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Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France. page 2

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The French war ended for a time with the Peace of Bretigny in 1360, by which Edward renounced his claim to the French crown, and received, in full sovereignty, not merely on the old feudal tenure, the territory of Poitou, Gascony, and Guienne. Nine years later the war was renewed, and a great French leader and hero came into the field in Bertrand du Guesclin. This commander, after the return of the Black Prince to England, with broken health, in 1371, carried on the contest with such skill that by 1375, all the French territory was lost, except the towns of Bayonne, Bordeaux, Brest, Cherbourg, and Calais. In his last years, after the death of the queen, Edward fell under the control of a worthless woman, Alice Perrers, and her friends, and it was needful for Parliament to interfere. The legislation of the reign included statutes to.prevent appointments by the Pope to Church livings in England, and the famous law forbidding suits to be carried on appeal from the king's courts to that of Rome.

The reign of Richard II. (1377 - 1399), son of the Black Prince, includes a long minority, during which rule was carried on by a "Council of Regency" and the Parliament. The end of villeinage or serfdom was hastened by the famous peasant-rising of the men of Kent and Essex (1381), incited by John Ball, a Kentish priest, and led by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. When the armed mob, many thousands strong, had made their way into London, the Savoy palace was burnt, and Simon of Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, who had taken refuge in the Tower, was seized and beheaded. The resentment of the people against him was due to his having caused in Parliament the imposition of a heavy poll-tax, raised to meet the expenses of costly and useless warfare with France and Scotland. The rebels also destroyed large numbers of legal documents which supported the claims of the landlords, who were seeking to revive the old feudal service or forced labour of the "villeins" or petty tenants. The killing of Wat Tyler by Lord Mayor Walworth was followed by the dispersion of the insurgents on lavish promises made by the young king at the instance of his advisers. These undertakings, which included pardon for the violence done, the grant of leases at low rents, and the abolition of serfdom, tolls, and market-dues, were at once set aside when the trouble was over, and Ball, Straw, and thousands of the peasantry were hanged. The peasants had failed for the time on account of their own folly in trusting to promises made without hostages or other guarantee, but the revolt, showing the spirit of the people, was ultimately beneficial to the cause of freedom, in spite of the alliance which arose between the ecclesiastical and lay landowners.

The young king was not quite devoid of the ability and energy shown by the best Plantagenet kings, but he was unable to control the turbulent nobles, including some of his own uncles, and it was not until 1389, after some civil warfare, and the execution or exile of some leading men, that affairs were in his own hands. For some years matters were well managed, but tyrannical conduct towards some of the nobles, especially the powerful "Bolingbroke" (as he was called from the place of his birth in Lincolnshire), Henry of Lancaster, eldest son of John of Gaunt, caused the king's deposition, with the assent of Parliament, in 1399. Some months later Richard died at Pontefract (Pomfret) Castle, in Yorkshire, either by starvation or the sword.

The great fact of the time in England was the bold beginning of revolt against the Papal claims and the ecclesiastics corrupted by excess of wealth and power. The lives of many of the clergy, both monks and parish-priests, were of evil example to the laity. Church dignitaries and the religious orders cared more for their own worldly interests than for their religious duties. The friars, once devoted to a life of poverty and of toil among the suffering poor, now lived in luxurious ease, either in splendid religious houses or as holders of church-livings with large fees and tithes. The satire of the courtly poet Chaucer, and of Langland, the popular versifier, was aimed at these evils. A class of reformers called "Lollards" had arisen, the name being one of reproach bestowed by opponents, and probably meaning either "sowers of tares" (heresy) or "utterers of vain babble." Among these men were found persons of every class - peasants dreaming of social equality; fanatics in a hurry for moral, religious, and political reform; nobles who hated the arrogant prelates, or who coveted ecclesiastical wealth. The champion, if not the founder, of Lollardry, on its religious side, was that illustrious Englishman John Wyclif. His name is spelt in over 30 different ways, and well symbolises the man's marvellous versatility of character. He was born in Yorkshire about 1325, and became a popular teacher at Oxford, with a great store of learning and, in particular, a rare knowledge of the Scriptures. He was for a short time Master of Balliol College, and in 1374 he was presented to the crown-living of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where his pulpit and other relics are still shown.

