England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272

By H. W. C. Davis | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIX
ENGLAND IN DE MONTFORTS DAY

WE have now passed in review the political events which contributed to the remodelling of Anglo-Saxon England. It remains to glance at the more salient features of the society in which, for over two hundred years, Teutonic and Latin influences had been contending for the mastery. There are long periods when a nation, like clay in the hands of the potter, passively accepts the form and impress of ideas which come from without; at other times the national intellect is awake and alert, political issues are instantly appreciated, and the masses take a side, so strongly, perhaps, that the boldest of men can only hope to lead them by following their bent. Crises of this kind were rare in medieval England. A popular poet thought that the Barons' War of 1215 was caused by the mob's desire to rule.

Position of the Third Estate

Ordinem praeposterum Anglia sancivit,
Nam praeesse capiti corpus concupivit
Regem suum regere populus quaesivit
.1

Yet we have seen that the inspiration of this rising came from the heads of the feudal party. In the somewhat similar upheaval of 1264 and 1265 the lower orders played a more important part; the feelings of the towns, the universities, the mendicant friars and the lower clergy were strongly expressed, and not in words alone. We cannot say that the nation overthrew the royal and feudal parties, or dictated the policy of De Montfort. But this much is clear, that, of the two political experiments which we have just described, the first failed because the promoters were indifferent to popular ideas; while the second broke down, after a brief trial, because it gave the nation more than the nation felt justified in taking from the King; because it alarmed the privileged classes

____________________
1
Chron. de Lanercost, p. 15.

-485-

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