Typos p. 73: outburts [= outbursts]; p. 90: intellectuallement [= intellectuellement]
26 The Feudal System
This may be due either to the hopelessness inspired by the repeated failure of so-called aristocracies in the past; to the lack of any thorough combination of historical with biological, anthropological and genetical studies by political theorists; or else to the fact
In this way it comes about that, as the more genial contributions to civilization made by former leaders of men are one by one frivolously scrapped, the social organism becomes so seriously truncated that, in the end, avowed political philosophers of the Left themselves, as we have seen, find they are reduced to raising a "reactionary" clamour for the restoration of their society's former institutional riches, including even a ruling élite.
Let it be conceded at once that if, with high aristocratic standards in our minds, we glance back over the centuries and millenniums of recorded history, we only too seldom find a community led by even an approximately able and responsible élite, deeply aware of the behaviour and duties which should be the obverse of the medal stamped "Privilege". Let it be admitted that, owing to the hardly adult tendency in the past to confuse a just, wise, and beneficent rule with some virtue such as charity, or benevolence, or, worse still, "unselfishness", the aristocracies of the past have revealed incredible denseness regarding the logical necessity, divorced from all moral merit, of a just, wise, and beneficent rule, if government is to be possible at all. They have behaved rather as we might expect mechanics to behave who, thinking that the routine lubrication and cleansing of their engines were a matter of altruism, or kindliness, failed to look on these attentions as an essential feature of running any machine whatsoever. In fact, the whole group of ideas surrounding rulership, with the tincture of moralic acid in which they bathe, has made it indispensable to restate the essential conditions which make rulership and government sound and permanent.
For, to continue the simile of the machine-minders, not only would their confusion of a mechanic's duties with pleasant traits like humanitarianism, or magnanimity towards their machines, dangerously misrepresent their function; but, if they persistently overlooked and forgave marked incompetence and carelessness in their fellow-machine-minders, their machines would soon cease to work.
As already hinted above, we see isolated examples of highly gifted leaders, but hardly anywhere, even in the earliest times, a whole class composed of the best men a particular community might have produced had it known how to. Everything, in this respect, has been left to chance, to blind temporary and local forces, and the caprice of those who happened to be for a while at the top. No wonder the record is chiefly one of failure!
The history of the pseudo-aristocracies that have followed each other in these islands, for instance, reveals only very remote and feeble approximations to what an aristocracy must be in order to deserve the name.
From Boniface in the eighth century, who could speak of "earls and great men" as "manslayers of the poor", down to our latter-day Liberals and Socialists who, in the spirit of the House of Commons only a week after the execution of Charles I, have during the last few decades been advocating the abolition of the "useless and dangerous" Lords, the record of aristocracy in these islands has, except for a few individual nobles, been one of deplorable incompetence, shortsightedness, hedonism, and self-indulgence. According to the standard of Aristocracy maintained in these pages, in fact, even the few exceptions must be regarded as psycho-physically inadequate.
We may certainly dismiss as beneath contempt both the Anglo-Saxon "nobility" of the eighth century, whom Boniface condemned, and their followers who ruled England up to the Conquest, and whose "luxury and wantonness" and cruel and dissolute oppression of the unprotected commonalty William of Malmesbury describes with obvious indignation. [See (142) pp. 21 25.] Indeed, most historians would agree with Mary Bateson in alleging that "English society before the Conquest was in a chaotic state rapidly approaching the verge of anarchy and the Norman Kings restored government". [(97) Chap. V.] Hallam, speaking of England in those days, says she "was peculiarly destitute of great men", and ascribes the "forlorn state of the country" to this very defect. [(159) Vol. II, Chap. VII, Part II.] To mention only one economic feature of Anglo-Saxon England which opened the door to abuse in unscrupulous hands, there was "absolute ownership" in land before the Conquest. So that, apart from other evidence we possess of evil living among the rulers, and of their cruelly dissolute oppression of inferiors, we know that the means were to hand in the eleventh century for proprietary rights to be used to the exclusive advantage of the ruling class if they wished.
Moreover, the power of the King was so complete that, even if instances of aristocratic quality in rulership could be discerned in this transition period, it would be doubtful whether they should be ascribed to the local rulers or their supreme chief. As Archdeacon Cunningham says of the Feudal System, "the whole of its working system depended to an extraordinary extent on the personal character of its head" [(71) Vol. I, Book II, Chap I], and where this head failed, the defects of the system immediately became apparent.
Only when we come to the reign of Stephen can we be more certain of our facts in this respect. For, seeing that, under this weak monarch, the whole realm fell a prey to anarchy, and the barons degenerated into a robber class that devastated the country and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, subjected the common folk to much wanton cruelty [(142) p. 24. Chap. II, Sec. VII of (141) gives lurid details of this cruelty, as does also Chap. X of (22), and Mary Bateson (97), p. 38], it seems unlikely that these ennobled rulers or their immediate forebears could ever have possessed any genuine aristocratic quality. When, moreover, we consider the behaviour of their fellow-nobles in Normandy under Henry I and the fact that this monarch himself, in his Charter of August 1100, found it necessary to hold the English barons "to do justice to their under tenants and to renounce tyrannical exactions from them", we may safely conclude that they were defective in aristocratic gifts. [For fuller details of Henry's Charter see (22) Vol. I, Chap. X, Sec. 108.]
Nor, from the admittedly imperfect glimpses we are able to obtain of the Feudal System, are we entitled substantially to modify this impression.
