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Reign of Henry III, Part 2

Continuation of the Reign of Henry III. - Further Exactions of the Church of Rome - Affairs of Sicily - Rebellion of Simon de Montfort.
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Henry's bounty and profuse liberality to his foreign relations, his friends and favourites, might have appeared less intolerable to his subjects had anything been done for the honour of the nation. But the crown was so utterly subservient to the see of Rome, that it fell into contempt and well-deserved hatred. The regal vassal appeared to have no will but the Pontiff's, who was not slow to abuse his weakness.

It is true that the king, in 1242, declared war against Louis IX. of France, and undertook an expedition into Guienne at the earnest solicitation of the Count de la Marche, who promised to support him with all his force He was unsuccessful in his attempts against that great monarch, was worsted at Taillebourg, was deserted by his allies, lost what remained to him of Poitou, and was obliged to return, with loss of honour, into England. The Gascon nobility were attached to the English government, because the distance of their sovereign allowed them to remain in a state of almost total independence; and they claimed, some time after, Henry's protection against an invasion which the King of Castile made upon that territory. Henry returned into Guienne, and was more successful in this expedition, but he thereby involved himself and his nobility in an enormous debt, which both increased their discontents and exposed him to greater danger from their enterprises.

Want of economy and an ill-judged liberality were Henry's great defects; and his debts, even before this expedition, had become so troublesome, that he sold all his plate and jewels, in order to discharge them. When this expedient was first proposed to him, he asked where he should find purchasers. It was replied, "The citizens of London." "On my word," said he, "if the treasury of! Augustus were brought to sale, the citizens are able to be the purchasers: these clowns, who assume to themselves the name of barons, abound in everything, while we are reduced to necessaries." And he was thenceforth observed to be more forward and greedy in his exactions upon the citizens.

But the grievances which the English during this reign had reason to complain of in the civil government, seemed to have been still less burthensome than those which they suffered from usurpations and exactions of the court of j Rome. On the death of Langton in 1238, the monks of Christ Church elected Walter de Hemesham, one of their own body, for his successor. But as Henry refused to confirm the election, the Pope, at his desire, annulled it, and immediately appointed Richard, Chancellor of Lincoln, for archbishop, without waiting for a new election. On the death of Richard in 1231, the monks elected Ralph de Neville, Bishop of Chichester; and though Henry was much pleased with the election, the Pope, who thought that prelate too much attached to the crown, assumed the power of annulling his election. He rejected two clergymen more, whom the monks had successively chosen; and he at last told them that if they would elect Edmund, treasurer of the church of Salisbury, he would confirm their choice, and his nomination was complied with. The Pope had the prudence to appoint both times very worthy primates; but men could not forbear observing his intention of thus drawing gradually to himself the right of bestowing that important dignity.

The avarice, however, more than the ambition of the See of Rome seems to have been in this age the ground of general complaint. The papal ministers, finding a vast stock of power amassed by their predecessors, were desirous of turning it to immediate profit, which they enjoyed at home, rather than of enlarging their authority in distant countries, where they never intended to reside. Everything was become venal in the Romish tribunals: simony was openly practised; no favours, and even no justice could be obtained without a bribe; the highest bidder was sure to have the preference, without regard either to the merits of the person or of the cause; and besides the usual perversions of right in the decision of controversies, the Pope openly assumed an absolute and uncontrolled authority of setting aside, by the plenitude of his apostolic power, all particular rule, and all privileges of patrons, churches, and convents. On pretence of remedying these abuses, Pope Honorius, in 1226, complaining of the poverty of Ms see as the source of all grievances, demanded from every cathedral two of the best prebends, and from every convent two monks' portions, to be set apart as a perpetual and settled revenue of the papal crown. But all men being sensible that the revenue would continue for ever, the abuses immediately return, his demand was unanimously rejected. About three years after, the Pope demanded and obtained the tenth of all ecclesiastical revenues, which he levied in a very oppressive manner, requiring payment before the clergy had drawn their rent or tithes, and sending about usurers, who advanced them, the money at exorbitant interest. In the year 1240, Otho, the legate, having in vain attempted the clergy in a body, obtained separately, by intrigues and menaces, large sums from the convents and prelates; and on his departure is said to have carried more money out of the kingdom than he left in it.

