"Sappi ch'i'son Bertram dal Bornio, quelli Che diedi al re Giovanni i ma' comforti I' feci'l padre e'l figlio in se ribelli Achitofel non fe pir d'Absalone E di David co' malvagi pungelli Perch' i' parti cosi giunte persone Partito porto il mio cerebro, lasso Dal suo principio ch'e n questo troncone cosi s'osserva in me lo contrapasso."
Queen Eleanor's influence and Richard's own displeasure at the Duchess of Brittany so prevailed, that Arthur was not even named by the dying Coeur de Lion; but he directed his barons to swear fealty to his brother John, and the wish was universally complied with.
Philippe Auguste's voice was the only one uplifted in favor of Arthur, but it was merely as a means of obtaining a bribe, which John administered in the shape of the county of Evreux, as a marriage-portion for his niece, Blanche, the eldest daughter of Eleanor Plantagenet, Queen of Castile. John, though half-married to various ladies, had no recognized wife, and to give her to Louis, the eldest son of the King of France, would therefore, as John hoped, separate France from the interests of the Breton prince. He little thought what effect that claim would have on himself! Queen Eleanor, though in her seventieth year, travelled to Castile to fetch her granddaughter, a beautiful and noble lady, innocent of all the intrigues that hinged on her espousal, and in whom France received a blessing.
Philippe Auguste brought young Arthur to this betrothal, and caused him to swear fealty to his uncle for Brittany as a fief of Normandy. Arthur was now thirteen, and had newly received the order of knighthood, adopting as his device the lion, unicorn, and griffin, which tradition declared to have been borne by his namesake, and this homage must have been sorely against his will. He was betrothed to Marie, one of the French King's daughters, and continued to reside at his court, never venturing into the power of his uncle.
His mother, Constance, had taken advantage of this tranquillity to obtain a divorce from the hated Earl of Chester, and to give her hand to the Vicomte Guy de Thouars; but the Bretons appear to have disapproved of the step, as they never allowed him to bear the title of Duke. She survived her marriage little more than two years, in the course of which she gave birth to three daughters, Alix, Catherine, and Marguerite, and died in the end of 1201.
Arthur set off to take possession of his dukedom, and was soon delighted to hear of a fresh disturbance between his uncle and the King of France, hoping that he might thus come to his rights.
John had long ago fallen in love with Avice, granddaughter of Earl Robert of Gloucester, and had been espoused to her at his brother's coronation; but the Church had interposed, and refused to permit their union, as they were second cousins. He was now in the south of France, where he beheld the beautiful Isabelle, daughter of the Count of Angouleme, only waiting till her age was sufficient for her to fulfill the engagement made in her infancy, and become the wife of Hugh de Lusignan, called le brun, Count de la Marche, namely, the borders of English and French Poitou. Regardless of their former ties, John at once obtained the damsel from her faithless parents, and made her his queen; while her lover, who was ardently attached to her, called upon the King of France, as suzerain, to do him justice.
Philippe was glad to establish the supremacy of his court, and summoned John to appear. John promised compensation, and offered as a pledge two of his castles; then broke his word, and refused; whereupon Philippe took up arms, besieged the castles, and had just destroyed them both, when Arthur arrived, with all the Breton knights he could collect, and burning with the eagerness of his sixteen years.
At once Philippe offered to receive his homage for the county of Anjou, and to send him to conquer it with any knights who would volunteer to follow him. Hugh de Lusignan was the first to bring him fifteen, and other Poitevin barons joined him; but, in all, he could muster but one hundred knights and four or five hundred other troops, and the wiser heads advised him to wait for reinforcements from Brittany. The fiery young men, however, asked, "When was it our fashion to count our foes?" and their rashness prevailed. Arthur marched to besiege the town of Mirabeau, where there resided one whom he should never have attacked—his aged grandmother; but Constance had taught him no sentiment toward her but hatred, and with this ill-omened beginning to his chivalry he commenced his expedition.
The town was soon taken: but Eleanor's high spirit had not deserted her; she shut herself up in the castle, and contrived to send intelligence to her son. John was for once roused, and marched to Mirabeau with such speed, that Arthur soon found himself surrounded in his turn. The Queen was in the citadel, the prince in the town, besieging her, and himself besieged by the King on the outside; but the town wall was strong, and John could not easily injure his nephew, nor send succor to his mother.
He recollected a knight named Guillaume dos Roches, who had once been attached to Arthur's service, but was now in his camp; and sending for him, the wily King thus addressed him: "It is hard that persons who should be friendly kindred should so disturb each other for want of meeting and coming to an understanding. Here is Eleanor, my honored mother, discourteously shut up in a tower in danger of being broken down by engines of war, and sending forth nothing but cries and tears. Here is Arthur, my fair nephew, who some day will be an honor to chivalry, going straight forward, fancying nothing can hurt him, looking on battles as feasts and sports. And here am I, John, his lord and King, who could easily take from him at a blow all the rest of his life; I am waiting, and endeavoring to spare him, though his men-at-arms may come and catch me like a fox in the toils. Cannot you find some expedient? Can you remember no friend of my fair nephew who could help you to restore peace, and obtain a guerdon from me?"
"The only guerdon I desire," replied Des Roches, "is the honor of serving my lord; but one gift I entreat."
"I grant it, by the soul of my father," said John.
"To-morrow, then," said Des Roches, "the young Duke and all his young lords shall be at your disposal; but I claim the gift you granted me. It is, that none of the besieged shall be imprisoned or put to death, and that Duke Arthur be treated by you as your good and honorable nephew, and that you leave him such of his lands as rightfully pertain to him."
John promised, and even swore that, if he violated his word, he released his subjects from their oaths. Arthur's stepfather, Guy de Thouars, witnessed the agreement, and, thus satisfied, Des Roches introduced his troops into the town at midnight, and Arthur and his followers were seized in their sleep. But for John's promise, he regarded it no more than the wind; he sent twenty-two knights at once to Corfe Castle, chained two and two together in carts drawn by oxen, where all but Hugh de Lusignan were starved to death by his orders. He threw the rest into different prisons, and closely confined his nephew at Falaise. Des Roches remonstrated, upon which John attempted to arrest both him and De Thouars, but they escaped from his dominions; and Des Roches was so grieved at the fatal consequence of his treachery, that he became a hermit, and ended his life in penance.
The old Queen, whose disposition had softened with her years, charged John, on pain of her curses, not to hurt his nephew, and exerted herself to save the victims from barbarity. She prevailed so far as to obtain the life of Lusignan; but he was shut up at Bristol Castle, where John likewise imprisoned the elder sister of Arthur, Eleanor, a girl of eighteen, of such peerless beauty that she was called the Pearl of Brittany. John held a parley with his nephew at Falaise, when the following dialogue took place; [Footnote: These particulars are from old chronicles of slight authority.]
"Give up your false pretentions," said John, "to crowns you will never wear. Am I not your uncle? I will give you a share of my inheritance as your lord, and grant you my friendship."
"Better the hatred of the King of France!" exclaimed the high-spirited boy; "he has not broken his faith, and with a noble knight there is always a resource in generosity."
"Folly to trust him!" sneered John. "French kings are the born enemies of Plantagenets."
"Philippe has placed the crown on my brow—he was my godfather in chivalry—he has granted me his daughter," said Arthur.
"And you will never marry her, fair nephew! My towers are strong; none here resist my will."
The boy burst out proudly: "Neither towers nor swords shall make me cowardly enough to deny the right I hold from my father and from God. He was your elder brother, now before the Saviour of men. England, Touraine, Anjou, Guienne, are mine in his right, and Brittany through my mother. Never will I renounce them, but by death."
"So be it, fair nephew," were John's words, and with them he left his captive alone, to dwell on the horrors thus implied.
Soon after, John secretly sent a party of men into Arthur's dungeon, with orders to put out his eyes. The youth caught up a wooden bench, and defended himself with it, calling so loudly for help as to bring to the spot the excellent governor of the castle, Hubert de Burgh, who had been in ignorance of their horrible design. He sent away the assassins, and, as the only means of saving the poor prince, he caused the chapel bell to be tolled, and let it be supposed that he had perished under their hands. All the world believed it, and Brittany and Normandy began to rise, to call the murderer to account. Hubert thought he was doing a service in divulging the safety of the prisoner, but the effect was, that John transferred the poor boy to Rouen, and to the keeping of William Bruce.
He was an old man, and dreaded the iniquity that he saw would soon be practised; and, coming to the King, gave up his charge in these words: "I know not what Fate intends for your nephew, whom I have hitherto faithfully kept. I give him up to you, in full health, and sound in limb; but I will guard him no longer; I must return to my own affairs."
John's eyes flashed fury; but the baron retired to his own fiefs, which he put in a state of defence. A few days after, John and his wicked squire, Pierre de Maulac, left the court, giving notice that he was going to Cherbourg, and, after wandering for three days in the woods of Moulineau, came late at night in a little boat to the foot of the tower where Arthur was confined. Horses were ready there, and he sent Maulac to bring him his nephew.
"Fair nephew," said he, "come and see the day you have so long desired. I will make you free as air: you shall even have a kingdom to govern."
Arthur began to ask explanations, but John cut him short, telling him there would be time for questions and thanks; and Maulac helped him to his horse, for he was so much weakened by his imprisonment that he could hardly mount. They rode on, Arthur in front, till they came to a spot where the river flowed beneath a precipitous bank. It was John's chosen spot; and he spurred his horse against his nephew's, striking him down with his sword. The poor boy cried aloud for mercy, promising to yield all he required.
