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Thou dost not need a perishable stone
Of sculptur'd story ;-records ever young
The soil, the passing stream, hath still a tongue;
That Freedom's self might wake, thy fields among." These are commonplace rhymes-schoolboy verses ; but we are not ashamed of having written them. Runnemede was our Marathon. Very beautiful is that narrow slip of meadow on the edge of the Thames, with gentle hills bounding it for a mile or so. It is a valley of fertility. Is this a fitting place to be the cradle of English freedom? Ought we not, to make our associations harmonious, to have something bolder and sterner than this quiet mead, and that still water, with its island cottage ? Poetry tells us that “rocky ramparts” are
“ The rough abodes of want and liberty.”—GRAY. But the liberty of England was nurtured in her prosperity. The Great Charter, which says, “ No freeman, or merchant, or villain shall be unreasonably fined for a small offence,—the first shall not be deprived of his tenement, the second of his merchandise, the third of his implements of husbandry,” exhibited a state far more advanced than that of the “want and liberty” of the poet, where the iron race of the mountain cliffs
“ Insult the plenty of the vales below." Runnemede is a fitting place for the cradle of English liberty. Denham, who from his Cooper's Hill looked down upon the Thames, wandering past this mead to become “the world's exchange,” somewhat tamely speaks of the plain at his feet :
“Here was that Charter seal'd, wherein the crown
When kings give liberty and subjects love." Our liberty was not so won. It was wrested from kings, and not given by them; and the love we bestow upon those who are the central point of our liberty is the homage of reason to security. That security has made the Thames “the world's exchange;" that security has raised up the great city which lies like a mist below Cooper's Hill; that security has caused the towers of Windsor, which we see from the same hill, to rise up in new splendour, instead of crumbling into ruin like many a stronghold of feudal oppression. Our prosperity is the child of our free institutions; and the child has gone forward strengthening and succouring the parent. Yet the iron men who won this charter of liberties dreamt not of the day when a greater power than their own, the power of the merchants and the villains, would rise up to keep what they had sworn to win, upon the altar of St. Edmundsbury. The Fitz-Walter, and De Roos, and De Clare, and De Percy, and De Mandeville, and De Vescy, and De Mowbray, and De Montacute, and De Beauchamp,—these great progenitors of our English nobility,—compelled the despot to put his seal to the Charter of Runnemede. But another order of men, whom they of the pointed shield and the mascled armour would have despised as slaves, have kept, and will keep, God willing, what they won on the 15th of June, in the year of grace 1215. The thing has rooted into our English earth like the Ankerwyke Yew on the opposite bank of the Thames, which is still vigorous, though held to be older than the great day of Runnemede.
Magna Charta is a record. Bishop Nicholson says, “Our stores of public records are justly reckoned to excel in age, beauty, correctness, and authority, whatever the choicest archives abroad can boast of the like sort.” Miles, nay, hundreds of miles, of parchment are preserved in our public offices, which incidentally exhibit the progress of the nation in its institutions and its habits, and decide many an historical fact which would otherwise be matter of controversy or of speculation. Nothing can more truly manifest the value of these documents than the fact that the actual place in which this said king John was, on almost every day, from the first year of his reign to the last, has been traced by a diligent examination of the Patent Rolls in the Tower of London. Mr. Hardy has appended to his curious Introduction to these Rolls, published by authority of the Record Commission, the " Itinerary of king John." A most restless being does he appear to have been, flying about in cumbrous carriages to all parts of England ; sailing to Normandy; now holding his state in his palace at Westminster, now at Windsor ; and never at ease till he was laid in his tomb at Worcester. We extract an instructive passage from Mr. Hardy's Introduction:
“Rapin, Hume, Henry, and those English historians who have followed Matthew Paris, state that, as soon as king John had sealed the Great Charter, he became sullen, dejected, and reserved, and shunning the society of his nobles and courtiers, retired, with a few of his attendants, to the Isle of Wight, as if desirous of hiding his shame and confusion, where he conversed only with fishermen and sailors, diverting himself with walking on the sea-shore with his domestics ; that, in this retreat, he formed plans for the recovery of the prerogatives which he had lately relinquished; and meditated, at the same time, the most fatal vengeance against his enemies ; that he sent his emissaries abroad to collect an army of mercenaries and Brabaçons, and dispatched messengers to Rome, for the purpose of securing the protection of the papal see ; and that, whilst his agents were employed in executing their several commissions, he himself remained in the Isle of Wight, awaiting the arrival of the foreign soldiers.
