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History of the English People - Book IV The Parliament--1307-1461
Richard the Second 1381-1400
by Green, John Richard (M.A.)

Results of the Peasant Revolt       Religious reaction
Rise of Lollardry Lollardry at Oxford
Wyclif's Bible The Lollard movement
Lollardry and the Church Disasters of the War
Temper of the Court The Lords Appellant
Richard's Rule French and English
Chaucer His Early Poems
The Canterbury Tales The French Marriage
Change of Richard's temper Richard's Tyranny
Henry of Lancaster Ireland and the Pale
English and Irish Richard in Ireland
Landing of Henry Richard's capture

Results of the Peasant Revolt

Terrible as were the measures of repression which followed the Peasant Revolt, and violent as was the passion of reaction which raged among the proprietary classes at its close, the end of the rising was in fact secured. The words of Grindecobbe ere his death were a prophecy which time fulfilled. Cancel charters of manumission as the council might, serfage was henceforth a doomed and perishing thing. The dread of another outbreak hung round the employer. The attempts to bring back obsolete services quietly died away. The old process of enfranchisement went quietly on. During the century and a half which followed the Peasant Revolt villeinage died out so rapidly that it became a rare and antiquated thing. The class of small freeholders sprang fast out of the wreck of it into numbers and importance. In twenty years more they were in fact recognized as the basis of our electoral system in every English county. The Labour Statutes proved as ineffective as of old in enchaining labour or reducing its price. A hundred years after the Black Death the wages of an English labourer was sufficient to purchase twice the amount of the necessaries of life which could have been obtained for the wages paid under Edward the Third. The incidental descriptions of the life of the working classes which we find in Piers Ploughman show that this increase of social comfort had been going on even during the troubled period which preceded the outbreak of the peasants, and it went on faster after the revolt was over. But inevitable as such a progress was, every step of it was taken in the teeth of the wealthier classes. Their temper indeed at the close of the rising was that of men frenzied by panic and the taste of blood. They scouted all notion of concession. The stubborn will of the conquered was met by as stubborn a will in their conquerors. The royal Council showed its sense of the danger of a mere policy of resistance by submitting the question of enfranchisement to the Parliament which assembled in November 1381 with words which suggested a compromise. "If you desire to enfranchise and set at liberty the said serfs," ran the royal message, "by your common assent, as the King has been informed that some of you desire, he will consent to your prayer." But no thoughts of compromise influenced the landowners in their reply. The king's grant and letters, the Parliament answered with perfect truth, were legally null and void: their serfs were their goods, and the king could not take their goods from them but by their own consent. "And this consent," they ended, "we have never given and never will give, were we all to die in one day." Their temper indeed expressed itself in legislation which was a fit sequel to the Statutes of Labourers. They forbade the child of any tiller of the soil to be apprenticed in a town. They prayed the king to ordain "that no bondman nor bondwoman shall place their children at school, as has been done, so as to advance their children in the world by their going into the church." The new colleges which were being founded at the Universities at this moment closed their gates upon villeins.


Religious reaction

The panic which produced this frenzied reaction against all projects of social reform produced inevitably as frenzied a panic of reaction against all plans for religious reform. Wyclif had been supported by the Lancastrian party till the very eve of the Peasant Revolt. But with the rising his whole work seemed suddenly undone. The quarrel between the baronage and the Church on which his political action had as yet been grounded was hushed in the presence of a common danger. His "poor preachers" were looked upon as missionaries of socialism. The friars charged Wyclif with being a "sower of strife, who by his serpentlike instigation had set the serf against his lord," and though he tossed back the charge with disdain he had to bear a suspicion which was justified by the conduct of some of his followers. John Ball, who had figured in the front rank of the revolt, was falsely-named as one of his adherents, and was alleged to have denounced in his last hour the conspiracy of the "Wyclifites." Wyclif's most prominent scholar, Nicholas Herford, was said to have openly approved the brutal murder of Archbishop Sudbury. Whatever belief such charges might gain, it is certain that from this moment all plans for the reorganization of the Church were confounded in the general odium which attached to the projects of the peasant leaders, and that any hope of ecclesiastical reform at the hands of the baronage and the Parliament was at an end. But even if the Peasant Revolt had not deprived Wyclif of the support of the aristocratic party with whom he had hitherto cooperated, their alliance must have been dissolved by the new theological position which he had already taken up. Some months before the outbreak of the insurrection he had by one memorable step passed from the position of a reformer of the discipline and political relations of the Church to that of a protester against its cardinal beliefs. If there was one doctrine upon which the supremacy of the Mediĉval Church rested, it was the doctrine of Transubstantiation. It was by his exclusive right to the performance of the miracle which was wrought in the mass that the lowliest priest was raised high above princes. With the formal denial of the doctrine of Transubstantiation which Wyclif issued in the spring of 1381 began that great movement of religious revolt which ended more than a century after in the establishment of religious freedom by severing the mass of the Teutonic peoples from the general body of the Catholic Church. The act was the bolder that he stood utterly alone. The University of Oxford, in which his influence had been hitherto all-powerful, at once condemned him. John of Gaunt enjoined him to be silent. Wyclif was presiding as Doctor of Divinity over some disputations in the schools of the Augustinian Canons when his academical condemnation was publicly read, but though startled for the moment he at once challenged Chancellor or doctor to disprove the conclusions at which he had arrived. The prohibition of the Duke of Lancaster he met by an open avowal of his teaching, a confession which closes proudly with the quiet words, "I believe that in the end the truth will conquer."


Rise of Lollardry

For the moment his courage dispelled the panic around him. The University responded to his appeal, and by displacing his opponents from office tacitly adopted his cause. But Wyclif no longer looked for support to the learned or wealthier classes on whom he had hitherto relied. He appealed, and the appeal is memorable as the first of such a kind in our history, to England at large. With an amazing industry he issued tract after tract in the tongue of the people itself. The dry, syllogistic Latin, the abstruse and involved argument which the great doctor had addressed to his academic hearers, were suddenly flung aside, and by a transition which marks the wonderful genius of the man the schoolman was transformed into the pamphleteer. If Chaucer is the father of our later English poetry, Wyclif is the father of our later English prose. The rough, clear, homely English of his tracts, the speech of the ploughman and the trader of the day though coloured with the picturesque phraseology of the Bible, is in its literary use as distinctly a creation of his own as the style in which he embodied it, the terse vehement sentences, the stinging sarcasms, the hard antitheses which roused the dullest mind like a whip. Once fairly freed from the trammels of unquestioning belief, Wyclif's mind worked fast in its career of scepticism. Pardons, indulgences, absolutions, pilgrimages to the shrines of the saints, worship of their images, worship of the saints themselves, were successively denied. A formal appeal to the Bible as the one ground of faith, coupled with an assertion of the right of every instructed man to examine the Bible for himself, threatened the very groundwork of the older dogmatism with ruin. Nor were these daring denials confined to the small circle of scholars who still clung to him. The "Simple Priests" were active in the diffusion of their master's doctrines, and how rapid their progress must have been we may see from the panic-struck exaggerations of their opponents. A few years later they complained that the followers of Wyclif abounded everywhere and in all classes, among the baronage, in the cities, among the peasantry of the countryside, even in the monastic cell itself. "Every second man one meets is a Lollard."


