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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

John (1199—1216.)

John (1199—1216.)

Richard was succeeded by his brother John, whose character is summed up in one terrible sentence of contemporary hate: "Foul as it is, hell itself is defined by the fouler presence of John." He was an incomparable scoundrel, a compound of all the royal vices—cruelty, lust, avarice, faithlessness, ingratitude, blood-guiltiness. To make sure of the crown he murdered his nephew Arthur in cold blood, and threw his body into the Seine. To retain the crown he became the vassal and tributary of the Pope. To his father and to his brother he was the most shameless of traitors. His Court was a brothel. Of right and wrong he recked nothing. Yet this right royal ruffian, who "wearied God," signed Magna Charta, the foundation stone of such liberties as Englishmen possess.

It is the severest possible condemnation of royalty to say that the worst kings are always practically the best. Not page 29 that King John meant any good to the English people—far from it. The very thought of the Charter made him furious. Heflung himself on the ground, gnawing sticks and straw like a wild beast. He got his over-lord, the Pope, to disallow every concession, and proceeded with mercenary troops from the Continent, to burn, slay, and harry the country from end to end. But the great avenger, death, was at hand. Gluttony or poison killed him, and Englishmen rejoiced and were exceeding glad.