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Writs and Pleadings. The forms of preliminary writs were perfected in his reign; and are models. The pleadings were made brief and conspicuous, Brittor, Fleta and Hengham wrote valuable legal treatises, which are law to this day. From his time to the reign of Henry VIII, very few alterations took place in the legal forms of proceedings.
Reign of Edward III. The power of electing subordinate magistrates was taken from the people during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III; and justices of the peace were established. In the latter reign, the parliament assumed its present shape, by a separation of the commons from the lords. Much was done to establish domestic manufactures, and the statute staple enlarged the credit of the merchant. In the case of intestacies, more care was taken in the appointment of administrators to distribute property among creditors and kindred of the deceased, which had in part before been devoted to pious uses. The statutes of praemunire, and the establishment of a parochial clergy, added lustre to this close of the fourteenth century.
Result of Civil Wars. From this time, to the reign of Henry VII, the civil wars gave no leisure for further juridical improvement, “nam silent leges inter arma.” By these disputed titles to the crown, the dominions of the English in France were happily lost; which resulted in turning attention to our domestic concerns. To these, likewise, we owe the method of barring entails by the fiction of common recoveries; originally invented by the clergy to evade the statutes of mortmain, but introduced under Edward IV to unfetter estates, and render them more liable to forfeiture; while on the other hand, the owners tried to to protect them by the introduction of uses, another clerical invention.
Reign of Henry VII. But few new and beneficial regulations were framed during the reign of Henry VII. The distinguishing feature of this reign was to amass treasure in the king's coffers by every means that could be devised. To this end, the court of star-chamber was remodelled, and armed with nnconstitutional powers over the persons and properties of the subject. The statute of fines for landed property was craftily contrived to facilitate the destruction of entails, and render forfeiture and alienation easier. The benefit of clergy was allowed only once to lay offenders, and writs of capias were permitted in all actions on
A defendant, in consequence, might be outlawed, because then his goods would become the property of the crown.
IV. PERIOD OF THE REFORMATION.
Ecclesiastical Polity. The reign of Henry VIII and his children
opens a new scene in ecclesiastical matters; the crown restored to supremacy over spiritual men and causes, and the patronage of bishoprics vested in the king. Had the spiritual courts at that time been reunited to the civil, the Saxon constitution, with regard to ecclesiastical polity, would have been completely restored.
Changes in Civil Polity. As to our civil polity, the statute of wills and the statute of uses, passed in this reign, made a great alteration as to property; the former by allowing the devise of real estate by will, which before was usually forbidden; the latter, by endeavoring to destroy the intricate nicety of uses. Courts of equity also assumed a jurisdiction, which in time matured into an excellent system of rational jurisprudence. The statute of uses caused a remarkable alteration in the mode of conveyancing; the ancient assurance of feoffment and livery upon land being now seldom practiced, since the easier mode of transferring property by secret conveyance to uses and long terms of years was now created in mortgages and family settlements.
Laws which Aided Commerce. Estates-tail were reduced to a little more than the conditional fees at the common law, before the passing of the statute de donis. The establishment of recognizances in the nature of a statute staple, for facilitating the raising of money upon landed security, and the introduction of the bankrupt law, to punish fraudulent and to relieve unfortunate traders, were excellent alterations of our legal polity, and aided in making the English a great commercial people.
Features in the Reign of Henry VIII. The incorporation of Wales with England, and the more uniform administration of justice, by destroying or abridging counties-palatine, added strength to the monarchy; and the redress of many grievances and oppressions made the administration of Henry VIII a marked era in juridical history. In his later years, the royal prerogative was strained to a tyrannical height; and its encroachments were established by law, under the sanction of cowardly parliaments; one of which passed a statute, that the king's proclamations should have the force of acts of parliament.
Edward VI and Mary. Happily for the nation, this arbitrary reign was succeeded by the minority of an amiable prince, during which brief period, many of these extravagant laws were repealed. During the shorter reign of queen Mary, many salutary and popular laws in civil matters were enacted.
Under the Tudor Family. During the reign of the Tudor family, the religious liberties of the nation were established, by laws, that however were too sanguinary; the forest laws fell into disuse; the administration of civil rights in the courts of justice were conducted according to the wise institutions of Edward I; the principal grievances introduced by the Norman conquest were gradually removed, and our Saxon constitution restored and much improved; except in the continuation of military tepures and a few other points, which still armed the crown with a dangerous prerogative. The princes of the house of Tudor and their favorites had seized the spoils of the church, and a decent maintenance was hardly left to the bishops and clergy; and the indigent poor suffered greatly. This produced the restraioing statutes, to prevent the alienation of lands and tithes belonging to the church and universities.
