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History of the English People - Book III The Charter, 1204-1307
John--1204-1216
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)


England and the Conquest English Patriotism
The Universities Oxford
Oxford Scholars Edmund Rich
The University and Feudalism      The Universities and the Church
The Town Towns and their lords
The Merchant Gild Emancipation of Towns
London Freedom of London
Early Oxford Oxford and the Normans
Oxford and London Life of the Town
St. Edmundsbury The Towns and Justice
Division of Labour Trade-Gilds
Greater and Lesser Folk The Villein
England John
Innocent the Third The Interdict
The Deposition John's Submission
John becomes vassal of Rome Its Results
Geoffry Fitz-Peter Stephen Langton
Bouvines Rising of the Baronage
John deserted John yields
The Great Charter Innocent annuls the Charter
Landing of Lewis  


England and the Conquest

The loss of Normandy did more than drive John from the foreign dominions of his race; it set him face to face with England itself. England was no longer a distant treasure-house from which gold could be drawn for wars along the Epte or the Loire, no longer a possession to be kept in order by wise ministers and by flying visits from its foreign king. Henceforth it was his home. It was to be ruled by his personal and continuous rule. People and sovereign were to know each other, to be brought into contact with each other as they had never been brought since the conquest of the Norman. The change in the attitude of the king was the more momentous that it took place at a time when the attitude of the country itself was rapidly changing. The Norman Conquest had given a new aspect to the land. A foreign king ruled it through foreign ministers. Foreign nobles were quartered in every manor. A military organization of the country changed while it simplified the holding of every estate. Huge castles of white stone bridled town and country; huge stone minsters told how the Norman had bridled even the Church. But the change was in great measure an external one. The real life of the nation was little affected by the shock of the Conquest. English institutions, the local, judicial, and administrative forms of the country were the same as of old. Like the English tongue they remained practically unaltered. For a century after the Conquest only a few new words crept in from the language of the conquerors, and so entirely did the spoken tongue of the nation at large remain unchanged that William himself tried to learn it that he might administer justice to his subjects. Even English literature, banished as it was from the court of the stranger and exposed to the fashionable rivalry of Latin scholars, survived not only in religious works, in poetic paraphrases of gospels and psalms, but in the great monument of our prose, the English Chronicle. It was not till the miserable reign of Stephen that the Chronicle died out in the Abbey of Peterborough. But the "Sayings of Ælfred" show a native literature going on through the reign of Henry the Second, and the appearance of a great work of English verse coincides in point of time with the return of John to his island realm. "There was a priest in the land whose name was Layamon; he was the son of Leovenath; may the Lord be gracious to him! He dwelt at Earnley, a noble church on the bank of Severn (good it seemed to him!) near Radstone, where he read books. It came to mind to him and in his chiefest thought that he would tell the noble deeds of England, what the men were named and whence they came who first had English land." Journeying far and wide over the country, the priest of Earnley found Bæda and Wace, the books too of St. Albin and St. Austin. "Layamon laid down these books and turned the leaves; he beheld them lovingly; may the Lord be gracious to him! Pen he took with finger and wrote a book-skin, and the true words set together, and compressed the three books into one." Layamon's church is now that of Areley, near Bewdley in Worcestershire; his poem was in fact an expansion of Wace's "Brut" with insertions from Bæda. Historically it is worthless; but as a monument of our language it is beyond all price. In more than thirty thousand lines not more than fifty Norman words are to be found. Even the old poetic tradition remains the same. The alliterative metre of the earlier verse is still only slightly affected by riming terminations; the similes are the few natural similes of Cædmon; the battle-scenes are painted with the same rough, simple joy.

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English Patriotism

Instead of crushing England, indeed, the Conquest did more than any event that had gone before to build up an English people. All local distinctions, the distinction of Saxon from Mercian, of both from Northumbrian, died away beneath the common pressure of the stranger. The Conquest was hardly over when we see the rise of a new national feeling, of a new patriotism. In his quiet cell at Worcester the monk Florence strives to palliate by excuses of treason or the weakness of rulers the defeats of Englishmen by the Danes. Ælfred, the great name of the English past, gathers round him a legendary worship, and the "Sayings of Ælfred" embody the ideal of an English king. We see the new vigour drawn from this deeper consciousness of national unity in a national action which began as soon as the Conquest had given place to strife among the conquerors. A common hostility to the conquering baronage gave the nation leaders in its foreign sovereigns, and the sword which had been sheathed at Senlac was drawn for triumphs which avenged it. It was under William the Red that English soldiers shouted scorn at the Norman barons who surrendered at Rochester. It was under Henry the First that an English army faced Duke Robert and his foreign knighthood when they landed for a fresh invasion, "not fearing the Normans." It was under the same great king that Englishmen conquered Normandy in turn on the field of Tenchebray. This overthrow of the conquering baronage, this union of the conquered with the king, brought about the fusion of the conquerors in the general body of the English people. As early as the days of Henry the Second the descendants of Norman and Englishman had become indistinguishable. Both found a bond in a common English feeling and English patriotism, in a common hatred of the Angevin and Poitevin "foreigners" who streamed into England in the wake of Henry and his sons. Both had profited by the stern discipline of the Norman rule. The wretched reign of Stephen alone broke the long peace, a peace without parallel elsewhere, which in England stretched from the settlement of the Conquest to the return of John. Of her kings' forays along Norman or Aquitanian borders England heard little; she cared less. Even Eichard's crusade woke little interest in his island realm. What England saw in her kings was "the good peace they made in the land." And with peace came a stern but equitable rule, judicial and administrative reforms that carried order and justice to every corner of the land, a wealth that grew steadily in spite of heavy taxation, an immense outburst of material and intellectual activity.

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The Universities

It was with a new English people therefore that John found himself face to face. The nation which he fronted was a nation quickened with a new life and throbbing with a new energy. Not least among the signs of this energy was the upgrowth of our Universities. The establishment of the great schools which bore this name was everywhere throughout Europe a special mark of the impulse which Christendom gained from the crusades. A new fervour of study sprang up in the West from its contact with the more cultured East. Travellers like Adelard of Bath brought back the first rudiments of physical and mathematical science from the schools of Cordova or Bagdad. In the twelfth century a classical revival restored Cæsar and Virgil to the list of monastic studies, and left its stamp on the pedantic style, the profuse classical quotations of writers like William of Malmesbury or John of Salisbury. The scholastic philosophy sprang up in the schools of Paris. The Roman law was revived by the imperialist doctors of Bologna. The long mental inactivity of feudal Europe broke up like ice before a summer's sun. Wandering teachers such as Lanfranc or Anselm crossed sea and land to spread the new power of knowledge. The same spirit of restlessness, of enquiry, of impatience with the older traditions of mankind either local or intellectual that drove half Christendom to the tomb of its Lord, crowded the roads with thousands of young scholars hurrying to the chosen seats where teachers were gathered together. A new power sprang up in the midst of a world which had till now recognized no power but that of sheer brute force. Poor as they were, sometimes even of servile race, the wandering scholars who lectured in every cloister were hailed as "masters" by the crowds at their feet. Abelard was a foe worthy of the threats of councils, of the thunders of the Church. The teaching of a single Lombard was of note enough in England to draw down the prohibition of a king.

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Oxford

Vacarius was probably a guest in the court of Archbishop Theobald where Thomas of London and John of Salisbury were already busy with the study of the Civil Law. But when he opened lectures on it at Oxford he was at once silenced by Stephen, who was at that moment at war with the Church and jealous of the power which the wreck of the royal authority was throwing into Theobald's hands. At this time Oxford stood in the first rank among English towns. Its town church of St. Martin rose from the midst of a huddled group of houses, girded in with massive walls, that lay along the dry upper ground of a low peninsula between the streams of Cherwell and the Thames. The ground fell gently on either side, eastward and westward, to these rivers; while on the south a sharper descent led down across swampy meadows to the ford from which the town drew its name and to the bridge that succeeded it. Around lay a wild forest country, moors such as Cowley and Bullingdon fringing the course of Thames, great woods of which Shotover and Bagley are the relics closing the horizon to the south and east. Though the two huge towers of its Norman castle marked the strategic importance of Oxford as commanding the river valley along which the commerce of Southern England mainly flowed, its walls formed the least element in the town's military strength, for on every side but the north it was guarded by the swampy meadows along Cherwell or by an intricate network of streams into which the Thames breaks among the meadows of Osney. From the midst of these meadows rose a mitred abbey of Austin Canons, which with the older priory of St. Frideswide gave Oxford some ecclesiastical dignity. The residence of the Norman house of the D'Oillis within its castle, the frequent visits of English kings to a palace without its walls, the presence again and again of important Parliaments, marked its political weight within the realm. The settlement of one of the wealthiest among the English Jewries in the very heart of the town indicated, while it promoted, the activity of its trade. No place better illustrates the transformation of the land in the hands of its Norman masters, the sudden outburst of industrial effort, the sudden expansion of commerce and accumulation of wealth which followed the Conquest. To the west of the town rose one of the stateliest of English castles, and in the meadows beneath the hardly less stately abbey of Osney. In the fields to the north the last of the Norman kings raised his palace of Beaumont. In the southern quarter of the city the canons of St. Frideswide reared the church which still exists as the diocesan cathedral, while the piety of the Norman Castellans rebuilt almost all its parish churches and founded within their new castle walls the church of the Canons of St. George.

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Oxford Scholars

We know nothing of the causes which drew students and teachers within the walls of Oxford. It is possible that here as elsewhere a new teacher quickened older educational foundations, and that the cloisters of Osney and St. Frideswide already possessed schools which burst into a larger life under the impulse of Vacarius. As yet however the fortunes of the University were obscured by the glories of Paris. English scholars gathered in thousands round the chairs of William of Champeaux or Abelard. The English took their place as one of the "nations" of the French University. John of Salisbury became famous as one of the Parisian teachers. Thomas of London wandered to Paris from his school at Merton. But through the peaceful reign of Henry the Second Oxford quietly grew in numbers and repute, and forty years after the visit of Vacarius its educational position was fully established. When Gerald of Wales read his amusing Topography of Ireland to its students the most learned and famous of the English clergy were to be found within its walls. At the opening of the thirteenth century Oxford stood without a rival in its own country, while in European celebrity it took rank with the greatest schools of the Western world. But to realize this Oxford of the past we must dismiss from our minds all recollections of the Oxford of the present. In the outer look of the new University there was nothing of the pomp that overawes the freshman as he first paces the "High" or looks down from the gallery of St. Mary's. In the stead of long fronts of venerable colleges, of stately walks beneath immemorial elms, history plunges us into the mean and filthy lanes of a mediæval town. Thousands of boys, huddled in bare lodging-houses, clustering round teachers as poor as themselves in church porch and house porch, drinking, quarrelling, dicing, begging at the corners of the streets, take the place of the brightly-coloured train of doctors and Heads. Mayor and Chancellor struggled in vain to enforce order or peace on this seething mass of turbulent life. The retainers who followed their young lords to the University fought out the feuds of their houses in the streets. Scholars from Kent and scholars from Scotland waged the bitter struggle of North and South. At nightfall roysterer and reveller roamed with torches through the narrow lanes, defying bailiffs, and cutting down burghers at their doors. Now a mob of clerks plunged into the Jewry and wiped off the memory of bills and bonds by sacking a Hebrew house or two. Now a tavern squabble between scholar and townsman widened into a general broil, and the academical bell of St. Mary's vied with the town bell of St. Martin's in clanging to arms. Every phase of ecclesiastical controversy or political strife was preluded by some fierce outbreak in this turbulent, surging mob. When England growled at the exactions of the Papacy in the years that were to follow the students besieged a legate in the abbot's house at Osney. A murderous town and gown row preceded the opening of the Barons' war. "When Oxford draws knife," ran an old rime, "England's soon at strife."

