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THE CIVIL WARS.
FROM THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CIVIL WARS TO THE ACCESSION OF THE HOUSE OF TUDOR. A. D. 1422–1485.
Minority of Henry VI.--Renewal of the war in France --Joan of Arc--Loss
of the English conquests --Beneficial effects of the Plantagenet wars — Imbecility of the young king—Winchester--Supposed murder of Gloucester -Impeachment of Suffolk -- Maladministration — Rebellion under John Cade--The country divided into the factions of Yorkists and Lancastrians -Civil wars—The duke of York lays claim to the crown-Deliberative authority of the upper house —York acknowledged successor-Battle of Wakefield-Defeat of the Lancastrians—The earl of March proclaimed by the title of Edward IV.- Restoration of Henry VI.-Battle of Barnet, and expulsion of the house of Lancaster-Prejudice of the chroniclers against the house of York-Successful war with France - First example of loans and benevolences-Edward endeavours to reform the revenue- -Supported by the commons - Complete statutes — Triple division of the legislatureEdward V.- His minority - Jealousy against the Woodvilles — Richard usurps the authority of government, and is made protector-Execution of Hastings—Buckingham offers the crown to Richard-Murder of the princes in the Tower—Richard III.--Revolt of Buckingham-Project for placing the crown on the head of Henry Tudor--Forced loans declared illegal Henry lands at Milford Haven-Battle of Bosworth.
The design of uniting into one empire the dominions of England and France seemed on the verge of completion, and the whole nation was filled with joy and exultation, when the sudden decease of Henry V. threw a cloud over those visions of conquest which for more than a century had dazzled the ambition of the Plantagenet princes. Henry's son and successor was but a child of nine months old, when he was proclaimed at London and Paris simultaneously, by the title of Henry VI.; and although the young king's uncles, the dukes of Bedford and Gloucester, energetically conducted the affairs of the state, yet their exertions were ineffectual to restrain the general disorder invariably consequent upon a minority in those days: the mass of the people were discontented at the largeness of the contributions they were called upon to pay for the French war, while the nobles disturbed the
peace of the kingdom by their continual dissensions and animosities.
In France the war was carried on with varying success; the dauphin, who now inherited the claims of the male line, was a prince of superior ability, and used every effort to rouse the spirit of his countrymen. The dukes of Burgundy and Brittany, and a great part of the people, adhered to the English interest, but many preferred to submit to the legitimate heir of their ancient line, and the contest was carried on with much severity : for a long time the duke of Bedford was almost invariably successful, and had so far advanced his conquests as to lay siege to Orleans, the stronghold of the enemy's cause. Every means which his ingenuity could devise for the relief of this important place, the dauphin had essayed in vain. At this critical moment, the daughter of a poor innkeeper, named Jacques d'Arc, dreamed she heard the saints Margaret and Catharine inviting her to restore the throne of France and expel the invaders. When she awoke, the vision made such an impression upon her mind that she believed herself inspired, and demanded to be led to the king, who was then at Chinon: the king's councillors present, not knowing what to advise in the desperate condition of affairs, and perhaps rightly judging the effect of enthusiasm on the public mind, counselled the king to accept her proffered service, and she was accordingly entrusted with the important duty of throwing provisions into the town of Orleans, then closely besieged by the earl of Salisbury, one of the best generals of the day. The town being too extensive to admit of circumvallation, Joan of Arc, or, as she was now called, the Maid of Orleans, succeeded in evading the vigilance of the guard, and relieved the garrison. The tide of fortune from this moment turned; the spirit resulting from success was on a sudden transferred from the victors to the vanquished, and the French believed themselves invincible under the guidance of their prophetess. The siege of Orleans was raised, and the dauphin, advancing to Rheims, was crowned king of France by the title of Charles VII. The English affairs grew more desperate every day; and although Joan of Arc was taken at the siege of Compiegne, and delivered over to an ecclesiastical tribunal, which barbarously condemned her to be burned alive, the partisans of Charles continued to gain ground, and after a few years there was nothing left to the English of all their conquests but the town of Calais. Thus ended the struggle which had been maintained above a century by the Plantagenet princes for the throne of France; and although the loss of all that had been acquired by the hardwon victories of Crecy and Agincourt must read like a disaster,
yet nothing could have been more propitious for the welfare of the English nation.
The wars of the Plantagenets must be regarded as rather advantageous than otherwise to the general interests of this country. Although involving much useless expenditure of blood and treasure, they served to draw off the attention of such princes as Edward III. and Henry V. from their domestic concerns, and enabled the commons so thoroughly to establish their influence in the government, that when the reaction of the seventeenth century came, which swept from Europe her liberal institutions, the Tudor and Stuart kings were unable to imitate the example of the continental princes, and the attempts to establish absolute monarchy only ended in the expulsion of the reigning house. Nor was the effect on society less beneficial. The English armies, it should be recollected, were no longer composed of feudal lords and their retainers, as in ancient days, but were recruited from the mass of the people, and this gave to the latter a social position incompatible with villenage and predial bondage. So long as the feudal aristocracy retained in their own hands the profession of arms, the people succumbed to their military pre-eminence, but from the time when personal service became commuted for fine, the
power of the nobility gradually declined. The commons felt this, and voted liberally not only money but men for the service of the king in his foreign wars, and in return received the royal favour and support.
