08 October 2012

Roots of constitutional government (2)

This is a follow-on to the first post on Roots of constitutional government.

Prior to the reign of Henry I there was a written limit to the sovereign of Engla-land, later called England, which came from Anglo-Saxon roots.  With the Angles and Saxons having come from central Denmark and northern Germany (on our modern map) these people were influenced by their cultural heritage that passed through the Norse and Germanic traditions.  In moving to the Roman province of Britannia in the 5th century AD, the newcomers found a that parts of the old Roman law system had survived, but that much of the local law was done via more traditional means.  The Anglo-Saxons came with a tradition of the Thing, which are the annual or biannual gatherings of local lawgivers that dispensed the King's justice and then heard the complaints of the people to be passed upwards to higher levels to be addressed.  Trials were by jury of locals under the oversight of a lawgiver or deputy, so that justice could be seen as something that was locally held.  This basic understanding is put down in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle after Ethelred II found himself on the losing end of the onslaughts of Danes and Vikings, to the point where the local nobility insisted that they would get a say in such government as was necessary, particularly in taxation.

Although the actual series of battles ended in defeat for Ethelred II, the final winner was King Canute (picking up where his father, King Sweyn had left off) and became the last true Viking King.  He did so by cementing his place amongst the Anglo-Saxons by agreeing to the limitations placed upon Ethelred II, and marrying his widow.  Although the heir to the throne after Canute would be Ethelred II's son, Edward, the idea of there being a positive assertion of past fealty to become King had started to take hold.  The rivalry between Harold and Tostig (Tosty as I used previously) would finally end in 1066 with the invasion of Vikings in the north near York (Jorvik) which would be beaten back. The second the Norman invasion of William who had been designated by Edward as he was related to his mother, Emma.  Harold had even agreed with this when he was shipwrecked in Normandy and going back on that agreement left William the only option of asserting rule by force of arms.  If Harold's army had not been weary and wounded from the first battles in the north, then things might have turned out differently with the Norman invasion.  Instead it was William the Conqueror who prevailed who offered that those who had not been struck down at Hastings would be seen as continuing to rule if they gave their agreement to have William as their King.  A few of the Earls would take him up on that, while most of the others would not help in securing the throne for William and for those he set about getting rid of much of the resistance to his rule by force.

What followed was the execution, assassination and running down of lesser nobles, their families and, in the case of the Northumberland, pretty much every person in that north central section of England.  The imposed system would invest in castles that were not fortified trade towns but seats of power, which were under the control of the Dukes that William brought in. Then came the rise of the accountant as King William wanted an exact detailing of all the land, all the people, all the property of England for tax purposes.  A Domesday Book is just that and it accounted for everything down to the last person, the last horse, the last cow and the last pig, and the areas that had been under the Harrying of the North had entire towns missing as there was no one to live in them.  The Revolt of the Earls and Danish invasion would mark troubled times during his reign as he had lands on the continent to deal with as well as England, which meant moving around to deal with problems from as far north as Scotland to Maine just to the south of Normandy in France.

The ducal system of Norman nobles to replace the Anglo-Saxon petty nobles and aristocrats, altered the political landscape of England so as to raise the knights and soldiery necessary to secure the country and provide for the William's army.  With this system comes the system of chivalry and moderation in warfare which was part and parcel of the mainland European system of ruling.  William did not attempt to unify his lands under a single law domain, however, so that England had a different law system than the holding in Normandy where fealty was owed to the French King.  What did happen was that forested land was set aside for the King for his pleasure, and violation of the King's forests had penalties that were not previously seen under the Anglo-Saxon system.  All of this was overlaid on the existing shire system, however, with its existing divisions and subdivisions within each shire to help in administration of law for orderly government.  This system was co-opted by William so as to appoint officials known as sheriffs who were dispensers of royal justice and also the tax man.  If you are starting to see the outlines of where the Robin Hood stories would come from, then you now have the context that created it: Norman ducal system overlaid on pre-existing Anglo-Saxon system but with appointees running those offices.

If the seeds for that realm of stories is founded with William, then the overlay of that system is directly seen in the other realm of stories represented by the Arthurian mythos.  That realm where the land and the King are an entity, where the sovereign rules as first amongst equals which is the basis for the Knights of the Round Table, then the actual system of knights and chivalry come not from the Anglo-Saxon line but the French and mainland European strain of government.  It is the excesses and flaws in the ducal system that show up in more egalitarian England during wars as the imposed administration of law by the sheriff is one that is not found in that representative Anglo-Saxon system and is thus an imposition of rule from the top-down.  This meant that a Kingdom required a strong personality at its top to be secure, and a constant struggle to retain control against unrest and uprisings.  Also the tradition in Normandy had no set succession, and that was left to the King's wishes usually stated on his death bed, although written documents could secure such things unless the heir that had been named had died between the writing and the death.

