Accession of Henry III page 2
No one was more infamous for these violent and illegal practices than the Earl of Albemarle; who, though he had early returned to his duty, and had been serviceable in expelling the French, augmented to the utmost the general disorder, and committed outrages in all the counties of the north. In order to reduce him to obedience, Hubert seized an opportunity of getting possession of Rockingham Castle, which Albemarle had garrisoned with his licentious retinue; but this nobleman, instead of submitting, entered into a secret confederacy with Fawkes de Briante, Peter de Mouleon, and other barons; fortified the castle of Beham for his defence, and made himself master of that of Fotheringay. Pandulph, who had been re-appointed legate, showed great activity in the suppression of this rebellion. With the consent of eleven bishops, he pronounced sentence of excommunication against Albemarle and his adherents; an army was levied; a scutage of ten shillings - a knight's fee - was imposed on all the military tenants.
Albemarle's adherents, terrified by the vigour of these proceedings, gradually deserted him, and he himself was reduced to sue for mercy. Such was his influence, and the unsettled state of the nation, that he not only received a free pardon, but was restored to his whole estate.
This lenity, which was highly impolitic, was most probably owing to some secret combination amongst the turbulent barons, who could not endure to see the total ruin of one of their own order. It had the bad effect of encouraging Fawkes de Briante - one of John's unworthy favourites, who had risen from an obscure estate - to persevere in the course of violence and rapine to which he owed his fortune, and set at defiance the laws of the realm.
When thirty-five verdicts had been found against him for forcibly depriving the same number of freeholders of their estates, he came into the court-house accompanied by an armed force, seized the person of the judge who had presided, and imprisoned him in Bedford Castle, to the great scandal of the nation. He next levied open war against the crown; but being defeated and taken prisoner, his lands were confiscated, and he himself banished the kingdom.
If justice was thus blind or powerless where the culprits were noble, great severity was exercised upon the humbler classes. A riot occurred at a wrestling-match between the citizens of London and the inhabitants of Westminster, in which the former destroyed several houses belonging to the abbot of the last-named place. Probably it might have passed unnoticed but for certain symptoms which the citizens displayed towards the French, making use of the French war-cry, "Montjoy! Montjoy, and God help us and our lord Louis!" This was the real offence for which they were punished. The justiciary made inquiry into the transaction, and proceeded against one Constantine Fitz-Arnulf, one of the ringleaders, and by martial law ordered him to be hanged without any other form of trial. He also cut off the feet of some of his accomplices.
This act of cruelty, which tarnished the fair fame of Hubert, was also an infringement of the Great Charter; yet the same justiciary, in a parliament which was held at Oxford, granted a confirmation of the charter in the king's name.
The state of weakness into which the crown had fallen made it imperative for the ministers to use every exertion for the preservation of what remained of the royal prerogative, as well as to ensure the public liberties. Hubert applied to the Pope, the lord paramount of England, to issue a bull by which Henry was declared of age and entitled to govern. It was granted, and the justiciary resigned into the hands of the youthful sovereign the important fortresses of the Tower of London and Dover Castle, which had been, committed to his custody, and at the same time called upon those barons who held similar trusts to imitate his example.
The nobles refused compliance; and the Earls of Chester and Albemarle, John de Lacy, Brian de L'Isle, and William de Cautel even entered into a conspiracy to surprise London, and assembled in arms at Waltham with that intention; but finding the king prepared to meet them, they at last desisted from their intention.
When summoned to appear at court to answer for their conduct, the rebels appeared, and not only confessed their design, but told Henry that, though they had no bad intentions against his person, they were determined to remove the justiciary, Hubert de Burgh, from his office.
A second time they met in arms at Leicester with the same intention; but the primate and bishops, finding everything tending towards civil war, interposed their authority, and menaced them with excommunication if they persisted in detaining the king's castles. This threat prevailed, and most of the fortresses were surrendered.
