Medieval Kingship in Late Twelfth- and Early Thirteenth-Century England: the Reigns of King Henry II and King John

 

 Prof. Richard Abels

 

GENERAL THEME: In the second half of the twelfth century England witnessed a redefinition of kingship that did not abandon the framework of lordship but used it in order to strengthen the authority of the king. King Henry II (r.1154-1189) and his sons and successors Richard the Lionheart (r.1189-1199) and John (r.1199-1216) shared an ideology of royal liege lordship that presented them as the personal lord of all free men in their realms. Their ability to impose this ideology in practice depended upon their financial and military resources. Their general success in transforming the traditional conception of the feudal overlord reflects these kings' ability to increase their revenues. They did this, in part, by forcing their nobles to pay them more in feudal dues, and, in part, by exploiting the commercial and economic growth that occurred during this period. It also reflects an aspect of medieval kingship that is often ignored: the twelfth-century polity was a partnership between king and barons, and successful kings ruled not in opposition to but with the support of their nobles. The success of Henry II and Richard was based, at least in part, on their ability to distribute patronage to the nobility. It also derived from the desire of the barons to have a strong, centralized monarchy that could provide order, law, and security of title for their possessions. Like Augustus, Henry II's ability to impose common law and his concept of liege lordship on his barons reflects a desire for order after a generation of chaos.

This does not mean that each was a success. John was, in fact, a failure as a king. All three faced the challenge of a powerful papacy and a Church that insisted upon its autonomy. All three, moreover, faced challenges from their own vassals, reminding us that society in the High Middle Ages had built into it centrifugal forces.

English Medieval Monarchy--Dates:

1042-1066 Reign of King Edward the Confessor

1066 King Harold II defeated the viking King Harald Hardrada near York; Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold II in the Battle of Hastings; William ravaged countryside around London to force the English to submit to him; on Christmas, Duke William was crowned King William I (the Conqueror)

1068-9 William ravaged the North to put down a native rebellion

1075 baronial rebellion in England

1085 Planning of Domesday survey; threatened Danish invasion

1086 DOMESDAY BOOK completed. This great land register of all landed wealth in England revealed that in 1086 the king held 17% of the realm’s landed wealth; the church, 26.5%; lay tenants in chief, 48.5% (top 10 holds 20%);  pre-Conquest holders, only 5.5%; royal servants, 2.5%

1087 SALISBURY OATH: all landholders, no matter whose vassal they are, swear liege fealty to king; death of William I

1100-35 reign of King HENRY I: birth of "English Common Law," promoter of administrative kingship (creation of the Exchequer, system of itinerant royal justices)

1107 Henry I seizes Normandy from brother; end of Investiture Controversy in England and Normandy (free episcopal elections/homage to king before consecration)

1120 Wreck of White Ship, death of Henry I's only legitimate son

1128 Marriage of Mathilda to Geoffrey; Henry II born 1133

1135-1154 Stephen, nephew of Henry I, and Mathilda, his daughter fight for Crown

1154-1189 reign of HENRY II, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of Anjou (together called “the Angevin Empire” by historians). Henry II restored   

     order after the brutal civil war between his mother and King Stephen, and strove to restore the power of the monarchy enjoyed by his grandfather King Henry I.

1154 Henry ordered nonlicensed castles razed

1155-62 Thomas Becket chancellor (made archbishop of Canterbury in 1162)

1163-66 Henry II in England; led to Becket controversy and judicial reforms

1164 CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON: restored royal rights over Church as held by Henry I; Becket resisted, defending the idea that clergy can only be tried in church courts, and fled

     to France

1166 ASSIZE OF CLARENDON: king established juries of presentment to make criminal accusations before royal judges; CARTAE BARONUM: Henry II's inquest into number of knights'

     fees in England (# under HII, # enfeoffed since)

1170 INQUEST OF SHERIFFS (inquiry into misdeeds of royal officials and landlords, leads to replacement of 20 sheriffs; MARTYRDOM OF ST. THOMAS BECKET

1172 Inquest into Norman knight's fees

1173-4 Rebellion of Henry's eldest son, King Henry the Younger (supported by Henry II's overlord King Louis VII of France-- reminder that Henry II's role as a French baron made him a vassal

     of a king less powerful than himself--feudal paradox)

1176 ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON (Clarendon repeated; legal 'actions' concerning possession of land: mort d'ancestor, novel disseisin)