Lollardry at Oxford

"Lollard," a word which probably means "idle babbler," was the nickname of scorn with which the orthodox Churchmen chose to insult their assailants. But this rapid increase changed their scorn into vigorous action. In 1382 Courtenay, who had now become Archbishop, summoned a council at Blackfriars and formally submitted twenty-four propositions drawn from Wyclif's works. An earthquake in the midst of the proceedings terrified every prelate but the resolute Primate; the expulsion of ill humours from the earth, he said, was of good omen for the expulsion of ill humours from the Church; and the condemnation was pronounced. Then the Archbishop turned fiercely upon Oxford as the fount and centre of the new heresies. In an English sermon at St. Frideswide's Nicholas Herford had asserted the truth of Wyclif's doctrines, and Courtenay ordered the Chancellor to silence him and his adherents on pain of being himself treated as a heretic. The Chancellor fell back on the liberties of the University, and appointed as preacher another Wyclifite, Repyngdon, who did not hesitate to style the Lollards "holy priests," and to affirm that they were protected by John of Gaunt. Party spirit meanwhile ran high among the students. The bulk of them sided with the Lollard leaders, and a Carmelite, Peter Stokes, who had procured the Archbishop's letters, cowered panic stricken in his chamber while the Chancellor, protected by an escort of a hundred townsmen, listened approvingly to Repyngdon's defiance. "I dare go no further," wrote the poor Friar to the Archbishop, "for fear of death"; but he mustered courage at last to descend into the schools where Repyngdon was now maintaining that the clerical order was "better when it was but nine years old than now that it has grown to a thousand years and more." The appearance however of scholars in arms again drove Stokes to fly in despair to Lambeth, while a new heretic in open Congregation maintained Wyclif's denial of Transubstantiation. "There is no idolatry," cried William James, "save in the Sacrament of the Altar." "You speak like a wise man," replied the Chancellor, Robert Rygge. Courtenay however was not the man to bear defiance tamely, and his summons to Lambeth wrested a submission from Rygge which was only accepted on his pledge to suppress the Lollardism of the University. "I dare not publish them, on fear of death," exclaimed the Chancellor when Courtenay handed him his letters of condemnation. "Then is your University an open fautor of heretics," retorted the Primate, "if it suffers not the Catholic truth to be proclaimed within its bounds." The royal Council supported the Archbishop's injunction, but the publication of the decrees at once set Oxford on fire. The scholars threatened death against the friars, "crying that they wished to destroy the University." The masters suspended Henry Crump from teaching as a troubler of the public peace for calling the Lollards "heretics." The Crown however at last stepped in to Courtenay's aid, and a royal writ ordered the instant banishment of all favourers of Wyclif with the seizure and destruction of all Lollard books on pain of forfeiture of the University's privileges. The threat produced its effect. Herford and Repyngdon appealed in vain to John of Gaunt for protection; the Duke himself denounced them as heretics against the Sacrament of the Altar, and after much evasion they were forced to make a formal submission. Within Oxford itself the suppression of Lollardism was complete, but with the death of religious freedom all trace of intellectual life suddenly disappears. The century which followed the triumph of Courtenay is the most barren in its annals, nor was the sleep of the University broken till the advent of the New Learning restored to it some of the life and liberty which the Primate had so roughly trodden out.


Wyclif's Bible

Nothing marks more strongly the grandeur of Wyclif's position as the last of the great schoolmen than the reluctance of so bold a man as Courtenay even after his triumph over Oxford to take extreme measures against the head of Lollardry. Wyclif, though summoned, had made no appearance before the "Council of the Earthquake." "Pontius Pilate and Herod are made friends to-day," was his bitter comment on the new union which proved to have sprung up between the prelates and the monastic orders who had so long been at variance with each other; "since they have made a heretic of Christ, it is an easy inference for them to count simple Christians heretics." He seems indeed to have been sick at the moment, but the announcement of the final sentence roused him to life again. He petitioned the king and Parliament that he might be allowed freely to prove the doctrines he had put forth, and turning with characteristic energy to the attack of his assailants, he asked that all religious vows might be suppressed, that tithes might be diverted to the maintenance of the poor and the clergy maintained by the free alms of their flocks, that the Statutes of Provisors and Prĉmunire might be enforced against the Papacy, that Churchmen might be declared incapable of secular offices, and imprisonment for excommunication cease. Finally in the teeth of the council's condemnation he demanded that the doctrine of the Eucharist which he advocated might be freely taught. If he appeared in the following year before the convocation at Oxford it was to perplex his opponents by a display of scholastic logic which permitted him to retire without any retractation of his sacramental heresy. For the time his opponents seemed satisfied with his expulsion from the University, but in his retirement at Lutterworth he was forging during these troubled years the great weapon which, wielded by other hands than his own, was to produce so terrible an effect on the triumphant hierarchy. An earlier translation of the Scriptures, in part of which he was aided by his scholar Herford, was being revised and brought to the second form which is better known as "Wyclif's Bible" when death drew near. The appeal of the prelates to Rome was answered at last by a Brief ordering him to appear at the Papal Court. His failing strength exhausted itself in a sarcastic reply which explained that his refusal to comply with the summons simply sprang from broken health. "I am always glad," ran the ironical answer, "to explain my faith to any one, and above all to the Bishop of Rome; for I take it for granted that if it be orthodox he will confirm it, if it be erroneous he will correct it. I assume too that as chief Vicar of Christ upon earth the Bishop of Rome is of all mortal men most bound to the law of Christ's Gospel, for among the disciples of Christ a majority is not reckoned by simply counting heads in the fashion of this world, but according to the imitation of Christ on either side. Now Christ during His life upon earth was of all men the poorest, casting from Him all worldly authority. I deduce from these premisses as a simple counsel of my own that the Pope should surrender all temporal authority to the civil power and advise his clergy to do the same." The boldness of his words sprang perhaps from a knowledge that his end was near. The terrible strain on energies enfeebled by age and study had at last brought its inevitable result, and a stroke of paralysis while Wyclif was hearing mass in his parish church of Lutterworth was followed on the next day by his death.