The barons complained bitterly that the justiciary's castle was soon afterwards restored to him, whilst theirs were retained.
There were 1,115 of these strongholds, according to Hume, at that time in the kingdom.
This is one of the instances in which the influence of the clergy was exerted for the service of the nation. It is true that many of the prelates were little better than the feudal barons; that great corruptions had crept into the Church; that the assumption by the papacy of the suzerainty of England was against all law and common sense. Still, the great sway they held over the people kept the community from falling back into a state of anarchy and confusion. It threw authority into the hands of men who, by their profession, were adverse to arms and deeds of violence, and who still maintained, amid civil war and the shock of arms, those secret links without which it is impossible for human society to exist.
Notwithstanding the disturbed state of his kingdom, Henry found himself obliged to carry on war against France, and for this purpose employed the subsidy of a fifteenth which had been granted him by parliament.
His former rival, now king of that country under the title of Louis VIII., instead of complying with Henry's claim for Normandy, which he had promised to restore, entered Poitou, took Rochelle, after an obstinate siege, and seemed determined to expel the English from such provinces as remained to them in France.
The king sent over his uncle, the Earl of Salisbury, and his brother, Prince Richard, whom he had created Earl of Cornwall. They succeeded in arresting the progress of Louis, and retained the Poitevin and Gascon vassals in their allegiance, but no great action was fought on either side.
The Earl of Cornwall, after remaining two years in Guienne, returned to England.
This prince was nowise turbulent or factious in his disposition: his ruling passion was to amass money, in which he succeeded so well as to become the richest subject in Christendom; yet his attention to gain threw him sometimes into acts of violence, and gave great disturbance to the government. There was a manor, which had formerly belonged to the earldom of Cornwall, but had been granted to Waleran de Ties before Richard had been invested with that dignity, and while the earldom remained in the crown. Richard claimed this manor, and expelled the proprietor by force; Waleran complained. The king ordered his brother to do justice to the man, and restore him to his rights; the earl said that he would not submit to these orders till the cause should be decided against him by the judgment of his peers. Henry replied that it was first necessary to reinstate Waleran in possession before the cause could be tried, and reiterated his orders to the earl. We may judge of the state of the government, when this affair had nearly produced a civil war. The Earl of Cornwall, finding Henry peremptory in his commands, associated himself with the young Earl of Pembroke, who had married his sister, and who was displease I on account of the king's requiring him to deliver up some royal castles which were in his custody. These two malcontents took into the confederacy the Earls of Chester, Warrenne, Gloucester, Hereford, Warwick, and Ferrers, who were all disgusted on a like account. They assembled an army, which the king had not the power or courage to resist; and he was obliged to give his brother satisfaction by grants of much greater importance than the manor, which had been the first ground of the quarrel.
The character of the king, as he grew to man's estate, because every day better known, and he was found in every respect unqualified for maintaining a proper sway among those turbulent barons whom the feudal constitution subjected to his authority. Gentle, humane, and merciful even to a fault, he seems to have been steady in no other circumstance of his character, but to have received every impression from those who surrounded him, and whom he loved, for the time, with the most imprudent and most unreserved affection. Without activity or vigour, he was unfit to conduct war; without policy or art, he was ill fitted to maintain peace; his resentments, though hasty and violent, were not dreaded, while he was found to drop them with such facility; his friendships were little valued, because they were neither derived from choice nor maintained with constancy. A proper pageant of state in a regular monarchy, where his ministers could have conducted all affairs in his name and by his authority; but too feeble in those disorderly times to sway a sceptre, whose weight depended entirely on the firmness of the hand which held it. The ablest and most virtuous monitor that ever Henry possessed was Hubert de Burgh, a man who had been faithful to the crown in the most difficult and dangerous times, and yet showed no desire, even when at the height of power, to enslave or oppress the people.
