History of the English People Volume 3

History of the English People Volume 3

von: John Green

Charles River Editors, 2018

ISBN: 9781508015987

Sprache: Englisch

347 Seiten, Download: 2637 KB

Format:  EPUB

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History of the English People Volume 3




AT THE MOMENT WHEN DEATH so suddenly stayed his course the greatness of Henry the Fifth had reached its highest point. In England his victories had hushed the last murmurs of disaffection. The death of the Earl of Cambridge, the childhood of his son, removed all danger from the claims of the house of York. The ruin of Lord Cobham, the formal condemnation of Wyclif’s doctrines in the Council of Constance, broke the political and the religious strength of Lollardry. Henry had won the Church by his orthodoxy, the nobles by his warlike prowess, the whole people by his revival of the glories of Crécy and Poitiers. In France his cool policy had transformed him from a foreign conqueror into a legal heir to the crown. The King was in his hands, the Queen devoted to his cause, the Duke of Burgundy was his ally, his title of Regent and of successor to the throne rested on the formal recognition of the estates of the realm. Although southern France still clung to the Dauphin, the progress of Henry to the very moment of his death promised a speedy mastery of the whole country. His European position was a commanding one. Lord of the two great western kingdoms, he was linked by close ties of blood with the royal lines of Portugal and Castille; and his restless activity showed itself in his efforts to procure the adoption of his brother John as her successor by the queen of Naples, and in the marriage of a younger brother, Humphrey, with Jacqueline, the Countess of Holland and Hainault. Dreams of a vaster enterprise filled the soul of the great conqueror himself; he loved to read the story of Godfrey of Bouillon and cherished the hope of a crusade which should beat back the Ottoman and again rescue the Holy Land from heathen hands. Such a crusade might still have saved Constantinople, and averted from Europe the danger which threatened it through the century that followed the fall of the imperial city. Nor was the enterprise a dream in the hands of the cool, practical warrior and ruler of whom a contemporary could say, “He transacts all his affairs himself, he considers well before he undertakes them, he never does anything fruitlessly.”

But the hopes of far-off conquests found a sudden close in Henry’s death. His son, Henry the Sixth of England, was a child of but nine months old: and though he was peacefully recognized as king in his English realm and as heir to the throne in the realm of France his position was a very different one from his father’s. The death of King Charles indeed, two months after that of his son-in-law, did little to weaken it; and at first nothing seemed lost. The Dauphin at once proclaimed himself Charles the Seventh of France: but Henry was owned as Sovereign over the whole of the territory which Charles had actually ruled; and the incursions which the partizans of Charles, now reinforced by Lombard soldiers from the Milanese and by four thousand Scots under the Earl of Douglas, made with fresh vigour across the Loire were easily repulsed by Duke John of Bedford, the late king’s brother, who had been named in his will Regent of France. In genius for war as in political capacity John was hardly inferior to Henry himself. Drawing closer his alliance with the Duke of Burgundy by marriage with that prince’s sister, and holding that of Britanny by a patient diplomacy, he completed the conquest of Northern France, secured his communications with Normandy by the capture of Meulan, and made himself master of the line of the Yonne by a victory near Auxerre. In 1424 the Constable of Buchan pushed from the Loire to the very borders of Normandy to arrest his progress, and attacked the English army at Verneuil. But a repulse hardly less disastrous than that of Agincourt left a third of the French knighthood on the field: and the Regent was preparing to cross the Loire for a final struggle with “the King of Bourges” as the English in mockery called Charles the Seventh when his career of victory was broken by troubles at home.

