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Reign of Richard II. Part 1

Reign of Richard II. - His early Education - The Government during his Minority - Invasion of the French - John Phillpot, Alderman of London, captures the Spanish Fleet - The Insurrection of Wat Tyler - Discontent of both People and Aristocracy - Invasion of Scotland - Intrigues of the Duke of Gloucester - Expulsion of the King's Ministers, and Execution of his Favourites - Preaching of Wycliffe - Death of the Queen - Expedition to Ireland.
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Richard II. was not eleven years of age at the time of his grandfather's death. He was the sole surviving son of the popular Black Prince, his elder brother having died before his father left Guienne. Richard, therefore - called Richard of Bordeaux, from being born there - was brought up as the heir-apparent by his mother, Joan of Kent, and his uncles, in the most luxurious indulgence, and in the most extravagant ideas of his royal rank. This was a fatal commencement for the reign of a boy, and it was made still more so by the extreme popularity of his father, whose memory was idolised both as the most renowned warrior of his time, and, perhaps, of all English history to that period, and as the advocate of the people against the stern measures of Edward III. All these things combined to spoil a naturally good and affectionate disposition.

Richard ascended the throne on the 22nd of June, 1377, his grandfather having died the day before. While the old king still lay on his death-bed, a deputation of the citizens of London had waited on the juvenile princo at Shene, where he was living, and offered him their lives and fortunes. They entreated him to come and take up his residence in the Tower amongst them. Richard gave a gracious reply in assent, and the next afternoon mad. his entrance into the capital. Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm with which he was received by the Londoners. They had erected triumphal arches; the conduits ran with wine, and a variety of pageants were displayed. One c: these is thus described by Walsingham: - In Cheapside was erected a building in the form of a castle, out c: which ran two streams of wine. On its four turrets stood four girls dressed in white, and of about the age of the king. As he approached, they blew towards him small shreds of gold leaf - a favourite fancy at the time, repeated afterwards to the young queen, on her arrival from Germany. They showered upon him flowers made of gilt paper, and then, coming down, filled cups with wine from the fountain, and presented them to him and his attendants. Then flew down an angel from the summit of the castle and offered to the king a gold crown. Every street exhibited some pageant or device, but the merchants of Cheapside obtained the palm for their superior ingenuity. The great seal was delivered to the king; but, as the Bishop of Ely, the chancellor, was absent beyond sea on public affairs, Richard returned the seal, enclosed in a purse containing, also, various letters patent, to Sir Nicholas Bonde, by him to be kept till the chancellor's arrival.

Three weeks were spent in performing the obsequies of the late king, and in preparing for the coronation of the present. This took place on the 16th of July. On that clay Richard rose at an early hour, and attended matins and mass in his private chapel in Westminster. The procession assembled in the great hall, the passage from which to the abbey church had been carpeted with scarlet cloth. The prelates, abbots, and clergy led the way, followed by the officers of state, and last came the king, a canopy of sky-blue silk, supported on spears of silver, being borne above him by the barons of the Cinque Ports. While the litany was chanted the young prince lay prostrate before the altar, whence he was conducted to his throne, raised on a platform in the middle of the nave. When he had taken the customary oath, the archbishop, accompanied by the marshals, explained to the people the obligations of his oath, and inquired whether they were willing to have Richard for their king. The reply was a loud and universal acclamation; whereupon he was anointed, crowned, and invested with all the insignia of royalty. To this followed a solemn mass, and at the offertory he descended and presented on the altar bread, wine, and a mark of gold; after which he returned to his throne and received the homage of his royal uncles, his earls and barons.

Sir John Dymoke attended as champion with his two esquires, and the lord steward, the constable, and marshal rode up and down the hall on their chargers to maintain order.

By all this weight of ceremony the poor youth was completely exhausted, and had to be borne in a litter to his own apartment. This to a speculative mind might have presented an omen, too truly realised, that he would not possess vigour to bear him to the end of his natural term of sovereignty. After he was sufficiently restored, he again returned to the great hall, where he created four earls and nine knights, and then partook of a sumptuous banquet, which was again followed by a ball, minstrelsy, and the usual boisterous festivities of the age.

