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."

I shall not dwell upon the event most frequently quoted with reference to the era of the Plantagenets - I mean King John's "Magna Charta." It was more social than territorial, and tended to limit the power of the Crown, and to increase that of the barons. The Plantagenets had not begun to call Commons to the House of Lords. The issue of writs was confined to those who were barons-by-tenure, the PATRICIANS of the Norman period. The creation of NOBLES was the invention of a later age. The baron feasted in his hall, while the slave grovelled in his cabin. Bracton, the famous lawyer of the time of Henry III., says: "All the goods a slave acquired belonged to his master, who could take them from him whenever he pleased," therefore a man could not purchase his own freedom. "In the same year, 1283," says the Annals of Dunstable, "we sold our slave by birth, William Fyke, and all his family, and received one mark from the buyer." The only hope for the slave was, to try and get into one of the walled towns, when he became free. Until the Wars of the Roses, these serfs were greatly harassed by their owners.

In the reign of Edward I., efforts were made to prevent the alienation of land by those who received it from the Norman sovereigns. The statute of mortmain was passed to restrain the giving of lands to the Church, the statute DE DONIS to prevent alienation to laymen. The former declares:

"That whereas religious men had entered into the fees of other men, without license and will of the chief lord, and sometimes appropriating and buying, and sometimes receiving them of gift of others, whereby the services that are due of such fee, and which, in the beginning, were provided for the defence of the realm, are wrongfully withdrawn, and the chief lord do lose the escheats of the same (the primer seizin on each life that dropped); it therefore enacts: That any such lands were forfeited to the lord of the fee; and if he did not take it within twelve months, it should be forfeited to the king, who shall enfeoff other therein by certain services to be done for us for the defence of the realm."

Another act, the 6th Edward I., cap. 3, provides:

"That alienation by the tenant in courtesy was void, and the heir was entitled to succeed to his mother's property, notwithstanding the act of his father."

The 13th Edward I., cap. 41, enacts:

"That if the abbot, priors, and keepers of hospitals, and other religious houses, aliened their land they should be seized upon by the king."

The 13th Edward I., cap. 1, DE DONIS conditionalitiis, provided:

"That tenements given to a man, and the heirs of his body, should, at all events, go to the issue, if there were any; or, if there were none, should revert to the donor."

But while the fiefs of the Crown were forbidden to alien their lands, the FREEMEN, whose lands were Odhal (noble) and of Saxon descent, the inheritance of which was guaranteed to them by 55 William I. (ANTE, p. 13), were empowered to sell their estates by the statute called QUIA EMPTORES (6 Edward I.). It enacts:

"That from henceforth it shall be lawful to every FREEMEN to sell, at his own pleasure, his lands and tenements, or part of them: so that the feoffee shall hold the same lands and tenements of the chief lord of the fee by such customs as his feoffee held before."

The scope of these laws was altered in the reign of Edward III. That monarch, in view of his intended invasion of France, secured the adhesion of the landowners, by giving them power to raise money upon and alien their estates. The permission was as follows, 1 Edward III., cap. 12:

"Whereas divers people of the realm complain themselves to be grieved because that lands and tenements which be holden of the king in chief, and aliened without license, have been seized into the king's hand, and holden as forfeit: (2.) The king shall not hold them as forfeit in such case, but will and grant from henceforth of such lands and tenements so aliened, there shall be reasonable fine taken in chancery by due process."

1 Edward III., cap. 13:

"Whereas divers have complained that they be grieved by reason of purchasing of lands and tenements, which have been holden of the king's progenitors that now is, as of honors; and the same lands have been taken into the king's hands, as though they had been holden in chief of the king as of his crown: (2.) The king will that from henceforth no man be grieved by any such purchase."

De Lolme, chap. iii., sec. 3, remarks on these laws that they took from the king all power of preventing alienation or of purchase. They left him the reversionary right on the failure of heirs.

These changes in the relative power of the sovereign and the nobles took place to enable Edward to enter upon the conquest of France; but that monarch, conferred a power upon the barons, which was used to the detriment of his descendants, and led to the dethronement of the Plantagenets.

The line of demarcation between the two sets of titles, those derived through the ANGLO-SAXON laws and those derived through the grants of the Norman sovereigns, was gradually being effaced. The people looked back to the laws of Edward the Confessor, and forced them upon Edward II. But after passing the laws which prevented nobles from selling, and empowering FREEMEN to do so, Edward III. found it needful to assert his claims to the entire land of England, and enacted in the twenty-fourth year of his reign:

"That the king is the universal lord and original proprietor of all land in his kingdom; that no man doth or can possess, any part of it but what has mediately or immediately been derived as a gift from him to be held on feodal service."

Those who obtained gifts of land, only held or had the use of them; the ownership rested in the Crown. Feodal service, the maintenance of armed men, and the bringing them into the field, was the rent paid.

