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Reign of Edward IV. Part 2 page 2


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In the fall of Warwick Edward might justly suppose that he saw the only real obstacle to the permanency of his own power; but Margaret was still alive. She was no longer, however, the elastic and indomitable Margaret who had led her forces up to the battles of St. Alban's, Northampton, Wakefield, Towton, and Hexham. Her astonishing exertions, her severe hardships, and awful reverses had told on her spirit and constitution. Years of reflection in the midst of obscurity and poverty had led her to perceive more clearly the formidable difficulties in the way to v, peaceable possession of the throne - the mental condition of her husband, the youth of her son, the power of Warwick - formerly her great enemy, and now her doubtful friend, for he had secured his hold on the throne by the marriage of two of his daughters. There was the ominous clause in the treaty with her and Prance, that if the issue of her son failed, the throne went to Clarence, the -brother of Edward. Heaven and the elements, ever since this unnatural contract, had appeared to oppose her. As "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," they appeared now to fight against her. All the winter she had been struggling to cross the Channel with her son and her followers, and tempest after tempest had driven her back. Could she have been present with the Lancastrian armies, with the Prince of Wales, thousands would have flocked to the Lancastrian standard who were doubtful of the loyalty of Warwick. But the day that she landed at Weyniouth, imagining that she had now nothing to do but to march in triumph to London, and resume with her husband their vacant throne, was the very day of the fatal battle of Barnet. The first news she received was of the total overthrow of her party and the death of Warwick. The life of the great king-maker might have created her future troubles; his fall was her total ruin. Confounded by the tidings, her once lofty spirit abandoned her; sho sank on the ground in a death-like swoon.

On recovering her consciousness, Margaret bitterly bewailed her fortunes. She cursed the miserable times in which she lived, and declared that she had rather die than live in so much and so perpetual trouble. She was then in the abbey of Cerne, and with her were her son, now about eighteen years of age; his new bride, the daughter of Warwick; Sir John Fortescue, who had adhered to her through all her exile; Sir Henry Rous, and some others. With these and the rest of her followers she fled to the famous sanctuary of Beaulieu, in the New Forest, where she registered herself and all her attendants as privileged persons. Probably the presence of the Countess of Warwick might make her resort to Beaulieu. The now widowed countess embarked at Harfleur at the same time with the queen, had lauded at Portsmouth, and proceeded to Southampton. Here she was met by the news of her husband's death at Barnet, and she fled instantly to Beaulieu.

The moment it was known that Margaret and the prince were at Beaulieu, the Duke of Somerset, the Earls of Devonshire and Oxford, the Lords Wenlock and Beaufort, with many knights and gentlemen, flocked thither, and bade her not despair, for that the Earl of Pembroke was at the head of a strong force in Wales, and her followers were still of good heart. Margaret replied that, for herself, she would remain and do everything possible to turn the tide of victory; but she begged that her son might be allowed to return to France and there await the issue in safety. To this the prince refused to listen, and was unanimously supported in that resolution by the leaders. The forebodings of Margaret were borne down by his zealous opposition, and she said, " Well, be it so."

It was the plan of her generals to hasten to Pembroke; and, having effected a junction with him, to proceed to Cheshire, to render the army effective by a good body of archers. But Edward, always rapid in his movements, allowed them no time for so formidable a combination. He left London on the 19th of April, and reached Tewkesbury on the 3rd of May. Margaret and her company set out from Bath, and prepared to cross the Severn at Gloucester, to join Pembroke and Jasper Tudor. But the people of Gloucester had fortified the bridge, and neither threats nor bribes could induce them to let her pass. She then marched on to Tewkesbury, near which they found Edward already awaiting them.

The troops being worn down by the fatigue of a long and fearful march, Margaret was in the utmost anxiety to avoid an engagement, and to press on to their friends in Wales. But Somerset represented that such a thing was utterly impossible. For a night and a day the foot- soldiers had been plunging along for six-and-thirty miles through a foul country - all lanes, and stony ways, betwixt woods, and having no proper refreshment. To move farther in the face of the enemy was out of the, question. He must pitch his camp in the park, and take such fortune as God should send.

