Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

of the peasantry had been caused by the ill administration of the government and the heavy burdens to which they had been subjected. "Your faithful commons," say they, "after full deliberation, have come to the conclusion that unless the administration of the kingdom were speedily reformed, the kingdom itself would be utterly lost and ruined for ever, and therein their lord the king, with all the peers and commons, which God forbid. For true it is there are such defects in the said administration, as well about the king's person and his household as in his courts of justice; and by grievous oppressions in the country through maintainers of suits, who are, as it were, kings in the country, that right and law are come to nothing, and the poor commons are from time to time so pillaged and ruined, partly by the king's purveyors of the household, and others who pay nothing for what they take, partly by the subsidies and tallages raised upon them, and besides by the oppressive behaviour of the servants of the king and other lords, and especially of the aforesaid maintainers of suits, that they are reduced to greater poverty and discomfort than ever they were before; and moreover, though great sums have been continually granted by and levied upon them for the defence of the kingdom, yet they are not better defended against their enemies, but every year are plundered and wasted by sea and land without any relief, which calamities the said poor commons, who lately used to live in honour and prosperity, can no longer endure. And to speak the real truth, these injuries lately done to the poorer commons, more than they ever suffered before, caused them to rise and to commit the mischief done in the late riot; and there is still cause to fear greater evils if sufficient remedy be not timely provided against the outrages and oppressions aforesaid. Wherefore may it please our lord the king and the noble peers of the realm now assembled in this parliament, to provide such remedy and amendment as to the said administration, that the state and dignity of the king in the first place, and of the lords, may be preserved, as the commons have always desired, and the commons may be put in peace; removing, as soon as they can be detected, evil ministers and counsellors, and putting in their stead the best and most sufficient, and taking away all the bad practices which have led to the last rising, or else none can imagine that this kingdom can longer subsist without greater misfortunes than it ever endured; and for God's sake let it not be forgotten, that there be put about the king and of his council the best lords and knights that can be found in the kingdom."

This bold though respectful language of the commons shows the influence which the people had acquired, and furnishes no bad illustration of the nature of the complaints which are met

with on the rolls of parliament for nearly two centuries. Alarmed by these protestations, Richard endeavoured to retrench his expenditure; but the commons soon found that there were no means of securing the reformation of abuses so long as the subsidies were paid into the hands of irresponsible ministers, and it was useless for them to vote money for the wars while it was absorbed on the luxuries of the court; they therefore resolved to make no more grants unless the king would consent to have the money paid into the hands of treasurers chosen by themselves, or command his ministers to deliver their accounts in parliament,to which Richard was obliged to yield, and even promised to make some alterations which had been desired in his household; but it was no easy task to resist the personal influence of the king, whom the constitution had invested with the fullest prerogatives, and Richard accordingly by dint of intimidation and bribery succeeded in so far overcoming the popular voice, that the parliament sanctioned the appointment of the royal favourite De Vere to the marquisate of Dublin, with an almost princely authority in Ireland. But on Michael de la Pole, who had been created earl of Suffolk, being made lord chancellor, the spirit of opposition again revived, and the commons were enabled to try the strength of their vindictive arm, by carrying an impeachment against the unpopular minister. Notwithstanding the pusillanimity of Richard's character, they would scarcely have ventured on so bold a measure had they not been secure of the support of a large party in the upper house, where the dukes of Lancaster and Gloucester, the king's uncles, led the popular movement. For the thirteenth time parliament assembled with the full determination of reforming public abuses, and commenced the impeachment of the king's ministers. While Richard was quietly lying at his palace of Eltham, a messenger arrived from both houses of parliament requiring the dismissal of the earl of Suffolk from the royal councils, as the commons had matter to allege against him which could not be urged while he possessed the office of chancellor. The king, with his usual petulance, replied, "that at their request he would not remove the meanest scullion from his kitchen;" but the parliament persisted in their petition and refused to transact any public business till the king should appear personally in parliament and dismiss his favourites. This undaunted procedure produced a change in the tone of the royal message, and the king offered to receive a deputation to explain the grievances complained of; but the commons, fearing or affecting to fear treachery, refused these overtures, and commissioned the earls of Gloucester and Arundel, with the bishop of Ely, to declare to the king, "that there was

an ancient statute* according to which, if the king absented himself from parliament without just cause during forty days, which he had now exceeded, every man might return without permission to his own country; and moreover, that the statute of deposition of Edward II. afforded a precedent that if the king by bad counsel, or his own folly and obstinacy, estranged himself from his people, and would not govern according to the laws of the land and the advice of the peers, but madly and wantonly followed his own single will, it was lawful for parliament with the common assent of the people to expel him from his throne, and elevate to it some near kinsman of the royal blood." The commons thus obtained of the king the appointment of a parliamentary commission with full powers to investigate and reform all abuses both in the state and royal household, and to see the laws and statutes duly executed. Whatever opinion we may form of the constitutionality of this measure, which derogated from the prerogative of the crown, certain it is that the exigencies of the times demanded some extraordinary remedy. No prince had ever drawn so largely on the resources of his people, or so wantonly neglected the welfare of the nation. The money which had been voted for the war with France was squandered in pageants and sumptuous festivals, while the coasts of England were plundered and wasted by the very foe she had vanquished, and her trade destroyed. "No voice of his people," says an eminent historian, "until it spoke in thunder, could stop an intoxicated boy in the wasteful career of dissipation ;"+ and although it may be only on occasions like the present that such extraordinary measures are justifiable, yet few will deny to parliament, even at the present day, an absolute power over the management of affairs,—the right of influencing the choice, as well as the power of punishing the maladministration of ministers. After having failed in his endeavours to induce the sheriffs of the counties to influence the next elections in his favour, the king resorted to the expedient of obtaining the opinion of the judges against the legality of the commission appointed in the late parliament, and made a public declaration that nothing therein resolved should be taken as derogating from the just prerogatives of the crown. For some time these proceedings passed unnoticed, as the judges had been sworn to secrecy, but as soon as it became publicly known that it was the legal decision of the judges that the commons had no power to impeach the king's ministers, or stop the progress of public business, without special sanction,-that those who had moved for

