Page images

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 adoption—— means 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 Magma 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 n. 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 Confessorz 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

[ocr errors]

"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 dc prix que savait tant de guerre, Le Conte Montfort sa dure mort en plorra molt la terre."

As might have been expected, De Montf0rt’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 do la Commune,” as they are called in their early recordsbecame, 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, p. 75. ' Pp. 105-107.

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 evcn 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 “omnipotentg” 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.‘

Vile should be doing injustice to our author were we not to notice the calm fairness and impartiality with which he explains andvdiscusses 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 evidentlya Wliig, 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 suppreeaio 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,

1 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 literature. 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 information 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 minutiae of the

acts for the persecution of Nonconformists, and which can hardly

be considered constitutional history.

We may also be inclined to difiier 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. 5 See Ha.llam’s Supp]. ‘P. 9.

We cannot conceive what has induced an author of such discrimination as Mr. Rowland to refer, as he frequently does, to the works of Lord Campbell. Lord C'ampbell’s recklessness as to the truth or untruth of his statement of facts is so well known, that no one can think of relying on any assertions of his without reference to his authority, if there be one, and the original authority when found ought to be cited, and not Lord Campbell. If his lordship cites no authority, it may be taken for granted that his statement is incorrect (see passim our last Number, pages 41 & 42); and his vulgar, ignorant opinions and claptrap sentiments are not worth the paper they are printed on.

The second part of Mr. Rowland’s work explains, in considerable detail, the constitution and functions of the different members of the constitution, and its actual working in the government of the country. It also describes the political and personal rights of the people, and the manner in which these rights are protected and exercised ; and, in fact, shews us precisely how we are governed, or, rather, how we govern ourselves. This part of the work furnishes information which can nowhere else be found in the same practical shape and brief compass, and will enable the student henceforth to acquire, in a short time, knowledge which it has hitherto only been possible to collect with much labour from many books, and from a. close observation of parliamentary practice. We recommend the work to all classes of our readers; but particularly to those who, still in youth, are desirous to lay that sound basis for their knowledge of the constitution which every English gentleman should possess, or who find it necessary to prepare themselves for one of those numerous examinations which are now applied, with the idea of stimulating the young, or testing their competence for office, or

[merged small][graphic]
« PreviousContinue »