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The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
Conflict With The Papacy
by Adams, George Burton


The loss of the ancient possessions of the Norman dukes and the Angevin counts marks the close of an epoch in the reign of John; but for the history of England and for the personal history of the king the period is more appropriately closed by the death of Archbishop Hubert Walter on July 13, 1205, for the consequences which followed that event lead us directly to the second period of the reign. Already at the accession of John one of the two or three men of controlling influence on the course of events, trained not merely in the school of Henry II, but by the leading part he had played in the reign of Richard, there is no doubt that he had kept a strong hand on the government of the opening years of the new reign, and that his personality had been felt as a decided check by the new king. We may believe also that as one who had been brought up by Glanvill, the great jurist of Henry's time, and who had a large share in carrying the constitutional beginnings of that time a further stage forward, but who was himself a practical statesman rather than a lawyer, he was one of the foremost teachers of that great lesson which England was then learning, the lesson of law, of rights and responsibilities, which was for the world at large a far more important result of the legal reforms of the great Angevin monarch than anything in the field of technical law. It is easy to believe that a later writer records at least a genuine tradition of the feeling of John when he makes him exclaim on hearing of the archbishop's death, "Now--for the first time am I king of England." In truth practically shut up now for the first time to his island kingdom, John was about to be plunged into that series of quarrels and conflicts which fills the remainder of his life.

For the beginning of the conflict which gives its chief characteristic to the second period of his reign, the conflict with the pope and the Church, John is hardly to be blamed, at least not from the point of view of a king of England. With the first scene of the drama he had nothing to do; in the second he was doing no more than all his predecessors had done with scarcely an instance of dispute since the Norman Conquest. There had long been two questions concerning elections to the see of Canterbury that troubled the minds of the clergy. The monks of the cathedral church objected to the share which the bishops of the province had acquired in the choice of their primate, and canonically they were probably right. They also objected, and the bishops, though usually acting on the side of the king, no doubt sympathized with them, to the virtual appointment of the archbishop by the king. This objection, though felt by the clergy since the day when Anselm had opened the way into England to the principles of the Hildebrandine reformation, had never yet been given decided expression in overt act or led to any serious struggle with the sovereign; and it is clear that it would not have done so in this instance if the papal throne had not been filled by Innocent III. That great ecclesiastical statesman found in the political situation of more than one country of Europe opportunities for the exercise of his decided genius which enabled him to attain more nearly to the papacy of Gregory VII's ideal than had been possible to any earlier pope, and none of his triumphs was greater than that which he won from the opportunity offered him in England.

On Archbishop Hubert's death a party of the monks of Canterbury determined to be beforehand with the bishops and even with the king. They secretly elected their subprior to the vacant see, and sent him off to Rome to be confirmed before their action should be known, but the personal vanity of their candidate betrayed the secret, and his boasting that he was the elect of Canterbury was reported back from the continent to England to the anger of the monks, who then sent a deputation to the king and asked permission in the regular way to proceed to an election. John gave consent, and suggested John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, as his candidate, since he was "alone of all the prelates of England in possession of his counsels." The bishop was elected by the chapter; both bishops and monks were induced to withdraw the appeals they had made to Rome on their respective rights, and, on December 11, the new archbishop was enthroned and invested with the fiefs of Canterbury by the king. Of course the pallium from the pope was still necessary, and steps were at once taken to secure it. Innocent took plenty of time to consider the situation and did not render his decision until the end of March, 1206, declaring then against the king's candidate and ordering a deputation of the monks to be sent him, duly commissioned to act for the whole chapter. King and bishops were also told to be represented at the final decision. The pope's action postponed the settlement of the question for six months, and the interval was spent by John in an effort to recover something of his lost dominions, undertaken this time with some promise of success because of active resistance to Philip in Poitou. On this occasion no objection to the campaign was made by the barons, and with a large English force John landed at La Rochelle on June 7. Encouraged by his presence the insurrection spread through the greater part of Poitou and brought it back into his possession. He even invaded Anjou and held its capital for a time, and reached the borders of Maine, but these conquests he could not retain after Philip took the field against him in person; but on his side Philip did not think it wise to attempt the recovery of Poitou. On October 26 a truce for two years was proclaimed, each side to retain what it then possessed, but John formally abandoning all rights north of the Loire during the period of the truce.

