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History of the English People - Book IV The Parliament--1307-1461
The Peasant Revolt 1347-1381
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)


Edward the Third The Black Death
Its Social Results Statute of Labourers
Renewal of the War The Black Prince
Edward and the Scots Peace of Brétigny
Misery of England John Ball
William Langland Piers Ploughman
Præmunire Wyclif
"De Dominio Divino." England and Aquitaine
Pedro the Cruel Charles the Fifth
Renewal of the War Loss of Aquitaine
The Social Strife Edward and the Parliament
The Baronage and the Church Weakness of the Church
Its Worldliness Advance of the Commons
Baronage attacks the Church      John of Gaunt
The Good Parliament Wyclif and John of Gaunt
Death of Edward the Third Discontent of the people
The Poll-Tax John Ball
The Peasant Rising Richard the Second
The general revolt Saint Edmundsbury
St. Edmundsbury in 1381 Close of the rising


Edward the Third

Still in the vigour of manhood, for he was but thirty-five, Edward the Third stood at the height of his renown. He had won the greatest victory of his age. France, till now the first of European states, was broken and dashed from her pride of place at a single blow. The kingdom seemed to lie at Edward's mercy, for Guienne was recovered, Flanders was wholly on his side, and Britanny, where the capture of Charles of Blois secured the success of his rival and the English party which supported him, opened the road to Paris. At home his government was popular, and Scotland, the one enemy he had to dread, was bridled by the capture of her king. How great his renown was in Europe was seen in 1347, when on the death of Lewis of Bavaria the electors offered him the Imperial Crown. Edward was in truth a general of a high order, and he had shown himself as consummate a strategist in the campaign as a tactician in the field. But to the world about him he was even more illustrious as the foremost representative of the showy chivalry of his day. He loved the pomp of tournaments; he revived the Round Table of the fabled Arthur; he celebrated his victories by the creation of a new order of knighthood. He had varied the sterner operations of the siege of Calais by a hand-to-hand combat with one of the bravest of the French knights. A naval picture of Froissart sketches Edward for us as he sailed to meet a Spanish fleet which was sweeping the narrow seas. We see the king sitting on deck in his jacket of black velvet, his head covered by a black beaver hat "which became him well," and calling on Sir John Chandos to troll out the songs he had brought with him from Germany, till the Spanish ships heave in sight and a furious fight begins which ends in a victory that leaves Edward "King of the Seas."

But beneath all this glitter of chivalry lay the subtle, busy diplomatist. None of our kings was so restless a negotiator. From the first hour of Edward's rule the threads of his diplomacy ran over Europe in almost inextricable confusion. And to all who dealt with him he was equally false and tricky. Emperor was played off against Pope and Pope against Emperor, the friendship of the Flemish towns was adroitly used to put a pressure on their counts, the national wrath against the exactions of the Roman See was employed to bridle the French sympathies of the court of Avignon, and when the statutes which it produced had served their purpose they were set aside for a bargain in which King and Pope shared the plunder of the Church between them. His temper was as false in his dealings with his people as in his dealings with the European powers. Edward aired to country and parliament his English patriotism. "Above all other lands and realms," he made his chancellor say, "the King had most tenderly at heart his land of England, a land more full of delight and honour and profit to him than any other." His manners were popular; he donned on occasion the livery of a city gild; he dined with a London merchant. His perpetual parliaments, his appeals to them and to the country at large for counsel and aid, seemed to promise a ruler who was absolutely one at heart with the people he ruled. But when once Edward passed from sheer carelessness and gratification at the new source of wealth which the Parliament opened to a sense of what its power really was becoming, he showed himself as jealous of freedom as any king that had gone before him. He sold his assent to its demands for heavy subsidies, and when he had pocketed the money coolly declared the statutes he had sanctioned null and void. The constitutional progress which was made during his reign was due to his absorption in showy schemes of foreign ambition, to his preference for war and diplomatic intrigue over the sober business of civil administration. The same shallowness of temper, the same showiness and falsehood, ran through his personal character. The king who was a model of chivalry in his dealings with knight and noble showed himself a brutal savage to the burgesses of Calais. Even the courtesy to his Queen which throws its halo over the story of their deliverance went hand in hand with a constant disloyalty to her. When once Philippa was dead his profligacy threw all shame aside. He paraded a mistress as Queen of Beauty through the streets of London, and set her in pomp over tournaments as the Lady of the Sun. The nobles were quick to follow their lord's example. "In those days," writes a chronicler of the time, "arose a rumour and clamour among the people that wherever there was a tournament there came a great concourse of ladies, of the most costly and beautiful but not of the best in the kingdom, sometimes forty and fifty in number, as if they were a part of the tournament, ladies clad in diverse and wonderful male apparel, in parti-coloured tunics, with short caps and bands wound cord-wise round their heads, and girdles bound with gold and silver, and daggers in pouches across their body. And thus they rode on choice coursers to the place of tourney; and so spent and wasted their goods and vexed their bodies with scurrilous wantonness that the murmurs of the people sounded everywhere. But they neither feared God nor blushed at the chaste voice of the people."

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The Black Death

The "chaste voice of the people" was soon to grow into the stern moral protest of the Lollards, but for the moment all murmurs were hushed by the king's success. The truce which followed the capture of Calais seemed a mere rest in the career of victories which opened before Edward. England was drunk with her glory and with the hope of plunder. The cloths of Caen had been brought after the sack of that town to London. "There was no woman," says Walsingham, "who had not got garments, furs, feather-beds, and utensils from the spoils of Calais and other foreign cities." The court revelled in gorgeous tournaments and luxury of dress; and the establishment in 1346 of the Order of the Garter which found its home in the new castle that Edward was raising at Windsor marked the highest reach of the spurious "Chivalry" of the day. But it was at this moment of triumph that the whole colour of Edward's reign suddenly changed. The most terrible plague the world has ever witnessed advanced from the East, and after devastating Europe from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Baltic swooped at the close of 1348 upon Britain. The traditions of its destructiveness and the panic-struck words of the statutes passed after its visitation have been amply justified by modern research. Of the three or four millions who then formed the population of England more than one-half were swept away in its repeated visitations. Its ravages were fiercest in the greater towns where filthy and undrained streets afforded a constant haunt to leprosy and fever. In the burial-ground which the piety of Sir Walter Maunay purchased for the citizens of London, a spot whose site was afterwards marked by the Charter House, more than fifty thousand corpses are said to have been interred. Thousands of people perished at Norwich, while in Bristol the living were hardly able to bury the dead. But the Black Death fell on the villages almost as fiercely as on the towns. More than one-half of the priests of Yorkshire are known to have perished; in the diocese of Norwich two-thirds of the parishes changed their incumbents. The whole organization of labour was thrown out of gear. The scarcity of hands produced by the terrible mortality made it difficult for villeins to perform the services due for their lands, and only a temporary abandonment of half the rent by the landowners induced the farmers of their demesnes to refrain from the abandonment of their farms. For a time cultivation became impossible. "The sheep and cattle strayed through the fields and corn," says a contemporary, "and there were none left who could drive them." Even when the first burst of panic was over, the sudden rise of wages consequent on the enormous diminution in the supply of labour, though accompanied by a corresponding rise in the price of food, rudely disturbed the course of industrial employments. Harvests rotted on the ground and fields were left untilled not merely from scarcity of hands but from the strife which now for the first time revealed itself between capital and labour.

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Its Social Results

Nowhere was the effect of the Black Death so keenly felt as in its bearing on the social revolution which had been steadily going on for a century past throughout the country. At the moment we have reached the lord of a manor had been reduced over a large part of England to the position of a modern landlord, receiving a rental in money from his tenants and supplying their place in the cultivation of his demesne lands by paid labourers. He was driven by the progress of enfranchisement to rely for the purposes of cultivation on the supply of hired labour, and hitherto this supply had been abundant and cheap. But with the ravages of the Black Death and the decrease of population labour at once became scarce and dear. There was a general rise of wages, and the farmers of the country as well as the wealthier craftsmen of the town saw themselves threatened with ruin by what seemed to their age the extravagant demands of the labour class. Meanwhile the country was torn with riot and disorder. An outbreak of lawless self-indulgence which followed everywhere in the wake of the plague told especially upon the "landless men," workers wandering in search of work who found themselves for the first time masters of the labour market; and the wandering labourer or artizan turned easily into the "sturdy beggar," or the bandit of the woods. A summary redress for these evils was at once provided by the Crown in a royal proclamation. "Because a great part of the people," runs this ordinance, "and principally of labourers and servants, is dead of the plague, some, seeing the need of their lords and the scarcity of servants, are unwilling to serve unless they receive excessive wages, and others are rather begging in idleness than supporting themselves by labour, we have ordained that any able-bodied man or woman, of whatsoever condition, free or serf, under sixty years of age, not living of merchandise nor following a trade nor having of his own wherewithal to live, either his own land with the culture of which he could occupy himself, and not serving another, shall if so required serve another for such wages as was the custom in the twentieth year of our reign or five or six years before."

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Statute of Labourers

It was the failure of this ordinance to effect its ends which brought about at the close of 1349 the passing of the Statute of Labourers. "Every man or woman," runs this famous provision, "of whatsoever condition, free or bond, able in body, and within the age of threescore years, ... and not having of his own whereof he may live, nor land of his own about the tillage of which he may occupy himself, and not serving any other, shall be bound to serve the employer who shall require him to do so, and shall take only the wages which were accustomed to be taken in the neighbourhood where he is bound to serve" two years before the plague began. A refusal to obey was punished by imprisonment. But sterner measures were soon found to be necessary. Not only was the price of labour fixed by the Parliament of 1351 but the labour class was once more tied to the soil. The labourer was forbidden to quit the parish where he lived in search of better paid employment; if he disobeyed he became a "fugitive," and subject to imprisonment at the hands of justices of the peace. To enforce such a law literally must have been impossible, for corn rose to so high a price that a day's labour at the old wages would not have purchased wheat enough for a man's support. But the landowners did not flinch from the attempt. The repeated re-enactment of the law shows the difficulty of applying it and the stubbornness of the struggle which it brought about. The fines and forfeitures which were levied for infractions of its provisions formed a large source of royal revenue, but so ineffectual were the original penalties that the runaway labourer was at last ordered to be branded with a hot iron on the forehead, while the harbouring of serfs in towns was rigorously put down. Nor was it merely the existing class of free labourers which was attacked by this reactionary movement. The increase of their numbers by a commutation of labour services for money payments was suddenly checked, and the ingenuity of the lawyers who were employed as stewards of each manor was exercised in striving to restore to the landowners that customary labour whose loss was now severely felt. Manumissions and exemptions which had passed without question were cancelled on grounds of informality, and labour services from which they held themselves freed by redemption were again demanded from the villeins. The attempt was the more galling that the cause had to be pleaded in the manor-court itself, and to be decided by the very officer whose interest it was to give judgement in favour of his lord. We can see the growth of a fierce spirit of resistance through the statutes which strove in vain to repress it. In the towns, where the system of forced labour was applied with even more rigour than in the country, strikes and combinations became frequent among the lower craftsmen. In the country the free labourers found allies in the villeins whose freedom from manorial service was questioned. These were often men of position and substance, and throughout the eastern counties the gatherings of "fugitive serfs" were supported by an organized resistance and by large contributions of money on the part of the wealthier tenantry.

