Charles Dickens.

A child's history of England online

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in a poor black gown ; and, when he saw a certain bishop among
them, fell down, poor feeble-headed man, and made a wretched
spectacle of himself. Somebody lifted him up ; and then
Sir William Trussel, the Speaker of the House of Commons,
almost frightened him to death by making him a tremendous
speech, 1o the effect that he was no longer a king, and that
everybody renounced allegiance to him. After which, Sir
Thomas Blount, the steward of the household, nearly finished
him, by coming forward and breaking his white wand, which
was a ceremony only performed at a king's death. Being asked
in this pressing manner what he thought of resigning, the king
said he thought it was the best thing he could do. So he did
it, and they proclaimed his son next day.

I wish I could close this history by saying, that he lived a
harmless life in the castle and the castle-gardens at Kenilworth,
many years ; that he had a favorite, and plenty to eat and drink ;
and, having that, wanted nothing. But he was shamefully
humiliated. He was outraged and slighted, and had dirty
water from ditches given him to shave with, and wept, and said
he would have clean warm water, and was altogether very mis-
erable. He was moved from this castle to that castle, and
from that castle to the other castle, because this lord, or that



lord, or the other lord, was too kind to him ; until at last he
came to Berkeley Castle, near the River Severn, where (the
Lord Berkeley being then ill and absent) he fell into the hands
of two black ruffians, called Thomas Gournay and William

One night, — it was the night of September 21, 1327, — dread-
ful screams were heard by the startled people in the neighbor-
ing town, ringing through the thick w^alls of the castle, and
the dark deep night ; and they said, as they were thus horribly
awakened from their sleep, " May Heaven be merciful to the
king ; for those cries forbode that no good is being done to him
in his dismal prison!" Next morning he was dead, — not
bruised, or stabbed, or marked upon the body, but much dis-
torted in the face ; and it was whispered afterwards, that those
two villains, Gournay and Ogle, had burnt up his inside with a
red-hot iron.

If you ever come near Gloucester, and see the centre tower
of its beautiful cathedral, with its four rich pinnacles rising
liglitly in the air, you may remember that the wretched Edward
the Second was buried in the old abbey of that ancient city, at
forty-three years old, after being for nineteen years and a half
a perfectly incapable king.



Roger Mortimer, the queen's lover (who escaped to France
In the last chapter), was far from profiting by the examples he
had had of the fate of favorites. Having, through the queen's
influence, come into possession of the estates of the two De-
spensers, he became extremely proud and ambitious, and sought
to be the real ruler of England. The young king, who was
crowned at fourteen years of age with all the usual solemnities,
resolved not to bear this, and soon pursued Mortimer to his

The people themselves were not fond of Mortimer, — first,
because he .1 royal favorite ; .secondly, because he was sup-
posed to have helped to make a peace with Scotland which now


took place, and in virtue of which the young king's sister Joan,
only seven years old, was promised in marriage to David, the son
and heir of Robert Bruce, who was only five years old. The
nobles hated Mortimer because of his pride, riches, and power.
They went so far as to take up arms against him ; but were
obliged to submit. The Earl of Kent, one of those who did so,
but who afterwards went over to Mortimer and the queen, was
made an example of in the following cruel manner.

He seems to have been anything but a wise old earl ; and
he was persuaded by the agents of the favorite and the queen,
that poor King Edward the Second was not really dead ; and
thus was betrayed into wTiting letters favoring his rightful claim
to the throne. This was made out to be high treason ; and he
was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed. They
took the poor old lord outside the town of Winchester, and
there kept him waiting some three or four hours, until they
could find somebody to cut off his head. At last, a convict
said he would do it, if the government would pardon him in
return ; and they gave him the pardon, and, at one blow, he
put the Earl of Kent out of his last suspense.

While the queen was in France, she had found a lovely and
good young lady named Philippa, who she thought would
make an excellent wife for her son. The young king married
this lady, soon after he came to the throne ; and her first
child, Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards became celebrated,
as we shall presently see, under the famous title of Edward
the Black Prince.

