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were capable of forming an idea of the perfect freedom from all the servility of that system which we now enjoy. The act of 12th Charles II. completely revolutionized this system, and secured to us that proud maxim, that " an Englishman's house is his castle."
One thing, which seemed to render these limitations of the sovereign's power as a feudal lord of greater importance and more universal value, was, that by the sixtieth article of this famous charter, the same limitations are imposed on all inferior feudal lords towards their vassals. This reasonable article was probably inserted at the king's desire, which contributed not a little to render the benefit ineffectual. For although the barons were very anxious to prevent any tyrannical exercise of the feudal power of the crown over themselves, they had not the slightest intention to relieve the bulk of the people from any oppression, whether exercised by themselves or by the crown: the people, therefore, are indebted to the king for this attention to their interests. The nobility continued to oppress the people notwithstanding, which encouraged subsequent kings to violate its limitations, and also furnished them with an ever-ready argument in answer to the complaints of the barons.
Trade and commerce, at the period when the great charter was granted, were very little known, and held in the utmost contempt by the proud barons, and the bold yeomanry, of England. For almost half a century after the Conquest, there were no towns of any importance except London and some others, and their inhabitants were little better than slaves to the king or the barons on whose domains they were situated. But about the middle of the twelfth century, they began to emerge from this obscurity, and to obtain some degree of importance. By the royal charters of Henry II., Richard I., and king John, many small towns were made free burghs, with establishments of merchants, guilds, and other fraternities, endowed with various privileges, which quickly filled them with free and independent inhabitants. Many of these free burghs favoured the cause of the barons, particularly the citizens of London, who joined them with so much zeal, that they gave the barons possession of their city. This is perhaps the reason why the privileges of cities and towns, and the interests of commerce, were not entirely overlooked.
In the pre
Accordingly the thirteenth article grants, that the city of London, and all the other cities, burghs, towns, and ports of the kingdom, should enjoy all their liberties and free customs both by land and water. sent times, when law and justice have their regular course, such a stipulation would be unnecessary. But at that period this was far from being the case, when fines from cities, towns, and corporations, for license to use their legal rights and liberties, constituted a considerable branch of the royal revenue. It is probable that the citizens of London procured the insertion of the thirty-fifth article, which commanded the London measures of
wine, ale, and corn, with a uniformity of weights, to be observed all over the kingdom. Lending money on interest was then called usury, and prohibited to Christians by the canons of the church, and even by the laws of the land. This branch of business was therefore entirely engrossed by the children of Israel, who were the only money-lenders in the kingdom, and very often great extortioners. The citizens of London had borrowed large sums from the Jews; and it is likely that the tenth article was inserted on their suggestion, but which was equally advantageous to feudal superiors who had the wardship of minors.
One of the greatest obstructions to commerce was the irrational jealousy of foreign merchants. In consequence, these merchants were subjected to many restraints and hardships. They were not suffered to enter the kingdom but at certain times, nor to stay above forty days at one time, nor to expose their goods for sale, except at certain fairs. They were frequently obliged to pay large fines to the king for license to trade, and much higher customs and tolls of all kinds than the native merchants. Both their persons and goods were exposed to great violence when a war happened to break out between England and the country to which they belonged. But juster notions began gradually to gain ground, and the forty-first article gives protection to the persons and goods of foreign merchants, both during peace and war.
The great barons who procured this inestimable charter may be viewed as acting in a double capacity: 1. as military vassals of the crown; 2. as subjects generally. They consulted their own interests in the first capacity, by the limitations of the rigours of their feudal tenures, which they procured for themselves, but which was shared also by all who held lands by military services. They consulted their interests in the second capacity, by the amendments they procured in the general police of the kingdom, in which all of their fellow subjects who were freemen were equally partakers. These amendments were both numerous and important, tending to remove or alleviate the several grievances of which the people complained.
The greatest of all the grievances of which the people of England complained at the period of granting the great charter, was-that the mere will and arbitrary commands of the sovereign were substituted in the place of law, and men were seized, imprisoned, stripped of their estates, outlawed, banished, and even executed, without any trial or course of law. Out of many instances that might be adduced of all these tyrannical acts, the case of Thomas-à-Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, may suffice, when Henry II., the greatest and best prince of the age, apprehended all his relations, friends, and dependents, to the number of four hundred persons, men, women, and children-confiscated all their estates and goods, and banished them out of the kingdom, in the middle of winter, anno 1165-and this on account of the archbishop's opposition to the Constitutions of Clarendon, and
his flight out of the kingdom. Henry committed this act of injustice, not only without any trial, but even without any suspicion or possibility of guilt. To put a stop to such outrageous exertions of arbitrary power, the thirty-ninth article was conceded by king John; which is the most valuable stipulation in the whole charter, and the grand security of the liberties, persons, and properties of the people of England, and of the whole British dominions, which, unless this law is violated, cannot be unjustly invaded. The expressions, "We will not go upon him-we will not send upon him," signify that the king would not sit in judgment, or pronounce sentence, on any freeman, either in person or by his judges, except by the verdict of a jury, or by a process conducted according to the established laws of the land. By the laws of the land, may probably be intended trials by ordeals, by judicial combats, and by compurgators, as they were all then in use, and agreeable to law.
