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so determined not to let him have more of it to waste if they
could help it, that he was at his wit's end for some and tried
so shamelessly to get all he could from his subjects, by ex-
cuses or by force, that the people used to say the king was the
sturdiest beggar in England. He took the cross, thinking to
get some money by that means ; but, as it was very w^ell known
that he never meant to go on a crusade, he got none. In all
this contention, the Londoners were particularly keen against
the king, and the king hated them warmly in return. Hating
or loving, however, made no difference ; he continued in the
same condition for nine or ten years, when, at last,the barons
said, that, if he would solemnly confirm their liberties afresh,
the Parliament would vote him a large sum.

As he readily consented, there was a great meeting held in
Westminster Hall, one pleasant day in May, when all the
clergy, dressed in their robes, and holding every one of them a
burning candle in his hand, stood up (the barons being also
there) while the Archbishop of Canterbury read the sentence of
excommunication against any man, and all men, who should
henceforth, in any way infringe the Great Charter of the king-
dom. When he had done, they all put out their burning can-
dles with a curse upon the soul of any one, and every one, who
should merit that sentence. The king concluded with an oath
to keep the charter, " As I am a man, as I am a Christian, as
I am a knight, as 1 am a king ! "

It was easy to make oaths, and easy to break them ; and the
king did both, as his father had done before him. He took to
his old courses again when he was supplied with money, and
soon cured of their weakner,s the few who had ever really



trusted him. When his money was gone, and he was once
more borrowing and begging everywhere with a meanness wor-
thy of his nature, he got into a difficulty with the pope re-
specting \\\t crown of Sicily, which the pope said he had a right
to give away, and which he offered to King Henry for his sec-
ond son, Prince Edmund. But if you or I give away what we
have not got, and what belongs to somebody else, it is likely
that the person to whom we give it will have some trouble in
taking it. It was exactly so in this case. It was necessary to
conquer the Sicilian crown before it could be put upon young
Edmund's head. It could not be conquered without money.
The pope ordered the clergy to raise money. The clergy,
however, were not so obedient to him as usual ; they had been
disputing with him for some time about his unjust preference
of Italian priests in England ; and they had begun to doubt
whether the king's chaplain, whom he allowed to be paid for
preaching in seven hundred churches, could possibly be, even
by the pope's favor, in seven hundred places at once. " The
pope and the king together," said the Bishop of London, " may
take the mitre off my head ; but if they do, they will find that
I shall put on a soldier's helmet. I pay nothing." The Bishop
of Worcester was as bold as the Bishop of London, and would
pay nothing either. Such sums as the more timid or more
helpless of the clergy did raise were squandered away, without
doing any good to the king, or bringing the Sicilian crown an
inch nearer to Prince Edmund's head. The end of the busi
ness was, that the pope gave the crown to the brother of tht
King of France (who conquered it for himself), and sent the
King of England in a bill of one hundred thousand pounds for
the expenses of not having won it.

The king was now so much distressed that we might almost
pity him, if it were possible to pity a king so shabby and ridic-
ulous. His clever brother Richard had bought the title of the
King of the Romans from the German people, and was no
longer near him to help him with advice. The clergy, resisting
the very pope, were in alliance with the barons. The barons
were headed by Simon de jSIontfort, Earl of Leicester, married
to King Henry's sister, and, though a foreigner himself, the
most popular man in England against the foreign favorites.
When the king next met his Parliament, the barons, led by this
earl, came before him, armed from head to foot, and cased in
armor. When the Parliament again assembled, in a month's
time, at Oxford, this earl was at their head ; and the king was
obliged to consent, on oath, to what was called a Committee of


Government, consisting of twenty-four members, twelve chosen
by the barons, and twelve chosen by himself.

