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he had done so.

The Black Prince was generous as well as brave ; and he
invited his royal prisoner to supper in his tent, and waited upon
him at table, and, when they afterwards rode into London in a
gorgeous procession, mounted the French king on a fine cream
colored horse, and rode at his side on a little pony. This was
all very kind ; but I think it was, perhaps, a little theatrical
too, and has been made more meritorious than it deserved to
be, especially as I am inclined to think that the greatest kind-
ness to the King of France would have been not to have shown
him to the people at all. However, it must be said for these
acts of politeness, that in course of time, they did much to
soften the horrors of war and the passions of conquerors. It was
a long, long time before the common soldiers began to have
the benefit of such courtly deeds, but they did at last ; and
thus it is possible that a poor soldier who asked for quarter at
the battle of Waterloo, or any other such great fight, may have
owed his life indirectly to Edward the Black Prince.

At this time, there stood in the strand in London, a palace
called the Savoy, which was given up to the captive King of
France and his son for their residence. As the king of Scot-
land had now been King Edward's captive for eleven years too,
his success was at this time tolerably complete. The Scottish
business was settled by the prisoner being released under the
title of Sir David, King of Scotland, and by his engaging to
pay a large ransom. The state of France encouraged England
to propose harder terms to that countr}', where the people rose
against the unspeakable cruelty and barbarity of its nobles ;
where the nobles rose in turn against the people ; where the
most frightful outrages were committed on all sides ; and where
the insurrection of the peasants, called the insurrection of the
Jacquerie, from Jacques, a common Christian name among the
country people of France, awakened terrors and hatreds that
have scarcely yet passed away. A treaty, called the Great
Peace, was at last signed, under which King Edward agreed to
give up the greater part of his conquests, and King John to
pay, within six years, a ransom of three million crowns of gold.
He was so beset by his own nobles and courtiers for having
yielded to these conditions, — though they could help him to no
better, — that he came back of his own will to his old palace-
prison of the Savoy, and there died.



There was a sovereign of Castile at that time, called Pedro
the Cruel, who deserved the name remarkably well, having
committed, among other cruelties, a variety of murders. This
amiable monarch, being driven from his throne for his crimes,
went to the province of Bordeaux, where the Black Prince —
now married to his cousin Joan, a pretty widow, — was residing,
and besought his help. The prince, who took to him much
more kindly than a prince of such fame ought to ha\e taken to
such a rufhan, readily listened to his fair promises, and, agree-
ing to help him, sent secret orders to some troublesome dis-
banded soldiers of his and his father's who called themselves
the Free Companions, and who had been a pest to the French
people for some time, to aid this Pedro. Ilie prince himself,
going into Spain to head the army of relief, soon set Pedro on
his throne again, — where he no sooner found himself, than, of
course, he behaved like the villain he was, broke his word v/ith-
out the least shame, and abandoned all the promises he had
made to the Black Prince.

Now it had cost the prince a good deal of money to pay sol-
diers to support this murderous king ; and finding himself,
when he came back disgusted to Bordeaux, not only in bad
health, but deeply in debt, he began to tax his French sub-
jects to pay his creditors. They appealed to the French king,
Charles ; war again broke out ; and the French town of Limo-
ges, which the prince had greatly benefited, went over to the
French king. Upon this he ravaged the province of which it
was the capital ; burnt and plundered and killed in the old sick-
ening way ; and refused mercy to the prisoners, men, women,
and children, taken in the offending town, though he was so ill
and so much in need of pity himself from Heaven that he was
carried in a litter. He lived to come home, and make himself
popular with the people and parliament, and he died on Trinity
Sunda}^ the 8th of June, 1376, at forty-six years old.

The whole nation mourned for him as one of the most re-
nowned and beloved princes it had ever had ; and he was
buried with great lamentations in Canterbury Cathedral. Near
to the tomb of Edward the Confessor, his monument, with his
figure carved in stone, and represented in the old black armor,
lying on its back, may be seen at this day, with an ancient coat
of mail, a helmet, and a pair of gauntlets hanging from a beam
above it, which most people like to believe were once worn by
the Black Prince.

