Henry the Second
Mrs. J. R. Green

Part 1 out of 3

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The history of the English people would have been a great and a noble
history whatever king had ruled over the land seven hundred years ago.
But the history as we know it, and the mode of government which has
actually grown up among us is in fact due to the genius of the great king
by whose will England was guided from 1154 to 1189. He was a foreign king
who never spoke the English tongue, who lived and moved for the most part
in a foreign camp, surrounded with a motley host of Brabancons and
hirelings; and who in intervals snatched from foreign wars hurried for a
few months to his island-kingdom to carry out a policy which took little
heed of the great moral forces that were at work among the people. It was
under the rule of a foreigner such as this, however, that the races of
conquerors and conquered in England first learnt to feel that they were
one. It was by his power that England, Scotland, and Ireland were
brought to some vague acknowledgment of a common suzerain lord, and the
foundations laid of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It
was he who abolished feudalism as a system of government, and left it
little more than a system of land-tenure. It was he who defined the
relations established between Church and State, and decreed that in
England churchman as well as baron was to be held under the Common law. It
was he who preserved the traditions of self-government which had been
handed down in borough and shire-moot from the earliest times of English
history. His reforms established the judicial system whose main outlines
have been preserved to our own day. It was through his "Constitutions"
and his "Assizes" that it came to pass that over all the world the
English-speaking races are governed by English and not by Roman law. It
was by his genius for government that the servants of the royal household
became transformed into Ministers of State. It was he who gave England a
foreign policy which decided our continental relations for seven hundred
years. The impress which the personality of Henry II. left upon his time
meets us wherever we turn. The more clearly we understand his work, the
more enduring does his influence display itself even upon the political
conflicts and political action of our own days.

For seventy years three Norman kings had held England in subjection
William the Conqueror, using his double position as conqueror and king,
had established a royal authority unknown in any other feudal country
William Rufus, poorer than his father when the hoard captured at
Winchester and the plunder of the Conquest were spent, and urged alike
by his necessities and his greed, laid the foundation of an organized
system of finance. Henry I., after his overthrow of the baronage, found
his absolute power only limited by the fact that there was no machinery
sufficient to put in exercise his boundless personal power; and for its
support he built up his wonderful administrative system. There no longer
existed any constitutional check on the royal authority. The Great
Council still survived as the relic and heir both of the English
Witenagemot and the Norman Feudal Court. But in matters of State its
"counsel" was scarcely asked or given; its "consent" was yielded as a
mere matter of form; no discussion or hesitation interrupted the formal
and pompous display of final submission to the royal will. The Church
under its Norman bishops, foreign officials trained in the King's
chapel, was no longer a united national force, as it had been in the
time of the Saxon kings. The mass of the people was of no account in
politics. The trading class scarcely as yet existed. The villeins tied
to the soil of the manor on which they had been born, and shut out from
all courts save those of their lord; inhabitants of the little hamlets
that lay along the river-courses in clearings among dense woods,
suspicious of strangers, isolated by an intense jealousy of all that lay
beyond their own boundaries or by traditional feuds, had no part in the
political life of the nation.

But the central government had proved in the long run too weak to
check the growth of feudal tendencies. The land was studded with
fortresses--the homes of lords who exercised criminal jurisdiction
without appeal, and who had their private prisons and private gallows.
Their manor courts, whether they were feudal courts established by the
new nobility of the Conquest, or whether they represented ancient
franchises in which Norman lords succeeded to the jurisdiction of
earlier English rulers, were more and more turned into mere feudal
courts. In the Shire courts themselves the English sheriff who used to
preside over the court was replaced by a Norman "_vicecomes_," who
practically did as he chose, or as he was used to do in Normandy, in
questions of procedure, proof, and judgment. The old English hundred
courts, where the peasants' petty crimes had once been judged by the
freemen of the district, had now in most cases become part of the fief
of the lord, whose newly-built castle towered over the wretched hovels
of his tenants, and the peasants came for justice to the baron's court,
and paid their fees to the baron's treasury. The right of private
coinage added to his wealth, as the multitude of retainers bound to
follow them in war added to his power. The barons were naturally roused
to a passion of revolt when the new administrative system threatened to
cut them off from all share in the rights of government, which in other
feudal countries were held to go along with the possession of land. They
hated the "new men" who were taking their places at the council-board;
and they revolted against the new order which cut them off from useful
sources of revenue, from unchecked plunder, from fines at will in their
courts of hundred and manor, from the possibility of returning fancy
accounts, and of profitable "farming" of the shires; they were jealous
of the clergy, who played so great a part in the administration, and
who threatened to surpass them in the greatness of their wealth, their
towns and their castles; and they only waited for a favourable moment to
declare open war on the government of the court.

In this uncertain balance of forces in the State order rested ultimately
on the personal character of the king; no sooner did a ruler appear who
was without the sense of government than the whole administration was at
once shattered to pieces. The only son of Henry I. had perished in the
wreck of the _White Ship_; and his daughter Matilda had been sent to
Germany as a child of eight years old, to become the wife of the Emperor
Henry V. On his death in 1125 her father summoned her back to receive
the homage of the English people as heiress of the kingdom. The homage
was given with as little warmth as it was received. Matilda was a mere
stranger and a foreigner in England, and the rule of a woman was
resented by the baronage. Two years later, in 1128, Henry sought by
means of a marriage between the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey, the son of
Count Fulk of Anjou, to secure the peace of Normandy, and provide an
heir for the English throne; and Matilda unwillingly bent once more to
her father's will. A year after the marriage Count Fulk left his
European dominions for the throne of Jerusalem; and Geoffrey entered on
the great inheritance which had been slowly built up in three hundred
years, since the days of the legendary Tortulf the Forester. Anjou,
Maine, and Touraine already formed a state whose power equaled that of
the French kingdom; to north and south successive counts had made
advances towards winning fragments of Britanny and Poitou; the Norman
marriage was the triumphant close of a long struggle with Normandy; but
to Fulk was reserved the greatest triumph of all, when he saw his son
heir, not only of the Norman duchy, but of the great realm which
Normandy had won.

But, for all this glory, the match was an ill-assorted one, and from
first to last circumstances dealt hardly with the poor young Count.
Matilda was twenty-six, a proud ambitious woman "with the nature of a
man in the frame of a woman." Her husband was a boy of fifteen. Geoffrey
the Handsome, called Plantagenet from his love of hunting over heath and
broom, inherited few of the great qualities which had made his race
powerful. Like his son Henry II. he was always on horseback; he had his
son's wonderful memory, his son's love of disputations and law-suits; we
catch a glimpse of him studying beneath the walls of a beleaguered town
the art of siege in Vegetius. But the darker sides of Henry's character
might also be discerned in his father; genial and seductive as he was,
he won neither confidence nor love; wife and barons alike feared the
silence with which he listened unmoved to the bitterest taunts, but kept
them treasured and unforgotten for some sure hour of revenge; the fierce
Angevin temper turned in him to restlessness and petulance in the long
series of revolts which filled his reign with wearisome monotony from
the moment when he first rode out to claim his duchy of Normandy, and
along its southern frontier peasant and churl turned out at the sound of
the tocsin, and with fork and flail drove the hated "Guirribecs" back
over the border. Five years after his marriage, in 1133, his first child
was born at Le Mans. Englishmen saw in the grandson of "good Queen Maud"
the direct descendant of the old English line of kings of Alfred and of
Cerdic. The name Henry which the boy bore after his grandfather marked
him as lawful inheritor of the broad dominions of Henry I., "the
greatest of all kings in the memory of ourselves and our fathers." From
his father he received, with the surname of Plantagenet by which he was
known in later times, the inheritance of the Counts of Anjou. Through
his mother Matilda he claimed all rights and honours that pertained to
the Norman dukes.

Heir of three ruling houses, Henry was brought up wherever the chances of
war or rebellion gave opportunity. He was to know neither home nor
country. His infancy was spent at Rouen "in the home," as Henry I. said,
"of his forefather Rollo." In 1135 his grandfather died, and left him,
before he was yet three years old, the succession to the English throne.
But Geoffrey and Matilda were at the moment hard pressed by one of their
ceaseless wars. The Church was openly opposed to the rule of the House of
Anjou; the Norman baronage on either side of the water inherited a long
tradition of hatred to the Angevin. Stephen of Blois, a son of the
Conqueror's daughter Adela, seized the English throne, and claimed the
dukedom of Normandy. Henry was driven from Rouen to take refuge in
Angers, in the great palace of the counts, overlooking the river
and the vine-covered hills beyond. There he lived in one of the most
ecclesiastical cities of the day, already famous for its shrines, its
colleges, the saints whose tombs lay within its walls, and the ring of
priories and churches and abbeys that circled it about.

The policy of the Norman kings was rudely interrupted by the reign of
Stephen of Blois. Trembling for the safety of his throne, he at first
rested on the support of the Church and the ministers who represented
Henry's system. But sides were quickly changed. The great churchmen and
the ministers were soon cast off by the new ruler. "By my Lady St.
Mary," said Roger of Salisbury, when he was summoned to one of Stephen's
councils, "my heart is unwilling for this journey; for I shall be of as
much use in court as is a foal in battle." The revolution was completed
in 1139, when the king in a mad panic seized and imprisoned Roger, the
representative alike of Church and ministers. With the ruin of Roger who
for thirty years had been head of the government, of his son Roger the
chancellor, and his nephew Nigel the treasurer, the ministerial system
was utterly destroyed, and the whole Church was alienated. Stephen sank
into the mere puppet of the nobles. The work of the Exchequer and the
Curia Regis almost came to an end. A little money was still gathered
into the royal treasury; some judicial business seems to have been still
carried on, but it was only amid overwhelming difficulties, and over
limited districts. Sheriffs were no longer appointed over the shires,
and the local administration broke down as the central government had
done. Civil war was added to the confusion of anarchy, as Matilda again
and again sought to recover her right. In 1139 she crossed to England,
wherein siege, in battle, in council, in hair-breadth escapes from
pursuing hosts, from famine, from perils of the sea, she showed the
masterful authority, the impetuous daring, the pertinacity which she had
inherited from her Norman ancestors. Stephen fell back on his last
source--a body of mercenary troops from Flanders,--but the Brabancon
troops were hated in England as foreigners and as riotous robbers, and
there was no payment for them in the royal treasury. The barons were all
alike ready to change sides as often as the shifting of parties gave
opportunity to make a gain of dishonour; an oath to Stephen was as easy
to break as an oath to Matilda or to her son. Great districts, especially
in the south and middle of England, and on the Welsh marches, suffered
terribly from war and pillage; all trade was stopped; great tracts of
land went out of cultivation; there was universal famine.

In 1142 Henry, then nine years old, was brought to England with a chosen
band of Norman and Angevin knights; and while Matilda held her rough
court at Gloucester as acknowledged sovereign of the West, he lived at
Bristol in the house of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate
son of Henry I., who was still in these troubled days loyal to the
cultured traditions of his father's court, and a zealous patron of
learning. Amid all the confusion of a war of pillage and slaughter,
surrounded by half-wild Welsh mercenaries, by the lawless Norman-Welsh
knights, by savage Brabancons, he learned his lessons for four years with
his cousin, the son of Robert, from Master Matthew, afterwards his
chancellor and bishop of Angers. As Matilda's prospects grew darker in
England, Geoffrey recalled Henry in 1147 to Anjou; and the next year he
joined his mother in Normandy, where she had retired after the death of
Earl Robert. There was a pause of five years in the civil war; but
Stephen's efforts to assert his authority and restore the reign of law
were almost unavailing. All the country north of the Tyne had fallen into
the hands of the Scot king; the Earl of Chester ruled at his own will in
the northwest; the Earl of Aumale was king beyond the Humber.

With the failure of Matilda's effort the whole burden of securing his
future prospects fell upon Henry himself, then a boy of fifteen. Nor was
he slow to accept the charge. A year later, in 1149, he placed himself in
open opposition to Stephen as claimant to the English throne, by visiting
the court of his great-uncle, David of Scotland, at Carlisle; he was
knighted by the Scot king, and made a compact to yield up to David the
land beyond the Tyne when he should himself have won the English throne.
But he found England cold, indifferent, without courage; his most
powerful friends were dead, and he returned to Normandy to wait for
better days. Geoffrey was still carrying on the defence of the duchy
against Stephen's son Eustace, and his ally, the King of France; and
Henry joined his father's army till peace was made in 1151. In that year
he was invested with his mother's heritage and became at eighteen Duke of
Normandy; at nineteen his father's death made him Count of Anjou,
Lorraine, and Maine.

