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Contents > Author > Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England 22 Part 3 1812- 1870
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Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 22 Part 3
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BAD deeds seldom prosper, happily for mankind; and the English
cause gained no advantage from the cruel death of Joan of Arc. For
a long time, the war went heavily on. The Duke of Bedford died;
the alliance with the Duke of Burgundy was broken; and Lord Talbot
became a great general on the English side in France. But, two of
the consequences of wars are, Famine - because the people cannot
peacefully cultivate the ground - and Pestilence, which comes of
want, misery, and suffering. Both these horrors broke out in both
countries, and lasted for two wretched years. Then, the war went
on again, and came by slow degrees to be so badly conducted by the
English government, that, within twenty years from the execution of
the Maid of Orleans, of all the great French conquests, the town of
Calais alone remained in English hands.

While these victories and defeats were taking place in the course
of time, many strange things happened at home. The young King, as
he grew up, proved to be very unlike his great father, and showed
himself a miserable puny creature. There was no harm in him - he
had a great aversion to shedding blood: which was something - but,
he was a weak, silly, helpless young man, and a mere shuttlecock to
the great lordly battledores about the Court.

Of these battledores, Cardinal Beaufort, a relation of the King,
and the Duke of Gloucester, were at first the most powerful. The
Duke of Gloucester had a wife, who was nonsensically accused of
practising witchcraft to cause the King's death and lead to her
husband's coming to the throne, he being the next heir. She was
charged with having, by the help of a ridiculous old woman named
Margery (who was called a witch), made a little waxen doll in the
King's likeness, and put it before a slow fire that it might
gradually melt away. It was supposed, in such cases, that the
death of the person whom the doll was made to represent, was sure
to happen. Whether the duchess was as ignorant as the rest of
them, and really did make such a doll with such an intention, I
don't know; but, you and I know very well that she might have
made a thousand dolls, if she had been stupid enough, and might
have melted them all, without hurting the King or anybody else.
However, she was tried for it, and so was old Margery, and so was
one of the duke's chaplains, who was charged with having assisted
them. Both he and Margery were put to death, and the duchess,
after being taken on foot and bearing a lighted candle, three times
round the City, as a penance, was imprisoned for life. The duke,
himself, took all this pretty quietly, and made as little stir
about the matter as if he were rather glad to be rid of the

But, he was not destined to keep himself out of trouble long. The
royal shuttlecock being three-and-twenty, the battledores were very
anxious to get him married. The Duke of Gloucester wanted him to
marry a daughter of the Count of Armagnac; but, the Cardinal and
the Earl of Suffolk were all for MARGARET, the daughter of the King
of Sicily, who they knew was a resolute, ambitious woman and would
govern the King as she chose. To make friends with this lady, the
Earl of Suffolk, who went over to arrange the match, consented to
accept her for the King's wife without any fortune, and even to
give up the two most valuable possessions England then had in
France. So, the marriage was arranged, on terms very advantageous
to the lady; and Lord Suffolk brought her to England, and she was
married at Westminster. On what pretence this queen and her party
charged the Duke of Gloucester with high treason within a couple of
years, it is impossible to make out, the matter is so confused;
but, they pretended that the King's life was in danger, and they
took the duke prisoner. A fortnight afterwards, he was found dead
in bed (they said), and his body was shown to the people, and Lord
Suffolk came in for the best part of his estates. You know by this
time how strangely liable state prisoners were to sudden death.

If Cardinal Beaufort had any hand in this matter, it did him no
good, for he died within six weeks; thinking it very hard and
curious - at eighty years old! - that he could not live to be Pope.

This was the time when England had completed her loss of all her
great French conquests. The people charged the loss principally
upon the Earl of Suffolk, now a duke, who had made those easy terms
about the Royal Marriage, and who, they believed, had even been
bought by France. So he was impeached as a traitor, on a great
number of charges, but chiefly on accusations of having aided the
French King, and of designing to make his own son King of England.
The Commons and the people being violent against him, the King
was made (by his friends) to interpose to save him, by banishing him
for five years, and proroguing the Parliament. The duke had much
ado to escape from a London mob, two thousand strong, who lay in
wait for him in St. Giles's fields; but, he got down to his own
estates in Suffolk, and sailed away from Ipswich. Sailing across
the Channel, he sent into Calais to know if he might land there;
but, they kept his boat and men in the harbour, until an English
ship, carrying a hundred and fifty men and called the Nicholas of
the Tower, came alongside his little vessel, and ordered him on
board. 'Welcome, traitor, as men say,' was the captain's grim and
not very respectful salutation. He was kept on board, a prisoner,
for eight-and-forty hours, and then a small boat appeared rowing
toward the ship. As this boat came nearer, it was seen to have in
it a block, a rusty sword, and an executioner in a black mask. The
duke was handed down into it, and there his head was cut off with
six strokes of the rusty sword. Then, the little boat rowed away
to Dover beach, where the body was cast out, and left until the
duchess claimed it. By whom, high in authority, this murder was
committed, has never appeared. No one was ever punished for it.

