Hubert placed his wealth in the care of the Templars, and took sanctuary in the church of Merton, in Surrey; but the Mayor of London was ordered to dislodge him, and the whole rabble of the city were setting forth, when the Archbishop and Earl of Chester represented the scandal to the King, and obtained letters of protection for him until the time for his trial, January, 1233. Trusting to these letters, he set out to visit his wife at Bury, but at Brentwood was waylaid by a set of ruffians called the Black Band, and sent by the Bishop of Winchester. He retreated into the church, but they dragged him from the very steps of the altar, and called a blacksmith to chain his feet together.
"No, indeed," said the brave peasant, "never will I forge fetters for the deliverer of my country."
However, he was led into London with his feet chained under his horse. There the Bishop of London, threatening excommunication for the sacrilege, forced his enemies to return him to Brentwood church, which, however, they closely blockaded till hunger forced him to deliver himself up to them.
He bought his life by giving up his treasures, and was imprisoned at Devizes. Shortly this castle was given to Des Roches; and De Burgh, who knew by experience how the change of castellane often brought death to the captive, sought to escape. He gained over two of his guards, who carried him to the parish church, for he was too heavily ironed to walk, and there laid him down before the altar. They could take him no further, and the warden of the castle cruelly beat him, and brought him back; but, as before, the Bishop maintained the privileges of the sanctuary, and forced the persecutors to restore him, and though he was again hemmed in there by the sheriff, before he was starved out a party of his friends came to his rescue, and he was carried off to the Welsh hills, there remaining till recalled by the influence of the Archbishop. He was restored to his honors, and though he once again had to suffer from Henry's fickleness and the rapacity of his court, his old age was peaceful and honored, as befitted his unsullied fame.
This Archbishop was Edmund Rich, who had been elected in 1232, after two short-lived primates had succeeded Langton. He was of a wealthy family at Abingdon, and had been brought up entirely by an excellent mother, his father having retired into a monastery. His whole childhood had been a preparation for holy orders, and when he went to study at Oxford, he led a life of the strictest self-denial, inflicting on himself all the rigorous discipline which he hoped would conduce to a saintly life. When he had become a teacher in his turn, such was his contempt for money, that, when his pupils paid him, he would sprinkle it with dust, and say, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," and would let it lie in the window, without heeding whether any was stolen. When, shortly after, made treasurer of Salisbury, he kept an empty dish by his side at meals, and put into it what he denied himself, sending it afterward by his almoner to the sick poor. He was a constant reader of the Scriptures day and night, always kissing the holy volume before commencing, and thus he derived the judgment and firmness which enabled him to battle with the evils of his day.
Gifts were especially held in scorn and contempt by him. He was wont to say, that between prendre and pendre there was but one letter's difference; and in a court so full of corrupt and grasping clergy, this gave him untold power.
Peter des Roches was the head of these, representing King John's former policy, and uniting himself with the young Gascon relations of the King, who were wont to say, "What are English laws to us?"
The family of Pembroke, Earls Marshal of England, were especially obnoxious to this party, as resolute supporters of Magna Charta, and of much power and influence. William, the eldest son of the late Protector, was married to Eleanor, the King's sister. He died early, and this party tried to deprive his brother Richard of his inheritance; then, when this did not succeed, Des Roches wrote letters in the King's name to some of the Norman-Irish nobles, offering them all his lands in that island, provided they would murder him, ratifying these promises with the great seal.
The assassins stirred up the Irish to attack Pembroke's castles, so as to bring him to Ireland; they then pretended to join with him in putting down the rebellion, and, in the midst, waylaid him, and attacked him while riding with a few attendants. Some of these he ordered at once to convey his young brother to a place of safety, and gallantly defended himself, but his horse was killed, and he was stabbed in the back; his servants, returning, carried him home to his castle, but there the letter purporting to be from the King was shown him, and his grief was so great that he would not permit his wounds to be dressed, and died in a few hours.
Archbishop Edmund procured letters exposing this black treachery, and read them before the whole court. Henry and all present burst into tears, and the poor careless King confessed with bitter grief that he had often allowed Des Roches to attach his seal to letters without knowing their contents, and that this must have been one of them. Des Roches was dismissed, and sent to his own diocese, where he soon after died at his castle of Farnham. He was the founder of many convents, several in Palestine, and others in his own diocese, among which was Netley, or Letley (Laeto Loco), near Southampton, a beautiful specimen of the pointed style.
Edmund could not prevent the King from intruding on the see of Winchester the giddy young Aymar de Valence, already Bishop-designate of Durham. "If my brother is too young, I will hold the see myself," said the King.
Every attempt Edmund made to repress the grievous evils that prevailed was frustrated by the authority of Rome.
The imperial family of Hohenstaufen were held in the utmost hatred by the Popes; and Frederick II., being likewise King of Naples and Sicily, was an object of great dread and defiance. Fierce passions on either side were raging, and Innocent IV. regarded his spiritual powers rather as weapons to be used against his foe the Emperor, than as given him for the salvation of men's souls.
As a warrior, he needed money: it was raised by exactions on the clergy, going sometimes as far as demanding half their year's income; as head of a party, he needed rewards for his friends, and bestowed benefices without regard to the age, the character, or the fitness of the nominee; moreover, he trusted to the religious orders, especially those called Mendicant, for spreading his influence, and he did not dare to restrain or reform their disorders.
Archbishop Edmund, with his two friends, Robert Grosteste, Bishop of Lincoln, and Richard Wych, Chancellor of Canterbury, did their best. Robert's history is striking. He was a nameless peasant of Suffolk, of the meanest parentage, and only called Grosteste from the size of his head, needing plenty of stowage (says Fuller) for his store of brains. How he obtained education is not known, but he worked upward until he became a noted teacher at Oxford, and afterward at Paris, where he lectured on all the chief authors then known in Greek and Latin. He wrote two hundred books, many on sacred subjects, and several poems in Latin and French; for he was a great lover of minstrelsy, and his contemporary translator tells us that
"Next his chamber, besyde hys study Hys harper's chamber was thereby."
This poet and scholar was a most active, thorough-going, practical man, and, when chosen as Bishop of Lincoln, showed his gratitude for the benefits of his education by maintaining a number of poor students at the University. He set himself earnestly to reform abuses in his diocese, forcing the monasteries which held the tithes of parishes to provide properly for their spiritual care, and making a strict inquiry into the condition of the religious houses. They, however, appealed to Rome; and Innocent, who had at first sanctioned his proceedings, was afraid of losing their support, and ordered Grosteste to desist. The resolute Bishop set off to Rome, and laid the Pope's own letters before his face.
"Well," said Innocent, "be content; you have delivered your own soul. If I choose to show grace to these persons, what is that to you?"
Robert was anything but content, but he went home, and manfully struggled with the evils that were rife, sometimes prevailing, sometimes disappointed, always honest and steadfast. The more gentle Archbishop gave up the contest, worn out by the vain attempt to preserve purity and order between the fickle King, the oppressive Pope, the turbulent nobles, and the avaricious clergy. Orders to him, to Robert, and to the Bishop of Salisbury, to appoint no one to a benefice till three hundred Italians were provided for, seemed finally to overpower him; he, with Richard Wych, secretly left London, and arrived at Pontigny, where, three years after, he died, in 1142, and has been revered as a saint.
Canterbury remained vacant for several years, the revenues being absorbed by the King, and the refractory chapter tailing upon them to quarrel with Grosteste, and going so for as to excommunicate him; whereupon the sturdy Bishop trod the letter under foot, saying, "Such curses are the only prayers I ask of such as you."
After three years the King appointed to Canterbury the Queen's uncle, Boniface of Savoy, a man of no clerical habits; but the Queen wrote a persuasive letter, by which she obtained the consent of Innocent.
So many monstrous demands had been made by the Pope, that, in 1245, the nobles sent orders to the wardens of the seaports to seize every despatch coming from Rome, and they soon made prize of a great number of orders to intrude Italians into Church patronage. Martin, the legate, complained to the King, who ordered the letters to be produced, but the barons took the opportunity of laying before the King a statement of the grievances of the Church of England, 60,000 marks a year being in the hands of foreigners, while the whole of the royal revenue was but 20,000. Henry could only make helpless lamentations, and, under pretext of a tournament, the Barons met at Dunstable, and sent a knight to expostulate with the legate. This envoy threatened him, that if he remained three days longer in England, his life would not be safe—an intimation which drove him speedily from the country.