The young king, thinking the time ripe for the downfall of
Mortimer, took counsel with Lord Montacute how he should pro-
ceed. A parliament was going to be held at Nottingham ; and
that lord recommended that the favorite should be seized by
night in Nottingham Castle, where he was sure to be. Now this,
like many other things, was more easily said than done ; because,
to guard against treachery, the great gates of the castle were
locked every night, and the great keys were carried up stairs to
the queen, who laid them under her own pillow. But the castle
had a governor ; and the governor, being Lord Montacute's
friend, confided to him how he knew of a secret passage under
ground, hidden from observation by the weeds and brambles
with which it was overgrown ; and how through that passage
the conspirators might enter in the dead of the night, and go
straight to Mortimer's room. Accordingly, upon a certain
dark night at midnight, they made their way through this dis-
mal place, startling the rats, and frightening the owls and bats ;


and came safely to the bottom of the main tower of the castle,
where the kinr met them, and took them up a profoundly dark
staircase in a deep silence. They soon heard the voice of
Mortimer in council, with some friends ; and bursting into the
room with a sudden noise, took him prisoner. The queen
cried out from her bedchamber, " O, my sweet son, my dear
son, spare my gentle Mortimer ! " They carried him off, how-
ever; and, before the next parliament, accused him of having
made differences between the young king and his mother, and
of having brought about the death of the Earl of Kent, and
even of the late king ; for, as you know by this time, when
they wanted to get rid of a man in those old days, they were
not very particular of what they accused him. Mortimer was
found guilty of all this, and was sentenced to be hanged at
Tyburn. The king shut his mother up in genteel confinement,
where she passed the rest of her life ; and now he became king
in earnest.

The first effort he made was to conquer Scotland. The
English lords who had lands in Scotland, finding that their
rights were not respected under the late peace, made war on
their own account ; choosing for their general, Edward, the son
of John Baliol, who made such a vigorous fight, that in less
than two months he won the whole Scottish kingdom. He was
joined, when thus triumphant, by the king and parliament, and
he and tlie king in person besieged the Scottish forces in Ber-
wick. The whole Scottish army coming to the assistance of
their countrymen, such a furious battle ensued, that thirty
thousand men are. said to have been killed in it. Baliol was
then crowned King of Scotland, doing homage to the King of
England , but little came ot his successes after all , for the
Scottish men rose against Inm, within no very long time, and
David Bruce came back within ten years and took his kingdom.

France was a far richer country than Scotland, and the king
had a much greater mind to conquer it. So he let Scotland
alone, and pretended that he had a claim to the French throne
in right of his mother. He had, in reality, no claim at all ; but
that mattered little in those times. He brought over to his
cause many lilile princes and sovereigns, and even courted the
alliance of tiie people of Flanders, — a busy, working com-
munity, who liad \ cry small respect for kings, and whose head
man was a brewer. With such forces as he raised by these
means, Edward invaded France ; but he did little by that, ex-
cept run into debt in carrying on the war to the extent of three
hundred thousand poiinds. The next year he did better, gain*


A CHiI.U'^ hlSTCR'i: C^ /iSGLAlvD.

ing a great sea-fight in the harbor of Sluys. This success, how*
ever, was very short-Uved ; for the Flemings took fright at the
siege of St. Omer and ran away, leaving their weapons and
baggage behind them. Philip, the French king, coming up
with his army, and Edward being very anxious to decide the
war, proposed to settle the difference by single combat with
him, or by a fight of one hundred knights on each side. The
French king said he thanked him ; but, being very well as he
was, he would rather not. So, after some skirmishing and
talking, a short peace was made.