The Lollard movement

The persecution of Courtenay deprived the religious reform of its more learned adherents and of the support of the Universities. Wyclif's death robbed it of its head at a moment when little had been done save a work of destruction. From that moment Lollardism ceased to be in any sense an organized movement and crumbled into a general spirit of revolt. All the religious and social discontent of the times floated instinctively to this new centre. The socialist dreams of the peasantry, the new and keener spirit of personal morality, the hatred of the friars, the jealousy of the great lords towards the prelacy, the fanaticism of the reforming zealot were blended together in a common hostility to the Church and a common resolve to substitute personal religion for its dogmatic and ecclesiastical system. But it was this want of organization, this looseness and fluidity of the new movement, that made it penetrate through every class of society. Women as well as men became the preachers of the new sect. Lollardry had its own schools, its own books; its pamphlets were passed everywhere from hand to hand; scurrilous ballads which revived the old attacks of "Golias" in the Angevin times upon the wealth and luxury of the clergy were sung at every corner. Nobles like the Earl of Salisbury and at a later time Sir John Oldcastle placed themselves openly at the head of the cause and threw open their gates as a refuge for its missionaries. London in its hatred of the clergy became fiercely Lollard, and defended a Lollard preacher who ventured to advocate the new doctrines from the pulpit of St. Paul's. One of its mayors, John of Northampton, showed the influence of the new morality by the Puritan spirit in which he dealt with the morals of the city. Compelled to act, as he said, by the remissness of the clergy who connived for money at every kind of debauchery, he arrested the loose women, cut off their hair, and carted them through the streets as objects of public scorn. But the moral spirit of the new movement, though infinitely its grander side, was less dangerous to the Church than its open repudiation of the older doctrines and systems of Christendom. Out of the floating mass of opinion which bore the name of Lollardry one faith gradually evolved itself, a faith in the sole authority of the Bible as a source of religious truth. The translation of Wyclif did its work. Scripture, complains a canon of Leicester, "became a vulgar thing, and more open to lay folk and women that knew how to read than it is wont to be to clerks themselves." Consequences which Wyclif had perhaps shrunk from drawing were boldly drawn by his disciples. The Church was declared to have become apostate, its priesthood was denounced as no priesthood, its sacraments as idolatry.


Lollardry and the Church

It was in vain that the clergy attempted to stifle the new movement by their old weapon of persecution. The jealousy entertained by the baronage and gentry of every pretension of the Church to secular power foiled its efforts to make persecution effective. At the moment of the Peasant Revolt Courtenay procured the enactment of a statute which commissioned the sheriffs to seize all persons convicted before the bishops of preaching heresy. But the statute was repealed in the next session, and the Commons added to the bitterness of the blow by their protest that they considered it "in nowise their interest to be more under the jurisdiction of the prelates or more bound by them than their ancestors had been in times past." Heresy indeed was still a felony by the common law, and if as yet we meet with no instances of the punishment of heretics by the fire it was because the threat of such a death was commonly followed by the recantation of the Lollard. But the restriction of each bishop's jurisdiction within the limits of his own diocese made it impossible to arrest the wandering preachers of the new doctrine, and the civil punishment--even if it had been sanctioned by public opinion--seems to have long fallen into desuetude. Experience proved to the prelates that few sheriffs would arrest on the mere warrant of an ecclesiastical officer, and that no royal court would issue the writ "for the burning of a heretic" on a bishop's requisition. But powerless as the efforts of the Church were for purposes of repression, they were effective in rousing the temper of the Lollards into a bitter fanaticism. The heretics delighted in outraging the religious sense of their day. One Lollard gentleman took home the sacramental wafer and lunched on it with wine and oysters. Another flung some images of the saints into his cellar. The Lollard preachers stirred up riots by the virulence of their preaching against the friars. But they directed even fiercer invectives against the wealth and secularity of the great Churchmen. In a formal petition which was laid before Parliament in 1395 they mingled denunciations of the riches of the clergy with an open profession of disbelief in transubstantiation, priesthood, pilgrimages, and image-worship, and a demand, which illustrates the strange medley of opinions which jostled together in the new movement, that war might be declared unchristian and that trades such as those of the goldsmith or the armourer, which were contrary to apostolical poverty, might be banished from the realm. They contended (and it is remarkable that a Parliament of the next reign adopted the statement) that from the superfluous revenues of the Church, if once they were applied to purposes of general utility, the king might maintain fifteen earls, fifteen hundred knights, and six thousand squires, besides endowing a hundred hospitals for the relief of the poor.


Disasters of the War

The distress of the landowners, the general disorganization of the country, in every part of which bands of marauders were openly defying the law, the panic of the Church and of society at large as the projects of the Lollards shaped themselves into more daring and revolutionary forms, added a fresh keenness to the national discontent at the languid and inefficient prosecution of the war. The junction of the French and Spanish fleets had made them masters of the seas, and what fragments were left of Guienne lay at their mercy. The royal Council strove to detach the House of Luxemburg from, the French alliance by winning for Richard the hand of Anne, a daughter of the late Emperor Charles the Fourth who had fled at Crécy, and sister of King Wenzel of Bohemia who was now king of the Romans. But the marriage remained without political result, save that the Lollard books which were sent into their native country by the Bohemian servants of the new queen stirred the preaching of John Huss and the Hussite wars. Nor was English policy more successful in Flanders. Under Philip van Arteveldt, the son of the leader of 1345, the Flemish towns again sought the friendship of England against France, but at the close of 1382 the towns were defeated and their leader slain in the great French victory of Rosbecque. An expedition to Flanders in the following year under the warlike Bishop of Norwich turned out a mere plunder-raid and ended in utter failure. A short truce only gave France the leisure to prepare a counter-blow by the despatch of a small but well-equipped force under John de Vienne to Scotland in 1385. Thirty thousand Scots joined in the advance of this force over the border: and though northern England rose with a desperate effort and an English army penetrated as far as Edinburgh in the hope of bringing the foe to battle, it was forced to fall back without an encounter. Meanwhile France dealt a more terrible blow in the reduction of Ghent. The one remaining market for English commerce was thus closed up, while the forces which should have been employed in saving Ghent and in the protection of the English shores against the threat of invasion were squandered by John of Gaunt in a war which he was carrying on alone the Spanish frontier in pursuit of the visionary crown which he claimed in his wife's right. The enterprise showed that the Duke had now abandoned the hope of directing affairs at home and was seeking a new sphere of activity abroad. To drive him from the realm had been from the close of the Peasant Revolt the steady purpose of the councillors who now surrounded the young king, of his favourite Robert de Vere and his Chancellor Michael de la Pole, who was raised in 1385 to the Earldom of Suffolk. The Duke's friends were expelled from office; John of Northampton, the head of his adherents among the Commons, was thrown into prison; the Duke himself was charged with treason and threatened with arrest. In 1386 John of Gaunt abandoned the struggle and sailed for Spain.


