" They have given me five-and-twenty over-kings," cried John in a burst of fury, flinging himself on the floor and gnawing sticks and straw in his impotent rage. But the rage soon passed into the subtle policy of which he was a master. Some days after he left Windsor, and lingered for months along the southern shore, waiting for news of the aid he had solicited from Rome and from the Continent. It was not without definite purpose that he had become the vassal of Rome. While Innocent was dreaming of a vast Christian Empire with the Pope at its head to enforce justice and religion on his under-kings, John believed that the Papal protection would enable him to rule as tyrannically as he would. The thunders of the Papacy were to be ever at hand for his protection, as the armies of England are at hand to protect the vileness and oppression of a Turkish Sultan or a Nizam of Hyderabad. His envoys were already at Rome, and Innocent, indignant that a matter which might have been brought before his court of appeal as overlord should have been dealt with by armed revolt, annulled the Great Charter and suspended Stephen Langton from the exercise of his office as Primate. Autumn brought a host of foreign soldiers from over sea to the King's standard, and advancing against the disorganized forces of the barons, John starved Rochester into submission and marched ravaging through the midland counties to the North, while his mercenaries spread like locusts over the whole face of the land.
From Berwick the King turned back triumphant to coop up his enemies in London, while fresh Papal excommunications fell on the barons and the city. But the burghers set Innocent at defiance. "The ordering of secular matters appertaineth not to the Pope," they said, in words that seem like mutterings of the coming Lollardry; and at the advice of Simon Langton, the Archbishop's brother, bells swung out and mass was celebrated as before. With the undisciplined militia of the country and the towns, however, success was impossible against the trained forces of the King, and despair drove the barons to seek aid from France. Philip had long been waiting the opportunity for his revenge upon John, and his son Lewis at once accepted the crown in spite of Innocent's excommunications, and landed in Kent with a considerable force. As the barons had foreseen, the French mercenaries who constituted John's host refused to fight against the French sovereign. The whole aspect of affairs was suddenly reversed. Deserted by the bulk of his troops, the King was forced to fall rapidly back on the Welsh Marches, while his rival entered London and received the submission of the larger part of England. Only Dover held out obstinately against Lewis. By a series of rapid marches John succeeded in distracting the plans of the barons and in relieving Lincoln; then after a short stay at Lynn he crossed the Wash in a fresh movement to the north.
In crossing, however, his army was surprised by the tide, and his baggage with the royal treasures washed away.
The fever which seized the baffled tyrant in the abbey of Swineshead was inflamed by a gluttonous debauch, and John entered Newark only to die. His death changed the whole face of affairs, for his son Henry was but a child of nine years old, and the royal authority passed into the hands of one who stands high among English patriots, William Marshal. The boy-king was hardly crowned when the Earl and the Papal Legate issued in his name the very Charter against which his father had died fighting; only the clauses which regulated taxation and the summoning of Parliament were as yet declared to be suspended. The nobles soon streamed away from the French camp; for national jealousy and suspicions of treason told heavily against Lewis, while the pity which was excited by the youth and helplessness of Henry was aided by a sense of injustice in burthening the child with the iniquity of his father. One bold stroke of William Marshal decided the struggle. A joint army of French and English barons under the Count of Perche and Robert Fitz-Walter was besieging Lincoln, when the Earl, rapidly gathering forces from the royal castles, marched to its relief.
Cooped up in the steep narrow streets, and attacked at once by the Earl and the garrison, the barons fled in hopeless rout; the Count of Perche fell on the field; Robert Fitz-Walter was taken prisoner. Lewis, who was investing Dover, retreated to London, and called for aid from France. But a more terrible defeat crushed his remaining hopes. A small English fleet, which had set sail from Dover under Hubert de Burgh, fell boldly on the reinforcements which were crossing under the escort of Eustace the Monk, a well-known freebooter of the Channel. The fight admirably illustrates the naval warfare of the time. From the decks of the English vessels bowmen poured their arrows into the crowded transports, others hurled quicklime into their enemies' faces, while the more active vessels crashed with their armed prows into the sides of the French ships. The skill of the mariners of the Cinque Ports decided the day against the larger forces of their opponents, and the fleet of Eustace was utterly destroyed. The royal army at once closed in upon London, but resistance was really at an end.
By the treaty of Lambeth Lewis promised to withdraw from England on payment of a sum which he claimed as debt; his adherents were restored to their possessions, the liberties of London and other towns confirmed, and the prisoners on either side set at liberty. The expulsion of the stranger left English statesmen free to take up again the work of reform; and a fresh issue of the Charter, though in its modified form, proclaimed clearly the temper and policy of the Earl Marshal.