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    Ch. 19 - Richard the Second

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    Chapter 19
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    RICHARD, son of the Black Prince, a boy eleven years of age,
    succeeded to the Crown under the title of King Richard the Second.
    The whole English nation were ready to admire him for the sake of
    his brave father. As to the lords and ladies about the Court, they
    declared him to be the most beautiful, the wisest, and the best -
    even of princes - whom the lords and ladies about the Court,
    generally declare to be the most beautiful, the wisest, and the
    best of mankind. To flatter a poor boy in this base manner was not
    a very likely way to develop whatever good was in him; and it
    brought him to anything but a good or happy end.

    The Duke of Lancaster, the young King's uncle - commonly called
    John of Gaunt, from having been born at Ghent, which the common
    people so pronounced - was supposed to have some thoughts of the
    throne himself; but, as he was not popular, and the memory of the
    Black Prince was, he submitted to his nephew.

    The war with France being still unsettled, the Government of
    England wanted money to provide for the expenses that might arise
    out of it; accordingly a certain tax, called the Poll-tax, which
    had originated in the last reign, was ordered to be levied on the
    people. This was a tax on every person in the kingdom, male and
    female, above the age of fourteen, of three groats (or three four-
    penny pieces) a year; clergymen were charged more, and only beggars
    were exempt.

    I have no need to repeat that the common people of England had long
    been suffering under great oppression. They were still the mere
    slaves of the lords of the land on which they lived, and were on
    most occasions harshly and unjustly treated. But, they had begun
    by this time to think very seriously of not bearing quite so much;
    and, probably, were emboldened by that French insurrection I
    mentioned in the last chapter.

    The people of Essex rose against the Poll-tax, and being severely
    handled by the government officers, killed some of them. At this
    very time one of the tax-collectors, going his rounds from house to
    house, at Dartford in Kent came to the cottage of one WAT, a tiler
    by trade, and claimed the tax upon his daughter. Her mother, who
    was at home, declared that she was under the age of fourteen; upon
    that, the collector (as other collectors had already done in
    different parts of England) behaved in a savage way, and brutally
    insulted Wat Tyler's daughter. The daughter screamed, the mother
    screamed. Wat the Tiler, who was at work not far off, ran to the
    spot, and did what any honest father under such provocation might
    have done - struck the collector dead at a blow.

    Instantly the people of that town uprose as one man. They made Wat
    Tyler their leader; they joined with the people of Essex, who were
    in arms under a priest called JACK STRAW; they took out of prison
    another priest named JOHN BALL; and gathering in numbers as they
    went along, advanced, in a great confused army of poor men, to
    Blackheath. It is said that they wanted to abolish all property,
    and to declare all men equal. I do not think this very likely;
    because they stopped the travellers on the roads and made them
    swear to be true to King Richard and the people. Nor were they at
    all disposed to injure those who had done them no harm, merely
    because they were of high station; for, the King's mother, who had
    to pass through their camp at Blackheath, on her way to her young
    son, lying for safety in the Tower of London, had merely to kiss a
    few dirty-faced rough-bearded men who were noisily fond of royalty,
    and so got away in perfect safety. Next day the whole mass marched
    on to London Bridge.

    There was a drawbridge in the middle, which WILLIAM WALWORTH the
    Mayor caused to be raised to prevent their coming into the city;
    but they soon terrified the citizens into lowering it again, and
    spread themselves, with great uproar, over the streets. They broke
    open the prisons; they burned the papers in Lambeth Palace; they
    destroyed the DUKE OF LANCASTER'S Palace, the Savoy, in the Strand,
    said to be the most beautiful and splendid in England; they set
    fire to the books and documents in the Temple; and made a great
    riot. Many of these outrages were committed in drunkenness; since
    those citizens, who had well-filled cellars, were only too glad to
    throw them open to save the rest of their property; but even the
    drunken rioters were very careful to steal nothing. They were so
    angry with one man, who was seen to take a silver cup at the Savoy
    Palace, and put it in his breast, that they drowned him in the
    river, cup and all.

