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The History of England From the Norman Conquest to the Death of John
The Great Charter
by Adams, George Burton

The king of France may have been acting, as he would have the world believe, as the instrument of heaven to punish the enemy of the Church, but he did not learn with any great rejoicing of the conversion of John from the error of his ways. Orders were sent him at once to abstain from all attack on one who was now the vassal of the pope, and he found it necessary in the end to obey, declaring, it is said, that the victory was after all his, since it was due to him that the pope had subdued England. The army and fleet prepared for the invasion, he turned against his own vassal who had withheld his assistance from the undertaking, the Count of Flanders, and quickly occupied a considerable part of the country. Count Ferdinand in his extremity turned to King John and he sent over a force under command of his brother, William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, which surprised the French fleet badly guarded in the harbour of Damme and captured or destroyed 400 ships. If Philip had any lingering hope that he might yet be able to carry out his plan of invasion, he was forced now to abandon it, and in despair of preserving the rest of his fleet, or in a fit of anger, he ordered it to be burned.

The Archbishop of Canterbury landed in England in July, accompanied by five of the exiled bishops, and a few days later met the king. On the 20th at Winchester John was absolved from his excommunication, swearing publicly that he would be true to his agreement with the Church, and taking an additional oath in form somewhat like the coronation oath, which the archbishop required or which perhaps the fact of his excommunication made necessary, "that holy Church and her ministers he would love, defend, and maintain against all her enemies to the best of his power, that he would renew the good laws of his predecessors, and especially the laws of King Edward, and annul all bad ones, and that he would judge all men according to just judgments of his courts and restore to every man his rights." It is doubtful if we should regard this as anything more than a renewal of the coronation oath necessary to a full restoration of the king from the effects of the Church censure, but at any rate the form of words seems to have been noticed by those who heard it, and to have been referred to afterwards when the political opposition to the king was taking share, a sure sign of increasing watchfulness regarding the mutual rights of king and subjects.79

The king was no longer excommunicate, but the kingdom was still under the interdict, and the pope had no intention of annulling it until the question of compensation for their losses was settled to the satisfaction of the bishops and others whose lands had been in the hands of the king. That was not an easy question to settle. It was not a matter of arrears of revenue merely, for John had not been content with the annual income of the lands, but he had cut down forests and raised money in other extraordinary ways to the permanent injury of the property. In the end only a comparatively small sum was paid, and in all probability a full payment would have been entirely beyond the resources of the king, but at the beginning John seems to have intended to carry out his agreement in good faith. There is no reason to doubt the statement of a chronicler of the time that on the next day after his absolution the king sent out writs to all the sheriffs, ordering them to send to St. Albans at the beginning of August the reeve and four legal men from each township of the royal domains, that by their testimony and that of his own officers the amount of these losses might be determined. This would be to all England a familiar expedient, a simple use of the jury principle, with nothing new about it except the bringing of the local juries together in one place, nor must it be regarded as in any sense a beginning of representation. It has no historic connexion with the growth of that system, and cannot possibly indicate more than that the idea of uniting local juries in one place had occurred to some one. We have no evidence that this assembly was actually held, and it is highly probable that it was not. Nor can anything more be said with certainly of writs which were issued in November of this year directing the sheriffs to send four discreet men from each county to attend a meeting of the council at Oxford. John himself was busily occupied with a plan to transport the forces he had collected into Poitou to attack the king of France there, and he appointed the justiciar, Geoffrey Fitz Peter, and the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, as his representatives during his absence. These two held a great council at St. Albans in August at which formal proclamation was made of the restoration of good laws and the abolition of bad ones as the king had promised, the good laws now referred to being those of Henry I; and all sheriffs and other officers were strictly enjoined to abstain from violence and injustice for the future, but no decision was reached as to the sum to be paid the clergy.

