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Reign of Henry IV page 2

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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.

The conspirators, who had with them the staunch friends of Richard, the Earl of Salisbury and Lord Lumley, assembled on the day appointed at Oxford, but were surprised to find that neither the king nor their own accomplice, Rutland, had arrived. Suspecting treachery, they resolved to lose no time, but to surprise Henry at Windsor, where they knew he had but a slender guard. With a body of 500 horse they made a rapid ride that evening to Windsor, but arrived only to find that the intended victim had escaped. They were greatly disconcerted, but their partisans having joined them from Oxford, they determined to raise the standard of revolt, and to give out that Richard was at large, and at their head in assertion of his crown and dignity.

In order to give credit to their story of King Richard's escape, they dressed up Richard's chaplain, Maudelain, to represent him. Maudelain was said to be so like Richard in person and features, that every one who saw him declared that he was the king without doubt. A translation of the French account of a contemporary, published by the Rev. John Webb, in the "Archaeologist," says: - "The conspirators had many archers with them. They said the good King Richard had left his prison, and was there with them. And to make this the more credible, they had brought a chaplain so exactly like King Richard, that all who saw him declared he was the king. He was called Maudelain. Many a time have I seen him in Ireland riding through the country with King Richard, his master. I have not for a long time seen a fairer priest. They crowned the aforesaid as king, and set a very rich crown upon his helm, that it might be believed of a truth that the king was out of prison." Maudelain was supposed to be an illegitimate son of one of the royal family. He had been implicated in the illegal execution of the Duke of Gloucester at Calais, had adhered to Richard through all his fortunes, and was taken with him at Flint.

The army of the insurgents increased, but it is evident that their enterprise was ill-concerted, and their counsels were now distracted. Hearing that Henry was already at Kingston-on-Thames at the head of 20,000 men, they resolved to retire into the west. They went on, proclaiming Richard in all the towns and villages in their route, and the next evening they took up their quarters in Cirencester.

The young queen, according to several authorities, took a warm interest in this attempt. The Earls of Kent and Salisbury, it is said, went to Sunning Hill, where she was staying, and told her that they had driven Bolingbroke from the throne; that her husband was at liberty, and was then on the march to meet her, at the head of 100,000 men. Overjoyed at this news, says Sir John Hay wood, the queen put herself at their disposal, and took an extraordinary pleasure in ordering the badges of Henry IY. to be torn from her household and replaced by those of her husband.

The deception was a cruel one; but the murderer Huntingdon was not likely to be very considerate of the queen's personal feelings. It would be enough for him that drowning men catch at straws, and that the presence of the real queen might be more effectual even than a sham king. The poor queen set out with the Earls of Kent and Salisbury on their march towards Wallingford and Abingdon. She was with the barons when they entered Cirencester. But there a terrible fate awaited them. The mayor had received the king's writ to oppose and seize the traitors. He summoned the burghers and the people, and at midnight they made an attack on the quarters of Kent and Salisbury. On attempting to escape the wretched noblemen found archers posted in every street; and, after a resistance of six hours, they were compelled to surrender, and were conducted into the abbey. In the middle of the following night, however, a fire breaking out in the abbey, which was attributed to their party, they were brought out and beheaded on the spot by the populace. The women, it appears, were as zealous in seizing the insurgents as the men, and that they did not exceed the king's orders is very clear from the fact, that Henry made a grant of four does and a hogshead of wine annually to the men, and of six bucks and a hogshead of wine to the women of that town.

The unfortunate Isabella was re-conducted, strictly guarded, from Cirencester to the palace of Havering-atte-Bower, and this continued her place of residence during the tragical transactions which followed this abortive insurrection.

