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The interdict at once took effect, casting a deep gloom over the whole nation. The church bells remained unrung. The church buildings were closed. The usual ministrations of the priesthood remained unperformed. The great doors of the monasteries were left unopened, and worshippers were only admitted by secret passages. Penance was inflicted upon the innocent as well as the erring. Women, after childbirth, presented themselves for purification outside the church walls. The dead were refused burial in consecrated ground, and the service of the priest was withheld. 

John, although he had seen Philip, Augustus bend under a similar censure, affected unconcern, and retaliated by confiscating the property of the higher clergy and convents and turning the inmates out of doors with little more than the clothes on their backs. The concubines of the priests were forcibly removed and purchased their ransom at heavy expense. A Welshman accused of murdering a priest was ordered by the king dismissed with the words, “Let him go, he has killed my enemy.” The relatives of the fugitive bishops were thrown into prison. 

In 1209 Innocent added to the interdict the solemn sentence of the personal anathema against the king. The bishops who remained in England did not dare publish it, “becoming like dumb dogs not daring to bark.” John persisted in his defiant mood, continued to eke out, his vengeance upon the innocent, and sought to divert the attention of his subjects by negotiations and wars with Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Geoffrey, archdeacon of Norwich, who had been in, his service and now felt he could no. longer so remain, was thrown into prison, and there allowed to languish to death, covered from shoulders to feet with a cope of lead (a cloke of lead) . Another example of John’s unspeakable cruelty was his treatment of a rich Jew of Bristol upon whom he had made a demand of 10,000 marks. On his refusing, John ordered ten teeth to be taken out, one each day. The executioner dentist began with the molars. The sufferer held out till he had been served this way seven times. He then yielded, giving up the money, which, as Matthew Paris says, he might have done seven days before, thus saving himself of his agony. 

One more weapon lay in the pope’s power. In 1212 John was declared unworthy of this throne, and deposed. His subjects were absolved from the obligation of allegiance, and Christian princes were summoned to execute the sentence and take the crown. Gregory VII had resorted to the same precarious measure with Henry IV and been defeated. The bull was published at Soissons by Langton and the exiled bishops. Philip of France was quick to respond to the summons and collected an army. But the success of the English fleet checked the fear of an immediate invasion of the realm.

The nation’s suspense, however, was taxed almost beyond the point of endurance. The king’s arbitrary taxes and his amours with the wives and daughters of the barons aroused their determined hatred. Pressed from different sides, John suddenly had a meeting at Dover with the pope’s special envoy, the sub-deacon Pandulf. The hermit, Peter of Wakefield, had predicted that within three days of Ascension Day the king would cease to reign. Perhaps not without dread of the prediction, and not without irony to checkmate the plans of the French monarch, John gave in his submission, and on May 15, 1213, on bended knee, delivered up to Pandulf his kingdom and consented to receive it back again as a papal fief. Five months later the act was renewed in the presence of Nicolas, cardinal-archbishop of Tusculum, who had been sent to England with legatine authority. In the document which John signed and swore to keep, he blasphemously represented himself as imitating him “who humbled himself for us even unto death.” This notorious paper ran as follows:—”We do freely offer and grant to God and the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the holy Roman Church, our mother, and to our Lord the pope Innocent and his Catholic successors, the whole realm pf England and, the whole realm of Ireland with al1 their rights and appurtenances for the remission of our sins and those of all our race, as well quick as dead; and from now receiving back and holding these, as a feudal dependant, from God and the Roman Church, do and swear fealty for them to our Lord the pope Innocent, and his Catholic successors and the Roman Church.” Ignorance of the people and the mortal fear in which the people regarded the terrible interdict, by which an entire nation was placed under the ban, enabled Innocent, of course, to win in his struggle with King John of England. The victory, of course, was really empty. It was impossible of course, for any pope to put an entire nation under the curse of God. Later the pope would give the German reformer, Martin Luther, the same treatment. Then, in connection with the German reformer, this ban of excommunication did not work. Why not? Because the Lord had given Luther in his heart the unspeakable joy and blessedness of the forgiveness of sin and the reformer knew that the words of the pope at Rome were nothing but idleness and vanity.—H.V.) 

John bound himself and England for all time’ to pay, in addition to the usual Peter’s pence, 1000 marks annually to the Apostolic sec, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. The king’s signature was witnessed by the archbishop of Dublin, the bishop of Norwich, and eleven noblemen. John also promised to reimburse the outlawed bishops, the amount finally settled upon being 40,000 marks. 

Rightly does Matthew Paris call this the “detestable and lamentable charter.” But although national abasement could scarcely further go, it is probable that the sense of shame with which after generations have regarded John’s act was only imperfectly felt by that generation of Englishmen. As a political measure it succeeded, bringing as it did keen disappointment to the warlike king of France. The interdict was revoked in 1214, after having been in force more than six years.

