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INITIATIVE PERIOD.

CHAPTER IV.

FEATURES.

If there be any such thing as a philosophy of history, real or possible, it is in virtue of there being certain progressive organizing laws in which the fretful lives of each of us are gathered into and subordinated in some larger unity, through which age is linked to age, as we move forward, with an horizon expanding and advancing.-Froude.

Politics.—The chief object of the English was to establish, by force of arms, a continental empire. The greatest victories of the Middle Ages were gained at this time against great odds by the English armies. A French king was brought captive to London, an English one was crowned at Paris. But after a long and bloody struggle, with many bitter regrets the contest was abandoned, and from that hour no British government has seriously and steadily pursued the dream of great conquests on the Continent.

Confined within the limits of the island, the warlike people employed in civil strife those arms which had carried terror beyond the Pyrenees and the Alps. The barons, ceasing to plunder the French, were by the force of habit, eager to plunder one another. Ireland and Scotland, subjugated by the Plantagenets, were impatient under the yoke. The former had never, since the days of Henry II, been able to expel the foreign invaders. The latter, as we have seen, vindicated her independence under the wise and valiant Bruce. Both were far behind England in wealth and civilization.

Kings overstepped the constitutional line. They possessed many lucrative and formidable rights which enabled them to punish any who thwarted them, and to reward any who enjoyed their favor. Persons obnoxious to the government were frequently imprisoned merely by the mandate of the sovereign. Taxes were imposed without the assent of the estates of the

realm. Penalties fixed by statute were remitted. But these incursions were strenuously withstood. Three ancient and potent principles bounded persistently the royal prerogative and protected the liberties of the nation: 1. The king could not legislate without the consent of parliament. 2. Nor without this consent could he impose a tax. 3. He was bound to conduct the administration according to law, and if the law was infringed his advisers were answerable. These fundamental rules, by their natural development, will produce the order of things under which we now live.

Though the struggles with regard to the authority of the Great Charter were over, and the king was acknowledged to lie under some obligations; yet the government, on the whole, was only a barbarous monarchy, neither regulated by fixed maxims nor bounded by undisputed rights. It was a composite of opposite systems, each prevailing in its turn according to the favor of incidents,— royalty, aristocracy, priesthood, and commonalty.

The weakness of the second Edward gave reins to that licentiousness of the grandees which the vigor of his father had repressed; and the hopes that rose with his accession were blasted amid the traitorous conspiracies and public disorders that accomplished and attended his deposition. The reign of Edward III, as it was one of the longest in the annals of the nation, was also one of the most glorious,- if by glory are meant foreign victories, and comparative domestic peace in an age of violence and outrage. Parliament rose into greater consideration. The House of Commons, naturally depressed during factious periods by the greater power of the crown and barons, began to appear of some weight in the constitution. The reign of Richard II began in tranquillity and went out in furious convulsions,— less from neglect of national privileges than from want of power to overawe his barons.

Society. The amalgamation of conquered and conquerors was complete. The original ground of quarrel was lost to view. The constitution of the House of Commons promoted a salutary intermixture of classes. Between the aristocracy and working people was springing up a middle class, agricultural and commercial. The knight was the connecting link between the baron

and the shopkeeper. No longer rich enough to assist at the royal assemblies, community of interests, similarity of manners, nearness of condition, lead him to coalesce with the yeonien, who take him for their representative, elect him. The laborious, courageous body that supplies the energy of the nation, they value themselves, equally with the grandee, as of a race born to victory and dominion.

The ordinary dwelling consisted of two rooms,- the hall for living and miscellaneous use, and the bower, or chamber, for sleeping and privacy. The use of chimneys is distinctly mentioned, though rarely. The fire was usually in the middle of the floor; and the smoke, if it pleased, took its course through a hole in the roof. Hence Chaucer of the 'poure wydow':

*Ful sooty was hir bour, and eek hire halle,

In which she eet ful many a sclender meel.' The house, as among the low Irish and Italians yet, was shared with the cattle and poultry. Thus of the rooster:

*As Chauntecleer among his wyves alle

Sat on his perche, that was in the halle.' The walls, as well as the floor, were commonly bare, without even plaster. Plates there were none. Trenchers — large flat cakes of bread were used instead. When the meat was eaten off them, they were given to the poor; for, being saturated with the gravy, they were too valuable to be thrown away. No morsel was held in dainty contemplation at a fork's end. They helped themselves from the common dish, and ate with their fingers. One cup for drinking passed from guest to guest, and courtesy required to wipe the mouth on the sleeve before drinking, and not spit on the table. Pretty and agreeable were the accomplishments of the prioress:

*At mete was she wel ytaughte withalle:
She lette no morsel from hire lippes falle,
Ne wette hire fingres in hire sauce depe.
Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,

Thatte no drope ne fell upon hire brest.' The tournament, or mock-fighting, was the favorite sport, the highest enjoyment and the noblest accomplishment of all rank's. In horse-racing and bull-baiting, high and low took equal interest. The great pastime of the lower orders was archery, which they were bound by royal proclamation to practice on Sundays

and holidays after Divine service. Upon these occasions, other amusements, such as quoits, cock-fighting, foot-ball, hand-ball, were forbidden.

