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Reign of Edward IV. Part 2 page 3

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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.

Thus was the long and sanguinary usurpation of the house of Lancaster apparently put down, and Edward, the representative of the house of York, sat on the throne with scarcely a visible competitor. There were some nearer, however, than he suspected. His two brothers, Clarence and Gloucester, were a couple of men as unprincipled as ever appeared on the face of history. Clarence was weak, but Gloucester was as cunning and daring as he was base. A more unlovable character no country has produced, spite of all the endeavours which have been made by Horace Walpole and other writers, to whitewash into something amiable this real blackamoor of nature. The crimes of murder which are attributed to him, both before and after his seizure of his nephew's throne, no sophistry can rid him of; the odium reeking upon him in his own day still clings to him in ours.

The two rapacious brothers came now, on the first return of peace, to quarrel at the very foot of the throne for the vast property of Warwick. Edward would fain have forgotten everything else in his pleasures. The blood upon his own hands gave him no concern; he was only anxious to devote his leisure hours to Jane Shore, the silversmith's wife, whom he had, like numbers of other ladies, seduced from her duty. But Clarence and Gloucester broke through his gaieties with their wranglings and mutual menaces. "The world seemeth queasy, here," says Sir John Paston in his Letters; "for the most part that be about the king have sent for their harness, and it is said for certain that the Duke of Clarence maketh him big in that he can, showing as he would but deal with the Duke of Gloucester. But the king intendeth, in eschewing all inconvenience, to be as big as them both, and to be a stiffler between them. And some men think, that under this there should be some other thing intended; and some treason conspired, so what shall fall can I not tell."

The fact was, that Clarenco having, as we have seen, married Isabella, the eldest daughter, was determined, if possible, to monopolise all the property of Warwick, as if the eldest daughter were sole heiress. But Gloucester, who was always on the look out for his own aggrandisement, now cast his eyes on Anne, the other daughter, who had been married to the Prince of Wales. Clarence, aware that he should have a daring and a lawless rival in Gloucester, in regard to the property, opposed the match with all his might. On this point they rose to high words and much heat. Clarence declared at length that Richard might marry Anne if he pleased, but that he should have no share whatever in the property; but only let Richard get the lady, and he would soon possess himself of the lands. The question was debated by the two brothers with such fury, before the council, that civil war was anticipated.

All this time the property was rightfully that of the widow of Warwick, the mother of the two young ladies. Anne, the Countess of Warwick, was the sole heiress of the vast estates of the Despensers and the Beauchamps, Earls of Warwick. Her husband, the king-maker, had entered on the estates and title by his marriage with her. So far, therefore, as all law and right were concerned, no person whatever but herself, during her lifetime, had any claim on those estates. But in that miserable age, laws, right, honour, or natural affection had little or no existence. The widow of Warwick, the mother of the two ladies thus striven for, the rightful possessor of the estates hankered after, was not in the slightest degree regarded. She was retained an actual prisoner in the sanctuary of Beaulieu, whither she fled on the death of her husband. A party of soldiers was maintained by Edward, who stood sentinels over the sanctuary, disturbing the devotional quiet of the place, and by their insolent maraudings keeping the whole neighbourhood in terror. The unhappy mother of the two ladies who were thus to be placed, by marriage with the princes of the blood, almost on a level with the throne, in vain petitioned even for her liberty. Two years after the battle of Tewkesbury, the countess petitioned the House of Commons for her liberty. She complained in that petition that she had, within five days of her retreat into the sanctuary, commenced her earnest suit to the king for the restoration of her freedom, and sufficient of her property to maintain her; but her requests had been treated with the utmost indifference. She had then tried the sympathies of the queen, Elizabeth Wydville, but without any success. Elizabeth was a woman who never thought of property without wanting to get it into her own family. She had after that tried Clarence, her son-in-law, the father of her grandchildren, and Gloucester, who wanted to become her son-in-law. In vain. Then she applied to the king's sisters, the Duchesses of Essex and Suffolk, old Jacquetta, the Duchess of Bedford, the queen's mother. To all the great court party, who had once been her friends - as the world calls friendship - and many of them her humble flatterers and admirers, she applied, in the most moving terms, for their kind aid in obtaining a modicum of freedom and support out of her own lands, the most wealthy in England.