There now arose in Kent an Irishman, who gave himself the name of
Mortimer, but whose real name was JACK CADE. Jack, in imitation of
Wat Tyler, though he was a very different and inferior sort of man,
addressed the Kentish men upon their wrongs, occasioned by the bad
government of England, among so many battledores and such a poor
shuttlecock; and the Kentish men rose up to the number of twenty
thousand. Their place of assembly was Blackheath, where, headed
by Jack, they put forth two papers, which they called 'The Complaint
of the Commons of Kent,' and 'The Requests of the Captain of the
Great Assembly in Kent.' They then retired to Sevenoaks. The
royal army coming up with them here, they beat it and killed their
general. Then, Jack dressed himself in the dead general's armour,
and led his men to London.

Jack passed into the City from Southwark, over the bridge, and
entered it in triumph, giving the strictest orders to his men not
to plunder. Having made a show of his forces there, while the
citizens looked on quietly, he went back into Southwark in good
order, and passed the night. Next day, he came back again, having
got hold in the meantime of Lord Say, an unpopular nobleman. Says
Jack to the Lord Mayor and judges: 'Will you be so good as to make
a tribunal in Guildhall, and try me this nobleman?' The court
being hastily made, he was found guilty, and Jack and his men cut
his head off on Cornhill. They also cut off the head of his son-
in-law, and then went back in good order to Southwark again.

But, although the citizens could bear the beheading of an unpopular
lord, they could not bear to have their houses pillaged. And it
did so happen that Jack, after dinner - perhaps he had drunk a
little too much - began to plunder the house where he lodged;
upon which, of course, his men began to imitate him. Wherefore,
the Londoners took counsel with Lord Scales, who had a thousand
soldiers in the Tower; and defended London Bridge, and kept Jack
and his people out. This advantage gained, it was resolved by
divers great men to divide Jack's army in the old way, by making a
great many promises on behalf of the state, that were never
intended to be performed. This DID divide them; some of Jack's men
saying that they ought to take the conditions which were offered,
and others saying that they ought not, for they were only a snare;
some going home at once; others staying where they were; and all
doubting and quarrelling among themselves.

Jack, who was in two minds about fighting or accepting a pardon,
and who indeed did both, saw at last that there was nothing to
expect from his men, and that it was very likely some of them would
deliver him up and get a reward of a thousand marks, which was
offered for his apprehension. So, after they had travelled and
quarrelled all the way from Southwark to Blackheath, and from
Blackheath to Rochester, he mounted a good horse and galloped
away into Sussex. But, there galloped after him, on a better horse,
one Alexander Iden, who came up with him, had a hard fight with
him, and killed him. Jack's head was set aloft on London Bridge,
with the face looking towards Blackheath, where he had raised
his flag; and Alexander Iden got the thousand marks.

It is supposed by some, that the Duke of York, who had been removed
from a high post abroad through the Queen's influence, and sent out
of the way, to govern Ireland, was at the bottom of this rising of
Jack and his men, because he wanted to trouble the government.
He claimed (though not yet publicly) to have a better right to the
throne than Henry of Lancaster, as one of the family of the Earl of
March, whom Henry the Fourth had set aside. Touching this claim,
which, being through female relationship, was not according to the
usual descent, it is enough to say that Henry the Fourth was the
free choice of the people and the Parliament, and that his family
had now reigned undisputed for sixty years. The memory of Henry
the Fifth was so famous, and the English people loved it so much,
that the Duke of York's claim would, perhaps, never have been
thought of (it would have been so hopeless) but for the unfortunate
circumstance of the present King's being by this time quite an
idiot, and the country very ill governed. These two circumstances
gave the Duke of York a power he could not otherwise have had.

Whether the Duke knew anything of Jack Cade, or not, he came over
from Ireland while Jack's head was on London Bridge; being secretly
advised that the Queen was setting up his enemy, the Duke of
Somerset, against him. He went to Westminster, at the head of four
thousand men, and on his knees before the King, represented to
him the bad state of the country, and petitioned him to summon a
Parliament to consider it. This the King promised. When the
Parliament was summoned, the Duke of York accused the Duke of
Somerset, and the Duke of Somerset accused the Duke of York; and,
both in and out of Parliament, the followers of each party were
full of violence and hatred towards the other. At length the Duke
of York put himself at the head of a large force of his tenants,
and, in arms, demanded the reformation of the Government. Being
shut out of London, he encamped at Dartford, and the royal army
encamped at Blackheath. According as either side triumphed, the
Duke of York was arrested, or the Duke of Somerset was arrested.
The trouble ended, for the moment, in the Duke of York renewing his
oath of allegiance, and going in peace to one of his own castles.

Half a year afterwards the Queen gave birth to a son, who was very
ill received by the people, and not believed to be the son of the
King. It shows the Duke of York to have been a moderate man,
unwilling to involve England in new troubles, that he did not take
advantage of the general discontent at this time, but really acted
for the public good. He was made a member of the cabinet, and the
King being now so much worse that he could not be carried about
and shown to the people with any decency, the duke was made Lord
Protector of the kingdom, until the King should recover, or the
Prince should come of age. At the same time the Duke of Somerset
was committed to the Tower. So, now the Duke of Somerset was down,
and the Duke of York was up. By the end of the year, however, the
King recovered his memory and some spark of sense; upon which the
Queen used her power - which recovered with him - to get the
Protector disgraced, and her favourite released. So now the Duke
of York was down, and the Duke of Somerset was up.

These ducal ups and downs gradually separated the whole nation
into the two parties of York and Lancaster, and led to those terrible
civil wars long known as the Wars of the Red and White Roses,
because the red rose was the badge of the House of Lancaster, and
the white rose was the badge of the House of York.

The Duke of York, joined by some other powerful noblemen of the
White Rose party, and leading a small army, met the King with
another small army at St. Alban's, and demanded that the Duke of
Somerset should be given up. The poor King, being made to say in
answer that he would sooner die, was instantly attacked. The Duke
of Somerset was killed, and the King himself was wounded in the
neck, and took refuge in the house of a poor tanner. Whereupon,
the Duke of York went to him, led him with great submission to the
Abbey, and said he was very sorry for what had happened. Having
now the King in his possession, he got a Parliament summoned and
himself once more made Protector, but, only for a few months; for,
on the King getting a little better again, the Queen and her party
got him into their possession, and disgraced the Duke once more.
So, now the Duke of York was down again.

Some of the best men in power, seeing the danger of these constant
changes, tried even then to prevent the Red and the White Rose
Wars. They brought about a great council in London between the two
parties. The White Roses assembled in Blackfriars, the Red Roses
in Whitefriars; and some good priests communicated between them,
and made the proceedings known at evening to the King and the
judges. They ended in a peaceful agreement that there should be
no more quarrelling; and there was a great royal procession to St.
Paul's, in which the Queen walked arm-in-arm with her old enemy,
the Duke of York, to show the people how comfortable they all were.
This state of peace lasted half a year, when a dispute between the
Earl of Warwick (one of the Duke's powerful friends) and some of
the King's servants at Court, led to an attack upon that Earl - who
was a White Rose - and to a sudden breaking out of all old
animosities. So, here were greater ups and downs than ever.

There were even greater ups and downs than these, soon after.
After various battles, the Duke of York fled to Ireland, and his
son the Earl of March to Calais, with their friends the Earls of
Salisbury and Warwick; and a Parliament was held declaring them all
traitors. Little the worse for this, the Earl of Warwick presently
came back, landed in Kent, was joined by the Archbishop of
Canterbury and other powerful noblemen and gentlemen, engaged
the King's forces at Northampton, signally defeated them, and took
the King himself prisoner, who was found in his tent. Warwick would
have been glad, I dare say, to have taken the Queen and Prince too,
but they escaped into Wales and thence into Scotland.

