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The revolution of 1399 placed on the English throne a man in several ways well-fitted to rule. Henry of Lancaster was handsome, brave, and energetic; his knightly exploits in the lists and against the heathen, his liberality and his affable manners had made him widely popular abroad and at home; he was besides a devout churchman, free from any taint of his father’s anticlericalism, an accomplished musician, and a discriminating patron of letters. His education, for his time and class, was also considerable; from surviving records in his hand we know that he could write both French and English and on occasion quote a Latin tag; while he was famed for the ease with which he argued difficult problems in casuistry with the scholars of his court. There can be no doubt, therefore, that he was endowed with many royal graces; unfortunately the tasks before him demanded sterner qualities than these, qualities such as patience and circumspection which he did not possess. The office which he had so lightly seized was passing through a crisis; yet he shewed little appreciation of its difficulties. Of one of them in particular, the inadequacy of the royal revenue, he was so far from being aware that on his march south from Ravenspur he had made extravagant promises which he could not possibly keep as king. During the fourteenth century, the monarchy had carelessly wasted its resources. Not only the machinery of the Exchequer, but the whole administrative system had been dislocated to pay for expensive wars. It was the first duty of a prudent usurper to restore and to maintain financial stability. Hardly less urgent was the need to reassert the lost authority of the Crown in local government. Here the policy of allowing the maintenance of order and the administration of justice to be engrossed by private persons—as marked a feature of “bastard” as of true feudalism—had already proceeded to disastrous lengths. Lack of justice was becoming one of the most fruitful sources of popular unrest. It is to the credit of Richard II that he had realised these dangers, but the weapons with which he had chosen to meet them had been unwisely used and were in any case blunted by his failure. To levy arbitrary taxes and to combat private armies by enlisting a private army of his own required more tact than he was master of. The violence and uncertainty of his fiscal methods and the lax discipline which he permitted his retainers contributed largely to his downfall. His successor was pledged to find other means; yet, in spite of frequent warnings, Henry did nothing. Under his rule the royal debt was swollen to unmanageable proportions by a series of annual deficits; hardly a year passed without fresh evidence of administrative weakness, while the many baronial rebellions of the reign derived support and justification from the fact of widespread discontent. Those who had looked for much from the change of kings were quickly disillusioned. It was not that they had expected the impossible; the fault lay with the man. In so far as Henry IV fell short of Henry VII in parsimony, caution, and reforming zeal, he was unfitted for his task. In other respects, he was not an unsuccessful king. Tenacious of his rights, unflagging, until disease incapacitated him, in his attention to public business, tireless in his efforts to defeat his many enemies, he managed to retain the throne which he owed to Richard’s errors rather than his own deserts. But because he took too narrow a view of his responsibilities, his failings outweighed his merits, and if his dynasty was shortlived and its end inglorious the blame in the first place must be attached to him.

For these reasons it is impossible to regard the revolution of 1399 as a landmark in English history. Its outstanding importance was as a precedent. A dynasty with a weak hereditary title had usurped the throne; it had merely been the business of a popular assembly to ratify what had been achieved by force and to recognise a de facto king, one indeed who never fully abandoned his first intention of claiming England by conquest. This was a lesson easily learned, and it is not surprising that it was often imitated during the coining century. But otherwise—except for the persecution of Lollardy by the State—there is little to distinguish the period after 1399 from that before it. Under the Lancastrians the same constitutional battles were fought as under Edward III and Richard II; this was inevitable, since Henry IV came in, like Charles II, “without conditions”, and nothing was settled about the powers and composition of the council or the control of royal expenditure. Already in the first parliament of the reign, the old issues were joined; in the commons the extravagance of the new king’s grants were criticised; and while Archbishop Arundel put the traditional baronial case for government not by “the voluntary purpose or singular opinion of the king”, but by “the advice, counsel, and consent” of “the honourable, wise, and discreet persons of his realm”, Henry was at pains to accept for himself all the liberties which his predecessors had enjoyed. Richard doubtless had erred, but that was no reason why the rights of the Crown should be diminished. On this point Henry took his stand, and was so far from yielding that he risked civil war before at the very close of his life he finally gained his way. From the first he revealed a determination to rule, as Richard had done, by the help of servants of his own choosing, and to resist any attempt to impose upon him that aristocratic or “natural” council which was to be the principal aim of baronial policy. Lancastrian knights like John Cheyne and Thomas Erpingham, esquires like John Doreward and John Norbury, clerks like John Searle and John Prophete, were the men in whom he put his trust. In this he was assisted by divisions in the ranks of the baronage, personal feuds and jealousies arising out of the late king’s attempt to pack the upper house. There was little chance of common action so long as the victors of 1399 only desired to settle old scores with the Appellants of 1397. At first Henry succeeded in protecting Richard’s favourites from the vengeance of their enemies, inspired perhaps by a wish to preserve some counterpoise to those powerful families which had helped him to attain the throne—the Percies, the Nevilles, and the Arundels. If this was his object, he failed. In January 1400, fear drove the Appellants to risk all in an ill-planned rebellion. Richard’s tyranny was not, however, yet forgotten and many of his friends now met their deaths at the hands of the common people. Kent and Salisbury perished at Cirencester, Huntingdon at Pleshey, and Despenser at Bristol; many men of inferior rank were afterwards executed by the royal command. The alarm this outbreak excited was sufficient to seal the fate of Richard II; by the end of February he was dead at Pontefract in circumstances which leave little doubt that he was murdered.

The first attempt at counter-revolution had failed; there still remained the possibility of armed interference from abroad. Although England had demonstrated her loyalty to the new dynasty, France and Scotland were in no hurry to extend their recognition. But the fact that both kingdoms had their own internal difficulties prevented them from making any serious effort to oppose the English revolution. Richard’s French queen was in Henry’s custody, and the government of Charles VI had therefore to proceed cautiously until she was safe. The Scots, however, had not the same motives for restraint. Their truce with England expired at Michaelmas 1399, and under cover of half-hearted negotiations for its extension Scottish raids over the border recommenced. On hearing this, Henry told parliament on 10 November that he proposed to invade Scotland in person. Yet it was not until Robert III had made it clear that he had no genuine intention of coming to terms that on 14 August 1400 the English marched into the Lowlands with the king at their head. A fortnight later, after failing before Edinburgh Castle, they were obliged to beat an ignominious retreat. This expensive fiasco brought peace no nearer, but when in August 1402 the Scots in their turn invaded England, it fell to the Percies to regain the credit which Henry had lost, by defeating their army decisively at Homildon Hill. Four earls were among the prisoners. Domestic strife in Scotland prevented any attempt being made to avenge this disaster. Finally, the capture of Robert’s heir, James, at sea on his way to France in 1406 put an end to all further danger to England from the north. The French were not so easily disposed of. In the first place Henry was obliged to surrender Isabelle without receiving very much in exchange. Preliminaries of peace were signed at Leulighen near Calais on 3 August 1401, but many details were left over for discussion; and although definite hostilities were for the time avoided, the conversations dragged on until the French saw in Henry’s troubles at home a favourable opportunity for adding to his embarrassments.

For no sooner had he returned from his Scottish expedition than he was greeted by news of a Welsh rising. Its leader, Owen Glyn Dwr (Glendower), was a descendant of native princes and a landowner of some importance in North Wales. It is possible that he had been denied legal redress for wrongs done to him by the king’s friend, Lord Grey of Ruthin, but whatever the cause of his disaffection, his countrymen responded with enthusiasm when he had himself proclaimed Prince of Wales at Glyn Dyfrdwy on 16 September 1400. During the following week Ruthin and several other English settlements were plundered and burnt. An ugly situation was saved by the prompt action of a Shropshire magnate, Hugh Burnell, who collected the local levies and forced the rebels to take refuge in the mountains. By the time the king reached Shrewsbury all occasion for anxiety seemed over, and Henry contented himself with a progress round the outskirts of Snowdonia. But the lull was deceptive. Next year Glyn Dwr appeared in South Wales, and as time passed it became evident that he had inspired a genuine national revival which it would take long years and much campaigning to overcome. In October 1403 a French fleet made a descent on Kidwelly; although the damage done was slight, the way was prepared for a Franco-Welsh alliance. Had Henry had undisputed command of the narrow seas, this development might have left him unmoved, but in fact he was badly prepared for a maritime war. Any advantage which an enlarged navy might have given him was thrown away when he permitted—perhaps even encouraged—his subjects to prey on neutral shipping, for this immediately involved him in disputes with Brittany, Flanders, and the Hanseatic League. Between 1400 and 1403 English privateers wrought great havoc in the Channel, capturing scores of rich prizes and making themselves feared and hated from Danzig to Finisterre. Their most active captains were Mark Mixtow of Fowey, John Hawley of Dartmouth, and Henry Pay of Poole, but even the royal admirals were not above taking a part in the game. This inevitably led to reprisals and to the persecution of English merchant communities abroad. In a short time the narrow seas were the scene of a bitter privateering war. Buccaneers of various nationalities from bases on the coast of Brittany threatened the principal trade routes. The English ports themselves were not safe from attack. In August 1403 Plymouth was burnt by the Counts of La Marche and Vendome; in the following December a landing was made on the Isle of Wight by a force under the command of the (bunt of St Pol; and during the summer of 1405 considerable damage was done at Looc, Poole, and elsewhere by a Castilian, Don Pero Nino. All this time the pretence of a truce was maintained between England and France, surviving even when in July 1404 Charles VI promised to give military assistance to Glyn Dwr against “Henry of Lancaster”. French help was long in coming and, though it came at last in August 1405, it proved of small use to the Welsh. The allies advanced into England as far as Woodbury Hill near Worcester, but they were obliged to retreat when Henry threw hi in self into the city. Although the back of Welsh resistance was not yet broken and the struggle continued for some years after the failure of the French invasion, it was only a question of time before the English were successful. Under Prince Henry, the king’s eldest son, they recovered castle after castle, and when at length Harlech fell in 1409 Glyn Dwr again became a fugitive in the woods and mountains. Meanwhile, as a result of the murder of the Duke of Orleans in 1407, France was rapidly falling into anarchy, and at the same time peace was being restored with the maritime powers. After long negotiations a commercial truce was arranged with Flanders in March 1407. This was followed in July by a similar agreement with Brittany, and finally at the beginning of 1408 friendly relations were re-established with the Hanseatic League. Europe had been forced to accept the house of Lancaster.

A usurper’s greatest enemies are often those to whom he is most indebted for his success. As the repentant kingmakers of 1399 discovered, Henry’s gratitude had its limits; he proposed to rule as well as reign. The ease with which one revolution had been achieved fascinated and demoralised the greater barons, and it was not long before the youth of Richard’s heir, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, began to suggest to the more ambitious and discontented of them the advantages which might follow for those who placed him on the throne. To the Percies, allied with the Mortimers by marriage, even a Percy king did not seem an impossible dream. From a situation full of danger, Henry could derive one consolation. This preoccupation with treason rendered the nobility incapable of a common policy. Those who should have led the constitutional opposition in parliament were busy plotting isolated rebellion in the country. This gave the king his chance. So long as common advantage was abandoned for private ambition, he could hold his own by playing one family off against another. But for the ancient feud between Percy and Neville his cause might have been lost more than once during the first half of his reign. One after another the plots against him misfired. That of 1403 probably came nearest to success. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, his brother Thomas, Earl of Worcester, and his son the famous Hotspur, had been amply rewarded for their share in the revolution, but they were dissatisfied at not being allowed to ransom the prisoners they had taken at Homildon Hill. If they had reasonable grievances, they made no attempt to obtain a hearing for them in parliament. Instead, asserting the king’s faithlessness to the oath which, they said, he had sworn to them at Doncaster in 1399, only to claim his duchy of Lancaster, they took the field at the beginning of July 1403. Hotspur raised the standard of revolt at Chester on the tenth, and, followed by men from Cheshire and the March to whom the name of Richard was still dear, set out with his uncle, Worcester, to surprise the young Prince of Wales at Shrewsbury. The king heard the news at Nottingham on the 13th, and with all the speed of which he was capable in an emergency, hastened to forestall them. He entered Shrewsbury on the 20th, and on the following day defeated the rebels outside the town both before they could make a junction with their Welsh allies and before the old earl could come to their assistance from the north. Hotspur died fighting; Worcester and other captured leaders were executed after the battle. Northumberland, threatened by a Neville army, drew off, pretending that he had taken no part in the rebellion. On 11 August he submitted to the king at York, and was promised a pardon in return for the surrender of his castles. His constables nevertheless refused to admit the royal officers, and he seems to have been kept in custody until he was brought to parliament on 6 February 1404. The lords showed their sympathy with his designs by refusing to convict him of treason; his fault, they said, was nothing more than a trespass against the Earl of Westmorland, and the king was obliged to set him free.

If this was parliament’s attitude, it is not surprising that fresh insurrections shortly took place. In February 1405 a successful attempt was made to carry off the Mortimer children from Windsor, but the plot was discovered and they were recaptured at Cheltenham before they had time to reach safety in Wales. Several lords were implicated, including the Duke of York and Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshall; even the Archbishop of Canterbury did not escape suspicion. The duke was imprisoned and his lands confiscated, the earl pardoned, and the archbishop’s protestations of innocence accepted. Northumberland, although he held aloof from this conspiracy, was meanwhile preparing a new enterprise. On 28 February he entered into an agreement with Glyn Dwr and Edmund Mortimer the elder, uncle of the Earl of March, to divide the kingdom between them. The Earl Marshal] and Lord Bardolf consented to join him and the mild and saintly Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, was also drawn in. The latter’s proclamation aimed at giving the rebellion a popular basis. But again the rebels were too slow in massing their forces. The Earl of Westmorland captured Scrope and Mowbray by treachery at Shipton Moor near York on 29 May, while the king was still on his way north. When he arrived, he was in no mood for mercy and in spite of the prayers of Archbishop Arundel, who had followed him, he ordered the execution of the captives. After a hurried and irregular trial by the Earl of Arundel and Sir Thomas Beaufort, they were beheaded under the walls of York on 8 June. It says much for the strength of Henry’s position that it was so little shaken by the execution of an archbishop. Pope Innocent VII was too weak to avenge his servant; so low was his credit among Englishmen that it was thought that his mouth had been stopped with gold. But if God’s vicar was powerless, men believed that it was God’s direct judgment on the murderer of a saint that immediately afterwards Henry was stricken by a mysterious disease. From 9 to 16 June he lay ill at Ripon, we are told with leprosy. Whatever it was, it was not this, for he was soon healthy again and able to set about the systematic reduction of the Percy castles. The royal artillery proved irresistible and by the end of August all the rebel garrisons had submitted. The earl and Bardolf fled to Scotland at the king’s approach. From here they made one last desperate attempt early in 1408. But the weather was against them; it was the coldest winter in living memory and, after a futile effort to raise the north, they were brought to bay and slain by Sir Thomas Rokeby, sheriff of York, at Bramham Moor on 19 February. With them died the selfish policy for which they had stood. Its chief effect had been to paralyse the endeavours of the more moderate among their peers to criticise and control the royal administration. Freed from this embarrassment the loyal majority were shortly to find a leader in the Prince of Wales. But it was not until he had mastered the Welsh problem, not, that is to say, until 1409, that Henry of Monmouth was able to devote his energy to politics. For more than half the reign, therefore, the main brunt of opposition fell upon the parliamentary knights, who did not prove themselves altogether unworthy of the trust.

Custom, as well as their own reluctance to assume new burdens, for long excluded the commons as a body from any active share in the government of the country, although it must be remembered that one or two of their members were generally of the king’s council. But nevertheless the lower house was being driven by its wish to restrain the royal extravagance into adopting a more aggressive policy than that of mere criticism; it claimed and was beginning to exercise an effective control in certain administrative matters which was far from welcome to the king. Its power was derived in the last resort from its command over supply. Henry could no longer hope to “live of his own”; he had begun his reign by repudiating the illegal exactions of his predecessor; therefore, so long as he was refused a grant of taxation for life equal to his needs, he was bound to come regularly to parliament for money. His opponents’ policy of making supply conditional upon the redress of grievances, though he might reject it in principle as he did in 1401, was in practice very difficult to circumvent. Thus the commons were able to impose conditions upon the expenditure of their grants and to attempt at least in questions of finance to secure the responsibility of the executive to parliament. The progress of their demands can be traced in the early parliaments of the century, reaching their culmination in that of 1406. Each step was contested or evaded by the king, whose chief advantage lay in the want of continuity between successive parliaments. But it is the mere existence of this initiative on the part of the commons, premature and unfruitful though in the main it was, which makes the period one of great constitutional importance.

