« ZurückWeiter »
the consent of Philip, grant him any terms of accommodation ? Innocent, expecting froin his agreement with a prince so abject both in character and fortune, more advantages than from his alliance with a great and victorious monarch, who, after such mighty acquisitions might become too haughty to be bound by spiritual chains, explained to Pandolf the conditions on which he was willing to be reconciled to the king of England. The legate, therefore, as soon as he arrived in the north of France, sent over two knights templars to desire an interview of John at Dover, which was readily granted : He there represented to him, in such strong, and probably in such true colours, his lost condition, the disaffection of his subjects, the secret combination of his vassals against him, the mighty armament of France, that John yielded at discretion, and subscribed to all the conditions which Pandolf was pleased to impose upon him. He promised, among other articles, that he would submit himself entirely to the judgment of the pope ; that he would acknowledge Langton for primate ; that he would restore all the exiled clergy and laity who had been banished on account of the contest ; that he would make them full restitution of their goods, and compensation for all damages, and instantly consign eight thousand pounds in part of payment; and that every one outlawed or imprisoned for his adherence to the pope, should immediately be received into grace and favour. Four barons swore, along with the king, to the observance of this ignominious treaty.
But the ignominy of the king was not yet carried to its full height. Pandolf required him, as the first trial of obedience, to resign his kingdom to the church ; and he persuaded him, that he could nowise so effectually disappoint the French invasion, as by thus putting himself under the immediate protection of the apostolic see. John, lying under the agonies of present terror, made no scruple of submitting to this condition. He passed a charter, in which he said, that not constrained by fear, but of his own free will, and by the common advice and consent of his barons, he had, for remission of his own sins, and those of his family, resigned England and Ireland to God, to St. Peter and St Paul, and to pope Innocent, and his successors in the apostolic chair: He agreed to hold these dominions as feudatory of the church of Rome, by the annual payment of a thousand marks ; seven hundred for England, three hundred for Ireland : And he stipulated, that if he or his successors should ever presume to revoke or infringe this charter, they should instantly, except upon admonition they repented of their offence, forfeit all right to their dominions.
In consequence of this agreement, John did homage to Pandolf as the pope's legate with all the submissive rites which the feudal law required of vassals before their liege-lord and superior. He came disarmed into the legate's presence, who was seated on a throne ; he flung himself on his knees before him ; he lifted up his joined hands, and put them within those of Pandolf; he swore fealty to the pope ; and he paid part of the tribute which he owed for his kingdom as the patrimony of St. Peter. The legate, elated by this supreme triumph of sacerdotal power, could not forbear discovering extravagant symptoms of joy and exultation : He trampled on the money, which was laid at his feet, as an earnest of the subjection of the kingdom : An insolence of which, however offensive to all the English, no one present, except the archbishop of Dublin, dared to take any notice. But though Pandolf had brought the king to submit to these base conditions, he still refused to free him from the excommunication and interdict, till an estimation should be taken of the losses of the ecclesiastics, and full compensation and restitution should be made them.
87.--KING JOHN AND THE BARONS.
HUME. The introduction of the feudal law into England by William the Conqueror, had much infringed the liberties, however imperfect, enjoyed by the Anglo-Saxons, in their ancient government, and had reduced the whole people to a state of vassalage under the king or barons, and ever the greater part to a state of real slavery. The necessity also of entrusting great power in the hands of a prince, who was to maintain military dominion over a vanquished nation, had engaged the Norman barons to submit to a more severe and absolute prerogative, than that to which men of their rank, in other feudal governments, were commonly subjected. The power of the crown, once raised to a high pitch, was not easily reduced ; and the nation, during the course of a hundred and fifty years, was governed by an authority unknown, in the same degree, to all the kingdoms founded by the northern conquerors. Henry I., that he might allure the people to give an exclusion to his elder brother Robert, had granted them a charter, favourable in many particulars to their liberties ; Stephen had renewed the grant; Henry II. had confirmed it. But the concessions of all these princes had still remained without effect; and the same unlimited, at least irregular authority, continued to be exercised both by them and their successors. The only happiness was, that arms were never yet ravished from the hands of the barons and people : The nation, by a great confederacy, might still vindicate its liberties ; and nothing was more likely, than the character, conduct, and fortunes of the reigning prince, to produce such a general combination against him. Equally odious and contemptible, both in public and private life, he affronted the barons by bis insolence, dishonoured their families by his gallantries, enraged them by his tyranny, and
gave discontent to all ranks of men by his endless exactions and impositions. The effect of these lawless practices had already appeared in the general demand made by the barons of a restoration of their privileges ; and after he had reconciled himself to the pope, by abandoning the independence of the kingdoni, he appeared to all his subjects in so mean a light, that they universally thought they might with safety and honour insist upon their pretensions.
