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jects had the heart and courage of men: the Saxons, like the plebeians at Rome, remembered their native rank and their original independence. We can recognize it in the complaints and indignation of the chroniclers, in the growling and menaces of popular revolt, in the long bitterness with which they continually recalled their ancient liberty, in the favor with which they cherished the daring and rebellion of outlaws. There were Saxon families at the end of the twelfth century who had bound themselves by a perpetual vow to wear long beards from father to son in memory of the national custom and of the old country. Such men, even though fallen to the condition of socagers, even sunk into villeins, had a stiffer neck than the wretched colonists of the Continent, trodden down and moulded by four centuries of Roman taxation. By their feelings as well as by their condition, they were the broken remains, but also the living elements, of a free people. They did not suffer the extremities of oppression. They constituted the body of the nation, the laborious, courageous body which supplied its energy. The great barons felt that they must rely upon them in their resistance to the king. Very soon, in stipulating for themselves, they stipulated for all freemen,' even for merchants and villeins. Thereafter “No merchant shall be dispossessed of his merchandise, no villein of the instruments of his labor; no freeman, merchant, or villein shall be taxed unreasonably for a small crime; no freeman shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseized of his land, or outlawed, or destroyed in any manner, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.” Thus protected they raise themselves and act. In each county there was a court, where all freeholders, small or great, came to deliberate about the municipal affairs, administer justice, and appoint tax-assessors. The red-bearded Saxon, with his clear complexion and great white teeth, came and sate by the Norman's side; these were franklins like the one whom Chaucer describes :
“A Frankelein was in this compagnie ;
1 Magna Charta, 1215.
That held opinion that plein delit
Was no wher swiche a worthy vavasour. With him occasionally in the assembly, oftenest among the audience, were the yeomen, farmers, foresters, tradesmen, his fellow-countrymen, muscular and resolute men, not slow in the defense of their property, and in supporting him who would take their cause in hand, with voice, fist, and weapons.
Is it likely that the discontent of such men to whom the following description applies could be overlooked ?
“ The Miller was a stout carl for the nones,
Ful bigge he was of braun and eke of bones;
His nose-thirles blacke were and wide. i Chaucer's Works, ed. Sir H. Nicholas, 6 vols., 1845, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, ii. p. II, l. 333
A swerd and bokeler bare he by his side.
And therwithall he brought us out of toune. Those are the athletic forms, the square build, the jolly John Bulls of the period, such as we yet find them, nourished by meat and porter, sustained by bodily exercise and boxing. These are the men we must keep before us, if we will understand how political liberty has been established in this country. Gradually they find the simple knights, their colleagues in the county court, too poor to be present with the great barons at the royal assemblies, coalescing with them. They become united by community of interests, by similarity of manners, by nearness of condition; they take them for their representatives, they elect them.” They have now entered upon public life, and the advent of a new reinforcement gives them a perpetual standing in their changed condition. The towns laid waste by the Conquest are gradually repeopled. They obtain or exact charters; the townsmen buy themselves out of the arbitrary taxes that were imposed on them; they get possession of the land on which their houses are built; they unite themselves under mayors and aldermen. Each town now, within the meshes of the great feudal net, is a power. The Earl of Leicester, rebelling against the king, summons two burgesses from each town to Parliament, to authorize and support him. From that time the conquered race, both in country and town, rose to political life. If they were taxed, it was with their consent; they paid nothing which they did not agree to. Early in the fourteenth century their united deputies composed the House of Commons; and already, at the close of the preceding century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking in the name of the king, said to the pope, “It is the custom of the kingdom of England, that in all affairs relating to the state of this kingdom, the advice of all who are interested in them should be taken.”
1 Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, ii. p. 17, l. 547. ? From 1214, and also in 1225 and 1254. Guizot, Origin of the Representative System in
3 In 1264. England, pp. 297-299.
VII. If they have acquired liberties, it is because they have obtained them by force; circumstances have assisted, but character has done more. The protection of the great barons and the alliance of the plain knights have strengthened them; but it was by their native roughness and energy that they maintained their independence. Look at the contrast they offer at this moment to their neighbors. What occupies the mind of the French people? The fabliaux, the naughty tricks of Reynard, the art of deceiving Master Isengrin, of stealing his wife, of cheating him out of his dinner, of getting him beaten by a third party without danger to one's self: in short, the triumph of poverty and cleverness over power united to folly. The popular hero is already the artful plebeian, chaffing, light-hearted, who, later on, will ripen into Panurge and Figaro, not apt to withstand you to your face, too sharp to care for great victories and habits of strife, inclined by the nimbleness of his wit to dodge round an obstacle; if he but touch a man with the tip of his finger, that man tumbles into the trap. But here we have other customs: it is Robin Hood, a valiant outlaw, living free and bold in the green forest, waging frank and open war against sheriff and law.1 If ever a man was popular in his country, it was he. “It is he,” says an old historian, “whom the common people love so dearly to celebrate in games and comedies, and whose history, sung by fiddlers, interests them more than any other.” In the sixteenth century he still had his commemoration day, observed by all the people in the small towns and in the country. Bishop Latimer, making his pastoral tour, announced one day that he would preach in a certain place. On the morrow, proceeding to the church, he found the doors closed, and waited more than an hour before they brought him the key. At last a man came and said to him, “Syr, thys ys a busye day with us; we cannot heare you: it is Robyn Hoodes Daye. The parishe are gone abrode to gather for Robyn Hoode. . . . I was fayne there to geve place to Robyn Hoode."2 The bishop was obliged to divest himself of his ecclesiastical garments and proceed on his journey, leaving his place to archers dressed in green, who played on a rustic stage the parts of Robin Hood, Little John, and their band. In
1 Aug. Thierry, iv. 56. Ritson's Robin Hood, 1832.
fact, he was the national hero. Saxon in the first place, and waging war against the men of law, against bishops and archbishops, whose sway was so heavy; generous, moreover, giving to a poor ruined knight clothes, horse, and money to buy back the land he had pledged to a rapacious abbot; compassionate too, and kind to the poor, enjoining his men not to injure yeomen and laborers; but above all rash, bold, proud, who would go and draw his bow before the sheriff's eyes and to his face; ready with blows, whether to give or take. He slew fourteen out of fifteen foresters who came to arrest him; he slays the sheriff, the judge, the town gatekeeper; he is ready to slay as many more as like to come; and all this joyously, jovially,
like an honest fellow who eats well, has a hard skin, lives in the open air, and revels in animal life.
“In somer when the shawes be sheyne,
And leves be large and long,
To here the foulys song." That is how many ballads begin; and the fine weather, which makes the stags and oxen butt with their horns, inspires them with the thought of exchanging blows with sword or stick, Robin dreamed that two yeomen were thrashing him, and he wants to go and find them, angrily repelling Little John, who offers to go first:
“Ah John, by me thou settest noe store,
And that I farley finde:
And tarry myselse behinde?
“It is no cunnin a knave to ken,
An a man but heare him speake;
John, I thy head wold breake.”
“He that had neyther beene kythe nor kin,
Might have seen a full fayre fight,
With blades both browne and bright,
“To see how these yeomen together they fought
Two howres of a summer's day;
i Ritson, Robin Hood Ballads, i. iv. v. 41-48.