This system was admirable in many ways. It met the needs of the Age as probably no other system could have done. It went a
Hallam indeed claims that it had a tendency even "to purify public morals", not alone in the sexual sphere, but also in creating . "that sense of indignation and resentment with which we now regard breaches of honour". [(159) Vol. I, Chap. II, Part I.] Justly and wisely controlled by the leading men of the nation, the Feudal System might, therefore, have lasted much longer than it did. Its gradual modification to meet the changing circumstances both of war and peace might also have proceeded with greater discrimination and good taste, and the antagonistic forces, ultimately responsible for establishing individualism and social disintegration, might have been more successfully resisted.
The fact that, on the contrary, after less than three centuries, the system was already "tottering slowly but surely to its grave" amid general strivings, protests, and what we should today call "acts of sabotage", all significantly animated by aspirations to freedom and by a surfeit of the abuse of superior Feudal rights argues strongly in favour of the view that those who ran and controlled it were unfitted for the responsibilities and skilled functions which its successful administration presupposed. We are consequently bound to deny these leaders, in their various generations, the title of aristocrats.
Unfortunately although, as Buckle says, the Feudal System was the "beginning of the European aristocracy" [(23) Vol. II, Chap. II], it contained so many weaknesses which could be turned to account by the less intelligent and less scrupulous of those at the head; and the decentralized rule, together with the difficulties of communication and transport, enabled so many masters of considerable communities nobles within their own manors, or nobles performing sheriff's duties to behave with an independence which permitted, if it did not invite, lawlessness and tyranny, that Feudalism really presupposed an aristocracy gifted with qualities too far above those the actual nobility possessed. We have only to read Chapter IX,
Even if, therefore, there had been no other causes economic, defensive, social, and administrative which began to undermine the system long before the Tudor period, its abuses alone would doubtless have consummated its doom. And for these abuses, of which both the dignitaries of the Church and even the King himself were often guilty, we must blame the inadequate aristocratic character of the nobility of the day.
No one reading Coulton, Thorold Rogers, Cunningham, or Stubbs, could fail to appreciate that the abuses of Feudalism were numerous and widespread, and that their prevalence abundantly confirms the claims here made regarding the general inferiority of the nobility that led the nation during the Feudal period.
Speaking of this nobility, Rex Welldon Finn [(53) Chap. VII], says: "A class as selfish and destructive as the mediæval baronage could leave behind it no imperishable legacy"; and of the Wars of the Roses, he observed that they constituted "the final attempt of the baronage to control English national life, and fortunately the attempt resulted in their commission of political suicide." This condemnation is, generally speaking, justified. Hallam is perhaps a little too lenient towards this nobility, whilst Coulton and Thorold Rogers err in the other direction. More balanced views are to be found in the pages of Stubbs's and Cunningham's histories.
27 The Post-Feudal Period
In the Age of more or less blind drift, which covers the decay of the Feudal System, up to the advent of the Stuarts, it would be idle to look for an English aristocracy in the sense defined in these pages. For a brief survey of the condition of the mass of the people during this period affords little evidence of high quality in the class which, with the King, ruled the country.
The misery and resentment among the agricultural workers was at first inarticulate or repressed. True, it increased in volume and strength as the century wore on, and was among the chief causes of the Communist propaganda of John Ball and other itinerant priests and friars, which started about 1360. But, meanwhile, an event had occurred which considerably altered the balance of power in the land. The Black Death of 13481349, which seriously reduced the population a third or perhaps half of the inhabitants are said to have died of plague in less than two years naturally gave the survivors better chances of bargaining than they had ever had before. Archdeacon Cunningham claims that "nearly half the population was swept away at the time". [(71) Chap. III, iii.] Thorold Rogers, on the other hand, estimates the mortality at a third, and remarks that, as a consequence of the plague, there was an immediate "dearth of labour" and "an excessive enhancement of wages". [(139) Chap. VIII.]
Every subsequent visitation of the plague, however, as Cunningham points out, only increased the difficulties of the manorial lords, and, as the pressure exerted upon the villeins "to render actual service would become more severe", the whole situation was gradually aggravated until the storm finally broke in the form of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. [(139) Chap. IV, ii.]
Meanwhile, by Proclamation in 1349, and later by various statutes, the Parliaments for a generation tried to limit the wages paid to the rates customary before the plague. But this merely multiplied the peasants' grievances, and Gamier for one claims that the ultimate revolt and the readiness of the rustics to listen to communistic propaganda were due to the fact that they were actually "threatened with starvation". [(3) Chap. V.] Rogers, however, argues that the revolt was rather an attempt, at a moment of singular advantage, to wrest from the manorial lords a degree of freedom hitherto denied by them.
Of the Statute of Labourers, Stubbs says it "offered the labourer wages that it was worse than slavery to accept", and "the villeins ignored it". [(22) Vol. II, Chap. XVI, Sec. 264.] And he remarks of the various acts which followed the Black Death, "an almost immediate result of this over repression was seen in the formation of conspiracies among the carpenters and masons, the flight of labourers from their native counties, and the crowding of the corporate towns
The major outbreak of 1381, however, was not a unique occurrence. Sixty-nine years later, in 1450, a similar one occurred under Jack Cade, and yet another in 1549 under Kett. And what are we told was the fundamental cause of these outburts of rural passion?
Without exception, agrarian oppression.
