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Reign of Richard II. Part 2 page 3


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Hereford must have taken the earliest opportunity to communicate this confidential conversation to the king. It showed him that the king was carefully watching those who had formerly appeared as his enemies. He was in haste, therefore, to secure himself by the sacrifice of the friend who had thus put him on his guard. Whatever were the steps he took for this end, he received a summons to attend the king at Haywood, where he was made to pledge himself on his allegiance to lay the whole of the preceding conversation before the council. Hereford took care not to leave the king without obtaining a full pardon for himself, under the great seal, for all the treasons, misprisions, and offences that he had ever committed.

Accordingly he appeared in full Parliament, and laid this statement before them; but it contained so much which would naturally incense the king, that he went to Richard the next day, and, throwing himself on his knees before him, once more craved his pardon, declaring that, when he, took part formerly in measures against the king, he did not know that he was doing wrong, but that now he knew it, and implored forgiveness for it. All this anxiety showed that he was conscious of having entered into the very conspiracies which he was now endeavouring to throw off upon others.

Richard, with his usual smooth duplicity, once more assured him before the whole Parliament of his entire pardon, and promised him great favour. But Richard had, no doubt, already made up his mind as to what he would do. He had here strong hold on his turbulent and disaffected nobles, and he never let such advantages escape him. The great object, therefore, of obtaining a committee of men devoted to him, in whom were concentrated all the powers of Parliament, was to deal with these two nobles, who were dangerous to the solidity of his throne.

To this convenient committee, this sort of pocket Parliament, Richard referred the decision of the cause between them. Norfolk, aware of danger, had not appeared in his place in Parliament; but he was summoned by proclamation, and, on surrender, was brought before Richard at Oswaldstre. There he boldly declared his innocence, and denounced the whole of Hereford's story as false, "the lies of a false traitor."

Richard had them now in his power, and ordered them both into custody. He proceeded to Bristol, where his little pocket Parliament went on exercising all the functions and authority of the real Parliament; and Richard caused them to enact that their statutes were of equal authority with those of a full Parliament, and should take the same effect; that all prelates before taking possession of their sees, all tenants of the crown before receiving possession of their lands, should take an oath to observe the enactments of this junto as perfectly as those of Parliament itself, and that any person attempting to alter or revoke them should be guilty of treason. No more absolute independence of Parliament was ever assumed in this country. The violations of the constitution for which Charles I. afterwards lost his head were not more outrageous than these.

The controversy between Hereford and Norfolk, it was decreed by this committee, should be referred to a high court of chivalry, which was appointed to take place at Windsor on the 29th of April. As Hereford here persisted in the charge, and Norfolk as stoutly denied it, and as no witnesses could be brought, the court determined that the decision of the question should be made by wager of battle, which was to take place at Coventry on the 16th of September.

There, at the moment that the two antagonists were on the point of running a tilt at each other, the king threw down his warder, and the earl marshal stayed the combat. The king then pronounced sentence of banishment upon them both, which, he informed them, was the judgment of the council. Hereford was exiled for ten years, Norfolk for life. It is clear, from the greater severity of the sentence of Norfolk, that the charges of Hereford had told against him. He was pronounced guilty of having, on his own confession, endeavoured to excite dissensions amongst the great lords, and of having secretly opposed the repeal of the acts of Gloucester's Parliament. Richard took precautions to prevent the malcontents associating abroad so as to plot treason. The Duke of Norfolk was commanded to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and after that to reside only in Germany, Hungary, or Bohemia; and neither of the dukes was to hold any communication with the banished Archbishop of Canterbury at any time during their exile.