It was soon broken by Kmg Edward s favoring the cause
of John, Earl of Montford, a French nobleman, who asserted a
claim of his own against the French king, and offered to do
homage to England for the crown of France, if he could obtain
it through England's help. This French lord himself was soon
defeated by the French king's son, and shut up in a tower in
Paris , but his wife, a courageous and beautiful woman, who is
said to have had the courage of a man and the heart of a lion,
assembled the people of Brittany where she then was, and,
showing them her infant son, made many pathetic entreaties
to them not to desert her and their young lord. They took
fire at this appeal, and rallied round her in the strong Castle
of Hennebon. Here she was not only besieged without by
the French, under Charles de Blois, but was endangered within
by a dreary old bishop, who was always representing to the
people what horrors they must undergo if they were faithful, —
first from famine, and afterwards from fire and sword. But
this noble lady, whose heart never failed her, encouraged her
soldiers by her own example ; went from post to post like a
great general ; even mounted on horseback fully armed, and,
issuing from the castle by aby-palh, fell upon the French camp,
set fire to the tents, and threw the whole force into disorder.
This done, she got safely back to Hennebon again, and was
received with loud shouts of joy by the defenders of the castle,
w^ho had given her up for lost. As they were now very short
of provisions, however, and as they could not dine off enthu-
siasm, and as the old bishop was always saying, " I told you
what it would come to ! "' they began to lose heart, and to talk
of yielding the castle up. The brave countess retiring to an
upper room, and looking with great grief out to sea, where she
expected relief from England, sav/, at this very time, the Eng-
lish ships in the distance, and was relieved and rescued ! Sii
Walter Manning, the English commander, so admired her
courage, that, being come into the castle with the English


knights, and having made a feast there, he assaulted the French
by way of" dessert, and beat them off triumphantly. Then he
and the knights came back to the castle with great joy ; and
the countess, who had watched them from a high tower,
thanked them with all her heart, and kissed them every one.

This noble lady distinguished herself afterwards in a sea-
fight with the French off Guernsey, when she was on her way
to England to ask for more troops. Her great spirit roused
another lady, the wife of another French lord (whom the
French king very barbarously murdered), to distinguish her-
self scarcely less. The time was fast coming, however, when
Edward, Prince of Wales, was to be the great star of this
French and English war.

It was in the month of July, 1346, when the king embarked
at Southampton for France, with an army of about thirty thou-
sand men in all, attended by the Prince of Wales and by sev-
eral of the chief nobles. He landed at La Hogue in Normandy ;
and, burning and destroying as he went, according to custom,
advanced up the left bank of the River Seine, and fired the
small towns, even close to Paris ; but, being watched from the
right bank of the river by the French king and all his army, it
came to this at last, that Edward found himself, on Saturday,
the 26th of August, 1346, on a rising ground, behind the little
French village of Crecy, face to face with the French king's
force. And although the French king had an enormous army,
— in number more than eight times his, — he there resolved to
beat him or be beaten.

The young prince, assisted by the Earl of Oxford and the
Earl of Warwick, led the first division of the English army;
two other great earls led the second ; and the king the third.
When the morning dawned, the king received the sacrament
and heard prayers, and then, mounted on horseback with a
white wand in his hand, rode from company to company, and
rank to rank, cheering and encouraging both officers and men.
Then the whole army breakfasted, each man sitting on the
ground where he had stood ; and then they remained quietly
on the ground with their weapons ready.

Up came the French king with all his great force. It was
dark and angry weather , there was an eclipse of the sun ;
there was a thunder storm, accompanied with tremendous rain ,*
the frightened birds flew screaming above the soldiers' heads.
A certain captain in the French army adx'ised the French king,
who was by no means cheerful, not to begin the battle until the
morrow. The king, taking this advice, gave the word to halt.


But those behind not understanding it, or desiring to be fore
most with the rest, came pressing on. The roads for a great
distance were covered with this immense army, and with the
common people from the villages, who were flourishing theii
rude weapons, and making a great noise. Owing to these cir-
cumstances, the French army advanced in the greatest confu-
sion ; every French lord doing what he liked with his own men,
and putting out the men of every other French lord.

