The Reign of Henry II
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Treaty of Falaise
The story of the later years of Henry's reign is very much taken up with his quarrels with his sons, the details of which scarcely concern our history. But how effectively the king had organised the royal power we can see by the fact that for nearly twenty years after his accession there was no revolt.
And then when of a sudden his enemies rose up against him on all sides - his sons, his foes on the continent, English barons, and the king of Scots - he turned to bay, stamped but rebellion, routed bis external enemies, took the king of Scots prisoner, and extorted from turn by the treaty of Falaise the one unqualified and unquestionable submission of the northern kingdom which history records.
Assize of Northampton
Henry's victory in this first contest was shortly followed by the Assize of Northampton, which gave a final shape to the system of sending justices on circuit which had first been instituted by Henry I.
Two years later, in 1178 another step, was taken in the organisation of the judicial system by the appointment of a special committee of the Curia Regis to deal with the bulk of the questions which normally came before that body.
At a later date this committee, now known as the Curia Regis in Banco, developed into the two Courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas. The final court of appeal, however, continued to be that of the king sitting in council.
In 1183 family quarrels again-broke out, in which the three elder sons fought against each other and occasionally combined in order to fight their father. In this year, however, died the eldest son Henry, thus leaving the second, Richard, who was already Duke of Aquitaine, heir to the English throne.
Three years later died the third son, Geoffrey, on whom Brittany had been bestowed, to whom after his death was born that son Arthur, of whose tragic fate the tradition, if not the actual facts, are preserved in Shakespeare's play, King John.
Quarrels between King Henry and Richard were sedulously fomented by the crafty and utterly unscrupulous young king of France, Philip II, called Augustus. A check was put upon them, however, by a sudden blow which fell upon Christendom.
For eighty years the Christians had held Jerusalem and the sacred places in Palestine, which had been torn from the Saracens in the first crusade. But a new leader of aggressive Mohammedanism arose in the person of the Seljuk Turk Sala-ud-Din, the famous "Sultan Saladin".
He fell upon the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem and captured the Holy City itself. All Western Christendom began to arm for a mighty crusade, and in the horror of that great disaster all other feuds were for the time compounded.
The preparations for the crusade led in England for the first time to the imposition of a tax. not upon land, but upon movables or personal property, known as the Saladin Tithe. The tax was sanctioned by the Great Council; and it is to be observed that although the individual gave in his own sworn return of the value of his property, his assessment might be appealed against to a jury of his own parish.
The tragedy and failures of Henry's last months do not touch the fact that in England he raised the crown to the highest point that it ever reached. When he came to the throne the one absolute necessity was the concentration of power in the central government, which meant and could mean only in the king's hands.
There was no independent political organisation of the people; while of the greater barons each one was a law to himself. They had not learnt to stand together as champions of public law. But they were not unwilling to receive from the king the conception of public law which Was afterwards to bear fruit.
The new powers of the Crown prepared the way for the tyranny of John; but Henry's own methods implanted in the barons that conception of public spirit which was exemplified at Runnymede and culminated in Simon de Montfort.
The most marked of the royal innovations was to be found in the extension of taxation in the form of exactions for war purposes called "scutage" in the case of tenants-in-chief, and "gifts,""aids," or "tallages" when levied from shires and towns. The Crown was further strengthened when the king made almost a clean sweep of the sheriffs, and for local magnates substituted exchequer officials in that office - an administrative reform of great importance.
We have already noted how the disintegrating character which attended continental feudalism was checked oy the institution of scutage and the more thorough organisation of the national militia by the Assize of Arms, which also extended the obligation of military service to classes which had hitherto been exempt.
In the field of judicature we have noted the reorganisation of the Curia Regis itself and the revival of Henry's system of occasionally sending visiting justices to inspect and supervise judicial administration in the provinces.
This system also was reorganised by the Assizes of Northampton and Clarendon, which sent justices regularly on circuit and reserved for their judgment whole classes of cases which had hitherto, been dealt with by local courts, although in the main questions of guilt or innocence were settled by the preliminary inquiry.
That is, no one was presented for trial who had been acquitted in preliminary investigation; and the fact of presentation was treated as prima facie evidence of guilt.
The itinerant justices were the representatives of the Crown. Thus by his various reforms Henry concentrated in the hands of the Crown and of officers dependent on the favour of the Crown the control of finance, the control of the military forces, and the control of judicial administration.
When the Crown abused its powers it became the turn of the barons to insist that those powers should be exercised, not arbitrarily, but in accordance with precedent and custom. But those powers were so great that they could not be set at defiance or even challenged at all by individuals, or capriciously even by groups of individuals, but only by the concerted action of men moved by a strong sense of loyalty to a common cause.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.