England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272

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

CHAPTER X
THE REFORMS OF HENRY II

Purpose and Methods of Henry IT was a modest programme of reform which Henry announced at his accession. He proposed to uphold the public peace as it had been upheld by his grandfather, to re-assert the prerogatives which Stephen had allowed to fall into abeyance, and to resume the demesnes which had passed, through usurpation or ill-considered grants, into the hands of private individuals. But restoration, it has been well said, is always revolution. The King's purpose, harmless as it seemed, threatened privileges and possessions to which the feudal classes and the hierarchy considered themselves entitled by the clearest right; and the patient labour of a life-time was needed before Henry found himself fully secured in the position which, as a youth, he had hoped to attain by the simple expedient of deleting Stephen's name from the list of his predecessors. Gradually, as he became familiar with the needs of his adopted country, he realised how vast and how complicated was the task to which he had addressed himself; how many vague and uncertain rights must be defined; how many principles which Henry I. had applied but tentatively and partially must be pushed to their logical conclusion; how much of new machinery must be created to defend old rights. The story of the Becket quarrel has already shown us one part of the process of enlightenment; and the Constitutions of Clarendon are the most striking, though by no means the only, instance which the reign affords of innovations masquerading in the garb of ancient custom. The Concordat of Avranches may be taken as a fair illustration of the King's attitude on those occasions when he was forced to own that he had misinterpreted the past, and misconstrued his own prerogative. On some things he gives way, on others he stands firm, taking more than is his legal due on the plea that he accepts less than he had originally

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