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CHAPTER XVII BARNET

The Easter morning dawned dim and gray; a dense fog had rolled up from the valley, and the two hosts could see no more of each other than on the previous night. Only the dull sound of unseen multitudes told each that the other was still before them in position.

Of the two armies each, so far as we can judge, must have numbered some twenty-five thousand men. It is impossible in the conflict of evidence to say which was the stronger, but there cannot have been any great difference in force.[20] Each had drawn itself up in the normal order of a medieval army, with a central[Pg 229] main-battle, the van and rear ranged to its right and left, and a small reserve held back behind the centre. Both sides, too, had dismounted nearly every man, according to the universal practice of the English in the fifteenth century. Even Warwick himself,—whose wont it had been to lead his first line to the charge, and then to mount and place himself at the head of the reserve, ready to deliver the final blow,—on this one occasion sent his horse to the rear and fought on foot all day. He wished to show his men that this was no common battle, but that he was risking life as well as lands and name and power in their company.

In the Earl's army Montagu and Oxford, with their men from the North and East, held the right wing; Somerset with his West-Country archery and billmen formed the centre; Warwick himself with his own Midland retainers had the left wing; with him was his old enemy Exeter,—his unwilling partner in the famous procession of 1457, his adversary at sea in the spring of 1460. Here and all down the line the old Lancastrians and the partisans of Warwick were intermixed; the Cresset of the Hollands stood hard by the Ragged Staff; the Dun Bull of Montagu and the Radiant Star of the De Veres were side by side. We cannot doubt that many a look was cast askance at new friends who had so long been old foes, and that the suspicion of possible treachery must have been present in every breast.

Edward's army was drawn up in a similar order. Richard of Gloucester commanded the right wing; he was but eighteen, but his brother had already learnt to trust much to his zeal and energy. The King himself[Pg 230] headed Clarence's men in the centre; he was determined to keep his shifty brother at his side, lest he might repent at the eleventh hour of his treachery to his father-in-law. Hastings led the rear-battle on the left.

The armies were too close to each other to allow of man?uvring; the men rose from the muddy ground on which they had lain all night, and dressed their line where they stood. But the night had led King Edward astray; he had drawn up his host so as to overlap the Earl's extreme left, while he opposed nothing to his extreme right. Gloucester in the one army and Montagu and Oxford in the other had each the power of outflanking and turning the wing opposed to them. The first glimpse of sunlight would have revealed these facts to both armies had the day been fair; but in the dense fog neither party had perceived as yet its advantage or its danger. It was not till the lines met that they made out each other's strength and position.

Between four and five o'clock, in the first gray of the dawning, the two hosts felt their way towards each other; each side could at last descry the long line of bills and bows opposed to it, stretching right and left till it was lost in the mist. For a time the archers and the bombards of the two parties played their part; then the two lines rolled closer, and met from end to end all along Gladsmore Heath. The first shock was more favourable to Warwick than to the King. At the east end of the line, indeed, the Earl himself was outflanked by Gloucester, forced to throw back his wing, and compelled to yield ground towards his centre. But at the other end of the line the Yorkists suffered a far worse disaster; Montagu and Oxford not only turned Hastings' flank, but rolled[Pg 231] up his line, broke it, and chased it right over the heath, and down toward Barnet town. Many of the routed troops fled as far as London ere they stopped, spreading everywhere the news that the King was slain and the cause of York undone. But the defeat of Edward's left wing had not all the effect that might have been expected. Owing to the fog it was unnoticed by the victorious right, and even by the centre, where the King and Clarence were now hard at work with Somerset, and gaining rather than losing ground. No panic spread down the line "for no man was in anything discouraged, because, saving a few that stood nearest to them, no man wist of the rout: also the other party by the same flight and chase were never the greatlier encouraged." Moreover, the victorious troops threw away their chance; instead of turning to aid his hard-pressed comrades, Oxford pursued recklessly, cutting down the flying enemy for a mile, even into the streets of Barnet. Consequently he and his men lost themselves in the fog; many were scattered; the rest collected themselves slowly, and felt their way back towards the field, guiding themselves by the din that sounded down from the hill-side. Montagu appears not to have gone so far in pursuit; he must have retained part of his wing with him, and would seem to have used it to strengthen his brother's hard-pressed troops on the left.