"All is mine henceforth," said John, "and here is the kingdom I promised you."
Then striking him again, by the help of Maulac he dragged him to the edge of the rock, and threw him headlong into the Seine, whose waters closed over the brave young Plantagenet, in his eighteenth year, ending all the hopes of the Bretons. The deed of darkness was guessed at, though it was long before its manner became known; and John himself marked out its consummation by causing himself to be publicly crowned over again, and by rewarding his partner in the crime with the hand of the heiress of Mulgrave. His mother, Queen Eleanor, is said to have died of grief at the horror he had perpetrated. She had retired, after the siege of Mirabeau, to the convent of Fontevraud, where she assumed the veil, and now shared the same fate as her husband, King Henry—like him, dying broken-hearted for the crimes of their son. She was buried beside him and her beloved Coeur de Lion.
The Bretons mourned and raged at the loss of their young duke. His sister Eleanor was wasting her youth and loveliness in a prison, which she only left, after her oppressor's death, to become a nun at Ambresbury; and they therefore proclaimed as their duchess her little half-sister, Alix de Thouars, who was, at four years old, presented to the States in her father's arms, and shortly after married to an efficient protector, Pierre de Dreux, called, from his quarrels with the clergy, Mauclerc.
Never had the enemy of the Plantagenets been so well served as by King John. Such was the indignation and grief of the whole French noblesse, that, when Pope Innocent III sent out a legate to mediate between the two kings, the barons bound themselves by a charter, "to second their lord, King Philippe, in his war against King John, notwithstanding the will of the Pope, exhorting him to contrive it without being dismayed by vain words, and agreeing to give him all assistance, and enter into no treaty with the Pope save with his consent."
Finding his nobles in this disposition, Philippe ventured on an unprecedented step, namely, that of summoning the King of England, as his vassal for Normandy and Anjou, to answer for the crime done on the person of his nephew, before his peers, namely, the other great crown vassals and barons holding fiefs directly from the King.
John did not deny the competence of the court of peers, and sent Hubert de Burgh, and Eustace, Bishop of Ely, to declare that he would willingly appear, provided a safe-conduct was sent to him. Philippe declared that he certainly might come in safety; but when they asked if he guaranteed his security, supposing he was condemned, he replied, "By all the saints of France, no! That must be decided by the peers." The bishop declared that a crowned head could not be tried for murder; the English barons would not permit it. "What is that to me?" said Philippe. "The Dukes of Normandy have certainly conquered England; but because a vassal augments his domain, is the suzerain to lose his rights?"
Two months were allowed for John's appearance in person; and on the appointed day the assembly was held in the Louvre: the nobles in ermine robes, and the heralds paraded the public places, calling on King John to appear and answer for his felony; then, as no reply was made, judgment was pronounced that his fiefs of Normandy, Anjou, and Poitou, were forfeited to the Crown, Guienne alone being excepted, as its heiress, his mother, was not at that time dead.
The execution followed upon the sentence: Philippe instantly marched into Normandy, and seized upon towns, his flatterers said, as if he caught them in a net. Chateau Gaillard, however, held out for more than a year, and Philippe was forced to blockade it. It had been fortified to perfection by Richard, who termed it his beautiful Castle on the Rock, and pertinaciously defended by Roger de Lacy. All the non-combatants were driven out; but the French would not allow them to pass through their lines, and they lived miserably among the rocks, trying to satisfy their hunger with the refuse of the camp. One wretched man was found gnawing a piece of the leg of a dog, and when some compassionate French tried to take it from him, he resisted, declaring he would not part with it till he was satisfied with bread. They fed him, but he could hardly masticate, though swallowing his food ravenously.
One tower was at last overthrown, and another was gained by a bold "varlet," named Bogis, who was lifted on the shoulders of his comrades, till he could climb in at an undefended window, where he drew up sixty more with ropes. They burnt down the doors, and entered the castle, where only one hundred and fifty knights remained alive. Keeping them at bay, Bogis lowered the drawbridge, and admitted the rest of the army; the remains of the garrison retreated into the keep, still resolved not to surrender, though battering-rams, catapults, and every engine of war was brought to bear on them. A huge piece of wall fell down, still there was no surrender; but with night, all resistance ceased, and the French, entering in the morning, found every one of the garrison lying dead in the dust and ruins, all their wounds in the face and breast—not one behind, "to the great honor and praise of chivalry," said their assailants, who rejoiced in their valor.
Only one feeble attempt had been made by John to succor these noble and constant men, though no further distant than Rouen, where he was feasting with his new queen. All his reply to messages of Philippe's advance was, "Let him alone; I will regain more in a day than he can take in a year."
Chinon was taken after a gallant defence, and in it Hubert de Burgh, for whom John seems to have had an unusual regard. For a moment it grieved him, and he awoke from his festivities to say to his queen:
"There, dame, do you hear what I have lost for your sake?"
"Sire," said Isabella, who had learnt by this time at how dear a price she had purchased her crown, "on my part, I lost the best knight in the world for your sake!"
"By the faith I owe you, in ten years' time we shall have no corner safe from the King of France and his power!"
"Certes! sir," she answered, "I believe you are very desirous of being a king checkmated in a corner."
She seems to have taken every occasion of showing her contempt for the mean-spirited wretch to whom she had given her hand: but at present her treatment only incited the King's ardor of affection: he formed more schemes of pleasure for her, and turned a deaf ear to all complaints from his deserted subjects, until Falaise had surrendered, Mont St. Michael was burnt, and Rouen itself was threatened. Then he took flight, and returned to England, where he made his Norman war a pretext for taxes; but when the Rouennais citizens, who still had a love for the line of Rollo, came to tell him that they must surrender in thirty days unless they were succored, he would not interrupt his game at chess to listen to them; and, when it was finished, only said, "Do as you can: I have no aid to give you."
They were therefore forced to surrender, Philippe swearing to respect their rights and liberties; and thus, after three hundred years, did the dukedom that first raised the Norman line to the rank of princes pass from the race of Rollo, disgracefully forfeited by a cowardly murder. The four little isles of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark, are the only remnant of the duchy won by the Northman. They still belong to the Queen, as Duchess of Normandy, are ruled by peculiar Norman laws, and bear on their coinage only the three lions, without the bearings of her other domains.
Anjou, Maine, and Touraine, were won by the French, without one blow struck in their defence by Ingelger's degenerate descendant, "whose sinful heart made feeble hand." The recovery of his continental dominions served as a pretext for a tax of every tenth shilling; but this being illegal, Geoffrey, the Archbishop of York, refused to consent to, and threatened excommunication to all in his diocese who should pay it. John vowed vengeance, and placed his life in such danger that he was forced to flee from the country, and his death abroad saved the King from the guilt of the murder of a brother.
With the money John had raised, he levied a force of Brabancons and free-companions, entered Anjou, burnt Angers, and besieged Nantes; but on hearing of Philippe's advance, retreated, and thus ended all hopes of his regaining his inheritance. The Norman barons, whose lands had passed to the French, told him that, if their bodies served him, their hearts would be with the French, and, for the most part, transferred their allegiance, and he remained with his disgrace. Thus was Arthur avenged.
THE INTERDICT. (1207-1214.)
King of England. 1199. John. King of Scotland 1163. William. King of France 1180. Philippe II. Emperors of Germany. 1208. Otho IV. 1209. Friedrich III. Pope. 1198. Innocent III.
The election of bishops still remained a subject of dispute in the Church, in spite of the settlement apparently effected in the time of Archbishop Anselm, when it was determined that, on the vacancy of a see, the King should send a Conge d'elire (permission to elect) to the chapter of the cathedral, generally accompanied with a recommendation, and that the prelate should receive investiture from the Crown of the temporalities of his see. However, in the case of archbishoprics, the matter was complicated by the right of the bishops to have a voice in the choice of their primate, and by the custom of the Pope's presenting him with a pall, which the grasping pontiffs of the thirteenth century would fain have converted into a power of rejection. At each election to Canterbury the debate broke out, enhanced by the jealousies between the secular clergy, who often formed the majority of the bishops, and who usually held with the sovereign, and the regular monks of St. Augustine, who were the canons of the cathedral, and looked to the Pope.
Richard, who succeeded Thomas a Becket, was a monastic priest, mild, and somewhat time-serving, conniving at irregularities, and never apparently provoked out of his meekness, except by the perpetual struggle for precedence with the see of York—and no wonder, when, at a synod at Westminster, Roger, Archbishop of York, fairly sat down in his lap on finding him occupying the seat of honor next to the legate. Upon this the Pope interfered, pronouncing the Archbishop of York, Primate of England, and him of Canterbury, Primate of all England; but the jealousy as to the right of having the cross carried before them in each other's provinces continued for centuries to a lamentable and shameful degree.
Baldwin, who succeeded him, seems to have been secular, but little is known of him. He, with the consent of Richard Coeur de Lion, laid the foundation of a convent at Lambeth, which he intended as a residence for the primate, in order to lessen the preponderance of the canons of St. Augustine; he then accompanied the King on the Crusade, and died of fever before the walls of Acre.
