« AnteriorContinuar »
concisely stated. We find from innumerable records that the king imposed tallages upon his demesne towns at discretion. No public instrument previous to the fortyninth of Henry III. uames the citizens and burgesses as constituent parts of parliament; though prelates, barons, knights, and sometimes free-holders are enumerated; while since the undoubted admission of the commons, they are almost invariably mentioned. No historian speaks of representatives appearing for the people, or uses the word citizen or burgess in describing those present in parliament. Such convincing, though negative, evidence is not to be invalidated by some general and ambiguous phrases, whether in writs and records, or in historians. Those monkish annalists are poor authorities upon any point where their language is to be delicately measured. But it is hardly possible, that writing circumstantially, as Roger de Hoveden and Matthew Paris sometimes did, concerning proceedings in parliament, they could have failed to mention the commons in unequivocal expressions, if any representatives from that order had actually formed a part of the assembly.
96.--THE BATTLE OF EVESHAM.
From" Old England." When John died, what a state of confusion surrounded his helpless son-Louis the French Dauphin in the land with an army of French troops, and supported by the chief English barons, who had invited him over as their last refuge against John's tyranny. But a great and good man was then living—Pembroke, soon afterwards declared the Protector ; who, collecting together at Gloucester the different branches of the royal family, as well as a host of the principal men of both political parties, suddenly appeared among them, and placing the young Henry, with all due honour and ceremony, before the assembled prelates and nobles, said “ Albeit the father of this prince, whom here you see before you, for his evil demeanours hath worthily undergone our persecution, fet this young child, as he is in years tender, so is he pure and innocent from those of his father's doings,” and so called upon them to appoint him their king and governor, and drive the French from the land. The assembly received the speech with cordial greeting, and the coronation ceremony was immediately hurried on. The crown had been lost in the Wash, so a plain circlet of gold was used. Pembroke was appointed the royal guardian, and the governor of the kingdom, That appointment saved Henry his throne, and the people of England their nationality. Pembroke, who fully appreciated the motives of the disappointed barons, caused the Magna Charta to be revised and confirmed, with the view of satisfying them, and his character testified to all men that the act was done in good faith. The result was soon perceptible in the breaking up of the moral strength of the dangerous and unnatural confederacy. Then came the battle, or “Fair," of Lincoln, in 1217, in which the French and English allies were completely overthrown; and when Pembroke, hurrying from the ancient city with its bloody streets the same evening to Stow, was able to assure the trembling boy-king for the first time that he was really lord of England. Pembroke dealt firmly but generously with the allies, and before long Louis had returned to France, and the barons of England were once more united in support of their own monarch. Englishmen could again look on one another without rage or humiliation.
Henry's marriage with Eleanor, daughter of the Count of Provence, seems to mark with tolerable accuracy the period of the commencement of the struggle between him and his subjects. His minister, the Poictevin bishop, Des Roches, had given him a double course of practical instruction as to how he should rule, although
the people and the barons so little appreciated their share in the example, that they compelled Henry, in 1234, to dismiss him, with a whole host of his countrymen, not only from power, but from the island. Henry comforted himself on his marriage by taking Gascons and Provençals into his favour, since they would not let him have Poictevins ; and upon them he lavished all possible wealth and honours. The barons remonstrated, and the king, wanting money, promised to behave better. When he next asked for funds, he was told of broken promises, and an oath was exacted. That broken too, the barons became more and more annoying and disrespectful; charged Henry with extravagance, and at last said in the most unmistakable English, they would trust him no longer, and therefore, if he wanted them to give him money, he must allow them to add to the gift a few public officers of their choice, such as the chief Justiciary, Chancellor, and so on. The king thought he would much rather stretch his prerogative a little over those especially subject to it, in matters of fine, benevolence, and purveyance; rob the Jews; and beg from everybody else; and admirably he did all these things. Even this hardly sufficed, so in 1248 he again met his barons in parliament, to see what they would do for him, but soon left them in disgust; they would provide nothing but lectures upon his past conduct, and advice as to his future ; except, indeed, on their own conditions. That there were men in England who neither could nor would endure such government was to be expected; but one's admiration is especially warmed to find there were English women who could tell the king plain truths in plain words. The young widowed Countess of Arundel having failed to obtain what she alleged to be hers in equity, thus addressed him before his court: “0, my lord king, why do you turn away from justice? We cannot now