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Accession of Edward IV page 4

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Meantime the insurgent chiefs, though dispersed, were not crushed. York had great popularity in Ireland-, Warwick had a strong retreat in Calais. To deprive him of this, the Duke of Somerset was appointed governor, and, encouraged by the conduct of the Calais veterans at Ludiford, set out to drive Warwick from that city. But he met with a very different reception to that which he had calculated upon. He was assailed by a severe fire from the batteries, and compelled to stand out. On making an attempt to reach Calais from Guisnes, he found himself deserted by his sailors, who carried his fleet into Calais, and surrendered it to their favourite commander. Warwick stationed a sufficient force to watch Somerset in Guisnes, and, so little did he care for him, set out with his fleet, and dispersed two successive armaments sent to the relief of Somerset from the ports of Kent. When that was done, he sailed to Dublin, to concert measures with York, and returned in safety to Calais, having met the high-admiral, the Duke of Exeter, who at sight of him escaped into Dartmouth.

In the spring of 1460 the Yorkists, who had fled so rapidly from the royal army at Ludiford, and had seemed to vanish as a mist, were again on foot, and in a daring attitude. They had sedulously disseminated proclamations throughout the country, still protesting that they had no designs on the crown; that the king himself was so well assured of it that he refused to ratify the act of attainder, but that he was in the hands of the enemies of the nation. These documents concluded by saying the maligned lords were resolved now to prove their loyalty in the presence of the sovereign. Following up this, Warwick landed in June, in Kent - the great stronghold of the house of York next to the marches of Wales. He had brought only 1,500 men with him, but he was accompanied by Coppini, the Pope's legate, who had been sent indeed to Henry, but was gained over by Warwick, In Kent they were joined by the Lord Cobham with 400 men; by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had received his preferment from York during his protectorate; and by a great number of knights and gentlemen of the county. As he advanced towards the capital, people flocked to him from all sides, till his army amounted to 30,000, some say 40,000 men. He entered London on the 2nd of July, and, proceeding to the convocation, prevailed on no less than five bishops to accompany him to an interview with the king, who was lying at Coventry. The legate issued a letter to the clergy, informing them that he had laid it before the king; that the Yorkists demanded nothing but personal security, peaceable enjoyment of their property, and the removal of evil counsellors. All this was calculated to turn the credulous, or to prevent their swelling the forces of the court.

Henry advanced to Northampton, where he entrenched himself in a strong camp. On arriving before it, Warwick made three successive attempts to obtain an interview with the king, but finding it unavailing, the legate excommunicated the royal party, and set up the papal banner in the Yorkist camp. For this he was afterwards recalled by the Pope, imprisoned, and degraded; but for the time it had its effect. Warwick gave the king notice that, as he would not listen to any overtures, he must prepare for battle at two in the afternoon on the 10th of July, 1460. The royal party made themselves certain of victory, but were this time confounded by Lord Grey of Ruthyn going over to the enemy, as Sir Andrew Trollop had deserted the other party at Ludlow. Grey introduced the Yorkists into the very heart of Henry's camp, and the contest was very quickly decided. Warwick ordered his followers to spare the common soldiers, and direct their attacks against the leaders; and accordingly of these there were slain 300 knights and gentlemen, including the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and the Lords Beaumont and Egremont. A second time Henry fell into the hands of his rebellious subjects, but they treated him with all respect. The queen and her son escaped into Wales, and thence into Scotland, after having been plundered on the way by their own servants.

The victors then marched back to London, carrying the king along with them a captive, but with studied appearance of being still at the head of his loving subjects. He entered the city, as in triumph, Warwick riding bareheaded before him, carrying the sword. Writs were issued in his name, applauding the loyalty of the very man who had made war on and seized his person, and a Parliament was summoned for the redress of grievances, the chief of these being the acts issued last year in the Parliament at Coventry, attainting the Yorkist leaders, which, of course, were abolished. This was scarcely effected, when the Duke of York himself arrived from Ireland, at the head of 500 horse. He rode into Westminster, entered the House of Lords, and advancing to the throne, laid his hand on the gold cloth, and seemed to wait as in expectance that he should be invited to seat himself there. But no such invitation was given. In fact, it would have been to act in opposition, on the part of the peers, to all the assurances that from first to last had been made by York and his friends, that he sought no such thing. It was now, however, the intention of York to throw off the mask, and openly lay claim to the crown. The manner in which the public, both aristocracy and people, had flocked to the standard of Warwick, led him to believe that it was now safe to declare himself; but he had himself defeated, in a great measure, his own object. His constant assurances that he sought only reform, not the subversion of the royal authority, his repeated oaths of fealty, had convinced all parties, except that of his own private friends, that he was sincere in his declarations, and they esteemed him for his honourable conduct to the gentle and inoffensive king. When, therefore, he did declare his intention of seizing the crown, the astonishment and disapprobation were proportionate.

