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Reign of Henry IV


Reign of Henry IV. - His Coronation - The Insecurity of his Position - Courts the Clergy and the People - Sends an Embassy to France - Conspiracy to assassinate him - Death of King Richard - Rumours of his Escape to Scotland - Expedition into Scotland - Revolt of Owen Glendower - Invasion of the Scots - The Conspiracy of the Percies - The Battle of Shrewsbury, where they are defeated - Northumberland pardoned - Accumulating Dangers - Second Rebellion of the Percies with the Archbishop of York - The North reduced - The War in Wales - Earl of Northumberland flies thither - The Plague - The King attacked by Pirates - Reduction of the Welsh - Expedition into France - Death of Henry.
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The reign of Henry IV. dates from the 30th of September, 1399, when he was placed on the throne of England by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, in the presence of the assembled Parliament. Having, as we have stated, made his claim to the throne in a speech as remarkable for its disdaining to base his pretensions on the choice of the people, as for its being delivered in the English of the day, in which we have given it - a proof that the language of the country was now recognised as that of all classes - he adjourned the Parliament till the 6th of October. On that day he was crowned in Westminster by Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with a careful observance of all the ancient ceremonies, and some new ones introduced, to give additional effect to the title of a conscious usurper. He had the sword which he wore on landing at Ravenspur borne naked and erect before him by the Earl of Northumberland; thus again asserting his title as of the sword; and he conferred the Isle of Man, which had belonged to Sir William Scrope, the Earl of Wiltshire, on the earl, in fee "for himself and his heirs, for the service of carrying this sword at the present and all future coronations."

But, not content with announcing thus markedly that he intended to defend by the sword the crown which he had won by it, he also introduced an additional incident which would now-a-days be highly absurd, but which then, no doubt, was calculated to make an impression on the ignorant and superstitious populace. He had the coronation oil carried in a vessel of stone, with a cover of gold set with diamonds, which it was announced was brought from heaven by the Virgin Mary, and delivered to Thomas a Becket, with an assurance that the kings anointed with that oil would be great and victorious princes, and zealous companions of the Church.

All the great barons who held by patent hereditary offices on the occasion performed their several services with apparent alacrity, and everything wore an outward air of smoothness and prosperity. Within three months Henry of Lancaster, an exile from the realm, had landed on its shores, deposed and imprisoned his rightful sovereign, and sat there the anointed king.

But he was well aware that he sat there by no single right, except that which he had so determinedly rejected - the election of the people - and that he was surrounded by a thousand elements of danger. Richard, the true king, was still alive, and, though at present unpopular with the people had many partisans, who had rather been surprised into silence than permanently satisfied. The rightful and acknowledged heir to the throne was the young Earl of Marche, who, though yet only a boy of seven years of age, had powerful connections in the Percies, the Mortimers, and other great houses. This young nobleman was the direct descendant from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the elder brother of John of Gaunt, the father of Henry of Lancaster. Not only was the Earl of Marche the true lineal heir to the throne, but his father, Roger Mortimer, had been so declared by Richard II. by act of Parliament. This youth, thus unceremoniously set aside, Henry had taken care to secure the possession of, and kept him and his younger brother in a sort of honourable confinement at Windsor.

Besides the direct claim of the young Earl of Marche, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, himself a son of Edmund, Duke of York, and married to the sister of the Earl of Marche, regarded himself as injured by the invasion of the throne by Henry. The claims of the Earl of Marche were not at this crisis ever mentioned by any party; and, therefore, Henry took care to keep silence on them. He did not so much as attempt to procure from Parliament, when it met, an act of settlement of the crown in his family, as that would have implied a doubt of his legal right; but he elected his eldest son Prince of Wales, Duke of Guienne, Lancaster, and Cornwall, and he was named in Parliament heir apparent to the throne.

These steps were necessary to secure his hold of the throne at home. In France he had created a determined enemy in Charles VI., whose son-in-law he had deposed, and whose daughter he, in a manner, held captive, after having deprived her of her share of the crown of England. France, accordingly, threatened vengeance, and might be expected to incite the Scots to annoyance; and, besides being under the necessity of arousing the hostility of the friends and partisans of those nobles whom he resolved to punish for past offences to his family, he knew that he had laid himself under such obligations to those who had aided his designs as would be difficult to discharge to the height of their expectations.

