Ch 03 Feudal England

Ch.3-Feudal England

Hits: 1943

CHAPTER III: FEUDAL ENGLAND

SECTION 3: STATE-BARON-CHURCH

 

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR’S TWO SONS, WILLIAM II AND HENRY I, CONTINUED TO STRENGTHEN STATE POWER.

 

HENRY BEGAN THE PROCESS OF REORGANISING THE SAXON JUSTICE SYSTEM BY TAKING ADMINISTRATION OUT OF PRIVATE HANDS AND INTO STATE CONTROL.

 

CRIME HAD PREVIOUSLY BEEN CONFINED TO AN OFFENCE AGAINST A VICTIM AND SETTLED IN FAVOUR OF THE SUFFERER, BUT HENRY CHANGED IT TO A CRIME AGAINST THE KING’S PEACE AND FOR THE STATE TO EXACT PUNISHMENT.

 

TRAVELLING JUDGES, TRIAL BY JURY AND OATHS WERE INTRODUCED, BUT TRIAL BY JURY WAS NOT THOUGHT OF AS ANYTHING BUT A SPECIAL PRIVILEGE OF THE KING. JURIES WERE CHOSEN ON THAT BASIS AND WERE PRESUMED TO ALREADY KNOW THE FACTS OF THE CASE.

 

“THERE IS BIG MONEY IN JUSTICE.” THE CROWN LEVIED FINES, WHICH WEAKENED THE POWER OF THE NOBILITY BECAUSE IT ATTRACTED CASES TO ITS OWN COURTS.

 

THE POWER OF THE STATE EXCHEQUER BECAME CLEAR, AS MUCH OF THE KING’S REVENUE AND INCOME CAME FROM CROWN MANORS, FEUDAL DUES, TALLEGES AND THE COURTS.

 

THESE WERE COLLECTED BY THE SHERIFFS IN EACH COUNTY AND PAID OVER TO THE KING’S COUNCIL, A FEUDAL BODY, WHICH THE KING THOUGHT CONVENIENT TO CONSULT ON MATTERS OF STATE, NOBILITY AND CHURCH.

 

THE COUNCIL BEGAN TO SPLIT INTO DEPARTMENTS AND WAS THE ORIGIN OF A PARLIAMENT.

 

A SMALL BODY, THE PRIVY COUNCIL, BECAME THE MODERN CABINET.

 

DEPARTMENTS WERE MADE UP OF THE KING’S BENCH, THE EXCHEQUER AND OTHER COURTS.

 

WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THAT OUT OF THIS FEUDAL BODY A PERMANENT BUREAUCRACY EVOLVED TO CARRY OUT THE WORK OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.

 

ON HENRY’S DEATH, HIS DAUGHTER, MATILDA, SUCCEEDED HIM AND A POWERFUL GROUP OF BARONS REFUSED TO RECOGNISE HER.

 

A 20 YEAR WAR FOLLOWED WITH NEITHER SIDE GAINING VICTORY. IT HAD A LASTING IMPRESSION ON PEOPLE’S MINDS, AS THE WORST TENDENCIES OF FEUDALISM, WHICH HAD BEEN SUPRESSED UNDER THE NORMANS, NOW HAD FREE PLAY.

 

LOCAL TYRANTS MASSACRED, TORTURED AND PLUNDERED THE UNFORTUNATE PEASANTRY, AND CHAOS REIGNED EVERYWHERE. “NEVER WERE MARTYRS TORMENTED AS THESE WERE,” WROTE A CHRONICLER WHO RECORDED THESE WRETCHED TIMES.

 

UNDER STEPHEN’S REIGN, THE TASTE OF EVIL, UNRESTRAINED FEUDAL ANARCHY WAS SHARP ENOUGH TO MAKE THE MASSES WELCOME THE RENEWED ATTEMPT BY THE CROWN TO DIMINISH THE POWER OF THE NOBLES.

 

IN 1153, THE TWO PARTIES MET AT WALLINGFORD TO REACH A COMPROMISE. STEPHEN WOULD REIGN FOR LIFE AND MATILDA’S SON, HENRY OF ANJOU, WOULD SUCCEED HIM.

