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the feudatory dependence of England on the Holy See in terms hardly less distinct than those used by John himself. The step taken by Henry II in 1173 was the distinct forerunner of that of 1213, only that at the latter date the need for protection was more obvious. It was better to be feudatory to the pope than feudatory to the king of France, who alone of all the sovereigns of Europe kept aloof from the system of the papal league, which at the beginning of the thirteenth century already overshadowed the Germanic Empire.
The crusades added a new motive to induce nations to recognise the popes as their leaders. They alone could, and in fact did, organise the opposition to the infidel, who at one time threatened to overrun all the Christian countries of western Europe and sweep away the civilisation which had been slowly built up on the ruins of the Roman empire. Then the Latin West had to defend the Latin East, and this seemed naturally to devolve upon the popes; whilst the invasions of the Tartars and the frequent wars with the Hohenstaufen demanded constant vigilance and the expenditure of much money on the part of the head of Christendom. It is admitted, I believe, that it was to carry out these public duties and benefits to the world that the popes were obliged so constantly to appeal to the generosity of their spiritual children, whose temporal quarrels they were really fighting. It was not out of a passion for wealth, nor indeed to gratify any love of personal splendour, that the mediaeval popes made those unpopular demands for money about which much will have to be said in the following pages.
The estates of the Church could not possibly suffice to supply money for all the necessary works undertaken by the papacy as the centre of Christendom. Sometimes, indeed, the pope was entirely dispossessed of his lands by his enemies, and in fact when they were in the hands of the emperor Frederick, we have the most numerous instances recorded of Italians being beneficed in England and France. The popes, reduced to great straits in the government of the Church and Christendom at one of the most critical moments in the history of Europe, were unable to reward faithful services except by conferring benefices in foreign lands. Whilst wholly condemning the practice, we should remember, in fairness, that England was not altogether without some return for what was thus taken from her. If the papal design in regard to the crown of Sicily had been carried out, and Henry III's son had been established on that throne, the story of which proposal and of its failure is briefly told in one of the chapters of this volume, who shall say how different might have been the subsequent history of the Church and of Europe? It was the policy of the popes to keep the Sicilian crown distinct from the German imperial crown, and had not Innocent III, as feudal lord, protected the rights as well as the person of the heir, it would have been lost, as Henry's would have been at his father's death if the pope had not come forward to protect his youthful vassal. It is, perhaps, idle to speculate on what might have been; but it does not require much knowledge of the sequence of events to say that had one of England's sons been established in Sicily, for one thing the long period of papal exile in France could hardly have taken place. In their design to connect Sicily with England the popes failed, but they succeeded better in other matters. Had it not been for the papal forethought and protection, England might, and in all probability would, have become a feudatory State under the French crown, or it may be even an outlying part of the German Empire. Indeed, as late as the Council of Constance, in 1417, the French endeavoured to maintain that rightly England was not a country apart, but that legally it was an integral portion of Germany. If in the making of the nations England was saved, it was in some measure at least because, as the late Lord Acton once declared, the union of this country with the papal system “tended to increase considerably the national power and national greatness.”
HENRY III AND THE CHURCH
CHAPTER I ENGLAND A FIEF OF THE HOLY SEE KING JOHN died on 16th October, 1216. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Henry III at one of the most critical periods of our national history. The Great Charter of the previous year had been thought by many to have finally settled matters long in dispute between John and the nation at large. Such sanguine expectations, however, argued ignorance of the king's real character. From the first, writhing under the stress of circumstances which had compelled him to seal his approval of the liberties conferred by the Charter on his subjects, he had resolved at the earliest opportunity to shake off the yoke to which he had apparently submitted.
The Magna Charta had received John's final assent on 15th June, 1215. Without a moment's delay the king set to work by representations at Rome to obtain from the pope a declaration of its nullity, and a papal absolution from the solemn oaths that bound him to observe its provisions. Any grant of liberties to the nation, it was argued by the king's agent in the Curia, was void legally, if the previous consent of the pope, as overlord of the kingdom of England, had not been obtained. This had not been done, and hence the Charter was undoubtedly void. Further, it was argued
that the king should be absolved from the oaths he had taken, because he had been forced to take them. The pontiff who then sat upon the throne of Peter, was Innocent III, a pope of great ability, and of almost unlimited power in the western world. Of him Mr. Brewer writes that “his transcendent genius ... is conspicuous not only in the changes hewrought in the whole system of European politics, but still more in his successful mastery of all opposition from contemporary sovereigns. If Alexander desired to find kings as competitors in the race, Innocent was surrounded by monarchs as able as himself, accustomed not to render but to receive homage, capable of resenting any infringement of their dignity. He found Christianity in a fluid state with a tendency to glomerate round different centres, and revolve in different orbits. At his death he left the papacy the sole acknowledged centre towards which all states gravitated as the law of their existence; and perhaps what was more difficult to achieve, he rooted his convictions for centuries in the hearts of men, however opposite their moral or intellectual characters.” 1
From this point of view one of this great pontiff's greatest achievements was his complete victory at the close of the long struggle with King John. It issued in the king's humble submission on Ascension day, 1213, to the papal envoy, and in his acknowledgement of Innocent and his successors on the throne of the Fisherman, as supreme overlords of the kingdom of England and Ireland. Henceforth, as the terms of the surrender plainly state, the kings of England were to rule as vassals of the pope, and in visible token of this new position John put off his crown and then knelt to receive it again at the hands of the nuncio Pandulph.
? Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera (Rolls. ed.), i. Introd. lxviii.