King Edward did not outlive his renowned son long. He
was old ; and one Alice Perrers, a beautiful lady, had contrived



to make him so fond of her in his old age, that he could refuse
her nothing, and made himself ridiculous. She little deserved
his love, or — what I dare say she valued a great deal more — the
jewels of the late queen, which he gave her among other rich
presents. She took the very ring from his finger on the morn-
ing of the day when he died, and left him to be pillaged by his
faithless servants. Only one good priest was good to him, and
attended him to the last.

Besides being famous for the great victories I have related,
the reign of King Edward the Third was rendered memorable
in better ways, by the growth of architecture and the erection
of Windsor Castle. In better ways still, by the rising up of
Wyckliffe, originally a poor parish priest, who devoted himself
to exposing, with wonderful power and success, the ambition
and corruption of the pope, and of the whole church of which
he was the head.

Some of those Flemings w^ere induced to come to England
in this reign, too, and to settle in Norfolk, where they made
better woollen cloths than the English had ever had before.
The order of the Garter (a very fine thing in its way, but hardly
so important as good clothes for the nation) also dates from
this period. The king is said to have picked up a lady's garter
at a ball, and to have said, Ifoni soit qui mal y peiise ; in Eng-
lish, " Evil be to him who evil thinks of it." The courtiers
were usually glad to imitate what the king said or did, and
hence from a slight incident the Order of the Garter was insti-
tuted and became a great dignity. So the story goes.



Richard, son of the Black Prince, a boy eleven years of
age, succeeded to the crown, under the title of King Richard
the Second. The whole English nation were ready to admire
him for the sake of his brave father. As to the lords and ladies
about the court, they declared him to be the most beautiful, the
wisest, and the best, even of princes, whom the lords and ladies
about the court generally declare to be the most beautiful, the
wisest^ and best of mankind. To flatter a poor boy in this



base manner was not a very likely way to develop whatever
good was in him, and it brought him to anything but a good or
happy end.

The Duke of Lancaster, the young king's uncle, commonly
called John of Gaunt, from having been born at Ghent, which
the common people so pronounced, — was supposed to have
some thoughts of the throne himself ; but as he was not popu-
lar, and the memory of the Black Prince was, he submitted to
his nephew.

The war with France being still unsettled, the government
of England wanted money to provide for the expenses that
might arise out of it ; accordingly a certain tax, called the poll-
tax, which had originated in the last reign, was ordered to be
levied on the people. This was a tax on every person in the
kingdom, male and female, above the age of fourteen, of three
groats (or three fourpenny pieces) a year ; clerg}'men were
charged more, and only beggars were exempt.

I have no need to repeat that the common people of Eng-
land had long been suffering under great oppression. They
were still the mere slaves of the lords of the land on which they
lived, and were on most occasions harshly and unjustly treated.
But they had begun by this time to think very seriously of not
bearing quite so much, and probably were emboldened by that
French insurrection I mentioned in the last chapter.

The people of Essex rose against the poll-tax, and, being
severely handled by the government officers, killed some of
th,em. At this very time some one of the tax-collectors going his
rounds from house to house, at Dartford, in Kent, came to the
cottage o\. one Wat, a tiler by trade, and claimed the tax upon
his daughter. Her mother, who was at home, declared that
she was under the age of fourteen, upon that, the collector (as
other collectors had already done in different parts of England)
behaved in a savage way, and brutally insulted Wat Tyler's
daughter. The daughter screamed, the mother screamed.
Wat, the Tiler, who was at work not far off, ran to the spot, and
did what any honest father under such provocation might have
done, — struck the collector dead at a blow.

