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Reign of Henry VII. - (continued) page 8


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While Henry, however, was traversing Europe with his thoughts to add to his ever-growing hoards, he was equally diligent at home in prosecuting every art by which he could add another mark to his heap. He sought out and kept in his pay clever and unprincipled lawyers to search the old statute-books for laws grown obsolete, but which had never been formally repealed; and he had another set of spies in correspondence with them, who went to and fro throughout the whole kingdom to make out all such persons of property as had transgressed these slumbering laws. Gentlemen, on refusing to pay the demands made upon them on these grounds, were arrested and cast into prison, where, instead of being duly brought to trial, they were kept in a state of constant alarm, by reports carried to them of the grievous punishments preparing for them. This was done to extort large sums from them by way of compromise. When this failed, the unhappy men were brought to trial - not in the regular courts of justice, but before courts of commissioners appointed by the king, where there were juries of equally venal and abandoned character ready to condemn them. Even the very show of juries was in a while abandoned. The king, having concluded treaties with the monarchs abroad, especially those of France, Spain, and Scotland, and having put down and destroyed all his enemies at home, carried matters as he pleased; and all his efforts were directed to the single end of sucking up fresh streams of gold to gratify - but not satisfy, for that was insatiable - his thirsty dropsy of avarice. He soon ceased to proceed against his victims by indictment, but arrested them by precept, and tried them within the closed door of his Star Chamber, or in the private houses of his arbitrary commissioners.

Such a state of things could never have been tolerated In any former reign; but the wars of the Roses had cut off all the chief nobility, and the House of Commons,

terrified by the summary proceedings against offenders; had become utterly cowed, and trembled at the mere word of this imperious monarch. Never, therefore, was the English people at any time so completely prostrated beneath the talons of a royal vampire as at this period, The rich merchants of London found themselves accused of mal-practices in the discharge of their civic offices, and were subjected to the same process of squeezing in Henry's universal press. We have noticed the seizure of Capel, the Lord Mayor of London, and his long imprisonment to extract a fine, grounded on such a charge, of 2,700, and ultimately compounded for 1.600. Another lord mayor, Thomas Knesworth, and his two sheriffs were imprisoned on similar charges, and lay for a long time in prison, till they submitted to pay 1,400. Hawis, a mercer and alderman, was harassed by these harpies of the crown till, not being able to satisfy their demands, he died of a broken heart; and Sir Lawrence Alemore and His two sheriffs were fined 1,000, and did not escape from prison whilst Henry lived. Had the grasping Tudor had a corporation as rich as the present metropolitan one, what a gold mine the city would have been to him!

To drain the coffers of the landed aristocracy, Henry's agents brought up against them all the old obsolete feudal charges of wardships, aids, liveries, premier seizins, and scutages. Their estates had long been held under a different tenure, obtained from former monarchs. No matter: all those marked out for legal bleeding were brought into the private inquisition of the king's commissioners, and compelled to pay whatever was demanded, or to suffer worse inconveniences. Even his own friends were not exempted from the ever-watchful eyes and schemes of this money-making king. The law which he had enacted against the practice of ''maintenance" was a prolific source of emolument. A striking example of this species of royal sharp-practice was given in the case of John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. If there was one man who had done more than another for the house of Lancaster, it was Oxford. He had shared in all the losses and expatriation consequent on their defeat. He had been seized, and had suffered a long imprisonment from Richard III. in the castle of Hams. Thence, making his escape, he joined Henry VII. when himself an exile in Brittany and France. He had come over with him on his enterprise to seize the crown of England, had commanded the van of his army at Bosworth, and since against the rebels of Cornwall. This nobleman having entertained the king on one occasion for several days magnificently at his castle of Henningham, to do the utmost honour to him at his departure, summoned all his friends and retainers, arrayed in all their livery coats and cognisances, and ranged them in two rows leading from the reception rooms to the royal carriage. Henry's eye was instantly struck with this prodigious display of wealth and of men, and his mind as suddenly leapt to a felicitous conclusion. There was money to be made out of it.