The young Count had visited the court of Paris to do homage for Normandy
and Anjou, and there he first saw the French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Her marriage with Louis VII. had been the crowning success of the astute
and far-sighted policy of Louis VI.; for the dowry Eleanor had brought to
the French crown, the great province of the South, had doubled the
territories and the wealth of the struggling little kingdom of France.
In the Crusade of 1147 she had accompanied king and nobles to the Holy
Land as feudal head of the forces of Aquitaine; and had there baffled
the temper and sagacity of Louis by her political intrigues. Sprung of
a house which represented to the full the licentious temper of the South,
she scornfully rejected a husband indifferent to love, and ineffective in
war as in politics. She had "married a monk and not a king," she said,
wearied with a superstition that showed itself in long fasts of more
than monkish austerity, and in the humiliating reverence with which
the king would wait for the meanest clerk to pass before him. In the
square-shouldered ruddy youth who came to receive his fiefs, with
his "countenance of fire," his vivacious talk and overwhelming energy
and scant ceremoniousness at mass, she saw a man destined by fate and
character to be in truth a "king." Her decision was as swift and
practical as that of the keen Angevin, who was doubtless looking to the
southern lands so long coveted by his race. A divorce from her husband
was procured in March 1152; and two months after she was hastily, for
fear of any hindrance, married to the young Count of Anjou, "without the
pomp or ceremony which befitted their rank." At nineteen, therefore,
Henry found himself the husband of a wife about twenty-seven years of
age, and the lord, besides his own hereditary lands and his Norman
duchy, of Poitou, Saintonge, Perigord, Limousin, Angoumois, and Gascony,
with claims of suzerainty over Auvergne and Toulouse. In a moment the
whole balance of forces in France had changed; the French dominions were
shorn to half their size; the most brilliant prospects that had ever
opened before the monarchy were ruined; and the Count of Anjou at one
bound became ruler of lands which in extent and wealth were more than
double those of his suzerain lord.

The rise of this great power to the west was necessarily the absorbing
political question of the day. It menaced every potentate in France; and
before a month was out a ring of foes had gathered round the upstart
Angevin ruler. The outraged King of France; Stephen, King of England, and
Henry's rival in the Norman duchy; Stephen's nephew, the Count of
Champagne, brother of the Count of Blois; the Count of Perche; and
Henry's own brother, Geoffrey, were at once united by a common alarm; and
their joint attack on Normandy a month after the marriage was but the
first step in a comprehensive design of depriving the common enemy of the
whole of his possessions. Henry met the danger with all the qualities
which mark a great general and a great statesman. Cool, untroubled,
impetuous, dashing from point to point of danger, so that horses sank and
died on the road in his desperate marches, he was ready wherever a foe
threatened, or a friend prayed help. Foreign armies were driven back,
rebel nobles crushed, robber castles broken down; Normandy was secured
and Anjou mastered before the year was out. The strife, however, had
forced him for the first time into open war with Stephen, and at twenty
Henry turned to add the English crown to his dominions.

Already the glory of success hung about him; his footsteps were guided by
prophecies of Merlin; portents and wonders marked his way. When he landed
on the English shores in January 1153, he turned into a church "to pray
for a space, after the manner of soldiers," at the moment when the priest
opened the office of the mass for that day with the words, "Behold there
cometh the Lord, the Ruler, and the kingdom is in his hand." In his first
battle at Malmesbury the wintry storm and driving rain which beat in the
face of Stephen's troops showed on which side Heaven fought. As the king
rode out to the next great fight at Wallingford, men noted fearfully that
he fell three times from his horse. Terror spread among the barons, whose
interests lay altogether in anarchy, as they saw the rapid increase of
Henry's strength; and they sought by a mock compromise to paralyse the
power of both Stephen and his rival. "Then arose the barons, or rather
the betrayers of England, treating of concord, although they loved
nothing better than discord; but they would not join battle, for they
desired to exalt neither of the two, lest if the one were overcome the
other should be free to govern them; they knew that so long as one was in
awe of the other he could exercise no royal authority over them." Henry
subdued his wrath to his political sagacity. He agreed to meet Stephen
face to face at Wallingford; and there, with a branch of the Thames
between them, they fixed upon terms of peace. Stephen's son Eustace,
however, refused to lay down arms, and the war lingered on, Stephen being
driven back to the eastern counties, while Henry held mid-England. In
August, however, Eustace died suddenly, "by the favour of God," said
lovers of peace; and Stephen, utterly broken in spirit, soon after

The strife died out, in fact, through sheer exhaustion, for years of
anarchy and war had broken the strength of both sides; and at last "that
happened which would least be believed, that the division of the kingdom
was not settled by the sword." The only body of men who still possessed
any public feeling, any political sagacity, or unity of purpose, found
its opportunity in the general confusion. The English Church, "to whose
right it principally belongs to elect the king," as Theobald had once
said in words which Gregory VII. would have approved, beat down all
opposition of the angry nobles; and in November 1153 Theobald, Archbishop
of Canterbury, and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester and brother of
Stephen, brought about a final compromise. The treaty which had been
drawn up at Wallingford was confirmed at Westminster. Henry was made
the adopted son of Stephen, a sharer of his kingdom while he lived,
its heir when he should die. "In the business of the kingdom," the king
promised, "I will work by the counsel of the duke; but in the whole
realm of England, as well in the duke's part as my own, I will exercise
royal justice." Henry did homage and swore fealty to Stephen, while, as
they embraced, "the bystanders burst into tears of joy," and the nobles,
who had stood sullenly aloof from counsel and consent, took oaths of
allegiance to both princes. For a few months Henry remained in England,
months marked by suspicions and treacheries on all sides. Stephen was
helpless, the nobles defiant, their strongholds were untouched, and the
treaty remained practically a dead letter. After the discovery of a
conspiracy against his life supported by Stephen's second son and the
Flemish troops, Henry gave up for the moment the hopeless task, and left
England. But before long Stephen's death gave the full lordship into his
hands. On the 19th of December 1154 he was crowned at Winchester King of
England, amid the acclamations of crowds who had already learned "to
bear him great love and fear."

King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine,
Count of Poitou, Duke of Aquitaine, suzerain lord of Britanny, Henry
found himself at twenty-one ruler of dominions such as no king before him
had ever dreamed of uniting. He was master of both sides of the English
Channel, and by his alliance with his uncle, the Count of Flanders, he had
command of the French coast from the Scheldt to the Pyrenees, while his
claims on Toulouse would carry him to the shores of the Mediterranean.
His subjects told with pride how "his empire reached from the Arctic
Ocean to the Pyrenees;" there was no monarch save the Emperor himself who
ruled over such vast domains. But even the Emperor did not gather under
his sway a grouping of peoples so strangely divided in race, in tongue,
in aims, in history. No common tie of custom or of sympathy united the
unwieldy bundle of states bound together in a common subjection; the
men of Aquitaine hated Anjou with as intense a bitterness as they hated
France; Angevin and Norman had been parted for generations by traditional
feuds; the Breton was at war with both; to all England was "another
world"--strange in speech, in law, and in custom. And to all the
subjects of his heterogeneous empire Henry himself was a mere foreigner.
To Gascon or to Breton he was a man of hated race and alien speech, just
as much as he was to Scot or Welshman; he seemed a stranger alike to
Angevin and Norman, and to Englishmen he came as a ruler with foreign
tastes and foreign aims as well as a foreign tongue.

We see in descriptions of the time the strange rough figure of the new
king, "Henry Curtmantel," as he was nicknamed from the short Angevin
cape which hung on his shoulders, and marked him out oddly as a foreigner
amid the English and Norman knights, with their long fur-lined cloaks
hanging to the ground. The square stout form, the bull-neck and broad
shoulders, the powerful arms and coarse rough hands, the legs bowed
from incessant riding, showed a frame fashioned to an extraordinary
strength. His head was large and round; his hair red, close-cut for
fear of baldness; his fiery face much freckled; his voice harsh and
cracked. Those about him saw something "lion-like" in his face; his gray
eyes, clear and soft in his peaceful moments, shone like fire when he was
moved, and few men were brave enough to confront him when his face was
lighted up by rising wrath, and when his eyes rolled and became bloodshot
in a paroxysm of passion. His overpowering energy found an outlet in
violent physical exertion. "With an immoderate love of hunting he led
unquiet days," following the chase over waste and wood and mountain;
and when he came home at night he was never seen to sit down save for
supper, but wore out his court with walking or standing till after
nightfall, even when his own feet and legs were covered with sores
from incessant exertion. Bitter were the complaints of his courtiers
that there was never any moment of rest for himself or his servants;
in war time indeed, they grumbled, excessive toil was natural, but time
of peace was ill-consumed in continual vigils and labours and in
incessant travel--one day following another in merciless and intolerable
journeyings. Henry had inherited the qualities of the Angevin race--its
tenacity, its courage, its endurance, the sagacity that was without
impatience, and the craft that was never at fault. With the ruddy face
and unwieldy frame of the Normans other gifts had come to him; he had
their sense of strong government and their wisdom; he was laborious,
patient, industrious, politic. He never forgot a face he had once seen,
nor anything that he heard which he deemed worthy of remembering; where
he once loved he never turned to hate, and where he once hated he was
never brought to love. Sparing in diet, wasting little care on his
dress--perhaps the plainest in his court,--frugal, "so much as was lawful
to a prince," he was lavish in matters of State or in public affairs. A
great soldier and general, he was yet an earnest striver after peace,
hating to refer to the doubtful decision of battle that which might be
settled by any other means, and stirred always by a great pity, strange
in such an age and in such a man, for lives poured out in war. "He was
more tender to dead soldiers than to the living," says a chronicler
querulously; "and found far more sorrow in the loss of those who were
slain than comfort in the love of those who remained." His pitiful temper
was early shown in his determination to put down the barbarous treatment
of shipwrecked sailors. He abolished the traditions of the civil war
by forbidding plunder, and by a resolute fidelity to his plighted word. In
political craft he was matchless; in great perils none was gentler than
he, but when the danger was past none was harsher; and common talk hinted
that he was a willing breaker of his word, deeming that in the pressure
of difficulty it was easier to repent of word than deed, and to render
vain a saying than a fact. "His mother's teaching, as we have heard, was
this: That he should delay all the business of all men; that whatever
fell into his hands he should retain along while and enjoy the fruit of
it, and keep suspended in hope those who aspired to it; confirming her
sentences with this cruel parable, 'Glut a hawk with his quarry and he
will hunt no more; show it him and then draw it back and you will ever
keep him tractable and obedient.' She taught him also that he should be
frequently in his chamber, rarely in public; that he should give nothing
to any one upon any testimony but what he had seen and known; and many
other evil things of the same kind. We, indeed," adds this good hater of
Matilda, "confidently attributed to her teaching everything in which he
displeased us."

A king of those days, indeed, was not shielded from criticism. He lived
altogether in public, with scarcely a trace of etiquette or ceremony.
When a bishop of Lincoln kept Henry waiting for dinner while he performed
a service, the king's only remedy was to send messenger after messenger
to urge him to hurry in pity to the royal hunger. The first-comer seems
to have been able to go straight to his presence at any hour, whether in
hall or chapel or sleeping-chamber; and the king was soundly rated by
every one who had seen a vision, or desired a favour, or felt himself
aggrieved in any way, with a rude plainness of speech which made sorely
necessary his proverbial patience under such harangues. "Our king," says
Walter Map, "whose power all the world fears, ... does not presume to be
haughty, nor speak with a proud tongue, nor exalt himself over any man."
The feudal barons of medieval times had, indeed, few of the qualities
that made the courtiers of later days, and Henry, violent as he was,
could bear much rough counsel and plain reproof. No flatterer found favour
at his court. His special friends were men of learning or of saintly
life. Eager and eloquent in talk, his curiosity was boundless. He is said
to have known all languages from Gaul to the Jordan, though he only spoke
French and Latin. Very discreet in all business of the kingdom, and a
subtle finder out of legal puzzles, he had "knowledge of almost all
histories, and experience of all things ready to his hand." Henry was,
in fact, learned far beyond the learning of his day. "The king," wrote
Peter of Blois to the Archbishop of Palermo, "has always in his hands
bows and arrows, swords and hunting-spears, save when he is busy in
council or over his books. For as often as he can get breathing-time
amid his business cares, he occupies himself with private reading, or
takes pains in working out some knotty question among his clerks. Your
king is a good scholar, but ours is far better. I know the abilities and
accomplishments of both. You know that the King of Sicily was my pupil
for a year; you yourself taught him the element of verse-making and
literary composition; from me he had further and deeper lessons, but as
soon as I left the kingdom he threw away his books, and took to the
easy-going ways of the court. But with the King of England there is
school every day, constant conversation of the best scholars and
discussion of questions."

