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the aristocratic cal part of our constitution.
the different degrees, dignities, and deno
minations, by which it was formerly known of the origin of and distinguished. To do this fatisfactorily
will require a longer digression than the intent and purport of this publication will admit of. Such of my readers, as may wish to acquire a more particular knowledge of this subject, will receive the most fatisfactory information from the first volume of the learned Mr. Gurdon's history of the high court of parliament. Suffice it for me to observe, that our present aristocracy is much altered from what it formerly was, both in its relative and absolute rights, privileges,
powers, and duties. The ancient In our earliest history the great coun
cil of the nation under the Saxons, who concurred with the king in passing laws, was called Wittenagemotte: *“ a word compounded of Saxon and British, the former part of the word being Saxon, and the latter British. Witta is in Saxon, a wise man (i. e.) a nobleman; Gemot, in the British language, is a council or fynod, so Wittenagemotte is a council of wise men or noblemen.” According to the rude practices and habits of the warlike Saxons, they naturally allowed
• Gurdon, vol. i. p. 21.
an exclusive superiority of knowledge or wifdom to such, as had acquired the then rare advantages of education, which were only enjoyed by the clergy, and some of the most opulent and powerful individuals of the community. They annexed not this attribute of The ancient.
wittas called wisdorn to these national counsellors, as a na- wise, from the
advantages of tive and hereditary prerogative in the sense, their education. in which some modern illuminators speak in derision of hereditary wise men and coun-. fellors; but they presumed very justly, that in the general average of men's intellectual faculties or talents, a superiority or preeminence of wisdom muft neceffarily attend the advantages of cultivation and improvement. The general diffusion of knowledge through all ranks of people in the present age, has happily rendered this ancient distinction imperceptible to the present generation.
There are obvious reasons, why formerly Property not the representatives or delegates of the na- original ground tion were not, as they now are, divided into tion. two separate bodies ; for it is very evident, that the original spirit or principle of representation in this community was grounded upon the possession of property, not upon the numbers of individuals. *« The Britons called their
• Gurdon on Parliament, page 15.
councils Kifrithin, which in the British language imports to debate and treat upon matters to be taken into consideration for the public weal. The members of their councils were their Edlins *, which were of royal or princely race, and the governors of districts or lords of villages : the husbandmen, and all the common people, were esteemed no more than servants, had no interest in land, being removeable at the will of their lord, they
being villeins to their lords, were not adWhy copyhole mitted to sit in council.” Whence a conv
holder, who by holding of the lord of the manor retains something of this ancient tenure, is not even at this day qualified to vote
for a member of parliament. The original
This principle of representing the landed property of the nation continued after the whole system of landed property was altered. For the Saxons undertook the conquest of this country upon a joint engagement to divide the conquered lands proportionably amongst the leaders, as they had contributed their respective quotas to the enterprize. † The joint undertakers, who were
ders not qua. lified to yote.
Saxon aristo, cracy.
. Or Ethelings, hence Edgar Etheling meant Edgar of the blood royal, or kingly race.
† Gurdon on Parliament, p. 23.
lity arose from
. at first by the Latin authors termed capitanei, as having a capital or original right in the shares of the Britons lands; and these capitanei were not only sharers with the kings in the conquered lands, but also in the administration of the government, being members of the king's great council, and therein had a deliberative authority in consenting to laws and the highest matters of state ; they also had a judicial authority, being the fupreme court of judicature of the nation.” * « These colleagues, and their descendants, Original nobiwere the Saxon nobles, that were members of property." the great councils, the suitors of the court of the grand feigniory of the kingdom, all nobility at that time arising from polesion.” In these ancient days, the aristocratical part of the community were known or distinguished only from the rest of the community, by rights, privileges, and prerogatives attached to the property they possessed; and as the greatest of these consisted in their enjoying a share in the legislature, it is unfair to conclude, that the commonalty or democratical part of the community were not formerly represented in parliament; for the perfons, who at that time represented the whole
* Gurdon on Parliament, p. 163.
The ancient members of the national council refem
corrmoners, than our peers:
nation, were only distinguished from the democratical part of it by this very right of representation, which was not then elective, but hereditary; and if we consider the na
ture of the duty, trust, and rights of these bled more our delegates or representatives of the public,
we shall find them resemble much more those of the commoners, than of the peers of our present parliament.
There are many points warmly controverted by antiquarians concerning the ancient English barons, who either attended the national assemblies or parliaments, at stated times de more, or were summoned on extraordinary occasions to attend them. The whole episcopal order, and many abbots and priors were admitted by all to have been a constant part of the wittas in the wittenagemotes, and in all subsequent conventions of the nation down to the regular and separate establishment of a
house of commons, by whatsoever descripWhether fum- tions they were distinguished. It is not mamons to parliament anciently terial to my present purpose to consider, wheconferred nubility.
ther all, who were in those times fummoned to parliament, either as barones majores, barones apsinores, knights, or tenants in capite, or by any other titles, -as earls, viscounts, vavafours, &c. were thereby fo enobled, as that their heirs inherited their honours ; there