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Accession of Edward IV page 2


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These circumstances now drew the hearts of the people as strongly towards the Duke of York as they had formerly been attracted to the house of Lancaster. They began to regard him with interest as a person whose rights to the throne had been unjustly overlooked. He was a man who seemed to possess much of the modest and amiable character of the Marches. He had been recalled from France, where he was ably conducting himself, as was believed, by the influence of the queen, and sent as governor into Ireland, as a sort of honourable banishment. But, though treated in a manner calculated to provoke him, he had retained the unassuming moderation of his demeanour. He had yet made no public pretensions to the crown, and, though circumstances seemed to invite him, showed no haste to seize it. There were many circumstances, indeed, which tended to make all parties hesitate to proceed to extremities. Though the queen was highly unpopular, Henry himself, though weak, was so amiable, pious and just, that the public, though groaning under the consequences of his weakness, yet retained much affection for him. There were also numbers of nobles of great influence who had benefited by the long minority of the king, and who, though they disliked the queen's party, were afraid of being called on, in case another dynasty was established, to yield up the valuable grants they had obtained.

Thus the kingdom was divided into three parties: those who took part with Somerset and the queen, those who inclined to the Duke of York, and those who, having benefited by the long reign of corruption, were afraid of any change, and endeavoured to hold the balance betwixt the extreme parties. Almost all the nobles of the North of England were zealous supporters of the house of Lancaster, and with them went the Earl of Westmoreland, the head of the house of Neville, though the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, his relations, were the chief champions of the cause of York. With the Duke of Somerset also followed, in support of the crown, Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and the Lords Clifford, Dudley, Scales, Audley, and other noblemen. With the Duke of York, besides the principal Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, went many of the southern houses.

Such was the state of public feeling and the position of parties when the insurrection of Cade occurred. The Duke of York had made himself additionally popular by his conduct in Ireland. He had shown great prudence and ability in suppressing the insurrections of the natives; and thus made fast friends of all the English who had connections in that island. No doubt the members of his own party used every argument to incite the duke to assert his right to the throne, and thus to free the country from the dominance of the queen and her favourites. That it was the general opinion of that time that the Cade conspiracy was a direct feeler on the part of the Yorkists, is clear from Shakespeare, who wrote so much nearer to that day. He makes York say -

"I have seduced a headstrong Kentish man,
John Cade of Ashford,
To make commotion, as full well he can,
Under the title of John Mortimer.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This devil here shall be my substitute:
For that John Mortimer, which now is dead,
In face, in gait, in speech he doth resemble.
By this I shall perceive the Commons' mind
How they affect the house and claim of York.
Say he is taken, racked, and tortured:
I know no pain they can inflict upon him,
Will make him say I moved him to those arms.
Say that he thrive, as 'tis great like he will:
Why. then from Ireland come I with my strength,
And reap that harvest which that rascal sowed."

Accordingly, York appeared upon the scene; but Cade had already paid the penalty of his outbreak. On his way to town, York, passing through Northamptonshire, sent for Wiliam Tresham, the late Speaker of the House of Commons, who had taken an active part in the prosecution of Suffolk. But, on his way to the duke, Tresham was fallen upon by the men of Lord Grey de Ruthyn, and murdered, as was supposed, at the instigation of the queen, in revenge of her favourite's death. York proceeded to London, as related, and appeared before the king, where he demanded of him to summon a Parliament for the settlement of the disturbed affairs of the realm. Henry promised, and York meantime retired to his castle of Fotheringay.

