Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Other land was held by churchmen on condition of praying or singing for the soul of the lord, and the
importance of this tenure was that it was subject to the church courts and not to those of the king. Some

was held in what was called free socage, the terms of which varied; but its distinguishing feature seems

to have been that the service, which was not military, was fixed, and that when it was performed the lord

had no further hold on the tenant. The great mass of the population were, however, villeins, who were

always at the beck and call of their lords, and had to do as much ploughing, sowing, and reaping of his

land as he could make them. Theoretically they were his goods and chattels, who could obtain no redress

against any one except in the lord's court, and none at all against him. They could not leave their land,

nor marry, nor enter the church, nor go to school without his leave. All these forms of tenure and kinds of

service, however, shaded off into one another, so that it is impossible to draw hard and fast lines between

them. Any one, moreover, might hold different lands on different terms of service, so that there was little

of caste in the English system; it was upon the land and not the person that the service was imposed; and

William's Domesday Book was not a record of the ranks and classes of the people, but a survey of the

land, detailing the rents and service due from every part.

The local agency by which the Normans enforced these arrangements was the manor. The Anglo-Saxons
had organized shires and hundreds, but the lowest unit, township or vill seems to have had no

organization except, perhaps, for agricultural purposes. The Danegeld, which William imposed after the

Domesday survey, was assessed on the hundreds, as though there were no smaller units from which it

could be levied. But the hundred was found too cumbrous for the efficient control of local details; it was

divided into manors, the Normans using for this purpose the germs of dependent townships which had

long been growing up in England; and the agricultural organization of the township was dovetailed into

the jurisdictional organization of the manor. The lord became the lord of all the land on the manor, the

owner of a court which tried local disputes; but he rarely possessed that criminal jurisdiction in matters

of life and death which was common in continental feudalism; and if he did, it was only by special royal

grant, and he was gradually deprived of it by the development of royal courts of justice, which drew to

themselves large parts of manorial jurisdiction.

These and other matters were reserved for the old courts of the shire and hundred, which the Norman
kings found it advisable to encourage as a check upon their barons; for the more completely the natives

and villagers were subjected to their lords, the more necessary was it for the king to maintain his hold

upon their masters. For this reason William imposed the famous Salisbury oath. In France the sub-tenant

was bound to follow and obey his immediate lord rather than the king. William was determined that

every man's duty to the king should come first. Similarly, he separated church courts from the secular

courts, in order that the former might be saved from the feudal influence of the latter; and he enforced the

ecclesiastical reforms of Hildebrand, especially the prohibition of the marriage of the clergy, lest they

should convert their benefices into hereditary fiefs for the benefit of their children.

For the principles of heredity and primogeniture were among the strongest of feudal tendencies.
Primogeniture had proved politically advantageous; and one of the best things in the Anglo-Saxon

monarchy had been its avoidance of the practice, prevalent on the Continent, of kings dividing their

dominions among their sons, instead of leaving all united to the eldest. But the principle of heredity,

sound enough in national monarchy, was to prove very dangerous in the other spheres of politics. Office

tended to become hereditary, and to be regarded as the private property of the family rather than a

position of national trust, thus escaping national control and being prostituted for personal ends. The

earldoms in England were so perverted; originally they were offices like the modern lords-lieutenancies

of the shires; gradually they became hereditary titles. The only remedy the king had was to deprive the

 

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