Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
Extracts from the Governance of England
By Sir John Fortescue (c. 1394–1476)
 
The Fruits of Jus Regale and Jus Politicum et Regale

AND how so be it that the French king reigneth upon his people dominio regali, yet Saint Louis, sometime king there, nor any of his progenitors set never tailles 1 or other imposition upon the people of that land without the assent of the three estates, which when they be assembled be like to the court of the Parliament in England. And this order kept many of his successors into late days, that England men made such war in France, that the three estates durst not come together. And then for that cause, and for great necessity which the French king had of goods for the defence of that land, he took upon him to set tailles and other impositions upon the commons without the assent of the three estates; but yet he would not set any such charges, nor hath set, upon the nobles for fear of rebellion. And because the commons there, though they have grudged, have not rebelled, or been hardy to rebel, the French kings have yearly sithen set such charges upon them, and so augmented the same charges, as the same commons be so impoverished and destroyed that they may uneath 2 live. They drink water; they eat apples with bread right brown made of rye; they eat no flesh, but if it be right seldom a little lard or of the entrails and hides of beasts slain for the nobles and merchants of the land. They wear no woollen, but if it be a poor coat under their uttermost garment made of great canvas, and called a frock. Their hosen be of like canvas, and pass not their knee, wherefore they be gartered, and their thighs bare. Their wives and children go barefoot; they may in no other wise live. For some of them that were wont to pay to his lord for his tenement, which he hireth by the year, a scute, 3 payeth now to the king over that scute five scutes. Wherethrough they be arted 4 by necessity so to watch, labour, and grub in the ground for their sustenance, that their nature is wasted, and the kind of them 5 brought to nought. They go crooked, and be feeble, not able to fight, nor to defend the realm; nor they have weapons, nor money to buy them weapons withal. But verily they live in the most extreme poverty and misery, and yet dwell they on the most fertile realm of the world. Wherethrough the French king hath not men of his own realm able to defend it except his nobles, which bear none such impositions, and therefore they be right likely of their bodies; by which cause the said king is compelled to make his armies and retinues for the defence of his land of strangers, as Scots, Spaniards, Aragoners, men of Almayne and of other nations, or else all his enemies might overrun him, for he hath no defence of his own except his castles and fortresses. Lo this is the fruit of his Jus Regale. If the realm of England, which is an isle, and therefore may not lightly get succour of other lands, were ruled under such a law and under such a prince, it would be then a prey to all other nations that would conquer, rob, or devour it; which was well proved in the time of the Britons when the Scots and the Picts so beat and oppressed this land that the people thereof sought help of the Romans, to whom they had been tributary. And when they could not be defended by them, they sought help of the Duke of Britain, then called Little Britain, and granted therefore to make his brother Constantine their king. And so he was made king here, and reigned many years, and his children after him, of which great Arthur was one of their issue. But, blessed be God, this land is ruled under a better law, and therefore the people thereof be not in such penury, nor thereby hurt in their persons; but they be wealthy, and have all things necessary to the sustenance of nature. Wherefore they be mighty, and able to resist the adversaries of this realm, and to beat other realms that do or would do them wrong. Lo this is the fruit of Jus politicum et regale, under which we live. Somewhat now I have showed the fruits of both laws, ut ex fructibus eorum cognoscatis eos.
  1
 