In the meantime John was in difficulties about his proposed expedition to Poitou. When he was about to set out, he found the barons unwilling. They declared that the money they had provided for their expenses had all been used up in the long delay, and that if they went, the king must meet the cost, while the barons of the north refused, according to one account, because they were not bound by the conditions of their tenure to serve abroad. In this they were no doubt wrong, if services were to be determined, as would naturally be the case, by custom; but their refusal to obey the king on whatever ground so soon after he had apparently recovered power by his reconciliation with the Church is very noteworthy. In great anger the king embarked with his household only and landed in Jersey, as if he would conquer France alone, but he was obliged to return. His wrath, however, was not abated, and he collected a large force and marched to the north, intending to bring the unwilling barons to their accustomed obedience; but his plan was interrupted by a new and more serious opposition. Archbishop Stephen Langton seems to have returned to England determined to contend as vigorously for the rights of the laity as for those of the Church. We are told by one chronicler that he had heard it said that on August 25, while the king was on the march to the north, Stephen was presiding over a council of prelates and barons at St. Paul's, and that to certain of them he read a copy of Henry I's coronation charter as a record of the ancient laws which they had a right to demand of the king. There may be difficulties in supposing that such an incident occurred at this exact date, but something of the kind must have happened not long before or after. If we may trust the record we have of the oath taken by John at the time of his absolution, it suggests that the charter of Henry I was in the mind of the man who drew it up. Now, at any rate, was an opportunity to interfere in protection of clearly defined rights, and to insist that the king should keep the oath which he had just sworn. Without hesitation the archbishop went after the king, overtook him at Northampton, where John was on the 28th, and reminded him that he would break his oath if he made war on any of his barons without a judgment of his court. John broke out into a storm of rage, as he was apt to do; "with great noise" he told the archbishop to mind his own business and let matters of lay jurisdiction alone, and moved on to Nottingham. Undismayed, Langton followed, declaring that he would excommunicate every one except the king who should take part in the attack, and John was obliged again to yield and to appoint a time for the court to try the case.

The attempt to settle the indemnity to be paid the clergy dragged on through the remainder of the year, and was not then completed. Councils were held at London, Wallingford, and Reading, early in October, November, and December respectively, in each of which the subject was discussed, and left unsettled, except that after the Reading council the king paid the archbishop and the bishops who had been exiled 15,000 marks. At the end of September a legate from the pope, Cardinal Nicholas, landed in England, and to him John repeated the surrender of the crown and his homage as the pope's vassal. Along with the question of indemnity, that of filling up the vacant sees was discussed, and with nearly as little result. The local officers of the Church were disposed to make as much as possible out of John's humiliation and the chapters to assert the right of independent election. The king was not willing to allow this, and pope and legate inclined to support him. On October 14 the justiciar, Geoffrey Fitz Peter, died. John's exclamation when he heard the news, as preserved in the tradition of the next generation,--"When he gets to hell, let him greet Hubert Walter," and, as earlier in the case of Hubert himself, "Now by the feet of God am I first king and lord of England,"--and, more trustworthy perhaps, the rapid decline of events after Geoffrey's death towards civil war and revolution, lead us to believe that like many a great judge he exercised a stronger influence over the actual history of his age than appears in any contemporary record.

It was near the middle of February, 1214, before John was able to carry out in earnest his plan for the recovery of Poitou. At that time he landed at La Rochelle with a large army and a full military chest, but with very few English barons of rank accompanying him. Since the close of actual war between them Philip had made gains in one way or another within the lands that had remained to John, and it was time for the Duke of Aquitaine to appear to protect his own, to say nothing of any attempt to recover his lost territories. At first his presence seemed all that was necessary; barons renewed their allegiance, those who had done homage to Philip returned and were pardoned, castles were surrendered, and John passed through portions of Poitou and Angoulème, meeting with almost no resistance. A dash of Philip's, in April, drove him back to the south, but the king of France was too much occupied with the more serious danger that threatened him from the coalition in the north to give much time to John, and he returned after a few days, leaving his son Louis to guard the line of approach to Paris. Then John returned to the field, attacked the Lusignans, took their castles, and forced them to submit. The Count of La Marche was the Hugh the Brown from whom years before he had stolen his bride, Isabel of Angoulème, and now he proposed to strengthen the new-made alliance by giving to Hugh's eldest son Isabel's daughter Joanna. On June 11 John crossed the Loire, and a few days later entered Angers, whose fortifications had been destroyed by the French. The occupation of the capital of Anjou marks the highest point of his success in the expedition. To protect and complete his new conquest, John began at once the siege of La Roche-au-Moine, a new castle built by William des Roches on the Loire, which commanded communications with the south. Against him there Louis of France advanced to raise the siege. John wished to go out and meet him, but the barons of Poitou refused, declaring that they were not prepared to fight battles in the field, and the siege had to be abandoned and a hasty retreat made across the river. Angers at once fell into the hands of Louis, and its new ramparts were destroyed.

