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Richard, the second child but eldest son of Richard Neville of Salisbury and Alice Montacute, was born on November 22nd, 1428, just nineteen days after his grandfather had fallen at the siege of Orleans. We know absolutely nothing of his childhood—not even the place of his birth is recorded. We must suppose, but cannot prove, that his earliest days were passed on his mother's lands in Wessex, in moving about between Amesbury, Christchurch, and Ringwood as his parents' household made its periodical peregrinations from manor to manor according to the universal practice of the time. As a boy he must have visited his paternal grandmother, Joan of Beaufort, on her Yorkshire estates, when his father was fixed in the North as Warden of the Scotch Border. There probably he may have imbibed some of the old lady's dislike for her step-sons of the elder branch of the Nevilles, with whom she and his father were now at open variance. A little later he must have spent much time in London, when his father became a member of the Council of Regency, lodged at the "Tenement called the Harbour in the Ward of Dowgate," which his father and grandmother had[Pg 30] received by will from his grandfather when the larger London house of the family, "Neville's Inn in Silver Street," passed with the Westmoreland earldom to the elder branch.

The fortunes of the house of Neville, as we have told them hitherto, have consisted of one interminable story of fortunate marriages. The reader must now be asked to concentrate his attention on another group of these alliances, a group which settled the whole history of the Kingmaker, and gave him the title of the earldom by which he is always named.

The Beauchamps of Warwick held one of the oldest English earldoms; they represented in direct descent the Henry of Newburgh to whom William Rufus had granted the county in 1190.[3] Richard Beauchamp, the head of the family at this time, was perhaps the worthiest and the most esteemed of the English nobles of his day. The "gracious Warwick," the "father of courtesy" as the Emperor Sigismund called him, had been through all the wars of Henry the Fifth, and won therein a name only second to that of the King himself. He had seen many cities and men in every land that lay between England and Palestine, and left everywhere behind him a good report. His virtues and accomplishments had caused him to be singled out as tutor and governor to the young King, Henry the Sixth; no better model, as all agreed, could be found for the ruler of England to copy. Nor did Warwick belie his task; he made Henry upright, learned, painstaking, conscientious to a fault. If he[Pg 31] could but have made him as strong in body and spirit as he was morally, he would have given England the best king that ever she possessed.

Richard Beauchamp had married Isabel, heiress of Despenser, and widow of Richard, Lord of Abergavenny. Their family consisted of a son, Henry, a boy of ten, and a daughter, Anne, three years younger. In addition, the Countess of Warwick had an only daughter by her first husband, who was heiress of Abergavenny. Beauchamp and Richard Neville of Salisbury were the best of friends, and had determined to seal their friendship by intermarriage between their families. The alliance was destined to be complicated; each earl married his heir to his friend's daughter. The boy Henry, heir of Warwick, was affianced to Cecily Neville, Salisbury's six-year-old daughter; the boy Richard, heir of Salisbury, to Anne Beauchamp, daughter of Warwick. Nor was this all; the family relations were complicated by the marriage of Warwick's step-daughter Elizabeth, the heiress of Abergavenny, to Edward Neville the younger brother of Salisbury.

The boy Richard Neville received a competent dowry with his wife, but nothing more was expected to follow from the marriage. Fate, however, decreed otherwise.

The old Earl of Warwick died in 1439, full of years and honours. To him succeeded his son Henry, the husband of Cecily Neville, now sixteen years of age, and "a seemly lord of person." He had been brought up with the young King, a lad of his own years, and was Henry of Lancaster's bosom friend. When the King came of age he heaped on the young Beauchamp every honour that his affection could devise. Not only[Pg 32] was he made Knight of the Garter and a Privy Councillor before he was nineteen, but he was created Duke of Warwick, and invested by the King's own hands with the lordship of the Isle of Wight. If Henry Beauchamp had lived, it would have been he, and not Suffolk and Somerset, who in a few years would have ruled England. But his career was broken in its earliest promise. Ere he had finished his twenty-third year Henry Beauchamp was cut off from the land of the living, and his lands and duchy devolved on his only child, a little girl but four years of age. Her wardship fell to William de la Pole Earl of Suffolk, already the declared adversary of Salisbury and the Neville family.

By the wholly unexpected death of Henry Beauchamp only this one frail life lay between the lad Richard Neville—he was sixteen when his brother-in-law died—and the earldom of Warwick. Nor was that life to continue long. The child Anne Beauchamp survived for three years more, and then died, aged seven, on June 23rd, 1449. She was buried by her grandam Constance, daughter of Edmund Duke of York, before the high altar of Reading Abbey.

The heiress of Warwick was now the elder Anne, Richard Neville's young wife,[4] and in her right Richard received the Beauchamp lands from the unwilling hands of the little countess's guardian, Suffolk. The patent which created him Earl of Warwick, and joined his wife in the grant, was dated July 23rd, 1449.

[Pg 33]

Thus, in the year in which he reached his twenty-first birthday, the future Kingmaker became "Earl of Warwick, Newburgh, and Aumarle, Premier Earl of England, Baron of Elmley and Hanslape, and Lord of Glamorgan and Morgannoc." He was now a much more important personage than his own father, for the Beauchamp and Despenser manors in the West Midlands and the Welsh Marches were broader by far than the Montacute lands in Wessex, or the Neville holding round Middleham.

