Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Raphael Holinshed
Editor: Michael Best
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Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland 1587 (Selection)


238[The barons rebel against King John]

[They ask again for the laws of Henry I to be reinstated]

The nobles, supposing that longer delay therein was not to be suffered, assembled themselves together at the abbey of Bury (under color of going thither to do their devotions to the body of Saint Edmund which lay there enshrined) where they uttered their complaint of the king's tyrannical manners,A cloaked pilgrimage. alleging how they were oftentimes called forth to serve in the wars and to fight in defense of the realm, and yet notwithstanding were still oppressed at home by the king's officers, who (upon confidence of the laws) attempted all things whatsoever they conceived. And if any man complained, or alleged that he received wrong at their hands they would answer by and by that they had law on their side to do as they had done, so that it was no wrong but right which they did; and therefore, if they that were the lords and peers of the realm were men, it stood them upon to provide that such inconveniences might be avoided and better laws brought in use, by the which their ancestors lived in a more quiet and happy state.

239There was brought forth and also read an ancient charter made sometime by Henry the First (whichThe charter of King Henry the First. charter Stephen the Archbishop of Canterbury had delivered unto them before in the city of London) containing the grant of certain liberties according to the laws of King Edward the ConfessorA firebrand of dissension. profitable to the church and barons of the realm, which they purposed to have universally executed over all the land. And therefore being thus assembled in the quire of the church of Saint Edmund, they received a solemn oath upon the altar there that if the king would not grant to the same liberties, with others which be of his own accord had promised to confirm to them, they would from thenceforth make war upon him till they had obtained their purpose and enforced him to grant, not only to all these their petitions, but also yield to the confirmation of them under his seal for ever to remain most steadfast and inviolable.

240The chief cause that moved the lords to this conspiracy rose by reason the king demanded escuage of them that refused to go with him into Poitou; and they on the other part maintained that they were not bound to pay it for any wars which the king made in the parts beyond the seas. But he to prove that he ought to have it declared how in his father's and brother's time it was paid, and therefore he ought to have it. Much ado there was about this matter at the first broaching thereof, and more ado there had been if the legate's presence had not somewhat stayed the parties. But after they had gotten the charter of King Henry the First at the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury they made such a sinister interpretation thereof that, supposing it to serve their turns, they proceeded in their wilful opinions (as above is mentioned).

241Finally it was determined amongst them that shortly after Christmas they should go to the king and require of him that they might have those laws restored which he had promised to them (as is aforesaid). But forasmuch as they knew well that their suit would not be thankfully accepted, in the mean time they provided themselves of horse, armor, and other furniture for the war, thereby to be in the better readiness and safeguard if in exhibiting their request the matter did grow to any such enforcement. They appointed also divers of the most ancient lords to move the said matter to the king in all their names, who was as then at Worcester, and being advertised of this conspiracy, as soon as the feast of Christmas was past he went straight to London; thither came the lords also with like speed,1215 leaving their men in the towns and villages abroad to be ready upon any sudden warning to come unto them if need should so require.

242[King John first agrees to their requests, but changes his mind]

Being come into his presence, they required of him that it might please himThe lords present their request to the king. first, to appoint the exercise and use of those ancient laws unto them by the which the kings of England in times past ruled their subjects; secondly, that, according to his promise, he would abrogate those newer laws which every man might with good cause name mere wrongs rather than laws; and thirdly, they required of him the performance of all other things which he had most faithfully of late undertaken to observe. The king (though somewhat contrary to his nature) having heard their request gave them a very gentle answer. For perceiving them ready with force to constrain him if by gentleness they might not prevail, he thought it should be more safe and easy for him to turn their unquiet minds with soft remedies than to go about to break them of their wills by strong hand, which is a thing very dangerous, especially where both parts are of like force.The King promiseth to consider of their requests. Therefore he promised them within a few days to have consideration of their request.

