ESTIMATES OF THE ENGLISH KINGS.
VIII.—HENRY IT is not difficult to state the main characteristic of Henry of Winchester. Without being a fool in understanding, he was (perhaps with one exception) the weakest in mental capacity of all the Plantagenets. He was, in himself, in everything, simply
insignificant, so far as a very weak man can be insignificant. It
is, however, an unfortunate fact that weakness by no meani implies powerlessness to do harm to others, but that, on the con- trary, it is one of the greatest sources of evil and mischief, though the moral responsibility attaching to the weak-doer himself may be comparatively slight. A. very weak man is, by virtue of that very nature, at the mercy of his own imperfect power of judgment, as well as of the mistaken or ill-disposed suggestions of others, and, without any malicious intentions on his own part, perhaps even from a misdirection of good inten- tions, may destroy the happiness of those who have deserved best at his hands. To deal with such a man is even more dangerous sometimes than to cope with an avowed enemy. Under extremely favourable circumstances, indeed, and where the oppor- tunities of personal judgment and action are at the minimum, and the counsels of good advisers most influential, such a man may pass through life without doing much, or even any mischief, and may leave behind him chiefly the impression created by an amiable disposition, and a kindly wish to act rightly and pleasantly towards all men. But place such a man in a position of power and responsibility, where frequent action is demanded, and sound judgment on men and things is a constantly pressing necessity, and the moral depravation of the character may be incalculable, and the mischievous results to others may be irreparable. Such a position was that of Henry III. From With every weapon of logic except the logic of facts the his earliest years he was placed in a situation which demanded the Mannings have won a signal triumph over their opponents. The exercise of more than ordinary sagacity, and in this quality he sight of Newman and Gratry, Dupanloup and Hyacinthe, driven was unfortunately entirely wanting. Weak men, who have been into a corner, and struggling against the resistless inferences from thus dangerously forced into action, are divided in the course they the professions of their own faith, is a sight which, to use the pursue into two classes. In the one class the mental incapacity pathetic words cited by Newman himself, "makes the heart of the takes the form of overweening self-confidence, and their con- just sad." And yet it is to the inconsistent men that earnest thinkers duct is consequently marked by a total disregard of the opinion turn with yearning sympathy. The minds of those men are too and counsels of everyone else. Perhaps this is the leas dan- noble, their impulses too true, to let them speak with the con- gerous class, since we can ascertain with some certainty the sistency demanded by their dogmatic system of faith. It is easy tendencies and limits of the incapacity, from our knowledge of for narrow and essentially ecclesiastical natures like Archbishop the personal character of the self-sufficient fool, and so can guard Manning to accept the guidance of what Newman contemptuously to some extent against the consequences of his folly. But there is calls a "paper logic." The clay of their souls readily takes the another class, who are sufficiently conscious of their own incapacity shape of the dogmatic mould. Their aspirations find ample room of forming a correct judgment as to any course of action, and who within the paltry limits of what, through a pitiful misapplication consequently are never happy unless they are consulting and con- of the words used by our Lord, is called the Church. They have fiding absolutely in other men. If there were any reliance to so permitted theology to stifle the promptings of nature and of be placed on the constancy of this dependence, we might, even reason, that no dogmatic tenet shocks their mind or even their moral here, be to a certain extent assured as to the future. But with sense. Their condemnation is found in their very consistency. many of this class the distrust of their own abilities which leads But men of larger natures and more heroic hearts find, as them to consult and throw themselves on another man, leads them Newman has found, that even when they formally surrender their also af ter atime to distrust their own judgment of that man's capacity reason and their will into the keeping of a Fetish which they call for giving them good advice, or his disposition to do so ; and then, hastily throwing over their adviser, they repose as implicitly on the suggestions of some new counsellor, to whom their weak nature has seated by a theology which sharply divides the true from the false, been drawn by some chance, or in whose hands they have been persuaded to place themselves by designing intriguers. It is hope- .
