By this victory, the royal authority was laid prostrate at the feet of Leicester.
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.
More than three thousand Londoners were slain; but the advantage was dearly purchased by the loss of the victory and the ruin of the royal cause. Leicester, who viewed with pleasure the thoughtless impetuosity of the Prince, fell with the remainder of his forces on Henry and his brother. A body of Scots, who fought on foot, was cut to pieces. Their leaders, John Comyn and Robert de Bruce, were made prisoners: the same fate befell the King of the Romans; and the combat was feebly maintained by the exertions and example of Philip Basset, who fought near the person of Henry. But when that nobleman sank through loss of blood, his retainers fled; the King, whose horse had been killed under him, surrendered; and Leicester conducted the royal captive into the priory. The fugitives, as soon as they learned the fate of their sovereign, came back to share his captivity, and voluntarily yielded themselves to their enemies.
When Edward returned from the pursuit, both armies had disappeared. He traversed the field, which was strewed with the bodies of the slain and the wounded, anxiously, but fruitlessly, inquiring after his father. As he approached Lewes, the barons came out, and, on the first shock, the earl Warenne, with the King’s half-brothers and seven hundred horse, fled to Pevensey, whence they sailed to the Continent. Edward, with a strong body of veterans from the Welsh marches, rode along the wall to the castle, and understanding that his father was a captive in the priory, obtained permission to visit him from Leicester. An unsuccessful attempt made by the barons against the castle revived his hopes; he opened a negotiation with the chiefs of the party; and the next morning was concluded the treaty known by the name of “the Mise of Lewes.” By this it was agreed that all prisoners taken during the war should be set at liberty; that the princes Edward and Henry should be kept as hostages for the peaceable conduct of their fathers, the King of England and the King of the Romans; and that all matters which could not be amicably adjusted in the next parliament should be referred to the decision of certain arbitrators. In the battle of Lewes about five thousand men are said to have fallen on each side.
By this victory, the royal authority was laid prostrate at the feet of Leicester. The scheme of arbitration was merely a blind to deceive the vulgar: his past conduct had proved how little he was to be bound by such decisions; and the referees themselves, aware of the probable result, refused to accept the office. The great object of his policy was the preservation of the ascendency which he had acquired. To Henry, who was now the convenient tool of his ambition, he paid every exterior demonstration of respect, but never suffered him to depart out of his custody; and, without consulting him, affixed his seal to every order which was issued for the degradation of the royal authority. The King of the Romans, a more resolute and dangerous enemy, instead of being restored to liberty, was closely confined in the castle of Wallingford, and afterward in that of Kenilworth; and the two princes were confided to the custody of the new governor of Dover, with instructions to allow of no indulgence which might facilitate their escape. Instead of removing the sheriffs, a creature of Leicester was sent to each county with the title of conservator of the peace. This officer was empowered to arrest all persons who should carry arms without the King’s special license; to prevent all breaches of the peace; to employ the posse comitatus to apprehend offenders; and to cause four knights to be chosen as the representatives of the county in the next parliament.
In that assembly, a new form of government was established, to last, unless it were dissolved by mutual consent, till the compromise of Lewes had been carried into full execution, not only in the reign of Henry, but also of Edward, the heir-apparent. This form had been devised by the heads of the faction to conceal their real views from the people; and was so contrived that they retained in their own hands the sovereign authority, while to the superficial observer they seemed to have resigned it to the King and his council. It was enacted that Henry should delegate the power of choosing his counsellors to a committee of three persons, whose proceedings should be valid, provided they were attested by the signatures of two of the number. The King immediately issued a writ to the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of Gloucester, and the Bishop of Chichester, authorizing them to appoint in his name a council of nine members; nor were they slow in selecting for that purpose the most devoted of their adherents.
The powers given to this council were most extensive, and to be exercised without control whenever the parliament was not sitting. Besides the usual authority, it possessed the appointment of all the officers of state, of all the officers of the household, and of all the governors of the royal castles. Three were ordered to be in constant attendance on the King’s person; all were to be summoned on matters of great importance; and a majority of two-thirds was required to give a sanction to their decisions. Hitherto the original committee seemed to have been forgotten; but it was contrived that when the council was so divided that the consent of two-thirds could not be obtained, the question should be reserved for the determination of the three electors, an artifice by which, under the modest pretense of providing against dissension, they invested themselves with the sovereign authority. By additional enactments it was provided that no foreigner, though he might go or come, or reside peaceably, should be employed under the government; that past offences should be mutually forgiven; that the two charters, the provisions made the last year, in consequence of the Statutes of Oxford, and all the ancient and laudable customs of the realm, should be inviolably observed; and that three prelates should be appointed to reform the state of the Church, and to procure for the clergy, with the aid of the civil power if necessary, full compensation for their losses during the late troubles.
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