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CHAPTER VI THE BEGINNING OF THE CIVIL WAR: ST ALBANS
From the moment when York returned from Ireland without the King's permission, and commenced to expostulate with his royal kinsman against the doings of Somerset and the rest of the Court party, the progress of events was sure and steady. Nothing save some extraordinary chance could have warded off the inevitable Civil War. That it did not break out sooner was only due to the fact that York was as cautious as he was determined, and was content to wait for the crown which the King's sickly constitution and long-barren wedlock promised him. Moreover, the Court party themselves had no desire to push matters to extremities against the man who was in all probability to become their king at no very distant date. For more than four years the struggle between York and Somerset proceeded before swords were actually drawn; they fought by manifestoes and proclamations, by Acts of Parliament, by armed demonstrations, but neither would actually strike the first blow.

The final crisis was brought about by the juxtaposition of two events of very different character. In August 1453 the King fell into a melancholy madness, exactly[Pg 48] similar to that which had afflicted his unfortunate grandfather Charles the Sixth of France. He sat for days without moving or speaking; whatever was said to him he cast down his eyes and answered nought. The King's insanity was a deadly blow to Somerset, for he was helpless without the royal name to back him. York, on the other hand, with the general consent of the nation, assumed the direction of affairs, and became the King's lieutenant. He was afterwards made Protector of the Realm. This promised a final termination to the civil troubles of the realm.

But a few months after the King had become deranged, the whole face of affairs was changed by the birth of an heir to the crown. The Queen was delivered of a son on October 13th. This unexpected event—for the royal pair had been childless for nine years—was of fatal import to York. It took away the safety that had proceeded from the fact that his enemies believed that he was one day to reign over them, and it made York himself desperate. He came to the conclusion that he must be either regent or nothing; to save his head he must resort to desperate measures, and no more shrink from arms.

It is at this moment that Warwick begins to come to the front. In the earlier phases of York's struggle with Somerset he and his father had avoided committing themselves unreservedly to their kinsman's party; when he made his armed demonstration in 1452 they had not appeared at his side, but had negotiated in his favour with the King. In the Parliament of January 1454 they took part more decidedly in his favour. Mischief was brewing and every peer came up to London with[Pg 49] hundreds of retainers in his train. It was then noticed that Warwick "with a goodly fellowship at his back" rode up in company with his uncle of York, and that Salisbury with sevenscore men-at-arms joined him in London.

York's preponderance in the councils of the realm was at once followed by the promotion of his Neville kinsmen. In December Warwick, now aged twenty-five, was made a member of the Privy Council. In April, after York had been made Protector, Salisbury was made Chancellor of the Realm; it was forty-four years since a layman had held the post.

The King was insane for sixteen months, and for that time York governed the realm with discretion and success. His conduct with regard to the question of the succession was scrupulously correct. The infant Prince Edward was acknowledged heir to the throne, and York, Warwick, and Salisbury were all members of the Commission which in April invested him with the title of Prince of Wales. The Court party were treated with leniency; only Somerset, against whom the popular outcry was as loud as ever (he had nearly been torn to pieces by a London mob in 1453), was committed to custody in the Tower, where he lay all the time of the King's madness. The country seemed satisfied and the prospect was fair.

To the Nevilles these two last years of promotion and success had only been clouded by a fierce quarrel with the house of Percy. In 1453 Salisbury had been celebrating the marriage of his fourth son, Thomas, to a niece of Lord Cromwell at Tattershall in Yorkshire. As he left the feast his retainers fell into an affray with some followers of Thomas Percy Lord Egremont, a[Pg 50] younger son of the Earl of Northumberland. Out of this small spark sprung a sudden outbreak of private war all over the counties of York and Northumberland, in which the Nevilles were headed by John, Salisbury's second son, and the Percies by Egremont. The trouble lasted more than a year, and was only ended by York going in person, after he had been made Protector, to pacify the combatants. In this he succeeded, but the Percies maintained that they had been wronged, and were ever afterwards strong supporters of Somerset and the Queen.