But at a good time for him, his brother Richard came back.
Richard's first act (the barons would not admit him into Eng-
land on other terms) was to swear to be faithful to the Commit-
tee of Government, which he immediately began to oppose with
all his might. Then the barons began to quarrel among them-
selves, especially the proud Earl of Gloucester with the Earl of
Leicester, who went abroad in disgust. Then the people began
to be dissatisfied with the barons, because they did not do
enough for them. The king's chances seemed so good again,
at length, that he took heart enough, or caught it from his
brother, to tell the Committee of Government that he abolished
them ; as to his oath, never mind that, the pope said ! — and to
seize all the money in the mint and to shut himself up in the
Tower of London. Here he was joined by his eldest son,
Prince Edward ; and from the Tower he made public a letter
of the pope's to the world in general, informing all men that he
had been an excellent and just king for five and forty years.

As everybody knew he had been nothing of the sort, nobody
cared much for this document. It so chanced that the proud
Earl of Gloucester dying, was succeeded by his son ; and that
his son, instead of being the enemy of the Earl of Leicester,
was (for the time) his friend. It fell out, therefore, that these
two earls joined their forces, took several of the royal castles
in the country, and advanced as hard as they could on London.
The London people, always opposed to the king, c'eclared for
them with great joy. The king himself remained shut up, not
at all gloriously, in the Tower. Prince Edward made the best
of his way to Windsor Castle. His mother the queen attempted
to follow him by water ; but the people, seeing her barge row-
ing up the river, and hating her with all their hearts, ran to
London Bridge, got together a quantity of stones and mud, and
pelted the barge as it came through, crying furiously, " Drown
the witch ! Drown her ! " They were so near doing it, that
the Mayor took the old lady under his protection, and shut her
up in St. Paul's until the danger was past.

It would require a great deal of writing on my part, and a
great deal of reading on yours, to follow the king through his
disputes with the barons, and to follow the barons through
their disputes with one another ; so I will make short work of
it for both of us, and onlj relate the chief events which arose
out of these quarrels. The good king of France was asked to
decide between them. He gave it as his opinion that the king



must maintain the Great Charter, and that the barons must
give up the Committee of Government, and all the rest that
had been done by the Parliament at Oxford, which the royal-
ists, or king's party, scornfully called the Mad Parliament.
The barons declared that these were not fair terms, and they
would not accept them. They then caused the great bell of
St. Paul's to be tolled for the purpose of rousing up the Lon-
don people, who armed themselves at the dismal sound, and
formed quite an army in the streets. I am sorry to say, how-
ever, that instead of falling upon the king's party, with whom
their quarrel was, they fell upon the miserable Jews, and killed
at least five hundred of them. They pretended that some of
these Jews were on the king's side, and that they kept hidden
in their houses, for the destruction of the people, a certain ter
rible composition called Greek Fire, which could not be put
out with water, but only burnt the fiercer for it. What they
really did keep in their houses was mone)'' ; and this their cruel
enemies wanted ; and this their cruel enemies took, like rob-
bers and murderers.

The Earl of Leicester put himself at the head of these Lon-
doners and other forces, and followed the king to Lewes in
Sussex, where he lay encamped with his army. Before giving
the king's forces battle here, the earl addressed his soldiers,
and said that King Henry the Third had broken so many oaths
that he had become the enemy of God, and therefore they
would wear white crosses on their breasts, as if they were
arrayed, not against a fellow-Christian, but against a Turk.
White-crossed, accordingly, they rushed into the fight. They
would have lost the day, — the king having on his side all the
foreigners in England ; and from Scotland, John Comyn, John
Baliol, and Robert Bruce, with all their men, — But for the im-
patience of Prince Edward, who, in his hot desire to have ven-
geance on the people of London, threw the whole of his father's
army into confusion. He was taken prisoner ; so was the
king ; so was the king's brother, the King of the Romans ; and
five thousand Englishmen were left dead upon the bloody

For this success the pope excommunicated the Earl of Lei-
cester, which neither the earl nor the people cared at all about.
The people loved him and supported him ; and he became the
real king, having all the power of the government in his own
hands though he was outwardly respectful to King Henry the
Third, whom he took with him wherever he went, like a poor
old limp court-card. He summoned a parliament (in the year


1265), which was the first parliament in England that the peo
ple had any real share in electing ; and he grew more and more
in favor with the people every day, and they stood by him in
whatever he did.

