M. (Paul) Rapin de Thoyras.

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no one could change Habitation, without a Teftimonial
from his Tything, for want of which they that received
him were punilhed. By the Laws of King Edward, the
Tything had thirty Days (;) allowed them to fearch for the
Criminal. It he was not to be found, the Tyth'mg-Mait,
taking with him two of his own, and nine of the three
next Tythings (6), thefe twelve purged themfelvea by ( ).<;.',
of the offence and flight of the Malefactor, If they r<
fufed to fwear, the Tything the offender belonged to, was
obliged to make fatisfe£tion in his ftead.

This Court frequently met, as well to decide the Dif-
ferences among the Members of the Tything, as to concert
meafures againft fuch, whole behaviour created a fufpicion
ot their committing lome crime, for which the reft might
be in danger of incurring the Penalty. In this cafe, the
fufpcifted Perfon was obliged to find particular fecurity fur
his good Behaviour, without which he was confined. This
Court was a terror to People of mean Condition, as they
faw they could not commit any offence with impunity.
Before this Order was eftablilhed, the meaner fort of Peo-
ple might eafily fliift their quarters by reafon of their ob-
fcurity, which prevented them from being taken notice
of. But it was impoflible for them to change their Ha-
bitation, after they were obliged to bring a Tcftimonial
from their Tything, to enable them to fettle or be regi-
stered in another.

Thefe ten heads of Families, of whom the Tything con-
fifted, were called Free-Burghs, that is, Free-Pledges,
Burgh fignifying, Surety or Pledge. Hence the word
Neighbour, which originally figniries a near Pledge. In
all appearance Burman, which fignifies a Neighbour a-
mong the Dutch, is derived from the fame fource, I mean,
from the fame cuftom which was obferved in Germany, and
ferved for a model to King Alfred. We find in the Hiltory
of the Cuftoms of China, written in Spanifh by John Gon-
falez de Mendofa, an Augujlin Monk, that the like Cuf-
tom is now in ufc in that Empire. The Iikenefs is fo per-
fect between what is praclifed by the Chinefe and the Anglo-
Saxons, with refpeel to thefe Tythings or mutual Pledges,
that it is wonderful, how two Nations fo remote from each
other, and between whom there was never any communi-
cation, could thus have the fame Thoughts.

The next Court was that of the Hundred. It was held
once a Month, and had for Prefident one of the molt
noted Aldermen of the Hundred. The Bifhopor Arch-
deacon was obliged to lit with him, to determine with the
other Judges, all matters Ecclefiaftical and Civil relating
to the Hundred.

The third Court was that of the Trythings (7), Laths,
or IVapentakes, according to the Name given thefe divi-
fions in the feveral Counties. Here were decided the
Caufes between private Perfons, belonging to different
Hundreds of the fame Trything or Lath. Befides this
Court, each Thane of the firft rank, or Baron, held one
like it, wherein he determined the Controverlies between
his VafTals. From whence the prelent Court-Baron takes
its Original.

But when a Suit commenced between Perfons of dif-
ferent Trythings, it was brought to the County-Court,
called in Saxon, Shire-gemot, or Fclcmote, which was held
twice a year, or oftner, upon occafion. Herein prefidcd

Hilt, dc los
Ritos y
dc la China,
1. 3. c. lo.

Tit Uur.d-ti




Tet Shire-
gemoi ■

(1) There were in England two Sorts of Villains, a 1'illain in Crofs, who was immediately bound to the Peribn ot his Lord, and his Heirs. The other, a
Villain regardant to a Manor , that is, belonging and being annexed to a Manor. There arc not truly any Villains now, though the Law concerning them
rt.inds unrepealed. The SuccetTors of the Bond-Men or Villains are the C^y- holders, who, though Time ha- dealt favourably with them in other reipects,
yet they (till retain one Mark of their original Servitude. For as of old Villains w'ere not reckoned as Members of the Commonwealth, but Part and Parrel
ot their Owner's Subltance, fo were they therefore excluded from any Jliarc in the Lcgiflaturc, and their Succeflbrs ltill continue without any Right to vote
at Elections, by vcrtue of their Copy-holds*

(2) After Lands were appropriated and become Fftates of Inheritance, Ncceffity obliged many People to devife Ways and Means for rrinirtring to the Occafi-
ons, Eafe and PIcafures oi the Rich, to obtain by fuch Services a Maintenance to thcmfelvcs. Heme aroie the Invention and Encouragement of Arts and
Sciences. This laid the Foundation of the many Cities or Burroughs w hieh were formed throughout Europe, which formerly in other Kingdoms, as well as in
England, by being neceilary and ufeful became conlidcrable. St. Amand. p. 132.

