Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

that this family of Provence might surely spare, to herself and her Poitevins, some share of the treasures and offices of her son's wealthy court. Wherefore, over came Alice her daughter, her son Guy of Lusignan, another William of Valence, her beloved Aymar, and her whole second family. And with them came foreign artists for the royal kitchens, the queen’s favourité cook being brother to the Papal Legate. And there were King's men and Queen's men, each devouring the other ; palmerworm eaten by locust, locust by cankerworm, and cankerworm by caterpillar. And whether Poitevin, Provençal, or Savoyard, should seize the highest place or flaunt the gayest colours, was the only reasonable doubt that could occur to the discomfited Englishman.

And then there fell suddenly on all this gaiety and glory the grim shadow of a Parliament. In 1242, to Henry's importunate demand for separate aids from the clergy (already overtaxed by hideous exactions from the Court of Rome) and the laity, a stern refusal was accompanied by a declaration that in future no supply could be granted but by the whole body of the kingdom. Certain grievances having then been removed, the money granted was placed in one of the king's castles, under the care of four barons in the confidence of parliament, in trust for its proper expenditure. In 1244 another piteous parliamentary appeal was made. But as the last previous grant, obtained like all the rest on solemn promise that the Great Charter should be sacred, had been followed by special and gross violations of its safeguards, this parliament took a tone more bitter and refractory than its predecessors.

It taxed the prince with the grossest extravagance ; detailed his successive breaches of the Charters ; told him it would not trust him further, and that it should take into its own hands the appointment of the chief justiciary, the chancellor, and great officers. The plan, as it was afterwards detailed, seems to have been: that four of the barons should be declared conservators of the liberties of the nation, two of whom should always attend the king, to watch over the administration of justice and regulate the public expenditure ; that these should be appointed by parliament and be removed only by common consent ; that parliament should have absolute election of the justiciary and the chancellor ; and that two justices of the bench and two ons the exchequer should be nominated by the same body, and hold their offices independent of

Henry seems for a little while to have roused himself at this point;

the crown.

NO. XX.- VOL. IV.

N

to have seen at last, through the thoughtless fumes of idleness and parade which commonly surrounded him, that the prerogatives of the crown were seriously menaced; and to have thought it possible to avert the danger by trial of (what was really foreign to his nature) a direct and sharp tyramy. le declared that parliament and himself henceforwarii were enemies. lle stretched every available prerogative, in detiance of every charter. The subject was tortured on all the ancient racks of fine, benevolence, purveyance, and other indefinite sources of plunder and exaction.

The Jews, by inconceivable oppression, were turned into revenue. Nay, họ canvassed for even private aids on specious pretexts, from town to town, and from cistle to castle, till the bre-word was common against him that the kingdom held no such sturdy begyar as the king,

But the inevitable issue awaited him. In 1218 he was obliged to meet his barons and knights in parliament once more; and the old chronicler recounts, with evident unction, the bitter upbraidings to which he was compelled to listen. lle was told that he ought to blush to ask ail from a people whom he had shunned for the society of aliens ; he was reproached with disparaging English blood by foreign intermarriages; he was reminded, in reference to late atrocities of purveyance, that the wine and food consumed, the very clothes worn, hy himself and his un-English household, had been forcibly taken, without compensation, from the English people ; that foreiyn merchants now knew that property was no longer sacred in England, and therefore shunned her ports as though pirates held her in possession ; nay (such the minutize to which they descended), that the poor fishermen of the coast were forced to flee for a market to the other side of the channel, in avoidance of the hungry thieves who purveyed for royalty. The king reiterated, in answer, his old, penitent, and often broken promises. Determined to have additional security, the barons demanded an oath. The oath was given ; and, of course, broken.

In 1251 de Montfort and IIenry met in the royal palace. The Earl was known to have been in correspondence with the popular nobles, and to have advised them from his government of Guienne through the course of their opposition to the king.

He now sought personal audience of Henry to repel certain gross charges of tyranny and extortion invented to discredit bin in England. Ile appealed to IIenry's own knowledge of their falsehood, of the character of his own services, and of their inadequate rewards.

- Let

your words be made good, my lord king,' said de Montfort ; " keep your covenant with me, and replace those expenses

I have "borne for you to the notorious beggary of my own earldom.' The king, seeing his brother Richard pass over in the council to de Montfort's side; seeing Gloucester, Hereford, and the greatest nobles prepared to champion him ; broke into violent passion, and let fall the epithet of false traitor.'. Upon this, it is said, the impetuous earl threw the lic in Henry's teeth. • You are a king,' he added,

Who believes that you are a Christian ? Of what use, indeod, us would be Christian confession to you, without repentance and " atonement ? But were you not a king, you should atone and

repent that insult to my name.' 'I shall never repent of anything so much,' retorted Henry, 'as that I allowed you to grow 6 and fatten within my dominions.' And so the council broke

up, and this strange scene ended. De Montfort returned to Guienne, and opposed Prince Edward's government; but was again in England, when the dark necessity of a parliament presented itself to Henry again.

