Prof. Richard Abels
GENERAL THEME: In the second
half of the twelfth century
This does not mean that each was a success. John was, in fact, a failure as a king. All three faced the challenge of a powerful papacy and a Church that insisted upon its autonomy. All three, moreover, faced challenges from their own vassals, reminding us that society in the High Middle Ages had built into it centrifugal forces.
English Medieval Monarchy--Dates:
1042-1066 Reign of King Edward the Confessor
1066 King Harold II defeated the viking King Harald Hardrada near York; Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold II in the Battle of Hastings; William ravaged countryside around London to force the English to submit to him; on Christmas, Duke William was crowned King William I (the Conqueror)
1068-9 William ravaged the North to put down a native rebellion
1075 baronial rebellion in
1085 Planning of Domesday survey; threatened Danish invasion
1086 DOMESDAY BOOK completed. This great land register of all landed wealth in England revealed that in 1086 the king held 17% of the realm’s landed wealth; the church, 26.5%; lay tenants in chief, 48.5% (top 10 holds 20%); pre-Conquest holders, only 5.5%; royal servants, 2.5%
1087 SALISBURY OATH: all landholders, no matter whose vassal they are, swear liege fealty to king; death of William I
1100-35 reign of King HENRY I: birth of "English Common Law," promoter of administrative kingship (creation of the Exchequer, system of itinerant royal justices)
1107 Henry I seizes
1120 Wreck of White Ship, death of Henry I's only legitimate son
1128 Marriage of Mathilda to Geoffrey; Henry II born 1133
1135-1154 Stephen, nephew of Henry I, and Mathilda, his daughter fight for Crown
1154-1189 reign of HENRY II, king
order after the brutal civil war between his mother and King Stephen, and strove to restore the power of the monarchy enjoyed by his grandfather King Henry I.
1154 Henry ordered nonlicensed castles razed
1155-62 Thomas Becket chancellor (made archbishop of
1163-66 Henry II in
1164 CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON: restored royal rights over Church as held by Henry I; Becket resisted, defending the idea that clergy can only be tried in church courts, and fled
1166 ASSIZE OF CLARENDON: king established juries of presentment to make criminal accusations before royal judges; CARTAE BARONUM: Henry II's inquest into number of knights'
1170 INQUEST OF SHERIFFS (inquiry into misdeeds of royal officials and landlords, leads to replacement of 20 sheriffs; MARTYRDOM OF ST. THOMAS BECKET
1172 Inquest into Norman knight's fees
1173-4 Rebellion of Henry's eldest
son, King Henry the Younger (supported by Henry II's overlord King Louis VII of
of a king less powerful than himself--feudal paradox)
1176 ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON (Clarendon repeated; legal 'actions' concerning possession of land: mort d'ancestor, novel disseisin)
1179 Henry offered jury decision as alternative to trial by combat in disputes over rightful possession of land
1181 ASSIZE OF ARMS required freemen to have specified weapons and to be ready to bear them in service of king
1183 CIVIL WAR: The sons of King Henry II, Henry the Younger and Geoffrey wage war against their father and their brother Richard; YoungHenry died
1187-9 CIVIL WAR: Henry II vs. Richard and King Philip Augustus. Richard won
1189-99 reign of RICHARD I LIONHEART
1191-3 Richard on Third Crusade
1194 Richard in captivity in
1196-98 Richard built Chateau Gaillard, first concentric castle in western Europe
1199-1216 reing of JOHN
1199 Chancery rolls began, great leap forward in administrative record keeping
1202 John defeats Philip Augustus & John's nephew (and rival claimant for the English throne) Arthur in the battle of Mirabeau
1203-4 PHILIP AUGUSTUS CONQUERS
1205-12 John builds a royal NAVY
1207-9 INNOCENT III consecrated
STEPHEN LANGTON as archbishop of
excommunicated John (1209)
1213 Innocent authorizes Philip to
launch crusade against John; John makes peace with the papacy and does homage
to Pope Innocent III, receiving
1214 BATTLE OF BOUVINES: decisive victory of King Philip Augustus over an alliance created by King John that included his nephew, the German Emperor Otto IV
1215 BARONIAL REVOLT AND MAGNA CARTA; Pope Innocent III quashed Magna Carta
1216 French invaded; John died; William
Marshal became regent for the child king Henry III
The main consequence of 'feudal anarchy' was the collapse of royal authority. William the Conqueror's and his sons (Wm Rufus and HI) had imposed a consolidated, centralized monarchy on England based on Crown's wealth (by keeping 1/6 of all lands in England after Conquest) and administrative machinery inherited from Anglo-Saxons (system of writs, shires [=counties], hundreds, royal sheriffs [king's unpaid agents in the shires]).