1179 Henry offered jury decision as alternative to trial by combat in disputes over rightful possession of land

1181 ASSIZE OF ARMS required freemen to have specified weapons and to be ready to bear them in service of king

1183 CIVIL WAR: The sons of King Henry II, Henry the Younger and Geoffrey wage war against their father and their brother Richard; YoungHenry died

1187-9 CIVIL WAR: Henry II vs. Richard and King Philip Augustus. Richard won

1189-99 reign of RICHARD I LIONHEART

1191-3 Richard on Third Crusade

1194 Richard in captivity in Germany

1196-98 Richard built Chateau Gaillard, first concentric castle in western Europe

1199-1216 reing of JOHN

1199 Chancery rolls began, great leap forward in administrative record keeping

1202 John defeats Philip Augustus & John's nephew (and rival claimant for the English throne) Arthur in the battle of Mirabeau

1203-4 PHILIP AUGUSTUS CONQUERS NORMANDY AND ANJOU

1205-12 John builds a royal NAVY

1207-9 INNOCENT III consecrated STEPHEN LANGTON as archbishop of Canterbury; John refusesd to accept Langton & Innocent placed England under interdict (1208) and

     excommunicated John (1209)

1213 Innocent authorizes Philip to launch crusade against John; John makes peace with the papacy and does homage to Pope Innocent III, receiving England back from him as a papal fief.

1214 BATTLE OF BOUVINES: decisive victory of King Philip Augustus over an alliance created by King John that included his nephew, the German Emperor Otto IV

1215 BARONIAL REVOLT AND MAGNA CARTA; Pope Innocent III quashed Magna Carta

1216 French invaded; John died; William Marshal became regent for the child king Henry III
 
 

Henry II of England (1154-1180): Policies, ambitions, and successes

I. Accession to throne after generation of civil war and anarchy.

A. Henry's succession in 1154 brought an end to a generation of civil war over the Anglo-Norman Crown waged by Henry's cousin King Stephen (nephew of Henry I) and Henry's mother Queen Matilda, daughter of Henry I. This was the result of the lack of clear definition in the 'rules' for royal succession in 11th and 12th centuries (question whether nearest males could supersede closer female heir) and was exacerbated by 1) baronial oaths taken to HI to support Matilda, later repudiated by Stephen and his supporters upon death of HI, and 2) Matilda's marriage to Count Geoffrey of Anjou (Anjou was the hereditary enemy of Normandy).


The main consequence of 'feudal anarchy' was the collapse of royal authority. William the Conqueror's and his sons (Wm Rufus and HI) had imposed a consolidated, centralized monarchy on England based on Crown's wealth (by keeping 1/6 of all lands in England after Conquest) and administrative machinery inherited from Anglo-Saxons (system of writs, shires [=counties], hundreds, royal sheriffs [king's unpaid agents in the shires]).

HENRY I (1100-1135) was especially important in establishing a powerful central administration in England. His governmental reforms amounted to a revolution in governance that helped produce an administrative kingship. Henry's goal was to enhance royal power by advancing justice and political stability. Typical was Henry I's order that royal officials and royal servants who abused their offices were to be blinded and mutilated. Unlike his predecessor William Rufus, whose household ravaged the countryside in its peregrinations as if it were an invading army, Henry carefully arranged his intinerary and gave notice of when and where he was going so merchants could meet the court. It is from Henry's reign that we can date the emergence of the royal Exchequer, the king's fiscal accounting office at Westminster, into which sheriffs paid whatever was owed to the Crown from their shires. Perhaps most significantly, Henry I promoted the idea of ROYAL COMMON LAW, i.e., law binding on all Englishmen, no matter whose vassal they were (basic mechanism of HI's judicial system: itinerant royal justices, sent out from court to localities to hear and judge 'pleas of the Crown'--serious criminal offenses).

The anarchy caused Henry's central administration to all but collapse. Between 1135 and 1154 barons were able to play rival claimants off against one another to their own aggrandisement (see e.g. of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Duby on Wm Marshal's father). The result was a) loss of royal lands to barons bec. of grants to purchase loyalty, b) establishment of private baronial castles throughout England, c) success of Gregorian reform in English Church as clergy claims rights not only of free election but sole right to judge criminous clergy, d) numerous disputes over rightful possession of land.