We have but to read an old poem, like Langland's The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman, in order to appreciate that, from the fourteenth century onwards, there were all the signs of a hard, greedy, possessing class, now almost wholly native, who exploited the weak and defenceless when and where they could. Nor must the Kings of the period be exculpated. Cade's uprising, for instance, was not wholly, as Williamson would have us believe, due to the "indignation" of the villeins "at the national disasters" [(49) Chap. IV, vi], although the latter certainly betokened incompetence at the head; for it aimed, among other things, at averting and putting an end to measures of oppression of which the King's household had been guilty, and which were still contemplated by the royal policy. [(3) Chap. V.] So that there had not been much change for the better since the days when such poems as King Edward and the Shepherd and God Speed the Plough had illustrated the asperities of the peasant's lot and revealed much the same conditions as Langland himself depicted. Green, in a memorable passage, says of the barons of the middle of the fifteenth century, they "were lawless and dissolute at home as they were greedy and cruel abroad. . . . The dissoluteness against which Lollardy had raised its great moral protest reigned now without a check. A gleam of intellectual light was breaking in the darkness of the time, but only to reveal its hideous combination of mental energy and moral worthlessness". [(141) Chap. VI, Sec. I, Green gives instances of delinquents in high places which cannot be quoted in full.]
The various acts passed after the Plague of the fourteenth century to force rustics and craftsmen to accept moderate wages and to remain in their original callings and localities, were neither successful nor calculated to appease the ever-increasing discontent and, in the following century and onwards, as the difficulties of the agricultural industry tended to become alleviated for the powerful landlords and their principal tenants, by the conversion of arable land to pasture and even the uprooting of whole villages and the dispersal of their inhabitants with this object, the number of able-bodied vagrants and beggars and the seething resentment among the peasantry which marked the Tudor period, can cause little surprise.
It is this state of affairs that Sir Thomas More depicts in his Utopia, and, were there space, some of the passages would be worth
These abuses had, of course, been going on for some time, but they were intensified under the greedy new nobility that came into being with the early Tudor monarchs. "The whole difficulty originated," says Gamier, "in the discovery that the wool trade was the most lucrative employment of the times for the landed and agricultural capitalist . . . it was the encroachment on the common arable field which now incensed the peasantry." [(3) Chap. VIII.]
The risings under Arundel and Kett (1549) were the response of the commons to the oppressive conditions resulting from these changes, and among the long list of grievances drawn up by the ringleaders of the Kett conspiracy the last but not least was the plea that "no landlord should be allowed to keep flocks and herds for the purposes of trade, but merely for the use of his own household".
Thus, generally speaking, from the time of Tyler's rising in 1381 to the end of the fifteenth century and well beyond, there is little evidence of outstanding quality in the "aristocracy", and this is true even of their performance in other fields. Speaking of the nobles of the period preceding the Reformation, Thorold Rogers says they "were as greedy, as violent, as unscrupulous as the clergy". [(139) Chap. XIII.] It seems, therefore, as if there were much to be said for Williamson's view that, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, far from showing any access of ruler power, brilliance and aristocratic quality, the governing class of England steadily deteriorated. Even the Kings, according to this historian, revealed a similar loss of ability.
"The baronage of these two centuries," says Williamson, may be allowed one virtue, that of readiness to stake their lives in battles or conspiracy. Their courage was high indeed, but all their other qualities were low. . . . Of mercy, justice, public spirit, religious zeal, faithfulness, the instances are few and far between. . . . The romance of chivalry gilded a reality of crime." [(49) Chap. IV, Sec. vi.] Stubbs confirms this opinion; for, he says of the "political heroes of the fourteenth century, they "seem neither to demand nor to deserve admiration. . . . Public and private morality seem to fall lower and lower . . . there is much misery and much indignation much luxury and little sympathy . . . morally" the Age was "one of decline . . . weak as is the fourteenth century, the fifteenth is weaker still, more futile, more bloody, more immoral". [(22) Vol. II, Chap. VII, Sec. 298.] Then again, he says of the barons of the fifteenth century: "Such greatness as there is among them . . . is more conspicuous in evil than in good. . . . With the exception of Henry V,
The Wars of the Roses which, after 1450, decimated the ranks of the nobility, cannot therefore be said to have deprived England of any great figures or ruling strains; and when in Henry VII's first Parliament only a score of lay peers were to be seen, the ground had been cleared for a complete regeneration of the governing class.
Unfortunately, the new nobility who ultimately owed their existence to Henry VII and his son (the "crowned lout", as Röpke rightly calls Henry VIII), consisted of promotions from the middle ranks of society, and were, from the standpoint of the standards defined in this book, less deserving of the title of "aristocrat than the nobility they replaced. The abject and mercenary nobles who cowered helpless before the might of their gangster King; who had been raised by him, as Pollard declares, "on the rums and debauched by the spoils of the Church, and created to be docile tools in the work of the revolution", and who made the House of Lords, and therefore Parliament, a farce during the first half of the sixteenth century were certainly not the men from whom to expect aristocratic quality. The fact that, without any combined movement of resistance on their part, but, on the contrary, thanks to the support of the more powerful among them, Henry VIII was able to bring England as low as she certainly was at the end of his reign, argues neither statesmanship nor aristocratic ability in the peers about him [See (24) Vol. II. Chap. XIV.] When, therefore, Thorold Rogers says of Henry VIII that he created "a crew who were worse than himself", we can wholly agree. [(139) Chap. XIII.]