John did not return to England until near the middle of December, but even at that date Innocent III had not decided the question of the Canterbury election. On December 20 he declared against the claim of the bishops and against the first secret election by the monks, and under his influence the deputation from Canterbury elected an Englishman and cardinal highly respected at Rome both for his character and for his learning, Stephen of Langton. The representatives of the king at Rome refused to agree to this election, and the pope himself wrote to John urging him to accept the new archbishop, but taking care to make it clear that the consent of the king was not essential, and indeed he did not wait for it. After correspondence with John in which the king's anger and his refusal to accept Langton were plainly expressed, on June 17, 1207, he consecrated Stephen archbishop. John's answer was the confiscation of the lands of the whole archbishopric, apparently those of the convent as well as those of the archbishop, and the expulsion of the monks from the country as traitors, while the trial in England of all appeals to the pope was forbidden.

Before this violent proceeding against the Canterbury monks, the financial necessities of John had led to an experiment in taxation which embroiled him to almost the same extent with the northern province. Not the only one, but the chief source of the troubles of John's reign after the loss of Normandy, and the main cause of the revolution in which the reign closed, is to be found in the financial situation of the king. The normal expenses of government had been increasing rapidly in the last half century. The growing amount and complexity of public and private business, to be expected in a land long spared the ravages of war, which showed itself in the remarkable development of judicial and administrative machinery during the period, meant increased expenses in many directions not to be met by the increased income from the new machinery. The cost of the campaigns in France was undoubtedly great, and the expense of those which the king desired to undertake was clearly beyond the resources of the country, at least beyond the resources available to him by existing methods of taxation. Nor was John a saving and careful housekeeper who could make a small income go a long ways. The complete breakdown of the ordinary feudal processes of raising revenue, the necessity forced upon the king of discovering new sources of income, the attempt within a single generation to impose on the country something like the modern methods and regularity of taxation, these must be taken into account as elements of decided importance in any final judgment we may form of the struggles of John's reign and their constitutional results. Down to this date a scutage had been imposed every year since the king's accession, at the rate of two marks on the fee except on the last occasion when the tax had been twenty shillings. Besides these there had been demanded the carucage of 1200 and the seventh of personal property of 1204, to say nothing of some extraordinary exactions. But these taxes were slow in coming in; the machinery of collection was still primitive, and the amount received in any year was far below what the tax should have yielded.

At a great council held in London on January 8 the king asked the bishops and abbots present to grant him a tax on the incomes of all beneficed clergy. The demand has a decidedly modern sound. Precedents for taxation of this sort had been made in various crusading levies, in the expedients adopted for raising Richard's ransom, and in the seventh demanded by John in 1204, which was exacted from at least a part of the clergy, but these were all more or less exceptional cases, and there was no precedent for such a tax as a means of meeting the ordinary expenses of the state. The prelates refused their consent, and the matter was deferred to a second great council to be held at Oxford a month later. This council was attended by an unusually large number of ecclesiastics, and the king's proposition, submitted to them again, was again refused. The council, however, granted the thirteenth asked, to be collected of the incomes and personal property of the laity. But John had no mind to give up his plan because it had not been sanctioned by the prelates in general assembly, and he proceeded, apparently by way of individual consent, doubtless practically compulsory as usual, to collect the same tax from the whole clergy, the Cistercians alone excepted. A tax of this kind whether of laity or clergy was entirely non-feudal, foreign both in nature and methods to the principles of feudalism, and a long step toward modern taxation, but it was some time before the suggestion made by it was taken up by the government as one of its ordinary resources. Archbishop Geoffrey of York, the king's brother, who since the death of his father seemed never to be happy unless in a quarrel with some one, took it upon himself to oppose violently the taxation of his clergy, though he had enforced the payment of a similar tax for Richard's ransom. Finding that he could not prevent it he retired from the country, excommunicating the despoilers of the church, and his lands were taken in hand by the king.