But meanwhile King Edward himself was gaining ground in the centre; his own column, as the Yorkist chronicler delights to record, "beat and bare down all that stood in his way, and then turned to range, first on that hand and then on the other hand, and in length so beat and bare them down that nothing might stand in[Pg 232] the sight of him and of the well-assured fellowship that attended truly upon him." Somerset, in short, was giving way; in a short time the Lancastrian centre would be broken.

At this moment, an hour after the fight had begun, Oxford and his victorious followers came once more upon the scene. Lost in the fog, they appeared, not where they might have been expected, on Edward's rear, but upon the left rear of their own centre. They must have made a vast detour in the darkness.

Now came the fatal moment of the day. Oxford's men, whose banners and armour bore the Radiant Star of the De Veres, were mistaken by their comrades for a flanking column of Yorkists. In the mist their badge had been taken for the Sun with Rays, which was King Edward's cognisance. When they came close to their friends they received a sharp volley of arrows, and were attacked by Warwick's last reserves. This mistake had the most cruel results. The old and the new Lancastrians had not been without suspicions of each other. Assailed by his own friends, Oxford thought that some one—like Grey de Ruthyn at Northampton—had betrayed the cause. Raising the cry of treason, he and all his men fled northward from the field.[21]

The fatal cry ran down the labouring lines of Warwick's army and wrecked the whole array. The old Lancastrians made up their minds that Warwick—or at least his brother the Marquis, King Edward's ancient favourite[Pg 233]—must have followed the example of the perjured Clarence. Many turned their arms against the Nevilles,[22] and the unfortunate Montagu was slain by his own allies in the midst of the battle. Many more fled without striking another blow; among these was Somerset, who had up to this moment fought manfully against King Edward in the centre.

Warwick's wing still held its ground, but at last the Earl saw that all was lost. His brother was slain; Exeter had been struck down at his side; Somerset and Oxford were in flight. He began to draw back toward the line of thickets and hedges which had lain behind his army. But there the fate met him that had befallen so many of his enemies, at St. Albans and Northampton, at Towton and Hexham. His heavy armour made rapid flight impossible; and in the edge of Wrotham Wood he was surrounded by the pursuing enemy, wounded, beaten down, and slain.

The plunderers stripped the fallen; but King Edward's first desire was to know if the Earl was dead. The field was carefully searched, and the corpses of Warwick and Montagu were soon found. Both were carried to London, where they were laid on the pavement of St. Paul's, stripped to the breast, and exposed three days to the public gaze, "to the intent that the people should not be abused by feigned tales, else the rumour should have been sowed about that the Earl was yet alive."

[Pg 234]

After lying three days on the stones, the bodies were given over to George Neville the Archbishop, who had them both borne to Bisham, and buried in the abbey, hard by the tombs of their father Salisbury and their ancestors the Earls of the house of Montacute. All alike were swept away, together with the roof that covered them, by the Vandalism of the Edwardian reformers, and not a trace remains of the sepulchre of the two unquiet brothers.