Hereford, a man of consummate command of his temper, cool, calculating, and as unprincipled as he was ambitious, appeared to submit to this extraordinary, and, by all, unexpected sentence, with so much humility that he obtained from Richard various benefits which a more openly indignant man would have lost. In the first place, the king, touched by his submission, promised to shorten the term of his exile five years. He acceded to Hereford's request that letters patent should be granted to both the banished lords to appoint attorneys to take possession of any inheritances which might fall to them during their absence, though they could not be there to perform homage or swear fealty. This request has been pronounced by some historians a mysterious one; but there is no mystery about it. John of Gaunt, Hereford's father, was now old and infirm, and not likely to live long. He had so lost all that high and swelling spirit which distinguished him through a long life, that he had consented to sign the royal acts against his own family; that for the attainder of his brother Gloucester, and now for the banishment of his own son. If he died while his son was abroad under sentence of banishment, all his vast estates would pass to the crown in default of the performance of the necessary feudal conditions of tenure. Hereford, aware of this, endeavoured to guard against it by this royal engagement, and, probably, that his design might not be too obvious, was a party to the extension of the favour to his opponent. We shall presently see that Hereford's precaution did not prevent Richard seizing on Lancaster's estates, as' that sagacious nobleman feared; but it gave Hereford a grand plea for his return to vindicate his usurped rights.

The two banished dukes took their departure. Richard, to soften still more the mind of Hereford, sent to him at Calais a present of 1,000 marks. The unfortunate Norfolk, after his pilgrimage, returned, and died of a broken heart at Venice. And we may here notice the fate of the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury. After residing some time in France, the Pope appointed him to the see of St. Andrews in Scotland. To this Richard made some opposition; but, finding it unavailing, at length acquiesced.

Richard now imagined that he had reached the summit of uncontrollable power. With his taxes secured for life, instead of being compelled every year to come to Parliament to solicit their renewal, and to be called to account by the Commons for their expenditure; with his obsequious little pocket Parliament; his council ready to decree any measure that he willed, however unjust and unconstitutional; and with a standing body of 10,000 archers, maintained out of those foolishly-conceded life, long supplies, Richard was, in fact, an absolute monarch. Froissart says, no man, however great, dared speak against anything that he did. He had lopped off or driven away the most powerful of his nobles and kinsmen: and he now raised money by forced loans. He compelled the judges to expound the law at his pleasure. He forced the unhappy adherents of Gloucester to purchase and re-purchase charters of pardon; and, to obtain plenty of fines and amercements, he at one stroke outlawed seventeen counties, on the charge of having favoured his enemies at the battle of Radcot Bridge. He could accuse both sides at pleasure of being his enemies; for, while he had secretly commissioned the Duke of Ireland to take up arms, Gloucester and Hereford were ostensibly maintaining the royal cause.

The money thus extorted from his groaning subjects was spent with reckless extravagance. We have already spoken of the prodigal license and swarming numbers of his court. That of Edward III. had been esteemed very magnificent, but this of Richard far eclipsed it; and the chroniclers describe with wonder the gorgeous furniture and equipages, the feasts and pageants of this court, which had not the martial glory to make it tolerable to the people which Edward's had. It is said that the tailors, cloth merchants, cooks, jewellers, and hosts of retainers in costly liveries which frequented it, were something inconceivable.

But, like that of many another thoughtless king, Richard's grandeur was hollow and delusive. It had no basis in the affections of any class of the community. The friends of Gloucester and Hereford, and the other nobles who were banished, were full of violent discontent, and secretly diffused it on every side. The people saw with indignation their hard-earned money wasted on the worst of creatures. Richard had made them his enemies at the very commencement of his reign by his perfidious conduct to them in the Wat Tyler insurrection, and by the cruelty with which he pursued them afterwards. As Shakespeare makes the nobles say: -

Ross. The commons hath, he pilled with grievous taxes,
And quite lost their hearts; the nobles hath he fined
For ancient quarrels, and quite lost their hearts.
Wiltshire. And daily new exactions are devised;
As blanks, benevolences, and I wot not what:
But what o' God's name doth become of this?
Northumberland. Wars have not wasted it, for warred he hath not,
But basely yielded upon compromise
That which his ancestors achieved with blows.
More hath he spent in peace than they in wars.

There wanted but a match to explode the mine, already laid by his folly and want of real regard to his people, under Richard's feet, and this came in the death of the aged John of Gaunt. He died about three months after the banishment of his son; an event which no doubt hastened his end.