I do not advert to those incidents which have chiefly occupied the histories of this reign, but which seem of trifling import to what has been dwelt on here. The miserable wars in France and Gascony, the disputes and bickerings with Scotland and with Wales, the negotiations for the crown of Sicily accepted by Henry for his younger son Edmund, after Richard had refused it to become king of the Romans); these things have no veritable interest or conceivable importance for us. But many causes arising out of them, increased the troubles of the king; and it was with despondent humility and submission he met de Montfort and the parliament on the 3rd of May 1253.

At the suggestion of their great leader, the barons had resolved to surround this new pledge and promise of the king with such circumstance of solemnity and dread, as would give a new and more striking character to its certain subsequent violation. In the great hall of Westminster, the prelates assembled with the barons and the king. The Great Charters were unrolled and read ; and the awful curse was pronounced by the archbishop, which excommunicated, • anathematised, and cut off from the threshold of holy church, all "who should by art or device, in any manner, secretly or openly,

violate, diminish, or change, by word or writing, by deed or · advice, either the liberties of the church, or the liberties and • free customs contained in the Great Charter or the Charter of

[ocr errors]

• Forests. Rymer, in describing this scene, adds that the original charter of King John was afterwarıls produced, and that in testimony to posterity of this dread confirmation of it, the king, the prelates, and the barons impressed their seals. It is certain that while the sentence was read by the archbishop, the king held his hand upon his heart in token of earnest assent; and that when at the close the prelates and abbots, dashing their lighted tapers on the ground, exclaimed, as the flames went out in smoke and ashes, . So may the soul of every one who incurs this sentence stink and be extinguished in hell !’the king made answer aloud : So help me, God, as I shall observe and keep all these things! *as I am a Christian man; as I am a knight ; as I am a king, • anointed and crowned!'

It would seem incredible that one short year should have witnessed the outrage of these sacred oaths, but that it rests on authority which cannot be disputed. Soon after the ceremony, with the money obtained by consenting to it, the king went over into Gascony, recovered those parts of the province that had fallen into the har: Is of the Spaniards, and concluded a treaty of peace with the king of Castile. Keeping the treaty secret, however, he sent over into England for new subsidies, as though continued necessities of the war demanded them. At the same time he petitioned the clergy for an aid, on pretence of a new crusade. The Queen, associated with his brother Richard, was Regent in his absence ; and a letter written to her husband now exists in the Tower, containing singular confirmation of the course of events above detailed, of the jealous watchfulness abroad in every class, and of the rapid advance of the crisis which de Montfort was to turn to that memorable use of which we feel the blessings to this hour. It is plain from this letter that the king's word was believed by none. It is plain that the subsidies would not be given. It has not been concealed from the greatest ones of the court that the renewed violation of the Great Charter will exact retribution and punishıment. Thus runs the most remarkable passage of this epistle of Eleanor to Henry, as published from the original Latin manuscript now lying in the Tower :

• The archbishops and bishops answered us that if the King of Castile should come against you in Gascony cach of them would

assist you from his own property, so that you would be under perpetual obligations to them ; but with regard to granting you an aid from their clergy, they could do nothing without the assent

[ocr errors]

6

of the said clergy ; nor do they believe that the clergy can be ' induced to give you any help, unless the tenth of clerical goods

granted to you for the first year of the crusade, which should begin in the present year, might be relaxed at once by your • letters patent, and the collection of the said tenth for the 6 said crusade, for the two following years, might be put in

respite up to the term of two years before your passage to the Holy Land ; and they will give diligence and treat with the clergy submitted to them, to induce them to assist you according to that form with a tenth of their benefices, in case the King of Castile should attack you in Gascony ; but at the departure of " the bearer of these presents no subsidy had as yet been granted by the aforesaid clergy. Moreover, as we have elsewhere signified to you, if the King of Castile should come against you in Gascony, all the earls and barons of your kingdom, who are able 'to cross the sea, will come to you in Gascony, with all their power ; but from the oth

laymen who do not sail over to you we do not think that we can obtain any help for your use, unless you write to your lieutenants in England firmly to maintain your great charters of liberties, and to let this be distinctly perceived by your letters to each sheriff of your kingdom, and publicly proclaimed through each county of the said kingdom ;

since, by this means, they would be more strongly animated *cheerfully to grant you aid; for many persons complain that the ' aforesaid charters are not kept by your sheriffs and other bailiffs as they ought to be kept.

Yet it has been said, by learned and candid historians, that the praise of good intention and strict religious observance must not be denied to Henry the Third. It is a somewhat dangerous mode of defending such a character. A man can hardly be said to have religious impressions, who took every impression submitted to him and retained not one. His waxen heart, cor cereum, was the phrase applied to him in his own age. And when, some few years later, the poet Dante (how the great men cluster in these days of opening Freedom ! Roger Bacon was now amazing the monks in his Oxford cell) put him into purgatory, it was in the character of a simpleton. You find him there, among children ; punished by nothing heavier than darkness and solitude ; as one who has been useless in life. Yet was this incapable and irresolute prince very far from useless. Under a man more resolute and capable, Freedom must have made less rapid strides. We are, in this as in all else,

6

« AnteriorContinuar »