Instantly the people of that town uprose as one man. They
made Wat Tyler their leader ; they joined with the people of
Essex, who were in arms under a priest called Jack Straw ;
they took out of prison another priest named John Ball ;. and,
gathering in numbers as they went along, advanced in a great
confused army of poor men, to Blackheath. It is said that they
wanted to abolish all property, and to declare all men equal. 1



do not think this very likely ; because tliey stopped the travel-
lers on the road and made them swear to be true to King
Richard and the people. Nor were they at all disposed to in-
jure those who had done them no harm, merely because they
were of high station ; for the king's mother, who had to pass
through their camp at Blackheath, on hervvay to her young son.
lying for safety in the Tower of London, had merely to kiss a
few dirty-faced, rougb.-bearded men who were noisily fond of
royalty, and so got away in perfect safety. Next day the whole
mass marched on to London Bridge.

There was a drawbridge in the middle, which William Wal-
worth, the mayor, caused to be raised to prevent their coming
into the city ; but they soon terrified the citizens into lowering
it again, and spread themselves with great uproar, over the
streets. They broke open the prisons ; they burned the papers
in Lambeth Palace ; they destroyed the Duke of Lancaster's
palace, the Savoy, in the Strand, said to be the most beautiful
and splendid in England ; they set fire to the books and docu-
ments in the Temple, and made a great riot. Many of these
outrages were committed in drunkenness, since those citizens,
who had v/ell-filled cellars, were only too glad to throw them
open to save the rest of their property, but even the drunken
rioters were very careful to steal nothing. They were so angrj^
w^ith one man, who was seen to take a silver cup at the Savoy
palace, and put it in his breast, that they drowned him in the
river, cup and all.

The young king had been taken out to treat with them be-
fore they committed these excesses, but he and the people
about him were so frightened by the riotous shouts, that they
got back to the Tower in the best \vay they could. This made
the insurgents bolder; so they went on rioting away, striking
off the heads of those who did not, at a moment's notice, de-
clare for King Richard and the people, and killing as many of
the unpopular persons whom they supposed to be their enemies,
as they could by any means lay hold of. In this manner they
passed one very violent day, and then proclamation was made
that the king would meet them at Mile-End, and grant their rC'

The rioters went to Mile-End, to the number of sixty thou-
sand, and the king met them there ; and to the king the rioters
peaceably proposed four conditions. First, that neither they,
nor their children, nor any coming after them, should be made
slaves any more. Secondly, that the rent of land should be
fixed at a certain price in money, instead of being paid in ser-


vice. Thirdly, that they sliould have Hberty to buy and sell in
all markets and public places, like other free men. Fourthly,
that they should be pardoned for past offences. Heaven knows
there was nothing very unreasonable in these proposals ! The
young king deceitfully pretended to think so, and kept thirty
clerks up all night writing out a charter accordingly.

Now Wat Tvler himself wanted more tliPiU this. He wanted
the entire abolition of the forest laws. He was not at Mile-End
with the rest ; but, while that meeting was being held, broke
into the Tower of London, and slev/ the archbishop and the
treasurer, for whose heads the people had cried out loudly the
day before. He and his men even thrusc their swords into the
bed of the Princess of Wales, while the Princess was in it, to
make certain that none of their enemies were concealed there.

So Wat and his men still continued armed, and rode about
the city. Next morning, the king with a small train of some
sixty gentlemen — among whom was Walworth, the mayor — rode
into Smithfield, and saw Wat and his people at a little distance.
Says Wat to his men, " There is the king. I will go speak with
him, and tell him what v.e want.''

Straightway, Wat rode up to him, and began to talk.
"King," says Wat, '"dost thou see all my men there?'*

" Ah ! " says the king. '' Why ? "

"Because," says Wat, "they are all at my command, and
have sworn to do whatever I bid them."

Some declared afterwards, that, as Wat said this, he laid his
hand on the kin-^'s bridle. Others declared that he was seen to
play with his own dagger. I think, myself, that he just spoke
to the kins: lil^-C a rou-ih, ancrrv man, as he was, and did nothins:
more. At any rate, he was expecting no attack, and preparing
for no resistance, when Walworth, the mayor, did the not very
valiant deed of drawing a short sword, and stabbing him m the
throat. He dropped from his horse, and one of the king's
people speedily finished him. So fell Wat Tyler. Fawners and
flatterers made a mighty triumph of it, and set up a cry which
will occasionally find an echo to this day. But Wat was a hard'
working man, who had suffered much, and had been loully out-
raged ; and it is probable that he was a man of much higher
nature and a much braver spirit than any of the parasites who
exulted then, or have exulted since, over his defeat.