Behind all this amazing activity, however, lay the dark and terrible
side of Henry's character. All the violent contrasts and contradictions
of the age, which make it so hard to grasp, were gathered up in his
varied heritage; the half-savage nature which at that time we meet with
again and again united with first-class intellectual gifts; the fierce
defiance born of a time when every man had to look solely to his own
right hand for security of life and limb and earthly regard--a defiance
caught now and again in the grip of an overwhelming awe before the
portents of the invisible world; the sudden mad outbreaks of irresponsible
passion which still mark certain classes in our own day, but which then
swept over a violent and undisciplined society. Even to his own time, used
as it was to such strange contrasts, Henry was a puzzle. Men saw him
diligently attend mass every day, and restlessly busy himself during the
most solemn moments in scribbling, in drawing pictures, in talking to his
courtiers, in settling the affairs of State; or heard how he refused
confession till forced to it by terror in the last extremity of
sickness, and then turned it into a surprising ceremony of apology and
self-justification. At one time they saw him, conscience-smitten at the
warning of some seer of visions, sitting up through the night amid a
tumultuous crowd to avert the wrath of Heaven by hastily restoring rights
and dues which he was said to have unjustly taken, and when the dawning
light of day brought cooler counsel, swift to send the rest of his
murmuring suitors empty away; at another bowing panic-stricken in his
chapel before some sudden word of ominous prophecy; or as a pilgrim,
barefoot, with staff in hand; or kneeling through the night before a
shrine, with scourgings and fastings and tears. His steady sense of order,
justice, and government, broken as it was by fits of violent passion,
resumed its sway as soon as the storm was over; but the awful wrath which
would suddenly break forth, when the king's face changed, and he rolled on
the ground in a paroxysm of madness, seemed to have something of diabolic
origin. A story was told of a demon ancestress of the Angevin princes:
"From the devil they came, and to the devil they will go," said the grim
fatalism of the day.



The new kingdom which Henry had added to his dominions in France might
well seem to a man of less inexhaustible energy to make the task of
government impossible. The imperial system of his dreams was as recklessly
defiant of physical difficulties as it was heedless of all the sentiments
of national tradition. In the two halves of his empire no common political
interest and no common peril could arise; the histories of north and south
were carried on apart, as completely as the histories of America and
England when they were apparently united under one king, and were in fact
utterly severed by the ocean which defined the limits of two worlds.
England had little part or lot in the history of Europe. Foreign policy
it had none; when its kings passed to Normandy, English chroniclers
knew nothing of their doings or their wars. Some little trade was
carried on with the nearest lands across the sea,--with Normandy, with
Flanders, or with Scandinavia,--but the country was almost wholly
agricultural. Feudal in its social structure, governed by tradition, with
little movement of inner life or contact with the world about it, its
people had remained jealous of strangers, and as yet distinguished from
the nations of Europe by a strange immobility and want of sympathy with
the intellectual and moral movements around them. Sometimes strangers
visited its kings; sometimes English pilgrims made their way to Rome by a
dangerous and troublesome journey. But even the connection with the
Papacy was slight. A foreign legate had scarcely ever landed on its
shores; hardly any appeals were carried to the Roman Curia; the Church
managed its own business after a customary fashion which was in harmony
with English traditions, which had grown up during centuries of undisturbed
and separate life.

On the other side of the Channel Henry ruled over a straggling line of
loosely compacted states equal in extent to almost half of the present
France. His long line of ill-defended frontier brought him in contact
with the lands of the Count of Flanders, one of the chief military
powers of the day; with the kingdom of France, which, after two hundred
years of insignificance, was beginning to assert its sway over the great
feudal vassals, and preparing to build up a powerful monarchy; and with
the Spanish kingdoms which were emerging from the first successful
effort of the Christian states to throw back the power of the Moors.
Normandy and Auvergne were separated only by a narrow belt of country
from the Empire, which, under the greatest ruler and warrior of the age,
Frederick Barbarossa, was extending its power over Burgundy, Provence,
and Italy. His claims to the over-lordship of Toulouse gave Henry an
interest in the affairs of the great Mediterranean power--the kingdom of
Sicily; and his later attempts on the territories of the Count of
Maurienne brought him into close connection with Italian politics. No
ruler of his time was forced more directly than Henry into the range of
such international politics as were possible in the then dim and
inchoate state of European affairs. England, which in the mind of the
Norman kings had taken the first place, fell into the second rank of
interests with her Angevin rulers. Henry's thoughts and hopes and
ambitions centred in his continental domains. Lord of Rouen, of Angers,
of Bordeaux, master of the sea-coast from Flanders to the Pyrenees, he
seemed to hold in his hand the feeble King of Paris and of Orleans, who
was still without a son to inherit his dignities and lands. The balance
of power, as of ability and military skill, lay on his side; and, long
as the House of Anjou had been the bulwark of the French throne, it even
seemed as if the time might come peaceably to mount it themselves.
Looking from our own island at the work which Henry did, and seeing more
clearly by the light of later events, we may almost forget the European
ruler in the English king. But this was far from being the view of his
own day. In the thirty-five years of his reign little more than thirteen
years were spent in England and over twenty-one in France. Thrice only
did he remain in the kingdom as much as two years at a time; for the
most part his visits were but for a few months torn from the incessant
tumult and toil of government abroad; and it was only after long years
of battling against invincible forces that he at last recognized England
as the main factor of his policy, and in great crises chose rather to
act as an English king than as the creator of an empire.

The first year after Henry's coronation as King of England was spent in
securing his newly-won possession. On Christmas Day, 1154, he called
together the solemn assembly of prelates, barons, and wise men which had
not met for fifteen years. The royal state of the court was restored;
the great officers of the household returned to their posts. The Primate
was again set in the place he held from early English times as the chief
adviser of the crown. The nephew of Roger of Salisbury, Nigel, Bishop of
Ely, was restored to the post of treasurer from which Stephen had driven
him fifteen years before. Richard de Lucy and the Earl of Leicester were
made justiciars. One new man was appointed among these older officers.
Thomas, the son of Gilbert Becket, was born in Cheapside in 1117. His
father, a Norman merchant who had settled by the Thames, had prospered
in the world; he had been portreeve of London, the predecessor of the
modern mayor, and visitors of all kinds gathered at his house,--London
merchants and Norman nobles and learned clerks of Italy and Gaul His son
was first taught by the Augustinian canons of Merton Priory, afterwards
he attended schools in London, and at twenty was sent to Paris for a
year's study. After his return he served in a London office, and as
clerk to the sheriffs he was directly concerned during the time of the
civil war with the government of the city. It was during these years
that the Archbishop of Canterbury began to form his household into the
most famous school of learning in England, and some of his chaplains in
their visits to Cheapside had been struck by the brilliant talents of
the young clerk. At Theobald's request Thomas, then twenty-four years
old, entered the Primate's household, somewhat reluctantly it would
seem, for he had as yet shown little zeal either for religion or for
study. He was at once brought into the most brilliant circle of that
day. The chancellor and secretary was John of Salisbury, the pupil of
Abelard, the friend of St. Bernard and of Pope Adrian IV., the first
among English men of letters, in whom all the learning of the day was
summed up. With him were Roger of Pont l'Eveque, afterwards archbishop
of York; John of Canterbury, later archbishop of Lyons; Ralph of Sarr,
later dean of Reims; and a distinguished group of lesser men; but from
the time when Thomas entered the household "there was none dearer to the
archbishop than he." "Slight and pale, with dark hair, long nose, and
straightly-featured face, blithe of countenance, keen of thought,
winning and lovable in conversation, frank of speech, but slightly
stuttering in his talk," he had a singular gift of winning affection;
and even from his youth he was "a prudent son of the world." It was
Theobald who had first brought the Canon law to England, and Thomas at
once received his due training in it, being sent to Bologna to study
under Gratian, and then to Auxerre. He was very quickly employed in
important negotiations. When in 1152 Stephen sought to have his son
Eustace anointed king, Thomas was sent to Rome, and by his skilful plea
that the papal claims had not been duly recognized in Stephen's scheme
he induced the Pope to forbid the coronation. In his first political act
therefore he definitely took his place not only as an adherent of the
Angevin claim, but as a resolute asserter of papal and ecclesiastical
rights. At his return favours were poured out upon him. While in the
lowest grade of orders, not yet a deacon, various livings and prebends
fell to his lot. A fortnight before Stephen's death Theobald ordained
him deacon, and gave him the archdeaconry of Canterbury, the first place
in the English Church after the bishops and abbots; and he must have
taken part under the Primate in the work of governing the kingdom until
Henry's arrival. The archbishop was above all anxious to secure in the
councils of the new king the due influence not only of the Church, but
of the new school of the canon lawyers who were so profoundly modifying
the Church. He saw in Thomas the fittest instrument to carryout his
plans; and by his influence the archdeacon of Canterbury found himself,
a week after the coronation of Henry, the king's chancellor.

Thomas was now thirty-eight; Theobald, Nigel, and Leicester were all old
men, and the young king of twenty-two must have seemed a mere boy to his
new counsellors. The Empress had been left in Normandy to avoid the
revival of old quarrels. Hated in England for her proud contempt of the
burgher, her scorn of the churchman, her insolence to her adherents, she
won in Normandy a fairer fame, as "a woman of excellent disposition,
kind to all, bountiful in almsgiving, the friend of religion, of honest
life." The political activity of Queen Eleanor was brought to an abrupt
close by her marriage. In Henry she found a master very different from
Louis of France, and her enforced withdrawal from public affairs during
her husband's life contrasts strangely, not only with her former career,
but with the energy which, when the heavy yoke was taken off her neck,
she displayed as an old woman of nearly seventy during the reign of her
son. Henry, in fact, stood alone among his new people. No debt of
gratitude, no ties of friendship, bound the king to the lords whose aims
he had first learned to know at Wallingford. The great barons who
thronged round him in his court had all been rebels; the younger among
them had never known what order, government, or loyalty meant. The Church
was hesitating and timorous. To the people he was an utter stranger,
unable even to speak their tongue. But from the first Henry took his
place as absolute master and leader. "A strict regard to justice was
apparent in him, and at the very outset he bore the appearance of a
great prince."

The king at once put in force the scheme of reform which had been drawn
up the year before at Wallingford, and of which the provisions have
comedown to us in phrases drawn from the two sources which were most
familiar to the learned and the vulgar of that day,--the Bible, and the
prophecies of Merlin, the seer of King Arthur. The nobles were to give
up all illegal rights and estates which they had usurped. The castles
built by the warring barons were to be destroyed. The king was to bring
back husbandmen to the desolate fields, and to stock pastures and
forests and hillsides with cattle and deer and sheep. The clergy were
henceforth to live in quiet, not vexed by unaccustomed burdens. Sheriffs
were to be restored to the counties, who should do justice without
corruption, nor persecute any for malice; thieves and robbers were to be
hanged; the armed forces were to be disbanded; the knights were to beat
their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; the
hired Flemish soldiers were to turn from the camp to the plough, from
tents to workshops, there to render as servants the obedience they had
once demanded as masters. The work which Stephen had failed to do was
now swiftly accomplished. The Flemish mercenaries vanished "like
phantoms," or "like wax before the fire," and their leader, William of
Ypres, the lord of Kent, turned with weeping to a monastery in his own
land. The feudal lords were forced to give up such castles and lands as
they had wrongfully usurped; and the newly-created earls were deprived
of titles which they had wrung from King or Empress in the civil wars.

The great nobles of both parties made a last effort at resistance. In
the north the Count of Aumale ruled almost as king. He was of the House
of Champagne, son of that Count Stephen who had once been set up as
claimant to the English throne, and near kinsman both of Henry and of
Stephen. He now refused to give up Scarborough Castle; behind him lay
the armies of the Scot king, and if Aumale's rebellion were successful
the whole north must be lost. A rising on the Welsh border marked the
revival of the old danger of which Henry himself had had experience in
the castle of his uncle, Robert of Gloucester, when the Empress and
Robert, with his Welsh connections and alliances, had dominated the
whole of the south-west. Hugh Mortimer, lord of Wigmore, Cleobury, and
Bridgenorth, the most powerful lord on the Welsh border, and Roger, Earl
of Hereford and lord of Gloucester, and connected by his mother with the
royal house of Wales, prepared for war. Immediately after his crowning
Henry hurried to the north, accompanied by Theobald, and forced Aumale
to submission. The fear of him fell on the barons. Roger of Hereford
submitted, and the earldom of Hereford and city of Gloucester were placed
in Henry's hands. The whole force of the kingdom was called out against
Hugh Mortimer, and Bridgenorth, fortified fifty years before by Robert
of Belesme, was reduced in July. The next year William of Warenne, the
son of Stephen, gave up all his castles in England and Normandy, and the
power of the House of Blois in the realm was finally extinguished. Hugh
Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, was deprived of his fortresses, and the eastern
counties were thus secured as those of the north and west had been.

