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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
manding that his claim might be admitted as representative of Lionel, duke of Clarence. The Lancastrians, on the other hand, urged that the duke's claim had become extinct by long abeyance, and that the title of Henry VI. was founded in justice, having been derived from Henry IV., whose accession was confirmed by act of parliament and the universal acquiescence of the nation. Under these circumstances both parties consented to submit their claims to a parliament to be indifferently summoned, and the advocates on either side pleaded eloquently before the house of lords, which for the first time appeared to possess an unbiassed deliberative authority. The friends of Henry and of Edward brought evidence from ancient records, and applied to the crown the same strict rules of inheritance which regulated private property, thus acknowledging the supremacy of the law, which had previously been doubtful in cases where the crown was concerned. Although the duke of York had been victorious over his enemies in the field, he could not so easily obtain a complete victory in parliament. The lords maintained a strict neutrality during the progress of the inquiry, and finally determined on a compromise, by which it was proposed that Henry should retain his throne for life, but that the duke should be declared his successor in preference to the prince of Wales, who was to be excluded from the throne. A statute was enacted in accordance with this decision, and a short time after, in order to show their reconciliation to the people, the king went in state to St. Paul's, attended by the duke as heir-apparent to the throne; but the high-spirited queen was indignant that her son should thus be excluded from the succession, and retiring to the north, prevailed on the earl of Northumberland and other powerful lords to espouse her cause an army was speedily collected, composed in great measure of the borderers, who were accustomed to pillage and rapine, and as a reward for their services the plunder of the country south of the Tyne was promised to them. Hearing of the queen's advance, the duke of York, without waiting to collect his whole forces, marched hastily to meet her, and came up with the Lancastrians at Sandal castle, near Wakefield; the earl of Salisbury earnestly exhorted him to wait for reinforcements from the west under his son the earl of March, but relying on his own valour and the superior discipline of his troops, the duke advanced to Wakefield Green, where his army was surrounded and cut to pieces, and himself slain. The victorious Lancastrians hastened to march to London before the arrival of the earl of March, but the earl of Warwick took up a strong position near St. Alban's, and although the queen succeeded in repulsing him, his army still kept the field, and before approaching London she received intelligence that the
citizens had closed their gates and declared for the earl of March, as nearest surviving heir of the house of York: this caused her to hesitate, and meanwhile the earl of Warwick succeeded in effecting a junction with the forces under the earl of March; their numbers were further augmented by reinforcements from London, so that the Yorkists were again able to renew the offensive. The queen's army finding themselves over-matched in the field, avoided a general engagement and retired to the north, closely followed by the earl of Warwick, who overtook and vanquished them at Towton heath, on the borders of Yorkshire, leaving 36,000 men dead on the field.
EDWARD IV. A.D. 1461-1483.
This victory, by which the earl of March was established on the throne by the title of Edward IV., so weakened the Lancastrian party, that the king, with his queen and the prince of Wales, was obliged to seek shelter on the continent at the court of his father-in-law the duke of Anjou; and although the queen again revived the struggle, her efforts were unsuccessful, and the unfortunate Henry VI. once more fell into the hands of the Yorkists, by whom he was committed a close prisoner to the Tower. The campaign would now have been ended, had not Edward IV. estranged from his interest the earl of Warwick, to whose valour and perseverance he owed his throne. Equally ungrateful and impolitic, Edward banished him from his councils, and refused to sanction the marriage of his daughter with his brother the duke of Clarence notwithstanding the king's opposition, the marriage was consummated, and for some years Edward was obliged to conceal his resentment; but on occasion of a revolt in Lincolnshire he commanded the troops to pursue the duke of Clarence and the earl of Warwick, who, suspecting his designs, succeeded in effecting their escape to the French court, where they were joyfully entertained by Louis XI., and by his skilful diplomacy were introduced to Margaret, the queen of Henry VI., who was still in confinement in the Tower. No sooner was their reconciliation effected than a new scheme was set on foot; it was agreed that the prince of Wales, heir-apparent of the house of Lancaster, should marry Anne, Warwick's second daughter, and that the deposed monarch should be restored to the throne by Warwick's influence to secure the co-operation of the duke of Clarence, it was arranged that if the prince should die without issue he should succeed to the throne, and in that case the house of Lancaster should resign all further title: this arrangement was confirmed by all present, and the undaunted queen once more set out