Thus ended Richard Neville in the forty-fourth year of his age, slain by the sword in the sixteenth year since he had first taken it up at the Battle of St. Albans. Fortune, who had so often been his friend, had at last deserted him; for no reasonable prevision could have foreseen the series of chances which ended in the disaster of Barnet. Montagu's irresolution and Clarence's treachery were not the only things that had worked against him. If the winds had not been adverse, Queen Margaret, who had been lying on the Norman coast since the first week in March, would have been in London long before Edward arrived, and could have secured the city with the three thousand men under Wenlock, Langstrother, and John Beaufort whom her fleet carried. But for five weeks the wind blew from the north and made the voyage impossible; on Good Friday only did it turn and allow the Queen to sail. It chanced that the first ship, which came to land in Portsmouth harbour the very morning of Barnet, carried among others the Countess of Warwick; at the same moment that she was setting her foot on shore her husband was striking his last blows on Gladsmore Heath. Nor was it only from France that aid was coming; there were reinforcements gathering in[Pg 235] the North, and the Kentishmen were only waiting for a leader. Within a few days after Warwick's death the Bastard of Fauconbridge had mustered seventeen thousand men at Canterbury in King Henry's name. If Warwick could have avoided fighting, he might have doubled his army in a week, and offered the Yorkists battle under far more favourable conditions. The wrecks of the party were strong enough to face the enemy on almost equal terms at Tewkesbury, even when their head was gone. The stroke of military genius which made King Edward compel the Earl to fight, by placing his army so close that no retreat was possible from the position of Barnet, was the proximate cause of Warwick's ruin; but in all the rest of the campaign it was fortune rather than skill which fought against the Earl. His adversary played his dangerous game with courage and success; but if only ordinary luck had ruled, Edward must have failed; the odds against him were too many.

But fortune interposed and Warwick fell. For England's sake perhaps it was well that it should be so. If he had succeeded, and Edward had been driven once more from the land, we may be sure that the Wars of the Roses would have dragged on for many another year; the house of York had too many heirs and too many followers to allow of its dispossession without a long time of further trouble. The cause of Lancaster, on the other hand, was bound up in a single life; when Prince Edward fell in the Bloody Meadow, as he fled from the field of Tewkesbury, the struggle was ended perforce, for no one survived to claim his rights. Henry of Richmond, whom an unexpected chance ultimately placed on the throne, was neither in[Pg 236] law nor in fact the real heir of the house of Lancaster. On the other hand, Warwick's success would have led, so far as we can judge, first to a continuance of civil war, then, if he had ultimately been successful in rooting out the Yorkists, to a protracted political struggle between the house of Neville and the old Lancastrian party headed by the Beauforts and probably aided by the Queen; for it is doubtful how far the marriage of Prince Edward and Anne Neville would ever have served to reconcile two such enemies as the Earl and Margaret of Anjou. If Warwick had held his own, and his abilities and his popularity combined to make it likely, his victory would have meant the domination of a family group—a form of government which no nation has endured for long. At the best, the history of the last thirty years of the fifteenth century in England would have been a tale resembling that of the days when the house of Douglas struggled with the crown of Scotland, or the Guises with the rulers of France.

Yet for Warwick as a ruler there would have been much to be said. To a king of the type of Henry the Sixth the Earl would have made a perfect minister and vicegerent, if only he could have been placed in the position without a preliminary course of bloodshed and civil war. The misfortune for England was that his lot was cast not with Henry the Sixth, but with strong-willed, hot-headed, selfish Edward the Fourth.

The two prominent features in Warwick's character which made him a leader of men, were not those which might have been expected in a man born and reared in his position. The first was an inordinate love of the activity of business; the second was a courtesy and affa[Pg 237]bility which made him the friend of all men save the one class he could not brook—the "made lords," the parvenu nobility which Edward the Fourth delighted to foster.

Of these characteristics it is impossible to exaggerate the strength of the first. Warwick's ambition took the shape of a devouring love of work of all kinds. Prominent though he was as a soldier, his activity in war was only one side of his passionate desire to manage well and thoroughly everything that came to his hand. He never could cease for a moment to be busy; from the first moment when he entered into official harness in 1455 down to the day of his death, he seems hardly to have rested for a moment. The energy of his soul took him into every employment—general, admiral, governor, judge, councillor, ambassador, as the exigencies of the moment demanded; he was always moving, always busy, and never at leisure. When the details of his life are studied, the most striking point is to find how seldom he was at home, how constantly away at public service. His castles and manors saw comparatively little of him. It was not at Warwick or Amesbury, at Caerphilly or Middleham that he was habitually to be found, but in London, or Calais, or York, or on the Scotch Border. It was not that he neglected his vassals and retainers—the loyalty with which they rallied to him on every occasion is sufficient evidence to the contrary—but he preferred to be a great minister and official, not merely a great baron and feudal chief.