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Renewal of the War

With plague, famine, and social strife in the land, it was no time for reaping the fruits even of such a victory as Crécy. Luckily for England the pestilence had fallen as heavily on her foe as on herself. A common suffering and exhaustion forced both countries to a truce, and though desultory fighting went on along the Breton and Aquitanian borders, the peace which was thus secured lasted with brief intervals of fighting for seven years. It was not till 1355 that the failure of a last effort to turn the truce into a final peace again drove Edward into war. The campaign opened with a brilliant prospect of success. Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, held as a prince of descent from the house of Valois large fiefs in Normandy; and a quarrel springing suddenly up between him and John, who had now succeeded his father Philip on the throne of France, Charles offered to put his fortresses into Edward's hands. Master of Cherbourg, Avranches, Pontaudemer, Evreux and Meulan, Mantes, Mortain, Pontoise, Charles held in his hands the keys of France; and Edward grasped at the opportunity of delivering a crushing blow. Three armies were prepared to act in Normandy, Britanny, and Guienne. But the first two, with Edward and Henry of Derby, who had been raised to the dukedom of Lancaster, at their head, were detained by contrary winds, and Charles, despairing of their arrival, made peace with John. Edward made his way to Calais to meet the tidings of this desertion and to be called back to England by news of a recapture of Berwick by the Scots. But his hopes of Norman co-operation were revived in 1356. The treachery of John, his seizure of the King of Navarre, and his execution of the Count of Harcourt who was looked upon as the adviser of Charles in his policy of intrigue, stirred a general rising throughout Normandy. Edward at once despatched troops under the Duke of Lancaster to its support. But the insurgents were soon forced to fall back. Conscious of the danger to which an English occupation of Normandy would expose him, John hastened with a large army to the west, drove Lancaster to Cherbourg, took Evreux, and besieged Breteuil.

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The Black Prince

Here however his progress was suddenly checked by news from the south. The Black Prince, as the hero of Crécy was called, had landed in Guienne during the preceding year and won a disgraceful success. Unable to pay his troops, he staved off their demands by a campaign of sheer pillage. While plague and war and the anarchy which sprang up under the weak government of John were bringing ruin on the northern and central provinces of France, the south remained prosperous and at peace. The young prince led his army of freebooters up the Garonne into "what was before one of the fat countries of the world, the people good and simple, who did not know what war was; indeed no war had been waged against them till the Prince came. The English and Gascons found the country full and gay, the rooms adorned with carpets and draperies, the caskets and chests full of fair jewels. But nothing was safe from these robbers. They, and especially the Gascons, who are very greedy, carried off everything." Glutted by the sack of Carcassonne and Narbonne the plunderers fell back to Bordeaux, "their horses so laden with spoil that they could hardly move." Worthier work awaited the Black Prince in the following year. In the plan of campaign for 1356 it had been arranged that he should march upon the Loire, and there unite with a force under the Duke of Lancaster which was to land in Britanny and push rapidly into the heart of France. Delays however hindered the Prince from starting from Bordeaux till July, and when his march brought him to the Loire the plan of campaign had already broken down. The outbreak in Normandy had tempted the English Council to divert the force under Lancaster from Britanny to that province; and the Duke was now at Cherbourg, hard pressed by the French army under John. But if its original purpose was foiled, the march of the Black Prince on the Loire served still more effectively the English cause. His advance pointed straight upon Paris, and again as in the Crécy campaign John was forced to leave all for the protection of the capital. Hasty marches brought the king to the Loire while Prince Edward still lay at Vierzon on the Cher. Unconscious of John's designs, he wasted some days in the capture of Romorantin while the French troops were crossing the Loire along its course from Orleans to Tours and John with the advance was hurrying through Loches upon Poitiers in pursuit, as he supposed, of the retreating Englishmen. But the movement of the French army, near as it was, was unknown in the English camp; and when the news of it forced the Black Prince to order a retreat the enemy was already far ahead of him. Edward reached the fields north of Poitiers to find his line of retreat cut off and a French army of sixty thousand men interposed between his forces and Bordeaux.

If the Prince had shown little ability in his management of the campaign, he showed tactical skill in the fight which was now forced on him. On the nineteenth of September he took a strong position in the fields of Maupertuis, where his front was covered by thick hedges and approachable only by a deep and narrow lane which ran between vineyards. The vineyards and hedges he lined with bowmen, and drew up his small body of men-at-arms at the point where the lane opened upon the higher plain on which he was himself encamped. Edward's force numbered only eight thousand men, and the danger was great enough to force him to offer in exchange for a free retreat the surrender of his prisoners and of the places he had taken, with an oath not to fight against France for seven years to come. His offers however were rejected, and the battle opened with a charge of three hundred French knights up the narrow lane. But the lane was soon choked with men and horses, while the front ranks of the advancing army fell back before a galling fire of arrows from the hedgerows. In this moment of confusion a body of English horsemen, posted unseen by their opponents on a hill to the right, charged suddenly on the French flank, and the Prince watching the disorder which was caused by the repulse and surprise fell boldly on their front. The steady shot of the English archers completed the panic produced by this sudden attack. The first French line was driven in, and on its rout the second, a force of sixteen thousand men, at once broke in wild terror and fled from the field. John still held his ground with the knights of the reserve, whom he had unwisely ordered to dismount from their horses, till a charge of the Black Prince with two thousand lances threw this last body into confusion. The French king was taken, desperately fighting; and when his army poured back at noon in utter rout to the gates of Poitiers eight thousand of their number had fallen on the field, three thousand in the flight, and two thousand men-at-arms, with a crowd of nobles, were taken prisoners. The royal captive entered London in triumph, mounted on a big white charger, while the Prince rode by his side on a little black hackney to the palace of the Savoy, which was chosen as John's dwelling, and a truce for two years seemed to give healing-time to France.

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Edward and the Scots

With the Scots Edward the Third had less good fortune. Recalled from Calais by their seizure of Berwick, the king induced Balliol to resign into his hands his shadowy sovereignty, and in the spring of 1356 marched upon Edinburgh with an overpowering army, harrying and burning as he marched. But the Scots refused an engagement, a fleet sent with provisions was beaten off by a storm, and the famine-stricken army was forced to fall rapidly back on the border in a disastrous retreat. The trial convinced Edward that the conquest of Scotland was impossible, and by a rapid change of policy which marks the man he resolved to seek the friendship of the country he had wasted so long. David Bruce was released on promise of ransom, a truce concluded for ten years, and the prohibition of trade between the two kingdoms put an end to. But the fulness of this reconciliation screened a dexterous intrigue. David was childless, and Edward availed himself of the difficulty which the young king experienced in finding means of providing the sum demanded for his ransom to bring him over to a proposal which would have united the two countries for ever. The scheme however was carefully concealed; and it was not till 1363 that David proposed to his Parliament to set aside on his death the claims of the Steward of Scotland to his crown, and to choose Edward's third son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, as his successor. Though the proposal was scornfully rejected, negotiations were still carried on between the two kings for the realization of this project, and were probably only put an end to by the calamities of Edward's later years.


France at the Treaty of Bretigny

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Peace of Brétigny

In France misery and misgovernment seemed to be doing Edward's work more effectively than arms. The miserable country found no rest in itself. Its routed soldiery turned into free companies of bandits, while the lords captured at Crécy or Poitiers procured the sums needed for their ransom by extortion from the peasantry. The reforms demanded by the States-General which met in this agony of France were frustrated by the treachery of the Regent, John's eldest son Charles, Duke of Normandy, till Paris, impatient of his weakness and misrule, rose in arms against the Crown. The peasants too, driven mad by oppression and famine, rose in wild insurrection, butchering their lords and firing their castles over the whole face of France. Paris and the Jacquerie, as this peasant rising was called, were at last crushed by treachery and the sword: and, exhausted as it was, France still backed the Regent in rejecting a treaty of peace by which John in 1359 proposed to buy his release. By this treaty Maine, Touraine, and Poitou in the south, Normandy, Guisnes, Ponthieu, and Calais in the west were ceded to the English king. On its rejection Edward in 1360 poured ravaging over the wasted land. Famine however proved its best defence. "I could not believe," said Petrarch of this time, "that this was the same France which I had seen so rich and flourishing. Nothing presented itself to my eyes but a fearful solitude, an utter poverty, land uncultivated, houses in ruins. Even the neighbourhood of Paris showed everywhere marks of desolation and conflagration. The streets are deserted, the roads overgrown with weeds, the whole is a vast solitude." The utter desolation forced Edward to carry with him an immense train of provisions, and thousands of baggage waggons with mills, ovens, forges, and fishing-boats, formed a long train which streamed for six miles behind his army. After a fruitless attempt upon Reims he forced the Duke of Burgundy to conclude a treaty with him by pushing forward to Tonnerre, and then descending the Seine appeared with his army before Paris. But the wasted country forbade a siege, and Edward after summoning the town in vain was forced to fall back for subsistence on the Loire. It was during this march that the Duke of Normandy's envoys overtook him with proposals of peace. The misery of the land had at last bent Charles to submission, and in May a treaty was concluded at Brétigny, a small place to the eastward of Chartres. By this treaty the English king waived his claims on the crown of France and on the Duchy of Normandy. On the other hand, his Duchy of Aquitaine, which included Gascony, Guienne, Poitou, and Saintonge, the Limousin and the Angoumois, Périgord and the counties of Bigorre and Rouergue, was not only restored but freed from its obligations as a French fief and granted in full sovereignty with Ponthieu, Edward's heritage from the second wife of Edward the First, as well as with Guisnes and his new conquest of Calais.

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Misery of England

The Peace of Brétigny set its seal upon Edward's glory. But within England itself the misery of the people was deepening every hour. Men believed the world to be ending, and the judgement day to be near. A few months after the Peace came a fresh swoop of the Black Death, carrying off the Duke of Lancaster. The repressive measures of Parliament and the landowners only widened the social chasm which parted employer from employed. We can see the growth of a fierce spirit of resistance both to the reactionary efforts which were being made to bring back labour services and to the enactments which again bound labour to the soil in statutes which strove in vain to repress the strikes and combinations which became frequent in the towns and the more formidable gatherings of villeins and "fugitive serfs" in the country at large. A statute of later date throws light on the nature of the resistance of the last. It tells us that "villeins and holders of land in villeinage withdrew their customs and services from their lords, having attached themselves to other persons who maintained and abetted them, and who under colour of exemplifications from Domesday of the manors and villages where they dwelt claimed to be quit of all manner of services either of their body or of their lands, and would suffer no distress or other course of justice to be taken against them; the villeins aiding their maintainers by threatening the officers of their lords with peril to life and limb as well by open assemblies as by confederacies to support each other." It would seem not only as if the villein was striving to resist the reactionary tendency of the lords of manors to regain his labour service but that in the general overturning of social institutions the copyholder was struggling to make himself a freeholder, and the farmer to be recognized as proprietor of the demesne he held on lease.

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John Ball

A more terrible outcome of the general suffering was seen in a new revolt against the whole system of social inequality which had till then passed unquestioned as the divine order of the world. The Peace was hardly signed when the cry of the poor found a terrible utterance in the words of "a mad priest of Kent" as the courtly Froissart calls him, who for twenty years to come found audience for his sermons in spite of interdict and imprisonment in the stout yeomen who gathered round him in the churchyards of Kent. "Mad" as the landowners held him to be, it was in the preaching of John Ball that England first listened to a declaration of the natural equality and rights of man. "Good people," cried the preacher, "things will never be well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet and warm in their furs and their ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oat-cake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and of our toil that these men hold their state." It was the tyranny of property that then as ever roused the defiance of socialism. A spirit fatal to the whole system of the Middle Ages breathed in the popular rime which condensed the levelling doctrine of John Ball:
	"When Adam delved and Eve span,
	Who was then the gentleman?"


