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1. King John and Arthur of Brittany,
Few references have been made in the preceding work to the murder of Arthur in 1203 as a cause of the loss of Normandy. It is clear, I think that Philip, rightly or wrongly, attacked Normandy in pursuance of the condemnation of John by the royal court in 1202. It is also fairly certain that Philip was not convinced of Arthur's death and John's crime before the spring of 1204, when Normandy was more than half won. Yet, after studying, in the order of their composition, the authorities which refer to or discuss the alleged condemnation of King John by his peers in the French court after Arthur's death, I have been led to feel considerable doubt concerning the orthodox view on the subject. That view is the negative conclusion reached by M. Bémont in his well-known thesis a quarter of a century ago.
M. Bémont rests his case upon the fact that no contemporary authority, official or unofficial, refers to King John's condemnation, until 1216 and later. In testing the value and importance of this fact, it is impossible to separate the evidence for Arthur's death from the evidence for John's trial at the French court. The conclusions at which a study of this evidence has brought me may be stated as follows:
1. There was no certainty in contemporary knowledge of how Arthur died, but it does not follow that John was not condemned. What evidence there is, apart from the chronicle of Margam, goes to show that he was condemned,
1. For the literature of the whole subject, see Petit-Dutaillis, Studies supplementary to Stubbs' “ Constitutional History," i, 108; Lot, Fidèles ou Vassaux? (Paris, 1904), p. 87, note. For a very sceptical criticism of the documents of 1216, not dealt with here, see Lehmann, Johann ohne Land, pp. 45–119.
rather than the reverse. Thus the marginal entry in Matthew Paris and the Breton tradition are, though evidence of doubtful value, both independent of the documents of 1216, and find a parallel in the chronicle of Coggeshall, whose importance is indisputable.
2. The story of Arthur's death which is most likely to be true, and is corroborated by other evidence, is contained in the annals of Margam. The condemnation of John is an integral part of this story, which has no connection with the documents of 1216 and is probably due to William of Briouze.
3. Too much stress has been laid upon the arg from silence.
I. Within thirty or forty years of his death that great southerner Richard the Lion Heart had become a peculiarly English hero of English romance--romance full of confused reminiscences and picturesque nonsense, which in its amplified anti-French form was used by Shakespeare; and the notorious John suffered by comparison in popular history. Most of the popular version of John's misdeeds may be put on one side; but the more critical narrative of Holinshed is a suggestive starting-point for a study of the medieval tradition. Holinshed gives his authorities. The story of Arthur's interview with Hubert is based on a contemporary Essex chronicle of Coggeshall. Holinshed repeats the three or four rumours made current by Matthew Paris in his Historia Anglorum,2 that Arthur died of grief, or was drowned in trying to escape from the tower of Rouen, or was killed by his uncle. The most popular version of Arthur's death is unknown to Holinshed,
1. See G. Paris in Romania, xxvi, 357, 387. Compare Bishop Bale's long since forgotten play about King John, which Shakespeare is said to have used.
2. Ed. Madden, ii, 95.
and therefore to Shakespeare. Hence in the famous play, the Hubert scene naturally becomes the central theme.
There was a Breton tradition also, which was familiar in the fifteenth century and was worked into the narrative of the learned Breton historians of the seventeenth century.? According to this version the barons and bishops of Brittany assembled in great numbers and charged John with the murder fifteen days after it was committed. On the strength of this charge King Philip of France condemned the English king to lose all his possessions. So far as this story is true, it can be traced, as M. Bémont pointed out, to the events described by the Essex chronicler, Ralph, abbot of Coggeshall, to whom I have referred.
King John captured Arthur at the castle of Mirebeau on 1 August 1202. Arthur was between fifteen and sixteen years of age--nearly
age—-nearly a man in those days—and had been invested by Philip with all the Angevin lands outside Normandy. At the time of his capture he was besieging his grandmother. He was taken to Falaise and imprisoned in the tower. John is said to have promised that if, with the aid of William des Roches, the most powerful baron and official in Maine and Anjou, he succeeded in defeating Arthur, he would act on William's advice. His trickery after the successful march on Mirebeau and his cruelty to the prisoners cost him the allegiance of William and of the barons of the west. They joined with the Bretons and the rebels of Poitou. Some of the Normans were won over.
The abbot of Coggeshall is the sole authority for what happened at Falaise. John's counsellors saw that so long as Arthur was kept in Falaise, away from his followers, yet
1. See Bémont, Revue Historique, xxxii (1886), 290—300; Stubbs, Introduction to Walter of Coventry, ii, p. xxxii. Several continental chroniclers refer to the rumour of Arthur's murder, but their evidence throws no light on the facts.
2. Vie de Guillaume le Maréchal, iii, 167–170; Coggeshall, p. 139. Above, p. 232.
3. Ibid, pp. 139–141.