« ZurückWeiter »
had promised not to injure, and the foreign merchants to whom his word was pledged, had not suffered enough by the previous spoil, he set the place on fire also, and it was consumed : and he wasted the country round with fire.
90,-THE LAST DAYS OF JOHN.
BURKE. By his last concessions to the barons it must be confessed John was effectually dethroned, and with all the circumstances of indignity which could be imagined. He had refused to govern as a lawful prince, and he saw himself deprived of even his legal authority. He became of no sort of consequence in his kingdom ; he was held in universal contempt and derision; he fell into a profound melancholy. It was in vain that he had recourse to the pope, whose power he had found sufficient to reduce, but not to support him. The censures of the holy see, which had been fulminated at his desire, were little regarded by the barons, or even by the clergy, supported in this resistance by the firmness of their archbishops, who acted with great vigour in the cause of the barons, and even delivered into their hands the fortress of Rochester, one of the most important places in the kingdom. After much meditation, the king at last resolved upon a measure of the most extreme kind, extorted by shame, revenge, and despair ; but, considering the disposition of the time, much the most effectual that could be chosen. He dispatched emissaries into France, into the Low Countries and Germany, to raise men for his service. He had recourse to the same measures to bring his kingdom to obedience, which his predecessor William had used to conquer it. He promised to the adventurers in his quarrel the lands of the rebellious barons ; and it is said, even empowered his agents to make charters of the estates of several particulars. The utmost success attended these negotiations, in an age when Europe abounded with a warlike and poor nobility ; with younger brothers, for whom there was no provision in regular armies, who seldom entered into the church, and never applied themselves to commerce ; and when every considerable family was surrounded by an innumerable multitude of retainers and dependants, idle, and greedy of war and pillage. The Crusade had universally diffused a spirit of adventure ; and if any adventure had the pope's approbation, it was sure to have a number of followers.
John waited the effect of his measures. He kept up no longer the solemn mockery of a court, in which a degraded king must always have been the lowest object. He retired to the Isle of Wight ; his oply companions were sailors and fishermen, arnong whom he became extremely popular. * Never was be more to be dreaded than in this sullen retreat, whilst the barons amused themselves by idle jests, and vain conjectures on his conduct. Such was the strange want of foresight in that barbarous age, and such the total neglect of design in their affairs, that the barons, when they had got the charter, which was weakened even by the force by which it was obtained, and the great power which it granted, set no watch king ; seemed to have no intelligence of the great and open machinations, which were carrying on against them, and had made no sort of dispositions for their defence. They spent their time in tournaments and bear-baitings, and other diversions suited to the fierce rusticity of their manners. At length the storm broko forth, and found them utterly unprovided. The papal excommunication, the indignation of their prince, and a vast army of lawless and bold adventurers, were poured down at once upon their heads. Such numbers were engaged in this enterprise, that forty thousand are said to have perished at sea. Yet a number still remained sufficient to compose two great armies : one of which, with the enraged
* This was the common opinion.-See the article “ Runnemede," page 314. Ep.
king at its head, ravaged without mercy the north of England; whilst the other turned all the west to a like scene of blood and desolation. The memory of Stephen's wars was renewed with every image of horror, misery, and crime. The barons, dispersed and trembling in their castles, waited who should fall the next victim. They had no army able to keep the field. The archbishop, on whom they had great reliance, was suspended from his functions. There was no hope even from submission : the king could not fulfil his engagements to his foreign troops at a cheaper rate than the utter ruin of his barons. In these circumstances of despair they resolved to have recourse to Philip, the ancient enemy of their country. Throwing off all allegiance to John, they agreed to accept Lewis, the son of that monarch, as their king. Philip had once more an opportunity of bringing the crown of England into his family, and he readily embraced it. He immediately sent his son into England with seven hundred ships, and slighted the menaces and excommunication of the pope, to attain the same object for which he had formerly aimed to support and execute them. The affairs of the barons assumed quite a new face by this reinforcement, and their rise was as sudden and striking as their fall. The foreign army of King John, without discipline, pay or order, ruined and wasted in the midst of its successes, was little able to oppose the natural force of the country, called forth and recruited by so considerable a succour. Besides, the French troops, who served under John, and made a great part of his army, immediately went over to the enemy, unwilling to serve against their sovereign in a cause which now began to look desperate. The son of the King of France was acknowledged in London, and received the homage of all ranks of men. John, thus deserted, had no other ally than the pope, who indeed served him to the utmost of his power ; but with arms, to which the circumstances of the time alone can give any force. He excommunicated Lewis and his adherents; he laid England under an interdict ; he threatened the King of France himself with the same sentence; but Philip continued firm, and the interdict had little effect in England. Cardinal Langton, by his remarkable address, by his interest in the sacred college, and his prudent submissions, had been restored to the exercise of his office ; but steady to the cause he had first espoused, he made use of the recovery of his authority, to carry on his old designs against the king and the pope. He celebrated divine service in spite of the interdict; and by his influence and example taught others to despise it. The king, thus deserted, and now only solicitous for his personal safety, rambled, or rather fled from place to place at the head of a small party. He was in great danger in passing a marsh in Norfolk, in which he lost the greatest part of his baggage, and his most valuable effects. With difficulty he escaped to the monastery of Swinestead ; where, violently agitated grief and disappointments, his late fatigue the use and of an improper diet, threw him into a fever, of which he died in a few days at Newark, not without suspicion of poison, after a reign, or rather a struggle to reign, for eighteen years, the most turbulent and calamitous both to king and people, of any that are recorded in the English history.
