Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
NOBILITY. By this, or by some equivalent term, has been designated in all times the body of men who have attributed to themselves in an exclusive manner the higher functions of society. Most frequently this body established its rule by conquest. Thus the nobility of most of the states of Europe owes its origin to the barbarous hordes which invaded the Roman empire, and divided its ruins among them. At first these troops of emigrants, whom the insufficiency of the means of subsistence and the allurement of plunder urged from the regions of the north to those of the south, overran and laid waste the civilized world; but soon, either because the personal property which served them as booty began to be used up, or because the more intelligent understood that a regular exploitation would be more profitable to them than simple pillage, they established a fixed residence for themselves upon the ruins of the world they had laid waste and conquered.
—This establishment of the barbarians in the old domain of civilization, and the institution of a feudal nobility which was the result of it, had a utility which it would be unjust to ignore. It must not be forgotten that the Roman empire, internally undermined and corrupted by the cancer of slavery, had ended by falling in ruins, and that the wealth accumulated by Græco-Roman civilization was at the mercy of the barbarians. In so critical a situation, the establishment of the Goths, the Vandals, the Lombards and other emigrants from the north upon the territory which they had ravaged, was a blessing. Having become proprietors of the greatest part of the capital which the conquered nations had accumulated upon the land, these barbarians were henceforth interested in defending it against the hordes which came after them. It was thus that the old enemies of civilization became its defenders, and that the wealth accumulated by antiquity, in passing from the weak hands of its old owners to those of the conquerors of the north, more numerous, more courageous and stronger, was preserved from total annihilation. The destructive wave of invasion stopped before this new rampart, raised up in the place of the dismantled rampart of Roman domination. The Huns. for example, who had come from the depths of Tartary to share the spoils of the old world, were destroyed or repulsed by the coalition of the Goths and Franks, established in Italy and in Gaul; and later the Saracens, no less redoubtable than the Huns, met the same fate.
—If the Goths and the Franks had not appropriated to themselves the fixed capital of the nations they had subjugated, would they have risked their lives and their booty to repulse the savage soldiers of Attila? And what would have remained of the old civilization, if this barbarian chief of a nomad race had continued to overrun and ravage Europe? Would not Greece, Italy, Gaul and Spain, despoiled of their personal wealth, and deprived of the greatest part of their population, have ended by presenting the same spectacle of desolation and ruin as the empire of the Assyrians and the kingdom of Palmyra? When, therefore, we take into account the circumstances which accompanied the establishment of the barbarians in the bosom of European civilization, we perceive that this violent substitution of a new race of proprietors for the old race presents rather the characteristics of the exercise of the right of eminent domain than those of spoliation properly so called. Hence, this extremely important consequence, that the property of the nobility which had its origin in conquest does not deserve the anathema which certain socialists have launched against it; for the original titles of the nobility to their estates was founded on general utility, that is to say, upon justice.
—The conditions of the establishment of the barbarians in the bosom of the civilized world were extremely varied. Historians have nevertheless demonstrated that they generally took to themselves two-thirds of the land; such was, for example, the proportion in Gaul, when it was conquered by the Franks. This proportion, however, was not arbitrary; it was determined by the necessities of the situation. In each subjugated nation was found an aristocracy of proprietors, dating most frequently from an anterior conquest, whom the conquerors were interested in treating with a certain consideration, in order not to push them to the dangerous extremity of despair. According as this aristocracy had preserved more or less strength and influence, the conquerors left it a more or less considerable portion of its domains, limiting themselves to subjecting it to simple feudal fines. Hence there were two kinds of domains, and the title of francs alleux (freeholds) was given to lands occupied by the conquerors, as the count de Boulainvilliers explains with much clearness. "The Gallic proprietor," says this learned historian of the French nobility, "was required to pay certain tributes of the fruits and revenues of his lands, according to the demands of the victors. The Frank, who possessed his lands entirely free and unburdened, had a more absolute and more perfect ownership of them; hence this distinction was marked by the term salic lands, meaning lands or alleux of the Franks, called also Salians; in a word, francs-alleux, that is to say, absolutely and thoroughly their own, hereditary, and free even from all tribute of the fruits Terra salica, quœ salio militi; aut regi assignata erat, dicta ad differentiam allodialis, quœ est subditorum. (Basnage, word Alleux.) This method of dividing the conquered lands was imitated by the Goths, who called the lands which they had retained sortes gothicas, and those which they had left to the Romans, sortes romanas. The Normans did the same thing in regard to the old possessors of Neustria when they conquered it, and this was the origin of the greater part of freeholds; for the complete freedom of these lands from taxation caused them to be called freeholds." (De la noblesse française, by the count de Boulainvilliers). There were, therefore, two nobilities after the conquest, the one composed of members of the conquering army, and the other composed of the old proprietors not completely dispossessed. The former, whose lands were free, were at first in the ascendency; but after long struggles, of which the beautiful romance, Ivanhoe, for example, gives a picturesque sketch, these two nobilities, drawn together by common interests, were generally confounded in one.
