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and capricious attempts at tyranny, of a weakminded monarch, the very kind of opposition, which more than any other impels to successful resistance. While aroused to indignation, they were stimulated to opposition, and the wavering and aimless tyranny of the king was met by the stern and unswerving defiance of a bold and energetic people.
Nor were the minor vexations of this reign, so bitterly dwelt upon in the pages of Matthew Paris, without their benefit. The arbitrary and enormous taxations of the monarch urged the chief cities to a more eager pursuit of commerce; the profuse and reckless magnificence of the court awakened among the people that taste for luxury, without which civilization ever languishes; the miserable superstition of the king, and his abject submission to the papal sway, aroused and cherished, in the hearts of the nation, that principle of resistance to ecclesiastical domination, which, long ere the time of Wickliffe, had taken deep root in the land; even the patronage so exclusively bestowed on foreigners, most galling as it was to that age, bound together all ranks and conditions more closely by the common tie of Englishman.
At ten years of age did Henry assume the crown of the Plantagenets; and, under the regency of the wise and excellent earl of Pembroke, the nation might well hope that the young king would learn to respect those liberties for which his guardian had battled; the early death of that illustrious baron threw Henry into other hands, and the lessons of his childhood were speedily forgotten.
In 1220, Henry was declared of age; and doubts of the validity of his first and hasty coronation having arisen, he was a second time solemnly crowned at Westminster by Stephen Langton on Whit-Sunday. The precepts respecting this coronation feast will be found in the Close Rolls, and they afford a curious picture of the extraordinary scale of magnificence which at this period characterized every royal festival. Two thousand ells of linen for table-cloths, forty oxen, two hundred deer, five hundred lambs, five thousand fowls, are part only of the preparations for this gigantic entertainment;* and the assembled multitudes doubtless looked forward to a reign, that should confirm and extend their liberties.
As sixteen years were to elapse ere the crown of England should again be placed on the brow of a queen-consort, the intervening period cannot be more suitably filled up than by an inquiry into the state of "the people;" an inquiry which, although from the scantiness of authentic materials we shall find difficult to follow out to the extent that might be desired, will yet supply many curious and important hints, toward forming a just estimate of this singularly ill understood period.
The title of "the dark ages" having been, with one consent, assigned by modern opinion to the mediaeval period, it became a necessary consequence to view the people of those ages as rude and ignorant barbarians; and on this principle, until but as yes
* There does not appear any precept respecting the quantity of wine to be provided for this mighty feast; as, however, the sheriff of Kent is directed to send " 1000 pitchers, of which each shall contain one gallon," the provision for drinking was doubtless in proportion.
terday, have the history of these ages been written. Each historian, taking for granted the philosophical correctness of a mere common-place phrase, has turned to this period, prepared to view it as one of unmitigated barbarism; and each has felt, that to seek in it aught of intellectual culture, of civilization, or even of the feeblest advances toward refinement, would be as vain a task as to seek in the winter's sun the warmth and radiance of summer, or roses in the desert. The inadequate supply, if we may not rather say the utter deficiency, of information respecting the great mass of the people, has contributed to deepen the shadow; and forgetful how little the history of any period involves that of the mass of the nation, they have too hastily concluded that the reason why the people seldom find a place in the pages of the chronicler, has been because they were too degraded to merit notice. Happily for the present inquiry, later research has supplied us with some data on which we may rely; and in the lately published Rolls of this period,—in the formal precept, the minute inventory, the mere memoranda of the clerks of the king's court, we obtain that knowledge, which, in the more picturesque details of the chronicle, and the metrical tale, we might seek in vain.
The two bases, on which emphatically the well, being of the community rests, will, we think, be found to be legal security, and its consequent, the possession of a competent degree of wealth. In each of these, the middle ages have been considered as peculiarly deficient; and while we have been told that money was so scarce, that few below the rank of nobles possessed aught beyond the barest necessaries; we have also been told that the life of a peasant was considered, not merely by a haughty aristocracy, but by the law itself, as scarcely of more value than that of " the good red deer." Little credence is due to such statements, when we find in that very interesting work, the "Rolls of the King's Court,"* that strict legal inquiry was always made in respect to those who had been found dead in the fields; and even in cases where it is found that the man died through want, the verdict of "murdrum "f is returned. The entries in these Rolls supply indeed abundant evidence of the care with which the law watched over the lives of each member of the community, and, what might scarcely be believed, over their property too. The number of law-suits,—and these not for grave offences, or preferred by high-born men,—is most remarkable. Thomas de la Marc demands damages from Geffrey de la Mere, for injury done to his house, "through digging a certain ditch." William the vintner, Henry Basket, and Henry de Tony, are amerced for selling wines contrary to the statute. Golling, the son of Stonard, is charged with selling corn by short measure, and wool by short weight; while Serle, the son of Eustace, summons Roger the smith before the chief justiciary, for
* This curious work includes the period from the sixth of Richard to the first of John.
f This does not mean murder; it is a technical law term, which involved the payment of a fine, by the hundred within which the death took place. The awarding this verdict, in cases of death from starvation, is considered by Sir F. Palgrave as proving the recognition of a legal provision for the poor.
a mere " beating and bruising." Truly, if legal redress was thus brought within the reach of the Essex and Hertford yeomen, Cedric the Saxon needed not to fear the injuries Front de Boeuf could do either to his house or land. Nor, even during the heat of war does the civil power appear to have been that ineffectual thing which many writers have believed it to be, even in times of comparative quiet. Letters of safe conduct meet us on almost every page of the Patent Rolls; and not merely are these conceded to the wealthy and powerful, who could afford to travel with an efficient escort;—but Alan, the vintner of Reading, the abbess of Meauling, and Margaret de Modington; the men belonging to Walter de Lascy, " with the cows and horses which were in the forest of Gillingham \" each appear to have found the same security sufficient to enable them to pass safely through the midst of a hostile district.
But if these illustrations of the power of the law, at a period so generally considered to be destitute of it, excite surprise, what shall be said to those indications of wealth and comfort which these curious records present? In the high ransoms demanded for the prisoners who have fallen into the hands of John, during his contest with his barons, we find that the class immediately below the nobility, were in possession of considerable wealth. Fulke d'Oyry pays a fine of almost £5000, present money; Baldwin the constable of Ermelingham's ransom is £1000, (£15,000 present money); while Reginald de Cornhill's ransom is fixed at 3000 marks, a sum