Temper of the Court

Richard himself took part in these measures against the Duke. He was now twenty, handsome and golden-haired, with a temper capable of great actions and sudden bursts of energy but indolent and unequal. The conception of kingship in which he had been reared made him regard the constitutional advance which had gone on during the war as an invasion of the rights of his Crown. He looked on the nomination of the royal Council and the great officers of state by the two Houses or the supervision of the royal expenditure by the Commons as Infringements on the prerogative which only the pressure of the war and the weakness of a minority had forced the Crown to bow to. The judgement of his councillors was one with that of the king. Vere was no mere royal favourite; he was a great noble and of ancient lineage. Michael de la Pole was a man of large fortune and an old servant of the Crown; he had taken part in the war for thirty years, and had been admiral and captain of Calais. But neither were men to counsel the young king wisely in his effort to obtain independence at once of Parliament and of the great nobles. His first aim had been to break the pressure of the royal house itself, and in his encounter with John of Gaunt he had proved successful. But the departure of the Duke of Lancaster only called to the front his brother and his son. Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester, had inherited much of the lands and the influence of the old house of Bohun. Round Henry, Earl of Derby, the son of John of Gaunt by Blanche of Lancaster, the old Lancastrian party of constitutional opposition was once more forming itself. The favour shown to the followers of Wyclif at the Court threw on the side of this new opposition the bulk of the bishops and Churchmen. Richard himself showed no sympathy with the Lollards, but the action of her Bohemian servants shows the tendencies of his queen. Three members of the royal Council were patrons of the Lollards, and the Earl of Salisbury, a favourite with the king, was their avowed head. The Commons displayed no hostility to the Lollards nor any zeal for the Church; but the lukewarm prosecution of the war, the profuse expenditure of the Court, and above all the manifest will of the king to free himself from Parliamentary control, estranged the Lower House. Richard's haughty words told their own tale. When the Parliament of 1385 called for an enquiry every year into the royal household, the king replied he would enquire when he pleased. When it prayed to know the names of the officers of state, he answered that he would change them at his will.


The Lords Appellant

The burthen of such answers and of the policy they revealed fell on the royal councillors, and the departure of John of Gaunt forced the new opposition into vigorous action. The Parliament of 1386 called for the removal of Suffolk. Richard replied that he would not for such a prayer dismiss a turnspit of his kitchen. The Duke of Gloucester and Bishop Arundel of Ely were sent by the Houses as their envoys, and warned the king that should a ruler refuse to govern with the advice of his lords and by mad counsels work out his private purposes it was lawful to depose him. The threat secured Suffolk's removal; he was impeached for corruption and maladministration, and condemned to forfeiture and imprisonment. It was only by submitting to the nomination of a Continual Council, with the Duke of Gloucester at its head, that Richard could obtain a grant of subsidies. But the Houses were no sooner broken up than Suffolk was released, and in 1387 the young king rode through the country calling on the sheriffs to raise men against the barons, and bidding them suffer no knight of the shire to be returned for the next Parliament "save one whom the King and his Council chose." The general ill-will foiled both his efforts: and he was forced to take refuge in an opinion of five of the judges that the Continual Council was unlawful, the sentence on Suffolk erroneous, and that the Lords and Commons had no power to remove a king's servant. Gloucester answered the challenge by taking up arms, and a general refusal to fight for the king forced Richard once more to yield. A terrible vengeance was taken on his supporters in the recent schemes. In the Parliament of 1388 Gloucester, with the four Earls of Derby, Arundel, Warwick, and Nottingham, appealed on a charge of high treason Suffolk and De Vere, the Archbishop of York, the Chief Justice Tresilian, and Sir Nicholas Bramber. The first two fled, Suffolk to France, De Vere after a skirmish at Radcot Bridge to Ireland; but the Archbishop was deprived of his see, Bramber beheaded, and Tresilian hanged. The five judges were banished, and Sir Simon Burley with three other members of the royal household sent to the block.


Richard's Rule

At the prayer of the "Wonderful Parliament," as some called this assembly, or as others with more justice "The Merciless Parliament," it was provided that all officers of state should henceforth be named in Parliament or by the Continual Council. Gloucester remained at the head of the latter body, but his power lasted hardly a year. In May 1389 Richard found himself strong enough to break down the government by a word. Entering the Council he suddenly asked his uncle how old he was. "Your highness," answered Gloucester, "is in your twenty-fourth year!" "Then I am old enough to manage my own affairs," said Richard coolly; "I have been longer under guardianship than any ward in my realm. I thank you for your past services, my lords, but I need them no more." The resolution was welcomed by the whole country; and Richard justified the country's hopes by wielding his new power with singular wisdom and success. He refused to recall De Vere or the five judges. The intercession of John of Gaunt on his return from Spain brought about a full reconciliation with the Lords Appellant. A truce was concluded with France, and its renewal year after year enabled the king to lighten the burthen of taxation. Richard announced his purpose to govern by advice of Parliament; he soon restored the Lords Appellant to his Council, and committed the chief offices of state to great Churchmen like Wykeham and Arundel. A series of statutes showed the activity of the Houses. A Statute of Provisors which re-enacted those of Edward the Third was passed in 1390; the Statute of Prĉmunire, which punished the obtaining of bulls or other instruments from Rome with forfeiture, in 1393. The lords were bridled anew by a Statute of Maintenance, which forbade their violently supporting other men's causes in courts of justice, and giving "livery" to a host of retainers. The Statute of Uses in 1391, which rendered illegal the devices which had been invented to frustrate that of Mortmain, showed the same resolve to deal firmly with the Church. A reform of the staple and other mercantile enactments proved the king's care for trade. Throughout the legislation of these eight years we see the same tone of coolness and moderation. Eager as he was to win the good-will of the Parliament and the Church, Richard refused to bow to the panic of the landowners or to second the persecution of the priesthood. The demands of the Parliament that education should be denied to the sons of villeins was refused. Lollardry as a social danger was held firmly at bay, and in 1387 the king ordered Lollard books to be seized and brought before the Council. But the royal officers showed little zeal in aiding the bishops to seize or punish the heretical teachers.


French and English

It was in the period of peace which was won for the country by the wisdom and decision of its young king that England listened to the voice of her first great singer. The work of Chaucer marks the final settlement of the English tongue. The close of the great movement towards national unity which had been going on ever since the Conquest was shown in the middle of the fourteenth century by the disuse, even amongst the nobler classes, of the French tongue. In spite of the efforts of the grammar schools and of the strength of fashion English won its way throughout the reign of Edward the Third to its final triumph in that of his grandson. It was ordered to be used in courts of law in 1362 "because the French tongue is much unknown," and in the following year it was employed by the Chancellor in opening Parliament. Bishops began to preach in English, and the English tracts of Wyclif made it once more a literary tongue. We see the general advance in two passages from writers of Edward's and Richard's reigns. "Children in school," says Higden, a writer of the first period, "against the usage and manner of all other nations be compelled for to leave their own language and for to construe their lessons and their things in French, and so they have since the Normans first came into England. Also gentlemen's children be taught for to speak French from the time that they be rocked in their cradle, and know how to speak and play with a child's toy; and uplandish (or country) men will liken themselves to gentlemen, and strive with, great busyness to speak French for to be more told of." "This manner," adds John of Trevisa, Higden's translator in Richard's time, "was much used before the first murrain (the Black Death of 1349), and is since somewhat changed. For John Cornwal, a master of grammar, changed the lore in grammar school and construing of French into English; and Richard Pencrych learned this manner of teaching of him, as other men did of Pencrych. So that now, the year of our Lord 1385 and of the second King Richard after the Conquest nine, in all the grammar schools of England children leaveth French, and construeth and learneth in English. Also gentlemen have now much left for to teach their children French."