After Henry VIII's death "the unscrupulous rich increased their seizures and drove the peasantry to revolt". (Kett.) The unfortunate workers were given hopes of a respite under Protector Somerset, "who sympathized with the oppressed". "But," says Williamson, "the oppressors were too strong for him and struck him down. Under the Duke of Northumberland there was an orgy of profiteering in land four years in which a pack of greedy scoundrels had things all their own way." And although Mary checked the evil little was done to remedy the damage already committed . [(49) Chap. V, Sec vi.] Ranke also took the view that Protector Somerset incensed the powerful nobles by opposing the enclosure of arable land and defending the common people. "Their choice," Somerset declared "was either to die of starvation or to revolt." [(52) Band. I, Cap. 6.]
Of the effect of Henry's reign, Archdeacon Cunningham says: "The disintegration of society became complete. . . . With some exceptions in regard to shipping, and possibly in regard to the re-
Nor could their most ardent champion claim that the so-called "nobility" of England gave any more convincing proof of genuine quality under Elizabeth. For if the forty-five years following Mary's death prove anything at all, it is certainly not the great merits of the nobility. On the contrary, what most contemporary observers of Elizabeth's reign, from Pope Sixtus V to the Englishman, Sir George Bowes, noted was that the nobility were either content to remain aloof from her government, or else that they were compelled to do so.
Buckle ascribes Elizabeth's reluctance to employ the English nobles to the fact that they were mostly in sympathy with the old religion. This may have influenced her, but she certainly showed a predilection in favour of commoners, and the eminent statesmen and diplomatists of her reign the two Bacons, the two Cecils, Knollys, Sadler, Smith, Throgmorton, Walsingham, Dudley, and Hatton were, as a writer of the period alleges, "sprung from the earth".
Buckle acknowledges that the Queen's "large and powerful intellect, cultivated to its highest point by reflection and study, taught her the true measure of affairs, and enabled her to see that to make a government flourish its counsellors must be men of ability and virtue". But if that were so, was she likely to have jeopardized her government by declining to employ noble talent if it had been available? "She evinced," says Buckle, "the greatest anxiety to surround the throne with men of ability" and "cared little for those conventional distinctions by which the minds of ordinary sovereigns are greatly moved." [(23) Vol. II, Chap. II.]
Here, it appears, Buckle is trying to explain a single phenomenon in two irreconcilable ways. Either the nobility of the Elizabethan Age were, generally speaking, incompetent, or they were not. If they were competent, the fact that Elizabeth did not employ more of them is incompatible with the discernment which Buckle and
In view of their origins and their behaviour, or that of their immediate forebears in her father's reign, it seems, however, in any case, unlikely that the nobility of her reign could have been of such a stamp that Elizabeth sacrificed her country's good by ignoring them and, apart from other evidence to the same effect, we are entitled to conclude that if Elizabeth favoured advisers "sprung from the earth", it was because the majority of the "nobles" of her day were, as Buckle hints, contemptible.
It was not they alone, however, who in the Tudor period displayed all the signs of being bogus or counterfeit. For if, as an ennobled class the word "aristocratic" could in any case not be applied to them they sprang in a generation from the mob, the monarchs to whom they owed their advancement were hardly better. The average general history pays too little attention to the fact that, in the Tudors, two sources of plebeian blood converged. So that, even if we set this blood at its highest, it still remains incontestable that the Tudor line was for those times exceptionally "random bred" and, therefore, that much of the vulgarity, brutality, and lack of ruler wisdom in the line is explained. Through Katherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt, and again through Owen Tudor, whose son married Katherine Swynford's great granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, there were two strains of plebeian blood in Henry VII. Nor is it surprising to note that when again a strain of plebeian blood entered the Royal line, as it did in Charles I's marriage with Marie de Medici's daughter, the result was a lascivious clown like Charles II, whose endurance as a ruler by the English people so much puzzled Thorold Rogers. [(85) Chap. V.]
28 James I and Charles I
At the time of Elizabeth's death, there were only 59 temporal peers, the majority of whom belonged to families ennobled under the Tudors. We know what their value as an "aristocracy" was, and need not dwell on their shortcomings. James I created 62 additional peers 19 were created by 1604 and many of these peerages, like many of those created by his grandson, Charles II, were, as Lord Erskine points out, actually sold by the King. (The Constitutional History of England, Vol. I, p. 274.) Apparently James would accept for the title of Earl, £20,000; for that of Viscount, £10,000; and for that of Baron, £5,000, and was prone to grant Irish and Scottish peerages to members of obscure English families, who were totally unconnected with the countries from which they derived their
All these new creations did not concern men as worthless as Robert Carr, George Villiers, and James Hay, who ultimately became respectively Earl of Somerset, Duke of Buckingham, and Earl of Carlisle. But the behaviour of the nobility, both in the reign of James and of his successor, does not give us a very high opinion of the peerage of the seventeenth century. Clarendon tells us that "the Court was not replenished with great choice of excellent men" [(76) Book I, ed. 1717], and Sir Anthony Welldon, referring to James I, said: "He ever desired to prefer meane men in great places, that when he turned them out again, they should have no friend to bandy with them," and more to the same effect. (Secret History of the Court of King James I, 1811, Vol. II, p. 10.) Such peers as Pembroke, Southampton, Dirleton, Suffolk, and Northampton, as well as their wives, were not averse from accepting substantial bribes in order to further the cause of even foreign powers, and the magnificent seat of Audley End, belonging to the Earl of Suffolk, like the splendid mansion in the Strand belonging to the Earl of Northampton, were built on the proceeds of Spanish bribes aimed at securing from England the Treaty of Peace with Spain in 1604. Nor were the Law peers any better. Even Bacon himself, who ultimately admitted having received bribes from litigants who came before him, agreed that reforms were urgently needed in his department, and acknowledged the justice of being called to account for his misdemeanours. He only deplored that the zeal for reform should have made him its first victim [(52) Vol. I, Book V, Chap. III]; "for all James's officials made fortunes by plundering the State". [(49) Chap. V, vii.] This tells us all we need to know about the public spirit and aristocratic quality of the most powerful in the country at the time.