Next to the substitution of arbitrary will in the place of law, the king's personal interfering in lawsuits depending before his courts, in order to interrupt or pervert the regular course of justice, was one of the greatest grievances of that period. This was done in so open and shameless a manner, that the bribes received by the kings for these iniquitous practices were regularly entered in the revenue accounts of every year, and amounted to large sums. To put a stop to this grievous and unjust abuse, king John promises, " To no man will we sell, to no man will we deny or delay right and justice."
In the forty-fifth article, king John promised to appoint none to be judges but who had a competent knowledge of law. To remove the inconvenience attending the courts of law being obliged to follow the king's court from place to place, the seventeenth article was framed. Amercements for trivial offences, or exorbitant and ruinous ones for real delinquencies, were among the greatest grievances of that period. The causes for which amercements were imposed were innumerable; and their rates were unsettled, and they brought much money into the royal coffers. They were frequently excessive; so much so, that those who were amerced were said to be in misericordia regis, or at the king's mercy. To set some bounds to these oppressions was the intention of the twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second articles, by which it is declared, that earls and barons shall not be amerced except by their peers, and that according to the degree of their delinquency; and no freeholder or freeman shall be heavily amerced for a slight fault, nor above measure even for a great misdemeanour; still saving to a freeholder his freehold, to a merchant his merchandise, and to a rustic his implements of husbandry. The savings to these different parties are called their contenement; which signifies such a reservation of their estate and goods, as enabled them to maintain their former rank and consequence, and pursue their ordinary
business. The contenement of a soldier was his arms, of a scholar his books; and by the law of Wales, his harp made a part of the contenement of a Welsh gentleman.
The prerogative of pre-emption of all things necessary for their court and castles, commonly called purveyance, which belonged to the kings of England at that period, was a source of infinite vexations and injuries to their people. This was sometimes owing to the avarice, and sometimes to the official insolence and cruelty of the purveyors, who attended the court in all its motions. The miseries inflicted on the country by these tyrannical purveyors in the reign of William Rufus are thus pathetically described by Eadmer, who flourished in those times, and beheld the scenes he describes :-" Those who attended the court, plundered and destroyed the whole country through which the king passed, without any control. Some of them were so intoxicated with malice, that when they could not consume all the provisions in the houses which they invaded, they either sold or burnt them. After having washed their horses' feet with the liquors they could not drink, they let them run on the ground, or destroyed them in some other way. But the cruelties they committed on the masters of families, and the indecencies they offered to their wives and daughters, were too shocking to be described." Under better princes, these enormities were no doubt in some degree restrained; but it is not likely that king John's courtiers and purveyors were more modest than those of William Rufus. To remedy these intolerable hardships is the design of the twenty-eighth, thirtieth, and thirty-first articles.
The excessive attachment to hunting and field-sports, indulged in by the sovereigns of the Norman race, was productive of innumerable mischiefs to their subjects. They converted great tracts of country, in almost every county in England, into forests for their game; and these forests, and the game contained in them, were guarded by the most cruel and sanguinary laws. For it was a received doctrine, that the king might make what laws he pleased for the protection of his forests; and that, in making and executing these laws, he was not under any obligation to observe the ordinary rules of justice. In consequence of this doctrine, the forest laws were dictated with such a spirit of cruelty, and executed with such severity, that they were objects of universal terror, and sources of distress to those who were so unhappy as to live near the precincts of any of the royal forests. To mitigate in some degree the cruelty of these laws, and the severity with which they were executed, was the intention of the forty-fourth, forty-seventh, and forty-eighth articles But these were insufficient to protect the subjects; and therefore, in the ninth year of the following reign, (Henry III.) the barons of England obtained a separate charter, called Charta de Foresta, containing more precise and particular regulations.
The barons who procured these concessions from the crown, were not ignorant that king John granted them with extreme reluctance, and with the secret intention to resume some of them at a more convenient season; and therefore they took every precaution to render the charter effectual, and to secure the rights and liberties which they had obtained. The great seal was not only affixed to it in due form, but both the king and the barons took a solemn oath to observe it in all particulars with good faith, and without dissimulation. To put it out of the king's power to break through his engagements, and to enable the barons effectually to support the charter, all the king's foreign auxiliaries were immediately sent out of the kingdom.
It was not till after a long and bloody struggle, that the people of England obtained the peaceable enjoyment of the rights and liberties contained in the GREAT CHARTER of King John, and in the similar char. ters of his successors. With much difficulty, by slow degrees, and at a great expense of blood and treasure, was the venerable fabric of the BRITISH CONSTITUTION erected. May the wisdom of our legislators, under the divine blessing and guidance, make such improvements and reformation upon it, as will make it remain for ever the pride and happiness of those who enjoy its blessings, and the envy and admiration of surrounding nations! *
Translation of the Great Charter of King John, granted June 15th, A. D. 1215, in the seventeenth year of his reign.
JOHN, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Earl of Anjou,-To all his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciaries, foresters, sheriffs, commanders, officers, and to all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, wisheth health. Know ye, that We, from our regard to God and for the salvation of our own soul, and of the souls of our ancestors and of our heirs, to the honour of God, and the exaltation of holy church, and amendment of our kingdom, by the advice of our venerable fathers, Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman church; Henry archbishop of Dublin, William of London, Peter of Winchester, Joceline of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, bishops; Master Pandulph, the Pope's subdeacon and familiar; brother Emeric, master of the Knights Templars in England; and of those noble persons, William Mar
* Henry's History of Great Britain.