Now the king relied strongly upon a great body of cross-
bowmen from Genoa ; and these he ordered to the front to be-
gin the battle on finding that he could not stop it. They
shouted once, they shouted twice, they shouted three times, to
alarm the English archers ; but the English would have heard
them shout three thousand times and would have never moved.
At last the cross-bowmen went forward a little, and began to
discharge their bolts ; upon which the English let fly such a
hail of arrows that the Genoese speedily made off ; for their
cross-bows, besides being heavy to carry, required to be wound
up with a handle, and consequently took time to re-load ; the
English, on the other hand, could discharge their arrows almost
as fast as the arrows could fly.

When the French king saw the Genoese turning, he cried
out to his men to kill those scoundrels, who were doing harm
instead of service. This increased the confusion. Meanwhile
the English archers, continuing to shoot as fast as ever, shot
down great numbers of the French soldiers and knights ; whom
certain sly Cornish-men and Welshmen, from the English army,
creeping along the ground, despatched with great knives.

The prince and his division were at this time so hard-
pressed, that the Earl of Warwick sent a message to the king,
who was overlooking the battle from a windmill, beseeching
him to send more aid.

" Is my son killed } " said the king.

" No, sire, please God ! " returned the messenger

'* Is he wounded 1 " said the king.

"No, sire."

" Is he thrown to the ground ? " said the king.

" No, sire, not so ; but he is very hard-pressed."

" Then," said the king, " go back to those who sent you,
and tell them I shall send no aid ; because I set my heart upon
my son proving himself this day a brave knight, and because I
am resolved, please God, that the honor of a victory shall be

These bold words, being repeated to the prince and his



division, so raised their spirits that they fought better than ever.
The King of France charged gallantly with his men many times ;
but it was of no use. Night closing in, his horse was killed
under him by an English arrow, and the knights and nobles,
who had clustered thick about him early in the day, were now
completely scattered. At last, some of his few remaining follow-
ers led him off the field by force, since he would not retire of
himself; and they journeyed away to Amiens. The victorious
English, lighting their watch fires, made merry on the field ;
and the king, riding to meet his gallant son, took him in his
arms, kissed him, and told him that he had acted nobly, and
proved himself worthy of the clay and of the crown. While it
was yet night, King Edward was hardly aware of the victory
he had gained ; but next day it was discovered that eleven
princes, twelve hundred knights, and thirty thousand common
men lay dead upon the French side. Among these was the King
of Bohemia, an old blind man ; who having been told that his
son was wounded in the battle, and that no force could stand
against the Black Prince, called to him two knights, put him-
self on horseback between them, fastened the three bridles to-
gether, and dashed in among the English where he was pres-
ently slain. He bore as his crest three white ostrich feathers,
with the motto, Ich dien^ signifying, in English, " I serve." This
crest and motto were taken by the Prince of Wales in remem-
brance of that famous day, and have been borne by the Prince
of Wales ever since.

Five days after this great battle, the king laid siege to
Calais. This siege — ever afterwards memorable — lasted nearly
a year. In order to starve the inhabitants out. King Edward
built so many wooden houses for the lodgings of his troops,
that it is said their quarters looked like a second Calais sud-
denly sprung up around the first. Early in the siege, the gover-
nor of the town drove out what he called the useless mouths,
to the number of seventeen hundred persons, men and women,
young- and old. King Edward allowed them to pass througli
his lines, and even fed them, and dismissed them with money ;
but later in the siege he was not so merciful, — five hundred
more, who were afterwards driven out, dying of starvation and
misery. The garrison were so hard-pressed at last, that they
sent a letter to King Philip, telling him that they had eaten all
the horses, all the dogs, and all the rats and mice that could be
found in the place ; and that, if he did not relieve them they
must either surrender to the English, or eat one another. Philip
made one effort to give them relief ; but they were so hemmod


in by the English power, that he could not succeed, and was
fain to leave the place. Upon this they hoisted the English
flag, and surrendered to King Edward. "Tell your general,"
said he to the humble messengers who came out of the town^
" that I require to have sent here six of the most distinguished
citizens, bare-legged and in their shirts, with ropes about their
necks ; and let those six men bring with them the keys of the
castle and the tow^n."

