Page images

and pour in upon the Normans behind, by which Duke Robert's army was almost encompassed; yet they kept their ground a while, and made several charges, until at length, perfectly overborne by numbers, they were utterly defeated. There Duke Robert, doing all the parts of a great captain, was taken prisoner, together with the Earl of Mortain, and almost his whole army; for being hemmed in on all sides, few of them could make their escape. Thus, in the space of forty years, Normandy 1107. subdued England, and England Normandy; which are events, perhaps, hardly to be paralleled in any other ages or parts of the world.

The king, having staid a while to settle the state of Normandy, returned with his brother into England, whom he sent prisoner to Cardiff Castle, with orders that he should be favourably used, which, for some time, were duly observed; until, being accused of attempting to make his escape, (whether it were real or feigned,) he had his eyes put out with a burning basin, by the king's express commands; in which miserable condition he lived for six-and-twenty years.

It is believed the king would hardly have engaged in this unnatural and invidious war, with so little pretence or provocation, if the pope had not openly approved and sanctified his cause, exhorting him to it as a meritorious action; which seems to have been but an ill return from the Vicar of CHRIST, to a prince who had performed so many brave exploits for the service of the church, to the hazard of his person, and ruin of his fortune. But the very bigotted monks, who have left us their accounts of those times, do generally agree in heavily taxing the Roman court for bribery and corruption. And the king had promised to remit his right of investing bishops, which he performed immediately after his

reduction of Normandy, and was a matter of much more service to the pope than all the achievements of Duke Robert in the Holy Land; whose merits, as well as pretensions, were now antiquated and out of date.

1109. About this time the Emperor Henry V. sent to desire Maude, the king's daughter, in marriage, who was then a child about eight years old. That prince had lately been embroiled in a quarrel with the see of Rome, which began upon the same subject of investing bishops, but was carried to great extremities: for, invading Italy with a mighty army, he took the pope prisoner, forced him to yield to whatever terms he thought fit to impose, and to take an oath of fidelity to him between his hands: however, as soon as Henry had withdrawn his forces, the pope, assembling a council, revoked all his concessions, as extorted by compulsion, and raised great troubles in Germany against the emperor, who, in order to secure himself, sought this alliance with the king.

About this time likewise died Archbishop Anselm, a prelate of great piety and learning, whose zeal for the see of Rome, as well as for his own rights and privileges, should in justice be imputed to the errors of the time, and not of the man. After his death, the king following the steps of his brother, held the see vacant five years, contenting himself with an excuse, which looked like a jest, That he only waited until he could find another so good a man as Anselm.

In the fourteenth year of this king's reign, the Welsh, after their usual manner, invaded the Marches with great fury and destruction; but the king, hoping to put a final end to those perpetual troubles and vexations given to his kingdom by that unquiet people, went in person against them with a

powerful army; and, to prevent their usual stratagem of retreating to their woods and mountains, and other fastnesses, he ordered the woods to be cut down, beset all their places of security, and, hunting them like wild beasts, made so terrible a slaughter, that at length, observing them to fling down their arms and beg for quarter, he commanded his soldiers to forbear; then receiving their submissions, and placing garrisons where he thought necessary, he returned, in great triumph and satisfaction, to London.

1114. The Princess Maude being now marriageable, was delivered to the emperor's ambassador; and, for a portion to the young lady, a tax was imposed of three shillings upon every hide of land in England, which grew afterward into a custom, and was in succeeding times confirmed by acts of parliament, under the name of "Reasonable Aid for marrying the king's daughter," although levied after a different manner.

As the institution of parliaments in England is agreed by several writers to be owing to this king, so the date of the first has been assigned by some to the fifteenth year of his reign; which, however, is not to be affirmed with any certainty: for great councils were convoked not only in the two preceding reigns, but for time immemorial by the Saxon princes, who first introduced them into this island, from the same original with the other Gothic forms of government in most parts of Europe. These councils, or assemblies, were composed according to the pleasure of the prince who convened them, generally of nobles and bishops, sometimes were added some considerable commoners; but they seldom met, except in the beginning of a reign, or in times of war, until this king came to the crown; who, being a wise and popular prince,

called these great assemblies upon most important affairs of his reign, and ever followed their advice; which, if it proved successful, the honour and advantage redounded to him, and, if otherwise, he was free from the blame: thus, when he chose a wife for himself, and a husband for his daughter, when he designed his expedition against Robert, and even for the election of an archbishop to the see of Canterbury, he proceeded wholly by the advice of such general assemblies, summoned for the purpose. But the style of these conventions, as delivered by several authors, is very various; sometimes it is comites, barones, et cleri;* his marriage was agreed on, consilio majorum natu et magnatum terræ. One author calls it concilium principum, sacerdotum, et reliqui populi. And, for the election of an archbishop, the Saxon Chronicle says, That he commanded, by letters, all bishops, abbots, and thanes, to meet him at Gloucester, ad procerum conventum. Lastly, some affirm these assemblies to have been an imitation of the three estates in Normandy. I am very sensible how much time and pains have been employed by several learned men to search out the original of parliaments in England, wherein I doubt they have little satisfied others or themselves. I know likewise, that to engage in the same inquiry would neither suit my abilities nor my subject. It may be sufficient for my purpose if I be able to give some little light into this matter, for the curiosity of those who are less informed.

[ocr errors]

The institution of a state or commonwealth out of a mixture of the three forms of government received in the schools, however it be derided as a solecism and absurdity by some late writers on politics, has been very ancient in the world, and is

* Brompton.

† Polydore Virgil.

celebrated by the gravest authors of antiquity. For although the supreme power cannot properly be said to be divided, yet it may be so placed in three several hands, as each to be a check upon the other; or formed into a balance, which is held by him that has the executive power, with the nobility and people in counterpoise in each scale. Thus the kingdom of Media is represented by Xenophon before the reign of Cyrus; so Polybius tells us, the best government is a mixture of the three forms, regno, optimatium, et populi imperio: the same was that of Sparta in its primitive institution by Lycurgus, made up of reges, seniores, et populus; the like may be asserted of Rome, Carthage, and other states and the Germans of old fell upon the same model, from whence the Goths their neighbours, with the rest of those northern people, did perhaps borrow it. But an assembly of the three estates is not properly of Gothic institution; for these fierce people, when, upon the decline of the Roman Empire, they first invaded Europe, and settled so many kingdoms in Italy, Spain, and other parts, were all Heathens; and when a body of them had fixed themselves in a tract of land left desolate by the flight or destruction of the natives, their military government, by time and peace, became civil; the general was king, his great officers were his nobles and ministers of state, and the common soldiers the body of the people; but these were freemen, and had smaller portions of land assigned them. The remaining natives were all slaves; the nobles were a standing council; and upon affairs of great importance, the freemen were likewise called by their representatives to give their advice. By which it appears, that the Gothic frame of government consisted at first but of two states or assemblies, under the administration of a single person. But, after the

« PreviousContinue »