Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

* the king, who were bound to the great lords by no ties

of interest or party,' and who excluded the great lords not only from the administration, but from the patronage. To the Duke of Lancaster and a coterie of lords,' eager to share the spoils of office, this seemed a most undesirable state of things, and they made use of the Commons to secure a change. The hostility of the Commons to the Ministry was at least honest; it was, in the main, clear of personal and interested motives. It was rightly considered * that the opening of hostilities bad been mismanaged, that

there had been no counterbalancing success in the last 'two years, and that the bishops had not the knowledge

and energy requisite for the successful conduct of a war.' It was forgotten that bishops had equally been Ministers when Crécy was won and Calais taken; but, independent of that, there was in the lay mind a growing distrust of Churchmen, rather than of the Church-a dislike of their privileges, their monopolies, and their power, which found 'expression in the request presented by Lords and Commons

together to the king, demanding the total exclusion of all * clergy from the civil service.' As nearly every clerk'in the service was a 'cleric,' such a proposal was far too sweeping to be accepted; but 'the bishops holding the higher offices were removed, and were succeeded in their posts by law officers of the Crown and laymen distinguished for public service. . . . But they had no independent prestige and position of their own, on which to withstand the malpractices that the great nobles soon introduced into the public service. They were but the nominees of those lords who had plotted the overthrow of the bishops.'

And those lords were themselves very much the creatures of the Duke of Lancaster. The Ministerial revolution had the effect of handing the affairs of the nation over to one who was neither disinterested nor capable. It was, apparently, as payment for his share in the revolution that, in the following year, the Earl of Pembroke was appointed Governor of Aquitaine and to command the fleet which so signally failed in the attempt to carry out the force intended to support him. The clerical party saw in [the defeat] the band of God against the despoilers of His Church, but the nation saw in it the death-blow of its sea-power and of its dominion in France. In 1373 Poitou was lost, and 'a splendid English army under the Duke of Lancaster was

almost destroyed by a march through France which can * be compared in character to Napoleon's Russian campaign.'

[ocr errors]

Left to themselves, the garrisons in Aquitaine were compelled to surrender. Those in Brittany and Normandy might have had a better chance; but they, too, were left to themselves, owing, it was generally believed, to the treachery of the Duke of Lancaster's instruments ; at any rate, they were reduced by the French. But the influence of John of Gaunt was felt everywhere; he dominated the king's fading intellect; he was in close alliance with the king's mistress ; in close alliance with Wycliffe, whose theories pointed him out as one whose assistance might be useful in the intended plundering of the Church; in close alliance with unscrupulous agents, such as Latimer, Neville, and Lyons, who found their own interest in serving that of the Duke-- who were permitted, or indeed encouraged, to enrich themselves by various ingenious, even if immoral or illegal, methods. They evaded the payment of export duties on their wool and cloth; they appointed their own instruments to control the Customs, as at Calais and Yarmouth; they bought the king's discredited debts and paid them in full out of the Exchequer; they made 'corners' in various imports, 'buying up all the merchandise that came • into England and setting prices at their own pleasure, • whereupon they made such a scarcity in this land of things • saleable that the common sort of people could scantily • live;' they granted a monopoly in the sale of wine in London, and, in the absence of all competition, raised the • prices beyond the limit set by the regulations of the city.' It was a vast organised system of extortion, all one struc* ture, of which the Duke of Lancaster was the keystone. * All depended on his supremacy at headquarters. In * return he exacted requisitions from Latimer, Lyons, and 'the rest, who were, in fact, little more than his sponges.'

Parliament might have interfered, but Parliament was not sitting. The Parliament of 1373 had given taxes for two years, and as long as that grant was in force no Parliament was summoned. The expiration of the term and the exhaustion of the treasury made it necessary to apply to the Commons in the spring of 1376. Mr. Trevelyan's comparison of the fears with which this Parliament was summoned with those of Charles I. and his Ministers in summoning the Parliament of 1640, though somewhat strained, is not altogether inapt; for the Duke of Lancaster and his instruments must have had clear anticipations of the course which this Parliament might take under the

VOL. OXCI. NO. OCCXCI.

guidance of the Black Prince. Mr. Trevelyan describes the position in his happiest manner :

The rumours (that John of Gaunt might become King of England, might attempt to seize the throne] made the Black Prince the most anxious of all to disarm the man who might hinder his son's succession. He had, indeed, every motive for hostility to the Duke. On the bed of sickness where he had been stretched since his return from France in 1370, his mental sufferings must have been as acute as his physical. Accustomed to lead his countrymen to victory, he lay there helpless, and heard month after month how our armies were allowed to waste away, how our fortresses were lost-sold, men said—by the Duke and his subordinates. Stories of their corruption and extortion at home reached him daily. He knew how they led his father as they wished, and degraded that foolish and sensual old man in the eyes of the nation. One week of health, and he could have resumed his old ascendency over the king and the government of the land; but he was doomed to lie still and pine away. Last of all, there was this whisper of a conspiracy against his child's succession. All his feelings as a patriot, as a son, as a father, combined to produce an intense feeling of hatred against John of Gaunt. When the Good Parliament met, he was unable to take his seat in the House of Lords, but from his sick-bed at Kennington Palace he could exert influence over the political crisis. . . . The friendly feeling he expressed towards the action of the Commons in the Good Parliament was a strong inducement to John of Gaunt to bow to the storm.'

