King John Taxes the Clergy; The Arrival of the Friars in England; The Interdict

Source: Roger of Wendover’s Flowers of History, Comprising the History of England from the Descent of the Saxons to A.D. 1235, trans. J. A. Giles, 2 vols. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1849), vol. II, pp. 236, 245-248
( [accessed 4 August 2011]:

[p. 236]

[A.D. 1207.]

How Geoffrey archbishop of York went into exile.

King John kept Christmas at Winchester in the company of the nobles of the kingdom. Afterwards, at the purification of the blessed Mary, he levied a tax throughout England of the thirteenth part of all moveable and other goods, on the laity as well as the ecclesiastics and prelates, which caused great murmuring amongst all, though they dared not gainsay it. Geoffrey archbishop of York was the only one who did not consent to it; he openly spoke against it, and departed from England privily; and at his departure he anathematized especially all those who were the agents of this robbery in the archbishopric of York, and in general against all the invaders of the church or the church property. In this same year, on the 27th of February, about midnight, a sudden and violent storm of wind arose, which destroyed buildings, tore down trees, and, being attended by immense falls of snow, caused destruction to flocks and herds of sheep and cattle. In this same year the emperor Otho came to England and had an interview with his uncle, after which, and receiving five thousand marks of silver from the latter, he returned to his own kingdom.

About this time there sprang up, under the auspices of pope Innocent, a sect of preachers called Minorites, who filled the earth, dwelling in cities and towns by tens and sevens, possessing no property at all, living according to the gospel, making a show of the greatest poverty, walking with naked feet, and setting a great example of humility to all classes. On Sundays and feast days they went forth from their habitations preaching the word of the gospel in the parish churches, eating and drinking whatever they found amongst them to whom they preached; and they were the more remarkable for their regard to the business of heaven, the more they proved themselves unconnected with the matters of this life, and with the pleasures of the flesh. No sort of food in their possession was kept for the morrow’s use, that their poverty of spirit which reigned in their minds, might show itself to all in their dress and actions.

[pp. 245-248]

[A.D. 1208.]

The king of England admonished by our lord the pope.

In the same year pope Innocent, on learning that king John’s heart was so hardened, that he would not either by persuasion or threats be induced to acquiesce in receiving Stephen as archbishop of Canterbury, was touched to the heart with grief, and, by advice of his cardinals, sent orders to William bishop of London, Eustace bishop of Ely, and Mauger bishop of Winchester, to go to the said king, about the matter of the church of Canterbury, and to give him wholesome counsel to yield to God in this matter, and so secure the Lord’s favour; but if they found him contumacious and rebellious as he had hitherto been, he ordered them to lay an interdict on the whole kingdom of England, and to denounce to the said king that, if he did not check his boldness by that means, he, the pope, would lay his hand on him still more heavily; since it was necessary for him to conquer, who for the safety of the holy church had made war on the devil and his angels, and despoiled the cloisters of hell. He also, by letters of the apostolic see, gave orders to the suffragan bishops of the church of Canterbury, and to the other prelates of that diocese, that, by virtue of their obedience, they were to receive the aforesaid archbishop as their father and pastor, and were to obey him with all due affection.

How England was laid under general interdict.

The bishops of London, Ely, and Winchester, in execution of the legateship entrusted to them, went to king John, and after duly setting forth the apostolic commands, entreated of him humbly and with tears, that he, having God in his sight, would recall the archbishop and the monks of Canterbury to their church, and honour and love them with perfect affection ; and they informed him that thus he would avoid the shame of an interdict, and the Disposer of rewards would, if he did so, multiply his temporal honours on him, and after his death would bestow lasting glory on him. When the said bishops wished, out of regard to the king, to prolong the discourse, the king became nearly mad with rage, and broke forth in words of blasphemy against the pope and his cardinals, swearing by God’s teeth, that, if they or any other priests soever presumptuously dared to lay his dominions under an interdict, he would immediately send all the prelates of England, clerks as well as ordained persons, to the pope, and confiscate all their property; he added moreover, that all the clerks of Rome or of the pope himself who could be found in England or in his other territories, he would send to Rome with their eyes plucked out, and their noses slit, that by these marks they might be known there from other people; in addition to this he plainly ordered the bishops to take themselves quickly from his sight, if they wished to keep their bodies free from harm. The bishops then, not finding any repentance in the king, departed, and in the Lent following, fearlessly fulfilled the duty required of them by the pope, and accordingly on the morning of Monday in Passion week, which that year fell on the 23rd of March, they laid a general interdict on the whole of England; which, since it was expressed to be by authority of our lord the pope, was inviolably observed by all without regard of person or privileges. Therefore all church services ceased to be performed in England, with the exception only of confession, and the viaticum in cases of extremity, and the baptism of children; the bodies of the dead too were carried out of cities and towns, and buried in roads and ditches without prayers or the attendance of priests. What need I say more ? The bishops, William of London, Eustace of Ely, Mauger of Winchester, Jocelyn of Bath, and Giles of Hereford, left England privily, thinking it better to avoid the anger of the enraged king for a time, than to dwell without any good effects in a country which lay under interdict.

