OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reign of Henry VI page 9

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 <9> 10 11 12

On the 3rd of January, 1437, died Queen Catherine, the widow of Henry V. Soon after the death of Catherine's illustrious husband she retired to an obscurity which was scarcely broken during the remaining fifteen years of her life. She had fixed her affections on a handsome yeoman of the guard, Owen Tudor, a Welshman. This fortunate fellow, who thus became the father of a race of England's kings, was originally, it is believed, a common soldier. His father had been one of the followers of Owen Glen-dower, and he himself was at Azincourt with Henry V., where, for his bravery in repelling the fiery charge of the Duke of Alencon, Henry made him one of the squires of his body. It was in this post, keeping guard at Windsor when Catherine retired there with the infant Henry VI., that he attracted the queen's attention. Spite of his humble origin and condition - for he could not then be worth forty pounds a year, or he must have taken up his knighthood - Catherine, the proud daughter of the kings of France, did not disdain to bestow upon him her favour, and eventually her hand. This marriage was, of course, concealed with all possible care. So completely was this the case, that no proof of it whatever exists, or has been discovered; not even the research of Henry VII., her grandson, with all his boast of royal descent, could obtain it. Yet no doubt whatever seems to have existed of the reality of the marriage. Gloucester, the protector, was highly incensed at this act of Catherine, regarding it as a disgrace to the royal family. It appears clearly that, though he was aware that the husband of Catherine was a plebeian, he was not aware of his identity, for Tudor continued to reside with the queen till about six months previous to her death.

Tudor and Catherine had four children - a daughter, who died in infancy, and three sons- These sons were torn from her at the instigation of Gloucester; and the queen was forced to seek refuge in the abbey of Bermondsey. After the queen's death, which occurred when she was only thirty-six, and in consequence, it is supposed, of the persecutions and troubles which her marriage brought upon her, Tudor was seized and imprisoned in Newgate, but escaped into Wales; he was again dishonourably seized by Gloucester, notwithstanding a safe conduct from the king, and thrown into the dungeon of Wallingford Castle. Thence he was remanded again to Newgate, whence he once more escaped. He was admitted to some small favour by Henry VI., and made keeper of his parks in Denbigh, Wales; and was finally taken, fighting against him, by Edward IV., and beheaded in the market-place of Hereford. Such is the history of the origin of the royal line of Tudor, corrupted from Theodore, the original family name.

The three sons of Owen Tudor and Catherine were acknowledged and ennobled by Henry VI. The eldest, Edmund, was made Earl of Richmond, married to Margaret Beaufort, the heiress of the house of Somerset, and took precedence of all peers. He died at the early age of twenty, yet left one infant son, afterwards Henry VII. The second son of Catherine, Jasper Tudor, was created Earl of Pembroke. The third son became a monk of Westminster.

In France the English still continued to wage a various war, but not sufficiently brilliant to give interest to a detailed account of it. In 1437 Philip of Burgundy again ventured abroad, and laid siege to Crotoy, at the mouth of the Somme. Talbot marched from Normandy with a email army of 4,000 men. Reaching St. Velery overnight, the next morning they plunged into the ford of Blanchetaque, so well known since Edward III. crossed it at Crecy, and attacked its besiegers, who hastily drew off to Abbeville. Talbot ravaged the country round, and returned into Normandy laden with spoil.

In May of this year the Duke of York was recalled, and was succeeded by Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who achieved nothing remarkable, and died at Rouen in less-than two years. During his government both England and France were exempt from war, but ravaged by famine and pestilence.