It was about July first that Louis set out to raise the siege of La Roche-au-Moine, and on the 27th the decisive battle of Bouvines was fought in the north before John had resolved on his next move. The coalition, on which John had laboured so long and from which he hoped so much, was at last in the field. The emperor Otto IV, the Counts of Flanders, Boulogne, Holland, Brabant, and Limburg, the Duke of Lorraine, and others, each from motives of his own, had joined their forces with the English under the Earl of Salisbury, to overthrow the king of France. To oppose this combination Philip had only his vassals of northern France, without foreign allies and with a part of his force detached to watch the movements of the English king on the Loire. The odds seemed to be decidedly against him, but the allies, attacking at a disadvantage the French army which they believed in retreat, were totally defeated near Bouvines. The Earl of Salisbury and the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne with many others were taken prisoners, and the triumph of Philip was as complete as his danger had been great. The popular enthusiasm with which the news of this victory was received in northern France shows how thorough had been the work of the monarchy during the past century and how great progress had been made in the creation of a nation in feeling and spirit as well as in name under the Capetian king. The general rejoicing was but another expression of the force before which in reality the English dominion in France had fallen.

The effects of the battle of Bouvines were not confined to France nor to the war then going on. The results in German history--the fall of Otto IV, the triumph of Frederick II--we have no occasion to trace. In English history its least important result was that John was obliged to make peace with Philip. The treaty was dated on September 18. A truce was agreed upon to last for five years from the following Easter, everything to remain in the meantime practically as it was left at the close of the war. This might be a virtual recognition by John of the conquests which Philip had made, but for him it was a much more serious matter that the ruin of his schemes left him alone, unsupported by the glamour of a brilliant combination of allies, without prestige, overwhelmed with defeat, to face the baronial opposition which in the past few years had been growing so rapidly in strength, in intelligent perception of the wrongs that had been suffered, and in the knowledge of its own power.

About the middle of October John returned to England to find that the disaffection among the barons, which had expressed itself in the refusal to serve in Poitou, had not grown less during his absence. The interdict had been removed on July 2, John having given security for the payment of a sum as indemnity to the Church which was satisfactory to the pope, but the rejoicing over this relief was somewhat lessened by the fact that the monastic houses and the minor clergy were unprovided for and received no compensation for their losses. The justiciar whom the king had appointed on the eve of his departure, the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, naturally unpopular because he was a foreigner and out of sympathy with the spirit of the barons, had ruled with a strong hand and sternly repressed all expression of discontent, but his success in this respect had only increased the determination to have a reckoning with the king. In these circumstances John's first important act after his return brought matters to a crisis. Evidently he had no intention of abandoning any of his rights or of letting slip any of his power in England because he had been defeated in France, and he called at once for a scutage from those barons who had not gone with him to Poitou. This raised again the question of right, and we are told that it was the northern barons who once more declared that their English holdings did not oblige them to follow the king abroad or to pay a scutage when he went, John on his side asserting that the service was due to him because it had been rendered to his father and brother. In this the king was undoubtedly right. He could, if he had known it, have carried back his historical argument a century further, but in general feudal law there was justification enough for the position of the barons to warrant them in taking a stand on the point if they wished to join issue with the king. This they were now determined to do. We know from several annalists that after John's return the barons came to an agreement among themselves that they would demand of the king a confirmation of the charter of Henry I and a re-grant of the liberties contained in it. In one account we have the story of a meeting at Bury St. Edmunds, on pretence of a pilgrimage, in which this agreement was made and an oath taken by all to wage war on the king if he should refuse their request which they decided to make of him in form after Christmas. Concerted action there must have been, and it seems altogether likely that this account is correct.

The references to the charter of Henry I in the historians of the time prove clearly enough the great part which that document played at the origin of the revolution now beginning. It undoubtedly gave to the discontented barons the consciousness of legal right, crystallized their ideas, and suggested the method of action, but it is hardly possible to believe that a simple confirmation of this charter could now have been regarded as adequate. The charter of Henry I is as remarkable a document for the beginning of the twelfth as the Great Charter is for the beginning of the thirteenth century, but no small progress had taken place in two directions in the intervening hundred years. In one direction the demands of the crown--we ought really to say the demands of the government--were more frequent, new in kind, and heavier in amount than at the earlier date. The reorganization of the judicial and administrative systems had enlarged greatly the king's sphere of action at the expense of the baron's. All this, and it forms together a great body of change, was advance, was true progress, but it seemed to the baron encroachment on his liberties and denial of his rights, and there was a sense in which his view was perfectly correct. It was partly due to these changes, partly to the general on-going of things, that in the other direction the judgment of the baron was more clear, his view of his own rights and wrongs more specific than a hundred years before, and, by far most important of all, that he had come to a definite understanding of the principle that the king, as lord of his vassals, was just as much under obligation to keep the law as the baron was. Independent of these two main lines of development was the personal tyranny of John, his contemptuous disregard of custom and right in dealing with men, his violent overriding of the processes of his own courts in arbitrary arrest and cruel punishment. The charter of Henry I would be a suggestive model; a new charter must follow its lines and be founded on its principles, but the needs of the barons would now go far beyond its meagre provisions and demand the translation of its general statements into specific form.

