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Joseph Fisher

This work is an expansion of a paper read at the meeting of the Royal Historical Society in May, 1875, and will be published in the volume of the Transactions of that body. But as it is an expensive work, and only accessible to the Fellows of that Society, and as the subject is one which is now engaging a good deal of public consideration, I have thought it desirable to place it within the reach of those who may not have access to the larger and more expensive work.

The aboriginal period is wrapped in darkness, and I cannot with certainty say whether the system that prevailed was Celtic and Tribal. An old French customary, in a MS. treating upon the antiquity of tenures, says: "The first English king divided the land into four parts. He gave one part to the ARCH FLAMENS to pray for him and his posterity. A second part he gave to the earls and nobility, to do him knight's service. A third part he divided among husbandmen, to hold of him in socage.

The Romans acted with regard to all conquered nations upon the maxim, "To the victors the spoils." Britain was no exception. The Romans were the first to discover or create an ESTATE OF USES in land, as distinct from an estate of possession. The more ancient nations, the Jews and the Greeks, never recognized THE ESTATE OF USES, though there is some indication of it in the relation established by Joseph in Egypt, when, during the years of famine, he purchased for Pharaoh the lands of the people.

The Roman legions and the outlying semi-military settlements along the Rhine and the Danube, forming a cordon reaching from the German Ocean to the Black Sea, kept back the tide of barbarians, but the volume of force accumulated behind the barrier, and at length it poured in an overwhelming and destructive tide over the fair and fertile provinces whose weak and effeminate people offered but a feeble resistance to the robust armies of the north.

The invasion of William of Normandy led to results which have been represented by some writers as having been the most momentous in English history. I do not wish in any way to depreciate their views, but it seems to me not to have been so disastrous to existing institutions, as the Scandinavian invasion, which completely submerged all former usages.

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.

The protracted struggle of the Plantagenets left the nation in a state of exhaustion. The nobles had absorbed the lands of the FREEMEN, and had thus broken the backbone of society. They had then entered upon a contest with the Crown to increase their own power; and to effect their selfish objects, setup puppets, and ranged under conflicting banners, but the Nemesis followed. The Wars of the Roses destroyed their own power, and weakened their influence, by sweeping away the heads of the principal families.

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 first sovereign of the House of Hanover ascended the throne not by right of descent but by election; the legitimate heir was set aside, and a distant branch of the family was chosen, and the succession fixed by act of Parliament; but it is held by jurists that every Parliament is sovereign and has the power of repealing any act of any former Parliament.

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