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The reign of Edward III may be considered the climax of mediaeval civilization and of England’s early greatness. It is the age in which chivalry attained its highest perfection. It is the period of the most brilliant achievements in war and of the greatest development of arts and commerce before the Reformation. It was succeeded by an age of decay and disorder, in the midst of which, for one brief interval, the glories of the days of King Edward were renewed; for the rest, all was sedition, anarchy, and civil war. Two different branches of the royal family set up rival pretensions to the throne; and the struggle, as it went on, engendered acts of violence and ferocity which destroyed all faith in the stability of government. Even in Edward’s own days the tide had begun to turn. Of the lands he had won in France, and even of those he had inherited in that country, nearly all had been lost. Calais, Bordeaux, Bayonne and a few other places still remained; but Gascony had revolted, and a declaration of war had been received in England from Charles V, the son of that king of France who had been taken prisoner at Poitiers. Edward found it impossible in his declining years to maintain his old military renown. His illustrious son, the Black Prince, only tarnished his glory by the massacre of Limoges. Even if England had still possessed the warriors who had helped to win her earlier victories, success could not always be hoped for from that daring policy which had been wont to risk everything in a single battle. The French, too, had learned caution, and would no longer allow the issue to be so determined. They suffered John of Gaunt to march Through the very heart of their country from Calais to Bordeaux, only harassing his progress with petty skirmishes and leaving hunger to do its work upon the invading army. England was exhausted and had to be content with failure. During the last two years of Edward’s reign there was a truce, which expired three months before his death. But no attempt was made to do more than stand on the defensive...
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LITERATURE AND SCIENCE
THE COUNCIL OF CONSTANCE AND THE WAR IN BOHEMIA
GENERAL VIEW OF EUROPEAN HISTORY
THE REIGN OF EDWARD III may be considered the climax of mediaeval civilization and of England’s early greatness. It is the age in which chivalry attained its highest perfection. It is the period of the most brilliant achievements in war and of the greatest development of arts and commerce before the Reformation. It was succeeded by an age of decay and disorder, in the midst of which, for one brief interval, the glories of the days of King Edward were renewed; for the rest, all was sedition, anarchy, and civil war. Two different branches of the royal family set up rival pretensions to the throne; and the struggle, as it went on, engendered acts of violence and ferocity which destroyed all faith in the stability of government.
Even in Edward’s own days the tide had begun to turn. Of the lands he had won in France, and even of those he had inherited in that country, nearly all had been lost. Calais, Bordeaux, Bayonne and a few other places still remained; but Gascony had revolted, and a declaration of war had been received in England from Charles V, the son of that king of France who had been taken prisoner at Poitiers. Edward found it impossible in his declining years to maintain his old military renown. His illustrious son, the Black Prince, only tarnished his glory by the massacre of Limoges. Even if England had still possessed the warriors who had helped to win her earlier victories, success could not always be hoped for from that daring policy which had been wont to risk everything in a single battle. The French, too, had learned caution, and would no longer allow the issue to be so determined. They suffered John of Gaunt to march Through the very heart of their country from Calais to Bordeaux, only harassing his progress with petty skirmishes and leaving hunger to do its work upon the invading army. England was exhausted and had to be content with failure. During the last two years of Edward’s reign there was a truce, which expired three months before his death. But no attempt was made to do more than stand on the defensive.
In domestic matters a still more melancholy reaction had taken place. The great King had become weak and the depravity from which he and his people had emancipated themselves at the beginning of his reign re-appeared at the close in a form almost as painful. Alice Ferrers ruled the King and sat beside the judges, corrupting the administration of the law. In the King’s imbecility his sons conducted the government, and chiefly John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose elder brother the Black Prince had, for the most part, withdrawn from public life owing to his shattered health. But just before his death in 1376, the latter, conscious of the corrupt state of the whole administration, gave his countenance to what was called (the Good Parliament) in attacking the principal abuses. They impeached, fined, and imprisoned various offenders who had been guilty of extortion as farmers of the revenue, or of receiving bribes for the surrender of fortresses to the enemy; then, aiming higher still, not only ventured to complain of Alice Ferrers, but compelled the King to banish her from his presence Unfortunately, the good influence did not last. On the death of the Black Prince everything was again undone. Alice Ferrers returned to the King. The Speaker of ‘the Good Parliament’ was thrown into prison. John of Gaunt returned to power and brought charges against William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, once the all-powerful minister of Edward III, in consequence of which he was dismissed from the Chancellorship and ordered to keep at a distance from the court, while the men who had been censured and condemned by Parliament were released from their confinement.
