« AnteriorContinuar »
The wars with England, arising from the claim of Edward III. to the French crown, occupy a considerable part of this abridgment, and are related with great fairness and candour. The magnificent character of Edward and his son, the splendor of their victories, and the chivalrous spirit of their court, are themes that still warm the imagination, and excite no unnatural exultation in every English bosom. If we could for• get,' says Mr Hallam, what never should be forgotten, the • wretchedness and devastation that fell upon a great kingdom, « too dear a price for the display of any heroism, we might 6 count these English wars in France among the brightest pe • riods in history. '—- A good lesson,' he continues, may be
drawn by conquerors, from the change of fortune that befel • Edward III. A long warfare, and unexampled success, had • procured for him some of the richest provinces of France. - Within a short time, he was entirely stripped of them, less • through any particular misconduct, than in consequence of • the intrinsic difficulty of preserving such acquisitions. The • French were already knit together as one people; and even « those, whose feudal duties sometimes led them into the field o against their sovereign, could not endure the feeling of dis6 memberment from the monarchy.' In the provinces ceded to Edward, by the peace of Breligny, the inhabitants submitted, with sullen reluctance, to the English yoke. "Such un
willing subjects might, perhaps, have been won by a prudent
government; but the temper of the Prince of Wales, which • was rather stern and arbitrary, did not conciliate their hearts • to his cause.' The war was soon after renewed; and,“ in a • few campaigns, the English were deprived of almost all their
conquests, and even, in a great degree, of their original pos6 sessions in Guienne.
Charles V. of France, having expelled the English,
came a sagacious statesman, an encourager of literature, a • beneficent lawgiver. But all the fruits of his wisdom were * lost in the succeeding reign. In a government essentially po• pular, the youth or imbecility of the sovereign creates no ma
terial derangement. In a monarchy, where all the springs of • the system depend upon one central force, these accidents, • which are sure, in the course of a few generations, to recur, • can scarcely fail to dislocate the whole machine.' The States General interfered, with success at first, to restrain the prodigality of the court; but the partisans of royalty ultimately prevailed. The city of Paris, which had shown a spirit of democratic freedom, offensive to its rulers, ' was treated as the spoil • of conquest; its immunities abridged ; its most active leaders
put to death; a fine of uncommon severity imposed; and the
taxes, which had been repealed by the States General, were • renewed by arbitrary prerogative. It is difficult,' continucs Mr Hallam, to name a limit beyond which taxes will not be • borne without impatience, when they appear to be called for
by necessity, and faithfully applied." But the sting of taxa6 tion is wastefulness. What high-spirited man could see, • without indignation, the earnings of his labour, yielded un
grudgingly to the public defence, become the spoils of para• sites and peculators ? It is this that mortifies the liberal hand • of public spirit; and those statesmen, who deem the security • of government to depend, not on laws and armies, but on the • moral sympathies and prejudices of the people, will vigilantly
guard against even the suspicion of prodigality.' Such were not the statesmen, unhappily for France, who then presided over her destinies. The outrageous dissoluteness of the Court, its enormous extravagance, and shameless contempt of public opinion, aggravated the discontent, and embittered the distresses of the people. Assassination openly perpetrated, and publickly vindicated, destroyed all confidence between the hostile factions. Henry V. of England, profiting by these dissensions, contrived, by war and negotiation, to be declared the successor to the French monarchy. His premature death, fortunately for both countries, frustrated his plans. England in her turn became distracted by domestic dissensions, and patriotism and superstition combined to expel her armies once more from France.
We have no hesitation in condemning, with Mr Hallam, the pretension of Edward III. to the Crown of France. The claim of Philip had been recognised by the States and people of France, and confirmed by his peaceable possession of the throne for several years. He had been guilty of no errors of government, or encroachments on his subjects' rights, that could justly absolve them from their allegiance. Whether he was the nearest heir to the preceding monarch or not, seems to us, in these circumstances, a matter of mighty indifference. He had the best of all titles, the willing acquiescence of his subjects, and their firm deterinination to support him against all competitors. But, if the claim of Edward is to be considered as a mere question of hereditary right, we are not sure that Mr Hallam has either stated the argument in his favour correctly, or decided with justice against its validity. Edward and his antagonist agreed in admitting, that females were excluded from the French throne. What Edward contended was, that this exclusion did not extend to their male posterity; and, of these, that he was the nearest male relation to the last King, and therefore his lawful heir. Whatever we may think of this last distinction, essential, it must be confessed, to Edward's claim, it was considered of importance in the middle ages. It was the ground on which Bruce rested his pretension to the Scottish sceptre; and at Caspe, where the same question was agitateri before commissioners from the three kingdoms of Arragon, the principle maintained by Edward, was adopted in the disposal of the crown, by a majority of the delegates present on that occasion. Ferdinand of Castile was preferred to his competitors, because he was the heir male nearest in blood to the
preceding monarch. This trifiing oversight of Mr Hallam is the more extraordinary, as the real ground of Edward's pretensions to the crown of France, had been statoil with precision by Rapin and by Carte.
Mr Hallan's abridgement of the history of France, is an excellent preparation for the chapter that follows on the feudal system, one of the most valuable and instructive parts of his book. In his dissertation upon this subject, he traces the rise and progress of that singular form of polity; -explains its principles, --and distinguishes what was original and essential to the system, from that which was incidental and confined to particular times and countries. Its effects on society and government, he appretiates with sagacity and candour ; and explains, with great judgement and perspicuity, the causes that led to its establishment, and the changes that gradually undermined its principles, and finally subverted its institutions.
