Category Archives: English Common Law

A Surfeit of Lampreys: A Surfeit of Success: 12th Century England

Exactly 877 years ago today, on 1st December 1135, King Henry I died, allegedly from over indulging himself on lampreys (one of favourite meals). His ‘surfeit of lampreys’ caused an acute intestinal reaction (possibly food poisoning) that led to a speedy end. Death from such an outwardly ludicrous cause was a somewhat inglorious conclusion to an illustrious reign. This year, 2012, marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens; and Henry’s premature death is the sort of ‘comical’ demise one associates with some of the characters penned by that celebrated 19th century author. Such a judgement might be a little harsh. Over the past year, I hope that my monthly Blogs on Henry I’s reign have demonstrated his great success as Ruler of England (and Normandy) between 1100 and 1135. Indeed, such were Henry I’s achievements that the monks of Peterborough Abbey declared on Henry’s death: “He was a good man, and people were in great awe of him. No one dared injure another in his time. He made peace for man and beast.” [EHD, Volume II, page 209] Such an assessment, coming from the compilers of The Anglo/Saxon Chronicle, is praise indeed.                                                                                                                                     Over the past two years, 2011 and 2012, my monthly Blogs have analysed the reigns of King Henry I (1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (1154 to 1189). In analysing these two distinguished monarchs, I have also, from time to time, inevitably touched on the reigns of Stephen, Richard I and John. That is, my blogs have in effect covered the whole of the 12th century, so I think it is thus very fitting for me to conclude this December 2012 Blog by analysing and assessing the twelfth century as a whole.

(A) The Achievements of 12th Century England

There were, of course, setbacks to progress in the 12th century, notably the breakdown of government in Stephen’s reign (1135 to 1154). The Third Crusade of 1189 to 1192, right at the end of the 12th century, also caused tension and problems. Yet, overall, the 12th century witnessed gains to English Society.

(1) Economic Growth.

The 12th century was a period of marked economic growth. There was investment in agriculture, transport, and general building. According to John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, the volume of currency in circulation in England  greatly increased in the 12th century; from roughly £25,000 to £37,500  around the time of King Henry I’s accession (1100), to about  £250,000 at the time of King John’s accession in 1199 [Hatcher & Bailey, ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’, OUP, (2001), page 138]. This increase in currency circulation probably reflected the increasing proliferation of markets in 12th century England. The population of England also doubled in the 12th century, from roughly 1.5 million in 1100 to about 3 million in 1200 (and these figures might be even higher). Nor did this population increase imply a lessening of GDP per head. In fact, according to Hatcher & Bailey, real GDP per head might well have increased in the 12th century [Hatcher & Bailey, page 159].

(2) General Social and Political Progress for Specific Groups

In a perhaps generalised way, the condition and status of certain groups in English Society did appear to improve in the 12th century; even if these improvements were not uniform throughout the century. For example, beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the rights of widows were increasingly protected throughout the 12th century. In fact, on one level, the 12th century was a period of political advance for women. Several notable female rulers played vital roles in 12th political life in England: Queen Edith Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne, The Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Jewish minority in Angevin England also seemed to prosper for most of the 12th century (with the obvious exception of the 1190 Pogroms). The Jewish population in Angevin England increased to a maximum total of 5,000 by 1200, and this population increase was accompanied by a geographical spread throughout England. Up to a point, positive central government activity by English Kings helped this Jewish expansion (see my September 2011 Blog for details).

(3) Development of English Common Law

This was the greatest single achievement of 12th century England.

Beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the 12th century saw a continual series of ground-breaking measures that collectively  established the Common Law in England (and Wales): one of the glories of European Civilisation:-

  • Leges Henrici Primi (1115) This measure designated serious crime, and enshrined the principle of Appeal. See my October 2012 Blog.
  • Assize of Clarendon (1166) This measure dealt with the criminal law, including the rights of the principal law officers. See my February 2011 Blog
  • Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) This measure enshrined the supremacy of the government over the law officers. See my March 2011 Blog.
  • Assizes of Novel Disseism & Mort d’Ancestor (c.1176) These were major innovations in civil law, dealing with rights of property. See my October 2011 Blog.
  • The General Eyre (1194) As part of the 1194 General Eyre (General Tour of Inspection by the King’s Justices), Justicar Hubert Walter ordered that, in each English shire, three knights and a clerk should act as ‘Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown’. This meant that they would be responsible for collecting and retaining evidence for criminal cases that would then be heard by the King’s Justices. This vital measure is the origin of the modern Coroner System. Note that the 12th century law officers (sheriffs) were not included as ‘Keepers of the Pleas’. Even now, our modern police force is not directly linked to the Coroner’s Court.

It is a remarkable record of legal progress, and the principles of 12th century Common Law still greatly influence English-speaking nations today: the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nor have I included all the 12th century Common Law Edicts. The Jury System was written into the above Assizes. A measure of the greatness of the English Legal System in the 12th century is to contrast it with the legal structure of early 19th century England (supposedly a more ‘civilised’ era). By 1800, the English Legal System had become so convoluted (if not corrupt), that a ridiculous total of 200 crimes carried the death penalty (many of them being trivial offences). In contrast, the 12th century saw the death penalty confined to about six offences (Pleas of the Crown).  The 18th Century still conjures up an image of refined gentility, with its classical architecture, polished manners, and baroque music; yet it was also the age of the notorious (and nefarious) ‘Black Act’ of 1723. That legally abominable Act of Parliament introduced the Death Penalty in Britain for over 50 criminal offences, many of them utterly trivial (such as destroying fish ponds while disguised). It goes without saying that such a legally bizarre measure as the 1723 Black Act, would have been inconceivable in the more civilised 12th century.