* Knyghton, Decem Script. col. 2680. Hallam, Mid. Ages, ii. p. 199. † Hallam, Middle Ages, ii. p. 201.

the reading of the sentence of deposition against Edward II. had incurred the penalties of treason, and that the sentence against Suffolk might be revoked, a universal storm of indignation burst from all grades of society, and men declared openly that all justice and law had come to an end. Those who had been the best supporters of Richard were disgusted at the proceeding, and when he entered London on the 10th of November (1387) to resume the powers of government as soon as the period of the commission should terminate, he was met by the cries and groans of the people. The earls of Gloucester, Derby, Arundel, Nottingham, and Warwick, who had been foremost in the late transactions, perceiving the danger to which their lives and property would be exposed if the king should succeed in restoring his favourites to power, marched to Highgate at the head of 40,000 men, and appealed of treason the archbishop of York, De Vere (who had been created duke of Ireland), the earl of Suffolk, sir Robert Tresilian (the chief justice), and sir Nicholas Bramber (the late lord mayor of London), and, entering Westminster hall, threw their gauntlets on the ground before the king, offering to prove the charges by single combat. But Richard replied, that he thought it more equitable for the matters to be tried in parliament, and warrants were accordingly issued for a new return. When the commons met they cited the obnoxious ministers to appear before them, and on their default condemned in one sentence not only the parties accused by the lords-appellants, as the five earls were called, but their friends and abettors, and the whole bench of judges, who had given their assent to the king's questions. The duke of Ireland, the earl of Suffolk, the archbishop of York, sir Robert Tresilian, sir Nicholas Bramber, the bishop of Chichester, sir Simon Burley, sir John Beauchamp, sir James Barnes, and sir John Salisbury, with the judges, were all found guilty, and sentenced to undergo the extreme penalties of the law; but the two first effected their escape to France, and the judges, at the earnest intercession of the bishops, were banished to the different cities of Ireland. Without entering into the merits of the question, we cannot help observing the difference with which these proceedings have been related by historians according to their political bias: while some have seen in them nothing but the expression of the vindictive feelings of a ruling faction, appropriately designated the Merciless Parliament; others with equal warmth have applauded the just exercise of authority at a time when no milder measures would have been equally successful: certain it is, that in the absence of more definite details we are at a loss to account for the condemnation of men some of whom had borne a good previous reputation; but, looking at the result as a whole, the effect was

eminently successful,-the country was restored to peace, and the king freed from his worst advisers.

The year which followed was a period of reaction, but in the absence of history we can only guess at the causes which led to the expulsion of Gloucester and his party from power. By one of those strokes of decisive action which mark the dark character of Richard, he took the government into his own hands. Sitting in the great council held after Easter in 1389, the king turned suddenly round to Gloucester, and demanded what age he was. "Your highness," replied the earl, "is in your twenty-second year." "Then," said the king, "I must surely be old enough to manage my own affairs. My lords, I thank you for your past services, but I require them no longer." A new chancellor and treasurer were appointed by the king, and the country was governed for eight years with energy and vigour; but in 1396 the truce with France and the king's marriage with the French princess Isabella again called forth the opposition of Gloucester, who strenuously reprobated these measures as base and unworthy the successor of Edward III. Seeing the nobility divided amongst themselves, Richard thought this the opportune moment to wreak his longmeditated vengeance against that nobleman, and going to the castle of Pleshy, where Gloucester resided, as if on a visit, he took him by surprise, and, having arrested him, caused him to be conveyed over to Calais. The earls of Arundel and Warwick were likewise treacherously seized, and to quiet the clamour of the people, the king caused proclamation to be made, that all had been done with the assent of the dukes of Lancaster and York, who were supposed to be in the popular interest. The king now entered London at the head of a powerful force, and having revoked his former pardons, caused the commons to bring in charges against Arundel and Warwick: the sheriffs had, as Richard had commanded them, influenced the elections, and the lords and commons vied with each other in undoing whatever the previous parliament had obtained. At the king's command, they sentenced Arundel to death, and banished the earl of Warwick, the archbishop of Canterbury, lord Mortimer, and lord Cobham, while the earls of Derby and Nottingham were terrified into submission by the threat of a parliamentary impeachment. To complete the degradation of parliament, the commons next repealed the statutes of the tenth and eleventh years of Richard's reign, and confirmed by statute the answers of the judges, who had been punished with death and exile; they even committed the whole powers of the legislature to twelve commissioners named by the king, and declared it high treason to disobey their ordinances; but the most dangerous precedent of this parliament was

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »