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Reign of Richard II. Part 2 page 2

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To secure his measures Richard employed every means to impress the Parliament and public with awe. Great preparations were made for the assembling of a Parliament which was to decide the fate of a prince of the blood, and one so powerful and popular, as well as of some of the chief nobles of the realm. It is said that the sheriffs had been tampered with - a most base and unconstitutional act, and which, resorted to in the assembling of this famous Parliament, opened the way for much subsequent corruption of the kind. A wooden shed of great extent was erected near Westminster Hall, for the reception of so numerous an assembly as was summoned to give the greater sanction to its decrees, and the lords came with such prodigious retinues, no doubt for their own safety, that they not only filled all the lodgings of London, but all the towns and villages for ten miles round. The king came to Westminster attended by 600 men-at-arms, wearing the royal livery of the hart, and 200 archers, raised in Cheshire. On the second day of the session Sir John Bussy, the speaker, and a thorough creature of the king, petitioned that the clergy might appoint proxies, the canons forbidding their presence at any trials of blood, and Lord Thomas Percy was appointed their procurator. The Parliament passed whatever Richard was pleased to dictate to it. It annulled the commission of regency and the statute confirming it, passed in the tenth year of his reign. It abrogated all the acts which attainted the king's ministers - though the Parliament which passed them and the people had sworn to maintain them for ever - and declared that they had been extorted by force. It revoked all pardons granted heretofore to Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick.

This facile assembly first impeached Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, as the aider and abettor of the accused noblemen, for having moved and advised the arrest and execution of Sir Simon Burley and Sir James Berners, contrary to the wishes of the king, and that while chancellor, and bound to support the rights of the crown. The archbishop rose to defend himself; but Richard, fearful of the effect of his eloquence, desired him to waive awhile his observations, on pretence of requiring more time to consider the matter; but the next day he was declared to be guilty, and banished for life.

The following day, September 21st, the charges were read to the lords against the three nobles. They were that Gloucester and Arundel had compelled the king, under menace of his life, to sign the commission of regency; that at Hornsey Park they had drawn to their party the Earl of Warwick and Sir Thomas Mortimer, and by force had compelled the king to do their will. The Earls of Rutland, Kent, Huntingdon, Somerset, Salisbury, and Nottingham, and the Lords Spenser and Scrope, were accused of the same crime; that at Huntingdon they had conspired to depose the king, and shown him the statute of the deposition of Edward II., and had also insisted on the death of Sir Simon Burley, in opposition to the king's will.

Arundel pleaded not guilty and former pardons; but he was condemned and executed. Warwick was convicted of high treason; but, on account of his submissive behaviour, his life was spared, and he was banished to the Isle of Man.

On the 24th a mandate was issued by the king and his council in Parliament to the earl marshal to bring his prisoner, the Duke of Gloucester, from Calais to the bar of the house. Three days after this an answer was returned by the earl marshal that "he could not produce the said duke before the king and his council in that Parliament, for that, being in his custody in the king's prison at Calais, he there died."

The simple unexplanatory abruptness of this announcement is particularly startling. It immediately impresses the mind with the conviction of foul play; that the king, not daring to bring to further trial a prince so nearly related to the crown, and so highly esteemed by the people, and yet resolved not to let him escape, had procured his assassination. Apoplexy and other things were talked of, but there could be but one opinion of his end - murder. How this was effected has never been discovered. When Henry Bolingbroke had usurped Richard's throne, and it was his particular interest to prove Richard a murderer of their common uncle, one John Hall, a servant of the Earl of Nottingham, was brought forward, who swore that to his knowledge the duke was taken from the prison to an inn, called the Prince's Inn, and there smothered between two beds by a Servant of the king and another of the Earl of Rutland. Though eight persons were named in the paper as being concerned in the transaction, none of these were ever examined, nor was Hall brought before any judge; but, having made this confession, was at once beheaded. It appears sufficiently clear, therefore, that this was an invention of Bolingbroke's to blacken the character of Richard. Froissart says he was strangled in prison by four people with towels; but the mode matters little: the fact of Gloucester's murder cannot admit of a doubt, and whatever it was, the Parliament appears to have troubled itself not at all about it. They declared, both Lords and Commons, that he was a traitor, and confiscated all his property to the crown.

The next day his confession, as delivered to Sir William Rickhill, was read in Parliament. He acknowledged that he had been guilty of procuring the commission of regency; of presenting himself with an armed force before the king in Westminster Hall; of opening the king's letters without permission; of speaking slanderously of him; of employing threats to compel the death of Sir Simon Burley; and of having conspired to depose the king, though only for a few days, after which he meant to replace him on the throne. To this confession was appended the most earnest and humble appeal for mercy. But Gloucester had never shown mercy, and none was shown to him.

In this document, however, Gloucester confesses to nothing recent; the whole of it applies to the transactions of 1386 and 1387; and it is remarkable that it was for these offences that Warwick and Arundel were condemned. So that any recent act of treason really did not enter into these trials.

The rest of the nobles and prelates named in the indictment were then conditionally pardoned, except those who took up arms against the king in his eleventh year, including the Lord Cobham, who was banished to Jersey for life, and Mortimer, who had fled into the wilds of Ireland, and was outlawed.

What is extraordinary is, that several of the very peers who were engaged in these transactions, now declared treasonable, sat in judgment on their more unlucky accomplices. The Duke of York, the Bishop of Winchester, and Sir Richard Scrope, had been members of Gloucester's commission of regency; and Derby and Nottingham were two of the five who appealed the favourites of treason. Some of these were not only winked at, but even promoted when the trial was over. Richard, indeed, in Parliament fully exculpated them, asserting that, though for a time deceived by the pretences of Gloucester, they had abandoned his cause like good and loyal subjects. He then created his cousins, Derby and Rutland, Dukes of Hereford and Albemarle; his two half-brothers, the Earls of Kent and Huntingdon, Dukes of Surrey and Exeter; the Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Norfolk; the Earl of Somerset, Marquis of Dorset; the Lords Despenser, Nevil, Percy, and William Scrope, Earls of Gloucester, Westmoreland, Worcester, and Wiltshire.

On the last day of the session of this servile Parliament the peers took an oath that all the judgments passed in this Parliament should have the full force of statutes for ever; that any one attempting to reverse them should be held to be a traitor; and that the clergy should excommunicate him. The Commons held out their hands in acquiescence with this oath, and Lord Thomas Percy, the proxy of the clergy, swore on their behalf. The Parliament was then prorogued till after the Christmas holidays when it met at Shrewsbury.

Here, again, Richard displayed his anxiety to prevent any future charge against him of unconstitutional proceedings in this Parliament. The guilt of blood was heavy on his soul, and he knew there were those living who, though he had sought to soothe them with titles and honours, trembled at their own insecurity, and might turn round some day with a terrible retaliation. He sought, therefore, to make that secure which his own acts and deeds showed was void of all security; for the next monarch who rose might reverse every one of these acts, as he had reversed former ones. Those who now swore to the eternal stability of these judgments had ten years before sworn exactly the contrary, and in two more years would swear the contrary again. Anxious, however, to make a rope of sand, to give duration to that which depended on the momentary breath of unprincipled men, he called in the judges to take their opinion of the answers of the judges ten years before at Nottingham; who now declared that that answer was sound and constitutional, and all the statutes of Gloucester's Parliament, which had also been sworn to be indissoluble, were repealed as treasonable. Still not satisfied, Richard asked the judges if there were no other means of securing the authority of the acts of this Parliament, who replied that the authority of Parliament was above all other guarantees. What that guarantee was they had just themselves shown.

But, to bind the Parliament, if possible, Richard desired the three estates of Parliament, the peers, the prelates, and the commons, should swear their former oath on the cross of Canterbury. He asked them if it were not possible to bind their successors, and being told he could not - (it is wonderful that a Parliament which had promised so much, could not also promise that little matter) - he then declared that he would get a bull from the Pope to excommunicate the prince who should attempt to annul any act of this Parliament. And he did in due time procure that bull. But now he had proclamation made out of doors amongst the people, asking it they would consent to this kind ot security; and the people with loud acclamations declared they would. Thus the fickle people, equally subservient with the Parliament, gave their sanction to the murder of their late idol Gloucester.

