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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Earl John claimed it for himself


_John Lackland and Magna Charta._

Despite all the community of interests between the sovereigns of the Conquest and their vassals, grounds of hostility between them had never been altogether wanting. The Conqueror's sons had to make concessions to the great lords, because their succession was not secure; they needed a voluntary recognition, the price of which consisted in a relaxation of the harsh laws with which the monarchy had at first fettered every department of life. But when the great nobles had managed, or decided, contests for the throne, Were they likely to feel bound unconditionally to obey the man whom they had raised? Besides Henry II in his ecclesiastical quarrel needed the consent of his vassals; his court-Assemblies were no longer confined to proclamations of ordinances from the one side only; consultations were held, leading to decisions that concerned them all.

But what is now surprising is the fact, that even the associates in the Conquest, and much more their descendants, claimed the rights which the Anglo-Saxon magnates had once possessed. They, too, appealed incessantly to the _Laga_, the laws of Edward the Confessor, by which was meant the collection of old legal customs, the observation of which had been promised from the first. Following the precedent of their kings, the families that had risen through the Conquest regarded themselves as the heirs of the fallen Anglo-Saxon chiefs, into

whose place they had stepped. The rights of the old Witan and of the vassals of the new feudal state became fused together.

We must now lay greater weight than is commonly done on the incidents that occurred during King Richard's absence. He had entrusted the administration of the realm to a man of low origin, William, bishop of Ely, who carried it on with great energy, and not without the pomp and splendour, which grace authority, but arouse jealousy. Hence lay and spiritual chiefs combined against him: with Earl John, the brother of the absent King, at their head, they banished the hated bishop by the strong hand, and of their own authority set another in his place. The city of London, which had been already allowed the election of its own magistrates by Henry II, had then formed a so-called _Communia_ after the pattern of the Flemish and North French towns; bishops, earls, and barons, swore to support the city in it.[28]

These first attempts at an opposition by the estates obtained fresh weight when on Richard's death a contest again arose about the succession. Earl John claimed it for himself, but Arthur, an elder brother's son, seemed to have a better right, and had been moreover recognised at once in the South French provinces. The English nobles fortified their castles, and for some time assumed an almost threatening position; they only acknowledged John on the assurance that each and all should have their rights.[29] John's possession of the crown was therefore derived not merely from right of inheritance, but also from their election.

A strong territorial confederacy had thus gradually grown up, confronting the royal power with a claim to independent rights; events now happened that roused it into full life.

King John incurred the suspicion of having murdered Arthur, who had fallen into his hands, to rid himself of his claims; he was accused of it by the peers of France, and pronounced guilty; on which the Plantagenet provinces which were fiefs of the French crown went over to the King of France at the first attack. The English nobility would at least not fight for a sovereign on whom such a heinous suspicion lay: on another pretence it abandoned him.


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