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competence has denied the capacity of appreciating real combatants in the battle of life. The historical study of the peerage is, indeed, about the surest cure for tuft-hunting propensities with which we are acquainted. Its records are a most effective homily against family pride, and one continued exhortation to self-respect and self-reliance. The rapid transmutation of nobodies into somebodies, and the equally rapid displacement of these somebodies by other nobodies, are little calculated to inspire notions of separate caste, or to foster the insolence of aristocratic “ toadies." Such narrow and contemptible feelings are not the lessons which will be drawn from an acquaintance with the actual vicissitudes in the peerage; nor can any compilation be taken as a fair representative of the natural results of such a course of reading which disregards the fact, that a history of the nobility of England is a tribute of justice to the illustrious dead, and not a courtly compliment to the fashionable living-a necrology, and not an extended St. James's Chronicle. The host of modern “honour
. ables” (of whose growing number a recent pamphleteer reasonably complains) may still have their family trees and branches duly indicated, and their own proximity to higher grades of nobility marked with appropriate emphasis in the ordinary aristocratic guide-books, without covering and defacing with their insignificant names and addresses the memorials of those in whose actions the whole nation feels an hereditary interest. We would not deprive drawing-rooms and servants' halls of an innocent course of literature; we only claim something more and something different for our libraries and reading-rooms.
As a first step towards such a desirable result, the Historic Peerage of Mr. Courthope, based on the patient and honest labours of the late Sir Harris Nicolas, will be welcome to all historical students. Presenting in alphabetical order a complete outline of the changes in the peerage from the Norman Conquest to the present time, it affords a reliable backbone for the larger Story of the Peerage, the absence of which we have deplored. The compiler confines himself to ascertained facts, such as would be recognised in the Committees of Privilege of the House of Lords as evidence in any claim to a peerage. He therefore may be considered as falling short of, rather than exceeding, the legitimate admissions, according to the usual rules with which historians are satisfied in deciding on matters of fact. We are not aware, however, that we have lost much from the adoption of these stricter legal canons; while we have certainly gained much in the equalisation of family claims, and the consequent avoidance of even the suspicion of partiality on the part of the compiler. Besides the dates of accession
to the peerage, and notices of proofs of sitting in the House, Mr. Courthope has added one or two historical facts in connection with the names, which rest on the authority of recognised documents. He has also entirely re-written, with reference to the latest inquiries and decisions, the introductory chapters on “ dignities," which are the key to our whole system of peerage, and of which the dictionary of peers which follows forms at once the “exemplar and the proof.” In this introductory matter, as well as in the body of the work, Mr. Courthope seems to have fully entered into the spirit of his predecessor; and the words in which Sir Harris, in the preface to the first edition of his “Synopsis,” states his own claims to the confidence of the public, may be applied without hesitation to the present editor. “ To the merit of sedulous care, of rigid impartiality, and to having
the resolution of not stating a single word which he did not believe to be strictly true, with the view of flattering the pride or gratifying the ambition of others, he conscientiously feels that he is entitled: and many instances will be found where dignities which by every previous writer have been attributed to different noble families, are in these pages proved either to be now vested in other individuals, to have become extinct, or never to have been created to the ancestor of the present peer. He has felt that with respect to hereditary honours more than with any other worldly possession, Rien n'est beau que le vrai ; and that to attribute a dignity to an individual who has no legal right to it, is a species of falsehood, which, if not so injurious, is at least as morally culpable as any other deviation from truth. Hence he trusts that the public will possess at least one work in which no title is stated to be enjoyed by a peer which is not undoubtedly vested in him."
We cannot, however, expect that the average general reader will be much attracted by such a volume as Mr. Courthope’s. The introductory chapters, though really full of points of daily interest, necessarily wear somewhat too much of the legal character of the report from the Lords' Committee, to which they so frequently refer, to command a very large audience according to present literary tastes. They would scarcely be in much demand in circulating-libraries even of the higher order, such as have recently come into vogue. Mr. Mudie wonld be a venturous man if he headed the subscription-list with an order for five hundred copies of such a work; and the annual new editions of the ordinary peerage-books, with the latest information respecting births, marriages, and deaths, and the Christian names of all the aristocratic infants of the past year, would be dangerous rivals in country book-societies to Mr. Courthope's simple, not to say rude, outlines. The editor must be content, for the present at any rate, with a more limited popularity. Still, it would be a great mistake to suppose that nothing of romance attaches to his brief records. To any one who chooses to reflect as well as turn over the pages, there is scarcely a genealogical table contained in the volume which is not full of suggestive matter of deep and melancholy interest. The hand of public or private violence which decimated the baronage of England during its earlier stages, seems scarcely to have done its work more effectually than the quieter inroads of natural mortality in later years. The Shrewsbury peerage, which has descended with much more than usual regularity through so many generations from the time of its great founder, has at the present moment, in default of heirs collateral to any of the later generations, had to ascend for the ancestors of its claimants to questionable genealogies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Norfolk Howards are often spoken of as one of the great farnilies least likely to experience the fate of extinction through default of male heirs." Yet even with these, what a presage is conveyed by the following short table of the succession of the last ten dukes ! A.D. 1646 / HENRY FREDERICK HOWARD, EARL OF ARUNDEL, SURREY, AND to 16525 }
Hy. Granville, 14th
Duke of Norfolk. From this table we see that of these ten successive dukes five left no male issue, and that in the first four generations of the family there were no less than eight dukes. The male issue of the three eldest sons of the Earl of Arundel being exhausted in the fourth generation, the dignity had then to be continued in the descendant of the eighth son; and were this line by any casualties to share the fate of its predecessors, we should have to grope for an heir to our noblest peerage among the pedigrees of the reigns of Elizabeth or James.
