James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) online

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attempted to provide for a regency without
reference to the wishes of Parliament. This
design was frustrated, and Parliament
successfully insisted on a share in the nomi-
nations to the Royal Council. But from 1377
to 1381 the government was practically in
the hands of John of Gaunt ; his inefficient
and extravagant conduct and the French
war necessitated burdensome taxation,
which gave the signal for the Peasants'
Revolt. Gaunt was scared into retirement
by the evidence of his unpopularity which
_ , the revolt afforded, and the

AeYoun kin ? fel1 into the hands of a
Richard^! ^ ac ^ on headed by his half-
brothers, the Earls of Kent and
Huntingdon. Another faction no less
formidable gathered head under the king's
uncle, Thomas of Gloucester ; in 1386 it
impeached the Earl of Suffolk, and saddled
the king with a board of eleven advisers
whose functions resembled closely those
of the Ordainers. Richard temporised and
began to make preparations for attacking

his enemies by armed force. His purpose
was forestalled ; he fell into the hands of
the Gloucester faction. A servile Parlia-
ment condemned to death the chief of
Richard's ministers and friends, and the
Gloucester faction continued to control the

A few months later the king unex-
pectedly asserted his authority by declar-
ing himself of age. He dismissed the
obnoxious regents, and appointed a new
council, to which, with sagacious modera-
tion, he called some of those who had been
his opponents. Parliament, formerly so
zealous in the service of the opposition,
acquiesced in the overthrow of a form of
government which, had been established
by the authority of both Houses, and for
eight years Richard ruled .without hin-
drance from his relations and on good
terms with the estates. The explanation
is that he had succeeded in procuring the
support of John of Gaunt, the most for-
midable among his uncles. The court
parties were therefore evenly balanced ;
the natural respect of the Commons for an
hereditary title was under these circum-
stances sufficient to guarantee his position.
, In this position Richard might,
D * d' n f * w ^ common prudence, have
c rca ' . continued for the rest of his
58 life. But he chafed against his
dependence, and the fear of conspiracies
affected his mind to the point of madness.
In 1397 he suddenly arrested the heads
of the Gloucester faction ; some were
executed, some imprisoned, and Earl
Thomas himself was murdered in prison
without a trial.

These proceedings, counterbalanced as
they were by profuse grants of dignities to
the Lancastrian faction, were passively
accepted by Parliament, which was care-
fully packed with royal creatures and sur-
rounded by the armed bodyguard of the
king during its proceedings. In a second
session, under constraint of the same
kind, the estates voted to Richard a life
revenue, and made him completely inde-
pendent of their assembly for the future by
sanctioning the appointment of a standing
committee of eighteen members with full
powers to act in the name of Parliament.

The power thus won was used oppres-
sively in many instances. London and
many of the shires were heavily fined on
the charge, true or false, that they had
abetted the king's enemies. The king's
livery was granted to all who would wear

This illustration, from the water-colour drawing by Sir John Gilbert, R.A., represents the most humiliating moment in
the life of King Richard II. His attempts to govern without a parliament roused the indignation of his people, and
the opposition, under Henry of Lancaster, compelled him to renounce the throne. We here see him giving up his
crown and sceptre. He afterwards signed a statement declaring that he was not worthy to be king any longer.


the personal and territorial influence of a
few great nobles determined the acts of
Parliament. The Commons had ceased
to be significant by becoming the sharpest
weapon of party warfare.

The reign of Henry IV. was not wholly
untroubled by factions of the old kind,
now the more dangerous because they

it, and was treated as a licence for indis-
criminate purveyances. But Richard was
no tyrant, and the general body of the
nation was long suffering. He might long
have pursued his course of absolutism with
impunity if he had not rashly attempted
to rid himself of the Lancastrians, through
whom he had gained his end. He
banished Henry of Here-
ford, the son and heir of
John of Gaunt, without the
semblance of a trial ; and
on the death of the old
duke, in 1399, he confiscated
the Lancastrian estates.