(B) Final Conclusion

I began this final Blog on King Henry I by suggesting that perhaps his strange demise had overtones of a Charles Dickens novel. In retrospect, I think that Anthony Trollope would be a more appropriate author, especially when viewing the 12th century as a whole.

In the ending of the final novel of his famous Barset Series (‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’); Anthony Trollope writes: “And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset.” To paraphrase that celebrated author, ‘We will together take our last farewell of 12th century England.’

Like Anthony Trollope’s Barset Novels, the 12th Century was filled with a host of distinguished dramatis personae:-

  • Renowned Fighting Monarchs, such as King Richard the Lionheart of England (reigned 1189 to 1199), and King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165 to 1214).
  • Illustrious Female Rulers, such as Edith Matilda (Queen Consort of England 1100 to 1118) and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen Consort of France, 1137 to 1152 and Queen Consort of England, 1154 to 1189).
  • Exceptionally talented administrators, such as Justicar Bishop Roger of Salisbury (de facto Justicar c.1110 to c.1125) and Archbishop Hubert Walter (Chief Justicar of England, 1193 to 1198).
  • Leading Financiers, such as Aaron of Lincoln (lived from 1125 to 1186).
  • Profound Philosophers, such as Archbishop Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093 to 1109). Anselm was the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Talented Welsh Princes, such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. He was known as The Lord Rhys (Yr Argwydd Rhys). King Henry II made him Justicar of Deheubarth in 1171.
  • Gifted young persons whose lives were sadly (and prematurely) ended, such as Prince William the Adelin (lived from1103 to 1120). Prince William was Henry I’s son and heir; he tragically died in the White Ship Disaster of 1120.
  • Flawed Icons, such as Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170).
  • Villains, such as Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who died in 1144. He was the original ‘robber baron’, who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order in King Stephen’s reign to ransack Cambridgeshire and the Fens in 1144. Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard Malebisse took advantage of the anti-Semitic hysteria generated by the Third Crusade to play the leading role in the massacre of the York Jewish Community in 1190.
  • Exceptionally talented monarchs, such as King Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (reigned 1154 to 1189).The latter king is probably the greatest monarch ever to reign in England.

In the words of Anthony Trollope, “To them all I now say farewell” (except Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard Malebisse); but it is certainly not a case of farewell to my Angevinman Blog! In 2013, I hope to take a chronological  leap of 250 years into the mid-fifteenth century. The delights of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ await me and, hopefully, my readers.

Have a Happy Advent and Christmas!

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The Laws of the Lion of Justice: 1115

October 1st 2012 is an important date in the legal profession of England & Wales. To begin with, it marks the beginning of the Michaelmas Law Term in England & Wales. Perhaps even more significant: today is the third anniversary of the Act of Parliament establishing the new Supreme Court of the UK (thereby superseding the historic function of the House of Lords). It is therefore fitting that my October Blog will examine the impact of Henry I’s reign on the development of  English Common Law; particularly the important legal initiative: ‘The Laws of Henry I’.

This ground-breaking document, ‘’Leges Henrici Primi”, was written about 900 years ago, in the second decade of Henry’s reign. It clearly drew on legal innovations outlined in Henry’s ‘Coronation Charter’ of 1100; but the Charter had been primarily designed to attract support for Henry’s new regime. In contrast, the Leges was more concerned with the actual advancement of the Law: it was to be a indispensable staging post in the evolution of English Common Law.

Impact of the Leges on English Common Law.

(1) The Leges formalised the Anglo-Saxon ‘Two-Tier’ System of Law Courts: Shire Courts for serious offences and Hundred Courts for lesser offences.

Clause VII(i) stated that: ”the general plea of the shire court shall be held at the recognised terms and times throughout the different provinces of England.”

Clause VII(iv) stated that: ”The shire moot and the borough moot ought to meet twice a year; and the hundred moot and the wapentake moot twelve times a year.” (All direct quotations from the Leges are taken from EHD, Volume II, pages 491 to 495).                                                                                                  The Shire and Borough Moots approximate to our  Crown Courts. The Hundred and Wapentake Moots roughly correspond to our modern-day Magistrates’ Courts. However there is at least one major difference between the 12th century Hundred and Wapentake Moots and today’s Magistrates’ Courts. There are about 350 Magistrates’ Courts in England & Wales in 2012. Nine hundred years ago, there were possibly as many as 600 Hundred and Wapentake Courts in England (reflecting the obvious difficulties in travel in 12th century England).                                                                                                                               The ‘Hundred’ was the basic Anglo-Saxon unit of local government. The ‘Wapentake’ was the basic unit of local government in what had been the Danelaw. As Professor Bartlett has pointed out, the Leges actually defined England, it stated: “The Kingdom of England is divided into three parts, Wessex, Mercia and the Danelaw.” (Quoted by Robert Bartlett, in his ‘England under the Norman and Angevin Kings,’ OUP (2000), page 155). What is impressive is that our modern Law Terms are still standardised throughout England (and also in Wales). What is also impressive is that the Danelaw was still recognised as a separate entity in England as late as the early 12th century.  The Danelaw was established as the Viking half of England in the late 9th century.

