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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

And to carry out the Pope's excommunication against him


But

then broke out a new quarrel with the Church. The most powerful pontiff that ever sat in the Roman See, Innocent III, thought good to decide a disputed election at Canterbury by passing over both candidates, including the King's, and caused the election of, or rather himself named, one of his friends from the great school at Paris, Stephen Langton. As King John did not acknowledge him, Innocent laid England under an Interdict.

Alike careless and cruel, naturally hasty and untrustworthy, of doubtful birthright, and now rejected by the Church, John must have rather expected resistance than support from the great men of the realm. He tried to assure himself of those he suspected by taking hostages from their families; he confiscated the property of the ecclesiastics who complied with the Pope's orders, and took it under his own management; he employed every means which the still unlimited extent of the supreme authority allowed, to obtain money and men; powerfully and successfully he used the sword. But in the long run he could not maintain himself by these means. When a revolt broke out in Wales at the open instigation of the Pope, and the King's vassals were summoned to put it down, even among them a general discontent was perceptible; John had reason to dread that if he came near the enemy with such an army he might be delivered into their hands or killed: he did not venture to carry out the campaign. And meanwhile he saw himself threatened from

abroad also. King Philip Augustus of France armed, to attack his old opponent at home (whom he had already driven from in those provinces over which he himself was feudal sovereign), and to carry out the Pope's excommunication against him. He boasted, probably with good grounds, of having the English barons' letters and seals, promising that they would join him. He would have restored all the fugitives and exiles; the Church element would have raised itself all the more strongly, in proportion to its previous depression; a general revolt would have accompanied his attack, the English government according to all appearance would have been lost.

King John knew this well: to avoid immediate ruin he seized on a means of escape which was completely unexpected, but quite decisive--he gave over his kingdom in vassalage to the Pope.

What William I had so expressly rejected was now accepted in a moment of extreme pressure, from which such a step was the only means of escape. The moment the Pope was recognised as feudal lord of England, not only must his hostility cease, but he would be bound to take the realm under his protection. He now forbade the King of France, whom he had before urged on to its conquest, to carry out the invasion, which was already prepared.

It appears as if the barons had originally agreed with the King's proceeding, although they did not entirely approve its form. They maintained that they had risen up for the Church's rights,[30] and saw in the Pope a natural ally. They thought to gain their own purpose all the more surely now that Stephen Langton received the see of Canterbury, a man who, while he represented the Papal authority, at the same time zealously made their interests his own. At the very moment when the archbishop absolved the King from the excommunication, he made him swear that he would restore the good laws, especially those of King Edward, and would do all according to the legal decisions of his courts. It may be regarded as the first time that a Norman-Plantagenet king's administration was acted on by an obligatory engagement, when King John, on the point of taking the field against some barons whom he regarded as rebels, was hindered by the archbishop who reminded him that he would thus be breaking his last oath, which bound him to take judicial proceedings. The tradition that a forgotten charter of Henry I was produced by the archbishop (who was certainly, as his writings show, a scholar of research), and recognised as a legal document which gave them a firm footing, may admit of some doubt; there is no doubt that it was Stephen Langton who gathered around him the great nobles and bound them by a mutual engagement, to defend, even at the risk of life, the old liberties and rights which they derived from Anglo-Saxon times.


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