The victory of Innocent was complete. But in after years the remembrance of the dishonorable transaction encouraged steadfast resistance to the papal rule in England. The voice of Robert Grosseteste was lifted up against it, and Wycliffe became champion of the king who refused to be bound by John’s’ pledges. Writing to one of John’s successors; the emperor Frederick II called upon him to remember the humiliation of his predecessor John and with other Christian princes resist the intolerable encroachments of the Apostolic see. 

Innocent and Magna Charta

An original manuscript of the Magna Chart, shriveled with age and fire, but still showing the royal seal, is preserved in the British Museum. A facsimile is given in the official edition of the Statutes of the Realm. 

In his treatment of the, Great Charter, the venerable instrument of English popular rights, Innocent, with monarchical instinct, turned to the side of John and against the cause of popular liberty. Stephen Langton, who had released John from the ban of excommunication, espoused the popular cause, thereby incurring the condemnation of the pope. The agreement into which the barons entered to resist the king’s despotism was treated by him with delay and subterfuge. Rebellion and civil war followed. As he had before been unscrupulous in his treatment of the Church, so now to win support he made fulsome religious promises he probably had no intention of keeping. To the clergy he granted freedom of election in the case of all prelates, greater and less. He also made a vow to lead a crusade. After the battle of Bouvines, John found himself forced to return to England, and was compelled by the organized strength of the barons to meet them at Runnymede, an island in the Thames near Windsor, where he signed and swore to keep the Magna Charta, June 15, 1215. 

This document, with the Declaration of Independence, the most important contract in the civil history of the English-speaking peoples, meant defined law as against uncertain tradition and the arbitrary will of the monarch. It was the first act of the peoples, nobles, and Church in combination, a compact of Englishmen with the king. By it the sovereign agreed that justice should be denied or delayed to no one, and that trial should be by the peers of the accused. No taxes were to be levied without the vote of the common council of the realm, whose meetings were fixed by rule. The single clause bearing directly upon the Church confirmed the freedom of ecclesiastical elections. 

After his first paroxysms of rage, when he gnawed sticks and straw as a madman, John called to his aid Innocent, on the ground that he had attacked his seal under compulsion. In fact, he had yielded to the barons with no intention of keeping his oath. The pope made the fatal mistake of taking sides with perjured royalty against the reasonable demands of the nation. In two bulls he solemnly released John from his oath, declaring that “the enemy of the human race had, by his crafty arts, excited the barons against him.” He asserted that the “wicked audacity of the barons tended to the contempt of thee Apostolic see, the detriment of kingly prerogative, the disgrace of the English nation, and the endangering of the cross.” He praised John for his Christian submission to the will of the supreme head of Christendom, and the pledge of annual tribute, and for his vow to lead a crusade. As for the document itself, he “utterly reprobated and condemned it” as “a low and base instrument, yea, truly wicked and deserving to be reprobated by all, especially, because the king’s assent was secured by force.” Another ground given by the pope for annulling the document was that he as England’s overlord had not been consulted before the king’s signature was attached. Upon pain of excommunication he forbade its observance by the king, and pronounced it “null and void for all times.” This language is the strongest. Some excuse has been found by advocates of papal infallibility for this fierce sentence upon the ground that Innocent was condemning the mode by which the king’s consent was obtained. Innocent adduces three considerations, the conspiracy of the barons to force the king, their disregard of his Crusading vow, and the neglect of all parties to consult the pope as overlord. He condemns, it is true, the document as a document, and it has been said the contents were not aimed at Innocent’s mistake and official offence were that, passing by entirely, the merits of the Charter, he should have espoused the despotism of the iniquitous king. 

The sentence of excommunication which Innocent fulminated against the refractory barons, Langton refused to publish. For his disobedience the pope suspended him from his office, Nov. 4, 1215, and he was not allowed to resume it till 1219, when Innocent had been in his grave three years. London, which supported the popular cause, was placed under the interdict, and the prelates of England who took the popular side Innocent denounced, “as worse than Saracens, worse than those open enemies of the cross.” About the same time at John’s request, Innocent annulled the election of Simon Langton, Stephen’s brother, to the see of York. 

The barons, in self-defense, called upon the Dauphin of France to accept the crown. He landed in England, but was met by the papal ban. During the struggle Innocent died, but his policy was continued by his successor. Three months later, Oct. 19, 1216, John died at Newark, after suffering the loss of his goods in crossing the Wash. He was thrown into a fever, but the probable cause of his death was excess in eating and drinking. He was buried at his own request in Worcester cathedral. In his last moments he received the sacrament and commended his children to the protection of the pope, who had stood by him in his last conflict. 

—H.V.