The barons, hearing that the Pope was holding a council at Lyons, sent deputies thither, with a letter drawn up by the Bishop of Lincoln, so powerfully enforced by William de Powerie, their spokesman, that the exposure of the enormities permitted in England called up a deep blush on the face of Innocent, and he allowed that he had been wrong in thrusting in these incompetent Italians. There was one good effected at this council, namely, the appointment of Richard Wych to the see of Chichester.
Richard was the son of a Worcestershire yeoman, and was early, with his elder brother, left an orphan. He was a studious, holy, clerkly boy, looked on as fit for the cloister: but when his brother came of age, it was found that the guardians had so wasted their goods, that their inheritance lay desolate. The brother was in despair, but young Richard comforted him, bade him trust in God, and himself laying aside the studies he delighted in, look up the spade and axe, and worked unceasingly till the affairs of the homestead were in a flourishing state. Then, when prosperity dawned on the elder brother, the younger obtained his wish, and went to study at Oxford, where he was so poor that he and two other scholars had but one gown between them, lived hard, and allowed themselves few pleasures; but this he was wont to call the happiest time in his life.
Afterward he went to Bologna, and, after seven years there, returned, and was made Chancellor, first of Oxford, and afterward of Canterbury. There was a most earnest attachment between him and St. Edmund, whom he followed into his exile. The Bishop whom the King had appointed to Chichester was examined by Grosteste, and found deficient in theology, and the chapter and Pope agreed in choosing Richard Wych, who was consecrated by Innocent himself. Henry, in displeasure, took all the temporalities of the see into his hands, and for a year Richard lived at the expense of a poor parish priest named Simon, whom he strove to requite by working in his garden, budding, grafting, and digging, as he had once done for his brother.
He went about his diocese visiting each parish, and doing his work like the early bishops of poorer days, and all the time making his suit to the King to do him justice; but whenever he went to Westminster, meeting only with jests and gibes from the courtiers.
The Pope was too busy to attend to him. That council at Lyons had ended in sentence of deposition upon Frederick, and the combat raged in Italy till his death, when Innocent, claiming Sicily as a fief of the Church, offered it, if he could get it, to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who had too much sense to accept such a crown.
It then was offered to Henry for his son Edmund, whom he arrayed in the robes of a Sicilian prince, and presented to the barons of England, asking for men and money to win the kingdom. Not a man of them, however, would march, or give a penny in aid of the cause, and therefore Innocent raised money from the Lombard merchants in the name of the King of England.
No wonder Henry could not pay. His own household had neither wages, clothes, nor food, except what they obtained by purveying—in their case only a license to rob, since no payment was ever given for the goods they carried off. His pages were gay banditti, and the merchants, farmers, and fishers fled as from an enemy when the court approached; yet, at each little transient gleam of prosperity, the King squandered all that came into his hands in feasting and splendor, then grasped at Church revenues, tormented the Jews, laid unjust fines on the Londoners, or took bribes for administering justice, and all that he did was imitated with exaggeration by his half-brothers, uncles, and favorites.
His chancellor, Mansel, held seven hundred benefices at once, and so corrupted the laws, that one of the judges pronounced the source poisoned from the fountain. Another chancellor was expelled from the court for refusing to set the great seal to a grant to one of the Queen's uncles of four-pence on every sack of wool, and at one time Eleanor herself actually had the keeping of the seal, and when the Londoners resisted one of her unjust demands, she summarily sent the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs to the Tower.
Isabel Warenne, the King's cousin, and widow of the Earl of Arundel, an excellent and charitable lady, still young, came to the King's court to seek justice respecting a wardship of which she had been deprived. She spoke boldly to Henry: "My Lord, why do you turn your face from justice? Nobody can obtain right. You are placed between God and us, but you govern neither yourself nor us. Are you not ashamed thus to trample on the Church, and disquiet your nobles?"
"What do you mean, lady?" said the King. "Have the great men of England chosen you for their advocate?"
"No, sir," said the spirited lady; "they have given me no such charter, though you have broken that which you and your father have granted and sworn to observe. Where are the liberties of England, so often granted? We appeal from you to the Judge in heaven!"
All Henry could say, was, "Did you not ask me a favor because you were my cousin?"
"You deny my right; I expect no favor," and, so saying, Isabel left him.
After two years, Richard of Chichester was permitted to assume the temporalities of his see, and most admirably he used them, doing every kindness to the poor in his diocese, and always maintaining the right, though more gently than his friend at Lincoln. Those were evil days, and men's sense of obedience and sense of right were often sorely divided. Richard died in the year 1253, after a short illness, in which he was attended by his friend Simon, leaving the memory of his peaceful, charitable life, much beloved in his diocese, and was shortly after canonized. "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," were among his last words.
The champion Robert Grosteste had one more battle to fight ere following his two saintly brethren.
He was wont always to compare each bull which he received with the Gospels and the canon law, and if he found anything in it that would not stand this test, he tore it in pieces. In 1254, one of these letters commanded him to institute to a benefice a nephew of the Pope, a mere child, besides containing what was called the clause "non obstante" (namely, in spite of), by which the Pope claimed, as having power to bind and loose, to set aside and dispense with existing statutes and oaths, at his pleasure.
Grosteste wrote an admirable letter in reply. He said most truly, "Once allowed, this clause would let in a flood of promise-breaking, bold injustice, wanton insult, deceit, and mutual distrust, to the defilement of true religion, shaking the very foundations of trust and security;" and he also declared that nothing could be more opposed to the precepts of our Lord and His apostles, than to destroy men's souls by depriving them of the benefits of the pastoral office by giving unfit persons the care of souls. He therefore absolutely refused to publish the bull, or to admit the young Italian to the benefice.
Innocent flew into a passion on reading the letter. "What meaneth this old dotard, surd and absurd, thus to control our actions? Did not our innate generosity restrain us, I would confound him, and make him a prodigy to all the world!"
One of the Spanish cardinals, however, spoke thus: "We cannot deal harshly with such a man as this. We must confess that he speaketh truth. He is a holy man, of more religious life than any of us; yea, Christendom hath not his equal. He is a great philosopher, skilled in Greek and Latin, a constant reader in the schools, preacher in the pulpit, lover of chastity, and hater of simony."
Authorities are divided as to whether the Pope was persuaded to lay aside his anger, or not. Some say that he sent off sentence of suspension and excommunication; others, that he owned the justice of Grosteste's letter. It made little difference to the good Bishop, who lay on his deathbed long before the answer arrived. He spoke much of the troubles and bondage of the Church, which he feared would never be ended but by the edge of a blood-stained sword, and grieved over the falsehood, perfidy, and extortion, that were soiling his beloved Church; and thus he expired, uplifting his honest testimony both in word and deed, untouched by the crimes of his age.
Innocent IV. did not long survive him, and there is a remarkable story of the commencement of his last illness. He dreamt that the spirit of Robert Grosteste had appeared, and given him a severe beating. The delusion hung about him, and he finally died in the belief that he was killed by the blows of the English Bishop.
Sewel, Archbishop of York, had the same contest with Rome. Three Italians walked into York cathedral, asked which was the Dean's seat, and installed one of their number there; and when the Archbishop refused to permit his appointment, an interdict was laid on his see, and he died under excommunication, bearing it meekly and patiently, and his flock following his funeral in weeping multitudes, though it was apparently unblest by the Church.
These good men had fallen on days of evil shepherds, and lamentable was the state of Europe, when men's religious feelings were perverted to be engines for exalting the temporal power of the popedom, and their ministers, mistaking their true calling, were struggling for an absolute and open dominion, for which purity, truth, meekness, and every attribute of charity were sacrificed.
THE LONGESPEES IN THE EGYPTIAN CRUSADES. (1219-1254.)
_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. 1259. Conrad IV.
Popes. 1216. Innocent III. 1227. Honorius III. 1241. Gregory IX. 1241. Celestin IV. 1242. Innocent IV.
The crusading spirit had not yet died away, but it was often diverted by the Popes, who sent the champions of the Cross to make war on European heretics instead of the Moslems of Palestine.
