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The favorite residence of John was at Windsor. Having divorced his first wife, he brought thither the fair Isabella, whom he had married, after stealing her from Guy de Lusignan, to whom she had been betrothed. In the beginning he displayed an ardent devotion to his new bride; but he soon wearied of her also. Near by the Norman Keep is a chamber made famous by the manner in which John managed to vary the monotony of domestic life. Suspecting a gentleman of the court of having supplanted him in the queen's affections, he caused him and two others, supposed to be his accomplices, to be assassinated; and that evening when she retired to her room, not suspecting what had happened, she found the bodies of these three victims suspended over her bed.
John was prolific in his devices for raising money, including slander and blackmailing; thus he shamelessly entered on his rolls memoranda such as this: "Robert de Vaux gave five of his best palfreys that the king might hold his tongue about Henry Pinel's wife." In some years he levied taxes on all movables of more than fourteen per cent. Against all who offended him his vengeance was swift and terrible. On one of his raids on the Isle of Wight he made it a rule to fire every morning the house that had sheltered him the night before. Levying fines on Jews, and torturing them until they surrendered the last penny, and making forced levies on Christians were regular financial expedients.
If John was terrible to his enemies he was still more formidable to his friends. Among the latter, bound by the strongest ties, was William de Braose, fourth Lord of Bramber, to whose warlike exertions John was chiefly indebted for his crown. One day the king, being in need of money, a very common circumstance owing to his great extravagance, proposed to Bramber to sell him lands of much value lying near Limerick in Ireland; an offer which was unfortunately accepted. Discovering
afterwards that John had no title to the lands, Bramber imprudently refused to pay the purchase price agreed upon. The king at once made war on him; and after some bloodshed a truce was talked of; but the king refused to sanction it unless his adversary would surrender his son as a hostage. When this demand was communicated to Maud, Lady Bramber, she refused, saying, "By my faith, the king did not take such care of his nephew that I should trust my child to his hands;" referring to the murder of young Arthur. The allusion was bitter, and bitterly did she answer for it. John proceeded to waste the lands and to burn the castles of Lord and Lady Bramber. At last perceiving that they were entirely helpless, Lady Bramber sent to John four hundred white cows as a peace offering; which were accepted by John in that sullen mood that characterized nearly all of his acts, proposing a peace on payment of an indemnity so large that he knew it to be impossible. Lady Bramber sought safety in flight; but she and her son were captured at sea just as they were nearing the coast of France, were brought back to England, and were thrown into the Norman Keep at Windsor, with no other provisions but a sheaf of wheat and a piece of raw pork. Let the chronicler tell the rest:
"For ten days they were left alone. On the eleventh day the bolts were drawn, the doors thrown open. Mother and son were dead. The young man had been the first to fail. Seated on the floor, and leaning against the wall he had met his lingering death. His head was bent a little toward the ground. Maud was near her son. She, too, was seated on the floor, her back against the wall; but her face had fallen on her son's broad chest; and there she lay embracing him with the last sigh of her life. In that last sigh the savagery of hunger had broken on her love. His cheek was gnawed. The mother's farewell kiss had turned into a ravenous bite."
Lord Bramber succeeded in making his escape to France, where, it is said, he soon afterwards died of a broken heart.
It would seem that John had a passion for starving his victims to death. Much given to gluttony himself, he probably considered that the most painful punishment that could be inflicted. Some years before his war on Lord and Lady Bramber he had starved to death twenty-two hostages in Corffe Castle.
I will not dwell farther on the long catalogue of bloody crimes with which this dastardly king stained his hands. But there were other misdeeds that called for the wrath of God and the avenging fury of men. With licentious passions the king sought to spread dishonor through noble families until a cry arose against him such as had been heard against Appius Claudius at Rome:
"Patient as sheep we yield us up unto your cruel hate;
I need mention only one single exploit of John that contributed most powerfully to bring him to judgment. When the mailed barons went forth with all of their forces to settle their long account with the king, Robert Fitz-Walter, Baron of Dunmow, rode foremost in the van, having been elected as their leader under the title of "Marshal of God and the Holy Church." Many in that band had some personal wrong to be avenged; but by common consent it was conceded that none had been so deeply wronged as he; and in the tremendous catalogue of his grievances the fact that John had set fire to his castle, the ancestral home of his family, and had burned it to the ground, went for nothing. After the death of John, Fitz-Walter was a broken man. He went to Palestine and fought against the infidel for the Sepulchre of Christ. We hear of him actively engaged at the
siege of Damietta. In 1234 he died; no one knows where, or from what cause; but his tomb may still be seen in Little Dunmow church. Very near it, and on the south wall, is an altar-shaped tomb on which is carved in alabaster the form of a girl of eighteen, richly dressed. Her figure is tall, extremely slender, lithe and graceful. She wears the head-dress of the period, fitting closely over the brow; and her tresses are parted over an oval face of singular sadness, sweetness and beauty. Her open hands are held near together in an attitude of resignation and prayer; but the unoffending grace that lights up every feature tells that she had but few sins to be forgiven. Nearly seven hundred years have gone since the maiden gathered daisies in the English meadows, and listened to the song of the lark soaring toward Heaven. Not the gloom of penitential Lent, nor the happy Christmas chimes rung out from the tower above, nor the chants of the worshippers on each recurring Sunday and festival, nor the deep tones of the organ that shake the building to its foundation suffice to rouse the pulse that seems as if just suspended.
"The fragrant tresses are not stirred,
That lie upon her charmed heart.
She sleeps; on either hand upswells
The gold-fringed pillow, lightly prest.
Gazing upon this reclining figure one might almost deem that he had before him the Sleeping Beauty of fable, lying here while the centuries are slowly tolled away by the clock in the tower above, waiting for the coming of the Happy Prince whose kiss shall waken her to life and love.
The maiden thus sleeping has been the theme of countless ballads. She is the original of that Maid Marian that
has walked in glory through a thousand romances. Her history has often been reproduced on the stage in dramas, with every variety of transformation consistent with the purity of her character; though no pen save that of Shakespeare himself could have done justice to her pathetic fate.
That lady, thus commemorated in art, history, romance and song, was Matilda, the daughter of that Robert FitzWalter, who with his good broad sword rode in the van of the army of the barons as it pursued the cowardly king along the line of his dastardly retreat. She was the light of his house, the joy of his heart. Her hapless story is soon told. Just blooming into womanhood, the fame of the wonderful beauty of Matilda Fitz-Walter was spread abroad in all the land; and so it came to the ears of the king, who caused her to be abducted by the ruffians whom he kept in his pay. As she rejected his advances, she was confined in the Tower in a room that is still shown, next the roof in the round turret standing on the northeast angle of the keep, where, after an imprisonment of a few months, she was secretly poisoned by order of the king.
We may wonder how with so many misdeeds such a monster could have been permitted to live; but it seems quite probable that he was poisoned in the end; and besides, a king in those days, defended by guards, was also protected by influences that were overpowering in the minds of men.
If we could go back to the times when the Indian tribes roamed in these hills we should find that the chief and the medicine man were closely bound together by the ties of interest and sympathy. The alliance between church and state in the days of John was natural, necessary, inevitable. The bishops declared that the king reigned by divine right, that he could do no wrong, that to cross him or resist him was not only a crime but a