Part 6 out of 11
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
_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
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
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
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
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
"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
"I blame their weakness," said the Emir: "they should put an end to the
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
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.
_Kings of England_.
1216. Henry III.
_King of Scotland_.
1214. Alexander II.
_King of France_.
1180. Philippe II.
_Emperor of Germany._
1209. Friedrich II.
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
John reviled him. "Rule you the Church," he said; "leave me to govern
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
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
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
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
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
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
THE FIEF OF ROME.
_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.
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.
_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.
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
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.