According to the agreement they had made the barons came together at London soon after January 1, 1215, with some show of arms, and demanded of the king the confirmation of the charter of Henry I. John replied that the matter was new and important, and that he must have some time for consideration, and asked for delay until the octave of Easter, April 26. With reluctance the barons made this concession, Stephen Langton, William Marshal, and the Bishop of Ely becoming sureties for the king that he would then give satisfaction to all. The interval which was allowed him John used in a variety of attempts to strengthen himself and to prepare for the trial of arms which he must have known to be inevitable. On the 21st of the previous November he had issued a charter granting to the cathedral churches and monasteries throughout England full freedom of election, and this charter he now reissued a few days after the meeting with the barons. If this was an attempt to separate the clergy from the cause of the barons, or to bring the archbishop over wholly to his own side, it was a failure. About the same time he adopted a familiar expedient and ordered the oath of allegiance to himself against all men to be taken throughout the country, but he added a new clause requiring men to swear to stand by him against the charter.80 Since the discussion of the charter had begun a general interest in its provisions had been excited, and the determination to secure the liberties it embodied had grown rapidly, so that now the king quickly found, by the opposition it aroused, that in this peculiar demand he had overshot the mark, and he was obliged to recall his orders. Naturally John turned at once to the pope, who was now under obligation to protect him from his enemies, but his envoy was followed by Eustace de Vescy, who argued strongly for the barons' side. The pope's letters to England in reply did not afford decisive support to either party, though more in favour of the king's, who was exhorted, however, to grant "just petitions" of the barons. On Ash Wednesday John went so far as to assume the cross of the crusader, most likely to secure additional favour from the pope, who was very anxious to renew the attempt that had failed in the early part of his reign, no doubt having in mind also the personal immunities it would secure him. For troops to resist the barons in the field the king's reliance was chiefly, as it had been during all his reign, on soldiers hired abroad, and he made efforts to get these into his service from Flanders and from Poitou, promising great rewards to knights who would join him from thence, as well as from Wales.

John's preparations alarmed the barons, and they determined not to wait for April 26, the appointed day for the king's answer. They came together in arms at Stamford, advanced from thence to Northampton, and then on to Brackley to be in the neighbourhood of the king, who was then at Oxford. Their array was a formidable one. The list recorded gives us the names of five earls, forty barons, and one bishop, Giles de Braóse, who had family wrongs to avenge; and while the party was called the Northerners, because the movement had such strong support in that part of England, other portions of the country were well represented. Annalists of the time noticed that younger men inclined to the side of the insurgents, while the older remained with the king. This fact in some cases divided families, as in the case of the Marshals, William the elder staying with John, while William the younger was with the barons. That one abode in the king's company does not indicate, however, that his sympathies in this struggle were on that side. Stephen Langton was in form with the king and acted as his representative in the negotiations, though it was universally known that he supported the reforms asked for. It is probable that this was true also of the Earl of Pembroke. These two were sent by John to the barons to get an exact statement of their demands, and returned with a "schedule," which was recited to the king point by point. These were no doubt the same as the "articles" presented to the king afterwards, on which the Great Charter was based. When John was made to understand what they meant, his hot, ancestral temper swept him away in an insane passion of anger. "Why do they not go on and demand the kingdom itself?" he cried, and added with a furious oath that he would never make himself a slave by granting such concessions.

