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Reign of Richard II. Part 1 page 4


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They ranged through all the apartments of the Tower, again came upon the terrified mother of the king, pricked her bed with their swords to see if any one was concealed in it, and saluted her with a few more kisses. The poor lady fainted away, and was carried by her attendants to her house, called ''The Wardrobe in Carter Lane." Here the king on his return joined her, and gave her comfort, trusting that all would soon now be over.

In the morning Richard left the Wardrobe, and, after mass at Westminster, rode through Smithfield at the head of sixty horsemen, where he beheld a great throng of people in front of the abbey of St. Bartholomew. He said he would go no further till he knew what ailed them, and that he would appease them again. It was Wat Tyler at the head of 20,000 insurgents. Wat had refused the charter sent to him, demanding fresh conditions; and, when these were conceded in a second, demanded still more; amongst other things, the total repeal of the forest or game laws, and that all parks, waters, warrens, and woods should be common, so that the poor as well as the rich should freely fish in all waters, hunt the deer in the parks and forests and the hare in the fields.

On seeing the king stop Wat Tyler said, "Sirs, yonder is the king; I will go and speak with him. Stir not hence without I make you a sign; and when I make you a sign, come on and, slay then? all except the king, He is young; we can do with him as we please, and we will lead him with us all about England, and so we shall be lords of all the realm without doubt." Wat rode up to the king, and so near that the head of his horse touched the flanks of that of the king. Then said Wat, "Sir king, seest thou all yonder people?" "Yea, truly," said the king; "why dost thou ask?" "Because," said Wat Tyler, "they be all at my commandment, and have sworn to me faith and truth to do all that I will have them. And thinkest thou that they, and as many more in London, will depart without thy letters?"

The king courteously assured him they should have them; and at this point, says Froissart, Wat Tyler cast his eyes on an esquire of the king, whom he hated on account of some words he had said. "Ah!" said he, "art thou there? Give me thy dagger." The esquire refused, but the king bade him give it, and with that Wat began to play with it, and said to the esquire, "By my faith I will never eat meat till I have thy head." At this moment the mayor, Sir William Walworth, coming up with his twelve horse, and hearing these words, and looking through the press, said, "Ha! thou knave, darest thou speak such words in the king's presence?" Wat gave a sharp answer, and Froissart says that the king said to Walworth, "Set hands on him." Be that as it may, Walworth thrust a short sword into Tyler's throat; or, as others say, struck him on the head with it or with his mace. At all events, Walworth gave him the first blow, which was speedily followed by one of the king's squires - one Robert Standish, probably the one with whom the altercation commenced - stabbing him in the abdomen. Tyler wheeled his horse round, rode about a dozen yards, and fell to the ground, where he soon expired.

On seeing him fall his followers cried out, "We are betrayed! They have killed our captain!" and they put themselves in battle array, with their bows before them.

With wonderful presence of mind Richard ordered his attendants to keep back, and, riding confidently up to the people, said, "Sirs, what aileth you? I will be your leader and captain. Follow me, I am your king; Tyler was but a traitor; be ye at rest and peace." Then he rode back to his company, who advised that they should draw off into the fields near Islington. Thither many followed the king; and many, hoping no good, quietly stole away. On coming into the fields, they beheld the renowned Free Companies captain, Sir Robert Knowles, with 1,000 men-at-arms; and the insurgents, now fearing the worst, got away as fast as they could, throwing down their bows, and many kneeling to the king and imploring pardon. Knowles burned to be allowed to charge and cut them all down; but the king refused him this indulgence, saying he would take his revenge in another way; which, in truth, he afterwards did. He issued a proclamation, however, forbidding any stranger to remain another night in the city on pain of death.