William Longespee, the son of Fair Rosamond, was, however, a zealous crusador in the East itself. He had been with Coeur de Lion in the Holy Land, and in 1219 again took the Cross, and shared an expedition led by the titular King of Jerusalem, a French knight, named Jean de Brienne, who had married Marie, the daughter of that Isabelle whom Richard I. had placed on the throne of Jerusalem. Under him, an attempt was made to carry the war into the enemy's quarters, by attacking the Saracens in Egypt, and with a large force of crusaders he laid siege to Damietta. The reigning Sultan, Malek el Kamel, marched to its relief, and encamping at Mansourah, in the delta of the Nile, fought two severe battles with doubtful success, but could not assist the garrison, who, after holding out for fifteen months, at length surrendered. The unhappy city was in such a state from the effects of hunger and disease, that the Christians themselves, suffering from severe sickness, did not dare to enter it, till the prisoners, as the price of their liberty, had encountered the risk of cleansing it and burying the dead.
Even then they remained, encamped outside, and Kamel continued to watch them from Mansourah, where he built permanent houses, and formed his camp into a town, while awaiting the aid of the natural defender of Egypt, the Nile, which, in due time arising, inundated the whole Christian camp, and washed away the stores. The troops, already reduced by sickness, were living in a swamp, the water and mud ankle-deep, and with currents of deeper water rushing in all directions, drowning the incautious; while want and disease preyed upon the rest, till Jean de Brienne was obliged to go and treat with the Sultan. When received courteously in the commodious, royal tent at Mansourah, the contrast to the miseries which his friends were enduring so affected him, that he burst into a fit of weeping, that moved the generous Kamel at once, without conditions, to send as a free gift a supply of provisions to his distressed enemies. A treaty was then concluded, by which the crusaders restored Damiotta, after having held it for eight months, and were allowed every facility for their departure.
Though hardy, patient and enterprising as a crusader, Longespee was lawless and unscrupulous, and paid no respect to the ordinances of religion, neither confessing himself nor being a communicant; while his wife, the lady Ella, Countess of Salisbury in her own right, continued a devout observer of her duties.
Soon after his return from Egypt, Longespee, in sailing from Gascony to England, was in great danger, from a storm in the Bay of Biscay of many days' continuance, and so violent, that all the jewels, treasure, and other freight, were thrown overboard to lighten the vessel. In the height of the peril, the mast was illuminated, no doubt by that strange electric brightness called by sailors "St. Elmo's Light," but which, to the conscience-stricken earl, was a heavenly messenger, sent to convert and save him. It was even reported that it was a wax-light, sheltered from the wind by a female form of marvellous radiance and beauty, at whose appearance the tempest lulled, and the ship came safely to land.
The Countess Ella availed herself of the impression thus made upon her husband to persuade him to seek the ghostly counsel of St. Edmund Rich, then a canon of Salisbury; and the first sight of the countenance of the holy man at once subdued him, so that he forsook his evil ways, devoutly received the rites so long neglected, and spent his few remaining years in trying to atone for his past sins.
In 1226, he was taken suddenly ill at a banquet given by Hubert de Burgh, and being carried home, sent for the Bishop of Salisbury, Richard Poer, who found him in a high fever; but he at once threw himself from his bed upon the floor, weeping, and crying out that he was a traitor to the Most High: nor would he allow himself to be raised till he had made his confession, and received the Holy Eucharist.
He died a few days subsequently, and was buried at Old Sarum, whence his tomb was afterward removed to the cathedral at Salisbury, where his effigy lies in the nave, in chain armor, with his legs crossed as a crusader. The Countess Ella founded a monastery at Laycock, where she took the veil. Her eldest son, William Longespee, succeeded to the Castle of Sarum, but afterward offended the King by quitting the realm without the royal license, for which breach of rule Henry III. seized his possessions, and he remained a knight adventurer. In this capacity he followed his cousin, Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cornwall, who took the Cross in 1240.
By this time, Yolande, the daughter of Jean de Brienne, had carried her rights to her husband, Frederick II., Emperor of Germany, the object of the bitter hatred of the Popes, who had thwarted him in every way, when he himself led an expedition to Palestine, and now, since the conquests of the crusaders would go to augment his power, would willingly have checked them. Gregory IX. strove to induce the English party to commute their vow for treasure, but they indignantly repelled the proposal, and set forth, under the solemn blessing of their own bishops. In France, they were received with great affection by Louis IX., and with much enthusiasm by the people; so that their progress was a triumph, till they came to Marseilles, where they embarked, disregarding a prohibition from the Pope which here met them.
At Acre, they were received by the clergy and people in solemn procession, chanting, "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord;" and high were the hopes entertained that their deeds would rival those of the last Richard Plantagenet and William Longespee. But Richard, though brave and kindly-tempered, was no general; Palestine was in too miserable a condition for his succor to avail it, and all he could do was to make a treaty, and use his wealth to purchase free ingress to the holy places for the pilgrims; and, without himself entering Jerusalem, he returned home. He took with him as curiosities two Saracen damsels, trained to perform a dance with each foot, on a globe of crystal rolling on a smooth pavement, while they made various graceful gestures with their bodies, and struck together a couple of cymbals with their hands.
This was the whole result of the Crusade, for the treaty was set at naught by the Templars and Hospitallers, who called him a boy, and refused to be bound by his compact. In 1245, William Longespee again took the Cross under a very different leader.
In the previous year, Louis IX., King of France, had been attacked by an illness of such severity that his life was despaired of; and at one time a lady, who was watching by his bed, thought him actually dead, and was about to cover his face. He soon opened his eyes, and, stretching out his arms, said, "The light of the East hath shined on me, and called me back from the dead," and he demanded the Cross, and at once took the vow for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre. To part with so just and excellent a monarch on an expedition of such peril was grief and misery to his subjects, and, above all, to his mother, Queen Blanche, and every means was taken to dissuade him; but he would neither eat nor drink till the sign was given to him; and as soon as he had strength to explain himself, declared that he had, while in his trance, heard a voice from the East, calling on him, as the appointed messenger of Heaven, to avenge the insults offered to the Holy City. His mother mourned as for his death, his counsellors remonstrated, his people entreated; but nothing could outweigh such a summons, and his resolution was fixed. The Bishop of Paris saying that the vow was made while he was not fully master of his senses, he laid the Cross aside, but only to resume it, so as to be beyond all such suspicion.
The Crusade was preached, but it had now become a frequent practice, of which Henry III. was a lamentable example, lightly and hastily to assume the Cross in a moment of excitement, or even as a means of being disembarrassed from troublesome claims by the privileges of a Crusader, and then to purchase from the Pope absolution from the vow. It had become such an actual matter of traffic, that Richard of Cornwall positively obtained from Gregory IX. a grant of the money thus raised from recreant Crusaders. The landless William of Salisbury, going to the Pope, who was then at Lyons, thus addressed him: "Your Holiness sees that I am signed with the Cross. My name is great and well known: it is William Longespee. But my fortune does not match it. The King of England has bereft me of my earldom, but as this was done judicially, not out of personal ill-will, I blame him not. Yet, poor as I am, I have undertaken the pilgrimage. Now, since Prince Richard, the King's brother, who has not taken the Cross, has obtained from you a grant to take money from such as lay it aside, surely I may beg for the like—I, who am signed, and yet without resource."
He obtained the grant, and thus raised 1,000 marks, while Richard of Cornwall actually gained from one archdeacon L600, and in proportion from others.
Louis, for three years, was detained by the necessity of arranging matters for the tranquillity of his own kingdom, and not till the Friday in Whitsun-week, 1248, was he solemnly invested at St. Denis with the pilgrim's staff and wallet, and presented with the oriflamme, the standard of the convent, which he bore as Count of Paris. His two brothers, Robert Comte d'Artois, and Charles Comte d'Anjou, and his wife Marguerite of Provence, accompanied him, together with a great number of the nobility, among whom the most interesting was the faithful and attached Sieur de Joinville, Seneschal of Champagne, who has left us a minute record of his master's adventures.
