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Reign of Edward III page 8

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But for all these things the king was called to account on each fresh application to Parliament for supplies. By this means the Parliament during his reign acquired a great amount of influence, as it had done under Edward I. from the same cause, and began to feel its power; so that, as we have seen, the king was obliged to renew the Great Charter fifteen times during his reign. So, also, we see in the last years of his reign the Parliament impeached his ministers, and drove Lord Neville and Lord Latimer from his service. The power of the barons was thus considerably depressed; and at the same time that of the crown was restrained, and by nothing more than by a statute passed in the twenty-fifth year of Edward's reign, limiting the charge of high treason - before very loose and expandable, at the royal pleasure - to three principal heads; namely, conspiring the death of the king, levying war against him, and making alliance with his enemies; and even on these grounds no penalty was to be inflicted without the sanction of Parliament.

Trade in this reign was at a low ebb, the natural result of war; yet Edward made efforts to introduce woollen manufactures, having observed their value amongst the Flemings, at the same time that he injured commerce by seizing so many of its ships to convey his troops and stores. Altogether, it was a reign during which, owing to the necessities of the king and the nobles, the people were slowly advancing, and in which they were considerably relieved from the encroachments and exactions of the church by the firm conduct of the king. He passed the statute of previsors, making it penal for bishops or clergy to receive investment from Home, and menacing with outlawry any who appealed to Rome against judgments passed here. Parliament, encouraged by this, went further, declaring that the Pope levied five times more taxes in England than the king; adding, that they would no longer endure it, and even plainly talking of throwing off all papal authority. In fact, in this reign really commenced the Reformation. Altogether, therefore, the reign of Edward III. is as remarkable for the growth of popular power as for that of military fame.

Edward had a large family by his queen Philippa - namely, five sons and four daughters, who grew up. Besides the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, so well known to history, there was Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second son, who left one daughter, married to Edmund Mortimer, Earl of Marche, the son of the notorious Mortimer of the last reign. He married, as second wife, a daughter of the Duke of Milan, and died in Italy. He is said to have greatly resembled his father and the Black Prince in his character. The fourth son was Edmund, Earl of Cambridge, afterwards created Duke of York by Richard II.; and the fifth was Thomas, Earl of Buckingham, also created by Richard II. Duke of Gloucester. In this reign the title of duke was first adopted from France.

The daughters of Edward were Isabella, Joan, Mary, and Margaret; of whom Joan died unmarried, though affianced to Alphonso, King of Castile; Mary was married to John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany; and Margaret to John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, so conspicuous in the wars of France.

The end of three of the most remarkable characters who figured in France during the campaigns there of Edward III. - two of them his most successful opponents, and one occasionally his ally - ought to be noticed in the history of this reign, though they survived Edward a little, and a very little, for they had all passed away within three years of his decease.

The first was the constable Du Guesclin, who had raised himself from a small beginning to become the most celebrated man of France, and almost of his age. No man of those times, indeed, bore a higher character for valour, ability as a general, probity, and honour. He had the failing of his age, and sometimes gave way to the perpetration of severe deeds; but, on the whole, he was a fine specimen of the feudal knight. No man rendered more solid services to his country, and he continued labouring for it to the last, and died in arms. He was laying siege to the fortress of Randun, and was so ill, that when the commandant declared that he would only deliver the keys into the hands of Du Guesclin, he sent him word that he must, then, bring them to him, and make haste, or it would be too late. When the commandant arrived he was dead, and he laid his keys at the feet of the deceased hero, who had departed in the very act of completing the re-conquest of the alienated lands of France.

Very different was the end of Charles, King of Navarre - Charles, emphatically the Bad, the demon and evil genius of France. We have seen something of his wicked career - his conspiracies against the King of France, his alliance with his enemies the English, his continual designs on the crown of France, his pretended democracy and advocacy of a republic. He went still further, and was accused by Charles Y. of having given him a dose of poison so strong that it caused him to lose his nails and his hair, and to feel the effects to the day of his death, which it was said to have hastened. He was deprived by the estates of the kingdom of all his possessions in France. Still he retained his kingdom of Navarre; but his continual intrigues against the crown, and his criminal life as a man, involved him in difficulties; he therefore laid on taxes so heavy that at length his subjects declared they could not pay them. To compel them, he caused the deputies from the different bodies and towns of Navarre to be enclosed in a high walled garden. Here he tried to reason them into obedience, and that failing, to terrify them into it, he kept them shut up there, with only food and drink enough simply to retain them alive. This not succeeding, he had the heads of three of their leaders struck off, with a promise of a continuation of the process.

But the measure of his crimes was complete. He was now sixty years of age, and a mass of disease, from the viciousness of his habits. To maintain his warmth, his physician ordered him to be swathed in linen steeped in spirits of wine, and his bed to be warmed by a pan of hot coals. He had enjoyed the benefit of this singular prescription some time in safety, but now, as he was perpetrating his barbarities on the representatives of his kingdom, "by the pleasure of God, or of the devil," says Froissart, "the fire caught to his sheets, and from that to his person, swathed as it was in matter highly inflammable." He was fearfully burnt, but lingered nearly a fortnight in the most terrible agonies. Such was the end of this wicked man, as terrible as his life had been mischievous.

Charles V. did not long survive this troubler of his peace, dying in September, 1380, and leaving a very different character, having regained to his country by his wise policy all that his predecessors Philip and John had lost at Crecy and Poictiers.

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