I. THERE was once a king of England whose name was John. He was a trifling, worthless fellow, and as mean a man as ever wore a crown.
He was not the rightful king of England; for by the English law the crown ought to have gone to his nephew, Prince Arthur. But the prince was only a child, and in those rude, rough times the young and the weak had but little chance against the wicked and the strong. It was an easy matter for John to push the lad aside, take possession of his castles and treasures, and then proclaim himself king.
He allowed Arthur to go to Brittany in France, and there the little prince lived for some time in a castle which had been his mother’s. John himself often went to France; for in those days a large part of that country was ruled by the English king.
The French king, Philip, was very jealous of John, and there was nothing that he wanted so much as to drive him out of his possessions and take them for his own. But he was a great coward, and although he was always talking about making war upon King John, it was seldom that he found courage enough to do anything. One day as he was thinking about the matter, it occurred to him that it would be a good plan to persuade Prince Arthur to help him. So he invited the boy to come and see him at Paris.
“My dear young prince,” he said, “how would you like to be king of England?”
“I should like it above all things,” answered the boy, “for indeed it is my right. Had not my uncle taken that which belongs to me, I should even now be wearing the English crown.”
“How many fighting men do you think you could muster in case of war?” was King Philip’s next question.
“From my own castle, perhaps five hundred,” said Arthur.
“Well, then,” said Philip, “it will be an easy thing for you to win back your kingdom of England. Only do as I say, and all will be well.”
And then he told the prince how he should arm his men and lead them out to fight against the soldiers of King John.
“When the country people see that you are in earnest they will all hasten to help you,” said he. “Soon you will have a large army, and all your uncle’s castles in France will fall before you. In the meanwhile I will cross the English Channel with my French army, and will attack King John in his own country. He cannot withstand both of us. He will give up everything that he has taken from you. And then you shall be king of England.”
Prince Arthur was delighted with the plan, and he promised Philip that he would do what he could. But it is doubtful if he would have done anything had it not been for wicked men who wished to use him for their own selfish purposes.