Sunday, October 7, 2007


A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens - I

A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England
IF you look at a Map of the World, you will see, in the left-hand
upper corner of the Eastern Hemisphere, two Islands lying in the
sea. They are England and Scotland, and Ireland. England and
Scotland form the greater part of these Islands. Ireland is the
next in size. The little neighbouring islands, which are so small
upon the Map as to be mere dots, are chiefly little bits of
Scotland, - broken off, I dare say, in the course of a great length
of time, by the power of the restless water.
In the old days, a long, long while ago, before Our Saviour was
born on earth and lay asleep in a manger, these Islands were in the
same place, and the stormy sea roared round them, just as it roars
now. But the sea was not alive, then, with great ships and brave
sailors, sailing to and from all parts of the world. It was very
lonely. The Islands lay solitary, in the great expanse of water.
The foaming waves dashed against their cliffs, and the bleak winds
blew over their forests; but the winds and waves brought no
adventurers to land upon the Islands, and the savage Islanders knew
nothing of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world knew
nothing of them.
It is supposed that the Phoenicians, who were an ancient people,
famous for carrying on trade, came in ships to these Islands, and
found that they produced tin and lead; both very useful things, as
you know, and both produced to this very hour upon the sea-coast.
The most celebrated tin mines in Cornwall are, still, close to the
sea. One of them, which I have seen, is so close to it that it is
hollowed out underneath the ocean; and the miners say, that in
stormy weather, when they are at work down in that deep place, they
can hear the noise of the waves thundering above their heads. So,
the Phoenicians, coasting about the Islands, would come, without
much difficulty, to where the tin and lead were.
The Phoenicians traded with the Islanders for these metals, and
gave the Islanders some other useful things in exchange. The
Islanders were, at first, poor savages, going almost naked, or only
dressed in the rough skins of beasts, and staining their bodies, as
other savages do, with coloured earths and the juices of plants.
But the Phoenicians, sailing over to the opposite coasts of France
and Belgium, and saying to the people there, 'We have been to those
white cliffs across the water, which you can see in fine weather,
and from that country, which is called BRITAIN, we bring this tin
and lead,' tempted some of the French and Belgians to come over
also. These people settled themselves on the south coast of
England, which is now called Kent; and, although they were a rough
people too, they taught the savage Britons some useful arts, and
improved that part of the Islands. It is probable that other
people came over from Spain to Ireland, and settled there.
Thus, by little and little, strangers became mixed with the
Islanders, and the savage Britons grew into a wild, bold people;
almost savage, still, especially in the interior of the country
away from the sea where the foreign settlers seldom went; but
hardy, brave, and strong.
The whole country was covered with forests, and swamps. The
greater part of it was very misty and cold. There were no roads,
no bridges, no streets, no houses that you would think deserving of
the name. A town was nothing but a collection of straw-covered
huts, hidden in a thick wood, with a ditch all round, and a low
wall, made of mud, or the trunks of trees placed one upon another.
The people planted little or no corn, but lived upon the flesh of
their flocks and cattle. They made no coins, but used metal rings
for money. They were clever in basket-work, as savage people often
are; and they could make a coarse kind of cloth, and some very bad
earthenware. But in building fortresses they were much more
They made boats of basket-work, covered with the skins of animals,
but seldom, if ever, ventured far from the shore. They made
swords, of copper mixed with tin; but, these swords were of an
awkward shape, and so soft that a heavy blow would bend one. They
made light shields, short pointed daggers, and spears - which they
jerked back after they had thrown them at an enemy, by a long strip
of leather fastened to the stem. The butt-end was a rattle, to
frighten an enemy's horse. The ancient Britons, being divided into
as many as thirty or forty tribes, each commanded by its own little
king, were constantly fighting with one another, as savage people
usually do; and they always fought with these weapons.
They were very fond of horses. The standard of Kent was the
picture of a white horse. They could break them in and manage them
wonderfully well. Indeed, the horses (of which they had an
abundance, though they were rather small) were so well taught in
those days, that they can scarcely be said to have improved since;
though the men are so much wiser. They understood, and obeyed,
every word of command; and would stand still by themselves, in all
the din and noise of battle, while their masters went to fight on
foot. The Britons could not have succeeded in their most
remarkable art, without the aid of these sensible and trusty
animals. The art I mean, is the construction and management of
war-chariots or cars, for which they have ever been celebrated in
history. Each of the best sort of these chariots, not quite breast
high in front, and open at the back, contained one man to drive,
and two or three others to fight - all standing up. The horses who
drew them were so well trained, that they would tear, at full
gallop, over the most stony ways, and even through the woods;
dashing down their masters' enemies beneath their hoofs, and
cutting them to pieces with the blades of swords, or scythes, which
were fastened to the wheels, and stretched out beyond the car on
each side, for that cruel purpose. In a moment, while at full
speed, the horses would stop, at the driver's command. The men
within would leap out, deal blows about them with their swords like
hail, leap on the horses, on the pole, spring back into the
chariots anyhow; and, as soon as they were safe, the horses tore
away again.
The Britons had a strange and terrible religion, called the
Religion of the Druids. It seems to have been brought over, in
very early times indeed, from the opposite country of France,
anciently called Gaul, and to have mixed up the worship of the
Serpent, and of the Sun and Moon, with the worship of some of the
Heathen Gods and Goddesses. Most of its ceremonies were kept
secret by the priests, the Druids, who pretended to be enchanters,
and who carried magicians' wands, and wore, each of them, about his
neck, what he told the ignorant people was a Serpent's egg in a
golden case. But it is certain that the Druidical ceremonies
included the sacrifice of human victims, the torture of some
suspected criminals, and, on particular occasions, even the burning
alive, in immense wicker cages, of a number of men and animals
together. The Druid Priests had some kind of veneration for the
Oak, and for the mistletoe - the same plant that we hang up in
houses at Christmas Time now - when its white berries grew upon the
Oak. They met together in dark woods, which they called Sacred
Groves; and there they instructed, in their mysterious arts, young
men who came to them as pupils, and who sometimes stayed with them
as long as twenty years.
These Druids built great Temples and altars, open to the sky,
fragments of some of which are yet remaining. Stonehenge, on
Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, is the most extraordinary of these.
Three curious stones, called Kits Coty House, on Bluebell Hill,
near Maidstone, in Kent, form another. We know, from examination
of the great blocks of which such buildings are made, that they
could not have been raised without the aid of some ingenious
machines, which are common now, but which the ancient Britons
certainly did not use in making their own uncomfortable houses. I
should not wonder if the Druids, and their pupils who stayed with
them twenty years, knowing more than the rest of the Britons, kept
the people out of sight while they made these buildings, and then
pretended that they built them by magic. Perhaps they had a hand
in the fortresses too; at all events, as they were very powerful,
and very much believed in, and as they made and executed the laws,
and paid no taxes, I don't wonder that they liked their trade.
And, as they persuaded the people the more Druids there were, the
better off the people would be, I don't wonder that there were a
good many of them. But it is pleasant to think that there are no
Druids, NOW, who go on in that way, and pretend to carry
Enchanters' Wands and Serpents' Eggs - and of course there is
nothing of the kind, anywhere.
Such was the improved condition of the ancient Britons, fifty-five
years before the birth of Our Saviour, when the Romans, under their
great General, Julius Caesar, were masters of all the rest of the
known world. Julius Caesar had then just conquered Gaul; and
hearing, in Gaul, a good deal about the opposite Island with the
white cliffs, and about the bravery of the Britons who inhabited it
- some of whom had been fetched over to help the Gauls in the war
against him - he resolved, as he was so near, to come and conquer
Britain next.
So, Julius Caesar came sailing over to this Island of ours, with
eighty vessels and twelve thousand men. And he came from the
French coast between Calais and Boulogne, 'because thence was the
shortest passage into Britain;' just for the same reason as our
steam-boats now take the same track, every day. He expected to
conquer Britain easily: but it was not such easy work as he
supposed - for the bold Britons fought most bravely; and, what with
not having his horse-soldiers with him (for they had been driven
back by a storm), and what with having some of his vessels dashed
to pieces by a high tide after they were drawn ashore, he ran great
risk of being totally defeated. However, for once that the bold
Britons beat him, he beat them twice; though not so soundly but
that he was very glad to accept their proposals of peace, and go
But, in the spring of the next year, he came back; this time, with
eight hundred vessels and thirty thousand men. The British tribes
chose, as their general-in-chief, a Briton, whom the Romans in
their Latin language called CASSIVELLAUNUS, but whose British name
is supposed to have been CASWALLON. A brave general he was, and
well he and his soldiers fought the Roman army! So well, that
whenever in that war the Roman soldiers saw a great cloud of dust,
and heard the rattle of the rapid British chariots, they trembled
in their hearts. Besides a number of smaller battles, there was a
battle fought near Canterbury, in Kent; there was a battle fought
near Chertsey, in Surrey; there was a battle fought near a marshy
little town in a wood, the capital of that part of Britain which
belonged to CASSIVELLAUNUS, and which was probably near what is now
Saint Albans, in Hertfordshire. However, brave CASSIVELLAUNUS had
the worst of it, on the whole; though he and his men always fought
like lions. As the other British chiefs were jealous of him, and
were always quarrelling with him, and with one another, he gave up,
and proposed peace. Julius Caesar was very glad to grant peace
easily, and to go away again with all his remaining ships and men.
He had expected to find pearls in Britain, and he may have found a
few for anything I know; but, at all events, he found delicious
oysters, and I am sure he found tough Britons - of whom, I dare
say, he made the same complaint as Napoleon Bonaparte the great
French General did, eighteen hundred years afterwards, when he said
they were such unreasonable fellows that they never knew when they
were beaten. They never DID know, I believe, and never will.
Nearly a hundred years passed on, and all that time, there was
peace in Britain. The Britons improved their towns and mode of
life: became more civilised, travelled, and learnt a great deal
from the Gauls and Romans. At last, the Roman Emperor, Claudius,
sent AULUS PLAUTIUS, a skilful general, with a mighty force, to
subdue the Island, and shortly afterwards arrived himself. They
did little; and OSTORIUS SCAPULA, another general, came. Some of
the British Chiefs of Tribes submitted. Others resolved to fight
to the death. Of these brave men, the bravest was CARACTACUS, or
CARADOC, who gave battle to the Romans, with his army, among the
mountains of North Wales. 'This day,' said he to his soldiers,
'decides the fate of Britain! Your liberty, or your eternal
slavery, dates from this hour. Remember your brave ancestors, who
drove the great Caesar himself across the sea!' On hearing these
words, his men, with a great shout, rushed upon the Romans. But
the strong Roman swords and armour were too much for the weaker
British weapons in close conflict. The Britons lost the day. The
wife and daughter of the brave CARACTACUS were taken prisoners; his
brothers delivered themselves up; he himself was betrayed into the
hands of the Romans by his false and base stepmother: and they
carried him, and all his family, in triumph to Rome.
But a great man will be great in misfortune, great in prison, great
in chains. His noble air, and dignified endurance of distress, so
touched the Roman people who thronged the streets to see him, that
he and his family were restored to freedom. No one knows whether
his great heart broke, and he died in Rome, or whether he ever
returned to his own dear country. English oaks have grown up from
acorns, and withered away, when they were hundreds of years old -
and other oaks have sprung up in their places, and died too, very
aged - since the rest of the history of the brave CARACTACUS was
Still, the Britons WOULD NOT yield. They rose again and again, and
died by thousands, sword in hand. They rose, on every possible
occasion. SUETONIUS, another Roman general, came, and stormed the
Island of Anglesey (then called MONA), which was supposed to be
sacred, and he burnt the Druids in their own wicker cages, by their
own fires. But, even while he was in Britain, with his victorious
troops, the BRITONS rose. Because BOADICEA, a British queen, the
widow of the King of the Norfolk and Suffolk people, resisted the
plundering of her property by the Romans who were settled in
England, she was scourged, by order of CATUS a Roman officer; and
her two daughters were shamefully insulted in her presence, and her
husband's relations were made slaves. To avenge this injury, the
Britons rose, with all their might and rage. They drove CATUS into
Gaul; they laid the Roman possessions waste; they forced the Romans
out of London, then a poor little town, but a trading place; they
hanged, burnt, crucified, and slew by the sword, seventy thousand
Romans in a few days. SUETONIUS strengthened his army, and
advanced to give them battle. They strengthened their army, and
desperately attacked his, on the field where it was strongly
posted. Before the first charge of the Britons was made, BOADICEA,
in a war-chariot, with her fair hair streaming in the wind, and her
injured daughters lying at her feet, drove among the troops, and
cried to them for vengeance on their oppressors, the licentious
Romans. The Britons fought to the last; but they were vanquished
with great slaughter, and the unhappy queen took poison.
Still, the spirit of the Britons was not broken. When SUETONIUS
left the country, they fell upon his troops, and retook the Island
of Anglesey. AGRICOLA came, fifteen or twenty years afterwards,
and retook it once more, and devoted seven years to subduing the
country, especially that part of it which is now called SCOTLAND;
but, its people, the Caledonians, resisted him at every inch of
ground. They fought the bloodiest battles with him; they killed
their very wives and children, to prevent his making prisoners of
them; they fell, fighting, in such great numbers that certain hills
in Scotland are yet supposed to be vast heaps of stones piled up
above their graves. HADRIAN came, thirty years afterwards, and
still they resisted him. SEVERUS came, nearly a hundred years
afterwards, and they worried his great army like dogs, and rejoiced
to see them die, by thousands, in the bogs and swamps. CARACALLA,
the son and successor of SEVERUS, did the most to conquer them, for
a time; but not by force of arms. He knew how little that would
do. He yielded up a quantity of land to the Caledonians, and gave
the Britons the same privileges as the Romans possessed. There was
peace, after this, for seventy years.
Then new enemies arose. They were the Saxons, a fierce, sea-faring
people from the countries to the North of the Rhine, the great
river of Germany on the banks of which the best grapes grow to make
the German wine. They began to come, in pirate ships, to the seacoast
of Gaul and Britain, and to plunder them. They were repulsed
by CARAUSIUS, a native either of Belgium or of Britain, who was
appointed by the Romans to the command, and under whom the Britons
first began to fight upon the sea. But, after this time, they
renewed their ravages. A few years more, and the Scots (which was
then the name for the people of Ireland), and the Picts, a northern
people, began to make frequent plundering incursions into the South
of Britain. All these attacks were repeated, at intervals, during
two hundred years, and through a long succession of Roman Emperors
and chiefs; during all which length of time, the Britons rose
against the Romans, over and over again. At last, in the days of
the Roman HONORIUS, when the Roman power all over the world was
fast declining, and when Rome wanted all her soldiers at home, the
Romans abandoned all hope of conquering Britain, and went away.
And still, at last, as at first, the Britons rose against them, in
their old brave manner; for, a very little while before, they had
turned away the Roman magistrates, and declared themselves an
independent people.
Five hundred years had passed, since Julius Caesar's first invasion
of the Island, when the Romans departed from it for ever. In the
course of that time, although they had been the cause of terrible
fighting and bloodshed, they had done much to improve the condition
of the Britons. They had made great military roads; they had built
forts; they had taught them how to dress, and arm themselves, much
better than they had ever known how to do before; they had refined
the whole British way of living. AGRICOLA had built a great wall
of earth, more than seventy miles long, extending from Newcastle to
beyond Carlisle, for the purpose of keeping out the Picts and
Scots; HADRIAN had strengthened it; SEVERUS, finding it much in
want of repair, had built it afresh of stone.
Above all, it was in the Roman time, and by means of Roman ships,
that the Christian Religion was first brought into Britain, and its
people first taught the great lesson that, to be good in the sight
of GOD, they must love their neighbours as themselves, and do unto
others as they would be done by. The Druids declared that it was
very wicked to believe in any such thing, and cursed all the people
who did believe it, very heartily. But, when the people found that
they were none the better for the blessings of the Druids, and none
the worse for the curses of the Druids, but, that the sun shone and
the rain fell without consulting the Druids at all, they just began
to think that the Druids were mere men, and that it signified very
little whether they cursed or blessed. After which, the pupils of
the Druids fell off greatly in numbers, and the Druids took to
other trades.
Thus I have come to the end of the Roman time in England. It is
but little that is known of those five hundred years; but some
remains of them are still found. Often, when labourers are digging
up the ground, to make foundations for houses or churches, they
light on rusty money that once belonged to the Romans. Fragments
of plates from which they ate, of goblets from which they drank,
and of pavement on which they trod, are discovered among the earth
that is broken by the plough, or the dust that is crumbled by the
gardener's spade. Wells that the Romans sunk, still yield water;
roads that the Romans made, form part of our highways. In some old
battle-fields, British spear-heads and Roman armour have been
found, mingled together in decay, as they fell in the thick
pressure of the fight. Traces of Roman camps overgrown with grass,
and of mounds that are the burial-places of heaps of Britons, are
to be seen in almost all parts of the country. Across the bleak
moors of Northumberland, the wall of SEVERUS, overrun with moss and
weeds, still stretches, a strong ruin; and the shepherds and their
dogs lie sleeping on it in the summer weather. On Salisbury Plain,
Stonehenge yet stands: a monument of the earlier time when the
Roman name was unknown in Britain, and when the Druids, with their
best magic wands, could not have written it in the sands of the
wild sea-shore.
THE Romans had scarcely gone away from Britain, when the Britons
began to wish they had never left it. For, the Romans being gone,
and the Britons being much reduced in numbers by their long wars,
the Picts and Scots came pouring in, over the broken and unguarded
wall of SEVERUS, in swarms. They plundered the richest towns, and
killed the people; and came back so often for more booty and more
slaughter, that the unfortunate Britons lived a life of terror. As
if the Picts and Scots were not bad enough on land, the Saxons
attacked the islanders by sea; and, as if something more were still
wanting to make them miserable, they quarrelled bitterly among
themselves as to what prayers they ought to say, and how they ought
to say them. The priests, being very angry with one another on
these questions, cursed one another in the heartiest manner; and
(uncommonly like the old Druids) cursed all the people whom they
could not persuade. So, altogether, the Britons were very badly
off, you may believe.
They were in such distress, in short, that they sent a letter to
Rome entreating help - which they called the Groans of the Britons;
and in which they said, 'The barbarians chase us into the sea, the
sea throws us back upon the barbarians, and we have only the hard
choice left us of perishing by the sword, or perishing by the
waves.' But, the Romans could not help them, even if they were so
inclined; for they had enough to do to defend themselves against
their own enemies, who were then very fierce and strong. At last,
the Britons, unable to bear their hard condition any longer,
resolved to make peace with the Saxons, and to invite the Saxons to
come into their country, and help them to keep out the Picts and
It was a British Prince named VORTIGERN who took this resolution,
and who made a treaty of friendship with HENGIST and HORSA, two
Saxon chiefs. Both of these names, in the old Saxon language,
signify Horse; for the Saxons, like many other nations in a rough
state, were fond of giving men the names of animals, as Horse,
Wolf, Bear, Hound. The Indians of North America, - a very inferior
people to the Saxons, though - do the same to this day.
HENGIST and HORSA drove out the Picts and Scots; and VORTIGERN,
being grateful to them for that service, made no opposition to
their settling themselves in that part of England which is called
the Isle of Thanet, or to their inviting over more of their
countrymen to join them. But HENGIST had a beautiful daughter
named ROWENA; and when, at a feast, she filled a golden goblet to
the brim with wine, and gave it to VORTIGERN, saying in a sweet
voice, 'Dear King, thy health!' the King fell in love with her. My
opinion is, that the cunning HENGIST meant him to do so, in order
that the Saxons might have greater influence with him; and that the
fair ROWENA came to that feast, golden goblet and all, on purpose.
At any rate, they were married; and, long afterwards, whenever the
King was angry with the Saxons, or jealous of their encroachments,
ROWENA would put her beautiful arms round his neck, and softly say,
'Dear King, they are my people! Be favourable to them, as you
loved that Saxon girl who gave you the golden goblet of wine at the
feast!' And, really, I don't see how the King could help himself.
Ah! We must all die! In the course of years, VORTIGERN died - he
was dethroned, and put in prison, first, I am afraid; and ROWENA
died; and generations of Saxons and Britons died; and events that
happened during a long, long time, would have been quite forgotten
but for the tales and songs of the old Bards, who used to go about
from feast to feast, with their white beards, recounting the deeds
of their forefathers. Among the histories of which they sang and
talked, there was a famous one, concerning the bravery and virtues
of KING ARTHUR, supposed to have been a British Prince in those old
times. But, whether such a person really lived, or whether there
were several persons whose histories came to be confused together
under that one name, or whether all about him was invention, no one
I will tell you, shortly, what is most interesting in the early
Saxon times, as they are described in these songs and stories of
the Bards.
In, and long after, the days of VORTIGERN, fresh bodies of Saxons,
under various chiefs, came pouring into Britain. One body,
conquering the Britons in the East, and settling there, called
their kingdom Essex; another body settled in the West, and called
their kingdom Wessex; the Northfolk, or Norfolk people, established
themselves in one place; the Southfolk, or Suffolk people,
established themselves in another; and gradually seven kingdoms or
states arose in England, which were called the Saxon Heptarchy.
The poor Britons, falling back before these crowds of fighting men
whom they had innocently invited over as friends, retired into
Wales and the adjacent country; into Devonshire, and into Cornwall.
Those parts of England long remained unconquered. And in Cornwall
now - where the sea-coast is very gloomy, steep, and rugged -
where, in the dark winter-time, ships have often been wrecked close
to the land, and every soul on board has perished - where the winds
and waves howl drearily and split the solid rocks into arches and
caverns - there are very ancient ruins, which the people call the
ruins of KING ARTHUR'S Castle.
Kent is the most famous of the seven Saxon kingdoms, because the
Christian religion was preached to the Saxons there (who domineered
over the Britons too much, to care for what THEY said about their
religion, or anything else) by AUGUSTINE, a monk from Rome. KING
ETHELBERT, of Kent, was soon converted; and the moment he said he
was a Christian, his courtiers all said THEY were Christians; after
which, ten thousand of his subjects said they were Christians too.
AUGUSTINE built a little church, close to this King's palace, on
the ground now occupied by the beautiful cathedral of Canterbury.
SEBERT, the King's nephew, built on a muddy marshy place near
London, where there had been a temple to Apollo, a church dedicated
to Saint Peter, which is now Westminster Abbey. And, in London
itself, on the foundation of a temple to Diana, he built another
little church which has risen up, since that old time, to be Saint
After the death of ETHELBERT, EDWIN, King of Northumbria, who was
such a good king that it was said a woman or child might openly
carry a purse of gold, in his reign, without fear, allowed his
child to be baptised, and held a great council to consider whether
he and his people should all be Christians or not. It was decided
that they should be. COIFI, the chief priest of the old religion,
made a great speech on the occasion. In this discourse, he told
the people that he had found out the old gods to be impostors. 'I
am quite satisfied of it,' he said. 'Look at me! I have been
serving them all my life, and they have done nothing for me;
whereas, if they had been really powerful, they could not have
decently done less, in return for all I have done for them, than
make my fortune. As they have never made my fortune, I am quite
convinced they are impostors!' When this singular priest had
finished speaking, he hastily armed himself with sword and lance,
mounted a war-horse, rode at a furious gallop in sight of all the
people to the temple, and flung his lance against it as an insult.
From that time, the Christian religion spread itself among the
Saxons, and became their faith.
The next very famous prince was EGBERT. He lived about a hundred
and fifty years afterwards, and claimed to have a better right to
the throne of Wessex than BEORTRIC, another Saxon prince who was at
the head of that kingdom, and who married EDBURGA, the daughter of
OFFA, king of another of the seven kingdoms. This QUEEN EDBURGA
was a handsome murderess, who poisoned people when they offended
her. One day, she mixed a cup of poison for a certain noble
belonging to the court; but her husband drank of it too, by
mistake, and died. Upon this, the people revolted, in great
crowds; and running to the palace, and thundering at the gates,
cried, 'Down with the wicked queen, who poisons men!' They drove
her out of the country, and abolished the title she had disgraced.
When years had passed away, some travellers came home from Italy,
and said that in the town of Pavia they had seen a ragged beggarwoman,
who had once been handsome, but was then shrivelled, bent,
and yellow, wandering about the streets, crying for bread; and that
this beggar-woman was the poisoning English queen. It was, indeed,
EDBURGA; and so she died, without a shelter for her wretched head.
EGBERT, not considering himself safe in England, in consequence of
his having claimed the crown of Wessex (for he thought his rival
might take him prisoner and put him to death), sought refuge at the
court of CHARLEMAGNE, King of France. On the death of BEORTRIC, so
unhappily poisoned by mistake, EGBERT came back to Britain;
succeeded to the throne of Wessex; conquered some of the other
monarchs of the seven kingdoms; added their territories to his own;
and, for the first time, called the country over which he ruled,
And now, new enemies arose, who, for a long time, troubled England
sorely. These were the Northmen, the people of Denmark and Norway,
whom the English called the Danes. They were a warlike people,
quite at home upon the sea; not Christians; very daring and cruel.
They came over in ships, and plundered and burned wheresoever they
landed. Once, they beat EGBERT in battle. Once, EGBERT beat them.
But, they cared no more for being beaten than the English
themselves. In the four following short reigns, of ETHELWULF, and
his sons, ETHELBALD, ETHELBERT, and ETHELRED, they came back, over
and over again, burning and plundering, and laying England waste.
In the last-mentioned reign, they seized EDMUND, King of East
England, and bound him to a tree. Then, they proposed to him that
he should change his religion; but he, being a good Christian,
steadily refused. Upon that, they beat him, made cowardly jests
upon him, all defenceless as he was, shot arrows at him, and,
finally, struck off his head. It is impossible to say whose head
they might have struck off next, but for the death of KING ETHELRED
from a wound he had received in fighting against them, and the
succession to his throne of the best and wisest king that ever
lived in England.
ALFRED THE GREAT was a young man, three-and-twenty years of age,
when he became king. Twice in his childhood, he had been taken to
Rome, where the Saxon nobles were in the habit of going on journeys
which they supposed to be religious; and, once, he had stayed for
some time in Paris. Learning, however, was so little cared for,
then, that at twelve years old he had not been taught to read;
although, of the sons of KING ETHELWULF, he, the youngest, was the
favourite. But he had - as most men who grow up to be great and
good are generally found to have had - an excellent mother; and,
one day, this lady, whose name was OSBURGA, happened, as she was
sitting among her sons, to read a book of Saxon poetry. The art of
printing was not known until long and long after that period, and
the book, which was written, was what is called 'illuminated,' with
beautiful bright letters, richly painted. The brothers admiring it
very much, their mother said, 'I will give it to that one of you
four princes who first learns to read.' ALFRED sought out a tutor
that very day, applied himself to learn with great diligence, and
soon won the book. He was proud of it, all his life.
This great king, in the first year of his reign, fought nine
battles with the Danes. He made some treaties with them too, by
which the false Danes swore they would quit the country. They
pretended to consider that they had taken a very solemn oath, in
swearing this upon the holy bracelets that they wore, and which
were always buried with them when they died; but they cared little
for it, for they thought nothing of breaking oaths and treaties
too, as soon as it suited their purpose, and coming back again to
fight, plunder, and burn, as usual. One fatal winter, in the
fourth year of KING ALFRED'S reign, they spread themselves in great
numbers over the whole of England; and so dispersed and routed the
King's soldiers that the King was left alone, and was obliged to
disguise himself as a common peasant, and to take refuge in the
cottage of one of his cowherds who did not know his face.
Here, KING ALFRED, while the Danes sought him far and near, was
left alone one day, by the cowherd's wife, to watch some cakes
which she put to bake upon the hearth. But, being at work upon his
bow and arrows, with which he hoped to punish the false Danes when
a brighter time should come, and thinking deeply of his poor
unhappy subjects whom the Danes chased through the land, his noble
mind forgot the cakes, and they were burnt. 'What!' said the
cowherd's wife, who scolded him well when she came back, and little
thought she was scolding the King, 'you will be ready enough to eat
them by-and-by, and yet you cannot watch them, idle dog?'
At length, the Devonshire men made head against a new host of Danes
who landed on their coast; killed their chief, and captured their
flag; on which was represented the likeness of a Raven - a very fit
bird for a thievish army like that, I think. The loss of their
standard troubled the Danes greatly, for they believed it to be
enchanted - woven by the three daughters of one father in a single
afternoon - and they had a story among themselves that when they
were victorious in battle, the Raven stretched his wings and seemed
to fly; and that when they were defeated, he would droop. He had
good reason to droop, now, if he could have done anything half so
sensible; for, KING ALFRED joined the Devonshire men; made a camp
with them on a piece of firm ground in the midst of a bog in
Somersetshire; and prepared for a great attempt for vengeance on
the Danes, and the deliverance of his oppressed people.
But, first, as it was important to know how numerous those
pestilent Danes were, and how they were fortified, KING ALFRED,
being a good musician, disguised himself as a glee-man or minstrel,
and went, with his harp, to the Danish camp. He played and sang in
the very tent of GUTHRUM the Danish leader, and entertained the
Danes as they caroused. While he seemed to think of nothing but
his music, he was watchful of their tents, their arms, their
discipline, everything that he desired to know. And right soon did
this great king entertain them to a different tune; for, summoning
all his true followers to meet him at an appointed place, where
they received him with joyful shouts and tears, as the monarch whom
many of them had given up for lost or dead, he put himself at their
head, marched on the Danish camp, defeated the Danes with great
slaughter, and besieged them for fourteen days to prevent their
escape. But, being as merciful as he was good and brave, he then,
instead of killing them, proposed peace: on condition that they
should altogether depart from that Western part of England, and
settle in the East; and that GUTHRUM should become a Christian, in
remembrance of the Divine religion which now taught his conqueror,
the noble ALFRED, to forgive the enemy who had so often injured
him. This, GUTHRUM did. At his baptism, KING ALFRED was his
godfather. And GUTHRUM was an honourable chief who well deserved
that clemency; for, ever afterwards he was loyal and faithful to
the king. The Danes under him were faithful too. They plundered
and burned no more, but worked like honest men. They ploughed, and
sowed, and reaped, and led good honest English lives. And I hope
the children of those Danes played, many a time, with Saxon
children in the sunny fields; and that Danish young men fell in
love with Saxon girls, and married them; and that English
travellers, benighted at the doors of Danish cottages, often went
in for shelter until morning; and that Danes and Saxons sat by the
red fire, friends, talking of KING ALFRED THE GREAT.
All the Danes were not like these under GUTHRUM; for, after some
years, more of them came over, in the old plundering and burning
way - among them a fierce pirate of the name of HASTINGS, who had
the boldness to sail up the Thames to Gravesend, with eighty ships.
For three years, there was a war with these Danes; and there was a
famine in the country, too, and a plague, both upon human creatures
and beasts. But KING ALFRED, whose mighty heart never failed him,
built large ships nevertheless, with which to pursue the pirates on
the sea; and he encouraged his soldiers, by his brave example, to
fight valiantly against them on the shore. At last, he drove them
all away; and then there was repose in England.
As great and good in peace, as he was great and good in war, KING
ALFRED never rested from his labours to improve his people. He
loved to talk with clever men, and with travellers from foreign
countries, and to write down what they told him, for his people to
read. He had studied Latin after learning to read English, and now
another of his labours was, to translate Latin books into the
English-Saxon tongue, that his people might be interested, and
improved by their contents. He made just laws, that they might
live more happily and freely; he turned away all partial judges,
that no wrong might be done them; he was so careful of their
property, and punished robbers so severely, that it was a common
thing to say that under the great KING ALFRED, garlands of golden
chains and jewels might have hung across the streets, and no man
would have touched one. He founded schools; he patiently heard
causes himself in his Court of Justice; the great desires of his
heart were, to do right to all his subjects, and to leave England
better, wiser, happier in all ways, than he found it. His industry
in these efforts was quite astonishing. Every day he divided into
certain portions, and in each portion devoted himself to a certain
pursuit. That he might divide his time exactly, he had wax torches
or candles made, which were all of the same size, were notched
across at regular distances, and were always kept burning. Thus,
as the candles burnt down, he divided the day into notches, almost
as accurately as we now divide it into hours upon the clock. But
when the candles were first invented, it was found that the wind
and draughts of air, blowing into the palace through the doors and
windows, and through the chinks in the walls, caused them to gutter
and burn unequally. To prevent this, the King had them put into
cases formed of wood and white horn. And these were the first
lanthorns ever made in England.
All this time, he was afflicted with a terrible unknown disease,
which caused him violent and frequent pain that nothing could
relieve. He bore it, as he had borne all the troubles of his life,
like a brave good man, until he was fifty-three years old; and
then, having reigned thirty years, he died. He died in the year
nine hundred and one; but, long ago as that is, his fame, and the
love and gratitude with which his subjects regarded him, are
freshly remembered to the present hour.
In the next reign, which was the reign of EDWARD, surnamed THE
ELDER, who was chosen in council to succeed, a nephew of KING
ALFRED troubled the country by trying to obtain the throne. The
Danes in the East of England took part with this usurper (perhaps
because they had honoured his uncle so much, and honoured him for
his uncle's sake), and there was hard fighting; but, the King, with
the assistance of his sister, gained the day, and reigned in peace
for four and twenty years. He gradually extended his power over
the whole of England, and so the Seven Kingdoms were united into
When England thus became one kingdom, ruled over by one Saxon king,
the Saxons had been settled in the country more than four hundred
and fifty years. Great changes had taken place in its customs
during that time. The Saxons were still greedy eaters and great
drinkers, and their feasts were often of a noisy and drunken kind;
but many new comforts and even elegances had become known, and were
fast increasing. Hangings for the walls of rooms, where, in these
modern days, we paste up paper, are known to have been sometimes
made of silk, ornamented with birds and flowers in needlework.
Tables and chairs were curiously carved in different woods; were
sometimes decorated with gold or silver; sometimes even made of
those precious metals. Knives and spoons were used at table;
golden ornaments were worn - with silk and cloth, and golden
tissues and embroideries; dishes were made of gold and silver,
brass and bone. There were varieties of drinking-horns, bedsteads,
musical instruments. A harp was passed round, at a feast, like the
drinking-bowl, from guest to guest; and each one usually sang or
played when his turn came. The weapons of the Saxons were stoutly
made, and among them was a terrible iron hammer that gave deadly
blows, and was long remembered. The Saxons themselves were a
handsome people. The men were proud of their long fair hair,
parted on the forehead; their ample beards, their fresh
complexions, and clear eyes. The beauty of the Saxon women filled
all England with a new delight and grace.
I have more to tell of the Saxons yet, but I stop to say this now,
because under the GREAT ALFRED, all the best points of the English-
Saxon character were first encouraged, and in him first shown. It
has been the greatest character among the nations of the earth.
Wherever the descendants of the Saxon race have gone, have sailed,
or otherwise made their way, even to the remotest regions of the
world, they have been patient, persevering, never to be broken in
spirit, never to be turned aside from enterprises on which they
have resolved. In Europe, Asia, Africa, America, the whole world
over; in the desert, in the forest, on the sea; scorched by a
burning sun, or frozen by ice that never melts; the Saxon blood
remains unchanged. Wheresoever that race goes, there, law, and
industry, and safety for life and property, and all the great
results of steady perseverance, are certain to arise.
I pause to think with admiration, of the noble king who, in his
single person, possessed all the Saxon virtues. Whom misfortune
could not subdue, whom prosperity could not spoil, whose
perseverance nothing could shake. Who was hopeful in defeat, and
generous in success. Who loved justice, freedom, truth, and
knowledge. Who, in his care to instruct his people, probably did
more to preserve the beautiful old Saxon language, than I can
imagine. Without whom, the English tongue in which I tell this
story might have wanted half its meaning. As it is said that his
spirit still inspires some of our best English laws, so, let you
and I pray that it may animate our English hearts, at least to this
- to resolve, when we see any of our fellow-creatures left in
ignorance, that we will do our best, while life is in us, to have
them taught; and to tell those rulers whose duty it is to teach
them, and who neglect their duty, that they have profited very
little by all the years that have rolled away since the year nine
hundred and one, and that they are far behind the bright example of
ATHELSTAN, the son of Edward the Elder, succeeded that king. He
reigned only fifteen years; but he remembered the glory of his
grandfather, the great Alfred, and governed England well. He
reduced the turbulent people of Wales, and obliged them to pay him
a tribute in money, and in cattle, and to send him their best hawks
and hounds. He was victorious over the Cornish men, who were not
yet quite under the Saxon government. He restored such of the old
laws as were good, and had fallen into disuse; made some wise new
laws, and took care of the poor and weak. A strong alliance, made
against him by ANLAF a Danish prince, CONSTANTINE King of the
Scots, and the people of North Wales, he broke and defeated in one
great battle, long famous for the vast numbers slain in it. After
that, he had a quiet reign; the lords and ladies about him had
leisure to become polite and agreeable; and foreign princes were
glad (as they have sometimes been since) to come to England on
visits to the English court.
When Athelstan died, at forty-seven years old, his brother EDMUND,
who was only eighteen, became king. He was the first of six boykings,
as you will presently know.
They called him the Magnificent, because he showed a taste for
improvement and refinement. But he was beset by the Danes, and had
a short and troubled reign, which came to a troubled end. One
night, when he was feasting in his hall, and had eaten much and
drunk deep, he saw, among the company, a noted robber named LEOF,
who had been banished from England. Made very angry by the
boldness of this man, the King turned to his cup-bearer, and said,
'There is a robber sitting at the table yonder, who, for his
crimes, is an outlaw in the land - a hunted wolf, whose life any
man may take, at any time. Command that robber to depart!' 'I
will not depart!' said Leof. 'No?' cried the King. 'No, by the
Lord!' said Leof. Upon that the King rose from his seat, and,
making passionately at the robber, and seizing him by his long
hair, tried to throw him down. But the robber had a dagger
underneath his cloak, and, in the scuffle, stabbed the King to
death. That done, he set his back against the wall, and fought so
desperately, that although he was soon cut to pieces by the King's
armed men, and the wall and pavement were splashed with his blood,
yet it was not before he had killed and wounded many of them. You
may imagine what rough lives the kings of those times led, when one
of them could struggle, half drunk, with a public robber in his own
dining-hall, and be stabbed in presence of the company who ate and
drank with him.
Then succeeded the boy-king EDRED, who was weak and sickly in body,
but of a strong mind. And his armies fought the Northmen, the
Danes, and Norwegians, or the Sea-Kings, as they were called, and
beat them for the time. And, in nine years, Edred died, and passed
Then came the boy-king EDWY, fifteen years of age; but the real
king, who had the real power, was a monk named DUNSTAN - a clever
priest, a little mad, and not a little proud and cruel.
Dunstan was then Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, whither the body of
King Edmund the Magnificent was carried, to be buried. While yet a
boy, he had got out of his bed one night (being then in a fever),
and walked about Glastonbury Church when it was under repair; and,
because he did not tumble off some scaffolds that were there, and
break his neck, it was reported that he had been shown over the
building by an angel. He had also made a harp that was said to
play of itself - which it very likely did, as AEolian Harps, which
are played by the wind, and are understood now, always do. For
these wonders he had been once denounced by his enemies, who were
jealous of his favour with the late King Athelstan, as a magician;
and he had been waylaid, bound hand and foot, and thrown into a
marsh. But he got out again, somehow, to cause a great deal of
trouble yet.
The priests of those days were, generally, the only scholars. They
were learned in many things. Having to make their own convents and
monasteries on uncultivated grounds that were granted to them by
the Crown, it was necessary that they should be good farmers and
good gardeners, or their lands would have been too poor to support
them. For the decoration of the chapels where they prayed, and for
the comfort of the refectories where they ate and drank, it was
necessary that there should be good carpenters, good smiths, good
painters, among them. For their greater safety in sickness and
accident, living alone by themselves in solitary places, it was
necessary that they should study the virtues of plants and herbs,
and should know how to dress cuts, burns, scalds, and bruises, and
how to set broken limbs. Accordingly, they taught themselves, and
one another, a great variety of useful arts; and became skilful in
agriculture, medicine, surgery, and handicraft. And when they
wanted the aid of any little piece of machinery, which would be
simple enough now, but was marvellous then, to impose a trick upon
the poor peasants, they knew very well how to make it; and DID make
it many a time and often, I have no doubt.
Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was one of the most sagacious
of these monks. He was an ingenious smith, and worked at a forge
in a little cell. This cell was made too short to admit of his
lying at full length when he went to sleep - as if THAT did any
good to anybody! - and he used to tell the most extraordinary lies
about demons and spirits, who, he said, came there to persecute
him. For instance, he related that one day when he was at work,
the devil looked in at the little window, and tried to tempt him to
lead a life of idle pleasure; whereupon, having his pincers in the
fire, red hot, he seized the devil by the nose, and put him to such
pain, that his bellowings were heard for miles and miles. Some
people are inclined to think this nonsense a part of Dunstan's
madness (for his head never quite recovered the fever), but I think
not. I observe that it induced the ignorant people to consider him
a holy man, and that it made him very powerful. Which was exactly
what he always wanted.
On the day of the coronation of the handsome boy-king Edwy, it was
remarked by ODO, Archbishop of Canterbury (who was a Dane by
birth), that the King quietly left the coronation feast, while all
the company were there. Odo, much displeased, sent his friend
Dunstan to seek him. Dunstan finding him in the company of his
beautiful young wife ELGIVA, and her mother ETHELGIVA, a good and
virtuous lady, not only grossly abused them, but dragged the young
King back into the feasting-hall by force. Some, again, think
Dunstan did this because the young King's fair wife was his own
cousin, and the monks objected to people marrying their own
cousins; but I believe he did it, because he was an imperious,
audacious, ill-conditioned priest, who, having loved a young lady
himself before he became a sour monk, hated all love now, and
everything belonging to it.
The young King was quite old enough to feel this insult. Dunstan
had been Treasurer in the last reign, and he soon charged Dunstan
with having taken some of the last king's money. The Glastonbury
Abbot fled to Belgium (very narrowly escaping some pursuers who
were sent to put out his eyes, as you will wish they had, when you
read what follows), and his abbey was given to priests who were
married; whom he always, both before and afterwards, opposed. But
he quickly conspired with his friend, Odo the Dane, to set up the
King's young brother, EDGAR, as his rival for the throne; and, not
content with this revenge, he caused the beautiful queen Elgiva,
though a lovely girl of only seventeen or eighteen, to be stolen
from one of the Royal Palaces, branded in the cheek with a red-hot
iron, and sold into slavery in Ireland. But the Irish people
pitied and befriended her; and they said, 'Let us restore the girlqueen
to the boy-king, and make the young lovers happy!' and they
cured her of her cruel wound, and sent her home as beautiful as
before. But the villain Dunstan, and that other villain, Odo,
caused her to be waylaid at Gloucester as she was joyfully hurrying
to join her husband, and to be hacked and hewn with swords, and to
be barbarously maimed and lamed, and left to die. When Edwy the
Fair (his people called him so, because he was so young and
handsome) heard of her dreadful fate, he died of a broken heart;
and so the pitiful story of the poor young wife and husband ends!
Ah! Better to be two cottagers in these better times, than king
and queen of England in those bad days, though never so fair!
Then came the boy-king, EDGAR, called the Peaceful, fifteen years
old. Dunstan, being still the real king, drove all married priests
out of the monasteries and abbeys, and replaced them by solitary
monks like himself, of the rigid order called the Benedictines. He
made himself Archbishop of Canterbury, for his greater glory; and
exercised such power over the neighbouring British princes, and so
collected them about the King, that once, when the King held his
court at Chester, and went on the river Dee to visit the monastery
of St. John, the eight oars of his boat were pulled (as the people
used to delight in relating in stories and songs) by eight crowned
kings, and steered by the King of England. As Edgar was very
obedient to Dunstan and the monks, they took great pains to
represent him as the best of kings. But he was really profligate,
debauched, and vicious. He once forcibly carried off a young lady
from the convent at Wilton; and Dunstan, pretending to be very much
shocked, condemned him not to wear his crown upon his head for
seven years - no great punishment, I dare say, as it can hardly
have been a more comfortable ornament to wear, than a stewpan
without a handle. His marriage with his second wife, ELFRIDA, is
one of the worst events of his reign. Hearing of the beauty of
this lady, he despatched his favourite courtier, ATHELWOLD, to her
father's castle in Devonshire, to see if she were really as
charming as fame reported. Now, she was so exceedingly beautiful
that Athelwold fell in love with her himself, and married her; but
he told the King that she was only rich - not handsome. The King,
suspecting the truth when they came home, resolved to pay the
newly-married couple a visit; and, suddenly, told Athelwold to
prepare for his immediate coming. Athelwold, terrified, confessed
to his young wife what he had said and done, and implored her to
disguise her beauty by some ugly dress or silly manner, that he
might be safe from the King's anger. She promised that she would;
but she was a proud woman, who would far rather have been a queen
than the wife of a courtier. She dressed herself in her best
dress, and adorned herself with her richest jewels; and when the
King came, presently, he discovered the cheat. So, he caused his
false friend, Athelwold, to be murdered in a wood, and married his
widow, this bad Elfrida. Six or seven years afterwards, he died;
and was buried, as if he had been all that the monks said he was,
in the abbey of Glastonbury, which he - or Dunstan for him - had
much enriched.
England, in one part of this reign, was so troubled by wolves,
which, driven out of the open country, hid themselves in the
mountains of Wales when they were not attacking travellers and
animals, that the tribute payable by the Welsh people was forgiven
them, on condition of their producing, every year, three hundred
wolves' heads. And the Welshmen were so sharp upon the wolves, to
save their money, that in four years there was not a wolf left.
Then came the boy-king, EDWARD, called the Martyr, from the manner
of his death. Elfrida had a son, named ETHELRED, for whom she
claimed the throne; but Dunstan did not choose to favour him, and
he made Edward king. The boy was hunting, one day, down in
Dorsetshire, when he rode near to Corfe Castle, where Elfrida and
Ethelred lived. Wishing to see them kindly, he rode away from his
attendants and galloped to the castle gate, where he arrived at
twilight, and blew his hunting-horn. 'You are welcome, dear King,'
said Elfrida, coming out, with her brightest smiles. 'Pray you
dismount and enter.' 'Not so, dear madam,' said the King. 'My
company will miss me, and fear that I have met with some harm.
