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The best form of government is that which doth actuate
and inspire every part and member of a state to the
common good. — Pym.

Two Volumes in One





All rights reserved






Copyright, 1899,

bt the macmillan company.

Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1899. Reprinted
August, 1904.
One volume edition August, 1907.

J. S. Gushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


The limited aim of these pages is to give the ordinary
reader, so far as was in the author's power, a clear, con-
nected, and succinct view of the political history of the
United Kingdom as it appears in the light of recent
research and discussion.

Among works of special research by which the writer
has been assisted, and to the authors of which his grate-
ful acknowledgments are due, are the following : —

Freeman's " History of the Norman Conquest of England."

Stubbs's '^ Constitutional History of England."

Miss Kate Norgate's " England under the Angevin Kings."

•' The Life and Reign of Edward I.," by the author of " The Greatest

of the Plantagenets."
James Hamilton Wylie's '^History of England under Henry the

Sir James H. Ramsay's " Lancaster and York."
Mrs. J. R. Green's " Town Life in the Fifteenth Century."
J. S. Brewer's " Reign of Henry VIH.," edited by James Gairdner,
Francis Aidan Gasquet's " Henry VHI. and the English Monasteries."
Paul Friedmann's " Anne Boleyn."
Froude's " History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death

of Elizabeth" (the later volumes).
Gilbert W. Child's "Church and State under the Tudors."
David Masson's "Life of John Milton, narrated in Connexion with

the Political, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of his Time."




Samuel Rawson Gardiner's Histories, embracing the period from

James I. to tlie Protectorate.
W. E. H. Lecky's " History of England in the Eighteenth Centmy."
Henry Jephson's " The Platform : its Rise and Progress."
Sir Spencer Walpole's " History of England from the Conclusion of

the Great War in 1815."
William Nassau Molesworth's "History of England from the Year

John Hill Burton's works on Scotch history.
A. G. Richey's " Short History of the Irish People, down to the Date

of the Plantation of Ulster," edited by Robert Romney Kane.
T. Dunbar Ingram's "History of the Legislative Union of Great

Britain and Ireland," and the same writer's " Two Chapters of

Irish History."
J. T. Ball's " Historical Review of the Legislative Systems operative

in Ireland, from the Invasion of Henry the Second to the Union

** Social England : A Record of the Progress of the People in Religion,

Laws, Learning, Arts, Industry, Commerce, Science, Literature,

and Manners from the Earliest Times to the Present Day." By

various writers. Edited by H. D. Traill, D.C.L.
The " Dictionary of National Biography."

John Mercier McMuUen's "History of Canada, from its First Dis-
covery to the Present Time.*
The works on India of Sir Richard Temple, Sir W. W. Hunter, Sir

Alfred Lyall, Sir John Strachey, Colonel Chesney, and Sir James

Fitzjames Stephen.

Particular acknowledgments are due to the admirable
works of Freeman, Stubbs, Gardiner, and Leck}^ ; to that
of Stubbs with special reference to the constitutional
policy of Edward I. The historical part of Mr. Masson's
work also calls for particular recognition.

The author at the same time embraces the opportunity


of testifjdng to the noble service which the editors and
writers of the " Dictionary of National Biography " have
rendered to British History.

In one or two parts of the book the author has drawn
on previous works of his own.

The friends who urged the writer to undertake this
task know that it has been performed by the hand of
extreme old age.



Preface ........ v-vii

Old English Polity . . . . . . • • 1-15

The Conquest and William I. . . . . . . 16-41

The Successors of the Conqueror :

William IL . . . ... . . . 42-57

Henry L . 57-71

Stephen ....,.,..> 71-75

Henry H. , . , . . . . ^ . . 76-105

Richard L . . „ . . \ , , . 106-117

John » 118-144

Henry HI 145-164




Edward L 165-201

Ei^wARD n 202-209

Edward ILL 210-229

Richard H 230-244

Henry IV. ......... . 245-254

Henry V. 255-260


The Wars of the Roses :