 

THE NEXT YEAR STEPHEN DIED, AND HENRY ADDED ENGLAND AND NORMANDY TO HIS OWN DOMAIN AND BECAME THE MOST POWERFUL MONARCH IN EUROPE, CONTROLLING THE LARGER AND RICHER PART OF FRANCE. HE AT ONCE BEGAN TO BREAK DOWN THE BARON’S POWER.

 

HUNDREDS OF CASTLES WERE DESTROYED AND REPLACED BY MANOR HOUSES, THE CHARACTERISTIC DWELLING PLACES OF THE UPPER CLASSES IN ENGLAND FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

 

IN 1170, A GENERAL PURGE, THE INQUEST OF SHERIFFS, SAW HALF OF THEM DISMISSED AND THE INTEREST OF THE CROWN IMPOSED, TO THE EXTENT THAT A BETTER COLLECTION OF THE KING’S DUES FOLLOWED.

 

THE CHURCH DEMANDED TO BE BETTER RECOGNISED, AND THIS STRUGGLE BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE EXTENDED ACROSS EUROPE, THROUGH TO THE POPE AND ROME.

 

IT WAS COMPLICATED IN ENGLAND BECAUSE THE CHURCH SUPPORTED THE STATE AGAINST THE BARONS, WHILE PUSHING ITS OWN CLAIM TO INDEPENDENCE.

 

LATER, HOWEVER, THE SUCCESS OF THE BARONIAL REVOLT AGAINST KING JOHN WAS LARGELY DUE TO THE EXCEPTIONAL SUPPORT THAT THE REBELS RECEIVED FROM THE CHURCH.

 

THE CHURCH, SEEING THE CROWN ATTEMPTING TO BRING MORE CASES TO ITS COURTS, CLAIMED THE RIGHTS OF THE SPECIAL ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS UNDER CANON LAW AND INFLICTED MUCH LIGHTER PENALTIES.

 

THE CHURCH INCLUDED NOT ONLY CLERICS BUT PEOPLE OF MINOR ORDERS, A CLASS SO LARGE AND IMPORTANT THAT IT WAS ASSUMED UNDER CANON LAW ANY MAN WHO COULD READ WAS A CLERIC AND ENTITLED TO BE TRIED BY THE CHURCH.

 

THE CENTRAL FIGURE HERE IS THOMAS BECKET, WHO THE KING MADE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, BUT WHO OPPOSED HENRY VIGOROUSLY AS HE HAD PREVIOUSLY WORKED WITH HIM.

 

HENRY HAD BECKET MURDERED, AND THE CHURCH MADE GAINS FROM THE SCANDAL AND CONTINUED TO EXPAND ITS COURTS.

 

THIS PRACTICE OF ‘BENEFIT OF CLERGY’ WENT RIGHT UP TO THE REFORMATION, TWO CENTURIES LATER.

 

IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT THE CLASSIC ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPED. THE CANTERBURY TALES WERE WRITTEN, FUSING SAXON AND NORMAN FRENCH.

 

YET VICTORY OF THE CHURCH WAS NOT COMPLETE.

 

THE STATE SURRENDERED CRIMINAL CASES AND RETAINED CIVIL CASES IN WHAT BECAME COMMON LAW, OVERRIDING ALL LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS.

 

IT WAS THE BASED ON ANGLO SAXON LAW OF THE PRE CONQUEST DAYS.

 

DUE TO THE STRENGTH OF COMMON LAW, ROMAN LAW, WHICH BECAME THE BASIS OF EUROPEAN CODE, NEVER TOOK HOLD HERE. AS A RESULT, CANON LAW BASED ON ROMAN PRINCIPLES WAS ISOLATED AND WEAKENED.

 

ONE CONTRADICTION THAT DID OCCUR, HOWEVER, WAS THAT ALTHOUGH THE CHURCH SUPPORTED THE CENTRALISING DESIGNS OF THE CROWN AGAINST THE BARONS, THE LATTER WERE OPPOSED TO THE POWER OF THE COURTS BECAUSE IT TOOK AWAY FEUDAL JURISDICTION. THIS, AND THE ATTEMPT BY THE CHURCH TO ADOPT ROMAN LAW, EXPLAINED THE UNSTABLE ALLIANCES OF THE STATE, BARON AND CHURCH IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

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