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Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France. page 3


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Before pursuing the fortunes of the Yorkist sovereign, we must note an important change in the mode of elections to the House of Commons. The franchise, or right of voting for members, was greatly curtailed by a statute of 1430, which restricted voting for county members to freeholders possessing land worth 40 shillings a year, that sum being equal to about 20 in the present day. Most of the former voters were thus disfranchised, and the free peasantry - the labouring-class and smallest farmers - were thus deprived of political power for over four centuries and a half. During the same reign (Henry VI.) the borough-vote for members became confined to a small select body of the burgesses, instead of being exercised by all the freemen who paid the borough-dues. Here again, in the towns, not only the artisans but the middle class of traders were deprived for four centuries of direct political influence, as the common councils in the boroughs were usually the only electors. The "House of Commons" became a misnomer, as it did not represent the "commons," or main body of the people, but an oligarchy of the towns and the counties. More mischief in the same direction came when, under Tudor sovereigns, many new small "boroughs," returning one or two members each to the Commons, were created under royal or ministerial influence, and the election of members for these places was under the control of the Crown and of great landowners. We may observe, on the other hand, that the House of Commons had by this time gained the sole right of granting money through taxation, and that members of Parliament, as a whole, were fairly free as to speech in the Houses and from personal arrest.

Edward IV. (1461-1483) was a cruel, dissolute man, of popular manners, strong-willed, and energetic enough when he was roused from his habitual indolence. The royal authority was much increased at this time from the lack of control either in the almost ruined old baronage, or in any strong middle class, which was not yet developed. The "new monarchy," as it has been called, of this and early Tudor reigns, was a kind of despotism under which the sovereigns, enriched by the plunder of the nobles and the Church, did not regularly summon meetings of Parliament for legal taxation, but resorted to unlawful measures in the shape of "benevolences," really forced loans, from wealthy persons, and of imposts not voted in the Commons. The restraint upon monarchs at this time was, in fact, public opinion, and the dread of armed insurrection, against which they could bring no force of a "standing army." It was under Henry VIII. that Parliament became most helpless and servile, though even then the Commons more than once stoutly resisted, and with success, the royal orders as to taxation. Under Elizabeth the power of the Commons slowly revived, and the people became ready for the struggle of Stuart days.

The new king was compelled, at the outset, to fight for his throne against the still unconquered Margaret. On Palm Sunday, March 29th, 1461, near Towton, a village south-west of York, the most sanguinary battle ever fought on British soil ended in the utter rout, almost the annihilation, of the Lancastrians. In this horrible struggle Edward was aided by the earl of Warwick in the command of 50,000 men against 60,000 hardy enemies, men of the northern hills and moors, their ranks swelled by borderers whose life was made up of foray and fight. From nine in the morning, for six hours, with the utmost courage and obstinacy, the conflict was maintained. On this occasion Edward led, besides the retainers wearing the badges and gathered under the banners of many Yorkist nobles, a large contingent from Bristol, Coventry, Worcester, Salisbury, Leicester, Gloucester, Northampton, and Nottingham. The men of the towns had rallied round the ruler who represented the cause of trade, progress, and enlightenment, and of internal peace based on the extinction or suppression of a disorderly baronage. The skill or luck of Edward placed his men, at the outset, with their backs to a violent storm of snow which blew full in the faces of the Lancastrian archers, and baffled their aim, while the force of the wind drove home the Yorkist shafts. At three o'clock reinforcements for the king came up, and the Lancastrians gave way when nearly 40,000 men, about three-fourths of whom were of the "Red Rose," lay dead and maimed on the ground. No quarter was given in the pursuit, and every stream on the field ran deeply red. So terrible and lasting was the memory of this carnage that three centuries and a half later the old men of the hamlets on and near " Towton field " still talked of the gory brooks as tales handed down through their sires. Henry, Margaret, and the young prince Edward fled to Scotland, and Lancastrian nobles who survived the battle and the rout took refuge beyond the seas.