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William Langland

More impressive, because of the very restraint and moderation of its tone, is the poem in which William Langland began at the same moment to embody with a terrible fidelity all the darker and sterner aspects of the time, its social revolt, its moral and religious awakening, the misery of the poor, the selfishness and corruption of the rich. Nothing brings more vividly home to us the social chasm which in the fourteenth century severed the rich from the poor than the contrast between his "Complaint of Piers the Ploughman" and the "Canterbury Tales." The world of wealth and ease and laughter through which the courtly Chaucer moves with, eyes downcast as in a pleasant dream is a far-off world of wrong and of ungodliness to the gaunt poet of the poor. Born probably in Shropshire, where he had been put to school and received minor orders as a clerk, "Long Will," as Langland was nicknamed from his tall stature, found his way at an early age to London, and earned a miserable livelihood there by singing "placebos" and "diriges" in the stately funerals of his day. Men took the moody clerk for a madman; his bitter poverty quickened the defiant pride that made him loth, as he tells us, to bow to the gay lords and dames who rode decked in silver and minivere along the Cheap or to exchange a "God save you" with the law sergeants as he passed their new house in the Temple. His world is the world of the poor; he dwells on the poor man's life, on his hunger and toil, his rough revelry and his despair, with the narrow intensity of a man who has no outlook beyond it. The narrowness, the misery, the monotony of the life he paints reflect themselves in his verse. It is only here and there that a love of nature or a grim earnestness of wrath quickens his rime into poetry; there is not a gleam of the bright human sympathy of Chaucer, of his fresh delight in the gaiety, the tenderness, the daring of the world about him, of his picturesque sense of even its coarsest contrasts, of his delicate irony, of his courtly wit. The cumbrous allegory, the tedious platitudes, the rimed texts from Scripture which form the staple of Langland's work, are only broken here and there by phrases of a shrewd common sense, by bitter outbursts, by pictures of a broad Hogarthian humour. What chains one to the poem is its deep undertone of sadness: the world is out of joint, and the gaunt rimer who stalks silently along the Strand has no faith in his power to put it right.

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Piers Ploughman

Londoner as he is, Will's fancy flies far from the sin and suffering of the great city to a May-morning in the Malvern Hills. "I was weary forwandered and went me to rest under a broad bank by a burn side, and as I lay and leaned and looked in the water I slumbered in a sleeping, it sweyved (sounded) so merry." Just as Chaucer gathers the typical figures of the world he saw into his pilgrim train, so the dreamer gathers into a wide field his army of traders and chafferers, of hermits and solitaries, of minstrels, "japers and jinglers," bidders and beggars, ploughmen that "in setting and in sowing swonken (toil) full hard," pilgrims "with their wenches after," weavers and labourers, burgess and bondman, lawyer and scrivener, court-haunting bishops, friars, and pardoners "parting the silver" with the parish priest. Their pilgrimage is not to Canterbury but to Truth; their guide to Truth neither clerk nor priest but Peterkin the Ploughman, whom they find ploughing in his field. He it is who bids the knight no more wrest gifts from his tenant nor misdo with the poor. "Though he be thine underling here, well may hap in heaven that he be worthier set and with more bliss than thou.... For in charnel at church churles be evil to know, or a knight from a knave there." The gospel of equality is backed by the gospel of labour. The aim of the Ploughman is to work, and to make the world work with him. He warns the labourer as he warns the knight. Hunger is God's instrument in bringing the idlest to toil, and Hunger waits to work her will on the idler and the waster. On the eve of the great struggle between wealth and labour, Langland stands alone in his fairness to both, in his shrewd political and religious common sense. In the face of the popular hatred which was to gather round John of Gaunt, he paints the Duke in a famous apologue as the cat who, greedy as she might be, at any rate keeps the noble rats from utterly devouring the mice of the people. Though the poet is loyal to the Church, he proclaims a righteous life to be better than a host of indulgences, and God sends His pardon to Piers when priests dispute it. But he sings as a man conscious of his loneliness and without hope. It is only in a dream that he sees Corruption, "Lady Mede," brought to trial, and the world repenting at the preaching of Reason. In the waking life reason finds no listeners. The poet himself is looked upon--he tells us bitterly--as a madman. There is a terrible despair in the close of his later poem, where the triumph of Christ is only followed by the reign of Antichrist; where Contrition slumbers amidst the revel of Death and Sin; and Conscience, hard beset by Pride and Sloth, rouses himself with a last effort, and seizing his pilgrim staff, wanders over the world to find Piers Ploughman.

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Præmunire

The strife indeed which Langland would have averted raged only the fiercer as the dark years went by. If the Statutes of Labourers were powerless for their immediate ends, either in reducing the actual rate of wages or in restricting the mass of floating labour to definite areas of employment, they proved effective in sowing hatred between employer and employed, between rich and poor. But this social rift was not the only rift which was opening amidst the distress and misery of the time. The close of William Langland's poem is the prophecy of a religious revolution; and the way for such a revolution was being paved by the growing bitterness of strife between England and the Papacy. In spite of the sharp protests from king and parliament the need for money at Avignon was too great to allow any relaxation in the Papal claims. Almost on the eve of Crécy Edward took the decisive step of forbidding the entry into England of any Papal bulls or documents interfering with the rights of presentation belonging to private patrons. But the tenacity of Rome was far from loosening its grasp on this source of revenue for all Edward's protests. Crécy however gave a new boldness to the action of the State, and a Statute of Provisors was passed by the Parliament in 1351 which again asserted the rights of the English Church and enacted that all who infringed them by the introduction of Papal "provisors" should suffer imprisonment. But resistance to provisors only brought fresh vexations. The patrons who withstood a Papal nominee in the name of the law were summoned to defend themselves in the Papal Court. From that moment the supremacy of the Papal law over the law of the land became a great question in which the lesser question of provisors merged. The pretension of the Court of Avignon was met in 1353 by a statute which forbade any questioning of judgements rendered in the King's Courts or any prosecution of a suit in foreign courts under pain of outlawry, perpetual imprisonment, or banishment from the land. It was this act of Præmunire--as it came in after renewals to be called--which furnished so terrible a weapon to the Tudors in their later strife with Rome. But the Papacy paid little heed to these warnings, and its obstinacy in still receiving suits and appeals in defiance of this statute roused the pride of a conquering people. England was still fresh from her glory at Brétigny when Edward appealed to the Parliament of 1365. Complaints, he said, were constantly being made by his subjects to the Pope as to matters which were cognizable in the King's Courts. The practice of provisors was thus maintained in the teeth of the laws, and "the laws, usages, ancient customs, and franchises of his kingdom were thereby much hindered, the King's crown degraded, and his person defamed." The king's appeal was hotly met. "Biting words," which it was thought wise to suppress, were used in the debate which followed, and the statutes against provisors and appeals were solemnly confirmed.

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Wyclif

What gave point to this challenge was the assent of the prelates to the proceedings of the Parliament; and the pride of Urban V. at once met it by a counter-defiance. He demanded with threats the payment of the annual sum of a thousand marks promised by King John in acknowledgement of the suzerainty of the See of Rome. The insult roused the temper of the realm. The king laid the demand before Parliament, and both houses replied that "neither King John nor any king could put himself, his kingdom, nor his people under subjection save with their accord or assent." John's submission had been made "without their assent and against his coronation oath" and they pledged themselves, should the Pope attempt to enforce his claim, to resist him with all their power. Even Urban shrank from imperilling the Papacy by any further demands, and the claim to a Papal lordship over England was never again heard of. But the struggle had brought to the front a man who was destined to give a far wider scope and significance to this resistance to Rome than any as yet dreamed of. Nothing is more remarkable than the contrast between the obscurity of John Wyclif's earlier life and the fulness and vividness of our knowledge of him during the twenty years which preceded its close. Born in the earlier part of the fourteenth century, he had already passed middle age when he was appointed to the mastership of Balliol College in the University of Oxford and recognized as first among the schoolmen of his day. Of all the scholastic doctors those of England had been throughout the keenest and most daring in philosophical speculation. A reckless audacity and love of novelty was the common note of Bacon, Duns Scotus, and Ockham, as against the sober and more disciplined learning of the Parisian schoolmen, Albert and Thomas Aquinas. The decay of the University of Paris during the English wars was transferring her intellectual supremacy to Oxford, and in Oxford Wyclif stood without a rival. From his predecessor, Bradwardine, whose work as a scholastic teacher he carried on in the speculative treatises he published during this period, he inherited the tendency to a predestinarian Augustinianism which formed the groundwork of his later theological revolt. His debt to Ockham revealed itself in his earliest efforts at Church reform. Undismayed by the thunder and excommunications of the Church, Ockham had supported the Emperor Lewis of Bavaria in his recent struggle, and he had not shrunk in his enthusiasm for the Empire from attacking the foundations of the Papal supremacy or from asserting the rights of the civil power. The spare, emaciated frame of Wyclif, weakened by study and asceticism, hardly promised a reformer who would carry on the stormy work of Ockham; but within this frail form lay a temper quick and restless, an immense energy, an immovable conviction, an unconquerable pride. The personal charm which ever accompanies real greatness only deepened the influence he derived from the spotless purity of his life. As yet indeed even Wyclif himself can hardly have suspected the immense range of his intellectual power. It was only the struggle that lay before him which revealed in the dry and subtle schoolman the founder of our later English prose, a master of popular invective, of irony, of persuasion, a dexterous politician, an audacious partizan, the organizer of a religious order, the unsparing assailant of abuses, the boldest and most indefatigable of controversialists, the first Reformer who dared, when deserted and alone, to question and deny the creed of the Christendom around him, to break through the tradition of the past, and with his last breath to assert the freedom of religious thought against the dogmas of the Papacy.

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"De Dominio Divino."

At the moment of the quarrel with Pope Urban however Wyclif was far from having advanced to such a position as this. As the most prominent of English scholars it was natural that he should come forward in defence of the independence and freedom of the English Church; and he published a formal refutation of the claims advanced by the Papacy to deal at its will with church property in the form of a report of the Parliamentary debates which we have described. As yet his quarrel was not with the doctrines of Rome but with its practices; and it was on the principles of Ockham that he defended the Parliament's refusal of the "tribute" which was claimed by Urban. But his treatise on "The Kingdom of God," "De Dominio Divino," which can hardly have been written later than 1368, shows the breadth of the ground he was even now prepared to take up. In this, the most famous of his works, Wyclif bases his argument on a distinct ideal of society. All authority, to use his own expression, is "founded in grace." Dominion in the highest sense is in God alone; it is God who as the suzerain of the universe deals out His rule in fief to rulers in their various stations on tenure of their obedience to Himself. It was easy to object that in such a case "dominion" could never exist, since mortal sin is a breach of such a tenure and all men sin. But, as Wyclif urged it, the theory is a purely ideal one. In actual practice he distinguishes between dominion and power, power which the wicked may have by God's permission, and to which the Christian must submit from motives of obedience to God. In his own scholastic phrase, so strangely perverted afterwards, here on earth "God must obey the devil." But whether in the ideal or practical view of the matter all power and dominion was of God. It was granted by Him not to one person, His Vicar on earth, as the Papacy alleged, but to all. The king was as truly God's Vicar as the Pope. The royal power was as sacred as the ecclesiastical, and as complete over temporal things, even over the temporalities of the Church, as that of the Church over spiritual things. So far as the question of Church and State therefore was concerned the distinction between the ideal and practical view of "dominion" was of little account. Wyclif's application of the theory to the individual conscience was of far higher and wider importance. Obedient as each Christian might be to king or priest, he himself as a possessor of "dominion" held immediately of God. The throne of God Himself was the tribunal of personal appeal. What the Reformers of the sixteenth century attempted to do by their theory of Justification by Faith Wyclif attempted to do by his theory of Dominion, a theory which in establishing a direct relation between man and God swept away the whole basis of a mediating priesthood, the very foundation on which the mediaeval church was built.