When the barons received their answer, they decided on immediate war. As they viewed the case, this was a step justified by the feudal law. It was their contention that the reforms they demanded had been granted and recognized as legal by former kings. In other words, their suzerain was denying them their hereditary rights, acknowledged and conceded by his predecessors. To the feudal mind the situation which this fact created was simple and obvious. They were no longer bound by any fealty to him. It was their right to make war upon him until he should consent to grant them what was their due. Their first step was to send to the king the formal diffidatio prescribed for such cases, withdrawing their fealty and notifying him of their intention to begin war. Then choosing Robert Fitz Walter their commander, under the title of Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church, they began the siege of Northampton, but were unable to take it from lack of siege machinery. On May 17 the barons, having in the meantime rejected several unsatisfactory proposals of the king, entered London at the request of the chief citizens, though the tower was still held by John's troops. The great strength of the barons at this time as against the king was not, however, their possession of London, or the forces which had taken the field in their cause, but the fact that John had practically no part of England with him beyond the ground commanded by the castles still held by his foreign soldiers. Pleas ceased in the exchequer, we are told, and the operations of the sheriffs, because no one could be found who would pay the king anything or show him any obedience, and many of the barons, who up to this time had stood with him, now joined the insurgents. No help could be had for some time from the pope. Langton refused to act at the king's request and excommunicate his enemies. There was nothing for John to do but to yield and trust that time would bring about some change to relieve him of the obligations he must assume.

On June 8 John granted a safe conduct to representatives of the barons to negotiate with him to hold good until the 11th, and later extended the period until the 15th. He was then at Windsor, and the barons from London came to Staines and camped in the field of Runnymede. The "Articles" were presented to the king in form, and now accepted by him, and on the basis of them the Great Charter was drawn up and sealed on June 15, 1215.

In the history of constitutional liberty, of which the Great Charter is the beginning, its specific provisions are of far less importance than its underlying principle. What we to-day consider the great safeguards of Anglo-Saxon liberty are all conspicuously absent from the first of its creative statutes, nor could any of them have been explained in the meaning we give them to the understanding of the men who framed the charter. Consent to taxation in the modern sense is not there; neither taxation nor consent. Trial by jury is not there in that form of it which became a check on arbitrary power, nor is it referred to at all in the clause which has been said to embody it. Parliament, habeas corpus, bail, the independence of the judiciary, are all of later growth, or existed only in rudimentary form. Nor can the charter be properly called a contract between king and nation. The idea of the nation, as we now hold it, was still in the future, to be called into existence by the circumstances of the next reign. The idea of contract certainly pervades the document, but only as the expression of the always existent contract between the suzerain and his vassals which was the foundation of all feudal law. On the other hand, some of the provisions of our civil liberty, mainly in the interest of individual rights, are plainly present. That private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation, that cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted nor excessive fines be imposed, that justice shall be free and fair to all, these may be found almost in modern form.

But it is in none of these directions that the great importance of the document is to be sought. All its specific provisions together as specific provisions are not worth, either in themselves or in their historical influence, the one principle which underlies them all and gives validity to them all--the principle that the king must keep the law. This it was that justified the barons in their rebellion. It was to secure this from a king who could not be bound by the ordinary law that the Great Charter was drawn up and its clauses put into the form in which they stand. In other words, the barons contended that the king was already bound by the law as it stood, and that former kings had recognized the fact. In this they were entirely correct. The Great Charter is old law. It is codification, or rather it is a selection of those points of the existing law which the king had constantly violated, for the purpose of stating them in such form that his specific pledge to regard them could be secured, and his consent to machinery for enforcing them in case he broke his pledge. The source of the Great Charter, then, of its various provisions and of its underlying principle, must be sought in the existing law that regulated the relations between the king and the barons--the feudal law.

From beginning to end the Great Charter is a feudal document. The most important of its provisions which cannot be found in this law, those which may perhaps be called new legislation, relate to the judicial system as recently developed, which had proved too useful and was probably too firmly fixed to be set aside, though it was considered by the barons to infringe upon their feudal rights and had been used in the past as an engine of oppression and extortion. In this one direction the development of institutions in England had already left the feudal system behind. In financial matters a similar development was under rapid way, but John's effort to push forward too fast along that line was one cause of the insurrection and the charter, and of the reaction in this particular which it embodies. As a statement of feudal law the Great Charter is moderate, conservative, and carefully regardful of the real rights of the king. As a document born in civil strife it is remarkable in this respect, or would be were this not true of all its progeny in Anglo-Saxon history. Whoever framed it must have been fair-minded and have held the balance level between king and insurgents. Its provisions in regard to wardship and marriage have been called weak. They are not weak; they are just, and as compared with the corresponding provisions of the charter of Henry I they are less revolutionary, and leave to the king what belonged to him historically--the rights which all English kings had exercised and which in that generation Philip of France also had repeatedly exercised, even against John himself.

