Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

House o

York.

14611485.

CHAP. I. were masters of a wealth such as the Crown had never The known since the days of Henry the Second. Throughout of their reigns these kings showed a firm resolve to shun

the two rocks on which the monarchy had been so nearly wrecked. No policy was too inglorious that enabled them to avoid the need of war. The inheritance of a warlike policy, the consciousness of great military abilities, the cry of his own people for a renewal of the struggle, failed to lure Edward from his system of peace. Henry clung to peace in spite of the threatening growth of the French monarchy: he refused to be drawn into any serious war even by. its acquisition of Brittany and of a coast-line that ran unbroken along the Channel. Nor was any expedient too degrading if it swelled the royal hoard. Edward by a single stroke, the grant of the customs to the king for life, secured a source of revenue which went far to relieve the Crown from its dependence on Parliament. He stooped to add to the gold which his confiscations amassed by trading on a vast scale; his ships, freighted with tin, wool, and cloth, made the name of the merchant-king famous in the ports of Italy and Greece. Henry was as adroit and as shameless a financier as his predecessor. He was his own treasurer, he kept his own accounts, he ticked off with his own hand the compositions he levied on the western

shires for their abortive revolts. Suspen With peace and a full treasury the need for calling sion Parliament together was removed. The collapse of the Parliamentary Houses was in itself a revolution. Up to this moment life. they had played a more and more prominent part in

the government of the realm. The progress made under the earlier Plantagenets had gone as steadily on under Henry the Fourth and his successors. The Commons had continued their advance. Not only had the right of selftaxation and of the initiation of laws been explicitly yielded to them, but they had interfered with the administration of the state, had directed the application of subsidies, and called royal ministers to account by repeated

The

instances of impeachment. Under the first two kings of Chap. I. the House of Lancaster Parliament had been summoned almost every year. Under Henry the Sixth an important House of

York, step was made in constitutional progress by abandoning 1461the old form of presenting the requests of Parliament in

1485 the form of petitions which were subsequently moulded into statutes by the royal Council. The statute itself in its final form was now presented for the royal assent and the Crown deprived of all opportunity of modifying it. But with the reign of Edward the Fourth not only this progress but the very action of Parliament comes almost to an end. For the first time since the days of John not a single law which promoted freedom or remedied the abuses of power was even proposed. The Houses indeed were only rarely called together by Edward; they were only once summoned during the last thirteen years of Henry the Seventh. But this discontinuance of Parliamentary life was not due merely to the new financial system of the crown. The policy of the kings was aided by the internal weakness of Parliament itself. No institution suffered more from the civil war. The Houses became mere gatherings of nobles with their retainers and partizans. They were like armed camps to which the great lords came with small armies at their backs. When arms were prohibited the retainers of the warring barons appeared, as in the Club Parliament of 1426, with clubs on their shoulders. When clubs were forbidden they hid stones and balls of lead in their clothes. Amidst scenes such as these the faith in and reverence for Parliaments could hardly fail to die away. But the very success of the House of York was a more fatal blow to the trust in them. It was by the act of the Houses that the Lancastrian line had been · raised to the throne. Its title was a Parliamentary title. Its existence was in fact a contention that the will of Parliament could override the claims of blood in the succession to the throne. With all this the civil war dealt roughly and decisively. The Parliamentary line was driven from

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

House of

York.

14611485.

CHAP. I. the throne. The Parliamentary title was set aside as usurThe pation. The House of York based its claim to the throne or on the incapacity of Parliament to set aside pretensions

which were based on sheer nearness of blood. The fall of the House of Lancaster, the accession of the Yorkist Kings, must have seemed to the men who had witnessed

the struggle a crushing defeat of the Parliament. Ruin of Weakened by failure, discredited by faction, no longer Feudal

needful as a source of supplies, it was easy for the tion. Monarchy to rid itself of the check of the two Houses,