Controversy, following traditional lines, slowly developed over the composition and functions of the king’s council. At the beginning of the reign Henry had been tacitly permitted to appoint his advisers without any formal nomination in parliament. In spite of this he displayed a marked unwillingness to submit his acts to their approval. When in 1399 he was petitioned by the commons to make no grant save by the advice of his council, he returned a temporising answer “saving his liberty”, and during the first year of his reign many minor offices were filled and pensions awarded upon the royal authority alone. In 1401 the commons returned to the attack with a request that they might know the names of the king’s councillors, and that these might then be charged in their presence to hold office until the next parliament. Although there were good precedents for this request, it was, it seems, refused by the advice of the council itself. The opposition was more successful three years later when on 1 March 1404 after a troubled session the king announced that “at the strong instances made at divers times in this parliament by the commons, he had ordained certain lords and others to be of his great and continual council.” The list contained no new names and the point of this surrender is lost if it is regarded as in any sense a change of ministry. Unfortunately, the considerable speculation to which it has given rise in modern times receives no assistance from contemporary sources, since these are uniformly silent as to the object of the commons in making this demand. But it is clear that they attached far greater importance to the act of publication than to the contents of this list, which must indeed have been already well-known to them, and it is therefore not unreasonable to assume that their purpose was rather to underline the doctrine that the council was answerable to parliament than to impose on the king men who were not of his own choosing. The direct assault on Henry’s freedom of action had recently failed; his critics may well have hoped to gain their object by fastening responsibility for his mistakes upon those whom he had publicly acknowledged as his advisers. The fact that they had in impeachment a ready-made procedure for dealing with unpopular ministers must have added point to their claim. How this was circumvented by the king will shortly be seen.

On the other hand, the financial arrangements made in the first parliament of 1404 succeeded at least temporarily in curbing the royal power. For some time there had been serious grumbling al the prodigal expenditure of the government and especially of the household. Now it was said that the knights and officials of the king’s court had since 1399 enormously enriched themselves at the public expense. The resentful commons expressed their surprise that the revenues were so suddenly diminished and, having characterised the treasurer’s proposals for meeting this deficit as “most outrageou”s, for some days obstinately refused to make the necessary grants. The king’s retort was to keep them in session until they changed their minds. At length, worn out by this treatment, they surrendered so far as to vote an extraordinary tax of one shilling in the pound on land-rents. But so anxious were they that this should not be accepted as a precedent that they made it a condition that all record of their vote and of the subsequent collection of the tax should be afterwards destroyed. Further, determined to safeguard the proceeds from being squandered in the usual way, the commons insisted on appointing four special treasurers to control expenditure under the direct supervision of the council and later to render an account of their office to parliament.1 The king consented, but it is said that, though the necessary documents were prepared, they were not sealed when parliament was dissolved. Nevertheless, it was the existence of these four men—three London merchants and a clerk from Rutland—standing between the king and his normal carelessness in matters of finance, which made necessary the early summons of another parliament. In the summer of 1404, Henry withdrew to his Lancastrian estates in the north midlands, whence a large number of warrants were issued par commandement du Roy without the advice of the council. He was so short of money that on 5 July payment on all pensions and annuities was suspended. At a great council at Lichfield on 25 August it was decided to hold a parliament at Coventry on 6 October. The king made no secret of his determination to convoke an assembly from which all troublesome elements had been excluded; for not only did he forbid the return of any lawyers but actually pointed out to the sheriffs those whom they were to have elected. In view of this, it is not surprising that next year the rebels included in their manifesto a demand for the free election of members as in former times. Henry had undoubtedly chosen his ground well, since Coventry was in the heart of his private duchy and undisturbed by those influences for which the capital had already begun to be famous. As the proceedings soon demonstrated, it was his intention to reverse the acts of the previous parliament. In the first place the council was not reappointed; in the second, the four independent treasurers were replaced by two royal servants, Lord Furnival and Sir John Pelham, the former of whom became shortly afterwards Treasurer of England. But though the commons were timid and deplored their inexperience, they were by no means uncritical. Their suggestions for financial reform, while comprehensive enough, were scarcely practicable, and the fact that they were too sweeping gave the king the excuse he desired for shelving them. An equally rash attack upon the wealth of the clergy brought down upon the commons the abuse of Archbishop Arundel, so that in the end they were obliged to drop their proposals and to vote instead a very substantial grant. When parliament broke up, Henry might well have congratulated himself on having outmanoeuvred his opponents.

His success was, however, illusory. In spite of the liberality with which he had been treated, the expenses of the next critical year drained the exchequer, and the government was hard put to it to maintain forces in the field sufficient at the same time to cope with foreign attack and domestic rebellion. Its unpaid creditors were becoming impatient; it was losing the confidence of the people, and when it essayed to borrow money, the response was so disappointing that by the end of 1405 there was no alternative but another parliament. It seems that Henry attempted to repeat his previous triumph, for on 21 December writs were despatched summoning members to Coventry for 15 February. But the meeting-place was changed, first to Gloucester and at the last moment to Westminster, for reasons which leave little doubt that the Londoners, supported by certain members of the council, brought pressure to bear upon the king. This was to prove a costly change of plan for the government. It was probably not unconnected with the estrangement from the regime of a powerful but moderate group of councillors of which the three Beauforts, sons of John of Gaunt by Katherine Swynford, became the active nucleus. In February 1405 Sir Thomas Beaufort was removed from his post as Admiral of the North to make way for the king's second son, Thomas, a youth of eighteen years, who was later prominent, as the rival of his elder brother and the enemy of the Beaufort family. Il is clear from the demand for the better keeping of the seas, brought forward early in the new parliament and urged insistently by the English merchant community, that this appointment was not popular. It was quickly followed by the resignation of Henry Beaufort, the ablest of the brothers, who had been Chancellor since 1403. This foreshadowed the emergence of an opposition party within the council itself, loyal to the dynasty but critical of the king’s methods, which was soon to make its importance felt. The balance of political forces was therefore altering when on 1 March 1406 the estates met at Westminster and the government came face to face with a hostile and determined house of commons.

The “Long Parliament" of 1406 lasted with two adjournments until 22 December. It was characterised throughout by the activity and outspokenness of the king's critics, and its great length was due solely to their obstinate refusal to vote taxes until the king had conceded their demands. The keynote was struck when on 23 March the Speaker made a solemn request for “good and abundant governance. This somewhat colourless phrase, frequently repeated in the debates which followed, embodied all the aspirations of the reforming party, and the zeal with which the commons sought to give it a practical meaning justifies Stubbs's description of this parliament as “an exponent of the most advanced principles of medieval constitutional life in England”. Very little time seems to have been spent in condemning the past shortcomings of the government, though the extravagance and inefficiency of the civil service came in for some very pointed criticisms. But while the greatest efforts were devoted to safeguarding the future, in one respect Henry’s former good resolutions were not forgotten. In 1404 he had promised that the special treasurers should present their accounts to parliament for audit. He was now asked to fulfil this promise. At first he gave an uncompromising reply: “Kings were not wont to render account”; and every sort of obstruction was resorted to by ministers. But knowing how hard pressed he was for money, the commons remained obdurate; their firmness was rewarded when on 19 June, in return for a slight increase for one year in the rates at which poundage might be levied, they were allowed an audit by parliament. This was a notable victory; not only did it encourage the opposition to continue the struggle but it was a clear vindication of the policy towards which it was feeling its way, the policy of appropriating supplies and of holding ministers personally responsible to parliament for their expenditure.

It may well have been this demonstration of its value which now prompted the commons to extend the use of their principle by enforcing it not merely in the case of an extraordinary tax but in that of all taxes, and not merely upon treasurers appointed ad hoc but also upon the regular officers of the Crown. With this in view they were far from satisfied by the king’s action on 22 May in nominating a council in parliament, but began to demand stricter terms of reference. Yet Henry, giving his ill-health as an excuse, had already made one very important concession. It had long been his habit to make his wishes known directly to the chancery and exchequer by means of letters under the signet and bills countersigned by one of his chamberlains; he was thus able to short-circuit the council and to incur expenditure without its supervision. Now he agreed to submit all such direct warrants to the council for endorsement, only reserving for himself the right to pardon criminals and to appoint to offices and benefices which were actually void. These reservations, it will be noticed, involved no power to put fresh charges on the revenue. But although such an arrangement would have contented parliament in 1399, it fell very short of the desires of 1406. At first it seemed as if nothing would soften the extreme reluctance of the commons to authorise any fresh taxation; in spite of the king’s obvious intention to prolong parliament until they yielded, it was only on the night of 22 December, when it was no longer possible for many of the members to reach their homes by Christmas, that their resolution melted and a grant was made. It was, however, a grant on conditions,1 and in order that these conditions might be fulfilled, it was suggested that certain lords who were still present in parliament and therefore probably members of the council should bind themselves to refund out of their own pockets any part of the tax which should be misappropriated. It is not surprising that these lords joined with the king in angrily rejecting this revolutionary proposal. But although the commons were forced to withdraw it, they only capitulated on terms. In the first place they insisted that councillors should publicly swear to obey thirty-one articles which were drawn up by parliament for their guidance; and secondly that this oath, together with the articles, should be put on record on the parliament roll in order that no doubt should be allowed to exist as to the terms on which the appointments had been made. Experience had convinced the government’s critics that they could not rely upon the spontaneous willingness of the councillors to impose economies on the king unless they in their turn were obliged to assume public responsibility. How far the commons were from trusting the king’s good faith is revealed by a petition that at least six of their number should be present when the roll was engrossed. Immediately afterwards parliament was dissolved. In it the knights, with little or no help from the lords and actively obstructed by the council, had secured the humiliation of the Crown and a recognition of the fact that England was governed not by the king alone but by a king acting on the advice of a council which was ultimately accountable to parliament.

In view of what had happened in 1404 it was not likely that Henry, now that he had obtained the necessary supplies, would loyally respect the constitutional scheme which had thus been thrust on him. Once again he compelled a submissive parliament to loosen his bonds. Ten months after the Long Parliament had dispersed, another met at Gloucester to reverse its acts. Meanwhile the king had found a minister who was to serve him faithfully until his death. The Archbishop of Canterbury had never shown himself over-scrupulous. In 1386 and after, he had worked with the Appellants to humiliate Richard II. Ten years later he was ready to betray his former associates to the king until the fate of his brother, the Earl of Arundel, opened his eyes to Richard’s duplicity. As was generally the case in that sordid period, he rarely hesitated to put his own interests before those of his class. At the beginning of the new reign he seemed to stand with the Percies and other noble supporters of the revolution for the preponderance of the baronage in the affairs of the realm, and on one occasion at least was, as we have seen, under suspicion of sharing the Percies’ treasonable designs. But from 1405 there are signs that he was drawing closer to the king. In this year he was allowed to have his way in the election of Walden to the vacant see of London. His desertion of the aristocratic cause may have been due to his dislike of the Beauforts who were beginning to champion it; perhaps he was alarmed by the enterprise of the commons and by the envious eyes cast by some of them on the wealth of the Church; probably personal ambition was the deciding factor. Already in the parliament of 1406 he had in the name of the council put obstacles in the way of reform. Shortly afterwards, on 30 January 1407, he accepted office as Chancellor, in the words of an ecclesiastical chronicler, “against the will of those who loved his honour”. A patent confirming the legitimation of the Beauforts, dated ten days later, which contained a new proviso “excepta dignitate regali” been regarded as proof of Arundel’s hostility to the king’s half-brothers. But there was as yet no open breach.

At the short parliament which sat in St Peter’s Abbey at Gloucester on 20 October 1407, Arundel as Chancellor was the natural spokesman of the government. His choice of text for the opening sermon, “Honour the king,” set the tone appropriate to the meeting. As Henry boasted to a Hanseatic agent, this was to be a parliament which would do his bidding. Proceedings had scarcely begun before the Chancellor, anticipating criticism, went in person to the commons’ house to inform them how the taxes granted in 1406 had been spent. This apparently did not satisfy the commons, but when on 9 November their Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, cousin and partisan of the Beauforts, tried to reopen the discussion, Arundel plainly told him that the council had laboured diligently to perform its duties and declined henceforward to be bound by the oath which its members had sworn in the previous December. The king was graciously pleased to excuse them, and thus the matter was terminated. In the same fashion, an attempt by Chaucer to raise the question of illegal purveyance was successfully postponed. But before long the government overstepped wise limits and provoked a display of spirit even from the feeble commons. On 14 November, in response to a petition, seven lords—including the Chancellor and the two elder Beauforts—had been permitted to confer with the members about taxation. But a week later, before any grant had been reported, the king approached the lords and invited them to state what they would regard as a suitable provision; on receiving their reply, he then commanded the lower house to endorse it. Loud was the outcry against the lords and great the clamour that ancient liberties had been infringed. The king hastened to reassure the members; nothing had been farther from his thoughts than that of which they complained. The “altercation” was settled on 2 December when it was recorded that each house might in the absence of the king debate the country’s needs, provided that neither should report until both were agreed and that the report should always be made by the commons’ Speaker. It can hardly be claimed that this established save in a very limited sense the right of the lower house to initiate a grant, but it certainly prevented a novel, and if it had been successful, a very damaging invasion of its hard-won privileges. Here ended, however, the commons’ success. For although they were promised that no precedent should be thereby created, they went on immediately to vote the same taxes as the lords had recommended. In return the king promised solemnly not to ask for any more money until 23 March 1410, and gave to each returning member a copy of this promise to show to his constituents.

The ensuing two years are for us the most baffling in the history of the reign. There is every sign that events were moving towards a crisis, but the unexplained absence of conciliar records at this critical period is a serious obstacle to its understanding. The king was dangerously ill; in June 1408 he had a seizure at Mortlake and for a time was thought to be dead, “but after some hours the vital spirit returned to him”. In the following winter he lay sick at Eltham and Greenwich for many weeks; his children were summoned and on 21 January he made his will. Yet by 6 April he was able to write in his own hand “of the good health that I am in” to his friend the Chancellor. There has been much dispute about the nature of his disease; contemporaries called it leprosy, but the symptoms point rather to some form of embolism, probably cerebral, complicated by other less destructive ailments. Both his mental and physical power’s suffered from these attacks. Although he was still capable of occasional spurts of energy, these were of brief duration and quickly succeeded by renewed visitations of weakness. His belief that his illness was a divine judgment on his sins may explain his tendency to lean more and more upon the support of his spiritual adviser, Arundel. Certainly the Chancellor was little less than his vicegerent during these years. But the heir to the throne, who may perhaps have felt that he had a better claim to this position, was beginning to assert his rights. Prince Henry, advised by the Beauforts, was resentful of the government’s incompetence and anxious to begin his reign. Already, if we are to believe Monstrelet, the Bishop of Winchester had in 1406 informed the French court of the impending abdication of the king in favour of his son; be this as it may, there is no doubt that at a later date the prince lent his ear to such a suggestion. When his father was on the point of death, he may have been willing to wait, since it seemed that his time was not far distant, but with the king’s recovery in the spring of 1409 inaction no longer contented him. The outcome of this period of tension was the fall of Arundel at the close of the year. The sequence of events leading up to this can only be inferred. When on 26 October a parliament was summoned to meet at Bristol in the following January, no unusual difficulties appear to have been anticipated. Soon afterwards, however, a council, called to deal with the financial crisis, reached decisions which seem to have been unwelcome to the king. Discharging Sir John Tiptoft from the office of Treasurer, Henry ordered the collectors of customs by signet letter to ignore the council’s orders. His defiance was nevertheless shortlived. On 18 December Westminster was substituted for Bristol as parliament’s place of meeting, and three days later Arundel resigned the great seal. But although the two great offices were vacant, the king was either unable to find or unwilling to accept new ministers. It was not until 6 January that Lord Scrope became Treasurer; on the 19th orders were given to carry out the council’s suspended financial regulations. There was no Chancellor for more than a month; when necessary, Henry himself superintended the sealing of documents, keeping the great seal by him for that purpose and giving instructions viva voce to a clerk.