"My lord," he said, stopping short, and addressing the earl, "I have heard much of your hospitality, but I see it is greater than the speech. These handsome gentlemen and yeomen which I see on both sides of me, are surely your menial servants." The earl smiled, and said, "If it may please your grace, that were not for mine ease: they are most of them my retainers, that are come to do me service at such a time as this, and chiefly to see your grace."

The king started a little, and said: "By my faith, my lord, I thank you for your good cheer, but I may not endure to have my laws thus broken in my sight: my attorney must speak to you." The earl was prosecuted for thus seeking to flatter the vanity of his master, and compelled to gratify his avarice by a fine of 15,000 marks.

Whilst the king himself set so notable an example of extortion, we may be sure that his commissioners, spies, and tools of all sorts were not slack in this business of ferreting out and putting through the torture of their secret courts the unhappy subjects of every corner of the kingdom who had any substance to prey upon. The two ringleaders of this set of legalised robbers were a couple of the vilest fellows which pollute the annals of England, and are scarcely matched by the horrid lists of Italian or Spanish inquisitors. "The king," says Bacon, "had gotten for his purpose, or beyond his purpose, two instruments, Empson and Dudley, whom the people esteemed as his horse-leeches and shearers: bold men, and careless of fame, and that took toll of their master's grist. Dudley was of a good family, eloquent, and one that could put hateful business into good language. But Empson, that was the son of a sieve-maker, triumphed always upon the deed done, putting off all other respects whatsoever."

Both these vile fellows were lawyers, and skilled in all the quirks and contrivances of oppression. There was no villany which they could not represent as legal if not right. "They turned," adds Bacon, "law and justice into wormwood and rapine." By the active vigilance of these bloodsuckers, every part of the kingdom, and every rank and class of people in it, were put upon the rack of an unexampled extortion. Where they could not by their ingenuity find an old offence, they invented new offences, so that they might levy fines. "These, and other courses," continues Bacon, "fitter to be buried in oblivion than repeated, they had of preying upon the people, both like tame hawks for their master, and like wild hawks for themselves; insomuch as they grew to great riches and substance." When, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, we shall be astonished at the daring deeds of her great favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, we have only to remember his grandfather, Dudley, the extortioner of this time, in order to get rid of any astonishment.

To so low a degree of slavish prostration was the House of Commons fallen in 1504, that it chose this Dudley, the king's pincers, for its speaker; and, as might be expected, it passed any Acts that Henry chose. Amongst others, he demanded the aids which used to be paid in feudal times on the knighting of the king's eldest son, and marrying his eldest daughter. Henry had married his eldest daughter in 1502 to the King of Scots, and he had knighted his eldest son Arthur before his marriage, in 1501; and on these old occurrences he demanded a contribution from Parliament, and obtained 30,000, which was so arranged that 40,000 should be voted, and that he should remit 10,000 - matters out of doors assuming

an aspect which forced even from him some show of moderation.

The cruel and incessant oppressions of Henry's commissioners had now roused a deep spirit of resentment in the public mind. Everywhere there were murmurings and discontent. That Henry was well aware of all that his agents were doing, has been clearly shown by Bacon. Henry examined the accounts of Dudley and Empson with all the minute interest of a usurer. "I remember," says Bacon, "to have seen a book of accounts of Empson's that had the king's hand almost to every leaf by way of signing, and was in some places postilled in the margin with the king's hand likewise, where was this remembrance: - 'Item: Received from such a one five marks for a pardon to be procured, and if the pardon do not pass, the money to be repaid, except the party be some other-ways satisfied.' And near against this memorandum, in the king's own hand, 'other ways satisfied.'" Such are the proofs that Henry was fully cognisant, and therefore fully guilty, of all that was being done.