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England and Aquitaine

As yet the full bearing of these doctrines was little seen. But the social and religious excitement which we have described was quickened by the renewal of the war, and the general suffering and discontent gathered bitterness when the success which had flushed England with a new and warlike pride passed into a long series of disasters in which men forgot the glories of Crécy and Poitiers. Triumph as it seemed, the treaty of Brétigny was really fatal to Edward's cause in the south of France. By the cession of Aquitaine to him in full sovereignty the traditional claim on which his strength rested lost its force. The people of the south had clung to their Duke, even though their Duke was a foreign ruler. They had stubbornly resisted incorporation with Northern France. While preserving however their traditional fealty to the descendants of Eleanor they still clung to the equally traditional suzerainty of the kings of France. But the treaty of Brétigny not only severed them from the realm of France, it subjected them to the realm of England. Edward ceased to be their hereditary Duke, he became simply an English king ruling Aquitaine as an English dominion. If the Southerners loved the North-French little, they loved the English less, and the treaty which thus changed their whole position was followed by a quick revulsion of feeling from the Garonne to the Pyrenees. The Gascon nobles declared that John had no right to transfer their fealty to another and to sever them from the realm of France. The city of Rochelle prayed the French king not to release it from its fealty to him. "We will obey the English with our lips," said its citizens, "but our hearts shall never be moved towards them." Edward strove to meet this passion for local independence, this hatred of being ruled from London, by sending the Black Prince to Bordeaux and investing him in 1362 with the Duchy of Aquitaine. But the new Duke held his Duchy as a fief from the English king, and the grievance of the Southerners was left untouched. Charles V. who succeeded his father John in 1364 silently prepared to reap this harvest of discontent. Patient, wary, unscrupulous, he was hardly crowned before he put an end to the war which had gone on without a pause in Britanny by accepting homage from the claimant whom France had hitherto opposed. Through Bertrand du Guesclin, a fine soldier whom his sagacity had discovered, he forced the king of Navarre to a peace which closed the fighting in Normandy. A more formidable difficulty in the way of pacification and order lay in the Free Companies, a union of marauders whom the disbanding of both armies after the peace had set free to harry the wasted land and whom the king's military resources were insufficient to cope with. It was the stroke by which Charles cleared his realm of these scourges which forced on a new struggle with the English in the south.

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Pedro the Cruel

In the judgement of the English court the friendship of Castille was of the first importance for the security of Aquitaine. Spain was the strongest naval power of the western world, and not only would the ports of Guienne be closed but its communication with England would be at once cut off by the appearance of a joint French and Spanish fleet in the Channel. It was with satisfaction therefore that Edward saw the growth of a bitter hostility between Charles and the Castilian king, Pedro the Cruel, through the murder of his wife, Blanche of Bourbon, the French king's sister-in-law. Henry of Trastamara, a bastard son of Pedro's father Alfonso the Eleventh, had long been a refugee at the French court, and soon after the treaty of Brétigny Charles in his desire to revenge this murder on Pedro gave Henry aid in an attempt on the Castilian throne. It was impossible for England to look on with indifference while a dependant of the French king became master of Castille; and in 1362 a treaty offensive and defensive was concluded between Pedro and Edward the Third. The time was not come for open war; but the subtle policy of Charles saw in this strife across the Pyrenees an opportunity both of detaching Castille from the English cause and of ridding himself of the Free Companies. With characteristic caution he dexterously held himself in the background while he made use of the Pope, who had been threatened by the Free Companies in his palace at Avignon and was as anxious to get rid of them as himself. Pedro's cruelty, misgovernment, and alliance with the Moslem of Cordova served as grounds for a crusade which was proclaimed by Pope Urban; and Du Guesclin, who was placed at the head of the expedition, found in the Papal treasury and in the hope of booty from an unravaged land means of gathering the marauders round his standard. As soon as these Crusaders crossed the Ebro Pedro was deserted by his subjects, and in 1366 Henry of Trastamara saw himself crowned without a struggle at Burgos as king of Castille. Pedro with his two daughters fled for shelter to Bordeaux and claimed the aid promised in the treaty. The lords of Aquitaine shrank from fighting for such a cause, but in spite of their protests and the reluctance of the English council to embark in so distant a struggle Edward held that he had no choice save to replace his ally, for to leave Henry seated on the throne was to leave Aquitaine to be crushed between France and Castille.

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Charles the Fifth

The after course of the war proved that in his anticipations of the fatal result of a combination of the two powers Edward was right, but his policy jarred not only against the universal craving for rest, but against the moral sense of the world. The Black Prince however proceeded to carry out his father's design in the teeth of the general opposition. His call to arms robbed Henry of the aid of those English Companies who had marched till now with the rest of the crusaders, but who returned at once to the standard of the Prince; the passes of Navarre were opened with gold, and in the beginning of 1367 the English army crossed the Pyrenees. Advancing to the Ebro the Prince offered battle at Navarete with an army already reduced by famine and disease in its terrible winter march, and Henry with double his numbers at once attacked him. But in spite of the obstinate courage of the Castilian troops the discipline and skill of the English soldiers once more turned the wavering day into a victory. Du Guesclin was taken, Henry fled across the Pyrenees, and Pedro was again seated on his throne. The pay however which he had promised was delayed; and the Prince, whose army had been thinned by disease to a fifth of its numbers and whose strength never recovered from the hardships of this campaign, fell back sick and beggared to Aquitaine. He had hardly returned when his work was undone. In 1368 Henry reentered Castille; its towns threw open their gates; a general rising chased Pedro from the throne, and a final battle in the spring of 1369 saw his utter overthrow. His murder by Henry's hand left the bastard undisputed master of Castille. Meanwhile the Black Prince, sick and disheartened, was hampered at Bordeaux by the expenses of the campaign which Pedro had left unpaid. To defray his debt he was driven in 1368 to lay a hearth-tax on Aquitaine, and the tax served as a pretext for an outbreak of the long-hoarded discontent. Charles was now ready for open action. He had won over the most powerful among the Gascon nobles, and their influence secured the rejection of the tax in a Parliament of the province which met at Bordeaux. The Prince, pressed by debt, persisted against the counsel of his wisest advisers in exacting it; and the lords of Aquitaine at once appealed to the king of France. Such an appeal was a breach of the treaty of Brétigny in which the French king had renounced his sovereignty over the south; but Charles had craftily delayed year after year the formal execution of the renunciations stipulated in the treaty, and he was still able to treat it as not binding on him. The success of Henry of Trastamara decided him to take immediate action, and in 1369 he summoned the Black Prince as Duke of Aquitaine to meet the appeal of the Gascon lords in his court.

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Renewal of the War

The Prince was maddened by the summons. "I will come," he replied, "but with helmet on head, and with sixty thousand men at my back." War however had hardly been declared when the ability with which Charles had laid his plans was seen in his seizure of Ponthieu and in a rising of the whole country south of the Garonne. Du Gueselin returned in 1370 from Spain to throw life into the French attack. Two armies entered Guienne from the east; and a hundred castles with La Réole and Limoges threw open their gates to Du Guesclin. But the march of an English army from Calais upon Paris recalled him from the south to guard the capital at a moment when the English leader advanced to recover Limoges, and the Black Prince borne in a litter to its walls stormed the town and sullied by a merciless massacre of its inhabitants the fame of his earlier exploits. Sickness however recalled him home in the spring of 1371; and the war, protracted by the caution of Charles who forbade his armies to engage, did little but exhaust the energy and treasure of England. As yet indeed the French attack had made small impression on the south, where the English troops stoutly held their ground against Du Guesclin's inroads. But the protracted war drained Edward's resources, while the diplomacy of Charles was busy in rousing fresh dangers from Scotland and Castille. It was in vain that Edward looked for allies to the Flemish towns. The male line of the Counts of Flanders ended in Count Louis le Mâle; and the marriage of his daughter Margaret with Philip, Duke of Burgundy, a younger brother of the French king, secured Charles from attack along his northern border. In Scotland the death of David Bruce put an end to Edward's schemes for a reunion of the two kingdoms; and his successor, Robert the Steward, renewed in 1371 the alliance with France.

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Loss of Aquitaine

Castille was a yet more serious danger; and an effort which Edward made to neutralize its attack only forced Henry of Trastamara to fling his whole weight into the struggle. The two daughters of Pedro had remained since their father's flight at Bordeaux. The elder of these was now wedded to John of Gaunt, Edward's fourth son, whom he had created Duke of Lancaster on his previous marriage with Blanche, a daughter of Henry of Lancaster and the heiress of that house, while the younger was wedded to Edward's fifth son, the Earl of Cambridge. Edward's aim was that of raising again the party of King Pedro and giving Henry of Trastamara work to do at home which would hinder his interposition in the war of Guienne. It was with this view that John of Gaunt on his marriage took the title of king of Castille. But no adherent of Pedro's cause stirred in Spain, and Henry replied to the challenge by sending a Spanish fleet to the Channel. A decisive victory which this fleet won over an English convoy off Rochelle proved a fatal blow to the English cause. It wrested from Edward the mastery of the seas, and cut off all communication between England and Guienne. Charles was at once roused to new exertions. Poitou, Saintonge, and the Angoumois yielded to his general Du Guesclin; and Rochelle was surrendered by its citizens in 1372. The next year saw a desperate attempt to restore the fortune of the English arms. A great army under John of Gaunt penetrated into the heart of France. But it found no foe to engage. Charles had forbidden any fighting. "If a storm rages over the land," said the king coolly, "it disperses of itself; and so will it be with the English." Winter in fact overtook the Duke of Lancaster in the mountains of Auvergne, and a mere fragment of his host reached Bordeaux. The failure of this attack was the signal for a general defection, and ere the summer of 1374 had closed the two towns of Bordeaux and Bayonne were all that remained of the English possessions in Southern France. Even these were only saved by the exhaustion of the conquerors. The treasury of Charles was as utterly drained as the treasury of Edward; and the kings were forced to a truce.

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The Social Strife

Only fourteen years had gone by since the Treaty of Brétigny raised England to a height of glory such as it had never known before. But the years had been years of a shame and suffering which stung the people to madness. Never had England fallen so low. Her conquests were lost, her shores insulted, her commerce swept from the seas. Within she was drained by the taxation and bloodshed of the war. Its popularity had wholly died away. When the Commons were asked in 1354 whether they would assent to a treaty of perpetual peace if they might have it, "the said Commons responded all, and all together, 'Yes, yes!'" The population was thinned by the ravages of pestilence, for till 1369, which saw its last visitation, the Black Death returned again and again. The social strife too gathered bitterness with every effort at repression. It was in vain that Parliament after Parliament increased the severity of its laws. The demands of the Parliament of 1376 show how inoperative the previous Statutes of Labourers had proved. They prayed that constables be directed to arrest all who infringed the Statute, that no labourer should be allowed to take refuge in a town and become an artizan if there were need of his service in the county from which he came, and that the king would protect lords and employers against the threats of death uttered by serfs who refused to serve. The reply of the Royal Council shows that statesmen at any rate were beginning to feel that repression might be pushed too far. The king refused to interfere by any further and harsher provisions between employers and employed, and left cases of breach of law to be dealt with in his ordinary courts of justice. On the one side he forbade the threatening gatherings which were already common in the country, but on the other he forbade the illegal exactions of the employers. With such a reply however the proprietary class were hardly likely to be content. Two years later the Parliament of Gloucester called for a Fugitive-slave Law, which would have enabled lords to seize their serfs in whatever county or town they found refuge, and in 1379 they prayed that judges might be sent five times a year into every shire to enforce the Statute of Labourers.