In the absence of a chancellor, the opening sermon on 27 January was preached by the Bishop of Winchester, the Speaker again being Thomas Chaucer. Four days later the great seal was conferred on Thomas Beaufort. That the king himself had in no sense quarrelled with the Archbishop of Canterbury is proved by the fact that he spent the greater part of the session not in his own palace at Westminster but across the water at Lambeth. Parliament was adjourned for Easter on 15 March, but before that the commons had created great scandal by presenting a Lollard petition, which proposed to solve the country’s financial difficulties by confiscating the estates of the Church. The king—and not his son, as has been generally supposed—refused to consider it, and his faithful servant, Sir John Norbury, pleased at least one monastic chronicler by urging the primate to launch a crusade against these English heretics. Unabashed, the followers of Wyclif continued to make their voices heard in parliament, but in vain. In the second session the commons turned their attention to the only less controversial matter of administrative reform. On 23 April, they offered a series of remedies for the better and more economical government of the realm. In its forefront appeared the inevitable nostrum that the king should “ordain and assign in the present parliament the most valiant, wise, and discreet lords to be of his council” and that these along with the judges should be publicly sworn. In response to a similar request of 2 May, Henry replied that certain lords had for good reasons excused themselves, and then produced a list of seven names. Now the extent of the prince’s triumph was revealed. Not only were his friends strongly represented along with himself on the new council, but even more significant was the omission of Arundel and of the usual curialists. It was in fact a small aristocratic body, from which both the king’s friends and the members of the commons were excluded. The Earl of Somerset had recently died, but both his brothers were nominated, along with the Earl of Arundel, whose quarrel with his uncle, while dating back to his share in Richard Scrope’s execution, had since been aggravated by a mass of litigation over their respective rights in Sussex. When the councillors were sworn, the prince declared that they could not be held to their oaths unless sufficient funds were provided. After rejecting the suggestion that they should give the king an annual tax for the remainder of his life, the commons proceeded to vote a subsidy and a half, its collection to be spread over three years. Just before the dissolution, Bishop Langley and the Earl of Westmorland were excused attendance at the council on account of the necessity for their presence in the north, and, at the prince’s request, the names of two more of his friends, the Earl of Warwick and Bishop Chichele of St David’s, were added to fill their places.

The new councillors threw themselves into their task with energy. For the rest of the year, they virtually governed the country in the king’s name, while Henry, visiting his palaces at Windsor, Woodstock, and Kenilworth, was content to leave affairs at Westminster in their hands. During June and July they met frequently, mainly to discuss finance. A genuine attempt seems to have been made to discoveir the government’s liabilities and to meet them by borrowing and by ordinances for the better collection of the revenue. These researches evidently brought home to them the gravity of the situation, for on 19 March 1411 a great council was held at which the Treasurer placed a financial statement before the lords in the king’s presence. Budgeting for the year Michaelmas 1410 to Michaelmas 1411, Lord Scrope estimated the probable deficit at over of £16,000, even before any provision had been made for annuities payable at the exchequer or for the salaries of councillors. It appears that the half-subsidy due at Midsummer 1411 had already been assigned to the king’s creditors, and the Treasurer referred to the debts of the household, wardrobe, and other spending departments as “amounting to a huge sum”. There is no evidence that the lords had any remedy to offer for the unsoundness which this statement revealed. The fact was that all this financial activity was occasioned by a desire to find means for fresh expenditure. That Prince Henry’s thoughts were already turning towards the possibility of military intervention in France, where the feuds of Burgundy and Armagnac offered a tempting bait, is suggested by estimates drawn up at this time for the cost of Calais in time of war. Notwithstanding the fact that the ancient debts of this fortress alone were more than £9,000, he was ambitious to raise and equip a new expeditionary force. In this he does not appear to have had his father’s approval, but nevertheless in September 1411 a small English army under the Earl of Arundel was despatched to the assistance of Burgundy. On 9 November they took part in the victory of St Cloud, but were shortly afterwards sent home.

Meanwhile in England the prince’s ascendancy was drawing to an end. Following the arrest in October of six knights, including the steward of his household, on an unnamed charge, he made a progress through the country in search of popular support. It was said that his advisers, led by Henry Beaufort, were openly proposing that the king should be deposed in his favour, and apparently a formal demand to this effect was made in the parliament which began at Westminster on 3 November. It does not seem that this propaganda was at all favourably received by the people as a whole or that Henry IV had any difficulty in countering its effects. The latter bided his time. At his side was Arundel, fresh from his triumph over the prince's friends at Oxford, where in the face of obstinate resistance he had succeeded in humbling the University. The king did not attend the opening of parliament, but when on its second day the Speaker was presented to him he told him sharply that he wished on no account to have any manner of novelty but intended “to stand as free in his prerogative as any of his predecessors.” Nothing was heard for the moment of his abdicating, but a statute of the last parliament was annulled because it improperly limited the rights of the Crown. Before the end of the session, the council was thanked for its services and discharged, Thomas Beaufort and Lord Scrope were removed from office, and the Archbishop of Canterbury again entrusted with the great seal. No council was formally nominated, but the Prince of Wales and Henry Beaufort were excluded from that which met for the remainder of the reign. It was a cowed and anxious parliament which, hearing that the king’s heart was heavy against its members, begged and secured from him a declaration of his faith in their loyalty before they returned home.

In the matter of finance, the commons had not been generous, The government’s insolvency did not, however, prevent it from planning a fresh expedition to France, this time to succour the Armagnacs. It is difficult to explain this change of policy on any other ground than that the king desired to mark his disagreement with his son, though the possibility of recovering Aquitaine no doubt had its influence in determining his choice. This decision produced a domestic crisis, the facts of which are by no means clear. Henry was persuaded that the Prince of Wales, who was raising troops in the northern midlands, contemplated rebellion with a view to seizing the throne and preventing the betrayal of his former Burgundian allies. In reply the prince issued a public statement at Coventry on 17 June, asserting his innocence; he explained that his only object in mustering an army larger than his quota was his desire to assist his father to reconquer Aquitaine with all the means in his power, that he had acted as he believed with the royal permission, and that the king had been listening to the calumnies of certain sons of iniquity by whom he was surrounded. With protestations of filial obedience, but “with much people of lords and gentles”, he then marched to London and took up his residence at the Bishop of London’s inn. For several days the city and suburbs were full of armed men, while the king and council hurried on their preparations for the French voyage. In an interview with his father the prince demanded the punishment of those who had slandered him; “the king seemed indeed to assent to his request, but asserted that they ought to await the time of parliament that these might be punished by the judgment of their peers.” The reconciliation would therefore seem to have been incomplete. But at length the tension was relieved when it was settled that the prince and the king, who had meant himself to lead the expedition, should remain at home, while Thomas of Lancaster, now created Duke of Clarence, and the other lords went to France. The army set out from Southampton on 11 July, but it had not been long in Normandy before the French parties temporarily sank their differences and bought the invaders off. While this was taking place, the prince continued to act in a fashion that did much to justify his father's suspicions. For again on 23 September he “came to London to the council with a huge people,” this time to defend himself also against a charge of misappropriating the wages of the Calais garrison. Leaving his followers in Westminster Hall he forced his way alone into the royal presence, where after an emotional scene the king embraced and forgave him. An enquiry conducted by the council into his government of Calais resulted, as was inevitable, in his complete exoneration. Henry IV’s health was now rapidly failing; in December he was again for a period unconscious, but recovered sufficiently to take part in the Christmas celebrations at Eltham. He died after another seizure at Westminster on 20 March 1413. For nearly fourteen years he had struggled doggedly and with some measure of success, not only to preserve his usurped throne against enemies at home and abroad, but to maintain in the teeth of baronial pressure and popular criticism what he believed to be the rights and prerogatives of the Crown. Arundel did not long survive his master. Dismissed from the chancellorship on the first day of the new reign, he withdrew from political life and died within a year.


It was remarked by contemporaries that on his accession to power Henry of Monmouth underwent a species of conversion; “in all things at that time he reformed and amended his life and his manners”. The lawless and high-spirited youth became, as it were overnight, a bigot and a disciplinarian. There was no room in his nature for compromise, and by this abrupt change he expressed his conscious dedication of himself to what he regarded tis the supreme purpose of his being. If in the past he had been riotous and addicted to low company, this was only because his enormous energy, denied adequate scope in politics, had been compelled to seek another outlet. Once the curb imposed by his mistrustful father was removed and he was free to give unfettered play to his imperial designs, he abandoned his disreputable courses without hesitation or regret. The same thing had happened when Thomas Becket went to Canterbury; Henry threw himself with an ascetic zeal equal to that of St Thomas into realising a highly exalted conception of the duties of his station. It was his dream, having first conquered France, to lead a reunited Christendom against the Turk and, as he confessed on his death-bed, to “build again the walls of Jerusalem” in a last Crusade. To this Napoleonic task he was prepared to devote his life and fortune—and the lives and fortunes of his less idealistic countrymen. But large as were his schemes, there was nothing in the least visionary about his methods. A soldier of genius and resource, he owed his success almost as much to his diplomatic skill as to his victories in the field; while no medieval statesman grasped more fully the importance of sea-power or set himself more actively to win for England the undisputed command of the Channel. Imperious, untiring, and single-minded, Henry was a cruel enemy and a harsh master, brooking no opposition to his will; yet though he renounced all those qualities which make a monarch popular, he achieved the remarkable feat of inspiring Englishmen with a patriotic enthusiasm and a community of aims in marked contrast with their bitter disharmony during the previous age. He found a nation weak and drifting and after nine years he left it dominant in Europe.

The whole-heartedness of this response to Henry’s lead made one thing clear: in spite of many superficial indications to the contrary, Lancastrian England was by no means decadent; the source of its troubles lay less in its own rottenness than in the futility of its governors, unsettled by an economic revolution which they did not understand. A young and vigorous civilisation had failed to obtain the authoritative guidance of which it stood desperately in need. Its political unrest, though it often served the ends of ambitious nobles, was not mere factiousness; it sprang rather from the efforts of a new class to break through the cracking shell of traditional medieval society. For more than a century, the country had been waxing rich from the sale of its staple commodity, wool, which for its unsurpassed quality was in steady demand on the markets of Flanders. No amount of royal interference, of regulation in the interests of foreign policy or of public finance, could hold up the progress of this traffic. Nor did it stand alone; for alongside it had grown up the cloth industry: the products of English looms were beginning to be carried in native bottoms to foreign parts. The legend of the commercial backwardness of medieval England dies hard. Yet during the fourteenth century, latecomers though they were, needing to force their way into the closed markets of the continent, the English were laying the foundations of their mercantile greatness. It was of no exceptional shipman that Chaucer wrote:

“He knew wel alle the havenes, as they were,

From Gootlond to the Cape of Finistere;

And every cryke in Britayne and in Spayne.”

By the reign of Richard II, English merchants had planted a factory at Danzig and won recognition of their privileges there from the reluctant Hansa. In the early years of the fifteenth century native ships sailed adventurously from Lynn “by nedle and by stone... unto the costes colde’’ of Iceland and established a profitable trade with the inhabitants. All efforts to penetrate into the Mediterranean were, however, repulsed. When in 1412 William Walderne of London and his partners shipped £24,000 worth of wool to Italy, it was seized by the Genoese authorities. Thereafter, apart from occasional privateering ventures, no further attempt was made to challenge Italian monopoly beyond the Straits of Morocco. In spite of this defeat, which was in any case unparalleled, the time was one of increasing material prosperity. It is hardly surprising that Italian visitors, though they considered the English intellectually backward, were deeply impressed by the high standard of comfort, amounting often to luxury, which they found everywhere prevalent. Their observations are confirmed by the monuments, perhaps only a tithe of those erected, which have survived into our own day. It is a striking fact that the magnificent castles at Tattershall, Wingfield (co. Derby), and Bolton in Wensleydale were built by men of lesser baronial rank, and those at Caister and Hurstmonceux by no more than simple knights. Nor was this splendour confined to domestic architecture. The scores of lofty perpendicular churches still extant in East Anglia bear witness to the thriving trade of Ipswich, Yarmouth, Lynn, and Boston; while their counterparts in Somerset and the Cotswold area tell a similar tale about the western ports. Most districts profited directly, all were ultimately fertilised, by this new wealth. For its benefits were enjoyed not merely by that numerous middle class which was engaged in the transport, sale, and manufacture of wool and cloth, but equally by those landowners, great and small, from whose sheepfolds the raw material was drawn. The capital thus accumulated was not suffered to lie idle; it was often reinvested, so that territorial magnates became sleeping partners in business and in some cases even possessed their own merchant-ships. The result of all this financial dealing was to place too great a strain upon that ancient theological doctrine by which Christians were forbidden to practice usury. In spite of the fact that this prohibition was reinforced by the law of the land, it was rapidly becoming a dead letter. But because steps were taken to circumvent it by legal fictions, these unspectacular beginnings of modern capitalism for long escaped the notice of historians. Nevertheless we find Sir John Fastolf advancing large sums to London tradesmen “ad      mercadinamdum” at 5 per cent, per annum. The truth is that loans at interest were common, and even ecclesiastics did not hesitate to swell their incomes by committing       l’horrible et abominable vice de Usure”. By far the largest borrower was the government, which, since Edward III had defaulted to his Italian creditors, was obliged to rely in this matter mainly if not wholly upon native capitalists. Fortunately for it there were several individuals and many corporations rich enough to take the places of the Bardi and Peruzzi. But the king's credit was so bad that, as we are informed by Sir John Fortescue, he had to offer a premium of 20-25 per cent, before he could raise the necessary sums. It is small wonder that acquisitiveness was the predominating characteristic of Lancastrian England. Yet the mercenary spirit which has often been taken for proof of its degeneracy was the outcome of a boundless vitality and optimism.

It was inevitable that these developments should profoundly modify the structure of medieval society. In feudal England a definite limit had been set to the free play of these competitive tendencies. It is of course true that a man of gentle birth, given enough military skill, might rise from landless poverty to affluence, and that both Church and law had always offered the chance of high preferment to those whom the profession of arms did not suit. But the underlying conception was one of static order, dependent upon an established military caste. Yet once fortunes could be made by trade and invested in land, the boundaries which had hitherto separated class from class rapidly disintegrated and in a short time the old feudal aristocracy was itself invaded by the nouveau-riches. Already in the fourteenth century its highest ranks had been entered by the son of William de la Pole, a Hull merchant. This was still unusual enough to excite resentment, but a little later no one minded when Chaucer’s grand-daughter became a duchess or thought it odd that the grandson of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, who was mayor of London in 1457, should be an earl and the father of a queen. Mixed marriages were quite common; thus William Stonor, an Oxfordshire knight, took as his first wife the widow of a mercer, as his second the daughter of a marquis. Several of the most famous Tudor families, who throve on the purchase of monastic lands, owed their importance in the first place to their mercantile ancestors in the fifteenth century. Many ancient institutions could not survive in this changed atmosphere. The process of adaptation radically altered the external structure, if not the essence, of feudalism itself. In the fifteenth century military service was no longer merely an incident of tenure but also a commodity to be disposed of by sale. The army of the Hundred Years’ War was a mercenary army, consisting not of vassals but of hired retainers who were by no means always the tenants of the man they served. The bond which united them to him was a contract voluntarily entered into by both parties and not an indissoluble hereditary tie. An enterprising magnate could therefore reach out beyond the frontiers of his fief, and by indenting with his neighbours for their services bring whole districts, sometimes an entire county, under his control. The “bastard feudalism” thus begotten approached nearer to its continental prototype than to the revised version which had been introduced into England by William I. By substituting a few great areas of influence for the dispersed honours of the Norman period, it raised the problem of 44the overmighty subject” in a new and more acute form. Another factor was also at work to the same end. Estates scattered in half a dozen shires could not be managed economically; administrative convenience would in any event have dictated some measure of consolidation, and the feudal geography of England had already been profoundly modified in this direction by three and a half centuries of grant, purchase, marriage, and exchange. But although this tendency threatened the stability of the central government, it only produced a crisis when the enlistment of retainers gave baronial ambition a wider range. Its corrupting effect on local institutions was soon apparent. To attract retainers the baron had to be able to find patronage for them and their dependants, to maintain their quarrels in the royal courts, and to reward their loyalty in many other ways. Sir John Fortescue has admirably described the result: “this hath caused many men to be such braggers and suitors to the king for to have his offices in their countries to themself and their men that almost no man in some country durst take an office of the king but he first had the good will of the said braggers and engrossers of offices. For if he did not so, he should not after that time have peace in his country; whereof hath come and grown many great troubles and debates in divers countries of England.” As his father’s reign had shewn, civil strife was already imminent when Henry V temporarily resolved all discords by proclaiming war on France.

