« AnteriorContinuar »
82.—JOHN AND ARTHUR.
BURKE. Richard dying without lawful issue, the succession to his dominions again became dubious. They consisted of various territories, governed by various rules of descent, and all of them uncertain. There were two competitors; the first was prince John, youngest son of Henry II. ; the other was Arthur, son of Constance of Bretagne, by Geoffrey, the third son of that monarch. If the right of consanguinity were only considered, the title of John to the whole succession had been indisputable. If the right of representation had then prevailed, which now universally prevails, Arthur, as standing in the place of his father Geoffrey, had a solid claim. About Brittany there was no dispute. Anjou, Poitou, Touraine, and Guienne, declared in favour of Arthur, on the principle of representation. Normandy was entirely for John. In England the point of law had never been entirely settled, but it seemed rather inclined to the side of consanguinity. The.. cfore in England, where this point was dubious at best, the claim of Arthur, an infant and a stranger, had little force against the pretensions of John, declared heir by the will of the late king, supported by his armies, possessed of his treasures, and at the head of a powerful party. He secured in his interests Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Glanville, the chief Justiciary; and by then the body of the ecclesiastics and the law. It is remarkable also, that he paid court to the cities and boroughs, which is the first instance of that policy; but several of these communities now happily began to merge from their slavery, and, taking advantage of the necessities and confusion of the late reign, increased in wealth and consequence and had then first attained a free and regular form of administration. The town, new to power, declared heartily in favour of a prince, who was willing to allow that their declaration could confer a right. The nobility, who saw themselves beset by the church, the law, and the burghers, had taken no measures, nor even a resolution; and therefore had nothing left but to concur in acknowledging the title of John, whom they knew and hated. But though they were not able to exclude him from the succession, they had strength enough to oblige him to a solemn promise of restoring those liberties and franchises, which they had always claimed, without having ever enjoyed, or even perfectly understood. The clergy also took dvantage of the badness of his title to establish one altogether as ill-founded. Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the speech which he delivered at the king's coronation, publicly affirmed, that the crown of England was of right elective. He drew his examples in support of this doctrine, not from the histories of the ancient Saxon kings, although a species of election within a certain family had then frequently prevailed, but from the history of the first kings of the Jews ; without doubt in order to revive those pretensions, which the clergy first set up in the election of Stephen, and which they had since been obliged to conceal, but had not entirely forgotten. John accepted a sovereignty weakened in the very act by which he acquired it; but he submitted to the times. He came to the throne at the age of thirty-two. He had entered early into business, and had been often involved in difficult and arduous enterprises, in which he experienced a variety of men and fortunes. His father, whilst he was very young, had sent him into Ireland, which kingdom was destined for his portion, in order to habituate that people to their future sovereign, and to give the young prince an opportunity of conciliating the favour of his new subjects. But he gave on this occasion no good omens of capacity for government. Full of the insolent levity of a young man of high rank without education, and surrounded with others equally unpractised, he insulted the Irish chicfs; and ridiculing their uncouth garb and manners, he raised such a dis
affection to the English government, and so much opposition to it, as all the wisdom of his father's best officers and counsellors was hardly able to overcome. In the decline of his father's life, he joined in the rebellion of his brothers, with so much more guilt, as with more ingratitude and hypocrisy. During the reign of Richard he was the perpetual author of seditions and tumults; and yet was pardoned, and eveu favoured by that prince to his death, when he very unaccountably appointed him heir to all his dominions.
It was of the utmost moment to John, who had no solid title, to conciliate the favour of all the world. Yet one of his first steps, whilst his power still remained dubious and unsettled, was, on pretence of consanguinity, to divorce his wife Avisa, with whom he had lived many years, and to marry Isabella of Angoulesme, a woman of extraordinary beauty, but who had been betrothed to Hugh, count of Marche; thus disgusting at once the powerful friends of his divorced wife, and those of the Earl of Marche, whom he had so sensibly wronged.
The king of France, Philip Augustus, saw with pleasure these proceedings of John, as he had before rejoiced at the dispute about the succession. He had been always employed, and sometimes with success, to reduce the English power, through the reigns of one very able, and one very warlike prince. He had greater advantages in this conjuncture, and a prince of quite another character now to contend with. He was therefore not long without choosing his part ; and whilst he secretly encouraged the count of Marche, already stimulated by his private wrongs, he openly supported the claim of Arthur to the dutchies of Anjou and Touraine. It was the character of this prince readily to lay aside, and as readily to reassume, his enterprises, as his affairs demanded. He saw that he had declared himself too rashly, and that he was in danger of being assaulted upon every side. He saw it was necessary to break an alliance, which the nice circumstances and timid character of John would enable him to do. In fact, John was at this time united in a close alliance with the Emperor and the earl of Flanders ; and these princes were engaged in a war with France. He had then a most favourable opportunity to establish all his claims, and at the same time to put the king of France out of a condition to question them ever again. But he suffered himself to be over-reached by the artifices of Philip; he consented to a treaty of peace, by which he received an empty acknowledgement of his right to the disputed territories; and in return for which acknowledgment he renounced his alliance with the Emperor. By this act he at once strengthened his enemy, gave up his ally, and lowered his character with his subjects, and with all the world.