In the early 12th century, when referring to the Danelaw (or Denelaga), the Leges effectively meant Northern England (from Lincolnshire northwards). When referring to Wessex (Westsexenlaga),  the Leges effectively referred to Southern England (including London). When referring to Mercia (Merchenlaga), the Leges effectively meant what is now Central England.

(2) A key element in any formal legal system is the ‘Right of Appeal’: it is an obvious safeguard against the arbitrary use of the law. It was the Leges that contained one of the first written references to appeal procedures in England.

Clause XXXI(iv) stated that: “No man may dispute  the judgement of the king’s court, but it shall be permitted to men who have knowledge of the plea to appeal against the judgement of other courts.” What the Leges seems to be implying is that the King’s Court might well be the final Court of Appeal. (Shades of our modern Supreme Court?)

(3) It would of course be stretching incredulity to suggest that the Leges was an exact blueprint for our present day legal structure. For example, the author of the Leges deliberately wrote into the Leges a formal assertion of the legal rights of King Henry’s Tenants-in-Chief.

Clause LV(i): “Every lord is allowed to summon his men, so that he may do justice upon them in his court. If the man be resident in a manor far from the honour from which he holds, he shall none the less go to the plea if the lord summon him.”

The concept of a ‘summons’ is of course familiar to legal systems; but Clause LV explicitly allowed the Tenants-in-Chief to have their own courts, called Honor Courts (a Norman innovation).  Such private courts would of course be unthinkable in any modern democratic legal system. Even so, as Professor Bartlett has demonstrated, the Leges contained checks against ‘overmighty’ Tenants-in-Chief, as Henry I forbade ‘building a castle without permission.’ (Bartlett, page 279). This prohibition was an effective safeguard against ambitious Tenants-in-Chief. In any case,  these ‘Honorial ‘ or ‘Seignorial’ courts did not really take root in 12th century England. The Anglo/Saxon ‘two-tier’ system of shire and hundred courts remained pre-eminent in 12th century England, thereby bequeathing a two-tier court system to us.

(4) Any progressive legal system has to differentiate between categories of crime. This is where perhaps the Leges made its most important contribution to the maturation of  English Common Law. Professor Judith Green has argued that the Leges certainly did effectively identify different categories of crime.

Serious crime included rape & abduction, arson, robbery, treachery and murder. Lesser crimes included breach of the King’s Peace and contempt for the King’s Writs. (Judith Green, ‘The Government of England under Henry I’ (1989), page 102). The categorisation of rape & abduction as serious crime must have represented a real progression in the position of women in 12th century English society. One wonders if Henry’s Consort, Queen Edith Matilda, was involved ‘behind the scene’ in the implementation of the latter measure..

Conclusion

The pronouncement of The Laws of Henry I, around 1115, was a turning point in the evolution of English Common Law. As Professor Judith Green has pointed out, attempts to formally inscribe English Law had largely been dormant since the reign of Cnut (1016 to 1035): “it was re-born in the early twelfth century under a king whose reign became a byword for the rule of law.” (Judith Green, ‘The Government of England under Henry I’ (page 99)). Professor Green says it all: every one of us owes a great debt to King Henry I. Today, in 2012,, we must ensure that  we do not, by default, erode the legal heritage bequeathed to us by ‘The Lion of Justice.’

Question

Just over 800 years ago, the 1st October was a dynastically significant date. Why?

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Sibling Strife Part 2 : King William II and King Henry I: August 1100

The second part of my Trilogy on Henry I’s Accession and Retention of Power takes us back from July 1101 to August 1100. Picture the scene:-

  •  It is the afternoon of 2nd August 1100. King William II (the second son of King William the Conqueror) is out hunting in the New Forest, accompanied by several magnates. He is in his mid-forties, quite healthy (having survived serious illness in 1093). Towards the end of that August day, tragedy struck King William. Let a contemporary chronicler, the reliable William of Malmesbury, tell us what happened next:

“The sun was now setting, and the king drawing his bow let fly an arrow which slightly wounded a stag which passed before him. He ran in pursuit, keeping his gaze rigidly fixed on the quarry, and holding up his hand to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays. At that instant Walter {Tirel}, forming in his mind a project which seemed good to him, tried to transfix another stag which by chance came near him while the king’s attention was otherwise occupied. And thus it was that unknowingly, and without power to prevent it (oh, gracious God!), he pierced the king’s breast with a fatal arrow. “[EHD, Vol II, page 318].