obtain that which is right in your court. You are placed as a mean between God and us, but you neither govern us nor yourself, neither dread you to vex the church diversely, as is not only felt in present, but hath been heretofore. Moreover, you doubt not manifoldly to afflict the nobles of the kingdom.” Henry listened with a scornful and angry look, and then cried out in a loud voice, “0, my lady countess, what? have the lords of England, because you have a tongue at will, made a charter, and hired you to be their orator and advocate ?” But the lady had as much wit and presence of mind as courage, and answered, “Not so, my lord; for they have made to me no charter. But that charter which your father made, and yourself confirmed, swearing to keep the same inviolably and constantly, and often extorting money upon the promise that the liberties therein contained should be faithfully observed, you have not kept, but, without regard to conscience or honour, broken. Therefore are you found to be a manifest violator of your faith and oath. For where are the liberties of England, so often fairly engrossed in writing ? so often granted ? so often bought? I, therefore, though a woman, and all the natural loyal people of the land, appeal against you to the tribunal of the fearful judge,” &c. The king was overawed, but of course remained unchanged; and the lady, as Matthew Paris tells us, lost her charges, hopes, and travail. When women thus speak, men must begin to act. A confederacy was soon formed, and the barons “determined to come strong to Oxford at Saint Barnabas day." According to their agreement they appeared in an imposing body before the king, “exquisitely armed, and appointed, that so the king and his aliens should be enforced, if they would not willingly assent." Of course their demand was the old demand--the Charter ; but there was a new and very important addendum, that the country should be ruled, according to its provisions, by twenty-four mon, to be then and there chosen by the assembly. The leader of the confederated barons was the king's brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, a Frenchman by the father's side, but in every other respect one of the truest of Englishmen. Before events had shown Henry the lofty and
commanding spirit that his oppressions had raised, he had a kind of prescience of
In that black night before this sad and dismal day
Till the angry armies joined to act the bloody scene. Such, according to the Warwickshire poet Drayton, and the old chroniclers, were the dire portents by which the great battle of Evesham was preceded. The scene of this sanguinary encounter has been thus described in “William Shakspere: a Biography,' from personal observation :
“About two miles and a half from Evesham is an elevated point vear the village of Twyford, where the Alcester Road is crossed by another track. The Avon is not more than a mile distant on either hand, for flowing from Offenham to Evesham, a distance of about three miles, it encircles that town, returning in nearly a parallel direction, about the same distance, to Charlbury. The great road, therefore, passing Alcester to Evesham, continues, after it passes Twyford, through a narrow tongue
of land bounded by the Avon, having considerable variety of elevation. Immediately below Twyford is a hollow now called Battlewell
, crossing which the road ascends to the elevated platform of Greenhill.” Edward, early in the day on the 4th of August, 1265, appeared on the heights above Evesham, The young soldier at the head of the royalists, recently escaped from the custody of the veteran whom he is now to oppose, was the prince, burning to revenge his defeat and captivity, and to release his father the king. The great object of his manœuvres was to prevent a junction of the forces under Simon de Montfort and his eldest son. In order to effect this it was necessary to keep the old earl on the right bank of the Severn, with which view he destroyed all the bridges and boats on that river, and secured the fords. But the earl himself was not to be out-manæuvred by his clever young adversary—he managed to cross, and encamped at first near Worcester, hoping hourly that his son would join him. But Simon the younger, though he does not appear to have been deficient in patriotism or courage, was no match for a genius in war like Edward. He was surprised near Kenilworth by night, lost his horses and his treasure, and most of his knights, and was compelled to take refuge, almost naked, in the castle there, which was the principal residence of the De Montfort family. This, though as yet he knew it not, was a death-blow to the earl, who, still hoping and expecting with impatience to meet his son, marched on to Evesham. There he waited, but waited in vain. The day before the fatal 4th, no shadow of the truth clouding the confidence he felt in his son, he had solemn masses performed in the Abbey Church, and expressed himself well assured that his son would join him presently, and that Heaven would uphold his cause against a perjured prince. “The next morning he sent his barber Nicholas to the top of the abbey tower to look for the succour that was coming over the hills from Kenilworth. The barber came down with eager gladness, for he saw, a few miles off, the banner of young Simon de Montfort in advance of a mighty host. And again the earl sent the barber to the top of the abbey tower, when the man hastily descended in fear and horror, for the banner of young De Montfort was no more to be seen, but, coming nearer and nearer, were seen the standards of Prince Edward, and of Mortimer, and of Gloucester."
