THE EVOLUTION OF AN EMPIRE A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF ENGLAND
BY MARY PARMELE
Will the readers of this little work please bear in mind the difficulties which must attend the painting of a very large picture, with multitudinous characters and details, upon a very small canvas! This book is mainly an attempt to trace to their sources some of the currents which enter into the life of England to-day; and to indicate the starting-points of some among the various threads—legislative, judicial, social, etc.—which are gathered into the imposing strand of English Civilization in this closing 19th Century.
The reader will please observe that there seem to have been two things most closely interwoven with the life of England. RELIGION and MONEY have been the great evolutionary factors in her development.
It has been, first, the resistance of the people to the extortions of money by the ruling class, and second, the violating of their religious instincts, which has made nearly all that is vital in English History.
The lines upon which the government has developed to its present Constitutional form are chiefly lines of resistance to oppressive enactments in these two matters. The dynastic and military history of England, although picturesque and interesting, is really only a narrative of the external causes which have impeded the Nation's growth toward its ideal of "the greatest possible good to the greatest possible number."
Ancient Britain—Caesar's Invasion—Britain a Roman Province—Boadicea —Lyndin or London—Roman Legions Withdrawn—Angles and Saxons— Cerdic—Teutonic Invasion—English Kingdoms Consolidated
Augustine—Edwin—Caedmon—Baeda—Alfred—Canute—Edward the Confessor—Harold—William the Conqueror
"Gilds" and Boroughs—William II.—Crusades—Henry I.—Henry II.— Becket's Death—Richard I.—John—Magna Charta
Henry III.—Roger Bacon—First True Parliament—Edward I.—Conquest of Wales—of Scotland—Edward II.—Edward III.—Battle of Crecy—Richard II.—Wickliffe
House of Lancaster—Henry IV.—Henry V.—Agincourt—Battle of Orleans— Wars of the Roses—House of York—Edward IV.—Richard III.—Henry VII. —Printing Introduced
Henry VIII—Wolsey—Reformation—Edward VI—Mary
Elizabeth—East India Company Chartered—Colonization of Virginia— Flodden Field—Birth of Mary Stuart—Mary Stuart's Death—Spanish Armada—Francis Bacon
James I—First New England Colony—Gunpowder Plot—Translation of Bible—Charles I—Archbishop Laud—John Hampden—Petition of Right— Massachusetts Chartered—Earl Strafford—Star Chamber
Long Parliament—Death of Strafford and Laud—Oliver Cromwell—Death of Charles I.—Long Parliament Dispersed—Charles II.
Act of Habeas Corpus—Death of Charles II.—Milton—Bunyan—James II. —William and Mary—Battle of Boyne
Anne—Marlborough—Battle of Blenheim—House of Hanover—George I.— George II.—Walpole—British Dominion in India—Battle of Quebec—John Wesley
George III.—Stamp Act—Tax on Tea—American Independence Acknowledged —Impeachment of Hastings—War of 1812—First English Railway—George IV.—William IV.—Reform Bill—Emancipation of the Slaves
Victoria—Famine in Ireland—War with Russia—Sepoy Rebellion—Massacre at Cawnpore
Atlantic Cable—Daguerre's Discovery—First World's Fair—Death of Albert—Suez Canal—Victoria Empress of India—Disestablishment of Irish Branch of Church of England—Present Conditions
HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
The remotest fact in the history of England is written in her rocks. Geology tells us of a time when no sea flowed between Dover and Calais, while an unbroken continent extended from the Mediterranean to the Orkneys.
Huge mounds of rough stones called Cromlechs, have yielded up still another secret. Before the coming of the Keltic-Aryans, there dwelt there two successive races, whose story is briefly told in a few human fragments found in these "Cromlechs." These remains do not bear the royal marks of Aryan origin. The men were small in stature, with inferior skulls; and it is surmised that they belonged to the same mysterious branch of the human family as the Basques and Iberians, whose presence in Southern Europe has never been explained.
When the Aryan came and blotted out these races will perhaps always remain an unanswered question. But while Greece was clothing herself with a mantle of beauty, which the world for two thousand years has striven in vain to imitate, there was lying off the North and West coasts of the European Continent a group of mist-enshrouded islands of which she had never heard.
Obscured by fogs, and beyond the horizon of Civilization, a branch of the Aryan race known as Britons were there leading lives as primitive as the American Indians, dwelling in huts shaped like beehives, which they covered with branches and plastered with mud. While Phidias was carving immortal statues for the Parthenon, this early Britisher was decorating his abode with the heads of his enemies; and could those shapeless blocks at Stonehenge speak, they would, perhaps, tell of cruel and hideous Druidical rites witnessed on Salisbury Plain, ages ago.
[Sidenote: Caesar's Invasion, 55 B.C. Britain a Roman Province, 45 A.D. Boadicea 61 A.D.]
Rumors of the existence of this people reached the Mediterranean three or four hundred years before Christ, but not until Caesar's invasion of the Island (55 B.C.) was there any positive knowledge of them.
The actual conquest of Britain was not one of Caesar's achievements. But from the moment when his covetous eagle-eye viewed the chalk-cliffs of Dover from the coast of Northern Gaul, its fate was sealed. The Roman octopus from that moment had fastened its tentacles upon the hapless land; and in 45 A.D., under the Emperor Claudius, it became a Roman province. In vain did the Britons struggle for forty years. In vain did the heroic Boadicea (during the reign of Nero, 61 A.D.), like Hermann in Germany, and Vercingetorix in France, resist the destruction of her nation by the Romans. In vain did this woman herself lead the Britons, in a frenzy of patriotism; and when the inevitable defeat came, and London was lost, with the desperate courage of barbarian she destroyed herself rather than witness the humiliation of her race.
The stately Westminster and St. Paul's did not look down upon this heroic daughter of Britain. London at that time was a collection of miserable huts and entrenched cattle-pens, which were in Keltic speech called the "Fort-on-the-Lake"—or "Llyndin," an uncouth name in Latin ears, which gave little promise of the future London, the Romans helping it to its final form by calling it Londinium.
But the octopus had firmly closed about its victim, whose struggles, before the year 100 A.D., had practically ceased. A civilization which made no effort to civilize was forcibly planted upon the island. Where had been the humble village, protected by a ditch and felled trees, there arose the walled city, with temples and baths and forum, and stately villas with frescoed walls and tessellated floors, and hot-air currents converting winter into summer.
So Chester, Colchester, Lincoln, York, London, and a score of other cities were set like jewels in a surface of rough clay, the Britons filling in the intervening spaces with their own rude customs, habits, and manners. Dwelling in wretched cabins thatched with straw and chinked with mud, they still stubbornly maintained their own uncouth speech and nationality, while they helplessly saw all they could earn swallowed up in taxes and tributes by their insatiate conquerors. The Keltic-Gauls might, if they would, assimilate this Roman civilization, but not so the Keltic-Britons.
The two races dwelt side by side, but separate (except to some extent in the cities), or, if possible, the vanquished retreated before the vanquisher into Wales and Cornwall; and there to-day are found the only remains of the aboriginal Briton race in England.
The Roman General Agricola had built in 78 A.D. a massive wall across the North of England, extending from sea to sea, to protect the Roman territory from the Picts and Scots, those wild dwellers in the Northern Highlands. It seems to us a frail barrier to a people accustomed to leaping the rocky wall set by nature between the North and the South; and unless it were maintained by a line of legions extending its entire length, they must have laughed at such a defence; even when duplicated later, as it was, by the Emperor Hadrian, in 120 A.D.; and still twice again, first by Emperor Antoninus, and then by Severus. For the swift transportation of troops in the defensive warfare always carried on with the Picts and Scots, magnificent roads were built, which linked the Romanized cities together in a network of splendid highways.
There were more than three centuries of peace. Agriculture, commerce, and industries came into existence. "Wealth accumulated," but the Briton "decayed" beneath the weight of a splendid system, which had not benefited, but had simply crushed out of him his original vigor. Together with Roman villas, and vice, and luxury, had also come Christianity. But the Briton, if he had learned to pray, had forgotten how to fight,—and how to govern; and now the Roman Empire was perishing. She needed all her legions to keep Alaric and his Goths out of Rome.
[Sidenote: Roman Legions Withdrawn, 410 A.D.]
In 410 A.D. the fair cities and roads were deserted. The tramp of Roman soldiers was heard no more in the land, and the enfeebled native race were left helpless and alone to fight their battles with the Picts and Scots;—that fierce Briton offshoot which had for centuries dwelt in the fastnesses of the Highlands, and which swarmed down upon them like vultures as soon as their protectors were gone.
In 446 A.D. the unhappy Britons invited their fate. Like their cousins, the Gauls, they invited the Teutons from across the sea to come to their rescue, and with result far more disastrous.
When the Frank became the champion and conqueror of Gaul, he had for centuries been in conflict or in contact with Rome, and had learned much of the old Southern civilizations, and to some extent adopted their ideals. Not so the Angles and Saxons, who came pouring into Britain from Schleswig-Holstein. They were uncontaminated pagans. In scorn of Roman luxury, they set the torch to the villas, and temples and baths. They came, exterminating, not assimilating. The more complaisant Frank had taken Romanized, Latinized Gaul just as he found her, and had even speedily adopted her religion. It was for Gaul a change of rulers, but not of civilization.
But the Angles and Saxons were Teutons of a different sort. They brought across the sea in those "keels" their religion, their manners, habits, nature, and speech; and they brought them for use (just as the Englishman to-day carries with him a little England wherever he goes). Their religion, habits, and manners they stamped upon the helpless Britons. In spite of King Arthur, and his knights, and his sword "Excalibar," they swiftly paganized the land which had been for three centuries Christianized; and their nature and speech were so ground into the land of their adoption that they exist to-day wherever the Anglo-Saxon abides.
