, I know, and exultingly I feel, both that I
am free, and that I am not free dangerously to myself or to others. I
know that no power on earth, acting as I ought to do, can touch my life,
my liberty, or my property. I have that inward and dignified
consciousness of my own security and independence, which constitutes,
and is the only thing which, does constitute, the proud and comfortable
sentiment of freedom in the human breast. I know, too, and I bless God
for, my safe mediocrity: I know, that, if I possessed all the talents of
the gentlemen on the side of the House I sit, and on the other, I
cannot, by royal favor, or by popular delusion, or by oligarchical
cabal, elevate myself above a certain very limited point, so as to
endanger my own fall, or the ruin of my country. I know there is an
order that keeps things fast in their place: it is made to us, and we
are made to it. Why not ask another wife, other children, another body,
another mind?

The great object of most of these reformers is, to prepare the
destruction of the Constitution, by disgracing and discrediting the
House of Commons. For they think, (prudently, in my opinion,) that, if
they can persuade the nation that the House of Commons is so constituted
as not to secure the public liberty, not to have a proper connection
with the public interests, so constituted as not either actually or
virtually to be the representative of the people, it will be easy to
prove that a government composed of a monarchy, an oligarchy chosen by
the crown, and such a House of Commons, whatever good can be in such a
system, can by no means be a system of free government.

The Constitution of England is never to have a quietus; it is to be
continually vilified, attacked, reproached, resisted; instead of being
the hope and sure anchor in all storms, instead of being the means of
redress to all grievances, itself is the grand grievance of the nation,
our shame instead of our glory. If the only specific plan proposed,
individual personal representation, is directly rejected by the person
who is looked on as the great support of this business, then the only
way of considering it is a question of convenience. An honorable
gentleman prefers the individual to the present. He therefore himself
sees no middle term whatsoever, and therefore prefers, of what he sees,
the individual: this is the only thing distinct and sensible that has
been advocated. He has, then, a scheme, which is the individual
representation,--he is not at a loss, not inconsistent,--which scheme
the other right honorable gentleman reprobates. Now what does this go
to, but to lead directly to anarchy? For to discredit the only
government which he either possesses or can project, what is this but to
destroy all government? and this is anarchy. My right honorable friend,
in supporting this motion, disgraces his friends and justifies his
enemies in order to blacken the Constitution of his country, even of
that House of Commons which supported him. There is a difference between
a moral or political exposure of a public evil relative to the
administration of government, whether in men or systems, and a
declaration of defects, real or supposed, in the fundamental
constitution of your country. The first may be cured in the individual
by the motives of religion, virtue, honor, fear, shame, or interest. Men
may be made to abandon also false systems, by exposing their absurdity
or mischievous tendency to their own better thoughts, or to the contempt
or indignation of the public; and after all, if they should exist, and
exist uncorrected, they only disgrace individuals as fugitive opinions.
But it is quite otherwise with the frame and constitution of the state:
if that is disgraced, patriotism is destroyed in its very source. No man
has ever willingly obeyed, much less was desirous of defending with his
blood, a mischievous and absurd scheme of government. Our first, our
dearest, most comprehensive relation, our country, is gone.

It suggests melancholy reflections, in consequence of the strange course
we have long held, that we are now no longer quarrelling about the
character, or about the conduct of men, or the tenor of measures, but we
are grown out of humor with the English Constitution itself: this is
become the object of the animosity of Englishmen. This Constitution in
former days used to be the admiration and the envy of the world: it was
the pattern for politicians, the theme of the eloquent, the meditation
of the philosopher, in every part of the world. As to Englishmen, it was
their pride, their consolation. By it they lived, for it they were ready
to die. Its defects, if it had any, were partly covered by partiality,
and partly borne by prudence. Now all its excellencies are forgot, its
faults are now forcibly dragged into day, exaggerated by every artifice
of representation. It is despised and rejected of men, and every device
and invention of ingenuity or idleness set up in opposition or in
preference to it. It is to this humor, and it is to the measures growing
out of it, that I set myself (I hope not alone) in the most determined
opposition. Never before did we at any time in this country meet upon
the theory of our frame of government, to sit in judgment on the
Constitution of our country, to call it as a delinquent before us, and
to accuse it of every defect and every vice,--to see whether it, an
object of our veneration, even our adoration, did or did not accord with
a preconceived scheme in the minds of certain gentlemen. Cast your eyes
on the journals of Parliament. It is for fear of losing the inestimable
treasure we have that I do not venture to game it out of my hands for
the vain hope of improving it. I look with filial reverence on the
Constitution of my country, and never will cut it in pieces, and put it
into the kettle of any magician, in order to boil it, with the puddle of
their compounds, into youth and vigor. On the contrary, I will drive
away such pretenders; I will nurse its venerable age, and with lenient
arts extend a parent's breath.




MARCH 7, 1771,







I have always understood that a superintendence over the doctrines as
well as the proceedings of the courts of justice was a principal object
of the constitution of this House,--that you were to watch at once over
the lawyer and the law,--that there should be an orthodox faith, as well
as proper works: and I have always looked with a degree of reverence and
admiration on this mode of superintendence. For, being totally
disengaged from the detail of juridical practice, we come something
perhaps the better qualified, and certainly much the better disposed, to
assert the genuine principle of the laws, in which we can, as a body,
have no other than an enlarged and a public interest. We have no common
cause of a professional attachment or professional emulations to bias
our minds; we have no foregone opinions which from obstinacy and false
point of honor we think ourselves at all events obliged to support. So
that, with our own minds perfectly disengaged from the exercise, we may
superintend the execution of the national justice, which from this
circumstance is better secured to the people than in any other country
under heaven it can be. As our situation puts us in a proper condition,
our power enables us to execute this trust. We may, when we see cause of
complaint, administer a remedy: it is in our choice by an address to
remove an improper judge, by impeachment before the peers to pursue to
destruction a corrupt judge, or by bill to assert, to explain, to
enforce, or to reform the law, just as the occasion and necessity of the
case shall guide us. We stand in a situation very honorable to ourselves
and very useful to our country, if we do not abuse or abandon the trust
that is placed in us.

The question now before you is upon the power of juries in prosecuting
for libels. There are four opinions:--1. That the doctrine as held by
the courts is proper and constitutional, and therefore should not be
altered; 2. That it is neither proper nor constitutional, but that it
will be rendered worse by your interference; 3. That it is wrong, but
that the only remedy is a bill of retrospect; 4. The opinion of those
who bring in the bill, that the thing is wrong, but that it is enough to
direct the judgment of the court in future.

The bill brought in is for the purpose of asserting and securing a great
object in the juridical constitution of this kingdom, which, from a long
series of practices and opinions in our judges, has _in one point_, and
in one very essential point, deviated from the true principle.

It is the very ancient privilege of the people of England, that they
shall be tried, except in the known exceptions, not by judges appointed
by the crown, but by their own fellow-subjects, the peers of that county
court at which they owe their suit and service; and out of this
principle the trial by juries has grown. This principle has not, that I
can find, been contested in any case by any authority whatsoever; but
there is one case in which, without directly contesting the principle,
the whole substance, energy, and virtue of the privilege is taken out
of it,--that is, in the case of a trial by indictment or information for
a libel. The doctrine in that case, laid down by several judges, amounts
to this: that the jury have no competence, where a libel is alleged,
except to find the gross corporeal facts of the writing and the
publication, together with the identity of the things and persons to
which it refers; but that the intent and the tendency of the work, in
which intent and tendency the whole criminality consists, is the sole
and exclusive province of the judge. Thus having reduced the jury to the
cognizance of facts not in themselves presumptively criminal, but
actions neutral and indifferent, the whole matter in which the subject
has any concern or interest is taken out of the hands of the jury: and
if the jury take more upon themselves, what they so take is contrary to
their duty; it is no _moral_, but a merely _natural_ power,--the same by
which they may do any other improper act, the same by which they may
even prejudice themselves with regard to any other part of the issue
before them. Such is the matter, as it now stands in possession of your
highest criminal courts, handed down to them from very respectable legal
ancestors. If this can once be established in this case, the application
in principle to other cases will be easy, and the practice will run upon
a descent, until the progress of an encroaching jurisdiction (for it is
in its nature to encroach, when once it has passed its limits) coming to
confine the juries, case after case, to the corporeal fact, and to that
alone, and excluding the intention of mind, the only source of merit and
demerit, of reward or punishment, juries become a dead letter in the

For which reason it is high time to take this matter into the
consideration of Parliament: and for that purpose it will be necessary
to examine, first, whether there is anything in the peculiar nature of
this crime that makes it necessary to exclude the jury from considering
the intention in it, more than in others. So far from it, that I take it
to be much less so from the analogy of other criminal cases, where no
such restraint is ordinarily put upon them. The act of homicide is
_prima facie_ criminal; the intention is afterwards to appear, for the
jury to acquit or condemn. In burglary do they insist that the jury have
nothing to do but to find the taking of goods, and that, if they do,
they must necessarily find the party guilty, and leave the rest to the
judge, and that they have nothing to do with the word _felonice_ in the

The next point is, to consider it as a question of constitutional
policy: that is, whether the decision of the question of libel ought to
be left to the judges as a presumption of law, rather than to the jury
as matter of popular judgment,--as the malice in the case of murder, the
felony in the case of stealing. If the intent and tendency are not
matters within the province of popular judgment, but legal and technical
conclusions formed upon general principles of law, let us see what they
are. Certainly they are most unfavorable, indeed totally adverse, to the
Constitution of this country.

Here we must have recourse to analogies; for we cannot argue on ruled
cases one way or the other. See the history. The old books, deficient in
general in crown cases, furnish us with little on this head. As to the
crime, in the very early Saxon law I see an offence of this species,
called folk-leasing, made a capital offence, but no very precise
definition of the crime, and no trial at all. See the statute of 3rd
Edward I. cap. 84. The law of libels could not have arrived at a very
early period in this country. It is no wonder that we find no vestige of
any constitution from authority, or of any deductions from legal
science, in our old books and records, upon that subject. The statute of
_Scandalum Magnatum_ is the oldest that I know, and this goes but a
little way in this sort of learning. Libelling is not the crime of an
illiterate people. When they were thought no mean clerks who could read
and write, when he who could read and write was presumptively a person
in holy orders, libels could not be general or dangerous; and scandals
merely _oral_ could _spread_ little and must _perish_ soon. It is
writing, it is printing more emphatically, that imps calumny with those
eagle-wings on which, as the poet says, "immortal slanders fly." By the
press they spread, they last, they leave the sting in the wound.
Printing was not known in England much earlier than the reign of Henry
the Seventh, and in the third year of that reign the court of
Star-Chamber was established. The press and its enemy are nearly coeval.
As no positive law against libels existed, they fell under the
indefinite class of misdemeanors. For the trial of misdemeanors that
court was instituted. Their tendency to produce riots and disorders was
a main part of the charge, and was laid in order to give the court
jurisdiction chiefly against libels. The offence was new. Learning of
their own upon the subject they had none; and they were obliged to
resort to the only emporium where it was to be had, the Roman law. After
the Star-Chamber was abolished in the 10th of Charles I., its authority
indeed ceased, but its maxims subsisted and survived it. The spirit of
the Star-Chamber has transmigrated and lived again; and Westminster Hall
was obliged to borrow from the Star-Chamber, for the same reasons as the
Star-Chamber had borrowed from the Roman Forum, because they had no law,
statute, or tradition of their own. Thus the Roman law took possession
of our courts,--I mean its doctrine, not its sanctions: the severity of
capital punishment was omitted, all the rest remained. The grounds of
these laws are just and equitable. Undoubtedly the good fame of every
man ought to be under the protection of the laws, as well as his life
and liberty and property. Good fame is an outwork that defends them all
and renders them all valuable. The law forbids you to revenge; when it
ties up the hands of some, it ought to restrain the tongues of others.
The good fame of government is the same; it ought not to be traduced.
This is necessary in all government; and if opinion be support, what
takes away this destroys that support: but the liberty of the press is
necessary to this government.

The wisdom, however, of government is of more importance than the laws.
I should study the temper of the people, before I ventured on actions of
this kind. I would consider the whole of the prosecution of a libel of
such importance as Junius, as one piece, as one consistent plan of
operations: and I would contrive it so, that, if I were defeated, I
should not be disgraced,--that even my victory should not be more
ignominious than my defeat; I would so manage, that the lowest in the
predicament of guilt should not be the only one in punishment. I would
not inform against the mere vender of a collection of pamphlets. I
would not put him to trial first, if I could possibly avoid it. I would
rather stand the consequences of my first error than carry it to a
judgment that must disgrace my prosecution or the court. We ought to
examine these things in a manner which becomes ourselves, and becomes
the object of the inquiry,--not to examine into the most important
consideration which can come before us with minds heated with prejudice
and filled with passions, with vain popular opinions and humors, and,
when we propose to examine into the justice of others, to be unjust

An inquiry is wished, as the most effectual way of putting an end to the
clamors and libels which are the disorder and disgrace of the times. For
people remain quiet, they sleep secure, when they imagine that the
vigilant eye of a censorial magistrate watches over all the proceedings
of judicature, and that the sacred fire of an eternal constitutional
jealousy, which, is the guardian of liberty, law, and justice, is alive
night and day, and burning in this House. But when the magistrate gives
up his office and his duty, the people assume it, and they inquire too
much and too irreverently, because they think their representatives do
not inquire at all.

We have in a libel, 1st, the writing; 2nd, the communication, called by
the lawyers the publication; 3rd, the application to persons and facts;
4th, the intent and tendency; 5th, the matter,--diminution of fame. The
law presumptions on all these are in the communication. No intent can
make a defamatory publication good, nothing can make it have a good
tendency; truth is not pleadable. Taken _juridically_, the foundation
of these law presumptions is not unjust; taken _constitutionally_, they
are ruinous, and tend to the total suppression of all publication. If
juries are confined to the fact, no writing which censures, however
justly or however temperately, the conduct of administration, can be
unpunished. Therefore, if the intent and tendency be left to the judge,
as legal conclusions growing from the fact, you may depend upon it you
can have no public discussion of a public measure; which is a point
which even those who are most offended with the licentiousness of the
press (and it is very exorbitant, very provoking) will hardly contend

So far as to the first opinion,--that the doctrine is right, and needs
no alteration. 2nd. The next is, that it is wrong, but that we are not
in a condition to help it. I admit it is true that there are cases of a
nature so delicate and complicated that an act of Parliament on the
subject may become a matter of great difficulty. It sometimes cannot
define with exactness, because the subject-matter will not bear an exact
definition. It may seem to _take away_ everything which it does not
positively _establish_, and this might be inconvenient; or it may seem,
_vice versa_, to _establish_ everything which it does not _expressly
take away_. It may be more advisable to leave such matters to the
enlightened discretion of a judge, awed by a censorial House of Commons.
But then it rests upon those who object to a legislative interposition
to prove these inconveniences in the particular case before them. For it
would be a most dangerous, as it is a most idle and most groundless
conceit, to assume as a general principle, that the rights and liberties
of the subject are impaired by the care and attention of the
legislature to secure them. If so, very ill would the purchase of Magna
Charta have merited the deluge of blood which was shed in order to have
the body of English privileges defined by a positive written law. This
charter, the inestimable monument of English freedom, so long the boast
and glory of this nation, would have been at once an instrument of our
servitude and a monument of our folly, if this principle were true. The
thirty-four confirmations would have been only so many repetitions of
their absurdity, so many new links in the chain, and so many
invalidations of their right.

You cannot open your statute-book without seeing positive provisions
relative to every right of the subject. This business of juries is the
subject of not fewer than a dozen. To suppose that juries are something
innate in the Constitution of Great Britain, that they have jumped, like
Minerva, out of the head of Jove in complete armor, is a weak fancy,
supported neither by precedent nor by reason. Whatever is most ancient
and venerable in our Constitution, royal prerogative, privileges of
Parliament, rights of elections, authority of courts, juries, must have
been modelled according to the occasion. I spare your patience, and I
pay a compliment to your understanding, in not attempting to prove that
anything so elaborate and artificial as a jury was not the work of
_chance_, but a matter of institution, brought to its present state by
the joint efforts of legislative authority and juridical prudence. It
need not be ashamed of being (what in many parts of it, at least, it is)
the offspring of an act of Parliament, unless it is a shame for our laws
to be the results of our legislature. Juries, which sensitively shrink
from the rude touch of Parliamentary remedy, have been the subject of
not fewer than, I think, forty-three acts of Parliament, in which they
have been changed with all the authority of a creator over its creature,
from Magna Charta to the great alterations which were made in the 29th
of George II.

To talk of this matter in any other way is to turn a rational principle
into an idle and vulgar superstition,--like the antiquary, Dr. Woodward,
who trembled to have his shield scoured, for fear it should be
discovered to be no better than an old pot-lid. This species of
tenderness to a jury puts me in mind of a gentleman of good condition,
who had been reduced to great poverty and distress: application was made
to some rich fellows in his neighborhood to give him some assistance;
but they begged to be excused, for fear of affronting a person of his
high birth; and so the poor gentleman was left to starve, out of pure
respect to the antiquity of his family. From this principle has arisen
an opinion, that I find current amongst gentlemen, that this distemper
ought to be left to cure itself:--that the judges, having been well
exposed, and something terrified on account of these clamors, will
entirely change, if not very much relax from their rigor;--if the
present race should not change, that the chances of succession may put
other more constitutional judges in their place;--lastly, if neither
should happen, yet that the spirit of an English jury will always be
sufficient for the vindication of its own rights, and will not suffer
itself to be overborne by the bench. I confess that I totally dissent
from all these opinions. These suppositions become the strongest
reasons with me to evince the necessity of some clear and positive
settlement of this question of contested jurisdiction. If judges are so
full of levity, so full of timidity, if they are influenced by such mean
and unworthy passions that a popular clamor is sufficient to shake the
resolution they build upon the solid basis of a legal principle, I would
endeavor to fix that mercury by a positive law. If to please an
administration the judges can go one way to-day, and to please the crowd
they can go another to-morrow, if they will oscillate backward and
forward between power and popularity, it is high time to fix the law in
such a manner as to resemble, as it ought, the great Author of all law,
in whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.

As to their succession I have just the same opinion. I would not leave
it to the chances of promotion, or to the characters of lawyers, what
the law of the land, what the rights of juries, or what the liberty of
the press should be. My law should not depend upon the fluctuation of
the closet or the complexion of men. Whether a black-haired man or a
fair-haired man presided in the Court of King's Bench, I would have the
law the same; the same, whether he was born _in domo regnatrice_ and
sucked from his infancy the milk of courts, or was nurtured in the
rugged discipline of a popular opposition. This law of court cabal and
of party, this _mens quaedam nullo perturbata affectu_, this law of
complexion, ought not to be endured for a moment in a country whose
being depends upon the certainty, clearness, and stability of

Now I come to the last substitute for the proposed bill,--the spirit of
juries operating their own jurisdiction. This I confess I think the
worst of all, for the same reasons on which I objected to the
others,--and for other weighty reasons besides, which are separate and
distinct. First, because juries, being taken at random out of a mass of
men infinitely large, must be of characters as various as the body they
arise from is large in its extent. If the judges differ in their
complexions, much more will a jury. A timid jury will give way to an
awful judge delivering oracularly the law, and charging them on their
oaths, and putting it home to their consciences to beware of judging,
where the law had given them no competence. We know that they will do
so, they have done so in an hundred instances. A respectable member of
your own House, no vulgar man, tells you, that, on the authority of a
judge, he found a man guilty in whom at the same time he could find no
guilt. But supposing them full of knowledge and full of manly confidence
in themselves, how will their knowledge or their confidence inform or
inspirit others? They give no reason for their verdict, they can but
condemn or acquit; and no man can tell the motives on which they have
acquitted or condemned. So that this hope of the power of juries to
assert their own jurisdiction must be a principle blind, as being
without reason, and as changeable as the complexion of men and the
temper of the times.

But, after all, is it fit that this dishonorable contention between the
court and juries should subsist any longer? On what principle is it that
a jury [juror?] refuses to be directed by the court as to his
_competence_? Whether a libel or no libel be a question of law or of
fact may be doubtful; but a question of jurisdiction and competence is
certainly a question of law: on this the court ought undoubtedly to
judge, and to judge solely and exclusively. If they judge wrong from
excusable error, you ought to correct it, as to-day it is proposed, by
an explanatory bill,--or if by corruption, by bill of _penalties_
declaratory, and by punishment. What does a juror say to a judge, when
he refuses his opinion upon a question of judicature? "You are so
corrupt, that I should consider myself a partaker of your crime, were I
to be guided by your opinion"; or, "You are so grossly ignorant, that I,
fresh from my hounds, from my plough, my counter, or my loom, am fit to
direct you in your own profession." This is an unfitting, it is a
dangerous state of things. The spirit of any sort of men is not a fit
_rule_ for deciding on the bounds of their jurisdiction: first, because
it is different in different men, and even different in the same at
different times, and can never become the proper directing line of law;
next, because it is not reason, but feeling, and, when once it is
irritated, it is not apt to confine itself within its proper limits. If
it becomes not difference in opinion upon law, but a trial of spirit
between parties, our courts of law are no longer the temple of justice,
but the amphitheatre for gladiators. No,--God forbid! Juries ought to
take their law from the bench only; but it is _our_ business that they
should hear nothing from the bench but what is agreeable to the
principles of the Constitution. The jury are to hear the judge: the
judge is to hear the law, where it speaks plain; where it does not, he
is to hear the legislature. As I do not think these opinions of the
judges to be agreeable to those principles, I wish to take the only
method in which they can or ought to be corrected,--by bill.

Next, my opinion is, that it ought to be rather by a bill for removing
controversies than by a bill in the state of manifest and express
declaration and in words _de praeterito_. I do this upon reasons of
equity and constitutional policy. I do not want to censure the present
judges. I think them to be excused for their error. Ignorance is no
excuse for a judge; it is changing the nature of his crime; it is not
absolving. It must be such error as a wise and conscientious judge may
possibly fall into, and must arise from one or both these causes:--1. A
plausible principle of law; 2. The precedents of respectable
authorities, and in good times. In the first, the principle of law, that
the judge is to decide on law, the jury to decide on fact, is an ancient
and venerable principle and maxim of the law; and if supported in this
application by precedents of good times and of good men, the judge, if
wrong, ought to be corrected,--he ought not to be reproved or to be
disgraced, or the authority or respect to your tribunals to be impaired.
In cases in which declaratory bills have been made, where by violence
and corruption some fundamental part of the Constitution has been struck
at, where they would damn the principle, censure the persons, and annul
the acts,--but where the law has been by the accident of human frailty
depraved or in a particular instance misunderstood, where you neither
mean to rescind the acts nor to censure the persons, in such cases you
have taken the explanatory mode, and, without condemning what is done,
you direct the future judgment of the court.

All bills for the reformation of the law must be according to the
subject-matter, the circumstances, and the occasion, and are of four
kinds:--1. Either the law is totally wanting, and then a new enacting
statute must be made to supply that want; or, 2. it is _defective_, then
a new law must be made to enforce it; 3. or it is opposed by power or
fraud, and then an act must be made to declare it; 4. or it is rendered
doubtful and controverted, and then a law must be made to explain it.
These must be applied according to the exigence of the case: one is just
as good as another of them. Miserable indeed would be the resources,
poor and unfurnished the stores and magazines of legislation, if we were
bound up to a little narrow form, and not able to frame our acts of
Parliament according to every disposition of our own minds and to every
possible emergency of the commonwealth,--to make them declaratory,
enforcing, explanatory, repealing, just in what mode or in what degree
we please.

Those who think that the judges living and dead are to be condemned,
that your tribunals of justice are to be dishonored, that their acts and
judgments on this business are to be rescinded,--they will undoubtedly
vote against this bill, and for another sort.

I am not of the opinion of those gentlemen who are against disturbing
the public repose: I like a clamor, whenever there is an abuse. The
fire-bell at midnight disturbs your sleep, but it keeps you from being
burned in your bed. The hue-and-cry alarms the county, but it preserves
all the property of the province. All these clamors aim at _redress_.
But a clamor made merely for the purpose of rendering the people
discontented with their situation, without an endeavor to give them a
practical remedy, is indeed one of the worst acts of sedition.

I have read and heard much upon the conduct of our courts in the
business of libels. I was extremely willing to enter into, and very free
to act as facts should turn out on that inquiry, aiming constantly at
remedy as the end of all clamor, all debate, all writing, and all
inquiry; for which reason I did embrace, and do now with joy, this
method of giving quiet to the courts, jurisdiction to juries, liberty to
the press, and satisfaction to the people. I thank my friends for what
they have done; I hope the public will one day reap the benefit of their
pious and judicious endeavors. They have now sown the seed; I hope they
will live to see the flourishing harvest. Their bill is sown in
weakness; it will, I trust, be reaped in power. And then, however, we
shall have reason to apply to them what my Lord Coke says was an
aphorism continually in the mouth of a great sage of the law,--"Blessed
be not the complaining tongue, but _blessed be the amending hand_."




An improper and injurious account of the bill brought into the House of
Commons by Mr. Dowdeswell has lately appeared in one of the public
papers. I am not at all surprised at it, as I am not a stranger to the
views and politics of those who have caused it to be inserted.

Mr. Dowdeswell did not _bring in an enacting bill to give to juries_, as
the account expresses it, _a power to try law and fact in matter of
libel_. Mr. Dowdeswell brought in a bill to put an end to those doubts
and controversies upon that subject which have unhappily distracted our
courts, to the great detriment of the public, and to the great dishonor
of the national justice.

That it is the province of the jury, in informations and indictments for
libels, to try nothing more than the fact of the composing and of the
publishing averments and innuendoes is a doctrine held at present by all
the judges of the King's Bench, probably by most of the judges of the
kingdom. The same doctrine has been held pretty uniformly since the
Revolution; and it prevails more or less with the jury, according to the
degree of respect with which they are disposed to receive the opinions
of the bench.

This doctrine, which, when it prevails, tends to annihilate the benefit
of trial by jury, and when it is rejected by juries, tends to weaken and
disgrace the authority of the judge, is not a doctrine proper for an
English judicature. For the sake both of judge and jury, the controversy
ought to be quieted, and the law ought to be settled in a manner clear,
definitive, and constitutional, by the only authority competent to it,
the authority of the legislature.

Mr. Dowdeswell's bill was brought in for that purpose. It _gives_ to the
jury no _new_ powers; but, after reciting the doubts and controversies,
(which nobody denies actually to subsist,) and after stating, that, if
juries are not reputed competent to try the whole matter, the benefit of
trial by jury will be of none or imperfect effect, it enacts, not that
the jury _shall_ have the _power_, but that they shall be _held and
reputed in law and right competent_ to try the whole matter laid in the
information. The bill is directing to the judges concerning the opinion
in law which they are known to hold upon this subject,--and does not in
the least imply that the jury were to derive a new right and power from
that bill, if it should have passed into an act of Parliament. The
implication is directly the contrary, and is as strongly conveyed as it
is possible for those to do who state a doubt and controversy without
charging with criminality those persons who so doubted and so

Such a style is frequent in acts of this nature, and is that only which
is suited to the occasion. An insidious use has been made of the words
_enact_ and _declare_, as if they were formal and operative words of
force to distinguish different species of laws producing different
effects. Nothing is more groundless; and I am persuaded no lawyer will
stand to such an assertion. The gentlemen who say that a bill ought to
have been brought in upon the principle and in the style of the Petition
of Right and Declaration of Right ought to consider how far the
circumstances are the same in the two cases, and how far they are
prepared to go the whole lengths of the reason of those remarkable laws.
Mr. Dowdeswell and his friends are of opinion that the circumstances are
not the same, and that therefore the bill ought not to be the same.

It has been always disagreeable to the persons who compose that
connection to engage wantonly in a paper war, especially with gentlemen
for whom they have an esteem, and who seem to agree with them in the
great grounds of their public conduct; but they can never consent to
purchase any assistance from any persons by the forfeiture of their own
reputation. They respect public opinion; and therefore, whenever they
shall be called upon, they are ready to meet their adversaries, as soon
as they please, before the tribunal of the public, and there to justify
the constitutional nature and tendency, the propriety, the prudence, and
the policy of their bill. They are equally ready to explain and to
justify all their proceedings in the conduct of it,--equally ready to
defend their resolution to make it one object (if ever they should have
the power) in a plan of public reformation.

Your correspondent ought to have been satisfied with the assistance
which his friends have lent to administration in defeating that bill. He
ought not to make a feeble endeavor (I dare say, much to the displeasure
of those friends) to disgrace the gentleman who brought it in. A measure
proposed by Mr. Dowdeswell, seconded by Sir George Savile, and supported
by their friends, will stand fair with the public, even though it should
have been opposed by that list of names (respectable names, I admit)
which have been printed with so much parade and ostentation in your

It is not true that Mr. Burke spoke in praise of Lord Mansfield. If he
had found anything in Lord Mansfield praiseworthy, I fancy he is not
disposed to make an apology to anybody for doing justice. Your
correspondent's reason for asserting it is visible enough; and it is
altogether in the strain of other misrepresentations. That gentlemen
spoke decently of the judges, and he did no more; most of the gentlemen
who debated, on both sides, held the same language; and nobody will
think their zeal the less warm, or the less effectual, because it is not
attended with scurrility and virulence.


[2] The manuscript from which this Letter is taken is in Mr. Burke's own
handwriting, but it does not appear to whom it was addressed, nor is
there any date affixed to it. It has been thought proper to insert it
here, as being connected with the subject of the foregoing Speech.


Whereas doubts and controversies have arisen at various times concerning
the right of jurors to try the whole matter laid in indictments and
informations for seditious and other libels; and whereas trial by juries
would be of none or imperfect effect, if the jurors were not held to be
competent to try the whole matter aforesaid: for settling and clearing
such doubts and controversies, and for securing to the subject the
effectual and complete benefit of trial by juries in such indictments
and informations,

Be it enacted, &c, That jurors duly impanelled and sworn to try the
issue between the king and the defendant upon any indictment or
information for a seditious libel, or a libel under any other
denomination or description, shall be held and reputed competent, to all
intents and purposes, in law and in right, to try every part of the
matter laid or charged in said indictment or information, comprehending
the criminal intention of the defendant, and the evil tendency of the
libel charged, as well as the mere fact of the publication thereof, and
the application by innuendo of blanks, initial letters, pictures, and
other devices; any opinion, question, ambiguity, or doubt to the
contrary notwithstanding.




JUNE 15, 1781.

This act [_the Marriage Act_] stands upon _two_ principles: one, that
the power of marrying without consent of parents should not take place
till twenty-one years of age; the other, that all marriages should be

The proposition of the honorable mover goes to the first; and
undoubtedly his motives are fair and honorable; and even, in that
measure by which he would take away paternal power, he is influenced to
it by filial piety; and he is led into it by a natural, and to him
inevitable, but real mistake,--that the ordinary race of mankind advance
as fast towards maturity of judgment and understanding as he does.

The question is not now, whether the law ought to acknowledge and
protect such a state of life as minority, nor whether the continuance
which is fixed for that state be not improperly prolonged in the law of
England. Neither of these in general are questioned. The only question,
is, whether matrimony is to be taken out of the general rule, and
whether the minors of both sexes, without the consent of their parents,
ought to have a capacity of contracting the matrimonial, whilst they
have not the capacity of contracting any other engagement. Now it
appears to me very clear that they ought not. It is a great mistake to
think that mere _animal_ propagation is the sole end of matrimony.
Matrimony is instituted not only for the propagation of men, but for
their nutrition, their education, their establishment, and for the
answering of all the purposes of a rational and moral being; and it is
not the duty of the community to consider alone of how many, but how
useful citizens it shall be composed.

It is most certain that men are well qualified for propagation long
before they are sufficiently qualified even by bodily strength, much
less by mental prudence, and by acquired skill in trades and
professions, for the maintenance of a family. Therefore to enable and
authorize any man to introduce citizens into the commonwealth, before a
rational security can be given that he may provide for them and educate
them as citizens ought to be provided for and educated, is totally
incongruous with the whole order of society. Nay, it is fundamentally
unjust; for a man that breeds a family without competent means of
maintenance incumbers other men with his children, and disables them so
far from maintaining their own. The improvident marriage of one man
becomes a tax upon the orderly and regular marriage of all the rest.
Therefore those laws are wisely constituted that give a man the use of
all his faculties at one time, that they may be mutually subservient,
aiding and assisting to each other: that the time of his completing his
bodily strength, the time of mental discretion, the time of his having
learned his trade, and the time at which he has the disposition of his
fortune, should be likewise the time in which he is permitted to
introduce citizens into the state, and to charge the community with
their maintenance. To give a man a family during his apprenticeship,
whilst his very labor belongs to another,--to give him a family, when
you do not give him a fortune to maintain it,--to give him a family
before he can contract any one of those engagements without which no
business can be carried on, would be to burden the state with families
without any security for their maintenance. When parents themselves
marry their children, they become in some sort security to prevent the
ill consequences. You have this security in parental consent; the state
takes its security in the knowledge of human nature. Parents ordinarily
consider little the passion of their children and their present
gratification. Don't fear the power of a father: it is kind to passion
to give it time to cool. But their censures sometimes make me
smile,--sometimes, for I am very infirm, make me angry: _saepe bilem,
saepe jocum movent_.

It gives me pain to differ on this occasion from many, if not most, of
those whom I honor and esteem. To suffer the grave animadversion and
censorial rebuke of the honorable gentleman who made the motion, of him
whose good-nature and good sense the House look upon with a particular
partiality, whose approbation would have been one of the highest objects
of my ambition,--this hurts me. It is said the Marriage Act is
aristocratic. I am accused, I am told abroad, of being a man of
aristocratic principles. If by aristocracy they mean the peers, I have
no vulgar admiration, nor any vulgar antipathy towards them; I hold
their order in cold and decent respect. I hold them to be of an absolute
necessity in the Constitution; but I think they are only good when kept
within their proper bounds. I trust, whenever there has been a dispute
between these Houses, the part I have taken has not been equivocal. If
by the aristocracy (which, indeed, comes nearer to the point) they mean
an adherence to the rich and powerful against the poor and weak, this
would, indeed, be a very extraordinary part. I have incurred the odium
of gentlemen in this House for not paying sufficient regard to men of
ample property. When, indeed, the smallest rights of the poorest people
in the kingdom are in question, I would set my face against any act of
pride and power countenanced by the highest that are in it; and if it
should come to the last extremity, and to a contest of blood,--God
forbid! God forbid!--my part is taken: I would take my fate with the
poor and low and feeble. But if these people came to turn their liberty
into a cloak for maliciousness, and to seek a privilege of exemption,
not from power, but from the rules of morality and virtuous discipline,
then I would join my hand to make them feel the force which a few united
in a good cause have over a multitude of the profligate and ferocious.

I wish the nature of the ground of repeal were considered with a little
attention. It is said the act tends to accumulate, to keep up the power
of great families, and to add wealth to wealth. It may be that it does
so. It is impossible that any principle of law or government useful to
the community should be established without an advantage to those who
have the greatest stake in the country. Even some vices arise from it.
The same laws which secure property encourage avarice; and the fences
made about honest acquisition are the strong bars which secure the
hoards of the miser. The dignities of magistracy are encouragements to
ambition, with all the black train of villanies which attend that wicked
passion. But still we must have laws to secure property, and still we
must have ranks and distinctions and magistracy in the state,
notwithstanding their manifest tendency to encourage avarice and

By affirming the parental authority throughout the state, parents in
high rank will generally aim at, and will sometimes have the means, too,
of preserving their minor children from any but wealthy or splendid
matches. But this authority preserves from a thousand misfortunes which
embitter every part of every man's domestic life, and tear to pieces the
dearest lies in human society.

I am no peer, nor like to be,--but am in middle life, in the mass of
citizens; yet I should feel for a son who married a prostituted woman,
or a daughter who married a dishonorable and prostituted man, as much as
any peer in the realm.

You are afraid of the avaricious principle of fathers. But observe that
the avaricious principle is here mitigated very considerably. It is
avarice by proxy; it is avarice not working by itself or for itself, but
through the medium of parental affection, meaning to procure good to its
offspring. But the contest is not between love and avarice.

While you would guard against the possible operation of this species of
benevolent avarice, the avarice of the father, you let loose another
species of avarice,--that of the fortune-hunter, unmitigated,
unqualified. To show the motives, who has heard of a man running away
with a woman not worth sixpence? Do not call this by the name of the
sweet and best passion,--love. It is robbery,--not a jot better than any

Would you suffer the sworn enemy of his family, his life, and his
honor, possibly the shame and scandal and blot of human society, to
debauch from his care and protection the dearest pledge that he has on
earth, the sole comfort of his declining years, almost in infantine
imbecility,--and with it to carry into the hands of his enemy, and the
disgrace of Nature, the dear-earned substance of a careful and laborious
life? Think of the daughter of an honest, virtuous parent allied to vice
and infamy. Think of the hopeful son tied for life by the meretricious
arts of the refuse of mercenary and promiscuous lewdness. Have mercy on
the youth of both sexes; protect them from their ignorance and
inexperience; protect one part of life by the wisdom of another; protect
them by the wisdom of laws and the care of Nature.




FEBRUARY 17, 1772,



If I considered this bill as an attack upon the Church, brought in for
the purpose of impoverishing and weakening the clergy, I should be one
of the foremost in an early and vigorous opposition to it.

I admit, the same reasons do not press for limiting the claims of the
Church that existed for limiting the crown, by that wisest of all laws
which, has secured the property, the peace, and the freedom of this
country from the most dangerous mode of attack which could be made upon
them all.

I am very sensible of the propriety of maintaining that venerable body
with decency,--and with more than mere decency. I would maintain it
according to the ranks wisely established in it, with that sober and
temperate splendor that is suitable to a sacred character invested with
high dignity.

There ought to be a symmetry between all the parts and orders of a
state. A _poor_ clergy in an _opulent_ nation can have little
correspondence with the body it is to instruct, and it is a disgrace to
the public sentiments of religion. Such irreligious frugality is even
bad economy, as the little that is given is entirely thrown away. Such
an impoverished and degraded clergy in quiet tunes could never execute
their duty, and in time of disorder would infinitely aggravate the
public confusions.

That the property of the Church is a favored and privileged property I
readily admit. It is made with great wisdom; since a perpetual body,
with a perpetual duty, ought to have a perpetual provision.

The question is not, the property of the Church, or its security. The
question is, whether you will render the principle of prescription a
principle of the law of this laud, and incorporate it with the whole of
your jurisprudence,--whether, having given it first against the laity,
then against the crown, you will now extend it to the Church.

The acts which were made, giving limitation against the laity, were not
acts against the property of those who might be precluded by
limitations. The act of quiet against the crown was not against the
interests of the crown, but against a power of vexation.

If the principle of prescription be not a constitution of positive law,
but a principle of natural equity, then to hold it out against any man
is not doing him injustice.

That _tithes_ are due of common right is readily granted; and if this
principle had been kept in its original straitness, it might, indeed, be
supposed that to plead an exemption was to plead a long-continued
_fraud_, and that no man could _be deceived_ in such a title,--as the
moment he bought land, he must know that he bought land tithed:
prescription could not aid him, for prescription can only attach on a
supposed _bona fide_ possession. But the fact is, that the principle has
been broken in upon.

Here it is necessary to distinguish two sorts of property.

1. Land carries no _mark_ on it to distinguish it as ecclesiastical, as
tithes do, which are a _charge_ on land; therefore, though it had been
made _inalienable_, it ought perhaps to be subject to limitation. It
might _bona fide_ be held.

But, first, it was not originally inalienable, no, not by the Canon Law,
until the restraining act of the 11th [1st?] of Elizabeth. But the great
revolution of the dissolution of monasteries, by the 31st Hen., ch. 13,
has so mixed and confounded ecclesiastical with lay property, that a man
may by every rule of good faith be possessed of it. The statute of Queen
Elizabeth, ann. 1, ch. 1, [?] gave away the bishop's lands.

So far as to _lands_.

As to _tithes_, they are not things in their own nature subject to be
barred by prescription upon the general principle. But tithes and Church
lands, by the statutes of Henry VIII. and the 11th [1st?] Eliz., have
become objects _in commercio_: for by coming to the crown they became
grantable in that way to the subject, and a great part of the Church
lands passed through the crown to the people.

By passing to the king, tithes became property to a mixed party; by
passing from the king, they became absolutely _lay_ property: the
partition-wall was broken down, and tithes and Church possession became
no longer synonymous terms. No [A?] man, therefore, might become a fair
purchaser of tithes, and of exemption from tithes.

By the statute of Elizabeth, the lands took the same course, (I will not
inquire by what justice, good policy, and decency,) but they passed into
lay lands, became the object of purchases for valuable consideration,
and of marriage settlements.

Now, if tithes might come to a layman, land in the hands of a layman
might be also tithe-free. So that there was an object which a layman
might become seized of equitably and _bona fide_; there was something
on which a prescription might attach, the end of which is, to secure the
natural well-meaning ignorance of men, and to secure property by the
best of all principles, continuance.

I have therefore shown that a layman may be equitably seized of Church
lands,--2. of tithes,--3. of exemption from tithes; and you will not
contend that there should be no prescription. Will you say that the
alienations made before the 11th of Elizabeth shall not stand good?

I do not mean anything against the Church, her dignities, her honors,
her privileges, or her possessions. I should wish even to enlarge them
all: not that the Church of England is incompetently endowed. This is to
take nothing from her but the power of making herself odious. If she be
secure herself, she can have no objection to the security of others. For
I hope she is secure from lay-bigotry and anti-priestcraft, for
certainly such things there are. I heartily wish to see the Church
secure in such possessions as will not only enable her ministers to
preach the Gospel with ease, but of such a kind as will enable them to
preach it with its full effect, so that the pastor shall not have the
inauspicious appearance of a tax-gatherer,--such a maintenance as is
compatible with the civil prosperity and improvement of their country.





These hints appear to have been first thoughts, which were probably
intended to be amplified and connected, and so worked up into a regular
dissertation. No date appears of the time when they were written, but it
was probably before the year 1765.



It is generally observed that no species of writing is so difficult as
the dramatic. It must, indeed, appear so, were we to consider it upon
one side only. It is a dialogue, or species of composition which in
itself requires all the mastery of a complete writer with grace and
spirit to support. We may add, that it must have a fable, too, which
necessarily requires invention, one of the rarest qualities of the human
mind. It would surprise us, if we were to examine the thing critically,
how few good original stories there are in the world. The most
celebrated borrow from each other, and are content with some new turn,
some corrective, addition, or embellishment. Many of the most celebrated
writers in that way can claim no other merit. I do not think La Fontaine
has one original story. And if we pursue him to those who were his
originals, the Italian writers of tales and novels, we shall find most
even of them drawing from antiquity, or borrowing from the Eastern
world, or adopting and decorating the little popular stories they found
current and traditionary in their country. Sometimes they laid the
foundation of their tale in real fact. Even after all their borrowing
from so many funds, they are still far from opulent. How few stories has
Boccace which are tolerable, and how much fewer are there which you
would desire to read twice! But this general difficulty is greatly
increased, when we come to the drama. Here a fable is essential,--a
fable which is to be conducted with rapidity, clearness, consistency,
and surprise, without any, or certainly with very little, aid from
narrative. This is the reason that generally nothing is more dull in
telling than the plot of a play. It is seldom or never a good story in
itself; and in this particular, some of the greatest writers, both in
ancient and modern theatres, have failed in the most miserable manner.
It is well a play has still so many requisites to complete it, that,
though the writer should not succeed in these particulars, and therefore
should be so far from perfection, there are still enough left in which
he may please, at less expense of labor to himself, and perhaps, too,
with more real advantage to his auditory. It is, indeed, very difficult
happily to excite the passions and draw the characters of men; but our
nature leads us more directly to such paintings than to the invention of
a story. We are imitative animals; and we are more naturally led to
imitate the exertions of character and passion than to observe and
describe a series of events, and to discover those relations and
dependencies in them which will please. Nothing can be more rare than
this quality. Herein, as I believe, consists the difference between the
inventive and the descriptive genius. By the inventive genius I mean the
creator of agreeable facts and incidents; by the descriptive, the
delineator of characters, manners, and passions. Imitation calls us to
this; we are in some cases almost forced to it, and it is comparatively
easy. More observe the characters of men than the order of things: to
the one we are formed by Nature, and by that sympathy from which we are
so strongly led to take a part in the passions and manners of our
fellow-men; the other is, as it were, foreign and extrinsical. Neither,
indeed, can anything be done, even in this, without invention; but it is
obvious that this invention is of a kind altogether different from the
former. However, though the more sublime genius and the greatest art are
required for the former, yet the latter, as it is more common and more
easy, so it is more useful, and administers more directly to the great
business of life.

If the drama requires such a combination of talents, the most common of
which is very rarely to be found and difficult to be exerted, it is not
surprising, at a time when almost all kinds of poetry are cultivated
with little success, to find that we have done no great matters in this.
Many causes may be assigned for our present weakness in that oldest and
most excellent branch of philosophy, poetical learning, and particularly
in what regards the theatre. I shall here only consider what appears to
me to be one of these causes: I mean the wrong notion of the art itself,
which begins to grow fashionable, especially among people of an elegant
turn of mind with a weak understanding; and these are they that form the
great body of the idle part of every polite and civilized nation. The
prevailing system of that class of mankind is indolence. This gives them
an aversion to all strong movements. It infuses a delicacy of sentiment,
which, when it is real, and accompanied with a justness of thought, is
an amiable quality, and favorable to the fine arts; but when it comes
to make the whole of the character, it injures things more excellent
than those which it improves, and degenerates into a false refinement,
which diffuses a languor and breathes a frivolous air over everything
which it can influence....

Having differed in my opinion about dramatic composition, and
particularly in regard to comedy, with a gentleman for whose character
and talents I have a very high respect, I thought myself obliged, on
account of that difference, to a new and more exact examination of the
grounds upon which I had formed my opinions. I thought it would be
impossible to come to any clear and definite idea on this subject,
without remounting to the natural passions or dispositions of men, which
first gave rise to this species of writing; for from these alone its
nature, its limits, and its true character can be determined.

There are but four general principles which can move men to interest
themselves in the characters of others, and they may be classed under
the heads of good and ill opinion: on the side of the first may be
classed admiration and love, hatred and contempt on the other. And these
have accordingly divided poetry into two very different kinds,--the
panegyrical, and the satirical; under one of which heads all genuine
poetry falls (for I do not reckon the didactic as poetry, in the
strictness of speech).

Without question, the subject of all poetry was originally direct and
personal. Fictitious character is a refinement, and comparatively
modern; for abstraction is in its nature slow, and always follows the
progress of philosophy. Men had always friends and enemies before they
knew the exact nature of vice and virtue; they naturally, and with
their best powers of eloquence, whether in prose or verse, magnified and
set off the one, vilified and traduced the other.

The first species of composition in either way was probably some
general, indefinite topic of praise or blame, expressed in a song or
hymn, which is the most common and simple kind of panegyric and satire.
But as nothing tended to set their hero or subject in a more forcible
light than some story to their advantage or prejudice, they soon
introduced a narrative, and thus improved the composition into a greater
variety of pleasure to the hearer, and to a more forcible instrument of
honor or disgrace to the subject.

It is natural with men, when they relate any action with any degree of
warmth, to represent the parties to it talking as the occasion requires;
and this produces that mixed species of poetry, composed of narrative
and dialogue, which is very universal in all languages, and of which
Homer is the noblest example in any. This mixed kind of poetry seems
also to be most perfect, as it takes in a variety of situations,
circumstances, reflections, and descriptions, which must be rejected on
a more limited plan.

It must be equally obvious, that men, in relating a story in a forcible
manner, do very frequently mimic the looks, gesture, and voice of the
person concerned, and for the time, as it were, put themselves into his
place. This gave the hint to the drama, or acting; and observing the
powerful effect of this in public exhibitions....

But the drama, the most artificial and complicated of all the poetical
machines, was not yet brought to perfection; and like those animals
which change their state, some parts of the old narrative still adhered.
It still had a chorus, it still had a prologue to explain the design;
and the perfect drama, an automaton supported and moved without any
foreign help, was formed late and gradually. Nay, there are still
several parts of the world in which it is not, and probably never may
be, formed. The Chinese drama.

The drama, being at length formed, naturally adhered to the first
division of poetry, the satirical and panegyrical, which made tragedy
and comedy.

Men, in praising, naturally applaud the dead. Tragedy celebrated the

Great men are never sufficiently shown but in struggles. Tragedy turned,
therefore, on melancholy and affecting subjects,--a sort of
threnodia,--its passions, therefore, admiration, terror, and pity.

Comedy was satirical. Satire is best on the living.

It was soon found that the best way to depress an hated character was to
turn it into ridicule; and therefore the greater vices, which in the
beginning were lashed, gave place to the _contemptible_. Its passion,
therefore, became ridicule.

Every writing must have its characteristic passion. What is that of
comedy, if not ridicule?

Comedy, therefore, is a satirical poem, representing an action carried
on by dialogue, to excite laughter by describing ludicrous characters.
See Aristotle.

Therefore, to preserve this definition, the ridicule must be either in
the action or characters, or both.

An action may be ludicrous, independent of the characters, by the
ludicrous situations and accidents which may happen to the characters.

But the action is not so important as the characters. We see this every
day upon the stage.

What are the characters fit for comedy?

It appears that no part of human life which may be subject to ridicule
is exempted from comedy; for wherever men run into the absurd, whether
high or low, they may be the subject of satire, and consequently of
comedy. Indeed, some characters, as kings, are exempted through decency;
others might be too insignificant. Some are of opinion that persons in
better life are so polished that their tone characters and the real bent
of their humor cannot appear. For my own part, I cannot give entire
credit to this remark. For, in the first place, I believe that
good-breeding is not so universal or strong in any part of life as to
overrule the real characters and strong passions of such men as would be
proper objects of the drama. Secondly, it is not the ordinary,
commonplace discourse of assemblies that is to be represented in comedy.
The parties are to be put in situations in which their passions are
roused, and their real characters called forth; and if their situations
are judiciously adapted to the characters, there is no doubt but they
will appear in all their force, choose what situation of life you
please. Let the politest man alive game, and feel at loss; let this be
his character; and his politeness will never hide it, nay, it will put
it forward with greater violence, and make a more forcible contrast.[3]

But genteel comedy puts these characters, not in their passionate, but
in their genteel light; makes elegant cold conversation, and virtuous
personages.[4] Such sort of pictures disagreeable.

Virtue and politeness not proper for comedy; for they have too much or
no movement.

They are not good in tragedy, much less here.

The greater virtues, fortitude, justice, and the like, too serious and

It is not every story, every character, every incident, but those only
which answer their end.--Painting of artificial things not good; a thing
being useful does not therefore make it most pleasing in
picture.--Natural manners, good and bad.--Sentiment. In common affairs
and common life, virtuous sentiments are not even the character of
virtuous men; we cannot bear these sentiments, but when they are pressed
out, as it were, by great exigencies, and a certain contention which is
above the general style of comedy....

The first character of propriety the Lawsuit possesses in an eminent
degree. The plot of the play is an iniquitous suit; there can be no
fitter persons to be concerned in the active part of it than low,
necessitous lawyers of bad character, and profligates of desperate
fortune. On the other hand, in the passive part, if an honest and
virtuous man had been made the object of their designs, or a weak man of
good intentions, every successful step they should take against him
ought rather to fill the audience with horror than pleasure and mirth;
and if in the conclusion their plots should be baffled, even this would
come too late to prevent that ill impression. But in the Lawsuit this is
admirably avoided: for the character chosen is a rich, avaricious
usurer: the pecuniary distresses of such a person can never be looked
upon with horror; and if he should be even handled unjustly, we always
wait his delivery with patience.

Now with regard to the display of the character, which is the essential
part of the plot, nothing can be more finely imagined than to draw a
miser in law. If you draw him inclined to love and marriage, you depart
from the height of his character in some measure, as Moliere has done.
Expenses of this kind he may easily avoid. If you draw him in law, to
advance brings expense, to draw back brings expense; and the character
is tortured and brought out at every moment.

A sort of notion has prevailed that a comedy might subsist without
humor. It is an idle disquisition, whether a story in private life,
represented in dialogues, may not be carried on with some degree of
merit without humor. It may unquestionably; but what shines chiefly in
comedy, the painting the manners of life, must be in a great measure
wanting. A character which has nothing extravagant, wrong, or singular
in it can affect but very little: and this is what makes Aristotle draw
the great line of distinction between tragedy and comedy. [Greek: En
aute de te diaphora kai e tragodia], &c. Arist. Poet. Ch. II.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is not a more absurd mistake than that whatever may not
unnaturally happen in an action is of course to be admitted into every
painting of it. In Nature, the great and the little, the serious and the
ludicrous, things the most disproportionate the one to the other, are
frequently huddled together in much confusion, And what then? It is the
business of Art first to choose some determinate end and purpose, and
then to select those parts of Nature, and those only, which conduce to
that end, avoiding with most religious exactness the intermixture of
anything which would contradict it. Else the whole idea of propriety,
that is, the only distinction between the just and chimerical in the
arts, would be utterly lost. An hero eats, drinks, and sleeps, like
other men; but to introduce such scenes on the stage, because they are
natural, would be ridiculous. And why? Because they have nothing to do
with the end for which the play is written. The design of a piece might
be utterly destroyed by the most natural incidents in the world. Boileau
has somewhere criticized with what surely is a very just severity on
Ariosto, for introducing a ludicrous tale from his host to one of the
principal persons of his poem, though the story has great merit in its
way. Indeed, that famous piece is so monstrous and extravagant in all
its parts that one is not particularly shocked with this indecorum. But,
as Boileau has observed, if Virgil had introduced AEneas listening to a
bawdy story from his host, what an episode had this formed in that
divine poem! Suppose, instead of AEneas, he had represented the impious
Mezentius as entertaining himself in that manner; such a thing would not
have been without probability, but it would have clashed with the very
first principles of taste, and, I would say, of common sense.

I have heard of a celebrated picture of the Last Supper,--and if I do
not mistake, it is said to be the work of some of the Flemish masters:
in this picture all the personages are drawn in a manner suitable to
the solemnity of the occasion; but the painter has filled the void under
the table with a dog gnawing bones. Who does not see the possibility of
such an incident, and, at the same time, the absurdity of introducing it
on such an occasion! Innumerable such cases might be stated. It is not
the incompatibility or agreeableness of incidents, characters, or
sentiments with the probable in fact, but with propriety in design, that
admits or excludes them from a place in any composition. We may as well
urge that stones, sand, clay, and metals lie in a certain manner in the
earth, as a reason for building with these materials and in that manner,
as for writing according to the accidental disposition of characters in
Nature. I have, I am afraid, been longer than it might seem necessary in
refuting such a notion; but such authority can only be opposed by a good
deal of reason. We are not to forget that a play is, or ought to be, a
very short composition; that, if one passion or disposition is to be
wrought up with tolerable success, I believe it is as much as can in any
reason be expected. If there be scenes of distress and scenes of humor,
they must either be in a double or single plot. If there be a double
plot, there are in fact two. If they be in checkered scenes of serious
and comic, you are obliged continually to break both the thread of the
story and the continuity of the passion,--if in the same scene, as Mrs.
V. seems to recommend, it is needless to observe how absurd the mixture
must be, and how little adapted to answer the genuine end of any
passion. It is odd to observe the progress of bad taste: for this mixed
passion being universally proscribed in the regions of tragedy, it has
taken refuge and shelter in comedy, where it seems firmly established,
though no reason can be assigned why we may not laugh in the one as well
as weep in the other. The true reason of this mixture is to be sought
for in the manners which are prevalent amongst a people. It has become
very fashionable to affect delicacy, tenderness of heart, and fine
feeling, and to shun all imputation of rusticity. Much mirth is very
foreign to this character; they have introduced, therefore, a sort of
neutral writing.

Now as to characters, they have dealt in them as in the passions. There
are none but lords and footmen. One objection to characters in high life
is, that almost all wants, and a thousand happy circumstances arising
from them, being removed from it, their whole mode of life is too
artificial, and not so fit for painting; and the contrary opinion has
arisen from a mistake, that whatever has merit in the reality
necessarily must have it in the representation. I have observed that
persons, and especially women, in lower life, and of no breeding, are
fond of such representations. It seems like introducing them into good
company, and the honor compensates the dulness of the entertainment.

Fashionable manners being fluctuating is another reason for not choosing
them.--Sensible comedy,--talking sense a dull thing--....


[3] Sic in MS.

[4] Sic in MS.










In order to obtain a clear notion of the state of Europe before the
universal prevalence of the Roman power, the whole region is to be
divided into two principal parts, which we shall call Northern and
Southern Europe. The northern part is everywhere separated from the
southern by immense and continued chains of mountains. From Greece it is
divided by Mount Haemus; from Spain by the Pyrenees; from Italy by the
Alps. This division is not made by an arbitrary or casual distribution
of countries. The limits are marked out by Nature, and in these early
ages were yet further distinguished by a considerable difference in the
manners and usages of the nations they divided.

If we turn our eyes to the northward of these boundaries, a vast mass of
solid continent lies before us, stretched out from the remotest shore of
Tartary quite to the Atlantic Ocean. A line drawn through this extent,
from east to west, would pass over the greatest body of unbroken land
that is anywhere known upon the globe. This tract, in a course of some
degrees to the northward, is not interrupted by any sea; neither are the
mountains so disposed as to form any considerable obstacle to hostile
incursions. Originally it was all inhabited but by one sort of people,
known by one common denomination of Scythians. As the several tribes of
this comprehensive name lay in many parts greatly exposed, and as by
their situation and customs they were much inclined to attack, and by
both ill qualified for defence, throughout the whole of that immense
region there was for many ages a perpetual flux and reflux of barbarous
nations. None of their commonwealths continued long enough established
on any particular spot to settle and to subside into a regular order,
one tribe continually overpowering or thrusting out another. But as
these were only the mixtures of Scythians with Scythians, the triumphs
of barbarians over barbarians, there were revolutions in empire, but
none in manners. The Northern Europe, until some parts of it were
subdued by the progress of the Roman arms, remained almost equally
covered with all the ruggedness of primitive barbarism.

The southern part was differently circumstanced. Divided, as we have
said, from the northern by great mountains, it is further divided within
itself by considerable seas. Spain, Greece, and Italy are peninsulas. By
these advantages of situation the inhabitants were preserved from those
great and sudden revolutions to which the Northern world had been always
liable; and being confined within a space comparatively narrow, they
were restrained from wandering into a pastoral and unsettled life. It
was upon one side only that they could be invaded by land. Whoever made
an attempt on any other part must necessarily have arrived in ships of
some magnitude, and must therefore have in a degree been cultivated, if
not by the liberal, at least by the mechanic arts. In fact, the
principal colonies-which we find these countries to have received were
sent from Phoenicia, or the Lesser Asia, or Egypt, the great fountains
of the ancient civility and learning. And they became more or less,
earlier or later, polished, as they were situated nearer to or further
from these celebrated sources. Though I am satisfied, from a comparison
of the Celtic tongues with the Greek and Roman, that the original
inhabitants of Italy and Greece were of the same race with the people of
Northern Europe, yet it is certain they profited so much by their
guarded situation, by the mildness of their climate favorable to
humanity, and by the foreign infusions, that they came greatly to excel
the Northern nations in every respect, and particularly in the art and
discipline of war. For, not being so strong in their bodies, partly from
the temperature of their climate, partly from a degree of softness
induced by a more cultivated life, they applied themselves to remove the
few inconveniences of a settled society by the advantages which it
affords in art, disposition, and obedience; and as they consisted of
many small states, their people were well exercised in arms, and
sharpened against each other by continual war.

Such was the situation of Greece and Italy from a very remote period.
The Gauls and other Northern nations, envious of their wealth, and
despising the effeminacy of their manners, often invaded them with,
numerous, though ill-formed armies. But their greatest and most frequent
attempts were against Italy, their connection with which country alone
we shall here consider. In the course of these wars, the superiority of
the Roman discipline over the Gallic ferocity was at length
demonstrated. The Gauls, notwithstanding the numbers with which their
irruptions were made, and the impetuous courage by which that nation was
distinguished, had no permanent success. They were altogether unskilful
either in improving their victories or repairing their defeats. But the
Romans, being governed by a most wise order of men, perfected by a
traditionary experience in the policy of conquest, drew some advantage
from every turn of fortune, and, victorious or vanquished, persisted in
one uniform and comprehensive plan of breaking to pieces everything
which endangered their safety or obstructed their greatness. For, after
having more than once expelled the Northern invaders out of Italy, they
pursued them over the Alps; and carrying the war into the country of
their enemy, under several able generals, and at last under Caius Caesar,
they reduced all the Gauls from the Mediterranean Sea to the Rhine and
the Ocean. During the progress of this decisive war, some of the
maritime nations of Gaul had recourse for assistance to the neighboring
island of Britain. Prom thence they received considerable succors; by
which means this island first came to be known with any exactness by the
Romans, and first drew upon it the attention of that victorious people.