One act, however, the Good Parliament accomplished which was not to be undone. Immediately on the death of the Black Prince the Commons petitioned that his son Richard might be publicly recognized as heir to the throne. The significance of this act is not at once apparent to us who are accustomed to a fixed succession. But the days were not then so very remote when it had been not unusual to set aside the direct line of the succession, either to avoid a minority or for some other reason and it might have been questioned still whether the right of a younger son, like John of Gaunt, was not preferable to that of a grandson, like young Richard. In this case, however, the general feeling was marked and unmistakable. The great popularity of the Black Prince made the nation desire the succession of his son and the unpopularity of John of Gaunt strengthened that desire still further. Hence it was that on the death of Edward III his grandson Richard succeeded quietly to the throne.
I – The French War – Wycliffe and John of Gaunt
It was just twelve months after the death of the Black Prince that his father, King Edward III, died at Sheen. According to what had been determined in Parliament, Richard was immediately recognized as king. He was at this time only eleven ears old and could not be expected to discharge the actual functions of government for many years to come. The utmost that could have been hoped under circumstances so disadvantageous was that he might have been placed under such tuition as would have taught him to exercise his high powers with vigor and discretion when he came of age. But even of this the state of parties afforded very little prospect. His eldest uncle, John of Gaunt, was so generally disliked that his influence would not have been tolerated, and no one else had any claim to be his political instructor. No attempt was made to form Regency or to appoint a Protector during the minority. The young King was crowned within a month after his accession, and was invested at once with the full rights of sovereignty. All parties agreed to support his authority, and seemed anxious to lay aside those jealousies which had disturbed the latter days of the preceding reign. John of Gaunt and William of Wykeham were made friends; and the city of London, which had been much opposed to the former, was assured both of his and of the new King’s good will.
It was, indeed, a very proper time to put away dissensions, for the French were at that moment harassing the coasts. A week after King Edward’s death they burned Rye. A little later they levied contributions in the Isle of Wight, attacked Winchelsea, and set fire to Hastings. About the same time the Scots were busy in the North, and burned the town of Roxburgh. These and a number of other misfortunes were due mainly to the weakness of the government.
A Parliament, however, presently assembled at London, composed mainly of the same persons as the Good Parliament of 1 376. In this Parliament a subsidy was voted for carrying on the war; but to prevent a repetition of old abuses, the control of the money was placed entirely in the hands of two leading citizens of London, who were charged not to allow it to be diverted from the use for which it was intended. The names of these two citizens were William Walworth and John Philipot; and they deserve to be noted ‘here as we shall meet with each of them again in connection with other matters.
About the end of the year there arrived in England certain bulls not the first that had been issued by the Pope to denounce his teaching against John Wycliffe, a famous theologian at Oxford, whose tenets, both political and religious, had created no small stir. Wycliffe denied that the Pope, or any one but Christ, ought to be called Head of the Church. He treated as a fiction that primacy among the Apostles which the Church of Rome had always claimed for St. Peter. He maintained that the power of kings was superior to that of the Pope, and that it was lawful to appeal from the sentence of a bishop to a secular tribunal. It was one of his cardinal principles that dominion was founded on grace, and that anyone who held authority, either temporal or spiritual, was divested of his power by God whenever he abused it. From this it seemed only too plain an inference that disobedience might easily become a duty. Such teaching shook to its foundation the view commonly entertained of the relations of Church and State, but it recommended itself in many ways to no small section of the nation. As early as the year 1366 it had become of value to the Court for the Pope had revived the claim made by the See of Rome for tribute in the days of King John, and while the papal pretensions were repudiated by the Parliament at Westminster, Wycliffe defended in the schools of Oxford the decision come to by the legislature.
