Little Folk's History of England - I.

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B.C. 55 to A.D. 450.

DEAR CHILDREN,—You know that when we say this book was written in 1871, we mean one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one years after the birth of Christ.  Now I shall begin this history by telling you what was going on in England fifty-five years before our Saviour was born, when a great Roman general named Julius Caesar came to this country, and wrote about what he saw and what he did here.

The Romans at that time were the rulers of the world.  All the kings and people then known were their subjects, and they made laws for them, some of which have lasted to this day.  Julius Caesar had just conquered Gaul, the country we now call France, and while he was there he heard a great deal about the fair islands of Britain, so as he was so near, he made up his mind to go and conquer them too.

Julius Caesar came over to England with eighty vessels and twelve thousand men, thinking, no doubt, that it would be a very easy thing to conquer the poor savage Britons.  But the Britons, from their white cliffs, had seen the Roman ships, and were waiting on the shore ready to fight these enemies, the like of whom for splendour they had never seen before.  And though the Britons were half-naked, and had only weak swords and bows and arrows to fight with, and shields of basket-work and leather, while the Romans had strong swords and spears, and shields of metal, still they were so brave and fought so well, that, after a good many battles, Julius Caesar was obliged to go away without having conquered them.

But next year he came back again, with ten times as many ships and soldiers, quite determined to succeed.  Now, you must understand that the Britons were not one nation, as we are now.  They were divided into a great many tribes, each with its chief; and these chiefs could not agree among themselves, so at length their leader was obliged to give in to the Romans, and beg for peace.  This was not till many battles had been fought and many Romans killed; so Julius Caesar was not sorry to grant their request, and get away again, with what remained of his army; for though he beat the Britons in ever so many battles, they would not submit, but began fighting again just as if they had not been beaten at all.

The way of life among the Britons at this time was quite savage.  They lived in wattled huts — that is, huts of wood and bark woven like baskets, and plastered with mud.  They painted their skins with a blue dye, made from a plant called woad; and in winter, to keep themselves warm, they clothed themselves with the skins of the beasts they killed and ate: for, instead of farms, growing corn for bread, the country was covered with forests full of deer, wild boars, and even wolves.

They had a terrible religion too, and they worshipped more than one god.  Their priests were called Druids, and lived in the thickest of the woods, and made temples of great stones, erected in circles, and open to the sky.  Some of the remains of these are still to be seen.  They taught the people to fear their unknown gods, who they said thirsted for human blood.  And when famine and pestilence came and killed them by thousands, because they were not wise enough to provide sufficient food, and to cleanse themselves and their dwellings, the Druids said the gods were angry, and that to please them they must offer a sacrifice.  This they did by shutting up a number of people in a huge wicker cage, and burning them alive.

A hundred years passed away before another Roman general came to Britain.  The Britons had improved a little, but they were as ready to fight as ever.  The general was obliged to retreat before them; but after a time, the Britons were again forced to submit, and a great part of the country became a Roman province, and Roman soldiers remained to guard it and to collect the taxes.

Among the British chiefs there was one who had not submitted to the Romans; his name was Caractacus.  He carried his army into Wales — among the mountains — and there fought a battle which he said would decide the fate of Britain.  This great battle Caractacus lost, and he and his wife and children were carried captives to Rome.  There we hear of him walking in chains through the streets, and the Roman people coming out to look at him.  When he saw the great city he wondered, and said, “How is it that they who live in such palaces at home, can envy me a poor hovel in Britain?”

The Romans proved very hard masters.  They took the goods of the Britons as tribute, and made their sons servants and soldiers, sending many of them away to fight and die in distant lands, and they were cruel and insolent besides.  One governor went so far as to beat, with rods, the widow of a British king, because she would not give up her property.  This cost the Romans another bloody fight, and the loss of seventy thousand men.  The Britons rose to avenge their queen, whose name was Boadicea, and she herself led them to battle in a war-chariot.  When the Romans defeated her army, she took poison and died, rather than tall into their hands.

General after general and emperor after emperor came over to help to keep down and govern the unruly Britons.  They built towns, and fortresses, and great walls, of such good work that some of them stand to this day.  It was their good work of various kinds that made them so mighty, and they taught the Britons to follow their example.  So it was well for this country, after all, that the Romans conquered and were hard masters.  They taught the Britons to use money, to plough, to weave, to build, and to plant gardens; and they brought apples, and roses, and other fruits and flowers to Britain.  Better still, they set up schools, and taught the British children to read and write: and, besides this, they taught the Christian religion to the Britons almost as soon as they had learnt it themselves.  It is possible that some of these Roman missionaries may have heard of Christianity from the lips of the Apostle St. Paul.


A.D. 450 to 871.

THE Romans had been five hundred years in Britain, when they went away and left it never to return.  From enemies they had become friends to the Britons, and helped them against all their other enemies.  These were not few.  First there were the Picts and the Scots, who lived in what is still called Scotland, and whom the Romans were never able to conquer, because of their mountains.  The emperors had built a great wall to keep them out of the country they had conquered; but when the Romans were no longer there to guard it, the Picts and Scots broke through and wasted all the neighbouring land.  Then another race of foes, the Saxons, a tribe who lived in the north of Germany, came up from the sea and fell upon the people of the coasts, so that the Britons were induced to send to Rome for help.  But the Romans had now enough to do to help themselves, for they had lost their former power, and were surrounded on all sides by enemies.  Then the British prince, Vortigern, resolved to make peace with the Saxons, and get them to help to fight against the Picts and Scots.  So he invited two of their bravest chiefs, Hengist and Horsa, to remain in Britain, and gave them the Island of Thanet for their home.  They helped to drive back the Picts and Scots, but they did not keep to the other part of their bargain; they always demanded more and more, till in the end Hengist made himself a king, and called the country he had taken the kingdom of Kent.  That was in the year 473, and every year more Saxons came over, for they lived by plunder, and they and the Angles, who gave their name to our island, found Britain a convenient storehouse.  One tribe, under their chief Ella, came and founded the kingdom of Sussex.  Another, named Cerdic, conquered all the country from the sea to the Severn, and called it Wessex.  But it was a great many years before he completed his conquest, for this part of the country was ruled over by the famous Arthur, a Christian king, who drove back the pagan Saxons in several fierce battles.  You will read in story and in verse a great deal about King Arthur and his knights, and their going north to fight the heathen and rescue the oppressed.  So good and brave were they all, that Arthur had a round table made that they might sit at meat with him as equals, and from this they were called the Knights of the Round Table.  But at length Arthur was slain in battle.  The place of his burial was kept a secret, and the people long believed that he was not really dead, but would come again to deliver them.

Still the Saxons kept coming to Britain till they had divided the best part of the country into Saxon kingdoms, each ruled over by a Saxon king, and had driven the Britons quite away into Wales and Cornwall and other remote places, and thus Britain was once more a heathen country, the Saxons everywhere robbing the churches and killing the priests.

But soon after the Saxons and Angles had taken possession of Britain, it came to pass that they were converted to the Christian religion themselves.  For one day the Bishop of Rome, when passing through the market-place of the city, saw some fair boys who had been brought from England.  He asked who they were, and was told that they were Angles and pagans.  “Ah, if they were Christians,” said the good bishop, “they would be not Angles, but angels,” and he sent a monk called Augustine to preach to the Angles forthwith.  King Ethelbert received Augustine, and, feeling sure that he had not come so long a journey for an evil purpose, gave him a house in Canterbury, and listened to his teaching, and thus Augustine became the first Archbishop of the English Church.  And from that day to this Canterbury has remained the seat of English Archbishops.