The danger attending the junction of such powerful personages, the grief and disappointment at the evident discomfiture of his son-fifteen of whose standards were presently raised in exulting mockery in front of the Royalist forces on the Evesham heights, and apprehension for that son's fate, must have altogether sorely tried the earl, who had the further bitterness of reflecting that Gloucester and his powerful father had been with him at the head of the barons, and had deserted him merely out of jealousy of his superior popularity. His greatest friend and counsellor was now armed to crush him. Under all these painful feelings, and seeing not only on the heights before him, but also on either side and in his rear, the heads of columns gradually blocking up every road, he exclaimed at once in despair and admiration, “They have learned from me the art of war.” And then, instantly comprehending all that must follow, he is said to have exclaimed, according to one writer, “God have our souls all, our days are all done ;” and according to another writer, “Our souls God have, for cur bodies be theirs.” But, had retreat been allowed him, he was not the man to avail himself of it. Having marshalled his men in the best manner, he spent a short time in prayer, and took the sacrament, as was his wont, before going into battle. Having failed in an attempt to force the road to Kenilworth, he marched out of Evesham at noon to meet the prince on the summit of the hill, having in the midst of his troops the old King Henry, his prisoner, encased in armour which concealed his features, and mounted on a warhorse. As the battle grew more and more desperate, the earl made his last stand
in a solid circle on the summit of the hill, and several times repulsed the charges of his foes, whose numbers, as compared with his own, were overwhelming. Gradually the royalists closed around him, attacking at all points. There was but little room, so the slaughter was confined to a small space, and it is fearful to picture to one's self the slow but sure progress of the work of death during that long summer afternoon and evening. Every man, valiant as a lion, resolved neither to give nor take quarter. In one of the charges the imbecile Henry was dismounted and in danger of being slain ; but he cried out "Hold your hand! I am Harry of Winchester,” which reaching the ears of the prince, he fought his way to his rescue, and succeeded in carrying him out of the mêlée. At length the barons' forces, wearied by the nature of the ground, which compelled them to be the assailants, and worn out by the determined resistance of the royalists, wavered in their attacks. At the going down of the sun, which they were never more to see setting in that western sky, Leicester himself, with his son Henry, and a handful of friends and retainers, were struggling on foot against a host of foes, who were animated by the exhilarating consciousness that the victory was theirs. And now the scene began to close. The earl's horse was killed under him, but De Montfort rose unhurt from the fall, and fought bravely on foot. Hope, however, there was none. It is said, that feeling for the brave youth who fought by his side, his son Henry, and for the few bravest and best of his friends that were left of all his followers, he stooped his great heart to ask the royalists if they gave quarter. “We have no quarter for traitors," was the merciless answer, on which the doomed veteran again exclaimed, “God have mercy upon our souls, our bodies must perish !” and rushed amid his foes with resolute despair. At last he saw his gallant son Henry fall, his poble adherents were then cut to pieces, and, finally, the veteran chief himself dropped, his sword still in his hand. The prophecy was verified which had been uttered twelve years before by the dying lips of the far-seeing Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosteste, whose views of the national abuses were as strong as De Montfort's. "Oh, my dear son,” cried the venerable old man, laying his hands on the head of De Montfort's son Henry, “you and your father will die on one day, and by the same kind of death, but in the cause of truth and justice.”
The remnant of the defeated army was pursued to Offenham, a mile and a half from Evesham, where the slaughter was very great, the bridge having been, probably, cut away by the prince's troops to prevent their retreat. The reservoir now called Battlewell is supposed to have been so choked with dead bodies, as to have remained long useless to the neighbouring peasantry, but this seems questionable. The bloody contest lasted from two in the afternoon till nine at night. No prisoners were taken ; of one hundred and eighty barons and knights of De Montfort's party, there was not one knowingly left alive; although some ten or twelve of the knights, who were afterwards found to breathe when the dead were examined, were permitted to live if they could. A more savage, inhuman carnage never disgraced England; or one that inflicted more widely diffused and permanent sentiments of distress and horror. These sentiments have found undying record in a ballad written at the time in the Anglo-Norman French, which has been thus translated by Mr. George Ellis :
In song my grief shall find relief;
Sad is my verse and rude ;
Who fell for England's good.
For us they dared to die;
Their wounds for vengeance cry.