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descended, and in what manner, and upon what grounds, the natural course of the descent hath been changed, they will be ena. bled to judge what has been the the opinion of all ages, in this so controverted a point, and thereby may safely direct their own.
Nothing certain has come down to us, of the nature of the governa ment of this island, before the Romans came thither; only this we learn from Cæsar *, and Strabo +, and Tacitus +, that the Britons were subject to many Princes and States, not confederate, nor con. sulting in common, but always suspecting, and frequently warring with one another.
During the Heptarchy, whilst every kingdom was governed by different laws, we cannot think they agreed in one rule of succession. But, if that does not, I am sure, the reading the many changes and con. fusions of those times must convince any man, that their rule was una certain, or else that they had no rule at all.
Those seven kingdoms were at last united under Egbert: but yet our historians, who lived nearest those times, expressed themselves so odly in this matter, and do so constantly mention the election of almost every king, before they tell us of his coronation, that some learned men have doubted, whether, before the conquest, the go. vernment of this island was ever grown up into a settled hereditary monarchy. Surely, if it were so, yet all must agree, that then the guccession was not guided by the same rules, as some men believe, or pretend, it ought now to be. Egbert himself, the first English mo. narch, came to the crown, not by succession, but election, being no way related to Brissicus, the last of the West-Saxon kings; and, when he died, he gave the kingdoms of Kent and Essex to his second son. Ethelwolf divided the whole island between his two sons, Ethelbald and Ethelbert. Athelstan (though a bastard) succeeded his father, and was preferred to his legitimate brothers. Edred, the younger brother of king Edmund, was advanced to the throne, though the deceased prince had two sons, Edwin and Edgar, who did both of them reign afterward successively. Edgar left a son at his death; but yet there happened a mighty contest about his suc. cessor, some of the great men contending for the election of Ethelred, his brother. But,at last, the interest of Edward, the son, prevailed, and he was, in full assembly, elected, consecrated, and anointed king. That which Ailredus, Abbot of Rievallis, in his life of Ed. ward the Confessor, gives an account of, seems very remarkable to our purpose. King Ethelred (who was no tame and easy prince) desirous to establish his successor in his life time, summoned a great council, expresly for that purpose, and proposes the thing to them. The council were divided, some of them appearing for Edmund, his
and some for Alfred, his second son, by Queen Emma. But, at last, upon some superstitious fancy, they agreed to pass by both of them, and elected the infant that was in the queen's womb. To which election, the king gave his royal assent, and the whole as.
Cæs. de Bell, Gall. lib. 5.
† Strab. lib. 4.
Tacitus in Vita Jul. Agricolæ.
sembly swore fealty to the child, whilst yet unborn. Undoubtedly, this story makes it plain, that it was not enough at that time to intitle one to the crown, that he was the king's eldest son: for then Ethelred would never have suffered a debate about the election of a successor, nor summoned a parliament expresly for that purpose, which you see he thought necessary to be done. And, notwithstanding all his care, it seems, upon the death of Ethelred, Canutus had sa great an interest, that by an unanimous consent, in a full council, he was elected king, and all the issue of the last prince rejected. It is true, the Londoners stood firm to Edmund Ironside (the ap. probation of that renowned city had then no little influence on the succession) and there were divers battles fought between them: but, at last, they came to an agreement, and Edmund dying, the Dane ruled the whole island peaceably whilst he lived.
Immediately, upon the death of Canutus, there was assembled, at Oxford, a great council, to determine who ought to succeed; where, notwithstanding all the interest which Godwin, Earl of Kent, and the West-Saxon great men, could make on the behalf of Hardicanute, the legitimate son of the dead king, they were over voted, and Harold Harefoot (his bastard, begotten on Ailena, or Elgiva) was elected, Harold died in the fifth year of his reign, and then the people were content to accept of Hardicanute for their king, and, to that end, sent for him out of Flanders; but he dying issueless, it was ordained in a general council, that never any Dane should, for the future, be ad. mitted to reign in England. After which, they proceeded to elect Alfred, the son of Ethelred and, he being murdered by the treachery of Earl Godwin, they chose his brother Edward, commonly called Edward the Confessor. Nor were these elections of theirs made with any respect to nearness of blood, more than those whereof we have heard before; for Edmund Ironside, their elder brother, had a son then alive, whose name was Edward, and who was father to Edgar Atheling, living also at the same time. And though this Edward had an undoubted title to the crown, if proximity of blood could have given it, yet the Confessor was so far from suspecting any danger from such a title, as that he invited his nephew into England, and welcomed him, when he came, with the greatest expressions of joy, and entertained him with the greatest confidence. Nor had the people any regard to this royal blood upon the death of the Confessor, but elected Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, who had no pretence of kindred to the Saxon line.