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Edmund Rich

But the turbulence and stir was a stir and turbulence of life. A keen thirst for knowledge, a passionate poetry of devotion, gathered thousands round the poorest scholar and welcomed the barefoot friar. Edmund Rich-- Archbishop of Canterbury and saint in later days--came about the time we have reached to Oxford, a boy of twelve years old, from a little lane at Abingdon that still bears his name. He found his school in an inn that belonged to the abbey of Eynsham where his father had taken refuge from the world. His mother was a pious woman of the day, too poor to give her boy much outfit besides the hair shirt that he promised to wear every Wednesday; but Edmund was no poorer than his neighbours. He plunged at once into the nobler life of the place, its ardour for knowledge, its mystical piety. "Secretly," perhaps at eventide when the shadows were gathering in the church of St. Mary and the crowd of teachers and students had left its aisles, the boy stood before an image of the Virgin, and placing a ring of gold upon its finger took Mary for his bride. Years of study, broken by a fever that raged among the crowded, noisome streets, brought the time for completing his education at Paris; and Edmund, hand in hand with a brother Robert of his, begged his way as poor scholars were wont to the great school of Western Christendom. Here a damsel, heedless of his tonsure, wooed him so pertinaciously that Edmund consented at last to an assignation; but when he appeared it was in company of grave academical officials who, as the maiden declared in the hour of penitence which followed, "straightway whipped the offending Eve out of her." Still true to his Virgin bridal, Edmund on his return from Paris became the most popular of Oxford teachers. It is to him that Oxford owes her first introduction to the Logic of Aristotle. We see him in the little room which he hired, with the Virgin's chapel hard by, his grey gown reaching to his feet, ascetic in his devotion, falling asleep in lecture time after a sleepless night of prayer, but gifted with a grace and cheerfulness of manner which told of his French training and a chivalrous love of knowledge that let his pupils pay what they would. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," the young tutor would say, a touch of scholarly pride perhaps mingling with his contempt of worldly things, as he threw down the fee on the dusty window-ledge whence a thievish student would sometimes run off with it. But even knowledge brought its troubles; the Old Testament, which with a copy of the Decretals long formed his sole library, frowned down upon a love of secular learning from which Edmund found it hard to wean himself. At last, in some hour of dream, the form of his dead mother floated into the room where the teacher stood among his mathematical diagrams. "What are these?" she seemed to say; and seizing Edmund's right hand, she drew on the palm three circles interlaced, each of which bore the name of a Person of the Christian Trinity. "Be these," she cried, as the figure faded away, "thy diagrams henceforth, my son."

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The University and Feudalism

The story admirably illustrates the real character of the new training, and the latent opposition between the spirit of the Universities and the spirit of the Church. The feudal and ecclesiastical order of the old mediæval world were both alike threatened by this power that had so strangely sprung up in the midst of them. Feudalism rested on local isolation, on the severance of kingdom from kingdom and barony from barony, on the distinction of blood and race, on the supremacy of material or brute force, on an allegiance determined by accidents of place and social position. The University on the other hand was a protest against this isolation of man from man. The smallest school was European and not local. Not merely every province of France, but every people of Christendom had its place among the "nations" of Paris or Padua. A common language, the Latin tongue, superseded within academical bounds the warring tongues of Europe. A common intellectual kinship and rivalry took the place of the petty strifes which parted province from province or realm from realm. What Church and Empire had both aimed at and both failed in, the knitting of Christian nations together into a vast commonwealth, the Universities for a time actually did. Dante felt himself as little a stranger in the "Latin" quarter round Mont St. Genevieve as under the arches of Bologna. Wandering Oxford scholars carried the writings of Wyclif to the libraries of Prague. In England the work of provincial fusion was less difficult or important than elsewhere, but even in England work had to be done. The feuds of Northerner and Southerner which so long disturbed the discipline of Oxford witnessed at any rate to the fact that Northerner and Southerner had at last been brought face to face in its streets. And here as elsewhere the spirit of national isolation was held in check by the larger comprehensiveness of the University. After the dissensions that threatened the prosperity of Paris in the thirteenth century, Norman and Gascon mingled with Englishmen in Oxford lecture-halls. Irish scholars were foremost in the fray with the legate. At a later time the rising of Owen Glyndwr found hundreds of Welshmen gathered round its teachers. And within this strangely mingled mass society and government rested on a purely democratic basis. Among Oxford scholars the son of the noble stood on precisely the same footing with the poorest mendicant. Wealth, physical strength, skill in arms, pride of ancestry and blood, the very grounds on which feudal society rested, went for nothing in the lecture-room. The University was a state absolutely self-governed, and whose citizens were admitted by a purely intellectual franchise. Knowledge made the "master." To know more than one's fellows was a man's sole claim to be a regent or "ruler" in the schools. And within this intellectual aristocracy all were equal. When the free commonwealth of the masters gathered in the aisles of St. Mary's all had an equal right to counsel, all had an equal vote in the final decision. Treasury and library were at their complete disposal. It was their voice that named every officer, that proposed and sanctioned every statute. Even the Chancellor, their head, who had at first been an officer of the Bishop, became an elected officer of their own.

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The Universities and the Church

If the democratic spirit of the Universities' threatened feudalism, their spirit of intellectual enquiry threatened the Church. To all outer seeming they were purely ecclesiastical bodies. The wide extension which mediæval usage gave to the word "orders" gathered the whole educated world within the pale of the clergy. Whatever might be their age or proficiency, scholar and teacher alike ranked as clerks, free from lay responsibilities or the control of civil tribunals, and amenable only to the rule of the Bishop and the sentence of his spiritual courts. This ecclesiastical character of the University appeared in that of its head. The Chancellor, as we have seen, was at first no officer of the University itself, but of the ecclesiastical body under whose shadow it had sprung into life. At Oxford he was simply the local officer of the Bishop of Lincoln, within whose immense diocese the University was then situated. But this identification in outer form with the Church only rendered more conspicuous the difference of spirit between them. The sudden expansion of the field of education diminished the importance of those purely ecclesiastical and theological studies which had hitherto absorbed the whole intellectual energies of mankind. The revival of classical literature, the rediscovery as it were of an older and a greater world, the contact with a larger, freer life whether in mind, in society, or in politics introduced a spirit of scepticism, of doubt, of denial into the realms of unquestioning belief. Abelard claimed for reason a supremacy over faith. Florentine poets discussed with a smile the immortality of the soul. Even to Dante, while he censures these, Virgil is as sacred as Jeremiah. The imperial ruler in whom the new culture took its most notable form, Frederick the Second, the "World's Wonder" of his time, was regarded by half Europe as no better than an infidel. A faint revival of physical science, so long crushed as magic by the dominant ecclesiasticism, brought Christians into perilous contact with the Moslem and the Jew. The books of the Rabbis were no longer an accursed thing to Roger Bacon. The scholars of Cordova were no mere Paynim swine to Adelard of Bath. How slowly indeed and against what obstacles science won its way we know from the witness of Roger Bacon. "Slowly," he tells us, "has any portion of the philosophy of Aristotle come into use among the Latins. His Natural Philosophy and his Metaphysics, with the Commentaries of Averroes and others, were translated in my time, and interdicted at Paris up to the year of grace 1237 because of their assertion of the eternity of the world and of time and because of the book of the divinations by dreams (which is the third book, De Somniis et Vigiliis) and because of many passages erroneously translated. Even his logic was slowly received and lectured on. For St. Edmund, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the first in my time who read the Elements at Oxford. And I have seen Master Hugo, who first read the book of Posterior Analytics, and I have seen his writing. So there were but few, considering the multitude of the Latins, who were of any account in the philosophy of Aristotle; nay, very few indeed, and scarcely any up to this year of grace 1292."

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The Town

If we pass from the English University to the English Town we see a progress as important and hardly less interesting. In their origin our boroughs were utterly unlike those of the rest of the western world. The cities of Italy and Provence had preserved the municipal institutions of their Roman past; the German towns had been founded by Henry the Fowler with the purpose of sheltering industry from the feudal oppression around them; the communes of Northern France sprang into existence in revolt against feudal outrage within their walls. But in England the tradition of Rome passed utterly away, while feudal oppression was held fairly in check by the Crown. The English town therefore was in its beginning simply a piece of the general country, organized and governed precisely in the same manner as the townships around it. Its existence witnessed indeed to the need which men felt in those earlier times of mutual help and protection. The burh or borough was probably a more defensible place than the common village; it may have had a ditch or mound about it instead of the quickset-hedge or "tun" from which the township took its name. But in itself it was simply a township or group of townships where men clustered whether for trade or defence more thickly than elsewhere. The towns were different in the circumstances and date of their rise. Some grew up in the fortified camps of the English invaders. Some dated from a later occupation of the sacked and desolate Roman towns. Some clustered round the country houses of king and ealdorman or the walls of church and monastery. Towns like Bristol were the direct result of trade. There was the same variety in the mode in which the various town communities were formed. While the bulk of them grew by simple increase of population from township to town, larger boroughs such as York with its "six shires" or London with its wards and sokes and franchises show how families and groups of settlers settled down side by side, and claimed as they coalesced, each for itself, its shire or share of the town-ground while jealously preserving its individual life within the town-community. But strange as these aggregations might be, the constitution of the borough which resulted from them was simply that of the people at large. Whether we regard it as a township, or rather from its size as a hundred or collection of townships, the obligations of the dwellers within its bounds were those of the townships round, to keep fence and trench in good repair, to send a contingent to the fyrd, and a reeve and four men to the hundred court and shire court. As in other townships, land was a necessary accompaniment of freedom. The landless man who dwelled in a borough had no share in its corporate life; for purposes of government or property the town consisted simply of the landed proprietors within its bounds. The common lands which are still attached to many of our boroughs take us back to a time when each township lay within a ring or mark of open ground which served at once as boundary and pasture land. Each of the four wards of York had its common pasture; Oxford has still its own "Port-meadow."

