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without first consulting his parliament. The commons in consequence not only maintained their ancient privileges, but considerably augmented them; freedom from arrest was obtained for members and their servants during session; and in the second parliament of his reign an attempt was made to make supplies dependent on redress of grievances, by requiring that the petitions of the commons should be answered before the vote of subsidy was passed, a scheme which had been declared high eason by the judges of Richard II. Henry however declined to gratify the commons in this respect, alleging “that no such practice had been known in ancient times, and he was therefore unwilling to alter the good customs and usages of his ancestors.”* After a reigu of fourteen years, Henry died on the 20th of March, 1413, more reverenced than regretted by his people.
Had Henry IV. succeeded to the throne of his own right, he would have made an excellent prince, but as his title was evidently inferior to that of the earl of March, the power of the crown was inadequate to restrain the turbulence of the nobility, and the want of security retarded the advancement of commerce and industry. There can, however, be no doubt that Henry was elected by the unanimous consent of the people, and on this account the Lancastrian princes ought to be regarded as legitimate sovereigns ; in fact, it is a constitutional question with historians, whether, under circumstances which cause the deposition of a reigning monarch, the representatives of the nation are bound to elect the next heir to the crown, or whether such a catastrophe does not in a measure do away with and annul existing interests : however this may be, the cause of the preference given to Henry over the earl of March is very evident: the earl was but a child, and the divided state of the country required a united and vigorous rule ; Henry was in the prime of life, and had taken an active part in the late parliamentary struggle; and although he had not seized the throne by force, yet his arms had overthrown the power
of Richard II.
The main difficulty with which the commons had to contend at this time was the novel practice of assenting to statutes not founded on the petition of both houses; for although it was an established maxim of the constitution that the king could not make or repeal laws affecting the general interest without the consent of parliament, yet in particular instances, where the measure was supposed to affect only some particular class or profession, a private act was deemed sufficient: the clergy often availed themselves of this mode of obtaining the royal assent to measures which they could not pass through parliament, and in
* Rot. Parl. iii. p. 453.
this manner procured from Henry IV. several penal statutes against the Lollards or followers of Wickliffe, without securing the concurrence of the laity. The commons naturally resisted this infringement of their privileges, and on more than one occasion introduced bills to curtail the property of the church. Then commenced the great struggle between the clergy and the people. The Romish hierarchy had previously found it their interest to weaken the power of the civil government by siding with the popular party, but now that liberty had gained the upper hand, they discovered that freedom and intelligence were incompatible with the domination of a priestly class, and the church of Rome, therefore, from being the friend of liberty, became the ally of despotism. Unable to withstand and unwilling to conform to the progress of society, the church exerted her utmost strength to put down the right of private judgment by the fagot and the sword; but persecution only strengthened the growth of liberal sentiments, and led men to apply to the church the same principles of reform which had proved so efficacious in the civil government.
It was not so much the doctrines as the discipline and government of the Romish church which in England brought on the Reformation : men could not but see the tyranny and absurdity of her policy, and doubted the authenticity of a creed which admitted of such perversion. With the zeal of new converts the disciples of Wickliffe preached against the riches, luxury, and vicious lives of the clergy. Their sermons were not without effect, even on those who did not share in their opinions; and when the famous statute* against Lollardst was brought into parliament, a strong party was formed against it; but the influence of the church, which at that time held a third of all the property in the kingdom, was so great that it overcame all opposition, and the new law was carried into effect by the martyrdom of William Sautre and William Thorpe, who were burned in Smithfield. Although crushed by these terrible examples, Lollardism still continued to spread in secret, and before the middle of the next century we shall find it triumphant.
HENRY V. A.D. 1413-1422.