In 1464, at Hedgeley Moor and at Hexham, both in Northumberland, the king's forces were victorious over Lancastrians, and the usual slaughter of leaders occurred in or after the engagements. Then came a quarrel with Warwick, joined by the king's brother, the duke of Clarence. Both had to flee to France, where they came to an understanding with the indomitable Margaret, engaged in a further attempt to replace her imprisoned husband on the throne. When Warwick, in 1470, landed in England, he occupied London, and Edward, in his turn, fled to Burgundy, where he obtained some forces from his brother-in-law, Duke Charles the Bold, returned in the spring of 1471, and totally defeated Warwick and the Lancastrians at the battle of Barnet, the "King-Maker" losing his life on the field. The victorious king, aware of Margaret's landing with troops at Weymouth, hurried away to the west, and cut her off at Tewkesbury early in May, as she marched to raise again the men of the north country. The result of the battle was the utter defeat and the capture of Margaret, the death of her son in the battle or pursuit, not brutally murdered in Edward's tent, as alleged by Lancastrian writers, and the final collapse, for that reign, of the Lancastrian cause. In 1478, Clarence was condemned and executed for treason, and matters were quiet until the sudden death of Edward in 1483. We may note that the hapless Henry VI. had been murdered in the Tower after the battle of Tewkesbury.

Passing over the young Edward V., eldest son of the previous king, as only nominally reigning from April to June, 1483, after which he and his brother Richard, duke of York, died by the orders of the "Protector" Richard, duke of Gloucester, younger brother of Edward IV., we come to his brief reign as a usurper under the title of Richard III. (1483-1485). He was a man of the highest courage in war, an able statesman, bold and most unscrupulous, but not the mere fiend of Shakespeare's play, derived from calumnious Lancastrian writers. The one Parliament of the reign did some good work in declaring "benevolences" (forced oans) illegal, in establishing free trade in books between England and the Continent, and in freeing the villeins (serfs) on crown-lands. Two statutes guarded the rights of owners of land, made precarious by the numerous forfeitures and transfers of estates during the war which had almost destroyed the old baronage. In June, 1485, Henry of Richmond, having won over Yorkists by an undertaking to marry Edward IV.'s daughter Elizabeth, now heiress to the crown on that side, landed with a small force at Milford Haven to fight for the crown. He had a claim by descent, on the mother's side, from John of Gaunt, and he was a Tudor through his father, son of Owen Tudor, a Welsh gentleman, and of Katharine, widow of Henry V. At the battle of Bosworth Field, in the south of Leicestershire, in August, 1485, the last engagement of the Wars of the Roses ended in the defeat of Richard III., and his death as, hopeless of a good issue, and doomed in case of capture or survival, he hewed his way with desperate valour, seeking to slay his rival, towards the spot where Richmond's banner was waving. He was cut down after killing the bearer of the standard and when he was on the point of closing with Richmond. The crown which he wore on his helmet had fallen, and was at once placed, amid the shouts of the victors, on the head of the man who was hailed as "King Henry." The brutality of the age, the time in which chivalry had clearly perished, was shown in the treatment accorded to the remains of one of its bravest warriors. The body of Richard was flung across a horse, and thus, besprinkled with mire and blood, it was taken to Leicester and buried in the church of the Grey Friars.

The Stuart line of Scotland came to the throne in 1370 in the person of Robert, High Steward of Scotland, only son of Robert Brace's daughter Marjory and of Walter, High Steward, which word became a surname and was written "Stewart," changed to "Stuart." During the reign of Robert II. (1370-1390) the treaty of mutual assistance and defence was renewed with France, and the only warfare consisted of border-raids, including the famous fight of Otterburn or Chevy Chase, in Northumberland, between the Scottish Earl Douglas and Earl Percy of Northumberland. Robert III. (1390-1406) had a reign of some trouble due to quarrelsome barons and the feuds of Highland clans. In 1402 a Scottish invading force was defeated, under another earl of Douglas, by the English under Percy, the famous "Hotspur," at Homildon Hill, m Northumberland. The Stuarts, as is well known, were a hapless race. James I. (1406-1437) was for the first 18 years of his reign a captive in England, taken prisoner in a ship on his way to France for safety from an ambitious regent, the duke of Albany. The young Scottish king, well trained under the care of Henry IV., was of some skill in poetic literature. In 1411, during his absence, his country was saved from Highland conquest by the defeat, at Harlaw, of a great host of mountaineers under Donald, "Lord of the Isles." On his return in 1424 he showed himself one of the best of Scottish rulers in his restoration of law, justice, and order; the regulation of the coinage, measures, and weights; and the controlling of turbulent Highland chieftains. His death came in murder at Perth by the hands of Highlanders in the service of a banished lord. James II. (1437-1460) had a long minority, a frequent evil in Scotland. The nobles quarrelled for power, and this sovereign died through the bursting of a cannon at the siege of Roxburgh Castle, held by the English. James III. (1460-1488), whose reign brings us to the end of the period under review, had also a long minority. In 1467 he married Margaret of Norway, and through her the Orkneys and Shetlands became part of the Scottish dominions. This sovereign, a weak man, given up to favourites, was killed in the pursuit after the battle of Sauchieburn, near Stirling, where he was defeated by some revolted nobles.

What Ireland needed for her peace and prosperity was that which she lacked for centuries after the so-called "conquest" under Henry II. - a strong government under a viceroy, with a permanent residence in Ireland. Instead of that, the country was left in a wretched condition of half-conquest, half-rule, and whole anarchy and turmoil. The great baronial families - the Geraldines, the De Burghs (Burkes), the Ormonds, and others - were in conflict with the native O'Donnels, O'Neills, and other chieftains. In 1315 Edward Bruce, brother of Robert Bruce, invaded the country, and the people of the Pale suffered several defeats. A host of smaller' chieftains, of Connaught, Munster, and Meath, then took up arms, and the united Scottish and Irish forces ravaged the country. In 1316 Bruce was crowned king at Dundalk, and used a brief period of power in ravages so horrible that many of his own men died of famine and the succeeding pestilence, and his Irish allies fell away. The barons then gathered troops, and, after routing the O'Connors at Athenry, turned against Bruce and defeated and slew him in 1317, near Dundalk. The lack of English regard for the people of the Pale caused many barons to renounce their allegiance to the sovereign, and to adopt Irish names and dress and manners.

The Ormonds and the powerful Kildares, whose stronghold was near Dublin, were exceptions. In 1367 Edward III. turned his attention to the country, and the Statute of Kilkenny was passed to check this tendency towards Irish ways of living. Marriage and fosterage between the English and Irish were forbidden, as high treason. No goods of any sort were to be supplied to the Irish. No Irish could be admitted into any English monastery or church-livings. War with the natives was enjoined as a duty for all good English "colonists." No Irishman, with rare exceptions, could plead at any English court, and the killing of an Irishman was not to be reckoned as a crime. The speaking of the language of the country was made penal. This most pernicious and foolish legislation seems, in fact, intended to create a perpetual enmity between the English and the Irish, instead of seeking to form a united nation by conciliatory measures, and as the English were unable to root out the natives, a state of war existed for centuries. The settlers of the Pale were grossly ill-treated, under the harshest form of the feudal system, by the barons, and were exposed to the constant enmity of the natives outside. The result was that large numbers of the English fled away from the Pale, and, dwelling among the natives and marrying Irish wives, became Irishmen, whose descendants were to be, in coming time, the most dangerous foes of the country which might, by judicious measures, have retained their allegiance and affection.

In 1394 Richard II. landed at Waterford with a great host of men-at-arms and archers, but effected nothing, during a stay of nine months, towards strengthening the position of the dwellers in the Pale against the native chieftains. Many of these came in and made submission by word of mouth, but in 1399 Richard had to come again with as great an army, and vast supplies of stores and arms, in order to suppress native risings. The English sovereign was quickly recalled by news of the duke of Lancaster's landing in England, and he returned to meet only, as we have seen, dethronement, imprisonment, and death. Amid the disorder which ensued, the most ferocious English legislation against the natives, making Irishmen beings to be killed at sight, on mere suspicion of ill-doing, by colonists, was of no avail. The history of the unhappy country at this time is one of general carnage and rapine, as the baronage of the Pale made raids on the rest of the country, and the natives made forays on the property of the Pale. The churchmen of the two parties cordially hated each other. A Parliament, consisting of a few barons, knights, bishops, abbots, and burgesses, met occasionally in different towns, but there was nothing done except voting of money, and the land went drifting on to ruin. In 1449 there was an excellent English viceroy in Richard, duke of York, who won the favour of Irish and English by his firm and kindly rule for two years. His Irish popularity gave his son Edward, at Towton, a good body of Irish Yorkist partisans, under the leadership of the earl of Kildare. An Irish Lancastrian leader, the earl of Ormond, was taken in the battle, and beheaded, with the loss of all the family-lands, a blow from which the Ormonds (Butlers by name) were long in recovering. The house of Kildare, rival of the Ormonds, now became supreme, generally acting as deputy-rulers for the English sovereign. The triumph of the "Red Rose " at Bosworth replaced the Butlers in possession of their lands, and one of them was created earl of Ormond.

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Pictures for Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France. page 3


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