  • At the time of his brother’s death, Henry was conveniently close by. He immediately galloped to nearby Winchester to get control of the important castle and the royal treasure. Henry was out to get the throne: this was his golden chance for power, while his elder brother (Duke Robert of Normandy) was still involved in the First Crusade. Possession of the important city of Winchester would clearly strengthen Henry’s claim to the English Crown. Having secured some baronial support for his monarchical coup d’état, Henry then continued his energetic pursuit of the Crown by quitting Winchester and, with a few baronial companions, riding post haste to London. It is possible that Henry covered the 70 miles to London in 24 hours (arriving in London on the evening of 4th August). And so it was that Henry was formally crowned King Henry I of England on the next day, 5th August 1100.
  • The speed of the political events, over the four day period 2nd to 5th August, was amazing: it fuels speculation that maybe there had existed a planned assassination attempt against King William II. Most historians dismiss this conspiracy theory. They see William II’s death as simply a tragic accident, caused by a series of chance events, such as the dazzling effect of the setting sun, William’s partial wounding of his quarry, and Tirel’s bow shot whilst William II was preoccupied. Such an interpretation is supported by William of Malmesbury’s own judgement that Tirel ‘unknowingly’ killed the king. However, Professor Judith Green, in her excellent recent biography of King Henry, considers that: “a conspiracy to murder Rufus involving Henry, Walter Tirel and the Clares {a powerful baronial family} is…… not out of the question.” {Henry I, by Judith Green (2009), p.40, CUP}. Walter Tirel’s later actions are certainly suspect. Describing Tirel’s reaction to King William’s hunting accident, William of Malmesbury dryly observed, “Walter immediately ran up, but finding the king senseless and speechless, he leapt quickly on his horse, and escaped at full gallop.” [EHD, Vol II, page 318]. It could be argued that Tirel’s flight was simply the result of fear. A possibly more convincing explanation is that Tirel made sure that William II really was dead, and having ascertained this fact, he immediately ensured his own escape.
  • Whether or not King William’s death in the New Forest was the result of accident or design, Henry would have to make some immediately important political gesture to shore up his new monarchical regime. It was therefore no accident that Henry’s Coronation on the 5th August (by Maurice, Bishop of London) was accompanied by King Henry I (as he now was) issuing his celebrated ‘Coronation Charter’. This Charter remains virtually unknown to today’s general public (unlike the 1215 ‘Magna Carta’). Yet King Henry I’s Coronation Charter of 5th August 1100 (exactly 912 years ago today) was a very important medieval document: so significant was Henry’s Coronation Charter, that it was re-issued by King Stephen in 1135 and King Henry II in 1154. It was even cited by Archbishop Stephen Langton in 1215 as a precedent for Magna Carta. Indeed, certain of its provisions (especially those dealing with women) are still relevant today.

King Henry I’s Coronation Charter, 5th August 1100.

As Professor Green and other historians have pointed out, many of the Charter’s Fourteen Points were not entirely new. [See Judith Green, ‘Henry I’, pages 45 to 49]. Even so, some of the specific details enshrined in the Coronation Charter were novel.

Clause 1By this Clause, Henry promised the Church that he would “neither sell or lease its property; nor on the death of an archbishop or a bishop or an abbot will I take anything from the demesne of the Church or from its vassals during the period which elapses before a successor is installed.”

Clause 2 concerned the succession of heirs to the estates of their fathers; and the inheritance tax (‘Relief’) they would have to pay to the Crown. Henry promised that such ‘reliefs’ would only be “Just and Lawful.”

Clause 3concerned both the marriage of aristocratic female heirs and the rights of widows. Regarding the childless widow of a tenant-in-chief, Henry stated that, “she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, and I will not give her in marriage unless she herself consents.”

Clause 4 further stipulated the rights of widows and their offspring: “If a widow survives with children under age, she shall have her dower and her marriage portion, so long as she keeps her body chaste; and I will not give her in marriage except with her consent. And the guardian of the land, and of the children, shall be either the widow or another of her relations, as may seem proper. And I order that my barons shall act likewise towards the sons and daughters and widows of their men.”

Clause 5gave a warning to counterfeiters of the coinage.

Clause 6 Henry promised to forego most of the debts owed to his late brother, King William II.

Clause 7 concerned intestate estates of the barons For those of Henry’s barons who died intestate, “his widow or his children or his relatives or one of his true men shall make such division {of the movable property} for the sake of his soul, as may seem best to them.”

Clauses 8 to 10dealt with various matters concerning the barons, such as the Law of the Forests.

Clause 11concerned the feudal obligations of the Knights (lesser tenants): “The knights, who in return for their estates perform military service equipped with a hauberk of mail, shall hold their demesne lands quit of all gelds {taxes} and all work.”

Clauses 12 to 14were general statements, including a pledge to keep the peace, and restore the law of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor.

{See EHD, Vol II, pages 432 to 434 for full details of King Henry I’s Coronation  Charter}

Interpretation of King Henry I’s Coronation Charter: Cunning or Commendable?

The Charter was a mixture of both. On one level, Henry’s Coronation Charter was clearly an ingenious device to win support for his royalist coup d’état. In the words of the famous BBC character Baldrick, King Henry I ‘had a cunning plan’ to win support from those sections of English society whose support was vital to any monarch: the Church, Tenants-in-Chief, and the Knights. In this sense, the Charter was simply a Political Manifesto, intended to help Henry defeat his elder brother’s opposition to his accession to the English Throne. The reference to the Knights (Clause 11) is especially significant. By giving the knights the privilege of tax exemption, Henry I attested his faith in the military organisation of the ‘Feudal Levy’ (Servitium Debitum), by which Henry I could nominally count on 5,000 knights to aid him in a crisis.

However, what is also striking is the rights King Henry I accorded to women, especially widows (Clauses Three, Four, and Seven). Such repeated assertions of the rights of widows almost implies that the Coronation Charter was a ‘Medieval Feminist Proclamation’. In this sense, the Coronation Charter certainly was commendable, because there was little political reward for Henry in making such ‘suffragist’ declarations.

Conclusion.

In promoting his Coronation Charter, Henry I had made a good start in rallying support. He made another politically astute move three months after the promulgation of the Coronation Charter, by marrying the Anglo-Saxon Princess, Edith Matilda, on 11th November 1100. Edith Matilda was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. By her mother, Edith Matilda was also the great grand-daughter of the Anglo-Saxon King, Edmund Ironside. By his marriage, Henry I probably also gained the backing of the Anglo-Saxon population In England, as well as the friendship of Scotland. Even so, would all these plus points help Henry I withstand the expected challenge to his Crown from his elder brother Duke Robert of Normandy?