They sailed from Aigues Mortes, August 25th, 1248, and Joinville reflected that he could not imagine how a man in a state of mortal sin could ever put to sea, since he knew not, when he fell asleep at night, whether morning would not find him at the bottom of the sea. On coming near the coast of Barbary, Joinville's ship seems to have been becalmed, for it continued for three whole days in view of the same round mountain, to the great dismay of the crew, until a preux d'homme priest suggested, that in his parish, in cases of distress, such as dearth, or flood, or pestilence, processions chanting the Litany were made on three Saturdays following. The day was Saturday, and the crew acted on his advice, making the procession round the masts, even the sick being carried by their friends. The next day they were out of sight of the mountain, and on the third Saturday safely landed at Cyprus. Here the Crusaders remained for eight months, since Egypt was the intended point of attack, and they wished to allow the inundation of the Nile to subside. At length, in the summer of 1249, they arrived before Damietta, which was even better fortified than when it had previously held out for fifteen months; but it now surrendered, after Fakreddin, the Mameluke commander, had suffered one defeat under its walls, and the Christians entered in triumph. Here Louis made an unfortunate delay, while waiting for reinforcements brought by his brother Alfonse, Comte de Poitiers.
To the rude and superstitious noblesse, a Crusade appeared a certain means of securing salvation, as indeed the clergy led them to believe; and this belief seemed to remove all restraint of morality from the ill-disposed, so that the pure and pious King was bitterly grieved by the license which he found himself unable to restrain. Much harm was done by the excess in which the troops indulged while revelling in the plunder of Damietta. The prudent would have reserved the stores there laid up for time of need, but old crusaders insisted on "the good old custom of the Holy Land," as they called it, namely, the distribution of two-thirds among the army; and though the King ransomed some portion, the money did as much harm in promoting revelry as the provisions themselves.
Longespee arrived, with 200 English knights; but the small band of English and their landless leader met with nothing but contumely from their allies, especially the King's brother, Robert Comte d'Artois, a haughty and impetuous youth. The English took a small castle on the road to Alexandria, where one of the Saracen Emirs had placed his harem. It was reported that Longespee had acquired a huge treasure there, and Robert insulted him to his face, and deprived him of his just share of the spoil. Longespee, complained to the King; but Louis could give him no redress. "You are no King, if you cannot do justice," said William.
Louis meekly suffered the reproach. He had, in his submission, made over his judgment and authority to the papal legates—men far less fit than he to exercise power—and matters went chiefly as they and his fiery brothers chose to direct. Wiser counsellors recommended securing the other seaport, Alexandria; but Prince Alfonse declared, that the only way to kill a snake, was to strike the head, and persuaded the council that the move should be upon Grand Cairo, or, as the Crusaders chose to call it, Babylon.
On November 25th, 1249, the army advanced, and the conjuncture should have been favorable, for the Sultan was just dead, and his son absent at Damascus; but nothing could have been worse concerted than the expedition—ill-provisioned, without boats to cross the canals, without engines of war, the soldiery disorganized; while the Mameluke force were picked soldiers, recruited from the handsomest Circassian children, bred up for arms alone, and with an esprit de corps that rendered them a terror to friend and foe almost down to our own times. They harassed the Christians at every step, and destroyed their machines, and terrified them excessively by showers of Greek fire, a compound of naphtha and other combustibles launched from hollow engines, which ignited as it traversed the air, and was very hard to extinguish.
The Franks regarded it with a superstitious horror, as a fiendish mystery, and compared it to a fiery dragon with a tail as long as a lance; but it did not actually cause many deaths, and they met with no serious disaster till they came to the canal of Aschmoum, which flowed between them and Mansourah. They tried to build a causeway across it, but their commencement was destroyed by the Greek fire, and a Bedouin offered, for 500 bezants, to show them a ford on the Shrove Tuesday of 1250. Robert d'Artois begged to lead the vanguard, and secure the passage of the rest; and when the King hesitated to confide so important a charge to one so rash and impetuous, he swore on the Gospels that, when he should have gained the bank on the other side, nothing should induce him to leave it till the whole army should have crossed. The King consented, but placed the command in the hands of the wise Guillaume de Sonnac, Grand Master of the Templars, who, with his knights, the Hospitallers, Longespee and the English, and Robert's own band, formed a body of 1,400.
The Saracens who guarded the ford were taken by surprise, and fled in confusion; and the Christians, mounting the bank, beheld the inhabitants and garrison of Mansourah hurrying away in terror.
The temptation made the impetuous prince forget his promises, and he was dashing forward in pursuit, when the Grand Master tried to check him, by representing that, though the enemy were at present under the influence of panic terror, they would soon rally, and that the only safety for the I,400 was to wait, with the canal in their rear, until the rest of the army should have crossed; otherwise, as soon as their small number should be perceived, they would infallibly be surrounded and cut off.
The fiery youth listened with scorn and impatience. "I see," cried he, "that it is well said, that the Orders have an understanding with the Infidel! They love power, they love money, and so will not see the war ended. This is the way that so many crusading princes have been served by them."
"Noble Count," said Pierre de Villebride, the Grand Master of St. John, trying to calm him, "why do you think we gave up our homes and took these vows? Was it to overthrow the Church and lose our own souls? Such things be far, far from us, or from any Christian."
But De Sonnac would not parley; he called to his esquire, "Spread wide the Beauseant banner. Arms and death must decide our honor and fate. We might be invincible, united; but division is our ruin."
Longespee interposed. "Lord Count," said he, "you cannot err in following the counsel of a holy man like the Grand Master, well tried in arms. Young men are never dishonored by hearkening to their elders."
"The tail! that smacks of the tail!" exclaimed the headstrong Robert.
[Footnote: On Thomas a Becket's last journey to Canterbury, Raoul de Broc's followers had cut off the tails of his pack-horses. It was a vulgar reproach to the men of Kent that the outrage had been punished by the growth of the same appendage on the whole of the inhabitants of the county; and, whereas the English populace applied the accusation to the Kentishmen, foreigners extended it to the whole nation when in a humor for insult and abuse, such as that of this unhappy prince.]
"Count Robert," rejoined William, "I shall be so forward in peril to-day, that you will not even come near the tail of my horse."
With these words they all set out at full gallop, Robert's old deaf tutor, Sir Foucault de Nesle, who had not heard one word of the remonstrance, holding his bridle, and shouting, "Ores a eux! ores a, eux!" They burst into the town, and began to pillage, killing the Saracen Emir Fakreddin, as he left his bath; but in the meantime, Bendocdar, another Mameluke chief, had rallied his forces, threw a troop between them and the ford, and thus, cutting them off, attacked them in the streets, while the inhabitants hurled stones, boiling water, and burning brands from above.
Separated and surprised as they were, the little band sold their lives dearly, forgot their fatal quarrels, and fought as one man from ten o'clock till three. Robert entrenched himself in a house, defended himself there for a long time, and finally perished in its ruins. Longespee was killed at the head of his knights, who almost all fell with him; and his esquire, Robert de Vere, was found with his banner wrapped around his dead body. Only thirty-five prisoners were made, among them Pierre de Villebride. Sonnac, after having lost a hundred and eighty of his knights, fought his way through with the loss of an eye.
The King had, in the meantime, crossed the canal, and grievous was his disappointment on finding that the Saracens were between him and his brother. Every effort was made to break through to the rescue, but in vain; and at one moment Louis himself was in the utmost danger, finding himself singly opposed to six Saracens, whom, however, he succeeded in putting to flight. With difficulty could his forces even maintain their footing on the Mansourah side of the canal, and it was not till after a long and desperate conflict that there was time to inquire for the missing. The Prior de Rosnay came to the royal tent, to ask whether there were any tidings of the Count, "Only that he is in Paradise," said the King. "God be praised for what He sends to us." And he lifted up his eyes, while the tears flowed down his cheeks.
It was believed, in England, that the Countess Ella of Salisbury had on that day a vision of her son received into Paradise.
The bon Sieur de Joinville had his part in the brave deeds of the day: he, with the Comte de Soissons and four other knights, guarded a bridge against a mighty force of Saracens. "Seneschal," cried the Count, "let this canaille roar and howl; you and I will yet talk of this day in our lady's chamber."
And Joinville fought on cheerfully, though twice dismounted, and in great danger. But he kept up his heart, crying out, "Beau Sire, St. James, help me, and succor me in my need!" and he came off safely, though pierced with five arrows, and his horse with fifteen wounds.
The following day was a doubly sorrowful Ash-Wednesday in the Christian camp; while the Mussulmans triumphed, calling the battle of Mansourah the key of joy to true believers; and fancying, from the fleur-de-lys on the surcoat, that the corpse of Robert was that of Louis himself, they proclaimed throughout their camp, "The Christian army is a trunk without life or head!"