William's eldest son, William Rufus, was a strong leader and continued the building projects that his father had started for fortifications, castles and churches, and to fund this William II went beyond the prior taxation system that was an amalgam of the ducal system and English system, and started to tax the Church, itself, and kept the goods of Bishops and Arch-Bishops after their deaths by not appointing successors.  This, along with never having married, never fathered a child and keeping a male companion close to him meant that William II was not endearing himself to the Church on either financial nor moral grounds.  To be a Christian Monarch one must act in the ways of a Christian and it was those lacks, and utilizing secular authority over the Church that becomes the beginning of the negative example to the American Framers of what happens when the State has oversight and appointment control over the Church.  During the reign of William II between 1087 and 1100, the problems of this control were beginning to show through the post-Roman Monarchial system which would begin to plague the mainland of Europe after Luther.  In England the idea of the local Church being controlled by the Crown would come up in a very different manner and lead to different ends.  The problems of having an irreligious sovereign power in control of religious institutions is not recent and the reasons to separate out this control first shows up under William II.

Under William II the expansion of the forests under control of the Crown increased in extent and punishments were raised, as well.  At one point the Crown owned approximately 25% of all the land under Forest Law.  In our modern times we can see the expansion of power under the US government for the National Park Service, National Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management as the exact equal to Forest Law under William II.  Again the Framers of the Constitution had this set of abuses to look at and gave the federal government just 10 square miles of land that was to be the capitol, and put harsh restrictions in expanding this requiring the assent of State Legislatures on a  parcel by parcel basis.  The US Constitution is not just the assertion of well known traditions via the Amendments, but restrictions are built into the very framework of the Constitution itself.  If the separation of National power over religion is stated clearly and directly, the passive voice of what little the government is allowed to have is a far greater restriction than any active voice assertion.  We unwisely bypass these at our peril by putting the sovereign government in virtual control of large portions of the Nation which it is restricted from doing not by a 'thou shall not' but by 'thou art allowed only this'.

With William II death due to a hunting accident, his younger brother Henry quickly moved to bury his brother and take the throne.  As their elder brother, Robert Duke of Normandy, was away on crusade, Henry sought to consolidate his position in England by an approach that Canute would approve of: Henry agreed to the English law and had published, in Anglo-Saxon, his agreement to uphold the rights of the free English folk in 1106.  This coronation charter was widely distributed so that all the people in the land would know that this King, unlike his predecessors, respected them, their system of laws and their rights. The Charter of Liberties of Henry I thus becomes the next in line of statements of support for the rights of the people as expressed via their common government system.  This Charter of Liberties serves as a template for the later Magna Carta and begins putting into place that those who have been relieved of their lands unlawfully are due for lawful relief.  It allows for return or re-purchase of taken land and it guarantees the right of inheritance of property for the nobles and aristocrats, so that the Crown will no longer have say over who gets such lands on the death of the land holder.  The seignorage, the difference between the value of a metal in the coin and the cost to produce it, was reinstated to that of Edward I so that there was no 'stealth tax' for when gold or silver is given over for certificate or coinage, which puts a stable system of weights and measures in for coins and their content.

What The Charter of Liberties does is reset the English legal system back to its prior state, by and large, and shifts the governmental entities back to the ones that had been more widely understood prior to William I.  Laws are moved back to the local level for the nobles and aristocrats as it was under Edward the Confessor, which puts accountability down to the local level for ordinary laws and even the King's laws are administered at that level, as well.  The Forestry Laws are repealed back to the level of William I, which were bad, yes, but as part of the political negotiations going on to get the English nobles and aristocrats to back him, can be seen as getting rid of the excesses of that law system.  Also enclosed within are benefits to the nobles who are sick, enfeebled and to widows and orphans of same, beyond guarantee of inheritance, which are positive carrots and representing a form of Christian morality.  In all this is one of the main roots of the constitutional system and the lessons learned from the monarchy system are also learned in its excesses.  If William had thought to overlay a permanent Normandy ducal system on England then Henry I seeks to repeal major portions of it to allow for freedom at the lowest levels and hold those responsible for maintaining the system at that level.  What is restored, then, is not a republic but a system that had federalist outlines prior to William I and those representative and accountable sub-systems necessary for a federalist form of system are returned.  Without being expressly federalist, Henry I puts back in place the traditional accountability system that had been noted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and reinforces it with some exactitude.

No comments: