CHAPTER I. HENRY PLANTAGENET
The history of the English people would have been a great and a noble history whatever king had ruled over the land seven hundred years ago. But the history as we know it, and the mode of government which has actually grown up among us is in fact due to the genius of the great king by whose will England was guided from 1154 to 1189. He was a foreign king who never spoke the English tongue, who lived and moved for the most part in a foreign camp, surrounded with a motley host of Brabancons and hirelings; and who in intervals snatched from foreign wars hurried for a few months to his island-kingdom to carry out a policy which took little heed of the great moral forces that were at work among the people. It was under the rule of a foreigner such as this, however, that the races of conquerors and conquered in England first learnt to feel that they were one. It was by his power that England, Scotland, and Ireland were brought to some vague acknowledgment of a common suzerain lord, and the foundations laid of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was he who abolished feudalism as a system of government, and left it little more than a system of land-tenure. It was he who defined the relations established between Church and State, and decreed that in England churchman as well as baron was to be held under the Common law. It was he who preserved the traditions of self-government which had been handed down in borough and shire-moot from the earliest times of English history. His reforms established the judicial system whose main outlines have been preserved to our own day. It was through his "Constitutions" and his "Assizes" that it came to pass that over all the world the English-speaking races are governed by English and not by Roman law. It was by his genius for government that the servants of the royal household became transformed into Ministers of State. It was he who gave England a foreign policy which decided our continental relations for seven hundred years. The impress which the personality of Henry II. left upon his time meets us wherever we turn. The more clearly we understand his work, the more enduring does his influence display itself even upon the political conflicts and political action of our own days.
For seventy years three Norman kings had held England in subjection William the Conqueror, using his double position as conqueror and king, had established a royal authority unknown in any other feudal country William Rufus, poorer than his father when the hoard captured at Winchester and the plunder of the Conquest were spent, and urged alike by his necessities and his greed, laid the foundation of an organized system of finance. Henry I., after his overthrow of the baronage, found his absolute power only limited by the fact that there was no machinery sufficient to put in exercise his boundless personal power; and for its support he built up his wonderful administrative system. There no longer existed any constitutional check on the royal authority. The Great Council still survived as the relic and heir both of the English Witenagemot and the Norman Feudal Court. But in matters of State its "counsel" was scarcely asked or given; its "consent" was yielded as a mere matter of form; no discussion or hesitation interrupted the formal and pompous display of final submission to the royal will. The Church under its Norman bishops, foreign officials trained in the King's chapel, was no longer a united national force, as it had been in the time of the Saxon kings. The mass of the people was of no account in politics. The trading class scarcely as yet existed. The villeins tied to the soil of the manor on which they had been born, and shut out from all courts save those of their lord; inhabitants of the little hamlets that lay along the river-courses in clearings among dense woods, suspicious of strangers, isolated by an intense jealousy of all that lay beyond their own boundaries or by traditional feuds, had no part in the political life of the nation.