The borders of the kingdom were now safe; its worst elements of disorder
were suppressed; and the bishops and barons had taken an oath of
allegiance to his son William, and in case of William's death to the
infant Henry, born in February 1155. When Henry was called abroad in
January 1156, he could safely leave the kingdom for a year in the charge
of Queen Eleanor and of the justiciars. His return was marked by a new
triumph. The death of David and the succession of his grandson Malcolm, a
boy of twelve years old, gave opportunity for asserting his suzerainty
over Scotland, and freeing himself from his oath made in 1149 at Carlisle
to grant the land beyond the Tyne to David and his heirs for ever.
Malcolm was brought to do homage to him at Chester in June 1157, and
Northumberland and Cumberland passed into Henry's hands. Malcolm and his
successor William followed him in his wars and attended at his courts,
and whatever Henry's actual authority might be, in the eyes of his
English subjects at least he ruled to the farthest borders of Scotland.
He next turned to the settlement of Wales. The civil war had violently
interrupted the peaceful processes by which Henry I. sought to bring the
Welsh under English law. The princes of Wales had practically regained
their independence, while the Norman lords who had carved out estates for
themselves along its borders, indignant at Stephen's desertion of them,
and driven to provide for their own safety, had formed alliances by
marriage with the native rulers. Henry had, in fact, to reconquer the
country, and to provide safeguards against any military union between the
feudal lords of the border and its hostile princes, Owen Gwynneth of the
North, and Rhys ap-Gryffyth of the South. In 1157 he undertook the first
of his three expeditions against Wales. His troops, however, unused to
mountain warfare, had but ill success; and it was only when Henry had
secured the castles of Flintshire, and gathered a fleet along the coast
to stop the importation of corn that Owen was driven in August to do
homage for his land. The next year he penetrated into the mountains of
South Wales and took hostages from its ruler, Rhys-ap-Gryffyth; "the
honour and glory and beauty and invincible strength of the knights; Rhys,
the pillar and saviour of his country, the harbour and defender of the
weak, the admiration and terror of his enemies, the sole pillar and hope
of South Wales."

The triumph of the Angevin conqueror was now complete. The baronage lay
crushed at his feet. The Church was silent. The royal authority had been
pushed, at least in name, to the utmost limits of the island. The close
of this first work of settlement was marked by a royal progress between
September 1157 and January 1158 through the whole length of England from
Malmesbury to Carlisle. It was the king's first visit to the northern
shires which he had restored to the English crown; he visited and
fortified the most important border castles, and then through the bitter
winter months he journeyed to Yorkshire, the fastnesses of the Peak,
Nottingham, and the midland and southern counties. The progress ended at
Worcester on Easter Day, 1158. There the king and queen for the last
time wore their crowns in solemn state before the people. A strange
ceremony followed. In Worcester Cathedral stood the shrine of St.
Wulfstan, the last of the English bishops, the saint who had preserved
the glory of the old English Church in the days of the Confessor, and
carried it on through the troubled time of the Conquest, to whose
supernatural resources the Conqueror himself had been forced to yield,
and who had since by ever-ready miracle defended his city of Worcester
from danger. On this shrine the king and Queen now laid their crowns,
with a solemn vow never again to wear them. To the people of the West
such an act may perhaps have seemed a token that Henry came among them
as heir of the English line of kings, and as defender of the English
Church and people.

From England Henry was called away in August 1158, by the troubles of
his dominions across the sea. The power of Anjou had been built up by
centuries of tyranny, treason, and greed. Nantes had been robbed from
Britanny, Tours had been wrested from Blois, the southern borderland
from Poitou. A hundred years of feud with Maine could not lightly be
forgotten. Normandy still cherished the ancient hatred of pirate and
Frenchman. To the Breton, as to the Norman and the Gascon, the rule of
Anjou was a foreign rule; and if they must have a foreign ruler, better
the King of France than these upstart Counts. Henry held his various
states too by wholly different titles, and to every one of them his
right was more or less disputed. To add to the confusion, his barons in
every province held under him according to different customs and laws of
feudal tenure; and many of them, moreover, owed a double allegiance, and
did homage for part of their estates to Henry and for part to the King
of France. In the general uncertainty as to every question of succession,
or title, or law, or constitution, or feudal relations, the authority
which had been won by the sword could be kept only by sheer military
force. The rebellious array of the feudal nobles, eager to spring to arms
against the new imperial system, could count on the help of the great
French vassals along the border, jealous of their own independence, and
ever watching the Angevin policy with vigilant hostility. And behind
these princes of France stood the French king, Henry's suzerain lord and
his most determined and restless foe, from whom the Angevin count had
already taken away his wife and half his dominions, a foe to whom,
however, through all the perplexed and intermittent wars of thirty years,
he was bound by the indissoluble tie of the feudal relation, which
remained the dominant and authoritative fact of the political morality of
that day. For twenty years to come the two kings, both of them hampered
by overwhelming difficulties, strove to avoid war each after his own
fashion: Henry by money lavishly spent, and by wary diplomacy; Louis
more economically by a restless cunning, by incessant watching of his
adversary's weak points, by dexterously using the arms of Henry's
rebellious subjects rather than those of Frenchmen.

Henry's first care was to secure his ill-defined and ill-defended
frontier, and to recover those border fortresses which had been wrested
from Geoffrey by his enemies. In Normandy the Vexin, which was the true
military frontier between him and France, and commanded the road to
Paris, had been lost. In Anjou he had to win back the castles which had
fallen to the House of Blois. His brother Geoffrey, Earl of Nantes, was
dead, and he must secure his own succession to the earldom. Two rival
claimants were disputing the lordship of Britanny, but Britanny must at
all costs be brought into obedience to Henry. There were hostile forces
in Angoumois, La Marche, Saintonge, and the Limousin, which had to be
finally destroyed. And besides all this, it was necessary to enforce
Eleanor's rights over Berri, and her disputed claims to supremacy over
Toulouse and Auvergne. Every one of these projects was at once taken in
hand. Henry's chancellor, Thomas Becket, was sent from England in 1158
at the head of a splendid embassy to the French court, and when Henry
landed in France the success of this mission was declared. A marriage
was arranged between his little son Henry, now three years old, and
Louis' daughter Margaret, aged six months; and the Vexin was to be
restored to Normandy as Margaret's dowry. The English king obtained from
Louis the right to judge as lord of Anjou and seneschal of France
between the claimants to Britanny; his first entry into that province
was with full authority as the officer of France, and the whole army of
Normandy was summoned to Avranches to enforce his judgment. Conan was
made Duke of Britanny under Henry's lordship, and Nantes was given up
into his hands. He secured by treaty with the House of Blois the
fortresses which had fallen into their hands, and before the year was
out he thus saw his inheritance in Anjou and Normandy, as he had before
seen his inheritance in England, completely restored. In November he
conducted the King of France on a magnificent progress through Normandy
and Britanny, not now as a vassal requiring his help, but with all the
pomp of an equal king.

Meanwhile Henry had been preparing an army to assert his sovereignty
over Toulouse--a sovereignty which would have carried his dominions to
the Mediterranean and the Rhone. The Count of St. Gilles, to whom it had
been pledged by a former Duke of Aquitaine, and who had eighteen years
before refused to surrender it on Eleanor's first marriage, now resisted
the claims of her second husband also, and he was joined by Louis, who
under the altered circumstances took a different view of the legal
rights of Eleanor's husband to suzerainty. To France, indeed, the
question was a matter of life and death. The success of Henry would have
left her hemmed in on three sides by the Angevin dominions, cut off from
the Mediterranean as from the Channel, with the lower Rhone in the hands
of the powerful rival that already held the Seine, the Loire, and the
Garonne. When, therefore, Henry's forces occupied the passes of the
province, and in September 1159 closed round Toulouse itself, Louis
threw himself into the city. Henry, profoundly influenced by the feudal
code of honour of his day, inheriting the traditional loyalty of his
house to the French monarchy, too sagacious lightly to incur war with
France, too politic to weaken in the eyes of his own vassals the
authority of feudal law, and possibly mindful of the succession to the
French throne which might yet pass through Margaret to his son Henry,
refused to carry on war against the person of his suzerain. He broke up
the siege in spite of the urgent advice of his chancellor Thomas; and
for nearly forty years the quarrel lingered on with the French monarchy,
till the question was settled in 1196 by the marriage of Henry's
daughter Joanna to Count Raymond VI. Thomas, who had proved himself a
mighty warrior, was left in charge of the newly-conquered Cahors, while
Henry returned to Normandy, and concluded in May a temporary peace with
Louis. His enemies, however, were drawn together by a common fear, and
France became the battle-ground of the rival ambitions of the Houses of
Blois and Anjou. Louis allied himself with the three brothers of the
House of Blois--the Counts of Champagne, of Sancerre, and of Blois--by a
marriage with their sister only a month after the death of his own queen
in September; and a joint attack was planned upon Henry. His answer was
rapid and decisive. Margaret was in his keeping, and he at once married
her to his son, took the Vexin into his own hands and fortified it with
castles. His position in fact was so strong that the forced his enemies
to a truce in June 1161.

The political complications with which Henry was surrounded were still
further confused by a new question which now arose, and which was to
threaten the peace of Europe for eighteen years. On the death of the
English Pope, Hadrian IV., on the 1st of September 1159, two rivals,
Alexander III. and Victor IV., disputed the see of Rome, and the strife
between the Empire and the Papacy, now nearly one hundred years old,
broke out afresh on a far greater scale than in the time of Gregory.
Frederick Barbarossa asserted the imperial right of judging between the
rivals, and declared Victor pope, supported by the princes of the Empire
and by the kings of Hungary, Bohemia, and Denmark. Alexander claimed the
aid of the French king--the traditional defender of the Church and
protector of the Popes; and after the strife had raged for nearly three
years, he fled in 1162 to France. In the great schism Henry joined the
side of Louis in support of Alexander and of the orthodox cause; the two
kings met at Chouzy, near Blois, to do honour to the Pope; they walked
on either side of his horse and held his reins. The meeting marked a
great triumph for Alexander; the union of the Teutonic nations against
the policy of Rome was to be delayed for three centuries and a half. It
marked, too, the highest point of Henry's success. He had checked the
Emperor's schemes; he had won the gratitude of both Louis and the Pope;
he had defeated the plots of the House of Blois, and shown how easily
any alliance between France and Champagne might be broken to pieces by
his military power and his astute diplomacy. He had rounded off his
dominions; he had conquered the county of Cahors; he had recovered the
Vexin and the border castles of Freteval and Amboise; the fiefs of
William of Boulogne had passed into his hands on William's death; he was
master of Nantes and Dol, and lord of Britanny; he had been appointed
Protector of Flanders.

At this moment, indeed, Henry stood only second to the Emperor among the
princes of Christendom, and his aim seems to have been to rival in
some sort the Empire of the West, and to reign as an over-king, with
sub-kings of his various provinces, and England as one of them, around
him. He was connected with all the great ruling houses. His eldest son
was married to the daughter of the King of France; the baby Richard,
eighteen months old, was betrothed during the war of Toulouse to a
daughter of the King of Aragon. He was himself a distant kinsman of the
Emperor. He was head of the house of the Norman kings in Sicily. He was
nearest heir of the kings of Jerusalem. Through his wife he was head of
the house of Antioch, and claimed to be head of the house of Tripoli.
Already in these first years of his reign the glory of the English king
had been acknowledged by ambassadors from the Emperor, from the King of
Jerusalem, from Norway, from Sweden, from the Moorish kings of Valencia
and Murcia, bearing the gifts of an Eastern world--gold, silk, horses,
and camels. England was forced out of her old isolation; her interest in
the world without was suddenly awakened. English scholars thronged the
foreign universities; English chroniclers questioned travellers,
scholars, ambassadors, as to what was passing abroad. The influence of
English learning and English statecraft made itself felt all over
Europe. Never, perhaps, in all the history of England was there a time
when Englishmen played so great apart abroad. English statesmen and
bishops were set over the conduct of affairs in Provence, in Sicily, in
Gascony, in Britanny, in Normandy. English archbishops and bishops and
abbots held some of the highest posts in France, in Anjou, in Flanders,
in Portugal, in Italy, in Sicily. Henry himself welcomed trained men
from Normandy or Sicily or wherever he could find them, to help in his
work of administration; but in England foreigners were not greatly
welcomed in any place of power, and his court was, with but one or two
exceptions, made up of men who, of whatever descent they might be,
looked on themselves as Englishmen, and bore the impress of English
training. The mass of Englishmen meanwhile looked after their own
affairs and cared nothing about foreign wars fought by Brabancon
mercenaries, and paid for by foreign gold. But if they had nothing to
win from all these wars, they were none the less at last drawn into the
political alliances and sympathies of their master. Shut out as she was
by her narrow strip of sea from any real concern in the military
movements of the continental peoples, England was still dragged by the
policy of her Angevin rulers into all the complications of European
politics. The friendships and the hatreds of her king settled who were
to be the allies and who the foes of England, and practically fixed the
course of her foreign policy for seven hundred years. A traditional
sympathy lingered on from Henry's days with Germany, Italy, Sicily, and
Spain; but the connection with Anjou forced England into a hostility
with France which had no real ground in English feeling or English
interests; the national hatred took a deeper character when the feudal
nobles clung to the support of the French king against the English
sovereign and the English people, and "generation handed on to generation
an enmity whose origin had long been forgotten." From the disastrous
Crusade of 1191, "from the siege of Acre," to use the words of Dr.
Stubbs, "and the battle of Arsouf to the siege of Sebastopol and the
battles of the Crimea, English and French armies never met again except
as enemies."