and their riddance at once restored the crown to the power it had held under the earlier Kings. But in actual fact Edward the Fourth found himself the possessor of a far greater authority than this. The structure of feudal society fronted a feudal King with two great rival powers in the Baronage and the Church. Even in England, though feudalism had far less hold than elsewhere, the noble and the priest formed effective checks on the monarchy. But at the close of the Wars of the Roses these older checks no longer served as restraints upon the action of the Crown. With the growth of Parliament the weight of the Baronage as a separate constitutional element in the realm, even the separate influence of the Church, had fallen more and more into decay. For their irregular and individual action was gradually substituted the legal and continuous action of the three Estates ; and now that the assembly of the estates practically ceased it was too late to revive the older checks which in earlier days had fettered the action of the crown. The kingship of Edward and his successors therefore was not a mere restoration of the kingship of John or of Henry the Second. It was the kingship of those Kings apart from the constitutional forces which in their case stood side by side with kingship, controlling and regulating its action, apart from the force of custom, from the strong arm of the baron, from the religious sanctions which formed so effective a weapon in the hands of the priest, in a word apart from that social organiza

The House of

York,

1485.

tion from which our political constitution had sprung. Chap. I. Nor was the growth of Parliament the only cause for the weakness of these feudal restraints. The older social order which had prevailed throughout Western 1461Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire was now passing away. The speculation of the twelfth century, the scholastic criticism of the thirteenth, the Lollardry and socialism of the fourteenth century, had at last done their work. The spell of the past, the spell of custom and tradition, which had enchained the minds of men was roughly broken. The supremacy of the warrior in a world of war, the severance of privileged from unprivileged classes, no longer seemed the one natural structure of society. The belief in its possession of supernatural truths and supernatural powers no longer held man in unquestioning awe of the priesthood. The strength of the Church was sapped alike by theological and moral revolt, while the growth of new classes, the new greed of peace and of the wealth that comes of peace, the advance of industry, the division of property, the progress of centralized government, dealt fatal blows at the feudal organization of the state.

Nor was the danger merely an external one. Noble and Weakness priest alike were beginning to disbelieve in themselves. of the The new knowledge which was now dawning on the world, the new direct contact with the Greek and Roman literatures which was just beginning to exert its influence on western Europe, toid above all on these wealthier and more refined classes. The young scholar or noble who crossed the Alps brought from the schools of Florence the dim impression of a republican liberty or an imperial order which disenchanted him of the world in which he found himself. He looked on the feudalism about him as a brutal anarchy, he looked on the Church itself as the supplanter of a nobler and more philosophic morality. In England as elsewhere the great ecclesiastical body still seemed imposing from the memories of its past, its immense wealth, its tradition of statesmanship, its long

Vol. II.-2

The

14611485.

Chap. I. association with the intellectual and religious aspirations

he of men, its hold on social life. Bụt its real power was House of small. Its moral inertness, its lack of spiritual enthusiasm,

gave it less and less hold on the religious minds of the day, Its energies indeed seemed absorbed in a mere clinging to existence. For in spite of steady repression Lollardry still lived on, no longer indeed as an organized movement, but in scattered and secret groups whose sole bond was a common loyalty to the Bible and a common spirit of revolt against the religion of their day. Nine years after the accession of Henry the Sixth the Duke of Gloucester was traversing England with men-at-arms for the purpose of repressing the risings of the Lollards and of hindering the circulation of their invectives against the clergy. In 1449 “ Bible men ” were still sufficiently formidable to call a prelate to the front as a controversialist : and the very title of Bishop Pecock's work, “A Repressor of overmuch blaming of the clergy,” shows the damage done by their virulent criticism. Its most fatal effect was to rob the priesthood of moral power. Taunted with a love of wealth, with a lower standard of life than that of the ploughman and weaver who gathered to read the Bible by night, dreading in themselves any burst of emotion or enthusiasm as a possible prelude to heresy, the clergy ceased to be the moral leaders of the nation. They plunged as deeply as the men about them into the darkest superstition, and above all into the belief in sorcery and magic which formed so remarkable a feature of the time. It was for conspiracy with a priest to waste the King's life by sorcery that Eleanor Cobham did penance through the streets of London. The mist which wrapped the battle-field of Barnet was attributed to the incantations of Friar Bungay. The one pure figure which rises out of the greed, the selfishness, the scepticism of the time, the figure of Joan of Arc, was looked on by the doctors and priests who judged her as that of a sorceress. The prevalence of such beliefs tells its own tale of the intellectual state

« ZurückWeiter »