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Accession of Edward IV

Jack Cade's Insurrection - The French recover Guienne - Duke of York takes up Arms - Swears Fealty to the King - The French Provinces lost - Birth of Prince Edward - Commencement of the Wars of the Roses - Battle of St. Albans - Battle of Blore Heath - Yorkists dispersed at Ludiford - Battle of Northampton - The King; taken - Queen invades England - Battle of Wakefield - Cruelties of the Queen's Followers - Battle of Mortimer's Cross - Second Battle of St. Albans - The King recovered - Retreat of the Queen - Accession of Edward IV.
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This extraordinary death of Suffolk excited the utmost consternation at court. The king and queen were plunged into the deepest grief. They saw that a powerful party was engaged in thus defeating their attempt to rescue Suffolk from his enemies by a slight term of exile; and they strongly suspected that the Duke of York, though personally absent in his Government of Ireland, was at the bottom of it. It was more than suspected that he entertained serious designs of profiting by the feebleness and unpopularity of the Government to assert his claims to the crown. This ought to have made the king and queen especially circumspect, but, on the contrary, the king announced his resolve to punish the people of Kent for the murder of Suffolk, which had been perpetrated on their coast. The queen was furious in her vows of vengeance. These unwise demonstrations incurred the anger of the people, and especially irritated the inhabitants of Kent. To add to the popular discontent, Somerset, who had lost by his imbecility the French territories, was made minister in the place of Suffolk, and invested with all the favour of the court. The people in several counties threatened to rise and reform the Government; and the opportunity was seized by a bold adventurer of the name of John Cade, an Irishman, to attempt a revolution. He selected Kent as the quarter more pre-eminently in a state of excitement against the court, and proclaiming himself to be John Mortimer, of the royal line of Mortimer, and cousin to the Duke of York, he gave himself out to be the son of Sir John Mortimer, who, on a charge of high treason, had been executed in the beginning of this reign, without any trial or evidence. The lenity which Henry V. had always shown to the Mortimers, dangerous as was their position near the throne, haying unquestionably a superior title to his own, had not been imitated by Bedford and Gloucester, the infant king's uncles, and their neglect of the forms of a regular trial had only strengthened the opinions of the people as to the Mortimer rights. No sooner, therefore, did this adventurer assume this popular name, than the people, burning with the anger of the hour against the present unlucky dynasty, flocked, to the amount of 20,000, to his standard, and advanced to Blackheath. Emissaries were sent into London to stir up the people there, and induce them to open their gates and join the movement. As the Government, taken by surprise, was destitute of the necessary troops on the spot to repel so formidable a body of insurgents, it put on the same air of moderation which Richard II. had done in Tyler's rebellion, and many messages passed between the king and the pretended Mortimer, or, as he also called himself, John Amend-all.

In reply to the king's inquiry as to the cause of this assembly, Cade sent in "The Complaints of the Commons of Kent, and the Causes of the Assembly on Blackheath." These documents were most ably and artfully drawn.

They professed the most affectionate attachment to the king, and demanded the redress of what were universally known to be real and enormous grievances. They were those under which the whole kingdom was and had been long smarting, the loss of the territories in France, and the loss of the national honour with them, through the treason and mal-administration of the ministers; the usurpation of the crown lands by the greedy courtiers, and the consequent shifting of the royal expenditure to the shoulders of the people, with the scandals, offences, and robberies of purveyance. They asserted that the people of Kent had been especially extortioned and ill-used by the sheriffs and tax-gatherers, and that the free elections of their knights of the shire had been prevented. They declared, moreover, that corrupt men were employed at court, and the princes of the blood and honest men kept out of power.

