Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

prehension of the swineherd's signals, ignorance of his own duty, or malice prepense, only drove them hither and thither, and increased the evil which he seemed designed to remedy. 'A devil draw the teeth of him,' said Gurth, and the mother of mischief confound the ranger of the forest that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs, and makes them unfit for their trade! Wamba, up and help me, an thou beest a man; take a turn round the back o'the hill, to gain the wind on them; and when thou'st got the weather gage, thou mayst drive them befcre thee as gently as so many innocent lambs.'

"Truly,' said Wamba, without stirring from the spot, I have consulted my legs upon this matter, and they are altogether of opinion, that to carry my gay garments through these sloughs would be an act of unfriendship to my sovereign person and royal wardrobe ; wherefore Gurth I advise thee to call off Fangs, and leave the herd to their destiny, which, whether they meet with bands of travelling soldiers, or of outlaws, or of wandering pilgrims, can be little else than to be converted into Normans before morning, to thy no small ease and comfort.

“ . The swine turned Normans, to my comfort!' quoth Gurth, 'expound that to me, Wamba, for my brain is too dull and my mind too vexed to read riddles.'

"Why, how call you these grunting brutes running about on their four legs? ' demanded Wamba.

""Swine, fool, swine,' said the herd, 'every fool knows that.'

“ “And swine is good Saxon,' said the jester; ‘but how call you the sow when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels like a traitor?'

" *Pork,' answered the swineherd.

““I am very glad every fool knows that too,' said Wamba ; and pork I think is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives and is in the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the castle hall to feast among the nobles; what dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha ? '

"It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into thy fool's pate.'

“ 'Nay, I can tell you more,' said Wamba in the same tone; "there is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet while he is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner; he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name when he becomes matter of enjoyment.

“ • By St. Dunstan,' said Gurth, thou speakest but sad truths ; little else is left to us but the air we breathe, and that appears to have been reserved with much hesitation, solely for the purpose of enabling us to endure the tasks they lay upon our shoulders. The finest and the fattest is for their board; the loveliest is

for their couch; the best and bravest supply their foreign masters with soldiers, and whiten distant lands with their bones, leaving few here who have either will or the power to protect the unfortunate Saxon.

“ "Gurth,' said the jester, “I know thou thinkest me a fool, or thou wouldst not be so rash in putting thy head into my mouth. One word to Reginald Front de Beuf, or Philip de Malvoisin, that thou hast spoken treason against the Nor. man, and thou art but a castaway swineherd; thou wouldst waver on one of these trees as a terror to all evil speakers against dignities.'

“Dog, thou wouldst not betray me,' said Gurth, after having led me on to speak so much at disadvantage ?'

"Betray thee !? answered the jester; ‘no, that were the trick of a wise man; a fool cannot half so well help himself,' &c., &c.—Ivanhoe.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

CHAPTER IV.

THE GIVING OF MAGNA CHARTA.

STATE OF THE KINGDOM AT THE ACCESSION OF JOHN-EARLY ACTS OF HIS REIGN

-MURDER OF PRINCE ARTHUR-REFUSAL OF THE BARONS TO FOLLOW JOHN

INTO FRANCE-HIS SEIZURE OF THE TEMPORALITIES OF CANTERBURY-AP

POINTMENT OF LANGTON TO THE ARCHBISHOPRIC-ENGLAND UNDER INTER
DICT- THE KINGDOM GIVEN BY THE POPE TO PHILIP OF FRANCE-THE INTER-
DICT REMOVED-JOHN'S OATH BEFORE RECEIVING ABSOLUTION-DISCOVERY

[blocks in formation]

MAINTAIN IT, AND DEMAND THAT JOHN SHALL RATIFY IT-THEY RAISE AN
ARMY-LONDON DECLARES FOR THE BARONS—THE MEETING AT RUNNYMEDE
-THE CHARTER GRANTED ITS CHARACTER AND PROVISIONS-RECOGNITION

OF THE RIGHT OF REBELLION-HUME AND HALLAM ON THE CHARTER.