Though Caesar had reduced Gaul, he perceived clearly that a great deal
was still wanting to make his conquest secure and lasting. That
extensive country, inhabited by a multitude of populous and fierce
nations, had been rather overrun than conquered. The Gauls were not yet
broken to the yoke, which they bore with murmuring and discontent. The
ruins of their own strength were still considerable; and they had hopes
that the Germans, famous for their invincible courage and their ardent
love of liberty, would be at hand powerfully to second any endeavors for
the recovery of their freedom; they trusted that the Britons, of their
own blood, allied in manners and religion, and whose help they had
lately experienced, would not then be wanting to the same cause. Caesar
was not ignorant of these dispositions. He therefore judged, that, if he
could confine the attention of the Germans and Britons to their own
defence, so that the Gauls, on which side soever they turned, should
meet nothing but the Roman arms, they must soon be deprived of all hope,
and compelled to seek their safety in an entire submission.

These were the public reasons which made the invasion of Britain and
Germany an undertaking, at that particular time, not unworthy a wise and
able general. But these enterprises, though reasonable in themselves,
were only subservient to purposes of more importance, and which he had
more at heart. Whatever measures he thought proper to pursue on the side
of Germany, or on that of Britain, it was towards Rome that he always
looked, and to the furtherance of his interest there that all his
motions were really directed. That republic had receded from many of
those maxims by which her freedom had been hitherto preserved under the
weight of so vast an empire. Rome now contained many citizens of immense
wealth, eloquence, and ability. Particular men were more considered than
the republic; and the fortune and genius of the Roman people, which
formerly had been thought equal to everything, came now to be less
relied upon than the abilities of a few popular men. The war with the
Gauls, as the old and most dangerous enemy of Rome, was of the last
importance; and Caesar had the address to obtain the conduct of it for a
term of years, contrary to one of the most established principles of
their government. But this war was finished before that term was
expired, and before the designs which he entertained against the liberty
of his country were fully ripened. It was therefore necessary to find
some pretext for keeping his army on foot; it was necessary to employ
them in some enterprise that might at once raise his character, keep his
interest alive at Rome, endear him to his troops, and by that means
weaken the ties which held them to their country.

From this motive, colored by reasons plausible and fit to be avowed, he
resolved in one and the same year, and even when that was almost
expired, upon two expeditions, the objects of which lay at a great
distance from each other, and were as yet untouched by the Roman arms.
And first he resolved to pass the Rhine, and penetrate into Germany.

Caesar spent but twenty-eight days in his German expedition. In ten he
built his admirable bridge across the Rhine; in eighteen he performed
all he proposed by entering that country. When the Germans saw the
barrier of their river so easily overcome, and Nature herself, as it
were, submitted to the yoke, they were struck with astonishment, and
never after ventured to oppose the Romans in the field. The most
obnoxious of the German countries were ravaged, the strong awed, the
weak taken into protection. Thus an alliance being formed, always the
first step of the Roman policy, and not only a pretence, but a means,
being thereby acquired of entering the country upon any future occasion,
he marched back through Gaul to execute a design of much the same nature
and extent in Britain.

[Sidenote: B.C. 55.]

The inhabitants of that island, who were divided into a great number of
petty nations, under a very coarse and disorderly frame of government,
did not find it easy to plan any effectual measures for their defence.
In order, however, to gain time in this exigency, they sent ambassadors
to Caesar with terms of submission. Caesar could not colorably reject
their offers. But as their submission rather clashed than coincided with
his real designs, he still persisted in his resolution of passing over
into Britain; and accordingly embarked with the infantry of two legions
at the port of Itium.[5] His landing was obstinately disputed by the
natives, and brought on a very hot and doubtful engagement. But the
superior dispositions of so accomplished a commander, the resources of
the Roman discipline, and the effect of the military engines on the
unpractised minds of a barbarous people prevailed at length over the
best resistance which could be made by rude numbers and mere bravery.
The place where the Romans first entered this island was somewhere near
Deal, and the time fifty-five years before the birth of Christ.

The Britons, who defended their country with so much resolution in the
engagement, immediately after it lost all their spirit. They had laid no
regular plan, for their defence. Upon their first failure they seamed to
have no resources left. On the slightest loss they betook themselves to
treaty and submission; upon the least appearance in their favor they
were as ready to resume their arms, without any regard to their former
engagements: a conduct which demonstrates that our British ancestors had
no regular polity with a standing coercive power. The ambassadors which
they sent to Caesar laid all the blame of a war carried on by great
armies upon the rashness of their young men, and they declared that the
ruling people had no share in these hostilities. This is exactly the
excuse which the savages of America, who have no regular government,
make at this day upon the like occasions; but it would be a strange
apology from one of the modern states of Europe that had employed armies
against another. Caesar reprimanded them for the inconstancy of their
behavior, and ordered them to bring hostages to secure their fidelity,
together with provisions for his army. But whilst the Britons were
engaged in the treaty, and on that account had free access to the Roman
camp, they easily observed that the army of the invaders was neither
numerous nor well provided; and having about the same time received
intelligence that the Roman fleet had suffered in a storm, they again
changed their measures, and came to a resolution of renewing the war.
Some prosperous actions against the Roman foraging parties inspired them
with great confidence. They were betrayed by their success into a
general action in the open field. Here the disciplined troops obtained
an easy and complete victory; and the Britons were taught the error of
their conduct at the expense of a terrible slaughter.

Twice defeated, they had recourse once more to submission. Caesar, who
found the winter approaching, provisions scarce, and his fleet not fit
to contend with that rough and tempestuous sea in a winter voyage,
hearkened to their proposals, exacting double the number of the former
hostages. He then set sail with his whole army.

In this first expedition into Britain, Caesar did not make, nor indeed
could he expect, any considerable advantage. He acquired a knowledge of
the sea-coast, and of the country contiguous to it; and he became
acquainted with the force, the manner of fighting, and the military
character of the people. To compass these purposes he did not think a
part of the summer ill-bestowed. But early in the next he prepared to
make a more effective use of the experience he had gained. He embarked
again at the same port, but with a more numerous army. The Britons, on
their part, had prepared more regularly for their defence in this than
the former year. Several of those states which were nearest and most
exposed to the danger had, during Caesar's absence, combined for their
common safety, and chosen Cassibelan, a chief of power and reputation,
for the leader of their union. They seemed resolved to dispute the
landing of the Romans with their former intrepidity. But when they
beheld the sea covered, as far as the eye could reach, with the
multitude of the enemy's ships, (for they were eight hundred sail,) they
despaired of defending the coast, they retired into the woods' and
fastnesses, and Caesar landed his army without opposition.

The Britons now saw the necessity of altering their former method of
war. They no longer, therefore, opposed the Romans in the open field;
they formed frequent ambuscades; they divided themselves into light
flying parties, and continually harassed the enemy on his march. This
plan, though in their circumstances the most judicious, was attended
with no great success. Caesar forced some of their strongest
intrenchments, and then carried the war directly into the territories of

The only fordable passage which he could find over the Thames was
defended by a row of palisadoes which lined the opposite bank; another
row of sharpened stakes stood under water along the middle of the
stream. Some remains of these works long subsisted, and were to be
discerned in the river[6] down almost to the present times. The Britons
had made the best of the situation; but the Romans plunged into the
water, tore away the stakes and palisadoes, and obtained a complete
victory. The capital, or rather chief fastness, of Cassibelan was then
taken, with a number of cattle, the wealth of this barbarous city. After
these misfortunes the Britons were no longer in a condition to act with
effect. Their ill-success in the field soon dissolved the ill-cemented
union of their councils. They split into factions, and some of them
chose the common enemy for their protector, insomuch that, after some
feeble and desultory efforts, most of the tribes to the southward of the
Thames submitted themselves to the conqueror. Cassibelan, worsted in so
many encounters, and deserted by his allies, was driven at length to sue
for peace. A tribute was imposed; and as the summer began to wear away,
Caesar, having finished the war to his satisfaction, embarked for Gaul.

The whole of Caesar's conduct in these two campaigns sufficiently
demonstrates that he had no intention of making an absolute conquest of
any part of Britain. Is it to be believed, that, if he had formed such
a design, he would have left Britain without an army, without a legion,
without a single cohort, to secure his conquest, and that he should sit
down contented with an empty glory and the tribute of an indigent
people, without any proper means of securing a continuance of that small
acquisition? This is not credible. But his conduct here, as well as in
Germany, discovers his purpose in both expeditions: for by them he
confirmed the Roman dominion in Gaul, he gained time to mature his
designs, and he afforded his party in Rome an opportunity of promoting
his interest and exaggerating his exploits, which they did in such a
manner as to draw from the Senate a decree for a very remarkable
acknowledgment of his services in a supplication or thanksgiving of
twenty days. This attempt, not being pursued, stands single, and has
little or no connection with the subsequent events.

Therefore I shall in this place, where the narrative will be the least
broken, insert from the best authorities which are left, and the best
conjectures which in so obscure a matter I am able to form, some account
of the first peopling of this island, the manners of its inhabitants,
their art of war, their religious and civil discipline. These are
matters not only worthy of attention as containing a very remarkable
piece of antiquity, but as not wholly unnecessary towards comprehending
the great change made in all these points, when the Roman conquest came
afterwards to be completed.


[5] Some think this port to be Witsand, others Boulogne.

[6] Coway Stakes, near Kingston-on-Thames.



That Britain was first peopled from Gaul we are assured by the best
proofs,--proximity of situation, and resemblance in language and
manners. Of the time in which this event happened we must be contented
to remain in ignorance, for we have no monuments. But we may conclude
that it was a very ancient settlement, since the Carthaginians found
this island inhabited when they traded hither for tin,--as the
Phoenicians, whose tracks they followed in this commerce, are said to
have done long before them. It is true, that, when we consider the short
interval between the universal deluge and that period, and compare it
with the first settlement of men at such a distance from this corner of
the world, it may seem not easy to reconcile such a claim to antiquity
with the only authentic account we have of the origin and progress of
mankind,--especially as in those early ages the whole face of Nature was
extremely rude and uncultivated, when the links of commerce, even in the
countries first settled, were few and weak, navigation imperfect,
geography unknown, and the hardships of travelling excessive. But the
spirit of migration, of which we have now only some faint ideas, was
then strong and universal, and it fully compensated all these
disadvantages. Many writers, indeed, imagine that these migrations, so
common in the primitive times, were caused by the prodigious increase of
people beyond what their several territories could maintain. But this
opinion, far from being supported, is rather contradicted by the
general appearance of things in that early time, when in every country
vast tracts of land were suffered to lie almost useless in morasses and
forests. Nor is it, indeed, more countenanced by the ancient modes of
life, no way favorable to population. I apprehend that these first
settled countries, so far from being overstocked with inhabitants, were
rather thinly peopled, and that the same causes which occasioned that
thinness occasioned also those frequent migrations which make so large a
part of the first history of almost all nations. For in these ages men
subsisted chiefly by pasturage or hunting. These are occupations which
spread the people without multiplying them in proportion; they teach
them an extensive knowledge of the country; they carry them frequently
and far from their homes, and weaken those ties which might attach them
to any particular habitation.

It was in a great degree from this manner of life that mankind became
scattered in the earliest times over the whole globe. But their peaceful
occupations did not contribute so much to that end as their wars, which
were not the less frequent and violent because the people were few, and
the interests for which they contended of but small importance. Ancient
history has furnished us with many instances of whole nations, expelled
by invasion, falling in upon others, which they have entirely
overwhelmed,--more irresistible in their defeat and ruin than in their
fullest prosperity. The rights of war were then exercised with great
inhumanity. A cruel death, or a servitude scarcely less cruel, was the
certain fate of all conquered people; the terror of which hurried men
from habitations to which they were but little attached, to seek
security and repose under any climate that, however in other respects
undesirable, might afford them refuge from the fury of their enemies.
Thus the bleak and barren regions of the North, not being peopled by
choice, were peopled as early, in all probability, as many of the milder
and more inviting climates of the Southern world; and thus, by a
wonderful disposition of the Divine Providence, a life of hunting, which
does not contribute to increase, and war, which is the great instrument
in the destruction of men, were the two principal causes of their being
spread so early and so universally over the whole earth. From what is
very commonly known of the state of North America, it need not be said
how often and to what distance several of the nations on that continent
are used to migrate, who, though thinly scattered, occupy an immense
extent of country. Nor are the causes of it less obvious,--their hunting
life, and their inhuman wars.

Such migrations, sometimes by choice, more frequently from necessity,
were common in the ancient world. Frequent necessities introduced a
fashion which subsisted after the original causes. For how could it
happen, but from some universally established public prejudice, which
always overrules and stifles the private sense of men, that a whole
nation should deliberately think it a wise measure to quit their country
in a body, that they might obtain in a foreign land a settlement which
must wholly depend upon the chance of war? Yet this resolution was taken
and actually pursued by the entire nation of the Helvetii, as it is
minutely related by Caesar. The method of reasoning which led them to it
must appear to us at this day utterly inconceivable. They were far from
being compelled to this extraordinary migration by any want of
subsistence at home; for it appears that they raised, without
difficulty, as much corn in one year as supported them for two; they
could not complain of the barrenness of such a soil.

This spirit of migration, which grew out of the ancient manners and
necessities, and sometimes operated like a blind instinct, such as
actuates birds of passage, is very sufficient to account for the early
habitation of the remotest parts of the earth, and in some sort also
justifies that claim which has been so fondly made by almost all nations
to great antiquity.

Gaul, from whence Britain was originally peopled, consisted of three
nations: the Belgae, towards the north; the Celtae, in the middle
countries; and the Aquitani, to the south. Britain appears to have
received its people only from the two former. From the Celtae were
derived the most ancient tribes of the Britons, of which the most
considerable were called Brigantes. The Belgae, who did not even settle
in Gaul until after Britain had been peopled by colonies from the
former, forcibly drove the Brigantes into the inland countries, and
possessed the greatest part of the coast, especially to the south and
west. These latter, as they entered the island in a more improved age,
brought with them the knowledge and practice of agriculture, which,
however, only prevailed in their own countries. The Brigantes still
continued their ancient way of life by pasturage and hunting. In this
respect alone they differed: so that what we shall say, in treating of
their manners, is equally applicable to both. And though the Britons
were further divided into an innumerable multitude of lesser tribes and
nations, yet all being the branches of these two stocks, it is not to
our purpose to consider them more minutely.

Britain was in the time of Julius Caesar what it is at this day, in
climate and natural advantages, temperate and reasonably fertile. But
destitute of all those improvements which in a succession of ages it has
received from ingenuity, from commerce, from riches and luxury, it then
wore a very rough and savage appearance. The country, forest or marsh;
the habitations, cottages; the cities, hiding-places in woods; the
people naked, or only covered with skins; their sole employment,
pasturage and hunting. They painted their bodies for ornament or terror,
by a custom general amongst all savage nations, who, being passionately
fond of show and finery, and having no object but their naked bodies on
which to exercise this disposition, have in all times painted or cut
their skins, according to their ideas of ornament. They shaved the beard
on the chin; that on the upper lip was suffered to remain, and grow to
an extraordinary length, to favor the martial appearance, in which they
placed their glory. They were in their natural temper not unlike the
Gauls, impatient, fiery, inconstant, ostentatious, boastful, fond of
novelty,--and like all barbarians, fierce, treacherous, and cruel. Their
arms were short javelins, small shields of a slight texture, and great
cutting swords with a blunt point, after the Gaulish fashion.

Their chiefs went to battle in chariots, not unartfully contrived nor
unskilfully managed. I cannot help thinking it something extraordinary,
and not easily to be accounted for, that the Britons should have been so
expert in the fabric of those chariots, when they seem utterly ignorant
in all other mechanic arts: but thus it is delivered to us. They had
also horse, though of no great reputation, in their armies. Their foot
was without heavy armor; it was no firm body, nor instructed to preserve
their ranks, to make their evolutions, or to obey their commanders; but
in tolerating hardships, in dexterity of forming ambuscades, (the art
military of savages,) they are said to have excelled. A natural ferocity
and an impetuous onset stood them in the place of discipline.

It is very difficult, at this distance of time, and with so little
information, to discern clearly what sort of civil government prevailed
among the ancient Britons. In all very uncultivated countries, as
society is not close nor intricate, nor property very valuable, liberty
subsists with few restraints. The natural equality of mankind appears
and is asserted, and therefore there are but obscure lines of any form
of government. In every society of this sort the natural connections are
the same as in others, though the political ties are weak. Among such
barbarians, therefore, though there is little authority in the
magistrate, there is often great power lodged, or rather left, in the
father: for, as among the Gauls, so among the Britons, he had the power
of life and death in his own family, over his children and his servants.

But among freemen and heads of families, causes of all sorts seem to
have been decided by the Druids: they summoned and dissolved all the
public assemblies; they alone had the power of capital punishments, and
indeed seem to have had the sole execution and interpretation of
whatever laws subsisted among this people. In this respect the Celtic
nations did not greatly differ from others, except that we view them in
an earlier stage of society. Justice was in all countries originally
administered by the priesthood: nor, indeed, could laws in their first
feeble state have either authority or sanction, so as to compel men to
relinquish their natural independence, had they not appeared to come
down to them enforced by beings of more than human power. The first
openings of civility have been everywhere made by religion. Amongst the
Romans, the custody and interpretation of the laws continued solely in
the college of the pontiffs for above a century.[7]

The time in which the Druid priesthood was instituted is unknown. It
probably rose, like other institutions of that kind, from low and
obscure beginnings, and acquired from time, and the labors of able men,
a form by which it extended itself so far, and attained at length so
mighty an influence over the minds of a fierce and otherwise
ungovernable people. Of the place where it arose there is somewhat less
doubt: Caesar mentions it as the common opinion that this institution
began in Britain, that there it always remained in the highest
perfection, and that from thence it diffused itself into Gaul. I own I
find it not easy to assign any tolerable cause why an order of so much
authority and a discipline so exact should have passed from the more
barbarous people to the more civilized, from the younger to the older,
from the colony to the mother country: but it is not wonderful that the
early extinction of this order, and that general contempt in which the
Romans held all the barbarous nations, should have left these matters
obscure and full of difficulty.

The Druids were kept entirely distinct from the body of the people; and
they were exempted from all the inferior and burdensome offices of
society, that they might be at leisure to attend the important duties of
their own charge. They were chosen out of the best families, and from
the young men of the most promising talents: a regulation which placed
and preserved them in a respectable light with the world. None were
admitted into this order but after a long and laborious novitiate, which
made the character venerable in their own eyes by the time and
difficulty of attaining it. They were much devoted to solitude, and
thereby acquired that abstracted and thoughtful air which is so imposing
upon the vulgar; and when they appeared in public, it was seldom, and
only on some great occasion,--in the sacrifices of the gods, or on the
seat of judgment. They prescribed medicine; they formed the youth; they
paid the last honors to the dead; they foretold events; they exercised
themselves in magic. They were at once the priests, lawgivers, and
physicians of their nation, and consequently concentred in themselves
all that respect that men have diffusively for those who heal their
diseases, protect their property, or reconcile them to the Divinity.
What contributed not a little to the stability and power of this order
was the extent of its foundation, and the regularity and proportion of
its structure. It took in both sexes; and the female Druids were in no
less esteem for their knowledge and sanctity than the males. It was
divided into several subordinate ranks and classes; and they all
depended upon a chief or Arch-Druid, who was elected to his place with
great authority and preeminence for life. They were further armed with a
power of interdicting from their sacrifices, or excommunicating, any
obnoxious persons. This interdiction, so similar to that used by the
ancient Athenians, and to that since practised among Christians, was
followed by an exclusion from all the benefits of civil community; and
it was accordingly the most dreaded of all punishments. This ample
authority was in general usefully exerted; by the interposition of the
Druids differences were composed, and wars ended; and the minds of the
fierce Northern people, being reconciled to each other under the
influence of religion, united with signal effect against their common

There was a class of the Druids whom they called Bards, who delivered in
songs (their only history) the exploits of their heroes, and who
composed those verses which contained the secrets of Druidical
discipline, their principles of natural and moral philosophy, their
astronomy, and the mystical rites of their religion. These verses in all
probability bore a near resemblance to the Golden Verses of
Pythagoras,--to those of Phocylides, Orpheus, and other remnants of the
most ancient Greek poets. The Druids, even in Gaul, where they were not
altogether ignorant of the use of letters, in order to preserve their
knowledge in greater respect, committed none of their precepts to
writing. The proficiency of their pupils was estimated principally by
the number of technical verses which they retained in their memory: a
circumstance that shows this discipline rather calculated to preserve
with accuracy a few plain maxims of traditionary science than to improve
and extend it. And this is not the sole circumstance which leads us to
believe that among them learning had advanced no further than its

The scholars of the Druids, like those of Pythagoras, were carefully
enjoined a long and religious silence: for, if barbarians come to
acquire any knowledge, it is rather by instruction than, examination;
they must therefore be silent. Pythagoras, in the rude times of Greece,
required silence in his disciples; but Socrates, in the meridian of the
Athenian refinement, spoke less than his scholars: everything was
disputed in the Academy.

The Druids are said to be very expert in astronomy, in geography, and in
all parts of mathematical knowledge; and authors speak in a very
exaggerated strain of their excellence in these, and in many other
sciences. Some elemental knowledge I suppose they had; but I can
scarcely be persuaded that their learning was either deep or extensive.
In all countries where Druidism was professed, the youth, were generally
instructed by that order; and yet was there little either in the manners
of the people, in their way of life, or their works of art, that
demonstrates profound science or particularly mathematical skill.
Britain, where their discipline was in its highest perfection, and which
was therefore resorted to by the people of Gaul as an oracle in
Druidical questions, was more barbarous in all other respects than Gaul
itself, or than any other country then known in Europe. Those piles of
rude magnificence, Stonehenge and Abury, are in vain produced in proof
of their mathematical abilities. These vast structures have nothing
which can be admired, but the greatness of the work; and they are not
the only instances of the great things which the mere labor of many
hands united, and persevering in their purpose, may accomplish with very
little help from mechanics. This may be evinced by the immense
buildings and the low state of the sciences among the original

The Druids were eminent above all the philosophic lawgivers of antiquity
for their care in impressing the doctrine of the soul's immortality on
the minds of their people, as an operative and leading principle. This
doctrine was inculcated on the scheme of Transmigration, which some
imagine them to have derived from Pythagoras. But it is by no means
necessary to resort to any particular teacher for an opinion which owes
its birth to the weak struggles of unenlightened reason, and to mistakes
natural to the human mind. The idea of the soul's immortality is indeed
ancient, universal, and in a manner inherent in our nature; but it is
not easy for a rude people to conceive any other mode of existence than
one similar to what they had experienced in life, nor any other world as
the scene of such an existence but this we inhabit, beyond the bounds of
which the mind extends itself with great difficulty. Admiration, indeed,
was able to exalt to heaven a few selected heroes: it did not seem
absurd that those who in their mortal state had distinguished themselves
as superior and overruling spirits should after death ascend to that
sphere which influences and governs everything below, or that the proper
abode of beings at once so illustrious and permanent should be in that
part of Nature in which they had always observed the greatest splendor
and the least mutation. But on ordinary occasions it was natural some
should imagine that the dead retired into a remote country, separated
from the living by seas or mountains. It was natural that some should
follow their imagination with a simplicity still purer, and pursue the
souls of men no further than the sepulchres in which their bodies had
been deposited;[8] whilst others of deeper penetration, observing that
bodies worn out by age or destroyed by accident still afforded the
materials for generating new ones, concluded likewise that a soul being
dislodged did not wholly perish, but was destined, by a similar
revolution in Nature, to act again, and to animate some other body. This
last principle gave rise to the doctrine of Transmigration: but we must
not presume of course, that, where it prevailed, it necessarily excluded
the other opinions; for it is not remote from the usual procedure of the
human mind, blending in obscure matters imagination and reasoning
together, to unite ideas the most inconsistent. When Homer represents
the ghosts of his heroes appearing at the sacrifices of Ulysses, he
supposes them endued with life, sensation, and a capacity of moving; but
he has joined to these powers of living existence uncomeliness, want of
strength, want of distinction, the characteristics of a dead carcass.
This is what the mind is apt to do: it is very apt to confound the ideas
of the surviving soul and the dead body. The vulgar have always and
still do confound these very irreconcilable ideas. They lay the scene of
apparitions in churchyards; they habit the ghost in a shroud; and it
appears in all the ghastly paleness of a corpse. A contradiction of this
kind has given rise to a doubt whether the Druids did in reality hold
the doctrine of Transmigration. There is positive testimony that they
did hold it; there is also testimony as positive that they buried or
burned with the dead utensils, arms, slaves, and whatever might be
judged useful to them, as if they were to be removed into a separate
state. They might have held both these opinions; and we ought not to be
surprised to find error inconsistent.

The objects of the Druid worship were many. In this respect they did not
differ from other heathens: but it must be owned that in general their
ideas of divine matters were more exalted than those of the Greeks and
Romans, and that they did not fall into an idolatry so coarse and
vulgar. That their gods should be represented under a human form they
thought derogatory to beings uncreated and imperishable. To confine what
can endure no limits within walls and roofs they judged absurd and
impious. In these particulars there was something refined and suitable
enough to a just idea of the Divinity. But the rest was not equal. Some
notions they had, like the greatest part of mankind, of a Being eternal
and infinite; but they also, like the greatest part of mankind, paid
their worship to inferior objects, from the nature of ignorance and
superstition always tending downwards.

The first and chief objects of their worship were the elements,--and of
the elements, fire, as the most pure, active, penetrating, and what
gives life and energy to all the rest. Among fires, the preference was
given to the sun, as the most glorious visible being, and the fountain
of all life. Next they venerated the moon and the planets. After fire,
water was held in reverence. This, when pure, and ritually prepared, was
supposed to wash away all sins, and to qualify the priest to approach
the altar of the gods with more acceptable prayers: washing with water
being a type natural enough of inward cleansing and purity of mind.
They also worshipped fountains and lakes and rivers.

Oaks were regarded by this sect with a particular veneration, as, by
their greatness, their shade, their stability, and duration, not ill
representing the perfections of the Deity. From the great reverence in
which they held this tree, it is thought their name of Druids is
derived: the word Deru, in the Celtic language, signifying an oak. But
their reverence was not wholly confined to this tree. All forests were
held sacred; and many particular plants were respected, as endued with a
particular holiness. No plant was more revered than the mistletoe,
especially if it grew on the oak,--not only because it is rarely found
upon that tree, but because the oak was among the Druids peculiarly
sacred. Towards the end of the year they searched for this plant, and
when it was found great rejoicing ensued; it was approached with,
reverence; it was cut with a golden hook; it was not suffered to fall to
the ground, but received with great care and solemnity upon a white

In ancient times, and in all countries, the profession of physic was
annexed to the priesthood. Men imagined that all their diseases were
inflicted by the immediate displeasure of the Deity, and therefore
concluded that the remedy would most probably proceed from those who
were particularly employed in his service. Whatever, for the same
reason, was found of efficacy to avert or cure distempers was considered
as partaking somewhat of the Divinity. Medicine was always joined with
magic: no remedy was administered without mysterious ceremony and
incantation. The use of plants and herbs, both in medicinal and magical
practices, was early and general. The mistletoe, pointed out by its very
peculiar appearance and manner of growth, must have struck powerfully on
the imaginations of a superstitious people. Its virtues may have been
soon discovered. It has been fully proved, against the opinion of
Celsus, that internal remedies were of very early use.[9] Yet if it had
not, the practice of the present savage nations supports the probability
of that opinion. By some modern authors the mistletoe is said to be of
signal service in the cure of certain convulsive distempers, which, by
their suddenness, their violence, and their unaccountable symptoms, have
been ever considered as supernatural. The epilepsy was by the Romans for
that reason called _morbus sacer_; and all other nations have regarded
it in the same light. The Druids also looked upon vervain, and some
other plants, as holy, and probably for a similar reason.

The other objects of the Druid worship were chiefly serpents, in the
animal world, and rude heaps of stone, or great pillars without polish
or sculpture, in the inanimate. The serpent, by his dangerous qualities,
is not ill adapted to inspire terror,--by his annual renewals, to raise
admiration,--by his make, easily susceptible of many figures, to serve
for a variety of symbols,--and by all, to be an object of religious
observance: accordingly, no object of idolatry has been more
universal.[10] And this is so natural, that serpent-veneration seems to
be rising again, even in the bosom of Mahometanism.[11]

The great stones, it has been supposed, were originally monuments of
illustrious men, or the memorials of considerable actions,--or they were
landmarks for deciding the bounds of fixed property. In time the memory
of the persons or facts which these stones were erected to perpetuate
wore away; but the reverence which custom, and probably certain
periodical ceremonies, had preserved for those places was not so soon
obliterated. The monuments themselves then came to be venerated,--and
not the less because the reason for venerating them was no longer known.
The landmark was in those times held sacred on account of its great
uses, and easily passed into an object of worship. Hence the god
Terminus amongst the Romans. This religious observance towards rude
stones is one of the most ancient and universal of all customs. Traces
of it are to be found in almost all, and especially in these Northern
nations; and to this day, in Lapland, where heathenism is not yet
entirely extirpated, their chief divinity, which they call
_Storjunkare,_ is nothing more than a rude stone.[12]

Some writers among the moderns, because the Druids ordinarily made no
use of images in their worship, have given into an opinion that their
religion was founded on the unity of the Godhead. But this is no just
consequence. The spirituality of the idea, admitting their idea to have
been spiritual, does not infer the unity of the object. All the ancient
authors who speak of this order agree, that, besides those great and
more distinguishing objects of their worship already mentioned they had
gods answerable to those adored by the Romans. And we know that the
Northern nations, who overran the Roman Empire, had in fact a great
plurality of gods, whose attributes, though not their names, bore a
close analogy to the idols of the Southern world.

The Druids performed the highest act of religion by sacrifice, agreeably
to the custom of all other nations. They not only offered up beasts, but
even human victims: a barbarity almost universal in the heathen world,
but exercised more uniformly, and with circumstances of peculiar
cruelty, amongst those nations where the religion of the Druids
prevailed. They held that the life of a man was the only atonement for
the life of a man. They frequently inclosed a number of wretches, some
captives, some criminals, and, when these were wanting, even innocent
victims, in a gigantic statue of wicker-work, to which they set fire,
and invoked their deities amidst the horrid cries and shrieks of the
sufferers, and the shouts of those who assisted at this tremendous rite.

There were none among the ancients more eminent for all the arts of
divination than the Druids. Many of the superstitious practices in use
to this day among the country people for discovering their future
fortune seem to be remains of Druidism. Futurity is the great concern of
mankind. Whilst the wise and learned look back upon experience and
history, and reason from things past about events to come, it is natural
for the rude and ignorant, who have the same desires without the same
reasonable means of satisfaction, to inquire into the secrets of
futurity, and to govern their conduct by omens, dreams, and prodigies.
The Druids, as well as the Etruscan and Roman priesthood, attended with
diligence the flight of birds, the pecking of chickens, and the entrails
of their animal sacrifices. It was obvious that no contemptible
prognostics of the weather were to be taken from certain motions and
appearances in birds and beasts.[13] A people who lived mostly in the
open air must have been well skilled in these observations. And as
changes in the weather influenced much the fortune of their huntings or
their harvests, which were all their fortunes, it was easy to apply the
same prognostics to every event by a transition very natural and common;
and thus probably arose the science of auspices, which formerly guided
the deliberations of councils and the motions of armies, though now they
only serve, and scarcely serve, to amuse the vulgar.

The Druid temple is represented to have been nothing more than a
consecrated wood. The ancients speak of no other. But monuments remain
which show that the Druids were not in this respect wholly confined to
groves. They had also a species of building which in all probability was
destined to religious use. This sort of structure was, indeed, without
walls or roof. It was a colonnade, generally circular, of huge, rude
stones, sometimes single, sometimes double, sometimes with, often
without, an architrave. These open temples were not in all respects
peculiar to the Northern nations. Those of the Greeks, which were
dedicated to the celestial gods, ought in strictness to have had no
roof, and were thence called _hypaethra_.[14]

Many of these monuments remain in the British islands, curious for
their antiquity, or astonishing for the greatness of the work: enormous
masses of rock, so poised as to be set in motion with the slightest
touch, yet not to be pushed from their place by a very great power; vast
altars, peculiar and mystical in their structure, thrones, basins, heaps
or cairns; and a variety of other works, displaying a wild industry, and
a strange mixture of ingenuity and rudeness. But they are all worthy of
attention,--not only as such monuments often clear up the darkness and
supply the defects of history, but as they lay open a noble field of
speculation for those who study the changes which have happened in the
manners, opinions, and sciences of men, and who think them as worthy of
regard as the fortune of wars and the revolutions of kingdoms.

The short account which I have here given does not contain the whole of
what is handed down to us by ancient writers, or discovered by modern
research, concerning this remarkable order. But I have selected those
which appear to me the most striking features, and such as throw the
strongest light on the genius and true character of the Druidical
institution. In some respects it was undoubtedly very singular; it stood
out more from the body of the people than the priesthood of other
nations; and their knowledge and policy appeared the more striking by
being contrasted with the great simplicity and rudeness of the people
over whom they presided. But, notwithstanding some peculiar appearances
and practices, it is impossible not to perceive a great conformity
between this and the ancient orders which have been established for the
purposes of religion in almost all countries. For, to say nothing of the
resemblance which many have traced between this and the Jewish
priesthood, the Persian Magi, and the Indian Brahmans, it did not so
greatly differ from the Roman priesthood, either in the original objects
or in the general mode of worship, or in the constitution of their
hierarchy. In the original institution neither of these nations had the
use of images; the rules of the Salian as well as Druid discipline were
delivered in verse; both orders were under an elective head; and both
were for a long time the lawyers of their country. So that, when the
order of Druids was suppressed by the Emperors, it was rather from a
dread of an influence incompatible with the Roman government than from
any dislike of their religious opinions.


[7] _Digest. Lib. I. Tit. ii. De Origine et Progressu Juris, Sec. 6._

[8] Cic. Tusc. Quest. Lib. I

[9] See this point in the Divine Legation of Moses.

[10] [Greek: Para panti nomizominon par' humin theon ophis sumbolon mega
kai mysterion anagraphetai.]--Justin Martyr, in Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae.

[11] Norden's Travels.

[12] Scheffer's Lapland, p. 92, the translation.

[13] Cic. de Divinatione, Lib. I.

[14] Decor.... perficitur statione,.... cum Jovi Fulguri, et Coelo, et
Soli, et Lunae aedificia sub divo hypaethraque constituentur. Horum enim
deorum et species et effectus in aperto mundo atque lucenti praesentes
videmus.--Vitruv. de Architect. p. 6. de Laet. Antwerp.



The death of Caesar, and the civil wars which ensued, afforded foreign
nations some respite from the Roman ambition. Augustus, having restored
peace to mankind, seems to have made it a settled maxim of his reign not
to extend the Empire. He found himself at the head of a new monarchy;
and he was more solicitous to confirm it by the institutions of sound
policy than to extend the bounds of its dominion. In consequence of this
plan Britain was neglected.

Tiberius came a regular successor to an established government. But his
politics were dictated rather by his character than his situation. He
was a lawful prince, and he acted on the maxims of an usurper. Having
made it a rule never to remove far from the capital, and jealous of
every reputation which seemed too great for the measure of a subject, he
neither undertook any enterprise of moment in his own person nor cared
to commit the conduct of it to another. There was little in a British
triumph that could affect a temper like that of Tiberius.

His successor, Caligula, was not influenced by this, nor indeed by any
regular system; for, having undertaken an expedition to Britain without
any determinate view, he abandoned it on the point of execution without
reason. And adding ridicule to his disgrace, his soldiers returned to
Rome loaded with shells. These spoils he displayed as the ornaments of a
triumph which he celebrated over the Ocean,--if in all these particulars
we may trust to the historians of that time, who relate things almost
incredible of the folly of their masters and the patience of the Roman

But the Roman people, however degenerate, still retained much of their
martial spirit; and as the Emperors held their power almost entirely by
the affection of the soldiery, they found themselves often obliged to
such enterprises as might prove them no improper heads of a military
constitution. An expedition to Britain was well adapted to answer all
the purposes of this ostentatious policy. The country was remote and
little known, so that every exploit there, as if achieved in another
world, appeared at Rome with double pomp and lustre; whilst the sea,
which divided Britain from the continent, prevented a failure in that
island from being followed by any consequences alarming to the body of
the Empire. A pretext was not wanting to this war. The maritime Britons,
while the terror of the Roman arms remained fresh, upon their minds,
continued regularly to pay the tribute imposed by Caesar. But the
generation which experienced that war having passed away, that which
succeeded felt the burden, but knew from rumor only the superiority
which had imposed it; and being very ignorant, as of all things else, so
of the true extent of the Roman power, they were not afraid to provoke
it by discontinuing the payment of the tribute.

[Sidenote: A.D. 43]

This gave occasion to the Emperor Claudius, ninety-seven years after the
first expedition of Caesar, to invade Britain in person, and with a great
army. But he, having rather surveyed than conducted the war, left in a
short time the management of it to his legate, Plautius, who subdued
without much difficulty those countries which lay to the southward of
the Thames, the best cultivated and most accessible parts of the island.
But the inhabitants of the rough inland countries, the people called
Cattivellauni, made a more strenuous opposition. They were under the
command of Caractacus, a chief of great and just renown amongst all the
British nations. This leader wisely adjusted his conduct of the war to
the circumstances of his savage subjects and his rude country. Plautius
obtained no decisive advantages over him. He opposed Ostorius Scapula,
who succeeded that general, with the same bravery, but with unequal
success; for he was, after various turns of fortune, obliged to abandon
his dominions, which Ostorius at length subdued and disarmed.

This bulwark of the British freedom being overturned, Ostorius was not
afraid to enlarge his plan. Not content with disarming the enemies of
Rome, he proceeded to the same extremities with those nations who had
been always quiet, and who, under the name of an alliance, lay ripening
for subjection. This fierce people, who looked upon their arms as their
only valuable possessions, refused to submit to terms as severe as the
most absolute conquest could impose. They unanimously entered into a
league against the Romans. But their confederacy was either not
sufficiently strong or fortunate to resist so able a commander, and only
afforded him an opportunity, from a more comprehensive victory, to
extend the Roman province a considerable way to the northern and western
parts of the island. The frontiers of this acquisition, which extended
along the rivers Severn and Nen, he secured by a chain of forts and
stations; the inland parts he quieted by the settlement of colonies of
his veteran troops at Maldon and Verulam: and such was the beginning of
those establishments which afterwards became so numerous in Britain.
This commander was the first who traced in this island a plan of
settlement and civil policy to concur with his military operations. For,
after he had settled these colonies, considering with what difficulty
any and especially an uncivilized people are broke into submission to a
foreign government, he imposed it on some of the most powerful of the
British nations in a more indirect manner. He placed them under kings of
their own race; and whilst he paid this compliment to their pride, he
secured their obedience by the interested fidelity of a prince who knew,
that, as he owed the beginning, so he depended for the duration of his
authority wholly upon their favor. Such was the dignity and extent of
the Roman policy, that they could number even royalty itself amongst
their instruments of servitude.

Ostorius did not confine himself within the boundaries of these rivers.
He observed that the Silures, inhabitants of South Wales, one of the
most martial tribes in Britain, were yet unhurt and almost untouched by
the war. He could expect to make no progress to the northward, whilst an
enemy of such importance hung upon his rear,--especially as they were
now commanded by Caractacus, who preserved the spirit of a prince,
though he had lost his dominions, and fled from nation to nation,
wherever he could find a banner erected against the Romans. His
character obtained him reception and command.

[Sidenote: A.D. 51]

Though the Silures, thus headed, did everything that became their
martial reputation, both in the choice and defence of their posts, the
Romans, by their discipline and the weight and excellence of their arms,
prevailed over the naked bravery of this gallant people, and defeated
them in a great battle. Caractacus was soon after betrayed into their
hands, and conveyed to Rome. The merit of the prisoner was the sole
ornament of a triumph celebrated over an indigent people headed by a
gallant chief. The Romans crowded eagerly to behold the man who, with
inferior forces, and in an obscure corner of the world, had so many
years stood up against the weight of their empire.

As the arts of adulation improved in proportion as the real grandeur of
Rome declined, this advantage was compared to the greatest conquests in
the most flourishing times of the Republic: and so far as regarded the
personal merit of Caractacus, it could not be too highly rated. Being
brought before the emperor, he behaved with such manly fortitude, and
spoke of his former actions and his present condition with so much plain
sense and unaffected dignity, that he moved the compassion of the
emperor, who remitted much of that severity which the Romans formerly
exercised upon their captives. Rome was now a monarchy, and that fierce
republican spirit was abated which had neither feeling nor respect for
the character of unfortunate sovereigns.

The Silures were not reduced by the loss of Caractacus, and the great
defeat they had suffered. They resisted every measure of force or
artifice that could be employed against them, with the most generous
obstinacy: a resolution in which they were confirmed by some imprudent
words of the legate, threatening to extirpate, or, what appeared to them
scarcely less dreadful, to transplant their nation. Their natural
bravery thus hardened into despair, and inhabiting a country very
difficult of access, they presented an impenetrable barrier to the
progress of that commander; insomuch that, wasted with continual cares,
and with the mortification to find the end of his affairs so little
answerable to the splendor of their beginning, Ostorius died of grief,
and left all things in confusion.

The legates who succeeded to his charge did little more for about sixty
years than secure the frontiers of the Roman province. But in the
beginning of Nero's reign the command in Britain was devolved on
Suetonius Paulinus, a soldier of merit and experience, who, when he
came to view the theatre of his future operations, and had well
considered the nature of the country, discerned evidently that the war
must of necessity be protracted to a great length, if he should be
obliged to penetrate into every fastness to which the enemy retired, and
to combat their flying parties one by one. He therefore resolved to make
such a blow at the head as must of course disable all the inferior

The island then called Mona, now Anglesey, at that time was the
principal residence of the Druids. Here their councils were held, and
their commands from hence were dispersed among all the British nations.
Paulinus proposed, in reducing this their favorite and sacred seat, to
destroy, or at least greatly to weaken, the body of the Druids, and
thereby to extinguish the great actuating principle of all the Celtic
people, and that which was alone capable of communicating order and
energy to their operations.

Whilst the Roman troops were passing that strait which divides this
island from the continent of Britain, they halted on a sudden,--not
checked by the resistance of the enemy, but suspended by a spectacle of
an unusual and altogether surprising nature. On every side of the
British army were seen bands of Druids in their most sacred habits
surrounding the troops, lifting their hands to heaven, devoting to death
their enemies, and animating their disciples to religious frenzy by the
uncouth ceremonies of a savage ritual, and the horrid mysteries of a
superstition familiar with blood. The female Druids also moved about in
a troubled order, their hair dishevelled, their garments torn, torches
in their hands, and, with an horror increased by the perverted softness
of their sex, howled out the same curses and incantations with greater
clamor.[15] Astonished at this sight, the Romans for some time neither
advanced nor returned the darts of the enemy. But at length, rousing
from their trance, and animating each other with the shame of yielding
to the impotence of female and fanatical fury, they found the resistance
by no means proportioned to the horror and solemnity of the
preparations. These overstrained efforts had, as frequently happens,
exhausted the spirits of the men, and stifled that ardor they were
intended to kindle. The Britons were defeated; and Paulinus, pretending
to detest the barbarity of their superstition, in reality from the
cruelty of his own nature, and that he might cut off the occasion of
future disturbances, exercised the most unjustifiable severities on this
unfortunate people. He burned the Druids in their own fires; and that no
retreat might be afforded to that order, their consecrated woods were
everywhere destroyed. Whilst he was occupied in this service, a general
rebellion broke out, which his severity to the Druids served rather to
inflame than allay.

From the manners of the republic a custom had been ingrafted into the
monarchy of Rome altogether unsuitable to that mode of government. In
the time of the Commonwealth, those who lived in a dependent and
cliental relation on the great men used frequently to show marks of
their acknowledgment by considerable bequests at their death. But when
all the scattered powers of that state became united in the emperor,
these legacies followed the general current, and flowed in upon the
common patron. In the will of every considerable person he inherited
with the children and relations, and such devises formed no
inconsiderable part of his revenue: a monstrous practice, which let an
absolute sovereign into all the private concerns of his subjects, and
which, by giving the prince a prospect of one day sharing in all the
great estates, whenever he was urged by avarice or necessity, naturally
pointed out a resource by an anticipation always in his power. This
practice extended into the provinces. A king of the Iceni[16] had
devised a considerable part of his substance to the emperor. But the
Roman procurator, not satisfied with entering into his master's portion,
seized upon the rest,--and pursuing his injustice to the most horrible
outrages, publicly scourged Boadicea, queen to the deceased prince, and
violated his daughters. These cruelties, aggravated by the shame and
scorn that attended them,--the general severity of the government,--the
taxes, (new to a barbarous people,) laid on without discretion, extorted
without mercy, and, even when respited, made utterly ruinous by
exorbitant usury,--the farther mischiefs they had to dread, when more
completely reduced,--all these, with, the absence of the legate and the
army on a remote expedition, provoked all the tribes of the Britons,
provincials, allies, enemies, to a general insurrection. The command of
this confederacy was conferred on Boadicea, as the first in rank, and
resentment of injuries. They began by cutting off a Roman legion; then
they fell upon the colonies of Camelodunum and Verulam, and with a
barbarous fury butchered the Romans and their adherents to the number of
seventy thousand.

An end had been now put to the Roman power in this island, if Paulinus,
with unexampled vigor and prudence, had not conducted his army through
the midst of the enemy's country from Anglesey to London. There uniting
the soldiers that remained dispersed in different garrisons, he formed
an army of ten thousand men, and marched to attack the enemy in the
height of their success and security. The army of the Britons is said to
have amounted to two hundred and thirty thousand; but it was ill
composed, and without choice or order,--women, boys, old men,
priests,--full of presumption, tumult, and confusion. Boadicea was at
their head,--a woman of masculine spirit, but precipitant, and without
any military knowledge.

The event was such as might have been expected. Paulinus, having chosen
a situation favorable to the smallness of his numbers, and encouraged
his troops not to dread a multitude whose weight was dangerous only to
themselves, piercing into the midst of that disorderly crowd, after a
blind and furious resistance, obtained a complete victory. Eighty
thousand Britons fell in this battle.

[Sidenote: A.D. 61] Paulinus improved the terror this slaughter had
produced by the unparalleled severities which he exercised. This method
would probably have succeeded to subdue, but at the same time to
depopulate the nation, if such loud complaints had not been made at Rome
of the legate's cruelty as procured his recall.

Three successive legates carried on the affairs of Britain during the
latter part of Nero's reign, and during the troubles occasioned by the
disputed succession. But they were all of an inactive character. The
victory obtained by Paulinus had disabled the Britons from any new
attempt. Content, therefore, with recovering the Roman province, these
generals compounded, as it were, with the enemy for the rest of the
island. They caressed the troops; they indulged them in their
licentiousness; and not being of a character to repress the seditions
that continually arose, they submitted to preserve their ease and some
shadow of authority by sacrificing the most material parts of it. And
thus they continued, soldiers and commanders, by a sort of compact, in a
common neglect of all duty on the frontiers of the Empire, in the face
of a bold and incensed enemy.

[Sidenote: A.D. 69]

[Sidenote: A.D. 71]

But when Vespasian arrived to the head of affairs, he caused the vigor
of his government to be felt in Britain, as he had done in all the other
parts of the Empire. He was not afraid to receive great services. His
legates, Cerealis and Frontinus, reduced the Silures and Brigantes,--one
the most warlike, the other the most numerous people in the island. But
its final reduction and perfect settlement were reserved for Julius
Agricola, a man by whom, it was a happiness for the Britons to be
conquered. He was endued with all those bold and popular virtues which
would have given him the first place in the times of the free Republic;
and he joined to them all that reserve and moderation which enabled him
to fill great offices with safety, and made him a good subject under a
jealous despotism.

[Sidenote: A.D. 84.]

Though the summer was almost spent when he arrived in Britain, knowing
how much the vigor and success of the first stroke influences all
subsequent measures, he entered immediately into action. After reducing
some tribes, Mona became the principal object of his attention. The
cruel ravages of Paulinus had not entirely effaced the idea of sanctity
which the Britons by a long course of hereditary reverence had annexed
to that island: it became once more a place of consideration by the
return of the Druids. Here Agricola observed a conduct very different
from that of his predecessor, Paulinus: the island, when he had reduced
it, was treated with great lenity. Agricola was a man of humanity and
virtue: he pitied the condition and respected the prejudices of the
conquered. This behavior facilitated the progress of his arms, insomuch
that in less than two campaigns all the British nations comprehended in
what we now call England yielded themselves to the Roman government, as
soon as they found that peace was no longer to be considered as a
dubious blessing. Agricola carefully secured the obedience of the
conquered people by building forts and stations in the most important
and commanding places. Having taken these precautions for securing his
rear, he advanced northwards, and, penetrating into Caledonia as far as
the river Tay, he there built a _praetentura_, or line of forts, between
the two friths, which are in that place no more than twenty miles
asunder. The enemy, says Tacitus, was removed as it were into another
island. And this line Agricola seems to have destined as the boundary
of the Empire. For though in the following year he carried his arms
further, and, as it is thought, to the foot of the Grampian Mountains,
and there defeated a confederate army of the Caledonians, headed by
Galgacus, one of their most famous chiefs, yet he built no fort to the
northward of this line: a measure which he never omitted, when he
intended to preserve his conquests. The expedition of that summer was
probably designed only to disable the Caledonians from attempting
anything against this barrier. But he left them their mountains, their
arms, and their liberty: a policy, perhaps, not altogether worthy of so
able a commander. He might the more easily have completed the conquest
of the whole island by means of the fleet which he equipped to cooeperate
with his land forces in that expedition. This fleet sailed quite round
Britain, which had not been before, by any certain proof, known to be an
island: a circumnavigation, in that immature state of naval skill, of
little less fame than a voyage round the globe in the present age.

In the interval between his campaigns Agricola was employed in the great
labors of peace. He knew that the general must be perfected by the
legislator, and that the conquest is neither permanent nor honorable
which is only an introduction to tyranny. His first care was the
regulation of his household, which under former legates had been always
full of faction and intrigue, lay heavy on the province, and was as
difficult to govern. He never suffered his private partialities to
intrude into the conduct of public business, nor in appointing to
employments did he permit solicitation to supply the place of merit,
wisely sensible that a proper choice of officers is almost the whole of
government. He eased the tribute of the province, not so much by
reducing it in quantity as by cutting off all those vexatious practices
which attended the levying of it, far more grievous than the imposition
itself. Every step in securing the subjection of the conquered country
was attended with the utmost care in providing for its peace and
internal order. Agricola reconciled the Britons to the Roman government
by reconciling them to the Roman manners. He moulded that fierce nation
by degrees to soft and social customs, leading them imperceptibly into a
fondness for baths, for gardens, for grand houses, and all the
commodious elegancies of a cultivated life. He diffused a grace and
dignity over this new luxury by the introduction of literature. He
invited instructors in all the arts and sciences from Rome; and he sent
the principal youth of Britain to that city to be educated at his own
expense. In short, he subdued the Britons by civilizing them, and made
them exchange a savage liberty for a polite and easy subjection. His
conduct is the most perfect model for those employed in the unhappy, but
sometimes necessary task, of subduing a rude and free people.

Thus was Britain, after a struggle of fifty-four years, entirely bent
under the yoke, and moulded into the Roman Empire. How so stubborn an
opposition, could have been so long maintained against the greatest
power on earth by a people ill armed, worse united, without revenues,
without discipline, has justly been deemed an object of wonder. Authors
are generally contented with attributing it to the extraordinary bravery
of the ancient Britons. But certainly the Britons fought with armies as
brave as the world ever saw, with superior discipline, and more
plentiful resources.

To account for this opposition, we must have recourse to the general
character of the Roman politics at this time. War, during this period,
was carried on upon principles very different from, those that actuated
the Republic. Then one uniform spirit animated one body through whole
ages. With whatever state they were engaged, the war was so prosecuted
as if the republic could not subsist, unless that particular enemy were
totally destroyed. But when the Roman dominion had arrived to as great
an extent as could well be managed, and that the ruling power had more
to fear from disaffection to the government than from enmity to the
Empire, with regard to foreign affairs common rules and a moderate
policy took place. War became no more than a sort of exercise for the
Roman forces.[17] Even whilst they were declaring war they looked
towards an accommodation, and were satisfied with reasonable terms when
they concluded it. Their politics were more like those of the present
powers of Europe, where kingdoms seek rather to spread their influence
than to extend their dominion, to awe and weaken rather than to destroy.
Under unactive and jealous princes the Roman legates seldom dared to
push the advantages they had gained far enough to produce a dangerous
reputation.[18] They wisely stopped, when they came to the verge of
popularity. And these emperors fearing as much from the generals as
their generals from them, such frequent changes were made in the
command that the war was never systematically carried on. Besides, the
change of emperors (and their reigns were not long) almost always
brought on a change of measures; and the councils even of the same reign
were continually fluctuating, as opposite court factions happened to
prevail. Add to this, that during the commotions which followed the
death of Nero the contest for the purple turned the eyes of the world
from every other object. All persons of consequence interested
themselves in the success of some of the contending parties; and the
legates in Britain, suspended in expectation of the issue of such mighty
quarrels, remained unactive till it could be determined for what master
they were to conquer.

On the side of the Roman government these seem to have been some of the
causes which so long protracted the fate of Britain. Others arose from
the nature of the country itself, and from the manners of its
inhabitants. The country was then extremely woody and full of morasses.
There were originally no roads. The motion of armies was therefore
difficult, and communication in many cases impracticable. There were no
cities, no towns, no places of cantonment for soldiers; so that the
Roman forces were obliged to come into the field late and to leave it
early in the season. They had no means to awe the enemy, and to prevent
their machinations during the winter. Every campaign they had nearly the
same work to begin. When a civilized nation suffers some great defeat,
and loses some place critically situated, such is the mutual dependence
of the several parts by commerce, and by the orders of a well-regulated
community, that the whole is easily secured. A long-continued state of
war is unnatural to such a nation. They abound with artisans, with
traders, and a number of settled and unwarlike people, who are less
disturbed in their ordinary course by submitting to almost any power
than in a long opposition; and as this character diffuses itself through
the whole nation, they find it impossible to carry on a war, when they
are deprived of the usual resources. But in a country like ancient
Britain there are as many soldiers as inhabitants. They unite and
disperse with ease. They require no pay nor formal subsistence; and the
hardships of an irregular war are not very remote from their ordinary
course of life. Victories are easily obtained over such a rude people,
but they are rarely decisive; and the final conquest becomes a work of
time and patience. All that can be done is to facilitate communication
by roads, and to secure the principal avenues and the most remarkable
posts on the navigable rivers by forts and stations. To conquer the
people, you must subdue the nature of the country. The Romans at length
effected this; but until this was done, they never were able to make a
perfect conquest.

I shall now add something concerning the government the Romans settled
here, and of those methods which they used to preserve the conquered
people under an entire subjection. Those nations who had either
passively permitted or had been instrumental in the conquest of their
fellow-Britons were dignified with the title of allies, and thereby
preserved their possessions, laws, and magistrates: they were subject to
no kind of charge or tribute. But as their league was not equal, and
that they were under the protection, of a superior power, they were
entirely divested of the right of war and peace; and in many cases an
appeal lay to Rome in consequence of their subordinate and dependent
situation. This was the lightest species of subjection; and it was
generally no more than a step preparatory to a stricter government.

The condition of those towns and communities called _municipia_, by
their being more closely united to the greater state, seemed to partake
a degree less of independence. They were adopted citizens of Rome; but
whatever was detracted from their ancient liberty was compensated by a
more or less complete possession of the privileges which constituted a
Roman city, according to the merits which had procured their adoption.
These cities were models of Rome in little; their courts and magistrates
were the same; and though they were at liberty to retain their old laws,
and to make new at their pleasure, they commonly conformed to those of
Rome. The _municipia_ were not subject to tribute.

When a whole people had resisted the Roman power with great obstinacy,
had displayed a readiness to revolt upon every occasion, and had
frequently broken their faith, they were reduced into what the Romans
called the form of a province: that is, they lost their laws, their
liberties, their magistrates; they forfeited the greatest part of their
lands; and they paid a heavy tribute for what they were permitted to

In these provinces the supreme government was in the praetor sent by the
senate, who commanded the army, and in his own person exercised the
judicial power. Where the sphere of his government was large, he deputed
his legates to that employment, who judged according to the standing
laws of the republic, aided by those occasional declarations of law
called the praetorial edicts. The care of the revenue was in the quaestor.
He was appointed to that office in Rome; but when he acted in a judicial
capacity, it was always by commission from the praetor of the
province.[19] Between these magistrates and all others who had any share
in the provincial government the Roman manners had established a kind of
sacred relation, as inviolable as that of blood.[20] All the officers
were taught to look up to the praetor as their father, and to regard each
other as brethren: a firm and useful bond of concord in a virtuous
administration; a dangerous and oppressive combination in a bad one.
But, like all the Roman institutions, it operated strongly towards its
principal purpose, the security of dominion, which is by nothing so much
exposed as the factions and competitions of the officers, when the
governing party itself gives the first example of disobedience.

On the overthrow of the Commonwealth, a remarkable revolution ensued in
the power and the subordination of these magistrates. For, as the prince
came alone to possess all that was by a proper title either imperial or
praetorial authority, the ancient praetors dwindled into his legates, by
which the splendor and importance of that dignity were much diminished.
The business of the quaestor at this time seems to have been transferred
to the emperor's procurator. The whole of the public revenue became part
of the fisc, and was considered as the private estate of the prince. But
the old office under this new appellation rose in proportion as the
praetorship had declined. For the procurator seems to have drawn to
himself the cognizance of all civil, while capital cases alone were
reserved for the judgment of the legate.[21] And though his power was at
first restrained within narrow bounds, and all his judgments were
subject to a review and reversal by the praetor and the senate, he
gradually grew into independence of both, and was at length by Claudius
invested with a jurisdiction absolutely uncontrollable. Two causes, I
imagine, joined to produce this change: first, the sword was in the
hands of the legate; the policy of the emperors, in order to balance
this dangerous authority, thought too much weight could not be thrown
into the scale of the procurator: secondly, as the government was now
entirely despotical, a connection between the inferior officers of the
empire and the senate[22] was found to shock the reason of that absolute
mode of government, which extends the sovereign power in all its fulness
to every officer in his own district, and renders him accountable to his
master alone for the abuse of it.

The veteran soldiers were always thought entitled to a settlement in the
country which had been subdued by their valor. The whole legion, with
the tribunes, the centurions, and all the subordinate officers, were
seated on an allotted portion of the conquered lands, which were
distributed among them according to their rank. These colonies were
disposed throughout the conquered country, so as to sustain each other,
to surround the possessions that were left to the conquered, to mix with
the _municipia_ or free towns, and to overawe the allies. Rome extended
herself by her colonies into every part of her empire, and was
everywhere present. I speak here only of the military colonies, because
no other, I imagine, were ever settled in Britain.

There were few countries of any considerable extent in which all these
different modes of government and different shades and gradations of
servitude did not exist together. There were allies, _municipia_,
provinces, and colonies in this island, as elsewhere; and those
dissimilar parts, far from being discordant, united to make a firm and
compact body, the motion of any member of which could only serve to
confirm and establish the whole; and when time was given to this
structure to coalesce and settle, it was found impossible to break any
part of it from the Empire.

By degrees the several parts blended and softened into one another. And
as the remembrance of enmity, on the one hand, wore away by time, so, on
the other, the privileges of the Roman citizens at length became less
valuable. When, nothing throughout so vast an extent of the globe was of
consideration but a single man, there was no reason to make any
distinction amongst his subjects. Claudius first gave the full rights of
the city to all the Gauls. Under Antoninus Rome opened her gates still
wider. All the subjects of the Empire were made partakers of the same
common rights. The provincials flocked in; even slaves were no sooner
enfranchised than they were advanced to the highest posts; and the plan
of comprehension, which had overturned the republic, strengthened the

Before the partitions were thus broken down, in order to support the
Empire, and to prevent commotions, they had a custom of sending spies
into all the provinces, where, if they discovered any provincial laying
himself out for popularity, they were sure of finding means, for they
scrupled none, to repress him. It was not only the praetor, with his
train of lictors and apparitors, the rods and the axes, and all the
insolent parade of a conqueror's jurisdiction; every private Roman
seemed a kind of magistrate: they took cognizance of all their words and
actions, and hourly reminded them of that jealous and stern authority,
so vigilant to discover and so severe to punish the slightest deviations
from obedience.