leas to attempt to anticipate the course of action of a man so swayed to and fro, and it is quite vain to hope to guard against free play. As Mr. Goldwin Smith has said, in an essay of remark- the consequences of his vacillating confidences. Such a man was able power and precision of statement, "the structure of his mind Henry III. A modern writer says of him :—" Henry spent his is such, that it seeks first that which is good, and in the second life in pitiable alternations between blind confidence and almost place that which is true." But his nature is too broad and his ludicrous mistrust. De Burgh, Des Roches, Peter of Rivaulx, instincts too fine to allow of his being narrowly consistent with Segrave, Montfort, and many more experienced the same treat-
the principles of his creed ; and the protest which he penned ment,—the result, probably, not so much of caprice, in the common against the dogma of Papal Infallibility, in his famous sense of the word, as of a clinging weakness of character and a
conscious inability to estimate the men by whom he was served. a great and good man struggling with unavailing agony in A suspicion which he was incapable of forming for himself un-
the iron embrace of a dogmatic system. Newman is greater nerved his weak judgment when presented by another, and he than his creed, and hence he wins the reverential homage fancied himself betrayed and undone by the man to whom but an of thinkers who believe the distinctive tenets of his theology to hour before he would have trusted everything." Henry not only be fundamentally immoral. A rationalist in the camp of the found it impossible to make up his mind on any subject without dogmatists, he has tried, like Joseph de Maistre, to array dialec- referring to the counsels of those who swayed him for the time, tic on the side of his Church, and he has failed as signally as the but he could hardly ever be relied on, even by them, for continu- French apologist. And equally signal will be the failure of lag long in the same resolution. A curious example of this is pre- apologies for every system of theology, except that which ad- sented in his matrimonial negotiations. It seemed as if he would dresses its last word of appeal, not to the Church, but to the moral never be married. Fair representatives of Brittany, Austria, law which, in a thousand forms, is written by God on the Bavaria, Bohemia, and the Counts of Bigorre and Ponthiou
seemingly without a reason. At last Eleanor of Provence was in the ascendant, and her he ultimately married, her sister, the Queen of France, writing significantly that she will not detain her sister, lest Henry should change his mind.
It is very difficult to estimate the moral rank of such a man. As we have said, it is possible, under peculiar circumstances, that he may be and remain a good man. But it will be seen at once that the same incapacity for action may also, not improbably, be indicative of a similar incapacity to resist temptations to evil. How far such deviations from the right may be conscious and inten- tional, and how far they may be the results of a sheer incapacity to discern the limits of right and wrong, it is not so easy to decide. Llenry was certainly not in his nature an evil-disposed man, like his father John. On the contrary, he appears to have been a kindly, well-meaning man, so far as his blind prejudices and equally blind confidences would allow. He did not probably desire to do anything which he did not for the time fancy that he had a right to do, and he probably never wished to wantonly inflict ill on any man. He preferred doing kind actions to the reverse, and he would always rather think well of a man than the con- trary, if his weak, self-distrustful nature, so easily imposed on, would only have allowed him to continue to think well of him. But he might be persuaded to think any evil of any man, and under the influence of this belief, he might be led to commit the grossest injustice, and sometimes (though not so frequently) acts of severe cruelty. His offences, how- ever, against morality lay chiefly in the direction of absence of good faith. He was so constantly untrue to himself, and so often believed, and did one day what he had thoroughly rejected and opposed the previous day, that he seems to have lost all idea of the sanctity or obligations of a solemn promise or a deeply-plighted engagement. A more willing or shameless perjurer there has scarcely ever existed. On this point he had no scruples, and conscience appeared to be utterly dead. Yet with all his fickleness and falseness, Henry was never hated as his father John was. Men felt at times that he was intolerable, and that he must be deposed, or suspended from the regal functions. But, personally, though he was much despised, he was regarded with the compassionate allowance which manifest weakness of character often inspires in stronger minds, even when the injury suffered from it has been considerable. Henry was subject to violent fits of passion, during which he behaved in the most unkinglike manner. But his resentment after it had ex- pressed itself in the first impulsive act of fury was not of a per- manently enduring character. His will was too feeble and change- able to admit of his being lastingly vindictive, and he was spiteful rather than revengeful. Like most of his race he was very supers- titions, and he was more really devout, so far as the outward ceremonies of religion were concerned, than most of them. He had a real reverence for sacred things, and men of truly saintly character were always regarded by him with respectful and admiring awe. But he was not restrained from his preju- dices or any offences by religious influences, and he had as little scruple in plundering and oppressing the clergy as in the case of the laity. Both alike experienced the ',evils of his extor- tions as they did of his general misrule. He was from his very nature incapable of keeping money in his exchequer, and he was equally unscrupulous in the means he employed to replenish his coffers. Like many weak persons, he seems to have had the idea that all men owed certain duties to him, without any reciprocal acts being due on his part. He was made to spend, and they were made to find the money for his expenditure,—and he had a genuine sense of being injured, if his subjects refused to continue to supply his extravagance and foster his misgovern- ment.
