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The Reign of Henry VI page 12


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When Suffolk was called on for his defence, he fell on his knees before the king, and solemnly asserted his innocence, He declared that, as to the surrender of Maine and Anjou, that was not simply his act, but that of the whole council. He spread the majority of the charges in this manner over the whole ministry; the rest he denied, and appealed to the peers around him for their knowledge of the fact that, so far from marrying his son to a daughter of Somerset, he was affianced to a daughter of Warwick.

Whatever was the amount of Suffolk's guilt, the people were resolved to listen to one penalty alone, that of his death; and to prevent him falling under the judgment of Parliament, the king, or rather the queen, acting in his name, adopted a bold and startling expedient. He announced to him, through the lord chancellor, that, as he had not claimed to be tried by his peers, the king would exercise his prerogative, and holding him neither guilty nor innocent of the treasons with which he had been charged, would and did banish him from the kingdom for five years, on the second impeachment, for waste of the revenues. The House of Lords, astonished, &t this invasion of their prerogative to try those of their own body, immediately protested that this act of the king should form no precedent in bar of their privileges hereafter. With this the peers contented themselves in their corporate capacity, as some historians have suggested, from a secret compromise between the two

But the ferment out of doors was terrible. The people looked upon the whole as a trick of the court to screen the favourite, and defraud them of the satisfaction of witnessing his just punishment. There was a buzz of indignation from one end of the kingdom to the other. The most inflammatory placards were stuck on the doors of the churches, and the death of the duke was openly sworn. Two thousand people were assembled in St. Giles's to seize him on his discharge; but the intended victim escaped, for that time, the vengeance of the mob falling on his retainers. He got down to his estates in Suffolk, and after assembling the knights and squires of his neighbourhood, and before them swearing on the sacrament that hİ was innocent of the crimes laid to his charge, and writing a letter to his son which Lingard, the historian, says it is difficult to read without being convinced of his truthfulness, he embarked at Ipswich in a small vessel for Calais. But his enemies had resolved that he should not thus escape them. The Nicholas of the Tower, one of the largest ships of the navy, bore down upon him on his passage, and ordered him to come on board. He was received by the captain as he stepped on deck with the ominous salutation, "Welcome, traitor!" Two nights he was kept on board this vessel, while his capture was announced on shore, and further instructions awaited. It was clear, from a ship of the navy being used, that persons of no common influence were arrayed against him; and after a mock trial by the sailors, he was conducted to near Dover, where a small boat came alongside with a block, a rusty sword, and an executioner. The duke was lowered into the boat, and there beheaded in a bungling and barbarous manner. His remains were laid on the sands near Dover, and there guarded by the sheriff of Kent, till the king commanded them to be delivered to his widow, who was no other than the granddaughter of Chaucer, the poet. She deposited the body in the collegiate church of Wingfield, in Suffolk.

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Pictures for The Reign of Henry VI page 12

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