The expulsion of the monks of Canterbury was a declaration of war against the Church and the pope, and the Church was far more powerful, more closely organized, and more nearly actuated by a single ideal, than in the case of any earlier conflict between Church and State in England, and the pope was Innocent III, head of the world in his own conception of his position and very nearly so in reality. There was no chance that a declaration of war would pass unanswered, but the pope did not act without deliberation. On the news of what the king had done he wrote to the Bishops of London, Ely, and Worcester, directing them to try to persuade John to give way, and if he obstinately continued his course, to proclaim an interdict. This letter was written on August 27, but the interdict was not actually put into force until March 24,1208, negotiations going on all the winter, and John displaying, as he did throughout the whole conflict, considerable ability in securing delay and in keeping opponents occupied with proposals which he probably never intended to carry out. At last a date was set on which the interdict would be proclaimed if the king had not yielded by that time, and he was given an opportunity of striking the first blow which he did not neglect. He ordered the immediate confiscation of the property of all the clergy who should obey the interdict.

The struggle which follows exhibits, as nothing else could do so well, the tremendous power of the Norman feudal monarchy, the absolute hold which it had on state and nation even on the verge of its fall. John had not ruled during these eight years in such a way as to strengthen his personal position. He had been a tyrant; he had disregarded the rights of batons as well as of clergy; he had given to many private reasons of hatred; he had lost rather than won respect by the way in which he had defended his inheritance in France his present cause, if looked at from the point of view of Church and nation and not from that of the royal prerogative alone, was a bad one. The interdict was a much dreaded penalty, suspending some of the most desired offices of religion, and, while not certainly dooming all the dying to be lost in the world to come, at least rendering their state to the pious mind somewhat doubtful; and, though the effect of the spiritual terrors of the Church had been a little weakened by their frequent use on slight occasions, the age was still far distant when they could be disregarded. We should expect John to prove as weak in the war with Innocent as he had in that with Philip, and at such a test to find his power crumbling without recovery. What we really find is a successful resistance kept up for years, almost without expressed opposition, a great body of the clergy reconciling themselves to the situation as best they could; a period during which the affairs of the state seem to go on as if nothing were out of order, the period of John's greatest tyranny, of almost unbridled power. And when he was forced to yield at last, it was to a foreign attack, to a foreign attack combined, it is true, with an opposition at home which had been long accumulating, but no one can say how long this opposition might have gone on accumulating before it would have grown strong enough to check the king of itself.

The interdict seems to have been generally observed by the clergy. The Cistercians at first declared that they were not bound to respect it, but they were after a time forced by the pope to conform. Baptism and extreme unction were allowed; marriages might be celebrated at the church door; but no masses were publicly said, and all the ordinary course of the sacraments was intermitted; the dead were buried in unconsecrated ground, and the churches were closed except to those who wished to make offerings. Nearly all the bishops went into exile. Two only remained in the end, both devoted more to the king than to the Church; John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, employed during most of the time in secular business in Ireland, and Peter des Roches, appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1205, destined to play a leading part against the growing liberties of the nation in the next reign, and now, as a chronicler says, occupied less with defending the Church than in administering the king's affairs. The general confiscation of Church property must have relieved greatly the financial distress of the king, and during the years when these lands were administered as part of the royal domains, we hear less of attempts at national taxation. John did not stop with confiscation of the goods of the clergy. Their exemption from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts of the state was suspended, and they were even in some cases denied the protection of the laws. It is said that once there came to the king on the borders of Wales officers of one of the sheriffs, leading a robber with his hands bound behind his back, who had robbed and killed a priest, and they asked the king what should be done with him. "He has killed one of my enemies. Loose him and let him go," ordered John. After the interdict had been followed by the excommunication of the king, Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Norwich, urged upon his associates at the exchequer that it was not safe for those who were in orders to remain in the service of an excommunicate king, and left the court without permission and went home. John hearing this sent William Talbot after him with a band of soldiers, who arrested the archdeacon, and loaded him with chains, and threw him into prison. There shortly after by the command of the king he was pressed to death. It was by acts like these, of which other instances are on record, that John terrorized the country and held it quiet under his tyranny.