From Windsor Palace to the humblest abode in England (and in America) are to be found the descendants of these dominating barbarians who flooded the British Isles in the 5th Century. What sort of a race were they? Would we understand England to-day, we must understand them. It is not sufficient to know that they were bearded and stalwart, fair and ruddy, flaxen-haired and with cold blue eyes. We should know what sort of souls looked out of those clear cold eyes. What sort of impulses and hearts dwelt within those brawny breasts.
Their hearts were barbarous, but loving and loyal, and nature had placed them in strong, vehement, ravenous bodies. They were untamed brutes, with noble instincts.
They had ideals too; and these are revealed in the rude songs and epics in which they delighted. Monstrous barbarities are committed, but always to accomplish some stern purpose of duty. They are cruel in order to be just. This sluggish, ravenous, drinking brute, with no gleam of poetry, no light-hearted rhythm in his soul, has yet chaotic glimpses of the sublime in his earnest, gloomy nature. He gives little promise of culture, but much of heroism. There is, too, a reaching after something grand and invisible, which is a deep religious instinct. All these qualities had the future English nation slumbering within them. Marriage was sacred, woman honored. All the members of a family were responsible for the acts of one member. The sense of obligation and of responsibility was strong and binding.
Is not every type of English manhood explained by such an inheritance? From the drunken brawler in his hovel to the English gentleman "taking his pleasures sadly," all are accounted for; and Hampden, Milton, Cromwell, John Bright, and Gladstone existed potentially in those fighting, drinking savages in the 5th Century.
Their religion, after 150 years, was exchanged for Christianity. Time softened their manners and habits, and mingled new elements with their speech. But the Anglo-Saxon nature has defied the centuries and change. A strong sense of justice, and a resolute resistance to encroachments upon personal liberty, are the warp and woof of Anglo-Saxon character yesterday, to-day and forever. The steady insistence of these traits has been making English History for precisely 1,400 years, (from 495 to 1895,) and the history of the Anglo-Saxon race in America for 200 years as well.
Our ancestors brought with them from their native land a simple, just, Teutonic structure of society and government, the base of which was the individual free-man. The family was considered the social unit. Several families near together made a township, the affairs of the township being settled by the male freeholders, who met together to determine by conference what should be done.
This was the germ of the "town-meeting" and of popular government. In the "witan," or "wise men," who were chosen as advisers and adjusters of difficult questions, exist the future legislature and judiciary, while in the king, or "alder-mann" ("Ealdorman") we see not an oppressor, but one who by superior age and experience is fitted to lead. Cerdic, first Saxon king, was simply Cerdic the "Ealdorman" or "Alder-mann."
They were a free people from the beginning. They had never bowed the neck to yoke, their heads had never bent to tyranny. Better far was it that Roman civilization, built upon Keltic-Briton foundation, should have been effaced utterly, and that this strong untamed humanity, even cruel and terrible as it was, should replace it. Roman laws, language, literature, faith, manners, were all swept away. A few mosaics, coins, and ruined fragments of walls and roads are all the record that remains of 300 years of occupation.
And the Briton himself—what became of him? In Ireland and Scotland he lingers still; but, except in Wales and Cornwall, England knows him no more. Like the American Indian, he was swept into the remote, inaccessible corners of his own land. It seemed cruel, but it had to be. Would we build strong and high, it must not be upon sand. We distrust the Kelt as a foundation for nations as we do sand for our temples. France was never cohesive until a mixture of Teuton had toughened it. Genius makes a splendid spire, but a poor corner-stone. It would seem that the Keltic race, brilliant and richly endowed, was still unsuited to the world in its higher stages of development. In Britain, Gaul, and Spain they were displaced and absorbed by the Germanic races. And now for long centuries no Keltic people of importance has maintained its independence; the Gaelic of the Scotch Highlands and of Ireland, the native dialect of the Welsh and of Brittany, being the scanty remains of that great family of related tongues which once occupied more territory than German, Latin, and Greek combined. The solution of the Irish question may lie in the fact that the Irish are fighting against the inevitable; that they belong to a race which is on its way to extinction, and which is intended to survive only as a brilliant thread, wrought into the texture of more commonplace but more enduring peoples.
It was written in the book of fate that a great nation should arise upon that green island by the North Sea. A foundation of Roman cement, made by a mingling of Keltic-Briton, and a corrupt, decayed civilization, would have altered not alone the fate of a nation, but the History of the World. Our barbarian ancestors brought from Schleswig-Holstein a rough, clean, strong foundation for what was to become a new type of humanity on the face of the earth. A Humanity which was not to be Persian nor Greek, nor yet Roman, but to be nourished on the best results of all, and to become the standard-bearer for the Civilization of the future.
[Sidenote: Teutonic Invasion, 449 A.D.]
The Jutes came first as an advance-guard of the great Teuton invasion. It was but the prologue to the play when Hengist and Horsa, in 449 A.D., occupied what is now Kent, in the Southeast extremity of England. It was only when Cerdic and his Saxons placed foot on British soil(495 A.D.) that the real drama began. And when the Angles shortly afterward followed and occupied all that the Saxons had not appropriated (the north and east coast), the actors were all present and the play began. The Angles were destined to bestow their name upon the land (Angle- land), and the Saxons a line of kings extending from Cerdic to Victoria.
[Sidenote: English Kingdoms Consolidated.]
Covetous of each other's possessions, these Teutons fought as brothers will. Exterminating the Britons was diversified with efforts to exterminate one another. Seven kingdoms, four Anglian and three Saxon, for 300 years tried to annihilate each other; then, finally submitting to the strongest, united completely,—as only children of one household of nations can do. The Saxons had been for two centuries dominating more and more until the long struggle ended—behold, Anglo-Saxon England consolidated English under one Saxon king! The other kingdoms— Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, and Essex—surviving as shires and counties.
In 802 A.D., while Charlemagne was welding together his vast and composite empire, the Saxon Egbert (Ecgberht), descendant of Cerdic (the "Alder-mann"), was consolidating a less imposing, but, as it has proved, more permanent kingdom; and the History of a United England had begun.
While Christianity had been effaced by the Teuton invasion in England, it had survived among the Irish-Britons. Ireland was never paganized. With fiery zeal, her people not alone maintained the religion of the Cross at home, but even drove back the heathen flood by sending missionaries among the Picts in the Highlands, and into other outlying territory about the North Sea.
Pope Gregory the Great saw this Keltic branch of Christendom, actually outrunning Latin Christianity in activity, and he was spurred to an act which was to be fraught with tremendous consequences.
[Sidenote: Augustine Came, 597.]
The same spot in Kent (the isle of Thanet), which had witnessed the landing of Hengist and Horsa in 449, saw in 597 a band of men, calling themselves "Strangers from Rome," arriving under the leadership of Augustine.
They moved in solemn procession toward Canterbury, bearing before them a silver cross, with a picture of Christ, chanting in concert, as they went, the litany of their Church. Christianity had entered by the same, door through which paganism had come 150 years before.
The religion of Wodin and Thor had ceased to satisfy the expanding soul of the Anglo-Saxon; and the new faith rapidly spread; its charm consisting in the light it seemed to throw upon the darkness encompassing man's past and future.
An aged chief said to Edwin, king of Northumbria, (after whom "Edwins- borough" was named,) "Oh, King, as a bird flies through this hall on a winter night, coming out of the darkness, and vanishing into the darkness again, even so is our life! If these strangers can tell us aught of what is beyond, let us hear them."
King Edwin was among the first to espouse the new religion, and in less than one hundred years the entire land was Christianized.
With the adoption of Christianity a new life began to course in the veins of the people.
[Sidenote: Caedmon Father of English Poetry.]
Caedmon, an unlettered Northumbrian peasant, was inspired by an Angel who came to him in his sleep and told him to "Sing." "He was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." He wrote epics upon all the sacred themes, from the creation of the World to the Ascension of Christ and the final judgment of man, and English literature was born.
"Paradise Lost," one thousand years later, was but the echo of this poet-peasant, who was the Milton of the 7th Century.
In the 8th Century, Baeda (the venerable Beda), another Northumbrian, who was monk, scholar, and writer, wrote the first History of his people and his country, and discoursed upon astronomy, physics, meteorology, medicine, and philosophy. These were but the early lispings of Science; but they held the germs of the "British Association" and of the "Royal Society;" for as English poetry has its roots in Caedmon, so is English intellectual life rooted in Baeda.
The culmination of this new era was in Alfred, who came to the throne of his grandfather, Egbert, in 871.
He brought the highest ideals of the duties of a King, a broad, statesmanlike grasp of conditions, an unsullied heart, and a clear, strong intelligence, with unusual inclination toward an intellectual life.
Few Kings have better deserved the title of "great." With him began the first conception of National law. He prepared a code for the administration of justice in his Kingdom, which was prefaced by the Ten Commandments, and ended with the Golden Rule; while in his leisure hours he gave coherence and form to the literature of the time. Taking the writings of Caedmon, Baeda, Pope Gregory, and Boethius; translating, editing, commentating, and adding his own to the views of others upon a wide range of subjects.
He was indeed the father not alone of a legal system in England, but of her culture and literature besides. The people of Wantage, his native town, did well, in 1849, to celebrate the one-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the great King Alfred.
But a condition of decadence was in progress in England, which Alfred's wise reign was powerless to arrest, and which his greatness may even have tended to hasten. The distance between the king and the people had widened from a mere step to a gulf. When the Saxon kings began to be clothed with a mysterious dignity as "the Lord's anointed," the people were correspondingly degraded; and the degradation of this class, in which the true strength of England consisted, bore unhappy but natural fruits.
A slave or "unfree" class had come with the Teutons from their native land. This small element had for centuries now been swelled by captives taken in war, and by accessions through misery, poverty, and debt, which drove men to sell themselves and families and wear the collar of servitude. The slave was not under the lash; but he was a mere chattel, having no more part than cattle (from whom this title is derived) in the real life of the state.
In addition to this, political and social changes had been long modifying the structure of society in a way tending to degrade the general condition. As the lesser Kingdoms were merged into one large one, the wider dominion of the king removed him further from the people; every succeeding reign raising him higher, depressing them lower, until the old English freedom was lost.
