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Reign of Henry IV page 9

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In 1404, Serlo, or Serle, a gentleman of King Richard's bedchamber, propagated the report that Richard was still alive, and that he had been with him in Scotland. He brought letters and messages addressed by Richard under his privy seal to his friends in England. Maud, the old Countess of Oxford, now far advanced in life, but having lost none of the remembrance of Henry's part in the destruction of her husband, eagerly imbibed all Serle's accounts, and "caused it to be reported," says Walsingham, "throughout Essex, by her domestics, that King Richard was alive, and would soon come back, and recover and assert his former rank. She caused little stags of silver and gold to be fabricated, presents which the king was wont to confer upon his most favourite knights and friends, so that, by distributing these in place of the king, she might the more easily entice the most powerful men in that district to accede to her wishes."

The old countess by these means brought over many gentlemen to her belief, and amongst them several abbots of that county. The consequence was, as we have related, that these abbots, with Sir Roger Clarendon and others, were seized by King Henry, and summarily put to death for propagating this assurance of Richard being in Scotland. Henry eventually laid hold of Serle himself, who confessed that he had indeed seen a person in Scotland who was asserted to be King Richard, but who really was not so, but merely one Thomas Warde, who had been King Richard's Court fool. Serle - who was said to have been concerned in the murder of the Duke of Gloucester at Calais - was, of course, executed in London, after having been drawn on a sledge through every town between Pontefract and the capital; and the old Countess of Oxford was shut up in prison.

And now the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Bardolf sought to satisfy themselves of the real facts - whether this was a true or a spurious Richard - for he was still supported by Albany as the real Simon Pure; whether Henry, in the proclamation made on the conviction of Serle, had forged his confession for him, as many asserted, and that the story of Thomas Warde was one of his invention. And what was the result? Northumberland, Bardolf, and their friends were assured that they were quite welcome to see and converse with Richard. Here the great mystery at last appeared on the point of being solved for ever. But no: they were met by the information that Richard refused to see them, and that no solicitations, not even those of Albany himself, could extort his consent. This must have quite satisfied these noblemen that Albany's Richard was really a mamuet, or puppet, as Henry styled him in his proclamations, and that nobody knew it so well as Henry himself.

Northumberland and Bardolf were soon compelled by the manoeuvres of Henry to escape from Scotland. The Scottish noblemen who had been kept prisoners in England ever since the battles of Homildon Hill and Shrewsbury, were offered by Henry their liberty if they would persuade their friends in Scotland to seize and deliver up these noblemen. This disgraceful scheme was readily adopted by the Scottish prisoners and their friends, and would have been carried speedily into execution; but the news of it reached the ears of the brave Sir David Fleming, a staunch friend of the Percies. It must be remembered that not only was the Earl of Douglas, but Murdoch, the son of the regent Albany, still amongst the prisoners of war in England; and, therefore, both Albany and the friends of Douglas, combining the most powerful party in Scotland, were engaged in this most dishonourable conspiracy for the betrayal of Northumberland, his young grandson, Henry Lord Percy, and Lord Bardolf. Sir David Fleming, disdaining to connive at so base a treason against the honour and hospitality of Scotland, gave the English noblemen timely warning. They escaped; but Sir David, as we have related, returning from conducting Prince James to North Berwick on his way to France, was set upon by the son of Douglas and the connections of the other prisoners in England, and lost his life for his noble conduct. Northumberland and Bardolf made their escape to Glendower in Wales.

The situation of Henry at this epoch was far from enviable. His usurpation had involved himself and the nation in constant feuds, battles, treasons, and bloodshed. The best and ablest men, instead of being able to unite their counsels and their efforts for the common good of the country, were inflamed by violent antipathies against each other. The lives of many of the noblest were sacrificed, and the resources of the country consumed in mutual destruction. Henry, indeed, by his skill, address, and courage, had defeated all the schemes formed for his dethronement, and dispersed his assailants, but he was still surrounded by malcontents and general dissatisfaction. All his efforts had not been able to extinguish the reports of the existence of King Richard. As often as these reports were exposed and made ridiculous, as certainly did they revive and renew their strength. The remonstrances of Parliament were severe to an extraordinary degree against his exactions and mal-administration. According to the Parliamentary history, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir John Tibetot, in a speech addressed to the king, declared that the country was impoverished by excessive impositions, and that nothing was done for its benefit. That in Guienne ninety-six towns and castles were lost, though it had cost this nation great expenditure to defend it; and that the whole of our continental possessions were in danger. That the marches on the Scottish borders were in the worst condition; that the rebellion in Wales, notwithstanding every effort, was still unsuppressed. That Ireland was nearly lost, though the charges for its government continued. That at sea our trade was destroyed, and the vessels of our merchants intercepted. That the expenses of the royal household were excessive, and the court filled with "a set of worthless rascals."

Henry had left his son to continue the campaign in Wales, and he himself endeavoured to manage the domestic concerns of the kingdom; but in addition to the calamities of war, and the difficulties just enumerated, which were chiefly the consequence of them, there now appeared the plague, which ravaged both town and country for several years. In London alone it carried off no less than 30,000 people; and in other places it extirpated whole families, and left whole houses and almost villages empty.

To escape its violence, the court removed from London to Leeds Castle, in Kent. Desiring to be still farther from the capital, the king took shipping at Queenborough, on the Isle of Sheppey, and, accompanied by a small squadron, commanded by Thomas Lord Camois, descended the Thames. Near its mouth the royal fleet was attacked by French pirates, and was in the greatest jeopardy. Four of his vessels, containing much valuable furniture, plate, and wearing apparel, and several persons of distinction, were taken, including Sir Thomas Rampstone, the vice-chamberlain, and Henry only escaped by the swiftness of his ship. This was a very admonitory proof of the truth of the representations of the House of Commons as to the condition of our naval affairs. Some suspicion was cast on Lord Camois, the commander, and he was arraigned on a charge of treason or cowardice before the peers, but was honourably acquitted.

Encouraged by Henry's domestic difficulties, and the strong opposition manifested by Parliament, the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Bardolf, having vainly waited for any decisive support from Owen Glendower, who indeed was now gradually sinking beneath the vigorous efforts of Prince Henry, determined to make one more descent on England. Northumberland had tried in vain to induce Albany to embrace his cause. He had then gone over to France, and thence to Flanders, with equally little success. His last hope was placed on the co-operation of the exiled nobles and knights in Scotland, and the disaffected in the borders and in Northumberland. A correspondence was opened with Sir Thomas Eokeby, sheriff of Yorkshire, and that gentleman is said, by Buchanan, to have lured them on in order to make their defeat certain. They advanced from Scotland into Northumberland, surprised several castles, and raised the Percy tenantry, who were attached to the old chief. Hence they marched on into Yorkshire, and having reached Knaresborough, were joined by Sir Nicholas Tempest. They crossed the Wharfe at Wetherby, and Sir Thomas Rokeby, who appears to have allowed them uninterrupted progress hitherto, that he might effectually cut off their retreat, now following them closely, overtook them on Bramham Moor, near Tadcaster, and brought them to an engagement. The Earl of Northumberland was killed in the battle, Lord Bardolf was taken prisoner, but died in a few days of his wounds. Thus did the old Percy of Northumberland, after a long and hard contest to put down the man he had helped to set up, close his stormy career on the 28th of February, 1408, as his son Hotspur had done five years before at Shrewsbury. The bodies of the earl and of Lord Bardolf were cut in quarters and sent to London and other towns, where they were exposed.

Henry was in full march to encounter the insurgents when he was met by the pleasing intelligence of their defeat and death. He proceeded to Pontefract, where he continued for a month, busily employed in punishing and fining the prisoners of any rank or substance who had been taken at the battle. He was in pressing need of money, and he coined as much out of ransoms as possible. The Abbot of Hayles, having taken arms, was executed like a layman, as the Archbishop of York had been before.

There remained now, of all Henry's enemies within the kingdom, only the Welsh to subdue. The contest between Owen Glendower and Prince Henry had now been going on for upwards of four years, with every demonstration of art, activity, and bravery with which two such commanders could conduct a difficult contest amongst mountains and marshes. Glendower, one of the most devoted patriots and most spirited and able generals that are to be found in history, had disputed every inch of ground with unconquerable pugnacity and never-exhausted stratagem. He may be said to have taught Henry of Monmouth that discipline and military science which afterwards enabled him to win the battle of Azincourt, and achieve such brilliant triumphs in France. But Henry, full of youth and martial ardour, and supported from England by troops and provisions, was an antagonist who was sure, in time, to bear down the limited means of Glendower. During nearly five years he had completely reduced South Wales, and was slowly but steadily advancing in the north.

