Goldwin Smith.

The United kingdom; a political history online

. (page 8 of 84)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 8 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stition ? Were they any the more spiritual or the less
criminal because superstition, instead of doing them her-
self, had to enlist in her service, at the same time deprav-
ing, an earthly power ?

In his death Becket conquered. An electric shock ran
through papal Europe. The king fell on his knees,
solemnly abjured the murder, bowed himself beneath the


censure of the church, renounced the constitutions of
Clarendon, and afterwards performed at Becket's tomb a
penance more degrading than the humiliation of Henry
IV. at Canossa, or of Barbarossa at Venice. The martyr
of clerical privilege was exalted to the skies. Thanks to
the enthusiasm of his order he became the chief saint of
the English people. His shrine, as readers of Chaucer
know, was through the middle ages the great place of
pilgrimage ; far more was offered at it than at the altar
of God, or even at the shrine of the Virgin. Wealth
poured in upon the monks of Canterbury, the showmen of
the relics. Even before canonization miracles began to
be performed. The collection of them, which includes,
besides other portents, the raising not only of men but of
pigs, geese, and cows from the dead, are among the most
revolting monuments of medieval superstition and the
direst proofs of its effects upon the mind. At the Refor-
mation the idol was cast down. In the present century
St. Thomas of Canterbury once more became the hero of
a party aiming at the revival of priestly power, and the
subject of biography hardly less veracious, though more
subtle and refined in its un veracity, than the hagiography
of medieval monks.

The difference between zeal for ecclesiastical privilege
and zeal for religious liberty was seen when a company of
heretics from Germany, guilty of no offence but their
heresy, which was probably nearer than was the teaching
of the church to the faith of the peasants of Galilee, were
1166 in this same reign brought before an ecclesiastical tribu-
nal, delivered by it to the secular arm, scourged, branded,
and turned out to die of cold and hunger, no Becket
raising his voice in their defence.


The constitutions - of Clarendon had been renounced,
but Becket's successor, Archbishop Richard, seems to
have been a man of sense and to have seen the mischiev-
ous absurdity of Becket's principle, which would cut
both ways, shielding the murderers of clerks as well as
clerical murderers. The murderers of Becket, in fact,
got off at last with penance. Richard compromised so far
as to agree that clerks convicted of breach of forest laws,
hunting being altogether forbidden to clerks by the
canons, should be handed over to the secular arm, and
for that concession was denounced by his order. Privi-
lege of clergy, however, long continued more or less to
shield crime from public justice.

It seems to have been partly to shun the storm of
obloquy which clerical fury had raised against him, and
to reinstate himself at the same time in the good graces
of the papacy, that Henry undertook the conquest of
Ireland. We have come to the first attempt at a union
of the islands, and to the opening, so fate would have it,
of seven centuries of woe. In the long line of popes
Nicholas Breakspear, Adrian IV., is the only English-
man. English he was by birth, by adoption Italian. He
had some time before this issued in favour of the king 1155
of England a missive granting him the dominion of
Ireland, of which the pope claimed a right to dispose,
on the ground, it appears, that by the Donation of Con-
stantine, a palpable forgery, islands belonged to the
Holy See. The condition of the grant was church reform
in the Roman sense. The Irish church, a surviving mem-
ber of the church of Roman Britain, was barely in the
Roman communion and far from being in perfect obedi-
ence to Rome. It was not organized on the Roman


model; such organization as it had was monastic and
rude in character ; it had hardly a diocesan episcopate ;
it had no parochial system or tithes ; it allowed marriages
within the prohibited degrees ; its services, its baptis-
mal service among others, lacked the perfect beauty of
holiness. It was oppressed by the native chiefs, who
quartered themselves on it as they did on their lay de-
pendents, and by lawless appropriation thrust themselves
into its preferments. A marvellous, almost miraculous,
period of missionary enterprise, during which Irish mis-
sionaries preached not only to Ireland but to the north
of England and to Germany, and of which the romantic
memory hallows the islet of lona, had been succeeded by
depression, corruption, and subjection to barbarous power.
Irish church reformers had stretched their hands to Canter-
bury and Rome. The Anglo-Saxon conquest of Ireland,
like the Norman conquest of England, partook of the
character of a crusade.