As they had framed the action _de pecuniis repetundis_ against the
avarice and rapacity of the provincial governors, they made at length a
law[23] which, one may say, was against their virtues. For they
prohibited them from receiving addresses of thanks on their
administration, or any other public mark of acknowledgment, lest they
should come to think that their merit or demerit consisted in the good
or ill opinion of the people over whom they ruled. They dreaded either a
relaxation of government, or a dangerous influence in the legate, from
the exertion of an humanity too popular.

These are some of the civil and political methods by which the Romans
held their dominion over conquered nations; but even in peace they kept
up a great military establishment. They looked upon the interior country
to be sufficiently secured by the colonies; their forces were therefore
generally quartered on the frontiers. There they had their _stativa_, or
stations, which were strong intrenched camps, many of them fitted even
for a winter residence. The communication between these camps, the
colonies, and the municipal towns was formed by great roads, which they
called military ways. The two principal of these ran in almost straight
lines, the whole length of England, from north to south. Two others
intersected them from east to west. The remains show them to have been
in their perfection noble works, in all respects worthy the Roman
military prudence and the majesty of the Empire. The Anglo-Saxons called
them streets.[24] Of all the Roman works, they respected and kept up
these alone. They regarded them, with a sort of sacred reverence,
granting them a peculiar protection and great immunities. Those who
travelled on them were privileged from arrests in all civil suits.

As the general character of the Roman government was hard and austere,
it was particularly so in what regarded the revenue. This revenue was
either fixed or occasional. The fixed consisted, first, of an annual tax
on persons and lands, but in what proportion to the fortunes of the one
or the value of the other I have not been able to ascertain. Next was
the imposition called _decuma_, which consisted of a tenth, and often a
greater portion of the corn of the province, which was generally
delivered in kind. Of all other products a fifth was paid. After this
tenth had been exacted on the corn, they were obliged to sell another
tenth, or a more considerable part, to the praetor, at a price estimated
by himself. Even what remained was still subject to be bought up in the
some manner, and at the pleasure of the same magistrate, who,
independent of these taxes and purchases, received for the use of his
household a large portion of the corn of the province. The most valuable
of the pasture grounds were also reserved to the public, and a
considerable revenue was thence derived, which they called _scriptura_.
The state made a monopoly of almost the whole produce of the land, which
paid several taxes, and was further enhanced by passing through several
hands before it came to popular consumption.

The third great branch of the Roman revenue was the _portorium_, which
did not differ from those impositions which we now call customs and
duties of export and import.

This was the ordinary revenue; besides which there were occasional
impositions for shipping, for military stores and provisions, and for
defraying the expense of the praetor and his legates on the various
circuits they made for the administration of the province. This last
charge became frequently a means of great oppression, and several ways
were from time to time attempted, but with little effect, to confine it
within reasonable bounds.[25] Amongst the extraordinary impositions must
be reckoned the obligation they laid on the provincials to labor at the
public works, after the manner of what the French call the _corvee_, and
we term statute-labor.

As the provinces, burdened by the ordinary charges, were often in no
condition of levying these occasional taxes, they were obliged to borrow
at interest. Interest was then to communities at the same exorbitant
rate as to individuals. No province was free from a most onerous public
debt; and that debt was far from operating like the same engagement
contracted in modern states, by which, as the creditor is thrown into
the power of the debtor, they often add considerably to their strength,
and to the number and attachment of their dependants. The prince in this
latter case borrows from a subject or from a stranger. The one becomes
more the subject, and the other less a stranger. But in the Roman
provinces the subject borrowed from his master, and he thereby doubled
his slavery. The overgrown favorites and wealthy nobility of Rome
advanced money to the provincials; and they were in a condition both to
prescribe the terms of the loan and to enforce the payment. The
provinces groaned at once under all the severity of public imposition
and the rapaciousness of private usury. They were overrun by publicans,
farmers of the taxes, agents, confiscators, usurers, bankers, those
numerous and insatiable bodies which always flourish in a burdened and
complicated revenue. In a word, the taxes in the Roman Empire were so
heavy, and in many respects so injudiciously laid on, that they have
been not improperly considered as one cause of its decay and ruin. The
Roman government, to the very last, carried something of the spirit of
conquest in it; and this system of taxes seems rather calculated for the
utter impoverishment of nations, in whom a long subjection had not worn
away the remembrance of enmity, than for the support of a just


[15] There is a curious instance of a ceremony not unlike this in a
fragment of an ancient Runic history, which it may not be disagreeable
to compare with this part of the British manners. "Ne vero regent ex
improviso adoriretur Ulafus, admoto sacculo suo, eundem quatere
coepit, carmen simul magicum obmurmurans, hac verborum formula:
Duriter increpetur cum tonitru; stringant Cyclopia tela; injiciant manum
Parcae; ... acriter excipient monticolae genii plurimi, atque gigantes ...
contundent; quatient; procellae ..., disrumpent lapides navigium
ejus...."--Hickesii Thesaur. Vol. II. p. 140.

[16] Inhabitants of Norfolk and Suffolk.

[17] Rem Romanam huc satietate gloriae provectam, ut externis quoque
gentibus quietem velit.--Tacit. Annal. XII. 11.

[18] Nam duces, ubi impetrando triumphalium insigni sufficere res suas
crediderant, hostam omittebant.--Tacit. Annal. IV. 23.

[19] Sigonii de Antiquo Jure Provinciarum, Lib. 1 and 2.

[20] Cic. in Verrem, I.

[21] Duobus insuper inserviendum tyrannis; quorum legatus in sanguinem,
procurator in bona saeviret--Tacit. Annal. XII. 60.

[22] Ne vim principatus resolveret cuncta ad senatum vocando, eam
conditionem esse imperandi, ut non aliter ratio constet, quam si uni
reddatur.--Tacit. Annal. I. 6.

[23] Tacit. Annal. XV. 21, 22.

[24] The four roads they called Watling Street, Ikenild Street, Ermin
Street, and the Fosseway.

[25] Cod. lib. XII. Tit. lxii.



[Sidenote: A.D. 117.]

After the period which we have just closed, no mention is made of the
affairs of Britain until the reign of Adrian. At that time was wrought
the first remarkable change in the exterior policy of Rome. Although
some of the emperors contented themselves with those limits which they
found at their accession, none before this prince had actually
contracted the bounds of the Empire: for, being more perfectly
acquainted with all the countries that composed it than any of his
predecessors, what was strong and what weak, and having formed to
himself a plan wholly defensive, he purposely abandoned several large
tracts of territory, that he might render what remained more solid and

[Sidenote: A.D. 121.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 140.]

This plan particularly affected Britain. All the conquests of Agricola
to the northward of the Tyne were relinquished, and a strong rampart was
built from the mouth of that river, on the east, to Solway Frith, on the
Irish Sea, a length of about eighty miles. But in the reign of his
successor, Antoninus Pius, other reasonings prevailed, and other
measures were pursued. The legate who then commanded in Britain,
concluding that the Caledonians would construe the defensive policy of
Adrian into fear, that they would naturally grow more numerous in a
larger territory, and more haughty when they saw it abandoned to them,
the frontier was again advanced to Agricola's second line, which
extended between the Friths of Forth and Clyde, and the stations which
had been established by that general were connected with a continued

[Sidenote: A.D. 207]

[Sidenote: A.D. 208]

[Sidenote: A.D. 209]

From this time those walls become the principal object in the British
history. The Caledonians, or (as they are called) the Picts, made very
frequent and sometimes successful attempts upon this barrier, taking
advantage more particularly of every change in government, whilst the
soldiery throughout the Empire were more intent upon the choice of a
master than the motions of an enemy. In this dubious state of unquiet
peace and unprosecuted war the province continued until Severus came to
the purple, who, finding that Britain had grown into one of the most
considerable provinces of the Empire, and was at the same time in a
dangerous situation, resolved to visit that island in person, and to
provide for its security. He led a vast army into the wilds of
Caledonia, and was the first of the Romans who penetrated to the most
northern boundary of this island. The natives, defeated in some
engagements, and wholly unable to resist so great and determined a
power, were obliged to submit to such a peace as the emperor thought
proper to impose. Contenting himself with a submission, always cheaply
won from a barbarous people, and never long regarded, Severus made no
sort of military establishment in that country. On the contrary, he
abandoned the advanced work which had been raised in the reign of
Antoninus, and, limiting himself by the plan of Adrian, he either built
a new wall near the former, or he added to the work of that emperor such
considerable improvements and repairs that it has since been called the
Wall of Severus.

Severus with great labor and charge terrified the Caledonians; but he
did not subdue them. He neglected those easy and assured means of
subjection which the nature of that part of Britain affords to a power
master of the sea, by the bays, friths, and lakes with which it is
everywhere pierced, and in some places almost cut through. A few
garrisons at the necks of land, and a fleet to connect them and to awe
the coast, must at any time have been sufficient irrecoverably to subdue
that part of Britain. This was a neglect in Agricola occasioned probably
by a limited command; and it was not rectified by boundless authority in
Severus. The Caledonians again resumed their arms, and renewed their
ravages on the Roman frontier. Severus died before he could take any new
measures; and from his death there is an almost total silence concerning
the affairs of Britain until the division of the Empire.

Had the unwieldy mass of that overgrown dominion been effectively
divided, and divided into large portions, each forming a state, separate
and absolutely independent, the scheme had been far more perfect. Though
the Empire had perished, these states might have subsisted; and they
might have made a far better opposition to the inroads of the barbarians
even than the whole united; since each nation would have its own
strength solely employed in resisting its own particular enemies. For,
notwithstanding the resources which might have been expected from the
entireness of so great a body, it is clear from history that the Romans
were never able to employ with effect and at the same time above two
armies, and that on the whole they were very unequal to the defence of a
frontier of many thousand miles in circuit.

But the scheme which was pursued, the scheme of joint emperors, holding
by a common title, each governing his proper territory, but not wholly
without authority in the other portions, this formed a species of
government of which it is hard to conceive any just idea. It was a
government in continual fluctuation from one to many, and from many
again to a single hand. Each state did not subsist long enough
independent to fall into those orders and connected classes of men that
are necessary to a regular commonwealth; nor had they time to grow into
those virtuous partialities from which nations derive the first
principle of their stability.

The events which follow sufficiently illustrate these reflections, and
will show the reason of introducing them in this place, with regard to
the Empire in general, and to Britain more particularly.

In the division which Diocletian first made of the Roman territory, the
western provinces, in which Britain was included, fell to Maximian. It
was during his reign that Britain, by an extraordinary revolution, was
for some time entirely separated from the body of the Empire. Carausius,
a man of obscure birth, and a barbarian, (for now not only the army, but
the senate, was filled with foreigners,) had obtained the government of
Boulogne. He was also intrusted with the command of a fleet stationed in
that part to oppose the Saxon pirates, who then began cruelly to infest
the northwest parts of Gaul and the opposite shore of Britain. But
Carausius made use of the power with which he had been intrusted, not so
much to suppress the pirates as to aggrandize himself. He even permitted
their depredations, that he might intercept them on their return, and
enrich himself with the retaken plunder. By such methods he acquired
immense wealth, which he distributed with so politic a bounty among the
seamen of his fleet and the legions in Britain that by degrees he
disposed both the one and the other to a revolt in his favor.

[Sidenote: A.D. 286]

[Sidenote: A.D. 290]

[Sidenote: A.D. 293]

As there were then no settled principles either of succession or
election in the Empire, and all depended on the uncertain faith of the
army, Carausius made his attempt, perhaps, with the less guilt, and
found the less difficulty in prevailing upon the provincial Britons to
submit to a sovereignty which seemed to reflect a sort of dignity on
themselves. In this island he established the seat of his new dominion;
but he kept up and augmented his fleet, by which he preserved his
communication with his old government, and commanded the intermediate
seas. He entered into a close alliance with the Saxons and Frisians, by
which he at once preserved his own island from their depredations and
rendered his maritime power irresistible. He humbled the Picts by
several defeats; he repaired the frontier wall, and supplied it with
good garrisons. He made several roads equal to the works of the greatest
emperors. He cut canals, with vast labor and expense, through all the
low eastern parts of Britain, at the same time draining those fenny
countries, and promoting communication and commerce. On these canals he
built several cities. Whilst he thus labored to promote the internal
strength and happiness of his kingdom, he contended with so much success
against his former masters that they were at length obliged not only to
relinquish their right to his acquisition, but to admit him to a
participation of the imperial titles. He reigned after this for seven
years prosperously and with great glory, because he wisely set bounds to
his ambition, and contented himself with the possession of a great
country, detached from the rest of the world, and therefore easily
defended. Had he lived long enough, and pursued this plan with
consistency, Britain, in all probability, might then have become, and
might have afterwards been, an independent and powerful kingdom,
instructed in the Roman arts, and freed from their dominion. But the
same distemper of the state which had raised Carausius to power did not
suffer him long to enjoy it. The Roman soldiery at that time was wholly
destitute of military principle. That religious regard to their oath,
the great bond of ancient discipline, had been long worn out; and the
want of it was not supplied by that punctilio of honor and loyalty which
is the support of modern armies. Carausius was assassinated, and
succeeded in his kingdom by Allectus, the captain of his guards. But the
murderer, who did not possess abilities to support the power he had
acquired by his crimes, was in a short time defeated, and in his turn
put to death, by Constantius Chlorus. In about three years from the
death of Carausius, Britain, after a short experiment of independency,
was again united to the body of the Empire.

[Sidenote: A.D. 304]

Constantius, after he came to the purple, chose this island for his
residence. Many authors affirm that his wife Helena was a Briton. It is
more certain that his son Constantine the Great was born here, and
enabled to succeed his father principally by the helps which he derived
from Britain.

[Sidenote: A.D. 306.]

Under the reign of this great prince there was an almost total
revolution in the internal policy of the Empire. This was the third
remarkable change in the Roman government since the dissolution of the
Commonwealth. The first was that by which Antoninus had taken away the
distinctions of the _municipium_, province, and colony, communicating to
every part of the Empire those privileges which had formerly
distinguished a citizen of Rome. Thus the whole government was cast into
a more uniform and simple frame, and every mark of conquest was finally
effaced. The second alteration was the division of the Empire by
Diocletian. The third was the change made in the great offices of the
state, and the revolution in religion, under Constantine.

The _praefecti praetorio_, who, like the commanders of the janizaries of
the Porte, by their ambition and turbulence had kept the government in
continual ferment, were reduced by the happiest art imaginable. Their
number, only two originally, was increased to four, by which their power
was balanced and broken. Their authority was not lessened, but its
nature was totally changed: for it became from that time a dignity and
office merely civil. The whole Empire was divided into four departments
under these four officers. The subordinate districts were governed by
their _vicarii_; and Britain, accordingly, was under a vicar, subject to
the _praefectus praetorio_ of Gaul. The military was divided nearly in the
same manner; and it was placed under officers also of a new creation,
the _magistri militiae_. Immediately under these were the _duces_, and
under those the _comites_, dukes and counts, titles unknown in the time
of the Republic or in the higher Empire; but afterwards they extended
beyond the Roman territory, and having been conferred by the Northern
nations upon their leaders, they subsist to this day, and contribute to
the dignity of the modern courts of Europe.

But Constantine made a much greater change with regard to religion by
the establishment of Christianity. At what time the Gospel was first
preached in this island I believe it impossible to ascertain, as it came
in gradually, and without, or rather contrary to, public authority. It
was most probably first introduced among the legionary soldiers; for we
find St. Alban, the first British martyr, to have been of that body. As
it was introduced privately, so its growth was for a long time
insensible; but it shot up at length with great vigor, and spread itself
widely, at first under the favor of Constantius and the protection of
Helena, and at length under the establishment of Constantine. From this
time it is to be considered as the ruling religion; though heathenism
subsisted long after, and at last expired imperceptibly, and with as
little noise as Christianity had been at first introduced.

[Sidenote: A.D. 368.]

In this state, with regard to the civil, military, and religious
establishment, Britain, remained without any change, and at intervals in
a tolerable state of repose, until the reign of Valentinian. Then it was
attacked all at once with incredible fury and success, and as it were in
concert, by a number of barbarous nations. The principal of these were
the Scots, a people of ancient settlement in Ireland, and who had thence
been transplanted into the northern part of Britain, which afterwards
derived its name from that colony. The Scots of both nations united with
the Picts to fall upon the Roman province. To these were added the
piratical Saxons, who issued from the mouths of the Rhine. For some
years they met but slight resistance, and made a most miserable havoc,
until the famous Count Theodosius was sent to the relief of
Britain,--who, by an admirable conduct in war, and as vigorous
application to the cure of domestic disorders, for a time freed the
country from its enemies and oppressors, and having driven the Picts and
Scots into the barren extremity of the island, he shut and barred them
in with a new wall, advanced as far as the remotest of the former, and,
what had hitherto been imprudently neglected, he erected the
intermediate space into a Roman province, and a regular government,
under the name of Valentia. But this was only a momentary relief. The
Empire was perishing by the vices of its constitution.

[Sidenote: A.D. 388.]

Each province was then possessed by the inconsiderate ambition of
appointing a head to the whole; although, when the end was obtained, the
victorious province always returned to its ancient insignificance, and
was lost in the common slavery. A great army of Britons followed the
fortune of Maximus, whom they had raised to the imperial titles, into
Gaul. They were there defeated; and from their defeat, as it is said,
arose a new people. They are supposed to have settled in Armorica, which
was then, like many other parts of the sickly Empire, become a mere
desert; and that country, from this accident, has been since called

The Roman province thus weakened afforded opportunity and encouragement
to the barbarians again to invade and ravage it. Stilicho, indeed during
the minority of Honorius, obtained some advantages over them, which
procured a short intermission of their hostilities. But as the Empire on
the continent was now attacked on all sides, and staggered under the
innumerable shocks which, it received, that minister ventured to recall
the Roman forces from Britain, in order to sustain those parts which he
judged of more importance and in greater danger.

[Sidenote: A.D. 411.]

On the intelligence of this desertion, their barbarous enemies break in
upon the Britons, and are no longer resisted. Their ancient protection
withdrawn, the people became stupefied with terror and despair. They
petition the emperor for succor in the most moving terms. The emperor,
protesting his weakness, commits them to their own defence, absolves
them from, their allegiance, and confers on them a freedom which they
have no longer the sense to value nor the virtue to defend. The princes
whom after this desertion they raised and deposed with a stupid
inconstancy were styled Emperors. So hard it is to change ideas to which
men have been long accustomed, especially in government, that the
Britons had no notion of a sovereign who was not to be emperor, nor of
an emperor who was not to be master of the Western world. This single
idea ruined Britain. Constantine, a native of this island, one of those
shadows of imperial majesty, no sooner found himself established at home
than, fatally for himself and his country, he turned his eyes towards
the continent. Thither he carried the flower of the British youth,--all
who were any ways eminent for birth, for courage, for their skill in the
military or mechanic arts; but his success was not equal to his hopes or
his forces. The remains of his routed army joined their countrymen in
Armorica, and a baffled attempt upon the Empire a second time recruited
Gaul and exhausted Britain.

The Scots and Picts, attentive to every advantage, rushed with redoubled
violence into this vacuity. The Britons, who could find no protection
but in slavery, again implore the assistance of their former masters. At
that time Aetius commanded the imperial forces in Gaul, and with the
virtue and military skill of the ancient Romans supported the Empire,
tottering with age and weakness. Though he was then hard pressed by the
vast armies of Attila, which like a deluge had overspread Gaul, he
afforded them a small and temporary succor. This detachment of Romans
repelled the Scots; they repaired the walls; and animating the Britons
by their example and instructions to maintain their freedom, they
departed. But the Scots easily perceived and took advantage of their
departure. Whilst they ravaged the country, the Britons renewed their
supplications to Aetius. They once more obtained a reinforcement, which
again reestablished their affairs. They were, however, given to
understand that this was to be their last relief. The Roman auxiliaries
were recalled, and the Britons abandoned to their own fortune forever.

[Sidenote: A.D. 432.]

When the Romans deserted this island, they left a country, with regard
to the arts of war or government, in a manner barbarous, but destitute
of that spirit or those advantages with which sometimes a state of
barbarism is attended. They carried out of each province its proper and
natural strength, and supplied it by that of some other, which had no
connection with the country. The troops raised in Britain often served
in Egypt; and those which were employed for the protection of this
island were sometimes from Batavia or Germany, sometimes from provinces
far to the east. Whenever the strangers were withdrawn, as they were
very easily, the province was left in the hands of men wholly
unpractised in war. After a peaceable possession of more than three
hundred years, the Britons derived but very few benefits from their
subjection to the conquerors and civilizers of mankind. Neither does it
appear that the Roman people were at any time extremely numerous in this
island, or had spread themselves, their manners, or their language as
extensively in Britain as they had done in the other parts of their
Empire. The Welsh and the Anglo-Saxon languages retain much less of
Latin than the French, the Spanish, or the Italian. The Romans subdued
Britain at a later period, at a time when Italy herself was not
sufficiently populous to supply so remote a province: she was rather
supplied from her provinces. The military colonies, though in some
respects they were admirably fitted for their purposes, had, however,
one essential defect: the lands granted to the soldiers did not pass to
their posterity; so that the Roman people must have multiplied poorly in
this island, when their increase principally depended on a succession of
superannuated soldiers. From this defect the colonies were continually
falling to decay. They had also in many respects degenerated from their
primitive institution.[26] We must add, that in the decline of the
Empire a great part of the troops in Britain were barbarians, Batavians
or Germans. Thus, at the close of this period, this unhappy country,
desolated of its inhabitants, abandoned by its masters, stripped of its
artisans, and deprived of all its spirit, was in a condition the most
wretched and forlorn.


[26] Neque conjugiis suscipiendis neque alendis liberis sueti, orbas
sine posteris domos relinquebant. Non enim, ut olim, universae legiones
deducebantur cum tribunis et centurionibus et suis cujusque ordinis
militibus, ut consensu et caritate rempublicam efficerent, sed ignoti
inter se, diversis manipulis, sine rectore, sine affectibus mutuis,
quasi ex alio genere mortalium repente in unum collecti, numerus magis
quam colonia--Tacit. Annal. XIV. 27.




[Sidenote: A.D. 447.]

After having been so long subject to a foreign dominion, there was among
the Britons no royal family, no respected order in the state, none of
those titles to government, confirmed by opinion and long use, more
efficacious than the wisest schemes for the settlement of the nation.
Mere personal merit was then the only pretence to power. But this
circumstance only added to the misfortunes of a people who had no
orderly method of election, and little experience of merit in any of the
candidates. During this anarchy, whilst they suffered the most dreadful
calamities from the fury of barbarous nations which invaded them, they
fell into that disregard of religion, and those loose, disorderly
manners, which are sometimes the consequence of desperate and hardened
wretchedness, as well as the common distempers of ease and prosperity.

At length, after frequent elections and deposings, rather wearied out by
their own inconstancy than, fixed by the merit of their choice, they
suffered Vortigern to reign over them. This leader had made some figure
in the conduct of their wars and factious. But he was no sooner settled
on the throne than he showed himself rather like a prince born of an
exhausted stock of royalty in the decline of empire than one of those
bold and active spirits whose manly talents obtain them the first place
in their country, and stamp upon it that character of vigor essential to
the prosperity of a new commonwealth. However, the mere settlement, in
spite of the ill administration of government, procured the Britons some
internal repose, and some temporary advantages over their enemies, the
Picts. But having been long habituated to defeats, neither relying on
their king nor on themselves, and fatigued with the obstinate attacks of
an enemy whom they sometimes checked, but could never remove, in one of
their national assemblies it was resolved to call in the mercenary aid
of the Saxons, a powerful nation of Germany, which had been long by
their piratical incursions terrible not only to them, but to all the
adjacent countries. This resolution has been generally condemned. It has
been said, that they seem to have through mere cowardice distrusted a
strength not yet worn down, and a fortune sufficiently prosperous. But
as it was taken by general counsel and consent, we must believe that the
necessity of such a step was felt, though the event was dubious. The
event, indeed, might be dubious: in a state radically weak, every
measure vigorous enough for its protection must endanger its existence.

There is an unquestioned tradition among the Northern nations of Europe,
importing that all that part of the world had suffered a great and
general revolution by a migration from Asiatic Tartary of a people whom
they call Asers. These everywhere expelled or subdued the ancient
inhabitants of the Celtic and Cimbric original. The leader of this
Asiatic army was called Odin or Wodin: first their general, afterwards
their tutelar deity. The time of this great change is lost in the
imperfection of traditionary history, and the attempts to supply it by
fable. It is, however, certain, that the Saxon nation believed
themselves the descendants of those conquerors: and they had as good a
title to that descent as any other of the Northern tribes; for they used
the same language which then was and is still spoken, with small
variation of the dialects, in all the countries which extend from the
polar circle to the Danube. This people most probably derived their
name, as well as their origin, from, the Sacae, a nation of the Asiatic
Scythia. At the time of which we write they had seated themselves in the
Cimbric Chersonesus, or Jutland, in the countries of Holstein and
Sleswick, and thence extended along the Elbe and Weser to the coast of
the German Ocean, as far as the mouths of the Rhine. In that tract they
lived in a sort of loose military commonwealth of the ordinary German
model, under several leaders, the most eminent of whom was Hengist,
descended from Odin, the great conductor of the Asiatic colonies. It was
to this chief that the Britons applied themselves. They invited him by a
promise of ample pay for his troops, a large share of their common
plunder, and the Isle of Thanet for a settlement.

The army which came over under Hengist did not exceed fifteen hundred
men. The opinion which the Britons had entertained of the Saxon prowess
was well founded; for they had the principal share in a decisive victory
which was obtained over the Picts soon after their arrival, a victory
which forever freed the Britons from all terror of the Picts and Scots,
but in the same moment exposed them to an enemy no less dangerous.

Hengist and his Saxons, who had obtained by the free vote of the Britons
that introduction into this island they had so long in vain attempted by
arms, saw that by being necessary they were superior to their allies.
They discovered the character of the king; they were eye-witnesses of
the internal weakness and distraction of the kingdom. This state of
Britain was represented with so much effect to the Saxons in Germany,
that another and much greater embarkation followed the first; new bodies
daily crowded in. As soon as the Saxons began to be sensible of their
strength, they found it their interest to be discontented; they
complained of breaches of a contract, which they construed according to
their own designs; and then fell rudely upon their unprepared and feeble
allies, who, as they had not been able to resist the Picts and Scots,
were still less in a condition to oppose that force by which they had
been protected against those enemies, when turned unexpectedly upon
themselves. Hengist, with very little opposition, subdued the province
of Kent, and there laid the foundation of the first Saxon kingdom. Every
battle the Britons fought only prepared them for a new defeat, by
weakening their strength and displaying the inferiority of their
courage. Vortigern, instead of a steady and regular resistance, opposed
a mixture of timid war and unable negotiation. In one of their meetings,
wherein the business, according to the German mode, was carried on
amidst feasting and riot, Vortigern was struck with the beauty of a
Saxon virgin, a kinswoman of Hengist, and entirely under his influence.
Having married her, he delivered himself over to her counsels.

[Sidenote: A.D. 452]

His people, harassed by their enemies, betrayed by their prince, and
indignant at the feeble tyranny that oppressed them, deposed him, and
set his son Vortimer in his place. But the change of the king proved no
remedy for the exhausted state of the nation and the constitutional
infirmity of the government. For even if the Britons could have
supported themselves against the superior abilities and efforts of
Hengist, it might have added to their honor, but would have contributed
little to their safety. The news of his success had roused all Saxony.
Five great bodies of that adventurous people, under different and
independent commanders, very nearly at the same time broke in upon as
many different parts of the island. They came no longer as pirates, but
as invaders. Whilst the Britons contended with one body of their fierce
enemies, another gained ground, and filled with slaughter and desolation
the whole country from sea to sea. A devouring war, a dreadful famine, a
plague, the most wasteful of any recorded in our history, united to
consummate the ruin of Britain. The ecclesiastical writers of that age,
confounded at the view of those complicated calamities, saw nothing but
the arm of God stretched out for the punishment of a sinful and
disobedient nation. And truly, when we set before us in one point of
view the condition of almost all the parts which had lately composed the
Western Empire,--of Britain, of Gaul, of Italy, of Spain, of Africa,--at
once overwhelmed by a resistless inundation of most cruel barbarians,
whose inhuman method of war made but a small part of the miseries with
which these nations were afflicted, we are almost driven out of the
circle of political inquiry: we are in a manner compelled to acknowledge
the hand of God in those immense revolutions by which at certain periods
He so signally asserts His supreme dominion, and brings about that great
system of change which is perhaps as necessary to the moral as it is
found to be in the natural world.

But whatever was the condition of the other parts of Europe, it is
generally agreed that the state of Britain was the worst of all. Some
writers have asserted, that, except those who took refuge in the
mountains of Wales and in Cornwall, or fled into Armorica, the British
race was in a manner destroyed. What is extraordinary, we find England
in a very tolerable state of population in less than two centuries after
the first invasion of the Saxons; and it is hard to imagine either the
transplantation or the increase of that single people to have been in so
short a time sufficient for the settlement of so great an extent of
country. Others speak of the Britons, not as extirpated, but as reduced
to a state of slavery; and here these writers fix the origin of personal
and predial servitude in England.

I shall lay fairly before the reader all I have been able to discover
concerning the existence or condition of this unhappy people. That they
were much more broken and reduced than any other nation which had fallen
under the German power I think may be inferred from two considerations.
First, that in all other parts of Europe the ancient language subsisted
after the conquest, and at length incorporated with that of the
conquerors; whereas in England the Saxon language received little or no
tincture from the Welsh; and it seems, even among the lowest people, to
have continued a dialect of pure Teutonic to the time in which it was
itself blended with the Norman. Secondly, that on the continent the
Christian religion, after the Northern irruptions, not only remained,
but flourished. It was very early and universally adopted by the ruling
people. In England it was so entirely extinguished, that, when Augustin
undertook his mission, it does not appear that among all the Saxons
there was a single person professing Christianity.

[Sidenote: A.D. 500]

The sudden extinction of the ancient religion, and language appears
sufficient to show that Britain must have suffered more than any of the
neighboring nations on the continent. But it must not be concealed that
there are likewise proofs that the British race, though much diminished,
was not wholly extirpated, and that those who remained were not, merely
as Britons, reduced to servitude. For they are mentioned as existing in
some of the earlier Saxon laws. In these laws they are allowed a
compensation on the footing of the meaner kind of English; and they are
even permitted, as well as the English, to emerge out of that low rank
into a more liberal condition. This is degradation, but not slavery.[27]
The affairs of that whole period are, however, covered with an obscurity
not to be dissipated. The Britons had little leisure or ability to write
a just account of a war by which they were ruined; and the Anglo-Saxons
who succeeded them, attentive only to arms, were, until their
conversion, ignorant of the use of letters.

It is on this darkened theatre that some old writers have introduced
those characters and actions which have afforded such ample matter to
poets and so much perplexity to historians. This is the fabulous and
heroic age of our nation. After the natural and just representations of
the Roman scene, the stage is again crowded with enchanters, giants, and
all the extravagant images of the wildest and most remote antiquity. No
personage makes so conspicuous a figure in these stories as King Arthur:
a prince whether of British or Roman origin, whether born on this island
or in Amorica, is uncertain; but it appears that he opposed the Saxons
with remarkable virtue and no small degree of success, which has
rendered him and his exploits so large an argument of romance that both
are almost disclaimed by history. Light scarce begins to dawn until the
introduction of Christianity, which, bringing with it the use of letters
and the arts of civil life, affords at once a juster account of things
and facts that are more worthy of relation: nor is there, indeed, any
revolution so remarkable in the English story.

The bishops of Rome had for some time meditated the conversion of the
Anglo-Saxons. Pope Gregory, who is surnamed the Great, affected that
pious design with an uncommon zeal; and he at length found a
circumstance highly favorable to it in the marriage of a daughter of
Charibert, a king of the Franks, to the reigning monarch of Kent. This
opportunity induced Pope Gregory to commission Augustin, a monk of
Rheims, and a man of distinguished piety, to undertake this arduous

[Sidenote: A.D. 600]

It was in the year of Christ 600, and 150 years after the coming of the
first Saxon colonies into England, that Ethelbert, king of Kent,
received intelligence of the arrival in his dominions of a number of
men in a foreign garb, practising several strange and unusual
ceremonies, who desired to be conducted to the king's presence,
declaring that they had things to communicate to him and to his people
of the utmost importance to their eternal welfare. This was Augustin,
with forty of the associates of his mission, who now landed in the Isle
of Thanet, the same place by which the Saxons had before entered, when
they extirpated Christianity.

The king heard them in the open air, in order to defeat,[28] upon a
principle of Druidical superstition, the effects of their enchantments.
Augustin spoke by a Frankish interpreter. The Franks and Saxons were of
the same origin, and used at that time the same language. He was
favorably received; and a place in the city of Canterbury, the capital
of Kent, was allotted for the residence of him and his companions. They
entered Canterbury in procession, preceded by two persons who bore a
silver cross and the figure of Christ painted on a board, singing, as
they went, litanies to avert the wrath of God from that city and people.

The king was among their first converts. Tho principal of his nobility,
as usual, followed that example, moved, as it is related, by many signal
miracles, but undoubtedly by the extraordinary zeal of the missionaries,
and the pious austerity of their lives. The new religion, by the
protection of so respected a prince, who held under his dominion or
influence all the countries to the southward of the Humber, spread
itself with great rapidity. Paganism, after a faint resistance,
everywhere gave way. And, indeed, the chief difficulties which
Christianity had to encounter did not arise so much from the struggles
of opposite religious prejudices as from the gross and licentious
manners of a barbarous people. One of the Saxon princes expelled the
Christians from his territory because the priest refused to give him
some of that white bread which he saw distributed to his congregation.

It is probable that the order of Druids either did not at all subsist
amongst the Anglo-Saxons, or that at this time it had declined not a
little from its ancient authority and reputation; else it is not easy to
conceive how they admitted so readily a new system, which at one stroke
cut off from their character its whole importance. We even find some
chiefs of the Pagan priesthood amongst the foremost in submitting to the
new doctrine. On the first preaching of the Gospel in Northumberland,
the heathen pontiff of that territory immediately mounted a horse, which
to those of his order was unlawful, and, breaking into the sacred
inclosure, hewed to pieces the idol he had so long served.[29]

If the order of the Druids did not subsist amongst the Saxons, yet the
chief objects of their religion appear to have been derived from that
fountain. They, indeed, worshipped several idols under various forms of
men and beasts; and those gods to whom they dedicated the days of the
week bore in their attributes, and in the particular days that were
consecrated to them, though not in their names, a near resemblance to
the divinities of ancient Rome. But still the great and capital objects
of their worship were taken from Druidism,--trees, stones, the elements,
and the heavenly bodies.[30] These were their principal devotions, laid
the strongest hold upon their minds, and resisted the progress of the
Christian religion with the greatest obstinacy: for we find these
superstitions forbidden amongst the latest Saxon laws. A worship which
stands in need of the memorial of images or books to support it may
perish when these are destroyed; but when a superstition is established
upon those great objects of Nature which continually solicit the senses,
it is extremely difficult to turn the mind from things that in
themselves are striking, and that are always present. Amongst the
objects of this class must be reckoned the goddess Eostre, who, from the
etymology of the name, as well as from the season sacred to her, was
probably that beautiful planet which the Greeks and Romans worshipped
under the names of Lucifer and Venus. It is from this goddess that in
England the paschal festival has been called Easter.[31] To these they
joined the reverence of various subordinate genii, or demons, fairies,
and goblins,--fantastical ideas, which, in a state of uninstructed
Nature, grow spontaneously out of the wild fancies or fears of men.
Thus, they worshipped a sort of goddess, whom they called Mara, formed
from those frightful appearances that oppress men in their sleep; and
the name is still retained among us.[32]

As to the manners of the Anglo-Saxons, they were such as might be
expected in a rude people,--fierce, and of a gross simplicity. Their
clothes were short. As all barbarians are much taken with exterior
form, and the advantages and distinctions which are conferred by Nature,
the Saxons set an high value on comeliness of person, and studied much
to improve it. It is remarkable that a law of King Ina orders the care
and education of foundlings to be regulated by their beauty.[33] They
cherished their hair to a great length, and were extremely proud and
jealous of this natural ornament. Some of their great men were
distinguished by an appellative taken from the length of their hair.[34]
To pull the hair was punishable;[35] and forcibly to cut or injure it
was considered in the same criminal light with cutting off the nose or
thrusting out the eyes. In the same design of barbarous ornament, their
faces were generally painted and scarred. They were so fond of chains
and bracelets that they have given a surname to some of their kings from
their generosity in bestowing such marks of favor.[36]

Few things discover the state of the arts amongst people more certainly
than the presents that are made to them by foreigners. The Pope, on his
first mission into Northumberland, sent to the queen of that country
some stuffs with ornaments of gold, an ivory comb inlaid with the same
metal, and a silver mirror. A queen's want of such female ornaments and
utensils shows that the arts were at this time little cultivated amongst
the Saxons. These are the sort of presents commonly sent to a barbarous

Thus ignorant in sciences and arts, and unpractised in trade or
manufacture, military exercises, war, and the preparation for war, was
their employment, hunting their pleasure. They dwelt in cottages of
wicker-work plastered with clay and thatched with rushes, where they sat
with their families, their officers and domestics, round a fire made in
the middle of the house. In this manner their greatest princes lived
amidst the ruins of Roman magnificence. But the introduction of
Christianity, which, under whatever form, always confers such
inestimable benefits on mankind, soon made a sensible change in these
rude and fierce manners.

It is by no means impossible, that, for an end so worthy, Providence on
some occasions might directly have interposed. The books which contain
the history of this time and change are little else than a narrative of
miracles,--frequently, however, with such apparent marks of weakness or
design that they afford little encouragement to insist on them. They
were then received with a blind credulity: they have been since rejected
with as undistinguishing a disregard. But as it is not in my design nor
inclination, nor indeed in my power, either to establish or refute these
stories, it is sufficient to observe, that the reality or opinion of
such miracles was the principal cause of the early acceptance and rapid
progress of Christianity in this island. Other causes undoubtedly
concurred; and it will be more to our purpose to consider some of the
human and politic ways by which religion was advanced in this nation,
and those more particularly by which the monastic institution, then
interwoven with Christianity, and making an equal progress with it,
attained to so high a pitch, of property and power, so as, in a time
extremely short, to form a kind of order, and that not the least
considerable, in the state.


[27] Leges Inae, 32, De Cambrico Homine Agrum possidente.--Id. 54

[28] "Veteri usus augurio," says Henry of Huntingdon, p. 321.

[29] Bede, Hist. Eccl. Lib. II. c 13.

[30] Deos gentiles, et solem vel lunam, ignem vel fluvium, torrentem vel
saxa, vel alicujus generis arborum ligna.--L. Cnut. 5.--Superstitiosus
ille conventus, qui Frithgear dicitur, circa lapidem, arborem,
fontem.--Leg. Presb. Northumb.

[31] Spelman's Glossary, Tit. eod.

[32] The night-mare.

[33] L. Inae, 26.

[34] Oslacus ... promissa caesarie heros.--Chron. Saxon. 123.

[35] L. AElfred. 31. L. Cnut. apud Brompt. 27.

[36] Eadgarus nobilibus torquium largitor.--Chron. Sax. 123 Bed. Hist.
Eccl. Lib. IV. c. 29.



The marriage of Ethelbert to a Christian princess was, we have seen, a
means of introducing Christianity into his dominions. The same influence
contributed to extend it in the other kingdoms of the Heptarchy, the
sovereigns of which were generally converted by their wives. Among the
ancient nations of Germany, the female sex was possessed not only of its
natural and common ascendant, but it was believed peculiarly sacred,[37]
and favored with more frequent revelations of the Divine will; women
were therefore heard with an uncommon attention in all deliberations,
and particularly in those that regarded religion. The Pagan superstition
of the North furnished, in this instance, a principle which contributed
to its own destruction.

In the change of religion, care was taken to render the transition from
falsehood to truth as little violent as possible. Though the first
proselytes were kings, it does not appear that there was any
persecution. It was a precept of Pope Gregory, under whose auspices this
mission was conducted, that the heathen temples should not be destroyed,
especially where they were well built,--but that, first removing the
idols, they should be consecrated anew by holier rites and to better
purposes,[38] in order that the prejudices of the people might not be
too rudely shocked by a declared profanation of what they had so long
held sacred, and that, everywhere beholding the same places to which
they had formerly resorted for religious comfort, they might be
gradually reconciled to the new doctrines and ceremonies which, were
there introduced; and as the sacrifices used in the Pagan worship were
always attended with feasting, and consequently were highly grateful to
the multitude, the Pope ordered that oxen, should as usual be
slaughtered near the church, and the people indulged in their ancient
festivity.[39] Whatever popular customs of heathenism were found to be
absolutely not incompatible with Christianity were retained; and some of
them were continued to a very late period. Deer were at a certain season
brought into St. Paul's church in London, and laid on the altar;[40] and
this custom subsisted until the Reformation. The names of some of the
Church festivals were, with a similar design, taken from those of the
heathen which had been celebrated at the same time of the year. Nothing
could have been more prudent than these regulations: they were, indeed,
formed from a perfect understanding of human nature.

Whilst the inferior people were thus insensibly led into a better order,
the example and countenance of the great completed the work. For the
Saxon kings and ruling men embraced religion with so signal, and in
their rank so unusual a zeal, that in many instances they even
sacrificed to its advancement the prime objects of their ambition.
Wulfhere, king of the West Saxons, bestowed the Isle of Wight on the
king of Sussex, to persuade him to embrace Christianity.[41] This zeal
operated in the same manner in favor of their instructors. The greatest
kings and conquerors frequently resigned their crowns and shut
themselves up in monasteries. When kings became monks, a high lustre was
reflected upon the monastic state, and great credit accrued to the power
of their doctrine, which was able to produce such extraordinary effects
upon persons over whom religion has commonly the slightest influence.

The zeal of the missionaries was also much assisted by their superiority
in the arts of civil life. At their first preaching in Sussex, that
country was reduced to the greatest distress from a drought, which had
continued for three years. The barbarous inhabitants, destitute of any
means to alleviate the famine, in an epidemic transport of despair
frequently united forty and fifty in a body, and, joining their hands,
precipitated themselves from the cliffs, and were either drowned or
dashed to pieces on the rocks. Though a maritime people, they knew not
how to fish; and this ignorance probably arose from a remnant of
Druidical superstition, which had forbidden the use of that sort of
diet. In this calamity, Bishop Wilfrid, their first preacher, collecting
nets, at the head of his attendants, plunged into the sea; and having
opened this great resource of food, he reconciled the desperate people
to life, and their minds to the spiritual care of those who had shown
themselves so attentive to their temporal preservation.[42]

The same regard to the welfare of the people appeared in all their
actions. The Christian kings sometimes made donations to the Church of
lands conquered from their heathen enemies. The clergy immediately
baptized and manumitted their new vassals. Thus they endeared to all
sorts of men doctrines and teachers which could mitigate the rigorous
law of conquest; and they rejoiced to see religion and liberty advancing
with, an equal progress. Nor were the monks in this time in anything
more worthy of praise than in their zeal for personal freedom. In the
canon wherein they provided against the alienation of their lands, among
other charitable exceptions to this restraint they particularize the
purchase of liberty[43]. In their transactions with the great the same
point was always strenuously labored. When they imposed penance, they
were remarkably indulgent to persons of that rank; but they always made
them purchase the remission of corporal austerity by acts of
beneficence. They urged their powerful penitents to the enfranchisement
of their own slaves, and to the redemption of those which belonged to
others; they directed them to the repair of highways, and to the
construction of churches, bridges, and other works of general
utility.[44] They extracted the fruits of virtue even from crimes; and
whenever a great man expiated his private offences, he provided in the
same act for the public happiness. The monasteries were then the only
bodies corporate in the kingdom; and if any persons were desirous to
perpetuate their charity by a fund for the relief of the sick or
indigent, there was no other way than to confide this trust to some
monastery. The monks were the sole channel through which the bounty of
the rich could pass in any continued stream to the poor; and the people
turned their eyes towards them in all their distresses. We must observe,
that the monks of that time, especially those from Ireland,[45] who had
a considerable share in the conversion of all the northern parts, did
not show that rapacious desire of riches which long disgraced and
finally ruined their successors. Not only did they not seek, but seemed
even to shun such donations. This prevented that alarm which might have
arisen from an early and declared avarice. At this time the most fervent
and holy anchorites retired to places the furthest that could be found
from human concourse and help, to the most desolate and barren
situations, which even from their horror seemed particularly adapted to
men who had renounced the world. Many persons followed them in order to
partake of their instructions and prayers, or to form themselves upon
their example. An opinion of their miracles after their death drew still
greater numbers. Establishments were gradually made. The monastic life
was frugal, and the government moderate. These causes drew a constant
concourse. Sanctified deserts assumed a new face; the marshes were
drained, and the lands cultivated. And as this revolution seemed rather
the effect of the holiness of the place than of any natural causes, it
increased their credit; and every improvement drew with it a new
donation. In this manner the great abbeys of Croyland and Glastonbury,
and many others, from the most obscure beginnings, were advanced to a
degree of wealth and splendor little less than royal.

In these rude ages government was not yet fixed upon solid principles,
and everything was full of tumult and distraction. As the monasteries
were better secured from violence by their character than any other
places by laws, several great men, and even sovereign princes, were
obliged to take refuge in convents; who, when, by a more happy
revolution in their fortunes, they were reinstated in their former
dignities, thought they could never make a sufficient return for the
safety they had enjoyed under the sacred hospitality of these roofs. Not
content to enrich them with ample possessions, that others also might
partake of the protection they had experienced, they formally erected
into an asylum those monasteries, and their adjacent territory. So that
all thronged to that refuge who were rendered unquiet by their crimes,
their misfortunes, or the severity of their lords; and content to live
under a government to which their minds were subject, they raised the
importance of their masters by their numbers, their labor, and, above
all, by an inviolable attachment.

The monastery was always the place of sepulture for the greatest lords
and kings. This added to the other causes of reverence a sort of
sanctity, which, in universal opinion, always attends the repositories
of the dead: and they acquired also thereby a more particular
protection against the great and powerful; for who would violate the
tomb of his ancestors or his own? It was not an unnatural weakness to
think that some advantage might be derived from lying in holy places and
amongst holy persons: and this superstition was fomented with the
greatest industry and art. The monks of Glastonbury spread a notion that
it was almost impossible any person should be damned whose body lay in
their cemetery. This must be considered as coming in aid of the amplest
of their resources, prayer for the dead.

But there was no part of their policy, of whatever nature, that procured
to them a greater or juster credit than their cultivation of learning
and useful arts: for, if the monks contributed to the fall of science in
the Roman Empire, it is certain that the introduction of learning and
civility into this Northern world is entirely owing to their labors. It
is true that they cultivated letters only in a secondary way, and as
subsidiary to religion. But the scheme of Christianity is such that it
almost necessitates an attention to many kinds of learning. For the
Scripture is by no means an irrelative system of moral and divine
truths; but it stands connected with so many histories, and with the
laws, opinions, and manners of so many various sorts of people, and in
such different times, that it is altogether impossible to arrive to any
tolerable knowledge of it without having recourse to much exterior
inquiry: for which reason the progress of this religion has always been
marked by that of letters. There were two other circumstances at this
time that contributed no less to the revival of learning. The sacred
writings had not been translated into any vernacular language, and even
the ordinary service of the Church was still continued in the Latin
tongue; all, therefore, who formed themselves for the ministry, and
hoped to make any figure in it, were in a manner driven to the study of
the writers of polite antiquity, in order to qualify themselves for
their most ordinary functions. By this means a practice liable in itself
to great objections had a considerable share in preserving the wrecks of
literature, and was one means of conveying down to our times those
inestimable monuments which otherwise, in the tumult of barbarous
confusion on one hand, and untaught piety on the other, must inevitably
have perished. The second circumstance, the pilgrimages of that age, if
considered in itself, was as liable to objection as the former; but it
proved of equal advantage to the cause of literature. A principal object
of these pious journeys was Rome, which contained all the little that
was left in the Western world of ancient learning and taste. The other
great object of those pilgrimages was Jerusalem: this led them into the
Grecian Empire, which still subsisted in the East with great majesty and
power. Here the Greeks had not only not discontinued the ancient
studies, but they added to the stock of arts many inventions of
curiosity and convenience that were unknown to antiquity. When,
afterwards, the Saracens prevailed in that part of the world, the
pilgrims had also by the same means an opportunity of profiting from the
improvements of that laborious people; and however little the majority
of these pious travellers might have had such objects in their view,
something useful must unavoidably have stuck to them; a few certainly
saw with more discernment, and rendered their travels serviceable to
their country by importing other things besides miracles and legends.
Thus a communication was opened between this remote island and countries
of which it otherwise could then scarcely have heard mention made; and
pilgrimages thus preserved that intercourse amongst mankind which is now
formed by politics, commerce, and learned curiosity.

It is not wholly unworthy of observation, that Providence, which
strongly appears to have intended the continual intermixture of mankind,
never leaves the human mind destitute of a principle to effect it. This
purpose is sometimes carried on by a sort of migratory instinct,
sometimes by the spirit of conquest; at one time avarice drives men from
their homes, at another they are actuated by a thirst of knowledge;
where none of these causes can operate, the sanctity of particular
places attracts men from the most distant quarters. It was this motive
which sent thousands in those ages to Jerusalem and Rome, and now, in a
full tide, impels half the world annually to Mecca.

By those voyages the seeds of various kinds of knowledge and improvement
were at different times imported into England. They were cultivated in
the leisure and retirement of monasteries; otherwise they could not have
been cultivated at all: for it was altogether necessary to draw certain
men from the general rude and fierce society, and wholly to set a bar
between them and the barbarous life of the rest of the world, in order
to fit them for study and the cultivation of arts and science.
Accordingly, we find everywhere in the first institutions for the
propagation of knowledge amongst any people, that those who followed it
were set apart and secluded from the mass of the community.

[Sidenote: A.D. 682]

The great ecclesiastical chair of this kingdom, for near a century, was
filled by foreigners. They were nominated by the Popes, who were in that
age just or politic enough to appoint persons of a merit in some degree
adequate to that important charge. Through this series of foreign and
learned prelates, continual accessions were made to the originally
slender stock of English literature. The greatest and most valuable of
these accessions was made in the time and by the care of Theodorus, the
seventh Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a Greek by birth, a man of a
high ambitious spirit, and of a mind more liberal and talents better
cultivated than generally fell to the lot of the Western prelates. He
first introduced the study of his native language into this island. He
brought with him a number of valuable books in many faculties, and
amongst them a magnificent copy of the works of Homer, the most ancient
and best of poets, and the best chosen to inspire a people just
initiated into letters with an ardent love and with a true taste for the
sciences. Under his influence a school was formed at Canterbury; and
thus the other great fountain of knowledge, the Greek tongue, was opened
in England in the year of our Lord 669.

The southern parts of England received their improvements directly
through the channel of Rome. The kingdom of Northumberland, as soon as
it was converted, began to contend with the southern provinces in an
emulation of piety and learning. The ecclesiastics then [there?] also
kept up and profited by their intercourse with Rome; but they found
their principal resources of knowledge from another and a more
extraordinary quarter. The island of Hii, or Columbkill,[46] is a small
and barren rock in the Western Ocean. But in those days it was high in
reputation as the site of a monastery which had acquired great renown
for the rigor of its studies and the severity of its ascetic discipline.
Its authority was extended over all the northern parts of Britain and
Ireland; and the monks of Hii even exercised episcopal jurisdiction over
all those regions. They had a considerable share both in the religious
and literate institution of the Northumbrians. Another island, of still
less importance, in the mouth of the Tees [Tweed?], and called
Lindisfarne, was about this time sanctified by the austerities of an
hermit called Cuthbert. It soon became also a very celebrated monastery.
It was, from a dread of the ravages of pirates, removed first to the
adjacent part of the continent, and on the same account finally to
Durham. The heads of this monastery omitted nothing which could
contribute to the glory of their founder and to the dignity of their
house, which became, in a very short time, by their assiduous endeavors,
the most considerable school perhaps in Europe.

The great and justest boast of this monastery is the Venerable Beda, who
was educated and spent his whole life there. An account of his writings
is an account of the English learning in that age, taken in its most
advantageous view. Many of his works remain, and he wrote both in prose
and verse, and upon all sorts of subjects. His theology forms the most
considerable part of his writings. He wrote comments upon almost the
whole Scripture, and several homilies on the principal festivals of the
Church. Both the comments and sermons are generally allegorical in the
construction of the text, and simply moral in the application. In these
discourses several things seem strained and fanciful; but herein he
followed entirely the manner of the earlier fathers, from whom the
greatest part of his divinity is not so much imitated as extracted. The
systematic and logical method, which seems to have been first introduced
into theology by John of Damascus, and which after wards was known by
the name of School Divinity, was not then in use, at least in the
Western Church, though soon after it made an amazing progress. In this
scheme the allegorical gave way to the literal explication, the
imagination had less scope, and the affections were less touched. But it
prevailed by an appearance more solid and philosophical, by an order
more scientific, and by a readiness of application either for the
solution or the exciting of doubts and difficulties.

They also cultivated in this monastery the study of natural philosophy
and astronomy. There remain of Beda one entire book and some scattered
essays on these subjects. This book, _De Rerum Natura_, is concise and
methodical, and contains no very contemptible abstract of the physics
which were taught in the decline of the Roman Empire. It was somewhat
unfortunate that the infancy of English learning was supported by the
dotage of the Roman, and that even the spring-head from whence they drew
their instructions was itself corrupted. However, the works of the great
masters of the ancient science still remained; but in natural philosophy
the worst was the most fashionable. The Epicurean physics, the most
approaching to rational, had long lost all credit by being made the
support of an impious theology and a loose morality. The fine visions of
Plato fell into some discredit by the abuse which heretics had made of
them; and the writings of Aristotle seem to have been then the only ones
much regarded, even in natural philosophy, in which branch of science
alone they are unworthy of him. Beda entirely follows his system. The
appearances of Nature are explained by matter and form, and by the four
vulgar elements, acted upon by the four supposed qualities of hot, dry,
moist, and cold. His astronomy is on the common system of the ancients,
sufficient for the few purposes to which they applied it, but otherwise
imperfect and grossly erroneous. He makes the moon larger than the
earth; though a reflection on the nature of eclipses, which he
understood, might have satisfied him of the contrary. But he had so much
to copy that he had little time to examine. These speculations, however
erroneous, were still useful; for, though men err in assigning the
causes of natural operations, the works of Nature are by this means
brought under their consideration, which cannot be done without
enlarging the mind. The science may be false or frivolous; the
improvement will be real. It may here be remarked, that soon afterwards
the monks began to apply themselves to astronomy and chronology, from
the disputes, which were carried on with so much heat and so little
effect, concerning the proper time of celebrating Easter; and the
English owed the cultivation of these noble sciences to one of the most
trivial controversies of ecclesiastic discipline.

Beda did not confine his attention to those superior sciences. He
treated of music, and of rhetoric, of grammar, and the art of
versification, and of arithmetic, both by letters and on the fingers;
and his work on this last subject is the only one in which that piece
of antique curiosity has been preserved to us. All these are short
pieces; some of them are in the catechetical method, and seem designed
for the immediate use of the pupils in his monastery, in order to
furnish them with some leading ideas in the rudiments of these arts,
then newly introduced into his country. He likewise made, and probably
for the same purpose, a very ample and valuable collection of short
philosophical, political, and moral maxims, from Aristotle, Plato,
Seneca, and other sages of heathen antiquity. He made a separate book of
shining commonplaces and remarkable passages extracted from the works of
Cicero, of whom he was a great admirer, though he seems to have been not
an happy or diligent imitator in his style. From a view of these pieces
we may form an idea of what stock in the science the English at that
time possessed, and what advances they had made. That work of Beda which
is the best known and most esteemed is the Ecclesiastical History of the
English nation. Disgraced by a want of choice and frequently by a
confused ill disposition of his matter, and blemished with a degree of
credulity next to infantine, it is still a valuable, and for the time a
surprising performance. The book opens with a description of this island
which would not have disgraced a classical author; and he has prefixed
to it a chronological abridgment of sacred and profane history
connected, from the beginning of the world, which, though not critically
adapted to his main design, is of far more intrinsic value, and indeed
displays a vast fund of historical erudition. On the whole, though this
father of the English learning seems to have been but a genius of the
middle class, neither elevated nor subtile, and one who wrote in a low
style, simple, but not elegant, yet, when we reflect upon the time in
which he lived, the place in which he spent his whole life, within the
walls of a monastery, in so remote and wild a country, it is impossible
to refuse him the praise of an incredible industry and a generous thirst
of knowledge.

That a nation who not fifty years before had but just begun to emerge
from a barbarism so perfect that they were unfurnished even with an
alphabet should in so short a time have established so flourishing a
seminary of learning, and have produced so eminent a teacher, is a
circumstance which I imagine no other nation besides England can boast.

Hitherto we have spoken only of their Latin and Greek literature. They
cultivated also their native language, which, according to the opinions
of the most adequate judges, was deficient neither in energy nor beauty,
and was possessed of such an happy flexibility as to be capable of
expressing with grace and effect every new technical idea introduced
either by theology or science. They were fond of poetry; they sung at
all their feasts; and it was counted extremely disgraceful not to be
able to take a part in these performances, even when they challenged
each other to a sudden exertion of the poetic spirit. Caedmon, afterwards
one of the most eminent of their poets, was disgraced in this manner
into an exertion of a latent genius. He was desired in his turn to sing,
but, being ignorant and full of natural sensibility, retired in
confusion from the company, and by instant and strenuous application
soon became a distinguished proficient in the art.


[37] Inesse quinetiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant; nec aut
consilia carum aspernantur aut responsa negligunt.--Tacit. de Mor. Ger.
c. 8.

[38] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. I. c. 30.

[39] Id. c. cod.

[40] Dugdale's History of St. Paul's.

[41] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. IV. c. 13.

[42] Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib IV. c. 13.

[43] Spelm. Concil. p. 329.

[44] Instauret etiam Dei ecclesiam; ... et instauret vias publicas
pontibus super aquas profundas et super caenosas vias; ... manumittat
servos suos proprios, et redimat ab aliis hominibus servos suos ad
libertatem.--L Eccl. Edgari, 14.

[45] Aidanus, Finan, Colmannus mirae sanctitatis fuerunt et
parsimoniae.... Adeo autem sacerdotes erant illius temporis ab avaritia
immunes, ut nec territoria nisi coacti acciperent.--Hen. Huntingd. Lib.
III. p. 333. Bed. Hist. Eccl. Lib. III c. 26.

[46] Icolmkill, or Iona.



[Sidenote: A.D. 799]

The Christian religion, having once taken root in Kent, spread itself
with great rapidity throughout all the other Saxon kingdoms in England.
The manners of the Saxons underwent a notable alteration by this change
in their religion: their ferocity was much abated; they became more mild
and sociable; and their laws began to partake of the softness of their
manners, everywhere recommending mercy and a tenderness for Christian
blood. There never was any people who embraced religion with a more
fervent zeal than the Anglo-Saxons, nor with more simplicity of spirit.
Their history for a long time shows us a remarkable conflict between
their dispositions and their principles. This conflict produced no
medium, because they were absolutely contrary, and both operated with
almost equal violence. Great crimes and extravagant penances, rapine and
an entire resignation of worldly goods, rapes and vows of perpetual
chastity, succeeded each other in the same persons. There was nothing
which the violence of their passions could not induce them to commit;
nothing to which they did not submit to atone for their offences, when
reflection gave an opportunity to repent. But by degrees the sanctions
of religion began to preponderate; and as the monks at this time
attracted all the religious veneration, religion everywhere began to
relish of the cloister: an inactive spirit, and a spirit of scruples
prevailed; they dreaded to put the greatest criminal to death; they
scrupled to engage in any worldly functions. A king of the Saxons
dreaded that God would call him to an account for the time which he
spent in his temporal affairs and had stolen from prayer. It was
frequent for kings to go on pilgrimages to Rome or to Jerusalem, on
foot, and under circumstances of great hardship. Several kings resigned
their crowns to devote themselves to religious contemplation in
monasteries,--more at that time and in this nation than in all other
nations and in all times. This, as it introduced great mildness into the
tempers of the people, made them less warlike, and consequently prepared
the way to their forming one body under Egbert, and for the other
changes which followed.

