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which they no doubt controlled. When the king had
broken through the leading strings they formed conspir-
acies to get government out of his hands and into their
own. At first the Duke of Lancaster was their leader, he
who, in the last reign, had intrigued on one side with Lol-
lardism, and on the other side with Alice Ferrers and her
crew, and whose sinister movements had called the Black
Prince from his dying bed to the rescue of the country
and his heir. Lancaster seems to have been sickened of
patriotism by the insurrection of the serfs. He was,


moreover, diverted from the English field of his ambition
by his mad attempts to win the crown of Castile. His
brother, Gloucester, took his place as leader of the oli-
garchical opposition. In the combinations and revolutions
which ensue, the motives of the actors are evidently self-
ish, and treachery is the order of the day. The chancel-
lor and the chief minister during the early part of the reign
was Michael De la Pole, who, so far as we can see by the
light of imperfect and partial chronicles, may have done
his best in a situation full of military disaster, financial
difficulty, and popular discontent. But he was not one of
the high nobility ; his father had been a merchant ; he
was regarded as a trader, not a gentleman, though he
had fought under the Black Prince ; and to the grandees
his elevation was an offence. His growing wealth gave a
handle for suspicion. He was impeached for corruption
and deprived. On pretence of reforming abuses, of which,
especially in the royal household, there was very likely
reason to complain, the king was practically deposed and

1386 government was put into the hands of an oligarchical
commission with Gloucester at its head. Richard,
chafing under the yoke, organized his party in the coun-
try, distributed his White Hart badges, and obtained a
judicial opinion against the legality of the commission.
His movement was premature and failed. Hereupon the

1388 junto, in the parliament well called " Merciless," impeached
the leading friends of the king and judicially murdered
such of them as it could get into its hands, thereby stamp-
ing its own character and motives.

The oligarchy seemed completely triumphant, but it
may have been weakened by internal jealousies and it
would almost certainly make itself odious to the nation.


Suddenly, emerging as it were from a cloud, without
encountering any resistance, Richard resumed his power. 1389
He used that power with moderation, abstained from re-
prisals, and for eight years ruled as a constitutional and
apparently not unpopular king.

At the end of that time Richard lost his queen, Anne 1394
of Bohemia, whose loss, Froissart says, he greatly felt,
since, wedded as boy and girl, they dearly loved each
other, and whose affection while she lived may have in-
fluenced him for good. As his second wife he took Isa-
bella, daughter of the king of France. The alliance may i396
have inspired him with French ideas of royalty, and at
the same time exposed him to popular suspicion of too
much friendliness to France. There was reason to believe
that the unquiet ambition of the Duke of Gloucester, the
king's uncle, was plotting with the Earls of Arundel and
Warwick. Richard suddenly arrested them all, had
Arundel condemned to death, Warwick to imprisonment 1397
for life. Gloucester he sent to Calais, where the duke
immediately and conveniently expired. The person of
Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, the earl's brother,
was protected by his order ; but the pope was so obliging
as to send him into exile by translating him to the nomi- 1397
nal see of St. Andrews. The king made the parliament
reverse all the acts of its predecessors directed against 1397
his authority and his friends. Not content with this he
proceeded, in an access apparently of absolutist frenzy, to
overthrow the constitution. He made parliament vote
him a revenue for life. He made it delegate its own
powers to a committee of eighteen under his control.
He made it declare the deposition of Edward TI., which
the oligarchs had cited to him, null, and repudiate the

VOL. I вАФ 16


deposing power. He made it stretch the treason law so
as to embrace anything that could be called compassing
the deposition of a king. He made it grant him the wool
tax for life. The parliament which thus committed sui-
cide had no doubt been packed by the sheriffs, by whom
the county elections were held; a peril inherent in the
constitution, when there was no settled authority or
strong organ of public opinion to guard the guardians of

1398 the franchise. Parliament sat surrounded by the king's
archers, and was carried away to the borders of Cheshire,
a wild district and a palatinate royal.