The Harm to England if the Commons were Poor

SOME men have said that it were good for the king that the commons of England were made poor, as be the commons of France. For then they would not rebel, as now they do oftentimes; which the commons of France do not, nor may do, for they have no weapons, nor armour, nor goods to buy it withal. To this manner of men may be said with the philosopher, ad pauca respicientes de facili enunciant. This is to say, they that see but few things will soon say their advices. Forsooth these folk consider little the good of the realm of England, whereof the might standeth most upon archers, which be no rich men. And if they were made more poor than they be, they should not have wherewith to buy them bows, arrows, jacks, or any other armour of defence, whereby they might be able to resist our enemies when they list to come upon us; which they may do in every side, considering that we be an island, and, as it is said before, we may not soon have succour of any other realm. Wherefore we shall be a prey to all our enemies, but if 6 we be mighty of ourselves, which might standeth most upon our poor archers; and therefore they need not only have such ablements 7 as now is spoken of, but also they need to be much exercised in shooting, which may not be done without right great expenses, as every man expert therein knoweth right well. Wherefore the making poor of the commons, which is the making poor of our archers, shall be the destruction of the greatest might of our realm. Item, if poor men may not lightly rise, as is the opinion of these men, which for that cause would have the commons poor, how then, if a mighty man made a rising, should he be repressed, when all the commons be so poor that after such opinion they may not fight, and by that reason not help the king with fighting? And why maketh the king the commons every year to be mustered, sithen it were good they had no harness nor were able to fight? O, how unwise is the opinion of these men, for it may not be maintained by any reason! Item, when any rising hath been made in this land before these days by commons, the poorest men thereof have been the greatest causers and doers therein. And thrifty men have been loth thereto for dread of losing of their goods. But yet oftentimes they have gone with them through menacing that else the same poor men would have took their goods, wherein it seemeth that poverty hath been the whole cause of all such risings. The poor man hath been stirred thereto by occasion of his poverty for to get goods, and the rich men have gone with them because they would not be poor by losing of their goods. What, then, would fall if all the commons were poor? Truly it is like that this land then should be like unto the realm of Bohemia, where the commons for poverty rose upon the nobles, and made all their goods to be common. Item, it is the king’s honour, and also his office, to make his realm rich; and it is dishonour when he hath but a poor realm, of which men will say that he reigneth but upon beggars. Yet it were much greater dishonour if he found his realm rich, and then made it poor. And it were also greatly against his conscience, that ought to defend them and their goods, if he took from them their goods without lawful cause; from the infamy whereof God defend our king, and give him grace to augment his realm in riches, wealth, and prosperity to his perpetual laud and worship. Item, the realm of France giveth never freely of their own goodwill any subsidy to their prince, because the commons thereof be so poor as they may not give anything of their own goods. And the king there asketh never subsidy of his nobles for dread that if he charged them so they would confedre 8 with the commons, and peradventure put him down. But our commons be rich, and therefore they give to their king at some times quinsimes 9 and dessimes, 10 and ofttimes other great subsidies, as he hath need for the good and defence of his realm. How great a subsidy was it when the realm gave to their king a quinsime and a dessime quinquennial, and the ninth fleece of their wools, and also the ninth sheaf of their grains for the term of five years. This might they not have done if they had been impoverished by their king, as be the commons of France; nor such a grant hath been made by any realm of Christendom, of which any chronicle maketh mention; nor none other may or hath cause to do so. For they have not so much freedom in their own goods, nor be entreated by so favourable laws as we be, except a few regions before specified. Item, we see daily how men that have lost their goods, and be fallen into poverty, become anon robbers and thieves, which would not have been such if poverty had not brought them thereto. How many a thief then were like to be in this land, if all the commons were poor. The greatest surety truly, and also the most honour that may come to the king, is that his realm be rich in every estate. For nothing may make his people to arise but lack of goods or lack of justice. But yet certainly when they lack goods they will arise, saying that they lack justice. Nevertheless if they be not poor, they will never arise but if their prince so leave justice that he give himself all to tyranny.
  2
 
Only Cowardice keeps the Frenchmen from Rising

POVERTY is not the cause why the commons of France rise not against their sovereign lord. For there were never people in that land more poor than were in our time the commons of the country of Caux, which was then almost desert for lack of tillers, as it now well appeareth by the new husbandry that is done there, namely in grubbing and stocking of trees, bushes, and groves grown while we were there lords of the country. And yet the said commons of Caux made a marvellous great rising, and took our towns, castles, and fortresses, and slew our captains and soldiers at such a time as we had but few men of war lying in that country. Which proveth that it is not poverty that keepeth Frenchmen from rising, but it is cowardice and lack of heart and courage, which no Frenchman hath like unto an Englishman. It hath been oftentimes seen in England that three or four thieves for poverty have set upon six or seven true men, and robbed them all. But it hath not been seen in France that six or seven thieves have been hardy to rob three or four true men. Wherefore it is right seldom that Frenchmen be hanged for robbery, for they have no hearts to do so terrible an act. There be therefore more men hanged in England in a year for robbery and manslaughter than there be hanged in France for such manner of crime in seven years. There is no man hanged in Scotland in seven years together for robbery. And yet they be oftentimes hanged for larceny and stealing of goods in the absence of the owner thereof. But their hearts serve them not to take a man’s goods while he is present, and will defend it, which manner of taking is called robbery. But the Englishman is of another courage. For if he be poor, and see another man having riches, which may be taken from him by might, he will not spare to do so, but if that poor man be right true. Wherefore it is not poverty, but it is lack of heart and cowardice that keepeth the Frenchmen from rising.
  3
 
Note 1. tailles = taxes. [back]
Note 2. uneath = hardly or scarcely. [back]
Note 3. scute = a crown, whence scutage. [back]
Note 4. arted = compelled (Lat. artare). [back]
Note 5. the kind of them, i.e. the race of them. [back]
Note 6. but if = unless. [back]
Note 7. ablements = habiliments. [back]
Note 8. confedre = confederate. [back]
Note 9. quinsimes = fifteenths. [back]
Note 10. dessimes = tenths. [back]
 
 
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