Now was seen the wisdom of Hereford's act in procuring the letters patent for the securing of his inheritance, and the arbitrary rapacity of Richard, who at once declared that Hereford being banished was tantamount to outlawry, which implied forfeiture of estate; and this dishonest and impolitic judgment a great council which he assembled, including his committee of Parliament, confirmed. It declared the patents granted both to Hereford and Norfolk were utterly illegal and void. Neither Richard nor his council hesitated, when it pleased them, to stultify and declare unlawful their own most solemn acts. In fact, all faith was banished, and government was a farce, to be followed by a tragedy.

Richard seized on the vast estates of the banished Hereford, now Duke of Lancaster, and when Henry Bowet, the duke's attorney, resisted this iniquitous proceeding, he also was arrested and condemned to death as a traitor, but let off with banishment. This most lawless deed appeared to put the climax to the national endurance. The people murmured, the nobles assumed a sullen and brooding aspect, and the whole nation was ripe for revolt.

Henry of Lancaster was not a man to let slip the favourable opportunity. He had always shown outward deference to the people; he waited and watched every movement from Paris, where he resided, and where he had been on the point of strengthening his position by marrying the daughter of the Duke of Berri, when Richard, in alarm, sent over an embassy and defeated it. Yet at this crisis, when Hereford, newly become Lancaster, was maddened by the seizure of all his demesnes and honours, did Richard venture to leave his kingdom where he had not one real friend. His cousin and heir, the Earl of March, had been surprised and killed in a skirmish with the Irish. Richard, with his quick, resentful feelings, in his eagerness to revenge his loss, determined at once to go to Ireland. He appointed the Duke of York, his uncle, regent in his absence, attended mass at Windsor, and at the door of the church took wine and spices with his young queen, whom he repeatedly took up in his arms and kissed like a child, as she still was, being only about twelve years of age, saying, "Adieu, madam, adieu, till we meet again."

From Windsor, Richard, accompanied by several noblemen, marched to Bristol, where those circumstances were pressed on his attention which would have made any prudent monarch return with all speed to his capital. Reports of plots and discontents reached him from various quarters. The Londoners, who had always shown the most decided liking for the present Duke of Lancaster, on hearing of Richard's voyage for Ireland, said amongst themselves, "Now goes Richard of Bordeaux to his destruction, as sure as did Edward II., his great-grandfather. Like him, he has listened so long to evil counsellors, that it can be neither concealed nor endured any longer."

There were numbers of officers in his army that were as disaffected, and amongst these were the Lord Percy and his son. The king summoned these noblemen to his presence, but they got away into Scotland, and put themselves under the protection of King Robert. The condition of England at this moment was very miserable. There were general murmurings and divisions in the community. Robbers and robberies abounded, justice was perverted, and the people said it was time there was some remedy. The bishops and nobles got into London for safety, and those who had lost their relatives by the king's exactions rejoiced in the trouble, and wished to see it grow. In their eyes the Duke of Gloucester had been a great and plain-spoken patriot, to whom the king would not listen, and who had lost his life through his honest representations of the condition of the country.

Under such circumstances Richard set sail at Milford Haven, and in two days, on May 31st, 1399, landed at Waterford. There he lost three weeks in waiting for the Duke of Albemarle, who was to have followed him with another force, but who is supposed to have been influenced by the prevailing disaffection. At length Richard marched on towards Kilkenny, and many of the lesser chieftains came humbly with halters round their necks, suing for pardon. Not so the great chieftain M'Murchad. He came to a parley with Scrope, the Earl of Gloucester, mounted on a magnificent gray charger, which had cost him 400 head of cattle, and brandishing a huge spear in his hand. He expressed his willingness to become a nominal vassal of the crown, but would be free of all compulsion or conditions. Richard refused to treat with so independent an individual, but set a price on his head, and proceeded to Dublin, where he was at length joined by Albemarle, and he then again gave chase to the wild Irish chief. But in the midst of this pursuit he was suddenly arrested by news from England, which reduced all other considerations to nothing.

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Pictures for Reign of Richard II. Part 2 page 3

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