Henceforth Richard reigned as a despot, and from the
hatred which he evidently excited, and the unanimous
rejoicing at his overthrow, we may safely conclude that
by him and the adventurers whom he had called to his
councils great excesses were committed and the country
was grievously misgoverned. He had still reason to fear
combinations among the grandees. To get rid of these he
took advantage of a mysterious quarrel between the Duke
of Hereford, the son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster,

1398 and the Duke of Norfolk, by first allowing a trial by battle
to be appointed them, and then banishing them both.
Strangely enough, in fixing the term of banishment he
discriminated in favour of his really formidable enemy,
the Duke of Hereford, heir of the Lancaster tradition
of opposition to the crown, and one of the five appellant
lords who in the Merciless Parliament had brought the
friends of the crown to the block. Yet Richard drove the
duke to despair by the perfidious confiscation of his heri-
tage. He also embroiled himself with the Percys, whose
earldom of Northumberland was a petty kingdom in the
north, the last genuine relic of the feudal system, with its


patriarchal prince holding his rude court at Alnwick
and Warkworth. Having thus charged the mine under
his throne, Richard allowed himself at the critical moment 1399
to be lured to Ireland, and was called back to find that he
had lost his crown to the profound and plausible intriguer
whose wrath he had defied, and who in his absence had
landed in England. '

For the second time parliament exercised the depos- 1399
ing power, making another precedent for aftertimes of
parliamentary resettlement of the succession, though a
nominal satisfaction might be afforded to legitimism by
Richard's resignation. The principal charges against him
are those of suspending parliament by a committee of his
creatures, tampering with the elections through the sher-
iffs, and putting himself above the control of parliament
by giving himself the wool tax for life. He was also
charged with abuse of purveyance and with over-riding
jury trial by military law. Arbitrary interference with
the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts was a count, no
doubt, inserted to requite the hierarchy for their share in
the revolution. Henry of Lancaster mounted the throne, 1399
as did William the Third after him, by a parliamen-
tary and revolutionary title wrapped up in ambiguous
language. All absolutist acts or resolutions and all new-
fangled treasons were swept away. Whatever coronation
pomp and the anointing of the new king with oil miracu-
lously given to St. Thomas Becket in his exile could do
to make up for the lacking halo of legitimacy was done.
It was not a good omen for religious liberty that Archbishop
Arundel, the chief of persecuting high churchmen, led the
new king to the vacant throne. Richard was consigned to 1399
prison at Pomf ret, and insurrection in his favour having


broken out among the restless magnates of his pai'ty, he
ceased to live.

That " all the water in the sea could not wash the balm
from an anointed king or the breath of worldly men depose
the deputy elected by the Lord," was no doubt Richard's
sentiment. It appears that something like royalty by
divine right was his idea, and that his tendency was ab-
solutist, though we must make allowance for the circum-
stances of his struggle with a factious and unscrupulous
oligarchy which sought to strip the monarchy of its right-
ful power, not in the interests of the people, but of its
own. Whatever his policy was, while he showed fitful
force and ability he was utterly lacking in steadiness and
self-control. He had evidently at the last set not only
the oligarchy but the nation against him. In the early
part of his reign, at the time of the insurrection of the
serfs, he appears to have sympathized with the people, and
he certainly deserves the credit of a policy of peace with
France and of much needed attention to the affairs of dis-
tracted Ireland.




Born 1366; Succeeded 1399; Died 1413

NEASY lies the head that wears a crown." Into
no mouth better than into that of Henry IV.

could Shakespeare have put those words. Henry was
a strong, enduring man, and fearfully were his strength
and endurance tried. Often must he have asked himself
whether the glittering prize which he had won was worth
the price which he had paid for it, and which was terribly
high if, as we can hardly doubt, well as Pomfret castle
has kept its secret, it was by his order that Richard died.
He mounts the throne with a revolutionary title, while
legitimacy has a claimant living in the person of the
infant Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, the representa-
tive of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, second son of Edward
III., whereas John of Gaunt, Henry's father, was the
fourth. He was loaded with the impracticable promises
of reform and faultless government by which his election
had been gained. From Richard's grave rises a spectre
lending a phantom chief and the name of royalty to
rebellion. Henry has hardly seated himself on the throne
when oligarchical conspiracy again raises its hydra heads. 1400
His popularity, still fresh, puts it down, and the con-
spirators are massacred by the people, a strong, though
evil, proof of the national demand for the revolution.



