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other, established several sovereignties in the southern part of the island, afterwards called England, which at length were united, under Egbert, into one kingdom.
The successors of this prince, denominated the Anglo-Saxon princes, among whom Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor are particularly celebrated, reigned for about two hundred years : but, though our knowledge of the principal events of this early period of the English history is in some degree exact, yet we have but vague and uncertain accounts of the nature of the government which those nations introduced.
It appears to have had little more affinity with the present constitution, than the general relation common indeed to all the governments established by the northern nations,-that of having a king and a body of nobility; and the ancient Saxon government is “ left us in story
(to use the expressions of Sir William Temple “ on the subject) but like so many antique, “ broken, or defaced pictures, which may still “ represent something of the customs and “ fashions of those ages, though little of the “true lines, proportions, or resemblance."*
* See his Introduction to the History of England.
It is at the era of the conquest that we are to look for the real foundation of the English constitution. From that period, says Spelman, novus seclorum nascitur ordo. * William of Normandy, having defeated Harold, and made himself master of the crown, subverted the an
See Spelman, Of Parliaments. It has been a favourite thesis with many writers, to pretend that the Saxon government was, at the time of the conquest, by no means subverted ;-that William of Normandy legally acceded to the throne, and consequently, to the engagement of the Saxon kings: and much argument has in particular been employed with regard to the word conquest, which, it has been said, in the feudal sense, only meant acquisition. These opinions have been particularly insisted upon in times of popular opposition: and, indeed, there was far greater probability of success, in raising among the people the notions (familiar to them) of legal claims and long-established customs, than in arguing with them from the no less rational, but less determinate, and somewhat dangerous doctrines, concerning the original rights of mankind, and the lawfulness of at all times opposing force to an oppressive government.
But if we consider that the manner in which the public power is formed in a state is so very essential a part of its government, and that a thorough change in this respect was introduced into England by the conquest, we shall not scruple to allow that a new government was established. Nay, as almost the whole landed property in the kingdom was at that time transferred to other hands, a rew system of criminal justice introduced, and the language of the law moreover altered, the revolution may
cient fabric of the Saxon legislation : he exterminated, or expelled, the former occupiers be said to have been such as is not perhaps to be paralleled in the history of any other country.
Some Saxon laws, favourable to the liberty of the people, were indeed again established under the successors of William : but the introduction of some new modes of proceeding in the courts of justice, and of a few particular laws, cannot, so long as the ruling power in the state remains the same, be said to be the introduction of a new government; and as, when the laws in question were again established, the public power in England continued in the same channel where the conquest had placed it, they were more properly new modifications of the Anglo-Norman constitution than they were the abolition of it: or, since they were again adopted from the Saxon legislation, they were rather imitations of that legislation, than the restoration of the Saxon government.
Contented, however, with the two authorities I have above quoted, I shall dwell no longer on a discussion of the precise identity, or difference of two governments; that is, of two ideal systems, which only exist in the conceptions of men. Nor do I wish to explode a doctrine, which, in the opinion of some persons, giving an additional sanction and dignity to the English government, contributes to increase their love and respect for it. It will be sufficient for my purpose, if the reader shall be pleased to grant that a material change was, at the time of the conquest, effected in the government then existing, and is accordingly disposed to admit the proofs that will presently be laid before him, of such change having prepared the establishment of the preseirt English constitution.
of lands, in order to distribute their possessions among his followers: and established the feudal system of government, as better adapted to his situation, and indeed the only one of which he possessed a competent idea.
This sort of government prevailed also in almost all the other parts of Europe. But, instead of being established by dint of arms, and all at once, as in England, it had only been established on the continent, and particularly in France, through a long series of slow successive events :-a difference of circumstances this, from which consequences were in time to arise as important as they were at first difficult to be foreseen.
The German nations who passed the Rhine to conquer Gaul were in a great degree independent; their princes had no other title to their power but their own valour and the free election of the people ; and, as the latter had acquired in their forests but contracted notions of sovereign authority, they followed a chief less in quality of subjects, than as companions in conquest.
Besides, this conquest was not the irruption of a foreign army, which only takes possession of fortified towns ;- it was the general invasion of a whole people in search of new
habitations; and, as the number of the conquerors bore a great proportion to that of the conquered, who were at the same time enervated by long peace, the expedition was no sooner completed than all danger was at an end, and of course their union also. After dividing among themselves what lands they thought proper to occupy, they separated ; and though their tenure was at first only precarious, yet, in this particular, they depended not on the king, but on the general assembly of the nation. *
Under the kings of the first race, the fiefs, by the mutual connivance of the leaders, at first became annual ; afterwards, held for life. Under the descendants of Charlemagne, they became hereditary. † And when at length Hugh Capet effected his own election, to the prejudice of Charles of Lorrain, intending to render the crown, which in fact was a fief, hereditary
* The fiefs were originally called terræ jure beneficii concessæ ; and it was not till under Charles le Gros that the term fief began to be in use. See BeneFICIUM, Gloss. du Cange.
+ Apud Francos vero, sensim pedetentimque, jure hæreditario ad hæredes subinde transierunt feuda ; quod labente seculo nono incepit. See FEUDUM, Du Cange.