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Reign of Richard II. Part 1 page 7


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This impeachment by the Commons is a most memorable event: it is a striking proof of the wonderful manner in which the power of that body had grown in a few years. This was the second instance of the kind, the former occurring just at the close of the last reign. But now the prosecution was directed in a more determined and unanimous manner, and against an officer not only of high rank, but high in the monarch's favour. We have no longer the Commons of England humbly crouching, as it were, before the imperious barons, and scarcely daring to consider the benches they occupied at the lower end of the general Parliament as their own, but evidently feeling their real dignity and power; no longer confining themselves to voting away their own money, or meekly offering a petition of grievances, but exercising the daring functions of the public tribune, and calling to account the monarch through his ministers.

Emboldened by this second success, the opposition proposed to establish a permanent council, like those in the reigns of John, Henry III., and Edward II., with authority to reform the Government. The king indignantly declared that he would never consent, but would dissolve the Parliament. But again the Commons coolly presented to him the statute by which Edward II. had been deposed, and at this significant hint the awe- struck king gave way, and signed a commission, appointing a council of fourteen persons - prelates and peers - including the three great officers of state, all of Gloucester's faction, except Neville, Archbishop of York. They were empowered to inquire into everything in the household, the ministry, the courts of law, and the condition of the people. Gloucester was at the head, and the king, now nearly twenty-one years of age, was virtually deposed. The whole sovereign prerogative lay in the council, and for twelve months - the term assigned to this junto - Richard was nothing.

It was not to be expected that a young monarch of Richard's quick feelings could tamely acquiesce in such a tyrannic tutelage as this. His favourites did their part in stimulating him to resistance. At the close of the session of Parliament he entered a protest against this invasion of the royal prerogative, and began to seek the means to break up this irksome circle of control. He sounded the sheriffs of the counties, but they had been appointed by his uncles, and he found them in their interest. He therefore set out on a sort of royal progress, and used every endeavour to make himself popular with his subjects. Wherever he came he marked his arrival by some act of grace. The gentlemen of the county and the burghers of the principal towns were invited to his court, and were received with the utmost affability. This won greatly upon them, and there was a general avowal of a determination to stand by him and the royal authority. He went to York, to Chester, to Shrewsbury; and thence to Nottingham. At the two latter places he held councils of the judges, and took their opinion on the conditions which the Parliament had forced upon him. At the first of these councils attended Sir Robert Beal-knap, the chief justice; Sir John Holt and Sir William Burgh, justices of the King's Bench; and Sir John Gary, chief baron of the Exchequer. The same persons attended also the second council at Nottingham, with the exception of the chief baron, and the addition of Sir Robert Fulthorpe, justice of the King's Bench; Sir Robert Tresilian, lord chief justice; and John Lokton, the king's sergeant-at-law.

Here the judges, who in those days were not independent of the crown as they are at present, proved as subservient to the king as Parliament had shown itself subservient to the aristocratic faction; declared that the commission was wholly subversive of the constitution; that those who introduced the measure, or induced the king to consent to it, were liable to capital punishment; that all who compelled him to observe it, or prevented his exercise of his rights, were traitors; that the king, and not the Lords and Commons, had the power to determine the order in which questions should be debated in Parliament; that it was for the king to dissolve Parliament at pleasure. Still more: that the Lords and Commons had no power to impeach the king's ministers, officers, or justices; that those who introduced and passed the statute of deposition of Edward II. were traitors; and that the judgment against the Earl of Suffolk was unconstitutional and invalid altogether.

This sweeping judgment, which annihilated the power of Parliament, and made the crown all but independent, was signed and sealed by the judges, in the presence of the Archbishops of York and Dublin, the Bishops of Durham, Chichester, and Bangor, the Duke of Ireland, the Earl of Suffolk, and two other counsellors.