Seeing Wat down, his men immediately bent their bows to
avenge his fall. If the young king had not had presence of
mind at that dangerous moment, both he and the mayor to boot
might have followed Tyler pretty fast. But the king, riding up


to the crowd, cried out that Tyler was a traitor, and that he would
be their leader. They were so taken by surprise, that they set
up a great shouting, and followed the boy until he was met at
Islington by a large body of soldiers.

The end of this rising was the then usual end. As soon as
the king found himself safe, he unsaid all he had said, and un-
did all he had done ; some fifteen hundred of the rioters were
tried (mostly in Essex) with great rigor, and executed with great
cruelty. Many of them were hanged on gibbets, and left there
as a terror to the country people ; and, because their miserable
friends took some of the bodies down to bury, the king ordered
the rest to be chained up, — which was the beginning of the bar-
barous custom of hanging in chains. The king's falsehood in
this business makes such a pitiful figure, that I think Wat Tyler
appears in history as beyond comparison the truer and more
respectable man of the two.

Richard was now sixteen years of age, and married Anne of
Bohemia, an excellent princess, who was called " the good Queen
Anne " She deserved a better husband ; for the king had been
fawned and flattered into a treacherous, wasteful, dissolute, bad
young man.

There were two popes at this time (as if one were not enough !)
and their quarrels involved Europe in a great deal of trouble.
Scotland was still troublesome too ; and at home there was
much jealousy and distrust, and plotting and counter-plotting,
because the king feared the ambition of his relations, and par-
ticularly of his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster ; and the duke had
his party against the king, and the king had his party against
the duke. Nor were these home troubles lessened when the
duke went to Castile to urge his claim to the crown of that
kingdom ; for then the Duke of Gloucester, another of Richard's
uncles, opposed him, and influenced the Parliament to demand
the dismissal of the king's favorite ministers. The king said,
in reply, that he would not for such men dismiss the meanest
servant in his kitchen. But it had begun to signify little what
a king said when a parliament was determined ; so Richard was
at last obliged to give way, and to agree to another government
of the kingdom, under a commission of fourteen nobles, for a
year. His uncle of Gloucester was at the head of this com-
mission, and, in fact, appointed everybody composing it.

Having done all this, the king declared, as soon as he saw
an opportunity, that he had never meant to do it, and that it was
all illegal ; and he got the judges secretly to sign a declaration
to that effect. The secret oozed out directly, and was carried



to the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester, at the
head of forty thousand men, met the king on his entering into
London to enforce his authority ; the king was helpless against
him ; his favorites and ministers were impeached and were
mercilessly executed. Amon*! them were two men whom the
people regarded with very different feelings, — one, Robert
Tresilian, Chief Justice who was hated for having made what
was called "the bloody circuit" to try the rioters ; the other,
Sir Simon Burley, an honorable knight, who had been the dear
friend of the Black Prince, and the governor and guardian of
the king. For this gentleman's life the good queen even begged
of Gloucester on her knees \ but Gloucester (with or without
reason) feared and hated him, and replied, that if she valued her
husband's crown, she had better beg no more. All this was
done under what was called by some the wonderful — and by
others, with better reason, the merciless — parliament.

But Gloucester's power was not to last forever. He held it
for only a year longer ; in which year the famous battle of
Otterbourne, sung in the old ballad of Chevy Chase, fought.
When the year was out, the king, turning suddenly to Glouces-
ter, in the midst of a great council, said, " Uncle, how old am
I ? " " Your Highness," returned the duke, *' is in your twenty-
second year." " Am I so much ? " said the king ; " then I will
manage my own affairs ! I am much obliged to you, my good
lords, for your past services, but I need them no m.ore." He
followed this up by appointing a new chancellor and a new
treasurer, and announced to the people that he had resumed the
government. He held it for eight years without opposition.
Through all that time, he kept his determination to revenge him-
self some day upon his uncle Gloucester in his own breast.