Please you to give me a cup of wine, that I may drink here, in the
saddle, to you and to my little brother, and so ride away with the
good speed I have made in riding here.' Elfrida, going in to bring
the wine, whispered an armed servant, one of her attendants, who
stole out of the darkening gateway, and crept round behind the
King's horse. As the King raised the cup to his lips, saying,
'Health!' to the wicked woman who was smiling on him, and to his
innocent brother whose hand she held in hers, and who was only ten
years old, this armed man made a spring and stabbed him in the
back. He dropped the cup and spurred his horse away; but, soon
fainting with loss of blood, dropped from the saddle, and, in his
fall, entangled one of his feet in the stirrup. The frightened
horse dashed on; trailing his rider's curls upon the ground;
dragging his smooth young face through ruts, and stones, and
briers, and fallen leaves, and mud; until the hunters, tracking the
animal's course by the King's blood, caught his bridle, and
released the disfigured body.
Then came the sixth and last of the boy-kings, ETHELRED, whom
Elfrida, when he cried out at the sight of his murdered brother
riding away from the castle gate, unmercifully beat with a torch
which she snatched from one of the attendants. The people so
disliked this boy, on account of his cruel mother and the murder
she had done to promote him, that Dunstan would not have had him
for king, but would have made EDGITHA, the daughter of the dead
King Edgar, and of the lady whom he stole out of the convent at
Wilton, Queen of England, if she would have consented. But she
knew the stories of the youthful kings too well, and would not be
persuaded from the convent where she lived in peace; so, Dunstan
put Ethelred on the throne, having no one else to put there, and
gave him the nickname of THE UNREADY - knowing that he wanted
resolution and firmness.
At first, Elfrida possessed great influence over the young King,
but, as he grew older and came of age, her influence declined. The
infamous woman, not having it in her power to do any more evil,
then retired from court, and, according, to the fashion of the
time, built churches and monasteries, to expiate her guilt. As if
a church, with a steeple reaching to the very stars, would have
been any sign of true repentance for the blood of the poor boy,
whose murdered form was trailed at his horse's heels! As if she
could have buried her wickedness beneath the senseless stones of
the whole world, piled up one upon another, for the monks to live
About the ninth or tenth year of this reign, Dunstan died. He was
growing old then, but was as stern and artful as ever. Two
circumstances that happened in connexion with him, in this reign of
Ethelred, made a great noise. Once, he was present at a meeting of
the Church, when the question was discussed whether priests should
have permission to marry; and, as he sat with his head hung down,
apparently thinking about it, a voice seemed to come out of a
crucifix in the room, and warn the meeting to be of his opinion.
This was some juggling of Dunstan's, and was probably his own voice
disguised. But he played off a worse juggle than that, soon
afterwards; for, another meeting being held on the same subject,
and he and his supporters being seated on one side of a great room,
and their opponents on the other, he rose and said, 'To Christ
himself, as judge, do I commit this cause!' Immediately on these
words being spoken, the floor where the opposite party sat gave
way, and some were killed and many wounded. You may be pretty sure
that it had been weakened under Dunstan's direction, and that it
fell at Dunstan's signal. HIS part of the floor did not go down.
No, no. He was too good a workman for that.
When he died, the monks settled that he was a Saint, and called him
Saint Dunstan ever afterwards. They might just as well have
settled that he was a coach-horse, and could just as easily have
called him one.
Ethelred the Unready was glad enough, I dare say, to be rid of this
holy saint; but, left to himself, he was a poor weak king, and his
reign was a reign of defeat and shame. The restless Danes, led by
SWEYN, a son of the King of Denmark who had quarrelled with his
father and had been banished from home, again came into England,
and, year after year, attacked and despoiled large towns. To coax
these sea-kings away, the weak Ethelred paid them money; but, the
more money he paid, the more money the Danes wanted. At first, he
gave them ten thousand pounds; on their next invasion, sixteen
thousand pounds; on their next invasion, four and twenty thousand
pounds: to pay which large sums, the unfortunate English people
were heavily taxed. But, as the Danes still came back and wanted
more, he thought it would be a good plan to marry into some
powerful foreign family that would help him with soldiers. So, in
the year one thousand and two, he courted and married Emma, the
sister of Richard Duke of Normandy; a lady who was called the
Flower of Normandy.
And now, a terrible deed was done in England, the like of which was
never done on English ground before or since. On the thirteenth of
November, in pursuance of secret instructions sent by the King over
the whole country, the inhabitants of every town and city armed,
and murdered all the Danes who were their neighbours.
Young and old, babies and soldiers, men and women, every Dane was
killed. No doubt there were among them many ferocious men who had
done the English great wrong, and whose pride and insolence, in
swaggering in the houses of the English and insulting their wives
and daughters, had become unbearable; but no doubt there were also
among them many peaceful Christian Danes who had married English
women and become like English men. They were all slain, even to
GUNHILDA, the sister of the King of Denmark, married to an English
lord; who was first obliged to see the murder of her husband and
her child, and then was killed herself.
When the King of the sea-kings heard of this deed of blood, he
swore that he would have a great revenge. He raised an army, and a
mightier fleet of ships than ever yet had sailed to England; and in
all his army there was not a slave or an old man, but every soldier
was a free man, and the son of a free man, and in the prime of
life, and sworn to be revenged upon the English nation, for the
massacre of that dread thirteenth of November, when his countrymen
and countrywomen, and the little children whom they loved, were
killed with fire and sword. And so, the sea-kings came to England
in many great ships, each bearing the flag of its own commander.
Golden eagles, ravens, dragons, dolphins, beasts of prey,
threatened England from the prows of those ships, as they came
onward through the water; and were reflected in the shining shields
that hung upon their sides. The ship that bore the standard of the
King of the sea-kings was carved and painted like a mighty serpent;
and the King in his anger prayed that the Gods in whom he trusted
might all desert him, if his serpent did not strike its fangs into
England's heart.
And indeed it did. For, the great army landing from the great
fleet, near Exeter, went forward, laying England waste, and
striking their lances in the earth as they advanced, or throwing
them into rivers, in token of their making all the island theirs.
In remembrance of the black November night when the Danes were
murdered, wheresoever the invaders came, they made the Saxons
prepare and spread for them great feasts; and when they had eaten
those feasts, and had drunk a curse to England with wild
rejoicings, they drew their swords, and killed their Saxon
entertainers, and marched on. For six long years they carried on
this war: burning the crops, farmhouses, barns, mills, granaries;
killing the labourers in the fields; preventing the seed from being
sown in the ground; causing famine and starvation; leaving only
heaps of ruin and smoking ashes, where they had found rich towns.
To crown this misery, English officers and men deserted, and even
the favourites of Ethelred the Unready, becoming traitors, seized
many of the English ships, turned pirates against their own
country, and aided by a storm occasioned the loss of nearly the
whole English navy.
There was but one man of note, at this miserable pass, who was true
to his country and the feeble King. He was a priest, and a brave
one. For twenty days, the Archbishop of Canterbury defended that
city against its Danish besiegers; and when a traitor in the town
threw the gates open and admitted them, he said, in chains, 'I will
not buy my life with money that must be extorted from the suffering
people. Do with me what you please!' Again and again, he steadily
refused to purchase his release with gold wrung from the poor.
At last, the Danes being tired of this, and being assembled at a
drunken merry-making, had him brought into the feasting-hall.
'Now, bishop,' they said, 'we want gold!'
He looked round on the crowd of angry faces; from the shaggy beards
close to him, to the shaggy beards against the walls, where men
were mounted on tables and forms to see him over the heads of
others: and he knew that his time was come.
'I have no gold,' he said.
'Get it, bishop!' they all thundered.
'That, I have often told you I will not,' said he.
They gathered closer round him, threatening, but he stood unmoved.
Then, one man struck him; then, another; then a cursing soldier
picked up from a heap in a corner of the hall, where fragments had
been rudely thrown at dinner, a great ox-bone, and cast it at his
face, from which the blood came spurting forth; then, others ran to
the same heap, and knocked him down with other bones, and bruised
and battered him; until one soldier whom he had baptised (willing,
as I hope for the sake of that soldier's soul, to shorten the
sufferings of the good man) struck him dead with his battle-axe.
If Ethelred had had the heart to emulate the courage of this noble
archbishop, he might have done something yet. But he paid the
Danes forty-eight thousand pounds, instead, and gained so little by
the cowardly act, that Sweyn soon afterwards came over to subdue
all England. So broken was the attachment of the English people,
by this time, to their incapable King and their forlorn country
which could not protect them, that they welcomed Sweyn on all
sides, as a deliverer. London faithfully stood out, as long as the
King was within its walls; but, when he sneaked away, it also
welcomed the Dane. Then, all was over; and the King took refuge
abroad with the Duke of Normandy, who had already given shelter to
the King's wife, once the Flower of that country, and to her
Still, the English people, in spite of their sad sufferings, could
not quite forget the great King Alfred and the Saxon race. When
Sweyn died suddenly, in little more than a month after he had been
proclaimed King of England, they generously sent to Ethelred, to
say that they would have him for their King again, 'if he would
only govern them better than he had governed them before.' The
Unready, instead of coming himself, sent Edward, one of his sons,
to make promises for him. At last, he followed, and the English
declared him King. The Danes declared CANUTE, the son of Sweyn,
King. Thus, direful war began again, and lasted for three years,
when the Unready died. And I know of nothing better that he did,
in all his reign of eight and thirty years.
Was Canute to be King now? Not over the Saxons, they said; they
must have EDMUND, one of the sons of the Unready, who was surnamed
IRONSIDE, because of his strength and stature. Edmund and Canute
thereupon fell to, and fought five battles - O unhappy England,
what a fighting-ground it was! - and then Ironside, who was a big
man, proposed to Canute, who was a little man, that they two should
fight it out in single combat. If Canute had been the big man, he
would probably have said yes, but, being the little man, he
decidedly said no. However, he declared that he was willing to
divide the kingdom - to take all that lay north of Watling Street,
as the old Roman military road from Dover to Chester was called,
and to give Ironside all that lay south of it. Most men being
weary of so much bloodshed, this was done. But Canute soon became
sole King of England; for Ironside died suddenly within two months.
Some think that he was killed, and killed by Canute's orders. No
one knows.
CANUTE reigned eighteen years. He was a merciless King at first.
After he had clasped the hands of the Saxon chiefs, in token of the
sincerity with which he swore to be just and good to them in return
for their acknowledging him, he denounced and slew many of them, as
well as many relations of the late King. 'He who brings me the
head of one of my enemies,' he used to say, 'shall be dearer to me
than a brother.' And he was so severe in hunting down his enemies,
that he must have got together a pretty large family of these dear
brothers. He was strongly inclined to kill EDMUND and EDWARD, two
children, sons of poor Ironside; but, being afraid to do so in
England, he sent them over to the King of Sweden, with a request
that the King would be so good as 'dispose of them.' If the King
of Sweden had been like many, many other men of that day, he would
have had their innocent throats cut; but he was a kind man, and
brought them up tenderly.
Normandy ran much in Canute's mind. In Normandy were the two
children of the late king - EDWARD and ALFRED by name; and their
uncle the Duke might one day claim the crown for them. But the
Duke showed so little inclination to do so now, that he proposed to
Canute to marry his sister, the widow of The Unready; who, being
but a showy flower, and caring for nothing so much as becoming a
queen again, left her children and was wedded to him.
Successful and triumphant, assisted by the valour of the English in
his foreign wars, and with little strife to trouble him at home,
Canute had a prosperous reign, and made many improvements. He was
a poet and a musician. He grew sorry, as he grew older, for the
blood he had shed at first; and went to Rome in a Pilgrim's dress,
by way of washing it out. He gave a great deal of money to
foreigners on his journey; but he took it from the English before
he started. On the whole, however, he certainly became a far
better man when he had no opposition to contend with, and was as
great a King as England had known for some time.
The old writers of history relate how that Canute was one day
disgusted with his courtiers for their flattery, and how he caused
his chair to be set on the sea-shore, and feigned to command the
tide as it came up not to wet the edge of his robe, for the land
was his; how the tide came up, of course, without regarding him;
and how he then turned to his flatterers, and rebuked them, saying,
what was the might of any earthly king, to the might of the
Creator, who could say unto the sea, 'Thus far shalt thou go, and
no farther!' We may learn from this, I think, that a little sense
will go a long way in a king; and that courtiers are not easily
cured of flattery, nor kings of a liking for it. If the courtiers
of Canute had not known, long before, that the King was fond of
flattery, they would have known better than to offer it in such
large doses. And if they had not known that he was vain of this
speech (anything but a wonderful speech it seems to me, if a good
child had made it), they would not have been at such great pains to
repeat it. I fancy I see them all on the sea-shore together; the
King's chair sinking in the sand; the King in a mighty good humour
with his own wisdom; and the courtiers pretending to be quite
stunned by it!
It is not the sea alone that is bidden to go 'thus far, and no
farther.' The great command goes forth to all the kings upon the
earth, and went to Canute in the year one thousand and thirty-five,
and stretched him dead upon his bed. Beside it, stood his Norman
wife. Perhaps, as the King looked his last upon her, he, who had
so often thought distrustfully of Normandy, long ago, thought once
more of the two exiled Princes in their uncle's court, and of the
little favour they could feel for either Danes or Saxons, and of a
rising cloud in Normandy that slowly moved towards England.
CANUTE left three sons, by name SWEYN, HAROLD, and HARDICANUTE; but
his Queen, Emma, once the Flower of Normandy, was the mother of
only Hardicanute. Canute had wished his dominions to be divided
between the three, and had wished Harold to have England; but the
Saxon people in the South of England, headed by a nobleman with
great possessions, called the powerful EARL GODWIN (who is said to
have been originally a poor cow-boy), opposed this, and desired to
have, instead, either Hardicanute, or one of the two exiled Princes
who were over in Normandy. It seemed so certain that there would
be more bloodshed to settle this dispute, that many people left
their homes, and took refuge in the woods and swamps. Happily,
however, it was agreed to refer the whole question to a great
meeting at Oxford, which decided that Harold should have all the
country north of the Thames, with London for his capital city, and
that Hardicanute should have all the south. The quarrel was so
arranged; and, as Hardicanute was in Denmark troubling himself very
little about anything but eating and getting drunk, his mother and
Earl Godwin governed the south for him.
They had hardly begun to do so, and the trembling people who had
hidden themselves were scarcely at home again, when Edward, the
elder of the two exiled Princes, came over from Normandy with a few
followers, to claim the English Crown. His mother Emma, however,
who only cared for her last son Hardicanute, instead of assisting
him, as he expected, opposed him so strongly with all her influence
that he was very soon glad to get safely back. His brother Alfred
was not so fortunate. Believing in an affectionate letter, written
some time afterwards to him and his brother, in his mother's name
(but whether really with or without his mother's knowledge is now
uncertain), he allowed himself to be tempted over to England, with
a good force of soldiers, and landing on the Kentish coast, and
being met and welcomed by Earl Godwin, proceeded into Surrey, as
far as the town of Guildford. Here, he and his men halted in the
evening to rest, having still the Earl in their company; who had
ordered lodgings and good cheer for them. But, in the dead of the
night, when they were off their guard, being divided into small
parties sleeping soundly after a long march and a plentiful supper
in different houses, they were set upon by the King's troops, and
taken prisoners. Next morning they were drawn out in a line, to
the number of six hundred men, and were barbarously tortured and
killed; with the exception of every tenth man, who was sold into
slavery. As to the wretched Prince Alfred, he was stripped naked,
tied to a horse and sent away into the Isle of Ely, where his eyes
were torn out of his head, and where in a few days he miserably
died. I am not sure that the Earl had wilfully entrapped him, but
I suspect it strongly.
Harold was now King all over England, though it is doubtful whether
the Archbishop of Canterbury (the greater part of the priests were
Saxons, and not friendly to the Danes) ever consented to crown him.
Crowned or uncrowned, with the Archbishop's leave or without it, he
was King for four years: after which short reign he died, and was
buried; having never done much in life but go a hunting. He was
such a fast runner at this, his favourite sport, that the people
called him Harold Harefoot.
Hardicanute was then at Bruges, in Flanders, plotting, with his
mother (who had gone over there after the cruel murder of Prince
Alfred), for the invasion of England. The Danes and Saxons,
finding themselves without a King, and dreading new disputes, made
common cause, and joined in inviting him to occupy the Throne. He
consented, and soon troubled them enough; for he brought over
numbers of Danes, and taxed the people so insupportably to enrich
those greedy favourites that there were many insurrections,
especially one at Worcester, where the citizens rose and killed his
tax-collectors; in revenge for which he burned their city. He was
a brutal King, whose first public act was to order the dead body of
poor Harold Harefoot to be dug up, beheaded, and thrown into the
river. His end was worthy of such a beginning. He fell down
drunk, with a goblet of wine in his hand, at a wedding-feast at
Lambeth, given in honour of the marriage of his standard-bearer, a
Dane named TOWED THE PROUD. And he never spoke again.
EDWARD, afterwards called by the monks THE CONFESSOR, succeeded;
and his first act was to oblige his mother Emma, who had favoured
him so little, to retire into the country; where she died some ten
years afterwards. He was the exiled prince whose brother Alfred
had been so foully killed. He had been invited over from Normandy
by Hardicanute, in the course of his short reign of two years, and
had been handsomely treated at court. His cause was now favoured
by the powerful Earl Godwin, and he was soon made King. This Earl
had been suspected by the people, ever since Prince Alfred's cruel
death; he had even been tried in the last reign for the Prince's
murder, but had been pronounced not guilty; chiefly, as it was
supposed, because of a present he had made to the swinish King, of
a gilded ship with a figure-head of solid gold, and a crew of
eighty splendidly armed men. It was his interest to help the new
King with his power, if the new King would help him against the
popular distrust and hatred. So they made a bargain. Edward the
Confessor got the Throne. The Earl got more power and more land,
and his daughter Editha was made queen; for it was a part of their
compact that the King should take her for his wife.
But, although she was a gentle lady, in all things worthy to be
beloved - good, beautiful, sensible, and kind - the King from the
first neglected her. Her father and her six proud brothers,
resenting this cold treatment, harassed the King greatly by
exerting all their power to make him unpopular. Having lived so
long in Normandy, he preferred the Normans to the English. He made
a Norman Archbishop, and Norman Bishops; his great officers and
favourites were all Normans; he introduced the Norman fashions and
the Norman language; in imitation of the state custom of Normandy,
he attached a great seal to his state documents, instead of merely
marking them, as the Saxon Kings had done, with the sign of the
cross - just as poor people who have never been taught to write,
now make the same mark for their names. All this, the powerful
Earl Godwin and his six proud sons represented to the people as
disfavour shown towards the English; and thus they daily increased
their own power, and daily diminished the power of the King.
They were greatly helped by an event that occurred when he had
reigned eight years. Eustace, Earl of Bologne, who had married the
King's sister, came to England on a visit. After staying at the
court some time, he set forth, with his numerous train of
attendants, to return home. They were to embark at Dover.
Entering that peaceful town in armour, they took possession of the
best houses, and noisily demanded to be lodged and entertained
without payment. One of the bold men of Dover, who would not
endure to have these domineering strangers jingling their heavy
swords and iron corselets up and down his house, eating his meat
and drinking his strong liquor, stood in his doorway and refused
admission to the first armed man who came there. The armed man
drew, and wounded him. The man of Dover struck the armed man dead.
Intelligence of what he had done, spreading through the streets to
where the Count Eustace and his men were standing by their horses,
bridle in hand, they passionately mounted, galloped to the house,
surrounded it, forced their way in (the doors and windows being
closed when they came up), and killed the man of Dover at his own
fireside. They then clattered through the streets, cutting down
and riding over men, women, and children. This did not last long,
you may believe. The men of Dover set upon them with great fury,
killed nineteen of the foreigners, wounded many more, and,
blockading the road to the port so that they should not embark,
beat them out of the town by the way they had come. Hereupon,
Count Eustace rides as hard as man can ride to Gloucester, where
Edward is, surrounded by Norman monks and Norman lords. 'Justice!'
cries the Count, 'upon the men of Dover, who have set upon and
slain my people!' The King sends immediately for the powerful Earl
Godwin, who happens to be near; reminds him that Dover is under his
government; and orders him to repair to Dover and do military
execution on the inhabitants. 'It does not become you,' says the
proud Earl in reply, 'to condemn without a hearing those whom you
have sworn to protect. I will not do it.'
The King, therefore, summoned the Earl, on pain of banishment and
loss of his titles and property, to appear before the court to
answer this disobedience. The Earl refused to appear. He, his
eldest son Harold, and his second son Sweyn, hastily raised as many
fighting men as their utmost power could collect, and demanded to
have Count Eustace and his followers surrendered to the justice of
the country. The King, in his turn, refused to give them up, and
raised a strong force. After some treaty and delay, the troops of
the great Earl and his sons began to fall off. The Earl, with a
part of his family and abundance of treasure, sailed to Flanders;
Harold escaped to Ireland; and the power of the great family was
for that time gone in England. But, the people did not forget
Then, Edward the Confessor, with the true meanness of a mean
spirit, visited his dislike of the once powerful father and sons
upon the helpless daughter and sister, his unoffending wife, whom
all who saw her (her husband and his monks excepted) loved. He
seized rapaciously upon her fortune and her jewels, and allowing
her only one attendant, confined her in a gloomy convent, of which
a sister of his - no doubt an unpleasant lady after his own heart -
was abbess or jailer.
Having got Earl Godwin and his six sons well out of his way, the
King favoured the Normans more than ever. He invited over WILLIAM,
DUKE OF NORMANDY, the son of that Duke who had received him and his
murdered brother long ago, and of a peasant girl, a tanner's
daughter, with whom that Duke had fallen in love for her beauty as
he saw her washing clothes in a brook. William, who was a great
warrior, with a passion for fine horses, dogs, and arms, accepted
the invitation; and the Normans in England, finding themselves more
numerous than ever when he arrived with his retinue, and held in
still greater honour at court than before, became more and more
haughty towards the people, and were more and more disliked by
The old Earl Godwin, though he was abroad, knew well how the people
felt; for, with part of the treasure he had carried away with him,
he kept spies and agents in his pay all over England.
Accordingly, he thought the time was come for fitting out a great
expedition against the Norman-loving King. With it, he sailed to
the Isle of Wight, where he was joined by his son Harold, the most
gallant and brave of all his family. And so the father and son
came sailing up the Thames to Southwark; great numbers of the
people declaring for them, and shouting for the English Earl and
the English Harold, against the Norman favourites!
The King was at first as blind and stubborn as kings usually have
been whensoever they have been in the hands of monks. But the
people rallied so thickly round the old Earl and his son, and the
old Earl was so steady in demanding without bloodshed the
restoration of himself and his family to their rights, that at last
the court took the alarm. The Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, and
the Norman Bishop of London, surrounded by their retainers, fought
their way out of London, and escaped from Essex to France in a
fishing-boat. The other Norman favourites dispersed in all
directions. The old Earl and his sons (except Sweyn, who had
committed crimes against the law) were restored to their
possessions and dignities. Editha, the virtuous and lovely Queen
of the insensible King, was triumphantly released from her prison,
the convent, and once more sat in her chair of state, arrayed in
the jewels of which, when she had no champion to support her
rights, her cold-blooded husband had deprived her.
The old Earl Godwin did not long enjoy his restored fortune. He
fell down in a fit at the King's table, and died upon the third day
afterwards. Harold succeeded to his power, and to a far higher
place in the attachment of the people than his father had ever
held. By his valour he subdued the King's enemies in many bloody
fights. He was vigorous against rebels in Scotland - this was the
time when Macbeth slew Duncan, upon which event our English
Shakespeare, hundreds of years afterwards, wrote his great tragedy;
and he killed the restless Welsh King GRIFFITH, and brought his
head to England.
What Harold was doing at sea, when he was driven on the French
coast by a tempest, is not at all certain; nor does it at all
matter. That his ship was forced by a storm on that shore, and
that he was taken prisoner, there is no doubt. In those barbarous
days, all shipwrecked strangers were taken prisoners, and obliged
to pay ransom. So, a certain Count Guy, who was the Lord of
Ponthieu where Harold's disaster happened, seized him, instead of
relieving him like a hospitable and Christian lord as he ought to
have done, and expected to make a very good thing of it.
But Harold sent off immediately to Duke William of Normandy,
complaining of this treatment; and the Duke no sooner heard of it
than he ordered Harold to be escorted to the ancient town of Rouen,
where he then was, and where he received him as an honoured guest.
Now, some writers tell us that Edward the Confessor, who was by
this time old and had no children, had made a will, appointing Duke
William of Normandy his successor, and had informed the Duke of his
having done so. There is no doubt that he was anxious about his
successor; because he had even invited over, from abroad, EDWARD
THE OUTLAW, a son of Ironside, who had come to England with his
wife and three children, but whom the King had strangely refused to
see when he did come, and who had died in London suddenly (princes
were terribly liable to sudden death in those days), and had been
buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The King might possibly have made
such a will; or, having always been fond of the Normans, he might
have encouraged Norman William to aspire to the English crown, by
something that he said to him when he was staying at the English
court. But, certainly William did now aspire to it; and knowing
that Harold would be a powerful rival, he called together a great
assembly of his nobles, offered Harold his daughter ADELE in
marriage, informed him that he meant on King Edward's death to
claim the English crown as his own inheritance, and required Harold
then and there to swear to aid him. Harold, being in the Duke's
power, took this oath upon the Missal, or Prayer-book. It is a
good example of the superstitions of the monks, that this Missal,
instead of being placed upon a table, was placed upon a tub; which,
when Harold had sworn, was uncovered, and shown to be full of dead
men's bones - bones, as the monks pretended, of saints. This was
supposed to make Harold's oath a great deal more impressive and
binding. As if the great name of the Creator of Heaven and earth
could be made more solemn by a knuckle-bone, or a double-tooth, or
a finger-nail, of Dunstan!
Within a week or two after Harold's return to England, the dreary
old Confessor was found to be dying. After wandering in his mind
like a very weak old man, he died. As he had put himself entirely
in the hands of the monks when he was alive, they praised him
lustily when he was dead. They had gone so far, already, as to
persuade him that he could work miracles; and had brought people
afflicted with a bad disorder of the skin, to him, to be touched
and cured. This was called 'touching for the King's Evil,' which
afterwards became a royal custom. You know, however, Who really
touched the sick, and healed them; and you know His sacred name is
not among the dusty line of human kings.
HAROLD was crowned King of England on the very day of the maudlin
Confessor's funeral. He had good need to be quick about it. When
the news reached Norman William, hunting in his park at Rouen, he
dropped his bow, returned to his palace, called his nobles to
council, and presently sent ambassadors to Harold, calling on him
to keep his oath and resign the Crown. Harold would do no such
thing. The barons of France leagued together round Duke William
for the invasion of England. Duke William promised freely to
distribute English wealth and English lands among them. The Pope
sent to Normandy a consecrated banner, and a ring containing a hair
which he warranted to have grown on the head of Saint Peter. He
blessed the enterprise; and cursed Harold; and requested that the
Normans would pay 'Peter's Pence' - or a tax to himself of a penny
a year on every house - a little more regularly in future, if they
could make it convenient.
King Harold had a rebel brother in Flanders, who was a vassal of
HAROLD HARDRADA, King of Norway. This brother, and this Norwegian
King, joining their forces against England, with Duke William's
help, won a fight in which the English were commanded by two
nobles; and then besieged York. Harold, who was waiting for the
Normans on the coast at Hastings, with his army, marched to
Stamford Bridge upon the river Derwent to give them instant battle.
He found them drawn up in a hollow circle, marked out by their
shining spears. Riding round this circle at a distance, to survey
it, he saw a brave figure on horseback, in a blue mantle and a
bright helmet, whose horse suddenly stumbled and threw him.
'Who is that man who has fallen?' Harold asked of one of his
'The King of Norway,' he replied.
'He is a tall and stately king,' said Harold, 'but his end is
He added, in a little while, 'Go yonder to my brother, and tell
him, if he withdraw his troops, he shall be Earl of Northumberland,
and rich and powerful in England.'
The captain rode away and gave the message.
'What will he give to my friend the King of Norway?' asked the
'Seven feet of earth for a grave,' replied the captain.
'No more?' returned the brother, with a smile.
'The King of Norway being a tall man, perhaps a little more,'
replied the captain.
'Ride back!' said the brother, 'and tell King Harold to make ready
for the fight!'
He did so, very soon. And such a fight King Harold led against
that force, that his brother, and the Norwegian King, and every
chief of note in all their host, except the Norwegian King's son,
Olave, to whom he gave honourable dismissal, were left dead upon
the field. The victorious army marched to York. As King Harold
sat there at the feast, in the midst of all his company, a stir was
heard at the doors; and messengers all covered with mire from
riding far and fast through broken ground came hurrying in, to
report that the Normans had landed in England.
The intelligence was true. They had been tossed about by contrary
winds, and some of their ships had been wrecked. A part of their
own shore, to which they had been driven back, was strewn with
Norman bodies. But they had once more made sail, led by the Duke's
own galley, a present from his wife, upon the prow whereof the
figure of a golden boy stood pointing towards England. By day, the
banner of the three Lions of Normandy, the diverse coloured sails,
the gilded vans, the many decorations of this gorgeous ship, had
glittered in the sun and sunny water; by night, a light had
sparkled like a star at her mast-head. And now, encamped near
Hastings, with their leader lying in the old Roman castle of
Pevensey, the English retiring in all directions, the land for
miles around scorched and smoking, fired and pillaged, was the
whole Norman power, hopeful and strong on English ground.
Harold broke up the feast and hurried to London. Within a week,
his army was ready. He sent out spies to ascertain the Norman
strength. William took them, caused them to be led through his
whole camp, and then dismissed. 'The Normans,' said these spies to
Harold, 'are not bearded on the upper lip as we English are, but
are shorn. They are priests.' 'My men,' replied Harold, with a
laugh, 'will find those priests good soldiers!'
'The Saxons,' reported Duke William's outposts of Norman soldiers,
who were instructed to retire as King Harold's army advanced, 'rush
on us through their pillaged country with the fury of madmen.'
'Let them come, and come soon!' said Duke William.
Some proposals for a reconciliation were made, but were soon
abandoned. In the middle of the month of October, in the year one
thousand and sixty-six, the Normans and the English came front to
front. All night the armies lay encamped before each other, in a
part of the country then called Senlac, now called (in remembrance
of them) Battle. With the first dawn of day, they arose. There,
in the faint light, were the English on a hill; a wood behind them;
in their midst, the Royal banner, representing a fighting warrior,
woven in gold thread, adorned with precious stones; beneath the
banner, as it rustled in the wind, stood King Harold on foot, with
two of his remaining brothers by his side; around them, still and
silent as the dead, clustered the whole English army - every
soldier covered by his shield, and bearing in his hand his dreaded
English battle-axe.
On an opposite hill, in three lines, archers, foot-soldiers,
horsemen, was the Norman force. Of a sudden, a great battle-cry,
'God help us!' burst from the Norman lines. The English answered
with their own battle-cry, 'God's Rood! Holy Rood!' The Normans
then came sweeping down the hill to attack the English.
There was one tall Norman Knight who rode before the Norman army on
a prancing horse, throwing up his heavy sword and catching it, and
singing of the bravery of his countrymen. An English Knight, who
rode out from the English force to meet him, fell by this Knight's
hand. Another English Knight rode out, and he fell too. But then
a third rode out, and killed the Norman. This was in the first
beginning of the fight. It soon raged everywhere.
The English, keeping side by side in a great mass, cared no more
for the showers of Norman arrows than if they had been showers of
Norman rain. When the Norman horsemen rode against them, with
their battle-axes they cut men and horses down. The Normans gave
way. The English pressed forward. A cry went forth among the
Norman troops that Duke William was killed. Duke William took off
his helmet, in order that his face might be distinctly seen, and
rode along the line before his men. This gave them courage. As
they turned again to face the English, some of their Norman horse
divided the pursuing body of the English from the rest, and thus
all that foremost portion of the English army fell, fighting
bravely. The main body still remaining firm, heedless of the
Norman arrows, and with their battle-axes cutting down the crowds
of horsemen when they rode up, like forests of young trees, Duke
William pretended to retreat. The eager English followed. The
Norman army closed again, and fell upon them with great slaughter.
'Still,' said Duke William, 'there are thousands of the English,
firms as rocks around their King. Shoot upward, Norman archers,
that your arrows may fall down upon their faces!'
The sun rose high, and sank, and the battle still raged. Through
all the wild October day, the clash and din resounded in the air.
In the red sunset, and in the white moonlight, heaps upon heaps of
dead men lay strewn, a dreadful spectacle, all over the ground.
King Harold, wounded with an arrow in the eye, was nearly blind.
His brothers were already killed. Twenty Norman Knights, whose
battered armour had flashed fiery and golden in the sunshine all
day long, and now looked silvery in the moonlight, dashed forward
to seize the Royal banner from the English Knights and soldiers,
still faithfully collected round their blinded King. The King
received a mortal wound, and dropped. The English broke and fled.
The Normans rallied, and the day was lost.
O what a sight beneath the moon and stars, when lights were shining
in the tent of the victorious Duke William, which was pitched near
the spot where Harold fell - and he and his knights were carousing,
within - and soldiers with torches, going slowly to and fro,
without, sought for the corpse of Harold among piles of dead - and
the Warrior, worked in golden thread and precious stones, lay low,
all torn and soiled with blood - and the three Norman Lions kept
watch over the field!
UPON the ground where the brave Harold fell, William the Norman
afterwards founded an abbey, which, under the name of Battle Abbey,
was a rich and splendid place through many a troubled year, though
now it is a grey ruin overgrown with ivy. But the first work he
had to do, was to conquer the English thoroughly; and that, as you
know by this time, was hard work for any man.
He ravaged several counties; he burned and plundered many towns; he
laid waste scores upon scores of miles of pleasant country; he
destroyed innumerable lives. At length STIGAND, Archbishop of
Canterbury, with other representatives of the clergy and the
people, went to his camp, and submitted to him. EDGAR, the
insignificant son of Edmund Ironside, was proclaimed King by
others, but nothing came of it. He fled to Scotland afterwards,
where his sister, who was young and beautiful, married the Scottish
King. Edgar himself was not important enough for anybody to care
much about him.
On Christmas Day, William was crowned in Westminster Abbey, under
the title of WILLIAM THE FIRST; but he is best known as WILLIAM THE
CONQUEROR. It was a strange coronation. One of the bishops who
performed the ceremony asked the Normans, in French, if they would
have Duke William for their king? They answered Yes. Another of
the bishops put the same question to the Saxons, in English. They
too answered Yes, with a loud shout. The noise being heard by a
guard of Norman horse-soldiers outside, was mistaken for resistance
on the part of the English. The guard instantly set fire to the
neighbouring houses, and a tumult ensued; in the midst of which the
King, being left alone in the Abbey, with a few priests (and they
all being in a terrible fright together), was hurriedly crowned.
When the crown was placed upon his head, he swore to govern the
English as well as the best of their own monarchs. I dare say you
think, as I do, that if we except the Great Alfred, he might pretty
easily have done that.
Numbers of the English nobles had been killed in the last
disastrous battle. Their estates, and the estates of all the
nobles who had fought against him there, King William seized upon,
and gave to his own Norman knights and nobles. Many great English
families of the present time acquired their English lands in this
way, and are very proud of it.
But what is got by force must be maintained by force. These nobles
were obliged to build castles all over England, to defend their new
property; and, do what he would, the King could neither soothe nor
quell the nation as he wished. He gradually introduced the Norman
language and the Norman customs; yet, for a long time the great
body of the English remained sullen and revengeful. On his going
over to Normandy, to visit his subjects there, the oppressions of
his half-brother ODO, whom he left in charge of his English
kingdom, drove the people mad. The men of Kent even invited over,
to take possession of Dover, their old enemy Count Eustace of
Boulogne, who had led the fray when the Dover man was slain at his
own fireside. The men of Hereford, aided by the Welsh, and
commanded by a chief named EDRIC THE WILD, drove the Normans out of
their country. Some of those who had been dispossessed of their
lands, banded together in the North of England; some, in Scotland;
some, in the thick woods and marshes; and whensoever they could
fall upon the Normans, or upon the English who had submitted to the
Normans, they fought, despoiled, and murdered, like the desperate
outlaws that they were. Conspiracies were set on foot for a
general massacre of the Normans, like the old massacre of the
Danes. In short, the English were in a murderous mood all through
the kingdom.
King William, fearing he might lose his conquest, came back, and
tried to pacify the London people by soft words. He then set forth
to repress the country people by stern deeds. Among the towns
which he besieged, and where he killed and maimed the inhabitants
without any distinction, sparing none, young or old, armed or
unarmed, were Oxford, Warwick, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby,
Lincoln, York. In all these places, and in many others, fire and
sword worked their utmost horrors, and made the land dreadful to
behold. The streams and rivers were discoloured with blood; the
sky was blackened with smoke; the fields were wastes of ashes; the
waysides were heaped up with dead. Such are the fatal results of
conquest and ambition! Although William was a harsh and angry man,
I do not suppose that he deliberately meant to work this shocking
ruin, when he invaded England. But what he had got by the strong
hand, he could only keep by the strong hand, and in so doing he
made England a great grave.
Two sons of Harold, by name EDMUND and GODWIN, came over from
Ireland, with some ships, against the Normans, but were defeated.
This was scarcely done, when the outlaws in the woods so harassed
York, that the Governor sent to the King for help. The King
despatched a general and a large force to occupy the town of
Durham. The Bishop of that place met the general outside the town,
and warned him not to enter, as he would be in danger there. The
general cared nothing for the warning, and went in with all his
men. That night, on every hill within sight of Durham, signal
fires were seen to blaze. When the morning dawned, the English,
who had assembled in great strength, forced the gates, rushed into
the town, and slew the Normans every one. The English afterwards
besought the Danes to come and help them. The Danes came, with two
hundred and forty ships. The outlawed nobles joined them; they
captured York, and drove the Normans out of that city. Then,
William bribed the Danes to go away; and took such vengeance on the
English, that all the former fire and sword, smoke and ashes, death
and ruin, were nothing compared with it. In melancholy songs, and
doleful stories, it was still sung and told by cottage fires on
winter evenings, a hundred years afterwards, how, in those dreadful
days of the Normans, there was not, from the River Humber to the
River Tyne, one inhabited village left, nor one cultivated field -
how there was nothing but a dismal ruin, where the human creatures
and the beasts lay dead together.
The outlaws had, at this time, what they called a Camp of Refuge,
in the midst of the fens of Cambridgeshire. Protected by those
marshy grounds which were difficult of approach, they lay among the
reeds and rushes, and were hidden by the mists that rose up from
the watery earth. Now, there also was, at that time, over the sea
in Flanders, an Englishman named HEREWARD, whose father had died in
his absence, and whose property had been given to a Norman. When
he heard of this wrong that had been done him (from such of the
exiled English as chanced to wander into that country), he longed
for revenge; and joining the outlaws in their camp of refuge,
became their commander. He was so good a soldier, that the Normans
supposed him to be aided by enchantment. William, even after he
had made a road three miles in length across the Cambridgeshire
marshes, on purpose to attack this supposed enchanter, thought it
necessary to engage an old lady, who pretended to be a sorceress,
to come and do a little enchantment in the royal cause. For this
purpose she was pushed on before the troops in a wooden tower; but
Hereward very soon disposed of this unfortunate sorceress, by
burning her, tower and all. The monks of the convent of Ely near
at hand, however, who were fond of good living, and who found it
very uncomfortable to have the country blockaded and their supplies
of meat and drink cut off, showed the King a secret way of
surprising the camp. So Hereward was soon defeated. Whether he
afterwards died quietly, or whether he was killed after killing
sixteen of the men who attacked him (as some old rhymes relate that
he did), I cannot say. His defeat put an end to the Camp of
Refuge; and, very soon afterwards, the King, victorious both in
Scotland and in England, quelled the last rebellious English noble.
He then surrounded himself with Norman lords, enriched by the
property of English nobles; had a great survey made of all the land
in England, which was entered as the property of its new owners, on
a roll called Doomsday Book; obliged the people to put out their
fires and candles at a certain hour every night, on the ringing of
a bell which was called The Curfew; introduced the Norman dresses
and manners; made the Normans masters everywhere, and the English,
servants; turned out the English bishops, and put Normans in their
places; and showed himself to be the Conqueror indeed.
But, even with his own Normans, he had a restless life. They were
always hungering and thirsting for the riches of the English; and
the more he gave, the more they wanted. His priests were as greedy
as his soldiers. We know of only one Norman who plainly told his
master, the King, that he had come with him to England to do his
duty as a faithful servant, and that property taken by force from
other men had no charms for him. His name was GUILBERT. We should
not forget his name, for it is good to remember and to honour
honest men.
Besides all these troubles, William the Conqueror was troubled by
quarrels among his sons. He had three living. ROBERT, called
CURTHOSE, because of his short legs; WILLIAM, called RUFUS or the
Red, from the colour of his hair; and HENRY, fond of learning, and
called, in the Norman language, BEAUCLERC, or Fine-Scholar. When
Robert grew up, he asked of his father the government of Normandy,
which he had nominally possessed, as a child, under his mother,
MATILDA. The King refusing to grant it, Robert became jealous and
discontented; and happening one day, while in this temper, to be
ridiculed by his brothers, who threw water on him from a balcony as
he was walking before the door, he drew his sword, rushed upstairs,
and was only prevented by the King himself from putting
them to death. That same night, he hotly departed with some
followers from his father's court, and endeavoured to take the
Castle of Rouen by surprise. Failing in this, he shut himself up
in another Castle in Normandy, which the King besieged, and where
Robert one day unhorsed and nearly killed him without knowing who
he was. His submission when he discovered his father, and the
intercession of the queen and others, reconciled them; but not
soundly; for Robert soon strayed abroad, and went from court to
court with his complaints. He was a gay, careless, thoughtless
fellow, spending all he got on musicians and dancers; but his
mother loved him, and often, against the King's command, supplied
him with money through a messenger named SAMSON. At length the
incensed King swore he would tear out Samson's eyes; and Samson,
thinking that his only hope of safety was in becoming a monk,
became one, went on such errands no more, and kept his eyes in his
All this time, from the turbulent day of his strange coronation,
the Conqueror had been struggling, you see, at any cost of cruelty
and bloodshed, to maintain what he had seized. All his reign, he
struggled still, with the same object ever before him. He was a
stern, bold man, and he succeeded in it.
He loved money, and was particular in his eating, but he had only
leisure to indulge one other passion, and that was his love of
hunting. He carried it to such a height that he ordered whole
villages and towns to be swept away to make forests for the deer.
Not satisfied with sixty-eight Royal Forests, he laid waste an
immense district, to form another in Hampshire, called the New
Forest. The many thousands of miserable peasants who saw their
little houses pulled down, and themselves and children turned into
the open country without a shelter, detested him for his merciless
addition to their many sufferings; and when, in the twenty-first
year of his reign (which proved to be the last), he went over to
Rouen, England was as full of hatred against him, as if every leaf
on every tree in all his Royal Forests had been a curse upon his
head. In the New Forest, his son Richard (for he had four sons)
had been gored to death by a Stag; and the people said that this so
cruelly-made Forest would yet be fatal to others of the Conqueror's
He was engaged in a dispute with the King of France about some
territory. While he stayed at Rouen, negotiating with that King,
he kept his bed and took medicines: being advised by his
physicians to do so, on account of having grown to an unwieldy
size. Word being brought to him that the King of France made light
of this, and joked about it, he swore in a great rage that he
should rue his jests. He assembled his army, marched into the
disputed territory, burnt - his old way! - the vines, the crops,
and fruit, and set the town of Mantes on fire. But, in an evil
hour; for, as he rode over the hot ruins, his horse, setting his
hoofs upon some burning embers, started, threw him forward against
the pommel of the saddle, and gave him a mortal hurt. For six
weeks he lay dying in a monastery near Rouen, and then made his
will, giving England to William, Normandy to Robert, and five
thousand pounds to Henry. And now, his violent deeds lay heavy on
his mind. He ordered money to be given to many English churches
and monasteries, and - which was much better repentance - released
his prisoners of state, some of whom had been confined in his
dungeons twenty years.
It was a September morning, and the sun was rising, when the King
was awakened from slumber by the sound of a church bell. 'What
bell is that?' he faintly asked. They told him it was the bell of
the chapel of Saint Mary. 'I commend my soul,' said he, 'to Mary!'
and died.
Think of his name, The Conqueror, and then consider how he lay in
death! The moment he was dead, his physicians, priests, and
nobles, not knowing what contest for the throne might now take
place, or what might happen in it, hastened away, each man for
himself and his own property; the mercenary servants of the court
began to rob and plunder; the body of the King, in the indecent
strife, was rolled from the bed, and lay alone, for hours, upon the
ground. O Conqueror, of whom so many great names are proud now, of
whom so many great names thought nothing then, it were better to
have conquered one true heart, than England!
By-and-by, the priests came creeping in with prayers and candles;
and a good knight, named HERLUIN, undertook (which no one else
would do) to convey the body to Caen, in Normandy, in order that it
might be buried in St. Stephen's church there, which the Conqueror
had founded. But fire, of which he had made such bad use in his
life, seemed to follow him of itself in death. A great
conflagration broke out in the town when the body was placed in the
church; and those present running out to extinguish the flames, it
was once again left alone.
It was not even buried in peace. It was about to be let down, in
its Royal robes, into a tomb near the high altar, in presence of a
great concourse of people, when a loud voice in the crowd cried
out, 'This ground is mine! Upon it, stood my father's house. This
King despoiled me of both ground and house to build this church.
In the great name of GOD, I here forbid his body to be covered with
the earth that is my right!' The priests and bishops present,
knowing the speaker's right, and knowing that the King had often
denied him justice, paid him down sixty shillings for the grave.
Even then, the corpse was not at rest. The tomb was too small, and
they tried to force it in. It broke, a dreadful smell arose, the
people hurried out into the air, and, for the third time, it was
left alone.
Where were the Conqueror's three sons, that they were not at their
father's burial? Robert was lounging among minstrels, dancers, and
gamesters, in France or Germany. Henry was carrying his five
thousand pounds safely away in a convenient chest he had got made.
William the Red was hurrying to England, to lay hands upon the
Royal treasure and the crown.