In England the Lancastrian throne was still too newly established to remain unshaken by the succession of a child of nine months old. Nor was the younger brother of Henry the Fifth, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, whom the late king’s will named as Regent of the realm, a man of the same noble temper as the Duke of Bedford. Intellectually the figure of Humphrey is one of extreme interest, for he is the first Englishman in whom we can trace the faint influence of that revival of knowledge which was to bring about the coming renascence of the western world. Humphrey was not merely a patron of poets and men of letters, of Lydgate and William of Worcester and Abbot Whethamstede of St. Albans, as his brother and other princes of the day had been, but his patronage seems to have sprung from a genuine interest in learning itself. He was a zealous collector of books and was able to bequeath to the University of Oxford a library of a hundred and thirty volumes. A gift of books indeed was a passport to his favour, and before the title of each volume he possessed the Duke wrote words which expressed his love of them, “moun bien mondain,” “my worldly goods”! Lydgate tells us how “notwithstanding his state and dignyte his corage never doth appalle to studie in books of antiquitie.” His studies drew him to the revival of classic learning which was becoming a passion across the Alps. One wandering scholar from Forli, who took the pompous name of Titus Livius and who wrote at his request the biography of Henry the Fifth, Humphrey made his court poet and orator. The Duke probably aided Poggio Bracciolini in his search for classical manuscripts when he visited England in 1420. Leonardo Aretino, one of the scholars who gathered about Cosmo de Medici, dedicated to him a translation of the Politics of Aristotle, and when another Italian scholar sent him a fragment of a translation of Plato’s Republic the Duke wrote to beg him to send the rest. But with its love of learning Humphrey combined the restlessness, the immorality, the selfish, boundless ambition which characterized the age of the Renascence. His life was sullied by sensual excesses, his greed of power shook his nephew’s throne. So utterly was he already distrusted that the late king’s nomination of him as Regent was set aside by the royal Council, and he was suffered only to preside at its deliberations with the nominal title of Protector during Bedford’s absence. The real direction of affairs fell into the hands of his uncle, Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, a legitimated son of John of Gaunt by his mistress Catharine Swynford.

Two years of useless opposition disgusted the Duke with this nominal Protectorship, and in 1424 he left the realm to push his fortunes in the Netherlands. Jacqueline, the daughter and heiress of William, Count of Holland and Hainault, had originally wedded John, Duke of Brabant; but after a few years of strife she had procured a divorce from one of the three claimants who now disputed the Papacy, and at the close of Henry the Fifth’s reign she had sought shelter in England. At his brother’s death the Duke of Gloucester avowed his marriage with her and adopted her claims as his own. To support them in arms however was to alienate Philip of Burgundy, who was already looking forward to the inheritance of his childless nephew, the Duke of Brabant; and as the alliance with Burgundy was the main strength of the English cause in France, neither Bedford, who had shown his sense of its value by a marriage with the Duke’s sister, nor the English council were likely to support measures which would imperil or weaken it. Such considerations however had little weight with Humphrey; and in October 1424 he set sail for Calais without their knowledge with a body of five thousand men. In a few months he succeeded in restoring Hainault to Jacqueline, and Philip at once grew lukewarm in his adherence to the English cause. Though Bedford’s efforts prevented any final break, the Duke withdrew his forces from France to aid John of Brabant in the recovery of Hainault and Holland. Gloucester challenged Philip to decide their claims by single combat. But the enterprise was abandoned as hastily as it had been begun. The Duke of Gloucester was already disgusted with Jacqueline and enamoured of a lady in her suite, Eleanor, the daughter of Lord Cobham; and in the summer of 1425 he suddenly returned with her to England and left his wife to defend herself as she might.

What really called him back was more than his passion for Eleanor Cobham or the natural versatility of his temper; it was the advance of a rival in England to further power over the realm. This was his uncle, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. The bishop had already played a leading political part. He was charged with having spurred Henry the Fifth to the ambitious demands of power which he made during his father’s lifetime; he became chancellor on his accession; and at his death the king left him guardian of the person of his boy. He looked on Gloucester’s ambition as a danger to his charge, withstood his recognition as Regent, and remained at the head of the Council that reduced his office of Protector to a name. The Duke’s absence in Hainault gave fresh strength to his opponent: and the nomination of the Bishop to the Chancellorship marked him out as the virtual ruler of the realm. On the news of this appointment Gloucester hurried back to accept what he looked on as a challenge to open strife. The Londoners rose in his name to attack Beaufort’s palace in Southwark, and at the close of 1425...