The "folk-moot" and "Witenagemot" [Footnote: Witenagemot—a Council composed of "Witan" or "Wise Men."] were heard of no more. The life of the early English State had been in its "folk-moot," and hence rested upon the individual English freeman, who knew no superior but God, and the law. Now, he had sunk into the mere "villein," bound to follow his lord to the field, to give him his personal service, and to look to him alone for justice. With the decline of the freeman (or of popular government) came Anglo-Saxon degeneracy, which made him an easy prey to the Danes.
The Northmen were a perpetual menace and scourge to England and Scotland. There never could be any feeling of permanent security while that hostile flood was always ready to press in through an unguarded spot on the coast. The sea wolves and robbers from Norway came devouring, pillaging, and ravaging, and then away again to their own homes or lairs. Their boast was that they "scorned to earn by sweat what they might win by blood." But the Northmen from Denmark were of a different sort. They were looking for permanent conquest, and had dreams of Empire, and, in fact, had had more or less of a grasp upon English soil for centuries before Alfred; and one of his greatest achievements was driving these hated invaders out of England. In 1013, under the leadership or Sweyn, they once more poured in upon the land, and after a brief but fierce struggle a degenerate England was gathered into the iron hand of the Dane.
[Sidenote: Danish Kings, 1013 to 1042]
Canute, the son of Sweyn, continued the successes of his father, conquering in Scotland Duncan (of Shakespeare's "Macbeth"), and proceeded to realize his dream of a great Scandinavian empire, which should include Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and England. He was one of those monumental men who mark the periods in the pages of History, and yet child enough to command the tides to cease, and when disobeyed, was so humiliated he never again placed a crown upon his head, acknowledging the presence of a King greater than himself.
Conqueror though he was, the Dane was not exactly a foreigner in England. The languages of the two nations were almost the same, and a race affinity took away much of the bitterness of the subjugation, while Canute ruled more as a wise native King than as a Conqueror.
But the span of life, even of a founder of Empire, is short. Canute's sons were degenerate, cruel, and in forty years after the Conquest had so exasperated the Anglo-Saxons that enough of the primitive spirit returned, to throw off the foreign yoke, and the old Saxon line was restored in Edward, known as "the Confessor."
[Sidenote: Edward the Confessor, 1042 to 1066]
Edward had qualities more fitted to adorn the cloister than the throne. He was more of a Saint than King, and was glad to leave the affairs of his realm in the hands of Earl Godwin. This man was the first great English statesman who had been neither Priest nor King. Astute, powerful, dexterous, he was virtual ruler of the Kingdom until King Edward's death in 1066, when, in the absence of an heir, Godwin's son Harold was called to the empty throne.
Foreign royal alliances have caused no end of trouble in the life of Kingdoms. A marriage between a Saxon King and a Norman Princess, in about the year 1000 A.D., has made a vast deal of history. This Princess of Normandy, was the grandmother of the man, who was to be known as "William the Conqueror." In the absence of a direct heir to the English throne, made vacant by Edward's death, this descent gave a shadowy claim to the ambitious Duke across the Channel, which he was not slow to use for his own purposes.
He asserted that Edward had promised that he should succeed him, and that Harold, the son of Godwin, had assured him of his assistance in securing his rights upon the death of Edward the Confessor. A tremendous indignation stirred his righteous soul when he heard of the crowning of Harold; not so much at the loss of the throne, as at the treachery of his friend.
[Sidenote: Norman Conquest, 1066. Death of King Harold.]
In the face of tremendous opposition and difficulties, he got together his reluctant Barons and a motley host, actually cutting down the trees with which to create a fleet, and then, depending upon pillage for subsistence, rushed to face victory or ruin.
The Battle of Senlac (or Hastings) has been best told by a woman's hand in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. An arrow pierced the unhappy Harold in the eye, entering the brain, and the head which had worn the crown of England ten short months lay in the dust, William, with wrath unappeased, refusing him burial.
[Sidenote: William I., King of England, 1066]
William, Duke of Normandy, was King of England. Not alone that. He claimed that he had been rightful King ever since the death of his cousin Edward the Confessor; and that those who had supported Harold were traitors, and their lands confiscated to the crown. As nearly all had been loyal to Harold, the result was that most of the wealth of the Nation was emptied into William's lap, not by right of conquest, but by English law.
Feudalism had been gradually stifling old English freedom, and the King saw himself confronted with a feudal baronage, nobles claiming hereditary, military, and judicial power independent of the King, such as degraded the Monarchy and riveted down the people in France for centuries. With the genius of the born ruler and conqueror, William discerned the danger, and its remedy. Availing himself of the early legal constitution of England, he placed justice in the old local courts of the "hundred" and "shire," to which every freeman had access, and these courts he placed under the jurisdiction of the King alone. In Germany and France the vassal owned supreme fealty to his lord, against all foes, even the King himself. In England, the tenant from this time swore direct fealty to none save his King.
With the unbounded wealth at his disposal, William granted enormous estates to his followers upon condition of military service at his call. In other words, he seized the entire landed property of the State, and then used it to buy the allegiance of the people. By this means the whole Nation was at his command as an army subject to his will; and there was at the same time a breaking up of old feudal tyrannies by a redistribution of the soil under a new form of land tenure.
The City of London was rewarded for instant submission by a Charter, signed,—not by his name—but his mark, for the Conqueror of England (from whom Victoria is twenty-fifth remove in descent), could not write his name.
He built the Tower of London, to hold the City in restraint. Fortress, palace, prison, it stands to-day the grim progenitor of the Castles and Strongholds which soon frowned from every height in England.
He took the outlawed despised Jew under his protection. Not as a philanthropist, but seeing in him a being who was always accumulating wealth, which could in any emergency be wrung from him by torture, if milder measures failed. Their hoarded treasure flowed into the land. They built the first stone houses, and domestic architecture was created. Jewish gold built Castles and Cathedrals, and awoke the slumbering sense of beauty. Through their connection with the Jews in Spain and the East, knowledge of the physical sciences also streamed into the land, and an intellectual life was revived, which bore fruit a century and a half later in Roger Bacon.
[Sidenote: "Domesday Book." Meeting at Salisbury Plain. 1036]
All these things were not done in a day. It was twenty years after the Conquest that William ordered a survey and valuation of all the land, which was recorded in what was known as "Domesday Book," that he might know the precise financial resources of his kingdom, and what was due him on the confiscated estates. Then he summoned all the nobles and large landholders to meet him at Salisbury Plain, and those shapeless blocks at "Stonehenge" witnessed a strange scene when 60,000 men there took solemn oath to support William as King even against their own lords. With this splendid consummation his work was practically finished. He had, with supreme dexterity and wisdom, blended two Civilizations, had at the right moment curbed the destructive element in feudalism, and had secured to the Englishman free access to the surface for all time. Thus the old English freedom was in fact restored by the Norman Conquest, by direct act of the Conqueror.
William typified in his person a transitional time, the old Norse world, mingling strangely in him with the new. He was the last outcome of his race. Norse daring and cruelty were side by side with gentleness and aspiration. No human pity tempered his vengeance. When hides were hung on the City Walls at Alencon, in insult to his mother (the daughter of a tanner), he tore out the eyes, cut off the hands and feet of the prisoners, and threw them over the walls. When he did this, and when he refused Harold's body a grave, it was the spirit of the sea- wolves within him. But it was the man of the coming Civilization, who could not endure death by process of law in his Kingdom, and who delighted to discourse with the gentle and pious Anselm, upon the mysteries of life and death.
The indirect benefits of the Conquest, came in enriching streams from the older civilizations. As Rome had been heir to the accumulations of experience in the ancient Nations, so England, through France became the heir to Latin institutions, and was joined to the great continuous stream of the World's highest development. Fresh intellectual stimulus renovated the Church. Roman law was planted upon the simple Teuton system of rights. Every department in State and in Society shared the advance, while language became refined, flexible, and enriched.
This engrafting with the results of antiquity, was an enormous saving of time, in the development of a nation; but it did not change the essential character of the Anglo-Saxon, nor of his speech. The ravenous Teuton could devour and assimilate all these new elements and be himself—be Saxon still. The language of Bunyan and of the Bible, is Saxon; and it is the language of the Englishman to-day in childhood and in extremity. A man who is thoroughly in earnest—who is drowning— speaks Saxon. Character, as much as speech, remains unaltered. There is no trace of the Norman in the House of Commons, nor in the meetings at Exeter Hall, nor in the home, nor life of the people anywhere.
The qualities which have made England great were brought across the North Sea in those "keels" in the 5th Century. The Anglo-Saxon put on the new civilization and institutions brought him by the Conquest, as he would an embroidered garment; but the man within the garment, though modified by civilization, has never essentially changed.
It is not in the exploits of its Kings but in the aspirations and struggles of its people, that the true history of a nation is to be sought. During the rule and misrule of the two sons, and grandson, of the Conqueror, England was steadily growing toward its ultimate form.
As Society outgrew the simple ties of blood which bound it together in old Saxon England, the people had sought a larger protection in combinations among fellow freemen, based upon identity of occupation.
[Sidenote: The "Gilds."]
The "Frith-Gilds," or peace Clubs, came into existence in Europe during the 9th and 10th Centuries. They were harshly repressed in Germany and Gaul, but found kindly welcome from Alfred in England. In their mutual responsibility, in their motto, "if any misdo, let all bear it," Alfred saw simply an enlarged conception of the "family," which was the basis of the Saxon social structure; and the adoption of this idea of a larger unity, in combination, was one of the first phases of an expanding national life. So, after the conquest, while ambitious kings were absorbing French and Irish territory or fighting with recalcitrant barons, the merchant, craft, and church "gilds" were creating a great popular force, which was to accomplish more enduring conquests.