The building up of his mighty empire was not the only task which filled
the first years of Henry's reign. Side by side with this went on another
work of peaceful internal administration which we can but dimly trace in
the dearth of all written records, but which was ultimately to prove of
far greater significance than the imperial schemes that in the eyes of his
contemporaries took so much larger proportions and shone with so much
brighter lustre.

The restoration of outward order had not been difficult, for the anarchy
of Stephen's reign, terrible as it was, had only passed over the surface
of the national life and had been vanquished by a single effort. But the
new ruler of England had to begin his work of administration not only
amid the temporary difficulties of a general disorganization, but amid
the more permanent difficulties of a time of transition, when society was
seeking to order itself anew in its passage from the medieval to the
modern world; and his victory over the most obvious and aggressive forms
of disorder was the least part of his task. Through all the time of
anarchy powerful forces had been steadily at work with which the king had
now to reckon. A new temper and new aspirations had been kindled by the
troubles of the last years. The deposition of Stephen, the elections of
Matilda and of Henry, had been so many formal declarations that the king
ruled by virtue of a bargain made between him and his people, and that if
he broke his contract he justly forfeited his authority. The routine of
silent and submissive councils had been broken through, and the earliest
signs of discussion and deliberation had discovered themselves, while the
Church, exerting in its assemblies an authority which the late king had
helplessly laid down, formed a new and effective centre of organized
resistance to tyranny in the future Even the rising towns had seized the
moment when the central administration was paralysed to extend their own
privileges, and to acquire large powers of self-government which were to
prove the fruitful sources of liberty for the whole people.

We see everywhere, in fact, signs of the great contest which in one form
or another runs through the whole of the twelfth century, and gives its
main interest in our eyes to the English history of the time,--the
struggle between the iron organization of medieval feudalism and those
nascent forces of modern civilization which were fated in the end to
shatter and supersede it. In spite of the cry of lamentation which the
chroniclers carry down to us over the misery of a land stricken by plague
and famine and rapine, it is still plain that even through the terrible
years of Stephen's reign England had its share in the universal movement
by which the squalor and misery of the Middle Ages were giving place to a
larger activity and a better order of things A class unknown before was
fast growing into power,--the middle class of burghers and traders, who
desired above all things order, and hated above all things the medieval
enemy of order, the feudal lord. Merchant and cultivator and wool-grower
found better work ready to their hand than fighting, and the appearance
of mercenary soldiers marked everywhere the development of peaceful
industries. Amid all the confusion of civil war the industrial activities
of the country had developed with bewildering rapidity; while knights and
barons led their foreign hirelings to mutual slaughter, monks and canons
were raising their religious houses in all the waste places of the land,
and silently laying the foundations of English enterprise and English
commerce. To the great body of the Benedictines and the Cluniacs were
added in the middle of the twelfth century the Cistercians, who founded
their houses among the desolate moorlands of Yorkshire in solitary places
which had known no inhabitants since the Conqueror's ravages, or among
the swamps of Lincolnshire. A hundred and fifteen monasteries were built
during the nineteen years of Stephen's reign, more than had been founded
in the whole previous century; a hundred and thirteen were added to these
during the reign of Henry. In half a century sixty-four religious houses
were built in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire alone. Monastery and priory, in
which the decorated Romanesque was giving way to the first-pointed
architecture, towered above the wretched mud-hovels in which the whole of
the population below the class of barons crowded; their churches were
distinguished by the rare and novel luxury of glass windows, which, as
they caught the red light of the setting sun, startled the peasant with
omens of coming ill. Multitudes of men were busied in raising the vast
pile of buildings which made up a religious house,--cloisters, dormitories,
chapels, hospitals, granaries, barns, storehouses, whose foundations when
all else is gone still show in the rugged surface of some modern field.
Regular and secular clergy were alike spurred on in their work by jealous
rivalry. Archbishop Roger of York was at the opening of Henry's reign
building his beautiful church at Ripon, of whose rich decoration traces
still remain, while he gave scant sympathy and encouragement to the
Cistercian monks still busy with the austere mass of buildings which
they had raised at Fountains almost within sight of the Ripon towers.

We may gain some faint idea of the amazing stir and industry which the
founding of these monasteries implied by following in our modern farms
and pasture lands the traces which may even now be seen of the toil of
these great preachers of labour. The whole water supply of a countryside
for miles round was gathered up by vast drainage works; stagnant pools
were transformed into running waters closed in by embankments, which
still serve as ditches for the modern farmer; swamps were reclaimed that
are only now preserved for cultivation by maintaining the dykes and
channels first cut by medieval monks; mills rose on the banks of the
newly-created streams; roads were made by which the corn of surrounding
villages might be carried to the central mill and the produce of the land
brought to the central storehouse. The new settlers showed a measureless
cunning and industry in reclaiming worthless soil; and so eager were they
for land at last, that the Cistercians were even said to desecrate
churchyards, and to encroach on the borders of royal forests. They grew
famous for the breeding of horses according to the exacting taste of the
day, learned in the various species of palfreys and sumpter horses and
knight's chargers and horses for ambling or for trotting. They thanked
Heaven for the "blessings of fatness and fleeces," as foreign weavers
sought their wool and the gold of Flanders was poured into their
treasure-houses. The same enterprise and energy which in modern days made
England the first manufacturing country of the world was then, in fact,
fast pressing her forward to the place which Australia now holds towards
modern Europe,--the great wool-growing country, the centre from whence
the raw material for commerce was supplied. In vain the Church by its
canons steadily resisted the economic changes of a time when wealth began
to gather again and capital found new uses, and bitterly as it declaimed
against usury and mortgages, angry complaints still increased "that many
people laying aside business practised usury almost openly."

Nor were the towns behindhand in activity. As yet, indeed, the little
boroughs were for the most part busy in fighting for the most elementary
of liberties--for freedom of trade within the town, for permission to hold
a market, for leave to come and go freely to some great fair, for the right
to buy and sell in some neighbouring borough, for liberty to carry out
their own justice and regulate the affairs of their town. They were buying
from the lord, in whose "demesne" they lay, permission to gather wood in
the forest, right of common in its pasture, the commutation of their
services in harvest-time for "reap-silver," and of their bondage to the
lord's mill for "multure-penny." Or they were fighting a sturdy battle with
the king's justices to preserve some ancient privilege, the right of the
borough perhaps to "swear by itself,"--that is, to a jury of its own or its
freedom from the general custom of "frank-pledge." As trade advanced
commercial bodies grew up in the boroughs and formed themselves into gilds;
and these gilds gradually drew into their own hands the government of the
town, which in old days had been decided by the general voice of the whole
body of its burghers--that is, of those who held land within its walls.
The English borough began, in fact, to resemble the foreign "Commune."
Gilds of bakers, of weavers, of mercers, of fullers, of butchers,
goldsmiths, pepperers, clothiers, and pilgrims appeared in London, York,
Gloucester, Nottingham, even in little boroughs such as that of St.
Edmunds; while in distant Cornwall, Totnes, Lidford, and Bodmin set up
their gilds. How Henry regarded the movement it is hard to say. The gilds
had to pay, as everything had to pay, to the needy Treasury; but otherwise
they were not interfered with, and went on steadily increasing in power and

Prosperity brought with it the struggle for supremacy, and the history of
nations was rehearsed on a petty stage, with equal passions if with less
glory. A thriving village or township would begin to encroach on the
common land of its weaker neighbours, would try to seize some of its
rights of pannage in the forest, or fishing in the stream. But its most
strenuous efforts were given to secure the exclusive right of trading.
Free trade between village and village in England was then, in fact, as
much unknown as free trade at this day between the countries of modern
Europe. Producer, merchant, manufacturer saw in "protection" his only
hope of wealth or security. Jealously enclosed within its own borders,
each borough watched the progress of its neighbours "with anxious
suspicion." If one of them dared defiantly to set up a right to make and
sell its own bread and ale, or if it bought a charter granting the right
to a market, it found itself surrounded by foes. The new market was
clearly an injury to the rights of a neighbouring abbot or baron or town
gild, or it lessened the profits of the "king's market" in some borough
on the royal demesne. Then began a war, half legal, half of lawless
violence. Perhaps the village came off victorious, and kept its new
market on condition that it should never change the day without a royal
order (unless in deference to the governing religious feeling of the
time, it should change it from Sunday to a week day). Perhaps, on the
other hand, it saw its charter vanish, and all the money it had cost with
it, its butchers' and bakers' stalls shattered, its scales carried off,
its ovens destroyed, the "tumbril" for the correction of fraudulent baker
or brewer destroyed. Of such a strife we have an instance in the fight
which the burghers of Wallingford carried on with their neighbours. They
first sought to crush the rising prosperity of Abingdon by declaring that
its fair was an illegal innovation, and that in old days nothing might be
sold in the town save bread and ale. Oxford, which had had a long quarrel
with Abingdon over boat cargoes and river tolls, readily joined in the
attack, but ultimately by the king's judgment Abingdon was declared to
have had right to a "full market", and Wallingford was discomfited. A
little later its wrath was kindled afresh by the men of Crowmarsh, who,
instead of coming to the Wallingford market, actually began to make their
own bread and ale--by what warrant no one knew, said the Wallingford
bakers and brewers. Crowmarsh held out through the later years of Henry's
reign and Richard's, had a sore struggle under John, and at last under
Henry III. saw the officers of justice come down upon them a second time,
and make a general wreck of ovens and "tumbril," while the weights were
carried off to triumphant Wallingford.

But if an era of industrial activity had opened, the new intellectual
impulse of the time was yet more striking. Great forces had everywhere
worked together under the one name of the Church: the ecclesiastical
organization which was represented in Rome, in the Episcopate, and in the
Canon law; the democratic monachism; the intellectual temper with its
pursuit of pure knowledge; the religious mystical spirit which was
included in all the rest and yet separate from them. But other elements
than these were at work in the twelfth century,--the literary and historic
movement, the legal revival, the new scepticism, the spirit of wide
imperialism, the romantic impulse. Education had up to this time been
wholly undertaken by the Church. The work of teaching had been one of the
main objects of the cathedral; the school and its chancellor were as
essential parts of the foundation as dean or precentor. No rivals to the
cathedral schools existed save those of the monasteries, and education
naturally bore the impress given to it in these great institutions;
profane learning was only valued so far as it could be used to illustrate
the Bible, and the ordinary teaching was almost wholly founded on four or
five authors, who wrote when the struggle of the Empire against the
barbarians was almost over, and who represented the last efforts of a
learning which was ready to vanish. The monastic libraries show how
narrow was the range of reading. The great monastery of Bec had about
fifty books. At Canterbury the library of Christ Church, which a century
later possessed seven hundred volumes, had at this time but a hundred and
fifty. Its single Greek work was a grammar; and if it could boast of a
copy of the Institutes of Justinian, it did not yet possess a single book
of civil law, not even Gratian's _Decretum_. The age of Universities,
however, had now begun, and English scholars went abroad in numbers to
study law at Bologna and the Italian universities, or to learn philosophy
and the arts at Paris, or at some of the less costly schools in Gaul. On
all sides they met with the stir of political and religious speculation.
The crusades and the intercourse with the East had broken down the
boundaries between Christian and Mohammedan thought; the Jews were
teaching science and medicine, and had just brought from the East the
philosophy of Aristotle. France struck the first note of a new literature
in her chronicles, her national poems, and the songs of her troubadours.
All Paris was ringing with the struggle of Abelard and St. Bernard. At
its university Peter Lombard was preparing to publish his _Sentences_,
which were to form the framework for the dogmatic theology of centuries
to come. New theories of liberty were quickened by classical studies
which made men familiar with the heroes of Greece and Rome. Abelard's
disciple, Arnold of Brescia, was preaching his theory of political and
religious freedom; civil government was to return to the old republican
forms of ancient Rome, and the clergy were to be separated from all
secular jurisdiction. In Lombardy the growth of wealth, population, and
trade, demanded a more developed jurisprudence, and a new study had
sprung up of Roman law. Bolognese lawyers lectured on the Pandects of
Justinian, and by their work the whole legal education of the day was
transformed; old prejudices and old traditions lost the authority which
had long hedged them about, and the new code threatened to destroy
everywhere the imperfect systems of the past with which it came in
contact. The revival of the study of civil law was followed by a new
scientific study of Canon law; and a recognized code was for the
first time developed, as well as a minute system of legal procedure,
when Gratian published in 1151 the _Decretum_, a great text-book of
ecclesiastical law.