The wealth which came into England after the conquest of France influenced all classes, but none more than the family of the king. His own example seems to have affected his descendants. The invasion of France and the captivity of its king reappear in the invasion of England by Henry IV., and the capture and dethronement of Richard II. The prosperity of England during the reign of Edward had passed away in that of his grandson. Very great distress pervaded the land, and it led to efforts to get rid of villeinage. The 1st Richard II. recites:

"That grievous complaints had been made to the Lords and Commons, that villeins and land tenants daily withdraw into cities and towns, and a special commission was appointed to hear the case, and decide thereon."

The complaint was renewed, and appears in Act 9 Richard II., cap. 2:

"Whereas divers villeins and serfs, as well of the great Lords as of other people, as well spiritual as temporal, do fly within the cities, towns, and places entfranched. as the city of London, and other like, and do feign divers suits against their Lords, to the intent to make them free by the answer of the Lords, it is accorded and assented that the Lords and others shall not be forebound of their villeins, because of the answer of the Lords."

Serfdom or slavery may have existed previous to the ANGLO-SAXON invasion, but I am disposed to think that the Saxon, the Jutes, and the Angles reduced the inhabitants of the lands which they conquered, into serfdom. The history of that period shows that men, women, and children were constantly sold, and that there were established markets. One at Bristol, which was frequented by Irish buyers, was put down, owing to the remonstrance of the Bishop. After the Norman invasion the name of Villein, a person attached to the villa, was given to the serfs. The village was their residence. Occasional instances of enfranchisement took place; the word signified being made free, and at that time every FREEMAN was entitled to a vote. The word enfranchise has latterly come to bear a different meaning, and to apply solely to the possession of a vote, but it originally meant the elevation of a serf into the condition of a FREEMAN. The act of enfranchisement was a public ceremony usually performed at the church door. The last act of ownership performed by the master was the piercing of the right ear with an awl. Many serfs fled into the towns, where they were enfranchised and became FREEMEN.

The disaffection of the common people increased; they were borne down with oppression. They struggled against their masters, and tried to secure their personal liberty, and the freedom of their land. The population rose in masses in the reign of Richard II., and demanded -

1st. The total abolition of slavery for themselves and their children forever;

2d. The reduction of the rent of good land to 4d. per acre;

3d. The right of buying and selling, like other men, in markets and fairs;

4th. The pardon of all offences.

The monarch acted upon insidious advice; he spoke them fair at first, to gain time, but did not fulfil his promises. Ultimately the people gained part of their demands. To limit or defeat them, an act was passed, fixing the wages of laborers to 4d. per day, with meat and drink, or 6d. per day, without meat and drink, and others in proportion; but with the proviso, that if any one refused to serve or labor on these terms, every justice was at liberty to send him to jail, there to remain until he gave security to serve and labor as by law required. A subsequent act prevents their being employed by the week, or paid for holidays.

Previous to this period, the major barons and great lords tilled their land by serfs, and had very large flocks and herds of cattle. On the death of the Bishop of Winchester, 1367, his executors delivered to Bishop Wykeham, his successor in the see, the following: 127 draught horses, 1556 head of cattle, 3876 wedders, 4777 ewes, and 3541 lambs. Tillage was neglected; and in 1314 there was a severe dearth; wheat sold at a price equal to L30 per quarter, the brewing of ale was discontinued by proclamation, in order "to prevent those of middle rank from perishing for want of food."

The dissensions among the descendants of Edward III. as to the right to the Crown aided the nobles in their efforts to make their estates hereditary, and the civil wars which afflicted the nation tended to promote that object. Kings were crowned and discrowned at the will of the nobles, who compelled the FREEMEN to part with their small estates. The oligarchy dictated to the Crown, and oppressed and kept down the FREEMEN. The nobles allied themselves with the serfs, who were manumitted that they might serve as soldiers in the conflicting armies.

From the Conquest to the time of Richard II., only barons-by- tenure, the descendants of the companions of the Conqueror, were invited by writ to Parliament. That monarch made an innovation, and invited others who were not barons-by-tenure. The first dukedom was created the 11th of Edward III., and the first viscount the 18th Henry VI.

Edward IV. seized upon the lands granted by former kings, and gave them to his own followers, and thus created a feeling of uneasiness in the minds of the nobility, and paved the way for the events which were accomplished by a succeeding dynasty. The decision in the Taltarum case opened the question of succession; and Edward's efforts to put down retainers was the precursor of the Tudor policy.

We have a picture of the state of society in the reign of Edward IV. in the Paston Memoirs, written by Margaret Paston. Her husband, John Paston, was heir to Sir John Fastolf. He was bound by the will to establish in Caister Castle, Fastolf s own mansion, a college of religious men to pray for his benefactor's soul. But in those days might was right, and the Duke of Norfolk, fancying that he should like the house for himself, quietly took possession of it. At that time, Edward was just seated on the throne, and Edward had just been reported to Paston to have said in reference to another suit, that

"He would be your good lord therein as he would to the poorest man in England. He would hold with you in your right; and as for favor, he will not be understood that he shall show favor more to one man to another, not to one in England."

This was a true expression of the king's intentions. But either he was changeable in his moods, or during these early years he was hardly settled enough on the throne always to be able to carry out his wishes. This time, however, in some way or another, the great duke was reduced to submission, and Caister was restored to Paston.