Armed with this potent instrument, Richard prepared to take vengeance on his dictators, He determined to arrest the chief of his opponents, and send them to be judged before the very men who had thus prejudged them. Thomas Usk was appointed sub-sheriff of Middlesex; a bill of indictment was prepared; Sir Nicholas Brembre, who had been three times Mayor of London, undertook to influence the city, and even swore in different companies "to stand to the death for the king." The commission was to expire on the nineteenth of November, and on the tenth Richard entered London amidst the acclamations of the people. The mayor and principal citizens wore the royal livery of white and crimson, and a vast crowd attended him to St. Paul's, and thence to his palace of Westminster.

Everything appeared conspiring to his wishes; he retired to rest elated with his success, and calculating on the defeat of his enemies; but when he awoke in the morning it was to a sad reverse. He learned that a strong force, stated at 40,000 men, had arrived in the vicinity of the city under the command of the Duke of Gloucester and the Earls of Arundel and Nottingham. During the whole time that he had been making his preparations to seize the members of the council they had been carefully watching and cautiously following him. The very day after the judges had delivered their decision at Nottingham, and bound themselves to keep it profoundly secret, one of them in the other interest, Sir Richard Fulthorpe, had betrayed the whole matter to the Earl of Kent, and through him to the Duke of Gloucester. A royal proclamation was issued, forbidding the citizens to aid or supply with provisions the armed force without; but the confederates, the next day advancing to Hackney, sent in a letter to the mayor and corporation, commanding them, under menace of severe penalties, to give their assistance to the loyal object of delivering the king from the hands of traitors, and requiring an immediate answer. On the 13th the Earls of Derby and Warwick went out and joined them at Waltham Cross, and the members of the commission "appealed," as they termed it, of treason the Archbishop of York, the Duke of Ireland, the Earl of Suffolk, Sir Robert Tresilian, and Sir Nicholas Brembre.

This "appeal" they sent to the king by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lords Cobham, Lovel, and Devereaux. Richard was obliged to give way, for he now perceived that, after all, the city was not with him; awl on. Sunday, the 17th, the appellants inarched into London, and appearing before the king in Westminster Hall, formally preferred the charge of high treason against the aforesaid persons. The accused fled. De la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk, succeeded in reaching France, where he soon after died. De Vere, the Duke of Ireland, hastened to Wales, where the letters of the king overtook him, commanding him to raise the royal standard, and promising to join him on the first opportunity. The duke was encouraged by the adherence of Molyneux, the Constable of Chester, who came with a strong body of archers; but Gloucester, who only wanted a plea for deposing his nephew, eagerly seized on this circumstance, and agreed with Arundel, Warwick, and Sir Thomas Mortimer at Huntingdon, to "depose Richard, and take the crown into his own custody." De Vere was rapidly marching towards London, but was met by Gloucester and Lord Derby, Lancaster's son, at Radcot Bridge, in Oxfordshire, and utterly routed. Molyneux was slain, but De Vere made his escape to Ireland, and thence to Holland, where he died about four years afterwards.

The successful appellants returned to London at the head of their 40,000 men, and presented thirty-nine articles of impeachment against the five already named, the Archbishop of York, Suffolk, De Vere, Tresilian the judge, and Brembre, Mayor of London. All, except Brembre, who was in prison, had fled, and all the judges, except Sir William Skepworth, were arrested as they sat in their courts, and committed to the Tower. The king demanded the opinion of the principal lawyers of the day on the validity of the impeachment, who unanimously declared it to be informal and illegal. But the peers determined to proceed; on which the bishops and abbots all protested against taking any part in judgments of blood, and left the house in a body. The accused were condemned and adjudged to death; but only Sir Nicholas Brembre and Tresilian the judge - who was hated by the people for his bloody sentences on those involved in the late insurrection, and who was betrayed in his concealment by a servant-were executed.

Nothing could be more arbitrary than the proceedings of this "Wonderful Parliament," as it was called. Brembre, who was a commoner, was adjudged and condemned by the peers, who were certainly not his peers. The Archbishop of York had crossed to Flanders, where he passed the short remainder of his days as a humble parish priest.

