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CHAPTER V THE CAUSE OF YORK
If 1449, the year of Warwick's accession to his wife's heritage, was a time of trouble for England, the year which immediately followed was far worse. The loss of the Norman fortresses was followed in a few months by the sporadic outbreaks of popular rage which might have been expected—outbreaks directed against all who could in any way be connected with the evil governance of the realm. Bishop Moleyns, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, was murdered by a mob of mutinous sailors at Portsmouth in January. But this blow was only a premonitory symptom of the storm which was brewing against Suffolk, the head of the Government. Four months later—the fatal battle of Formigny had been fought meanwhile, and the last English foothold in Northern France lost—he was driven from power by an irresistible demonstration of wrath, in which the whole nation, from the House of Lords to the London mob, took its part. Protected from legal punishment by the King's pardon, Suffolk fled over-sea; but some London ships waylaid him in the Straits of Dover, and he was seized and put to death after a mock trial by the captain of the Nicholas of the Tower. So well hated was he that his tragic end[Pg 39] was received with exultation instead of remorse, and the political ballad-mongers of the day wrote many an insulting rhyme over his headless corpse.

Instead of mending matters, Suffolk's death was only the signal for worse troubles. Two months after his death came the great rebellion of the Kentishmen under Cade, accompanied by various other outbreaks in the southern counties. The insurgents were inspired by the same impulse which had slain Suffolk; they were set on making an end of all who had been responsible for the late disaster abroad and misgovernment at home. In London, Lord Say the Treasurer was caught and slain; in Wiltshire, Bishop Ayscough was beheaded by a mob of his own tenantry. But the rising, being but a sudden ebullition of rage with no plan or programme of reform, and being headed not by any respectable leader but merely by the disreputable adventurer Cade, died down of its own accord, without leaving any permanent effect on the governance of the realm. To make its power felt, the national discontent had to look for a responsible leader and a definite programme.

Both the Court party and the people knew where that leader might be found. Richard Duke of York, the heir-apparent to the childless King, lay across the sea in Ireland. He was an able soldier, much tried in the French wars, a firm and successful administrator—he had even succeeded in winning popularity in Ireland—and a man of blameless character, who had completely won the nation's confidence. Moreover, he was a man with a grievance; though the first prince of the blood, he was deliberately excluded from all place in the King's councils or share in the administration of the realm.[Pg 40] While in the midst of a successful campaign in France he had been superseded by the unlucky Somerset, and sent off to Ireland, apparently in the idea that like most other rulers of that distressful country he would wreck his reputation there. But he had been fortunate, and only increased his fame by the administration of the island. Already the Court party were murmuring against him once more, and the people believed that some other exile would ere long be found for him. As the ballad-monger sang—

The falcon flies and has no rest
Till he wot where he may build his nest.

Cade's rebels had used the Duke's name largely in their proclamations, but there seems no real ground for supposing that they had held any communication with him. The only evidence against him was that all discontented parties and persons spoke of him as the man that should right them some day. Nevertheless threats were made that he should be indicted for high treason, and action against him was apparently imminent. Then at last York took the initiative. He threw up the government of Ireland, crossed over to Wales, and came up to London with a considerable body of his tenants from the Marches at his back. There he claimed and obtained an interview with the King, in which he declared his loyalty, and received Henry's assurance that no harm was intended against him. This done, he retired to his estates on the Welsh border. But he had now definitely put himself at the head of the opposition to the Court party, whom he had bitterly rated in his remonstrance to the King.

[Pg 41]

The discontent of England had found its mouthpiece and its leader in this resolute prince, "a man of low stature, with a short square face, and somewhat stout of body," like his uncle Edmund of York, who had fallen at Agincourt rather stifled in his armour than slain by his wounds.

Our whole view of the conduct of Warwick in the ten years between 1450 and 1460 must be determined by our decision as to the designs and conduct of his uncle of York during that period. If we conclude that the Duke was aiming at the crown from the first, then we cannot but believe that his brother-in-law Salisbury and his nephew Warwick must have known or guessed his wishes, and on them must rest almost as great a share of blame for the outbreak of the Civil War as lies on the head of York himself. For the gain of their family we must believe that they sacrificed the peace of their country. This view has been commonly adopted by historians; it was set forth in every Lancastrian manifesto of the time; it was repeated by the historians who wrote under the Tudors, and it still prevails.

Another view, however, was taken by the majority of the English people in York's own day. Wherever in England public spirit ran strong, wherever wealth had accumulated and civilisation had advanced, a sympathy for the Yorkist party manifested itself. Kent, London, and East Anglia were always strongly on the Duke's side. But if York had been an ambitious schemer, deliberately upsetting the peace of the realm for his own ends, we should not expect to find his supporters among those parts of the nation to whom peace and good governance were above all things profitable.

[Pg 42]

A glance through the pages of the chroniclers who were contemporary with the war, Harding, Gregory, William of Worcester, Whethamsted, the anonymous English chronicler in the Camden Series, shows that to the majority of the English people York passed not as a disturber of the peace, but as a wronged and injured man, goaded into resistance by the machinations of the Court party. In one aspect he was regarded as a great lord of the royal blood excluded from his rightful place at the Council board, and even kept out of the country by his enemies who had the King's ear. In another he was regarded as the leader and mouthpiece of the Opposition of the day, of the old and popular war-party which inherited the traditions of Henry the Fifth and Humphrey of Gloucester—a party, indeed, whose views (as we have said elsewhere) were unwise and even immoral, but one which might reasonably ask to be taken into consideration by those who managed the affairs of the realm. In these days of ours when Ministries prove incapable and grow discredited the Opposition has its turn at the helm in the natural course of things. In the fifteenth century the old methods which had served Simon de Montfort, and the Lords Ordainers of 1322, were still the only ones which could be used against ministers who were out of sympathy with the nation. York was doing at St. Albans much what Earl Simon had done at Lewes.