HENRY I (1100-1135) was especially important in establishing a powerful
central administration in
The anarchy caused Henry's central administration to all but collapse.
Between 1135 and 1154 barons were able to play rival claimants off against one another
to their own aggrandisement (see e.g. of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Duby on Wm
Marshal's father). The result was a) loss of royal lands to barons
bec. of grants to purchase loyalty, b) establishment
of private baronial castles throughout
B. The "Angevin Empire." Henry
II was the son of Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and of Geoffrey of Anjou.
Through his mother he inherited:
I. Henry's basic policy in
a. Initial moves: ordered that all private castles be 'justified' by license of the Crown, confiscated, or razed. If he deemed a castle to be dangerous, he disregarded whether the castellan had a proper franchise or not. He also appointed his own followers to royal offices, ignoring claims of those who had held these offices prior to his accession.
b. Long term "domestic" policy: TO USE HIS FEUDAL PREROGATIVES AS KING (AND DUKE) TO a) INCREASE ROYAL REVENUES, b) EXTEND ROYAL JUSTICE SO THAT IT WOULD BECOME THE 'COMMON LAW' OF THE REALM, c) STRENGTHEN CROWN'S MILITARY POWER BY RELYING ON MERCENARIES RATHER THAN FEUDAL LEVIES.
c. Relations with the Church: To this one should add that Henry II also wished TO RESTORE ROYAL CONTROL OVER THE ENGLISH CHURCH ENJOYED BY HENRY I BY a) HAVING AT LEAST A VETO OVER ECCLESIASTICAL ELECTIONS (BY DEMANDING HOMAGE FROM BISHOPS ELECT BEFORE THEIR CONSECRATION and refusing to accept homage if he disapproved of the choice), b) CONTROLLING APPEALS FROM ENGLISH CLERICS TO ROME, c) MAINTAINING RIGHT TO TRY CLERICS IN ROYAL COURTS UNDER COMMON LAW AFTER THEY WERE TRIED IN ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS UNDER CANON LAW.
These goals are summed up in the CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON OF 1164 and gave rise to the BECKET controversy. Henry's advantage in dealing with the papacy was that Pope Alexander III desired Henry's support against Frederick Barbarossa and his anti-popes. His disadvantage was the obstinacy of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in defense of the "liberties" of the English Church, the acceptance among clergy and laity of the Gregorian Reform, and the growing institutionalization and bureaucratization of the Church, and especially of the papacy (now defined in canon law, e.g., Gratian's Decretum, as ecclesiastical monarchs), over the previous century.
The outcome of the Becket controversy (the martyrdom of Becket in 1170 by four of Henry's household knights as the archbishop prayed in his cathedral) was not as complete a defeat as is often presented in textbooks. Henry had to abandon the Constitutions of Clarendon (except for the stipulation that homage be given before consecration), and the Church did gain its judicial autonomy, but Henry's clerical supporters and not Becket's ended up with the plum ecclesiastical offices.
d. Long term "foreign" policy--to maintain and increase control over
continental possessions and to minimize the rights and authority of his feudal
overlord the king of
COMMON LAW REFORMS: The clearest example of Henry II's use of feudal prerogatives to strengthen the Crown comes in his judicial and legal innovations. Henry II's ASSIZES and WRITS: the possessory assizes (the writs of novel disseisin and mort d'ancestor), grand assize (writs of right), the Assize of Clarendon, 1166, which maintained the king's right to hear through his itinerant justices on eyre all major criminal accusations (murder, robbery, receiving of stolen goods), and created the jury of presentment, the forerunner of the modern "grand jury". The last deserves a few more words. It has roots in the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Danish institution of lawmen in the northern boroughs (from the late tenth century). For Henry it represented a creative middle way between ROMAN LAW PROSECUTION (the INQUISITIO, in which judges collected evidence, brought an accusation, and rendered judgment), and the TRADITIONAL GERMANIC mode of criminal prosecution (based on PRIVATE ACCUSATION MADE IN A PUBLIC COURT BEFORE THE COMMUNITY AND THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE KING). Here the COMMUNITY IN THE FORM OF THE JURY INITIATES THE PROCEEDING; the SHERIFF, REPRESENTING ROYAL EXECUTIVE POWER, makes certain that the proceedings take place; ROYAL JUSTICES RENDER JUDGMENT ON THE BASIS OF THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE JURY OF PRESENTMENT.