In this sense, then, it is most deceptive to call Warwick the Last of the Barons. Vast though his strength might be as the greatest landholder in England, it was as a statesman and administrator that he left his mark on[Pg 238] the age. He should be thought of as the forerunner of Wolsey rather than as the successor of Robert of Belesme, or the Bohuns and Bigods. That the world remembers him as a turbulent noble is a misfortune. Such a view is only drawn from a hasty survey of the last three or four years of his life, when under desperate provocation he was driven to use for personal ends the vast feudal power that lay ready to his hand. If he had died in 1468, he would be remembered in history as an able soldier and statesman, who with singular perseverance and consistency devoted his life to consolidating England under the house of York.

After his restless activity, Warwick's most prominent characteristic was his geniality. No statesman was ever so consistently popular with the mass of the nation, through all the alternations of good and evil fortune. This popularity the Earl owed to his unswerving courtesy and affability; "he ever had the good voice of the people, because he gave them fair words, showing himself easy and familiar," says the chronicler. Wherever he was well known he was well liked. His own Yorkshire and Midland vassals, who knew him as their feudal lord, the seamen who had served under him as admiral, the Kentishmen who saw so much of him while he was captain of Calais, were all his unswerving followers down to the day of his death. The Earl's boundless generosity, the open house which he kept for all who had any claim on him, the zeal with which he pushed the fortunes of his dependents, will only partially explain his popularity. As much must be ascribed to his genial personality as to the trouble which he took to court the people. His whole career was possible because the majority of the[Pg 239] nation not only trusted and respected but honestly liked him. This it was which explains the "king-making" of his later years. Men grew so accustomed to follow his lead that they would even acquiesce when he transferred his allegiance from King Edward to King Henry. It was not because he was the greatest landholder of England that he was able to dispose of the crown at his good will; but because, after fifteen years of public life, he had so commended himself to the majority of the nation that they were ready to follow his guidance even when he broke with all his earlier associations.

But Warwick was something more than active, genial, and popular; nothing less than first-rate abilities would have sufficed to carry him through his career. On the whole, it was as a statesman that he was most fitted to shine. His power of managing men was extraordinary; even King Louis of France, the hardest and most unemotional of men, seems to have been amenable to his influence. He was as successful with men in the mass as with individuals; he could sway a parliament or an army with equal ease to his will. How far he surpassed the majority of his contemporaries in political prescience is shown by the fact that, in spite of Yorkist traditions, he saw clearly that England must give up her ancient claims on France, and continually worked to reconcile the two countries.

In war Warwick was a commander of ability; good for all ordinary emergencies where courage and a cool head would carry him through, but not attaining the heights of military genius displayed by his pupil Edward. His battles were fought in the old English style of Edward the Third and Henry the Fifth,[Pg 240] by lines of archery flanked by clumps of billmen and dismounted knights. He is found employing both cannon and hand-gun men, but made no decisive or novel use of either, except in the case of his siege-artillery in the campaign of 1464. Nor did he employ cavalry to any great extent; his men dismounted to fight like their grandfathers at Agincourt, although the power of horsemen had again revindicated itself on the Continent. The Earl was a cool and capable commander; he was not one of the hot-headed feudal chiefs who strove to lead every charge. It was his wont to conduct his first line to the attack and then to retire and take command of the reserve, with which he delivered his final attack in person. This caution led some contemporary critics, especially Burgundians who contrasted his conduct with the headlong valour of Charles the Rash, to throw doubts on his personal courage. The sneer was ridiculous. The man who was first into the High Street at St. Albans, who fought through the ten hours of Towton, and won a name by his victories at sea in an age when sea-fights were carried on by desperate hand-to-hand attempts to board, might afford to laugh at any such criticism. If he fell at Barnet "somewhat flying," as the Yorkist chronicler declares, he was surely right in endeavouring to save himself for another field; he knew that one lost battle would not wreck his cause, while his own life was the sole pledge of the union between the Lancastrian party and the majority of the nation.