B. The "Angevin Empire." Henry II was the son of Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and of Geoffrey of Anjou. Through his mother he inherited: England (and claims over Wales and Scotland), Normandy, Maine. From his father he inherited Anjou. Through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine (former wife of King Louis VII of France) in 1152 he held Aquitaine and Poitou. (And through the subsequent marriage of his third son, Geoffrey, to the heiress of the count of Brittany, the family added that county to its collective possessions). Bottom line: Henry II in 1154 was the most powerful FRENCH baron. He controlled far more land on the continent than did his nominal overlord, King Louis VII (and, after 1180, Philip Augustus). BUT the "Angevin Empire" had no unity and no cohesion. It was a conglomeration of feudal possessions without any central rhyme or reason. Henry's authority was defined by local custom and usage, and changed as he moved from his kingdom to his various counties and duchies. In short, the "Angevin Empire" was LESS than the sum of its parts.


 
 

HENRY II's POLICIES AND GOALS.

I. Henry's basic policy in England was to increase the power of the Crown over his lay and ecclesiastical barons (or, as he put it, to recapture the royal powers and customs that had belonged to his grandfather Henry I which the barons had usurped during the anarchy). HE INCREASED ROYAL POWER BY ASSERTING AND INCREASING HIS RIGHTS AS OVERLORD (which he defined as ROYAL LIEGE LORD). Henry II's innovative mind led him to create an English 'common law,' binding upon all free men, and led him to embrace such novel experiments as the 'Saladin Tithe,' an income and property tax invented to help finance a crusade against the Sultan Saladin.

a. Initial moves: ordered that all private castles be 'justified' by license of the Crown, confiscated, or razed. If he deemed a castle to be dangerous, he disregarded whether the castellan had a proper franchise or not. He also appointed his own followers to royal offices, ignoring claims of those who had held these offices prior to his accession.

b. Long term "domestic" policy: TO USE HIS FEUDAL PREROGATIVES AS KING (AND DUKE) TO a) INCREASE ROYAL REVENUES, b) EXTEND ROYAL JUSTICE SO THAT IT WOULD BECOME THE 'COMMON LAW' OF THE REALM, c) STRENGTHEN CROWN'S MILITARY POWER BY RELYING ON MERCENARIES RATHER THAN FEUDAL LEVIES.

c. Relations with the Church: To this one should add that Henry II also wished TO RESTORE ROYAL CONTROL OVER THE ENGLISH CHURCH ENJOYED BY HENRY I BY a) HAVING AT LEAST A VETO OVER ECCLESIASTICAL ELECTIONS (BY DEMANDING HOMAGE FROM BISHOPS ELECT BEFORE THEIR CONSECRATION and refusing to accept homage if he disapproved of the choice), b) CONTROLLING APPEALS FROM ENGLISH CLERICS TO ROME, c) MAINTAINING RIGHT TO TRY CLERICS IN ROYAL COURTS UNDER COMMON LAW AFTER THEY WERE TRIED IN ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS UNDER CANON LAW.

These goals are summed up in the CONSTITUTIONS OF CLARENDON OF 1164 and gave rise to the BECKET controversy. Henry's advantage in dealing with the papacy was that Pope Alexander III desired Henry's support against Frederick Barbarossa and his anti-popes. His disadvantage was the obstinacy of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in defense of the "liberties" of the English Church, the acceptance among clergy and laity of the Gregorian Reform, and the growing institutionalization and bureaucratization of the Church, and especially of the papacy (now defined in canon law, e.g., Gratian's Decretum, as ecclesiastical monarchs), over the previous century.

The outcome of the Becket controversy (the martyrdom of Becket in 1170 by four of Henry's household knights as the archbishop prayed in his cathedral) was not as complete a defeat as is often presented in textbooks. Henry had to abandon the Constitutions of Clarendon (except for the stipulation that homage be given before consecration), and the Church did gain its judicial autonomy, but Henry's clerical supporters and not Becket's ended up with the plum ecclesiastical offices.

d. Long term "foreign" policy--to maintain and increase control over continental possessions and to minimize the rights and authority of his feudal overlord the king of France.
 
