Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

soldiers, or other persons, upon private houses, unless by the free consent of the owners. Of what advantage it is to be exempted from this burthen, any one may judge, from his own imagination of the inconveniences of them. In the.two first reigns after the conquest, it seems to have been the practice to give free quarter in private houses, against the will of the owner : we hear of it again in the times of Edward III. and Henry IV. and in the reign of Charles I. this quartering of soldiers was not only practised, but that in such a degree, that the house of Com. mons complained loudly of it to the king (f); “ that in apparent violation of the ancient and undoubted right of all your majesty's loyal subjects in this your kingdom in general, and to the grievous and insupportable detriment of many countries and persons in particular, a 'new and almost unheard-of way hath been invented, and put in practice, to lay soldiers upon them, scattered in companies here and there, even in the heart and bowels of the kingdom, and to compell many of your majesty's subjects to receive and lodge them in their own houses, and both themselves and others to contribute to their maintenance; to the exceeding great detriment of your majesty, the general terror of all, and the utter undoing of many of your people (8).”

Left it might be imagined that this was permitted only 'amidst the confusion of civil war, or practised upon such as were enemies to the royal cause, our Author judiciously adds a quotation from the same historian, relating what happened only in the second year of that unfortunate prince.

". The soldiers broke out into great disorders, they mastered the people, disturbed the peace of families, and the civil government of the land: there were frequent robberies, burglaries, rapes, rapines, murders, and barbarous crueltics. And unto such places, as did not tamely submit to the counsellors of this prince, (though there was very little opposition to the measures of the court at that time) the soldiers were sent for a punishment; and wherever they came there was a general outcry : the highways were dangerous, and the markets unfrequented.”

But in opposition to these practices, the commons in parliament affirmed, that every subject in this kingdom had a full property in his goods; and in the petition of right, they demand it as their known freedom, to have the soldiers and mariners quartered upon any private persons, contrary to their consent, withdrawn, to which the king answered, Svit droit comme il eft defire. -By a clause in an act of parliament, 31 Charles II. it is declared and enacted, that no officer, civil or military, nor other person whatsoever, should from thenceforth presume to place, quarter or billet any foldier or foldiers, upon any subject or inhabitant

v Rushw. Vol. I. p. 548. (5) Id. Vol. II. p. 424. REV. March 1766.

of this realm, of what degree, quality, or profession soever, without his consent. And the quartering which is now allowed, upon public houses, victuallers and the like, is only by virtue of a clause in the niutiny act, which is made every year, and expires at the end of it; so that it is entirely at the will of the parliament whether this power shall be continued in the crown or not: and in all the mutiny acts, provision is made, that the provifiors given to the soldiers or their horses, so quartered, shall be paid for duly at the settled rates. In a word, there is at present no way left for the crown to raise money upon any of the Lubjects, except by consent of parliament.'

Thus was our happy constitution gradually improved ; one provision being made after another, as the circumstances of things roquired, and permitted, until it was carried to that state of inaturity in which we have so long enjoyed it: a conftitution, justly admired by sensible and thinking men of every nation under heaven; and though perhaps not in all respects abfolutely perfect, yet, when adininistered with justice and fidelity, well adapted to enlarge the wealth, extend the power, secure the property, and maintain the freedom and independency of our people.

We could with pleasure follow our Author through the remaining part of this tract, wherein he speaks of the times appointed for the meetings of parliament, its privileges, the order and effect of its proceedings, the peculiar powers of the house of commons as to raising of money and levying taxes upon the people, the nature of pasliamentary representation, the unequal manner in which the subjects of England are represented, and the means used to obviate that and other inconveniencies; but this would extend the present article beyond the limits we have assigned it, having several curious and interesting fubje&ts before us in the remaining part of this work, with which our Readers will be glad to be acquainted.

In his third tract, our learned Writer considers the means by which the free constitutions of other nations have been impaired, while that of England has been preserved and improved ; and he apprehends that the divisions and animosities, which sublisted between the nobility and commonalty, were the chief cause why several Europeau nations lost their liberty. This he illustrates from the histories of France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. It will, however, be more interesting to the generality of our Readering to see in what manner he accounts for the prefervation of the liberties of this country, whose conftitution was likewil of a Gothic model, but in a great measure avoided those animofities, lo faral to many neighbouring nations. He begins with obferving, . That the commons of England, from the most early times, have had more freedom and wcalth, and conke

quently quently more interest in the government, than the commonalty; or third estate, in

any

other of the countries we have mentioned. For, from the first institution of the Saxon government, the Saxon ceorles, i. e. those of the lower rank of people, who were employed in husvandry, were by law secured, in their own perfons and in those of their wives, from injuries and affronts. The quantity of rent they were to pay for their lands, which they farmed, was ascertained by law.-If they paid their rents duly, they could not be turned out of their farms(). The Jower freeholders, or freemen, were bound indeed to be security for each other in their several tythings ; and some of them were under the protection of earls or other great men; but these engagements were owing merely to the unsettled condition of those times, when there was hardly any security to be had except by force. They did not abate of their freedom in point of law. Á ceorle, or freeholder, might be as free as the greatest thane; nay, he might come to be a thane himself, if he could but get wealth enough. By a law made in the reign of Athelstan, it was provided, that, Si villinus excrevisset ut haberet plenarié quinque hydas terræ fuæ propriæ, ecclefiam, et ccquinam, tympanarium, et januam, et Jedem, et sunder notam in aula regis, deinceps thani lege dignus fit. The same law says, that if a thane increased proportionably, he might come to be an ear!. Juste etiam-nos sapientes diximus, quod Dei providentia feruus fit thanus et colonus comes. — The freeholders, in their county-courts, generally chose their sheriffs and coroners. And the inhabitants of burghs and cities were upon a still more advantageous footing than the ceorles.