The kingdom of Wessex, by the wisdom and courage of King Ina, the
greatest legislator and politician of those times, had swallowed up
Cornwall, for a while a refuge for some of the old Britons, together
with the little kingdom of the South Saxons. By this augmentation it
stretched from the Land's End to the borders of Kent, the Thames flowing
on the north, the ocean washing it on the south. By their situation the
people of Wessex naturally came to engross the little trade which then
fed the revenues of England; and their minds were somewhat opened by a
foreign communication, by which they became more civilized and better
acquainted with the arts of war and of government. Such was the
condition of the kingdom of Wessex, when Egbert was called to the throne
of his ancestors. The civil commotions which for some time prevailed had
driven this prince early in life into an useful banishment. He was
honorably received at the court of Charlemagne, where he had an
opportunity of studying government in the best school, and of forming
himself after the most perfect model. Whilst Charlemagne was reducing
the continent of Europe into one empire, Egbert reduced England into one
kingdom. The state of his own dominions, perfectly united under him,
with the other advantages which we have just mentioned, and the state of
the neighboring Saxon governments, made this reduction less difficult.
Besides Wessex, there were but two kingdoms of consideration in
England,--Mercia and Northumberland. They were powerful enough in the
advantages of Nature, but reduced to great weakness by their divisions.
As there is nothing of more moment to any country than to settle the
succession of its government on clear and invariable principles, the
Saxon monarchies, which were supported by no such principles, were
continually tottering. The right of government sometimes was considered
as in the eldest son, sometimes in all; sometimes the will of the
deceased prince disposed of the crown, sometimes a popular election
bestowed it. The consequence of this was the frequent division and
frequent reunion of the same territory, which were productive of
infinite mischief; many various principles of succession gave titles to
some, pretensions to more; and plots, cabals, and crimes could not be
wanting to all the pretenders. Thus was Mercia torn to pieces; and the
kingdom of Northumberland, assaulted on one side by the Scots, and
ravaged on the other by the Danish incursions, could not recover from a
long anarchy into which its intestine divisions had plunged it. Egbert
knew how to make advantage of these divisions: fomenting them by his
policy at first, and quelling them afterwards by his sword, he reduced
these two kingdoms under his government. The same power which conquered
Mercia and Northumberland made the reduction of Kent and Essex
easy,--the people on all hands the more readily submitting, because
there was no change made in their laws, manners, or the form of their

[Sidenote: Egbert A.D. 827.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 832]

Egbert, when he had brought all England under his dominion, made the
Welsh tributary, and carried his arms with success into Scotland,
assumed the title of Monarch of all Britain.[47] The southern part of
the island was now for the first time authentically known by the name of
England, and by every appearance promised to have arrived at the
fortunate moment for forming a permanent and splendid monarchy. But
Egbert had not reigned seven years in peace, when the Danes, who had
before showed themselves in some scattered parties, and made some
inconsiderable descents, entered the kingdom in a formidable body. This
people came from the same place whence the English themselves were
derived, and they differed from them in little else than that they still
retained their original barbarity and heathenism. These, assisted by the
Norwegians, and other people of Scandinavia, were the last torrent of
the Northern ravagers which overflowed Europe. What is remarkable, they
attacked England and France when these two kingdoms were in the height
of their grandeur,--France under Charlemagne, England united by Egbert.
The good fortune of Egbert met its first check from these people, who
defeated his forces with great slaughter near Charmouth in Dorsetshire.
It generally happens that a new nation, with a new method of making
war, succeeds against a people only exercised in arms by their own civil
dissensions. Besides, England, newly united, was not without those
jealousies and that disaffection which give such great advantage to an
invader. But the vigilance and courage of Egbert repaired this defeat;
he repulsed the Danes; and died soon after at Winchester, full of years
and glory.

[Sidenote: Ethelwolf A.D. 838]

He left a great, but an endangered succession, to his son Ethelwolf, who
was a mild and virtuous prince, full of a timid piety, which utterly
disqualifies for government; and he began to govern at a time when the
greatest capacity was wanted. The Danes pour in upon every side; the
king rouses from his lethargy; battles are fought with various success,
which it were useless and tedious to recount. The event seems to have
been, that in some corners of the kingdom the Danes gained a few
inconsiderable settlements; the rest of the kingdom, after being
terribly ravaged, was left a little time to recover, in order to be
plundered anew. But the weak prince took no advantage of this time to
concert a regular plan of defence, or to rouse a proper spirit in his
people. Yielding himself wholly to speculative devotion, he entirely
neglected his affairs, and, to complete the ruin of his kingdom,
abandoned it, in such critical circumstances, to make a pilgrimage to
Rome. At Rome he behaved in the manner that suited his little genius, in
making charitable foundations, and in extending the Rome-scot or
Peter-pence, which the folly of some princes of the Heptarchy had
granted for their particular dominions, over the whole Kingdom. His
shameful desertion of his country raised so general a discontent, that
in his absence his own son, with the principal of his nobility and
bishops, conspired against him. At his return, he found, however, that
several still adhered to him; but here, too, incapable of acting with
rigor, he agreed to an accommodation, which placed the crown on the head
of his rebellious son, and only left to himself a sphere of government
as narrow as his genius,--the district of Kent, whither he retired to
enjoy an inglorious privacy with a wife whom he had married in France.

[Sidenote: Ethelred, A.D. 866]

On his death, his son Ethelred still held the crown, which he had
preoccupied by his rebellion, and which he polluted with a new stain. He
married his father's widow. The confused history of these times
furnishes no clear account either of the successions of the kings or of
their actions. During the reign of this prince and his successors
Ethelbert and Ethelred, the people in several parts of England seem to
have withdrawn from the kingdom of Wessex, and to have revived their
former independency. This, added to the weakness of the government, made
way for new swarms of Danes, who burst in upon this ill-governed and
divided people, ravaging the whole country in a terrible manner, but
principally directing their fury against every monument of civility or
piety. They had now formed a regular establishment in Northumberland,
and gained a very considerable footing in Mercia and East Anglia; they
hovered over every part of the kingdom with their fleets; and being
established in many places in the heart of the country, nothing seemed
able to resist them.


[47] No Saxon monarch until Athelstan.



[Sidenote: A.D. 871]

[Sidenote: A.D. 875]

It was in the midst of these distractions that Alfred succeeded to a
sceptre which, was threatened every moment to be wrenched from his
hands. He was then only twenty-two years of age, but exercised from his
infancy in troubles and in wars that formed and displayed his virtue.
Some of its best provinces were torn from his kingdom, which was shrunk
to the ancient bounds of Wessex; and what remained was weakened by
dissension, by a long war, by a raging pestilence, and surrounded by
enemies whose numbers seemed inexhaustible, and whose fury was equally
increased by victories or defeats. All these difficulties served only to
increase the vigor of his mind. He took the field without delay; but he
was defeated with considerable loss. This ominous defeat displayed more
fully the greatness of his courage and capacity, which found in
desperate hopes and a ruined kingdom such powerful resources. In a short
time after he was in a condition to be respected: but he was not led
away by the ambition of a young warrior. He neglected no measures to
procure peace for his country, which wanted a respite from the
calamities which had long oppressed it. A peace was concluded for
Wessex. Then the Danes turned their faces once more towards Mercia and
East Anglia. They had before stripped the inhabitants of all their
movable substance, and now they proceeded without resistance to seize
upon their lands. Their success encouraged new swarms of Danes to crowd
over, who, finding all the northern parts of England possessed by their
friends, rushed into Wessex. They were adventurers under different and
independent leaders; and a peace little regarded by the particular party
that made it had no influence at all upon the others. Alfred opposed
this shock with so much firmness that the barbarians had recourse to a
stratagem: they pretended to treat; but taking advantage of the truce,
they routed a body of the West Saxon cavalry that were off their guard,
mounted their horses, and, crossing the country with amazing celerity,
surprised the city of Exeter. This was an acquisition of infinite
advantage to their affairs, as it secured them a port in the midst of

Alfred, mortified at this series of misfortunes, perceived clearly that
nothing could dislodge the Danes, or redress their continual incursions,
but a powerful fleet which might intercept them at sea. The want of
this, principally, gave rise to the success of that people. They used
suddenly to land and ravage a part of the country; when a force opposed
them, they retired to their ships, and passed to some other part, which
in a like manner they ravaged, and then retired as before, until the
country, entirely harassed, pillaged, and wasted by these incursions,
was no longer able to resist them. Then they ventured safely to enter a
desolated and disheartened country, and to establish themselves in it.
These considerations made Alfred resolve upon equipping a fleet. In this
enterprise nothing but difficulties presented themselves: his revenue
was scanty, and his subjects altogether unskilled in maritime affairs,
either as to the construction or the navigation of ships. He did not
therefore despair. With great promises attending a little money, he
engaged in his service a number of Frisian seamen, neighbors to the
Danes, and pirates, as they were. He brought, by the same means,
shipwrights from the continent. He was himself present to everything;
and having performed the part of a king in drawing together supplies of
every kind, he descended with no less dignity into the
artist,--improving on the construction, inventing new machines, and
supplying by the greatness of his genius the defects and imperfections
of the arts in that rude period. By his indefatigable application the
first English navy was in a very short time in readiness to put to sea.
At that time the Danish fleet of one hundred and twenty-five ships stood
with full sail for Exeter; they met; but, with an omen prosperous to the
new naval power, the Danish fleet was entirely vanquished and dispersed.
This success drew on the surrendry of Exeter, and a peace, which Alfred
much wanted to put the affairs of his kingdom in order.

This peace, however, did not last long. As the Danes were continually
pouring into some part of England, they found most parts already in
Danish hands; so that all these parties naturally directed their course
to the only English kingdom. All the Danes conspired to put them in
possession of it, and bursting unexpectedly with the united force of
their whole body upon Wessex, Alfred was entirely overwhelmed, and
obliged to drive before the storm of his fortune. He fled in disguise
into a fastness in the Isle of Athelney, where he remained four months
in the lowest state of indigence, supported by an heroic humility, and
that spirit of piety which neither adverse fortune nor prosperity could
overcome. It is much to be lamented that a character so formed to
interest all men, involved in reverses of fortune that make the most
agreeable and useful part of history, should be only celebrated by pens
so little suitable to the dignity of the subject. These revolutions are
so little prepared, that we neither can perceive distinctly the causes
which sunk him nor those which again raised him to power. A few naked
facts are all our stock. From these we see Alfred, assisted by the
casual success of one of his nobles, issuing from his retreat; he heads
a powerful army once more, defeats the Danes, drives them out of Wessex,
follows his blow, expels them from Mercia, subdues them in
Northumberland, and makes them tributary in Bast Anglia; and thus
established by a number of victories in a full peace, he is presented to
us in that character which makes him venerable to posterity. It is a
refreshment, in the midst of such a gloomy waste of barbarism and
desolation, to fall upon so fair and cultivated a spot.

[Sidenote: A.D. 880.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 896.]

When Alfred had once more reunited the kingdoms of his ancestors, he
found the whole face of things in the most desperate condition: there
was no observance of law and order; religion had no force; there was no
honest industry; the most squalid poverty and the grossest ignorance had
overspread the whole kingdom. Alfred at once enterprised the cure of all
these evils. To remedy the disorders in the government, he revived,
improved, and digested all the Saxon institutions, insomuch that he is
generally honored as the founder of our laws and Constitution.[48]

The shire he divided into hundreds, the hundreds into tithings; every
freeman was obliged to be entered into some tithing, the members of
which were mutually bound for each other, for the preservation of the
peace, and the avoiding theft and rapine. For securing the liberty of
the subject, he introduced the method of giving bail, the most certain
fence against the abuses of power. It has been observed that the reigns
of weak princes are times favorable to liberty; but the wisest and
bravest of all the English princes is the father of their freedom. This
great man was even jealous of the privileges of his subjects; and as his
whole life was spent in protecting them, his last will breathes the same
spirit, declaring that he had left his people as free as their own
thoughts. He not only collected with great care a complete body of laws,
but he wrote comments on them for the instruction of his judges, who
were in general, by the misfortune of the time, ignorant. And if he
took care to correct their ignorance, he was rigorous towards their
corruption. He inquired strictly into their conduct, he heard appeals in
person; he held his Wittenagemotes, or Parliaments, frequently; and kept
every part of his government in health and vigor.

Nor was he less solicitous for the defence than he had shown himself for
the regulation of his kingdom. He nourished with particular care the new
naval strength which he had established; he built forts and castles in
the most important posts; he settled beacons to spread an alarm on the
arrival of an enemy; and ordered his militia in such a manner that there
was always a great power in readiness to march, well appointed and well
disciplined. But that a suitable revenue might not be wanting for the
support of his fleets and fortifications, he gave great encouragement to
trade, which, by the piracies on the coasts, and the rapine and
injustice exercised by the people within, had long become a stranger to
this island.

In the midst of these various and important cares, he gave a peculiar
attention to learning, which by the rage of the late wars had been
entirely extinguished in his kingdom. "Very few there were" (says this
monarch) "on this side the Humber that understood their ordinary
prayers, or that were able to translate any Latin book into English,--so
few, that I do not remember even one qualified to the southward of the
Thames when I began my reign." To cure this deplorable ignorance, he was
indefatigable in his endeavors to bring into England men of learning in
all branches from every part of Europe, and unbounded in his liberality
to them. He enacted by a law that every person possessed of two hides
of land should send their children to school until sixteen. Wisely
considering where to put a stop to his love even of the liberal arts,
which are only suited to a liberal condition, he enterprised yet a
greater design than that of forming the growing generation,--to instruct
even the grown: enjoining all his earldormen and sheriffs immediately to
apply themselves to learning, or to quit their offices. To facilitate
these great purposes, he made a regular foundation of an university,
which with great reason is believed to have been at Oxford. Whatever
trouble he took to extend the benefits of learning amongst his subjects,
he showed the example himself, and applied to the cultivation of his
mind with unparalleled diligence and success. He could neither read nor
write at twelve years old; but he improved his time in such a manner
that he became one of the most knowing men of his age, in geometry, in
philosophy, in architecture, and in music. He applied himself to the
improvement of his native language; he translated several valuable works
from Latin; and wrote a vast number of poems in the Saxon tongue with a
wonderful facility and happiness. He not only excelled in the theory of
the arts and sciences, but possessed a great mechanical genius for the
executive part; he improved the manner of ship-building, introduced a
more beautiful and commodious architecture, and even taught his
countrymen the art of making bricks,--most of the buildings having been
of wood before his time. In a word, he comprehended in the greatness of
his mind the whole of government and all its parts at once, and, what is
most difficult to human frailty, was at the same time sublime and

Religion, which in Alfred's father was so prejudicial to affairs,
without being in him at all inferior in its zeal and fervor, was of a
more enlarged and noble kind; far from being a prejudice to his
government, it seems to have been the principle that supported him in so
many fatigues, and fed like an abundant source his civil and military
virtues. To his religious exercises and studies he devoted a full third
part of his time. It is pleasant to trace a genius even in its smallest
exertions,--in measuring and allotting his time for the variety of
business he was engaged in. According to his severe and methodical
custom, he had a sort of wax candles made of different colors in
different proportions, according to the time he allotted to each
particular affair; as he carried these about with him wherever he went,
to make them burn evenly he invented horn lanterns. One cannot help
being amazed that a prince, who lived in such turbulent times, who
commanded personally in fifty-four pitched battles, who had so
disordered a province to regulate, who was not only a legislator, but a
judge, and who was continually superintending his armies, his navies,
the traffic of his kingdom, his revenues, and the conduct of all his
officers, could have bestowed so much of his time on religious exercises
and speculative knowledge; but the exertion of all his faculties and
virtues seemed to have given a mutual strength to all of them. Thus all
historians speak of this prince, whose whole history was one panegyric;
and whatever dark spots of human frailty may have adhered to such a
character, they are entirely hid in the splendor of his many shining
qualities and grand virtues, that throw a glory over the obscure period
in which he lived, and which is for no other reason worthy of our

[Sidenote: A.D. 897.]

The latter part of his reign was molested with new and formidable
attempts from the Danes: but they no longer found the country in its
former condition; their fleets were attacked; and those that landed
found a strong and regular opposition. There were now fortresses which
restrained their ravages, and armies well appointed to oppose them in
the field; they were defeated in a pitched battle; and after several
desperate marches from one part of the country to the other, everywhere
harassed and hunted, they were glad to return with half their number,
and to leave Alfred in quiet to accomplish the great things he had
projected. This prince reigned twenty-seven, years, and died at last of
a disorder in his bowels, which had afflicted him, without interrupting
his designs or souring his temper, during the greatest part of his life.


[48] Historians, copying after one another, and examining little, have
attributed to this monarch the institution of juries, an institution
which certainly did never prevail amongst the Saxons. They have likewise
attributed to him the distribution of England into shires, hundreds, and
tithings, and of appointing officers over these divisions. But it is
very obvious that the shires were never settled upon any regular plan,
nor are they the result of any single design. But these reports, however
ill imagined, are a strong proof of the high veneration in which this
excellent prince has always been held; as it has been thought that the
attributing these regulations to him would endear them to the nation. Be
probably settled them in such an order, and made such reformations in
his government, that some of the institutions themselves which he
improved have been attributed to him: and, indeed, there was one work of
his which serves to furnish us with a higher idea of the political
capacity of that great man than any of these fictions. He made a general
survey and register of all the property in the kingdom, who held it, and
what it was distinctly: a vast work for an age of ignorance and time of
confusion, which has been neglected in more civilized nations and
settled times. It was called the Roll of Winton, and served as a model
of a work of the same kind made by William the Conqueror.



[Sidenote: Edward, A.D. 900.]

[Sidenote: Athelstan A.D. 925.]

[Sidenote: Edmund, A.D. 942.]

[Sidenote: Edred, A.D. 947.]

[Sidenote: Edwin, A.D. 957.]

His son Edward succeeded. Though of less learning than his father, he
equalled him in his political virtues. He made war with success on the
Welsh, the Scots, and the Danes, and left his kingdom strongly
fortified, and exercised, not weakened, with the enterprises of a
vigorous reign. Because his son Edmund was under age, the crown was set
on the head of his illegitimate offspring, Athelstan. His, like the
reigns of all the princes of this time, was molested by the continual
incursions of the Danes; and nothing but a succession of men of spirit,
capacity, and love of their country, which providentially happened at
this time, could ward off the ruin of the kingdom. Such Athelstan was;
and such was his brother Edmund, who reigned five years with great
reputation, but was at length, by an obscure ruffian, assassinated in
his own palace. Edred, his brother, succeeded to the late monarchy:
though he had left two sons, Edwin and Edgar, both were passed by on
account of their minority. But on this prince's death, which happened
after a troublesome reign of ten years, valiantly supported against
continual inroads of the Danes; the crown devolved on Edwin; of whom
little can be said, because his reign was short, and he was so embroiled
with his clergy that we can take his character only from the monks, who
in such a case are suspicious authority.

[Sidenote: Edgar, A.D. 959.]

Edgar, the second son of King Edmund, came young to the throne; but he
had the happiness to have his youth formed and his kingdom ruled by men
of experience, virtue, and authority. The celebrated Dunstan was his
first minister, and had a mighty influence over all his actions. This
prelate had been educated abroad, and had seen the world to advantage.
As he had great power at court by the superior wisdom of his counsels,
so by the sanctity of his life he had great credit with the people,
which gave a firmness to the government of his master, whose private
character was in many respects extremely exceptionable. It was in his
reign, and chiefly by the means of his minister, Dunstan, that the
monks, who had long prevailed in the opinion of the generality of the
people, gave a total overthrow to their rivals, the secular clergy. The
secular clergy were at this time for the most part married, and were
therefore too near the common modes of mankind to draw a great deal of
their respect; their character was supported by a very small portion of
learning, and their lives were not such as people wish to see in the
clergy. But the monks were unmarried, austere in their lives, regular in
their duties, possessed of the learning of the times, well united under
a proper subordination, full of art, and implacable towards their
enemies. These circumstances, concurring with the dispositions of the
king and the designs of Dunstan, prevailed so far that it was agreed in
a council convened for that purpose to expel the secular clergy from
their livings, and to supply their places with monks, throughout the
kingdom. Although the partisans of the secular priests were not a few,
nor of the lowest class, yet they were unable to withstand the current
of the popular desire, strengthened by the authority of a potent and
respected monarch. However, there was a seed of discontent sown on this
occasion, which grew up afterwards to the mutual destruction of all the
parties. During the whole reign of Edgar, as he had secured the most
popular part of the clergy, and with them the people, in his interests,
there was no internal disturbance; there was no foreign war, because
this prince was always ready for war. But he principally owed his
security to the care he took of his naval power, which was much greater
and better regulated than that of any English monarch before him. He had
three fleets always equipped, one of which annually sailed round the
island. Thus the Danes, the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh were kept
in awe. He assumed the title of King of all Albion. His court was
magnificent, and much frequented by strangers. His revenues were in
excellent order, and no prince of his time supported the royal character
with more dignity.

[Sidenote: Edward, A.D. 975.]

[Sidenote: Ethelred, A.D. 979.]

Edgar had two wives, Elfleda and Elfrida. By the first he had a son
called Edward; the second bore him one called Ethelred. On Edgar's
death, Edward, in the usual order of succession, was called to the
throne; but Elfrida caballed in favor of her son, and finding it
impossible to set him up in the life of his brother, she murdered him
with her own hands in her castle of Corfe, whither he had retired to
refresh himself, wearied with hunting. Ethelred, who by the crimes of
his mother ascended a throne sprinkled with his brother's blood, had a
part to act which exceeded the capacity that could be expected in one of
his youth and inexperience. The partisans of the secular clergy, who
were kept down by the vigor of Edgar's government, thought this a fit
time to renew their pretensions. The monks defended themselves in their
possession; there was no moderation on either side, and the whole nation
joined in these parties. The murder of Edward threw an odious stain on
the king, though he was wholly innocent of that crime. There was a
general discontent, and every corner was full of murmurs and cabals. In
this state of the kingdom, it was equally dangerous to exert the fulness
of the sovereign authority or to suffer it to relax. The temper of the
king was most inclined to the latter method, which is of all things the
worst. A weak government, too easy, suffers evils to grow which often
make the most rigorous and illegal proceedings necessary. Through an
extreme lenity it is on some occasions tyrannical. This was the
condition of Ethelred's nobility, who, by being permitted everything,
were never contented.

Thus all the principal men held a sort of factious and independent
authority; they despised the king, they oppressed the people, and they
hated one another. The Danes, in every part of England but Wessex as
numerous as the English themselves, and in many parts more numerous,
were ready to take advantage of these disorders, and waited with
impatience some new attempt from abroad, that they might rise in favor
of the invaders. They were not long without such an occasion; the Danes
pour in almost upon every part at once, and distract the defence which
the weak prince was preparing to make.

In those days of wretchedness and ignorance, when all the maritime parts
of Europe were attacked by these formidable enemies at once, they never
thought of entering into any alliance against them; they equally
neglected the other obvious method to prevent their incursions, which
was, to carry the war into the invaders' country.

[Sidenote: A.D. 987.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 991.]

What aggravated these calamities, the nobility, mostly disaffected to
the king, and entertaining very little regard to their country, made,
some of them, a weak and cowardly opposition to the enemy; some actually
betrayed their trust; some even were found who undertook the trade of
piracy themselves. It was in this condition, that Edric, Duke of Mercia,
a man of some ability, but light, inconstant, and utterly devoid of all
principle, proposed to buy a peace from the Danes. The general weakness
and consternation disposed the king and people to take this pernicious
advice. At first 10,000_l._ was given to the Danes, who retired with
this money and the rest of their plunder. The English were now, for the
first time, taxed to supply this payment. The imposition was called
Danegelt, not more burdensome in the thing than scandalous in the name.
The scheme of purchasing peace not only gave rise to many internal
hardships, but, whilst it weakened the kingdom, it inspired such a
desire of invading it to the enemy, that Sweyn, King of Denmark, came in
person soon after with a prodigious fleet and army. The English, having
once found the method of diverting the storm by an inglorious bargain,
could not bear to think of any other way of resistance. A greater sum,
48,000_l._, was now paid, which the Danes accepted with pleasure, as
they could by this means exhaust their enemies and enrich themselves
with little danger or trouble. With very short intermissions they still
returned, continually increasing in their demands. In a few years they
extorted upwards of 160,000_l._ from the English, besides an annual
tribute of 48,000_l._ The country was wholly exhausted both of money and
spirit. The Danes in England, under the protection of the foreign Danes,
committed a thousand insolencies; and so infatuated with stupidity and
baseness were the English at this time, that they employed hardly any
other soldiers for their defence.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1002]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1003]

In this state of shame and misery, their sufferings suggested to them a
design rather desperate than brave. They resolved on a massacre of the
Danes. Some authors say, that in one night the whole race was cut off.
Many, probably all the military men, were so destroyed. But this
massacre, injudicious as it was cruel, was certainly not universal; nor
did it serve any other or better end than to exasperate those of the
same nation abroad, who the next year landed in England with a powerful
army to revenge it, and committed outrages even beyond the usual tenor
of the Danish cruelty. There was in England no money left to purchase a
peace, nor courage to wage a successful war; and the King of Denmark,
Sweyn, a prince of capacity, at the head of a large body of brave and
enterprising men, soon mastered the whole kingdom, except London.
Ethelred, abandoned by fortune and his subjects, was forced to fly into

[Sidenote: Edmund Ironside, A.D. 1016.]

As there was no good order in the English affairs, though continually
alarmed, they were always surprised; they were only roused to arms by
the cruelty of the enemy, and they were only formed into a body by being
driven from their homes: so that they never made a resistance until they
seemed to be entirely conquered. This may serve to account for the
frequent sudden reductions of the island, and the frequent renewals of
their fortune when it seemed the most desperate. Sweyn, in the midst of
his victories, dies, and, though succeeded by his son Canute, who
inherited his father's resolution, their affairs were thrown into some
disorder by this accident. The English were encouraged by it. Ethelred
was recalled, and the Danes retired out of the kingdom; but it was only
to return the nest year with a greater and better appointed force.
Nothing seemed able to oppose them. The king dies. A great part of the
land was surrendered, without resistance, to Canute. Edmund, the eldest
son of Ethelred, supported, however, the declining hopes of the English
for some time; in three months he fought three victorious battles; he
attempted a fourth, but lost it by the base desertion of Edric, the
principal author of all these troubles. It is common with the conquered
side to attribute all their misfortunes to the treachery of their own
party. They choose to be thought subdued by the treachery of their
friends rather than the superior bravery of their enemies. All the old
historians talk in this strain; and it must be acknowledged that all
adherents to a declining party have many temptations to infidelity.

Edmund, defeated, but not discouraged, retreated to the Severn, where he
recruited his forces. Canute followed at his heels. And now the two
armies were drawn up which were to decide the fate of England, when it
was proposed to determine the war by a single combat between the two
kings. Neither was unwilling; the Isle of Alney in the Severn was chosen
for the lists. Edmund had the advantage by the greatness of his
strength, Canute by his address; for when Edmund had so far prevailed as
to disarm him, he proposed a parley, in which he persuaded Edmund to a
peace, and to a division of the kingdom. Their armies accepted the
agreement, and both kings departed in a seeming friendship. But Edmund
died soon after, with a probable suspicion of being murdered by the
instruments of his associate in the empire.

[Sidenote: The Danish race.


[Sidenote: Harold I., A.D. 1035.]

[Sidenote: Hardicanute, A.D. 1035]

[Sidenote: The Saxon line restored.]

Canute, on this event, assembled the states of the kingdom, by whom he
was acknowledged King of all England. He was a prince truly great; for,
having acquired the kingdom by his valor, he maintained and improved it
by his justice and clemency. Choosing rather to rule by the inclination
of his subjects than the right of conquest, he dismissed his Danish
army, and committed his safety to the laws. He reestablished the order
and tranquillity which so long a series of bloody wars had banished. He
revived the ancient statutes of the Saxon princes, and governed through
his whole reign with such steadiness and moderation that the English
were much happier under this foreign prince than they had been under
their natural kings. Canute, though the beginning of his life was
stained with those marks of violence and injustice which attend
conquest, was remarkable in his latter end for his piety. According to
the mode of that time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, with a view to
expiate the crimes which paved his way to the throne; but he made a good
use of this peregrination, and returned full of the observations he had
made in the country through which he passed, which he turned to the
benefit of his extensive dominions. They comprehended England, Denmark,
Norway, and many of the countries which lie upon the Baltic. Those he
left, established in peace and security, to his children. The fate of
his Northern possessions is not of this place. England fell to his son
Harold, though not without much competition in favor of the sons of
Edmund Ironside, while some contended for the right of the sons of
Ethelred, Alfred and Edward. Harold inherited none of the virtues of
Canute; he banished his mother Emma, murdered his half-brother Alfred,
and died without issue after a short reign, full of violence, weakness,
and cruelty. His brother Hardicanute, who succeeded him, resembled him
in his character; he committed new cruelties and injustices in revenging
those which his brother had committed, and he died after a yet shorter
reign. The Danish power, established with so much blood, expired of
itself; and Edward, the only surviving son of Ethelred, then an exile in
Normandy, was called to the throne by the unanimous voice of the

[Sidenote: Edward the Confessor, A.D. 1041.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1053]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1066.]

This prince was educated in a monastery, where he learned piety,
continence, and humility, but nothing of the art of government. He was
innocent and artless, but his views were narrow, and his genius
contemptible. The character of such a prince is not, therefore, what
influences the government, any further than as it puts it in the hands
of others. When he came to the throne, Godwin, Earl of Kent, was the
most popular man in England; he possessed a very great estate, an
enterprising disposition, and an eloquence beyond the age he lived in;
he was arrogant, imperious, assuming, and of a conscience which never
put itself in the way of his interest. He had a considerable share in
restoring Edward to the throne of his ancestors; and by this merit,
joined to his popularity, he for some time directed everything according
to his pleasure. He intended to fortify his interest by giving in
marriage to the king his daughter, a lady of great beauty, great virtue,
and an education beyond her sex. Godwin had, however, powerful rivals in
the king's favor. This monarch, who possessed many of the private
virtues, had a grateful remembrance of his favorable reception in
Normandy; he caressed the people of that country, and promoted several
to the first places, ecclesiastical and civil, in his kingdom. This
begot an uneasiness in all the English; but Earl Godwin was
particularly offended. The Normans, on the other hand, accused Godwin of
a design on the crown, the justice of which imputation the whole tenor
of his conduct evinced sufficiently. But as his cabals began to break
into action before they were in perfect ripeness for it, the Norman
party prevailed, and Godwin was banished. This man was not only very
popular at home by his generosity and address, but he found means to
engage even, foreigners in his interests. Baldwin, Earl of Flanders,
gave him a very kind reception. By his assistance Godwin fitted out a
fleet, hired a competent force, sailed to England, and having near
Sandwich deceived the king's navy, he presented himself at London before
he was expected. The king made ready as great a force as the time would
admit to oppose him. The galleys of Edward and Godwin met on the Thames;
but such was the general favor to Godwin, such the popularity of his
cause, that the king's men threw down their arms, and refused to fight
against their countrymen in favor of strangers. Edward was obliged to
treat with his own subjects, and in consequence of this treaty to
dismiss the Normans, whom he believed to be the best attached to his
interests. Godwin used the power to which he was restored to gratify his
personal revenge, showing no mercy to his enemies. Some of his sons
behaved in the most tyrannical manner. The great lords of the kingdom
envied and hated a greatness which annihilated the royal authority,
eclipsed them, and oppressed the people; but Godwin's death soon after
quieted for a while their murmurs. The king, who had the least share in
the transactions of his own reign, and who was of a temper not to
perceive his own insignificance, begun in his old age to think of a
successor. He had no children: for some weak reasons of religion or
personal dislike, he had never cohabited with his wife. He sent for his
nephew Edward, the son of Edmund Ironside, out of Hungary, where he had
taken refuge; but he died soon after he came to England, leaving a son
called Edgar Atheling. The king himself irresolute in so momentous an
affair, died without making any settlement. His reign was properly that
of his great men, or rather of their factions. All of it that was his
own was good. He was careful of the privileges of his subjects, and took
care to have a body of the Saxon laws, very favorable to them, digested
and enforced. He remitted the heavy imposition called Danegelt,
amounting to 40,000_l._ a year, which had been constantly collected
after the occasion had ceased; he even repaid to his subjects what he
found in the treasury at his accession. In short, there is little in his
life that can call his title to sanctity in question, though he can
never be reckoned among the great kings.



[Sidenote: Harold II., A.D. 1066.]

Though Edgar Atheling had the best title to the succession, yet Harold,
the son of Earl Godwin, on account of the credit of his father, and his
own great qualities, which supported and extended the interest of his
family, was by the general voice set upon the throne. The right of
Edgar, young, and discovering no great capacity, gave him little
disturbance in comparison of the violence of his own brother Tosti, whom
for his infamous oppression he had found himself obliged to banish. This
man, who was a tyrant at home and a traitor abroad, insulted the
maritime parts with a piratical fleet, whilst he incited all the
neighboring princes to fall upon his country. Harold Harfager, King of
Norway, after the conquest of the Orkneys, with a powerful navy hung
over the coasts of England. But nothing troubled Harold so much as the
pretensions and the formidable preparation of William, Duke of Normandy,
one of the most able, ambitious, and enterprising men of that age. We
have mentioned the partiality of King Edward to the Normans, and the
hatred he bore to Godwin, and his family. The Duke of Normandy, to whom
Edward had personal obligations, had taken a tour into England, and
neglected no means to improve these dispositions to his own advantage.
It is said that he then received the fullest assurances of being
appointed to the succession, and that Harold himself had been sent soon
after into Normandy to settle whatever related to it. This is an obscure
transaction, and would, if it could be cleared up, convey but little
instruction. So that whether we believe or not that William had engaged
Harold by a solemn oath to secure him the kingdom, we know that he
afterwards set up a will of King Edward in his favor, which, however, he
never produced, and probably never had to produce. In these delicate
circumstances Harold was not wanting to himself. By the most equitable
laws and the most popular behavior he sought to secure the affections of
his subjects; and he succeeded so well, that, when he marched against
the King of Norway, who had invaded his kingdom and taken York, without
difficulty he raised a numerous army of gallant men, zealous for his
cause and their country. He obtained a signal and decisive victory over
the Norwegians. The King Harfager, and the traitor Tosti, who had joined
him, were slain in the battle, and the Norwegians were forced to
evacuate the country. Harold had, however, but little time to enjoy the
fruits of his victory.

Scarce had the Norwegians departed, when William, Duke of Normandy,
landed in the southern part of the kingdom with an army of sixty
thousand chosen men, and struck a general terror through all the nation,
which was well acquainted with the character of the commander and the
courage and discipline of his troops.

The Normans were the posterity of those Danes who had so long and so
cruelly harassed the British islands and the shore of the adjoining
continent. In, the days of King Alfred, a body of these adventurers,
under their leader, Rollo, made an attempt upon England; but so well did
they find every spot defended by the vigilance and bravery of that great
monarch that they were compelled to retire. Beaten from these shores,
the stream of their impetuosity bore towards the northern parts of
France, which had been reduced to the most deplorable condition by their
former ravages. Charles the Simple then sat on the throne of that
kingdom; unable to resist this torrent of barbarians, he was obliged to
yield to it; he agreed to give up to Rollo the large and fertile
province of Neustria, to hold of him as his feudatory. This province,
from the new inhabitants, was called Normandy. Five princes succeeded
Rollo, who maintained with great bravery and cultivated with equal
wisdom his conquests. The ancient ferocity of this people was a little
softened by their settlement; but the bravery which, had made the Danes
so formidable was not extinguished in the Normans, nor the spirit of
enterprise. Not long before this period, a private gentleman of
Normandy, by his personal bravery, had acquired the kingdom of Naples.
Several others followed his fortunes, who added Sicily to it. From one
end of Europe to the other the Norman name was known, respected, and
feared. Robert, the sixth Duke of Normandy, to expiate some crime which
lay heavy upon his conscience, resolved, according to the ideas of that
time, upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was in vain that his nobility,
whom he had assembled to notify this resolution to them, represented to
him the miserable state to which his country would be reduced, abandoned
by its prince, and uncertain of a legal successor. The Duke was not to
be moved from his resolution, which appeared but the more meritorious
from the difficulties which attended it. He presented to the states
William, then an infant, born of an obscure woman, whom,
notwithstanding, he doubted not to be his son; him he appointed to
succeed; him he recommended to their virtue and loyalty; and then,
solemnly resigning the government in his favor, he departed on the
pilgrimage, from whence he never returned. The states, hesitating some
time between, the mischiefs that attend the allowing an illegitimate
succession, and those which might arise from admitting foreign
pretensions, thought the former the least prejudicial, and accordingly
swore allegiance to William. But this oath was not sufficient to
establish a right so doubtful. The Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, as
well as several Norman noblemen, had specious titles. The endeavors of
all these disquieted the reign of the young prince with perpetual
troubles. In these troubles he was formed early in life to vigilance,
activity, secrecy, and a conquest over all those passions, whether bad
or good, which obstruct the way to greatness. He had to contend with all
the neighboring princes, with the seditions of a turbulent and
unfaithful nobility, and the treacherous protection of his feudal lord,
the King of France. All of these in their turns, sometimes all of these
together, distressed him. But with the most unparalleled good fortune
and conduct he overcame all opposition, and triumphed over every enemy,
raising his power and reputation above that of all his ancestors, as
much as he was exalted by his bravery above the princes of his own time.

Such was the prince who, on a pretended claim from the will of King
Edward, supported by the common and popular pretence of punishing
offenders and redressing grievances, landed at Pevensey in Sussex, to
contest the crown with Harold. Harold had no sooner advice of his
landing than he advanced to meet him with all possible diligence; but
there did not appear in his army, upon this occasion, the same unanimity
and satisfaction which animated it on its march against the Norwegians.
An ill-timed economy in Harold, which made him refuse to his soldiers
the plunder of the Norwegian camp, had created a general discontent.
Several deserted; and the soldiers who remained followed heavily a
leader under whom there was no hope of plunder, the greatest incitement
of the soldiery. Notwithstanding this ill disposition, Harold still
urged forward, and by forced marches advanced within seven miles of the
enemy. The Norman, on his landing, is said to have sent away his ships,
that his army might have no way of safety but in conquest; yet had he
fortified his camp, and taken every prudent precaution, that so
considerable an enterprise should not be reduced to a single effort of
despair. When the armies, charged with the decision of so mighty a
contest, had approached each other, Harold paused awhile. A great deal
depended on his conduct at this critical time. The most experienced in
the council of war, who knew the condition of their troops, were of
opinion that the engagement ought to be deferred,--that the country
ought to be wasted,--that, as the winter approached, the Normans would
in all probability be obliged to retire of themselves,--that, if this
should not happen, the Norman army was without resources, whilst the
English would be every day considerably augmented, and might attack
their enemy at a time and manner which might make their success certain.
To all these reasons nothing was opposed but a false point of honor and
a mistaken courage in Harold, who urged his fate, and resolved on an
engagement. The Norman, as soon as he perceived that the English, were
determined on a battle, left his camp to post himself in an advantageous
situation, in which his whole army remained the night which preceded the

This night was spent in a manner which prognosticated the event of the
following day. On the part of the Normans it was spent in prayer, and
in a cool and steady preparation for the engagement; on the side of the
English, in riot and a vain confidence that neglected all the necessary
preparations. The two armies met in the morning; from seven to five the
battle was fought with equal vigor, until at last the Norman army
pretending to break in confusion, a stratagem to which they had been
regularly formed, the English, elated with success, suffered that firm
order in which their security consisted to dissipate, which when William
observed, he gave the signal to his men to regain their former
disposition, and fall upon the English, broken and dispersed. Harold in
this emergency did everything which became him, everything possible to
collect his troops and to renew the engagement; but whilst he flew from
place to place, and in all places restored the battle, an arrow pierced
his brain, and he died a king, in a manner worthy of a warrior. The
English immediately fled; the rout was total, and the slaughter

The consternation which this defeat and the death of Harold produced
over the kingdom was more fatal than the defeat itself. If William had
marched directly to London, all contest had probably been at an end; but
he judged it more prudent to secure the sea-coast, to make way for
reinforcements, distrusting his fortune in his success more than he had
done in his first attempts. He marched to Dover, where the effect of his
victory was such that the strong castle there surrendered without
resistance. Had this fortress made any tolerable defence, the English
would have had leisure to rouse from their consternation, and plan some
rational method for continuing the war; but now the conqueror was on
full march to London, whilst the English were debating concerning the
measures they should take, and doubtful in what manner they should fill
the vacant throne. However, in this emergency it was necessary to take
some resolution. The party of Edgar Atheling prevailed, and he was owned
king by the city of London, which even at this time was exceedingly
powerful, and by the greatest part of the nobility then present. But his
reign was of a short duration. William advanced by hasty marches, and,
as he approached, the perplexity of the English redoubled: they had done
nothing for the defence of the city; they had no reliance on their new
king; they suspected one another; there was no authority, no order, no
counsel; a confused and ill-sorted assembly of unwarlike people, of
priests, burghers, and nobles confounded with them in the general panic,
struck down by the consternation of the late defeat, and trembling under
the bolts of the Papal excommunication, were unable to plan any method
of defence: insomuch that, when he had passed the Thames and drew near
to London, the clergy, the citizens, and the greater part of the nobles,
who had so lately set the crown on the head of Edgar, went out to meet
him; they submitted to him, and having brought him in triumph to
Westminster, he was there solemnly crowned King of England. The whole
nation followed the example of London; and one battle gave England to
the Normans, which had cost the Romans, the Saxons, and Danes so much
time and blood to acquire.

At first view it is very difficult to conceive how this could have
happened to a powerful nation, in which it does not appear that the
conqueror had one partisan. It stands a single event in history, unless,
perhaps, we may compare it with the reduction of Ireland, some time
after, by Henry the Second. An attentive consideration of the state of
the kingdom at that critical time may, perhaps, in some measure, lay
open to us the cause of this extraordinary revolution. The nobility of
England, in which its strength consisted, was much decayed. Wars and
confiscations, but above all the custom of gavelkind, had reduced that
body very low. At the same time some few families had been, raised to a
degree of power unknown in the ancient Saxon times, and dangerous in
all. Large possessions, and a larger authority, were annexed to the
offices of the Saxon magistrates, whom they called Aldermen. This
authority, in their long and bloody wars with the Danes, it was found
necessary to increase, and often to increase beyond the ancient limits.
Aldermen were created for life; they were then frequently made
hereditary; some were vested with a power over others; and at this
period we begin to hear of dukes who governed over several shires, and
had many aldermen subject to them. These officers found means to turn
the royal bounty into an instrument of becoming independent of its
authority. Too great to obey, and too little to protect, they were a
dead weight upon the country. They began to cast an eye on the crown,
and distracted the nation by cabals to compass their designs. At the
same time they nourished the most terrible feuds amongst themselves. The
feeble government of Edward established these abuses. He could find no
method of humbling one subject grown too great, but by aggrandizing in
the same excessive degree some others. Thus, he endeavored to balance
the power of Earl Godwin by exalting Leofric, Duke of Mercia, and
Siward, Duke of Northumberland, to an extravagant greatness. The
consequence was this: he did not humble Godwin, but raised him potent
rivals. When, therefore, this prince died, the lawful successor to the
crown, who had nothing but right in his favor, was totally eclipsed by
the splendor of the great men who had adorned themselves with the spoils
of royalty. The throne was now the prize of faction; and Harold, the son
of Godwin, having the strongest faction, carried it. By this success the
opposite parties were inflamed with a new occasion of rancor and
animosity, and an incurable discontent was raised in the minds of Edwin
and Morcar, the sons of Duke Leofric, who inherited their father's power
and popularity: but this animosity operated nothing in favor of the
legitimate heir, though it weakened the hands of the governing prince.

The death of Harold was far from putting an end to these evils; it
rather unfolded more at large the fatal consequences of the ill measures
which had been pursued. Edwin and Morcar set on foot once more their
practices to obtain the crown; and when they found themselves baffled,
they retired in discontent from the councils of the nation, withdrawing
thereby a very large part of its strength and authority. The council of
the nation, which was formed of the clashing factions of a few great
men, (for the rest were nothing,) divided, disheartened, weakened,
without head, without direction, dismayed by a terrible defeat,
submitted, because they saw no other course, to a conqueror whose valor
they had experienced, and who had hitherto behaved with great
appearances of equity and moderation. As for the grandees, they were
contented rather to submit to this foreign prince than to those whom
they regarded as their equals and enemies.

With these causes other strong ones concurred. For near two centuries
the continual and bloody wars with the Danes had exhausted the nation;
the peace, which for a long time they were obliged to buy dearly,
exhausted it yet more; and it had not sufficient leisure nor sufficient
means of acquiring wealth to yield at this time any extraordinary
resources. The new people, which after so long a struggle had mixed with
the English, had not yet so thoroughly incorporated with the ancient
inhabitants that a perfect union might be expected between them, or that
any strong, uniform, national effort might have resulted from it.
Besides, the people of England were the most backward in Europe in all
improvements, whether in military or in civil life. Their towns were
meanly built, and more meanly fortified; there was scarcely anything
that deserved the name of a strong place in the kingdom; there was no
fortress which, by retarding the progress of a conqueror, might give the
people an opportunity of recalling their spirits and collecting their
strength. To these we may add, that the Pope's approbation of William's
pretensions gave them great weight, especially amongst the clergy, and
that this disposed and reconciled to submission a people whom the
circumstances we have mentioned had before driven to it.



Before we begin to consider the laws and constitutions of the Saxons,
let us take a view of the state of the country from whence they are
derived, as it is portrayed in ancient writers. This view will be the
best comment on their institutions. Let us represent to ourselves a
people without learning, without arts, without industry, solely pleased
and occupied with war, neglecting agriculture, abhorring cities, and
seeking their livelihood only from pasturage and hunting through a
boundless range of morasses and forests. Such a people must necessarily
be united to each other by very feeble bonds; their ideas of government
will necessarily be imperfect, their freedom and their love of freedom
great. From these dispositions it must happen, of course, that the
intention of investing one person or a few with the whole powers of
government, and the notion of deputed authority or representation, are
ideas that never could have entered their imaginations. When, therefore,
amongst such a people any resolution of consequence was to be taken,
there was no way of effecting it but by bringing together the whole body
of the nation, that every individual might consent to the law, and each
reciprocally bind the other to the observation of it. This polity, if so
it may be called, subsists still in all its simplicity in Poland.

But as in such a society as we have mentioned the people cannot be
classed according to any political regulations, great talents have a
more ample sphere in which to exert themselves than in a close and
better formed society. These talents must therefore have attracted a
great share of the public veneration, and drawn a numerous train after
the person distinguished by them, of those who sought his protection, or
feared his power, or admired his qualifications, or wished to form
themselves after his example, or, in fine, of whoever desired to partake
of his importance by being mentioned along with him. These the ancient
Gauls, who nearly resembled the Germans in their customs, called
Ambacti; the Romans called them Comites. Over these their chief had a
considerable power, and the more considerable because it depended upon
influence rather than institution: influence among so free a people
being the principal source of power. But this authority, great as it
was, never could by its very nature be stretched to despotism; because
any despotic act would have shocked the only principle by which that
authority was supported, the general good opinion. On the other hand, it
could not have been bounded by any positive laws, because laws can
hardly subsist amongst a people who have not the use of letters. It was
a species of arbitrary power, softened by the popularity from whence it
arose. It came from popular opinion, and by popular opinion it was

If people so barbarous as the Germans have no laws, they have yet
customs that serve in their room; and these customs operate amongst them
better than laws, because they become a sort of Nature both to the
governors and the governed. This circumstance in some measure removed
all fear of the abuse of authority, and induced the Germans to permit
their chiefs[49] to decide upon matters of lesser moment, their private
differences,--for so Tacitus explains the _minores res_. These chiefs
were a sort of judges, but not legislators; nor do they appear to have
had a share in the superior branches of the executive part of
government,--the business of peace and war, and everything of a public
nature, being determined, as we have before remarked, by the whole body
of the people, according to a maxim general among the Germans, that what
concerned all ought to be handled by all. Thus were delineated the faint
and incorrect outlines of our Constitution, which has since been so
nobly fashioned and so highly finished. This fine system, says
Montesquieu, was invented in the woods; but whilst it remained in the
woods, and for a long time after, it was far from being a fine one,--no
more, indeed, than a very imperfect attempt at government, a system for
a rude and barbarous people, calculated to maintain them in their

The ancient state of the Germans was military: so that the orders into
which they were distributed, their subordination, their courts, and
every part of their government, must be deduced from an attention to a
military principle.

The ancient German people, as all the other Northern tribes, consisted
of freemen and slaves: the freemen professed arms, the slaves cultivated
the ground. But men were not allowed to profess arms at their own will,
nor until they were admitted to that dignity by an established order,
which at a certain age separated the boys from men. For when a young man
approached to virility,[50] he was not yet admitted as a member of the
state, which was quite military, until he had been invested with a
spear in the public assembly of his tribe; and then he was adjudged
proper to carry arms, and also to assist in the public deliberations,
which were always held armed.[51] This spear he generally received from
the hand of some old and respected chief, under whom he commonly entered
himself, and was admitted among his followers.[52] No man could stand
out as an independent individual, but must have enlisted in one of these
military fraternities; and as soon as he had so enlisted, immediately he
became bound to his leader in the strictest dependence, which was
confirmed by an oath,[53] and to his brethren in a common vow for their
mutual support in all dangers, and for the advancement and the honor of
their common chief. This chief was styled Senior, Lord, and the like
terms, which marked out a superiority in age and merit; the followers
were called Ambacti, Comites, Leudes, Vassals, and other terms, marking
submission and dependence. This was the very first origin of civil, or
rather, military government, amongst the ancient people of Europe; and
it arose from the connection that necessarily was created between the
person who gave the arms, or knighted the young man, and him that
received them; which implied that they were to be occupied in his
service who originally gave them. These principles it is necessary
strictly to attend to, because they will serve much to explain the whole
course both of government and real property, wherever the German
nations obtained a settlement: the whole of their government depending
for the most part upon two principles in our nature,--ambition, that
makes one man desirous, at any hazard or expense, of taking the lead
amongst others,--and admiration, which makes others equally desirous of
following him, from the mere pleasure of admiration, and a sort of
secondary ambition, one of the most universal passions among men. These
two principles, strong, both of them, in our nature, create a voluntary
inequality and dependence. But amongst equals in condition there could
be no such bond, and this was supplied by confederacy; and as the first
of these principles created the senior and the knight, the second
produced the _conjurati fratres_, which, sometimes as a more extensive,
sometimes as a stricter bond, are perpetually mentioned in the old laws
and histories.

The relation between the lord and the vassal produced another
effect,--that the leader was obliged to find sustenance for his
followers, and to maintain them at his table, or give them some
equivalent in order to their maintenance. It is plain from these
principles, that this service on one hand, and this obligation to
support on the other, could not have originally been hereditary, but
must have been entirely in the free choice of the parties.

But it is impossible that such a polity could long have subsisted by
election alone. For, in the first place, that natural love which every
man has to his own kindred would make the chief willing to perpetuate
the power and dignity he acquired in his own blood,--and for that
purpose, even during his own life, would raise his son, if grown up, or
his collaterals, to such a rank as they should find it only necessary to
continue their possession upon his death. On the other hand, if a
follower was cut off in war, or fell by natural course, leaving his
offspring destitute, the lord could not so far forget the services of
his vassal as not to continue his allowance to his children; and these
again growing up, from reason and gratitude, could only take their
knighthood at his hands from whom they had received their education; and
thus, as it could seldom happen but that the bond, either on the side of
the lord or dependant, was perpetuated, some families must have been
distinguished by a long continuance of this relation, and have been
therefore looked upon in an honorable light, from that only circumstance
from whence honor was derived in the Northern world. Thus nobility was
seen in Germany; and in the earliest Anglo-Saxon times some families
were distinguished by the title of Ethelings, or of noble descent. But
this nobility of birth was rather a qualification for the dignities of
the state than an actual designation to them. The Saxon ranks are
chiefly designed to ascertain the quantity of the composition for
personal injuries against them.

But though this hereditary relation was created very early, it must not
be mistaken for such a regular inheritance as we see at this day: it was
an inheritance only according to the principles from whence it was
derived; by them it was modified. It was originally a military
connection; and if a father loft his son under a military age, so as
that he could neither lead nor judge his people, nor qualify the young
men who came up under him to take arms,--in order to continue the
cliental bond, and not to break up an old and strong confederacy, and
thereby disperse the tribe, who should be pitched upon to head the
whole, but the worthiest of blood of the deceased leader, he that ranked
next to him in his life?[54] And this is Tanistry, which is a succession
made up of inheritance and election, a succession in which blood is
inviolably regarded, so far as it was consistent with military purposes.
It was thus that our kings succeeded to the throne throughout the whole
time of the Anglo-Saxon, empire. The first kings of the Franks succeeded
in the same manner, and without all doubt the succession of all the
inferior chieftains was regulated by a similar law. Very frequent
examples occur in the Saxon times, where the son of the deceased king,
if under age, was entirely passed over, and his uncle, or some remoter
relation, raised to the crown; but there is not a single instance where
the election has carried it out of the blood. So that, in truth, the
controversy, which has been managed with such heat, whether in the Saxon
times the crown was hereditary or elective, must be determined in some
degree favorably for the litigants on either side; for it was certainly
both hereditary and elective within the bounds, which we have mentioned.
This order prevailed in Ireland, where the Northern customs were
retained some hundreds of years after the rest of Europe had in a great
measure receded from them. Tanistry continued in force there until the
beginning of the last century. And we have greatly to regret the narrow
notions of our lawyers, who abolished the authority of the Brehon law,
and at the same time kept no monuments of it,--which if they had done,
there is no doubt but many things of great value towards determining
many questions relative to the laws, antiquities, and manners of this
and other countries had been preserved. But it is clear, though it has
not been, I think, observed, that the ascending collateral branch was
much regarded amongst the ancient Germans, and even preferred to that of
the immediate possessor, as being, in case of an accident arriving to
the chief, the presumptive heir, and him on whom the hope of the family
was fixed: and this is upon the principles of Tanistry. And the rule
seems to have taken such deep root as to have much influenced a
considerable article of our feudal law: for, what is very singular, and,
I take it, otherwise unaccountable, a collateral warranty bound, even
without any descending assets, where the lineal did not, unless
something descended; and this subsisted invariably in the law until this

Thus we have seen the foundation of the Northern government and the
orders of their people, which consisted of dependence and confederacy:
that the principal end of both was military; that protection and
maintenance were due on the part of the chief, obedience on that of the
follower; that the followers should be bound to each other as well as to
the chief; that this headship was not at first hereditary, but that it
continued in the blood by an order of its own, called Tanistry.

All these unconnected and independent parts were only linked together by
a common council: and here religion interposed. Their priests, the
Druids, having a connection throughout each state, united it. They
called the assembly of the people: and here their general resolutions
were taken; and the whole might rather be called a general confederacy
than a government. In no other bonds, I conceive, were they united
before they quitted Germany. In this ancient state we know them from
Tacitus. Then follows an immense gap, in which undoubtedly some changes
were made by time; and we hear little more of them until we find them
Christians, and makers of written laws. In this interval of time the
origin of kings may be traced out. When the Saxons left their own
country in search of new habitations, it must be supposed that they
followed their leaders, whom they so much venerated at home; but as the
wars which made way for their establishment continued for a long time,
military obedience made them familiar with a stricter authority. A
subordination, too, became necessary among the leaders of each band of
adventurers: and being habituated to yield an obedience to a single
person in the field, the lustre of his command and the utility of the
institution easily prevailed upon them to suffer him to form the band of
their union in time of peace, under the name of King. But the leader
neither knew the extent of the power he received, nor the people of that
which they bestowed. Equally unresolved were they about the method of
perpetuating it,--sometimes filling the vacant throne by election,
without regard to, but more frequently regarding, the blood of the
deceased prince; but it was late before they fell into any regular plan
of succession, if ever the Anglo-Saxons attained it. Thus their polity
was formed slowly; the prospect clears up by little and little; and this
species of an irregular republic we see turned into a monarchy as
irregular. It is no wonder that the advocates for the several parties
among us find something to favor their several notions in the Saxon
government, which was never supported by any fixed or uniform principle.
To comprehend the other parts of the government of our ancestors, we
must take notice of the orders into winch they were classed. As well as
we can judge in so obscure a matter, they were divided into nobles or
gentlemen, freeholders, freemen that were not freeholders, and slaves.
Of these last we have little to say, as they were nothing in the state.
The nobles were called Thanes, or servants. It must be remembered that
the German chiefs were raised to that honorable rank by those
qualifications which drew after them a numerous train of followers and
dependants.[55] If it was honorable to be followed by a numerous train,
so it was honorable in a secondary degree to be a follower of a man of
consideration; and this honor was the greater in proportion to the
quality of the chief, and to the nearness of the attendance on his
person. When a monarchy was formed, the splendor of the crown naturally
drowned all the inferior honors; and the attendants on the person of the
king were considered as the first in rank, and derived their dignity
from their service. Yet as the Saxon government had still a large
mixture of the popular, it was likewise requisite, in order to raise a
man to the first rank of thanes, that he should have a suitable
attendance and sway amongst the people. To support him in both of these,
it was necessary that he should have a competent estate. Therefore in
this service of the king, this attendance on himself, and this estate to
support both, the dignity of a thane consisted. I understand here a
thane of the first order.

[Sidenote: Hallmote, or Court-Baron.]

Every thane, in the distribution of his lands, had two objects in view:
the support of his family, and the maintenance of his dignity. He
therefore retained in his own hands a parcel of land near his house,
which in the Saxon times was called inland, and afterwards his demesne,
which served to keep up his hospitality: and this land was cultivated
either by slaves, or by the poorer sort of people, who held lands of him
by the performance of this service. The other portion of his estate he
either gave for life or lives to his followers, men of a liberal
condition, who served the greater thane, as he himself served the king.
They were called Under Thanes, or, according to the language of that
time, Theoden.[56] They served their lord in all public business; they
followed him in war; and they sought justice in his court in all their
private differences. These may be considered as freeholders of the
better sort, or indeed a sort of lesser gentry therefore, as they were
not the absolute dependants, but in some measure the peers of their
lord, when they sued in his court, they claimed the privilege of all the
German freemen, the right of judging one another: the lord's steward was
only the register. This domestic court, which continued in full vigor
for many ages, the Saxons called Hall mote, from the place in which it
was held; the Normans, who adopted it, named it a Court-Baron. This
court had another department, in which the power of the lord was more
absolute. From the most ancient times the German nobility considered
themselves as the natural judges of those who were employed in the
cultivation of their lands, looking on husbandmen with contempt, and
only as a parcel of the soil which they tilled: to these the Saxons
commonly allotted some part of their outlands to hold as tenants at
will, and to perform very low services for them. The differences of
these inferior tenants were decided in the lord's court, in which his
steward sat as judge; and this manner of tenure probably gave an origin
to copyholders.[57] Their estates were at will, but their persons were
free: nor can we suppose that villains, if we consider villains as
synonymous to slaves, could ever by any natural course have risen to
copyholders; because the servile condition of the villain's person would
always have prevented that stable tenure in the lands which the
copyholders came to in very early times. The merely servile part of the
nation seems never to have been known by the name of Villains or
Ceorles, but by those of Bordars, Esnes, and Theowes.

[Sidenote: Tithing Court.]

As there were large tracts throughout the country not subject to the
jurisdiction of any thane, the inhabitants of which were probably some
remains of the ancient Britons not reduced to absolute slavery, and such
Saxons as had not attached themselves to the fortunes of any leading
man, it was proper to find some method of uniting and governing these
detached parts of the nation, which had not been brought into order by
any private dependence. To answer this end, the whole kingdom was
divided into Shires, these into Hundreds, and the Hundreds into
Tithings.[58] This division was not made, as it is generally imagined,
by King Alfred, though he might have introduced better regulations
concerning it; it prevailed on the continent, wherever the Northern
nations had obtained a settlement; and it is a species of order
extremely obvious to all who use the decimal notation: when for the
purposes of government they divide a county, tens and hundreds are the
first modes of division which occur. The Tithing, which was the smallest
of these divisions, consisted of ten heads of families, free, and of
some consideration. These held a court every fortnight, which they
called the Folkmote, or Leet, and there became reciprocally bound to
each other and to the public for their own peaceable behavior and that
of their families and dependants. Every man in the kingdom, except those
who belonged to the seigneurial courts we have mentioned, was obliged to
enter himself into some tithing: to this he was inseparably attached;
nor could he by any means quit it without license from the head of the
tithing; because, if he was guilty of any misdemeanor, his district was
obliged to produce him or pay his fine. In this manner was the whole
nation, as it were, held under sureties: a species of regulation
undoubtedly very wise with regard to the preservation of peace and
order, but equally prejudicial to all improvement in the minds or the
fortunes of the people, who, fixed invariably to the spot, were
depressed with all the ideas of their original littleness, and by all
that envy which is sure to arise in those who see their equals
attempting to mount over them. This rigid order deadened by degrees the
spirit of the English, and narrowed their conceptions. Everything was
new to them, and therefore everything was terrible; all activity,
boldness, enterprise, and invention died away. There may be a danger in
straining too strongly the bonds of government. As a life of absolute
license tends to turn men into savages, the other extreme of constraint
operates much in the same manner: it reduces them to the same ignorance,
but leaves them nothing of the savage spirit. These regulations helped
to keep the people of England the most backward in Europe; for though
the division into shires and hundreds and tithings was common to them
with the neighboring nations, yet the _frankpledge_ seems to be a
peculiarity in the English Constitution; and for good reasons they have
fallen into disuse, though still some traces of them are to be found in
our laws.