In truth the authority of the Pope had not been strengthened in the estimation of Englishmen since the days when that tribute had been submitted to, especially not in the days of Wycliffe. For nearly sixty years the Papal See had been removed from Rome to Avignon, and in matters of international concern the Pope was looked upon as a partisan of the French king. Of the six Popes who had reigned at Avignon, everyone had been a native either of Gascony or of the Limousin. The exactions of the Papal Court rendered it still more odious. The See of Rome had gradually usurped the right of presentation to bishoprics and prebends, and received the first fruits of each new filled benefice, of which it endeavored to make the utmost by frequent translations. At ‘the sinful city of Avignon/ as it was called by the Good Parliament, there lived a set of brokers who purchased benefices and let them to farm for absentees. Thus a number of the most valuable preferments were absorbed by Cardinals and other foreigners residing at the Papal Court. And worse than all, the revenues of the English Church went frequently to support the enemies of England. For the Pope claimed a general right of taxing benefices, and when he required money for his wars in Lombardy, or to ransom French prisoners taken by the English, he could always demand a subsidy of the English clergy. The bishops did not dare to resist the demand, however little they might approve the object. In this way the Pope drew from the possessions of the Church in England five times the amount the King received from the whole taxation of the kingdom. And while all this wealth was withdrawn from the country, and some of it applied in a manner opposed to the country’s interest, the people were so ground down with taxation that they were unable to provide effectively for defense against a foreign enemy. Statesmen therefore desired the opinion of divines whether England might not lawfully, as a Christian nation refuse to part with her treasures to the See of Rome. Wycliffe had no doubt upon the subject. He declared that every community had a right to protect itself, and that it might detain its treasure for that purpose whenever necessity required; moreover, that on Gospel principles the Pope had no right to anything at all, except in the way of alms and free-will offerings of the faithful.
Unselfish as his aim undoubtedly was, it was only natural that doctrines such as these should have recommended Wycliffe to the favor of the great. Even in the days of Edward III he was a royal chaplain; and in the very first year of Richard II his advice was asked by the King’s council upon the question just referred to. On the other hand, he naturally looked upon by churchmen as a traitor to the principles and constitution of the Church; nor could he hope to escape their vengeance except by the protection of powerful laymen. In this respect the friendship of John of Gaunt was of most signal use to him; and it was shown in an especial manner not long before the death of Edward III. On that occasion Wycliffe had been cited before the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London at St. Paul’s; and the Duke of Lancaster not only took his part, but befriended him so warmly as to let fall some offensive expressions against the Bishop of London. But he had very soon cause to repent the indiscretion. The Londoners resented either the affront to their bishop or the stretch of authority on the duke’s part in protecting a heretic, and it was only at the bishop’s own intercession that they refrained from attacking the duke himself or setting fire to his palace of the Savoy.
The incident was characteristic of John of Gaunt, a man whose inward endowments, either of virtue or discretion, by no means corresponded with his artificial greatness. Although only the fourth son of King Edward III, he was the eldest that survived his father, and had, as we have already shown, taken the lead in public affairs even during his father’s latter days. On the day that Edward attained the age of fifty, he and an elder brother Lionel were raised by the King to the dignity of dukes a title unknown in England till the beginning of his reign; and having married the daughter of a nobleman, then deceased, who had been created Duke of Lancaster, he was made Duke of Lancaster himself. On the death of his elder brother Lionel, who had been made Duke of Clarence, John of Gaunt was left the only duke in England, and when the Black Prince also died, he was the greatest subject in the realm. But his ambition had not been satisfied even with the great pre-eminence of a dukedom for, having taken as his wife in second marriage, Constance, the eldest daughter of Peter the Cruel of Castile, he assumed the title of King of Castile. The claim was utterly futile, and served only to exasperate both France and Spain against England. For Henry of Trastamara, the illegitimate brother of Peter the Cruel, against whose pretensions the Black Prince had won for Peter in Spain the battle of Navarrete, had been since firmly established on the throne by the aid of the King of France. Moreover, at that very time the affairs of England in France were in a most critical condition; yet John of Gaunt, whom his brother the Black Prince had left to defend Aquitaine a year before, returned to England with his newly married wife and empty title just when his presence was most specially wanted in the south of France. After he was gone the English arms experienced a series of reverses ending in the complete loss of Aquitaine, and a new invasion of France, which he undertook in order to retrieve these disasters, was even more unfortunate.