Reign of Elizabeth. Though, in general, this queen was a wise and excellent princess; though in her reign, trade flourished, riches increased, the laws were duly administered, the nation respected abroad, and the people happy at home; yet the increase of the power of the star chamber, and the erection of the high commission court in ecclesiastical matters, were the work of her reign. At times, she would carry the prerogative as far as her most arbitrary predecessors. The tranquillity of her reign depended more on her want of opportunity and inclination, than want of power to play the tyrant.
Condition of the People, The great revolutions in manners and in property slowly paved the way for a revolution in government. Till the close of the Lancastrian wars, the property and power of the nation were chiefly divided between the king, the nobility and the clergy. The commons were in a state of ignorance; their personal wealth small, and from the nature of their landed property, they were in continual dependence upon their feudal lord, who was usually some powerful baron or some opulent abbey, or the king himself. Liberty and personal independence were little regarded; nay, even to assert them was deemed sedition. Sentiments, resulting in the violence of a Cade and a Tyler, were viewed with horror; which subsequently were applauded, when softened by the arguments and moderation of a Sidney, a Locke and a Milton.
Nobility and Clergy Impoverished. But with the invention of printing and the progress of reform, with the increase in trade and navigation, as the result of the compass and the discovery of the Indies, the minds of men entertained a more just opinion of the rights of mankind. Wealth flowod in upon the merchants and the middle ranks, while the nobility and clergy were impoverished; the latter being stripped of their lands and revenues, while the former, to meet the expenses of dissipated living, alienated much of their overgrown estates. This gradually reduced their power; while the king, by the spoil of the monasteries and the great increase of the customs, grew rich and independent. The latter years of Henry VIII were the times of the greatest despotism known in England since the death of William I.
Policy of Elizabeth. Elizabeth had almost the same legal powers as her father, but the critical situation of the queen, with regard to her legitimacy, her religion, her enmity to Spain, and her jealousy of the queen of Scots, necessitated caution on her part. She and her able advisers had wisdom not to provoke the commons. Hence she veiled the odious part of the prerogative, and though the royal treasury no longer overflowed with the wealth of the clergy, which had contributed to enrich the people, she asked for supplies with such moderation, and managed them with such economy, that the commons were happy to oblige her.
Reign of James I. No new degree of royal power was added to or exercised by her successor, James I; but the sceptre was too weighty to be wielded by such a hand. The unreasonable exertion of the prerogative on trivial occasions, and the claim of absolute kingly power, awakened discontent. The people examined into the merits of this royal claim, and discovered its weakness. They found that the nation had the ability, as well as the inclination to resist it; and on exercising this power of resistance, they obtained some slight victories in the cases of concealments, monopolies and the dispensing power. Meanwhile, but little was done for the improvement of private justice; except the abolition of sanctuaries, the extension of the bankrupt laws, the limitation of suits and actions, and the regulation of informations upon penal statutes.
Reign of Charles I. When Charles I succeeded to the crown of his father, and attempted to revive some enormities, which had been dormant in the reign of king James, such as loans extorted from the subject, with imprisonment for refusal, the exertion of martial law in time of peace, and other domestic grievances, the people rebelled, and the king's life was the forfeit. It must be acknowledged, that by the petition of right, enacted to abolish these encroachments, the English constitution was improved. But the forest laws were revived, and the power of the star chamber and high commission courts was unreasonably great. The Overthrow of Monarchy
These oppressions were actually abolished by the king in parliament before the breaking out of the rebellion; but the people were not conciliated, as they doubted the king's sincerity. Though he formerly strained his prerogative, he now consented to reduce it below the point consistent with monarchical government. The people, however, flushed with this success, fired with resentment for past oppression, and dreading the consequences, if the king should regain his power, became desperate, overthrew the church and mon. archy, and slew their sovereign.
V. EFFECT OF THE RESTORATION.
Military Tenure Abolished. On the accession of Charles II, the principal remaining grievance, the doctrine of military tenure, was abolished; except in the instance of corruption of inheritable blood, upon attainder of treason and felony. And though this monarch deserves no commendation from posterity; yet in bis reign we may date not only the re-establishment of the church and monarchy, but also the complete restitution of Eng. lish liberty for the first time since its abolition at the conquest.
Habeas Corpus Act. In his reign was obtained the great bulwark of our constitution, the habeas corpus act, which was an additional security of a man's person from imprisonment. The magna carta had pruned the luxuriances of the feudal system; but the statute of Charles II extirpated all its slaveries, except perbaps in copyhold tenure. Magna carta, in general terms, declared, that no man should be imprisoned contrary to law; the habeas corpus act discloses effectual means, as well to release himself, as to punish those who had misused him.
Other Important Statutes. To these may be added the abolition of the prerogatives of purveyance and preemption, the