The conversion of the Saxons was very rapid indeed; for no sooner did one of their kings accept the Christian religion, than all his people at once followed his example.  Augustine built a church near the King of Kent’s palace, where Canterbury Cathedral now stands, and his nephew built another where now stands Westminster Abbey.  One King Edwin, of Northumbria, called a council (for the Saxon kings always took the advice of their wisest men), and the council was to decide whether they would be Christians or no.  They resolved at last to say “yes,” and the chief priest of their religion, which was the Worship of idols, said “yes” too.  He said he was not going to believe in the false gods any longer, for they had never done him any good; and to show that they could not do him any harm, he mounted a horse, and took a spear in his hand, and, before all the people, he rode up to the temple and struck it a great blow.  The Saxons were not long in really becoming Christians after this, for they were a wise-hearted people, and loved above all things freedom and truth.

You have been already told how the different conquerors, as they came over, took possession of different parts of the country, till it was all divided into a number of small kingdoms, which were called the Heptarchy, because at one time there happened to be seven of them.  Very little is known of the history of this period.  The kings married one another’s daughters, and claimed one another’s lands, and so things went on for about three hundred years, till the time of Egbert, King of Wessex, who managed to conquer all the other kings, and so became the first ruler of the whole country, which he named England — the land of the Angles.

In his reign England began to be troubled with a new set of enemies.  These were the Danes or Northmen.  They were heathens and robbers, as the Saxons had been when they first settled in Britain; and just as the Saxons would not let the Britons be at peace, the Danes would not let the Saxons be at peace now that the latter had grown a quiet, Christian people.  But though they were quiet and Christian, they had many great faults.  They had grown slothful and greedy, and did not care much for learning, or improving themselves, but were content provided that they had plenty to eat and drink.

The Danes did but little harm in King Egbert’s reign, for he was a brave and strong prince; but no sooner was he dead, and his kingdom divided between two of his sons, than they came over in swarms, and finding that Egbert’s sons were neither strong nor brave, they began to come every summer burning and carrying away everything they could lay their hands on.  The sons of Egbert’s son, Ethelwulph, reigned one after the other, according as their father had willed; but when the kingdom came to the youngest son, it was so overrun with Danes, that it seemed as if it would soon be theirs altogether.  That youngest son's name was ALFRED.


A.D. 871 to 940.

ALFRED is always called “The Great;” and he deserves the title, for he was a great king, and a great and good man.  His people called him “England’s Shepherd,” and “England’s Comfort,” because, happily, he gave peace in his time, though he had to fight hard for it; and comfort, for he drove away his people’s enemies, and guided and watched over them always.  As you know, the Danes were cruel pagans, and they went about robbing and murdering till the whole country was laid waste, so that there was work enough for a king in those days when Alfred was born.

He was the youngest son of his father, and you will like to know what sort of a boy he was. There is one little story which has come down to us, showing that he was diligent in learning, and loved to please his mother. One day Queen Osberga was showing to him and his brothers the pictures in a book which she held in her hand. Seeing they greatly admired the book, she said, “Whichever of you shall first learn this book shall have it for his own.” In a very short time Alfred came to his mother and recited the whole of the book, and so gained the prize.

From his youth he kept God’s laws. He wrote out many of the psalms of David, and carried them in his bosom when he went to fight the Danes, that he might read them whenever he could find time.

When Alfred ascended the throne, a young man of twenty-two, he set to work in earnest to rid his kingdom of the Danes; for he was convinced that no good work could prosper in the land until this was done.  But the Danes had good hold on England, and they kept “coming up from the sea” besides, so that, though Alfred gained the first battle, and many more, they proved too strong for him for a time, and drove him into the forests, where he wandered about for months alone.

A great part of England was at that time covered with woods, where herds of swine and other animals fed; the herdsmen lived in huts to take care of them, and Alfred took shelter with them.  There is a story that, one day, the wife of the herdsman in whose hut he was staying had to go out of doors while her cakes were baking, and she told him to mind them in her absence, and see that they did not burn.  Alfred was sitting by the hearth mending his bows and arrows, and thinking perhaps when he should be able to use them against the Danes; so he forgot all about the cakes, and let them burn to cinders.  When the poor woman returned she was very angry, and scolded Alfred for his carelessness, telling him he was glad enough to get her cakes to eat, though he was too idle to cook them.  Just then her husband came in to tell Alfred that one of his earls had gained a victory over the Danes, and that the men of Wessex were ready to rise and be led to battle by the king. You may imagine that the poor woman was very much frightened when she found out whom she had been scolding.

After this Alfred went into Somersetshire, and made a camp at a place called Athelney, where he gathered together an army to march against the Danes.  But first he wanted to know how strong the Danish army was, so he disguised himself as a harper, and went into the Danish camp, at the risk of his life, and played in the tent of Guthrun, the Danish leader.  He got back safe, however, and he led his Wessex men against the Danes, and defeated them utterly.

Alfred, as you know, was kind-hearted, and no sooner had he defeated his enemies than he forgave them, and wanted them to be his friends.  He had done this more than once before, to his cost.  The Danes had sworn to go away and never trouble him again; but they had been false every time.  Still Alfred went on forgiving, for he forgave Guthrun, and Guthrun, who had been as false as the rest, perhaps led by the goodness of the king, became a Christian and broke his word no more.  He was baptised, and the king went to his baptism, and stood godfather to him; and after that Guthrun ruled a part of England for the king.

But Guthrun could not promise for his countrymen, who still came over the sea to plunder, and Alfred was many years fighting before he had peace.  He lived in no palace; but went wherever he was most needed to fight, or to judge, or to teach.  He made wise laws, and caused them to be taught to the people; and he punished those who did wrong, especially unjust judges.  The poor people were fined for dishonesty; but the dishonest judges were put to death.

He founded schools and colleges, and sought out learned men to put over them; and he brought skilled workmen to England to build, and to carve, and to weave, and teach his people to do the same.  He built ships too, that he might prevent the Danes from setting foot on the shores of England. It was quite wonderful how he found time to do all that he did.  I will tell you how he found it.  He was never idle.  He divided every day into three parts: eight hours he gave to reading and prayer, and eight to work, the other eight served for sleep, and meals, and rest.  There were no watches in those days, and so he invented a way of measuring his time by wax candles, which were kept burning day and night.  He invented lanterns too, to keep them from the wind, that they might burn steadily out of doors.

This great and good king reigned for thirty years, and then died in the year 901, and his son Edward ruled in his stead.

England was well governed in the reign of Edward, and also in the reign of his son Athelstan, for the son and grandson of Alfred inherited some of his good and great qualities; and under their rule England enjoyed comparative peace for nearly forty years.


A.D. 940 to 1016.

WHEN Athelstan was dead his brother Edmund became king.  He was then only eighteen years old; and six years after he was killed by a robber, who was bold enough to come into the hall where the king and his company were feasting.  Edmund ordered him to be turned out, and he would not go; so the king rose, and seized him by the hair to turn him out with his own hands.  Then the robber stabbed him with a dagger; and though he was soon cut to pieces himself, he stood up against the wall and fought as long as he could.

Then Edred, a younger brother, came to the throne, and reigned nine years, and died.  He was guided in all he did by a monk named Dunstan, of whom I must tell you something, for he had more power in England than any of these poor young kings.

Dunstan was the nephew of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he had been educated by his uncle in all the learning of his time.  He was very clever, and could paint and play on the harp, or work at the forge, as well as read learned books.  King Edmund took a great fancy to him, and made him Abbot of Glastonbury, an abbey which he had built on purpose for him.  An abbot was the head of an abbey or monastery, and the men who lived there were called monks.  In those days the monks were the only men who cultivated learning; they were good gardeners, and farmers, and doctors also, and travelled about, teaching and preaching besides; but not a few of them were wicked men, and the richer they got the more wicked they became.  Dunstan was a bold, bad man, who wanted to rule England and England’s kings, and the time favoured his purpose.  He ruled Edmund and Edred; then came Edwy, the son of Edmund, and he was only a boy of fourteen, and Dunstan meant to rule him too.  But Edwy did not like the monk, who insulted him on his coronation-day, and dragged him back to the feast when he had gone away to sit with his beautiful young wife Elgiva.  Then Edwy charged him with taking money which belonged to his uncle, King Edred, whose treasurer he had been: and upon this Dunstan fled to Belgium.