“That these statements are partially if not wholly unfounded will appear by the attestations to the royal letters during the period in question.
“Previously to the sealing of Magna Charta, namely, from the 1st to the 3rd of June, 1215, the king was at Windsor, from which place he can be traced, by his attestations, to Odiham, and thence to Winchester, where he remained till the 8th. From Winchester he went to Merton; he was again at Odiham on the 9th, whence he returned to Windsor, and continued there till the 15th : on that day he met the barons at Runnemede by appointment, and there sealed the great charter of English liberty. The king then returnerl to Windsor, and remained there until the 18th of June, from which time until the 23rd he was every day both at Windsor and Runnemede, and did not finally leave Windsor and its vicinity before the 26th of the same month ; Johu then proceeded through Odihamn to Winchester, and continued in that city till the end of June. The first four days of July he passed at Marlborough, from which place he went to Devizes, Bradenstoke, and Calne ; reached Cirencester on the 7th, and returned to Marlborough on the following day. He afterwards went to Ludgershall, and through Clarendon into Dorsetshire, as far as Corfe Castle, but returned to Clarendon on the 15th of July, from which place he proceeded, through Newbury and Abingdon, to Woodstock, and thence to Oxford, where he arrived on the 17th of that month ; and in a letter dated on the 15th of July, between Newbury and Abingdon, the king mentions the impossibility of his reaching Oxford by the 16th, according to his appointment with the barons."
89.—THE FIRST NAVAL VICTORY.
SOUTHEY. Amid all his disputes with the Pope and with his barons, John never neglected his naval concerns, and, unpopular as he was with other classes, never lost the good-will of his seamen. In the seventh year of his reign, with the advice of his council, he prepared for attempting to recover Normandy, of which Philip Augustus had possessed himself ; a strong national feeling was manifested in favour of this just enterprise, the barons vied with each other in their preparations, and so large à fleet was collected at Portsmouth, that it was believed so many ships had never been brought together before ; the number of mariners on board is stated at 14,000, who had come from all parts of the kingdom to serve their country. But when all things were ready, and all in heart and hope, the Archbishop Hubert and the Earl of Pembroke, for reasons which have not been explained, compelled, rather than persuaded him to abandon his intention. Bitter curses were breathed by the sailors against the evil counsellors, as they deemed them, who had frustrated this mighty preparation ; and John himself was "pinched so near the heart,” by the disgrace and disappointment, that having got to Winchester, he repented him of having yielded, turned back to Portsmouth, embarked, sailed out of the harbour, and for two days kept hovering off, in hopes that the troops which had been dismissed would, when they heard this, follow his example ; but it was too late.
