Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

IV.

"

CHAP. Edward recovered power he was enabled to proclaim the principles of his father's government even more strongly than his father had been inclined to do. The matters' he declared, which are to be established for the estate of our lord the king and of his heirs, and for the estate of the realm and of the people, shall be treated, awarded and established in parliaments by our lord the king, and by the consent of the prelates, earls and barons, and the commonwealth of the realm, according as hath been heretofore accustomed.' Edward II. could not fulfil his part of the contract even if he had wished to do so, and it was not long before the nation witnessed with satisfaction the domestic broil which swept away the occupant of the throne, and which placed upon it another Edward, who, in spite of many defects, had at least some notion that the kingly office entailed upon its holder duties as well as pleasures. In principle, at least, the theory of the constitution propounded by his father when he overcame the barons, was admitted by Edward II. From henceforth England was only concerned with its practical application.

83

CHAPTER V.

CONSTITUTIONAL KINGSHIP.

AT the beginning of the fourteenth century the work of the Middle Ages was nearly accomplished. The rude Teutons who poured over the surface of the Roman Empire in its earliest years needed increase of discipline, not increase of liberty, the growth of a sense of the worth of self-renunciation and obedience rather than the growth of a sense of independence and self-reliance. On Roman soil they had met with two institutions, the state and the church, which offered to give them the training which they required. They shattered the state, but they accepted the teaching of the church. When at last the idea of a state discipline revived, it slowly made its way in organising the scattered tribes into a nation, and in compelling individuals to submit to a rule often harsh and tyrannical, but wholesome in the main. It found the church idea already in possession of the field. Not only were the limits of church rule wider than the limits of the rule of any single state, but its ideal was purer, its notions of morality more lofty, whilst its demand of utter self-renunciation in its most devoted followers gave it a hold upon the individual heart and conscience which no external institutions of government could hope to rival. The great men of the Middle Ages were ecclesiastics rather than statesmen. Yet the very causes which led to growth of ecclesiastical authority for a time pre

[blocks in formation]

CHAP.

V.

§ 2. De

cline of the Papacy.

vented it from establishing itself as the permanent source of law and order. Partly from the character of the papacy as a religious institution, partly from the wide diffusion of the populations entrusted to its care, it was impossible that the popes should possess that constant and complete knowledge of the wants and feelings of the peoples of all Western Christendom which was essential to the establishment of such a government as formed the ideal of Innocent III. That which had happened to the imperial rulers of the earlier Rome happened now to the papal rulers of the later Rome. They themselves did what they could for the people, but they lived too far apart from them to apply the right remedies at the right time. Other causes too made the failure more complete. The ecclesiastical ideal of monastic virtue was too complete an exaggeration, too thoroughly in antagonism with the ordinary conditions of human life, to occupy the minds of men for ever.

As late as the thirteenth century indeed, the productive force of the medieval church was not exhausted, but the mission of the friars was its last effort in the days of its greatness, and that had only been successful because ideas of active beneficence were intermingled with the older ideas of poverty and self-denial. The inward corruption and the worldly entanglements of the papacy were but the outward sign that its true work was done; and when, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, the popes retired into a splendid and luxurious slavery at Avignon, they renounced the outward form of a spiritual guidance which it was no longer theirs to give. For two centuries the mechanism of church authority would continue in their hands. But the mechanism of church authority would not foster the growth of ideas or of devotion. Men would no longer learn from the popes to project themselves into the

future and to struggle for the realisation of better and happier days for the generations to come than those in which their own lot was cast.

The work of constituting national unity was, to a great extent, accomplished when Edward I. died. To a great extent because it had been accomplished, the characters of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were inferior to those of the thirteenth. The greatness of men and of nations depends not so much on what they do as on what they desire, and when once a task is accomplished there is always a tendency to fold the arms and rest. Yet even this is not a sufficient explanation for the lassitude which followed. Doubtless the mere fact that the bond of church unity had to a great extent given place to the bond of national unity must be answerable for much of the decline which followed. The ideal of the church entered into the very heart and soul of the individual Christian. It bade him, if often in superstitious and ignorant ways, to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. Self-purification was a work which came home to the hearts and bosoms of all. The state too had its ideal, an ideal of justice, but it was not one which appealed so readily to the individual conscience. The great earl who stood up against Henry III. was known as Sir Simon the Righteous. The great king who took up and accomplished his task was known as the English Justinian. Even in him the idea of a righteous man was hardening into the idea of a giver of laws. It is the tendency of this pursuit of righteousness alone to dwindle into a balance of opposing claims, a maintenance of external rules, a calculating of the place which each man has gained in the world, and a determination that he shall keep it still. The ideal of the medieval church would never revive again for the English people in the form in which it had hitherto

[blocks in formation]

CHAP.
V.

attracted them, but it would go ill with them unless it could be revived again in some other shape to win them to tenderness and purity, to the abandonment of selfish efforts and designs.

between England and Flanders.

§ 4. The Whatever might be the bearing of these events upon Connexion the future character of the English nation, there was no doubt that it had acquired strength for the immediate present, which would enable it to overpower and hold down, at least for a time, any other nation living under the feudal regime. The course of the struggle with Scotland had run through the stages of immediate success and ultimate failure-of success as long as there was only a Scottish feudal nobility to contend with, of failure as soon as there was a Scottish nation to be kept in subjection. Untaught by the lesson, England threw herself, under the guidance of Edward III., into a war of conquest against France For a war of more limited extent, indeed, Edward was not without justification. Europe was making progress slowly but surely in the arts of peace. In the cities of Flanders had arisen manufacturing populations which supplied the countries around with the products of the loom. To the Ghent and Bruges of the Middle Ages, England stood in the same relation as that which the Australian colonies hold to the Leeds and Bradford of our own day. The sheep which grazed over the wide uninclosed pasture-lands of our island formed a great part of the wealth of England, and that wealth. depended entirely on the flourishing trade with the Flemish towns in which English wool was converted into cloth. When, therefore, the Count of Flanders quarrelled, as feudal magnates were apt to do, with the burghers of the cities over which he ruled, the strife was one to which England could hardly be indifferent. Yet if Edward were to intervene in the Low countries,

« AnteriorContinua »