These few, among many other instances which may be given, will shew plainly enough, how men entitled themselves to the crown in those days, and that then it was no strange thing to hear of a parlia. ment's meddling with the succession. Therefore, I suppose, the men, who seem astonished at the boldness of a parliament, in presuming to speak of it at this time *, will say, that they ought not to be troubled with precedents before the Norman Conquest; and that though the Saxons might be guilty of preferring a brave and deserving bastard,
+ Of the revolution,
before a cruel, or a silly, legitimate prince, and of many other irre. gularities; yet no such things are to be found in our histories, since the time of William the First, whose reign is the great epoch, from whence we do compute our kings. Let us, therefore, go on more particularly to observe, what has been done since that time, and we shall see, whether they, who wonder so much, have any reason to do so.
William the Conqueror was himself illegitimate, and yet succeeded his father in the duchy of Normandy, and therefore had no reason to set any great value upon that sort of title, which is derived from a right of blood. And it seems he did not much regard it; for, passing by Robert his eldest son, he gave the crown, by his last will,' to William Rufus, his younger son, disposing, only with regard to his own inclinations, the crown which hirself had gained.
But his son was too wise to rely upon this disposition, as a suffi. cient title; and therefore had recourse to a more sure one: for, call. ing the nobles and wise men of the kingdom, he acquainted them, in full council, with his father's will, and desired their consent to it; who, after a long consultation, did at last unanimously agree to make him their king, and thereupon he was crowned by Lanfranck, Arch-bishop of Canterbury. I cannot but observe one thing farther, that though some men make use of the absolute victory, which the Conqueror had made, and affirm, that thereby the English were wholly broken, and all the old laws and customs of the realm were destroyed; yet it is plain that, at this time, the English interest was so great, that it kept the crown upon William Rufus's head, in spight of all that the Normans could do in behalf of Robert, though they universally joined with him. For, the king calling together the English, and opening to them the treason of the Normans, and pro. mising them a compleat restitution of their ancient laws, they stood firm to him, and soon put an end to all the attempts of his brother, and his Norman accomplices.
Upon the death of William Rufas, Robert had a fair pretence to renew his claim to the crown; but that prince had discovered too much of the cruelty of his disposition, of his aversion to the English nation, and of his proneness to revenge; so that, by the full consent and counsel of the whole body of the realm, assembled at Winchester, he was finally rejected, and they did concur to elect the Conqueror's third son Henry for their king (as Mat. of Westminster expresses it.) Nor did they do this but upon terms; for both the clergy and laity said, that, if he would restore them their ancient liberties, and con. firm them by his charter, and abrogate some severe laws which his father had made, they would consent to make him king. And this prudent and learned king was not ashamed or unwilling to own this title; for he does at large recite it in his charter, whereby he confirms their liberties, Sciatis me misericordia Dei, & communi concilio baronum Regni Angliæ, ejusdem regni regem coronatum
by God's mercy, and the general council of the barons of the said kingdom.
Henry the First, you see, had reason to believe and own the power of the kingdom, in setting the crown upon what head they pleased; and therefore he desired to secure it that way to his posa terity. To that end, in the thirteenth year of his reign, he summoned a council, and procured all the great and powerful men of the kingdom to swear, that his son William should succeed him ; but after. wards this son of his was unfortunately drowned, and the king died, leaving no other issue but Maud his daughter, who had been married to the Emperor, and afterward to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Earl of Anjou. No dispute can be made, but that she had all the right which proximity of blood could give; yet Stephen, Earl of Boloign, who was the son of Adela, one of the Conqueror's daughters, and whose elder brother Theobald, Earl of Blois, was then living, stepped in before her; and, by representing to them the inconvenience of a feminine government, and promising them to consent to such good and gentle laws, as they should devise, prevailed with the estates of the realm to elect him king, And in this charter, which he made soon after, he owns this title, beginning it thus, Ego Stephanus Dei gratia, assensu cleri & populi in regem Angliæ electus, &c. * And the pope, in his charter of confirmation, sent to him in the first year of his reign, tells him, that he was, communi voto & unanimi assensu tam procerum quam etiam populi, in regem electus +, and then he adds, That, since so universal an assent could not be directed but by the divine grace, he therefore allows his title, and confirms him in the kingdom.