Scarcely had York retired when Somerset arrived from France, and the queen and Henry hailed him as a champion sent in the moment of need to sustain the court party against the power and designs of York. But Somerset came from the loss of France, and, therefore, loaded with an awful weight of public odium; and with her vindictive disregard of appearances, Queen Margaret immediately transferred to him all her old predilection for Suffolk. When the Parliament met, the temper of the public mind was very soon apparent. Out of doors the life of Somerset was threatened by the mob, and his house was pillaged. In the Commons, Young, one of the representatives of Bristol, moved that, as Henry had no children, York should be declared his successor. This proposal seemed to take the house by surprise, and Young was committed to the Tower. But a bill was carried to attaint the memory of the Duke of Suffolk, and another to remove from about the king the Duchess of Suffolk, the Duke of Somerset, and almost all the party in power. Henry refused to accede to these measures, any further than promising to order a number of inferior persons from the court for twelve months, during which time their conduct might be inquired into. On this the Duchess of Suffolk and the other persons indicted of high treason during the insurrection, demanded to be heard in their defence, and were acquitted.

The spirit of the opposite factions ran very high; the party of Somerset accusing that of York of treasonable designs, and that of York declaring that the court was plotting to destroy the duke as they had destroyed Gloucester. York retired to his castle of Ludlow, in Shropshire, where he was in the very centre of the Mortimer interest, and under plea of securing himself against Somerset, he actively employed himself in raising forces, at the same time issuing a proclamation of the most devoted loyalty, and offering to swear fealty to the king on the sacrament before the Bishop of Hereford and the Earl of Shrewsbury. The court paid no attention to his professions, but an army was led by the king against him. York, instead of awaiting the blow, took another road, and endeavoured to reach and obtain possession of London in the king's absence. On approaching the capital, he received a message that its gates would be shut against him, and he then turned aside to Dartford, probably hoping for support from the same population which had followed Cade. The king pursued him, and encamping on Blackheath, sent the Bishops of Ely and Winchester to demand why he was in arms. York replied, from no disloyal design, but merely to protect himself from his enemies, who sought his ruin. The king replied that his movements had been watched since the murder of the Bishop of Chichester by men believed to be in his interest, and still more since his partisans had openly boasted of his right to the crown; but that for his own part, he himself believed him to be a loyal subject, and his own well beloved cousin.

York demanded that all persons "noised or indicted of treason" should be apprehended, committed to the Tower, and brought to trial. All this the king, or his advisers, promised, and as Somerset was one of the persons chiefly aimed at by York, the king gave an instant order for the arrest and committal of Somerset, and assured York that a new council should be summoned, in which he himself should be included, and all matters decided by a majority. At these frank promises, York expressed himself entirely satisfied, disbanded his army, and came bareheaded to the king's tent. What occurred, however, was by no means in accordance with the honourable character of the king, and savoured more of the councils of the queen. No sooner did York present himself before Henry, and begin to enter upon the causes of complaint, than Somerset stepped from behind a curtain, denied the assertions of York, and defied him to mortal combat. So flagrant a breach of faith showed York that he had been betrayed, He turned to depart in indignant resentment, but he was informed that he was a prisoner. Somerset was urgent for his trial and execution, as the only means of securing the permanent peace of the realm. Henry had a horror of spilling blood; but in this instance York is said to have owed his safety rather to the fears of the ministers than any act of grace of the king, who was probably in no condition of mind to be capable of thinking upon the subject. There was already a report that York's son, the Earl of Marche, was on the way towards London with a strong army of Welshmen to liberate his father. This so alarmed the queen and council that they agreed to set free the duke, on condition that he swore to be faithful to the king, which he did at St. Paul's, Henry and his chief nobility being present. York then retired to his castle of Wigmore.