High life was a pageant, a brilliant and tumultuous kind of fête. Immediately after the Crusades we find nearly all Europe rushing with long-sustained violence into habits of luxury. In England, the gallantry of France, the gorgeousness of the East, contributed to the movement. One of its first signs was an extraordinary richness of dress. A parliament of Edward III passed no less than eight laws against French fashions. The king and the court set the example, and their splendor was as barbarous as their manners. Richard's dress was stiff with gold and gems. Cloaks of damask or satin trailed in the filth of the streets, and excited the rage of the satirists.

Beards were long and curled, the hair was tied in a tail behind. Shoes were cov, ered with designs borrowed from the stained glass windows of Westminster, and the long pointed toe, reaching to the knee, was there bound by a gold or silver clasp. Gay gowns of green were common, and an unknown author complains that the women could not be distinguished from the men. The most striking part of female attire was a towering head-dress like a mitre, some two feet high, from which floated a rainbow of ribbons. The extravagance was infectious, and the servant aped the manners of the aristocrat. The chief clauses of a statute of 1363 are intended to restrain “the outrageous and excessive apparel of divers people against their estate and degree.'

But luxurious indulgence was not confined to apparel. It is displayed in the architecture of the period—the decorated Gothic-of which pointed arches and profuse ornament are the distinctive features. Its whole aim was continually to climb higher, to clothe the sacred edifice with a gaudy bedizenment, as if it were a bride on the wedding morning. At the marriage of Richard Plantagenet, thirty thousand dishes were provided. In 1399, the royal household comprised ten thousand persons, three hundred of whom were in the kitchen. Excess in eating and drinking is hereditary. It is in harmony with the genius of Germanic peoples to drink in doing everything.

They asked for adventure, adornment, pleasure. Edward III, in an expedition against the king of France, took with him thirty

falconers, and alternately hunted and fought. Knights carried a plaster over one eye, pledged not to remove it till they had performed an exploit worthy of their mistresses; for the sense of love - without depth and reality of nobleness — was not idle. Tournaments, introduced by Edward I, were plentiful, and the precepts of the love courts were punctiliously performed. In one of the London tournaments of Edward III, sixty ladies, seated on palfreys, led each her knight by a golden chain. Minstrelsy and tales of glee, the chase with hawks and hounds, brilliant charges, “the love of ladies,' bestowal of the silken scarf by fair maiden upon brave victor, a racket of contests, a confusion of magnificence,- form the romance of this regal and noble life, the flower of the Romanesque civilization.

But under this bloom of chivalry are fierce and unbridled instincts: bleeding steeds and gasping knights, plunderings and death-wounds, — all the horrors expressed in 'burned '— robbed' —'wasted'—'pillaged'— slain'—' beheaded.' The Earl of Winchester, at ninety, without trial or accusation, is condemned to death by rebellious barons, gibbeted, his body cut in pieces and thrown to the dogs, and his head exposed on a pole to the insults of the populace. Edward II causes twenty-eight nobles to be disembowelled, and is himself dispatched by the insertion of a redhot iron into his bowels. Men openly associate themselves, for mutual defense, under the patronage of nobles, wear public badges to distinguish their confederacy, meet in troops like armies, and support each other in every iniquity. On the coat of arms of one of these marauders was the inscription: 'I am Captain Warner, commander of a troop of robbers, an enemy to God, without pity and without mercy. Two cardinals themselves, the pope's legates, are thus despoiled of their goods and equipage; the poet Chaucer is twice robbed; and the king of Cyprus on a visit to England is stripped, with his whole retinue. Highway robbery is a national crime; and capital punishment, though frequent, cannot restrain a bold and licentious crew, made tolerably secure by the general want of communication and the advantage of extensive forests. The outlaws of Sherwood — allowed to redeem a just ignominy by a few acts of generosity -- are the heroes of vulgar applause. What shall be said of the female character or of the tyranny of husbands, when we find it to be no

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