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Reign of Richard II. Part 1 page 5

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Philip van Artavelde put on the white hat, and thus announced to the public that he was willing to tread in the steps of his father, and of their late leader. The most subtle and influential man of this party was one Peter Dubois, who promised Artavelde his whole interest with the people on certain conditions. "Can you," he said, "bear yourself high, and be cruel amongst the Commons, and especially in such things as we shall have to do? A man is nothing unless he be feared and dreaded, and at the same time renowned for cruelty. Thus must the Flemings be governed; and you must have no more regard for the life of man, or pity for their sufferings, than for the life of the brutes which we kill for food."

Philip van Artavelde declared his readiness to adopt this system of action, in order to save his country. He felt, with Peter Dubois, that, to restrain the license of the rude multitude and enable them to win their independence, there must be a strong hand and a stern discipline. That he could assert this he immediately showed, on being elected Governor of Ghent, by arresting and cutting off the heads of twelve of the ringleaders of the tumult in which his father was murdered; giving solemn proof that he would not forget his enemies. Presently afterwards he and Peter Dubois put to death with their own hands two ambassadors, whom they had sent to treat with the Earl of Flanders, and who had agreed to give up to the earl a hundred of such citizens as he should name, to be entirely at his pleasure, on condition of peace. On these ambassadors declaring these terms, Peter Dubois and Philip Artavelde rose up, and, reproaching them with their treason, stabbed them on the spot, in the midst of the council.

Having thus demonstrated in sanguinary earnest, to both friends and foes, that they meant to prosecute the contest in the spirit' of republican Rome, they took the field. The contest was dreadful, for they had not only to contend with the Earl of Flanders, but with the Duke of Burgundy, his son-in-law and heir, and the King of France, the nephew of Philip of Burgundy, whom he had induced to come to their aid with a powerful army. Against this formidable confederacy Philip van Artavelde made a most brilliant resistance. He compelled the allied forces to raise the siege of Ghent; he made himself master of Bruges; burnt Sechlin, a town of France; and laid siege to the strong fortress of Oudenarde. Those who fought under him were arrayed in cassocks of different colours, to denote the towns they belonged to. They were armed principally with pikes; all fought on foot, and in one great phalanx. For about fifteen months Artavelde ^pursued this surprising career of success; but in November, 1382, he came to a great pitched battle with the French at Rosebeque. The night before this battle Artavelde was roused by a sound of a great host fighting on the hill of Dorre, between his camp and that of the French. He went out, had the trumpets blown to call his troops to battle, and being asked by his officers what it meant, he told them; on which they replied that they had heard the same sounds, and the battle-cries of the French in the conflict - St. Denis and Mountjoy! - with lights in the sky; but they had sent thither, and found nothing. The next day the battle was fought on this hill, and Philip was slain, with 9,000 of his followers.

This great overthrow, it was supposed, would completely prostrate the Flemings; but the King of France, a boy now only fourteen years of age, was obliged to hurry home to suppress the insurrection of his own people in Rouen and Paris, who, like the Flemish and English, had risen in resistance to the tax-gatherers and oppressors. The Parisians, 30,000 in number, had armed themselves with iron mallets, whence they were called Maillotins, or Malleteers. With these mallets they smashed the helmets of the soldiers sent against them, and made themselves unassailable by digging ditches, building walls, and barricading the streets - a practice in which they have been followed by their descendants in our time.

The Flemings, relieved from the presence of the French, recovered themselves, and still made a desperate resistance. At this time there were two Popes - Clement YIL, a Frenchman, and Urban VI., an Italian. We have seen that on all occasions when there was only one Pope, he was a zealous peace-maker; but this schism, with its two rival pontiffs, naturally produced a fiery feud. The French Pope, Clement, was recognised by France and its allies, Scotland, Spain, Sicily, and Cyprus. Urban was supported by England, the people of Flanders, and the rest of Europe. The two pontiffs launched their anathemas against each other, and roused all their allies to assist their respective causes. France exerting itself powerfully to give the ascendency to Clement, Urban entreated the aid of England. The prominence which the Bishop of Norwich had assumed in the Wat Tyler insurrection, and his prompt energy and success as a general, drew the attention of Urban, and he sent to the martial bishop extraordinary powers as his champion. The king and Parliament gave their consent; a fifteenth lately granted by the Commons was made over to the prelate for the purposes of the enterprise, and he engaged to serve against France for a year, with 2,500 men-at-arms and the same number of archers.