· The trade of England, in those times, was not quite so inconsiderable as some writers have represented it. On the contrary, it appears by several good proofs, that there was trade fufficient to enrich and make distinguished the cities that had it. Tacitus speaking of London, mentions it as copia negotiatorum et comnieatrum maxime celebre :-in the same inanner William of Malmsbury speaks of Exeter, in somewhat latter times indeed. The author of Gefi. Gul. Cong. apud Duchesne, speaking of the Conqueror's returning the first time to Normandy, says, Attulit quantum ex ditione trium Galliarum vix colligeretur argentum atque aurum : chari metalli abundantiâ multipliciter Gallias terra illa (1.P. Anglia) vincit. The city of London was so considerable, in the Danish times, as to pay 11,000l. as their proportion of 70,cool. imposed as a tax upon the whole nation; and its citizens were anciently called barons.

All these circumstances of advantage were accompanied with 2 very high and free spirit, in our lower and middling kind of people, beyond those of other countries. The Kentihmen, in

(1) L'833. Will. Conq. Edit. Wilkins,

the time of William the Conqueror, say, that they were boro freemen : that the name of bondage was never heard of among them. Their leaders therefore exhorted them manfully to fighs for the laws and liberties of their country ; chusing rather to lose an unhappy life by fighting valiantly for them in the field. It is not certainly known what share the commons had in the legidature, nor by whom it was 'managed; but there are sufficient grounds to believe they had some share : and what the spirit of the times was, appears pretty plainly from the obtaining magna charta in the reign of king John, and contrary to the repeated resolutions of that prince: a charter, such as was never granted at once to any nation in Europe, in those, or in modern times: fuch a one as secured them against all the grievances they complained of. And in obtaining it, the nobility and commonalry àcted so much in concert, that there was no less provision made for the privileges of citizens and burgesses, than for the nobility and gentry.”

Our Autbor goes on to observe, that the Englifh commonalty were upon better terms with the nobility than in most other nations; and that the power which the nobles loft, generally fell into the hands of the people: indeed there was a claufe in the great charter which helped to preserve and increase this good understanding. This was the provision, that the greater barons should have their several diftinct writs to parliament; whereas the lesser barons were only to be called by a general fummons. The consequence of this was; that the lesser barons, by degrees, discontinued their attendance ia parliament; and and from being of the body of the nobility, they naturally fell into the body of the commonalty, by which they augmented the weight and dignity of that body, and engaged the nobility to have much greater regard for them, and the conservation of their liberties, than probably they otherwise might have had : and we fee all along that there was a proportionable regard had to the privileges and happiness of the commons, as well as to the nobleffe.' Some persons have thought, that before Henry the Seventh's time, the common in parliament were quite governed by the house of lords; but the contrary is very evident from many instances: they were not only of high spirit originally, but being increased, by having great numbers of the ancient gentry fall into shem, and make one body, came to have great weight in parliament, and in the balance of the conftitution. The nobility neither could, nor were they fo much disposed to oppress them, as they would otherwise have been. They were, on the contrary, willing to have their asistance at all times against the crown; and the commons, on their side, were at all times willing to give it, and to act heartily in concert with the nobility in favour of liberty : and yet in other respects they were not much under their influence ; on the contrary, their representatives often opposed the house of Lords in points of importance. Of this our Author gives several remarkable instances much to the purpose, "from which it appears, that the commons had a remarkable spirit of liberty, and a good deal of weight in the bar Jance of the constitution, even before the civil wars between the houses of York and Lancaster.

much party

• In the course of those wars, the power of the nobility was very much weakened, by the extinction or ruin' of many of the chief families. The nobility was still much more weakened in the reign of Henry VII, by the acts of parliament then, made, giving them liberty to alienate so much of the estates of those that remained. In the mean time the power of the commons was increasing, so that in Henry the Eighth's time, they were grown, in some measure, able to act that part of supporting the liberties of the nation against the attempts of the crown, which the nobility had hitherto done, but were hardly capable of doing any longer effectually,

The reign of Henry VIII. was indeed the greatest crisis, with regard to the preservation of our liberties, that ever happened to this nation. That prince had great advantages and means to wards making the crown absolute; but, happily for the nation, being governed by his passions, especially his vanity and self-sufo ficiency, he imagined that his successors might govern as he had done ; but never took any measures that might enable them to do it: on the contrary, he took measures, which, in the natural course of things, must prevent them from doing it. He dine pated the church lands among his courtiers, some of whom were commoners, by absolute gift, without reserving any confiderable quit-rents or payments to the crown. He gave way to the clergy's being brought upon a very low foot, even with those iands that were left to them; because he caused several laws to be made to their disadvantage; and it is most probable, he was the means of hindering ihe inferior clergy from being received into the house of commons, as a part of the legislature. At the same time, trade beginning to increase very much, after the dism covery of both the Indies, and the wealth arising from thence coming chiefly among the commons; and the eftates of the nobility having been made alienable, many of their estates, and those of the church, came, in no long time, into the hands of the commons, whose power and dependencies, as well as theit spirits, were thereby much exalted.

. Upon the death of Henry VIII, the protector in the reign of Edward VI. took the part of the people against the nobleste, and gave way to the repealing the act which gave the force of law to the proclamations of the crown; and to the making some others not yery favourable to the prerogative. The prefbyterian 03

« ZurückWeiter »