It is important to note that Henry did not "legislate" along the lines of a Roman emperor or a modern sovereign; he held "ASSIZES," which were meetings of the king and his barons to determine and to modify customary practices. The right to do so arose from the idea that such practices were agreements between a lord and his vassals.
HENRY'S POSSESSORY ASSIZES AND ESPECIALLY THE GRAND ASSIZE (WHICH DETERMINED
RIGHTFUL POSSESSION OF LAND) WERE ASSERTIONS OF THE KING'S
The possessory WRITS were devised sometime before 1176 when Henry confirmed them in the ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON. These writs were standardized written orders to king's agents. They represent a standardization of judicial process. These writs included:
Writ of NOVEL DISSEISIN: standardized writ ordering sheriff to empanel jury of 12 worthy men of locality to determine whether a claimant had been forcibly dispossessed of land without a court decision. Questions asked of jury: was the claimant dispossessed? Did he possess the land as a free tenement? No pleading was allowed.
Procedure: claimant sought issuance of writ from king or king's
justice for a small fee. Plaintiff took writ to sheriff, who empanelled jury,
had jury view the contested property, and then brought the jury and the
disputants before a royal justice who decided the issue on the basis of the
jurors' answers to questions of fact. If claimant won, justice would order
sheriff to restore him to the property and the accused would pay a fine; if he
lost, justice would fine him for false accusation. The writ was 'returned' to the
justice by the sheriff.
Writ of MORT D'ANCESTOR: sheriff ordered to empanel jury to determine whether a lord was withholding the rightful inheritance of a claimant. Questions: did the previous holder hold 'in demesne as a fee'? Is the claimant the nearest heir?
Pleading was permitted in this procedure, as one could dispute responses to
these questions. This 'pleading to the facts' made the law more sophisticated
and help give rise to the class of lawyers.
These possessory actions did not determine RIGHT OF OWNERSHIP. For that a GRAND ASSIZE was necessary. Since a grand assize was supposed to reach a final judgment, the procedure was highly formal and cautious. The jury was to consist only of knights of the locality. After 1179 a tenant could demand to "put himself upon the king's grand assize" rather than prove his case by trial by combat. The sheriff would issue to him a "writ of peace," which forbade the lord from proceeding in his own court, and then the sheriff would empanel a jury of knights (sheriff would name four knights who would then elect a jury of 12 knights). The jury would then view the land and appear before the justices at a specified date to 'recognize' on oath which party had the better right to the land. This decision was based on the memories and knowledge of the jury, who acted as the collective memory of the community.
The barons, after some initial hesitation, embraced the new system BECAUSE
TO BROUGHT ORDER AND STABILITY TO THE POSSESSION AND TRANSFER OF PROPERTY. IT
SECURED AND GUARANTEED 'TITLE' TO LAND, especially welcome after the
proprietary anarchy of Stephen's reign. (The local nobility, the KNIGHTS OF THE
SHIRES, also served as the JURORS to determine rightful possession in the grand
assizes). This baronial acceptance is most clearly seen in MAGNA CARTA's
articles 17-19, which demand easier access to common law justice
rather than a return to baronial jurisdiction.
ii. HENRY'S USE OF FEUDAL DUES TO INCREASE HIS REVENUES.
Revenues of king: demesne lands, penalties from jurisdictional rights
In the theory of feudal kingship, the realm was the 'property' of the Crown.
This meant that a king, except under the most pressing circumstances, was
supposed to "live off" and run his administration out of his own
pocket; his revenues (like the revenues of other barons) were to come from the
lands he held in his own hands (the royal demesne) and from the dues owed to
him as feudal suzerain. The former revenues were inelastic. Much of these lands
were, in fact, "farmed out" for fixed revenues, which proved
especially unhelpful in the an age of rapid inflation.