Amid all the intellectual activity which surrounded the English students
abroad it is, curious to note what they carried home with them across the
Channel, and what they left simply untouched. The zeal for learning
quickly showed itself in the growth of the Universities. As early as 1133
Robert Pulleyn was teaching Latin at Oxford. In 1149 Archbishop Theobald
brought to it Master Vacarius, a famous Lombard lawyer, who lectured on
the Civil law until he was expelled by Stephen, half fearful of the new
teaching and half influenced by the pressure of the older and more
conservative of the English bishops. There was much of the foreign
movement, however, which found no place in England. Difference of tongue
shut out Norman and Englishman from the influence of the new Provencal
poetry, and for a century to come England owed nothing to the finished
art of the South. The strip of sea which kept aloof all European tumults
shut out also the speculations in politics and government which were
making their way abroad. Even the religious movement which overran one
half of France under the Albigenses, or that which counted its followers
and martyrs by multitudes in Flanders never crossed the Channel, in spite
of the constant intercourse between the peoples; and missionaries from
Germany during the reign of Henry only succeeded in converting one poor
woman in England who immediately recanted. It was in other directions
that the energies of the people found their exercise. If Englishmen were
heedless of foreign philosophers, they were quick to notice that the
fruit of the vine had failed, and forthwith the unheard-of novelty of
taverns where beer and mead were sold sprang up in France, probably by
the help of those English traders whose beer was the marvel of Frenchmen.

It was these new conditions of the national life which constituted the
real problem of government--a problem far more slow and difficult to work
out than the mere suppression of a turbulent baronage. In the rapid
movement towards material prosperity, the energies of the people were in
all directions breaking away from the channels and limits in which they
had been so long confined. Rules which had been sufficient for the
guidance of a simple society began to break down under the new fullness
and complexity of the national life, and the simple decisions by which
questions of property and public order had been solved in earlier times
were no longer possible. Moreover, a new confusion and uncertainty had
been brought into the law in the last hundred years by the effort to fuse
together Norman and English custom. Norman landlord or Norman sheriff
naturally knew little of English law or custom, and his tendency was
always to enforce the feudal rules which he practised on his Norman
estates. In course of time it came about that all questions of land-tenure
and of the relations of classes were regulated by a kind of double system.
The Englishman as well as the Norman became the "man" of his lord as in
Norman law, and was bound by the duties which this involved. On the other
hand, the Norman as well as the Englishman held his land subject to the
customary burdens and rights recognized by English law. Both races were
thus made equal before the law, and no legal distinction was recognized
between conqueror and conquered. There was, however, every element of
confusion and perplexity in the theory and administration of the law
itself, in the variety of systems which were contending for the mastery,
and in the inefficiency of the courts in which they were applied. English
law had grown up out of Teutonic custom, into which Roman tradition had
been slowly filtering through the Dark Ages Feudal law still bore traces
of its double origin in the system of the Teutonic "comitatus" and of the
Roman "beneficium." Forest law, which governed the vast extent of the
king's domains, was bound neither by Norman forms nor by English
traditions, but was framed absolutely at the king's will. Canon law had
been developed out of customs and precedents which had served to regulate
the first Christian communities, and which had been largely formed out of
the civil law of Rome. There was a multitude of local customs which
varied in every hundred and in every manor, and which were preserved by
the jealousy that prevailed between one village and another, the strong
sense of local life and jurisdiction, and the strict adherence to
immemorial traditions.

These different codes of law were administered in various courts of
divers origins. The tenant-in-chief of the king who was rich enough had
his cause carried to the King's Court of barons, where he was tried by his
peers. The poorer vassals, with the mass of the people, sought such
justice as was to be had in the old English courts, the Shire Court held
by the sheriff, and, where this survived, the Hundred Court summoned by
the bailiff. The lowest orders of the peasant class, shut out from the
royal courts, could only plead in questions of property in the manor
courts of their lords. The governing bodies of the richer towns were
winning the right to exercise absolute jurisdiction over the burghers
within their own walls. The Forest courts were held by royal officers, who
were themselves exempt from all jurisdiction save that of the king. And
under one plea or another all men in the State were liable for certain
causes to be brought under the jurisdiction of the newly established
Church courts. This system of conflicting laws was an endless source of
perplexity. The country was moreover divided into two nationalities, who
imperfectly understood one another's customary rights; and it was further
broken into various classes which stood in different relations to the law.
Those who had sufficient property were not only deemed entirely
trustworthy themselves, but were also considered answerable for the men
under them; a second class of freeholders held property sufficient to
serve as security for their own good behaviour, but not sufficient to make
them pledges for others; there was a third and lower class without
property, for whose good conduct the law required the pledge of some
superior. In a state of things so complicated, so uncertain and so
shifting, it is hard to understand how justice can ever have been
secured; nor, indeed, could any general order have been preserved,
save for the fact that these early courts of law, having all sprung
out of the same conditions of primitive life, and being all more or
less influenced and so brought to some common likeness by the Roman
law, did not differ very materially in their view of the relations
between the subjects of the State, and fundamentally administered the
same justice. Until this time too there had been but little legal
business to bring before the courts. There was practically no commerce;
there was little sale of land; questions of property were defined within
very narrow limits; a mass of contracts, bills of exchange, and all the
complicated transactions which trade brings with it, were only beginning
to be known. As soon, however, as industry developed, and the needs of a
growing society made themselves felt, the imperfections of the old order
became intolerable. The rude methods and savage punishments of the law
grew more and more burdensome as the number of trials increased; and the
popular courts were found to be fast breaking down under the weight of
their own ignorance and inefficiency.

The most important of these was the Shire Court. It still retained its
old constitution; it preserved some tradition of a tribunal where the
king was not the sole fountain of justice, and the memory of a law which
was not the "king's law." It administered the old customary English
codes, and carried on its business by the old procedure. There came to it
the lords of the manors with their stewards, the abbots and priors of the
county with their officers, the legal men of the hundreds who were
qualified by holding property or by social freedom, and from every
township the parish priest, with the reeve and four men, the smiths,
farmers, millers, carpenters, who had been chosen in the little community
to represent their neighbours; and along with them stood the pledges, the
witnesses, the finders of dead bodies, men suspected of crime. The court
was, in fact, a great public meeting of the whole county; there was no
rank or order which did not send some of its number to swell the confused
crowd that stood round the sheriff. The criminal was generally put on his
trial by accusation of an injured neighbour, who, accompanied by his
friends, swore that he did not bring his charge for hatred, or for envy,
or for unlawful lust of gain. The defendant claimed the testimony of his
lord, and further proved his innocence by a simple or threefold
compurgation--that is, by the oath of a certain number of freemen among
his neighbours, whose property gave them the required value in the eye of
the law, and who swore together as "compurgators" that they believed his
oath of denial to be "clean and unperjured." The faith of the compurgator
was measured by his landed property, and the value of the joint-oath which
was required depended on a most intricate and baffling set of arithmetical
calculations, and differed according to the kind of crime, the rank of the
criminal, and the amount of property which was in dispute, besides other
differences dependent on local customs. Witnesses might also be called
from among neighbours who held property and were acquainted with the facts
to which they would "dare" to swear. The final judgment was given by
acclamation of the "suitors" of the court--that is, by the owners of
property and the elected men of the hundreds or townships; in other words,
by the public opinion of the neighbourhood. If the accused man were of bad
character by common report, or if he could find no friends to swear in his
behalf, "the oath burst," and there remained for him only the ordeal or
trial by battle, which he might accept or refuse at his own peril. In the
simple ordeal he dipped his hand in boiling water to the wrist, or carried
a bar of redhot iron three paces. If in consequence of his lord's
testimony being against him the triple ordeal was used, he had to plunge
his arm in water up to the elbow, or to carry the iron for nine paces. If
he were condemned to the ordeal by water, his death seems to have been
certain, since sinking was the sign of innocence, and if the prisoner
floated he was put to death as guilty. The other alternative, trial by
battle, which had been introduced by the Normans, was extremely unpopular
in England; it told hardly against men who were weak or untrained to arms,
or against the man of humble birth, who was allowed against his armed
opponent neither horse nor the arms of a knight, but simply a leathern
jacket, a shield of leather or wood, and a stick without knots or points.

At the beginning of the reign of Henry II, the Shire courts seem to have
been nearly as bad as they could be. Scarcely any attempt had been made,
perhaps none had till now been greatly needed, to improve a system which
had grown up in a dim and ruder past. The Norman kings, indeed, had
introduced into England a new method of deciding doubtful questions of
property by the "recognition" of sworn witness instead of by the English
process of compurgation or ordeal. Twelve men, who must be freemen and
hold property, were chosen from the neighbourhood, and as "jurors" were
sworn to state truly what they knew about the question in dispute, and
the matter was decided according to their witness or "recognition." If
those who were summoned were unacquainted with the facts, they were
dismissed and others called; if they knew the facts but differed in their
statement, others were added to their number, till twelve at least were
found whose testimony agreed together. These inquests on oath had
been used by the Conqueror for fiscal purposes in the drawing up of
Doomsday Book. From that time special "writs" from king or justice were
occasionally granted, by which cases were withdrawn from the usual modes
of trial in the local courts, and were decided by the method of
recognition, which undoubtedly provided a far better chance of justice
to the suitor, replacing as it did the rude appeal to the ordeal or to
battle by the sworn testimony of the chosen representatives, the good men
and true, of the neighbourhood. But the custom was not yet governed by any
positive and inviolable rules, and the action of the King's Court in this
respect was imperfectly developed, uncertain, and irregular.

It is scarcely possible, indeed, to estimate the difficulties in the way
of justice when Henry came to the throne. The wretched freeholders
summoned to the Shire Court from farm and cattle, from mill or anvil
or carpenter's bench, knew well the terrors of the journey through marsh
and fen and forest, the dangers of flood and torrent, and perhaps of
outlawed thief or murderer, the privations and hardships of the way; and
the heavy fines which occur in the king's rolls for non-attendance show
how anxiously great numbers of the suitors avoided joining in the
troublesome and thankless business of the court. When they reached the
place of trial a strange medley of business awaited them as questions
arose of criminal jurisdiction, of feudal tenure, of English "sac and
soc," of Norman franchises and Saxon liberties, with procedure sometimes
of the one people, sometimes of the other. The days dragged painfully on
as, without any help from trained lawyers, the "suitors" sought to settle
perplexed questions between opposing claims of national, provincial,
ecclesiastical, and civic laws, or made arduous journeys to visit the
scene of some murder or outrage, or sought for evidence on some difficult
problem of fact. Evidence, indeed, was not easy to find when the question
in dispute dated perhaps from some time before the civil war and the
suppression of the sheriff's courts, for no written record was ever kept
of the proceedings in court, and everything depended on the memory of
witnesses. The difficulties of taking evidence by compurgation increased
daily. A method which centuries before had been successfully applied to
the local crimes of small and stationary communities bound together by the
closest ties of kinship and of fellowship in possession of the soil, when
every transaction was inevitably known to the whole village or township,
became useless when new social and industrial conditions had destroyed the
older and simpler modes of life. The procedure of the courts was
antiquated and no longer guided by consistent principles. Their modes of
trial were so cumbrous, formal, and inflexible that it was scarcely
possible to avoid some minute technical mistake which might invalidate
the final decision.

The business of the larger courts, too, was for the most part carried on
in French under sheriff, or bailiff, or lord of the manor. The Norman
nobles did not know Latin, they were but gradually learning English; the
bulk of the lesser clergy perhaps spoke Latin, but did not know Norman;
the poorer people spoke only English; the clerks who from this time began
to note down the proceedings of the king's judges in Latin must often
have been puzzled by dialects of English strange to him. When each side
in a trial claimed its own customary law, and neither side understood the
speech of the other, the president of the court had every temptation to
be despotic and corrupt, and the interpreter between him and his suitors
became an important person who had much influence in deciding what mode
of procedure was to be followed. The sheriff, often holding a hereditary
post and fearing therefore no check to his despotism, added to the burden
of the unhappy freeholders by a custom of summoning at his own fancy
special courts, and laying heavy fines on those who did not attend them.
Even when the law was fairly administered there was a growing number of
cases in which the rigid forms of the court actually inflicted injustice,
as questions constantly arose which lay far outside the limits of the old
customary law of the Germanic tribes, or of the scanty knowledge of Roman
law which had penetrated into other codes. The men of that day looked too
often with utter hopelessness to the administration of justice; there was
no peril so great in all the dangers that surrounded their lives as the
peril of the law; there was no oppression so cruel as the oppression
wrought by the harsh and rigid forms of the courts. From such calamities
the miserable and despairing victims could look for no help save from the
miraculous aid of the saints; and society at that time, as indeed it has
been known to do in later days, was for ever appealing from the iniquity
of law to God,--to a God who protected murderers if they murdered Jews,
and defended robbers if they plundered usurers, who was, indeed, above
all law, and was supposed to distribute a violent and arbitrary justice,
answering to the vulgar notion of an equity unknown on earth.