[Sidenote: Hundred Court.]

Ten of these tithings made an Hundred. Here in ordinary course they held
a monthly court for the centenary, when all the suitors of the
subordinate tithings attended. Here were determined causes concerning
breaches of the peace, small debts, and such matters as rather required
a speedy than a refined justice.

[Sidenote: County Court.]

[Sidenote: Ealdorman and Bishop.]

There was in the Saxon Constitution a great simplicity. The higher order
of courts were but the transcript of the lower, somewhat more extended
in their objects and in their power; and their power over the inferior
courts proceeded only from their being a collection of them all. The
County or Shire Court was the great resort for justice (for the four
great courts of record did not then exist). It served to unite all the
inferior districts with one another, and those with the private
jurisdiction of the thanes. This court had no fixed place. The alderman
of the shire appointed it. Hither came to account for their own conduct,
and that of those beneath them, the bailiffs of hundreds and tithings
and boroughs, with their people,--the thanes of either rank, with their
dependants,--a vast concourse of the clergy of all orders: in a word, of
all who sought or distributed justice. In this mixed assembly the
obligations contracted in the inferior courts were renewed, a general
oath of allegiance to the king was taken, and all debates between the
several inferior cooerdinate jurisdictions, as well as the causes of too
much weight for them, finally determined. In this court presided (for in
strict signification he does not seem to have been a judge) an officer
of great consideration in those times, called the Ealdorman of the
Shire. With him sat the bishop, to decide in whatever related to the
Church, and to mitigate the rigor of the law by the interposition of
equity, according to the species of mild justice that suited the
ecclesiastical character. It appears by the ancient Saxon laws, that the
bishop was the chief acting person in this court. The reverence in which
the clergy were then held, the superior learning of the bishop, his
succeeding to the power and jurisdiction of the Druid, all contributed
to raise him far above the ealdorman, and to render it in reality his
court. And this was probably the reason of the extreme lenity of the
Saxon laws. The canons forbade the bishops to meddle in cases of blood.
Amongst the ancient Gauls and Germans the Druid could alone condemn to
death; so that on the introduction of Christianity there was none who
could, in ordinary course, sentence a man to capital punishment:
necessity alone forced it in a few cases.

Concerning the right of appointing the Alderman of the Shire there is
some uncertainty. That he was anciently elected by his county is
indisputable; that an alderman of the shire was appointed by the crown
seems equally clear from the writings of King Alfred. A conjecture of
Spelman throws some light upon this affair. He conceives that there were
two aldermen with concurrent jurisdiction, one of whom was elected by
the people, the other appointed by the king. This is very probable, and
very correspondent to the nature of the Saxon Constitution, which was a
species of democracy poised and held together by a degree of monarchical
power. If the king had no officer to represent him in the county court,
wherein all the ordinary business of the nation was then transacted, the
state would have hardly differed from a pure democracy. Besides, as the
king had in every county large landed possessions, either in his
demesne, or to reward and pay his officers, he would have been in a much
worse condition than any of his subjects, if he had been destitute of a
magistrate to take care of his rights and to do justice to his numerous
vassals. It appears, as well as we can judge in so obscure a matter,
that the popular alderman was elected for a year only, and that the
royal alderman held his place at the king's pleasure. This latter
office, however, in process of time, was granted for life; and it grew
afterwards to be hereditary in many shires.

[Sidenote: The Sheriff.]

[Sidenote: Sheriff's Tourn.]

We cannot pretend to say when the Sheriff came to be substituted in the
place of the Ealdorman: some authors think King Alfred the contriver of
this regulation. It might have arisen from the nature of the thing
itself. As several persons of consequence enough to obtain by their
interest or power the place of alderman were not sufficiently qualified
to perform the duty of the office, they contented themselves with the
honorary part, and left the judicial province to their substitute.[59]
The business of the robe to a rude martial people was contemptible and
disgusting. The thanes, in their private jurisdictions, had delegated
their power of judging to their reeves, or stewards; and the earl, or
alderman, who was in the shire what the thane was in his manor, for the
same reasons officiated by his deputy, the shire-reeve. This is the
origin of the Sheriff's Tourn, which decided in all affairs, civil and
criminal, of whatever importance, and from which there lay no appeal but
to the Witenagemote. Now there scarce remains the shadow of a body
formerly so great: the judge being reduced almost wholly to a
ministerial officer; and to the court there being left nothing more
than the cognizance of pleas under forty shillings, unless by a
particular writ or special commission. But by what steps such a
revolution came on it will be our business hereafter to inquire.

[Sidenote: Witenagemote.]

The Witenagemote or Saxon Parliament, the supreme court, had authority
over all the rest, not upon any principle of subordination, but because
it was formed of all the rest. In this assembly, which was held
annually, and sometimes twice a year, sat the earls and bishops and
greater thanes, with the other officers of the crown.[60] So far as we
can judge by the style of the Saxon laws, none but the thanes, or
nobility, were considered as necessary constituent parts of this
assembly, at least whilst it acted deliberatively. It is true that great
numbers of all ranks of people attended its session, and gave by their
attendance, and their approbation of what was done, a sanction to the
laws; but when they consented to anything, it was rather in the way of
acclamation than by the exercise of a deliberate voice, or a regular
assent or negative. This may be explained by considering the analogy of
the inferior assemblies. All persons, of whatever rank, attended at the
county courts; but they did not go there as judges, they went to sue for
justice,--to be informed of their duty, and to be bound to the
performance of it. Thus all sorts of people attended at the
Witenagemotes, not to make laws, but to attend at the promulgation of
the laws;[61] as among so free a people every institution must have
wanted much of its necessary authority, if not confirmed by the general
approbation. Lambard is of opinion that in these early times the commons
sat, as they do at this day, by representation from shires and boroughs;
and he supports his opinion by very plausible reasons. A notion of this
kind, so contrary to the simplicity of the Saxon ideas of government,
and to the genius of that people, who held the arts and commerce in so
much contempt, must be founded on such appearances as no other
explanation can account for.

To the reign of Henry the Second, the citizens and burgesses were little
removed from absolute slaves. They might be taxed individually at what
sum the king thought fit to demand; or they might be discharged by
offering the king a sum, from which, if he accepted it, the citizens
were not at liberty to recede; and in either case the demand was exacted
with severity, and even cruelty. A great difference is made between
taxing them and those who cultivate lands: because, says my author,
their property is easily concealed; they live penuriously, are intent by
all methods to increase their substance, and their immense wealth is not
easily exhausted. Such was their barbarous notion of trade and its
importance. The same author, speaking of the severe taxation, and
violent method of extorting it, observes that it is a very proper
method,--and that it is very just that a degenerate officer, or other
freeman, rejecting his condition for sordid gain, should be punished
beyond the common law of freemen.

I take it that those who held by ancient demesne did not prescribe
simply not to contribute to the expenses of the knight of the shire; but
they prescribed, as they did in all cases, upon a general principle, to
pay no tax, nor to attend any duty of whatever species, because they
were the king's villains. The argument is drawn from the poverty of the
boroughs, which ever since the Conquest have been of no consideration,
and yet send members to Parliament; which they could not do, but by some
privileges inherent in them, on account of a practice of the same kind
in the Saxon times, when they were of more repute. It is certain that
many places now called boroughs were formerly towns or villages in
ancient demesne of the king, and had, as such, writs directed to them to
appear in Parliament, that they might make a free gift or benevolence,
as the boroughs did; and from thence arose the custom of summoning them.
This appears by sufficient records. And it appears by records also, that
it was much at the discretion of the sheriff what boroughs he should
return; a general writ was directed to him to return for all the
boroughs in a shire; sometimes boroughs which had formerly sent members
to Parliament were quite passed over, and others, never considered as
such before, were returned. What is called the prescription on this
occasion was rather a sort of rule to direct the sheriff in the
execution of his general power than a right inherent in any boroughs.
But this was long after the time of which we speak. In whatever manner
we consider it, we must own that this subject during the Saxon times is
extremely dark. One thing, however, is, I think, clear from the whole
tenor of their government, and even from the tenor of the Norman
Constitution long after: that their Witenagemotes or Parliaments were
unformed, and that the rights by which the members held their seats
were far from being exactly ascertained. The _Judicia Civitatis
Londoniae_ afford a tolerable insight into the Saxon method of making and
executing laws. First, the king called together his bishops, and such
other persons _as he thought proper_. This council, or Witenagemote,
having made such laws as seemed convenient, they then swore to the
observance of them. The king sent a notification of these proceedings to
each Burgmote, where the people of that court also swore to the
observance of them, and confederated, by means of mutual strength and
common charge, to prosecute delinquents against them. Nor did there at
that time seem to be any other method of enforcing new laws or old. For
as the very form of their government subsisted by a confederacy
continually renewed, so, when a law was made, it was necessary for its
execution to have again recourse to confederacy, which was the great,
and I should almost say the only, principle of the Anglo-Saxon

What rights the king had in this assembly is a matter of equal
uncertainty.[62] The laws generally run in his name, with the assent of
his wise men, &c. But considering the low estimation of royalty in those
days, this may rather be considered as the voice of the executive
magistrate, of the person who compiled the law and propounded it to the
Witenagemote for their consent, than of a legislator dictating from his
own proper authority. For then, it seems, the law was digested by the
king or his council for the assent of the general assembly. That order
is now reversed. All these things are, I think, sufficient to show of
what a visionary nature those systems are which would settle the ancient
Constitution in the most remote times exactly in the same form in which
we enjoy it at this day,--not considering that such mighty changes in
manners, during so many ages, always must produce a considerable change
in laws, and in the forms as well as the powers of all governments.

We shall next consider the nature of the laws passed in these
assemblies, and the judicious manner of proceeding in these several
courts which we have described.

[Sidenote: Saxon laws.]

The Anglo-Saxons trusted more to the strictness of their police, and to
the simple manners of their people, for the preservation of peace and
order, than to accuracy or exquisite digestion of their laws, or to the
severity of the punishments which they inflicted.[63] The laws which
remain to us of that people seem almost to regard two points only: the
suppressing of riots and affrays,--and the regulation of the several
ranks of men, in order to adjust the fines for delinquencies according
to the dignity of the person offended, or to the quantity of the
offence. In all other respects their laws seem very imperfect. They
often speak in the style of counsel as well as that of command. In the
collection of laws attributed to Alfred we have the Decalogue
transcribed, with no small part of the Levitical law; in the same code
are inserted many of the Saxon institutions, though these two laws were
in all respects as opposite as could possibly be imagined. These
indisputable monuments of our ancient rudeness are a very sufficient
confutation of the panegyrical declamations in which some persons would
persuade us that the crude institutions of an unlettered people had
attained an height which the united efforts of necessity, learning,
inquiry, and experience can hardly reach to in many ages. We must add,
that, although as one people under one head there was some resemblance
in the laws and customs of our Saxon ancestors throughput the kingdom,
yet there was a considerable difference, in many material points,
between the customs of the several shires: nay, that in different manors
subsisted a variety of laws not reconcilable with each other, some of
which custom, that caused them, has abrogated; others have been
overruled by laws or public judgment to the contrary; not a few subsist
to this time.

[Sidenote: Purgation by oath.]

[Sidenote: By ordeal.]

The Saxon laws, imperfect and various as they were, served in some
tolerable degree a people who had by their Constitution an eye on each
other's concerns, and decided almost all matters of any doubt amongst
them by methods which, however inadequate, were extremely simple. They
judged every controversy either by the conscience of the parties, or by
the country's opinion of it, or what they judged an appeal to
Providence. They were unwilling to submit to the trouble of weighing
contradictory testimonies; and they were destitute of those critical
rules by which evidence is sifted, the true distinguished from the
false, the certain from the uncertain. Originally, therefore, the
defendant in the suit was put to his oath, and if on oath he denied the
debt or the crime with which he was charged, he was of course acquitted.
But when the first fervors of religion began to decay, and fraud and the
temptations to fraud to increase, they trusted no longer to the
conscience of the party. They cited him to an higher tribunal,--the
immediate judgment of God. Their trials were so many conjurations, and
the magical ceremonies of barbarity and heathenism entered into law and
religion. This supernatural method of process they called God's Dome; it
is generally known by the name of _Ordeal_, which in the Saxon language
signifies the Great Trial. This trial was made either by fire or water:
that by fire was principally reserved for persons of rank; that by water
decided the fate of the vulgar; sometimes it was at the choice of the
party. A piece of iron, kept with a religious veneration in some
monastery, which claimed this privilege as an honor, was brought forth
into the church upon the day of trial; and it was there again
consecrated to this awful purpose by a form of service still extant. A
solemn mass was performed; and then the party accused appeared,
surrounded by the clergy, by his judges, and a vast concourse of people,
suspended and anxious for the event; all that assisted purified
themselves by a fast of three days; and the accused, who had undergone
the same fast, and received the sacrament, took the consecrated iron, of
about a pound weight, heated red, in his naked hand, and in that manner
carried it nine feet. This done, the hand was wrapped up and sealed in
the presence of the whole assembly. Three nights being passed, the
seals were opened before all the people: if the hand was found without
any sore inflicted by the fire, the party was cleared with universal
acclamation; if on the contrary a raw sore appeared, the party,
condemned by the judgment of Heaven, had no further plea or appeal.
Sometimes the accused walked over nine hot irons: sometimes boiling
water was used; into this the man dipped his hand to the arm. The
judgment by water was accompanied by the solemnity of the same
ceremonies. The culprit was thrown into a pool of water, in which if he
did not sink, he was adjudged guilty, as though the element (they said)
to which they had committed the trial of his innocency had rejected him.

Both these species of ordeal, though they equally appealed to God, yet
went on different principles. In the fire ordeal a miracle must be
wrought to acquit the party; in the water a miracle was necessary to
convict him. Is there any reason for this extraordinary distinction? or
must we resolve it solely into the irregular caprices of the human mind?
The greatest genius which has enlightened this age seems in this affair
to have been carried by the sharpness of his wit into a subtilty hardly
to be justified by the way of thinking of that unpolished period.
Speaking of the reasons for introducing this method of trial, "_Qui ne
voit_," says he, "_que, chez un peuple exerce a manier des armes, la
peau rude et calleuse ne devoit pas recevoir assez l'impression du fer
chaud, ... pour qu'il y parut trois jours apres? Et s'il y paroissoit,
c'etoit une marque que celui qui faisoit l'epreuve etoit un effemine_."
And this mark of effeminacy, he observes, in those warlike times,
supposed that the man has resisted the principles of his education, that
he is insensible to honor, and regardless of the opinion of his
country. But supposing the effect of hot iron to be so slight even on
the most callous hands, of which, however, there is reason to doubt, yet
we can hardly admit this reasoning, when we consider that women were
subjected to this fire ordeal, and that no other women than those of
condition could be subjected to it. Montesquieu answers the objection,
which he foresaw would be made, by remarking, that women might have
avoided this proof, if they could find a champion to combat in their
favor; and he thinks a just presumption might be formed against a woman
of rank who was so destitute of friends as to find no protector. It must
be owned that the barbarous people all over Europe were much guided by
presumptions in all their judicial proceedings; but how shall we
reconcile all this with the custom of the Anglo-Saxons, among whom the
ordeal was in constant use, and even for women, without the alternative
of the combat, to which it appears this people were entire strangers?
What presumption can arise from the event of the water ordeal, in which
no callosity of hands, no bravery, no skill in arms, could be in any
degree serviceable? The causes of both may with more success be sought
amongst the superstitious ideas of the ancient Northern world. Amongst
the Germans the administration of the law was in the hands of the
priests or Druids.[64] And as the Druid worship paid the highest respect
to the elements of fire and water, it was very natural that they who
abounded with so many conjurations for the discovery of doubtful facts
or future events should make use of these elements in their divination.
It may appear the greater wonder, how the people came to continue so
long, and with, such obstinacy, after the introduction of Christianity,
and in spite of the frequent injunctions of the Pope, whose authority
was then much venerated, in the use of a species of proof the
insufficiency of which a thousand examples might have detected. But this
is perhaps not so unaccountable. Persons were not put to this trial,
unless there was pretty strong evidence against them, something
sufficient to form what is equivalent to a _corpus delicti_; they must
have been actually found guilty by the _duodecemvirale judicium_, before
they could be subjected in any sort to the ordeal. It was in effect
showing the accused an indulgence to give him this chance, even such a
chance as it was, of an acquittal; and it was certainly much milder than
the torture, which is used, with full as little certainty of producing
its end, among the most civilized nations. And the ordeal without
question frequently operated by the mere terror. Many persons, from a
dread of the event, chose to discover rather than to endure the trial.
Of those that did endure it, many must certainly have been guilty. The
innocency of some who suffered could never be known with certainty.
Others by accident might have escaped; and this apparently miraculous
escape had great weight in confirming the authority of this trial. How
long did we continue in punishing innocent people for witchcraft, though
experience might, to thinking persons, have frequently discovered the
injustice of that proceeding! whilst to the generality a thousand
equivocal appearances, confessions from fear or weakness, in fine, the
torrent of popular prejudice rolled down through so many ages, conspired
to support the delusion.

[Sidenote: Compurgation.]

To avoid as much as possible this severe mode of trial, and at the same
time to leave no inlet for perjury, another method of clearing was
devised. The party accused of any crime, or charged in a civil
complaint, appeared in court with some of his neighbors, who were called
his Compurgators; and when on oath he denied the charge, they swore that
they believed his oath to be true.[65] These compurgators were at first
to be three; afterwards five were required; in process of time twelve
became necessary.[66] As a man might be charged by the opinion of the
country, so he might also be discharged by it: twelve men were necessary
to find him guilty, twelve might have acquitted him. If opinion supports
all government, it not only supported in the general sense, but it
directed every minute part in the Saxon polity. A man who did not seem
to have the good opinion of those among whom he lived was judged to be
guilty, or at least capable of being guilty, of every crime. It was upon
this principle that a man who could not find the security of some
tithing or friborg for his behavior,[67] he that was upon account of
this universal desertion called Friendless Man, was by our ancestors
condemned to death,--a punishment which the lenity of the English laws
in that time scarcely inflicted for any crime, however clearly proved: a
circumstance which strongly marks the genius of the Saxon government.

[Sidenote: Trial by the Country.]

On the same principle from which the trial by the oath of compurgators
was derived, was derived also the Trial by the Country, which was the
method of taking the sense of the neighborhood on any dubious fact. If
the matter was of great importance, it was put in the full Shiremote;
and if the general voice acquitted or condemned, decided for one party
or the other, this was final in the cause. But then it was necessary
that all should agree: for it does not appear that our ancestors, in
those days, conceived how any assembly could be supposed to give an
assent to a point concerning which several who composed that assembly
thought differently. They had no idea that a body composed of several
could act by the opinion of a small majority. But experience having
shown that this method of trial was tumultuary and uncertain, they
corrected it by the idea of compurgation. The party concerned was no
longer put to his oath,--he simply pleaded; the compurgators swore as
before in ancient times; therefore the jury were strictly from the
neighborhood, and were supposed to have a personal knowledge of the man
and the fact. They were rather a sort of evidence than judges: and from
hence is derived that singularity in our laws, that most of our
judgments are given upon verdict, and not upon evidence, contrary to the
laws of most other countries. Neither are our juries bound, except by
one particular statute, and in particular cases, to observe any positive
testimony, but are at liberty to judge upon presumptions. These are the
first rude chalkings-out of our jurisprudence. The Saxons were extremely
imperfect in their ideas of law,--the civil institutions of the Romans,
who were the legislators of mankind, having never reached them. The
order of our courts, the discipline of our jury, by which it is become
so elaborate a contrivance, and the introduction of a sort of scientific
reason in the law, have been the work of ages.

As the Saxon laws did not suffer any transaction, whether of the sale of
land or goods, to pass but in the shire and before witnesses, so all
controversies of them were concluded by what they called the _scyre
witness_.[68] This was tried by the oaths of the parties, by _viva voce_
testimony, and the producing of charters and records. Then the people,
laity and clergy, whether by plurality of votes or by what other means
is not very certain, affirmed the testimony in favor of one of the
claimants. Then the proceeding was signed, first by those who held the
court, and then by the persons who affirmed the judgment, who also swore
to it in the same manner.[69]

[Sidenote: Punishments.]

The Saxons were extremely moderate in their punishments. Murder and
treason were compounded, and a fine set for every offence. Forfeiture
for felony was incurred only by those that fled. The punishment with
death was very rare,--with torture unknown. In all ancient nations, the
punishment of crimes was in the family injured by them, particularly in
case of murder.[70] This brought deadly feuds amongst the people, which,
in the German nations particularly, subsisted through several
generations. But as a fruitless revenge could answer little purpose to
the parties injured and was ruinous to the public peace, by the
interposal of good offices they were prevailed upon to accept some
composition in lieu of the blood of the aggressor, and peace was
restored. The Saxon government did little more than act the part of
arbitrator between the contending parties, exacted the payment of this
composition, and reduced it to a certainty. However, the king, as the
sovereign of all, and the sheriff, as the judicial officer, had their
share in those fines. This unwillingness to shed blood, which the Saxon
customs gave rise to, the Christian religion confirmed. Yet was it not
altogether so imperfect as to have no punishment adequate to those great
delinquencies which tend entirely to overturn a state, public robbery,
murder of the lord.[71]

[Sidenote: Origin of succession.]

[Sidenote: Annual property.]

As amongst the Anglo-Saxons government depended in some measure upon
land-property, it will not be amiss to say something upon their manner
of holding and inheriting their lands. It must not be forgot that the
Germans were of Scythian original, and had preserved that way of life
and those peculiar manners which distinguished the parent nation. As the
Scythians lived principally by pasturage and hunting, from the nature of
that way of employment they were continually changing their habitations.
But even in this case some small degree of agriculture was carried on,
and therefore some sort of division of property became necessary. This
division was made among each tribe by its proper chief. But their shares
were allotted to the several individuals only for a year, lest they
should come to attach themselves to any certain habitation: a settlement
being wholly contrary to the genius of the Scythian, manners.

      Campestres melius Scythae,
    Quorum plaustra vagas rite trahunt domos,
      Vivunt, et rigidi Getae,
    Immetata quibus jugera liberas
      Fruges et Cererem ferunt,
    Nec cultura placet longior annua.

[Sidenote: Estates for life.]

[Sidenote: Inheritance.]

[Sidenote: Book-land.]

[Sidenote: Folk-land.]

[Sidenote: Saxon fiefs.]

This custom of an annual property probably continued amongst the Germans
as long as they remained in their own country; but when their conquests
carried them into other parts, another object besides the possession of
the land arose, which obliged them to make a change in this particular.
In the distribution of the conquered lands, the ancient possessors of
them became an object of consideration, and the management of these
became one of the principal branches of their polity. It was expedient
towards holding them in perfect subjection, that they should be
habituated to obey one person, and that a kind of cliental relation
should be created between them; therefore the land, with the slaves, and
the people in a state next to slavery, annexed to it, was bestowed for
life in the general distribution. When life-estates were once granted,
it seemed a natural consequence that inheritances should immediately
supervene. When a durable connection is created between a certain man
and a certain portion of land by a possession for his whole life, and
when his children have grown up and have been supported on that land, it
seems so great an hardship to separate them, and to deprive thereby the
family of all means of subsisting, that nothing could be more generally
desired nor more reasonably allowed than an inheritance; and this
reasonableness was strongly enforced by the great change wrought in
their affairs when life-estates were granted. Whilst according to the
ancient custom lands were only given for a year, there was a rotation so
quick that every family came in its turn to be easily provided for, and
had not long to wait; but the children of a tenant for life, when they
lost the benefit of their father's possession, saw themselves as it
were immured upon every side by the life-estates, and perceived no
reasonable hope of a provision from any new arrangement. These
inheritances began very early in England. By a law of King Alfred it
appears that they were then of a very ancient establishment: and as such
inheritances were intended for great stability, they fortified them by
charters; and therefore they were called Book-land. This was done with
regard to the possession of the better sort: the meaner, who were called
_ceorles_, if they did not live in a dependence on some thane, held
their small portions of land as an inheritance likewise,--not by
charter, but by a sort of prescription. This was called Folk-land. These
estates of inheritance, both the greater and the meaner, were not fiefs;
they were to all purposes allodial, and had hardly a single property of
a feud; they descended equally to all the children, males and females,
according to the custom of gavelkind, a custom absolutely contrary to
the genius of the feudal tenure; and whenever estates were granted in
the later Saxon times by the bounty of the crown with an intent that
they should be inheritable, so far were they from being granted with the
complicated load of all the feudal services annexed, that in all the
charters of that kind which subsist they are bestowed with a full power
of alienation, _et liberi ab omni seculari gravamine_. This was the
general condition of those inheritances which were derived from the
right of original conquest, as well to all the soldiers as to the
leader; and these estates, as it is said, were not even forfeitable, no,
not for felony, as if that were in some sort the necessary consequence
of an inheritable estate. So far were they from resembling a fief. But
there were other possessions which bore a nearer resemblance to fiefs,
at least in their first feeble and infantile state of the tenure, than,
those inheritances which were held by an absolute right in the
proprietor. The great officers who attended the court, commanded armies,
or distributed justice must necessarily be paid and supported; but in
what manner could they be paid? In money they could not, because there
was very little money then in Europe, and scarce any part of that little
came into the prince's coffers. The only method of paying them was by
allotting lands for their subsistence whilst they remained in his
service. For this reason, in the original distribution, vast tracts of
land were left in the hands of the king. If any served the king in a
military command, his land may be said to have been in some sort held by
knight-service. If the tenant was in an office about the king's person,
this gave rise to sergeantry; the persons who cultivated his lands may
be considered as holding by socage. But the long train of services that
made afterwards the learning of the tenures were then not thought of,
because these feuds, if we may so call them, had not then come to be
inheritances,--which circumstance of inheritance gave rise to the whole
feudal system. With the Anglo-Saxons the feuds continued to the last but
a sort of pay or salary of office. The _trinoda necessitas_, so much
spoken of, which was to attend the king in his expeditions, and to
contribute to the building of bridges and repair of highways, never
bound the lands by way of tenure, but as a political regulation, which
equally affected every class and condition of men and every species of

[Sidenote: Gavelkind.]

The manner of succeeding to lands in England at this period was, as we
have observed, by Gavelkind,--an equal distribution amongst the
children, males and females. The ancient Northern nations had but an
imperfect notion of political power. That the possessor of the land
should be the governor of it was a simple idea; and their schemes
extended but little further. It was not so in the Greek and Italian
commonwealths. In those the property of the land was in all respects
similar to that of goods, and had nothing of jurisdiction annexed to it;
the government there was a merely political institution. Amongst such a
people the custom of distribution could be of no ill consequence,
because it only affected property. But gavelkind amongst the Saxons was
very prejudicial; for, as government was annexed to a certain possession
in land, this possession, which was continually changing, kept the
government in a very fluctuating state: so that their civil polity had
in it an essential evil, which contributed to the sickly condition in
which the Anglo-Saxon state always remained, as well as to its final


[49] They had no other nobility; yet several families amongst them were
considered as noble.

[50] Arma sumere non ante cuiquam moris, quam civitas suffecturum
probaverit.--Tacitus de Mor. Germ. 13.

[51] Nihil autem neque publicae neque privatae rei nisi armati
agunt.--Tacitus de Mor. Germ. 13.

[52] Caeteri robustioribus ac jam pridem probatis aggregantur.--Id. ibid.

[53] Illum defendere, tueri, sua quoque fortia facta gloriae ejus as
signare, praecipuum sacramentum est.--Id. 14.

[54] Deputed authority, guardianship, &c, not known to the Northern
nations; they gained this idea by intercourse with the Romans.

[55] Jud. Civ. Lund. apud Wilk. post p. 68.

[56] Spelman of Feuds, ch. 5.

[57] Fuerunt etiam in conquestu liberi homines, qui libere tenuerunt
tenementa sua per libera servitia vel per liberas consuetudines.--For
the original of copyholds, see Bracton, Lib. I. fol. 7.

[58] Ibi debent populi omnes et gentes universae singulis annis, semel in
anno scilicet, convenire, scilicet in capite Kal. Maii, et se fide et
sacramento non fracto ibi in unam et simul confoederare, et
consolidare sicut conjurati fratres ad defendendum regnum contra
alienigenas et contra inimicos, una cum domino suo rege, et terras et
honores illius omni fidelitate cum eo servare, et quod illi ut domino
suo regi intra et extra regnum universum Britanniae fideles esse
volunt--LL. Ed. Conf. c. 35.--Of Heretoches and their election, vide Id.

Probibitum erat etiam in eadem lege, ne quis emeret vivum animal vel
pannum usatum sine plegiis et bonis testibus.--Of other particulars of
buying and selling, vide Leges Ed. Conf. 38.

[59] Sheriff in the Norman times was merely the king's officer, not the
earl's. The earl retained his ancient fee, without jurisdiction; the
sheriff did all the business. The elective sheriff must have disappeared
on the Conquest; for then all land was the king's, either immediately or
mediately, and therefore his officer governed.

[60] How this assembly was composed, or by what right the members sat in
it, I cannot by any means satisfy myself. What is here said is, I
believe, nearest to the truth.

[61] Hence, perhaps, all men are supposed cognizant of the law.

[62] Debet etiam rex omnia rite facere in regno, et per judicium
procerum regni.--Debet ... justitiam per consilium procerum regni sui
tenere.--Leges Ed. 17.

[63] The non-observance of a regulation of police was always heavily
punished by barbarous nations; a slighter punishment was inflicted upon
the commission of crimes. Among the Saxons moat crimes were punished by
fine; wandering from the highway without sounding an horn was death. So
among the Druids,--to enforce exactness in time at their meetings, he
that came last after the time appointed was punished with death.

[64] The Druids judged not as magistrates, but as interpreters of the
will of Heaven. "Ceterum neque animadvertere, neque vincire, neque
verberare quidem, nisi sacerdotibus permissum; non quasi in poenam,
nec ducis jussu, sed velut Deo imperante," says Tacitus, de Mor. German.

[65] Si quis emendationem oppidorum vel pontium vel profectionem
militarem detrectaverit, compenset regi cxx solidis, ... vel purget se,
et nominentur ei xiv, et eligantur xi.--Leges Cnuti, 62.

[66] Si accusatio sit, et purgatio male succedat, judicet
Episcopus.--Leges Cnuti, 53.

[67] Every man not privileged, whether he be paterfamilias,
(heorthfest,[A]) or pedissequa, (folghere,[B]) must enter into the
hundred and tithing, and all above twelve to swear he will not be a
thief or consenting to a thief.--Leges Cnuti, 19.

[A] Heorthfeste,--the same with Husfastene, i.e. the master of a family,
from the Saxon, Hearthfaest, i.e. fixed to the house or hearth.

[B] The Folgheres, or Folgeres, were the menial servants or followers of
the Husfastene, or Housekeepers.--Bracton, Lib. III., Tract. 2, cap. 10.
Leges Hen. I. cap. 8.

[68] Si quis terram defenderit testimonio provinciae, &c.--Leges Cnuti,
76: And sethe land gewerod hebbe be scyre gewitnesse.

[69] See, in Madox, the case in Bishop of Bathes Court See also Brady,
272, where the witnesses on one side offer to swear, or join battle with
the other.

[70] Parentibus occisi fiat emendatio, vel guerra eorum portetur; unde
Anglice proverbium habetur, Bige spere of side, oththe baer; id est, Eme
lanceam a latere, aut fer.--Leges Ed. 12.

The fines on the town or hundred.

Parentes murdrati sex marcas haberent, rex quadraginta. [This different
from the ancient usage, where the king had half.] Si parentes deessent,
dominus ejus reciperet. Si dominum non haberet, felagus ejus, id est,
fide cum eo ligatus.--Leges Ed. 15.

[71] Purveyance. Vide Leges Cnuti, 67.

Si quis intestatus ex hac vita decedat, sive sit per negligentiam ejus,
sive per mortem subitaneam, tunc non assumat sibi dominus plus
possessionis (aehta) ipsius quam justum armamentum; sed post mortem
possessio (aehtgescyft) ejus quam justissime distribuatur uxori et
liberis, et propinquis cognatis, cuilibet pro dignitate quae ad cum
pertinet.--Leges Cnuti, 68.




Before the period of which we are going to treat, England was little
known or considered in Europe. Their situation, their domestic
calamities, and their ignorance circumscribed the views and politics of
the English within the bounds of their own island. But the Norman
conqueror threw down all these barriers. The English laws, manners, and
maxims were suddenly changed; the scene was enlarged; and the
communication with the rest of Europe, being thus opened, has been
preserved ever since in a continued series of wars and negotiations.
That we may, therefore, enter more fully into the matters which lie
before us, it is necessary that we understand the state of the
neighboring continent at the time when this island first came to be
interested in its affairs.

The Northern nations who had overran the Roman Empire were at first
rather actuated by avarice than ambition, and were more intent upon
plunder than conquest; they were carried beyond their original purposes,
when they began, to form regular governments, for which they had been
prepared by no just ideas of legislation. For a long time, therefore,
there was little of order in their affairs or foresight in their
designs. The Goths, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Vandals, the Suevi,
after they had prevailed over the Roman Empire, by turns prevailed over
each other in continual wars, which were carried on upon no principles
of a determinate policy, entered into upon motives of brutality and
caprice, and ended as fortune and rude violence chanced to prevail.
Tumult, anarchy, confusion, overspread the face of Europe; and an
obscurity rests upon the transactions of that time which suffers us to
discover nothing but its extreme barbarity.

Before this cloud could be dispersed, the Saracens, another body of
barbarians from the South, animated by a fury not unlike that which gave
strength to the Northern irruptions, but heightened by enthusiasm, and
regulated by subordination and an uniform policy, began to carry their
arms, their manners, and religion, into every part of the universe.
Spain was entirely overwhelmed by the torrent of their armies, Italy and
the islands were harassed by their fleets, and all Europe alarmed by
their vigorous and frequent enterprises. Italy, who had so long sat the
mistress of the world, was by turns the slave of all nations. The
possession of that fine country was hotly disputed between the Greek
Emperor and the Lombards, and it suffered infinitely by that contention.
Germany, the parent of so many nations, was exhausted by the swarms she
had sent abroad.

However, in the midst of this chaos there were principles at work which
reduced things to a certain form, and gradually unfolded a system in
which the chief movers and main springs were the Papal and the Imperial
powers,--the aggrandizement or diminution of which have been the drift
of almost all the politics, intrigues, and wars which have employed and
distracted Europe to this day.

From Rome the whole Western world had received its Christianity; she was
the asylum of what learning had escaped the general desolation; and even
in her ruins she preserved something of the majesty of her ancient
greatness. On these accounts she had a respect and a weight which
increased every day amongst a simple religious people, who looked but a
little way into the consequences of their actions. The rudeness of the
world was very favorable for the establishment of an empire of opinion.
The moderation with which the Popes at first exerted this empire made
its growth unfelt until it could no longer be opposed; and the policy of
later Popes, building on the piety of the first, continually increased
it: and they made use of every instrument but that of force. They
employed equally the virtues and the crimes of the great; they favored
the lust of kings for absolute authority, and the desire of subjects for
liberty; they provoked war, and mediated peace; and took advantage of
every turn in the minds of men, whether of a public or private nature,
to extend their influence, and push their power from ecclesiastical to
civil, from subjection to independency, from independency to empire.

France had many advantages over the other parts of Europe. The Saracens
had no permanent success in that country. The same hand which expelled
those invaders deposed the last of a race of heavy and degenerate
princes, more like Eastern monarchs than German leaders, and who had
neither the force to repel the enemies of their kingdom nor to assert
their own sovereignly. This usurpation placed on the throne princes of
another character, princes who were obliged to supply their want of
title by the vigor of their administration. The French monarch had need
of some great and respected authority to throw a veil over his
usurpation, and to sanctify his newly acquired power by those names and
appearances which are necessary to make it respectable to the people. On
the other hand, the Pope, who hated the Grecian Empire, and equally
feared the success of the Lombards, saw with joy this new star arise in
the North, and gave it the sanction of his authority. Presently after be
called it to his assistance. Pepin passed the Alps, relieved the Pope,
and invested him with the dominion of a large country in the best part
of Italy.

Charlemagne pursued the course which was marked out for him, and put an
end to the Lombard kingdom, weakened by the policy of his father and the
enmity of the Popes, who never willingly saw a strong power in Italy.
Then he received from the hand of the Pope the Imperial crown,
sanctified by the authority of the Holy See, and with it the title of
Emperor of the Romans, a name venerable from the fame of the old Empire,
and which was supposed to carry great and unknown prerogatives; and thus
the Empire rose again out of its ruins in the West, and, what is
remarkable, by means of one of those nations which had helped to destroy
it. If we take in the conquests of Charlemagne, it was also very near as
extensive as formerly; though its constitution was altogether different,
as being entirely on the Northern model of government. From Charlemagne
the Pope received in return an enlargement and a confirmation of his new
territory. Thus the Papal and Imperial powers mutually gave birth, to
each other. They continued for some ages, and in some measure still
continue, closely connected, with a variety of pretensions upon each
other, and on the rest of Europe.

Though, the Imperial power had its origin in France, it was soon divided
into two branches, the Gallic and the German. The latter alone supported
the title of Empire; but the power being weakened by this division, the
Papal pretensions had the greater weight. The Pope, because he first
revived the Imperial dignity, claimed a right of disposing of it, or at
least of giving validity to the election of the Emperor. The Emperor, on
the other hand, remembering the rights of those sovereigns whose title
he bore, and how lately the power which insulted him with such demands
had arisen from the bounty of his predecessors, claimed the same
privileges in the election of a Pope. The claims of both were somewhat
plausible; and they were supported, the one by force of arms, and the
other by ecclesiastical influence, powers which in those days were very
nearly balanced. Italy was the theatre upon which this prize was
disputed. In every city the parties in favor of each of the opponents
were not far from an equality in their numbers and strength. Whilst
these parties disagreed in the choice of a master, by contending for a
choice in their subjection they grew imperceptibly into freedom, and
passed through the medium of faction and anarchy into regular
commonwealths. Thus arose the republics of Venice, of Genoa, of
Florence, Sienna, and Pisa, and several others. These cities,
established in this freedom, turned the frugal and ingenious spirit
contracted in such communities to navigation and traffic; and pursuing
them with skill and vigor, whilst commerce was neglected and despised by
the rustic gentry of the martial governments, they grew to a
considerable degree of wealth, power, and civility.

The Danes, who in this latter time preserved the spirit and the numbers
of the ancient Gothic people, had seated themselves in England, in the
Low Countries, and in Normandy. They passed from thence to the southern
part of Europe, and in this romantic age gave rise in Sicily and Naples
to a new kingdom and a new line of princes.

All the kingdoms on the continent of Europe were governed nearly in the
same form; from whence arose a great similitude in the manners of their
inhabitants. The feodal discipline extended itself everywhere, and
influenced the conduct of the courts and the manners of the people with
its own irregular martial spirit. Subjects, under the complicated laws
of a various and rigorous servitude, exercised all the prerogatives of
sovereign power. They distributed justice, they made war and peace at
pleasure. The sovereign, with great pretensions, had but little power;
he was only a greater lord among great lords, who profited of the
differences of his peers; therefore no steady plan could be well
pursued, either in war or peace. This day a prince seemed irresistible
at the head of his numerous vassals, because their duty obliged them to
war, and they performed this duty with pleasure. The next day saw this
formidable power vanish like a dream, because this fierce undisciplined
people had no patience, and the time of the feudal service was contained
within very narrow limits. It was therefore easy to find a number of
persons at all times ready to follow any standard, but it was hard to
complete a considerable design which required a regular and continued
movement. This enterprising disposition in the gentry was very general,
because they had little occupation or pleasure but in war, and the
greatest rewards did then attend personal valor and prowess. All that
professed arms became in some sort on an equality. A knight was the peer
of a king, and men had been used to see the bravery of private persons
opening a road to that dignity. The temerity of adventurers was much
justified by the ill order of every state, which left it a prey to
almost any who should attack it with sufficient vigor. Thus, little
checked by any superior power, full of fire, impetuosity, and ignorance,
they longed to signalize themselves, wherever an honorable danger called
them; and wherever that invited, they did not weigh very deliberately
the probability of success.

The knowledge of this general disposition in the minds of men will
naturally remove a great deal of our wonder at seeing an attempt founded
on such slender appearances of right, and supported by a power so little
proportioned to the undertaking as that of William, so warmly embraced
and so generally followed, not only by his own subjects, but by all the
neighboring potentates. The Counts of Anjou, Bretagne, Ponthieu,
Boulogne, and Poictou, sovereign princes,--adventurers from every
quarter of France, the Netherlands, and the remotest parts of Germany,
laying aside their jealousies and enmities to one another, as well as to
William, ran with an inconceivable ardor into this enterprise,
captivated with the splendor of the object, which obliterated all
thoughts of the uncertainty of the event. William kept up this fervor
by promises of large territories to all his allies and associates in the
country to be reduced by their united efforts. But after all it became
equally necessary to reconcile to his enterprise the three great powers
of whom we have just spoken, whose disposition must have had the most
influence on his affairs.

His feudal lord, the King of France, was bound by his most obvious
interests to oppose the further aggrandizement of one already too potent
for a vassal. But the King of France was then a minor; and Baldwin, Earl
of Flanders, whose daughter William had married, was regent of the
kingdom. This circumstance rendered the remonstrance of the French
Council against his design of no effect: indeed, the opposition of the
Council itself was faint; the idea of having a king under vassalage to
their crown might have dazzled the more superficial courtiers; whilst
those who thought more deeply were unwilling to discourage an enterprise
which they believed would probably end in the ruin of the undertaker.
The Emperor was in his minority, as well as the King of France; but by
what arts the Duke prevailed upon the Imperial Council to declare in his
favor, whether or no by an idea of creating a balance to the power of
France, if we can imagine that any such idea then subsisted, is
altogether uncertain; but it is certain that he obtained leave for the
vassals of the Empire to engage in his service, and that he made use of
this permission. The Popes consent was obtained with still less
difficulty. William had shown himself in many instances a friend to the
Church and a favorer of the clergy. On this occasion he promised to
improve those happy beginnings in proportion to the means he should
acquire by the favor of the Holy See. It is said that he even proposed
to hold his new kingdom as a fief from Rome. The Pope, therefore,
entered heartily into his interests; he excommunicated all those that
should oppose his enterprise, and sent him, as a means of insuring
success, a consecrated banner.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1065.]

After the Battle of Hastings, the taking of Dover, the surrender of
London, and the submission of the principal nobility, William had
nothing left but to order in the best manner the kingdom he had so
happily acquired. Soon after his coronation, fearing the sudden and
ungoverned motions of so great a city, new to subjection, he left London
until a strong citadel could be raised to overawe the people. This was
built where the Tower of London now stands. Not content with this, he
built three other strong castles in situations as advantageously chosen,
at Norwich, at Winchester, and at Hereford, securing not only the heart
of affairs, but binding down the extreme parts of the kingdom. And as he
observed from his own experience the want of fortresses in England, he
resolved fully to supply that defect, and guard the kingdom both against
internal and foreign enemies. But he fortified his throne yet more
strongly by the policy of good government. To London he confirmed by
charter the liberties it had enjoyed under the Saxon kings, and
endeavored to fix the affections of the English in general by governing
them with equity according to their ancient laws, and by treating them
on all occasions with the most engaging deportment. He set up no
pretences which arose from absolute conquest. He confirmed their estates
to all those who had not appeared in arms against him, and seemed not to
aim at subjecting the English to the Normans, but to unite the two
nations under the wings of a common parental care. If the Normans
received estates and held lucrative offices and were raised by wealthy
matches in England, some of the English were enriched with lands and
dignities and taken into considerable families in Normandy. But the
king's principal regards were showed to those by whose bravery he had
attained his greatness. To some he bestowed the forfeited estates, which
were many and great, of Harold's adherents; others he satisfied from the
treasures his rival had amassed; and the rest, quartered upon wealthy
monasteries, relied patiently on the promises of one whose performances
had hitherto gone hand in hand with his power. There was another
circumstance which conduced much to the maintaining, as well as to the
making, his conquest. The posterity of the Danes, who had finally
reduced England under Canute the Great, were still very numerous in that
kingdom, and in general not well liked by nor well affected to the old
Anglo-Saxon inhabitants. William wisely took advantage of this enmity
between the two sorts of inhabitants, and the alliance of blood which
was between them and his subjects. In the body of laws which he
published he insists strongly on this kindred, and declares that the
Normans and Danes ought to be as sworn brothers against all men: a
policy which probably united these people to him, or at least so
confirmed the ancient jealousy which subsisted between them and the
original English as to hinder any cordial union against his interests.

When the king had thus settled his acquisitions by all the methods of
force and policy, he thought it expedient to visit his patrimonial
territory, which, with regard to its internal state, and the jealousies
which his additional greatness revived in many of the bordering princes,
was critically situated. He appointed to the regency in his absence his
brother Odo, an ecclesiastic, whom he had made Bishop of Bayeux, in
France, and Earl of Kent, with great power and preeminence, in
England,--a man bold, fierce, ambitious, full of craft, imperious, and
without faith, but well versed in all affairs, vigilant, and courageous.
To him he joined William Fitz-Osbern, his justiciary, a person of
consummate prudence and great integrity. But not depending on this
disposition, to secure his conquest, as well as to display its
importance abroad, under a pretence of honor, he carried with him all
the chiefs of the English nobility, the popular Earls Edwin and Morcar,
and, what was of most importance, Edgar Atheling, the last branch of the
royal stock of the Anglo-Saxon kings, and infinitely dear to all the

[Sidenote: A.D. 1607.]

The king managed his affairs abroad with great address, and covered, all
his negotiations for the security of his Norman dominions under the
magnificence of continual feasting and unremitted diversion, which,
without an appearance of design, displayed his wealth and power, and by
that means facilitated his measures. But whilst he was thus employed,
his absence from England gave an opportunity to several humors to break
out, which the late change had bred, but which the amazement likewise
produced by that violent change, and the presence of their conqueror,
wise, vigilant, and severe, had hitherto repressed. The ancient line of
their kings displaced, the only thread on which it hung carried out of
the kingdom and ready to be cut off by the jealousy of a merciless
usurper, their liberties none by being precarious, and the daily
insolencies and rapine of the Normans intolerable,--these discontents
were increased by the tyranny and rapaciousness of the regent, and they
were fomented from abroad by Eustace, Count of Boulogne. But the people,
though ready to rise in all parts, were destitute of leaders, and the
insurrections actually made were not carried on in concert, nor directed
to any determinate object; so that the king, returning speedily, and
exerting himself everywhere with great vigor, in a short time dissipated
these ill-formed projects. However, so general a dislike to William's
government had appeared on this occasion, that he became in his turn
disgusted with his subjects, and began to change his maxims of rule to a
rigor which was more conformable to his advanced age and the sternness
of his natural temper. He resolved, since he could not gain the
affections of his subjects, to find such matter for their hatred as
might weaken them, and fortify his own authority against the enterprises
which that hatred might occasion. He revived the tribute of Danegelt, so
odious from its original cause and that of its revival, which he caused
to be strictly levied throughout the kingdom. He erected castles at
Nottingham, at Warwick, and at York, and filled them with Norman
garrisons. He entered into a stricter inquisition for the discovery of
the estates forfeited on his coming in; paying no regard to the
privileges of the ecclesiastics, he seized upon the treasures which, as
in an inviolable asylum, the unfortunate adherents to Harold had
deposited in monasteries. At the same time he entered into a resolution
of deposing all the English, bishops, on none of whom he could rely, and
filling their places with Normans. But he mitigated the rigor of these
proceedings by the wise choice he made in filling the places of those
whom he had deposed, and gave by that means these violent changes the
air rather of reformation than oppression. He began with Stigand,
Archbishop of Canterbury. A synod was called, in which, for the first
time in England, the Pope's legate _a latere_ is said to have presided.
In this council, Stigand, for simony and for other crimes, of which it
is easy to convict those who are out of favor, was solemnly degraded
from his dignity. The king filled his place with Lanfranc, an Italian.
By his whole conduct he appeared resolved to reduce his subjects of all
orders to the most perfect obedience.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1068.]

The people, loaded with new taxes, the nobility, degraded and
threatened, the clergy, deprived of their immunities and influence,
joined in one voice of discontent, and stimulated each other to the most
desperate resolutions. The king was not unapprised of these motions, nor
negligent of them. It is thought he meditated to free himself from much
of his uneasiness by seizing those men on whom the nation in its
distresses used to cast its eyes for relief. But whilst he digested
these measures, Edgar Atheling, Edwin and Morcar, Waltheof, the son of
Siward, and several others, eluded his vigilance, and escaped into Scot
land, where they were received with open arms by King Malcolm. The
Scottish monarch on this occasion married the sister of Edgar; and this
match engaged him more closely to the accomplishment of what his
gratitude to the Saxon kings and the rules of good policy had before
inclined him. He entered at last into the cause of his brother-in-law
and the distressed English. He persuaded the King of Denmark to enter
into the same measures, who agreed to invade England with a fleet of a
thousand ships. Drone, an Irish king, declared in their favor, and
supplied the sons of Earl Godwin with vessels and men, with which they
held the English coast in continual alarms.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1069.]

Whilst the forces of this powerful confederacy were collecting on all
sides, and prepared to enter England, equal dangers threatened from
within the kingdom. Edric the Forester, a very brave and popular Saxon,
took up arms in the counties of Hereford and Salop, the country of the
ancient Silures, and inhabited by the same warlike and untamable race of
men. The Welsh strengthened him with their forces, and Cheshire joined
in the revolt. Hereward le Wake, one of the most brave and indefatigable
soldiers of his time, rushed with a numerous band of fugitives and
outlaws from the fens of Lincoln and the Isle of Ely, from whence,
protected by the situation of the place, he had for some time carried on
an irregular war against the Normans. The sons of Godwin landed with a
strong body in the West; the fire of rebellion ran through the kingdom;
Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, at once threw off the yoke. Daily skirmishes
were fought in every part of the kingdom, with various success and with
great bloodshed. The Normans retreated to their castles, which the
English had rarely skill or patience to master; out of these they
sallied from time to time, and asserted their dominion. The conquered
English for a moment resumed their spirit; the forests and morasses,
with which this island then, abounded, served them for fortifications,
and their hatred to the Normans stood in the place of discipline; each
man, exasperated by his own wrongs, avenged them in his own manner.
Everything was full of blood and violence: murders, burnings, rapine,
and confusion overspread the whole kingdom. During these distractions,
several of the Normans quitted the country, and gave up their
possessions, which they thought not worth holding in continual horror
and danger.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1070.]

In the midst of this scene of disorder, the king alone was present to
himself and to his affairs. He first collected all the forces on whom he
could depend within the kingdom, and called powerful succors from
Normandy. Then he sent a strong body to repress the commotions in the
West; but he reserved the greatest force and his own presence against
the greatest danger, which menaced from the North. The Scots had
penetrated as far as Durham; they had taken the castle, and put the
garrison to the sword. A like fate attended York from the Danes, who had
entered the Humber with a formidable fleet. They put this city into the
hands of the English malcontents, and thereby influenced all the
northern counties in their favor. William, when he first perceived the
gathering of the storm, endeavored, and with some success, to break the
force of the principal blow by a correspondence at the court of
Denmark; and now he entirely blunted the weapon by corrupting, with a
considerable sum, the Danish general. It was agreed, to gratify that
piratical nation, that they should plunder some part of the coast, and
depart without further disturbance. By this negotiation the king was
enabled to march with an undissipated force against the Scots and the
principal body of the English. Everything yielded. The Scots retired
into their own country. Some of the most obnoxious of the English fled
along with them. One desperate party, under the brave Waltheof, threw
themselves into York, and ventured alone to resist his victorious army.
William pressed the siege with vigor, and, notwithstanding the prudent
dispositions of Waltheof, and the prodigies of valor he displayed in its
defence, standing alone in the breach, and maintaining his ground
gallantly and successfully, the place was at last reduced by famine. The
king left his enemies no time to recover this disaster; he followed his
blow, and drove all who adhered to Edgar Atheling out of all the
countries northward of the Humber. This tract he resolved entirely to
depopulate, influenced by revenge, and by distrust of the inhabitants,
and partly with a view of opposing an hideous desert of sixty miles in
extent as an impregnable barrier against all attempts of the Scots in
favor of his disaffected subjects. The execution of this barbarous
project was attended with all the havoc and desolation that it seemed to
threaten. One hundred thousand are said to have perished by cold,
penury, and disease. The ground lay untilled throughout that whole space
for upwards of nine years. Many of the inhabitants both of this and all
other parts of England fled into Scotland; but they were so received by
King Malcolm as to forget that they had lost their country. This wise
monarch gladly seized so fair an opportunity, by the exertion of a
benevolent policy, to people his dominions, and to improve his native
subjects. He received the English nobility according to their rank, he
promoted them to offices according to their merit, and enriched them by
considerable estates from his own demesne. From these noble refugees
several considerable families in Scotland are descended.

William, on the other hand, amidst all the excesses which the insolence
of victory and the cruel precautions of usurped authority could make him
commit, gave many striking examples of moderation and greatness of mind.
He pardoned Waltheof, whose bravery he did not the less admire because
it was exerted against himself. He restored him to his ancient honors
and estates; and thinking his family strengthened by the acquisition of
a gallant man, he bestowed upon him his niece Judith in marriage. On
Edric the Forester, who lay under his sword, in the same generous manner
he not only bestowed his life, but honored it with an addition of

The king, having thus, by the most politic and the most courageous
measures, by art, by force, by severity, and by clemency, dispelled
those clouds which had gathered from every quarter to overwhelm him,
returned triumphant to Winchester, where, as if he had newly acquired
the kingdom, he was crowned with great solemnity. After this he
proceeded to execute the plan he had long proposed of modelling the
state according to his own pleasure, and of fixing his authority upon an
immovable foundation.

There were few of the English who in the late disturbances had not
either been active against the Normans or shown great disinclination to
them. Upon some right, or some pretence, the greatest part of their
lands were adjudged to be forfeited. William gave these lands to
Normans, to be held by the tenure of knight-service, according to the
law which modified that service in all parts of Europe. These people he
chose because he judged they must be faithful to the interest on which
they depended; and this tenure he chose because it raised an army
without expense, called it forth at the least warning, and seemed to
secure the fidelity of the vassal by the multiplied ties of those
services which were inseparably annexed to it. In the establishment of
these tenures, William only copied the practice which was now become
very general. One fault, however, he seems to have committed in this
distribution: the immediate vassals of the crown were too few; the
tenants _in capite_ at the end of this reign did not exceed seven
hundred; the eyes of the subject met too many great objects in the state
besides the state itself; and the dependence of the inferior people was
weakened by the interposal of another authority between them and the
crown, and this without being at all serviceable to liberty. The ill
consequence of this was not so obvious whilst the dread of the English
made a good correspondence between the sovereign and the great vassals
absolutely necessary; but it afterwards appeared, and in a light very
offensive to the power of our kings.

As there is nothing of more consequence in a state than the
ecclesiastical establishment, there was nothing to which this vigilant
prince gave more of his attention. If he owed his own power to the
influence of the clergy, it convinced him how necessary it was to
prevent that engine from being employed in its turn against himself. He
observed, that, besides the influence they derived from their character,
they had a vast portion of that power which always attends property. Of
about sixty thousand knights' fees, which England was then judged to
contain, twenty-eight thousand were in the hands of the clergy; and
these they held discharged of all taxes, and free from every burden of
civil or military service: a constitution undoubtedly no less
prejudicial to the authority of the state than detrimental to the
strength of the nation, deprived of so much revenue, so many soldiers,
and of numberless exertions of art and industry, which were stifled by
holding a third of the soil in dead hands out of all possibility of
circulation. William in a good measure remedied these evils, but with
the great offence of all the ecclesiastic orders. At the same time that
he subjected the Church lands to military service, he obliged each
monastery and bishopric to the support of soldiers, in proportion to the
number of knights' fees that they possessed. No less jealous was he of
the Papal pretensions, which, having favored so long as they served him
as the instruments of his ambition, he afterwards kept within very
narrow bounds. He suffered no communication with Rome but by his
knowledge and approbation. He had a bold and ambitious Pope to deal
with, who yet never proceeded to extremities with nor gained one
advantage over William during his whole reign,--although he had by an
express law reserved to himself a sort of right in approving the Pope
chosen, by forbidding his subjects to yield obedience to any whose right
the king had not acknowledged.

To form a just idea of the power and greatness of this king, it will be
convenient to take a view of his revenue. And I the rather choose to
dwell a little upon this article, as nothing extends to so many objects
as the public finances, and consequently nothing puts in a clearer or
more decisive light the manners of the people, and the form, as well as
the powers, of government at any period.

The first part of this consisted of the demesne. The lands of the crown
were, even before the Conquest, very extensive. The forfeitures
consequent to that great change had considerably increased them. It
appears from the record of Domesday, that the king retained in his own
hands no fewer than fourteen hundred manors. This alone was a royal
revenue. However, great as it really was, it has been exaggerated beyond
all reason. Ordericus Vitalis, a writer almost contemporary, asserts
that this branch alone produced a thousand pounds a day,[72]--which,
valuing the pound, as it was then estimated, at a real pound of silver,
and then allowing for the difference in value since that time, will make
near twelve millions of our money. This account, coming from such an
authority, has been copied without examination by all the succeeding
historians. If we were to admit the truth of it, we must entirely change
our ideas concerning the quantity of money which then circulated in
Europe. And it is a matter altogether monstrous and incredible in an age
when there was little traffic in this nation, and the traffic of all
nations circulated but little real coin, when the tenants paid the
greatest part of their rents in kind, and when it may be greatly
doubted whether there was so much current money in the nation as is said
to have come into the king's coffers from this one branch, of his
revenue only. For it amounts to a twelfth part of all the circulating
species which a trade infinitely more extensive has derived from sources
infinitely more exuberant, to this wealthy nation, in this improved age.
Neither must we think that the whole revenue of this prince ever rose to
such a sum. The great fountain which fed his treasury must have been
Danegelt, which, upon any reasonable calculation, could not possibly
exceed 120,000_l._ of our money, if it ever reached that sum. William
was observed to be a great hoarder, and very avaricious; his army was
maintained without any expense to him, his demesne supported his
household; neither his necessary nor his voluntary expenses were
considerable. Yet the effects of many years' scraping and hoarding left
at his death but 60,000_l._,--not the sixth part of one year's income,
according to this account, of one branch of his revenue; and this was
then esteemed a vast treasure. Edgar Atheling, on being reconciled to
the king, was allowed a mark a day for his expenses, and he was thought
to be allowed sufficiently, though he received it in some sort as an
equivalent for his right to the crown. I venture on this digression,
because writers in an ignorant age, making guesses at random, impose on
more enlightened times, and affect by their mistakes many of our
reasonings on affairs of consequence; and it is the error of all
ignorant people to rate unknown times, distances, and sums very far
beyond their real extent. There is even something childish and whimsical
in computing this revenue, as the original author has done, at so much
a day. For my part, I do not imagine it so difficult to come at a pretty
accurate decision of the truth or falsehood of this story.