In 1465 a new claimant appeared; and claimants, though as troublesome in the fifteenth as the nineteenth century, proceeded in a different fashion. This time it was the Duke of Suffolk, who asserted a right to the manor of Drayton in his own name, and who had bought up the assumed rights of another person to the manor of Hellesdon. John Paston was away, and his wife had to bear the brunt. An attempt to levy rent at Drayton was followed by a threat from the duke's men, that if her servants "ventured to take any further distresses at Drayton, even if it were but of the value of a pin, they would take the value of an ox in Hellesdon."

Paston and the duke alike professed to be under the law. But each was anxious to retain that possession which in those days seems really to have been nine points of the law. The duke got hold of Drayton, while Hellesdon was held for Paston. One day Paston's men made a raid upon Drayton, and carried off seventy-seven head of cattle. Another day the duke's bailiff came to Hellesdon with 300 men to see if the place were assailable. Two servants of Paston, attempting to keep a court at Drayton in their master's name, were carried off by force. At last the duke mustered his retainers and marched against Hellesdon. The garrison, too weak to resist, at once surrendered.

"The duke's men took possession, and set John Paston's own tenants to work, very much against their wills, to destroy the mansion and break down the walls of the lodge, while they themselves ransacked the church, turned out the parson, and spoiled the images. They also pillaged very completely every house in the village. As for John Paston's own place, they stripped it completely bare; and whatever there was of lead, brass, pewter, iron, doors or gates, or other things that they could not conveniently carry off, they hacked and hewed them to pieces. The duke rode through Hellesdon to Drayton the following day, while his men were still busy completing the wreck of destruction by the demolition of the lodge. The wreck of the building, with the rents they made in its walls, is visible even now" (Introd. xxxv.).

The meaning of all this is evident. We have before us a state of society in which the anarchical element is predominant. But it is not pure anarchy. The nobles were determined to reduce the middle classes to vassalage.

The reign of the Plantagenets witnessed the elevation of the nobility. The descendants of the Norman barons menaced, and sometimes proved too powerful for the Crown. In such reigns as those of Edward I., Edward III., and Henry VI., the barons triumphed. The power wielded by the first Edward fell from the feeble grasp of his son and successor. The beneficent rule of Edward III. was followed by the anarchy of Richard II. Success led to excess. The triumphant party thinned the ranks of its opponents, and in turn experienced the same fate. The fierce struggle of the Red and White Roses weakened each. Guy, Earl of Warwick, "the king- maker," sank overpowered on the field of Tewkesbury, and with him perished many of the most powerful of the nobles. The jealousy of Richard III. swept away his own friends, and the bloody contest on Bosworth field destroyed the flower of the nobility. The sun of the Plantagenets went down, leaving the country weak and impoverished, from a contest in which the barons sought to establish their own power, to the detriment alike of the Crown and the FREEMEN. The latter might have exclaimed:

"Till half a patriot, half a coward, grown, We fly from meaner tyrants to the throne."

The long contest terminated in the defeat alike of the Crown and the nobles, but the nation suffered severely from the struggle.

The rule of this family proved fatal to the interest of a most important class, whose rights were jealously guarded by the Normans. The Liberi Homines, the FREEMEN, who were Odhal occupiers, holding in capite from the sovereign, nearly disappeared in the Wars of the Roses. Monarchs who owed their crown to the favor of the nobles were too weak to uphold the rights of those who held directly from the Crown, and who, in their isolation, were almost powerless.

The term FREEMAN, originally one of the noblest in the land, disappeared in relation to urban tenures, and was applied solely to the personal rights of civic burghers; instead thereof arose the term FREEHOLDER from FREE HOLD, which was originally a grant free from all rent, and only burdened with military service. The term was subsequently applied to land held for leases for lives as contradistinguished from leases for years, the latter being deemed base tenures, and insufficient to qualify a man to vote; the theory being that no man was free whose tenure could be disturbed during his life. Though the Liberi Homines or FREEMEN were, as a class, overborne in this struggle, and reduced to vassalage, yet their descendants were able, under the leadership of Cromwell, to regain some of the rights and influence of which they had been despoiled under the Plantagenets.

Fortescue, Lord Chief-Justice to Henry VI., thus describes the condition of the English people:

"They drunk no water, unless it be that some for devotion, and upon a rule of penance, do abstain from other drink. They eat plentifully of all kinds of flesh and fish. They wear woollen cloth in all their apparel. They have abundance of bed covering in their houses, and all other woollen stuff. They have great store of all implements of household. They are plentifully furnished with all instruments of husbandry, and all other things that are requisite to the accomplishment of a great and wealthy life, according to their estates and degrees."

This flattering picture is not supported by the existing disaffection and the repeated applications for redress from the serfs and the smaller farmers, "and the simple fact that the population had increased under the Normans - a period of 88 years - from 2,150,000 to 3,350,000, while under the Plantagenets - a period of 300 years - it only increased to 4,000,000, the addition to the population in that period being only 650,000. The average increase in the former period was nearly 14,000 per annum, while in the latter it did not much exceed 2000 per annum. This goes far to prove the evil from civil wars, and the oppression of the oligarchy.