Perhaps no period of our history exhibits a monarch more reckless of the restraints of the constitution than Richard at this epoch; nor a Parliament more servilely disposed to grovel at his feet, and surrender every valuable right. Before closing its sessions, the Commons not only granted him most liberal supplies, but a tax on wool, woolfells and hides, not for the year as previously, but for life, thus rendering him, to a great degree, independent of Parliament; and Richard, again, to provide against any repeal of this munificent grant, published a general pardon, which, however, was to become void the moment any future Parliament attempted to repeal this act.

But this vile Parliament went still farther in surrendering the birthrights of the people. It had been customary to appoint a committee of the peers and judges formerly, to remain after the business of the session was completed, to hear and determine on such petitions as had not been already answered. Advantage was now taken to seize on this form of a committee to supersede the general functions of Parliament; and twelve peers and six commoners, not judges or justices, were not only invested with the powers of the ancient committees, but also to "hear, examine, and determine all matters and subjects which had been moved in the presence of the king, with all the dependencies thereof." One half only of these were required to attend, so that to nine people were transferred all the powers and authority of Parliament!

The immediate object of this stretch of parliamentary and, under its guise, of kingly power, was to execute the designs of the monarch which led to his ruin. Richard was of that light and sensitive character, and had been early so imbued with the idea of "the divinity that cloth hedge about a king," that he was easily led on to the most arbitrary conduct. In the late proceedings against Gloucester and his adherents he had broken unceremoniously through all the restraints of the constitution, and the obsequiousness of Parliament induced him now to imagine that he had placed himself above all law. Parliament had granted him supplies for life, and with the aid of the committee to which Parliament had so tamely resigned its prerogative, "all persons well affected to the king," he could, he imagined, do just as he pleased; and he lost no time in putting this to the proof. He had destroyed Gloucester; he resolved to cut off or remove other overgrown relatives and nobles.

The lively and strong memory which Richard had always shown of past injuries, but never more so than during the late trials, struck terror into the hearts of many who were conscious that they had offended. Amongst these was the Duke of Norfolk. At present he stood apparently high amongst Richard's friends; but he was well aware how slippery was that position, and he was conscious that his reluctance to carry out the bloody proscription against Gloucester would be treasured up in the king's never-failing remembrance for the first tempting occasion. Of the original lords appellants he only and the Duke of Hereford now remained.

Norfolk happening to overtake Hereford, on the road between Brentford and London, the following conversation took place, according to Hereford's statement of it as it still remains on the rolls of Parliament: -

Norfolk. "We are on the point of being undone.
Hereford. Why so?
Norfolk. On account of the affair of Radcot Bridge.
Hereford. How can that be, since the king has granted us pardon, and has declared in Parliament that we behaved as good and loyal subjects?
Norfolk. Nevertheless, our fate will be like that of others before us. He will annul that record.
Hereford. It will be marvellous indeed, if the king, after having said so before the people, should cause it to be annulled.
Norfolk. It is a marvellous and false world that we live in; for I know wall that, had it not been for some persons, my lord your father of Lancaster and yourself would have been taken or killed, when you went to Windsor after the Parliament. The Dukes of Albemarle and Exeter, and the Earl of Worcester and I, have pledged ourselves never to assent to the undoing of any lord without just and reasonable cause. But this malicious project belongs to the Duke of Surrey, the Earls of Wiltshire and Salisbury, drawing to themselves the Earl of Gloucester. They have sworn to undo six lords, the Dukes of Lancaster, Hereford, Albemarle, and Exeter, the Marquess of Dorset and myself; and have power to reverse the attainder of Thomas Earl of Lancaster, which, would turn to the derision of us and many others.
Hereford. God forbid! It will be a wonder if the king should assent to such designs. He appears to make me good cheer, and has promised to be my good lord. Indeed, he has sworn by St. Edward to be a good lord to me and others.
Norfolk. So he has often sworn to ma by God's body, but I do not trust him the more for that. He is attempting to draw the Earl of March into the scheme of the four lords to destroy the others.
Hereford. If that be the case, we can never trust them.
Norfolk. Certainly not. Though they may not accomplish their purpose now, they will contrive to destroy us in our houses ten years hence.

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