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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Warwick the Kingmaker » CHAPTER II THE HOUSE OF NEVILLE
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Of all the great houses of medi?val England, the Nevilles of Raby were incontestably the toughest and the most prolific. From the reign of John to the reign of Elizabeth their heritage never once passed into the female line, and in all the fourteen generations which lived and died between 1210 and 1600 there was only one occasion on which the succession passed from uncle to nephew, and not from father to son or grandson. The vitality of the Neville tribe was sufficient to bear them through repeated marriages with those only daughters and heiresses whose wedlock so often forebodes the extinction of an ancient house. Of four successive heads of the family between 1250 and 1350, all married ladies who were the last representatives of old baronial houses; but the Nevilles only grew more numerous, and spread into more and more branches, extending their possessions farther and farther from their original seat on the Durham moors till all the counties of the north were full of their manors.

The original source of the family was a certain Robert Fitz-Maldred, lord of Raby, who, in the reign of John, married Isabella de Neville, heiress of his neighbour[Pg 13] Geoffrey de Neville of Brancepeth. Robert's son Geoffrey, who united the Teesdale lands of his father with his mother's heritage hard by the gates of Durham, took the name of Neville, and that of Fitz-Maldred was never again heard in the family. The lords of Raby did not at first distinguish themselves in any way above the rest of the barons of the North Country. We find them from time to time going forth to the King's Scotch or French wars, serving in Simon de Montfort's rebel army, wrangling with their feudal superior the Bishop of Durham, slaying an occasional sheriff, and founding an occasional chantry, and otherwise conducting themselves after the manner of their kind. It was one of the house who led the English van against the Scots at the great victory of 1346, and erected the graceful monument which gave to the battlefield the name of Neville's Cross.

Only two characteristics marked these Nevilles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; the largeness of their families—three successive lords of Raby boasted respectively of ten, eleven, and nine children—and their never-ending success in laying field by field and manor by manor. Robert Neville, who in the time of Henry the Third married Ida Mitford, added to his Durham lands his wife's broad Northumbrian barony in the valley of the Wansbeck. His son of the same name made Neville one of the greatest names in Yorkshire, when he wedded Mary of Middleham, and became in her right lord of Middleham Castle and all the manors dependent on it, reaching for a dozen miles along the Ure and running up to the farthest bounds of the forest of Coverdale. Robert the younger's heir, Ralph, emulated the good[Pg 14] fortune of his father and grandfather by securing as his wife Euphemia, heiress of Clavering, who brought him not only the half-hundred of Clavering in Essex, but the less remote and more valuable lands of Warkworth on the Northumbrian coast. Ralph's son John, though he married as his first wife a younger daughter of the house of Percy, secured as his second Elizabeth Latimer, heiress of an old baronial house whose domains lay scattered about Bucks and Bedfordshire.

Four generations of wealthy marriages had made the Nevilles the greatest lords in all the North Country. Even their neighbours, the Percies of Northumberland, were not so strong. The "saltire argent on the field gules," and the dun bull, the two Neville badges, were borne by hosts of retainers. Three hundred men-at-arms, of whom fourteen were knights and three hundred archers, followed the lord of Raby even when he went so far afield as Brittany. For home service against the Scots he could muster thrice as many. More than seventy manors were in his hands, some spread far and wide in Essex, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, and Buckinghamshire, but the great bulk of them lying massed in North Yorkshire and South Durham, around Raby and Middleham, the two strong castles which were the centres of his influence. Hence it was not surprising that King Richard the Second, when he lavished titles and honours broadcast on the nobility after his surprising coup d'état of 1397, should have singled out the head of the Nevilles for conciliation and preferment. Accordingly, Ralph Neville, then in the thirty-fourth year of his age, was raised to the dignity of an earl. Curiously enough, he could not be given the designation of either of the counties where the bulk of his broad lands lay. The[Pg 15] earldom of Durham was, now as always, in the hands of its bishop, comes palatinus of the county since the days of William the Conqueror. The titles of York and of Richmondshire, wherein lay the other great stretch of Neville land, were vested in members of the royal house. The Percies had twenty years before received the title of Northumberland, the third county where the Nevilles held considerable property. Hence Ralph of Raby had to be put off with the title of Westmoreland, though in that county he seems, curiously enough, not to have held a single manor. The gift of the earldom was accompanied with the more tangible present of the royal honour of Penrith.

