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The Norman system on the contrary was that of Feudality; in which every thing, by a rude species of legal fiction, descended in acknowledged dependence from the throne, which was to be regarded as the sole original proprietor of the soil; and from which the nobility, or chief vassals, held the aggregate allotments of the soil, upon such conditions of suit and service as he had been pleased to dictate : the sub-vassals receiving again from these, on similar or more restrictive conditions, their inferior fiefs; and others again from them, successively, to the minutest subdivisions of territorial holding. So that the king himself was, in reality, or at least in theory, the only absolute freeholder; and what was called a freehold in Norman phraseology, could be regarded as nothing more than a species of dependent territorial possession, the conditions of whose dependence were not inconsistent with the Norman idea of the character of a freeman: that is to say-of a vassal who was homo liberalis, or a person of ingenuous race. As territorial possession was professedly held, so rank and office, of course, under this system (that is to say, in its primitive purity) were exclusively derived from the throne. The functionaries of the state were the functionaries of the kingnot of the people; and the people, in fact, were politically nothing-those only excepted, who might be lifted into consideration by the honourable vassalage of territorial fiefs : and as the Conquest (or the usurpations and severities by which it was succeeded) stripped the mass of the Saxon population of all landed property, the political community came to be constituted, under the Norman sway, of but a small portion of that body natural now included in the general appellation of the
We do not mean to assert however, (nor would the facts of ancient record bear us out in such an assertion,) that this feudal principle of original proprietorship exclusive in the throne, ever practically existed, or was practically acknowledged, in the full latitude of inference, under the Norman institutions. It was admitted indeed as a theory, and a certain homage was paid to it as a system; but it was felt nevertheless, by the superior feudalities in particular, to be only a convenient, and sometimes an inconvenient fiction. The allodial system had naturally its charms for the great proprietors; or, at least, a feeling congenial to it was natural to the pride of lordly independence and assumption. Those who, with swords in their hands, had acquired ample possessions, would be tempted to consider the power of the sword as a better title than the donation of the crown; and how strictly soever they might uphold the fictitious principle of conditional, or resumable delegation, with respect to their subordinate vassals, they would consider, and would treat the sovereign himself, rather as the chief and president of their confederacy, than as the actual and original proprietor of their fiefs. With swords in their hands they upheld, in fact, this doctrine : and the most potent and the most able, as well as the weakest and most dissolute of the Norman sovereigns, was obliged to recollect that it was necessary that he should consult and conciliate them, if he expected that they should uphold his authority. Allegiance was with them rather a conditional than an absolute obligation. In courteous denomination, they were the peers of the king; and they failed not occasionally to let him know that they were in reality such.
It is worthy also of remark, that even under the Norman institutions, the succession to the throne was never an absolute inheritance by fixed agnatic descent; but was liable to deviation by nomination of the predecessor, and subject to the assent and confirmation of the barons, or chief vassals. William the First set aside the claim of Robert, his eldest, and, with consent of his barons, bequeathed the crown of England to William Rufus, his second son. When Rufus met his death, by an ambiguous accident in the New Forest, the previous arrangement between him and Robert again was set aside; and Henry, the youngest of the sons of the Conqueror, had the possession, which he gained by intrigue and violence, confirmed to him by the election of those feudal states, whose assent appeared to be indispensable. When this same Henry the First (having no son) wished to secure the inheritance to his daughter Maud, he deemed it necessary to obtain the sanction of an oath of fealty to her from his barons; who, nevertheless, on his demise, by as bold a deviation as is exampled even in our Saxon annals, (the election of Harold, the last of our Saxon kings, alone excepted,) revoked their confirmation, and conferred the sovereign authority on Stephen, Earl of Blois : and when, after a sanguinary civil war, resulting from opposed pretensions, a compromise was found requisite, the mode and conditions of the succession, not of Maud, but of her son, Henry the Second, were adjusted by a general convention of the civil and ecclesiastical states of the kingdom.
Were we to extend our observations even far beyond the period to which our present subject (The Saxon Chronicle) properly confines us, the same conclusions would still accompany the successive facts; and would plainly demonstrate, that whatever might be the theoretical or abstract (perhaps we should say the fictitivus) principle of feudal descent and property, as derivative from and inherent in the throne, the actual sovereignty, during the Norman period, was in the baronial proprietors, or principal feudatories ; as, in fact, it had come to be in the Saxon aristocracy of great proprietors, during the latter ages of the Saxon era.
In this respect, indeed, the principle of regal succession (drawing our examples from approximating periods) was not essentially different in the two systems. The Saxon throne, which appears originally to have been purely elective, with restriction only to the family of the original founder, had come to be subject, in a considerable degree, to the will or nomination of the precedent possessor; though subject to confirmation or rejection by the Wittena Gemot, or assembly of the states : which, of course, had become less and less popular in its composition and influence, in proportion to the growing accumulation of power and territorial property in a few overweening families.