Charles I thus inherited from the previous reign and from the Tudors a peerage which inevitably fell far short of aristocratic standards. By his own creations he added fifty-nine peerages to those already existing; but, although these were, in the words of J. Bernard Burke, "all selected from old and well-allied families" (Anecdotes of the Aristocracy, Vol. I, p. 105), they were neither numerous, able, nor influential enough, to give him either the necessary support or wise counsel in the hour of need. After Buckingham's death, Ranke maintains that "he chose his ministers only according to their capacity and merits and no longer on the score of favouritism" [(52) Vol. I, Book VI, Chap. IV], and although
As, in (29) Chaps. IV, V, and VI, the history of the reign of Charles I and the circumstances which ultimately brought about his downfall have received detailed attention, these matters need not be dwelt on here. Suffice it, therefore, to say that, in so far as the nobility of the period were concerned, Charles I was singularly unlucky. Many, like Essex, Bedford, and Holland, were actually hostile to him; whilst as has been shown in the above-mentioned book, a goodly number were animated by rancour and resentment against the régime, because the King, and his two principal ministers, Strafford and Laud, insisted on decent and just behaviour on the part of the powerful. Readers of (29) will recall the number of peers who suffered either rebukes, or fines, or worse at the hands of Strafford and Laud, for peculation, oppressive exploitation of weaker men, or actual criminality.
Even Charles I's severest critics acknowledge his high moral character, his benevolent conception of his exalted position, the loftiness of his aims, and his deep sense of the duty he owed his people. But he had one serious defect which jeopardized the success of all his honest and well-meant endeavours. He had what, since the teaching of the New Psychology and especially that of Alfred Adler, have been generally recognized as inferiority feelings. Born a weakling, whose life was for some time despaired of, and afflicted with a stammer which always marred his public utterances, he suffered from that major cause of neurosis which Adler investigated "organic inferiority".
This made him excessively touchy, over-anxious to stand on his dignity and defend what he thought were his rights, and prone to take offence. Although a greater and more conscientious statesman and a better man than his father, he had not his father's capacity for pocketing slights, and was therefore more difficult to deal with, especially as he was confronted by men who had no understanding of his high qualities and fundamental patriotism. This explains a good many of his unhappy experiences with his early Parliaments, which Lord Clarendon, with obvious regret, feels bound to ascribe partly to the King himself, without, however, revealing any understanding of their real cause. But it would perhaps be unfair to expect a man of even Clarendon's stature to have been able, in those days, to suspect the psychological origin of Charles's otherwise unaccountable behaviour. [(76) Book I.]
Concerning the two first Stuart Kings, Ranke who, of course, knew no more of the New Psychology than Clarendon did, neverthe-
Confronted as the King was by politicians who, from the first, were constantly encroaching on what he deemed his royal prerogatives, a fatal clash was therefore sooner or later inevitable. If, in the ultimate unravelment of the drama, Charles I met a cruel and unjust doom, this was due in great part to the neurosis to which his physical disabilities had led, and his lack throughout his reign of any support and advice from a nobility either wise enough to justify their rank, or dutiful enough to gain the confidence and devotion of the people. And, in view of the course of events throughout the reign, this conclusion does not seem unreasonable.
Buckle, in speaking of the seventeenth century, says: "The influence of the higher ranks was, in England, constantly diminishing." Hence "in our island, the functions of civil government, and of war, were conducted with conspicuous ability, and complete success, by butchers, by bakers, by brewers, by cobblers, and by tailors". [(23) Vol. II, Chap. III.]
Even when we allow for Buckle's deep Liberal bias, this conclusion is not unjustified. For, in letting national affairs reach the pass they did after 1640, and in failing to hold their ground against the extremists in the Lower House and to lead the people at a time when inspired leadership was most needful, the nobility of mid-seventeenth-century England proved themselves wholly inadequate.
An impressive fact supporting this contention, and one not so far advanced in any historical work, is Pym's reasoning in advocating his Grand Remonstrance in 1641. Without apparently appreciating the implications of his point of view, or provoking from his opponents a protest based on these implications, he was able to argue before the House, not only that in Parliament itself "the one essential part was the House of Commons", but also that, owing to the fact that the Lords "held their seats in the Upper House by virtue of their individual and personal right, each stood for himself and was in no wise unconditionally bound to the majority of the nation". [(52) Book VIII, Chap. viii.] Members of the Lower House, on the contrary, he argued, represented the nation, and would not, therefore, allow themselves to deviate from the wishes of the majority.
Green appears to accept this without question as the most incontrovertible truth. [(141) Chap. VIII, Sec. VI.] But if Pym felt entitled by what he knew of the state of England to adopt this line of reasoning it provoked no opposition based on the claim
Wingfield-Stratford, referring to the action of the Lords on the morning when they voted for Strafford's death, says: "Whatever else the House of Lords had done that morning, it had utterly shattered its hitherto considerable power and prestige." [(89) Chap. XV.] Yes, but if the behaviour of the nobility justified Pym's cool assumption of their negligibility, they had in any case ceased to be an aristocracy long before the crucial test of their ability was applied. Nor does their part in the Grand Rebellion invalidate this view. For, although a large majority of them ultimately joined the King's side (eighty-three of them sat in Charles's Parliament in Oxford in 16431644), it is known that many did so reluctantly, and their ultimate decision in his favour in no way carried the country with it.
