Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

society in a rigid discipline, made of the Saxon the Englishman we see in our own day.

Gradually and slowly, through the gloomy complainings of the chroniclers, we find the new man fashioned by action, like a child who cries because a steel instrument, though it improves his figure, gives him pain. However reduced and downtrodden the Saxons were, they did not all sink into the populace. Some, almost in every county, remained lords of their estates, if they would do homage for them to the king. A great number became vassals of Norman barons, and remained proprietors on this condition. A greater number became socagers, that is, free proprietors, burdened with a tax, but possessed of the right of alienating their property; and the Saxon villeins found patrons in these, as the plebs formerly did in the Italian nobles who were transplanted to Rome. It was an effectual patronage, that of the Saxons who preserved their integral position, for they were not isolated : marriages from the first united the two races, as it had the patricians and plebeians of Rome;' a Norman, brother-in-law to a Saxon, defended himself in defending him. In those troublesome times, and in an armed community, relatives and allies were obliged to stand close to one another for security. After all, it was necessary for the new-comers to consider their subjects, for these subjects had the heart and courage of a man : the Saxons, like the plebeians at Rome, remembered their native rank and their original independence. We can recognise it in the complaints and indignation of the chroniclers, in the growling and menaces of popular revolt, in the long bitterness with which they continually recalled their ancient liberty, in the favour with which they cherished the daring and rebellion of the outlaws. There were Saxon families at the end of the twelfth century, who had bound themselves by a perpetual vow, to wear long beards from father to son, in memory of the national custom and of the old country. Such men, even though fallen to the condition of socagers, even sunk into villeins, had a stiffer neck than the wretched colonists of the Continent, trodden down and moulded by four centuries of Roman taxation. By their feelings as by their condition, they were the broken remains, but also the living elements, of a free people. They did not suffer the limits of oppression. They constitute the body of the nation, the laborious, courageous body which supplied its energy. The great barons felt that they must rely upon them in their resistance to the king. Very soon, in stipulating for themselves, they stipulated for all freemen,' even for the merchants and villeins. Thereafter

1 Domesday Book, tenants-in-chief.'

9 Pict. Hist. i. 666. According to Ailred (temp. Hen. II.), 'a king, many bishops and abbots, many great earls and noble knights, descended both from English and Norman blood, constituted a support to the one and an honour to the other.' 'At present,' says another author of the same period, 'as the English and Normans dwell together, and have constantly intermarried, the two nations are so completely mingled together, that, at least as regards freemen, one can scarcely distinguish who is Norman, and who English. ... The villeins attached to the soil,' he says again, are alone of pure Saxon blood.'

No merchant shall be dispossessed of his merchandise, no villein of the instru. ments of his labour ; no freeman, merchant, or villein shall be taxed unreasonably for a small crime; no freeman shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or 'disseised of his land, or outlawed, or destroyed in any manner, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.

The red-bearded Saxon, with his clear complexion and great white teeth, came and sate by the Norman's side; these were franklins like the one whom Chaucer describes :

A Frankelein was in this compagnie ;
White was his berd, as is the dayesie.
Of his complexion he was sanguin,
Wel loved he by the morwe a sop in win.
To liven in delit was ever his wone,
For he was Epicures owen sone,
That held opinion that plein delit
Was veraily felicite parfite.
An housholder, and that a grete was he,
Seint Julian he was in his contree.
His brede, his ale, was alway after on;
A better envyned man was no wher non.
Withouten bake mete never was his hous,
Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous,
It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke,
Of all deintees that men coud of thinke;
After the sondry sesons of the yere,
So changed he his mete and his soupere.
Ful many a fat partrich had he in mewe,
And many a breme, and many a luce in stewe.
Wo was his coke but if his sauce were
Poinant and sharpe, and redy all his gere.
His table, dormant in his halle alway
Stode redy covered alle the longe day.
At sessions ther was he lord and sire.
Ful often time he was knight of the shire.
An anelace and a gipciere all of silk,
Heng at his girdel, white as morwe milk.
A shereve hadde he ben, and a contour.

Was no wher swiche a worthy vavasour.'' With him occasionally in the assembly, oftenest among the audience, were the yeomen, farmers, foresters, tradesmen, his fellow-countrymen, muscular and resolute men, not slow in the defence of their property, and in the support, with voice, blows, and weapons, of him who would

1 Magna Charta, 1215.

· Chaucer's Works, ed. Sir H. Nicholas, 6 vols., 1845, Prologue to the Canter. bury Tales, ii. p. 11, v. 333.

take their cause in hand. Is it likely that the discontent of such men could be overlooked ?

• The Miller was a stout carl for the nones,
Ful bigge he was of braun, and eke of bones;
That proved wel, for over all ther he came,
At wrastling he wold bere away the ram.
He was short shuldered brode, a thikke gnarre,
Ther n'as no dore, that he n'olde heve of barre,
Or breke it at a renning with his hede.
His berd as any sowe or fox was rede,
And therto brode, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade
A wert, and theron stode a tufte of heres,
Rede as the bristles of a sowes eres :
His nose-thirles blacke were and wide.
A swerd and bokeler bare he by his side.
His mouth as wide was as a forneis,
He was a jangler and a goliardeis,
And that was most of sinne, and harlotries.
Wel coude he stelen corne and tollen thries.
And yet he had a thomb of gold parde.
A white cote and a blew hode wered he.
A baggepipe wel coude he blowe and soune,

