Изображения страниц

the grant of a tax on wool for life to the king, which in a manner superseded the necessity of assembling parliament, and laid the foundation of the claim of the Tudor and Stuart princes to established imposts. Thus freed from the necessity of frequently meeting his people, and provided with a revenue for life, Richard became as truly absolute as his ambition could desire. To prevent the possibility of a sudden insurrection, he kept constantly in his pay a body of ten thousand archers, and executed all who ventured to oppose his will. When money was required, he forced men to confess under their seals that they had been guilty of treason, and to give blank obligations, which his officers filled up with large sums. But to execute these measures, it became requisite to break the power of the nobility; for, as Mr. Hallam observes, the constitution had invested them with such paramount rights that it was impossible either to make them surrender their country's freedom or to destroy it without their consent. Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick had already fallen, and Derby and Nottingham, now dukes of Hereford and Norfolk, alone remained of the popular party. By a clever stratagem, the king procured the former to bring an accusation against the latter, and as there were no witnesses, the king decided the dispute by banishing both to the continent, thus freeing himself at once of two men whose presence he feared. On the death of his father, the duke of Lancaster (in 1399), Henry Bolingbroke, who had for some years borne the title of Hereford, succeeded to his father's estates, but the king refused to grant him seisin of his lands, alleging that they had been forfeited by his sentence of banishment. This glaring violation of justice roused the spirit of the nobles, and the people, who had only been waiting for an opportune moment to rise, readily joined in the cause. Richard, not suspecting the depth of the designs which were laid against him, departed on an expedition to Ireland, leaving the kingdom in the hands of his uncle, the duke of York; Hereford, hearing of his departure, took shipping at Vannes, in Brittany, and landed with a few followers in Yorkshire, where, being joined by the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, he marched on London, and followed the regent to Bristol, where, appearing before the castle, his uncle the duke of York consented to an interview, and both parties united their forces, which are said to have amounted to 100,000 men. The king receiving intelligence of these proceedings, despatched the earl of Salisbury with part of the army, and returned himself with the remainder to Milford Haven, but by a series of manœuvres he was brought into the power of Henry, who led him first to Chester and then to London. Finding himself deserted by all classes of his subjects, Richard offered no resistance

to Lancaster, and when informed of his intention to direct the government in his own name, is said to have replied, "Fair cousin, since it pleases you, it pleases us likewise," and shortly after signed a deed of abdication, by which he relinquished all claim to the crown, and declared his subjects absolved from their allegiance. "This measure," says Mr. Hallam, "although evidently of a revolutionary nature, was justified by the circumstances of the nation. For two years Richard had governed altogether tyrannically; and, upon the same principles that cost James II. his throne, it was unquestionably far more necessary, unless our fathers would have abandoned all thought of liberty, to expel Richard II. Far be it from us to extenuate the treachery of the Percies towards this unhappy prince, or the cruel circumstances of his death, or in any way to extol either his successor, or the chief men of that time, most of whom were ambitious and faithless but after such long experience of the king's arbitrary, dissembling, and revengeful temper, I see no other safe course in the actual state of the constitution, than what the nation concurred in pursuing."

[ocr errors]
[merged small][graphic][merged small]




Origin of the wars of the Roses-Battle of Shrewsbury-Revolt of Northumberland-Attention to the forms of the constitution-Freedom of members from arrest-Henry's parliamentary title-Private statutes-Persecutions for religion Change in the policy of the Romish church-- Henry V.Revival of the claims to the throne of France-Battle of Agincourt-Effect on France-Subsidy to the king for life-Public accounts submitted to parliament-Progress of constitutional liberty-Treaty of Troyes -Dangers anticipated from the annexation of France--The dauphin refuses the terms of the treaty--The king's death.

HENRY IV. A.D. 1399-1413.

THE revolution which raised Henry IV. to the throne laid the foundation of the civil contests between the houses of York and Lancaster, which for several generations involved the country in all the horrors of civil war; for although Henry IV. was descended from John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III., his cousin, the earl of March, was a much nearer claimant, and before the lapse of five years a powerful conspiracy was formed by the earl of Northumberland, Owen Glendour of Wales, and Douglas of Scotland, for placing the young earl on the throne: Henry however succeeded in gaining intelligence of their designs, and obtained a victory at Hartlefield, near Shrewsbury, in which Percy, the son of Northumberland,-named Hotspur, from his impetuosity in battle,―was slain, and Douglas made prisoner. Another rebellion took place in 1405, headed by the archbishop of York and the earl of Northumberland, but this was speedily suppressed, and the archbishop executed for treason, being the first prelate who suffered capitally in England. Few reigns present less materials of political importance than that of Henry IV. With the exception of some trifling interference in the affairs of Scotland and France, Henry had little connection with foreign countries, and his domestic government was characterized by few political innovations. As he owed his crown to a parliamentary title, he was compelled to show considerable deference to the forms of the constitution, and rarely ventured on any matter of importance

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 treason 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 reign 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 Lollards+ 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 *This was the first actual law in England against heresy. † 2 Hen. IV. c. 15.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »