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Reign of Henry IV page 11


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But, however happy Henry might express himself in such a son, it seems clear from cotemporary writers that he kept him as much as possible from any participation in the affairs of state, and it is probable that this want of fitting employment threw him amongst his dissolute associates in order to pass his time. In the excited and unguarded hours of wild merriment, there were not wanting those who gathered up his thoughtless expressions against the conduct of his father, and bore them to the royal ear, coloured as malice or sycophancy dictated. It is certain that Henry entertained grave suspicions of his son. Knowing how he had offended in respect to the crown himself, he was more ready to believe it possible that his son might tread in his steps. The prince made repeated endeavours to disabuse his father's mind of these unworthy ideas, but in vain. According to Otterburn, he wrote to many of the lords letters justifying his allegiance to his father, and even went with a numerous train to demand an explanatory interview with him. Yet the Earl of Ormond, an eye-witness, says that even on this occasion the prince could not lay aside his eccentricities. That "he disguised himself in a gown of blue satin or damask, wrought full of oylet-holes, and at every oylet the needle wherewith it was made, hanging still by the silk; and. about his arm he wore a dog's collar, set full of SS. of gold, and the tirets of the same of fine gold."

He was received by the king in his closet, attended by four friends, and the prince, throwing himself on his knees before him, begged that he would take his life, seeing that he had withdrawn from him the royal favour. Henry passed the last Christmas of his life at his favourite palace of Eltham. So complete was his seclusion, owing both to his illness and the awful disfigurement of his person, that he scarcely saw any one but the queen; lying frequently for hours without any sign of life. After Candlemas, he was so much better as to be able to keep his birthday, and he then returned to his palace at Westminster. He was at his devotions in the abbey, at the shrine of St. Edward, when his last fatal fit seized him. He was removed into the apartments of the abbot, and laid in the celebrated Jerusalem Chamber. The fit lasted so long that Prince Henry, who was present, knowing the plunder which often takes place at the deathbeds of kings, and which was remarkably the case at that of Edward III., ordered the crown to be removed to another and securer apartment.

On coming to himself Henry asked where he was, and being told in the Jerusalem Chamber, he regarded his last hour as come, for it had been predicted to him that he should finish his days in Jerusalem; and he had vowed, in expiation of his crimes, to make a pilgrimage thither. The days of the crusades were over, but a remarkable visit made to him soon after he ascended the throne, by Manuel Palaeologus, the Emperor of Constantinople, when seeking aid against the Saracens, probably impressed his mind with this idea. He then requested that the Miserere should be read to him, which contains an especial prayer for forgiveness of "blood-guiltiness." Then looking round he missed the crown from its place, and demanded to know where it was. The scenes which followed have been faithfully and beautifully copied by Shakespeare.

"Ah! fair son," said the dying king; "what right have you to the crown, when you know that your father had none?"

"My liege," answered young Henry; "with the sword you won it, and with the sword I will keep it."

""Well," replied the king, faintly, "do as you think best. I leave the issue to God, and may He have mercy on my soul." And then followed that beautiful address so finely rendered in Shakespeare -

"Come hither, Henry; sit thou on my bed," &c.

Henry IV. was in the forty-seventh year of his age, and the fourteenth year of his reign, when he died. Perhaps no king by the troubles of his reign, the corroding remorse of his soul, and wretchedness of his last days, ever presented a more striking warning from Providence against guilty ambition. Had he resolved, in the days of his cousin Richard's misgovernment, to exert the influence which his eminent position - foremost in the realm, next to the throne - and his distinguished talents gave him, to check that monarch's arbitrary extravagances, and support him in the right, he might have won one of the most honoured names in history - the patriot of the age, and the father of his country. He yielded to a meaner ambition - that of wearing a pilfered crown; and the consequences were fatal to him, fatal to his family, and fatal to his nation. "We shall yet have to wade far through the blood he caused to flow, and in another generation see his line driven from the throne he so unwisely usurped.

It is carious that as Henry usurped the throne of Richard II., he also usurped, as far as in him lay, his tomb. The body of Richard he sent to be buried at Langley, instead of permitting it to rest with the ashes of his father, the Black Prince; but there his own body was ordered to be conveyed, for he had expressed a superstitious desire that he should lie near the shrine of Thomas a Becket. Yet the fact that he really does lie there has been called in question by a very extraordinary relation by a contemporary. It is given in the following "Testimony of Clement Maydestone," translated from a Latin manuscript in the library of Bennet College, Cambridge, 1440: -

"Thirty days after the death of Henry IV., Sept. 14th, 1412" (this should be March 20th, 1413), "one of his domestics came to the House of the Holy Trinity, at Hounslow, and dined there. And as the bystanders were talking at dinner - time of the king's irreproachable morals, this man said to a certain esquire named Thomas Maydestone, then sitting at table, ' Whether he was a good man or not, God knows: but of this I am certain, that when his corpse was carried from Westminster towards Canterbury by water, in a small vessel, in order to be buried there, I and two more threw his corpse into the sea between Berkenham and Gravesend; for,' he added with an oath, 'we were overtaken by such a storm of winds and waves that many of the nobility who followed in eight ships were dispersed so as with difficulty to escape being lost. But we, who were with the body, despairing of our lives, with one consent threw it into the sea, and a great calm ensued. The coffin in which it lay, covered with a cloth of gold, we carried with great solemnity to Canterbury, and buried it. The monks of Canterbury, therefore, say that the tomb, not the body, of Henry IV. is with us, as Peter said of holy David.' As God Almighty is my witness and judge, I saw this man, and heard him speak to my father, T. Maydestone, that all the above was true.