Although his enthusiasm was for the moment infectious, it may be doubted whether many of the king’s subjects really shared his dream of a continental empire. For one thing the merchants were becoming dimly conscious that England’s destiny lay not in France but upon the seas, a suspicion which a few years later deepened into certainty. If they hated the French as traditional enemies, they hated the Flemings, the Hansards, and the Italians still more as commercial rivals. Yet Henry’s policy rested upon a close understanding with Flanders as a first step towards a military alliance with Burgundy, and upon the neutrality of the other maritime powers in order to isolate France at sea. In neither case was he absolutely successful, but by 1415 his diplomacy had accomplished enough to permit him to cross to Normandy in safety. Anglo-Flemish relations had been put on a surer footing by an agreement of 7 October 1413, which provided for the appointment in each country of “conservators of truces” to punish breaches of the peace, to investigate charges of piracy, and to restore stolen goods to their lawful owners. In pursuance of this a Statute of Truces and Safeconducts was passed by the Leicester parliament in the following year. Do what he would, however, Henry could not induce the Burgundians to throw in their lot definitely with the English, and it was not until Duke John the Fearless was murdered in 1419 that the longed-for Anglo-Burgundian alliance became a fact. The negotiations had on the other hand secured the absence of the duke from the French army of Agincourt and after, a service which contributed largely to Henry’s chances of success. The isolation of the French at sea presented few difficulties. Only the Genoese, whose seizure of the Londoners’ wool in 1412 had created bad blood, were persuaded to come to the assistance of France. In 1416 some twenty ships, commanded by Giovanni Grimaldi, appeared in the Channel to join in the French blockade of Harfleur; but on 15 August they were attacked by a hastily collected fleet under the Duke of Bedford and decisively beaten in the Battle of the Seine. While Henry lived the English command of the narrow seas was never again disputed. His policy nevertheless was not altogether popular. The only interest to which it appealed strongly was the Staple. For it meant allowing Flemings and Hansards to trade unmolested in England and some restriction of native enterprise in the Baltic ports; since, though the king maintained his subjects’ claim to fair treatment in Danzig, he was not prepared to jeopardise Hanseatic neutrality by embarking on those wilder courses which some extremists were already urging. It meant also putting down English piracy, a great source of profit for the seafarers of the western ports. Again and again Henry wrote to the home government from France pressing for stern measures against native privateers, “that no man have cause hereafter to complain in such wise as they do for default of right doing nor we cause to write to you always as we do for such causes, considered the great occupation that we have otherwise.” Though all this resulted in more security for English shipping, since it diminished reprisals, it did not go nearly far enough for those whose views found clear expression some twenty years later in the Libel of English Policy. For the anonymous author of this pamphlet the conquest of Normandy was not a stage in the conquest of France but a means of dominating the Straits of Dover. He was a militant nationalist, but his nationalism was economic not political, and though he praised Henry V generously for his naval victories, he makes it clear that he would have put them to a different use. The English Channel was, he realised, the high road of Western European trade. Along it passed Italian carracks laden with “thynges of complacence” from the South and East, silks and spices and oil, wine-ships from Lisbon and La Rochelle bound for the Low Countries, and fleets carrying salt from the Bay of Bourgneuf to the Hanseatic towns. England had therefore, he argued, only to “kepe thamyralte” to be able to hold this traffic to ransom and to extort favourable terms for its merchants in the continental markets. By blockading Flanders, suspending the export of English wool, and compelling aliens in England to submit to drastic regulation, he thought to give his countrymen the economic mastery of the northern seas. It was an ambitious scheme, but it is doubtful whether England, for all the advantages of its geographical position, was strong enough to risk an encounter of this magnitude with all the naval powers at once. In any case it never had a fair trial; Henry V, the one man who might have realised it, had other, more medieval, ideas. It is the tragedy of his reign that he gave a wrong direction to national aspirations which he did so much himself to stimulate, that he led his people in pursuit of the chimera of foreign conquest, an adventure from which they recoiled exhausted and embittered after more than thirty years of useless sacrifice. When the war ended, not only were they ignominiously defeated, but as a consequence of this defeat, their commercial expansion was postponed for nearly a century.

Henry did not live to deal with the troubles to which his large project gave rise. Though by 1420 there were beginning to be signs of popular discontent with the cost of the war, on the whole national enthusiasm survived his death. Before, however, he had silenced criticism by his brilliant Agincourt campaign, he had been faced by two recurrences of the domestic factiousness which had so frequently disturbed his father’s peace. Of these the Lollard rising was the more serious. The infection of Wyclif’s teaching had spread widely since the heresiarch’s death, especially among the middle and artisan classes, where its assault on clerical pride and covetousness was naturally most popular. Many poor parish priests as well as unemployed and ambitious clerks from Oxford had good reason for envying the princes of the Church. But its appeal had reached also the more serious-minded among the educated laity, who were disturbed by the continuation of the Schism and by the worldliness of an episcopate more zealous for discipline than for the Christian life. Such men as Sir John Cheyne, Sir Lewis Clifford, and above all Sir John Oldcastle (Lord Cobham by right of his wife) had embraced the new doctrines. At the opening of the century the University of Oxford was still the centre of the movement, but, as we have seen, the house of commons contained a formidable body of sympathisers. Nevertheless the Church was bent on persecution, though whether it was as much shocked by the doctrinal heresies as by the anticlericalism remains doubtful. The passage of the Statute De Haeretico Comburendo in 1401 ensured it the co-operation of the lay arm in its attempt to stamp out the heretics. During Henry IV’s reign a small number of obstinate Lollards were burnt, and at Oxford Archbishop Arundel cowed the authorities into recognising his rights of visitation and correction. In 1413 everything turned on the new king’s attitude to the religious question. Hitherto this may well have puzzled contemporary observers. He had, it is true, in 1410 exhorted John Badby, a convicted heretic, to save his life by recantation and, on his refusal, he had suffered him to be burnt; but on the other hand, he had championed his old university against Arundel, and he was the friend of Sir John Oldcastle. All doubts were set at rest early in his reign, when it became clear that he was ready to abandon Oldcastle along with the other disreputable associates of his youth. Oldcastle was arrested by the royal officers and on 23 September 1413 brought before his ecclesiastical judges at St Paul’s; when he declined to abandon his errors and firmly reasserted his faith in them, sentence of condemnation was passed upon him. On 19 October, however, he made his escape from prison and began in secret to rouse his co-religionists to armed rebellion. It was his intention, the government asserted, to capture the king and to establish a commonwealth with himself as protector, but this does not sound a likely story. The rising was planned to take place at St Giles’ Fields, London, on 10 January 1414, but the conspiracy was betrayed to the king, who took immediate steps to forestall it. As the insurgents were making their way in bands to the scene of action during the night of the 9th, they were surprised and scattered by the royal forces. Many were captured and promptly executed, but Oldcastle again escaped. Though the Leicester parliament in May 1414 gave its consent to fresh statutes for the extirpation of Lollardy, it was not until the end of 1417 that he was apprehended in Wales and hanged on the site of his rebellion. The subsequent history of the sect is obscure; persecuted and hunted unmercifully, it went into hiding, but there is no evidence that it was ever completely eradicated.

It was to an informer also that Henry owed his timely knowledge of a mysterious plot to assassinate him in July 1415, on the eve of his departure for France. The principals in this affair were Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Sir Thomas Gray, and Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, the last-named being one of the king’s most trusted servants. Their object was to restore Richard II, whom some believed to be still alive, or, failing that, to enthrone his heir, the Earl of March. The wretched March, to whom they rashly confided their secret, was so afflicted by scruples that he went and unburdened his conscience to the king. He thereby earned forgiveness, but his three companions were speedily arrested and put to death as traitors. This done, Henry sailed from Portsmouth, leaving his brother Bedford to rule a peaceful country in his absence.

His expedition had been carefully prepared. For months beforehand artificers had been employed constructing siege-engines, pontoons, and pieces of artillery; vast quantities of war-material, armour, and weapons of every type had been assembled by the royal purveyors and stored in casks at Pountney’s Inn in London. It was a comparatively small, but an unusually well-equipped, army which landed near Harfleur on 14 August. With its achievements and those of its successors we are not concerned, since they have already been described elsewhere; here it is only necessary to speak of the effects of the war upon the English Exchequer. Like many conquerors, Henry does not seem to have bothered his head overmuch about the financial soundness of his enterprise; he needed money, but was quite indifferent as to the means by which it was procured. In spite of heavy taxation, it was impossible to pay for the Agincourt campaign out of current revenue, still less for the piecemeal reduction of Normandy which began in 1417. Income was therefore deflected from its normal uses and huge loans were raised upon the security of the Crown jewels. Even so, many soldiers and more civilians went unpaid. Death no doubt settled many accounts. But as late as 1454 that veteran warrior, Sir John Fastolf, was still claiming the arrears due to him for services rendered at Harfleur in 1415. In a very short time the strain became intolerable. Modern estimates, based upon an imperfect understanding of the principles of medieval book-keeping, have unfortunately disguised the real gravity of the position. Much more reliance can be placed in a contemporary statement drawn up and laid before the council by the Treasurer on 6 May 1421. Not only was a gigantic deficit expected, but every department was shown to be heavily in debt. Yet a considerable proportion of the Treasurer’s estimated revenue of nearly £56,000 had in any case no real value, since it had long ago been assigned in advance to the king’s numerous creditors. The malady, that is to say, which was already present in 1399, neglected year by year and recently aggravated by Henry’s wild extravagance, had made and would continue to make rapid strides. Loans staved off a crisis, but the cumulative effect of such a policy was bound to be disastrous. We should be careful, however, not to talk loosely about the country’s financial exhaustion in 1421; it was not the national wealth which was exhausted, but that small fraction of it upon which the king could lay his hands. At first the commons had been remarkably free with taxation, but in the parliaments of 1420 and May 1421 no grants were made. Henry retaliated by extorting forced loans and popular enthusiasm waned still further. Adam of Usk’s well-known description of the smothered curses with which the royal commissioners were greeted, however' much it may exaggerate, cannot be dismissed as pure rhetoric. Dissatisfaction was also spreading among the soldiers in France; thus one complains of “the long time that we have been here and of the expenses that we have had at every siege... and have had no wages since that we came out”; while another prays earnestly that he may soon depart “out of this unlusty soldier’s life into the life of England.” It would not be long before such men grew mutinous. The national effort had been too great to be long sustained; it was visibly weakening when Henry himself succumbed to camp-fever at Bois-de-Vincennes on 31 August 1422 in his thirty-sixth year.


As the king lay dying, his thoughts were busy with the future. In addition to the fact that his work was but half-finished, there was also the prospect of a long minority to fill him with concern. For he was leaving behind him as heir a son, Henry, not yet nine months old. In his third will, drawn up on 10 June 1421, when he knew his queen to be with child, he had bequeathed the regency of England in the event of his premature death to his younger brother Gloucester; but there is reason to believe that he changed his mind more than once during his last illness. Owing, however, to the violent disagreement of our authorities, we do not know for certain what he finally decided. In any case it was not carried out; for, as soon as he was dead, his wishes lost their binding force and were set aside. He had long ruled the barons with a firm hand; they joyfully reasserted their independence. Above all they were quite determined that Gloucester should not step into his brother’s shoes. The prime mover in their resistance to the duke’s advancement was Henry Beaufort, whose royal blood, forceful personality, and ripe experience well qualified him for leadership. Though only forty-seven years of age, he had been a bishop, first of Lincoln and afterwards of Winchester, for nearly a quarter of a century. Not content with this, he had looked higher, to Rome itself, but Henry V had forbidden him to desert the royal service for the Curia. Yet, in spite of this discouragement, he cultivated the friendship of Martin V, whose gratitude he had earned at Constance in 1417, and waited for a suitable opportunity to turn it to account. Meanwhile his knowledge of domestic politics was unrivalled. He had first held the chancellorship in 1403, and since that date there had been few periods when he was not officially employed. But for all his statesmanlike qualities, Beaufort was an arrogant and grasping man. He had accumulated from various sources an immense fortune, which enabled him to wield great influence. The sum total of his loans to the Crown between 1417 and 1444 exceeds £200,000; he was owed more than £20,000 by Henry V at his death. These transactions have been generally regarded as proofs of the bishop’s disinterested patriotism, as though it was glaringly obvious that by lending he had no thought of his own profit. But such a view of his character has little to commend it. On the other hand there can be no reasonable doubt that in 1424, under cover of such a loan, he defrauded the king of some £10,000 by converting Crown jewels to his own use.

When Beaufort set himself to undermine Gloucester’s pretensions, the latter was no match for him. Equally overbearing and unscrupulous, the duke lacked his rival’s administrative talents and political sagacity. For, while he inherited his father’s affable manners and cultivated tastes, he inherited also his financial incompetence and his rash ungovernable temper. He was rescued from political insignificance by his birth and by the success with which he courted popular favour. This latter gift saved his reputation after his death. Posterity for centuries accepted the legend of “good Duke Humphrey”, overthrown and finally murdered by the machinations of that “pernicious usurer” and “presumptuous priest”, the Cardinal Bishop of Winchester.

The first victory in their long duel went decisively to Beaufort. This took place in the parliament which met at Westminster on 6 November 1422. On the day before, Gloucester was given permission to open the proceedings and to continue them as long as should be necessary “de assensu consilii”. Nothing was decided at this stage about his future status, but the duke immediately objected to the use of these conditional words, on the plea that when he had had similar powers from Henry V there had been no such limitation. The council refused to omit the offending clause; that is to say, they already drew a distinction between the authority delegated to Gloucester as Regent by an absent king and the authority to be exercised by Gloucester as the spokesman of a king too young to rule. In this the ultimate settlement was foreshadowed; during the minority there was to be a council of regency in fact if not in name. This did not content the duke, who imagined that his brother’s death was a reason for augmenting rather than reducing his share in the government. When parliament assembled, he made haste to state his claim; as soon as the commons desired to know what the lords proposed, he came forward to request “the governance of this land, affirming that it belongeth unto (him) of right, as well by the mean of (his) birth as by the last will of the king that was”. In reply, the lords appealed to history; in the minority of Richard II, the king’s uncles had been associated together to “survey and correct the faults of them that were appointed to be of the king’s council.” Gloucester was not the only uncle of Henry VI; besides Bedford who was abroad, there were two Beauforts. But if they had hoped to silence the duke by this historical argument, they reckoned without his bookishness, for he countered their example by the case of William Marshal, who had been Rector Regis et Regni during the minority of Henry III. Thereupon the lords fell back on the constitutional rights of parliament; Gloucester’s proposal was “against the freedom of the estates”; Henry V “might not by his last will nor otherwise alter...the law of the land...without the assent of the three estates, nor commit nor grant to any person governance or rule of this land longer than he lived”. But not wishing to drive the duke into open opposition, they decided that in Bedford’s absence he should be chief of the king’s council and “devised therefore (for him) a name different from other councillors”. They rejected a number of names such as Tutor, Lieutenant, Governor, and Regent for the very significant reason that any of these would “import authority of governance of this land”, a suggestion which they were particularly anxious to avoid, and chose instead “the name of Protector and Defensor, the which importeth a personal duty of attendance to the actual defence of the land” and nothing more. With this Gloucester was for the moment forced to rest content. A council was then appointed in parliament and it was enacted that the Protector was to take no steps without its advice. With a few trifling exceptions it was to retain control of all official appointments and all royal patronage. No controversial business was to be transacted in the absence of a majority of the councillors, none at all unless four were present in addition to the three officers.