The lonely island of the west had escaped Roman con-
quest. It had escaped Saxon conquest. By the Dane it
had been visited, and its monasteries had been ravaged,
but he had only founded some little settlements on its
coast. Those settlements, however, were about the only
germs of commerce or civilization, and they showed their
affinity to the civilization of the Anglo-Norman kingdom.
The Celts who peopled the rest of the island had remained
in the tribal or clan state without any general polity or
settled tendency to form one, though the chiefs of power-
ful septs might for a time gain such an ascendancy over
their neighbours as to assume the style of kings. Nor was
there any general law saving the Brehon law, the work
of priests or bards, fancifully minute and elaborate, but



without regular authority to enforce it. Blind attach-
ment founded on supposed kinship of the clansman to
his chief was the only political organization. Tribal war
was incessant, and its axe was in every hand. To unifi-
cation the bogs and the great forests which then clothed
the country were opposed. The climate being too wet
for grain, agriculture, the mother of civilization, was rare.
The people remained pastoral, and had hardly ceased to
be nomad. Cities there were none, save the little sea-
board cities of the Dane. The Celts had risen but few
steps above the savage state, and are painted by a keen
contemporary observer as showing the impulsiveness,
fickleness, and treachery of the savage. They loved the
harp, and displayed an aptitude for decorative art, and, it
seems, a thirst for learning when its cup was put to their
lips. Traditions, probably exaggerated, of a vast gather-
ing of learned men under the auspices of the church haunt
the now lonely and melancholy site of Clonmacnoise.
But the church, herself unorganized, could do little to
unify or civilize the nation. Without cities she could not
be stately or impressive. Tribal barbarism trampled her
under its hoofs. Her monuments are not cathedrals, but
the Round Towers, which probably served as refuges for
the priests and sacred vessels when the country was v
swept b}^ the plundering tribes.

Tribal quarrels, as usual, opened the country to the
invader. Dermot, a chieftain who had been worsted in a
deadly feud, craved the aid of the English king. Henry 1169
had other matters on his hands, but he gave Dermot leave
to enlist adventurers. Dermot turned to the northern
chiefs, who had been pushing the conquest into Wales,
but having, it seems, lightly squandered what they had

102 '1. ^ ^^ i. THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

lightly won, were ready for a new enterprise. At their
head was Richard De Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Stri-
guil, surnamed Strongbow. Striguil sent before him to
Ireland his associates, Maurice Fitzgerald and Robert
Fitzstephen, with small bodies of knights and archers.
The first landing of the invaders was in Bannow Bay.
As the Spaniard was to the Mexican, so was the Norman
with his mailed horsemen and his bowmen to the naked
Celt, though the Dane made a better stand. The natives
were defeated with great slaughter, and a pile of heads
having been made after the victory, Dermot picked out
the head of his personal enemy and tore it with his
teeth. Striguil presently appeared in person on the
scene, and amidst a reign of blood and havoc created
himself Earl of Leinster. He was on the point of found-
ing an Anglo-Norman principality in the island.

Fear of that result and of its consequences to his own
kingdom probably concurred with other motives in at-
tracting Henry himself to Ireland. His presence brought
the Anglo-Normans back to their allegiance, and he
received the transient homage of the Celtic chiefs. He
reformed the church, superficially at least, after the Eng-
lish, that is the Roman, pattern. He annexed the domin-
ion of Ireland to his crown, while he acknowledged the
pope as grantor, and undertook to pay him an annual
tribute of Peter's pence. He had been on the point of
extending the conquest, and securing it by castles, when
he was unluckily called away by the storm which clerical
hatred and feudal mutiny had together raised against
him. He left behind him at first a viceregal government,
on the home-rule principle, the vicegerent being Roderick,
1185 a native chief. Afterwards his favourite son, John, was


sent over as his vicegerent. It apparently was Henry's
intention to make John king, but the worthless boy only
showed his folly by insulting the natives ; the conquest
remained incomplete ; the island was permanently divided
between two hostile races ; and the fatal die was cast.