Many of the other barons, and particularly the Earl of
Gloucester, who had become by this time as proud as his
father, grew jealous of this powerful and popular earl, who was
proud too, and began to conspire against him. Since the bat-
tle of Lewes, Prince Edward had been kept as a hostage, and,
though he was otherwise treated like a prince, had never been
allowed to go out without attendants, appointed by the Earl of
Leicester, who watched him. The conspiring lords found
means to propose to him, in secret, that they should assist him
to escape, and should make him their leader j to which he very
heartily consented.

So on a day that was agreed upon, he said to his attendants
after dinner (being then at Hereford), " I should like to ride on
horseback, this fine afternoon, a little way into the country."
As they too, thought it would be very pleasant to have a can-
ter in the sunshine, they all rode out of the town together in
a gay little troop. When they came to a fine level piece of
turf, the prince fell to comparing their horses one with another
and offering bets that one w^as faster than another ; and the at-
tendants suspecting no harm, rode galloping matches until their
horses were quite tired. The prince rode no matches himself,
but looked on from his saddle, and staked his money. Thus
they passed the whole merry afternoon. Now the sun was set-
ting, and they were all going slowly up a hill, the prince's horse
very fresh and all the other horses very weary, when a strange
rider mounted on a gray steed appeared at the top of the hill,
and waved his hat. " What does the fellow mean ? " said the
attendants, one to another. The prince answered on the instant
by setting spurs to his horse, dashing away at his utmost speed,
joining the man, riding into the midst of a little crowd of horse-
men, who were then seen waiting under some trees, and who
closed around him ; and so he departed in a cloud of dust,
leaving the road empty of all but the baffled attendants, who
sat looking at one another, while their horses drooped their
ears and panted.

The prince joined the Earl of Gloucester at Ludlow. The
Earl of Leicester, with a part of the army and the stupid old
king was at Hereford. One of the Earl of Leicester's sons,
Simon de Montford, with another part of the army, was in Sus-
sex. To prevent these two parts from uniting was the prince's



first object. He attacked Simon de Montfort by night, de-
feated him, seized his banners and treasure, and forced him
into Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, which belonged \o his

His father, the Earl of Leicester, in the mean while, not
knowing what had happened, marched out of Hereford wdth
his part of the army and the king to meet him. He came on
a bright morning in August to Evesham, which is watered by
the pleasant river Avon. Looking rather anxiously across the
prospect towards Kenilworth, he saw his own banners advan-
cing, and his face brightened with joy. But it clouded darkly
when he presently perceived that the banners were captured
and in the enemy's hands, and he said, " It is over. The
Lord have mercy on our souls ! for our bodies are Prince Ed-

He fought like a true knight nevertheless. When his horse
was killed under him, he fought on foot. It was a fierce bat'
tie, and the dead lay in heaps everywhere. The old king,
stuck up in a suit of armor on a big war-horse, which didn't
mind him at all, and which carried him into all sorts of places
where he didn't want to go, got into everybody's way, and very
nearly got knocked on the head by one of his son's men. But
he managed to pipe out, " I am Harry of Winchester ! " and
the prince, who heard him, seized his bridle, and took him out
of peril. The Earl of Leicester still fought bravely, until his
best son, Henry, was killed, and the bodies of his best friends
choked his path ; and then he fell, still fighting, sword in hand.
They mangled his body, and sent it as a present to a noble
lady, — but a very unpleasant lady, I should think, — who was
the wife of his worst enemy. They could not mangle his mem-
ory in the minds of the faithful people, though. Many years
afterwards they loved him more than ever, and regarded him
as a saint, and always spoke of him as " Sir Simon the Right-

And even though he was dead, the cause for which he had
fought still lived, and was strong, and forced itself upon the
king in the very hour of victory. Henry found himself obliged
to respect the Great Charter, however much he hated it, and to
make laws similar to the laws of the great Earl of Leicester,
and to be moderate and forgiving towards the people at last, —
even towards the people of London, who had so long opposed
him. There were more rising before all this was done ; but
they were set at rest by these means, and Prince Edward did
bis best in all things to restore peace. One Sir Adam de


Gordon was the last dissatisfied knight in arms ; but the prince
vanquished him in single combat, in a wood, and nobly gave
him his life and became his friend, instead of slaying him. Sir
Adam was not ungrateful. He ever afterwards remained
devoted to his generous conqueror.