Philip Artavelde, in his great need, had solicited the assistance of England; but his ambassadors had most impolitically demanded at the same time the payment of a debt which they alleged was of forty years' standing. The Duke of Lancaster and the royal council had made themselves merry over this unique mode of soliciting alliance in a crisis, and refused to help them. But now it was determined to abet the people of Ghent, as a means of upholding them, after their heavy defeat at Rosebeque, against France.

Henry of Norwich passed over the Channel, took Gravelines by assault, pursued the fugitives to Dunkirk, and entered the town in their rear. He was speedily master of the coast as far as Sluys, and might have struck a decisive blow at the French power in Flanders; but he was not supported, though there was a numerous body of men-at-arms at Calais. The Duke of Lancaster, whose own offers of leading this expedition had been refused by Parliament, and who is said to have seen with chagrin the success of his rival, was accused of preventing the advance of these troops. The bishop, thus thwarted in the midst of his triumphs, turned his arms against Ypres, to oblige the Ghentese; but the siege was prolonged, and the King of France, at the entreaty of the Count of Flanders, was approaching with a fine army. The men of Ghent retired; the bishop made one furious assault, and then withdrew. Part of his forces made themselves masters of Bourbourg, and obtained permission to carry their booty to Calais. The bishop threw himself once more into Gravelines, and, after holding it a short time, demolished its fortifications, and returned to England.

That this campaign of the militant bishop did not equal the expectations which his former demonstration had raised, appears partly owing to his own precipitancy, but far more to the machinations of his powerful enemies. Like most unsuccessful commanders, he fell under the censure of the Government. He was accused before Parliament of having taken a bribe of 18,000 francs to betray the expedition, and of having broken his contract with the king by returning before the year of his engagement had expired. Of the former charge he was cleared on full inquiry, but he was condemned on the latter to forfeit all his temporalities till he had paid the full damages to the king. Four of his principal knights were also condemned to pay 20,000 francs into the treasury for having sold stores and provisions to the enemy to that amount.

Not to interrupt the narrative of events which extend over into other years, we may here note one of the most remarkable incidents of this reign. This is the death of Wycliffe, who was struck with apoplexy while performing public service in his parish church, and died on the last day of the year 1384.

John Wycliffe had not only put in active motion the principles of the Reformation, by his preaching, and his public defences against the attacks of the authorities of the Church, but he had made those principles permanent by the translation of the Bible. Not that Wycliffe's was the first translation of the Scriptures into English. There appear to have been several versions, and some of them at comparatively early periods. Sir Thomas More, in his "Dialogues," says: "The hole Byble was, long before Wickliffe's days, by vertuous and well-learned men translated into the English tong, and by good and godly people with devotion and solemness well and reverently red." In Strype's "Cranmer" it is also said: "It is not much above one hundred years ago since Scripture hath not been accustomed to be read in the vulgar tongue within this realm; and many hundred years before that it was translated and read in the Saxon's tongue; and when this language waned old and out of common usage, because folk should not lack the fruit of reading it, was translated again into the newer language, whereof yet also many copies may be found."

But these earlier translations of the Bible had remained in the libraries of monasteries, and, by the little education of the people, and the conservative vigilance of the Church, had been the sole study of a few learned men. "Wycliffe, by his position as theological professor at Oxford, had excited a wide interest and inquiry about the Scriptures; by his patronage at court, and the persecutions of the prelates, they had been made the subject of a vast curiosity, and this curiosity he had taken care to gratify by multiplying copies through the aid of transcribers, and by the poor priests, the converts to his doctrines, reading them and recommending them everywhere amongst their hearers. The English Bible was never more to become a rare or merely curious book. It is said that when the good Queen Anne's countrymen who attended her hero at the court were expelled by the Lancaster faction, they carried back copies of Wycliffe's Bible and writings, which had been her favourite reading; they thus fell into the hands of Huss and Jerome of Prague, accompanied by the anti-papal doctrines of the great English reformer; and in this manner scattering the first seeds of the Reformation in the queen's native country, were destined to prepare the way for Luther, and to produce such immense changes throughout the civilised world.