In 1439 the Count of Richemont, the Constable of France, recovered the city of Meaux from Talbot; and Talbot, on his part, accompanied by the Earl of Somerset, besieged Harfleur, and took it after a difficult siege. Talbot was, in fact, at this time, the brave supporter of the English power in France. Two years after this time he raised the siege of Pontoise, which was invested by an army of 12,000 men; but all his valour could not preserve it. In 1442 and 1443 there were some advantages gained by the French in Guienne, and these were counterpoised by greater successes of the English in Maine, Picardy, and Anjou. Both parties were weary of the war, yet neither would recede from its high claims. The Pope from time to time urged the combatants, as Christians, to lay aside their animosities, and make peace; and to this desirable object Isabella, Duchess of Burgundy, a descendant of John of Gaunt, lent her persuasions, and succeeded, by the co-operation of Cardinal Beaufort, in obtaining a cessation of hostilities for an indefinite period. The Duke of Orleans, after a captivity of twenty-five years, was now liberated on condition of paying a ransom of 200,000 crowns by fixed instalments. Returning to France, he added his endeavours to those of the advocates for peace, and a truce was at length signed on the 28th of May, 1444, for two years, and by subsequent treaties it was prolonged till April, 1450, It was high time that some respite was given to the wretched people of France, who for so many years had borne the brunt of these deadly contests. France, almost from end to end, was become a scene which defies all description, and almost all imagination. Cardinal Beaufort said that more perished in these wars than there were now in the two kingdoms. The late famine and plague had depopulated France still farther; and the wasted country was infested by bands of thieves, vagabonds, cut-throats of every description, chiefly deserted soldiers, who committed the most horrible crimes.

Henry of England was now in his twenty-fourth year. His character was that of a mild, kind-hearted, and pious youth, but weak; and, like all weak princes, prone to surround himself with favourites. From all the accounts that have reached us it is clear that, as a private man, he would have been a good and happy one; as a king, he was destined to become the dupe of some stronger mind, and the victim of faction. During the whole of his minority, his two powerful kinsmen, the Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort, had kept up round the throne a fierce contest for pre-eminence. Gloucester was warm-tempered but generous, and greatly beloved by the people, who called him the "good Duke Humphrey." Pie is said to have been better educated than most princes of his time, to have been fond of men of talent, and to have founded one of the first public libraries in England. The cardinal was a man of a more calculating and politic temperament. He was well known to be cherishing the hope of grasping the pontifical tiara. Each of these nobles was in daily strife for the possession of the king's person, and, through it, for the chief power in the realm. The duke was a great advocate for the vigorous prosecution of the war, and pleased the people by advocating an ascendancy over the French. Beaufort was as earnest for peace, and thence his popularity with the Church on the Continent. This feud was brought to a climax in 1439 by the debate on the question of the release of the Duke of Orleans. Gloucester opposed it on the ground that his brother, Henry V., had left it as a solemn command that none of the captives of Azincourt should ever be ransomed. Beaufort advocated it on the plea that Orleans would use his influence in France for peace. Beaufort prevailed, and Gloucester, in chagrin, delivered to the king a list of heavy political charges against the cardinal.

Things were at this pass when a charge of sorcery and high treason was got up against the Duchess of Gloucester. It will be recollected that the Duke had married Eleanor Cobham, the daughter of Lord Reginald Cobham, who had been his mistress. Though he had thus made her his wife, her enemies never forgot the circumstances of the duchess's prior situation. It was kept alive as a source of mortification to the duke. Instead of her legitimate title, they persisted in calling her Dame Eleanor Cobham. She is represented as a bold, ambitious, dissolute, and avaricious woman. That is the portraiture drawn by her enemies, and they did not stop there. The last attack of the duke on the cardinal, which aimed at once, as it seemed, at his life and honour, roused the crafty churchman to a deadly scheme of revenge. He called in that ecclesiastical machinery which in those days could so readily be brought to bear on an object of aversion. He is represented as having spies in the household of Gloucester, who kept strict watch on all proceedings, and who reported to him that the duchess had private meetings with one Roger Bolingbroke, a priest, who was a reputed necromancer, and with Marjory Jourdemain, the celebrated witch of Eye. On this fact Beaufort resolved to found a charge which should strike the most cruel blow possible at the domestic peace and honour of Gloucester.

The fact was that Bolingbroke was the duke's chaplain, a man of great science, and especially addicted to astronomy, and its then common accompaniment, astrology, with the casting of nativities and the like. The duke was extremely fond of the society of learned men, and held frequent discourse with his chaplain on the sciences then popular. Suddenly, and immediately following his accusation of the cardinal, he found his wife, to whom he was greatly attached, accused of nigh treason, "for that she, by sorcery and enchantment, intended to destroy the king, to the intent to advance and to promote her husband to the crown." Bolingbroke was arrested, and being accused of necromancy, he was exhibited on a platform in St. Paul's Churchyard, with the instruments of his art, for he is declared by a writer of the time to have been the most celebrated astronomer and necromancer in the world. He was dressed in a wondrous robe, supposed to be that in which he practised his art, bearing in his right hand a sword, and in his left a sceptre, and seated on a chair on the four corners of which were fixed four swords, and on the points of the swords four images of copper.

