Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke

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Author: Edmund Burke

King John and the Pope.

He began with exacting an oath from the king, by which, without showing the extent of his design, he engaged him to everything he could ask. John swore to submit to the legate in all things relating to his excommunication. And first he was obliged to accept Langton as archbishop; then to restore the monks of Canterbury, and other deprived ecclesiastics, and to make them a full indemnification for all their losses. And now, by these concessions, all things seemed to be perfectly settled. The cause of the quarrel was entirely removed. But when the king expected for so perfect a submission a full absolution, the legate began a laboured harangue on his rebellion, his tyranny, and the innumerable sins he had committed; and in conclusion declared, that there was no way left to appease God and the Church but to resign his crown to the Holy See, from whose hands he should receive it purified from all pollutions, and hold it for the future by homage, and an annual tribute. John was struck motionless at a demand so extravagant and unexpected. He knew not on which side to turn. If he cast his eyes toward the coast of France, he there saw his enemy Philip, who considered him as a criminal as well as an enemy, and who aimed not only at his crown but his life, at the head of an innumerable multitude of fierce people, ready to rush in upon him. If he looked at his own army, he saw nothing there but coldness, disaffection, uncertainty, distrust, and a strength, in which he knew not whether he ought most to confide or fear. On the other hand, the papal thunders, from the wounds of which he was still sore, were leveled full at his head. He could not look steadily at these complicated difficulties; and truly it is hard to say what choice he had, if any choice were left to kings in what concerns the independence of their crown. Surrounded, therefore, with these difficulties; and that all his late humiliations might not be rendered as ineffectual as they were ignominious, he took the last step; and, in the presence of a numerous assembly of his peers and prelates, who turned their eyes from this mortifying sight, formally resigned his crown to the pope’s legate; to whom at the same time he did homage, and paid the first fruits of his tribute. Nothing could be added to the humiliation of the king upon this occasion, but the insolence of the legate, who spurned the treasure with his foot, and let the crown remain a long time on the ground before he restored it to the degraded owner.

In this proceeding the motives of the king may be easily discovered; but how the barons of the kingdom, who were deeply concerned, suffered, without any protestation, the independency of the crown to be thus forfeited, is mentioned by no historian of that time. In civil tumults it is astonishing how little regard is paid by all parties to the honour or safety of their country. The king’s friends were probably induced to acquiesce by the same motives that had influenced the king. His enemies, who were the most numerous, perhaps saw his abasement with pleasure, as they knew this action might be one day employed against him with effect. To the bigots it was enough, that it aggrandized the pope. It is, perhaps, worthy of observation, that the conduct of Pandulph towards King John bore a very great affinity to that of the Roman consuls to the people of Carthage in the last Punic war; drawing them from concession to concession, and carefully concealing their design, until they made it impossible for the Carthaginians to resist. Such a strong resemblance did the same ambition produce in such distant times; and it is far from the sole instance, in which we may trace a similarity between the spirit and conduct of the former and latter Rome in their common design on the liberties of mankind.

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Chicago: Edmund Burke, "King John and the Pope.," Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke Original Sources, accessed September 23, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN316MA2C8ERWSB.

MLA: Burke, Edmund. "King John and the Pope." Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke, Original Sources. 23 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN316MA2C8ERWSB.

Harvard: Burke, E, 'King John and the Pope.' in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. cited in , Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. Original Sources, retrieved 23 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN316MA2C8ERWSB.