H́nh ảnh trang
[merged small][graphic][subsumed][merged small]

OHN, who was readily put in possession of the English throne, lost no time to second his interest on the Continent; and his first care was to recover the revolted provinces from young Arthur, his nephew. But from the pride and cruelty of his temper, he soon became hateful to his subjects; and his putting his nephew, Arthur, who had a right to the crown, to death with his own hands, in prison, served to render him completely hateful.

[ocr errors]

Hitherto John was rather hateful to his subjects than contemptible; they rather dreaded than despised him. But he soon shewed that he might be offended, if not without resent→ ment, at least with impunity. It was the fate of this vicious prince to make those the enemies of himself, whom he wanted abilities to make the enemies of each other. The clergy had for some time acted as a community independent of the crown, and had their elections of each other generally confirmed by the pope, to whom alone they owed subjection. However, the election of archbishops had for some time been a continual subject of dispute between the suffragan bishops and the Augustine monks, and both had precedents to confirm their pretensions. John sided with the bishops, and sent two knights of his train, who were fit instruments for such a prince, to expel the monks from their convent, and to take possession of their revenues. The pope was not displeased with these divisions; and instead of electing either of the persons appointed by the contending parties, he nominated Stephen Langton, as Archbishop of Can

terbury. John, however, refusing to admit the man of the pope's choosing, the kingdom was put under an interdict. This instrument of terror, in the hands of the see of Rome, was calculated to strike the senses in the highest degree, and to operate upon the superstitious minds of the people. By it a stop was immediately put to divine service, and to the administration of all the sacraments but baptism. The church doors were shut; the statues of the saints were laid on the ground; the dead were refused Christian burial, and were thrown into ditches on the highways, without the usual rites, or any funeral solemnity.

No situation could be more deplorable than that of John upon this occasion. Furious at his indignities, jealous of his subjects, and apprehending an enemy in every face; it is said, that fearing a conspiracy against his life, he shut himself up a whole night in the castle of Nottingham, and suffered none to approach his person. But what was his consternation when he found that the pope had actually given away his kingdom to the monarch of France, and that the prince of that country was actually preparing an army to take possession of his crown!

John, who, unsettled and apprehensive, scarcely knew where to turn, was still able to make an expiring effort to receive the enemy. All hated as he was, the natural enmity between the French and the English, the name of king which he still retained, and some remaining power, put him at the head of sixty thousand men, a sufficient number indeed, but not to be relied on, and with these he advanced to Dover. Europe now regarded the important preparations on both sides with impatience; and the decisive blow was soon expected, in which the church was to triumph, or to be overthrown. But neither

Philip nor John had ability equal to the pontiff by whom they were actuated; who appeared on this occasion too refined a politician for either. He only intended to make use of Philip's power to intimidate his refractory son, not to destroy him. He intimated, therefore, to John, by his legate, that there was but one way to secure himself from impending danger; which was, to put himself under the pope's protection, who was a merciful father, and still willing to receive a repentant sinner to his bosom. John was too much intimidated by the manifest danger of his situation, not to embrace every means offered for his safety. He assented to the truth of the legate's remonstrances, and took an oath to perform whatever stipulation the pope should impose. Having thus sworn to the performance of an unknown command, the artful Italian so well managed

the barons, and so effectually intimidated the king, that he persuaded him to take the most extraordinary oath in all the records of history, before all the people, kneeling upon his knees, and with his hands held up between those of the legate.

"I, John, by the grace of God, King of England, and Lord "of Ireland, in order to expiate my sins, from my own free "will, and the advice of my barons, give to the church of "Rome, to Pope Innocent, and his successors, the kingdom of "England, and all other prerogatives of my crown. I will "hereafter hold them as the pope's vassal. I will be faithful "to God, to the church of Rome, to the pope my master, and "his successors legitimately elected. I promise to pay him a "tribute of a thousand marks yearly; to wit, seven hundred "for the kingdom of England, and three hundred for the "kingdom of Ireland." Having thus done homage to the legate, and agreed to reinstate Langton in the primacy, he received the crown, which he had been supposed to have forfeited; while the legate trampled under his feet the tribute which John had consented to pay, Thus, by this most scandalous concession, John for once more averted the threatened blow.