—It sometimes occurred to the conquerors to make an inventory of the wealth which they had appropriated to themselves; this was especially the case in England after the Norman conquest. The results of this curious inquiry were embodied in the Domesday Book.
—The division of the booty and of the lands was effected in an unequal manner between the chiefs and the soldiers of the conquering army. This inequality was based upon the unequal share which each had taken, according to his rank in the army, in the work of conquest. The distinction of rank was determined by the necessities of the enterprise. When the barbarians invaded a country, they chose the chiefs from among the most courageous and capable of their number, and they obeyed them in the common interest. The chiefs chose aids (comites) to cause their orders to be executed; and a military hierarchy, based upon the necessities of the enterprise which was to be carried out, was thus organized of itself. The conquest accomplished, it was natural that the share in the booty should be proportionate to the rank which each man, having any claim to it, held in the army of invasion. The supreme chief had, therefore, the greatest share, both in personal effects and in lands; the lesser chiefs and the common soldiers of the conquest obtained shares proportionate to their rank, or to the services which they had rendered. These divisions were frequently the occasion of bloody quarrels, to which the necessities of common defense alone could put an end.
—When the plunder to be divided comprised, besides personal effects, immovable property, lands or houses, the army of invasion dispersed, and each one of its members occupied the lot which had fallen to him in the division. But in dispersing in a conquered country, and therefore hostile and exposed to new invasions, the conquerors took care to preserve their military organization; they lived organized in such a way that, at the first appearance of danger, they might immediately flock to the banner of the chief, and take their place in the ranks. It is thus that the feudal system was established. The characteristic trait of this system was the rigorous maintenance of the hierarchical organization of the conquering army, and the obligations which flowed from it. At the first call of the supreme chief, emperor, king, or duke, the lesser chiefs assembled the crowd of those who had worked the conquest. Each was bound, under pain of forfeiture, to report at the call of his hierarchical superior; the army was soon on foot again, in good order, to defend its domains, either against a revolt from within or an aggression from without.
—The chiefs thus preserved their rank after the dispersal of the conquering army. Each rank had its particular name, sometimes of barbarian origin, sometimes borrowed from the Roman hierarchy. This name passed from the man to the domain; hence kingdoms, duchies, marquisates, counties, baronies, etc. Those of the conquering army who possessed no rank, but who had obtained a lot of land, simply took the name of freeholders, and their lands that of freeholds, and they formed the lesser grade of the nobility. Being obliged to set out on the march at the command of the chiefs, they enjoyed as compensation, like the latter, the privilege of exemption from taxes, and that of sending representatives to the assemblies or parliaments of the nobility, in which the interests of their orders were discussed.
—Nevertheless, it was important to assure the duration of this organization which care for the common defense required. The right of primogeniture and of entail were introduced to assure this duration. Each having obtained a portion of the land, on condition of fulfilling certain obligations, it was essential, in the first place, that this lot should not be divided up; in the second place, that it should not pass into the hands of a foreign or hostile family. The division of the land would have destroyed the pledge which assured the exact fulfillment of the military services, upon which depended the common security; it would have introduced anarchy into the conquering army, by necessitating a continual transformation of the hierarchy. The introduction, into the ranks of the army, of men belonging to the conquered race, which could have taken place after the alienation or sale of the lands occupied by the conquerors, would have been no less dangerous. The law of primogeniture and entail served to preserve the conquerors from this two-fold peril. The law of primogeniture maintained intact the domain, which was the pledge of the fulfillment of the duty of each toward all, by transmitting it from generation to generation to the eldest son of the family. Entail prevented foreigners or enemies from slipping into the ranks of the army, by not allowing the noble proprietors to alienate their domains. The primitive organization of the conquering army could therefore be perpetuated after the conquest had been accomplished, and the nobility formed itself into a veritable guild at the head of society.