As a rule the church was on the side of the king
against the feudatories, but in the storm which now
burst, and to meet which Henry left Ireland unsub-
dued, clerical revenge was mingled with the wrath of
the great barons, who could no longer endure the
centralizing and levelling policy of the king. The
sweeping dismissal of the sheriffs had probably cut the
high aristocracy to the heart. The king of Scots joined 1173
the conspiracy and invaded England, hoping to annex
Northumberland. The jealousy of the king of France
was always at work against his too powerful vassal. It
was to conjure the clerical element of the storm that
Henry performed his penance at the shrine of the martyr
of Canterbury. The struggle on both sides of the water
was severe, but the event proved the soundness of the
government. Many of the barons remained loyal. The
common people both in country and ^ town wherever they
appeared in the field were for the king. With the help
of these and of the mercenaries, who for the first and only
time were brought to England, the king and his ever-
loyal De Lucy, who now rendered His greatest and his
last service, gave the hydra of rebellious feudalism a
decisive and final overthrow. The victory was completed
by a politic clemency, surprising in so passionate a nature
as that of Henry. No blood was shed, though fines no
doubt augmented the treasure which the king accumu-
lated alike by exaction and parsimony as the condition


of his free exercise of power. William, king of Scots,
having fallen as a prisoner into Henry's hands, was
compelled to do homage for his kingdom, so that for a
moment there was a union of the island. Perfect calm
ensued, and it seemed that Henry's sun would go down
in splendour and in peace.

At the close, however, there came another storm, not
in England, but in the possessions over-sea, and as the
result of Norman mutiny combined with French jealousy,
while on the rising gale rode the ever-restless spirit of
Bertrand De Born, a troubadour, whose life was intrigue,
satire, and battle, the companion and tempter of Henry's
sons. Let admirers of medieval or Norman character
mark the repeated occurrence of parricidal and fratri-
cidal war. The son of William the Conqueror makes
war upon him ; his three sons make war upon each
other; Henry of Winchester abets those who are mak-
ing war upon his brother Stephen; the tliree sons of
Henry II., Henry, Richard, and John, make war upon
their father. Henry's sons are prompted to treason
by his queen, who might find some excuse in his roving
loves. To settle the succession which, it must be inferred,
was still insecure, Henry had caused his eldest surviving
son and namesake to be crowned in his own lifetime ; a
perilous measure which, with the infusions of Bertrand
De Born and other intriguers, awoke in the silly boy a

1183 desire to be at once a king. His two other sons, Richard
and his ill-chosen favourite John, took part, the first
openly, the second secretly, in the plot of which the
prime mover was the able and unscrupulous Philip

1183 Augustus, now king of France. Young Henry died ; he
died in an agony of remorse, desiring the clerg}^ Avho


were with him to drag him from his bed with a rope
round his neck and lay him on the ashes. Deathbed
repentance was better than none, as it might impress the
survivors, but its supposed efficacy was a dangerous part
of the spiritual system. Young Henry had conjured his
father to come to him. But in those days of chivalry the
old king feared treachery, and could only send a ring in
token of his forgiveness and affection. Richard and John,
with the king of France, carried on the war, and Henry,
overpowered, was forced, at a humiliating conference, to
place himself at the mercy of the French king, and to 1189
agree to a treaty by which he made over to the undutiful
Richard a part of his dominions. The treaty signed, he
asked to see a list of the conspirators, and his spirit sank
when at the head of the list appeared the name of his
favourite John. "вАҐ Now," he cried, " let things go as they
will. I care no more for myself or for the world."
Chinon, in its summer beauty, had received the broken-
hearted and dying king. Only Geoffrey, his bastard son,
was at his side, and performed to him, as he tossed upon
his fevered couch, the last offices of love. With the deli-
rium of his disease mingled the agony of defeat. " Shame!
shame! " he kept crying, "upon a conquered king! " He
did not know what great things he had done.

While the mighty monarch was dying, servants whom ii89
his bounty fed had been plundering the house. They
stripped his body and left it on the ground naked till a
knight covered it with his cloak. This it was in Henry's
days to be a king.



