184 BATTLE OF HASTINGS.
the battle of Hastings to the time of the signing of the Great Charter at Runnymede. That last is the true epoch of English nationality; it is the epoch when Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon ceased to keep aloof from each other—the one in haughty scorn, the other in sullen abhorrence; and when all the free men of the land, whether barons, knights, yeomen, or burghers, combined to lay the foundations of English freedom.
Our Norman barons were the chiefs of that primary constitutional movement; those "iron barons," whom Chatham has so nobly eulogized. This alone should make England remember her obligations to the Norman Conquest, which planted far and wide, as a dominant class in her land, a martial nobility of the bravest and most energetic race that ever existed.
It may sound paradoxical, but it is in reality no exaggeration to say, with Guizot,* that England's liberties are owing to her having been conquered by the Normans. It is true that the Saxon institutions were the primitive cradle of English liberty, but by their own intrinsic force they could never have founded the enduring free English Constitution. It was the Conquest that infused into them a new virtue, and the political liberties of England arose from the situation in which the Anglo-Saxon and the Anglo-Norman populations and laws found themselves placed relatively to each other in this island. The state of England under her last Anglo-Saxon kings closely resembled the state of France under the last Carlovingian and the first Capetian princes. The crown was feeble, the great nobles were strong and turbulent; and although there was more national unity in Saxon England than in France—although the English local free institutions had more reality and energy than was the case with any thing analogous to them on the Continent in the eleventh century, still the probability is that the Saxon system of polity, if left to itself, would have fallen into utter confusion, out of which would have arisen, first, an aristocratic hierarchy, like that which arose in France; next, an absolute monarchy; and, finally, a series of anarchical revolutions, such as we now behold around, but not among us.†
The latest conquerors of this island were also the bravest and the best. I do not except even the Romans. And, in spite of
- "Essais sur l'Histoire de France," p. 27, et seq.
† See Guizot, ut supra.