Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/752

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coronation by the Saxon king Edwy, which is as follows: —

This writing is written, letter by letter, after the writing that Archbishop Dunstan delivered to our lord at Kingston, on the day that they hallowed him king; and he forbade him to give any pledge except this pledge which he laid up on Christ's altar, as the bishop directed him: "In the name of the Holy Trinity I promise three things to the Christian people, my subjects: first that God's Church and all Christian people of my dominions hold true peace; the second is that I forbid robbery, and all unrighteous things, to all orders; the third, that I promise and enjoin in all dooms justice and mercy, that the gracious and merciful God, of His everlasting mercy, may forgive us all who liveth and reigneth."[1]

Here we have the germ of the oaths and charters of the Norman times.

It may be indeed true that there did not exist any very precise code to which the people of England, after the Conquest, were always appealing as to "the laws of good King Edward." Nevertheless there was a well-known tradition of ecclesiastical and popular liberties partly written, but chiefly unwritten, descending from the legislation and the usage of Saxon times. These liberties were frequently violated, even by the Saxon kings. Edward the Confessor wielded an authority, from his known integrity and fidelity to God and his people, which enabled him to promote ecclesiastics in a way hardly consistent with the perfect freedom of elections. The electors acquiesced in what was well done, though in the doing of it a good king set a dangerous example for bad kings to quote. The laws and liberties of England were guaranteed by the coronation oaths of every sovereign. Saxon and Dane alike swore to preserve them. William the Conqueror and his successors, in like manner, bound themselves by, their coronation oaths to respect them.

But the conflict between traditional liberties and royal customs, which began before the Conquest, became sharper and less tolerable after the Conquest. The rule of our foreign kings was especially despotic, and, under them, the conflict between legal rights and royal usages brought on the conflict of S. Anselm with Henry I., and the martyrdom of S. Thomas of Canterbury under Henry II.

These laws and liberties may be divided and classed under two heads: first, the liberties of the Church, in its tribunals, goods, appeals, and elections; and secondly, the liberties of the people in respect to inheritance, taxation, military service, and the like.

We need only to take one example which will serve as the illustration and proof of what I assert.

Henry I., at his coronation, issued a charter of liberties. It is, in fact, an amplification of the coronation oath, which runs as follows: —

In the name of Christ I promise to the Christian people subject to me these three things. First, that I will order, and according to my power will take care, that the Church of God and all Christian people shall enjoy true peace by our will at all times: secondly, that I will forbid rapacity and iniquity to all degrees of men: thirdly, that I will enjoin equity and mercy in all judgments, that God, who is pitiful and merciful, may grant to me His mercy.[2]

This was the bond given by the king to his people, upon which he received the threefold sanction of election by the nation, unction by the Church, and homage from his vassals. This oath is also a limitation of the excesses of William I. and William Rufus. It is also a renunciation of the unlawful customs of the latter, and a restoration of the lawful freedom of the people. This, in fact, is what was intended by the "laws of King Edward." And in this outline we see exactly the causes of conflict, namely, the oppression of the Church by the royal power in the case of vacancies and elections, and the oppression of the barons and tenants by exactions of money and taxation. [3]

The charter of Henry I. runs as follows: —

In the year of the incarnation of our Lord 1051, Henry, son of William the king, after the death of his brother William, by the grace of God king of the English, to all the faithful health.
i. Know ye that by the mercy of God, and common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England, I have been crowned king of the same kingdom; and forasmuch as the kingdom has been oppressed by unjust exactions, I, in the fear of God, and in the love I bear towards you, first set free the Holy Church of God, so that I will not sell or pledge (its goods). Nor on the death of archbishop, bishop, or abbot will I receive anything of the domain of the Church, nor of its members, until a successor shall enter upon it. And all evil customs by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed I will take away, Which evil customs I here in part recite.

Then follow the articles.

  1. Memorials of S. Dunstan, p. 355.
  2. Stubbs' Documents, p. 99.
  3. Ibid.