CHAPTER XXI. THE GREAT CHARTER
About the middle of October John returned to England to find that the disaffection among the barons, which had expressed itself in the refusal to serve in Poitou, had not grown less during his absence. The interdict had been removed on July 2, John having given security for the payment of a sum as indemnity to the Church which was satisfactory to the pope, but the rejoicing over this relief was somewhat lessened by the fact that the monastic houses and the minor clergy were unprovided for and received no compensation for their losses. The justiciar whom the king had appointed on the eve of his departure, the Bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, naturally unpopular because he was a foreigner and out of sympathy with the spirit of the barons, had ruled with a strong hand and sternly repressed all expression of discontent, but his success in this respect had only increased the determination to have a reckoning with the king. In these circumstances John's first important act after his return brought matters to a crisis. Evidently he had no intention of abandoning any of his rights or of letting slip any of his power in England because he had been defeated in France, and he called at once for a scutage from those barons who had not gone with him to Poitou. This raised again the question of right, and we are told that it was the northern barons who once more declared that their English holdings did not oblige them to follow the king abroad or to pay a scutage when he went, John on his side asserting that the service was due to him because it had been rendered to his father and brother. In this the king was undoubtedly right. He could, if he had known it, have carried back his historical argument a century further, but in general feudal law there was justification enough for the position of the barons to warrant them in taking a stand on the point if they wished to join issue with the king. This they were now determined to do. We know from several annalists that after John's return the barons came to an agreement among themselves that they would demand of the king a confirmation of the charter of Henry I and a re-grant of the liberties contained in it. In one account we have the story of a meeting at Bury St. Edmunds, on pretence of a pilgrimage, in which this agreement was made and an oath taken by all to wage war on the king if he should refuse their request which they decided to make of him in form after Christmas. Concerted action there must have been, and it seems altogether likely that this account is correct.
The references to the charter of Henry I in the historians of the time prove clearly enough the great part which that document played at the origin of the revolution now beginning. It undoubtedly gave to the discontented barons the consciousness of legal right, crystallized their ideas, and suggested the method of action, but it is hardly possible to believe that a simple confirmation of this charter could now have been regarded as adequate. The charter of Henry I is as remarkable a document for the beginning of the twelfth as the Great Charter is for the beginning of the thirteenth century, but no small progress had taken place in two directions in the intervening hundred years. In one direction the demands of the crown - we ought really to say the demands of the government - were more frequent, new in kind, and heavier in amount than at the earlier date. The reorganization of the judicial and administrative systems had enlarged greatly the king's sphere of action at the expense of the baron's. All this, and it forms together a great body of change, was advance, was true progress, but it seemed to the baron encroachment on his liberties and denial of his rights, and there was a sense in which his view was perfectly correct. It was partly due to these changes, partly to the general on-going of things, that in the other direction the judgment of the baron was more clear, his view of his own rights and wrongs more specific than a hundred years before, and, by far most important of all, that he had come to a definite understanding of the principle that the king, as lord of his vassals, was just as much under obligation to keep the law as the baron was. Independent of these two main lines of development was the personal tyranny of John, his contemptuous disregard of custom and right in dealing with men, his violent overriding of the processes of his own courts in arbitrary arrest and cruel punishment. The charter of Henry I would be a suggestive model; a new charter must follow its lines and be founded on its principles, but the needs of the barons would now go far beyond its meagre provisions and demand the translation of its general statements into specific form.