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Towns and their lords

The inner rule of the borough lay as in the townships about it in the hands of its own freemen, gathered in "borough-moot" or "portmanni-mote." But the social change brought about by the Danish wars, the legal requirement that each man should have a lord, affected the towns as it affected the rest of the country. Some passed into the hands of great thegns near to them; the bulk became known as in the demesne of the king. A new officer, the lord's or king's reeve, was a sign of this revolution. It was the reeve who now summoned the borough-moot and administered justice in it; it was he who collected the lord's dues or annual rent of the town, and who exacted the services it owed to its lord. To modern eyes these services would imply almost complete subjection. When Leicester, for instance, passed from the hands of the Conqueror into those of its Earls, its townsmen were bound to reap their lord's corn-crops, to grind at his mill, to redeem their strayed cattle from his pound. The great forest around was the Earl's, and it was only out of his grace that the little borough could drive its swine into the woods or pasture its cattle in the glades. The justice and government of a town lay wholly in its master's hands; he appointed its bailiffs, received the fines and forfeitures of his tenants, and the fees and tolls of their markets and fairs. But in fact when once these dues were paid and these services rendered the English townsman was practically free. His rights were as rigidly defined by custom as those of his lord. Property and person alike were secured against arbitrary seizure. He could demand a fair trial on any charge, and even if justice was administered by his master's reeve it was administered in the presence and with the assent of his fellow-townsmen. The bell which swung out from the town tower gathered the burgesses to a common meeting, where they could exercise rights of free speech and free deliberation on their own affairs. Their merchant-gild over its ale-feast regulated trade, distributed the sums due from the town among the different burgesses, looked to the due repairs of gate and wall, and acted in fact pretty much the same part as a town-council of to-day.

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The Merchant Gild

The merchant-gild was the outcome of a tendency to closer association which found support in those principles of mutual aid and mutual restraint that lay at the base of our old institutions. Gilds or clubs for religious, charitable, or social purposes were common throughout the country, and especially common in boroughs, where men clustered more thickly together. Each formed a sort of artificial family. An oath of mutual fidelity among its members was substituted for the tie of blood, while the gild-feast, held once a month in the common hall, replaced the gathering of the kinsfolk round their family hearth. But within this new family the aim of the gild was to establish a mutual responsibility as close as that of the old. "Let all share the same lot," ran its law; "if any misdo, let all bear it." A member could look for aid from his gild-brothers in atoning for guilt incurred by mishap. He could call on them for assistance in case of violence or wrong. If falsely accused they appeared in court as his compurgators, if poor they supported, and when dead they buried him. On the other hand he was responsible to them, as they were to the State, for order and obedience to the laws. A wrong of brother against brother was also a wrong against the general body of the gild and was punished by fine or in the last resort by an expulsion which left the offender a "lawless" man and an outcast. The one difference between these gilds in country and town was this, that in the latter case from their close local neighbourhood they tended inevitably to coalesce. Under Æthelstan the London gilds united into one for the purpose of carrying out more effectually their common aims, and at a later time we find the gilds of Berwick enacting "that where many bodies are found side by side in one place they may become one, and have one will, and in the dealings of one with another have a strong and hearty love." The process was probably a long and difficult one, for the brotherhoods naturally differed much in social rank, and even after the union was effected we see traces of the separate existence to a certain extent of some one or more of the wealthier or more aristocratic gilds. In London for instance the Cnighten-gild which seems to have stood at the head of its fellows retained for a long time its separate property, while its Alderman--as the chief officer of each gild was called--became the Alderman of the united gild of the whole city. In Canterbury we find a similar gild of Thanes from which the chief officers of the town seem commonly to have been selected. Imperfect however as the union might be, when once it was effected the town passed from a mere collection of brotherhoods into a powerful community, far more effectually organized than in the loose organization of the township, and whose character was inevitably determined by the circumstances of its origin. In their beginnings our boroughs seem to have been mainly gatherings of persons engaged in agricultural pursuits; the first Dooms of London provide especially for the recovery of cattle belonging to the citizens. But as the increasing security of the country invited the farmer or the landowner to settle apart in his own fields, and the growth of estate and trade told on the towns themselves, the difference between town and country became more sharply defined. London of course took the lead in this new developement of civic life. Even in Æthelstan's day every London merchant who had made three long voyages on his own account ranked as a Thegn. Its "lithsmen," or shipmen's-gild, were of sufficient importance under Harthacnut to figure in the election of a king, and its principal street still tells of the rapid growth of trade in its name of "Cheap-side" or the bargaining place. But at the Norman Conquest the commercial tendency had become universal. The name given to the united brotherhood in a borough is in almost every case no longer that of the "town-gild," but of the "merchant-gild."

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Emancipation of Towns

This social change in the character of the townsmen produced important results in the character of their municipal institutions. In becoming a merchant-gild the body of citizens who formed the "town" enlarged their powers of civic legislation by applying them to the control of their internal trade. It became their special business to obtain from the crown or from their lords wider commercial privileges, rights of coinage, grants of fairs, and exemption from tolls, while within the town itself they framed regulations as to the sale and quality of goods, the control of markets, and the recovery of debts. It was only by slow and difficult advances that each step in this securing of privilege was won. Still it went steadily on. Whenever we get a glimpse of the inner history of an English town we find the same peaceful revolution in progress, services disappearing through disuse or omission, while privileges and immunities are being purchased in hard cash. The lord of the town, whether he were king, baron, or abbot, was commonly thriftless or poor, and the capture of a noble, or the campaign of a sovereign, or the building of some new minster by a prior, brought about an appeal to the thrifty burghers, who were ready to fill again their master's treasury at the price of the strip of parchment which gave them freedom of trade, of justice, and of government. In the silent growth and elevation of the English people the boroughs thus led the way. Unnoticed and despised by prelate and noble they preserved or won back again the full tradition of Teutonic liberty. The right of self-government, the right of free speech in free meeting, the right to equal justice at the hands of one's equals, were brought safely across ages of tyranny by the burghers and shopkeepers of the towns. In the quiet quaintly-named streets, in town-mead and market-place, in the lord's mill beside the stream, in the bell that swung out its summons to the crowded borough-mote, in merchant-gild, and church-gild and craft-gild, lay the life of Englishmen who were doing more than knight and baron to make England what she is, the life of their home and their trade, of their sturdy battle with oppression, their steady, ceaseless struggle for right and freedom.

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London

London stood first among English towns, and the privileges which its citizens won became precedents for the burghers of meaner boroughs. Even at the Conquest its power and wealth secured it a full recognition of all its ancient privileges from the Conqueror. In one way indeed it profited by the revolution which laid England at the feet of the stranger. One immediate result of William's success was an immigration into England from the Continent. A peaceful invasion of the Norman traders followed quick on the invasion of the Norman soldiery. Every Norman noble as he quartered himself upon English lands, every Norman abbot as he entered his English cloister, gathered French artists, French shopkeepers, French domestics about him. Round the Abbey of Battle which William founded on the site of his great victory "Gilbert the Foreigner, Gilbert the Weaver, Benet the Steward, Hugh the Secretary, Baldwin the Tailor," dwelt mixed with the English tenantry. But nowhere did these immigrants play so notable a part as in London. The Normans had had mercantile establishments in London as early as the reign of Æthelred, if not of Eadgar. Such settlements however naturally formed nothing more than a trading colony like the colony of the "Emperor's Men," or Easterlings. But with the Conquest their number greatly increased. "Many of the citizens of Rouen and Caen passed over thither, preferring to be dwellers in this city, inasmuch as it was fitter for their trading and better stored with the merchandise in which they were wont to traffic." The status of these traders indeed had wholly changed. They could no longer be looked upon as strangers in cities which had passed under the Norman rule. In some cases, as at Norwich, the French colony isolated itself in a separate French town, side by side with the English borough. But in London it seems to have taken at once the position of a governing class. Gilbert Beket, the father of the famous Archbishop, was believed in later days to have been one of the portreeves of London, the predecessors of its mayors; he held in Stephen's time a large property in houses within the walls, and a proof of his civic importance was preserved in the annual visit of each newly-elected chief magistrate to his tomb in a little chapel which he had founded in the churchyard of St. Paul's. Yet Gilbert was one of the Norman strangers who followed in the wake of the Conqueror; he was by birth a burgher of Rouen, as his wife was of a burgher family from Caen.

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Freedom of London

It was partly to this infusion of foreign blood, partly no doubt to the long internal peace and order secured by the Norman rule, that London owed the wealth and importance to which it attained during the reign of Henry the First. The charter which Henry granted it became a model for lesser boroughs. The king yielded its citizens the right of justice; each townsman could claim to be tried by his fellow-townsmen in the town-court or hustings whose sessions took place every week. They were subject only to the old English trial by oath, and exempt from the trial by battle which the Normans introduced. Their trade was protected from toll or exaction over the length and breadth of the land. The king however still nominated in London as elsewhere the portreeve, or magistrate of the town, nor were the citizens as yet united together in a commune or corporation. But an imperfect civic organization existed in the "wards" or quarters of the town, each governed by its own alderman, and in the "gilds" or voluntary associations of merchants or traders which ensured order and mutual protection for their members. Loose too as these bonds may seem, they were drawn firmly together by the older English traditions of freedom which the towns preserved. The London burgesses gathered in their town-mote when the bell swung out from the bell-tower of St. Paul's to deliberate freely on their own affairs under the presidency of their alderman. Here, too, they mustered in arms if danger threatened the city, and delivered the town-banner to their captain, the Norman baron Fitz-Walter, to lead them against the enemy.

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Early Oxford

Few boroughs had as yet attained to such power as this, but the instance of Oxford shows how the freedom of London told on the general advance of English towns. In spite of antiquarian fancies it is certain that no town had arisen on the site of Oxford for centuries after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from the isle of Britain. Though the monastery of St. Frideswide rose in the turmoil of the eighth century on the slope which led down to a ford across the Thames, it is long before we get a glimpse of the borough that must have grown up under its walls. The first definite evidence for its existence lies in a brief entry of the English Chronicle which recalls its seizure by Eadward the Elder, but the form of this entry shows that the town was already a considerable one, and in the last wrestle of England with the Dane its position on the borders of Mercia and Wessex combined with its command of the upper valley of the Thames to give it military and political importance. Of the life of its burgesses however we still know little or nothing. The names of its parishes, St. Aldate, St. Ebbe, St. Mildred, St. Edmund, show how early church after church gathered round the earlier town-church of St. Martin. But the men of the little town remain dim to us. Their town-mote, or the "Portmannimote" as it was called, which was held in the churchyard of St. Martin, still lives in a shadow of its older self as the Freeman's Common Hall--their town-mead is still the Port-meadow. But it is only by later charters or the record of Domesday that we see them going on pilgrimage to the shrines of Winchester, or chaffering in their market-place, or judging and law-making in their hustings, their merchant-gild regulating trade, their reeve gathering his king's dues of tax or money or marshalling his troop of burghers for the king's wars, their boats paying toll of a hundred herrings in Lent-tide to the Abbot of Abingdon, as they floated down the Thames towards London.