But the chief feature of the Great Charter apart from all its specific enactments, that on which it all rests, is this, that the king has no right to violate the law, and if he attempts to do so, may be constrained by force to obey it. That also is feudal law. It was the fundamental conception of the whole feudal relationship that the suzerain was bound to respect the recognized rights of his vassal, and that if he would not, he might be compelled to do so; nor was it in England alone that this idea was held to include the highest suzerain, the lord paramount of the realm.81 Clause 61 which to the modern mind seems the most astonishing of the whole charter, legalizing insurrection and revolution, contains nothing that was new, except the arrangement for a body of twenty-five barons who were to put into orderly operation the right of coercion. It is certainly not necessary to show by argument the supreme importance of this principle. It is the true corner-stone of the English constitution. It was the preservation of this right, its development into new forms to meet the changing needs of the state, that created and protected constitutional liberty, and it was the supreme service of the Great Charter, far beyond any accomplished by any one clause or by all specific clauses together, to carry over from feudalism this right and to make it the fostering principle of a new growth in which feudalism had no share.82

It may be that the barons believed they were demanding nothing in the Great Charter that had not been granted by former kings or that the king was not bound by the law to observe. It may be possible to prove that this belief was historically correct in principle if not in specific form; but the king could not be expected to take the same view of the case. He had been compelled to renounce many things that he had been doing through his whole reign, and some things, as he very well knew, that had been done by his father and brother before him. He may honestly have believed that he had been forced to surrender genuine royal rights. He certainly knew that if he faithfully kept its provisions, the task of raising the necessary money to carry on the government, already not easy, would become extremely difficult if not impossible. It is not likely that John promised to be bound by the charter with any intention of keeping his promise. He had no choice at the moment but to yield, and if he yielded, the forces of the barons would probably scatter, and the chances favour such a recovery of his strength that with the help of the pope he could set the charter aside. At first nothing could be done but to conform to its requirements, and orders were sent throughout the country for the taking of the oath in which all men were to swear to obey the twenty-five barons appointed guardians of the charter. Juries were to be chosen to inquire into grievances, and some of the foreign troops were sent home. Suspicions began to be felt, however, in regard to the intentions of the king during the negotiations concerning details which followed the signing of the charter. A council called to meet at Oxford about the middle of July, he refused to attend. Nor were provocations and violations of the spirit of the charter wanting on the part of the barons. Certain of the party, indeed, "Trans-Humbrians" they are called, probably the extreme enemies of the king, had withdrawn from the conference at Runnymede, and now refused to cease hostilities because they had had no part in making peace. The royal officers were maltreated and driven off, and the king's manors plundered.

