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Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England > Chapter XX

A Child's History of England

Chapter XX


DURING the last reign, the preaching of Wickliffe against the pride
and cunning of the Pope and all his men, had made a great noise in
England. Whether the new King wished to be in favour with the
priests, or whether he hoped, by pretending to be very religious,
to cheat Heaven itself into the belief that he was not a usurper, I
don't know. Both suppositions are likely enough. It is certain
that he began his reign by making a strong show against the
followers of Wickliffe, who were called Lollards, or heretics -
although his father, John of Gaunt, had been of that way of
thinking, as he himself had been more than suspected of being. It
is no less certain that he first established in England the
detestable and atrocious custom, brought from abroad, of burning
those people as a punishment for their opinions. It was the
importation into England of one of the practices of what was called
the Holy Inquisition: which was the most UNholy and the most
infamous tribunal that ever disgraced mankind, and made men more
like demons than followers of Our Saviour.

No real right to the crown, as you know, was in this King. Edward
Mortimer, the young Earl of March - who was only eight or nine
years old, and who was descended from the Duke of Clarence, the
elder brother of Henry's father - was, by succession, the real heir
to the throne. However, the King got his son declared Prince of
Wales; and, obtaining possession of the young Earl of March and his
little brother, kept them in confinement (but not severely) in
Windsor Castle. He then required the Parliament to decide what was
to be done with the deposed King, who was quiet enough, and who
only said that he hoped his cousin Henry would be 'a good lord' to
him. The Parliament replied that they would recommend his being
kept in some secret place where the people could not resort, and
where his friends could not be admitted to see him. Henry
accordingly passed this sentence upon him, and it now began to be
pretty clear to the nation that Richard the Second would not live
very long.

It was a noisy Parliament, as it was an unprincipled one, and the
Lords quarrelled so violently among themselves as to which of them
had been loyal and which disloyal, and which consistent and which
inconsistent, that forty gauntlets are said to have been thrown
upon the floor at one time as challenges to as many battles: the
truth being that they were all false and base together, and had
been, at one time with the old King, and at another time with the
new one, and seldom true for any length of time to any one. They
soon began to plot again. A conspiracy was formed to invite the
King to a tournament at Oxford, and then to take him by surprise
and kill him. This murderous enterprise, which was agreed upon at
secret meetings in the house of the Abbot of Westminster, was
betrayed by the Earl of Rutland - one of the conspirators. The
King, instead of going to the tournament or staying at Windsor
(where the conspirators suddenly went, on finding themselves
discovered, with the hope of seizing him), retired to London,
proclaimed them all traitors, and advanced upon them with a great
force. They retired into the west of England, proclaiming Richard
King; but, the people rose against them, and they were all slain.
Their treason hastened the death of the deposed monarch. Whether
he was killed by hired assassins, or whether he was starved to
death, or whether he refused food on hearing of his brothers being
killed (who were in that plot), is very doubtful. He met his death
somehow; and his body was publicly shown at St. Paul's Cathedral
with only the lower part of the face uncovered. I can scarcely
doubt that he was killed by the King's orders.

The French wife of the miserable Richard was now only ten years
old; and, when her father, Charles of France, heard of her
misfortunes and of her lonely condition in England, he went mad:
as he had several times done before, during the last five or six
years. The French Dukes of Burgundy and Bourbon took up the poor
girl's cause, without caring much about it, but on the chance of
getting something out of England. The people of Bordeaux, who had
a sort of superstitious attachment to the memory of Richard,
because he was born there, swore by the Lord that he had been the
best man in all his kingdom - which was going rather far - and
promised to do great things against the English. Nevertheless,
when they came to consider that they, and the whole people of
France, were ruined by their own nobles, and that the English rule
was much the better of the two, they cooled down again; and the two
dukes, although they were very great men, could do nothing without
them. Then, began negotiations between France and England for the
sending home to Paris of the poor little Queen with all her jewels
and her fortune of two hundred thousand francs in gold. The King
was quite willing to restore the young lady, and even the jewels;
but he said he really could not part with the money. So, at last
she was safely deposited at Paris without her fortune, and then the
Duke of Burgundy (who was cousin to the French King) began to
quarrel with the Duke of Orleans (who was brother to the French
King) about the whole matter; and those two dukes made France even
more wretched than ever.

As the idea of conquering Scotland was still popular at home, the
King marched to the river Tyne and demanded homage of the King of
that country. This being refused, he advanced to Edinburgh, but
did little there; for, his army being in want of provisions, and
the Scotch being very careful to hold him in check without giving
battle, he was obliged to retire. It is to his immortal honour
that in this sally he burnt no villages and slaughtered no people,
but was particularly careful that his army should be merciful and
harmless. It was a great example in those ruthless times.