This experiment was renewed four years afterwards b$ Martin, the legate, who brought from Rome full powers of suspending and excommunicating all priests who refused compliance with his demands; and the king, who relied on him for support to his tottering authority, never failed to support these exactions.

Meanwhile, all the chief benefices of the kingdom were conferred on Italians. Great numbers of that nation were sent over at one time to be provided for; non-residence and pluralities were carried to an enormous height. Mansel, the king's chaplain, is computed to have held at once 700 ecclesiastical livings; and the abuses became so evident as to be palpable to the blindness of superstition itself. The people, entering into associations, rose against the Italian clergy, pillaged their barns, wasted their lands, insulted the persons of such of them as they found in the kingdom; and when the justices made inquiry into the authors of this disorder, the guilt was found to involve so many, and those of such high rank, that it passed unpunished. At last, when Innocent IV., in 1245, called a general council at Lyons, in order to excommunicate the Emperor Frederic, the king and nobility sent over agents to complain before the council of the rapacity of the Romish Church. They represented, among many other grievances, that the benefices of the Italian clergy in England had been estimated, and were found to amount to 60,000 marks a year - a sum which exceeded the annual revenue of the Crown itself. They obtained only an evasive answer from the Pope; but as mention had been made before the council of the feudal subjection of England to the See of Rome, the English agents, at whose head was Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, exclaimed against the pretension, and insisted that King John had no right, without the consent of his barons, to subject the kingdom to so ignominious a servitude. The Popes, indeed, afraid of carrying matters too far against England, seem thenceforth to have little insisted on that pretension.

This check, received at the council of Lyons, was not able to stop the court of Rome in its rapacity. Innocent exacted the revenues of all vacant benefices; the twentieth of all ecclesiastical revenues without exception; the third of such as exceeded 100 marks a year, and the half of I such as were possessed by non-residents. He claimed the goods of all intestate clergymen; he pretended a title to inherit all money gotten by usury; he levied benevolences upon the people; and when the king, contrary to his usual practice, prohibited these exactions, he threatened to pronounce against him the same censures which he had emitted against the Emperor Frederic.

Bui the most oppressive expedient employed by the Pope was the embarking of Henry in a project for the conquest of Naples, or Sicily on this side the Faro, as it was called - in enterprise which threw much dishonour on the king, and involved him during some years in great trouble and expense. The Romish Church, taking advantage of favourable incidents, had reduced the kingdom of Sicily to the same state of feudal vassalage which she pretended to extend over England, and which, by reason of the distance, as well as high spirit of this latter kingdom, she was not able to maintain. After the death of the Emperor Frederic II., the succession of Sicily devolved on Conrad I., grandson of that monarch, whose natural son, Mainfroy, under pretence of governing the kingdom during the minority of the young prince, had formed the ambitious scheme of obtaining the crown himself.

Pope Innocent, who had carried on violent war against the emperor, and desired nothing more ardently than to deprive him of his Italian dominions, still continued hostilities against his successor. He pretended to dispose of the crown of Italy, not only as its temporal lord, but by right of his office as Christ's vicar; and he tendered it to the Earl of Cornwall, whose immense wealth, he flattered himself, would enable him to carry on the war successfully against Mainfroy.

Henry, tempted by so magnificent an offer, accepted the insidious proposal, without consulting either his brother or the Parliament, and gave the Pontiff unlimited credit to expend whatever money he thought necessary for the subjugation of that kingdom. The consequence was, that he found himself speedily involved in an immense debt, amounting to 135,541 marks.

In this dilemma, unwilling to retreat, the king summoned a Parliament to grant him supplies, but omitted sending writs to the refractory barons; yet even those who attended were so sensible of the audacious cheat, that they refused to take his demands into consideration. In this extremity the clergy were his only resource.