Walter Hubert, Bishop of Salisbury, was also a Crusader, and a great friend of Richard, who, from his imprisonment, wrote letters to point him out as archbishop—a favor which he returned by great exertions in raising the King's ransom. He was a completely worldly and secular priest, continually giving umbrage to his chapter, who used to complain of him to the Pope, and obtain censures, of which he took no heed. When Richard made him Grand Justiciary, they declared that it was contrary to all rule for him to be judge in causes of blood; whereupon the Pope ordered the King to remove him from the office, but without much effect. Sharing Richard's councils, he had the same dislike to Constance and her son, and willingly crowned John, making a dangerous and disloyal speech, in which he pronounced the kingdom elective, and to be conferred on the most worthy of the royal family. He accepted the chancellorship from John, and was so fond of boasting of its riches and dignities, that he drew on himself a rebuke from Hugh Bardolfe, one of the rude barons. "My Lord, with your leave, if you would consider the power and dignity of your spiritual calling, you would not undertake the yoke of lay servitude." But, unchecked by this rebuke, he gave offence to John by foolishly trying to vie with the King in the richness of the raiment given at Christmas to his retainers—an affront to John which a sumptuous feast at Easter could not efface.
The chief grievance to the Augustine chapter at Canterbury was the new foundation at Lambeth; they dreaded that Becket's relics might he translated thither, and they never ceased appealing to Pope Innocent III. till they had obtained an order for its demolition. This dispute made them more than ever bent on an archbishop of their own choice.
Hubert died at Canterbury, July 18th, 1205, and the younger monks were misled by party-spirit into the attempt to steal a march on the rest. They assembled on the night of his death, and elected their sub-prior Reginald, conducted him to the cathedral, placed him on the archiepiscopal throne, and hurried him off in secret to Rome, with strict injunctions not to divulge his election till he had obtained confirmation of it from the Pope.
Reginald was as imprudent as might have been expected from his acceptance of a dignity thus conferred; he had no sooner crossed the sea, than he began to boast of his rank as archbishop-elect. These tidings coming back to England, his own supporters were ashamed of him, and, willing to have their transaction forgotten, joined with their elders, the bishops, and the King, in appointing John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich, a man apparently of the same stamp as Hubert, as he was one of the Justiciaries, and little attentive to the affairs of his diocese. Twelve of the canons of St. Augustine were despatched to Rome to explain the affair to the Pope, offer him a present of 12,000 marks, and obtain the pall for Gray.
The Pope examined into the subject, and pronounced, of course, Reginald's election null, and Gray's also null, because made before the former claim had been disposed of. The twelve canons were therefore to make a fresh election, and as this had been foreseen before they left home, the King had bound them by oath to choose no one but Gray. Innocent might justifiably object to such a person, but his proceedings were in accordance with the violent and domineering spirit which actuated him. His nominee was an Englishman named Stephen Langton, a learned man, who had taught in the University of Paris, of which he was now chancellor; he had been recommended from thence to Innocent, who had given him high office at Rome, and made him a cardinal. His life was irreproachable, and he was deeply learned in the Scriptures, which it is said he was the first to divide into verses. To so distinguished and excellent a person Innocent hoped no objection could arise; and when the canons of St. Augustine demurred as to their oath, and the King and chapter's right, he silenced their scruples by threats of excommunication, and they all, excepting one named Elias de Braintefeld, concurred in appointing Langton and enthroning him, singing Te Deum while Elias stood at the door.
Innocent wrote to John two letters. The first was merely complimentary, and contained four rings, with explanations of their emblematic meaning. Their circular form signified eternity; their number, constancy; the emerald was for faith; the sapphire for hope; the red granite for charity; the topaz for good works. In his other letter, he recommended Langton to the King, dwelling on his many high qualities, on which John himself had previously complimented him.
A good archbishop was the last thing John desired, especially a man of high spirit and ability, who would act as a restraint on him, and he refused to receive the letters. The chapter of Canterbury, however, confirmed the election, and the Pope, after waiting in vain for an answer from the King, consecrated Stephen Langton at Viterbo, June 17th.
John certainly so far had the advantage that his opponents had placed themselves in the wrong, but as no one could outdo him in that respect, he instantly fell on the unfortunate monks of Canterbury, and declaring them guilty of high treason, sent two of his most lawless men-at-arms and their followers to drive them out of the country. At the same time he wrote to the Pope that he was astonished at his thus treating a country that contributed so largely to the papal revenues; that he was resolved to support Gray's election, and that he was determined that Langton should never set foot in England.
Innocent remonstrated in vain, declaring that this should never be made a precedent for interference with future appointments. John held out, and at length the Pope availed himself of the power ascribed to him, to force the King to compliance, by declaring his country under the ban of the Church.
It is said that, in the midst of the horrible confusion that followed the death of Charlemagne, the idea of such an expedient had first arisen. In the Synod of Limoges, the Abbot Odolric had proposed that, till the nobles should cease from their ravages, the churches should be stripped of their ornaments, the mass not be celebrated, no marriages take place, and the abstinence of Lent be observed. This universal mourning had brought the ferocious nobles to a sense of their guilt, and more peaceful times had succeeded, so that an interdict was considered as one of the mightiest weapons in the armory of the Church.
Only a few years before, Innocent had, by an interdict on the kingdom of France, forced Philippe Auguste to put away Agnes de Meranie, whom he had married in the lifetime of his lawful wife Ingeberge. Then (if ever) it was properly employed, to enforce morality; but it was a different thing to lay a whole nation under the ban of the Church merely for a dispute respecting an appointment.
Innocent sent orders to the bishops of London, Ely, and Worcester, to publish the interdict on the Monday of Passion week, 1208 (the second before Easter). They went to the King, and besought him to be reconciled with the Pope, and avert this dreadful edict. He grew pale with rage, foamed at the mouth, and threatened them furiously; swore at the clergy, drove them from his presence, and issued orders that his officers should seize, the property of every man who paid any attention to the interdict. "If you, or any of your body, dare to lay my states under interdict, I will send you to Rome, and seize your goods; and if I catch one Roman priest in my realms, I will cut off his nose and put out his eyes, that all may know he is a Roman!"
Nevertheless, on the appointed day it was pronounced by the three prelates, according to the appointed form.
At night the clergy assembled, each bearing a torch, and with one voice chanted the Miserere, and other penitential psalms and prayers, while the church-bells rang out the 'broken funeral-knell. Veils were hung over the crucifixes, the consecrated Wafer of the Host was consumed by fire, the relics and images of the saints were carried into the crypts, and then the bishops, in the violet robes of mourning used on Good Friday, announced to the frightened multitude, in the name of Heaven, that the domains of John, King of England, were laid under the ban of the Church until he should have rendered submission to the Holy See. Every torch was then at once extinguished, in token that the light of the Gospel was denied them!
Thenceforth every church was closed; no bell pealed forth, no mass was offered, no matins nor vespers were sung. Only the dying were permitted to communicate, but their corpses were laid in the ground with maimed rites; infants were baptized, but their mothers were churched only in the churchyard, where on Sunday a sermon was preached, and on Good Friday the cross was carried out and exposed for the veneration of the people.
The monasteries were allowed to carry on their services, on condition that they did so with closed doors, admitting no one from without; and the Cistercian order considered it as their privilege to be exempt, and to open their churches for worship as usual. Neither did the King's favorite, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, nor De Gray himself, choose to acknowledge the interdict, so that the services continued as usual in their sees, and in many single parishes. These were the only two bishops in England; for the three who proclaimed the interdict had at once to flee for their lives, and the others, few in number at present, soon followed them. De Gray being soon after sent as deputy to Ireland, Des Roches was the sole bishop left to all England.
The King made light of it; and when, in the chase, he killed an unusually fat buck, he said, laughing, "Here is a fellow who has prospered well enough without ever hearing matins or vespers." But he was much enraged; he imprisoned the relatives of the fugitive bishops, and announced himself ready to drive every priest who should obey the interdict out of the kingdom, to be maintained, as he said, by the Pope. The Archdeacon of Norwich experienced his cruelty for consulting with his brethren on enforcing it. The Angevin soldiers seized him, and soldered on his neck a cope of lead, so that he perished in prison under its weight, and from hunger.
Afterward, however, some terror seized on John, and he ordered his officers to allow the bishops enough to provide them two dishes of meat each day, while the secular clergy were to receive as much as should be adjudged needful for their support by four sworn men of their parish. Moreover, the man who, by word or deed, abused any of the clergy, should forthwith be hanged upon an oak!
The Pope followed up his interdict by excommunicating John, and absolving his subjects from their oaths of allegiance, but a strict watch was kept on the ports, and no one seems ever to have dared to lay the bull before the King. However, its existence was well known, and rendered John very uneasy. He wished to hear what his fate was to be, and his half-brother, William Longsword, brought him a hermit, named Peter of Wakefield, who told him he would wear his crown no longer than next Ascension Day. John flew into a rage, and called him idiot-knave; declared that, as idiot, he pardoned him, but, as knave, he imprisoned him in Corfe Castle, till he should see whether his tale came true.
The King, to preserve the obedience of the nobles, demanded their children to be kept as hostages. One of those to whom the order came was William de Braose, Lord of Bramber, in Sussex, and of a wide district in Ireland. Herds of the wild white cattle with red ears roamed about his estate, and his wife is said to have boasted that she could victual a besieged castle for a month with her cheeses, and yet have some to spare. When John's squire, Pierre de Maulac, the hated governor of Corfe, who was accused of having aided in the murder of Arthur, came to demand her children, the high-spirited lady answered that the King had not taken such care of his own nephew as to make her entrust her son to his keeping. Her husband was alarmed for the consequences of her bold speech, sent four hundred of the oxen as a present to the Queen, and fled with his wife to Ireland; but in his absence, two years after, John made a progress thither, seized upon her and her children, and sent them back to Corfe, where Maulac, by his orders, starved them all to death in the dungeons. The eldest son escaped, being with his father in France, where the unhappy Lord of Bramber died of grief on hearing of their horrible fate, the most barbarous action which has ever stained the pages of English history.
