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Unformatted text preview: umed the appearance of gentleness and lenity, is nothing but a letter of protection, and a declaration that the citizens should not be treated as slaves.k By the English feudal law, the superior lord was prohibited from marrying his female ward to a burgess or a villain;l so near were these two ranks esteemed to each other, and so much inferior to the nobility and gentry. Besides possessing the advantages of birth, riches, civil powers and privileges, the nobles and gentlemen alone were armed; a circumstance, which gave them a mighty superiority, in an age when nothing but the military profession was honourable, and when the loose execution of laws gave so much encouragement to open violence, and rendered it so decisive in all disputes and controversies.m PLL v5 (generated January 22, 2010) 316 http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/695 Online Library of Liberty: The History of England, vol. 1 The great similarity among the feudal governments of Europe is well known to every man, that has any acquaintance with ancient history; and the antiquaries of all foreign countries, where the question was never embarrassed by party disputes, have allowed, that the commons came very late to be admitted to a share in the legislative power. In Normandy particularly, whose constitution was most likely to be William’s model in raising his new fabric of English government, the states were entirely composed of the clergy and nobility; and the first incorporated boroughs or communities of that dutchy were Roüen and Falaise, which enjoyed their privileges by a grant of Philip Augustus in the year 1207.n All the ancient English historians, when they mention the great council of the nation, call it an assembly of the baronage, nobility, or great men; and none of their expressions, though several hundred passages might be produced, can, without the utmost violence, be tortured to a meaning, which will admit the commons to be constituent members of that body.o If in the long period of 200 years, which elapsed between the Conquest and the latter end of Henry III. and which abounded in factions, revolutions, and convulsions of all kinds, the house of commons never performed one single legislative act, so considerable as to be once mentioned by any of the numerous historians of that age, they must have been totally insignificant: And in that case, what reason can be assigned for their ever being assembled? Can it be supposed, that men of so little weight or importance possessed a negative voice against the king and the barons? Every page of the subsequent histories discovers their existence; though these histories are not written with greater accuracy than the preceding ones, and indeed scarcely equal them in that particular. The Magna Charta of king John provides, that no scutage or aid should be imposed, either on the land or towns, but by consent of the great council; and for more security, it enumerates the persons entitled to a seat in that assembly, the prelates and immediate tenants of the crown, without any mention of the commons: An authority so full, certain, and expli...
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