This drift towards a general use of the national tongue told powerfully on literature. The influence of the French romances everywhere tended to make French the one literary language at the opening of the fourteenth century, and in England this influence had been backed by the French tone of the court of Henry the Third and the three Edwards. But at the close of the reign of Edward the Third the long French romances needed to be translated even for knightly hearers. "Let clerks indite in Latin," says the author of the "Testament of Love," "and let Frenchmen in their French also indite their quaint terms, for it is kindly to their mouths; and let us show our fantasies in such wordes as we learned of our mother's tongue." But the new national life afforded nobler materials than "fantasies" now for English literature. With the completion of the work of national unity had come the completion of the work of national freedom. The vigour of English life showed itself in the wide extension of commerce, in the progress of the towns, and the upgrowth of a free yeomanry. It gave even nobler signs of its activity in the spirit of national independence and moral earnestness which awoke at the call of Wyclif. New forces of thought and feeling which were destined to tell on every age of our later history broke their way through the crust of feudalism in the socialist revolt of the Lollards, and a sudden burst of military glory threw its glamour over the age of Crécy and Poitiers. It is this new gladness of a great people which utters itself in the verse of Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer was born about 1340, the son of a London vintner who lived in Thames Street; and it was in London that the bulk of his life was spent. His family, though not noble, seems to have been of some importance, for from the opening of his career we find Chaucer in close connexion with the Court. At sixteen he was made page to the wife of Lionel of Clarence; at nineteen he first bore arms in the campaign of 1359. But he was luckless enough to be made prisoner; and from the time of his release after the treaty of Brétigny he took no further share in the military enterprises of his time. He seems again to have returned to service about the Court, and it was now that his first poems made their appearance, the "Compleynte to Pity" in 1368, and in 1369 the "Death of Blanch the Duchesse," the wife of John of Gaunt who from this time at least may be looked upon as his patron. It may have been to John's influence that he owed his employment in seven diplomatic missions which were probably connected with the financial straits of the Crown. Three of these, in 1372, 1374, and 1378, carried him to Italy. He visited Genoa and the brilliant court of the Visconti at Milan; at Florence, where the memory of Dante, the "great master" whom he commemorates so reverently in his verse, was still living, he may have met Boccaccio; at Padua, like his own clerk of Oxenford, he possibly caught the story of Griseldis from the lips of Petrarca.


His Early Poems

It was these visits to Italy which gave us the Chaucer whom we know. From that hour his work stands out in vivid contrast with the poetic literature from the heart of which it sprang. The long French romances were the product of an age of wealth and ease, of indolent curiosity, of a fanciful and self-indulgent sentiment. Of the great passions which gave life to the Middle Ages, that of religious enthusiasm had degenerated into the conceits of Mariolatry, that of war into the extravagances of Chivalry. Love indeed remained; it was the one theme of troubadour and trouveur; but it was a love of refinement, of romantic follies, of scholastic discussions, of sensuous enjoyment--a plaything rather than a passion. Nature had to reflect the pleasant indolence of man; the song of the minstrel moved through a perpetual May-time; the grass was ever green; the music of the lark and the nightingale rang out from field and thicket. There was a gay avoidance of all that is serious, moral, or reflective in man's life: life was too amusing to be serious, too piquant, too sentimental, too full of interest and gaiety and chat. It was an age of talk: "mirth is none," says Chaucer's host, "to ride on by the way dumb as a stone "; and the Trouveur aimed simply at being the most agreeable talker of his day. His romances, his rimes of Sir Tristram, his Romance of the Rose, are full of colour and fantasy, endless in detail, but with a sort of gorgeous idleness about their very length, the minuteness of their description of outer things, the vagueness of their touch when it passes to the subtler inner world.

It was with this literature that Chaucer had till now been familiar, and it was this which he followed in his earlier work. But from the time of his visits to Milan and Genoa his sympathies drew him not to the dying verse of France but to the new and mighty upgrowth of poetry in Italy. Dante's eagle looks at him from the sun. "Fraunces Petrark, the laureat poete," is to him one "whose rethorique sweete enlumyned al Itail of poetrie." The "Troilus" which he produced about 1382 is an enlarged English version of Boccaccio's "Filostrato"; the Knight's Tale, whose first draft is of the same period, bears slight traces of his Teseide. It was indeed the "Decameron" which suggested the very form of the "Canterbury Tales," the earliest of which, such as those of the Doctor, the Man of Law, the Clerk, the Prioress, the Franklin, and the Squire, may probably be referred like the Parliament of Foules and the House of Fame to this time of Chaucer's life. But even while changing, as it were, the front of English poetry Chaucer preserves his own distinct personality. If he quizzes in the rime of Sir Thopaz the wearisome idleness of the French romance he retains all that was worth retaining of the French temper, its rapidity and agility of movement, its lightness and brilliancy of touch, its airy mockery, its gaiety and good humour, its critical coolness and self-control. The French wit quickens in him more than in any English writer the sturdy sense and shrewdness of our national disposition, corrects its extravagance, and relieves its somewhat ponderous morality. If on the other hand he echoes the joyous carelessness of the Italian tale, he tempers it with the English seriousness. As he follows Boccaccio all his changes are on the side of purity; and when the Troilus of the Florentine ends with the old sneer at the changeableness of woman Chaucer bids us "look Godward," and dwells on the unchangeableness of Heaven.


The Canterbury Tales

The genius of Chaucer however was neither French nor Italian, whatever element it might borrow from either literature, but English to the core; and from the year 1384 all trace of foreign influence dies away. Chaucer had now reached the climax of his poetic power. He was a busy, practical worker, Comptroller of the Customs in 1374, of the Petty Customs in 1382, a member of the Commons in the Parliament of 1386. The fall of the Duke of Lancaster from power may have deprived him of employment for a time, but from 1389 to 1391 he was Clerk of the Royal Works, busy with repairs and building at Westminster, Windsor, and the Tower. His air indeed was that of a student rather than of a man of the world. A single portrait has preserved for us his forked beard, his dark-coloured dress, the knife and pen-case at his girdle, and we may supplement this portrait by a few vivid touches of his own. The sly, elvish face, the quick walk, the plump figure and portly waist were those of a genial and humorous man; but men jested at his silence, his abstraction, his love of study. "Thou lookest as thou wouldest find an hare," laughs the host, "and ever on the ground I see thee stare." He heard little of his neighbours' talk when office work in Thames Street was over. "Thou goest home to thy own house anon, and also dumb as any stone thou sittest at another book till fully dazed is thy look, and livest thus as an heremite, although," he adds slyly, "thy abstinence is lite," or little. But of this seeming abstraction from the world about him there is not a trace in Chaucer's verse. We see there how keen his observation was, how vivid and intense his sympathy with nature and the men among whom he moved. "Farewell, my book," he cried as spring came after winter and the lark's song roused him at dawn to spend hours gazing alone on the daisy whose beauty he sang. But field and stream and flower and bird, much as he loved them, were less to him than man. No poetry was over more human than Chaucer's, none ever came more frankly and genially home to men than his "Canterbury Tales."