As to the nobles of Scotland, Williams tells us that in the seventeenth century they "were still in the untamed feudal stage", and we know now what that implies.
29 Charles II to the Industrial Revolution
With the advent of Charles II, Green tells us "modern England began". [(141) Chap. IX, Sec. I.] During the Commonwealth period as Trevelyan tells us, the nobility, "hardly any of whom had followed the fortunes of the Roundhead party in the regicide period" had been in eclipse. [(59) Chap. VIII.] On Charles's return, it cannot be said that the nobility revealed, either in their politics or their morals, any conspicuously aristocratic traits. On the contrary, led by their dissolute King, they displayed only reckless self-indulgence and profligacy, and the King's sixty-four fresh creations resulted in no improvement in their quality. Nor was this to be expected, for, as Lord Erskine points out, "many of the peerages were sold". Trevelyan stigmatizes the courtiers and politicians of this reign as "rotten", and ascribes the fact to their demoralization in exile, the "break-up of their education and family life", and the corruption incidental to the witnessing of "oaths and covenants lightly taken and lightly broken", together with other adverse influences inseparable from the agitated conditions of the times. [(59) Chap. IX.] The pages of Green on this reign [especially Chap. IX, Sec I of (141)] are damaging enough, whilst Thorold Rogers, who feels able to except only one figure the first Earl of Shaftesbury from his
There is no need to scrutinize too closely the character and performance of the nobility from the end of Charles II's reign to our own day. For, seeing that there is abundant evidence to show that every feature of our present civilization, including even its uncontrolled mechanization, can be traced to their acts of omission and commission during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we need but examine this civilization in order to assess the value of the tree the governing classes of the whole period of which it is the fruit.
It was the powerful oligarchy of the eighteenth century which, while taking over uncritically many of the least commendable tendencies of their predecessors, prepared the way for all those shortsighted, temporarily most lucrative, and ultimately disastrous, courses which staged the Industrial Revolution. It was the rich nobles of the nineteenth century who, by acquiescing in all the dangerous innovations of this Revolution and promoting them, were instrumental in creating our present world, whilst at the same time digging the grave of their own prestige and power.
True, England, by what Eric Williams calls the "triangular trade", grew rich beyond all reckoning, and was able by this means to finance the Industrial Revolution. But it was all precariously unsound. In the history of Europe, it promised to be but a "flash in the pan"; and the spectacle of the quiescent and acquiescent governing classes, above all the peerage, looking on and filling their coffers throughout some hundred and fifty years, while this racketeering most of it diabolically inhuman was in progress, is one of the most shocking in history.
For the "triangular trade" in question, which had its beginnings right back in the sixteenth century (the negro slave-trade started in 1562), and developed into a regular traffic by which negroes, in exchange for exported manufactured goods, were transported to the West Indies and America, and sugar and other West Indian and American produce (also in exchange, in part, for manufactures) were brought back to this country, was a system which, while it had only enormous profit for its object, completely disregarded the long term consequences as well as the hardships and cruel sufferings involved. Together with the exploitation of the East Indies, indeed, it produced the fabulous sums required to inaugurate the era of
From the perusal of general histories, it is difficult to appreciate the extent to which British Capitalism and Industry owe their rapid and gigantic growth to these two sources the Slave Trade and the exploitation of India and special monographs, such as Eric Williams's (27) and the more critical and impartial of the histories of India, are indispensable for an intelligent grasp of the origins of our present world.
When we read of the old and respected families who were connected with the Slave Trade the Beckfords (Alderman William Beckford, who died in 1770, was probably the first Englishman to die a millionaire), Hibberts, Longs, Gladstones, Codringtons, Werners, Marryats, Pennants, Lascelles (one of the biggest if not the biggest, slave-trader), and the Barclays; when we read in De Thiery's Colonials at Westminster that "there are few, if any noble houses in England . . . without a West Indian strain"; and we know that, apart from the gross inhumanities of the Slave Trade (both in white and black slaves), only the blind scramble for wealth, coûte que coûte, regardless of the nation's ultimate destiny, animated these rounders of British Capitalism and Industry, it is not hard to understand why the Industrial Revolution itself was allowed by the leaders of the nation to enslave and brutally ill-use the indigenous population, young and old.
Cunningham speaks of the Slave Trade as "the great blot upon all European nations". He says: "It is unnecessary to dwell on the tale of cruelty, but it is not unnecessary to call attention to the source of so many of the worst evils of our modern English civilization " The brutality and inhumanity of the "triangular trade" he ascribes to the Puritans who, conceiving themselves to be "divinely favoured", felt entitled to treat the heathens as the Israelites had treated the people of Canaan. As an instance of their obscene brutality he says: "In all the terrible story of the dealings of the white man with the savage, there are few more miserable instances of cold-blooded cruelty than the wholesale destruction of the Pequod nation men, women, and children, by the Puritan settlers." And anent the barbarities that ushered in our civilization, he says: "Neither the personal character, nor the political success of the Puritans need lead us to ignore their baleful influence on society " [(71) Vol. II, Book VII, Chap. I, Sec. 201.]
But although the Puritans may justly be charged with having
Thus English men, women, boys, and girls, were by various If devices transported across the Atlantic, and on reaching the plantations were subjected to the vilest ill-usage.
