Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

mercenaries, their families and followers; that London should remain in possession of the barons for two months more, and the tower be held by Langton for the same additional time ; and that twenty-five barons, of their own number, to be then and there chosen, should be named guardians or conservators of the public liberties, with power, in case of any breach of those liberties, as that day to be defined, to declare war againt the king, and to summon to arms the freemen of every county. These securities, duly recited, were unhesitatingly given ; and then,- the various heads of grievance and proposed means of redress having been one by one discussed, and the document in which they were reduced to legal shape having been formally admitted by the king,—there was, on the fourth day from the opening of the conference (Friday, the 19th of June 1215,) unrolled, read out aloud, and subscribed by John, the formal instrument which thus at last embodied, in fiftyseven chapters, the completed demands of the Great Confederacy, and which is immortalized in history as the GREAT CHARTER.

The reader who has accompanied me so far will not require to be reminded that our English liberties were not created by this Charter. Its inexpressible value was, that it corrected, confirmed, and re-established ancient and indisputable, though continually violated, public rights ; that it abolished the most grievous of the abuses that had crept into existing laws ; that it gave a new tone, by giving a definite and substantial form, to future popular hopes and aspirations ; that, without attempting to frame a new code, or even to inculcate any grand or general principles of legislation, it did in effect accomplish both, because, in insisting upon the just discharge of special feudal relations, it affirmed a principle of equity which was found generally applicable far beyond them ; that it turned into a tangible possession what before was fleeting and undetermined ; and that throughout all the centuries that succeeded, it was violated by every English king and appealed to by every struggling section of the English people.

Many of its provisions I need not refer to, beyond the mention that they redressed grievances of the military tenants, hardly intelligible now since the downfall of the system of feuds, but then very bitterly felt. Reliefs were limited to a certain sum, as settled by ancient precedent; the waste committed, and the unreasonable services exacted, by guardians in chivalry were restrained ; the disparagement in matrimony of female wards was forbidden; and widows were secured from compulsory marriage and other wrongs.

No. XVII. -VOL. III. ин

Its remedies on these points were extended not alone to the vassals, but the sub-vassals of the crown. At the same time the franchises, the "ancient liberties, and free customs” of the city of London, and of all towns and boroughs, were declared inviolable. Freedom of commerce was also guaranteed to foreign merchants, with a proviso to the king to arrest them for security in time of war, and keep them till the treatment of our own merchants in the enemy's country should be known. The court established for the hearing of common pleas was restricted from following the king's person, and fixed at Westminster. And the tyranny exercised in and concerning the Royal Forests, was decisively controlled. .

A remarkable provision had relation to the levy of aids and scutages. It was not in the articles originally submitted to the king, and must be supposed to have been suggested in the course of the four days' conference at Runnymede. These aids, in consequence of the frequent foreign expeditions, had become of nearly annual recurrence, and were farmed out with peculiar circumstance of hardship. The provision in question now limited their exaction to the three acknowledged legal cases-the king's personal captivity, the knighthood of his eldest son, and the marriage of his eldest daughter; and in case aid or scutage should be required on any other occasion, it rendered necessary the previous consent of the great council of the tenants of the crown. It proceeded to enumerate the members of this council, as archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons, who should be summoned personally by writ; and as all other tenants in chief of the crown, who should be summoned generally by the sheriff. The summons was to be issued forty days beforehand, and was to specify the time and place and intended subject of discussion. Notwithstanding the careful limitation of this article to royal tenants and to purposes of supply, nothing in the Charter was so hateful to succeeding princes. It was soon formally expunged; it was never formally restored. Yet other and larger privileges silently arose in its place, and no one was found in later years who dared to violate them openly.

I need not dwell upon many smaller but most useful provisions for the better administration of justice, for the stricter regulation of assize, for temporary claims and necessities in Scotland and Wales, for mitigation of the rights of pre-emption possessed by the crown, and for the allowance of liberty of travel to every

These were the clouds wi

freeman excepting in time of war. I proceed to name those grander provisions which proved applicable to all places and times, which held within them the germ of our greatest constitutional liberties, and which have secured lasting gratitude and veneration to the authors of the Great Charter,

These were the clauses which protected the personal liberty and property of all freemen, by founding accessible securities against arbitrary imprisonment and arbitrary spoliation. We ' will not sell, we will not refuse, we will not defer, right or justice • to any one,' was the simple and noble protest against a custom common until then, but never thenceforward to be practised without secret crime or open shame. The thirty-ninth clause (beginning with that rude latinity of nullus liber homo which Lord Chatham thought worth all the classics) stipulated, in the same great spirit, that no freeman should be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised of his land, or outlawed, or destroyed in any manner ; nor should the king go upon him, nor send upon him, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. And a supplementary clause, not less worthy, provided that earls and barons should be amerced by their peers only and according to the nature of their offence ; that freemen should not be amerced heavily for a small fault, but after the manner of the default, nor above measure for a great transgression ; saving always to the freeholder his freehold, to the merchant his merchandise, and to a villain (except he was the king's villain) his wainage, or implements of husbandry ; and that such amerciaments should be imposed by the oath of the good men of the neighbourhood. And the operation of all this was extended, as before remarked, to the sub-vassals as well as vassals. It was provided that every liberty and custom which the king had granted to his tenants, as far as concerned him, should be observed by the clergy and laity towards their tenants, as far as concerned them.