(3) The Wapentakes are the feme as the Hundreds, and not as the Laths, or Trythings, as Mr. Raj/in fcems to think here 3nd clfewhcrc. This word i -
ftill in ufc North of the Trent.

(4) By Ten Families we arc not to undcrftand Ten Houfc-keepers, but Ten Lords of Manors, with all their Vaffils, Tenants, Labourers, and Slaves,
who, thoueb they did not all live under their Lord's Roof, were all counted part of his Family. As there were no little Free-holders in thofe early Time-,
nor for long'aftcr. Ten fuch Families muft occupy a large Space of Ground, and might well constitute a rural Tything. In like mamcr the Toton Tythings or
Burroughs conliltcd not of Ten Shop-keepers or Traders, but of Ten Companies or Fraternities, called in Saxon, Guilds: Perhaps fome more eminent than
the rclt might employ great Numbers of Artificers, Hirelings or Slaves j and if we undcrltand by Ten Families, Ten fuch, we may well conceive they con -
ftituted Towns or Burroughs. Every Tything was as it were a little Republick which cxerciled a judicial Power within the Precincts of its own Territories,
and differed from a Shire in nothing but extent of Ground and Number of Inhabitants. For as the Earl prefided in the general Allembly ot every County, lb
there was one cholen annually out of the Ten to prelide in the Tytbing-Court. Thefe Prolidents were called Sapientes, and by theSaxoni, If itan. After the
Conqueit, thefe prcfiding Officers were made for Life, for the fake o( the Normans, who would not otherwife be chofen, and inftcaJ of Wites were called Ba-
rons, and the Ten Manors, or Tything the) prefided over, an Honour or Barony. But the Totitn-Ty things or Burroughs remained on their ancient foot, and
chofe their Prefident yearly. Vide St. Amand. EJfay on Legijlatiie Power of England.

(■) One and Thirty Daj s. (6) That is, of each the chief Tjthing-Man and two others.

{-) The Trything was a thirc\Partof the County, fome Footltcps of which ancient Divifion liill remain in the Riding* tif Tnrkjbire - For Eajl-R:d ng,
Sl'rjt-Rul-.ng, and North-Riding, are manifeft Corruptions of ttafl-Trj/tbing, IVrfl-Trything, and North-Tryrhing.




Vol. I.

the Bifhopand the Earl or Ealdornwn ; but in the abfence
or' the Earl, the High-Sheriff, or ViTcount fupplied his
place. In this Court were regiftred all the Tythings of
the County, with the Name; or" the Members. Ecclefia-
ftical Caufes were tried generally in the firft place ; next
thofc the King was concerned in ; and laftly, fuch as re-
lated to private Perfons. William the Conqueror difpenled
with the Bifliops fitting in this Court, and granted them
the Privilege of holding Courts of their own for the deter-
inining Ecckfiaftical Matters. Appeals lay from the Ty-
thing, Hundred, or Try thing Courts, to the Shir e-ge mot.
Here alfo all Perfons of what rank foever were to take the
Oath of Allegiance to the King.
lb, Kmgs How great foever the Power of this Court was, there
'Cant. was one above it, which they called the Kings-Court, be-

