« AnteriorContinuar »
tó insult and defy Alphonse, count of Poitou, the brother of the French king, after doing homage to him, and had then prevailed upon her son, the king of Engiand, to take her part in the war with France that ensued. Henry again sailed for the Continent; but this expedition was still more unfortunate and disgraceful than the former : after being beaten by Louis in a succession of actions, he was glad to get home again, with the loss of army, money, baggage, and everything. A new truce for five years was then agreed to between the two countries.
These events of course did not tend to put the nation in better humour with the king, or to dispose the parliament to greater liberality. The contest with the crown however ended for the present in an attempt on the part of Henry to govern by the prerogative, which was so far successful that no effective resistance was made to it for many years. In the pressure of his embarrassments he several times reassembled the legislative body, but no accommodation was effected by these advances; the parliament was found as impracticable as ever, and the king resumed his arbitrary courses. In 1253 he succeeded in obtaining a grant of money by consenting to a solemn ratification of the great charters; a ceremony which had already been repeatedly performed in the course of the reign ; and this enabled him to proceed at the head of a military force to Guienne, where a revolt against the English dominion had been excited by Alphonso, king of Castile. The dispute was soon settled by the arrangement of a marriage between Henry's eldest son Prince Edward, and Eleanor, the sister of Alphonso. After this Henry engaged in a project which speedily involved him in a complication of difficulties—the acceptance of the nominal crown of Sicily for his second son Edmund, from pope Innocent IV., who pretended to have it at his disposal in consequence of Frederick II., the late king, having died (A.D. 1250) in a state of excommunication, and who had ever since been hawking about the empty title among the princes of Europe, without finding any one simple enough to close with his proposals till he applied to the king of England. The exorbitant extent to which Henry was forced to carry his exactions in order to meet his engagements with the pontiff raised a spirit of resistance, which grew stronger and stronger, till it broke out into an open revolt against the supremacy of the crown. What is called by most of the old chroniclers
the mad parliament' assembled at Oxford, 11th June, 1258, by adjournment from Westminster, where it had met on the 2nd of May previous; and placed the whole authority of the state in the hands of a committee of government, consisting of twelve persons appointed by the barons and as many by the king. The leader of the barons on this occasion was the famous Simon de Montfort, who was a Frenchman by birth, being the youngest son of the Count de Montfort, but who, in right of his mother, had succeeded to the English earldom of Leicester, and had so long ago as the year 1238 married Eleanor, countess dowager of Pembroke, and sister of king Henry. After the enjoyment however of a long course of court favour he had quarrelled with and been insulted by his royal brother-in-law in 1252, and although they had been apparently reconciled, it is probable that the feelings then excited had never been extinguished in either. From the imperfect accounts and the partial temper of the apnalists of the time, it is difficult to obtain a clear view of De Montfort's character and objects ; but if his position may be reasonably suspected to have acted upon him with its natural temptations, and led him to form desigus more ambitious than he could venture openly to profess, it must be admitted that he stands remarkably free from any well-established or even probable imputation affecting his actual conduct, and that he was undoubtedly a person both of eminent ability and of many excellent as well as popular moral qualities. His cause was also undoubtedly in the main that of the national liberties, and he appears to have had throughout the national voice and heart with him. He and his
friends soon contrived to monopolize the whole power of the committee of governmert, and compelled the principal nominees of the king not only to relinquish their functions, but to fly from the kingdom. Dissensions now however broke out in the dominant party, and De Montfort found a rival aspirant to the supreme power in another of the great barons, Richard de Clare earl of Gloucester. The quarrels of the adverse factions enabled Henry, in the beginning of the year 1261, altogether to throw off the authority of the committee of government; and although the parliamentary party was on this occasion joined by Prince Edward, it was for the present effectually put down, De Montfort himself being obliged to take refuge in France. He returned however in April, 1263, and being now