This arrangement, in spite of Gloucester’s attempts to upset it, remained virtually unchanged for seven years. It was a thoroughly practical solution of the constitutional question which, while denying Gloucester the authority he craved, gave him titular rank and vested all real power in the hands of an aristocratic council. But though the lords treated the Protector as they had desired but failed to treat Henry IV, it is wrong to see in this a victory for the principles of 1406. In the first place there was no suggestion that the constitutional checks imposed on the Protector were to apply to the king when he came of age, though naturally enough by the end of the long minority councillors had become too deeply attached to their new privileges to surrender them without regret; and secondly, nothing was said or hardly even implied about the responsibility of ministers to parliament. In spite of the reference to the three estates, the aspirations of the commons, as formulated in 1406, were passed over in silence. It is difficult at first sight to understand why the lower house did not grasp so obvious a moment for asserting its rights. Yet though for some years all direct taxation was withheld, only the burgesses showed any disposition to criticise the government. It was as if the knights of the shire who had led the attack on Henry IV trusted the council to make a better use of the royal authority than had the king and his curialists. Everything points in short to a closer identification of outlook between the baronage and the knights than the exceptional events of 1406 had seemed to suggest. The strength of those local ties which still bound the small landowners to their greater neighbours was felt as soon as the latter gained control of the royal patronage. The council filled offices and settled disputes in deference to the predominant territorial interests; it is not unreasonable to see in this the explanation of the commons’ inaction. The one danger to be feared was a division among the lords themselves; though this ultimately occurred, it was temporarily averted by the obviousness of Gloucester’s ambition; the need to make common cause against him kept the lords united when every consideration of private profit was drawing them apart.

Between 1422 and 1425 the Protector gave very little trouble. The government was on the whole popular and he had no following in the country. The vigilance of his opponents was such that he was driven to employ his energies elsewhere. When the parliament of October 1423 confirmed its predecessor’s settlement, he was already playing with the idea of seeking his fortune abroad. The presence in England of Jacqueline of Hainault, who had deserted her husband the Duke of Brabant, offered him a favourable opening. Notwithstanding the knowledge that his purpose endangered the Anglo-Burgundian alliance, he went through the ceremony of marriage with Jacqueline and in October 1424 departed in her company to invade Hainault. During his absence the protectorate was in abeyance, and his place at the head of the executive was taken by Bishop Beaufort, now again Chancellor. The expedition was a failure, Jacqueline was soon discarded, and for the future all Gloucester’s hopes were centred in England. He returned in time for the parliament of April 1425, to find his colleagues at issue with the city of London over the protection which they wisely insisted on according to foreign merchants. By fanning the passions which it was his duty as Protector to extinguish, he made himself in a short time the idol of the middle class.

His period of political isolation seemed at an end. Yet Beaufort chose this moment to provoke an open quarrel by some tactless references to the futility and dangers of the Hainault escapade. Thenceforward Gloucester’s ambitions were bound up with a desire to humiliate his critic. The support of the Londoners made him so formidable that for a few weeks in the autumn of 1425 he was able to shake off the council’s control. Beaufort went in fear of his life, and on the morning of 30 October an armed affray actually took place on London Bridge. Gloucester’s victory was, however, of brief duration. The Chancellor at once called in the Duke of Bedford to redress the balance, and when on 20 December his brother landed in England, Duke Humphrey’s days of freedom were at an end. In dudgeon he withdrew from the council and declined to meet his enemy; it was only after several interviews that the lords persuaded him to agree to a formal reconciliation. He and Beaufort shook hands before parliament at Leicester on 12 March 1426. Owing to the recent disorders it was thought best to avoid the capital and, as an additional precaution, members were forbidden to come armed. Bedford made no secret of his sympathies. On his arrival he had treated the men of London with marked coldness, and when the commons charged the government with bad faith in the matter of tonnage and poundage, he made short work of their complaints. But Gloucester’s inaction had been dearly purchased. Bedford was anxious to return to France, and it was soon known that the Chancellor would accompany him. The time was ripe for Beaufort’s long-contemplated entry into the larger field of Roman politics. Martin V was willing to make him a cardinal and to give him employment. A short delay, however, was necessary to save his pride and to enable him to collect his debts. On 14 May he resigned the great seal and soon afterwards obtained permission from the council to undertake a “pilgrimage.” He left the country in March 1427, and on Lady Day at Calais received his red hat at Bedford’s hands.

If Gloucester thought to have things his own way after Beaufort’s removal, he deluded himself. On 24 November 1426 the councillors drew up a series of articles which left no doubt that they intended to maintain the status quo. Not content with this, they took steps just before Bedford’s departure to obtain from him and his brother an emphatic recognition of their rights. On 28 January an impressive ceremony was staged at Westminster; Duke John, in response to an appeal from Archbishop Kemp of York, the new Chancellor, swore solemnly to abide by the decisions of the council so long as he should be in England. Duke Humphrey, who was absent ill, was rumoured to have said on hearing this: “Let my brother govern as him lust while he is in this land, for after his going over into France, I will govern as me seemeth good.” Next day, however, Kemp visited him in his inner chamber to ask for a similar assurance; thus confronted, Gloucester found it expedient to agree “to be ruled and governed by my said lords of the council...and so submitted him unto their governance.” Nevertheless within a year he had forgotten his promise. Finding his claims ignored at the beginning of 1428, he refused to attend parliament until they were satisfied. But his desertion of Jacqueline and her cause had lost him popular support and it was no longer necessary to spare his feelings. In a crushing rejoinder, the lords justified the arrangements which they had made in 1422 and exhorted him “to be content...and not to desire, will or use any larger power” than he had been granted then. At last Humphrey admitted defeat; for the remaining months of the protectorate, he did not once question the council's right to command his service.

This same year which witnessed Gloucester’s submission was also memorable for the victory of the government in another quarrel. Soon after his election Martin V had revived the ancient controversy over Provisors. But although he again and again pressed for the withdrawal of the offending statute of 1390, his representations fell on deaf ears. At length in 1427 his patience was exhausted. Accusing Archbishop Chichele of lukewarmness, he ordered him to use his influence more actively in the Church’s cause. When this too proved fruitless, he suspended the Primate’s legatine commission and threatened England with an interdict. His bulls, however, were seized by the royal officers and not permitted to take effect. In January 1428 Chichele besought parliament to comply with Rome’s demands. It would nevertheless be wrong to assume that he therefore either sympathised with the Pope’s campaign or was intimidated by his threats. Since he must have known that the commons would reject his plea, it is more likely that he wished to ease Martin’s retreat from the humiliating position into which his offensive tactics had got him. Thus the Pope was able to accept this evidence of his servant’s zeal and to let the proceedings against him drop. But though in future Rome adopted more diplomatic methods to gain its object, the statutes remained in force. All that this dispute had done was to make Martin extremely unpopular in England.

Cardinal Beaufort therefore chose a most inauspicious moment to return home on papal business. After a futile crusade against the Hussites, he arrived in August 1428 to collect men and money for another invasion of Bohemia. His reception was far from cordial. Only one bishop—his creature, Neville of Salisbury—was present at his state entry into London, while convocation declined to vote him any funds. On the other hand, although the government formally protested against his use of his legatine authority in England, it allowed him to recruit half the numbers for which he asked. He might still have escaped unscathed had not events in France now taken a serious turn. Before his preparations were complete, the English were obliged to raise the siege of Orleans and to fall back towards Paris. News of Talbot’s defeat at Patay, arriving just as the crusaders were about to leave for Bohemia, startled the council from its preoccupation with domestic issues. Bedford wanted reinforcements at once, but it had none handy; and so on 1 July 1429 it persuaded Beaufort to lead his crusading army against the French. It is not clear what induced him to obey. But whether he acted under duress or from motives of patriotism, his obedience cost him the favour of the Pope. Martin set great store by the Church’s neutrality and, when he heard what his legate had done, he refused to accept his excuses. So grave was his displeasure that there was no question of his employing the cardinal again.

The resurrection of French nationalism discovered the weakness of Bedford’s hold on the conquered provinces. His seven-years’ rule had been tactful and conciliatory, but it could not avoid being burdensome; for he had had to rely too much on his own resources with only meagre and intermittent support from home. Although Beaufort’s 3000 men had arrived in time to save Paris from capture, a great deal of ground had been meanwhile lost and the confidence of the army was badly shaken after its hurried retreat. The Regent therefore decided that his best hope of putting new heart into his followers was to send for the king. Henry’s presence would also help to counteract the growing prestige of Charles VII among the inhabitants of northern France, while another advantage of this plan was that it compelled the English government to assume responsibility for the war and to provide a retinue worthy of the occasion of the king’s first voyage. For once the councillors did not shirk their duties; half of them consented to accompany the king; even parliament acknowledged the need for heroic measures by voting a double subsidy, and everything possible was done to make the expedition a success. In readiness for his departure, Henry was belatedly crowned at Westminster on 6 November 1429; he crossed the Channel with a numerous and impressive company on St George’s Day 1430.

The king’s coronation served as a pretext for removing Gloucester from office. Regrettable as the experiment may well have seemed to the lords, his appointment as Protector with carefully defined, indeed almost negligible, powers had undoubtedly minimised his capacity for mischief. His struggles to upset the constitution of 1422, though a frequent source of anxiety, had eventually ceased. For nearly two years he had behaved with propriety and restraint, submitting himself to conciliar control. Now the abolition of the protectorate once more unmuzzled him. The unwisdom of this did not disclose itself immediately, for two reasons. In the first place the duke had himself at length grasped how much he stood to gain by caution; instead of harping on his rights as of old, he conducted himself with unusual forbearance while he awaited a suitable moment for an offensive. Secondly, he was no sooner free than his hands were again tied, although only temporarily, by the scheme of government drawn up in anticipation of the king’s absence from the country. At a council, held at Canterbury on 16 April 1430, it was decided inter alia that nothing controversial should be done by the councillors in England until their colleagues in France had expressed their concurrence; it was therefore impossible for Gloucester, even if he succeeded in winning over a majority of those who remained at home, to dismiss any of the great officers of State or to alter the composition of the council; and neither the Chancellor, Archbishop Kemp, nor the Treasurer, Lord Hungerford, could be trusted to fall in with his plans. In consequence it was necessary to await the king’s return. The interval was employed by Gloucester in living down his unfortunate reputation. One liberty he did allow himself, that of harassing Cardinal Beaufort. The latter’s anomalous legal status offered an easy mark, attacks on which were well calculated to arouse the sympathy not only of the laity but also of the bishops, who in the absence of many lords at the war usually outnumbered their secular colleagues on the council. Gloucester’s championship of English liberties threatened by papal encroachment probably did more than anything else to deflect suspicion from his own designs and to create a party favourable to him among the lords. Already in the spring of 1429 he had called in question, inconclusively but not entirely without success, Beaufort’s right to hold the see of Winchester in commendam. In January 1430, on the ground that no man could faithfully serve two masters, he criticised a proposal to invite the cardinal to resume his seat in the council; in deference to his objection, the reappointment was made conditional upon Beaufort’s taking no part in discussions which touched the relations of Church and State. But for the fact that Beaufort was contributing largely to the expenses of the royal voyage, it is unlikely that he would have emerged from these encounters so comparatively unscathed. Whatever its sentiments, the council could scarcely proceed to extremes against one who in little over a year put nearly £24,000 at the government’s disposal. Moreover, in spite of his being regarded with jealousy and suspicion in many quarters, Beaufort was far from friendless. On the other hand, his loans are no evidence of his desire to recover his lost influence in English politics. His thoughts were still elsewhere. For notwithstanding his dismissal in 1429, he had not ceased to entertain hopes of further work at Rome, and when he sailed with Henry VI in 1430 it was to be nearer at hand and secure from interference in the event of a papal summons. His expectations were not disappointed. Martin, it is true, remained implacable, but Martin’s successor, Eugenius IV, elected in March 1431, did not pursue the quarrel. Letters of recall arrived early in 1432. The cardinal, with the permission of those councillors who were with the king in France, hastened to obey. But as he was making ready, a fresh attack by Gloucester, delivered with unexpected force, left him no choice but to abandon his preparations and to return to England to defend himself.

It would have been far better for Gloucester had he suffered his enemy to depart in peace. His clearest chance of success in the coup d'état which he was then plotting lay in the prolonged absence of his only serious rival from the scene. With Beaufort safely out of the way, no one stood between Duke Humphrey and his objectives; by compelling Beaufort to reside in England, he made the one serious blunder in an otherwise well-laid plan. Until the autumn of 1431 nothing had occurred to disturb the harmony of his relations with the English council. In May of that year he had been employed to stamp out a Lollard conspiracy which was discovered at Abingdon, a task which he performed without mercy and which seems to have given him confidence for what he had in hand. It was on the strength of this cheap triumph that a great council in November was called upon by Lord Scrope, his warmest supporter, to grant him a largely increased salary for life, though the motion was only carried in the teeth of a considerable opposition under the leadership of Kemp and Hungerford. An attempt to persuade a similar assembly to condemn Beaufort in his absence for a breach of the Statute of Praemunire did not, however, meet with enough support. Gloucester had better fortune with the privy council; yet although it agreed on §8 November to the sealing of writs of praemunire against the cardinal, it persuaded the duke to suspend their execution until the king landed. The threat of these proceedings would probably have sufficed to bring Beaufort lo England; but in addition a vast quantity of his portable wealth was seized by Gloucester’s orders on 6 February 1432 as it was being smuggled from Sandwich to the continent. Beaufort, who had parted from the king at Calais to go on a visit to the Burgundian court, was in Flanders when news of his peril reached him. From Ghent on 16 February he wrote to his friend the Chancellor requesting his good offices and appointing attorneys to answer the charge of praemunire. From Ghent also on 13 April he addressed to the citizens of London what was virtually a manifesto, in which he proclaimed his innocence, denounced his accusers, and intimated his intention of confronting them in person as soon as parliament assembled. He had not long to wait. Writs had already been sent out summoning members to meet at Westminster on 12 May, and it was there shortly afterwards that he presented himself for trial.

Meanwhile Henry VI0’s entry into London on 21 February had been Gloucester's cue. In the space of a few days he brought about a complete change of government. The Archbishop of York was relieved of the great seal on 25 February; next day Scrope succeeded Hungerford at the exchequer; and on 1 March Lords Cromwell and Tiptoft, together with some lesser officials, were removed from the household. At the same time writs ordering Beaufort to appear before the king’s justices at Westminster, which had been held in readiness, were sent to the sheriffs, while the repayment of his loans was interrupted. There followed a lull; but the existence of an order to certain lords, including the aggrieved Cromwell, forbidding them to come to parliament with more than their customary retinues, proves that trouble was anticipated. As soon as the session had been formally opened, Gloucester hastened to disarm criticism by a declaration that, although his birth entitled him in his brother’s absence to be the king’s chief councillor, he would nevertheless act in co-operation with the council and not “ex suo proprio capite”. This assurance was well received, and Gloucester had no difficulty in snubbing Cromwell when the latter sought to raise the question of his summary dismissal. Duke Humphrey’s position was for the moment unassailable, and Beaufort on his return wisely confined himself to his own defence. At what stage in the proceedings he made his appearance is uncertain; but it was not until 3 July that he succeeded in obtaining redress. On a motion of the commons, the charges against him were quashed, while Gloucester graciously consented to admit that his loyalty was not in question. Some sacrifices, however, were necessary to produce this result. In order to recover his property, which the court of the exchequer had adjudged on 14 May to be forfeited to the Crown, he had to make a deposit of £6,000; this was not to be restored to him unless he could satisfy the king of his innocence within six years. And the repayment of his loans was only resumed when he had agreed to lend another £6,000. Lastly, some sort of promise was extracted from him that he would not attempt to re-enter papal service without the government’s consent. If therefore he had been able to repulse Gloucester’s attack, it was only at the expense of his most cherished ambition. For another year even his prospects in England remained far from bright. He was not summoned to the council, over which his adversary held undisputed sway, so that for want of employment he was thrown back on the affairs of his neglected diocese. But, as in 1425, the intervention of the Duke of Bedford in July 1433 again rescued him from his isolation.

