Page images
PDF
EPUB

the whole machine of government, and the present relations of the people who are governed to the government.

The first, or historical part, brings out in clear relief the fact, that our constitution and our liberties once had no real existence, that the crown was substantially absolute, and that our constitution has been as much the result of successive grants extorted by force or purchased by money from the crown, as that of France in 1814 was the grant of Louis XVIII., or the present constitution of France is the gift of her Emperor.

No doubt the constitution of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy was not the grant of the crown, but grew of itself together with the monarchy ; the king acted in legislation, and in peace time in the other main acts of government, only with the advice and assistance of his Wittena-gemote, the assembly of his principal churchmen, high officers of government,' and nobility; but this fell at the Norman conquest, and our early Norman kings exercised a despotic power over the people at large, and the same power over the nobles and the clergy, qualified only by the rebellion of the former, and the ecclesiastical censures of the latter, and of the Pope their head, when oppressed beyond what they respectively thought fit to endure. The mass of the people, Saxon by nation and in language, at first sighed, and as they recovered from the great blow of the conquest, and again grew rich and prosperous, begged and clamoured for a restitution of their rights and position under the Anglo-Saxon government, by the traditional name of the laws of king Edward the Confessor. By degrees the Norman nobles, knights, and churchmen, learnt to join in the cry of their Saxon fellow-subjects, and the common demand took a less vague form, and in the reign of King John resulted in extorting from that monarch the charter of defined rights and privileges, so well known by the name of Magna Charta. The important provisions of the Charter are fully set out by our author, and are followed by the remark, that

“When we consider the nature of these provisions, and reflect upon the constitutional principles they introduced or recognized, 'Rowland, p. 13.

· Pp. 50–60.

we can hardly estimate the value of Magna Charta too highly. The 14th and 17th articles established the principle of consent to taxation, and provided the means of ensuring its adoptionmeans which were in the course of time expanded into the full parliamentary constitution of the present day. Those which provide that punishment shall be proportioned to the offence, and shall not be inflicted but by the lawful judgment of peers or equals of each rank; that people shall not be deprived of their property by the arbitrary power of the crown without voluntary sale; and that justice shall not be sold or denied to any man-whilst we shudder at the tyranny and oppression which required their enactment, make us confess that Magna Charta well deserves the admiration it has always obtained from the English people. It is,' says Mr. Hallam, “the keystone of English liberty.' All that has since been obtained is little more than il confirmation or commentary; and, if every subsequent law were swept away, there would still remain the bold features that distinguish a free from a despotic monarchy.” 1

From this time we hear no more of the laws of Edward the Confessor: the great charter thus wrung from King John became the constitution. It was confirmed by every succeeding monarch, and by numerous acts of parliament down to the reign of Henry the Fifth; and, though often violated by King John and his successors, sometimes in open defiance of their oaths to maintain it, and sometimes with papal dispensations in sanction of their perjury-has always remained the law of the land, and formed the base on which the subsequent fabric of the constitution has been erected.

It was in the reign of Henry the Third, the son and successor of John, and fifty years after the grant of Magna Charta, that the next most important step was taken in the formation of the constitution; that is, the creation of the representative House of Commons. This, as is well known, took place in 1265, after the battle of Lewes, when the King and his son, Prince Edward, afterwards Edward the First, were virtually prisoners, and the government in the hands of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, and the barons of his party. Up to that time parliament had consisted in theory of all the tenants in chief of the crown, and

[blocks in formation]

· practically of the great barons and spiritual peers, who have since composed the House of Lords. The Earl appears to have devised the expedient of a representative house, summoning the counties, cities, and boroughs to return representative members to parliament, as a means of increasing his power

and his popularity;' in the attempt to place his power on a substantial basis he failed, for a few months afterwards the royal party recovered its ascendancy, and he lost his life on the field of Evesham. But he was long remembered as the supporter of popular rights, and as the brave and skilful soldier who had for a time upheld them by arms, and had at last fallen in their defence ; his name was celebrated in the rude poetry of the then nascent English tongue, and in the more polished Norman French of himself and his peers.

