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Extinction of the Plantagenet Dynasty. 1377-1485
THE HOUSE OF TUDOR. Henry VII. 1485—1509 .
Henry VIII. and Edward VI. 1509--1553
CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
A. D. 1377—1399.
Improved condition of society on the accession of Richard II.-Influence of
the doctrines of Wickliffe — Rising power of the towns - Revolt of the peasantry — Charters of manumission – Valiant conduct of Richard II.His character - Parliamentary committee of reform -- Revocation of the charters of manumission--Control of the commons over expenditureBold language of the commons-Commission of reform--Opinion of the judges -- The king's unpopularity-- Lords - appellant -- Impeachment of ministers ---Retirement of Gloucester from power-Treacherous conduct of the king—Period of reaction-First introduction of a standing army-The crown becomes absolute-Banishment of the earls of Hereford and Norfolk -Revolutionary times—Abdication of Richard.
The reign of Richard II. introduces us to a new period in the history of Europe; it was then that the old customs of feudalism were fast disappearing from the transactions of every-day life, and the natural equality of mankind and the right of all to the enjoyment of equal laws and privileges began first to be mooted : for many ages the great bulk of the people throughout Europe had been in a state of villenage or predial bondage, analogous to the present condition of the serfs in Russia ; bound to the soil which they cultivated, and transferable, like cattle, at the will of their masters. Nor was this state of slavery confined to the rural population of the continent: in England, since the time of the Conquest, the condition of the inferior ranks had greatly deteriorated; the descendants of the free Saxon ceorls were little removed in social condition from the serfs of the continent; the lands which they cultivated were held by menial service, and their goods and chattels were at the disposal of their lord, who instituted fines and amercements in his own courts : but a new element of society had been gradually springing into existence during the last two centuries ; in the cities and towns the burgesses and small freeholders, who enjoyed the privileges of free
men and were only amenable to the laws of the land and their own municipal regulations, had so vastly increased in number and wealth, that they became a distinct power in the state, and their alliance was courted both by kings and nobles. This gave a kind of elevation to every rank of the commonalty, and a spirit of freedom and independence extended from the middling classes to the inferior people; even the villeins and serfs, who had never stretched their views beyond the fields they cultivated, “felt their natural rights, and panted beneath the oppression of their lords after a state of freedom for which they were not perhaps fully qualified."*
The new views of religion which were spreading throughout Europe added an additional stimulus to these notions of political liberty; the glaring abuses of the Romish church had led men to look with indifference on her ceremonies, and there were not wanting those amongst her clergy, who, jealous of the wealth and luxury of the higher dignitaries, preached in public against the established order of things, and asserted the original equality of all mankind. As early as 1357 the discontents of the peasantry had found vent in the revolt of the Jacquerie in France, and in England the same manifestations had only been suppressed by the vigorous reigns of the two Edwards and the milder conduct of the English lords. But on the accession of Richard II. these outward circumstances of prevention no longer existed; the son of the Black Prince was but a boy of eleven years of age, and his uncles, jealous of each other's power, prevented the establishment of a vigorous government: the country, groaning under the burden of the French war, which was no longer enlivened by those brilliant victories and national triumphs which had rendered it popular under the late reign, could ill afford to defray the extravagant expenses of the court ; and the commons, having exhausted every other mode of supply, resorted to the expedient of a poll-tax, assessed at three groats a head on all the inhabitants of either sex above the age of fourteen. As the poorer classes were unable to pay so large an amount, it was differently rated in each parish, according to the wealth and substance of the inhabitants, at from one to sixty groats. In the absence of statistical information it was thought that this tax would realize a much greater sum than was actually returned, and the commons were a second time compelled to renew the grant. The people of Essex, irritated by this new system of taxation, which was rendered still more obnoxious by the extortion and insolence of the collectors, rose in rebellion, under the guidance of a priest who assumed the name of Jack Straw; meanwhile the peasants of Kent and Hertfordshire, roused by a wanton act of outrage, fol
* De Lolme on the English Constitution, ch. i.