The queen, as well as the most experienced officers of the army, were greatly averse to this, but the duke either could not or would not move, and Edward presented himself in readiness for battle. Thus compelled to give up the cheering hope of a junction with the Welsh army, Margaret and her son did all in their power to inspire the soldiers with courage for this most eventful conflict. The next morning, being the 4th of May, the forces were drawn out in order. The Duke of Somerset took the charge of the main body. The Prince of "Wales commanded the second division, under the direction of Lord Wenlock and the Prior of St. John's. The Earl of Devonshire brought up the rear. The Lancastrian army was entrenched in a particularly strong position on the banks of the Severn; having, both in front and on the flanks, a country so deeply intersected with lanes, hedges, and ditches, that there was scarcely any approaching it. This grand advantage, however, was completely lost by the folly and impetuosity of the Duke of Somerset, who, not content to defend himself against the superior forces and heavier artillery of Edward, rushed out beyond the entrenchments, where he was speedily taken in flank by a body of 200 spearsmen, and thrown into confusion. His men fled for their lives, and the duke regaining the camp, and seeing Lord Wenlock sitting quietly at the head of his division, instead of following and supporting him, as he thought he ought to have done, he rode furiously up to him, and exclaiming, "Traitor!" cleft his skull with his battle-axe.

At the sight of this, the soldiers of Wenlock's division fled in terror, and the banner of the Duke of Gloucester, followed speedily by that of Edward himself, being seen floating inside the entrenchments, all became confusion. The queen, on seeing the breaking up of the host, became frantic, and would have rushed into the midst of the melee, to endeavour to call back the soldiers to the conflict. But her attendants forced her away, and escaped with her to a small religious house in the neighbourhood, where her daughter-in-law, Ann of Warwick, the Countess of Devonshire, and Lady Catherine Vaux, also took refuge. Three days later, the queen and these ladies were seized and conveyed captives to the Yorkist camp. In the meantime Margaret's son, the Prince of Wales, had been taken on the field of battle, and, being conducted into the presence of Edward by his captor, Sir Richard Crofts, the Yorkist king demanded of the princely boy, "How he dared so presumptuously to enter his realms with banners displayed against him?" and the stripling replied, undauntedly, "To recover my father's crown and mine own inheritance." Edward, incensed at this reply, struck in a most dastardly manner the royal youth in the face, with the back of his gauntlet, and Gloucester and Clarence, or perhaps their attendants, followed up the base blow, and dispatched him with their swords. Stowe says simply, "The king smote him on the face with his gauntlet, and after, his servants slew him." Other writers assert that he was slain on the field; and no doubt this royal murder took place in the field, and while the victors were excited by the heat of battle.

No fate can be conceived more consummately wretched than that of Margaret now - her cause utterly ruined, her only son slain, her husband and herself the captives of their haughty enemies. They who had thus barbarously shed the blood of the prince might, with a little cunning, shed that of her husband and herself. No such good fortune awaited Margaret. She was doomed to hear of the death of her imprisoned consort, and to be left to long years of grief over the utter wreck of crown, husband, child, and friends, a great and distinguished band.

The Duke of Somerset, the Prior of St. John's, six knights - Sir Gervais Clifton, Sir Humphry Audely, Sir William Gainsby, Sir William Cary, Sir Henry Rose, Sir Thomas Tresham - and seven esquires had fled to a church at Tewkesbury. They always themselves respected the rights of sanctuary, and probably on that account deemed themselves safe. To this Edward was indebted for the life of his queen, his children, and of thousands of his friends and adherents. During his absence Elizabeth had fled from the Tower to the sanctuary of Westminster, with her mother, the old Duchess Jacquetta, and her three daughters. There she was delivered of a son, the unfortunate Edward V., destined to perish in his boyhood in the gloomy fortress which his mother had just quitted. But, forgetting all this, he broke, sword in hand, into the church, and would have killed them. A priest, bearing the sacrament, withstood him, and would not permit him to pass till he promised to pardon all who had fled thither. Edward readily promised, but, two days after, they were dragged thence, brought before the Dukes of Gloucester and Northumberland, condemned, and beheaded. This deadly quarrel betwixt the houses of York and Lancaster had now occasioned twelve battles; the deaths in these battles and on the block of 110 less than sixty princes of these two families, above half of the nobles and powerful gentlemen, and above 100,000 of the common people. Such were the direct consequences of the usurpation of Henry IV. The stream of blood ceased in a great measure during the remainder of the present reign, but only to burst forth again with fresh violence under Richard of Gloucester.