In December 1454 King Henry came to his senses, and York resigned the protectorate. The King's recovery was in every way unfortunate; the moment that he was himself again he fell back into the hands of the Court party. His first act was to release Somerset from the Tower, and declare him a true and faithful subject. His next was to dismiss York and Salisbury from all their offices, and with them several other high functionaries who were enemies of Somerset, including Tiptoft Earl of Worcester, the Lord Treasurer. The disgraced peers retired to their estates—York to Sendal, Salisbury to Middleham.

But worse was to come. In May a Council, to which were summoned neither York, Salisbury, Warwick, nor any other of the old councillors who were their friends, met at Westminster. This body summoned a Parliament to meet at Leicester, "for the purpose of providing for the safety of the King's person against his enemies." Who would be declared the enemies York and Salisbury could guess without difficulty; and what would be done with these enemies they knew well enough. Imprison[Pg 51]ment would be the least evil to be feared at the hands of Somerset.

The fatal moment had come. York was desperate, and resolved to anticipate the vengeance of his adversaries. The moment that the news came, he called out his Yorkshire retainers, and sent to ask the aid of his friends all over England. Salisbury joined him at once with the Neville tenants from his North-Riding estates, and without a moment's delay York and his brother-in-law marched on London. Warwick fell in with them on the way, but no other friend came to their aid, though the Duke of Norfolk was getting together a considerable force on their behalf in East Anglia.

York's little army marched down the Ermine Street; on May 20th he lay at Royston in Cambridgeshire. Beside the two Nevilles he had only one other peer in his company, Lord Clinton, and the knights present were merely the personal followers of York and Salisbury. Except a few of Warwick's Midland tenants, the whole army was composed of the Yorkshire retainers of York and Salisbury, and the chroniclers speak of the whole army as the Northern Men. More troops could have been had by waiting, but the Duke knew that if he delayed, the enemy would also gain time to muster in strength. At present the lords of the King's Council were quite unprepared for war, and the rapid march of York's little army had not allowed them time for preparation.

On the 21st the Duke felt his way southward along the line of the Ermine Street, and lay at Ware. There he and the two Earls indited a laborious apology for their arrival in arms to "their most redoubted[Pg 52] sovereign Lord the King." They were "coming in grace, as true and humble liegemen, to declare and show at large their loyalty," and sought instant admission to the royal presence that they might convince him of the "sinister, malicious, and fraudulent reports of their enemies."

Somerset read clearly enough the meaning of York's march on London, and even before the Duke's manifesto was received, had stirred up the King to have recourse to arms. Many of the great lords of the King's party were in London, but they were surprised by the sudden approach of the enemy, and had brought few followers with them. Thus it came to pass that although the King marched out of Westminster on the 21st with many of the greatest lords of England at his back, he had less than three thousand combatants in his host. With him went forth his half-brother Jasper of Pembroke, the Dukes of Somerset and Buckingham, the Earls of Northumberland, Devon, Stafford, Wiltshire, and Dorset, and Lords Clifford, Dudley, Berners, and Roos, nearly a quarter of the scanty peerage of England. York's manifesto reached the King as he marched through Kilburn, but Somerset sent it back without allowing it to reach the royal hands. That night the army turned off the Roman road to shelter themselves in the houses of Watford; but next morning very early all were afoot again, and long before seven o'clock King Henry and his host reached St. Albans. The royal banner was pitched in St. Peter's Street, at the northern end of the straggling little town, the outlets of the streets were barricaded, and then the troops dispersed to water their horses and prepare breakfast. An hour[Pg 53] later York and his forces appeared, advancing cautiously from the east along the Hertford Road. Hearing of the King's march on Watford, the Duke had left the direct line of advance on London, and set out to seek his enemies. When St. Albans was found to be strongly held, York, Salisbury, and Warwick drew up their four thousand men in battle array, in a field called Keyfield to the east of the town, and paused before attacking. They were hardly arrived before the Duke of Buckingham was seen emerging with a herald from the barricade which closed the eastern outlet of the town. This elderly nobleman was Salisbury's brother-in-law and Warwick's uncle; he was sure of a fair hearing from the insurgents, for he had never been identified with the party of Suffolk and Somerset, and was in arms out of pure loyalty to the King. Arrived in the presence of the rebel leaders, Humphrey of Buckingham demanded the cause of their coming and the nature of their intentions. The Duke of York replied by charging his master's envoy with a message for the royal ears, which began with all manner of earnest protestations of loyalty, proceeded with a vague declaration that the intent of his coming in arms was righteous and true, and ended with a peremptory demand that it would please the King "to deliver up such persons as he might accuse, to be dealt with like as they have deserved." Buckingham brought the message back and repeated it to the King, as he sat in the house of Westley, the Hundredman of the town of St. Albans, whither he had retired after his arrival. When the Duke's demand was made known, for once in his life the saintly King burst out into a fit of passion. "Now I shall[Pg 54] know," he cried, "what traitors are so bold as to raise a host against me in my own land. And by the faith that I owe to St. Edward and the Crown of England, I will destroy them every mother's son, to have example to all traitors who make such rising of people against their King and Governour. And for a conclusion, say that rather than they shall have any lord here with me at this time, I will this day for his sake and in this quarrel stand myself to live or die."