It was the continuation and revision of this work which mainly occupied him during the years from 1384 to 1391. Its best stories, those of the Miller, the Reeve, the Cook, the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Friar, the Nun, the Priest, and the Pardoner, are ascribed to this period, as well as the Prologue. The framework which Chaucer chose--that of a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury--not only enabled him to string these tales together, but lent itself admirably to the peculiar characteristics of his poetic temper, his dramatic versatility and the universality of his sympathy. His tales cover the whole field of mediĉval poetry; the legend of the priest, the knightly romance, the wonder-tale of the traveller, the broad humour of the fabliau, allegory and apologue, all are there. He finds a yet wider scope for his genius in the persons who tell these stories, the thirty pilgrims who start in the May morning from the Tabard in Southwark--thirty distinct figures, representatives of every class of English society from the noble to the ploughman. We see the "verray perfight gentil knight" in cassock and coat of mail, with his curly-headed squire beside him, fresh as the May morning, and behind them the brown-faced yeoman in his coat and hood of green with a mighty bow in his hand. A group of ecclesiastics light up for us the mediaeval church--the brawny hunt-loving monk, whose bridle jingles as loud and clear as the chapel-bell--the wanton friar, first among the beggars and harpers of the country-side--the poor parson, threadbare, learned, and devout, ("Christ's lore and his apostles twelve he taught, and first he followed it himself")--the summoner with his fiery face--the pardoner with his wallet "bretfull of pardons, come from Rome all hot"--the lively prioress with her courtly French lisp, her soft little red mouth, and "Amor vincit omnia" graven on her brooch. Learning is there in the portly person of the doctor of physic, rich with the profits of the pestilence--the busy serjeant-of-law, "that ever seemed busier than he was"--the hollow-cheeked clerk of Oxford with his love of books and short sharp sentences that disguise a latent tenderness which breaks out at last in the story of Griseldis. Around them crowd types of English industry: the merchant; the franklin in whose house "it snowed of meat and drink"; the sailor fresh from frays in the Channel; the buxom wife of Bath; the broad-shouldered miller; the haberdasher, carpenter, weaver, dyer, tapestry-maker, each in the livery of his craft; and last the honest ploughman who would dyke and delve for the poor without hire. It is the first time in English poetry that we are brought face to face not with characters or allegories or reminiscences of the past, but with living and breathing men, men distinct in temper and sentiment as in face or costume or mode of speech; and with this distinctness of each maintained throughout the story by a thousand shades of expression and action. It is the first time, too, that we meet with the dramatic power which not only creates each character but combines it with its fellows, which not only adjusts each tale or jest to the temper of the person who utters it but fuses all into a poetic unity. It is life in its largeness, its variety, its complexity, which surrounds us in the "Canterbury Tales." In some of the stories indeed, which were composed no doubt at an earlier time, there is the tedium of the old romance or the pedantry of the schoolman; but taken as a whole the poem is the work not of a man of letters but of a man of action. Chaucer has received his training from war, courts, business, travel--a training not of books but of life. And it is life that he loves--the delicacy of its sentiment, the breadth of its farce, its laughter and its tears, the tenderness of its Griseldis or the Smollett-like adventures of the miller and the clerks. It is this largeness of heart, this wide tolerance, which enables him to reflect man for us as none but Shakspere has ever reflected him, and to do this with a pathos, a shrewd sense and kindly humour, a freshness and joyousness of feeling, that even Shakspere has not surpassed.


The French Marriage

The last ten years of Chaucer's life saw a few more tales added to the Pilgrimage and a few poems to his work; but his power was lessening, and in 1400 he rested from his labours in his last home, a house in the garden of St. Mary's Chapel at Westminster. His body rests within the Abbey church. It was strange that such a voice should have awakened no echo in the singers that follow, but the first burst of English song died as suddenly in Chaucer as the hope and glory of his age. He died indeed at the moment of a revolution which was the prelude to years of national discord and national suffering. Whatever may have been the grounds of his action, the rule of Richard the Second after his assumption of power had shown his capacity for self-restraint. Parted by his own will from the counsellors of his youth, calling to his service the Lords Appellant, reconciled alike with the baronage and the Parliament, the young king promised to be among the noblest and wisest rulers that England had seen. But the violent and haughty temper which underlay this self-command showed itself from time to time. The Earl of Arundel and his brother the bishop stood in the front rank of the party which had coerced Richard in his early days; their influence was great in the new government. But a strife between the Earl and John of Gaunt revived the king's resentment at the past action of this house; and at the funeral of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 a fancied slight roused Richard to a burst of passion. He struck the Earl so violently that the blow drew blood. But the quarrel was patched up, and the reconciliation was followed by the elevation of Bishop Arundel to the vacant Primacy in 1396. In the preceding year Richard had crossed to Ireland and in a short autumn campaign reduced its native chiefs again to submission. Fears of Lollard disturbances soon recalled him, but these died at the king's presence, and Richard was able to devote himself to the negotiation of a marriage which was to be the turning-point of his reign. His policy throughout the recent years had been a policy of peace. It was war which rendered the Crown helpless before the Parliament, and peace was needful if the work of constant progress was not to be undone. But the short truces, renewed from time to time, which he had as yet secured were insufficient for this purpose, for so long as war might break out in the coming year the king hands were tied. The impossibility of renouncing the claim to the French crown indeed made a formal peace impossible, but its ends might be secured by a lengthened truce, and it was with a view to this that Richard in 1396 wedded Isabella, the daughter of Charles the Sixth of France. The bride was a mere child, but she brought with her a renewal of the truce for five-and-twenty years.


Change of Richard's temper

The match was hardly concluded when the veil under which Richard had shrouded his real temper began to be dropped. His craving for absolute power, such as he witnessed in the Court of France, was probably intensified from this moment by a mental disturbance which gathered strength as the months went on. As if to preclude any revival of the war Richard had surrendered Cherbourg to the king of Navarre and now gave back Brest to the Duke of Britanny. He was said to have pledged himself at his wedding to restore Calais to the king of France. But once freed from all danger of such a struggle the whole character of his rule seemed to change. His court became as crowded and profuse as his grandfather's. Money was recklessly borrowed and as recklessly squandered. The king's pride became insane, and it was fed with dreams of winning the Imperial crown through the deposition of Wenzel of Bohemia. The councillors with whom he had acted since his resumption of authority saw themselves powerless. John of Gaunt indeed still retained influence over the king. It was the support of the Duke of Lancaster after his return from his Spanish campaign which had enabled Richard to hold in check the Duke of Gloucester and the party that he led; and the anxiety of the young king to retain this support was seen in his grant of Aquitaine to his uncle, and in the legitimation of the Beauforts, John's children by a mistress, Catherine Swinford, whom he married after the death of his second wife. The friendship of the Duke brought with it the adhesion of one even more important, his son Henry, the Earl of Derby. As heir through his mother, Blanche of Lancaster, to the estates and influence of the Lancastrian house, Henry was the natural head of a constitutional opposition, and his weight was increased by a marriage with the heiress of the house of Bohun. He had taken a prominent part in the overthrow of Suffolk and De Vere, and on the king's resumption of power he had prudently withdrawn from the realm on a vow of Crusade, had touched at Barbary, visited the Holy Sepulchre, and in 1390 sailed for Dantzig and taken part in a campaign against the heathen Prussians with the Teutonic Knights. Since his return he had silently followed in his father's track. But the counsels of John of Gaunt were hardly wiser than of old; Arundel had already denounced his influence as a hurtful one; and in the events which were now to hurry quickly on he seems to have gone hand in hand with the king.