Scholar, diplomatist, a statesman of great ability in his use of all kinds of men as instruments for his work, and in his avoidance of playing into the hands of his enemies; quick and restless in temper; of winning manners, witty and eloquent in speech, subtle in logic, full of energy and courage, firm of conviction, a hater of hypocrisy and wrong - Wyclif was also the "Father of English prose" in his admirable popular tracts, and in his translation of the Bible, which was greatly circulated in written copies. As the chief supporter of English independence against the claims of Rome, he denounced the annual export of large sums of money collected by Papal agents for the enrichment of Popes who were, at that time, Frenchmen and foes of his country. He declaimed against the system by which foreigners held English benefices, so that, in defiance of the law, parishes were left destitute of priests and the rights of patrons were flung aside. After assailing the manifest abuses of the Church, he declared at last that it would be better without a Pope or prelates. He aroused the fury of the "orthodox" by teaching that the Church of Rome was not the head of Christendom, and that St. Peter had no more authority than any other apostle, and that the Gospel is sufficient as a rule of life for any Christian, without any of the regulations for enforced confession and penances, to be followed by the exercise of a supposed priestly power of absolution. These doctrines were carried throughout the land by his organised body of itinerant preachers or "poor priests." Wyclif may be well called "the Morning-Star of the Reformation," as the man whose translation of the Scriptures "made the Gospel," in the words of an opponent, "a common thing, and more open to laymen and women who could read than it was wont to be to clerks (clergymen) of moderate learning," and, still more, as one whose denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation, or the change of the bread and wine into the real body and blood of Christ in the celebration of mass, struck a deadly blow at the fabric of priestly power. The medieval Church depended, for its control over the consciences, minds, and hearts of mankind, upon her claim to interpret Scripture and to work a miracle in the service of the mass, and Wyclif was for making an end of both those claims. Vainly assailed by the ecclesiastical authorities, so far as any substantial punishment was concerned, this great man, after being summoned to appear at Rome to answer for his "heresies," died at Lutterworth on the last day of the year 1384, from a second stroke of paralysis. He was the first who shook with any lasting effect the dominion of the hierarchy; he was the harbinger, if not the first apostle, of reformed Teutonic Christianity.

It is amusing, in these days, to note the methods of irritated mediaeval Churchmen of the "orthodox" school. In 1408 Archbishop Arundel condemned all Wyclif s writings in a synod held at Oxford, and it was then made "heresy" to possess any version of the Bible not authorised by the Church. Two years later the University of Oxford passed the same sentence, and committed copies of his books to the flames. The next step was that Arundel applied to the Pope for permission to burn the heretic's bones. In this case, at any rate, Rome was less foolish than Canterbury, and this luxury of vengeance was withheld from the archbishop. In 1415, the Council of Constance issued a decree for the bone-burning, and a new Pope, Martin V., sent an order into England for its execution. Thirteen years more rolled away, and at last, in 1428, nearly 44 years after the great offender's death, his mouldering remains were taken up and burnt by Fleming, bishop of Lincoln, who had in early life been a follower of Wyclif. The ashes were thrown into the little river Swift, flowing by Lutterworth, on its quiet way to join Shakespeare's Avon. And then, in the words of Thomas Fuller, "this brook conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wyclif are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over."

Henry IV. (1399-1413) was the first of the three Lancastrian kings. His title was purely parliamentary, the next heir, by hereditary right, being the earl of March, a lad descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III., while the new sovereign was son of John of Gaunt, the fourth son. The young earl was kept in honourable custody at Windsor Castle. Henry was an able, vigilant, unscrupulous ruler, devoted to peace and the maintenance of the rights of the Church. In 1401 the abominable Statute of Heresy provided for the burning, by the civil power, of persons condemned for heresy by the ecclesiastical courts. William Sautre, a parish priest of Lynn, was the first sufferer, and John Badby, a layman, thus died in 1410. Archbishop Arundel, the foe of Wyclif, living and dead, was a great persecutor of the Lollards, and Sir John Oldcastle (Lord Cobham) was burnt in 1417, early in the next reign. We may here note that the Inquisition was never established in England, and that it was by the law of this reign that the Protestant martyrs suffered under Mary Tudor. A rebellion of the Percies of Northumberland, aided by Welshmen under Owen Glendower, was suppressed by their utter defeat at the battle of Shrewsbury (1403), where the king, engaged in person, was valorously helped by his young son Henry, Prince of Wales. Some other risings were easily dealt with.