They learnt their error on the Friday, when they made a furious attack on the Crusaders, and Louis's valor made itself felt, as he dashed through showers of arrows and of Greek fire, and drove back the enemy as they were surrounding his brother Charles. His other brother, Alfonse, was for a moment made prisoner, but being much beloved, the butchers, women, and servants belonging to the army, suddenly rushed forward and rescued him. The Grand Master of the Templars lost his other eye, and was soon after killed; and though the Christians claimed the victory, their loss was so severe, especially in horses, that it was impossible to advance to Cairo, and they therefore remained encamped before Mansourah.
Nothing more fatal could have been done: the marshy ground, the number of dead bodies that choked the stream, the feeding on fish that had preyed upon them—for the Lenten fast prevented recourse to solid food—occasioned disease to break out—fever, dysentery, and a horrible disorder which turned the skin as black and dry (says Joinville) as an old boot, and caused great swelling and inflammation of the gums, so that the barbers cut them away piecemeal.
The Saracens let them alone, only now and then launching volleys of Greek fire. The King, on seeing these coming, would kneel down, and cry, "Lord, spare my people!" But worse enemies were at work. Warrior after warrior succumbed to his sufferings, and the clergy, going about among the dying, caught the infection, till there were hardly sufficient to perform the daily offices of religion. Joinville rose from his bed to lift up his chaplain, who, while singing mass, fainted on the step of the altar. Supported in his arms, he finished the mass, but, says the Seneschal, "he never chanted more."
Patiently and steadfastly all was borne: the Christians repented of their late license, and suffered without murmurs, desertion, or submission, encouraged by their good King, who spent his time in going from one bed to another to encourage the sick, attend to their wants, and offer his prayers with them. He was vainly entreated not to expose himself to the infection. But love and duty equally led him among his people, and his sad, resigned face never failed to cheer the sufferers, till he too was laid on a bed of sickness.
Easter came, but famine was added to their miseries, and those who were recovering from illness died of hunger. The new Sultan, Touran Chah, or Almoadan, had at length arrived, and Louis tried to negotiate with him, offering to surrender the town of Damietta, provided Jerusalem were placed in his hands. The Sultan would have agreed, but required hostages, and, when Louis offered his two brothers, refused any guarantee but the person of the King himself. With one voice the French knights vowed that they would all be killed rather than make a pledge of their King, and the project was ineffectual.
Louis now resolved to attempt to retreat in secret, and on the 5th of April he collected as many boats as possible upon the canal, there by night to embark the sick, that they might ascend the Nile to Damietta. Those who yet had strength to fight were to go by land; and he, though very ill, refused to desert his army, and resolved to accompany them. In the midst of the embarkation the Saracens discovered what was going on, and fell upon them, shooting arrows at the sick as they were carried on board. They hurried the vessels off, notwithstanding loud cries from the land army of "Wait for the King! wait for the King!"—for the French soldiery only longed to see their King in safety; but he came not, and they pushed off. Before long the Sultan's galleys met them with such showers of Greek fire, that Joinville, one of those unfortunate sick, declares that it seemed as if all the stars were falling. Soon they were boarded by the enemy; Joinville gave himself up for lost, threw overboard all his relics, lest they should be profaned, and prayed aloud; but a Saracen renegade who knew him, came up to him, and by calling out, "The King's cousin!" saved his life, and that of a little boy in his company. All who seemed capable of paying a ransom were made prisoners; the rest had the choice of death or apostasy, and too many chose the last.
The rest of the army fared no better by land. Louis had mounted his horse, though so weak that he could not wear his armor, and rode among the knights, who strove to cut their way through the foe. The two good knights, Geoffroi de Sargines and Gautier de Chatillon rode on each side of him, and, as he afterward said, guarded, him from the Saracens as a good servant guards his master's cup from flies. They were obliged to support him in his saddle after a time, so faint and exhausted did he become; and at last, on arriving at a little village named Minieh, Sargines look him from his horse, and laid him down just within a house, his head on the lap of a Frenchwoman whom he found there, and watched over him, expecting each breath to be the last.
Chatillon defended the entrance, rushing each moment on the Saracens, and only resting to draw out the arrows with which he was covered. At last he was overcome by numbers, and slaughtered; and another knight, Philippe de Montfort, making his way to the King, who had somewhat revived, told him that five hundred knights remained in full force, and, with his permission, he could make good terms. Louis consented, and the Saracen Emir was in the act of concluding a truce, when a traitor cried out, "Sir French knights, surrender! the King bids you! Do not cause him to be slain!" They instantly laid down their arms unconditionally, and the Emir, whose ring had been already off his finger, looking round, said, "We make no truce with prisoners."
All was thus lost. The Saracens entered the village, and finding the King, loaded him with chains, and placed him on board a vessel. His brothers were likewise taken, and even the knights who were far advanced on the way to Damietta, on hearing of their monarch's captivity, dropped their arms, and became an easy prey. The crosses and images of the Saints were trodden under foot and reviled by the Mussulmans, and the prisoners, when all those of importance had been selected, were placed in an enclosure, and each man who would not deny his faith was beheaded.
The news of the ruin of the army and the captivity of her husband reached Queen Marguerite at Damietta, where she was daily awaiting the birth of an infant. Her despair and terror were such, that her life was in the utmost danger, and nothing soothed her except holding the hand of an old knight, aged eighty years, who did his utmost to calm her. If she slept for a few moments, she awoke starting, and fancying the room was full of Saracens, and the old knight had to assure her that he was there, and she need fear nothing. Once she sent every one else out of the room, and, kneeling down, insisted that he should make oath to do what she should require of him. It was, that, should the enemy take the city, he would sweep off her head with his sword, rather than let her fall into their hands. "Willingly," said the old knight. "Had you not asked it of me, I had thought of doing so."
The morning after, a son was born to her, and named Jean Tristan, on account of the sadness that reigned around. On that very day word was brought to her that the Genoese and Pisans, who garrisoned the town, were preparing their vessels to depart. The poor Queen sent for their leaders, and as they stood round her bed, she held up her new-born babe, and conjured them not to desert the town and destroy all hopes for the King. They told her that they had no provisions: on which she sent to buy up all in the town, and promised to maintain them at her own expense; thus awakening sufficient compassion and honor to make them promise at least to await her recovery. Her first pledge of hope was a bulbous root, on which, with a knife, had been cut out the word "Esperance," the only greeting the captive King could send to her. No wonder that plant has ever since borne the well-omened name.
Louis, meanwhile, was carried by water to Mansourah, where he lay very ill, and only attended by one servant and two priests. A book of Psalms and the cloak that covered him were the sole possessions that remained to him; but with unfailing patience he lay, feebly chanting the Psalms, never uttering one word of complaint, and showing such honor to the office of the priests, that he would not endure that they should perform for him any of the services that his helplessness required. Nor did he make one request from his enemies for his own comfort; though Touran Chah, struck with his endurance, sent to him a present of fifty robes for himself and his nobles; but Louis refused them, considering that to wear the robes of the Saracen would compromise the dignity of his crown. The Sultan next sent his physician, under whose care his health began to return, and negotiations were commenced. The King offered as his ransom, and that of his troops, the town of Damietta and a million of bezants; but the Sultan would not be contented without the cities of the Crusaders in Palestine, Louis replied that these were not his own; and when Touran Chah threatened him with torture or lifelong captivity, his only reply was, "I am his prisoner; he can do as he will with me."
His firmness prevailed, and the Sultan agreed to take what he offered. Louis promised the town and the treasure, provided the Queen consented; and when the Mahometans expressed their amazement at a woman being brought forward, "Yes," he said, "the Queen is my lady; I can do nothing without her consent."
The King ransomed all his companions at his own expense, and there was general rejoicing at the hopes of freedom; but, alas! the Sultan, Touran Chan, was murdered by his own Mamelukes, who hunted him into the river, and killed him close to the ship where Joinville had embarked. They then rushed into the vessels of the Christians, who, expecting a massacre to follow, knelt down and confessed their sins to each other. "I absolve you, as far as God has given me power," replied each warrior to his brother. Joinville, seeing a Saracen with a battle-axe lifted over him, made the sign of the Cross, and said, "Thus died St. Agnes." However, they were only driven down into the hold, without receiving any hurt.
Louis was in his tent with his brothers, unable to account for the cries he heard, and fearing that Damietta had been seized, and that the prisoners were being slain. At last there rushed in a Mameluke with a bloody sword, crying, "What wilt thou give me for delivering thee from an enemy who intended thy ruin and mine?"
Louis made no answer.
"Dost thou not know," said the furious Mameluke, "that I am master of thy life? Make me a knight, or thou art a dead man."
"Make thyself a Christian," said the undaunted King, "and I will make thee a knight."
His calm dignity overawed the assassin; and though several others came in, brandishing their swords and using violent language, the sight of the majestic captive made them at once change their demeanor; they spoke respectfully, and tried to excuse the murder; then, putting their hands to their brow, and salaaming down to the ground, retired. They sounded their drums and trumpets outside the tent, and it is even said they deliberated whether to offer their crown—since the race of Saladin was now extinct—to the noble Frank prince. Louis had decided that he would accept it, in hopes of converting them, but the proposal was never made.
The Mamelukes returned to the former conditions of the treaty with the King, but, when the time came for making oaths on either side for its observance, a new difficulty arose. The Emirs, as their most solemn denunciation, declared that, "if they violated their promises, they would be as base as the pilgrim who journeys bareheaded to Mecca, or as the man who takes back his wives after having put them away."
In return, they required the King to say that, if he broke his oath, he should be as one who denied his religion; but the words in which this was couched seemed to Louis so profane, that be utterly refused to pronounce them.
The Mahometans threatened.
"You are masters of my body," he said, "but you have no power over my will." His brothers and the clergy entreated in vain, though the Mamelukes, fancying that his resistance was inspired by the latter, seized the Patriarch of Jerusalem, an old man of eighty, and tied him up to a stake, drawing the cords so tight round his hands that the blood started.
"Sire, sire, take the oath!" he cried; "I take the sin upon myself."
But Louis was immovable, and the Emirs at last contented themselves with his word, and retired, saying that this was the proudest Christian that had ever been seen in the East.
They knew not that his pride was for the honor of his God.
On the 6th of May, Geoffroi de Sargines came to Damietta, placed the Queen and her ladies on board the Genoese vessels, and gave up the keys to the Emirs.
The King was, on this, set free, but his brother Alfonso was to remain as a hostage till the bezants were paid. The royal coffers at Damielta could not supply the whole, and the rest was borrowed of the Templars, somewhat by force; for Joinville, going to their treasurer in his worn-out garments and his face haggard from illness, was refused the keys, till he said "he should use the royal key," on which, with a protest, the chests were opened.
Philippe de Montfort managed to cheat the Mamelukes of 10,000 bezants, and came boasting of it to the King; but Louis, much displeased, sent him back with the remaining sum.
The King then embarked, still in much anxiety whether the Emirs would fulfil their engagements and liberate his brother; but, late at night, Montfort came alongside of the vessel, and called out, "Sire, speak to your brother, who is in the other ship!"
In great joy Louis cried, "Light up! light up!" and the signals of the two princes joyfully answered each other in the darkness.
The King sailed for Acre, and after some stay there, finding that his weakened force could effect nothing, and hearing that the death of his mother, Queen Blanche, had left France without a regent, he returned home, and landed 5th of September, 1254, six years after his departure.
The Countess Ella and her son Nicholas, Bishop of Salisbury, raised an effigy to William like that of his father, and the figures of the father and son lie opposite to each other in the new cathedral founded by Bishop Poore.
SIMON DE MONTFORT.
(1232-1266.)King of England. 1216. Henry III.
Kings of Scotland. 1214. Alexander II. 1249. Alexander III.
Kings of France. 1226. Louis IX.
Emperor of Germany. 1209. Friedrich II. 1249. Conrad IV. 1255. William.
Popes. 1227. Gregory IX. 1241. Celestin IV. 1242. Innocent IV. 1254. Alexander IV. 1261. Urban IV.
The lawlessness of John Lackland led to the enactment of Magna Charta; the extravagance of Henry of Winchester established the power of Parliament, and the man who did most in effecting this purpose was a foreigner by birth.
Amicia, the heiress of the earldom of Leicester, was the wife of Simon, Count de Montfort, an austere warrior, on whom fell the choice of Innocent III. to be leader of the so-called crusade against the unfortunate Albigenses. Heretics indeed they were; but never before had the sword of persecution been employed by the Church, and their fate is a grievous disgrace to Rome, and to the Dominican order. Strict in life, but of cruel temper, Count Simon was a fit instrument for the massacres committed; and being a leader of great skill, he gained complete victories over the native princes of the heretics, who, though not holding their opinions, were unwilling to let them perish without protection. Raymond de St. Gilles Count de Toulouse, Gaston Count de Bearn, and all the most famous names of the south of France, took up arms in their defence; and even Pedro, King of Aragon, joined, the confederacy; but at the battle of Muret all were totally defeated, and Pedro lost his life.
The nobles were imprisoned, the peasants murdered by wholesale, villages burnt down and the inhabitants slain, with out distinction of Catholic or heretic, and all the time the followers of Montfort deemed themselves religious men. The Lateran Council actually invested Simon with the sovereignty of the counties of Toulouse and Carcassonne; but he was extremely hated there, and Count Raymond, recovering his liberty, attacked him, and regained great part of his own dominions. Montfort was besieging the town of Toulouse, when, while hearing mass, intelligence was brought to him that the garrison were setting fire to his machines. He rose from his knees, repeating the first verse of the Song of Simeon, and rushing out to the battle, was struck on the head by a stone from a mangonel on the walls, and killed on the spot, June 25, 1218. He was a remarkable type of that character fostered by the system of the Middle Ages, where ambition and cruelty existed side by side with austere devotion, and were encouraged as if they did service to Heaven.
His second son, Simon, had the same strong sense of religion, together with equal talents, and unusual beauty of person, skill in arms, and winning grace of deportment. The elder son, Amaury, was the heir of the county of Montfort, and for some time Simon remained landless, the earldom of Leicester having been forfeited on account of the adherence of the family to the party of Louis the Lion in the wars that followed the signing of Magna Charta.
In 1232, however, young Simon came to England to attempt the recovery of his mother's inheritance, and his graceful manners and Southern tongue at once delighted Henry III. Another heart was at the same time gained; the King's sister, Eleanor, who had been left a widow at sixteen by the death of the brave Earl of Pembroke, had, in her first despair, made a vow of perpetual widowhood, and received the ring of dedication from the Archbishop; but at the end of six years all this was forgotten; she fell in love with the handsome Provencal, and prevailed on the King to sanction with his presence a hasty private wedding in St. Stephen's Chapel.
For some time the marriage remained a secret, and when it became known, great was the indignation alike of clergy and laity. The Barons even collected troops, and headed by Richard, the King's brother, whom they called the Staff of Fortitude, assembled at Southwark, and dreadfully alarmed the poor King; but Montfort, who always possessed a great power over men's minds, managed to reconcile himself to Prince Richard, and to disperse the other nobles. Still, the Archbishop termed it no marriage at all, and Simon therefore set out at once for Rome, carrying letters from Henry, and raising money by every means in his power, till he was able to offer a sufficient bribe to obtain from the Pope a dispensation, with which he returned to England a few days before the birth of his eldest child, Henry.
Simon was now in high favor; the Barons, who at first looked on him as one of the hated Southern adventurers, were gained over by his address and adoption of their manners; and when, by the royal favor and the formal cession by his brother Amaury, he obtained the earldom of Leicester, they readily identified him with themselves. At court he was highly beloved; his children were constantly at the palace; and in 1239, when Edward, heir of the crown, was baptized, he was one of the nine godfathers—an honor, perhaps, chiefly owing to his wealth, for this was at one of the times when Henry's finances were at so low an ebb that he, or his messengers, made the birth of the child an excuse for their rapacity. Each noble to whom the tidings were sent was obliged to make a costly gift; and if he did not offer enough, his present was returned on his hands with intimation that it must be increased. "God has given us this child," said a jester; "the King sells him to us."
Montfort's English popularity seems suddenly to have rendered the fickle King jealous; for, to his great surprise, on the day of the churching of the Queen, Henry suddenly met him, and forbade him to join in the service, reviling him furiously for the circumstances of his marriage, and ordering him at once to leave his dominions. Returning with his wife to his lodgings, he was at once followed by messengers, ordering them both away; and before sunset he was obliged to embark with Eleanor in a small vessel, leaving behind them their infant son.