Henry VI 261-267

Edward IV. ... 267-272

Edward V. 272

Richard HI. 273-278

Henry VH. 279-300

Henry VHI. . 301-341

Edward VI 342-356




Mary 357-366

Elizabeth 367-403

James L • 404-467

Charles L 468-571

The Commonwealth 572-597

The Protectorate • . . 598-650



T?NGLAND has taken the lead in solving the problem of
constitutional government ; of government, that is,
with authority, but limited by law, controlled by opinion,
and respecting personal right and freedom. This she has
done for the world, and herein lies the world's chief inter-
est in her history. She has also had to deal with great
problems of her own ; among them that of national unity,
the long postponement of which is indicated by the pres-
ent lack of any common name except that of the United
Kingdom for the realm, and of any common name for the
people. Ultimately she became the centre of a maritime
empire, consisting partly of colonies, partly of dependen-
cies, and had imperial problems of both classes with
which to deal.

The scene of this political drama is in two large islands
off the coast of Europe, near enough to the continent to
form a part of the European system, while they are in a
measure independent of it, so that their people long pre-
served an insular character and history. The channel
between Dover and Calais has largely exempted England
from European dominations and revolutions ; from the
Empire of Charlemagne, of Philip II., of Louis XIV., of
Napoleon, in some measure from that of the papacy, and
on the other hand from the Erench Revolution. It has


enabled England to act in the European system as a mod
erating and balancing power ; now upholding liberty
against despotism, now order against headlong change.
Islands seem dedicated by nature to freedom. They will
commonly be peopled at first by men bold enough to
cross the sea, nautical in their habits and character. In
later times, the island nation, the sea being its defence,
will be exempt from great standing armies, while fleets
are no foes to freedom. The British islands are happily
placed for commerce with both hemispheres. Looking
forth across the Atlantic to America, they are also happily
placed for colonization ; but that part of their destiny
long remained veiled. In the estuaries of the Thames,
the Humber, the Orwell, the Mersey, the Avon, they have
ports safe from attack, though in an hour of shame the
1667 Dutch came up the Thames. Of minerals, too, Great
Britain has good store, and coal for manufactures which,
with the help of circumstances, such as the repression of
continental manufactures by war, have made her the seat
of a vast manufacturing population with its political
influences both for good and evil. At the same time
there is a great breadth of land for farming, which long
continued the chief industry. The union of the three
industries, farming, sea-faring, and manufacturing, pro-
duced a character balanced in politics as well as in
general life.

The channel between Great Britain and Ireland has
played and is even yet playing a momentous and fatal
part in their political history. Nature had manifestly
linked together the destinies of the two islands and made
their union the condition of their security and greatness.
But differences of race, differences of religion, evil chances


and evil policy, combined with the estranging sea, long
defeated the behest of nature, and the union is hardly
perfect even at this hour.

When the drama opens, the lowlands and the fruitful
parts of the larger island are occupied by the race which
has given the nation its usual name, its general character,
its fundamental institutions. It is a Teutonic race, and ^ifth
has come in three swarms. Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, tury.
from the northern coast of Germany, about the mouths of
the Elbe and the Weser. While other northern races
have migrated by land, this race has migrated by sea, in
bands of rovers who have probably first marauded, then
settled, and gradually driven out or enslaved the former
inhabitants. It is strong and comely, braced by sea-life,
picked by the northern climate and tribal war. It loves
freedom and inclines to freehold- ownership of land. It
respects birth, and is divided on that principle into eorl
and churl, names now widely parted from their first
meaning. Beneath the churl is the theow or slave, a
captive in war, a condemned felon, or one who has lost his
freedom in gambling, which seems ever to have been the
master vice of ^he race. Tacitus, who describes the Ger-
mans in their original seat, paints their character as
robust, though rude, and pure in contrast with Roman
license. According to the same authority there were
kings designated by birth, but at the same time leaders
chosen by merit, a custom which seems to foreshadow the
hereditary monarchy and elective premiership of the pres-
ent day. The Germans had their primitive parliaments,
in which no doubt the authority of the chiefs prevailed,
while the people signified their assent to the resolution,
generally one of war, by clashing their arms. The