WILLIAM THE RED, in breathless haste, secured the three great forts
of Dover, Pevensey, and Hastings, and made with hot speed for
Winchester, where the Royal treasure was kept. The treasurer
delivering him the keys, he found that it amounted to sixty
thousand pounds in silver, besides gold and jewels. Possessed of
this wealth, he soon persuaded the Archbishop of Canterbury to
crown him, and became William the Second, King of England.
Rufus was no sooner on the throne, than he ordered into prison
again the unhappy state captives whom his father had set free, and
directed a goldsmith to ornament his father's tomb profusely with
gold and silver. It would have been more dutiful in him to have
attended the sick Conqueror when he was dying; but England itself,
like this Red King, who once governed it, has sometimes made
expensive tombs for dead men whom it treated shabbily when they
were alive.
The King's brother, Robert of Normandy, seeming quite content to be
only Duke of that country; and the King's other brother, Fine-
Scholar, being quiet enough with his five thousand pounds in a
chest; the King flattered himself, we may suppose, with the hope of
an easy reign. But easy reigns were difficult to have in those
days. The turbulent Bishop ODO (who had blessed the Norman army at
the Battle of Hastings, and who, I dare say, took all the credit of
the victory to himself) soon began, in concert with some powerful
Norman nobles, to trouble the Red King.
The truth seems to be that this bishop and his friends, who had
lands in England and lands in Normandy, wished to hold both under
one Sovereign; and greatly preferred a thoughtless good-natured
person, such as Robert was, to Rufus; who, though far from being an
amiable man in any respect, was keen, and not to be imposed upon.
They declared in Robert's favour, and retired to their castles
(those castles were very troublesome to kings) in a sullen humour.
The Red King, seeing the Normans thus falling from him, revenged
himself upon them by appealing to the English; to whom he made a
variety of promises, which he never meant to perform - in
particular, promises to soften the cruelty of the Forest Laws; and
who, in return, so aided him with their valour, that ODO was
besieged in the Castle of Rochester, and forced to abandon it, and
to depart from England for ever: whereupon the other rebellious
Norman nobles were soon reduced and scattered.
Then, the Red King went over to Normandy, where the people suffered
greatly under the loose rule of Duke Robert. The King's object was
to seize upon the Duke's dominions. This, the Duke, of course,
prepared to resist; and miserable war between the two brothers
seemed inevitable, when the powerful nobles on both sides, who had
seen so much of war, interfered to prevent it. A treaty was made.
Each of the two brothers agreed to give up something of his claims,
and that the longer-liver of the two should inherit all the
dominions of the other. When they had come to this loving
understanding, they embraced and joined their forces against Fine-
Scholar; who had bought some territory of Robert with a part of his
five thousand pounds, and was considered a dangerous individual in
St. Michael's Mount, in Normandy (there is another St. Michael's
Mount, in Cornwall, wonderfully like it), was then, as it is now, a
strong place perched upon the top of a high rock, around which,
when the tide is in, the sea flows, leaving no road to the
mainland. In this place, Fine-Scholar shut himself up with his
soldiers, and here he was closely besieged by his two brothers. At
one time, when he was reduced to great distress for want of water,
the generous Robert not only permitted his men to get water, but
sent Fine-Scholar wine from his own table; and, on being
remonstrated with by the Red King, said 'What! shall we let our own
brother die of thirst? Where shall we get another, when he is
gone?' At another time, the Red King riding alone on the shore of
the bay, looking up at the Castle, was taken by two of Fine-
Scholar's men, one of whom was about to kill him, when he cried
out, 'Hold, knave! I am the King of England!' The story says that
the soldier raised him from the ground respectfully and humbly, and
that the King took him into his service. The story may or may not
be true; but at any rate it is true that Fine-Scholar could not
hold out against his united brothers, and that he abandoned Mount
St. Michael, and wandered about - as poor and forlorn as other
scholars have been sometimes known to be.
The Scotch became unquiet in the Red King's time, and were twice
defeated - the second time, with the loss of their King, Malcolm,
and his son. The Welsh became unquiet too. Against them, Rufus
was less successful; for they fought among their native mountains,
and did great execution on the King's troops. Robert of Normandy
became unquiet too; and, complaining that his brother the King did
not faithfully perform his part of their agreement, took up arms,
and obtained assistance from the King of France, whom Rufus, in the
end, bought off with vast sums of money. England became unquiet
too. Lord Mowbray, the powerful Earl of Northumberland, headed a
great conspiracy to depose the King, and to place upon the throne,
STEPHEN, the Conqueror's near relative. The plot was discovered;
all the chief conspirators were seized; some were fined, some were
put in prison, some were put to death. The Earl of Northumberland
himself was shut up in a dungeon beneath Windsor Castle, where he
died, an old man, thirty long years afterwards. The Priests in
England were more unquiet than any other class or power; for the
Red King treated them with such small ceremony that he refused to
appoint new bishops or archbishops when the old ones died, but kept
all the wealth belonging to those offices in his own hands. In
return for this, the Priests wrote his life when he was dead, and
abused him well. I am inclined to think, myself, that there was
little to choose between the Priests and the Red King; that both
sides were greedy and designing; and that they were fairly matched.
The Red King was false of heart, selfish, covetous, and mean. He
had a worthy minister in his favourite, Ralph, nicknamed - for
almost every famous person had a nickname in those rough days -
Flambard, or the Firebrand. Once, the King being ill, became
penitent, and made ANSELM, a foreign priest and a good man,
Archbishop of Canterbury. But he no sooner got well again than he
repented of his repentance, and persisted in wrongfully keeping to
himself some of the wealth belonging to the archbishopric. This
led to violent disputes, which were aggravated by there being in
Rome at that time two rival Popes; each of whom declared he was the
only real original infallible Pope, who couldn't make a mistake.
At last, Anselm, knowing the Red King's character, and not feeling
himself safe in England, asked leave to return abroad. The Red
King gladly gave it; for he knew that as soon as Anselm was gone,
he could begin to store up all the Canterbury money again, for his
own use.
By such means, and by taxing and oppressing the English people in
every possible way, the Red King became very rich. When he wanted
money for any purpose, he raised it by some means or other, and
cared nothing for the injustice he did, or the misery he caused.
Having the opportunity of buying from Robert the whole duchy of
Normandy for five years, he taxed the English people more than
ever, and made the very convents sell their plate and valuables to
supply him with the means to make the purchase. But he was as
quick and eager in putting down revolt as he was in raising money;
for, a part of the Norman people objecting - very naturally, I
think - to being sold in this way, he headed an army against them
with all the speed and energy of his father. He was so impatient,
that he embarked for Normandy in a great gale of wind. And when
the sailors told him it was dangerous to go to sea in such angry
weather, he replied, 'Hoist sail and away! Did you ever hear of a
king who was drowned?'
You will wonder how it was that even the careless Robert came to
sell his dominions. It happened thus. It had long been the custom
for many English people to make journeys to Jerusalem, which were
called pilgrimages, in order that they might pray beside the tomb
of Our Saviour there. Jerusalem belonging to the Turks, and the
Turks hating Christianity, these Christian travellers were often
insulted and ill used. The Pilgrims bore it patiently for some
time, but at length a remarkable man, of great earnestness and
eloquence, called PETER THE HERMIT, began to preach in various
places against the Turks, and to declare that it was the duty of
good Christians to drive away those unbelievers from the tomb of
Our Saviour, and to take possession of it, and protect it. An
excitement such as the world had never known before was created.
Thousands and thousands of men of all ranks and conditions departed
for Jerusalem to make war against the Turks. The war is called in
history the first Crusade, and every Crusader wore a cross marked
on his right shoulder.
All the Crusaders were not zealous Christians. Among them were
vast numbers of the restless, idle, profligate, and adventurous
spirit of the time. Some became Crusaders for the love of change;
some, in the hope of plunder; some, because they had nothing to do
at home; some, because they did what the priests told them; some,
because they liked to see foreign countries; some, because they
were fond of knocking men about, and would as soon knock a Turk
about as a Christian. Robert of Normandy may have been influenced
by all these motives; and by a kind desire, besides, to save the
Christian Pilgrims from bad treatment in future. He wanted to
raise a number of armed men, and to go to the Crusade. He could
not do so without money. He had no money; and he sold his
dominions to his brother, the Red King, for five years. With the
large sum he thus obtained, he fitted out his Crusaders gallantly,
and went away to Jerusalem in martial state. The Red King, who
made money out of everything, stayed at home, busily squeezing more
money out of Normans and English.
After three years of great hardship and suffering - from shipwreck
at sea; from travel in strange lands; from hunger, thirst, and
fever, upon the burning sands of the desert; and from the fury of
the Turks - the valiant Crusaders got possession of Our Saviour's
tomb. The Turks were still resisting and fighting bravely, but
this success increased the general desire in Europe to join the
Crusade. Another great French Duke was proposing to sell his
dominions for a term to the rich Red King, when the Red King's
reign came to a sudden and violent end.
You have not forgotten the New Forest which the Conqueror made, and
which the miserable people whose homes he had laid waste, so hated.
The cruelty of the Forest Laws, and the torture and death they
brought upon the peasantry, increased this hatred. The poor
persecuted country people believed that the New Forest was
enchanted. They said that in thunder-storms, and on dark nights,
demons appeared, moving beneath the branches of the gloomy trees.
They said that a terrible spectre had foretold to Norman hunters
that the Red King should be punished there. And now, in the
pleasant season of May, when the Red King had reigned almost
thirteen years; and a second Prince of the Conqueror's blood -
another Richard, the son of Duke Robert - was killed by an arrow in
this dreaded Forest; the people said that the second time was not
the last, and that there was another death to come.
It was a lonely forest, accursed in the people's hearts for the
wicked deeds that had been done to make it; and no man save the
King and his Courtiers and Huntsmen, liked to stray there. But, in
reality, it was like any other forest. In the spring, the green
leaves broke out of the buds; in the summer, flourished heartily,
and made deep shades; in the winter, shrivelled and blew down, and
lay in brown heaps on the moss. Some trees were stately, and grew
high and strong; some had fallen of themselves; some were felled by
the forester's axe; some were hollow, and the rabbits burrowed at
their roots; some few were struck by lightning, and stood white and
bare. There were hill-sides covered with rich fern, on which the
morning dew so beautifully sparkled; there were brooks, where the
deer went down to drink, or over which the whole herd bounded,
flying from the arrows of the huntsmen; there were sunny glades,
and solemn places where but little light came through the rustling
leaves. The songs of the birds in the New Forest were pleasanter
to hear than the shouts of fighting men outside; and even when the
Red King and his Court came hunting through its solitudes, cursing
loud and riding hard, with a jingling of stirrups and bridles and
knives and daggers, they did much less harm there than among the
English or Normans, and the stags died (as they lived) far easier
than the people.
Upon a day in August, the Red King, now reconciled to his brother,
Fine-Scholar, came with a great train to hunt in the New Forest.
Fine-Scholar was of the party. They were a merry party, and had
lain all night at Malwood-Keep, a hunting-lodge in the forest,
where they had made good cheer, both at supper and breakfast, and
had drunk a deal of wine. The party dispersed in various
directions, as the custom of hunters then was. The King took with
him only SIR WALTER TYRREL, who was a famous sportsman, and to whom
he had given, before they mounted horse that morning, two fine
The last time the King was ever seen alive, he was riding with Sir
Walter Tyrrel, and their dogs were hunting together.
It was almost night, when a poor charcoal-burner, passing through
the forest with his cart, came upon the solitary body of a dead
man, shot with an arrow in the breast, and still bleeding. He got
it into his cart. It was the body of the King. Shaken and
tumbled, with its red beard all whitened with lime and clotted with
blood, it was driven in the cart by the charcoal-burner next day to
Winchester Cathedral, where it was received and buried.
Sir Walter Tyrrel, who escaped to Normandy, and claimed the
protection of the King of France, swore in France that the Red King
was suddenly shot dead by an arrow from an unseen hand, while they
were hunting together; that he was fearful of being suspected as
the King's murderer; and that he instantly set spurs to his horse,
and fled to the sea-shore. Others declared that the King and Sir
Walter Tyrrel were hunting in company, a little before sunset,
standing in bushes opposite one another, when a stag came between
them. That the King drew his bow and took aim, but the string
broke. That the King then cried, 'Shoot, Walter, in the Devil's
name!' That Sir Walter shot. That the arrow glanced against a
tree, was turned aside from the stag, and struck the King from his
horse, dead.
By whose hand the Red King really fell, and whether that hand
despatched the arrow to his breast by accident or by design, is
only known to GOD. Some think his brother may have caused him to
be killed; but the Red King had made so many enemies, both among
priests and people, that suspicion may reasonably rest upon a less
unnatural murderer. Men know no more than that he was found dead
in the New Forest, which the suffering people had regarded as a
doomed ground for his race.
FINE-SCHOLAR, on hearing of the Red King's death, hurried to
Winchester with as much speed as Rufus himself had made, to seize
the Royal treasure. But the keeper of the treasure who had been
one of the hunting-party in the Forest, made haste to Winchester
too, and, arriving there at about the same time, refused to yield
it up. Upon this, Fine-Scholar drew his sword, and threatened to
kill the treasurer; who might have paid for his fidelity with his
life, but that he knew longer resistance to be useless when he
found the Prince supported by a company of powerful barons, who
declared they were determined to make him King. The treasurer,
therefore, gave up the money and jewels of the Crown: and on the
third day after the death of the Red King, being a Sunday, Fine-
Scholar stood before the high altar in Westminster Abbey, and made
a solemn declaration that he would resign the Church property which
his brother had seized; that he would do no wrong to the nobles;
and that he would restore to the people the laws of Edward the
Confessor, with all the improvements of William the Conqueror. So
began the reign of KING HENRY THE FIRST.
The people were attached to their new King, both because he had
known distresses, and because he was an Englishman by birth and not
a Norman. To strengthen this last hold upon them, the King wished
to marry an English lady; and could think of no other wife than
MAUD THE GOOD, the daughter of the King of Scotland. Although this
good Princess did not love the King, she was so affected by the
representations the nobles made to her of the great charity it
would be in her to unite the Norman and Saxon races, and prevent
hatred and bloodshed between them for the future, that she
consented to become his wife. After some disputing among the
priests, who said that as she had been in a convent in her youth,
and had worn the veil of a nun, she could not lawfully be married -
against which the Princess stated that her aunt, with whom she had
lived in her youth, had indeed sometimes thrown a piece of black
stuff over her, but for no other reason than because the nun's veil
was the only dress the conquering Normans respected in girl or
woman, and not because she had taken the vows of a nun, which she
never had - she was declared free to marry, and was made King
Henry's Queen. A good Queen she was; beautiful, kind-hearted, and
worthy of a better husband than the King.
For he was a cunning and unscrupulous man, though firm and clever.
He cared very little for his word, and took any means to gain his
ends. All this is shown in his treatment of his brother Robert -
Robert, who had suffered him to be refreshed with water, and who
had sent him the wine from his own table, when he was shut up, with
the crows flying below him, parched with thirst, in the castle on
the top of St. Michael's Mount, where his Red brother would have
let him die.
Before the King began to deal with Robert, he removed and disgraced
all the favourites of the late King; who were for the most part
base characters, much detested by the people. Flambard, or
Firebrand, whom the late King had made Bishop of Durham, of all
things in the world, Henry imprisoned in the Tower; but Firebrand
was a great joker and a jolly companion, and made himself so
popular with his guards that they pretended to know nothing about a
long rope that was sent into his prison at the bottom of a deep
flagon of wine. The guards took the wine, and Firebrand took the
rope; with which, when they were fast asleep, he let himself down
from a window in the night, and so got cleverly aboard ship and
away to Normandy.
Now Robert, when his brother Fine-Scholar came to the throne, was
still absent in the Holy Land. Henry pretended that Robert had
been made Sovereign of that country; and he had been away so long,
that the ignorant people believed it. But, behold, when Henry had
been some time King of England, Robert came home to Normandy;
having leisurely returned from Jerusalem through Italy, in which
beautiful country he had enjoyed himself very much, and had married
a lady as beautiful as itself! In Normandy, he found Firebrand
waiting to urge him to assert his claim to the English crown, and
declare war against King Henry. This, after great loss of time in
feasting and dancing with his beautiful Italian wife among his
Norman friends, he at last did.
The English in general were on King Henry's side, though many of
the Normans were on Robert's. But the English sailors deserted the
King, and took a great part of the English fleet over to Normandy;
so that Robert came to invade this country in no foreign vessels,
but in English ships. The virtuous Anselm, however, whom Henry had
invited back from abroad, and made Archbishop of Canterbury, was
steadfast in the King's cause; and it was so well supported that
the two armies, instead of fighting, made a peace. Poor Robert,
who trusted anybody and everybody, readily trusted his brother, the
King; and agreed to go home and receive a pension from England, on
condition that all his followers were fully pardoned. This the
King very faithfully promised, but Robert was no sooner gone than
he began to punish them.
Among them was the Earl of Shrewsbury, who, on being summoned by
the King to answer to five-and-forty accusations, rode away to one
of his strong castles, shut himself up therein, called around him
his tenants and vassals, and fought for his liberty, but was
defeated and banished. Robert, with all his faults, was so true to
his word, that when he first heard of this nobleman having risen
against his brother, he laid waste the Earl of Shrewsbury's estates
in Normandy, to show the King that he would favour no breach of
their treaty. Finding, on better information, afterwards, that the
Earl's only crime was having been his friend, he came over to
England, in his old thoughtless, warm-hearted way, to intercede
with the King, and remind him of the solemn promise to pardon all
his followers.
This confidence might have put the false King to the blush, but it
did not. Pretending to be very friendly, he so surrounded his
brother with spies and traps, that Robert, who was quite in his
power, had nothing for it but to renounce his pension and escape
while he could. Getting home to Normandy, and understanding the
King better now, he naturally allied himself with his old friend
the Earl of Shrewsbury, who had still thirty castles in that
country. This was exactly what Henry wanted. He immediately
declared that Robert had broken the treaty, and next year invaded
He pretended that he came to deliver the Normans, at their own
request, from his brother's misrule. There is reason to fear that
his misrule was bad enough; for his beautiful wife had died,
leaving him with an infant son, and his court was again so
careless, dissipated, and ill-regulated, that it was said he
sometimes lay in bed of a day for want of clothes to put on - his
attendants having stolen all his dresses. But he headed his army
like a brave prince and a gallant soldier, though he had the
misfortune to be taken prisoner by King Henry, with four hundred of
his Knights. Among them was poor harmless Edgar Atheling, who
loved Robert well. Edgar was not important enough to be severe
with. The King afterwards gave him a small pension, which he lived
upon and died upon, in peace, among the quiet woods and fields of
And Robert - poor, kind, generous, wasteful, heedless Robert, with
so many faults, and yet with virtues that might have made a better
and a happier man - what was the end of him? If the King had had
the magnanimity to say with a kind air, 'Brother, tell me, before
these noblemen, that from this time you will be my faithful
follower and friend, and never raise your hand against me or my
forces more!' he might have trusted Robert to the death. But the
King was not a magnanimous man. He sentenced his brother to be
confined for life in one of the Royal Castles. In the beginning of
his imprisonment, he was allowed to ride out, guarded; but he one
day broke away from his guard and galloped of. He had the evil
fortune to ride into a swamp, where his horse stuck fast and he was
taken. When the King heard of it he ordered him to be blinded,
which was done by putting a red-hot metal basin on his eyes.
And so, in darkness and in prison, many years, he thought of all
his past life, of the time he had wasted, of the treasure he had
squandered, of the opportunities he had lost, of the youth he had
thrown away, of the talents he had neglected. Sometimes, on fine
autumn mornings, he would sit and think of the old hunting parties
in the free Forest, where he had been the foremost and the gayest.
Sometimes, in the still nights, he would wake, and mourn for the
many nights that had stolen past him at the gaming-table;
sometimes, would seem to hear, upon the melancholy wind, the old
songs of the minstrels; sometimes, would dream, in his blindness,
of the light and glitter of the Norman Court. Many and many a
time, he groped back, in his fancy, to Jerusalem, where he had
fought so well; or, at the head of his brave companions, bowed his
feathered helmet to the shouts of welcome greeting him in Italy,
and seemed again to walk among the sunny vineyards, or on the shore
of the blue sea, with his lovely wife. And then, thinking of her
grave, and of his fatherless boy, he would stretch out his solitary
arms and weep.
At length, one day, there lay in prison, dead, with cruel and
disfiguring scars upon his eyelids, bandaged from his jailer's
sight, but on which the eternal Heavens looked down, a worn old man
of eighty. He had once been Robert of Normandy. Pity him!
At the time when Robert of Normandy was taken prisoner by his
brother, Robert's little son was only five years old. This child
was taken, too, and carried before the King, sobbing and crying;
for, young as he was, he knew he had good reason to be afraid of
his Royal uncle. The King was not much accustomed to pity those
who were in his power, but his cold heart seemed for the moment to
soften towards the boy. He was observed to make a great effort, as
if to prevent himself from being cruel, and ordered the child to be
taken away; whereupon a certain Baron, who had married a daughter
of Duke Robert's (by name, Helie of Saint Saen), took charge of
him, tenderly. The King's gentleness did not last long. Before
two years were over, he sent messengers to this lord's Castle to
seize the child and bring him away. The Baron was not there at the
time, but his servants were faithful, and carried the boy off in
his sleep and hid him. When the Baron came home, and was told what
the King had done, he took the child abroad, and, leading him by
the hand, went from King to King and from Court to Court, relating
how the child had a claim to the throne of England, and how his
uncle the King, knowing that he had that claim, would have murdered
him, perhaps, but for his escape.
The youth and innocence of the pretty little WILLIAM FITZ-ROBERT
(for that was his name) made him many friends at that time. When
he became a young man, the King of France, uniting with the French
Counts of Anjou and Flanders, supported his cause against the King
of England, and took many of the King's towns and castles in
Normandy. But, King Henry, artful and cunning always, bribed some
of William's friends with money, some with promises, some with
power. He bought off the Count of Anjou, by promising to marry his
eldest son, also named WILLIAM, to the Count's daughter; and indeed
the whole trust of this King's life was in such bargains, and he
believed (as many another King has done since, and as one King did
in France a very little time ago) that every man's truth and honour
can be bought at some price. For all this, he was so afraid of
William Fitz-Robert and his friends, that, for a long time, he
believed his life to be in danger; and never lay down to sleep,
even in his palace surrounded by his guards, without having a sword
and buckler at his bedside.
To strengthen his power, the King with great ceremony betrothed his
eldest daughter MATILDA, then a child only eight years old, to be
the wife of Henry the Fifth, the Emperor of Germany. To raise her
marriage-portion, he taxed the English people in a most oppressive
manner; then treated them to a great procession, to restore their
good humour; and sent Matilda away, in fine state, with the German
ambassadors, to be educated in the country of her future husband.
And now his Queen, Maud the Good, unhappily died. It was a sad
thought for that gentle lady, that the only hope with which she had
married a man whom she had never loved - the hope of reconciling
the Norman and English races - had failed. At the very time of her
death, Normandy and all France was in arms against England; for, so
soon as his last danger was over, King Henry had been false to all
the French powers he had promised, bribed, and bought, and they had
naturally united against him. After some fighting, however, in
which few suffered but the unhappy common people (who always
suffered, whatsoever was the matter), he began to promise, bribe,
and buy again; and by those means, and by the help of the Pope, who
exerted himself to save more bloodshed, and by solemnly declaring,
over and over again, that he really was in earnest this time, and
would keep his word, the King made peace.
One of the first consequences of this peace was, that the King went
over to Normandy with his son Prince William and a great retinue,
to have the Prince acknowledged as his successor by the Norman
Nobles, and to contract the promised marriage (this was one of the
many promises the King had broken) between him and the daughter of
the Count of Anjou. Both these things were triumphantly done, with
great show and rejoicing; and on the twenty-fifth of November, in
the year one thousand one hundred and twenty, the whole retinue
prepared to embark at the Port of Barfleur, for the voyage home.
On that day, and at that place, there came to the King, Fitz-
Stephen, a sea-captain, and said:
'My liege, my father served your father all his life, upon the sea.
He steered the ship with the golden boy upon the prow, in which
your father sailed to conquer England. I beseech you to grant me
the same office. I have a fair vessel in the harbour here, called
The White Ship, manned by fifty sailors of renown. I pray you,
Sire, to let your servant have the honour of steering you in The
White Ship to England!'
'I am sorry, friend,' replied the King, 'that my vessel is already
chosen, and that I cannot (therefore) sail with the son of the man
who served my father. But the Prince and all his company shall go
along with you, in the fair White Ship, manned by the fifty sailors
of renown.'
An hour or two afterwards, the King set sail in the vessel he had
chosen, accompanied by other vessels, and, sailing all night with a
fair and gentle wind, arrived upon the coast of England in the
morning. While it was yet night, the people in some of those ships
heard a faint wild cry come over the sea, and wondered what it was.
Now, the Prince was a dissolute, debauched young man of eighteen,
who bore no love to the English, and had declared that when he came
to the throne he would yoke them to the plough like oxen. He went
aboard The White Ship, with one hundred and forty youthful Nobles
like himself, among whom were eighteen noble ladies of the highest
rank. All this gay company, with their servants and the fifty
sailors, made three hundred souls aboard the fair White Ship.
'Give three casks of wine, Fitz-Stephen,' said the Prince, 'to the
fifty sailors of renown! My father the King has sailed out of the
harbour. What time is there to make merry here, and yet reach
England with the rest?'
'Prince!' said Fitz-Stephen, 'before morning, my fifty and The
White Ship shall overtake the swiftest vessel in attendance on your
father the King, if we sail at midnight!'
Then the Prince commanded to make merry; and the sailors drank out
the three casks of wine; and the Prince and all the noble company
danced in the moonlight on the deck of The White Ship.
When, at last, she shot out of the harbour of Barfleur, there was
not a sober seaman on board. But the sails were all set, and the
oars all going merrily. Fitz-Stephen had the helm. The gay young
nobles and the beautiful ladies, wrapped in mantles of various
bright colours to protect them from the cold, talked, laughed, and
sang. The Prince encouraged the fifty sailors to row harder yet,
for the honour of The White Ship.
Crash! A terrific cry broke from three hundred hearts. It was the
cry the people in the distant vessels of the King heard faintly on
the water. The White Ship had struck upon a rock - was filling -
going down!
Fitz-Stephen hurried the Prince into a boat, with some few Nobles.
'Push off,' he whispered; 'and row to land. It is not far, and the
sea is smooth. The rest of us must die.'
But, as they rowed away, fast, from the sinking ship, the Prince
heard the voice of his sister MARIE, the Countess of Perche,
calling for help. He never in his life had been so good as he was
then. He cried in an agony, 'Row back at any risk! I cannot bear
to leave her!'
They rowed back. As the Prince held out his arms to catch his
sister, such numbers leaped in, that the boat was overset. And in
the same instant The White Ship went down.
Only two men floated. They both clung to the main yard of the
ship, which had broken from the mast, and now supported them. One
asked the other who he was? He said, 'I am a nobleman, GODFREY by
name, the son of GILBERT DE L'AIGLE. And you?' said he. 'I am
BEROLD, a poor butcher of Rouen,' was the answer. Then, they said
together, 'Lord be merciful to us both!' and tried to encourage one
another, as they drifted in the cold benumbing sea on that
unfortunate November night.
By-and-by, another man came swimming towards them, whom they knew,
when he pushed aside his long wet hair, to be Fitz-Stephen. 'Where
is the Prince?' said he. 'Gone! Gone!' the two cried together.
'Neither he, nor his brother, nor his sister, nor the King's niece,
nor her brother, nor any one of all the brave three hundred, noble
or commoner, except we three, has risen above the water!' Fitz-
Stephen, with a ghastly face, cried, 'Woe! woe, to me!' and sunk to
the bottom.
The other two clung to the yard for some hours. At length the
young noble said faintly, 'I am exhausted, and chilled with the
cold, and can hold no longer. Farewell, good friend! God preserve
you!' So, he dropped and sunk; and of all the brilliant crowd, the
poor Butcher of Rouen alone was saved. In the morning, some
fishermen saw him floating in his sheep-skin coat, and got him into
their boat - the sole relater of the dismal tale.
For three days, no one dared to carry the intelligence to the King.
At length, they sent into his presence a little boy, who, weeping
bitterly, and kneeling at his feet, told him that The White Ship
was lost with all on board. The King fell to the ground like a
dead man, and never, never afterwards, was seen to smile.
But he plotted again, and promised again, and bribed and bought
again, in his old deceitful way. Having no son to succeed him,
after all his pains ('The Prince will never yoke us to the plough,
now!' said the English people), he took a second wife - ADELAIS or
ALICE, a duke's daughter, and the Pope's niece. Having no more
children, however, he proposed to the Barons to swear that they
would recognise as his successor, his daughter Matilda, whom, as
she was now a widow, he married to the eldest son of the Count of
Anjou, GEOFFREY, surnamed PLANTAGENET, from a custom he had of
wearing a sprig of flowering broom (called Genàt in French) in his
cap for a feather. As one false man usually makes many, and as a
false King, in particular, is pretty certain to make a false Court,
the Barons took the oath about the succession of Matilda (and her
children after her), twice over, without in the least intending to
keep it. The King was now relieved from any remaining fears of
William Fitz-Robert, by his death in the Monastery of St. Omer, in
France, at twenty-six years old, of a pike-wound in the hand. And
as Matilda gave birth to three sons, he thought the succession to
the throne secure.
He spent most of the latter part of his life, which was troubled by
family quarrels, in Normandy, to be near Matilda. When he had
reigned upward of thirty-five years, and was sixty-seven years old,
he died of an indigestion and fever, brought on by eating, when he
was far from well, of a fish called Lamprey, against which he had
often been cautioned by his physicians. His remains were brought
over to Reading Abbey to be buried.
You may perhaps hear the cunning and promise-breaking of King Henry
the First, called 'policy' by some people, and 'diplomacy' by
others. Neither of these fine words will in the least mean that it
was true; and nothing that is not true can possibly be good.
His greatest merit, that I know of, was his love of learning - I
should have given him greater credit even for that, if it had been
strong enough to induce him to spare the eyes of a certain poet he
once took prisoner, who was a knight besides. But he ordered the
poet's eyes to be torn from his head, because he had laughed at him
in his verses; and the poet, in the pain of that torture, dashed
out his own brains against his prison wall. King Henry the First
was avaricious, revengeful, and so false, that I suppose a man
never lived whose word was less to be relied upon.
THE King was no sooner dead than all the plans and schemes he had
laboured at so long, and lied so much for, crumbled away like a
hollow heap of sand. STEPHEN, whom he had never mistrusted or
suspected, started up to claim the throne.
Stephen was the son of ADELA, the Conqueror's daughter, married to
the Count of Blois. To Stephen, and to his brother HENRY, the late
King had been liberal; making Henry Bishop of Winchester, and
finding a good marriage for Stephen, and much enriching him. This
did not prevent Stephen from hastily producing a false witness, a
servant of the late King, to swear that the King had named him for
his heir upon his death-bed. On this evidence the Archbishop of
Canterbury crowned him. The new King, so suddenly made, lost not a
moment in seizing the Royal treasure, and hiring foreign soldiers
with some of it to protect his throne.
If the dead King had even done as the false witness said, he would
have had small right to will away the English people, like so many
sheep or oxen, without their consent. But he had, in fact,
bequeathed all his territory to Matilda; who, supported by ROBERT,
Earl of Gloucester, soon began to dispute the crown. Some of the
powerful barons and priests took her side; some took Stephen's; all
fortified their castles; and again the miserable English people
were involved in war, from which they could never derive advantage
whosoever was victorious, and in which all parties plundered,
tortured, starved, and ruined them.
Five years had passed since the death of Henry the First - and
during those five years there had been two terrible invasions by
the people of Scotland under their King, David, who was at last
defeated with all his army - when Matilda, attended by her brother
Robert and a large force, appeared in England to maintain her
claim. A battle was fought between her troops and King Stephen's
at Lincoln; in which the King himself was taken prisoner, after
bravely fighting until his battle-axe and sword were broken, and
was carried into strict confinement at Gloucester. Matilda then
submitted herself to the Priests, and the Priests crowned her Queen
of England.
She did not long enjoy this dignity. The people of London had a
great affection for Stephen; many of the Barons considered it
degrading to be ruled by a woman; and the Queen's temper was so
haughty that she made innumerable enemies. The people of London
revolted; and, in alliance with the troops of Stephen, besieged her
at Winchester, where they took her brother Robert prisoner, whom,
as her best soldier and chief general, she was glad to exchange for
Stephen himself, who thus regained his liberty. Then, the long war
went on afresh. Once, she was pressed so hard in the Castle of
Oxford, in the winter weather when the snow lay thick upon the
ground, that her only chance of escape was to dress herself all in
white, and, accompanied by no more than three faithful Knights,
dressed in like manner that their figures might not be seen from
Stephen's camp as they passed over the snow, to steal away on foot,
cross the frozen Thames, walk a long distance, and at last gallop
away on horseback. All this she did, but to no great purpose then;
for her brother dying while the struggle was yet going on, she at
last withdrew to Normandy.
In two or three years after her withdrawal her cause appeared in
England, afresh, in the person of her son Henry, young Plantagenet,
who, at only eighteen years of age, was very powerful: not only on
account of his mother having resigned all Normandy to him, but also
from his having married ELEANOR, the divorced wife of the French
King, a bad woman, who had great possessions in France. Louis, the
French King, not relishing this arrangement, helped EUSTACE, King
Stephen's son, to invade Normandy: but Henry drove their united
forces out of that country, and then returned here, to assist his
partisans, whom the King was then besieging at Wallingford upon the
Thames. Here, for two days, divided only by the river, the two
armies lay encamped opposite to one another - on the eve, as it
seemed to all men, of another desperate fight, when the EARL OF
ARUNDEL took heart and said 'that it was not reasonable to prolong
the unspeakable miseries of two kingdoms to minister to the
ambition of two princes.'
Many other noblemen repeating and supporting this when it was once
uttered, Stephen and young Plantagenet went down, each to his own
bank of the river, and held a conversation across it, in which they
arranged a truce; very much to the dissatisfaction of Eustace, who
swaggered away with some followers, and laid violent hands on the
Abbey of St. Edmund's-Bury, where he presently died mad. The truce
led to a solemn council at Winchester, in which it was agreed that
Stephen should retain the crown, on condition of his declaring
Henry his successor; that WILLIAM, another son of the King's,
should inherit his father's rightful possessions; and that all the
Crown lands which Stephen had given away should be recalled, and
all the Castles he had permitted to be built demolished. Thus
terminated the bitter war, which had now lasted fifteen years, and
had again laid England waste. In the next year STEPHEN died, after
a troubled reign of nineteen years.
Although King Stephen was, for the time in which he lived, a humane
and moderate man, with many excellent qualities; and although
nothing worse is known of him than his usurpation of the Crown,
which he probably excused to himself by the consideration that King
Henry the First was a usurper too - which was no excuse at all; the
people of England suffered more in these dread nineteen years, than
at any former period even of their suffering history. In the
division of the nobility between the two rival claimants of the
Crown, and in the growth of what is called the Feudal System (which
made the peasants the born vassals and mere slaves of the Barons),
every Noble had his strong Castle, where he reigned the cruel king
of all the neighbouring people. Accordingly, he perpetrated
whatever cruelties he chose. And never were worse cruelties
committed upon earth than in wretched England in those nineteen
The writers who were living then describe them fearfully. They say
that the castles were filled with devils rather than with men; that
the peasants, men and women, were put into dungeons for their gold
and silver, were tortured with fire and smoke, were hung up by the
thumbs, were hung up by the heels with great weights to their
heads, were torn with jagged irons, killed with hunger, broken to
death in narrow chests filled with sharp-pointed stones, murdered
in countless fiendish ways. In England there was no corn, no meat,
no cheese, no butter, there were no tilled lands, no harvests.
Ashes of burnt towns, and dreary wastes, were all that the
traveller, fearful of the robbers who prowled abroad at all hours,
would see in a long day's journey; and from sunrise until night, he
would not come upon a home.
The clergy sometimes suffered, and heavily too, from pillage, but
many of them had castles of their own, and fought in helmet and
armour like the barons, and drew lots with other fighting men for
their share of booty. The Pope (or Bishop of Rome), on King
Stephen's resisting his ambition, laid England under an Interdict
at one period of this reign; which means that he allowed no service
to be performed in the churches, no couples to be married, no bells
to be rung, no dead bodies to be buried. Any man having the power
to refuse these things, no matter whether he were called a Pope or
a Poulterer, would, of course, have the power of afflicting numbers
of innocent people. That nothing might be wanting to the miseries
of King Stephen's time, the Pope threw in this contribution to the
public store - not very like the widow's contribution, as I think,
when Our Saviour sat in Jerusalem over-against the Treasury, 'and
she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.'
HENRY PLANTAGENET, when he was but twenty-one years old, quietly
succeeded to the throne of England, according to his agreement made
with the late King at Winchester. Six weeks after Stephen's death,
he and his Queen, Eleanor, were crowned in that city; into which
they rode on horseback in great state, side by side, amidst much
shouting and rejoicing, and clashing of music, and strewing of
The reign of King Henry the Second began well. The King had great
possessions, and (what with his own rights, and what with those of
his wife) was lord of one-third part of France. He was a young man
of vigour, ability, and resolution, and immediately applied himself
to remove some of the evils which had arisen in the last unhappy
reign. He revoked all the grants of land that had been hastily
made, on either side, during the late struggles; he obliged numbers
of disorderly soldiers to depart from England; he reclaimed all the
castles belonging to the Crown; and he forced the wicked nobles to
pull down their own castles, to the number of eleven hundred, in
which such dismal cruelties had been inflicted on the people. The
King's brother, GEOFFREY, rose against him in France, while he was
so well employed, and rendered it necessary for him to repair to
that country; where, after he had subdued and made a friendly
arrangement with his brother (who did not live long), his ambition
to increase his possessions involved him in a war with the French
King, Louis, with whom he had been on such friendly terms just
before, that to the French King's infant daughter, then a baby in
the cradle, he had promised one of his little sons in marriage, who
was a child of five years old. However, the war came to nothing at
last, and the Pope made the two Kings friends again.
Now, the clergy, in the troubles of the last reign, had gone on
very ill indeed. There were all kinds of criminals among them -
murderers, thieves, and vagabonds; and the worst of the matter was,
that the good priests would not give up the bad priests to justice,
when they committed crimes, but persisted in sheltering and
defending them. The King, well knowing that there could be no
peace or rest in England while such things lasted, resolved to
reduce the power of the clergy; and, when he had reigned seven
years, found (as he considered) a good opportunity for doing so, in
the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 'I will have for the
new Archbishop,' thought the King, 'a friend in whom I can trust,
who will help me to humble these rebellious priests, and to have
them dealt with, when they do wrong, as other men who do wrong are
dealt with.' So, he resolved to make his favourite, the new
Archbishop; and this favourite was so extraordinary a man, and his
story is so curious, that I must tell you all about him.
Once upon a time, a worthy merchant of London, named GILBERT A
BECKET, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was taken prisoner
by a Saracen lord. This lord, who treated him kindly and not like
a slave, had one fair daughter, who fell in love with the merchant;
and who told him that she wanted to become a Christian, and was
willing to marry him if they could fly to a Christian country. The
merchant returned her love, until he found an opportunity to
escape, when he did not trouble himself about the Saracen lady, but
escaped with his servant Richard, who had been taken prisoner along
with him, and arrived in England and forgot her. The Saracen lady,
who was more loving than the merchant, left her father's house in
disguise to follow him, and made her way, under many hardships, to
the sea-shore. The merchant had taught her only two English words
(for I suppose he must have learnt the Saracen tongue himself, and
made love in that language), of which LONDON was one, and his own
name, GILBERT, the other. She went among the ships, saying,
'London! London!' over and over again, until the sailors understood
that she wanted to find an English vessel that would carry her
there; so they showed her such a ship, and she paid for her passage
with some of her jewels, and sailed away. Well! The merchant was
sitting in his counting-house in London one day, when he heard a
great noise in the street; and presently Richard came running in
from the warehouse, with his eyes wide open and his breath almost
gone, saying, 'Master, master, here is the Saracen lady!' The
merchant thought Richard was mad; but Richard said, 'No, master!
As I live, the Saracen lady is going up and down the city, calling
Gilbert! Gilbert!' Then, he took the merchant by the sleeve, and
pointed out of window; and there they saw her among the gables and
water-spouts of the dark, dirty street, in her foreign dress, so
forlorn, surrounded by a wondering crowd, and passing slowly along,
calling Gilbert, Gilbert! When the merchant saw her, and thought
of the tenderness she had shown him in his captivity, and of her
constancy, his heart was moved, and he ran down into the street;
and she saw him coming, and with a great cry fainted in his arms.
They were married without loss of time, and Richard (who was an
excellent man) danced with joy the whole day of the wedding; and
they all lived happy ever afterwards.
This merchant and this Saracen lady had one son, THOMAS A BECKET.
He it was who became the Favourite of King Henry the Second.
He had become Chancellor, when the King thought of making him
Archbishop. He was clever, gay, well educated, brave; had fought
in several battles in France; had defeated a French knight in
single combat, and brought his horse away as a token of the
victory. He lived in a noble palace, he was the tutor of the young
Prince Henry, he was served by one hundred and forty knights, his
riches were immense. The King once sent him as his ambassador to
France; and the French people, beholding in what state he
travelled, cried out in the streets, 'How splendid must the King of
England be, when this is only the Chancellor!' They had good
reason to wonder at the magnificence of Thomas a Becket, for, when
he entered a French town, his procession was headed by two hundred
and fifty singing boys; then, came his hounds in couples; then,
eight waggons, each drawn by five horses driven by five drivers:
two of the waggons filled with strong ale to be given away to the
people; four, with his gold and silver plate and stately clothes;
two, with the dresses of his numerous servants. Then, came twelve
horses, each with a monkey on his back; then, a train of people
bearing shields and leading fine war-horses splendidly equipped;
then, falconers with hawks upon their wrists; then, a host of
knights, and gentlemen and priests; then, the Chancellor with his
brilliant garments flashing in the sun, and all the people capering
and shouting with delight.
The King was well pleased with all this, thinking that it only made
himself the more magnificent to have so magnificent a favourite;
but he sometimes jested with the Chancellor upon his splendour too.
Once, when they were riding together through the streets of London
in hard winter weather, they saw a shivering old man in rags.
'Look at the poor object!' said the King. 'Would it not be a
charitable act to give that aged man a comfortable warm cloak?'
'Undoubtedly it would,' said Thomas a Becket, 'and you do well,
Sir, to think of such Christian duties.' 'Come!' cried the King,
'then give him your cloak!' It was made of rich crimson trimmed
with ermine. The King tried to pull it off, the Chancellor tried
to keep it on, both were near rolling from their saddles in the
mud, when the Chancellor submitted, and the King gave the cloak to
the old beggar: much to the beggar's astonishment, and much to the
merriment of all the courtiers in attendance. For, courtiers are
not only eager to laugh when the King laughs, but they really do
enjoy a laugh against a Favourite.
'I will make,' thought King Henry the second, 'this Chancellor of
mine, Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. He will then be
the head of the Church, and, being devoted to me, will help me to
correct the Church. He has always upheld my power against the
power of the clergy, and once publicly told some bishops (I
remember), that men of the Church were equally bound to me, with
men of the sword. Thomas a Becket is the man, of all other men in
England, to help me in my great design.' So the King, regardless
of all objection, either that he was a fighting man, or a lavish
man, or a courtly man, or a man of pleasure, or anything but a
likely man for the office, made him Archbishop accordingly.
Now, Thomas a Becket was proud and loved to be famous. He was
already famous for the pomp of his life, for his riches, his gold
and silver plate, his waggons, horses, and attendants. He could do
no more in that way than he had done; and being tired of that kind
of fame (which is a very poor one), he longed to have his name
celebrated for something else. Nothing, he knew, would render him
so famous in the world, as the setting of his utmost power and
ability against the utmost power and ability of the King. He
resolved with the whole strength of his mind to do it.
He may have had some secret grudge against the King besides. The
King may have offended his proud humour at some time or other, for
anything I know. I think it likely, because it is a common thing
for Kings, Princes, and other great people, to try the tempers of
their favourites rather severely. Even the little affair of the
crimson cloak must have been anything but a pleasant one to a
haughty man. Thomas a Becket knew better than any one in England
what the King expected of him. In all his sumptuous life, he had
never yet been in a position to disappoint the King. He could take
up that proud stand now, as head of the Church; and he determined
that it should be written in history, either that he subdued the
King, or that the King subdued him.
So, of a sudden, he completely altered the whole manner of his
life. He turned off all his brilliant followers, ate coarse food,
drank bitter water, wore next his skin sackcloth covered with dirt
and vermin (for it was then thought very religious to be very
dirty), flogged his back to punish himself, lived chiefly in a
little cell, washed the feet of thirteen poor people every day, and
looked as miserable as he possibly could. If he had put twelve
hundred monkeys on horseback instead of twelve, and had gone in
procession with eight thousand waggons instead of eight, he could
not have half astonished the people so much as by this great
change. It soon caused him to be more talked about as an
Archbishop than he had been as a Chancellor.
The King was very angry; and was made still more so, when the new
Archbishop, claiming various estates from the nobles as being
rightfully Church property, required the King himself, for the same
reason, to give up Rochester Castle, and Rochester City too. Not
satisfied with this, he declared that no power but himself should
appoint a priest to any Church in the part of England over which he
was Archbishop; and when a certain gentleman of Kent made such an
appointment, as he claimed to have the right to do, Thomas a Becket
excommunicated him.
Excommunication was, next to the Interdict I told you of at the
close of the last chapter, the great weapon of the clergy. It
consisted in declaring the person who was excommunicated, an
outcast from the Church and from all religious offices; and in
cursing him all over, from the top of his head to the sole of his
foot, whether he was standing up, lying down, sitting, kneeling,
walking, running, hopping, jumping, gaping, coughing, sneezing, or
whatever else he was doing. This unchristian nonsense would of
course have made no sort of difference to the person cursed - who
could say his prayers at home if he were shut out of church, and
whom none but GOD could judge - but for the fears and superstitions
of the people, who avoided excommunicated persons, and made their
lives unhappy. So, the King said to the New Archbishop, 'Take off
this Excommunication from this gentleman of Kent.' To which the
Archbishop replied, 'I shall do no such thing.'
The quarrel went on. A priest in Worcestershire committed a most
dreadful murder, that aroused the horror of the whole nation. The
King demanded to have this wretch delivered up, to be tried in the
same court and in the same way as any other murderer. The
Archbishop refused, and kept him in the Bishop's prison. The King,
holding a solemn assembly in Westminster Hall, demanded that in
future all priests found guilty before their Bishops of crimes
against the law of the land should be considered priests no longer,
and should be delivered over to the law of the land for punishment.
The Archbishop again refused. The King required to know whether
the clergy would obey the ancient customs of the country? Every
priest there, but one, said, after Thomas a Becket, 'Saving my
order.' This really meant that they would only obey those customs
when they did not interfere with their own claims; and the King
went out of the Hall in great wrath.
Some of the clergy began to be afraid, now, that they were going
too far. Though Thomas a Becket was otherwise as unmoved as
Westminster Hall, they prevailed upon him, for the sake of their
fears, to go to the King at Woodstock, and promise to observe the
ancient customs of the country, without saying anything about his
order. The King received this submission favourably, and summoned
a great council of the clergy to meet at the Castle of Clarendon,
by Salisbury. But when the council met, the Archbishop again
insisted on the words 'saying my order;' and he still insisted,
though lords entreated him, and priests wept before him and knelt
to him, and an adjoining room was thrown open, filled with armed
soldiers of the King, to threaten him. At length he gave way, for
that time, and the ancient customs (which included what the King
had demanded in vain) were stated in writing, and were signed and
sealed by the chief of the clergy, and were called the
Constitutions of Clarendon.
The quarrel went on, for all that. The Archbishop tried to see the
King. The King would not see him. The Archbishop tried to escape
from England. The sailors on the coast would launch no boat to
take him away. Then, he again resolved to do his worst in
opposition to the King, and began openly to set the ancient customs
at defiance.
The King summoned him before a great council at Northampton, where
he accused him of high treason, and made a claim against him, which
was not a just one, for an enormous sum of money. Thomas a Becket
was alone against the whole assembly, and the very Bishops advised
him to resign his office and abandon his contest with the King.
His great anxiety and agitation stretched him on a sick-bed for two
days, but he was still undaunted. He went to the adjourned
council, carrying a great cross in his right hand, and sat down
holding it erect before him. The King angrily retired into an
inner room. The whole assembly angrily retired and left him there.
But there he sat. The Bishops came out again in a body, and
renounced him as a traitor. He only said, 'I hear!' and sat there
still. They retired again into the inner room, and his trial
proceeded without him. By-and-by, the Earl of Leicester, heading
the barons, came out to read his sentence. He refused to hear it,
denied the power of the court, and said he would refer his cause to
the Pope. As he walked out of the hall, with the cross in his
hand, some of those present picked up rushes - rushes were strewn
upon the floors in those days by way of carpet - and threw them at
him. He proudly turned his head, and said that were he not
Archbishop, he would chastise those cowards with the sword he had
known how to use in bygone days. He then mounted his horse, and
rode away, cheered and surrounded by the common people, to whom he
threw open his house that night and gave a supper, supping with
them himself. That same night he secretly departed from the town;
and so, travelling by night and hiding by day, and calling himself
'Brother Dearman,' got away, not without difficulty, to Flanders.
The struggle still went on. The angry King took possession of the
revenues of the archbishopric, and banished all the relations and
servants of Thomas a Becket, to the number of four hundred. The
Pope and the French King both protected him, and an abbey was
assigned for his residence. Stimulated by this support, Thomas a
Becket, on a great festival day, formally proceeded to a great
church crowded with people, and going up into the pulpit publicly
cursed and excommunicated all who had supported the Constitutions
of Clarendon: mentioning many English noblemen by name, and not
distantly hinting at the King of England himself.
When intelligence of this new affront was carried to the King in
his chamber, his passion was so furious that he tore his clothes,
and rolled like a madman on his bed of straw and rushes. But he
was soon up and doing. He ordered all the ports and coasts of
England to be narrowly watched, that no letters of Interdict might
be brought into the kingdom; and sent messengers and bribes to the
Pope's palace at Rome. Meanwhile, Thomas a Becket, for his part,
was not idle at Rome, but constantly employed his utmost arts in
his own behalf. Thus the contest stood, until there was peace
between France and England (which had been for some time at war),
and until the two children of the two Kings were married in
celebration of it. Then, the French King brought about a meeting
between Henry and his old favourite, so long his enemy.
Even then, though Thomas a Becket knelt before the King, he was
obstinate and immovable as to those words about his order. King
Louis of France was weak enough in his veneration for Thomas a
Becket and such men, but this was a little too much for him. He
said that a Becket 'wanted to be greater than the saints and better
than St. Peter,' and rode away from him with the King of England.
His poor French Majesty asked a Becket's pardon for so doing,
however, soon afterwards, and cut a very pitiful figure.
At last, and after a world of trouble, it came to this. There was
another meeting on French ground between King Henry and Thomas a
Becket, and it was agreed that Thomas a Becket should be Archbishop
of Canterbury, according to the customs of former Archbishops, and
that the King should put him in possession of the revenues of that
post. And now, indeed, you might suppose the struggle at an end,
and Thomas a Becket at rest. NO, not even yet. For Thomas a
Becket hearing, by some means, that King Henry, when he was in
dread of his kingdom being placed under an interdict, had had his
eldest son Prince Henry secretly crowned, not only persuaded the
Pope to suspend the Archbishop of York who had performed that
ceremony, and to excommunicate the Bishops who had assisted at it,
but sent a messenger of his own into England, in spite of all the
King's precautions along the coast, who delivered the letters of
excommunication into the Bishops' own hands. Thomas a Becket then
came over to England himself, after an absence of seven years. He
was privately warned that it was dangerous to come, and that an
ireful knight, named RANULF DE BROC, had threatened that he should
not live to eat a loaf of bread in England; but he came.
The common people received him well, and marched about with him in
a soldierly way, armed with such rustic weapons as they could get.
He tried to see the young prince who had once been his pupil, but
was prevented. He hoped for some little support among the nobles
and priests, but found none. He made the most of the peasants who
attended him, and feasted them, and went from Canterbury to Harrowon-
the-Hill, and from Harrow-on-the-Hill back to Canterbury, and on
Christmas Day preached in the Cathedral there, and told the people
in his sermon that he had come to die among them, and that it was
likely he would be murdered. He had no fear, however - or, if he
had any, he had much more obstinacy - for he, then and there,
excommunicated three of his enemies, of whom Ranulf de Broc, the
ireful knight, was one.
As men in general had no fancy for being cursed, in their sitting
and walking, and gaping and sneezing, and all the rest of it, it
was very natural in the persons so freely excommunicated to
complain to the King. It was equally natural in the King, who had
hoped that this troublesome opponent was at last quieted, to fall
into a mighty rage when he heard of these new affronts; and, on the
Archbishop of York telling him that he never could hope for rest
while Thomas a Becket lived, to cry out hastily before his court,
'Have I no one here who will deliver me from this man?' There were
four knights present, who, hearing the King's words, looked at one
another, and went out.
The names of these knights were REGINALD FITZURSE, WILLIAM TRACY,
HUGH DE MORVILLE, and RICHARD BRITO; three of whom had been in the
train of Thomas a Becket in the old days of his splendour. They
rode away on horseback, in a very secret manner, and on the third
day after Christmas Day arrived at Saltwood House, not far from
Canterbury, which belonged to the family of Ranulf de Broc. They
quietly collected some followers here, in case they should need
any; and proceeding to Canterbury, suddenly appeared (the four
knights and twelve men) before the Archbishop, in his own house, at
two o'clock in the afternoon. They neither bowed nor spoke, but
sat down on the floor in silence, staring at the Archbishop.
Thomas a Becket said, at length, 'What do you want?'
'We want,' said Reginald Fitzurse, 'the excommunication taken from
the Bishops, and you to answer for your offences to the King.'
Thomas a Becket defiantly replied, that the power of the clergy was
above the power of the King. That it was not for such men as they
were, to threaten him. That if he were threatened by all the
swords in England, he would never yield.
'Then we will do more than threaten!' said the knights. And they
went out with the twelve men, and put on their armour, and drew
their shining swords, and came back.
His servants, in the meantime, had shut up and barred the great
gate of the palace. At first, the knights tried to shatter it with
their battle-axes; but, being shown a window by which they could
enter, they let the gate alone, and climbed in that way. While
they were battering at the door, the attendants of Thomas a Becket
had implored him to take refuge in the Cathedral; in which, as a
sanctuary or sacred place, they thought the knights would dare to
do no violent deed. He told them, again and again, that he would
not stir. Hearing the distant voices of the monks singing the
evening service, however, he said it was now his duty to attend,
and therefore, and for no other reason, he would go.
There was a near way between his Palace and the Cathedral, by some
beautiful old cloisters which you may yet see. He went into the
Cathedral, without any hurry, and having the Cross carried before
him as usual. When he was safely there, his servants would have
fastened the door, but he said NO! it was the house of God and not
a fortress.
As he spoke, the shadow of Reginald Fitzurse appeared in the
Cathedral doorway, darkening the little light there was outside, on
the dark winter evening. This knight said, in a strong voice,
'Follow me, loyal servants of the King!' The rattle of the armour
of the other knights echoed through the Cathedral, as they came
clashing in.
It was so dark, in the lofty aisles and among the stately pillars
of the church, and there were so many hiding-places in the crypt
below and in the narrow passages above, that Thomas a Becket might
even at that pass have saved himself if he would. But he would
not. He told the monks resolutely that he would not. And though
they all dispersed and left him there with no other follower than
EDWARD GRYME, his faithful cross-bearer, he was as firm then, as
ever he had been in his life.
The knights came on, through the darkness, making a terrible noise
with their armed tread upon the stone pavement of the church.
'Where is the traitor?' they cried out. He made no answer. But
when they cried, 'Where is the Archbishop?' he said proudly, 'I am
here!' and came out of the shade and stood before them.
The knights had no desire to kill him, if they could rid the King
and themselves of him by any other means. They told him he must
either fly or go with them. He said he would do neither; and he
threw William Tracy off with such force when he took hold of his
sleeve, that Tracy reeled again. By his reproaches and his
steadiness, he so incensed them, and exasperated their fierce
humour, that Reginald Fitzurse, whom he called by an ill name,
said, 'Then die!' and struck at his head. But the faithful Edward
Gryme put out his arm, and there received the main force of the
blow, so that it only made his master bleed. Another voice from
among the knights again called to Thomas a Becket to fly; but, with
his blood running down his face, and his hands clasped, and his
head bent, he commanded himself to God, and stood firm. Then they
cruelly killed him close to the altar of St. Bennet; and his body
fell upon the pavement, which was dirtied with his blood and
It is an awful thing to think of the murdered mortal, who had so
showered his curses about, lying, all disfigured, in the church,
where a few lamps here and there were but red specks on a pall of
darkness; and to think of the guilty knights riding away on
horseback, looking over their shoulders at the dim Cathedral, and
remembering what they had left inside.
WHEN the King heard how Thomas a Becket had lost his life in
Canterbury Cathedral, through the ferocity of the four Knights, he
was filled with dismay. Some have supposed that when the King
spoke those hasty words, 'Have I no one here who will deliver me
from this man?' he wished, and meant a Becket to be slain. But few
things are more unlikely; for, besides that the King was not
naturally cruel (though very passionate), he was wise, and must
have known full well what any stupid man in his dominions must have
known, namely, that such a murder would rouse the Pope and the
whole Church against him.
He sent respectful messengers to the Pope, to represent his
innocence (except in having uttered the hasty words); and he swore
solemnly and publicly to his innocence, and contrived in time to
make his peace. As to the four guilty Knights, who fled into
Yorkshire, and never again dared to show themselves at Court, the
Pope excommunicated them; and they lived miserably for some time,
shunned by all their countrymen. At last, they went humbly to
Jerusalem as a penance, and there died and were buried.
It happened, fortunately for the pacifying of the Pope, that an
opportunity arose very soon after the murder of a Becket, for the
King to declare his power in Ireland - which was an acceptable
undertaking to the Pope, as the Irish, who had been converted to
Christianity by one Patricius (otherwise Saint Patrick) long ago,
before any Pope existed, considered that the Pope had nothing at
all to do with them, or they with the Pope, and accordingly refused
to pay him Peter's Pence, or that tax of a penny a house which I
have elsewhere mentioned. The King's opportunity arose in this
The Irish were, at that time, as barbarous a people as you can well
imagine. They were continually quarrelling and fighting, cutting
one another's throats, slicing one another's noses, burning one
another's houses, carrying away one another's wives, and committing
all sorts of violence. The country was divided into five kingdoms
by a separate King, of whom one claimed to be the chief of the
rest. Now, one of these Kings, named DERMOND MAC MURROUGH (a wild
kind of name, spelt in more than one wild kind of way), had carried
off the wife of a friend of his, and concealed her on an island in
a bog. The friend resenting this (though it was quite the custom
of the country), complained to the chief King, and, with the chief
King's help, drove Dermond Mac Murrough out of his dominions.
Dermond came over to England for revenge; and offered to hold his
realm as a vassal of King Henry, if King Henry would help him to
regain it. The King consented to these terms; but only assisted
him, then, with what were called Letters Patent, authorising any
English subjects who were so disposed, to enter into his service,
and aid his cause.
There was, at Bristol, a certain EARL RICHARD DE CLARE, called
STRONGBOW; of no very good character; needy and desperate, and
ready for anything that offered him a chance of improving his
fortunes. There were, in South Wales, two other broken knights of
the same good-for-nothing sort, called ROBERT FITZ-STEPHEN, and
MAURICE FITZ-GERALD. These three, each with a small band of
followers, took up Dermond's cause; and it was agreed that if it
proved successful, Strongbow should marry Dermond's daughter EVA,
and be declared his heir.
The trained English followers of these knights were so superior in
all the discipline of battle to the Irish, that they beat them
against immense superiority of numbers. In one fight, early in the
war, they cut off three hundred heads, and laid them before Mac
Murrough; who turned them every one up with his hands, rejoicing,
and, coming to one which was the head of a man whom he had much
disliked, grasped it by the hair and ears, and tore off the nose
and lips with his teeth. You may judge from this, what kind of a
gentleman an Irish King in those times was. The captives, all
through this war, were horribly treated; the victorious party
making nothing of breaking their limbs, and casting them into the
sea from the tops of high rocks. It was in the midst of the
miseries and cruelties attendant on the taking of Waterford, where
the dead lay piled in the streets, and the filthy gutters ran with
blood, that Strongbow married Eva. An odious marriage-company
those mounds of corpse's must have made, I think, and one quite
worthy of the young lady's father.
He died, after Waterford and Dublin had been taken, and various
successes achieved; and Strongbow became King of Leinster. Now
came King Henry's opportunity. To restrain the growing power of
Strongbow, he himself repaired to Dublin, as Strongbow's Royal
Master, and deprived him of his kingdom, but confirmed him in the
enjoyment of great possessions. The King, then, holding state in
Dublin, received the homage of nearly all the Irish Kings and
Chiefs, and so came home again with a great addition to his
reputation as Lord of Ireland, and with a new claim on the favour
of the Pope. And now, their reconciliation was completed - more
easily and mildly by the Pope, than the King might have expected, I
At this period of his reign, when his troubles seemed so few and
his prospects so bright, those domestic miseries began which
gradually made the King the most unhappy of men, reduced his great
spirit, wore away his health, and broke his heart.
He had four sons. HENRY, now aged eighteen - his secret crowning
of whom had given such offence to Thomas a Becket. RICHARD, aged
sixteen; GEOFFREY, fifteen; and JOHN, his favourite, a young boy
whom the courtiers named LACKLAND, because he had no inheritance,
but to whom the King meant to give the Lordship of Ireland. All
these misguided boys, in their turn, were unnatural sons to him,
and unnatural brothers to each other. Prince Henry, stimulated by
the French King, and by his bad mother, Queen Eleanor, began the
undutiful history,
First, he demanded that his young wife, MARGARET, the French King's
daughter, should be crowned as well as he. His father, the King,
consented, and it was done. It was no sooner done, than he
demanded to have a part of his father's dominions, during his
father's life. This being refused, he made off from his father in
the night, with his bad heart full of bitterness, and took refuge
at the French King's Court. Within a day or two, his brothers
Richard and Geoffrey followed. Their mother tried to join them -
escaping in man's clothes - but she was seized by King Henry's men,
and immured in prison, where she lay, deservedly, for sixteen
years. Every day, however, some grasping English noblemen, to whom
the King's protection of his people from their avarice and
oppression had given offence, deserted him and joined the Princes.
Every day he heard some fresh intelligence of the Princes levying
armies against him; of Prince Henry's wearing a crown before his
own ambassadors at the French Court, and being called the Junior
King of England; of all the Princes swearing never to make peace
with him, their father, without the consent and approval of the
Barons of France. But, with his fortitude and energy unshaken,
King Henry met the shock of these disasters with a resolved and
cheerful face. He called upon all Royal fathers who had sons, to
help him, for his cause was theirs; he hired, out of his riches,
twenty thousand men to fight the false French King, who stirred his
own blood against him; and he carried on the war with such vigour,
that Louis soon proposed a conference to treat for peace.
The conference was held beneath an old wide-spreading green elmtree,
upon a plain in France. It led to nothing. The war
recommenced. Prince Richard began his fighting career, by leading
an army against his father; but his father beat him and his army
back; and thousands of his men would have rued the day in which
they fought in such a wicked cause, had not the King received news
of an invasion of England by the Scots, and promptly come home
through a great storm to repress it. And whether he really began
to fear that he suffered these troubles because a Becket had been
murdered; or whether he wished to rise in the favour of the Pope,
who had now declared a Becket to be a saint, or in the favour of
his own people, of whom many believed that even a Becket's
senseless tomb could work miracles, I don't know: but the King no
sooner landed in England than he went straight to Canterbury; and
when he came within sight of the distant Cathedral, he dismounted
from his horse, took off his shoes, and walked with bare and
bleeding feet to a Becket's grave. There, he lay down on the
ground, lamenting, in the presence of many people; and by-and-by he
went into the Chapter House, and, removing his clothes from his
back and shoulders, submitted himself to be beaten with knotted
cords (not beaten very hard, I dare say though) by eighty Priests,
one after another. It chanced that on the very day when the King
made this curious exhibition of himself, a complete victory was
obtained over the Scots; which very much delighted the Priests, who
said that it was won because of his great example of repentance.
For the Priests in general had found out, since a Becket's death,
that they admired him of all things - though they had hated him
very cordially when he was alive.
The Earl of Flanders, who was at the head of the base conspiracy of
the King's undutiful sons and their foreign friends, took the
opportunity of the King being thus employed at home, to lay siege
to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. But the King, who was
extraordinarily quick and active in all his movements, was at
Rouen, too, before it was supposed possible that he could have left
England; and there he so defeated the said Earl of Flanders, that
the conspirators proposed peace, and his bad sons Henry and
Geoffrey submitted. Richard resisted for six weeks; but, being
beaten out of castle after castle, he at last submitted too, and
his father forgave him.
To forgive these unworthy princes was only to afford them
breathing-time for new faithlessness. They were so false,
disloyal, and dishonourable, that they were no more to be trusted
than common thieves. In the very next year, Prince Henry rebelled
again, and was again forgiven. In eight years more, Prince Richard
rebelled against his elder brother; and Prince Geoffrey infamously
said that the brothers could never agree well together, unless they
were united against their father. In the very next year after
their reconciliation by the King, Prince Henry again rebelled
against his father; and again submitted, swearing to be true; and
was again forgiven; and again rebelled with Geoffrey.
But the end of this perfidious Prince was come. He fell sick at a
French town; and his conscience terribly reproaching him with his
baseness, he sent messengers to the King his father, imploring him
to come and see him, and to forgive him for the last time on his
bed of death. The generous King, who had a royal and forgiving
mind towards his children always, would have gone; but this Prince
had been so unnatural, that the noblemen about the King suspected
treachery, and represented to him that he could not safely trust
his life with such a traitor, though his own eldest son. Therefore
the King sent him a ring from off his finger as a token of
forgiveness; and when the Prince had kissed it, with much grief and
many tears, and had confessed to those around him how bad, and
wicked, and undutiful a son he had been; he said to the attendant
Priests: 'O, tie a rope about my body, and draw me out of bed, and
lay me down upon a bed of ashes, that I may die with prayers to God
in a repentant manner!' And so he died, at twenty-seven years old.
Three years afterwards, Prince Geoffrey, being unhorsed at a
tournament, had his brains trampled out by a crowd of horses
passing over him. So, there only remained Prince Richard, and
Prince John - who had grown to be a young man now, and had solemnly
sworn to be faithful to his father. Richard soon rebelled again,
encouraged by his friend the French King, PHILIP THE SECOND (son of
Louis, who was dead); and soon submitted and was again forgiven,
swearing on the New Testament never to rebel again; and in another
year or so, rebelled again; and, in the presence of his father,
knelt down on his knee before the King of France; and did the
French King homage: and declared that with his aid he would
possess himself, by force, of all his father's French dominions.
And yet this Richard called himself a soldier of Our Saviour! And
yet this Richard wore the Cross, which the Kings of France and
England had both taken, in the previous year, at a brotherly
meeting underneath the old wide-spreading elm-tree on the plain,
when they had sworn (like him) to devote themselves to a new
Crusade, for the love and honour of the Truth!
Sick at heart, wearied out by the falsehood of his sons, and almost
ready to lie down and die, the unhappy King who had so long stood
firm, began to fail. But the Pope, to his honour, supported him;
and obliged the French King and Richard, though successful in
fight, to treat for peace. Richard wanted to be Crowned King of
England, and pretended that he wanted to be married (which he
really did not) to the French King's sister, his promised wife,
whom King Henry detained in England. King Henry wanted, on the
other hand, that the French King's sister should be married to his
favourite son, John: the only one of his sons (he said) who had
never rebelled against him. At last King Henry, deserted by his
nobles one by one, distressed, exhausted, broken-hearted, consented
to establish peace.
One final heavy sorrow was reserved for him, even yet. When they
brought him the proposed treaty of peace, in writing, as he lay
very ill in bed, they brought him also the list of the deserters
from their allegiance, whom he was required to pardon. The first
name upon this list was John, his favourite son, in whom he had
trusted to the last.
'O John! child of my heart!' exclaimed the King, in a great agony
of mind. 'O John, whom I have loved the best! O John, for whom I
have contended through these many troubles! Have you betrayed me
too!' And then he lay down with a heavy groan, and said, 'Now let
the world go as it will. I care for nothing more!'
After a time, he told his attendants to take him to the French town
of Chinon - a town he had been fond of, during many years. But he
was fond of no place now; it was too true that he could care for
nothing more upon this earth. He wildly cursed the hour when he
was born, and cursed the children whom he left behind him; and
As, one hundred years before, the servile followers of the Court
had abandoned the Conqueror in the hour of his death, so they now
abandoned his descendant. The very body was stripped, in the
plunder of the Royal chamber; and it was not easy to find the means
of carrying it for burial to the abbey church of Fontevraud.
Richard was said in after years, by way of flattery, to have the
heart of a Lion. It would have been far better, I think, to have
had the heart of a Man. His heart, whatever it was, had cause to
beat remorsefully within his breast, when he came - as he did -
into the solemn abbey, and looked on his dead father's uncovered
face. His heart, whatever it was, had been a black and perjured
heart, in all its dealings with the deceased King, and more
deficient in a single touch of tenderness than any wild beast's in
the forest.
There is a pretty story told of this Reign, called the story of
FAIR ROSAMOND. It relates how the King doted on Fair Rosamond, who
was the loveliest girl in all the world; and how he had a beautiful
Bower built for her in a Park at Woodstock; and how it was erected
in a labyrinth, and could only be found by a clue of silk. How the
bad Queen Eleanor, becoming jealous of Fair Rosamond, found out the
secret of the clue, and one day, appeared before her, with a dagger
and a cup of poison, and left her to the choice between those
deaths. How Fair Rosamond, after shedding many piteous tears and
offering many useless prayers to the cruel Queen, took the poison,
and fell dead in the midst of the beautiful bower, while the
unconscious birds sang gaily all around her.
Now, there WAS a fair Rosamond, and she was (I dare say) the
loveliest girl in all the world, and the King was certainly very
fond of her, and the bad Queen Eleanor was certainly made jealous.
But I am afraid - I say afraid, because I like the story so much -
that there was no bower, no labyrinth, no silken clue, no dagger,
no poison. I am afraid fair Rosamond retired to a nunnery near
Oxford, and died there, peaceably; her sister-nuns hanging a silken
drapery over her tomb, and often dressing it with flowers, in
remembrance of the youth and beauty that had enchanted the King
when he too was young, and when his life lay fair before him.
It was dark and ended now; faded and gone. Henry Plantagenet lay
quiet in the abbey church of Fontevraud, in the fifty-seventh year
of his age - never to be completed - after governing England well,
for nearly thirty-five years.
IN the year of our Lord one thousand one hundred and eighty-nine,
Richard of the Lion Heart succeeded to the throne of King Henry the
Second, whose paternal heart he had done so much to break. He had
been, as we have seen, a rebel from his boyhood; but, the moment he
became a king against whom others might rebel, he found out that
rebellion was a great wickedness. In the heat of this pious
discovery, he punished all the leading people who had befriended
him against his father. He could scarcely have done anything that
would have been a better instance of his real nature, or a better
warning to fawners and parasites not to trust in lion-hearted
He likewise put his late father's treasurer in chains, and locked
him up in a dungeon from which he was not set free until he had
relinquished, not only all the Crown treasure, but all his own
money too. So, Richard certainly got the Lion's share of the
wealth of this wretched treasurer, whether he had a Lion's heart or
He was crowned King of England, with great pomp, at Westminster:
walking to the Cathedral under a silken canopy stretched on the
tops of four lances, each carried by a great lord. On the day of
his coronation, a dreadful murdering of the Jews took place, which
seems to have given great delight to numbers of savage persons
calling themselves Christians. The King had issued a proclamation
forbidding the Jews (who were generally hated, though they were the
most useful merchants in England) to appear at the ceremony; but as
they had assembled in London from all parts, bringing presents to
show their respect for the new Sovereign, some of them ventured
down to Westminster Hall with their gifts; which were very readily
accepted. It is supposed, now, that some noisy fellow in the
crowd, pretending to be a very delicate Christian, set up a howl at
this, and struck a Jew who was trying to get in at the Hall door
with his present. A riot arose. The Jews who had got into the
Hall, were driven forth; and some of the rabble cried out that the
new King had commanded the unbelieving race to be put to death.
Thereupon the crowd rushed through the narrow streets of the city,
slaughtering all the Jews they met; and when they could find no
more out of doors (on account of their having fled to their houses,
and fastened themselves in), they ran madly about, breaking open
all the houses where the Jews lived, rushing in and stabbing or
spearing them, sometimes even flinging old people and children out
of window into blazing fires they had lighted up below. This great
cruelty lasted four-and-twenty hours, and only three men were
punished for it. Even they forfeited their lives not for murdering
and robbing the Jews, but for burning the houses of some
King Richard, who was a strong, restless, burly man, with one idea
always in his head, and that the very troublesome idea of breaking
the heads of other men, was mightily impatient to go on a Crusade
to the Holy Land, with a great army. As great armies could not be
raised to go, even to the Holy Land, without a great deal of money,
he sold the Crown domains, and even the high offices of State;
recklessly appointing noblemen to rule over his English subjects,
not because they were fit to govern, but because they could pay
high for the privilege. In this way, and by selling pardons at a
dear rate and by varieties of avarice and oppression, he scraped
together a large treasure. He then appointed two Bishops to take
care of his kingdom in his absence, and gave great powers and
possessions to his brother John, to secure his friendship. John
would rather have been made Regent of England; but he was a sly
man, and friendly to the expedition; saying to himself, no doubt,
'The more fighting, the more chance of my brother being killed; and
when he IS killed, then I become King John!'
Before the newly levied army departed from England, the recruits
and the general populace distinguished themselves by astonishing
cruelties on the unfortunate Jews: whom, in many large towns, they
murdered by hundreds in the most horrible manner.
At York, a large body of Jews took refuge in the Castle, in the
absence of its Governor, after the wives and children of many of
them had been slain before their eyes. Presently came the
Governor, and demanded admission. 'How can we give it thee, O
Governor!' said the Jews upon the walls, 'when, if we open the gate
by so much as the width of a foot, the roaring crowd behind thee
will press in and kill us?'
Upon this, the unjust Governor became angry, and told the people
that he approved of their killing those Jews; and a mischievous
maniac of a friar, dressed all in white, put himself at the head of
the assault, and they assaulted the Castle for three days.
Then said JOCEN, the head-Jew (who was a Rabbi or Priest), to the
rest, 'Brethren, there is no hope for us with the Christians who
are hammering at the gates and walls, and who must soon break in.
As we and our wives and children must die, either by Christian
hands, or by our own, let it be by our own. Let us destroy by fire
what jewels and other treasure we have here, then fire the castle,
and then perish!'
A few could not resolve to do this, but the greater part complied.
They made a blazing heap of all their valuables, and, when those
were consumed, set the castle in flames. While the flames roared
and crackled around them, and shooting up into the sky, turned it
blood-red, Jocen cut the throat of his beloved wife, and stabbed
himself. All the others who had wives or children, did the like
dreadful deed. When the populace broke in, they found (except the
trembling few, cowering in corners, whom they soon killed) only
heaps of greasy cinders, with here and there something like part of
the blackened trunk of a burnt tree, but which had lately been a
human creature, formed by the beneficent hand of the Creator as
they were.
After this bad beginning, Richard and his troops went on, in no
very good manner, with the Holy Crusade. It was undertaken jointly
by the King of England and his old friend Philip of France. They
commenced the business by reviewing their forces, to the number of
one hundred thousand men. Afterwards, they severally embarked
their troops for Messina, in Sicily, which was appointed as the
next place of meeting.
King Richard's sister had married the King of this place, but he
was dead: and his uncle TANCRED had usurped the crown, cast the
Royal Widow into prison, and possessed himself of her estates.
Richard fiercely demanded his sister's release, the restoration of
her lands, and (according to the Royal custom of the Island) that
she should have a golden chair, a golden table, four-and-twenty
silver cups, and four-and-twenty silver dishes. As he was too
powerful to be successfully resisted, Tancred yielded to his
demands; and then the French King grew jealous, and complained that
the English King wanted to be absolute in the Island of Messina and
everywhere else. Richard, however, cared little or nothing for
this complaint; and in consideration of a present of twenty
thousand pieces of gold, promised his pretty little nephew ARTHUR,
then a child of two years old, in marriage to Tancred's daughter.
We shall hear again of pretty little Arthur by-and-by.
This Sicilian affair arranged without anybody's brains being
knocked out (which must have rather disappointed him), King Richard
took his sister away, and also a fair lady named BERENGARIA, with
whom he had fallen in love in France, and whom his mother, Queen
Eleanor (so long in prison, you remember, but released by Richard
on his coming to the Throne), had brought out there to be his wife;
and sailed with them for Cyprus.
He soon had the pleasure of fighting the King of the Island of
Cyprus, for allowing his subjects to pillage some of the English
troops who were shipwrecked on the shore; and easily conquering
this poor monarch, he seized his only daughter, to be a companion
to the lady Berengaria, and put the King himself into silver
fetters. He then sailed away again with his mother, sister, wife,
and the captive princess; and soon arrived before the town of Acre,
which the French King with his fleet was besieging from the sea.
But the French King was in no triumphant condition, for his army
had been thinned by the swords of the Saracens, and wasted by the
plague; and SALADIN, the brave Sultan of the Turks, at the head of
a numerous army, was at that time gallantly defending the place
from the hills that rise above it.
Wherever the united army of Crusaders went, they agreed in few
points except in gaming, drinking, and quarrelling, in a most
unholy manner; in debauching the people among whom they tarried,
whether they were friends or foes; and in carrying disturbance and
ruin into quiet places. The French King was jealous of the English
King, and the English King was jealous of the French King, and the
disorderly and violent soldiers of the two nations were jealous of
one another; consequently, the two Kings could not at first agree,
even upon a joint assault on Acre; but when they did make up their
quarrel for that purpose, the Saracens promised to yield the town,
to give up to the Christians the wood of the Holy Cross, to set at
liberty all their Christian captives, and to pay two hundred
thousand pieces of gold. All this was to be done within forty
days; but, not being done, King Richard ordered some three thousand
Saracen prisoners to be brought out in the front of his camp, and
there, in full view of their own countrymen, to be butchered.
The French King had no part in this crime; for he was by that time
travelling homeward with the greater part of his men; being
offended by the overbearing conduct of the English King; being
anxious to look after his own dominions; and being ill, besides,
from the unwholesome air of that hot and sandy country. King
Richard carried on the war without him; and remained in the East,
meeting with a variety of adventures, nearly a year and a half.
Every night when his army was on the march, and came to a halt, the
heralds cried out three times, to remind all the soldiers of the
cause in which they were engaged, 'Save the Holy Sepulchre!' and
then all the soldiers knelt and said 'Amen!' Marching or
encamping, the army had continually to strive with the hot air of
the glaring desert, or with the Saracen soldiers animated and
directed by the brave Saladin, or with both together. Sickness and
death, battle and wounds, were always among them; but through every
difficulty King Richard fought like a giant, and worked like a
common labourer. Long and long after he was quiet in his grave,
his terrible battle-axe, with twenty English pounds of English
steel in its mighty head, was a legend among the Saracens; and when
all the Saracen and Christian hosts had been dust for many a year,
if a Saracen horse started at any object by the wayside, his rider
would exclaim, 'What dost thou fear, Fool? Dost thou think King
Richard is behind it?'
No one admired this King's renown for bravery more than Saladin
himself, who was a generous and gallant enemy. When Richard lay
ill of a fever, Saladin sent him fresh fruits from Damascus, and
snow from the mountain-tops. Courtly messages and compliments were
frequently exchanged between them - and then King Richard would
mount his horse and kill as many Saracens as he could; and Saladin
would mount his, and kill as many Christians as he could. In this
way King Richard fought to his heart's content at Arsoof and at
Jaffa; and finding himself with nothing exciting to do at Ascalon,
except to rebuild, for his own defence, some fortifications there
which the Saracens had destroyed, he kicked his ally the Duke of
Austria, for being too proud to work at them.
The army at last came within sight of the Holy City of Jerusalem;
but, being then a mere nest of jealousy, and quarrelling and
fighting, soon retired, and agreed with the Saracens upon a truce
for three years, three months, three days, and three hours. Then,
the English Christians, protected by the noble Saladin from Saracen
revenge, visited Our Saviour's tomb; and then King Richard embarked
with a small force at Acre to return home.
But he was shipwrecked in the Adriatic Sea, and was fain to pass
through Germany, under an assumed name. Now, there were many
people in Germany who had served in the Holy Land under that proud
Duke of Austria who had been kicked; and some of them, easily
recognising a man so remarkable as King Richard, carried their
intelligence to the kicked Duke, who straightway took him prisoner
at a little inn near Vienna.
The Duke's master the Emperor of Germany, and the King of France,
were equally delighted to have so troublesome a monarch in safe
keeping. Friendships which are founded on a partnership in doing
wrong, are never true; and the King of France was now quite as
heartily King Richard's foe, as he had ever been his friend in his
unnatural conduct to his father. He monstrously pretended that
King Richard had designed to poison him in the East; he charged him
with having murdered, there, a man whom he had in truth befriended;
he bribed the Emperor of Germany to keep him close prisoner; and,
finally, through the plotting of these two princes, Richard was
brought before the German legislature, charged with the foregoing
crimes, and many others. But he defended himself so well, that
many of the assembly were moved to tears by his eloquence and
earnestness. It was decided that he should be treated, during the
rest of his captivity, in a manner more becoming his dignity than
he had been, and that he should be set free on the payment of a
heavy ransom. This ransom the English people willingly raised.
When Queen Eleanor took it over to Germany, it was at first evaded
and refused. But she appealed to the honour of all the princes of
the German Empire in behalf of her son, and appealed so well that
it was accepted, and the King released. Thereupon, the King of
France wrote to Prince John - 'Take care of thyself. The devil is
Prince John had reason to fear his brother, for he had been a
traitor to him in his captivity. He had secretly joined the French
King; had vowed to the English nobles and people that his brother
was dead; and had vainly tried to seize the crown. He was now in
France, at a place called Evreux. Being the meanest and basest of
men, he contrived a mean and base expedient for making himself
acceptable to his brother. He invited the French officers of the
garrison in that town to dinner, murdered them all, and then took
the fortress. With this recommendation to the good will of a lionhearted
monarch, he hastened to King Richard, fell on his knees
before him, and obtained the intercession of Queen Eleanor. 'I
forgive him,' said the King, 'and I hope I may forget the injury he
has done me, as easily as I know he will forget my pardon.'
While King Richard was in Sicily, there had been trouble in his
dominions at home: one of the bishops whom he had left in charge
thereof, arresting the other; and making, in his pride and
ambition, as great a show as if he were King himself. But the King
hearing of it at Messina, and appointing a new Regency, this
LONGCHAMP (for that was his name) had fled to France in a woman's
dress, and had there been encouraged and supported by the French
King. With all these causes of offence against Philip in his mind,
King Richard had no sooner been welcomed home by his enthusiastic
subjects with great display and splendour, and had no sooner been
crowned afresh at Winchester, than he resolved to show the French
King that the Devil was unchained indeed, and made war against him
with great fury.
There was fresh trouble at home about this time, arising out of the
discontents of the poor people, who complained that they were far
more heavily taxed than the rich, and who found a spirited champion
in WILLIAM FITZ-OSBERT, called LONGBEARD. He became the leader of
a secret society, comprising fifty thousand men; he was seized by
surprise; he stabbed the citizen who first laid hands upon him; and
retreated, bravely fighting, to a church, which he maintained four
days, until he was dislodged by fire, and run through the body as
he came out. He was not killed, though; for he was dragged, half
dead, at the tail of a horse to Smithfield, and there hanged.
Death was long a favourite remedy for silencing the people's
advocates; but as we go on with this history, I fancy we shall find
them difficult to make an end of, for all that.
The French war, delayed occasionally by a truce, was still in
progress when a certain Lord named VIDOMAR, Viscount of Limoges,
chanced to find in his ground a treasure of ancient coins. As the
King's vassal, he sent the King half of it; but the King claimed
the whole. The lord refused to yield the whole. The King besieged
the lord in his castle, swore that he would take the castle by
storm, and hang every man of its defenders on the battlements.
There was a strange old song in that part of the country, to the
effect that in Limoges an arrow would be made by which King Richard
would die. It may be that BERTRAND DE GOURDON, a young man who was
one of the defenders of the castle, had often sung it or heard it
sung of a winter night, and remembered it when he saw, from his
post upon the ramparts, the King attended only by his chief officer
riding below the walls surveying the place. He drew an arrow to
the head, took steady aim, said between his teeth, 'Now I pray God
speed thee well, arrow!' discharged it, and struck the King in the
left shoulder.
Although the wound was not at first considered dangerous, it was
severe enough to cause the King to retire to his tent, and direct
the assault to be made without him. The castle was taken; and
every man of its defenders was hanged, as the King had sworn all
should be, except Bertrand de Gourdon, who was reserved until the
royal pleasure respecting him should be known.
By that time unskilful treatment had made the wound mortal and the
King knew that he was dying. He directed Bertrand to be brought
into his tent. The young man was brought there, heavily chained,
King Richard looked at him steadily. He looked, as steadily, at
the King.
'Knave!' said King Richard. 'What have I done to thee that thou
shouldest take my life?'
'What hast thou done to me?' replied the young man. 'With thine
own hands thou hast killed my father and my two brothers. Myself
thou wouldest have hanged. Let me die now, by any torture that
thou wilt. My comfort is, that no torture can save Thee. Thou too
must die; and, through me, the world is quit of thee!'
Again the King looked at the young man steadily. Again the young
man looked steadily at him. Perhaps some remembrance of his
generous enemy Saladin, who was not a Christian, came into the mind
of the dying King.
'Youth!' he said, 'I forgive thee. Go unhurt!' Then, turning to
the chief officer who had been riding in his company when he
received the wound, King Richard said:
'Take off his chains, give him a hundred shillings, and let him
He sunk down on his couch, and a dark mist seemed in his weakened
eyes to fill the tent wherein he had so often rested, and he died.
His age was forty-two; he had reigned ten years. His last command
was not obeyed; for the chief officer flayed Bertrand de Gourdon
alive, and hanged him.
There is an old tune yet known - a sorrowful air will sometimes
outlive many generations of strong men, and even last longer than
battle-axes with twenty pounds of steel in the head - by which this
King is said to have been discovered in his captivity. BLONDEL, a
favourite Minstrel of King Richard, as the story relates,
faithfully seeking his Royal master, went singing it outside the
gloomy walls of many foreign fortresses and prisons; until at last
he heard it echoed from within a dungeon, and knew the voice, and
cried out in ecstasy, 'O Richard, O my King!' You may believe it,
if you like; it would be easy to believe worse things. Richard was
himself a Minstrel and a Poet. If he had not been a Prince too, he
might have been a better man perhaps, and might have gone out of
the world with less bloodshed and waste of life to answer for.
AT two-and-thirty years of age, JOHN became King of England. His
pretty little nephew ARTHUR had the best claim to the throne; but
John seized the treasure, and made fine promises to the nobility,
and got himself crowned at Westminster within a few weeks after his
brother Richard's death. I doubt whether the crown could possibly
have been put upon the head of a meaner coward, or a more
detestable villain, if England had been searched from end to end to
find him out.
The French King, Philip, refused to acknowledge the right of John
to his new dignity, and declared in favour of Arthur. You must not
suppose that he had any generosity of feeling for the fatherless
boy; it merely suited his ambitious schemes to oppose the King of
England. So John and the French King went to war about Arthur.
He was a handsome boy, at that time only twelve years old. He was
not born when his father, Geoffrey, had his brains trampled out at
the tournament; and, besides the misfortune of never having known a
father's guidance and protection, he had the additional misfortune
to have a foolish mother (CONSTANCE by name), lately married to her
third husband. She took Arthur, upon John's accession, to the
French King, who pretended to be very much his friend, and who made
him a Knight, and promised him his daughter in marriage; but, who
cared so little about him in reality, that finding it his interest
to make peace with King John for a time, he did so without the
least consideration for the poor little Prince, and heartlessly
sacrificed all his interests.
Young Arthur, for two years afterwards, lived quietly; and in the
course of that time his mother died. But, the French King then
finding it his interest to quarrel with King John again, again made
Arthur his pretence, and invited the orphan boy to court. 'You
know your rights, Prince,' said the French King, 'and you would
like to be a King. Is it not so?' 'Truly,' said Prince Arthur, 'I
should greatly like to be a King!' 'Then,' said Philip, 'you shall
have two hundred gentlemen who are Knights of mine, and with them
you shall go to win back the provinces belonging to you, of which
your uncle, the usurping King of England, has taken possession. I
myself, meanwhile, will head a force against him in Normandy.'
Poor Arthur was so flattered and so grateful that he signed a
treaty with the crafty French King, agreeing to consider him his
superior Lord, and that the French King should keep for himself
whatever he could take from King John.
Now, King John was so bad in all ways, and King Philip was so
perfidious, that Arthur, between the two, might as well have been a
lamb between a fox and a wolf. But, being so young, he was ardent
and flushed with hope; and, when the people of Brittany (which was
his inheritance) sent him five hundred more knights and five
thousand foot soldiers, he believed his fortune was made. The
people of Brittany had been fond of him from his birth, and had
requested that he might be called Arthur, in remembrance of that
dimly-famous English Arthur, of whom I told you early in this book,
whom they believed to have been the brave friend and companion of
an old King of their own. They had tales among them about a
prophet called MERLIN (of the same old time), who had foretold that
their own King should be restored to them after hundreds of years;
and they believed that the prophecy would be fulfilled in Arthur;
that the time would come when he would rule them with a crown of
Brittany upon his head; and when neither King of France nor King of
England would have any power over them. When Arthur found himself
riding in a glittering suit of armour on a richly caparisoned
horse, at the head of his train of knights and soldiers, he began
to believe this too, and to consider old Merlin a very superior
He did not know - how could he, being so innocent and
inexperienced? - that his little army was a mere nothing against
the power of the King of England. The French King knew it; but the
poor boy's fate was little to him, so that the King of England was
worried and distressed. Therefore, King Philip went his way into
Normandy and Prince Arthur went his way towards Mirebeau, a French
town near Poictiers, both very well pleased.
Prince Arthur went to attack the town of Mirebeau, because his
grandmother Eleanor, who has so often made her appearance in this
history (and who had always been his mother's enemy), was living
there, and because his Knights said, 'Prince, if you can take her
prisoner, you will be able to bring the King your uncle to terms!'
But she was not to be easily taken. She was old enough by this
time - eighty - but she was as full of stratagem as she was full of
years and wickedness. Receiving intelligence of young Arthur's
approach, she shut herself up in a high tower, and encouraged her
soldiers to defend it like men. Prince Arthur with his little army
besieged the high tower. King John, hearing how matters stood,
came up to the rescue, with HIS army. So here was a strange
family-party! The boy-Prince besieging his grandmother, and his
uncle besieging him!
This position of affairs did not last long. One summer night King
John, by treachery, got his men into the town, surprised Prince
Arthur's force, took two hundred of his knights, and seized the
Prince himself in his bed. The Knights were put in heavy irons,
and driven away in open carts drawn by bullocks, to various
dungeons where they were most inhumanly treated, and where some of
them were starved to death. Prince Arthur was sent to the castle
of Falaise.
One day, while he was in prison at that castle, mournfully thinking
it strange that one so young should be in so much trouble, and
looking out of the small window in the deep dark wall, at the
summer sky and the birds, the door was softly opened, and he saw
his uncle the King standing in the shadow of the archway, looking
very grim.
'Arthur,' said the King, with his wicked eyes more on the stone
floor than on his nephew, 'will you not trust to the gentleness,
the friendship, and the truthfulness of your loving uncle?'