Bedford came to England neither to take sides nor to apportion blame, but to compose the dissensions which threatened the cause which he had most at heart. His sole concern was with the increasing gravity of the military outlook in France. The Burgundian alliance, upon which English security depended, was becoming strained. A resolute offensive would therefore be necessary in 1434 if disaster was to be avoided, and Bedford knew that he could only achieve this in co-operation with the ministers at home. To a limited extent he gained his purpose. He seems, that is, to have shamed the English leaders into sinking their differences and consenting to work together in outward amity. But it was easier to restore “good and abundant governance”, to get Beaufort and Gloucester to share responsibility, than to overcome the financial obstacle and to place another army in the field. Duke Humphrey had perhaps not been unusually liberal in his awards to himself and his partisans, but the exchequer was practically  empty. One of Bedford’s first actions was to dismiss Scrope and to make Cromwell Treasurer. In his campaign to extract supplies he was to find in Cromwell an energetic and resourceful collaborator. Under his guidance the permanent officials were immediately set to investigate the nature and extent of the Crown’s resources and commitments. The result was the fullest and probably the most accurate financial summary which has survived from the medieval period. This was laid before parliament on 18 October by the new Treasurer, who brought out its implications in an accompanying gloss. Excluding the war from his calculations and dealing only with the requirements of the home government, he estimated that receipts fell short of normal expenditure by at least £35,000 per annum. Yet even these receipts were not available, since they had already been pledged to creditors for more than two years in advance. He was daily compelled to refuse payment on countless warrants which were brought to him, and these went to swell a debt which at that moment amounted to over £168,000. Even therefore if Bedford’s military needs could be met wholly out of special taxation, not in itself a likely event, the domestic problem would remain unsolved. The stinginess of the commons finally shattered any hope that survived of a large-scale offensive in France in the following year. Something, however, was gained by the report. The lords swore to support Cromwell in his unpopular duty of curtailing grants, while the councillors under Bedford’s leadership set an example to others by consenting to forgo the whole or part of their salaries in the national interest. Thus encouraged, the Treasurer agreed to continue in office. But although, during the next few years, he revealed determination in opposing thoughtless extravagance, tried his hand at manipulating the wool trade to the royal profit, and applied novel methods of taxation, he scarcely touched even the fringes of the problem. Meanwhile commissioners of loans reported a steady deterioration of the royal credit, and the yield of taxation itself began to be affected by a decline in national prosperity. Peace, the first condition of financial recovery, proved unattainable, and as the war dragged on the policy of repudiation with all its ruinous social consequences was forced more and more urgently upon a desperate government.

Bedford took no pains to conceal the bitterness of his disappointment. But not unnaturally he was beginning to tire of exertions which brought him neither credit nor reward, and when both lords and commons urged him to prolong his stay in England as Chief of the King’s Council, he yielded with a good grace. A peasant rising in Normandy, however, soon recalled him to a sense of duty. Under no illusions as to the hopelessness of his task, he took his leave early in July 1434. His premature death at Rouen just over a year later was an irremediable misfortune for the Lancastrian dynasty. Not that even his courage and unselfish devotion could have much longer staved off the inevitable in France. But as the one adviser of Henry VI whose character commanded universal respect, he might have exercised a moderating influence in English politics which would be sorely missed during the coming critical years. A few days before his death another event, almost equally calamitous, had sealed the fate of Paris. At Arras on 21 September 1435, as a result of the breakdown of negotiations for a general peace, Duke Philip the Good forgave his father’s murderers and was reconciled with Charles VII. If not entirely unexpected, Burgundy’s defection created a profound impression in England. For some time the cause of peace had been gaining ground there. The more far-sighted among the councillors were definitely in its favour, provided that it could be achieved without sacrifice of territory or of national pride. The attitude of the country as a whole was noncommittal; most men grudged the cost and effort inseparable from war and yet were noticeably lukewarm in their desire for peace. It was as though they had awakened from the dream of cheaply-won military glory but not to a full realisation of the possibility of outright defeat. All this was now changed. Within a year of Arras the people’s jealous hatred of the Flemings, which had been with difficulty restrained for a quarter of a century in the interests of Anglo-Burgundian friendship, gathered such force that the government was reluctantly stampeded into war with its recent ally. At the same time Englishmen began to harden their hearts in an angry determination to surrender nothing voluntarily, to denounce all concessions as treasonable and, if they could not have peace on their own terms, to relieve their feelings by making scapegoats of their leaders.

At home the political truce which Bedford had imposed was outwardly maintained, but it only thinly disguised the transfer of power into the hands of a group headed by Cardinal Beaufort who, once he had been readmitted to the council, made short work of the rival pretensions of the Duke of Gloucester. The stages by which this group captured control are now obscure; but the factor which assured its permanence was undoubtedly the favour of the king. The reappointment of the council on 12 November 1437 marks the formal termination of the minority. But for at least two years before this Henry VI had been enjoying a share in the administration. He had not yet celebrated his fourteenth birthday when he began to minute state papers with his own hand, while 1436 saw the signet and other “immediate” warrants again in general use. Apart from this precocious interest in public affairs, the king’s childhood would seem to have been normal and healthy. Hardyng’s oft-quoted assertion that he was from the first so simple as to be unable to distinguish between right and wrong, cannot be accepted; for, whatever may have been Henry’s shortcomings, it is hard to believe that a defective moral sense was ever one of them. There is as little reason for supposing that he was physically backward. In 1432 he was described as so “grown in years, in stature of his person, and also in conceit and knowledge of his royal estate, the which cause him to grudge with chastising” that it was thought wise to arm his “master”, the accomplished Warwick, with more authority to correct him. This early promise, recalling his father’s youth, was not to be fulfilled. Henry grew up a delicate and studious recluse, not merely without military ambition but with a pious horror of all bloodshed, morbidly devout and wholly incapable both in peace and war of giving his distracted realm the leadership it craved. We do not know anything to account for this breakdown; it is probable, however, that between 1432 and 1435 he prematurely overtaxed a constitution in which the faulty strains of Lancaster and Valois were united. The alternative, that his spirit was broken by harsh treatment, seems scarcely worth considering. It was not until many years later that his brain definitely gave way, but at fifteen he was already a nervous invalid, whose feeble will rendered him the easy victim of those who sought to use him. Although the council affected to lament his pliancy and more than once rebuked his open-handedness, its members for all their joint protestations were not the men to be deterred from exploiting such attractive qualities to the full. For a year or two Henry distributed his favours with a generous impartiality, but this heyday of the office-seeker was soon over. Before long the flow of patronage was regulated and the Beaufort faction came to be its sole conduit. In denying others access to the source, the cardinal was greatly assisted by the king’s ill-health, which made it advisable for the latter to reside out of town and therefore deprived him of direct and frequent contact with his council. Beaufort had only to secure the loyal co-operation of the Household to achieve his end. In this he was entirely successful. He had many well-wishers among the officials; of these the staunchest was the Steward, William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk; but he could also rely on the assistance of Sir William Phelip the Chamberlain, Sir Ralph Boteler, Sir John Stourton, Sir John Beauchamp, Robert Rolleston, and the brothers Roger and James Fenys (or Fiennes), the majority of whom were eventually raised to the peerage in recognition of their services.

But what perhaps most facilitated this transition from conciliar to curialist government was the constant presence at the king’s side of an additional clerk of the council. Designed in all probability as a link between the central administration and the court, this office, in the able hands of Adam Moleyns, a devoted adherent of the new regime, was soon turned to a very different use. By 1438 Moleyns was in all but name the king’s principal secretary, discharging his duties under the eyes of a few officials and household knights, often in the presence of Suffolk alone. And yet his endorsement on a bill, with or without the royal sign-manual, was a sufficient warrant for both the great and privy seals. Outside the household, Beaufort’s warmest supporters were, among the baronage, his two nephews Somerset and Dorset, the Earl of Stafford, and Lords Cromwell, Beaumont, Tiptoft, and Hungerford; among the bishops, Kemp of York and Lumley of Carlisle. The cardinal, however, was aging, and when in 1443 he finally retired from public life Suffolk stepped into his shoes. Consciously or unconsciously the king was their willing instrument. It is possible, indeed, that he was deliberately kept in ignorance of the real state of popular sentiment; for, according to Gascoigne, he was guarded with such care that those invited to preach before him had either to undertake to say nothing “against the actions or counsels of the king’s ministers’” or else to allow their sermons to be censored in advance by the officials of the court. On the other hand, the favourites were quick to shelter behind the royal name and to attribute many of their most controversial decisions to the exercise of the king’s personal authority alone. By these and other means, the council was gradually stripped of its importance, devitalised rather than suppressed outright. As a purely advisory body, without control over the seals, meeting at a distance from the court and communicating with Henry only through his ministers, it continued to debate such questions as were referred to it, but its inability to take action on them caused the atmosphere of its meetings to become increasingly unreal. As Gloucester himself said, what was the use of their wasting their time when the cardinal would have his way in any case. It is not surprising that barons who were out of sympathy with the regime found attendance unprofitable and began to stay away. Duke Humphrey, it is true, still came to criticise, but even he lost patience when his utterances were ignored. Although several attempts were made to revive its effectiveness, notably in 1444 during Suffolk’s absence abroad, the council was in eclipse until the eve of civil war.

These developments seemingly excited no comment in parliament. The commons may have been deceived by the very gradualness of the change, but in any case they were preoccupied with other issues. If they had any quarrel with the king’s treatment of his council, it was for the moment overshadowed by their concern for the future of international trade. Their plain-speaking on this topic proves at least that their apparent indifference to the need for constitutional reform did not spring from timidity. Profiting at every turn from the crippled state of the royal finances, they gave the government no rest. In their view its unenterprising naval policy was responsible for the fact that the high seas and many continental ports were no longer safe for English merchantmen. Although their strictures were not undeserved, they forgot how much this insecurity was due to the excesses of their own privateers whom they themselves had encouraged in the teeth of ministerial opposition. For twenty years the Statute of Truces and Safeconducts had acted as a reasonably effective deterrent, but isolated cases of piracy were from time to time reported to the council. In the parliament of 1430, however, an agitation was begun for the repeal of the statute. This came to a head in 1435, when in the hope of coercing Burgundy the ministers, acting probably under the stress of poverty, agreed to relax its operation for a period of seven years. They soon had reason to regret their decision. No sooner were the seamen unleashed the Flemings than they turned to prey on the shipping of other nations with a total disregard for safeconducts and neutrality. Reprisals only led to fresh excesses, and in a short time all the worst features of 1403 were again rife. Too late the government endeavoured to repair the damage by negotiating commercial treaties with Flanders and the Hanseatic League. But they were running counter to popular prejudices, they were not strong enough to put down piracy, and the treaties were still unratified when parliament met in November 1439 in a mood of bellicose nationalism which destroyed all chances of peace. Instead of blaming the irresponsibility of such shipmen as John Mixtow and William Kyd, the commons interpreted the situation as yet another argument for their favourite thesis—the injustice of permitting aliens to trade in the home markets. That the king both protected these unwanted competitors and at the same time failed to “keep the seas’’ increased their sense of grievance. For a whole session the court resisted this attack. But it could not afford to maintain an attitude which threatened to deprive it of the necessary supplies. After failing to weaken the resolution of its opponents by transferring parliament from Westminster to Reading, it at length capitulated in January 1440. Not only was it obliged to impose “hosting* regulations of an unusually irksome kind, but to accept a poll-tax on foreign residents as a fraction of its reward. Two years later another parliament re-enacted these measures, and made the want of order in the Channel a convenient excuse for entrusting the policing of the coasts to a body of private traders. At the same time the Statute of Truces was suspended for another twenty years. These acts completed the reorientation of English mercantile policy and the substitution of anarchy for order. Such exploits as the capture of the Bay Fleet by Robert Winnington in 1449 were a doubtful gain when set alongside the interruption of ancient trade-routes and the loss of foreign markets which this reversal of policy involved. Nor did the government derive any lasting benefit from a surrender which only too clearly had not been accompanied by a change of heart; on the contrary, it was still suspected of lukewarmness in its championship of native interests and allowed scant credit for having its hands full elsewhere.

Meanwhile Beaufort and his friends had not entirely lost sight of the fact that their own safety as much as the nation’s welfare depended upon the cessation of hostilities in France. To seek peace, however, was one thing, a totally different thing to agree to the humiliating price at which it was offered by a confident foe. Even when the English representatives had at length brought themselves to abandon Henry VFs claim to the French throne, they still clung obstinately to the hope that he would not be required to do homage for his continental lands. It was because Charles VII proved unaccommodating on this point that the conversations between Beaufort and the Duchess of Burgundy, held near Calais in the autumn of 1439, were broken off with a general peace as far away as ever.

But the failure of Somerset’s expedition in 1443, on the success of which much had been staked, and the gradual loss of ground in the north during York’s lieutenancy finally convinced Suffolk for one that the only thing that now mattered was the preservation of what remained of Henry V’s conquests, even if this implied a sacrifice of title and a confession of defeat. The earl had a better right to express an opinion on the military situation than any other of the king’s ministers. For like his grandfather, the hated favourite of Richard II, he had seen long service in the wars before he turned courtier and advocate of peace. Experience had also well qualified him to act as an ambassador; apart from the diplomatic knowledge which he had gained at Arras, as Dunois’ prisoner after Jargeau, and for four years the amiable gaoler of Charles of Orleans, he had become intimate with several of the French leaders. Unfortunately, he did not possess the courage of his convictions and was unwilling to identify himself publicly with a course of action which might become unpopular. For ten years he had enjoyed great backstairs influence without attracting hostile notice, when Beaufort’s retirement forced him out into the open. But though he was bent on self-aggrandisement, he had no taste for the kind of prominence which had been fatal to his grandfather. Foreseeing that he might be accused of betraying his country’s interests if he assumed the responsibility of treating in person with Charles VII, he tried to shift the burden to other shoulders; the mere rumour of his appointment had been sufficient, he alleged, to provoke an ugly growl from the citizens of London. He was, however, overborne by his equally nervous colleagues and, on the explicit understanding that he should incur no individual blame for what he was about to do, he consented in February 1444 to head an embassy to the French court. Although no impartial record of his mission survives, his own account, if only because it reveals him as shirking all the major issues, bears the stamp of truth. According to this, he secured the hand of Margaret of Anjou for his master and a general truce for two years without committing England definitely to anything in return. As he told parliament in 1445, ‘he neither uttered ne communed of the specialty of the matters concerning in any wise the said Treaty of peace, nor of what manner of thing the same Treaty should be”; he left all this to be determined later by the king himself in consultation with ambassadors from France. His audience was so relieved at the ease with which he had obtained this breathing-space that they were blind to the possibility that a final settlement might not be won as cheaply; their subsequent disillusionment and anger were all the more extreme. For the moment everything seemed to be going well for Suffolk. He returned from Tours with a greatly enhanced reputation. His report was enthusiastically accepted by both lords and commons and Gloucester himself seconded the Speaker’s vote of thanks. But on 22 December 1445, Henry VI, acting apparently under the influence of his sixteen-year-old queen, wrote to his father-in-law, Rene of Anjou, agreeing to the surrender of Maine. He had reckoned without the effect of his promise in England. Owing to the refusal of his captains to obey orders, the province had to be taken by force in March 1448. Meanwhile, although the truce was renewed, the occurrence of frontier incidents and the rising temper of the English had killed all prospects of a stable peace. Finally Charles VII declared war in July 1449.

The news of the proposed delivery of Maine annihilated Suffolk’s brief popularity and stamped him in most eyes as a traitor. It became an article of common belief that he had already promised it secretly when negotiating the king's marriage, but for this there is not a scrap of evidence. Many stories of his criminal incompetence as a general, his Francophil sympathies, and his treasonable ambition were soon being freely circulated. Although the majority of these were unfounded, his detractors were on firmer ground when they criticised his covetousness. There was no gainsaying that he had profited from his situation at court to a degree unusual even in those times; when the commons put the number of his patents at more than thirty, they were guilty of no exaggeration.1 And not content with amassing lands and offices, he and his business partners made use of royal licences to circumvent the regulations of the Staple and to forestall their competitors in the Flemish wool market. While privileges like these set the middle classes against him, his territorial designs excited the jealousy and alarm of his own order. In East Anglia, where his ancestral estates lay, he was a grasping and unscrupulous neighbour; and Sir John Fastolf was not the only landowner to find himself “vexed and troubled by the might and power of the Duke of Suffolk and by the labour of his council and servants”. Such notorious malefactors as Sir Thomas Tuddenham and William Tailboys were encouraged to terrorise the countryside and were shielded from justice in the royal courts. In this way Suffolk made a host of enemies, including his former colleague, Ralph, Lord Cromwell, and the young and powerful Duke of Norfolk. His example was naturally followed elsewhere by other members of the government; in no district more ruthlessly than in Kent, where the tyrannies and extortions practised by Lord Say and Sele with the aid of his son-in-law, sheriff William Crowmer, led to Cade's Rebellion in 1450. It is not surprising that the regime did not last.