tendency of the race, fostered no doubt by the comrade-
ship of roving bands, and, in the new country by the
circumstances of little settlements each belted with its
zone of wood, was to self-government and to local institu-
tions, the spirit, and to some extent the form, of which
has lived to the present day. In the assembly of the
shire, the largest local division, of the township which if
fenced was a burgh, and of the hundred which was mili-
tary, the people met under their alderman, or other local
officer, to regulate their own affairs. The ruler was also
the judge, and public justice was little more than the
public assessment of vengeance or of compensation for
private wrongs.

Around the English settlements or buried beneath them
was the wreck of a province of the Roman Empire, ruins
of cities and villas, camps deserted by the legions, relics of
Roman handiwork, Roman tombs, treasures buried by
fugitives who never returned. Coming not by land, like
the other nortliern tribes, but by sea, the English had not
made acquaintance with the Roman civilization, or been
imbued with respect for it. Themselves lovers of the
open field and the woodland, tlie}^ either sacked and de-
stroyed the cities or left them to decay. With the cities
municipal institutions perished. Of Roman empire re-
mained only the great military roads which traversed the
island, solid as Roman character, unswerving as Roman
ambition. Under the Empire the Britons had been con-
verted to Christianity. This also was destroyed by the
Englishman, who, unlike the other tribes, had not been
visited by the missionary, but came a heathen fresh from
the seats of his nature-worship and his war-gods. Italy,
France, and Spain remained in language and religion, and


partly in institutions, provinces of the Roman Empire.
The English nation and polity were a fresh and purely
Germanic birth.

In the Welsh mountains, behind the Grampians, away
in Ireland, and for a long time in the hills of Devonshire
and Cornwall, lay the remnants of the Celtic race, which
the Anglo-Saxon had driven from England, with their
several dialects of the Celtic tongue, their Celtic char-
acter and customs, and in Ireland and Wales at least,
with the Christianity of Celtic Britain. It was a race,
from whatever cause, whether congenital or of circum-
stance, more emotional and mercurial, less strong and
steadfast than the Teuton, more addicted to personal, less
fitted for constitutional government. Whether it was
exterminated where the conquest spread, or mingled its
blood with that of the conquerors, is a question about
which antiquaries differ. It left its memorials in the
names of rivers and mountains, as well as in the hill
camps which told of its tribal wars, the rude monuments
which told of its veneration of its chiefs, and the circles
which had witnessed the bloody rites of its wild and dark
superstition. Stonehenge speaks of it on the lonely plain.
Csesar, who subdued it in Gaul, has depicted its gallantry
and its weakness. In the western lowlands of Scotland,
also, remained a wild, primeval race, or mixture of prime-
val races. The rebellion of 1745 and the present agita-
tion for Home Rule and Welsh disestablishment show
how deep and lasting has been the influence of this divis-
ion of races upon the politics of the United Kingdom.

Combination against the natives and predominance of 455-
the sti'onger over the weaker among the conquerors them-
selves in time welded the little settlements together and


produced the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy — Kent,
Sussex, Essex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Nor-
thumberland. There ensued a contest for supremacy
among the seven. The advantage was with those the
warlike spirit of which had been sustained by the border
struggle with the Celts. Mercia, the central state,

826 seemed for a time to prevail. But in the end Wessex,
the southwestern state, having embraced the country
between the Thames and the Channel, under Egbert, who
had seen Charlemagne, came out supreme, and became
the foundress of England, of the United Kingdom, of the
British Empire. Union was made difficult and amalga-
mation was made still more difficult by intersecting
forests, morasses, and rivers of pristine volume, as well as
by defective communications, the only good roads being
those which had been bequeathed by the Roman engineer.
Unity as well as moral civilization was set forward by
Christianity, to which the king of Kent, who had married
a Christian princess from France, was converted by
Augustine, a missionary sent by pope Gregory the Great.