—This organization had its manifest utility, in that it prevented the country, in which the conquering army had established itself, from becoming incessantly the prey of new hordes of barbarians. It had its inevitable drawbacks, in that it delivered the industrious population over to the mercy of a greedy and brutal horde, who most frequently used without any moderation its right of conquest. At first the condition of the subject populations was most hard. The conquerors were subject to laws and obligations based upon their common interest; these laws and these obligations, which extended to all, to the chiefs as well as to the soldiers, protected in a certain measure the weak against the strong. But nothing similar existed in favor of the vanquished; the latter were a booty which the conquerors disposed of at their pleasure. Perhaps it was well that it was so, at least in the very beginning; for if the conquerors had not had a maximum of interest in defending property, at that time the object of continual aggression, they would, according to all appearances, have remained simple nomad plunderers, and the capital accumulated by civilization would have been entirely destroyed. But this absolute power of the conquerors over the conquered, whether it was necessary or not, could not fail to engender the most monstrous oppression. The serf or subject of a lord was taxable, and liable to forced labor at pleasure, which signified that the lord could dispose, according to his will, of the property of the unhappy serf, and sell him, and his family, after having confiscated his goods. Every individual, merchant or other, who crossed the domain of a lord, was exposed also to be pillaged, reduced to slavery, or massacred. Fortunately, this violent state of affairs could not last; order and justice have such a character of utility, that they re-establish themselves in some way, after the most terrible social upheavals. The lords were not slow to see that it was for their interest to accord their serfs, agriculturists or artisans, certain guarantees of security, and not to despoil them in a violent and arbitrary manner, in order to procure the more from them. Hence, customs. These customs, whose utility for the master as well as for the subject was proved by experience, ended by becoming a solid barrier against the arbitrariness of the lords. The condition of the serf, protected by the custom, became more bearable, and the revenue of the lord was increased in consequence; the agriculturists, being less exposed to spoliation, agriculture commenced to flourish again, and famines, after having been the rule, became each year less frequent. Agglomerated in the cities, and by this very fact in a better state than the agriculturists mutually to sustain themselves, artisans obtained more promptly still guarantees against arbitrary power; they were allowed, on condition of certain fixed feudal fines, and sometimes even on condition of an indemnity once paid, to exercise their occupation in peace, and the by-laws of corporations were at first nothing but records of the customs, agreements or transactions, which protected them from the rapacity of the lords. The same customs were established and the same transactions effected for the benefit of commerce. At first the merchants, who had ventured to traffic from city to city, as they had done in the time of Roman domination, had been despoiled, reduced to slavery or massacred by the barbarian lords, whose domains they traversed. But soon, all commerce having ceased, the lords themselves realized the inconveniences of this state of things. What did they do? For their capricious and arbitrary depreciations, they substituted fixed and regular feudal fines; they guaranteed to the merchants free and safe passage through their domains, on condition of their paying toll. This was still onerous, without doubt; for each country being divided into a multitude of little seigniorial estates, a merchant, who had to travel through a somewhat small extent of country, was obliged to pay a multitude of tolls. But it was less onerous than pillage and assassination; and commerce, thus protected by the better understood interest of the lords, again assumed some activity.