Kidnapping for this purpose became common, and those who were active in this traffic were called "spirits". "The merchants and justices," says Eric Williams, "were in the habit of straining the law to increase the number of felons who could be transported to the sugar plantations they owned in the West Indies. They would terrify petty offenders with the prospect of hanging and then induce them to plead for transportation." [(27) p. 18.]
It was partly to suppress this scoundrelly practice that the famous Judge Jeffreys of the so-called "Bloody Assizes" visited the West country in 1685; and when a historian like Williamson says of this well-known special circuit that it was to wreak "vengeance on the rank and file of the rebels" who took part in the Monmouth Rising [(49) Chap. VI, Sec. III], he states only a part of the truth.
For Judge Jeffreys, says Eric Williams, "vowed that he had come to Bristol with a broom to sweep the city clean, and his wrath fell upon the kidnappers who infested the highest municipal offices."
Turning to the Mayor of Bristol himself, "complete in scarlet and furs, who was about to sentence a pickpocket to transportation to Jamaica," he forced him, to the astonishment of Bristol's wealthy citizens, to enter the prisoners' dock like a common felon, to plead guilty or not guilty, " and lectured him as follows:
"Sir, Mr. Mayor, you I mean, kidnapper! and that old Justice on the bench . . . [Alderman Lawford], an old knave: he goes to the tavern, for a pint of sack he will bind people servants to the Indies. A kidnapping knave! I will have his ears off, before I go forth of towne. . . . Kidnapper. . . . If it were not in respect of the sword, which is over your head, I would send you to Newgate,
But such treatment of "respected" and wealthy rascals was, of course, not popular, and it is probable that we should have heard less about the "Bloody Assizes" if Judge Jeffreys had refrained from attacking this lucrative but disgraceful traffic. It is true that he himself is said to have condemned as many as 800 of the rebels to be sold as slaves in the West Indies [Lodge (120), Vol. VIII, Chap. VI]; but at least he was dealing with men guilty of treason. At all events, his attack on the so-called kidnappers is an aspect of the Bloody Assizes of which we read nothing in our history books. Trevelyan does not mention it (59), neither does Williamson nor Green (141), nor Lodge in the volume mentioned above.
In 1680, not from motives of humanity, hut because African natives worked better and lasted longer than whites in the trying climate, negroes had begun to displace the white slave population on the plantations. But they were no novelty even at that date, for they had been imported ever since Elizabeth's clay. All that happened at the close of the seventeenth century was that they were used in greater numbers. Nor was there any change in the system. "The African fitted into a system already developed." [(27) p. 19.] Between 1680 and 1786 over two million negro slaves were imported into all the British colonies; whilst throughout the eighteenth century British slave-traders also furnished the sugar planters of France and Spain with 500,000 negroes.
When it is remembered that, besides the returns from ivory and gold which were a side-line of this traffic, the profit on a cargo of 270 slaves is said to have reached seven or eight thousand pounds in the eighties of the eighteenth century, Liverpool alone is said to have made an annual clear profit of £300,000 by this trade the enormous fortunes made in this way, coupled with those realized by the home manufacturers and the sugar planters themselves, will easily be seen to account for a substantial amount of the riches rapidly accumulated during the late seventeenth and the whole of the eighteenth centuries in this country. Regarding the huge fortunes made by the sugar planters, see [(71) Vol. II, Chap. VII, Sec. 212].
The exploitation of India proved no less lucrative. In addition to the great wealth often accumulated by the servants of the East India Company and the "vast fortunes acquired by those engaged in the inland trade" fortunes which were obtained by "the most
Now, it was the immense wealth, accumulated chiefly by these ill-gotten gains, which secured for England and Englishmen that obsequious veneration from the vulgar majority everywhere on the Continent which lasted almost up to the outbreak of World War II. It was this same wealth which, by establishing English pecuniary prestige among foreign onlookers, inclined them not only to admire, but also to express their admiration in the customary form of imitation. But it was this wealth, above all, which enabled England to finance and stage the Industrial Revolution.
30 Conclusions from Chapter IV
As (29) dealt in some detail with the part played by the so called "aristocracy" of England in fostering and promoting Capitalistic Industry on the gigantic scale it assumed in the nineteenth century, there will be no need to dwell on this aspect of our problem. All we propose to do, therefore, is to comment on one feature of it which, to judge from our popular histories and treatises on economics and education, is never so much as mentioned. We refer to the lack of wisdom and prescience in the governing class of this country throughout the critical period when the choice between Capitalistic Industry, as we know it, and its alternative, was still open.
If such achievements spell competence and success, then what do incompetence and failure mean?
There are many witnesses to the fact that perhaps the greatest of all blunders committed by England's rulers during the critical period of choice above-mentioned, was their deliberate steering of the national bark towards a precarious dependence on industry and foreign trade, regardless of the consequences; and, what was worse, regardless of the many possibilities of change in the world markets which might jeopardize the whole system. Thus, apart from the evils incidental to the wholesale urbanization of the population, and the undesirable effects on both their health and character resulting from degrading them, or the majority of them, to the rank of mere machine-minders, this population was allowed to grow to an extent which besides being ecologically disproportionate, made dependence on an overseas supply of food increasingly risky. In short, what the whole scheme frivolously banked on was that foreign markets would continue in perpetuity kindly to oblige us by buying our goods in sufficient quantities to keep us going!
In regard to the last point alone, the fact that, whereas in 1870, England's share of the world trade in manufactured goods was 32 per cent, it had dropped to 9.2 per cent before World War II, sufficiently demonstrates the recklessness of the industrial gamble.