This too must be said, that if disaster without and disorder within are to be held sufficient to discredit any rule, there had never been a time since the evil days of Bannockburn when England had more right to be discontented with her rulers. Moreover, there was no[Pg 43] chance that things would grow better; as long as the Queen and her friends ruled the King, so long would things continue as they were. Men thought at one moment that with the removal of Suffolk the evil times would come to an end. But when an outburst of popular fury swept Suffolk to his end—and be it remembered that there is no evidence to connect York with Suffolk's tragic death—the ascendency of Somerset proved as disastrous and as hopeless as that of his predecessor. And when Somerset fell at St. Albans men hoped once more that matters would right themselves; but the less-known ministers who soon succeeded to the helm—Beaumont and the Earl of Wiltshire—proved quite as unprofitable servants to the nation. As long as the Queen was at the King's side to choose his councillors for him, so long would the discontent of England continue to increase. Margaret's misfortunes make us loath to speak evil of her, but in fairness to the Yorkists it must be remembered that she was the most detestable politician that England had known. It is usual to call the dislike of the nation for her a stupid prejudice against a foreigner; but there was surely some reason for hating the woman who sold Berwick to the Scots and Calais to the French, who reintroduced the hateful practice of sweeping attainders in the Parliament of 1459, who succeeded in turning loyalty into a party-cry by making the King a party-leader. Well might she confess to a foreign friend on one occasion "that if the great lords of her own party knew what she was doing, they would themselves be the first to rise and put her to death," for she it was who committed that foulest treason of all—which consists in sending secretly to tell a foreign enemy[Pg 44] where to strike, in order that by his blow a party-end may be served. In 1457, when the realm was for a moment at peace, she deliberately incited the French admirals to make their great descent on the Kentish coast which ended in the fearful sack of Sandwich, merely because she knew that such a disaster would be counted against her political enemies the Yorkists. There is nothing to be compared to it in English history except the conduct of the arch-traitor Marlborough in 1694 over the affair of Brest.

The English hatred of Queen Margaret was no prejudice, but a wholesome instinct which led the English nation to recognise its enemy. She made herself a party-leader, and as a party-leader she had to be treated. York's ten years' strife with her must be regarded not so much as the rebellion of a subject against his sovereign, but as the struggle of one party-leader against another with the primitive weapons which alone were possible in the constitutional crises of that day. But even if we grant that York had his excuses, and that his general attitude does not stand self-condemned at the first glance, it remains to be seen how far his programme was justifiable, and how far he honestly endeavoured to carry it out to the best of his abilities. That he was an able, self-confident, ambitious man, with the fixed idea that he was the victim of the intrigues of the Court party, and that but for those intrigues he would be able to assume the position in the King's Council to which his birth entitled him, we know well. That when the King remained childless for nine years after his marriage, York could not help dwelling on the near prospect of his accession to the throne, was matter of[Pg 45] notoriety. When that prospect was suddenly taken from him by the unexpected birth of an heir to the crown, York's spirits were deeply dashed, and his friends murmured in secret about changelings and bastards. But his own attitude and language were still everything that could be required by the most exacting critic; he shared in the rejoicings at the birth of Prince Edward, and joined the Commission which was appointed to confer on the infant the title of Prince of Wales. All his speeches and manifestoes for the next six years were full even to satiety of professions of loyalty to the King, and no claims on his own part were ever made for anything more than that right of access to the King's ear to which he was obviously entitled. The Yorkist declarations are always statements of grievance and demands for reform, set forth on public grounds; they show no traces of dynastic claims. The actions of the party, too, are quite in keeping with their declarations. That they would take the King into their own hands, and not leave him in those of the Somersets or Wiltshire or Beaumont, they had always stated, and they attempted no more when they had the chance. The best criterion of York's honesty is his conduct after the first battle of St. Albans, when the fortune of war had placed the King's person in his power. He then proceeded to give Henry new ministers, but did absolutely nothing more. No word about the succession was breathed, nor was it even attempted to punish those who had previously ruled the kingdom so ill. With a wise moderation all the blame was heaped on Somerset—and Somerset was dead, and could suffer no harm whatever might be laid to his charge.
 
It may then fairly be argued that Warwick and all those who followed Richard of York in peace and war down to the year 1460 had an honest programme, and could in all sincerity trust their leader, when he assured them that his ends were national and not personal,—the reform of the governance of England, not the establishment of the house of York on the throne. We shall see that when, after enduring and inflicting many evils, York did at last lay claim to the throne, his own party, headed by Warwick, firmly withstood him and compelled him, in adherence to his and their original pledges, to leave King Henry his throne and content himself with the prospect of an ultimate succession.

This being so, it is only just to Warwick and the other Yorkist leaders to give them the benefit of the doubt wherever their conduct admits of an honourable explanation, and not to judge their earlier assertions or claims or complaints in the light of later events. On these lines we shall proceed to describe the young Earl's actions down to the final outbreak of war in 1459.



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