He placed his wife in safety in France, and proceeded to the Holy Land, where he highly distinguished himself, and, as usual, gained every one's affection, so that the Barons of Palestine would fain have had him for their leader in the absence of their young Queen Yolande and her husband, Friedrich II. of Germany.
King Henry had forgotten his displeasure by the time he returned, and the next ten years were spent in peace by the Earl and Countess, at their castles of Kenilworth and Odiham, and the government of Gascony. Their five sons were brought up as the playfellows of their royal cousins, and were under the tutorship of the great Robert Grosteste, while the noble and magnificent earl stood equally well with sovereign and people. His chaplain, Adam de Marisco, seems to have been an admirable man, who never failed to administer suitable reproofs to the Countess for love of dress and other failings, all which she seems to have taken in good part.
Meantime Henry was plunging deeper in debt and difficulty. Every time his council met they charged him with breaches of the Great Charter, and refusing, in spite of his promises and pleas, to grant him any money, left him to devise means of obtaining it by extortion. The Jews had always been considered a sort of lawful property of the sovereign, who plundered them without remorse; but even this resource was not inexhaustible, and he looked with covetous eyes on the prosperous citizens of London. Once, when he was in great distress, and it was suggested to him to pawn to them his plate and jewels, he broke out passionately: "If the treasures of Augustus were put up to sale, these clowns would buy them. Is it for them to assume the style of Barons, and live sumptuously, while we are in want of the necessaries of life?" Thenceforth he made still more unscrupulous demands of the citizens, under the name of New-Year's gifts, loans, &c.; and Queen Eleanor had even less consideration, so that their Majesties became the objects of the utmost hatred in the city.
In 1252 the Earl of Leicester was summoned from Gascony to answer various charges of maladministration. His brother-in-law, Prince Richard, took his part, with the two great Earls of Gloucester and Hereford, and it was reported that he had pledged the Gascons by a solemn oath not to make any complaint of his government. At any rate, they declared their intention of withdrawing their allegiance if he were superseded, and he himself refused to resign his post unless he were repaid the sums he had expended.
"I am not bound to keep my word with a traitor," said Henry—words which put Simon into a passion, and he replied:
"It is a lie! and whoever said so, I will compel to eat his words. Who can believe you to be a Christian prince? Do you ever go to confession?"
"A Christian I am; I have often been to confession."
"Vain confession, without repentance and reparation!"
"I repent of nothing so much," cried the King, "as having fattened one who has so little gratitude and so much ill manners."
The friends of Simon checked further reply. Henry's wrath was like straw on fire; but he forgot that by it he lighted a flame more enduring, though at first less visible; and he was vexed when the offended Montfort removed his eldest son, Henry, from court. However, Gascony was wanted as a government for Prince Edward, who was only thirteen years old, and therefore Leicester was forced to resign, though he would not do so without full compensation, such as Henry was ill able to afford. Yet, affronted as he was, when the office of high steward of France was offered to him, he would not accept it, by the advice of Grosteste, lest he should seem unfaithful to his master.
To carry Prince Edward to Guienne was at present Henry's favorite scheme, and for this end every means of raising money was resorted to. The King met the parliament, as he had done often before, with entreaties for a grant to enable him to go and redeem the Holy Sepulchre; but this had been far too frequently tried, and was unnoticed; so he next tried the bribe of confirmation of the charters. All the assembly went to Westminster Abbey, the bishops and abbots carrying tapers, and there the Archbishop of Canterbury pronounced sentence of excommunication against whosoever should infringe these charters. As he spoke, the tapers were dashed at once on the ground, with the words, "May his soul who incurs this sentence be thus extinguished for ever!" while Henry added, "So help me God! I will keep these charters, as I am a man, as I am a Christian, as I am a knight, as I am a king crowned and anointed."
Yet a few days after, when the parliament was dismissed and the money in his hands, the temptation to transgress the charter again occurred. His conscience was still overawed, and he hesitated; but his uncles and half-brothers bade him remember that, while he kept his oath, he was but the shadow of a King, and that, should he scruple, three hundred marks sent to the Pope would purchase his dispensation and discharge him of guilt.
There was real need in Guienne; for Alfonso, King of Castile, had set up a claim to that county, and threatened to invade it. Arriving there, Henry gained some advantages, and concluded a peace, which was to be sealed by a marriage between Edward of England and Dona Leonor of Castile, Alfonso's sister. Young as they were—Edward only fourteen and Leonor still younger—they were at once brought to Burgos and there united; after which a tournament was held, and the prince received knighthood from the sword of Alfonso. Bringing his bride back to his father at Bordeaux, Edward was received with a full display of luxury; all Henry's money, and more too, having been laid out on the banquetting, so that the King himself stood aghast, and dismally answered one of his English guests, "Say no more! What would they think of it in England?"
The young bride, Eleanor, as the English called her, was brought to England, while Edward remained in Guienne, sometimes visiting the French court, and going wherever tournaments or knightly exercises invited him. He was far better thus employed, and in intercourse with St. Louis, than in the miserable quarrels, expedients, and perplexities, at home; and thus he grew up generous, chivalrous, and devout, his whole character strongly influenced by the example he had seen at Paris. His features were fair, and of the noblest cast, perfectly regular, and only blemished by a slight trace of his father's drooping eyelid; the expression full of fire and sweetness, though at times somewhat stern. His height exceeded that of any man in England, and his strength was in proportion; he was perfectly skilled in all martial exercises, and we are told that he could leap into the saddle when in full armor without putting his hand on it.
All the wealth in the family had always been in the hands of Prince Richard, Earl of Cornwall, whose tin mines yielded such a revenue that he was esteemed the richest prince in Europe. He had wisely refused the Pope's offer of the crown of Sicily; but at this time, the death of Friedrich II., and of his son Conrad, leaving vacant the imperial crown, he was so far allured by it, that he set off to offer himself as a candidate, carrying with him thirty-two wagons, each drawn by eight horses, and laden with a hogshead of gold. Judiciously distributed, it purchased his election by the Archbishop of Mainz and some of the electors, while others gave their votes to Alfonso of Castile, whose offers had been also considerable.
Alfonso thenceforth was called El Emperador, and Richard was generally known as King of the Romans, and his son as Henry d'Almayne, or of Germany; but the Germans took no notice of either claimant beyond taking their presents, and the only consequence was, that Richard was a poorer man, and that his brother, the King, was ruined.
It was in 1258, while Richard was gone to be crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, that the long-gathering peril began to burst. There had been a severe famine, which added to the general discontent; and though Richard sent home forty vessels laden with corn, his absence was severely felt, and his mediation was missed. The King saw Simon de Montfort in conference with the nobles, and feared the consequences. Once, when overtaken by a sudden storm on his way to the Tower, Henry was forced to take refuge at Durham House, then the abode of the Earl, who came down to meet him, bidding him not to be alarmed, as the storm was over.
"Much as I dread thunder and lightning, I fear thee more than all," said the poor King.
"My Lord," said Montfort, "you have no need to dread your only true friend, who would save you from the destruction your false councillors are preparing for you."
These words were better understood when, on the 2d of May, Henry, on going to meet his parliament at Westminster, found all his Barons sheathed in full armor, and their swords drawn. These they laid aside on his entrance, but when he demanded, "What means this? Am I your prisoner?" Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, a proud, violent man, who had once before given the lie to the King, answered:
"Not so, sir; but your love of foreigners, and your own extravagance, have brought great misery on the realm. We therefore demand that the powers of government be entrusted to a committee of Barons and Prelates, who may correct abuses and enact sound laws."
William de Valence, one of Henry's half-brothers, took upon him to reply, and high words passed between him and the Earl of Leicester; but the royal party were overmatched, and were obliged to consent to give a commission to reform the state to twenty-four persons, half from the King's council, and half to be chosen by the Barons themselves, in a parliament to be held at Oxford.