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Oxford and the Normans

The number of houses marked waste in the survey marks the terrible suffering of Oxford in the Norman Conquest: but the ruin was soon repaired, and the erection of its castle, the rebuilding of its churches, the planting of a Jewry in the heart of the town, showed in what various ways the energy of its new masters was giving an impulse to its life. It is a proof of the superiority of the Hebrew dwellings to the Christian houses about them that each of the later town-halls of the borough had, before their expulsion, been houses of Jews. Nearly all the larger dwelling houses in fact which were subsequently converted into academic halls bore traces of the same origin in names such as Moysey's Hall, Lombard's Hall, or Jacob's Hall. The Jewish houses were abundant, for besides the greater Jewry in the heart of it, there was a lesser Jewry scattered over its southern quarter, and we can hardly doubt that this abundance of substantial buildings in the town was at least one of the causes which drew teachers and scholars within its walls. The Jewry, a town within a town, lay here as elsewhere isolated and exempt from the common justice, the common life and self-government of the borough. On all but its eastern side too the town was hemmed in by jurisdictions independent of its own. The precincts of the Abbey of Osney, the wide "bailey" of the Castle, bounded it narrowly on the west. To the north, stretching away beyond the little church of St. Giles, lay the fields of the royal manor of Beaumont. The Abbot of Abingdon, whose woods of Cumnor and Bagley closed the southern horizon, held his leet-court in the hamlet of Grampound beyond the bridge. Nor was the whole space within the walls subject to the self-government of the citizens. The Jewry had a rule and law of its own. Scores of householders, dotted over street and lane, were tenants of castle or abbey and paid no suit or service at the borough court.

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Oxford and London

But within these narrow bounds and amidst these various obstacles the spirit of municipal liberty lived a life the more intense that it was so closely cabined and confined. Nowhere indeed was the impulse which London was giving likely to tell with greater force. The "bargemen" of Oxford were connected even before the Conquest with the "boatmen," or shippers, of the capital. In both cases it is probable that the bodies bearing these names represented what is known as the merchant-gild of the town. Royal recognition enables us to trace the merchant-gild of Oxford from the time of Henry the First. Even then lands, islands, pastures belonged to it, and amongst them the same Port-meadow which is familiar to Oxford men pulling lazily on a summer's noon to Godstow. The connexion between the two gilds was primarily one of trade. "In the time of King Eadward and Abbot Ordric" the channel of the Thames beneath the walls of the Abbey of Abingdon became so blocked up that boats could scarce pass as far as Oxford, and it was at the joint prayer of the burgesses of London and Oxford that the abbot dug a new channel through the meadow to the south of his church. But by the time of Henry the Second closer bonds than this linked the two cities together. In case of any doubt or contest about judgements in their own court the burgesses of Oxford were empowered to refer the matter to the decision of London, "and whatsoever the citizens of London shall adjudge in such cases shall be deemed right." The judicial usages, the municipal rights of each city were assimilated by Henry's charter. "Of whatsoever matter the men of Oxford be put in plea, they shall deraign themselves according to the law and custom of the city of London and not otherwise, because they and the citizens of London are of one and the same custom, law, and liberty."

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Life of the Town

A legal connexion such as this could hardly fail to bring with it an identity of municipal rights. Oxford had already passed through the earlier steps of her advance towards municipal freedom before the conquest of the Norman. Her burghers assembled in their own Portmannimote, and their dues to the crown were assessed at a fixed sum of honey or coin. But the formal definition of their rights dates, as in the case of London, from the time of Henry the First. The customs and exemptions of its townsmen were confirmed by Henry the Second "as ever they enjoyed them in the time of Henry my grandfather, and in like manner as my citizens of London hold them." By this date the town had attained entire judicial and commercial freedom, and liberty of external commerce was secured by the exemption of its citizens from toll on the king's lands. Complete independence was reached when a charter of John substituted a mayor of the town's own choosing for the reeve or bailiff of the crown. But dry details such as these tell little of the quick pulse of popular life that beat in the thirteenth century through such a community as that of Oxford. The church of St. Martin in the very heart of it, at the "Quatrevoix" or Carfax where its four streets met, was the centre of the city life. The town-mote was held in its churchyard. Justice was administered ere yet a townhall housed the infant magistracy by mayor or bailiff sitting beneath a low pent-house, the "penniless bench" of later days, outside its eastern wall. Its bell summoned the burghers to council or arms. Around the church the trade-gilds were ranged as in some vast encampment. To the south of it lay Spicery and Vintnery, the quarter of the richer burgesses. Fish-street fell noisily down to the bridge and the ford. The Corn-market occupied then as now the street which led to Northgate. The stalls of the butchers stretched along the "Butcher-row," which formed the road to the bailey and the castle. Close beneath the church lay a nest of huddled lanes, broken by a stately synagogue, and traversed from time to time by the yellow gaberdine of the Jew. Soldiers from the castle rode clashing through the narrow streets; the bells of Osney clanged from the swampy meadows; processions of pilgrims wound through gates and lane to the shrine of St. Frideswide. Frays were common enough; now the sack of a Jew's house; now burgher drawing knife on burgher; now an outbreak of the young student lads who were growing every day in numbers and audacity. But as yet the town was well in hand. The clang of the city bell called every citizen to his door; the call of the mayor brought trade after trade with bow in hand and banners flying to enforce the king's peace.

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St. Edmundsbury

The advance of towns which had grown up not on the royal domain but around abbey or castle was slower and more difficult. The story of St. Edmundsbury shows how gradual was the transition from pure serfage to an imperfect freedom. Much that had been plough-land here in the Confessor's time was covered with houses by the time of Henry the Second. The building of the great abbey-church drew its craftsmen and masons to mingle with the ploughmen and reapers of the Abbot's domain. The troubles of the time helped here as elsewhere the progress of the town; serfs, fugitives from justice or their lord, the trader, the Jew, naturally sought shelter under the strong hand of St. Edmund. But the settlers were wholly at the Abbot's mercy. Not a settler but was bound to pay his pence to the Abbot's treasury, to plough a rood of his land, to reap in his harvest-field, to fold his sheep in the Abbey folds, to help bring the annual catch of eels from the Abbey waters. Within the four crosses that bounded the Abbot's domain land and water were his; the cattle of the townsmen paid for their pasture on the common; if the fullers refused the loan of their cloth the cellarer would refuse the use of the stream and seize their cloths wherever he found them. No toll might be levied from tenants of the Abbey farms, and customers had to wait before shop and stall till the buyers of the Abbot had had the pick of the market. There was little chance of redress, for if burghers complained in folk-mote it was before the Abbot's officers that its meeting was held; if they appealed to the alderman he was the Abbot's nominee and received the horn, the symbol of his office, at the Abbot's hands. Like all the greater revolutions of society, the advance from this mere serfage was a silent one; indeed its more galling instances of oppression seem to have slipped unconsciously away. Some, like the eel-fishing, were commuted for an easy rent; others, like the slavery of the fullers and the toll of flax, simply disappeared. By usage, by omission, by downright forgetfulness, here by a little struggle, there by a present to a needy abbot, the town won freedom.

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The Towns and Justice

But progress was not always unconscious, and one incident in the history of St. Edmundsbury is remarkable, not merely as indicating the advance of law, but yet more as marking the part which a new moral sense of man's right to equal justice was to play in the general advance of the realm. Rude as the borough was, it possessed the right of meeting in full assembly of the townsmen for government and law. Justice was administered in presence of the burgesses, and the accused acquitted or condemned by the oath of his neighbours. Without the borough bounds however the system of Norman judicature prevailed; and the rural tenants who did suit and service at the Cellarer's court were subjected to the trial by battle. The execution of a farmer named Ketel who came under this feudal jurisdiction brought the two systems into vivid contrast. Ketel seems to have been guiltless of the crime laid to his charge; but the duel went against him and he was hung just without the gates. The taunts of the townsmen woke his fellow farmers to a sense of wrong. "Had Ketel been a dweller within the borough," said the burgesses, "he would have got his acquittal from the oaths of his neighbours, as our liberty is"; and even the monks were moved to a decision that their tenants should enjoy equal freedom and justice with the townsmen. The franchise of the town was extended to the rural possessions of the Abbey without it; the farmers "came to the toll-house, were written in the alderman's roll, and paid the town-penny." A chance story preserved in a charter of later date shows the same struggle for justice going on in a greater town. At Leicester the trial by compurgation, the rough predecessor of trial by jury, had been abolished by the Earls in favour of trial by battle. The aim of the burgesses was to regain their old justice, and in this a touching incident at last made them successful. "It chanced that two kinsmen, Nicholas the son of Acon and Geoffrey the son of Nicholas, waged a duel about a certain piece of land concerning which a dispute had arisen between them; and they fought from the first to the ninth hour, each conquering by turns. Then one of them fleeing from the other till he came to a certain little pit, as he stood on the brink of the pit and was about to fall therein, his kinsman said to him 'Take care of the pit, turn back, lest thou shouldest fall into it.' Thereat so much clamour and noise was made by the bystanders and those who were sitting around that the Earl heard these clamours as far off as the castle, and he enquired of some how it was there was such a clamour, and answer was made to him that two kinsmen were fighting about a certain piece of ground, and that one had fled till he reached a certain little pit, and that as he stood over the pit and was about to fall into it the other warned him. Then the townsmen being moved with pity, made a covenant with the Earl that they should give him threepence yearly for each house in the High Street that had a gable, on condition that he should grant to them that the twenty-four jurors who were in Leicester from ancient times should from that time forward discuss and decide all pleas they might have among themselves."

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Division of Labour

At the time we have reached this struggle for emancipation was nearly over. The larger towns had secured the privilege of self-government, the administration of justice, and the control of their own trade. The reigns of Richard and John mark the date in our municipal history at which towns began to acquire the right of electing their own chief magistrate, the Portreeve or Mayor, who had till then been a nominee of the crown. But with the close of this outer struggle opened an inner struggle between the various classes of the townsmen themselves. The growth of wealth and industry was bringing with it a vast increase of population. The mass of the new settlers, composed as they were of escaped serfs, of traders without landed holdings, of families who had lost their original lot in the borough, and generally of the artizans and the poor, had no part in the actual life of the town. The right of trade and of the regulation of trade in common with all other forms of jurisdiction lay wholly in the hands of the landed burghers whom we have described. By a natural process too their superiority in wealth produced a fresh division between the "burghers" of the merchant-gild and the unenfranchised mass around them. The same change which severed at Florence the seven Greater Arts or trades from the fourteen Lesser Arts, and which raised the three occupations of banking, the manufacture and the dyeing of cloth, to a position of superiority even within the privileged circle of the seven, told though with less force on the English boroughs. The burghers of the merchant-gild gradually concentrated themselves on the greater operations of commerce, on trades which required a larger capital, while the meaner employments of general traffic were abandoned to their poorer neighbours. This advance in the division of labour is marked by such severances as we note in the thirteenth century of the cloth merchant from the tailor or the leather merchant from the butcher.