Nor was this the only circumstance in which the two systems had begun to approximate previous to the memorable event of the Norman conquest. From the time of Hardicanute, or more properly from the accession of Canute the Dane, and his marriage with Emma, the sister of Richard, Duke of Normandy, the continually growing intercourse with that country had produced a growing approximation to its manners and institụtions; and (as far at least as related to the condition of the inferior or smaller proprietors, and their connection with the great territorial inheritors,) a species of feudalism, with its services and dependences, seems to have been rapidly growing up among the Saxons, or mixed race of Saxons and Danes. The predatory violence of the times, and the anarchic disorders growing out of the long protracted struggles between the Saxon inheritors and the Danish intruders, seem to have induced many of the smaller proprietors voluntarily to sacrifice their allodial independence for the hoped security of feudal protection, under the auspices of the great lords of the soil, the chief earls, or eorldemen, whose official rank and authority had gradually become almost as hereditary as their accumulating possessions.
Be this, however, as it will—the two systems of Saxon allodialism and Norman feudality were primitively distinct and opposite, and the struggle between them, which, for centuries, was sharp and incessant, not only is necessary to be kept in view for the proper understanding of the baronial wars, and
middle ages of our history; but the due appreciation of the struggle of those contending principles, is equally necessary to a just acquaintance with the constitutional history of our country, with the nature and origin of that complex form of government under which we live, and with the real nature, sources, and principles of those party distinctions into which it seems to be the destiny, and perhaps the happiness, of the English nation, that we should for ever be divided. The Norman principle, upon the main, is undoubtedly most congenial to the hereditary aristocracy; the Saxon to the less propertied and unprivileged people. Yet a diligent perusal of our annals will convince us, that the feudal aristocracy themselves were frequently obliged to appeal to the aid of the Saxon system, and the revival of Saxon axioms and Saxon institutions, for the assertion of their own rights and the vindication of their privileges; while, at the same time, they found it necessary to accord to the people a portion of their Saxon freedom, in order to counterbalance the else overwhelming power and prerogative of the throne. How far, indeed, these concessions, compromises, and renovations should go, has long divided, and so long as our mixed constitution shall endure, will continue to divide the opinions both of theoretical and practical politicians; but if the light of history is capable of being any guide either to our speculations or our practice, an intimate acquaintance (as far as it can be acquired) with the transactions and the institutions, the policy and the social condition of our Saxon ancestors, by whom the foundations of our constitution were confessedly laid, must surely be regarded as of indispensable importance.
Hitherto, indeed, the means of general research into those remote periods have been but little accessible. They are locked up in manuscript records, and in the Saxon dialect : that dialect with which, though the genuine root and basis of the English language, English students in general have been little sedulous to become acquainted : and he who would have either extent or accuracy of information upon this important subject, must wade through solicitation and patronage to the cabinets and archives in which they are incarcerated; and toil through the comparison of minute facts and obscure hints, scattered through a great variety of voluminous authorities : and even the original documents themselves, when they can be come at, will frequently be found to afford only such brief notices, as will demand the most serious attention of the inductive faculty to render them essentially ministrative to any extent of actual knowledge and just conclusion.
We are happy however to find, that part of this difficulty is likely to be, ere long; removed. We recognise, with pleasure, the design announced towards the conclusion of the last session but one of parliament, “ of printing the works of our early historians under the superintendance of Mr. Petrie, Keeper of the Records of the Tower."* And we congratulate
* We should be sorry, however, if too implicit a dependence on the fulfilment of this design, should preclude Mr. Ingram from following up his recent labours, by reprinting (as he informs us he once
the public, that the most essential of all the labours of our ancestral historians (The Saxon Chronicle) is, at length, rendered accessible even to those who are unacquainted with the Saxon language, by the elaborate edition and translation of the Rev. Mr. Ingram ; and that, although the work will necessarily be restricted to a very narrow circulation, a commencement is at last made to the accomplishment of that historical desideratum, which can only be completed by the collection and comparison of that entire series which ought to furnish, through actual and familiar consultation, the materials for a new and popularly accessible digest of the early periods of our history. Not, indeed, that we are very sanguine as to the use that will promptly or sedulously be made of materials for correcting the established errors of English history. Two partial editions, or ample fragments of the Saxon Chronicle have, for a century and half, been in the hands, or might have been, of those who should have made some use of them: Wheloc's Latin version, Chronologia Anglo-Saxonica, published at Cambridge in 1644, though comprised in less than sixty-two pages ; and the improved edition (in the same language) by Bishop Gibson, printed at Oxford in 1692, which, though far from being entire, extends to nearly four times that quantity.* The venerable Bede is accessible both in the original and in translation; and, not to go into prolix enumeration, a mass of valuable matter has been long before the public in Lord Lyttleton's elaborate History of Henry the Second-especially in the introductory chapter, and the invaluable notes to that somewhat prolix, but highly important work; yet the frequently misguided Rapin, and the still more negligent and unfaithful Hume, continue to be the popular oracles for the supposed facts of our early story; and no historian has yet had the diligent integrity to avail himself of the materials which have been gradually accumulating. Sharon Turner, indeed, in his history of the Anglo-Saxons, has done something towards setting that part of the subject in a fairer point of view; but more must be done before this period of our history can be accurately treated for the general information of the public.t
The accessible shape into which the Saron Chronicle is
intended) Ethelward's Epitome of Saxon History, and other illustrations of the Saxon Chronicle.
The literal version of these annals, by Miss Guerney, of Keswick, though printed in the year 1819, was never published.
+ Some papers that have lately appeared in the Monthly Magazine on the misrepresentations in our General Histories, may perhaps