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Accession of Edward IV page 3

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It would have appeared that the royal army had a most decided advantage by being in possession of the town, which was well fortified, and where a stout resistance might have been made in the narrow streets; but, spite of this, the superior spirit of the commanders on the side of York triumphed over the royalists. York himself made a desperate attack on the barriers at the entrance of the town, while Warwick, searching the outskirts of the place, found, or was directed by some favouring persons to a weak spot. He made his way across some gardens, burst into the city, and came upon the royal forces where he was little expected, Aided by this diversion, York redoubled his attack on the barriers, and, notwithstanding their resolute defence by Lord Clifford, forced an entrance. Between the cries of "A York! a York!" "A Warwick! a Warwick!" confusion spread amongst the king's forces, they gave way, and fled out of the town in utter rout. The slaughter among the leaders of the royal army was terrible. The Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford were slain; the king himself was wounded in the neck; the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Dudley in the face, and the Earl of Stafford in the arm. All these were arrow wounds, and it was plain that here again the archers had won the day. The fall or wounds of the leaders, indeed, settled the business, and saved the common soldiers; for though Hall reports that 8,000, Stowe that 5,000 men fell, yet Crane, in a letter to his cousin, John Paston, written at the time, declares that there were only six-score, and Sir William Stonor states that only forty-eight were buried in St. Albans.

The king was found concealed in the house of a tanner; and there York visited him, on his knees renewed his vows of loyal affection, and congratulated Henry on the fall of the traitor Somerset. He then led the king to the shrine of St. Albans, and afterwards to his apartment in the abbey. It might have been supposed that the fallen king, being now in the hands of York and his party, the claims of York to the crown would have been asserted. But at this time York either had not really determined on seizing the throne, or did not deem the public fully prepared for so great a change. On the meeting of Parliament it was repeated that York and his friends sought only to free the king from the unpopular ministers who surrounded him, and to redress the grievances of the nation. That party complained - with what truth does not appear - that, on the very morning of the battle, they had sought to explain these views and intentions in letters, which the Duke of Somerset and Thorpe, the late Speaker of the Commons, had withheld from his grace. The king acquitted York, Salisbury, and Warwick of all evil intention, pronounced them good and loyal subjects, granting them a full pardon. The peers renewed their fealty, and Parliament was prorogued till the 12th of November. Thus the first blood had been drawn at the battle of St. Albans in these civil wars, and all appeared restored to peace. But it was a deceitful calm; rivers of blood were yet to flow.

Scarcely had Parliament reassembled when it was announced that the king had relapsed into his former condition. Both Lords and Commons refused to proceed with business till this matter was ascertained and settled. The Lords then requested York once more to resume the protectorate for the good of the nation; but this time he was not to be caught in his former snare. He professed his insufficiency for the onerous office, and begged of them to lay its responsibilities on some more able person. He was quite safe in this course, for he had now acquired a majority in the council, and the office of chancellor and the Governorship of Calais were in the hands of his two stout friends, Salisbury and Warwick. Of course, the reply was that no one was so capable or suitable as he; and then he expressed his willingness to accept the protectorate, but only on condition that its revocation should not lie in the mere will of the king, but in the king with the consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal in Parliament assembled. The Protectorate was to devolve, as before, on the Prince of Wales, in case the malady of the king continued so long.

York might think that he was now secure from the machinations of the queen, but he was deceived. That never-resting lady was at the very moment in full activity of preparation for his defeat; and no sooner did Parliament meet after the Christmas recess than Henry again presented himself in person, announcing his restoration to health, and dissolved the protectorate. The Duke of York resigned his authority with apparent good-will. Calais and the chancellorship passed from Salisbury and Warwick to the friends of the queen; the whole Government was again on its old footing. Two years passed on in apparent peace to the nation, but in the most bitter party warfare at court. The queen and her associates could never rest while the Duke of York and his friends were permitted to escape punishment for the late outbreak. The relatives of Somerset and the Earl of Northumberland, and of the other nobles slain at St. Albans, were encouraged to demand with eagerness vengeance on the Yorkists. Both parties surrounded themselves more and more with armed retainers, and everything portended fresh acts of bloodshed and discord. The king endeavoured to avert this by summoning a great council at Coventry in 1457. There the Duke of Buckingham made a formal rehearsal of all the offences committed by York and his party; at the conclusion of which the peers fell on their knees and entreated the king to make a declaration that he would never more show grace to the Duke of York, or any other person who should oppose the power of the crown or endanger the peace of the kingdom. To this the king consented; and then the Duke of York, Salisbury, and Warwick renewed their oaths of fealty, and all the lords bound themselves never for the future to seek redress by arms, but only from the justice of the sovereign.