But it was not her that the two princes courted, it was her property; and nobody dared or cared to move a finger in favour of the once great Anne of Warwick. The daughter Anne, so far from desiring to marry Richard of Gloucester, detested him. She was said to have had a real affection for her unfortunate husband, the murdered Prince of Wales, and shrunk in horror from the idea of wedding the murderer. Co-operating, therefore, with the wishes and Interests of Clarence, she, by his assistance, escaped out of the sanctuary of Beaulieu, where she had been with the countess, her mother, and disappeared. For some time no trace of her could be discovered; but Gloucester had his spies and emissaries everywhere; and, at length, the daughter of Warwick, and the future queen of England, was found in the guise of a cookmaid in London. Gloucester removed her to the sanctuary of St. Martin's-le-Grand. Afterwards, she was allowed to visit her uncle, the Archbishop of York, before Ms disgrace, and the Queen Margaret in the Tower. AE this was probably conceded by Gloucester, in order to win Anne's favour; but Anne still repelling with disgust his addresses, he refused her these solaces, and procuring the removal of her mother from Beaulieu, sent her, under the escort of Sir John Tyrrell, into the north, where he is said to have kept her confined till his own death, even while she was his mother-in-law. Anne was at length compelled to marry the hated Gloucester; and her hatred appeared to increase from nearer acquaintance, for she was soon after praying for a divorce.

The king was compelled to award to Gloucester a large share of Warwick's property; and the servile Parliament passed an act in 1474, embodying the disgraceful commands of these most unnatural and unprincipled princes. The two daughters were to succeed to the Warwick property, as though their mother, the possessor in her own right, were dead. If either of them should die before her husband, he should continue to retain her estates during his natural life. If a divorce should take place between Richard and Anne, for which Anne was striving, Richard was still to retain her property, provided he married or did his best to marry her to some one else. Thus, by this most iniquitous arrangement, while Richard kept his wife's property, they made it a motive with her to force her into some other alliance, if not so hateful, perhaps more degrading. It is impossible to conceive the tyranny of vice and selfishness carried farther than in these odious transactions. But this was not all. There was living a son of the Marquis of Montacute, Warwick's brother; and to prevent any claim from him as next heir male, all such lands as he might become the claimant of, were tied upon Clarence and Gloucester, and their heirs, so long as there should remain any heirs male of the marquis. By these means did these amiable brothers imagine that they had stepped into the full and perpetual possession of the enormous wealth of the great Warwick. Edward, having rather smoothed over than appeased the jealousies and ambition of his brothers, now turned his ambition to foreign conquest.

In all his contests at home, Edward had shown great military talents. He had fought ten battles, and never lost one; for at the time of the treason of Lord Montacute in 1740, he had not fought at all, but, deserted by his army, had fled to Flanders. He had always entertained a flattering idea that he could emulate the martial glory of the Edwards and of Henry V., and once more recover the lost territories of France, and the lost prestige of the British arms on the Continent. His relations with France and Burgundy were such as encouraged this roseate notion. Louis XI. had supported the claims of Henry, and accomplishing the alliance of Margaret and his most formidable enemy Warwick, had sent them to push him from his throne. The time appeared to be arrived for inflicting full retribution. Burgundy was his brother-in-law, and had aided him in recovering his crown. True, the aid of Burgundy had not been prompted by love to him, but by enmity to Warwick and Louis; nor had his reception of him in his day of distress been such as to merit much gratitude. But he did not care to probe too deeply into the motives of the prince; the great matter was, that Burgundy was the sworn antagonist of Louis, and their interests were, therefore, the same.