 

HENRY'S POLICIES TOWARD HIS BARONS

COMMON LAW REFORMS: The clearest example of Henry II's use of feudal prerogatives to strengthen the Crown comes in his judicial and legal innovations. Henry II's ASSIZES and WRITS: the possessory assizes (the writs of novel disseisin and mort d'ancestor), grand assize (writs of right), the Assize of Clarendon, 1166, which maintained the king's right to hear through his itinerant justices on eyre all major criminal accusations (murder, robbery, receiving of stolen goods), and created the jury of presentment, the forerunner of the modern "grand jury". The last deserves a few more words. It has roots in the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Danish institution of lawmen in the northern boroughs (from the late tenth century). For Henry it represented a creative middle way between ROMAN LAW PROSECUTION (the INQUISITIO, in which judges collected evidence, brought an accusation, and rendered judgment), and the TRADITIONAL GERMANIC mode of criminal prosecution (based on PRIVATE ACCUSATION MADE IN A PUBLIC COURT BEFORE THE COMMUNITY AND THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE KING). Here the COMMUNITY IN THE FORM OF THE JURY INITIATES THE PROCEEDING; the SHERIFF, REPRESENTING ROYAL EXECUTIVE POWER, makes certain that the proceedings take place; ROYAL JUSTICES RENDER JUDGMENT ON THE BASIS OF THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE JURY OF PRESENTMENT.

 

It is important to note that Henry did not "legislate" along the lines of a Roman emperor or a modern sovereign; he held "ASSIZES," which were meetings of the king and his barons to determine and to modify customary practices. The right to do so arose from the idea that such practices were agreements between a lord and his vassals.

HENRY'S POSSESSORY ASSIZES AND ESPECIALLY THE GRAND ASSIZE (WHICH DETERMINED RIGHTFUL POSSESSION OF LAND) WERE ASSERTIONS OF THE KING'S LIEGE LORDSHIP OVER ALL LANDHOLDERS IN THE REALM. Henry II maintained the Crown's FEUDAL RIGHT to judge disputes not only between his own landed vassals (TENANTS-IN-CHIEF) but between his vassals and THEIR free men! This swelled the royal coffers by taking "business" away from feudal baronial courts (the king was paid for the issuance of writs and fined the loser of the suit--HE PROFITTED NO MATTER WHO WON). It also provided a cohesive system of justice "common" throughout the king's realm ("wherever the king's writ ran").

The possessory WRITS were devised sometime before 1176 when Henry confirmed them in the ASSIZE OF NORTHAMPTON. These writs were standardized written orders to king's agents. They represent a standardization of judicial process. These writs included:

Writ of NOVEL DISSEISIN: standardized writ ordering sheriff to empanel jury of 12 worthy men of locality to determine whether a claimant had been forcibly dispossessed of land without a court decision. Questions asked of jury: was the claimant dispossessed? Did he possess the land as a free tenement? No pleading was allowed.

Procedure: claimant sought issuance of writ from king or king's justice for a small fee. Plaintiff took writ to sheriff, who empanelled jury, had jury view the contested property, and then brought the jury and the disputants before a royal justice who decided the issue on the basis of the jurors' answers to questions of fact. If claimant won, justice would order sheriff to restore him to the property and the accused would pay a fine; if he lost, justice would fine him for false accusation. The writ was 'returned' to the justice by the sheriff.
 

Writ of MORT D'ANCESTOR: sheriff ordered to empanel jury to determine whether a lord was withholding the rightful inheritance of a claimant. Questions: did the previous holder hold 'in demesne as a fee'? Is the claimant the nearest heir?

Pleading was permitted in this procedure, as one could dispute responses to these questions. This 'pleading to the facts' made the law more sophisticated and help give rise to the class of lawyers.
 

These possessory actions did not determine RIGHT OF OWNERSHIP. For that a GRAND ASSIZE was necessary. Since a grand assize was supposed to reach a final judgment, the procedure was highly formal and cautious. The jury was to consist only of knights of the locality. After 1179 a tenant could demand to "put himself upon the king's grand assize" rather than prove his case by trial by combat. The sheriff would issue to him a "writ of peace," which forbade the lord from proceeding in his own court, and then the sheriff would empanel a jury of knights (sheriff would name four knights who would then elect a jury of 12 knights). The jury would then view the land and appear before the justices at a specified date to 'recognize' on oath which party had the better right to the land. This decision was based on the memories and knowledge of the jury, who acted as the collective memory of the community.

