« PreviousContinue »
rivers without danger.” Most of the wonders here indicated have been accomplished in modern times, though by means probably very different from those imagined by Roger Bacon.
Before leaving the age of conquest, feudalism, and intellectual delusions, it may be fit to award to it its just share of deserving. It was a step in civilisation, and helped to mitigate many evils and open the way to further improvements. Even the monks contributed to advance useful arts. They were admirable penmen and illuminators, understood gardening and architecture well, had a quick eye for the beautiful and picturesque in rural scenery ; and the excellent vine-stocks still found at Fountain Abbey, Bolton, and Kenilworth, attest that they were not unmindful of the culture of the grape any more than of its juices.
Some memorials still exist, tending to illustrate artistical products at the commencement of the period we have been reviewing, and with a short notice of which we shall conclude the chapter. One of the most remarkable is the Bayeux tapestry, forinerly preserved in the cathedral of Bayeux, but since 1803 removed to the hotel of the prefecture of that city. This curious relic is a roll of linen, 214 feet long and 20 inches broad, on which is worked, with worsted of different colours, a representation, in seventy-two distinct compartments, of the progress of the Conquest. Mr. Bruce, the latest examiner of this curious relic, adopts the common opinion that it was executed by English operatives, under the direction of Matilda, wife of William I. Many of its gawky figures are without stockings, though more are without shoes, which make it probable that shoes were less generally worn than stockings at the ducal court. The common people, for the most part, had no stockings, nor any other covering on their legs; and even the
clergy celebrated mass with their legs bare, till a law was made against the practice in 785. Wooden shoes, which are now esteemed the mark of extreme indigence, were worn by the greatest princes of Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries.
Another historical memorial is the Roll of Battle Abbey. It contained the description of the noblemen and gentlemen of rank who came over with William, and survived the battle of Hastings. The original roll is lost; but copies have been preserved, from which the document has been repeatedly printed. It is believed, . bowever, that these transcripts are far from correct, snany names baving been inserted by the monks to gratify families who were not at the battle.
The Domesday Book comprises a valuable statistical account of the country at the Conquest, and is still preserved in two volumes in the Exchequer. The first is a large folio of vellum, in 382 double pages, written in a small character, and contains thirty-one counties, beginning with Kent and ending with Lincolnshire. The other is a quarto volume of 450 double pages, in a large character, containing only the counties of Essex, Norfolk, and Sussex. There is no description of the four northern counties; and the monks evaded making accurate returns of the abbey lands. The object of the survey was doubtless fiscal, and directed to the extent of each estate, its division into arable land, meadow, pasture, and wood; the names of the owners and tenants; the number of inhabitants, and their condition, whether free or servile ; the value of the whole, and the amount of land-tax paid before and since the Conquest. This curious exposition of the kingdom was reprinted in 1783 among other public records, in consequence of an address of the House of Lords.
BARONIAL AND FRENCH WARS OF THE PLANTAGENET ERA.
Calamities of a divided or unsettled Royal Succession. — Ertent of the Norman Confiscations. — Reconcilement of Races.—Baronial Wars.
— Institutions of Clarendon.- Territorial Possessions in France. Character of the English and French Armies. — Results of Military Organisation. – Wars of the Roses. — Reflections on the Medieval Period. --- Elements of Progress in Government, Laws, Education, and Useful Discoveries. — Liabilities to Famines, Pestilence, and Conflagrations during the Plantagenet Era.
ALTHOUGH the Norman subjugation was advantageous in strengthening the realm against external aggression, by the national unity it established, it failed to guarantee foreign or internal peace. For centuries after the death of the Conqueror, war and violence formed the characteristic features of the age.
These disorders principally resulted from the absence of a fixed right of succession in the crown, from the rival claims of the regal, sacerdotal, and baronial orders, and lastly from the continental territories acquired by the accession of the Norman dynasty. The Conquest had consolidated England, while it had created a divergent interest abroad; and the effect of this divided rule appeared immediately on the death of William I.
By his will the king left the duchy of Normandy to his eldest son Robert and the kingdom of England to his second son William ; while his youngest son Henry had only a legacy of 5000 pounds of silver, but who finally succeeded both to the royal crown and the ducal coronet.
UNSETTLED ROYAL SUCCESSION.
The great barons of the Conquest were also divided in interest as well as the sovereign ; they were almost all possessed of estates and fiefs in both countries, and the division of power made them uneasy about the tenure of their possessions, foreseeing that is the king and duke were at war, as happened immediately after the Conqueror's death, it would be impossible to preserve their allegiance to both masters, and that they must either resign their ancient patrimonies in Normandy or their new acquisitions in England.
However, the unsettled state of the royal succession formed the cardinal source of public disturbance; not being indubitably fixed by the constitutional maxim of corporate perpetuity that " the king never dies,” the death of the sovereign was invariably followed by an interval of rapine and confusion. The popular assumption was, that till a new king bad ascended the throne and received the homage of his subjects, there could be no violation of the king's peace; and in consequence of this mischievous impression of the chief authority of the realm being in abeyance, the administration of justice was suspended, and crimes and outrages of all sorts were perpetrated with impunity. Such pernicious doctrine led to the uninterrupted civil broils under Stephen, his assumption of power being held an usurpation, and, pending his disputed title, neither law nor government was deemed in force,
These confusions had one beneficial issue in helping to raise up the depressed Anglo-Saxons ; for it was to obtain the auxiliary aid of this humiliated race that William Rufus and his immediate successors made important concessions to them. Severe as the spoliation of the conquerors had been, the extent of it may in some respects have been exaggerated or misapprehended. The
true policy of the invaders was obviously only to overcome resistance, not to exterminate the inhabitants. What would have been the worth of the great prize they had won without tenants to occupy and serfs to cultivate their acquired domains ? It was their manifest interest to spare all who submitted, or who from their pursuits or occupations were not likely to be obstructive to the establishment of the new authorities; and this generally appears to have been the course pursued. According to Gerrase of Tilbury, the estates of those only who had borne arms against William I. were confiscated, though the others were subjected to the feudal superiority of a Norman lord. The extensive possessions of the clergy remained uncurtailed, but their tenure was made military in lieu of secular by conversion into knights' services. At the period of the great survey recorded in Domesday Book, 8000 mesne tenants, all English, held manors, showing that no war of extermination had been waged against the middle order of rural life. The promptitude with which William renewed the charters of London and other cities, guaranteeing to them the enjoyment of municipal rights, shows that he was ready to conciliate as well as subdue. From these facts, the inducements were evident in the Red King and his Norman successors to try to conciliate the Anglo-Saxon population, forming, as they did, from numbers, industry, and subordinate proprietary, an influential division of the community. The ruling class were little more than a handful among them, but upholding their mastery by military organisation and the garrisoning of the chief cities and fortresses of the kingdom. What was the exact number of the Normans on their first arrival has not been stated by historians, but an approximate estimate, perhaps, may be formed from a comparison of the