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Langton ; to resign his kingdom " to God, St. Peter, and '5t.
Paul," which meant the pope ; and to hold it ever afterward by
the pope's leave, on payment of an annual sum of money. Po
this shameful contract he publicly bound himself in the chv« :ch
of the Knights Templars at Dover ; where he laid at the lega,;e's
feet a part of the tribute, which the legate haughtily trampled


upon. But they do say that this was merely a genteel flourish^
and that he was afterwards seen to pick it up and pocket it.

There was an unfortunate prophet, of the name of Peter,
who had greatly increased King John's terrors by predicting
that he would be unknighted (which the king supposed to sig-
nify that he would die) before the Feast of the Ascension should
be past. That was the day after this humiliation. When the
»ext morning came, and the king, who had been trembling all
•lightjfound himself alive and safe, he ordered the prophet, and
his son too, to be dragged through the streets at the tails of
horses, and then hanged, for having frightened him.

As King John had now submitted, the pope, to King Philip's
great astonishment, took him under his protection, and informed
King Philip that he found he could not give him leave to in-
vade England. The angry Philip resolved to do without his
leave : but he gained nothing, and lost much ; for the English,
commanded by the Earl of Salisbury, went over in five hundred
ships, to the French coast, before the French fleet had sailed
away from it, and utterly defeated the whole.

The pope then took off his three sentences, one after an-
other, and empowered Stephen Langton publicly to receive
King John into the favor of the Church again, and to ask him
to dinner. The king, who hated Langton with all his might
and main, — and with reasons too, for he was a great and good
man, with whom such a king could have no sympathy, — pre-
tended to cry and be very grateful. There was a little difficulty
about settling how much the king should pay as a recompense
to the clergy for the losses he had caused them : but the end
of it was, that the superior clergy got a good deal, and the in-
ferior clergy got little or nothing \ which has also happened
since King John's time, I believe.

When all these matters were arranged, the king in his tri
umph became more fierce and false and insolent to all around
him than he had ever been. An alliance of sovereigns against
King Philip gave him an opportunity of landing an army in
France, with which he even took a town ! but on the French
king's gaining a great victory, he ran away, of course, and made
a truce for five years.

And now the time approached when he was to be still fur-
ther humbled, and made to feel, if he could feel anything, what
a wretched creature he was. Of all men in the world, Stephen
Langton seemed raised up by Heaven to oppose and subdue
him. When he ruthlessly burnt and de-^^troyed the property of
his own subjects, because their lords, the barons, would not


serve him abroad, Stephen Langton fearlessly reproved and
threatened him. When he swore to restore the laws of King
Edward, or the laws of King Henry the First, Stephen Langfon
knew his falsehood, and pursued him through all his evasions.
When the barons met at the abbey of St. Edmund's Bury, to
consider their wrongs and the king's oppressions, Stephen Lang-
ton roused them by his fervid words to demand a solemn char-
ter of rights and liberties from their perjured master, and '
swear, one by one, on the high altar, that they would havi' ,
or would wage war against him to the death. When the J jg
hid himself in London from the barons, and was at last obLged
to receive them, they told him roundly they would not believe
him unless Stephen Langton became a surety that he would
keep his word. When he took the cross to invest himself with
some interest, and belong to something that was received with
favor, Stephen Langton was still immovable. When he ap-
pealed to the pope, and the pope wrote to Stephen Langton in
behalf of his new favorite, Stephen Langton was deaf even to
the pope himself, and saw before him nothing but the welfare
of England and the crimes of the English king.

At Easter-time, the barons assembled at Stamford, in Lin-
colnshire, in proud array, and marching near to Oxford, where
the king was, delivered into the hands of Stephen Langton and
two others a list of grievances. " And these," they said, " he
must redress, or we will do it for ourselves ! " When Stephen
Langton told the king as much, and read the list to him, he
went half mad with rage. But that did him no more good than
his afterwards trying to pacify the barons with lies. They
called themselves and their followers, " The army of God and
the holy Church." Marching through the country, with the
people thronging to them everywhere (except at Northampton,
where they failed in an attack upon the castle), they at last
triumphantly set up their banner in London itself, whither the
whole land, tired of the tyrant, seemed to flock to join them.
Seven knights alone of all the knights in England, remained
with the king ; who, reduced to this strait, at last sent the Earl
of Pembroke to the barons to say that he approved of every-
thing, and would meet them to sign their charter when they
would. " Then," said the barons, "let the day be the 15th of
June, and the place Runny-Mead."