It was in the "boroughs" and in these "gilds" that the true life of the nation consisted. It was the shopkeepers and artisans which brought the right of free speech, and free meeting, and of equal justice across the ages of tyranny. One freedom after another was being won, and the battle with oppression was being fought, not by Knights and Barons, but by the sturdy burghers and craftsmen. Silently as the coral insect, the Anglo-Saxon was building an indestructible foundation for English liberties.
[Sidenote: William II., 1017-1100. The Crusades Commenced, 1095. Henry I., 1100-1135]
The Conqueror had bequeathed England to his second son, William Rufus, and Normandy to his eldest son, Robert. In 1095 (eight years after his death) commenced those extraordinary wars carried on by the chivalry of Europe against the Saracens in the East. Robert, in order to raise money to join the first crusade, mortgaged Normandy to his brother, and an absorption of Western France had begun, which, by means of conquest by arms and the more peaceful conquest by marriage, would in fifty years extend English dominion from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees.
William's son Henry (I.), who succeeded his older brother, William Rufus, inherited enough of his father's administrative genius to complete the details of government which he had outlined. He organized the beginning of a judicial system, creating out of his secretaries and Royal Ministers a Supreme Court, whose head bore the title of Chancellor. He created also another tribunal, which represented the body of royal vassals who had all hitherto been summoned together three times a year. This "King's Court," as it was called, considered everything relating to the revenues of the state. Its meetings were about a table with a top like a chessboard, which led to calling the members who sat, "Barons of the Exchequer." He also wisely created a class of lesser nobles, upon whom the old barons looked down with scorn, but who served as a counterbalancing force against the arrogance of an old nobility, and bridged the distance between them and the people.
So, while the thirty-five years of Henry's reign advanced and developed the purposes of his father, his marriage with a Saxon Princess did much to efface the memory of foreign conquest, in restoring the old Saxon blood to the royal line. But the young Prince who embodied this hope, went down with 140 young nobles in the "White Ship," while returning from Normandy. It is said that his father never smiled again, and upon his death, his nephew Stephen was king during twenty unfruitful years.
But the succession returned through Matilda, daughter of Henry I and the Saxon princess. She married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. This Geoffrey, called "the handsome," always wore in his helmet a sprig of the broom-plant of Anjou (Planta genista), hence their son, Henry II. of England, was known as Henry Plante—gent.
[Sidenote: Henry II., 1154-1189. House of Plantagenet, 1154-1399. Thomas Becket's Death 1170.]
This first Plantagenet was a strong, coarse-fibred man; a practical reformer, without sentiment, but really having good government profoundly at heart.
He took the reins into his great, rough hands with a determination first of all to curb the growing power of the clergy, by bringing it under the jurisdiction of the civil courts. To this end he created his friend and chancellor, Thomas Becket, a primate of the Church to aid the accomplishment of his purpose. But from the moment Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury, he was transformed into the defender of the organization he was intended to subdue. Henry was furious when he found himself resisted and confronted by the very man he had created as an instrument of his will. These were years of conflict. At last, in a moment of exasperation, the king exclaimed, "Is there none brave enough to rid me of this low-born priest!" This was construed into a command. Four knights sped swiftly to Canterbury Cathedral, and murdered the Archbishop at the altar. Henry was stricken with remorse, and caused himself to be beaten with rods like the vilest criminal, kneeling upon the spot stained with the blood of his friend. It was a brutal murder, which caused a thrill of horror throughout Christendom. Becket was canonized; miracles were performed at his tomb, and for hundreds of years a stream of bruised humanity flowed into Canterbury, seeking surcease of sorrow, and cure for sickness and disease, by contact with the bones of the murdered saint.
But Henry had accomplished his end. The clergy was under the jurisdiction of the King's Court during his reign. He also continued the judicial reorganization commenced by Henry I. He divided the kingdom into judicial districts. This completely effaced the legal jurisdiction of the nobles. The Circuits thus defined correspond roughly with those existing to-day; and from the Court of Appeals, which was also his creation, came into existence tribunal after tribunal in the future, including the "Star Chamber" and "Privy Council."
But of all the blows aimed at the barons none told more effectually than the restoration of a national militia, which freed the crown from dependence upon feudal retainers for military service.
In a fierce quarrel between two Irish chieftains, Henry was called upon to interfere; and when the quarrel was adjusted, Ireland found herself annexed to the English crown, and ruled by a viceroy appointed by the king. The drama of the Saxons defending the Britons from the Picts and Scots, was repeated.
This first Plantagenet, with fiery face, bull-neck, bowed legs, keen, rough, obstinate, passionate, left England greater and freer, and yet with more of a personal despotism than he had found her. The trouble with such triumphs is that they presuppose the wisdom and goodness of succeeding tyrants.
Henry's heart broke when he learned that his favorite son, John, was conspiring against him. He turned his face to the wall and died (1189), the practical hard-headed old king leaving his throne to a romantic dreamer, who could not even speak the language of his country.
Richard (Coeur de Lion) was a hero of romance, but not of history. The practical concerns of his kingdom had no charm for him. His eye was fixed upon Jerusalem, not England, and he spent almost the entire ten years of his reign in the Holy Land.
The Crusades, had fired the old spirit of Norse adventure left by the Danes, and England shared the general madness of the time. As a result for the treasure spent and blood spilled in Palestine, she received a few architectural devices and the science of Heraldry. But to Europe, the benefits were incalculable. The barons were impoverished, their great estates mortgaged to thrifty burghers, who extorted from their poverty charters of freedom, which unlocked the fetters and broke the spell of the dark ages.
Richard the Lion-Hearted died as he had lived, not as a king, but as a romantic adventurer. He was shot by an arrow while trying to secure fabulous hidden treasure in France, with which to continue his wars in Palestine.
[Sidenote: John, 1199-1216. Prince Arthur's Murder, 1203]
His brother John, in 1199, ascended the throne. His name has come down as a type of baseness, cruelty, and treachery. His brother Geoffrey had married Constance of Brittany, and their son Arthur, named after the Keltic hero, had been urged as a rival claimant for the English throne. Shakespeare has not exaggerated the cruel fate of this boy, whose monstrous uncle really purposed having his eyes burnt out, being sure that if he were blind he would no longer be eligible for king. But death is surer even than blindness, and Hubert, his merciful protector from one fate, was powerless to avert the other. Some one was found with "heart as hard as hammered iron," who put an end to the young life (1203) at the Castle of Rouen.
But the King of England, was vassal to the King of France, and Philip summoned John to account to him for this deed. When John refused to appear, the French provinces were torn from him. In 1204 he saw an Empire stretching from the English Channel to the Pyrenees vanish from his grasp, and was at one blow reduced to the realm of England.
When we see on the map, England as she was in that day, sprawling in unwieldy fashion over the western half of France, we realize how much stronger she has been on "that snug little island, that right little, tight little island," and we can see that John's wickedness helped her to be invincible.
The destinies of England in fact rested with her worst king. His tyranny, brutality, and disregard of his subjects' rights, induced a crisis which laid the corner-stone of England's future, and buttressed her liberties for all time.
[Sidenote: Magna Charta, 1215]
At a similar crisis in France, two centuries later, the king (Charles VII.) made common cause with the people against the barons or dukes. In England, in the 13th Century, the barons and people were drawn together against the King. They framed a Charter, its provisions securing protection and justice to every freeman in England. On Easter Day, 1215, the barons, attended by two thousand armed knights, met the King near Oxford, and demanded his signature to the paper. John was awed, and asked them to name a day and place. "Let the day be the 15th of June, and the place Runnymede," was the reply.
A brown, shrivelled piece of parchment in the British Museum to-day, attests to the keeping of this appointment. That old Oak at Runnymede, under whose spreading branches the name of John was affixed to the Magna Charta, was for centuries held the most sacred spot in England.
It is an impressive picture we get of John, "the Lord's Anointed," when this scene was over, in a burst of rage rolling on the floor, biting straw, and gnawing a stick! "They have placed twenty-five kings over me," he shouted in a fury; meaning the twenty-five barons who were entrusted with the duty of seeing that the provisions of the Charter were fulfilled.
Whether his death, one year later (1216), was the result of vexation of spirit or surfeit of peaches and cider, or poison, history does not positively say. But England shed no tears for the King to whom she owes her liberties in the Magna Charta.
[Sidenote: Henry III., 1216-1272]
For the succeeding 56 years John's son, Henry III., was King of England. While this vain, irresolute, ostentatious king was extorting money for his ambitious designs and extravagant pleasures, and struggling to get back the pledges given in the Great Charter, new and higher forces, to which he gave no heed, were at work in his kingdom.
Paris at this time was the centre of a great intellectual revival, brought about by the Crusades. We have seen that through the despised Jew, at the time of the Conquest, a higher civilization was brought into England. Along with his hoarded gold came knowledge and culture, which he had obtained from the Saracen. Now, these germs had been revived by direct contact with the sources of ancient knowledge in the East during the Crusades; and while the long mental torpor of Europe was rolling away like mist before the rising sun, England felt the warmth of the same quickening rays, and Oxford took on a new life.
[Sidenote: Oxford in the Thirteenth Century.]
It was not the stately Oxford of to-day, but a rabble of roystering, revelling youths, English, Welsh, and Scotch, who fiercely fought out their fathers' feuds.
They were a turbulent mob, who gave advance opinion, as it were, upon every ecclesiastical or political measure, by fighting it out on the streets of their town, so that an outbreak at Oxford became a sort of prelude to every great political movement.
Impossible as it seems, intellectual life grew and expanded in this tumultuous atmosphere; and while the democratic spirit of the University threatened the king, its spirit of free intellectual inquiry shook the Church.
The revival of classical learning, bringing streams of thought from old Greek and Latin fountains, caused a sudden expansion. It was like the discovery of an unsuspected and greater world, with a body of new truth, which threw the old into contemptuous disuse. A spirit of doubt, scepticism, and denial, was engendered. They comprehended now why Abelard had claimed the "supremacy of reason over faith," and why Italian poets smiled at dreams of "immortality." Then, too, the new culture compelled respect for infidel and for Jew. Was it not from their impious hands, that this new knowledge of the physical universe had been received?
