John Lackland—The Story of Prince Arthur
W HEN Richard Cœur de Lion died, his brother John, who had plotted and rebelled against him when he was alive, became King. He was called by the French John Sans Terre, which means "without land," and John Lackland by the English. He was so called because, when his father, Henry II., died, John had no kingdom left to him as his brothers had.
John was the youngest and the worst of all Henry's sons, and he was not the heir to the throne of England.
The real heir was Prince Arthur of Brittany, the son of John's elder brother Geoffrey. And now the French king, Philip, who had fought against Richard and helped John, suddenly turned round and began to fight against John because he would not let Arthur be king.
John was wicked and wily, and he easily got Arthur into his power and shut him up in prison. But John was not content with that. He greatly feared that the English people might want to have Arthur as their King, and he resolved to make that impossible.
Prince Arthur was placed in the charge of a man called Hubert, and wicked King John ordered this man to put out Arthur's eyes.
Hubert actually said he would do this cruel deed. One morning he brought two men into Arthur's room, ready to put out his pretty blue eyes with their dreadful hot irons.
Arthur was a gentle, loving boy, and he was fond of his stern gaoler, and Hubert in his own rough way was fond of the little prince. Now he felt sad and sick at heart at the thought of what he had to do.
"Are you ill?" said Arthur. "You look so pale. I wish you were a little ill so that I could nurse you and show you how much I love you," he added.
When Arthur spoke to him so kindly the tears came into Hubert's eyes. But he brushed them away and determined to do what the King had commanded.
"I am not ill, but your uncle has commanded me to put out your eyes," he said roughly.
"To put out my eyes! Oh, you will not do it, Hubert?"
"Oh, Hubert! Hubert! how can you?" said Arthur, putting his arms round Hubert's neck. "When your head ached only a little I sat up all night with you. Now you want to put out my eyes. These eyes that never did, nor never shall, so much as frown upon you."
"I have sworn to do it," said Hubert sadly.
"Oh, but you will not do it! You will not! You will not, Hubert?" and so Arthur begged and prayed till Hubert could resist no longer, and he sent the wicked men with their dreadful red-hot irons away.
But Hubert was afraid that King John would be angry because his orders had not been obeyed, so he told him the cruel deed had been done, and that Prince Arthur had died of grief and pain.
Then wicked King John was glad. But the people both in France and England were very sad when they heard this news. Every one mourned for the young prince. All through the land bells were tolled as if for a funeral.
There was so much anger against John, and so much sorrow for the prince, that at last Hubert told the people that what he had said was not true, and that Arthur was still alive. Then every one was glad. Even King John was glad at first because many of his nobles had told him plainly that he would find no knight to follow him to battle, nor to guard his castles at home, if he had really killed his little nephew.
But King John's heart was black and wicked, and he could not rest while he knew that Prince Arthur lived. So one dark night he came to the castle in which his nephew was kept prisoner.
After that night no one ever saw Prince Arthur again. Next morning when the sun shone in at the narrow window where he used to sit it shone into an empty room. For Arthur's poor little body was lying at the bottom of the Seine, with a great wound in his heart made by his wicked uncle's cruel, sharp knife.