This treaty was hardly signed when the ill consequences of his conduct became evident. The earl of Marche and Arthur immediately renewed their claims and hostilities, under the protection of the king of France, who made a strong diversion by invading Normandy. At the commencement of these motions, John, by virtue of a prerogative hitherto undisputed, summoned his English barons to attend him into France ; but instead of a compliance with his orders, he was surprised with a solemn demand of their ancient liberties. It is astonishing that the barons should at that time have ventured on a resolution of such dangerous importance, as they had provided no sort of means to support them. But the history of those times furnishes many instances of the like want of design in the most momentous affairs; and shews, that it is in vain to look for political causes for the actions of men, who were most commonly directed by a brute caprice, and were for the greater part destitute of any fixed principles of obedience or resistance. The king, sensible of the weakness of his barons, fell upon some of their castles with such timely vigour, and treated those whom he had reduced with so much severity, that the rest immediately and abjectly submitted. He levied a severe tax upon their fiefs; and
thinking himself more strengthened by this treasure, than the forced service of his barons, he excused the personal attendance of most of them, and passing into Normandy, he raised an army there. He found that his enemies had united their forces, and invested the castle of Mirabel, a place of importance, in which his mother, from whom he derived his title to Guienne, was besieged. He flew to the relief of this place with the spirit of a greater character, and the success was answerable. The Breton and Poictouvin army was defeated ; his mother was freed ; and the young duke of Brittany and his sister were made prisoners. The latter he sent into England, to be confined in the castle of Bristol ; the former he carried with him to Rouen. The good fortune of John now seemed to be at its highest point; but it was exalted on a precipice; and this great victory proved the occasion of all the evils which affected his life.
John was not of a character to resist the temptation of having the life of his rival in his hands. All historians are as fully agreed that he murdered his nephew, as they differ in the means by which he accomplished that crime. But the report was soon spread abroad, variously heightened in the circumstances by the obscurity of the fact, which left all men at liberty to imagine and invent; and excited all those sentiments of pity and indignation, which a very young prince of great hopes, cruelly murdered by his uncle, naturally inspire. Philip had never missed an occasion of endeavouring to ruin the king of England ; and having now acquired an opportunity of accomplishing that by justice, which he had in vain sought by ambition, he filled every place with complaints of the cruelty of John, whom as a vassal to the crown of France, the king accused of the murder of another vassal, and summoned him to Paris to be tried by his peers. It was by no means consistent either with the dignity or safety of John to appear to this summons. He had the argument of kings to justify what he had done. But as in all great crimes there is something of a latent weakness, and in a vicious cause something material is ever neglected, John, satisfied with removing his rival, took no thought about his enemy; but whilst he saw himself sentenced for non-appearance in the Court of Peers ; whilst he saw the king of France entering Normandy with a vast army, in consequence of this sentence, and place after place, castle after castle, falling before him, he passed his time at Rouen in the profoundest tranquillity ; indulging himself in indolent amusements, and satisfied with vain threatenings and boasts, which only added greater shame to his inactivity. The English barons, who had attended him in this expedition, disaffected from the beginning, and now wearied with being so long witnesses to the ignominy of their sovereign, retired to their own country, and there spread the report of his unaccountable sloth and cowardice. John quickly followed them; and returning to his kingdom, polluted with the charge of so heavy a crime, and lisgraced by so many follies, instead of aiming by popular acts to re-establish his character, he exacted a seventh of their moveables from the barons, on pretence that they had deserted his service. He laid the same imposition on the clergy, without giving himself the trouble of seeking for a pretext. He made no proper use of these great supplies ; but saw the great city of Rouen, always faithful to its sovereigns, and now exerting the most strenuous efforts in his favour, obliged at length to surrender, without the least attempt to relieve it. Thus the whoie dutchy of Normandy, originally acquired by his ancestors, and the source from which the greatness of his family had been derived, after being supported against all shocks for three hundred years, was torn for ever from the stock of Rollo, and re-united to the crown of France. Immediately all the rest of the provinces which he held on the Continent, except a part of Guienne, despairing of his protection, and abhorring his government, threw themselves into the hands of
83.--ARTHUR AND HUBERT.
SAAKSPERE. SCENE I. John-Hubert, K. John. Come hither, Hubert. O my gentle Hubert, We owe thee much ; within this wall of flesh There is a soul counts thee her creditor, And with advantage means to pay thy love : And, my good friend, thy voluntary oath Lives in this bosom, dearly cherished. Give me thy hand. I had a thing to say, But I will fit it with some better tune. By heaven, Hubert, I am almost asham'd To say what good respect I have of thee.
Hub. I am much bounden to your majesty.
K. John. Good friend, thou hast no cause to say so yet:
Hub. So well, that what you bid me undertake,
Do not I know thou wouldst?
And I'll keep him so,
K. John. Death.
He shall not live.
, I'll not say what I intend for thee : Remember
SCENE II.-Hubert and Two Attendants.
First Attend. I hope your warrant will bear out the deed.
Hub. Uncleanly scruples ! Fear not you : look to 't Exeunt Attend. Young lad, come forth ; I have to say with you.
Good morrow, little prince,
Mercy on me!
Hub. If I talk to him, with his innocent prate
[Aside Arth. Are you sick, Hubert ? you look pale to-day In sooth, I would you were a little sick, That I might sit all night, and watch with you I warrant I love you more than you do me.
Hub. His words do take possession of my bosom.Read here, young Arthur. [Showing a paper.] How now, foolish rheum !
[Aside. Turning dispiteous torture out of door! I must be brief ; lest resolution drop Out at mine eyes, in tender womanish tears.