The "Wonderful Parliament," or, as others termed it, the "Merciless Parliament," which sat all the spring of 1388, and was dissolved on the 3rd of June, employed itself, at the instigation of the vindictive Gloucester, who had a savage thirst of blood, in imprisoning, condemning, and driving away the king's friends, even to his confessor. The judges who gave the extra-judicial answers to the king at Nottingham were condemned to death; but, at the intercession of the bishops, were banished to Ireland; while Blake, the secretary who drew up those answers, and Usk, who had been made under-sheriff, were put to death. Sir John Beauchamp, Sir James Berners, Sir John Salisbury, and Sir Simon Burley were all executed, Salisbury being drawn and hanged.

The fate of Sir Simon Burley excited the deepest and most general sympathy, and his death, in resistance to all the earnest appeals on his behalf, betrays the most sanguinary obstinacy in the callous Gloucester. Sir Simon lived a long and distinguished life. He belonged to the court and camp of Edward III.; had been appointed by the Black Prince as the most suitable guardian for Richard; had attended the young king from his infancy; and negotiated his marriage with the good Queen Anne. Richard, who loved and revered him as a father, pleaded for him with his ruthless uncle in vain. For three weeks he refused to sign any warrant for his execution, and it was carried out at last without his assent. The queen was on her knees for three hours before Gloucester, imploring him, but in vain, to spare the good Sir Simon; and even the Earl of Derby added his earnest entreaty and proceeded to actual quarrel with his uncle to prevent this atrocity, but without moving the stern tyrant from his purpose.

Gloucester did not suffer the Parliament to dissolve without an order for the expulsion of the Bohemians who attended the queen, or without passing acts to incapacitate the king from reversing the attainders which they had issued. This strange Parliament at once declared that its judgments should never be reversed, nor any of its statutes ever repealed. Yet it declared that it had pronounced things treason which had never been so held before, and therefore no judge should ever make its example a precedent. It gave to the appellants 20,000 in remuneration for their services, and granted to them and their friends a full indemnity, besides a general pardon to the opposite party, with the exception of eighteen parsons named.

Richard, stunned, as it were, by this stern and sanguinary demonstration on the part of his great and haughty relatives, remained for about twelve months passive, and in a manner extinguished in his own kingdom. But we may rest satisfied that he never for a moment in his own mind intended that this state of things should last a day longer than he could help, o; that they who now carried measures against him with a high hand and a combined power, should escape their due punishment. He felt that the "sons of Zeruiah were too strong for him;" that his arbitrary uncles and cousins had artfully raised the public will against him, and it were vain to oppose. Gloucester had done his bloody work; and it only required time to make the nation feel repugnance to the agency of so much cruelty. His administration did not by its splendour conceal the hideousness of the acts on which his power was based. Arundel, indeed, did some brave deeds a: sea; but the only brilliant deed on land was the battle of Otterburne, which has been so celebrated by the minstrels of that day, as may be seen in Percy's "Reliques of English Poetry.'' It was fought on the loth of August, 1388, and Douglas, the Scottish chief, was killed; but on the English side Sir Henry Percy - the celebrated Hotspur - and Ralph Percy were taken prisoners, and the English, according to Froissart, were driven from the field; though English writers give a different account - each party, in fact, claiming the victory.

By degrees the terror which Gloucester had inspired began to die away from the minds of men; they began to sympathise with their youthful king, kept in such unworthy subjection, and to offer to him their aid and services. No sooner did Richard feel conscious of this change in the public feeling than he gave one of those proofs of high thought, and bold, prompt action, which, if they had been the results of a steady, energetic temperament, and not mere evanescent flashes, would have made his enemies stoop in awe before him, and his reign fortunate. In a great council held in May, 1389, he suddenly addressed his uncle Gloucester: "How old do you think I am?" "Your highness," replied Gloucester, "is in your twenty-second year." "Then," said the king, "I must surely be old enough to manage my own concerns. I have been longer under the control of guardians than any ward in my dominions. I thank ye, my lords, for your past services, but I require them no longer."

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