Henry III. of Winchester—The Story of Hubert de Burgh
W HEN King John died, the anger of the barons died too, and, although he was only nine years old, they chose his son Henry to be their King. "His father was wicked," said the barons, "but the prince has done us no wrong. Why should we be angry with him?" So they crowned Henry, and told Louis to return to his own country.
But Louis was angry that, having been brought from France and promised the crown of England, he should be told to go away again. He would not go. So there was fighting once more.
Louis sent to France for men, and a great fleet of ships, filled with soldiers, came sailing to England.
Long ago, you remember, Alfred the Great had seen how much better it would be to stop the Danes from landing at all, and he built ships and fought them at sea.
Now a brave man called Hubert de Burgh saw the same thing. When he heard that more Frenchmen were coming, he said, "We will never let them land. We will fight and conquer them at sea." So under his command a brave little English fleet sailed out from Dover to meet the great French fleet.
And the English conquered the French, as Hubert had said they would. The wind was blowing from the English to the French, and the English threw quicklime in the air, which was blown into the eyes of the French and blinded them. The English archers then poured arrows among them while their quick little ships crashed with their pointed prows against the great French vessels, piercing holes in their sides until the water rushed in and they sank. The English were altogether so quick and fearless that the French were no match for them, and their fleet was utterly destroyed.
On land, too, the English beat the French, and Louis, seeing that his cause was lost, went back to France.
But in spite of his good and wise teacher Henry grew up to be neither good nor wise. Listening to the advice of evil friends, he treated Hubert very badly and at last obliged him to fly for his life.
One night while Hubert was sleeping quietly, he was suddenly awakened by a friend. "Fly, my Lord Hubert," he cried, "stay not a moment. The King has sent his soldiers to take you. I have ridden hard, but they are close behind me. You have not a moment to lose."
Hubert got out of bed and, not even waiting to dress, fled with bare feet and only a cloak round him to the nearest church. There, with his hand upon the cross, he waited in the dark and cold.
Hubert fled to a church for sanctuary or safety. When any one was hunted by his enemies, if he ran into a church, reached the altar steps and laid hold upon the cross, no one dared to hurt him. This was called "taking sanctuary."
It was considered a dreadful and wicked thing to kill any one in sanctuary. Yet, you remember, the knights killed Thomas à Becket on the steps of the altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
Hubert waited in the cold and silent church until, with the first grey streaks of dawn and the first early twitter of the birds, he heard the distant tramp of feet and the clatter of swords and armour. Nearer and nearer came the sounds till at last a knight, followed by three hundred armed men, dashed into the church.
"Hubert de Burgh," said the knight, "In the King's name I command you to leave this holy place. Give yourself into my hands, that I may take you before the King to answer for your misdeeds as a rebel and a traitor."
"Nay," replied Hubert, "to my King have I ever been true, but he has listened to false friends who would take my life. Here have I sought God's safety. Here will I remain."
"That shalt thou not do," cried the knight, fiercely. "On, men, and seize him!"
Then the armed men rushed forward, forced Hubert from the altar, and carried him out of the church.
"He is indeed a mighty man and strong," said the knight, when he saw how Hubert struggled. "He must be fettered, or we shall never carry our prize to London."
Near the church stood a smith's forge, and the smith, who had been already aroused by the noise, was ordered to light his fire and make fetters for the prisoner.
Soon the red fire glowed in the grey morning light, and the ring of hammer and anvil was heard.
"For whom do I make these fetters?" asked the smith, as he paused in his work.
"For the traitor and rebel, Hubert de Burgh," replied the knight.
"What!" cried the smith, throwing down his hammer, "for Hubert de Burgh. That will I never do. Hubert de Burgh is no rebel. He saved us from the French, he gave us safety and peace. Some one else may do your evil deeds. No iron of mine shall ever fetter such noble hands."
"Fool!" cried the knight, drawing his sword, "do as I command you or die."
"I can die," replied the smith calmly. "Yes, kill me, do with me what you like; I will never make fetters for Hubert de Burgh."
When the smith spoke like this, the knight began to feel rather ashamed, but he would not let Hubert go, both because he hated Hubert, and because he feared the King. So he and his followers bound Hubert with a rope, set him upon a horse, and took him to the Tower of London.
When the Bishop of London heard what had happened, he was very angry. Being a brave man he went straight to the King.
"My liege," he said to him, "have you heard how your soldiers have broken the peace of holy Church and have dragged Hubert de Burgh from sanctuary, casting him into prison?"
"I know that the rebel and traitor, Hubert de Burgh, is now in prison," replied Henry.
"Hubert de Burgh is no rebel," said the bishop, "and if he were, the soldiers have still no right to drag him from the safety of the Church. Let him go back, or I shall excommunicate every man who has had to do with it."
Very unwillingly the King allowed Hubert to go back to his place of safety. But he sent soldiers to dig a trench round the church and round the bishop's house which was close to it. There the soldiers watched day and night so that Hubert might not escape, and so that no food might be taken in to him.
But in spite of the strict watch kept by the soldiers, Hubert's friends found means to send him food, and for many days he lived in the church. Then still closer watch was kept and, at last, thinking it a disgrace to die of hunger, Hubert left the church of his own accord, and gave himself up to the King's soldiers, who at once carried him off to the Tower of London.
There he was kept for some time, but at last Henry, who was not really cruel, although he was weak and foolish, set him free. After that, Hubert lived quietly in his own home, and took no more part in the ruling of the kingdom.