Henry, therefore, went craftily to work. On dismissing the Parliament, he had instantly ordered the issue of writs for the assembling of a new one, returnable in six days. This necessitated the return of the very same men, for the time was far too short for a fresh election. He was certain of their obsequiousness, and would not risk a delay which might give time for the people to think, and to send up members who might at least raise difficulties. He declared that he did this for the profit of the kingdom, to spare the expenses of an election, and for the more prompt redress of grievances; but he took care to add that he did not mean this to be drawn into a precedent, to the prejudice of future Parliaments and of the kingdom.

It must have been on the tried compliancy of the Commons that Henry chiefly relied, for in the Lords he had much disagreeable and dangerous work to do; and he found the Commons as obedient as he could desire. He immediately moved the repeal of all the acts which had been levelled at his family and partisans during the late reign, and had the attainders of the Earls of Arundel and Warwick reversed. But now came into play all the powerful passions of the aristocracy - the terror of some, the hopes of others, the jealousies and animosities of all. It was at once seen how needful to Henry was the support of a devoted Commons. He summoned the lords who had appealed the Duke of Gloucester and his associates to justify their proceedings. This was raising a storm of the most furious description. All the noblemen concerned put forward the same plea as the judges had done in the late reign - namely, that they had only acted under compulsion; that they had neither framed nor advised the appeal, but were compelled to sign it under terror of the threats of Richard. They asserted that they were no more guilty than the rest of the lords who had joined in condemning the appellants. This was touching the sore spot of the whole assembly, and the most terrible altercation arose. When Lord Fitzwalter made the charge against the Duke of Albemarle, twenty other lords joined in it, for Albemarle had been a notorious traitor to both sides, and twenty hoods were flung down on the floor of the House as pledges of battle in support of their assertions. The accused flung down his hood in acceptance of the challenge, and all were taken up and given into the custody of the constable and Earl Marshal. When the Lord Morley charged the Earl of Salisbury with falsehood to the Duke of Gloucester, and with betraying the secrets of Gloucester to the late king, Salisbury met his accusation with a direct denial, and both cast down their gloves in pledge of battle. There was plenty of ground for attack and recrimination in the transactions of the late reign; not a man but was open to some charge or other; and the House of Lords became the scene of the most violent dispute. The nobles charged each other with treason, duplicity, cowardice, and numbers of other criminal and disgraceful actions. The coarsest and fiercest language resounded through the house; liar and traitor rose above all other abusive and rude epithets; and it is said that no less than forty gauntlets, the gages of battle, lay on the floor at once.

Nothing but the most settled purpose of vengeance on his enemies would have induced the cautious Henry to rouse such a tempest at this moment. But he was sure of the popular branch of the legislature, and, probably, he felt that division amongst the haughty barons was strength to his own hands; and that only while they were in violent repulsion from each other could he safely humiliate those whom he had in view.

When the storm was at its height Henry interposed, and, while the conflicting peers were in fiery antagonism with each other, he let fall his intended blow on the party which had supported Richard against his uncle Gloucester and himself. The lords appellant were stripped of the honours and estates which they had obtained from "Richard as the rewards of their appeal; and the Dukes of Albemarle, Surrey, and Exeter, the Marquis of Dorset, and the Earl of Gloucester, descended again to their former ranks of Earls of Rutland, Kent, Huntingdon, Somerset, and Lord le Despenser.

To prevent the repetition of such scenes in future, appeals of treason to Parliament were prohibited, and such appeals were directed to be carried to the established courts of law. Treason itself was again limited to the offences named in the celebrated Act of Edward III. The abuse introduced by Richard of delegating all the powers of Parliament to a mere committee of both Houses was declared unconstitutional and utterly inadmissible; and the heaviest penalties were enacted against any person but the king giving liveries to his retainers.

This practice of giving liveries had grown into a source of great public mischief and confusion. Whoever accepted the badge of any prince or nobleman, bound himself to support the cause of his patron, and the patron on his part to defend him against the officials of the law, or other hostile person. Numbers of those who accepted the livery of a nobleman received no pay whatever, the equivalent being in the protection just mentioned; so that by this means a leader could maintain a large train of clients at little or no cost, and could call them together on occasion, to the evident danger of the public peace. It was highly desirable to put down this flagrant evil; but this law was as ill-obeyed as many others in those days, and the practice of distributing these liveries remained for ages afterwards.