Sibling strife was a potent factor affecting relations between Henry and Robert (and also William II). In acceding to the English throne in August 1100, Henry had thrown down the gauntlet to his brother Robert (perhaps literally)! Duke Robert picked up the gauntlet and invaded England in the summer of 1101. What happened next? See my July Blog for details!!!!

Question

King Henry’s Coronation Charter of 5th August contained 14 Points. Which other important historical political charter also contained 14 Points? (Clue – think 20th century.)

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Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: The Reigns of King Henry I and King Henry II

This year, my emphasis will shift from Henry II to Henry I.

Henry I is still a relatively unknown monarch, and certainly an under-valued one; yet in many respects, he was a very successful King of England. In fact, if one was to compare Henry I and Henry II in horse racing terms, then Henry II would only beat Henry I by a few lengths. To extend the racing metaphor, it was Henry I that effectively established the Angevin stable, which Henry II was then to raise to a pinnacle of achievement. Significantly, both monarchs were active on the ‘regal turf’ for exactly the same length of time: 35 years.

In other ways too, the reigns of Henry I and Henry II were remarkably similar.

  • The province of Anjou (in France) was vital to both monarchs. Henry II was the elder son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou; indeed, the very name of Henry II’s dynasty was derived from Anjou. However, it was in Henry I’s reign that the link between Anjou and the kings of England was forged. In 1128, Henry I knighted Geoffrey of Anjou. The alliance between Anjou and the England was then cemented a week afterwards by the marriage of Geoffrey of Anjou to Henry I’s daughter (and sole surviving legitimate heir), the Empress Matilda. The royal marriage was celebrated at Le Mans, where their son, the future King Henry II, was born in 1133.
  • The reigns of both Henry I and Henry II saw major developments in English Common Law. Last year, I analysed the key legal developments in Henry IIs reign: the Assizes of Clarendon and Northampton, the Assizes of Mort d’Ancestor and Novel Disseisin, and the Inquest of Sheriffs. Henry I’s reign saw similar advances in the development of English Common Law, especially in the provisions of Henry I’s Coronation Charter (1100), and in his ‘Leges Henrici Primi’ (1114-1118).
  •  Both Henry I and Henry II faced formidable challenges to their authority from rebellious tenants-in-chief. In 1101, Henry was opposed by William of Warenne (Earl of Surrey). In the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174, Henry II was opposed by the Earls of Chester and Leicester. The fact that both Henry I and Henry II were opposed by rebellious magnates is in itself not so surprising, as most medieval monarchs did face such opposition sometime in their reigns. What is different about Henry I and Henry II is that both these monarchs displayed magnanimity to their opponents. In 1102 (or 1103), Henry I restored William of Warenne to his earldom. Likewise, at the Council of Northampton, in January 1177, Henry II restored the Earls of Leicester and Chester to their estates. In displaying such magnanimity to former opponents, both Henry I and Henry II were showing their strength. In contrast, both King John and Stephen nursed grudges against their opponents, reflecting their weaker personalities.
  • Both Henry I and Henry II married strong-willed, effective queens. I have already analysed Henry II’s famous queen, Eleanor. Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II undoubtedly strengthened his new Angevin regime. Not only did Eleanor bring the important duchy of Aquitaine to Henry II’s growing Angevin Empire, but Eleanor was an effective ruler in her own right. Similarly, Henry I’s marriage to Queen Edith Matilda greatly strengthened his newly established regime in 1100. Edith Matilda, the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, represented the Anglo/Saxon dynasty, as she was a direct descendent of Edmund Ironside. Not only that, but Queen Edith Matilda effectively acted as Henry I’s regent when he was in Normandy. Queen Edith Matilda issued writs in her own name, heard petitions, and even tried law cases; her administrative skills greatly assisted Henry I’s government in England
  • Finally, both Henry I and Henry II had the great foresight to appreciate the crucial role Normandy played in strengthening their position as Kings of England. Henry I effectively reunited England with Normandy by his great military success at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, when he defeated the forces of his elder brother, Duke Robert. Similarly, perhaps the vital factor explaining Henry II’s survival in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174 was his victory at the battle of Verneuil, in August 1173. In contrast, both King Stephen and King John were unsuccessful in regaining Normandy: this might explain their ultimate failure to defeat their rebellious tenants-in-chief.

I have concentrated on the similarities between Henry I and Henry II; but of course there were also differences, which will be analysed in my forthcoming blogs. Even so, I hope I have whetted my readers’ appetites for my 2012 historical dishes on King Henry I. In the meantime, should any of my Angevin supporters want to do some background work on King Henry I, I suggest they consult one (or perhaps both) of the following biographies:

“Henry I”, by Judith Green CUP, ISBN 978-0-521-74452-2

Henry I by C. Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-09829-4

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Twilight of the Gods: The End of Henry II, King of England and Angevin Emperor 1154 to 1189

In the mid 1170s, King Henry II seemed to be at the height of his power. He had triumphed over his adversaries in the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174. His legal reforms continued apace: between 1176 (the year of the Assize of Mort d’Ancestor) and his death in 1189, there were no fewer than eight judicial peregrinations of his justices in eyre. The generally effective Ranulf de Glanvill was appointed justicar in 1180.However, in reality, there were ominous portents in the 1180s, that were ultimately to threaten Henry’s authority.

