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(as sometimes happened), they degenerated into downright wickedness and robbery.
The uncertain state of property, the frequency of military devastation, and above all the vassalage of the lower classes, who laboured with reluctance, produced frequent famines; which circumstance enables us to estimate the wretched manner in which the mass of the publick lived, even when the common crops were preserved : the latter cause contributed, with others, to establish sets of banditti, who for a long time infested the country, plundering all ranks without mercy, and setting resistance almost at defiance.
Many public acts are preserved, which were intended to prevent the rich and powerful from consuming, in profligate waste, that sustenance the poor were denied the use of. These convince us, that extravagant living was a predominant vice: indeed, we need only consult Rymer for the items of some royal feasts ; after which, we cannot be surprised that famine followed. A people who indulged in this description of excess vitiated their taste, and plain dishes became disgusting to them: they therefore invented an hundred methods to force an appetite ; and we are informed, in various ways, that they succeeded to perfection ; nor were they less choice in their wines, and English compositions as substitutes.
Henry III. had repeatedly violated the solemn engagements, entered into by his predecessor John, with the barons of the realm; which had rendered them and the people at large equally discontented, and averse to supply him with the money he wished to exact. He, at length, called
parliament; and meeting that assembly, he declared his present difficulties, acknowledged his errors, and entreated that he might once more receive a supply to enable him to undertake a Crusade; promising, at the same time, to enter into new engagements for the preservation of the rights of his people. Willing to try him once more, they complied with his wishes; but insisted, as a preliminary, on the following awful ceremony:
On the fourth day of May, in the year 1253, the whole parliament, the prelates and clergy, and the king, assembled in state in Westminster Hall; when the Great Charter, and the Charter of the Forest, were audibly read; and a sentence of excommunication pronounced, invoking the severest curses upon those who violated either. At this instant, the prelates and clergy threw the tapers each bore in their hands upon the pavement, and, alluding to their half extinguished state, exclaimed, “ So may every one perish, and stink in hell, who incur this sentence." The king, laying his hand on his heart, swore by
every sacred tie to fulfil each article of the charter; but the history of his reign affords repeated instances of the forfeiture of his oath.
The tenderness and propriety of conduct of Henry III. to his own family, and the generous friendships his nature was capable of, were circumstances which would lead one to suppose might have contributed to make him a better king; and the public acts of this monarch with respect to Religion were so apparently sincere and exemplary, that they seem utterly incompatible with the exercise of any bad qualities of the mind: yet, we find, they must have been the effect rather of slavish superstition, than the consequences of a serene contemplation of his duties in that respect.
Some authors have represented Henry as a man of weak intellects, but without sufficient grounds. Had they described his character as a compound of sagacity and deceit, it would have been more correct : the duplicity he practised always tended to the advancement of his own interest; either to obtain money, or maintain the ascendency of favourite foreigners, whose presence at court was a constant source of jealousy and resentment to his nobility. Their opposition to these propen . sities caused much bloodshed ; and when fortune frowned on the king, he always escaped by the most artful means. And at those moments, the
cowardice of his nature induced him to enter into engagements that must have secured any other person to the performance of them.
It is unnecessary to describe the contempt and abhorrence entertained for this sovereign, by his subjects, at the close of his life; as it is impossible to balance one virtue against his numerous crimes as a monarch.
The lapse of time between the massacre of the Jews already mentioned, and the reign of Edward I. had not effected any favourable change towards that people; which will appear from the severity exercised in punishing their offences against the laws of the realm, as clippers of the current coin, and in other particulars. A royal mandate, issued on November 12, 1278, commanded the seizure of every Israelite in England, many of whom were afterwards brought to a summary trial, and two hundred and eighty of them were hanged in London only; besides the forfeiture of the whole of their property. The wicked prejudices of the period, and a general brutality of manners, made the nation view this horrid transaction with apathy: had their own liberties and lives been equally endangered, we have reason to suppose, from the spirited conduct of the earl of Warren, that they would not have wanted leaders in a revolt.
The same king appointed commissioners to examine into the titles of the estates of his ba
rons, and the tenures by which they were held of the crown, for the evident purpose of raising money by fines and compositions. Many resigned their property, and others paid large sums for quiet possession in future: but the earl alluded to met the commissioners with a rusty sword in his hand, which he drew from the scabbard, declaring, that was the means used by his ancestors in gaining their territory, and by that he was determined to keep possession. The hint was sufficient; and Edward soon after revoked the commission.
The total expulsion of the Jews was decreed in
The origin of touching for the disease in the neck called the King's Evil, is thus accounted for by Stowe, in bis Annals. A young woman, afflicted with the disorder alluded to in a very alarming and disguisting degree, and feeling the uneasiness and pain consequent to it in her sleep, dreamt she should be cured by the simple operation of having the part washed by the king. Application was made by her friends, and Edward humanely consented to undertake the disagreeable task: a basin of water was brought, and he carefully softened the tumours till the skin broke, and the contents were discharged; the sign of the cross was added, and the female retired, with an assurance of his protection during the remainder of the cure, which was effected within a week.