Ivanhoe (Chapter 7, page 1 of 10)

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Chapter 7

Knights, with a long retinue of their squires,
In gaudy liveries march and quaint attires;
One laced the helm, another held the lance,
A third the shining buckler did advance.
The courser paw'd the ground with restless feet,
And snorting foam'd and champ'd the golden bit.
The smiths and armourers on palfreys ride,
Files in their hands, and hammers at their side;
And nails for loosen'd spears, and thongs for shields provide.
The yeomen guard the streets in seemly bands;
And clowns come crowding on, with cudgels in their hands.

--Palamon and Arcite

The condition of the English nation was at this time sufficiently
miserable. King Richard was absent a prisoner, and in the power of
the perfidious and cruel Duke of Austria. Even the very place of his
captivity was uncertain, and his fate but very imperfectly known to the
generality of his subjects, who were, in the meantime, a prey to every
species of subaltern oppression.

Prince John, in league with Philip of France, Coeur-de-Lion's mortal
enemy, was using every species of influence with the Duke of Austria, to
prolong the captivity of his brother Richard, to whom he stood indebted
for so many favours. In the meantime, he was strengthening his own
faction in the kingdom, of which he proposed to dispute the succession,
in case of the King's death, with the legitimate heir, Arthur Duke of
Brittany, son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, the elder brother of John. This
usurpation, it is well known, he afterwards effected. His own character
being light, profligate, and perfidious, John easily attached to his
person and faction, not only all who had reason to dread the resentment
of Richard for criminal proceedings during his absence, but also the
numerous class of "lawless resolutes," whom the crusades had turned back
on their country, accomplished in the vices of the East, impoverished
in substance, and hardened in character, and who placed their hopes
of harvest in civil commotion.

To these causes of public distress and
apprehension, must be added, the multitude of outlaws, who, driven
to despair by the oppression of the feudal nobility, and the severe
exercise of the forest laws, banded together in large gangs, and,
keeping possession of the forests and the wastes, set at defiance the
justice and magistracy of the country. The nobles themselves, each
fortified within his own castle, and playing the petty sovereign over
his own dominions, were the leaders of bands scarce less lawless and
oppressive than those of the avowed depredators. To maintain these
retainers, and to support the extravagance and magnificence which their
pride induced them to affect, the nobility borrowed sums of money from
the Jews at the most usurious interest, which gnawed into their estates
like consuming cankers, scarce to be cured unless when circumstances
gave them an opportunity of getting free, by exercising upon their
creditors some act of unprincipled violence.

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