The barons, after some initial hesitation, embraced the new system BECAUSE TO BROUGHT ORDER AND STABILITY TO THE POSSESSION AND TRANSFER OF PROPERTY. IT SECURED AND GUARANTEED 'TITLE' TO LAND, especially welcome after the proprietary anarchy of Stephen's reign. (The local nobility, the KNIGHTS OF THE SHIRES, also served as the JURORS to determine rightful possession in the grand assizes). This baronial acceptance is most clearly seen in MAGNA CARTA's articles 17-19, which demand easier access to common law justice rather than a return to baronial jurisdiction.
 

ii. HENRY'S USE OF FEUDAL DUES TO INCREASE HIS REVENUES.

Revenues of king: demesne lands, penalties from jurisdictional rights (especially from FOREST EYRES), feudal dues and taxes (income from proffers).

In the theory of feudal kingship, the realm was the 'property' of the Crown. This meant that a king, except under the most pressing circumstances, was supposed to "live off" and run his administration out of his own pocket; his revenues (like the revenues of other barons) were to come from the lands he held in his own hands (the royal demesne) and from the dues owed to him as feudal suzerain. The former revenues were inelastic. Much of these lands were, in fact, "farmed out" for fixed revenues, which proved especially unhelpful in the an age of rapid inflation. (Gerald of Wales estimated Henry II's revenues from the royal demesne at about 8000 pounds a year.) Revenues from feudal dues, however, could be increased BECAUSE THE LIMITATIONS ON SUCH REVENUES WERE DEFINED ONLY BY TRADITIONAL USAGE.

As feudal overlord, Henry II was able to demand: RELIEF from heirs to tenants-in-chief, WARDSHIP AND MARRIAGE (the right to appoint custodians over lands of underage heirs of t-in-c and the right to choose the husband of heiresses to tenancies-in-chief), AIDS (cash given the lord by his vassals to help him out of financial distress). In addition Henry II also could use the practice of SCUTAGE (cash commutation of knight service owed from a fief) to raise money to purchase mercenaries (MERCENARIES OFTEN WERE MORE RELIABLE TROOPS THAN FEUDAL LEVIES AND WERE NOT LIMITED TO 40 DAYS OF SERVICE, VERY IMPORTANT WHEN ONE IS RAISING AN EXPEDITION IN ENGLAND TO FIGHT ON THE CONTINENT. HENRY PREFERRED NOT TO RELY ON FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS FOR MILITARY RECRUITMENT, AND EVEN ASSERTED THAT AS KING HE HAD THE RIGHT TO CALL UPON ALL FREE MEN TO DEFEND THE REALM--Assize of Arms, 1181.) Henry's nasty little innovation to the practice of scutage was to demand that the barons pay him not only for the knights they owed by agreement with the Crown, but for ALL the knights they had enfeoffed (the Cartae baronum of 1166 was an Inquest into the number of knight fees in the realm). Here Henry could no better than get a compromise: he could only collect from knight's fees created before the death of his grandfather, Henry I.

Henry II usually followed customary practice and demanded only 100 pounds as the relief for baronies (see schedule of relief in Magna Carta, art 1,), but charged as much as the market would bear if there was a dispute over succession to fiefs. Henry II used this as a form of ROYAL PATRONAGE. An heir was asked only to make a down payment on the full relief and was permitted to pay the balance off over time (it was carried as a debt on the Exchequer's Pipe Rolls). If the baron proved loyal, Henry II would "forgive" the balance. This is a bureaucratic version of "gift giving." Henry followed the same policy with the other "feudal incidents." The distribution of wardship and heiresses were especially valuable forms of PATRONAGE (as well as profitable resources for the Crown).

BOTTOM LINE: HENRY II USED HIS POSITION AS FEUDAL LORD TO ENHANCE ROYAL FINANCES AND TO TIE HIS BARONS TO THE CROWN MORE FIRMLY THROUGH THE DISTRIBUTION OF ROYAL PATRONAGE, BUT HENRY ALSO REFUSED TO RELY ON FEUDAL LEVIES TO FIGHT HIS WARS. THE IRONIC RESULT IS THAT UNDER HENRY II 'FEUDALISM' WAS USED TO ENHANCE THE FISCAL AND JUDICIAL POWERS OF THE THRONE, WHILE ITS INITIAL REASON FOR BEING, MILITARY RECRUITMENT, WAS ALL BUT ABANDONED.

