Images de page
PDF
ePub

theless a great point gained, to have obtained the right of uttering their complaints, assembled in a body and in a legal way—to have acquired, instead of a dangerous resource of insurrections, a lawful and regular mean of influencing the motions of the government, and thenceforth to have become a part of it. Whatever disadvantage might attend the station at first allotted to the representatives of the people, it was soon to be compensated by the preponderance the people necessarily acquire, when they are enabled to act and move with method, and especially with concert.

[ocr errors]

“as petitioners merely, the assent of the lords being ex“pressed in contradistinction to the request of the com. “ mons.”-See on this subject the Preface to the Collection of the Statutes at large, by Ruffhead, and the authorities quoted therein.

* France had indeed also her assemblies of the general estates of the kingdom, in the same manner as England had her parliament ; but then it was only the deputies of the towns within the particular domain of the crown, that is, for a very small part of the nation, who, under the name of the third estate, were admitted in those estates ; and it is easy to conceive that they acquired no great inAuence in an assembly of sovereigns who gave the law to their lord paramount. Hence, when these disappeared, the maxim became immediately established, The will of the king is the will of the law :-in old French, Que veut le roy, ce veut la loy.

[ocr errors]

And indeed this privilege of naming representatives, insignificant as it might then appear, presently manifested itself by the most considerable effects. In spite of his reluctance, and after many evasions unworthy of so great a king, Edward was obliged to confirm the Great Charter; he even confirmed it eleven times in the course of his reign. It was moreover enacted, that whatever should be done contrary to it, should be null and void ; that it should be read twice a year in all cathedrals; and that the penalty of excommunication should be denounced against any one who should presume to violate it.*

At length he converted into an established law a privilege of which the English had hitherto had only a precarious enjoyment; and, in the statute de tallagio non concedendo, he decreed, that no tax should be laid, nor impost levied, without the joint consent of the lords and commons. + A most important statute this, which

* Confirmationes Chartarum, cap. 2, 3, 4.

+ “ Nullum tallagium vel auxilium, per nos, vel hær “ redes nostros, in regno nostro ponatur seu levetur, sine “ voluntate et assensu archiepiscoporum, episcoporum, “ comitum, baronum, militum, burgensium, et aliorum “ liberorum hominum de regno nostro." Stat. an, 24 Ed. I.

D

in conjunction with Magna Charta, forms the basis of the English constitution. If from the latter the English are to date the origin of their liberty, from the former they are to date the establishment of it; and as the Great Charter was the bulwark that protected the freedom of individuals, so was the statute in question the engine which protected the charter itself, and by the help of which the people were thenceforth to make legal conquests over the authority of the crown.

This is the period at which we must stop, in order to take a distant view, and contemplate the different prospect which the rest of Europe then presented.

The efficient causes of slavery were daily operating, and gaining strength. The independence of the nobles on the one hand, the ignorance and weakness of the people on the other, continued to be extreme: the feudal government still continued to diffuse oppression and misery ; and such was the confusion of it, that it even took away all hopes of amendment.

France, still bleeding from the extravagance of a nobility incessantly engaged in groundless wars, either with each other, or with the king, was again desolated by the tyranny of that same nobility, haughtily jealous of their liberty, or rather of their anarchy.* The people, oppressed by those who ought to have guided and protected them, loaded with insults by those who existed by their labour, revolted on all sides. But their tumultuous insurrections had scarcely any other object than that of giving vent to the anguish with which their hearts

re filled. They had no thoughts of entering into a general combination; still less of changing the form of the government, and laying a regular plan of public liberty.

Having never extended their views beyond the fields they cultivated, they had no conception of those different ranks and orders of men, of those distinct and opposite privileges and prerogatives, which are all necessary ingredients of a free constitution. Hitherto confined to the same round of rustic employments, they little thought of that complicated fabric, which the more informed themselves cannot but with difficulty comprehend, when, by a concurrence of favourable circumstances, the structure has at length been reared, and stands displayed to their view.

* Not contented with oppression, they added insult. “ When the gentry,” says Mezeray, “ pillaged and com“mitted exactions on the peasantry, they called the poor < sufferer, in derision, Jacques bonhomme (goodman ** James). This gave rise to a furious sedition, which “ was called the Jacquerie. It began at Beauvais in the “year 1357, extending itself into most of the provinces “ of France, and was not appeased but by the destruction “ of part of those unhappy víctims, thousands of whom “ were slaughtered."

In their simplicity they saw no other remedy for the national evils than the general establishment of the regal power, that is, of the authority of one common uncontrolled master, and only longed for that time, which, while it gratified their revenge, would mitigate their sufferings, and reduce to the same level both the oppressors and the oppressed.

The nobility, on the other hand, bent solely on the enjoyment of a momentary independence, irrecoverably lost the affection of the only men who' might in time support them ; and, equally regardless of the dictates of hu-· manity and of prudence, they did not perceive the gradual and continual advances of the royal authority, which was soon to overwhelm them all.

Already were Normandy, Anjou, Languedoc, and Touraine, re-united to the crown ; Dauphiné, Champagne, and part of Guienne, were soon to follow : France was doomed at

« PrécédentContinuer »