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In this reign, also, arose our first great English writers the poets Chaucer and Gower; and the famous John Wickliffe, who translated the Scriptures into English, and did more than any other man to spread the knowledge of them amongst his country
Wickliffe was a learned Oxford student, so well versed in the Scriptures that he was called "The Gospel Doctor." He has also been called the Father of the Reformation, because so many men learnt from his writings the true Word of God, instead of the errors and superstitions which were then taught in the Church. But the men who clung fondly to those errors hated Wickliffe and his disciples, and named them in contempt, "Lollards" and "Heretics." They would have done something more than give him an ill name, if he had not been protected by powerful friends, and especially by John of Gaunt, one of the sons of Edward the Third. Wickliffe died in peace at his own rectory of Lutterworth: thirty years after his death his bones were taken up and burnt; but the doctrine he had taught remained, and was so deeply rooted in the land, that the fire of persecution could not destroy it.
(From 1377 to 1399.)
EDWARD THE THIRD was succeeded by his grandson Richard, the only child of the Black Prince. He resembled his father in beauty of countenance, and the
people hoped that he would resemble him in character; but they were grievously disappointed. Richard the Second was only ten years old when he came to the throne; he was badly trained by the flattering friends who were about him, and when he grew up to be a man he showed himself to be so fond of vain show and amusement, and so foolishly prodigal of money, that he quite lost the affection of his subjects.
Yet he had given promise of better things in his boyhood. When he was only fifteen, a formidable rebellion broke out amongst the labourers, who had been sorely oppressed by their masters, and now an unjust tax was added to their other grievances. Sixty thousand of them assembled under the leadership of a man named Wat Tyler, marched to London, murdered some of the king's councillors, and threw the whole city into consternation
Richard, attended by only sixty persons, met Wat Tyler with several thousand rioters in Smithfield. The young king invited the rebels to state their grievances, and Tyler began to speak; but he played all the while with his sword, and William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, fearing that he would attack the king, struck him to the ground. When the multitude saw their leader fall, loud angry cries were heard amongst them, and they bent their bows eager to avenge his death. But Richard, with great presence of mind, rode boldly up to them; "Are ye angry," said he, "that you have lost your leader? Follow me, and I will be your leader. This Tyler was but a rebel." The rioters were delighted with his frank fearless manner, they followed him willingly, and Richard led them quite out of the city.
Then he persuaded them to return peaceably to their homes, and promised them that their wrongs should be redressed. But the king's councillors refused to perform the promise he had made, and put many hundreds of these unhappy people to death after the rebellion was over.
Until Richard was twenty-two years of age, his uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, kept the power as much as possible in his own hands. After that time the king refused to be any longer under control. He arrested Gloucester, who died in prison; and as most persons believed that Richard had ordered him to be put to death, the king was more disliked than ever.
He had still two uncles living; John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund, Duke of York. The son of the Duke of Lancaster was called Henry of Bolingbroke; he was a clever man, and so great a favourite with the people, that the king was very jealous of him. And when a quarrel arose between Bolingbroke and another nobleman, Richard took advantage of it to banish his cousin for some years. While Bolingbroke was still in exile, his father died, and Richard most unjustly took possession of his uncle's estates, though he had promised his cousin that he would not meddle with his inheritance.
Bolingbroke, who was now become Duke of Lancaster, at once returned to England, saying that he had only come to recover his father's lands; but what he really aimed at was the crown, and he soon obtained it. Almost every one forsook Richard. He was shut up in Pontefract Castle, and it was never certainly known what became of him. Some said that he had been starved, or put to death by violence
in his prison; others believed that he escaped to Scotland, and died, years afterwards, a poor insane man, having lost his reason through grief at his terrible downfall. He had been king twenty-two years. During the early part of his reign his uncles carried on the war with France, but so unsuccessfully that the English lost almost every town which Edward the Third and the Black Prince had taken.
In the border counties of England there was constant fighting between the English and Scots. Earl Douglas led the Scots, and Lord Henry Percy, who was of so daring and fiery a spirit that he was surnamed Hotspur, was the leader of the English.
HENRY IV., 1399.- SAUTRE, THE FIRST ENGLISH MARTYR WHO SUFFERS AS A LOLLARD, 1401.-HENRY V., 1413.- VICTORY OF AGINCOURT, 1415.
(From 1399 to 1422.)
HENRY, Duke of Lancaster, had ascended the throne with the consent of the Parliament, but he was not the nearest heir after Richard the Second. There was a little boy, called Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who was descended from an elder brother of Henry's father; but Mortimer was so very young he could do nothing to assert his claim to the crown. His cause
was taken up by some of the chief men in the kingdom, and in particular by the three Percies; Hotspur, and his father and uncle, the Earls of Northumberland and Worcester. But they were all overthrown, and perished either in battle or by the hands of the executioner.
PRINCE HENRY SENT TO PRISON.
In his contest with these noblemen, the king was greatly assisted by his eldest son, Prince Henry, a young man of great courage and capacity, and of a most noble generous disposition. But the young prince made a strange choice of companions, and sometimes indulged with them in frolics which were quite unsuitable to his rank, and unworthy of his noble character. One of his companions was carried before Chief Justice Gascoyne for making a riot in the streets at midnight. The judge sent him to prison. Prince Henry, as soon as he heard of it, went to the chief justice and desired him to release his friend, and when he refused to do so, the prince was so angry that he drew his sword upon him. For this flagrant breach of the laws, Judge Gascoyne ordered Prince Henry himself to prison, and the prince was so sensible that he had done wrong, that he submitted without a murmur. When his father heard what had happened, he exclaimed, "Happy am I to have a judge who dares punish such an offender, and still happier that I have a son who is willing to submit to just punishment!"
Henry the Fourth died 20th March, 1413. The saddest event of his reign was the passing of a law for the burning of heretics. William Sautre, a London clergyman of blameless life, who was burnt to death in February 1401, was the first person who suffered under this atrocious statute, the leader of a long line of martyrs who died at the stake rather than conform to the errors of Rome.
As soon as Henry the Fifth became king, he bent all his thoughts to the task of governing his kingdom well. He withdrew from his former wild companions, and forbade them to come into his presence till they