—The improvement did not stop here. Events and progress of different kinds weakened successively the feudal nobility, either by diminishing the importance of the part it played, or by increasing the power of the classes, which were subordinate to it. As soon as feudalism was firmly established and constituted, the danger of invasions became less; not, however, as the historian Robertson has declared, because the source whence they flowed had dried up. There were still, in the north of Europe and in the centre of Asia, multitudes greedy for booty, and disposed to precipitate themselves upon the countries in which the arts of civilization had accumulated wealth; but, between these hungry multitudes and the prey which they coveted, the rampart of feudalism had been raised. After having vainly attempted to make a breach in this rampart, which replaced that of the Roman legions, the barbarian hordes drew back one after the other into the heart of Asia, and descended upon India and China. Then the conquerors, established upon the ruins of the Roman empire, could enjoy a little repose. But repose was foreign to their nature. They wore themselves out with intestine struggles. The weaker lords were subjugated or despoiled by the stronger. The supreme chief, who at first had had no authority over his old companions, except when there was question of providing for the common defense, profited by their dissensions to increase his power at their expense. He accorded his alliance and his protection to the weak, on condition that they made themselves dependent on him and paid tribute to him. It was in this way that most of the freeholds were changed into fiefs. This modification of the feudal system had very important consequences. The number of intestine strifes diminished, because the more powerful lords no longer dared to attack the weak, when the latter had become vassals of the king. On the other hand, the king, who collected tribute from the lands of his protegés, saw that they brought more to him in proportion as the taxes collected to the profit of the lords were less numerous and less burdensome. He endeavored, therefore, to diminish the number of particular tolls, and to moderate the exactions the lords made from their serfs. His salutary intervention was felt also in the money system. In the beginning, each lord had taken to himself the right to coin money, imposing upon the inhabitants of his domains the obligation of using only the coinage stamped with his effigy. Money soon became as bad as it could possibly be, while the subjects of the lords had no means of protecting themselves from the damage caused them by false coinage. It was quite otherwise, when, the freeholds having been transformed into fiefs, the king levied taxes upon the domains of his vassals. To prevent the loss which the adulterations of the moneys caused in the payment of the taxes, he appointed certain officials charged with the surveillance of the coinage of the lords, and with preventing them from melting down and adulterating his own money. In proportion as the power of this protector of the weak became more extensive, he confiscated or bought the right of coinage of the lesser lords and appropriated it to himself. The industrious classes did not fail to profit by these changes. Their condition was improved again when the most bellicose and turbulent portion of the nobility went to the crusades. The lords, convinced that the conquest of the east would procure for them fortune in this world and would assure their salvation in the next, granted their liberty at a low price to multitudes of serfs. And as very few of them returned from that religious California of the middle ages, the serfs, who had bought their liberty, were able to preserve it. Finally, the middle class of the cities, having become rich and powerful by industry, undertook to make themselves completely independent of their lords. The communal movement commenced, and this movement, seconded by the kings, who sold their protection to the middle class of the communes, as they had before sold it to the lesser lords, contributed also to enfeeble the power of the nobility.
—The feudal system thus fell little by little into ruins. The subject classes advanced each day with a more rapid step toward their enfranchisement, inscribing upon their banners the word liberty. The substitution of fire arms for the old instruments of war gave the finishing stroke to feudalism, by permitting thence-forth the industrious classes to protect themselves against the invasions of the hardy races of the north. Artillery replaced with advantage the iron armed colossi of chivalry, and the order of nobility ceased to be the necessary rampart of civilization. The services which it rendered losing their value, the supremacy and the privileges which it continued to claim for itself were borne with less patience. Above all was this the case in France, where, the royal power having ended by reducing the nobility to the condition of servants of the court, it presented the spectacle of the saddest moral and material decay. Its eldest sons, provided with magnificent sinecures, expended their incomes in idleness, and ran into debt to avoid being eclipsed by an industrious bourgeoisie, whose wealth kept increasing. Its younger sons, too numerous for the employments which the monarch had at his disposal, and too proud to devote themselves to commerce and industry, filled the gaming houses and places of evil resort. The nobility, thus degraded, lost its old ascendency over the masses, and in 1789 the industrious classes rose up against the domination of a caste, which no longer could make arrogance and privileges forgotten through the magnitude of its services. The French nobility disappeared, swallowed up in the whirlpool of the revolution.
—The following, according to the learned author of La France avant la révolution, is an account of the rights and feudal privileges which the nobility still enjoyed when the great catastrophe occurred: "In almost all the rural districts there existed numerous vestiges of the feudal system. Each village had its lord, who, in general, possessed the best lands, and had certain rights over those which did not belong to him. Thus, there was the exclusive right of the chase upon all the territory of the fief; there was the tithe, the extent of which was more or less great; there was, at each transfer of property, the tax on the lot of land and on its sale. The lord could retain, for the price of sale, the land sold in his territory, could force the inhabitants to grind in his mill, to bake in his oven, to make their wine in his press, etc. On the vassal were incumbent also certain personal services, such as the obligation to work a certain number of days without compensation, which were called corvées, to render certain services under certain determined circumstances, etc. In some provinces, like Franche-Comté and Burgundy, mortmain existed still in many of the villages; the peasant could not quit the land or marry without permission of his lord, under pain of losing his property, and if he left no children, the lord was his heir.