Such is the history of this remarkable insurrection as transmitted to us with some slight variations by Froissart, Knyghton, Walsingham, Stow, and Holinshed. While these things passed in London, various parts of the country were equally agitated and overrun by the insurgents. In the south the outbreak extended as far as Winchester, in the north as far as Beverley and Scarborough. The nobility shut themselves up, and neither stirred out to free themselves nor aid the king. So general and simultaneous was the rising, that some supposed that it was concerted and conducted by some able but invisible leaders much above Wat Tyler and Jack Straw in influence and subtilty. When the mob was at Blackheath there were strange rumours that the king's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, was seen disguised amongst them; but this was probably owing to some one bearing a strong resemblance to the duke being there, or was got up by his enemies to injure him at court, as there were active endeavours, about the same time, to alarm the king regarding Lancaster's intentions, who was on the borders treating with the Scots.

Only one man of distinction acted with the spirit which might have been expected from the warlike baronage of England, and that was a churchman.

Henry Spencer, the young Bishop of Norwich, finding that the rebellious peasantry would not listen to what he considered reason, buckled on armour, mounted his steed, and at the head of a strong body of retainers he attacked them in the field as they were pursuing their career of depredation. He repeatedly surprised these marauding bodies, routed, and slew them. His mode of dealing with them was summary and unique. After every battle he sat in judgment on his prisoners, and, after giving them absolution from their sins, had their heads struck off. By these means he soon restored order in the counties of Norfolk, Huntingdon, and Cambridge. When the news of Tyler's overthrow and the dispersion of the insurgents spread through the country, and those who had shut themselves up in castle and town hurried forth to show their deep loyalty to the king, his work had long been done.

Richard himself, having stuck the heads of Wat Tyler and numbers of his compeers on London Bridge, was advised to undertake a progress through the different quarters of his kingdom, to make all quiet and secure. Numbers flocked to his standard, and at the head of 40,000 men he advanced from place to place, issuing proclamations, recalling and destroying the charters he had given, commanding the villeins to return to their labours, and prohibiting, under severe penalties, any illegal assemblies.

In Kent and Essex Richard found some resistance; and it was not until 500 of these unhappy creatures had been killed in Essex that they gave way. On this occasion Richard is reported to have addressed them in this style: - "Rustics ye have been and are, and in bondage shall ye remain; not such as ye have heretofore known, but in a condition incomparably more vile." This was very different language to that which he had held when he addressed them in force in London; and would show, if it were at all needful, that as a boy of fifteen he could deeply dissimulate; that he never for a moment intended to grant the groaning people any relief; and that he hoarded up his vengeance, as many of his most powerful nobles had to experience, till he saw his opportunity.

And, in keeping with this character, at every town that lay in the neighbourhood of the disturbed districts he opened commissions for the summary condemnation of offenders. According to Holinshed, 1,500 of the insurgents were executed; amongst them Jack Straw, and Lester and Westbroom, who had assumed the title of Kings of Norfolk and Suffolk.

When Parliament met it was announced to it that the king had revoked all the charters he had been obliged to grant to the villeins; but the chancellor suggested whether it would not be well to abolish the serfdom altogether. This, probably, was the enlightened view of the king's better counsellors: it certainly was not his view of things on his journey; but it met with the response which was inevitable at that day. The barons declared that nothing should induce them to give up the services of their villeins, and that they would resist with all their power either violence or persuasion for that object; nay, were it even to save themselves from one general and inevitable massacre. It was plain the day for the extinction of serfdom was not yet come.

The Commons, indeed, attributed the insurrection to its true causes - to the long-continued exactions occasioned by the wars of the late reigns, which had impoverished the landowners, and deteriorated the condition of the villeins. These expenses, which had produced no advantage to the nation, had made the mass of the people wretched. The rapacity of the officers employed to collect these aids, and of the purveyors, who were but a species of licensed banditti, was unbounded. Besides, there were bands of real banditti, called maintainers, who in various parts of the country subsisted by robbery. These ruffians, such was the inefficient preservation of public order in the country, assembled in great bands, seized people, and especially women, for their ransoms, and killed such persons as attempted to resist. They abounded in Cheshire and Lancashire, made expeditions of a hundred miles or more, and carried off the daughters of men of property, and pretended they had married them; after which they sent to their parents demanding the fortunes to be sent to them on peril of the lives of the abducted victims. But, though the Commons pointed out these causes of popular discontent, and obtained an inquiry into the matter, with some reforms in the courts of law and the king's household, they were as far from thinking of the emancipation of the serfs as the lords. They made the danger of again raising them a plea for not yielding the king fresh taxes, but they were, after much reluctance, compelled to grant them. This being done, Richard proclaimed a general pardon, which eventually extended to the peasantry.