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Edward and the Parliament

But the strife between employers and employed was not the only rift which was opening in the social structure. Suffering and defeat had stripped off the veil which hid from the nation the shallow and selfish temper of Edward the Third. His profligacy was now bringing him to a premature old age. He was sinking into the tool of his ministers and his mistresses. The glitter and profusion of his court, his splendid tournaments, his feasts, his Table Round, his new order of chivalry, the exquisite chapel of St. Stephen whose frescoed walls were the glory of his palace at Westminster, the vast keep which crowned the hill of Windsor, had ceased to throw their glamour round a king who tricked his Parliament and swindled his creditors. Edward paid no debts. He had ruined the wealthiest bankers of Florence by a cool act of bankruptcy. The sturdier Flemish burghers only wrested payment from him by holding his royal person as their security. His own subjects fared no better than foreigners. The prerogative of "purveyance" by which the king in his progresses through the country had the right of first purchase of all that he needed at fair market price became a galling oppression in the hands of a bankrupt king who was always moving from place to place. "When men hear of your coming," Archbishop Islip wrote to Edward, "everybody at once for sheer fear sets about hiding or eating or getting rid of their geese and chickens or other possessions that they may not utterly lose them through your arrival. The purveyors and servants of your court seize on men and horses in the midst of their field work. They seize on the very bullocks that are at plough or at sowing, and force them to work for two or three days at a time without a penny of payment. It is no wonder that men make dole and murmur at your approach, for, as the truth is in God, I myself, whenever I hear a rumour of it, be I at home or in chapter or in church or at study, nay if I am saying mass, even I in my own person tremble in every limb." But these irregular exactions were little beside the steady pressure of taxation. Even in the years of peace fifteenths and tenths, subsidies on wool and subsidies on leather, were demanded and obtained from Parliament; and with the outbreak of war the royal demands became heavier and more frequent. As failure followed failure the expenses of each campaign increased an ineffectual attempt to relieve Rochelle cost nearly a million; the march of John of Gaunt through France utterly drained the royal treasury. Nor were these legal supplies all that the king drew from the nation. He had repudiated his pledge to abstain from arbitrary taxation of imports and exports. He sold monopolies to the merchants in exchange for increased customs. He wrested supplies from the clergy by arrangements with the bishops or the Pope. There were signs that Edward was longing to rid himself of the control of Parliament altogether. The power of the Houses seemed indeed as high as ever; great statutes were passed. Those of Provisors and Præmunire settled the relations of England to the Roman Court. That of Treason in 1352 defined that crime and its penalties. That of the Staples in 1353 regulated the conditions of foreign trade and the privileges of the merchant gilds which conducted it. But side by side with these exertions of influence we note a series of steady encroachments by the Crown on the power of the Houses. If their petitions were granted, they were often altered in the royal ordinance which professed to embody them. A plan of demanding supplies for three years at once rendered the annual assembly of Parliament less necessary. Its very existence was threatened by the convocation in 1352 and 1353 of occasional councils with but a single knight from every shire and a single burgess from a small number of the greater towns, which acted as Parliament and granted subsidies.

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The Baronage and the Church

What aided Edward above all in eluding or defying the constitutional restrictions on arbitrary taxation, as well as in these more insidious attempts to displace the Parliament, was the lessening of the check which the Baronage and the Church had till now supplied. The same causes which had long been reducing the number of the greater lords who formed the upper house went steadily on. Under Edward the Second little more than seventy were commonly summoned to Parliament; little more than forty were summoned under Edward the Third, and of these the bulk were now bound to the Crown, partly by their employment on its service, partly by their interest in the continuance of the war. The heads of the Baronage too were members of the royal family. Edward had carried out on a far wider scale than before the policy which had been more or less adhered to from the days of Henry the Third, that of gathering up in the hands of the royal house all the greater heritages of the land. The Black Prince was married to Joan of Kent, the heiress of Edward the First's younger son, Earl Edmund of Woodstock. His marriage with the heiress of the Earl of Ulster brought to the king's second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, a great part of the possessions of the de Burghs. Later on the possessions of the house of Bohun passed by like matches to his youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock, and to his grandson, Henry of Lancaster. But the greatest English heritage fell to Edward's third living son, John of Gaunt as he was called from his birth at Ghent during his father's Flemish campaign. Originally created Earl of Richmond, the death of his father-in-law, Henry of Lancaster, and of Henry's eldest daughter, raised John in his wife's right to the Dukedom of Lancaster and the Earldoms of Derby, Leicester, and Lincoln. But while the baronage were thus bound to the Crown, they drifted more and more into an hostility with the Church which in time disabled the clergy from acting as a check on it. What rent the ruling classes in twain was the growing pressure of the war. The nobles and knighthood of the country, already half ruined by the rise in the labour market and the attitude of the peasantry, were pressed harder than ever by the repeated subsidies which were called for by the continuance of the struggle. In the hour of their distress they cast their eyes greedily--as in the Norman and Angevin days--on the riches of the Church. Never had her wealth been greater. Out of a population of some three millions the ecclesiastics numbered between twenty and thirty thousand. Wild tales of their riches floated about the country. They were said to own in landed property alone more than a third of the soil, while their "spiritualities" in dues and offerings amounted to twice the king's revenue. Exaggerated as such statements were, the wealth of the Church was really great; but even more galling to the nobles was its influence in the royal councils. The feudal baronage, flushed with a new pride by its victories at Crécy and Poitiers, looked with envy and wrath at the throng of bishops around the council-board, and attributed to their love of peace the errors and sluggishness which had caused, as they held, the disasters of the war. To rob the Church of wealth and of power became the aim of a great baronial party.

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Weakness of the Church

The efforts of the baronage indeed would have been fruitless had the spiritual power of the Church remained as of old. But the clergy were rent by their own dissensions. The higher prelates were busy with the cares of political office, and severed from the lower priesthood by the scandalous inequality between the revenues of the wealthier ecclesiastics and the "poor parson" of the country. A bitter hatred divided the secular clergy from the regular; and this strife went fiercely on in the Universities. Fitz-Ralf, the Chancellor of Oxford, attributed to the friars the decline which was already being felt in the number of academical students, and the University checked by statute their practice of admitting mere children into their order. The clergy too at large shared in the discredit and unpopularity of the Papacy. Though they suffered more than any other class from the exactions of Avignon, they were bound more and more to the Papal cause. The very statutes which would have protected them were practically set aside by the treacherous diplomacy of the Crown. At home and abroad the Roman See was too useful for the king to come to any actual breach with it. However much Edward might echo the bold words of his Parliament, he shrank from an open contest which would have added the Papacy to his many foes, and which would at the same time have robbed him of his most effective means of wresting aids from the English clergy by private arrangement with the Roman court. Rome indeed was brought to waive its alleged right of appointing foreigners to English livings. But a compromise was arranged between the Pope and the Crown in which both united in the spoliation and enslavement of the Church. The voice of chapters, of monks, of ecclesiastical patrons, went henceforth for nothing in the election of bishops or abbots or the nomination to livings in the gift of churchmen. The Crown recommended those whom it chose to the Pope, and the Pope nominated them to see or cure of souls. The treasuries of both King and Pope profited by the arrangement; but we can hardly wonder that after a betrayal such as this the clergy placed little trust in statutes or royal protection, and bowed humbly before the claims of Rome.

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Its Worldliness

But what weakened the clergy most was their severance from the general sympathies of the nation, their selfishness, and the worldliness of their temper. Immense as their wealth was, they bore as little as they could of the common burthens of the realm. They were still resolute to assert their exemption from the common justice of the land, though the mild punishments of the bishops' courts carried as little dismay as ever into the mass of disorderly clerks. But privileged as they thus held themselves against all interference from the lay world without them, they carried on a ceaseless interference with the affairs of this lay world through their control over wills, contracts and divorces. No figure was better known or more hated than the summoner who enforced the jurisdiction and levied the dues of their courts. By their directly religious offices they penetrated into the very heart of the social life about them. But powerful as they were, their moral authority was fast passing away. The wealthier churchmen with their curled hair and hanging sleeves aped the costume of the knightly society from which they were drawn and to which they still really belonged. We see the general impression of their worldliness in Chaucer's pictures of the hunting monk and the courtly prioress with her love-motto on her brooch. The older religious orders in fact had sunk into mere landowners, while the enthusiasm of the friars had in great part died away and left a crowd of impudent mendicants behind it. Wyclif could soon with general applause denounce them as sturdy beggars, and declare that "the man who gives alms to a begging friar is ipso facto excommunicate."

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Advance of the CommonsAdvance of the Commons

It was this weakness of the Baronage and the Church, and the consequent withdrawal of both as represented in the temporal and spiritual Estates of the Upper House from the active part which they had taken till now in checking the Crown that brought the Lower House to the front. The Knight of the Shire was now finally joined with the Burgess of the Town to form the Third Estate of the realm: and this union of the trader and the country gentleman gave a vigour and weight to the action of the Commons which their House could never have acquired had it remained as elsewhere a mere gathering of burgesses. But it was only slowly and under the pressure of one necessity after another that the Commons took a growing part in public affairs. Their primary business was with taxation, and here they stood firm against the evasions by which the king still managed to baffle their exclusive right of granting supplies by voluntary agreements with the merchants of the Staple. Their steady pressure at last obtained in 1362 an enactment that no subsidy should henceforth be set upon wool without assent of Parliament, while Purveyance was restricted by a provision that payments should be made for all things taken for the king's use in ready money. A hardly less important advance was made by the change of Ordinances into Statutes. Till this time, even when a petition of the Houses was granted, the royal Council had reserved to itself the right of modifying its form in the Ordinance which professed to embody it. It was under colour of this right that so many of the provisions made in Parliament had hitherto been evaded or set aside. But the Commons now met this abuse by a demand that on the royal assent being given their petitions should be turned without change into Statutes of the Realm and derive force of law from their entry on the Rolls of Parliament. The same practical sense was seen in their dealings with Edward's attempt to introduce occasional smaller councils with parliamentary powers. Such an assembly in 1353 granted a subsidy on wool. The Parliament which met in the following year might have challenged its proceedings as null and void, but the Commons more wisely contented themselves with a demand that the ordinances passed in the preceding assembly should receive the sanction of the Three Estates. A precedent for evil was thus turned into a precedent for good, and though irregular gatherings of a like sort were for a while occasionally held they were soon seen to be fruitless and discontinued. But the Commons long shrank from meddling with purely administrative matters. When Edward in his anxiety to shift from himself the responsibility of the war referred to them in 1354 for advice on one of the numerous propositions of peace, they referred him to the lords of his Council. "Most dreaded lord," they replied, "as to this war and the equipment needful for it we are so ignorant and simple that we know not how nor have the power to devise. Wherefore we pray your Grace to excuse us in this matter, and that it please you with the advice of the great and wise persons of your Council to ordain what seems best for you for the honour and profit of yourself and of your kingdom. And whatsoever shall be thus ordained by assent and agreement on the part of you and your Lords we readily assent to and will hold it firmly established."