While the English were losing their conquests on the continent, two rival factions, headed by the duke of Gloucester and the cardinal of Winchester, the king's uncle and great-uncle, divided between them the power of the state, and kept the country in continual agitation. It was soon apparent that the king, although he had attained his majority, was incapable of governing, and each faction strove to have the direction of the state. To strengthen his party, the cardinal of Winchester persuaded the king to marry Margaret of Anjou, daughter of Regnier, titular king of Sicily, a woman of masculine mind, but cruel and unrelenting in the prosecution of her enemies : Gloucester opposed both this marriage and the peace with France on public grounds; but his opposition was mistaken by the queen for personal hatred, and in conjunction with the cardinal and the earl of Suffolk, who had been sent to negotiate the marriage, she determined on his overthrow. On the 10th of February, 1447, a parliament was called at Bury St. Edmund's, to which the knights were instructed to come armed, and guards were placed around the royal residence, as if in anticipation of some immediate danger : as soon as Gloucester appeared, he was arrested on a charge of high treason, and conveyed to the
Tower, where, after seventeen days, he was found dead in his bed. The adherents of Winchester, who wished to palliate the deed, said that the duke had died of apoplexy, but the belief universally prevailed that he had been murdered. These proceedings roused popular indignation against the queen and the cardinal of Winchester, and rendered the king both odious and despicable : a speedy death saved the cardinal the disgrace of a public inquiry ; but when parliament met, an impeachment was brought against Suffolk for embezzling the public money, advising the king to make improvident grants, giving offices to improper persons, and procuring pardons for traitors: the obnoxious minister, knowing the resentment of the commons, feared to encounter the charges brought against him, and, instead of standing his trial, threw himself on the king's mercy. Unable to protect and unwilling to deliver up his servant to the severity of parliament, the king banished him for five years to the continent without even the form of a trial. This summary proceeding excited the fears of the aristocracy, lest they should lose their privilege of trial by their peers, and the house of lords petitioned the king that they might enter their protest on record, that neither they nor their descendants might lose their right of peerage by this precedent, which was accordingly granted. The commons were not so easily satisfied, and the king found it requisite to dissolve the parliament. As Suffolk passed through London on his way to the sea-coast, the people rose to intercept him, but he succeeded in making his escape, and embarked at Ipswich for France : before arriving at Calais, the ship in which he was carried was overtaken by a larger vessel called the · Nicholas of the Tower,' and the captain, summoning the duke on board, arraigned him before a mock tribunal of the sailors, and being declared guilty of treason against his country, he was instantly beheaded. This remarkable murder formed the signal for a general revolt; the men of Kent, under the guidance of John Cade, who is supposed to have been an Irishman of good birth and education, marched on London, and demanded that those who had been instrumental in the death of the duke of Gloucester, and had lost France to the English crown, should be brought to justice, and that all extortions should be abolished. The citizens opened their gates to the insurgents, and the king's troops refused to take arms against them; so that Cade was left in the quiet possession of the capital for several days. At length the citizens, becoming anxious for the safety of their goods, caused Cade to retire beyond the river, and in the meantime a truce was set on foot by the bishop of Winchester, who gave free pardons to all who would return to their homes : disputes arose, and the insurgents divided and fled ; Cade was overtaken and slain by the sheriff of Kent, who received the reward of 1000 marks, which had been offered for his head. As soon as these disturbances were a little allayed, the commons presented a bill attainting the late duke of Suffolk, and requiring that Somerset, and other lords who were also obnoxious to the people, should be expelled from court : this was rejected by the king, and an altercation ensued between the two parties, in which the duke of York supported the popular side. Finding that the king was no longer a free agent, but was overruled by the queen and the duke of Somerset, York retired to his castle of Ludlow, and raised the tenantry of the ancient house of Mortimer, with the intention of calling a free parliament and reforming the abuses in the government; but after much marching and countermarching a reconciliation was effected, and the duke of York was appointed protector of the church and kingdom till the king should recover sufficiently to take the management of the state into his own hands, or the infant prince of Wales should be of age. This adjustment was of short duration, and three years
. after, in May 1454, affairs having reached a higher crisis, a battle was fought at St. Alban's, in which the king's party were totally defeated, and the duke of Somerset, the earl of Northumberland, and lord Clifford, were slain.
The victorious duke of York treated the imbecile monarch with deference, and again submitted to his allegiance, only retaining the authority of Protector ; but the queen and her party bore an invincible antipathy to York, and as soon as the king had partially recovered, she persuaded him to go in person to parliament and revoke the duke's commission. For two years the government was carried on in the king's name, but popular discontent continued to divide the country into two factions : the one naturally looked to the duke of York as its head, the other adhered to the reigning house of Lancaster. In this uncertainty of affairs it was discovered that the duke of York bore a nearer title to the throne than Henry VI., as he was descended from an elder branch, but the duke wisely rejected all ambitious schemes and acted with forbearance and moderation, until an unfortunate dispute between the servants of the king and those of the earl of Warwick brought on the final contest, which for nearly half a century deluged England in blood, and ended not until the accession of Henry VII. The citizens of London and the middle and lower classes mainly supported the cause of York, while the nobility and landed gentry adhered to the house of Lancaster. After various changes of fortune the king was taken prisoner, and the duke of York entering the palace at Westminster laid claim to the throne, and transmitted a statement to the chancellor, stating his title, and de