Government undertook to examine into these causes of complaint, and promised an answer; but the people soon Were aware that this was only a pretence to gain time, and that the answer would be presented at the point of the sword. Jack Cade, therefore, sent out what he called "The Bequests of the Captain of the Great Assembly in Kent." These requests were based directly on the previous complaints, and were that the king should renew the grants of the crown, and so enable himself to live on his own income, without fleecing the people; that he should dismiss all the corrupt councillors, all the false progeny of the Duke of Suffolk, and take into his service his right trusty cousins and noble peers, the Duke of York, now banished to Ireland, the Dukes of Exeter, Buckingham, and Norfolk. This looked assuredly as if those who drew up those able papers for Cade were in the direct interest of the York party, and the more so as it went on to denounce the false traitors who had compassed the death of that excellent prince the Duke of Gloucester, of their holy father the cardinal, and who had so shamefully caused the loss of Maine, Anjou, Normandy, and all our lands in France. The assumed murder of the cardinal, who had died almost in public, and surrounded by the ceremonies of the Church, was too ridiculous, and was probably thrown in to hide the actual party at work. The requests then demanded summary execution on the detested collectors and extortioners, Cromer, Lisle, Este, and Sleg.

The court had now a force ready equal to that of the insurgents, and sent it under Sir Humphrey Stafford to answer the requests by cannon and matchlock. Cade retreated to Sevenoaks, where, taking advantage of Stafford's too hasty pursuit, with only part of his forces, he fell upon his troops, put them to flight, killed Stafford himself, and arraying himself in his armour, advanced again to his former position upon Blackheath.

This unexpected success threw the court into a panic. The soldiers who had gone to Sevenoaks had gone unwillingly; and those left on Blackheath now declared that they knew not why they should fight their fellow-countrymen for only asking redress of undoubted grievances. The nobles, who were at heart adverse to the present ministers, found this quite reasonable, and the court was obliged to assume an air of concession. The Lord Say, who had been one of Suffolk's most obsequious instruments, and was regarded by the people as a prime agent in the making over Maine and Anjou, was sent to the Tower as a propitiation, with some inferior officers. The king was advised to disband his army, and retire to Kenilworth; and Lord Scales, with a thousand men, undertook to defend the Tower. Cade advanced from Blackheath, took possession of Southwark, and demanded entrance into the city of London.

The lord mayor summoned a council, in which the proposal was debated; and it was concluded to offer no resistance. On the 3rd of July Cade marched over the bridge, and took up his quarters in the heart of the capital. He took the precaution to cut the ropes of the drawbridge with his sword as he passed, to prevent his being caught, as in a trap; and, maintaining strict discipline amongst his followers, he led them back into the Borough in the evening. The next day he reappeared in the same circumspect and orderly manner; and, compelling the lord mayor and the judges to sit in Guildhall, he brought Lord Say before them, and arraigned him on a charge of high treason. Say demanded to be tried by his peers; but he was hurried away to the standard in Cheapside, and beheaded. His son-in-law, Cromer, sheriff of Kent, was served in the same manner. The Duchess of Suffolk, the Bishop of Salisbury, Thomas Daniel, and others, were accused of the like high crimes, but, luckily, were not to be found. The bishop had already fallen by his own tenants at Eddington, in Leicestershire.

On the third day Cade's followers plundered some of the houses of the citizens; and the Londoners, calling in Lord Scales with his 1,000 men to aid them, resolved that Cade should be prevented again entering the city. Cade received notice of this from some of his partisans, and rushed to the bridge in the night to secure it. He found it already in the possession of the citizens. There was a bloody battle, which lasted for six hours, when the insurgents drew off, and left the Londoners masters of the bridge.

On receiving this news, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who were in the Tower, determined to try the ruse which had succeeded with the followers of Wat Tyler. They therefore sent the Bishop of Winchester to promise redress of grievances, and a full pardon under the great seal, for every one who should at once return to their homes. After some demur, the terms were gratefully accepted; Cade himself embraced the offered grace, according to the subsequent proclamation against him, dated the 10th of July; but quickly repenting of his credulity, he once more unfurled his banner, and found a number of the men ready to rejoin it. This mere remnant of the insurgent host, however, was utterly incapable of effecting anything against the city; they retired to Dept-ford, and thence to Rochester, hoping to gather a fresh army. But the people had now cooled; the rioters began to divide their plunder and to quarrel over it; and Cade, seeing all was lost, and fearing that he should be seized for the reward of 1,000 marks offered for his head, fled on horseback towards Lewes. Disguising himself, he lurked about in secret places, till, being discovered in a garden at Heyfield, in Kent, by Alexander Iden, a county gentleman, he was, after a short battle, killed by Iden, and his body carried to London.