We catch a glimpse of a trial of the time in the story of a certain
Ailward, whose neighbour had refused to pay a debt which he owed him.
Ailward took the law into his own hands, and broke into the house of his
debtor, who had gone to the tavern and had left his door fastened with
the lock hanging down outside, and his children playing within. Ailward
carried off as security for his debt the lock, a gimlet, and some tools,
and a whetstone which hung from the roof. As he sauntered home, however,
his furious neighbour overtook him, having heard from the children what
had been done. He snatched the whetstone from Ailward's hand and dealt
him a blow on the head with it, stabbed him in the arm with a knife, and
then triumphantly carried him to the house which, he had robbed, and
there bound him as "an open thief" with the stolen goods upon him. A
crowd gathered round, and an evil fellow, one Fulk, the apparitor, an
underling of the sheriff employed to summon criminals to the court,
remarked that as a thief could not legally be mutilated unless he had
taken to the value of a shilling, it would be well to add a few articles
to the list of stolen goods. Perhaps Ailward had won ill-fame as a
creditor, or even, it may be, a money-lender in the village, for his
neighbours clearly bore him little goodwill. The crowd readily consented.
A few odds and ends were gathered--a bundle of skins, gowns, linen, and
an iron tool,--and were laid by Ailward's side; and the next day, with
the bundle hung about his neck, he was taken before the sheriff and the
knights, who were then holding a Shire Court. The matter was thought
doubtful; judgment was delayed, and Ailward was made fast in Bedford
jail for a month, till the next county court. There the luckless man sent
for a priest of the neighbourhood, and confessing his sins from his youth
up, he was bidden to hope in the prayers of the blessed Virgin and of all
the saints against the awful terrors of the law, and received a rod to
scourge himself five times daily; while through the gloom shone the
glimmer of hope that having been baptized on the vigil of Pentecost,
water could not drown him nor fire burn him if he were sent to the
ordeal. At last the month went by and he was again carried to the Shire
Court, now at Leighton Buzzard. In vain he demanded single combat with
Fulk, or the ordeal by fire; Fulk, who had been bribed with an ox,
insisted on the ordeal of water, so that he should by no means escape.
Another month passed in the jail of Bedford before he was given up to be
examined by the ordeal. Whether he underwent it or whether he pleaded
guilty when the judges met is uncertain, but however this might be, "he
received the melancholy sentence of condemnation; and being taken to the
place of punishment, his eyes were pulled out and he was mutilated, and
his members were buried in the earth in the presence of a multitude of

Nor was there for the mass of the people any real help or security to be
found in an appeal to the supreme tribunal of the realm where the king
sat in council with his ministers. This still remained a tribunal of
exceptional resort to which appeals were rare. There was one Richard
Anesty, who, in these first years of Henry's reign, desired to prove in
the King's Court his right to hold a certain property. For five years
Richard, his brother, and a multitude of helpers, were incessantly busied
in this arduous task. The court followed the king, and the king might be
anywhere from York to the Garonne. The unhappy suitor might well have
joined in a complaint once made by a secretary of Henry in search of his
master: "Solomon saith there be three things difficult to be found out,
and a fourth which may hardly be discovered: the way of an eagle in the
air; the way of a ship in the sea; the way of a serpent on the ground;
and the way of a man in his youth. I can add a fifth: the way of a king
in England." The whole business now done by post had then to be carried
on by laborious journeyings, in which we hear again and again that horses
died on the road; if a writ were needed from king or queen, if the royal
seal were required, or a certificate from a bishop, or a letter from an
archbishop, special messengers posted across country; then the writ must
be carried in the same way to York, Lincoln, or elsewhere to be examined
by some famous lawyer, sometimes an Italian learned in the last legal
fashions of the day; perhaps it was pronounced faulty, or it might be
that the seal of justiciar or archbishop was refused on its return from
the lawyer, and the same business had to begin all over again; twice
messengers had to be sent to Rome, the journey each way taking at least
forty days of incessant and dangerous travelling. When at last the
appointed day for judgment by the justiciar came, friends, helpers, and
witnesses had to be called together in the same laborious way, and
transported at great cost to the place of trial, and there kept waiting
till news was brought that the plea could not then be heard; and thus
again and again the luckless suitor was summoned, each time to a
different town in England. In every town he was forced by his necessities
to borrow money from some Jew, who demanded about eighty-seven per cent
for the loan; and when at last, as Richard was worn out with the delays
of justiciars, Henry appeared on the scene, and, "thanks to our lord the
king," the land was adjudged to the suitor, he had to raise fresh money
to fee the lawyers, the bishop's staff, the officers of the King's Court,
the king's physicians, the king and queen, besides the sums which must be
given to his helpers and pleaders. The end of the story leaves him
mournfully counting up a long list of Jewish creditors, who bid fair to
exhaust the profits of his new possessions.

Such were in brief outline some of the difficulties which made order and
justice hard to win. Society was helpless to protect itself: news spread
slowly, the communication of thought was difficult, common action was
impossible. Amid all the shifting and half understood problems of
medieval times there was only one power to which men could look to protect
them against lawlessness, and that was the power of the king. No external
restraints were set upon his action; his will was without contradiction.
The medieval world with fervent faith believed that he was the very spring
and source of justice. In an age when all about him was changing, and when
there was no organized machinery for the administration of law, the king
had himself to be judge, lawgiver, soldier, financier, and administrator;
the great highways and rivers of the kingdom were in "his peace;" the
greater towns were in his demesne; he was guardian of the poor and
defender of the trader; he was finance minister in a society where
economic conditions were rapidly changing; here presented a developed
system of law as opposed to the primitive customs of feud and private war;
he was the only arbiter of questions that grew out of the new conflict of
classes and interests; he alone could decree laws at his absolute will and
pleasure, and could command the power to carry out his decrees; there was
not even a professional lawyer who was not in his court and bound to his

Henry saw and used his opportunity. Even as a youth of twenty-one he
assumed absolute control in his courts with a knowledge and capacity which
made him fully able to meet trained lawyers, such as his chancellor,
Thomas, or his justiciar, De Lucy. Cool, businesslike, and prompt, he set
himself to meet the vast mass of arrears, the questions of jurisdiction
and of disputed property, which had arisen even as far back as the time of
Henry I., and had gone unsettled through the whole reign of Stephen, to
the ruin and havoc of the lands in question. He examined every charter
that came before him; if any was imperfect he was ready to draw one up
with his own hand; he watched every difficult point of law, noted every
technical detail, laid down his own position with brief decision. In the
uncertain and transitional state of the law the king's personal
interference knew scarcely any limits, and Henry used his power freely.
But his unswerving justice never faltered. Gilbert de Bailleul, in some
claim to property, ventured to make light of the charter of Henry I., by
which it was held. The king's wrath blazed up. "By the eyes of God," he
cried, "if you can prove this charter false, it would be worth a thousand
pounds to me! If," he went on, "the monks here could present such a
charter to prove their possession of Clarendon, which I love above all
places, there is no pretence by which I could refuse to give it up to

It is hard to realise the amazing physical endurance and activity which
was needed to do the work of a medieval king. Henry was never at rest. It
was only by the most arduous labour, by travel, by readiness of access to
all men, by inexhaustible patience in weighing complaint and criticism,
that he learned how the law actually worked in the remotest corners of
his land. He was scarcely ever a week in the same place; his life in
England was spent in continual progresses from south to north, from east
to west. The journeyings by rough trackways through "desert" and swamp
and forest, through the bleak moorlands of the Pennine Hills, or the
thickets and fens that choked the lower grounds, proved indeed a sore
trial for the temper of his courtiers; and bitter were the complaints of
the hardships that fell to the lot of the disorderly train that swept
after the king, the army of secretaries and lawyers, the mail-clad
knights and barons followed by their retainers, the archbishop and his
household, bishops and abbots and judges and suitors, with the "actors,
singers, dicers, confectioners, huxters, gamblers, buffoons, barbers, who
diligently followed the court." Knights and barons and clerks, accustomed
to the plenty and comfort of palace and castle, found themselves at the
mercy of every freak of the king's marshals, who on the least excuse
would roughly thrust them out into the night from the miserable hut in
which they sought shelter and cut loose their horses' halters, and whose
hearts were hardly softened by heavy bribes. They were often half-starved;
if food was to be had at all, it was at the best stale fish, sour beer and
wine, coarse black bread, and meat scarcely eatable, even with the rough
appetite of travellers of that age. Matters were made ten times worse by
Henry's mode of travelling. "If the king has proclaimed that he intends to
stop late in any place, you may be sure that he will start very early in
the morning, and with his sudden haste destroy every one's plans. It often
happens that those who have let blood or taken medicine are obliged at the
hazard of their lives to follow. You will see men running about like mad;
urging forward their pack-horses, driving their waggons into one another,
everything in confusion, as if hell had broken loose. Whereas, if the king
has given out that he will start early in the morning, he will certainly
change his mind, and you may be sure he will snore till noon. You will see
the pack-horses drooping under their loads, waggons waiting, drivers
nodding, tradesmen fretting, all grumbling at one another. Men hurry to
ask the loose women and the liquor retailers who follow the court when the
king will start; for these are the people who know most of the secrets of
the court." Sometimes, on the other hand, when the din of the camp was
silenced for a while in sleep, a sudden message from the royal lodging
would again set all in commotion. A wild clatter of horsemen and footmen
would fill the darkness. The stout pack-horses, probably borrowed from a
neighbouring monastery to carry the heavy Rolls in which state business
was chronicled, were hastily laden. Baggage of every kind was slung across
the backs of horses, or stowed into cumbrous two-wheeled waggons made of
rough planks, or of laths covered with twisted osiers, which had been
seized from farmer or peasant for the king's journey. The forerunners
pushed on in front to give notice of the king's arrival, and in the dim
morning light the motley train of riders at last crowded along the narrow
trackway, followed heavily by the waggons dragged by single file of
horses, which too often foundered in the muddy hollows, or half-plunged
into the torrents through rents and chasms in the low, narrow bridges that
threatened at every instant to crumble away under the strain. But before
the weary day's journey was over the king would suddenly change his mind,
stop short of the town towards which all were toiling in hope of food and
shelter, and turn aside to some spot in the woods where there was perhaps
a solitary hut and food only for himself: "And I believe, if I dare to say
so, that he took delight in our distresses," groans the poor secretary as
he pictures the knights wandering by twos and threes in the thickets,
separated in the darkness from their followers, and drawing their swords
one against another in furious strife for the possession of some shelter
for which pigs would scarcely have quarrelled. "Oh, Lord God Almighty,"
he ends, "turn and convert the heart of the king from this pestilent
habit, that he may know himself to be but man, and that he may show a
royal mercy and human compassion to those who are driven after him not
by ambition but by necessity."

But at whatever inconvenience to his courtiers Henry carried out his
own purposes, and kept pace with the enormous mass of business that came
to him. In all his hurried journeys we see busy royal clerks scribbling
away at each halt charters, grants, letters patent and letters close, the
king too fighting, riding, dictating, signing, sometimes dating his
letters from three places on the same day. A travelling king such as this
was well known to all his people. He was no constitutional fiction, but a
living man; his character, his look and presence, his oaths and jests,
his wrath, all were noted and talked over; the chroniclers who followed
his court with their gossip and their graver news spread the knowledge of
his doings. A new sense of law and justice grew up under a sovereign who
himself journeyed through the length and breadth of the land, subduing
the unruly, hearing pleas, revising unjust sentences, drawing up charters
with his own hand, setting the machinery of government to work from end
to end of England. More than this, the king himself had learned to know
his people. He had seen for himself the castles of the barons, the huts
of the peasants, the little villages in the clearings; he had seen the
sheriff sitting in the shire court, the lord of the manor doing justice
in his "hall-moot," the bishop and archdeacon dispensing the law in the
church courts. By his sudden journeys, his unexpected movements and rapid
change of plans, he arrived at the very moment and the very place where
no one looked for him; nothing was safe from his eye and ear; no false
sheriff or rebellious lord could be sure when his terrible master might
be at his doors. Foreigner as the king was, there was soon no Englishman
who knew the affairs of his kingdom so well. His penetrating curiosity,
his wide experience, his practised judgment, rapidly made him one of the
most sagacious administrators and wisest legislators that ever guided
England in a very critical moment of her history; and when he finally
drew up his system of reform there was not a single point of principle in
it from which he or his successors found it necessary afterwards to draw



Henry began his work of reorganization by taking up the work which his
grandfather had begun--that of replacing the mere arbitrary power of the
sovereign by a uniform system of administration, and bringing into order
the various conflicting authorities which had been handed down from
ancient times, royal courts and manor courts, church courts, shire
courts, hundred courts, forest courts, and local courts in special
franchises, with all their inextricable confusion of law and custom and
procedure. Under Henry I. two courts, the _Exchequer_ and the _Curia
Regis_, had control of all the financial and judicial business of the
kingdom. The Exchequer filled a far more important place in the national
life than the Curia Regis, for the power of the king was simply measured
by the state of the treasury, when wars began to be fought by mercenaries,
and justice to be administered by paid officials. The court had to keep a
careful watch over the provincial accounts, over the moneys received from
the king's domains, and the fines from the local courts. It had to
regulate changes in the mode of payment as the use of money gradually
replaced the custom of payments in kind. It had to watch alterations in
the ownership and cultivation of land, to modify the settlement of
Doomsday Book so as to meet new conditions, and to make new distribution
of taxes. There was no class of questions concerning property in the most
remote way which might not be brought before its judges for decision.
Twice a year the officers of the royal household, the Chancellor,
Treasurer, two Chamberlains, Constable, and Marshal, with a few barons
chosen from their knowledge of the law, sat with the Justiciar at their
head, as "Barons of the Exchequer" in the palace at Westminster, round
the table covered with its "chequered" cloth from which they took their
name. In one chamber, the Exchequer of Account, the "Barons" received the
reports of the sheriffs from every county, and fixed the sums to be
levied. In a second chamber, the Exchequer of Receipt, the sheriff or
tax-farmer paid in his dues and took his receipts. The accounts were
carefully entered on the treasurer's roll, which was called from its
shape the Great Roll of the Pipe, and which may still be seen in our
Record Office; the chancellor kept a duplicate of this, known as the Roll
of the Chancery; and an officer of the king registered in a third Roll
matters of any special importance. Before the death of Henry I. the vast
amount and the complexity of business in the Exchequer Court made it
impossible that it should any longer be carried on wholly in London. The
"Barons" began to travel as itinerant judges through the country; as the
king's special officers they held courts in the provinces, where difficult
local questions were tried and decided on the spot. So important did the
work of finance become that the study of the Exchequer is in effect the
key to English history at this time. It was not from any philosophic love
of good government, but because the license of outrage would have
interrupted there turns of the revenue that Henry I. claimed the title of
the "Lion of justice." It was in great measure from a wish to sweep the
fees of the Church courts into the royal Hoard that the second Henry began
the strife with Becket in the Constitutions of Clarendon, and the increase
of revenue was the efficient cause of the great reforms of justice which
form the glory of his reign. It was the fount of English law and English

The Curia Regis was composed of the same great officers of the household
as those who sat in the Exchequer, and of a few men chosen by the king
for their legal learning; but in this court they were not known as
"Barons" but as "Justices," and their head was the Chief Justice. The
Curia Regis dealt with legal business, with all causes in which the
king's interest was concerned, with appeals from the local courts, and
from vassals who were too strong to submit to their arbitration, with
pleas from wealthy barons who had bought the privilege of laying their
suit before the king, besides all the perplexed questions which lay far
beyond the powers of the customary courts, and in which the equitable
judgment of the king himself was required. In theory its powers were
great, but in practice little business was actually brought to it in the
time of Henry I; the distance of the court from country places, and the
expense of carrying a suit to it, would alone have proved an effectual
hindrance to its usefulness, even if the rules by which it was guided had
been much more complete and satisfactory than they actually were.

The routine of this system of administration, as well as the mass of
business to be done, effectually interfered with arbitrary action on the
king's part, and the regular and methodical work of the organized courts
gave to the people a fair measure of protection against the tyranny or
caprice of the sovereign. But the royal power which was given over to
justices and barons did not pass out of the hands of the king. He was
still in theory the fount of all authority and law, and could, whenever
he chose, resume the powers that he had granted. His control was never
relaxed; and in later days we find that while judges on circuit who gave
unjust judgment were summoned before the Curia Regis at Westminster, the
judges of the Curia Regis itself were called for trial before the king
himself in his council.

The reorganization of these courts was fast completed under Henry's great
justiciar, De Lucy, and the chancellor Thomas. The next few years show an
amount of work done in every department of government which is simply
astonishing. The clerks of the Exchequer took up the accounts and began
once more regular entries in the Pipe Roll; plans of taxation were
devised to fill the empty hoard, and to check the misery and tyranny
under which the tax payers groaned. The king ordered a new coinage which
should establish a uniform system of money over the whole land. As late
as the reign of Henry I. the dues were paid in kind, and the sheriffs
took their receipts for honey, fowls, eggs, corn, wax, wool, beer, oxen,
dogs, or hawks. When, by Henry's orders, all payments were first made in
coin to the Exchequer, the immediate convenience was great, but the state
of the coinage made the change tell heavily against the crown. It was
impossible to adulterate dues in kind; it was easy to debase the coin
when they were paid in money, and that money received by weight, whether
it were coin from the royal mints, or the local coinages that had
continued from the time of the early English kingdoms, or debased money
from the private mints of the barons. Roger of Salisbury, in fact, when
placed at the head of the Exchequer, found a great difference between the
weight and the actual value of the coin received. He fell back on a
simple expedient; in many places there had been a provision as old at
least as Doomsday, which enacted that the money weighed out for town-geld
should if needful be tested by re-melting. The treasurer extended this to
the whole system of the Exchequer. He ordered that all money brought to
the Exchequer should itself be tested, and the difference between its
weight and real value paid by the sheriff who brought it. The burden thus
fell on the country, for the sheriff would of course protect himself as
far as he could by exacting the same tests on all sums paid to him. If
the pound was worth but ten shillings in the market, no doubt the sheriff
only took it for ten shillings in his court. Practically each tax, each
due, must have been at least doubled, and the sheriff himself was at the
mercy of the Exchequer moneyers. There was but one way to remedy the
evil, by securing the purity of the coin, and twice during his reign
Henry made this his special care.

In the absence of records we can only dimly trace the work of legal reform
which was carried out by Henry's legal officers; but it is plain that
before 1164 certain great changes had already been fully established. A
new and elaborate system of rules seems gradually to have been drawn up
for the guidance of the justices who sat in the Curia Regis; and a new set
of legal remedies in course of time made the chances of justice in this
court greater than in any other court of the realm. The _Great Assize_, an
edict whose date is uncertain, but which was probably issued during the
first years of his reign, developed and set in full working order the
imperfect system of "recognition" established by the Norman kings.
Henceforth the man, whose right to his freehold was disputed, need but
apply to the Curia Regis to issue an order that all proceedings in the
local courts should be stopped until the "recognition" of twelve chosen
men had decided who was the rightful owner according to the common
knowledge of the district, and the barbarous foreign custom of settling
the matter by combat was done away with. Under the new system the Curia
Regis eventually became the recognized court of appeal for the whole
kingdom. So great a mass of business was drawn under its control that the
king and his regular ministers could no longer suffice for the work, and
new judges had to be added to the former staff; and at last the positions
of the two chief courts of the kingdom were reversed, and the King's Court
took the foremost place in the amount and importance of its business.

The same system of trial by sworn witnesses was also gradually extended
to the local courts. By the new-fashioned royal system the legal men of
hundreds and townships, the knights and freeholders, were ordered to
search out the criminals of their district, and "present" them for trial
at the Shire Court,--something after the fashion of the "grand jury" of
to-day, save that in early times the jurors had themselves to bear
witness, to declare what they knew of the prisoner's character, to say if
stolen goods had been divided in a certain barn, to testify to a coat by
a patch on the shoulder. By a slow series of changes which wholly
reversed their duties, the "legal men" of the juries of "presentment" and
of "recognition" were gradually transformed into the "jury" of to-day;
and even now curious traces survive in our courts of the work done by the
ancestors of the modern jury. In criminal cases in Scotland the oath
still administered by the clerk to jurymen carries us back to an ancient
time: "You fifteen swear by Almighty God, and as you shall answer to God
at the great day of judgment, you will truth say and no truth conceal, in
so far as you are to pass on this assize."

The provincial administration was set in working order. New sheriffs took
up again the administration of the shires, and judges from the King's
Court travelled, as they had done in the time of Henry I., through the
land. The worst fears of the baronage were justified. They were disabled
by one blow after another. Their political humiliation was complete. The
heirs of the great lords who had followed the Conqueror, and who with
their vast estates in Normandy and in England had inherited the arrogant
pretensions of their fathers, found themselves of little account in the
national councils. The mercenary forces were no longer at their disposal.
The sources of wealth which they had found in plunder and in private
coinage were cut off. Their rights of jurisdiction were curtailed. A
final blow was struck at their military power by the adoption of scutage.
In the Welsh campaign of 1157 Henry opened his military reforms by
introducing a system new to England in the formation of his army. Every
two knights bound to service were ordered to furnish in their place one
knight who should remain with the king's army as long as he required. It
was the first step towards getting rid of the cumbrous machinery of the
feudal array, and securing an efficient and manageable force which should
be absolutely at the king's control. In the war of Toulouse in 1159 the
problem was for the first time raised as to the obligation of feudal
vassals to foreign service, and Henry gladly seized the opportunity to
carry out his plan yet more fully. The chief vassals who were unwilling
to join the army were allowed to pay a fixed tax or "scutage" instead of
giving their personal service. Henry, the chroniclers tell us, careful of
his people's prosperity, was anxious not to annoy the knights throughout
the country, nor the men of the rising towns, nor the body of yeomen, by
dragging them to foreign war against their will; at the same time he
himself profited greatly by the change. The new system broke up the old
feudal array, and set the king at the head of something like a standing
army paid by the taxes of the barons.

Henry had, indeed, won a signal victory over feudalism. But feudalism had
no roots on English soil; it was forced to borrow Brabancons, and to work
by means alien to the whole feudal tradition and system, and Henry had
easily overthrown the baronage by the help of the Church. But in the
process the ecclesiastical party had learned to know its strength, and the
king had to meet a more formidable resistance to his will when, instead of
a lawless baronage, he was confronted by the Church with its mighty
organization, always vigilant and menacing. The clergy had from the first
looked with a very jealous eye on his projects. A sharp quarrel as to the
jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts had early arisen between Henry
and Archbishop Theobald, but the matter had been compromised for a time.
Thomas had taken office pledged to defend ecclesiastical interests, and he
was so far true to his pledge, that while he was chancellor he put an end
to the abuse of keeping bishoprics and abbeys vacant. He had, however, as
was said at the time, "put off the deacon" to put on the chancellor; and
in an ecclesiastical trial which took place soon after Henry's crowning,
he appears as an energetic exponent of the king's legal views. A dispute
had raged for years as to the jurisdiction of the bishops of Chichester
over the abbots of Battle. On Henry's accession Bishop Hilary of
Chichester vigorously renewed the struggle, and a great trial was held
in May 1157 to decide the matter. Hilary failing after much discussion to
effect a compromise, emphatically and solemnly declared in words such as
Henry was to hear a few years later from another mouth, that there were
two powers, secular and spiritual, and that the secular authority could
not interfere with the spiritual jurisdiction, or depose any bishop or
ecclesiastic without leave from Rome. "True enough, he cannot be
'deposed,'" cried the young king, "but by a shove like this he may be
clean thrust out!" and he suited the action to the words. A laugh ran
round the assembly at the king's jest; but Hilary, taking no notice of
the hint, went on to urge that no layman, not even the king, could by the
law of Rome confer ecclesiastical dignity or exemptions without the Pope's
leave and confirmation. "What next!" broke in Henry angrily, "you think
with your practised cunning to set yourself up against the authority of
my kingly prerogative granted me by God Himself! I command you by the
allegiance you have sworn to keep within proper bounds language against my
crown and dignity!" A general clamour rose against the prelate, and the
chancellor, louder than the rest, talked of the bishop's oath of fealty to
the king, and warned him to take heed to himself. Hilary, seeing himself
thus beset, obsequiously declared that he had no wish to take aught from
the kingly honour and dignity, which he had always bent every effort to
magnify and increase; but Henry bluntly retorted that it was plain to all
that his honour and dignity would be speedily removed far from him by the
fair and deceitful talk of those who would annul his just prerogatives.
The bishop could not find a single friend. Chancellor and justiciar and
constable rivalled one another in taunts and sharp phrases. When he went
on to urge the revision of the Conqueror's charter to Battle by the
archbishop, and to appeal to ecclesiastical custom, Henry's wrath rose
again. "A wonderful and marvellous thing truly is this we hear, that the
charters, forsooth, of my kingly predecessors, confirmed by the
prerogative of the Crown of England, and witnessed by the magnates, should
be deemed beyond our powers by you, my lord bishop. God forbid, God
forbid, that in my kingdom what is decreed by me at the instance of


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