It may not be improper to pause here for a few moments and to consider a little more minutely the causes, which had produced the grand revolution in favour of liberty, by which this reign was distinguished ; and to draw all the circumstances, which led to this remarkable event, into a single point of view. Since the death of Edward the Confessor only two princes succeeded to the crown upon undisputed titles. William the Conqueror established his by force of arms. His successors were obliged to court the people by yielding many of the prerogatives of the crown ; but they supported a dubious title by a vigorous administration ; and recovered by their policy, in the course of their reign, what the necessity of their affairs obliged them to relinquish for the establishment of their power. Thus was the nation kept continually fluctuating between freedom and servitude. But the principles of freedom were predominant, though the thing itself was not yet fully formed. The continual struggle of the clergy for the ecclesiastical liberties laid open at the same time the natural claims of the people ; and the clergy were obliged to shew some respect for these claims, in order to add strength to their own party. The concessions which Henry the Second made to the ecclesiastics on the death of Becket, which were afterwards confirmed by Richard the First, gave a grievous blow to the authority of the Crown ; as thereby an order of so much power and influence triumphed over it in many essential points. The latter of these princes brought it very low by the whole tenor of his conduct. Always abroad, the royal authority was felt in its full vigour without being supported by the dignity, or softened by the graciousness of the royal presence. Always in war, he considered his dominions only as a resource for his armies. The demesnes of the crown were squandered. Every office in the state was made vile by being sold. Excessive grants, followed by violent and arbitrary resumptions, tore to pieces the whole contexture of the government. The civil tumults, which arose in that king's absence, showed that the king's lieutenants at least might be disobeyed with impunity.
Then came John to the crown. The arbitrary taxes which he imposed very early in his reign, which offended even more by the improper use made of them than their irregularity, irritated the people extremely, and joined with all the preceding causes to make his government contemptible. Henry the Second, during his contests with the church, had the address to preserve the barons in his interests. Afterwards, when the barons had joined in the rebellion of his children, this wise prince found means to secure the bishops and ecclesiastics. But John drew upon himself at once the hatred of all orders of his subjects. His struggle with the
weakened him ; his submission to the pope weakened him yet more. The loss of his foreign territories, besides what he lost along with them in reputation, made him entirely dependent upon England ; whereas his predecessors made one part of their territories subservient to the preservation of their authority in another, where it was endangered. Add to all these causes, the personal character of the king, in which there was nothing uniform or.sincere, and which introduced the like unsteadiness into all his government. He was indolent, yet restless in his disposition ; fond of working by violent methods, without any vigour ; boastful, but continually betraying his fears ; showing on all occasions, such a desire of peace as hindered him from ever enjoying it. Having no spirit of order he never looked forward ; content by any temporary expedient to extricate himself from a present difficulty. Rash, arrogant, perfidious, irreligious, unquiet, he made a tolerable head of a party, but a bad king; and had talents fit to disturb another's government, not to support his own. A most striking contrast presents itself between the conduct and fortune of John, and his adversary Philip. Philip came to the crown when many of the provinces of France, by being in the hands of too powerful vassals, were in a manner dismembered from the kingdom ; the royal authority was very low in what remained. He reunited to the crown a country as valuable as what belonged to it before ; he reduced his subjects of all orders to a stricter obedience than they had given to his predecessors. He withstood the papal usurpation, and yet used it as an instrument of his designs; whilst John, who inherited a great territory, and an entire prerogative, by his vices and weakness gave up his independency to the pope, his prerogative to his subjects, and a large part of his dominions to the king of France.
91.-THE DEATH OF JOHN.
SHAKSPERE. SCENE I.-An open Place in the Neighbourhood of Swinstead Abbey.
Enter the Bastard and Hubert meeting.
Of the part of England.
What's that to thee?
Hubert, I think.
Bast. Who thou wilt: an if thou please,
Hub. Unkind remembrance ! thou, and endless night,
Bast. Come, come ; sans compliment, what news abroad ?
Hub. Why, here walk I, in the black brow of night,
Brief, then ; and what's the news ?
Bast. Show me the very wound of this ill news ;
Hub. The king, I fear, is poison'd by a monk :
Bast. How did he take it? who did taste to him?
Hub. A monk, I tell you ; a resolved villain, Whose bowels suddenly burst out: the king Yet speaks, and, peradventure, may recover.
Bast. Who didst thou leave to tend his majesty ?
Hub. Why, know you not ? the lords are all come back,
Bast. Withhold thine indignation, mighty heaven,
These Lincoln washes have devoured them ;
SCENE II.—The Orchard of Swinstead Abbey.
Enter Prince Henry, Salisbury, and Bigot.
P. Hen. Let him be brought into the orchard here.
He is more patient
P. Hen. O vanity of sickness ! fierce extremes,
Sal. Be of good comfort, prince ; for you are born
R. John. Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room;
P. Hen. How fares your majesty?
K. John, Poison'd,—ill fare ;-dead, forsook, cast off;