As feudal overlord, Henry II was able to demand: RELIEF from heirs to tenants-in-chief, WARDSHIP AND MARRIAGE (the right to appoint custodians over lands of underage heirs of t-in-c and the right to choose the husband of heiresses to tenancies-in-chief), AIDS (cash given the lord by his vassals to help him out of financial distress). In addition Henry II also could use the practice of SCUTAGE (cash commutation of knight service owed from a fief) to raise money to purchase mercenaries (MERCENARIES OFTEN WERE MORE RELIABLE TROOPS THAN FEUDAL LEVIES AND WERE NOT LIMITED TO 40 DAYS OF SERVICE, VERY IMPORTANT WHEN ONE IS RAISING AN EXPEDITION IN ENGLAND TO FIGHT ON THE CONTINENT. HENRY PREFERRED NOT TO RELY ON FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS FOR MILITARY RECRUITMENT, AND EVEN ASSERTED THAT AS KING HE HAD THE RIGHT TO CALL UPON ALL FREE MEN TO DEFEND THE REALM--Assize of Arms, 1181.) Henry's nasty little innovation to the practice of scutage was to demand that the barons pay him not only for the knights they owed by agreement with the Crown, but for ALL the knights they had enfeoffed (the Cartae baronum of 1166 was an Inquest into the number of knight fees in the realm). Here Henry could no better than get a compromise: he could only collect from knight's fees created before the death of his grandfather, Henry I.
Henry II usually followed customary practice and demanded only 100 pounds as the relief for baronies (see schedule of relief in Magna Carta, art 1,), but charged as much as the market would bear if there was a dispute over succession to fiefs. Henry II used this as a form of ROYAL PATRONAGE. An heir was asked only to make a down payment on the full relief and was permitted to pay the balance off over time (it was carried as a debt on the Exchequer's Pipe Rolls). If the baron proved loyal, Henry II would "forgive" the balance. This is a bureaucratic version of "gift giving." Henry followed the same policy with the other "feudal incidents." The distribution of wardship and heiresses were especially valuable forms of PATRONAGE (as well as profitable resources for the Crown).
BOTTOM LINE: HENRY II USED HIS POSITION AS FEUDAL LORD TO ENHANCE ROYAL FINANCES AND TO TIE HIS BARONS TO THE CROWN MORE FIRMLY THROUGH THE DISTRIBUTION OF ROYAL PATRONAGE, BUT HENRY ALSO REFUSED TO RELY ON FEUDAL LEVIES TO FIGHT HIS WARS. THE IRONIC RESULT IS THAT UNDER HENRY II 'FEUDALISM' WAS USED TO ENHANCE THE FISCAL AND JUDICIAL POWERS OF THE THRONE, WHILE ITS INITIAL REASON FOR BEING, MILITARY RECRUITMENT, WAS ALL BUT ABANDONED.
REVENUES FROM JURISDICTIONAL RIGHTS. The greatest single source of revenue from such rights probably came from the FOREST LAWS. Encroachments on the royal forests were heavily fined, and a typical forest eyre would bring in about 2000 pounds a year (in 1212 it brought in 5000 poinds). Otherwise the king profitted from the sale of felons' chattels, amercements, fees for the issuance of writs.
iii. POLITICAL INSTABILITY. On and off from 1173,
Henry faced rebellions by one of more of his sons. In 1173 Henry the Younger,
tired of being a bachelor knight with a titular crown, demanded that his father
give him the rule of either
NOTE ON HENRY II AND WILLIAM MARSHAL. William Marshal ended up as one of
Henry's most loyal household knights; William even killed Richard's horse while
covering his lord's retreat, a faux pas considering that Henry was dying and
Richard was the heir to the throne. BUT William's early career warns us against
assuming to readily that Henry's idea of royal liege lordship perked down to
the level of the bachelor knight. William, after all, served Henry the Younger
loyally AGAINST Henry II. William Marshal's decision in 1204 to do liege homage
to Philip Augustus for the barony of Longueville while on an embassy from John,
also should remind us that where the property interests of the baronage came
into conflict with their feudal duty, even the best and most chivalrous of
knights looked for a way to evade that duty.
I. John's goals changed over time as his circumstances changed. From 1199-1203 his main goal was to secure his succession to the Angevin inheritance against the claims of his nephew Arthur (who was supported by Philip). From 1205-1215 his main goal was to REGAIN the French lands that Philip Augustus had taken from him. From 1215 until his death in 1216, his main goal was to survive a rebellion of English barons followed by a French invasion.
