« PreviousContinue »
upon being committed to the Castle of Corf, when the day by him prefixed came, without any other notable damage unto king John, he was, by the king's commandement, drawn from the said castell unto the towne of Warham, and there hanged, togither with his sonne. The people much blamed king John for this extreame dealing, bicause that the heremit was supposed to be a man of great virtue, and his sonne nothing guiltie of the offense committed by his father (if any were) against the king. Moreover, some thought that he had much wrong to die, bicause the matter fell out even as he had prophesied ; for, the day before the Ascension day, king John had resigned the superioritie of his kingdome (as they tooke the matter) unto the pope, and had doone to him homage, so that he was no absolute King indeed, as authors affirm. One cause, and that not the least which mooved king John the sooner to agree with the pope, rose through the words of the said heremit, that did put such a feare of some great mishap in his hart, which would grow through the disloialtie of his people, that it made him yeeld the sooner.”
The “five moons" are soberly recorded in Holinshed as having appeared in 1200. “About the moneth of December, there were seene in the province of Yorke five moones, one in the east, the second in the west, the third in the north, the fourth in the south, and the fift as it were set in the middest of the other; having manie stars about it, and went five or six times incompassing the other, as it were the space of one houre, and shortlie after vanished awaie."
With Arthur's death we are again carried forward to 1203. After explaining how the “Britains” were angered still more upon hearing rumours of Arthur's death, and how the fact that he was still living was then made known, Holinshed goes on to say: “But now touching the maner in verie deed of the end of this Arthur, writers make sundrie reports. Nevertheless certeine it is, that, in the yeare next insuing, he was remooved from Falais unto the castell or tower of Rouen, out of the which there was not any that would confesse that ever he saw him go alive. Some have written, that, as he assaied to have escaped out of prison, and prooving to clime over the wals of the castell, he fell into the river of Saine, and so was drowned. Other write, that through verie greefe and languor he pined awaie, and died of naturall sicknesse. But some affirme, that King John secretlie caused him to be murthered and made awaie, so as it is not throughlie agreed upon, in what sort he finished his daies; but verelie king John was had in great suspicion, whether worthilie or not, the lord knoweth."
Act v. opens with John's submission to Pandulph, which took place on 22nd May, the vigil of Ascension Day, 1213. The play, however, treats it as Ascension Day. Shakespeare makes the handing over of the crown a brief formality; but in the Raigne a long scene is inserted between the surrender of the crown and its redelivery to John. During this time Faulconbridge has gone to and returned from Edmundsbury, where the English nobles have assembled to meet Lewis. Holinshed tells us that “Pandulph, keeping the crown with him for the space of five daies in token of possession thereof, at length (as the popes vicar) gave it him againe."
The continual references to the French in England transport us to the year 1216, while the “cloked pilgrimage” of the barons who assembled themselves togither at the abbeie of Burie (under colour of going thither to do their devotions to the bodie of S. Edmund which laie there shrined) where they uttered their complaint of the kings tyrannicall manners.”
This really was the first step towards the attainment of the Great Charter, and had little to do with the motives ascribed to the barons in the plays; for “. . . being thus assembled in the queere of the Church of S. Edmund, they received a solemn oath upon the altar there, that, if the King would not grant to them the same liberties, with others which he of his owne accord had promised to confirm to them, they would from thencefoorth make warre upon him, till they had obteined their purpose, and inforced him to grant, not onelie to all these their petitions, but also yeeld to the confirmation of them under his seale, for ever to remaine most stedfast and inviolable.”
The invasion of England by Philip had been really staved off by Pandulph in 1213; the French King, however, having prepared for war was resolved to have it, and so attacked Ferrand, Count of Flanders, an ally of John's. Ferrand's appeal for help brought on a struggle which was ended by Philip's defeat of the English, Germans and Flemings at Bouvines on 27th July, 1214. An attempt to recover Poitou and Brittany further weakened the English King at home, and the barons seized the opportunity to make head against him at St. Edmundsbury, as we have seen.
The account of the success of the French in Kent is historically correct. So is the account of Lewis's duplicity towards his English helpers, and of its exposure by Melun.
The fight in Scene iii. has no historical warrant unless it refers to the battle of Lincoln in 1217, seven months after John's death. The wrecked “supply" can only be the reinforcements sent by Philip three months after the battle of Lincoln. These were destroyed in a naval fight by Hubert de Burgh, the stout defender of Dover Castle.
For the last scenes, chiefly dealing with the death of John, the dramatists have used the more picturesque accounts. Holinshed says “the king hasted forward till he came to Wellestreme sands, where passing the washes he lost a great part of his armie, with horsses and carriages; so that it was judged to be a punishment appointed by God, that the spoile, which had beene gotten and taken out of churches, abbeies, and other religious houses, should perish, and be lost by such means togither with the spoilers. Yet the king himself, and a few other, escaped the violence of the waters, by following a good guide. But, as some have written, he tooke such greefe for the losse susteined at this passage, that immediatlie thereupon he fell into an ague; the force and heat whereof, togither with his immoderate feeding on rawe peaches, and drinking of new sider, so increased his sicknesse, that he was not able to ride, but was faine to be carried in a litter presentlie made of twigs, with a couch of strawe
under him, without any bed or pillow, thinking to have gone to Lincolne; but the disease still so raged and grew upon him, that he was inforced to staie one night at the castell of Laford, and, on the next day with great paine, caused himselfe to be caried unto Newarke, where, in the castell, through anguish of mind, rather than through force of sickness, he departed this life before the nineteenth day of October, in the yeare of his age fifty and one, and after he had reigned seaventeene yeares, six moneths, and seaven and twentie daies.
“There be which have written, that, after he had lost his armie, he came to the abbeie of Swineshead in Lincolneshire, and, there understanding the cheapenesse and plentie of corne, shewed himselfe greatlie displeased therewith, as he that for the hatred which he bare to the English people, that had so traitorouslie revolted from him unto his adversarie Lewes, wished 'all miserie to light upon them; and thereupon said in his anger, that he would cause all kind of graine to be at a farre higher price, yer manie daies should passe. Whereupon a moonke, that heard him speake such words, being mooved with zeale for the oppression of his countrie, gave the King poison in a cup of ale, wherof he first took the assaie, to cause the King not to suspect the matter, and so they both died in manner at one time."
The time supposed to be taken up by the play of King John is in all not more than about four months. Mr. Daniel has done the necessary analysis once and for all, and his successors borrow his tables, as I do here.