Even the greatest barons were subjected to arbitrary acts of power of the same kind. On the slightest occasion of suspicion the king demanded their sons or other relatives, or their vassals, as hostages, a measure which had been in occasional use before, but which John carried to an extreme. The great earl marshal himself, who, if we may trust his biographer, was never afraid to do what he thought honour demanded, and was always able to defend himself in the king's presence with such vigorous argument that nothing could be done with him, was obliged to give over to the king's keeping first his eldest and then his second son. The case of William de Braóse is that most commonly cited. He had been a devoted supporter of John and had performed many valuable services in his interest, especially at the time of the coronation. For these he had received many marks of royal favour, and was rapidly becoming both in property and in family alliances one of the greatest barons of the land. About the time of the proclamation of the interdict a change took place in his fortunes. For some reason he lost the favour of the king and fell instead under his active enmity. According to a formal statement of the case, which John thought well to put forth afterwards, he had failed to pay large sums which he had promised in return for the grants that had been made him; and the records support the accusation.71 According to Roger of Wendover the king had a personal cause of anger. On a demand of hostages from her husband, the wife of William had rashly declared to the officers that her sons should never be delivered to the king because he had basely murdered his nephew Arthur, whom he was under obligation to guard honourably, and it is impossible to believe that it was merely delay in paying money that excited the fierce persecution that followed. William with his family took refuge in Ireland, where he was received by William Marshal and the Lacies, but John pursued him thither, and he was again obliged to fly. His wife and son, attempting to escape to Scotland, were seized in Galloway by a local baron and delivered to John, who caused them to be starved to death in prison.

It may seem strange at the present day that the absolutism of the king did not bring about a widespread rebellion earlier than it did. One of the chief causes of his strength is to be found in the bands of mercenary soldiers which he maintained, ready to do any bidding at a moment's notice, under the command of men who were entirely his creatures, like Gerald of Athies, a peasant of Touraine, who with some of his fellows was thought worthy of mention by name in the Great Charter. The cost of keeping these bands devoted to his service was no doubt one of the large expenses of the reign. Another fact of greater permanent interest that helped to keep up the king's power is the lack of unity among the barons, of any feeling of a common cause, but rather the existence of jealousies, and open conflicts even, which made it impossible to bring them together in united action in their own defence. The fact is of especial importance because it was the crushing tyranny of John that first gave rise to the feeling of corporate unity in the baronage, and the growth of this feeling is one of the great facts of the thirteenth century.

