Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Yet a governing class, planted by Henry II, was striking root in English soil and drawing nourishment
and inspiration from English feelings. It was reinforced by John's loss of Normandy, which compelled

bi-national barons who held lands in both countries to choose between their French and English

sovereigns; and those who preferred England became more English than they had been before. The

French invasion of England, which followed John's repudiation of the charter, widened the cleavage; and

there was something national, if little that was English, in the government of Hubert de Burgh, and still

more in the naval victory which Hubert and the men of the Cinque Ports won over the French in the

Straits of Dover in 1217. But not a vestige of national feeling animated Henry III; and for twenty-five

wearisome years after he had attained his majority he strove to govern England by means of alien

relatives and dependents.

The opposition offered by the great council was baronial rather than national; the revolt in which it ended
was a revolt of the half-breeds rather than a revolt of the English; and the government they established in

1258 was merely a legalized form of baronial anarchy. But there was this difference between the anarchy

of Stephen's reign and that of Henry III's: now, when the foreigners fell out, the English began to come

by their own. A sort of "young England" party fell foul of both the barons and the king; Simon de

Montfort detached himself from the baronial brethren with whom he had acted, and boldly placed

himself at the head of a movement for securing England for the English. He summoned representatives

from cities and boroughs to sit side by side with greater and lesser barons in the great council of the

realm, which now became an English parliament; and for the first time since the Norman Conquest men

of the subject race were called up to deliberate on national affairs. It does not matter whether this was the

stroke of a statesman's genius or the lucky improvisation of a party-leader. Simon fell, but his work

remained; Prince Edward, who copied his tactics at Evesham, copied his politics in 1275 and afterwards

at Westminster; and under the first sovereign since the Norman Conquest who bore an English name, the

English people received their national livery and the seisin of their inheritance.

 

CHAPTER III. EMERGENCE OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE

1272-1485

In 1265, simultaneously with the appearance of English townsfolk in parliament, an official document
couched in the English tongue appeared like a first peak above the subsiding flood of foreign language.

When, three generations back, Abbot Samson had preached English sermons, they were noted as

exceptions; but now the vernacular language of the subject race was forcing its way into higher circles,

and even into literary use. The upper classes were learning English, and those whose normal tongue was

English were thrusting themselves into, or at any rate upon the notice of, the higher strata of society.

The two normal ranks of feudal society had in England naturally been French lords and English tillers of
the soil; but commerce had never accommodated itself to this agricultural system, and the growth of

trade, of towns, of other forms of wealth than land, tended concurrently to break down French and feudal

domination. A large number of towns had been granted, or rather sold, charters by Richard I and John,

not because those monarchs were interested in municipal development, but because they wanted money,

and in their rights of jurisdiction over towns on the royal domain they possessed a ready marketable

commodity. The body which had the means to pay the king's price was generally the local merchant

guild; and while these transactions developed local government, they did not necessarily promote popular

self-government, because the merchant guild was a wealthy oligarchical body, and it might exercise the

jurisdiction it had bought from the king in quite as narrow and harsh a spirit as he had done. The

 

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