caufe the King himfelf prefided there in perfon, or in his
abfence, the High-Chancellor. In this Court were ex-
amined the Judgments of the inferior Courts ; and it was
apparently this Court that condemned the four and forty
Judges put to death by Alfred's order, as has been related
in his Life. From this Court the Common-Pleas and
King' s-Bcnch derive their Original.
Ti>i ■ Wittc- I come now to the Great Court, or AfTembly General
na-Cemot. f the Kingdom, called in Saxon, IVittena-Gemot, or Myeel
Synod. As there are great difputes about the Exiftence,
Origin, Nature, and Authority of this Affembly General,
it wiH be proper in this place, to fet forth the various Sen-
timents concerning thefe Matters, with the Reafons and
Anfwers of fuch as maintain the contrary Opinions. For
my part, as I am wholly unconcerned in the decifion of
the Queftions formed upon this Subject, I fliall content
my felf with ftating fairly and impartially the reafons al-
ledged on both Sides. To proceed regularly, I fhall divide
this matter into four heads, which will comprize whatever
Jus been faid of moment on this point. Firft, The Ori-
gin of the Wittena-Gemot. Secondly, Who were the
Members of this great Council. Thirdly, Their Autho-
rity, and the Affairs there debated and concluded. Fourth-
ly, Their Power in Ecclefiaftical Matters.

I. The ORIGIN of the Wittena-

HP HERE are who believe, the Wittena-Gemot or


I. Opinion

that tbt A. p ar i\ amalt to be of later date in England than the

W:tteJia- ...

Gemot U Royal Power, and to owe its original to the condefcenfion
vwing to the of the Kings. They pretend, the Sovereign having from
SrJ&r'i^ t ' me t0 l ' me ' fr^ty Summoned the chief Men of the
Nation, to confult with them about important Affairs,
this at laft was turned into Cuftom : That in procefs
of time, the People improving fome favourable Junctures,
claimed, as their Privilege, the right of having a Par-
liament ; though at firft it depended entirely on the
King's Pleafure, whether he would confult it or not.
The main reafon they ground their Affertion upon, is,
that till Edivard the Confeffr, England was hardly ever,
or but for a little while, united into one State. During
the Heptarchy, it was divided into feveral Kingdoms,
which made fo many diftinct States. Of thefe King-
doms, Egbert united but four, whilft the other three re-
mained feparatc. Afterwards, the Danes became Mafters
of Northumberland, Mercia, and Eajl-Anglia, and fhared
the Lands amongft them. So that from the Saxon Con-
queft to the fecond Danijh Invafion, we do not find, Eng-
land was united into one Body, but during the fhort
Reigns of Edwy, Edgar, and Edward the Martyr. How-
ever the Government did not long continue in this pof-
ture. The Danes renewing their ravages in the Reign
of Ethelred II, England was quickly divided into two
Parts, whereof one was fubject to the Danes, the other to
the Englijh. It is true indeed, after the Death of Edmund
honjide, the Kingdom was re-united under Canute the
Great ; but this Union ended with his Reign, and the
Kingdom was once more divided amongft his Sons. In a
Word, it is maintained, that England was never thoroughly
united into one Kingdom till the time of Edward the Con-
fefjor. It is moreover pretended to be (hewn, from the fe-
veral forts of Laws, namely, the IFcfl-Saxon, Mercian,
and Danijh, that this Heytarchial Government is all a
Chimeera, and confequently the prefent Parliament cannot
take its rife from an Aflcmbly-Gcneral of all England,
which never had a being during the dominion of the Saxon

To this it is anfwered, they who talk thus confound
two thines which ought carefully to be diftinguifhed,
namely, the Wittena-Gcmot or particular Parliament of
each of the Kingdoms of the Heptarchy, and that of the
feven Kingdoms together, as making but one Body and

one State. Though this laft never exifted, yet might the
prefent Parliament derive its Original from the other. On
fuppofition that each Kingdom had its own Witttna-Ge-
m-A, thofe of Suffix and IFcffcx became one, when thefe
two Kingdoms were united under Ina. Afterwards, when
Egbert annexed to his own Kingdom thofe of Kent and
Ejfex, the four Kingdoms of Weffex, Suffix, Kent and
Ejfex, made but one State, and confequently liad but one
Parliament. In proportion as this Kingdom was enlarged
by the Conquefts of Alfred the Great, Edivard and Athel-
Jlan, the IFittena-Gemot increased in its Members, and
at length compiifed all England in the Reigns of Eduiy,
Edgar, and Edward the Martyr. Indeed, in the Reign
of Ethelred II, the Wars with the Danes broke in upon
this Regulation, and England was divided into two Parts.
But under Canute the Great the Kingdom was once more
united, and confequently there was but one and the fame
IFittena-Gemot, which was again divided into two, though
but for a Ihort fpace, under Harold and Hardicanute.
In fine, after Harold, by the inteieft ot Earl Goodwin,
was put in pofleihon of the Kingdom of Weffex, there
was but one Wittena-Gemot in all England, till the Nor-
man Conqueft.