At the beginning of 1209 Innocent III had threatened the immediate excommunication of John, but the king had known how to keep him, and the bishops who represented him in the negotiations, occupied with one proposition of compromise after another until almost the close of the year. The summer was employed in settling affairs with Scotland, which down to this time had not been put into form satisfactory to either king. A meeting at the end of April led to no result, but in August, after armies of the two countries had faced each other on the borders, a treaty was agreed upon. William the Lion was not then in a condition to insist strongly on his own terms, and the treaty was much in favour of John. The king of Scotland promised to pay 15,000 marks, and gave over two of his daughters to John to be given in marriage by him. In a later treaty John was granted the same right with respect to Alexander, the heir of Scotland, arrangements that look very much like a recognition of the king of England as the overlord of Scotland. In Wales also quarrels among the native chieftains enabled John to increase his influence in the still unconquered districts. In November the long-deferred excommunication fell upon the unrepentant king, but it could not be published in England. There were no bishops left in the country who were acting in the interests of the pope, and John took care that there should be no means of making any proclamation of the sentence in his kingdom. The excommunication was formally published in France, and news of it passed over to England, but no attention was paid to it there. For the individual, excommunication was a more dreaded penalty than the interdict. The interdict might compel a king to yield by the public fear and indignation which it would create, but an excommunication cut him off as a man completely from the Church and all its mercies, cast him out of the community of Christians, and involved in the same awful fate all who continued to support him, or, indeed, to associate with him in any way. Even more than the interdict, the excommunication reveals the terrible strength of the king. When the time came for holding the Christmas court of 1209, the fact that it had been pronounced was generally known, but it made no difference in the attendance. All the barons are said to have been present and to have associated with the king as usual, though there must have been many of them who trembled at the audacity of the act, and who would have withdrawn entirely from him if they had dared. On his return from the north John had demanded and obtained a renewal of homage from all the free tenants of the country. The men of Wales had even been compelled to go to Woodstock to render it. It is quite possible that this demand had been made in view of the excommunication that was coming; the homage must certainly have been rendered by many who knew that the sentence was hanging over the king's head.

The year 1210 is marked by an expedition of John with an army to Ireland. Not only were William de Braóse and his wife to be punished, but the Lacies had been for some time altogether too independent, and the conduct of William Marshal was not satisfactory. The undertaking occasioned the first instance of direct taxation since the lands of the Church had been taken in hand, a scutage, which in this case at least would have a warrant in strict feudal law. The clergy also were compelled to pay a special and heavy tax, and the Jews throughout the kingdom--perhaps an act of piety on the part of the king to atone somewhat for his treatment of the Church--were arrested and thrown into prison and forced to part with large sums of money. It was on this occasion that the often-quoted incident occurred of the Jew of Bristol who endured all ordinary tortures to save his money, or that in his charge, until the king ordered a tooth to be drawn each day so long as he remained obstinate. As the eighth was about to be pulled, "tardily perceiving," as the chronicler remarks, "what was useful," he gave up and promised the 10,000 marks demanded.

John landed in Ireland about June 20, and traversed with his army all that part of the country which was occupied by Anglo-Norman settlers without finding any serious opposition. William Marshal entertained his host for two days with all loyalty. The Lacies and William de Braóse's family fled before him from one place to another and finally escaped out of the island to Scotland. Carrickfergus, in which Hugh de Lacy had thought to stand a siege, resisted for a few days, and then surrendered. At Dublin the native kings of various districts, said by Roger of Wendover to have been more than twenty in number, including the successor of Roderick, king of Connaught, who had inherited a greatly reduced power, came in and did homage and swore fealty to John. At the same time, we are told, the king introduced into the island the laws and administrative system of England, and appointed sheriffs.72 John's march through the island and the measures of government which he adopted have been thought to mark an advance in the subjection of Ireland to English rule, and to form one of the few permanent contributions to English history devised by the king. On his departure Bishop John de Grey was left as justiciar, and toward the end of August John landed in England to go on with the work of exacting money from the clergy and the Jews that he had begun before he left the country.

The two years which followed John's return from Ireland, from August, 1210 to August 1212, form the period of his highest power. No attempt at resistance to his will anywhere disturbed the peace of England. Llewelyn, Prince of north Wales, husband of John's natural daughter Joanna, involved in border warfare with the Earl of Chester, was not willing to yield to the authority of the king, but two expeditions against him in 1211 forced him to make complete submission. A contemporary annalist remarks with truth that none of John's predecessors exercised so great an authority over Scotland, Wales, or Ireland as he, and we may add that none exercised a greater over England. The kingdom was almost in a state of blockade, and not only was unauthorized entrance into the country forbidden, but departure from it as well, except as the king desired. During these two years John's relations with the Church troubled him but little. Negotiations were kept up as before, but they led to nothing. On his return from the Welsh campaign the king met representatives of the pope at Northampton, one of whom was the Roman subdeacon Pandulf, whom John met later in a different mood. We have no entirely trustworthy account of the interview, but it was found impossible to agree upon the terms of any treaty which would bring the conflict to an end. The pope demanded a promise of complete obedience from John on all the questions that had caused the trouble, and restoration to the clergy of all their confiscated revenues, and to one or both of these demands the king refused to yield. Now it is that we begin to hear of threats of further sentences to be issued by the pope against John, or actually issued, releasing his subjects from their allegiance and declaring the king incapable of ruling, but if any step of that kind was taken, it had for the present no effect. The Christmas feast was kept as usual at Windsor, and in Lent of the next year John knighted young Alexander of Scotland, whose father had sent him to London to be married as his liege lord might please, though "without disparagement."