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Baronage attacks the Church

But humble as was their tone the growing power of the Commons showed itself in significant changes. In 1363 the Chancellor opened Parliament with a speech in English, no doubt as a tongue intelligible to the members of the Lower House. From a petition in 1376 that knights of the shire may be chosen by common election of the better folk of the shire and not merely nominated by the sheriff without due election, as well as from an earlier demand that the sheriffs themselves should be disqualified from serving in Parliament during their term of office, we see that the Crown had already begun not only to feel the pressure of the Commons but to meet it by foisting royal nominees on the constituencies. Such an attempt at packing the House would hardly have been resorted to had it not already proved too strong for direct control. A further proof of its influence was seen in a prayer of the Parliament that lawyers practising in the King's Courts might no longer be eligible as knights of the shire. The petition marks the rise of a consciousness that the House was now no mere gathering of local representatives, but a national assembly, and that a seat in it could no longer be confined to dwellers within the bounds of this county or that. But it showed also a pressure for seats, a passing away of the old dread of being returned as a representative and a new ambition to gain a place among the members of the Commons. Whether they would or no indeed the Commons were driven forward to a more direct interference with public affairs. From the memorable statute of 1322 their right to take equal part in all matters brought before Parliament had been incontestable, and their waiver of much of this right faded away before the stress of time. Their assent was needed to the great ecclesiastical statutes which regulated the relation of the See of Rome to the realm. They naturally took a chief part in the enactment and re-enactment of the Statute of Labourers. The Statute of the Staple, with a host of smaller commercial and economical measures, was of their origination. But it was not till an open breach took place between the baronage and the prelates that their full weight was felt. In the Parliament of 1371, on the resumption of the war, a noble taunted the Church as an owl protected by the feathers which other birds had contributed, and which they had a right to resume when a hawk's approach threatened them. The worldly goods of the Church, the metaphor hinted, had been bestowed on it for the common weal, and could be taken from it on the coming of a common danger. The threat was followed by a prayer that the chief offices of state, which had till now been held by the leading bishops, might be placed in lay hands. The prayer was at once granted: William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, resigned the Chancellorship, another prelate the Treasury, to lay dependants of the great nobles; and the panic of the clergy was seen in large grants which were voted by both Convocations.

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John of Gaunt

At the moment of their triumph the assailants of the Church found a leader in John of Gaunt. The Duke of Lancaster now wielded the actual power of the Crown. Edward himself was sinking into dotage. Of his sons the Black Prince, who had never rallied from the hardships of his Spanish campaign, was fast drawing to the grave; he had lost a second son by death in childhood; the third, Lionel of Clarence, had died in 1368. It was his fourth son therefore, John of Gaunt, to whom the royal power mainly fell. By his marriage with the heiress of the house of Lancaster the Duke had acquired lands and wealth, but he had no taste for the policy of the Lancastrian house or for acting as leader of the barons in any constitutional resistance to the Crown. His pride, already quickened by the second match with Constance to which he owed his shadowy kingship of Castille, drew him to the throne; and the fortune which placed the royal power practically in his hands bound him only the more firmly to its cause. Men held that his ambition looked to the Crown itself, for the approaching death of Edward and the Prince of Wales left but a boy, Richard, the son of the Black Prince, a child of but a few years old, and a girl, the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, between John and the throne. But the Duke's success fell short of his pride. In the campaign of 1373 he traversed France without finding a foe and brought back nothing save a ruined army to English shores. The peremptory tone in which money was demanded for the cost of this fruitless march while the petitions of the Parliament were set aside till it was granted roused the temper of the Commons. They requested--it is the first instance of such a practice--a conference with the lords, and while granting fresh subsidies prayed that the grant should be spent only on the war. The resentment of the government at this advance towards a control over the actual management of public affairs was seen in the calling of no Parliament through the next two years. But the years were disastrous both at home and abroad. The war went steadily against the English arms. The long negotiations with the Pope which went on at Bruges through 1375, and in which Wyclif took part as one of the royal commissioners, ended in a compromise by which Rome yielded nothing. The strife over the Statute of Labourers grew fiercer and fiercer, and a return of the plague heightened the public distress. Edward was now wholly swayed by Alice Perrers, and the Duke shared his power with the royal mistress. But if we gather its tenor from the complaints of the succeeding Parliament his administration was as weak as it was corrupt. The new lay ministers lent themselves to gigantic frauds. The chamberlain, Lord Latimer, bought up the royal debts and embezzled the public revenue. With Richard Lyons, a merchant through whom the king negotiated with the gild of the Staple, he reaped enormous profits by raising the price of imports and by lending to the Crown at usurious rates of interest. When the empty treasury forced them to call a Parliament the ministers tampered with the elections through the sheriffs.

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The Good Parliament

But the temper of the Parliament which met in 1376, and which gained from after times the name of the Good Parliament, shows that these precautions had utterly failed. Even their promise to pillage the Church had failed to win for the Duke and his party the good will of the lesser gentry or the wealthier burgesses who together formed the Commons. Projects of wide constitutional and social change, of the humiliation and impoverishment of an estate of the realm, were profoundly distasteful to men already struggling with a social revolution on their own estates and in their own workshops. But it was not merely its opposition to the projects of Lancaster and his party among the baronage which won for this assembly the name of the Good Parliament. Its action marked a new period in our Parliamentary history, as it marked a new stage in the character of the national opposition to the misrule of the Crown. Hitherto the task of resistance had devolved on the baronage, and had been carried out through risings of its feudal tenantry. But the misgovernment was now that of the baronage or of a main part of the baronage itself in actual conjunction with the Crown. Only in the power of the Commons lay any adequate means of peaceful redress. The old reluctance of the Lower House to meddle with matters of State was roughly swept away therefore by the pressure of the time. The Black Prince, anxious to secure his child's succession by the removal of John of Gaunt, the prelates with William of Wykeham at their head, resolute again to take their place in the royal councils and to check the projects of ecclesiastical spoliation put forward by their opponents, alike found in it a body to oppose to the Duke's administration. Backed by powers such as these, the action of the Commons showed none of their old timidity or self-distrust. The presentation of a hundred and forty petitions of grievances preluded a bold attack on the royal Council. "Trusting in God, and standing with his followers before the nobles, whereof the chief was John Duke of Lancaster, whose doings were ever contrary," their speaker, Sir Peter de la Mare, denounced the mis-management of the war, the oppressive taxation, and demanded an account of the expenditure. "What do these base and ignoble knights attempt?" cried John of Gaunt. "Do they think they be kings or princes of the land?" But the movement was too strong to be stayed. Even the Duke was silenced by the charges brought against the ministers. After a strict enquiry Latimer and Lyons were alike thrown into prison, Alice Perrers was banished, and several of the royal servants were driven from the Court. At this moment the death of the Black Prince shook the power of the Parliament. But it only heightened its resolve to secure the succession. His son, Richard of Bordeaux, as he was called from the place of his birth, was now a child of but ten years old; and it was known that doubts were whispered on the legitimacy of his birth and claim. An early marriage of his mother Joan of Kent, a granddaughter of Edward the First, with the Earl of Salisbury had been annulled; but the Lancastrian party used this first match to throw doubts on the validity of her subsequent union with the Black Prince and on the right of Richard to the throne. The dread of Lancaster's ambition is the first indication of the approach of what was from this time to grow into the great difficulty of the realm, the question of the succession to the Crown. From the death of Edward the Third to the death of Charles the First no English sovereign felt himself secure from rival claimants of his throne. As yet however the dread was a baseless one; the people were heartily with the Prince and his child. The Duke's proposal that the succession should be settled in case of Richard's death was rejected; and the boy himself was brought into Parliament and acknowledged as heir of the Crown.

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Wyclif and John of Gaunt

To secure their work the Commons ended by obtaining the addition of nine lords with William of Wykeham and two other prelates among them to the royal Council. But the Parliament was no sooner dismissed than the Duke at once resumed his power. His anger at the blow which had been dealt at his projects was no doubt quickened by resentment at the sudden advance of the Lower House. From the Commons who shrank even from giving counsel on matters of state to the Commons who dealt with such matters as their special business, who investigated royal accounts, who impeached royal ministers, who dictated changes in the royal advisers, was an immense step. But it was a step which the Duke believed could be retraced. His haughty will flung aside all restraints of law. He dismissed the new lords and prelates from the Council. He called back Alice Perrers and the disgraced ministers. He declared the Good Parliament no parliament, and did not suffer its petitions to be enrolled as statutes. He imprisoned Peter de la Mare, and confiscated the possessions of William of Wykeham. His attack on this prelate was an attack on the clergy at large, and the attack became significant when the Duke gave his open patronage to the denunciations of Church property which formed the favourite theme of John Wyclif. To Wyclif such a prelate as Wykeham symbolized the evil which held down the Church. His administrative ability, his political energy, his wealth and the colleges at Winchester and at Oxford which it enabled him to raise before his death, were all equally hateful. It was this wealth, this intermeddling with worldly business, which the ascetic reformer looked upon as the curse that robbed prelates and churchmen of that spiritual authority which could alone meet the vice and suffering of the time. Whatever baser motives might spur Lancaster and his party, their projects of spoliation must have seemed to Wyclif projects of enfranchisement for the Church. Poor and powerless in worldly matters, he held that she would have the wealth and might of heaven at her command. Wyclif's theory of Church and State had led him long since to contend that the property of the clergy might be seized and employed like other property for national purposes. Such a theory might have been left, as other daring theories of the schoolmen had been left, to the disputation of the schools. But the clergy were bitterly galled when the first among English teachers threw himself hotly on the side of the party which threatened them with spoliation, and argued in favour of their voluntary abandonment of all Church property and of a return to their original poverty. They were roused to action when Wyclif came forward as the theological bulwark of the Lancastrian party at a moment when the clergy were freshly outraged by the overthrow of the bishops and the plunder of Wykeham. They forced the king to cancel the sentence of banishment from the precincts of the Court which had been directed against the Bishop of Winchester by refusing any grant of supply in Convocation till William of Wykeham took his seat in it. But in the prosecution of Wyclif they resolved to return blow for blow. In February 1377 he was summoned before Bishop Courtenay of London to answer for his heretical propositions concerning the wealth of the Church.

The Duke of Lancaster accepted the challenge as really given to himself, and stood by Wyclif's side in the Consistory Court at St. Paul's. But no trial took place. Fierce words passed between the nobles and the prelate: the Duke himself was said to have threatened to drag Courtenay out of the church by the hair of his head; at last the London populace, to whom John of Gaunt was hateful, burst in to their Bishop's rescue, and Wyclif's life was saved with difficulty by the aid of the soldiery. But his boldness only grew with the danger. A Papal bull which was procured by the bishops, directing the University to condemn and arrest him, extorted from him a bold defiance. In a defence circulated widely through the kingdom and laid before Parliament, Wyclif broadly asserted that no man could be excommunicated by the Pope "unless he were first excommunicated by himself." He denied the right of the Church to exact or defend temporal privileges by spiritual censures, declared that a Church might justly be deprived by the king or lay lords of its property for defect of duty, and defended the subjection of ecclesiastics to civil tribunals. It marks the temper of the time and the growing severance between the Church and the nation that, bold as the defiance was, it won the support of the people as of the Crown. When Wyclif appeared at the close of the year in Lambeth Chapel to answer the Archbishop's summons a message from the Court forbade the primate to proceed and the Londoners broke in and dissolved the session.

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Death of Edward the Third

Meanwhile the Duke's unscrupulous tampering with elections had packed the Parliament of 1377 with his adherents. The work of the Good Parliament was undone, and the Commons petitioned for the restoration of all who had been impeached by their predecessors. The needs of the treasury were met by a novel form of taxation. To the earlier land-tax, to the tax on personality which dated from the Saladin Tithe, to the customs duties which had grown into importance in the last two reigns, was now added a tax which reached every person in the realm, a poll-tax of a groat a head. In this tax were sown the seeds of future trouble, but when the Parliament broke up in March the Duke's power seemed completely secured. Hardly three months later it was wholly undone. In June Edward the Third died in a dishonoured old age, robbed on his death-bed even of his rings by the mistress to whom he clung, and the accession of his grandson, Richard the Second, changed the whole face of affairs. The Duke withdrew from Court, and sought a reconciliation with the party opposed to him. The men of the Good Parliament surrounded the new king, and a Parliament which assembled in October took vigorously up its work. Peter de la Mare was released from prison and replaced in the chair of the House of Commons. The action of the Lower House indeed was as trenchant and comprehensive as that of the Good Parliament itself. In petition after petition the Commons demanded the confirmation of older rights and the removal of modern abuses. They complained of administrative wrongs such as the practice of purveyance, of abuses of justice, of the oppressions of officers of the exchequer and of the forest, of the ill state of prisons, of the customs of "maintenance" and "livery" by which lords extended their protection to shoals of disorderly persons and overawed the courts by means of them. Amid ecclesiastical abuses they noted the state of the Church courts, and the neglect of the laws of Provisors. They demanded that the annual assembly of Parliament, which had now become customary, should be defined by law, and that bills once sanctioned by the Crown should be forthwith turned into statutes without further amendment or change on the part of the royal Council. With even greater boldness they laid hands on the administration itself. They not only demanded that the evil counsellors of the last reign should be removed, and that the treasurer of the subsidy on wool should account for its expenditure to the lords, but that the royal Council should be named in Parliament, and chosen from members of either estate of the realm. Though a similar request for the nomination of the officers of the royal household was refused, their main demand was granted. It was agreed that the great officers of state, the chancellor, treasurer, and barons of exchequer should be named by the lords in Parliament, and removed from their offices during the king's "tender years" only on the advice of the lords. The pressure of the war, which rendered the existing taxes insufficient, gave the House a fresh hold on the Crown. While granting a new subsidy in the form of a land and property tax, the Commons restricted its proceeds to the war, and assigned two of their members, William Walworth and John Philpot, as a standing committee to regulate its expenditure. The successor of this Parliament in the following year demanded and obtained an account of the way in which the subsidy had been spent.

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Discontent of the people

The minority of the king, who was but eleven years old at his accession, the weakness of the royal council amidst the strife of the baronial factions, above all the disasters of the war without and the growing anarchy within the realm itself, alone made possible this startling assumption of the executive power by the Houses. The shame of defeat abroad was being added to the misery and discomfort at home. The French war ran its disastrous course. One English fleet was beaten by the Spaniards, a second sunk by a storm; and a campaign in the heart of France ended, like its predecessors, in disappointment and ruin. Meanwhile the strife between employers and employed was kindling into civil war. The Parliament, drawn as it was wholly from the proprietary classes, struggled as fiercely for the mastery of the labourers as it struggled for the mastery of the Crown. The Good Parliament had been as strenuous in demanding the enforcement of the Statute of Labourers as any of its predecessors. In spite of statutes, however, the market remained in the labourers' hands. The comfort of the worker rose with his wages. Men who had "no land to live on but their hands disdained to live on penny ale or bacon, and called for fresh flesh or fish, fried or bake, and that hot and hotter for chilling of their maw." But there were dark shades in this general prosperity of the labour class. There were seasons of the year during which employment for the floating mass of labour was hard to find. In the long interval between harvest-tide and harvest-tide work and food were alike scarce in every homestead of the time. Some lines of William Langland give us the picture of a farm of the day. "I have no penny pullets for to buy, nor neither geese nor pigs, but two green cheeses, a few curds and cream, and an oaten cake, and two loaves of beans and bran baken for my children. I have no salt bacon nor no cooked meat collops for to make, but I have parsley and leeks and many cabbage plants, and eke a cow and a calf, and a cart-mare to draw afield my dung while the drought lasteth, and by this livelihood we must all live till Lammas-tide [August, and by that I hope to have harvest in my croft." But it was not till Lammas-tide that high wages and the new corn bade "Hunger go to sleep," and during the long spring and summer the free labourer and the "waster that will not work but wander about, that will eat no bread but the finest wheat, nor drink but of the best and brownest ale," was a source of social and political danger. "He grieveth him against God and grudgeth against Reason, and then curseth he the King and all his council after such law to allow labourers to grieve." Such a smouldering mass of discontent as this needed but a spark to burst into flame; and the spark was found in the imposition of fresh taxation.

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The Poll-Tax

If John of Gaunt was fallen from his old power he was still the leading noble in the realm, and it is possible that dread of the encroachments of the last Parliament on the executive power drew after a time even the new advisers of the Crown closer to him. Whatever was the cause, he again came to the front. But the supplies voted in the past year were wasted in his hands. A fresh expedition against France under the Duke himself ended in failure before the walls of St. Malo, while at home his brutal household was outraging public order by the murder of a knight who had incurred John's anger in the precincts of Westminster. So great was the resentment of the Londoners at this act that it became needful to summon Parliament elsewhere than to the capital; and in 1378 the Houses met at Gloucester. The Duke succeeded in bringing the Lords to refuse those conferences with the Commons which had given unity to the action of the late Parliament, but he was foiled in an attack on the clerical privilege of sanctuary and in the threats which his party still directed against Church property, while the Commons forced the royal Council to lay before them the accounts of the last subsidy and to appoint a commission to examine into the revenue of the Crown. Unhappily the financial policy of the preceding year was persisted in. The check before St. Malo had been somewhat redeemed by treaties with Charles of Evreux and the Duke of Britanny which secured to England the right of holding Cherbourg and Brest; but the cost of these treaties only swelled the expenses of the war. The fresh supplies voted at Gloucester proved insufficient for their purpose, and a Parliament in the spring of 1379 renewed the Poll-tax in a graduated form. But the proceeds of the tax proved miserably inadequate, and when fresh debts beset the Crown in 1380 a return was again made to the old system of subsidies. But these failed in their turn; and at the close of the year the Parliament again fell back on a severer Poll-tax. One of the attractions of the new mode of taxation seems to have been that the clergy, who adopted it for themselves, paid in this way a larger share of the burthens of the state; but the chief ground for its adoption lay, no doubt, in its bringing within the net of the tax-gatherer a class which had hitherto escaped him, men such as the free labourer, the village smith, the village tiler. But few courses could have been more dangerous. The Poll-tax not only brought the pressure of the war home to every household; it goaded into action precisely the class which was already seething with discontent. The strife between labour and capital was going on as fiercely as ever in country and in town. The landlords were claiming new services, or forcing men who looked on themselves as free to prove they were no villeins by law. The free labourer was struggling against the attempt to exact work from him at low wages. The wandering workman was being seized and branded as a vagrant. The abbey towns were struggling for freedom against the abbeys. The craftsmen within boroughs were carrying on the same strife against employer and craft-gild. And all this mass of discontent was being heightened and organized by agencies with which the Government could not cope. The poorer villeins and the free labourers had long since banded together in secret conspiracies which the wealthier villeins supported with money. The return of soldiers from the war threw over the land a host of broken men, skilled in arms, and ready to take part in any rising. The begging friars, wandering and gossiping from village to village and street to street, shared the passions of the class from which they sprang. Priests like Ball openly preached the doctrines of communism. And to these had been recently added a fresh agency, which could hardly fail to stir a new excitement. With the practical ability which marked his character, Wyclif set on foot about this time a body of poor preachers to supply, as he held, the place of those wealthier clergy who had lost their hold on the land. The coarse sermons, bare feet, and russet dress of these "Simple Priests" moved the laughter of rector and canon, but they proved a rapid and effective means of diffusing Wyclif's protests against the wealth and sluggishness of the clergy, and we can hardly doubt that in the general turmoil their denunciation of ecclesiastical wealth passed often into more general denunciations of the proprietary classes.

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John Ball

As the spring went by quaint rimes passed through the country, and served as a summons to revolt. "John Ball," ran one, "greeteth you all, and doth for to understand he hath rung your bell. Now right and might, will and skill, God speed every dele." "Help truth," ran another, "and truth shall help you! Now reigneth pride in price, and covetise is counted wise, and lechery withouten shame, and gluttony withouten blame. Envy reigneth with treason, and sloth is take in great season. God do bote, for now is tyme!" We recognize Ball's hand in the yet more stirring missives of "Jack the Miller" and "Jack the Carter." "Jack Miller asketh help to turn his mill aright. He hath grounden small, small: the King's Son of Heaven he shall pay for all. Look thy mill go aright with the four sailes, and the post stand with steadfastness. With right and with might, with skill and with will; let might help right, and skill go before will, and right before might, so goeth our mill aright." "Jack Carter," ran the companion missive, "prays you all that ye make a good end of that ye have begun, and do well, and aye better and better: for at the even men heareth the day." "Falseness and guile," sang Jack Trewman, "have reigned too long, and truth hath been set under a lock, and falseness and guile reigneth in every stock. No man may come truth to, but if he sing 'si dedero.' True love is away that was so good, and clerks for wealth work them woe. God do bote, for now is time." In the rude jingle of these lines began for England the literature of political controversy: they are the first predecessors of the pamphlets of Milton and of Burke. Rough as they are, they express clearly enough the mingled passions which met in the revolt of the peasants: their longing for a right rule, for plain and simple justice; their scorn of the immorality of the nobles and the infamy of the court; their resentment at the perversion of the law to the cause of oppression.

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The Peasant Rising

From the eastern and midland counties the restlessness spread to all England south of the Thames. But the grounds of discontent varied with every district. The actual outbreak began on the 5th of June at Dartford, where a tiler killed one of the collectors of the poll-tax in vengeance for a brutal outrage on his daughter. The county at once rose in arms. Canterbury, where "the whole town was of their mind," threw open its gates to the insurgents who plundered the Archbishop's palace and dragged John Ball from his prison. A hundred thousand Kentishmen gathered round Walter Tyler of Essex and John Hales of Malling to march upon London. Their grievance was mainly a political one. Villeinage was unknown in Kent. As the peasants poured towards Blackheath indeed every lawyer who fell into their hands was put to death; "not till all these were killed would the land enjoy its old freedom again," the Kentishmen shouted as they fired the houses of the stewards and flung the rolls of the manor-courts into the flames. But this action can hardly have been due to anything more than sympathy with the rest of the realm, the sympathy which induced the same men when pilgrims from the north brought news that John of Gaunt was setting free his bondmen to send to the Duke an offer to make him Lord and King of England. Nor was their grievance a religious one. Lollardry can have made little way among men whose grudge against the Archbishop of Canterbury sprang from his discouragement of pilgrimages. Their discontent was simply political; they demanded the suppression of the poll-tax and better government; their aim was to slay the nobles and wealthier clergy, to take the king into their own hands, and pass laws which should seem good to the Commons of the realm. The whole population joined the Kentishmen as they marched along, while the nobles were paralyzed with fear. The young king--he was but a boy of sixteen--addressed them from a boat on the river; but the refusal of his Council under the guidance of Archbishop Sudbury to allow him to land kindled the peasants to fury, and with cries of "Treason" the great mass rushed on London. On the 13th of June its gates were flung open by the poorer artizans within the city, and the stately palace of John of Gaunt at the Savoy, the new inn of the lawyers at the Temple, the houses of the foreign merchants, were soon in a blaze. But the insurgents, as they proudly boasted, were "seekers of truth and justice, not thieves or robbers," and a plunderer found carrying off a silver vessel from the sack of the Savoy was flung with his spoil into the flames. Another body of insurgents encamped at the same time to the east of the city. In Essex and the eastern counties the popular discontent was more social than political. The demands of the peasants were that bondage should be abolished, that tolls and imposts on trade should be done away with, that "no acre of land which is held in bondage or villeinage be held at higher rate than fourpence a year," in other words for a money commutation of all villein services. Their rising had been even earlier than that of the Kentishmen. Before Whitsuntide an attempt to levy the poll-tax gathered crowds of peasants together, armed with clubs, rusty swords, and bows. The royal commissioners who were sent to repress the tumult were driven from the field, and the Essex men marched upon London on one side of the river as the Kentishmen marched on the other. The evening of the thirteenth, the day on which Tyler entered the city, saw them encamped without its walls at Mile-end. At the same moment Highbury and the northern heights were occupied by the men of Hertfordshire and the villeins of St. Albans, where a strife between abbot and town had been going on since the days of Edward the Second.

