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A HISTORY FOR YOUNG ENGLAND."
“The judgments of God are for ever unchangeable: neither is He wearied by the long process of Time, and won to give His blessing in one age to that which HE hath cursed in another.”—WALTER RALEigh.
CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH.
1216–1258. SURRoundED by evil omens, the son of John succeeded to the English throne. The sister of Arthur lived, the phantom of a disturbed succession. The actual power if not the name of King, was held by a foreign prince ; to whom a great part of the English baronage adhered, and who claimed the country in right of his wife, a niece of the dead king. Henry was himself a child, little more than nine years old. And when, on the tenth day after his father's death, he was led to the abbey church of Gloucester to take the oath administered to English kings, his head was encircled, not by the round and top of sovereignty, but by a plain gold fillet hastily prepared to supply its place. The crown lay embedded in the Lincoln marshes, with the other treasures of his father.
But the oath was taken ; the new reign was proclaimed ; the guardianship of the king's minority was entrusted to Earl Marshal the Earl of Pembroke, with the title of Rector Regis et Regni ; full amnesty for the past and lawful liberties for the future were announced throughout the kingdom; and clouds which threatened at the outset began to melt away. “We have persecuted the “father for evil demeanour,” said the moderate and wary Pembroke, ‘and worthily. Yet this young child whom you see before you, as “he is in years tender, so he is innocent of his father's doings. “Wherefore let us appoint him our king and governor, and the yoke “of foreign servitude let us cast from us.” In the spirit of this address, and with the hope of uniting against Louis the chiefs of both parties of opposing barons, he summoned a great council to
* Continued from Vol. iii., p. 472.
meet at Bristol in a fortnight after the accession, on the 12th of November, 1216. It was attended by many leading members of the confederacy against John, and the Great Charter appears to have been discussed at this council, probably for the first time, with nothing of party virulence or personal hostility. Every clause of a temporary nature was struck from it. The Regent, who acted as mediator, suggested a suspension of those clauses in relation to aids and scutages, and forest abuses, which bore the hardest on the ancient claims of the crown; but he expressly limited the suspension to such time as a more ample-consideration could be given to them, by a yet fuller assembly. On the other hand, several manifest improvements in regard to heirships and wardships were introduced; and the council closed with a solemn ratification of the provisions of the Great Charter. The proceedings of this council determined the fate of the French invasion, and settled the succession. The Earl of Salisbury headed a band of popular nobles who left the side of Louis Capet; even William d'Albiney, who had narrowly escaped a halter at the hands of John, joined the standard of his son; and in a battle which was fought within little less than a year in Lincoln streets, and which was in those days quaintly called The Fair of Lincoln, the French, and the barons who still adhered to them, were decisively routed. In September, 1218, Louis bade farewell to England, and the standard of Robert Fitzwalter himself was unfurled for Henry the Third. A second confirmation of the Great Charter signalised the departure of the French. The word of Pembroke had not been given vainly. Could it even have been safely so given, the Regent was wiser than to hesitate, seeing the temper of the time. The suspended clauses, as he had promised, reopened popular counsels, and formed the basis of important additions to the Charter. The subject of dower and alienations occupied many of these ; and to them were added enactments that all men should enjoy equal liberties, that escuage, or scutage, should be levied as in Henry the Second's reign, and that every castle built or rebuilt since the commencement of the civil war should be at once demolished. The clauses relating to forests and warrens were at the same time withdrawn, and formed into a separate instrument, with the name of the ‘Charter of Forests, by which all forests inclosed since the death of Richard the First were ordered to be thrown open; all outlawries for forest offences in the same interval taken away; fine and imprisonment for killing the royal venison substituted in place of torture and death; the violent and unjust forestcourts made subject to regulation and control; illegal tolls abolished; and the right to cultivate and improve their own lands confirmed to the holders of estates within the royal warrens. These statutes passed through many later vicissitudes; but in the state wherein they received confirmation on that memorable 6th of November, 1217, they remain upon our English Statute Book to this day. -They were now also extended to Ireland by the prudent suggestion of Pembroke; and every English sheriff received copies, with command to read them publicly at the county courts, and strictly to enforce their observance. The remaining two years of the regency of Pembroke passed in tive quiet; with such occasional interruption as tended but to show the not unhealthy spirit of inquiry and insubordination now abroad throughout England. Pope Honorius the Third, in right of feudal claim declaring himself Henry's guardian, had commanded legate Gualo to watch over Henry's safety and protect his rights; and in the name of the regent and legate, the young king's mother having somewhat indecently left her son, to fly back to the embraces of her first husband, the government was administered. On the great Earl Marshal's death, Hubert de Burgh the Justiciary succeeded him by a kind of general agreement as regent; but Pandulph had now taken the place of Gualo, and appears to have intrigued to procure for a Poitevin churchman, Peter des