On the arrest of Bolingbroke the Duchess of Gloucester, aware of the real direction of the intended blow, took refuge in the sanctuary at Westminster. There she was brought face to face with Bolingbroke, who is made to say that it was at her instigation that he first applied to the study of magic - a very improbable circumstance, the more natural one being that his knowledge of astrology had tempted the duchess to make dangerous inquiries. The inquiries appeared to be these: Henry was a weakly youth, and Gloucester was the next heir to the crown, and she had a woman's curiosity to learn whether the stars could tell the relative terms of the king's and Gloucester's lives, and the consequent prospect of the envied and maligned Dame Eleanor Cobham wearing a crown.

Beside the duchess and Bolingbroke, there were arrested as accomplices, Southwell, a canon of St. Paul's, Hum, a priest, and Marjory Jourdemain, the witch. The duchess was examined in St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and charged with having obtained love-philters to secure the affection of her husband. But a much more horrible and absurd charge was that she had procured from Southwell and Bolingbroke a wax figure, which was so moulded by art, that when placed before the fire, as it melted away, the flesh of the king would melt away also, his marrow dry up, and his health fade. Eight-and-twenty such charges were preferred against Dame Eleanor and her companions, some of which she is said to have admitted, but the majority and the worst to have denied; and on such ridiculous pleas she was condemned on three days of the week to walk bareheaded, and bearing a lighted taper in her hand, through the streets of London, and afterwards to be confined for life in the Isle of Man, in the custody of Sir John Stanley. The unfortunate men of science were condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. Bolingbroke suffered the sentence, stoutly protesting his innocence, Southwell died in prison; and Hum received a royal pardon. Marjory Jourdemain was burnt as a witch in Smithfield.

As for the duchess, the people, who attributed the whole of this atrocious proceeding to the cardinal and the other enemies of the duke, instead of insulting her in her penance, followed her with deep sympathy and respect, and only the more attached themselves to the duke as the victim of so ruthless a conspiracy. Gloucester himself, prostrated, as it were, by this stunning blow, said little, let it take its course, and brooded over it in secret grief.

At this crisis the marriage of the king was resolved upon. Each party put forth all its energy to secure such a partner as should be likely to incline to its interests, for if the queen should be a woman of ability, she would, with the king's peculiar character, be certain to establish a permanent influence over him.; and this circumstance would decide for ever the long- contest between them. Gloucester recommended a daughter of the Count of Armagnac, on the ground that Armagnac was the enemy of Charles VII., and, in alliance with England, would add greatly to the strength of the province of Guienne. But no sooner did the proposal reach the ears of Charles than, to prevent so disastrous an occurrence, he invaded the territory of the count, and made him and his family prisoners. The Beaufort party now pressed on their advantage, and strongly represented the benefits to be hoped from the choice of Margaret of Anjou, the daughter of Rene, titular King of Sicily and Jerusalem, and Duke of Anjou, Maine, and Bar. Margaret had a great reputation for beauty and talent. She was said to be one of the most superior women of the age, and besides this, she was cousin to the Queen of France, greatly admired by Charles himself, and generally resident at his court. It was urged that in these circumstances lay the chief hope of an adjustment of the conflicting claims of the two kingdoms and of a substantial peace.

The people from the first marked their dislike of the alliance. They were not fond of French princesses, and Gloucester, who always represented the popular idea, opposed it with all his eloquence. But the Beaufort party carried it against him. The prime mover of the scheme was William de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk. He was a sworn partisan of Beaufort, with Somerset and Buckingham. He had been residing at the French court, was in high favour there, and there were not wanting rumours of a too familiar intimacy betwixt himself and the proposed queen. Strongly seconded by the Beaufort party in opposition to Gloucester, he was commissioned to negotiate this marriage; and to give him absolute and irresponsible power in the matter, a most singular and unusual guarantee was given by the King, and approved by Parliament, against any future penalties for his proceedings in the matter. Armed with this dangerous and suspicious document, Suffolk hastened to Prance, met the Duke of Orleans at Tours, and concluded a truce, during which the question of the marriage might be discussed, and which, if the issue were successful, might terminate in a peace.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 <9> 10 11 12

Pictures for The Reign of Henry VI page 9

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About