supported by Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, the son of his late rival, proceeded to prosecute his quarrel with the crown by force of arms. Henry had now his son Edward on his side ; but the success of the insurgents nevertheless was such as to threaten the complete overthrow of the royal power, when an accommodation was effected through the interference of the king's younger brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall, called King of the Romans, to which dignity he had been elected a few years before. The result was to place De Montfort and his friends once more at the head of affairs, the king being reduced to a cipher, or a mere puppet in their hands. In the course of a few months however we find the war between the two parties renewed. The contest of arms was suspended for a short time in the beginning of the following year (1264) by an appeal on the part of a number of the most influential barons and bishops to the arbitration of Louis IX. of France; but his award, which was upon the whole favourable to Henry, was very soon disregarded. On the 14th of May the forces of the barons, led by De Montfort, and those of the royalists, commanded by the king in person, and by his son Edward, met at Lewes, in Sussex, where the former gained a complete victory, both Henry and his son being taken prisoners. This success of course once more placed all the power of the kingdom at the feet of the great baronial leader. His arrogance and assumption of superiority however, it is said, had already alienated from him some of his most powerful adherents, and disposed them to take measures for the restoration of the royal authority, when, on the Thursday of Whitsun-week, 1265, Prince Edward contrived to make his escape from Dover Castle, and to join the earl of Gloucester, who had now deserted the interest of De Montfort, and waited to receive him with an army at Ludlow in Shropshire. This event immediately led to the renewal of the war. On the 4th of August the two parties again encountered at Evesham ; Edward here gave brilliant proof of the military talent which distinguished his future career ; and the result was the defeat of the baronial forces with immense slaughter, De Montfort himself and his son Henry being both in the number of the slain. In this battle the king is said to have had a narrow escape ; the earl, in whose camp he was, had compelled him to put on armour and mount a war-horse, from which he was thrown down in one of the charges, and would probably have been put to the sword or trampled to death had he not called out that he was ‘Harry of Winchester,' when his voice was heard by his son, who came up and rescued him.
The victory of Evesham however, although it liberated Henry and re-established the royal government, did not completely put down the defeated party. The adherents of De Montfort maintained themselves, notwithstanding all the efforts of Prince Edward, in various parts of the kingdom, for more than two years longer. Even after the parliament, in October, 1267, had passed an Act of Concord, known by the name of the 'Dictum de Kenilworth,' by which easy terms of pardon were offered to all who would submit themselves, the insurrection was renewed by the people of London, with the earl of Gloucester at their head; but that rash and fickle personage almost immediately threw himself upon the king's mercy without
drawing the sword, and was glad to obtain pardon through the mediation of the king of the Romans, leaving his followers to their fate. A final arrangement was at last effected in a parliament which met at Marlborough on the 18th of November. The short remainder of the reign of Henry after this date passed without disturbance, or any remarkable events. His son Edward, leaving every thing tranquil, set out for the Holy Land in July, 1270, from which he had not returned when Henry died at Westminster on the Feast of St. Edmund, being the 16th of November, 1272, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, and the fifty-seventh of his reign.
The reign of Henry III. is especially memorable in the history of the constitution as affording us the first distinct example of a parliament constituted as at present, of representatives from the counties, cities, and boroughs, as well as of the barons and higher clergy, or great tenants of the crown, lay and ecclesiastical. The assembly in question met at London, 22nd January, 1265, having been summoned in the name of king Henry, while he was in the hands of De Montfort, a few weeks before. Hence this great leader of the barons has been regarded as the introducer of the principle of popular representation into the English constitution, and the founder of the House of Commons.
Our statute law also begins with this reign-the earliest enactment on the statutebook being that entitled the “Provisions of Merton,' passed in the 20th year of Henry III., A.D. 1235-6.
93.--THE DEFENCE OF DOVER CASTLE.