Richard's Tyranny

A new uneasiness was seen in the Parliament of 1397, and the Commons prayed for a redress of the profusion of the Court. Richard at once seized on the opportunity for a struggle. He declared himself grieved that his subjects should "take on themselves any ordinance or governance of the person of the King or his hostel or of any persons of estate whom he might be pleased to have in his company." The Commons were at once overawed; they owned that the cognizance of such matters belonged wholly to the king, and gave up to the Duke of Lancaster the name of the member, Sir Thomas Haxey, who had brought forward this article of their prayer. The lords pronounced him a traitor, and his life was only saved by the fact that he was a clergyman and by the interposition of Archbishop Arundel. The Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Gloucester at once withdrew from Court. They stood almost alone, for of the royal house the Dukes of Lancaster and York with their sons the Earls of Derby and Rutland were now with the king, and the old coadjutor of Gloucester, the Earl of Nottingham, was in high favour with him. The Earl of Warwick alone joined them, and he was included in a charge of conspiracy which was followed by the arrest of the three. A fresh Parliament in September was packed with royal partizans, and Richard moved boldly to his end. The pardons of the Lords Appellant were revoked. Archbishop Arundel was impeached and banished from the realm, he was transferred by the Pope to the See of St. Andrews, and the Primacy given to Roger Walden. The Earl of Arundel, accused before the Peers under John of Gaunt as High Steward, was condemned and executed in a single day. Warwick, who owned the truth of the charge, was condemned to perpetual imprisonment. The Duke of Gloucester was saved from a trial by a sudden death in his prison at Calais. A new Parliament at Shrewsbury in the opening of 1398 completed the king's work. In three days it declared null the proceedings of the Parliament of 1388, granted to the king a subsidy on wool and leather for his life, and delegated its authority to a standing committee of eighteen members from both Houses with power to continue their sittings even after the dissolution of the Parliament and to "examine and determine all matters and subjects which had been moved in the presence of the king with all the dependencies thereof."


Henry of Lancaster

In a single year the whole colour of Richard's government had changed. He had revenged himself on the men who had once held him down, and his revenge was hardly taken before he disclosed a plan of absolute government. He had used the Parliament to strike down the Primate as well as the greatest nobles of the realm and to give him a revenue for life which enabled him to get rid of Parliament itself, for the Permanent Committee which it named were men devoted, as Richard held, to his cause. John of Gaunt was at its head, and the rest of its lords were those who had backed the king in his blow at Gloucester and the Arundels. Two however were excluded. In the general distribution of rewards which followed Gloucester's overthrow the Earl of Derby had been made Duke of Hereford, the Earl of Nottingham Duke of Norfolk. But at the close of 1397 the two Dukes charged each other with treasonable talk as they rode between Brentford and London, and the Permanent Committee ordered the matter to be settled by a single combat. In September 1398 the Dukes entered the lists; but Richard forbade the duel, sentenced the Duke of Norfolk to banishment for life, and Henry of Lancaster to exile for ten years. As Henry left London the streets were crowded with people weeping for his fate; some followed him even to the coast. But his withdrawal removed the last check on Richard's despotism. He forced from every tenant of the Crown an oath to recognize the acts of his Committee as valid, and to oppose any attempts to alter or revoke them. Forced loans, the sale of charters of pardon to Gloucester's adherents, the outlawry of seven counties at once on the plea that they had supported his enemies and must purchase pardon, a reckless interference with the course of justice, roused into new life the old discontent. Even this might have been defied had not Richard set an able and unscrupulous leader at its head. Leave had been given to Henry of Lancaster to receive his father's inheritance on the death of John of Gaunt, in February 1399. But an ordinance of the Continual Committee annulled this permission and Richard seized the Lancastrian estates. Archbishop Arundel at once saw the chance of dealing blow for blow. He hastened to Paris and pressed the Duke to return to England, telling him how all men there looked for it, "especially the Londoners, who loved him a hundred times more than they did the king." For a while Henry remained buried in thought, "leaning on a window overlooking a garden"; but Arundel's pressure at last prevailed, he made his way secretly to Britanny, and with fifteen knights set sail from Vannes.


Ireland and the Pale

What had really decided him was the opportunity offered by Richard's absence from the realm. From the opening of his reign the king's attention had been constantly drawn to his dependent lordship of Ireland. More than two hundred years had passed away since the troubles which followed the murder of Archbishop Thomas forced Henry the Second to leave his work of conquest unfinished, and the opportunity for a complete reduction of the island which had been lost then had never returned. When Henry quitted Ireland indeed Leinster was wholly in English hands, Connaught bowed to a nominal acknowledgement of the English overlordship, and for a while the work of conquest seemed to go steadily on. John de Courcy penetrated into Ulster and established himself at Downpatrick; and Henry planned the establishment of his youngest son, John, as Lord of Ireland. But the levity of the young prince, who mocked the rude dresses of the native chieftains and plucked them in insult by the beard, soon forced his father to recall him; and in the continental struggle which soon opened on the Angevin kings, as in the constitutional struggle within England itself which followed it, all serious purpose of completing the conquest of Ireland was forgotten. Nothing indeed but the feuds and weakness of the Irish tribes enabled the adventurers to hold the districts of Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Cork, which formed what was thenceforth known as "the English Pale." In all the history of Ireland no event has proved more disastrous than this half-finished conquest. Had the Irish driven their invaders into the sea, or the English succeeded in the complete reduction of the island, the misery of its after ages might have been avoided. A struggle such as that in which Scotland drove out its conquerors might have produced a spirit of patriotism and national union which would have formed a people out of the mass of warring clans. A conquest such as that in which the Normans made England their own would have spread at any rate the law, the order, the civilization of the conquering country over the length and breadth of the conquered. Unhappily Ireland, while powerless to effect its entire deliverance, was strong enough to hold its assailants partially at bay. The country was broken into two halves whose conflict has never ceased. So far from either giving elements of civilization or good government to the other, conqueror and conquered reaped only degradation from the ceaseless conflict. The native tribes lost whatever tendency to union or social progress had survived the invasion of the Danes. Their barbarism was intensified by their hatred of the more civilized intruders. But these intruders themselves, penned within the narrow limits of the Pale, brutalized by a merciless conflict, cut off from contact with the refining influences of a larger world, sank rapidly to the level of the barbarism about them: and the lawlessness, the ferocity, the narrowness of feudalism broke out unchecked in this horde of adventurers who held the land by their sword.