But he was busy there plotting against the king; and he and another wicked priest, Odo, set up his younger brother Edgar as his rival.  The monks were all on Dunstan’s side, for he wanted to make them richer than they were, and they persuaded the people that the king was not worthy to reign.  Odo took Edwy’s young wife Elgiva, and burned her face with hot irons, and sent her away to Ireland.  But she got back, and was about to join her husband, who was fighting for his throne, when they caught her again and cruelly wounded her, so that she should never walk any more.  Then, in great pain and misery, the poor young queen died; and her husband, who was only eighteen, died soon after of a broken heart.

Edgar, Edwy’s brother, now became king.  He was fifteen when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years very peaceably.  He is said to have been rowed down the river Dee by eight princes; and he made the Welsh people bring him every year, instead of money, the heads of three hundred wolves, so that the country was cleared of these savage beasts in a short time.  Edgar took care to do everything to please Dunstan, whom he made Bishop of Worcester, and then of London, and lastly Archbishop of Canterbury; and, between them, they ruled England well.

Edgar was twice married.  His first wife bore him a son called Edward, and died.  Then he married a second time a lady named Elfrida, and a curious story is told about their marriage.  The king had heard of the great beauty of this lady, and he sent his friend Athelwold to her father’s castle in Devonshire, to see if what he had heard was true, that he might take her for his wife.  Now Athelwold had no sooner seen her than he fell in love with her himself, and asked her to marry him, saying nothing about his having been sent by the king.  He told the king that she was not at all handsome; but the king suspected him of playing false, and told him that he must come and see his wife.  Then Athelwold confessed to Elfrida what he had done, and prayed her to forgive him.  He wanted her to disguise herself, and make herself as ugly as possible when the king came; but she put on splendid robes and jewels, and made herself look as beautiful as she could.  Then the king knew that Athelwold had lied to him; and it is said he slew him with his own hand.  He afterwards married Elfrida, and had other two sons, one of whom died, and the other became king.

Edgar died when he was still a young man, and while his sons were mere children.  The eldest of these, Edward, was chosen to be king; for the “wise men,” or Parliament, of the nation still chose the kings, though, as a rule, they chose out of the family of the late king, and often according to his wish.  Edward was only thirteen; so it is no wonder there is little to tell about him except his death, which took place about four years afterwards.

Nobody knows the exact truth about it, or, indeed, about any of those old stories; but this is how it is told in the history of the time.  He was very good to his stepmother Elfrida, and his little stepbrother Ethelred, and often went to see them.  But Elfida was jealous, and wanted her son to be in his place, so she sought how she might kill him.  One day when the young king was hunting in Dorsetshire, he came near to the castle of Corfe, where his stepmother and brother lived.  So wishing to see them, he rode alone to the gate, and Elfrida came out to meet him, and kissed him.  Then, as he felt thirsty, he asked for something to drink, and Elfrida called to bring a cup of wine.  While he was drinking, she made a sign to one of her men, who immediately stabbed the king in the back with a dagger.  When he felt the stab, Edward set spurs to his horse to get away, but fainted from loss of blood; his foot was caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged along as the horse galloped on, so that his huntsmen found him by tracking his blood upon the ground.  When they came up to him the poor young king was dead.

Thus Ethelred, the son of Elfrida, came to be chosen.  There was no one else of his father’s family to choose.  He was but a child of ten, and in the hands of his mother.  It is said he wept so much when he saw his kind brother slain, that his mother beat him for it.  He turned out a bad king, cruel and foolish.  He was called “The Unready,” which meant the “unadvised” then; but our meaning of the word would be as good a description of him.  He never was ready for anything.  The Danes came back in his reign, and found him so unready to fight, that he had to give them money to go away again.  Of course they only came back for more, and the more they got the more they wanted; and Ethelred had to tax the people to pay their enemies.

Ethelred sent the English fleet to fight the Duke of Normandy for being friendly to the Danes.  The fleet would have been better employed at home; but the expedition ended in Ethelred becoming friendly with the duke himself, and at length marrying the duke’s sister Emma.  This was England’s first connection with Normandy.

It was in the year 1002 that Ethelred married Emma, and for the last two years the Danes had been very troublesome to England.  A great many, however, had settled in the country, and were good subjects to the king.  The robber Danes, who came over to fight and plunder, were quite as hard on them as on Ethelred’s other subjects.  But when he had paid the fighting Danes to go away for that year, he caused all the peaceful Danes to be murdered in cold blood.  Among them was the sister of Sweyn, King of Denmark.  It was a cruel and shameful deed, and it was avenged by the loss of the kingdom.

When Sweyn, King of Denmark, heard of it, he set out with a great fleet and army to ravage England, and landing near Exeter, he advanced, laying all the country waste.  For years the Danes carried on the war, till they had got into the very heart of England, causing the most dreadful misery everywhere.  In the year 1011 they took Canterbury, and with it the good Archbishop Alphege, whom they kept and carried about with them, expecting a large ransom for him.  But the archbishop had no money to give them; and when they told him to get it, he said bravely, “No,” he could not take it from the poor suffering people.  They were feasting when they asked him for the last time; and when he answered them so, first one struck him and then another, and threw great bones at him, till his head and face were all bruised and bloody.  At last a soldier, whom he had baptised, struck him on the head with a battle-axe and he died.

Ethelred was not so brave as this good bishop, for that very year he gave the Danes more money than they had ever had before.

In 1013 Sweyn came over again.  He had made up his mind this time to have England altogether, and the people had no more heart to fight under such a king as Ethelred, who now ran away to his brother-in-law in Normandy, where he had sent his wife Emma and her children before.

Sweyn died a month after the conquest of England, and the Danes elected his son Canute to be king in his stead; but the English council met and declared tor Ethelred again.  So they sent to him in Normandy and asked him to come over, promising that if he would only govern them better than he had done before, they would be true to him.  He sent his son Edmund over first with many fine promises; and Edmund, who had grown up to be a brave youth, began to fight the Danes; then Ethelred came back himself, and between them they drove Canute away for a time.  But he soon returned, and in the midst of fighting and confusion King Ethelred died.


A.D. 1017 to 1040.

WHEN Ethelred was dead the Saxon people chose his son Edmund to succeed him; but the Danish people chose Canute.  So here was another great quarrel to be fought out on English ground.  Edmund was crowned in London, and he marched away at once to meet Canute, who in that year besieged London three times. Five battles the two kings fought, and in three of them Edmund had the victory; but at last they were persuaded to meet and divide the country between them. This they did; Edmund had London and all the south of England, and Canute had the north; and they exchanged clothes and arms in token that they were to live like brothers ever after. In two months, however, Edmund died, and it was said he had been murdered by a traitor, and that Canute himself had had a hand in it.  But whether this is true or not no man can tell.

Canute was now King of England; for Edmund’s children were infants, and there was no one to say nay to the Dane.  He sent away Edmund’s children to his brother the King of Sweden, who sent them to the King of Hungary, lest Canute should afterwards command him to kill them.  Both the King of Sweden and the King of Hungary were Christians — the first Christian kings who had ever reigned in those countries, though it was now a thousand years after the birth of Christ — and these Christian kings were very kind to Edmund’s fatherless children.

Then Canute sent over to Normandy for Emma, the widow of Ethelred, and she, leaving her children behind her, came and was married to the Dane.  Canute laid heavy taxes on the people, and was a hard master and merciless; but he grew better and milder as he grew older.  He acknowledged his sins, by going on a pilgrimage to Rome, to pray at the tomb of St. Peter, which, in those days, was thought an act of great piety, and certainly was a great deal of trouble and labour.  But we hear of him going to church at home as well.  He used to go to Ely Minster, which then stood on an island; and one Candlemas, when the boats could not be used because the waters were frozen, the king proposed to go on a sledge, but they were not quite sure that the ice would bear, till a poor man who lived there offered to try it; for if the ice bore him it would bear anything, he was so big and fat.  So he went first, and the king followed; and he gave the jolly fat man some land thereabout for his venture.