697 The Kentish king heard the Gospel with an openness of
mind which Englishmen love to call English. With the
king, the people, after the fashion of tribalism, passed
into the allegiance of the new god. Removal from the
seats of their old religion, which was largely local, had
probably weakened its hold and that of its priesthood.
From Kent Christianity spread over the other kingdoms

627 of the Heptarchy. It w^as borne to Northumbria by
another Roman missionary, Paulinus, and there wel-
comed, according to a pretty fable, as a solution of the
mystery of human life, which otherwise was like the
flight of a bird through the hall where the king and his


lords were sitting round the fire, out of the night and
back into the night. There were relapses, and there was 633
a stubborn resistance in rude Mercia, where king Penda
fought for heathenism^ and prevailed so far as to win back
Northumbria for a time to the old gods. But in the end
he fell and the old gods succumbed, though they left in
haunted tree, fountain, and stone, in heathen fire festi-
vals, and in general superstition the traces of their reign.
Northumbria was re-converted at first, not by the mis-
sionaries of Rome, but by Aidan, a missioner of the old
British church, which had found a refuge in Ireland and 634
Wales, and in Wales had rejected the preaching of
Augustine. Roman unity, however, with the magic name
of Peter, the holder of the keys of heaven, prevailed at
the synod of Whitby, and Latin Christianity, with the 664
bishop of Rome at its head, remained the religion of Eng-
land. It united the island to Christian Europe and to
whatever remained of the Roman Empire and its civiliza-
tion. It introduced in opposition to the warlike type the
Christian type of character, the Gospel virtues of charity,
meekness, readiness to forgive, the saintly and ascetic
ideal, the notion of sin against God, where before there
had only been that of wrong done to, and avenged by,
man, penitence and penance, with the moral authority of
a priesthood pretending to sacramental powers. It pro-
claimed the spiritual equality of the sexes and the human
rights of the slave. To Christianity may be ascribed the
birth of learning and literature, of which, in England,
the Venerable Bede in his monastery at Jarrow was
the father, that national consciousness which prompts to
the writing of history, art the offspring of religion, and
the beginnings of legislation. For the most part the con-


version would be skin-deep. The ideal would be too
high. Love of war and sensuality -would hold their own.
Nor were the effects wholly good. Sacerdotal authority
is always liable to abuse. Asceticism might weaken the
character of a nation, which, to preserve its life, presently
needed all its force. The monk had at first been useful,
perhaps indispensable, as a pioneer. Afterwards monas-
teries were apt to become lairs of idleness and refuges
from royal and patriotic duty. Formal penitentials and
vicarious penances were made licenses to vice.

The Anglo-Saxon or English polity was now complete
in church and state, rather, we should say, as the church
remained national, in state and church. At its head was
the king, who had been raised higher above the heads of
the people by each successive extension of his domain.
He was at once ruler, law-giver, general, and judge, all
those functions being as yet enfolded in the same germ.
But he was no despot. If he governed, regulated, made
high appointments in church and state, granted the
public land, gave chartered rights, it was with the con-
sent of the Witenagemot, an assembly of the magnates,
civil and ecclesiastical, which, with the extension of the
kingdom, had practically superseded the assemblies of all
the freemen, the distance being too great for general
attendance, and representation being then unknown. A
king's personal ability would be the real measure of his
power. When he was able the witan would register his
will. The authority of the witan was wider than that of
parliament nominally at the present day, since it extended
to executive action, to appointments, to foreign policy
and war, as well as to legislation. The public land be-
longed to the nation, not to the king.


The king was elected by the witan, but always out of
the heroic house of Cerdic, and generally by the rule of
male primogeniture, though the witan, as the exigencies
of rough times required, could sometimes exclude, and
sometimes depose, as the parliament, its successor, de-
posed Edward II., Richard II., and virtually, though not
in form, the second James.