That the party of the Duke of York had some concern in this movement, the Government not only suspected, but some of the followers of Cade, when brought to execution, are said to have confessed. But much stronger evidence of the fact is, that there was an immediate rumour that the duke himself was preparing to pass over to England. The court immediately issued orders, in the king's name, to forbid his coming, and to oppose any armed attempt on his part. The duke defeated this scheme by coming without any retinue whatever, trusting to the good-will of the people. His confidence in thus coming at once to the very court, put the Government, which had shown such suspicion of him, completely in the wrong in the eye of the public; and advantage was taken of this by his partisans in all quarters to extol his open, honourable conduct, and to represent not only his superior right, but the benefit to the nation of removing an imbecile usurper, and a false, French-hearted queen who had brought such disgrace and trouble on the country, and placing on the throne an able and popular prince.

We are now on the eve of that great contest for the possession of the crown, which figures so eminently in our history as the Wars of the Roses; and it is important at the outset to make clear to ourselves what are the real grounds of the quarrel, and where lies the justice of the case. The usurpation of Henry IV., productive of very bloody consequences at the time, had nearly been forgotten through the brilliant successes of his son, Henry V.; but still the heirs of the true line, according to the doctrine of lineal descent, were in existence. The Mortimers, Earls of Marche, had been spared by the usurping family; and Richard, Duke of York, was now the representative of that line. To understand clearly how the Mortimers, and from them Richard, Duke of York, took precedence of Henry VI., according to lineal descent, we must recollect that Henry IV. was the son of John of Gaunt, who was the fourth son of Edward III. On the deposition of Richard II., who was the son of the Black Prince, the eldest son of Edward III., there was living the Earl of Marche, the grandson of Lionel, the third son of Edward III., who had clearly the right to precede Henry. This right had been, moreover, recognised by Parliament. But Henry of Lancaster, disregarding this claim, seized on the crown by force, yet took no care to destroy the true claimant. In course of time, the Duke of York, who was paternally descended from Edward Langley, the youngest son of Edward III., was also maternally the lineal descendant of Lionel, the third son through the daughter and heiress of Mortimer, the Earl of Marche. By this descent he preceded the descendants of Henry IV., and was by right of heir-ship the undoubted claimant of the crown.

The Marches had shown no disposition whatever to exert that right, and that had proved their safety. They had been for several centuries a particularly modest and unambitious race; and so long as the descendants of Henry IV. had proved able or popular monarchs, their claims would have lain in abeyance. But they were never forgotten; and now that the imbecility and long minority of Henry VI. had created strong factions, and disgusted the people, this claim was zealously revived. Henry IV. had, as we showed under his reign, one real and indefeasible claim to the throne, that of the election of the people, had he chosen to accept it; but this he proudly rejected, and took his stand on his lineal descent from Edward III., where the heirs of his uncle Lionel had entirely the advantage of him.

The people who had favoured, and would have adopted Henry IV., had now become alienated from the house of Lancaster, through the incapacity of the present king. Through that they had lost the whole of their ancient possessions, as well as their conquests in France. Nothing remained but heavy taxation and national exhaustion, as the consequence of all the wars in that kingdom. In this respect the very glory of Henry V. became the ruin of his son. While the people complained of their poverty and oppression in consequence of those wars, they were doubly harassed by the factious quarrels of the king's relatives. They had attached themselves to the Duke of Gloucester, and he had been murdered in consequence of these factions, and, as was generally believed, at the instigation of the queen. Queen Margaret, indeed, completed the alienation of the people from the House of Lancaster. She was not only French, a nation now in the worst odour with the people of England, but through her they had lost Maine and Anjou, the beginning of all their losses. Coming into the kingdom, not only without any fortune, but under these unlucky circumstances, she took no pains to conciliate the popular good-will. She was haughty, ambitious, and extremely vindictive. She made herself the mortal enemy of the "good Duke of Gloucester," and had the credit of compassing his death. She allied herself successively with the Dukes of Suffolk and of Somerset, noblemen not only of the most determined hostility to Gloucester, but especially connected with the loss of France. She had vowed vengeance against the Londoners and the men of Kent for their share in the unpopularity of her favourites, and the death of Suffolk; and was reported to be at once unfaithful to the king, and bent on ruling, through him, on principles of despotism which were foreign to all English ideas.

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