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England-King John Loses Normandy

1003

The French King took the side of Arthur, who had lost his mother a short time before.

"You know your rights," said the King to the young prince; "do you not wish to become king?"

"I do," was the emphatic reply.

"Very well; two hundred knights are ready to march with you against your own provinces while I advance into Normandy."

Fired by the ambition of asserting his own rights, Arthur placed himself at the head of the little force, which was as eager as he, and advanced against the little town of Mirebeau in Poitou, where his grandmother was living. Arthur had been taught by his mother to hate this woman, and he believed that by making her prisoner he could gain better terms from his uncle, King John; but the old queen stoutly defended herself and held the castle long enough for her son to hurry to her aid. One of Arthur's noblemen delivered up the town on the night of July 31, 1202, to John, first exacting a promise that no harm should be done to the prince. The besiegers were made prisoners, while Arthur was first shut up in a neighboring castle, from which he was shortly taken to Rouen and thrown into a dungeon. Then, like many a proud ship that sails out upon the ocean, no certain tidings ever came back from him. It is generally believed that on the night of April 3, 1203, the King came to the prison, accompanied by his esquire, Peter De Maulac, and that they took the prince from his dungeon and rowed out in a small boat on the Seine. Arthur was in great fear and begged his uncle to spare his life, promising to do whatever he wished if he would only allow him to live. But the wretch made a signal to De Maulac, who refused to do the horrible deed, whereupon the King himself drove a dagger into the body of the poor youth and flung his body overboard. There is little room for doubt that Arthur was slain in this dreadful manner, for no more was ever heard of him.

Philip, King of France, charged John with the crime and ordered him, as Duke of Normandy, to appear at Paris for trial. John was too frightened to obey, whereupon he was proclaimed a traitor, and all his lands on the continent were declared forfeited. After losing a great deal of territory, he made an effort to regain it, but was crushingly defeated, and Philip seized Normandy and took away from John all his possessions north of the Loire. This seeming misfortune was a great benefit to England, for her kings were now compelled to live among their own subjects and to centre their interests and energies in them.

John came back from his defeat soured and revengeful. He insulted and ill-treated the clergy to such a degree that Pope Innocent III. interfered. The King still proving stubborn, the Pope laid England under an interdict. This

For two years the

All sacra

The Pope

meant the entire suppression of all religious services. church bells were silent, and the churches draped in mourning. ments were denied to the living and funeral prayers to the dead. next excommunicated John, who laughed with scorn and treated the priests with such brutality that they fled from the country. Then the Pope took his final step by deposing the King and ordering Philip of France to seize the throne.

This brought John to his senses, for he saw himself abandoned on every hand. He kneeled at the foot of the Pope's representative, whom he had refused to allow to enter England, and promised to pay a yearly tax of more than $60,000 for permission to keep the English crown upon his head. This satisfied the Pope, who removed the interdict and excommunication, and peace was restored.

But though the Pope had vanquished the wretch, John was too evil by nature to restrain his evil courses. He taxed the miserable people to the point of starvation; he flung those whom he disliked into prison, and refused to bring them to trial; he robbed right and left, and made himself abominated by all, both noble and peasant. In short, he trampled upon the worm until it turned.

One day in the summer of 1213, there was a secret meeting in London of the leading men, including Stephen Langton, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and a prime mover in the object that had brought them together. They were earnest in their purpose and agreed to form a new code of laws, taken from the ancient charter given by Henry I., and to compel the King to sign it. A few days later, the King was at Mass in the Tower of London, when he was scared almost out of his senses by hearing the steady tramp, tramp of men and the angry shouts of the people themselves. In a short time the multitude filed through the streets into the open space in front of the Tower. The trembling King went out and timidly asked what it all meant. He was told that the barons had risen against him and the citizens were welcoming them. The terrified John ran out of the back of the Tower to the river-side, and was rowed across that he might escape the vengeance he so well merited.

As a result of this, a famous historical event took place on the 15th of June, 1215, at the meadow of Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames. It was a bright sunshiny day, and the air was laden with the fragrance of flowers and cooled by the soft breezes that rippled the river and dipped the heads of the rushes on the banks. On the shore stood a couple of tents, from one of which banners were flying, while sounds of merriment floated from within, where the King made sorry attempts at jesting, while awaiting the action of the stern men in the other tent, at whose head was Stephen Langton.

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