In the primitive abodes of the Saxon rovers each chief
had gathered round him a circle of followers to whom he
gave bread, arms, and clothes, while they shared with him
all enterprises and perils, fighting round him to the death,
throwing themselves between him and the dagger of the
assassin, scorning to leave the field alive when he had
fallen. Gesiths they were called at first, afterwards
thanes. Hence, when the chief had become a king, grew
a new order of nobility, a nobility of royal favour and
grants, overtopping the old nobility of birth, and forming
the predominant element in the council of the nation.
Aristocracy was not close or exclusively military ; three
voyages made the merchant a thane.

In the absence of a strong central administration gov-
ernment must delegate its powers. The country was
divided, as it still is, into shires, by what process is not
exactly known. Subordinate divisions were hundreds,
which were military, and townships, which, when fenced,
were called burghs. Through the whole scale in those
primitive times the political or administrative and mili-
tary assembly was also the rude court of justice. Over
each shire, and, where large military powers were neces-
sary, over several shires, was an alderman, who took the
place of the petty kings and is faintly represented by the
lord-lieutenant at the present day. In each shire there


was a king's intendant, called the shire-reeve or sheriff,
who guarded the king's rights, collected the king's dues,
acting as a sort of farmer-general, and called out the
militia. The shrievalty was perhaps the nearest ap-
proach to centralization.

The army was the general levy of freemen, every one
of whom was bound to appear in arms when national
defence called, on penalty of being branded as a nithing
or poltroon. All were bound to aid in keeping up forts
as well as roads and bridges.

Private war was restrained by the king's peace.
Police was in the rude form of frank-pledge or mutual
responsibility of neighbours or members of the same tith-
ing. Trial was by ordeal or by compurgation, that is,
purgation by the oaths of a certain number of sureties.
Life was guarded by the were-gelt or blood-fine paid to
the kin. Differences of rank were marked by the amount
of the were-gelt and the compurgative value of the oath.

The old English church, though a direct offspring of
Rome, was insular and national, bearing nearly the same
relation to the state which it bore after the Reformation.
Rome was regarded as the mother and centre of Christen-
dom, not its mistress. A filial tribute under the name of
Peter's pence was paid to her. Wilfrid, a high-flying
ecclesiastic, tried to introduce high church principles but
failed. The church had her synods, but the king and his
witan dealt with ecclesiastical as well as with temporal
affairs and appointed the bishops ; while the bishops, by
virtue of their superior education, became here as else-
where in temporal as well as in ecclesiastical affairs, the
counsellors of kings. The two swords were held in the
same hand, the bishop sat with the secular magistrate in


the local court ; no sharp line divided the two spheres or
jurisdictions. The church had been organized, with the
diocesan and parish system, largely by Theodore of
Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, who as an Eastern
divine with Roman tonsure and commission represented
the wide unity of Christendom. In local government
there was a tendency in the ecclesiastical to unite with
the administrative system which finally issued in a parish
with its vestry at once religious and administrative, while
the parish church with its altar, its font, and its grave-
yard, became the local centre of social as well as spiritual
life. The payment of tithe, at first voluntar}^, or enjoined
only by religion, was ultimately enforced by law. Besides
a bond of union among petty kingdoms imperfectly con-
solidated, the church with her hierarchy furnished a pat-
tern of organization. It has even been said that the first
synod held in England was the first national assembly.

Scarcely had the English kingdom been founded when 794
upon it swooped the Dane. Kinsman to the Saxon, he
was, like him, in his early estate a sea-rover, a heathen, a
marauder; his raven was the bird of slaughter and
rapine. He had a wild Scandinavian religion of warfare
and destruction, with a paradise of alternate combat
and wassail for the warrior in Odin's hall. His heathen
rage was specially directed against church and monastery.
Christianity, on the other hand, in the absence of a
strong feeling of patriotism, was the bond and rallying
cry of national defence. In this way it made up for any-
thing that it might have done by its asceticism or quietism
to enervate and disarm. Made ubiquitous by his com-
mand of the sea, which the English had now resigned,
[Jouncing where he was least expected, sweeping the


country before the national levies could be got together,
and at last keeping permanent hold upon large districts,

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 1 of 84)