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Reign of Henry III, Part 1 page 2


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Such were the ceremonies which graced the marriage of Henry and Eleanor of Provence.

No sooner had the union been celebrated than the indignant father of Joanna of Ponthieu, feeling keenly the insult offered to his child, applied to the Roman Pontiff for his interference, well knowing that it was the only authority before which Henry bowed.

Fortunately for the newly-married pair, the Pope thought fit to take a very different view of his crowned vassal's falsehood. Gregory rejoiced to see him allied to a family which had given, such unequivocal marks of attachment to the holy see. He therefore addressed a bull to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and another to the Prior of Beverley, expressing his approbation of the union, "seeing," as the document ran, "that the proposed marriage of the king and Joanna being within the fourth degree of consanguinity, the king could not, without injury to his fame and peril to his soul, be permitted to contract it."

The king found a party far more difficult to manage than the holy see in his barons; for having summoned a parliament to assemble at the Tower, they unanimously refused to attend, alleging as a reason that, surrounded as the king was with foreign and inimical counsellors, they could not with safety trust themselves in so strong and well- garrisoned a fortress.

This excuse marks not only the great unpopularity of Henry, but the utter contempt into which his character for good faith had fallen. It was in vain that he alternately threatened and remonstrated - the barons continued firm; and prudence prevailing over his self-will, he was obliged to yield the point, and, returning to his palace at Westminster, hold the parliament there.

Never did the Church of Rome proceed with so little prudence, show such an utter disregard of everything like Justice, as during the reign of the obsequious Henry. The Pontiff, not content with the enormous sums of money which, under various pretences, he had drained from the kingdom, had the modesty to demand that 300 Italians should be preferred to English benefices, In vain did the primate, Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury, protest against the iniquitous measure; his patriotism called forth the resentment both of the king and the Pope. Wearied with the contest, he retired at last, a voluntary exile, to Pontemac, where he died.

Never was a system calculated to alienate the affections of a people from the Church more perseveringly pursued than by the court of Rome; it was that of the leech draining the life-blood of the nation on which it had fastened. Men began to question an infallibility which manifested itself only in acts of injustice and oppression. In the universal condemnation of the grasping policy of the Pontiff, the seeds were sown which slowly but steadily ripened in the hearts of all who possessed the least sense of dignity and national independence.

Little, however, did Henry heed the growing disaffection of his subjects, exulting in the protection of the holy see, which found in him a vassal worthy of her pretensions. He fasted both during Lent and on every Saturday throughout the year, and feasted right royally both at Easter and Christmas; keeping the festival of St. Edward most religiously, passing the whole night in the church, clothed in white.

But these observances could neither fill his exhausted exchequer nor conciliate the goodwill of the nation. The people murmured, the nobles were loud in their complaints; but Henry pertinaciously adhered to his foreign counsellors, and invited over many of the queen's relations, on whom he conferred both estates and benefices. In 1243, we find in the "Foedera" a charter respecting Eleanor's dower, from which it appears that the appropriated dower of the Queens of England was not even at this period assigned her. In this she is assigned the town and castle of Gloucester, the cities of Worcester and Bath, the manors of Clyne and Chiltham; and instead of the manors assigned by the first charter, the whole county of Chester, together with New-castle-under-Lyme, is granted.

This year Eleanor's mother visited England, for the purpose of bringing Senchia, her third daughter, who was affianced to the king's brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

The marriage was celebrated with much splendour; the king directing that the whole way from London Bridge to Westminster should be hung with tapestry and other ornaments. This seems to prove that comparatively little vacant space could have extended between London and Westminster.

On this occasion Henry confirmed to his brother the county of Cornwall, together with the honours of Walling-ford and Eye. He also made splendid presents to the bride and her mother; and bestowed on Peter of Savoy, the queen's maternal uncle, the honour of the Eagle, and the titles and estates of the Earl of Richmond, and on his brother the archbishopric of Canterbury.

But while Henry thus lavished gifts on his queen's relations, he duly, according to orthodox practice, mulcted the unfortunate Jews. During the same year writs were forwarded to the sheriffs of each county, directing them to return before Henry at Worcester, upon Quinquagesima Sunday, the names of six of the richest Jews from each large town, and two from every small one, "to treat with him for their mutual benefit."

What a mockery and scorn for the once chosen people of the earth!