The Duke of Burgundy - called Charles le Temeraire, or the Rash, though sometimes more complimentarily termed the Bold - was no match for the cold and politic Louis XI. He and his ally, the Duke of Brittany, fancied themselves incapable of standing their ground against Louis, and now made an offer of mutual alliance to Edward, for the purpose of enforcing their common claims in France. Nothing could accord more with the desires of Edward than this proposition. He had employed 1473 in settling his disputes with the Hanse Towns, in confirming the truce with Scotland, and renewing his alliances with Portugal and Denmark. His Parliament had granted him large supplies. They voted him a tenth of rents, or two shillings in the pound, calculated to produce at that day 31,460, equal to more than 300,000 of our present money. They then added to this a whole fifteenth, and three-quarters of another. But when Edward entered into the scheme of Burgundy and Brittany for the French conquest, they granted him permission to v raise any further moneys by what were called benevolences, or free gifts - a kind of exaction perhaps more irksome than any other, because it was vague, arbitrary, and put the advances of the subjects on the basis of loyalty. Such a mode of fleecing the people had been resorted to under Henry III. and Richard II. Now there was added a clause to the Act of Parliament, providing that the proceeds of the fifteenth should be deposited in religious houses; and if the French campaign should not take place, should be refunded to the people: as if any one had ever heard of taxes, once obtained, ever being refunded to the payers!

Armed with these powers, Edward soon showed what, in his mind, was the idea of a benevolence. He summoned before him the most wealthy citizens, and demanded their liberal contributions to his treasury for his great object, the recovery of France. No one dared to refuse a monarch who had given so many proofs of his ready punishment of those who displeased him. From the pride, the fears, or the shame of the wealthy thus called upon, he amassed, it is declared, far larger sums for the war than any of his predecessors had done. To leave no enemy in the rear, and to prevent any tampering of the subtle Louis with the Scots - the usual policy of France on such occasions - Edward appointed commissioners to award ample indemnity to the merchants and subjects of Scotland who had received any injury from England. Whilst Scotland was in the good humour thus produced, Edward proposed and carried a contract of marriage betwixt the Duke of Rothsay, the son and heir of James of Scotland, and his second daughter, Cecily. The portion of the princess was to be 20,000 marks, but this was to be paid by instalments of 2,000 marks per annum for ten years; thus, by making the Scottish king a kind of pensioner on the English crown, binding him more firmly to the alliance.

All being in readiness, Edward passed over from Sandwich to Calais, where he landed on the 22nd of June, 1475. He had with him 1,500 men-at-arms, and 15,000 archers, an army with which the former Edwards would have made Louis tremble on his throne. He dispatched the Garter king-at-arms with a letter of defiance to Louis, demanding nothing less than the crown of France. The position of Louis was to all appearance most critical. If Burgundy, Brittany, and the Count of St. Pol, the Constable of France, who had entered into the league against him, had acted wisely and faithfully together, the war must have been as dreadful, and the losses of France as severe, as in the past days. But probably Louis was well satisfied of the crumbling character of the coalition. Comines, who was at the time in the service of Louis, has left us ample accounts of these transactions, and according to them, the conduct of the French king was masterly in the extreme. Instead of firing with resentment at *the proud demands of the letter, he took the herald politely into his private closet, and there, in the most courteous and familiar manner, told him he was sorry for this misunderstanding with the King of England; that, for his part, he had the highest respect for Edward, and desired to be on amicable terms with him, but that he knew very well that all this was stirred up by the Duke of Burgundy and the Constable of St. Pol, who would be the very first to abandon Edward, if any difficulty arose, or after they had got their own turn served. He put it to the herald how much better it would be for England and France to be on good terms, and gave the greatest weight to his arguments by smilingly placing in Garter's hand a purse of 300 crowns, assuring him that if he used his endeavours effectually to preserve the peace between the two kingdoms, he would add to it a thousand more.

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