Then there is a famous story of Canute rebuking his courtiers for flattery.  Canute was by the seashore, and they were praising his power and greatness, when he bade them place a chair close to the water’s edge.  Then he sat down and began to say to the sea, “O Sea, thou art mine, and my ships sail over thee where they please; and this land is mine, against which thou washest: stop then, and dare not to wet my feet.”  But wave after wave rushed in and wetted the king’s feet and clothes, as well as those of the courtiers, who were obliged to stand by the chair, and who thought the king had gone mad.  At last he turned to them and said, “Ye see how small is the power of kings.  Honour God only, and serve him, for him all things obey.”

Canute died in the year 1035.  On the whole the effect of his reign was to make England again prosperous and peaceful.  He was King of Norway and of Denmark, before he became King of England, and on his death each of his three sons got a kingdom.  Sweyn got Norway, Hardicanute, his son by Emma, got Denmark, and Harold, surnamed “Harefoot,” got England.  But the English people wanted Hardicanute, perhaps because he had been born among them.  So there was a dispute between him and Harold, and it ended in the kingdom being once more divided.  Harold got the north, while Emma ruled for her son Hardicanute in the south.  Edward, the son of Ethelred, came over to claim the crown, as he had a right to do; but finding his mother against him, he got back again to Normandy as quickly as he could.  His brother Alfred was taken and cruelly slain.

In six years, however, both Harold and Hardicanute were dead, leaving nothing to record about them, except that the one was a great hunter, and that the other was a great drunkard, and that neither of them was worthy to reign.  And so our line of Danish kings came to an end.


A.D. 1041 to 1065.

ON the death of Hardicanute, Edward, the son of Ethelred, who had come over on the death of Canute, and been sent back again so speedily by his mother Emma, was chosen king by the whole people: and the first thing he did was to send his mother, who had opposed him strongly, away from the country.  Edward had been born in England, but he had lived all his life in France, and so he cared more for French people and French ways than for English people and English ways.  He brought over a great many Normans with him, and he was always giving away English lands and English bishoprics to his French followers.  At this time there was a great earl in England called Godwin.  He had helped to govern for Hardicanute, and now he helped to govern for Edward, who spent most of his time in building churches and praying, and utterly neglected his duty as a king; as we know well that to build churches and say prayers are of no use unless people also do their duty.  Earl Godwin had six sons, and one beautiful daughter, who became the wife of Edward, and was treated very badly by her husband.  So the king began to lose the favour of his people, while Earl Godwin gained it more and more.

The king’s sister was married to a Frenchman, Eustace, Count of Boulogne.  This count came over to England to see what he could get from Edward; and after staying some time at the English court, where he was made much of, Count Eustace set out to go back to Boulogne.  He had come to Dover with a train of armed men at his heels, and he and they thought to lord it over the Dover folks as they liked.  They went into the houses, and wanted to be lodged and fed and waited upon, as if the houses had been their own and the people had been their servants.  One brave man whose house they came to would not submit to this; he stood at his door and said they should not come in.  Then one of the soldiers of Count Eustace drew his sword and wounded the Dover man; but the stout Englishman killed him on the spot and shut his door.  Then Count Eustace and all his men rode up and forced open the door, and killed the man in his own house.  Next they rode through the streets, cutting and slashing and knocking down men, women, and children, till the men of Dover took up arms and fought with them; and after killing nineteen and wounding several others, drove them out of the town.  Then the count in a great rage made haste to Gloucester, where the king was, and complained to him that the men of Dover had slain his people.  This made the king very angry, and he sent for Earl Godwin, who was lord of Dover, and told him to go at once and punish them.  But the bold earl answered, “I will do no such thing.  No man in my earldom shall be punished without fair trial.”  And he bade the king do justice, and hear both sides in the court of law, which was the right and proper way.  Instead of doing this, the anger of the king turned on Earl Godwin himself; and very soon after he caused him and his sons to be banished, and their estates
taken from them.

While Earl Godwin was away Edward invited William, Duke of Normandy, the grandson of Richard, Duke of Normandy, his mother Emma’s brother, to visit him, and William came, and liked England very much indeed, and no doubt made up his mind to get possession of it some day.

Earl Godwin wanted to come back again, and would gladly have come peaceably, for he did not want to fight with the king if he could help it; he would much rather fight for him.  But the king and his favourites would not have Godwin back peaceably; so he came with many ships, and sailed up the Thames.  But when the king found that his soldiers would not fight against Earl Godwin’s soldiers, he was forced to make peace with him.  Accordingly the Parliament met, and decreed that the earl should have all that he had asked for, so he was once more Lord of the West Saxons, and his son Harold Lord of the East Angles, and between them they had more power than the king.  This power they used to destroy the king’s enemies.  They fought against the Scotch and the Welsh, and kept them out of England.  Edward was glad to take them into favour again, that they might help him to reign, for he found that he was not able to do without help.  Very soon, however, the old earl died, and his son Harold took his place.  He was even more powerful than his father, and people loved him and served him better.  He was brave, and yet mild and generous, wise and liberal and faithful; one of the noblest of Englishmen.  He was called the “Under-king.”

One day, when Harold was at sea in one of his ships, he was driven by a storm upon the French coast, and taken prisoner by the Count of Ponthieu, who wanted a great ransom for his life.  Harold found means, however, to send to Duke William of Normandy, and tell him of the treatment he was receiving in his country.  Then William ordered Harold to be sent to him at once, and he received him with hospitality, such as was due from one noble to another.  But he, too, wanted something.  He told Harold that as soon as Edward was dead he meant to claim the English crown, and that he, Harold, must swear to support him.  So Harold swore, and soon after returned to England.

A few weeks after this Edward died.  He was not a bad man, only a rather foolish one.  However, he did two great things during his reign: he built Westminster Abbey, and he collected all the best laws, both Saxon and Danish, and caused them to be written in a book that the people might be judged righteously.  On his death-bed he recommended Harold to be king, and the people chose Harold, and he accepted the kingdom in spite of his oath to William, which he ought never to have made, only in that case he might not have been allowed to get away so easily.


A.D. 1066 to 1087.

WILLIAM was hunting in his park at Rouen when word was brought to him that Edward was dead and buried, and Harold crowned King of England.  When he heard the news he rode back to his palace, and sent a message to Harold, calling on him to keep his oath, and give up the crown to him.  Of course Harold would not and could not if he would.  He answered that it was not his to give.  William then got all his barons together, and promised them land and possessions in England if they would follow him and help him to win the English crown.  So they followed him, each with his armed men, making altogether a great army.  But they would never have landed in England if Harold had had fair play.

Harold had a treacherous brother named Tostig, who had wanted to take the half of the kingdom, and who chose this time to make war on him.  He had brought over another Harold, King of Norway, to help him, and they had taken the city of York.  So there was nothing for Harold but to march against them, which he did without stopping day or night.  At Stamford Bridge he met the rebels, and fought a great battle, which he gained; and in this battle both Tostig and the King of Norway were killed.

This took place on the 25th of September, 1066, and four days after William landed in England, before Harold had time to get back to the coast and prevent him.  He landed at Pevensey, in Sussex.  There was no one there to hinder him, and he marched on to Hastings and encamped on the hill, where the ruins of a castle which he afterwards built are still standing.  An English gentleman who had seen the Normans land, took horse and rode away day and night to York, where Harold was resting after the battle of Stamford Bridge.  When he heard the tidings, Harold said, “This is ill news indeed.  Would I had been there to guard the coast, and Duke William never should have landed; but I could not be here and there at the same time.”  Then he made all haste to London with his army, and called on the whole nation to come and fight against William and the Normans.  He stayed a few days in London gathering men to him from all parts of the kingdom, but especially from the south and the east.  His two remaining brothers joined him, and his uncle, though he was an abbot, came, and brought twelve of his monks, who put soldiers’ harness over their priests’ dress.