All these favours, however, did not buy the loyalty of Ralph Neville. He was married to one of John of Gaunt's daughters by Katherine Swinford, and was at heart a strong partisan of the house of Lancaster. Accordingly, when Henry of Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in July 1399, Westmoreland was one of the first to join him; he rode with him to Flint, saw the surrender of King Richard, and bore the royal sceptre at the usurper's coronation at Westminster. Henry rewarded his services by making him Earl Marshal in place of the exiled Duke of Norfolk.

Earl Ralph went on in a prosperous career, aided King Henry against the rising of the Percies in 1403, and committed himself more firmly than ever to the cause of the house of Lancaster by putting down the insurrection which Scrope, Mowbray, and the aged Northumberland had raised in 1405. Twice he served King Henry as ambassador to treat with the Scots, and twice the custody of the Border was committed to him as[Pg 16] warden. When Bolingbroke died, and Henry of Monmouth succeeded him, Earl Ralph was no less firm and faithful. At the famous Parliament of Leicester in 1414, when the glorious but fatal war with France was resolved upon, he was one of the few who withstood the arguments of Archbishop Chicheley and the appeals of the Duke of Exeter and gave their voices against the expedition. He besought the King that, if he must needs make war, he should attack Scotland rather than France, the English title to that crown being as good, the enterprise more hopeful, and the result more likely to bring permanent profit, while—quoting an old popular rhyme—he ended by saying that

He that wolde France win, must with Scotland first begin.

But all men cried "War! War! France! France!" The ambitious young King had his will; and the next spring there sailed from Southampton the first of those many gallant hosts of Englishmen who were to win so many fruitless battles to their country's final loss, and leave their bones behind to moulder in French soil, in the trenches of Harfleur and Orleans or on the fields of Beaugé and Patay.

Every reader of Shakespeare has met Earl Ralph in the English camp on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, remembers his downhearted wish for a few thousands of the "gentlemen of England now abed," and can repeat by heart the young King's stirring reply to his uncle's forebodings. But, in fact, Earl Ralph was not at Agincourt, nor did he even cross the sea. He had been left behind with Lord Scrope and the Baron of Greystock to keep the Scottish March, and was far[Pg 17] away at Carlisle when Henry's little band of English were waiting for the dawn on that eventful St. Crispin's day. Unless tradition errs, it was really Walter of Hungerford who made the speech that drew down his master's chiding.

Ralph was now growing an old man as the men of the fifteenth century reckoned old age; and while the brilliant campaigns of Henry the Fifth were in progress abode at home, busied with statecraft rather than with war. But his sons, and they were a numerous tribe, were one after another sent across the seas to join their royal cousin. John, the heir of Westmoreland, was serving all through the campaigns of 1417-18, and was made governor of Verneuil and other places in its neighbourhood, after having held the trenches opposite the Porte de Normandie during the long siege of Rouen, and assisted also at the leaguer of Caen. Ralph, Richard, William, and George are found following in their elder brother's footsteps as each of them arrived at the years of manhood, and all earned their knighthood by services done in France.

Meanwhile Earl Ralph, after surviving his royal nephew some three years, and serving for a few months as one of the Privy Council that governed in the name of the infant Henry the Sixth, died on October 21st, 1425, at the age of sixty-two, and was buried in the beautiful collegiate church which he had founded at Staindrop, hard by the gates of his ancestral castle of Raby. There his monument still remains, escaped by good fortune from the vandalism of Edwardian and Cromwellian Protestants. He lies in full armour, wearing the peaked basinet that was customary in his younger days, though[Pg 18] it had gone out of fashion ere his death. His regular features have little trace of real portraiture, and show no signs of his advancing years, so that we may conclude that the sculptor had never been acquainted with the man he was representing. Only the short twisted moustache, curling over the mail of the Earl's camail, has something of individuality, and must have corresponded to the life; for by 1425 all the men of the younger generation were close shaven, like King Henry the Fifth. On Earl Ralph's right hand, as befitted a princess of the blood royal, lies his second wife Joan of Beaufort; on his left Margaret Stafford, the bride of his youth and the mother of his heir.


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