The reign of Henry V. was mainly occupied with his wars on the continent, and endeavours to annex France to his crown. Taking advantage of the civil dissensions which distracted that kingdom, Henry demanded the surrender of the provinces of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Provence, according to the treaty of Bretagne, which, being submitted to the estates, was rejected by them as inconsistent with the honour of France. Henry, glad of so favourable a pretext for renewing the claims of the English kings to the throne of France, landed with a considerable army on the coast of Normandy, and reduced the strong fortress of Harfleur; but an epidemic breaking out in the English ranks, the army was so diminished that when D'Albret, the marshal of France, appeared with a force of 100,000 men, the English numbered only 12,000. The king of England, however, refused to halt in the presence of this superior force, and emulating the prowess of his great ancestor Edward III., continued his march on Calais: when he had proceeded as far as the village of Agincourt, he came in sight of the French lines drawn up on the rising ground to oppose his progress. Stopping for the night to reconnoitre the enemy's position he bivouacked at Maisoncelles, and in the morning of the 25th of October, 1415, led on his little army to the charge. The conflict which ensued was one of the most desperate recorded in history. The English were only one-tenth the number of the enemy, but they were spurred to frenzy by the alternative of victory or death, while all the chivalry and youth of France were on the other side. The duke of Alençon, the bravest of the French generals, cleared his way through the English ranks to the royal standard, and having slain the duke of York, cleft the coronet on the king's head; but that instant he fell, and the showers of arrows which came from the English archers threw the enemy into confusion : as the shout of victory rose, the archers threw down their bows, and seizing their battle-axes rushed forward with the men-at-arms to the charge. The French lines were broken ; the dukes of Brabant, Bar, and Alençon, and the constable and admiral of France, were slain, with 80,000 knights, bannerets and esquires, while the dukes of Orleans and Bourbon, and the counts of Vendôme, Eu, and Richemont, were made prisoners. The loss of the French was further increased by an unfortunate accident which occurred during the battle: a band of peasants having entered the village of Maisoncelles, which was in the rear of the English, began to plunder the baggage and set fire to the houses; Henry, fearing that the enemy had gained his rear, gave orders for the prisoners to be slain, as they were twice as many as the English who held them, and might attempt an ambuscade if the enemy should approach; but as soon as the true cause of the disturbance was known, the English king gave command to stay the slaughter, and those of the French who remained were mercifully treated. This battle, on account of the number of the nobility who were slain or made prisoners, proved very disastrous to the interests of France; and had Henry been able to follow up
* This was the first actual law in England against heresy. op 2 Hen. IV. c. 15.
might have reduced the whole kingdom, but being obliged to return to England for supplies, the fruits of his victory were in a measure lost, and he was compelled again to renew the campaign. The parliament, elated by the glories of the English arms, voted a supply to the king for life to be raised on wool and hides, a precedent copied from the worst times of Richard II.; but Henry's extraordinary expenses and untiring ambition rendered this infringement of the constitution comparatively harmless, and like his predecessor Edward III., he found it easier to court the friendship of the commons than to incur their opposition. The more readily to procure supplies, Henry submitted all his accounts to parliament, a circumstance which contributed in no slight degree to establish a regular correspondence between redress and supply, which for several centuries proved the balancespring of the constitution.
The next year (1416) Henry V. again renewed the war, and took nearly all the towns and fortresses of Normandy; but the difficulty of maintaining a large force in a hostile country, and the number of his enemies, who, although quarrelling amongst themselves, were yet all leagued against the English, prolonged the campaign for several years. However, in 1420 an accommodation was agreed to, termed the Perpetual Peace, or, as it is better known in England, the treaty of Troyes, by which Henry accepted the hand of the princess Catherine, daughter of Charles VI., with the regency of France during the king's lifetime and the crown on his death. This termination of the war was highly gratifying to Henry's ambition and flattered the national pride; still the more keen-sighted saw in it the commencement of inextricable evils, and indeed had the treaty of Troyes ever come into operation, it may well be doubted whether England would not have become an appanage of the French crown; for although the latter had been conquered by the blood and treasure of the former, yet it was not to be compared with it in superficial extent, while other political reasons pointed to Paris as the capital of the united empire. The union of two such countries as England and France must have produced the
very results it was most desirable to avoid, for had the prince been the ruler of two independent kingdoms with their separate parliaments and administrations, the ascendancy of the crown could no longer have been resisted: it would have been in vain for the parliament of one part of the empire to refuse supplies, or to resist oppressive impositions, while its submission might have been compelled by the force the king could bring from the other; it was only while the country continued one and indivisible that the guarantees of liberty were secure : instead of opposing his will, each province would rather have sought to court
the king's favour by its ready submission and unswerving loyalty, so that the liberties of both England and France would have been lost in the overwhelming power of the crown. To prevent this result, the commons procured the confirmation of the statutes of Edward III. declaring the independence of the English crown, and further secured the national existence by requiring that all petitions of parliament should be decided within the realm, and not sent to the king beyond the seas for the royal assent. Could these statutes have been inviolably preserved, undoubtedly they would have secured the free action of the constitution ; but in times when the royal prerogative is most powerful, the barriers which have been raised against it are the least effectual. Fortunately, however, there was no occasion for the experiment: before two years had passed, a new cause of dispute had arisen : the dauphin having become of age refused to observe the treaty, and Henry again crossed the seas to recover the towns he had taken. Having spent some weeks in feasting at Paris, the king was on his march to raise the siege of Cosne, when he was seized with an acute disease; and finding his end approaching, commended his queen and infant son to the protection of his brother the duke of Bedford. Henry V. died in the 34th year of his age and the tenth of his reign, equally loved by his subjects and feared by his enemies. As a general and a statesman he has never been surpassed ; under his vigorous administration the country enjoyed internal
peace, while the success of his foreign campaigns surpassed in brilliancy even the dazzling victories of Edward III.; but what is more to his praise than all that history can record, is the absence on the rolls of parliament of any vestiges of disaffection, “a circumstance,” says Mr. Hallam, very honourable, whether we ascribe it to the justice of his administration or the affection of his people.”