Harold marched south till he came to Battle, near Hastings.  It is called Battle now in memory of the great fight, but it was then called Senlac.  It was a wild, lonely hill when Harold posted his soldiers there, and he fenced the hill round with a palisade, and told them to keep their posts firmly inside; for the Normans had a great many horse-soldiers, while the English fought on foot, and if they had met on a plain the Normans would have ridden down the English before they could use their battle-axes; but posted on a hill, they could cut down the Normans as they came up.

On the 13th of October, early in the morning, the battle began.  William took up his post on another hill, from which he could see the English.  Opposite stood Harold, on foot, beside his standards.  One, the old ensign of Wessex, was a golden dragon; the other, Harold’s own, was a fighting man wrought in gold, and adorned with precious stones.  The king had his axe in his hand, and his brothers and friends stood ready to fight by his side.  You may see the very spot where they stood, for William built a great abbey there; the ruins of it are standing to this day.  The battle is known as the battle of Hastings.

Then William, who was on horseback, rode across the valley, and came to the foot of Harold’s hill, with his army in three divisions.  He led the middle one himself, that he might meet face to face with Harold, where he stood by the standards in the centre of his English army.  A minstrel, or singer, rode beside the duke, and asked leave to strike the first blow.  So this Taillefer went forward alone, mockingly singing and throwing his sword in the air.  Two of the English soldiers he killed, and then fell himself, and after that the Normans charged up the hill shouting, “God help us!”  The Norman foot-soldiers came on first, and then the horsemen, and they tried to break down Harold’s palisade, behind which his soldiers fought.  The Normans poured their arrows like rain, but the English shielded themselves, and hurled their javelins, and cut down with their axes every Norman who came near enough.  At last the Normans fled down the hill, and Harold had enough to do to keep his soldiers from following.  Some of them, indeed, did follow, and were slaughtered on the plain.  But the Normans were not beaten yet; Duke William led them on again fiercer than before, and now he was obliged to lead on foot, for his horse was killed under him by one of Harold’s brothers; but the crowd of fighting men round the standards was so thick that he was unable to get near enough to fight with Harold himself.  After some time Harold’s brothers were killed by his side, and part of the palisade was broken down, but still the standards stood, and Harold stood beside them wielding his terrible battle-axe.

Once again the Normans fled, and a great number of the English, in spite of the king’s orders, pursued.  But it was only a trap; the Normans quickly turned upon their pursuers and killed them, and charged up the hill a third time, Duke William at their head.  Then, when the duke saw how many Englishmen still stood firm round their king, he bade his archers shoot up in the air that the arrows might fall in their faces.  So the Norman archers sent a sudden flight into the air, and the arrows fell thick on the heads and faces of the English round their king.

One fatal arrow shot Harold through the right eye, and he fell wounded between the standards.  Where he fell the Norman knights rushed in, and many were killed fighting over the fallen king, whom they wounded to death.  At last the standards were beaten down, and in Norman hands.  The night came on, and Willialn had won the battle of Hastings.

In the gathering darkness the ground was hastily cleared, that the Conqueror’s tent might stand where Harold had stood and fought all day under the flags of England; and when the morning came Harold’s body could not be known, the dead were so hacked and disfigured.  His friends got leave to bury him by the coast; but they could not find him, till a lady who had loved him came and searched among the slain and found him, and he was buried, as William ordered, by the sea; but afterwards his body was removed to his own abbey at Waltham.

William had won the battle of Hastings, but he had not yet won England.  He had many a cruel deed to do first, and it kept him fighting up and down the country for full five years.  He took terrible vengeance upon all who resisted him, so that it was wonderful that the English held out so long.  He had to besiege York and Lincoln, Derby and Nottingham, Leicester, Warwick, Oxford, and many other places, and when they fell into his hands he gave them up to fire and sword.  He took away the lands of the English earls, and gave them to his Norman barons, who thus became owners of the greater part of the country.  A great number of the English nobles, who had thus been plundered, took refuge among the fens of Cambridgeshire, and formed a camp, which they called the “Camp of Refuge.”  They had for captain one Hereward, whose father had died while he was in Flanders, and whose property William had taken.  Hereward and his men held the fens for a time, till William made a road three miles long to reach them, and they were betrayed by the monks of Ely, and Hereward was defeated and slain.  William had conquered at last.



AFTER the death of Hereward the resistance of the English came to an end.  All who had joined in it William deprived of their estates, which he gave to Normans, on condition that they served him by bringing each so many men to fight his battles.  He caused a great book to be prepared, in which he entered the names of all who held land in England, with the value of their estates, that he might know how much he could take from each, and how much service they could give.  And the Normans, who had much more land than they could manage, gave it out again to others, who served them as they served the king, and were bound to bring them fighting men and horses when they were wanted.  This system was called the feudal system.  It had never been known in England before, and was hateful to the people, being as it was a kind of bondage.

William was a tyrant in every sense.  You know that he was French himself, and therefore spoke a language the English people did not understand.  Yet he caused this language to be spoken in the courts of law and taught in the schools.  But the people would not give up the Saxon speech, and many of the Normans learnt it, so that gradually the two languages got mixed together and out of the mixture grew our English, which is, however, far more Saxon than it is Norman, just as the nation is.

You will remember that the king was hunting when he heard the news of Edward’s death.  He was specially fond of this pastime, and when he came to England he took for his own the noble natural forests owned by former kings.  But these were not enough for him.  To make another forest he depopulated great part of the county of Hampshire — that is, he drove out all the poor people, and took their farms and gardens, and left them to starve.  He also made it law that any man who shot a hare, or a deer, or a wild boar, which every man in England had been free to do, was to have his eyes put out.  He was truly an oppressor of the poor, and one who wrote in those times set down that “he was afflicted by the just judgment of God,” when his children rebelled and even fought against him.

He had promised his son Robert the government of Normandy, and as he seemed in no hurry to give it up, the young man became discontented.  One day his two brothers, William and Henry, threw some water at him in jest.  He drew his sword and rushed up-stairs after them, and but for their father’s interference, would have killed them.  That very night he rode away with his followers and tried to take one of his father’s castles.  He got some of the Norman nobles to join him, and at last William was obliged to go to war with his own son, and besiege him in one of his own castles.  On one occasion Robert nearly killed his father.  He had come out of the castle to fight with the besiegers, and he threw one of them off his horse to the ground.  It was the king, and when Robert saw who it was, he fell at his feet and begged his forgiveness, and gave him his own horse.  The king, it is said, rode away sullenly; but soon after he forgave his son, though he never was very cordial with him.

William’s next trouble was a war with the King of France; and this only came to an end with his death.  As he was riding through the town of Mantes, which he had set on fire, his horse stumbled among the burning ruins and threw him forward on his saddle, giving him a deadly hurt.  He had become fat and sickly before this, and he knew that his end was come.  He was carried to a monastery near Rouen, where he lay for six weeks dying, thinking with bitter remorse on all the evils he had done.  He gave money to many English churches in token of his repentance, and released the prisoners who had lain in his prisons for years, among others his own brother.  It is said that his servants left his dead body on the ground for hours, while they plundered everything they could, and not one of his sons came to lay him in his grave.


AD. 1087 to 1100.

THE Conqueror had made a will, in which he left Normandy to Robert, England to his second son William, and five thousand pounds — worth a great deal more in those days — to his third son, Henry.  William (who was called “Rufus” from having red hair) was as great a tyrant as his father; but not so great a man.  He was cruel, as his father had been; but he was also base and inconstant, unjust and false.  He and his brothers were never good friends.  First he went to war with Henry and Robert, and then Robert and he went to war against Henry.  Then he went to war with Robert alone, after Henry had been defeated and ruined.  I will not enter into their selfish quarrels, but one story I will tell you and that is all.  While Robert and he were besieging Henry, in his castle on St. Michael’s Mount, in Normandy, the water in the castle ran short, and those who were in it, Henry among them, were in great distress.  When Robert heard of it, he not only gave Henry’s people leave to come and draw water outside the castle, but he sent him some wine as a present.  At this William was very angry, but Robert replied, “Where shall we get another brother when he is gone?”