[Sidenote: Roger Bacon Writes Opus Majus.]
Roger Bacon drank deeply from these fountains, new and old, and struggled like a giant to illumine the darkness of his time, by systematizing all existing knowledge. His "Opus Majus" was intended to bring these riches to the unlearned. But he died uncomprehended, and it was reserved for later ages to give recognition to his stupendous work, wrought in the twilight out of dimly comprehended truth.
Pursued by the dream of recovering the French Empire, lost by his father, and of retracting the promises given in the Charter, Henry III. spent his entire reign in conflict with the barons and the people, who were closely drawn together by the common danger and rallied to the defence of their liberties under the leadership of Simon de Montfort.
[Sidenote: Beginnings of House of Commons, 1265. First true Parliament, 1295. Edward I., 1272-1307]
It was at the town of Oxford that the great council of barons and bishops held its meetings. This council, which had long been called "Parliament" (from parler), in the year 1265 became for the first time a representative body, when Simon de Montfort summoned not alone the lords and bishops—but two citizens from every city, and two burghers from every borough. A Rubicon was passed when the merchant, and the shopkeeper, sat for the first time with the noble and the bishops in the great council. It was thirty years before the change was fully effected, it being in the year 1295 (just 600 years ago now) that the first true Parliament met. But the "House of Lords" and the germ of the "House of Commons," existed in this assembly at Oxford in 1265, and a government "of the people, for the people, by the people," had commenced.
Edward I., the son and successor of Henry III., not only graciously confirmed the Great Charter, but added to its privileges. His expulsion of the Jews, is the one dark blot on his reign.
[Sidenote: North Wales Conquered, 1213. Conquest of Scotland, 1296.]
He conquered North Wales, the stronghold where those Keltic Britons, the Welsh, had always maintained a separate existence; and as a recompense for their wounded feelings bestowed upon the heir to the throne, the title "Prince of Wales."
Westminster Abbey was completed at this time and began to be the resting-place for England's illustrious dead. The invention of gunpowder, which was to make iron-clad knights a romantic tradition, also belongs to this period, which saw too, the conquest of Scotland; and the magic stone supposed to have been Jacob's pillow at Bethel, and which was the Scottish talisman, was carried to Westminster Abbey and built into a coronation-chair, which has been used at the crowning of every English sovereign since that time.
Scottish liberties were not so sacrificed by this conquest as had been the Irish. The Scots would not be slaves, nor would they stay conquered without many a struggle.
[Sidenote: Robert Bruce, Bannockburn, 1314. Edward II., King 1307-1327. Edward III., 1327-1377.]
Robert Bruce led a great rebellion, which extended into the succeeding reign, and Bruce's name was covered with glory by his great victory at Bannockburn (1314).
We need not linger over the twenty years during which Edward II., by his private infamies, so exasperated his wife and son that they brought about his deposition, which was followed soon after by his murder; and then by a disgraceful regency, during which the Queen's favorite, Mortimer, was virtually king. But King Edward III. commenced to rule with a strong hand. As soon as he was eighteen years old he summoned the Parliament. Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn, and his queen-mother was immured for life.
We have turned our backs upon Old England. The England of a representative Parliament and a House of Commons, of ideals derived from a wider knowledge, the England of a Westminster Abbey, and gunpowder, and cloth-weaving, is the England we all know to-day. Vicious kings and greed of territory, and lust of power, will keep the road from being a smooth one. but it leads direct to the England of Victoria; and 1895 was roughly outlined in 1327, when Edward III. grasped the helm with the decision of a master.
[Sidenote: Battle of Crecy, 1346]
After completing the subjection of Scotland he invaded France,—the pretext of resisting her designs upon the Netherlands, being merely a cover for his own thirst for territory and conquest. The victory over the French at Crecy, 1346, (and later of Poitiers,) covered the warlike king and his son, Edward the "Black Prince," with imperishable renown. Small cannon were first used at that battle. The knights and the archers laughed at the little toy, but found it useful in frightening the enemies' horses.
Edward III. covered England with a mantle of military glory, for which she had to pay dearly later. He elevated the kingship to a more dazzling height, for which there have also been some expensive reckonings since. He introduced a new and higher dignity into nobility by the title of Duke, which he bestowed upon his sons; the great landholders or barons, having until that time constituted a body in which all were peers. He has been the idol of heroic England. But he awoke the dream of French conquest, and bequeathed to his successors a fatal war, which lasted for 100 years.
The "Black Prince" died, and the "Black Death," a fearful pestilence, desolated a land already decimated by protracted wars. The valiant old King, after a life of brilliant triumphs, carried a sad and broken heart to the grave, and Richard II., son of the heroic Prince Edward, was king.
[Sidenote: Richard II.,1377-1399. Wat Tyler's Rebellion 1381.]
This last of the Plantagenets had need of great strength and wisdom to cope with the forces stirring at that time in his kingdom, and was singularly deficient in both. The costly conquests of his grandfather, were a troublesome legacy to his feeble grandson. Enormous taxes unjustly levied to pay for past glories, do not improve the temper of a people. A shifting of the burden from one class to another arrayed all in antagonisms against each other, and finally, when the burden fell upon the lowest order, as it is apt to do, they rose in fierce rebellion under the leadership of Wat Tyler, a blacksmith (1381).
Concessions were granted and quiet restored, but the people had learned a new way of throwing off injustice. There began to be a new sentiment in the air. Men were asking why the few should dress in velvet and the many in rags. It was the first revolt against the tyranny of wealth, when people were heard on the streets singing the couplet
"When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?"
As in the times of the early Saxon kings, the cause breeding destruction was the widening distance between the king and the people. In those earlier times the people unresistingly lapsed into decadence, but the Anglo-Saxon had learned much since then, and it was not so safe to degrade him and trample on his rights.
[Sidenote: John Wickliffe, 1324-1384.]
Then, too, John Wickliffe had been telling some very plain truths to the people about the Church of Rome, and there was developing a sentiment which made Pope and Clergy tremble. There was a spirit of inquiry, having its centre at Oxford, looking into the title-deeds of the great ecclesiastical despotism. Wickliffe heretically claimed that the Bible was the one ground of faith, and he added to his heresy by translating that Book into simple Saxon English, that men might learn for themselves what was Christ's message to man.
Luther's protest in the 16th Century was but the echo of Wickliffe's in the 14th,—against the tyranny of a Church from which all spiritual life had departed, and which in its decay tightened its grasp upon the very things which its founder put "behind Him" in the temptation on the mountain, and aimed at becoming a temporal despotism.
Closely intermingled with these struggles was going on another, unobserved at the time. Three languages held sway in England—Latin in the Church, French in polite society, and English among the people. Chaucer's genius selected the language of the people for its expression, as also of course, did Wickliffe in his translation of the Bible. French and Latin were dethroned, and the "King's English" became the language of the literature and speech of the English nation.
[Sidenote: 1399 Deposition of Richard II. House of Plantagenet ends 1399.]
He would have been a wise and great King who could have comprehended and controlled all the various forces at work at this time. Richard II. was neither. This seething, tumbling mass of popular discontents was besides only the groundwork for the personal strifes and ambitions which raged about the throne. The wretched King, embroiled with every class and every party, was pronounced by Parliament unfit to reign, the same body which deposed him, giving the crown to his cousin Henry of Lancaster (1399), and the reign of the Plantagenets was ended.
[Sidenote: House of Lancaster, 1399-1461. Henry IV.,1399-1413.]
The new king did not inherit the throne; he was elected to it. He was an arbitrary creation of Parliament. The Duke of Lancaster, Henry's father (John of Gaunt), was only a younger son of Edward III. According to the strict rules of hereditary succession, there were two others with claims superior to Henry's. Richard Duke of York, his cousin, claimed a double descent from the Duke Clarence and also from the Duke of York, both sons of Edward III.
This led later to the dreariest chapter in English history, "the Wars of the Roses."
It is an indication of the enormous increase in the strength of Parliament, that such an exercise of power, the creating of a king, was possible. Haughty, arrogant kings bowed submissively to its will. Henry could not make laws nor impose taxes without first summoning Parliament and obtaining his subjects' consent. But corrupting influences were at work which were destined to cheat England out of her liberties for many a year.
The impoverishment of the country to pay for war and royal extravagances, had awakened a troublesome spirit in the House of Commons. Cruelty to heretics also, and oppressive enactments were fought and defeated in this body. The King, clergy, and nobles, were drawing closer together and farther away from the people, and were devising ways of stifling their will.
If the King might not resist the will of Parliament, he could fill it with men who would not resist his; so, by a system of bribery and force in the boroughs, the House of Commons had injected into it enough of the right sort to carry obnoxious measures. This was only one of the ways in which the dearly bought liberties were being defeated.
Henry IV., the first Lancastrian king, lighted the fires of persecution in England. The infamous "Statute of Heresy" was passed 1401. Its first victim was a priest who was thrown to the flames for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Wickliffe had left to the people not a party, but a sentiment. The "Lollards," as they were called, were not an organization, but rather a pervading atmosphere of revolt, which naturally combined with the social discontent of the time, and there came to be more of hate than love in the movement, which was at its foundation a revolt against inequality of condition. As in all such movements, much that was vicious and unwise in time mingled with it, tending to give some excuse for its repression. The discarding of an old faith, unless at once replaced by a new one, is a time fraught with many dangers to Society and State.
[Sidenote: Henry V. 1413-1422]
Such were some of the forces at work for fourteen brief years while Henry IV. wore the coveted crown, and while his son, the roystering "Prince Hal," in the new character of King (Henry V.) lived out his brief nine years of glory and conquest.
[Sidenote: Agincourt, 1415]
France, with an insane King, vicious Queen Regent, and torn by the dissensions of ambitious Dukes, had reached her hour of greatest weakness, when Henry V. swept down upon her with his archers, and broke her spirit by his splendid victory at Agincourt; then married her Princess Katharine, and was proclaimed Regent of France. The rough wooing of his French bride, immortalized by Shakespeare, throws a glamour of romance over the time.