The fate of the other leaders of the revolt was summary and sanguinary. The Earl of Gloucester and Lord Lumley went into the west of England, as was proposed, but were seized and put to death by the populace at Bristol. As for Huntingdon, the accounts of his end vary. One relation says that he was seized in Essex and committed to the Tower on the 10th of January, and five days afterwards beheaded, with circumstances of great cruelty. But others, and apparently the more probable, are that he was taken in Essex and conveyed to Fleshy, the seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, and, as one of those who had been associated with the late king in the treacherous arrest and murder of the duke, was put to death at the suggestion of the Duchess of Hereford, the eldest of Gloucester's daughters. The tenants and servants of the late duke are represented as actually tearing him to pieces with every possible act of torture, in the intensity of their hatred and revenge.

Sir Thomas Blount, Sir Benedict Shelley, Sir Bernard Brokes, and twenty-nine other knights and gentlemen, were drawn, hanged, and quartered in the Greenditch at Oxford, with circumstances of aggravated atrocity. Fabyan, in his "Chronicle," describes the death of Sir Thomas Blount as something not exceeded by the most fiendish tormentors. His bowels were cut out before his face and cast into a fire. While sitting in this manner he was insulted by Sir Thomas Erpingham, saying, "Go, seek a master that can cure you." Blount only answered, "Te Deum, laudamus. Blessed be the day on which I was born, and blessed be this day, for I shall die in the service of my sovereign lord, the noble King Richard." The executioner then cut off his head.

Feriby and Maudelain, Richard's chaplains, were executed in London. Bishops Merks and Walden were also condemned, but Walden succeeded in satisfying Henry of his innocence, and was pardoned. Merks the king was bent on putting to death, but the Pope demurred to acquiesce in the king's demand that he should be degraded from his orders prior to execution, and the delay saved him. The wrath of the king had cooled: probably he felt some of that remorse which he experienced afterwards so bitterly for the torrents of blood shed; and he complied with the Pontiff's entreaty for pardon for the bishop, who had certainly shown a most noble example of fidelity to his monarch. Both these clergymen subsequently acquired Henry's favour. The faithful Merks died rector of Todenham, in Gloucestershire, in 1409.

Such was the sanguinary termination of this ill-advised and ill-conducted insurrection - a proper prelude, as Henry the historian has justly observed, "to those scenes of blood and cruelty which followed in the long contest between the Houses of York and Lancaster, occasioned by the fatal ambition of Henry IV."

"But the spectacle," justly observes Hume, "the most shocking to every one who retained any sentiment, either of honour or humanity, was to see the Earl of Rutland carrying on a pole the head of his brother-in-law, Lord Spenser, which he presented in triumph to Henry as a testimony of his loyalty. Rutland, soon after Duke of York, was, perhaps, the most infamous man, as he certainly was the greatest traitor, of the age."

A storm still lowered in the direction of France. Charles VI. had been deeply offended by the conduct of Henry on leaving France. Under pretence of visiting the Duke of Brittany, he had stolen away to make war on the son-in-law of Charles, the husband of his daughter Isabella. On hearing of the deposition of Richard, Charles was seized, it is said, with one of his frequent fits of insanity, and on recovering vowed to make instant war. The people of France eagerly seconded the intentions of the indignant monarch. Offers of military service were made by leaders of note, and troops were already on the march towards the coast. It was now that Henry, as we stated in the close of Richard's reign, made his offers of alliance. He proposed intermarriages on a most liberal scale. The ambassador was empowered to treat not only with the king, but with his uncles, paternal and maternal, for marriages to be made between the Prince of Wales, his brothers and sisters, and the children, male or female, of the King of Prance, or his uncles. Charles peremptorily refused to receive the ambassador, disclaiming all knowledge of Henry as King of England.

But soon after this Charles of France received what he considered satisfactory news of the death of Richard, and sent Blanchet, his maistre des requestes, to announce that he should not disturb the truce made in the life-time of his dear son Richard, but demanded the immediate restoration of Isabella with her dower and jewels. The French commissioners were, however, instructed not to call Henry king, but to speak of him, in addressing the English envoys, as "La seigneur qui vous a envoyez," the lord who has sent you, and in writing, "La partie d'Angleterre," the English party.