'I will tell my loving uncle that,' replied the boy, 'when he does
me right. Let him restore to me my kingdom of England, and then
come to me and ask the question.'
The King looked at him and went out. 'Keep that boy close
prisoner,' said he to the warden of the castle.
Then, the King took secret counsel with the worst of his nobles how
the Prince was to be got rid of. Some said, 'Put out his eyes and
keep him in prison, as Robort of Normandy was kept.' Others said,
'Have him stabbed.' Others, 'Have him hanged.' Others, 'Have him
King John, feeling that in any case, whatever was done afterwards,
it would be a satisfaction to his mind to have those handsome eyes
burnt out that had looked at him so proudly while his own royal
eyes were blinking at the stone floor, sent certain ruffians to
Falaise to blind the boy with red-hot irons. But Arthur so
pathetically entreated them, and shed such piteous tears, and so
appealed to HUBERT DE BOURG (or BURGH), the warden of the castle,
who had a love for him, and was an honourable, tender man, that
Hubert could not bear it. To his eternal honour he prevented the
torture from being performed, and, at his own risk, sent the
savages away.
The chafed and disappointed King bethought himself of the stabbing
suggestion next, and, with his shuffling manner and his cruel face,
proposed it to one William de Bray. 'I am a gentleman and not an
executioner,' said William de Bray, and left the presence with
But it was not difficult for a King to hire a murderer in those
days. King John found one for his money, and sent him down to the
castle of Falaise. 'On what errand dost thou come?' said Hubert to
this fellow. 'To despatch young Arthur,' he returned. 'Go back to
him who sent thee,' answered Hubert, 'and say that I will do it!'
King John very well knowing that Hubert would never do it, but that
he courageously sent this reply to save the Prince or gain time,
despatched messengers to convey the young prisoner to the castle of
Arthur was soon forced from the good Hubert - of whom he had never
stood in greater need than then - carried away by night, and lodged
in his new prison: where, through his grated window, he could hear
the deep waters of the river Seine, rippling against the stone wall
One dark night, as he lay sleeping, dreaming perhaps of rescue by
those unfortunate gentlemen who were obscurely suffering and dying
in his cause, he was roused, and bidden by his jailer to come down
the staircase to the foot of the tower. He hurriedly dressed
himself and obeyed. When they came to the bottom of the winding
stairs, and the night air from the river blew upon their faces, the
jailer trod upon his torch and put it out. Then, Arthur, in the
darkness, was hurriedly drawn into a solitary boat. And in that
boat, he found his uncle and one other man.
He knelt to them, and prayed them not to murder him. Deaf to his
entreaties, they stabbed him and sunk his body in the river with
heavy stones. When the spring-morning broke, the tower-door was
closed, the boat was gone, the river sparkled on its way, and never
more was any trace of the poor boy beheld by mortal eyes.
The news of this atrocious murder being spread in England, awakened
a hatred of the King (already odious for his many vices, and for
his having stolen away and married a noble lady while his own wife
was living) that never slept again through his whole reign. In
Brittany, the indignation was intense. Arthur's own sister ELEANOR
was in the power of John and shut up in a convent at Bristol, but
his half-sister ALICE was in Brittany. The people chose her, and
the murdered prince's father-in-law, the last husband of Constance,
to represent them; and carried their fiery complaints to King
Philip. King Philip summoned King John (as the holder of territory
in France) to come before him and defend himself. King John
refusing to appear, King Philip declared him false, perjured, and
guilty; and again made war. In a little time, by conquering the
greater part of his French territory, King Philip deprived him of
one-third of his dominions. And, through all the fighting that
took place, King John was always found, either to be eating and
drinking, like a gluttonous fool, when the danger was at a
distance, or to be running away, like a beaten cur, when it was
You might suppose that when he was losing his dominions at this
rate, and when his own nobles cared so little for him or his cause
that they plainly refused to follow his banner out of England, he
had enemies enough. But he made another enemy of the Pope, which
he did in this way.
The Archbishop of Canterbury dying, and the junior monks of that
place wishing to get the start of the senior monks in the
appointment of his successor, met together at midnight, secretly
elected a certain REGINALD, and sent him off to Rome to get the
Pope's approval. The senior monks and the King soon finding this
out, and being very angry about it, the junior monks gave way, and
all the monks together elected the Bishop of Norwich, who was the
King's favourite. The Pope, hearing the whole story, declared that
neither election would do for him, and that HE elected STEPHEN
LANGTON. The monks submitting to the Pope, the King turned them
all out bodily, and banished them as traitors. The Pope sent three
bishops to the King, to threaten him with an Interdict. The King
told the bishops that if any Interdict were laid upon his kingdom,
he would tear out the eyes and cut off the noses of all the monks
he could lay hold of, and send them over to Rome in that
undecorated state as a present for their master. The bishops,
nevertheless, soon published the Interdict, and fled.
After it had lasted a year, the Pope proceeded to his next step;
which was Excommunication. King John was declared excommunicated,
with all the usual ceremonies. The King was so incensed at this,
and was made so desperate by the disaffection of his Barons and the
hatred of his people, that it is said he even privately sent
ambassadors to the Turks in Spain, offering to renounce his
religion and hold his kingdom of them if they would help him. It
is related that the ambassadors were admitted to the presence of
the Turkish Emir through long lines of Moorish guards, and that
they found the Emir with his eyes seriously fixed on the pages of a
large book, from which he never once looked up. That they gave him
a letter from the King containing his proposals, and were gravely
dismissed. That presently the Emir sent for one of them, and
conjured him, by his faith in his religion, to say what kind of man
the King of England truly was? That the ambassador, thus pressed,
replied that the King of England was a false tyrant, against whom
his own subjects would soon rise. And that this was quite enough
for the Emir.
Money being, in his position, the next best thing to men, King John
spared no means of getting it. He set on foot another oppressing
and torturing of the unhappy Jews (which was quite in his way), and
invented a new punishment for one wealthy Jew of Bristol. Until
such time as that Jew should produce a certain large sum of money,
the King sentenced him to be imprisoned, and, every day, to have
one tooth violently wrenched out of his head - beginning with the
double teeth. For seven days, the oppressed man bore the daily
pain and lost the daily tooth; but, on the eighth, he paid the
money. With the treasure raised in such ways, the King made an
expedition into Ireland, where some English nobles had revolted.
It was one of the very few places from which he did not run away;
because no resistance was shown. He made another expedition into
Wales - whence he DID run away in the end: but not before he had
got from the Welsh people, as hostages, twenty-seven young men of
the best families; every one of whom he caused to be slain in the
following year.
To Interdict and Excommunication, the Pope now added his last
sentence; Deposition. He proclaimed John no longer King, absolved
all his subjects from their allegiance, and sent Stephen Langton
and others to the King of France to tell him that, if he would
invade England, he should be forgiven all his sins - at least,
should be forgiven them by the Pope, if that would do.
As there was nothing that King Philip desired more than to invade
England, he collected a great army at Rouen, and a fleet of
seventeen hundred ships to bring them over. But the English
people, however bitterly they hated the King, were not a people to
suffer invasion quietly. They flocked to Dover, where the English
standard was, in such great numbers to enrol themselves as
defenders of their native land, that there were not provisions for
them, and the King could only select and retain sixty thousand.
But, at this crisis, the Pope, who had his own reasons for
objecting to either King John or King Philip being too powerful,
interfered. He entrusted a legate, whose name was PANDOLF, with
the easy task of frightening King John. He sent him to the English
Camp, from France, to terrify him with exaggerations of King
Philip's power, and his own weakness in the discontent of the
English Barons and people. Pandolf discharged his commission so
well, that King John, in a wretched panic, consented to acknowledge
Stephen Langton; to resign his kingdom 'to God, Saint Peter, and
Saint Paul' - which meant the Pope; and to hold it, ever
afterwards, by the Pope's leave, on payment of an annual sum of
money. To this shameful contract he publicly bound himself in the
church of the Knights Templars at Dover: where he laid at the
legate's feet a part of the tribute, which the legate haughtily
trampled upon. But they DO say, that this was merely a genteel
flourish, and that he was afterwards seen to pick it up and pocket
There was an unfortunate prophet, the name of Peter, who had
greatly increased King John's terrors by predicting that he would
be unknighted (which the King supposed to signify that he would
die) before the Feast of the Ascension should be past. That was
the day after this humiliation. When the next morning came, and
the King, who had been trembling all night, found himself alive and
safe, he ordered the prophet - and his son too - to be dragged
through the streets at the tails of horses, and then hanged, for
having frightened him.
As King John had now submitted, the Pope, to King Philip's great
astonishment, took him under his protection, and informed King
Philip that he found he could not give him leave to invade England.
The angry Philip resolved to do it without his leave but he gained
nothing and lost much; for, the English, commanded by the Earl of
Salisbury, went over, in five hundred ships, to the French coast,
before the French fleet had sailed away from it, and utterly
defeated the whole.
The Pope then took off his three sentences, one after another, and
empowered Stephen Langton publicly to receive King John into the
favour of the Church again, and to ask him to dinner. The King,
who hated Langton with all his might and main - and with reason
too, for he was a great and a good man, with whom such a King could
have no sympathy - pretended to cry and to be VERY grateful. There
was a little difficulty about settling how much the King should pay
as a recompense to the clergy for the losses he had caused them;
but, the end of it was, that the superior clergy got a good deal,
and the inferior clergy got little or nothing - which has also
happened since King John's time, I believe.
When all these matters were arranged, the King in his triumph
became more fierce, and false, and insolent to all around him than
he had ever been. An alliance of sovereigns against King Philip,
gave him an opportunity of landing an army in France; with which he
even took a town! But, on the French King's gaining a great
victory, he ran away, of course, and made a truce for five years.
And now the time approached when he was to be still further
humbled, and made to feel, if he could feel anything, what a
wretched creature he was. Of all men in the world, Stephen Langton
seemed raised up by Heaven to oppose and subdue him. When he
ruthlessly burnt and destroyed the property of his own subjects,
because their Lords, the Barons, would not serve him abroad,
Stephen Langton fearlessly reproved and threatened him. When he
swore to restore the laws of King Edward, or the laws of King Henry
the First, Stephen Langton knew his falsehood, and pursued him
through all his evasions. When the Barons met at the abbey of
Saint Edmund's-Bury, to consider their wrongs and the King's
oppressions, Stephen Langton roused them by his fervid words to
demand a solemn charter of rights and liberties from their perjured
master, and to swear, one by one, on the High Altar, that they
would have it, or would wage war against him to the death. When
the King hid himself in London from the Barons, and was at last
obliged to receive them, they told him roundly they would not
believe him unless Stephen Langton became a surety that he would
keep his word. When he took the Cross to invest himself with some
interest, and belong to something that was received with favour,
Stephen Langton was still immovable. When he appealed to the Pope,
and the Pope wrote to Stephen Langton in behalf of his new
favourite, Stephen Langton was deaf, even to the Pope himself, and
saw before him nothing but the welfare of England and the crimes of
the English King.
At Easter-time, the Barons assembled at Stamford, in Lincolnshire,
in proud array, and, marching near to Oxford where the King was,
delivered into the hands of Stephen Langton and two others, a list
of grievances. 'And these,' they said, 'he must redress, or we
will do it for ourselves!' When Stephen Langton told the King as
much, and read the list to him, he went half mad with rage. But
that did him no more good than his afterwards trying to pacify the
Barons with lies. They called themselves and their followers, 'The
army of God and the Holy Church.' Marching through the country,
with the people thronging to them everywhere (except at
Northampton, where they failed in an attack upon the castle), they
at last triumphantly set up their banner in London itself, whither
the whole land, tired of the tyrant, seemed to flock to join them.
Seven knights alone, of all the knights in England, remained with
the King; who, reduced to this strait, at last sent the Earl of
Pembroke to the Barons to say that he approved of everything, and
would meet them to sign their charter when they would. 'Then,'
said the Barons, 'let the day be the fifteenth of June, and the
place, Runny-Mead.'
On Monday, the fifteenth of June, one thousand two hundred and
fourteen, the King came from Windsor Castle, and the Barons came
from the town of Staines, and they met on Runny-Mead, which is
still a pleasant meadow by the Thames, where rushes grow in the
clear water of the winding river, and its banks are green with
grass and trees. On the side of the Barons, came the General of
their army, ROBERT FITZ-WALTER, and a great concourse of the
nobility of England. With the King, came, in all, some four-andtwenty
persons of any note, most of whom despised him, and were
merely his advisers in form. On that great day, and in that great
company, the King signed MAGNA CHARTA - the great charter of
England - by which he pledged himself to maintain the Church in its
rights; to relieve the Barons of oppressive obligations as vassals
of the Crown - of which the Barons, in their turn, pledged
themselves to relieve THEIR vassals, the people; to respect the
liberties of London and all other cities and boroughs; to protect
foreign merchants who came to England; to imprison no man without a
fair trial; and to sell, delay, or deny justice to none. As the
Barons knew his falsehood well, they further required, as their
securities, that he should send out of his kingdom all his foreign
troops; that for two months they should hold possession of the city
of London, and Stephen Langton of the Tower; and that five-andtwenty
of their body, chosen by themselves, should be a lawful
committee to watch the keeping of the charter, and to make war upon
him if he broke it.
All this he was obliged to yield. He signed the charter with a
smile, and, if he could have looked agreeable, would have done so,
as he departed from the splendid assembly. When he got home to
Windsor Castle, he was quite a madman in his helpless fury. And he
broke the charter immediately afterwards.
He sent abroad for foreign soldiers, and sent to the Pope for help,
and plotted to take London by surprise, while the Barons should be
holding a great tournament at Stamford, which they had agreed to
hold there as a celebration of the charter. The Barons, however,
found him out and put it off. Then, when the Barons desired to see
him and tax him with his treachery, he made numbers of appointments
with them, and kept none, and shifted from place to place, and was
constantly sneaking and skulking about. At last he appeared at
Dover, to join his foreign soldiers, of whom numbers came into his
pay; and with them he besieged and took Rochester Castle, which was
occupied by knights and soldiers of the Barons. He would have
hanged them every one; but the leader of the foreign soldiers,
fearful of what the English people might afterwards do to him,
interfered to save the knights; therefore the King was fain to
satisfy his vengeance with the death of all the common men. Then,
he sent the Earl of Salisbury, with one portion of his army, to
ravage the eastern part of his own dominions, while he carried fire
and slaughter into the northern part; torturing, plundering,
killing, and inflicting every possible cruelty upon the people;
and, every morning, setting a worthy example to his men by setting
fire, with his own monster-hands, to the house where he had slept
last night. Nor was this all; for the Pope, coming to the aid of
his precious friend, laid the kingdom under an Interdict again,
because the people took part with the Barons. It did not much
matter, for the people had grown so used to it now, that they had
begun to think nothing about it. It occurred to them - perhaps to
Stephen Langton too - that they could keep their churches open, and
ring their bells, without the Pope's permission as well as with it.
So, they tried the experiment - and found that it succeeded
It being now impossible to bear the country, as a wilderness of
cruelty, or longer to hold any terms with such a forsworn outlaw of
a King, the Barons sent to Louis, son of the French monarch, to
offer him the English crown. Caring as little for the Pope's
excommunication of him if he accepted the offer, as it is possible
his father may have cared for the Pope's forgiveness of his sins,
he landed at Sandwich (King John immediately running away from
Dover, where he happened to be), and went on to London. The
Scottish King, with whom many of the Northern English Lords had
taken refuge; numbers of the foreign soldiers, numbers of the
Barons, and numbers of the people went over to him every day; -
King John, the while, continually running away in all directions.
The career of Louis was checked however, by the suspicions of the
Barons, founded on the dying declaration of a French Lord, that
when the kingdom was conquered he was sworn to banish them as
traitors, and to give their estates to some of his own Nobles.
Rather than suffer this, some of the Barons hesitated: others even
went over to King John.
It seemed to be the turning-point of King John's fortunes, for, in
his savage and murderous course, he had now taken some towns and
met with some successes. But, happily for England and humanity,
his death was near. Crossing a dangerous quicksand, called the
Wash, not very far from Wisbeach, the tide came up and nearly
drowned his army. He and his soldiers escaped; but, looking back
from the shore when he was safe, he saw the roaring water sweep
down in a torrent, overturn the waggons, horses, and men, that
carried his treasure, and engulf them in a raging whirlpool from
which nothing could be delivered.
Cursing, and swearing, and gnawing his fingers, he went on to
Swinestead Abbey, where the monks set before him quantities of
pears, and peaches, and new cider - some say poison too, but there
is very little reason to suppose so - of which he ate and drank in
an immoderate and beastly way. All night he lay ill of a burning
fever, and haunted with horrible fears. Next day, they put him in
a horse-litter, and carried him to Sleaford Castle, where he passed
another night of pain and horror. Next day, they carried him, with
greater difficulty than on the day before, to the castle of Newark
upon Trent; and there, on the eighteenth of October, in the fortyninth
year of his age, and the seventeenth of his vile reign, was
an end of this miserable brute.
IF any of the English Barons remembered the murdered Arthur's
sister, Eleanor the fair maid of Brittany, shut up in her convent
at Bristol, none among them spoke of her now, or maintained her
right to the Crown. The dead Usurper's eldest boy, HENRY by name,
was taken by the Earl of Pembroke, the Marshal of England, to the
city of Gloucester, and there crowned in great haste when he was
only ten years old. As the Crown itself had been lost with the
King's treasure in the raging water, and as there was no time to
make another, they put a circle of plain gold upon his head
instead. 'We have been the enemies of this child's father,' said
Lord Pembroke, a good and true gentleman, to the few Lords who were
present, 'and he merited our ill-will; but the child himself is
innocent, and his youth demands our friendship and protection.'
Those Lords felt tenderly towards the little boy, remembering their
own young children; and they bowed their heads, and said, 'Long
live King Henry the Third!'
Next, a great council met at Bristol, revised Magna Charta, and
made Lord Pembroke Regent or Protector of England, as the King was
too young to reign alone. The next thing to be done, was to get
rid of Prince Louis of France, and to win over those English Barons
who were still ranged under his banner. He was strong in many
parts of England, and in London itself; and he held, among other
places, a certain Castle called the Castle of Mount Sorel, in
Leicestershire. To this fortress, after some skirmishing and
truce-making, Lord Pembroke laid siege. Louis despatched an army
of six hundred knights and twenty thousand soldiers to relieve it.
Lord Pembroke, who was not strong enough for such a force, retired
with all his men. The army of the French Prince, which had marched
there with fire and plunder, marched away with fire and plunder,
and came, in a boastful swaggering manner, to Lincoln. The town
submitted; but the Castle in the town, held by a brave widow lady,
named NICHOLA DE CAMVILLE (whose property it was), made such a
sturdy resistance, that the French Count in command of the army of
the French Prince found it necessary to besiege this Castle. While
he was thus engaged, word was brought to him that Lord Pembroke,
with four hundred knights, two hundred and fifty men with crossbows,
and a stout force both of horse and foot, was marching
towards him. 'What care I?' said the French Count. 'The
Englishman is not so mad as to attack me and my great army in a
walled town!' But the Englishman did it for all that, and did it -
not so madly but so wisely, that he decoyed the great army into the
narrow, ill-paved lanes and byways of Lincoln, where its horsesoldiers
could not ride in any strong body; and there he made such
havoc with them, that the whole force surrendered themselves
prisoners, except the Count; who said that he would never yield to
any English traitor alive, and accordingly got killed. The end of
this victory, which the English called, for a joke, the Fair of
Lincoln, was the usual one in those times - the common men were
slain without any mercy, and the knights and gentlemen paid ransom
and went home.
The wife of Louis, the fair BLANCHE OF CASTILE, dutifully equipped
a fleet of eighty good ships, and sent it over from France to her
husband's aid. An English fleet of forty ships, some good and some
bad, gallantly met them near the mouth of the Thames, and took or
sunk sixty-five in one fight. This great loss put an end to the
French Prince's hopes. A treaty was made at Lambeth, in virtue of
which the English Barons who had remained attached to his cause
returned to their allegiance, and it was engaged on both sides that
the Prince and all his troops should retire peacefully to France.
It was time to go; for war had made him so poor that he was obliged
to borrow money from the citizens of London to pay his expenses
Lord Pembroke afterwards applied himself to governing the country
justly, and to healing the quarrels and disturbances that had
arisen among men in the days of the bad King John. He caused Magna
Charta to be still more improved, and so amended the Forest Laws
that a Peasant was no longer put to death for killing a stag in a
Royal Forest, but was only imprisoned. It would have been well for
England if it could have had so good a Protector many years longer,
but that was not to be. Within three years after the young King's
Coronation, Lord Pembroke died; and you may see his tomb, at this
day, in the old Temple Church in London.
The Protectorship was now divided. PETER DE ROCHES, whom King John
had made Bishop of Winchester, was entrusted with the care of the
person of the young sovereign; and the exercise of the Royal
authority was confided to EARL HUBERT DE BURGH. These two
personages had from the first no liking for each other, and soon
became enemies. When the young King was declared of age, Peter de
Roches, finding that Hubert increased in power and favour, retired
discontentedly, and went abroad. For nearly ten years afterwards
Hubert had full sway alone.
But ten years is a long time to hold the favour of a King. This
King, too, as he grew up, showed a strong resemblance to his
father, in feebleness, inconsistency, and irresolution. The best
that can be said of him is that he was not cruel. De Roches coming
home again, after ten years, and being a novelty, the King began to
favour him and to look coldly on Hubert. Wanting money besides,
and having made Hubert rich, he began to dislike Hubert. At last
he was made to believe, or pretended to believe, that Hubert had
misappropriated some of the Royal treasure; and ordered him to
furnish an account of all he had done in his administration.
Besides which, the foolish charge was brought against Hubert that
he had made himself the King's favourite by magic. Hubert very
well knowing that he could never defend himself against such
nonsense, and that his old enemy must be determined on his ruin,
instead of answering the charges fled to Merton Abbey. Then the
King, in a violent passion, sent for the Mayor of London, and said
to the Mayor, 'Take twenty thousand citizens, and drag me Hubert de
Burgh out of that abbey, and bring him here.' The Mayor posted off
to do it, but the Archbishop of Dublin (who was a friend of
Hubert's) warning the King that an abbey was a sacred place, and
that if he committed any violence there, he must answer for it to
the Church, the King changed his mind and called the Mayor back,
and declared that Hubert should have four months to prepare his
defence, and should be safe and free during that time.
Hubert, who relied upon the King's word, though I think he was old
enough to have known better, came out of Merton Abbey upon these
conditions, and journeyed away to see his wife: a Scottish
Princess who was then at St. Edmund's-Bury.
Almost as soon as he had departed from the Sanctuary, his enemies
persuaded the weak King to send out one SIR GODFREY DE CRANCUMB,
who commanded three hundred vagabonds called the Black Band, with
orders to seize him. They came up with him at a little town in
Essex, called Brentwood, when he was in bed. He leaped out of bed,
got out of the house, fled to the church, ran up to the altar, and
laid his hand upon the cross. Sir Godfrey and the Black Band,
caring neither for church, altar, nor cross, dragged him forth to
the church door, with their drawn swords flashing round his head,
and sent for a Smith to rivet a set of chains upon him. When the
Smith (I wish I knew his name!) was brought, all dark and swarthy
with the smoke of his forge, and panting with the speed he had
made; and the Black Band, falling aside to show him the Prisoner,
cried with a loud uproar, 'Make the fetters heavy! make them
strong!' the Smith dropped upon his knee - but not to the Black
Band - and said, 'This is the brave Earl Hubert de Burgh, who
fought at Dover Castle, and destroyed the French fleet, and has
done his country much good service. You may kill me, if you like,
but I will never make a chain for Earl Hubert de Burgh!'
The Black Band never blushed, or they might have blushed at this.
They knocked the Smith about from one to another, and swore at him,
and tied the Earl on horseback, undressed as he was, and carried
him off to the Tower of London. The Bishops, however, were so
indignant at the violation of the Sanctuary of the Church, that the
frightened King soon ordered the Black Band to take him back again;
at the same time commanding the Sheriff of Essex to prevent his
escaping out of Brentwood Church. Well! the Sheriff dug a deep
trench all round the church, and erected a high fence, and watched
the church night and day; the Black Band and their Captain watched
it too, like three hundred and one black wolves. For thirty-nine
days, Hubert de Burgh remained within. At length, upon the
fortieth day, cold and hunger were too much for him, and he gave
himself up to the Black Band, who carried him off, for the second
time, to the Tower. When his trial came on, he refused to plead;
but at last it was arranged that he should give up all the royal
lands which had been bestowed upon him, and should be kept at the
Castle of Devizes, in what was called 'free prison,' in charge of
four knights appointed by four lords. There, he remained almost a
year, until, learning that a follower of his old enemy the Bishop
was made Keeper of the Castle, and fearing that he might be killed
by treachery, he climbed the ramparts one dark night, dropped from
the top of the high Castle wall into the moat, and coming safely to
the ground, took refuge in another church. From this place he was
delivered by a party of horse despatched to his help by some
nobles, who were by this time in revolt against the King, and
assembled in Wales. He was finally pardoned and restored to his
estates, but he lived privately, and never more aspired to a high
post in the realm, or to a high place in the King's favour. And
thus end - more happily than the stories of many favourites of
Kings - the adventures of Earl Hubert de Burgh.
The nobles, who had risen in revolt, were stirred up to rebellion
by the overbearing conduct of the Bishop of Winchester, who,
finding that the King secretly hated the Great Charter which had
been forced from his father, did his utmost to confirm him in that
dislike, and in the preference he showed to foreigners over the
English. Of this, and of his even publicly declaring that the
Barons of England were inferior to those of France, the English
Lords complained with such bitterness, that the King, finding them
well supported by the clergy, became frightened for his throne, and
sent away the Bishop and all his foreign associates. On his
marriage, however, with ELEANOR, a French lady, the daughter of the
Count of Provence, he openly favoured the foreigners again; and so
many of his wife's relations came over, and made such an immense
family-party at court, and got so many good things, and pocketed so
much money, and were so high with the English whose money they
pocketed, that the bolder English Barons murmured openly about a
clause there was in the Great Charter, which provided for the
banishment of unreasonable favourites. But, the foreigners only
laughed disdainfully, and said, 'What are your English laws to us?'
King Philip of France had died, and had been succeeded by Prince
Louis, who had also died after a short reign of three years, and
had been succeeded by his son of the same name - so moderate and
just a man that he was not the least in the world like a King, as
Kings went. ISABELLA, King Henry's mother, wished very much (for a
certain spite she had) that England should make war against this
King; and, as King Henry was a mere puppet in anybody's hands who
knew how to manage his feebleness, she easily carried her point
with him. But, the Parliament were determined to give him no money
for such a war. So, to defy the Parliament, he packed up thirty
large casks of silver - I don't know how he got so much; I dare say
he screwed it out of the miserable Jews - and put them aboard ship,
and went away himself to carry war into France: accompanied by his
mother and his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who was rich and
clever. But he only got well beaten, and came home.
The good-humour of the Parliament was not restored by this. They
reproached the King with wasting the public money to make greedy
foreigners rich, and were so stern with him, and so determined not
to let him have more of it to waste if they could help it, that he
was at his wit's end for some, and tried so shamelessly to get all
he could from his subjects, by excuses or by force, that the people
used to say the King was the sturdiest beggar in England. He took
the Cross, thinking to get some money by that means; but, as it was
very well known that he never meant to go on a crusade, he got
none. In all this contention, the Londoners were particularly keen
against the King, and the King hated them warmly in return. Hating
or loving, however, made no difference; he continued in the same
condition for nine or ten years, when at last the Barons said that
if he would solemnly confirm their liberties afresh, the Parliament
would vote him a large sum.
As he readily consented, there was a great meeting held in
Westminster Hall, one pleasant day in May, when all the clergy,
dressed in their robes and holding every one of them a burning
candle in his hand, stood up (the Barons being also there) while
the Archbishop of Canterbury read the sentence of excommunication
against any man, and all men, who should henceforth, in any way,
infringe the Great Charter of the Kingdom. When he had done, they
all put out their burning candles with a curse upon the soul of any
one, and every one, who should merit that sentence. The King
concluded with an oath to keep the Charter, 'As I am a man, as I am
a Christian, as I am a Knight, as I am a King!'
It was easy to make oaths, and easy to break them; and the King did
both, as his father had done before him. He took to his old
courses again when he was supplied with money, and soon cured of
their weakness the few who had ever really trusted him. When his
money was gone, and he was once more borrowing and begging
everywhere with a meanness worthy of his nature, he got into a
difficulty with the Pope respecting the Crown of Sicily, which the
Pope said he had a right to give away, and which he offered to King
Henry for his second son, PRINCE EDMUND. But, if you or I give
away what we have not got, and what belongs to somebody else, it is
likely that the person to whom we give it, will have some trouble
in taking it. It was exactly so in this case. It was necessary to
conquer the Sicilian Crown before it could be put upon young
Edmund's head. It could not be conquered without money. The Pope
ordered the clergy to raise money. The clergy, however, were not
so obedient to him as usual; they had been disputing with him for
some time about his unjust preference of Italian Priests in
England; and they had begun to doubt whether the King's chaplain,
whom he allowed to be paid for preaching in seven hundred churches,
could possibly be, even by the Pope's favour, in seven hundred
places at once. 'The Pope and the King together,' said the Bishop
of London, 'may take the mitre off my head; but, if they do, they
will find that I shall put on a soldier's helmet. I pay nothing.'
The Bishop of Worcester was as bold as the Bishop of London, and
would pay nothing either. Such sums as the more timid or more
helpless of the clergy did raise were squandered away, without
doing any good to the King, or bringing the Sicilian Crown an inch
nearer to Prince Edmund's head. The end of the business was, that
the Pope gave the Crown to the brother of the King of France (who
conquered it for himself), and sent the King of England in, a bill
of one hundred thousand pounds for the expenses of not having won
The King was now so much distressed that we might almost pity him,
if it were possible to pity a King so shabby and ridiculous. His
clever brother, Richard, had bought the title of King of the Romans
from the German people, and was no longer near him, to help him
with advice. The clergy, resisting the very Pope, were in alliance
with the Barons. The Barons were headed by SIMON DE MONTFORT, Earl
of Leicester, married to King Henry's sister, and, though a
foreigner himself, the most popular man in England against the
foreign favourites. When the King next met his Parliament, the
Barons, led by this Earl, came before him, armed from head to foot,
and cased in armour. When the Parliament again assembled, in a
month's time, at Oxford, this Earl was at their head, and the King
was obliged to consent, on oath, to what was called a Committee of
Government: consisting of twenty-four members: twelve chosen by
the Barons, and twelve chosen by himself.
But, at a good time for him, his brother Richard came back.
Richard's first act (the Barons would not admit him into England on
other terms) was to swear to be faithful to the Committee of
Government - which he immediately began to oppose with all his
might. Then, the Barons began to quarrel among themselves;
especially the proud Earl of Gloucester with the Earl of Leicester,
who went abroad in disgust. Then, the people began to be
dissatisfied with the Barons, because they did not do enough for
them. The King's chances seemed so good again at length, that he
took heart enough - or caught it from his brother - to tell the
Committee of Government that he abolished them - as to his oath,
never mind that, the Pope said! - and to seize all the money in the
Mint, and to shut himself up in the Tower of London. Here he was
joined by his eldest son, Prince Edward; and, from the Tower, he
made public a letter of the Pope's to the world in general,
informing all men that he had been an excellent and just King for
five-and-forty years.
As everybody knew he had been nothing of the sort, nobody cared
much for this document. It so chanced that the proud Earl of
Gloucester dying, was succeeded by his son; and that his son,
instead of being the enemy of the Earl of Leicester, was (for the
time) his friend. It fell out, therefore, that these two Earls
joined their forces, took several of the Royal Castles in the
country, and advanced as hard as they could on London. The London
people, always opposed to the King, declared for them with great
joy. The King himself remained shut up, not at all gloriously, in
the Tower. Prince Edward made the best of his way to Windsor
Castle. His mother, the Queen, attempted to follow him by water;
but, the people seeing her barge rowing up the river, and hating
her with all their hearts, ran to London Bridge, got together a
quantity of stones and mud, and pelted the barge as it came
through, crying furiously, 'Drown the Witch! Drown her!' They
were so near doing it, that the Mayor took the old lady under his
protection, and shut her up in St. Paul's until the danger was
It would require a great deal of writing on my part, and a great
deal of reading on yours, to follow the King through his disputes
with the Barons, and to follow the Barons through their disputes
with one another - so I will make short work of it for both of us,
and only relate the chief events that arose out of these quarrels.
The good King of France was asked to decide between them. He gave
it as his opinion that the King must maintain the Great Charter,
and that the Barons must give up the Committee of Government, and
all the rest that had been done by the Parliament at Oxford: which
the Royalists, or King's party, scornfully called the Mad
Parliament. The Barons declared that these were not fair terms,
and they would not accept them. Then they caused the great bell of
St. Paul's to be tolled, for the purpose of rousing up the London
people, who armed themselves at the dismal sound and formed quite
an army in the streets. I am sorry to say, however, that instead
of falling upon the King's party with whom their quarrel was, they
fell upon the miserable Jews, and killed at least five hundred of
them. They pretended that some of these Jews were on the King's
side, and that they kept hidden in their houses, for the
destruction of the people, a certain terrible composition called
Greek Fire, which could not be put out with water, but only burnt
the fiercer for it. What they really did keep in their houses was
money; and this their cruel enemies wanted, and this their cruel
enemies took, like robbers and murderers.
The Earl of Leicester put himself at the head of these Londoners
and other forces, and followed the King to Lewes in Sussex, where
he lay encamped with his army. Before giving the King's forces
battle here, the Earl addressed his soldiers, and said that King
Henry the Third had broken so many oaths, that he had become the
enemy of God, and therefore they would wear white crosses on their
breasts, as if they were arrayed, not against a fellow-Christian,
but against a Turk. White-crossed accordingly, they rushed into
the fight. They would have lost the day - the King having on his
side all the foreigners in England: and, from Scotland, JOHN
COMYN, JOHN BALIOL, and ROBERT BRUCE, with all their men - but for
the impatience of PRINCE EDWARD, who, in his hot desire to have
vengeance on the people of London, threw the whole of his father's
army into confusion. He was taken Prisoner; so was the King; so
was the King's brother the King of the Romans; and five thousand
Englishmen were left dead upon the bloody grass.
For this success, the Pope excommunicated the Earl of Leicester:
which neither the Earl nor the people cared at all about. The
people loved him and supported him, and he became the real King;
having all the power of the government in his own hands, though he
was outwardly respectful to King Henry the Third, whom he took with
him wherever he went, like a poor old limp court-card. He summoned
a Parliament (in the year one thousand two hundred and sixty-five)
which was the first Parliament in England that the people had any
real share in electing; and he grew more and more in favour with
the people every day, and they stood by him in whatever he did.
Many of the other Barons, and particularly the Earl of Gloucester,
who had become by this time as proud as his father, grew jealous of
this powerful and popular Earl, who was proud too, and began to
conspire against him. Since the battle of Lewes, Prince Edward had
been kept as a hostage, and, though he was otherwise treated like a
Prince, had never been allowed to go out without attendants
appointed by the Earl of Leicester, who watched him. The
conspiring Lords found means to propose to him, in secret, that
they should assist him to escape, and should make him their leader;
to which he very heartily consented.
So, on a day that was agreed upon, he said to his attendants after
dinner (being then at Hereford), 'I should like to ride on
horseback, this fine afternoon, a little way into the country.' As
they, too, thought it would be very pleasant to have a canter in
the sunshine, they all rode out of the town together in a gay
little troop. When they came to a fine level piece of turf, the
Prince fell to comparing their horses one with another, and
offering bets that one was faster than another; and the attendants,
suspecting no harm, rode galloping matches until their horses were
quite tired. The Prince rode no matches himself, but looked on
from his saddle, and staked his money. Thus they passed the whole
merry afternoon. Now, the sun was setting, and they were all going
slowly up a hill, the Prince's horse very fresh and all the other
horses very weary, when a strange rider mounted on a grey steed
appeared at the top of the hill, and waved his hat. 'What does the
fellow mean?' said the attendants one to another. The Prince
answered on the instant by setting spurs to his horse, dashing away
at his utmost speed, joining the man, riding into the midst of a
little crowd of horsemen who were then seen waiting under some
trees, and who closed around him; and so he departed in a cloud of
dust, leaving the road empty of all but the baffled attendants, who
sat looking at one another, while their horses drooped their ears
and panted.
The Prince joined the Earl of Gloucester at Ludlow. The Earl of
Leicester, with a part of the army and the stupid old King, was at
Hereford. One of the Earl of Leicester's sons, Simon de Montfort,
with another part of the army, was in Sussex. To prevent these two
parts from uniting was the Prince's first object. He attacked
Simon de Montfort by night, defeated him, seized his banners and
treasure, and forced him into Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire,
which belonged to his family.
His father, the Earl of Leicester, in the meanwhile, not knowing
what had happened, marched out of Hereford, with his part of the
army and the King, to meet him. He came, on a bright morning in
August, to Evesham, which is watered by the pleasant river Avon.
Looking rather anxiously across the prospect towards Kenilworth, he
saw his own banners advancing; and his face brightened with joy.
But, it clouded darkly when he presently perceived that the banners
were captured, and in the enemy's hands; and he said, 'It is over.
The Lord have mercy on our souls, for our bodies are Prince
He fought like a true Knight, nevertheless. When his horse was
killed under him, he fought on foot. It was a fierce battle, and
the dead lay in heaps everywhere. The old King, stuck up in a suit
of armour on a big war-horse, which didn't mind him at all, and
which carried him into all sorts of places where he didn't want to
go, got into everybody's way, and very nearly got knocked on the
head by one of his son's men. But he managed to pipe out, 'I am
Harry of Winchester!' and the Prince, who heard him, seized his
bridle, and took him out of peril. The Earl of Leicester still
fought bravely, until his best son Henry was killed, and the bodies
of his best friends choked his path; and then he fell, still
fighting, sword in hand. They mangled his body, and sent it as a
present to a noble lady - but a very unpleasant lady, I should
think - who was the wife of his worst enemy. They could not mangle
his memory in the minds of the faithful people, though. Many years
afterwards, they loved him more than ever, and regarded him as a
Saint, and always spoke of him as 'Sir Simon the Righteous.'
And even though he was dead, the cause for which he had fought
still lived, and was strong, and forced itself upon the King in the
very hour of victory. Henry found himself obliged to respect the
Great Charter, however much he hated it, and to make laws similar
to the laws of the Great Earl of Leicester, and to be moderate and
forgiving towards the people at last - even towards the people of
London, who had so long opposed him. There were more risings
before all this was done, but they were set at rest by these means,
and Prince Edward did his best in all things to restore peace. One
Sir Adam de Gourdon was the last dissatisfied knight in arms; but,
the Prince vanquished him in single combat, in a wood, and nobly
gave him his life, and became his friend, instead of slaying him.
Sir Adam was not ungrateful. He ever afterwards remained devoted
to his generous conqueror.
When the troubles of the Kingdom were thus calmed, Prince Edward
and his cousin Henry took the Cross, and went away to the Holy
Land, with many English Lords and Knights. Four years afterwards
the King of the Romans died, and, next year (one thousand two
hundred and seventy-two), his brother the weak King of England
died. He was sixty-eight years old then, and had reigned fifty-six
years. He was as much of a King in death, as he had ever been in
life. He was the mere pale shadow of a King at all times.
IT was now the year of our Lord one thousand two hundred and
seventy-two; and Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, being away
in the Holy Land, knew nothing of his father's death. The Barons,
however, proclaimed him King, immediately after the Royal funeral;
and the people very willingly consented, since most men knew too
well by this time what the horrors of a contest for the crown were.
So King Edward the First, called, in a not very complimentary
manner, LONGSHANKS, because of the slenderness of his legs, was
peacefully accepted by the English Nation.
His legs had need to be strong, however long and thin they were;
for they had to support him through many difficulties on the fiery
sands of Asia, where his small force of soldiers fainted, died,
deserted, and seemed to melt away. But his prowess made light of
it, and he said, 'I will go on, if I go on with no other follower
than my groom!'
A Prince of this spirit gave the Turks a deal of trouble. He
stormed Nazareth, at which place, of all places on earth, I am
sorry to relate, he made a frightful slaughter of innocent people;
and then he went to Acre, where he got a truce of ten years from
the Sultan. He had very nearly lost his life in Acre, through the
treachery of a Saracen Noble, called the Emir of Jaffa, who, making
the pretence that he had some idea of turning Christian and wanted
to know all about that religion, sent a trusty messenger to Edward
very often - with a dagger in his sleeve. At last, one Friday in
Whitsun week, when it was very hot, and all the sandy prospect lay
beneath the blazing sun, burnt up like a great overdone biscuit,
and Edward was lying on a couch, dressed for coolness in only a
loose robe, the messenger, with his chocolate-coloured face and his
bright dark eyes and white teeth, came creeping in with a letter,
and kneeled down like a tame tiger. But, the moment Edward
stretched out his hand to take the letter, the tiger made a spring
at his heart. He was quick, but Edward was quick too. He seized
the traitor by his chocolate throat, threw him to the ground, and
slew him with the very dagger he had drawn. The weapon had struck
Edward in the arm, and although the wound itself was slight, it
threatened to be mortal, for the blade of the dagger had been
smeared with poison. Thanks, however, to a better surgeon than was
often to be found in those times, and to some wholesome herbs, and
above all, to his faithful wife, ELEANOR, who devotedly nursed him,
and is said by some to have sucked the poison from the wound with
her own red lips (which I am very willing to believe), Edward soon
recovered and was sound again.
As the King his father had sent entreaties to him to return home,
he now began the journey. He had got as far as Italy, when he met
messengers who brought him intelligence of the King's death.
Hearing that all was quiet at home, he made no haste to return to
his own dominions, but paid a visit to the Pope, and went in state
through various Italian Towns, where he was welcomed with
acclamations as a mighty champion of the Cross from the Holy Land,
and where he received presents of purple mantles and prancing
horses, and went along in great triumph. The shouting people
little knew that he was the last English monarch who would ever
embark in a crusade, or that within twenty years every conquest
which the Christians had made in the Holy Land at the cost of so
much blood, would be won back by the Turks. But all this came to
There was, and there is, an old town standing in a plain in France,
called ChÉlons. When the King was coming towards this place on his
way to England, a wily French Lord, called the Count of ChÉlons,
sent him a polite challenge to come with his knights and hold a
fair tournament with the Count and HIS knights, and make a day of
it with sword and lance. It was represented to the King that the
Count of ChÉlons was not to be trusted, and that, instead of a
holiday fight for mere show and in good humour, he secretly meant a
real battle, in which the English should be defeated by superior
The King, however, nothing afraid, went to the appointed place on
the appointed day with a thousand followers. When the Count came
with two thousand and attacked the English in earnest, the English
rushed at them with such valour that the Count's men and the
Count's horses soon began to be tumbled down all over the field.
The Count himself seized the King round the neck, but the King
tumbled HIM out of his saddle in return for the compliment, and,
jumping from his own horse, and standing over him, beat away at his
iron armour like a blacksmith hammering on his anvil. Even when
the Count owned himself defeated and offered his sword, the King
would not do him the honour to take it, but made him yield it up to
a common soldier. There had been such fury shown in this fight,
that it was afterwards called the little Battle of ChÉlons.
The English were very well disposed to be proud of their King after
these adventures; so, when he landed at Dover in the year one
thousand two hundred and seventy-four (being then thirty-six years
old), and went on to Westminster where he and his good Queen were
crowned with great magnificence, splendid rejoicings took place.
For the coronation-feast there were provided, among other eatables,
four hundred oxen, four hundred sheep, four hundred and fifty pigs,
eighteen wild boars, three hundred flitches of bacon, and twenty
thousand fowls. The fountains and conduits in the street flowed
with red and white wine instead of water; the rich citizens hung
silks and cloths of the brightest colours out of their windows to
increase the beauty of the show, and threw out gold and silver by
whole handfuls to make scrambles for the crowd. In short, there
was such eating and drinking, such music and capering, such a
ringing of bells and tossing of caps, such a shouting, and singing,
and revelling, as the narrow overhanging streets of old London City
had not witnessed for many a long day. All the people were merry
except the poor Jews, who, trembling within their houses, and
scarcely daring to peep out, began to foresee that they would have
to find the money for this joviality sooner or later.
To dismiss this sad subject of the Jews for the present, I am sorry
to add that in this reign they were most unmercifully pillaged.
They were hanged in great numbers, on accusations of having clipped
the King's coin - which all kinds of people had done. They were
heavily taxed; they were disgracefully badged; they were, on one
day, thirteen years after the coronation, taken up with their wives
and children and thrown into beastly prisons, until they purchased
their release by paying to the King twelve thousand pounds.
Finally, every kind of property belonging to them was seized by the
King, except so little as would defray the charge of their taking
themselves away into foreign countries. Many years elapsed before
the hope of gain induced any of their race to return to England,
where they had been treated so heartlessly and had suffered so
If King Edward the First had been as bad a king to Christians as he
was to Jews, he would have been bad indeed. But he was, in
general, a wise and great monarch, under whom the country much
improved. He had no love for the Great Charter - few Kings had,
through many, many years - but he had high qualities. The first
bold object which he conceived when he came home, was, to unite
under one Sovereign England, Scotland, and Wales; the two last of
which countries had each a little king of its own, about whom the
people were always quarrelling and fighting, and making a
prodigious disturbance - a great deal more than he was worth. In
the course of King Edward's reign he was engaged, besides, in a war
with France. To make these quarrels clearer, we will separate
their histories and take them thus. Wales, first. France, second.
Scotland, third.
LLEWELLYN was the Prince of Wales. He had been on the side of the
Barons in the reign of the stupid old King, but had afterwards
sworn allegiance to him. When King Edward came to the throne,
Llewellyn was required to swear allegiance to him also; which he
refused to do. The King, being crowned and in his own dominions,
three times more required Llewellyn to come and do homage; and
three times more Llewellyn said he would rather not. He was going
to be married to ELEANOR DE MONTFORT, a young lady of the family
mentioned in the last reign; and it chanced that this young lady,
coming from France with her youngest brother, EMERIC, was taken by
an English ship, and was ordered by the English King to be
detained. Upon this, the quarrel came to a head. The King went,
with his fleet, to the coast of Wales, where, so encompassing
Llewellyn, that he could only take refuge in the bleak mountain
region of Snowdon in which no provisions could reach him, he was
soon starved into an apology, and into a treaty of peace, and into
paying the expenses of the war. The King, however, forgave him
some of the hardest conditions of the treaty, and consented to his
marriage. And he now thought he had reduced Wales to obedience.