“Or est occis la fleur de prix que savait tant de guerre,

Le Conte Montfort sa dure mort en plorra molt la terre.” As might have been expected, De Montfort's innovation fell with him, but its advantages were too obvious to be forgotten; and though Edward I. may well be supposed to have had little liking for the scheme of the rebellious baron whom he had vanquished, either his own, or the popular sense of its utility, caused him to recur to it in the latter part of his reign, and from that time the representative House of Commons—the “Gentz de la Commune,” as they are called in their early records became, and have ever continued, an integral part of the constitution.

Mr. Rowland traces concisely, but clearly, the progress of the parliament down to the reign of Henry V., when he considers it was settled in its main features, and adverts at some length to an entry on the roll of the 9th of Henry IV.? which seems to have been expressly designed to settle the constitution of parliament." And observing that, during the reign of Henry VI. and the wars of the Roses, we do not find any advance or improvement in the parliamentary systems, he takes occasion of the pause to enter, in his eighth chapter, on the subject of Rowland,

? Pp. 105-107.

1

p. 75.

constitutional statute law and courts of justice. In several succeeding chapters he continues the constitutional history through the reigns of our Tudor and Stuart monarchs, becoming gradually fuller and more animated as he enters on the troubled times of the disputes between the Stuart kings and their parliaments, and of the great rebellion against Charles I. He perhaps hardly does justice to the high character and great importance of Henry VIII. as a constitutional monarch: to his constant appeals to parliament for every purpose of government, for changing the religious adherence of the country from the pope to the national church; for varying and fixing the succession to the crown; and even for redressing, as far as might be, his own domestic infelicities. It was in this reign that parliament first became in all things the government, and as it has been sometimes styled by modern writers 56 omnipotent;” and at no time has more been wrought by and through parliament than in the reign of this great constitutional king, whom it has been too much the fashion to represent as an arbitrary tyrant."

We should be doing injustice to our author were we not to notice the calm fairness and impartiality with which he explains and discusses the disputes between Charles I. and his parliaments. Mr. Rowland, from his employment of the phrases “civil and religious liberty,” “the present enlightened age," and the like, is evidently a Whig, or imbued with Whig principles; but, like his great predecessor Hallam, he does not suffer his principles to bias his judgment: he writes as a judge, and not as an advocate or a partisan, and satisfies us that he has endeavoured to do justice between the parties. How unlike the violence, the misstatement, the suppressio veri, and the suggestio falsi, of Macaulay, Forster, and their kindred, who wrote as if on a topic of the day in a newspaper, and leave one under the impression that, through mesmerism, spirit-rapping, or other mysterious means,

* The student of English history will not need to be referred to Froude's volumes, one of the most valuable contributions to modern and national litera. ture. Whether we agree with or dissent from his conclusions, we still owe him a great debt in respect of the facts he has collected, and the informa

tion he conveys.

they must have been placed in communication with Pym or Barebones, and hired to do pamphleteering for the parliament !

We regret that Mr. Rowland has carried the history of the constitution only to the Revolution. Many important changes have since taken place, most of which are glanced at in the second part of the work, but all of which ought to have been treated historically. We trust this omission will be supplied in subsequent editions; and we also recommend the author to consider whether the true constitutional history of Charles II.'s reign should not be more fully treated, and the space in that reign curtailed, which is at present given to the minutiæ of the acts for the persecution of Nonconformists, and which can hardly be considered constitutional history.

We may also be inclined to differ with Mr. Rowland on some minor matters, such, for instance, as the conversion of military tenure into that of common socage,' which at least had the great advantage of simplifying the law of tenure, and that of real property generally. The subject of regret is, that any tenure except that of common socage should have been left existing.

So again, too, we think that the definition of Ceorls ’ is too positive and too narrow;' and we particularly object to our author going out of his way in an attempt to resuscitate Hengist and Horsa,* who certainly have nothing to do with the constitution, and of whose existence there is really no evidence. The Saxon chronicle, which Mr. Rowland cites as evidence of their reality, was written several hundred years after the time when they are supposed to have existed; and though he might have quoted both Saxon and British authors of earlier dates in support of his sea-kings, there is nothing like any contemporary account of them, or any reasonable ground for supposing that there ever were such persons. We recommend that in the next edition they be degraded from their niche in this temple of history, and left with their great antagonist, King Arthur, to form the subject of future Idylls of the laureate, or (if he pleases) of our author. 1 P. 378. · P. 13. 3 See Hallam's Suppl.

"P.9.

« PreviousContinue »