[The second volume of Dr. Stubbs's "Constitutional History" which deals with this period was published after this History was written and the list of authorities prepared. - Ed].
The conquest of Wales marked the adoption of a new attitude and policy on the part of the crown. From the earliest moment of his reign Edward the First definitely abandoned all dreams of recovering the foreign dominions which his grandfather had lost. He concentrated himself on the consolidation and good government of England itself. We can only fairly judge his annexation of Wales, or his attempt to annex Scotland, if we regard them as parts of the same scheme of national administration to which we owe his final establishment of our judicature, our legislation, our Parliament. The King's English policy, like his English name, was the sign of a new epoch. The long period of national formation had come practically to an end. With the reign of Edward begins modern England, the constitutional England in which we live. It is not that any chasm separates our history before it from our history after it, as the chasm of the Revolution divides the history of France, for we have traced the rudiments of our constitution to the first moment of the English settlement in Britain. But it is with these as with our language. The tongue of aelfred is the very tongue we speak, but in spite of its identity with modern English it has to be learned like the tongue of a stranger.
[Authorities. - The short treatise on the Constitution of Parliament called "Modus tenendi Parliamenta" may be taken as a fair account of its actual state and powers in the fourteenth century. It has been reprinted by Dr. Stubbs, in the invaluable collection of Documents which serves as the base of the present section. Sir Francis Palgrave has illustrated the remedial side of our parliamentary institutions with much vigour and picturesqueness in his "History of the English Commonwealth," but his conclusions are often hasty and prejudiced. On all constitutional points from the reign of Edward the First we can now rely on the judgment and research of Mr. Hallam (" Middle Ages ")].
On the other hand, the English of Chaucer is almost as intelligible as our own. In the first the historian and philologer can study the origin and developement of our national speech, in the last a school-boy can enjoy the story of Troilus and Cressida, or listen to the gay chat of the Canterbury Pilgrims. In precisely the same way a knowledge of our earliest laws is indispensable for the right understanding of later legislation, its origin and its developement, while the principles of our Parliamentary system must necessarily be studied in the Meetings of Wise Men before the Conquest or the Great Council of barons after it. But the Parliaments which Edward gathered at the close of his reign are not merely illustrative of the history of later Parliaments, they are absolutely identical with those which still sit at St. Stephen's; and a statute of Edward, if unrepealed, can be pleaded in our courts as formally as a statute of Victoria. In a word, the long struggle of the constitution for actual existence has come to an end.
The contests which follow are not contests which tell, like those which preceded them, on the actual fabric of our political institutions; they are simply stages in the rough discipline by which England has learned, and is still learning, how best to use and how wisely to develope the latent powers of its national life, how-to adjust the balance of its social and political forces, and to adapt its constitutional forms to the varying conditions of the time. From the reign of Edward, in fact, we are face to face with modern England. King, Lords, Commons, the Courts of Justice, the forms of public administration, our local divisions and provincial jurisdictions, the relations of Church and State, in great measure the framework of society itself, have all taken the shape which they still essentially retain.
Much of this great change is doubtless attributable to the general temper of the age, whose special task and object seemed to be that of reducing to distinct form the great principles which had sprung into a new and vigorous life during the century that preceded it. As the opening of the thirteenth century had been an age of founders, creators, discoverers, so its close was an age of lawyers; the most illustrious men of the time were no longer such as Bacon, or Earl Simon, or Francis of Assisi, but men such as St. Lewis of France or Alfonso the Wise, organizers, administrators, framers of laws and institutions. It was to this class that Edward himself belonged. He had little of creative genius or political originality in his character, but he possessed in a high degree the faculty of organization, and his passionate love of law broke out even in the legal chicanery to which he sometimes stooped. In the judicial reforms to which so much of his attention was directed, he showed himself, if not an "English Justinian," at any rate a clear-sighted man of business, developing, reforming, bringing into a lasting shape the institutions of his predecessors.
One of his first cares was to complete the judicial reforms begun by Henry II. The most important court of civil jurisdiction, the Sheriff's or County Court, remained unchanged, both in the extent of its jurisdiction, and the character of the Sheriff as a royal officer. But the superior courts into which the King's Court had since the Great Charter divided itself, those of the King's Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas, now received a distinct staff of judges for each court. Of far greater importance than this change, which was in effect but the completion of a process of severance that had long been going on, was the establishment of an equitable jurisdiction side by side with that of the common law. In his reform of 1178 Henry the Second had broken up the older King's Court, which had till then served as the final Court of Appeal, by the severance of the purely legal judges who had been gradually added to it from the general body of his councillors. The judges thus severed from the Council retained the name and the ordinary' jurisdiction of "the King's Court," while all cases in which they failed to do justice were reserved for the special cognizance of the royal Council itself. To this final jurisdiction of the King in Council Edward gave a wide developement.