Brave, courteous, liberal, active, and able, a generous lord to his followers, an untiring servant to the commonweal, Warwick had all that was needed to attract the[Pg 241] homage of his contemporaries: they called him, as the Kentish ballad-monger sang, "a very noble knight, the flower of manhood." But it is only fair to record that he bore in his character the fatal marks of the two sins which distinguished the English nobles of his time. Occasionally he was reckless in bloodshedding. Once in his life he descended to the use of a long and deliberate course of treason and treachery.

In the first-named sin Warwick had less to reproach himself with than most of his contemporaries. He never authorised a massacre, or broke open a sanctuary, or entrapped men by false pretences in order to put them to death. In battle, too, he always bid his men to spare the Commons. Moreover, some of his crimes of bloodshed are easily to be palliated: Mundeford and the other captains whom he beheaded at Calais had broken their oath of loyalty to him; the Bastard of Exeter, whom he executed at York, had been the prime agent in the murder of his father. The only wholly unpardonable act of the Earl was his slaying of the Woodvilles and Herberts in 1469. They had been his bitter enemies, it is true; but to avenge political rivalries with the axe, without any legal form of trial, was unworthy of the high reputation which Warwick had up to that moment enjoyed. It increases rather than lessens the sum of his guilt to say that he did not publicly order their death, but allowed them to be executed by rebels whom he had roused and might as easily have quieted.

But far worse, in a moral aspect, than the slaying of the Woodvilles and Herberts, was the course of treachery and deceit that had preceded it. That the Earl had been wantonly insulted by his thankless master in a way that[Pg 242] would have driven even one of milder mood to desperation, we have stated elsewhere. An ideally loyal man might have borne the King's ingratitude in silent dignity, and foresworn the Court for ever: a hot-headed man might have burst out at once into open rebellion; but Warwick did neither. When his first gust of wrath had passed, he set himself to seek revenge by secret treachery. He returned to the Court, was superficially reconciled to his enemies, and bore himself as if he had forgotten his wrongs. Yet all the while he was organising an armed rising to sweep the Woodvilles and Herberts away, and to coerce the King into subjection to his will. The plan was as unwise as it was unworthy. Although Warwick's treason was for the moment entirely successful, it made any confidence between himself and his master impossible for the future. At the earliest opportunity Edward revenged himself on Warwick with the same weapons that had been used against himself, and drove the Earl into exile.

There is nothing in Warwick's subsequent reconciliation with the Lancastrians which need call up our moral indignation. It was the line of conduct which forced him into that connection that was evil, not the connection itself. There is no need to reproach him for changing his allegiance; no other course was possible to him in the circumstances. The King had cast him off, not he the King. When he transferred his loyalty to the house of Lancaster, he never swerved again. All the offers which Edward made to him after his return in 1471 were treated with contempt. Warwick was not the man to sell himself to the highest bidder.

If then Warwick was once in his life driven into[Pg 243] treachery and bloodthirsty revenge, we must set against his crime his fifteen long years of honest and consistent service to the cause he had made his own, and remember how dire was the provocation which drove him to betray it. Counting his evil deeds of 1469-70 at their worst, he will still compare not unfavourably with any other of the leading Englishmen of his time. Even in that demoralised age his sturdy figure stands out in not unattractive colours. Born in a happier generation, his industry and perseverance, his courage and courtesy, his liberal hand and generous heart, might have made him not only the idol of his followers, but the bulwark of the commonwealth. Cast into the godless times of the Wars of the Roses, he was doomed to spend in the cause of a faction the abilities that were meant to benefit a whole nation; the selfishness, the cruelty, the political immorality of the age, left their mark on his character; his long and honourable career was at last stained by treason, and his roll of successes terminated by a crushing defeat. Even after his death his misfortune has not ended. Popular history has given him a scanty record merely as the Kingmaker or the Last of the Barons, as a selfish intriguer or a turbulent feudal chief; and for four hundred and ten years he has lacked even the doubtful honour of a biography.

The End



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