Edward returned to London triumphant over all his enemies, and the next morning Henry YI. was found dead in the Tower. It was given out that he died of grief and melancholy, but nobody at that day doubted that he was murdered, [and it was generally attributed to Richard of Gloucester. The continuator of the chronicles of Croyland, a most credible contemporary, prays that the doer of the deed, whoever he were, may have time for repentance, and declares that it was done by "an agent of the tyrant" and a subject of the murdered king. Who was this? The chronicler in Leland points it out plainly. "That night," he says, "King Henry was put to death in the Tower, the Duke of Gloucester and divers of his men being there." Fabyan, also a contemporary, says, "Divers tales were told, but the most common fame went that he was sticked with a dagger by the hands of the Duke Gloucester."

To satisfy the people, the same means were resorted to as in the case of Richard II. The body of the unfortunate king was conveyed on a bier, with the face exposed, from the Tower through Cheapside to St. Paul's. Pour of the principal chroniclers of the day assert that the fresh blood from his wounds "welled upon the pavement," giving certain evidence of the manner of his death; and the same thing occurred when he was removed to Black Friars. To get rid of so unsatisfactory a proof of Henry's natural death, the body was the same day put into a barge with a guard of soldiers from Calais, and thus, says the Croyland chronicler, "without singing or saying, he was conveyed up the dark waters of the Thames at midnight, to his silent interment at Chertsey Abbey, where it was long pretended that miracles were performed at his tomb."

Henry's reputation for holiness during his life, and his tragical death, occasioned such a resort to his tomb, that Gloucester, in mounting the throne as Richard III., caused the remains of the poor king to be removed, it was said to Windsor. Afterwards, when Henry VII. wished to convey them to Westminster, they could not be found, having been carefully concealed from public attention.

Margaret, who was conveyed to the Tower the very night on which her husband was murdered there, was at first rigorously treated. There had been an attempt on the part of the Bastard of Falconberg, who was vice-admiral under Warwick, to liberate Henry, during the absence of Edward and Gloucester, at the battle of Tewkesbury. He landed at Blackwall with a body of marines, and, calling on the people of Essex and Kent to aid him, made two desperate attempts to penetrate to the Tower, burning Bishopsgate, but was repulsed, and on the approach of Edward, retreated. To prevent any similar attempt in favour of Margaret, she was successively removed to Windsor, and lastly to Wallingford. She remained a prisoner for five years, when at the entreaty of her father, King Rene, she was ransomed by Louis of France, and retired to the castle of Reculee, near Angers. She died at the chateau of Damprierre, near Saumur, in 1482, in the fifty-first year of her age. No time is said to have brought resignation to her stormy and passionate nature. She continued the victim of griefs and regrets for her bereavements so intense, that, adding their force to that of the toils, excitements, and agonies that she had passed through, she was consumed by a loathsome leprosy, and from one of the most beautiful women in the world, became an object of appalling terror.

The Lancastrian party appeared now broken up for ever: those leaders who had not fallen, fled; and some of them lived till times were auspicious to them. We have noticed the death of the Duke of Exeter. He was married to the sister of Edward; but that lady, instead of obtaining his pardon, obtained a divorce from him, and married Sir Thomas St. Leger. The next year poor Exeter's body was found, as we have related, out at sea. Vere, Earl of Oxford, made his escape into France. He returned with a small fleet; surprised Mount St. Michael in Cornwall, but was compelled to surrender, and was afterwards confined twelve years in the castle of Hamme, in Picardy; while his wife, the sister of the great Warwick, supported herself by her needle. Oxford survived to fight for Henry VII. The Archbishop of York, the only remaining brother of Warwick, having very foolishly, in presence of the king's servants, displayed his wealth since the battle of Barnet, was plundered of all his plate and jewels, stripped of his bishopric, and shut up in prison, partly in England, and partly at Gnisnes, till within a few years of his death. The Earl of Pembroke, and his nephew, the Earl of Richmond, escaped into Brittany, where Edward sent to demand their being given up to him. But the Duke of Brittany refused, and there remained the future Henry VII., waiting for the day which came at length, when he should avenge the house of Lancaster, and unite it and that of York for ever. Several of the other fugitive Lancastrians - amongst whom was Sir John Fortescue, who had been tutor to Edward, Prince of Wales, Margaret's son - humbly sued for pardon, and received it.

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Pictures for Reign of Edward IV. Part 2 page 2

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