Altogether, he had shown little evidence of either military or political capacity; and yet at the commencement of his young nephew’s reign his influence was so great by the mere fact of his relation to the King, that everything was at his disposal. It was in vain even that Parliament had committed to Walworth and Phillpot the control of the war expenditure. The Duke of Lancaster requested that the money granted by Parliament should be placed in his hands that he might fit out a fleet and drive the enemy from the shores of England. The Lords of the Council, though with great misgivings, felt it necessary to comply. They had little confidence in the duke, but durst not go against his will. Their distrust was justified by the result. The duke was very tardy in his preparations. The fleet at length sailed without him, was encountered by the Spaniards and was defeated. The commercial classes seem to have felt that they must see to the protection of their own interests themselves, for English shipping was exposed to the attacks of various enemies. John Mercer, a Scotch captain, who was a man of considerable influence with the French king, had been taken at sea by some Northumbrian sailors and committed to the castle of Scarborough. His son, with the aid of a small force consisting of Frenchmen, Scots, and Spaniards, suddenly entered the port of Scarborough and carried off a number of ships. But John Phillpot fitted out a fleet at his own expense, which after a short time fell in with the younger Mercer, and not only recovered the ships that he had captured but took him and fifteen Spanish vessels laden with rich booty.
The fame of this achievement made Philipot highly popular, and people could not help contrasting it with the supineness and inactivity of John of Gaunt. When at last the duke set to sea he unfortunately did little to retrieve his past mismanagement, but failed again as he had so often done before. He crossed to Brittany, besieged St. Malo, and so terrified the inhabitants that at first they were disposed to come to terms with him. But the duke insisting on unconditional surrender, the citizens held out and the siege was prolonged, till at length, after losing a number of men, the English were compelled ignominiously to withdraw and return home.
The war went on for some years languidly, with little glory to England. The national disasters however, together with the intolerable burden of taxation imposed to avert them, had a most important effect in stimulating Parliament to inquire into the expenditure, a claim which was not yet conceded to them by right, but under the circumstances could not be refused. The English also were deceived in their expectations of aid from the Duke of Brittany against France. John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, had done homage to Edward III for his duchy, and had been assisted by Edward against his rival Charles of Blois, supported by the King of France. His son John, who was now duke, with an undisputed title, had fought side by side with the English, and since Richard’s accession had been placed in command of a portion of the English fleet. But he had pursued a double game from the first, and being recalled to his duchy, by the earnest entreaties of his people he soon afterwards made a treaty with France to dismiss the English from his dominions.
Meanwhile, events had taken place at Rome which affected both the political and religious condition of every country in Europe. Gregory XI, the last of the Popes who reigned at Avignon, had felt it necessary to remove to Rome in order to prevent the Romans setting up an anti-Pope. At Rome he died the year after his removal. Three quarters of the Cardinals in the imperial city were French, but another French pope they did not dare elect. Their choice fell upon a Neapolitan, the Archbishop of Bari, who assumed the title of Urban VI. But shortly afterwards a portion of the Cardinals, pretending that the election had not been free, caused a new election to be made of Robert of Geneva, Cardinal of Cambray, who took the title of Clement VII, and once more set up a papal court at Avignon. Such was the beginning of what is known in history as the Great Schism. While Urban was recognized as Pope by England, Germany and the greater part of Europe, Clement was regarded as head of the Church by France, Spain, Scotland, and Sicily. Religion was mixed up with the political animosities of nations, and crusades against the Clementines, as they were called, were proclaimed as if they had been directed against infidels. Nor was the breach in the Church repaired until thirty-seven years after it began.
II – Wat Tyler’s Rebellion
In June 1381 there broke out in England the formidable insurrection known as Wat Tyler’s rebellion. The movement seems to have begun among the bondmen of Essex and of Kent but it spread at once to the counties of Sussex, Hertford, Cambridge, Suffolk and Norfolk. The peasantry, armed with bludgeons and rusty swords, first occupied the roads by which pilgrims went to Canterbury, and made everyone swear that he would be true to King Richard and not accept a king named John. This, of course, was aimed at the government of John of Gaunt, who called himself King of Castile, and to whom the people attributed every grievance they had to complain of.