A war among the border people of England and Scotland went on for
twelve months, and then the Earl of Northumberland, the nobleman
who had helped Henry to the crown, began to rebel against him -
probably because nothing that Henry could do for him would satisfy
his extravagant expectations. There was a certain Welsh gentleman,
named OWEN GLENDOWER, who had been a student in one of the Inns of
Court, and had afterwards been in the service of the late King,
whose Welsh property was taken from him by a powerful lord related
to the present King, who was his neighbour. Appealing for redress,
and getting none, he took up arms, was made an outlaw, and declared
himself sovereign of Wales. He pretended to be a magician; and not
only were the Welsh people stupid enough to believe him, but, even
Henry believed him too; for, making three expeditions into Wales,
and being three times driven back by the wildness of the country,
the bad weather, and the skill of Glendower, he thought he was
defeated by the Welshman's magic arts. However, he took Lord Grey
and Sir Edmund Mortimer, prisoners, and allowed the relatives of
Lord Grey to ransom him, but would not extend such favour to Sir
Edmund Mortimer. Now, Henry Percy, called HOTSPUR, son of the Earl
of Northumberland, who was married to Mortimer's sister, is
supposed to have taken offence at this; and, therefore, in
conjunction with his father and some others, to have joined Owen
Glendower, and risen against Henry. It is by no means clear that
this was the real cause of the conspiracy; but perhaps it was made
the pretext. It was formed, and was very powerful; including
SCROOP, Archbishop of York, and the EARL OF DOUGLAS, a powerful and
brave Scottish nobleman. The King was prompt and active, and the
two armies met at Shrewsbury.

There were about fourteen thousand men in each. The old Earl of
Northumberland being sick, the rebel forces were led by his son.
The King wore plain armour to deceive the enemy; and four noblemen,
with the same object, wore the royal arms. The rebel charge was so
furious, that every one of those gentlemen was killed, the royal
standard was beaten down, and the young Prince of Wales was
severely wounded in the face. But he was one of the bravest and
best soldiers that ever lived, and he fought so well, and the
King's troops were so encouraged by his bold example, that they
rallied immediately, and cut the enemy's forces all to pieces.
Hotspur was killed by an arrow in the brain, and the rout was so
complete that the whole rebellion was struck down by this one blow.
The Earl of Northumberland surrendered himself soon after hearing
of the death of his son, and received a pardon for all his

There were some lingerings of rebellion yet: Owen Glendower being
retired to Wales, and a preposterous story being spread among the
ignorant people that King Richard was still alive. How they could
have believed such nonsense it is difficult to imagine; but they
certainly did suppose that the Court fool of the late King, who was
something like him, was he, himself; so that it seemed as if, after
giving so much trouble to the country in his life, he was still to
trouble it after his death. This was not the worst. The young
Earl of March and his brother were stolen out of Windsor Castle.
Being retaken, and being found to have been spirited away by one
Lady Spencer, she accused her own brother, that Earl of Rutland who
was in the former conspiracy and was now Duke of York, of being in
the plot. For this he was ruined in fortune, though not put to
death; and then another plot arose among the old Earl of
Northumberland, some other lords, and that same Scroop, Archbishop
of York, who was with the rebels before. These conspirators caused
a writing to be posted on the church doors, accusing the King of a
variety of crimes; but, the King being eager and vigilant to oppose
them, they were all taken, and the Archbishop was executed. This
was the first time that a great churchman had been slain by the law
in England; but the King was resolved that it should be done, and
done it was.

The next most remarkable event of this time was the seizure, by
Henry, of the heir to the Scottish throne - James, a boy of nine
years old. He had been put aboard-ship by his father, the Scottish
King Robert, to save him from the designs of his uncle, when, on
his way to France, he was accidentally taken by some English
cruisers. He remained a prisoner in England for nineteen years,
and became in his prison a student and a famous poet.

With the exception of occasional troubles with the Welsh and with
the French, the rest of King Henry's reign was quiet enough. But,
the King was far from happy, and probably was troubled in his
conscience by knowing that he had usurped the crown, and had
occasioned the death of his miserable cousin. The Prince of Wales,
though brave and generous, is said to have been wild and
dissipated, and even to have drawn his sword on GASCOIGNE, the
Chief Justice of the King's Bench, because he was firm in dealing
impartially with one of his dissolute companions. Upon this the
Chief Justice is said to have ordered him immediately to prison;
the Prince of Wales is said to have submitted with a good grace;
and the King is said to have exclaimed, 'Happy is the monarch who
has so just a judge, and a son so willing to obey the laws.' This
is all very doubtful, and so is another story (of which Shakespeare
has made beautiful use), that the Prince once took the crown out of
his father's chamber as he was sleeping, and tried it on his own

The King's health sank more and more, and he became subject to
violent eruptions on the face and to bad epileptic fits, and his
spirits sank every day. At last, as he was praying before the
shrine of St. Edward at Westminster Abbey, he was seized with a
terrible fit, and was carried into the Abbot's chamber, where he
presently died. It had been foretold that he would die at
Jerusalem, which certainly is not, and never was, Westminster.
But, as the Abbot's room had long been called the Jerusalem
chamber, people said it was all the same thing, and were quite
satisfied with the prediction.

The King died on the 20th of March, 1413, in the forty-seventh year
of his age, and the fourteenth of his reign. He was buried in
Canterbury Cathedral. He had been twice married, and had, by his
first wife, a family of four sons and two daughters. Considering
his duplicity before he came to the throne, his unjust seizure of
it, and above all, his making that monstrous law for the burning of
what the priests called heretics, he was a reasonably good king, as
kings went.

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