Richard Lion-heart and King John

History and ballad, the chronicler and the troubadour, and more effectually than either, the novelist of the North, have made Richard Cœur de Lion one of the favourite heroes of England (Fig. 437). Without the wisdom of his great father, he was the representative of the courage, the fortitude, and the gallantry of the Plantagenets,—of the mixed blood of the Saxon and Norman races. We follow the fortunes of the royal crusader over many a battle field, in which gallantry was always sure of its guerdon from his knightly sword (Fig. 442). We can almost believe in the old metrical romance, which tells us how

“The aweless lion could not wage the fight,

Nor keep his princely heart from Richard’s hand.”

(Fig. 444.) The touching friendship of his minstrel, Blondel, tells us that the lion-hearted king had something even nobler in his nature than his indomitable courage and his physical strength. “One day he (Blondel) sat directly before a window of the castle where King Richard was kept prisoner, and began to sing a song in French, which King Richard and Blondel had sometime composed together. When King Richard heard the song, he knew it was Blondel that sung it; and when Blondel paused at half of the song, the King began the other half, and completed it.” His was a premature death. But generous as he was, he would have been a dangerous keeper of the rights of England. Of his brother John, the mean and treacherous John, a modern writer finely says: “The strong hands of the two first Plantagenets, Henry II. and Richard Cœur de Lion, his father and brother, were in the dust, and the iron sceptre which they had wielded lay rusting among the heavy armour which an imbecile and coward could not wear,” (Pictorial History of England, vol. i.) The heart of Richard, by his own direction, was carried to his faithful city of Rouen for interment, and his body was buried at the feet of his father at Fontevraud; the statue which was placed upon his tomb in that ancient monastery is still remaining. It is of painted stone, and this is the principal authority for the portrait of Richard (Fig. 438). Here also is an effigy of his Queen Berengaria (Fig. 440). The faithful city of Rouen did not well keep its faith to the lion-hearted. A splendid tomb was erected over the heart of the king, and it was surrounded by a silver balustrade; but within half a century the faithful city melted the silver. In the year 1733 the chapter of the Cathedral, to effect some alteration in their church, pulled down the monuments of Richard and his brother, and of the great Duke of Bedford, and they laid down three plain slabs instead, in the pavement of the high altar. In 1838 some searches under this pavement were made by the prefect of the department, and amongst the rubbish was found a fine but mutilated statue of Richard (Fig, 439), and a leaden box containing a smaller box, which held all that remained of the lion heart—something that had “the appearance of a reddish-coloured leaf, dry and bent round at the ends.”—“To this complexion we must come at last.

The name of King John has two leading associations—Magna Charta and his murdered nephew. The great dramatic poet of England has so associated the fortunes of Constance and Arthur with the troubles, the fears, and the death-struggles of their faithless kinsman, that we look upon these events through the poetical medium as a natural series of cause and consequence. “The death of Arthur and the events which marked the last days of John were separated in their cause and effect by time only, over which the poet leaps.” But the political history of John may be read in the most durable of antiquities—the Records of the kingdom. And the people may read the most remarkable of these records whenever they please to look upon it. Magna Charta, the great charter of England, entire as at the hour in which it was written, is preserved, not for reference on doubtful questions of right, not to be proclaimed at market-crosses or to be read in churches, as in the time of Edward L, but for the gratification of a just curiosity and an honest national pride. The humblest in the land may look upon that document day by day, in the British Museum, which more than six hundred years ago declared that “no freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned, or dispossessed of his tenement, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner proceeded against, unless by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.” This is the foundation of statute upon statute, and of what is as stringent as statute, the common law, through which for six hundred years we have been struggling to breathe the breath of freedom,—and we have not struggled in vain. The Great Charter is in Latin, written in a beautiful hand, of which we give a specimen in Fig. 458.

Runnemede,—or Runingmede, as the Charter has it,—was, according to Matthew of Westminster, a place where treaties concerning the peace of the kingdom had been often made. The name distinctly signifies a place of council. Rune-med is an Anglo-Saxon compound, meaning the Council-Meadow. We can never forget that Council-Meadow, for it entered into our first visions of Liberty:—

“Fair Runnemede! oft hath my lingering eye

Paus’d on thy tufted green and cultur’d hill;

And there my busy soul would drink her fill

Of lofty dreams, which on thy bosom lie.