In England these doctrines and this translation never again ceased to be the object of anxious inquiry. "The new doctrines," says Dr. Lingard, the Catholic historian, "insensibly acquired partisans and protectors in the higher classes, who alone were acquainted with the use of letters; a spirit of inquiry was generated, and the seeds were sown of that religious revolution which in little more than a century astonished and convulsed the nations of Europe."

Wycliffe, who had sown these seeds, survived all the enmity and assailments of the enemies which his attack on the corruptions of the Church had naturally created. A fine picture might be painted of Wycliffe on his sick bed when in Oxford, in 1379, he was seized with a dangerous illness. The mendicant friars, whose vices and errors ho so severely exposed, crowded round his bed, attended by four aldermen of the city commissioned to visit him, and called upon him to recant his errors. But Wycliffe, who seemed at the point of death, seized with a sudden energy, started up in his bed, and, shaking his clenched hand at these astonished men, exclaimed, "I shall not die, but live many years to expose the absurdities, the falsities, and the crimes of the mendicant friars."

We are not to suppose, however, that Wycliffe had arrived at the clear conceptions of reformed religion which are established at the present day. Neither he nor Luther after him were able to shake off at once all the reverence for the rites and tenets in which they and their fathers for ages had been educated. Any one seeing old Lutheranism as it is yet practised on the Continent would scarcely be able to distinguish it from Popery. Socrates, even while about to drink poison as the punishment for his preaching doctrines subversive of the paganism of Greece, yet desired his friends, as soon as he was dead, to sacrifice a cock for him to Esculapius; thus manifesting the hold which his hereditary ideas still had upon him. So Wycliffe and Luther retained many things which subsequent reformers have seen it necessary again to reform. It is doubtful even whether Wycliffe disapproved of either pilgrimages or the worship of images: purgatory he believed in to the last; and, though he denounced the Pope as antichrist, and the priests as "the proctors of Satan," in his treatise "On the Truth of Scripture," he asserts that it is worse than paganism to refuse obedience to the apostolic see, and says that "prelates and priests, ordayned of God, comen in the stede of apostles and disciples, and that the Pope is the highest vicar that Christ has heare in earth."

These discrepancies demonstrate that this great man was, during his whole career, after he began to perceive the corruptions of the Church, in a transition state, not fully cleared and settled in his mind; yet, with all the defects arising from his past trammels, he was a great apostle and did a great work. Numbers of his "poor priests," as they were called, traversed the nation, as he had done, in their frieze gowns and with bare feet, everywhere proclaiming the doctrines of the Gospel, and denouncing the impositions arid vices of Popery. They held up the monks and priests of the time to deserved scorn, and the people, feeling the sacred truth, flocked round them, deserting those who had so long deluded and fleeced them.

There can be little doubt that John Ball, the preacher of Wat Tyler's army, was one of these ''poor priests" of Wycliffe, for it was only three years before Wycliffe's death that this insurrection occurred, and Wycliffe's apostles had been preaching everywhere amongst the people for years. There is as little doubt that this preaching produced this insurrection, as Luther's produced the "Peasants' War" afterwards in Germany. The effect was perfectly natural that men, who for ages had been trodden down as slaves and beasts of burden, hearing all at once that "God had made of one blood all the nations of the earth," that He "was no respecter of persons" and that men were called upon by Him to do to one another as they would be done by, should review their position, and stand astonished at its vast antithesis to the ordinances of Christianity. That the people rebelled was not their fault, but that of the barons and the Church, which, while professing the Gospel, had ignored every precept of it in regard to the people. Now that the great and eternal principles of political justice as well as saving faith contained in the Gospel were once known, they never could be again taken away; they became the heritage of the people. The Wat Tyler insurrection was put down, but that which produced it could never be put down any more. The powerful eloquence and holy lives of the preachers of Wycliffe were universally confessed. Men of all ranks, from the royal Duke of Lancaster to the peasant, joined them, and acquired the name of Lollards. The inhabitants of London were especially warm adherents of these doctrines. John of Northampton, one of the most opulent and distinguished citizens, was a decided Lollard, and during the time of his being mayor particularly irritated the clergy, who drove a brave trade in pardons and indulgences, by his active reformation of the vices of the people. The Lords Hilton, Latimer, Percy, Berkeley, and Clifton, with many other nobles, knights, and eminent citizens, became the protectors and advocates of scriptural reform. Of the growth of this reformation we shall speak farther in the chapter on the progress of the nation.

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