At last the good queen died ; and then the king, desiring to
take a second wife, proposed to his council that he should marry
Isabella of France, the daughter of Charles the Sixth, who, the
French courtiers said (as the English courtiers had said of
Richard) was a marvel of beauty and wit, and quite a phe-
nomenon, — of seven years old. The council was divided about
this marriage, but it took place. It secured peace between
England and France for a quarter of a century ; but it was
strongly opposed to the prejudices of the English people. The
Duke of Gloucester, who was anxious to take the occasion of
making himself popular, declaimed against it loudly; and this
at length decided the king to execute the vengeance he had been
nursing so long.

He went with a gay company to the Duke of Gloucester's


house, Pleshey Castle, in Essex, where the duke, suspecting
nothing, came out into the court-yard to receive his royal visitor.
While the king conversed in a friendly manner with the duch-
ess, the duke was quietly seized, hurried away, shipped for
Calais, and lodged in the castle there. His friends, the Earls
of Arundel and Warwick, were taken in the same treacherous
manner, and confined to their castles. A few days after, at
Nottingham, they were impeached for high treason. The Earl
of Arundel was condemned and beheaded, and the Earl of War-
wick was banished. Then a writ was sent by a messenger to
the Governor of Calais, requiring him to send the Duke of
Gloucester over to be tried. In three days, he returned an an-
swer that he could not do that, because the Duke of Gloucester
had died in prison. The duke was declared a traitor, his prop-
erty was confiscated to the king, a real or pretended confession
he had made in prison to one of the justices of the common
pleas was produced against him, and there was an end of the
matter. How the unfortunate duke died very few cared to
know. Whether he really died naturally, whether he killed him-
self, whether by the kmg's order he was strangled, or smothered
between two beds (as a servmg-man of the governor's, named
Hall, did afterwards declare), cannot be discovered. There is
not much doubt that he was killed, somehow or other, by his
nephew's orders. Among the most active nobles in these pro-
ceedings were the king's cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, whom the
king had made Duke of Hereford to smooth down the old
family quarrels, and some others ; who had in the family plot-
ting-times done just such acts themselves as they now con-
demned in the duke. They seem to have been a corrupt set of
men ; but such men were easily found about the court in such

The people murmured at all this, and were still very sore
about the French marriage. The nobles saw how little the king
cared for law, and how crafty he was, and began to be some-
what afraid of themselves. The king's life was a life of con-
tinued feasting and excess ; his retinue, down to the meanest
servants, were dressed in the most costly manner, and caroused
at his tables, it is related, to the number of ten thousand every
day. He himself, surrounded by a body of ten thousand arch-
ers, and enriched by a duty on wool, which the Commons had
granted him for life, saw no danger of ever being otherwise than
powerful and absolute, and was as fierce and haughty as a king
could be.

He had two of his old enemies left, in the persons of the



Dukes of Hereford and Norfolk. Sparing these no more than
the others, he tampered with the Duke of Hereford until he got
him to declare, belore the Council, that the Duke of Norfolk
had lately held some treasonable talk with him as he was riding
near Brentford ; and that he had told him, among other things,
that he could not believe the king's oath, — wliich nobody could,
I should think. For this treachery he obtained a pardon, and the
Duke of Norfolk was summoned to appear and defend himself.
As he denied the charge, and said his accuser was a liar and a
traitor, both noblemen, according to the manner ol those times
were held in custody, and the truth was ordered to be decided
by wager of battle at Coventry This wager of battle meant that
whosoever v;on the combat was to be considered in the right .
which nonsense meant, rn effect, that no strong man could ever
be wrong. A great holiday was made, a great crowd assem-
bled, with much parade and show , and the two combatants
were about to rush at each other with their lances, when the
king, sitting in a pavilion to see fair, threw down the truncheon
he carried in his hand, and forbade the battle. The Duke of
Hereford was to be banished for ten years, and the Duke of
Norfolk was to be banished tor life. So said the king The
Duke of Hereford went to France, and went no farther The
Duke of Norfolk made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 16 of 38)