"clement maydestone."

This singular account being published by Peck, it was thought desirable to ascertain the truth of it by opening the coffin of Henry, which was done on the 21st of August, 1832, in the presence of the Bishop of Oxford, Lady Harriet and Sir Charles Bagot, and others. It was found in sawing away part of the lid of the wooden coffin that there was also a leaden coffin within it, but so small that the outer coffin had been filled up with haybands, which were very sound and perfect. The leaden coffin appeared moulded to the body within it, and on cutting that open the face of the corpse was discovered in perfect preservation; the nose elevated, the cartilage even remaining, though, on the admission of the air, it rapidly sank away. The skin of the chin entire, of the consistence, thickness, and colour of the upper leather of a shoe; the beard thick and matted, of a deep russet colour; the jaws perfect, and all the teeth in them, excepting one fore-tooth.

Though there was a body, the question still remains, was it the body of Henry IV.? Was it likely that an outer coffin would be made so large as to require packing? and if so, would that packing for a royal corpse be of haybands? There was a very small cross found lying on the haybands, not such, surely, as would be laid on the breast of a sovereign, for it was formed merely of two twigs tied together. Is it not the probable explanation of the affair that the attendants robbed the corpse of the cloth of gold in which it was wrapped, and then threw it into the river, replacing it by another corpse in lead procured for the occasion? It has been well observed that the perfect state of the skin of the supposed Henry's face does not accord with the fearful leprosy with which Henry was afflicted.

Henry IV. was twice married. His first wife was Mary de Bohun, daughter and co-heir of the Earl of Hereford. By her he had four sons and two daughters. Henry was his successor to the throne; Thomas was Duke of Clarence; John, Duke of Bedford; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. His eldest daughter, Blanche, was married to the Duke of Bavaria, and the second to the King of Denmark.

Conscious of the defect of his title, Henry was careful to avoid, on ascending the throne, asking for any act of settlement. He contented himself with receiving the oath of allegiance from Parliament to himself, and after himself to his eldest son or heir apparent. But after the battle of Shrewsbury he introduced a bill resting the succession on his four sons, but excluding his daughters. But on being reminded that to exclude his daughters annihilated all his claim to the throne of France, he reluctantly consented to the passing of an act admitting the general issue of his sons, but still passing over that of his daughters, as if fearful to bring in some foreign aspirant.

By his second wife, Joanna of Navarre, daughter of Charles the Bad, he had no children. Joanna made a much better queen than might have been expected from her parentage. Her worst faults appear to have been a great fondness for money, and for a numerous train of French attendants, which obliged Parliament frequently to interfere, as did that of Charles I., and insisted on their being sent home. She was handsome in person, but had the reputation of being addicted to the arts of necromancy, no doubt arising from the evil reputation of her father. We shall hear of her again in the next reign.

The defect of Henry's title was a circumstance favourable to the progress of the constitution, though prolific of much controversy and bloodshed. Compelled to court the good-will of the people, and to come to them often for money, the House of Commons availed themselves of this circumstance to increase in their demands of privilege and liberty. We shall notice more particularly these advances when we comİ to review, at a future date, the progress of the nation; and, therefore, it will only be necessary here to glance at them cursorily. In his very first year they passed a law depriving the crown of the power of protecting an unjust judge. In the second, they insisted on the removal of obnoxious persons from his household, and prevailed; in the sixth, they appointed treasurers to superintend the expenditure of the supplies; in the eighth, they enacted thirty articles for the regulation of the royal household, and compelled the judges, the council, and all the officers of the household to swear to the observance of them. The practice of the crown corrupting Parliament had shown itself in the reign of Richard II., and was now rife, through the means of the sheriffs. The Commons obtained an act to compel them to make just returns. They even went so far, when pressed by the king for money, as to recommend him to seize the surplus temporalities of the Church, which they represented as containing 18,400 ploughs of land, producing 485,000 marks a year, equal to £4,750,745 of our present money.

Here, however, the king stood firm against the recommendation, of the Commons; and even, to oblige the Church, he consented to the passing of the first law for the burning of heretics, that is, persons who dared to differ in opinion from the religion of the state; and in accordance with this barbarous act, William Sawtre, rector of Lynn in Norfolk, and afterwards curate of St. Osith's in London, the first English martyr, was burnt at the stake on the 10th of March, 1401.

None, of our historians have given a more masterly summary of Henry IV. and his reign in a few words than Henry. He says: - "His head was better than his heart; his schemes being formed with prudence and generally successful, but not always innocent, and seldom generous. As jealous as he was fond of power, he stuck at nothing to obtain and keep it. From policy more than from principle, he protected the Church and persecuted heretics. Ambition was his ruling passion, and that, impelled by a violent gale of popular favour, hurried him into a throne, which involved him in many crimes and cares, and his country in many calamities. He would have been a better and happier man if he had never been a king."

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Pictures for Reign of Henry IV page 11

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