But an all-subduing King cut short Henry's triumphs. He was stricken and died (1422), leaving an infant son nine months old, who bore the weight of the new title, "King of England and France," while Henry's brother, the Duke of Bedford, reigned as Regent.
[Sidenote: Joan of Arc. Battle of Orleans 1429.]
Then it was, that by a mysterious inspiration, Joan of Arc, a child and a peasant, led the French army to the besieged City of Orleans, and the crucial battle was won.
Charles VII. was King. The English were driven out of France, and the Hundred Years' War ended in defeat (1453). England had lost Aquitaine, which for two hundred years (since Henry II.) had been hers, and had not a foot of ground on Norman soil.
The long shadow cast by Edward III upon England was deepening. A ruinous war had drained her resources and arrested her liberties; and now the odium of defeat made the burdens it imposed intolerable. The temper of every class was strained to the danger point. The wretched government was held responsible, followed, as usual, by impeachments, murders, and impotent outbursts of fury.
[Sidenote: Jack Cade's Insurrection, 1450]
While, owing to social processes long at work, feudalism was in fact a ruin, a mere empty shell, it still seemed powerful as ever; just as an oak, long after its roots are dead, will still carry aloft a waving mass of green leafage. The great Earl of Warwick when he went to Parliament was still followed by 600 liveried retainers. But when Jack Cade led 20,000 men in rebellion at the close of the French war, they were not the serfs and villeinage of other times, but farmers and laborers, who, when they demanded a more economical expenditure of royal revenue, freedom at elections, and the removal of restrictions on their dress and living, knew their rights, and were not going to give them up without a struggle.
But the madness of personal ambition was going to work deeper ruin and more complete wreck of England's fortunes. We have seen that by the interposition of Parliament, the House of Lancaster had been placed on the throne contrary to the tradition which gave the succession to the oldest branch, which Richard, the Duke of York, claimed to represent; his claim strengthened by a double descent from Edward III. through his two sons, Lionel and Edward.
[Sidenote: Wars of the Roses 1455-1485]
For twenty-one years, (1450-1471) these wars of the descendants of Edward III. were engaged in the most savage war, for purely selfish and personal ends, with not one noble or chivalric element to redeem the disgraceful exhibition of human nature at its worst. Murders, executions, treacheries, adorn a network of intrigue and villany, which was enough to have made the "White" and the "Red Rose" forever hateful to English eyes.
The great Earl of Warwick led the White Rose of York to victory, sending the Lancastrian King to the tower, his wife and child fugitives from the Kingdom, and proclaimed Edward, (son of Richard Duke of York, the original claimant, who had been slain in the conflict), King of England.
[Sidenote: Death of Henry VI. House of York, 1461-1485.]
Then, with an unscrupulousness worthy of the time and the cause, Warwick opened communication with the fugitive Queen, offering her his services, betrothed his daughter to the young Edward, Prince of Wales, took up the red Lancastrian rose from the dust of defeat,—brought the captive he had sent to the tower back to his throne—only to see him once more dragged down again by the Yorkists—and for the last time returned to captivity; leaving his wife a prisoner and his young son dead at Tewksbury, stabbed by Yorkist lords. Henry VI. died in the Tower, "mysteriously," as did all the deposed and imprisoned Kings; Warwick was slain in battle, and with Edward IV, the reign of the House of York commenced.
Such in brief is the story of the "Wars of the Roses" and of the Earl of Warwick, the "King Maker."
[Sidenote: Edward IV., 1471-1483.]
At the close of the Wars of the Roses, feudalism was a ruin. The oak with its dead roots had been prostrated by the storm. The imposing system had wrought its own destruction. Eighty Princes of the blood royal had perished, and more than half of the Nobility had died on the field or the scaffold, or were fugitives in foreign lands. The great Duke of Exeter, brother-in-law to a King, was seen barefoot begging bread from door to door.
By the confiscation of one-fifth of the landed estate of the Kingdom, vast wealth poured into the King's treasury. He had no need now to summon Parliament to vote him supplies. The clergy, rendered feeble and lifeless from decline in spiritual enthusiasm, and by its blind hostility to the intellectual movement of the time, crept closer to the throne, while Parliament, with its partially disfranchised House of Commons, was so rarely summoned that it almost ceased to exist. In the midst of the general wreck, the Kingship towered in solitary greatness.
Edward IV. was absolute sovereign. He had no one to fear, unless it was his intriguing brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who, during the twenty-three years of Edward's reign, was undoubtedly carefully planning the bloodstained steps by which he himself should reach the throne.
Acute in intelligence, distorted in form and in character, this Richard was a monster of iniquity. The hapless boy left heir to the throne upon the death of Edward IV., his father, was placed under the guardianship of his misshapen uncle, who until the majority of the young King, Edward V., was to reign under the title of Protector.
[Sidenote: Richard III., 1483-1485. Death of the Princes in the Tower.]
How this "Protector" protected his nephews all know. The two boys (Edward V. and Richard, Duke of York) were carried to the Tower. The world has been reluctant to believe that they were really smothered, as has been said; but the finding, nearly two hundred years later, of the skeletons of two children which had been buried or concealed at the foot of the stairs leading to their place of confinement, seems to confirm it beyond a doubt.
[Sidenote: Bosworth Field. House of Tudor, 1485-1603. Henry VII., 1485-1509.]
Retribution came swiftly. Two years later Richard fell at the battle of Bosworth Field, and the crown won by numberless crimes, rolled under a hawthorn bush. It was picked up and placed upon a worthier head.
Henry Tudor, an offshoot of the House of Lancaster, was proclaimed King Henry VII., and his marriage with Princess Elizabeth of York (sister of the princes murdered in the Tower) forever blended the White and the Red Rose in peaceful union.
[Sidenote: Printing Introduced into England.]
During all this time, while Kings came and Kings went, the people viewed these changes from afar. But if they had no longer any share in the government, a great expansion was going on in their inner life. Caxton had set up his printing press, and the "art preservative of all arts," was bringing streams of new knowledge into thousands of homes. Copernicus had discovered a new Heaven, and Columbus a new Earth. The sun no longer circled around the Earth, nor was the Earth a flat plain. There was a revival of classic learning at Oxford, and Erasmus, the great preacher, was founding schools and preparing the minds of the people for the impending change, which was soon to be wrought by that Monk in Germany, whose soul was at this time beginning to be stirred to its mighty effort at reform.
[Sidenote: Henry VIII., 1509-1517]
When in the year 1509 a handsome youth of eighteen came to the throne, the hopes of England ran high. His intelligence, his frank, genial manners, his sympathy with the "new learning," won all classes. Erasmus in his hopes of purifying the Church, and Sir Thomas More in his "Utopian" dreams for politics and society, felt that a friend had come to the throne in the young Henry VIII.
Spain had become great through a union of the rival Kingdoms Castile and Aragon; so a marriage with the Princess Katharine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, had been arranged for the young Prince Henry, who had quietly accepted for his Queen his brother's widow, six years his senior.
France under Francis I. had risen into a state no less imposing than Spain, and Henry began to be stirred with an ambition to take part in the drama of events going on upon the greater stage, across the Channel. The old dream of French conquest returned. Francis I. and Charles V. of Germany had commenced their struggle for supremacy in Europe. Henry's ambition was fostered by their vying with each other to secure his friendship. He was soon launched in a deep game of diplomacy, in which three intriguing Sovereigns were striving each to outwit the others.
What Henry lacked in experience and craft was supplied by his Chancellor Wolsey, whose private and personal ambition to reach the Papal Chair was dexterously mingled with the royal game. The game was dazzling and absorbing, but it was unexpectedly interrupted; and the golden dreams of Erasmus and More, of a slow and orderly development in England through an expanding intelligence, were rudely shaken.
Martin Luther audaciously nailed on the door of the Church at Wittenberg a protest against the selling of papal indulgences, and the pent-up hopes, griefs and despair of centuries burst into a storm which shook Europe to its centre.
[Sidenote: Reformation, 1517]
Since England had joined in the great game of European politics, she had advanced from being a third-rate power to the front rank among nations; so it was with great satisfaction that Catholic Europe heard Henry VIII. denounce the new Reformation, which had swiftly assumed alarming proportions.
[Sidenote: Marriage with Anne Boleyn, 1533.]
But a woman's eyes were to change all this. As Henry looked into the fair face of Anne Boleyn, his conscience began to be stirred over his marriage with his brother's widow, Katharine. He confided his scruples to Wolsey, who promised to use his efforts with the Pope to secure a divorce from Katharine. But this lady was niece to Charles V., the great Champion of the Church in its fight with Protestantism. It would never do to alienate him. So the divorce was refused.
Henry VIII. was not as flexible and amiable now as the youth of eighteen had been. He defied the Pope, married Anne (1533), and sent his Minister into disgrace for not serving him more effectually. "There was the weight which pulled me down," said Wolsey of Anne, and death from a broken heart mercifully saved the old man from the scaffold he would certainly have reached.
The legion of demons which had been slumbering in the King were awakened. He would break no law, but he would bend the law to his will. He commanded a trembling Parliament to pass an act sustaining his marriage with Anne. Another permitting him to name his successor, and then another—making him supreme head of the Church in England. The Pope was forever dethroned in his Kingdom, and Protestantism had achieved a bloodstained victory.
[Sidenote: His Supremacy. Henry a Protestant. Anne Boleyn's Death, 1536.]
Henry alone could judge what was orthodoxy and what heresy; but to disagree with him, was death. Traitor and heretic went to the scaffold in the same hurdle; the Catholic who denied the King's supremacy riding side by side with the Protestant who denied transubstantiation. The Protestantism of this great convert was political, not religious; he despised the doctrines of Lutheranism, and it was dangerous to believe too much and equally dangerous to believe too little. Heads dropped like leaves in the forest, and in three years the Queen who had overturned England and almost Europe, was herself carried to the scaffold (1536).