Dear plain! never my feet have pass’d thee by,

At sprightly morn, high noon, or evening still,

But thou hast fashion’d all my pliant will

To soul-ennobling thoughts of liberty.

Thou dost not need a perishable stone

Of sculptur’d story;—records ever young

Proclaim the gladdening triumph thou hast known:—

The soil, the passing stream, hath still a tongue;

And every wind breathes out an eloquent tone,

That Freedom’s self might wake, thy fields among.”

These are commonplace rhymes—schoolboy verses; but we are not ashamed of having written them, Runnemede was our Marathon. Very beautiful is that narrow slip of meadow on the edge of the Thames, with gentle hills bounding it for a mile or so. It is a valley of fertility. Is this a fitting place to be the cradle of English freedom? Ought we not, to make our associations harmonious, to have something bolder and sterner than this quiet mead, and that still water, with its island cottage? (Fig. 455.) Poetry tells us that “rocky ramparts” are

The rough abodes of want and liberty.”—Gray.

But the liberty of England was nurtured in her prosperity. The Great Charter, which says, “No freeman, or merchant, or villain shall be unreasonably fined for a small offence,—the first shall not be deprived of his tenement, the second of his merchandise, the third of his implements of husbandry,” exhibited a state far more advanced than that of the “want and liberty” of the poet, where the iron race of the mountain cliffs

Insult the plenty of the vales below.

Runnemede is a fitting place for the cradle of English liberty. Denham, who from his Cooper’s Hill looked down upon the Thames, wandering past this mead to become “the world’s exchange,” somewhat tamely speaks of the plain at his feet:

Here was that Charter seal’d, wherein the crown All marks of arbitrary power lays down; Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear, The happier style of king and subject bear; Happy when both to the same centre move, When kings give liberty, and subjects love.

Our liberty was not so won. It was wrested from kings, and not given by them; and the love we bestow upon those who are the central point of our liberty is the homage of reason to security. That security has made the Thames “the world’s exchange;” that security has raised up the great city which lies like a mist below Cooper’s Hill; that security has caused the towers of Windsor, which we see from the same hill, to rise up in new splendour, instead of crumbling into ruin like many a stronghold of feudal oppression. Our prosperity is the child of our free institutions; and the child has gone forward strengthening and succouring the parent. Yet the iron men who won this charter of liberties dreamt not of the day when a greater power than their own, the power of the merchants and the villains, would rise up to keep what they had sworn to win, upon the altar of St. Edmundsbury (Fig. 463). The Fitz-Walter, and De Roos, and De Clare, and De Percy, and De Mandeville, and De Vescy, and De Mowbray, and De Montacute, and De Beauchamp,—these great progenitors of our English nobility,—compelled the despot to put his seal to the Charter of Runnemede (Fig. 459). But another order of men, whom they of the pointed shield and the mascled armour would have despised as slaves, have kept, and will keep, God willing, what they won on the 15th of June, in the year of grace 1215. The thing has rooted into our English earth like the Ankerwyke Yew on the opposite bank of the Thames, which is still vigorous, though held to be older than the great day of Runnemede (Fig. 457).

Figure spread at pages 112 and 113:


Magna Charta is a record. Bishop Nicolson says, “Our stores of public records are justly reckoned to excel in age, beauty, correctness, and authority, whatever the choicest archives abroad can boast of the like sort.” Miles, nay, hundreds of miles, of parchment are preserved in our public offices, which incidentally exhibit the progress of the nation in its institutions and its habits, and decide many an historical fact which would otherwise be matter of controversy or of speculation. Nothing can more truly manifest the value of these documents than the fact that the actual place in which this said King John was, on almost every day, from the first year of his reign to the last, has been traced by a diligent examination of the Patent Rolls in the Tower of London. Mr. Hardy has appended to his curious Introduction to these Rolls, published by authority of the Record Commission, the “Itinerary of King John.” A most restless being does he appear to have been, flying about in cumbrous carriages (Fig. 461) to all parts of England; sailing to Normandy (Fig. 460); now holding his state in his Palace at Westminster, now at Windsor (Fig. 464); and never at ease till he was laid in his tomb at Worcester (Fig. 465). We extract an instructive passage from Mr. Hardy’s Introduction:—

