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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

First Epoch (1066—1485)

First Epoch (1066—1485).

In the first period covering the era of Norman and Plantagenet Royalty, our Old Nobility were simply a gang of merciless bandits who had unfortunately succeeded in garrotting the entire English people. M. Thierry truly describes the Conqueror's companions among whom he divided the fair soil of England, as "adventurers by profession, the idle, the dissipated, the profligate, the enfans perdus of Europe." "Normans, Burgolauns, thieves and felons," is the summing up of a contemporary Norman writer. Of the de Belesmes, the leading Anglo-Norman house, Mr. Freeman says they were "monsters of cruelty and perfidy—open robbery and treacherous assassination seem to have been their daily occupation." Delightful ancestors these to have!

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In Stephen's reign they all but compassed the complete overthrow of the State. "Castles," says William of Newbury, "rose in great numbers, and there were in England, so to speak, as many kings or rather tyrants, as lords of castles." These robber strongholds "they filled with devils and evil men." Life in England became intolerable, and in the words of the Saxon Chronicle, "men said openly that Christ and the Saints had gone to sleep."

One vigorous popular protest was made in the reign of Richard II. The serfs rose in arms under Wat Tyler. The nobles were panic-stricken and induced the boy-king to grant a Charter of Rights and a general pardon. Presently however, they rallied, assassinated Tyler, tore up the Charter and hanged fifteen thousand of the duped peasantry! Asked by the King to give their consent to the emancipation of the serfs they replied: "Consent we will never give, were we all to die in one day!"

But what of Magna Charta and the deathless heroes of Runnymede? Was not the Great Charter their handiwork? Not at all. A more preposterous claim was never preferred. The Charter was the achievement of the freemen of England in general and of the citizens of London in particular. In fact the part played by the Barons was pusillanimous in the last degree. True, they made a stand in order to save their ill-gotten estates from the grasp of John's mercenary captains, but it was a stand feeble indeed. John defied them in Northampton Castle, and in a fortnight's time they and their retainers had ignominiously to seek refuge within the walls of Bedford. In reality the Charter was wrung from John by a great national movement, supported by a Scottish army in the north—London alone put twenty thousand men under arms. The true motives of the Barons became apparent when John rescinded the Charter, and with an army of imported mercenaries sent them flying in every direction. What did they then do? To save their estates they openly sold their country to France. Louis landed with a strong force, and after John's death it cost the English much hard fighting to dislodge him. Had the baronial patriots had their way, England would have been reduced to the position of a French province—a greater calamity even than the Norman Conquest. True patriots these barons bold!

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During the reign of the Conqueror and his immediate successors our Old Nobility, it is calculated, cut off by famine and the sword one-third of the English race! Eventually, in the faction fights of the Red and White Roses, they all but exterminated each other. Unhappily they did not perish alone. In the laudable work of self-destruction they contrived to immolate more than a hundred thousand Englishmen who had not the least interest in their wicked quarrels.