Confident as Henry was that he could crush any resistance at home, there was an individual abroad on whom his jealous eyes were fixed with some degree of anxiety. This was Edmund de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk. He was the son of the late Duke of Suffolk, and younger brother of the Earl of Lincoln, who fell at the battle of Stoke. On the death of the Earl of Lincoln, Edmund de la Pole claimed the family honours and estates, as the next heir of his father; but Henry replied that he inherited from his brother, who died attainted; and that, therefore, those lands were forfeited. It was clear that Edmund inherited from his father, through the decease of his brother without issue, but Henry would not have it so, and compelled the young man to content himself with a fragment of the estate, and the minor title of earl, the rank of his brother. Besides grasping at the forfeited estates, Henry undoubtedly took pleasure in reducing this Yorkist family, and the young man's mind appears to have been embittered by the injury. He had the misfortune to kill a man who had excited his anger, and Henry seized the opportunity to further humiliate him. He was arraigned as a murderer in the Court of King's Bench, and commanded to plead the king's pardon. Suffolk, disdaining to do this, fled to the Continent in 1449, and took refuge in the dangerous Court of his aunt, the Duchess-Dowager of Burgundy. To draw him from that focus of antagonism, Henry after a time permitted Suffolk to return, and at the marriage of Prince Arthur, like many others of the nobility, he involved himself in debt by his extravagant display, and soon after, again accompanied by his youngest brother, Richard de la Pole, he once more escaped to the Court of his intriguing aunt.

Henry now suspected something more in this resort to the Court of Burgundy than a mere escape from debt, and he employed his old scheme of coming at the truth. As he had done in Warbeck's case, he now sent over a spy, in the person of a gentleman. Then it had been Sir Robert Clifford, now it was Sir Robert Curson. Curson pursued the very same plan that Clifford had done. He professed to have excited the deadly enmity of the king, and the king completed the deception by causing the Pope's bull of excommunication, with all its curses on the rebels to be read against the Earl of Suffolk and Sir Robert Curson. The stratagem once more took effect. Curson was received into the confidence of Suffolk and his party, and as fast as he wormed out the names of their accomplices in England he sent them off to Henry. In consequence of these treacherous revelations, in May, 1502, Henry arrested William de la Pole, another brother of Suffolk's; Lord Courtenay, who married Catherine Wydville, a sister of Henry's late queen; Sir William Wyndham, and some others of less note.

Against the Lord Courtenay and William de la Pole nothing could, however, be proved, beyond their relationship and friendly intercourse with Suffolk, and their connection with the house of York, yet De la Pole was retained in custody for a considerable time; and the Lord Courtenay was consigned to the Tower, where he remained during the king's reign. Tyrrel and Wyndham were condemned and executed; but, strangely enough, not on a charge of any present conspiracy, which Henry politically ignored, but on that of aiding the first escape of Suffolk in 1499, nearly three years ago. Tyrrel had, as we have seen, previously confessed his concern in the murder of the two princes in the Tower with impunity, and was now dispatched, not for his real crime, but on a charge vague and frivolous. All this dirty work being done, and these gentlemen and others put to death on his evidence, whatever it was, Curson returned to England, and into the royal favour, with shameless impudence, equally disgraceful to himself and his employer, and to the lively indignation of the people. As for the Earl of Suffolk, he found it necessary to retire from the Court of his aunt, and to seek a wandering security wherever he could in the Netherlands, Germany, or France. Wherever he went, the eyes of Henry followed him; and in 1506 an event occurred, which promised Henry the chance of not only getting him into his hands, but of securing a variety of other advantages.

The tempestuous weather of January, 1506, which brought to others the disastrous news of vessels wrecked and lives lost, brought to Henry VII. tidings of a most exciting and elating kind. It was no other than that amongst the foreign vessels driven into the port of Wey-mouth, were some containing the Archduke Philip of Flanders and his wife Juana, the elder sister of Catherine of Arragon, his daughter-in-law, and daughter of his friend and ally Ferdinand of Spain. Henry was delighted to find these distinguished allies and near connections within his realm; but his delight arose, not from the same source as the really generous and hospitable might suppose, not from the opportunity thus afforded him of showing his friends the kindness and the welcome of a great king, but from the ogre's exultation that he had them in his power, and could suck their very life's blood. In other words, he could coin them into a mint of money, which was the blood of life to Henry Tudor.

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