Henry V. (1413-1422) had a short and, in the military sense, a brilliant reign. He was a brave and skilful general, of noble person; an able, energetic, eloquent man; and in home-policy strong for the suppression of heresy. The war with France, then desolated by a civil conflict between rival parties, arose from the king's revival of the claim to the French throne made by Edward III. Two-thirds of the large English army perished by disease and in battle at the long siege of Harfleur, and in 1415 the retiring force was intercepted by the enemy at Agincourt, on the way to embarkation at Calais. The brilliant victory of the king over five times the number of Frenchmen was due, as at Crecy and Poitiers, to the English bowmen. Two French royal dukes, hundreds of nobles, and thousands of men were slain or taken prisoners, and Henry had a grand reception on his return to London. In 1417, Normandy was invaded; the town of Caen was stormed, and early in 1419 Rouen was driven to surrender from famine. The country was ravaged up to the gates of Paris, and France, helpless from civil war, was forced to terms in the Treaty of Troyes, whereby Henry married the French king's daughter Katharine, and it was arranged that, on the death of Charles VI., he was to become king of France, and regent at once, in consequence of that monarch's insane condition. In the following year (1421) the war was renewed by the Dauphin, eldest son of the French king, and Henry's brother, the duke of Clarence, was defeated and slain in battle with a French and Scottish army. Henry then went over to assume the command, and the enemy were driven beyond the Loire. The full possession of France under an English sovereign, by treaty-right, was in prospect, when all was changed by the English sovereign's death at Vincennes. His saddle and helmet hang above his tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Henry VI. (1422-1461), the only child of the deceased king, was but a year old, and home-affairs were entrusted to the Privy Council, with the king's uncle, the duke of Gloucester, and the able and ambitious chancellor, Cardinal Beaufort, in constant rivalry. The able soldier and statesman, the duke of Bedford, another uncle, held sway in France. The weak, pious sovereign, fond of learning, wholly unfit for rule in unquiet days, is known as the founder of Eton College and of King's College, Cambridge. In all else he counts for nothing, being wholly under the control of his very energetic wife, one of the most remarkable women in modern history, Margaret of Anjou, daughter of Rene, duke of that territory. The king was married to her in 1445. Gloucester and Beaufort both died in 1447, and affairs were directed chiefly by Margaret. The reign is made memorable, in the first place, by the utter loss of the territories in France, save Calais. The turning-point of the renewed war came in the siege of Orleans, which is dealt with in the French history, with other events till the close of the war.

We now turn to the famous civil contest known as the Wars of the Roses, the "White Rose" of York, the "Red Rose" of Lancaster. In 1450 an insurrection of men of Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, known as Jack Cade's Rising, from the name of the Irish adventurer who headed the movement, was made against the Queen's party, and the insurgents demanded that the government of the country should be committed to Richard Plantagenet, duke of York, descended from the third and fifth sons of Edward III. He was a man of great popularity, wealth, and power, partly through marriage-alliances which gave him the support of a nobleman of vast resources and influence, the earl of Warwick. The rising was easily suppressed, after some damage had been done in London. The duke of Somerset, a descendant of John of Gaunt, was a leading Lancastrian, and his claim to the throne was favoured by Margaret until the birth, in 1453, of her son Prince Edward. In the following year the king became insane for a time, and the duke of York was "Protector," but Henry's recovery restored Somerset to power, and then the contest for the throne, marked throughout by cruelty and treachery, began. It was not, in the ordinary sense, a civil war, for the mass of the people took little part in it. The Yorkist and Lancastrian factions of nobles employed in battle their own retainers and foreign mercenaries, while the tillage of the soil, the trade of the towns, and the usual course of affairs continued with little interruption. In successive battles, and by executions after victory, most of the nobles were swept away, and room was thus made for a new order of things, in which a middle class of merchants and farmers gained social and political importance. In the first action of the war, at St. Albans, in 1455, tne Yorkists were victorious, Somerset the Lancastrian being killed, and the king being captured. On his release, in 1456, there was a truce for some years, and then, in 1460, a Yorkist victory at Northampton made the Lancastrians powerless. In this battle the young earl of March (afterwards Edward IV.), the eldest son of York, showed his warlike prowess; many Lancastrian nobles fell, and the king was again taken prisoner. Margaret, with her little son Edward, took refuge in Scotland, and was engaged there, and in the north of England, in raising fresh forces, while the duke of York was accepted by Parliament as successor to the crown. A turn of the tide soon came. The great defeat of Northampton had occurred in July, and by December of the same year the restless and resourceful queen, enraged at the setting aside of her son's succession, was in the field with a great force. At Wakefield the Lancastrians were completely victorious. York was killed in the action, and, in derision of his claims, his head, with a paper crown thereon, was set up over the gates of the city which gave him his title. His second son, the young earl of Rutland, was murdered after the battle, and the Yorkist cause seemed to be in the dust. The eldest son, Edward, now duke of York, about 19 years of age, a born general and already an athletic and experienced warrior, was the very man for such a time in a party's fortunes. In February, 1461, at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire, his skilful generalship gave him victory, and a Lancastrian success, a fortnight later, at the second battle of St. Albans, where Queen Margaret was present, did not prevent Edward from entering London, where he was welcomed by the citizens, and declared king by some of the lords and by popular acclamation. Here practically ends the reign of Henry VI., as we need take no account of his restoration, in an imbecile condition, for a few months of 1470.

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