To prove therefore that the prefent Parliament derives Proofs fir*
not its Origin from the Wittena-Gcmot of the Saxons, Wittem-^
either the time muft be affigncd when Parliaments firft eac b zi„p
began after the Conqueft, or it muft be denied, there **•
was ever any fuch thing as a Wittena-Gemot in each of
the feven Kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The former of
thefe is hardly poffible, unlefs bare Conjectures are al-
lowed inftead of folid Arguments. As for the latter, the
Affertors of the antiquity of Parliaments produce, againft
fuch as deny the being of the Saxon Wutcna-gemot, feve-
ral proofs which they look upon as demonftrative. The
firft is taken from the Title of the Laws of Ina King
of Weffex, wherein are thefe Words : /Ina., by the Grace
of God, King of the Weft-Saxons, with the Advice of
Cenred, my Father, Hedda, my Bijhop, with all my Eal-
dormen, Seniors, and wife Men of my Nation, willing t»
efiablijh good order in the State, have ordained, &c. Hence
it is plain, that Ina in making his Laws had the advice
of the Aflembly-General of Weffex. That the fame me-
thod was cftablifhed in Mercia, is fhewn from Bertulph'%
Charter, to the Abbey of Croyland, wherein are thefe
Words, with the unanimous Confent of the prefent Council
effembled at Kingsbury, to debate on the Affairs of the Na-

In this Charter, after the Bifliops and Lords had fet
their Hands, the King fubferibed in this Manner : /
Bertulph, in tin Prcjenec of all the Bijhops and great Men
of my Kingdom. This is a clear evidence that the Charter
was granted in the Aflembly-General or Wittena-Gemot
of Mercia. The fame might be fhewn, with regard to
each of the other Kingdoms ; but, fay they, the Cafe is
fo evident, as not to admit of difpute.

They pretend likewife to prove, there was a general Tbt Prnfi
Wittena-Gemot of the (even Kingdoms, from the very c f a S"" r ' 1

•wr >V it tens-

name of Heptarchy, which implies that the feven King- Gemot of
doms had fomething in common, and confequently, there tie frum
was an Affembly, where their common Affairs were con- K'^"" 1 '
fidered. For inftance, how could the Monarchs or Ge-
nerals for the feven Kingdoms be elected, if there was not
an Affembly for that purpofe ? Moreover, they pretend to
have more direct proofs, of the holding from time to time
fuch Affemblies for the common affairs of the feven King-
doms. Several Hiftorians affure us, there was a general
Aflembly held in Gkucejlerjhire, where Ina King of Wef-
fex was chofen Monarch of the Anglo-Saxons, by the In-
tereft of Sebba King of Ejfex, who was prefent with all
the other Kings. They produce alfo from Ingulphus,
Witglaph King of Mercia's Charter, where are thefe
Words : In the Prefence of Egbert King of the Weft-Sax-
ons, of Ethel wulph his Son, and cf tin Bijhops and great
Lords of England, affembled at London. Hence it is
plain, this Affembly convened at London, and compofed
of all the Bifhops and great Men of England, was a ge-
neral Wittena-Gemot of the Nation.

In anfwer to the objection taken from the diverfity of 77,, ,*„/-«,«.
the Laws then in England, it is faid, It is not at all ftrange, • the 6b-
that Mercia and Weffex, being two diftind States, fhould {f '%£%[.
have different Laws; much lefs, that the Danes fhould t y of tbt
eftablifh their own Laws in their Conquefts ( 1 ). But it is Lav »-
maintained, it cannot be reafonably inferred, from this Di-
verfity, that there was no fuch thing as a IF ittena-Gcmot
in each Kingdom, or a general one for all the Seven.
This Inference would be as abfurd, as if a Man, from the
different Laws and Cuftoms in the United Provinces of
the Low-Countries, fhould conclude there was neither a
Convention of the States in each Province, nor an Affem-
bly of the States-General.