On Monday the 15th of June, 1214, the king came from
Windsor Castle, and the barons came from the town of Staines,
and they met on Runny-mead, which is still a pleasant meadow
by the Thames, where rushes grow in the clear water of the


Winding river, and its banks are green with grass and trejs.
On the side of the barons, came the general of their army,
Robert Fitz-Walter, and a great concourse of the nobility of
England. With the king came, in all, some four-and-twenty
persons of any note, most of whom despised him, and were
merely his advisers in form. On that great day, and in that
great company, the king signed Magna Charta, — the great char-
ter of England, — by which he pledged himself to maintain the
C.'hurch in its rights, to relieve the barons of oppressive obli-
gations as vassals of the crown (of which the barons, in their
turn, pledged themselves to relieve their vassals, the people) ;
to respect the liberties of London and all other cities and bor-
oughs ; to protect foreign merchants who came to England ; to
imprison no man without a fair trial ; and to sell, delay, or deny
justice to none. As the barons knew his falsehood well, they
further required, as their securities, that he should send out of
his kingdom all his foreign troops ; that for two months they
should hold possession of the city of London, and Stephen
Langton of the tower ; and that five-and-twenty of their body,
chosen by themselves, should be a lawful committee to watch
the keeping of the charter, and to make war upon him if he
broke it.

All this he was obliged to yield. He signed the charter
with a smile, and, if he could have looked agreeable, would
have done so, as he departed from the splendid assembly.
When he got home to Windsor Castle, he was quite a madman
in his helpless fury. And he broke the charter immediately

He sent abroad for foreign soldiers, and sent to the pope for
help, and plotted to take" London by surprise, while the barons
should be holding a great tournament at Stanford, which they
had agreed to hold there as a celebration of the charter. The
barons, however, found him out, and put it off. Then, when
the barons desired to see him, and tax him with his treachery,
he made numbers of appointments with ihem, and kept none,
and shifted from place to place, and was constantly sneaking
and skulking about. At last he appeared at Dover, to join his
foreign soldiers, of whom numbers came into his pay ; and with
them he besieged and took Rochester Castle, which was oc-
cupied by knights and soldiers of the barons. He would have
hanged them, every one ; but the leader of the foreign soldiers,
fearful of what the English people might afterwards do to him,
interfered to save the knights : therefore the king was fain to
satisfy his vengeance v/ith the death of all the common men.

io6 A CtTTjLZ>s f/lsTORY O^^NGLAND

Then he sent the Earl of Salisbury, with one portion of his
army, to ravage the eastern part of his dominions, while he
carried fire and slaughter into the northern part ; torturing,
plundering, killing, and inflicting every possible cruelty upon
the people ; and every morning setting a worthy example to his
men by setting fire, with his own monster-hands, to the house
where he had slept last night. Nor was this all ; for the pope,
coming to the aid of his precious friend, laid the kingdom un-
der an interdict again, because the people took part with the
barons It did not much matter ; for the people had grown so
used to it now that they had begun to think nothing about it.
It occurred to them, — perhaps to Stephen Langton too, — that
they could keep their churches open, and ring their bells, with-
out the pope's permission as well as with it. So they tried the
experiment, and found it succeeded perfectly.

It being now impossible to bear the country, as a wilderness
of cruelty^ or longer to hold any terms with such a forsworn
outlaw of a king, the barons sent to Louis, son of the French
monarch, to offer him the English crown Caring as little for
the pope's excommunication of him if he accepted the offer, as
it is possible his father may have cared for tj^e pope's forgive-
ness of his sins, he landed at Sandwich (King John immediately
running away from Dover, where he happened to be), and went
on to London. The Scottish king, with whom many of the
Northern English lords had taken refuge, numbers of the foreign
soldiers, numbers of the barons, and numbers of the people
went over to him every day ; King John the while continually
running away in all directions. The career of Louis was
checked, however, by the suspicions of the barons, founded on
the dying declaration of a French lord, that when the kingdom
was conquered he was sworn to banish them as traitors, and to
give their estates to some of his own nobles. Rather than
suffer this, some of the barons hesitated ; others even went
over to King John.