In this manner, by repeated acts of cruelty, by expeditions without effect, and humiliations without reserve, John was become the detestation of all mankind,

The barons had been long forming a confederacy against him; but their union was broken, or their aims disappointed, by various and unforeseen accidents. At length, however, they assembled a large body of men at Stamford, and from thence, elated with their power, they marched to Brackley, about fifteen miles from Oxford, the place where the court then resided, John, hearing of their approach, sent the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl of Pembroke, and others of the council, to know the particulars of their request, and what those liberties were which they so earnestly importuned him to grant. The barons delivered a schedule, containing the chief articles of their demands, and of which the former charters of Henry and Edward formed the ground-work. No sooner were these shewn to the king, than he burst into a furious passion, and asked why the barons did not also demand his kingdom; swearing that he would never comply with such exorbitant demands! But the confederacy was now too strong to fear much from the consequences of his resentment. They chose Robert Fitzwalter for their general, whom they dignified with the title of "Mareschal of the army of God, and of the


holy church," and proceeded, without farther ceremony, to make war upon the king. They besieged Northampton; they took Bedford; they were joyfully received in London. They wrote circular letters to all the nobility and gentlemen who had not yet declared in their favour, and menaced their estates with devastation, in case of refusal or delay.

John, struck with terror, first offered to refer all differences to the pope alone, or to eight barons, four to be chosen by himself, and four by the confederates. This the barons scorn

fully rejected. He then assured them that he would submit at discretion; and that it was his supreme pleasure to grant all their demands: a conference was accordingly appointed, and all things adjusted for this most important treaty.

The ground where the king's commissioners met the barons was between Staines and Windsor, at a place called Runimede, still held in reverence by posterity, as the spot where the standard of freedom was first erected in England. There the barons appeared, with a vast number of knights and warriors, on the fifteenth day of June; while those on the king's part came a day or two after. Both sides encamped apart, like open enemies. The debates between power and precedent are generally but of short continuance. The barons, on carrying their aims, would but admit of few abatements; and the king's agents being for the most part in their interests, few debates ensued. After some days, the king, with a facility that was somewhat suspicious, signed and scaled the charter required of him a charter which continues in force to this day, and is the famous bulwark of English liberty, which now goes by the name of MAGNA CHARTA. This famous deed either granted or secured freedom to those orders of the kingdom that were already possessed of freedom, namely, to the clergy, the barons, and the gentlemen: as for the inferior, and the greatest part of the people, they were as yet held as slaves, and it was long before they could come to a participation of legal protection.

John, however, could not well brook those concessions that were extorted from his fears; he therefore took the first opportunity of denying to be in the least governed by them. This produced a second civil war, in which the barons were obliged to have recourse to the King of France for assistance. Thus England saw nothing but a prospect of being every way undone. If John succeeded, a tyrannical implacable monarch! was to be their tormentor; if the French king should prevail, the country was ever after to submit to a more powerful|

monarchy, and was to become a province of France. What neither human prudence could foresee, nor policy suggest, was brought about by a happy and unexpected event.

John had assembled a considerable army, with a view to make one great effort for the crown; and, at the head of a large body of troops, resolved to penetrate into the heart of the kingdom. With these resolutions he departed from Lynn, which, for its fidelity, he had distinguished with many marks of favour, and directed his route towards Lincolnshire. His road lay along the shore, which was overflowed at high water; but not being apprized of this, or being ignorant of the tide of the place, he lost all his carriages, treasure, and baggage, by its influx. He himself escaped with the greatest difficulty, and arrived at the abbey of Swinstead, where his grief for the loss he had sustained, and the distracted state of his affairs, threw him into a fever, which soon appeared to be fatal. Next day, being unable to ride on horseback, he was carried in a litter to the castle of Seaford, and from thence removed to Newark, where, after having made his will, he died in the fifty-first year of his age, and the eighteenth of his detested reign.

[merged small][graphic]



CLAIM was made, upon the death of John, in favour of young Henry, the son of the late king, who was now but nine years of age. The Earl of Pembroke, a nobleman of

« TrướcTiếp tục »