English and Irish

From the first the story of the English Pale was a story of degradation and anarchy. It needed the stern vengeance of John, whose army stormed its strongholds and drove its leading barons into exile, to preserve even their fealty to the English Crown. John divided the Pale into counties and ordered the observance of the English law; but the departure of his army was the signal for a return of the disorder he had trampled under foot. Between Englishmen and Irishmen went on a ceaseless and pitiless war. Every Irishman without the Pale was counted by the English settlers an enemy and a robber whose murder found no cognizance or punishment at the hands of the law. Half the subsistence of the English barons was drawn from forays across the border, and these forays were avenged by incursions of native marauders which carried havoc at times to the very walls of Dublin. Within the Pale itself the misery was hardly less. The English settlers were harried and oppressed by their own baronage as much as by the Irish marauders, while the feuds of the English lords wasted their strength and prevented any effective combination either for common conquest or common defence. So utter seemed their weakness that Robert Bruce saw in it an opportunity for a counter-blow at his English assailants, and his victory at Bannockburn was followed up by the despatch of a Scotch force to Ireland with his brother Edward at its head. A general rising of the Irish welcomed this deliverer; but the danger drove the barons of the Pale to a momentary union, and in 1316 their valour was proved on the bloody field of Athenree by the slaughter of eleven thousand of their foes and the almost complete annihilation of the sept of the O'Connors. But with victory returned the old anarchy and degradation. The barons of the Pale sank more and more into Irish chieftains. The Fitz-Maurices, who became Earls of Desmond and whose vast territory in Minister was erected into a County Palatine, adopted the dress and manners of the natives around them. The rapid growth of this evil was seen in the ruthless provisions by which Edward the Third strove to check it in his Statute of Kilkenny. The Statute forbade the adoption of the Irish language or name or dress by any man of English blood: it enforced within the Pale the exclusive use of English law, and made the use of the native or Brehon law, which was gaining ground, an act of treason; it made treasonable any marriage of the Englishry with persons of Irish race, or any adoption of English children by Irish foster-fathers.


Richard in Ireland

But stern as they were these provisions proved fruitless to check the fusion of the two races, while the growing independence of the Lords of the Pale threw off all but the semblance of obedience to the English government. It was this which stirred Richard to a serious effort for the conquest and organization of the island. In 1386 he granted the "entire dominion" of Ireland with the title of its Duke to Robert de Vere on condition of his carrying out its utter reduction. But the troubles of the reign soon recalled De Vere, and it was not till the truce with France had freed his hands that the king again took up his projects of conquest. In 1394 he landed with an army at Waterford, and received the general submission of the native chieftains. But the Lords of the Pale held sullenly aloof; and Richard had no sooner quitted the island than the Irish in turn refused to carry out their promise of quitting Leinster, and engaged in a fresh contest with the Earl of March, whom the king had proclaimed as his heir and left behind him as his lieutenant in Ireland. In the summer of 1398 March was beaten and slain in battle: and Richard resolved to avenge his cousin's death and complete the work he had begun by a fresh invasion. He felt no apprehension of danger. At home his triumph seemed complete. The death of Norfolk, the exile of Henry of Lancaster, left the baronage without heads for any rising. He ensured, as he believed, the loyalty of the great houses by the hostages of their blood whom he carried with him, at whose head was Henry of Lancaster's son, the future Henry the Fifth. The refusal of the Percies, the Earl of Northumberland and his son Henry Percy or Hotspur, to obey his summons might have warned him that danger was brewing in the north. Richard however took little heed. He banished the Percies, who withdrew into Scotland; and sailed for Ireland at the end of May, leaving his uncle the Duke of York regent in his stead.


Landing of Henry

The opening of his campaign was indecisive, and it was not till fresh reinforcements arrived at Dublin that the king could prepare for a march into the heart of the island. But while he planned the conquest of Ireland the news came that England was lost. Little more than a month had passed after his departure when Henry of Lancaster entered the Humber and landed at Ravenspur. He came, he said, to claim his heritage; and three of his Yorkshire castles at once threw open their gates. The two great houses of the north joined him at once. Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland, had married his half-sister; the Percies came from their exile over the Scottish border. As he pushed quickly to the south all resistance broke down. The army which the Regent gathered refused to do hurt to the Duke; London called him to her gates; and the royal Council could only march hastily on Bristol in the hope of securing that port for the King's return. But the town at once yielded to Henry's summons, the Regent submitted to him, and with an army which grew at every step the Duke marched upon Cheshire, where Richard's adherents were gathering in arms to meet the king. Contrary winds had for a while kept Richard ignorant of his cousin's progress, and even when the news reached him he was in a web of treachery. The Duke of Albemarle, the son of the Regent Duke of York, was beside him, and at his persuasion the King abandoned his first purpose of returning at once, and sent the Earl of Salisbury to Conway while he himself waited to gather his army and fleet. The six days he proposed to gather them in became sixteen, and the delay proved fatal to his cause. As no news came of Richard the Welshmen who flocked to Salisbury's camp dispersed on Henry's advance to Chester. Henry was in fact master of the realm at the opening of August when Richard at last sailed from Waterford and landed at Milford Haven.


Richard's capture

Every road was blocked, and the news that all was lost told on the thirty thousand men he brought with him. In a single day but six thousand remained, and even these dispersed when it was found that the King had ridden off disguised as a friar to join the force which he believed to be awaiting him in North Wales with Salisbury at its head. He reached Caernarvon only to find this force already disbanded, and throwing himself into the castle despatched his kinsmen, the Dukes of Exeter and Surrey, to Chester to negotiate with Henry of Lancaster. But they were detained there while the Earl of Northumberland pushed forward with a picked body of men, and securing the castles of the coast at last sought an interview with Richard at Conway. The King's confidence was still unbroken. He threatened to raise a force of Welshmen and to put Lancaster to death. Deserted as he was indeed, a King was in himself a power, and only the treacherous pledges of the Earl induced him to set aside his plans for a reconciliation to be brought about in Parliament and to move from Conway on the promise of a conference with Henry at Flint. But he had no sooner reached the town than he found himself surrounded by Lancaster's forces. "I am betrayed," he cried, as the view of his enemies burst on him from the hill; "there are pennons and banners in the valley." But it was too late for retreat. Richard was seized and brought before his cousin. "I am come before my time," said Lancaster, "but I will show you the reason. Your people, my lord, complain that for the space of twenty years you have ruled them harshly: however, if it please God, I will help you to rule them better." "Fair cousin," replied the King, "since it pleases you, it pleases me well." Then, breaking in private into passionate regrets that he had ever spared his cousin's life, he suffered himself to be carried a prisoner along the road to London.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works