At the moment when his reputation was becoming tarnished, Suffolk involved himself in fresh difficulties by making a martyr of the Duke of Gloucester and by alienating the even more formidable Duke of York. In his dealings with York he would appear to have been gratuitously offensive, but with regard to Gloucester it is more than likely that he could not help himself. For Duke Humphrey had ceased to be a harmless spectator with the veering of popular opinion against the truce. The difference was clearly marked in his bearing during the parliament of 1445-46; at its beginning he joined with the estates in congratulating Suffolk upon his diplomatic triumph; before its close he had denounced the government’s peace policy in unmeasured terms. This “Long Parliament”, with its protracted debates and numerous adjournments, severely tried the ministers’ patience and opened their eyes to the danger of allowing Gloucester to remain at large. They therefore decided upon his impeachment and, in order to lessen the risk of a miscarriage, to hold the trial at Bury St Edmunds, where Suffolk’s influence was strong. The latter’s adherents were mustered in large numbers about the town when parliament met there on 10 February 1447, less than a year after its troublesome predecessor had been dissolved. Gloucester justified these precautions by making a show of resistance, but was easily outmatched. As soon as he had arrived, on 18 February, he was placed under arrest in his lodgings. Five days later he was dead. Although foul play is improbable and in fact was not at first suspected, a removal so opportune was bound to give rise to unpleasant conjectures. Embroidered with much contradictory detail, the murder of “the good Duke Humphrey” became before long part of the stock-in-trade of every Yorkist pamphleteer. Even Cardinal Beaufort, then himself dying far away at Winchester, was eventually made to play a part in this fictitious tragedy.

Unlike Gloucester, York had had no quarrel with Suffolk or his colleagues before 1443. In that year, however, the appointment of the Duke of Somerset to be Captain-General of France and Guienne had given him, as the king’s Lieutenant in Normandy, just cause for protest. Scarcely had this storm blown over than he began to nurse another and more rankling grievance. It was being openly said in England and, as he hinted, with the connivance of the ministers, that he had “not governed the finances of France and Normandy so well to their weal and profit as he might have done”. In 1445 he came home to attend parliament, and was so far successful in clearing himself that by 20 July 1446 his accounts had been examined and approved. This did not, however, silence his traducers. He therefore decided to pick a quarrel with Suffolk’s right-hand man, Adam Moleyns, by this time Bishop of Chichester and Keeper of the Privy Seal, whom he regarded as the source of his ill-fame. Moleyns, he told the council, had bribed soldiers from the Norman garrisons to complain to the king that he had defrauded them of their pay. The insuiting terms in which Moleyns flatly denied the truth of this accusation still further widened the breach between them, put an excessive strain on York’s loyalty, and made 1447 the turning-point in his career. By treating him as an enemy, the court had made him one. Though time would disclose his want of judgment, no one could have been better suited by rank and fortune for the leadership of what was now certainly the popular cause. He had become in 1447 by the death of Gloucester heir presumptive to the throne; through his mother he had already inherited the rival Mortimer claim, and as the representative of the three noble houses of York, March, and Clarence he was far and away the largest landowner among the king’s subjects. Suffolk’s reasons for wishing to be rid of him are clear. After prolonged hesitation, it was decided not to send him back to France, where he was beginning to win the affection of the army, but to virtual exile as King’s Lieutenant in Ireland. His appointment was dated 29 September 1447, but he was so reluctant to obey that nearly two years elapsed before he betook himself to his new post.

Yet even with Gloucester and York out of the way, Suffolk can hardly have felt himself secure. His government, enjoying neither the respect of the people nor the co-operation, outside certain districts, of the landed gentry, found it almost impossible to preserve order. Tyranny at the centre was therefore diversified by anarchy on the fringes, where the king’s writ ran to little or no purpose. In many parts of England, but especially in the more lawless north and west, magnates were beginning to settle their disputes in the field rather than in the royal courts. Even when the forms of law were outwardly respected, justice was perverted by corruption and “maintenance,” for although judges were as a rule superior to bribery or intimidation, this was most certainly not the case with sheriffs, juries, and witnesses. A legal quarrel often ended in an encounter between rival bands of men-at-arms. In 1441, for example, Devon witnessed the first of a series of “wars” between Courtenays and Bonvilles, in which, it is said with perhaps some exaggeration, “many men were hurt and many slain.” Yet when the parties were called to account, they made the merest pretence of obeying and were soon again at one another’s throats. It was the knowledge that he could not count on redress in Star Chamber which prompted Archbishop Kemp to garrison Ripon “like a town of war” when threatened by Sir William Plumpton and the inhabitants of Knaresborough Forest. That the king’s ministers from weakness tolerated such breaches of the peace sapped their remaining authority and brought them into universal contempt. For a decade the country had been slowly getting out of hand; by the autumn of 1449 it was ripe for revolution and civil war.

What finally destroyed Suffolk was the French invasion of Normandy, for it precipitated the long-impending financial crisis. Since 1433 the royal debt had risen from £168,000 to £372,000; the land was full of disappointed creditors and of unpaid and mutinous soldiers; and now a new expeditionary force was wanted. Although the Winchester parliament of 1449 had only just been dissolved when war broke out, another immediately became necessary. This met at Westminster on 6 November, to be greeted on its arrival by news of the fall of Rouen. The Speaker, William Tresham, who was an adherent of the Duke of York, was not long in proving himself a resolute champion of administrative reform. The hour had come for the rats to leave the sinking ship; the Treasurer, Bishop Lumley of Carlisle, had in fact already resigned in September rather than face the wrath of the commons; his example was followed by Bishop Moleyns on 9 December and by the Chancellor, Archbishop Stafford, on 31 January. Cardinal Kemp, who had for some time wisely held himself aloof, now accepted the great seal and displayed considerable ingenuity in steering a moderate course under difficult circumstances. The new Treasurer, Lord Say, who had the more exacting task, was less skilful. What looked suspiciously like an attempt by William Tailboys to murder Lord Cromwell, in Westminster Hall on 28 November, produced the first trial of strength. Although defended by Suffolk, Tailboys was committed to the Tower to await trial at the request of the lower house.

When parliament adjourned for Christmas, the future of the unpopular favourites was still in doubt. But during the vacation, on 9 January, Moleyns was assassinated at Portsmouth “for his covetousness’’ by a mob of angry seamen; as he died some sort of confession was wrung from him which fatally incriminated Suffolk in the loss of Maine. The duke’s impeachment was now inevitable. But although Cromwell was working assiduously against him among the members, he was still secure in the royal favour. Moreover, when the estates reassembled on 22 January, “there was great watch about the king and in the city of London every night. And the people were in doubt and fear what should fall, for the lords came to Westminster and to the parliament with great power as men of war”. Hoping to steal a march on his critics, Suffolk rose on the first day of the new session to ask to be heard in his own defence; he recited his past services and challenged anyone to find any evidence of his disloyalty. The commons, however, were not to be intimidated; their answer was to request his arrest pending a detailed indictment. This was at first refused by the lords. But when the commons asserted that the duke had sold England to Charles VII and had fortified and victualled Wallingford Castle in readiness to assist the invaders, he was ordered to the Tower. On 7 February he was formally impeached under nine heads. These amounted to little more than a repetition of current gossip about his treasonable correspondence with the French, the supposed object of which was to place his son, John de la Pole, on the English throne, after marrying him to the Beaufort heiress, Margaret of Somerset. This was unconvincing enough, but even more wildly improbable was the suggestion that he had deliberately prevented peace with France. When the indictment was read over to Henry VI in council on 12 February, he ordered the matter to be reserved for his own decision. This was generally interpreted as an acquittal. “The Duke of Suffolk is pardoned”, Margaret Paston wrote from Norwich a month afterwards, “and hath his men again waiting upon him and is right well at ease and merry.” But already her news was out of date. On 7 March the lords ordered the impeachment to proceed and two days later the commons presented a fresh bill of charges, far weightier than their first. The duke, they argued in the course of eighteen articles, had been the “priviest of the king's counsel” since 1437, and during this time had impoverished the realm, broken its laws, sold offices to the highest bidder, and enriched himself mightily at the Crown’s expense. The prisoner in reply stoutly maintained his innocence and described these new counts as “false and untrue.” But during the ensuing argument some damaging points were made against him. The lords still hesitated to deliver their verdict, and meanwhile the court was working behind the scenes to achieve a compromise. This was announced by the Chancellor in the king’s name on 17 March; no judgment would be passed on the accused, but he would be banished from the country for five years. Soon afterwards he was set at liberty. At the same time parliament was adjourned to Leicester in an attempt to save his friends. Narrowly escaping capture by the infuriated Londoners, Suffolk made his way to Ipswich, where he solemnly swore to his innocence in the presence of the county and bade farewell to his heir. On 1 May he embarked for Calais. He was, however, intercepted in the Channel by a mutinous royal ship, the Nicholas of the Tower, and beheaded without further trial by a nameless Irishman with six strokes of a rusty sword. Mysterious as was his end, his character and aims are hardly more intelligible. To one historian he is a statesman, farsighted, loyal, and misunderstood, to another an unscrupulous and blundering tyrant. The truth, as so often, lies probably somewhere midway between these opposite extremes. For good or ill, he was no figure of heroic mould; ambitious yet timid, corrupt yet well-meaning, he was the inevitable scapegoat who atoned for the sins of others as much as for his own.

The fall of Suffolk was the signal for which the country had been waiting. While his trial was in progress, riots, routs, and unlawful congregations were reported from various quarters. Kent especially, for long the playground of Lord Say and his band of extortioners, was in a ferment, inspired by wandering agitators known as “the Queen of the Fair” and “Captain Bluebeard.” The authorities dealt promptly with a danger so near the capital, and Captain Bluebeard, alias Thomas Cheyney, a fuller of Canterbury “feigning himself a hermit”, was caught and executed. For a while all was quiet. Then at the beginning of June a large and disciplined force, commanded by one Jack Cade, who called himself John Mortimer, a cousin of the Duke of York, marched unexpectedly on London and encamped at Blackheath. No contemporary document gives a clearer picture of the hardships with which the lower and middle classes were afflicted than the restrained and skilfully drafted manifesto in which the rebels set forth their grievances. These were partly economic, partly administrative. “All the common people, what for taxes and tallages and other oppressions, might not live by their handwork and husbandry.” The Statute of Labourers, which had been re-enacted with new provisions in 1446, and excessive purveyance were singled out for separate mention, while grave unemployment was said to have been caused in the weaving industry by the interruption of overseas trade. The courts, whether central or local, offered no help to the poor litigant; “the law serveth nought else in these days but for to do wrong.” As for the traitors about the king, it was through them that he “hath lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost (and) the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat and drink.” Among the reforms desired were an act of resumption, the dismissal and punishment of Suffolk’s “false progeny and affinity,” the recall of York, the formation of a new government of “true” barons, and the repeal of the Statute of Labourers. This was a popular programme, and it is not surprising that a London chronicler thought its contents “rightful and reasonable.” Its moderation was calculated to set at rest the fears of property-owners and to win new recruits to the army on Blackheath. With the same objects in view Cade kept his men well under control and dealt severely with those who disobeyed his orders against plundering. Nevertheless the government accused him of advocating communism. The baselessness of this charge is exposed by the recorded occupations of those afterwards pardoned for their share in the insurrection. More than half were yeomen, husbandmen, and craftsmen, and over a hundred were of gentle birth. The presence of 98 constables may explain how the host was collected and why it was so orderly. Far from being a rabble of peasants and labourers, it was a well-organised body drawn from all classes of society below the rank of knight. That these men should have wished to “hold all things in common” was absurd.

Parliament was sitting at Leicester when the court was informed of what was afoot. No time was wasted in raising an army since the lords were already attended by the bulk of their retainers. Having hastily adjourned the session, the king set out for London in their company. From his camp in Clerkenwell Fields, he opened negotiations with Cade’s men on 15 June. But two days later he rejected their demands and peremptorily ordered them to disperse. They withdrew overnight towards Sevenoaks. Here on 18 June the vanguard of the royal army came into conflict with them and suffered a defeat; whereupon the main body, which had remained inactive at Greenwich, became mutinous and began to clamour for the heads of the king’s ministers. The arrest of Lord Say and William Crowmer came too late to appease its wrath. By this time it was completely out of hand and engaged in sacking the houses of courtiers in the city. After some days of indecision, the king retreated to Kenilworth, leaving the citizens to fend for themselves with the help of the Tower garrison. His departure coincided with a general outbreak of disorder in the southern counties. On 29 June at Edington in Wiltshire Bishop Ayscough of Salisbury was dragged from the altar and stoned to death, while other household officials narrowly escaped like fates elsewhere. Cade, who had employed the interval in rounding up supporters from Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, marched into Southwark at their head on 2 July; on the same day the men of Essex, with whom he had established contact, advanced as far as Mile End. Although the rebels had many friends among the Londoners, a majority of the aidermen were justifiably reluctant to admit them within the walls. Treachery, however, next day enabled Cade to obtain possession of London Bridge and to make himself master of the city. His difficulties were vastly increased by the narrow streets and by the excited condition of the London mob, but so well did he maintain discipline that only a few houses were pillaged and no extensive rioting took place. Saturday, 4 July, was occupied in bringing Say and Crowmer to justice. The former, delivered up to his enemies by the commandant of the Tower, was tried at the Guildhall and summarily executed in Cheapside, when he declined to plead; his son-in-law met his death at Mile End. Cade and his followers then passed Sunday quietly in their lodgings on the south bank of the Thames. This gave the city authorities a chance to take the offensive. That night the royal troops sallied forth from the Tower and attempted to recapture London Bridge. But they failed to surprise the sentries, and after a battle which lasted until daybreak they were glad to withdraw under cover of a truce. This encounter, however, had also cooled the ardour of the insurgents. They had less to fight for since their principal oppressors were dead and the others out of reach. When therefore Cardinal Kemp, Archbishop Stafford, and Bishop Waynflete opened negotiations, Cade was ready to come to terms. On 8 July, less than a week after their entry into the capital, the rebels marched home bearing with them full pardons for all that they had done. No sooner were they dispersed than the ministers began to regret their initial clemency. The amnesty which they had granted did not of course apply to any fresh acts of rebellion, and therefore, when Cade made a wholly gratuitous though fruitless assault upon Queenborough Castle in Sheppey, they were within their rights in proclaiming him a traitor. Pursued by the new sheriff of Kent, he fled to hiding in Sussex, where he was mortally wounded on 12 July while resisting arrest. Eight of his accomplices were condemned to death by a royal commission which sat at Canterbury during the following month. For the moment popular indignation had spent its force, and when two other “Captains of Kent” came forward, they failed to raise the commons and were easily suppressed.

The government was still reeling under the shock of these events when Richard of York landed uninvited at Beaumaris. To meet this new danger, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was hurriedly recalled from France and made Constable of England. His presence at the king’s side emphasised the dynastic issue already raised by York’s return. For although his family had been debarred from the royal succession by Henry IV, Somerset was, after the king, the sole surviving male member of the House of Lancaster and therefore, so long as the queen continued barren, the only man who could dispute with York the title of heir to the throne. If, on the other hand, the latter chose to prefer his descent in the female line from Edward III, he had a better right to be king than Henry VI himself. But, whatever may have been at the back of his mind, York, like Bolingbroke in 1399, assumed an air of injured innocence and simple loyalty. It is unlikely that he deceived anyone, except perhaps the unsuspecting king. For some time the name of Mortimer had been in people’s mouths and now its representative, himself the son and nephew of traitors, had returned from banishment without permission to set the realm to rights. Many therefore flocked to his standard, and in spite of several attempts to arrest his advance, he succeeded in reaching Westminster with 4000 men-at-arms. Here, towards the end of September, he forced his way into the royal presence. The household was “afraid right sore” at this intrusion, but the king received his cousin with fair words and accepted without demur his assurances of good faith and allegiance.