By August John was rapidly preparing for a renewal of the war. He sent out orders to get the royal castles ready for defence. His emissaries were collecting troops in Flanders and Aquitaine. Philip Augustus's Count of Britanny, Peter of Dreux, was offered the honour of Richmond, which former counts had held, if he would come to John's aid with a body of knights. Money does not seem to have been lacking through the struggle that followed, and John's efforts to collect mercenary troops were abundantly successful. Dover was appointed as the gathering-place of his army, both as a convenient landing-place for those coming from abroad and for strategic reasons. As it became evident that the charter had not brought the conflict to an end, the barons were obliged to consider what their next step should be. In clause 61 of the charter in regard to coercing the king, they had bound themselves not to depose him, but the arrangements made in that clause were never put into operation, nor could they be. There was only one way of dealing with a king who obstinately insisted on his rights, as he regarded them, against the law, and that was by deposition. The leaders of the barons now decided that this step was necessary, and an effort was made to unite all barons in taking it, but those who had been with the king before refused, and some members of the baronial party itself were not willing to go so far, nor were the clergy. The pope was making his position perfectly plain. Before the meeting at Runnymede he had ordered the excommunication of the disturbers of the king and kingdom; and when this sentence was published later, the barons might pretend that the king was the worst disturber of the kingdom, but they really knew what the pope intended. In September the Bishop of Winchester and Pandulf, representing the pope, suspended Archbishop Langton because of his refusal to enforce the papal sentences. By the end of the month the news reached England of Innocent's bull against the charter itself, declaring it null and void, and forbidding the king to observe it or the barons to require it to be kept under penalty of excommunication. Doubtless John expected this from the pope, and if his own view of the charter were correct, Innocent's action would be entirely within his rights. No vassal had a right to enter into any agreement which would diminish the value of his fief, and John had done this if the rights that he was exercising in 1213 were really his. It was apparently about this time that the insurgent barons determined to transfer their allegiance to Louis of France. We are told that they selected him because, if he were king of England, most of John's mercenaries would leave his service since they were vassals of France; but Louis was really the only one available who could be thought to represent in any way the old dynasty, and it would certainly be remembered that he had been proposed for the place in 1213. Negotiations were begun to induce him to accept, but in the meantime John had secured a sufficient force to take the offensive, and was beginning to push the war with unusual spirit and vigour. A part of his force he sent to relieve Northampton and Oxford, besieged by the barons, and he himself with the rest set out to take Rochester castle which was held against him. Repulsed at first, he succeeded in a second attempt to destroy the bridge across the Medway to cut off communication with London, and began a regular siege which he pressed fiercely. The garrison was not large, but they defended themselves with great courage, having reason to fear the consequences of yielding, and prolonged the siege for seven weeks. Even after the keep had been in part taken by undermining the wall they maintained themselves in what was left until they were starved into surrender. It was only the threat that his mercenaries would leave him for fear of reprisals that kept John from hanging his prisoners. During this siege the barons in London had remained in a strange inactivity, making only one half-hearted attempt to save their friends, seemingly afraid to meet the king in the field, and accused of preferring the selfish security and luxury of the capital. This was their conduct during the whole of the winter while their strongholds were captured and their lands devastated in all parts of England by the forces of their enemy, for John continued his campaign. Soon after the capture of Rochester he marched through Windsor to the north of London and, leaving a part of his army under the Earl of Salisbury to watch the barons and to lay waste their lands in that part of the country, he passed himself through the midlands to the north, destroying everything belonging to his enemies that he could find and not always distinguishing carefully between friends and foes. England had not for generations suffered such a harrying as it received that winter. So great was the terror created by the cruelties practised that garrisons of the barons' castles, it is said, fled on the news of the king's approach, leaving the castles undefended to fall into his hands. The march extended as far as Scotland. Berwick was taken and burnt, and the parts of the country about were laid waste in revenge for the favour which King Alexander had shown the barons. In March, 1216, John returned to the neighbourhood of London, leaving a new track of devastation further to the east, and bringing with him a great store of plunder.

During the winter the barons had kept up their negotiations with Louis, and an agreement had finally been made. They had pledged themselves to do homage to Louis and accept him as king, and had sent to France twenty-four hostages "of the noblest of the land" in pledge of their fidelity. Louis in return sent over small bodies of men to their aid and promised himself to follow in person in the spring. To this step the barons were indeed driven, unless they were prepared to submit, because of the strength the king had gained since the signing of the charter and their own comparative weakness. Why this change had taken place so soon after the barons had been all-powerful cannot now be fully explained, but so far as we can see the opinion of a contemporary that they would have been overcome but for the aid of the French is correct. Against the invasion of Louis, John had two lines of defence, the pope and the fleet. Innocent, who had once favoured a transfer of the English crown to Louis, must now oppose it. When he learned how far preparations for the expedition had gone, he sent a legate, Cardinal Gualo, to France to forbid any further step. Gualo was received by Philip and his son at Melun on April 25. There before the king and the court the case was argued between the cardinal and a knight representing Louis, as if it were a suit at law to be decided in the ordinary way. Louis's case was skilfully constructed to deprive the legate of his ground of interference, but his assertions were falsehoods or misrepresentations. John had been condemned to death for the murder of Arthur--the first occasion on which we hear of this--and afterwards rejected by the barons of England for his many crimes, and they were making war on him to expel him from the kingdom. John had surrendered the kingdom to the pope without the consent of the barons, and if he could not legally do this, he could by the attempt create a vacancy, which the barons had filled by the choice of Louis. The legate, apparently unable to meet these unexpected arguments, asserted that John was a crusader and therefore under the protection of the apostolic see. For Louis it was answered that John had been making war on him long before he took the cross and had continued to do so since, so that Louis had a right to go on with the war. The legate had no answer to this, though it was false, but he prohibited Louis from going and his father from allowing him to go. Louis, denying the right of his father to interfere with his claims in a land not subject to the king of France, and sending an embassy to argue his case before the pope, went on with his preparations. Philip Augustus carefully avoided anything that would bring him into open conflict with Innocent and threw the whole responsibility on his son.