243And to the intent they might give the more credit to his words, he caused the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of Ely, with William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke (unto whom he had given his daughter Eleanor in marriage), to undertake for him, and as it were to become his sureties -- which willingly they did. Herewith the minds of the nobility being somewhat pacified, [they] returned home to their houses. The king soon after also,The king commandeth a new oath of allegiance of his subjects. to assure himself the more effectually of the allegiance of his people in time to come, caused every man to renew his homage and to take a new oath to be faithful to him against all other persons. And to provide the more surely for himself, on Candlemass day next ensuing he took upon him the cross to go into the holy land,The king taketh on him the cross. which I think he did rather for fear than any devotion, as was also thought by other, to the end that he might (under the protection thereof) remain the more out of danger of such as were his foes. In which point of dissimulation he showed himself prudent, observing the counsel of the wise man,

-- inclusum corde dolorem
Dissimula atque tace, ne deteriora subinde
Damna feras.

244¶ Some say that a great part of this variance that chanced between King John and his baronsThe causes of the discord betwixt the king and his barons. The king's covetousness. was because the king would without skilful advice have exiled the Earl of Chester, and for none other occasion than for that he had oftentimes advised him to leave his cruel dealing, and also his accustomed adultery with his brother's wife and others. Other write that the same dissension rose by reason of the great cruelty and unreasonable avarice which the king used towards all the states and degrees of his subjects, as well towards them of the spirituality as of the temporality. The prelates therefore of the realm, sore repining at his doingsThe repining of the clergy against the king. for that they could not patiently suffer such exaction to be levied of their livings (contrary as they took it to the liberty of the church) found means through practise to persuade both the kings of Scotland and France to aid and support them against him by linking themselves together with sundry noblemen of England. But these seem to be conjectures of such writers as were evil affected towards the king's cause.

245Now therefore to the sequel of the matter. The king having sent away the barons with a gentle answer, though he minded nothing less than to satisfy them in that they did demand because it made much against his royal prerogative; and therewith foreseeing that the matter would be like to grow at length to be tried by force, he began to doubt his own estate, and therefore prepared an army and fortified divers castles and places with men, munition, and victuals, into the which he might retire for his safety in any time of need. The barons which understood the king's diligence herein, and conjecturing thereof his whole intent, made ready also their power, appointing for their general one Robert FitzWalter, a man both excellent in counselRobert FitzWalter. and valiant in war. Herewith they came unto the Archbishop of Canterbury, presenting unto him a book wherein was contained a note of all the articles of their petitions,The Archbishop of Canterbury moveth the king to satisfy the requests of the barons. and required him to understand the king's mind touching the same. The archbishop coveting to extinguish the sedition (whereof he himself had been no small kindler) which was like to grow if the nobility were not pacified the sooner, talked with the king and exhorted his grace very instantly to satisfy the requests of his barons, and herewith did show the book of the articles which they had delivered unto him.

246[The barons prepare for war]

The king, when he saw what they demanded (which in effect was a new order in things touching the whole state of the commonwealth), swore in a great furyThe king refuseth to grant their petitions. that he would never condescend unto those petitions. Whereof when the barons had knowledge they got them straight unto armor, making their assembly at Stamford in the Easter week, whither they had drawn unto them almost the whole nobility and gathered an exceeding great army. For the commons flocked unto them from every part because the king was generally hated of the more part of his subjects.

247It was conjectured that there were in that army the number of two thousand knights, beside yeomen on horseback or demi-lances (as I may call them) and footmen appareled in divers sorts of armor. The chief ringleaders of this power were these, whose names ensue:The names of the lords that banded themselves against the king. Robert FitzWalter, Eustace Vescie, Richard Percy, Robert Roos, Peter de Breuse, Nicholas de Stutevil, Saer, Earl of Winchester, Robert, Earl of Clare, Henry, Earl of Clare, Richard, Earl [of] Bigot, William de Mowbray, William de Cressey, Ralfe FitzRobert, Robert de Vere, Foulke Fitzwarren, William Mallet, William de Montacute, William de Beauchamp, Simon de Kime, William Marshall the younger, William Manduit, Robert de Montibigonis, John FitzRobert, John FitzAlan, G. Lauale, O. FitzAlan, W. de Hobrug, O. de Vales, G. de Gaunt, Maurice de Gaunt, Robert de Brakesley, Robert de Mounfichet, William de Lanualley, G. de Maundevile Earl of Essex, William his brother, William de Huntingfield, Robert de Gresley, G. Constable of Menton, Alexander de Panton, Peter FitzJohn, Alexander de Sutton, Osbert de Body, John, Constable of Chester, Thomas de Muleton, Conan FitzHealy, and many other; they had also of council with them as chief the Archbishop of Canterbury.

