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lust, their cruelty and tyranny, their shamelessness, their superstition, their cyničal indifference to honor or truth. In mere boyhood he tore, with brutal levity, the beards of the Irish chieftains who came to own him as their lord. His ingratitude and perfidy brought his father with sorrow to the grave. To his brother he was the worst of traitors. All Christendom believed him to be the murderer of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany. He abandoned one wife and was faithless to another. His punishments were refinements of cruelty, the starvation of children, the crushing old men under copes of lead. His court was a brothel where no woman was safe from the royal lust, and where his cynicism loved to publish the news of his victim's shame. He was as craven in his superstition as he was daring in his impiety. Though he scoffed at priests and turned his back on the mass, even amid the solemnities of his coronation, he never stirred on a journey without hanging relics round his neck. But with the wickedness of his race he inherited its profound ability. His plan for the relief of Château Gaillard, the rapid march by which he shattered Arthur's hopes at Mirabel, showed an inborn genius for
In the rapidity and breadth of his political combinations he far surpassed the statesmen of his time. Throughout his reign we see him quick to discern the difficulties of his position, and inexhaustible in the resources with which he met them. The overthrow of his continental power only spurred him to the formation of a league which all but brought Philip to the ground; and the sudden revolt of England was parried by a shameless alliance with the papacy. The closer study of John's history clears away the charges of sloth and incapacity with which men tried to explain the greatness of his fall. The awful lesson of his life rests on the fact that the king who lost Normandy, became the vassal of the pope, and perished in a struggle of despair against English freedom, was no weak and indolent voluptuary, but the ablest and most ruthless of the Angevins.
From the moment of his return to England in 1204 John's whole energies were bent to the recovery of his dominions on the Continent. He impatiently collected money and men for the support of those adherents of the house of Anjou who were still struggling against the arms of France in Poitou and Guienne, and in the summer of 1205 he gathered an army at Portsmouth and prepared to cross the channel. But his project was suddenly thwarted by the resolute opposition of the primate, Hubert Walter, and the Earl of Pembroke, William Marshal. So completely had both the baronage and the church been humbled by his father that the attitude of their representatives revealed to the king a new spirit of national freedom which was rising around him, and John at once braced himself to a struggle with it. The death of Hubert Walter in July, only a few days after his protest, removed his most formidable opponent, and the king resolved to neutralize the opposition of the church by placing a creature of his own at its head. John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, was elected by the monks of Canterbury at his bidding, and enthroned as primate. But in a previous though informal gathering the convent had already chosen its subprior, Reginald, as archbishop. The rival claimants hastened to appeal to Rome, and their appeal reached the papal court before Christmas. The result of the contest was a startling one both for themselves and for the king. After a year's careful examination Innocent the Third, who now occupied the papal throne, quashed at the close of 1206 both the contested elections. The decision was probably a just one, but Innocent was far from stopping there. The monks who appeared before him brought powers from the convent to choose a new primate should their earlier nomination be set aside; and John, secretly assured of their choice of Grey, had promised to confirm their election. But the bribes which the king lavished at Rome failed to win the pope over to his plan; and whether from mere love of power, for he was pushing the papal claims of supremacy over Christendom further than any of his predecessors, or as may fairly be supposed in despair of a free election within English bounds, Innocent commanded the monks to elect in his presence Stephen Langton to the archiepiscopal see.
Personally a better choice could not have been made, for Stephen was a man who, by sheer weight of learning and holiness of life, had risen to the dignity of cardinal, and whose after career placed him in the front rank of English patriots. But in itself the step was an usurpation of the right both of the church and of the crown. The king at once met it with resistance. When Innocent consecrated the new primate in June, 1207, and threatened the realm with interdict if Langton were any longer excluded from his see, John replied by a counter threat that the interdict should be followed by the banishment of the clergy and the mutilation of every Italian he could seize in the realm. How little he feared the priesthood he showed when the clergy refused his demand of a thirteenth of movables for the whole country, and Archbishop Geoffry of York resisted the tax before the council. John banished the archbishop and extorted the money. Innocent, however, was not a man to draw back from his purpose, and in March, 1208, the interdict he had threatened fell upon the land. All worship, save that of a few privileged orders, all administration of sacraments, save that of private baptism, ceased over the length and breadth of the country: the church bells were silent, the dead lay unburied on the ground. Many of the bishops fled from the country. The church in fact, so long the main support of the royal power against the baronage, was now driven into opposition. Its change of attitude was to be of vast moment in the struggle which was impending; but John recked little of the future; he replied to the interdict by confiscating the lands of the clergy who observed it, by subjecting them in spite of their privileges to the royal courts, and by leaving outrages on them unpunished.
