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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-06-14 03:46:54
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50 ancient a period. The necessary evidence is supplied in many passages of the Laws[71]. ESCHEAT AND FORFEITURE.—As the royal power became consolidated, and the great struggle between centralization and local independence assumed the new form of offences against the state, the nature of punishments became somewhat changed. The old pecuniary fines were found insufficient to repress disorder, and forfeiture to the king was resorted to, as a measure of increased severity. The laws proclaim this in the case of various breaches of the public peace: in treason Ælfred’s witan decreed not only the punishment of death, but also confiscation of all the possessions[72]: in addition to the capital penalty which was incurred by fighting in the king’s house, forfeiture of all the chattels was decreed by Ini[73]. If a lord maintained and abetted a notorious thief, he was to forfeit all he had[74]. And if he neglected the fines provided, and would break the public peace either by thieving or supporting thieves, it was provided that the public authorities should ride to him, that is make war upon him, and despoil him of all he 51 had, whereof half was to go to the king, half to the persons who took part in the expedition[75]. But the charters supply numerous instances of forfeiture in consequence of crime, where the bóclands as well as the chattels are seized into the king’s hand; though in the case of folcland it is possible that the king could not claim the forfeiture without a positive grant of the witan. About 900, Helmstán having been guilty of theft, Eánwulf, the king’s geréfa at Tisbury seized all his chattels to the king’s hand[76]: he held only lǽnland, and that could not be forfeited by him; but the words made use of show, that had it been his own bócland, it would not have escaped. We have an instance of a thane forfeiting lands to the king for adultery[77], although he only held them on lease from the bishop of Winchester; and in like manner, a lady was deprived of her estate for incontinence[78]. In 966 the bishop of Rochester having obtained judgment and damages against a lady, for forcible entry upon his lands (reáflác), the sheriff of Kent seized her manors of 52 Fawkham and Bromley; all her possessions being forfeited to the king[79]: lastly in various instances of theft, treason, and maintenance of ill-doers, we learn that their lands were forfeited to the king[80]. 53 In a case of intestacy, where there were no legal heirs, the king was allowed to enter upon the lands of Burghard, probably because he had been a royal geréfa[81]. And in the ninth century, Wulfhere, an ealdorman, having deserted his duchy, his country and his lord, without license, his lands were adjudged as forfeit to the king[82]. It would seem however that the mere neglect to cultivate or inhabit the land involved its confiscation to the king’s hand[83], which may have been confined to folcland. FINES.—It is hardly necessary to enter into any 54 great detail respecting the fines which were imposed for various offences against the state, and which were levied by the public officers to the king’s use. The laws abound with examples: it may in general be concluded that the proceeds were nearly absorbed by the cost of collection, and that little remained to the king when the portions of the ealdorman and geréfa had been deducted. But still these fines require a particular notice, because they are especially enumerated by Cnut among the rights of his crown. He says:—“These are the rights which the king enjoys over all men in Wessex: that is, Mundbryce, and Hámsócne, Foresteal, Flýmena fyrmð, and Fyrdwíte, unless he will more amply honour any one, and concede to him this worship[84].” In Mercia, he declares himself entitled to the same rights[85], and also by the Danish law, that is in Northumberland and Eastanglia,—with the addition of Fihtwíte, and the fine for harbouring persons out of the Fríð or public peace[86]. These evidently belong to him in his character of conservator of that peace: Mundbryce is breach of his own protection: Hámsócn is an aggravated assault upon a private dwelling: Foresteal here, the maintenance of criminals and interference to prevent the course of justice: Flýmena fyrmð, the comforting and supporting of outlaws or fugitives: Fyrdwíte, the penalty for neglecting to attend, or for deserting, the armed levy when 55 duly proclaimed: Fihtwíte is the penalty for making private war. These regalia he could grant to a subject if such were his pleasure. But they are far from exhausting the catalogue of his rights: he possessed many others, which were either honourable or profitable, and were by him alienated in favour of his lay or clerical favourites. TREASURE TROVE.—The first of these is Treasure-trove, which was, in all probability, of considerable importance and value: it is designated in Anglosaxon charters by the words “ealle hordas búfan eorðan and binnan eorðan,” and frequently occurs in the grants to monastic houses. In very early and heathen periods various causes combined to render the burial of treasure common. It was a point of honour to carry as much wealth with one from this world to the next as possible; and it was a recognized duty of the comites and household of a chief to sacrifice at his funeral, whatever valuable chattels they might have gained in his service. We may infer from Beówulf[87] that a portion at least of the treasure he gained by his fatal combat with the firedrake was to accompany him in the tomb. Some of it was to be burnt with his body, but some, according to the practice of the pagan North, to be buried in the mound raised over his ashes[88]. Hí on beorg dydon beág ⁊ beorht siglu, . . . . . . . . . . . . forléton eorla gestreón eorðan healdan, gold on greóte, ðǽr hit nú gen lífað eldum swá unnýt swá hit ǽror wæs. They put into the mound rings and bright gems, . . . . . . . . . . . . they let earth hold the gains of noble men, gold in the dust, where it doth yet remain useless to men even as before it was[89]. 