Williamson, commenting on the fact that up to the early eighteenth century, English statesmen never forgot that "the national strength of England sprang from the soil", says: "Until a hundred years ago it was a maxim that England must be self-supporting, able to live of her own whatever tempests might rage without.
In a stirring book (137), Vogt speaks of England of the last 150 years as a "contented parasite, drawing on the eroding hills of New England, of Iowa, of Maryland, of Argentina and South Africa, of Australia and India" (Chap 4); and adds that, "one of the most tragic instances of a wide disparity between numbers of people and carrying capacity of the land on which they live is twentieth-century Britain".
He speaks of the Industrial Revolution as the "Great Illusion", and of Industrialization as a "fallacy", and adds: "Industrialization, making it possible during a hundred years for the most powerful sector of the human race to live as though it were independent of the earth, kept alive the great illusion. The illusion is vanishing like a mirage in the desert air." [(137) Chap 4. See also an article on "Incentives" by Dean Inge in The Fortnightly Review, No. 2, 1951, in which, although also wise after the event, he, too, attacks Industrialization.]
There were contemporary warnings. For instance, William Spence in 1807 pleaded for a "Britain independent of commerce". But, as Jenks informs us [(98) Chap. I] he "was shouted down by the City and by the economists." Sir George Schuster [(149) p. 184], agrees that theoretically it is true that there was an alternative; "Enterprise might have turned to the home market, and created new purchasing power by raising wages and helping the small farmers to regain solvency"; but, as Jenks points out, "that would have meant a different nineteenth century". (Ibid.)
Yet, although the worse alternative was chosen, we are invited by thinkers like Sir Fred Clarke and many more could be mentioned to regard the ruling class that squandered the ill-gotten gains of the nation in staging this Industrialization of England, as "competent and successful".
Arthur Ponsonby, later Lord Ponsonby, took the opposite view. Speaking of the English aristocrats of the 'eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he said: "They have never been superior; they have ceased to be governing; is there any reason that they should continue to be noble?" [(39) p. 128.] Then he adds less sweepingly and with more truth: "Even in fighting the battle to retain their ascendancy the nobility and aristocracy showed themselves as a body, with a few individual exceptions, poorly equipped intellectually, blind and ill-informed" (p. 135). Whilst Thorold Rogers, writing in the eighth decade of last century, of the desirable features
Nevertheless, it is an overstatement. It is the thesis of this book that an aristocracy is a caste, or stock, all the members of which exact a high standard of quality from themselves in all they are and do, and a high standard of quality in the being, behaviour, and performance of their subordinates. As we have already shown, and as will be demonstrated more fully in the sequel, no such aristocracy has ever existed in Great Britain from the earliest times to the present day, and for the simple reason that the indispensable conditions for their emergence have never existed. An aristocratic society can, in fact, mean only one thing a community in which the degree of power exercised by the dominant class is always commensurate with the quality of its members, increasing power always depending on increasing quality. English society has never been of this kind. Indeed, even when men of high quality have sporadically emerged, they have been isolated figures, often misunderstood by their contemporaries.
To this extent Thorold Rogers is right. But, as we may safely assume that his standard of aristocratic quality is not that which is defined in this book, his statement is an exaggeration, and for the following reasons:
If he is right, and is not confusing aristocracy with mere dominance, it is impossible to account for such outstanding, though admittedly isolated figures, whether in politics, religion, or art, as appeared throughout the long period examined above men such as Dunstan, Wolsey, More, Strafford, Laud, the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, Michael Thomas Sadler, and the elder Robert Peel; artists like Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Inigo Jones, Alfred Stevens, Dickens, Emily Brontë, Fielding, and, above all, the hundreds of anonymous though gifted craftsmen who were responsible for the churches and cathedrals, together with their ornamentation, which to our enchantment adorn the country from coast to coast; He cannot, therefore, be wholly right, and his summary dismissal of the classes which have been merely dominant in England since Anglo-Saxon times really casts no slur either on aristocracy as an institution, or on such approximations to aristocratic standards as some isolated English figures undoubtedly represent.
In his ignorance of the origins of aristocratic quality, Guizot cannot explain the emergence of such isolated figures. But his account of their value and function is worth quoting as it sheds welcome light on our subject.
This is excellent, especially the reference to a desire within such men "of giving some rule, some regular and permanent quality to the world about them". We shall soon see what are the roots of this desire.
One last word before the chapter closes:
We have concentrated on English historical records, not because England is singular in never having in any Age produced an aristocratic dominant class, but because this is a book for English readers, and it seemed, therefore, preferable to deal with English history rather than with any other. Truth to tell, with perhaps but one exception and that not a conclusive one we cannot discover anywhere in Europe, during the period covered, a country that produced an aristocratic dominant class, in the sense here given to these terms. There is certainly evidence that in great art, which is always an indication of quality, France led in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; for, to mention only two facts, both Gothic art and the fugue in music originated there. But in view of that country's subsequent achievements throughout the period in question and up to quite recently, it is probable that we have here an example of a special national endowment for feats of conspicuous beauty, although based on conditions no more aristocratic than those prevailing in England or elsewhere.
Apart from this, we may therefore conclude, without thereby implying any singularity on the part of England, that no such dominant class as an aristocracy ever existed within her borders during the whole period covered. At most, evidence of high quality here and there among the English people compels us to infer that, nationally speaking, merely local conditions must often have approached the standard required for aristocratic figures to emerge; and that if they never did so as a dominant class, there must have been potent hostile influences preventing such a consummation.
In the ensuing chapters, we shall form some idea of what these hostile influences were and what, on the other hand, the prerequisites of aristocratic dominance always are.