When the troubles of the kingdom were thus calmed, Prince
Edward and his cousin Henry took the cross, and went away
to the Holy Land, with many English lords and knights. Four
years afterwards the King of tlie Romans died ; and next year
(1272), his brother, the weak King of England, died. He was
sixty-eight years old then, and had reigned fifty-six years. He
was as much of a king in death as he had ever been in life.
He was the mere pale shadow of a king at all times.



It was now^ the year of our Lord 1272 , and Prince Edward,
the heir to the throne, being away in the Holy Land, knew noth-
ing of his father's death. The barons, however, proclaimed
him king, immediately after the royal funeral ; and the people
very willingly consented, since most men knew too well by this
time what the horrors of a contest for the crown were. So
King Edward the First, called, in a not very complimentary
manner, Longshanks, because of the slenderness of his legs,
was peacefully accepted by the English nation.

His legs had need to be strong, however long and thin they
were ; for they had to support him through many difficulties on
the fiery sands of Asia, where his small force of soldiers fainted,
died, deserted, and seemed to melt away. But his prowess
made light of it ; and he said, '' I will go on, if I go on with no
other follower than my groom ! "

A prince of this spirit gave the Turks a deal of trouble.
He stormed Nazareth, at which place, of all places on earth, I
am sorry to relate, he made a frightful slaughter of innocent
people ; and then he went to Acre, where he got a truce of ten
years from the Sultan. He had very nearly lost his life in
Acre, through the treachery of a Saracen noble, called the Emir
of Jaffa, who, making the pretence that he had some idea of



turning Christian, and wanted to know all about that religion,
sent a trusty messenger to Edward, very often, — with a dagger
in his sleeve. At last, one Friday, in Whitsun-week, when it
was very hot, and all the sandy prospect lay beneath the blazing
sun, burnt up like a great overdone biscuit, and Edward was
lying on a couch, dressed for coolness in only a loose robe, the
messenger, with his chocolate-colored face and his bright dark
eyes and white teeth, came creeping in with a letter, and kneeled
down like a tame tiger. But the moment Edward stretched out
his hand to take the letter, the tiger make a spring at his heart.
He was quick, but Edward was quick too. He seized the trai-
tor by his chocolate throat, threw him to the ground, and slew
him with the very dagger he had drawn. The weapon had struck
Edward in the arm, and, although the wound itself was slight,
it threatened to be mortal, for the blade of the dagger had been
smeared with poison. Thanks, however, to a better surgeon
than was often to be found in those times, and to some whole-
some herbs, and above all, to his faithful wife, Eleanor, who
devotedly nursed him, and is said by some to have sucked the
poison from the wound with her own red lips (which I am very
willing to believe), Edward soon recovered and was sound

As the kingjhis father, had sent entreaties to him to return
home, he now began the journey. He had got as far as Italy,
when he met messengers who brought him intelligence of the
king's death. Hearing that all was quiet at home, he made no
haste to return to his own dominions, but paid a visit to the
pope, and went in state through various Italian towns, where
he was welcomed with acclamations as a mighty champion of
the cross from the Holy Land, and where he received presents
of purple mantles and prancing horses, and went along in great
triumph. The shouting people little knew that he was the last
English monarch who would ever embark in a crusade, or that
within twenty years every conquest which the Christians had
made in the Holy Land, at the cost of so much blood, would
be won back by the Turks. But all this came to pass.