    The young King had been taken out to treat with them before they
    committed these excesses; but, he and the people about him were so
    frightened by the riotous shouts, that they got back to the Tower
    in the best way they could. This made the insurgents bolder; so
    they went on rioting away, striking off the heads of those who did
    not, at a moment's notice, declare for King Richard and the people;
    and killing as many of the unpopular persons whom they supposed to
    be their enemies as they could by any means lay hold of. In this
    manner they passed one very violent day, and then proclamation was
    made that the King would meet them at Mile-end, and grant their
    requests.

    The rioters went to Mile-end to the number of sixty thousand, and
    the King met them there, and to the King the rioters peaceably
    proposed four conditions. First, that neither they, nor their
    children, nor any coming after them, should be made slaves any
    more. Secondly, that the rent of land should be fixed at a certain
    price in money, instead of being paid in service. Thirdly, that
    they should have liberty to buy and sell in all markets and public
    places, like other free men. Fourthly, that they should be
    pardoned for past offences. Heaven knows, there was nothing very
    unreasonable in these proposals! The young King deceitfully
    pretended to think so, and kept thirty clerks up, all night,
    writing out a charter accordingly.

    Now, Wat Tyler himself wanted more than this. He wanted the entire
    abolition of the forest laws. He was not at Mile-end with the
    rest, but, while that meeting was being held, broke into the Tower
    of London and slew the archbishop and the treasurer, for whose
    heads the people had cried out loudly the day before. He and his
    men even thrust their swords into the bed of the Princess of Wales
    while the Princess was in it, to make certain that none of their
    enemies were concealed there.

    So, Wat and his men still continued armed, and rode about the city.
    Next morning, the King with a small train of some sixty gentlemen -
    among whom was WALWORTH the Mayor - rode into Smithfield, and saw
    Wat and his people at a little distance. Says Wat to his men,
    'There is the King. I will go speak with him, and tell him what we
    want.'

    Straightway Wat rode up to him, and began to talk. 'King,' says
    Wat, 'dost thou see all my men there?'

    'Ah,' says the King. 'Why?'

    'Because,' says Wat, 'they are all at my command, and have sworn to
    do whatever I bid them.'

    Some declared afterwards that as Wat said this, he laid his hand on
    the King's bridle. Others declared that he was seen to play with
    his own dagger. I think, myself, that he just spoke to the King
    like a rough, angry man as he was, and did nothing more. At any
    rate he was expecting no attack, and preparing for no resistance,
    when Walworth the Mayor did the not very valiant deed of drawing a
    short sword and stabbing him in the throat. He dropped from his
    horse, and one of the King's people speedily finished him. So fell
    Wat Tyler. Fawners and flatterers made a mighty triumph of it, and
    set up a cry which will occasionally find an echo to this day. But
    Wat was a hard-working man, who had suffered much, and had been
    foully outraged; and it is probable that he was a man of a much
    higher nature and a much braver spirit than any of the parasites
    who exulted then, or have exulted since, over his defeat.

    Seeing Wat down, his men immediately bent their bows to avenge his
    fall. If the young King had not had presence of mind at that
    dangerous moment, both he and the Mayor to boot, might have
    followed Tyler pretty fast. But the King riding up to the crowd,
    cried out that Tyler was a traitor, and that he would be their
    leader. They were so taken by surprise, that they set up a great
    shouting, and followed the boy until he was met at Islington by a
    large body of soldiers.

    The end of this rising was the then usual end. As soon as the King
    found himself safe, he unsaid all he had said, and undid all he had
    done; some fifteen hundred of the rioters were tried (mostly in
    Essex) with great rigour, and executed with great cruelty. Many of
    them were hanged on gibbets, and left there as a terror to the
    country people; and, because their miserable friends took some of
    the bodies down to bury, the King ordered the rest to be chained up
    - which was the beginning of the barbarous custom of hanging in
    chains. The King's falsehood in this business makes such a pitiful
    figure, that I think Wat Tyler appears in history as beyond
    comparison the truer and more respectable man of the two.

    Richard was now sixteen years of age, and married Anne of Bohemia,
    an excellent princess, who was called 'the good Queen Anne.' She
    deserved a better husband; for the King had been fawned and
    flattered into a treacherous, wasteful, dissolute, bad young man.