REVENUES FROM JURISDICTIONAL RIGHTS. The greatest single source of revenue from such rights probably came from the FOREST LAWS. Encroachments on the royal forests were heavily fined, and a typical forest eyre would bring in about 2000 pounds a year (in 1212 it brought in 5000 poinds). Otherwise the king profitted from the sale of felons' chattels, amercements, fees for the issuance of writs.

iii. POLITICAL INSTABILITY. On and off from 1173, Henry faced rebellions by one of more of his sons. In 1173 Henry the Younger, tired of being a bachelor knight with a titular crown, demanded that his father give him the rule of either Normandy, Anjou, or England. Spurred on by his father-in-law King Louis VII and with the support of the counts of Flanders and Boulogne and some English earls (Hugh Bigod, e. of Norfolk; Robert, e. of Leicester; Hugh, e. of Chester, Henry the Younger and his teen-age brothers Richard (15) and Geoffrey (14) waged war against Henry, and came close to unseating the father. He rebelled again in 1182, and died a rebel in 1183. In 1188 Richard, fearing that his father might pass him over in favor of John, rebelled with the aid of Philip Augustus (to whom he had done homage and fealty for Normandy and Aquitaine, "against all men save only the fealty wh he owed to his father the king"). Henry was defeated by Richard, largely because few barons chose to resist the heir to the throne. Henry, sick and dying, was forced to acknowledge Richard as heir to all his lands and to pay Philip an indmenity of 20,000 marks. Henry II died on 6 July 1189 at Chinon, deserted by all his barons and kin, including John.

NOTE ON HENRY II AND WILLIAM MARSHAL. William Marshal ended up as one of Henry's most loyal household knights; William even killed Richard's horse while covering his lord's retreat, a faux pas considering that Henry was dying and Richard was the heir to the throne. BUT William's early career warns us against assuming to readily that Henry's idea of royal liege lordship perked down to the level of the bachelor knight. William, after all, served Henry the Younger loyally AGAINST Henry II. William Marshal's decision in 1204 to do liege homage to Philip Augustus for the barony of Longueville while on an embassy from John, also should remind us that where the property interests of the baronage came into conflict with their feudal duty, even the best and most chivalrous of knights looked for a way to evade that duty.
 

 

KING JOHN OF ENGLAND (1199-1216): GOALS AND POLICIES

    

I. John's goals changed over time as his circumstances changed. From 1199-1203 his main goal was to secure his succession to the Angevin inheritance against the claims of his nephew Arthur (who was supported by Philip). From 1205-1215 his main goal was to REGAIN the French lands that Philip Augustus had taken from him. From 1215 until his death in 1216, his main goal was to survive a rebellion of English barons followed by a French invasion.

II. John's policies: John continued his father's and brother's policy of increasing royal power vis-a-vis his barons. He used his FEUDAL PREROGATIVES (what was due him as feudal suzerain) to do so. He further developed his father's administrative machinery, and even attempted to appoint salaried royal officials to be sheriffs in the place of local, unpaid nobles (policy failed). He had a mania for administration and for administrative records (John supplemented the records of the Exchequer, the so-called Pipe Rolls, with recorded copies of all the writs he issued and all the legal decisions rendered by his justices).

HE CONTINUED RICHARD'S POLICY OF SQUEEZING AS MUCH MONEY OUT OF HIS NOBILITY AS POSSIBLE BY SETTING RELIEFS AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE AND AUCTIONING OFF HEIRESSES AND WARDSHIPS. THESE ARE THE 'ABUSES' ADDRESSED IN MAGNA CARTA'S FIRST SIXTEEN ARTICLES. Unlike his father (and even his brother), John, who desperately needed cash for his (unsuccessful) wars, was less likely to 'forgive' such debts as an act of patronage. He expected reliefs to be paid in full. The result was an increasingly hostile nobility, who didn't trust him and whom he didn't trust (see Duby, William Marshal, 137-147). Partly because of this, and partly because of the limitations upon feudal military service,

John (like his father and brother) largely relied on mercenaries for his wars.

In relation to the Church, John entered into a long dispute with Pope Innocent III over the see of Canterbury. John's refusal to accept the Pope's appointment of Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury resulted in John's excommunication and the interdiction of his kingdom. John's reaction to this is interesting: he showed no willingness to compromise and simply left the see vacant and pocketed its revenues UNTIL 1203 when he faced the threat of a papal-sanctioned Crusade against him to be led by Philip Augustus. Then he made his peace with Innocent III by giving the pope his kingdom and receiving back from his as a papal fief. By becoming the feudal man of the papacy, John outflanked both Philip Augustus and Stephen Langton (whom he did finally allow into England).