Innocent now put forth a bull addressed to the King of France, saying that the prelates of Canterbury, London, and Ely, having declared to him the cruel persecution of the English Church, he had, in presence of his cardinals, solemnly deposed King John; and in order that a greater and more noble prince might be summoned to the throne, he granted it to Philippe Auguste, assuring him that all his efforts to conquer it should be reckoned for the remission of his sins, and that he might transmit his conquests to his descendants. He wrote other letters, desiring the French nobles to second their King in their enterprise; and there were many English who, grieved by the censures of the Church, and suffering personal injuries from their tyrant, were ready to seek aid in a new dynasty. Walter Hubert's doctrine of the most worthy was an unfortunate one for such a king as John, and he began to reap the fruits of it when placed in comparison with Louis the Lion, whom, by the marriage with his niece, Blanche of Castille, he had placed next in succession to his own infant children.
Louis collected a fleet and army, and put forth a proclamation; while John forced money from his subjects, robbed the monasteries, and tortured the Jews. One of them, refusing to pay an exorbitant demand of 10,000 marks, was seized, and condemned daily to lose a tooth until he should consent. He held out seven days, and did not yield up the sum till he had lost all his double teeth. Scotland and Wales were also stirred up against him; and though he made a treaty with William the Lion, and defeated Llewellyn of Wales, his danger was pressing, and John de Gray, the chosen archbishop, is said to have done his best, to put the Pope in the right, by advising his master to seek the alliance of the Emir of Cordova, Mahomet of Nesser, one of the brave, generous, and learned Moors of Spain, who had it in his power seriously to damage France on the southern frontier, and thus make a diversion in his favor.
Two knights and a clerk, it is alleged, were sent on this mission, proposing to Mahomet to take John under his protection on receiving a tribute from him, and he even offered himself and De Gray to become Mahometans, so as to be rid of Pope and cardinals together.
The bearers of this base proposal were admitted to the palace. At the first door they found soldiers with drawn swords, in the second a band of nobles, in the third a species of couch guarded by ferocious-looking warriors, who opened their ranks and let them approach the Saracen prince. They explained their mission, and gave him the King's letters, which were translated by an interpreter, while they studied the grave and majestic but gentle expression of his countenance. After some minutes' reflection, he thus spoke: "A few moments ago I was reading a book by a Greek sage; who was a Christian, by name Paul, whose words and acts please me exceedingly. One thing alone in him displeases me, namely, that, born under the Jewish law, he forsook the faith of his fathers to adopt a new one. It is the same with your King of England, who, renouncing the religion to which he was born, is bent and moulded like wax. I know the Almighty is ignorant of nothing; and, had I been born with no religion, I might have chosen the Christian. But tell me, what is the King of England—what are the strength and riches of his realm?"
The clerk then spoke: "Our King is born of illustrious ancestors, his domains are rich in fertile pastures, forests, and mines; his people are mighty and handsome, possessed of sciences, and ruling over three tongues—Welsh, Latin, and French. The English understand all arts, especially mechanics and navigation, and they have gained the title of Island Kings."
"Ah, ha!" said the Moor, smiling; "but how can the prince of so fair a kingdom condescend, to offer to give up his freedom, pay tribute, and put himself under subjection? He must be sick. What is his age?"
"Between forty and fifty—strong and healthy."
"I see how it is! He is losing his youthful spirit!" Then, after a silence, "Your King is nothing; he is only a kinglet growing enfeebled and old. I care not for him; he is unworthy to be united to me. Away with you! Your master's infamy stinks in my nostrils!"
The envoys retired in confusion; but the Emir had been struck by the appearance of the clerk, a small, deformed man, with a dark, Jewish face, one arm longer than the other, misshapen fingers, wearing the tonsure and clerical habit; and thinking there must be superior intelligence to counterbalance so unprepossessing an aspect, he sent for him in private, and asked him on oath respecting the morals and character of his master. He was obliged to confess the whole truth; and Mahomet asked, in surprise, "How can the English allow this cowardly tyrant to misuse them? Are they effeminate and servile?"
"No, indeed," was the answer, "but they are very patient, until driven to extremity; then, like the wounded lion or elephant, they rise against their oppressor."
"I blame their weakness," said the Emir: "they should put an end to the wretch."
So, obtaining nothing for their master by his plan of apostasy, the envoys were dismissed, the clerk alone having received a present from the Saracen prince, who had been pleased with his ability. While buoyed up by these hopes, John had shown some spirit; he had fitted out a fleet, which suddenly crossed the Channel and burnt the French ships at Dieppe, and he was at the head of an army of 60,000 men in Kent. But he did not trust his own forces, and, on hearing there was no aid to be looked for from Spain, his courage failed, and he was ready, after all his threats, to make any concession.
Hubert, Abbot of Beaulieu, the monastery founded by John in expiation of Arthur's murder, was secretly sent with offers of submission, and two Knights of the Temple arrived at the camp with a message that Cardinal Pandulfo, the Pope's legate, would fain see the King in private. John consented, and Pandulfo, coming to him at Dover, terrified him dreadfully with the description of the French armament, and then skilfully talked of the Pope's clemency and forgiveness. This took the more effect that Ascension Day was approaching, and the prediction of Peter of Wakefield way preying on his mind.
On the 13th of May, John consented, in the presence of four of his nobles—the Earls of Salisbury, Boulogne, Warenne, and Ferrars—to a treaty such as had been previously offered to him, receiving Langton, recalling the exiled clergy, and making restitution for the injuries they had suffered. This deed was sealed by the King and the four earls, and it seemed as if all were arranged.
Next day, however, the legate was closeted with the King; and on the following, the eve of the Ascension, 1213, the English were amazed by the proceedings of the King.
He repaired to the church of the Temple early in the morning, and there an instrument was read aloud: "Ye know," it said, in the name of John to his subjects, "that we have deeply offended our Holy Mother the Church, and that it will be hard to draw on us the mercy of Heaven. Therefore we would humble ourselves, and without constraint, of our own free will, by the consent of our barons and high justiciaries, we give and confer on God, on the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, on our Mother the Church, and on Pope Innocent III. and his Catholic successors, the whole kingdom of England and of Ireland, with all their rights and dependencies, for the remission of our sins; henceforth we hold them as a fief, and in, token thereof we swear allegiance and pay homage in presence of Pandulfo, Legate of the Holy See."
John seems to have found no chancellor who would seal the charter of his shame, but to have had to set the great seal to it himself; thus giving to the Pope, "for the remission of his sins," the crown which the Saracen had disdained! The cardinal legate seated himself on the vacated throne, John knelt at his feet, laid down the crown, and spoke the words of allegiance as a vassal, offering money as the earnest of the tribute. Pandulfo indignantly trampled on the coin, in token that the Church scorned earthly riches; but earthly honors Rome did not scorn, and for five days the crown remained in the cardinal's keeping. So John was discrowned on Ascension Day, and Peter of Wakefield's prediction was verified; but it did not save the poor prophet. The vindictive wretch, who pretended to have yielded his throne for the pardon of his sins, caused him and his son to be drawn at the tails of horses, and hanged on gibbets.
The excommunication was removed, and the hateful John was declared a favored son of the Church, while Pandulfo went to put a stop to the French expedition. This was not quite so easy; Philippe Auguste had been at great expense, and he could not endure to let his enemy escape him; he was the Pope's friend only when it suited him, and he swore that, Pope or no Pope, he would invade England. Ferrand, Count of Flanders, remonstrated and Philippe drove him away in a fury, "By all the saints, France shall belong to Flanders, or Flanders to France!"
So he burst into Flanders, and besieged Ghent. Ferrand sent to John for aid, and the fleet under the command of the earls of Holland and Salisbury utterly destroyed the French fleet at Bruges, on which Philippe depended for provisions, so that he was forced to retreat to his own country. The following year, as he was still in opposition to the Pope, a league was formed for the invasion of France, between John, his nephew Otho, Emperor of Germany, and many other friends of Innocent, but it only resulted in a shameful defeat at Bouvines, where Philippe signalized his courage and generalship, and John and Otho fled in disgrace. In this battle the Bishop of Beauvais again fought, but thought to obviate the danger of being disavowed by his spiritual father by using no weapon save a club.
In the meantime, Stephen Langton arrived in England, took possession of his see, and at Winchester received a reluctant kiss from the King, who bitterly hated the cause of his shame. The Cardinal Archbishop publicly absolved the King, and relieved the country from the interdict under which it had groaned for five years.
It is a melancholy history of the encroachments of Rome, and of the atrocious wickedness of the English King; and perhaps the worst feature in the case was that his crimes went unreproved, and that it was only his resistance to the Pope that was punished. The love of temporal dominion was ruining the Church of Rome.
MAGNA CHARTA. (1214-1217.)
Kings of England. 1199. John. 1216. Henry III.
King of Scotland. 1214. Alexander II.
King of France. 1180. Philippe II.
