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THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
I. OBJECT OF THE INVASION.— Territorial Partition of the Kingdom.
Utilities and Drawbacks of the Feudal System. — Institution of
“ We shall still have to fight for grass,” observed a Kaffir chief, on learning the stinted boundaries that had been prescribed to his tribe by an English governor of South Africa. Cattle, grass, and water, in the early times of the past formed the common incentives to conterminous warfare. They constituted almost the sole wealth and subsistence of communities; consequently the possession of them were the most frequent objects of jealousy and strife. Beyond these primitive necessities of the pastoral age, doubtless both England and Normandy bad in the eleventh century made considerable advances ; still they continued, in the main, the chief source and brief expression of national riches and cupidity. It was the possession of the land that the Normans coveted in the invasion of England, and their ducal chief, it is probable, sought only to give a colour of right to his predaceous enterprise by a pretended tes, tamentary bequest to him of the English sceptre by Edward the Confessor. Harold, his Anglo-Saxon rival, was the elected sovereign of the nation, or at least the elected sovereign of the nobility and clergy, by whom the nation was represented; and this was the title by which many of his predecessors had reigned.
However, the spirit in which the Norman invasion was conceived, and its objects, were significantly embodied and set forth by the conqueror in his address to his army before the battle of Hastings. Just before his marshalled host advanced against Harold, he energetically told his followers: “ Make up your minds to fight valiantly, and slay your enemies. A great booty is before
us, for if we conquer we shall all be rich; what I gain you will gain; if I take the land you will have it in lots among you." A very stimulating exhortation, it must be confessed. A noble guerdon for their valour in the broad acres of this fair island.
But the conquest proved a most arduous undertaking. Posterity have no reason to blush at the stand made by their ancestors, who proved themselves no recreant or abject warriors. They fought right manfully at Hastings, and long refused to bend to the yoke of the invaders. William was a brave, shrewd, and resolute leader, but it was only after a bloody struggle of seven years that he became the undisputed master of England. The Saxons often rebelled, and it was not till their principal chiefs had been slain or exiled, and some of the richest districts of the country made desolate, that the Norman dynasty was established.
The political and social changes subsequent to the subjugation of England were of a momentous character. First, as to the proprietorship of land. Modern wars have very
different results from those of a semi-barbarous age If princes fight now, it seldom involves more than the expenditure of taxes, or commercial interests, or
PARTITION OF THE KINGDOM.
perhaps the royal succession. Private property is invariably respected. But the stakes involved in the warlike issues of former times were more comprehensive. In contending for the ownership of the soil was included the entire wealth of a kingdom, all its real property, industry, and people. This was the dazzling bribe the Norman offered to his confederates, and with which he rewarded them. A new race of paramount landlords was introduced; the land and its former possessors and cultivators changed masters. There were, however, exceptions to this general confiscation; those of the native proprietors who had not borne arms against the Conqueror, or promptly sent in their adhesion, were spared, and allowed to retain their possessions, subject to the feudal superiority of a Norman lord. It was the last and greatest proprietary revolution that has happened in any European state. During the convulsions in France there were extensive seizures of crown, church, and emigrant property, but it was not transferred to foreigners; moreover it was only the sequestration of the possessions of certain classes, not of an entire community.
In the division of the kingdom, the Conqueror, as might be expected, obtained the lion's share. He became the richest prince in Europe. Besides abundance of farms and lands in Middlesex and other counties, he was lord of 1422 manors. The rest of the country, with few exceptions, was divided into baronies, and these baronies were again let out to vassals, who held the same relation of dependence to their lord, that the lord did to the sovereign. The whole country contained 400 barons or chief tenants, and 60,215 knights' fees, or conscriptive territorial allotments, each bound to contribute one soldier armed and mounted. They formed the feudal militia for the defence of the kingdom, and were embodied annually forty days, or other fixed period. The conquered natives were not eligible to the rank of barons, only into the secondary class, into which they were glad to be admitted; it was in this way that the allodial or free lands which escaped the confiscation of the Conquest were converted into tenures, the owner preferring to an insecure and irksome individual freedom the protection of a Norman lord.
From this description it is easy to conceive the condition of the kingdom. It was divided into 700 petty sovereignties, subordinate to the duke of Normandy, who was himself a vassal of the king of France. It was the feudal system in one of its advanced stages. It had not been introduced by the Normans, but had existed, though less efficiently, under the Anglo-Saxons. Many centuries before, it had been introduced into almost every country in Europe by its new masters. Under the circumstances it appears to have been a necessary, conservative, and not inequitable social arrangement. A new country had been conquered; it had next to be divided, cultivated, and governed. How could these exigencies be best attained ? The chief or prince reserves to himself a portion of the territory, allots the remainder among his followers according to their rank and deserts, and these again subdivide their portions among their immediate dependents. But this division was not made without conditions. A mutual and identical contract binds all. A condition of service is annexed. Between the prince and his barons the condition is, that they shall aid him in war and peace for the common defence and benefit, and a like obligation binds the vassal to his lord. In this polity the king was only head baron, and his kingdom itself a barony; he might make war, levy troops, punish or pardon offences, and coin money; all which
THE FEUDAL SYSTEM.
acts of sovereignty the barons might exercise in their respective domains.
“ If we look," says Mr. Hallam, " at the feudal polity as a scheme of civil freedom, it bears a noble countenance. To the feudal law it is owing that the very names of right and freedom were not swept away, as in Asia, by the desolating hand of power." *
The more we reflect the more deeply impressed we become with the fitness of the feudal system to the age and urgencies of the period of its introduction.
The subversion of the Roman Empire of the West had left European society a chaos, and it had to be reconstructed. All the ties which bind men together were loosened or subverted by the irruption of the barbarians. Property was without owners, the laws without reverence, and authority without respect. For the introduction of order into this confusion feudalism at once presented the requisite guarantees. By establishing the relation of vassal and superior one of the first elements of society was introduced, — that of subordination of ranks. The apportionment of the land was the institution of pro. perty, and the allotment of its fruits consecrated the rights of industry. No one's rights, however, were absolute; they were correlative, mutually conditional; and the universal condition, the basis of all ownership, enjoyment, or reward, was service service to the prince, service to the baron, or service to his vassal. This was the beginning or primordial element, and was certainly a just one ; it was Labour in return for property, produce, or honour.
Although so apt for its purpose, and in the main of generous and useful attributes, feudalism has never been so lofty
* Earope in the Middle Ages, edit. 10., vol. i. p. 269.