—But Louis XVI. had abolished mortmain in all the domains of the crown, and many lords followed his example. Justice was administered in the first resort, and sometimes in the last, by judges appointed by the lord. Finally, the clergy took the tithes, the government the villain tax and the tax on salt, and the peasant was subject, besides, to the corvée and the militia duty, while all the nobles and almost all the bourgeois functionaries were exempt from it." (La France avant la révolution, by Raudot, p. 103.) Finally, the nobility monopolized most of the great offices of the state, and had at its disposal numerous sinecures.
—There are no precise data as to the number of the members of the French nobility, at the time when the revolution deprived them of their privileges. According to Sieyès, their number did not exceed 110,000. This is the way in which Sieyès made his calculation: "I know," said he, "but one way to estimate the number of individuals of this order: it is to take the province where this number is the best known and compare it with the rest of France. That province is Brittany, and I remark in advance that it has more nobles than the others, either because they do not "derogate" there, or because of the privileges which the families retain, etc., etc. There are in Brittany 1,900 noble families; I will say 2,000. Estimating each family as having five persons, there are in Brittany 10,000 nobles of all ages and of both sexes. The total population is 2,800,000 individuals. This number is to the entire population of France as one to eleven. We must then multiply 10,000 by eleven, and we have 110,000 nobles at the most for the whole of the kingdom." The author of La Francs avant la révolution thinks that the opinion of Sieyès is very near the truth.
—Like the French nobility, but with more success, the British nobility has endeavored to maintain its old supremacy. No aristocracy has been able to derive more advantage from its position. By the establishment of the corn laws, it has endeavored to raise the value of the lands belonging to its eldest sons. By the extension of the colonial empire of England, it has gradually increased the arena open to its younger sons. Nevertheless the industrious classes have come to understand that the costs of this policy of monopoly fall chiefly upon them, while the aristocracy receives the most evident benefit from it. These classes have fought against the political and economical monopolies of the aristocracy, and economical monopolies of the aristocracy, and thanks to the great agitation of the league, and to the reforms of Sir Robert Peel, continued by Lord John Russell, this work of enfranchisement is very far advanced. It is proper to add, however, that if the British aristocracy has shown itself grasping in the matter of monopolies, it has displayed great and solid qualities in the exercise of the functions it has monopolized. It has done better still. Whenever it has discovered a man of eminent ability in the lower strata of society, it has had the intelligent cleverness to make a place for him in its own ranks. It is thus that it has known how to render its monopoly bearable, and to preserve a great and legitimate ascendency over the country.
—When the noble classes shall have finally ceased to be privileged in a direct or indirect manner, it is probable that the titles which serve to distinguish them will lose their value. For this value depends much less upon a prejudice of opinion than upon the positive advantages which they can confer. These advantages amount to nothing in the liberal professions: let a merchant, for example, be noble or plebeian, the credit which he enjoys in the market remains the same. But it is quite otherwise in the functions which are connected with the government. It is rare that the nobility is not favored in an exceptional manner in the distribution of offices and of honors.
—These old qualifications of the nobility constitute besides a singular anachronism in the organization of modern society. As has been seen above, the titles of duke, marquis, count and baron served to designate the grades of the military hierarchy of feudalism; they about corresponded to the modern denominations of general, colonel, major and captain. Would not bankers, manufacturers, savants or artists, invested with these titles borrowed from feudal hierarchy, present a somewhat ridiculous spectacle? Would they not have quite as much reason for adorning themselves with the titles of mandarin, grand-serpent or sagamore? How would this last nomenclature be more absurd than the other? Have our bankers, our manufacturers, our savants and our artists any more resemblance to the fierce warriors of the middle ages than they have to Indian chiefs or Chinese mandarins?
