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FrRevol_601-650.indd 34 3/16/12 1:15 PM CHAPTER II Cursory View ofthe History ofEngland. It is painful to me to represent the English character in a disadvantageous light, even in past times. But this generous nation will listen without pain to all that reminds it that it is to its actual political institutions, to those institutions which it is in the power ofother nations to imitate, that it owes its virtues and its splendor. The puerile vanity ofbelieving themselves a separate race is certainly not worth, in the eyes of the English, the honor of encouraging mankind by their example. No people in Europe can be put on a parallel with the English since 1688; there are a hundred and twenty years of social improvement between them and the Continent. True liberty, established for more than a century among a great people, has produced the results which we witness; but in the preceding history of this people, there is more violence, more illegality, and, in some respects , a still greater spirit of servitude than among the French. The English always quote Magna Charta as the most honorable title of their ancient genealogy as free men; and in truth, such a contract between a nation and its king is an admirable thing. So early as the year 1215, personal liberty and the trial by jury are declared there in terms which might be used in our days. At this same period of the middle age there was, as we have mentioned in the Introduction, a movement of liberty throughout Europe. But knowledge and the institutions created by knowledge , not being yet diffused, there resulted nothing stable from this movement in England until 1688, that is, almost five centuries after Magna Charta. During all this period the charter was subject to incessant infractions . The successor ofhim who had signed it (Henry III, the son ofJohn) made war on his barons to release himselffrom the promises ofhis father. 1 1. This war ended in 1266 when Henry III Plantagenet reaffirmed the promises made in Magna Charta. FrRevol_601-650.indd 35 3/16/12 1:15 PM CHAPTER II. History ofEngland The barons had on this occasion favored the Third Estate, that they might find support in the people against the authority ofthe king. Edward I, the successor of Henry III, swore eleven times to maintain the great charter, which proves that he violated it even more often than that. Neither kings nor nations observe political oaths, except when the nature of things is such as to command sovereigns and satisfy the people. William the Conqueror had dethroned Harold; the House ofLancaster, in its turn, overset Richard II, and the act of election which called Henry IV to the throne was sufficiently liberal to be afterward imitated by Lord Somers in r688. On the accession of Henry IV, in 1399, attempts were made to renew the great charter, and the King at last promised to respect the franchises and liberty ofthe nation. But the nation did not then know how to make herself respected. The war with France/ the intestine wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster3 gave rise to the bloodiest scenes, and no history exhibits so many violations of individual liberty, so many executions, so many conspiracies of every kind. The result was that in the time of the famous Warwick,4 the "king-maker," a law was passed enjoining obedience to the actual sovereign, whether rightfully so or not, in order to avoid the arbitrary judicial condemnations to which changes in government necessarily gave rise. Next came the House of Tudor, which, in the person of Henry VII, united the rights of York and Lancaster.5 The nation was weary of civil war: the spirit of servitude succeeded, for a time, the spirit of faction. Henry VII, like Louis XI and Cardinal Richelieu, subjected the nobility and found means to establish the most complete despotism. Parliament, which has since been the sanctuary of liberty, served at that time only to sanction the most arbitrary acts by a false appearance ofnational consent; for there is not a better instrument of tyranny than an assembly when it is degraded. Flattery conceals itselfunder the appearance ofgeneral opinion , and fear, felt in common, almost resembles courage; so much do men 2. The Hundred Years' War (1337-1475). 3· The War of the Two Roses (1455- 85). 4· Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428-71). 5· Henry VII Tudor, King of England...


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