England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272

By H. W. C. Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE REIGN OF RUFUS

THE administrative system which the Conqueror imposed upon his English subjects outlived him by rather less than fifty years ( 1087-1135); a term which, however short it may appear to us who look back at it across so many intervening centuries, is longer than that which has been vouchsafed to constitutions more celebrated and more pretentious. Judged by the durability of his work the Conqueror compares not unfavourably with most of the statesmen who have framed the governments of half-civilised and growing nations. But the visible monuments were less important than the remote and unpremeditated consequences of his policy. When his constitution went to the ground in the anarchy of Stephen's reign, the fable of Cronos was repeated, and the parent was deposed by his offspring. The forces which alternately depressed and exalted King Stephen and his rivals were those to which the Conqueror had given free scope for development. To him the feudal aristocracy owed their lands and jurisdiction and their military strength; to him was due that reformation of the English Church which made it once more the leader of opinion and by divorcing it from the world gave it a title to command the world.

Character of the Period, 1087-1135

In the period of unstable equilibrium, during which the growth of feudal and ecclesiastical discontent was counterbalanced by the growth of a despotic central government, there is no single statesman by whom the order of events is determined, though there is a single issue with which all events of note are connected in one way or another. Outside England the stage of politics was still adorned by some commanding figures. In England itself the period produced no man of genius, although some English conflicts were dignified by the accident which made the half-Lombard, half-

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