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Years 1399-1485 page 7

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The floors were still strewn with fresh rushes instead of a carpet, and the walls were hung with arras, which clothed them and at the same time kept out cold draughts. Plaster ceilings were yet unknown. The greater portion of these houses, however, was required for the sleeping apartments of the numerous retainers.

In the humbler halls, granges, and farmhouses, the same plan of building round a quadrangle was mostly adhered to, and a great number of such houses were of framed timber, with ornamental gables and porches, and displaying much carving. Great Ohatfield manor-house in Wiltshire, Hariaxton in Licolnshire, Helmingham Hall, Norfolk, Moreton Hall in Cheshire, and probably some of the framed timber houses of Lancashire, as the Hail-in-the-Wood. Smithell's, Speke Hall, &c., in whole or in part, date from this period. Ockwells, in Berkshire, is another of the fine old timber houses of this period.

In the towns the houses were also chiefly of wood. The streets were extremely narrow, and the upper stories of the houses projected over the lower ones, so that you might almost shake hands out of the third or fourth story windows. This was the cause of such frequent fires as occurred in London. Many of the small houses in these narrow streets were adorned with abundance of carving. The houses or inns of the great barons, prelates, and abbots were extensive, and surrounded inner courts. Here, during Parliament, and on other great occasions, the owners came with their vast retinues. We are told that the Duke of York lodged with 400 men in Baynard's Castle, in 1457. The Earl of Warwick had his house in Warwick Lane, still called after it, where he could lodge 800 men. At another house of his called the Herber, meaning an inn, the Earl of Salisbury, his father, lodged with 500 men. Still more extensive must have been the abodes of the Earls of Exeter and Northumberland, who occasionally brought retinues of from 800 to 1,500 men. The sites of these great houses are yet known, and bear the names of their ancient owners, but the buildings themselves have long vanished. The great houses of Scotland still kept up the show of feudal strength and capability of defence. The Peels, or Border towers, yet bear evidence of the necessity of stout fortification in those times. We may form some idea of the devastation made amongst private dwellings in the Wars of the Roses, from the statement of John Rous, the Warwick antiquary, who says that no fewer than sixty villages, some of them largo and populous, with churches and manor-houses, had been destroyed within twelve miles of that city. From all that we can learn, the common people of this age were but indifferently lodged, and the mansions of the great were more stately than comfortable.


Though such extensive destruction of the statuary which adorned both the exterior and interior of our churches took place at the Reformation, sufficient yet remains to warrant us in the belief that the fifteenth surpassed every prior century in its sculpture. The very opposition which the Wycliffites had raised to the worship and even existence of images, seems to have stimulated the Church only the more to put forth its strength in this direction. Sculptors, both foreign and English, therefore received the highest encouragement, and were in the fullest employ. The few statues which yet remain in niches, on the outside of our cathedrals, especially those on the west end of the Cathedral of Wells, though probably not the best work of the artists, are decided proofs of their ability. The effigies of knights and ladies extended on their altar tombs received great damage, with the rest of the ecclesiastical art, from the misguided zeal of the reformers, yet many such remain of great beauty, and the chantries, which were in this century erected over the tombs of great prelates, are of the most exquisite design and workmanship. Such are those in Winchester Cathedral of Bishops Wykeham, Beaufort, and Waynflete. That of Bishop Beaufort, in particular, is a mass of Portland stone, carved like the finest ivory, and is a most gorgeous specimen of a tomb of the Perpendicular period. Henry V.'s chantry, in Westminster Abbey, is the only one erected in this period to royalty, and it is a monument of high honour to the age.

The names of some of the artists of this era are preserved. Thomas Colyn, Thomas Holewell, and Thomas Poppehowe, executed, carried over, and erected in Nantes, in 1408, the alabaster tomb of the Duke of Brittany. Of the five artists who executed the celebrated tomb of Richard, Earl of Warwick, in the Beauchamp Chapel, four were English, and the fifth was a Dutch goldsmith. Besides the great image of the earl, there were thirty-two images on this monument. These were all cast by William Austin, a founder of London, clearly a great genius, on the finest latten (brass), and gilded by Bartholomew Lambespring, the Dutch goldsmith. The monument and the superb chapel in which it stands cost 2,481 4s. 7d., equivalent to 24,800 now.