But when his popularity is no longer fresh, the hydra

1403 rises again in more dangerous forms. The Percys, find-
ing that the man whom they had raised to the throne
instead of being their creature, as they thought, meant
to be king, determined to dethrone him. Special grounds
of discontent also they may have had, sufficient to set
working the wayward pride of a great lord with his
worshippers about him in his castle-palace in the wild
north. They ally themselves with the foreign enemies
of the realm in Scotland, and with the rebels in Wales.
They raise the Cheshire archers, who still cleave to the
White Hart. Upon the bloody and perilous day of

1403 Shrewsbury, the fell commencement of a long era of
civil, or rather of aristocratic, war, Henry fights, not
only for his crown, but for the unity of the realm. On
that fatal field, where the bows of Crecy and Poitiers
were drawn against English breasts, and the forces of
the nation were wasted in intestine strife, a monument
ought to stand warning England against faction.

Nor when " Harry Hotspur's spur was cold " was that
the end. Scrope, Archbishop of York, the man who had

1405 read Richard's resignation to parliament, gets up another
rebellion in the north, of which the manifestoes are worth
about as much as the pronunciamento of a rebel aspirant
to the presidency of a South American Republic. Scrope
and his clerical confederates may have been exasperated
by the heavy draughts which the king made on clerical
revenues ; they may have believed his government to
be secretly inclined to the confiscation of church prop-
erty ; or the archbishop, a political and military prelate,
may simply have shared the mutinous and intriguing

1405 spirit of the oligarchy. He paid the forfeit of his head.

xii HENRY IV 247

Since the growth of clerical wealth and the decline of
clerical virtue, the criminal immunities of the clergy,
a great proprietary, hardly less secular than the rest,
had become more than ever unreasonable, and had begun
to be less respected. At the beginning of this reign
they had, under the plea of pressing danger, been sus-
pended, and priests and friars had been put to death for
treason without serious protest. In the last reign arch-
bishops and bishops who mingled in the political fray
and whose party was vanquished, while their lay fellow-
conspirators lost their heads, had only been stripped of
their temporalities and banished under colour of trans-
lation by the pope to mock sees in Scotland or Ire-
land. At the execution of Scrope, a shock, of course,
ran through the ecclesiastical frame ; equally as a mat-
ter of course miracles were performed at his tomb. The
king had to make formal satisfaction to Rome. A little
money, it seems, had to be used in that quarter. But no
moral earthquake ensued. The age of Becket was past.
The execution was a strong measure for that day ; to
call it judicial murder seems too ecclesiastical. Scrope
was taken in armed, unprovoked, and criminal rebellion.
Whatever might be his avowed aims, there could be no
doubt that he and his party, if successful, would have
dethroned the king. The trial was merely formal, and
as the archbishop was a peer and entitled to trial by
his peers, irregular ; but there could be no doubt as to
the facts. The coat of mail in which the archbishop
had been arrested was sent to the pope, with the ques-
tion, " Is this thy son's coat ? " Nor was the moral force
of that argument touched by the pope's smart answer,
"An evil beast hath devoured him." Was the country


to be devastated and dismembered with impunity by
political intriguers styling themselves apostles of the re-
ligion of Christ ?

Against the last strongholds of anarchic feudalism the
king's battering cannon served him v^^ell. Artillery was
a royal arm, and its ascendancy added, and will hence-
forth add, to the power of the crown.