• It is the previous state of society,' he observes, under the grandchildren of Charlemagne, which we must always keep in mind, it
' we would appreciate the effects of the feudal system upon the welfare of mankind. The institutions of the eleventh century must be compared with those of the ninth, not with the advanced civilization of modern times.
The state of anarchy, which we usually term feudal, was the natural result of a vast and barbarous empire, feebly administered, and the cause, rather than the effect of the general establishment of feudal tenures. These, by preserving the mutual relations of the whole, kept alive the feeling of a common country, and common duties; and settled, after the lapse of ages, into the free constitution of England, the firm monarchy of France, and the federal union of Germany.
· The utility of any form of policy may be estimated, by its effects upon national greatness and security, upon civil liberty and private rights, upon the tranquillity and order of society, upon the increase and diffusion of wealth, or upon the general tone of moral sentiment and energy. The feudal constitution was little adapted for the defence of a mighty kingdom, far less for schemes of conquest. But as it prevailed alike in several adjacent countries, none had any thing to VOL. XXX, NO. 59,
fear from the military superiority of its neighbours. It was this inefficiency of the feudal militia, perhaps, that saved Europe, during the middle ages, from the danger of universal monarchy. In times, when princes had little notion of confederacies for mutual protection, it is hard to say what might not have been the successes of an Otho, a Frederic, or a Philip Augustus, if they could have wielded the whole force of their subjects, whenever their ambition required. If an empire equally extensive with that of Charlemagne, and supported by military despotism, had been formed about the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, the seeds of commerce and liberty, just then beginning to shoot, would have perished; and Europe, reduced to a barbarous servitude, miglıt have fallen before the free barbarians of Tartary.
• If we look at the feudal polity as a scheme of civil freedom, it bears a noble countenance. To the feudal law it is owing, that the very names of right and privilege were not swept away, as in Asia, by the desolating hand of power. The tyranny, which, on every favourable moment, was breaking through all barriers, would have rioted without control, if, when the people were poor and disunited, the nobility had not been brave and free. So far as the sphere of feudality extended, it diffused the spirit of liberty, and the notions of private right. Every one will acknowledge this, who considers the limitations of the services of vassalage, so cautiously marked in those law books which are the records of customs; the reciprocity of obligation between the lord and his tenant; the consent required in every measure of a legislative or general nature ; the security, above all, which every vassal found in the administration of justice by his
peers, and even (we may in this sense say) in the trial by combat. The bulk of the people, it is true, were degraded by servitude ; but this had no connexion with the feudal tenures.
· The peace and good order of society were not promoted by this system. Though private wars did not originate in the feudal customs, it is impossible to doubt that they were perpetuated by so convenient an institution, which indeed owed its universal establishment to no other cause. And, as predominant habits of warfare are totally irreconcileable with those of industry, not merely by the immediate works of destruction which render its efforts unavailing, but through that contempt of peaceful occupations which they produce, the feudal system must have been intrinsically adverse to the accumulation of wealth, and the improvement of those arts which mitigate the evils or abridge the labours of mankind.
But, as a school of moral discipline, the feudal institutions were perhaps most to be valued. Society had sunk, for several centuries after the dissolution of the Roman empire, into a condition of utter depravity; where, if any vices could be selected as more eminently characteristic than others, they were falsehood, treachery and ingratitude. In slowly purging off the lees of this extreme corruption, the feudal spirit exerted its ameliorating influence. Violation of faith
stood first in the catalogue of crimes, most repugnant to the very essence of a feudal tenure ; most severely and promptly avenged ; most branded by general infamy. The feudal law books breathe throughout a spirit of honourable obligation. The feudal course of jurisdiction promoted, what trial by peers is peculiarly calculated to promote, a keener feeling, as well as readier perception, of moral as well as of legal distinctions. In the reciprocal services of lord and vassal, there was ample scope for every magnanimous and disinterested . energy. The heart of man, when placed in circumstances that have a tendency to excite them, will seldom be deficient in such sentiments. No occasions could be more favourable, than the protection of a faithful supporter, or the defence of a beneficent sovereign, against such powerful aggression, as left little prospect except of sharing in his ruin.
It is in France, chiefly, that Mr Hallam contemplates the feudal system and therefore, in describing its decay, he is naturally led to the consequences that ensued, in that kingdom, on its fali. He traces the gradual encroachments of the Crown, as the power of the nobility was reduced; its usurpation of the legislative authority, which had lain dormant for centuries; its assumption of the right of taxation, in opposition to the remonstrances of the States; its success in wresting from the Barons their territorial jurisdiction, and in placing the administration of justice in judges appointed by the king. He shows, in the course of this inquiry, that it was to the dissolution of all but the feudal governinent, at the accession of the third dynasty, and to the independence effected, ud for many ages maintained by the feudal nobility, that the kings of France were indebted for the absolute authority which they at last acquired. When Hugh Capet usurpeil the throne, France was rather a collection of states, partially allied to each other, than a single monarchy. The kingdom was as a great fief, or rather as a bundle of fiefs, and the king little more than one of a number of feudal nobles, differing rather in dignity than in power from some of the rest. The vassals of the Crown had the right of coining money, and of waging private war; they enjoyed exemption from all public tributes, except the feudal aids; were free from legislative control; and possessed the exclusive exercise of original jurisdiction in their dominions.
- The king,' says St Lewis in his establishments, cannot make proclamation, that is, declare any new law, in the territory of a baron, without his consent, nor can the baron do so in that of a vavassor. If legislative power, therefore, be essential to sovereignty, we cannot, in strictness, assert the king of France to have been sovercign beyond the limits of his own do