The principal, or at least the immediate cause of offence, arose out of a poll-tax which had been voted in the preceding year, in addition to other sources of revenue for the war in Brittan. A poll tax of four pence a head had already been levied in the year 1377 but this time the deficiency in the exchequer was so great that three times the amount was imposed. Every person above fifteen years of age was to contribute three grants to the revenue; but to make the burden as equitable as possible, it was enacted that the rich should contribute for the poor, no one (except beggars, who were exempted) contributing less than one groat or more than sixty. When, however, the first collection was made, which should have brought in two-thirds of the whole amount, it was found not to have yielded so much as the former poll-tax. Commissions were accordingly issued to inquire in what cases the tax had been evaded.
The investigation was one that could not have been conducted with too great delicacy; but the manner in which the commissioners discharged their functions was offensive beyond measure. Even without very special provocation, there was at this time a dangerous spirit among the lower orders. The condition of the peasantry had for a long time been steadily improving. The great plague which desolated England in the year 1348 had so thinned the population that agricultural labor was much less easily procurable than it had been before and as wages had risen about one-half, those compulsory services which bondmen were still obliged to render to their lords, such as tilling his fields or carrying in the harvest, were submitted to with far less good-will. A feeling had spread far and wide that bondage was a thing essentially unjust and with this grew up an intense hatred of the lawyers and of the laws which kept men in subjection.
The commissioners, however, set about their inquiries in a way which was not only calculated to give needless offence, but which was in many cases indecent and revolting. A tiler of Dartford whose daughter was subjected to insulting treatment, cleft the collector’s head with his lathing-staff. The commissioners soon found the whole peasantry of Kent and Essex banded together to withstand them. From village to village they mustered in hosts, putting to death all lawyers and legal functionaries, and destroying the court-rolls of manors which contained the evidences of their servile condition. And so in overpowering numbers they proceeded to Blackheath, where they are said to have mustered 100,000 men. Their leader was a man of Maidstone named Wat the Tyler a different person, seemingly, from the tiler of Dartford above referred to. They had also with them a fanatical priest named John Balle, whom they had liberated from Maidstone jail, where he had been confined by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This man had been notions for many years for the extravagance of his preaching, in which, however, he addressed himself to the popular prejudices, and seems in part to have adopted the teaching of Wycliffe. Letters written by him in a kind of doggrel rhyme were dispersed about the country. At Blackheath he addressed the multitude in a sermon beginning with what was then a popular saying:
When Adam and Eve span,
Who was then a gentleman?
From which he proceeded to point out the injustice of servitude and the natural equality of men.
The appearance and numbers of the insurgents were so formidable that the King, although he had gone down the river in his barge to meet them and learn their demands, was counseled not to land. The multitude accordingly passed on through Southward into London, destroying the Marshalsea and King’s Bench prisons. The lord mayor and aldermen at first resolved to shut the gates of the city against them but they had so many friends within, that the attempt to do so was in vain. When they came in they showed their hostility to John of Gaunt by setting fire to his magnificent mansion, the Savoy Palace. They also burned the Temple and broke open the Fleet prison and Newgate, liberating all the prisoners. At the same time their motives seem to have been free from dishonesty. Strict orders were given against theft, and one fellow who was detected purloining a piece of plate at the burning of the Savoy, was hurled by his comrades into the flames along with the stolen article.
The King had removed for security into the Tower, along with his mother the Princess of Wales, once popularly known as ‘the Fair Maid of Kent.’ Two leading members of his council were with him, Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was then Lord Chancellor, and Sir Robert Hales, Prior of the Knights of St. John, who filled the office of Lord Treasurer. To the Tower also, as a place of safety, flocked many of the citizens. But as the insurgents so strongly insisted on laying their grievances before the King himself, Richard agreed to go out and meet them at Mile End, where they preferred to him certain requests, of which the principal was for a general abolition of bondage. This and their other demands the King felt it necessary to concede, and a charter was granted accordingly under the great seal. The charter was revoked after the insurrection was quelled; but it satisfied the assembly at the time, and the men of Essex took their departure homewards. Another party of the insurgents, however, under Wat Tyler himself, had at this very time forced an entrance into the Tower, and after conducting themselves with the greatest insolence towards the King’s mother and her attendants, dragged out the Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Robert Hales and beheaded them on Tower Hill. The garrison within the Tower seems to have been utterly paralyzed. The irruption of such an unclean and disorderly mob into the fortress seems altogether to have taken away their courage. At the same time many other decapitations took place, both on Tower Hill and in the city; and, as if to show that no restraints would be regarded, men were dragged out of churches and sanctuaries to be beheaded in the public streets.