Born 1157; Succeeded 1189; Died 1199

rpHOUGH in France the career of Henry of Anjou had
closed in disaster, in England his work stood firm. Tri-
umphant over the mutinous aristocracy, rooted apparently
by its benefits, its sternness and the weight of its taxation
notwithstanding, in the allegiance of the people, served by
a trained staff of able ministers, and with a regular army
of mercenaries on which to call at need, while the war-
like character of the feudal array had been impaired by
scutage and substitution, the monarchy had become almost
absolute. The lawyers, who had drunk of the Roman
fountain, were imperialist in spirit. A jurist of Henry
II. 's reign had cited from the imperial code as applicable
to his king the maxim that the will of the prince is law.

1176, The writer of the Dialogue on the Exchequer, a bishop in
the service of the crown, had laid down the doctrine that
kings are above human justice and responsible to God
alone, almost in the terms in which it was laid down by
the ecclesiastical flatterers of Charles I.

1189 Richard I. mounted his father's throne without the
slightest opposition, and without putting forth any charter
of concessions, though he made the usual promises of good
government. He was crowned with a magnificence which
bespoke the exaltation of the monarchy as well as his own



pride and love of pomp. Had he been a statesman and
stayed at home to govern, the monarchy might have
become a despotism, but he was a knight-errant, and his
reign in England almost ended with his coronation. In-
stead of the rule of a strong king, there was a divided
and distracted regency, while the confusion caused by the
weakness of the government was increased by the disloyal
ambition of Richard's brother, John.

England was a member of the religious federation of
Latin Christendom. She had to bear her part in the
mortal struggle between that federation and Islam. It
was a conflict not only between Christ and Mahomet, but
between liberty and despotism, between monogamy and
polygamy, between progressive effort and the apathy of
fatalism, between the influence which has done most to
civilize Europe and that which has blighted Mahometan
Asia. It was not alone for the Holy Land that war was
waged; the tide of Mahometan conquest rolled to the
plain of Tours, and Avas there arrested only after desperate
and long doubtful battle by Charles Martel. The holy
places might be legendary, pilgrimage to them, crusades
for them, might be folly, the choice of Palestine as the
field of battle might be a military and political mistake;
but it was the Sepulchre that called forth the enthusiasm,
that gave Christendom a mark for concentrated effort and
an all-inspiring battle cry. The Sepulchre had fallen into
the hands of the infidel. Europe, stricken to the heart,
rushed to the rescue. Henry, a statesman above all things,
had taken the cross with his brother kings; but he had
put to his council a leading question, the answer to which
was that his first duty was at home. His son was a born
crusader, a warrior, and a knight-errant, without a par-


tide of the statesman. Richard's sole thought was the
crusade. To equip himself for the crusade was his only
care as king. His methods of raising money threw light
on the relation between romantic chivalry and common
honesty. He put everything up to sale. He sold the
domains, honours, and offices of the crown. He sold
bishoprics and abbacies. He sold the hands of heiresses
who were royal wards in marriage. He sold the earldom
of Northumberland. He sold to the king of Scots not
only the castles of Newark and Roxburgh, but the sover-
eignty over Scotland which had been conceded to his
father. He sold licenses for tournaments, which might be
licenses for cabal and disorder. He extorted three thou-
sand pounds from his half-brother, Geoffrey, who had been
made Archbishop of York. He dismissed almost all the
sheriffs, making them pay, no doubt, for their restoration.
He wrung a heavy fine, on what pretext is not clear, from
his father's old and faithful servant, Ranulph De Glanville,
forcing him to pay by imprisonment.

As England shared the crusades she shared the anti-
semitic movement, to use the modern name, which was
allied to the crusades and swept over Europe at the same
time. The Jew had been patiently plying his tribal trade
of finance. To own real estate he was not at this time
forbidden by law. But finance, not land-owning, was his
line. Christianity recognized the Mosaic law, which for-
bade usury to be taken from a brother ; but the Jew
could take it from the Christian as a stranger, and thus
had a monopoly of the trade. To the medieval church
the Jew was an alien, not persecuted like the Christian
heretic, though an object of religious aversion. In his
penal homelessness he was regarded as a witness to reve-