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Trade-Gilds

But the result of this severance was all-important in its influence on the constitution of our towns. The members of the trades thus abandoned by the wealthier burghers formed themselves into Craft-gilds which soon rose into dangerous rivalry with the original Merchant-gild of the town. A seven years' apprenticeship formed the necessary prelude to full membership of these trade-gilds. Their regulations were of the minutest character; the quality and value of work were rigidly prescribed, the hours of toil fixed "from day-break to curfew," and strict provision made against competition in labour. At each meeting of these gilds their members gathered round the Craft-box which contained the rules of their Society, and stood with bared heads as it was opened. The warden and a quorum of gild-brothers formed a court which enforced the ordinances of the gild, inspected all work done by its members, confiscated unlawful tools or unworthy goods; and disobedience to their orders was punished by fines or in the last resort by expulsion, which involved the loss of a right to trade. A common fund was raised by contributions among the members, which not only provided for the trade objects of the gild but sufficed to found chantries and masses and set up painted windows in the church of their patron saint. Even at the present day the arms of a craft-gild may often be seen blazoned in cathedrals side by side with those of prelates and of kings. But it was only by slow degrees that they rose to such a height as this. The first steps in their existence were the most difficult, for to enable a trade-gild to carry out its objects with any success it was first necessary that the whole body of craftsmen belonging to the trade should be compelled to join the gild, and secondly that a legal control over the trade itself should be secured to it. A royal charter was indispensable for these purposes, and over the grant of these charters took place the first struggle with the merchant-gilds which had till then solely exercised jurisdiction over trade within the boroughs. The weavers, who were the first trade-gild to secure royal sanction in the reign of Henry the First, were still engaged in a contest for existence as late as the reign of John when the citizens of London bought for a time the suppression of their gild. Even under the House of Lancaster Exeter was engaged in resisting the establishment of a tailors' gild. From the eleventh century however the spread of these societies went steadily on, and the control of trade passed more and more from the merchant-gilds to the craft-gilds.

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Greater and Lesser Folk

It is this struggle, to use the technical terms of the time, of the "greater folk" against the "lesser folk," or of the "commune," the general mass of the inhabitants, against the "prudhommes," or "wiser" few, which brought about, as it passed from the regulation of trade to the general government of the town, the great civic revolution of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. On the Continent, and especially along the Rhine, the struggle was as fierce as the supremacy of the older burghers had been complete. In Köln the craftsmen had been reduced to all but serfage, and the merchant of Brussels might box at his will the ears of "the man without heart or honour who lives by his toil." Such social tyranny of class over class brought a century of bloodshed to the cities of Germany; but in England the tyranny of class over class was restrained by the general tenor of the law, and the revolution took for the most part a milder form. The longest and bitterest strife of all was naturally at London. Nowhere had the territorial constitution struck root so deeply, and nowhere had the landed oligarchy risen to such a height of wealth and influence. The city was divided into wards, each of which was governed by an alderman drawn from the ruling class. In some indeed the office seems to have become hereditary. The "magnates," or "barons," of the merchant-gild advised alone on all matters of civic government or trade regulation, and distributed or assessed at their will the revenues or burthens of the town. Such a position afforded an opening for corruption and oppression of the most galling kind; and it seems to have been a general impression of the unfair assessment of the dues levied on the poor and the undue burthens which were thrown on the unenfranchised classes which provoked the first serious discontent. In the reign of Richard the First William of the Long Beard, though one of the governing body, placed himself at the head of a conspiracy which in the panic-stricken fancy of the burghers numbered fifty thousand of the craftsmen. His eloquence, his bold defiance of the aldermen in the town-mote, gained him at any rate a wide popularity, and the crowds who surrounded him hailed him as "the saviour of the poor." One of his addresses is luckily preserved to us by a hearer of the time. In mediæval fashion he began with a text from the Vulgate, "Ye shall draw water with joy from the fountain of the Saviour." "I," he began, "am the saviour of the poor. Ye poor men who have felt the weight of rich men's hands, draw from my fountain waters of wholesome instruction and that with joy, for the time of your visitation is at hand. For I will divide the waters from the waters. It is the people who are the waters, and I will divide the lowly and faithful folk from the proud and faithless folk; I will part the chosen from the reprobate as light from darkness." But it was in vain that he strove to win royal favour for the popular cause. The support of the moneyed classes was essential to Richard in the costly wars with Philip of France; and the Justiciar, Archbishop Hubert, after a moment of hesitation issued orders for William Longbeard's arrest. William felled with an axe the first soldier who advanced to seize him, and taking refuge with a few adherents in the tower of St. Mary-le-Bow summoned his adherents to rise. Hubert however, who had already flooded the city with troops, with bold contempt of the right of sanctuary set fire to the tower. William was forced to surrender, and a burgher's son, whose father he had slain, stabbed him as he came forth. With his death the quarrel slumbered for more than fifty years. But the movement towards equality went steadily on. Under pretext of preserving the peace the unenfranchised townsmen united in secret frith-gilds of their own, and mobs rose from time to time to sack the houses of foreigners and the wealthier burgesses. Nor did London stand alone in this movement. In all the larger towns the same discontent prevailed, the same social growth called for new institutions, and in their silent revolt against the oppression of the Merchant-gild the Craft-gilds were training themselves to stand forward as champions of a wider liberty in the Barons' War.

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The Villein

Without the towns progress was far slower and more fitful. It would seem indeed that the conquest of the Norman bore harder on the rural population than on any other class of Englishmen. Under the later kings of the house of Ælfred the number of absolute slaves and the number of freemen had alike diminished. The pure slave class had never been numerous, and it had been reduced by the efforts of the Church, perhaps by the general convulsion of the Danish wars. But these wars had often driven the ceorl or freeman of the township to "commend" himself to a thegn who pledged him his protection in consideration of payment in a rendering of labour. It is probable that these dependent ceorls are the "villeins" of the Norman epoch, the most numerous class of the Domesday Survey, men sunk indeed from pure freedom and bound both to soil and lord, but as yet preserving much of their older rights, retaining their land, free as against all men but their lord, and still sending representatives to hundred-moot and shire-moot. They stood therefore far above the "landless man," the man who had never possessed even under the old constitution political rights, whom the legislation of the English kings had forced to attach himself to a lord on pain of outlawry, and who served as household servant or as hired labourer or at the best as rent-paying tenant of land which was not his own. The Norman knight or lawyer however saw little distinction between these classes; and the tendency of legislation under the Angevins was to blend all in a single class of serfs. While the pure "theow" or absolute slave disappeared therefore the ceorl or villein sank lower in the social scale. But though the rural population was undoubtedly thrown more together and fused into a more homogeneous class, its actual position corresponded very imperfectly with the view of the lawyers. All indeed were dependents on a lord. The manor-house became the centre of every English village. The manor-court was held in its hall; it was here that the lord or his steward received homage, recovered fines, held the view of frank-pledge, or enrolled the villagers in their tithing. Here too, if the lord possessed criminal jurisdiction, was held his justice court, and without its doors stood his gallows. Around it lay the lord's demesne or home-farm, and the cultivation of this rested wholly with the "villeins" of the manor. It was by them that the great barn was filled with sheaves, the sheep shorn, the grain malted, the wood hewn for the manor-hall fire. These services were the labour-rent by which they held their lands, and it was the nature and extent of this labour-rent which parted one class of the population from another. The "villein," in the strict sense of the word, was bound only to gather in his lord's harvest and to aid in the ploughing and sowing of autumn and Lent. The cottar, the bordar, and the labourer were bound to help in the work of the home-farm throughout the year.

But these services and the time of rendering them were strictly limited by custom, not only in the case of the ceorl or villein but in that of the originally meaner "landless man." The possession of his little homestead with the ground around it, the privilege of turning out his cattle on the waste of the manor, passed quietly and insensibly from mere indulgences that could be granted or withdrawn at a lord's caprice into rights that could be pleaded at law. The number of teams, the fines, the reliefs, the services that a lord could claim, at first mere matter of oral tradition, came to be entered on the court-roll of the manor, a copy of which became the title-deed of the villein. It was to this that he owed the name of "copy-holder" which at a later time superseded his older title. Disputes were settled by a reference to this roll or on oral evidence of the custom at issue, but a social arrangement which was eminently characteristic of the English spirit of compromise generally secured a fair adjustment of the claims of villein and lord. It was the duty of the lord's bailiff to exact their due services from the villeins, but his coadjutor in this office, the reeve or foreman of the manor, was chosen by the tenants themselves and acted as representative of their interests and rights. A fresh step towards freedom was made by the growing tendency to commute labour-services for money-payments. The population was slowly increasing, and as the law of gavel-kind which was applicable to all landed estates not held by military tenure divided the inheritance of the tenantry equally among their sons, the holding of each tenant and the services due from it became divided in a corresponding degree. A labour-rent thus became more difficult to enforce, while the increase of wealth among the tenantry and the rise of a new spirit of independence made it more burthensome to those who rendered it. It was probably from this cause that the commutation of the arrears of labour for a money payment, which had long prevailed on every estate, gradually developed into a general commutation of services. We have already witnessed the silent progress of this remarkable change in the case of St. Edmundsbury, but the practice soon became universal, and "malt-silver," "wood-silver," and "larder-silver" gradually took the place of the older personal services on the court-rolls. The process of commutation was hastened by the necessities of the lords themselves. The luxury of the castle-hall, the splendour and pomp of chivalry, the cost of campaigns drained the purses of knight and baron, and the sale of freedom to a serf or exemption from services to a villein afforded an easy and tempting mode of refilling them. In this process even kings took part. At a later time, under Edward the Third, commissioners were sent to royal estates for the especial purpose of selling manumissions to the king's serfs; and we still possess the names of those who were enfranchised with their families by a payment of hard cash in aid of the exhausted exchequer.