  • Chief among these harbingers was the continued opposition of Henry’s sons, especially Richard. The death of two of Henry II’s sons in the 1180s, Henry the Younger (1183), and Geoffrey (1186), strengthened Richard’s position. Not only was he ruler of Aquitaine in his own right; but after 1183, he was Henry’s heir. Emboldened, Richard now demanded that Henry recognise him as heir to Normandy & Anjou, as well as heir to England. Fearing that Richard would become too powerful, Henry refused these demands. As in the father/son quarrels that preceded the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174, Henry II was probably too rigid; but Richard then upped the stakes by allying with the King of France against his own father, Henry II.
  • Richard’s alliance with France represented a greater threat to Henry than the similar agreement of 1173/1174. The reason was that Henry’s enemy of 1173/1174, King Louis VII, had died in 1180. He had been succeeded as King of France by his fifteen-year-old son Philip Augustus. Philip was the superior of his father: he was intelligent, calculating, and in all ways a Machiavellian ruler, bent on the destruction of the Angevin Empire. Too late, Henry underestimated the power of this unholy alliance of Philip and Richard. In November 1188, Philip deliberately challenged Henry by recognising Richard as heir to the Angevin lands. In 1189, Richard & Philip launched a joint assault on Henry’s French lands, symbolically driving Henry from Le Mans (his birthplace) in May 1189. Worse was then to follow. Enfeebled by increasing poor health, Henry’s morale had been hit by the desertion of his erstwhile supporters (including his son John). In July 1189, Henry was forced to accept humiliating peace terms from Philip & Richard. By then, the strain of governing his Angevin dominions for 35 years finally took its toll. Henry retreated to Anjou, where he had grown up as a boy. He died at Chinon on July 6th 1189. A few days later the Gotterdammerung was completed when Henry’s corpse was ferried down the River Vienne for burial by the nuns at Fontevraud Abbey near Anjou. About twenty years later, his remains were joined there with the corpse of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine: hero and heroine at last re-united in death.

Contemporary assessments of King Henry II

It is reassuring to know that contemporary chroniclers tried to give a balanced assessment of Henry II, pointing out his vices as well as his virtues. However, what is impressive about contemporary opinion is their unanimous view on Henry II’s desires for peace. William of Newburgh writing in the mid 1190s after Henry’s death, stated that, “in his exalted position in the state he was most diligent in defending and promoting the peace of the realm.” Later on, William of Newburgh repeated his assertion of Henry’s desires for peace, “he abhorred bloodshed and the sacrifice of men’s lives.” Significantly, William of Newburgh’s views were echoed by a ‘foreign’ chronicler, Gerald of Wales, also writing in the mid 1190s. Gerald wrote, “Strenuous in warfare, he was very prudent in civil life. But always he dreaded the doubtful arbitrament of war, and with supreme wisdom, in accordance with the ancient comic poet, he essayed every method before resorting to arms.” If for no other reason, Henry II’s commitment to a general peace policy throughout the Angevin Empire would earn him our high regard.

Present –Day assessments of King Henry II.

  • I have deliberately selected today, Saturday 10th December 2011, for my final assessment of King Henry II. The reason is that exactly 75 years ago, on 10th December 1936, King Edward VII abdicated the British throne; essentially the result of his refusal to forego his relationship with Mrs. Simpson.  By so doing, King Edward VII gravely weakened the position of the monarchy in the UK. The contrast between Edward VII’s irresponsible attitude as monarch and King Henry II’s sense of duty as King is profound.
  • About ten years ago, in 2002, the BBC conducted a famous Poll of the ‘100 Greatest Britons’, voted for by the general public. Twelve ‘reigning’ monarchs/princes featured in the Top 100. Interestingly seven of these twelve monarchs were medieval kings or princes (over 50% of the total), they were: King Alfred the Great, Prince Owain Glyndwr, King Henry V, King Robert the Bruce, King Richard III, King Edward I, and, yes, King Henry II. Henry II may have only figured at Number 90; but it is still impressive that he made the Top 100 List at all. For too long, Henry’s reputation has been marred by the Becket affair (see my blog of 30th December 2010 – ‘Henry II and Archbishop Becket’). For too long, King Henry II has been a classic example of Mark Antony’s famous dictum: ‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.’ [Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2]
  • Perhaps the real worth of King Henry II is now becoming more appreciated by British people – even if Henry was beaten into 90th place by Britons such as  Johnny Rotten (87th – I like to think that Henry would have seen the amusing side to this vote).

Conclusion

I think that best summary of King Henry II is given by Professor David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at Kings College, London, and author of the excellent study of medieval Britain: ‘The Struggle for Mastery’ (Penguin,2003). On page 244 of his book, Professor Carpenter summarises Henry II’s achievements as ruler: “Here also was a king with a real sense of care for his kingdom, who had restored its mutilated frontiers, recovered the rights of the crown, restored peace and order and built the common law.”

When listening to Wagner’s opera, ‘Gotterdammerung’, especially Siegfried’s ‘Rhine Journey’ and ‘Funeral March’, I see Henry II embodying the role of Siegfried. I hope you have found parts of this year’s blog absorbing. In 2012, I hope to analyse the reign of Henry II’s grandfather, King Henry I, who runs Henry II fairly close in the monarchical stakes.

We shall see.

In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations. In fact, why not follow medieval tradition, and celebrate the whole Twelve Nights of festivities!

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Civil Law and the individual: What we all owe to Henry II . . .