Henry of Hereford was
the most popular member
of the royal house. He
had been a Crusader in
Prussia, he excelled in
knightly exercises, and he
had been treated with
palpable injustice. When,
in July, 1399, he took
advantage of Richard's
absence in Ireland to land
and raise the standard of
rebellion he was joined at
once by numerous ad-
herents ; and Richard
returned only to enter a
captivity in which he
perished mysteriously a
year later. The crown,
which he had resigned in
the hope that his life would
be spared, was claimed by
Henry of Lancaster, and
his right was confirmed by
the three estates. So the
long - dormant right of
national election was re-
vived ; the house of Lan-
caster came to the throne
with a title which, how-
ever they might cloak the


cu>, ciiiu we s gcuci - Though no i onger on the throne, Richard II. was not altogether without friends,

ally Considered to be, as was shown by the endeavour which they made to reinstate him as king. But

Moir liorl tnis attempt failed, and the failure meant the death not only of the ex-king but

sever naa of many no blemen who had supported him. The exact manner of Richard's

SO death is not known, but it is supposed that he was murdered in Pontefract Castle.

From the drawing by Sir John Gilbert, R.A.

Parliament interfered
often and so decisively as
in the reign of Richard II. It alternately
exalted and debased the king and his
opponents. There was no department of
the government too important for its
interference, no custom so old that it
might not alter or abolish it. But when
we go beneath the surface of events and
study the influences at work we find that


were bound up with the qjaims of various
pretenders. In Cheshire and the Welsh
marches the personality of Richard had
been popular ; in Wales, Owen Glendower
headed a growing band of nationalists ; in
the North of England, the Percies and other
families which had been Lancastrian were
alienated from Henry by disappointed


ambition. An impostor pretending to be
Richard appeared for a time in Scotland ;
the Earl of March, whom Richard had

Haeretico Comburendo, the first perse-
cuting measure in the national history.
In 1404 the Commons clamoured for a

designated as his heir, had the support of reduction of expense and the dismissal

the Percies and Glendower. Fortunately,
France was paralysed by the feuds of

Burgundians and Armagnacs,
The Welsh

in Revolt

Scotland by a minority and the
capture of the young James I.
by the English in 1405. Hence
the Welsh got little help from France, the
Percies none from Scotland.

The Welsh rising, which began in 1400,
was for a time successful, and Owen
Glendower was actually crowned Prince
of Wales by his followers in 1402. But,
having formed a coalition with the Percies
to set the Earl of March upon the English
throne, Glendower was defeated by the
royal forces at Shrewsbury, in 1403, though
the Percies came to his aid. Harry Percy,
" Hotspur," the life and soul of the
English malcontents, perished in the battle.
His father, Northumberland, failed igno-
miniously in the attempt to raise the north
against the crown in 1404, fled to Scotland,
and was subsequently slain at Bramham
Moor in 1407, when conducting a raid into
Yorkshire. Owen Glendower, although a
thorn in the side of England for some years
longer, failed to carry the war across the
English border. His re-
bellion, which at one
time had made him
master of the princi-
pality, died down by
degrees ; the date of his
death and the place of his
burial are alike unknown.
After 1404 the chief
difficulties of Henry IV.
were caused by Parlia-
ment and by his own son.
The king was personally
unpopular; his title
clearly rested on the good-
will of the nation. He
had been elected to re-
form the state of the
country and restore the

of foreign favourites. They would grant
a subsidy only on condition of being
allowed to appoint treasurers who should
supervise the expenditure of the sum
voted. In 1406 they demanded " good and
abundant governance," insisted on the
choice of new and more acceptable
counsellors, nominated by a controller of
the royal household, and insisted upon
appointing auditors of their subsidy.

In 1411 they were induced, perhaps by

the heir apparent, Henry of Monmouth, to

consider the question of setting aside the

king, who was now worn out with sickness.