As all remained silent when he laid his hand on the throne, he turned and looked as if in expectation on the assembled nobles. The Archbishop of Canterbury, to put an end to the embarrassing dilemma, asked him if he would not pay his respects to the king, who was in the queen's apartment. York replied that he knew no one to whom he owed that title; that he was subject to no man in that realm, but, under God, was himself entitled to the sovereignty. The peers preserved a profound and discouraging silence; and York, not finding that response which he had hoped, left the house. It was, however, only to take possession of the palace as his hereditary right. Thence he sent in to the peers a written demand of the crown, tracing his descent, showing its priority to that of the line of Lancaster, and that, by every plea of right, law, and custom, the possession of the throne centred in him. To this he demanded an immediate answer. This demand was carried by the lords to the king, who, on hearing it, said, "My father was king: his father also was king. I have worn the crown forty years from my cradle; you have all sworn fealty to me as your sovereign,, and your fathers have done the same to my fathers; how, then, can my right be disputed?"

The Lords resolved to take the matter into consideration, as if it were a thing to be decided by evidence, without any heat or violence. They called upon the judges to defend, to the best of their ability, the claims of the king. But the judges objected that they were judges, not advocates; that it was their business not to produce arguments, but merely to decide on such as were advanced. They declared this to be a case above the law, and only to be decided by the high court of Parliament. The Lords then called upon the king's serjeants and attorneys, who also endeavoured to escape from the dangerous task, but were not permitted, their office being, in reality, to give advice to the crown.

The Peers then proceeded to the discussion of this great question. They objected to York's claims, that he had really renounced any right given him by descent, by repeatedly swearing fealty to Henry; that the many acts of Parliament passed to sanction the right of the house of Lancaster themselves were sufficient, and had authority to defeat any measure of title; that the duke bore the arms of Edmund, the fifth son of Edward III., and not those of Lionel, the third son, from whom he claimed, showing that he himself held that to be his true descent. York replied to all these arguments, but especially to that wherein he knew the main force to lie, the effect of his own oaths. This he declared nugatory, inasmuch as those oaths were of necessity and constraint, and, therefore, acknowledged by all men in all ages to be utterly void.

The result was that the Lords came to the conclusion which the power of outward circumstances rather than their real convictions dictated. They attempted a compromise, which, had Henry had no issue, might have succeeded, but which, as it went to disinherit the son of Henry, and much more the son of Margaret, was certain to produce fresh conflicts. The queen, whose resolute spirit would have been worthy of all admiration, had it been accompanied by a spirit of liberality and conciliation, was sure never to acquiesce in the rejection of her own son while she could move a limb, or raise a soldier. The verdict of the Lords was that York's claim was just, but should not take effect during the lifetime of the present king. The decision of the Peers was accepted by York and his two sons Marche and Rutland, who swore not to molest the king, but to maintain him on his throne; and, on the other hand, Henry gave his assent to the bill, declared any attempt on the duke high treason, and settled estates on him and his sons as the succeeding royal line.

But Margaret of Anjou never for a moment conceded this repudiation of the rights of her son. She upbraided Henry for his unnatural conduct, and quitting her retreat in Scotland, appeared in the midst of her northern friends, calling on them by every argument of loyalty to the throne, and security to themselves, to take the field against the traitor York. The Earl of Northumberland, the Lords Dacre, Clifford, and Neville were soon in arms. They assembled at York; and Margaret, roused to the highest state of indignation by the disinheriting of her son, put forth all her powers to attach adherents to her standard. She assumed the most fascinating affability, and lavished her caresses and her promises on all whom she came near. She excited the jealousy of the northern barons by depicting the bold assumption of the southern nobles, who had presumed to give away the crown, as if it were their own; and she promised to every one unlimited plunder of the estates and property of the people south of the Trent. These arts and allurements speedily brought 30,000 men to her standard. The Earls of Somerset and Devon joined them there.