But nothing forwarded this confederacy so much as the concurrence of Langton, archbishop of Canterbury; a man whose memory, though he was obtruded on the nation by a palpable encroachment of the See of Rome, ought always to be respected by the English. This prelate, whether he was moved by the generosity of his nature, and his affection to public good ; or had entertained an animosity against John on account of the long opposition made by that prince to his election ; or thought that an acquisition of liberty to the people would serve to increase and secure the privileges of the church ; had formed the plan of reforming the government, and had prepared the way for that great innovation, by inserting those singular clauses above mentioned in the oath which he administered to the king, before he would absolve him from the sentence of excommunication. Soon after, in a private meeting of some principal barons at London, he showed them a copy of Henry I's charter, which, he said, he had happily found in a monastery ; and he exhorted them to insist on the renewal and observance of it. The barons swore, that they would sooner lose their lives than depart from so reasonable a demand. The confederacy began now to spread wider, and to comprehend almost all the barons in England ; and a new and more numerous meeting was summoned by Langton at St. Edmondsbury, under colour of devotion. He again produced to the assembly the old charter of Henry; renewed his exhortations of unanimity and vigour in the prosecution of their purpose ; and represented in the strongest
colours the tyranny to which they had so long been subjected, and from which it now beloved them to free themselves and their posterity. The barons, inflamed by his eloquence, incited by the sense of their own wrongs, and encouraged by the appearance of their power and numbers, solemnly took an oath, before the high altar, to adhere to each other, to insist on their demands, and to make endless war on the king, till he should submit to grant them. They agreed, that, after the festival of Christmas, they would prefer in a body their common petition ; and, in the mean time, they separated, after mutually engaging, that they would put themselves in a posture of defence, would enlist men and purchase arms, and would supply their castles with the necessary provisions,
The barons appeared in London on the day appointed, apd demanded of the king, that, in consequence of his own oath before the primate, as well as in deference to their just rights, he should grant them a renewal of Henry's charter, and a confirmation of the laws of St. Edward.
The king, alarmed with their zeal and unanimity, as well as with their power, required a delay; promised that, at the festival of Easter, he would give them a positive answer to their petition ; and offered them the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Ely, and the earl of Pembroke, the Mareschal, as sureties for his fulfilling this engagement. The barons accepted of the terms, and peaceably returned to their castles,
During this interval, John, in order to break or subdue the league of his barons, endeavoured to avail himself of the ecclesiastical power, of whose influence he had, from his own recent misfortunes, had such fatal experience. He granted to the clergy a charter, relinquishing for ever that important prerogative for which his father and all his ancestors had zealously contended ; yielding to them the free election on all vacancies ; reserving only the power to issue a congé d'élire, and to subjoin a confirmation of the election; and declaring that, if either of these were withheld, the choice should nevertheless be deemed just and valid. He made a vow to lead an army into Palestine against the infidels, and he took on him the cross; in hopes that he should receive from the church that protection which he tendered to every one that had entered into this sacred and meritorious engagement; and he sent to Rome his agent, William de Mauclerc, in order to appeal to the pope against the violence of his barons, and procure him a favourable sentence from that powerful tribunal. The barons also were not negligent on their part in endeavouring to engage the pope in their interests. They dispatched Eustace de Vescie to Rome ; laid their case before Innocent as their feudal lord ; and petitioned him to interpose his authority with the king, and oblige him to restore and confirm all their just and unbounded privileges.
Innocent beheld with regret the disturbances which had arisen in England, and was much inclined to favour John in his pretensions. He had no hopes of retaining and extending his newly acquired superiority over that kingdom, but by supporting so base and degenerate a prince, who was willing to sacrifice every consideration to his present safety. And he foresaw, that if the administration should fall into the hands of those gallant and high-spirited barons, they would vindicate the honour, liberty, and independence of the nation, with the same ardour which they now exerted in defence of their own. He wrote letters therefore to the prelates, to the nobility, and to the king himself
. He exhorted the first to employ their good offices in conciliating peace between the contending parties, and putting an end to civil discord : To the second, he expressed his disapprobation of their conduct in employing force to extort concessions from their reluctant sovereign : The last he advised to treat his nobles with grace and indulgence, and to grant them such of their demands as should appear just and reasonable.
