IV. THE NORMANS.
I think the documents I have quoted show that Sir Martin Wright, Sir William Blackstone, and Messrs. Hallam and FREEMAN, labored under a mistake in supposing that William had introduced or imposed a new feudal law, or that the vassals of a lord swore allegiance to the king. The introduction to the laws of William I. shows that it was not a new enactment, or a Norman custom introduced into England, and the law itself proves that it relates to FREEMEN, and not to vassals.
The misapprehension of these authors may have arisen in this way: William I. had two distinct sets of subjects. The NORMANS, who had taken the oath of allegiance on obtaining investiture, and whose retinue included vassals; and the ANGLO-SAXONS, among whom vassalage was unknown, who were FREEMAN (LIBERI HOMINES) as distinguished from serfs. The former comprised those in possesion of Odhal (noble) land, whether held from the crown or its tenants. It was quite unnecessary to convoke the Normans and their vassals, while the assemblage of the Saxons - OMNES LIBERI HOMINES - was not only to conformity with the laws of Edward the Confessor, but was specially needful when a foreigner had possesed himself of the throne.
I have perhaps dwelt to long upon this point, but the error to which I have referred has been adopted as if it was an unquestioned fact, and has passed into our school-books and become part of the education given to the young, and therefore it required some examination.
I believe that a very large portion of the land in England did not change hands at that period, nor was the position of either SERFS or VILLEINS changed. The great alteration lay in the increase in the quantity of BOC-LAND. Much of the FOLC-LAND was forfeited and seized upon, and as the king claimed the right to give it away, it was called TERRA REGIS. The charter granted by King William to Alan Fergent, Duke of Bretagne, of the lands and towns, and the rest of the inheritance of Edwin, Earl of Yorkshire, runs thus:
"Ego Guilielmus cognomine Bastardus, Rex Anglise do et concede tibi nepoti meo Alano Brittanias Comiti et hseredibus tuis imperpetuum omnes villas et terras qua nuper fuerent Comitis Edwini in Eborashina cum feodis militise et aliis libertatibus et consuetudinibus ita libere et honorifice sicut idem Edwinus eadem tenuit.
"Data obsidione coram civitate Eboraci."
This charter does not create a different title, but gives the lands as held by the former possessor. The monarch assumed the function of the fole-gemot, but the principle remained - the feudee only became tenant for life. Each estate reverted to the Crown on the death of him who held it; but, previous to acquiring possession, the new tenant had to cease to be his own "man," and became the "man" of his superior. This act was called "homage," and was followed by "investiture." In A.D. 1175, Prince Henry refused to trust himself with his father till his homage had been renewed and accepted, for it bound the superior to protect the inferior. The process is thus described by De Lolme (chap, ii., sec. 1):
"On the death of the ancestor, lands holden by 'knight's service' and by 'grand sergeantcy' were, upon inquisition finding the tenure and the death of the ancestor, seized into the king's hands. If the heir appeared by the inquisition to be within the age of twenty-one years, the King retained the lands till the heir attained the age of twenty-one, for his own profit, maintaining and educating the heir according to his rank. If the heir appeared by the inquisition to have attained twenty-one, he was entitled to demand livery of the lands by the king's officers on paying a relief and doing fealty and homage. The minor heir attaining twenty-one, and proving his age, was entitled to livery of his lands, on doing fealty and homage, without paying any relief."
The idea involved is, that the lands Were HELD, and NOT OWNED, and that the proprietary right lay in the nation, as represented by the king. If we adopt the poetic idea of the Brehon code, that "land is perpetual man," then HOMAGE for land was not a degrading institution. But it is repugnant to our ideas to think that any man can, on any ground, or for any consideration, part with his manhood, and become by homage the "man" of another.
The Norman chieftains claimed to be peers of the monarch, and to sit in the councils of the nation, as barons-by-tenure and not by patent. This was a decided innovation upon the usages of the Anglo- Saxons, and ultimately converted the Parliament, the FOLC-GEMOT, into two branches. Those who accompanied the king stood in the same position as the companions of Romulus, they were the PATRICIANS; those subsequently called to the councils of the sovereign by patent corresponded with the Roman NOBILES. No such patents were issued by any of the Norman monarchs. But the insolence of the Norman nobles led to the attempt made by the successors of the Conqueror to revive the Saxon earldoms as a counterpoise. The weakness of Stephen enabled the greater fudges to fortify their castles, and they set up claims against the Crown, which aggravated the discord that arose in subsequent reigns.
The "Saxon Chronicles," p. 238, thus describes the oppressions of the nobles, and the state of England in the reign of Stephen:
"They grievously oppressed the poor people with building castles, and when they were built, filled them with wicked men, or rather devils, who seized both men and women who they imagined had any money, threw them into prison, and put them to more cruel tortures than the martyrs ever endured; they suffocated some in mud, and suspended others by the feet, or the head, or the thumbs, kindling fires below them. They squeezed the heads of some with knotted cords till they pierced their brains, while they threw others into dungeons swarming with serpents, snakes, and toads."