It seemed to be the turning-point of King John's fortunes ,
for in his savage and murderous course he had now taken some
towns and met with some successes. But happily for England
and humanity, his death was near. Crossing a dangerous
quicksand, called the Wash, not very far from Wisbeach, the
tide came up and nearly drowned his army. He and his
soldiers escaped ; but looking back from the shore when he
was safe, he saw the roaring water sweep down in torrents,
overturn the wagons, horses, and men that carried his treasure,
and ingulf thenv in a raging whirlpool from which nothing could
be cil^livered.



Cursing and swearing, and gnawing his fingers, he went on
to Swinestead Abbey, where the monks set before him quanti-
ties of pears and peaches and new cider, — some say poison too,
but there is very little reason to suppose so, — of which he ate
and drank \\\ an immoderate and beastly way. All night he lay
ill of a burning fever, and haunted with horrible fears. Next
day they put him in a horse-litter, and carried him to Sleaford
Castle, where he passed another night of pain and horror.
Next day they carried him, with greater difficulty than on the
day before, to the Castle of Newark upon Trent ; aixl there,
on the 18th of October, in the forty-ninth year of his age, and
the seventeenth of his vile reign, was an end of this miserable



If any of the English barons remembered tne murdered
Arthur's sister, Eleanor, the fair maid of Brittany, shut up in
her convent at Bristol, none among them spoke of her now, or
maintained her right to the crown. The dead usurper's eldest
boy, Henry by name, was taken by the Earl of Pembroke, the
marshal of England, to the city of Gloucester, and there
crowned in great haste when he was only ten years old. As
the crown itself had been lost with the king's treasun 'a the
raging water, and, as there was no time to make another, they
put a circle of plain gold upon his head instead. "We have
been the enemies of this child's father," said Lord Pembroke,
a good and true gentleman, to the few lords who were present,
" and he merited our ill-will ; but the child himself is innocent,
and his youth demands our friendship and protection." Those
lords felt tenderly towards the little boy, remembering their
own young children ; and they bowed their heads, and said,
" Long live King Henry the Third ! "

Next, a great council met at Bristol, revised Magna Charta,
and made Lord Pembroke Regent or Protector of England, as
the king was too young to reign alone. The next thing to be
done was to get rid of Prince Louis of France, and to win over
khose English barons who were still ranged under his bannar


He was strong in many parts of England, and in London Itself ;
and he held, among other places, a certain castle called the
Castle of Mount Sorel, in Leicestershire. To this fortress,
after some skirmishing and truce-making. Lord Pembroke laid
siege. Louis despatched an army of six hundred knights and
twenty thousand soldiers to relieve it. Lord Pembroke, who
was not strong enough for such a force, retired with all his
men. The army of the French prince, which had marched
there with fire and plunder, marched away with fire and plun-
der, and came, in a boastful, swaggering manner, to Lincoln.
The town submitted ; but the castle in the town, held by
a brave widow lady, named Nichola de Camville (whose prop-
erty it was), made such a sturdy resistance, that the French
count in command of the army of the French prince found it
necessary to besiege this castle. While he was thus engaged,
word was brought to him that Lord Pembroke, with four hun-
dred knights, two hundred and fifty men with cross-bows, and a
stout force both of horse and foot, was marching towards him.
*' What care 1 1 " said the French count. " The Englishman is
not so mad as to attack me and my great army in a walled
town ! " But the Englishman did it for all that, and did it, not
so madly but so wisely, that he decoyed the great army into the
narrow, ill-paved lanes and by-ways of Lincoln, where its horse-
soldiers could not ride in any strong body ; and there he made
such havoc with them, that the whole force surrendered them-
selves prisoners, except the count, who said that he would never
yield to an English traitor alive, and accordingly got killed.
The end of this victory, which the English called, for a joke,
the Fair of Lincoln, was the usual one in those times, — the
common men were slain without any mercy, and the knights
and gentlemen paid ransom and went home.