At this point, however, the king showed

an unexpected spirit, sent for the Speaker

of the Lower House, and intimated that

he would have no novelties dis-

' cussed. The Commons took the

e u es e ^j^^g j n a submissive spirit ;
Commons ,,

the prince and his supporters
were removed from the Privy Council,
and the king enjoyed some measure of
independence for the remainder of his
reign. But in the years 1399-1413 the
chief power in the state had passed from
Crown to Parliament ; the executive had
learned to take the orders
of the Commons, and had
begun to avoid responsi-
bility by adopting sub-
missively the advice of
inexperienced represen-
tatives. The death of
Henry IV., in 1413, left
his son and namesake
face to face with domestic
problems of no small

The terrible pestilence
known as the Black
Death, which was the
greatest scourge of four-
teenth-century Europe,
visited England in 1348-
1349, and on a smaller

rule of law ; but his THE FATHER OF ENGLISH POETRY scale in subsequent years.

government Was ex- Born about the year 1340, Geoffrey Chaucer A ff ectmg the countr y
, ..... served the English government in various , . . J

pensive, and no brilliant capacities, and had a wide experience of life, districts almost as
military achievements The famous " Canterbury Tales " were written severely as the towns, it
were placed to his credit. when he was about fifty - four years of a * e " swept away from a third
Parliament therefore criticised him freely, to a half of the total population. It is
and it might have gone hard with him probable that a few years restored the
if he had not conciliated the clergy by population of the country to the old level ;
helping them to pass the statute De but in the meantime many changes of



far-reaching import had been set on foot.
The passing scarcity of labour accelerated
the rise which had already begun in the
general rate of wages ; increased wages
and restricted cultivation led to a rise in
the prices of agricultural produce, and
against the double evil king and Parlia-
ment sought to provide by legislation.
The Statute of Labourers fixed the maxi-
mum price of the important articles of
food ; it also gave
power to the
justices of the
peace in every
shire to fix the
rates of wages.

Such measures
could not produce
the desired effect,
but they caused
great bitterness of
feeling among
producers and
labourers, since
hired labour was
becoming daily
more essential in
the agricultural
economy of the
nation. Before
1300 the lords of
manors depended

chiefly upon serf labour for the cultivation
of their demesnes. Since that date it had
become a usual practice to commute
labour services for money payments,
according to the current rate of wages.

These bargains, advantageous to both
parties when first arranged, proved ruinous
to landlords when the rate of wages was
doubled by the plague. Unable to obtain
labour at the rates which were fixed under
the new statute, they conspired with the
labourers to defeat it, but at the same
time sought to reimburse themselves by a
stiicter exaction of the labour services
and dues in money or kind to which they
were still entitled from their serfs. The
two classes of the landless labourers,
w m oppressed by unjust legislation,
"2*2 and of the land-holding serfs,
Mission irritated by the claims of
masters whom they had ceased
to respect, drew together and formed a
party of considerable size, which was
skilfully knit together by concealed
agitators. The teaching of John Wycliffe,
himself the opposite of a socialist, was
interpreted by popular preachers in such


a way as to fan the flame. Wycliffe, an
Oxford doctor of theology, had become
a public character by the mission
which he undertook in 1374 to negotiate
a concordat between the Pope and the
national Church. Subsequently he dis-
tinguished himself by vigorous attacks
upon .the practices of the papacy,
which the captivity of Avignon and the
great, schism had discredited in general

The son of Henry IV., whom he succeeded in 1413, the young king continued the severe
policy of his father towards the Lollards. Having won by war the regency and succession
of France, he married the Princess Catharine, daughter of the French king, Charles VI.

estimation, by supervising the preparation
of an English Bible, and by sending out
poor preachers to address the people in
homely language on the evils of society
and the necessity for amending them.

Though linked at one time with John of
Gaunt by the tie of their common opposi-
tion to the hierarchy, Wycliffe was definitely
committed to no political party. It was
an abstract doctrine, borrowed from the
scholastics, to the effect that power ceases
to be legitimate when unlawfully used,
which commended the preaching of his
priests to the discontented classes. A
rising of the peasants broke out in
1381 ; the occasion in some places was
supplied by the collection of a poll tax,
which, although graduated, weighed more
heavily upon the poor than upon the rich.

But the area affected by the rising was so
considerable the whole of East and South-
east England that we must suppose the.
preparations to have been on foot before
the unpopular impost was demanded.
London was forcibly entered by the men
of Hertford, Essex, and Kent ; much
damage was done to the property of John


of Gaunt, alien merchants, and court
favourites ; the primate, Simon Sudbury,
was beheaded on Tower Hill.