In the autumn of 1453 the queen was delivered of a son, who was called Edward. There was a great cry in the country that this was no son of the king - a cry, no doubt, zealously promoted by the partisans of York - but it did not prevent the young prince being recognised as the heir-apparent, and created Prince of Wales, Earl of Cornwall and Chester. But the king had now fallen into such a state of imbecility, with periods of absolute insanity, that those who had denied the legitimacy of his mother, Queen Catherine, might well doubt their opinion; for Henry's malady appeared precisely that of his reputed grandfather, Charles VI. of France. Such was his condition, that Parliament would no longer consent to leave him in the hands of the queen and Somerset. In the autumn the influence of Parliament compelled the recall of York to the council; and this, as might have been expected, was immediately followed by the committal of Somerset to the Tower. In February Parliament recommenced its sittings, and York appeared as lieutenant or commissioner for the king, who was incapable of opening it in person. It had been the policy of the queen to keep concealed the real condition of the king, but with York at the head of affairs, this was no longer possible. The House of Lords appointed a deputation to wait upon him at Windsor. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was also Lord Chancellor, was dead; and the Lords seized upon the occasion as the plea for a personal interview, according to ancient custom, with the king. Twelve peers accordingly proceeded to Windsor, and would not return without seeing the monarch. They found him in such a state of mental alienation that, though they saw him three times, they could perceive no mark of attention from him. They reported him utterly incapable of transacting any business; and the Duke of York was thereupon appointed protector, with a yearly salary of 2,000 marks. The Lancastrian party, however, took care to define the duties and the powers of this office, so as to maintain the rights of the king. The title of protector was to give no authority, but merely precedence in the council, and the command of the army in time of rebellion or invasion. It was to be revocable at the will of the king, should he at any time recover soundness of mind; and, in case that he remained so long incapacitated for Government, the protectorate was to pass to the prince on his coming of age. The command at sea was entrusted to five noblemen, chosen from the two parties; and the Government of Calais, a most important post, was taken from Somerset, and given to York.

With all this change, the session of Parliament appears to have been stormy. The Duke of York had instituted an action for trespass against Thorpe, the Speaker of the Commons, and one of the Barons of the Exchequer, and obtained a verdict with damages to the amount of 1,000, and Thorpe was committed to prison till he gave security for that sum, and an equal fine to the crown. In vain did the Commons petition for the release of the Speaker. The Lords refused; and they were compelled to elect a new one. Many of the Lords, not feeling themselves safe, absented themselves from the House, and were only compelled to attend by heavy fines. The Duke of Exeter was taken into custody, and bound to keep the peace; and the Earl of Devonshire, a Yorkist, was accused of high treason and tried, but acquitted. So strong was the opposition of the court party, that even York himself was compelled to stand up and defend himself.

These angry commotions were but the prelude to a more decisive act. The king was found something better, and the fact was instantly seized on by the queen and her party to hurl York from power, and reinstate Somerset. About Christmas the king demanded from York the resignation of the protectorate, and immediately liberated Somerset. This was not done without Somerset being at first held to bail for his appearance at Westminster to answer the charges against him. But he appealed to the council, on the ground that he had been committed without any lawful cause; and the court party being now in the ascendant, he was at once freed from his recognisances. The king himself appeared anxious to reconcile the two dukes - a circumstance more convincing of his good nature than of his sound sense - for it was an impossibility. He would not restore the Government of Calais to the Duke of Somerset, but he took it from York and retained it in his own hands. York perceived that he had been regularly defeated by the queen, and he retired again to his castle of Ludlow to plan more serious measures.

The Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Salisbury and his son, the celebrated Earl of Warwick, destined to acquire the name of the King-maker, hastened there at his summons, and it was resolved to attempt the suppression of the court party by force of arms. They were quickly at the head of 3,000 men, and with these they hoped to surprise the royalists. But no sooner did the news of this approaching force reach the court, than the king was carried forth at the head of a body of troops equal to those of York, and a march was commenced against him. The royal army had reached St. Albans, and on the morning of the 23rd of May, as it was about to resume its progress, the hills bordering on the high road were beheld covered with the troops of York. This army marching under the banners of the house of York, now for the first time displayed in resistance to the sovereign, halted in a field near the town, and sent forward a herald announcing that the three noblemen were come in all loyalty and attachment to the king; but with a determination to remove the Duke of Somerset from his councils, and demanding that he and his pernicious associates should be at once delivered up to them. The Yorkists declared that they felt this to be so absolutely necessary, that they were resolved to destroy those enemies to the peace of the country, or to perish themselves. An answer was returned by or for the king, "that he would not abandon any of the lords who were faithful to him, but rather would do battle upon it, at the peril of life and crown."

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