An effort was made with more effect when Philip Augustus, under the Pope's sanction, prepared, as the champion of the Papal Church, to invade England, and depose an excommunicated king. Philip had long been provided for such an enterprise, little caring under what pretext he might undertake it. The possession of Normandy had given him more ships and seamen than any former king of France had erer commanded ; and, collecting them from other ports, wherever they were to be obtained, he had brought together, in the three harbours of Boulogne, Calais, and Gravelines, not less than 1700 vessels. His army, too, was most formidable in number. Distracted as England was with internal troubles, greater vigour was never shown in its counsels than at this time. An embargo had been laid upon all ships capable of carrying six or more horses ; in whatever ports they might be found, they were, if laden, to be unladed, and sent round to Portsmouth, well provided with good seamen, and well-armed ; and the bailiffs of the respective ports were to see that they were properly furnished with moveable platforms for embarking and disembarking the horses. The fleet which he assembled is said to have been far stronger than the French king's, but this probably means in the size and equipment of the ships, and in the skill of the sailors, not in numbers. And," he had got together such an army of men out of all the parts of his realm, ..., both of lords, knights, gentlemen, yeomen, and other of the commons, .... that notwithstanding all the provision of victuals that might possibly be recovered, there could not be found sufficient store to sustain the huge multitudes of those that were gathered along the shore.” A great number of the commons, therefore, were discharged, and sent home, retaining only the nien-at-arms, yeomen, and freeholders, with the cross-bowmen or arbalisters, and archers. Even after this reduction, 60,000 men were assembled on Barham Downs ; so that the chronicler might well say, “If they had been all of one mind, and well bent towards the service of their king and defence of their country, there had not been a prince in Christendom but that they might have defended the realm of England against him.” The land preparations were rendered unnecessary, by John's submission to the legate, Pandulph ; when he surrendered his crown, and, receiving it again from him, as the Pope's representative, swore fealty to the Church of Rome, and bound his kingdom, by a written instrument, to an annual payment of 1000 marks for ever, in token of vassalage.
In those days this was not regarded as so unworthy an act as it is properly now considered ; nor was it in fear of the foreign enemy, that John had consented to it. Base as he was, he was of a race that never failed in courage. When Philip Augustus was informed, by the legate, that the king of England had submitted, and that, consequently, his aid was no longer required for reducing the disobedient son of the Church, he was exceedingly indignant, and his first impulse was to go forward with the enterprise, in defiance of the Pope. All his nobles and feudatory chiefs concurred in this, except the Earls of Boulogne and Flanders, whom a reasonable jealousy of Philip had induced to treat secretly with John. Their opposition frustrated his design, and he immediately turned his arms upon Flanders. Fernando de Portugal, son of king Sancho I., was then Earl of Flanders, in right of Joanna his wife, a man more brave than fortunate ; the name, indeed, in his family, seems to have carried misfortune with it. Philip had extorted from him, on his marriage, the towns of Aire and St. Omer, and the sense of the wrong then done him was rankling in his mind. On the other hand, he had not acted now as an open enemy; and Philip, in the temper of one who was punishing a vassal for his breach of faith, besieged, and with little opposition took Calais, took possession of Ypres and Bruges, and then laid siege to Ghent, sending his feet, meantime, to Damme. Fernando sent over to England for immediate aid, and John forthwith despatched 500 sail
, under William, Earl of Holland, William Longspear Earl of Salisbury, his own bastard brother, and the Earl of Boulogne.
Damme, which was now to be the scene of the first great naval action between the English and French, and the first great naval victory recorded in the English annals, was at that time the port of Bruges, from whence it is about a mile distant, being situated near he junction of the rivers Rey and Lieve. It is supposed to have been a settlement of the Alans, and that the dog, in the arms of the town, and of which a fabulous story has been invented, refers to this origin. Then, and long afterwards, the sea came up to its walls ; till, about the year 1180, the Hollanders, with their characteristic and admirable industry, recovered here a track of rich country from the waters ; and it was from the dam which they constructed for its defence, and which extends from thence to Sluys, that the town took its name. A channel for the waters was made at the same time, two miles in length, forming what, for the vessels of that age, was a capacious harbour. The Hollanders, by whom this great work was planned and executed, settled there as a colony, greatly to the advantage of Flanders, from the earls of which province they obtained, in addition to the common privileges of Flemish subjects, an exemption from customs throughout the Flemish territory. In the course of little more than thirty years, Damme had become the great emporium of those parts. No other part of Europe had advanced so rapidly in civilization as this province. In the eighth century it was mostly covered with wood, and so infamous for the robberies and murders committed upon those whose ill-fortune led them thither, that it was called the merciless forest ; in the ninth, when the growing influence of religion had mitigated this barbarity, lands were given to any who would settle on them ; and in the tenth, when the manufactures to which it owed its early prosperity, and its after troubles, were introduced into Ghent, “a rate of barter was fixed, for want of money.” By this rate, two fowls went for one goose, two geese for one pig, three lambs for a sheep, and three calves for a cow. In a little time the province was intersected with canals, and towns and cities arose and flourished ; many of which, though fallen to decay, bear witness still, in the splendour of their public buildings, to their former affluence. Ghent was now the seat of its manufactures, Bruges of its merchants, and Damme was its port; whither, as to a certain mart, the produce of the country, the furs of Hungary, the wines of Gascony and Rochelle, and the cloths of England, were brought, and from whence they were distributed to all parts.