Most of the monumental brasses which abound in our churches were the work of this period. There are some of much older date, but during this century they were multiplied everywhere, and afforded great scope for the talents of founders, engravers, and enamellers.

In painting, the age does not appear to have equally excelled. There were, unquestionably, abundance of religious pictures on the walls of our churches, and the images themselves were painted and gilt; but there does not seem to have existed artists who had a true conception of the sublimity of their pursuit. The painting of such works was undertaken by the job, by painters and stainers. John Prudde, glazier in Westminster, undertook to "import from beyond seas glass of the finest colours, blue, yellow, red, purple, sanguine, and violet," and with it glaze the windows of the Beauchamp Chapel. Brentwood, a stainer of London, was to paint the west wall of the chapel "with all manner of devices and imagery;" and Christian Coliburne, painter of London, was to "paint the images in the finest oil colours." The great Earl of Warwick bargained with his tailor to paint the scenes of his embassy to France, for which he was to Deceive 1 8s. 6d. The "Dance of Death," so common on the Continent in churches and churchyards, made also so famous by Holbein, was copied from the cloister of the Innocents in Paris, and painted on the walls of the cloister of St. Paul's. It was a specimen of the portrait painting of the age, for it contained the portraits of actual persons, in different ranks of life, in their proper dresses. The portraits of our kings, queens, and celebrated characters, done at this time, are of inferior merit.

Gilding was in great request, not only for ornamenting churches and their monuments, but for domestic use, the precious metals being very scarce, and therefore copper and brass articles were very commonly silvered or gilt. But it was in the illumination of manuscripts that the artistic genius of the time was, more than almost in any other department, displayed. The colours used are deemed inferior in splendour to those of the fourteenth century, but they are superior in drawing and power of expression. The terror depicted in the faces of the Earl of Warwick's sailors in expectation of shipwreck, and the grief in those who witnessed his death, are evidences of the hand of a master. Many of the portraits of the leading characters of the age are to be found in these illuminations; and they afford us the most lively views of the persons and dresses of our ancestors of that day - their arms, ships, houses, furniture, manners, and employments. But the art of printing was already in existence, and before it the beautiful art of illumination fell and died out.


If all the authors of this century who wrote in verse had been poets, no age could have been more brilliantly poetical, but in truth its genuine poets were very few. Of the seventy poets enumerated by Ritson, we can only select three who deserve a mention. These are James I. of Scotland, Occleve, and Lydgate. James I. was a man of remarkably earnest and independent mind. He seems to have overflowed with genius on all sides. The writers of his time celebrate his skill in architecture, gardening, and painting. Of these we have no remains, but we know that in government he was a great reformer; and in poetry, his "King's Quair," or Book, is a poem which is still read with equal admiration and pleasure. It consists of six cantos, containing 197 stanzas of seven lines each. It was written as the story of his courtship of Jane Beaufort, who was a afterwards his queen. He describes his first seeing her from his window at Windsor, as she tended a little garden there. A single stanza relating this first glimpse of the beautiful Lady Beaufort, will give an idea of the poetic language of the times: -

"And therewith kest I doun myn eye ageyne,
Quare as I saw walkynge under the toure,
Full secretely, new cumyn her to pleyne,
The fairest or the freschest young floure
That ever I saw, methought, before that houre,
For qwhich sodayne abate, anon astert
The blude of all my body to my hert."

Two other poems have been attributed to James I., "Christ's Kirk on the Green," and "Peebles to the Play;" but there is reason to think that they should be assigned to James V., who wrote "The Gaberlunzie Man," and the "Jolly Beggar," poems of the same humorous and popular character. If the " King's Quair" alone, however, can be authentically assigned to James I., it stamps him as the great poet of that age, and as the greatest from Chaucer to Spenser, that is, from the time of Henry V. to the reign of Elizabeth.