Emperor of Germany. 1209. Friedrich II.
Popes. 1198. Innocent III. 1216. Honorius III.
The first table of English laws were those of Ina, King of Wessex. Alfred the Great published a fuller code, commencing with the Ten Commandments, as the foundation of all law. Ethelstane and St. Dunstan, in the name of Edgar the Peaceable, added many other enactments, by which the lives, liberties, and property of Englishmen were secured as soundly as the wisdom of the times could devise.
These were the laws of Alfred and Edward the Confessor, which William the Conqueror bound himself to observe at his coronation, but which he entirely set at nought, bringing in with him the feudal system, according to his own harsh interpretation. The Norman barons who owned estates in England found themselves more entirely subject to the King, who brought them in by right of conquest, than they had been by ancient custom to their duke in Normandy; and Saxons and Normans alike were new to the strict Forest Laws introduced by William.
Every king of doubtful right tried to win the favor of the Saxons, a sturdy and formidable race, though still in subjection, by engaging to give them the laws of their own dynasty. With this promise William Rufus was crowned, and likewise Henry I., who even distributed copies of the charter to be kept in the archives of all the chief abbeys, but afterward caused them, it seems, to be privately destroyed. Stephen made the same futile promise, failing perhaps, more from inability than from design; and after his death the nation was so glad of repose on any terms, that there were no special stipulations made on the accession of Henry II. He and his Grand Justiciary, Ranulf de Glanville, governed according to law, but it was partly the law of Normandy, partly of their own device; the Norman parlement of barons, and the Saxon Wittenagemot, were alike ignored. The King obtained sufficient supplies from his own immense estates, and from the fines which he had the power to demand at certain times as feudal superior, and did in fact obtain at will, and exact even for doing men justice in courts of law.
As long as there was an orderly sovereign, such as Henry II. the unlimited power of the Crown was tolerable; under a reckless, impetuous prince like Coeur de Lion, it was a grievance; and, in a tyrant such as John Lackland, it became past endurance. His fines were outrageous extortion, and here and there the entries in the accounts show the base, wanton bribery in his court. The Bishop of Winchester paid a tun of good wine for not reminding the King to give a girdle to the Countess of Albemarle; Robert de Vaux gave five of his best palfreys that the King might hold his tongue about Henry Pinel's wife; while a third paid four marks for permission to eat. Moreover, no man's family was safe, even of the highest rank: the death of the Lady of Bramber was fresh in the memory of all; and Matilda the Fair, the daughter of Robert Lord Fitzwalter, was seized, carried from her home, and, because she refused to listen to the suit of the tyrant, her father was banished, his castles destroyed, and the maiden, after enduring with constancy two years' imprisonment in a turret of the White Tower of London, was poisoned with an egg.
The person of whom John stood most in awe, was his Grand Justiciary, Geoffrey Fitzpiers, who, though of low birth, had married the Countess of Essex, and was highly respected for his character and situation.
One day the King, with his usual imprudence, pointed him out to the Provost of St. Omer. "Seest thou him yonder? Never did one man watch another as he watches me, lest I should get some of his goods; but as much pains as he takes to watch me, so much do I take to gain them."
Fitzpiers was not out of earshot, and his comment was, "Sir Provost, well did I hear what the King said to thee; and since he is so set on my wealth, he will surely get it; but thou knowest; and he knows, that I can raise such a storm as he will feel many a day after my death."
John's fears did not prevent him from imposing a fine of 12,000 marks on Geoffrey, which ended his patience. He entered into an understanding with the barons, who had just been summoned by John to attend him on his expedition against France. They joined him, but sailed no further than Jersey, where they declared that the forty days they were bound to serve by feudal tenure were passed; and all, turning back, met Archbishop Langton and the Grand Justiciary at St. Albans, where Fitzpiers commenced his retaliation, by proclaiming, in the King's name, the old Saxon charter of Alfred and Edward, renewed by Henry I., as well as the repeal of the Forest Laws.
Back came John in rage and fury, and let loose his free-companions on the estates of the confederates. At Northampton, Stephen Langton met him, and forbade his violence. "These measures are contrary to your oaths," he said. "Your vassals have a right to be judged only by their peers."
John reviled him. "Rule you the Church," he said; "leave me to govern the State."
Langton left him, but met him again at Nottingham, assuring him the barons would come to have their cause tried, and threatening excommunication to every one who should execute the King's barbarous orders. This brought John to terms, and all parties met in London, where the Archbishop had a previous conference with the barons, to which he brought a copy of the Charter, with great difficulty procured from one of the monasteries. He read it to them, commented on its provisions, and they ended by mutually engaging to conquer, or die in defence of their rights as Englishmen. The Norman barons were glad enough so to term themselves, and to take shelter under English laws.
But it was the Pope's kingdom now, not that of craven John; and Innocent sent a legate, Nicholas, Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum, to settle the affair. John debased himself by repeating the homage and oath of fealty, and by giving a fresh charter of submission, sealed not with wax, but with gold, as if to make it more binding.
The injuries done to the barons by the free-companions were beyond the King's power of restitution, but the Pope adjudged him to pay 15,000 marks for the present, after which John set off on his disastrous journey to Bouvines. In his absence, Fitzpiers died, and this quite consoled him for his defeat. "It's well," he cried; "he is gone to shake hands in hell with our primate Hubert! Now am I first truly a King!"
But Geoffrey's storm was near its bursting, precipitated perhaps by the loss of this last curb on the lawless King. Langton was seriously displeased with the legate, who had taken all the Church patronage into his hands, and was giving it away to Italians, foreigners, children—nay, even promising it for the unborn. The Archbishop sent his brother Simon to appeal to the Pope, but could get no redress. Innocent was displeased with him for opposing the protege of the papal see; and certainly he had no right to complain of the Roman patronage while he held the see of Canterbury.
However, he was too much of an Englishman to see his Church or his country trampled down; and at Christmas, 1214, there was another assembly of the barons at Bury St. Edmund's. The plans were arranged, and an oath taken by each singly, kneeling before the high altar in the church of the royal Saxon saint, that if the laws were rejected, they would withdraw their oaths of allegiance.
They set out for Worcester to present their charter to the King, but he got intelligence of their design, hastened to London, and put himself under the protection of the Knights of the Temple. They followed him, and on Twelfth Day laid the charter before him. He took a high tone, and only insisted on their declaring by hand and seal that they would never so act again; but finding this was not the way to treat such men, promised, on the security of the Archbishop, the Bishop of Ely, and Earl of Pembroke, to grant what they asked at Easter.
He used the space thus gained in taking the Cross, that he might enjoy the immunities of a Crusader, fortifying his castles, and sending for free-companions, while both parties wrote explanations to the Pope. John obtained encouragement, Langton was severely reprehended; Innocent declared all the confederacies of the barons null and void, and forbade them for the future, under pain of excommunication.
In Easter-week the barons met at Stamford, with 2,000 knights and their squires. Their charter was carried to the King at Oxford by the Archbishop and the Earls of Pembroke and Warenne. They were received with fury. "Why do not they ask my crown at once?" cried John. "Do they think I will grant them liberties that would make me a slave?"
Then, with more moderation, he proposed to appeal to the Pope, and to redress all grievances that had arisen in his own time or in that of his brothers; but they still adhered to their demands, and when Pandulfo called on the Primate to excommunicate the insurgent barons, Langton made answer that he was better instructed in the Pope's views, and unless the King dismissed his foreign soldiers, he should be obliged to excommunicate them.
John offered to refer the matter to nine umpires—namely, Innocent, four chosen by himself, and four by the barons; but this also was rejected: the barons would have no terms short of their Great Charter; and electing the most injured of all, Robert Fitzwalter, as their general, they marched against Northampton. It was garrisoned by the King's foreign mercenaries, who refused all attempts to corrupt them; and as the want of machines made it impossible to take it, the barons proceeded to Bedford after fifteen days, their spirits somewhat damped.
However, Bedford opened its gates, and tidings reached them that London was favorably disposed. They therefore proceeded thither, and arrived on the first Sunday in June, early in the morning, when the gates were opened, and the burghers all at mass in the churches. They entered in excellent order, took possession of the Tower, and thence sent forth proclamations, terming themselves the Army of God and of Holy Church, and calling on every one to join them, under pain of being used as traitors and rebels.
The whole country responded; scarcely a man, Saxon or Norman, who was not with them in spirit; and John, then at Odiham, in Hampshire, found himself deserted by all his knights save seven. He was at first in deadly terror; but soon rallying his spirits, he resolved to cajole the barons, pronounced that what his lieges had done was well done, and despatched the Earl of Pembroke to assure them of his readiness and satisfaction in granting their desires: all that was needed was a day and place for the meeting.
"The day, the 15th of June; the place, Runnymede," returned his loving subjects.
The broad, smooth, green meadow of Runnymede, on the bank of the Thames, spreading out fair and fertile beneath the heights of Windsor, became a watchword of English rights.
The stalwart barony of England, Norman in name and rank, but with Saxon blood infused in their veins, and strength consisting of stout Saxon yeomen and peasantry, there arrayed themselves, with Robert Fitzwalter for their spokesman and leader; and thither, on the other hand, came, from Windsor Castle, King John, accompanied by Cardinal Pandulfo, Amaury, Grand Master of the Temple, Langton, and seven other bishops, and Pembroke with twelve nobles, but scarcely one of these, except the two first, whose heart was not with the barons on the other side.