—The privileges, and probably also the titles, of nobility will end by disappearing with so many other remnants of the old system of servitude. But does this mean that our society is destined some day to undergo the process of leveling? By no means. There will always be, in the work of production, superior and inferior functions, functions requiring in a high degree the concurrence of the moral and intellectual faculties of man, and functions for which lesser aptitudes will be sufficient. The former will always be better remunerated and more honored than the latter. The aristocracy of society will be formed by the former, and this natural nobility—so much the more respectable because it will be better founded upon the superiority of merit and upon the greatness of its services—will have no need to make a show of haughty pretensions and superannuated titles in order to obtain public consideration.
G. DE MOLINARI.
Notes for this chapter
The Domesday Book is nothing but a great inventory of the Norman conquest. We quote from the history of M. Augustin Thierry some interesting details concerning the origin of this curious inquiry, and upon the way in which it was drawn up. "King William," says M. Augustin Thierry, "caused a great territorial inquiry to be made, and a universal register of all the changes of property made in England by the conquest to be drawn up. He wished to know into what hands, throughout all the extent of the country, the domains of the Saxons had passed, and how many of them still kept their inheritances by reason of treaties concluded with himself or with his barons; how many acres of land there were in each rural domain; what number of acres would be sufficient for the support of a soldier, and what was the number of the latter in each province or county of England; what was the gross sum of the products of the cities, villages, towns and hamlets; what was the exact property of each count, baron, knight, sergeant-at-arms; how much land each one had, how many people with fiefs of his lands, how many Saxons, cattle and plows—This work, in which modern historians have thought they discerned the mark of administrative genius, was the simple result of the special position of the Norman king as chief of a conquering army, and of the necessity of establishing some order in the chaos of the conquest. This is so true, that, in o her conquests whose details have been transmitted to us, for example, in the conquest of Greece by the Latin crusaders in the thirteenth century, we find the same kind of inquiry, conducted on an exactly similar plan by the chiefs of the invasion—By virtue of the orders of King William, Henri de Ferrières, Gaultier Giffard, Adam, brother of Eudes the seneschal, and Remi, bishop of Lincoln, as well as other persons selected from the jurists and the guardians of the royal treasury, set out to journey through all the counties of England, establishing in each place their council of inquiry. They caused to appear before them the viscount of each province or of each Saxon shire, a personage to whom the Saxons gave in their old language the title of shire-reve or sheriff. They called together, or had the viscount call together all the Norman barons of the province, who indicated the precise boundaries of their possessions and of their territorial jurisdictions: then some of the men connected with the inquiry, or commissioners delegated by them, went to each great domain and into each district or century, as the Saxons called them. There they made the French soldiers of each lord and the English inhabitants of the century declare, under oath, how many free owners and how many farmers there were upon the domain; what portion each occupied as full proprietor or on precarious tenure; the names of the actual holders, the names of those who had been owners before the conquest, and the different changes of property which had taken place since that time; so that, say the chronicles of the times, three declarations were exacted concerning each estate: what it had been in the time of King Edward, what it had been when King William had granted it, and what it was at the present moment. Beneath each particular statement was inscribed this formula: 'This is what all the French and all the English of the shire have sworn to.'
—In each town an inquiry was made as to the amount of taxes the inhabitants had paid to former kings, and how much the town produced for the officers of the conqueror; an investigation was made as to how many houses the war of the conquest or the construction of fortresses had caused to disappear; how many houses the conquerors had taken, and how many Saxon families, reduced to extreme poverty, were unable to pay anything. In the cities the oath was taken of the great Norman authorities, who assembled the Saxon burgers in their old council chamber, now become the property of the king or of some foreign baron. Finally, in the places of lesser importance the oath was taken of the collector or provost royal, of the priest and of six Saxons or of six villains of each city, as the Normans called them. This investigation lasted six years, during which time the commissioners of King William traveled over all England, with the exception of the hilly countries in the north, and to the west of York, that is to say, the modern counties of Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Lancaster. The investigation was concluded in 1086.
—The editing of the inventory of taxable property or the terrier of the Norman conquest for each province that it mentioned, was modeled on a uniform plan. The name of the king was placed at the top, with the list of his lands and of his revenues in each province: then followed the names of the chiefs and of the smaller proprietors, in the order of their military rank and of their wealth in land. The Saxons, spared by special grace in the great spoliation, figured only in the lowest ranks; for the small number of this race who remained free and unburdened proprietors, or tenante-in-chief of the king, as the conquerors expressed themselves, were so only as regards inconsiderable domains. The other Anglo-Saxon names scattered here and there through the list, belonged to farmers of certain fractions, more or less great, of the domain of Norman counts, barons, knights, sergeants-at-arms or cross-bowmen.
