That misgovernment of this kind should have gone on unchecked, in defiance of the provisions of the Charter, was owing to the disunion and sluggishness of the English baronage. On the first arrival of the foreigners, Richard, the Earl Marshal, a son of the great Regent, stood forth as their leader to demand the expulsion of the strangers from the royal Council, and though deserted by the bulk of the nobles, he defeated the foreign forces sent against him, and forced the King to treat for peace. But at this moment the Earl was drawn by an intrigue of Peter des Roches to Ireland; he fell in a petty skirmish, and the barons were left without a head. Edmund Rich, whom we have seen as an Oxford teacher and who had risen to the Archbishoprick of Canterbury, forced the King to dismiss Peter from court; but there was no real change of system, and the remonstrances of the Archbishop and of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, remained fruitless. In the long interval of misrule which followed, the financial straits of the King forced him to heap exaction on exaction. The Forest Laws were used as a means of extortion, sees and abbeys were kept vacant, loans were wrested from lords and prelates, the Court itself lived at free quarters wherever it moved.
Supplies of this kind however were utterly insufficient to defray the cost of the King's prodigality. A sixth of the royal revenue was wasted in pensions to foreign favourites. The debts of the Crown mounted to four times its annual income. Henry was forced to appeal to the Great Council of the realm, and aid was granted on condition that the King confirmed the Charter. The Charter was confirmed and steadily disregarded; and the resentment of the barons expressed itself in a determined protest and a refusal of further subsidies. In spite of their refusal however Henry gathered money enough for a costly expedition for the recovery of Poitou. The attempt ended in failure and shame. At Taillebourg the forces under Henry fled in disgraceful rout before the French as far as Saintes, and only the sudden illness of Lewis the Ninth and a disease which scattered his army saved Bordeaux from the conquerors. The treasury was drained, and Henry was driven to make a fresh appeal to the baronage. The growing resolution of the nobles to enforce good government was seen in their demand that the confirmation of the Charter was to be followed by the election of Justiciar, Chancellor, and Treasurer in the Great Council, and that a perpetual Council was to attend the King and devise further reforms.
The plan broke against Henry's resistance and a Papal prohibition. The scourge of Papal taxation fell heavily on the clergy. After vain appeals to Rome and to the King, Archbishop Edmund retired to an exile of despair at Pontigny, and tax-gatherer after tax-gatherer with powers of excommunication, suspension from orders, and presentation to benefices, descended on the unhappy priesthood. The wholesale pillage kindled a wide spirit of resistance. Oxford gave the signal by hunting a Papal legate out of the city, amid cries of "usurer" and "simoniac " from the mob of students. Fulk Fitz-Warenne in the name of the barons bade a Papal collector begone out of England. "If you tarry three days longer," he added, "you and your company shall be cut to pieces." For a time Henry himself was swept away by the tide of national indignation. Letters from the King, the nobles and the prelates protested against the Papal exactions, and orders were given that no money should be exported from the realm. But the threat of interdict soon drove Henry back on a policy of spoliation, in which he went hand in hand with Rome.
The story of this period of misrule has been preserved for us by an annalist whose pages glow with the new outburst of patriotic feeling which this common oppression of the people and the clergy had produced. Matthew Paris is the greatest, as he is in reality the last, of our monastic historians. The school of S. Alban's survived indeed till a far later time, but the writers dwindle into mere annalists whose view is bounded by the abbey precincts, and whose work is as colourless as it is jejune. In Matthew the breadth and precision of the narrative, the copiousness of his information on topics whether national or European, the general fairness and justice of his comments, are only surpassed by the patriotic fire and enthusiasm of the whole. He had succeeded Roger of Wendover as chronicler at S. Alban's; and the Greater Chronicle with an abridgement of it which has long passed under the name of Matthew of Westminster, a "History of the English," and the "Lives of the Earlier Abbots," were only a few among the voluminous works which attest his prodigious industry. He was an artist as well as an historian, and many of the manuscripts which are preserved are illustrated by his own hand.
A large circle of correspondents - bishops like Grosseteste, ministers like Hubert de Burgh, officials like Alexander de Swereford - furnished him with minute accounts of political and ecclesiastical proceedings. Pilgrims from the East and Papal agents brought news of foreign events to his scriptorium at S. Alban's. He had access to and quotes largely from state documents, charters, and exchequer rolls. The frequency of the royal visits to the abbey brought him a store of political intelligence, and Henry himself contributed to the great chronicle which has preserved with so terrible a faithfulness the memory of his weakness and misgovernment. On one solemn feast-day the King recognized Matthew, and bidding him sit on the middle step between the floor and the throne, begged him to write the story of the day's proceedings. While on a visit to S. Alban's he invited him to his table and chamber, and enumerated by name two hundred and fifty of the English baronies for his information. But all this royal patronage has left little mark on his work. " The case," as he says, " of historical writers is hard, for if they tell the truth they provoke men, and if they write what is false they offend God." With all the fulness of the school of court historians, such as Benedict or Hoveden, Matthew Paris combines an independence and patriotism which is strange to their pages.
He denounces with the same unsparing energy the oppression of the Papacy and the King. His point of view is neither that of a courtier nor of a churchman, but of an Englishman, and the new national tone of his chronicle is but an echo of the national sentiment which at last bound nobles and yeomen and churchmen together into a people resolute to wrest freedom from the Crown.