Page images


stitions, and the errors of their persecutors.


It silenced the open

avowal of dissent from the creeds and the pretensions of Rome; but it sent to the utmost limits of Europe men whose hearts burnt with an unquenchable indignation against her falsehoods and her tyranny. As was her crime, such was her punishment.

[ocr errors]

In that crime the barons and the commonalty of France were the chief agents. But in the perpetration of it, they were also the destroyers of their own personal, political, and social privileges. The dominions of the Count of Toulouse and of the King of Arragon, north of the Pyrenees, were added to the French Crown immediately after the conquest by Philippe Auguste of the continental dominions of the sons of our Henry II. The coasts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic simultaneously acknowledged the sovereignty of the Capetian race. Strong in this great accession of power they rapidly overthrew the Feudal Confederation, at whose cost, and by whose arms, they had acquired it. The great, but now helpless, feudatories were subjected by Louis IX. to the judicial supremacy of the Crown. Philippe le Bel imposed on them those fiscal burdens which soon ripened into legal dues. The consequent substitution of hired armies for the military service of the feudal vassals, completed the extinction of the baronial power. The fall of it commenced with the improvident and short-sighted animosity, national and religious, which, thirsting for the extermination of a rival people, elevated over the conquerors themselves an irresponsible domestic tyranny. They were the eager executioners of the murderous decrees of Rome against the Albigenses, and thus became the suicidal destroyers of their own fortunes, powers, and independence. They grievously abused the trust committed to them by the Supreme Ruler of the world, and, by his equitable retribution, that abuse was rendered the instrument of their own ruin.' -pp. 238-241.

So do the retributions of Providence come round, and so does that Hand, to which Sir James Stephen, in the face of all the God-neglecting philosophies of our time, attributes the real ordering of human affairs, accomplish its benign purposes. We admire the courage, and the admirable taste, with which the author has wielded his lance in this conflict towards the close of his seventh lecture. In the eighth lecture, On the Influence of the Judicial on the Monarchical System of France,' we find the following sketch of the great St. Louis:


'St. Louis occupies in history a place apart from that of all the other moral heroes of our race. It is his peculiar praise to have combined in his own person the virtues which are apparently the most incompatible with each other, and with the state and trials of a king. Seated on the noblest of the thrones of Europe, and justly jealous of his high prerogatives, he was as meek and gentle as if he had been undistinguished from the meanest of his brethren of mankind. En

dowed from his boyhood, by the lavish bounties of nature, with rank, wealth, power, health, and personal beauty, he was as compassionate as if sorrow had been his daily companion from his youth. An enthusiast in music, architecture, and polite learning, he applied himself to all the details of public business with the assiduity of one who had no other means of subsistence. Though glowing with all the ardour of an Homeric hero on the field of battle, he purchased and maintained peace by sacrifices which might have appeared humiliating to the faintest heart which ever throbbed beneath the diadem. Surpassed by no monarch in modern Europe in the munificence of his bounties, or in the splendour of his public works, those purest and most sumptuous of the luxuries of royalty were in no single instance defrayed from any tributes levied from his people. Passionately attached to his kindred, he never enriched or exalted one of them at the public expense. Regarding the aggrandisement of the Crown by the subjection of the greater feudatories, as a king in all times, and as a patriot in his times, must have regarded that policy, he yet respected their legal rights, not only with rigid justice, but even with the most delicate and generous courtesy. The heir of conquests and territorial acquisitions of which the responsibility rested with his grandfather, the inestimable advantage with himself, he restored to his rivals and his adversaries every fief and province which, upon the strictest scrutiny, by the most impartial umpires, appeared to have been added to the royal domain by unjust, or even by questionable, means. With a soul knit to the Church, and entirely devoted to her real interests, he opposed a firmer resistance and a more enduring barrier to sacerdotal rapacity and ambition, than had been contemplated by the most audacious and worldly-minded of his predecessors.'-pp. 264-266.

The points in this delineation are presented with great skill. But we have been somewhat amused by observing, that of the ten sentences which make up this forcible paragraph, the mechanical structure of nine is precisely after the same model-each begins by describing something which St. Louis was, and ends with informing us of something that he did. Classical authority there is, no doubt, for the sort of rule in sentence-making which is here followed; but we venture, with much respect, to say, that we account Sir James Stephen much safer in following the guidance of his own fine understanding, and exquisite sense of fitness, than in taking council of Gibbon, Tacitus, or Cicero. It is by keeping clear of these fashions of the past, much more than by submitting to them, that the author will address himself with effect to the present. Mannerism, whatever be its quality, can only be a bit of nature-it is never the whole. Commonly, it gives you even that bit distorted. It is from this cause that mannerism, however excellent in its way, is sure to pall, while nature never does.



St. Louis, one of the best of men, contributed to inflict upon his country some of its gravest evils. Men could not distrust his good intentions, and the transition seemed natural from confidence in his goodness to confidence in his wisdom. Frenchmen were thus thrown off their guard, but it was to their cost. St. Louis felt a religious scruple against the wager by battle. This fact, among others, disposed him to give special encouragement to the study of the Roman law, that the military issue to which questions were brought before the feudal tribunals, might be displaced by an appeal to written laws interpreted by lawyers. By degrees these lawyers crept from their low stools at the feet of the feudal barons, into the place of the said barons: and as the courts, regulated by the authority of this law, grew, from the very nature of the law, into a hierarchy, it soon became the doctrine of the lawyers that the king should be in the place of Cæsar. Thus a change, which, in its beginning, seemed to be most favourable to the ends of justice, tended ere long to the establishment of absolute power-the form of power most adverse to those ends. The king's courts were made to absorb nearly all other courts, and the king's will nearly all other will.