It is true, that afterwards Maud the empress, together with her son Henry, having, after some years, gained many to their side, gave him great disturbance; till at last Stephen, having lost his eldest son Eustace (in whom he placed his hopes, and used all means, whilst he lived, to have got him declared his successor, but without success), came to an agreement with the empress and her son; and the parliament (who alone could give a sanction to such agreement) was assembltd at Winchester to confirm it; and then Stephen pub. lickly adopts Henry for his son, and with their full consent declares him his heir; and, with the same consent, Henry gives Stephen the name of father, and agrees that he should continue to be king, dur. ing his life, and they all swore, that, if Henry survived, he should, without opposition, obtain the crown; and Stephen, by his charter, which is set down at large in Brompton, publishes this agreement, Brompt. 1037.
In all this transaction, certainly there was no consideration had of any other right, but that which universal consent conferred; for, if Stephen's heir had any pretence, he had a son then living, whose name was William, and who, by the same agreement, was
have 1 Stephen, by the grace of God, the consent of the clergy and people, chosen King of England.' &c.
| Chusen king by the common roice and unanimous consent both of the nobles and people.
all the possessions, which his father enjoyed before he was made king. If the heir of Henry the First had any title, that was vested in Maud the empress, who was then also living ; so that neither of the parties had any other colour of right to the crown, than what the consent of the people gave
them. According to this parliamentary agreement and limitation, Stephen enjoyed the crown peaceably during his life, and, after his death, Henry the Second came to it as peaceably; but he remembered by what title, and therefore was desirous to secure it to his son in the same manner, though he took a very dangerous and unusual way to do it. For, summoning a parliament to meet at London, he procures his son Henry to be declared king, together with himself, by their consent; and thereupon he was crowned by the Archbishop of York, and fealty sworn to him by all. This was the occasion of civil wars between them, for the father meant hereby only to have secured the succession to him, and the son was impatient of having only the bare title of a king, all along pretending to an equal authority ; as doth sufficiently appear by what he writes to the prior and convent of Canterbury, where he takes notice, that his father did attempt some invasions upon them, which he ought not to have done without his consent: Qui, ratione regiæ unctionis, regnum, & totius regni curam suscepimus* ; and therefore he appealed to the people in that behalf. Nay, the father himself paid the respect to his son's dignity, that, when he at last subdued him and his rebellious brothers, he would not suffer him to do him homage with his other sons (though he offered it.) But, Henry the son dying in the life-time of his father, Richard was then his eldest son surviving, and consequently had all the right which a next heir could claim. But the wise and wary king had not confidence enough to rely upon this (now so much talked of) sacred right; but, though he had already suffered so much from disobedient sons, was glad to get the succession confirmed to him in his life-time. And, the truth is, there was reason enough that he should do so; for he had all his children by Eleanor, the daughter of William, Duke of Guienne, who was before the wife of Lewis the Seventh, King of France, who was still living, and she only divorced causa adulterii, which being not a divorce à vinculo matrimonii, she could not, either by the canon law universally received, or the laws of England, lawfully marry with any
other use band.
After his father's death, Richard came to London, to which place all the clergy and laity were summoned; and, after he had been solemnly and duly elected by the whole clergy and laity (they are the very words of the historian) and taken the usual oaths, he was crowned. And, when he undertook the holy war, he declared Arthur, son of his next brother Geoffrey, the Duke of Bretagne, next heir to the crown.
Richard dying without issue, this Arthur ought to have succeeded, • Who have received the kingdom, and the care of the whole kingdom, by reason of the royal uoction,