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England

Such was the people which had been growing into a national unity and a national vigour while English king and English baronage battled for rule. But king and baronage themselves had changed like townsman and ceorl. The loss of Normandy, entailing as it did the loss of their Norman lands, was the last of many influences which had been giving through a century and a half a national temper to the baronage. Not only the "new men," the ministers out of whom the two Henries had raised a nobility, were bound to the Crown, but the older feudal houses now owned themselves as Englishmen and set aside their aims after personal independence for a love of the general freedom of the land. They stood out as the natural leaders of a people bound together by the stern government which had crushed all local division, which had accustomed men to the enjoyment of a peace and justice that imperfect as it seems to modern eyes was almost unexampled elsewhere in Europe, and which had trained them to something of their old free government again by the very machinery of election it used to facilitate its heavy taxation. On the other hand the loss of Normandy brought home the king. The growth which had been going on had easily escaped the eyes of rulers who were commonly absent from the realm and busy with the affairs of countries beyond the sea. Henry the Second had been absent for years from England: Richard had only visited it twice for a few months: John had as yet been almost wholly occupied with his foreign dominions. To him as to his brother England had as yet been nothing but a land whose gold paid the mercenaries that followed him, and whose people bowed obediently to his will. It was easy to see that between such a ruler and such a nation once brought together strife must come: but that the strife came as it did and ended as it did was due above all to the character of the king.

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John

"Foul as it is, hell itself is defiled by the fouler presence of John." The terrible verdict of his contemporaries has passed into the sober judgement of history. Externally John possessed all the quickness, the vivacity, the cleverness, the good-humour, the social charm which distinguished his house. His worst enemies owned that he toiled steadily and closely at the work of administration. He was fond of learned men like Gerald of Wales. He had a strange gift of attracting friends and of winning the love of women. But in his inner soul John was the worst outcome of the Angevins. He united into one mass of wickedness their insolence, their selfishness, their unbridled lust, their cruelty and tyranny, their shamelessness, their superstition, their cynical indifference to honour or truth. In mere boyhood he tore with brutal levity the beards of the Irish chieftains who came to own him as their lord. His ingratitude and perfidy brought his father with sorrow to the grave. To his brother he was the worst of traitors. All Christendom believed him to be the murderer of his nephew, Arthur of Britanny. He abandoned one wife and was faithless to another. His punishments were refinements of cruelty, the starvation of children, the crushing old men under copes of lead. His court was a brothel where no woman was safe from the royal lust, and where his cynicism loved to publish the news of his victims' shame. He was as craven in his superstition as he was daring in his impiety. Though he scoffed at priests and turned his back on the mass even amidst the solemnities of his coronation, he never stirred on a journey without hanging relics round his neck. But with the wickedness of his race he inherited its profound ability. His plan for the relief of Château Gaillard, the rapid march by which he shattered Arthur's hopes at Mirebeau, showed an inborn genius for war. In the rapidity and breadth of his political combinations he far surpassed the statesmen of his time. Throughout his reign we see him quick to discern the difficulties of his position, and inexhaustible in the resources with which he met them. The overthrow of his continental power only spurred him to the formation of a league which all but brought Philip to the ground; and the sudden revolt of England was parried by a shameless alliance with the Papacy. The closer study of John's history clears away the charges of sloth and incapacity with which men tried to explain the greatness of his fall. The awful lesson of his life rests on the fact that the king who lost Normandy, became the vassal of the Pope, and perished in a struggle of despair against English freedom, was no weak and indolent voluptuary but the ablest and most ruthless of the Angevins.

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Innocent the Third

From the moment of his return to England in 1204 John's whole energies were bent to the recovery of his dominions on the Continent. He impatiently collected money and men for the support of those adherents of the House of Anjou who were still struggling against the arms of France in Poitou and Guienne, and in the summer of 1205 he gathered an army at Portsmouth and prepared to cross the Channel. But his project was suddenly thwarted by the resolute opposition of the Primate, Hubert Walter, and the Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal. So completely had both the baronage and the Church been humbled by his father that the attitude of their representatives revealed to the king a new spirit of national freedom which was rising around him, and John at once braced himself to a struggle with it. The death of Hubert Walter in July, only a few weeks after his protest, removed his most formidable opponent, and the king resolved to neutralize the opposition of the Church by placing a creature of his own at its head. John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, was elected by the monks of Canterbury at his bidding, and enthroned as Primate. But in a previous though informal gathering the convent had already chosen its sub-prior, Reginald, as Archbishop. The rival claimants hastened to appeal to Rome, and their appeal reached the Papal Court before Christmas. The result of the contest was a startling one both for themselves and for the king. After a year's careful examination Innocent the Third, who now occupied the Papal throne, quashed at the close of 1206 both the contested elections. The decision was probably a just one, but Innocent was far from stopping there. The monks who appeared before him brought powers from the convent to choose a new Primate should their earlier nomination be set aside; and John, secretly assured of their choice of Grey, had promised to confirm their election. But the bribes which the king lavished at Rome failed to win the Pope over to this plan; and whether from mere love of power, for he was pushing the Papal claims of supremacy over Christendom further than any of his predecessors, or as may fairly be supposed in despair of a free election within English bounds, Innocent commanded the monks to elect in his presence Stephen Langton to the archiepiscopal see.

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The Interdict

Personally a better choice could not have been made, for Stephen was a man who by sheer weight of learning and holiness of life had risen to the dignity of Cardinal, and whose after career placed him in the front rank of English patriots. But in itself the step was an usurpation of the rights both of the Church and of the Crown. The king at once met it with resistance. When Innocent consecrated the new Primate in June 1207, and threatened the realm with interdict if Langton were any longer excluded from his see, John replied by a counter-threat that the interdict should be followed by the banishment of the clergy and the mutilation of every Italian he could seize in the realm. How little he feared the priesthood he showed when the clergy refused his demand of a thirteenth of movables from the whole country and Archbishop Geoffry of York resisted the tax before the Council. John banished the Archbishop and extorted the money. Innocent however was not a man to draw back from his purpose, and in March 1208 the interdict he had threatened fell upon the land. All worship save that of a few privileged orders, all administration of Sacraments save that of private baptism, ceased over the length and breadth of the country: the church-bells were silent, the dead lay unburied on the ground. Many of the bishops fled from the country. The Church in fact, so long the main support of the royal power against the baronage, was now driven into opposition. Its change of attitude was to be of vast moment in the struggle which was impending; but John recked little of the future; he replied to the interdict by confiscating the lands of the clergy who observed it, by subjecting them in spite of their privileges to the royal courts, and by leaving outrages on them unpunished. "Let him go," said John, when a Welshman was brought before him for the murder of a priest, "he has killed my enemy." In 1209 the Pope proceeded to the further sentence of excommunication, and the king was formally cut off from the pale of the Church. But the new sentence was met with the same defiance as the old. Five of the bishops fled over sea, and secret disaffection was spreading widely, but there was no public avoidance of the excommunicated king. An Archdeacon of Norwich who withdrew from his service was crushed to death under a cope of lead, and the hint was sufficient to prevent either prelate or noble from following his example.

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The Deposition

The attitude of John showed the power which the administrative reforms of his father had given to the Crown. He stood alone, with nobles estranged from him and the Church against him, but his strength seemed utterly unbroken. From the first moment of his rule John had defied the baronage. The promise to satisfy their demand for redress of wrongs in the past reign, a promise made at his election, remained unfulfilled; when the demand was repeated he answered it by seizing their castles and taking their children as hostages for their loyalty. The cost of his fruitless threats of war had been met by heavy and repeated taxation, by increased land tax and increased scutage. The quarrel with the Church and fear of their revolt only deepened his oppression of the nobles. He drove De Braose, one of the most powerful of the Lords Marchers, to die in exile, while his wife and grandchildren were believed to have been starved to death in the royal prisons. On the nobles who still clung panic-stricken to the court of the excommunicate king John heaped outrages worse than death. Illegal exactions, the seizure of their castles, the preference shown to foreigners, were small provocations compared with his attacks on the honour of their wives and daughters. But the baronage still submitted. The financial exactions indeed became light as John filled his treasury with the goods of the Church; the king's vigour was seen in the rapidity with which he crushed a rising of the nobles in Ireland, and foiled an outbreak of the Welsh; while the triumphs of his father had taught the baronage its weakness in any single-handed struggle against the Crown. Hated therefore as he was the land remained still. Only one weapon was now left in Innocent's hands. Men held then that a king, once excommunicate, ceased to be a Christian or to have any claims on the obedience of Christian subjects. As spiritual heads of Christendom, the Popes had ere now asserted their right to remove such a ruler from his throne and to give it to a worthier than he; and it was this right which Innocent at last felt himself driven to exercise. After useless threats he issued in 1212 a bull of deposition against John, absolved his subjects from their allegiance, proclaimed a crusade against him as an enemy to Christianity and the Church, and committed the execution of the sentence to the king of the French. John met the announcement of this step with the same scorn as before. His insolent disdain suffered the Roman legate, Cardinal Pandulf, to proclaim his deposition to his face at Northampton. When Philip collected an army for an attack on England an enormous host gathered at the king's call on Barham Down; and the English fleet dispelled all danger of invasion by crossing the Channel, by capturing a number of French ships, and by burning Dieppe.

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John's Submission

But it was not in England only that the king showed his strength and activity. Vile as he was, John possessed in a high degree the political ability of his race, and in the diplomatic efforts with which he met the danger from France he showed himself his father's equal. The barons of Poitou were roused to attack Philip from the south. John bought the aid of the Count of Flanders on his northern border. The German king, Otto, pledged himself to bring the knighthood of Germany to support an invasion of France. But at the moment of his success in diplomacy John suddenly gave way. It was in fact the revelation of a danger at home which shook him from his attitude of contemptuous defiance. The bull of deposition gave fresh energy to every enemy. The Scotch king was in correspondence with Innocent. The Welsh princes who had just been forced to submission broke out again in war. John hanged their hostages, and called his host to muster for a fresh inroad into Wales, but the army met only to become a fresh source of danger. Powerless to oppose the king openly, the baronage had plunged almost to a man into secret conspiracies. The hostility of Philip had dispelled their dread of isolated action; many indeed had even promised aid to the French king on his landing. John found himself in the midst of hidden enemies; and nothing could have saved him but the haste--whether of panic or quick decision--with which he disbanded his army and took refuge in Nottingham Castle. The arrest of some of the barons showed how true were his fears, for the heads of the French conspiracy, Robert Fitzwalter and Eustace de Vesci, at once fled over sea to Philip. His daring self-confidence, the skill of his diplomacy, could no longer hide from John the utter loneliness of his position. At war with Rome, with France, with Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, at war with the Church, he saw himself disarmed by this sudden revelation of treason in the one force left at his disposal. With characteristic suddenness he gave way. He endeavoured by remission of fines to win back his people. He negotiated eagerly with the Pope, consented to receive the Archbishop, and promised to repay the money he had extorted from the Church.