At the close of this council, the Duke of York retired to Wigmore, Salisbury to Middleham, and Warwick to Calais. It was soon found that, notwithstanding all these oaths and these royal endeavours, the same animosity was alive in the two hostile parties, and the king tried still further the hopeless experiment of reconciliation. He prevailed on the leaders to meet him in London. On the 26th of January, 1458, the leaders of the York and Lancaster factions appeared in the metropolis, but they came attended by armed retainers - the Duke of York with 140 horse, the now Duke of Somerset with 200, and Salisbury with 400, besides fourscore knights and esquires. York and his friends were admitted into the city, probably as being more under the control of the authorities; for the lord mayor, at the head of 5,000 armed citizens, undertook to maintain the peace. The Lancastrian lords were lodged in the suburbs. Every day the Yorkists met at the Blackfriars and the Lancastrians at the Whitefriars, and after communicating with each other, the result was sent to the king, who lay at Berkhamstead with several of the judges. The result of their deliberations was this: - The king, as umpire, awarded that the Duke of York, and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, should, within two years, found a chantry for the good of the souls of the three lords slain in battle at St. Albans; that both those who slew and those who were slain at that battle should be reputed faithful subjects; that the Duke of York should pay to the dowager Duchess of Somerset and her children the sum of 5,000, and the Earl of Warwick to the Lord Clifford 1,000 marks; and that the Earl of Salisbury should release to Percy Lord Egremont all the damages he had obtained against him for an assault, on condition that the said Lord Egremont should bind himself to keep the peace for ten years.

The next day, March 25th, the king came to town, and went to St. Paul's in procession, followed by the whole court, the queen conducted by the Duke of York, and the lords of each party walking arm-in-arm before them, in token of perfect reconciliation. But real reconciliation was as distant as ever. The causes of contention lay too deep for the efforts of the simple and well-intentioned king, or even for the subtlest acts of diplomacy. It was the settled strife for a crown; and swords, not oaths, could alone decide it. The whole show was a mocking pageant. The slightest spark might any day light up a flame which would rage through the whole kingdom; and in a little more than a month such a spark fell into the combustible mass. News arrived that a large fleet of merchantmen from Lubeck had been attacked by Warwick as it passed down the Channel, and five sail of them captured, after a severe contest, and carried into Calais. As Lubeck was a town of the Hanseatic League, that powerful association - which was in amity with England - speedily sent commissioners to London demanding redress. Warwick was summoned to appear before the council; and, whilst in attendance, a quarrel arose betwixt his followers and those of the court. Warwick believed, or feigned - to escape out of the scrape into which he had fallen - that there was a design upon his life. He fled to his father, Salisbury, and York, and they resolved that their only safety lay in arms. There was a story circulated, and thoroughly believed, in the Yorkist party, that the queen, who never forgot or forgave an enemy, kept a register, written in blood, of all the Yorkist chiefs, and had vowed never to rest till they were all exterminated. In fact, both parties were arrived at that pitch of rancour which nothing could appease but the blood of their opponents. The feud was no longer confined to the nobles and their immediate retainers; the leaven of discord had pervaded the whole mass of the nation. The conflicting claims had been discussed till they had penetrated into every village, every family, into the convents of the monks, and the cottages of the poor. One party asserted that the Duke of York was an injured prince, driven from his hereditary right by an usurping family, and now sought to be destroyed by them. The other contended that, though Henry IV. had deposed Richard II., he had been the choice of the nation; that his son had made the name of England glorious; and that more than sixty years of 'possession of the crown was itself sufficient warrant for its retention. That the Duke of York had, over and over again, sworn eternal fealty to Henry VI., which was in itself a renunciation of any claim he might previously possess; and that, in seeking now to deprive the king of his throne, he was a perjured and worthless man. One party argued that York owed his life to the clemency of the king; and the other replied that the king equally owed his to that of York, who had him in his power at St. Albans.