The above-mentioned manors are charged with rents from five to an
hundred pounds each. The greatest number of those I have seen in print
are under fifty; so that we may safely take that number as a just
medium; and then the whole amount of the demesne rents will be
70,000_l._, or 210,000_l._ of our money. This, though almost a fourth
less than the sum stated by Vitalis, still seems a great deal too high,
if we should suppose the whole sum, as that author does, to be paid in
money, and that money to be reckoned by real pounds of silver. But we
must observe, that, when sums of money are set down in old laws and
records, the interpretation of those words, pounds and shillings, is for
the most part oxen, sheep, corn, and provision. When real coin money was
to be paid, it was called white money, or _argentum album_, and was only
in a certain stipulated proportion to what was rendered in kind, and
that proportion generally very low. This method of paying rent, though
it entirely overturns the prodigious idea of that monarch's pecuniary
wealth, was far from being less conducive to his greatness. It enabled
him to feed a multitude of people,--one of the surest and largest
sources of influence, and which always outbuys money in the traffic of
affections. This revenue, which was the chief support of the dignity of
our Saxon kings, was considerably increased by the revival of Danegelt,
of the imposition of which we have already spoken, and which is supposed
to have produced an annual income of 40,000_l._ of money, as then

The nest branch of the king's revenue were the feudal duties, by him
first introduced into England,--namely, ward, marriage, relief, and
aids. By the first, the heir of every tenant who held immediately from
the crown, during his minority, was in ward for his body and his land to
the king; so that he had the formation of his mind at that early and
ductile age to mould to his own purposes, and the entire profits of his
estate either to augment his demesne or to gratify his dependants: and
as we have already seen how many and how vast estates, or rather,
princely possessions, were then held immediately of the crown, we may
comprehend how important an article this must have been.

Though the heir had attained his age before the death of his ancestor,
yet the king intruded between him and his inheritance, and obliged him
to redeem, or, as the term then was, to relieve it. The quantity of this
relief was generally pretty much at the king's discretion, and often
amounted to a very great sum.

But the king's demands on his rents in chief were not yet satisfied. He
had a right and interest in the marriage of heirs, both males and
females, virgins and widows,--and either bestowed them at pleasure on
his favorites, or sold them to the best bidder. The king received for
the sale of one heiress the sum of 20,000_l._, or 60,000_l._ of our
present money,--and this at a period when the chief estates were much
reduced. And from hence was derived a great source of revenue, if this
right were sold,--of influence and attachment, if bestowed.

Under the same head of feudal duties were the casual aids to knight his
eldest son and marry his eldest daughter. These duties could be paid but
once, and, though not considerable, eased him in these articles of

After the feudal duties, rather in the order than in point of value, was
the profit which arose from the sale of justice. No man could then sue
in the king's court by a common or public right, or without paying
largely for it,--sometimes the third, and sometimes even half, the value
of the estate or debt sued for. These presents were called oblations;
and the records preceding Magna Charta, and for some time after, are
full of them. And, as the king thought fit, this must have added greatly
to his power or wealth, or indeed to both.

The fines and amercements were another branch, and this, at a time when
disorders abounded, and almost every disorder was punished by a fine,
was a much greater article than at first could readily be imagined,---
especially when we consider that there were no limitations in this point
but the king's mercy, particularly in all offences relating to the
forest, which were of various kinds, and very strictly inquired into.
The sale of offices was not less considerable. It appears that all
offices at that time were, or might be, legally and publicly sold,--that
the king had many and very rich employments in his gift, and, though it
may appear strange, not inferior to, if they did not exceed, in number
and consequence, those of our present establishment. At one time the
great seal was sold for three thousand marks. The office of sheriff was
then very lucrative: this charge was almost always sold. Sometimes a
county paid a sum to the king, that he might appoint a sheriff whom they
liked; sometimes they paid as largely to prevent him from appointing a
person disagreeable to them; and thus the king had often from the same
office a double profit in refusing one candidate and approving the
other. If some offices were advantageous, others were burdensome; and
the king had the right, or was at least in the unquestioned practice, of
forcing his subjects to accept these employments, or to pay for there
immunity; by which means he could either punish his enemies or augment
his wealth, as his avarice or his resentments prevailed.

The greatest part of the cities and trading towns were under his
particular jurisdiction, and indeed in a state not far removed from
slavery. On these he laid a sort of imposition, at such a time and in
such a proportion as he thought fit. This was called a _tallage_. If the
towns did not forthwith pay the sum at which they were rated, it was not
unusual, for their punishment, to double the exaction, and to proceed in
levying it by nearly the same methods and in the same manner now used to
raise a contribution in an enemy's country.

But the Jews were a fund almost inexhaustible. They were slaves to the
king in the strictest sense; insomuch that, besides the various tallages
and fines extorted from them, none succeeded to the inheritance of his
father without the king's license and an heavy composition. He sometimes
even made over a wealthy Jew as a provision to some of his favorites for
life. They were almost the only persons who exercised usury, and thus
drew to themselves the odium and wealth of the whole kingdom; but they
were only a canal, through which it passed to the royal treasury. And
nothing could be more pleasing and popular than such exactions: the
people rejoiced, when they saw the Jews plundered,--not considering
that they were a sort of agents for the crown, who, in proportion to the
heavy taxes they paid, were obliged to advance the terms and enforce
with greater severity the execution of their usurious contracts. Through
them almost the whole body of the nobility were in 'debt to the king;
and when he thought proper to confiscate the effects of the Jews, the
securities passed into his hands; and by this means he must have
possessed one of the strongest and most terrible instruments of
authority that could possibly be devised, and the best calculated to
keep the people in an abject and slavish dependence.

The last general head of his revenue were the customs, prisages, and
other impositions upon trade. Though the revenue arising from traffic in
this rude period was much limited by the then smallness of its object,
this was compensated by the weight and variety of the exactions levied
by an occasional exertion of arbitrary power, or the more uniform system
of hereditary tyranny. Trade was restrained, or the privilege granted,
on the payment of tolls, passages, paages, pontages, and innumerable
other vexatious imposts, of which, only the barbarous and almost
unintelligible names subsist at this day.

These were the most constant and regular branches of the revenue. But
there were other ways innumerable by which money, or an equivalent in
cattle, poultry, horses, hawks, and dogs, accrued to the exchequer. The
king's interposition in marriages, even where there was no pretence from
tenure, was frequently bought, as well as in other negotiations of less
moment, for composing of quarrels, and the like; and, indeed, some
appear on the records, of so strange and even ludicrous a nature, that
it would not be excusable to mention them, if they did not help to show
from how many minute sources this revenue was fed, and how the king's
power descended to the most inconsiderable actions of private life.[73]
It is not easy to penetrate into the true meaning of all these
particulars, but they equally suffice to show the character of
government in those times. A prince furnished with so many means of
distressing enemies and gratifying friends, and possessed of so ample a
revenue entirely independent of the affections of his subjects, must
have been very absolute in substance and effect, whatever might have
been the external forms of government.

For the regulation of all these revenues, and for determining all
questions which concerned them, a court was appointed, upon the model of
a court of the same nature, said to be of ancient use in Normandy, and
called the Exchequer.

There was nothing in the government of William conceived in a greater
manner, or more to be commended, than the general survey he took of his
conquest. An inquisition was made throughout the kingdom concerning the
quantity of land which was contained in each county,--the name of the
deprived and the present proprietor,--the stock of slaves, and cattle of
every kind, which it contained. All these were registered in a book,
each article beginning with the king's property, and proceeding
downward, according to the rank of the proprietors, in an excellent
order, by which might be known at one glance the true state of the royal
revenues, the wealth, consequence, and natural connections of every
person in the kingdom,--in order to ascertain the taxes that might be
imposed, and, to serve purposes in the state as well as in civil causes,
to be general and uncontrollable evidence of property. This book is
called Domesday or the Judgment Book, and still remains a grand monument
of the wisdom of the Conqueror,--a work in all respects useful and
worthy of a better age.

The Conqueror knew very well how much discontent must have arisen from
the great revolutions which his conquest produced in all men's property,
and in the general tenor of the government. He, therefore, as much as
possible to guard against every sudden attempt, forbade any light or
fire to continue in any house after a certain bell, called curfew, had
sounded. This bell rung at about eight in the evening. There was policy
in this; and it served to prevent the numberless disorders which arose
from the late civil commotions.

For the same purpose of strengthening his authority, he introduced the
Norman law, not only in its substance, but in all its forms, and ordered
that all proceedings should be had according to that law in the French
language.[74] The change wrought by the former part of this regulation
could not have been very grievous; and it was partly the necessary
consequence of the establishment of the new tenures, and which wanted a
new law to regulate them: in other respects the Norman institutions were
not very different from the English. But to force, against nature, a new
language upon a conquered people, to make them, strangers in those
courts of justice in which they were still to retain a considerable
share, to be reminded, every time they had recourse to government for
protection, of the slavery in which it held them,--this is one of those
acts of superfluous tyranny from which very few conquering nations or
parties have forborne, though no way necessary, but often prejudicial to
their safety.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1071.]

These severities, and affronts more galling than severities, drove the
English to another desperate attempt, which was the last convulsive
effort of their expiring freedom. Several nobles, prelates, and others,
whose estates had been confiscated, or who were in daily apprehension of
their confiscation, fled into the fens of Lincoln and Ely, where
Hereward still maintained his ground. This unadvised step completed the
ruin of the little English interest that remained. William hastened to
fill up the sees of the bishops and the estates of the nobles with his
Norman favorites. He pressed the fugitives with equal vivacity; and at
once to cut off all the advantage they derived from their situation, he
penetrated into the Isle of Ely by a wooden bridge two miles in length;
and by the greatness of the design, and rapidity of the execution, as
much as by the vigor of his charge, compelled them to surrender at
discretion. Hereward alone escaped, who disdained to surrender, and had
cut his way through his enemies, carrying his virtue and his sword, as
his passports, wheresoever fortune should conduct him. He escaped
happily into Scotland, where, as usual, the king was making some slow
movements for the relief of the English. William lost no time to oppose
him, and had passed with infinite difficulty through a desert of his own
making to the frontiers of Scotland. Here he found the enemy strongly
intrenched. The causes of the war being in a good measure spent by
William's late successes, and neither of the princes choosing to risk a
battle in a country where the consequences of a defeat must be so
dreadful, they agreed to an accommodation, which included a pardon for
Edgar Atheling on a renunciation of his title to the crown. William on
this occasion showed, as he did on all occasions, an honorable and
disinterested sense of merit, by receiving Hereward to his friendship,
and distinguishing him by particular favors and bounties. Malcolm, by
his whole conduct, never seemed intent upon coming to extremities with
William: he was satisfied with keeping this great warrior in some awe,
without bringing things to a decision, that might involve his kingdom in
the same calamitous fate that had oppressed England; whilst his wisdom
enabled him to reap advantages from the fortunes of the conquered, in
drawing so many useful people into his dominions, and from the policy of
the Conqueror, in imitating those feudal regulations which he saw his
neighbor force upon the English, and which appeared so well calculated
for the defence of the kingdom. He compassed this the more easily,
because the feudal policy, being the discipline of all the considerable
states in Europe, appeared the masterpiece of government.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1073.]

If men who have engaged in vast designs could ever promise themselves
repose, William, after so many victories, and so many political
regulations to secure the fruit of them, might now flatter himself with
some hope of quiet. But disturbances were preparing for his old age from
a new quarter, from whence they were less expected and less
tolerable,--from the Normans, his companions in victory, and from his
family, which he found not less difficulty in governing than his
kingdom. Nothing but his absence from England was wanting to make the
flame blaze out. The numberless petty pretensions which the petty lords
his neighbors on the continent had on each other and on William,
together with their restless disposition and the intrigues of the French
court, kept alive a constant dissension, which made the king's presence
on the continent frequently necessary. The Duke of Anjou had at this
time actually invaded his dominions. He was obliged to pass over into
Normandy with an army of fifty thousand men. William, who had conquered
England by the assistance of the princes on the continent, now turned
against them the arms of the English, who served him with bravery and
fidelity; and by their means he soon silenced all opposition, and
concluded the terms of an advantageous peace. In the mean time his
Norman subjects in England, inconstant, warlike, independent, fierce by
nature, fiercer by their conquest, could scarcely brook that
subordination in which their safety consisted. Upon some frivolous
pretences, chiefly personal disgusts,[75] a most dangerous conspiracy
was formed: the principal men among the Normans were engaged in it; and
foreign correspondence was not wanting. Though this conspiracy was
chiefly formed and carried on by the Normans, they knew so well the use
which William on this occasion would not fail to make of his English
subjects, that they endeavored, as far as was consistent with secrecy,
to engage several of that nation, and above all, the Earl Waltheof, as
the first in rank and reputation among his countrymen. Waltheof,
thinking it base to engage in any cause but that of his country against
his benefactor, unveils the whole design to Lanfranc, who immediately
took measures for securing the chief conspirators. He dispatched
messengers to inform the king of his danger, who returned without delay
at the head of his forces, and by his presence, and his usual bold
activity, dispersed at once the vapors of this conspiracy. The heads
were punished. The rest, left under the shade of a dubious mercy, were
awed into obedience. His glory was, however, sullied by his putting to
death Waltheof, who had discovered the conspiracy; but he thought the
desire the rebels had shown of engaging him in their designs
demonstrated sufficiently that Waltheof still retained a dangerous
power. For as the years, so the suspicions, of this politic prince
increased,--at whose time of life generosity begins to appear no more
than a splendid weakness.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1079]

These troubles were hardly appeased, when others began to break forth in
his own family, which neither his glory, nor the terror which held a
great nation in chains, could preserve in obedience to him. To remove in
some measure the jealousy of the court of France with regard to his
invasion of England, he had promised upon his acquisition of that
kingdom to invest his eldest son, Robert, with the Duchy of Normandy.
But as his new acquisition did not seem so secure as it was great and
magnificent, he was far from any thoughts of resigning his hereditary
dominions, which he justly considered as a great instrument in
maintaining his conquests, and a necessary retreat, if he should be
deprived of them by the fortune of war. So long as the state of his
affairs in England appeared unsettled, Robert acquiesced in the
reasonableness of this conduct; but when he saw his father established
on his throne, and found himself growing old in an inglorious
subjection, he began first to murmur at the injustice of the king, soon
after to cabal with the Norman barons and at the court of France, and at
last openly rose in rebellion, and compelled the vassals of the Duchy to
do him homage. The king was not inclined to give up to force what he had
refused to reason. Unbroken with age, unwearied with so many
expeditions, he passed again into Normandy, and pressed his son with the
vigor of a young warrior.

This war, which was carried on without anything decisive for some time,
ended by a very extraordinary and affecting incident. In one of those
skirmishes which were frequent according to the irregular mode of
warfare in those days, William and his son Robert, alike in a forward
and adventurous courage, plunged into the thickest of the fight, and
unknowingly encountered each other. But Robert, superior by fortune, or
by the vigor of his youth, wounded and unhorsed the old monarch, and was
just on the point of pursuing his unhappy advantage to the fatal
extremity, when the well-known voice of his father at once struck his
ears and suspended his arm. Blushing for his victory, and overwhelmed
with the united emotions of grief, shame, and returning piety, he fell
on his knees, poured out a flood of tears, and, embracing his father,
besought him for pardon. The tide of nature returning strongly on both,
the father in his turn embraced his son, and bathed him with his tears;
whilst the combatants on either side, astonished at so unusual a
spectacle, suspended the fight, applauded this striking act of filial
piety and paternal tenderness, and pressed that it might become the
prelude to a lasting peace. Peace was made, but entirely to the
advantage of the father, who carried his son into England, to secure
Normandy from the dangers to which his ambition and popularity might
expose that dukedom.

That William might have peace upon no part, the Welsh and Scots took
advantage of these troubles in his family to break into England: but
their expeditions were rather incursions than invasions: they wasted the
country, and then retired to secure their plunder. But William, always
troubled, always in action, and always victorious, pursued them and
compelled them to a peace, which was not concluded but by compelling the
King of Scotland and all the princes of Wales to do him homage. How far
this homage extended with regard to Scotland I find it difficult to

Robert, who had no pleasure but in action, as soon as this war was
concluded, finding that he could not regain his father's confidence, and
that he had no credit at the court of England, retired to that of
France. Edgar Atheling saw likewise that the innocence of his conduct
could not make amends for the guilt of an undoubted title to the crown,
and that the Conqueror, soured by continual opposition, and suspicious
through age and the experience of mankind, regarded him with an evil
eye. He therefore desired leave to accompany Robert out of the kingdom,
and then to make a voyage to the Holy Land. This leave was readily
granted. Edgar, having displayed great valor in useless acts of chivalry
abroad, after the Conqueror's death returned to England, where he long
lived in great tranquillity, happy in himself, beloved by all the
people, and unfeared by those who held his sceptre, from his mild and
inactive virtue.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1084.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1087.]

William had been so much a stranger to repose that it became no longer
an object desirable to him. He revived his claim, to the Vexin Francais,
and some other territories on the confines of Normandy. This quarrel,
which began, between him and the King of France on political motives,
was increased into rancor and bitterness, first, by a boyish contest at
chess between their children, which was resented, more than became wise
men, by the fathers; it was further exasperated by taunts and mockeries
yet less becoming their age and dignity, but which infused a mortal
venom into the war. William entered first into the French territories,
wantonly wasting the country, and setting fire to the towns and
villages. He entered Mantes, and as usual set it on fire; but whilst he
urged his horse over the smoking ruins, and pressed forward to further
havoc, the beast, impatient of the hot embers which burned his hoofs,
plunged and threw his rider violently on the saddle-bow. The rim of his
belly was wounded; and this wound, as William was corpulent and in the
decline of life, proved fatal. A rupture ensued, and he died at Rouen,
after showing a desire of making amends for his cruelty by restitutions
to the towns he had destroyed, by alms and endowments, the usual fruits
of a late penitence, and the acknowledgments which expiring ambition
pays to virtue.

There is nothing more memorable in history than the actions, fortunes,
and character of this great man,--whether we consider the grandeur of
the plans he formed, the courage and wisdom with which they were
executed, or the splendor of that success which, adorning his youth,
continued without the smallest reverse to support his age, even to the
last moments of his life. He lived above seventy years, and reigned
within ten years as long as he lived, sixty over his dukedom, above
twenty over England,--both of which he acquired or kept by his own
magnanimity, with hardly any other title than he derived from his arms:
so that he might be reputed, in all respects, as happy as the highest
ambition, the most fully gratified, can make a man. The silent inward
satisfactions of domestic happiness he neither had nor sought. He had a
body suited to the character of his mind, erect, firm, large, and
active, whilst to be active was a praise,--a countenance stern, and
which became command. Magnificent in his living, reserved in his
conversation, grave in his common deportment, but relaxing with a wise
facetiousness, he knew how to relieve his mind and preserve his dignity:
for he never forfeited by a personal acquaintance that esteem he had
acquired by his great actions. Unlearned in books, he formed his
understanding by the rigid discipline of a large and complicated
experience. He knew men much, and therefore generally trusted them but
little; but when he knew any man to be good, he reposed in him an entire
confidence, which prevented his prudence from degenerating into a vice.
He had vices in his composition, and great ones; but they were the vices
of a great mind: ambition, the malady of every extensive genius,--and
avarice, the madness of the wise: one chiefly actuated his youth,--the
other governed his age. The vices of young and light minds, the joys of
wine and the pleasures of love, never reached his aspiring nature. The
general run of men he looked on with contempt, and treated with cruelty
when they opposed him. Nor was the rigor of his mind to be softened but
with the appearance of extraordinary fortitude in his enemies, which, by
a sympathy congenial to his own virtues, always excited his admiration
and insured his mercy. So that there were often seen in this one man, at
the same time, the extremes of a savage cruelty, and a generosity that
does honor to human nature. Religion, too, seemed to have a great
influence on his mind, from policy, or from better motives; but his
religion was displayed in the regularity with which he performed its
duties, not in the submission he showed to its ministers, which was
never more than what good government required. Yet his choice of a
counsellor and favorite was, not according to the mode of the time, out
of that order, and a choice that does honor to his memory. This was
Lanfranc, a man of great learning for the times, and extraordinary
piety. He owed his elevation to William; but though always inviolably
faithful, he never was the tool or flatterer of the power which raised
him; and the greater freedom he showed, the higher he rose in the
confidence of his master. By mixing with the concerns of state he did
not lose his religion and conscience, or make them the covers or
instruments of ambition; but tempering the fierce policy of a new power
by the mild lights of religion, he became a blessing to the country in
which he was promoted. The English owed to the virtue of this stranger,
and the influence he had on the king, the little remains of liberty they
continued to enjoy, and at last such a degree of his confidence as in
some sort counterbalanced the severities of the former part of his


[72] I have known, myself, great mistakes in calculation by computing,
as the produce of every day in the year, that of one extraordinary day.

[73] The Bishop of Winchester fined for not putting the king in mind to
give a girdle to the Countess of Albemarle.--Robertus de Vallibus debet
quinque optimos palafredos, ut rex taceret de uxore Henrici Pinel.--The
wife of Hugh do Nevil fined in two hundred hens, that she might lie
with, her husband for one night; another, that he might rise from, his
infirmity; a third, that he might eat.

[74] For some particulars of the condition of the English of this time,
vide Eadmer, p. 110.

[75] Upon occasion of a ward refused in marriage. Wright thinks the
feudal right of marriage not then introduced.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1087.]

William had by his queen Matilda three sons, who survived him,--Robert,
William, and Henry. Robert, though in an advanced age at his father's
death, was even then more remarkable for those virtues which make us
entertain hopes of a young man than for that steady prudence which is
necessary when the short career we are to run will not allow us to make
many mistakes. He had, indeed, a temper suitable to the genius of the
time he lived in, and which therefore enabled him to make a considerable
figure in the transactions which distinguished that period. He was of a
sincere, open, candid nature; passionately fond of glory; ambitious,
without having any determinate object in view; vehement in his pursuits,
but inconstant; much in war, which he understood and loved. But guiding
himself, both in war and peace, solely by the impulses of an unbounded
and irregular spirit, he filled the world with an equal admiration and
pity of his splendid qualities and great misfortunes. William was of a
character very different. His views were short, his designs few, his
genius narrow, and his manners brutal; full of craft, rapacious, without
faith, without religion; but circumspect, steady, and courageous for his
ends, not for glory. These qualities secured to him that fortune which
the virtues of Robert deserved. Of Henry we shall speak hereafter.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1088.]

We have seen the quarrels, together with the causes of them, which
embroiled the Conqueror with his eldest son, Robert. Although the wound
was skinned over by several temporary and palliative accommodations, it
still left a soreness in the father's mind, which influenced him by his
last will to cut off Robert from the inheritance of his English
dominions. Those he declared he derived from his sword, and therefore he
would dispose of them, to that son whose dutiful behavior had made him
the most worthy. To William, therefore, he left his crown; to Henry he
devised his treasures: Robert possessed nothing but the Duchy, which was
his birthright. William had some advantages to enforce the execution of
a bequest which was not included even in any of the modes of succession
which then were admitted. He was at the time of his father's death in
England, and had an opportunity of seizing the vacant government, a
thing of great moment in all disputed rights. He had also, by his
presence, an opportunity of engaging some of the most considerable
leading men in his interests. But his greatest strength was derived from
the adherence to his cause of Lanfranc, a prelate of the greatest
authority amongst the English as well as the Normans, both from the
place he had held in the Conqueror's esteem, whose memory all men
respected, and from his own great and excellent qualities. By the
advice of this prelate the new monarch professed to be entirely
governed. And as an earnest of his future reign, he renounced all the
rigid maxims of conquest, and swore to protect the Church and the
people, and to govern by St. Edward's Laws,--a promise extremely
grateful and popular to all parties: for the Normans, finding the
English passionately desirous of these laws, and only knowing that they
were in general favorable to liberty and conducive to peace and order,
became equally clamorous for their reestablishment. By these measures,
and the weakness of those which were adopted by Robert, William
established himself on his throne, and suppressed a dangerous conspiracy
formed by some Norman noblemen in the interests of his brother, although
it was fomented by all the art and intrigue which his uncle Odo could
put in practice, the most bold and politic man of that age.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1089.]

The security he began to enjoy from this success, and the strength which
government receives by merely continuing, gave room to his natural
dispositions to break out in several acts of tyranny and injustice. The
forest laws were executed with rigor, the old impositions revived, and
new laid on. Lanfranc made representations to the king on this conduct,
but they produced no other effect than the abatement of his credit,
which from that moment to his death, which happened soon after, was very
little in the government. The revenue of the vacant see was seized into
the king's hands. When the Church lands were made subject to military
service, they seemed to partake all the qualities of the military
tenure, and to be subject to the same burdens; and as on the death of a
military vassal his land was in wardship of the lord until the heir had
attained his age, so there arose a pretence, on the vacancy of a
bishopric, to suppose the land in ward with the king until the seat
should be filled. This principle, once established, opened a large field
for various lucrative abuses; nor could it be supposed, whilst the
vacancy turned to such good account, that a necessitous or avaricious
king would show any extraordinary haste to put the bishoprics and
abbacies out of his power. In effect, William always kept them a long
time vacant, and in the vacancy granted away much of their possessions,
particularly several manors belonging to the see of Canterbury; and when
he filled this see, it was only to prostitute that dignity by disposing
of it to the highest bidder.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1093.]

To support him in these courses he chose for his minister Ralph
Flambard, a fit instrument in his designs, and possessed of such art and
eloquence as to color them in a specious manner. This man inflamed all
the king's passions, and encouraged him in his unjust enterprises. It is
hard to say which was most unpopular, the king or his minister. But
Flambard, having escaped a conspiracy against his life, and having
punished the conspirators severely, struck such a general terror into
the nation, that none dared to oppose him. Robert's title alone stood in
the king's way, and he knew that this must be a perpetual source of
disturbance to him. He resolved, therefore, to put him in peril for his
own dominions. He collected a large army, and entering into Normandy, he
began a war, at first with great success, on account of a difference
between the Duke and his brother Henry. But their common dread of
William reconciled them; and this reconciliation put them in a condition
of procuring an equal peace, the chief conditions of which were, that
Robert should be put in possession of certain seigniories in England,
and that each, in case of survival, should succeed to the other's
dominions. William concluded this peace the more readily, because
Malcolm, King of Scotland, who hung over him, was ready upon every
advantage to invade his territories, and had now actually entered
England with a powerful army. Robert, who courted action, without
regarding what interest might have dictated, immediately on concluding
the treaty entered into his brother's service in this war against the
Scots; which, on the king's return, being in appearance laid asleep by
an accommodation, broke out with redoubled fury the following year. The
King of Scotland, provoked to this rupture by the haughtiness of
William, was circumvented by the artifice and fraud of one of his
ministers: under an appearance of negotiation, he was attacked and
killed, together with his only son. This was a grievous wound to
Scotland, in the loss of one of the wisest and bravest of her kings, and
in the domestic distractions which afterwards tore that kingdom to

[Sidenote: A.D. 1094.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1096.]

No sooner was this war ended, than William, freed from an enemy which
had given himself and his father so many alarms, renewed his ill
treatment of his brother, and refused to abide by the terms of the late
treaty. Robert, incensed at these repeated perfidies, returned to
Normandy with thoughts full of revenge and war. But he found that the
artifices and bribes of the King of England had corrupted the greatest
part of his barons, and filled the country with faction and disloyalty.
His own facility of temper had relaxed all the bands of government, and
contributed greatly to these disorders. In this distress he was obliged
to have recourse to the King of France for succor. Philip, who was then
on the throne, entered into his quarrel. Nor was William, on his side,
backward; though prodigal to the highest degree, the resources of his
tyranny and extortion were inexhaustible. He was enabled to enter
Normandy once more with a considerable army. But the opposition, too,
was considerable; and the war had probably been spun out to a great
length, and had drawn on very bloody consequences, if one of the most
extraordinary events which are contained in the history of mankind had
not suspended their arms, and drawn, all inferior views, sentiments, and
designs into the vortex of one grand project. This was the Crusade,
which, with astonishing success, now began to be preached through all
Europe. This design was then, and it continued long after, the principle
which influenced the transactions of that period both at home and
abroad; it will, therefore, not be foreign to our subject to trace it to
its source.

As the power of the Papacy spread, the see of Rome began to be more and
more an object of ambition; the most refined intrigues were put in
practice to attain it; and all the princes of Europe interested
themselves in the contest. The election of Pope was not regulated by
those prudent dispositions which have since taken place; there were
frequent pretences to controvert the validity of the election, and of
course several persons at the same time laid claim to that dignity.
Popes and Antipopes arose. Europe was rent asunder by these disputes,
whilst some princes maintained the rights of one party, and some
defended the pretensions of the other: sometimes the prince acknowledged
one Pope, whilst his subjects adhered to his rival. The scandals
occasioned by these schisms were infinite; and they threatened a deadly
wound to that authority whose greatness had occasioned them. Princes
were taught to know their own power. That Pope who this day was a
suppliant to a monarch to be recognized by him could with an ill grace
pretend to govern him with an high hand the next. The lustre of the Holy
See began to be tarnished, when Urban the Second, after a long contest
of this nature, was universally acknowledged. That Pope, sensible by his
own experience of the ill consequence of such disputes, sought to turn
the minds of the people into another channel, and by exerting it
vigorously to give a new strength to the Papal power. In an age so
ignorant, it was very natural that men should think a great deal in
religion depended upon the very scene where the work of our Redemption
was accomplished. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were therefore judged highly
meritorious, and became very frequent. But the country which was the
object of them, as well as several of those through which the journey
lay, were in the hands of Mahometans, who, against all the rules of
humanity and good policy, treated the Christian pilgrims with great
indignity. These, on their return, filled the minds of their neighbors
with hatred and resentment against those infidels. Pope Urban laid hold
on this disposition, and encouraged Peter the Hermit, a man visionary,
zealous, enthusiastic, and possessed of a warm irregular eloquence
adapted to the pitch of his hearers, to preach an expedition for the
delivery of the Holy Land.

Great designs may be started and the spirit of them inspired by
enthusiasts, but cool heads are required to bring them into form. The
Pope, not relying solely on Peter, called a council at Clermont, where
an infinite number of people of all sorts were assembled. Here he
dispensed with a full hand benedictions and indulgences to all persons
who should engage in the expedition; and preaching with great vehemence
in a large plain, towards the end of his discourse, somebody, by design
or by accident, cried out, "It is the will of God!" This voice was
repeated by the next, and in a moment it circulated through this
innumerable people, which rang with the acclamation of "It is the will
of God! It is the will of God!"[76] The neighboring villages caught up
those oracular words, and it is incredible with what celerity they
spread everywhere around into places the most distant. This
circumstance, then considered as miraculous, contributed greatly to the
success of the Hermit's mission. No less did the disposition of the
nobility throughout Europe, wholly actuated with devotion and chivalry,
contribute to forward an enterprise so suited to the gratification of
both these passions. Everything was now in motion; both sexes, and every
station and age and condition of life, engaged with transport in this
holy warfare.[77] There was even a danger that Europe would be entirely
exhausted by the torrents that were rushing out to deluge Asia. These
vast bodies, collected without choice, were conducted without skill or
order; and they succeeded accordingly. Women and children composed no
small part of those armies, which were headed by priests; and it is
hard to say which is most lamentable, the destruction of such multitudes
of men, or the frenzy which drew it upon them. But this design, after
innumerable calamities, began at last to be conducted in a manner worthy
of so grand and bold a project. Raimond, Count of Toulouse, Godfrey of
Bouillon, and several other princes, who were great captains as well as
devotees, engaged in the expedition, and with suitable effects. But none
burned more to signalize his zeal and courage on this occasion than
Robert, Duke of Normandy, who was fired with the thoughts of an
enterprise which seemed to be made for his genius. He immediately
suspended his interesting quarrel with his brother, and, instead of
contesting with him the crown to which he had such fair pretensions, or
the duchy of which he was in possession, he proposed to mortgage to him
the latter during five years for a sum of thirteen thousand marks of
gold. William, who had neither sense of religion nor thirst of glory,
intrenched in his secure and narrow policy, laughed at a design that had
deceived all the great minds in Europe. He extorted, as usual, this sum
from his subjects, and immediately took possession of Normandy; whilst
Robert, at the head of a gallant army, leaving his hereditary dominions,
is gone to cut out unknown kingdoms in Asia.

Some conspiracies disturbed the course of the reign, or rather tyranny,
of this prince: as plots usually do, they ended in the ruin of those who
contrived them, but proved no check to the ill government of William.
Some disturbances, too, he had from the incursions of the Welsh, from
revolts in Normandy, and from a war, that began and ended without
anything memorable either in the cause or consequence, with France.

He had a dispute at home which at another time had raised great
disturbances; but nothing was now considered but the expedition to the
Holy Land. After the death of Lanfranc, William omitted for a long time
to fill up that see, and had even alienated a considerable portion of
the revenue. A fit of sickness, however, softened his mind; and the
clergy, taking advantage of those happy moments, among other parts of
misgovernment which they advised him to correct, particularly urged him
to fill the vacant sees. He filled that of Canterbury with Anselm,
Bishop of Bec, a man of great piety and learning, but inflexible and
rigid in whatever related to the rights, real or supposed, of the
Church. This prelate refused to accept the see of Canterbury, foreseeing
the troubles that must arise from his own dispositions and those of the
king; nor was he prevailed upon to accept it, but on a promise of
indemnification for what the temporalities of the see had suffered. But
William's sickness and pious resolutions ending together, little care
was taken about the execution of this agreement. Thus began a quarrel
between this rapacious king and inflexible archbishop. Soon after,
Anselm declared in favor of Pope Urban, before the king had recognized
him, and thus subjected himself to the law which William the Conqueror
had made against accepting a Pope without his consent. The quarrel was
inflamed to the highest pitch; and Anselm desiring to depart the
kingdom, the king consented.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1100.]

The eyes of all men being now turned towards the great transactions in
the East, William, Duke of Guienne, fired by the success and glory that
attended the holy adventurers, resolved to take the cross; but his
revenues were not sufficient to support the figure his rank required in
this expedition. He applied to the King of England, who, being master of
the purses of his subjects, never wanted money; and he was politician
enough to avail himself of the prodigal, inconsiderate zeal of the times
to lay out this money to great advantage. He acted the part of usurer to
the Croises; and as he had taken Normandy in mortgage from his brother
Robert, having advanced the Duke of Guienne a sum on the same
conditions, he was ready to confirm his bargain by taking possession,
when he was killed in hunting by an accidental stroke of an arrow which
pierced his heart. This accident happened in the New Forest, which his
father with such infinite oppression of the people had made, and in
which they both delighted extremely. In the same forest the Conqueror's
eldest son, a youth of great hopes, had several years before met his
death from the horns of a stag; and these so memorable fates to the same
family and in the same place easily inclined men to think this a
judgment from Heaven: the people consoling themselves under their
sufferings with these equivocal marks of the vengeance of Providence
upon their oppressors.

We have painted this prince in the colors in which he is drawn by all
the writers who lived the nearest to his time. Although the monkish
historians, affected with the partiality of their character, and with
the sense of recent injuries, expressed themselves with passion
concerning him, we have no other guides to follow. Nothing, indeed, in
his life appears to vindicate his character; and it makes strongly for
his disadvantage, that, without any great end of government, he
contradicted the prejudices of the age in which he lived, the general
and common foundation of honor, and thereby made himself obnoxious to
that body of men who had the sole custody of fame, and could alone
transmit his name with glory or disgrace to posterity.


[76] Maimbourg.

[77] Chron. Sax. 204.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1100.]

Henry, the youngest son of the Conqueror, was hunting at the same time
and in the same forest in which his brother met his fate. He was not
long before he came to a resolution of seizing on the vacant crown. The
order of succession had already been broken; the absence of Duke Robert,
and the concurrence of many circumstances altogether resembling those
which had been so favorable to the late monarch, incited him to a
similar attempt. To lose no time at a juncture when the use of a moment
is often decisive, he went directly to Winchester, where the regalia and
the treasures of the crown were deposited. But the governor, a man of
resolution, and firmly attached to Robert, positively refused to deliver
them. Henry, conscious that great enterprises are not to be conducted in
a middle course, prepared to reduce him by force of arms. During this
contest, the news of the king's death, and the attempts of Henry, drew
great numbers of the nobility to Winchester, and with them a vast
concourse of the inferior people. To the nobility he set forth his
title to the crown in the most plausible manner it could bear: he
alleged that he was born after his father had acquired his kingdom, and
that he was therefore natural heir of the crown; but that his brother
was, at best, only born to the inheritance of a dukedom. The nobility
heard the claim of this prince; but they were more generally inclined to
Robert, whose birthright, less questionable in itself, had been also
confirmed by a solemn treaty. But whilst they retired to consult, Henry,
well apprised of their dispositions, and who therefore was little
inclined to wait the result of their debates, threw himself entirely
upon the populace. To them he said little concerning his title, as he
knew such an audience is little moved with a discussion of rights, but
much with the spirit and manner in which they are claimed; for which
reason he began by drawing his sword, and swearing, with a bold and
determined air, to persist in his pretensions to his last breath. Then
turning to the crowd, and remitting of his severity, he began to soothe
them with the promises of a milder government than they had experienced
either beneath his brother or his father; the Church should enjoy her
immunities, the people their liberties, the nobles their pleasures; the
forest laws should cease; the distinction of Englishman and Norman be
heard no more. Next he expatiated on the grievances of the former
reigns, and promised to redress them all. Lastly, he spoke of his
brother Robert, whose dissoluteness, whose inactivity, whose unsteady
temper, nay, whose very virtues, threatened nothing but ruin to any
country which he should govern. The people received this popular
harangue, delivered by a prince whose person was full of grace and
majesty, with shouts of joy and rapture. Immediately they rush to the
house where the council is held, which they surround, and with clamor
and menaces demand Henry for their king. The nobility were terrified by
the sedition; and remembering how little present Robert had been on a
former occasion to his own interests, or to those who defended him, they
joined their voice to that of the people, and Henry was proclaimed
without opposition. The treasure which he seized he divided amongst
those that seemed wavering in his cause; and that he might secure his
new and disputed right by every method, he proceeded without delay to
London to be crowned, and to sanctify by the solemnity of the unction
the choice of the people. As the churchmen in those days were the
arbiters of everything, and as no churchman possessed more credit than
Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been persecuted and banished
by his brother, he recalled that prelate, and by every mark of
confidence confirmed him in his interests. Two other steps he took,
equally prudent and politic: he confirmed and enlarged the privileges of
the city of London, and gave to the whole kingdom a charter of
liberties, which was the first of the kind, and laid the foundation of
those successive charters which at last completed the freedom of the
subject. In fine, he cemented the whole fabric of his power by marrying
Maud, daughter of Malcolm, King of Scotland, by the sister of Edgar
Atheling,--thus to insure the affection, of the English, and, as he
flattered himself, to have a sure succession to his children.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1101.]

The Crusade being successfully finished by the taking of Jerusalem,
Robert returned into Europe. He had acquired great reputation in that
war, in which he had no interest; his real and valuable rights he
prosecuted with languor. Yet such was the respect paid to his title, and
such the attraction of his personal accomplishments, that, when he had
at last taken possession of his Norman territories, and entered England
with an army to assert his birthright, he found most of the Norman
barons, and many of the English, in readiness to join him. But the
diligence of Anselm, who employed all his credit to keep the people firm
to the oath they had taken, prevented him from profiting of the general
inclination in his favor. His friends began to fall off by degrees, so
that he was induced, as well by the situation of his affairs as the
flexibility of his temper, to submit to a treaty on the plan of that he
had formerly entered into with his brother Rufus.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1103.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1106.]

This treaty being made, Robert returned to his dukedom, and gave himself
over to his natural indolence and dissipation. Uncured by his
misfortunes of a loose generosity that flowed indiscriminately on all,
he mortgaged every branch of his revenue, and almost his whole domain.
His barons, despising his indigence, and secure in the benignity of his
temper, began to assume the unhappy privilege of sovereigns. They made
war on each other at pleasure, and, pursuing their hostilities with the
most scandalous license, they reduced that fine country to a deplorable
condition. In vain did the people, ruined by the tyranny and divisions
of the great, apply to Robert for protection: neither from his
circumstances nor his character was he able to afford them any effectual
relief; whilst Henry, who by his bribes and artifices kept alive the
disorder of which he complained and profited, formed a party in Normandy
to call him over, and to put the dukedom under his protection.
Accordingly, he prepared a considerable force for the expedition, and
taxed his own subjects, arbitrarily, and without mercy, for the relief
he pretended to afford those of his brother. His preparations roused
Robert from his indolence, and united likewise the greater part of his
barons to his cause, unwilling to change a master whose only fault was
his indulgence of them for the severe vigilance of Henry. The King of
France espoused the same side; and even in England some emotions were
excited in favor of the Duke by indignation for the wrongs he had
suffered and those he was going to suffer. Henry was alarmed, but did
not renounce his design. He was to the last degree jealous of his
prerogative; but knowing what immense resources kings may have in
popularity, he called on this occasion a great council of his barons and
prelates, and there, by his arts and his eloquence, in both which he was
powerful, he persuaded the assembly to a hearty declaration in his
favor, and to a large supply. Thus secured at home, he lost no time to
pass over to the continent, and to bring the Norman army to a speedy
engagement. They fought under the walls of Tinchebrai, where the bravery
and military genius of Robert, never more conspicuous than on that day,
were borne down by the superior fortune and numbers of his ambitious
brother. He was made prisoner; and notwithstanding all the tender pleas
of their common blood, in spite of his virtues, and even of his
misfortunes, which pleaded so strongly for mercy, the rigid conqueror
held him in various prisons until his death, which did not happen until
after a rigorous confinement of eighteen, some say twenty-seven, years.
This was the end of a prince born with a thousand excellent qualities,
which served no other purpose than to confirm, from the example of his
misfortunes, that a facility of disposition and a weak beneficence are
the greatest vices that can enter into the composition of a monarch,
equally ruinous to himself and to his subjects.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1107.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1108.]

The success of this battle put Henry in possession of Normandy, which he
held ever after with very little disturbance. He fortified his new
acquisition by demolishing the castles of those turbulent barons who had
wasted and afterwards enslaved their country by their dissensions. Order
and justice took place, until everything was reduced to obedience; then
a severe and regular oppression succeeded the former disorderly tyranny.
In England things took the same course. The king no longer doubted his
fortune, and therefore no longer respected his promises or his charter.
The forests, the savage passion of the Norman princes, for which both
the prince and people paid so dearly, were maintained, increased, and
guarded with laws more rigorous than before. Taxes were largely and
arbitrarily assessed. But all this tyranny did not weaken, though it
vexed the nation, because the great men were kept in proper subjection,
and justice was steadily administered.

The politics of this remarkable reign consisted of three branches: to
redress the gross abuses which prevailed in the civil government and the
revenue, to humble the great barons, and keep the aspiring spirit of
the clergy within proper bounds. The introduction of a new law with a
new people at the Conquest had unsettled everything: for whilst some
adhered to the Conqueror's regulations, and others contended for those
of St. Edward, neither of them were well executed or properly obeyed.
The king, therefore, with the assistance of his justiciaries, compiled a
new body of laws, in order to find a temper between both. The coin had
been miserably debased, but it was restored by the king's vigilance, and
preserved by punishments, cruel, but terrifying in their example. There
was a savageness in all the judicial proceedings of those days, that
gave even justice itself the complexion of tyranny: for whilst a number
of men were seen in all parts of the kingdom, some castrated, some
without hands, others with their feet cut off, and in various ways
cruelly mangled, the view of a perpetual punishment blotted out the
memory of the transient crime, and government was the more odious,
which, out of a cruel and mistaken mercy, to avoid punishing with death,
devised torments far more terrible than death itself.

But nothing called for redress more than the disorders in the king's own
household. It was considered as an incident annexed to their tenure,
that the socage vassals of the crown, and so of all the subordinate
barons, should receive their lord and all his followers, and supply them
in their progresses and journeys, which custom continued for some ages
after in Ireland, under the name of _coshering_. But this indefinite and
ill-contrived charge on the tenant was easily perverted to an instrument
of much oppression by the disorders of a rude and licentious court;
insomuch that the tenants, in fear for their substance, for the honor
of their women, and often for their lives, deserted their habitations
and fled into the woods on the king's approach. No circumstance could be
more dishonorable to a prince; but happily, like many other great
abuses, it gave rise to a great reform, which went much further than its
immediate purposes. This disorder, which the punishment of offenders
could only palliate, was entirely taken away by commuting personal
service for a rent in money; which regulation, passing from the king to
all the inferior lords, in a short time wrought a great change in the
state of the nation. To humble the great men, more arbitrary methods
were used. The adherence to the title of Robert was a cause, or a
pretence, of depriving many of their vast possessions, which were split
or parcelled out amongst the king's creatures, with great injustice to
particulars, but in the consequences with general and lasting benefit.
The king held his courts, according to the custom, at Christmas and
Easter, but he seldom kept both festivals in the same place. He made
continual progresses into all parts of his kingdom, and brought the
royal authority and person home to the doors of his haughty barons,
which kept them in strict obedience during his long and severe reign.

His contests with the Church, concerning the right of investiture, were
more obstinate and more dangerous. As this is an affair that troubled
all Europe as well as England, and holds deservedly a principal place in
the story of those times, it will not be impertinent to trace it up to
its original. In the early times of Christianity, when religion was only
drawn from its obscurity to be persecuted, when a bishop was only a
candidate for martyrdom, neither the preferment, nor the right of
bestowing it, were sought with great ambition. Bishops were then
elected, and often against their desire, by their clergy and the people:
the subordinate ecclesiastical districts were provided for in the same
manner. After the Roman Empire became Christian, this usage, so
generally established, still maintained its ground. However, in the
principal cities, the Emperor frequently exercised the privilege of
giving a sanction to the choice, and sometimes of appointing the bishop;
though, for the most part, the popular election still prevailed. But
when, the Barbarians, after destroying the Empire, had at length
submitted their necks to the Gospel, their kings and great men, full of
zeal and gratitude to their instructors, endowed the Church with large
territories and great privileges. In this case it was but natural that
they should be the patrons of those dignities and nominate to that power
which arose from their own free bounty. Hence the bishoprics in the
greatest part of Europe became in effect, whatever some few might have
been in appearance, merely donative. And as the bishoprics formed so
many seigniories, when the feudal establishment was completed, they
partook of the feudal nature, so far as they were subjects capable of
it; homage and fealty were required on the part of the spiritual vassal;
the king, on his part, gave the bishop the investiture, or livery and
seizin of his temporalities, by the delivery of a ring and staff. This
was the original manner of granting feudal property, and something like
it is still practised in our base-courts. Pope Adrian confirmed this
privilege to Charlemagne by an express grant. The clergy of that time,
ignorant, but inquisitive, were very ready at finding types and
mysteries in every ceremony: they construed the staff into an emblem of
the pastoral care, and the ring into a type of the bishop's allegorical
marriage to his church, and therefore supposed them designed as emblems
of a jurisdiction merely spiritual. The Papal pretensions increased with
the general ignorance and superstition; and the better to support these
pretensions, it was necessary at once to exalt the clergy extremely,
and, by breaking off all ties between them and their natural sovereigns,
to attach them wholly to the Roman see. In pursuance of this project,
the Pope first strictly forbade the clergy to receive investitures from
laymen, or to do them homage. A council held at Rome entirely condemned
this practice; and the condemnation was the less unpopular, because the
investiture gave rise to frequent and flagrant abuses, especially in
England, where the sees were on this pretence with much scandal long
held in the king's hands, and afterwards as scandalously and publicly
sold to the highest bidder. So it had been in the last reign, and so it
continued in this.

Henry, though vigorously attacked, with great resolution maintained the
rights of his crown with regard to investitures, whilst he saw the
Emperor, who claimed a right of investing the Pope himself, subdued by
the thunder of the Vatican. His chief opposition was within his own
kingdom. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, a man of unblamable life, and
of learning for his time, but blindly attached to the rights of the
Church, real or supposed, refused to consecrate those who received
investitures from the king. The parties appealed to Rome. Rome,
unwilling either to recede from her pretensions or to provoke a powerful
monarch, gives a dubious answer. Meanwhile the contest grows hotter.
Anselm is obliged to quit the kingdom, but is still inflexible. At last,
the king, who, from the delicate situation of his affairs in the
beginning of his reign, had been obliged to temporize for a long time,
by his usual prudent mixture of management with force obliged the Pope
to a temperament which seemed extremely judicious. The king received
homage and fealty from his vassal; the investiture, as it was generally
understood to relate to spiritual jurisdiction, was given up, and on
this equal bottom peace was established. The secret of the Pope's
moderation was this: he was at that juncture close pressed by the
Emperor, and it might be highly dangerous to contend with two such
enemies at once; and he was much more ready to yield to Henry, who had
no reciprocal demands on him, than to the Emperor, who had many and just
ones, and to whom he could not yield any one point without giving up an
infinite number of others very material and interesting.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1120.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1127.]

As the king extricated himself happily from so great an affair, so all
the other difficulties of his reign only exercised, without endangering
him. The efforts of France in favor of the son of Robert were late,
desultory, and therefore unsuccessful. That youth, endued with equal
virtue and more prudence than his father, after exerting many useless
acts of unfortunate bravery, fell in battle, and freed Henry from all
disturbance on the side of France. The incursions of the Welsh in this
reign only gave him an opportunity of confining that people within
narrower bounds. At home he was well obeyed by his subjects; abroad he
dignified his family by splendid alliances. His daughter Matilda he
married to the Emperor. But his private fortunes did not flow with so
even a course as his public affairs. His only son, William, with a
natural daughter, and many of the flower of the young nobility, perished
at sea between Normandy and England. From that fatal accident the king
was never seen to smile. He sought in vain from a second marriage to
provide a male successor; but when he saw all prospect of this at an
end, he called a great council of his barons and prelates. His daughter
Matilda, after the decease of the Emperor, he had given in marriage to
Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. As she was his only remaining
issue, he caused her to be acknowledged as his successor by the great
council; he enforced this acknowledgment by solemn oaths of fealty,--a
sanction which he weakened rather than confirmed by frequent repetition:
vainly imagining that on his death any ties would bind to the respect of
a succession so little respected by himself, and by the violation of
which he had procured his crown. Having taken these measures in favor of
his daughter, he died in Normandy, but in a good old age, and in the
thirty-sixth year of a prosperous reign.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1135.]

Although the authority of the crown had been exercised with very little
restraint during the three preceding reigns, the succession to it, or
even the principles of the succession, were but ill ascertained: so that
a doubt might justly have arisen, whether the crown was not in a great
measure elective. This uncertainty exposed the nation, at the death of
every king, to all the calamities of a civil war; but it was a
circumstance favorable to the designs of Stephen, Earl of Boulogne, who
was son of Stephen, Earl of Blois, by a daughter of the Conqueror. The
late king had raised him to great employments, and enriched him by the
grant of several lordships. His brother had been made Bishop of
Winchester; and by adding to it the place of his chief justiciary, the
king gave him an opportunity of becoming one of the richest subjects in
Europe, and of extending an unlimited influence over the clergy and the
people. Henry trusted, by the promotion of two persons so near him in
blood, and so bound by benefits, that he had formed an impenetrable
fence about the succession; but he only inspired into Stephen the design
of seizing on the crown by bringing him so near it. The opportunity was
favorable. The king died abroad; Matilda was absent with her husband;
and the Bishop of Winchester, by his universal credit, disposed the
churchmen to elect his brother, with the concurrence of the greatest
part of the nobility, who forgot their oaths, and vainly hoped that a
bad title would necessarily produce a good government. Stephen, in the
flower of youth, bold, active, and courageous, full of generosity and a
noble affability, that seemed to reproach the state and avarice of the
preceding kings, was not wanting to his fortune. He seized immediately
the immense treasures of Henry, and by distributing them with a
judicious profusion removed all doubts concerning his title to them. He
did not spare even the royal demesne, but secured himself a vast number
of adherents by involving their guilt and interest in his own. He
raised a considerable army of Flemings, in order to strengthen himself
against another turn of the same instability which had raised him to the
throne; and, in imitation of the measures of the late king, he concluded
all by giving a charter of liberties as ample as the people at that time
aspired to. This charter contained a renunciation of the forests made by
his predecessor, a grant to the ecclesiastics of a jurisdiction over
their own vassals, and to the people in general an immunity from unjust
tallages and exactions. It is remarkable, that the oath of allegiance
taken by the nobility on this occasion was conditional: it was to be
observed so long as the king observed the terms of his charter,--a
condition which added no real security to the rights of the subject, but
which proved a fruitful source of dissension, tumult, and civil

The measures which the king hitherto pursued were dictated by sound
policy; but he took another step to secure his throne, which in fact
took away all its security, and at the same time brought the country to
extreme misery, and to the brink of utter ruin.

At the Conquest there were very few fortifications in the kingdom.
William found it necessary for his security to erect several. During the
struggles of the English, the Norman nobility were permitted (as in
reason it could not be refused) to fortify their own houses. It was,
however, still understood that no new fortress could be erected without
the king's special license. These private castles began very early to
embarrass the government. The royal castles were scarcely less
troublesome: for, as everything was then in tenure, the governor held
his place by the tenure of castle-guard; and thus, instead of a simple
officer, subject to his pleasure, the king had to deal with a feudal
tenant, secure against him by law, if he performed his services, and by
force, if he was unwilling to perform them. Every resolution of
government required a sort of civil war to put it in execution. The two
last kings had taken, and demolished several of these castles; but when
they found the reduction, of any of them difficult, their custom
frequently was, to erect another close by it, tower against tower, ditch
against ditch: these were called Malvoisins, from their purpose and
situation. Thus, instead of removing, they in fact doubled the mischief.
Stephen, perceiving the passion of the barons for these castles, among
other popular acts in the beginning of his reign, gave a general license
for erecting them. Then was seen to arise in every corner of the
kingdom, in every petty seigniory, an inconceivable multitude of
strongholds, the seats of violence, and the receptacles of murderers,
felons, debasers of the coin, and all manner of desperate and abandoned
villains. Eleven hundred and fifteen of these castles were built in this
single reign. The barons, having thus shut out the law, made continual
inroads upon each other, and spread war, rapine, burning, and desolation
throughout the whole kingdom. They infested the highroads, and put a
stop to all trade by plundering the merchants and travellers. Those who
dwelt in the open country they forced into their castles, and after
pillaging them of all their visible substance, these tyrants held them
in dungeons, and tortured them with a thousand cruel inventions to
extort a discovery of their hidden wealth. The lamentable representation
given by history of those barbarous times justifies the pictures in the
old romances of the castles of giants and magicians. A great part of
Europe was in the same deplorable condition. It was then that some
gallant spirits, struck with a generous indignation at the tyranny of
these miscreants, blessed solemnly by the bishop, and followed by the
praises and vows of the people, sallied forth to vindicate the chastity
of women and to redress the wrongs of travellers and peaceable men. The
adventurous humor inspired by the Crusade heightened and extended this
spirit; and thus the idea of knight-errantry was formed.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1138.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1139.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1141.]

Stephen felt personally these inconveniences; but because the evil was
too stubborn to be redressed at once, he resolved to proceed gradually,
and to begin with the castles of the bishops,--as they evidently held
them, not only against the interests of the crown, but against the
canons of the Church. From the nobles he expected no opposition to this
design: they beheld with envy the pride of these ecclesiastical
fortresses, whose battlements seemed to insult the poverty of the lay
barons. This disposition, and a want of unanimity among the clergy
themselves, enabled Stephen to succeed in his attempt against the Bishop
of Salisbury, one of the first whom he attacked, and whose castles, from
their strength and situation, were of the greatest importance. But the
affairs of this prince were so circumstanced that he could pursue no
council that was not dangerous. His breach with the clergy let in the
party of his rival, Matilda. This party was supported by Robert, Earl of
Gloucester, natural son to the late king,--a man powerful by his vast
possessions, but more formidable through his popularity, and the courage
and abilities by which he had acquired it. Several other circumstances
weakened the cause of Stephen. The charter, and the other favorable
acts, the scaffolding of his ambition, when he saw the structure raised,
he threw down and contemned. In order to maintain his troops, as well as
to attach men to his cause, where no principle bound them, vast and
continual largesses became necessary: all his legal revenue had been
dissipated; and he was therefore obliged to have recourse to such
methods of raising money as were evidently illegal. These causes every
day gave some accession of strength to the party against him; the
friends of Matilda were encouraged to appear in arms; a civil war
ensued, long and bloody, prosecuted as chance or a blind rage directed,
by mutual acts of cruelty and treachery, by frequent surprisals and
assaults of castles, and by a number of battles and skirmishes fought to
no determinate end, and in which nothing of the military art appeared,
but the destruction which it caused. Various, on this occasion, were the
reverses of fortune, while Stephen, though embarrassed by the weakness
of his title, by the scantiness of his finances, and all the disorders
which arose from both, supported his tottering throne with wonderful
activity and courage; but being at length defeated and made prisoner
under the walls of Lincoln, the clergy openly declare for Matilda. The
city of London, though unwillingly, follows the example of the clergy.
The defection from Stephen was growing universal.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1153.]

But Matilda, puffed up with a greatness which as yet had no solid
foundation and stood merely in personal favor, shook it in the minds of
all men by assuming, together with the insolence of conquest, the
haughty rigor of an established dominion. Her title appeared but too
good in the resemblance she bore to the pride of the former kings. This
made the first ill success in her affairs fatal. Her great support, the
Earl of Gloucester, was in his turn made prisoner. In exchange for his
liberty that of Stephen was procured, who renewed the war with his usual
vigor. As he apprehended an attempt from Scotland in favor of Matilda,
descended from the blood royal of that nation, to balance this weight,
he persuaded the King of France to declare in his favor, alarmed as he
was by the progress of Henry, the son of Matilda, and Geoffrey, Count of
Anjou. This prince, no more than sixteen years of age, after receiving
knighthood from David, King of Scotland, began to display a courage and
capacity destined to the greatest things. Of a complexion which strongly
inclined to pleasure, he listened to nothing but ambition; at an age
which is usually given up to passion, he submitted delicacy to politics,
and even in his marriage only remembered the interests of a
sovereign,--for, without examining too scrupulously into her character,
he married Eleanor, the heiress of Guienne, though divorced from her
husband for her supposed gallantries in the Holy Land. He made use of
the accession of power which he acquired by this match to assert his
birthright to Normandy. This he did with great success, because he was
favored by the general inclination of the people for the blood of their
ancient lords. Flushed with this prosperous beginning, he aspired to
greater things; he obliged the King of France to submit to a truce; and
then he turned his arms to support the rights of his family in England,
from whence Matilda retired, unequal to the troublesome part she had
long acted. Worn out with age, and the clashing of furious factions, she
shut herself up in a monastery, and left to her son the succession of a
civil war. Stephen was now pressed with renewed vigor. Henry had rather
the advantage in the field; Stephen had the possession, of the
government. Their fortunes appearing nearly balanced, and the fuel of
dissension being consumed by a continual and bloody war of thirteen
years, an accommodation was proposed and accepted. Henry found it
dangerous to refuse his consent, as the bishops and barons, even of his
own party, dreaded the consequences, if a prince, in the prime of an
ambitious youth, should establish an hereditary title by the force of
foreign arms. This treaty, signed at Wallingford, left the possession of
the crown for his life to Stephen, but secured the succession to Henry,
whom that prince adopted. The castles erected in this reign were to be
demolished; the exorbitant grants of the royal demesne to be resumed. To
the son of Stephen all his private possessions were secured.

Thus ended this tedious and ruinous civil war. Stephen survived it near
two years; and now, finding himself more secure as the lawful tenant
than he had been as the usurping proprietor of the crown, he no longer
governed on the maxims of necessity. He made no new attempts in favor of
his family, but spent the remainder of his reign in correcting the
disorders which arose from his steps in its commencement, and in healing
the wounds of so long and cruel a war. Thus he left the kingdom in peace
to his successor, but his character, as it is usual where party is
concerned, greatly disputed. Wherever his natural dispositions had room
to exert themselves, they appeared virtuous and princely; but the lust
to reign, which often attends great virtues, was fatal to his,
frequently hid them, and always rendered them suspected.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1154.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1158.]

The death of Stephen left an undisputed succession for the first time
since the death of Edward the Confessor. Henry, descended equally from
the Norman Conqueror and the old English kings, adopted by Stephen,
acknowledged by the barons, united in himself every kind of title. It
was grown into a custom for the king to grant a charter of liberties on
his accession to the crown. Henry also granted a charter of that kind,
confirming that of his grandfather; but as his situation was very
different from that of his predecessors, his charter was
different,--reserved, short, dry, conceived in general terms,--a gift,
not a bargain. And, indeed, there seems to have been at that juncture
but little occasion to limit a power which seemed not more than
sufficient to correct all the evils of an unlimited liberty. Henry spent
the beginning of his reign in repairing the ruins of the royal
authority, and in restoring to the kingdom peace and order, along with
its ancient limits; and he may well be considered as the restorer of the
English monarchy. Stephen had sacrificed the demesne of the crown, and
many of its rights, to his subjects; and the necessity of the times
obliged both that prince and the Empress Matilda to purchase, in their
turns, the precarious friendship of the King of Scotland by a cession of
almost all the country north of the Humber. But Henry obliged the King
of Scotland to restore his acquisitions, and to renew his homage. He
took the same methods with his barons. Not sparing the grants of his
mother, he resumed what had been so lavishly squandered by both of the
contending parties, who, to establish their claims, had given away
almost everything that made them valuable. There never was a prince in
Europe who better understood the advantages to be derived from its
peculiar constitution, in which greater acquisitions of dominion are
made by judicious marriages than by success in war: for, having added to
his patrimonial territories of Anjou and Normandy the Duchy of Guienne
by his own marriage, the male issue of the Dukes of Brittany failing, he
took the opportunity of marrying his third son, Geoffrey, then an
infant, to the heiress of that important province, an infant also; and
thus uniting by so strong a link his northern to his southern dominions,
he possessed in his own name, or in those of his wife and son, all that
fine and extensive country that is washed by the Atlantic Ocean, from
Picardy quite to the foot of the Pyrenees.