The wife of Louis, the fair Blanche of Castile, dutifully
equipped a fleet of eighty good ships, and sent it over from
France to her husband's aid. An English fleet of forty ships,
some good and some bad, gallantly met them near the mouth
of the Thames, and took or sunk sixty-five in one fight. This
great loss put an end to the French prince's hopes. A treaty
was made at Lambeth, in virtue of which the English barons
who had remained attached to his cause returned to their allegi-
ance ; and it was engaged on both sides that the prince and
all his troops should retire peacefully to France. It was time
to go ; for war had made him so poor that he was obliged to
borrow money from the citizens of London to pay his expenses


Lord Pembroke afterwards applied himself to governing
the country justly, and to healing the quarrels and disturb-
ances that had risen among men in the days of the bad King
John. He caused Magna Charta to be still more improved,
and so amended the Forest Laws that a peasant was no longer
put to death for killing a stag in a royal forest, but was only
imprisoned. It would have been well for England if it could
have had so good a protector many years longer ; but that was
not to be. Within three years after the young king's corona-
tion, Lord Pembroke died ; and you may see his tomb at this
day, in the old Temple Church in London.

The protectorship was now divided. Peter de Roches,
whom King John had made Bishop of Winchester, was in-
trusted with the care of the person of the young sovereign ; and
the exercise ot the royal authority was confided to Earl Hu-
bert de Burgh. These two personages had from the first no
liking for each other, and soon became enemies. When
the young king was declared of age, Peter de Roches,,
finding that Hubert increased in power and favor, retired dis-
contentedly, and went abroad. For nearly ten years after-
wards Hubert had full sway alone.

But ten years is a long time to hold the favor of a king.
This king, too, as he grew up, showed a strong resemblance of
his father, in feebleness, inconsistency, and irresolution. The
best that can be said of him is that he was not cruel. De
Roches coming home again after ten years, and being a nov-
elty, the king began to favor him and to look coldly on Hu-
bert. Wanting money besides, and having made Hubert rich
he began to dislike Hubert. At last he was made to believe,
or pretend to believe, that Hubert had misappropriated some
of the royal treasure ; and ordered him to furnish an account
of all he had done in his administration. Besides which, the
foolish charge was brought against Hubert that he had made
himself the king's favorite by magic. Hubert very well knowing;
that he could never defend himself against such nonsense, and
that his old enemy must be determined on his ruin, instead of
answering the charges, fled to Merton Abbey. Then the king,
in a violent passion, sent for the Mayor of London, and said
to the Mayor, " Take twenty thousand citizens, and drag me
Hubert de Burgh out of that abbey, and bring him here."
The Mayor posted off to do it ; but the Archbishop of Dublin
(who was a friend of Hubert's) warning the king that an abbey
was a sacred place, and that if he committed any violence
there he must answer for it to the Church, the king changed


his mind, and called the Mayor back, and declared that Hu-
bert should have four months to prepare his defence, and
should be safe and free during that time.

Hubert, who relied upon the king's word, though I think
he was old enough to have known better, came out of Met Ion
Abbey upon these conditions, and journeyed away to see his
wife, a Scottish princess, who was then at St. Edmunds-Bury.

Almost as soon as he had departed from the sanctuary, his
enemies persuaded the weak king to send out one Sir Godfrey
de Crancumb, who commanded three hundred vagabonds called
the Black Band, with orders to seize him. They came up with
him at a little town in Essex called Brentwood, when he was
in bed. He leaped out of bed, got out of the house, fled to
the church, ran up to the altar, and laid his hand upon the
cross. Sir Godfrey and the Black Band caring neither for
church, altar, nor cross, dragged him forth to the church door,
with their drawn swords flashing around his head, and sent for
a smith to rivet a set of chains upon him. When the smith (I
wish I knew his name) was brought, all dark and swarthy with
the smoke of his forge, and panting with the speed he had
made, and the Black Band falling aside to show him the pris
oner, cried with a ioud uproar, " Make the fetters heavy, make
them strong ! " the smith dropped upon his knee, — but not to
the Black Band. — and said, " This is the brave Earl Hubert
de Burgh, who fought at Dover Castle, and destroyed the
French fleet, and has done his country much good service.
You may kill me if you like, but I will never make a chain for
Earl Hubert de Burgh ! "

