« PreviousContinue »
To a degree of muscular strength, which falls to the lot of few, Richard added a mind incapable of fear. Hence in the ancient annalists he towers as a warrior above all his contemporaries. Nor was this preeminence conceded to him by the Christians alone. Even a century after his death his name was employed by the Saracen cavalier to chide his horse, and by the Saracen mother to terrify her children. But when we have given him the praise of valour, his panegyric is finished. His laurels were steeped in blood, and his victories purchased with the impoverishment of his people. Of the meanness to which he could stoop to procure money, and the injustices into which he was hurried by the impetuosity of his passions, the reader has found numerous instances in the preceding pages. To his wife he was as faithless as he had been rebellious to his father. If in a fit of repentance he put away his mistress, there is reason to believe that his reformation did not survive the sickness by which it was suggested. Lingard.
The arbitrary taxes, which he imposed very early in his reign, which offended even more by the improper use made of them than their irregularity, irritated the people extremely, and joined with all the preceding causes to make his government contemptible. Henry the Second, during his contest with the church, had the address to preserve the barons in his interests. Afterwards, when the
vOL. II. D
barons had joined in the rebellion of his children, this wise prince found means to sec ore the bishops and ecclesiastics. But John drew upon himself at once the hatred of all orders of his subjects. His struggle with the Pope weakened him; his submission to the Pope weakened him yet more. The loss of his foreign territories, besides what he lost along with them in reputation, made him entirely dependent upon England; whereas his predecessors made one part of their territories subservient to the preservation of their authority in another, where it was endangered. Add to all these causes the personal character of the king, in which there was nothing uniform or sincere, and which introduced the like unsteadiness into all his government. He was indolent, yet restless in his disposition; fond of working by violent methods, without any vigour; boastful, but continually betraying his fears; showing, on all occasions, such a desire of peace as hindered him from ever enjoying it. Having no spirit of order he never looked forward; content by any temporary expedient to extricate himself from a present difficulty. Rash, arrogant, perfidious, irreligious, unquiet, he made a tolerable head of a party, but a bad king; and had talents fit to disturb another's government, not to support his own. A most striking contrast presents itself between the conduct and fortune of John and his adversary Philip. Philip came to the crown when many of the provinces of France, by being in the hands of too powerful vassals, were in a manner dismembered from the kingdom; the royal authority was very low in what remained.
He reunited to the crown a country as valuable as what belonged to it before; he reduced his subjects of all orders to a stricter obedience than they had given to his predecessors. He withstood the papal usurpation, and yet used it as an instrument in his designs; whilst John, who inherited a great territory, and an entire prerogative, by his vices and weakness gave up his independency to the Pope, his prerogative to his subjects, and a large part of his dominions to the king of France. Burke. * * * *
When Giraldus delineated the characters of the four sons of Henry, John had already debased his faculties by excess and voluptuousness. The courtly eye of the preceptor could indeed discover the germ of future excellence in his pupil; but history has recorded only his vices: his virtues, if such a monster could possess virtues, were unseen or forgotten. He stands before us polluted with meanness, cruelty, perjury, and murder; uniting with an ambition, which rushed through every crime to the attainment of its object, a pusillanimity which often, at the sole appearance of opposition, sank into despondency. Arrogant in prosperity, abject in adversity, he neither conciliated affection in the one, nor excited esteem in the other. His dissimulation was so well known, that it seldom deceived: his suspicion served only to multiply his enemies: and the knowledge of his vindictive temper contributed to keep open the breach between him and those who had incurred his displeasure. Seldom perhaps was there a prince with a heart more callous to the suggestions of pity. Of his captives many never returned from their dungeons. If they survived their tortures, they were left to perish by famine. He could even affect to be witty at the expense of his victims. When Geoffry, archdeacon of Norwich, a faithful servant, had retired from his seat at the exchequer on account of the interdict, the king ordered him to be arrested, and sent him a cope of lead to keep him warm in his prison. The cope was a large mantle, covering the body from the shoulders to the feet, and worn by clergymen during the service. Wrapped in this ponderous habit, with his head only at liberty, the unhappy man remained without food or assistance till he expired. On another occasion he demanded a present of ten thousand marks from an opulent Jew at Bristol, and ordered one of his teeth to be drawn every morning till he should pay the money. The Jew was obstinate. The executioners began with his double teeth. He suffered the loss of seven, but on the eighth day solicited a respite, and gave security for the payment.
John was not less reprehensible as a husband than he was as a monarch. While Louis took from him his provinces on the continent, he had consoled himself for the loss in the company of his beautiful bride: but he soon abandoned her to revert to his former habits. The licentiousness of his amours is reckoned by every ancient writer among the principal causes of the alienation of his barons, many of whom had to lament and revenge the disgrace of a wife, or daughter, or sister. Isabella, to punish the infidelity, imitated the conduct of her husband. But John was not to be insulted with impunity. He hanged her gallants over her bed. She bore him three sons, Henry, Richard, and Edmund; and three daughters, Jane, Eleanor, and Isabella. His illegitimate children were numerous. Nine sons and one daughter are mentioned by historians.
Gentie and credulous, warm in his attachments, and forgiving in his enmities, without vices, but also without energy, he was a good man, and a weak monarch. In a more peaceful age, when the empire of the laws had been strengthened by habits of obedience, he might have filled the throne with decency, perhaps with honour: but his lot cast him into one of the most turbulent periods of our history, without the talents to command respect, or the authority to enforce submission. Yet his incapacity was productive rather of inconvenience to himself than of misery to his subjects. Under his weak but pacific sway the nation grew more rapidly in wealth and prosperity than it had done under any of his military progenitors. Out of the fifty-six years, through which he extended his reign, but a very small portion was marked by the calamities of war: the tenants of the crown were seldom dragged by him into foreign countries, or impoverished by scutages for the support of mercenary armies: