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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Chapter IX. — Summary

page 95

Chapter IX.


"Undoubtedly we are drawing towards great changes. The time has arrived when it is becoming impossible for the aristocracy of England to wield the English nation any longer."

Matthew Arnold.

"What then," asked Cromwell of Pym, "is the great root of all our grievances?" "The Aristocracy," said Pym, "Give us their true history and you unriddle the secret of every national embarrassment."

Surely truer oracle than this was never uttered. For more than eight centuries of dishonour the story of our Old Nobility is one of all but uninterrupted and, alas! generally successful crime. It divides itself naturally into four well marked epochs.

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.

Second Epoch (1485—1688).

In the Second Epoch, embracing the times of the Tudors and Stuarts, there grew up an entirely new order of noble fungi—parchment-made peers—base crawling courtiers, perfect prodigies of avarice, cowardice, servility, lying, forgery, plotting and all the meaner and meanest human vices. Henry VII. and Henry VIII. sent them to the block by the score for any reason or none. The "Virgin Queen" thought nothing of boxing the ears of a great nobleman, or even of spitting in his face. The craven Duke of Norfolk with "the blood of all the Howards" in his veins, was a party to the execution of both his nieces, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and congratulated the Royal Bluebeard on throwing his "ungracious mother-in-law, his unhappy brother and wife, and his lewd sister of Bridgewater," into the Tower. He and his fellow peers showed their respect for public liberty by decreeing that royal proclamations should have the force of law!

This was the hey-day of the notorious Church robbers—the Russells, the Cavendishes, Cecils and Co. The immense Monastery Lands were the mainstay of the poor. Deprived of these, they were reduced to vagrancy by thousands. To repress mendicancy the despoilers by statute visited their victims with branding, slavery, and death. In Henry the Eighth's reign seventy-two thousand lord-made beggars were hanged out of hand. Elizabeth was content with hanging a modest three or four hundred per annum. The "Virgin Queen's" ministers—the Cecils, father and son—(from whom Lord Salisbury claims descent)—literally governed England by—the rack. Even Lord Clarendon, the Tory historian, could hardly tolerate the younger Cecil. "No act of power," he writes, "was ever proposed which he did not advance and page 98 execute with the utmost rigour. No man so great a tyrant in this country." When the boy Edward VI., came to the throne the ring of upstart courtiers that got hold of him forged a clause in his father's will decreeing themselves immense estates and extraordinary titles. One fellow, Seymour, called himself Duke of Somerset by the grace of God! To save their estates they all punctually changed their religion with every change of government. In James the First's reign peerages were sold at the rate of £10,000 each, rich men being occasionally compelled to become hereditary legislators against their will.

When the storm-clouds of revolution finally burst about the head of Charles Stuart, the Peers showed scarcely a trace of capacity, civil or military. If they had helped the Commons to curb the royal prerogative not a drop of blood need have been shed. But they did not. In the hour of danger most of them slunk like rats into holes, whence they only emerged at the Restoration. But if they had none of the instincts of the lion, they had certainly some of those of the hyaena. They tore up and exposed to obloquy the dead bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, Bradshaw, Pym, Admiral Blake, and even those of Cromwell's mother and daughter! Noblesse oblige!

At this time land yielded the State nearly half its revenue. Of this most just obligation the nobles relieved themselves at a blow in 1660 by substituting Customs and Excise duties for the Land Tax. They subsequently undertook to pay 4s. in the pound on true annual rental, but they have since fraudulently kept to the original valuation of 1692, with the result that they are now paying one million per annum when they should be paying forty. Mr. W. A. Hunter, than whom there is no better authority, has calculated that whereas forty working men with aggregate wages amounting to £2,000 (£50 a year for each) contribute £12 to the revenue out of every £100 of their wages, one man—an absolute non-producer, perchance—with an income of £2,000 contributes but £3 out of every £100 of income. So much for the effects of the notorious Land Tax Swindle which has already caused the loss of £1,250,000,000 of state revenue.

Third Epoch (1688—1832).

The third period of aristocracy extends from the "Glorious page 99 Revolution "to the first Reform Bill. This was the halcyon era of noble lords, of Continental Wars, Standing Armies, National Debts, and Pensions. They now wielded the prerogatives of Royalty, and usurped the functions of the Commons. In Dutch William's time they robbed the Crown of nearly all its vast estates, and made it a pauper on the bounty of the People by the invention of the Civil List. There being in the Georgian era but some 15,000 electors in a population of 30,000,000 they were able by unblushing corruption to take complete possession of the Representative Chamber. Nearly five-sixths of the members were their direct or indirect nominees. Their diabolical toast and watchword during this miserable period was, "A long war and a short crop!" Both tended to raise rents. They fought everywhere—in Europe, in Asia, in America—and always against Liberty. Every European despot, great and small, from the Autocrat of Russia to the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel, was subsidised with British gold in the vain attempt to restore the Bourbons, and to undo the beneficent work of the French Revolution. A subsidy of £2,400,000 enabled Prussia to partition Poland. America was lost, to say nothing of the sacrifice of nearly two millions of precious English lives. Since 1688 we have paid in interest on lord-begotten war debt £2,790,000,000, and in reduction of the same £3,430,000,000, while £750,000,000 remain to pay! Strict economists these noble lords in handling other people's money!