The barons easily saw, from the tenor of these letters, that they must reckon on
having the pope as well as the king for their adversary ; but they had already advanced too far to recede from their pretensions, and their passions were so deeply engaged, that it exceeded even the power of superstition itself any longer to control them. They also foresaw, that the thunders of Rome, when not seconded by the efforts of the English ecclesiastics, would be of small avail against them; and they perceived, that the most considerable of the prelates, as well as all the inferior clergy, professed the highest approbation of their cause, Besides that these men were seized with the national passion for laws and liberty, blessings of which they themselves expected to partake ; there concurred very powerful causes to loosen their devoted attachment to the apostolic see. It appeared, from the late usurpations of the Roman pontiff, that he pretended to reap alone all the advantages accruing from that victory, which, under his banners, though at their own peril, they had every where obtained over the civil magistrate. The pope assumed a despotic power over all the churches. Their particular customs, privileges, and immunities, were treated with disdain. Even the canons of general councils were set aside by his dispensing power ; The whole administration of the church was centered in the court of Rome; all preferments ran of course in the same channel ; and the provincial clergy saw, at least felt, that there was a necessity for limiting these pretensions. The legate, Nicholas, in filling those numerous vacancies which had fallen in England during an interdict of six years, had proceeded in the most arbitrary manner, and had paid no regard, in conferring dignities, to personal merit, to rank, to the inclination of the electors, or to the customs of the country. The English church was universally disgusted ; and Langton himself, though he owed his elevation to an encroachment of the Romish see, was no sooner established in his high office, than he became jealous of the privileges annexed to it, and formed attachments with the country subjected to his jurisdiction. These causes, though they opened slowly the eyes of men, failed not to produce their effect: They set bounds to the usurpations of the papacy: The tide first stopped, and then turned against the sovereign pontiff ; and it is otherwise inconceivable, how that age, so prone to superstition, and so sunk in ignorance, or rather so devoted to a spurious condition, could have escaped falling into an absolute and total slavery under the court of Rome.
About the time that the Pope's letters arrived in England, the malcontent barons on the approach of the festival of Easter, when they were to expect the king's answer to their petition, met by agreement at Stamford ; and they assembled a force consisting of above two thousand knights, besides their retainers and inferior persons without number. Elated with their power, they advanced in a body to Brackley, within fifteen miles of Oxford, the place where the court then resided ; and they there received a message from the king, by the archbishop of Canterbury and the earl of Pembroke, desiring to know what those liberties were which they so zealously challenged from their sovereign. They delivered to these messengers a schedule containing the chief articles of their demands; which was no sooner shown to the king, than he burst into a furious passion, and asked, why the barons did not also demand of him his kingdom ; swearing that he would never grant them such liberties as must reduce them to slavery.
No sooner were the confederated nobles informed of John's reply, than they chose Robert Fitz-Walter their general, whom they called the Mareschal of the army of God and of holy church ; and they proceeded without further ceremony to levy war upon the king. They besieged the castle of Northampton during fifteen days, though without success ; The gates of Bedford castle were willingly opened to thern by William Beauchamp, its owner ; They advanced to Ware in their
to London, where they held a correspondence with the principal citizens ; They were received without opposition into that capital ; and finding now the great superiority of their force, they issued proclamations, requiring the other barons to join them; and menacing them, in case of refusal or delay, with committing devastation on their houses and estates. In order to shew what might be expected from their prosperous arms, they made incursions from London, and laid waste the king's parks and palaces ; and all the barons, who had hitherto carried the semblance of supporting the royal party, were glad of this pretence for openly joining a cause which they always had secretly favoured. The king was left at Odiham, in Hampshire, with a poor retinue of only seven knights; and after trying several expedients to elude the blow, after offering to refer all differences to the pope alone, or to eight barons, four to be chosen by himself, and four by the confederates, he found himself at last obliged to submit at discretion.
A conference between the king and the barons was appointed at Runnemede, between Windsor and Staines ; a place which has ever since been extremely celebrated, on account of this great event. The two parties en camped apart, like open enemies; and after a debate of a few days, the king, with a facility somewhat suspicious, signed and sealed the charter which was required of him. This famous deed, commonly called the Great Charter, either granted or secured very important liberties and privileges to every order of men in the kingdom; to the clergy, to the barons, and to the people.
C. KNIGHT. The political history of John may be read in the most durable of antiquitiesthe Records of the kingdom. And the people may read the most remarkable of these records whenever they please to look upon it. Magna Charta, the great charter of England, entire as at the hour it was written, is preserved, not for reference on doubtful questions of right, not to be proclaimed at market-crosses or to be read in churches, as in the time of Edward I., but for the gratification of a just curiosity and an honest national pride. The humblest in the land may look upon that document day by day, in the British Museum, which more than six hundred years ago declared that “no freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned, or dispossessed of his tenement, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner proceeded against, unless by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.” This is the foundation of the statute upon statute, and of what is as stringent as statute, the common law, through which for six hundred years we have been struggling to breathe the breath of freedom,—and we have not struggled in vain. The Great Charter is in Latin, written in a beautiful hand.
Runnemede,—or Runingmede, as the Charter has it,—was, according to Matthew of Westminster, a place where treaties concerning the peace of the kingdom had been often made. The name distinctly signifies a place of council. Rucne-med is an Anglo-Saxon compound, meaning the Council-Meadow. We can never forget that Council-Meadow, for it entered into our first visions of Liberty :
"Fair Runnemede! oft hath my lingering eye
Paus'd on thy tufted green and cultur'd hill;
And there my busy soul would drink her fill
At sprightly morn, high noon, or evening still,
But thou hast fathom'd all my pliant will