This assembly, which has been called the Jews' parliament, - on discovered that the monarch's care for his own benefit absorbed all consideration for theirs. He informed them that they must raise him no less a sum than 20,000 marks, not less than 200,000 at the present value of money.

When the Jews expressed their astonishment at the enormous amount demanded, all liberty of remonstrance or discussion was denied them; they were told to return to their homes again, and have one-half of the sum required ready by Midsummer, and the remaining half by Michaelmas.

The account of this iniquitous act of oppression is taken from Dr. Tovey's "Judaica Anglia," and is but one of many instances of the cruel rapacity exercised on this unfortunate race.

As, during the same year, Raymond, the queen's father, received a gratification of 4,000 marks, there is little doubt but a portion of the spoil obtained so dishonestly enabled the king to gratify the avarice of his father-in-law.

In his oppression of the Jews Henry resembled his father. On two occasions during his reign the absurd charge of crucifying a Christian child was brought against them; and so strongly were the superstitious feelings of the nation excited, that many of the richest Israelites fled, when, as a matter of course, the king seized all their property. In Lincoln eighty of the wealthiest Jews were hanged, and sixty-three sent prisoners to the Tower, to undergo a similar fate.

Several appear to have been marked out for particular spoliation. Aaron of York, whom Scott doubtless had in view when he wrote "Ivanhoe," declared to Matthew Paris that no less than 30,000 marks had been extorted from him in seven years, besides a gift of 200 to the queen.

Towards London the hostility of Henry was strongly marked, and on various "right royal" pretexts he grievously mulcted the citizens; while his cruel execution of Constantine Fitz-Arnulph, whose only crime seems to have been opposition to the overbearing conduct of the Abbot of Westminster, encouraged an equal hostility in the hearts of the citizens; and from henceforward they determinedly took their place in the ranks of the king's enemies.

The whole account may be seen in Stow; and when we read that this unfortunate citizen offered 15,000 marks for his life, we have strong proof of Henry's hatred to London, which could urge so mercenary and so needy a monarch to reject such a ransom.

Ere long, the citizens obtained a marked triumph. The king, reduced almost to beggary by the swarms of foreign adventurers who grew rich upon his bounty, was compelled to pledge the crown jewels. In vain did he offer them to wealthy noble, or rich Italian merchant; none could buy: it was the citizens of London who paid down the stipulated sum; and Henry saw the crown jewels pass into the hands of these, the most detested of his subjects.

Matthew Paris has left us a singular account of a ceremony which took place in 1247, when Henry received from the patriarch of Jerusalem a relic which he accepted with unquestioned faith. The gift consisted of a portion of the blood of Christ. On its arrival, the king commanded all the clergy of London and Westminster to attend with crosses, banners, and tapers at St. Paul's, where he himself repaired, and taking from the treasury the crystal vase which contained the supposed treasure, "with all honour, reverence, and fear, bore it upon its stand, walking on foot, in mean attire - that is to say, in a cloak made of coarse cloth, without a hood - to the church of Westminster.

"The pious monarch," continues the chronicler, "did not cease to carry it in both hands, through all the rugged and miry way, keeping his eyes constantly fixed upon it, or elevating it devoutly towards heaven." The scene was worthy of the actor and the superstitious credulity of the age in which it occurred.

Henry, however, had a canopy held over him, supported by four lances; and an attendant on either hand, guiding him by the arms, lest he should stumble. When he arrived at Westminster, he was met by the whole convent at the church door; but not even then did the king relinquish his precious burden: he went round the church, the chapels, and the adjoining court, and at length presented the vase and its contents "to God and the church of St. Peter." Mass was then sung; and the Bishop of Norwich, ascending the pulpit, delivered a sermon to the people, extolling the value of the relic, lauding the great devotion of the king, and anathematising all those who hinted doubts of its reality - a forcible proof that, even at this early day, our forefathers did not believe all that was told them. This memorable day was closed by the king's feasting sumptuously, and conferring knighthood on his half-brother, William de Valence; and the well-pleased monk of St. Albans, who was present, records the gratifying circumstance that Henry, seeing him, called him, and prayed him "expressly and fully to record all these things in a well-written book." Nor did this instance of royal condescension fail of its intended effect: the whole account is written in a strain of courtesy which contrasts curiously enough with the plain speaking of the rest of the volume; and these two pages stand out from the rest of the text like a laureate's birthday ode.

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