56 When we consider the truly extraordinary number of mounds or heathen burial-places which are mentioned in the boundaries of Saxon charters, we cannot doubt that large quantities of the precious metals were thus committed to the earth. To this superstitious cause others of a more practical nature were added. In all countries where from want of commerce and convenient internal communication, or from general insecurity, there is no profitable investment for capital, hoarding is largely resorted to by those who may chance to become possessed of articles of value: we need go no further than Ireland or France for an example, where one of the most striking signs of the prevalent barbarism, is the concealment of specie and plate, often underground[90]. And in cases of sudden invasion, especially by enemies who had not the habit of sparing religious houses, the earth may have been resorted to as the safest depository of treasure 57 which it was impossible to transport[91]. William of Malmesbury attributes to the fears of the Britons the accumulations which he says were frequently discovered in his own day[92], and there can be little doubt that this even among the Saxons tended to increase the quantity of gold and silver withdrawn from general use. It may have been partly the conviction of the mischief resulting to society from this habit,—by which gold was made “eldum swá unnýt swá hit ǽror wæs,”—that caused the very frequent and strong expression of blame which we find in Anglosaxon works applied to those who bury treasure, and apparently also to treasure-hunters. It may be that it was thought impious to violate even the heathen sanctuary of the dead; at all events, the popular belief was encouraged that buried treasure was guarded by spells, watched by dragons[93], and loaded with a curse which would cleave for ever to the discoverer: hidden gold is in 58 fact always represented as heathen gold, which, we may readily suppose, could only be purified from its mischievous qualities by passing through the hands of the universal purifiers in such cases, the clergy. Strictly however the king was the proper owner of all treasure-trove, and where the lord of a manor obtained the right to appropriate it to himself, it could only be by grant from the representative of the whole state[94]. Probably the sovereigns were not quite so superstitious as the bulk of their subjects, and certainly they were much better able to defend their own rights than the simple landowners in the rural districts. Still in a very great number of cases they granted away their privilege; probably finding it easier and more profitable to give it up to those who would have used it, without a grant, than to undergo the trouble of detecting and punishing them for taking it unpermitted into their own hands. PASTUS or CONVIVIUM, Cyninges feorm.—One of the royal duties was to make, in person or by deputy, periodical journeys through the country, progresses, in the course of which the king visited different districts, proclaimed his peace, confirmed 59 the rights and privileges of the freemen or free communities, and heard complaints against the officers of the executive, if such had arisen during the exercise of their functions. This, which on its first occurrence immediately after his election was known in Germany by the name of the Einritt ins land, or Landbereisung[95], was probably connected with the principle of the king’s being the proper guardian of the boundaries: and in the period when the people had lost the power of electing their king at a general meeting, it may have served the purpose of giving them an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the person of their ruler. It is difficult to say when the system of progresses entirely ceased; but there can be no doubt that it subsisted in one form or another till a very late period in England. Under the Anglosaxon law it was by no means a matter of amusement or caprice, but of positive duty, on the part of the king; and Royalty in eyre was a necessary condition of a state of society which would have rejected as a ludicrous tyranny the pretension of any one city to be the central deposit of all the powers and machinery of government. The kings of the Merwingian race in France, who probably retained something of an old priestly character, made these circuits in the celebrated chariot drawn by oxen, which later and ill-informed writers have imagined was a sign of their degradation, instead of their dignity[96]. Of this particular part of the ceremony no trace remains 60 in England, and it is probable that as occasion served, the king either rode on horseback, circumnavigated, or was towed or rowed along the navigable rivers[97]. On these occasions particularly, he had a right to claim harbour and refection for himself and a certain number of his suite in various places, principally religious houses. These claims, which answer in many respects to the procuratio of the ecclesiastical law, were gradually extended so as to include the royal commissioners or Missi, and in many cases became a fixed charge upon the lands, whether the king actually visited them or not[98]. 61 Very many of the charters granted to monasteries record the exemption from them, purchased at a heavy price by prelates, from his avarice or piety[99]. And as the king himself gradually ceased to undertake these distant and fatiguing expeditions, and entrusted to his special messengers the task of seeing and hearing for him, so they in time established a claim to harbourage and reception in the same places. This was extended to all public officers going on the king’s affairs, called Angelcynnes men, Fæsting men, Rǽde fasting, and the like: to all messengers dispatched on the public service from one kingdom to another, while there were several kingdoms; and very probably to those who carried communications from the ealdormen to the king, when one rule comprehended all the several districts. And not only for those who travelled on important affairs of state, and who were very often persons of high birth and distinguished station, but even for certain servants of the royal household were these claims enforced. The huntsmen, stable-keepers and falconers of the court could demand bed and board in the monasteries, where they were often unwelcome guests enough: and this royal right, no doubt frequently used by the ealdorman or sheriff as an engine of oppression, was also bought off at very high prices. PALFREYS.—Somewhat allied to this was the 62 king’s right to claim the service of horses or palfreys, for the carriage of effects from one royal vill to another, or for the furtherance of his messengers or the public servants[100]. This, which in Hungary still subsists under the name of Vorspann, was a heavy burthen, as it tended to withdraw horses from agricultural labour, at the moment when they were most wanted; and it is to be feared that they were, on this pretext, only too often taken from the harvesting of the bishop or abbot and his tenants, to secure that of the ealdorman. This therefore is frequently compounded for, at a dear rate, under the expression of freedom a parafrithis or paraveredis[101].


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