    There were two Popes at this time (as if one were not enough!), and
    their quarrels involved Europe in a great deal of trouble.
    Scotland was still troublesome too; and at home there was much
    jealousy and distrust, and plotting and counter-plotting, because
    the King feared the ambition of his relations, and particularly of
    his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, and the duke had his party
    against the King, and the King had his party against the duke. Nor
    were these home troubles lessened when the duke went to Castile to
    urge his claim to the crown of that kingdom; for then the Duke of
    Gloucester, another of Richard's uncles, opposed him, and
    influenced the Parliament to demand the dismissal of the King's
    favourite ministers. The King said in reply, that he would not for
    such men dismiss the meanest servant in his kitchen. But, it had
    begun to signify little what a King said when a Parliament was
    determined; so Richard was at last obliged to give way, and to
    agree to another Government of the kingdom, under a commission of
    fourteen nobles, for a year. His uncle of Gloucester was at the
    head of this commission, and, in fact, appointed everybody
    composing it.

    Having done all this, the King declared as soon as he saw an
    opportunity that he had never meant to do it, and that it was all
    illegal; and he got the judges secretly to sign a declaration to
    that effect. The secret oozed out directly, and was carried to the
    Duke of Gloucester. The Duke of Gloucester, at the head of forty
    thousand men, met the King on his entering into London to enforce
    his authority; the King was helpless against him; his favourites
    and ministers were impeached and were mercilessly executed. Among
    them were two men whom the people regarded with very different
    feelings; one, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice, who was hated for
    having made what was called 'the bloody circuit' to try the
    rioters; the other, Sir Simon Burley, an honourable knight, who had
    been the dear friend of the Black Prince, and the governor and
    guardian of the King. For this gentleman's life the good Queen
    even begged of Gloucester on her knees; but Gloucester (with or
    without reason) feared and hated him, and replied, that if she
    valued her husband's crown, she had better beg no more. All this
    was done under what was called by some the wonderful - and by
    others, with better reason, the merciless - Parliament.

    But Gloucester's power was not to last for ever. He held it for
    only a year longer; in which year the famous battle of Otterbourne,
    sung in the old ballad of Chevy Chase, was fought. When the year
    was out, the King, turning suddenly to Gloucester, in the midst of
    a great council said, 'Uncle, how old am I?' 'Your highness,'
    returned the Duke, 'is in your twenty-second year.' 'Am I so
    much?' said the King; 'then I will manage my own affairs! I am
    much obliged to you, my good lords, for your past services, but I
    need them no more.' He followed this up, by appointing a new
    Chancellor and a new Treasurer, and announced to the people that he
    had resumed the Government. He held it for eight years without
    opposition. Through all that time, he kept his determination to
    revenge himself some day upon his uncle Gloucester, in his own
    breast.

    At last the good Queen died, and then the King, desiring to take a
    second wife, proposed to his council that he should marry Isabella,
    of France, the daughter of Charles the Sixth: who, the French
    courtiers said (as the English courtiers had said of Richard), was
    a marvel of beauty and wit, and quite a phenomenon - of seven years
    old. The council were divided about this marriage, but it took
    place. It secured peace between England and France for a quarter
    of a century; but it was strongly opposed to the prejudices of the
    English people. The Duke of Gloucester, who was anxious to take
    the occasion of making himself popular, declaimed against it
    loudly, and this at length decided the King to execute the
    vengeance he had been nursing so long.

    He went with a gay company to the Duke of Gloucester's house,
    Pleshey Castle, in Essex, where the Duke, suspecting nothing, came
    out into the court-yard to receive his royal visitor. While the
    King conversed in a friendly manner with the Duchess, the Duke was
    quietly seized, hurried away, shipped for Calais, and lodged in the
    castle there. His friends, the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, were
    taken in the same treacherous manner, and confined to their
    castles. A few days after, at Nottingham, they were impeached of
    high treason. The Earl of Arundel was condemned and beheaded, and
    the Earl of Warwick was banished. Then, a writ was sent by a
    messenger to the Governor of Calais, requiring him to send the Duke
    of Gloucester over to be tried. In three days he returned an
    answer that he could not do that, because the Duke of Gloucester
    had died in prison. The Duke was declared a traitor, his property
    was confiscated to the King, a real or pretended confession he had
    made in prison to one of the Justices of the Common Pleas was
    produced against him, and there was an end of the matter. How the
    unfortunate duke died, very few cared to know. Whether he really
    died naturally; whether he killed himself; whether, by the King's
    order, he was strangled, or smothered between two beds (as a
    serving-man of the Governor's named Hall, did afterwards declare),
    cannot be discovered. There is not much doubt that he was killed,
    somehow or other, by his nephew's orders. Among the most active
    nobles in these proceedings were the King's cousin, Henry
    Bolingbroke, whom the King had made Duke of Hereford to smooth down
    the old family quarrels, and some others: who had in the family-
    plotting times done just such acts themselves as they now condemned
    in the duke. They seem to have been a corrupt set of men; but such
    men were easily found about the court in such days.