—This valuable book, in which the entire conquest was registered, so that the memory of it could not be effaced, was called by the Normans the grande rôle, the rôle royale or the rôle de Winchester, because it was preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Winchester. The Saxons called it by a more solemn name, the book of judgment-day, Domesday Book, because it contained their sentence of irrevocable expropriation." (Augustin Thierry, Histoire de la conquite d'Angleterre par les Normands, book ii., pp. 237-244.)
This natural and general nobility of all the conquerors, says M. Augustin Thierry, increased in proportion to the authority or personal importance of each of them. After the nobility of the king, came that of the governor of the province, who took the title of count; after the nobility of the count, came that of his lieutenant, called vice-count or viscount; and then that of the warriors, according to their rank, barons, knights, esquires or sergeants, nobles in an unequal degree, but all nobles by right of their common victory and of their foreign birth. (Histoire de la conquéte d'Angleterre par les Normands, book ii., p. 84.)
Montesquieu has given with much clearness the nature of this transformation of the feudal system, as well as the causes which determined it. "The manner of changing a freehold into a fief," he says, "is found in a formula of Marculfe. A man gave his land to the king; and the king gave it back to the donor as a usufruct or benence, and the latter designated his heirs to the king. Those who held flefs had very great advantages. The indemnity for injuries done them was much greater than that of free men. It appears, from the formulas of Marculfe, that it was a privilege of the vassal of the king that whoever killen him should pay 600 sons of indemnity. This privilege was established by the salic law and by the Ripuarian law, and while these two laws imposed a penalty of 600 sons for the death of a vassal of the king, they imposed only 200 for the death of a free man, Frank, barbarian, or a man living under the salic law, and only 100 for that of a Roman. After having enumerated various other privileges which the vassals of the king enjoyed, the author of the Espril des lois adds: "It is easy, therefore, to think that the Franks who were not vassals of the king, and still more the Romans, endeavored to become so; and that in order that they should not be deprived of the domains, the custom was devised of giving one's freehold to the king, and of receiving it from him as a flef, and of designating to him who should inherit it. This custom continued always, and was practiced especially in the disturbances of the second race, when every one needed a protector." (De l'esprit des lois, book xxxi., chap. 8.)
Nobility prejudice interdicted to poor nobles the employments of industry and commerce, formerly degraded by slavery. It was not till the eighteenth century that there commenced to be a reaction against this prejudice. A writer, who then enjoyed some notoriety, the abbé Coyer, wrote a work entitled the Noblesse commerçante, in which he urged the nobles to have recourse to the useful and remunerative occupations of industry and commerce to restore their patrimonies, which the abuse of luxury had considerably reduced. The work of the abbé Coyer was well received by the young nobility, who were commencing to be impregnated with philosophic ideas; but it excited in the highest degree the indignation of the partisans of the old ideas. An aristocratic writer, the chevalier d'Areq, undertook to refute the unseemly and incongruous propositions which were advanced therein. The arguments of this defender of nobility prejudice were not lacking in a certain originality. The chevalier d'Areq stated, in the first place, with a sorrowful horror, that the nobility was only too disposed to follow the degrading counsels of the abbé Coyer, and he conjured them, in the name of their honor and of the safety of all, to pause on the brink of so fatal an abyss. "It would be necessary, on the contrary" he exclaimed with indignation, "to place new barriers between the nobility and the path it is proposed to open. Without such barriers, instead of seeing only one gentleman in a family follow this path, it is to be feared that all, or at least almost all, the members of the family will rush into it, and that we shall see a crowd of nobles upon our merchant vessels, with no other arms than the pen, instead of seeing them upon our war vessels, the sword in their hands to defend the timid trader. It is asked, what do you wish a gentleman to do, who only possesses ancient titles, one reason the more to make him blush for his misery? Is it in France that they dare to put this question" Is it in France that a gentleman remains idle upon his estate, while victory is waiting to crown the nobility on the battle-fields? Is it in France that a gentleman is advised to give himself over to baseness, to infamy, in fine, to dishonor the name of his ancestors, virtuous, without doubt, since they were judged worthy