Louis landed in England in the Isle of Thanet on May 21. John had collected a large and strong fleet to prevent his crossing, but a storm just at the moment had dispersed it and left the enemy a clear passage. John, then at Canterbury, first thought to attack the French with his land forces, but fearing that his hired troops would be less loyal to a mere paymaster than to the heir and representative of their suzerain in France, he fell back and left the way open for Louis's advance to London. Soon after landing, Louis sent forward a letter to the Abbot of St. Augustine's in Canterbury, who, he feared, was about to excommunicate him. In this letter which was possibly intended also for general circulation, he repeated the arguments used against the legate with some additional points of the same sort, and explained the hereditary claim of his wife and his own right by the choice of the barons. The document is a peculiar mixture of fact and falsehood, but it was well calculated to impose on persons to whom the minor details of history would certainly be unknown. Rochester castle fell into the hands of the French with no real resistance; and on June 2, Louis was welcomed in London with great rejoicing, and at once received the homage of the barons and of the mayor. Louis's arrival seemed to turn the tide for the moment against the king. He retreated into the west, while the barons took the field once more, and with the French gained many successes in the east and north, particularly against towns and castles. On June 25, Louis occupied Winchester. Barons who had been until now faithful to the king began to come in and join the French as their rapid advance threatened their estates; among them was even John's brother, the Earl of Salisbury. Early in July Worcester was captured and Exeter threatened, and John was forced back to the borders of Wales. This marks, however, the limit of Louis's success. Instead of pushing his advance rapidly forward against the one important enemy, the king himself, he turned aside to undertake some difficult sieges, and made the further mistake of angering the English barons by showing too great favour to his French companions. Dover castle seemed to the military judgment of the French particularly important as "key of England," and for more than three months Louis gave himself up to the effort to take it.

For the first of these months, till the end of August, John remained inactive on the borders of Wales. The death of Innocent III made no change in the situation. His successor Honorius III continued his English policy. With the beginning of September the king advanced as if to raise the siege of Windsor, but gave up the attempt and passed on east into Cambridgeshire, ravaging horribly the lands of his enemies. The barons pursued him, and he fell back on Lincoln from which as a centre he raided the surrounding country for more than a fortnight. On October 9, he marched eastwards again to Lynn which, like most of the towns, was favourable to him, and there he brought on a dysentery by overeating. From that time his physical decline was rapid. His violent passions, utterly unbridled, tore him to pieces more and more fiercely as he recognized his own loss of strength and learned of one misfortune after another. He would not rest, and he would not listen to counsel. On the 11th he went on to Wisbech, and on the next day he insisted on crossing the Wash, without knowing the crossing or regarding the tide. He himself passed in safety, but he lost a part of his troops and all his baggage with his booty, money, and jewels. At night at Swineshead abbey, hot with anger and grief, and feverish from his illness, he gave way to his appetite again, as always, and ate to excess of peaches and new cider. After a rest of a day he pushed on with difficulty to Sleaford. There messengers reached him from his garrison in Dover asking his permission to surrender if he could not relieve them at once, and the news brought on a new passion of anger. He insisted on going one stage further to Newark, although he had already recognized that his end was near. There three days later, on the 19th of October, he died. The teachings of the Church which he had slighted and despised during his life he listened to as his end drew near, and he confessed and received the communion. He designated his son Henry, now nine years old, as his heir, and especially recommended him to the care of the Earl of Pembroke, and appointed thirteen persons by name to settle his affairs and to distribute his property according to general directions which he left. At his desire he was buried in Worcester cathedral and in the habit of a monk.

It has already been suggested that the reigns of Richard and John form a period of transition to a new age. That period closes and the new age opens with the granting of the Great Charter and the attempted revolution which followed. The reign of John was the culmination of a long tendency in English history, most rapid since the accession of his father, towards the establishment of an absolutism in which the rights of all classes would disappear and the arbitrary will of the king be supreme. The story of his reign should reveal how very near that result was of accomplishment. A monarchy had been forming in the last three reigns, and very rapidly in the reign of John, capable of crushing any ordinary opposition, disregarding public opinion and traditional rights, possessing in the new judicial system, if regarded as an organ of the king's will alone, an engine of centralization, punishment, and extortion, of irresistible force, and developing rapidly in financial matters complete independence of all controlling principles. Though the barons were acting rather from personal and selfish motives, freedom for all classes depended on the speedy checking of this steady drift of two generations. The reigns of Richard and John may be called transitional because it is in them that the barons came to see clearly the principles on which successful resistance could be founded and the absolutist tendency checked. The embodiment of these principles in permanent form in the Great Charter to be accepted by the sovereign and enforced in practice, introduces an age, the age of constitutional growth, new in the history of England, and in the form and importance of its results new in the history of the world.


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