But the Welsh, although they were naturally a gentle, quiet,
pleasant people, who liked to receive strangers in their cottages
among the mountains, and to set before them with free hospitality
whatever they had to eat and drink, and to play to them on their
harps, and sing their native ballads to them, were a people of
great spirit when their blood was up. Englishmen, after this
affair, began to be insolent in Wales, and to assume the air of
masters; and the Welsh pride could not bear it. Moreover, they
believed in that unlucky old Merlin, some of whose unlucky old
prophecies somebody always seemed doomed to remember when there was
a chance of its doing harm; and just at this time some blind old
gentleman with a harp and a long white beard, who was an excellent
person, but had become of an unknown age and tedious, burst out
with a declaration that Merlin had predicted that when English
money had become round, a Prince of Wales would be crowned in
London. Now, King Edward had recently forbidden the English penny
to be cut into halves and quarters for halfpence and farthings, and
had actually introduced a round coin; therefore, the Welsh people
said this was the time Merlin meant, and rose accordingly.
King Edward had bought over PRINCE DAVID, Llewellyn's brother, by
heaping favours upon him; but he was the first to revolt, being
perhaps troubled in his conscience. One stormy night, he surprised
the Castle of Hawarden, in possession of which an English nobleman
had been left; killed the whole garrison, and carried off the
nobleman a prisoner to Snowdon. Upon this, the Welsh people rose
like one man. King Edward, with his army, marching from Worcester
to the Menai Strait, crossed it - near to where the wonderful
tubular iron bridge now, in days so different, makes a passage for
railway trains - by a bridge of boats that enabled forty men to
march abreast. He subdued the Island of Anglesea, and sent his men
forward to observe the enemy. The sudden appearance of the Welsh
created a panic among them, and they fell back to the bridge. The
tide had in the meantime risen and separated the boats; the Welsh
pursuing them, they were driven into the sea, and there they sunk,
in their heavy iron armour, by thousands. After this victory
Llewellyn, helped by the severe winter-weather of Wales, gained
another battle; but the King ordering a portion of his English army
to advance through South Wales, and catch him between two foes, and
Llewellyn bravely turning to meet this new enemy, he was surprised
and killed - very meanly, for he was unarmed and defenceless. His
head was struck off and sent to London, where it was fixed upon the
Tower, encircled with a wreath, some say of ivy, some say of
willow, some say of silver, to make it look like a ghastly coin in
ridicule of the prediction.
David, however, still held out for six months, though eagerly
sought after by the King, and hunted by his own countrymen. One of
them finally betrayed him with his wife and children. He was
sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; and from that time
this became the established punishment of Traitors in England - a
punishment wholly without excuse, as being revolting, vile, and
cruel, after its object is dead; and which has no sense in it, as
its only real degradation (and that nothing can blot out) is to the
country that permits on any consideration such abominable
Wales was now subdued. The Queen giving birth to a young prince in
the Castle of Carnarvon, the King showed him to the Welsh people as
their countryman, and called him Prince of Wales; a title that has
ever since been borne by the heir-apparent to the English throne -
which that little Prince soon became, by the death of his elder
brother. The King did better things for the Welsh than that, by
improving their laws and encouraging their trade. Disturbances
still took place, chiefly occasioned by the avarice and pride of
the English Lords, on whom Welsh lands and castles had been
bestowed; but they were subdued, and the country never rose again.
There is a legend that to prevent the people from being incited to
rebellion by the songs of their bards and harpers, Edward had them
all put to death. Some of them may have fallen among other men who
held out against the King; but this general slaughter is, I think,
a fancy of the harpers themselves, who, I dare say, made a song
about it many years afterwards, and sang it by the Welsh firesides
until it came to be believed.
The foreign war of the reign of Edward the First arose in this way.
The crews of two vessels, one a Norman ship, and the other an
English ship, happened to go to the same place in their boats to
fill their casks with fresh water. Being rough angry fellows, they
began to quarrel, and then to fight - the English with their fists;
the Normans with their knives - and, in the fight, a Norman was
killed. The Norman crew, instead of revenging themselves upon
those English sailors with whom they had quarrelled (who were too
strong for them, I suspect), took to their ship again in a great
rage, attacked the first English ship they met, laid hold of an
unoffending merchant who happened to be on board, and brutally
hanged him in the rigging of their own vessel with a dog at his
feet. This so enraged the English sailors that there was no
restraining them; and whenever, and wherever, English sailors met
Norman sailors, they fell upon each other tooth and nail. The
Irish and Dutch sailors took part with the English; the French and
Genoese sailors helped the Normans; and thus the greater part of
the mariners sailing over the sea became, in their way, as violent
and raging as the sea itself when it is disturbed.
King Edward's fame had been so high abroad that he had been chosen
to decide a difference between France and another foreign power,
and had lived upon the Continent three years. At first, neither he
nor the French King PHILIP (the good Louis had been dead some time)
interfered in these quarrels; but when a fleet of eighty English
ships engaged and utterly defeated a Norman fleet of two hundred,
in a pitched battle fought round a ship at anchor, in which no
quarter was given, the matter became too serious to be passed over.
King Edward, as Duke of Guienne, was summoned to present himself
before the King of France, at Paris, and answer for the damage done
by his sailor subjects. At first, he sent the Bishop of London as
his representative, and then his brother EDMUND, who was married to
the French Queen's mother. I am afraid Edmund was an easy man, and
allowed himself to be talked over by his charming relations, the
French court ladies; at all events, he was induced to give up his
brother's dukedom for forty days - as a mere form, the French King
said, to satisfy his honour - and he was so very much astonished,
when the time was out, to find that the French King had no idea of
giving it up again, that I should not wonder if it hastened his
death: which soon took place.
King Edward was a King to win his foreign dukedom back again, if it
could be won by energy and valour. He raised a large army,
renounced his allegiance as Duke of Guienne, and crossed the sea to
carry war into France. Before any important battle was fought,
however, a truce was agreed upon for two years; and in the course
of that time, the Pope effected a reconciliation. King Edward, who
was now a widower, having lost his affectionate and good wife,
Eleanor, married the French King's sister, MARGARET; and the Prince
of Wales was contracted to the French King's daughter ISABELLA.
Out of bad things, good things sometimes arise. Out of this
hanging of the innocent merchant, and the bloodshed and strife it
caused, there came to be established one of the greatest powers
that the English people now possess. The preparations for the war
being very expensive, and King Edward greatly wanting money, and
being very arbitrary in his ways of raising it, some of the Barons
began firmly to oppose him. Two of them, in particular, HUMPHREY
BOHUN, Earl of Hereford, and ROGER BIGOD, Earl of Norfolk, were so
stout against him, that they maintained he had no right to command
them to head his forces in Guienne, and flatly refused to go there.
'By Heaven, Sir Earl,' said the King to the Earl of Hereford, in a
great passion, 'you shall either go or be hanged!' 'By Heaven, Sir
King,' replied the Earl, 'I will neither go nor yet will I be
hanged!' and both he and the other Earl sturdily left the court,
attended by many Lords. The King tried every means of raising
money. He taxed the clergy, in spite of all the Pope said to the
contrary; and when they refused to pay, reduced them to submission,
by saying Very well, then they had no claim upon the government for
protection, and any man might plunder them who would - which a good
many men were very ready to do, and very readily did, and which the
clergy found too losing a game to be played at long. He seized all
the wool and leather in the hands of the merchants, promising to
pay for it some fine day; and he set a tax upon the exportation of
wool, which was so unpopular among the traders that it was called
'The evil toll.' But all would not do. The Barons, led by those
two great Earls, declared any taxes imposed without the consent of
Parliament, unlawful; and the Parliament refused to impose taxes,
until the King should confirm afresh the two Great Charters, and
should solemnly declare in writing, that there was no power in the
country to raise money from the people, evermore, but the power of
Parliament representing all ranks of the people. The King was very
unwilling to diminish his own power by allowing this great
privilege in the Parliament; but there was no help for it, and he
at last complied. We shall come to another King by-and-by, who
might have saved his head from rolling off, if he had profited by
this example.
The people gained other benefits in Parliament from the good sense
and wisdom of this King. Many of the laws were much improved;
provision was made for the greater safety of travellers, and the
apprehension of thieves and murderers; the priests were prevented
from holding too much land, and so becoming too powerful; and
Justices of the Peace were first appointed (though not at first
under that name) in various parts of the country.
And now we come to Scotland, which was the great and lasting
trouble of the reign of King Edward the First.
About thirteen years after King Edward's coronation, Alexander the
Third, the King of Scotland, died of a fall from his horse. He had
been married to Margaret, King Edward's sister. All their children
being dead, the Scottish crown became the right of a young Princess
only eight years old, the daughter of ERIC, King of Norway, who had
married a daughter of the deceased sovereign. King Edward
proposed, that the Maiden of Norway, as this Princess was called,
should be engaged to be married to his eldest son; but,
unfortunately, as she was coming over to England she fell sick, and
landing on one of the Orkney Islands, died there. A great
commotion immediately began in Scotland, where as many as thirteen
noisy claimants to the vacant throne started up and made a general
King Edward being much renowned for his sagacity and justice, it
seems to have been agreed to refer the dispute to him. He accepted
the trust, and went, with an army, to the Border-land where England
and Scotland joined. There, he called upon the Scottish gentlemen
to meet him at the Castle of Norham, on the English side of the
river Tweed; and to that Castle they came. But, before he would
take any step in the business, he required those Scottish
gentlemen, one and all, to do homage to him as their superior Lord;
and when they hesitated, he said, 'By holy Edward, whose crown I
wear, I will have my rights, or I will die in maintaining them!'
The Scottish gentlemen, who had not expected this, were
disconcerted, and asked for three weeks to think about it.
At the end of the three weeks, another meeting took place, on a
green plain on the Scottish side of the river. Of all the
competitors for the Scottish throne, there were only two who had
any real claim, in right of their near kindred to the Royal Family.
These were JOHN BALIOL and ROBERT BRUCE: and the right was, I have
no doubt, on the side of John Baliol. At this particular meeting
John Baliol was not present, but Robert Bruce was; and on Robert
Bruce being formally asked whether he acknowledged the King of
England for his superior lord, he answered, plainly and distinctly,
Yes, he did. Next day, John Baliol appeared, and said the same.
This point settled, some arrangements were made for inquiring into
their titles.
The inquiry occupied a pretty long time - more than a year. While
it was going on, King Edward took the opportunity of making a
journey through Scotland, and calling upon the Scottish people of
all degrees to acknowledge themselves his vassals, or be imprisoned
until they did. In the meanwhile, Commissioners were appointed to
conduct the inquiry, a Parliament was held at Berwick about it, the
two claimants were heard at full length, and there was a vast
amount of talking. At last, in the great hall of the Castle of
Berwick, the King gave judgment in favour of John Baliol: who,
consenting to receive his crown by the King of England's favour and
permission, was crowned at Scone, in an old stone chair which had
been used for ages in the abbey there, at the coronations of
Scottish Kings. Then, King Edward caused the great seal of
Scotland, used since the late King's death, to be broken in four
pieces, and placed in the English Treasury; and considered that he
now had Scotland (according to the common saying) under his thumb.
Scotland had a strong will of its own yet, however. King Edward,
determined that the Scottish King should not forget he was his
vassal, summoned him repeatedly to come and defend himself and his
judges before the English Parliament when appeals from the
decisions of Scottish courts of justice were being heard. At
length, John Baliol, who had no great heart of his own, had so much
heart put into him by the brave spirit of the Scottish people, who
took this as a national insult, that he refused to come any more.
Thereupon, the King further required him to help him in his war
abroad (which was then in progress), and to give up, as security
for his good behaviour in future, the three strong Scottish Castles
of Jedburgh, Roxburgh, and Berwick. Nothing of this being done; on
the contrary, the Scottish people concealing their King among their
mountains in the Highlands and showing a determination to resist;
Edward marched to Berwick with an army of thirty thousand foot, and
four thousand horse; took the Castle, and slew its whole garrison,
and the inhabitants of the town as well - men, women, and children.
LORD WARRENNE, Earl of Surrey, then went on to the Castle of
Dunbar, before which a battle was fought, and the whole Scottish
army defeated with great slaughter. The victory being complete,
the Earl of Surrey was left as guardian of Scotland; the principal
offices in that kingdom were given to Englishmen; the more powerful
Scottish Nobles were obliged to come and live in England; the
Scottish crown and sceptre were brought away; and even the old
stone chair was carried off and placed in Westminster Abbey, where
you may see it now. Baliol had the Tower of London lent him for a
residence, with permission to range about within a circle of twenty
miles. Three years afterwards he was allowed to go to Normandy,
where he had estates, and where he passed the remaining six years
of his life: far more happily, I dare say, than he had lived for a
long while in angry Scotland.
Now, there was, in the West of Scotland, a gentleman of small
fortune, named WILLIAM WALLACE, the second son of a Scottish
knight. He was a man of great size and great strength; he was very
brave and daring; when he spoke to a body of his countrymen, he
could rouse them in a wonderful manner by the power of his burning
words; he loved Scotland dearly, and he hated England with his
utmost might. The domineering conduct of the English who now held
the places of trust in Scotland made them as intolerable to the
proud Scottish people as they had been, under similar
circumstances, to the Welsh; and no man in all Scotland regarded
them with so much smothered rage as William Wallace. One day, an
Englishman in office, little knowing what he was, affronted HIM.
Wallace instantly struck him dead, and taking refuge among the
rocks and hills, and there joining with his countryman, SIR WILLIAM
DOUGLAS, who was also in arms against King Edward, became the most
resolute and undaunted champion of a people struggling for their
independence that ever lived upon the earth.
The English Guardian of the Kingdom fled before him, and, thus
encouraged, the Scottish people revolted everywhere, and fell upon
the English without mercy. The Earl of Surrey, by the King's
commands, raised all the power of the Border-counties, and two
English armies poured into Scotland. Only one Chief, in the face
of those armies, stood by Wallace, who, with a force of forty
thousand men, awaited the invaders at a place on the river Forth,
within two miles of Stirling. Across the river there was only one
poor wooden bridge, called the bridge of Kildean - so narrow, that
but two men could cross it abreast. With his eyes upon this
bridge, Wallace posted the greater part of his men among some
rising grounds, and waited calmly. When the English army came up
on the opposite bank of the river, messengers were sent forward to
offer terms. Wallace sent them back with a defiance, in the name
of the freedom of Scotland. Some of the officers of the Earl of
Surrey in command of the English, with THEIR eyes also on the
bridge, advised him to be discreet and not hasty. He, however,
urged to immediate battle by some other officers, and particularly
by CRESSINGHAM, King Edward's treasurer, and a rash man, gave the
word of command to advance. One thousand English crossed the
bridge, two abreast; the Scottish troops were as motionless as
stone images. Two thousand English crossed; three thousand, four
thousand, five. Not a feather, all this time, had been seen to
stir among the Scottish bonnets. Now, they all fluttered.
'Forward, one party, to the foot of the Bridge!' cried Wallace,
'and let no more English cross! The rest, down with me on the five
thousand who have come over, and cut them all to pieces!' It was
done, in the sight of the whole remainder of the English army, who
could give no help. Cressingham himself was killed, and the Scotch
made whips for their horses of his skin.
King Edward was abroad at this time, and during the successes on
the Scottish side which followed, and which enabled bold Wallace to
win the whole country back again, and even to ravage the English
borders. But, after a few winter months, the King returned, and
took the field with more than his usual energy. One night, when a
kick from his horse as they both lay on the ground together broke
two of his ribs, and a cry arose that he was killed, he leaped into
his saddle, regardless of the pain he suffered, and rode through
the camp. Day then appearing, he gave the word (still, of course,
in that bruised and aching state) Forward! and led his army on to
near Falkirk, where the Scottish forces were seen drawn up on some
stony ground, behind a morass. Here, he defeated Wallace, and
killed fifteen thousand of his men. With the shattered remainder,
Wallace drew back to Stirling; but, being pursued, set fire to the
town that it might give no help to the English, and escaped. The
inhabitants of Perth afterwards set fire to their houses for the
same reason, and the King, unable to find provisions, was forced to
withdraw his army.
Another ROBERT BRUCE, the grandson of him who had disputed the
Scottish crown with Baliol, was now in arms against the King (that
elder Bruce being dead), and also JOHN COMYN, Baliol's nephew.
These two young men might agree in opposing Edward, but could agree
in nothing else, as they were rivals for the throne of Scotland.
Probably it was because they knew this, and knew what troubles must
arise even if they could hope to get the better of the great
English King, that the principal Scottish people applied to the
Pope for his interference. The Pope, on the principle of losing
nothing for want of trying to get it, very coolly claimed that
Scotland belonged to him; but this was a little too much, and the
Parliament in a friendly manner told him so.
In the spring time of the year one thousand three hundred and
three, the King sent SIR JOHN SEGRAVE, whom he made Governor of
Scotland, with twenty thousand men, to reduce the rebels. Sir John
was not as careful as he should have been, but encamped at Rosslyn,
near Edinburgh, with his army divided into three parts. The
Scottish forces saw their advantage; fell on each part separately;
defeated each; and killed all the prisoners. Then, came the King
himself once more, as soon as a great army could be raised; he
passed through the whole north of Scotland, laying waste whatsoever
came in his way; and he took up his winter quarters at Dunfermline.
The Scottish cause now looked so hopeless, that Comyn and the other
nobles made submission and received their pardons. Wallace alone
stood out. He was invited to surrender, though on no distinct
pledge that his life should be spared; but he still defied the
ireful King, and lived among the steep crags of the Highland glens,
where the eagles made their nests, and where the mountain torrents
roared, and the white snow was deep, and the bitter winds blew
round his unsheltered head, as he lay through many a pitch-dark
night wrapped up in his plaid. Nothing could break his spirit;
nothing could lower his courage; nothing could induce him to forget
or to forgive his country's wrongs. Even when the Castle of
Stirling, which had long held out, was besieged by the King with
every kind of military engine then in use; even when the lead upon
cathedral roofs was taken down to help to make them; even when the
King, though an old man, commanded in the siege as if he were a
youth, being so resolved to conquer; even when the brave garrison
(then found with amazement to be not two hundred people, including
several ladies) were starved and beaten out and were made to submit
on their knees, and with every form of disgrace that could
aggravate their sufferings; even then, when there was not a ray of
hope in Scotland, William Wallace was as proud and firm as if he
had beheld the powerful and relentless Edward lying dead at his
Who betrayed William Wallace in the end, is not quite certain.
That he was betrayed - probably by an attendant - is too true. He
was taken to the Castle of Dumbarton, under SIR JOHN MENTEITH, and
thence to London, where the great fame of his bravery and
resolution attracted immense concourses of people to behold him.
He was tried in Westminster Hall, with a crown of laurel on his
head - it is supposed because he was reported to have said that he
ought to wear, or that he would wear, a crown there and was found
guilty as a robber, a murderer, and a traitor. What they called a
robber (he said to those who tried him) he was, because he had
taken spoil from the King's men. What they called a murderer, he
was, because he had slain an insolent Englishman. What they called
a traitor, he was not, for he had never sworn allegiance to the
King, and had ever scorned to do it. He was dragged at the tails
of horses to West Smithfield, and there hanged on a high gallows,
torn open before he was dead, beheaded, and quartered. His head
was set upon a pole on London Bridge, his right arm was sent to
Newcastle, his left arm to Berwick, his legs to Perth and Aberdeen.
But, if King Edward had had his body cut into inches, and had sent
every separate inch into a separate town, he could not have
dispersed it half so far and wide as his fame. Wallace will be
remembered in songs and stories, while there are songs and stories
in the English tongue, and Scotland will hold him dear while her
lakes and mountains last.
Released from this dreaded enemy, the King made a fairer plan of
Government for Scotland, divided the offices of honour among
Scottish gentlemen and English gentlemen, forgave past offences,
and thought, in his old age, that his work was done.
But he deceived himself. Comyn and Bruce conspired, and made an
appointment to meet at Dumfries, in the church of the Minorites.
There is a story that Comyn was false to Bruce, and had informed
against him to the King; that Bruce was warned of his danger and
the necessity of flight, by receiving, one night as he sat at
supper, from his friend the Earl of Gloucester, twelve pennies and
a pair of spurs; that as he was riding angrily to keep his
appointment (through a snow-storm, with his horse's shoes reversed
that he might not be tracked), he met an evil-looking serving man,
a messenger of Comyn, whom he killed, and concealed in whose dress
he found letters that proved Comyn's treachery. However this may
be, they were likely enough to quarrel in any case, being hotheaded
rivals; and, whatever they quarrelled about, they certainly
did quarrel in the church where they met, and Bruce drew his dagger
and stabbed Comyn, who fell upon the pavement. When Bruce came
out, pale and disturbed, the friends who were waiting for him asked
what was the matter? 'I think I have killed Comyn,' said he. 'You
only think so?' returned one of them; 'I will make sure!' and going
into the church, and finding him alive, stabbed him again and
again. Knowing that the King would never forgive this new deed of
violence, the party then declared Bruce King of Scotland: got him
crowned at Scone - without the chair; and set up the rebellious
standard once again.
When the King heard of it he kindled with fiercer anger than he had
ever shown yet. He caused the Prince of Wales and two hundred and
seventy of the young nobility to be knighted - the trees in the
Temple Gardens were cut down to make room for their tents, and they
watched their armour all night, according to the old usage: some
in the Temple Church: some in Westminster Abbey - and at the
public Feast which then took place, he swore, by Heaven, and by two
swans covered with gold network which his minstrels placed upon the
table, that he would avenge the death of Comyn, and would punish
the false Bruce. And before all the company, he charged the Prince
his son, in case that he should die before accomplishing his vow,
not to bury him until it was fulfilled. Next morning the Prince
and the rest of the young Knights rode away to the Border-country
to join the English army; and the King, now weak and sick, followed
in a horse-litter.
Bruce, after losing a battle and undergoing many dangers and much
misery, fled to Ireland, where he lay concealed through the winter.
That winter, Edward passed in hunting down and executing Bruce's
relations and adherents, sparing neither youth nor age, and showing
no touch of pity or sign of mercy. In the following spring, Bruce
reappeared and gained some victories. In these frays, both sides
were grievously cruel. For instance - Bruce's two brothers, being
taken captives desperately wounded, were ordered by the King to
instant execution. Bruce's friend Sir John Douglas, taking his own
Castle of Douglas out of the hands of an English Lord, roasted the
dead bodies of the slaughtered garrison in a great fire made of
every movable within it; which dreadful cookery his men called the
Douglas Larder. Bruce, still successful, however, drove the Earl
of Pembroke and the Earl of Gloucester into the Castle of Ayr and
laid siege to it.
The King, who had been laid up all the winter, but had directed the
army from his sick-bed, now advanced to Carlisle, and there,
causing the litter in which he had travelled to be placed in the
Cathedral as an offering to Heaven, mounted his horse once more,
and for the last time. He was now sixty-nine years old, and had
reigned thirty-five years. He was so ill, that in four days he
could go no more than six miles; still, even at that pace, he went
on and resolutely kept his face towards the Border. At length, he
lay down at the village of Burgh-upon-Sands; and there, telling
those around him to impress upon the Prince that he was to remember
his father's vow, and was never to rest until he had thoroughly
subdued Scotland, he yielded up his last breath.
KING Edward the Second, the first Prince of Wales, was twenty-three
years old when his father died. There was a certain favourite of
his, a young man from Gascony, named PIERS GAVESTON, of whom his
father had so much disapproved that he had ordered him out of
England, and had made his son swear by the side of his sick-bed,
never to bring him back. But, the Prince no sooner found himself
King, than he broke his oath, as so many other Princes and Kings
did (they were far too ready to take oaths), and sent for his dear
friend immediately.
Now, this same Gaveston was handsome enough, but was a reckless,
insolent, audacious fellow. He was detested by the proud English
Lords: not only because he had such power over the King, and made
the Court such a dissipated place, but, also, because he could ride
better than they at tournaments, and was used, in his impudence, to
cut very bad jokes on them; calling one, the old hog; another, the
stage-player; another, the Jew; another, the black dog of Ardenne.
This was as poor wit as need be, but it made those Lords very
wroth; and the surly Earl of Warwick, who was the black dog, swore
that the time should come when Piers Gaveston should feel the black
dog's teeth.
It was not come yet, however, nor did it seem to be coming. The
King made him Earl of Cornwall, and gave him vast riches; and, when
the King went over to France to marry the French Princess,
ISABELLA, daughter of PHILIP LE BEL: who was said to be the most
beautiful woman in the world: he made Gaveston, Regent of the
Kingdom. His splendid marriage-ceremony in the Church of Our Lady
at Boulogne, where there were four Kings and three Queens present
(quite a pack of Court Cards, for I dare say the Knaves were not
wanting), being over, he seemed to care little or nothing for his
beautiful wife; but was wild with impatience to meet Gaveston
When he landed at home, he paid no attention to anybody else, but
ran into the favourite's arms before a great concourse of people,
and hugged him, and kissed him, and called him his brother. At the
coronation which soon followed, Gaveston was the richest and
brightest of all the glittering company there, and had the honour
of carrying the crown. This made the proud Lords fiercer than
ever; the people, too, despised the favourite, and would never call
him Earl of Cornwall, however much he complained to the King and
asked him to punish them for not doing so, but persisted in styling
him plain Piers Gaveston.
The Barons were so unceremonious with the King in giving him to
understand that they would not bear this favourite, that the King
was obliged to send him out of the country. The favourite himself
was made to take an oath (more oaths!) that he would never come
back, and the Barons supposed him to be banished in disgrace, until
they heard that he was appointed Governor of Ireland. Even this
was not enough for the besotted King, who brought him home again in
a year's time, and not only disgusted the Court and the people by
his doting folly, but offended his beautiful wife too, who never
liked him afterwards.
He had now the old Royal want - of money - and the Barons had the
new power of positively refusing to let him raise any. He summoned
a Parliament at York; the Barons refused to make one, while the
favourite was near him. He summoned another Parliament at
Westminster, and sent Gaveston away. Then, the Barons came,
completely armed, and appointed a committee of themselves to
correct abuses in the state and in the King's household. He got
some money on these conditions, and directly set off with Gaveston
to the Border-country, where they spent it in idling away the time,
and feasting, while Bruce made ready to drive the English out of
Scotland. For, though the old King had even made this poor weak
son of his swear (as some say) that he would not bury his bones,
but would have them boiled clean in a caldron, and carried before
the English army until Scotland was entirely subdued, the second
Edward was so unlike the first that Bruce gained strength and power
every day.
The committee of Nobles, after some months of deliberation,
ordained that the King should henceforth call a Parliament
together, once every year, and even twice if necessary, instead of
summoning it only when he chose. Further, that Gaveston should
once more be banished, and, this time, on pain of death if he ever
came back. The King's tears were of no avail; he was obliged to
send his favourite to Flanders. As soon as he had done so,
however, he dissolved the Parliament, with the low cunning of a
mere fool, and set off to the North of England, thinking to get an
army about him to oppose the Nobles. And once again he brought
Gaveston home, and heaped upon him all the riches and titles of
which the Barons had deprived him.
The Lords saw, now, that there was nothing for it but to put the
favourite to death. They could have done so, legally, according to
the terms of his banishment; but they did so, I am sorry to say, in
a shabby manner. Led by the Earl of Lancaster, the King's cousin,
they first of all attacked the King and Gaveston at Newcastle.
They had time to escape by sea, and the mean King, having his
precious Gaveston with him, was quite content to leave his lovely
wife behind. When they were comparatively safe, they separated;
the King went to York to collect a force of soldiers; and the
favourite shut himself up, in the meantime, in Scarborough Castle
overlooking the sea. This was what the Barons wanted. They knew
that the Castle could not hold out; they attacked it, and made
Gaveston surrender. He delivered himself up to the Earl of
Pembroke - that Lord whom he had called the Jew - on the Earl's
pledging his faith and knightly word, that no harm should happen to
him and no violence be done him.
Now, it was agreed with Gaveston that he should be taken to the
Castle of Wallingford, and there kept in honourable custody. They
travelled as far as Dedington, near Banbury, where, in the Castle
of that place, they stopped for a night to rest. Whether the Earl
of Pembroke left his prisoner there, knowing what would happen, or
really left him thinking no harm, and only going (as he pretended)
to visit his wife, the Countess, who was in the neighbourhood, is
no great matter now; in any case, he was bound as an honourable
gentleman to protect his prisoner, and he did not do it. In the
morning, while the favourite was yet in bed, he was required to
dress himself and come down into the court-yard. He did so without
any mistrust, but started and turned pale when he found it full of
strange armed men. 'I think you know me?' said their leader, also
armed from head to foot. 'I am the black dog of Ardenne!' The
time was come when Piers Gaveston was to feel the black dog's teeth
indeed. They set him on a mule, and carried him, in mock state and
with military music, to the black dog's kennel - Warwick Castle -
where a hasty council, composed of some great noblemen, considered
what should be done with him. Some were for sparing him, but one
loud voice - it was the black dog's bark, I dare say - sounded
through the Castle Hall, uttering these words: 'You have the fox
in your power. Let him go now, and you must hunt him again.'
They sentenced him to death. He threw himself at the feet of the
Earl of Lancaster - the old hog - but the old hog was as savage as
the dog. He was taken out upon the pleasant road, leading from
Warwick to Coventry, where the beautiful river Avon, by which, long
afterwards, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born and now lies buried,
sparkled in the bright landscape of the beautiful May-day; and
there they struck off his wretched head, and stained the dust with
his blood.
When the King heard of this black deed, in his grief and rage he
denounced relentless war against his Barons, and both sides were in
arms for half a year. But, it then became necessary for them to
join their forces against Bruce, who had used the time well while
they were divided, and had now a great power in Scotland.
Intelligence was brought that Bruce was then besieging Stirling
Castle, and that the Governor had been obliged to pledge himself to
surrender it, unless he should be relieved before a certain day.
Hereupon, the King ordered the nobles and their fighting-men to
meet him at Berwick; but, the nobles cared so little for the King,
and so neglected the summons, and lost time, that only on the day
before that appointed for the surrender, did the King find himself
at Stirling, and even then with a smaller force than he had
expected. However, he had, altogether, a hundred thousand men, and
Bruce had not more than forty thousand; but, Bruce's army was
strongly posted in three square columns, on the ground lying
between the Burn or Brook of Bannock and the walls of Stirling
On the very evening, when the King came up, Bruce did a brave act
that encouraged his men. He was seen by a certain HENRY DE BOHUN,
an English Knight, riding about before his army on a little horse,
with a light battle-axe in his hand, and a crown of gold on his
head. This English Knight, who was mounted on a strong war-horse,
cased in steel, strongly armed, and able (as he thought) to
overthrow Bruce by crushing him with his mere weight, set spurs to
his great charger, rode on him, and made a thrust at him with his
heavy spear. Bruce parried the thrust, and with one blow of his
battle-axe split his skull.
The Scottish men did not forget this, next day when the battle
raged. RANDOLPH, Bruce's valiant Nephew, rode, with the small body
of men he commanded, into such a host of the English, all shining
in polished armour in the sunlight, that they seemed to be
swallowed up and lost, as if they had plunged into the sea. But,
they fought so well, and did such dreadful execution, that the
English staggered. Then came Bruce himself upon them, with all the
rest of his army. While they were thus hard pressed and amazed,
there appeared upon the hills what they supposed to be a new
Scottish army, but what were really only the camp followers, in
number fifteen thousand: whom Bruce had taught to show themselves
at that place and time. The Earl of Gloucester, commanding the
English horse, made a last rush to change the fortune of the day;
but Bruce (like Jack the Giant-killer in the story) had had pits
dug in the ground, and covered over with turfs and stakes. Into
these, as they gave way beneath the weight of the horses, riders
and horses rolled by hundreds. The English were completely routed;
all their treasure, stores, and engines, were taken by the Scottish
men; so many waggons and other wheeled vehicles were seized, that
it is related that they would have reached, if they had been drawn
out in a line, one hundred and eighty miles. The fortunes of
Scotland were, for the time, completely changed; and never was a
battle won, more famous upon Scottish ground, than this great
battle of BANNOCKBURN.
Plague and famine succeeded in England; and still the powerless
King and his disdainful Lords were always in contention. Some of
the turbulent chiefs of Ireland made proposals to Bruce, to accept
the rule of that country. He sent his brother Edward to them, who
was crowned King of Ireland. He afterwards went himself to help
his brother in his Irish wars, but his brother was defeated in the
end and killed. Robert Bruce, returning to Scotland, still
increased his strength there.
As the King's ruin had begun in a favourite, so it seemed likely to
end in one. He was too poor a creature to rely at all upon
himself; and his new favourite was one HUGH LE DESPENSER, the son
of a gentleman of ancient family. Hugh was handsome and brave, but
he was the favourite of a weak King, whom no man cared a rush for,
and that was a dangerous place to hold. The Nobles leagued against
him, because the King liked him; and they lay in wait, both for his
ruin and his father's. Now, the King had married him to the
daughter of the late Earl of Gloucester, and had given both him and
his father great possessions in Wales. In their endeavours to
extend these, they gave violent offence to an angry Welsh
gentleman, named JOHN DE MOWBRAY, and to divers other angry Welsh
gentlemen, who resorted to arms, took their castles, and seized
their estates. The Earl of Lancaster had first placed the
favourite (who was a poor relation of his own) at Court, and he
considered his own dignity offended by the preference he received
and the honours he acquired; so he, and the Barons who were his
friends, joined the Welshmen, marched on London, and sent a message
to the King demanding to have the favourite and his father
banished. At first, the King unaccountably took it into his head
to be spirited, and to send them a bold reply; but when they
quartered themselves around Holborn and Clerkenwell, and went down,
armed, to the Parliament at Westminster, he gave way, and complied
with their demands.
His turn of triumph came sooner than he expected. It arose out of
an accidental circumstance. The beautiful Queen happening to be
travelling, came one night to one of the royal castles, and
demanded to be lodged and entertained there until morning. The
governor of this castle, who was one of the enraged lords, was
away, and in his absence, his wife refused admission to the Queen;
a scuffle took place among the common men on either side, and some
of the royal attendants were killed. The people, who cared nothing
for the King, were very angry that their beautiful Queen should be
thus rudely treated in her own dominions; and the King, taking
advantage of this feeling, besieged the castle, took it, and then
called the two Despensers home. Upon this, the confederate lords
and the Welshmen went over to Bruce. The King encountered them at
Boroughbridge, gained the victory, and took a number of
distinguished prisoners; among them, the Earl of Lancaster, now an
old man, upon whose destruction he was resolved. This Earl was
taken to his own castle of Pontefract, and there tried and found
guilty by an unfair court appointed for the purpose; he was not
even allowed to speak in his own defence. He was insulted, pelted,
mounted on a starved pony without saddle or bridle, carried out,
and beheaded. Eight-and-twenty knights were hanged, drawn, and
quartered. When the King had despatched this bloody work, and had
made a fresh and a long truce with Bruce, he took the Despensers
into greater favour than ever, and made the father Earl of
One prisoner, and an important one, who was taken at Boroughbridge,
made his escape, however, and turned the tide against the King.
This was ROGER MORTIMER, always resolutely opposed to him, who was
sentenced to death, and placed for safe custody in the Tower of
London. He treated his guards to a quantity of wine into which he
had put a sleeping potion; and, when they were insensible, broke
out of his dungeon, got into a kitchen, climbed up the chimney, let
himself down from the roof of the building with a rope-ladder,
passed the sentries, got down to the river, and made away in a boat
to where servants and horses were waiting for him. He finally
escaped to France, where CHARLES LE BEL, the brother of the
beautiful Queen, was King. Charles sought to quarrel with the King
of England, on pretence of his not having come to do him homage at
his coronation. It was proposed that the beautiful Queen should go
over to arrange the dispute; she went, and wrote home to the King,
that as he was sick and could not come to France himself, perhaps
it would be better to send over the young Prince, their son, who
was only twelve years old, who could do homage to her brother in
his stead, and in whose company she would immediately return. The
King sent him: but, both he and the Queen remained at the French
Court, and Roger Mortimer became the Queen's lover.
When the King wrote, again and again, to the Queen to come home,
she did not reply that she despised him too much to live with him
any more (which was the truth), but said she was afraid of the two
Despensers. In short, her design was to overthrow the favourites'
power, and the King's power, such as it was, and invade England.
Having obtained a French force of two thousand men, and being
joined by all the English exiles then in France, she landed, within
a year, at Orewell, in Suffolk, where she was immediately joined by
the Earls of Kent and Norfolk, the King's two brothers; by other
powerful noblemen; and lastly, by the first English general who was
despatched to check her: who went over to her with all his men.
The people of London, receiving these tidings, would do nothing for
the King, but broke open the Tower, let out all his prisoners, and
threw up their caps and hurrahed for the beautiful Queen.
The King, with his two favourites, fled to Bristol, where he left
old Despenser in charge of the town and castle, while he went on
with the son to Wales. The Bristol men being opposed to the King,
and it being impossible to hold the town with enemies everywhere
within the walls, Despenser yielded it up on the third day, and was
instantly brought to trial for having traitorously influenced what
was called 'the King's mind' - though I doubt if the King ever had
any. He was a venerable old man, upwards of ninety years of age,
but his age gained no respect or mercy. He was hanged, torn open
while he was yet alive, cut up into pieces, and thrown to the dogs.
His son was soon taken, tried at Hereford before the same judge on
a long series of foolish charges, found guilty, and hanged upon a
gallows fifty feet high, with a chaplet of nettles round his head.
His poor old father and he were innocent enough of any worse crimes
than the crime of having been friends of a King, on whom, as a mere
man, they would never have deigned to cast a favourable look. It
is a bad crime, I know, and leads to worse; but, many lords and
gentlemen - I even think some ladies, too, if I recollect right -
have committed it in England, who have neither been given to the
dogs, nor hanged up fifty feet high.
The wretched King was running here and there, all this time, and
never getting anywhere in particular, until he gave himself up, and
was taken off to Kenilworth Castle. When he was safely lodged
there, the Queen went to London and met the Parliament. And the
Bishop of Hereford, who was the most skilful of her friends, said,
What was to be done now? Here was an imbecile, indolent, miserable
King upon the throne; wouldn't it be better to take him off, and
put his son there instead? I don't know whether the Queen really
pitied him at this pass, but she began to cry; so, the Bishop said,
Well, my Lords and Gentlemen, what do you think, upon the whole, of
sending down to Kenilworth, and seeing if His Majesty (God bless
him, and forbid we should depose him!) won't resign?
My Lords and Gentlemen thought it a good notion, so a deputation of
them went down to Kenilworth; and there the King came into the
great hall of the Castle, commonly dressed in a poor black gown;
and when he saw a certain bishop among them, fell down, poor
feeble-headed man, and made a wretched spectacle of himself.
Somebody lifted him up, and then SIR WILLIAM TRUSSEL, the Speaker
of the House of Commons, almost frightened him to death by making
him a tremendous speech to the effect that he was no longer a King,
and that everybody renounced allegiance to him. After which, SIR
THOMAS BLOUNT, the Steward of the Household, nearly finished him,
by coming forward and breaking his white wand - which was a
ceremony only performed at a King's death. Being asked in this
pressing manner what he thought of resigning, the King said he
thought it was the best thing he could do. So, he did it, and they
proclaimed his son next day.
I wish I could close his history by saying that he lived a harmless
life in the Castle and the Castle gardens at Kenilworth, many years
- that he had a favourite, and plenty to eat and drink - and,
having that, wanted nothing. But he was shamefully humiliated. He
was outraged, and slighted, and had dirty water from ditches given
him to shave with, and wept and said he would have clean warm
water, and was altogether very miserable. He was moved from this
castle to that castle, and from that castle to the other castle,
because this lord or that lord, or the other lord, was too kind to
him: until at last he came to Berkeley Castle, near the River
Severn, where (the Lord Berkeley being then ill and absent) he fell
into the hands of two black ruffians, called THOMAS GOURNAY and
One night - it was the night of September the twenty-first, one
thousand three hundred and twenty-seven - dreadful screams were
heard, by the startled people in the neighbouring town, ringing
through the thick walls of the Castle, and the dark, deep night;
and they said, as they were thus horribly awakened from their
sleep, 'May Heaven be merciful to the King; for those cries forbode
that no good is being done to him in his dismal prison!' Next
morning he was dead - not bruised, or stabbed, or marked upon the
body, but much distorted in the face; and it was whispered
afterwards, that those two villains, Gournay and Ogle, had burnt up
his inside with a red-hot iron.
If you ever come near Gloucester, and see the centre tower of its
beautiful Cathedral, with its four rich pinnacles, rising lightly
in the air; you may remember that the wretched Edward the Second
was buried in the old abbey of that ancient city, at forty-three
years old, after being for nineteen years and a half a perfectly
incapable King.
ROGER MORTIMER, the Queen's lover (who escaped to France in the
last chapter), was far from profiting by the examples he had had of
the fate of favourites. Having, through the Queen's influence,
come into possession of the estates of the two Despensers, he
became extremely proud and ambitious, and sought to be the real
ruler of England. The young King, who was crowned at fourteen
years of age with all the usual solemnities, resolved not to bear
this, and soon pursued Mortimer to his ruin.
The people themselves were not fond of Mortimer - first, because he
was a Royal favourite; secondly, because he was supposed to have
helped to make a peace with Scotland which now took place, and in
virtue of which the young King's sister Joan, only seven years old,
was promised in marriage to David, the son and heir of Robert
Bruce, who was only five years old. The nobles hated Mortimer
because of his pride, riches, and power. They went so far as to
take up arms against him; but were obliged to submit. The Earl of
Kent, one of those who did so, but who afterwards went over to
Mortimer and the Queen, was made an example of in the following
cruel manner:
He seems to have been anything but a wise old earl; and he was
persuaded by the agents of the favourite and the Queen, that poor
King Edward the Second was not really dead; and thus was betrayed
into writing letters favouring his rightful claim to the throne.
This was made out to be high treason, and he was tried, found
guilty, and sentenced to be executed. They took the poor old lord
outside the town of Winchester, and there kept him waiting some
three or four hours until they could find somebody to cut off his
head. At last, a convict said he would do it, if the government
would pardon him in return; and they gave him the pardon; and at
one blow he put the Earl of Kent out of his last suspense.
While the Queen was in France, she had found a lovely and good
young lady, named Philippa, who she thought would make an excellent
wife for her son. The young King married this lady, soon after he
came to the throne; and her first child, Edward, Prince of Wales,
afterwards became celebrated, as we shall presently see, under the
famous title of EDWARD THE BLACK PRINCE.
The young King, thinking the time ripe for the downfall of
Mortimer, took counsel with Lord Montacute how he should proceed.
A Parliament was going to be held at Nottingham, and that lord
recommended that the favourite should be seized by night in
Nottingham Castle, where he was sure to be. Now, this, like many
other things, was more easily said than done; because, to guard
against treachery, the great gates of the Castle were locked every
night, and the great keys were carried up-stairs to the Queen, who
laid them under her own pillow. But the Castle had a governor, and
the governor being Lord Montacute's friend, confided to him how he
knew of a secret passage underground, hidden from observation by
the weeds and brambles with which it was overgrown; and how,
through that passage, the conspirators might enter in the dead of
the night, and go straight to Mortimer's room. Accordingly, upon a
certain dark night, at midnight, they made their way through this
dismal place: startling the rats, and frightening the owls and
bats: and came safely to the bottom of the main tower of the
Castle, where the King met them, and took them up a profoundly-dark
staircase in a deep silence. They soon heard the voice of Mortimer
in council with some friends; and bursting into the room with a
sudden noise, took him prisoner. The Queen cried out from her bedchamber,
'Oh, my sweet son, my dear son, spare my gentle Mortimer!'
They carried him off, however; and, before the next Parliament,
accused him of having made differences between the young King and
his mother, and of having brought about the death of the Earl of
Kent, and even of the late King; for, as you know by this time,
when they wanted to get rid of a man in those old days, they were
not very particular of what they accused him. Mortimer was found
guilty of all this, and was sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn. The
King shut his mother up in genteel confinement, where she passed
the rest of her life; and now he became King in earnest.
The first effort he made was to conquer Scotland. The English
lords who had lands in Scotland, finding that their rights were not
respected under the late peace, made war on their own account:
choosing for their general, Edward, the son of John Baliol, who
made such a vigorous fight, that in less than two months he won the
whole Scottish Kingdom. He was joined, when thus triumphant, by
the King and Parliament; and he and the King in person besieged the
Scottish forces in Berwick. The whole Scottish army coming to the
assistance of their countrymen, such a furious battle ensued, that
thirty thousand men are said to have been killed in it. Baliol was
then crowned King of Scotland, doing homage to the King of England;
but little came of his successes after all, for the Scottish men
rose against him, within no very long time, and David Bruce came
back within ten years and took his kingdom.
France was a far richer country than Scotland, and the King had a
much greater mind to conquer it. So, he let Scotland alone, and
pretended that he had a claim to the French throne in right of his
mother. He had, in reality, no claim at all; but that mattered
little in those times. He brought over to his cause many little
princes and sovereigns, and even courted the alliance of the people
of Flanders - a busy, working community, who had very small respect
for kings, and whose head man was a brewer. With such forces as he
raised by these means, Edward invaded France; but he did little by
that, except run into debt in carrying on the war to the extent of
three hundred thousand pounds. The next year he did better;
gaining a great sea-fight in the harbour of Sluys. This success,
however, was very shortlived, for the Flemings took fright at the
siege of Saint Omer and ran away, leaving their weapons and baggage
behind them. Philip, the French King, coming up with his army, and
Edward being very anxious to decide the war, proposed to settle the
difference by single combat with him, or by a fight of one hundred
knights on each side. The French King said, he thanked him; but
being very well as he was, he would rather not. So, after some
skirmishing and talking, a short peace was made.