It was in truth a "Reign of Terror" by an absolutism standing upon the ruin of every rival. The power of the Barons had gone; the Clergy were panic-stricken, and Parliament was a servant, which arose and bowed humbly to his vacant throne at mention of his name! A member for whom he had sent knelt trembling one day before him. "Get my bill passed to- morrow, my little man," said the King, "or to-morrow, this head of yours will be off." The next day the bill passed, and millions of Church property was confiscated, to be thrown away in gambling, or to enrich the adherents of the King.
Thomas Cromwell, who had succeeded to Wolsey's vacant place, was his efficient instrument. This student of Machiavelli's "Prince," without passion or hate, pity or regret, marked men for destruction, as a woodman does tall trees, the highest and proudest names in the Kingdom being set down in his little notebook under the head of either "Heresy" or "Treason." Sir Thomas More, one of the wisest and best of men, would not say he thought the marriage with Katharine had been unlawful, and paid his head as the price of his fearless honesty.
Jane Seymour, whom Henry married the day after Anne Boleyn's execution, died within a year at the birth of a son (Edward VI.). In 1540 Cromwell arranged another union with the plainest woman in Europe, Anne of Cleves; which proved so distasteful to Henry that he speedily divorced her, and in resentment at Cromwell's having entrapped him, by a flattering portrait drawn by Holbein, the Minister came under his displeasure, which at that time meant death. He was beheaded in 1540, and in that same year occurred the King's marriage with Katharine Howard, who one year later met same fate as Anne Boleyn.
[Sidenote: Katherine Howard's Death 1541. Death of Henry VIII., 1547.]
Katharine Parr, the fifth and last wife, and an ardent Protestant and reformer, also narrowly escaped, and would undoubtedly at last have gone to the block. But Henry, who at fifty-six was infirm and wrecked in health, died in the year 1547, the signing of death-warrants being his occupation to the very end.
Whatever his motive, Henry VIII. had in making her Protestant, placed England firmly in the line of the world's highest progress; and strange to say, that Kingdom is most indebted to two of her worst Kings.
[Sidenote: Edward VI 1547-1555. Lady Jane Grey's Death, 1553.]
The crown passed to the son of Jane Seymour, Edward VI., a feeble boy of sixteen, and upon his death six years later (1553), by the King's will to Lady Jane Grey, descendant of his sister Mary. This gentle girl of seventeen, sensitive and thoughtful, a devout reformer, who read Greek and Hebrew and wrote Latin poetry, is a pathetic figure in history, where we see her, the unwilling wearer of a crown for ten days, and then with her young husband hurried to that fatal Tower, and to death; a brief touching interlude before the crowning of Mary, daughter of Henry and Katharine of Aragon.
Henry VIII. stoutly adhered to Protestantism, and preferred that the succession should pass out of his own family, rather than into Catholic dominion again. Hence his naming of Jane Grey instead of his own daughter Mary, in case of the death of his delicate son Edward.
But Henry was no longer there to stem the tide of Catholic sentiment. Lady Jane Grey was hurried to the block, and the Catholic Mary to the throne.
[Sidenote: Mary 1553-1558. Calais Lost, 1558]
Her marriage with Philip II. of Spain quickly overthrew the work of her father. Unlike Henry VIII., Mary was impelled by deep conviction. She persecuted to save from what she believed eternal death. Her cruelty was prompted by sincere fanaticism, mingled with the desire to please the Catholic Philip, whose love she craved and could not win. Disappointed in his aim to reign jointly with her, as he had hoped, he withdrew to Spain. Unlovely and unloved, she is almost an object of pity, as with dungeon, rack and fagot she strives to restore the Religion she loves, and to win the husband she adores. But Philip remained obdurately in Spain, and while she was lighting up all England with a blaze of martyrs, Calais, the last English possession in France, was lost. Mary died amid crushing disappointments public and personal, after reigning five years (1553-1558).
[Sidenote: Elizabeth, 1558-1603.]
Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and a disgraced and decapitated Queen, wore the crown of England. If heredity had been as much talked of then as now, England might have feared the child of a faithless wife, and a remorseless, bloodthirsty King. But while Mary, daughter of Katharine, the most pious and best of mothers, had left only a great blood-spot upon the page of History, Elizabeth's reign was to be the most wise, prosperous and great, the Kingdom had ever known. In her complex character there was the imperiousness, audacity and unscrupulousness of her father, the voluptuous pleasure-loving nature of her mother, and mingled with both, qualities which came from neither. She was a tyrant, held in check by a singular caution, with an instinctive perception of the presence of danger, to which her purposes always instantly bent.
The authority vested in her was as absolute as her father's, but while her imperious temper sacrificed individuals without mercy, she ardently desired the welfare of her Kingdom, which she ruled with extraordinary moderation and a political sagacity almost without parallel, softening, but not abandoning, one of her father's usurpations.
She was a Protestant without any enthusiasm for the religion she intended to restore in England, and prayed to the Virgin in her own private Chapel, while she was undoing the work of her Catholic sister Mary. The obsequious apologies to the Pope were withdrawn, but the Reformation she was going to espouse, was not the fiery one being fought for in Germany and France. It was mild, moderate, and like her father's, more political than religious. The point she made was that there must be religious uniformity, and conformity to the Established Church of England—with its new "Articles," which as she often said, "left opinion free."
It was in fact a softened reproduction of her terrible father's attitude. The Church, (called an "Episcopacy," on account of the jurisdiction of its Bishops,) was Protestant in doctrine, with gentle leaning toward Catholicism in externals, held still firmly by the "Act of Supremacy" in the controlling hand of the Sovereign. Above all else desiring peace and prosperity for England, the keynote of Elizabeth's policy in Church and in State was conciliation and compromise. So the Church of England was to a great extent a compromise, retaining as much as the people would bear of external form and ritual, for the sake of reconciling Catholic England.
The large element to whom this was offensive was reinforced by returning refugees who brought with them the stern doctrines of Calvin; and they finally separated themselves altogether from a Church in which so much of Papacy still lingered, to establish one upon simpler and purer foundation; hence they were called "Puritans," and "Nonconformists," and were persecuted for violation of the "Act of Supremacy."
The masculine side of Elizabeth's character was fully balanced by her feminine foibles. Her vanity was inordinate. Her love of adulation and passion for display, her caprice, duplicity, and her reckless love- affairs, form a strange background for the calm, determined, masterly statesmanship under which her Kingdom expanded.
The subject of her marriage was a momentous one. There were plenty of aspirants for the honor. Her brother-in-law Philip, since the abdication of Charles V., his father, was a mighty King, ruler over Spain and the Netherlands, and was at the head of Catholic Europe. He saw in this vain, silly young Queen of England an easy prey. By marrying her he could bring England back to the fold, as he had done with her sister Mary, and the Catholic cause would be invincible.
Elizabeth was a coquette, without the personal charm supposed to belong to that dangerous part of humanity. She toyed with an offer of marriage as does a cat with a mouse. She had never intended to marry Philip, but she kept him waiting so long for her decision, and so exasperated him with her caprice, that he exclaimed at last, "That girl has ten thousand devils in her." He little thought, that beneath that surface of folly there was a nature hard as steel, and a calm, clear, cool intelligence, for which his own would be no match, and which would one day hold in check the diplomacy of the "Escurial" and outwit that of Europe. She adored the culture brought by the "new learning;" delighted in the society of Sir Philip Sidney, who reflected all that was best in England of that day; talked of poetry with Spenser; discussed philosophy with Bruno; read Greek tragedies and Latin orations in the original; could converse in French and Italian, and was besides proficient in another language,—the language of the fishwife,—which she used with startling effect with her lords and ministers when her temper was aroused, and swore like a trooper if occasion required.
But whatever else she was doing she never ceased to study the new England she was ruling. She felt, though did not understand, the expansion which was going on in the spirit of the people; but instinctively realized the necessity for changes and modifications in her Government, when the temper of the nation seemed to require it.
It was enormous common-sense and tact which converted Elizabeth into a liberal Sovereign. Her instincts were despotic. When she bowed instantly to the will of the Commons, almost apologizing for seeming to resist it, it was not because she sympathized with liberal sentiments, but because of her profound political instincts, which taught her the danger of alienating that class upon which the greatness of her Kingdom rested. She realized the truth forgotten by some of her successors, that the Sovereign and the middle class must be friends. She might resist and insult her lords and ministers, send great Earls and favorites ruthlessly to the block, but no slightest cloud must come between her and her "dear Commons" and people. This it was which made Spenser's adulation in the "Faerie Queen" but an expression of the intense loyalty of her meanest subject.
Perhaps it was because she remembered that the whole fabric of the Church rested upon Parliamentary enactment, and that she herself was Queen of England by Parliamentary sanction, that she viewed so complacently the growing power of that body in dealing more and more with matters supposed to belong exclusively to the Crown, as for instance in the struggle made by the Commons to suppress monopolies in trade, granted by royal prerogative. At the first she angrily resisted the measure. But finding the strength of the popular sentiment, she gracefully retreated, declaring, with royal scorn for truth, that "she had not before known of the existence of such an evil."
In fact, lying, in her independent code of morals, was a virtue, and one to which she owed some of her most brilliant triumphs in diplomacy. And when the bald, unmitigated lie was at last found out, she felt not the slightest shame, but only amusement at the simplicity of those who had believed she was speaking the truth.
[Sidenote: Massacre of St. Bartholomew's, 1572. East India Company Chartered, 1606. Colonization of Virginia.]
Her natural instincts, her thrift, and her love of peace inclined her to keep aloof from the struggle going on in Europe between Protestants and Catholics. But while the news of St. Bartholomew's Eve seemed to give her no thrill of horror, she still sent armies and money to aid the Huguenots in France, and to stem the persecutions of Philip in the Netherlands, and committed England fully to a cause for which she felt no enthusiasm. She encouraged every branch of industry, commerce, trade, fostered everything which would lead to prosperity. Listened to Raleigh's plans for colonization in America, permitting the New Colony to be called "Virginia" in her honor (the Virgin Queen). She chartered the "Merchant Company," intended to absorb the new trade with the Indies (1600), and which has expanded into a British Empire in India.