248The king as then was at Oxford, who, hearing of the assembly which the barons made,Anno Reg. 17. and that they were come to Brakesley, on the Monday next after the octaves of Easter, he sent unto them the Archbishop of Canterbury,The king sendeth to the lords. in whom he reposed great confidence, and William Marshall Earl of Pembroke, to understand what they meant by that their assembling thus together. Whereupon they delivered to the same messengers a roll containing the ancient liberties, privileges and customs of the realm, signifying that if the king would not confirm the same, they would not cease to make him war till he should satisfy their requests in that behalf.

249The archbishop and the earl, returning to the king, showed him the whole circumstance of that which the barons demanded, who took great indignation thereat, and scornfully said, "Why do they not ask to have the kingdom also?" Finally, he affirmed with an oath that he would never grant any such liberties, whereby he should become a slave.

250Hereupon the archbishop and the Earl of Pembroke returned to the barons, and declared the king's denial to confirm their articles. Then the barons naming their host "The army of God and the holy Church,"The barons give a plausible name to their army. set forward, and first came unto Northampton, and besieging the town, when they could not prevail, because the same was well provided for defense aforehand,Northampton besieged. they departed from thence, and came towards Bedford to besiege the castle there, in which sir William Beauchamp was captain,They won the town but not the castle. who, being secretly confederate with them, delivered the place incontinently into their hands.

251[The barons take the city of London]

Bedford castle delivered to the barons. whilst they remained here a certain time to fortify and furnish the castle with necessary provision, there came letters to them from London, giving them to understand that if they would send a convenient power of soldiers to defend the city, the same should be received thereinto at some meet and reasonable time in the night season by the citizens, who would join with them in that quarrel against the king to the uttermost of their powers. The lords were glad of these news, to have the chief city of the realm to take part with them, and therefore they sent four bands of soldiers straightway thither, which were brought into the city in the night season (according to order aforehand taken). But as Matthew Paris saith, they were received into the city by Algate the 24th of May, being Sunday, whilst the citizens were at mass. The next day they made open rebellion, took such as they knew favored the king, broke into the houses of the Jews and spoiled them.

252The barons having thus gotten possession of the city of London, wrote letters unto all those lords which as yet had not joined with them in this confederacy, threatening that if they refused to aid them now in this necessityThe barons write to other of the nobility to join with them against the king. they would destroy their castles, manors, parks, and other possessions, making open war upon them as the enemies of God and rebels to the Church. These were the names of those lords which yet had not sworn to maintain the foresaid liberties: William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, Ranulf, Earl of Chester, Nicholas, Earl of Salisbury, William, Earl Warren, William, Earl of Albemarle, H. Earl of Cornewall, W. de Albenie, Robert de Veipount, Peter FitzHerbert, Brian de Lisley, G. de Lucie, G. de Furniuall, Thomas Basset, H. de Braibrooke, I. de Bassingborne, W. de Cantlow, H. de Cornwall, John FitzHugh, Hugh de Nevill, Philip de Albeny, John Marshall, and William Brewer. All these upon receipt of the barons' letters, or the more part of them, came to London and joined themselves with the barons, utterly renouncing to aid King John.

253Also the pleas in the exchequer ceased, and the sheriffs stayed from executing their office.The king left desolate of friends. For there was none that would pay any money to the king's use, nor any that did obey him, insomuch that there remained with him but only seven horsemen of all his train at one time (as some write) though soon after he had a great power, which came to him to the castle of Windsor where he then lay, and meant to have led the same against the lords with all speed. But hearing now of this new rebellion of the Londoners, he changed his purpose and durst not depart from Windsor, being brought in great doubt lest all the other cities of the realm would follow their example. Hereupon he thought good to assay if he might come to some agreement by way of communication, and incontinently sent his ambassadors to the barons, promising them that he would satisfy their requests if they would come to Windsor to talk with him.