But the boldness of the young Richard
II. saved the situation. He induced the
mob to disperse by granting manumission
to the villeins ; the more local risings were
mercilessly crushed with the aid of the
gentry and superior clergy. Parliament
refused to confirm the bargain which
Richard had made with the villeins, both
Lords and Commons protesting that they
would rather all die in one day than lose
their rights. But the alarm which the rising
had produced made landholders readier
to adopt a new method of farming which
was now coming into vogue. They began
to let their demesne lands at a rent to
tenant farmers ; the remaining services of
the villeins were rapidly commuted, and
the class soon acquired the new name of
copyholders. Henceforth the peasant
holding land was practically a freeholder,
His rent was a fixed one, and though he
was still subject to the manor court
the restraints upon his personal liberty
disappeared. Some traces of villeinage

remained in certain parts of the country
as late as the sixteenth century, but Tudor
writers regard it as, for practical purposes,
extinct. The chief disability which clung
to the descendants of villeins was that of
exclusion from the franchise. This was
limited by a statute of 1430, which intro-
duced as a necessary qualification for an
elector in the shires the possession of a
freehold of ten dollars' annual value.
Copyholders, though often men of sub-
stance and education, did not acquire the
franchise till the great Reform Bill of
the year 1832.

Wycliff e's party survived the suppression
of the villeins' revolt, from which the
reformer entirely dissociated himself,
denouncing the conduct of the peasants
with great freedom. But he fell under the
suspicion of heresy, chiefly because, in his
attacks upon the sacerdotal theory, he
was logical y led on to deny the doctrine
of transubstantiation. Condemned at
the Lambeth Council of 1382, he never-
theless remained unmolested as parish
priest at Lutterworth until his death, in
1384. The Lollards, as his followers were


This interesting picture represents the wooing of England's young king, Henry V., which had a successful termination,
the wedding, attended with great pomp, taking place on Trinity Sunday, June 3rd, 1420, in the Parish Church at Troye*.

From the painting by w. F Yeames, by permission of the " Art Journal."



called, distinguished themselves in the
latter part of Richard's reign by bold
attacks upon the chief superstitions and
tenets of the mediaeval Church. They had
friends at court, and the
queen, Anne of Bohemia,
may possibly have
favoured them ; it is
certain that their
doctrines spread to her
nativecountry and formed
the starting-point of the
religious and patriotic
movement to which Huss
gave his name. But in
England the persecution
initiated by Henry IV.
was rapidly successful.
William Sautre, the first
victim, burned in 1401,
before the statute " De
Haeretico " was passed,
was followed to the stake
by a number of fellow-
believers. In 1414 Sir


generally recognised. The chief interest
of the Lancastrian and Yorkist period is
to be found in the gradual breach with
old manners, traditions, and ways of
thought. The conserva-
tive and innovating
tendencies of the century
are alike illustrated by
the first great poets who
wrote in an English in-
telligible at the present
day. Chaucer (1340-
1399), the poet of the
court and middle classes,
Langland, the poet of the
people, are sharply
distinct, but both the
creatures of their age.
Chaucer reflects the cos-
mopolitanism of cultured
mediaeval society ; he
made free use of French
and Italian models, and
familiarised the English
ear with foreign metres.

j .

John OldcastlC, the most minority the government was in the hands But in hlS chief WOrk,

considerable representa- of the Privy Coimcii. in the year 1471 " The Canterbury Tales,"

tive of the sect, formed a he was murdered in the Tower of London, he j s a national poet of

plot to seize Henry V. with a view
to extorting toleration. The plot was
detected and suppressed ; the last chance
that the Lollards would become a political
party faded away. There is some evidence
to show that Lollard con-
gregations evaded their
persecutors and con-
tinued to meet in some
of the eastern counties
till the beginning of the
sixteenth century. How
far the survival served
as a foundation for the
later growth of Protest-
antism remains a matter
of dispute among his-
torians. The fourteenth
century therefore gave
indications of a new
period to come, of im-
pending changes in the
structure of society, in
religious dogma, and in
secular and ecclesiastical

the best kind. The prologue introduces
us to the members of a pilgrimage on the
road to Canterbury : the tales which
follow are fitted with the art of a
dramatist to the characters of the pilgrims,
all English men and
women, who tell them to
relieve the tedium of the
journey. A genial
humour pervades the
prologue and many of the
tales. Chaucer could be
satirical, but was well
satisfied with the England
which he knew. Lang-
land, an ecclesiastic of
humble station and satur-
nine disposition, wrote his
allegory of Piers Plowman
with a moral object to
illustrate the search of
the religious soul for
Christ and to reprove
the disorders of every
THE QUEEN OF HENRY vi. social rank. But his