A short survey of the items of the Beauchamp heritage is necessary to show how wide-spread was the power which was now placed in the hands of the young Richard Neville. Perhaps the most compact block of his new possessions was the old Despenser holding in South Wales and Herefordshire, which included the castles of Cardiff, Neath, Caerphilly, Llantrussant, Seyntweonard, Ewyas Lacy, Castle-Dinas, Snodhill, Whitchurch, and Maud's Castle. Caerphilly alone was a stronghold fit to resist ten thousand men, with its tremendous rings of concentric fortification; and the massive Norman masonry of Cardiff was still ready for good service. Between Neath and Ewyas Lacy lay no less than fifty manors of the Despenser heritage. In Gloucestershire was another group of estates which the Beauchamps had got from the Despensers—of which the chief were the wide and populous manors of Tewkesbury, Sodbury, Fairford, Whittington, Chedworth, Wickwar, and Lydney. In Worcestershire there was a compact block of land along the Severn and on both its banks; the largest manors included in it were Upton-on-Severn, Hanley Castle, and Bewdley, but there were twenty-four more estates of less importance, together with the Castle of Elmley, which had given the Beauchamps a[Pg 34] baron's title. In Warwickshire, beside the fair town and castle which went with the earldom, there were not any very broad tracts of land—only nine manors in all, but one of these was the wealthy manor of Tamworth. Going farther south in the Midlands we find in Oxfordshire five manors and the forest of Wychwood reckoned to the Beauchamps, and in Buckinghamshire the baronial seat of Hanslape and seven manors more. Nor was it only in central England that Richard Neville could count his estates; there were scattered holdings accruing to him in Kent, Hampshire, Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Northampton, Stafford, Cambridge, Rutland, and Nottingham, amounting in all to forty-eight manors. Even in the distant North one isolated possession fell to him—the castle of Barnard's-Castle on the Tees. If in addition to the manors we began to count up the scattered knights' fees, the advowsons of churches, the chantries, the patronage of abbeys, and the tenements in towns, which formed part of the Beauchamp heritage, we should never be done; but these are all written in the Escheats Roll, whence the antiquary may excavate them at his will.

The year 1449, in which Richard Neville attained his majority and gathered in his wife's heritage, was the turning-point in the reign of Henry the Sixth. No more critical time could have been found in the whole century in which to place power and influence in the hands of a young, able, and ambitious man. For it was in 1449 that the doom of the house of Lancaster was settled by the final collapse of the English domination in France. In March came the fatal attack on Fougères which reopened[Pg 35] the war, an attack of which it is hard to say whether it was more foolish or wicked. In August, September, and October occurred with bewildering rapidity the fall of the great towns of eastern and central Normandy, ending with the capitulation of Rouen after a siege of only nineteen days.

It was this unparalleled series of disasters which made the existing Lancastrian rule unbearable to the English nation. Suffolk, the minister whose policy had led up to the disaster, and Somerset, the governor whose avarice had depleted the Norman garrisons, and whose rashness and ill faith had precipitated the outbreak of hostilities, were henceforth pursued by the bitter hatred of the majority of Englishmen. When it was found that King Henry identified their cause with his own, he himself—against whom no one had previously breathed a word—found for the first time that the current of public opinion was setting against him.

It was now that the final scission of the two parties that were afterwards to be known as Yorkist and Lancastrian took place. Every man of note in England had now to make his choice whether his personal loyalty to the King should lead him into acquiescing in the continuance in office of the ministers whom Henry openly favoured, or whether he would set himself in opposition to the Court faction, even though he was thereby led into opposition to the King.

From the first moment there was no doubt which of the two courses would be adopted by the two Neville earls of the younger branch. Warwick, now as always, acted in strict union with his father, and Salisbury had never been a friend of Suffolk. Moreover, they were[Pg 36] both concerned in behalf of their relative the Duke of York, who by Somerset's contrivance had been sent into a kind of honorary exile in Ireland. When the crisis should come, it was already pretty certain that Salisbury and Warwick would be found on the side of York, and not on that of Suffolk and Somerset. But as yet, though men were growing excited and preparing for evil times, no one foresaw the exact shape which the troubles were to take. One thing only was certain, that Suffolk and Somerset were growing so hateful to the nation that an explosion against them would soon take place, and that when the explosion came there would be a large party among the leading men of England who would rejoice in its effects.

The most ominous sign of the times was that the great barons on both sides were already quietly arming, seeing to the numbers of their retainers, and concluding agreements to take their neighbours into their livery if the worst should come to the worst.

Nothing can be a more typical sign of the times than the treaty which Salisbury entered into with a Westmoreland knight, whose lands lay not far from his great holding in the North-Riding, as early as September 1449, the very month when Somerset was losing Normandy.

"This indenture made between Richard Earl of Salisbury, on the one part, and Walter Strykelande knight, on the other, beareth witness that the said Walter is retained and withholded with the said Earl for the term of his life, against all folk, saving his allegiance to the King. And the said Walter shall be well and conveniently horsed, armed, and arrayed, and always ready to bide come and go with to and for the said Earl, at all[Pg 37] times and places, as well in time of peace as time of war, at the wages of the same Earl." Walter's following was worth having, being "servants, tenants, and inhabitants within the county of Westmoreland; bowmen with horse and harness, sixty-nine; billmen horsed and harnessed, seventy-four; bowmen without horses, seventy-one; billmen without horses, seventy-six"—in fact a little army of two hundred and ninety men. The existence of a few such treaties as this between Salisbury and his northern neighbours shows clearly enough how the Neville power was built up, and how formidable to the public peace it might become. If once such treaties were in existence, how long would it be before the single clause "saving his allegiance" would begin to drop into oblivion?


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