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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Henry III. (1216—1272.)

Henry III. (1216—1272.)

John was succeeded by his son, Henry III., a mere boy. He turned out an imbecile, a despicable braggart, and a tyrant to the full limit of his capacity. He could neither manage a horse nor order a battalion. Men called him cor cereum regis, or royal waxen heart. Yet he was a true son of John. In the songs of the day he is "the bitter king," "the enemy of the whole realm, of the Church, and of God." His Court lived at free quarters wherever it moved. The royal retainers robbed in all directions with impunity. One-sixth of the revenue was bestowed on foreign favourites. The Battenbergs, Weimars, and Leiningens are no new inflictions. Magna Charta was wholly disregarded.

But a new spirit of liberty had begun to animate the breasts of Englishmen. A deliverer was at hand. Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, threw down the gauntlet to the royal power. A man of stainless honour and a born soldier, Earl Simon was yet greater as a statesman. He was the father of representative government. Having defeated Henry and his son Edward, he summoned to parliament in 1265 not merely knights of shires, but burgesses of "communes." In physics the discovery of the law of gravitation was all-important; in politics the discovery of the true law of popular representation was not less so. It had escaped the subtlest philosophers of Greece and Rome, and Greek and Roman democracy had made shipwreck in consequence. Little mattered it that the founder of the House of Communes perished in battle within a few months of his imperishable achievement. He was before his time.

The victor of Evesham, Edward, "the greatest of the Plantagenets," as he has been called, showed the quality of page 30 his royal greatness by causing Earl Simon's body to be shamefully mutilated. His head and hands were presented to a second Herodias, Maud, wife of Roger de Mortimer. But the patriot's work neither Edward nor any of his successors, whether Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, or Guelph, could undo. Not a civilised people in the world but has taken its cue from Earl Simon. Even the unhappy Egyptians we have seen making a promising attempt with their Chamber of Notables—an attempt, alas! to be stamped out in blood and flame by the Grand Old Man and his Cabinet of all the talents and all the virtues. Need we chide the Henrys and Edwards with such malefactors in our midst?