This Robert, who you see was generous, though he was very wild and reckless, and made a bad ruler, afterwards sold Normandy for five years to his brother William for ten thousand pounds, in order that he might join the first crusade, which in that year, 1096, was setting out for the Holy Land.

I must tell you something about these crusades.  You have heard already that it was held to be a pious thing; to go to Rome and pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. Ethelwulph, the father of Alfred the Great, went and took Alfred with him when he was quite a child.  It was counted pious to make the pilgrimage to Rome; but very much more so to go to Jerusalem and pray at the tomb of Christ himself.  Now Jerusalem and the Holy Land had been for many years in the hands of the Turks, who did not believe in Christ at all, and when the pilgrims came the Turks would not let them enter the Holy City without paying large sums of money, which many of them who were poor, and had come hundreds of miles on foot, could not afford to do.  Moreover, the Turks were very cruel to the Christians who fell into their hands, and caused many of them to die miserably.  Only a few came back from Jerusalem; but there was one called Peter the Hermit who did and he went straight to the pope at Rome, and told him what the Christians were made to suffer at the hands of the Turks.  From the pope, Peter got leave to reach a crusade — that is, to call upon all good knights and Christian men to go to war against the infidels.  Peter the Hermit went from town to town preaching so eloquently that the people cried, “It is the will of God,” and hundreds left everything to go and fight in the holy war.  They were called Crusaders because they wore the sign of the cross upon their arm.

A great many, however, went only for adventure and plunder; for when the first army of Crusaders passed through Hungary, they behaved so badly that the people of that country rose and slew a vast number of them in self-defence.

Among the knights who joined the Crusade, and thought that in slaying the Turks they were serving Christ, was Godfrey of Bouillon, who had pledged his estates, like Robert of Normandy, to raise money for the war, and who fought so bravely, and was at the same time so gentle and so just, that when at last Jerusalem was taken, the Crusaders wished him to be king.  King of Jerusalem Godfrey would not be: he said he would not wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns.

I must now tell you something concerning chivalry.  This was an institution that began to flourish about this time, chiefly in France, and greatly to improve both manners and morals.  The young knight, who was to be trained in chivalry, was very early sent into the service of some noble household, sometimes as early as six years old.  Till he was fourteen he served the ladies of the house, from whom he learnt gentle manners.  He had to fetch and carry, like a little servant or page as he was called, even though he might be of princely blood.  He learnt to consider service noble — a feeling which, we need very much to cultivate in our days.  When he was fourteen, he rode out with his lord and master, and waited on him.  When he was twenty-one he became a knight himself.  He received a sword and armour, and he had to watch and pray one whole night beside them in the church before he put them on.  When he put them on he had to swear “to speak the truth, to succour the helpless and oppressed, and never to turn back from his enemies.”  Then his sword was girded on, and spurs were buckled on his heels.  It was thus that such men as Godfrey of Bouillon were trained.

William Rufus grew more and more covetous.  He wrung money out of the Normans, just as he had wrung money out of the English, by every means in his power.  But while his brother Robert was still in Palestine he died, and all the money he had gathered availed him nothing.  He was shot in that very forest which his father had made in his cruel oppression of the poor.  Men said there was a curse upon it; for one of the king’s family had already perished there.  The king was out hunting, and the last time he was seen it was with one Sir Walter Tyrrel.  They got separated by chance from the rest of the party, and some time after the king’s dead body was found by a poor charcoal-burner, shot through with an arrow.  The charcoal-burner put it in a cart and took it to Winchester where it was buried.  As Tyrrel was the person last seen with the king, it is probable that the arrow came from his hand, whether by design or accident it is impossible to say; but the story goes that Tyrrel shot at a hart they were chasing, and the arrow glancing off a tree struck the king in the breast and pierced him to the heart.


A.D. 1100 to 1135.

HENRY, the youngest son of the Conqueror, who for his learning was called “Beauclerc,” or fine scholar, now seized the crown, which, according to his father’s will, was Robert’s.  Robert came home through Italy, and married a lovely lady on his way, and was in no hurry to claim the crown of England; and when at last he did come to claim it, and found Henry firm in possession of it, he became reconciled to him, and let him keep it, Henry promising to pay him a certain sum of money every year.

Henry had no intention of keeping his promise; indeed, he never kept any of his promises.  His learning had not taught him truth, nor yet mercy nor justice, for he treated his brother Robert shamefully.  He picked a quarrel with him, invaded his duchy of Normandy, took him captive, and brought him to England.  He shut him up in Cardiff Castle, in Wales, where he at first allowed him some liberty; but one day Robert tried to escape, and then the cruel Henry ordered him to be blinded and kept in a dungeon for the rest of his life.  In that dungeon, old and blind and in misery, died, years afterwards, he who had been the gay and gallant Robert, Duke of Normandy.

Meanwhile Henry had married a Saxon princess.  She was the daughter of the King of Scotland, and her mother was the daughter of Edward, one of the princes — sons of King Edmund — who, you will remember, were taken to Hungary to save them from Canute the Dane.  She was called Maud or Matilda the Good, and desired nothing so much as the welfare of her country.  She had one son and one daughter, but she died while they were still young.  Her daughter Matilda was taken away from her when she was only five years old, and married to the Emperor of Germany, Henry V., who got with her a splendid dowry, which the people of England were taxed to supply.

Two years after Queen Maud’s death, her son, Prince William, then a youth of eighteen, was taken by his father into Normandy to be married to the daughter of the Count of Anjou, and acknowledged heir to the dukedom of Normandy.  Now the dukedom belonged of right to his cousin, a son of Robert’s, and the lady had been also promised to him, but that did not matter to Henry.  The young prince was married, and his succession so far secured, and all was in readiness for their return to England.

Then there came to King Henry a captain called Fitz-Stephen, and asked as a favour that he might carry the royal party over the Channel in a vessel of his which was manned by fifty famous sailors, and was called The White Ship.  “My father,” said the captain, “steered the ship in which your Majesty’s father sailed to conquer England.”

The king had already appointed a ship to take him over; but, willing to please the son of one who had served his father, he told Fitz-Stephen that he might have the prince and his company on board The White Ship, which could follow his own.

Then the king set sail, and the prince and all his company — a half-brother and sister, and a great many young Norman nobles — went on board The White Ship.  The prince, who was gay and dissipated, said to the captain, “How long can we stay behind and enjoy ourselves, and yet make up to the king’s ship?”  And the captain, proud of his ship and his sailors, said, “If we sail by midnight, we shall overtake the swiftest of the king’s ships before morning.”  So the prince ordered three casks of wine to be given to the fifty sailors, and he and all his company feasted and drank wine, and danced all the evening.  At last they left the harbour to have a race after the king’s ship, and overtake it before morning, and they had got near enough to cause a faint cry to be heard over the waters by those who were sailing with the king.  It was the cry of drowning men.  The White Ship, guided by unsteady hands, struck upon a rock, and speedily went down.  But first the captain sent the young prince and a few nobles off in a boat, saying, “We who are left must die;” and the boat had got safely away, when Prince William heard a cry from his half-sister, and made the boat turn again to save her.  But so many leapt into it that it filled and went down.  He who lived to tell the tale was only a poor butcher of Rouen, who was picked up by some fishermen in the morning.  Fitz-Stephen went down last, crying “Woe, woe!” when he heard that the prince and all his nobles, and all the sailors too, had sunk to rise no more."

No one dared to tell the king, and when at last they sent an innocent child to tell him, he fainted away, and it is said that he was never seen to smile again.