Henry proceeded to reward his friends. As he had punished his enemies by deprivation of honours and estates, he now restored the Earls of Warwick and Arundel to their former ranks and properties. He constituted the Earl of Northumberland constable, and Ralph Nevill, Earl of Westmoreland, marshal of England; and, as he had bestowed the Isle of Man on Northumberland, he now gave the earldom of Richmond to Westmoreland. Besides these, he conferred many other honours, grants, and offices.

Before dismissing Parliament, he submitted to the lords spiritual and temporal, through the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Earl of Northumberland, an especial matter for their advice, and they were charged to keep the subject an inviolable secret. This was no other than the disposal of the deposed king. Henry declared, as we have already stated, that at all events he was resolved on the preservation of his life. The lords gave it as their advice that he should be placed under the custody of trusty officers, who should convey him secretly to some castle, where no con-' course of people could assemble, and where he should be strictly excluded from all approach of those who had formerly been in his service. Four days after this the Mug went to the house, expressed his approval of the advice of the lords for the secure detention of Richard, and ordered it to be carried into instant and permanent effect.

Henry appeared now firmly seated on the throne of his unhappy cousin. There can be no doubt that it had been the dream and object of his life's ambition. His father before him, and his uncle Gloucester, had shown no equivocal signs of a desire to seize the crown of that unfortunate prince, and one after another they had usurped the actual power into their own hands. But Henry, more crafty and calculating, watched his opportunity, and had not made a decided grasp at it till he felt sure of the favour of the people. Though he had now reached the height of his ambition, he still as carefully courted the favour of the people and the Church, in order to consolidate his new power. To give the people an idea of the auspicious change they had made in their sovereign, he issued a proclamation commanding all the blank bonds called ragmans, which had been extorted from them by Richard and his courtiers, to be made null and committed to the flames. To ensure the continued favour of the clergy, he now took a very different course to that which both he and his father, John of Gaunt, had done formerly. Then they were the great champions of Wycliffe; now he withdrew his countenance from the Reformers, and paid the most marked attention to the interests and ceremonies of the Church, and to the persons and wishes of the clergy.

But no precautions, no subtlety of policy, could give peace and security to a throne raised so palpably on injustice and treachery as that of Henry of Lancaster. From within and from without he found himself menaced by danger. France rejected his alliance and threatened war. The Scots, expecting the French to make a descent on England in favour of Richard, burst into Northumberland in one of their favourite excursions of plunder, took and destroyed the castle of Wark, and committed extensive devastations. Henry sent the Earl of Westmoreland to negotiate with these troublesome neighbours, and the Scots, finding no French army arrive, accepted the offered terms, and retreated to their own country.

But a conspiracy was forming at this very time in his immediate neighbourhood. The lords appellants, who had been stripped of the honours and wealth heaped upon them by Richard, though they had probably escaped, to their own surprise, with their lives, incapable of sitting down satisfied, entered into a conspiracy to assassinate the usurper. During the Christmas holidays they met frequently at the lodgings of the Abbot of Westminster to plan his destruction, and the following scheme was the result of their deliberations. They agreed to celebrate a splendid tournament, to be held at Oxford, on the 3rd of January, 1400. Henry was to be invited to preside, and, while intent on the spectacle, a number of picked men were to kill him and his sons.

The king was keeping his Christmas at Windsor, whither the Earl of Huntingdon, the notorious John Holland, who had a particular proclivity towards murder, presented himself and gave him the invitation. Henry accepted it, Huntingdon, notwithstanding his partisanship with Richard, and his recent disgrace, being still the king's brother-in-law.

On the 2nd of January, the day previous to the tournament, the Earl of Rutland went secretly to Windsor and betrayed the whole plot to the king. It is said that Rut-Land had received a letter from one of the conspirators while at dinner, which his father, the Duke of York, would insist on reading, and the fatal secret thus coming out, York had compelled his son to reveal the whole to Henry at once. But it must be recollected that Rutland had as fatal a tendency to treachery as Holland had to murder. He had betrayed Richard while in Ireland, and on his return in Wales, had gone over at the critical moment to Lancaster. He now again entered into a murderous plot against the new king, and then, with equal facility, he betrayed his fellow-conspirators. It was an ominous mark of want of caution in the conspirators admitting him as one of their members to their secret. Henry was so well acquainted with the false nature of the man who had thus sacrificed every party that he had been connected with, that he hesitated to give credit to this story. At length, having convinced himself of the reality of the plot, he remained quiet during the day at Windsor, and in the dusk of the evening, set out secretly to London.

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