In the spring of 1212 John seems to have felt himself strong enough to take up seriously a plan for the recovery of the lands which he had lost in France. The idea he had had in mind for some years was the formation of a great coalition against Philip Augustus by combining various enemies of his or of the pope's. In May the Count of Boulogne, who was in trouble with the king of France, came to London and did homage to John. Otto IV, the Guelfic emperor and John's nephew, was now in as desperate conflict with the papacy as if he were a Ghibelline, and Innocent was supporting against him the young Hohenstaufen Frederick, son of Henry VI and Constance of Sicily. Otto therefore was ready to promise help to any one from whom he could hope for aid in return, or to take part in any enterprise from which a change of the general situation might be expected. Ferdinand of Portugal, just become Count of Flanders by marriage with Jeanne, the heiress of the crusading Count Baldwin, the emperor Baldwin of the new Latin empire, had at the moment of his accession been made the victim of Philip Augustus's ceaseless policy of absorbing the great fiefs in the crown, and had lost the two cities of Aire and St. Omer. He was ready to listen to John's solicitations, and after some hesitation and delay joined the alliance, as did also most of the princes on the north-east between France and Germany. John laboured long and hard with much skill and final success, at a combination which would isolate the king of France and make it possible to attack him with overwhelming force at once from the north and the south. With a view, in all probability, to calling out the largest military force possible in the event of a war with France, John at this time ordered a new survey to be taken of the service due from the various fiefs in England. The inquest was made by juries of the hundreds, after a method very similar to that lately employed in the carucage of 1198, and earlier in the Domesday survey by William the Conqueror, though it was under the direction of the sheriffs, not of special commissioners. The interesting returns to this inquiry have been preserved to us only in part.73 If John hoped to be able to attack his enemy abroad in the course of the year 1212, he was disappointed in the end. His combination of allies he was not able to complete. A new revolt of the Welsh occupied his attention towards the end of the summer and led him to hang twenty-eight boys, hostages whom they had given him the year before. Worst of all, evidence now began to flow in to the king from various quarters of a serious disaffection among the barons of the kingdom and of a growing spirit of rebellion, even, it was said, of an intention to deprive him of the crown. We are told that on the eve of his expedition against the Welsh a warning came to him from the king of Scotland that he was surrounded by treason, and another from his daughter in Wales to the same effect. Whatever the source of his information, John was evidently convinced--very likely he needed but little to convince him--of a danger which he must have been always suspecting. At any rate he did not venture to trust himself to his army in the field, but sent home the levies and carefully guarded himself for a time. Then he called for new declarations of loyalty and for hostages from the barons; and two of them, Eustace de Vescy and Robert Fitz Walter, fled from the country, the king outlawing them and seizing their property. About the same time a good deal of public interest was excited by a hermit of Yorkshire, Peter of Pontefract, who was thought able to foretell the future, and who declared that John would not be king on next Ascension day, the anniversary of his coronation. It was probably John's knowledge of the disposition of the barons, and possibly the hope of extorting some information from him, that led him, rather unwisely, to order the arrest of the hermit, and to question him as to the way in which he should lose the crown. Peter could only tell him that the event was sure, and that if it did not occur, the king might do with him what he pleased. John took him at his word, held him in prison, and hanged him when the day had safely passed.