The Black Band never blushed, or they might have blushed
at this. They knocked the smith about from one to another,
and swore at him, and tied the earl on horseback, undressed
as he was, and carried him off to the Tower of London. The
bishops, however, were so indignant at the violation of the
sanctuary of the Church, that the frightened king soon ordered
the Black Band to take him back again ; at the same time
commanding the Sheriff of Essex to prevent his escaping out
of Brentwood Church. Well, the sheriff dug a deep trench all
round the church and erected a high fence, and watched their
church night and day ; the Black Band and their captain
watched it too, like three hundred and one black wolves.
For thirty-nine days, Hubert de Burgh remained within. At
length, upon the fortieth day, cold and hunger were too much
for him ; and he gave himself up to the Black Band, who car-
ried him off, for the second time, to the Tower. When his


trial came on he refused to plead ; but at last it was arranged
that he should give up all the royal lands which had been be-
stowed upon him, and should be kept at the Castle of Devizes,
in what was called " free prison," in charge of four knights
appointed by four lords. There he remained almost a year,
until, learning that a follower of his old enemy, the bishop was
made keeper of the castle, and fearing that he might be killed
by treachery, he climbed the ramparts one dark night, dropped
from the top of the high castle wall mto the moat, and coming
safely to the ground, took refuge m another Church. From
this place he was delivered by a party of horse despatched to
his help by some nobles, who were by this time in revolt
against the king, and assembled in Wales. He was finally
pardoned, and restored to his estates ; but he lived privately,
and never more aspired to a high post in the realm, or to a high
place in the king's favor. And thus end — more happily than
the stories of many favorites of kings — the adventures of Eah
Hubert de Burgh.

The nobles who had risen in revolt were stirred up to rebel-
lion by the overbearing conduct of the Bishop of Winchester
who, finding that the king secretly hated the Great Charter
which had been forced from his father, did his utmost to con-
firm him in that dislike, and in the preference he showed to
foreigners over the English, Of this and of his even publicly
declaring that the barons of England were inferior to those of
France, the English lords complamed with such bitterness, that
the king, finding them well supported by the clergy, became
frightened for his throne, aif^ sent away the bishop and all his
foreign associates. On his marriage, however, with Eleanor, a
French lady, the daughter of the Count of Provence, he openly
favored the foreigners again ; and so many of his wife's rela-
tions came over, and -made such an immense family party at
court, and got so many good things, and pocketed so much
money, and were so high with the English whose money they
pocketed, that the bolder English barons murmured openly
about a clause there was in the Great Charter which provided
for the banishment of unreasonable favorites. But the foreign-
ers only laughed disdainfully, and said, "What are your Eng-
lish laws to us ;

King Philip of France had died, and had been succeeded by
Prince Louis, who had also died after a short reign of three
years, and had been succeeded by his son of the same name, —
so moderate and just a man that he was not the least in the
world like a king, as kings went. Isabella, King Henr}''s


mother, wished very much (for a certain spite she had) that
England should make war against this king ; and, as King
Henry was a mere puppet in anybody's hands who knew how
to manage his feebleness, she easily carried her point with him.
But the Parliament were determined to give him no money for
such a war. So to defy the Parliament, he packed up thirty
large casks of silver, — I don't know how he got so much j I
daresay he screwed it out of the miserable Jews, — and put them
aboard ship, and went away himself to carry war into France,
.accompanied by his mother and his brother Richard, Earl of
Cornwall, who was rich and clever. But he only got well
beaten, and came home.

The sood humor of the Parliament was not restored bv this.
They reproached the King with wasting the public money to
make greedy foreigners rich, and were so stern wdth him, and

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 11 of 38)