When this answer came to the Duke of York he made no immediate attack on the town, but turned to harangue his troops. He told them that the King refused all reformation or reparation, that the fate of England lay in their hands, and that at the worst an honourable death in the field was better than the shame of a traitor's end, which awaited them if they lost the day. Then he launched the whole body in three divisions against the barricades which obstructed the northern, southern, and eastern exits of the town.

The hour was half-past eleven o'clock, for the interchange of messages between the King and York had consumed four hours of the morning. The royal troops, seeing Buckingham coming and going between the two armies, had believed that an agreement would be patched up without fighting. Many had left their posts, and some had disarmed themselves. When the Duke's men were seen in motion every man ran to arms, and the bells of the abbey and the churches ringing the alarm set monks and townsmen to prayers, in good hope that the shield of their warrior-patron would be stretched over them to ward off the plundering bands from the North, the

Gens Bore?, gens perfidi?, gens prona rapin?,

[Pg 55]

whose advent always sent Abbot Whethamsted into an ecstasy of bad Latin verses.

The first rush of the Yorkists was beaten off at all the three points which they attacked. Lord Clifford on the London Road "kept the barriers so strongly that the Duke might not in any wise, for all the power he had, break into the streets." Warwick too, who led the left division of the Yorkist host, was repulsed in his attack on the southern exit of the town. But the Earl's quick military eye, now for the first time exercised, had marked that the Lancastrians, though strong enough to hold the barricades, had not enough men to defend the long straggling line of houses which formed the southern extension of the town. Gathering together his repulsed retainers, he broke into the gardens which lay behind the houses of Holywell Street, and bursting open the back-doors of several dwellings, ran out into the main thoroughfare of the town, "between the sign of the Chequers and the sign of the Key, blowing up his trumpets and shouting with a great voice, A Warwick! A Warwick!"—a cry destined to strike terror into Lancastrian ears on many a future battlefield. Warwick's sudden irruption took the defenders of the barricades in the rear, but they faced about and stood to it manfully in the streets. The Lancastrian line was broken, and the Yorkist centre, where Sir Robert Ogle led on the Duke's own followers from the Northern Marches, now burst into the market-place in the centre of the town to aid Warwick.

For one wild half-hour the arrows flew like sleet up and down St. Peter's Street, and the knights fought hand to hand in the narrow roadway. But the Lancastrians were overmatched. The King received an arrow[Pg 56] in the neck, and was led bleeding into the house of a tanner. Somerset, the cause of the battle, was stricken dead on the doorstep of an inn named the Castle. Sir Philip Wentworth, the King's standard-bearer, threw down his banner and fled away. James of Ormond the Irish Earl of Wiltshire, and Thorpe the Speaker of the House of Commons, followed him. But the other leaders of the King's army were less fortunate. The Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford were slain. The Earl of Dorset was desperately wounded, and left for dead in the street. The Duke of Buckingham, with an arrow sticking in his face, took sanctuary in the abbey. The Earls of Stafford and Devon, both wounded, and Lord Dudley, yielded themselves prisoners. Only sixscore men had been slain in the King's army, but the larger part were persons of mark, for, as was often the case in that century, the lightly-equipped archers and billmen could fling down their arms and get away with ease, while the knights and nobles, fighting on foot in their cumbrous armour, could not make speed to fly when the day was lost. So it came to pass that of the one hundred and twenty Lancastrians who fell, only forty-eight were common men, the rest were nobles, knights, and squires, or officers of the King's household. On the next day the victors marched on London, vainly hoping, perhaps, that with the death of Somerset and the capture of the King the days of the weak government of Lancaster were over.