By that 23d of May, however, a great change had taken place in the formal standing of John among the sovereigns of the world, a change which many believed fulfilled the prediction of Peter, and one which affected the history of England for many generations. As the year 1212 drew to its close, John was not merely learning his own weakness in England, but he was forced by the course of events abroad to recognize the terrible strength of the papacy and the small chance that even a strong king could have of winning a victory over it.74 His nephew Otto IV had been obliged to retire, almost defeated, before the enthusiasm which the young Frederick of Hohenstaufen had aroused in his adventurous expedition to recover the crown of Germany. Raymond of Toulouse, John's brother-in-law, had been overwhelmed and almost despoiled of his possessions in an attempt to protect his subjects in their right to believe what seemed to them the truth. For the moment the vigorous action which John had taken after the warnings received on the eve of the Welsh campaign had put an end to the disposition to revolt, and had left him again all powerful. He had even been able to extort from the clergy formal letters stating that the sums he had forced them to pay were voluntarily granted him. But he had been made to understand on how weak a foundation his power rested. He must have known that Philip Augustus had for some time been considering the possibility of an invasion of England, whether invited by the barons to undertake it or not, and he could hardly fail to dread the results to himself of such a step after the lesson he had learned in Normandy of the consequences of treason. The situation at home and abroad forced upon him the conclusion that he must soon come to terms with the papacy, and in November he sent representatives to Rome to signify that he would agree to the proposals he had rejected when made by Pandulf early in the previous year.75 Even in this case John may be suspected, as so often before, of making a proposition which he did not intend to carry out, or at least of trying to gain time, for it was found that the embassy could not make a formally binding agreement; and it is clear that Innocent III, while ready to go on with the negotiations and hoping to carry them to success, was now convinced that he must bring to bear on John the only kind of pressure to which he would yield.

There is reason to believe that after his reconciliation with the king of England Innocent III had all the letters in which he had threatened John with the severest penalties collected so far as possible and destroyed.76 It is uncertain, however, whether before the end of 1212 he had gone so far as to depose the king and to absolve his subjects from their allegiance, though this is asserted by English chroniclers. But there is no good ground to doubt that in January, 1213, he took this step, and authorized the king of France to invade England and deprive John of his kingdom. Philip needed no urging. He collected a numerous fleet, we are told, of 1500 vessels, and a large army. In the first week of April he held a great council at Soissons, and the enterprise was determined on by the barons and bishops of France. At the same council arrangements were made to define the legal relations to France of the kingdom to be conquered, The king of England was to be Philip's son, Louis, who could advance some show of right through his wife, John's niece, Blanche of Castile but during his father's lifetime he was to make no pretension to any part of France, a provision which would leave the duchy of Aquitaine in Philip's hands, as Normandy was. Louis was to require an oath of his new subjects that they would undertake nothing against France, and he was to leave to his father the disposal of the person of John and of his private possessions. Of the relationship between the two countries when Louis should succeed to the crown of France, nothing was said. Preparations were so far advanced that it was expected that the army would embark before the end of May.

In the meantime John was taking measures for a vigorous defence. Orders were sent out for all ships capable of carrying at least six horses to assemble at Portsmouth by the middle of Lent. The feudal levies and all men able to bear arms were called out for April 21. The summons was obeyed by such numbers that they could not be fed, and all but the best armed were sent home, while the main force was collected on Barham Down, between Canterbury and Dover, with outposts at the threatened ports. John has been thought by some to have had a special interest in the development of the fleet; at any rate he knew how to employ here the defensive manoeuvre which has been more than once of avail to England, and he sent out a naval force to capture and destroy the enemy's ships in the mouth of the Seine and at Fécamp, and to take and burn the town of Dieppe. It was his plan also to defend the country with the fleet rather than with the army, and to attack and destroy the hostile armament on its way across the channel. To contemporaries the preparations seemed entirely sufficient to defend the country, not merely against France, but against any enemy whatever, provided only the hearts of all had been devoted to the king.