But though for the time absolute masters of everything, the triumph of the insurgents was short lived. For the very next day, Wat Tyler had a conference with the young King at Smithfield, at which he displayed so much insolence that William Walworth, who was this year Mayor of London, Killed him with a blow of his sword. A cry immediately rose from the assembled multitude: ‘Our captain is slain. Let us stand together and revenge his death.’ Bows were bent and arrows were about to be aimed at the King and his attendants. But Richard, who was at this time only in his fifteenth year, exhibited in the crisis the spirit of a true Plantagenet. Putting spurs to his horse he rode right into the midst of the rebels, and said to them, ‘What, my friends, would you shoot your king? Do not grieve for the death of that traitor. I will be your captain and leader. Follow me, and you shall have whatever you please to ask.’ This boldness had a marvelous effect. The multitude, disconcerted, followed their young king into the open field. Still, it was doubtful whether they would kill him, or accept a pardon and go home, when fortunately there came from the city a band of volunteers hastily collected under Sir Robert Knolles, an experienced captain in the wars of Edward III, which surrounded the insurgents and placed the King in safety.
This gave a fatal blow to the rebellion in London. The insurgents dispersed and went home, and the King conferred on William Walworth the honor of knighthood and land of the value of icon. But out of London there had been at the same time a general rising over all the country, extending even to the county of Norfolk and northwards to the Humber. At St. Alban’s the bondmen of the monastery committed many outrages, demanding emancipation from the abbot. In Suffolk the movement was kept up by a priest named John Wraw, sent down by Tyler from London; and, as in London, houses were destroyed and lawyers everywhere beheaded, including even one of the justices. The prior of Bury too was put to death, and his head stuck upon the pillory.
In Norfolk there was a rising under one John Litster, a dyer of Norwich, whose surname, like Tyler’s, denoted his occupation; for ‘litster’ was old English for a dyer. Here the insurgents proposed to take the Earl of Suffolk by surprise and make use of his name as their leader but the earl, being warned while he was at supper, made his escape and fled in disguise to the King. The insurgents, however, compelled one nobleman and some knights to go along with them, putting one to death who declared plainly his disapproval of their proceedings. Litster assumed the title of ‘king of the commons’ compelled the knights to serve him at table with meat and drink, and sent two of them up to London in company with three of his men, to obtain for the risers charters of manumission and pardon from the King. The knights set out, but were met before long by Spencer bishop of Nowrich, a young and warlike prelate, who having got news of the insurrection, was armed to the teeth, with a few attendants. The bishop demanded of the knights whether they had not some of the traitors in their company on which the knights delivered up their custodians, whom the bishop caused at once to be beheaded. He then hurried onwards into Norfolk, where the gentry flocked to his standard, and defeated the insurgents in a regular battle at North Walsham, which put an end to the disorders in the county of Norfolk.
The spirit which animated all of these commotions was of a kind that naturally spread the greatest possible alarm through all but the lower ranks of society. Nothing like it is to be seen at an earlier date, nor even very much later. The rebellion of Jack Cade, which occurred nearly seventy years after, did not affect a democratic character or a positive hatred of law; though in this respect Shakespeare has mixed up the features of both movements in describing the rebellion of Jack Cade. The insurgents under Wat Tyler were, as we have seen, bondmen clamoring for emancipation and journeymen artificers who believed in the natural equality of men. The names of their leaders bespoke their plebeian origin, which they made no effort to disguise. They were Wat the Tyler, and Jack Straw, and John Wraw, with John Litster in Norfolk. These men and their doings are pithily described by the contemporary poet Gower in some Latin verses, of which Fuller, the Church historian, gives the following spirited translation:
Tom comes thereat when called by Wat, and Simon as forward we find;
Bet calls as quick to Gibb and to Hykk that neither would tarry behind.
Gibb, a good whelp of that litter, doth help mad Coll more mischief to do,
And Will he doth vow, the time is come now, he’ll join with their company too.
Davie complains, whiles Grigg gets the gains, and Hobb with them doth partake,
Lorkin aloud, in the midst of the crowd, conceiveth as deep is his stake.
Hudde doth spoil whom Judde doth foil, and Tebb lends his helping hand,
But Jack, the mad patch, men and houses doth snatch, and kills all at his command.