The king was now sixteen, and at this early age he was married to Anne of Bohemia, who herself was only fifteen. She was the daughter of the late Emperor of Germany, Charles IV., called Charles of Luxembourg at the battle of Poictiers, where he attended his father, the old blind King of Bohemia. Anne was thus granddaughter to the brave old blind monarch, and sister to the Emperor Sigismund. As has almost universally been the case with German princesses, there was a great boast and parade of the illustrious ancestry of Anne, but no money whatever. Nay, Richard, or rather the country, had to pay the expenses of her journey to England, though it was made from the palace of one royal relative to that of another, particularly the Dukes of Brabant and Flanders, and under their escort. But, though high pedigreed and portionless, Anne was reckoned handsome, and, far better, was extremely good-hearted and pious. The king became deeply attached to her, and the English were extremely proud of her as the Caesar's sister, of which they could never speak enough. She only lived twelve years as queen; but she won the affection of every one who came near her, was universally beloved, and long lamented under the name of the "Good Queen Anne;" and had she lived as long as her husband, would undoubtedly have preserved him from alienating the love of his people, and perishing as he did.

On the meeting of Parliament, soon after the king's marriage, the Duke of Lancaster solicited the grant of 60,000 to enable him to prosecute his claims on the towns of Spain, through the right of his wife, the Lady Constance, daughter of Don Pedro the Cruel; but after much debate the advance was declined. The circumstances of the country rendered it equally unadvisable that a large body of the military men of the realm should be withdrawn from it, and that money should be expended for foreign claims while the people were so sore on the subject of their heavy taxation. The duke was therefore compelled, however unwillingly, to postpone his expedition to Spain. His anxiety at this time was owing to the failure of the Earl of Cambridge, who had been sent out to support the King of Portugal against the King of Spain. The Earl of Cambridge had carried over a small but brave army to Portugal, the Duke of Lancaster promising to follow him with a greater force; but his embassy to Scotland, and the breaking out of the Wat Tyler insurrection, had prevented this; and Ferdinand, King of Portugal, finding himself disappointed of the duke's aid, and fearing to be overcome by Spain, had made peace with John of Castile, greatly to the chagrin of the Earl of Cambridge, who had made a marriage alliance between his eon John and the only daughter of the King of Portugal, both mere children. On this peace being concluded, the Earl of Cambridge returned to England, having effected nothing towards the establishment of the claims of his brother, John of Gaunt, but, much in opposition to the King of Portugal, had brought away his son. This led afterwards to the divorce of his son's young Portuguese wife, by dispensation from the Pope, and her marriage to the King of Spain. Thus the King of Spain not only maintained himself on the throne of Castile, in defiance of John of Gaunt, but the King of Portugal dying, he laid claim in right of his wife to that kingdom. These were the circumstances which, made Lancaster eager to pass over and assert his claims, but at this juncture without effect. He had only, however, to wait a few years for a more favourable opportunity.

England was at this moment about to undertake the support of the very principles of freedom and popular independence in Flanders which it had so sternly put down at home. Flanders, as the earliest manufacturing and trading country, had, as we have seen, speedily displayed a democratic spirit. It had expelled its ruler, who resisted, and endeavoured to crush all tendency towards popular rights. Though Jacob van Artavelde the stout brewer of Ghent, had fallen, yet that high-spirited city had maintained a long career of independence. Philip van Artavelde, the son of Jacob, warned by the fate of his father, had, during his youth, kept aloof from popular ambition, and adhered to a strictly private life. But the people of Ghent becoming sorely pressed by the Earl of Flanders, and its very existence being at stake, Philip, no longer able to suppress the spirit of the patriot born with him, suddenly emerged from his obscurity and put himself at the head of the populace. The people had assumed a white hat as the badge of their party, and their former leader, John Lyon, was dead, under the suspicion of being poisoned by some emissary of the court party.

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