Everything, in fact, was done which could tend to inspire the boy-king with an idea of that absolute greatness which had been already sufficiently instilled into his mind from very infancy by his mother, his uncles, and his courtiers. For such things kings afterwards pay a suitable compensation. The same ideas, the same accomplishments, the same spirit of despotism were afterwards imprinted on the nascent mind of Charles L, and with the same results. Never before had such base laudation, such creeping prostrations, been practised in this country. Both courtiers and dignitaries of the church used the same language of grovelling sycophancy towards the un -suspecting youth; and little could he dream that, while they were lauding^ his wisdom and royal virtues, they were preparing for him the execrations of his people and the loss of his throne and life. It has been justly said that for much of what came afterwards to pass these vile flatterers were really answerable. While, therefore, passing judgment on the follies and the crimes of kings, we should never forget that they have been made what they are by the mercenary courtiers who perpetually throng about thrones. At this moment the youthful Richard was the idol of every class in the nation; the beauty of his person and the memory of his father surrounding him with a halo of popular favour, through which the gloom of after years could make no way.

The day after the coronation the prelates and barons met in council to arrange the form of government during the king's minority. They avoided appointing a regency, as is supposed, that they might not have to elect the Duke of Lancaster, the celebrated John of Gaunt, the king's uncle, who had long been suspected of aspiring to the I crown. They therefore chose nine councillors, consisting of three bishops, two earls, two baronets, and two knights, to assist the chancellor and the treasurer. Not one of the king's uncles was included, not even the Earl of Cambridge, afterwards made Duke of York, who was indolent and of slight capacity, and therefore not much to be feared; nor the Earl of Buckingham, afterwards Duke of Gloucester, who was bold and turbulent, but much more popular than either of his brothers. Contrary to general expectation, Lancaster appeared to acquiesce in the arrangement without a murmur, and retired with all his attendants to his castle of Kenilworth, as if about to devote himself to the pursuits of private life. But he had taken care to secure the appointment of some of his stanch cavaliers in the council, and, in reality, he and his brothers were the real ruling powers in the state. Amongst the leading members of the council were the Bishops of London, Carlisle, and Salisbury, the Earls of March and Stafford, Sir Richard Devereux, and Sir Hugh Segrave.

The Commons had acquired now so much consideration and boldness, that they petitioned the king on this occasion to be admitted to assist the barons in nominating the royal council during the minority; which, though it was not complied with, received a civil answer. They, moreover, represented the necessity of their being summoned every year, as entitled by the law of Edward III., and before they dissolved they appointed two citizens as treasurers to receive and disburse the moneys granted by them to the crown. These treasurers were John Phillpot and William Walworth, citizens of London.

The Commons did not conceal their suspicions of the Duke of Lancaster. They uttered very plain language regarding him, and this language did not fail to rouse his ire. When the Archbishop of Canterbury recommended Richard to the affections of his people, and called on Parliament to assist in advising how the enemies of the realm might best be opposed, the Commons replied that they could not themselves venture to answer so important a question, but begged to have the aid of twelve peers, naming the Duke of Lancaster expressly as "my lord of Spain."

The moment that the king had assented to this he arose, bent his knee to the king, and said, with much anger, that the Commons had no claim to advice from him. They had charged him with nothing short of treason he, the son of a king, and one of the first lords of the realm; a man of a family not only closely allied to the throne, but noted for its faith and loyalty; that it would be marvellous indeed if he, with more than any other subject in the kingdom to lose, should be found a traitor. He resented the imputation indignantly; called on his accusers to stand forth, and declared that he would meet them like the poorest knight, either in single combat, or any other way that the king might appoint.

This extraordinary demonstration created a great sensation. The lords and prelates crowded round him, entreating him to be pacified, "for no mortal being could give credit to such imputations." The Commons pointed to the fact that they had named Lancaster as their principal adviser, and finally the duke allowed himself to be appeased. But it was clear that the Commons were very strong against him. The majority consisted of the very men who had been opposed to him in 1376; and their speaker was Sir Peter de la Mare, the man whom he had imprisoned for his activity en that occasion.