    The people murmured at all this, and were still very sore about the
    French marriage. The nobles saw how little the King cared for law,
    and how crafty he was, and began to be somewhat afraid for
    themselves. The King's life was a life of continued feasting and
    excess; his retinue, down to the meanest servants, were dressed in
    the most costly manner, and caroused at his tables, it is related,
    to the number of ten thousand persons every day. He himself,
    surrounded by a body of ten thousand archers, and enriched by a
    duty on wool which the Commons had granted him for life, saw no
    danger of ever being otherwise than powerful and absolute, and was
    as fierce and haughty as a King could be.

    He had two of his old enemies left, in the persons of the Dukes of
    Hereford and Norfolk. Sparing these no more than the others, he
    tampered with the Duke of Hereford until he got him to declare
    before the Council that the Duke of Norfolk had lately held some
    treasonable talk with him, as he was riding near Brentford; and
    that he had told him, among other things, that he could not believe
    the King's oath - which nobody could, I should think. For this
    treachery he obtained a pardon, and the Duke of Norfolk was
    summoned to appear and defend himself. As he denied the charge and
    said his accuser was a liar and a traitor, both noblemen, according
    to the manner of those times, were held in custody, and the truth
    was ordered to be decided by wager of battle at Coventry. This
    wager of battle meant that whosoever won the combat was to be
    considered in the right; which nonsense meant in effect, that no
    strong man could ever be wrong. A great holiday was made; a great
    crowd assembled, with much parade and show; and the two combatants
    were about to rush at each other with their lances, when the King,
    sitting in a pavilion to see fair, threw down the truncheon he
    carried in his hand, and forbade the battle. The Duke of Hereford
    was to be banished for ten years, and the Duke of Norfolk was to be
    banished for life. So said the King. The Duke of Hereford went to
    France, and went no farther. The Duke of Norfolk made a pilgrimage
    to the Holy Land, and afterwards died at Venice of a broken heart.

    Faster and fiercer, after this, the King went on in his career.
    The Duke of Lancaster, who was the father of the Duke of Hereford,
    died soon after the departure of his son; and, the King, although
    he had solemnly granted to that son leave to inherit his father's
    property, if it should come to him during his banishment,
    immediately seized it all, like a robber. The judges were so
    afraid of him, that they disgraced themselves by declaring this
    theft to be just and lawful. His avarice knew no bounds. He
    outlawed seventeen counties at once, on a frivolous pretence,
    merely to raise money by way of fines for misconduct. In short, he
    did as many dishonest things as he could; and cared so little for
    the discontent of his subjects - though even the spaniel favourites
    began to whisper to him that there was such a thing as discontent
    afloat - that he took that time, of all others, for leaving England
    and making an expedition against the Irish.

    He was scarcely gone, leaving the DUKE OF YORK Regent in his
    absence, when his cousin, Henry of Hereford, came over from France
    to claim the rights of which he had been so monstrously deprived.
    He was immediately joined by the two great Earls of Northumberland
    and Westmoreland; and his uncle, the Regent, finding the King's
    cause unpopular, and the disinclination of the army to act against
    Henry, very strong, withdrew with the Royal forces towards Bristol.
    Henry, at the head of an army, came from Yorkshire (where he had
    landed) to London and followed him. They joined their forces - how
    they brought that about, is not distinctly understood - and
    proceeded to Bristol Castle, whither three noblemen had taken the
    young Queen. The castle surrendering, they presently put those
    three noblemen to death. The Regent then remained there, and Henry
    went on to Chester.

