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Reign of Richard II. Part 1 page 8


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Before the council could recover from its surprise he demanded the great seals from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and gave them, to "William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, and the keys of the exchequer from the Bishop of Hereford, handing them to one of his own friends. Gloucester, after a private interview with his nephew, finding it impossible to move him, retired into the country. Richard retained his uncle, York, and his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, in his favour, and entrusted them with the chief administration of affairs.

For about eight years Richard ruled with a moderation and a deference to the rights of Parliament and the people, which won him much popularity. He, on one occasion, voluntarily remitted some subsidies, declaring that he would not call for them till he really needed them. His uncle Lancaster returned from Spain, and having placed his two daughters on the thrones of that country and of Portugal, he appeared satisfied in his ambition, and disposed not only to acquiescence in the sway of his nephew, but also to reconcile him to the offending Gloucester, whom he brought again to court. It was not long, however, before there was great division between the royal brothers; for, Lancaster's wife being dead, he married Catherine Swineford, a daughter of a private gentleman of Hainault, who had been his mistress, and by whom he had several children. His brothers York and Gloucester were highly incensed at this marriage of the great John of Gaunt, regarding the lady of far too inferior birth to enter into their alliance; but Richard not only countenanced his uncle in this honourable proceeding, but passed an act through Parliament to legitimise the children, and created the eldest son Earl of Somerset.

By this rupture between the royal brothers the power of Richard was left unassailed - which it never was when they were united - and the country enjoyed internal tranquillity. He ceded to his uncle of Lancaster the province of Guienne for life; but, as the inhabitants remonstrated loudly against this act, it was finally revoked with the duke's consent. He concluded a peace with France in 1394, which also included Scotland; Robert II. having died in 1390, and John, his eldest son, now reigning under the title of Robert III.; the Scotch entertaining the same prejudice against a king of the name of John as the French and English, each nation remembering with disgust the reign of a King John.

Meantime Richard frequently met his Parliament, and appeared on all occasions anxious to possess its approbation. He even on one occasion asked his officers of state to resign, and place themselves at the bar of Parliament, requesting every one who had cause of complaint to prefer it. Pleased with this condescension, Parliament not only bore willing testimony to the honour of the ministers, but were ready to meet all the king's demands for money. By consent of Parliament, also, he recalled such of the bishops who had been banished to Ireland as now survived; made his confessor a bishop; and, moreover, on hearing of the death of the Duke of Ireland, he restored the earldom of Oxford in favour of his uncle, Sir Aubrey de Vere, and afterwards had the body of the duke brought from Lou-vain, and re-interred with great state in the church of Colne.

At this time, also, after much dispute with Rome regarding the appointment by the Pope of foreigners to English bishoprics and livings, he settled that question on a better basis than it had yet occupied, passing the last and most comprehensive of the statutes of provisors, or praemunire, by which it is provided that any persons receiving such investment from Rome, or carrying causes there, shall, with all their abettors, suffer forfeiture of all their goods, chattels, and lands, wherever found, and be put out of the king's protection.

These were years in which Richard appeared to realise the early auguries of his reign, and act with such wisdom and moderation as make the latter portion of his days a marvel and a sad mystery. But we believe the mystery will be solved by the fact that he now - that is, in June, 1394 - lost his excellent queen, the good Queen Anne She died at her favourite palace of Shene; and Richard, who had always been most ardently attached to her, was so beside himself with grief at her loss, that, in a state of frenzy, he ordered the palace of Shene to be levelled with the ground; and the rooms where Anne died were actually dismantled.

Anne was a woman of most excellent heart and great piety. She was a fervent promoter of the Reformation; and it is a singular fact that Thomas Arundel, Bishop of Ely, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, at her funeral preached a sermon in which, according to Rapin, he actually praised the queen for reading the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. Yet this same Arundel was the first to procure an act for burning heretics - that is, those who, by following Queen Anne's example, and reading these Scriptures, came to think differently to himself on some points.

From all that we learn of Anne it appears very evident that her influence over Richard was of the most beneficial kind, and that the longer she lived the more prudent and popular he became. With her he lost his compass and his guiding star, and wandered off the good way. We find soon after that he had grown indolent, self-indulgent, devoted to low society and low pleasures, and thus lost his own dignity and the love of his people. With a fresh alliance, too, came a fresh spirit, fresh projects, and revival of the old spirit of vengeance, which led him to dip his hands in the blood of those of his kindred who had dealt hardly with him; and from this again sprung retaliation and his final fall.