As he did so the storm burst on the heads of his followers. For the moment it suited the personal ends of the great barons to make common cause against him. The earls of Warwick, Arundel, and Stafford, and Lord Percy, afterwards Earl of Northumberland, joined the Commons; the Earl of March, the Earl of Devou and his sons, including the Bishop of London, were his mortal enemies. Against such an alliance, supported by the Black Prince, even the Duke's high birth and the favour of his doting father might well have been insufficient safeguard, had he ventured to oppose it. Lyons was impeached, found guilty of numerous frauds, heavily fined, and committed to prison. Latimer came next; he was accused of peculation at home and treachery abroad-specifically, with having received money from the national enemy, 'in return for the betrayal of two strong.

holds in the north of France, named St. Sauveur and · Becherel.' In the absence of witnesses--possibly murdered or bribed--this latter charge could not be maintained. Of the peculation there could be no doubt, and, with the concurrence of the Duke, he was deprived of all his offices and perquisites, and sentenced to be imprisoned. Others were similarly, sentenced.

* It was while these finishing touches were being given to the work of punishment that the great supporter of the Commons was removed. The Prince of Wales, who had for six years been stretched on a bed of agony and weakness, had suffered a further relapse that spring, had sunk fast during the time of the impeachments, and was at length released from his misery in the early days of July. The prospect of deliverance from physical pain did not take away from him the bitterness of death. If ever a man died disappointed, it was the Black Prince. After tasting in early youth all the joys that fame, victory, and power can bestow, he had seen the world slip from under his hands as he came to manhood, and was ņow dying at the prime of life, with all his hopes unattained and all the work of his early triumphs undone. The memories of Crécy and Poitiers were like a dream or a legend in the face of the sordid realities of the present. It was now thirty years since, as a boy of sixteen, he had fought and won under his father's eye the great victory that first established the supremacy of the English arms. It was twenty years since, brought to bay behind the vineyards of Poitiers with a handful of English gentlemen and archers, he had destroyed the chivalry of France and led her king a captive to London. In those days there was no future that seemed too brilliant for him, “the expectancy and roso of the fair State." Yet since those glorious days life had been nothing to him but labour and sorrow. Now that he was leaving it himself, he had not even the satisfaction of hoping that his country and his son would see better times, for he knew the character of the men to whose tender mercies they would be committed. . . . As there was no room on the mound where his ancestors were buried in Westminster Abbey for any other tomb save that of his father, his body was carried to Canterbury, as he had himself requested. There he lies, as it were, in sullen exile and mute protestation against the degeneracy of his house, far from the father whose folly he had vainly tried to correct, and the son whose doom he might foresee, but could not avert.'

The death of the Black Prince was a serious blow to the power of the Parliament, and left it with little security for the permanence of its work. It could, however, declare the Prince's little son, Richard, the heir to the throne, and could refuse Lancaster's request to provide for the succession, in case of Richard's early death, by passing a Salic Law. There was, no doubt, a feeling that such an act would ensure Richard's dying young, and also that it would be recognising a purely hereditary title to the throne in place of the old constitutional title of election; but the refusal was made more certain by the Earl of March's being one of the committee supporting the Commons, and by March's determination to maintain the title of his infant son, the grandson of the Duke of Clarence. The Parliament was also able to continue its reforming work, and impeach Alice Perrers. This lady,' as Mr. Trevelyan likes to designate her, was called before the Lords, and made to swear not to approach the King again, under penalty of banishment and confiscation of goods. The last act of the session was the appointment of a council by whose advice the King was to be governed. From the constitutional point of view this council differed from others similarly appointed to control the King's power in that its members, though nobles, were nominated by the Commons. The chief of them, and especially March, Percy, the Bishop of London, and William of Wykeham, were all hostile to John of Gaunt, whose power would thus have been ended if the council could have maintained its position. But that it was not able to do. It was an age when force, if not a remedy, at least controlled the remedy; and when Parliainent was dissolved the council bad not the requisite force available. John of Gaunt recovered his old influence over the King.

The Acts of the Parliament were thereupon annulled, and declared of no effect. The council was dismissed, Latimer was recalled, Lyons was released, and Alice Perrers returned to Court as brazen-faced as ever. Percy, the most powerful member of the council with the exception of the irreconcilable March, was brought' or bought over to the Duke's side; De la Mare, the Speaker of the Commons, was seized, imprisoned without trial, and would, it was believed, have been put to death but for the intervention of Percy, who could not, for very shame, consent to butcher in the autumn the colleagues with whom he had worked in the summer.' Mr. Trevelyan rightly calls attention to the proof thus given of the inability of the Commons 'to provide for the government of England except during those months of each year in which they were actually sitting. It was necessary for them, if they were to impress their policy permanently on the administration, to be in alliance either with the king or with a combination of the greater lords. The Black Prince, if he had lived to be king, might have effected an alliance between the Crown and the Lower House; Henry the Fourth and his son actually achieved this settlement. But an unselfish and patriotic group of nobles, the Commons were never able to find. The earls had gone with the tide of the Good Parliament, but March alone stood firm in the day of trouble. It was the want of political principle on the part of the nobility that destroyed mediæval parliamentary government and plunged England into the Wars of the Roses, where the power of the nobles perished as it deserved.'

The money voted in 1376 had been only sufficient to tide over immediate necessities, and by the beginning of 1377

« ForrigeFortsæt »