John also angered the merchant community, especially that of London, by his great revenue-enhancing innovation: custom duties. This represents his attempt to share in the growing commercial prosperity of the towns.

III. JOHN'S FAILURES.

John lost Normandy and Anjou, his patrimony, to Philip Augustus and never was able to recover these lands. Unsuccessful wars make unsuccessful medieval kings. In part this is an economic reality, for wars cost money and to raise money a king must lean on his nobility, which John did. The nobility, in turn, expected to share in the profits of victory, and when victory was not forthcoming, then they grew resentful. Remember, not only did John 'lose' Normandy and Anjou, many of the English barons also lost their hereditary lands across the channel. (Cf. William Marshal's shifty and clever submission to Philip Augustus in order to retain his barony of Longueville. Duby, 141-3.)

John's submission to Innocent III in 1213 (like Emperor Henry IV's 'humiliation' at Canossa in 1077) was a stroke of political brilliance; he lost little (other than modest annual cash payments to the papacy), and gained the support of the papacy. BUT contemporary views of John's 'gift' of his kingdom to the papacy were less understanding. His barons undoubtedly viewed it as still another example of his endless stream of failures.

As Duby points out, John's relations with his barons were so strained by 1214 that John resorted to hostage taking to keep his barons in line. The failure of the Bouvines campaign of 1214 (T 332) and John's subsequent decision to raise money for another continental expedition, was the 'straw that broke the camel's back.' Nobles in the northern and eastern counties simply refused to pay scutage; when pressed by John, they responded with rebellion. This led to the issuance of MAGNA CARTA at Runnymede in 1215.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT MAGNA CARTA: although MC represents a (temporary) defeat for John (as I pointed out in class, John's 'feudal lord for England,' Pope Innocent III, immediately annulled the charter), it is still in form a ROYAL GRANT OF PRIVILEGES, LIMITING AND DEFINING THE FEUDAL OBLIGATIONS TO THE CROWN, AND NOT AN EXPRESSION OF NATURAL RIGHTS OF SUBJECTS. Moreover, the IDEOLOGY underlying Magna Carta is that of ROYAL LIEGE LORDSHIP. John grants privileges not only to HIS vassals, the tenants-in-chief, but to THEIR vassals. He makes guarantees of justice to ALL free men, regardless of their immediate lord. THE LANGUAGE OF MAGNA CARTA, IN OTHER WORDS, IS CONSISTENT WITH THE IDEOLOGY OF ROYAL LIEGE LORDSHIP PROMOTED BY HENRY II.


 

FEUDALISM PROVED TO BE A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD FOR THE ENGLISH AND FRENCH KINGS OF THE LATE 12TH AND EARLY 13TH CENTURIES.

I. CENTRALIZING FORCE.

A. ROYAL LIEGE LORDSHIP. As seen above, feudalism provided the ideology of royal liege lordship that allowed kings to extend their rights as feudal lords over all free men in their realm. Henry II used this as the basis for his COMMON LAW, and Philip Augustus used this to break the power of his Angevin rival John.

B. FEUDALISM WAS USED TO INCREASE ROYAL REVENUES. See my above discussion of Henry II's and John's policy in regard to feudal dues. Note also that the increase in the business of the royal courts due to the extension of common law was a great boon to royal finances.

C. FEUDAL DUES AND ROYAL PATRONAGE. This is a point that I made in class and that you ought to remember: by forgiving feudal dues a king could cheaply reward loyal service. Also the grant of an heiress or custodianship over a minor's fief was a great way of rewarding (and promoting in the baronage) a loyal household knight (witness the career of William Marshal).
 

II. DESTABILIZING FORCE.

A. FEUDAL REBELLION. Henry II and John both faced major feudal rebellions (in the case of the former, led by his own sons). As long as each baron had his own military establishment and castle (even if licensed by the king), feudal rebellion remained a real possibility.

The 'cold war' between the Capetians and their overmighty vassals the Plantagenets (another name for Angevin kings of England) also reminds us that the ideology of royal liege lordship was only an idea unless a king had the resources (money and troops) to impose his will on his vassals.

B. THE IDEA THAT A KING IS SIMPLY THE GREATEST AMONG EQUALS. Because the feudal contract is reciprocal, and because the relationship is contractual, the feudal king, by definition, is not an absolute monarch. For this he needs an entirely different foundation for his authority (e.g., divine right as anointed of God, or the Hobbesian conception of sovereign as repository of the combined power of his subjects).