It need not be said that the nature of his government vacillated with the paramount influence to which he was for the time subject. Now it was kept in some degree of order, and made conformable as much as possible to law and justice, under the guardianship of the Earl Marshal and the tutelage of Stephen Langton. Then came the firm, energetic, but somewhat oppressive rule of Pandulf, when for a time England became a dependency, in fact as well as in name, of the Court of Rome. The downfall of this was followed by the ascendancy and just but unbending rule of Hubert de Burgh, on whose overthrow the King, for the first time, was able to indulge his own natural tastes without restraint, and the rule ensued of the Foreign Favourites, which precipitated the civil wars. Yet through all these changes of administration the King's thoughtless and purposeless extravagance exercised a more or less deleterious influence over the course of affairs. Favouritism is, as we have
said, an almost unavoidable imputation against Kings, whose personal friendships must of necessity assume much of that character, and with such a weak man as Henry of Winchester it was only natural that the favouritism should appear in the most undesirable form. He did not, like John, wilfully prefer bad men, but he took men, good or bad, just as they caught his fancy and mastered his understanding. Now it was a Des Roches or a De Valence ; now it was De Montfort. But he had a peculiar liking for foreigners as such, in preference to Englishmen or Anglo-Normans. Whether or not owing to the blood he inherited from his mother, Isabella of Angouleme, or to that derived from his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was essentially Aquitainian or Provencal in his cast of mind and his tastes, though it was the Aquitainian type in its feeblest and most degraded form. He was not devoid, indeed, of personal courage, but his whole cast of character was effeminate. The somewhat stern energy of his Anglo-Norman subjects annoyed, and their want of refinement disgusted him, and he sought friends and associates in the Continental school of man- ners. In accordance with his character, he had not the deep and more serious learning of his Angevin ancestors, and cared little for what we should call learned men. But he took much pleasure in poetry and romances, and his devoutness and his insthetic tastes both found a noble expression in the Abbey at Westminster. His wife, Eleanor of Provence, was herself a poetess, and a member of a highly accomplished family. Henry may (if he reasoned at all on the matter) have justified his ad- vancement of foreigners to high office in England, by the fact that he was the Sovereign of Continental as well as insular provinces, and that Anglo-Normans ruled for the most part in Guienne and Gascony. There was the important difference, however, that the presence and rule of Englishmen were sought and demanded by the towns of South France as a protection against their own feudal oppressors, while in England town and country alike re- volted against the rule of aliens. Yet we cannot wonder at or much blame this partiality of Henry's (to which, indeed, we owe the introduction of the great De Montfort into the field of Eng- lish politics) ; but he carried it to such an excess, and showed such a disposition to substitute foreigners for natives in every branch of the Administration, local as well as central, that had it been submitted to, a second Conquest would have been effected, and a second Doomsday Book would have been a necessity as well as a project. Of course, the Barons resisted vigorously, though not with continuous concert, and the rest of the reign of Henry, down to the rise of the influence of his son Earl Edward in the administration, was an oscillation between Revolutionary govern- ments and Royal misrule. With the ascendancy of Earl Edward naturally began a new era in English history, and the personal rule of Henry almost entirely ceased.
Such appears to us to have been the character of Henry of Winchester, with whom sympathies and tastes supplied the place of principles, and self-assertion found its only development in inconstancy. He was too weak a man to be either a good man or a bad man. As a King, he was simply worthless.