This meeting, noted in history as the Mad Parliament, commenced on the 11th of June, and the Barons brought to it their bands of armed retainers, so as to overpower all resistance. The regulations were made entirely at their will, and the chief were thus: That parliaments should assemble thrice a year, that four knights from each county should lay before them every grievance, and that they should overlook all the accounts of the Chancellor and Treasurer. For the next twelve years this committee were to take to themselves the power of disposing of the government of the royal castles, of revoking any grant made without their consent, and of forbidding the great seal to be affixed to any charter—the same species of restraint as that under which King John had been placed at Runnymede.
The King's half-brothers would not yield up the castles in their possession, but Montfort told William de Valence that he would have them, or his head, and brought charges against them before the council, which so alarmed them, that they all fled to Wolvesham Castle, belonging to Aymar, as intended Bishop of Winchester. Thither the Barons pursued them, and, making them prisoners, sent them out of the realm, with only six thousand marks in their possession.
Their defeat proved how vain was resistance, and the whole royal family were obliged to swear to observe the Acts of Oxford, as they were called. The King's nephew, Henry d'Almayne, protested that they were of no force in the absence of his father, the King of the Romans. "Let your father look to himself," said Leicester. "If he refuse to act with the Barons of England, not a foot of land shall he have in the whole realm."
And accordingly, on his return, Richard was not allowed to land till he had promised to take the oath, which he did at Dover, in the presence of the King and Barons.
Queen Eleanor expressed herself petulantly as to the oath, and Prince Edward was scarcely persuaded to take it; but at length he was forced to yield, and having done so, retired from the kingdom in grief and vexation; for, having sworn it, he meant to abide by it, not being as well accustomed to oaths and dispensations as his father, who, of course, quickly sent to Rome for absolution.
On the other hand, when the twenty-four had to swear to it, the most backward to do so was Simon de Montfort himself, who probably discerned that the pledge was likely to be a mere mockery. When he at length consented, it was with the words, "By the arm of St. James, though I take this oath, the last, and by compulsion, yet I will so observe it that none shall be able to impeach me."
Prince Edward might have said the same; he even incurred the displeasure of his mother for refusing to elude or transgress his oath, and was for a time accused of having joined the Barons' party. Meanwhile, the King and Queen were constantly and needlessly affronting their subjects. "What! are you so bold with me, Sir Earl?" said the King to Roger Bigod. "Do you not know I could issue my royal warrant for threshing out all your corn?"
"Ay," returned the Earl; "and could not I send you the heads of the threshers?"
The hot-tempered, light-minded Queen Eleanor's open contempt of the English drew upon her such hatred, that vituperative ballads were made on her, some of which have come down to our times. One attacks even her virtue as a wife, and another is entitled a "Warning against Pride, being the Fall of Queen Eleanor, who for her pride sank into the earth at Charing Cross, and rose again at Queenhithe, after killing the Lady Mayoress." Unfortunately, popular inaccuracy has imputed her errors to the gentle Eleanor of Castile, her daughter-in-law, and thus the ballad calls her wife to Edward I., instead of Henry III. "A Spanish dame," was a term that might fairly be applied to the Provencal Eleanor, whose language was nearly akin to Spanish, and whose luxury was sufficient to lead to the accusation of
"Bringing in fashions strange and new, With golden garments bright;"
"The wheat, that daily made her bread Was bolted twenty times: The food that fed this stately dame Was boiled in costly wines. The water that did spring from ground She would not touch at all, But washed her hands with dew of heaven That on sweet roses fall. She bathed her body many a time In fountains filled with milk, And every day did change attire In costly Median silk."
Eleanor of Provence, when "drest in her brief authority" as Lady Chancellor, had arbitrarily imprisoned the Lord Mayor, and this the ballad converts into a persecution of the unfortunate Lady Mayoress, whom she sent"—into Wales with speed, And kept her secret there, And used her still more cruelly Than ever man did bear. She mude her wash, she made her starch, She made her drudge alway, She made her nurse up children small, And labor night and day," and in conclusion slew her by means of two snakes.
Afterward her coach stood still in London, and could not move, when she was accused of the crime, and, denying it, sunk into the ground, and rose again at Queenhithe; after which she languished for twenty days, and made full confession of her sins!
The real disaster that befell Queen Eleanor in London was an attack by the mob as she was going down the Thames in her barge. She was pelted with rotten eggs, sheeps' bones, and all kinds of offal, with loud cries of "Drown the witch!" and at length even stones and beams from some houses building on the bank assailed her, and she was forced, to return in speed to the Tower.
Prince Edward was not always blameless. He had been employed against the Welsh, and after the campaign, not knowing whither to turn for means of paying his troops, he broke into the chests of the Knights Templars, to whom his mother's jewels had been pledged, and carried off not only these, but much property besides that had been committed to the keeping of the order by other parties.
As to the unfortunate Jews, each party considered them fair game; and there were frequent attacks upon them, and frightful massacres, when the choice of death or of Christianity was offered to them, and the Barons seized their treasures. The curses of Deuteronomy, of the trembling heart, and the uncertainty of life and possession, were indeed fulfilled on the unhappy race.
For four years the committee of twenty-four held their power with few fluctuations, until matters were driven to extremity by a proposal to render the present state of things permanent, and at the same time by an attack on the property of the moderate and popular King of the Romans on the part of the Barons.
On this the royal party determined to submit the dispute to the arbitration of the King of France, whose wise and fair judgments were so universally famed that the Barons readily consented, with the exception of Leicester, who was convinced that Louis would incline to the side of Henry, both as fellow-king and as brother-in-law, and therefore refused to attend the conference, or to consider himself bound by its decisions.
The judgment of Louis IX, was perfectly just and moderate. He declared that Magna Charta was indeed binding on the King of England, and that he had no right to transgress it; but that the coercion in which he had been placed by the Mad Parliament was illegal, and that the Acts of Oxford were null, since no subjects had a right to deprive their sovereign of the custody of his castles, nor of the choice of his ministers.
As Montfort had foreseen, the Barons would not accept this decision, and its sole effect was to release Prince Edward's conscience, and open the way to civil war. The two Eleanors, of Provence and Castile, were left under the charge of St. Louis; and their namesakes of the other party, the Countess of Leicester and her daughter, the Damoiselle de Montfort, fortified themselves in their castle of Kenilworth, while arms were taken up on either side.
Leicester, who held that the guilt of perjury rested with the other party, and who had with him the clergy opposed to the Italian usurpation, deemed it a holy war, and marked the breasts of his soldiers with white crosses, imagining himself the champion of the truth, as he had been taught to think himself, when bearing his first arms under his father in what was esteemed the Provencal Crusade. Alas, when honorable and devout minds have the fine edge of conscience blunted! Thus did the gallant and beloved "Sir Simon the Righteous" become a traitor and a rebel.
The scholars of Oxford, who had not at all forgotten their quarrel with king and legate, came out en masse under the banner of the University (for once disloyal), to join Leicester's second son, Simon, who was collecting a body of troops to lead to his father in London.
Prince Edward, however, attacked them at Northampton, and effected a breach in the wall. Young Montfort attempted a desperate sally, but was defeated, and his life only saved by his cousin, the Prince, who extricated him from beneath his fallen steed, and made him prisoner.
The King and Prince next marched to seize the Cinque Ports, and, while in Sussex, Leicester followed them, and came up with them in a hollow valley near Lewes. Here, with a sort of satire, the Barons sent to offer the King 30,000 marks if he would make peace, and a like sum to the King of the Romans if he would bring him to terms. The proposals were angrily repelled by Edward, who, with accusations of his godfather as traitor and "foi menti," sent him a personal challenge.
Leicester spent the night in prayer, and in early morning knighted Gilbert de Clare, the young Earl of Gloucester, who was at this time enthusiastically attached to him. The battle then began, each army being arrayed in three divisions. Prince Edward and Henry d'Almayne were opposed to their two cousins, Henry and Guy de Montfort, with the bands from London. Mindful of the outrage that his mother had sustained from the citizens, Edward charged them furiously, and pursued them with great slaughter, never drawing rein till he reached Croydon.
But, as they rode back to Lewes, the impetuous young soldiers beheld a sight very different from their triumphant anticipations. The field was scattered with the corpses of the Royalists, and the white-crossed troops of the Barons were closely gathered round the castle and priory of Lewes. In dismay, William and Guy de Lusignan turned their horses, and rode off to embark at Pevensey. Seven hundred men followed them, and Edward and Henry were left with the sole support of Roger Mortimer, a Welsh-border friend of the former, with his followers.