“Rapin, Hume, Henry, and those English historians who have followed Matthew Paris, state that, as soon as King John had sealed the Great Charter, he became sullen, dejected, and reserved, and shunning the society of his nobles and courtiers, retired, with a few of his attendants, to the Isle of Wight, as if desirous of hiding his shame and confusion, where he conversed only with fishermen and sailors, diverting himself with walking on the sea-shore with his domestics; that, in this retreat, he formed plans for the recovery of the prerogatives which he had lately relinquished; and meditated, at the same time, the most fatal vengeance against his enemies; that he sent his emissaries abroad to collect an army of mercenaries and Brabacons, and dispatched messengers to Rome, for the purpose of securing the protection of the papal see; and that, whilst his agents were employed in executing their several commissions, he himself remained in the Isle of Wight, awaiting the arrival of the foreign soldiers.

“That these statements are partially if not wholly unfounded will appear by the attestations to the royal letters during the period in question.

Previously to the sealing of Magna Charta, namely, from the 1st to the 3rd of June, 1215, the King was at Windsor, from which place he can be traced, by his attestations, to Odiham, and thence to Winchester, where he remained till the 8th. From Winchester he went to Merton; he was again at Odiham on the 9th, whence he returned to Windsor, and continued there till the 15th: on that day he met the barons at Runnemede by appointment, and there sealed the great charter of English liberty. The King then returned to Windsor, and remained there until the 18th of June, from which time until the 23rd he was every day both at Windsor and Runnemede, and did not finally leave Windsor and its vicinity before the 26th of the same month; John then proceeded through Odiham to Winchester, and continued in that city till the end of June. The first four days of July he passed at Marlborough, from which place he went to Devizes, Bradenstoke, and Calne; reached Cirencester on the 7th, and returned to Marlborough on the following day. He afterwards went to Ludgershall, and through Clarendon into Dorsetshire, as far as Corfe Castle, but returned to Clarendon on the 15th of July, from which place he proceeded, through Newbury and Abingdon, to Woodstock, and thence to Oxford, where he arrived on the 17th of that month; and in a letter dated on the 15th of July, between Newbury and Abingdon, the King mentions the impossibility of his reaching Oxford by the 16th, according to his appointment with the barons.

The publications of the Record Commissioners are enriched by the researches of some of our most eminent living antiquarians, who have brought to their task a fund of historical knowledge, and a sagacity in showing the connection between these dust-covered records and the history of our constitution, which have imparted a precision to historical writing unknown to the last age. No man has laboured more assiduously in this field than Sir Francis Palgrave; and he has especially shown that a true antiquary is not a mere scavenger of the baser things of time, but one whose talent and knowledge can discover the use and the connection of ancient things, which are not really worn out, and which are only held to be worthless by the ignorant and the unimaginative. Sir Francis Palgrave is the Keeper of the Records in the Treasury of the Exchequer, and his publication of the ancient Kalendars and Inventories of that Treasury contains a body of documents of the greatest value, introduced by an account of this great depository of the Crown Records, which is full of interest and instruction. “The custom of depositing records and muniments amongst the treasures of the state is grounded upon such obvious reasons, that it prevailed almost universally amongst ancient nations; nor, indeed, is it entirely discontinued at the present day. The earliest, and in all respects the most remarkable, testimony concerning this practice is found in the Holy Scriptures:—’ Now, therefore, if it seem good to the King, let there be search made in the King’s Treasure-house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the King to build this house of God at Jerusalem.” Then Darius the King made a decree, and search was made in the House of the Rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.’ ” The high antiquity of this custom imparts even a new value to our own Treasure Chambers. Those who feel an interest in the subject may consult a brief but valuable article under the head ‘Records’ in the Penny Cyclopædia. From Sir Francis Palgrave’s Introduction to the Ancient Kalendars we extract one or two amusing passages descriptive of some of the Figures in p. 121:—

“The plans anciently adopted for the arrangement and preservation of the instruments had many peculiarities. Presses, such as are now employed, do not seem to have been in use. Chests, bound with iron;—forcers or coffers, secured in the same manner;—pouches or bags of canvass or leather (Fig. 468);—skippets, or small boxes turned on the lathe (Fig. 469);—tills or drawers;—and hanapers or hampers of ‘twyggys’ (Fig. 470);—are all enumerated as the places of stowage or deposit. To these reference was made, sometimes by letters, sometimes by inscriptions, sometimes by tickets or labels, and sometimes by ‘signs;’ that is to say by rude sketches, drawings, or paintings, which had generally some reference to the subject matter of the documents (Fig. 467).