However they might profess social equality as their doctrine, these men practically insisted, not upon equality, but on changing places with their masters. In this same poem of Gower’s, which he called the Vox Clamantis, he likened the whole movement to a rising of asses that suddenly disdained the curb, and oxen that refused the yoke. Changing their natures, they became lions and fire-breathing monsters, and forgot entirely their original characters.
It was in the beginning of the year following these insurrections that the young King, having just attained the age of fifteen, married Anne, the sister of Wenceslaus VI, King of Bohemia, daughter of the last Emperor of Germany, Charles IV. On the eve of his marriage he granted a general amnesty to all but the leading insurgents which were politically set forth as having been conceded at the request of his future queen. At the same time strong measures were taken, and commissions sent out to repress and punish any future movements of the like description, which were only too likely to arise from the lenity displayed on this occasion. For, in point of fact, the evil influence of the rebellion was palpable for many years afterwards. Government was unhinged and authority was effectually weakened. John of Northampton, the mayor who succeeded Walworth, pursued a very different line of policy from his predecessor and the city of London, influenced by Wycliffe’s teaching, usurped episcopal rights in dealing with offenders against morality. Two years later the same John of Northampton raised factious disturbances in the city in opposition to another lord mayor, and being convicted of sedition before the King, was banished into Cornwall.
III – The Crusade in Flanders – The Invasion of Scotland – The King’s Favorites
At this time a revolution took place in Flanders which had a special interest for Englishmen. The people of the Low Countries were always well affected to the English, with whom they were united by commercial interests; but the Counts of Flanders favored France. In the days of Edward III, the Flemings under James Van Artevelde, had for some time thrown off allegiance to their count and openly allied themselves with England. And now under the guidance of Philip Van Artevelde, the son of their former leader, they in like manner rose against Count Louis II, who was driven out of Ghent, first to Bruges and afterwards into France. The King of France, Charles VI, who had succeeded his father since Richard came to the throne in England, was only a boy; but his guardian, the Duke of Burgundy, was son-in-law of Count Louis, and a French army, led by the young King himself, soon marched into the Netherlands. Artevelde, on the other hand, sought the support of England and it was so manifestly the interest of England to avail itself of Flemish sympathy against France, that the success of his application might almost have been supposed a matter of course. The English Council, however, were lukewarm and dilatory and, while Philip Van Artevelde was besieging Oudenarde, he found himself obliged to turn aside and give battle to the French, unaided by any but his own countrymen. The Flemings, though strong in numbers, were deficient in cavalry, and were defeated by the French in three several engagements, in the last of which, the battle of Roosebeke, Van Artevelde was slain.
So great a triumph to France so complete an overthrow to allies like the Flemings created serious alarm in England for the safety of Calais. A great opportunity had been lost but could anything be done even now? The question was anxiously discussed in Parliament, and it seemed there was still one effective mode of punishing the pride of France. Papal bulls had arrived in England authorizing the warlike Bishop of Norwich to proclaim a crusade against the adherent of the anti-Pope Clement, which would enable the English to carry on war with their old enemy under the color of religion. The project on the whole gave satisfaction; it received the sanction of Parliament, and people came flocking in great numbers to the bishop’s standard. One point only occasioned some little difficulty in point of principle. Although the French were Clementists, the Count of Flanders and his native followers adhered to Pope Urban. But the bishop had engaged beforehand that if the religious pretext would not serve the purposes of England, he would furl the banner of the cross and display his own. He accordingly crossed over to Calais and without even declaration of war succeeded in taking possession of Gravelines, Dunkirk, and a few places near the sea coast of Flanders. But after laying siege unsuccessfully to Ypres he found it necessary to withdraw once more to Gravelines, surrender the places he had taken, and finally return to England after razing Gravelines to the ground. The result of the expedition was humiliating enough; but when Parliament met soon after, worse things were discovered. Money had been received from the enemy for the evacuation of Gravelines, and imputations of corruption were made against the bishop himself. This was a charge from which he succeeded in clearing himself, but it was fully proved against several of the captains and even the bishop did not escape severe censure and punishment for his conduct of the expedition. His temporalities were seized by the King and the offending captains were imprisoned. Nevertheless the bishop retained the goodwill of many who admired his spirit, and in their partiality put a more favorable construction on his conduct than the facts would fairly warrant.
