« AnteriorContinua »
he did not succeed in escaping from it in his dealings with foreign nations.
This difficulty was observable even in Edward's dealings with Wales in the early part of the reign. The real causes of his anxiety to subdue the dwellers on the Welsh mountains, was the harm which was done to peaceable Englishmen by the close proximity of a body of men whose very position made them freebooters. But this motive was not placed in the foreground. Wales was ostensibly subdued not for the fault of Welshmen in general, but for the special breach of the feudal relations between their chief and the English king, relations which only existed at all, because the Welsh had been unwillingly forced into a distasteful connection with the English Crown. If no permanent evil followed, it was because Edward was wise enough to content himself with the establishment of his power, without attempting to mould the national habits of the Welsh after English forms.
The case was otherwise with Scotland. In demand- § 20. Eding to be accepted as Lord Paramount of Scotland, ward I. Edward had doubtless in his mind the advantages which land. would arise to the populations on both sides of the Tweed by the union of all the inhabitants of the island under one government. But nothing of this appeared on the surface. The claim was not only distinctly a feudal claim that is to say, a claim put forward on the ground of a personal tie between the king of England and the king of Scotland, and not on the ground of any tic connecting the Scottish nation to the king of England-but it was a feudal claim put forward on a very questionable basis of fact, and at all events extended to mean a great deal more than the foundation on which Edward's argument was based could possibly bear. At first indeed he proved successful. The class to which
§ 21. Edward I. and France.
he directly appealed, that of the Scottish nobility, was peculiarly susceptible to feudal considerations, as it was to a great extent of southern origin, whilst such of its members as held land on both sides of the border had a special interest in maintaining themselves in the good graces of the English king. In proportion as the effects of Edward's interference made themselves felt by the great body of the nation, a national resistance was aroused amongst those who cared nothing for feudal theories or for their interpretation by interested English lawyers, but who cared very much about putting a stop to a system under which their actions were controlled by foreign courts, and their lives and goods were at the mercy of foreign officials. The national feeling which had been gradually growing up during a long course of years in England, sprang up suddenly in Scotland, after a brief interval of anarchy. If it failed to obtain the mastery in Edward's lifetime, it was altogether owing to the personal activity and skill of the king himself, and it was unlikely that these qualities would be inherited by his successor.
It was not only in Scotland that this mixture of feudal with national ties brought confusion into Edward's plans. In France Edward was on the defensive, not, as in Scotland, on the offensive. But it was a feudal tie which bound Gascony to himself, and though whatever possible national feeling was there was still dormant, and the king of France was regarded as more of a stranger than the king of England, there was certainly no feeling to attach the Gascons to the English nation. Thus it came about that the king who had done more than any of his predecessors to raise his people to the consciousness of national unity, was engaged abroad in enterprises in which the national feeling of other peoples was entirely set at defiance.
this was, it is not strange that it was so. It is always long before the full consequences of a change are understood even by those who do most to bring it about. Old habits of thought cling long about the mind, however incompatible they may be with the new habits which are beginning to be formed.
Whatever might be the result of Edward's enterprises abroad, it was certain that they could not be carried out without considerable expense. At a loss for money, and doubting the readiness of the nation to grant him all that he needed, the king fell back upon the old methods of arbitrary taxation, as if the newly completed parliamentary institutions had no binding force against himself. Even those who opposed him did not perceive at once the value of those institutions, as offering them a new standing-ground against the king, and they too fell back upon an equally obsolete line of defence. First came the clergy. The ruling pope, Boniface VIII., was to Innocent III. what Innocent III. had been to Gregory VII. He looked on the papacy, and upon the clerical order of which it was the head, far more as a divinely privileged institution than as a body charged with the duty of rendering services to mankind. The Bull which he issued under the title of Clericis laicos directed that on no account should the clergy pay taxes to the lay authorities. Edward's answer to the assumption was complete. If the clergy bore no part in the burdens of the state, they could have no part in its protection. The days were gone by when their mere character sufficed to guard them from violence. The English clergy were soon compelled to acknowledge the vitality of the national principle, and to strive for immunity from unfair burdens as standing inside and not outside the nation to which they belonged. As it was with the clergy, so it was with the baronage.
The two great
§ 22. The Dispute with the Clergy and
§ 23. Confrmatio Cartarum.
earls, Bohun and Bigod, began their resistance on a purely technical ground, derived from a narrow interpretation of their feudal relations with the crown. They were bidden to conduct an English force to Gascony, whilst Edward conducted another to Flanders. They refused, on the ground that though they were bound to follow the king they were not bound to go to war without him. The strife soon enlarged itself beyond such narrow limits. Edward had been stripping the merchants as well as the clergy of their property, and if the barons were to have the support of the clergy and the merchants in their resistance, they must place it upon some better chosen ground than a mere refusal of military duty. In this way all special grievances were quickly blended in one. The king was asked to renounce his whole claim to arbitrary taxation.
Reluctantly the king yielded, if not all that was asked, at least the greater part of it. In 1295, Parliament had assumed the complete form which it has never since lost, comprising lords spiritual and temporal, knights of the shire, and representatives of the cities and boroughs. By the Confirmatio Cartarum of 1297, an end was put to the long question of organisation which had been the subject of dispute ever since the reign of John. It is true that there was no general enunciation of principle. The Great Charter was confirmed as it stood in the reign of Henry III., without the constitutional clauses. There was no general condemnation of arbitrary taxation, but only of such aids, tasks, and prises as had recently been taken, and of the special toll upon wool which had recently been exacted. One grievance too remained entirely unredressed. The Crown had hitherto assumed the right of exacting special payments from the inhabitants of its own demesne lands under the name of tallages, and nothing was said to restrict its exercise of this right.
But such details are comparatively of little importance. The great fact is that the best and wisest of the kings since the Conquest gave way, and consented to limit his own functions in the presence of the national assembly which he had done more than any one else to bring into being. From that moment it was plain that the government of England would rest, not on the king alone, but on the king in co-operation with parliament. Such a co-operation was only possible because parliament had at its back a united nation, which could strengthen the king's hands to keep in check the presumption of any single class, but which would be strong enough to resist the king himself if he attempted to use for the oppression of all the powers entrusted to him for the good of all.
Two factors were needed for the maintenance of the now established constitution; a king strong enough to hold his own at the head of the nation, and a nation possessed of sufficient cohesion to avoid splitting up again into the separate classes of which it was composed. In both these points the constitution was severely tested in the reign of Edward II. The young king, utterly given up to pleasure, and entirely neglectful of the first duties of his office, could in no sense stand at the head of England as his father had stood at its head. It is impossible to remove one part of a complicated piece of machinery without affecting the others, and as Edward was simply inefficient and not tyrannical, he was opposed by the forces of the baronage without the immediate intervention of the other classes. The victory of the baronage was followed by the institution of a provisional government under the name of the Lords Ordainers, consisting solely of barons and prelates, who paid little more than a formal homage to parliament. The government by a class failed to secure respect, and when