The King was carried by the victorious force straight to London,
and made to call a new Parliament, which immediately declared that
the Duke of York and those other noblemen were not traitors, but
excellent subjects. Then, back comes the Duke from Ireland at the
head of five hundred horsemen, rides from London to Westminster,
and enters the House of Lords. There, he laid his hand upon the
cloth of gold which covered the empty throne, as if he had half a
mind to sit down in it - but he did not. On the Archbishop of
Canterbury, asking him if he would visit the King, who was in his
palace close by, he replied, 'I know no one in this country, my
lord, who ought not to visit ME.' None of the lords present spoke
a single word; so, the duke went out as he had come in, established
himself royally in the King's palace, and, six days afterwards,
sent in to the Lords a formal statement of his claim to the throne.
The lords went to the King on this momentous subject, and after a
great deal of discussion, in which the judges and the other law
officers were afraid to give an opinion on either side, the
question was compromised. It was agreed that the present King
should retain the crown for his life, and that it should then pass
to the Duke of York and his heirs.

But, the resolute Queen, determined on asserting her son's right,
would hear of no such thing. She came from Scotland to the north
of England, where several powerful lords armed in her cause. The
Duke of York, for his part, set off with some five thousand men, a
little time before Christmas Day, one thousand four hundred and
sixty, to give her battle. He lodged at Sandal Castle, near
Wakefield, and the Red Roses defied him to come out on Wakefield
Green, and fight them then and there. His generals said, he had
best wait until his gallant son, the Earl of March, came up with
his power; but, he was determined to accept the challenge. He
did so, in an evil hour. He was hotly pressed on all sides, two
thousand of his men lay dead on Wakefield Green, and he himself
was taken prisoner. They set him down in mock state on an ant-hill,
and twisted grass about his head, and pretended to pay court to him
on their knees, saying, 'O King, without a kingdom, and Prince
without a people, we hope your gracious Majesty is very well and
happy!' They did worse than this; they cut his head off, and
handed it on a pole to the Queen, who laughed with delight when
she saw it (you recollect their walking so religiously and comfortably
to St. Paul's!), and had it fixed, with a paper crown upon its
head, on the walls of York. The Earl of Salisbury lost his head,
too; and the Duke of York's second son, a handsome boy who was
flying with his tutor over Wakefield Bridge, was stabbed in the
heart by a murderous, lord - Lord Clifford by name - whose father
had been killed by the White Roses in the fight at St. Alban's.
There was awful sacrifice of life in this battle, for no quarter
was given, and the Queen was wild for revenge. When men
unnaturally fight against their own countrymen, they are always
observed to be more unnaturally cruel and filled with rage than
they are against any other enemy.

But, Lord Clifford had stabbed the second son of the Duke of York -
not the first. The eldest son, Edward Earl of March, was at
Gloucester; and, vowing vengeance for the death of his father, his
brother, and their faithful friends, he began to march against the
Queen. He had to turn and fight a great body of Welsh and Irish
first, who worried his advance. These he defeated in a great fight
at Mortimer's Cross, near Hereford, where he beheaded a number
of the Red Roses taken in battle, in retaliation for the beheading of
the White Roses at Wakefield. The Queen had the next turn of
beheading. Having moved towards London, and falling in, between
St. Alban's and Barnet, with the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of
Norfolk, White Roses both, who were there with an army to oppose
her, and had got the King with them; she defeated them with great
loss, and struck off the heads of two prisoners of note, who were
in the King's tent with him, and to whom the King had promised his
protection. Her triumph, however, was very short. She had no
treasure, and her army subsisted by plunder. This caused them to
be hated and dreaded by the people, and particularly by the London
people, who were wealthy. As soon as the Londoners heard that
Edward, Earl of March, united with the Earl of Warwick, was
advancing towards the city, they refused to send the Queen
supplies, and made a great rejoicing.

The Queen and her men retreated with all speed, and Edward and
Warwick came on, greeted with loud acclamations on every side.
The courage, beauty, and virtues of young Edward could not be
sufficiently praised by the whole people. He rode into London like
a conqueror, and met with an enthusiastic welcome. A few days
afterwards, Lord Falconbridge and the Bishop of Exeter assembled
the citizens in St. John's Field, Clerkenwell, and asked them if
they would have Henry of Lancaster for their King? To this they
all roared, 'No, no, no!' and 'King Edward! King Edward!' Then,
said those noblemen, would they love and serve young Edward?
To this they all cried, 'Yes, yes!' and threw up their caps and
clapped their hands, and cheered tremendously.

Therefore, it was declared that by joining the Queen and not
protecting those two prisoners of note, Henry of Lancaster had
forfeited the crown; and Edward of York was proclaimed King. He
made a great speech to the applauding people at Westminster,
and sat down as sovereign of England on that throne, on the
golden covering of which his father - worthy of a better fate than
the bloody axe which cut the thread of so many lives in England,
through so many years - had laid his hand.


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