For to this state of subjection even what were called the 'parliaments' in France were soon brought. What was called the parliament of Paris, is described by Sir James Stephen as bearing a nearer resemblance to our Star Chamber, or Privy Council, than to an English parliament. Its functions were not so much legislative as judicial; and from having included a majority of lay judges, it came to consist exclusively of lawyers. The parliament of Paris took cognizance of cases within what was called the royal domain; but other provinces of France were under assemblies bearing the same name, and of the same constitution. By the help of the civil law, and the good services of the men on whom it devolved to act as interpreters of that law, the working of the French parliaments was so ordered as greatly to facilitate, and not to impede, the progress of despotism. The tendency everywhere was to subordinate all things local to the central, and all things central to the will of a single person. It is true, the lawyers in the parliament of Paris, who had done so much to bring all other men, and all other interests, into subjection to the crown, would fain have made some effectual resistance in their own favour. They added to all their other instances of effrontery, the assertion, that the authority which had ceased to be exercised by the feudal nobility, survived in themselves. But the plea availed them not. They had done the work of the traitor, and they were to find his reward. Francis L., Henry II., Charles IX., and Louis XIV., all schooled

[blocks in formation]

them into obedience, whenever they attempted to exercise what they called their right, by hesitating to register and issue the rescripts of the sovereign.

Our own judicial history has been in all respects the reverse of the judicial history of France. The judicial with us has been based on law coming substantially from the mind of the people, and administered substantially by the will of the people; and, above all, it has never been so much centralized as localized. In France, everything relating to law and justice passed by degrees into the hands of lawyers, and thus into the hands of the crown; while with us, the maxim has been to leave as little as possible to be dependent on those authorities. Great has been the fight among us to preclude the proclamations of kings from taking the place of laws, and to provide that the interpretation of law by the judge be not put into the place of the law.

The matter of the ninth lecture, on The Influence of the Privileged Orders on the Monarchy of France,' has been a good deal anticipated in the preceding lecture. The tendencies which sufficed to abridge, and ultimately to annihilate, the judicial authority once exercised by the different grades of a territorial aristocracy, would do much, as a matter of course, towards bringing these aristocracies into a state of subserviency in all other respects to the will of the crown. Everywhere the royal authority was interposed, as far as possible, between the people and the authorities immediately above them. In this manner the maxim was acted upon-divide and conquer.

The greater part of this ninth lecture, however, is occupied in showing how this policy was worked in relation to the church. In this section we accept the skilful statement of facts which Sir James Stephen has given us, but we dissent, if we understand him aright, from some of his opinions. The policy of the pontiffs in relation to the church, in those ages, was, as we have said, the strict counterpart of that pursued by the kings of France towards the state-viz., to subordinate the aristocracy of the church to their pleasure, by taking its democracy under their special patronage. For this purpose they interfered in relation to all appointments to the more influential positions of the hierarchy. In so doing, they crossed the path of the clergy, in whom the church had vested the right to make such elections; and also of the civil magistrate, who, as the church became so enormously wealthy-if for no other reason-claimed to have a voice in the matter. In this manner the church of France was made to feel the mischief of being subject to two masters-her spiritual sovereign insisting on the right of lording it over her, and despoiling her almost at pleasure, on the one hand; and her



temporal sovereign insisting on the same powers, on the other hand. The great object in both cases was to subordinate the aristocratic power of the church to a sovereign power. Pontiffs and kings were alike eager to replenish their treasury from such sources, and to consolidate their power in this form; and both often extended their mercenary meddlings, in many ways, from the rich bishoprics and abbeys to the less opulent benefices, to the manifest wrong of many a humble clerk, and of many a lay patron. The proceedings of these two powers in France during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as related by Sir James Stephen, have their exact parallel in the history of our own country during the same period. The policy of our kings in relation to the civil institutions of our country, differed considerably, and of necessity, from that of the kings of France; but in relation to the church, and to transactions with Rome, the maxims acted upon were the same. The jarring was perpetual between the sovereignty claimed by the pontiff, and that claimed by the crown, in church matters; the issue being more and more in favour of the latter. The pontiffs might so have exercised their authority over the church of France, or the church of England, as to have made the clergy themselves sensible that their liberty and property were greatly more secure in the keeping of their spiritual, than in the keeping of their temporal sovereign. But to expect a policy of steadiness and wisdom sufficient to that end, from such an order of men as would be presented in a succession of pontiffs in those times, would be to expect against nature. We should add, that the

virtual captivity of the pontiffs for seventy years at Avignon, while it greatly conduced to bring the popes into subjection to the kings of France, contributed very naturally to make their meddlings with the affairs of England the less endurableEngland being, during the whole of that period, either at war with France, or in a state of great disaffection towards it.

But there are the States-General-we read much of them in French history, and was there not in them a power to check this ceaseless tendency of the French monarchy towards the absolute? It is a material fact, that the first of the assemblies so named was not convened until both the executive and legislative power of the State had passed virtually, and by usage, into the hands of the sovereign. This first meeting of the States-General dates from the early part of the fourteenth century; and during that century this French parliament somewhat after our English fashion, was summoned thirteen times. In the two following centuries it was convened eleven times, which gives one gathering of this description for about every eight years during the

« PreviousContinue »