When the governor of Calais related this to the people in
the market-place, there was great weeping and distress, in the
midst of which, one worthy citizen, named Eustache de Saint
Pierre, rose up and said, that if the six men required were not
sacrificed, the whole population would be, therefore he offered
himself as the first. Encouraged by this bright example, five
other worthy citizens rose up, one after another, and offered
themselves to save the rest. The governor, who was too badly
wounded to be able to walk, mounted a poor old horse that had
not been eaten, and conducted these good men to the gate,
while all the people cried and mourned.

Edward received them wrathfully, and ordered the heads of
the whole six to be struck off. However, the good queen fell
upon her knees, and besought the king to give them up to her.
The king replied, " I wish you had been somewhere else ; but
I cannot refuse you." So she had them properly dressed,
made a feast for them, and sent them back with a handsome
present, to the great rejoicing of the whole camp. I hope the
people of Calais loved the daughter to whom she gave birth
soon afterw^ards, for her gentle mother's sake.

Now came that terrible disease, the plague, into Europe,
hurrying from the heart of China, and killed the wretched peo-
ple — especially the poor — in such enormous numbers, that one
half of the inhabitants of England are related to have died of
it. It killed the cattle in great numbers too ; and so few work-
ingm^n remained alive, that there w-ere not enough left to till
the ground.

After eight years of differing and quarrelling, the Prince of
Wales again invaded France with an army of sixty thousand
men. He went through the south of the country, burning and
plundering wheresoever he went ; while his father, who had
still the Scottish war upon his hands, did the like in Scotland,
but was harassed and worried in his retreat from that country
by the Scottish men, who repaid his cruelties with interest.

The French king, Philip, was now dead, and was succeeded
by his son John. The Black Prince, called by that name from


the color of the armor he wore to set off his fair complexion,
continuing to burn and destroy in France, roused John into de-
termined opposition ; and so cruel had the Black Prince been
in his campaign, and so severely had the French peasants suf-
fered, that he could not find one who, for love, or money, or
the fear of death, would tell him what the French king was
doing, or where he was. Thus it happened that he came upon
the French king's forces, all of a sudden, near the town of Poic-
tiers, and found that the whole neighboring country was occu-
pied by a vast French army. " God help us ! " said the Black
Prince ; " we must make the best of it."

So on a Sunday morning, the 18th of September, the prince,
whose army was now reduced to ten thousand men in all, pre-
pared to give battle to the French king, who had sixty thousand
horse alone. While he was so engaged, there came riding from
the French camp a cardinal, who had persuaded John to let
him offer terms, and try to save the shedding of Christian
blood. " Save my honor," said the prince to this good priest,
" and save the honor of my army, and I will make any reason-
able terms." He offered to give up all the towns, castles, and
prisoners he had taken, and to swear to make no war in France
for seven years ; but, as John would hear of nothing but to sur-
render, with a hundred of his chief knights, the treaty was
broken off, and the prince said quietly, " God defend the right;
we shall fight to-morrow ! "

Therefore, on the Monday morning, at break of day, the
two armies prepared for battle. The English were posted in a
strong place, which could only be approached by one narrow
lane, skirted by hedges on both sides. The French attacked
them by this lane, but were so galled and slain by English ar-
rows from behind the hedges, that they were forced to retreat.
Then went six hundred English bowmen round about, and,
coming upon the rear of the French army, rained arrows on
them thick and fast. The French knights, thrown into confu-
sion, quitted their banners, and dispersed in all directions.
Said Sir John Chandos to the prince, " Ride forward, noble
prince, and the day is yours. The King of France is so val-
iant a gentleman, that I know he will never fly, and may be
taken prisoner." Said the prince to this, " Advance, English
banners, in the name of God and St. George ! " and on they
pressed until they came up with the French king, fighting
fiercely with his battle-axe, and when all his nobles had for-
saken him, attended faithfully to the last by his youngest son
Philip, only sixteen years of age. Father and son fought well j


and the Mng had already two wounds in his face, and had been
beaten down, when he at last delivered himself to a banished
French knight, and gave him his right-hand glove in token that

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 15 of 38)