There was, and there is, an old towm standing in a plain in
France, called Chalons. When the king was coming towards
the place on his way to England, a wily French lord called the
Count of Chalons, sent him a polite challenge to come with his
knights and hold a fair tournament with the count and his
knights, and make a day of it with sword and lance. It was
represented to the king that the Count of Chtdons was not to
be trusted, and that, instead of a holiday-fight for mere show


and in good humor, he secretly meant a real battle, in which
the English should be defeated by superior force.

The king, however, nothing afraid, went to the appointed
place on the appointed day with a thousand followers. When
the count came with two thousand, and attacked the English
in earnest, the English rushed at them with such valor, that
the count's men and the count's horses soon began to be
tumbled down all over the field. The count himself seized
the king round the neck ; but the king tumbled him out of his
saddle in return for the compliment, and, jumping from his
own horse and standing over him, beat away at his iron armor
like a blacksmith hammering on his anvil. Even when the
count owned himself defeated, and offered his sword, the king
would not do him the honor to take it, but made him yield it up
to a common soldier. There had been such fury shown in this
nght, that it was afterwards called the little battle of Chalons.

The English were very well disposed to be proud of their
king after these adventures ; so, when he landed at Dover in
the year 1274 (being then thirty-six years old), and went on to
Westminster where he and his good queen were crowned with
great magnificence, splendid rejoicings took place. For the
coronation feast there were provided, among other eatables,
four hundred oxen, four hundred sheep, four hundred and fifty
pigs, eighteen wild boars, three hundred flitches of bacon, and
twenty thousand fowls. The fountains and conduits in the
streets flowed with red and white wine instead of water ; the
rich citizens hung silks and cloths of the brightest colors out of
their windows to increase the beauty of the snow, and threw
out gold and silver by whole handful to make scrambles for the
crowd. In short, there was such eating and drinking, such
music and capering, such a ringing of bells and tossing of caps,
such a shouting and singing and revelling, as the narrow over-
hanging streets of old London City had not witnessed for many
a long day. All the people were merry, — except the poor
Jews, who, trembling within their houses, and scarcely daring to
peep out, began to foresee that they would have to find the
money for this joviality sooner or later.

To dismiss this sad subject of the Jews for the present, I
am sorry to add that in this reign they were most unmercifully
pillaged. They were hanged in great numbers, on accusations
of having clipped the king's coin. — which all kinds of people
had done. They were heavily taxed ; they were disgracefully
badged ; they were, on one day, thirteen years after the coro-
nation, taken up with their wives and children, and thrown into


beastly prisons, until they purchased their release by paying to
the king twelve thousand pounds. Finally, every kind of prop-
erty belonging to them was seized by the king, except so little
as would defray the charge of their taking themselves away into
foreign countries. Many years elapsed before the hope of gain
induced any of their race to return to England, where they had
been treated so heartlessly and had suffered so much.

If King Edward the First had been as bad a king to Chris-
tians as he was to Jews, he would have been bad indeed. But
he was, in general, a wise and great monarch, under whom the
country much improved. He had no love for the Great Charter,
— few kings had, through many, many years, — but he had high
qualities. The first bold object which he conceived when he
came home was to unite under one sovereign England, Scot-
land, and Wales ; the two last of which countries had each a
little king of its own, about whom the people were always quar^
relling and fighting, and making a prodigious disturbance, — a
great deal more than he was worth. In the course of King
Edward's reign, he was engaged besides in a war with France,
To make these quarrels clearer, we will separate their histories
and take them thus : Wales, first ; France, second ; Scotland,

Llewellyn was the Prince of Wales. He had been on the
side of the barons in the reign of the stupid old king, but had
afterwards sworn allegiance to him. When King Edward came
to the throne, Llewellyn was required to swear allegiance to
him also, which he refused to do. The king being crowned
and in his own dominions, three times more required Llewellyn
to come and do homage ; and three times more Llewellyn said
he would rather not. He was going to be married to Eleanor
de Montfort, a young lady of the family mentioned in the last
reign ; and it chanced that this young lady, coming from France
with her youngest brother, Emeric, was taken by an English
ship, and was ordered by the English king to be detained.
Upon this the quarrel came to a head. The king went with

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 12 of 38)