Ar the accession of King John the power of Parliament as a legislative body was distinctly recognized, but it is doubtful whether any clear idea of the vast importance of the privilege of parliamentary legislation had been formed. During the various disturbances which had ensued upon the seizure of the crown by princes who had no legitimate title to it, the barons had been taught their power in the disposition of a vacant throne. Their power to check a crowned king they had not yet learned. Again, the insecurity of these usurping princes had from time to time induced them to give charters promising to rule their people by the good laws of the Saxon kings. But of the purport of these laws the people were profoundly ignorant. Contrasted with the violence of Norman rule, the days of equitable Saxon government were remembered in the popular traditions as the golden age, and these charters of the kings were gratifying to a general desire, however vague, for fixed and fundamental laws. But they were never clearly understood. The Norman barons knew, as yet, no government but that of feudalism; the Saxon people had been crushed till they had lost the recoliection of their ancient liberties; and neither had yet learned their power to force a sovereign to respect his subjects' rights. Hence the successive charters were neglected equally by prince and people, and soon passed into oblivion. In the reign of John, only one copy of the charter given by Henry I. was to be found in the whole kingdom, though a copy had been sent to every shire and diocese throughout the land! It needed such a reign as that of John to rouse the people to activity. Had he possessed the strong will, the sagacious forecast, and the iron nerve of the Conqueror, the history of England might have been like that of France; but his unequalled course of murder, meanness, falsehood, perjury, licentiousness, extortion, and oppression roused both lords and commons to a sense of the necessity of a fixed constitution which should bind both prince and people; his pusillanimous weakness was a tower of strength to the great confederacy which was formed to vindicate their liberties; and the sound wisdom and discretion of the patriot archbishop, Stephen Langton, guided them in their endeavors, till the fundamental law of England, which has never to this day been changed but by the development of its inestimable principles, was laid down in the instrument called Magna CHARTA.

The early acts of John's reign were but little likely to inspire the people with respect for royalty. He was not the true heir to the throne; for though his elder brother Geoffrey was dead, Arthur the son of Geoffrey still lived, and was, in right, the king of England. Not content, however, with supplanting Arthur, John, having defeated his adherents and gained possession of his person, murdered him in prison. This foul assassination of a child whose early qualities gave promise of a noble manhood, inspired the barons with resentment and disgust. Philip of France, availing himself of the occasion furnished by the crime of John and the alienation of his subjects, marched upon, and took possession of the Norman duchy; and when John summoned the English barons to accompany his standard in an expedition for the recovery of his lost province, they indignantly refused to follow him. Thenceforward he applied himself to the oppression of his English subjects. The limits of our space forbid us to relate the story of his tyranny. Unlimited licentiousness, rapacity, and prodigality, and a succession of arbitrary fines, imprisonments, and taxes, are the chief points of the tale. At length his insolent extortion brought him into conflict with the only power which could effectually cope with him, -the church. The see of Canterbury falling vacant, he seized upon its lands and revenues, expelled the monks of Christ Church, who, according to their ancient custom, were about to elect a prelate to the vacant see, and of his own power named a new archbishop. Innocent III., the reigning Pope, was little likely to submit to this invasion of the church's rights. He instantly annulled the appointment of the king, required him to give up the church lands, with the revenues he had appropriated, and appointed Stephen Langton to the archiepiscopal throne. John's reply to the Pope's requisitions was another seizure of church lands; and Innocent laid England under interdict. For nearly seven years England groaned beneath that fearful sentence. Public worship was suspended, and the people lived and died without the offices of their religion, and, so far as priestly ministrations were concerned, without God in the world. Had John possessed the affections of his people, he might have defied the Pope, declared the independence of the English Church, and so anticipated, partially at least, the events of a much later period. But his arbitrary conduct had arrayed all classes of his subjects in hostility against him. Laity and clergy, lords and cominons hated and despised him; and when Innocent, proceeding to extremities, declared his people released from their allegiance, and appointed Philip II., king of France, to the throne of England, so few of the barons seemed disposed to stand by him, that, as we learn from Matthew Paris, the historian of his reign, he actually sent for succor to Murmelius, the Moslem king of Spain and Africa, offering, in return for his assistance, to apostatize to Islamism, and hold bis kingdom as a vassal of the Moorish king But Philip gave him short space to make such alliances; and John submitted to the Pope on terms which showed how utterly he was bumiliated. He submitted to the censures of the church, resigned his crown to the Pope's legate, and received it back again as the Pope's gift, to be held as the Pope's vassal. On these conditions Innocent consented to require the French king to

« ForrigeFortsett »