Henry, possessed of such extensive territories, and aiming at further
acquisitions, saw with indignation that the sovereign authority in all
of them, especially in England, had been greatly diminished. By his
resumptions he had, indeed, lessened the greatness of several of the
nobility. He had by force of arms reduced those who forcibly held the
crown lands, and deprived them of their own estates for their
rebellion. He demolished many castles, those perpetual resources of
rebellion and disorder. But the great aim of his policy was to break the
power of the clergy, which each of his predecessors, since Edward, had
alternately strove to raise and to depress,--at first in order to gain
that potent body to their interests, and then to preserve them in
subjection to the authority which they had conferred. The clergy had
elected Stephen; they had deposed Stephen, and elected Matilda; and in
the instruments which they used on these occasions they affirmed in
themselves a general right of electing the kings of England. Their share
both in the elevation and depression of that prince showed that they
possessed a power inconsistent with the safety and dignity of the state.
The immunities which they enjoyed seemed no less prejudicial to the
civil economy,--and the rather, as, in the confusion of Stephen's reign,
many, to protect themselves from the prevailing violence of the time, or
to sanctify their own disorders, had taken refuge in the clerical
character. The Church was never so full of scandalous persons, who,
being accountable only in the ecclesiastical courts, where no crime is
punished with death, were guilty of every crime. A priest had about this
time committed a murder attended with very aggravating circumstances.
The king, willing at once to restore order and to depress the clergy,
laid hold of this favorable opportunity to convoke the cause to his own
court, when the atrociousness of the crime made all men look with an
evil eye upon the claim of any privilege which might prevent the
severest justice. The nation in general seemed but little inclined to
controvert so useful a regulation with so potent a prince.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1162.]

Amidst this general acquiescence one man was found bold enough to oppose
him, who for eight years together embroiled all his affairs, poisoned
his satisfactions, endangered his dominions, and at length in his death
triumphed over all the power and policy of this wise and potent monarch.
This was Thomas a-Becket, a man memorable for the great glory and the
bitter reproaches he has met with from posterity. This person was the
son of a respectable citizen of London. He was bred to the study of the
civil and canon law, the education, then, used to qualify a man for
public affairs, in which he soon made a distinguished figure. By the
royal favor and his own abilities, he rose, in a rapid succession
through several considerable employments, from an office under the
sheriff of London, to be High Chancellor of the kingdom. In this high
post he showed a spirit as elevated; but it was rather a military spirit
than that of the gownman,--magnificent to excess in his living and
appearance, and distinguishing himself in the tournaments and other
martial sports of that age with much ostentation of courage and expense.
The king, who favored him greatly, and expected a suitable return, on
the vacancy, destined Becket, yet a layman, to the see of Canterbury,
and hoped to find in him a warm promoter of the reformation he intended.
Hardly a priest, he was made the first prelate in the kingdom. But no
sooner was he invested with the clerical character than the whole tenor
of his conduct was seen to change all at once: of his pompous retinue a
few plain servants only remained; a monastic temperance regulated his
table; and his life, in all respects formed to the most rigid austerity,
seemed to prepare him for that superiority he was resolved to assume,
and the conflicts he foresaw he must undergo in this attempt.

It will not be unpleasing to pause a moment at this remarkable period,
in order to view in what consisted that greatness of the clergy, which
enabled them to bear so very considerable a sway in all public
affairs,--what foundations supported the weight of so vast a
power,--whence it had its origin,--what was the nature, and what the
ground, of the immunities they claimed,--that we may the more fully
enter into this important controversy, and may not judge, as some have
inconsiderately done, of the affairs of those times by ideas taken from
the present manners and opinions.

It is sufficiently known, that the first Christians, avoiding the Pagan
tribunals, tried most even of their civil causes before the bishop, who,
though he had no direct coercive power, yet, wielding the sword of
excommunication, had wherewithal to enforce the execution of his
judgments. Thus the bishop had a considerable sway in temporal affairs,
even before he was owned by the temporal power. But the Emperors no
sooner became Christian than, the idea of profaneness being removed from
the secular tribunals, the causes of the Christian laity naturally
passed to that resort where those of the generality had been before. But
the reverence for the bishop still remained, and the remembrance of his
former jurisdiction. It was not thought decent, that he, who had been a
judge in his own court, should become a suitor in the court of another.
The body of the clergy likewise, who were supposed to have no secular
concerns for which they could litigate, and removed by their character
from all suspicion of violence, were left to be tried by their own
ecclesiastical superiors. This was, with a little variation, sometimes
in extending, sometimes in restraining the bishops' jurisdiction, the
condition of things whilst the Roman Empire subsisted. But though their
immunities were great and their possessions ample, yet, living under an
absolute form of government, they were powerful only by influence. No
jurisdictions were annexed to their lands; they had no place in the
senate; they were no order in the state.

From the settlement of the Northern nations the clergy must be
considered in another light. The Barbarians gave them large landed
possessions; and by giving them land, they gave them jurisdiction,
which, according to their notions, was inseparable from it. They made
them an order in the state; and as all the orders had their privileges,
the clergy had theirs, and were no less steady to preserve and ambitious
to extend them. Our ancestors, having united the Church dignities to the
secular dignities of baronies, had so blended the ecclesiastical with
the temporal power in the same persons that it became almost impossible
to separate them. The ecclesiastical was, however, prevalent in this
composition, drew to it the other, supported it, and was supported by
it. But it was not the devotion only, but the necessity of the tunes,
that raised the clergy to the excess of this greatness. The little
learning which then subsisted remained wholly in their hands. Few among
the laity could even read; consequently the clergy alone were proper for
public affairs. They were the statesmen, they were the lawyers; from
them were often taken the bailiffs of the seigneurial courts, sometimes
the sheriffs of counties, and almost constantly the justiciaries of the
kingdom.[78] The Norman kings, always jealous of their order, were
always forced to employ them. In abbeys the law was studied; abbeys were
the palladiums of the public liberty by the custody of the royal
charters and most of the records. Thus, necessary to the great by their
knowledge, venerable to the poor by their hospitality, dreadful to all
by the power of excommunication, the character of the clergy was exalted
above everything in the state; and it could no more be otherwise in
those days than it is possible it should be so in ours.

William the Conqueror made it one principal point of his politics to
reduce the clergy; but all the steps he took in it were not equally well
calculated to answer this intention. When he subjected the Church lands
to military service, the clergy complained bitterly, as it lessened
their revenue: but I imagine it did not lessen their power in
proportion; for by this regulation they came, like other great lords, to
have their military vassals, who owed them homage and fealty: and this
rather increased their consideration amongst so martial a people. The
kings who succeeded him, though they also aimed at reducing the
ecclesiastical power, never pursued their scheme on a great or
legislative principle. They seemed rather desirous of enriching
themselves by the abuses in the Church than earnest to correct them. One
day they plundered and the next day they founded monasteries, as their
rapaciousness or their scruples chanced to predominate; so that every
attempt of that kind, having rather the air of tyranny than reformation,
could never be heartily approved or seconded by the body of the people.

The bishops must always be considered in the double capacity of clerks
and barons. Their courts, therefore, had a double jurisdiction: over the
clergy and laity of their diocese for the cognizance of crimes against
ecclesiastical law, and over the vassals of their barony as lords
paramount. But these two departments, so different in their nature, they
frequently confounded, by making use of the spiritual weapon of
excommunication to enforce the judgments of both; and this sentence,
cutting off the party from the common society of mankind, lay equally
heavy on all ranks: for, as it deprived the lower sort of the fellowship
of their equals and the protection of their lord, so it deprived the
lord of the services of his vassals, whether he or they lay under the
sentence. This was one of the grievances which the king proposed to

As some sanction of religion is mixed with almost every concern of civil
life, and as the ecclesiastical court took cognizance of all religious
matters, it drew to itself not only all questions relative to tithes and
advowsons, but whatever related to marriages, wills, the estate of
intestates, the breaches of oaths and contracts,--in a word, everything
which did not touch life or feudal property.

The ignorance of the bailiffs in lay courts, who were only possessed of
some feudal maxims and the traditions of an uncertain custom, made this
recourse to the spiritual courts the more necessary, where they could
judge with a little more exactness by the lights of the canon and civil

This jurisdiction extended itself by connivance, by necessity, by
custom, by abuse, over lay persons and affairs. But the immunity of the
clergy from lay cognizances was claimed, not only as a privilege
essential to the dignity of their order, supported by the canons, and
countenanced by the Roman law, but as a right confirmed by all the
ancient laws of England.

Christianity, coming into England out of the bosom of the Roman Empire,
brought along with it all those ideas of immunity. The first trace we
can find of this exemption from lay jurisdiction in England is in the
laws of Ethelred;[79] it is more fully established in those of
Canute;[80] but in the code of Henry I. it is twice distinctly
affirmed.[81] This immunity from the secular jurisdiction, whilst it
seemed to encourage acts of violence in the clergy towards others,
encouraged also the violence of others against them. The murder of a
clerk could not be punished at this time by death; it was against a
spiritual person, an offence wholly spiritual, of which the secular
courts took no sort of cognizance. In the Saxon times two circumstances
made such an exemption less a cause of jealousy: the sheriff sat with
the bishop, and the spiritual jurisdiction was, if not under the
control, at least under the inspection of the lay officer; and then, as
neither laity nor clergy were capitally punished for any offence, this
privilege did not create so invidious and glaring a distinction between
them. Such was the power of the clergy, and such the immunities, which
the king proposed to diminish.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1164.]

Becket, who had punished the ecclesiastic for his crime by
ecclesiastical law, refused to deliver him over to the secular judges
for farther punishment, on the principle of law, that no man ought to be
twice questioned for the same offence. The king, provoked at this
opposition, summoned a council of the barons and bishops at Clarendon;
and here, amongst others of less moment, the following were unanimously
declared to be the ancient prerogatives of the crown. And it is
something remarkable, and certainly makes much for the honor of their
moderation, that the bishops and abbots who must have composed so large
and weighty a part of the great council seem not only to have made no
opposition to regulations which so remarkably contracted their
jurisdiction, but even seem to have forwarded them.

1st. A clerk accused of any crime shall appear in the king's court, that
it may be judged whether he belongs to ecclesiastical or secular
cognizance. If to the former, a deputy shall go into the bishop's court
to observe the trial; if the clerk be convicted, he shall be delivered
over to the king's justiciary to be punished.

2nd. All causes concerning presentation, all causes concerning
Frankalmoign, all actions concerning breach of faith, shall be tried in
the king's court.

3rd. The king's tenant _in capite_ shall not be excommunicated without
the king's license.

4th. No clerk shall go out of the kingdom without giving security that
he will do nothing to the prejudice of the king or nation. And all
appeals shall be tried at home.

These are the most material of the Constitutions or Assizes of
Clarendon, famous for having been the first legal check given to the
power of the clergy in England. To give these constitutions the greater
weight, it was thought proper that they should be confirmed by a bull
from the Pope. By this step the king seemed to doubt the entireness of
his own authority in his dominions; and by calling in foreign aid when
it served his purpose, he gave it a force and a sort of legal sanction
when it came to be employed against himself. But as no negotiation had
prepared the Pope in favor of laws designed in reality to abridge his
own power, it was no wonder that he rejected them with indignation.
Becket, who had not been prevailed on to accept them but with infinite
reluctance, was no sooner apprised of the Pope's disapprobation than he
openly declared his own; he did penance in the humblest manner for his
former acquiescence, and resolved to make amends for it by opposing the
new constitutions with the utmost zeal. In this disposition the king saw
that the Archbishop might be more easily ruined than humbled, and his
ruin was resolved. Immediately a number of suits, on various pretences,
were commenced against him, in every one of which he was sure to be
foiled; but these making no deadly blow at his fortunes, he was called
to account for thirty thousand pounds which he was accused of having
embezzled during his chancellorship. It was in vain that he pleaded a
full acquittance from the king's son, and Richard de Lucy, the guardian
and justiciary of the kingdom, on his resignation of the seals; he saw
it was already determined against him. Far from yielding under these
repeated blows, he raised still higher the ecclesiastical pretensions,
now become necessary to his own protection. He refused to answer to the
charge, and appealed to the Pope, to whom alone he seemed to acknowledge
any real subjection. A great ferment ensued on this appeal. The
courtiers advised that he should be thrown into prison, and that his
temporalities should be seized. The bishops, willing to reduce Becket
without reducing their own order, proposed to accuse him before the
Pope, and to pursue him to degradation. Some of his friends pressed him
to give up his cause; others urged him to resign his dignity. The king's
servants threw out menaces against his life. Amidst this general
confusion of passions and councils, whilst every one according to his
interests expected the event with much anxiety, Becket, in the disguise
of a monk, escaped out of the nation, and threw himself into the arms of
the King of France.

Henry was greatly alarmed at this secession, which put the Archbishop
out of his power, but left him in full possession of all his
ecclesiastical weapons. An embassy was immediately dispatched to Rome,
in order to accuse Becket; but as Becket pleaded the Pope's own cause
before the Pope himself, he obtained an easy victory over the king's
ambassadors. Henry, on the other hand, took every measure to maintain
his authority: he did everything worthy of an able politician, and of a
king tenacious of his just authority. He likewise took measures not only
to humble Becket, but also to lower that chair whose exaltation had an
ill influence on the throne: for he encouraged the Bishop of London to
revive a claim to the primacy; and thus, by making the rights of the see
at least dubious, he hoped to render future prelates more cautious in
the exercise of them. He inhibited, under the penalty of high treason,
all ecclesiastics from going out of his dominions without license, or
any emissary of the Pope's or Archbishop's from entering them with
letters of excommunication or interdict. And that he might not supply
arms against himself, the Peter-pence were collected with the former
care, but detained in the royal treasury, that matter might be left to
Rome both for hope and fear. In the personal treatment of Becket all the
proceedings were full of anger, and by an unnecessary and unjust
severity greatly discredited both the cause and character of the king;
for he stripped of their goods and banished all the Archbishop's
kindred, all who were in any sort connected with him, without the least
regard to sex, age, or condition. In the mean time, Becket, stung with
these affronts, impatient of his banishment, and burning with all the
fury and the same zeal which had occasioned it, continually threatened
the king with the last exertions of ecclesiastical power; and all things
were thereby, and by the absence and enmity of the head of the English
Church, kept in great confusion.

During this unhappy contention several treaties were set on foot; but
the disposition of all the parties who interested themselves in this
quarrel very much protracted a determination in favor of either side.
With regard to Rome, the then Pope was Alexander the Third, one of the
wisest prelates who had ever governed that see, and the most zealous for
extending its authority. However, though incessantly solicited by Becket
to excommunicate the king and to lay the kingdom under an interdict, he
was unwilling to keep pace with the violence of that enraged bishop.
Becket's view was single; but the Pope had many things to consider: an
Antipope then subsisted, who was strongly supported by the Emperor; and
Henry had actually entered into a negotiation with this Emperor and
this pretended Pope. On the other hand, the king knew that the lower
sort of people in England were generally affected to the Archbishop, and
much under the influence of the clergy. He was therefore fearful to
drive the Pope to extremities by wholly renouncing his authority. These
dispositions in the two principal powers made way for several
conferences leading to peace. But for a long time all their endeavors
seemed rather to inflame than to allay the quarrel. Whilst the king,
steady in asserting his rights, remembered with bitterness the
Archbishop's opposition, and whilst the Archbishop maintained the claims
of the Church with an haughtiness natural to him, and which was only
augmented by his sufferings, the King of France appeared sometimes to
forward, sometimes to perplex the negotiation: and this duplicity seemed
to be dictated by the situation of his affairs. He was desirous of
nourishing a quarrel which put so redoubted a vassal on the defensive;
but he was also justly fearful of driving so powerful a prince to forget
that he was a vassal. All parties, however, wearied at length with a
contest by which all were distracted, and which in its issue promised
nothing favorable to any of them, yielded at length to an accommodation,
founded rather on an oblivion and silence of past disputes than on the
settlement of terms for preserving future tranquillity. Becket returned
in a sort of triumph to his see. Many of the dignified clergy, and not a
few of the barons, lay under excommunication for the share they had in
his persecution; but, neither broken by adversity nor softened by good
fortune, he relented nothing of his severity, but referred them all for
their absolution to the Pope. Their resentments were revived with
additional bitterness; new affronts were offered to the Archbishop,
which brought on new excommunications and interdicts. The contention
thickened on all sides, and things seemed running precipitately to the
former dangerous extremities, when the account of these contests was
brought, with much aggravation against Becket, to the ears of the king,
then in Normandy, who, foreseeing a new series of troubles, broke out in
a violent passion of grief and anger,--"I have no friends, or I had not
so long been insulted by this haughty priest!" Four knights who attended
near his person, thinking that the complaints of a king are orders for
revenge, and hoping a reward equal to the importance and even guilt of
the service, silently departed; and passing with great diligence into
England, in a short time they arrived at Canterbury. They entered the
cathedral; they fell on the Archbishop, just on the point of celebrating
divine service, and with repeated blows of their clubs they beat him to
the ground, they broke his skull in pieces, and covered the altar with
his blood and brains.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1171.]

The horror of this barbarous action, increased by the sacredness of the
person who suffered and of the place where it was committed, diffused
itself on all sides with incredible rapidity. The clergy, in whose cause
he fell, equalled him to the most holy martyrs; compassion for his fate
made all men forget his faults; and the report of frequent miracles at
his tomb sanctified his cause and character, and threw a general odium
on the king. What became of the murderers is uncertain: they were
neither protected by the king nor punished by the laws, for the reason
we have not long since mentioned. The king with infinite difficulty
extricated himself from the consequences of this murder, which
threatened, under the Papal banners, to arm all Europe against him; nor
was he absolved, but by renouncing the most material parts of the
Constitutions of Clarendon, by purging himself upon oath of the murder
of Becket, by doing a very humiliating penance at his tomb to expiate
the rash words which had given occasion to his death, and by engaging to
furnish a large sum of money for the relief of the Holy Land, and taking
the cross himself as soon as his affairs should admit it. The king
probably thought his freedom from the haughtiness of Becket cheaply
purchased by these condescensions: and without question, though Becket
might have been justifiable, perhaps even laudable, for his steady
maintenance of the privileges which his Church and his order had
acquired by the care of his predecessors, and of which he by his place
was the depository, yet the principles upon which he supported these
privileges, subversive of all good government, his extravagant ideas of
Church power, the schemes he meditated, even to his death, to extend it
yet further, his violent and unreserved attachment to the Papacy, and
that inflexible spirit which all his virtues rendered but the more
dangerous, made his death as advantageous, at that time, as the means by
which it was effected were sacrilegious and detestable.

Between the death of Becket and the king's absolution he resolved on the
execution of a design by which he reduced under his dominion a country
not more separated from the rest of Europe by its situation than by the
laws, customs, and way of life of the inhabitants: for the people of
Ireland, with no difference but that of religion, still retained the
native manners of the original Celts. The king had meditated this design
from the very beginning of his reign, and had obtained a bull from the
then Pope, Adrian the fourth, an Englishman, to authorize the attempt.
He well knew, from the internal weakness and advantageous situation of
this noble island, the easiness and importance of such a conquest. But
at this particular time he was strongly urged to his engaging personally
in the enterprise by two other powerful motives. For, first, the murder
of Becket had bred very ill humors in his subjects, the chiefs of whom,
always impatient of a long peace, were glad of any pretence for
rebellion; it was therefore expedient, and serviceable to the crown, to
find an employment abroad for this spirit, which could not exert itself
without being destructive at home. And next, as he had obtained the
grant of Ireland from the Pope, upon condition of subjecting it to
Peter-pence, he knew that the speedy performance of this condition would
greatly facilitate his recovering the good graces of the court of Rome.
Before we give a short narrative of the reduction of Ireland, I propose
to lay open to the reader the state of that kingdom, that we may see
what grounds Henry had to hope for success in this expedition.

Ireland is about half as large as England. In the temperature of the
climate there is little difference, other than that more rain falls; as
the country is more mountainous, and exposed full to the westerly wind,
which, blowing from the Atlantic Ocean, prevails during the greater part
of the year. This moisture, as it has enriched the country with large
and frequent rivers, and spread out a number of fair and magnificent
lakes beyond the proportion of other places, has on the other hand
incumbered the island with an uncommon multitude of bogs and morasses;
so that in general it is less praised for corn than pasturage, in which
no soil is more rich and luxuriant. Whilst it possesses these internal
means of wealth, it opens on all sides a great number of ports, spacious
and secure, and by their advantageous situation inviting to universal
commerce. But on these ports, better known than those of Britain in the
time of the Romans, at this time there were few towns, scarce any
fortifications, and no trade that deserves to be mentioned.

The people of Ireland lay claim to a very extravagant antiquity, through
a vanity common to all nations. The accounts which are given by their
ancient chronicles of their first settlements are generally tales
confuted by their own absurdity. The settlement of the greatest
consequence, the best authenticated, and from which the Irish deduce the
pedigree of the best families, is derived from Spain: it was called Clan
Milea, or the descendants of Milesius, and Kin Scuit, or the race of
Scyths, afterwards known by the name of Scots. The Irish historians
suppose this race descended from a person called Gathel, a Scythian by
birth, an Egyptian by education, the contemporary and friend of the
prophet Moses. But these histories, seeming clear-sighted in the obscure
affairs of so blind an antiquity, instead of passing for treasuries of
ancient facts, are regarded by the judicious as modern fictions. In
cases of this sort rational conjectures are more to be relied on than
improbable relations. It is most probable that Ireland was first peopled
from Britain. The coasts of these countries are in some places in sight
of each other. The language, the manners, and religion of the most
ancient inhabitants of both are nearly the same. The Milesian colony,
whenever it arrived in Ireland, could have made no great change in the
manners or language; as the ancient Spaniards were a branch of the
Celtae, as well as the old inhabitants of Ireland. The Irish language is
not different from that of all other nations, as Temple and Rapin, from
ignorance of it, have asserted; on the contrary, many of its words bear
a remarkable resemblance not only to those of the Welsh and Armoric, but
also to the Greek and Latin. Neither is the figure of the letters very
different from the vulgar character, though their order is not the same
with that of other nations, nor the names, which are taken from the
Irish proper names of several species of trees: a circumstance which,
notwithstanding their similitude to the Roman letters, argues a
different original and great antiquity. The Druid discipline anciently
flourished in that island. In the fourth century it fell down before the
preaching of St. Patrick. Then the Christian religion was embraced and
cultivated with an uncommon zeal, which displayed itself in the number
and consequence of the persons who in all parts embraced the
contemplative life. This mode of life, and the situation of Ireland,
removed from the horror of those devastations which shook the rest of
Europe, made it a refuge for learning, almost extinguished everywhere
else. Science flourished in Ireland during the seventh and eighth
centuries. The same cause which destroyed it in other countries also
destroyed it there. The Danes, then pagans, made themselves masters of
the island, after a long and wasteful war, in which they destroyed the
sciences along with the monasteries in which they were cultivated. By as
destructive a war they were at length expelled; but neither their
ancient science nor repose returned to the Irish, who, falling into
domestic distractions as soon as they were freed from their foreign
enemies, sunk quickly into a state of ignorance, poverty, and barbarism,
which must have been very great, since it exceeded that of the rest of
Europe. The disorders in the Church were equal to those in the civil
economy, and furnished to the Pope a plausible pretext for giving Henry
a commission to conquer the kingdom, in order to reform it.

The Irish were divided into a number of tribes or clans, each clan
forming within itself a separate government. It was ordered by a chief,
who was not raised to that dignity either by election or by the ordinary
course of descent, but as the eldest and worthiest of the blood of the
deceased lord. This order of succession, called Tanistry, was said to
have been invented in the Danish troubles, lest the tribe, during a
minority, should have been endangered for want of a sufficient leader.
It was probably much more ancient: but it was, however, attended with
very great and pernicious inconveniencies, as it was obviously an affair
of difficulty to determine who should be called the worthiest of the
blood; and a door being always left open for ambition, this order
introduced a greater mischief than it was intended to remedy. Almost
every tribe, besides its contention with the neighboring tribes,
nourished faction and discontent within itself. The chiefs we speak of
were in general called Tierna, or Lords, and those of more consideration
Riagh, or Kings. Over these were placed five kings more eminent than
the rest, answerable to the five provinces into which the island was
anciently divided. These again were subordinate to one head, who was
called Monarch of all Ireland, raised to that power by election, or,
more properly speaking, by violence.

Whilst the dignities of the state were disposed of by a sort of
election, the office of judges, who were called Brehons, the trades of
mechanics, and even those arts which we are apt to consider as depending
principally on natural genius, such as poetry and music, were confined
in succession to certain races: the Irish imagining that greater
advantages were to be derived from an early institution, and the
affection of parents desirous of perpetuating the secrets of their art
in their families, than from the casual efforts of particular fancy and
application. This is much in the strain of the Eastern policy; but these
and many other of the Irish institutions, well enough calculated to
preserve good arts and useful discipline, when these arts came to
degenerate, were equally well calculated to prevent all improvement and
to perpetuate corruption, by infusing an invincible tenaciousness of
ancient customs.

The people of Ireland were much more addicted to pasturage than
agriculture, not more from the quality of their soil than from a remnant
of the Scythian manners. They had but few towns, and those not
fortified, each clan living dispersed over its own territory. The few
walled towns they had lay on the sea-coast; they were built by the
Danes, and held after they had lost their conquests in the inland parts:
here was carried on the little foreign trade which the island then

The Irish militia was of two kinds: one called _kerns_, which were
foot, slightly armed with a long knife or dagger, and almost naked; the
other, _galloglasses,_ who were horse, poorly mounted, and generally
armed only with a battle-axe. Neither horse nor foot made much use of
the spear, the sword, or the bow. With indifferent arms, they had still
worse discipline. In these circumstances, their natural bravery, which,
though considerable, was not superior to that of their invaders, stood
them in little stead.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1167.]

Such was the situation of things in Ireland, when Dermot, King of
Leinster, having violently carried away the wife of one of the
neighboring petty sovereigns, Roderic, King of Connaught and Monarch of
Ireland, joined with the injured husband to punish so flagrant an
outrage, and with their united forces spoiled Dermot of his territories,
and obliged him to abandon the kingdom. The fugitive prince, not
unapprised of Henry's designs upon his country, threw himself at his
feet, implored his protection, and promised to hold of him, as his
feudatory, the sovereignty he should recover by his assistance. Henry
was at this time at Guienne. Nothing could be more agreeable to him than
such an incident; but as his French dominions actually lay under an
interdict, on account of his quarrel with Becket, and all his affairs,
both at home and abroad, were in a troubled and dubious situation, it
was not prudent to remove his person, nor venture any considerable body
of his forces on a distant enterprise. Yet not willing to lose so
favorable an opportunity, he warmly recommended the cause of Dermot to
his regency in England, permitting and encouraging all persons to arm in
his favor: a permission, in this age of enterprise, greedily accepted by
many; but the person who brought the most assistance to it, and indeed
gave a form and spirit to the whole design, was Richard, Earl of
Strigul, commonly known by the name of Strongbow. Dermot, to confirm in
his interest this potent and warlike peer, promised him his daughter in
marriage, with the reversion of his crown.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1169.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1171.]

The beginnings of so great an enterprise were formed with a very slender
force. Not four hundred men landed near Wexford: they took the town by
storm. When reinforced, they did not exceed twelve hundred; but, being
joined with three thousand men by Dermot, with an incredible rapidity of
success they reduced Waterford, Dublin, Limerick, the only considerable
cities in Ireland. By the novelty of their arms they had obtained some
striking advantages in their first engagements; and by these advantages
they attained a superiority of opinion over the Irish, which every
success Increased. Before the effect of this first impression had time
to wear off, Henry, having settled his affairs abroad, entered the
harbor of Cork with a fleet of four hundred sail, at once to secure the
conquest, and the allegiance of the conquerors. The fame of so great a
force arriving under a prince dreaded by all Europe very soon disposed
all the petty princes, with their King Roderic, to submit and do homage
to Henry. They had not been able to resist the arms of his vassals, and
they hoped better treatment from submitting to the ambition of a great
king, who left them everything but the honor of their independency, than
from the avarice of adventurers, from which nothing was secure. The
bishops and the body of the clergy greatly contributed to this
submission, from respect to the Pope, and the horror of their late
defeats, which they began to regard as judgments. A national council was
held at Cashel for bringing the Church of Ireland to a perfect
conformity in rites and discipline to that of England. It is not to be
thought that in this council the temporal interests of England were
entirely forgotten. Many of the English were established in their
particular conquests under the tenure of knights' service, now first
introduced into Ireland: a tenure which, if it has not proved the best
calculated to secure the obedience of the vassal to the sovereign, has
never failed in any instance of preserving a vanquished people in
obedience to the conquerors. The English lords built strong castles on
their demesnes; they put themselves at the head of the tribes whose
chiefs they had slain; they assumed the Irish garb and manners; and
thus, partly by force, partly by policy, the first English families took
a firm root in Ireland. It was, indeed, long before they were able
entirely to subdue the island to the laws of England; but the continual
efforts of the Irish for more than four hundred years proved
insufficient to dislodge them.

Whilst Henry was extending his conquests to the western limits of the
known world, the whole fabric of his power was privately sapped and
undermined, and ready to overwhelm him with the ruins, in the very
moment when he seemed to be arrived at the highest and most permanent
point of grandeur and glory. His excessive power, his continual
accessions to it, and an ambition which by words and actions declared
that the whole world was not sufficient for a great man, struck a just
terror into all the potentates near him: he was, indeed, arrived at that
pitch of greatness, that the means of his ruin could only be found in
his own family. A numerous offspring, which is generally considered as
the best defence of the throne, and the support as well as ornament of
declining royalty, proved on this occasion the principal part of the
danger. Henry had in his lawful bed, besides daughters, four sons,
Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John, all growing up with great hopes from
their early courage and love of glory. No father was ever more delighted
with these hopes, nor more tender and indulgent to his children. A
custom had long prevailed in France for the reigning king to crown his
eldest son in his lifetime. By this policy, in turbulent times, and
whilst the principles of succession were unsettled, he secured the crown
to his posterity. Henry gladly imitated a policy enforced no less by
paternal affection than its utility to public peace. He had, during his
troubles with Becket, crowned his son Henry, then no more than sixteen
years old. But the young king, even on the day of his coronation,
discovered an haughtiness which threatened not to content itself with
the share of authority to which the inexperience of his youth and the
nature of a provisional crown confined him. The name of a king
continually reminded him that he only possessed the name. The King of
France, whose daughter he had espoused, fomented a discontent which grew
with his years. Geoffrey, who had married the heiress of Bretagne, on
the death of her father claimed to no purpose the entire sovereignty of
his wife's inheritance, which Henry, under a pretence of guardianship to
a son of full age, still retained in his hands. Richard had not the same
plausible pretences, but he had yet greater ambition. He contended for
the Duchy of Guienne before his mother's death, which, alone could give
him the color of a title to it. The queen, his mother, hurried on by her
own unquiet spirit, or, as some think, stimulated by jealousy,
encouraged their rebellion against her husband. The King of France, who
moved all the other engines, engaged the King of Scotland, the Earl of
Flanders, then a powerful prince, the Earl of Blois, and the Earl of
Boulogne in the conspiracy. The barons in Bretagne, in Guienne, and even
in England, were ready to take up arms in the same cause; whether it was
that they perceived the uniform plan the king had pursued in order to
their reduction, or were solely instigated by the natural fierceness and
levity of their minds, fond of every dangerous novelty. The historians
of that time seldom afford us a tolerable insight into the causes of the
transactions they relate; but whatever were the causes of so
extraordinary a conspiracy, it was not discovered until the moment it
was ready for execution. The first token of it appeared in the young
king's demand to have either England or Normandy given up to him. The
refusal of this demand served as a signal to all parties to put
themselves in motion. The younger Henry fled into France; Louis entered
Normandy with a vast army; the barons of Bretagne under Geoffrey, and
those of Guienne under Richard, rose in arms; the King of Scotland
pierced into England; and the Earl of Leicester, at the head of fourteen
thousand Flemings, landed in Suffolk.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1173]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1174]

It was on this trying occasion that Henry displayed a greatness
independent of all fortune. For, beset by all the neighboring powers,
opposed by his own children, betrayed by his wife, abandoned by one part
of his subjects, uncertain of the rest, every part of his state rotten
and suspicious, his magnanimity grew beneath the danger; and when all
the ordinary resources failed, he found superior resources in his own
courage, wisdom, and activity. There were at that time dispersed over
Europe bodies of mercenary troops, called Brabancons, composed of
fugitives from different nations, men who were detached from any
country, and who, by making war a perpetual trade, and passing from
service to service, had acquired an experience and military knowledge
uncommon in those days. Henry took twenty thousand of these mercenaries
into his service, and, as he paid them punctually, and kept them always
in action, they served him with fidelity. The Papal authority, so often
subservient, so often prejudicial to his designs, he called to his
assistance in a cause which did not misbecome it,--the cause of a father
attacked by his children. This took off the ill impression left by
Becket's death, and kept the bishops firm in their allegiance. Having
taken his measures with judgment, he pursued the war in Normandy with
vigor. In this war his mercenaries had a great and visible advantage
over the feudal armies of France: the latter, not so useful while they
remained in the field, entered it late in the summer, and commonly left
it in forty days. The King of France was forced to raise the siege of
Verneuil, to evacuate Normandy, and agree to a truce. Then, at the head
of his victorious Brabancons, Henry marched into Brittany with an
incredible expedition. The rebellious army, astonished as much by the
celerity of his march as the fury of his attack, was totally routed. The
principal towns and castles were reduced soon after. The custody of the
conquered country being lodged in faithful hands, he flew to the relief
of England. There his natural son Geoffrey, Bishop elect of Ely,
faithful during the rebellion of all his legitimate offspring, steadily
maintained his cause, though with forces much inferior to his zeal. The
king, before he entered into action, thought it expedient to perform his
expiation at the tomb of Becket. Hardly had he finished this ceremony,
when the news arrived that the Scotch army was totally defeated, and
their king made prisoner. This victory was universally attributed to the
prayers of Becket; and whilst it established the credit of the new
saint, it established Henry in the minds of his people: they no longer
looked upon their king as an object of the Divine vengeance, but as a
penitent reconciled to Heaven, and under the special protection of the
martyr he had made. The Flemish army, after several severe checks,
capitulated to evacuate the kingdom. The rebellious barons submitted
soon after. All was quiet in England; but the King of France renewed
hostilities in Normandy, and laid siege to Rouen. Henry recruited his
army with a body of auxiliary Welsh, arrived at Rouen with his usual
expedition, raised the siege, and drove the King of France quite out of
Normandy. It was then that he agreed to an accommodation, and in the
terms of peace, which he dictated in the midst of victory to his sons,
his subjects, and his enemies, there was seen on one hand the tenderness
of a father, and on the other the moderation of a wise man, not
insensible of the mutability of fortune.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1176]

The war which threatened his ruin being so happily ended, the greatness
of the danger served only to enhance his glory; whilst he saw the King
of France humbled, the Flemings defeated, the King of Scotland a
prisoner, and his sons and subjects reduced to the bounds of their duty.
He employed this interval of peace to secure its continuance, and to
prevent a return of the like evils; for which reason he made many
reforms in the laws and polity of his dominions. He instituted itinerant
justices, to weaken the power of the great barons, and even of the
sheriffs, who were hardly more obedient,--an institution which, with
great public advantages, has remained to our times. In the spirit of the
same policy he armed the whole body of the people: the English
commonalty had been in a manner disarmed ever since the Conquest. In
this regulation we may probably trace the origin of the militia, which,
being under the orders of the crown rather in a political than a feudal
respect, were judged more to be relied on than the soldiers of tenure,
to whose pride and power they might prove a sort of counterpoise. Amidst
these changes the affairs of the clergy remained untouched. The king had
experienced how dangerous it was to attempt removing foundations so
deeply laid both in strength and opinion. He therefore wisely aimed at
acquiring the favor of that body, and turning to his own advantage a
power he should in vain attempt to overthrow, but which he might set up
against another power, which it was equally his interest to reduce.

Though these measures were taken with the greatest judgment, and seemed
to promise a peaceful evening to his reign, the seeds of rebellion
remained still at home, and the dispositions that nourished them were
rather increased abroad. The parental authority, respectable at all
times, ought to have the greatest force in times when the manners are
rude and the laws imperfect. At that time Europe had not emerged out of
barbarism, yet this great natural bond of society was extremely weak.
The number of foreign obligations and duties almost dissolved the family
obligations. From the moment a young man was knighted, so far as related
to his father, he became absolute master of his own conduct; but he
contracted at the same time a sort of filial relation with the person
who had knighted him. These various principles of duty distracted one
another. The custom which then prevailed, of bestowing lands and
jurisdictions, under the name of Appanages, to the sons of kings and the
greater nobility, gave them a power which was frequently employed
against the giver; and the military and licentious manners of the age
almost destroyed every trace of every kind of regular authority. In the
East, where the rivalship of brothers is so dangerous, such is the force
of paternal power amongst a rude people, we scarce ever hear of a son in
arms against his father. In Europe, for several ages, it was very
common. It was Henry's great misfortune to suffer in a particular manner
from this disorder.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1180.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1183.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1188.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1189.]

Philip succeeded Louis, King of France. He followed closely the plan of
his predecessor, to reduce the great vassals, and the King of England,
who was the greatest of them; but he followed it with far more skill and
vigor, though he made use of the same instruments in the work. He
revived the spirit of rebellion in the princes, Henry's sons. These
young princes were never in harmony with each other but in a confederacy
against their father, and the father had no recourse but in the
melancholy safety derived from the disunion of his children. This he
thought it expedient to increase; but such policy, when discovered, has
always a dangerous effect. The sons, having just quarrelled enough to
give room for an explanation of each other's designs, and to display
those of their father, enter into a new conspiracy. In the midst of
these motions the young king dies, and showed at his death such signs of
a sincere repentance as served to revive the old king's tenderness, and
to take away all comfort for his loss. The death of his third son,
Geoffrey, followed close upon the heels of this funeral. He died at
Paris, whither he had gone to concert measures against his father.
Richard and John remained. Richard, fiery, restless, ambitious, openly
took up arms, and pursued the war with implacable rancor, and such
success as drove the king, in the decline of his life, to a dishonorable
treaty; nor was he then content, but excited new troubles. John was his
youngest and favorite child; in him he reposed all his hopes, and
consoled himself for the undutifulness of his other sons; but after
concluding the treaty with the King of France and Richard, he found too
soon that John had been as deep as any in the conspiracy. This was his
last wound: afflicted by his children in their deaths and harassed in
their lives, mortified as a father and a king, worn down with cares and
sorrows more than with years, he died, cursing his fortune, his
children, and the hour of his birth. When he perceived that death
approached him, by his own desire he was carried into a church and laid
at the altar's foot. Hardly had he expired, when he was stripped, then
forsaken by his attendants, and left a long time a naked and unheeded
body in an empty church: affording a just consolation for the obscurity
of a mean fortune, and an instructive lesson how little an outward
greatness and enjoyments foreign to the mind contribute towards a solid
felicity, in the example of one who was the greatest of kings and the
unhappiest of mankind.


[78] Seld. Tithes, p. 482.

[79] LL. Ethelred. Si presbyter homicida fieret, &c.

[80] LL. Cnuti, 38, De Ministro Altaris Homicida. Idem, 40, De Ordinato
Capitis reo.

[81] LL. H.I. 57, De Querela Vicinorum; and 56 [66?]. De Ordinato qui
Vitam forisfaciat, in Foed. Alured. et Guthurn., apud Spel. Concil.
376, 1st vol.; LL. Edw. et Guthurn., 3, De Correctione Ordinatorum.



[Sidenote: Richard I. A.D. 1189]

Whilst Henry lived, the King of France had always an effectual means of
breaking his power by the divisions in his family. But now Richard
succeeded to all the power of his father, with an equal ambition to
extend it, with a temper infinitely more fiery and impetuous, and free
from every impediment of internal dissension. These circumstances filled
the mind of Philip with great and just uneasiness. There was no security
but in finding exercise for the enterprising genius of the young king at
a distance from home. The new Crusade afforded an advantageous
opportunity. A little before his father's death, Richard had taken the
cross in conjunction with the King of France. So precipitate were the
fears of that monarch, that Richard was hardly crowned when ambassadors
were dispatched to England to remind him of his obligation, and to pique
his pride by acquainting him that their master was even then in
readiness to fulfil his part of their common vow. An enterprise of this
sort was extremely agreeable to the genius of Richard, where religion
sanctified the thirst of military glory, and where the glory itself
seemed but the more desirable by being unconnected with interest. He
immediately accepted the proposal, and resolved to insure the success as
well as the lustre of his expedition by the magnificence of his
preparations. Not content with the immense treasures amassed by his
father, he drew in vast sums by the sale of almost all the demesnes of
the crown, and of every office under it, not excepting those of the
highest trust. The clergy, whose wealth and policy enabled them to take
advantage of the necessity and weakness of the Croises, were generally
the purchasers of both. To secure his dominions in his absence, he made
an alliance with the princes of Wales, and with the King of Scotland. To
the latter he released, for a sum of money, the homage which had been
extorted by his father.

His brother John gave him most uneasiness; but finding it unworthy, or
impracticable, to use the severer methods of jealous policy, he resolved
to secure his fidelity by loading him with benefits. He bestowed on him
six earldoms, and gave him in marriage the Lady Avisa, sole heiress of
the great house of Gloucester; but as he gave him no share in the
regency, he increased his power, and left him discontented in a kingdom
committed to the care of new men, who had merited their places by their

It will be proper to take a view of the condition of the Holy Land at
the time when this third Crusade was set on foot to repair the faults
committed in the two former. The conquests of the Croises, extending
over Palestine and a part of Syria, had been erected into a sovereignty
under the name of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This kingdom, ill-ordered
within, surrounded on all sides by powerful enemies, subsisted by a
strength not its own for near ninety years. But dissensions arising
about the succession to the crown, between Guy of Lusignan and Raymond,
Earl of Tripoli, Guy, either because he thought the assistance of the
European princes too distant, or that he feared their decision, called
in the aid of Saladin, Sultan of Egypt. This able prince immediately
entered Palestine. As the whole strength of the Christians in Palestine
depended upon foreign succor, he first made himself master of the
maritime towns, and then Jerusalem fell an easy prey to his arms; whilst
the competitors contended with the utmost violence for a kingdom which
no longer existed for either of them. All Europe was alarmed at this
revolution. The banished Patriarch of Jerusalem filled every place with
the distresses of the Eastern Christians. The Pope ordered a solemn fast
to be forever kept for this loss, and then, exerting all his influence,
excited a new Crusade, in which vast numbers engaged, with an ardor
unabated by their former misfortunes; but wanting a proper subordination
rather than a sufficient force, they made but a slow progress, when
Richard and Philip, at the head of more than one hundred thousand chosen
men, the one from Marseilles, the other from Genoa, set sail to their

[Sidenote: A.D. 1191]

In his voyage to the Holy Land accident presented Richard, with an
unexpected conquest. A vessel of his fleet was driven by a storm to take
shelter in the Isle of Cyprus. That island was governed by a prince
named Isaac, of the imperial family of the Comneni, who not only
refused all relief to the sufferers, but plundered them of the little
remains of their substance. Richard, resenting this inhospitable
treatment, aggravated by the insolence of the tyrant, turned his force
upon Cyprus, vanquished Isaac in the field, took the capital city, and
was solemnly crowned king of that island. But deeming it as glorious to
give as to acquire a crown, he soon after resigned it to Lusignan, to
satisfy him for his claim on Jerusalem; in whose descendants it
continued for several generations, until, passing by marriage into the
family of Cornaro, a Venetian nobleman, it was acquired to that state,
the only state in Europe which had any real benefit by all the blood and
treasure lavished in the Holy War.

Richard arrived in Palestine some time after the King of France. His
arrival gave new vigor to the operations of the Croises. He reduced Acre
to surrender at discretion, which had been in vain besieged for two
years, and in the siege of which an infinite number of Christians had
perished; and so much did he distinguish himself on this and on all
occasions, that the whole expedition seemed to rest on his single valor.
The King of France, seeing him fully engaged, had all that he desired.
The climate was disagreeable to his constitution, and the war, in which
he acted but a second part, to his pride. He therefore hastened home to
execute his projects against Richard, amusing him with oaths made to be
violated,--leaving, indeed, a part of his forces under the Duke of
Burgundy, but with private orders to give him underhand all possible
obstruction. Notwithstanding the desertion of his ally, Richard
continued the war with uncommon alacrity. With very unequal numbers he
engaged and defeated the whole army of Saladin, and slew forty thousand
of his best troops. He obliged him to evacuate all the towns on the
sea-coast, and spread the renown and terror of his arms over all Asia. A
thousand great exploits did not, however, enable him to extend his
conquests to the inland country. Jealousy, envy, cabals, and a total
want of discipline reigned in the army of the Crosses. The climate, and
their intemperance more than the climate, wasted them with a swift
decay. The vow which brought them to the Holy Land was generally for a
limited time, at the conclusion of which they were always impatient to
depart. Their armies broke up at the most critical conjunctures,--as it
was not the necessity of the service, but the extent of their vows,
which held them together. As soon, therefore, as they had habituated
themselves to the country, and attained some experience, they were gone;
and new men supplied their places, to acquire experience by the same
misfortunes, and to lose the benefit of it by the same inconstancy. Thus
the war could never be carried on with steadiness and uniformity. On the
other side, Saladin continually repaired his losses; his resources were
at hand; and this great captain very judiciously kept possession of that
mountainous country which, formed by a perpetual ridge of Libanus, in a
manner walls in the sea-coast of Palestine. There he hung, like a
continual tempest, ready to burst over the Christian army. On his rear
was the strong city of Jerusalem, which secured a communication with the
countries of Chaldea and Mesopotamia, from whence he was well supplied
with everything. If the Christians attempted to improve their successes
by penetrating to Jerusalem, they had a city powerfully garrisoned in
their front, a country wasted and destitute of forage to act in, and
Saladin with a vast army on their rear advantageously posted to cut off
their convoys and reinforcements.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1192.]

Richard was laboring to get over these disadvantages, when he was
informed by repeated expresses of the disorder of his affairs in
Europe,--disorders which arose from the ill dispositions he had made at
his departure. The heads of his regency had abused their power; they
quarrelled with each other, and the nobility with them. A sort of a
civil war had arisen, in which they were deposed. Prince John was the
main spring of these dissensions; he engaged in a close communication of
councils with the King of France, who had seized upon several places in
Normandy. It was with regret that Richard found himself obliged to leave
a theatre on which he had planned such an illustrious scene of action. A
constant emulation in courtesy and politeness, as well as in military
exploits, had been kept up between him and Saladin. He now concluded a
truce with that generous enemy, and on his departure sent a messenger to
assure him that on its expiration he would not fail to be again in
Palestine. Saladin replied, that, if he must lose his kingdom, he would
choose to lose it to the King England. Thus Richard returned, leaving
Jerusalem in the hands of the Saracens; and this end had an enterprise
in which two of the most powerful monarchs in Europe were personally
engaged, an army of upwards of one hundred thousand men employed, and to
furnish which the whole Christian world had been vexed and exhausted.
It is a melancholy reflection, that the spirit of great designs can
seldom be inspired, but where the reason of mankind is so uncultivated
that they can be turned to little advantage.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1193]

With this war ended the fortune of Richard, who found the Saracens less
dangerous than his Christian allies. It is not well known what motive
induced him to land at Aquileia, at the bottom of the Gulf of Venice, in
order to take his route by Germany; but he pursued his journey through,
the territories of the Duke of Austria, whom he had personally affronted
at the siege of Acre. And now, neither keeping himself out of the power
of that prince, nor rousing his generosity by seeming to confide in it,
he attempted to get through his dominions in disguise. Sovereigns do not
easily assume the private character; their pride seldom suffers their
disguise to be complete: besides, Richard had made himself but too well
known. The Duke, transported with the opportunity of base revenge,
discovered him, seized him, and threw him into prison; from whence he
was only released to be thrown into another. The Emperor claimed him,
and, without regarding in this unfortunate captive the common dignity of
sovereigns, or his great actions in the common cause of Europe, treated
him with yet greater cruelty. To give a color of justice to his
violence, he proposed to accuse Richard at the Diet of the Empire upon
certain articles relative to his conduct in the Holy Land.

The news of the king's captivity caused the greatest consternation in
all his good subjects; but it revived the hopes and machinations of
Prince John, who bound himself by closer ties than ever to the King of
France, seized upon some strongholds in England, and, industriously
spreading a report of his brother's death, publicly laid claim to the
crown as lawful successor. All his endeavors, however, served only to
excite the indignation of the people, and to attach them the more firmly
to their unfortunate prince. Eleanor, the queen dowager, as good a
mother as she had been a bad wife, acted with the utmost vigor and
prudence to retain them in their duty, and omitted no means to procure
the liberty of her son. The nation seconded her with a zeal, in their
circumstances, uncommon. No tyrant ever imposed so severe a tax upon his
people as the affection of the people of England, already exhausted,
levied upon themselves. The most favored religious orders were charged
on this occasion. The Church plate was sold. The ornaments of the most
holy relics were not spared. And, indeed, nothing serves more to
demonstrate the poverty of the kingdom, reduced by internal dissensions
and remote wars, at that time, than the extreme difficulty of collecting
the king's ransom, which amounted to no more than one hundred thousand
marks of silver, Cologne weight. For raising this sum, the first
taxation, the most heavy and general that was ever known in England,
proved altogether insufficient. Another taxation was set on foot. It was
levied with the same rigor as the former, and still fell short.
Ambassadors were sent into Germany with all that could be raised, and
with hostages for the payment of whatever remained. The king met these
ambassadors as he was carried in chains to plead his cause before the
Diet of the Empire. The ambassadors burst into tears at this affecting
sight, and wept aloud; but Richard, though touched no less with the
affectionate loyalty of his subjects than with his own fallen condition,
preserved his dignity entire in his misfortunes, and with a cheerful air
inquired of the state of his dominions, the behavior of the King of
Scotland, and the fidelity of his brother, the Count John. At the Diet,
no longer protected by the character of a sovereign, he was supported by
his personal abilities. He had a ready wit and great natural eloquence;
and his high reputation and the weight of his cause pleading for him
more strongly, the Diet at last interested itself in his favor, and
prevailed on the Emperor to accept an excessive ransom for dismissing a
prisoner whom he detained without the least color of justice. Philip
moved heaven and earth to prevent his enlargement: he negotiated, he
promised, he flattered, he threatened, he outbid his extravagant ransom.
The Emperor, in his own nature more inclined to the bribe, which tempted
him to be base, hesitated a long time between these offers. But as the
payment of the ransom was more certain than Philip's promises, and as
the instances of the Diet, and the menaces of the Pope, who protected
Richard, as a prince serving under the Cross, were of more immediate
consequence than his threats, Richard was at length released; and though
it is said the Emperor endeavored to seize him again, to extort an other
ransom, he escaped safely into England.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1194]

Richard, on his coming to England, found all things in the utmost
confusion; but before he attempted to apply a remedy to so obstinate a
disease, in order to wipe off any degrading ideas which might have
arisen from his imprisonment, he caused himself to be new crowned. Then
holding his Court of Great Council at Southampton, he made some useful
regulations in the distribution of justice. He called some great
offenders to a strict account. Count John deserved no favor, and he lay
entirely at the king's mercy, who, by an unparalleled generosity,
pardoned him his multiplied offences, only depriving him of the power of
which he had made so bad a use. Generosity did not oblige him to forget
the hostilities of the King of France. But to prosecute the war money
was wanting, which new taxes and new devices supplied with difficulty
and with dishonor. All the mean oppressions of a necessitous government
were exercised on this occasion. All the grants which were made on the
king's departure to the Holy Land were revoked, on the weak pretence
that the purchasers had sufficient recompense whilst they held them.
Necessity seemed to justify this, as well as many other measures that
were equally violent. The whole revenue of the crown had been
dissipated; means to support its dignity must be found; and these means
were the least unpopular, as most men saw with pleasure the wants of
government fall upon those who had started into a sudden greatness by
taking advantage of those wants.

Richard renewed the war with Philip, which continued, though frequently
interrupted by truces, for about five years. In this war Richard
signalized himself by that irresistible courage which on all occasions
gave him a superiority over the King of France. But his revenues were
exhausted; a great scarcity reigned both in France and England; and the
irregular manner of carrying on war in those days prevented a clear
decision in favor of either party. Richard had still an eye on the Holy
Land, which he considered as the only province worthy of his arms; and
this continually diverted his thoughts from the steady prosecution of
the war in France. The Crusade, like a superior orb, moved along with
all the particular systems of politics of that time, and suspended,
accelerated, or put back all operations on motives foreign to the things
themselves. In this war it must be remarked, that Richard made a
considerable use of the mercenaries who had been so serviceable to Henry
the Second; and the King of France, perceiving how much his father,
Louis, had suffered by a want of that advantage, kept on foot a standing
army in constant pay, which none of his predecessors had done before
him, and which afterwards for a long time very unaccountably fell into
disuse in both kingdoms.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1199.]

Whilst this war was carried on, by intervals and starts, it came to the
ears of Richard that a nobleman of Limoges had found on his lands a
considerable hidden treasure. The king, necessitous and rapacious to the
last degree, and stimulated by the exaggeration and marvellous
circumstances which always attend the report of such discoveries,
immediately sent to demand the treasure, under pretence of the rights of
seigniory. The Limosin, either because he had really discovered nothing
or that he was unwilling to part with so valuable an acquisition,
refused to comply with the king's demand, and fortified his castle.
Enraged at the disappointment, Richard relinquished the important
affairs in which he was engaged, and laid siege to this castle with all
the eagerness of a man who has his heart set upon a trifle. In this
siege he received a wound from an arrow, and it proved mortal; but in
the last, as in all the other acts of his life, something truly noble
shone out amidst the rash and irregular motions of his mind. The castle
was taken before he died. The man from whom Richard had received the
wound was brought before him. Being asked why he levelled his arrow at
the king, he answered, with an undaunted countenance, "that the king
with his own hand had slain his two brothers; that he thanked God who
gave him an opportunity to revenge their deaths even with the certainty
of his own." Richard, more touched with the magnanimity of the man than
offended at the injury he had received or the boldness of the answer,
ordered that his life should be spared. He appointed his brother John to
the succession; and with these acts ended a life and reign distinguished
by a great variety of fortunes in different parts of the world, and
crowned with great military glory, but without any accession of power to
himself, or prosperity to his people, whom he entirely neglected, and
reduced, by his imprudence and misfortunes, to no small indigence and

In many respects, a striking parallel presents itself between this
ancient King of England and Charles the Twelfth, of Sweden. They were
both inordinately desirous of war, and rather generals than kings. Both
were rather fond of glory than ambitious of empire. Both of them made
and deposed sovereigns. They both carried on their wars at a distance
from home. They were both made prisoners by a friend and ally. They were
both reduced by an adversary inferior in war, but above them in the arts
of rule. After spending their lives in remote adventures, each perished
at last near home in enterprises not suited to the splendor of their
former exploits. Both died childless. And both, by the neglect of their
affairs and the severity of their government, gave their subjects
provocation and encouragement to revive their freedom. In all these
respects the two characters were alike; but Richard fell as much short
of the Swedish hero in temperance, chastity, and equality of mind as he
exceeded him in wit and eloquence. Some of his sayings are the most
spirited that we find in that time; and some of his verses remain, which
is a barbarous age might have passed for poetry.



[Sidenote: A.D. 1199]

We are now arrived at one of the most memorable periods in the English
story, whether we consider the astonishing revolutions which were then
wrought, the calamities in which both the prince and people were
involved, or the happy consequences which, arising from the midst of
those calamities, have constituted the glory and prosperity of England
for so many years. We shall see a throne founded in arms, and augmented
by the successive policy of five able princes, at once shaken to its
foundations: first made tributary by the arts of a foreign power; then
limited, and almost overturned, by the violence of its subjects. We
shall see a king, to reduce his people to obedience, draw into his
territories a tumultuary foreign army, and destroy his country instead
of establishing his government. We shall behold the people, grown
desperate, call in another foreign army, with a foreign prince at its
head, and throw away that liberty which they had sacrificed everything
to preserve. We shall see the arms of this prince successful against an
established king in the vigor of his years, ebbing in the full tide of
their prosperity, and yielding to an infant: after this, peace and order
and liberty restored, the foreign force and foreign title purged off,
and all things settled as happily as beyond all hope.

Richard dying without lawful issue, the succession to his dominions
again became dubious. They consisted of various territories, governed by
various rules of descent, and all of them uncertain. There were two
competitors: the first was Prince John, youngest son of Henry the
Second; the other was Arthur, son of Constance of Bretagne, by Geoffrey,
the third son of that monarch. If the right of consanguinity were only
considered, the title of John to the whole succession had been
indubitable. If the right of representation had then prevailed, which
now universally prevails, Arthur, as standing in the place of his
father, Geoffrey, had a solid claim. About Brittany there was no
dispute. Anjou, Poitou, Touraine, and Guienne declared in favor of
Arthur, on the principle of representation. Normandy was entirely for
John. In England the point of law had never been entirely settled, but
it seemed rather inclined to the side of consanguinity. Therefore in
England, where this point was dubious at best, the claim of Arthur, an
infant and a stranger, had little force against the pretensions of John,
declared heir by the will of the late king, supported by his armies,
possessed of his treasures, and at the head of a powerful party. He
secured in his interests Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and
Glanville, the chief justiciary, and by them the body of the
ecclesiastics and the law. It is remarkable, also, that he paid court to
the cities and boroughs, which is the first instance of that policy: but
several of these communities now happily began to emerge from their
slavery, and, taking advantage of the necessities and confusion of the
late reign, increased in wealth and consequence, and had then first
attained a free and regular form of administration. The towns new to
power declared heartily in favor of a prince who was willing to allow
that their declaration could confer a right. The nobility, who saw
themselves beset by the Church, the law, and the burghers, had taken no
measures, nor even a resolution, and therefore had nothing left but to
concur in acknowledging the title of John, whom they knew and hated. But
though they were not able to exclude him from the succession, they had
strength enough to oblige him to a solemn promise of restoring those
liberties and franchises which they had always claimed without having
ever enjoyed or even perfectly understood. The clergy also took
advantage of the badness of his title to establish one altogether as ill
founded. Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the speech which he
delivered at the king's coronation, publicly affirmed that the crown of
England was of right elective. He drew his examples in support of this
doctrine, not from the histories of the ancient Saxon kings, although a
species of election within a certain family had then frequently
prevailed, but from the history of the first kings of the Jews: without
doubt in order to revive those pretensions which the clergy first set up
in the election of Stephen, and which they had since been obliged to
conceal, but had not entirely forgotten.

John accepted a sovereignty weakened in the very act by which he
acquired it; but he submitted to the times. He came to the throne at the
age of thirty-two. He had entered early into business, and had been
often involved in difficult and arduous enterprises, in which he
experienced a variety of men and fortunes. His father, whilst he was
very young, had sent him into Ireland, which kingdom was destined for
his portion, in order to habituate that people to their future
sovereign, and to give the young prince an opportunity of conciliating
the favor of his new subjects. But he gave on this occasion no good
omens of capacity for government. Full of the insolent levity of a young
man of high rank without education, and surrounded with others equally
unpractised, he insulted the Irish chiefs, and, ridiculing their uncouth
garb and manners, he raised such a disaffection to the English
government, and so much opposition to it, as all the wisdom of his
father's best officers and counsellors was hardly able to overcome. In
the decline of his father's life he joined in the rebellion of his
brothers, with so much more guilt as with more ingratitude and
hypocrisy. During the reign of Richard he was the perpetual author of
seditions and tumults; and yet was pardoned, and even favored by that
prince to his death, when he very unaccountably appointed him heir to
all his dominions.

It was of the utmost moment to John, who had no solid title, to
conciliate the favor of all the world. Yet one of his first steps,
whilst his power still remained dubious and unsettled, was, on pretence
of consanguinity, to divorce his wife Avisa, with whom he had lived many
years, and to marry Isabella of Angouleme, a woman of extraordinary
beauty, but who had been betrothed to Hugh, Count of Marche: thus
disgusting at once the powerful friends of his divorced wife, and those
of the Earl of Marche, whom he had so sensibly wronged.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1200.]