In the summer of 1409, Glendower, finding his indefatigable young enemy steadily advancing upon him, and the support of the disheartened and plundered people growing weaker, determined to make one desperate effort to supply himself with provisions, and to inflict a severe punishment, even if it were the last, upon the foe. He therefore sent all the forces he could muster, under the command of his two bravest officers, his son-in-law, Philpot Scudamore, and Rees ap Dhu, to make a grand foray in Shropshire. These commanders executed their commission with great bravery and ferocity; but they were at length defeated, their troops cut to pieces, and themselves taken prisoners, carried to London, and there executed.

This was the last expiring effort of the Welsh in that glorious struggle which they had maintained for ten years under their illustrious countryman, Owen ap Griffith Vaughan, better known as the unconquerable Owen Glendower. We say unconquerable, for though Wales, a small country, engaged in an unequal contest with a far greater and more wealthy nation, and with two of the most renowned generals of the age, Henry of Lancaster and his son, was compelled to yield, it is very clear, from abundant historic facts, that Owen himself never retired from the struggle - never was subdued. He contrived to live on amid his native mountains, the same free, high-hearted, independent man as when, in all the pride of his youth, he quitted the temples of the law, and gave to the mountain winds the banners of his native land. Sometimes he traversed the hills that he could not emancipate disguised in the dress of a shepherd. Sometimes he managed to collect a little band of warriors, and came suddenly on the unguarded lines and lands of his English foes. Sometimes, worn out by fatigue, or driven from the woods and rocks by the storms of winter, he sought a hidden repose at his daughter's house at Monington, in Herefordshire. But wherever he was, in whatever guise, whether that of a peasant in the lowland hut, or the soldier on the hills, he was still the unbending, un-conquered patriot, of whom any country must be proud. In the Rolls of Parliament, and in Rymer's "Foedera." we find that in 1411 he was excepted by Henry in a general amnesty; in 1412 he was on foot and made prisoner; in 1416, just before the battle of Azincourt, Henry V., his old antagonist, who seems to have respected him as he deserved, commissioned Sir Gilbert Talbot to treat with Meredith, the son of Glendower, for a pacification of his father, and his still unconquered associates; and again, three months after the great triumph of Azincourt, Henry renewed the honourable overture. But Glendower was resolved to live and die free, a prince without subjects or a country, rather than the subject of the conqueror of Wales. He still, as appears by several writers yet extant, continued to haunt the wilds and mountains of Snowdon; and, if we may believe one tradition, died peaceably at his daughter's house at Monington, in 1415, while another shows us his burial-place beneath the great window of the south aisle in Bangor Cathedral. Both accounts may very well be true; but, wherever Owen Glendower rests, there rests the dust of a man who only wanted a wider field and a more numerous people to have become the saviour, as he was the true hero, of his country.

The nine years which Henry had now been on the throne had been years of constant insurrections, bloodshed in battle, and bloodshed on the block. He had put down all his internal enemies, and, save some occasional struggles with the remaining power of Glendower in the marshes of Wales, the kingdom was at peace with itself, and continued so during the few remaining years of this reign. At sea there were still attacks from the French, though the Government disclaimed them, and pretended to maintain the truce between the two countries. That truce, however, had been badly preserved in regard to the English provinces in France. In 1406 the Constable of France and the Count of Armagnac had made extensive inroads on Guienne and Saintonge. According to the complaint of Sir John Tibetot, the Speaker of the House of Commons, they had taken ninety-six towns and castles there. Nothing, indeed, but the miserable and distracted condition of France could have prevented them taking the whole, and driving the English totally out of that kingdom; for Henry, perpetually occupied in battling with his own insurgent subjects, had neither money, men, nor time to devote to his French provinces. The most pitiable entreaties were sent over from time to time for aid, but in vain; Henry was engaged in a life and death struggle at home.

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