Nothing at this time resulted from the endeavours to obtain Isabella, as Henry was not only anxious to marry her to his son, the Prince of Wales, but was very poor, and had no intention of returning the 200,000 francs of dowry, or the jewels. France, on its part, though professing to maintain the truce, did not omit what appeared a favourable opportunity to deprive England of her remaining possessions in that country. The people of Guienne were greatly excited at the news of the deposition of Richard. He had been born amongst them, and a strong sympathy existed there in his favour. With all the warm feeling and imagination of the South, they now pictured him to themselves as all goodness. To them, indeed, he had been distant, and his rule, compared with that of the French, mild and indulgent. They uttered the most fervent imprecations on the heads of the Londoners, who, they said, had effected his ruin, and protested against submission to the usurper.

This was a temper precisely such as suited the French desires of acquisition in that quarter. The Duke of Burgundy, then all powerful, owing to the unhappy and continually recurring mental malady of the king, proposed to invade the English provinces. Accordingly, he marched upon Guienne, while the Duke of Bourbon appeared on another part of the frontiers, issuing proclamations, and offering most flattering conditions to the people to induce them to throw off their allegiance to the English, and unite themselves to France.

But this, instead of the effect anticipated, acted upon the Gascons as a direct sedative. The inhabitants had only to look on their own cities and lands, and then on those of the French, to perceive that they would lose infinitely by the change. In the time of Charles V. it had been widely different. Then the English under the Black Prince had been haughty, and, owing to the demands for their perpetual campaigns, exacting and oppressive; while Charles the Wise had politically endeavoured to spare his own subjects, and thus to allure those of the English to revolt. Now all was changed. The unhappy reign of Charles VI., who was continually falling into fits of derangement, which gradually enfeebled his intellect, gave boundless scope for the contentions and assumptions of his powerful kinsmen, and left the country exposed to their pillage. The treasury of France was exhausted. The Government was poor and rapacious, and his uncles were arbitrary and merciless in their impositions. The whole of France was drained by every species of tax and arbitrary tallage, which were levied three or four times a year by the collectors with military bands at their backs. M. Thierry, in his History of Guienne, has drawn a small picture of this period in the provinces bordering British Aquitaine, which is fully supported by the account of Froissart. The Guiennese said, "No; we are much better off as we are. The English leave us in possession of our liberties and our property; if we unite ourselves to the French, we shall get French treatment. No, that would not do for us. True, the Londoners have deposed King Richard and set up King Henry; but what matters that to us? So long as the king leaves us as we are, with our trade with England in wine, wool, and cloth, we are much better off than plundered by the French." So greatly had the public feeling in Guienne changed since the days of the Black Prince and his desolating expeditions.

These dangers from abroad being thus happily dissipated, a movement was made by the Royal Council, undoubtedly originated by Henry, for ascertaining the fate of the deposed king. The late insurrection had shown the perils resulting from the presence of the true king - though in strict concealment - to the usurper. So long as Richard remained alive would attempts be made by his partisans to restore him; and, however popular Henry might be for a time, he was too well versed in human nature not to be aware that any cause of offence on his part, any heavy imposition or restriction of liberty, however necessary, would immediately turn the public mind to the dethroned monarch, and operate in his favour. These considerations, we have every reason to believe, had led to his immediate destruction. From the day that he had been left in the Tower after his formal abdication, the most profound mystery had covered his existence. There were many stories of his being, like Edward III., conveyed secretly from one castle to another by his keepers. It was said that he had been kept some time in Leeds Castle in Kent, and thence removed to Pontefract. But no one really knew where he was, or how he was treated. But now news had reached the court of France that Richard was really dead, and the council of Henry, as if of their own accord, placed a minute on their book to this effect: - "It seemeth expedient to the council to speak to the king, that in case Richard, lately king, &c., be still alive, he be put in safe keeping, in conformity with the advice of the lords; but if he be departed this life, that then he be shown openly to the people, that they may have the knowledge of it."

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