After this all his ambition was to get the English nobles to promise that his daughter Matilda should be queen after him.  Her husband the emperor was dead, and now Henry married her again to Geoffrey, the eldest son of the Count of Anjou, who was called Plantagenet, because he wore a sprig of broom in his cap.  Three sons Matilda bore to Geoffrey before her father died, which took place when he was sixty-seven, from eating too much of lampreys, one of his favourite dishes.


A.D. 1135 to 1155.

SINCE the times of the ancient Britons England had never had a queen; and now that Henry was dead many of the barons took the side of Stephen, who at once came forward to claim the crown.  He was the son of Henry’s sister Adela, and thus a grandson of the Conqueror; and he was handsome, brave, and good humoured besides; so that he got himself crowned at Westminster without much difficulty.  It was not until five years after that Matilda appeared in England with an army to dispute her cousin’s right to the crown, though it had been disputed for her already by the King of Scotland, her relative, who had twice invaded England on her behalf, and been defeated by Stephen.

The war which now began lasted for fifteen years.  It was the worst kind of war — a civil war.  It was no longer against foreigners, but against their own countrymen, that the English were fighting, one neighbour taking one side, and another taking the other, so that there was neither peace nor safety in England all those weary years.

Sometimes the one side was victorious, sometimes the other, but whichever way it went the people’s sufferings were the same.  At one time Stephen was a prisoner; then Robert of Gloucester, Matilda’s half-brother, and the commander of her army, was taken, and Matilda was glad to set Stephen free in exchange for him.  Afterwards Matilda was shut up in Oxford, and got away only by dressing herself and one or two attendants all in white, and stealing out over the snow and across the frozen river.  At last she withdrew to Normandy.

Then Henry, her son, came over to continue the struggle.  He was very young, but already Duke of Normandy, and possessed of great estates in France besides through his wife Eleanor, the divorced wife of the King of France.

The rival armies of Stephen and Henry met at Wallingford, on the Thames.  The river yet ran between them, but there was every chance of another desperate fight.  Then it came into the head of an English earl, Arundel, that it was a pity that all this fighting should go on merely for the sake of these two princes.  Earl Arundel spoke his mind, and it appeared that there were many on both sides who thought with him when once he had spoken: for the end of it was that Stephen and Henry Plantagenet went down to the bank of the river and agreed over it to terms, which were afterwards settled in a great council at Winchester.  These terms were that Stephen should keep the crown, and that Henry should come after him.  What a pity there is not often an Earl Arundel to start up, and declare it unreasonable for people to fight and kill each other for the benefit of ambitious princes.

Henry had not long to wait, for in one year after the peace Stephen died.  Under the four Norman kings, of which he was the last, England had been very unhappy.  It was far less free and enlightened — that is, speaking of the whole people — than under the Saxon kings, and it had been desolated everywhere by Norman tyranny and greed.  The common people were little better than slaves, and the castles of the barons, their masters, were often dens of cruelty and vice.

There was great rejoicing among the people when Henry came to the throne, for though he was born and bred in France he had English blood in his veins, and he had already given promise of future greatness.  Six weeks after Stephen’s death, he and his queen Eleanor were crowned at Winchester.  Henry the Second began at once to do a king’s work.  He sent away all the foreign soldiers whom his mother and Stephen had brought into the country, and then with a royal army he went through the land doing justice on the wicked barons, who had been so cruel to the people, making them pull down their castles and give up their lands.

With his wife’s estates and his own, Henry was Lord of nearly a third of France, and his possessions in that country gave him a great deal of trouble, and led him into many wars.  But I am not going to tell you much about them at present.  I am going to give you an account of another great man who lived at this time.  He was not a king, but a churchman and Archbishop of Canterbury: his name was Thomas à Becket.



THOMAS À BECKET was the son of a London merchant and a Saracen lady, and the story of how they came together is a very curious one.  The London merchant had gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and had fallen into the hands of a Saracen lord, who kept him prisoner, but treated him very kindly, while the Saracen lord’s daughter fell in love with him altogether, and was ready to fly with him and be a Christian and his wife.  The merchant returned her love; but when a chance of escape offered he ran away without her — perhaps he could not help himself.  At all events it did not weaken the lady’s love, for soon after she fled from her father’s house and made her way to the sea-shore, determined to find her lover.  She knew only two words of English — her lover’s name, which was Gilbert, and London, the city where he dwelt.  So she went among the ships crying, “London, London,” till she made the sailors understand that she wanted to get there, and would pay them with her jewels.  The sailors took her on board and brought her to London.  There she went through the city crying, “Gilbert, Gilbert,” a hopeless enough errand, one would think; but in those days London was not so big as it is now, for it reached no farther west than Ludgate Hill.  The poor Saracen lady had collected a crowd round her in the street, and they were making a rude noise, no doubt, when Gilbert à Becket’s servant, Richard, who had been with him in Palestine, and escaped with him too, looked out at a window to see what it was about. When he saw who it was, he ran to his master, crying, “ Master — master, the Saracen lady!” The merchant went to the window next, and when he saw her his heart was moved, and he ran down into the street and took her in his arms, where she fainted away. After such a proof of constancy and affection the merchant made her his wife, and her only son became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thomas à Becket was, in his youth, clever and ambitious.  He had been sent to France to complete his education, and soon after his return he found favour with Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who made him an archdeacon, and sent him to Rome.  When Henry the Second came to the throne, Thomas à Becket was presented to him as one who had served the cause of his mother, and very soon he was in high favour with the king, and in a few years became Chancellor of England and Warder of the Tower, two of the highest offices the king could give.

These appointments enabled him to live in great magnificence.  He had seven hundred men at arms for a guard, lived in a palace, dined off costly plate.  The very trappings of his horses were of silver and gold.  When the king sent him as ambassador to Paris, the people said, “How magnificent the King of England must be when this is only his chancellor!”  Two hundred and fifty singing boys went first before him; then his hounds were led in couples; followed by eight wagons, each drawn byfive horses, filled with his plate and the clothes of his servants; then came twelve horses, each with a monkey on its back; and then a train of beautiful war-horses, with splendid trappings; falconers followed with their birds upon their wrists; last of all came knights and gentlemen and priests, and in the midst the chancellor himself. Thomas à Becket was the chosen companion of the king, who, though he was no jester, would sometimes joke with the chancellor about his grandeur.  Once as they were riding through the streets of London together, when it was wet and cold, the king saw an old beggar shivering in their path.  “Would it not be well,” he said, “to give this poor man a warm cloak?”  The chancellor said it would, and praised the king’s charitable thoughts.  “Then,” replied the king, “you shall have the merit of the charity,” and he took hold of the chancellor’s new cloak lined with costly ermine, pulled it off and gave it to the beggar, the chancellor resisting with all his might till he saw the king was in earnest.

Then it came to pass that the Archbishop of Canterbury died, and Henry resolved to make Thomas à Becket archbishop in his place.  This was not so much favour as policy on Henry’s part.  He wanted to place at the head of the Church one who was devoted to him, that he might bring the Church to order.  The clergy were very numerous and powerful in those days, and they had begun to say, “We will have no master but the pope.  We will not obey the king.”  Now unlimited power is nearly as bad for clergymen and kings as it would be for boys and girls; and a great many bad men had gone into the Church and had begun to defy the king to punish them, even when they murdered people.

So the king thought Thomas à Becket would help him; but, lo! no sooner was he made archbishop than he became a completely changed man.  He who had been all for the king became all for ### the Church, and would not let the king interfere in its affairs at all. He changed entirely his way of life; he turned away his gay followers, he ate coarse food, and wore coarse and dirty sackcloth, and lived in a little cell. All the people were soon talking about the holiness of the archbishop, but you know there is no holiness in dirt and starvation, which ought only to be endured under some high and noble necessity.