Today, Monday 3rd October 2011, is an especially propitious day. To begin with today will see the admittance and licensing as a Reader in the Anglican Church of my wife. Proof positive that I am magnanimous enough to overlook the Church’s error as regards its attitude to Becket! Today also marks the start of the Michaelmas Law Term in the two UK countries most strongly influenced by the Common Law: England & Wales. Today is therefore a timely reminder what we all owe to King Henry II.

I have already described Henry II’s contribution to the development of criminal law in my February 15th Blog: the Assize of Clarendon. I have also analysed the vital nature of Henry II’s Inquest of Sheriffs in my March 30th Blog. The latter measure, by asserting the primacy of the government over the principal law officers, struck a powerful blow for freedom from tyranny. The recent political exchanges between government ministers and senior police officers in the wake of the August urban riots have reminded us how vital it is that the legal government must, if necessary, assert its primacy over the law-enforcement officers. Even so, if Henry II and his government officials had been exclusively concerned with the criminal law and the law-enforcement officers, then Henry II’s contribution to the common law would not have been so important. What sets Henry II apart is that his reign also witnessed significant developments in civil law.

  • Hopefully, very few of us will be involved in criminal law proceedings, either as the perpetrator or as the victim of crime. In contrast, probably all of us will be involved in the civil law at some stage in our lives: perhaps buying a house, or making a will. When we engage in either of these two legal activities, we shall be effectively engaging in a statutory process inaugurated by the Angevin Regime over eight hundred years ago. The two key Angevin measures affecting the development of the Common Law were the Assizes of Novel Disseisin and Mort d’Ancestor.
  • Before I proceed further, some explanation of medieval terminology is required. As I may have explained before, an ‘Assize’ was a royal edict (or pronouncement), made by the monarch and his officials, usually in conjunction with the tenants-in-chief. Such ordinances then effectively assumed the force of law. The term ‘assizes’ survived in England & Wales until forty years ago, when the 1971 Courts Act abolished Assize Courts, replacing them by ‘Crown Courts’, in the process discarding the experience of eight hundred years of our history. The term ‘seisin’ meant feudal possession, and, over the course of time, was effectively transformed into what we would now recognise as freehold possession.
  • Precisely dating both Assizes of Novel Disseisin and Mort d’Ancestor is difficult; the late Professor Warren, whose magisterial biography of Henry II was published in 1973, dates both these Assizes at about 1176. He partly arrived at this date by a process of elimination. There seems to be no legal process involving ‘Novel Disseisin’ before the first Judicial Tour of England after the Great Revolt of 1173 to 1174. This judicial tour was commissioned in January 1176; but the term Novel Desseisin appeared soon afterwards. However, the editors of Volume II of the equally magisterial ‘English Historical Documents would disagree on Warren’s dating. They agree that Novel Disseisin does appear in the 1176 Assize of Northampton, but feel that it may have appeared ten years earlier, in the 1166 Assize of Clarendon. The editors of EHD agree with Warren on dating the Assize of Mort d’Ancestor in 1176. It would therefore seem to be the case that King Henry II’s great law reforms all occurred in the period 1166 to 1176, which must therefore rank as one of the greatest decades of reform in the entire history of the UK.

Assize of Novel Disseisin

This epoch-making measure sought to redress the grievances of anyone illegally deprived of their freehold. It involved the inter-play of monarch, sheriff, justices and jury; in addition to the two contending parties. A good description of this procedure is outlined in a famous legal treatise of about 1189, called: “Concerning the Laws and Customs of thye Kingdom of England.” This treatise is usually ascribed to Rannulf de Glanville, Henry’s justicar between 1180 and 1189 (though the authorship is still disputed). Clause XXXII, Book XIII, stated that when anyone unjustly dispossessed another of his freehold, the injured party could now obtain a Writ in the King’s Court, phrased as follows:-

“The king to the sheriff greeting. N has complained to me that R has unjustly and without a judgement dispossessed him of his free tenement in such-and-such a village since my last voyage into Normandy; therefore I command you that, if the aforesaid N should make you security for prosecuting his claim, then you shall cause possession of that tenement to be restored to him, together with the chattels taken on it. And you shall cause the tenement with the chattels to be in peace until the Sunday after Easter, and in the meantime you shall cause twelve free and lawful men of the neighbourhood to view the land, and have their names enrolled. And summon them by good summoners to appear before me or my justices prepared to make the recognition. And put R (or his bailiff, if he cannot be found) under safe pledge to be there at that time to hear such recognition” [Quoted in EHD, Volume II, page 509].

What a wonderful document! The late Professor Warren regards the Assize of Novel Disseisin “to be of crucial importance in the history of the English common law.” (See his ‘Henry II’, Yale University Press, new edition, 2000, page 337). Of course, he is correct in this view. No longer could some bullying baron ride roughshod over the legal rights of modest landowners. The sheriff had to see that landowner’s rights were protected, and the jury was to see that justice was done. Doubtless there were still anomalies involving land ownership, because no system of law is perfect (even our own!); but a major step had been taken in bringing about legal equity. At the same time, there was now a clear incentive for a dispossessed individual to seek legal redress through the courts, rather than resorting to direct action themselves, a mark of an enlightened legal system.