At the same time there was smouldering hostility with
France, though the danger from that quarter was pres-
ently dissipated by French faction. There was chronic
1402 war with the Scotch, who at Homildon gave the English
archer another opportunity of showing his ability to
encounter cavalry in line, and the superb ascendancy
of his arm. The king himself was perpetually being
called into the field by an obscure but arduous, and for
some years unsuccessful, struggle with Welsh disaffec-
tion, which, taking advantage of the civil troubles, raised
its head again in the wild mountain districts and found
a congenial leader in Owen Glendower, a redoubtable
though somewhat bombastic personage, a chief thor-
oughly Celtic, in whose house " it snowed meat and
drink," and about whom were current marvellous pro-
phecies of Merlin. Shakespeare has painted Glendower
well. In these campaigns the king shared the dangers
and hardships of the common soldier. Europe was torn
by the great schism in the papacy and Henry was called
upon to labour with the other sovereigns of Christendom
for the restoration of peace and unity to the church.
His load of work, administrative, legislative, diplomatic,
and military, must have been immense, and he seems to
have borne it alone ; at least we read of no one who
shared it with him. Of his original supporters Arch-


bishop Arundel remained at his side and was chancellor
during the greater part of his reign ; but even on Arun-
del's loyalty suspicion fell, and his aim was probably
rather that of a reactionary prelate needing royal sup-
port in the repression of heresy and defence of church
wealth than that of a devoted minister of the throne.
Henry's boys, two of them at least, were madcaps who
gave him trouble with their pranks ; and between him
and his heir, Prince Henry, there was for some time an
estrangement which must have added to his burden of
cares, even if the prince did not wish too early to wear
the crown. To shake his nerves, assassination as well
as conspiracy beset him, and a caltrop, believed to be
poisoned, was found in his bed. Nerves perhaps in those
days were not so sensitive as they are now, yet it is not
wonderful that Henry's health should have broken down
in middle age. It may be, too, that remorse gnawed
him, and was the secret cause of his desire to expiate
the sins of his life by ending it as a crusader in the Holy
Land. It seems that this desire was unfeigned and that
he even hoarded money for its accomplishment.

Henry of Lancaster, offspring of a popular house and
of a popular revolution, was of all the kings in the mid-
dle ages the most constitutional, and of the powers of the
medieval parliament his reign is the high- water mark.
The promise made for him at his accession by Archbishop
Arundel of a reversal of the arbitrary ways of Richard
was faithfully fulfilled. He studiously courted the Com-
mons. He endured with patience the pedantic homilies
of their incomparable Speaker, Sir Arnold Savage. He
permitted them to inquire into the mismanagement of
his household and with punctilious patriotism to dismiss


the foreign attendants of his queen. He permitted them
to inspect and audit his accounts, to share his counsels
about peace and war, to appoint special treasurers for
the application of the war subsidies, at last even to con-
trol the composition of his council. Had their measures
taken full practical effect, little would have been left
him of royalty but the crown. He probably managed
to soften the measure in the execution. The lives of
parliaments were short ; royalty lived on, and when the
session was over might regain its power. The king, in
fact, alone could govern, and we can hardly look on the
Lancastrian constitution as a settled anticipation of that
dependence of the executive on the majority in the
legislature which now prevails under the name of cabinet

Henry was requited for his compliances by the unswerv-
ing allegiance of parliament, amidst all the conspiracies
and rebellions. On the other hand, the Commons were
liberal of criticism and chary of supplies, underestimating
the growing necessities of a government always at war
with Scotland or France, or both, contending with Welsh
rebellion, maintaining an expensive post at Calais, and
performing the guardianship of the seas. The Com-
mons lacked information ; they, like all ruling assem-
blies, lacked personal responsibility, which rested on
the king alone. The notion still prevailed that the
king was to live "of his own." His "own" comprised
the estates of the crown, much dilapidated by grants ;
the revenue of the duchy of Cornwall and the earldom
of Chester ; the old feudal perquisites, reliefs, aids,
forfeitures, escheats, custody of feudal estates during
minority, hands of heirs and heiresses for sale; fines


and fees of various kinds : the whole roughly reckoned
at about twenty-three thousand potinds. To this are
to be added the customs allowed the king as guardian
of the sea, and amounting to about forty-two thousand
pounds. Manifestly if the king could live on this, his
government, with all the claims upon it, could not.
But for anything beyond it was necessary to go to the
Commons for subsidies with the plea of extraordinary
need, of the validity of which the Commons were ill
qualified to judge. Henry had to contend with the
belief that he had inherited a great treasure from his
predecessor. In dealing with Welsh rebellion and danger
from abroad, the arm of his government was always
shortened by want of money. It was apparently to ease
himself of the pressure of parliamentary opposition that
the king sometimes called great councils of peers and
notables by letters under the privy seal. The great
council survived, though superseded in supremacy by
parliament, and the kings, when parliament was fractious,
were inclined to turn to it, as, long after this, did
Charles I. But the elective principle was by this time
too strong for circumvention.