From now onwards Henry devoted his energies to the vain task of trying to reconcile the warring elements in his kingdom. It is impossible to doubt his honesty, but had his efforts as peacemaker been the result of guile, they could hardly have played more completely into the hands of Somerset and the courtiers. Again and again York was outwitted. Thus, when he opened his attack by submitting a programme of necessary reforms, he was answered that it was unseemly for the Crown to take one man’s advice alone. This was such sound constitutional doctrine that he could not question it without putting himself openly in the wrong. Nor could he object to the proposed appointment of a “sad and substantial council,” including others besides himself and his friends, His success was no greater in the parliament which met at Westminster on 6 November, even though he spared no pains to prejudice its verdict in his favour. The influence which he brought to bear on the elections doubtless helped to procure him a more sympathetic hearing from the already friendly commons, but he had badly miscalculated the reactions of his fellow peers. Headstrong and self-centred, he neither possessed their confidence nor had exerted himself to secure it; his call to his partisans to be with him during the session in their best array was therefore foiled by the presence of his opponents in equal or superior numbers. He had now lost the advantage of surprise. His royal blood and the pretensions which it nourished were to handicap him as they had handicapped Gloucester. He could not rely upon the support of the barons as a class, because their interests as a class were not served by his elevation to the first place in the State. For them the choice no longer lay, if it had ever lain, between good government and bad government, but between York and Somerset, ultimately between York and Lancaster. In the absence of a common motive, each man would choose as his private ambitions and opportunities dictated. The upper classes were already in any case too much divided by local and family feuds to align themselves solidly on any one side. These lesser loyalties now governed their conduct in the wider field of national politics; if Courtenay was for Lancaster, then Bonville was for York. Duke Richard was, apart from the king, the lord of more acres than any man in England; he could depend upon the assistance of his nephew, John, Duke of Norfolk; and his other kinsmen, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, cadets of the powerful house of Neville, were soon to become his close allies. Those who hated or feared these families as neighbours wanted no stronger motive for drawing closer to the court. Thus, as the issues became clarified, the opposing forces revealed themselves as more evenly matched than at first seemed probable. Yet it was not in York’s nature to draw back, even though he saw the promise of a decisive victory slipping from his grasp. Instead of waiting for a more favourable opportunity, he merely displayed his impotence by appealing Somerset, who soon regained his freedom. The commons fared no better. Their petition, that some thirty men and women, accused of “misbehaving” about the royal person, should be expelled from the court and brought to justice, was treated by the king with almost contemptuous levity. And when Thomas Young, M.P. for Bristol, asked for York’s recognition as heir presumptive to the crown, he was sent to the Tower for his pains, while parliament was immediately dissolved. This was at the end of May 1451. In the previous February, York had further damaged his cause by taking a conspicuous and, it seems, a willing part in the so-called “Harvest of Heads,” that bloody assize by which the last traces of the popular movement in Kent were extinguished. He was soon given cause to repent his harshness, For when he was next hard-pressed, the gates of London were barred against him and the men of Kent remained sullenly unresponsive to the call of Mortimer. It is not difficult to account for the indifference of the middle and lower classes during the Wars of the Roses. Bitter experience had taught them that they could look for little help or gratitude from either party, and they were therefore content except on rare occasions to be idle spectators of a barons’ quarrel. In this battle of kites and crows they only shewed their good sense by their neutrality.

The parliament of 1450-51 had concluded nothing. The government, though badly shaken, had outlived the crisis; it had even succeeded to some extent in entrenching itself afresh; but its most formidable critic was not disarmed and only temporarily discouraged. The struggle therefore continued, in and out of parliament, with increasing violence for another ten years, the result being in doubt up to the very last. Until the autumn of 1453 the tide ran strongly in favour of the Lancastrians. When in February 1452 Duke Richard again took up arms, they were already preparing to strike. He was promptly cornered at Dartford in Kent, induced to disband his forces, and tricked into an ignominious capitulation. In the following year the return of a parliament with strong royalist leanings enabled Somerset to push home his advantage. During the course of two sessions, the one at Reading from 6 to 28 March, the other at Westminster from 25 April to 2 July, an unusual harmony prevailed between the commons and the court. Thus the king was desired to resume all royal grants to York and the other 64 traitors assembled in the field at Dartford” and to “put in oblivion” that petition of 1450 which had aspersed his choice of household servants. Sir William Oldhall, Speaker in the last parliament and one of York’s trusted councillors, was attainted for his share in the recent disturbances, and a statute was passed condemning all who in future neglected to appear at the royal summons to the penalty of utter forfeiture. Needless to say, so loyal a body lent a favourable ear to the king’s request for money; not content with voting one and a half tenths and fifteenths, it granted him the wool-subsidy and certain other taxes for life, and authorised him to raise 20,000 archers at the expense of the shires and boroughs for six months’ service if and when they were required “for the defence of the realm.” Parliament was then adjourned until 12 November. In the interval, however, on or about 10 August, the king, whose strength had been overtaxed, lapsed without warning into a state of imbecility. At first the news was not allowed to leak out. But on 24 October a gathering which is described as a council, though neither Somerset nor the Chancellor was present, met at Westminster, and resolved to send for York “to set rest and union betwixt the lords of this land.” By 21 November he had assumed control. Shortly afterwards Somerset was appealed by Norfolk and committed to the Tower. The situation had, however, been complicated by the birth of a son and heir to the queen on 13 October, an event which destroyed York’s hope of a peaceful succession to the throne on Henry’s death. He met this new blow with commendable calm. If there were those who cast doubts on the boy’s paternity, he gave their insinuations no official countenance. On the other hand, motherhood wrought a violent change in Margaret’s position and behaviour. Whereas she had hitherto rested content with a subordinate place at her husband’s side, interfering only to obtain small favours for her personal dependants, she now became the resolute and implacable defender of her son’s rights. The Lancastrian cause had at length obtained a mettlesome if uncompromising champion. As soon as the adjourned parliament reassembled at Westminster on 14 February, she laid claim to the regency. It is probable that she received some support from the commons; even the lords were loth to decide against her, but after much hesitation York was named Protector on 27 March. It is nevertheless clear that many did not relish his elevation and that the spirit which had vexed Gloucester was not dead. He was able to abridge the royal household “to a reasonable and competent fellowship”, to ensure the appointment of new ministers, chosen from his own kin, and to restore a measure of conciliar government; he was equally successful in subduing a Lancastrian rising in the North. But the infant Edward was recognised as Prince of Wales, and though Somerset continued in prison, it was not thought expedient to bring him to trial1.

These arrangements did not endure, for about Christmas 1454 the king returned to his senses. At the beginning of February Somerset was reinstated and York dismissed. Although for a time moderate counsels prevailed and some attempt was made to effect a last-minute compromise, this was imperilled by the open preparations of the courtiers to avenge their wrongs. By March the prospect was so threatening that York withdrew in dudgeon to the North and with the support of the Nevilles began to collect an army. This done, he marched on London. Arriving outside St Albans on 22 May, he found the town occupied by the king and a royal host commanded by the Dukes of Somerset and Buckingham. Barricades had been hastily constructed, but the defenders wore outnumbered by five to three3. After an abortive parley, York, without waiting for the arrival of the Duke of Norfolk, who was at hand with reinforcements, gave the order to attack. The engagement in the streets and gardens of the town lasted less than an hour; for, thanks to their superior numbers and to the skill and dash of the young Earl of Warwick, the Yorkists soon carried the day. But although the casualties were few, the deaths of Somerset, Northumberland, and Stafford gave rise to blood feuds in the ranks of the nobility which were not assuaged for many years to come. After the battle, King Henry, who had received a slight wound in the neck from an arrow while standing idly beneath his standard, was respectfully conducted back to Westminster by the victors. There he agreed to summon a parliament. In spite of the fact that the Yorkists openly rigged the elections, the proceedings were interrupted by rancorous quarrels and “many a man grudged full sore” an act of indemnity which was passed to absolve the rebels from the consequences of their treason. In the autumn, however, the king’s mind again gave way, and York became Protector for the second time on 17 November. But the lords only consented to his appointment after they had been thrice petitioned by the commons, while they carefully safeguarded the rights of the Prince of Wales and insisted on the ultimate authority of the council to exercise “the politic rule and governance of this land.” York did not enjoy his position for long. For after Christmas Henry once more recovered. He was, it seems, at first in favour of keeping the duke as chief councillor, but the queen spared no pains to undermine their good relations. Although an open breach was somehow averted, in August 1456 she carried her husband off to the midlands, where the Lancastrian estates afforded them better protection than the capital. On 7 October a council took place at Coventry, attended by York and his friends, at which Buckingham essayed the role of peace-maker. But after taking an oath of obedience to the king, the malcontents again withdrew from the court. Nothing happened for a year or more. Then on 25 March 1458, a hollow pacification or “loveday” was staged at St Paul’s in London, although this did not interrupt the preparations which each side was making for civil war. York spent most of his time in the Welsh Marches, Salisbury was at Middleham in Wensleydale, and Warwick was at Calais, biding their chance, while Margaret kept “open household” in Cheshire and set herself to court its gentry on her son’s behalf. Warwick’s naval successes, sheer piracy though they were, helped to revive Yorkist credit. In November 1458, therefore, he was ordered to resign his command and, when he declined, an attempt was made to waylay him as he left the council-chamber. Meanwhile Duke Richard was strengthening his hands by means of a family alliance with the house of Burgundy. There can be little doubt that he had by now set his mind on the throne, but he wisely kept his own counsel and not even his own allies were aware of the direction of his thoughts. By the spring of 1459 both parties were ready. The court had the advantage of interior lines, and it was in its interests to prevent the Yorkists from combining forces. But Salisbury slipped past an army sent to intercept him, defeated Lord Audley at Blore Heath on 22 September, and joined York at Ludlow. Warwick arrived from Calais with a part of its garrison shortly afterwards. When, however, the royalists advanced into Shropshire, York’s followers melted away at the “rout of Ludford,” and their leaders were obliged to beat a hasty retreat. Duke Richard and his second son, the Earl of Rutland, retired first into Wales and later to Ireland, where they were received with enthusiasm by the inhabitants of the Pale; his heir, Edward, Earl of March, accompanied the Nevilles to Calais; at the close of the year only Denbigh held out against the king.

The royalists celebrated their triumph in the Coventry parliament of 20 November-20 December 1459, an assembly hastily convened and unscrupulously packed. The lords found the leading Yorkists guilty of treason in their absence, and swore to uphold the Lancastrian succession. But the government cast aside discretion by the oppressive fashion in which it sought to repair its crumbling authority. Its forced loans, purveyances, and commissions of array, rendered it generally obnoxious and prepared the country to accept a revolution. When, therefore, Salisbury, Warwick, and March landed at Sandwich on 26 June 1460, they were welcomed with every sign of joy by the men of Kent. Thus fortified, they entered London on 2 July. To curry popular favour and to justify their invasion, they proclaimed the misdeeds of the king’s advisers and even accused them of preaching that his will was above the law. Their task was simplified by the fact that the royal forces were scattered; for while Henry and a number of lords were at Coventry, some were in the southwest and others had gone north with Margaret to search for reinforcements. Leaving Salisbury to guard the capital, Warwick and March rightly decided to strike at once. Outside Northampton on 10 July they came up against the main body of the enemy and won a battle in which the king was captured and several of his closest supporters, including Buckingham and Shrewsbury, were slain. This done, they returned to London to await York’s arrival and to call a parliament in the name of Henry VI. It met on 7 October. Three days later Duke Richard appeared, and without waiting to test the temper of his allies strode to the throne in Westminster Hall as if he intended to occupy it. He was, however, stopped by Archbishop Bourchier, who asked him pointedly whether he desired to interview the king. His reply, “I know of no person in this realm the which oweth not to wait on me rather than I on him,” filled his audience with consternation. Obstinately though he pressed his claims, the lords stood firm. A fortnight’s deadlock ended in a compromise by which Henry was to retain the crown for life on the understanding that York was to succeed him to the exclusion of the Prince of Wales. But precious time had been wasted in argument while the Lancastrians were massing afresh in Yorkshire. It was not until the beginning of December that Richard, now again Protector on the grounds of the king’s incapacity, set out to cope with these new enemies. After spending Christmas at his castle of Sandal near Wakefield, he issued forth only to be overwhelmed and killed by Northumberland and the young Somerset before its gates on 30 December. Rutland was stabbed to death soon afterwards by Lord Clifford, whose father had lost his life at St Albans; Salisbury was beheaded by the men of Pontefract. Margaret’s absence in Scotland, where she succeeded in obtaining help from the queen-mother, delayed the Lancastrian advance; but in February 1461 she put herself at the head of a mixed band of English, Welsh, and Scots, and marched south along the Great North Road. Her wild border levies struck terror among the inhabitants by plundering houses and churches on their route. At St Albans, Warwick tried to head them off, but he was decisively defeated and forced to leave the capital unguarded (17 February). King Henry, who was with him, escaped to join his wife. It was probably owing to his influence that she was persuaded not to lead her undisciplined troops into the city, where they would almost certainly have got out of hand. By this clemency he threw away his one remaining chance of keeping the crown. For Edward of York, after crushing the Earls of Pembroke and Wiltshire at Mortimer’s Cross, was approaching from the west. On 26 February he rode with Warwick into London where he was “elected” king by general acclamation. Too late, the Lancastrians retreated northwards, but he pursued and overwhelmed them with great slaughter at Towton on 29 March. Henry, Margaret, and their son fled towards Scotland, while Edward returned to Westminster for his coronation.


It is only too easy to convey a distorted impression of Lancastrian England by dwelling exclusively upon the story of its political failure. The continued existence of a government which had abdicated its primary function of maintaining order and impartial justice, the abuse of power by turbulent vassals, and the clash of baronial factions could not but leave their mark upon the lives of ordinary men and women. Yet in describing the hardships inflicted by this “lack of governance,” there is a very real danger of exaggeration. Such incidents as the cold-blooded murder of William Tresham by a private enemy in 1450 or that of Nicholas Badford five years later had few contemporary parallels. In some districts and at some times, conditions were admittedly bad and growing worse; this was, for example, the case in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Kent, and Devon throughout much of the last two decades of Henry VI’s reign and over a wider area during the years 1450 and 1459-61. But if the rights of property were often infringed, the forms of law misused, juries and witnesses bribed and intimidated, some allowance must be made for the fact that these evils were at least to some extent common to all medieval periods. For the rest, the customs accounts show a decline in overseas trade, taxation was by normal standards high, and the king did not pay his debts. That as a result both town and country were less prosperous goes without saying. But for any blacker picture of universal desolation the evidence is slight and untrustworthy. It would never do, for instance, to accept at their face value the ex parte statements of those engaged in litigation. And after all even the war at sea had its compensations, since it brought no small gain to innumerable native privateers.

There are, however, other things for which these sixty years deserve to be remembered, namely for their artistic achievement and their bright promise of intellectual growth. It is true that in painting and illumination Englishmen had fallen well behind their continental neighbours, though critics have perhaps been over-ready to attribute to this or that foreign artist everything of value which time and Protestant iconoclasm have spared. It is also true that the architecture of the fifteenth century was often wanting in inspiration and mechanical in its detail. But no one can question the splendour of its bell-towers, the rich perfection of its wood-carving, stained glass, and metal-work or the occasional excellence of its figure sculpture. Civil disturbance did not impair the mastery with which these arts were practised; the traditions of native craftsmanship survived the wars undamaged. As much if not more can be claimed for English scholarship. Under the enthusiastic patronage of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the “new learning” took root, especially at Oxford, and began to flourish. William Grey, Chancellor of the University in 1440, and the infamous John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, were among the first humanists to study in Italy and to correspond with foreign scholars. The ancient ways, on the other hand, were not deserted. Lyndwood’s Provinciale and the controversial writings of Thomas Netter of Walden repel the charge of intellectual stagnation frequently brought against this period. One book deserves more special mention: the Repressor of Overmuch Blaming of the Clergy, by Bishop Pecock of Chichester, a defence of reason against Lollard “fundamentalism,” was the first considerable work of learning to be written in the English tongue. Everywhere the vernacular was gaining ground. Between 1400 and 1450 it completely ousted French as the language of the upper class and even made inroads upon the conservatism of the government departments. It had already triumphed in poetry with Chaucer; and if after his death it proved a clumsy instrument in the hands of Hoccleve and Lydgate, the ballads of John Page and others shew that there were still men who could turn it to robust and graphic use. Finally, education was being more widely spread by the foundation of new grammar schools. In short a low degree of public security was not incompatible with a vigorous national life.