The King of France, Philip Augustus, saw with pleasure these proceedings
of John, as he had before rejoiced at the dispute about the succession.
He had been always employed, and sometimes with success, to reduce the
English power through the reigns of one very able and one very warlike
prince. He had greater advantages in this conjuncture, and a prince of
quite another character now to contend with. He was therefore not long
without choosing his part; and whilst he secretly encouraged the Count
of Marche, already stimulated by his private wrongs, he openly supported
the claim of Arthur to the Duchies of Anjou and Touraine. It was the
character of this prince readily to lay aside and as readily to reassume
his enterprises, as his affairs demanded. He saw that he had declared
himself too rashly, and that he was in danger of being assaulted upon
every side. He saw it was necessary to break an alliance, which the nice
circumstances and timid character of John would enable him to do. In
fact, John was at this time united in a close alliance with the Emperor
and the Earl of Flanders; and these princes were engaged in a war with
France. He had then a most favorable opportunity to establish all his
claims, and at the same time to put the King of France out of a
condition to question them ever after. But he suffered himself to be
overreached by the artifices of Philip: he consented to a treaty of
peace, by which he received an empty acknowledgment of his right to the
disputed territories, and in return for which acknowledgment he
renounced his alliance with the Emperor. By this act he at once
strengthened his enemy, gave up his ally, and lowered his character with
his subjects and with all the world.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1201.]

[Sidenote: A.D. 1202.]

This treaty was hardly signed, when the ill consequences of his conduct
became evident. The Earl of Marche and Arthur immediately renewed their
claims and hostilities under the protection of the King of France, who
made a strong diversion by invading Normandy. At the commencement of
these motions, John, by virtue of a prerogative hitherto undisputed,
summoned his English barons to attend him into France; but instead of a
compliance with his orders, he was surprised with a solemn demand of
their ancient liberties. It is astonishing that the barons should at
that time have ventured on a resolution of such dangerous importance, as
they had provided no sort of means to support them. But the history of
those times furnishes many instances of the like want of design in the
most momentous affairs, and shows that it is in vain to look for
political causes for the actions of men, who were most commonly directed
by a brute caprice, and were for the greater part destitute of any fixed
principles of obedience or resistance. The king, sensible of the
weakness of his barons, fell upon some of their castles with such timely
vigor, and treated those whom he had reduced with so much severity, that
the rest immediately and abjectly submitted. He levied a severe tax upon
their fiefs; and thinking himself more strengthened by this treasure
than the forced service of his barons, he excused the personal
attendance of most of them, and, passing into Normandy, he raised an
army there. He found that his enemies had united their forces, and
invested the castle of Mirebeau, a place of importance, in which his
mother, from whom he derived his right to Guienne, was besieged. He flew
to the relief of this place with the spirit of a greater character, and
the success was answerable. The Breton and Poitevin army was defeated,
his mother was freed, and the young Duke of Brittany and his sister were
made prisoners. The latter he sent into England, to be confined in the
castle of Bristol; the former he carried with him to Rouen. The good
fortune of John now seemed to be at its highest point; but it was
exalted on a precipice; and this great victory proved the occasion of
all the evils which afflicted his life.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1203.]

John was not of a character to resist the temptation of having the life
of his rival in his hands. All historians are as fully agreed that he
murdered his nephew as they differ in the means by which he accomplished
that crime. But the report was soon spread abroad, variously heightened
in the circumstances by the obscurity of the fact, which left all men at
liberty to imagine and invent, and excited all those sentiments of pity
and indignation which a very young prince of great hopes, cruelly
murdered by his uncle, naturally inspire. Philip had never missed an
occasion of endeavoring to ruin the King of England: and having now
acquired an opportunity of accomplishing that by justice which he had in
vain sought by ambition, he filled every place with complaints of the
cruelty of John, whom, as a vassal to the crown of France, the king
accused of the murder of another vassal, and summoned him to Paris to
be tried by his peers. It was by no means consistent either with the
dignity or safety of John to appear to this summons. He had the argument
of kings to justify what he had done. But as in all great crimes there
is something of a latent weakness, and in a vicious caution something
material is ever neglected, John, satisfied with removing his rival,
took no thought about his enemy; but whilst he saw himself sentenced for
non-appearance in the Court of Peers, whilst he saw the King of France
entering Normandy with a vast army in consequence of this sentence, and
place after place, castle after castle, falling before him, he passed
his time at Rouen in the profoundest tranquillity, indulging himself in
indolent amusements, and satisfied with vain threatenings and boasts,
which only added greater shame to his inactivity. The English barons who
had attended him in this expedition, disaffected from the beginning, and
now wearied with being so long witnesses to the ignominy of their
sovereign, retired to their own country, and there spread the report of
his unaccountable sloth and cowardice. John quickly followed them; and
returning into his kingdom, polluted with the charge of so heavy a
crime, and disgraced by so many follies, instead of aiming by popular
acts to reestablish his character, he exacted a seventh of their
movables from the barons, on pretence that they had deserted his
service. He laid the same imposition on the clergy, without giving
himself the trouble of seeking for a pretext. He made no proper use of
these great supplies, but saw the great city of Rouen, always faithful
to its sovereigns, and now exerting the most strenuous efforts in his
favor, obliged at length to surrender, without the least attempt to
relieve it Thus the whole Duchy of Normandy, originally acquired by the
valor of his ancestors, and the source from which the greatness of his
family had been derived, after being supported against all shocks for
three hundred years, was torn forever from the stock of Rollo, and
reunited to the crown of France. Immediately all the rest of the
provinces which he held on the continent, except a part of Guienne,
despairing of his protection, and abhorring his government, threw
themselves into the hands of Philip.

Meanwhile the king by his personal vices completed the odium which he
had acquired by the impotent violence of his government. Uxorious and
yet dissolute in his manners, he made no scruple frequently to violate
the wives and daughters of his nobility, that rock on which tyranny has
so often split. Other acts of irregular power, in their greatest
excesses, still retain the characters of sovereign authority; but here
the vices of the prince intrude into the families of the subject, and,
whilst they aggravate the oppression, lower the character of the

In the disposition which all these causes had concurred universally to
diffuse, the slightest motion in his kingdom threatened the most
dangerous consequences. Those things which in quiet times would have
only raised a slight controversy, now, when the minds of men were
exasperated and inflamed, were capable of affording matter to the
greatest revolutions. The affairs of the Church, the winds which mostly
governed the fluctuating people, were to be regarded with the utmost
attention. Above all, the person who filled the see of Canterbury, which
stood on a level with the throne itself, was a matter of the last
importance. Just at this critical time died Hubert, archbishop of that
see, a man who had a large share in procuring the crown for John, and in
weakening its authority by his acts at the ceremony of the coronation,
as well as by his subsequent conduct. Immediately on the death of this
prelate, a cabal of obscure monks, of the Abbey of St. Augustin,
assemble by night, and first binding themselves by a solemn oath not to
divulge their proceedings, until they should be confirmed by the Pope,
they elect one Reginald, their sub-prior, Archbishop of Canterbury. The
person elected immediately crossed the seas; but his vanity soon
discovered the secret of his greatness. The king received the news of
this transaction with surprise and indignation. Provoked at such a
contempt of his authority, he fell severely on the monastery, no less
surprised than himself at the clandestine proceeding of some of its
members. But the sounder part pacified him in some measure by their
submission. They elected a person recommended by the king, and sent
fourteen of the most respectable of their body to Rome, to pray that the
former proceedings should be annulled, and the later and more regular
confirmed. To this matter of contention another was added. A dispute had
long subsisted between the suffragan bishops of the province of
Canterbury and the monks of the Abbey of St. Austin, each claiming a
right to elect the metropolitan. This dispute was now revived, and
pursued with much vigor. The pretensions of the three contending parties
were laid before the Pope, to whom such disputes were highly pleasing,
as he knew that all claimants willingly conspire to flatter and
aggrandize that authority from which they expect a confirmation of
their own. The first election, he nulled, because its irregularity was
glaring. The right of the bishops was entirely rejected: the Pope looked
with an evil eye upon those whose authority he was every day usurping.
The second election was set aside, as made at the king's instance: this
was enough to make it very irregular. The canon law had now grown up to
its full strength. The enlargement of the prerogative of the Pope was
the great object of this jurisprudence,--a prerogative which, founded on
fictitious monuments, that are forged in an ignorant age, easily
admitted by a credulous people, and afterwards confirmed and enlarged by
these admissions, not satisfied with the supremacy, encroached on every
minute part of Church government, and had almost annihilated the
episcopal jurisdiction throughout Europe. Some canons had given the
metropolitan a power of nominating a bishop, when the circumstances of
the election were palpably irregular; and as it does not appear that
there was any other judge of the irregularity than the metropolitan
himself, the election below in effect became nugatory. The Pope, taking
the irregularity in this case for granted, in virtue of this canon, and
by his plenitude of power, ordered the deputies of Canterbury to proceed
to a new election. At the same time he recommended to their choice
Stephen Langton, their countryman,--a person already distinguished for
his learning, of irreproachable morals, and free from every canonical
impediment. This authoritative request the monks had not the courage to
oppose in the Pope's presence and in his own city. They murmured, and

[Sidenote: A.D. 1208.]

In England this proceeding was not so easily ratified. John drove the
monks of Canterbury from their monastery, and, having seized upon their
revenues, threatened the effects of the same indignation against all
those who seemed inclined to acquiesce in the proceedings of Rome. But
Rome had not made so bold a step with intention to recede. On the king's
positive refusal to admit Langton, and the expulsion of the monks of
Canterbury, England was laid under an interdict. Then divine service at
once ceased throughout the kingdom; the churches were shut; the
sacraments were suspended; the dead were buried without honor, in
highways and ditches, and the living deprived of all spiritual comfort.
On the other hand, the king let loose his indignation against the
ecclesiastics,--seizing their goods, throwing many into prison, and
permitting or encouraging all sorts of violence against them. The
kingdom was thrown into the most terrible confusion; whilst the people,
uncertain of the object or measure of their allegiance, and distracted
with opposite principles of duty, saw themselves deprived of their
religious rites by the ministers of religion, and their king, furious
with wrongs not caused by them, falling indiscriminately on the innocent
and the guilty: for John, instead of soothing his people in this their
common calamity, sought to terrify them into obedience. In a progress
which he made into the North, he threw down the inclosures of his
forests, to let loose the wild beasts upon their lands; and as he saw
the Papal proceedings increase with his opposition, he thought it
necessary to strengthen himself by new devices. He extorted hostages and
a new oath of fidelity from his barons. He raised a great army, to
divert the thoughts of his subjects from brooding too much on their
distracted condition. This army he transported into Ireland; and as it
happened to his father in a similar dispute with the Pope, whilst he was
dubious of his hereditary kingdom, he subdued Ireland. At this time he
is said to have established the English laws in that kingdom, and to
have appointed itinerant justices.

At length the sentence of excommunication was fulminated against the
king. In the same year the same sentence was pronounced upon the Emperor
Otho; and this daring Pope was not afraid at once to drive to
extremities the two greatest princes in Europe. And truly, nothing is
more remarkable than the uniform steadiness of the court of Rome in the
pursuits of her ambitious projects. For, knowing that pretensions which
stand merely in opinion cannot bear to be questioned in any part, though
she had hitherto seen the interdict produce but little effect, and
perceived that the excommunication itself could draw scarce one poor
bigot from the king's service, yet she receded not the least point from
the utmost of her demand. She broke off an accommodation just on the
point of being concluded, because the king refused to repair the losses
which the clergy had suffered, though he agreed to everything else, and
even submitted to receive the archbishop, who, being obtruded on him,
had in reality been set over him. But the Pope, bold as politic,
determined to render him perfectly submissive, and to this purpose
brought out the last arms of the ecclesiastic stores, which were
reserved for the most extreme occasions. Having first released the
English subjects from their oath of allegiance, by an unheard-of
presumption, he formally deposed John from his throne and dignity; he
invited the King of France to take possession of the forfeited crown;
he called forth all persons from all parts of Europe to assist in this
expedition, by the pardons and privileges of those who fought for the
Holy Land.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1218.]

This proceeding did not astonish the world. The King of France, having
driven John from all he held on the continent, gladly saw religion
itself invite him to farther conquests. He summoned all his vassals,
under the penalty of felony, and the opprobrious name of
_culvertage_,[82] (a name of all things dreaded by both nations,) to
attend in this expedition; and such force had this threat, and the hope
of plunder in England, that a very great army was in a short time
assembled. A fleet also rendezvoused in the mouth of the Seine, by the
writers of these times said to consist of seventeen hundred sail. On
this occasion John roused all his powers. He called upon all his people
who by the duty of their tenure or allegiance were obliged to defend
their lord and king, and in his writs stimulated them by the same
threats of _culvertage_ which had been employed against him. They
operated powerfully in his favor. His fleet in number exceeded the vast
navy of France; his army was in everything but heartiness to the cause
equal, and, extending along the coast of Kent, expected the descent of
the French forces.

Whilst these two mighty armies overspread the opposite coasts, and the
sea was covered with their fleets, and the decision of so vast an event
was hourly expected, various thoughts arose in the minds of those who
moved the springs of these affairs. John, at the head of one of the
finest armies in the world, trembled inwardly, when he reflected how
little he possessed or merited their confidence. Wounded by the
consciousness of his crimes, excommunicated by the Pope, hated by his
subjects, in danger of being at once abandoned by heaven and earth, he
was filled with the most fearful anxiety. The legates of the Pope had
hitherto seen everything succeed to their wish. But having made use of
an instrument too great for them to wield, they apprehended, that, when
it had overthrown their adversary, it might recoil upon the court of
Rome itself; that to add England to the rest of Philip's great
possessions was not the way to make him humble; and that in ruining John
to aggrandize that monarch, they should set up a powerful enemy in the
place of a submissive vassal.

They had done enough to give them a superiority in any negotiation, and
they privately sent an embassy to the King of England. Finding him very
tractable, they hasted to complete the treaty. The Pope's legate,
Pandulph, was intrusted with this affair. He knew the nature of men to
be such that they seldom engage willingly, if the whole of an hardship
be shown them at first, but that, having advanced a certain length,
their former concessions are an argument with them to advance further,
and to give all because they have already given a great deal. Therefore
he began with exacting an oath from the king, by which, without showing
the extent of his design, he engaged him to everything he could ask.
John swore to submit to the legate in all things relating to his
excommunication. And first he was obliged to accept Langton as
archbishop; then to restore the monks of Canterbury, and other deprived
ecclesiastics, and to make them a full indemnification for all their
losses. And now, by these concessions, all things seemed to be perfectly
settled. The cause of the quarrel was entirely removed. But when the
king expected for so perfect a submission a full absolution, the legate
began a labored harangue on his rebellion, his tyranny, and the
innumerable sins he had committed, and in conclusion declared that there
was no way left to appease God and the Church but to resign his crown to
the Holy See, from whose hands he should receive it purified from all
pollutions, and hold it for the future by homage and an annual tribute.

John was struck motionless at a demand so extravagant and unexpected. He
knew not on which side to turn. If he cast his eyes toward the coast of
France, he there saw his enemy Philip, who considered him as a criminal
as well as an enemy, and who aimed not only at his crown, but his life,
at the head of an innumerable multitude of fierce people, ready to rush
in upon him. If he looked at his own army, he saw nothing there but
coldness, disaffection, uncertainty, distrust, and a strength in which
he knew not whether he ought most to confide or fear. On the other hand,
the Papal thunders, from the wounds of which he was still sore, were
levelled full at his head. He could not look steadily at these
complicated difficulties: and truly it is hard to say what choice he
had, if any choice were left to kings in what concerns the independence
of their crown. Surrounded, therefore, with these difficulties, and that
all his late humiliations might not be rendered as ineffectual as they
were ignominious, he took the last step, and in the presence of a
numerous assembly of his peers and prelates, who turned their eyes from
this mortifying sight, formally resigned his crown to the Pope's
legate, to whom at the same time he did homage and paid the first fruits
of his tribute. Nothing could be added to the humiliation of the king
upon this occasion, but the insolence of the legate, who spurned the
treasure with his foot, and let the crown remain a long time on the
ground, before he restored it to the degraded owner.

In this proceeding the motives of the king may be easily discovered; but
how the barons of the kingdom, who were deeply concerned, suffered
without any protestation the independency of the crown to be thus
forfeited is mentioned by no historian of that time. In civil tumults it
is astonishing how little regard is paid by all parties to the honor or
safety of their country. The king's friends were probably induced to
acquiesce by the same motives that had influenced the king. His enemies,
who were the most numerous, perhaps saw his abasement with pleasure, as
they knew this action might be one day employed against him with effect.
To the bigots it was enough that it aggrandized the Pope. It is perhaps
worthy of observation that the conduct of Pandulph towards King John
bore a very great affinity to that of the Roman consuls to the people of
Carthage in the last Punic War,--drawing them from concession to
concession, and carefully concealing their design, until they made it
impossible for the Carthaginians to resist. Such a strong resemblance
did the same ambition produce in such distant times; and it is far from
the sole instance in which we may trace a similarity between the spirit
and conduct of the former and latter Rome in their common design on the
liberties of mankind.

The legates, having thus triumphed over the king, passed back into
France, but without relaxing the interdict or excommunication, which
they still left hanging over him, lest he should be tempted to throw off
the chains of his new subjection. Arriving in France, they delivered
their orders to Philip with as much haughtiness as they had done to
John. They told him that the end of the war was answered in the
humiliation of the King of England, who had been rendered a dutiful son
of the Church,--and that, if the King of France should, after this
notice, proceed to further hostilities, he had to apprehend the same
sentence which had humbled his adversary. Philip, who had not raised so
great an army with a view of reforming the manners of King John, would
have slighted these threats, had he not found that they were seconded by
the ill dispositions of a part of his own army. The Earl of Flanders,
always disaffected to his cause, was glad of this opportunity to oppose
him, and, only following him through fear, withdrew his forces, and now
openly opposed him. Philip turned his arms against his revolted vassal.
The cause of John was revived by this dissension, and his courage seemed
rekindled. Making one effort of a vigorous mind, he brought his fleet to
an action with the French navy, which he entirely destroyed on the coast
of Flanders, and thus freed himself from the terror of an invasion. But
when he intended to embark and improve his success, the barons refused
to follow him. They alleged that he was still excommunicated, and that
they would not follow a lord under the censures of the Church. This
demonstrated to the king the necessity of a speedy absolution; and he
received it this year from the hands of Cardinal Langton.

That archbishop no sooner came into the kingdom than he discovered
designs very different from those which the Pope had raised him to
promote. He formed schemes of a very deep and extensive nature, and
became the first mover in all the affairs which distinguish the
remainder of this reign. In the oath which he administered to John on
his absolution, he did not confine himself solely to the ecclesiastical
grievances, but made him swear to amend his civil government, to raise
no tax without the consent of the Great Council, and to punish no man
but by the judgment of his court. In these terms we may Bee the Great
Charter traced in miniature. A new scene of contention was opened; new
pretensions were started; a new scheme was displayed. One dispute was
hardly closed, when he was involved in another; and this unfortunate
king soon discovered that to renounce his dignity was not the way to
secure his repose. For, being cleared of the excommunication, he
resolved to pursue the war in France, in which he was not without a
prospect of success; but the barons refused upon new pretences, and not
a man would serve. The king, incensed to find himself equally opposed in
his lawful and unlawful commands, prepared to avenge himself in his
accustomed manner, and to reduce the barons to obedience by carrying war
into their estates. But he found by this experiment that his power was
at an end. The Archbishop followed him, confronted him with the
liberties of his people, reminded him of his late oath, and threatened
to excommunicate every person who should obey him in his illegal
proceedings. The king, first provoked, afterwards terrified at this
resolution, forbore to prosecute the recusants.

The English barons had privileges, which they knew to have been
violated; they had always kept up the memory of the ancient Saxon
liberty; and if they were the conquerors of Britain, they did not think
that their own servitude was the just fruit of their victory. They had,
however, but an indistinct view of the object at which they aimed; they
rather felt their wrongs than understood the cause of them; and having
no head nor council, they were more in a condition of distressing their
king and disgracing their country by their disobedience than of applying
any effectual remedy to their grievances. Langton saw these
dispositions, and these wants. He had conceived a settled plan for
reducing the king, and all his actions tended to carry it into
execution. This prelate, under pretence of holding an ecclesiastical
synod, drew together privately some of the principal barons to the
Church of St. Paul in London. There, having expatiated on the miseries
which the kingdom suffered, and having explained at the same time the
liberties to which it was entitled, he produced the famous charter of
Henry the First, long concealed, and of which, with infinite difficulty,
he had procured an authentic copy. This he held up to the barons as the
standard about which they were to unite. These were the liberties which
their ancestors had received by the free concession of a former king,
and these the rights which their virtue was to force from the present,
if (which God forbid!) they should find it necessary to have recourse to
such extremities. The barons, transported to find an authentic
instrument to justify their discontent and to explain and sanction their
pretensions, covered the Archbishop with praises, readily confederated
to support their demands, and, binding themselves by every obligation of
human and religious faith, to vigor, unanimity, and secrecy, they depart
to confederate others in their design.

This plot was in the hands of too many to be perfectly concealed; and
John saw, without knowing how to ward it off, a more dangerous blow
levelled at his authority than any of the former. He had no resources
within his kingdom, where all ranks and orders were united against him
by one common hatred. Foreign alliance he had none, among temporal
powers. He endeavored, therefore, if possible, to draw some benefit from
the misfortune of his new circumstances: he threw himself upon the
protection of the Papal power, which he had so long and with such reason
opposed. The Pope readily received him into his protection, but took
this occasion to make him purchase it by another and more formal
resignation of his crown. His present necessities and his habits of
humiliation made this second degradation easy to the king. But Langton,
who no longer acted in subservience to the Pope, from whom he had now
nothing further to expect, and who had put himself at the head of the
patrons of civil liberty, loudly exclaimed at this indignity, protested
against the resignation, and laid his protestation on the altar.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1214.]

This was more disagreeable to the barons than the first resignation, as
they were sensible that he now degraded himself only to humble his
subjects. They were, however, once more patient witnesses to that
ignominious act,--and were so much overawed by the Pope, or had brought
their design to so little maturity, that the king, in spite of it, still
found means and authority to raise an army, with which he made a final
effort to recover some part of his dominions in France. The juncture was
altogether favorable to his design. Philip had all his attention
abundantly employed in another quarter, against the terrible attacks of
the Emperor Otho in a confederacy with the Earl of Flanders. John,
strengthened by this diversion, carried on the war in Poitou for some
time with good appearances. The Battle of Bouvines, which was fought
this year, put an end to all these hopes. In this battle, the Imperial
army, consisting of one hundred and fifty thousand men, were defeated by
a third of their number of French forces. The Emperor himself, with
difficulty escaping from the field, survived but a short time a battle
which entirely broke his strength. So signal a success established the
grandeur of France upon immovable foundations. Philip rose continually
in reputation and power, whilst John continually declined in both; and
as the King of France was now ready to employ against him all his
forces, so lately victorious, he sued, by the mediation of the Pope's
legate, for a truce, which was granted to him for five years. Such
truces stood in the place of regular treaties of peace, which were not
often made at that time.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1215.]

The barons of England had made use of the king's absence to bring their
confederacy to form; and now, seeing him return with so little credit,
his allies discomfited, and no hope of a party among his subjects, they
appeared in a body before him at London. All in complete armor, and in
the guise of defiance, they presented a petition, very humble in the
language, but excessive in the substance, in which they declared their
liberties, and prayed that they might be formally allowed and
established by the royal authority. The king resolved not to submit to
their demands; but being at present in no condition to resist, he
required time to consider of so important an affair. The time which was
granted to the king to deliberate he employed in finding means to avoid
a compliance. He took the cross, by which he hoped to render his person
sacred; he obliged the people to renew their oath of fealty; and,
lastly, he had recourse to the Pope, fortified by all the devices which
could be used to supply the place of a real strength, he ventured, when
the barons renewed their demands, to give them a positive refusal; he
swore by the feet of God (his usual oath) that he would never grant them
such liberties as must make a slave of himself.

The barons, on this answer, immediately fly to arms: they rise in every
part; they form an army, and appoint a leader; and as they knew that no
design can involve all sorts of people or inspire them with
extraordinary resolution, unless it be animated with religion, they call
their leader the Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church. The king
was wholly unprovided against so general a defection. The city of
London, the possession of which has generally proved a decisive
advantage in the English civil wars, was betrayed to the barons. He
might rather be said, to be imprisoned than defended in the Tower of
London, to which close siege was laid; whilst the marshal of the barons'
army, exercising the prerogatives of royalty, issued writs to summon all
the lords to join the army of liberty, threatening equally all those who
should adhere to the king and those who betrayed an indifference to the
cause by their neutrality. John, deserted by all, had no resource but in
temporizing and submission. Without questioning in any part the terms of
a treaty which he intended to observe in none, he agreed to everything
the barons thought fit to ask, hoping that the exorbitancy of their
demands would justify in the eyes of the world the breach of his
promises. The instruments by which the barons secured their liberties
were drawn up in form of charters, and in the manner by which grants had
been usually made to monasteries, with a preamble signifying that it was
done for the benefit of the king's soul and those of his ancestors. For
the place of solemnizing this remarkable act they chose a large field,
overlooked by Windsor, called Running-mede, which, in our present
tongue, signifies the Meadow of Council,--a place long consecrated by
public opinion, as that wherein the quarrels and wars which arose in the
English nation, when divided into kingdoms or factions, had been
terminated from the remotest times. Here it was that King John, on the
15th day of June, in the year of our Lord 1215, signed those two
memorable instruments which first disarmed the crown of its unlimited
prerogatives, and laid the foundation of English liberty. One was called
the Great Charter; the other, the Charter of the Forest. If we look back
to the state of the nation at that time, we shall the better comprehend
the spirit and necessity of these grants.

Besides the ecclesiastical jurisprudence, at that time, two systems of
laws, very different from each other in their object, their reason, and
their authority, regulated the interior of the kingdom: the Forest Law,
and the Common Law. After the Northern nations had settled here, and in
other parts of Europe, hunting, which had formerly been the chief means
of their subsistence, still continued their favorite diversion. Great
tracts of each country, wasted by the wars in which it was conquered,
were set apart for this kind of sport, and guarded in a state of
desolation by strict laws and severe penalties. When, such waste lands
were in the hands of subjects, they were called Chases; when in the
power of the sovereign, they were denominated Forests. These forests lay
properly within the jurisdiction of no hundred, county, or bishopric;
and therefore, being out both of the Common and the Spiritual Law, they
were governed by a law of their own, which was such as the king by his
private will thought proper to impose. There were reckoned in England no
less than sixty-eight royal forests, some of them of vast extent. In
these great tracts were many scattered inhabitants; and several persons
had property of woodland, and other soil, inclosed within their bounds.
Here the king had separate courts and particular justiciaries; a
complete jurisprudence, with all its ceremonies and terms of art, was
formed; and it appears that these laws were better digested and more
carefully enforced than those which belonged to civil government. They
had, indeed, all the qualities of the worst of laws. Their professed
object was to keep a great part of the nation desolate. They hindered
communication and destroyed industry. They had a trivial object, and
most severe sanctions; for, as they belonged immediately to the king's
personal pleasures, by the lax interpretation of treason in those days,
all considerable offences against the Forest Law, such as killing the
beasts of game, were considered as high treason, and punished, as high
treason then was, by truncation of limbs and loss of eyes and testicles.
Hence arose a thousand abuses, vexatious suits, and pretences for
imposition upon all those who lived in or near these places. The deer
were suffered to run loose upon their lands; and many oppressions were
used with relation to the claim of commonage which the people had in
most of the forests. The Norman kings were not the first makers of the
Forest Law; it subsisted under the Saxon and Danish kings. Canute the
Great composed a body of those laws, which still remains. But under the
Norman kings they were enforced with greater rigor, as the whole tenor
of the Norman government was more rigorous. Besides, new forests were
frequently made, by which private property was outraged in a grievous
manner. Nothing, perhaps, shows more clearly how little men are able to
depart from the common course of affairs than that the Norman kings,
princes of great capacity, and extremely desirous of absolute power, did
not think of peopling these forests, places under their own uncontrolled
dominion, and which might have served as so many garrisons dispersed
throughout the country. The Charter of the Forests had for its object
the disafforesting several of those tracts, the prevention of future
afforestings, the mitigation and ascertainment of the punishments for
breaches of the Forest Law.

The Common Law, as it then prevailed in England, was in a great measure
composed of some remnants of the old Saxon customs, joined to the feudal
institutions brought in at the Norman Conquest. And it is here to be
observed, that the constitutions of Magna Charta are by no means a
renewal of the Laws of St. Edward, or the ancient Saxon laws, as our
historians and law-writers generally, though very groundlessly, assert.
They bear no resemblance in any particular to the Laws of St. Edward, or
to any other collection of these ancient institutions. Indeed, how
should they? The object of Magna Charta is the correction of the feudal
policy, which was first introduced, at least in any regular form, at the
Conquest, and did not subsist before it. It may be further observed,
that in the preamble to the Great Charter it is stipulated that the
barons shall _hold_ the liberties there granted _to them and their
heirs, from the king and his heirs_; which shows that the doctrine of an
unalienable tenure was always uppermost in their minds. Their idea even
of liberty was not (if I may use the expression) perfectly free; and
they did not claim to possess their privileges upon any natural
principle or independent bottom, but just as they held their lands from
the king. This is worthy of observation.

By the Feudal Law, all landed property is, by a feigned conclusion,
supposed to be derived, and therefore to be mediately or immediately
held, from the crown. If some estates were so derived, others were
certainly procured by the same original title of conquest by which the
crown itself was acquired, and the derivation from the king could in
reason only be considered as a fiction of law. But its consequent rights
being once supposed, many real charges and burdens grew from a fiction
made only for the preservation of subordination; and in consequence of
this, a great power was exercised over the persons and estates of the
tenants. The fines on the succession to an estate, called in the feudal
language _reliefs_, were not fixed to any certainty, and were therefore
frequently made so excessive that they might rather be considered as
redemptions or new purchases than acknowledgments of superiority and
tenure. With respect to that most important article of marriage, there
was, in the very nature of the feudal holding, a great restraint laid
upon it. It was of importance to the lord that the person who received
the feud should be submissive to him; he had, therefore, a right to
interfere in the marriage of the heiress who inherited the feud. This
right was carried further than the necessity required: the male heir
himself was obliged to marry according to the choice of his lord; and
even widows, who had made one sacrifice to the feudal tyranny, were
neither suffered to continue in the widowed state nor to choose for
themselves the partners of their second bed. In fact, marriage was
publicly set up to sale. The ancient records of the Exchequer afford
many instances where some women purchased by heavy fines the privilege
of a single life, some the free choice of an husband, others the liberty
of rejecting some person particularly disagreeable. And what may appear
extraordinary, there are not wanting examples where a woman has fined in
a considerable sum, that she might not be compelled to marry a certain
man; the suitor, on the other hand, has outbid her, and solely by
offering more for the marriage than the heiress could to prevent it, he
carried his point directly and avowedly against her inclinations. Now,
as the king claimed no right over his immediate tenants that they did
not exercise in the same or in a more oppressive manner over their
vassals, it is hard to conceive a more general and cruel grievance than
this shameful market, which so universally outraged the most sacred
relations among mankind. But the tyranny over women was not over with
the marriage. As the king seized into his hands the estate of every
deceased tenant in order to secure his relief, the widow was driven
often by an heavy composition to purchase the admission to her dower,
into which it should seem she could not enter without the king's

All these were marks of a real and grievous servitude. The Great Charter
was made, not to destroy the root, but to cut short the overgrown
branches of the feudal service: first, in moderating and in reducing to
a certainty the reliefs which the king's tenants paid on succeeding to
their estate according to their rank; and, secondly, in taking off some
of the burdens which had been laid on marriage, whether compulsory or
restrictive, and thereby preventing that shameful market which had been
made in the persons of heirs, and the most sacred things amongst

There were other provisions made in the Great Charter that went deeper
than the feudal tenure, and affected the whole body of the civil
government. A great part of the king's revenue then consisted in the
fines and amercements which were imposed in his courts. A fine was paid
there for liberty to commence or to conclude a suit. The punishment of
offences by fine was discretionary; and this discretionary power had
been very much abused. But by Magna Charta, things were so ordered, that
a delinquent might be punished, but not ruined, by a fine or amercement;
because the degree of his offence, and the rank he held, were to be
taken into consideration. His freehold, his merchandise, and those
instruments by which he obtained his livelihood were made sacred from
such impositions.

A more grand reform was made with regard to the administration of
justice. The kings in those days seldom resided long in one place, and
their courts followed their persons. This erratic justice must have been
productive of infinite inconvenience to the litigants. It was now
provided that civil suits, called _Common Pleas_, should be fixed to
some certain place. Thus one branch of jurisdiction was separated from
the king's court, and detached from his person. They had not yet come to
that maturity of jurisprudence as to think this might be made to extend
to criminal law also, and that the latter was an object of still greater
importance. But even the former may be considered as a great revolution.
A tribunal, a creature of mere law, independent of personal power, was
established; and this separation of a king's authority from his person
was a matter of vast consequence towards introducing ideas of freedom,
and confirming the sacredness and majesty of laws.

But the grand article, and that which cemented all the parts of the
fabric of liberty, was this,--that "no freeman shall be taken, or
imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or banished, or in any wise
destroyed, but by judgment of his peers."

There is another article of nearly as much consequence as the former,
considering the state of the nation at that time, by which it is
provided that the barons shall grant to their tenants the same liberties
which they had stipulated for themselves. This prevented the kingdom
from degenerating into the worst imaginable government, a feudal
aristocracy. The English barons were not in the condition of those
great princes who had made the French monarchy so low in the preceding
century, or like those who reduced the Imperial power to a name. They
had been brought to moderate bounds, by the policy of the first and
second Henrys, and were not in a condition to set up for petty
sovereigns by an usurpation equally detrimental to the crown and the
people. They were able to act only in confederacy; and this common cause
made it necessary to consult the common good, and to study popularity by
the equity of their proceedings. This was a very happy circumstance to
the growing liberty.

These concessions were so just and reasonable, that, if we except the
force, no prince could think himself wronged in making them. But to
secure the observance of these articles, regulations were made, which,
whilst they were regarded, scarcely left a shadow of regal power. And
the barons could think of no measures for securing their freedom, but
such as were inconsistent with monarchy. A council of twenty-five barons
was to be chosen by their own body, without any concurrence of the king,
in order to hear and determine upon all complaints concerning the breach
of the charter; and as these charters extended to almost every part of
government, a tribunal of his enemies was set up who might pass judgment
on all his actions. And that force might not be wanting to execute the
judgments of this new tribunal, the king agreed to issue his own writs
to all persons, to oblige them to take an oath of obedience to the
twenty-five barons, who were empowered to distress him by seizure of his
lands and castles, and by every possible method, until the grievance
complained of was redressed according to their pleasure: his own person
and his family were alone exempted from violence.

By these last concessions, it must be confessed, he was effectually
dethroned, and with all the circumstances of indignity which could be
imagined. He had refused to govern as a lawful prince, and he saw
himself deprived of even his legal authority. He became of no sort of
consequence in his kingdom; he was held in universal contempt and
derision; he fell into a profound melancholy. It was in vain that he had
recourse to the Pope, whose power he had found sufficient to reduce, but
not to support him. The censures of the Holy See, which had been
fulminated at his desire, were little regarded by the barons, or even by
the clergy, supported in this resistance by the firmness of their
archbishop, who acted with great vigor in the cause of the barons, and
even delivered into their hands the fortress of Rochester, one of the
most important places in the kingdom. After much meditation the king at
last resolved upon a measure of the most extreme kind, extorted by
shame, revenge, and despair, but, considering the disposition of the
time, much the most effectual that could be chosen. He dispatched
emissaries into France, into the Low Countries and Germany, to raise men
for his service. He had recourse to the same measures to bring his
kingdom to obedience which his predecessor, William, had used to conquer
it. He promised to the adventurers in his quarrel the lands of the
rebellious barons, and it is said even empowered his agents to make
charters of the estates of several particulars. The utmost success
attended these negotiations in an age when Europe abounded with a
warlike and poor nobility, with younger brothers, for whom there was no
provision in regular armies, who seldom entered into the Church, and
never applied themselves to commerce, and when every considerable family
was surrounded by an innumerable multitude of retainers and dependants,
idle, and greedy of war and pillage. The Crusade had universally
diffused a spirit of adventure; and if any adventure had the Pope's
approbation, it was sure to have a number of followers.

John waited the effect of his measures. He kept up no longer the solemn
mockery of a court, in which a degraded long must always have been the
lowest object. He retired to the Isle of Wight: his only companions were
sailors and fishermen, among whom he became extremely popular. Never was
he more to be dreaded than in this sullen retreat, whilst the barons
amused themselves by idle jests and vain conjectures on his conduct.
Such was the strange want of foresight in that barbarous age, and such
the total neglect of design in their affairs, that the barons, when,
they had got the charter, which was weakened even by the force by which
it was obtained and the great power which it granted, set no watch upon
the king, seemed to have no intelligence of the great and open
machinations which were carrying on against them, and had made no sort
of dispositions for their defence. They spent their time in tournaments
and bear-baitings, and other diversions suited to the fierce rusticity
of their manners. At length the storm broke forth, and found them
utterly unprovided. The Papal excommunication, the indignation of their
prince, and a vast army of lawless and bold adventurers were poured
down at once upon their heads. Such numbers were engaged in this
enterprise that forty thousand are said to have perished at sea. Yet a
number still remained sufficient to compose two great armies, one of
which, with the enraged king at its head, ravaged without mercy the
North of England, whilst the other turned all the West to a like scene
of blood and desolation. The memory of Stephen's wars was renewed, with
every image of horror, misery, and crime. The barons, dispersed and
trembling in their castles, waited who should fall the next victim. They
had no army able to keep the field. The Archbishop, on whom they had
great reliance, was suspended from his functions. There was no hope even
from submission: the king could not fulfil his engagements to his
foreign troops at a cheaper rate than the utter ruin of his barons.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1216]

In these circumstances of despair they resolved to have recourse to
Philip, the ancient enemy of their country. Throwing off all allegiance
to John, they agreed to accept Louis, the son of that monarch, as their
king. Philip had once more an opportunity of bringing the crown of
England into his family, and he readily embraced it. He immediately sent
his son into England with seven hundred ships, and slighted the menaces
and excommunications of the Pope, to attain the same object for which he
had formerly armed to support and execute them. The affairs of the
barons assumed quite a new face by this reinforcement, and their rise
was as sudden and striking as their fall. The foreign army of King John,
without discipline, pay, or order, ruined and wasted in the midst of its
successes, was little able to oppose the natural force of the country,
called forth and recruited by so considerable a succor. Besides, the
French troops who served under John, and made a great part of his army,
immediately went over to the enemy, unwilling to serve against their
sovereign in a cause which now began to look desperate. The son of the
King of France was acknowledged in London, and received the homage of
all ranks of men. John, thus deserted, had no other ally than the Pope,
who indeed served him to the utmost of his power, but with arms to which
the circumstances of the time alone can give any force. He
excommunicated Louis and his adherents; he laid England under an
interdict; he threatened the King of France himself with the same
sentence: but Philip continued firm, and the interdict had little effect
in England. Cardinal Langton, by his remarkable address, by his interest
in the Sacred College, and his prudent submissions, had been restored to
the exercise of his office; but, steady to the cause he had first
espoused, he made use of the recovery of his authority to carry on his
old designs against the king and the Pope. He celebrated divine service
in spite of the interdict, and by his influence and example taught
others to despise it. The king, thus deserted, and now only solicitous
for his personal safety, rambled, or rather fled, from place to place,
at the head of a small party. He was in great danger in passing a marsh
in Norfolk, in which he lost the greatest part of his baggage, and his
most valuable effects. With difficulty he escaped to the monastery of
Swineshead, where, violently agitated by grief and disappointments, his
late fatigue and the use of an improper diet threw him into a fever, of
which he died in a few days at Newark, not without suspicion of poison,
after a reign, or rather a struggle to reign, for eighteen years, the
most turbulent and calamitous both to king and people of any that are
recorded in the English history.

It may not be improper to pause here for a few moments, and to consider
a little more minutely the causes which had produced the grand
revolution in favor of liberty by which this reign was distinguished,
and to draw all the circumstances which led to this remarkable event
into a single point of view. Since the death of Edward the Confessor
only two princes succeeded to the crown upon undisputed titles. William
the Conqueror established his by force of arms. His successors were
obliged to court the people by yielding many of the possessions and many
of the prerogatives of the crown; but they supported a dubious title by
a vigorous administration, and recovered by their policy, in the course
of their reign, what the necessity of their affairs obliged them to
relinquish for the establishment of their power. Thus was the nation
kept continually fluctuating between freedom and servitude. But the
principles of freedom were predominant, though the thing itself was not
yet fully formed. The continual struggle of the clergy for the
ecclesiastical liberties laid open at the same time the natural claims
of the people; and the clergy were obliged to show some respect for
those claims, in order to add strength to their own party. The
concessions which Henry the Second made to the ecclesiastics on the
death of Becket, which were afterwards confirmed by Richard the First,
gave a grievous blow to the authority of the crown; as thereby an order
of so much power and influence triumphed over it in many essential
points. The latter of these princes brought it very low by the whole
tenor of his conduct. Always abroad, the royal authority was felt in its
full vigor, without being supported by the dignity or softened by the
graciousness of the royal presence. Always in war, he considered his
dominions only as a resource for his armies. The demesnes of the crown
were squandered. Every office in the state was made vile by being sold.
Excessive grants, followed by violent and arbitrary resumptions, tore to
pieces the whole contexture of the government. The civil tumults which
arose in that king's absence showed that the king's lieutenants at least
might be disobeyed with impunity. Then came John to the crown. The
arbitrary taxes which he imposed very early in his reign, which,
offended even more by the improper use made of them than their
irregularity, irritated the people extremely, and joined with all the
preceding causes to make his government contemptible. Henry the Second,
during his contests with the Church, had the address to preserve the
barons in his interests. Afterwards, when the barons had joined in the
rebellion of his children, this wise prince found means to secure the
bishops and ecclesiastics. But John drew upon himself at once the hatred
of all orders of his subjects. His struggle with the Pope weakened him;
his submission to the Pope weakened him yet more. The loss of his
foreign territories, besides what he lost along with them in reputation,
made him entirely dependent upon England: whereas his predecessors made
one part of their territories subservient to the preservation of their
authority in another, where it was endangered. Add to all these causes
the personal character of the king, in which there was nothing uniform
or sincere, and which introduced the like unsteadiness into all his
government. He was indolent, yet restless, in his disposition; fond of
working by violent methods, without any vigor; boastful, but continually
betraying his fears; showing on all occasions such a desire of peace as
hindered him from ever enjoying it. Having no spirit of order, he never
looked forward,--content by any temporary expedient to extricate himself
from a present difficulty. Rash, arrogant, perfidious, irreligious,
unquiet, he made a tolerable head of a party, but a bad king, and had
talents fit to disturb another's government, not to support his own.

A most striking contrast presents itself between the conduct and fortune
of John and his adversary Philip. Philip came to the crown when many of
the provinces of Prance, by being in the hands of too powerful vassals,
were in a manner dismembered from the kingdom; the royal authority was
very low in what remained. He reunited to the crown a country as
valuable as what belonged to it before; he reduced his subjects of all
orders to a stricter obedience than they had given to his predecessors;
he withstood the Papal usurpation, and yet used it as an instrument in
his designs: whilst John, who inherited a great territory and an entire
prerogative, by his vices and weakness gave up his independency to the
Pope, his prerogative to his subjects, and a large part of his dominions
to the King of France.


[82] A word of uncertain derivation, but which signifies some scandalous
species of cowardice.



There is scarce any object of curiosity more rational than the origin,
the progress, and the various revolutions of human laws. Political and
military relations are for the greater part accounts of the ambition and
violence of mankind: this is an history of their justice. And surely
there cannot be a more pleasing speculation than to trace the advances
of men in an attempt to imitate the Supreme Ruler in one of the most
glorious of His attributes, and to attend them in the exercise of a
prerogative which it is wonderful to find intrusted to the management of
so weak a being. In such an inquiry we shall, indeed, frequently see
great instances of this frailty; but at the same time we shall behold
such noble efforts of wisdom and equity as seem fully to justify the
reasonableness of that extraordinary disposition by which men, in one
form or other, have been always put under the dominion of creatures like
themselves. For what can be more instructive than to search out the
first obscure and scanty fountains of that jurisprudence which now
waters and enriches whole nations with so abundant and copious a
flood,--to observe the first principles of RIGHT springing up, involved
in superstition and polluted with violence, until by length of time and
favorable circumstances it has worked itself into clearness: the laws
sometimes lost and trodden down in the confusion of wars and tumults,
and sometimes overruled by the hand of power; then, victorious over
tyranny, growing stronger, clearer, and more decisive by the violence
they had suffered; enriched even by those foreign conquests which
threatened their entire destruction; softened and mellowed by peace and
religion; improved and exalted by commerce, by social intercourse, and
that great opener of the mind, ingenuous science?

These certainly were great encouragements to the study of historical
jurisprudence, particularly of our own. Nor was there a want of
materials or help for such an undertaking. Yet we have had few attempts
in that province. Lord Chief Justice Hale's History of the Common Law
is, I think, the only one, good or bad, which we have. But with all the
deference justly due to so great a name, we may venture to assert that
this performance, though not without merit, is wholly unworthy of the
high reputation of its author. The sources of our English law are not
well, nor indeed fairly, laid open; the ancient judicial proceedings are
touched in a very slight and transient manner; and the great changes and
remarkable revolutions in the law, together with their causes, down to
his time, are scarcely mentioned.

Of this defect I think there were two principal causes. The first, a
persuasion, hardly to be eradicated from the minds of our lawyers, that
the English law has continued very much in the same state from an
antiquity to which they will allow hardly any sort of bounds. The second
is, that it was formed and grew up among ourselves; that it is in every
respect peculiar to this island; and that, if the Roman or any foreign
laws attempted to intrude into its composition, it has always had vigor
enough to shake them off, and return to the purity of its primitive

These opinions are flattering to national vanity and professional
narrowness; and though they involved those that supported them in the
most glaring contradictions, and some absurdities even too ridiculous to
mention, we have always been, and in a great measure still are,
extremely tenacious of them. If these principles are admitted, the
history of the law must in a great measure be deemed, superfluous. For
to what purpose is a history of a law of which it is impossible to trace
the beginning, and which during its continuance has admitted no
essential changes? Or why should we search foreign laws or histories for
explanation or ornament of that which is wholly our own, and by which we
are effectually distinguished from all other countries? Thus the law has
been confined, and drawn up into a narrow and inglorious study, and that
which should be the leading science in every well-ordered commonwealth
remained in all the barbarism of the rudest times, whilst every other
advanced by rapid steps to the highest improvement both in solidity and
elegance; insomuch that the study of our jurisprudence presented to
liberal and well-educated minds, even in the best authors, hardly
anything but barbarous terms, ill explained, a coarse, but not a plain
expression, an indigested method, and a species of reasoning the very
refuse of the schools, which deduced the spirit of the law, not from
original justice or legal conformity, but from causes foreign to it and
altogether whimsical. Young men were sent away with an incurable, and,
if we regard the manner of handling rather than the substance, a very
well-founded disgust. The famous antiquary, Spelman, though no man was
better formed for the most laborious pursuits, in the beginning deserted
the study of the law in despair, though he returned to it again when a
more confirmed age and a strong desire of knowledge enabled him to
wrestle with every difficulty.

The opinions which have drawn the law into such narrowness, as they are
weakly founded, so they are very easily refuted. With regard to that
species of eternity which they attribute to the English law, to say
nothing of the manifest contradictions in which those involve themselves
who praise it for the frequent improvements it has received, and at the
same time value it for having remained without any change in all the
revolutions of government, it is obvious, on the very first view of the
Saxon laws, that we have entirely altered the whole frame of our
jurisprudence since the Conquest. Hardly can we find in these old
collections a single title which is law at this day; and one may venture
to assert, without much hazard, that, if there were at present a nation
governed by the Saxon laws, we should find it difficult to point out
another so entirely different from everything we now see established in

This is a truth which requires less sagacity than candor to discover.
The spirit of party, which has misled us in so many other particulars,
has tended greatly to perplex us in this matter. For as the advocates
for prerogative would, by a very absurd consequence drawn from the
Norman Conquest, have made all our national rights and liberties to have
arisen from the grants, and therefore to be revocable at the will of the
sovereign, so, on the other hand, those who maintained the cause of
liberty did not support it upon more solid principles. They would hear
of no beginning to any of our privileges, orders, or laws, and, in
order to gain them a reverence, would prove that they were as old as the
nation; and to support that opinion, they put to the torture all the
ancient monuments. Others, pushing things further, have offered a still
greater violence to them. N. Bacon, in order to establish his
republican, system, has so distorted all the evidence he has produced,
concealed so many things of consequence, and thrown such false colors
upon the whole argument, that I know no book so likely to mislead the
reader in our antiquities, if yet it retains any authority. In reality,
that ancient Constitution and those Saxon laws make little or nothing
for any of our modern parties, and, when fairly laid open, will be found
to compose such a system as none, I believe, would think it either
practicable or desirable to establish. I am sensible that nothing has
been, a larger theme of panegyric with, all our writers on politics and
history than the Anglo-Saxon government; and it is impossible not to
conceive an high, opinion of its laws, if we rather consider what is
said of them than what they visibly are. These monuments of our pristine
rudeness still subsist; and they stand out of themselves indisputable
evidence to confute the popular declamations of those writers who would
persuade us that the crude institutions of an unlettered people had
reached a perfection which the united efforts of inquiry, experience,
learning, and necessity have not been able to attain in many ages.

But the truth is, the present system of our laws, like our language and
our learning, is a very mixed and heterogeneous mass: in some respects
our own; in more borrowed from the policy of foreign, nations, and
compounded, altered, and variously modified, according to the various
necessities which the manners, the religion, and the commerce of the
people have at different times imposed. It is our business, in some
measure, to follow and point out these changes and improvements: a task
we undertake, not from any ability for the greatness of such a work, but
purely to give some short and plain account of these matters to the very

The Law of the Romans seems utterly to have expired in this island
together with their empire, and that, too, before the Saxon
establishment. The Anglo-Saxons came into England as conquerors. They
brought their own customs with them, and doubtless did not take laws
from, but imposed theirs upon, the people they had vanquished. These
customs of the conquering nation were without question the same, for the
greater part, they had observed before their migration from Germany. The
best image we have of them is to be found in Tacitus. But there is
reason to believe that some changes were made suitable to the
circumstances of their new settlement, and to the change their
constitution must have undergone by adopting a kingly government, not
indeed with unlimited sway, but certainly with greater powers than their
leaders possessed whilst they continued in Germany. However, we know
very little of what was done in these respects until their conversion to
Christianity, a revolution which made still more essential changes in
their manners and government. For immediately after the conversion of
Ethelbert, King of Kent, the missionaries, who had introduced the use of
letters, and came from Rome full of the ideas of the Roman civil
establishment, must have observed the gross defect arising from a want
of written and permanent laws. The king,[83] from their report of the
Roman method, and in imitation of it, first digested the most material
customs of this kingdom into writing, without having adopted anything
from the Roman law, and only adding some regulations for the support and
encouragement of the new religion. These laws still exist, and strongly
mark the extreme simplicity of manners and poverty of conception of the
legislators. They are written in the English of that time; and, indeed,
all the laws of the Anglo-Saxons continued in that language down to the
Norman Conquest. This was different from the method of the other
Northern nations, who made use only of the Latin language in all their
codes. And I take the difference to have arisen from this. At the time
when the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Franks, and the other Northern
nations on the continent compiled their laws, the provincial Romans were
very numerous amongst them, or, indeed, composed the body of the people.
The Latin, language was yet far from extinguished; so that, as the
greatest part of those who could write were Romans, they found it
difficult to adapt their characters to these rough Northern tongues, and
therefore chose to write in Latin, which, though not the language of the
legislator, could not be very incommodious, as they could never fail of
interpreters; and for this reason, not only their laws, but all their
ordinary transactions, were written in that language. But in England,
the Roman name and language having entirely vanished in the seventh
century, the missionary monks were obliged to contend with the
difficulty, and to adapt foreign characters to the English language;
else none but a very few could possibly have drawn any advantage from
the things they meant to record. And to this it was owing that many,
even the ecclesiastical constitutions, and not a few of the ordinary
evidences of the land, were written in the language of the country.

This example of written laws being given by Ethelbert, it was followed
by his successors, Edric and Lothaire. The next legislator amongst the
English, was Ina, King of the West Saxons, a prince famous in his time
for his wisdom and his piety. His laws, as well as those of the
above-mentioned princes, still subsist. But we must always remember that
very few of these laws contained any new regulation, but were rather
designed to affirm their ancient customs, and to preserve and fix them;
and accordingly they are all extremely rude and imperfect. We read of a
collection of laws by Offa, King of the Mercians; but they have been
long since lost.

The Anglo-Saxon laws, by universal consent of all writers, owe more to
the care and sagacity of Alfred than of any of the ancient kings. In the
midst of a cruel war, of which he did not see the beginning nor live to
see the end, he did more for the establishment of order and justice than
any other prince has been known to do in the profoundest peace. Many of
the institutions attributed to him undoubtedly were not of his
establishment: this shall be shown, when we come to treat more minutely
of the institutions. But it is clear that he raised, as it were, from
the ashes, and put new life and vigor into the whole body of the law,
almost lost and forgotten in the ravages of the Danish war; so that,
having revived, and in all likelihood improved, several ancient
national regulations, he has passed for their author, with a reputation
perhaps more just than if he had invented them. In the prologue which he
wrote to his own code, he informs us that he collected there whatever
appeared to him most valuable in the laws of Ina and Offa and others of
his progenitors, omitting what he thought wrong in itself or not adapted
to the time; and he seems to have done this with no small judgment.

The princes who succeeded him, having by his labors enjoyed more repose,
turned their minds to the improvement of the law; and there are few of
them who have not left us some collection more or less complete.

When the Danes had established their empire, they showed themselves no
less solicitous than the English to collect and enforce the laws:
seeming desirous to repair all the injuries they had formerly committed
against them. The code of Canute the Great is one of the most moderate,
equitable, and full, of any of the old collections. There was no
material change, if any at all, made in their general system by the
Danish conquest. They were of the original country of the Saxons, and
could not have differed from them in the groundwork of their policy. It
appears by the league between Alfred and Guthrum, that the Danes took
their laws from the English, and accepted them as a favor. They were
more newly come out of the Northern barbarism, and wanted the
regulations necessary to a civil society. But under Canute the English
law received considerable improvement. Many of the old English customs,
which, as that monarch justly observes, were truly odious, were
abrogated; and, indeed, that code is the last we have that belongs to
the period before the Conquest. That monument called the Laws of Edward
the Confessor is certainly of a much later date; and what is
extraordinary, though the historians after the Conquest continually
speak of the Laws of King Edward, it does not appear that he ever made a
collection, or that any such laws existed at that time. It appears by
the preface to the Laws of St. Edward, that these written constitutions
were continually falling into disuse. Although these laws had
undoubtedly their authority, it was, notwithstanding, by traditionary
customs that the people were for the most part governed, which, as they
varied somewhat in different provinces, were distinguished accordingly
by the names of the West Saxon, the Mercian, and the Danish Law; but
this produced no very remarkable inconvenience, as those customs seemed
to differ from each other, and from the written laws, rather in the
quantity and nature of their pecuniary mulcts than in anything

If we take a review of these ancient constitutions, we shall observe
that their sanctions are mostly confined to the following objects.

1st. The preservation of the peace. This is one of the largest titles;
and it shows the ancient Saxons to have been a people extremely prone to
quarrelling and violence. In some cases the law ventures only to put
this disposition under regulations:[84] prescribing that no man shall
fight with another until he has first called him to justice in a legal
way; and then lays down the terms under which he may proceed to
hostilities. The other less premeditated quarrels, in meetings for
drinking or business, were considered as more or less heinous, according
to the rank of the person in whose house the dispute happened, or, to
speak the language of that time, whose peace they had violated.

2d. In proportioning the pecuniary mulcts imposed by them for all, even
the highest crimes, according to the dignify of the person injured, and
to the quantity of the offence. For this purpose they classed the people
with great regularity and exactness, both in the ecclesiastic and the
secular lines, adjusting with great care the ecclesiastical to the
secular dignities; and they not only estimated each man's life according
to his quality, but they set a value upon every limb and member, down
even to teeth, hair, and nails; and these are the particulars in which
their laws are most accurate and best defined.

3d. In settling the rules and ceremonies of their oaths, their
purgations, and the whole order and process of their superstitious
justice: for by these methods they seem to have decided all

4th. In regulating the several fraternities of Frank-pledges, by which
all the people were naturally bound to their good behavior to one
another and to their superiors; in all which they were excessively
strict, in order to supply by the severity of this police the extreme
laxity and imperfection of their laws, and the weak and precarious
authority of their kings and magistrates.

These, with some regulations for payment of tithes and Church dues, and
for the discovery and pursuit of stealers of cattle, comprise almost all
the titles deserving notice in the Saxon laws. In those laws there are
frequently to be observed particular institutions, well and prudently
framed; but there is no appearance of a regular, consistent, and stable
jurisprudence. However, it is pleasing to observe something of equity
and distinction gradually insinuating itself into these unformed
materials, and some transient flashes of light striking across the gloom
which prepared for the full day that shone out afterwards. The clergy,
who kept up a constant communication with Rome, and were in effect the
Saxon legislators, could not avoid gathering some informations from a
law which never was perfectly extinguished in that part of the world.
Accordingly we find one of its principles had strayed hither so early as
the time of Edric and Lothaire.[85] There are two maxims[86] of civil
law in their proper terms in the code of Canute the Great, who made and
authorized that collection after his pilgrimage to Rome; and at this
time, it is remarkable, we find the institutions of other nations
imitated. In the same collection there is an express reference to the
laws of the Werini. From hence it is plain that the resemblance between
the polity of the several Northern nations did not only arise from their
common original, but also from their adopting, in some cases, the
constitutions of those amongst them who were most remarkable for their

In this state the law continued until the Norman Conquest. But we see
that even before that period the English law began to be improved by
taking in foreign learning; we see the canons of several councils mixed
indiscriminately with the civil constitutions; and, indeed, the
greatest part of the reasoning and equity to be found in them seems to
be derived from that source.

Hitherto we have observed the progress of the Saxon laws, which,
conformably to their manners, were rude and simple,--agreeably to their
confined situation, very narrow,--and though in some degree, yet not
very considerably, improved by foreign communication. However, we can
plainly discern its three capital sources. First, the ancient
traditionary customs of the North, which, coming upon this and the other
civilized parts of Europe with the impetuosity of a conquest, bore down
all the ancient establishments, and, by being suited to the genius of
the people, formed, as it were, the great body and main stream of the
Saxon laws. The second source was the canons of the Church. As yet,
indeed, they were not reduced into system and a regular form of
jurisprudence; but they were the law of the clergy, and consequently
influenced considerably a people over whom that order had an almost
unbounded authority. They corrected, mitigated, and enriched those rough
Northern institutions; and the clergy having once, bent the stubborn
necks of that people to the yoke of religion, they were the more easily
susceptible of other changes introduced under the same sanction. These
formed the third source,--namely, some parts of the Roman civil law, and
the customs of other German nations. But this source appears to have
been much the smallest of the three, and was yet inconsiderable.

The Norman Conquest is the great era of our laws. At this time the
English jurisprudence, which, had hitherto continued a poor stream, fed
from some few, and those scanty sources, was all at once, as from a
mighty flood, replenished with a vast body of foreign learning, by
which, indeed, it might be said rather to have been increased than much
improved: for this foreign law, being imposed, not adopted, for a long
time bore strong appearances of that violence by which it had been first
introduced. All our monuments bear a strong evidence to this change. New
courts of justice, new names and powers of officers, in a word, a new
tenure of land as well as new possessors of it, took place. Even the
language of public proceedings was in a great measure changed.


[83] Decreta illi judiciorum juxta exempla Romanorum cum consilio
sapientium constituit.--Beda, Eccl. Hist. Lib. II. c. 5.

[84] Leg. AElfred. 38, De Pugna.

[85] Justum est ut proles matrem sequatur.--Edric and Lothaire.

[86] Negatio potior est affirmatione. Possessio proprior est habenti
quam deinceps repetenti.--L. Cnut.


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