VII. THE STUARTS.
The accession of the Stuarts to the throne of England took place under peculiar circumstances. The nation had just passed through two very serious struggles - one political, the other religious. The land which had been in the possession of religious communities, instead of being retained by the state for educational or religious purposes, had been given to favorites. A new class of ownership had been created - the lay impropriators of tithes. The suppression of retainers converted land into a quasi property. The extension to land of the powers of bequest gave the possessors greater facilities for disposing thereof. It was relieved from the principal feudal burden, military service, but remained essentially feudal as far as tenure was concerned. Men were no longer furnished to the state as payment of the knight's fee; they were cleared off the land, to make room for sheep and oxen, England being in that respect about two hundred years in advance of Ireland, though without the outlet of emigration. Vagrancy and its attendant evils led to the Poor Law.
James I. and his ministers tried to grapple with the altered circumstances, and strove to substitute and equitable Crown rent or money payment for the existing and variable claims which were collected by the Court of Ward and Livery. The knight's fee then consisted of twelve plough-lands, a more modern name for "a hide of land." The class burdened with knight's service, or payments in lieu thereof, comprised 160 temporal and 26 spiritual lords, 800 barons, 600 knights, and 3000 esquires. The knight's fee was subject to aids, which were paid to the Crown upon the marriage of the king's son or daughter. Upon the death of the possessor, the Crown received primer-seizen a year's rent. If the successor was an infant, the Crown under the name of Wardship, took the rents of the estates. If the ward was a female, a fine was levied if she did not accept the husband chosen by the Crown. Fines on alienation were also levied, and the estates, though sold, became escheated, and reverted to the Crown upon the failure of issue. These various fines kept alive the principle that the lands belonged to the Crown as representative of the nation; but, as they varied in amount, James I. proposed to compound with the tenants-in-fee, and to convert them into fixed annual payments. The nobles refused, and the scheme was abandoned.
In the succeeding reign, the attempt to stretch royal power beyond its due limits led to resistance by force, but it was no longer a mere war of nobles; their power had been destroyed by Henry VII. The Stuarts had to fight the people, with a paid army, and the Commons, having the purse of the nation, opposed force to force. The contest eventuated in a military protectorship. Many of the principal tenants-in-fee fled the country to save their lives. Their lands were confiscated and given away; thus the Crown rights were weakened, and Charles II. was forced to recognize many of the titles given by Cromwell; he did not dare to face the convulsion which must follow an expulsion of the novo homo in posession of the estates of more ancient families; but legislation went further - it abolished all the remaining feudal charges. The Commons appear to have assented to this change, from a desire to lessen the private income of the Sovereign, and thus to make him more dependent upon Parliament, This was done by the 12th Charles II., cap. 24. It enacts:
"That the Court of Ward and Liveries, primer seizin, etc., and all fines for alienation, tenures by knight's service, and tenures in capite, be done away with and turned into fee and common socage, and discharged of homage, escuage, aids, and reliefs. All future tenures created by the king to be in free and common socage, reserving rents to the Crown and also fines on alienation. It enables fathers to dispose of their children's share during their minority, and gives the custody of the personal estate to the guardians of such child, and imposes in lieu of the revenues raised in the Court of Ward and Liveries, duties upon beer and ale."
The land was relieved of its legitimate charge, and a tax on beer and ale imposed instead! the landlords were relieved at the expense of the people. The statute which accomplished this change is described by Blackstone as
"A greater acquisition to the civil property of this kingdom than even Magna Charta itself, since that only pruned the luxuriances that had grown out of military tenures, and thereby preserved them in vigor; but the statute of King Charles extirpated the whole, and demolished both root and branches,"