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Ecclesiastical benefactions by English barons have provided topics for a number of scholars, but the professional civil servants, proto-bureaucrats, who first appeared in the twelfth century, are another group whose gifts to the Church deserve more study. In England, such men appear as early as Henry I's time, but they become more numerous in the reign of his grandson, Henry II. At first, such royal servants were men of all work, doing whatever the king assigned to them at the curia regis, in the counties, and abroad. By the last years of Henry II and in the reigns of his sons, however, some specialization was taking place, and this becomes easier to see in Henry III's early years.
It is next to impossible to probe these royal administrators' minds. They left few letters, no personal recollections, and they earned only a few anecdotes—mainly hostile—in the chronicles. For a number of years, I have been studying a group of fifty-two of these men, whose careers span the last third of the twelfth and the first third of the thirteenth centuries, chosen first chiefly because of their connection with the work of royal justice. They form a representative sample, ranging in rank from the justiciar to knights of the counties, from archbishops to men in minor orders, including roughly equal numbers of clergy and laity. They range from close associates of the king to largely local officials (see Appendix I).
It is generally assumed that the earl of Salisbury's last years were a time of political decline, largely because of the failure of the Great Contract. “In 1610,” one historian has written recently, “Salisbury lost the confidence of both king and Parliament. The collapse of the Great Contract, in which so much of his credit was bound up, was a blow from which his prestige never recovered.” The outlines of the story are familiar. Salisbury, lord treasurer since 1608 and James's chief minister since the beginning of the reign, was securely established in the king's trust and affection at the beginning of 1610. His fall began with court opposition to the Great Contract, opposition which it has been suggested may have been the real cause of the contract's failure. According to Godfrey Goodman, a “great peer” on his deathbed advised the king
not to lose any part of his prerogative, especially the Court of Wards and other great royalties which his predecessors had, for if he should part with these he should hardly be able to govern; that the subject was more obedient and did observe the King more for these than for any laws or other respect whatsoever; that the subject was bound to relieve him and supply his occasions without any such contractings.
The dying peer blamed those who “did endeavour to engross and monopolise the King, and kept other able men out of his service.” From that point, according to Goodman, Salisbury, “who had been a great stirrer in that business, and was the man aimed at, began to decline.”
The National Council of Labour attempted to coordinate the policies and actions of the Trades Union Congress and Labour party. It had a checkered history and eventually failed. Its existence, however, demonstrated that the leadership of the Trades Union Congress and Labour party were grappling with questions which have constantly confronted modern British labor, especially the ever-present controversy over the TUC and party relationship, as well as whether a unified labor movement is possible or even desirable, or whether the TUC and labour party appropriately represent components within such a movement. If the last is true, do both institutions share fundamental concepts, and can they develop common tactics or approaches in furthering them? Are those “two wings” mutually dependent? Can the party aid the TUC in achieving its political goals? If the concerns of the TUC and party differ, can they or should they be reconciled? Should the TUC-party relationship remain the same whether the party is in government or in opposition?
The National Council of Labour consisted of representatives from the TUC's General Council, the Labour party's National Executive Committee (NEC), and the parliamentary Labour party's Executive Committee (PLP executive). Originally created in 1921 as the National Joint Council, it was reconstituted in 1930 and again in 1931-32, renamed the National Council of Labour in 1934, and began declining in 1940 to impotence by 1946. It was an extra-parliamentary, extra-party body designed to enhance cooperation and coherence within the labor movement.