When the French arrived off this harbour, they offered peace to the inhabitants, who were wholly incapable of defending themselves against such a force ; they obtained the money which they demanded as its price, and then they plundered the place. Not satisfied with this, they proceeded to ravage the country round about ; and the sailors, as well as land forces, were thus employed, when the English fleet, cruising in search of their enemy, approached. The English, as they neared the coast, espied many ships lying without the haven, which, capacious as it was, was not large enough to contain them all; many therefore, were riding at anchor without the haven's mouth, and along the coast. Shallops were presently sent out to espy whether they were friends or enemies; and if enemies, what their strength, and in what order they lay. These espials, approaching as if they had been fishermen, came near enough to ascertain that the ships were left without sufficient hands to defend them ; and, hastening back, told the commanders that the victory was in their hands, if they would only make good speed. No time was lost ; they made sail toward the enemy, and wori the “tall ships ” which were riding at anchor, with little difficulty, the men on board only requesting that their lives might be spared. The smaller ones, which were left dry when the tide was low, they spoiled of whatever was useful, and set on fire, the sailors escaping to the shore. This done, they set upon those that lay in the harbour, within the haven ; and “here was hard hold for a while,” because of the narrowness of the place, allowing no advantage for numbers or for skill
. “And those Frenchmen” says the chronicler, “ that were gone abroad into the country, perceiving that the enemies were come, by the running away of the mariners, returned with all speed to their ships to aid their fellows, and so made valiant resistance for a time; till the Englishmen, getting on board, and ranging themselves on either side of the haven, beat the Frenchmen so on the sides, and, the ships grappling together in front, that they fought as it had been in a pitched field, till that, finally, the Frenchmen were not able to sustain the force of the Englishmen, but were constrained, after long fight and great slaughter, to yield themselves prisoners
The first act of the conquerors was to give thanks to God for their victory. They then manned three hundred of the prizes , which were laden with corn, wine, oil, and other provisions, and with military stores, and sent them to England; the first fruits of that maritime superiority for which the church bells of this glorious island have so often pealed with joy. An hundred more were burnt, because they were drawn up so far upon the sands, that they could not be got out, without more hands and cost of time than could be spared for them. There still remained a great part of the enemy's fleet, higher up the harbour, and protected by the town, in which Philip had left a sufficient force to protect the stores which he had left there, and the money for the payment of his troops. The English landed, the Earl of Flanders joined them, and they proceeded to attack the place ; but by this there had been sufficient time for the French king to hasten, with an overpowering force, from the siege of Ghent. The English and their allies sustained a sharp action, and were compelled to retreat to their ships, with a loss, computed by the French at 2000 men. But they retreated no farther than to the near shores of the Isle of Walcheren ; and Philip saw the impossibility of saving the remainder of his fleet, considering the unskilfulness of his own seamen, as well as other things. He set fire to them, therefore, himself, that they might not fall into the enemy's hands. Such was the fate of that great naval armament, which is said to be the first French fleet mentioned in history; and, as if the unfortunate town of Damme, which he