    All this time, the boisterous weather had prevented the King from
    receiving intelligence of what had occurred. At length it was
    conveyed to him in Ireland, and he sent over the EARL OF SALISBURY,
    who, landing at Conway, rallied the Welshmen, and waited for the
    King a whole fortnight; at the end of that time the Welshmen, who
    were perhaps not very warm for him in the beginning, quite cooled
    down and went home. When the King did land on the coast at last,
    he came with a pretty good power, but his men cared nothing for
    him, and quickly deserted. Supposing the Welshmen to be still at
    Conway, he disguised himself as a priest, and made for that place
    in company with his two brothers and some few of their adherents.
    But, there were no Welshmen left - only Salisbury and a hundred
    soldiers. In this distress, the King's two brothers, Exeter and
    Surrey, offered to go to Henry to learn what his intentions were.
    Surrey, who was true to Richard, was put into prison. Exeter, who
    was false, took the royal badge, which was a hart, off his shield,
    and assumed the rose, the badge of Henry. After this, it was
    pretty plain to the King what Henry's intentions were, without
    sending any more messengers to ask.

    The fallen King, thus deserted - hemmed in on all sides, and
    pressed with hunger - rode here and rode there, and went to this
    castle, and went to that castle, endeavouring to obtain some
    provisions, but could find none. He rode wretchedly back to
    Conway, and there surrendered himself to the Earl of
    Northumberland, who came from Henry, in reality to take him
    prisoner, but in appearance to offer terms; and whose men were
    hidden not far off. By this earl he was conducted to the castle of
    Flint, where his cousin Henry met him, and dropped on his knee as
    if he were still respectful to his sovereign.

    'Fair cousin of Lancaster,' said the King, 'you are very welcome'
    (very welcome, no doubt; but he would have been more so, in chains
    or without a head).

    'My lord,' replied Henry, 'I am come a little before my time; but,
    with your good pleasure, I will show you the reason. Your people
    complain with some bitterness, that you have ruled them rigorously
    for two-and-twenty years. Now, if it please God, I will help you
    to govern them better in future.'

    'Fair cousin,' replied the abject King, 'since it pleaseth you, it
    pleaseth me mightily.'

    After this, the trumpets sounded, and the King was stuck on a
    wretched horse, and carried prisoner to Chester, where he was made
    to issue a proclamation, calling a Parliament. From Chester he was
    taken on towards London. At Lichfield he tried to escape by
    getting out of a window and letting himself down into a garden; it
    was all in vain, however, and he was carried on and shut up in the
    Tower, where no one pitied him, and where the whole people, whose
    patience he had quite tired out, reproached him without mercy.
    Before he got there, it is related, that his very dog left him and
    departed from his side to lick the hand of Henry.

    The day before the Parliament met, a deputation went to this
    wrecked King, and told him that he had promised the Earl of
    Northumberland at Conway Castle to resign the crown. He said he
    was quite ready to do it, and signed a paper in which he renounced
    his authority and absolved his people from their allegiance to him.
    He had so little spirit left that he gave his royal ring to his
    triumphant cousin Henry with his own hand, and said, that if he
    could have had leave to appoint a successor, that same Henry was
    the man of all others whom he would have named. Next day, the
    Parliament assembled in Westminster Hall, where Henry sat at the
    side of the throne, which was empty and covered with a cloth of
    gold. The paper just signed by the King was read to the multitude
    amid shouts of joy, which were echoed through all the streets; when
    some of the noise had died away, the King was formally deposed.
    Then Henry arose, and, making the sign of the cross on his forehead
    and breast, challenged the realm of England as his right; the
    archbishops of Canterbury and York seated him on the throne.

    The multitude shouted again, and the shouts re-echoed throughout
    all the streets. No one remembered, now, that Richard the Second
    had ever been the most beautiful, the wisest, and the best of
    princes; and he now made living (to my thinking) a far more sorry
    spectacle in the Tower of London, than Wat Tyler had made, lying
    dead, among the hoofs of the royal horses in Smithfield.

    The Poll-tax died with Wat. The Smiths to the King and Royal
    Family, could make no chains in which the King could hang the
    people's recollection of him; so the Poll-tax was never collected.
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