The history of our peerage is indeed a tragedy of the old Elizabethan cast, in which the great effects of the play are produced at the expense of the lives of half the leading characters. From the Conquest to the present time, family after family rises into an ephemeral renown only to sink back into å still more complete obscurity and oblivion. Names which were the noblest in the times of the Plantagenets, are found low down in the dregs of the people in succeeding ages; and the serfs and menials of the Norman barons become the honoured patrons of the descendants of their former masters. The story of such transmutations is not one of light interest, and only requires a faithful and sympathising narrator to command a very general popularity for its recital.
We have already indicated our adoption of the usual great division of English history since the Conquest into the periods anterior and posterior to the accession of the House of Tudor. So far, at least as respects the comparative importance of the baronial element in the Constitution, this is a most significant demarcation. Whatever may have been the power and prosperity of particular nobles, the peers of England, as a body, never again took the same position in the history of their country. Throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods, they were little more than tame followers either of the king or the middle classes. They fought and suffered both for king and for people; but they had seldom much to do with the origin or decision of the struggle. Under the Revolution dynasties which succeeded, they emerged into political influence, not as a feudal or legislative body, but as centres of a great aristocracy, the ramifications of which spread through the whole of society, and which was strong because its chief power lay elsewhere than in the possession of a baronial dignity. The history of the peerage since the Revolution of 1689 is that of English society; its history before the Tudor era is that of the English State. This earlier period, however, subdivides itself into three distinct stages, each of which is the landmark of a corresponding stage of society. The division into baronies by tenure, by writ, and by patent, is much more than a mere chronological arrangement at the herald's office. It is a classification springing naturally out of the actual social progress of England, and can be explained only by a reference to this. Baronies by tenure are the immediate offspring of the Norman Conquest, and represent the state of things immediately consequent on that event. Whatever may have been the value of the rights of William derived from the alleged wish of Edward the Confessor, it is certain that he actually reigned by virtue of his own strong hand. In the words of an old English poem,
“Swa stalworth man he was of hand,
That wit his forse he wan the land." And the dignities which he conferred, as well as the penalties which he inflicted, had an immediate reference to the maintenance of himself and his followers on the conquered soil, against all, at home or from abroad, who came
“ Apon the Normanz for to fight,
That wan the land wituten right.” The feudal system was in England, in those days, no mere paper constitution, but an organisation which was daily called into action in every part, and on the successful working of which the ascendency of the Norman dynasty alone rested. The grant of lands on the condition of military service to the crown was in this state of things simply a means of securing a united action against a common foe. The larger the grants, the more important it became to secure the continuance of this combined action; and this was done by calling the greater feudal tenants of the crown into council, as well as into the field. Three times every year, besides special occasions, the king met his barons, wearing his crown, and virtually ascertaining from personal intercourse what support he could count upon for its continuance on his head. This summons to council, as well as to war, was placed in the light of privilege, although it may be doubted whether it was not in those early times a far greater benefit to the crown than to the barons summoned. It was a means of making tiem collectively responsible for ineasures to which individually they were often averse or indifferent. Those thus privileged were said to hold of the king in chief by“ grand serjeanty," while the rest of the tenants-in-chief held by simple“ knight-service,” and were not expected to attend the great councils. All alike were called barons; but those alone who held by grand serjeanty were barons in our modern sense of the term— were called the king's or greater barons—were said to hold their lands per buronium, and had a criminal as well as a civil jurisdiction each in his own “court-baron.” The tenants by knight-service, or lesser barons, were simply “lords of the manor,” and had only a civil jurisdiction. Both classes of barons were bound to attend the king in time of war, with a certain number of knights, according to the number of knights' fees which they held of the crown. Of the number of the tenants-in-chief we have no record till that contained in Domesday Book, twenty years later than the Conquest. After the first violent aggression, the dispossession of the Saxon proprietors must have been a very gradual process; and this celebrated survey of England was perhaps itself the first consolidation of Norman feudalism. The whole number of tenants