It is the Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI., rough alliterative verse
period of was married to that monarch in the yearl 445. a b OU nds in sketches of

mediaeval civilisation ; the seeds of decay
are already implanted. But a century
was to elapse before the time for .social
and religious reorganisation became


daily life and in comments upon their
significance, which reveal the patriotic
artist, deeply sympathising with those
whose follies he chastises. In the sense



that he states the case for the poor and
oppressed he is a democrat. But, like
Wycliffe, he was altogether averse from
the wild radicalism which found vogue
among the peasant rebels. The last of
Langland's works, " Richard the Rede-
less," is an invective against the mis-
government of Richard II., but is far from
p revolutionary in tone. The

. author makes some excuses

on the Track , .11-

, .. for the king, and expresses a

of Heretics , , ,

hope that he may be brought

to see the error of his ways. The reign of
Henry V. opened inauspiciously with the
conspiracy of Oldcastle ; and although the
alarm which this produced had the effect of
inducing Parliament, hitherto not ill-dis-
posed towards the heretics, to sanction a
more stringent search for them, there was
a widespread feeling of dissatisfaction
with the Church. Towards the king the
Commons showed their independence by
insisting that the statutes made at their
request should be in conformity with
the petitions submitted to him. Among
the nobles a plot had been formed to
depose Henry in favour of the Earl of
March, Henry's nearest kinsman and the
heir presumptive.

In the midst of these ominous symp-
toms, the king, perhaps with the object
of distracting the popular mind from
criticism of his government and of the
Church, decided to revive his claims
upon the Angevin inheritance^ The mad-
ness of Charles VI. and the distracted-
state into which France had been
brought by the feuds of Burgundians and
Armagnacs afforded a tempting oppor-
tunity. Offers of a compromise were
rejected at the English court and Henry
set sail for France, at the head of a small
force, in the summer of 1415. Landing at
Harfleur, he marched, after its capture,
on Calais, in the hope of provoking the
French to a pitched battle. His wish was
gratified, and at Agincourt the English
won a brilliant victory by their
su P eI "i r skill in archery and
tact * cs - But the real work of
conquering began only in 1417,
when the reduction of Normandy was
methodically undertaken ; Rouen was not
taken until January, 1419, after a siege
of almost six months.

It was an unforeseen event which in
the following year left Henry master of
the greater part of France. The Duke of
Burgundy, in the act of going through a


reconciliation with the dauphin, who had
espoused the Armagnac side, was foully
murdered at the Bridge of Montereau.
The Burgundians and the Queen of France
revenged themselves by concluding with
Henry V. the Treaty of Troyes, in 1420,
under which the King of England concluded
a marriage with the Princess Katherine,
became regent in the present, and was
recognised as the heir apparent. A
national party headed by the dauphin
maintained the cause of independence, and
even achieved a victory at Beauge, in 1421,
over an English army. But the stain of
the murder committed at Montereau told
heavily against the future of Charles VII. :
the birth of a son to Henry and Katherine
appeared to set the seal upon the union of
England and France ; nor were English
hopes dissipated by the untimely death of
their king, in 1422. at the age of thirty-five.
The success of Henry V. had converted
the Commons to a project which, in the
first instance, they had viewed with marked
disfavour, but the reaction against the
expenditure which the new conquest
entailed was all the more severe when it
came. The English did not realise how
E much the dissensions of France

ng is ^ had contributed to their success,
and did not understand that
half the kingdom remained to
be conquered. Their confidence was soon
rudely shaken. The new king was an infant ;

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 51 of 55)