While preparations were being made in France for an invasion of England under the commission of the pope, Innocent was going on with the effort to bring John to his terms by negotiation. The messengers whom the king had sent to Rome returned bringing no modification of the papal demands. At the same time Pandulf, the pope's representative, empowered to make a formal agreement, came on as far as Calais and sent over two Templars to England to obtain permission for an interview with John, while he held back the French fleet to learn the result. The answer of John to Pandulf's messengers would be his answer to the pope and also his defiance of Philip. There can be no doubt what his answer would have been if he had had entire confidence in his army, nor what it would have been if Philip's fleet had not been ready. He yielded only because there was no other way out of the situation into which he had brought himself, and he made his submission complete enough to insure his escape. He sent for Pandulf, and on May 13 met him at Dover and accepted his terms. Four of his chief barons, as the pope required, the Earl of Salisbury, the Count of Boulogne, and the Earls Warenne and Ferrers, swore on the king's soul that he would keep the agreement, and John issued letters patent formally declaring what he had promised. Stephen Langton was to be accepted as Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the exiled bishops, monks, and laymen were to be reinstated, and full compensation made them for their financial losses. Two days later John went very much further than this: at the house of the Templars near Dover in the presence of the barons he surrendered the kingdom to the pope, confirming the act by a charter witnessed by two bishops and eleven barons, and received it back to be held as a fief, doing homage to Pandulf as the representative of the pope, and promising for himself and his heirs the annual payment of 700 marks for England and 300 for Ireland in lieu of feudal service.

Whether this extraordinary act was demanded by Innocent or suggested by John, the evidence does not permit us to say. The balance of probabilities, however, inclines strongly to the opinion that it was a voluntary act of the king's. There is nothing in the papal documents to indicate any such demand, and it is hardly possible that the pope could have believed that he could carry the matter so far. On the other hand, John was able to see clearly that nothing else would save him. He had every reason to be sure that no ordinary reconciliation with the papacy would check the invasion of Philip or prevent the treason of the barons. If England were made a possession of the pope, the whole situation would take on a different aspect. Not only would all Europe think Innocent justified in adopting the most extreme measures for the defence of his vassal, but also the most peculiar circumstances only would justify Philip in going on with his attack, and without him disaffection at home was powerless. We should be particularly careful not to judge this act of John's by the sentiment of a later time. There was nothing that seemed degrading to that age about becoming a vassal. Every member of the aristocracy of Europe and almost every king was a vassal. A man passed from the classes that were looked down upon, the peasantry and the bourgeoisie, into the nobility by becoming a vassal. The English kings had been vassals since feudalism had existed in England, though not for the kingdom, and only a few years before Richard had made even that a fief of the empire. There is no evidence that John's right to take this step was questioned by any one, or that there was any general condemnation of it at that time. One writer a few years later says that the act seemed to many "ignominious," but he records in the same sentence his own judgment that John was "very prudently providing for himself and his by the deed."77 Even in the rebellion against John that closed his reign no objection was made to the relationship with the papacy, nor was the king's right to act as he did denied, though his action was alleged by his enemies to be illegal because it did not have the consent of the barons. John's charter of concession, however, expressly affirms this consent, and the barons on one occasion seem to have confirmed the assertion.78

Footnotes

[71] See J.H. Round's article on William in Dict. Nat. Biogr., vi. 229.

[72] See C.L. Falkiner in Proc. Royal Irish Acad., xxiv. c. pt. 4 (1903).

[73] See Round, Commune of London, 261-277.

[74] Ralph of Coggeshall, 164-165.

[75] Walter of Coventry, ii, lviii. n. 4.

[76] Innocent III, Epp. xvi. 133. (Rymer, Foedera, i. 116.)

[77] Walter of Coventry, ii. 210.

[78] Rymer, Foedera, i. 120.

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