Roches, one of John's bishops and favourites, the custody of the person of the king. Hubert (who was a well-intentioned though not a very sagacious man, an unshaken servant of the throne, and of sufficient family pretension to have saved him from the ‘dunghill" epithets of Shakespeare) represented and p. what were called the English interests at the court; eter des Roches (chiefly famous for his extravagant tastes and supple talents), championed foreign favourites, and surrounded the throne with those secret jealousies, and that open profligacy and profusion, which gave its first impression to the ‘waxen heart' of Henry, and had such influence on his reign. The earliest great council to which the name of Parliament appears to have been given, was called together six years after Pembroke's death, under an urgent pressure of necessity. The court was impoverished and wanted money. The barons refused it. The pretence was made of a threatened invasion by France; but still the great tenants of the crown refused. Negotiations were then opened. It appeared that within the last few years the officers of the court had openly disregarded the provisions of the Charters, and laughed at their so-called confirmation; and it was now demanded that a final and solemn ratification should be made of Magna Charta and of Charta de Forestà. This was done. They occupy the first page of the statute book, under the entry of the 9th of Henry III., but are in all respects the same as were ratified in the second year of the reign. Upon this, a subsidy was no longer. withheld. It was yielded in the shape of a fifteenth of all movables; but the money was to be placed in the treasury, and none of it taken out before the king was of age, unless for the defence of the realm, and in the presence of six bishops and six earls. One sees, in this great transaction, the germ of all that was worthiest of a free people in the after-course of English history. The check of popular and parliamentary control is for the first time brought into direct collision with the royal prerogative, and the issue of the unequal conflict determined at once and for ever. But the discovery was made last where it most behoved it to have been earliest made. Within four days of the ratification of the Charter, the commissioners for assessment and collection of the subsidy were at work; and as the only thought seemed to be to get the money, the only care was to spend it when obtained. In the difficult part he had to play, the regent lost favour both with the court and the people. With the aid of the one he had driven des Roches from the government, with that of the other he had put violent restraints upon popular disorder and insubordination; but he had not sufficient help or sympathy from either, after the expiration of the regency in 1227, to retain his office of justiciary for more than five years; though in the days of his fall, when dragged out of sanctuary by some soldiers of the king, it is recorded that an honest blacksmith refused to put fetters on the man “who had fought so well against the French, and who had preserved England from aliens. Alien favouritism had meanwhile succeeded under the championship of Peter des Roches, not without warning of its danger. In the very year of Hubert's disgrace, the great council (or, as I shall hereafter call it, the Parliament) refused an aid to Henry. In vain he pleaded poverty. The Earl of Chester, speaking for the rest, plainly told him that his faithful barons suffered not less than he did, by the same wasteful expenditure. Irritated by refusal, he threw himself more completely into the power of the Poitevin. Upwards of two hundred foreign creatures were brought over into England, and placed in offices of trust. The men of ancient family, now wedded to the land of their fathers as jealously as the Saxon had ever been, saw themselves displaced for the foreign jester, tool, or pander; and they turned—these so-called Norman barons—as even Norman kings in like ways unfriended or deserted had seen it to be their interest to turn, to a PEoPLE now neither Norman nor Saxon, but united inseparably on their English soil. Historians have been very reluctant to admit this element in the Plantagenet government of England; and it is still the custom to treat of this reign of Henry III. as a mere struggle for the predominance of aristocracy or monarchy. But beneath the surface, the other and more momentous power is visible enough. It is that which now heaves and stirs the outward and visible influences of authority. It is that which is to turn what might else have been a paltry struggle for court favour or military power, easily terminable, into that war of principles which ran its course with varying fortune through all later history, awful and irreconcileable. The merchants and tradesmen of the towns are for the first time cognizable in this reign as an independent and important class; enriched by that very intercourse with foreigners which was so hateful to the barons; invested with privileges wrung from the poverty of their lords; no longer liable to individual services, but in place of them paying common rents; with guilds and charters as inviolable as the fees of the great proprietor; and with the right, as little now to be disputed as that of the feudal superior had been, to hold fairs and demand tolls, to choose their own magistrates and enact their own laws. On the hearing of such men as these, the provisions of the Great Charter, read aloud from time to time in their County Courts, could not have fallen as a mere empty sound. It might be but half-enfranchisement thus proclaimed; with still unresisted slavery in the classes directly beneath them, it could be little more than that ; but it pointed to where freedom was, accustomed them to its forms and claims, and helped them onward in the direction where it lay. They knew, now, that it assuredly lay not with Peter des Roches and his associates; and they joined the barons against the foreign favourite. Henry, urged by his necessities, made two attempts in 1233 to