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John becomes vassal of Rome

But the shameless ingenuity of the king's temper was seen in his resolve to find in his very humiliation a new source of strength. If he yielded to the Church he had no mind to yield to the rest of his foes; it was indeed in the Pope who had defeated him that he saw the means of baffling their efforts. It was Rome that formed the link between the varied elements of hostility which combined against him. It was Rome that gave its sanction to Philip's ambition and roused the hopes of Scotch and Welsh, Rome that called the clergy to independence, and nerved the barons to resistance. To detach Innocent by submission from the league which hemmed him in on every side was the least part of John's purpose. He resolved to make Rome his ally, to turn its spiritual thunders on his foes, to use it in breaking up the confederacy it had formed, in crushing the baronage, in oppressing the clergy, in paralyzing--as Rome only could paralyze--the energy of the Primate. That greater issues even than these were involved in John's rapid change of policy time was to show; but there is no need to credit the king with the foresight that would have discerned them. His quick versatile temper saw no doubt little save the momentary gain. But that gain was immense. Nor was the price as hard to pay as it seems to modern eyes. The Pope stood too high above earthly monarchs, his claims, at least as Innocent conceived and expressed them, were too spiritual, too remote from the immediate business and interests of the day, to make the owning of his suzerainty any very practical burthen. John could recall a time when his father was willing to own the same subjection as that which he was about to take on himself. He could recall the parallel allegiance which his brother had pledged to the Emperor. Shame indeed there must be in any loss of independence, but in this less than any, and with Rome the shame of submission had already been incurred. But whatever were the king's thoughts his act was decisive. On the 15th of May 1213 he knelt before the legate Pandulf, surrendered his kingdom to the Roman See, took it back again as a tributary vassal, swore fealty and did liege homage to the Pope.

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Its Results

In after times men believed that England thrilled at the news with a sense of national shame such as she had never felt before. "He has become the Pope's man" the whole country was said to have murmured; "he has forfeited the very name of king; from a free man he has degraded himself into a serf." But this was the belief of a time still to come when the rapid growth of national feeling which this step and its issues did more than anything to foster made men look back on the scene between John and Pandulf as a national dishonour. We see little trace of such a feeling in the contemporary accounts of the time. All seem rather to have regarded it as a complete settlement of the difficulties in which king and kingdom were involved. As a political measure its success was immediate and complete. The French army at once broke up in impotent rage, and when Philip turned on the enemy John had raised up for him in Flanders, five hundred English ships under the Earl of Salisbury fell upon the fleet which accompanied the French army along the coast and utterly destroyed it. The league which John had so long matured at once disclosed itself. Otto, reinforcing his German army by the knighthood of Flanders and Boulogne as well as by a body of mercenaries in the pay of the English king, invaded France from the north. John called on his baronage to follow him over sea for an attack on Philip from the south.

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Geoffry Fitz-Peter

Their plea that he remained excommunicate was set aside by the arrival of Langton and his formal absolution of the king on a renewal of his coronation oath and a pledge to put away all evil customs. But the barons still stood aloof. They would serve at home, they said, but they refused to cross the sea. Those of the north took a more decided attitude of opposition. From this point indeed the northern barons begin to play their part in our constitutional history. Lacies, Vescies, Percies, Stutevilles, Bruces, houses such as those of de Ros or de Vaux, all had sprung to greatness on the ruins of the Mowbrays and the great houses of the Conquest, and had done service to the Crown in its strife with the older feudatories. But loyal as was their tradition they were English to the core; they had neither lands nor interest over sea, and they now declared themselves bound by no tenure to follow the king in foreign wars. Furious at this check to his plans John marched in arms northwards to bring these barons to submission. But he had now to reckon with a new antagonist in the Justiciar, Geoffry Fitz-Peter. Geoffry had hitherto bent to the king's will; but the political sagacity which he drew from the school of Henry the Second in which he had been trained showed him the need of concession, and his wealth, his wide kinship, and his experience of affairs gave his interposition a decisive weight. He seized on the political opportunity which was offered by the gathering of a Council at St. Albans at the opening of August with the purpose of assessing the damages done to the Church. Besides the bishops and barons, a reeve and his four men were summoned to this Council from each royal demesne, no doubt simply as witnesses of the sums due to the plundered clergy. Their presence however was of great import. It is the first instance which our history presents of the summons of such representatives to a national Council, and the instance took fresh weight from the great matters which came to be discussed. In the king's name the Justiciar promised good government for the time to come, and forbade all royal officers to practise extortion as they prized life and limb. The king's peace was pledged to those who had opposed him in the past; and observance of the laws of Henry the First was enjoined upon all within the realm.

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Stephen Langton

But it was not in Geoffry Fitz-Peter that English freedom was to find its champion and the baronage their leader. From the moment of his landing in England Stephen Langton had taken up the constitutional position of the Primate in upholding the old customs and rights of the realm against the personal despotism of the kings. As Anselm had withstood William the Red, as Theobald had withstood Stephen, so Langton prepared to withstand and rescue his country from the tyranny of John. He had already forced him to swear to observe the laws of Edward the Confessor, in other words the traditional liberties of the realm. When the baronage refused to sail for Poitou he compelled the king to deal with them not by arms but by process of law. But the work which he now undertook was far greater and weightier than this. The pledges of Henry the First had long been forgotten when the Justiciar brought them to light, but Langton saw the vast importance of such a precedent. At the close of the month he produced Henry's charter in a fresh gathering of barons at St. Paul's, and it was at once welcomed as a base for the needed reforms. From London Langton hastened to the king, whom he reached at Northampton on his way to attack the nobles of the north, and wrested from him a promise to bring his strife with them to legal judgement before assailing them in arms. With his allies gathering abroad John had doubtless no wish to be entangled in a long quarrel at home, and the Archbishop's mediation allowed him to withdraw with seeming dignity. After a demonstration therefore at Durham John marched hastily south again, and reached London in October. His Justiciar at once laid before him the claims of the Councils of St. Alban's and St. Paul's; but the death of Geoffry at this juncture freed him from the pressure which his minister was putting upon him. "Now, by God's feet," cried John, "I am for the first time King and Lord of England," and he entrusted the vacant justiciarship to a Poitevin, Peter des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester, whose temper was in harmony with his own. But the death of Geoffry only called the Archbishop to the front, and Langton at once demanded the king's assent to the charter of Henry the First. In seizing on this charter as a basis for national action Langton showed a political ability of the highest order. The enthusiasm with which its recital was welcomed showed the sagacity with which the Archbishop had chosen his ground. From that moment the baronage was no longer drawn together in secret conspiracies by a sense of common wrong or a vague longing for common deliverance: they were openly united in a definite claim of national freedom and national law.

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Bouvines

John could as yet only meet the claim by delay. His policy had still to wait for its fruits at Rome, his diplomacy to reap its harvest in Flanders, ere he could deal with England. From the hour of his submission to the Papacy his one thought had been that of vengeance on the barons who, as he held, had betrayed him; but vengeance was impossible till he should return a conqueror from the fields of France. It was a sense of this danger which nerved the baronage to their obstinate refusal to follow him over sea: but furious as he was at their resistance, the Archbishop's interposition condemned John still to wait for the hour of his revenge. In the spring of 1214 he crossed with what forces he could gather to Poitou, rallied its nobles round him, passed the Loire in triumph, and won back again Angers, the home of his race. At the same time Otto and the Count of Flanders, their German and Flemish knighthood strengthened by reinforcements from Boulogne as well as by a body of English troops under the Earl of Salisbury, threatened France from the north. For the moment Philip seemed lost: and yet on the fortunes of Philip hung the fortunes of English freedom. But in this crisis of her fate, France was true to herself and her king. From every borough of Northern France the townsmen marched to his rescue, and the village priests led their flocks to battle with the Church-banners flying at their head. The two armies met at the close of July near the bridge of Bouvines, between Lille and Tournay, and from the first the day went against the allies. The Flemish knights were the first to fly; then the Germans in the centre of the host were crushed by the overwhelming numbers of the French; last of all the English on the right of it were broken by a fierce onset of the Bishop of Beauvais who charged mace in hand and struck the Earl of Salisbury to the ground. The news of this complete overthrow reached John in the midst of his triumphs in the South, and scattered his hopes to the winds. He was at once deserted by the Poitevin nobles; and a hasty retreat alone enabled him to return in October, baffled and humiliated, to his island kingdom.

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Rising of the Baronage

His return forced on the crisis to which events had so long been drifting. The victory at Bouvines gave strength to his opponents. The open resistance of the northern barons nerved the rest of their order to action. The great houses who had cast away their older feudal traditions for a more national policy were drawn by the crisis into close union with the families which had sprung from the ministers and councillors of the two Henries. To the first group belonged such men as Saher de Quinci, the Earl of Winchester, Geoffrey of Mandeville, Earl of Essex, the Earl of Clare, Fulk Fitz-Warin, William Mallet, the houses of Fitz-Alan and Gant. Among the second group were Henry Bohun and Roger Bigod, the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk, the younger William Marshal, and Robert de Vere. Robert Fitz-Walter, who took the command of their united force, represented both parties equally, for he was sprung from the Norman house of Brionne, while the Justiciar of Henry the Second, Richard de Lucy, had been his grandfather. Secretly, and on the pretext of pilgrimage, these nobles met at St. Edmundsbury, resolute to bear no longer with John's delays. If he refused to restore their liberties they swore to make war on him till he confirmed them by Charter under the king's seal, and they parted to raise forces with the purpose of presenting their demands at Christmas. John, knowing nothing of the coming storm, pursued his policy of winning over the Church by granting it freedom of election, while he embittered still more the strife with his nobles by demanding scutage from the northern nobles who had refused to follow him to Poitou. But the barons were now ready to act, and early in January in the memorable year 1215 they appeared in arms to lay, as they had planned, their demands before the king.

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John deserted

John was taken by surprise. He asked for a truce till Easter-tide, and spent the interval in fevered efforts to avoid the blow. Again he offered freedom to the Church, and took vows as a Crusader against whom war was a sacrilege, while he called for a general oath of allegiance and fealty from the whole body of his subjects. But month after month only showed the king the uselessness of further resistance. Though Pandulf was with him, his vassalage had as yet brought little fruit in the way of aid from Rome; the commissioners whom he sent to plead his cause at the shire-courts brought back news that no man would help him against the charter that the barons claimed: and his efforts to detach the clergy from the league of his opponents utterly failed. The nation was against the king. He was far indeed from being utterly deserted. His ministers still clung to him, men such as Geoffrey de Lucy, Geoffrey de Furnival, Thomas Basset, and William Briwere, statesmen trained in the administrative school of his father and who, dissent as they might from John's mere oppression, still looked on the power of the Crown as the one barrier against feudal anarchy: and beside them stood some of the great nobles of royal blood, his father's bastard Earl William of Salisbury, his cousin Earl William of Warenne, and Henry Earl of Cornwall, a grandson of Henry the First. With him too remained Ranulf, Earl of Chester, and the wisest and noblest of the barons, William Marshal the elder, Earl of Pembroke. William Marshal had shared in the rising of the younger Henry against Henry the Second, and stood by him as he died; he had shared in the overthrow of William Longchamp and in the outlawry of John. He was now an old man, firm, as we shall see in his after-course, to recall the government to the path of freedom and law, but shrinking from a strife which might bring back the anarchy of Stephen's day, and looking for reforms rather in the bringing constitutional pressure to bear upon the king than in forcing them from him by arms.