Fourth Epoch (1832—1884).

The fourth epoch of aristocracy extends from the Reform Bill to the present day. "Since the Reform Act," says the discriminating Bagehot, "the House of Lords has ceased to be one of latent directors, and has become one of temporary rejectors and palpable alterers." Of this truth the following imperfect epitome of their recent achievements is sufficiently convincing evidence:—
  • 1832—Refuse to open Universities to Dissenters.
  • 1834—Refuse to allow more than 20 persons to meet for worship in a private house.
  • 1834—Refuse to allow Nonconformist Ministers access to Workhouses.
  • 1835—Population of Ireland 8 millions—voters 60,000! Lords refuse reform. Prevented for 40 years after.page 100
  • 1836—Lords try to defeat Municipal Reform Act. Choice of Magistrates denied to Town Councils. So ever since.
  • 1836—Order Dissenters' Marriage Banns to be read before Board of Guardians.
  • 1839—Continue death penalty for sheep stealing against the will of the Commons.
  • 1842—Mines' Regulation. Lords refuse to give women and children working in mines the full relief of Commons' Bill. Protection of miners against preventive accidents not obtained for 30 years through Lords.
  • 1845—Compensation for Tenants' Improvements (Ireland) refused, and so for 25 years.
  • 1858—Church Rates Abolition refused. Put off 11 years.
  • 1860—Mr. Gladstone takes Taxes (£660,000) off Paper. This meant a Cheap Press. Lords throw out the Bill.
  • 1860—Refuse Education to Miners' Children. 12 years of darkness follow.
  • 1867—Lords rob electors of city of London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, &c., of the third vote.
  • 1868—Throw out the Irish Church Disestablishment Resolutions.
  • 1868—Emasculate Artisans' Dwellings Bill.
  • 1867-70—University Tests Abolition thrice refused.
  • 1870—Irish Land Act. Lords refuse Compensation, and insist on their right to evict distressed tenants.
  • 1871—Ballot Bill thrown out.
  • 1873-6—Refuse to amend Burial Laws.
  • 1880—Reject Compensation for Disturbance Bill (Ireland). Ireland given up to anarchy and crime in consequence. Civil war at a "measurable distance."
  • 1883—Throw out Marriage Law Amendment Bill.
  • 1883—Lord Salisbury spoils English Agricultural Holdings Bill—but retreats.
  • 1884—Refuse the Franchise to 2,000,000 County Householders!

What then, in brief, is the case against the Peers? In the first epoch of their career they robbed the People; in the page 101 second they robbed the Church; in the third they robbed the Crown; in the fourth, as always, they have been the steady foes of suffrage reform, of Nonconformists, of Roman Catholics, of Ireland, of Agriculture, of Trade, of Education. "The Peers," says Lord Rosebery," have no friends." This news is too good to be true; but it is strange indeed that they should have any. All good legislation they retard, all bad legislation they expedite. Whatever progress we have made has been made in spite of them. They represent political privilege and social injustice. The Peers alone possess nearly a fifth of the whole soil of the country, for the restricted use of which they levy on the cultivators a private tax called rent of nearly twelve millions per annum. Not content with this, our Dukes, Marquises, Earls, and their relatives have within the last thirty-three years looted the Exchequer of more than sixty-six million sterling in salaries and pensions. Noble lords divide among them annually in the shape of annuities, pensions, salaries, &c., £639,865! They are a House of Landlords, and until they are abolished root and branch no solution of the great Land Question is to be dreamed of. They are the veriest octopuses of civilisation. Every State that has tolerated an aristocracy has eventually been ruined by it—witness Greece, Rome, Carthage, Venice, Spain, Austria. Latifundio, perdidére Italiam immo et provincias.

And when the Hereditary House is abolished, the demand which will be made by reactionaries for a Representative Second Chamber must be sternly resisted. True, most nations have Second Chambers in imitation of our pernicious example; but there is not one of them, however constituted, whose history is not a conclusive argument against such institutions. The Second Chambers of Europe and America are nothing more than standing monuments of the gregarious folly of mankind. Nations can no more have two wills than individuals. A Second Chamber at one with the First is superfluous; in opposition it is noxious. Lord Salisbury wishes to import here the American Senate (the last stronghold of the slaveholders) at a moment when that body stands condemned by the ablest political thinkers in the Republic as a filthy rag of aristocracy. No, no, my Lord of Hatfield, you cannot be permitted thus recklessly to "Americanise our page 102 our institutions." The fiat has gone forth—Delenda est Carthago.

Clear the way, my lords and lackeys! You have had your day
Here you have your answer—England's yea against your nay.
Long enough your House has held you; out, and clear the way!

[Reprinted from the Weekly Echo.]

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