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Richard the Second

The royal Council with the young king had taken refuge in the Tower, and their aim seems to have been to divide the forces of the insurgents. On the morning of the fourteenth therefore Richard rode from the Tower to Mile-end to meet the Essex men. "I am your King and Lord, good people," the boy began with a fearlessness which marked his bearing throughout the crisis, "what will you?" "We will that you free us for ever," shouted the peasants, "us and our lands; and that we be never named nor held for serfs!" "I grant it," replied Richard; and he bade them go home, pledging himself at once to issue charters of freedom and amnesty. A shout of joy welcomed the promise. Throughout the day more than thirty clerks were busied writing letters of pardon and emancipation, and with these the mass of the Essex men and the men of Hertfordshire withdrew quietly to their homes. But while the king was successful at Mile-end a terrible doom had fallen on the councillors he left behind him. Richard had hardly quitted the Tower when the Kentishmen who had spent the night within the city appeared at its gates. The general terror was shown ludicrously enough when they burst in and taking the panic-stricken knights of the royal household in rough horse-play by the beard promised to be their equals and good comrades in the days to come. But the horse-play changed into dreadful earnest when they found that Richard had escaped their grasp, and the discovery of Archbishop Sudbury and other ministers in the chapel changed their fury into a cry for blood. The Primate was dragged from his sanctuary and beheaded. The same vengeance was wreaked on the Treasurer and the Chief Commissioner for the levy of the hated poll-tax, the merchant Richard Lyons who had been impeached by the Good Parliament. Richard meanwhile had ridden round the northern wall of the city to the Wardrobe near Blackfriars, and from this new refuge he opened his negotiations with the Kentish insurgents. Many of these dispersed at the news of the king's pledge to the men of Essex, but a body of thirty thousand still surrounded Wat Tyler when Richard on the morning of the fifteenth encountered that leader by a mere chance at Smithfield. Hot words passed between his train and the peasant chieftain who advanced to confer with the king, and a threat from Tyler brought on a brief struggle in which the Mayor of London, William Walworth, struck him with his dagger to the ground. "Kill! kill!" shouted the crowd: "they have slain our captain!" But Richard faced the Kentishmen with the same cool courage with which he faced the men of Essex. "What need ye, my masters?" cried the boy-king as he rode boldly up to the front of the bowmen. "I am your Captain and your King; follow me!" The hopes of the peasants centred in the young sovereign; one aim of their rising had been to free him from the evil counsellors who, as they believed, abused his youth; and at his word they followed him with a touching loyalty and trust till he entered the Tower. His mother welcomed him within its walls with tears of joy. "Rejoice and praise God," Richard answered, "for I have recovered to-day my heritage which was lost and the realm of England!" But he was compelled to give the same pledge of freedom to the Kentishmen as at Mile-end, and it was only after receiving his letters of pardon and emancipation that the yeomen dispersed to their homes.

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The general revolt

The revolt indeed was far from being at an end. As the news of the rising ran through the country the discontent almost everywhere broke into flame. There were outbreaks in every shire south of the Thames as far westward as Devonshire. In the north tumults broke out at Beverley and Scarborough, and Yorkshire and Lancashire made ready to rise. The eastern counties were in one wild turmoil of revolt. At Cambridge the townsmen burned the charters of the University and attacked the colleges. A body of peasants occupied St. Albans. In Norfolk a Norwich artizan, called John the Litster or Dyer, took the title of King of the Commons, and marching through the country at the head of a mass of peasants compelled the nobles whom he captured to act as his meat-tasters and to serve him on their knees during his repast. The story of St. Edmundsbury shows us what was going on in Suffolk. Ever since the accession of Edward the Third the townsmen and the villeins of their lands around had been at war with the abbot and his monks. The old and more oppressive servitude had long passed away, but the later abbots had set themselves against the policy of concession and conciliation which had brought about this advance towards freedom. The gates of the town were still in the abbot's hands. He had succeeded in enforcing his claim to the wardship of all orphans born within his domain. From claims such as these the town could never feel itself safe so long as mysterious charters from Pope or King, interpreted cunningly by the wit of the new lawyer class, lay stored in the abbey archives. But the archives contained other and hardly less formidable documents than these. Untroubled by the waste of war, the religious houses profited more than any other landowners by the general growth of wealth. They had become great proprietors, money-lenders to their tenants, extortionate as the Jew whom they had banished from their land. There were few townsmen of St. Edmund's who had not some bonds laid up in the abbey registry. In 1327 one band of debtors had a covenant lying there for the payment of five hundred marks and fifty casks of wine. Another company of the wealthier burgesses were joint debtors on a bond for ten thousand pounds. The new spirit of commercial activity joined with the troubles of the time to throw the whole community into the abbot's hands.

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Saint Edmundsbury

We can hardly wonder that riots, lawsuits, and royal commissions marked the relation of the town and abbey under the first two Edwards. Under the third came an open conflict. In 1327 the townsmen burst into the great house, drove the monks into the choir, and dragged them thence to the town prison. The abbey itself was sacked; chalices, missals, chasubles, tunicles, altar frontals, the books of the library, the very vats and dishes of the kitchen, all disappeared. The monks estimated their losses at ten thousand pounds. But the townsmen aimed at higher booty than this. The monks were brought back from prison to their own chapter-house, and the spoil of their registry, papal bulls and royal charters, deeds and bonds and mortgages, were laid before them. Amidst the wild threats of the mob they were forced to execute a grant of perfect freedom and of a gild to the town as well as of free release to their debtors. Then they were left masters of the ruined house. But all control over town or land was gone. Through spring and summer no rent or fine was paid. The bailiffs and other officers of the abbey did not dare to show their faces in the streets. News came at last that the abbot was in London, appealing for redress to the court, and the whole county was at once on fire. A crowd of rustics, maddened at the thought of revived claims of serfage, of interminable suits of law, poured into the streets of the town. From thirty-two of the neighbouring villages the priests marched at the head of their flocks as on a new crusade. The wild mass of men, women, and children, twenty thousand in all, as men guessed, rushed again on the abbey, and for four November days the work of destruction went on unhindered. When gate, stables, granaries, kitchen, infirmary, hostelry had gone up in flames, the multitude swept away to the granges and barns of the abbey farms. Their plunder shows what vast agricultural proprietors the monks had become. A thousand horses, a hundred and twenty plough-oxen, two hundred cows, three hundred bullocks, three hundred hogs, ten thousand sheep were driven off, and granges and barns burned to the ground. It was judged afterwards that sixty thousand pounds would hardly cover the loss.

Weak as was the government of Mortimer and Isabella, the appeal of the abbot against this outrage was promptly heeded. A royal force quelled the riot, thirty carts full of prisoners were despatched to Norwich; twenty-four of the chief townsmen with thirty-two of the village priests were convicted as aiders and abettors of the attack on the abbey, and twenty were summarily hanged. Nearly two hundred persons remained under sentence of outlawry, and for five weary years their case dragged on in the King's Courts. At last matters ended in a ludicrous outrage. Irritated by repeated breaches of promise on the abbot's part, the outlawed burgesses seized him as he lay in his manor of Chevington, robbed and bound him, and carried him off to London. There he was hurried from street to street lest his hiding-place should be detected till opportunity offered for shipping him off to Brabant. The Primate and the Pope levelled their excommunications against the abbot's captors in vain, and though he was at last discovered and brought home it was probably with some pledge of the arrangement which followed in 1332. The enormous damages assessed by the royal justices were remitted, the outlawry of the townsmen was reversed, the prisoners were released. On the other hand the deeds which had been stolen were again replaced in the archives of the abbey, and the charters which had been extorted from the monks were formally cancelled.

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St. Edmundsbury in 1381

The spirit of townsmen and villeins remained crushed by their failure, and throughout the reign of Edward the Third the oppression against which they had risen went on without a check. It was no longer the rough blow of sheer force; it was the more delicate but more pitiless tyranny of the law. At Richard's accession Prior John of Cambridge in the vacancy of the abbot was in charge of the house. The prior was a man skilled in all the arts of his day. In sweetness of voice, in knowledge of sacred song, his eulogists pronounced him superior to Orpheus, to Nero, and to one yet more illustrious in the Bury cloister though obscure to us, the Breton Belgabred. John was "industrious and subtle," and subtlety and industry found their scope in suit after suit with the burgesses and farmers around him. "Faithfully he strove," says the monastic chronicler, "with the villeins of Bury for the rights of his house." The townsmen he owned specially as his "adversaries," but it was the rustics who were to show what a hate he had won. On the fifteenth of June, the day of Wat Tyler's fall, the howl of a great multitude round his manor-house at Mildenhall broke roughly on the chauntings of Prior John. He strove to fly, but he was betrayed by his own servants, judged in rude mockery of the law by villein and bondsman, condemned and killed. The corpse lay naked in the open field while the mob poured unresisted into Bury. Bearing the prior's head on a lance before them through the streets, the frenzied throng at last reached the gallows where the head of one of the royal judges, Sir John Cavendish, was already impaled; and pressing the cold lips together in mockery of their friendship set them side by side. Another head soon joined them. The abbey gates were burst open, and the cloister filled with a maddened crowd, howling for a new victim, John Lackenheath, the warder of the barony. Few knew him as he stood among the group of trembling monks, but he courted death with a contemptuous courage. "I am the man you seek," he said, stepping forward; and in a minute, with a mighty roar of "Devil's son! Monk! Traitor!" he was swept to the gallows, and his head hacked from his shoulders. Then the crowd rolled back again to the abbey gate, and summoned the monks before them. They told them that now for a long time they had oppressed their fellows, the burgesses of Bury; wherefore they willed that in the sight of the Commons they should forthwith surrender their bonds and charters. The monks brought the parchments to the market-place; many which were demanded they swore they could not find. A compromise was at last patched up; and it was agreed that the charters should be surrendered till the future abbot should confirm the liberties of the town. Then, unable to do more, the crowd ebbed away.

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Close of the rising

A scene less violent, but even more picturesque, went on the same day at St. Albans. William Grindecobbe, the leader of its townsmen, returned with one of the charters of emancipation which Richard had granted after his interview at Mile-end to the men of Essex and Hertfordshire, and breaking into the abbey precincts at the head of the burghers, forced the abbot to deliver up the charters which bound the town in bondage to his house. But a more striking proof of servitude than any charters could give remained in the millstones which after a long suit at law had been adjudged to the abbey and placed within its cloister as a triumphant witness that no townsman might grind corn within the domain of the abbey save at the abbot's mill. Bursting into the cloister, the burghers now tore the mill-stones from the floor, and broke them into small pieces, "like blessed bread in church," which each might carry off to show something of the day when their freedom was won again. But it was hardly won when it was lost anew. The quiet withdrawal and dispersion of the peasant armies with their charters of emancipation gave courage to the nobles. Their panic passed away. The warlike Bishop of Norwich fell lance in hand on Litster's camp, and scattered the peasants of Norfolk at the first shock. Richard with an army of forty thousand men marched in triumph through Kent and Essex, and spread terror by the ruthlessness of his executions. At Waltham he was met by the display of his own recent charters and a protest from the Essex men that "they were so far as freedom went the peers of their lords." But they were to learn the worth of a king's word. "Villeins you were," answered Richard, "and villeins you are. In bondage you shall abide, and that not your old bondage, but a worse!" The stubborn resistance which he met showed that the temper of the people was not easily broken. The villagers of Billericay threw themselves into the woods and fought two hard fights before they were reduced to submission. It was only by threats of death that verdicts of guilty could be wrung from Essex jurors when the leaders of the revolt were brought before them. Grindecobbe was offered his life if he would persuade his followers at St. Albans to restore the charters they had wrung from the monks. He turned bravely to his fellow-townsmen and bade them take no thought for his trouble. "If I die," he said, "I shall die for the cause of the freedom we have won, counting myself happy to end my life by such a martyrdom. Do then to-day as you would have done had I been killed yesterday." But repression went pitilessly on, and through the summer and the autumn seven thousand men are said to have perished on the gallows or the field.

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