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John yields

But cling as such men might to John, they clung to him rather as mediators than adherents. Their sympathies went with the demands of the barons when the delay which had been granted was over and the nobles again gathered in arms at Brackley in Northamptonshire to lay their claims before the King. Nothing marks more strongly the absolutely despotic idea of his sovereignty which John had formed than the passionate surprise which breaks out in his reply. "Why do they not ask for my kingdom?" he cried. "I will never grant such liberties as will make me a slave!" The imperialist theories of the lawyers of his father's court had done their work. Held at bay by the practical sense of Henry, they had told on the more headstrong nature of his sons. Richard and John both held with Glanvill that the will of the prince was the law of the land; and to fetter that will by the customs and franchises which were embodied in the barons' claims seemed to John a monstrous usurpation of his rights. But no imperialist theories had touched the minds of his people. The country rose as one man at his refusal. At the close of May London threw open her gates to the forces of the barons, now arrayed under Robert Fitz-Walter as "Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church." Exeter and Lincoln followed the example of the capital; promises of aid came from Scotland and Wales; the northern barons marched hastily under Eustace de Vesci to join their comrades in London. Even the nobles who had as yet clung to the king, but whose hopes of conciliation were blasted by his obstinacy, yielded at last to the summons of the "Army of God." Pandulf indeed and Archbishop Langton still remained with John, but they counselled, as Earl Ranulf and William Marshal counselled, his acceptance of the Charter. None in fact counselled its rejection save his new Justiciar, the Poitevin Peter des Roches, and other foreigners who knew the barons purposed driving them from the land. But even the number of these was small; there was a moment when John found himself with but seven knights at his back and before him a nation in arms. Quick as he was, he had been taken utterly by surprise. It was in vain that in the short respite he had gained from Christmas to Easter he had summoned mercenaries to his aid and appealed to his new suzerain, the Pope. Summons and appeal were alike too late. Nursing wrath in his heart, John bowed to necessity and called the barons to a conference on an island in the Thames, between Windsor and Staines, near a marshy meadow by the river side, the meadow of Runnymede. The king encamped on one bank of the river, the barons covered the flat of Runnymede on the other. Their delegates met on the 15th of June in the island between them, but the negotiations were a mere cloak to cover John's purpose of unconditional submission. The Great Charter was discussed and agreed to in a single day.

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The Great Charter

Copies of it were made and sent for preservation to the cathedrals and churches, and one copy may still be seen in the British Museum, injured by age and fire, but with the royal seal still hanging from the brown, shrivelled parchment. It is impossible to gaze without reverence on the earliest monument of English freedom which we can see with our own eyes and touch with our own hands, the great Charter to which from age to age men have looked back as the groundwork of English liberty. But in itself the Charter was no novelty, nor did it claim to establish any new constitutional principles. The Charter of Henry the First formed the basis of the whole, and the additions to it are for the most part formal recognitions of the judicial and administrative changes introduced by Henry the Second. What was new in it was its origin. In form, like the Charter on which it was based, it was nothing but a royal grant. In actual fact it was a treaty between the whole English people and its king. In it England found itself for the first time since the Conquest a nation bound together by common national interests, by a common national sympathy. In words which almost close the Charter, the "community of the whole land" is recognized as the great body from which the restraining power of the baronage takes its validity. There is no distinction of blood or class, of Norman or not Norman, of noble or not noble. All are recognized as Englishmen, the rights of all are owned as English rights. Bishops and nobles claimed and secured at Runnymede the rights not of baron and churchman only but those of freeholder and merchant, of townsman and villein. The provisions against wrong and extortion which the barons drew up as against the king for themselves they drew up as against themselves for their tenants. Based too as it professed to be on Henry's Charter it was far from being a mere copy of what had gone before. The vague expressions of the old Charter were now exchanged for precise and elaborate provisions. The bonds of unwritten custom which the older grant did little more than recognize had proved too weak to hold the Angevins; and the baronage set them aside for the restraints of written and defined law. It is in this way that the Great Charter marks the transition from the age of traditional rights, preserved in the nation's memory and officially declared by the Primate, to the age of written legislation, of Parliaments and Statutes, which was to come.

Its opening indeed is in general terms. The Church had shown its power of self-defence in the struggle over the interdict, and the clause which recognized its rights alone retained the older and general form. But all vagueness ceases when the Charter passes on to deal with the rights of Englishmen at large, their right to justice, to security of person and property, to good government. "No freeman," ran a memorable article that lies at the base of our whole judicial system, "shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way brought to ruin: we will not go against any man nor send against him, save by legal judgement of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no man will we sell," runs another, "or deny, or delay, right or justice." The great reforms of the past reigns were now formally recognized; judges of assize were to hold their circuits four times in the year, and the King's Court was no longer to follow the king in his wanderings over the realm but to sit in a fixed place. But the denial of justice under John was a small danger compared with the lawless exactions both of himself and his predecessor. Richard had increased the amount of the scutage which Henry the Second had introduced, and applied it to raise funds for his ransom. He had restored the Danegeld, or land-tax, so often abolished, under the new name of "carucage," had seized the wool of the Cistercians and the plate of the churches, and rated movables as well as land. John had again raised the rate of scutage, and imposed aids, fines, and ransoms at his pleasure without counsel of the baronage. The Great Charter met this abuse by a provision on which our constitutional system rests. "No scutage or aid [other than the three customary feudal aids shall be imposed in our realm save by the common council of the realm"; and to this Great Council it was provided that prelates and the greater barons should be summoned by special writ, and all tenants in chief through the sheriffs and bailiffs, at least forty days before. The provision defined what had probably been the common usage of the realm; but the definition turned it into a national right, a right so momentous that on it rests our whole Parliamentary life. Even the baronage seem to have been startled when they realized the extent of their claim; and the provision was dropped from the later issue of the Charter at the outset of the next reign. But the clause brought home to the nation at large their possession of a right which became dearer as years went by. More and more clearly the nation discovered that in these simple words lay the secret of political power. It was the right of self-taxation that England fought for under Earl Simon as she fought for it under Hampden. It was the establishment of this right which established English freedom.

The rights which the barons claimed for themselves they claimed for the nation at large. The boon of free and unbought justice was a boon for all, but a special provision protected the poor. The forfeiture of the freeman on conviction of felony was never to include his tenement, or that of the merchant his wares, or that of the countryman, as Henry the Second had long since ordered, his wain. The means of actual livelihood were to be left even to the worst. The seizure of provisions, the exaction of forced labour, by royal officers was forbidden; and the abuses of the forest system were checked by a clause which disafforested all forests made in John's reign. The under-tenants were protected against all lawless exactions of their lords in precisely the same terms as these were protected against the lawless exactions of the Crown. The towns were secured in the enjoyment of their municipal privileges, their freedom from arbitrary taxation, their rights of justice, of common deliberation, of regulation of trade. "Let the city of London have all its old liberties and its free customs, as well by land as by water. Besides this, we will and grant that all other cities, and boroughs, and towns, and ports, have all their liberties and free customs." The influence of the trading class is seen in two other enactments by which freedom of journeying and trade was secured to foreign merchants, and an uniformity of weights and measures was ordered to be enforced throughout the realm.

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Innocent annuls the Charter

There remained only one question, and that the most difficult of all; the question how to secure this order which the Charter established in the actual government of the realm. It was easy to sweep away the immediate abuses; the hostages were restored to their homes, the foreigners banished by a clause in the Charter from the country. But it was less easy to provide means for the control of a king whom no man could trust. By the treaty as settled at Runnymede a council of twenty-five barons were to be chosen from the general body of their order to enforce on John the observance of the Charter, with the right of declaring war on the king should its provisions be infringed, and it was provided that the Charter should not only be published throughout the whole country but sworn to at every hundred-mote and town-mote by order from the king. "They have given me five-and-twenty over-kings," cried John in a burst of fury, flinging himself on the floor and gnawing sticks and straw in his impotent rage. But the rage soon passed into the subtle policy of which he was a master. After a few days he left Windsor; and lingered for months along the southern shore, waiting for news of the aid he had solicited from Rome and from the Continent. It was not without definite purpose that he had become the vassal of the Papacy. While Innocent was dreaming of a vast Christian Empire with the Pope at its head to enforce justice and religion on his under-kings, John believed that the Papal protection would enable him to rule as tyrannically as he would. The thunders of the Papacy were to be ever at hand for his protection, as the armies of England are at hand to protect the vileness and oppression of a Turkish Sultan or a Nizam of Hyderabad. His envoys were already at Rome, pleading for a condemnation of the Charter. The after action of the Papacy shows that Innocent was moved by no hostility to English freedom. But he was indignant that a matter which might have been brought before his court of appeal as overlord should have been dealt with by armed revolt, and in this crisis both his imperious pride and the legal tendency of his mind swayed him to the side of the king who submitted to his justice. He annulled the Great Charter by a bull in August, and at the close of the year excommunicated the barons.

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Landing of Lewis

His suspension of Stephen Langton from the exercise of his office as Primate was a more fatal blow. Langton hurried to Rome, and his absence left the barons without a head at a moment when the very success of their efforts was dividing them. Their forces were already disorganized when autumn brought a host of foreign soldiers from over sea to the king's standard. After starving Rochester into submission John found himself strong enough to march ravaging through the Midland and Northern counties, while his mercenaries spread like locusts over the whole face of the land. From Berwick the king turned back triumphant to coop up his enemies in London while fresh Papal excommunications fell on the barons and the city. But the burghers set Innocent at defiance. "The ordering of secular matters appertaineth not to the Pope," they said, in words that seem like mutterings of the coming Lollardism; and at the advice of Simon Langton, the Archbishop's brother, bells swung out and mass was celebrated as before. Success however was impossible for the undisciplined militia of the country and the towns against the trained forces of the king, and despair drove the barons to listen to Fitz-Walter and the French party in their ranks, and to seek aid from over sea. Philip had long been waiting the opportunity for his revenge upon John. In the April of 1216 his son Lewis accepted the crown in spite of Innocent's excommunications, and landed soon after in Kent with a considerable force. As the barons had foreseen, the French mercenaries who constituted John's host refused to fight against the French sovereign and the whole aspect of affairs was suddenly reversed. Deserted by the bulk of his troops, the king was forced to fall rapidly back on the Welsh Marches, while his rival entered London and received the submission of the larger part of England. Only Dover held out obstinately against Lewis. By a series of rapid marches John succeeded in distracting the plans of the barons and in relieving Lincoln; then after a short stay at Lynn he crossed the Wash in a fresh movement to the north. In crossing however his army was surprised by the tide, and his baggage with the royal treasures washed away. Fever seized the baffled tyrant as he reached the Abbey of Swineshead, his sickness was inflamed by a gluttonous debauch, and on the 19th of October John breathed his last at Newark.

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