At length Henry persuaded himself that the time had arrived when he might resume his authority.
Continuing How The House of Commons Began in England,
our selection from The History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII by John Lingard published in 1819. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in How The House of Commons Began in England.
These innovations did not, however, pass without opposition. Henry, the son of the King of the Romans, Aymar, Guy and William, half-brothers to the King, and the Earl of Warenne, members of the committee, though they were unable to prevent, considerably retarded, the measures of the reformers, and nourished in the friends of the monarch a spirit of resistance which might ultimately prove fatal to the projects of Leicester and his associates. It was resolved to silence them by intimidation. They were required to swear obedience to the ordinances of the majority of the members; proposals were made to resume all grants of the crown, from which the three brothers derived their support; and several charges of extortion and trespass were made in the king’s courts not only against them, but also against the fourth brother, Geoffrey de Valence. Fearing for their liberty or lives, they all retired secretly from Oxford, and fled to Wolvesham, a castle belonging to Aymar, as bishop-elect of Winchester. They were pursued and surrounded by the barons: their offer to take the oath of submission was now refused; and of the conditions proposed to them the four brothers accepted as the most eligible, to leave the kingdom, taking with them six thousand marks, and trusting the remainder of their treasures and the rents of their lands to the honor of their adversaries.
Their departure broke the spirit of the dissidents. John de Warenne and Prince Henry successively took the oath: even Edward, the King’s eldest son, reluctantly followed their example, and was compelled to recall the grants which he had made to his uncles of revenues in Guienne, and to admit of four reformers as his council for the administration of that duchy. To secure their triumph a royal order was published that all the lieges should swear to observe the ordinances of the council; and a letter was written to the Pope in the name of the parliament, complaining of the King’s brothers, soliciting the deposition of the Bishop of Winchester, and requesting the aid of a legate to cooperate with them in the important task of reforming the state of the kingdom.
In a short time, Leicester was alarmed by the approach of a dangerous visitor, Richard, King of the Romans. That Prince had squandered away an immense mass of treasure in Germany, and was returning to replenish his coffers by raising money on his English estates. At St. Omer, to his surprise, he received a prohibition to land before he had taken an oath to observe the provisions of reform, and not to bring the King’s brothers in his suite. His pride deemed the message an insult; but his necessities required the prosecution of his journey, and he gave a reluctant promise to comply as soon as he should receive the King’s permission. At Canterbury Henry signified his commands, and Richard took the oath.
Henry had been for two years the mere shadow of a king. The acts of government, indeed, ran in his name; but the sovereign authority was exercised without control by the lords of the council; and obedience to the royal orders — when the King ventured to issue any orders — was severely punished as a crime against the safety of the State. But if he were a silent, he was not an inattentive, observer of the passing events. The discontent of the people did not escape his notice; and he saw with pleasure the intestine dissensions which daily undermined the power of the faction. The earls of Leicester and Gloucester pursued opposite interests and formed two opposite parties. Leicester, unwilling to behold the ascendency of his rival, retired into France; and Gloucester discovered an inclination to be reconciled to his sovereign. But to balance this advantage Prince Edward, who had formerly displayed so much spirit in vindicating the rights of the crown, joined the Earl of Leicester, their most dangerous enemy; and this unexpected connection awakened in the King’s mind the suspicion of a design to depose him and place his son on the throne. In these dispositions of enmity, jealousy, and distrust the barons assembled in London to meet Henry in parliament. But each member was attended by a military guard; his lodgings were fortified to prevent a surprise; the apprehension of hostilities confined the citizens within their houses; and the concerns of trade with the usual intercourse of society were totally suspended. After many attempts, the good offices of the King of the Romans effected a specious but treacherous pacification; and the different leaders left the parliament friends in open show, but with the same feelings of animosity rankling in their breasts, and with the same projects for their own aggrandizement and the depression of their opponents.
At length Henry persuaded himself that the time had arrived when he might resume his authority. He unexpectedly entered the council, and in a tone of dignity reproached the members with their affected delays and their breach of trust. They had been established to reform the State, improve the revenue, and discharge his debts; but they had neglected these objects, and had labored only to enrich themselves and to perpetuate their own power. He should, therefore, no longer consider them as his council, but employ such other remedies as he thought proper. He immediately repaired to the Tower, which had lately been fortified; seized on the treasure in the mint; ordered the gates of London to be closed; compelled all the citizens above twelve years of age to swear fealty in their respective wardmotes; and by proclamation commanded the knights of the several counties to attend the next parliament in arms. The barons immediately assembled their retainers, and marched to the neighborhood of the capital; but each party, diffident of its strength, betrayed an unwillingness to begin hostilities; and it was unanimously agreed to postpone the discussion of their differences till the return of Prince Edward, who was in France displaying his prowess at a tournament. He returned in haste, and, to the astonishment of all who were not in the secret, embraced the interests of the barons.
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