Excommunication of King John
ubert Walter had served under the English Kings Henry II and Richard I. He joined Richard I during the third crusade and arranged the payment of ransom money to free Richard after the king was captured while returning through Austria. In 1193 Hubert Walter became the Archbishop of Canterbury and in 1194 became justiciar of England. This meant he had the highest position in the English Church and controlled the country's finances. This suited Richard I as the king hardly spent any time in England and probably did not speak much of the language. Richard was happy for Walter Hubert to run England's affairs. When King Richard died his brother John became King of England. Continuing in his position as Archbishop under the new monarch Hubert was able to keep the king under control. This ended with Hubert's death in 1205.
Choosing a new Archbishop
When Hubert Walter died a dispute began between King John and the monks of Canterbury. King John wanted John de Grey, the Bishop of Norwich, to have the position but the monks wanted their sub-prior, Reginald to become the new Archbishop. The matter was delayed until December when a mission sent to Rome could consult Pope Innocent III. Reginald himself went as part of the mission and stated that he had been elected by the monks. When King John heard of this he demanded that De Gray should be elected and the monks dutifully did.
The Pope wanted neither John de Grey or Reginald to become Archbishop. Instead, in 1207, the Pope chose a third person, Stephen Langton. When King John heard this he had Stephen Langton banished from England.
The response from Pope Innocent III was to threaten to place England under an Interdict. In medieval times this meant that no religious services could be conducted. No marriages, burials, or baptisms could be performed. King John refused to accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop and so, in 1208, the Pope served the Interdict on England. For many years the bells of the churches across England were not rung and people were not buried but King John still refused to accept Langton. The Pope then served John with Excommunication. For John this was a serious blow to his ability to rule the country as it absolved the King's subjects from their oaths of alliegance, gave the Barons reason to revolt and allowed the King of France to invade England to remove John from power.
John accepts the Pope's demand
Facing revolt from his own people and an invasion from France King John finally accepted the Pope's demands and let Stephen Langton into the country. The Excommunication was lifted and the French invasion fleet was defeated of the coast of Flanders (now Belgium). King John had survived this terrible episode of his reign, but worse was yet to come.
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