CHAPTER XX. CONFLICT WITH THE PAPACY

The loss of the ancient possessions of the Norman dukes and the Angevin counts marks the close of an epoch in the reign of John; but for the history of England and for the personal history of the king the period is more appropriately closed by the death of Archbishop Hubert Walter on July 13, 1205, for the consequences which followed that event lead us directly to the second period of the reign. Already at the accession of John one of the two or three men of controlling influence on the course of events, trained not merely in the school of Henry II, but by the leading part he had played in the reign of Richard, there is no doubt that he had kept a strong hand on the government of the opening years of the new reign, and that his personality had been felt as a decided check by the new king. We may believe also that as one who had been brought up by Glanvill, the great jurist of Henry's time, and who had a large share in carrying the constitutional beginnings of that time a further stage forward, but who was himself a practical statesman rather than a lawyer, he was one of the foremost teachers of that great lesson which England was then learning, the lesson of law, of rights and responsibilities, which was for the world at large a far more important result of the legal reforms of the great Angevin monarch than anything in the field of technical law. It is easy to believe that a later writer records at least a genuine tradition of the feeling of John when he makes him exclaim on hearing of the archbishop's death, "Now - for the first time am I king of England." In truth practically shut up now for the first time to his island kingdom, John was about to be plunged into that series of quarrels and conflicts which fills the remainder of his life.

For the beginning of the conflict which gives its chief characteristic to the second period of his reign, the conflict with the pope and the Church, John is hardly to be blamed, at least not from the point of view of a king of England. With the first scene of the drama he had nothing to do; in the second he was doing no more than all his predecessors had done with scarcely an instance of dispute since the Norman Conquest. There had long been two questions concerning elections to the see of Canterbury that troubled the minds of the clergy. The monks of the cathedral church objected to the share which the bishops of the province had acquired in the choice of their primate, and canonically they were probably right. They also objected, and the bishops, though usually acting on the side of the king, no doubt sympathized with them, to the virtual appointment of the archbishop by the king. This objection, though felt by the clergy since the day when Anselm had opened the way into England to the principles of the Hildebrandine reformation, had never yet been given decided expression in overt act or led to any serious struggle with the sovereign; and it is clear that it would not have done so in this instance if the papal throne had not been filled by Innocent III. That great ecclesiastical statesman found in the political situation of more than one country of Europe opportunities for the exercise of his decided genius which enabled him to attain more nearly to the papacy of Gregory VII's ideal than had been possible to any earlier pope, and none of his triumphs was greater than that which he won from the opportunity offered him in England.

On Archbishop Hubert's death a party of the monks of Canterbury determined to be beforehand with the bishops and even with the king. They secretly elected their subprior to the vacant see, and sent him off to Rome to be confirmed before their action should be known, but the personal vanity of their candidate betrayed the secret, and his boasting that he was the elect of Canterbury was reported back from the continent to England to the anger of the monks, who then sent a deputation to the king and asked permission in the regular way to proceed to an election. John gave consent, and suggested John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, as his candidate, since he was "alone of all the prelates of England in possession of his counsels." The bishop was elected by the chapter; both bishops and monks were induced to withdraw the appeals they had made to Rome on their respective rights, and, on December 11, the new archbishop was enthroned and invested with the fiefs of Canterbury by the king. Of course the pallium from the pope was still necessary, and steps were at once taken to secure it. Innocent took plenty of time to consider the situation and did not render his decision until the end of March, 1206, declaring then against the king's candidate and ordering a deputation of the monks to be sent him, duly commissioned to act for the whole chapter. King and bishops were also told to be represented at the final decision. The pope's action postponed the settlement of the question for six months, and the interval was spent by John in an effort to recover something of his lost dominions, undertaken this time with some promise of success because of active resistance to Philip in Poitou. On this occasion no objection to the campaign was made by the barons, and with a large English force John landed at La Rochelle on June 7. Encouraged by his presence the insurrection spread through the greater part of Poitou and brought it back into his possession. He even invaded Anjou and held its capital for a time, and reached the borders of Maine, but these conquests he could not retain after Philip took the field against him in person; but on his side Philip did not think it wise to attempt the recovery of Poitou. On October 26 a truce for two years was proclaimed, each side to retain what it then possessed, but John formally abandoning all rights north of the Loire during the period of the truce.