The merit of Occleve is not of that quality that it need detain the reader. He wrote much, but without much power or originality. Lydgate was a monk of Bury, and wrote upon a great variety of subjects, but his four chief poems are, "The Lyfe of Our Lady," "The Fall of Princes," "The Siege of Thebes," and "The Destruction of Troy." Lydgate is most at home in description, and most deficient in invention. He is rather a learned man than a poet, and many of those which he calls his poems are scarcely more than translations from Latin authors. Wethamstede, the learned Abbot of St. Albans, employed him to translate into English the legend of the patron saint of his abbey, and paid him for the translating, writing, and illumination, 100 shillings. Lydgate died in his monastery at an advanced age, never having obtained any preferment through his learning or productions. In all these early ages there was a class of writers, the ballad poets, who seem never to have had the power, or perhaps the ambition, to attach their names to their effusions, which were sung by the people, and were only collected and made known to us by Bishop Percy and Sir Walter Scott, in the "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," and in the "Border Minstrelsy." Yet many of these are lyrics of the highest vigour and genius, such as "Chevy Chase," "Sir Andrew Barton," "The Nutbrown Maid," and the "Babes in the Wood" - the latter written in this century, and by the "Cruel Uncle" meaning Richard III. Most of these nameless ballads were probably the productions of that class of professed minstrels who attended the courts and houses of the great, who had bands of them regularly retained, or who wandered from town to town and sang to amuse the people. They were at the same time musicians on various musical instruments.

Music made considerable progress in this age. Henry V. was an ardent admirer of it, and not only played well himself on the harp, but had a regular military band attending him in France, consisting of ten clarions and other instruments, which played an hour every morning and evening at his head-quarters. Church music was carefully taught at the universities. It was one of the four sciences of the quadrium, and was a means of promotion in the church and colleges. Thomas Saintwix, doctor of music, was made the provost of King's College, Cambridge, by its founder Henry VI. Counterpoint, an English discovery, was now added to the melody or plain chant of the early Church; and the example of Henry Y. of England, and of the first and third James of Scotland, promoted the study of the art amongst the laity. James I. is said to have been as exquisite a musician as he was a poet, and to have introduced a plaintive but touching style of modulation, which was imitated by Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, who diffused it amongst his countrymen. Perhaps the plaintive character of Scottish ballad music may be partly derived from James.


The deadly arts of destruction were more practised during this century than all others, First the English turned their arms against the French, and then against each other, and though many of their armies were hastily raised, and therefore ill-disciplined, they not only showed their accustomed bravery, but many advances were made in the manner of raising, forming, paying, and disciplining troops, as well as in the modes of attacking fortifications and towns. Henry V. was a consummate master in this, his favourite art, and was, perhaps, the first of our kings who introduced a scheme of superior discipline, teaching his troops to march in straight lines at proper distances, with a steady, measured pace; to advance, attack, halt, or fall back without breaking, or getting into confusion., This, combined with his mode of employing his archers, which we have described in the account of his battles, gave him an invincible superiority over his enemies.

As the feudal system decayed, the kings of England no longer depended on their barons appearing in the field with their vassals, but they bargained with different leaders to furnish men at stated prices, which, as we have shown, were high. It was only in cases of rebellion and intestine struggle that they summoned all their military tenants to raise the people in mass, and the same summonses were issued to the archbishops, bishops, and all the principal clergy, to arm all their followers, lay and clerical, and march to the royal standard. We have shown that they were the archers, however, who were the masters of the field, and who won all the great battles. At Homildon they alone fought, and at Beauje the English were utterly routed, through leaving them behind. This notorious fact induced James I. of Scotland to introduce and cultivate archery in his army, but he was cut off too soon to give it permanent effect.

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