The Pope, to aid him, published a crusade against Mainfroy. He leased a tenth of all the ecclesiastical benefices in England; granted Henry the goods of all churchmen who died intestate, and the revenues of ancient benefices. But these taxations, iniquitous as they undoubtedly were, were deemed less objectionable than another imposition, suggested by the Bishop of Hereford, and which might have opened the door to endless abuses.

This prelate, who resided at the court of Rome by deputation from the English Church, drew bills of different values, but amounting on the whole to 150,540 marks, on all the bishops and abbots of the kingdom; and granted these bills to Italian merchants, who, it was pretended, had advanced money for the service of the war against Mainfroy. As there was no likelihood of the English prelates submitting without compulsion to such an extraordinary demand, Rustand the legate, was charged with the commission of employing authority for that purpose; and he summoned an assembly of the bishops and abbots, whom he acquainted with the pleasure of the Pope and of the king. Great were the surprise and indignation of the assembly: the Bishop of Worchester exclaimed that he would lose his life rather than comply; the Bishop of London said that the Pope and king were more powerful than he, but if his mitre were taken off his head, he would clap on a helmet in its place. The legate was no less violent on the other hand; and lie told the assembly, in plain terms, that all ecclesiastical benefices were the property of the Pope, and he might dispose of them, either in whole or in part, as he saw proper. In the end, the bishops and abbots, being threatened with excommunication, which made all their revenues fall into the king's hands, were obliged to submit to the exaction; and the only mitigation which the legate allowed them was, that the tenths already granted should be accepted as a partial payment of the bills. But the money was still insufficient for the Pope's purpose; the conquest of Sicily was as remote as ever. The demands which came from Rome were endless. Pope Alexander became so urgent a creditor, that he sent over a legate to England, threatening the kingdom with an interdict, and the king with excommunication, if the arrears which he pretended to be due to him were not instantly remitted; and at last Henry, sensible of the cheat, began to think of breaking off the agreement, and of resigning into the Pope's hands that crown which it was not intended by Alexander that he or his family should ever enjoy.

The Earl of Cornwall had now reason to value himself on his foresight in refusing the fraudulent bargain with Rome, and in preferring the solid honours of an opulent and powerful prince of the blood of England, to the empty and precarious glory of a foreign dignity. But he had not always firmness sufficient to adhere to this resolution: his vanity and ambition prevailed at last over his prudence and his avarice; and he was engaged in an enterprise no less extensive and vexatious than that of his brother, and not attended with much greater probability of success. The immense opulence of Richard having made the German princes cast their eye on him as a candidate for the empire, he was tempted to expend vast sums of money on his election; and he succeeded so far as to be chosen King of the Romans, which seemed to render his succession infallible to the imperial throne. He went over to Germany, and carried out of the kingdom no less a sum than 700,000 marks, if we may credit the account given by some ancient authors, which is probably much exaggerated. His money, while it lasted, procured him friends and partisans; but it was soon drained from him by the avidity of the German princes; and having no personal or family connections in that country, and no solid foundation of power, he found at last that he had lavished away the frugality of a whole life in order to procure a splendid title; and that his absence from England, joined to the weakness of his brother's government, gave occasion to the barons once more to revolt, and involved his native country and family in great calamities.

The successful revolt of the nobles in the reign of King John, and their imposing on him and his successors a limit to the royal power, had made them feel their weight and importance in the state. This triumph, followed as it was by a long minority, had weakened as well as impoverished the crown.

In Henry's situation, either great abilities and vigour were necessary to overawe the nobility, or great prudence of conduct to avoid giving them just grounds of complaint. Unfortunately, he possessed neither of these qualities, having neither prudence to choose right measures, nor that constancy of purpose which sometimes ensures success to wrong. He was entirely devoted to his unworthy favourites, who were always foreigners; and upon these he lavished without discretion his diminished resources.

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