“Thus the sign of the instruments relating to Arragon is a lancer on a jennet;—Wales, a Briton in the costume of his country, one foot shod and the other bare;—Ireland, an Irisher, clad in a very singular hood and cape;—Scotland, a Lochaber axe;—Yarmouth, three united herrings;—the rolls of the Justices of the Forest, an oak sapling;—the obligations entered into by the men of Chester, for their due obedience to Edward, Earl of Chester, a gallows, indicating the fate which might be threatened in case of rebellion, or which the officers of the Treasury thought they had already well deserved;—Royal marriages, a hand in hand;—the indentures relating to the subsidy upon woollen cloths, a pair of shears;—instruments relating to the lands of the Earl of Gloucester in Wales, a castle surrounded by a banner charged with the Clare arms;—and the like, of which various examples will be found by inspection of the calendars and memoranda.*

*The rolls of the Justices of the Forest were marked by the sapling oak (No. 1). Papal bulls, by the triple crown. Four canvass pouches holding rolls and tallies of certain payments made for the church of Westminster were marked by the church (3). The head in a cowl (4) marked an indenture respecting the jewels found in the house of the Fratres Minores in Salop. The scales (5), the assay of the mint in Dublin. The Briton having one foot shod and the other bare, with the lance and sword (6), marked the wooden ‘coffin’ holding the acquittance of receipts from Llewellin, Prince of Wales. Three herrings (7), the ’ forcer’ of leather bound with iron, containing documents relating to Yarmouth, &c. The lancer (8), documents relating to Arragon. The united hands (9), the marriage between Henry, Prince of Wales, and Philippa, daughter of Henry IV. The galley (10), the recognizance of merchants of the three galleys of Venice. The hand and book (11), fealty to kings John and Henry. The charter or cyrograph (12), treaties and truces between England and Scotland. The hooded monk (13), advowsons of Irish churches; and the castle with a banner of the Clare arms (14), records relating to the possessions of the Earl of Gloucester in Wales.”—(Penny Cyclopædia.)

“Two ancient boxes painted with shields of arms, part of the old furniture, are yet in existence, together with several curious chests, coffers, and skippets of various sorts and sizes, all sufficiently curious and uncouth, together with various specimens of the hanapers woven of ‘twyggys,’ as described in the text.

“One of these hanapers was discovered under rather remarkable circumstances. On the 15th of Feb., in the third year of the reign of Richard II., Thomas Orgrave, clerk, delivers into the Treasury, to be there safely kept, certain muniments relating to the lands and tenements in Berkhampstead, formerly belonging to William the son and heir of John Hunt, and which the King had purchased of Dyonisia the widow of William de Sutton, and which are stated to be placed in a certain hanaper or hamper within a chest over the receipt. Upon a recent inspection of a bag of deeds relating to the county of Berks, I found that it contained the hanaper so described, with a label exactly conformable to the entry in the memoranda, crumbling and decaying, but tied up, and in a state which evidently showed that it had never been opened since the time of its first deposit in the Treasury; and within the hanaper were all the several deeds, with their seals in the highest state of preservation.”

Connected with the subject of the ancient records of the crown may be mentioned the tallies of the Exchequer, which were actually in use from the very earliest times till the year 1834. These primitive records of account have been thus described: “The tallies used in the Exchequer (one is shown in Fig. 471) answered the purpose of receipts as well as simple records of matters of account. They consisted of squared rods of hazel or other wood, upon one side of which was marked, by notches, the sum for which the tally was an acknowledgment; one kind of notch standing for 1000l., another for 100l., another for 20l., and others for 20s., 1s., &c. On two other sides of the tally, opposite to each other, the amount of the sum, the name of the payer, and the date of the transaction, were written by an officer called the writer of the tallies; and after this was done, the stick was cleft longitudinally in such a manner that each piece retained one of the written sides, and one-half of every notch cut in the tally. One piece was then delivered to the person who had paid in the money, for which it was a receipt or acquittance, while the other was preserved in the Exchequer.” The Saxon Reeve-pole, used in the Isle of Portland down to a very recent period by the collector of the king’s rents, shows the sum which each person has to pay to the king as lord of the manor (Fig. 473). The Clog Almanac, which was common in Staffordshire in the seventeenth century, was in the same way a record of the future, cut on the sides of a square stick, such as exhibited in Fig. 472.