II. John's policies: John continued his father's and brother's policy of increasing royal power vis-a-vis his barons. He used his FEUDAL PREROGATIVES (what was due him as feudal suzerain) to do so. He further developed his father's administrative machinery, and even attempted to appoint salaried royal officials to be sheriffs in the place of local, unpaid nobles (policy failed). He had a mania for administration and for administrative records (John supplemented the records of the Exchequer, the so-called Pipe Rolls, with recorded copies of all the writs he issued and all the legal decisions rendered by his justices).
HE CONTINUED RICHARD'S POLICY OF SQUEEZING AS MUCH MONEY OUT OF HIS NOBILITY AS POSSIBLE BY SETTING RELIEFS AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE AND AUCTIONING OFF HEIRESSES AND WARDSHIPS. THESE ARE THE 'ABUSES' ADDRESSED IN MAGNA CARTA'S FIRST SIXTEEN ARTICLES. Unlike his father (and even his brother), John, who desperately needed cash for his (unsuccessful) wars, was less likely to 'forgive' such debts as an act of patronage. He expected reliefs to be paid in full. The result was an increasingly hostile nobility, who didn't trust him and whom he didn't trust (see Duby, William Marshal, 137-147). Partly because of this, and partly because of the limitations upon feudal military service,
John (like his father and brother) largely relied on mercenaries for his wars.
In relation to the Church, John entered into a long dispute with Pope
Innocent III over the see of
John also angered the merchant community, especially that of
III. JOHN'S FAILURES.
John's submission to Innocent III in 1213 (like Emperor Henry IV's
As Duby points out, John's relations with his barons were so strained by
1214 that John resorted to hostage taking to keep his barons in line. The
failure of the Bouvines campaign of 1214 (T 332) and John's subsequent decision
to raise money for another continental expedition, was the 'straw that broke
the camel's back.' Nobles in the northern and eastern counties simply refused
to pay scutage; when pressed by John, they responded with rebellion. This led
to the issuance of MAGNA CARTA at
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT MAGNA CARTA: although MC represents a (temporary)
defeat for John (as I pointed out in class, John's 'feudal lord for England,'
Pope Innocent III, immediately annulled the charter), it is still in form a
ROYAL GRANT OF PRIVILEGES, LIMITING AND DEFINING THE FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS TO THE
CROWN, AND NOT AN EXPRESSION OF NATURAL RIGHTS OF SUBJECTS. Moreover, the
IDEOLOGY underlying Magna Carta is that of ROYAL LIEGE LORDSHIP. John grants
privileges not only to HIS vassals, the tenants-in-chief, but to THEIR vassals.
He makes guarantees of justice to ALL free men, regardless of their immediate
lord. THE LANGUAGE OF MAGNA CARTA, IN OTHER WORDS, IS CONSISTENT WITH THE
IDEOLOGY OF ROYAL
FEUDALISM PROVED TO BE A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD FOR THE ENGLISH AND FRENCH KINGS OF THE LATE 12TH AND EARLY 13TH CENTURIES.
I. CENTRALIZING FORCE.
B. FEUDALISM WAS USED TO INCREASE ROYAL REVENUES. See my above discussion of Henry II's and John's policy in regard to feudal dues. Note also that the increase in the business of the royal courts due to the extension of common law was a great boon to royal finances.
C. FEUDAL DUES AND ROYAL PATRONAGE. This is a point that I made in class and
that you ought to remember: by forgiving feudal dues a king could cheaply
reward loyal service. Also the grant of an heiress or custodianship over a
minor's fief was a great way of rewarding (and promoting in the baronage) a
loyal household knight (witness the career of William Marshal).
II. DESTABILIZING FORCE.
A. FEUDAL REBELLION. Henry II and John both faced major feudal rebellions (in the case of the former, led by his own sons). As long as each baron had his own military establishment and castle (even if licensed by the king), feudal rebellion remained a real possibility.
The 'cold war' between the Capetians and their overmighty vassals the
Plantagenets (another name for Angevin kings of
B. THE IDEA THAT A KING IS SIMPLY THE GREATEST AMONG EQUALS. Because the
feudal contract is reciprocal, and because the relationship is contractual, the
feudal king, by definition, is not an absolute monarch. For this he needs an
entirely different foundation for his authority (e.g., divine right as anointed
of God, or the Hobbesian conception of sovereign as
repository of the combined power of his subjects).