The charter was spread forth—the Great Charter, which, in the first place, asserted the liberty of the Church of England, and then of its people. It forbade the King to exact arbitrary sums from his subjects without the consent of a council of the great crown vassals; it required that no man should be made an officer of justice without knowledge of the law; and forced from the King the promise not to sell, refuse, or defer right or justice to any man; neither to seize the person or goods of any free man without the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. The same privileges were extended to the cities, but the serfs or villeins had no part in them; the nobility of England had not yet learnt to consider them worthy of regard. Much, however, was done by the recognition of the law, and Magna Charta has been the foundation of all subsequent legislation in England. A lesser charter was added on the oppressive Forest Laws, which it in some degree mitigated by lessening the number of royal forests, and appointing nobles in each county to keep in check the violence of the King's keepers.
The original Charter itself, creased with age and injured by fire, but with John's great seal still appended to it, remains extant in the British Museum, a copy beside it, bearing in beautiful old writing in Latin the clear, sharp, lawyer-like terms with which the barons, who, rough and turbulent as they were, must have had among them men of great legal ability, sought to bind their tyrant to respect their lives and lands.
Four-and-twenty of their number, and with them the Mayor of London, were appointed to enforce the observance of the Charter, which was sent out to the sheriffs in all the counties to be proclaimed by them with sounds of trumpet at the market-crosses and in the churches; while twelve men, learned in the law, were to be chosen to inquire into and re dress all grievances since the accession. Moreover, every Poitevin, Brabancon, and other free-companion in the King's service was to be immediately dismissed, and the barons were to hold the city of London, and Langton the Tower, for the next two months.
The Charter was thus sealed, June 15th, 1215; and John, as long as he was in the presence of the barons, put a restraint on himself, and acted as if it was granted, as it professed to be, of his own free will and pleasure, speaking courteously to all who approached, and treating the matter in hand with his usual gay levity, signing the Charter with so little heed to its contents that the wiser heads must have gathered that he had no intention of being bound by them. However, they had achieved a great victory, and, after parting with him, amused themselves by arranging for a tournament to be held at Stamford; while John, when within the walls of Windsor, gave vent to his rage, threw himself on the ground, rolled about gnawing sticks and straws, uttering maledictions upon the barons, and denouncing vengeance against the nation that had made him an underling to twenty-five kings.
On recovering, he ordered his horse, and secretly withdrew to the Isle of Wight, where he saw no one but the piratical fishermen of the place, whose manners he imitated, and even, it is said, joined in some of their lawless expeditions. At the same time he despatched letters to the Brabancons and Gascons, inviting them to the conquest of England, and promising them the castles and manors of his present subjects.
The barons gained some tidings of his proceedings, and were on their guard. Robert Fitzwalter wrote letters appointing the tournament to be held, not at Stamford, but on Hounslow Heath, summoning the knights to it with their arms and horses, and promising, as the prize of the tournay, a she-bear, which the young lady of a castle had sent them.
To what brave knight the she-bear was awarded, history says not; for in the midst came the tidings that the Pope had been greatly enraged, had annulled the Charter as prejudicial to the power of the Church, and had commanded the Archbishop of Canterbury to dissolve all leagues among the vassals under pain of excommunication. The barons, having the Archbishop on their side, thought little of the thunders of the Pope; but John was emboldened to come forth, offer a conference at Oxford, which he did not attend, and then go to Dover to receive the free-companions, who flocked from all quarters.
The barons sent Stephen Langton to Rome to plead their cause, and found themselves obliged to take up arms. William de Albini, one of the twenty-five sureties, was sent to possess himself of the Castle of Rochester; but before he could bring in sufficient stores, he was invested by John, with Savary de Mauleon, called the Bloody, and a band of free-companions, whose noms de guerre were equally truculent—namely, the Merciless, the Murderer, the Iron-hearted. One of the archers within the walls bent his bow at the King's breast, and said to the castellane, "Shall I deliver you from yonder mortal foe?" "No; hold thy hand," said Albini; "strike not the evil beast; shouldst thou fail, thy doom would be certain." "Then, betide what God will, I hold my hand!" said the archer.
For two months these brave men held out, but by St. Andrew's Day they had eaten all their horses, and the walls were battered down, so that Albini was forced to surrender. John was for hanging the whole garrison, but Mauleon said, "Sir, the war is not over; the chances are beyond reckoning. If we begin by hanging your barons, your barons may end by hanging us." So Albini and the nobles were spared, but the archers and men-at-arms were hung in halters to every tree in the forest.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop had failed at Rome, and partly by his own fault, for he had tried to make his brother Simon, a man generally detested, Archbishop of York, and thus had given Innocent good reason for again interfering. He was placed under sentence of suspension; the barons, beginning with Fitzwalter, were excommunicated as rebels against a Church vassal and Crusader, and termed as wicked as Saracens; and the city of London was laid under an interdict.
The Londoners boldly declared that the Pope had no power to meddle in their case, kept their churches open, and celebrated their Christmas as usual; but beyond their walls it was less easy to be secure.
John now had two great armies of foreigners, and had been joined by several of the barons' party; and he marched with one of them for the North, where young King Alexander of Scotland had laid siege to Norham, and had received the homage of the neighboring nobility.
As John advanced, the barons burnt their houses and corn before him, while he and his marauders ruined all they approached; he every morning, with his own hands, set fire to his night's lodgings, and in eight days five principal towns were consumed, and the course of his army was like the bed of a torrent.
Vowing he would unkennel the young fox, as he called Alexander, on account of his red hair, John sent his troops into Scotland, where they laid the whole country waste up to Edinburgh, and then, returning, reduced the castles and ravaged the lands of the barons in Yorkshire, and the same dreadful atrocities were perpetrated by his other army in the south of England, till the country people called the free-companions by no other name than Satan's Guards, and the Devil's Servants.
The barons had no stronghold left them but London, and saw their rank, their families, and estates, at the mercy of the remorseless tyrant and his savage banditti, backed by the support of their spiritual superiors. In this condition they deemed all ties between them and their sovereign dissolved, and, as their last resource, resolved to offer the crown to Louis, the son of Philippe Auguste, and the husband of Blanche of Castile, the marriage made to separate France from the cause of Arthur. It was a step which even their extremity could not justify, passing over, as it did, the rights of the captive Pearl of Brittany, of John's own innocent children, and of those of his eldest sister. But men have seldom been harder pressed than were these barons; and they were further tempted by the hope that all the mercenaries who were French subjects might be detached from the enemy by seeing their own prince's standard unfurled against him.
Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, and Robert Fitzwalter, were deputed to carry letters to Prince Louis, who was then at war with the Albigenses of Languedoc. The wary old King Philippe dissembled his joy at the promised triumph over the hated Plantagenet, and at first declared that he could not trust his son's person in England, unless twenty-four nobles were first given up to him as hostages; but he permitted Louis to send a favorable reply to England, and the barons were so delighted at its reception, accompanied by a few French volunteers, that they held another tournament in its honor, but this was closed by the death of Geoffrey Mandeville, who was accidentally killed by the lance of a Frenchman.
Innocent was much incensed at the enterprise of the French prince, forgetting that he had already shown him the way to England. He sent his legate, Gualo, with letters to forbid Philippe's interference with a fief of the Holy See, and these were laid before the court in full council. Philippe, who always tried to have the law apparently on his side, began by saying he was the devoted subject of the Pope, and it was by no counsel or advice of his that his son disobeyed the court of Rome; but as he declared that he had some rights to the English crown, it was fair to hear him.
A knight then arose, and declared that John had been attainted and condemned by Philippe's own court on account of Arthur's murder; that he had since given his crown away without the consent of his barons; and as no sovereign had any such right, the throne was vacant by his own act, and his barons had full power to elect, and Louis to accept.
The legate declared John to be a Crusader, and therefore under the Church's peace for four years. He was answered, that John had himself violated that peace; and then Louis, rising, and turning to his father, said, "Sir, if I am your liegeman for the lands you have given me here, you have no right to England, which is offered to me: you can decree nothing on that head. I appeal to the judgment of my peers, whether I ought to follow your commands or my rights. I beg you not to hinder my designs, for my cause is just, and I will fight to the death for my wife's inheritance." Then, red with anger, Louis the Lion left the assembly, while the legate asked the King for a safe-conduct to England; and Philippe replied, that on the French territory he was safe enough; but if, on the coast, he fell into the hands of King Louis's men, he could not be responsible for his safety.
Gualo, however, came safely to England, and joined John at Dover, where he promised him the succor of the Church; and Innocent, as an earnest, excommunicated Louis, and preached to his cardinals on Ezekiel xxi. 28: "The sword, the sword is drawn." But this was one of the last public acts of his life; he died at Perugia on the 8th of July, 1216, without having been able to send any support to his obedient vassal.
Meanwhile, Louis collected a great force, and embarked with it in 680 vessels, under the command of Eustace the Monk, a recreant who had become a pirate, and was reckoned the best mariner of his time. John fled from Dover, leaving it to the trusty and loyal Hubert de Burgh, while Louis disembarked at Sandwich, and was received by the barons, who were charmed with his chivalrous and affable demeanor. They conducted him to London, where, in St. Paul's, he received their homage, and made oath to govern them by good laws, after which he appointed Simon Langton his chancellor. Nearly the whole country gave in their adhesion, Alexander of Scotland paid him homage, the North rose in his favor, and the chief strongholds that remained to John were Windsor Castle; Corfe, where, under the care of his wicked follower, Pierre de Maulae, were his queen and little children; and Dover, gallantly defended by Hubert de Burgh.