In the immediate bitterness of his grief, however, he was advised, in order to divert his sorrow, to make a visit to his Irish dominions. There was certainly confusion enough there to occupy his thoughts. The wars of the three last monarchs, and the troubles of the second Edward, had withdrawn their attention from Ireland, and both the native and the English races there had made great encroachments on the authority of the Government. The revenues had formerly produced a surplus of 30,000; they were not now equal to the necessary expenses of the management of the island. The natives, asserting their ancient territories, were fast enclosing the English in narrower bounds, while the English were at variance amongst themselves. They were divided into two classes - those who had helped to conquer the country, and those who had been recently sent there by the English Government. There were, therefore, English by race merely, and English by birth. The descendants of the original invaders had, in proportion as they were remote from the seat of government, grown independent, and in many cases adopted the language and manners of the natives. Many of these men retained great numbers, of armed followers, made inroads on their neighbours, ruled as kings in their own districts, and expelled all thence who would not conform to their will. Such was Thomas Fitzmaurice, who, to secure his good-will, was created Earl of Desmond, and who yet was rather a terror than a strength to the Government.

These old settlers, the English by race merely, were extremely jealous of new arrivals, many of them being poor courtiers who were sent there, as they are now sent to our colonies, to help themselves to what they could secure, and others banished men. These were supported by the English Government as a counterbalance to the power of the native chiefs, and the English by race. Edward III. had indeed forbade any office to be held but by Englishmen still connected with England by property or office; but this produced such a ferment among the old Englishry that it was obliged to be abandoned. While these feuds and divisions weakened the English party, the native chiefs pushed on their advances, and the greater part of Ulster was recovered by the O'Neals, much of Connaught was regained by the O'Connors, and the O'Briens made equal conquests in Leinster. To prevent amalgamation of the English chiefs with the native Irish, and thus strengthening their formidable native power, Edward III. had passed the famous statute of Kilkenny to which we have alluded, which made it high treason to marry with the Irish.

It was in the hope that an English nobleman residing in the country with a permanent right, and with almost regal power, might reduce the island to order, that Richard had made the Earl of Oxford Duke of Ireland, and granted to him and his heirs for ever all the lands which he should conquer from the native Irish, except such as they had retaken from the crown or from former grantees. The hopes which had been entertained from this scheme were defeated by the king's feud with the barons, and by the attainder and banishment of Oxford.

Richard now set out to reduce the different factions and restore order himself, at the head of 4,000 men-at-arms and 30,000 archers, and attended by the Duke of Gloucester and the Earls of Rutland and Nottingham. He landed at Waterford in October, 1394, and at the approach of so effective a force the most daring chieftains retired into their bogs and mountains. Such was the vigour with which Richard on this occasion prosecuted his object - no doubt finding a great relief to his mind in action - that very soon the Irish made terms of surrender, and the four principal kings, O'Neal, O'Brien, O'Connor, and M'Murchad, came in and attended the king to Dublin, where they were, no doubt much to the annoyance of their wild Irish habits, obliged to assume the outward smoothness of civilisation, most reluctantly induced to receive the honour of knighthood, to be arrayed in robes of state, and feasted in all decorum at the king's table.

The Irish chieftains, to the number of seventy-five, did homage, and agreed to the payment of a yearly tribute. Richard never on any occasion, not even in the Wat Tyler riots, displayed more energy and tact. He had all the qualities which should distinguish a monarch. He reformed the abuses of the Government, redressed grievances, enforced the laws, removed tyrannical officers, and thus reconciled the minds of the Irish, and re-established the English supremacy.

This good work was interrupted by a violent dispute between the Lollards and the Church at home. The Reformers had acquired great power, and, feeling their influence amongst the people, they prepared a most sweeping petition to the Commons, containing many great facts, which were yet too strong for reception by the Government. They complained of the celibacy of the clergy,; that, by accepting offices under Government, and being ministers of state, and even generals, they became hermaphrodites - attempting to do the impossible thing, that of serving God and Mammon. They declared that by teaching transubstantiation they led to idolatry; that through the confessional they acquired a dangerous despotism over the people; by authorising war and criminal executions they opposed the law of Christ, which was one of love and mercy; and they even went the length of the modern. Peace Society, asserting that by licensing men to exercise the trades of goldsmiths and swordsmiths they violated the principles of the Gospel, which were those of simplicity and peace. It is remarkable how completely the Christians of the earliest Reformation seized upon the doctrines regarding war and capital punishments which are now agitated, and not yet established.

Though no one was found hardy enough to present the petition, abounding with doctrines which, though they had existed in the New Testament for fourteen centuries, were still too new to the public for acceptance, yet the clergy were greatly alarmed at this demonstration, and solicited the protection of the king, who severely reprimanded the leaders of the Lollards, and ordered all teachers of that persuasion to be expelled from the university of Oxford. Good Queen Anne was gone, and a new era, with new influences and fortunes, was at hand.

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