Another blow aimed at the aspiring duke was through his patronage of the late king's mistress, the notorious Alice Perrars. Lancaster had procured her return from banishment, and protected her. But he was now fain to abandon her, seeing this stormy state of the political atmosphere; and consented even to sit on a committee of the house, with four other peers, to try her for soliciting causes in the king's courts for hire and reward, and for having procured from the late king the revocation of the appointment of Sir Nicholas Dagworth to an office in Ireland, and a full pardon of Richard Lyons, who had been convicted by the Commons of various misdemeanors. The beautiful, clever, and unscrupulous Alice was now finally banished, with forfeiture of all her lands, tenements, goods, and chattels.

The enemies more immediately in view when the Parliament was summoned were the French and Spaniards. Taking advantage of the reign of a minor, the French refused to renew the truce which had expired before the death of the late king; they drew close their alliance with Enrique de Transtamara, who resented the assumption of the title of King of Castile by the Duke of Lancaster. They united their fleets and ravaged the English coasts. Richard only ascended the throne in June, and in August the whole of the Isle of Wight was in the possession of these foreigners, with the exception of Carisbrook Castle. They laid waste the island, burnt the towns of Hastings and Rye, and attacked Southampton and Winchelsea. Winchelsea made a successful resistance, and the Earl of Arundel, falling on the combined fleet before Southampton, repulsed it with great loss. But marauders of other nations flocked to the fleets of the French and Spaniards, and committed great devastation both on our ships at sea and on our coasts. The maritime districts of Kent and Sussex suffered severely, and a fleet even ascended the Thames and burnt the greater part of Gravesend.

To check these several inroads Parliament granted supplies, which, however, from the empty condition of the treasury, were obliged to be borrowed in advance from the merchants. With these funds a fleet was raised and put under the command of the Duke of Lancaster, who passed over to Brittany, besieged the town of St. Malo, where he lay for some weeks, and then returned to England without effecting anything, to the grievous disappointment of the people. Meantime the Scots, instigated by the French, broke the truce, and attacked the castle of Berwick, which they took. They burned Roxburgh, and made incursions into the northern counties. Being repulsed, and Berwick retaken by the Earl of Northumberland, they united with the French and Spaniards at sea, and under one John Mercer they swept the German Ocean, and seized all the ships in the port of Scarborough.

These tidings produced great alarm and indignation in London, and John Phillpot, the stout alderman lately appointed one of the treasurers for the Commons, seeing that nothing was done by the Government effectually to check these marauders, fitted out a small fleet at his own expense, put to sea without waiting for any commission from the authorities, and coming up with the united fleet, gave battle, and after a desperate conflict succeeded in capturing sixteen Spanish ships, with all the vessels carried off from Scarborough, and John Mercer himself. Returning triumphantly to London after this most brilliant achievement, he was received, as he deserved, with enthusiastic acclamation by his fellow-citizens, but was severely reprimanded by the royal council for having dared to make war without regal permission. So offensive was it to the routine of that day that a man without orders should save his country.

Nothing having been done by the regularly appointed commanders except the usual feat of spending the money, a new Parliament was summoned. This met at Gloucester on the 20th of October, 1378. The Commons objected to a new subsidy, as well they might, seeing that it had produced no advantage; but being answered by Sir Richard Scrope, the steward of the household, that it was indispensable, they insisted on permission to examine the accounts of the treasurers, which was granted under protest that it was not by right but by favour, and should not be drawn into a precedent. They next requested to be furnished with a copy of the enrolment of the tenths and fifteenths which they had last granted, to learn how they -had been raised, which, as money was wanted, was also conceded under protest. Finally, they proposed that six peers and prelates should come to their chamber to consult with them on these matters - an evidence that the Lords and Commons now regularly occupied separate houses. This was declined by the great men of the upper house, who, however, professed their readiness to meet, by committee, with a committee of the Commons.

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