Nearly four months were spent by Louis in a vain attempt to take this place; his supplies were cut off by the sailors of the Cinque Ports, who were in John's interest; and though Louis's father sent him a battering machine, called Malvoisine, or "Bad Neighbor," he could make no impression on the walls. Meantime, the estates of the barons were devastated by John and his free-companions; and if ever the French prince retook any of the castles, he retained them in his own hands, or gave them to his French followers, instead of restoring them to their owners. They began to suspect that they were in evil case, more especially when the Vicomte de Melun, being suddenly seized by a mortal sickness, sent for all the nobles then in London, and thus spoke: "I grieve for your fate. I, with the prince and fifteen others, have sworn an oath, that, when the realm is his, ye shall all be beggared, or exterminated as traitors whom he can never trust. Look to yourselves!"
Suspicion thus excited, William Longsword and several other barons returned to their allegiance, and forty more offered to do the same on the promise of pardon. Louis was forced to raise the siege of Dover, and John's prospects improved; he took Lincoln, and marched to Lynn, whence he wont to Wisbech, intending to proceed by the Wash from Cross-keys to Foss-dyke, across the sands—a safe passage at low water, but covered suddenly by the tide, which there forms a considerable eddy on meeting the current of the Welland.
His troops were nearly all on the other side, when the tide began to rush in. They gained the higher ground in safety; but the long train of wagons, carrying his crown, his treasure, his stores of provision, were suddenly engulfed, and the whole was lost. Some years since, one of the gold circlets worn over the helmet was found by a laborer in the sand, but, in ignorance of its value, he sold it to a Jew, and it has thus been lost to the antiquary.
King John went into one of his paroxysms of despair at the ruin he beheld, and, feverish with passion, arrived at the Cistercian convent of Swineshead, where he seems to have tried to forget his disaster in a carouse upon peaches and new ale, and in the morning found himself extremely ill; but fancying the monks had poisoned him, he insisted on being carried in a litter to Sleaford, whence the next day he proceeded to Newark, where it became evident that death was at hand. A confessor was sent for, and he bequeathed his kingdom to his son Henry. As far as it appears from the records of his deathbed, no compunction visited him; probably, he thought himself secure as a favored vassal of the Holy See. When asked where he would be buried, he replied that he committed himself to God and to the body of St. Wulstan (who had been canonized by Innocent III. in 1203). He dictated a letter to the new Pope, Honorius III., and died October 19, 1216, in the forty-ninth year of his age, the last and worst of the four rebellious sons of Henry II., all cut off in the prime of life.
His death made a great difference in the aspect of affairs. His innocent sons had forfeited no claim to the affection of the English, and their weakness was their most powerful claim.
The Earl of Pembroke at once marched to Corfe Castle, and brought the two boys, nine and seven years old, to Gloucester, where young Henry's melancholy coronation took place. In lieu of his father's lost and dishonored crown, a golden bracelet of his mother's was placed upon his head by the papal legate, instead of his own primate, and he bent his knee in homage to the see of Rome. The few vassals who attended him held their coronation banquet, and afterward bound a white fillet around their heads, in token of their vow of fidelity to their little, helpless king. Magna Charta was revised a few days after at Bristol; Henry was made to swear to agree to it, and the Earl of Pembroke appointed as his protector.
Meantime, Louis had received the news of his rival's death while again besieging Dover, the capture of which was most important to him, as securing his communications with his own country. He sent tidings of it to the garrison by two English barons, one of them Hubert's own brother, Thomas de Burgh. On their approach the sentinels sounded their horns, and, without opening the gates, the governor came to speak to them, with five archers, their crossbows bent. They told him of the King's decease, and reminded him of the oath Louis had made to hang him and all his garrison if the town were taken by assault instead of surrender. His brother said he was ruining himself and all his family, and the other knight offered him, in the prince's name, the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. But Hubert would hear no more. "Traitors that you are," he cried, "if King John is dead, he leaves children! Say no more; if you open your lips again, I will have you shot with a hundred arrows, not sparing even my brother."
Louis was obliged to draw off his forces, returned to London, and took Hertford; Robert Fitzwalter claimed the keeping of the castle as a family right, but Louis forgot the necessity of conciliating the barons, and replied that he could not trust a man who had betrayed his King. This, of course, led to further desertions on the part of the English, and the truce which prevailed through Lent added greater numbers to the young King's party than Blanche of Castile was able to collect in France for her lord.
After Easter the Earl of Pembroke besieged Mountsorrel, in Leicestershire. The Count de Perche came to its relief, and, after forcing him to retreat, attacked Lincoln Castle, which was bravely held by the late castellane's widow, Nicolette de Camville. She contrived to send the Earl tidings of her distress, and he set out from Newark with four hundred knights and their squires, two hundred and fifty crossbowmen and other infantry, all wearing white crosses sewn on their breasts, and sent forth by the legate as to a holy war. The crossbowmen, under one of John's free-companions, were a mile in advance, and entered the castle by a postern, while the French, taking the baggage for a second army, retreated into the town; but there the garrison made a sally, and a battle was fought in the streets, which ended in the total discomfiture of the French. The Count de Perche was offered his life, but swearing that he would yield to no English traitor, he was instantly slain, and the Fair of Lincoln, as it was called, completely broke the strength of Louis.
He wrote word to his wife and father of his perilous situation, shut up within the walls of London, and the whole country in possession of Henry, and entreated them to send him reinforcements. Fear of the Pope prevented Philippe from putting himself forward, but he connived at Blanche's exertions, and she succeeded in collecting three hundred knights, who were to embark in eighty large ships, under the command of Eustace the Monk.
Hubert de Burgh, landsman as he was, resolved to oppose them to the utmost, and with much difficulty collected a fleet of forty ships of all sizes. Several of the knights, believing his attempt hopeless, declared that they knew nothing of sea fights, and refused to share his peril; and he himself was so persuaded that he was sacrificing himself, that he received the last rites of the Church as a dying man, and left orders that, in case of his being made prisoner, Dover should on no account be surrendered, even as the price of his life.
Midway in the strait he met the French fleet; his archers showered their arrows and quarrels, and, being on the windward, threw clouds of quicklime, which blinded the eyes of the enemy; then, bearing down on them, grappled the ships with iron hooks, and boarded them so gallantly, that the French, little accustomed to this mode of warfare, soon gave over resistance: many of the ships were sunk, and the rest completely dispersed; the pirate monk Eustace was taken, and, being considered as a traitor and apostate, was put to death, and his head carried on a pole to Dover in triumph.
This defeat completely broke the hopes of Louis, and he sent to demand a safe-conduct for messengers to Henry, or rather to the Earl of Pembroke, offered to leave England, and concluded a peace, restoring the allegiance of the barons, and even engaging to give up Normandy and Anjou on his accession to the crown of France. He then returned to his own country, where his father received him affectionately, blaming him, however, for the want of skill and judgment with which he had conducted his affairs. His departure took place in the end of 1217, and thus closed the wars which established the Great Charter as the foundation of English law.
THE FIEF OF ROME. (1217-1254.)
King of England. 1216. Henry III.
Kings of Scotland. 1214. Alexander II. 1249. Alexander III. Kings of France. 1180. Philip III. 1223. Louis VIII. 1226. Louis IX.
Emperors of Germany. 1209. Friedrich II. 1250. Conrad IV.
Popes 1198. Innocent III. 1216. Honorius III. 1227. Gregory IX. 1241. Celestin. IV. 1242. Innocent IV.
The Fief of Rome! For many years of the reign of Henry III. England could hardly be regarded in any other light.
Henry's life was one long minority; the guardians of his childhood were replaced by the favorites of his manhood, and he had neither power nor will to defend his subjects from the bondage imposed on them by his father's homage to Innocent III.
The legates, Gualo and Pandulfo, undertook the protection of the desolate child, and nominated to the government the excellent William, Earl of Pembroke, Earl Marshal; but on his death, shortly after, the administration was divided between the justiciaries, Hubert de Burgh, and John's favorite, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The latter was a violent, ambitious, and intriguing prelate, and it was well for England and the King when he engaged in a Crusade, and left the field to the loyal Hubert.
Under the care of this good knight Henry grew up devoid of the vices of his father, with more of the Southern troubadour than of the Northern warrior in his composition, gentle in temper, devout of spirit, tender of heart, well-read in history and romance, skilled in music and poetry, and of exquisite taste in sculpture, painting, and architecture, Hubert must have watched his orphan charge with earnest hope and solicitude.
Gradually, however, there was a sense of disappointment; years went by, and Henry of Winchester was a full-grown man, tall and well proportioned, his only blemish a droop of the left eyelid; but no warlike, no royal spirit seemed to stir within him; he thought not of affairs; he left all in the hands of his justiciaries, and, so long as means were given him of indulging his love of splendor, he recked not of the extortions by which the Italian clergy ruined his country, and had no idea of taking on him the cares and duties of royalty.