And therwithall he brought us out of toune.'' Those are the athletic forms, the square build, the jolly John Bulls of the period, such as we yet find them, nourished by meat and porter, sustained by bodily exercise and boxing. These are the men we must keep before us, if we will understand how political liberty has been established in the country. Gradually they find the simple knights, their colleagues in the county court, too poor to assist with the great barons at the röyal assemblies, coalescing with them. They become united by community of interests, by similarity of manners, by nearness of condition; they take them for their representatives, they elect them. They have now entered upon public life, and the advent of a new reinforcement, gives them a perpetual standing in their changed condition. The towns laid waste by the Conquest are gradually repeopled. They obtain or exact charters; the townsmen buy themselves out of the arbitrary taxes that were imposed on them; they get possession of the land on which their houses are built ; they unite themselves under mayors and aldermen. Each town now, within the meshes of the great feudal net, is a power. Leicester, rebelling against the king, summons two burgesses from each town to Parliament, to authorise and support him. Thenceforth the conquered race, both in country and town, has

1 Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, ii. p. 17, v. 547.

? From 1214, and also in 1225 and 1254. Guizot, Origin of the Representative System in England, pp. 297-299.*:

3 In 1264.

risen to political life. If they are taxed, it is with their consent; they pay nothing which they do not agree to. Early in the fourteenth century their united deputies compose the House of Commons; and already, at the close of the preceding century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in the name of the king, said to the pope, . It is the custom of the kingdom of England, that in all affairs relating to the state of this kingdom, the advice of all who are interested in them should be taken.'

VII. If they have acquired liberties, it is because they have conquered them ; circumstances have assisted, but character has done more. The protection of the great barons and the alliance of the plain knights have strengthened them; but it was by their native roughness and energy that they maintained their independence. For, look at the contrast they offer at this moment to their neighbours. What occupies the mind of the French people? The fabliaux, the naughty tricks of Renard, the art of deceiving Master Ysengrin, of stealing his wife, of cheating him out of his dinner, of getting him beaten by a third party without danger to one's self; in short, the triumph of poverty and cleverness over power united to folly. The popular hero is already the artful plebeian, chaffing, light-hearted, who, later on, will ripen into Panurge and Figaro, not apt to withstand you to your face, too sharp to care for great victories and habits of strife, inclined by the nimbleness of his wit to dodge round an obstacle; if he but touch a man with the tip of his finger, that man tumbles into the trap. But here we have other customs: it is Robin Hood, a valiant outlaw, living free and bold in the green forest, waging frank and open war against sheriff and law.? If ever a man was popular in his country, it was he. It is he,' says an old historian, whom the common people love so dearly to celebrate in games and comedies, and whose history, sung by fiddlers, interests them more than any other. In the sixteenth century he still had his commemoration day, observed by all the people in the small towns and in the country. Bishop Latimer, making his pastoral tour, announced one day that he would preach in a certain place. On the morrow, proceeding to the church, he found the doors closed, and waited more than an hour before they brought him the key. At last a man came and said to him, 'Syr, thys ys a busye day with us; we cannot heare you: it is Robyn Hoodes Daye. The parishe are gone abrode to gather for Robyn Hoode. . . . I was fayne there to geve place to Robyn Hoode.'? The bishop was obliged to divest himself of his ecclesiastical garments and proceed on his journey, leaving his place to archers dressed in green, who played on a rustic stage the parts of Robin Hood, Little John, and their band. In fact, he is the national hero. Saxon in the first place, and waging war against the men of law, against hishops and archbishops, whose sway was so heavy; generous, moreover, giving to a poor ruined knight clothes, horse, and money to buy back the land he had pledged to a rapacious abbot; compassionate too, and kind to the poor, enjoining his men not to injure yeomen and labourers; but before all rash, bold, proud, who would go and draw his bow under the sheriff's eyes and to his face; ready with blows, whether to receive or to return them. He slew fourteen out of fifteen foresters who came to arrest him; he slays the sheriff, the judge, the town gatekeeper; he is ready to slay plenty more; and all this joyously, jovially, like an honest fellow who eats well, has a hard skin, lives in the open air, and revels in animal life.

1 Aug. Thierry, iv. 56. Ritson's Robin Hood, 1832. 2 Latimer's Sermons, ed. Arber, 6th Sermon, 1869, p. 173.

'In somer when the shawes be sheyne,

And leves be large and long,
Hit is fulle mery in feyre foreste

To here the foulys song.' That is how many ballads begin; and the fine weather, which makes the stags and oxen rush headlong with extended horns, inspires them with the thought of exchanging blows with sword or stick. Robin dreamed that two yeomen were thrashing him, and he wants to go and find them, angrily repulsing Little John, who offers to go in advance:

*Ah John, by me thou settest noe store,

And that I farley finde :
How offt send I my men before,

And tarry myselfe behinde?
•It is no cunning a knave to ken,

An a man but heare him speake;
An it were not for bursting of my bowe,

John, I thy head wold breake.”! ...
He goes alone, and meets the robust yeoman, Guy of Gisborne:

“He that had neyther beene kythe nor kin,

Might have seen a full fayre fight,
To see how together these yeomen went
With blades both browne and bright,

Two howres of a summer's day ;
Yett neither Robin Hood nor sir Guy

Them fettled to flye away.' You see Guy the yeoman is as brave as Robin Hood; he came to seek him in the wood, and drew the bow almost as well as he. This old popular poetry is not the praise of a single bandit, but of an entire class, the yeomanry. "God haffe mersey on Robin Hodys solle, and saffe all god yemanry. That is how many ballads end. The strong

1 Ritson, Robin Hood Ballads, i. iv. v. 41-48.

9 Ibid. v. 145-152.

« ElőzőTovább »