of nobility, with no other pretext than to save him from indigence, while there is a gracious monarch to serve, a country to defend, and arms always ready for whoever wishes to walk in the road of honor?" (La noblesse militaire opposée à la noblesse commerçante, ou le Patriote français, pp. 73, 87.) The chevaher d'Areq then reprimanded the nobility for its excessive luxury; he begged them to practice economy, and ended by putting this curious dilemma: "Commerce on a large scale, the only commerce which can be suitable for the nobility, if indeed commerce can be suitable for it, is not carried on without the funds necessary to purchase the first commodities, and without which, desire, zeal, activity and intelligence become useless instruments. Either the nobility, which it is wished to make commercial, possesses these funds, or it does not possess them. If it possesses them, it has no need of commerce; these funds should be sufficient for its subsistence, while awaiting the reward which its merit and its services should naturally procure for it. * * If the nobility has not the funds necessary for the purchase of the commodities, in what way can it take the first steps in commerce? A gentleman acknowledges no other masters but God, honor, his country and his king. Is it then to the service of a plebeian that it is wished to subject him under the title of an apprentice? Is it by laying aside the trappings of war to don the harness of servitude that it is pretended to lead him to fortune? What a resources' What shame! Is not indigence a thousand times preferable to him?" (La noblesse militaire, etc., p. 98.) The abbé Coyer retorted with two volumes, entitled, Développement et défense du système de la noblesse commerçante; and Grimm, giving an account of the quarrel in his correspondence (1757), wrote a plea in favor of the military nobility. The question remained undecided, and in our days there are still many nobles imbued with the prejudice which the abbé Coyer combated. Yet the most obstinate are willingly resigned to "derogate," by investing their funds in industry, provided that the investment is remunerative.
See, on the subject of this policy of monopoly and of war of the British aristocracy, the introduction to Cobden et la Ligue, ou l'Agitation anglaise pour la liberté du commerce, by Fred. Bastiat.
According to Bentham, no system of rewards is more costly than that which consists in according titles of nobility as a payment for services rendered the state. The following are the reasons given by the illustrious utilitarian philosopher for his opinion: "It is commonly said that rewards in honors cost the state nothing. This is an error; for not only do honors render services dearer, but moreover there are burdens which can not be estimated in money. All honor supposes some pre-eminence. Among individuals placed on a level of equality, some can not be favored by a degree of elevation, except by making others suffer by a relative abasement. This is true, above all, of permanent honors, of those which confer rank and privileges. There are two classes of persons at whose expense these honors are conferred: the class from which the new dignitary is taken, and the class into which he is introduced. The more, for example, the number of the nobles is increased, the more their importance is diminished and the more the value of their order is detracted from—Profusion of honors has the two-fold disadvantage of debasing them and of causing also pecuniary expenses. If a peerage is given, a pension must frequently be added to it. If only to maintain the dignity of it.
—It is thus that the hereditary nobility has raised the rate of all rewards. If a simple citizen has rendered brilliant services, it is necessary to begin by taking from the common class and raising him to the rank of nobility. But nobility without an independent settlement is only a burden. Therefore it is necessary to add to it gratuities and pensions. The reward becomes so great, so onerous, that it can not be paid all at once. It is necessary to make of it a burden, with which posterity is loaded. It is true that posterity must pay in part for the services, the fruits of which it shares; but if there were no noble by birth, personal nobility would be sufficient. Among the Greeks a pine branch or a handful of parsley, among the Romans a few laurel leaves, rewarded a hero.
—Fortunate Americans, fortunate for so many reasons, if, to have happiness, it is sufficient to possess all that constitutes happiness! This advantage is still yours. Respect the simplicity of your manners and customs; take care never to admit an hereditary nobility. The patrimony of merit would soon become that of birth. Give pensions, raise statutes, confer titles; but let these distinctions be personal. Preserve all the force, all the purity of honor; do not alienate that precious fund of the state in favor of a haughty class, which will not be slow in using it against you." (Théorie des récompenses et des peines, book ii., chap. 5.
Footnotes for NORWAY
End of Notes
Return to top