Such, in its leading provisions, was the Great Charter. Nor did its manifest omissions, or the limited bearing of even its greatest remedial clauses, avail against its mighty and resistless effect through the succeeding centuries. Could its framers have foreseen this, they might have paused. Certain is it that all the potent secrets included in their work were not known to them. They could not have suspected that under words which were intended to limit the relations of feudal power, many of the most extended truths of a just and equitable polity lay concealed, as though afraid to shew them

selves till a milder and more auspicious day. They denied protection to serfs, and knew not that what had given them that very power of denial had rent asunder for ever the bonds of English serfdom. They protested against the power of taxation in a prince while they reserved it in limitation for themselves, ignorant that the formidable principle would bear down the weak exception. They demanded the regular summoning of a great council to control the king, and dreamt not that within fifty years the tenants of the crown to whom they limited that council, would insensibly yield to the admission of burgesses and knights by the forms of popular election. They asserted a principle and could not stay its course. All-powerful as they were, these iron barons of Merton, they could not claim its operation in one case, and control it in another. Their part was illustrious,

admiration with which we regard them, to have conceived the great and prudent thought, that when once the rust of the Norman Conquest had been worn out of the souls of men, the various and discordant elements of England could never be moulded into any safe political form, without a distinct admission, however limited, of political privileges, and a nominally general concession, however unfairly hampered, of civil rights of liberty and property. The personal pride, the impatience of kingly wrong, in which that thought began, has not availed to check the reverence now fairly due to it. It was for future time to purge the selfishness and leave the greatness. It was for a posterity that has heaped upon these men praise they would have trampled on as insolence, to demonstrate the inherent force and inexhaustible power of the simple spirit of RESISTANCE to irresponsible tyranny, whether lodged under a peasant's jerkin, or within a baron's mail. The five centuries that followed the scene at Runnymede were filled with the struggles of freedom ; and never, at any new effort, were the provisions of this feudal charter appealed to in vain. Even when silent in themselves, the spirit from which they took life still gave itself forth irresistibly ; in accents of warning and terror, or of strength and consolation. Thirty-two times were they solemnly re-affirmed and re-established ; thirty-two several times bad they been deliberately violated by profligate ministers and insolent kings.

The names of the twenty-five barons selected as its guardians and conservators may now be given. The reader will find in a

subsequent list the name of Henry de Londres, Archbishop of Dublin, a man of great learning, spirit, and courage ; who, for several years, administered his archbishopric in defiance of an interdict, and with a sentence of excommunication impending over him ; and these recitals, with the names already familiar, will show the chief promoters of MAGNA CHARTA. They were, Richard de Clare, Earl of Clare; William de Fortibus, Earl of Aumerle ; Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Gloucester ; Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester ; Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford ; Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk ; Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford ; William Mareschall, Junior ; Robert Fitz-Walter; Gilbert de Clare; Eustace de Vescy; William de Hardell, Mayor of London ; William de Mowbray ; Geoffrey de Say ; Roger de Mumbezon (Mount Begon); William de Huntingfield ; Robert de Ros ; John de Lacy, the Constable of Chester ; William de Albeniac ; Richard de Percy; William Malet ; John Fitz-Robert; William de Lanvalay ; Hugh Bigod; and Richard de Montfitchet.

The barons recited in the Charter itself, as having recommended it to the king by their council, are known, though the most part with decisive inclinings to the confederated barons, to have remained nominally under the standard of the king. They were, Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury; Henry, Archbishop of Dublin ; William of London, Peter of Winchester, Joceline of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, and Benedict of Rochester, Bishops ; Pandulph, the Pope's Subdeacon and Familiar; Brother Almeric, Master of the Knight-Templars in England; William Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke ; William, Earl of Salisbury; William, Earl of Warrene ; William, Earl of Arundel ; Alan de Galloway, Constable of Scotland ; Warin Fitz-Gerald ; Hubert de Burgh, Seneschal of Poictou ; Peter Fitz-Herbert, Hugh de Nevil, Matthew Fitz-Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip de. Albiniac, Robert de Roppel, John Mareschal, and John FitzHugb.

John lived fifteen months after the great transactions at Runnymede, but lived only with the hope of reversing them, by force or treachery. He had kept throughout the four days the pretence of cheerfulness ; had spoken with courtesy and kindness to even his leading opponents ; had issued his writs to the sheriffs of the counties to read everywhere the contents of the Charter and swear

« AnteriorContinuar »