CHAPTER II. THE SUBMERGENCE OF ENGLAND
Deliverance could only come by royal power, and in Henry II, Matilda's son, Anjou gave England a greater king than Normandy had done in William the Bastard. Although a foreigner, who ruled a vast continental empire and spent but a fraction of his days on this side of the Channel, he stands second to none of England's makers. He fashioned the government which hammered together the framework of a national state. First, he gathered up such fragments of royal authority as survived the anarchy; then, with the conservative instincts and pretences of a radical, he looked about for precedents in the customs of his grandfather, proclaiming his intention of restoring good old laws. This reaction brought him up against the encroachments of the church, and the untoward incident of Becket's murder impaired the success of Henry's efforts to establish royal supremacy. But this supremacy must not be exaggerated. Henry did not usurp ecclesiastical jurisdiction; he wanted to see that the clerical courts did their duty; he claimed the power of moving them in this direction; and he hoped to make the crown the arbiter of disputes between the rival spiritual and temporal jurisdictions, realizing that the only alternative to this supreme authority was the arbitrament of war. He also contended that clergy who had been unfrocked in the clerical courts for murder or other crimes should be handed over as laymen to be further punished according to the law of the land, while Becket maintained that unfrocking was a sufficient penalty for the first offence, and that it required a second murder to hang a former priest.
Next, he sought to curb the barons. He instituted scutage, by which the great feudatories granted a money payment instead of bringing with them to the army hordes of their sub-tenants who might obey them rather than the king; this enabled the king to hire mercenaries who respected him but not the feudatories. He cashiered all the sheriffs at once, to explode their pretensions to hereditary tenure of their office. By the assize of arms he called the mass of Englishmen to redress the military balance between the barons and the crown. By other assizes he enabled the owners and possessors of property to appeal to the protection of the royal court of justice: instead of trial by battle they could submit their case to a jury of neighbours; and the weapons of the military expert were thus superseded by the verdicts of peaceful citizens.
This method, which was extended to criminal as well as civil cases, of ascertaining the truth and deciding disputes by means of juratores, men sworn to tell the truth impartially, involved a vast educational process. Hitherto men had regarded the ascertainment of truth as a supernatural task, and they had abandoned it to Providence or the priests. Each party to a dispute had been required to produce oath- helpers or compurgators and each compurgator's oath was valued according to his property, just as the number of a man's votes is still proportioned to some extent to his possessions. But if, as commonly happened, both parties produced the requisite oath-helpers, there was nothing for it but the ordeal by fire or water; the man who sank was innocent, he who floated guilty; and the only rational element in the ritual was its supervision by the priests, who knew something of their parishioners' character. Military tenants, however, preferred their privilege of trial by battle. Now Henry began to teach men to rely upon their judgment; and by degrees a distinction was even made between murder and homicide, which had hitherto been confounded because "the thought of man shall not be tried, for the devil himself knoweth not the thought of man."
In order to carry out his judicial reforms, Henry developed the curia regis, or royal court of justice. That court had simply been the court of the king's barons corresponding to the court of his tenants which every feudal lord possessed. Its financial aspect had already been specialized as the exchequer by the Norman kings, who had realized that finance is the first essential of efficient government. From finance Henry I had gone on to the administration of justice, because justitia magnum emolumentum, the administration of justice is a great source of profit. Henry II's zeal for justice sprang from similar motives: the more justice he could draw from the feudal courts to his own, the greater the revenue he would divert from his unruly barons into the royal exchequer. From the central stores of the curia regis he dispensed a justice that was cheaper, more expeditious, and more expert, than that provided by the local courts. He threw open its doors to all except villeins, he transformed it from an occasional assembly of warlike barons into a regular court of trained lawyers - mere servants of the royal household, the barons called them; and by means of justices in eyre he brought it into touch with all localities in the kingdom, and convinced his people that there was a king who meant to govern with their help.