Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 15. The Constitutional History of England

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

II. Historians, Biographers and Political Orators

§ 15. The Constitutional History of England

In 1870, Stubbs first came before a wider public, and earned the gratitude of students of English constitutional history by arranging and editing Select Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History (to the reign of Edward I). The introductory notes to this volume, together with the opening sketch of the evolution on which the collection was intended to throw light, are models of succinct and luminous exposition. This book, which is not likely to fall out of use, was followed, in 1874–8, by The Constitutional History of England in its Origin and Development, which has long been regarded as the accepted guide to a study signally advanced by it. The subject of the work, the evolution of English institutions from Old English times to the beginning of the Tudor monarchy, where Hallam had begun his investigations, is treated after a full and comprehensive fashion, military history, and what may be called foreign politics, being excluded. Inevitably, conceptions of English constitutional history which still commended themselves to Stubbs have been changed or have vanished in the course of the period during which his work has, on the whole, held its ground; the mark theory, the stand-by of the older Germanistic school, has been so greatly modified as to have been, in a large measure, abandoned, and, according to its actual meaning, Magna Carta is no longer held by trained historians to secure the right of trial by jury to every Englishman. Many points and passages of English constitutional history, too, which have been cleared up by more recent enquiry—the whole relations of the forest to English life, and the true story of the rising of 1381—have recently been shown to have been insufficiently treated by Stubbs. But, just as Stubbs’s work is comprehensive in its range and purpose, rather than specially concerned with particular or novel points, so its value is dependent on the solidity and effectiveness with which the main historical position is worked out—the sober and moderate position that

  • the English constitution is the result of administrative conception in the age of the Normans of local self-government found in the age of the Saxons.
  • Thus, it is a work which admits of being improved without being discarded, and which it would be folly, because of its inevitable deficiencies, to cast aside as out of date.