Page:Ruffhead - The Statutes at Large, 1763.djvu/13

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ix
PREFACE.

bore no inconsiderable Share in the Administration of Government; as many have, with good Reason, contended[1]

We may nevertheless venture to conclude, that the Authority of the Commons, however constitutionally extensive in Point of Right [2] soon became very inconsiderable in Effect:. We may indeed judge of the Weakness of their Influence, by attending to the unequal Balance of Property among the Saxons; which is, perhaps, one of the surest Rules to determine the respective Powers of the different Orders of the Constitution[3] And indeed it appears to have been so small, that it is no won-

  1. these yearly Meetings likewise, they consulted for the common Safety about Peace and War, and to promote the Public Good. Besides these annual Meetings, if any sudden Contingency happened, it was the Duty of the Aldermen of Cities and Boroughs to ring the Bell called in English Motbel, in order to bring the People together to the Burgmote, that, by their Common Council, they might provide for the Security of the Crown, and take Measures to suppress the Insolence of Malefactors. See the 35th Law of Edward the Confessor.—It is probable that the Resolutions taken at these annual Meetings were discussed and finally concluded at the Courts de More, which, according to the Insitution of Alfred, met at the three great Festivals of Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas. These Courts de More were sometimes called the Ealra Wiitanagemot, or Meeting of all the Wisemen. As to the Wittanagemot, though it was composed of the fame Orders in respect of Rank as the Ealra Wittanagemot, yet it appears to have been only an occasional Assembly of some chosen Members, summoned when any Emergency happened in the Intervals of the three great Festivals.—Sir Hen. Spclman, Voce Gemote, faith, " that the Wittanagemote differed little from the Folcmote, except that the latter was annual, and for the most Part summoned on certain Occasions; whereas the former was called at the Will of the Prince, upon arduous Contingencies, and for the Sake of making Laws." But a great Part of this Distinction vanishes, since we find from the Law above-mentioned, that the Folcmote also was summoned on arduous Contingencies. Indeed Sir Henry does not seem to have treated this Subject with his usual Accuracy and Perspicuity: For after having observed, that at the annual Folcmotes, the People confulted about the public Safety, about Peace and War, &c. he adds—" Adbibetur præaeterea Folcmotum in repentino omni Discrimine: Exigente etiam necessitate sub Aldermanno (hoc est, Comite) cujusibet Comitatus." Here we find that he erroneously makes the Folcmote on extraordinary Occafions, to be. sub Aldsrmanno Commitatus; whereas it appears from the Law above cited, that it was sub Aldermannis in Civitatibus Burgis. But to enter into these Minutiae of the Saxon Constitution, would require a Volume by itself.

  2. Elsyng, Petyt, Hachwell, Sadler, Harrington, Dugdale, Lombard, Lord Coke, and others. Lambara, Lord Coke, and many others, rely on the Authority of the old MSS. Modus tenendi Parliamentum, which is rejected as spurious by Selden and Prynne. There are several Copies of this MSS. Modus, among the Cottonian Manuscripts in the British Museum, which materially differ from each other: And though there is good Ground to suppose that it is not so antient as its Title imports, yet supposing it to have been made even so late as the Time of Edw. 3, as Selden conjectures, yet it may serve to express the Sense of those Times with respect: to the Rights of the Commons, to which they were willing to add the Sanction of Antiquity.
  3. Dugdale and Lambard conclude very strongly, that the Commons were represented among the Saxons; and the latter produceth a very cogent Reason in support of this Opinion. For, saith he, many antient and long since decayed Burroughs do send Burgesses to Parliament, though it cannot be shewn that those Burroughs have been of any Reputation since the Conquest, much less that they have obtained the Privilege by the Grant of any succecding King; So, on the contrary, they of antient Demesne do prescribe in not sending Burgesses to the Parliament; which Prescription proves that there were some Burroughs before the Conquest, which did send Burgesses. See Dugd. Orig. Jurid. and Lombard's Archæon. or Discourse on the High Courts of Justice. The Reader will find the same Arguments in Lord Coke 's Preface to his 9th Report.—Upon the whole, there seems to be the strongest Reason for concluding that the People had a Share in the Administration of the Saxon Government, though it is not easy to ascertain the Forms in which they exercised their Rights. It is not improbable that their Folcmote answered, in some Respects, to our House of Commons: That their Ealra Wittanagemot bore Resemblance to the House of Lords: And that their Wittanagemot was somewhat in the Nature of our Privy Council. But after all perhaps, it is more discreet to confess our Ignorance in these Points, than to form uncertain Conclusions, or hazard vain Conjectures.
  4. Under the Saxon Monarchy, the Possessions of the great Thanes were so immense, that they were not only called Reguli, or petty Kings, but in Effect they exercised a Kind of regal Authority within their
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