SOUTHEY. The death of king John was a happy event for the nation, though he left a child of nine years old to succeed him. In most of the barons, who so often combined against him, there had been far more of personal animosity than of principle, * more, perhaps, even than of personal views. But a child was an object of compassion ; and they who already repented of having called in a foreign enemy were no longer withheld by hatred or by shame from following their English feelings, and taking the better part. Louis’s tide of fortune began to ebb, when a force of 300 knights, with a great body of soldiers, embarked at Calais for his support, in a fleet consisting of eighty great ships and many smaller vessels, commanded by Eustace the monk. This man who was a Fleming by birth, had left his monastery to enjoy a patrimony which fell to him by the death of his brothers; that patrimony he appears to have dissipated ; afterwards " he became a notable pirate, and had done in his days much mischief to the Englishmen." The English government received timely intelligence of this expected succour to the enemy; and, accordingly Philip de Albany and John Marshal were appointed to collect the power of the Cinque ports, and guard the seas against them. With the aid of Hubert de Burgh, earl of Kent, then residing in the castle of Dover, they had not yet mustered more than forty vessels, great and small, on St. Bartholomew's day, when the French sailed, meaning to go up the Thames, and make for London. Not deterred by the inferiority of their forces, the English commanders put to sea, and encountered them; then gained the weather-gage, and,“ by tilting at them with the iron beaks of their galleys, sunk several of the transports with all on board. They availed themselves of the wind also to try, with success, a new and singular mode of annoyance ; for, having provided a number of vessels on their decks, filled with unslaked lime, and pouring water into them when they were at just distance, and in a favourable position, the smoke was driven into the enemies' faces," so as to disable them from defending themselves, while the archers and cross-bowmen aimed
their destructive weapons with dreadful effect. Eustace, the monk, was found after long search hid in the hold of one of the captured ships : he offered a large sum for his ransom, so he might have his life spared, and offered also to enter into the service of the English king ; but as he had rendered himself singularly odious, Richard, a bastard son of king John, killed him, and sent his head to young Henry as a brotherly offering, and as a proof of their important victory. Louis was so disheartened by this reverse, that he was glad to make peace upon such terms as were proposed to him ; and receiving 15,000 marks for the release of the hostages whom the barons, who invited him, had put into his hands, he gave up such strongholds as were in his possession, and returned to France.
A remarkable instance occurred some fifteen years afterwards of the feeling with which the people regarded this naval victory, that in its immediate consequences had delivered the country from the presence of a foreign foe. In the course of the civil commotions, by which the reign of Hemy III. was disturbed, Hubert de Burgh became an object of persecution to the then prevailing faction; and being forcibly taken from the sanctuary, in which he had sought for protection, at Brentwood, a smith was sent for to make fetters for him. But when the smith understood that it was for Hubert, earl of Kent, he was called upon to perform the ignominious office, he refused to do it, uttering, says Speed, such words (if Mathew Paris do not poetise) as will show that honourable thoughts are sometimes found in the hearts of men whose fortunes are far from honour. For having first drawn a deep sigh, he said, “ Do with me what ye please, and God have mercy on my soul ; but as the Lord liveth, I will never make iron shackles for him, but will rather die the worst death that is. Is not this that Hubert that restored England to England ? He who faithfully and constantly served John in Gascony, Normandy, and elsewhere, * * whose high courage, when he was reduced to eat horse-flesh, even the enemy admired ? He who so long defended Dover Castle, the key of England, against all the strong sieges of the French, and by vanquishing them at sea brought safety to the kingdom? God be judge between him and you for using him so unjustly and inhumanly !" It is to be regretted that this man's name has not been preserved ; none of his contemporaries deserved a more honourable remembrance. It was at the risk of his life that he thus obeyed the impulse of an honest heart; and Hubert must have felt a prouder and worthier gratification at this brave testimony to his services than the largest grant could ever have given him, with which he was rewarded in the days of his prosperity.
94.-SIMON DE MONTFORT.
REV. J. WHITE. In 1265 the cause of King Henry the Third seemed irremediably lost, and the revolted barons triumphant. The battle of Lewes had been fought in the previous year, at which the King, Prince Edward, (afterwards the great Edward the First) and many of their retainers were made prisoners. There arose, however, divisions among the nobles; and jealousy of their leader, the famous Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, tempted many of them to desert his cause. The prince at this fortunate moment effected his escape by engaging his retinue, who also acted as his guard,,in races which tired their horses, and incapacitated them from overtaking him in his flight. He soon collected a great force, with which to rescue the king from the honourable imprisonment in which he was detained by Leicester. That sagacious statesman had endeavoured to counterbalance his opponents by summoning representatives from the cities and boroughs to the council of the
nation, thus constituting a Commons House of Parliament, and took the field with the feelings of the great body of the people enlisted on his side. This popularity was not destroyed by his death in the decisive battle of Evesham, which soon followed and restored Henry to his throne. His memory was long cherished among the peasantry, under the name of Sir Simon the Righteous; miracles were believed to be wrought at his tomb; and, in spite of his having been excommunicated by Rome, great complaints were made against the church for denying him the honours of canonization.
SCENE.—A Hall in Simon de Montfort's Castle.
Warrenne. You think to let Prince Edward part in freedom ;-
'Tis madness! treason
De Lucy. 'Tis treason against us. If you set free
If one must go,
De Montfort. The name of King would turn