[Dr. Stubbs' "Constitutional History," vol. iii., published since these pages were written, illustrates this period. - Ed].
[Authorities. - The "Wars of the English in Franee," and Blondel's work " De Reductione Normanniae," both published by the Master of the Rolls, give ample information on the military side of this period. Monstrelet remains our chief source of knowledge on the French side. The " Proces de Jeanne d'Arc" (published by the Societe de l'Histoire de France) is the only real authority for her history. For English affairs we are reduced to the meagre accounts of William of Worcester, of the Continuator of the Crow land Chronicle, and of Fabyan. Fabyan, a London alderman with a strong bias in favour of the House of Lancaster, is useful for London only. The Continuator is one of the best of his class, and though connected with the House of York, the date of his work, which appeared soon after Bosworth Field, makes him fairly impartial; but he is sketchy and deficient in actual facts. The more copious narrative of Polydore Vergil is far superior to these in literary ability, but of later date and strongly Lancastrian in tone. The Rolls of Parliament and Rymer's "Fcedera" are of high value. Among modern writers M. Michelet, in his "History of France" (vol. v.), has given a portrait of the Maid of Orleans at once exact and full of a tender poetry.
At the moment when death so suddenly stayed his course the greatness of Henry the Fifth had reached its highest point. He had won the Church by his orthodoxy, the nobles by his warlike prowess, the whole people by his revival of the glories of Créçy and Poitiers. In France his cool policy had transformed him from a foreign conqueror into a legal heir to the crown; his title of Regent and of successor to the throne rested on the formal recognition of the estates of the realm; and his progress to the very moment of his death promised a speedy mastery of the whole country.
But the glory of Agincourt and the genius of Henry the Fifth hardly veiled at the close of his reign the weakness and humiliation of the Crown when the succession passed to his infant son. The long minority of Henry the Sixth, who was a boy of nine months old at his father's death, as well as the personal weakness which marked his after-rule, left the House of Lancaster at the mercy of the Parliament. But the Parliament was fast dying down into a mere representation of the baronage and the great landowners. The Commons indeed retained the right of granting and controlling subsidies, of joining in all statutory enactments, and of impeaching ministers. But the Lower House was ceasing to be a real representative of the "Commons "whose name it bore. The borough franchise was suffering from the general tendency to restriction and privilege which in the bulk of towns was soon to reduce it to a mere mockery. Up to this time all freemen settling in a borough and paying their dues to it became by the mere settlement its burgesses; but from the reign of Henry the Sixth this largeness of borough life was roughly curtailed. The trade companies which vindicated civic freedom from the tyranny of the older merchant gilds themselves tended to become a narrow and exclusive oligarchy.
Most of the boroughs had by this time acquired civic property, and it was with the aim of securing their own enjoyment of this against any share of it by "strangers" that the existing burgesses, for the most part, procured charters of incorporation from the Crown, which turned them into a close body, and excluded from their number all who were not burgesses by birth or who failed henceforth to purchase their right of entrance by a long apprenticeship. In addition to this narrowing of the burgess-body, the internal government of the boroughs had almost universally passed, since the failure of the Communal movement in the thirteenth century, from the free gathering of the citizens in borough-mote into the hands of Common Councils, either self-elected or elected by the wealthier burgesses; and it was to these councils, or to a yet more restricted number of " select men " belonging to them, that clauses in the new charters generally confined the right of choosing their representatives in Parliament. It was with this restriction that the long process of degradation began which ended in reducing the representation of our boroughs to a mere mockery. Great nobles, neighbouring landowners, the Crown itself seized on the boroughs as their prey, and dictated the choice of their representatives.
Corruption did whatever force failed to do; and from the Wars of the Roses to the days of Pitt the voice of the people had to be looked for, not in the members for the towns, but in the knights of the counties. The restriction of the county franchise on the other hand was the direct work of the Parliament itself. Economic changes were fast widening the franchise in the counties. The number of freeholders increased with the subdivision of estates and the social changes which we have already examined, while the increase of independence was marked by the "riots and divisions between the gentlemen and other people," which the statesmen of the day attributed to the excessive number of the voters. In many counties the power of the great lords undoubtedly enabled them to control elections through the number of their retainers. In Cade's revolt the Kentishmen complained that " the people of the shire are not allowed to have their free elections in the choosing of knights for the shire, but letters have been sent from divers estates to the great nobles of the county, the which enforceth their tenants and other people by force to choose other persons than the common will is. "It was primarily to check this abuse that a statute of the reign of Henry the Sixth restricted in 1430 the right of voting in shires to freeholders holding land worth forty shillings (a sum equal in our money to at least twenty pounds) a year, and representing a far higher proportional income at the present time.