Assize of Mort d’Ancestor 

This reform gave legal protection to deprived heirs. The legal heir to a deceased landowner could now obtain his father’s estate if he could prove (a) that his father was legally possessed of the freehold at the time of his death and (b) the claimant was actually the legal heir of the deceased. Where there were several claimants to the freehold, and one of them had, perhaps illegally, taken passion of the freehold, the other heirs could now obtain a writ in the manner of Novel Disseisin, in which case the sheriff would summon a jury to decide the matter. At the same time as adjudicating between rival claimants, Mort d’Ancestor anticipated the present day legal arrangements on intestate estates, because if there was only one heir to an estate, then the heir would receive it, on the basis of (a) and (b) above. Once again, this Assize was a breakthrough in the development of common law in England.

Conclusion

We all now live in a nation increasingly dominated by statute law, much of it emanating from the European Union. In this process of legal transformation, the common law has inevitably become less relevant. There is probably little point in bewailing such a legal metamorphosis, as change is the life-blood of human society. Nevertheless, the progressive erosion of common law procedures within the UK in no sense diminishes King Henry II’s achievement. Building on the groundwork of his grandfather King Henry I, Henry II and his officials constructed a cohesive system of law in England. It was a magnificent achievement, marvelled at by generations that followed. Today marks the start of a new law term in England & Wales. One trusts that our present-day servants of the law, in whatever capacity, will imitate their Angevin predecessors in assiduously discharging their legal responsibilities.

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Does Magna Carta Mean Nothing to You?

Most of us would probably pause before answering such a leading question; but I suspect that few of us would emulate the classic response  to this question by the late comedian, the great Tony Hancock: ’Did she die in vain?’ The equally brilliant scriptwriters, Ray Galton & Alan Simpson, penned this immortal quip in their script for the ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ episode of ‘Twelve Angry Men’, broadcast on BBC Television on 16th October 1959.

Galton & Simpson’s  famous witticism is ageless; but can the same be said of Magna Carta, issued  seven hundred and ninety-six years ago today, 15th June, 1215?

Background to  the Promulgation of Magna Carta

  • Baronial resentment played the critical role in the negotiations with King John in 1215 which led to Magna Carta; and part of their resentment stemmed from the financial demands placed on England by Richard I’s crusading zeal. Even so, it was John’s policies and failures that ultimately precipitated the final struggle between nobility and monarchy in 1215.  John’s Justicar, Peter des Roches, was an abrasive foreigner who greatly increased taxes. Another foreigner who antagonised English opinion, this time at local level, was Sheriff Philip Mark, from Touraine. Yes, he was Sheriff of Nottingham, so perhaps there is something in the ‘Robin Hood’ story. John would probably have survived such unpopularity, had it not been for the disastrous defeat of John’s Angevin allies by the French at the Battle of Bouvines, on 27th July 1214. This major defeat spelt the final loss of Normandy, and, with it, any hope of Angevin recovery. In England, the devastating military reverse of Bouvines shattered John’s authority, thereby igniting the baronial resentment which in turn paved the way to Magna Carta.
  • Revolt actually began in October 1214, when King John had returned to England from Europe. This revolt of ‘the Northerners’ later spread to include some tenants-in-chief from southern and eastern England. From then on, the  opposition against John gathered apace, extending to include some knights.
  • As in any political conflict, possession of London was the key to ultimate success. Both sides now tried to get London support. John granted London the right to have a mayor elected within the City, in a charter of May 1215. It did no good. The Londoners let in the opposition on 17th May 1215. At this point, John had to open up negotiations with the opposition at Runnymede, which ended with the issue of Magna Carta about a month later, on 15th June, 1215.

Was Magna Carta a ‘Freedom Charter’ for society?

  • It could well be argued that Magna Carta was essentially a ‘rich man’s charter’, as it really benefitted the barons. Chapters 2 to 16 dwelt with baronial concerns, such as scutage (taxation in lieu of military service) and reliefs (a sort-of inheritance tax). The final chapter, the so-called ‘security clause’, empowered twenty-five barons with the task of compelling the monarch to keep Magna Carta’s provisions.
  • However, Magna Carta was no mere ‘baron’s charter’. Chapters 39 & 40 were applicable to all sectors of society, and still have a resounding ring to them:-

‘No free man shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, exiled or ruined in any way, nor shall we attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and the law of the land.’

‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Even today, in 2011, these chapters have a resounding ring to them.

  • Magna Carta was also a freedom charter for the rest of Britain, not just England, as chapters 56 to 59 extended various rights to Scotland and Wales. Alan of Galloway, Constabule of Scotland, was one of the notables listed in the preamble to MagnaCarta.

Final Thoughts on Magna Carta

Looking back eight hundred years or so since the Runnymede agreement of 15th June 1215, Magna Carta now seems to be primarily the political swansong of the Angevin Empire; rather than the precursor of British liberties. Yet this is probably too narrow a judgement. The third re-issue of Magna Carta, in 1225, remains the earliest statute on the English Statute Book. Seen in this way, Magna Carta does mean a lot to all of us. Magna Carta is as ageless as Galton & Simpson’s classic one-liner; and is therefore a fitting accolade to a glorious empire.

Question

As usual, I will round off this month’s blog with a little problem-solving exercise:-

Henry Fitz-Ailwin became the first Mayor of London, nominated by King Richard I in 1194. As we have seen, King John allowed London citizens to elect their own mayor in May 1215 just before issuing Magna Carta. The office of Lord Mayor of the City of London therefore has a very long history and the current Lord Mayor is Michael Bear. There also is a Mayor of London, elected by the voters. When was the office of ‘Mayor of London’ established, and who is currently the Mayor?

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