The Duke and his followers thought, as yet, of nothing more than a change of ministry. Their conduct shows that they had nothing more in hand than the replacing of the Court party in the great offices of State by persons[Pg 57] who should be more in touch with their own views and the will of the nation. The Chancellorship was left in the hands of Archbishop Bourchier, whom the Yorkists felt that they could trust; but the Earl of Wiltshire was replaced as Treasurer by Lord Bourchier, the Archbishop's brother. The Duke of York became Constable; Warwick superseded the dead Somerset as Captain of Calais; Salisbury was made Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster. A little later Warwick's younger brother George Neville was given the wealthy bishopric of Exeter, though he had only just reached his twenty-sixth year. A Parliament summoned in July ratified these appointments, and chose as its Speaker Sir John Wenlock, of whom we shall frequently hear again as one of Warwick's firmest friends and adherents. A strongly-worded oath of allegiance to King Henry was taken by the Duke of York, and all the House of Lords with him, and the new ministry started on its career with favourable prospects. The only trouble for the moment came from an ill-judged attempt in Parliament to fix the responsibility for the "Ill Day of St. Albans" on definite persons. Warwick named Lord Cromwell as one of those most to blame, and when Cromwell gave an angry reply, there sprang up such an altercation between them that men feared a breach of the peace. That night Cromwell borrowed the Earl of Shrewsbury's men-at-arms to guard his house; but Warwick had cooled down and no more came of the quarrel, for the Parliament very wisely concluded to lay all the responsibility for the Civil War on Somerset, who was dead and could not reply.

York's authority in the kingdom was made more[Pg 58] secure for the moment when King Henry fell once again into one of his fits of melancholy madness in October. The Parliament reassembled and appointed the Duke Regent, but on February 25th Henry came to his senses, and at once relieved York of his office. There followed a time of unrest and rumours of war, but for some months longer the Duke succeeded in maintaining his place at the helm. But trouble was always impending. Warwick, whose trained and paid soldiery in the garrison of Calais were the only permanent military force belonging to the Crown, had to come over on several occasions to back his uncle. At one time we hear that York feared to be waylaid on his way to Parliament, and got Warwick with three hundred men "all in jacks or brigandines" to escort him thither, "saying that if he had not come so strong he would have been distressed, but no man knew by whom, for men think verily that there is no man able to undertake any such enterprise."

York was not wrong, however, in thinking that there were those who were ready to risk much to get him out of power. Since Somerset was dead, the leadership of the Court party had fallen into very firm and determined hands, those of Margaret of Anjou, and the Queen had resolved to exercise the unbounded influence that she enjoyed over her husband to make him evict his Yorkist ministers the moment that it seemed safe so to do. For her resolve she had this much excuse, that the new government was at first no more fortunate than the old in enforcing order in the kingdom, for into the period of York's ascendency fell the worst private war that had been seen for a generation. Courtney Earl of Devon and Lord Bonville fell to blows in the West, and[Pg 59] fought a battle outside Exeter with four thousand men a side; the Earl won, and signalised his victory by ransacking the cathedral and carrying off several of the canons as prisoners. Yet he was not brought to justice for this abominable sacrilege, even though he was of the party which was opposed to York. But Margaret was not entitled to blame York for the state of the kingdom, for we find that she deliberately went to work to give the Duke trouble, by stirring up foreign enemies against England. A Scotch raid in the summer of 1456 was more than suspected to be due to her intrigues; and it is certain that while the Duke was officially taking the Scots to task in the King's name, the King was disavowing York's war-like despatches in private letters to James the Second. When we know that a year later Margaret was not above setting on the French to ravage the Kentish sea-ports for her own private purposes, we can understand a little of the hatred with which she was followed by the Commons of the south-eastern counties.



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