How king John, on account of the interdict, confiscated all the property of the clergy.

The king of England being greatly enraged on account of the interdict, sent his sheriffs, and other ministers of iniquity, to all quarters of England, giving orders with dreadful threats to all priests as well as to those subject to them, to depart the kingdom immediately, and to demand justice to be afforded him by the pope for this injury; he also gave all the bishoprics, abbacies, and priories, into the charge of laymen, and ordered all ecclesiastical revenues to be confiscated; but the generality of the prelates of England had cautiously turned their attention to this, and refused to quit their monasteries unless expelled by violence; and when the agents of the king found this out, they would not use violence towards them, because they had not a warrant from the king to that effect; but they converted all their property to the king’s use, giving them only a scanty allowance of food and clothing out of their own property. The corn of the clergy was every where locked up, and distrained for the benefit of the revenue; the concubines of the priests and clerks were taken by the king’s servants and compelled to ransom themselves at a great expense; religious men and other persons ordained of any kind, when found travelling on the road, were dragged from their horses, robbed, and basely ill-treated by the satellites of the king, and no one would do them justice. About that time the servants of a certain sheriff on the confines of Wales came to the king bringing in their custody a robber with his hands tied behind him, who had robbed and murdered a priest on the road; and on their asking the king what it was his pleasure should be done to the robber in such a case, the king immediately answered, “He has slain an enemy of mine, release him and let him go.” The relations, too, of the archbishop and bishops, who had laid England under an interdict, wherever they could be found, were by the king’s orders taken, robbed of all their property, and thrown into prison. Whilst they were enduring all these evils, these aforesaid prelates were sojourning on the continent, living on all kinds of delicacies instead of placing themselves as a wall for the house of God, as the saying of the Redeemer has it, “When they saw the wolf coming, they quitted the sheep and fled.”

How king John received the homage of the nobles of England.

In the midst of these and similar impious proceedings, king John, on reflection, was afraid that, after the interdict, our lord the pope would lay his hands on him more heavily by excommunicating him by name, or by absolving the nobles of England from allegiance to him; he, therefore, that he might not lose his rights of sovereignty, sent an armed force to all the men of rank in the kingdom especially those of whom he was suspicious, and demanded hostages of them, by which he could, if in course of time they were released from their fealty, recall them to their due obedience; many acquiesced in the king’s demands, some delivering to his messengers their sons, and others their nephews and other relations in the flesh. When they at length came to William de Brause, a man of noble blood, and demanded hostages from him, as they had done from others, Matilda, wife of the said William, with the sauciness of a woman, took the reply out of his mouth, and said to the messengers in reply, ” I will not deliver up my sons to your lord, king John, because he basely murdered his nephew, Arthur, whom he ought to have taken care of honourably.” Her husband on hearing her speech rebuked her, and said, “Thou hast spoken like a foolish woman against our lord the king; for if I have offended him in anything, I am and shall be ready to give satisfaction to my lord and that without hostages, according to the decision of his court and of my fellow barons, if he will fix on a time and place for my so doing.” The messengers, on their return to the king, told him what they had heard, at which he was seriously enraged, and privily sent some knights and their followers to seize this William and his family; but he, being forewarned by his friends, fled with his wife, children, and relatives, into Ireland. In this same year the white monks, who at the commencement of the interdict had ceased their functions, afterwards, at the command of the chief abbat of their order, presumed to perform sacred duties; but this piece of presumption coming to the notice of the supreme pontiff they were again suspended to their greater confusion.