6 Let him go, said John, when a Welshman was brought before him for the murder of a priest ; "he has killed my enemy.” In 1209 the pope proceeded to the further sentence of excommunication, and the king was formally cut off from the pale of the church. But the new sentence was met with the same defiance as the old. Five of the bishops fled over sea, and secret disaffection was spreading widely, but there was no public avoidance of the excommunicated king. An archdeacon of Norwich who withdrew from his service was crushed to death under a cope of lead, and the hint was sufficient to prevent either prelate or noble from following his example.
The attitude of John showed the power which the administrative reforms of his father had given to the crown. He stood alone, with nobles estranged from him and the church against him, but his strength seemed utterly unbroken. From the first moment of his rule John had defied the baronage. The promise to satisfy their demand for redress of wrongs in the past reign-a promise made at bis election - remained unfulfilled ; when the demand was repeated he answered it by seizing their castles and taking their children as hostages for their loyalty. The cost of his fruitless threats of war had been met by heavy and repeated taxation, by increased land tax and increased scutage. The quarrel with the church and fear of their revolt only deepened his oppression of the nobles. He drove De Braose, one of the most powerful of the lords marchers, to die in exile, while his wife and grandchildren were believed to have been starved to death in the royal prisons. On the nobles who still clung panic-stricken to the court of the excommunicate king, John heaped outrages worse than death. Illegal exactions, the seizure of their castles, the preference shown to foreigners, were small provocations compared with his attacks on the honor of their wives and daughters. But the baronage still submitted. The financial exactions, indeed, became light as John filled his treasury with the goods of the church; the king's vigor was seen in the rapidity with which he crushed a rising of the nobles in Ireland and foiled an outbreak of the Welsh ; while the triumphs of his father had taught the baronage its weakness in any single-handed struggle against the crown. Hated therefore as he was, the land remained still. Only one weapon was now left in Innocent's hands. Men held then that a king, once excommunicate, ceased to be a Christian or to have claims on the obedience of Christian subjects. As spiritual heads of Christendom, the popes had ere now asserted their right to remove such a ruler from his throne and to give it to a worthier than he; and it was this right which Innocent at last felt himself driven to exercise. After useless threats he issued in 1212 a bull of deposition against John, absolved his subjects from their allegiance, proclaimed a crusade against him as an enemy to Christianity and the church, and committed the execution of the sentence to the king of the French. John met the announcement of this step with the same scorn as before. His insolent disdain suffered the Roman legate, Cardinal Pandulf, to proclaim his deposition to his face at Northampton. When Philip collected an army for an attack on England, an enormous host gathered at the king's call on Barham Down; and the English fleet dispelled all danger of invasion by crossing the channel, by capturing a number of French ships, and by burning Dieppe.
But it was not in England only that the king showed his strength and activity. Vile as he was, John possessed in a high degree the political ability of his race, and in the diplomatic efforts with which he met the danger from France he showed himself his father's equal. The barons of Poitou were roused to attack Philip from the south. John bought the aid of the Count of Flanders on his northern border. The German king, Otto, pledged himself to bring the knighthood of Germany to support an invasion of France. But at the moment of his success in diplomacy John suddenly gave way. It was, in fact, the revelation of a danger at home which shook him from his attitude of contemptuous defiance. The bull of deposition gave fresh energy to every enemy. The Scotch king was in correspondence with Innocent. The Welsh princes who had just been forced to submission broke out again in war. John hanged their hostages, and called his host to muster for a fresh inroad into Wales, but the army met only to become a fresh source of danger. Powerless to oppose the king openly, the baronage had plunged almost to a man into secret conspiracies. The hostility of Philip had dispelled their dread of isolated action; many, indeed, had even promised aid to the French king on his landing. John found himself in the midst of hidden enemies; and nothing could have saved him but the haste – whether of panic or quick decision — with which he disbanded his army and took refuge in Nottingham Castle. The arrest of some of the barons showed how true were his fears, for the heads of the French conspiracy, Robert FitzWalter and Eustace de Vesci, at once fled oversea to Philip. His daring self-confidence, the skill of his diplomacy, could no longer hide from John the utter loneliness of his position. At war with Rome, with France, with Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, at war with the church, he saw himself disarmed by this sudden revelation of treason in the one force left at his disposal. With characteristic suddenness he gave way. He endeavored by remission of fines to win back his people. He negotiated eagerly with the pope, consented to receive the archbishop, and promised to repay the money he had extorted from the church. On the 15th of May, 1213, he knelt before the legate Pandulf, surrendered his kingdom to the Roman see, took it back again as a tributary vassal, swore fealty and did liege homage to the pope.
In after times men believed that England thrilled at the news with a sense of national shame such as she had never felt before. “ He has become the pope's man," the whole country was said to have murmured; "he has forfeited the very name of king; from a free man he has degraded himself into a serf.” But this was the belief of a time still to come, when the rapid growth of national feeling which this step and its issues did