(1) See Note in rhe Rtign of Canute tbt Grt.n concerning this threefold Diftinftion of the Lav


A DiiTertation on the Government of the Anglo-Saxons*

To Strengthen all thcfc Proofs, moreover is urged the Rights and Liberties, and preventing their being opprc

r -°- .1.:.. _..r....jci L... » £".,„/.,„ J. ,., A fl„. «,k,.r k,, ,k,. I l r ,..,* >-!•: 11 i .i..^ i#.. <-„ -V.


Conformity in this refpect between England and the Other
European Kingdoms. The Saxons had the like Affemblies
in Germany ; the Ojlrogoths, and after them, the Lombards
i n Italy :Thc Francs had thei r Fields of Mars or c>( May ( I ),
their Sancs, their Parliaments, ami the Spaniards, their

This Conformity plainly fhews, there was no other form
of Government then in Europe. It is further added, that
to deny with any foundation thefe Affemblies to be as an-
cient as kingly Power, it muft be fhown who are the So-
vereigns that firft eftablifhed them in each Kingdom. But
how came it to pafs, that all the Kings in Europe fhould
agree together at the fame time, to become fo very gra-
cious and condefcending to their Subjects ? There is doubt-
lefs more reafon to fuppofe they would have all joined
in abolifhing, rather than in granting a Privilege of this

of the Wittena-Gemot.


jfnfwer ta
Ibtjirft Ar-
gument %

by the Great. 'Tis well known that Men, especially the
Great, arc not wont to labour fo heartily to leflen their
Power, but rather endeavour to incrcafe their Autho-
rity as much as poffible.

But as this point, being a matter of Faft and not of
Right, can't be decided by bare Reafoningsj both Parties
endeavour to fupport their Opinions with more fuitable
Proofs, namely, Authorities. To this end, each Side lays
great ftrefs upon certain Terms in the Charters of the
Anglo-Saxon Kings, and upon certain Expreflions in the
Hiftorians who (peak of the Government of thole days
'Twill be neceflary therefore to produce fome of thefe
Proofs, for the Reader's better underftanding the Queftion*.
and to enable him the better to judge of the Reafons al-
ledged on both Sides. I fhall begin with what is urged
againft the Commons, or their Representatives, being
Members of the General AlTcmbly.

In the firft place it is faid, the very name of Wittena-

. n . j Gemot plainly implies, that the great Council confifted only

If. The ConJtttUent Parti Or Members of fuch as were (tiled Witten. Now 'tis pretended, the

precife meaning of that Word is Major es Natu, S.ui.rcs,
Ealdormen, by which arc underftood only the K.irls and
Barons, or in the Language of the Saxons, the Ealdormen
and King's Thanes, Spiritual and Temporal. Tomakethis
appear, a Paffagc is cited out of Bed/s Ecclefiaftical Hii-
tory as tranflated by King Alfred. Bede fays, King Of-
ivald applied to the Majorts Natu of Scotland for a
Biffiop ; and Alfred has rendered the Terms, Majores Natu
by Ealdormen. The fame Hiftorian faying in the fame P. j., l. ;<
place, that Ojwald made ufe of Suis Ducilus cjf Mir.ij- «■ y
tris for Interpreters, Alfred has tranflated thefe Words
by, his Ealdormen and Thanes. Hence it is inferred, that
the Term IVittan is to be underftood only of Ealdormen
and Barons, or in general, of the chief Men of the Na-
tion. And accordingly it is concluded, the 11 ittena-Gt mo;,
or Affembly of wife Men, confifted only of fuch. This
Explanation of the Word IVittan is farther confirmed, by
the Hiftorians rendering it in Latin by Principes, Optimates,
Proceres, Magnates, Duces, Comites, Prapoftti, Min'jlri
Regis, Nobiles, AHlites, which can by no means be undcr-
ftood of the People, or their Reprefenratives.

They who are of the contrary Opinion, alledge, in their A :..m
turn, the fame Authorities to prove the greater Mobility '''"■''
were not alone Summoned to the national Council. They
pretend, thefe very Expreflions, on which their Adver-
saries ground their Opinion, arc not to be fo reftrained to
the Nobility, as to he unapplicable to the Magi ftraU'i and
chief Men among the People. To prove what they ad-
vance, they cite numberlefs PafTages from the Latin Au-
thors, where the Words Principes, Nobiles, Millies, are to
be taken in that Senfe.

To this the others reply, the Word Pc;ple may be un- Kefh - ■'.'<<
dcrflood in two different Senfes ; firft, as it Signifies a Na- ! ''J L
tion in general, in which fenfc thev own that by Magna-
tes, Proceres, Nobiles, &c. may be meant the chief Men
of the People, or of the whole Nation. The ether fenfc
of the Word People is more reftrained, ai.d Signifies only a
part of the People, as feparate or different from the No-
bility, as when one fays, the Nobles and People. This is
the meaning in queftion, to which it fhould be proved that
the cited Paffages can be applied. Now this is what they
think impoffible, affirming, there is no fuch thing to be
met with in the Latin Authors, as Optimates PI, ins, but
always Populi, that is, of the People in general. But fup-
pofing it were true, that thefe Expreflions did fometimes
denote the chief Men among the People, as diftinguifhed
from the Nobles, it would llill remain to prove, that, in
the alledged Paffages, the Word People muft be taken in
that Senfe, unlefs the very thing in difputc be fuppofed.

But to this the Alienors of the Rights of the Commons
anfwer, Thev readily agree thefe Expreflions are princi-
pally to be underftood of Nohle Pcrfons ; but affirm with-
al, their meaning is not to be confined to the Nobles of the
firft rank. They fay, that although in England, the
greater Nobilitv, or Peers of the Realm, are a eliftitict Ol-
der from the leffer, who are rank'd with the Common',
it does not follow that the Latin Terms are to be expl lin'd
by a diflinction uo where elfe to be found. For inftar.cei
in France, the lowcit Gentilhomme belongs as much to the
Nobility, as the higheft Lord ; the greater and leffcr No-
bility making but one and the fame Body.

It is a fad" thing to fee an Inquiry oi this Nrture re-
duced to a Grammatical Difpute. But line- I have un-
dertaken to relate the Arguments of both Sides, I thought
my felf obliged not to pais over in filence thofe taken from
the fore- mentioned Terms. However, in what lias been
faid, the one fide feems to me plainly to prove that the

; L L agree, the greater Nobility were Members of the
Wittena-Gemot; By the greater Nobility I mean the
Ealdormen and Thanes of the tirft Rank, afterwards ftil'd
Earls and Barons. But the difficulty is to know, whether
the Thanes of the fecond and third Clafs, and the Ceorles,
of whom the Houfe of Commons at prefent confifts, had
a Right to fit there by their Reprefenratives or not. Tho'
this Inquiry feems to be of little moment, at a time when
the Commons inconteftably enjoy this Privilege, yet it is
not entirely needlefs to know, whether they ufurp'd it ;
whether it was given them by the conceffion of the Kings ;
or whether it is of the fame Handing with the Monarchy.
How undeniable foever the Right of the Commons maybe
at prefent, there are fome who are perfuaded 'twould be of
dangerous confequence to acknowledge it to flow from the
Condefcenfion of the Sovereigns, left the fame Power that
is fuppofed to have granted it, fhould think of revoking it
when a favorable opportunity offered (2). And indeed this
is the true motive of all the attempts to prove, the Com-
mons have not been all along in pofTeffion of this Privi-
lege. 'Tis but too apparent, this queftion has been Started
only to gratify fuch of the Kings as have endeavoured to
Stretch the Royal Prerogative beyond its due bounds.
Firft Ar^u- Be this as it will, they who maintain the Commons
met ag*i7,/l had no right to fit in the JVittena-Gcmot, in the time of the
tb ' Cmm ""- Saxon Kings, alledge for their firft reafon, that the under

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