York and Salisbury set out in all haste from London to oppose this growing force. They seem not to have been duly informed of its real strength, for they pushed forward with only 5,000 men, They received a rude admonitory attack at Worksop, in Nottinghamshire, on. the 21st of December; but, still advancing, York threw himself, before Christmas, into the strong castle of Sandal. Here it was the evident policy of York to await the arrival of his son, the Earl of Marche, who was collecting forces in the marches of Wales; but either he was straitened for provisions, or was weak enough to be influenced by the taunts of the queen, who sent him word that it did not become the future King of England to coop himself up in a fortress, but to dare to meet those whom he dared to depose. He issued into the open country, in defiance of the earnest warnings of Salisbury and Sir David Hall, and gave battle to the queen's troops near Wakefield. The Duke of Somerset commanded the queen's army. He led on the main body himself, and gave the command of one wing to the Earl of Wiltshire, and the other to Lord Clifford, ordering them to keep concealed till the action had commenced, and then to close in upon York. This was done with such success that York, who fell with great fury on Somerset, found himself instantly surrounded. Two thousand of his men were speedily slain, and the greater part of the remainder compelled to surrender. He himself, with most of his commanders, were left dead upon the field; the veteran Salisbury was taken, conveyed to the castle of Pontefract, with several knights and gentlemen, and there beheaded.

When the body of York was found, his head was cut off and carried to Queen Margaret, who rejoiced excessively at the sight, uttered most unfeminine reproaches upon it, and ordered it to be crowned with a paper crown in mockery, and placed upon the walls of York. Whethamstede, a cotemporary, says that the duke was taken alive, and beheaded on the field. At all events, Lord Clifford brought the head to the queen, stuck upon a spear; and this ferocious nobleman, whose father was killed at the battle of St. Albans, not satisfied with this revenge, perpetrated the murder of York's son, Rutland, with a fell barbarity which has covered his name with infamy. This youth, who was but about seventeen years of age, handsome and amiable, was met by Clifford as he was endeavouring to escape across the bridge of Wakefield in the care of his tutor, Sir Robert Aspall. The poor boy, seeing the bloody Clifford, fell on his knees, and entreated for mercy. The savage demanded who he was; and Aspall, thinking to save him by the avowal, said it was the younger son of York. Then swore Clifford - "As thy father slew mine, so will I slay thee, and all thy kin;" and plunging the dagger into his heart, ruthlessly bade the tutor go and tell his mother what he had done.

The spirit of "the she-wolf of France" seemed to animate all her army on this occasion. There was nothing but butchery, and exultation in it. Margaret thought she had now removed the danger in destroying York. "At this deadly blood-supping," says Hall, "there was much joy and great rejoicing: but many laughed then that sore lamented after - as the queen herself and her son; and many were glad of other men's deaths, not knowing that their own were near at hand, as the Lord Clifford and others."

The revenge soon came. The Earl of Marche, York's eldest son, was advancing to prove that York was still alive in the new possessor of the title. Yet, before his blow of vengeance fell, Margaret had one more triumph. She Had pursued her march on London after the battle of Wakefield, and had reached St. Albans. But there she came in contact with the army of Warwick. Flushed with victory, her forces fell upon the enemy. Warwick had posted himself on the low hills to the south-east of the town. The royalists penetrated to the very town cross, where they were repulsed by a strong body of archers. But they soon made their way by another street through the town, and the battle raged on the heaths lying betwixt St. Albans and Barnet. The last troops which made a stand were a body of Kentish men, who, maintaining the conflict till night, enabled the Yorkists to retreat from the victorious van, and disperse. The king was found in his tent under the care of Lord Montague, his chamberlain, where he was visited by Margaret and his son, whom he received with the liveliest joy. The Yorkists in this second battle of St. Albans, fought February 17th, 1461, lost about 2,000 men. Edward, called "the late Earl of Marche," was proclaimed a traitor, and rewards offered for his apprehension. But the success of this action was defeated by the insubordination of the troops. They were chiefly borderers, who had been led on by hopes of plunder, and had been freely promised it by Margaret and her allies. Nothing could induce them to advance further. They were only bent on ravaging the neighbourhood, and the citizens of London, alarmed at such a horde of robbers, closed their gates against them, and held out for York.

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