lation. The canon law shielded him from outrage and his
children from forcible conversion. In the medieval state
lie was the serf of the king, who protected him in his
extortion, and went his partner in its fruits. This use of
the Jew as a financial sponge had formed, as we have
seen, an evil part of the fiscal policy of Henry II. In
England, as elsewhere, the Jews grew rich at the expense
of the people, as the people thought; though it is main-
tained on their side that they were useful as capitalists in
supplying money for great undertakings and promoting
trade. Instead of being, as historical novels represent
him, down-trodden, despised, and crouching, the Jew was
not less dreaded than he was hated. He lorded it over
his debtors, built him a stately dwelling, and loved to dis-
play his wealth. Sometimes he even ventured to insult
the national religion. If he was confined, or confined
himself, to the Jewry, this was less of a hardship when
special quarters of cities for particular trades or callings
were the rule. If kings took much from him, they left
him more, and he was exempt from the heaviest of taxes,
being never called on to serve in war. Beholding the
Jew's mansion, the Englishman said, as the Russian peas-
ant says now, " That is my blood ! " The excellent abbot
Samson thinks that he has gained a blessing for his people 1190
in clearing St. Edmundsbury of Jews. Everywhere the
Hebrews formed a nation within the nation, bearing them-
selves as a chosen race, living apart, regarding their
neighbours as unclean, celebrating their feast of Purim
with a demonstrativeness perhaps offensive to the Gentile.
It was not wonderful that in the darkness of the middle
ages popular fancy should have invested with imaginary
attributes of malignity that which to many was a real


power of evil, and imagined that the financial oppressor
sacrificed Christian children, poisoned the wells, and
spread the plague.

By the loss of the Sepulchre, and the call to arms for
its recovery, Christian fanaticism was raised to frenzy.
In the conflict of races and characters the Jew belonged
to the East, not to the West. It was suspected, perhaps
not without reason, that his heart was with the East, and
even that he might be willing to open the postern door.
It is likely that he inflamed the feeling against him by
practising extortion on those who were selling or mort-
gaging all they had to fit themselves out for the holy
wars. Over Europe hatred of the Jew flamed forth.
Outrage and massacre ensued, no doubt, on a hideous
scale, though on the prodigious numbers given by medi-
eval chroniclers no reliance can in this or in any case be
placed. Good Christians, like St. Bernard, strove in vain
to allay the storm. In London the Jews provoked the
wrath of the populace by intruding upon the coronation
feast, which wore a religious character. A frightful riot,

1189 with wrecking of Jews' houses, pillage, and massacre broke
out. It spread to other cities of the kingdom. By mak-
ing for the churches in which the bonds of the Jews were
kept, the mob showed that debt as much as fanaticism

1190 was the source of its fury. At York, where Jews had
given special umbrage by their wealth and pride, they
found refuge in the castle, and defended it with the des-
perate tenacity with which their race had defended Tyre,
Carthage, and Jerusalem. When they could hold out no
longer they set fire to their treasures, slew their wives
and children, then slew themselves. The government
made some examples, proclaimed the Jews under its pro-


tection, and, the Jews being its property, exacted on its
own account the debts of those who had been slain. The
storm blew over, and the Jews were soon as active in
their trade, as wealthy, and as much feared and hated as

To settle the government and secure the peace of the
kingdom during his absence, Richard divided power be-
tween the worthy Hugh De Puiset, Bishop of Durham, 1190
and the not so worthy William of Longchamp, Chancel-
lor and Bishop of Ely. The sinister ambition of his
brother John he tried to allay by gorging him with es-
tates, honours, and jurisdictions at great expense to the
crown. The arrangement failed. Longchamp, though
faithful to his king, was grasping and arrogant, an in-
triguer crooked in mind as in body, and an alien to boot.
He crushed his associate Hugh, then, ruling alone, made
himself so obnoxious that he was overthrown by a gen-
eral revolt. An opening was thus made for the schemes
of John, who, though gorged, was not satisfied, and who
presently found a confederate in his brother's deadly
enemy, Philip Augustus of France. Confusion reigned,
and Richard's crown was in jeopardy when he reappeared
upon the scene.

Meantime he had sailed away for the Holy Land with 1190
a mighty fleet. This is the first war fleet sent out by
England after the conquest, and may be said to open the
history of the British navy. Regular navy in those
times, or naval administration, there v^^as none. The
five ports on the Channel were specially charged, as the
price of their privileges and honours, with maritime de-
fence, and were special seats of nautical character and
of its tendencies to political freedom. The king owned

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 8 of 84)