His young Queen encouraged all his natural failings. She was one of the four daughters of Beranger, last Count of Provence, highly accomplished young heiresses. One of them already was wedded to Louis IX., the son of Louis the Lion, who, by the death of his father and grandfather, had been placed on the throne of France nearly at the same age and time as Henry in England. Marguerite, whose device, the daisy, Louis wore entwined with his own lily, was a meek, peaceful lady, submitting quietly to the dominion exercised over her by Queen Blanche, her mother-in-law. Eleanor, the next sister, was the beauty and genius of the family; she was called La Belle, and, at fourteen, composed a romance in rhyme on the adventures of one Blandin, Prince of Cornwall, which was presented to King Henry's brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, when, on returning from pilgrimage, he passed through Provence.
Richard was struck with her beauty, and spoke of it to his brother, who, against the wishes of De Burgh, offered her his hand. Richard soon after married Sancha, another of the sisters, and Beatrix, the fourth, was the wife of Charles, Count of Anjou, brother of Louis IX. The two queens seem to have been proud of their dignity, for they used to make their countess sisters sit on low stools, while they sat on high chairs. Sancha and Beatrix pined to see their husbands kings, and in time had their wish. Four uncles followed Queen Eleanor, young brothers of her mother, a princess of Savoy. They were gay and courtly youths, and the King instantly attached himself to them, and lavished gifts and honors upon them, among others, the palace in London still called the Savoy.
Another tribe of his own relations soon followed. His mother's first love, Hugh de Lusignan, Count de la Marche, had been released from durance at Corfe Castle in 1206, and had offered his aid to John, on condition of the infant Joan, the child of his faithless Isabelle, being at once betrothed to him and placed in his own hands. Lodging her in one of his castles in Poitou, he went on a crusade, and, on his return, found her but seven years old, but her mother a widow, beautiful as ever, and still attached to him. They were at once married, and Joan was sent home to England, where she became the wife of Alexander II. of Scotland, and his sister, the Princess Margaret, was at the same time wedded to Hubert de Burgh.
The Lusignans were an old family, who had given a King to Jerusalem and a dynasty to Cyprus; but they were a wild race, and a fairy legend accounted for their family character.
Raymond de Lusignan, a remote ancestor, met, while wandering in a forest, a maiden of more than mortal beauty, named Melusine, and, falling at once in love, obtained her hand, on condition that he should never ask to behold her on a Saturday. Their marriage was happy, excepting that all their children had some deformity; but at last, in a fit of curiosity, Raymond hid himself, in order to penetrate into his lady's secret, and, to his dismay, perceived that from the waist downward she was transformed into a blue-and-white serpent, an enchantment she underwent every Saturday. For years, however, he never divulged that he had seen her in this condition; but at length, when his eldest son, Geoffrey (who had a tusk like a wild boar), had murdered his brother, he forgot himself in a transport of grief, and called her an odious serpent, who had contaminated his race. Melusine fainted at the words, lamented bitterly, and vanished, never appearing again except as a phantom, which flits round the Castle of Lusignan whenever any of her descendants are about to die.
In this haunted castle the Queen contrived to gain a reputation for sorcery and poisoning, and the connection brought no good on her royal son, for she involved him in a war with France on behalf of her husband. He met with no success, and his French domains were at the mercy of Louis IX.; but that excellent prince would not pursue his advantage. "Our children are first cousins," he said; "we will leave no seeds of discord between them." He even took into consideration the justice of restoring Normandy and Anjou, but concluded that they had been justly forfeited by King John.
Four young Lusignans, or, as they were generally called, De Valence, were sent by Isabelle to seek their fortune at the court of their half-brother, who bestowed on them all the wealth and honors at his disposal; and gave much offence to the English, who beheld eight needy foreigners preying, as they said, upon the revenues.
Feasts and frolics, songs, dancing, and pageantry, were the order of the day; romances were dedicated to the King, histories of strange feats of chivalry recited, the curious old lays of Bretagne were translated and presented to him by the antiquarian dame, Marie. Italian, Provencal, Gascon, Latin, French, and English, were spoken at the court, which the English barons termed a Babel, and minstrels of all descriptions stood in high favor. There was Richard, the King's harper, who had forty shillings a year and a tun of wine; there was Henry of Avranches, the "archipoeta," who wrote a song on the rusticity of the Cornishmen, to which a valiant Cornishman, Michael Blampayne, replied in a Latin satire, politely describing the arch-poet as having "the legs of a sparrow, the mouth of a hare, the nose of a dog, the teeth of a mule, the brow of a calf, the head of a bull, the color of a Moor!" There was poor Ribault the troubadour, whose sudden madness had nearly been fatal to Henry. Imagining himself the rightful King, he rushed at midnight into a chamber he supposed to be the King's, and was tearing the bed to pieces with his sword, when Margaret Bisset, one of the Queen's ladies, who was sitting up reading a book of devotions, heard the noise; roused the guard, and he was secured. There, too, was the half-witted jester, who, we are sorry to say, was a chaplain, with whom the King and his brother Aymer were seen playing like boys, pelting each other with apples and sods of turf.
The King was fond of ornamenting his palaces with curious tapestry and jewelry, worthy of the wedding-gift his wife had received from her sister, Queen Marguerite, namely, a silver ewer for perfumes, in the shape of a peacock, the tail set with precious stones. He adorned the walls with paintings; there were Scripture subjects in his palace at Westminster; and at Winchester, his birthplace, were pictures of the Saxon kings, a map of the world, and King Arthur's round table, inscribed with the names of the knights, and Arthur's full-length figure in his own place. It has survived all changes; it was admired by a Spanish attendant at the marriage of Philip II. and Queen Mary; it was riddled by the balls of the Roundheads, and now, duly refreshed with paint, hangs in its old place, over the Judge's head in the County Hall.
To do Henry justice, he spent as freely on others as on himself; he clothed and fed destitute children; and when in his pride, at the goodly height of his five-year-old boy, he caused him and his little sisters to be weighed, the counterpoise was coined silver, which was scattered in largesse among his lieges.
Henry's special devotion was to a Saxon saint, the mild Confessor, to whom his own character had much likeness, and whose name he bestowed on his eldest child, while he presented a shrine of pure gold to contain his relics, and devoted L2,000 a year to complete the little West-Minster of St. Peter's, the foundation and last work of St. Edward. He rendered it a perfect specimen of that most elegant of all styles, the early-pointed, and fit indeed for the coronation church and burial-place of English kings.
There was soon an end of Henry's treasure, however; and no wonder, when, besides his own improvidence, the Pope was sucking out the revenues of the country. Talliages, of one tenth or one-twentieth of their property, were demanded of the clergy; the tax of a penny, usually called Peter-pence, was paid to him by every family on St. Peter's Day, and generally collected by the two orders of begging friars, who rode about on this errand in boots and spurs, and owning the rule of no one but the Pope, were great hindrances to the bishops and parish clergy. Still worse was the power the Pope assumed to himself of seizing on Church patronage, and thrusting in Italian clergy, often children or incapable persons, and perfectly ignorant of the language. At one time 7,000 marks a year were in possession of these foreigners, one of whom held seven hundred places of preferment at once!
Innocent IV., who was chiefly guilty of these proceedings, was engaged in a long struggle with Frederick II. of Germany, respecting the kingdom of the two Sicilies, and the Guelf and Ghibelline struggle forever raging in Italy, and it was this apparently remote quarrel which was in reality the cause of the oppression and simony that so cruelly affected England.
The English bitterly hated the foreign clergy, and quarrels were forever breaking out. When Otho, the legate, was passing through Oxford, and lodging at Osney Abbey, a terrible fray occurred. The students, a strange, wild set, came to pay him their respects; but his porter, being afraid of them, kept them out, and an Irish priest, pressing forward to beg for food, had some scalding water thrown in his face by the clerk of the kitchen, the brother of the legate, who, used to Italian treachery, entrusted to no one the care of his food. A fiery Welsh scholar shot the legate's brother dead with an arrow, and a great riot ensued. Otho locked, himself up in the church-tower till night, then fled, through floods of rain, hunted by the students, all yelling abuse, and getting before him to the fords, so that the poor man had to swim the river five times, and came half dead to the King at Abingdon. Next morning the scene was changed. Earl Warenne and his bowmen came down upon Oxford, forty of the rioters were carried off in carts like felons, interdicts and excommunications fell on the university, and only when doctors, scholars, and all came barefoot to ask the legate's pardon, was the anger of the Pope appeased.
Moreover, there was a widespread confederation among the gentry against these Italians, and rioters arose and plundered their barns, distributing the corn to the poor.
Walter do Cantilupe, the young Norman Bishop of Worcester, was thought to be among those in the secret, and the outrages grew more serious when an Italian canon of St. Paul's was seized and impressed by five men in masks. Des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester, who had returned home, and was very jealous of Hubert de Burgh, thought this a fit time for overthrowing him, and publicly accused him of being in the plot. A young knight, Sir Robert Twenge, came forward and confessed that he had been the leader of the rioters under the name of Will Wither, and that the good old justiciary had nothing to do with them. He was sent to do penance at Rome, and Hubert's enemies continued their machinations.
Henry and his Queen were tired of the sage counsels of the brave knight, and open to all Des Roches' insinuations, forgetting the wise though punning warning of the wonderful Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, who told Henry there was nothing so dangerous in a voyage as "les Pierres et les Roches." At Christmas, the Bishop invited them to Winchester, and there his sumptuous banquets and splendid amusements won the King's frivolous heart, and obtained his consent to dismiss Hubert from all his offices, even from the government of Dover, which he had saved. Soon after orders were sent forth for his arrest, that he might be tried for the disturbances against the Italians, and likewise for having seduced the King's affections by sorcery and witchcraft.