But amid all this triumph, a sad and solitary woman sat on the throne of England. The only relation she had in the world was her cousin, Mary Stuart, who was plotting to undermine and supplant her.
The question of Elizabeth's legitimacy was an ever recurring one, and afforded a rallying point for malcontents, who asserted that her mother's marriage with Henry VIII. was invalidated by the refusal of the Pope to sanction the divorce. Mary Stuart, who stood next to Elizabeth in the succession, formed a centre from which a network of intrigue and conspiracy was always menacing the Queen's peace, if not her life, and her crown.
Scotland, since the extinction of the line of Bruce, had been ruled by the Stuart Kings. Torn by internal feuds between her clans, and by the incessant struggle against English encroachments, she had drawn into close friendship with France, which country used her for its own ends, in harassing England, so that the Scottish border was always a point of danger in every quarrel between French and English Kings.
[Sidenote: Flodden Field 1513. Birth of Mary Stuart 1542.]
In 1502 Henry VIII. had bestowed the hand of his sister Margaret upon James IV. of Scotland, and it seemed as if a peaceful union was at last secured with his Northern neighbor. But in the war with France which soon followed, James, the Scottish King, turned to his old ally. He was killed at "Flodden Field," after suffering a crushing defeat. His successor, James V., had maried Mary Guise. Her family was the head and front of the ultra Catholic party in France, and her counsels probably influenced Edward to a continual hostility to the Protestant Henry, even though he was his uncle. The death of James in consequence of his defeat at "Solway Moss" occurred immediately after the birth of his daughter, Mary Stuart (1542).
This unhappy child at once became the centre of intriguing designs; Henry VIII. wishing to betroth the little Queen to his son, afterwards Edward VI., and thus forever unite the rival kingdoms. But the Guises made no compromises with Protestants! Mary Guise, who was now Regent of the realm, had no desire for a closer union with Protestant England, and very much desired a nearer alliance with her own France. Mary Stuart was betrothed to the Dauphin, son of Francis I., and was sent to the French Court to be prepared by Catharine de Medici (the Italian daughter-in-law of Francis I.) for her future exalted position.
[Sidenote: Mary Stuart Returns to England.]
In 1561, Mary returned to England. Her boy-husband had died after a reign of two years. She was nineteen years old, had wonderful beauty, rare intelligence, and power to charm like a siren. Her short life had been spent in the most corrupt and profligate of Courts, under the combined influence of Catharine de Medici, the worst woman in Europe,— and her two uncles of the House of Guise, who were little better. Political intrigues, plottings and crimes were in the very air she breathed from infancy. But she was an ardent and devout Catholic, and as such became the centre and the hope of what still remained of Catholic England.
Elizabeth would have bartered half her possessions for the one possession of beauty. That she was jealous of her fascinating rival there is little doubt, but that she was exasperated at her pretensions and at the audacious plottings against her life and throne is not strange. In fact we wonder that, with her imperious temper, she so long hesitated to strike the fatal blow.
Whether Mary committed the dark crimes attributed to her or not, we do not know. But we do know, that after the murder of her wretched husband, Lord Darnley, (her cousin, Henry Stuart), she quickly married the man to whom the deed was directly traced. Her marriage with Bothwell was her undoing. Scotland was so indignant at the act, that she took refuge in England, only to fall into Elizabeth's hands.
Mary Stuart had once audaciously said, "the reason her cousin did not marry was because she would not lose the power of compelling men to make love to her." Perhaps the memory of this jest made it easier to sign the fatal paper in 1587.
[Sidenote: Mary Stuart's Death, 1587.]
When we read of Mary's irresistible charm, of her audacity, her cunning, her genius for diplomacy and statecraft, far exceeding Elizabeth's—when we read of all this and think of the blood of the Guises in her veins, and the precepts of Catharine de Medici in her heart, we realize what her usurpation would have meant for England, and feel that she was a menace to the State, and justly incurred her fate. Then again, when we hear of her gentle patience in her long captivity, her prayers and piety, and her sublime courage when she walked through the Hall at Fotheringay Castle, and laid her beautiful head on the block as on a pillow, we are melted to pity, and almost revolted at the act. It is difficult to be just, with such a lovely criminal, unless one is made of such stern stuff as was John Knox.
[Sidenote: James VI., King of Scotland. Defeat of Spanish Armada, 1597.] The son of Mary by Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) was James VI. of Scotland. With his mother's death, all pretensions to the English throne were forever at rest. But Philip of Spain thought the time propitious for his own ambitious purposes, and sent an Armada (fleet) which approached the Coast in the form of a great Crescent, one mile across. The little English "seadogs," not much larger than small pleasure yachts, were led by Sir Francis Drake. They worried the ponderous Spanish ships, and then, sending burning boats in amongst them, soon spoiled the pretty crescent. The fleet scattered along the Northern Coast, where it was overtaken by a frightful storm, and the winds and the waves completed the victory, almost annihilating the entire "Armada."
[Sidenote: Francis Bacon.]
England was great and glorious. The revolution, religious, social and political, had ploughed and harrowed the surface which had been fertilized with the "New Learning," and the harvest was rich. While all Europe was devastated by religious wars there arose in Protestant England such an era of peace and prosperity, with all the conditions of living so improved that the dreams of Sir Thomas More's "Utopia" seemed almost realized. The new culture was everywhere. England was garlanded with poetry, and lighted by genius, such as the world has not seen since, and may never see again. The name of Francis Bacon was sufficient to adorn an age, and that of Shakespeare alone, enough to illumine a century. Elizabeth did not create the glory of the "Elizabethan Age," but she did create the peace and social order from which it sprang.
If this Queen ever loved any one it was the Earl of Leicester, the man who sent his lovely wife, Amy Robsart, to a cruel death in the delusive hope of marrying a Queen. We are unwilling to harbor the suspicion that she was accessory to this deed; and yet we cannot forget that she was the daughter of Henry VIII.!—and sometimes wonder if the memory of a crime as black as Mary's haunted her sad old age, when sated with pleasures and triumphs, lovers no more whispering adulation in her ears, and mirrors banished from her presence, she silently waited for the end.
She died in the year 1603, and succumbing to the irony of fate, named the son of Mary Stuart—James VI. of Scotland—her successor.
[Sidenote: House of Stuart, 1603-1714.]
The House of Stuart had peacefully reached the long coveted throne of England in the person of a most unkingly King. Gross in appearance and vulgar in manners, James had none of the royal attributes of his mother. A great deal of knowledge had been crammed into a very small mind. Conceited, vain, pedantic, headstrong, he set to work with the confidence of ignorance to carry out his undigested views upon all subjects, reversing at almost every point the policy of his great predecessor. Where she with supreme tact had loosened the screws so that the great authority vested in her might not press too heavily upon the nation, he tightened them. Where she bowed her imperious will to that of the Commons, this puny tyrant insolently defied it, and swelling with sense of his own greatness, claimed, "Divine right" for Kingship and demanded that his people should say "the King can do no wrong," "to question his authority is to question that of God." If he ardently supported the Church of England, it was because he was its head. The Catholic who would have turned the Church authority over again to the Pope, and the "Puritans" who resisted the "Popish practices" of the Reformed Church of England, were equally hateful to him, for one and the same reason; they were each aiming to diminish his authority.
[Sidenote: First English Colony in New England]
When the Puritans brought to him a petition signed by 800 clergymen, praying that they be not compelled to wear the surplice, nor make the sign of the cross at baptism—he said they were "vipers," and if they did not submit to the authority of the Bishops in such matters "they should be harried out of the land." In the persecution implied by this threat, a large body of Puritans escaped to Holland with their families, and from thence came that band of heroic men and women on the "Mayflower," landing at a point On the American Coast which they called "Plymouth" (1620). A few Englishmen had in 1607 settled in Jamestown, Virginia. These two colonies contained the germ of the future "United States of America."
[Sidenote: "Gunpowder Plot, 1605."]
The persecution of the Catholics led to a plot to blow up Parliament House at a time when the King was present, thinking thus at one stroke to get rid of a usurping tyrant, and of a House of Commons which was daily becoming more and more infected with Puritanism. The discovery of this "Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot," prevented its consummation, and immensely strengthened Puritan sentiment.
The keynote of Elizabeth's foreign policy had been hostility to Spain, that Catholic stronghold, and an unwavering adherence to Protestant Europe. James saw in that great and despotic government the most suitable friend for such a great King as himself. He proposed a marriage between his son Charles and the Infanta, daughter of the King of Spain, making abject promises of legislation in his Kingdom favorable to the Catholics; and when an indignant House of Commons protested against the marriage, they were insolently reprimanded for meddling with things which did not concern them, and were sent home, not to be recalled again until the King's necessities for money compelled him to summon them.
[Sidenote: Francis Bacon.]
During the early part of his reign the people seem to have been paralyzed and speechless before his audacious pretensions. Great courtiers were fawning at his feet listening to his pedantic wisdom, and humoring his theory of the "Divine right" of hereditary Kingship. And alas!—that we have to say it—Francis Bacon (his Chancellor), with intellect towering above his century,—was his obsequious servant and tool, uttering not one protest as one after another the liberties of the people were trampled upon!
But this Spanish marriage had aroused a spirit before which a wiser man than James would have trembled. He was standing midway between two scaffolds, that of his mother (1587), and his son (1649). Every blow he struck at the liberties of England cut deep into the foundation of his throne. And when he violated the law of the land by the imposition of taxes, without the sanction of his Parliament, he had "sowed the wind" and the "whirlwind," which was to break on his son's head was inevitable. Popular indignation began to be manifest, and Puritan members of the Commons began to use language the import of which could not be mistaken. Bacon was disgraced; his crime,—while ostensibly the "taking of bribes,"—was in reality his being the servile tool of the King.