A more equivocal ally than the knights of the shire
Henry found in the church, which was ready to accept
his aid against the heresies of Wycliffe and the Lollards,
still more against the attacks on ecclesiastical wealth,
seriously menaced not from the quarter of the Lollards
alone. Startling to the catholic ear and subversive of the
sacerdotal system as Wycliffe's doctrines had been, the
bishops did not at first show much inclination to perse-
cute. They were most of them men of the world, prob-
ably little interested in theological questions and little


zealous for the faith ; they were made timid by the grow-
ing unpopularity of their order and the multiplying signs
of a disposition to relieve it of its riches. They allowed
Wycliffe to end his days a rector and in peace. Nor did
the Lollards much court martyrdom ; the number of those
who recanted or were won over exceeded the number of
those who suffered. Doctrinal Lollardism there still was,
even in the household of the king, who had to apologize
for the impiety of some of his gentlemen in turning their
backs on the procession of the Host. But social and
economical Lollardism, which denounced the unspiritual
opulence of the ministers of Christ and proposed to
relieve the taxpayer by the confiscation of ecclesiastical
estates, found more numerous disciples and was more
formidable to the clergy. As the creed of Wycliffe's
poor priests with their obscure conventicles, Lollardism
might be disregarded by the hierarchy ; as the stalking-
horse of a party of confiscation it could not. Henry's
father had coquetted with it for a political purpose, and
such was the natural line of what would now be called a
great Whig house. But Henry needed the support of the
hierarchy against the oligarchy, and Archbishop Arundel,
the leader of the party of intolerance, chief minister dur-
ing the greater part of the reign, was allowed to have his
way except when he protested against the execution of
Archbishop Scrope. Heresy, it may be said, had always
been treason against a state identified with the church.
We have seen that in the reign of Henry II. some Ger-
man heretics, though not put to death, were scourged,
branded, and turned out to die. But a formal statute for
1401 the burning of heretics was now passed, at the instance of
the clergy in convocation, with tlie concurrence of the


Commons, the majority- of whom were probably as ready
to purge themselves of heresy as they were to strip the
church of her wealth. The first to suffer was Sawtre, who
was thus the protomartyr of protestantism in England ; i^oi
the second was Badby, a mechanic, who maintained that 1410
the Host was not the body of Christ but a lifeless thing,
less worthy of reverence than anything, toad or spider,
that had life. Ecclesiastical hypocrisy observed the
usual form. The church did not burn the heretic ; she
gave him to the state to be burned. LoUardism, being
persecuted, naturally became disloyal and broke out into
insurrection at the beginning of the next reign.

One of the mysteries of the period is the conduct of the
friars, who in spite of the king's alliance with the church
and the statute De Hoeretico Oomburendo were the busy
sowers of conspiracy and rebellion. It may have been
that they scented danger to the possessions of their
order; it may have been simply that their wandering
habits and their access to families made them available
as instruments of agitation. In the natural course of
things when ascetic enthusiasm is extinct and mere idle-
ness succeeds, the angelic brotherhood of St. Francis of
Assisi degenerated into strolling knavery.

Historians have been puzzled by what appears to them
the mixture of good and evil in the character and gov-
ernment oi Henry IV. One eminent historian doubted
whether he should call Henry the best or the worst of
kings. The answer to the riddle partly lies in the lower-
ing of the moral standard in England and throughout
Christendom. Unscrupulousness in winning power and
in keeping it, even to the extent of political murder, was
compatible with the general desire, as well as with the

254 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap, xir

ability, to use it well. This, in fact, was Machiavellism,
with which the time, since the decay of the catholic

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 18 of 84)