It was soon broken by King Edward's favouring the cause of John,
Earl of Montford; a French nobleman, who asserted a claim of his
own against the French King, and offered to do homage to England
for the Crown of France, if he could obtain it through England's
help. This French lord, himself, was soon defeated by the French
King's son, and shut up in a tower in Paris; but his wife, a
courageous and beautiful woman, who is said to have had the courage
of a man, and the heart of a lion, assembled the people of
Brittany, where she then was; and, showing them her infant son,
made many pathetic entreaties to them not to desert her and their
young Lord. They took fire at this appeal, and rallied round her
in the strong castle of Hennebon. Here she was not only besieged
without by the French under Charles de Blois, but was endangered
within by a dreary old bishop, who was always representing to the
people what horrors they must undergo if they were faithful - first
from famine, and afterwards from fire and sword. But this noble
lady, whose heart never failed her, encouraged her soldiers by her
own example; went from post to post like a great general; even
mounted on horseback fully armed, and, issuing from the castle by a
by-path, fell upon the French camp, set fire to the tents, and
threw the whole force into disorder. This done, she got safely
back to Hennebon again, and was received with loud shouts of joy by
the defenders of the castle, who had given her up for lost. As
they were now very short of provisions, however, and as they could
not dine off enthusiasm, and as the old bishop was always saying,
'I told you what it would come to!' they began to lose heart, and
to talk of yielding the castle up. The brave Countess retiring to
an upper room and looking with great grief out to sea, where she
expected relief from England, saw, at this very time, the English
ships in the distance, and was relieved and rescued! Sir Walter
Manning, the English commander, so admired her courage, that, being
come into the castle with the English knights, and having made a
feast there, he assaulted the French by way of dessert, and beat
them off triumphantly. Then he and the knights came back to the
castle with great joy; and the Countess who had watched them from a
high tower, thanked them with all her heart, and kissed them every
This noble lady distinguished herself afterwards in a sea-fight
with the French off Guernsey, when she was on her way to England to
ask for more troops. Her great spirit roused another lady, the
wife of another French lord (whom the French King very barbarously
murdered), to distinguish herself scarcely less. The time was fast
coming, however, when Edward, Prince of Wales, was to be the great
star of this French and English war.
It was in the month of July, in the year one thousand three hundred
and forty-six, when the King embarked at Southampton for France,
with an army of about thirty thousand men in all, attended by the
Prince of Wales and by several of the chief nobles. He landed at
La Hogue in Normandy; and, burning and destroying as he went,
according to custom, advanced up the left bank of the River Seine,
and fired the small towns even close to Paris; but, being watched
from the right bank of the river by the French King and all his
army, it came to this at last, that Edward found himself, on
Saturday the twenty-sixth of August, one thousand three hundred and
forty-six, on a rising ground behind the little French village of
Crecy, face to face with the French King's force. And, although
the French King had an enormous army - in number more than eight
times his - he there resolved to beat him or be beaten.
The young Prince, assisted by the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of
Warwick, led the first division of the English army; two other
great Earls led the second; and the King, the third. When the
morning dawned, the King received the sacrament, and heard prayers,
and then, mounted on horseback with a white wand in his hand, rode
from company to company, and rank to rank, cheering and encouraging
both officers and men. Then the whole army breakfasted, each man
sitting on the ground where he had stood; and then they remained
quietly on the ground with their weapons ready.
Up came the French King with all his great force. It was dark and
angry weather; there was an eclipse of the sun; there was a
thunder-storm, accompanied with tremendous rain; the frightened
birds flew screaming above the soldiers' heads. A certain captain
in the French army advised the French King, who was by no means
cheerful, not to begin the battle until the morrow. The King,
taking this advice, gave the word to halt. But, those behind not
understanding it, or desiring to be foremost with the rest, came
pressing on. The roads for a great distance were covered with this
immense army, and with the common people from the villages, who
were flourishing their rude weapons, and making a great noise.
Owing to these circumstances, the French army advanced in the
greatest confusion; every French lord doing what he liked with his
own men, and putting out the men of every other French lord.
Now, their King relied strongly upon a great body of cross-bowmen
from Genoa; and these he ordered to the front to begin the battle,
on finding that he could not stop it. They shouted once, they
shouted twice, they shouted three times, to alarm the English
archers; but, the English would have heard them shout three
thousand times and would have never moved. At last the crossbowmen
went forward a little, and began to discharge their bolts;
upon which, the English let fly such a hail of arrows, that the
Genoese speedily made off - for their cross-bows, besides being
heavy to carry, required to be wound up with a handle, and
consequently took time to re-load; the English, on the other hand,
could discharge their arrows almost as fast as the arrows could
When the French King saw the Genoese turning, he cried out to his
men to kill those scoundrels, who were doing harm instead of
service. This increased the confusion. Meanwhile the English
archers, continuing to shoot as fast as ever, shot down great
numbers of the French soldiers and knights; whom certain sly
Cornish-men and Welshmen, from the English army, creeping along the
ground, despatched with great knives.
The Prince and his division were at this time so hard-pressed, that
the Earl of Warwick sent a message to the King, who was overlooking
the battle from a windmill, beseeching him to send more aid.
'Is my son killed?' said the King.
'No, sire, please God,' returned the messenger.
'Is he wounded?' said the King.
'No, sire.'
'Is he thrown to the ground?' said the King.
'No, sire, not so; but, he is very hard-pressed.'
'Then,' said the King, 'go back to those who sent you, and tell
them I shall send no aid; because I set my heart upon my son
proving himself this day a brave knight, and because I am resolved,
please God, that the honour of a great victory shall be his!'
These bold words, being reported to the Prince and his division, so
raised their spirits, that they fought better than ever. The King
of France charged gallantly with his men many times; but it was of
no use. Night closing in, his horse was killed under him by an
English arrow, and the knights and nobles who had clustered thick
about him early in the day, were now completely scattered. At
last, some of his few remaining followers led him off the field by
force since he would not retire of himself, and they journeyed away
to Amiens. The victorious English, lighting their watch-fires,
made merry on the field, and the King, riding to meet his gallant
son, took him in his arms, kissed him, and told him that he had
acted nobly, and proved himself worthy of the day and of the crown.
While it was yet night, King Edward was hardly aware of the great
victory he had gained; but, next day, it was discovered that eleven
princes, twelve hundred knights, and thirty thousand common men lay
dead upon the French side. Among these was the King of Bohemia, an
old blind man; who, having been told that his son was wounded in
the battle, and that no force could stand against the Black Prince,
called to him two knights, put himself on horse-back between them,
fastened the three bridles together, and dashed in among the
English, where he was presently slain. He bore as his crest three
white ostrich feathers, with the motto ICH DIEN, signifying in
English 'I serve.' This crest and motto were taken by the Prince
of Wales in remembrance of that famous day, and have been borne by
the Prince of Wales ever since.
Five days after this great battle, the King laid siege to Calais.
This siege - ever afterwards memorable - lasted nearly a year. In
order to starve the inhabitants out, King Edward built so many
wooden houses for the lodgings of his troops, that it is said their
quarters looked like a second Calais suddenly sprung around the
first. Early in the siege, the governor of the town drove out what
he called the useless mouths, to the number of seventeen hundred
persons, men and women, young and old. King Edward allowed them to
pass through his lines, and even fed them, and dismissed them with
money; but, later in the siege, he was not so merciful - five
hundred more, who were afterwards driven out, dying of starvation
and misery. The garrison were so hard-pressed at last, that they
sent a letter to King Philip, telling him that they had eaten all
the horses, all the dogs, and all the rats and mice that could be
found in the place; and, that if he did not relieve them, they must
either surrender to the English, or eat one another. Philip made
one effort to give them relief; but they were so hemmed in by the
English power, that he could not succeed, and was fain to leave the
place. Upon this they hoisted the English flag, and surrendered to
King Edward. 'Tell your general,' said he to the humble messengers
who came out of the town, 'that I require to have sent here, six of
the most distinguished citizens, bare-legged, and in their shirts,
with ropes about their necks; and let those six men bring with them
the keys of the castle and the town.'
When the Governor of Calais related this to the people in the
Market-place, there was great weeping and distress; in the midst of
which, one worthy citizen, named Eustace de Saint Pierre, rose up
and said, that if the six men required were not sacrificed, the
whole population would be; therefore, he offered himself as the
first. Encouraged by this bright example, five other worthy
citizens rose up one after another, and offered themselves to save
the rest. The Governor, who was too badly wounded to be able to
walk, mounted a poor old horse that had not been eaten, and
conducted these good men to the gate, while all the people cried
and mourned.
Edward received them wrathfully, and ordered the heads of the whole
six to be struck off. However, the good Queen fell upon her knees,
and besought the King to give them up to her. The King replied, 'I
wish you had been somewhere else; but I cannot refuse you.' So she
had them properly dressed, made a feast for them, and sent them
back with a handsome present, to the great rejoicing of the whole
camp. I hope the people of Calais loved the daughter to whom she
gave birth soon afterwards, for her gentle mother's sake.
Now came that terrible disease, the Plague, into Europe, hurrying
from the heart of China; and killed the wretched people -
especially the poor - in such enormous numbers, that one-half of
the inhabitants of England are related to have died of it. It
killed the cattle, in great numbers, too; and so few working men
remained alive, that there were not enough left to till the ground.
After eight years of differing and quarrelling, the Prince of Wales
again invaded France with an army of sixty thousand men. He went
through the south of the country, burning and plundering
wheresoever he went; while his father, who had still the Scottish
war upon his hands, did the like in Scotland, but was harassed and
worried in his retreat from that country by the Scottish men, who
repaid his cruelties with interest.
The French King, Philip, was now dead, and was succeeded by his son
John. The Black Prince, called by that name from the colour of the
armour he wore to set off his fair complexion, continuing to burn
and destroy in France, roused John into determined opposition; and
so cruel had the Black Prince been in his campaign, and so severely
had the French peasants suffered, that he could not find one who,
for love, or money, or the fear of death, would tell him what the
French King was doing, or where he was. Thus it happened that he
came upon the French King's forces, all of a sudden, near the town
of Poitiers, and found that the whole neighbouring country was
occupied by a vast French army. 'God help us!' said the Black
Prince, 'we must make the best of it.'
So, on a Sunday morning, the eighteenth of September, the Prince
whose army was now reduced to ten thousand men in all - prepared to
give battle to the French King, who had sixty thousand horse alone.
While he was so engaged, there came riding from the French camp, a
Cardinal, who had persuaded John to let him offer terms, and try to
save the shedding of Christian blood. 'Save my honour,' said the
Prince to this good priest, 'and save the honour of my army, and I
will make any reasonable terms.' He offered to give up all the
towns, castles, and prisoners, he had taken, and to swear to make
no war in France for seven years; but, as John would hear of
nothing but his surrender, with a hundred of his chief knights, the
treaty was broken off, and the Prince said quietly - 'God defend
the right; we shall fight to-morrow.'
Therefore, on the Monday morning, at break of day, the two armies
prepared for battle. The English were posted in a strong place,
which could only be approached by one narrow lane, skirted by
hedges on both sides. The French attacked them by this lane; but
were so galled and slain by English arrows from behind the hedges,
that they were forced to retreat. Then went six hundred English
bowmen round about, and, coming upon the rear of the French army,
rained arrows on them thick and fast. The French knights, thrown
into confusion, quitted their banners and dispersed in all
directions. Said Sir John Chandos to the Prince, 'Ride forward,
noble Prince, and the day is yours. The King of France is so
valiant a gentleman, that I know he will never fly, and may be
taken prisoner.' Said the Prince to this, 'Advance, English
banners, in the name of God and St. George!' and on they pressed
until they came up with the French King, fighting fiercely with his
battle-axe, and, when all his nobles had forsaken him, attended
faithfully to the last by his youngest son Philip, only sixteen
years of age. Father and son fought well, and the King had already
two wounds in his face, and had been beaten down, when he at last
delivered himself to a banished French knight, and gave him his
right-hand glove in token that he had done so.
The Black Prince was generous as well as brave, and he invited his
royal prisoner to supper in his tent, and waited upon him at table,
and, when they afterwards rode into London in a gorgeous
procession, mounted the French King on a fine cream-coloured horse,
and rode at his side on a little pony. This was all very kind, but
I think it was, perhaps, a little theatrical too, and has been made
more meritorious than it deserved to be; especially as I am
inclined to think that the greatest kindness to the King of France
would have been not to have shown him to the people at all.
However, it must be said, for these acts of politeness, that, in
course of time, they did much to soften the horrors of war and the
passions of conquerors. It was a long, long time before the common
soldiers began to have the benefit of such courtly deeds; but they
did at last; and thus it is possible that a poor soldier who asked
for quarter at the battle of Waterloo, or any other such great
fight, may have owed his life indirectly to Edward the Black
At this time there stood in the Strand, in London, a palace called
the Savoy, which was given up to the captive King of France and his
son for their residence. As the King of Scotland had now been King
Edward's captive for eleven years too, his success was, at this
time, tolerably complete. The Scottish business was settled by the
prisoner being released under the title of Sir David, King of
Scotland, and by his engaging to pay a large ransom. The state of
France encouraged England to propose harder terms to that country,
where the people rose against the unspeakable cruelty and barbarity
of its nobles; where the nobles rose in turn against the people;
where the most frightful outrages were committed on all sides; and
where the insurrection of the peasants, called the insurrection of
the Jacquerie, from Jacques, a common Christian name among the
country people of France, awakened terrors and hatreds that have
scarcely yet passed away. A treaty called the Great Peace, was at
last signed, under which King Edward agreed to give up the greater
part of his conquests, and King John to pay, within six years, a
ransom of three million crowns of gold. He was so beset by his own
nobles and courtiers for having yielded to these conditions -
though they could help him to no better - that he came back of his
own will to his old palace-prison of the Savoy, and there died.
There was a Sovereign of Castile at that time, called PEDRO THE
CRUEL, who deserved the name remarkably well: having committed,
among other cruelties, a variety of murders. This amiable monarch
being driven from his throne for his crimes, went to the province
of Bordeaux, where the Black Prince - now married to his cousin
JOAN, a pretty widow - was residing, and besought his help. The
Prince, who took to him much more kindly than a prince of such fame
ought to have taken to such a ruffian, readily listened to his fair
promises, and agreeing to help him, sent secret orders to some
troublesome disbanded soldiers of his and his father's, who called
themselves the Free Companions, and who had been a pest to the
French people, for some time, to aid this Pedro. The Prince,
himself, going into Spain to head the army of relief, soon set
Pedro on his throne again - where he no sooner found himself, than,
of course, he behaved like the villain he was, broke his word
without the least shame, and abandoned all the promises he had made
to the Black Prince.
Now, it had cost the Prince a good deal of money to pay soldiers to
support this murderous King; and finding himself, when he came back
disgusted to Bordeaux, not only in bad health, but deeply in debt,
he began to tax his French subjects to pay his creditors. They
appealed to the French King, CHARLES; war again broke out; and the
French town of Limoges, which the Prince had greatly benefited,
went over to the French King. Upon this he ravaged the province of
which it was the capital; burnt, and plundered, and killed in the
old sickening way; and refused mercy to the prisoners, men, women,
and children taken in the offending town, though he was so ill and
so much in need of pity himself from Heaven, that he was carried in
a litter. He lived to come home and make himself popular with the
people and Parliament, and he died on Trinity Sunday, the eighth of
June, one thousand three hundred and seventy-six, at forty-six
years old.
The whole nation mourned for him as one of the most renowned and
beloved princes it had ever had; and he was buried with great
lamentations in Canterbury Cathedral. Near to the tomb of Edward
the Confessor, his monument, with his figure, carved in stone, and
represented in the old black armour, lying on its back, may be seen
at this day, with an ancient coat of mail, a helmet, and a pair of
gauntlets hanging from a beam above it, which most people like to
believe were once worn by the Black Prince.
King Edward did not outlive his renowned son, long. He was old,
and one Alice Perrers, a beautiful lady, had contrived to make him
so fond of her in his old age, that he could refuse her nothing,
and made himself ridiculous. She little deserved his love, or -
what I dare say she valued a great deal more - the jewels of the
late Queen, which he gave her among other rich presents. She took
the very ring from his finger on the morning of the day when he
died, and left him to be pillaged by his faithless servants. Only
one good priest was true to him, and attended him to the last.
Besides being famous for the great victories I have related, the
reign of King Edward the Third was rendered memorable in better
ways, by the growth of architecture and the erection of Windsor
Castle. In better ways still, by the rising up of WICKLIFFE,
originally a poor parish priest: who devoted himself to exposing,
with wonderful power and success, the ambition and corruption of
the Pope, and of the whole church of which he was the head.
Some of those Flemings were induced to come to England in this
reign too, and to settle in Norfolk, where they made better woollen
cloths than the English had ever had before. The Order of the
Garter (a very fine thing in its way, but hardly so important as
good clothes for the nation) also dates from this period. The King
is said to have picked 'up a lady's garter at a ball, and to have
said, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE - in English, 'Evil be to him who
evil thinks of it.' The courtiers were usually glad to imitate
what the King said or did, and hence from a slight incident the
Order of the Garter was instituted, and became a great dignity. So
the story goes.
RICHARD, son of the Black Prince, a boy eleven years of age,
succeeded to the Crown under the title of King Richard the Second.
The whole English nation were ready to admire him for the sake of
his brave father. As to the lords and ladies about the Court, they
declared him to be the most beautiful, the wisest, and the best -
even of princes - whom the lords and ladies about the Court,
generally declare to be the most beautiful, the wisest, and the
best of mankind. To flatter a poor boy in this base manner was not
a very likely way to develop whatever good was in him; and it
brought him to anything but a good or happy end.
The Duke of Lancaster, the young King's uncle - commonly called
John of Gaunt, from having been born at Ghent, which the common
people so pronounced - was supposed to have some thoughts of the
throne himself; but, as he was not popular, and the memory of the
Black Prince was, he submitted to his nephew.
The war with France being still unsettled, the Government of
England wanted money to provide for the expenses that might arise
out of it; accordingly a certain tax, called the Poll-tax, which
had originated in the last reign, was ordered to be levied on the
people. This was a tax on every person in the kingdom, male and
female, above the age of fourteen, of three groats (or three fourpenny
pieces) a year; clergymen were charged more, and only beggars
were exempt.
I have no need to repeat that the common people of England had long
been suffering under great oppression. They were still the mere
slaves of the lords of the land on which they lived, and were on
most occasions harshly and unjustly treated. But, they had begun
by this time to think very seriously of not bearing quite so much;
and, probably, were emboldened by that French insurrection I
mentioned in the last chapter.
The people of Essex rose against the Poll-tax, and being severely
handled by the government officers, killed some of them. At this
very time one of the tax-collectors, going his rounds from house to
house, at Dartford in Kent came to the cottage of one WAT, a tiler
by trade, and claimed the tax upon his daughter. Her mother, who
was at home, declared that she was under the age of fourteen; upon
that, the collector (as other collectors had already done in
different parts of England) behaved in a savage way, and brutally
insulted Wat Tyler's daughter. The daughter screamed, the mother
screamed. Wat the Tiler, who was at work not far off, ran to the
spot, and did what any honest father under such provocation might
have done - struck the collector dead at a blow.
Instantly the people of that town uprose as one man. They made Wat
Tyler their leader; they joined with the people of Essex, who were
in arms under a priest called JACK STRAW; they took out of prison
another priest named JOHN BALL; and gathering in numbers as they
went along, advanced, in a great confused army of poor men, to
Blackheath. It is said that they wanted to abolish all property,
and to declare all men equal. I do not think this very likely;
because they stopped the travellers on the roads and made them
swear to be true to King Richard and the people. Nor were they at
all disposed to injure those who had done them no harm, merely
because they were of high station; for, the King's mother, who had
to pass through their camp at Blackheath, on her way to her young
son, lying for safety in the Tower of London, had merely to kiss a
few dirty-faced rough-bearded men who were noisily fond of royalty,
and so got away in perfect safety. Next day the whole mass marched
on to London Bridge.
There was a drawbridge in the middle, which WILLIAM WALWORTH the
Mayor caused to be raised to prevent their coming into the city;
but they soon terrified the citizens into lowering it again, and
spread themselves, with great uproar, over the streets. They broke
open the prisons; they burned the papers in Lambeth Palace; they
destroyed the DUKE OF LANCASTER'S Palace, the Savoy, in the Strand,
said to be the most beautiful and splendid in England; they set
fire to the books and documents in the Temple; and made a great
riot. Many of these outrages were committed in drunkenness; since
those citizens, who had well-filled cellars, were only too glad to
throw them open to save the rest of their property; but even the
drunken rioters were very careful to steal nothing. They were so
angry with one man, who was seen to take a silver cup at the Savoy
Palace, and put it in his breast, that they drowned him in the
river, cup and all.
The young King had been taken out to treat with them before they
committed these excesses; but, he and the people about him were so
frightened by the riotous shouts, that they got back to the Tower
in the best way they could. This made the insurgents bolder; so
they went on rioting away, striking off the heads of those who did
not, at a moment's notice, declare for King Richard and the people;
and killing as many of the unpopular persons whom they supposed to
be their enemies as they could by any means lay hold of. In this
manner they passed one very violent day, and then proclamation was
made that the King would meet them at Mile-end, and grant their
The rioters went to Mile-end to the number of sixty thousand, and
the King met them there, and to the King the rioters peaceably
proposed four conditions. First, that neither they, nor their
children, nor any coming after them, should be made slaves any
more. Secondly, that the rent of land should be fixed at a certain
price in money, instead of being paid in service. Thirdly, that
they should have liberty to buy and sell in all markets and public
places, like other free men. Fourthly, that they should be
pardoned for past offences. Heaven knows, there was nothing very
unreasonable in these proposals! The young King deceitfully
pretended to think so, and kept thirty clerks up, all night,
writing out a charter accordingly.
Now, Wat Tyler himself wanted more than this. He wanted the entire
abolition of the forest laws. He was not at Mile-end with the
rest, but, while that meeting was being held, broke into the Tower
of London and slew the archbishop and the treasurer, for whose
heads the people had cried out loudly the day before. He and his
men even thrust their swords into the bed of the Princess of Wales
while the Princess was in it, to make certain that none of their
enemies were concealed there.
So, Wat and his men still continued armed, and rode about the city.
Next morning, the King with a small train of some sixty gentlemen -
among whom was WALWORTH the Mayor - rode into Smithfield, and saw
Wat and his people at a little distance. Says Wat to his men,
'There is the King. I will go speak with him, and tell him what we
Straightway Wat rode up to him, and began to talk. 'King,' says
Wat, 'dost thou see all my men there?'
'Ah,' says the King. 'Why?'
'Because,' says Wat, 'they are all at my command, and have sworn to
do whatever I bid them.'
Some declared afterwards that as Wat said this, he laid his hand on
the King's bridle. Others declared that he was seen to play with
his own dagger. I think, myself, that he just spoke to the King
like a rough, angry man as he was, and did nothing more. At any
rate he was expecting no attack, and preparing for no resistance,
when Walworth the Mayor did the not very valiant deed of drawing a
short sword and stabbing him in the throat. He dropped from his
horse, and one of the King's people speedily finished him. So fell
Wat Tyler. Fawners and flatterers made a mighty triumph of it, and
set up a cry which will occasionally find an echo to this day. But
Wat was a hard-working man, who had suffered much, and had been
foully outraged; and it is probable that he was a man of a much
higher nature and a much braver spirit than any of the parasites
who exulted then, or have exulted since, over his defeat.
Seeing Wat down, his men immediately bent their bows to avenge his
fall. If the young King had not had presence of mind at that
dangerous moment, both he and the Mayor to boot, might have
followed Tyler pretty fast. But the King riding up to the crowd,
cried out that Tyler was a traitor, and that he would be their
leader. They were so taken by surprise, that they set up a great
shouting, and followed the boy until he was met at Islington by a
large body of soldiers.
The end of this rising was the then usual end. As soon as the King
found himself safe, he unsaid all he had said, and undid all he had
done; some fifteen hundred of the rioters were tried (mostly in
Essex) with great rigour, and executed with great cruelty. Many of
them were hanged on gibbets, and left there as a terror to the
country people; and, because their miserable friends took some of
the bodies down to bury, the King ordered the rest to be chained up
- which was the beginning of the barbarous custom of hanging in
chains. The King's falsehood in this business makes such a pitiful
figure, that I think Wat Tyler appears in history as beyond
comparison the truer and more respectable man of the two.
Richard was now sixteen years of age, and married Anne of Bohemia,
an excellent princess, who was called 'the good Queen Anne.' She
deserved a better husband; for the King had been fawned and
flattered into a treacherous, wasteful, dissolute, bad young man.
There were two Popes at this time (as if one were not enough!), and
their quarrels involved Europe in a great deal of trouble.
Scotland was still troublesome too; and at home there was much
jealousy and distrust, and plotting and counter-plotting, because
the King feared the ambition of his relations, and particularly of
his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, and the duke had his party
against the King, and the King had his party against the duke. Nor
were these home troubles lessened when the duke went to Castile to
urge his claim to the crown of that kingdom; for then the Duke of
Gloucester, another of Richard's uncles, opposed him, and
influenced the Parliament to demand the dismissal of the King's
favourite ministers. The King said in reply, that he would not for
such men dismiss the meanest servant in his kitchen. But, it had
begun to signify little what a King said when a Parliament was
determined; so Richard was at last obliged to give way, and to
agree to another Government of the kingdom, under a commission of
fourteen nobles, for a year. His uncle of Gloucester was at the
head of this commission, and, in fact, appointed everybody
composing it.
Having done all this, the King declared as soon as he saw an
opportunity that he had never meant to do it, and that it was all
illegal; and he got the judges secretly to sign a declaration to
that effect. The secret oozed out directly, and was carried to the
Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester, at the head of forty
thousand men, met the King on his entering into London to enforce
his authority; the King was helpless against him; his favourites
and ministers were impeached and were mercilessly executed. Among
them were two men whom the people regarded with very different
feelings; one, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice, who was hated for
having made what was called 'the bloody circuit' to try the
rioters; the other, Sir Simon Burley, an honourable knight, who had
been the dear friend of the Black Prince, and the governor and
guardian of the King. For this gentleman's life the good Queen
even begged of Gloucester on her knees; but Gloucester (with or
without reason) feared and hated him, and replied, that if she
valued her husband's crown, she had better beg no more. All this
was done under what was called by some the wonderful - and by
others, with better reason, the merciless - Parliament.
But Gloucester's power was not to last for ever. He held it for
only a year longer; in which year the famous battle of Otterbourne,
sung in the old ballad of Chevy Chase, was fought. When the year
was out, the King, turning suddenly to Gloucester, in the midst of
a great council said, 'Uncle, how old am I?' 'Your highness,'
returned the Duke, 'is in your twenty-second year.' 'Am I so
much?' said the King; 'then I will manage my own affairs! I am
much obliged to you, my good lords, for your past services, but I
need them no more.' He followed this up, by appointing a new
Chancellor and a new Treasurer, and announced to the people that he
had resumed the Government. He held it for eight years without
opposition. Through all that time, he kept his determination to
revenge himself some day upon his uncle Gloucester, in his own
At last the good Queen died, and then the King, desiring to take a
second wife, proposed to his council that he should marry Isabella,
of France, the daughter of Charles the Sixth: who, the French
courtiers said (as the English courtiers had said of Richard), was
a marvel of beauty and wit, and quite a phenomenon - of seven years
old. The council were divided about this marriage, but it took
place. It secured peace between England and France for a quarter
of a century; but it was strongly opposed to the prejudices of the
English people. The Duke of Gloucester, who was anxious to take
the occasion of making himself popular, declaimed against it
loudly, and this at length decided the King to execute the
vengeance he had been nursing so long.
He went with a gay company to the Duke of Gloucester's house,
Pleshey Castle, in Essex, where the Duke, suspecting nothing, came
out into the court-yard to receive his royal visitor. While the
King conversed in a friendly manner with the Duchess, the Duke was
quietly seized, hurried away, shipped for Calais, and lodged in the
castle there. His friends, the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, were
taken in the same treacherous manner, and confined to their
castles. A few days after, at Nottingham, they were impeached of
high treason. The Earl of Arundel was condemned and beheaded, and
the Earl of Warwick was banished. Then, a writ was sent by a
messenger to the Governor of Calais, requiring him to send the Duke
of Gloucester over to be tried. In three days he returned an
answer that he could not do that, because the Duke of Gloucester
had died in prison. The Duke was declared a traitor, his property
was confiscated to the King, a real or pretended confession he had
made in prison to one of the Justices of the Common Pleas was
produced against him, and there was an end of the matter. How the
unfortunate duke died, very few cared to know. Whether he really
died naturally; whether he killed himself; whether, by the King's
order, he was strangled, or smothered between two beds (as a
serving-man of the Governor's named Hall, did afterwards declare),
cannot be discovered. There is not much doubt that he was killed,
somehow or other, by his nephew's orders. Among the most active
nobles in these proceedings were the King's cousin, Henry
Bolingbroke, whom the King had made Duke of Hereford to smooth down
the old family quarrels, and some others: who had in the familyplotting
times done just such acts themselves as they now condemned
in the duke. They seem to have been a corrupt set of men; but such
men were easily found about the court in such days.
The people murmured at all this, and were still very sore about the
French marriage. The nobles saw how little the King cared for law,
and how crafty he was, and began to be somewhat afraid for
themselves. The King's life was a life of continued feasting and
excess; his retinue, down to the meanest servants, were dressed in
the most costly manner, and caroused at his tables, it is related,
to the number of ten thousand persons every day. He himself,
surrounded by a body of ten thousand archers, and enriched by a
duty on wool which the Commons had granted him for life, saw no
danger of ever being otherwise than powerful and absolute, and was
as fierce and haughty as a King could be.
He had two of his old enemies left, in the persons of the Dukes of
Hereford and Norfolk. Sparing these no more than the others, he
tampered with the Duke of Hereford until he got him to declare
before the Council that the Duke of Norfolk had lately held some
treasonable talk with him, as he was riding near Brentford; and
that he had told him, among other things, that he could not believe
the King's oath - which nobody could, I should think. For this
treachery he obtained a pardon, and the Duke of Norfolk was
summoned to appear and defend himself. As he denied the charge and
said his accuser was a liar and a traitor, both noblemen, according
to the manner of those times, were held in custody, and the truth
was ordered to be decided by wager of battle at Coventry. This
wager of battle meant that whosoever won the combat was to be
considered in the right; which nonsense meant in effect, that no
strong man could ever be wrong. A great holiday was made; a great
crowd assembled, with much parade and show; and the two combatants
were about to rush at each other with their lances, when the King,
sitting in a pavilion to see fair, threw down the truncheon he
carried in his hand, and forbade the battle. The Duke of Hereford
was to be banished for ten years, and the Duke of Norfolk was to be
banished for life. So said the King. The Duke of Hereford went to
France, and went no farther. The Duke of Norfolk made a pilgrimage
to the Holy Land, and afterwards died at Venice of a broken heart.
Faster and fiercer, after this, the King went on in his career.
The Duke of Lancaster, who was the father of the Duke of Hereford,
died soon after the departure of his son; and, the King, although
he had solemnly granted to that son leave to inherit his father's
property, if it should come to him during his banishment,
immediately seized it all, like a robber. The judges were so
afraid of him, that they disgraced themselves by declaring this
theft to be just and lawful. His avarice knew no bounds. He
outlawed seventeen counties at once, on a frivolous pretence,
merely to raise money by way of fines for misconduct. In short, he
did as many dishonest things as he could; and cared so little for
the discontent of his subjects - though even the spaniel favourites
began to whisper to him that there was such a thing as discontent
afloat - that he took that time, of all others, for leaving England
and making an expedition against the Irish.
He was scarcely gone, leaving the DUKE OF YORK Regent in his
absence, when his cousin, Henry of Hereford, came over from France
to claim the rights of which he had been so monstrously deprived.
He was immediately joined by the two great Earls of Northumberland
and Westmoreland; and his uncle, the Regent, finding the King's
cause unpopular, and the disinclination of the army to act against
Henry, very strong, withdrew with the Royal forces towards Bristol.
Henry, at the head of an army, came from Yorkshire (where he had
landed) to London and followed him. They joined their forces - how
they brought that about, is not distinctly understood - and
proceeded to Bristol Castle, whither three noblemen had taken the
young Queen. The castle surrendering, they presently put those
three noblemen to death. The Regent then remained there, and Henry
went on to Chester.
All this time, the boisterous weather had prevented the King from
receiving intelligence of what had occurred. At length it was
conveyed to him in Ireland, and he sent over the EARL OF SALISBURY,
who, landing at Conway, rallied the Welshmen, and waited for the
King a whole fortnight; at the end of that time the Welshmen, who
were perhaps not very warm for him in the beginning, quite cooled
down and went home. When the King did land on the coast at last,
he came with a pretty good power, but his men cared nothing for
him, and quickly deserted. Supposing the Welshmen to be still at
Conway, he disguised himself as a priest, and made for that place
in company with his two brothers and some few of their adherents.
But, there were no Welshmen left - only Salisbury and a hundred
soldiers. In this distress, the King's two brothers, Exeter and
Surrey, offered to go to Henry to learn what his intentions were.
Surrey, who was true to Richard, was put into prison. Exeter, who
was false, took the royal badge, which was a hart, off his shield,
and assumed the rose, the badge of Henry. After this, it was
pretty plain to the King what Henry's intentions were, without
sending any more messengers to ask.
The fallen King, thus deserted - hemmed in on all sides, and
pressed with hunger - rode here and rode there, and went to this
castle, and went to that castle, endeavouring to obtain some
provisions, but could find none. He rode wretchedly back to
Conway, and there surrendered himself to the Earl of
Northumberland, who came from Henry, in reality to take him
prisoner, but in appearance to offer terms; and whose men were
hidden not far off. By this earl he was conducted to the castle of
Flint, where his cousin Henry met him, and dropped on his knee as
if he were still respectful to his sovereign.
'Fair cousin of Lancaster,' said the King, 'you are very welcome'
(very welcome, no doubt; but he would have been more so, in chains
or without a head).
'My lord,' replied Henry, 'I am come a little before my time; but,
with your good pleasure, I will show you the reason. Your people
complain with some bitterness, that you have ruled them rigorously
for two-and-twenty years. Now, if it please God, I will help you
to govern them better in future.'
'Fair cousin,' replied the abject King, 'since it pleaseth you, it
pleaseth me mightily.'
After this, the trumpets sounded, and the King was stuck on a
wretched horse, and carried prisoner to Chester, where he was made
to issue a proclamation, calling a Parliament. From Chester he was
taken on towards London. At Lichfield he tried to escape by
getting out of a window and letting himself down into a garden; it
was all in vain, however, and he was carried on and shut up in the
Tower, where no one pitied him, and where the whole people, whose
patience he had quite tired out, reproached him without mercy.
Before he got there, it is related, that his very dog left him and
departed from his side to lick the hand of Henry.
The day before the Parliament met, a deputation went to this
wrecked King, and told him that he had promised the Earl of
Northumberland at Conway Castle to resign the crown. He said he
was quite ready to do it, and signed a paper in which he renounced
his authority and absolved his people from their allegiance to him.
He had so little spirit left that he gave his royal ring to his
triumphant cousin Henry with his own hand, and said, that if he
could have had leave to appoint a successor, that same Henry was
the man of all others whom he would have named. Next day, the
Parliament assembled in Westminster Hall, where Henry sat at the
side of the throne, which was empty and covered with a cloth of
gold. The paper just signed by the King was read to the multitude
amid shouts of joy, which were echoed through all the streets; when
some of the noise had died away, the King was formally deposed.
Then Henry arose, and, making the sign of the cross on his forehead
and breast, challenged the realm of England as his right; the
archbishops of Canterbury and York seated him on the throne.
The multitude shouted again, and the shouts re-echoed throughout
all the streets. No one remembered, now, that Richard the Second
had ever been the most beautiful, the wisest, and the best of
princes; and he now made living (to my thinking) a far more sorry
spectacle in the Tower of London, than Wat Tyler had made, lying
dead, among the hoofs of the royal horses in Smithfield.
The Poll-tax died with Wat. The Smiths to the King and Royal
Family, could make no chains in which the King could hang the
people's recollection of him; so the Poll-tax was never collected.
DURING the last reign, the preaching of Wickliffe against the pride
and cunning of the Pope and all his men, had made a great noise in
England. Whether the new King wished to be in favour with the
priests, or whether he hoped, by pretending to be very religious,
to cheat Heaven itself into the belief that he was not a usurper, I
don't know. Both suppositions are likely enough. It is certain
that he began his reign by making a strong show against the
followers of Wickliffe, who were called Lollards, or heretics -
although his father, John of Gaunt, had been of that way of
thinking, as he himself had been more than suspected of being. It
is no less certain that he first established in England the
detestable and atrocious custom, brought from abroad, of burning
those people as a punishment for their opinions. It was the
importation into England of one of the practices of what was called
the Holy Inquisition: which was the most UNholy and the most
infamous tribunal that ever disgraced mankind, and made men more
like demons than followers of Our Saviour.
No real right to the crown, as you know, was in this King. Edward
Mortimer, the young Earl of March - who was only eight or nine
years old, and who was descended from the Duke of Clarence, the
elder brother of Henry's father - was, by succession, the real heir
to the throne. However, the King got his son declared Prince of
Wales; and, obtaining possession of the young Earl of March and his
little brother, kept them in confinement (but not severely) in
Windsor Castle. He then required the Parliament to decide what was
to be done with the deposed King, who was quiet enough, and who
only said that he hoped his cousin Henry would be 'a good lord' to
him. The Parliament replied that they would recommend his being
kept in some secret place where the people could not resort, and
where his friends could not be admitted to see him. Henry
accordingly passed this sentence upon him, and it now began to be
pretty clear to the nation that Richard the Second would not live
very long.
It was a noisy Parliament, as it was an unprincipled one, and the
Lords quarrelled so violently among themselves as to which of them
had been loyal and which disloyal, and which consistent and which
inconsistent, that forty gauntlets are said to have been thrown
upon the floor at one time as challenges to as many battles: the
truth being that they were all false and base together, and had
been, at one time with the old King, and at another time with the
new one, and seldom true for any length of time to any one. They
soon began to plot again. A conspiracy was formed to invite the
King to a tournament at Oxford, and then to take him by surprise
and kill him. This murderous enterprise, which was agreed upon at
secret meetings in the house of the Abbot of Westminster, was
betrayed by the Earl of Rutland - one of the conspirators. The
King, instead of going to the tournament or staying at Windsor
(where the conspirators suddenly went, on finding themselves
discovered, with the hope of seizing him), retired to London,
proclaimed them all traitors, and advanced upon them with a great
force. They retired into the west of England, proclaiming Richard
King; but, the people rose against them, and they were all slain.
Their treason hastened the death of the deposed monarch. Whether
he was killed by hired assassins, or whether he was starved to
death, or whether he refused food on hearing of his brothers being
killed (who were in that plot), is very doubtful. He met his death
somehow; and his body was publicly shown at St. Paul's Cathedral
with only the lower part of the face uncovered. I can scarcely
doubt that he was killed by the King's orders.
The French wife of the miserable Richard was now only ten years
old; and, when her father, Charles of France, heard of her
misfortunes and of her lonely condition in England, he went mad:
as he had several times done before, during the last five or six
years. The French Dukes of Burgundy and Bourbon took up the poor
girl's cause, without caring much about it, but on the chance of
getting something out of England. The people of Bordeaux, who had
a sort of superstitious attachment to the memory of Richard,
because he was born there, swore by the Lord that he had been the
best man in all his kingdom - which was going rather far - and
promised to do great things against the English. Nevertheless,
when they came to consider that they, and the whole people of
France, were ruined by their own nobles, and that the English rule
was much the better of the two, they cooled down again; and the two
dukes, although they were very great men, could do nothing without
them. Then, began negotiations between France and England for the
sending home to Paris of the poor little Queen with all her jewels
and her fortune of two hundred thousand francs in gold. The King
was quite willing to restore the young lady, and even the jewels;
but he said he really could not part with the money. So, at last
she was safely deposited at Paris without her fortune, and then the
Duke of Burgundy (who was cousin to the French King) began to
quarrel with the Duke of Orleans (who was brother to the French
King) about the whole matter; and those two dukes made France even
more wretched than ever.
As the idea of conquering Scotland was still popular at home, the
King marched to the river Tyne and demanded homage of the King of
that country. This being refused, he advanced to Edinburgh, but
did little there; for, his army being in want of provisions, and
the Scotch being very careful to hold him in check without giving
battle, he was obliged to retire. It is to his immortal honour
that in this sally he burnt no villages and slaughtered no people,
but was particularly careful that his army should be merciful and
harmless. It was a great example in those ruthless times.
A war among the border people of England and Scotland went on for
twelve months, and then the Earl of Northumberland, the nobleman
who had helped Henry to the crown, began to rebel against him -
probably because nothing that Henry could do for him would satisfy
his extravagant expectations. There was a certain Welsh gentleman,
named OWEN GLENDOWER, who had been a student in one of the Inns of
Court, and had afterwards been in the service of the late King,
whose Welsh property was taken from him by a powerful lord related
to the present King, who was his neighbour. Appealing for redress,
and getting none, he took up arms, was made an outlaw, and declared
himself sovereign of Wales. He pretended to be a magician; and not
only were the Welsh people stupid enough to believe him, but, even
Henry believed him too; for, making three expeditions into Wales,
and being three times driven back by the wildness of the country,
the bad weather, and the skill of Glendower, he thought he was
defeated by the Welshman's magic arts. However, he took Lord Grey
and Sir Edmund Mortimer, prisoners, and allowed the relatives of
Lord Grey to ransom him, but would not extend such favour to Sir
Edmund Mortimer. Now, Henry Percy, called HOTSPUR, son of the Earl
of Northumberland, who was married to Mortimer's sister, is
supposed to have taken offence at this; and, therefore, in
conjunction with his father and some others, to have joined Owen
Glendower, and risen against Henry. It is by no means clear that
this was the real cause of the conspiracy; but perhaps it was made
the pretext. It was formed, and was very powerful; including
SCROOP, Archbishop of York, and the EARL OF DOUGLAS, a powerful and
brave Scottish nobleman. The King was prompt and active, and the
two armies met at Shrewsbury.
There were about fourteen thousand men in each. The old Earl of
Northumberland being sick, the rebel forces were led by his son.
The King wore plain armour to deceive the enemy; and four noblemen,
with the same object, wore the royal arms. The rebel charge was so
furious, that every one of those gentlemen was killed, the royal
standard was beaten down, and the young Prince of Wales was
severely wounded in the face. But he was one of the bravest and
best soldiers that ever lived, and he fought so well, and the
King's troops were so encouraged by his bold example, that they
rallied immediately, and cut the enemy's forces all to pieces.
Hotspur was killed by an arrow in the brain, and the rout was so
complete that the whole rebellion was struck down by this one blow.
The Earl of Northumberland surrendered himself soon after hearing
of the death of his son, and received a pardon for all his
There were some lingerings of rebellion yet: Owen Glendower being
retired to Wales, and a preposterous story being spread among the
ignorant people that King Richard was still alive. How they could
have believed such nonsense it is difficult to imagine; but they
certainly did suppose that the Court fool of the late King, who was
something like him, was he, himself; so that it seemed as if, after
giving so much trouble to the country in his life, he was still to
trouble it after his death. This was not the worst. The young
Earl of March and his brother were stolen out of Windsor Castle.
Being retaken, and being found to have been spirited away by one
Lady Spencer, she accused her own brother, that Earl of Rutland who
was in the former conspiracy and was now Duke of York, of being in
the plot. For this he was ruined in fortune, though not put to
death; and then another plot arose among the old Earl of
Northumberland, some other lords, and that same Scroop, Archbishop
of York, who was with the rebels before. These conspirators caused
a writing to be posted on the church doors, accusing the King of a
variety of crimes; but, the King being eager and vigilant to oppose
them, they were all taken, and the Archbishop was executed. This
was the first time that a great churchman had been slain by the law
in England; but the King was resolved that it should be done, and
done it was.
The next most remarkable event of this time was the seizure, by
Henry, of the heir to the Scottish throne - James, a boy of nine
years old. He had been put aboard-ship by his father, the Scottish
King Robert, to save him from the designs of his uncle, when, on
his way to France, he was accidentally taken by some English
cruisers. He remained a prisoner in England for nineteen years,
and became in his prison a student and a famous poet.
With the exception of occasional troubles with the Welsh and with
the French, the rest of King Henry's reign was quiet enough. But,
the King was far from happy, and probably was troubled in his
conscience by knowing that he had usurped the crown, and had
occasioned the death of his miserable cousin. The Prince of Wales,
though brave and generous, is said to have been wild and
dissipated, and even to have drawn his sword on GASCOIGNE, the
Chief Justice of the King's Bench, because he was firm in dealing
impartially with one of his dissolute companions. Upon this the
Chief Justice is said to have ordered him immediately to prison;
the Prince of Wales is said to have submitted with a good grace;
and the King is said to have exclaimed, 'Happy is the monarch who
has so just a judge, and a son so willing to obey the laws.' This
is all very doubtful, and so is another story (of which Shakespeare
has made beautiful use), that the Prince once took the crown out of
his father's chamber as he was sleeping, and tried it on his own
The King's health sank more and more, and he became subject to
violent eruptions on the face and to bad epileptic fits, and his
spirits sank every day. At last, as he was praying before the
shrine of St. Edward at Westminster Abbey, he was seized with a
terrible fit, and was carried into the Abbot's chamber, where he
presently died. It had been foretold that he would die at
Jerusalem, which certainly is not, and never was, Westminster.
But, as the Abbot's room had long been called the Jerusalem
chamber, people said it was all the same thing, and were quite
satisfied with the prediction.
The King died on the 20th of March, 1413, in the forty-seventh year
of his age, and the fourteenth of his reign. He was buried in
Canterbury Cathedral. He had been twice married, and had, by his
first wife, a family of four sons and two daughters. Considering
his duplicity before he came to the throne, his unjust seizure of
it, and above all, his making that monstrous law for the burning of
what the priests called heretics, he was a reasonably good king, as
kings went.
THE Prince of Wales began his reign like a generous and honest man.
He set the young Earl of March free; he restored their estates and
their honours to the Percy family, who had lost them by their
rebellion against his father; he ordered the imbecile and
unfortunate Richard to be honourably buried among the Kings of
England; and he dismissed all his wild companions, with assurances
that they should not want, if they would resolve to be steady,
faithful, and true.
