V. THE PLANTAGENETS.
Whatever doubts may exist as to the influence of the Norman Conquest upon the mass of the people - the FREEMEN, the ceorls, and the serfs - there can be no doubt that its effect upon the higher classes was very great. It added to the existing FEUDALISM - the system of Baronage, with its concomitants of castellated residences filled with armed men. It led to frequent contests between neighboring lords, in which the liberty and rights of the FREEMEN were imperilled. It also eventuated in the formation of a distinct order-the peerage - and for a time the constitutional influence of the assembled people, the FOLC-GEMOT, was overborne.
The principal Norman chieftains were barons in their own country, and they retained that position in England, but their holdings in both were feudal, not hereditary. When the Crown, originally elective, became hereditary, the barons sought to have their possessions governed by the same rule, to remove them from the class of TERRAREGIS (FOLC-LAND), and to convert them into chartered land. Being gifts from the monarch, he had the right to direct the descent, and all charters which gave land to a man and his heirs, made each of them only a tenant for life; the possessor was bound to hand over the estate undivided to the heir, and he could neither give, sell, nor bequeath it. The land was BENEFICIA, just as appointments in the Church, and reverted, as they do, to the patron to be re-granted. They were held upon military service, and the major barons, adopting the Saxon title Earl, claimed to be PEERS of the monarch, and were called to the councils of the state as barons-by-tenure. In reply to a QUO WARRANTO, issued to the Earl of Surrey, in the reign of Edward I., he asserted that his ancestors had assisted William in gaining England, and were equally entitled to a share of the spoils. "It was," said he, "by their swords that his ancestors had obtained their lands, and that by his he would maintain his rights." The same monarch required the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk to go over with his army to Guienne, and they replied, "The tenure of our lands does not require us to do so, unless the king went in person." The king insisted; the earls were firm. "By God, sir Earl," said Edward to Hereford, "you shall go or hang." "By God, sir King," replied the earl, "I will neither go nor hang." The king submitted and forgave his warmth.
The struggle between the nobles and the Crown commenced, and was continued, under varying circumstances. Each of the barons had a large retinue of armed men under his own command, and the Crown was liable to be overborne by a union of ambitious nobles. At one time the monarch had to face them at Runnymede and yield to their demands; at another he was able to restrain them with a strong hand. The Church and the barons, when acting in union, proved too strong for the sovereign, and he had to secure the alliance of one of these parties to defeat the views of the other. The barons abused their power over the FREEMEN, and sought to establish the rule "that every man must have a lord," thus reducing them to a state of vassalage. King John separated the barons into two classes - major and minor; the former should have at least thirteen knights' fees and a third part; the latter remained country gentlemen. The 20th Henry III., cap. 2 and 4, was passed to secure the rights of FREEMEN, who were disturbed by the great lords, and gave them an appeal to the king's courts of assize.
Bracton, an eminent lawyer who wrote in the time of Henry III., says:
"The king hath superiors - viz., God and the law by which he is made king; also his court - viz., his earls and barons. Earls are the king's associates, and he that hath an associate hath a master; and therefore, if the king be unbridled, or (which is all one) without law, they ought to bridle him, unless they will be unbridled as the king, and then the commons may cry, Lord Jesus, pity us," etc.
An eminent lawyer, time of Edward I., writes:
"Although the king ought to have no equal in the land, yet because the king and his commissioners can be both judge and party, the king ought by right to have companions, to hear and determine in Parliament all writs and plaints of wrongs done by the king, the queen, or their children."
These views found expression in the coronation oath. Edward II. was forced to swear:
"Will you grant and keep, and by your oath confirm to the people of England the laws and customs to them, granted by the ancient kings of England, your righteous and godly predecessors; and especially to the clergy and people, by the glorious King St. Edward, your predecessor?"
The king's answer - "I do them grant and promise."
"Do you grant to hold and keep the laws and rightful customs which the commonalty of your realm shall have chosen, and to maintain and enforce them to the honor of God after your power?"
The king's answer - "I this do grant and promise."