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the most exalted of initiates are unanimous in reporting seasons of "dryness" or lassitude. or lassitude. This is not only
a necessary, but wholly beneficent condition of progress. These temporary harmonies are grounded upon a basis of imperfection. Some element of pride, some thought of reward, enters, however subtly, into the raptures of the novice. He must return awhile to the depths before he can attain to the summit.
The application of this truth to the spiritual history of nations should be obvious. Out of the darkness of the feudal night it would be madness to expect a love of England, born of a few struggling generations, to pervade the whole people in perfect strength and wisdom. But we may say with truth of the period roughly marked by the reigns of the first three Edwards, that it was graced by a patriotism which had previously existed only in germ, and which bore fruit as splendid as Cressy and as substantial as parliamentary government. Victories were gained which, with but one exception, were unrivalled until the days of the Armada, liberties achieved which had to be recovered from the Stuarts.
Then follows the reaction. These triumphs had been premature, these liberties achieved by a people incapable of using them; not yet had the unity of England become complete and spiritual. The old powers of selfishness and disorder burst forth with uncurbed violence. Civil war desolated the land, shame and defeat tarnished our standards, tyranny flourished unchecked, it seemed once again as if Christ and His saints slept. This roughly describes the close of the Middle Ages in England.
In Edward I the nation, for the first time since the Conquest, had found a patriot king. Even his long, fair hair bewrayed the Englishman. He is rightly to be regarded not as the successor of his father, but of Simon de Montfort, for it is in the Earl's spirit that he confronts his people and the Earl's policy of which his own is a
continuation. The nation was ripe for such a leader, for during the long reign of his father, its sympathies had been disregarded and its budding patriotism set at naught by the occupant of the throne. Its natural loyalty to its sovereign was at variance with its loyalty to itself, and it was many times easier to follow an English king than to rally round the most admirable of rebels.
So great was the work accomplished by "our English Justinian," that Sir Matthew Hale thought that more had been done to settle the justice of the kingdom in the first thirteen years of his reign, than in all the three and a half centuries that succeeded it. Every department of national policy was taken in a firm and skilful hand. The power of the greater feudatories, already shaken at Evesham, was now decisively curbed, and a stop was put to the feudal reaction which had set in at Runnymede. The Charter remained, but now as a national and not as a feudal document. Limits were set to the encroachments of Rome. The Church no longer could command the thunders of an Innocent or of a Hildebrand. Her long struggle with the Cæsars had left her victorious indeed, but crippled politically and morally. Even the friars had lost their first zeal, and Archbishop Winchelsey, most of whose political ventures are concerned with money, was himself a disciple of Francis, the bridegroom of poverty. Edward was able to reply to the papal pretensions by outlawing the whole of the clergy, and such was the spirit engendered by the long course of papal exactions, that when Flanders was put under an interdict, the English priests who had been brought over continued their ministrations as if nothing had happened. Commerce was diverted into fixed channels, the rights of aliens defined as against municipal privileges, the Jews expelled, the militia reorganized, and provision made for an effective police system.
All this may be described as a development, under
changed conditions and with a larger background of experience, of the legislative activity of Henry II. But along with the growth of the executive, goes that of a controlling power which was only vaguely known to the first of the Plantagenets. The long domestic struggles of the last reign had borne fruit in the principle laid down by Edward I in the memorable phrase, “What touches all should be approved by all." The nation was beginning to claim a voice in its own government, and even such a popular monarch as Edward was unable to force his will upon his subjects. Once, indeed, with the childlike impulsiveness so characteristic of the Middle Ages, he burst into tears before his Parliament, and acknowledged himself to be in the wrong. But in speaking of the nation's will, we must not be misled by words, for the Parliaments of the thirteenth century were no more representative than the caucus-driven majorities of the twentieth. The great mass of agricultural labourers or serfs were without a voice, and even the towns sent representatives mainly drawn from the merchant, as distinguished from the growing industrial class. The elections were, at best, in the hands of a very few, and at worst, not elections at all, but nominations.
Parliamentary service was regarded as a burden, both by members and constituencies, and even Parliament itself was chary of assuming responsibility. If we are to accept the more sentimental doctrines of modern democracy, the claim of this or any other body that ever existed outside a mass meeting, to be representative of the people's will, would have to be dismissed as a farce. But if we adopt a rational view, and look upon Parliaments as upon a Roi Soleil or a Venetian oligarchy, in the light of a rough means of governing a nation in the way best suited to its genius, we shall find much to admire in the Constitution of the early Edwards. It had come into being as the result, not of a theory, but of a number of practical expedients
for practical ends. When a class of the community became powerful, and knew its own mind, a place was found for it within the pale of the Constitution. The feudal magnates, the lesser barons, the traders, the clergy, were able to express their sentiments clearly, and with the authority that comes from the ownership of the purse-strings. Thus the reign of Edward I marks the coming of age of the English Constitution, and we may endorse the words of Blackstone: "It is from this period, from the exact observation of Magna Carta rather than from its making or renewal, in the days of his grandfather and father, that the liberty of Englishmen began again to rear its head; though the weight of military tenures hung heavy upon it for many ages after."
But this is not the place to follow the constitutional history of the three Edwards. It is one of the best-explored fields in history. Nor need we record the rapid and continuous progress of commerce and industry, except to remark that it is during this period that the attitude of the Crown towards commerce becomes at times almost anti-national. The privileges granted to aliens were bitterly resented by the towns, and Edward III's policy had an adverse effect upon England's commerce and thus, indirectly, upon her sea power, the weakness of which had become a crying scandal at the end of his reign.
But we must remember that his foreign policy aimed at a triple alliance of England, the Low Countries and South-West France, and that this premature imperialism, like that of Henry II, tended to make him oblivious to the interests of his proper motherland. The hankering after France was by no means an extinct passion in the breasts of English kings, and there is reason to believe that Edward himself would not have been averse to change the seat of his power from London to Paris. Two other reasons might be alleged for favouring the alien, the one that it suited the interest of the Crown to grant privileges
to those who were willing to pay for them, the other that it suited the interest of the country magnates to sell their wool in the dearest market, and these magnates still formed the most influential class in the kingdom. Much may be forgiven to Edward III on account of the stimulus that his policy gave to English weaving, for within half a century of his death, English cloth was competing successfully with that of Flanders, and England had begun to provide a market for her own raw produce.
Under the first and third Edwards, our foreign policy had already begun to take definite form, and to be directed towards national ends which are still held in view by modern statesmen. Their British policy, indeed, is dead, because it is consummated, but their European policy has outlasted six centuries. It is summed up in the fact that the key of our position in Europe is the Low Countries. It is extraordinary to what an extent this principle has guided our diplomacy throughout the ages, and the majority of our important wars have resulted more or less directly from it. These certainly include the Hundred Years' War, the smaller wars of Henry VIII and Mary, the Dutch campaigns of Elizabeth, the Dutch wars of Cromwell and Charles II, the whole of the long struggle with Louis XIV, the war of the Austrian succession, and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, which start on the Scheldt and end at Waterloo. There are some who have not stopped short of predicting, that another and even sterner contest awaits us, if we are to secure the independence of these countries--and our own.
Here we find the origin of the long rivalry between England and France, which some people have thought to be permanent and incurable. But it is not against France, as France, that our face has been set, but against the power that has threatened to dominate the Low Countries. Now that this state of things has passed away, it has been found possible for the two countries to join