It is much easier to burn men than to burn their opinions; and
those of the Lollards were spreading every day. The Lollards were
represented by the priests - probably falsely for the most part -
to entertain treasonable designs against the new King; and Henry,
suffering himself to be worked upon by these representations,
sacrificed his friend Sir John Oldcastle, the Lord Cobham, to them,
after trying in vain to convert him by arguments. He was declared
guilty, as the head of the sect, and sentenced to the flames; but
he escaped from the Tower before the day of execution (postponed
for fifty days by the King himself), and summoned the Lollards to
meet him near London on a certain day. So the priests told the
King, at least. I doubt whether there was any conspiracy beyond
such as was got up by their agents. On the day appointed, instead
of five-and-twenty thousand men, under the command of Sir John
Oldcastle, in the meadows of St. Giles, the King found only eighty
men, and no Sir John at all. There was, in another place, an
addle-headed brewer, who had gold trappings to his horses, and a
pair of gilt spurs in his breast - expecting to be made a knight
next day by Sir John, and so to gain the right to wear them - but
there was no Sir John, nor did anybody give information respecting
him, though the King offered great rewards for such intelligence.
Thirty of these unfortunate Lollards were hanged and drawn
immediately, and were then burnt, gallows and all; and the various
prisons in and around London were crammed full of others. Some of
these unfortunate men made various confessions of treasonable
designs; but, such confessions were easily got, under torture and
the fear of fire, and are very little to be trusted. To finish the
sad story of Sir John Oldcastle at once, I may mention that he
escaped into Wales, and remained there safely, for four years.
When discovered by Lord Powis, it is very doubtful if he would have
been taken alive - so great was the old soldier's bravery - if a
miserable old woman had not come behind him and broken his legs
with a stool. He was carried to London in a horse-litter, was
fastened by an iron chain to a gibbet, and so roasted to death.
To make the state of France as plain as I can in a few words, I
should tell you that the Duke of Orleans, and the Duke of Burgundy,
commonly called 'John without fear,' had had a grand reconciliation
of their quarrel in the last reign, and had appeared to be quite in
a heavenly state of mind. Immediately after which, on a Sunday, in
the public streets of Paris, the Duke of Orleans was murdered by a
party of twenty men, set on by the Duke of Burgundy - according to
his own deliberate confession. The widow of King Richard had been
married in France to the eldest son of the Duke of Orleans. The
poor mad King was quite powerless to help her, and the Duke of
Burgundy became the real master of France. Isabella dying, her
husband (Duke of Orleans since the death of his father) married the
daughter of the Count of Armagnac, who, being a much abler man than
his young son-in-law, headed his party; thence called after him
Armagnacs. Thus, France was now in this terrible condition, that
it had in it the party of the King's son, the Dauphin Louis; the
party of the Duke of Burgundy, who was the father of the Dauphin's
ill-used wife; and the party of the Armagnacs; all hating each
other; all fighting together; all composed of the most depraved
nobles that the earth has ever known; and all tearing unhappy
France to pieces.
The late King had watched these dissensions from England, sensible
(like the French people) that no enemy of France could injure her
more than her own nobility. The present King now advanced a claim
to the French throne. His demand being, of course, refused, he
reduced his proposal to a certain large amount of French territory,
and to demanding the French princess, Catherine, in marriage, with
a fortune of two millions of golden crowns. He was offered less
territory and fewer crowns, and no princess; but he called his
ambassadors home and prepared for war. Then, he proposed to take
the princess with one million of crowns. The French Court replied
that he should have the princess with two hundred thousand crowns
less; he said this would not do (he had never seen the princess in
his life), and assembled his army at Southampton. There was a
short plot at home just at that time, for deposing him, and making
the Earl of March king; but the conspirators were all speedily
condemned and executed, and the King embarked for France.
It is dreadful to observe how long a bad example will be followed;
but, it is encouraging to know that a good example is never thrown
away. The King's first act on disembarking at the mouth of the
river Seine, three miles from Harfleur, was to imitate his father,
and to proclaim his solemn orders that the lives and property of
the peaceable inhabitants should be respected on pain of death. It
is agreed by French writers, to his lasting renown, that even while
his soldiers were suffering the greatest distress from want of
food, these commands were rigidly obeyed.
With an army in all of thirty thousand men, he besieged the town of
Harfleur both by sea and land for five weeks; at the end of which
time the town surrendered, and the inhabitants were allowed to
depart with only fivepence each, and a part of their clothes. All
the rest of their possessions was divided amongst the English army.
But, that army suffered so much, in spite of its successes, from
disease and privation, that it was already reduced one half.
Still, the King was determined not to retire until he had struck a
greater blow. Therefore, against the advice of all his
counsellors, he moved on with his little force towards Calais.
When he came up to the river Somme he was unable to cross, in
consequence of the fort being fortified; and, as the English moved
up the left bank of the river looking for a crossing, the French,
who had broken all the bridges, moved up the right bank, watching
them, and waiting to attack them when they should try to pass it.
At last the English found a crossing and got safely over. The
French held a council of war at Rouen, resolved to give the English
battle, and sent heralds to King Henry to know by which road he was
going. 'By the road that will take me straight to Calais!' said
the King, and sent them away with a present of a hundred crowns.
The English moved on, until they beheld the French, and then the
King gave orders to form in line of battle. The French not coming
on, the army broke up after remaining in battle array till night,
and got good rest and refreshment at a neighbouring village. The
French were now all lying in another village, through which they
knew the English must pass. They were resolved that the English
should begin the battle. The English had no means of retreat, if
their King had any such intention; and so the two armies passed the
night, close together.
To understand these armies well, you must bear in mind that the
immense French army had, among its notable persons, almost the
whole of that wicked nobility, whose debauchery had made France a
desert; and so besotted were they by pride, and by contempt for the
common people, that they had scarcely any bowmen (if indeed they
had any at all) in their whole enormous number: which, compared
with the English army, was at least as six to one. For these proud
fools had said that the bow was not a fit weapon for knightly
hands, and that France must be defended by gentlemen only. We
shall see, presently, what hand the gentlemen made of it.
Now, on the English side, among the little force, there was a good
proportion of men who were not gentlemen by any means, but who were
good stout archers for all that. Among them, in the morning -
having slept little at night, while the French were carousing and
making sure of victory - the King rode, on a grey horse; wearing on
his head a helmet of shining steel, surmounted by a crown of gold,
sparkling with precious stones; and bearing over his armour,
embroidered together, the arms of England and the arms of France.
The archers looked at the shining helmet and the crown of gold and
the sparkling jewels, and admired them all; but, what they admired
most was the King's cheerful face, and his bright blue eye, as he
told them that, for himself, he had made up his mind to conquer
there or to die there, and that England should never have a ransom
to pay for HIM. There was one brave knight who chanced to say that
he wished some of the many gallant gentlemen and good soldiers, who
were then idle at home in England, were there to increase their
numbers. But the King told him that, for his part, he did not wish
for one more man. 'The fewer we have,' said he, 'the greater will
be the honour we shall win!' His men, being now all in good heart,
were refreshed with bread and wine, and heard prayers, and waited
quietly for the French. The King waited for the French, because
they were drawn up thirty deep (the little English force was only
three deep), on very difficult and heavy ground; and he knew that
when they moved, there must be confusion among them.
As they did not move, he sent off two parties:- one to lie
concealed in a wood on the left of the French: the other, to set
fire to some houses behind the French after the battle should be
begun. This was scarcely done, when three of the proud French
gentlemen, who were to defend their country without any help from
the base peasants, came riding out, calling upon the English to
surrender. The King warned those gentlemen himself to retire with
all speed if they cared for their lives, and ordered the English
banners to advance. Upon that, Sir Thomas Erpingham, a great
English general, who commanded the archers, threw his truncheon
into the air, joyfully, and all the English men, kneeling down upon
the ground and biting it as if they took possession of the country,
rose up with a great shout and fell upon the French.
Every archer was furnished with a great stake tipped with iron; and
his orders were, to thrust this stake into the ground, to discharge
his arrow, and then to fall back, when the French horsemen came on.
As the haughty French gentlemen, who were to break the English
archers and utterly destroy them with their knightly lances, came
riding up, they were received with such a blinding storm of arrows,
that they broke and turned. Horses and men rolled over one
another, and the confusion was terrific. Those who rallied and
charged the archers got among the stakes on slippery and boggy
ground, and were so bewildered that the English archers - who wore
no armour, and even took off their leathern coats to be more active
- cut them to pieces, root and branch. Only three French horsemen
got within the stakes, and those were instantly despatched. All
this time the dense French army, being in armour, were sinking
knee-deep into the mire; while the light English archers, halfnaked,
were as fresh and active as if they were fighting on a
marble floor.
But now, the second division of the French coming to the relief of
the first, closed up in a firm mass; the English, headed by the
King, attacked them; and the deadliest part of the battle began.
The King's brother, the Duke of Clarence, was struck down, and
numbers of the French surrounded him; but, King Henry, standing
over the body, fought like a lion until they were beaten off.
Presently, came up a band of eighteen French knights, bearing the
banner of a certain French lord, who had sworn to kill or take the
English King. One of them struck him such a blow with a battle-axe
that he reeled and fell upon his knees; but, his faithful men,
immediately closing round him, killed every one of those eighteen
knights, and so that French lord never kept his oath.
The French Duke of Alenáon, seeing this, made a desperate charge,
and cut his way close up to the Royal Standard of England. He beat
down the Duke of York, who was standing near it; and, when the King
came to his rescue, struck off a piece of the crown he wore. But,
he never struck another blow in this world; for, even as he was in
the act of saying who he was, and that he surrendered to the King;
and even as the King stretched out his hand to give him a safe and
honourable acceptance of the offer; he fell dead, pierced by
innumerable wounds.
The death of this nobleman decided the battle. The third division
of the French army, which had never struck a blow yet, and which
was, in itself, more than double the whole English power, broke and
fled. At this time of the fight, the English, who as yet had made
no prisoners, began to take them in immense numbers, and were still
occupied in doing so, or in killing those who would not surrender,
when a great noise arose in the rear of the French - their flying
banners were seen to stop - and King Henry, supposing a great
reinforcement to have arrived, gave orders that all the prisoners
should be put to death. As soon, however, as it was found that the
noise was only occasioned by a body of plundering peasants, the
terrible massacre was stopped.
Then King Henry called to him the French herald, and asked him to
whom the victory belonged.
The herald replied, 'To the King of England.'
'WE have not made this havoc and slaughter,' said the King. 'It is
the wrath of Heaven on the sins of France. What is the name of
that castle yonder?'
The herald answered him, 'My lord, it is the castle of Azincourt.'
Said the King, 'From henceforth this battle shall be known to
posterity, by the name of the battle of Azincourt.'
Our English historians have made it Agincourt; but, under that
name, it will ever be famous in English annals.
The loss upon the French side was enormous. Three Dukes were
killed, two more were taken prisoners, seven Counts were killed,
three more were taken prisoners, and ten thousand knights and
gentlemen were slain upon the field. The English loss amounted to
sixteen hundred men, among whom were the Duke of York and the Earl
of Suffolk.
War is a dreadful thing; and it is appalling to know how the
English were obliged, next morning, to kill those prisoners
mortally wounded, who yet writhed in agony upon the ground; how the
dead upon the French side were stripped by their own countrymen and
countrywomen, and afterwards buried in great pits; how the dead
upon the English side were piled up in a great barn, and how their
bodies and the barn were all burned together. It is in such
things, and in many more much too horrible to relate, that the real
desolation and wickedness of war consist. Nothing can make war
otherwise than horrible. But the dark side of it was little
thought of and soon forgotten; and it cast no shade of trouble on
the English people, except on those who had lost friends or
relations in the fight. They welcomed their King home with shouts
of rejoicing, and plunged into the water to bear him ashore on
their shoulders, and flocked out in crowds to welcome him in every
town through which he passed, and hung rich carpets and tapestries
out of the windows, and strewed the streets with flowers, and made
the fountains run with wine, as the great field of Agincourt had
run with blood.
THAT proud and wicked French nobility who dragged their country to
destruction, and who were every day and every year regarded with
deeper hatred and detestation in the hearts of the French people,
learnt nothing, even from the defeat of Agincourt. So far from
uniting against the common enemy, they became, among themselves,
more violent, more bloody, and more false - if that were possible -
than they had been before. The Count of Armagnac persuaded the
French king to plunder of her treasures Queen Isabella of Bavaria,
and to make her a prisoner. She, who had hitherto been the bitter
enemy of the Duke of Burgundy, proposed to join him, in revenge.
He carried her off to Troyes, where she proclaimed herself Regent
of France, and made him her lieutenant. The Armagnac party were at
that time possessed of Paris; but, one of the gates of the city
being secretly opened on a certain night to a party of the duke's
men, they got into Paris, threw into the prisons all the Armagnacs
upon whom they could lay their hands, and, a few nights afterwards,
with the aid of a furious mob of sixty thousand people, broke the
prisons open, and killed them all. The former Dauphin was now
dead, and the King's third son bore the title. Him, in the height
of this murderous scene, a French knight hurried out of bed,
wrapped in a sheet, and bore away to Poitiers. So, when the
revengeful Isabella and the Duke of Burgundy entered Paris in
triumph after the slaughter of their enemies, the Dauphin was
proclaimed at Poitiers as the real Regent.
King Henry had not been idle since his victory of Agincourt, but
had repulsed a brave attempt of the French to recover Harfleur; had
gradually conquered a great part of Normandy; and, at this crisis
of affairs, took the important town of Rouen, after a siege of half
a year. This great loss so alarmed the French, that the Duke of
Burgundy proposed that a meeting to treat of peace should be held
between the French and the English kings in a plain by the river
Seine. On the appointed day, King Henry appeared there, with his
two brothers, Clarence and Gloucester, and a thousand men. The
unfortunate French King, being more mad than usual that day, could
not come; but the Queen came, and with her the Princess Catherine:
who was a very lovely creature, and who made a real impression on
King Henry, now that he saw her for the first time. This was the
most important circumstance that arose out of the meeting.
As if it were impossible for a French nobleman of that time to be
true to his word of honour in anything, Henry discovered that the
Duke of Burgundy was, at that very moment, in secret treaty with
the Dauphin; and he therefore abandoned the negotiation.
The Duke of Burgundy and the Dauphin, each of whom with the best
reason distrusted the other as a noble ruffian surrounded by a
party of noble ruffians, were rather at a loss how to proceed after
this; but, at length they agreed to meet, on a bridge over the
river Yonne, where it was arranged that there should be two strong
gates put up, with an empty space between them; and that the Duke
of Burgundy should come into that space by one gate, with ten men
only; and that the Dauphin should come into that space by the other
gate, also with ten men, and no more.
So far the Dauphin kept his word, but no farther. When the Duke of
Burgundy was on his knee before him in the act of speaking, one of
the Dauphin's noble ruffians cut the said duke down with a small
axe, and others speedily finished him.
It was in vain for the Dauphin to pretend that this base murder was
not done with his consent; it was too bad, even for France, and
caused a general horror. The duke's heir hastened to make a treaty
with King Henry, and the French Queen engaged that her husband
should consent to it, whatever it was. Henry made peace, on
condition of receiving the Princess Catherine in marriage, and
being made Regent of France during the rest of the King's lifetime,
and succeeding to the French crown at his death. He was soon
married to the beautiful Princess, and took her proudly home to
England, where she was crowned with great honour and glory.
This peace was called the Perpetual Peace; we shall soon see how
long it lasted. It gave great satisfaction to the French people,
although they were so poor and miserable, that, at the time of the
celebration of the Royal marriage, numbers of them were dying with
starvation, on the dunghills in the streets of Paris. There was
some resistance on the part of the Dauphin in some few parts of
France, but King Henry beat it all down.
And now, with his great possessions in France secured, and his
beautiful wife to cheer him, and a son born to give him greater
happiness, all appeared bright before him. But, in the fulness of
his triumph and the height of his power, Death came upon him, and
his day was done. When he fell ill at Vincennes, and found that he
could not recover, he was very calm and quiet, and spoke serenely
to those who wept around his bed. His wife and child, he said, he
left to the loving care of his brother the Duke of Bedford, and his
other faithful nobles. He gave them his advice that England should
establish a friendship with the new Duke of Burgundy, and offer him
the regency of France; that it should not set free the royal
princes who had been taken at Agincourt; and that, whatever quarrel
might arise with France, England should never make peace without
holding Normandy. Then, he laid down his head, and asked the
attendant priests to chant the penitential psalms. Amid which
solemn sounds, on the thirty-first of August, one thousand four
hundred and twenty-two, in only the thirty-fourth year of his age
and the tenth of his reign, King Henry the Fifth passed away.
Slowly and mournfully they carried his embalmed body in a
procession of great state to Paris, and thence to Rouen where his
Queen was: from whom the sad intelligence of his death was
concealed until he had been dead some days. Thence, lying on a bed
of crimson and gold, with a golden crown upon the head, and a
golden ball and sceptre lying in the nerveless hands, they carried
it to Calais, with such a great retinue as seemed to dye the road
black. The King of Scotland acted as chief mourner, all the Royal
Household followed, the knights wore black armour and black plumes
of feathers, crowds of men bore torches, making the night as light
as day; and the widowed Princess followed last of all. At Calais
there was a fleet of ships to bring the funeral host to Dover. And
so, by way of London Bridge, where the service for the dead was
chanted as it passed along, they brought the body to Westminster
Abbey, and there buried it with great respect.
IT had been the wish of the late King, that while his infant son
KING HENRY THE SIXTH, at this time only nine months old, was under
age, the Duke of Gloucester should be appointed Regent. The
English Parliament, however, preferred to appoint a Council of
Regency, with the Duke of Bedford at its head: to be represented,
in his absence only, by the Duke of Gloucester. The Parliament
would seem to have been wise in this, for Gloucester soon showed
himself to be ambitious and troublesome, and, in the gratification
of his own personal schemes, gave dangerous offence to the Duke of
Burgundy, which was with difficulty adjusted.
As that duke declined the Regency of France, it was bestowed by the
poor French King upon the Duke of Bedford. But, the French King
dying within two months, the Dauphin instantly asserted his claim
to the French throne, and was actually crowned under the title of
CHARLES THE SEVENTH. The Duke of Bedford, to be a match for him,
entered into a friendly league with the Dukes of Burgundy and
Brittany, and gave them his two sisters in marriage. War with
France was immediately renewed, and the Perpetual Peace came to an
untimely end.
In the first campaign, the English, aided by this alliance, were
speedily successful. As Scotland, however, had sent the French
five thousand men, and might send more, or attack the North of
England while England was busy with France, it was considered that
it would be a good thing to offer the Scottish King, James, who had
been so long imprisoned, his liberty, on his paying forty thousand
pounds for his board and lodging during nineteen years, and
engaging to forbid his subjects from serving under the flag of
France. It is pleasant to know, not only that the amiable captive
at last regained his freedom upon these terms, but, that he married
a noble English lady, with whom he had been long in love, and
became an excellent King. I am afraid we have met with some Kings
in this history, and shall meet with some more, who would have been
very much the better, and would have left the world much happier,
if they had been imprisoned nineteen years too.
In the second campaign, the English gained a considerable victory
at Verneuil, in a battle which was chiefly remarkable, otherwise,
for their resorting to the odd expedient of tying their baggagehorses
together by the heads and tails, and jumbling them up with
the baggage, so as to convert them into a sort of live
fortification - which was found useful to the troops, but which I
should think was not agreeable to the horses. For three years
afterwards very little was done, owing to both sides being too poor
for war, which is a very expensive entertainment; but, a council
was then held in Paris, in which it was decided to lay siege to the
town of Orleans, which was a place of great importance to the
Dauphin's cause. An English army of ten thousand men was
despatched on this service, under the command of the Earl of
Salisbury, a general of fame. He being unfortunately killed early
in the siege, the Earl of Suffolk took his place; under whom
(reinforced by SIR JOHN FALSTAFF, who brought up four hundred
waggons laden with salt herrings and other provisions for the
troops, and, beating off the French who tried to intercept him,
came victorious out of a hot skirmish, which was afterwards called
in jest the Battle of the Herrings) the town of Orleans was so
completely hemmed in, that the besieged proposed to yield it up to
their countryman the Duke of Burgundy. The English general,
however, replied that his English men had won it, so far, by their
blood and valour, and that his English men must have it. There
seemed to be no hope for the town, or for the Dauphin, who was so
dismayed that he even thought of flying to Scotland or to Spain -
when a peasant girl rose up and changed the whole state of affairs.
The story of this peasant girl I have now to tell.
IN a remote village among some wild hills in the province of
Lorraine, there lived a countryman whose name was JACQUES D'ARC.
He had a daughter, JOAN OF ARC, who was at this time in her
twentieth year. She had been a solitary girl from her childhood;
she had often tended sheep and cattle for whole days where no human
figure was seen or human voice heard; and she had often knelt, for
hours together, in the gloomy, empty, little village chapel,
looking up at the altar and at the dim lamp burning before it,
until she fancied that she saw shadowy figures standing there, and
even that she heard them speak to her. The people in that part of
France were very ignorant and superstitious, and they had many
ghostly tales to tell about what they had dreamed, and what they
saw among the lonely hills when the clouds and the mists were
resting on them. So, they easily believed that Joan saw strange
sights, and they whispered among themselves that angels and spirits
talked to her.
At last, Joan told her father that she had one day been surprised
by a great unearthly light, and had afterwards heard a solemn
voice, which said it was Saint Michael's voice, telling her that
she was to go and help the Dauphin. Soon after this (she said),
Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret had appeared to her with
sparkling crowns upon their heads, and had encouraged her to be
virtuous and resolute. These visions had returned sometimes; but
the Voices very often; and the voices always said, 'Joan, thou art
appointed by Heaven to go and help the Dauphin!' She almost always
heard them while the chapel bells were ringing.
There is no doubt, now, that Joan believed she saw and heard these
things. It is very well known that such delusions are a disease
which is not by any means uncommon. It is probable enough that
there were figures of Saint Michael, and Saint Catherine, and Saint
Margaret, in the little chapel (where they would be very likely to
have shining crowns upon their heads), and that they first gave
Joan the idea of those three personages. She had long been a
moping, fanciful girl, and, though she was a very good girl, I dare
say she was a little vain, and wishful for notoriety.
Her father, something wiser than his neighbours, said, 'I tell
thee, Joan, it is thy fancy. Thou hadst better have a kind husband
to take care of thee, girl, and work to employ thy mind!' But Joan
told him in reply, that she had taken a vow never to have a
husband, and that she must go as Heaven directed her, to help the
It happened, unfortunately for her father's persuasions, and most
unfortunately for the poor girl, too, that a party of the Dauphin's
enemies found their way into the village while Joan's disorder was
at this point, and burnt the chapel, and drove out the inhabitants.
The cruelties she saw committed, touched Joan's heart and made her
worse. She said that the voices and the figures were now
continually with her; that they told her she was the girl who,
according to an old prophecy, was to deliver France; and she must
go and help the Dauphin, and must remain with him until he should
be crowned at Rheims: and that she must travel a long way to a
certain lord named BAUDRICOURT, who could and would, bring her into
the Dauphin's presence.
As her father still said, 'I tell thee, Joan, it is thy fancy,' she
set off to find out this lord, accompanied by an uncle, a poor
village wheelwright and cart-maker, who believed in the reality of
her visions. They travelled a long way and went on and on, over a
rough country, full of the Duke of Burgundy's men, and of all kinds
of robbers and marauders, until they came to where this lord was.
When his servants told him that there was a poor peasant girl named
Joan of Arc, accompanied by nobody but an old village wheelwright
and cart-maker, who wished to see him because she was commanded to
help the Dauphin and save France, Baudricourt burst out a-laughing,
and bade them send the girl away. But, he soon heard so much about
her lingering in the town, and praying in the churches, and seeing
visions, and doing harm to no one, that he sent for her, and
questioned her. As she said the same things after she had been
well sprinkled with holy water as she had said before the
sprinkling, Baudricourt began to think there might be something in
it. At all events, he thought it worth while to send her on to the
town of Chinon, where the Dauphin was. So, he bought her a horse,
and a sword, and gave her two squires to conduct her. As the
Voices had told Joan that she was to wear a man's dress, now, she
put one on, and girded her sword to her side, and bound spurs to
her heels, and mounted her horse and rode away with her two
squires. As to her uncle the wheelwright, he stood staring at his
niece in wonder until she was out of sight - as well he might - and
then went home again. The best place, too.
Joan and her two squires rode on and on, until they came to Chinon,
where she was, after some doubt, admitted into the Dauphin's
presence. Picking him out immediately from all his court, she told
him that she came commanded by Heaven to subdue his enemies and
conduct him to his coronation at Rheims. She also told him (or he
pretended so afterwards, to make the greater impression upon his
soldiers) a number of his secrets known only to himself, and,
furthermore, she said there was an old, old sword in the cathedral
of Saint Catherine at Fierbois, marked with five old crosses on the
blade, which Saint Catherine had ordered her to wear.
Now, nobody knew anything about this old, old sword, but when the
cathedral came to be examined - which was immediately done - there,
sure enough, the sword was found! The Dauphin then required a
number of grave priests and bishops to give him their opinion
whether the girl derived her power from good spirits or from evil
spirits, which they held prodigiously long debates about, in the
course of which several learned men fell fast asleep and snored
loudly. At last, when one gruff old gentleman had said to Joan,
'What language do your Voices speak?' and when Joan had replied to
the gruff old gentleman, 'A pleasanter language than yours,' they
agreed that it was all correct, and that Joan of Arc was inspired
from Heaven. This wonderful circumstance put new heart into the
Dauphin's soldiers when they heard of it, and dispirited the
English army, who took Joan for a witch.
So Joan mounted horse again, and again rode on and on, until she
came to Orleans. But she rode now, as never peasant girl had
ridden yet. She rode upon a white war-horse, in a suit of
glittering armour; with the old, old sword from the cathedral,
newly burnished, in her belt; with a white flag carried before her,
upon which were a picture of God, and the words JESUS MARIA. In
this splendid state, at the head of a great body of troops
escorting provisions of all kinds for the starving inhabitants of
Orleans, she appeared before that beleaguered city.
When the people on the walls beheld her, they cried out 'The Maid
is come! The Maid of the Prophecy is come to deliver us!' And
this, and the sight of the Maid fighting at the head of their men,
made the French so bold, and made the English so fearful, that the
English line of forts was soon broken, the troops and provisions
were got into the town, and Orleans was saved.
Joan, henceforth called THE MAID OF ORLEANS, remained within the
walls for a few days, and caused letters to be thrown over,
ordering Lord Suffolk and his Englishmen to depart from before the
town according to the will of Heaven. As the English general very
positively declined to believe that Joan knew anything about the
will of Heaven (which did not mend the matter with his soldiers,
for they stupidly said if she were not inspired she was a witch,
and it was of no use to fight against a witch), she mounted her
white war-horse again, and ordered her white banner to advance.
The besiegers held the bridge, and some strong towers upon the
bridge; and here the Maid of Orleans attacked them. The fight was
fourteen hours long. She planted a scaling ladder with her own
hands, and mounted a tower wall, but was struck by an English arrow
in the neck, and fell into the trench. She was carried away and
the arrow was taken out, during which operation she screamed and
cried with the pain, as any other girl might have done; but
presently she said that the Voices were speaking to her and
soothing her to rest. After a while, she got up, and was again
foremost in the fight. When the English who had seen her fall and
supposed her dead, saw this, they were troubled with the strangest
fears, and some of them cried out that they beheld Saint Michael on
a white horse (probably Joan herself) fighting for the French.
They lost the bridge, and lost the towers, and next day set their
chain of forts on fire, and left the place.
But as Lord Suffolk himself retired no farther than the town of
Jargeau, which was only a few miles off, the Maid of Orleans
besieged him there, and he was taken prisoner. As the white banner
scaled the wall, she was struck upon the head with a stone, and was
again tumbled down into the ditch; but, she only cried all the
more, as she lay there, 'On, on, my countrymen! And fear nothing,
for the Lord hath delivered them into our hands!' After this new
success of the Maid's, several other fortresses and places which
had previously held out against the Dauphin were delivered up
without a battle; and at Patay she defeated the remainder of the
English army, and set up her victorious white banner on a field
where twelve hundred Englishmen lay dead.
She now urged the Dauphin (who always kept out of the way when
there was any fighting) to proceed to Rheims, as the first part of
her mission was accomplished; and to complete the whole by being
crowned there. The Dauphin was in no particular hurry to do this,
as Rheims was a long way off, and the English and the Duke of
Burgundy were still strong in the country through which the road
lay. However, they set forth, with ten thousand men, and again the
Maid of Orleans rode on and on, upon her white war-horse, and in
her shining armour. Whenever they came to a town which yielded
readily, the soldiers believed in her; but, whenever they came to a
town which gave them any trouble, they began to murmur that she was
an impostor. The latter was particularly the case at Troyes, which
finally yielded, however, through the persuasion of one Richard, a
friar of the place. Friar Richard was in the old doubt about the
Maid of Orleans, until he had sprinkled her well with holy water,
and had also well sprinkled the threshold of the gate by which she
came into the city. Finding that it made no change in her or the
gate, he said, as the other grave old gentlemen had said, that it
was all right, and became her great ally.
So, at last, by dint of riding on and on, the Maid of Orleans, and
the Dauphin, and the ten thousand sometimes believing and sometimes
unbelieving men, came to Rheims. And in the great cathedral of
Rheims, the Dauphin actually was crowned Charles the Seventh in a
great assembly of the people. Then, the Maid, who with her white
banner stood beside the King in that hour of his triumph, kneeled
down upon the pavement at his feet, and said, with tears, that what
she had been inspired to do, was done, and that the only recompense
she asked for, was, that she should now have leave to go back to
her distant home, and her sturdily incredulous father, and her
first simple escort the village wheelwright and cart-maker. But
the King said 'No!' and made her and her family as noble as a King
could, and settled upon her the income of a Count.
Ah! happy had it been for the Maid of Orleans, if she had resumed
her rustic dress that day, and had gone home to the little chapel
and the wild hills, and had forgotten all these things, and had
been a good man's wife, and had heard no stranger voices than the
voices of little children!
It was not to be, and she continued helping the King (she did a
world for him, in alliance with Friar Richard), and trying to
improve the lives of the coarse soldiers, and leading a religious,
an unselfish, and a modest life, herself, beyond any doubt. Still,
many times she prayed the King to let her go home; and once she
even took off her bright armour and hung it up in a church, meaning
never to wear it more. But, the King always won her back again -
while she was of any use to him - and so she went on and on and on,
to her doom.
When the Duke of Bedford, who was a very able man, began to be
active for England, and, by bringing the war back into France and
by holding the Duke of Burgundy to his faith, to distress and
disturb Charles very much, Charles sometimes asked the Maid of
Orleans what the Voices said about it? But, the Voices had become
(very like ordinary voices in perplexed times) contradictory and
confused, so that now they said one thing, and now said another,
and the Maid lost credit every day. Charles marched on Paris,
which was opposed to him, and attacked the suburb of Saint Honore.
In this fight, being again struck down into the ditch, she was
abandoned by the whole army. She lay unaided among a heap of dead,
and crawled out how she could. Then, some of her believers went
over to an opposition Maid, Catherine of La Rochelle, who said she
was inspired to tell where there were treasures of buried money -
though she never did - and then Joan accidentally broke the old,
old sword, and others said that her power was broken with it.
Finally, at the siege of Compiägne, held by the Duke of Burgundy,
where she did valiant service, she was basely left alone in a
retreat, though facing about and fighting to the last; and an
archer pulled her off her horse.
O the uproar that was made, and the thanksgivings that were sung,
about the capture of this one poor country-girl! O the way in
which she was demanded to be tried for sorcery and heresy, and
anything else you like, by the Inquisitor-General of France, and by
this great man, and by that great man, until it is wearisome to
think of! She was bought at last by the Bishop of Beauvais for ten
thousand francs, and was shut up in her narrow prison: plain Joan
of Arc again, and Maid of Orleans no more.
I should never have done if I were to tell you how they had Joan
out to examine her, and cross-examine her, and re-examine her, and
worry her into saying anything and everything; and how all sorts of
scholars and doctors bestowed their utmost tediousness upon her.
Sixteen times she was brought out and shut up again, and worried,
and entrapped, and argued with, until she was heart-sick of the
dreary business. On the last occasion of this kind she was brought
into a burial-place at Rouen, dismally decorated with a scaffold,
and a stake and faggots, and the executioner, and a pulpit with a
friar therein, and an awful sermon ready. It is very affecting to
know that even at that pass the poor girl honoured the mean vermin
of a King, who had so used her for his purposes and so abandoned
her; and, that while she had been regardless of reproaches heaped
upon herself, she spoke out courageously for him.
It was natural in one so young to hold to life. To save her life,
she signed a declaration prepared for her - signed it with a cross,
for she couldn't write - that all her visions and Voices had come
from the Devil. Upon her recanting the past, and protesting that
she would never wear a man's dress in future, she was condemned to
imprisonment for life, 'on the bread of sorrow and the water of
But, on the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, the
visions and the Voices soon returned. It was quite natural that
they should do so, for that kind of disease is much aggravated by
fasting, loneliness, and anxiety of mind. It was not only got out
of Joan that she considered herself inspired again, but, she was
taken in a man's dress, which had been left - to entrap her - in
her prison, and which she put on, in her solitude; perhaps, in
remembrance of her past glories, perhaps, because the imaginary
Voices told her. For this relapse into the sorcery and heresy and
anything else you like, she was sentenced to be burnt to death.
And, in the market-place of Rouen, in the hideous dress which the
monks had invented for such spectacles; with priests and bishops
sitting in a gallery looking on, though some had the Christian
grace to go away, unable to endure the infamous scene; this
shrieking girl - last seen amidst the smoke and fire, holding a
crucifix between her hands; last heard, calling upon Christ - was
burnt to ashes. They threw her ashes into the river Seine; but
they will rise against her murderers on the last day.
From the moment of her capture, neither the French King nor one
single man in all his court raised a finger to save her. It is no
defence of them that they may have never really believed in her, or
that they may have won her victories by their skill and bravery.
The more they pretended to believe in her, the more they had caused
her to believe in herself; and she had ever been true to them, ever
brave, ever nobly devoted. But, it is no wonder, that they, who
were in all things false to themselves, false to one another, false
to their country, false to Heaven, false to Earth, should be
monsters of ingratitude and treachery to a helpless peasant girl.
In the picturesque old town of Rouen, where weeds and grass grow
high on the cathedral towers, and the venerable Norman streets are
still warm in the blessed sunlight though the monkish fires that
once gleamed horribly upon them have long grown cold, there is a
statue of Joan of Arc, in the scene of her last agony, the square
to which she has given its present name. I know some statues of
modern times - even in the World's metropolis, I think - which
commemorate less constancy, less earnestness, smaller claims upon
the world's attention, and much greater impostors.
BAD deeds seldom prosper, happily for mankind; and the English
cause gained no advantage from the cruel death of Joan of Arc. For
a long time, the war went heavily on. The Duke of Bedford died;
the alliance with the Duke of Burgundy was broken; and Lord Talbot
became a great general on the English side in France. But, two of
the consequences of wars are, Famine - because the people cannot
peacefully cultivate the ground - and Pestilence, which comes of
want, misery, and suffering. Both these horrors broke out in both
countries, and lasted for two wretched years. Then, the war went
on again, and came by slow degrees to be so badly conducted by the
English government, that, within twenty years from the execution of
the Maid of Orleans, of all the great French conquests, the town of
Calais alone remained in English hands.
While these victories and defeats were taking place in the course
of time, many strange things happened at home. The young King, as
he grew up, proved to be very unlike his great father, and showed
himself a miserable puny creature. There was no harm in him - he
had a great aversion to shedding blood: which was something - but,
he was a weak, silly, helpless young man, and a mere shuttlecock to
the great lordly battledores about the Court.
Of these battledores, Cardinal Beaufort, a relation of the King,
and the Duke of Gloucester, were at first the most powerful. The
Duke of Gloucester had a wife, who was nonsensically accused of
practising witchcraft to cause the King's death and lead to her
husband's coming to the throne, he being the next heir. She was
charged with having, by the help of a ridiculous old woman named
Margery (who was called a witch), made a little waxen doll in the
King's likeness, and put it before a slow fire that it might
gradually melt away. It was supposed, in such cases, that the
death of the person whom the doll was made to represent, was sure
to happen. Whether the duchess was as ignorant as the rest of
them, and really did make such a doll with such an intention, I
don't know; but, you and I know very well that she might have made
a thousand dolls, if she had been stupid enough, and might have
melted them all, without hurting the King or anybody else.
However, she was tried for it, and so was old Margery, and so was
one of the duke's chaplains, who was charged with having assisted
them. Both he and Margery were put to death, and the duchess,
after being taken on foot and bearing a lighted candle, three times
round the City, as a penance, was imprisoned for life. The duke,
himself, took all this pretty quietly, and made as little stir
about the matter as if he were rather glad to be rid of the
But, he was not destined to keep himself out of trouble long. The
royal shuttlecock being three-and-twenty, the battledores were very
anxious to get him married. The Duke of Gloucester wanted him to
marry a daughter of the Count of Armagnac; but, the Cardinal and
the Earl of Suffolk were all for MARGARET, the daughter of the King
of Sicily, who they knew was a resolute, ambitious woman and would
govern the King as she chose. To make friends with this lady, the
Earl of Suffolk, who went over to arrange the match, consented to
accept her for the King's wife without any fortune, and even to
give up the two most valuable possessions England then had in
France. So, the marriage was arranged, on terms very advantageous
to the lady; and Lord Suffolk brought her to England, and she was
married at Westminster. On what pretence this queen and her party
charged the Duke of Gloucester with high treason within a couple of
years, it is impossible to make out, the matter is so confused;
but, they pretended that the King's life was in danger, and they
took the duke prisoner. A fortnight afterwards, he was found dead
in bed (they said), and his body was shown to the people, and Lord
Suffolk came in for the best part of his estates. You know by this
time how strangely liable state prisoners were to sudden death.
If Cardinal Beaufort had any hand in this matter, it did him no
good, for he died within six weeks; thinking it very hard and
curious - at eighty years old! - that he could not live to be Pope.
This was the time when England had completed her loss of all her
great French conquests. The people charged the loss principally
upon the Earl of Suffolk, now a duke, who had made those easy terms
about the Royal Marriage, and who, they believed, had even been
bought by France. So he was impeached as a traitor, on a great
number of charges, but chiefly on accusations of having aided the
French King, and of designing to make his own son King of England.
The Commons and the people being violent against him, the King was
made (by his friends) to interpose to save him, by banishing him
for five years, and proroguing the Parliament. The duke had much
ado to escape from a London mob, two thousand strong, who lay in
wait for him in St. Giles's fields; but, he got down to his own
estates in Suffolk, and sailed away from Ipswich. Sailing across
the Channel, he sent into Calais to know if he might land there;
but, they kept his boat and men in the harbour, until an English
ship, carrying a hundred and fifty men and called the Nicholas of
the Tower, came alongside his little vessel, and ordered him on
board. 'Welcome, traitor, as men say,' was the captain's grim and
not very respectful salutation. He was kept on board, a prisoner,
for eight-and-forty hours, and then a small boat appeared rowing
toward the ship. As this boat came nearer, it was seen to have in
it a block, a rusty sword, and an executioner in a black mask. The
duke was handed down into it, and there his head was cut off with
six strokes of the rusty sword. Then, the little boat rowed away
to Dover beach, where the body was cast out, and left until the
duchess claimed it. By whom, high in authority, this murder was
committed, has never appeared. No one was ever punished for it.
There now arose in Kent an Irishman, who gave himself the name of
Mortimer, but whose real name was JACK CADE. Jack, in imitation of
Wat Tyler, though he was a very different and inferior sort of man,
addressed the Kentish men upon their wrongs, occasioned by the bad
government of England, among so many battledores and such a poor
shuttlecock; and the Kentish men rose up to the number of twenty
thousand. Their place of assembly was Blackheath, where, headed by
Jack, they put forth two papers, which they called 'The Complaint
of the Commons of Kent,' and 'The Requests of the Captain of the
Great Assembly in Kent.' They then retired to Sevenoaks. The
royal army coming up with them here, they beat it and killed their
general. Then, Jack dressed himself in the dead general's armour,
and led his men to London.
Jack passed into the City from Southwark, over the bridge, and
entered it in triumph, giving the strictest orders to his men not
to plunder. Having made a show of his forces there, while the
citizens looked on quietly, he went back into Southwark in good
order, and passed the night. Next day, he came back again, having
got hold in the meantime of Lord Say, an unpopular nobleman. Says
Jack to the Lord Mayor and judges: 'Will you be so good as to make
a tribunal in Guildhall, and try me this nobleman?' The court
being hastily made, he was found guilty, and Jack and his men cut
his head off on Cornhill. They also cut off the head of his sonin-
law, and then went back in good order to Southwark again.
But, although the citizens could bear the beheading of an unpopular
lord, they could not bear to have their houses pillaged. And it
did so happen that Jack, after dinner - perhaps he had drunk a
little too much - began to plunder the house where he lodged; upon
which, of course, his men began to imitate him. Wherefore, the
Londoners took counsel with Lord Scales, who had a thousand
soldiers in the Tower; and defended London Bridge, and kept Jack
and his people out. This advantage gained, it was resolved by
divers great men to divide Jack's army in the old way, by making a
great many promises on behalf of the state, that were never
intended to be performed. This DID divide them; some of Jack's men
saying that they ought to take the conditions which were offered,
and others saying that they ought not, for they were only a snare;
some going home at once; others staying where they were; and all
doubting and quarrelling among themselves.
Jack, who was in two minds about fighting or accepting a pardon,
and who indeed did both, saw at last that there was nothing to
expect from his men, and that it was very likely some of them would
deliver him up and get a reward of a thousand marks, which was
offered for his apprehension. So, after they had travelled and
quarrelled all the way from Southwark to Blackheath, and from
Blackheath to Rochester, he mounted a good horse and galloped away
into Sussex. But, there galloped after him, on a better horse, one
Alexander Iden, who came up with him, had a hard fight with him,
and killed him. Jack's head was set aloft on London Bridge, with
the face looking towards Blackheath, where he had raised his flag;
and Alexander Iden got the thousand marks.
It is supposed by some, that the Duke of York, who had been removed
from a high post abroad through the Queen's influence, and sent out
of the way, to govern Ireland, was at the bottom of this rising of
Jack and his men, because he wanted to trouble the government. He
claimed (though not yet publicly) to have a better right to the
throne than Henry of Lancaster, as one of the family of the Earl of
March, whom Henry the Fourth had set aside. Touching this claim,
which, being through female relationship, was not according to the
usual descent, it is enough to say that Henry the Fourth was the
free choice of the people and the Parliament, and that his family
had now reigned undisputed for sixty years. The memory of Henry
the Fifth was so famous, and the English people loved it so much,
that the Duke of York's claim would, perhaps, never have been
thought of (it would have been so hopeless) but for the unfortunate
circumstance of the present King's being by this time quite an
idiot, and the country very ill governed. These two circumstances
gave the Duke of York a power he could not otherwise have had.
Whether the Duke knew anything of Jack Cade, or not, he came over
from Ireland while Jack's head was on London Bridge; being secretly
advised that the Queen was setting up his enemy, the Duke of
Somerset, against him. He went to Westminster, at the head of four
thousand men, and on his knees before the King, represented to him
the bad state of the country, and petitioned him to summon a
Parliament to consider it. This the King promised. When the
Parliament was summoned, the Duke of York accused the Duke of
Somerset, and the Duke of Somerset accused the Duke of York; and,
both in and out of Parliament, the followers of each party were
full of violence and hatred towards the other. At length the Duke
of York put himself at the head of a large force of his tenants,
and, in arms, demanded the reformation of the Government. Being
shut out of London, he encamped at Dartford, and the royal army
encamped at Blackheath. According as either side triumphed, the
Duke of York was arrested, or the Duke of Somerset was arrested.
The trouble ended, for the moment, in the Duke of York renewing his
oath of allegiance, and going in peace to one of his own castles.
Half a year afterwards the Queen gave birth to a son, who was very
ill received by the people, and not believed to be the son of the
King. It shows the Duke of York to have been a moderate man,
unwilling to involve England in new troubles, that he did not take
advantage of the general discontent at this time, but really acted
for the public good. He was made a member of the cabinet, and the
King being now so much worse that he could not be carried about and
shown to the people with any decency, the duke was made Lord
Protector of the kingdom, until the King should recover, or the
Prince should come of age. At the same time the Duke of Somerset
was committed to the Tower. So, now the Duke of Somerset was down,
and the Duke of York was up. By the end of the year, however, the
King recovered his memory and some spark of sense; upon which the
Queen used her power - which recovered with him - to get the
Protector disgraced, and her favourite released. So now the Duke
of York was down, and the Duke of Somerset was up.
These ducal ups and downs gradually separated the whole nation into
the two parties of York and Lancaster, and led to those terrible
civil wars long known as the Wars of the Red and White Roses,
because the red rose was the badge of the House of Lancaster, and
the white rose was the badge of the House of York.
The Duke of York, joined by some other powerful noblemen of the
White Rose party, and leading a small army, met the King with
another small army at St. Alban's, and demanded that the Duke of
Somerset should be given up. The poor King, being made to say in
answer that he would sooner die, was instantly attacked. The Duke
of Somerset was killed, and the King himself was wounded in the
neck, and took refuge in the house of a poor tanner. Whereupon,
the Duke of York went to him, led him with great submission to the
Abbey, and said he was very sorry for what had happened. Having
now the King in his possession, he got a Parliament summoned and
himself once more made Protector, but, only for a few months; for,
on the King getting a little better again, the Queen and her party
got him into their possession, and disgraced the Duke once more.
So, now the Duke of York was down again.
Some of the best men in power, seeing the danger of these constant
changes, tried even then to prevent the Red and the White Rose
Wars. They brought about a great council in London between the two
parties. The White Roses assembled in Blackfriars, the Red Roses
in Whitefriars; and some good priests communicated between them,
and made the proceedings known at evening to the King and the
judges. They ended in a peaceful agreement that there should be no

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