The King at this time, though still under age, was not, strictly speaking, kept in tutelage. He had been crowned within a month after the death of his grandfather, and with that great act of State the full rights of sovereignty had devolved upon him. But the fact that he was without a guardian only kept him more completely under the practical control of the Council, who were responsible to Parliament. As he grew up, this control became more and more distasteful to him, and he showed a disposition to seek counsel from men of his own choosing. More especially he was impatient of the authority and influence claimed by his uncle, John of Gaunt, whose ambition was believed to aspire to the crown itself. Distrust and suspicions arose between uncle and nephew, which the King’s mother strove in vain to abate. The Duke of Lancaster being summoned to a council came with a number of armed men, saying that he had been warned of a plot to entrap him. Shortly afterwards the King invaded Scotland with the Duke in his company, laid waste the country as far as the Forth and burned Edinburgh. Lancaster then advised the King to go further and cross the estuary into Fife. The Scots, in fact, following their usual policy, had retired before the invading army and left even their towns an easy prey to the English, who had destroyed and wasted all they could, but still could not find their enemy. But the Duke of Lancaster’s advice was the most impolitic that could have been given, and might well have justified a suspicion that he was acting treacherously, if it were not that he had already in times past given ample evidence of his utter incompetence as a general. Richard, though not himself over-discreet at all times, was too wise to follow the advice. He told his uncle that he might conduct his own men where he pleased, but as provisions failed them where they were, the royal army would certainly return to England.
It was perhaps with a view to counterbalance the great authority of John of Gaunt, who was at this time the only duke in England that Richard now raised his two other uncles, hitherto Earls of Cambridge and Buckingham, to the dignity of dukes. The former was made Duke of York, the latter Duke of Gloucester. The characters of these two brothers were very different. Except a sense of responsibility to the reigning power, whatever it might be, we fail to see anything very remarkable in that of the Duke of York. But the younger brother, Gloucester, was an active and ambitious prince who very soon made his influence felt to an extent that John of Gaunt never had done. Richard also at the same time bestowed honors and titles on two other persons who were invidiously pointed at as favorites, and who were believed, justly or unjustly, to exercise over him an influence injurious to the general weal.
The first of these was Michael de la Pole, not a man of noble lineage, but the son of a wealthy merchant at Hull, who in the days of Edward III had most patriotically lent the King enormous sums of money which were ever truly repaid him, though by Edward’s own confession they had been the means of averting great national calamities. William de la Pole however, had received grants from the crown of various lands and offices, and also the honor of knighthood. Michael, his son, had served in the French wars under Henry, Duke of Lancaster, and more recently under the Black Prince. His merits, even as an administrator, were certainly detected long before young Richard was of age to recognize them; for in the very first year of the reign he was appointed an admiral, and went to sea with John of Gaunt. A few years later the care of the King’s household was by Parliament committed to him and to the Earl of Arundel. Finally, in 1383, he was appointed Chancellor. So far he had risen without any personal help from Richard and, to all appearance the integrity of his political career fully justified his promotion. But even by the probity of his administration he had made some enemies, and he had criticized very severely the conduct of the warlike Bishop of Norwich. This was unfortunate, for the bishop was a popular favorite. The expedition to Flanders, it was commonly believed, had failed only from the selfishness of John of Gaunt and the misconduct of others at home. The punishment imposed upon the bishop only raised him all the more in the esteem of the public, and De la Pole received little thanks for having been instrumental to his disgrace.
The other person to whom we have alluded was Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a young man like the King himself, and one who owed his position at court, not to natural ability like De la Pole, but to his ancestry. The office of Lord High Chamberlain had been hereditary in the family of Aubrey de Vere, Earl of Oxford, since the days of Henry II. This office brought him near the King’s person, and whether it was due to mental endowments or only to superficial accomplishments Richard showed great partiality for his company. Accordingly, when the King had promoted in honor his two uncles and his Chancellor, he determined that the Earl of Oxford should not be passed over. He created him Marquis of Dublin a new dignity, for till now there never had been a marquis in England and the young man, to the envy of all the peerage, took precedence of every one not of the blood royal. With this honor was accompanied a gift of the whole land of Ireland, which it was intended that he should rule and bring into subjection and next year, to make his title correspond with his domain, the King created him Duke of Ireland.
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