The only exceptionable part of his conduct is that mentioned by Matthew Paris - of the credibility of which, however, grave doubts may be urged - namely, that it was by his advice the forest charter was annulled - a concession so wise in itself, and so passionately desired both "by the nobility and people.
Hubert's share in this unpopular act is most unlikely, both from his character and the circumstances of the times; and there is every reason to doubt its reality, especially as it is asserted by no other historian. This great man, while he enjoyed his authority, had an entire ascendancy over Henry, and was loaded with honours and favours beyond any other subject. Besides acquiring the property of many castles and manors, he married the eldest sister of the King of Scots, was created Earl of Kent, and, by an unusual concession, was made chief justiciary of England for life; yet Henry, in a sudden caprice, threw off this faithful minister, and exposed him to the violent persecutions of his enemies. Among other frivolous crimes objected to him, he was accused of gaining the king's affections by enchantment, and of purloining from the royal treasury a gem, which had the virtue to render the wearer invulnerable, and of sending this valuable curiosity to the Prince of Wales. The nobility, who hated Hubert on account of his zeal in resuming the rights and possessions of the crown, no sooner saw the opportunity favourable, than they inflamed the king's animosity against him, and pushed him to seek the total ruin of his minister. Hubert took sanctuary in a church ; the king ordered him to be dragged from thence. He recalled those orders; he afterwards renewed them. He was obliged by the clergy to restore him to the sanctuary. He constrained him soon after to surrender himself prisoner, and he confined him in the castle of Devizes. Hubert made his escape, was expelled the kingdom, was again received into favour, recovered a great share of the king's confidence, but never showed any inclination to reinstate himself in power and authority.
The man who succeeded him in the government of the kingdom and the favour of the king was Peter, Bishop of Winchester, a Poitevin by birth - a prelate who had been greatly favoured by John, and was no less distinguished by his arbitrary principles than by his great courage and abilities. He had been nominated justiciary and regent of England by King John, during an expedition which that monarch made into France ; and there is little doubt that his illegal and oppressive administration was one of the causes of that combination amongst the barons which finally extorted from the crown the Magna Charta, and laid the foundation of the English constitution.
Henry, though incapable, from the weakness of his character, of pursuing the same violent course as his father had done, inherited all his arbitrary principles, and, by the advice of his new minister,, invited over to England a great number of Poitevins and other foreigners, upon whom he conferred offices of considerable trust, as a means of counterbalancing the power .of his nobility. Every post was confided to these strangers, who exhausted the revenues of the crown and invaded the rights of the people, till their insolence, which was even more offensive than their power, drew on them the hatred and envy of all classes of men throughout the kingdom.
In this crisis, the barons acted in a manner worthy of the descendants of those who had wrung the charter of English freedom from the hands of the tyrant John. Their first act of open opposition to this odious ministry was to withdraw in a body from parliament, under pretence that they were exposed to danger from the machinations of these foreigners.
When again summoned to attend, they demanded that the king should dismiss them, otherwise, they boldly declared, they would drive both him and them out of the kingdom, and place the crown upon the head of one more worthy to wear it. And when at last they did make their appearance in parliament, it was so well attended, that they seemed in a condition to prescribe laws both to the king and minister.
Peter des Roches had, however, in the meantime found means of sowing dissension amongst them, and found means of bringing over to his party the Earls of Cornwall, Lincoln, and Chester. The patriot barons were disconcerted in their measures. Doubt crept in amongst them; they no longer, acted in unity.
Richard, the earl marshal, who had succeeded to that dignity on the death of his brother William, was chased into Wales, from whence he withdrew to Ireland, where he was barbarously murdered by the contrivance of the Bishop of Winchester. The estates of the more obnoxious barons were confiscated without any legal sentence or trial by the peers, and bestowed with profuse liberality upon the Poitevins.
Peter had even the insolence to say that the barons of England must not presume to put themselves on an equality with the barons of France, or assume the same liberties and privileges, the king of the former country having a more absolute power than the latter.
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