While the nation was thus heating its blood by these disputes, the heads of the different factions were busy preparing to meet each other in the field. The three lords spent the writer in arousing their partisans. "Warwick called around him at Calais the veterans who had fought In Normandy and Guienne. On the other hand, the court distributed in profusion collars of white swans, the badge ef the young prince; and the friends of the king were invited by letters, under the privy seal, to meet him in arms at Leicester. The spring and summer had come and gone, however, before the rival parties proceeded to actual extremities. The finances of the court impeded its proceedings; and the Yorkist party still averred that it had no object but its own defence and the rescue of the Government from traitors.

At length, on the 23rd of September, 1459, the Earl of Salisbury marched forth from his castle of Middleham, in Yorkshire, to form a junction with York on the borders of Wales. Lord Audley, with a force of 10,000 men, far exceeding that of Salisbury, sought to intercept his progress at Blore Heath, in Staffordshire; but the veteran Salisbury was too subtle for his antagonist. He pretended to fly at the sight of such unequal numbers; and having thus seduced Audley to pass a deep glen and torrent, he fell upon his troops when part only were over, and, throwing them into confusion, made a dreadful slaughter of them. Some writers contend that Salisbury had only 500 men with him; but this appears incredible, for they left Lord Audley with 2,000 of his men dead on the field, and took prisoner Lord Dudley with many knights and esquires. The earl pursued his way unmolested to Lud-low, where York lay, and where they were joined in a few days by Warwick with his large reinforcement of veterans under Sir John Blount and Sir Andrew Trollop.

The king, queen, and lords of their party, had assembled an army of 60,000 men. With these they advanced to within half a mile of Ludiford, the camp of York, near Ludlow, on the 10th of October; and Henry, after all his experience, had the goodness, or the weakness, once more to renew his offers of pardon and reconciliation on condition that his opponents should submit within six days. York and his colleagues replied that they had no reliance on his promises, because those about him did not observe them, and that the Earl of Warwick, trusting to them last year, nearly lost his life. Yet they still protested that nothing but their own security caused them to arm, and that they had determined not to draw the sword against their sovereign unless they were compelled. It was concluded by the royal party to give battle on the 13th, but they found York posted with, consummate military skill. His camp was defended by several batteries of cannon, which played effectively on the royal ranks as they attempted to advance. The royalists, therefore, deferred the engagement till the next morning, and were relieved from that necessity by Sir Andrew Trollop, who was marshal of the Yorkist army, going over in the night with all his Calais auxiliaries to the king. Trollop had hitherto believed the assurances of the Yorkist leaders that they sought only Government redress, and not subversion of the throne; but something had now opened his eyes, and, as he was a staunch royalist, he acted accordingly. This event struck terror and confusion through the Yorkist army. Every man was doubtful of his fellow; the confederate lords made a hasty retreat into Wales, whence York and one of his sons passed over to Ireland, and the rest followed Warwick, who hastened to Devonshire, and thence escaped again to Calais.

Nothing shows so strikingly the feeble councils of the royal camp as that these formidable foes should be permitted to decamp without any pursuit. A vigorous blow now made on the panic-struck enemy might for ever have rid the king of his mortal antagonists, But Henry, always averse to blood shedding, was no doubt glad of this unexpected escape from it, and his generals were weak enough to acquiesce. The court returned to London, and satisfied themselves with passing an act of attainder against the Duke and Duchess of York, and their sons the Earls of Marche and Rutland, against the Earl and Countess of Salisbury, and their son the Earl of Warwick, the Lord Clinton, and various knights and esquires. Even this was painful to the morbidly tender mind of Henry. He reserved to himself the right to reverse the attainder, if he thought proper, and refused to permit the confiscation of the property of Lord Powis, and two others who had thrown themselves on his clemency.

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