The king was angry-and astonished at this extraordinary change, but Thomas à Becket soon gave him more real cause for anger. A gentleman of Kent appointed a priest to one of the churches on his estate, and rejected the priest sent by the archbishop. For this the archbishop excommunicated him that is, cast him out of the Church.  The gentleman complained, for though the curse even of an archbishop is worthless and wicked, and directly in opposition to the commandment of Christ, still it made people’s lives a burden to them, by making all their neighbours avoid them like the plague.  The king told the archbishop to take off the curse, but this the archbishop refused to do.

Then a priest committed a horrible murder, and the king demanded that he should be given up to justice, but this demand was also resisted.

The king did not know what to do.  He called a council, at which he summoned the archbishop to appear, and required of him that he should promise obedience to the laws of the realm. But Becket would only consent to this so far as they did not affect the privilege of his order. The other priests were willing to give in, and entreated him to do the same, but nothing would move him.

At last the king called him to account for some money which had passed through his hands.  The archbishop came to the court in his splendid robes, carrying his great cross, and sat down in the hall, refusing to answer to the king.  The bishops renounced him as their superior, and he answered, “I hear,” and made no other reply.

But with all his courage he felt that it was no longer safe for him to stay in England, so he fled away abroad, and there he was as troublesome as ever, writing letters and stirring up strife continually.  When the king went over to France to put down an insurrection among his subjects there, Thomas à Becket took the opportunity of going to a church, and cursing a great many of the king’s friends, which put Henry in a fearful passion, as I dare say Thomas à Becket intended it should.  However, after this he promised to submit, and accordingly the king met him and offered him back his archbishopric and revenues, and they parted, to outward appearance, good friends.

The fact was the king was in a difficulty.  He had made him archbishop, you see, and could not unmake him, and the pope was taking his part, and threatening to lay all England under an interdict — that is, to shut up the churches, and let nobody be married, or baptised, or buried with religious service. So the archbishop came back to England, and was well received by the poor people, who thought him a saint.

But he brought over two sentences of excommunication from the pope — one for the Archbishop of York and the other for the Bishop of London, and he very soon published these, and issued others himself against several people who had insulted him on his return.  When the king heard of this he fell into a violent rage, and cried out hastily, “Will no one deliver me from this turbulent priest?”

Then four of Henry’s knights who had heard this hasty speech went out from his presence, and swore a secret oath to rid the king of Thomas à Becket.  They rode away, and came to Canterbury five days  after Cliristmas.  The archbishop was at dinner when they entered his house, and they went in and sat down.  Then Becket asked what they wanted, and one of the four knights answered “We want the excommunication taken off the bishops, and you to answer for your treason to the king.”  Becket replied that the Church was above the king, and that they might threaten, but he would not yield.  “We will do more than threaten,” said the knight, and went outside the door with his companions.  On this the archbisphop‘s servants secured the door, and begged him to fly.  He refused; but just then the vesper bell began to toll, and he rose and went by the cloisters into the cathedral, with his cross carried before him, and everything as usual, as though there were no armed men battering at the doors of his palace.

The church was almost dark, except for the candles on the altar, when the knights and their followers came in, crying, “Where is the traitor?”  He made no answer till they cried, “Where is the archbishop?” and then he stood forward into the light in front of the altar, and said, proudly, “Here I am; but here is no traitor.”  Then one of the knights struck at him with an axe.  His cross-bearer stood by his side, and took the first blow, intended for his master, on his arm, so that it only wounded the archbisphop‘s face; but when the second blow descended, he bowed his head, and commended his soul to God.  Then the four knights fell upon him with their swords, and finished their fierce work, leaving the archbishop’s body lying across the steps in front of the high altar.

The conspirators rode away with evil consciences, for they had done a cruel and cowardly deed in murdering an unarmed old man and a priest.  They had cause to repent it bitterly, for they were despised and shunned by all, and the king for whom they had done it condemned their deed.  Many stories are told of the misfortunes that befell them, and it is said that at last they went away to Jerusalem as pilgrims, and never came back again.  There is no reason to suppose that Henry desired the murder of Becket, but certainly his hasty words were the cause of it, as he himself allowed.  In token of repentance for this he walked barefooted to the tomb of the archbishop, and caused the priests to scourge him as he knelt before it.


A.D. 1155 to 1189.

HENRY had four sons — Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John, all of whom, one after the other, as soon as they reached manhood, rebelled against their father, and at last broke his stout heart.  Henry, the eldest son, began his rebellion when he was only eighteen.  His father had allowed him to be crowned, and had married him to the daughter of the King of France.  The young prince would not be satisfied until she was crowned as well, and then he tried to persuade his father to give up to him part of his dominions.  Being refused this, he stole away by night, and went to the King of France, his brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, following after him.  These bad sons had a bad mother, Queen Eleanor, who had advised them to rebel, and she tried to escape also; but she was caught, and sent to prison, where she was detained for sixteen years.

Then many of the wicked, disorderly barons, whom you remember Henry punished and put down, joined the princes, so also did the King of France; but Henry soon made the French king glad to sue for peace, and beat the army which his son Richard led against him.  Then he was recalled to England to fight against the King of Scots, who had invaded the country in his absence.  He defeated the Scotch army, and took the Scotch king prisoner; but no sooner had he accomplished this than he was forced to hurry back to Normandy, where his sons were again in arms against him.  He defeated them, though they were all three united; and when they gave in he forgave them.  But the very next year Prince Henry broke all his promises, and rebelled again; again submitted, was again forgiven, and again rebelled.  At last he fell sick, and sent messengers to his father praying for forgiveness for the last time, for he was going to die.  But the king’s friends would no longer trust him, and so persuaded the king not to go to his son.  Then the king sent a ring and a message of pardon, and the misguided young prince died, kissing the ring and confessing how wicked he had been.

Three years after, Geoffrey died at a tournament, or sham fight — only in those days they fought in play nearly as hard as in earnest.  He left a widow, Constance, and a little son, Arthur, of whom you will hear more presently.  There were now only Richard and John left.  John, who had never rebelled as yet, was his father’s favourite.  “He,” the king thought, “will never be undutiful to me.”

Now that Prince Henry was dead Richard wanted to be crowned heir, as Henry had been; he also demanded his wife, the sister of the French king, Philip the Second, whom Henry was keeping in England, wishing, perhaps, to marry her to his favourite son John.  On these pretexts Richard took the field against his father, and he was aided by the King of France.  But now King Henry was growing old, and weary of all this unnatural strife, and he was not so successful in this war.  He was obliged to consent to peace on the terms of the rebels.  When the treaty of peace was brought to him he was sick and in bed, but he caused it to be read over to him.  There was in the treaty a list of those who had been engaged against him, and whom he was required to pardon.  The first name upon the list was that of his favourite John.  Then the king’s heart fairly broke, I think.  He raised himself up, convulsed with anguish, and cried, “Is it true that John has deserted me? then I care no more for anything.”  He bade them carry him to Chinon to die.  As he lay dying he was heard to curse the day he was born, and to curse his sons.  The bishops and clergy who stood round his bed tried to make him unsay this last curse; but he persisted, and died with it on his lips.


A.D. 1189 to 1199.

ON his father’s death Richard ascended the throne.  He was endowed with extraordinary bodily strength, and was called Coeur-de-Lion — Lion-hearted — on account of his great courage.  On the day of his coronation there was a horrible massacre of the Jews in London, though for this he was not to blame, only he took so little pains to put a stop to or punish it, that the same thing occurred again and again in various towns in the kingdom.

Richard reigned only ten years, and he hardly spent as many months in England, so he has not very much to do with its history.  A few months after his accession he set out for the Holy Land, with all the English fighting-men he could muster and all the English money he could collect.  He sold the crown lands before he went away, and even the offices of state, and left his kingdom in charge of two bishops.  He was wise enough to trust none of the men who had helped him to rebel against his father.  He discarded them all; but he still kept up his friendship with Philip of France, who was to be his companion in this new crusade.

Richard stopped, on his way to Palestine, at Sicily, to secure the rights of his sister Joan, the widow of the Sicilian king, and at Cyprus for a time to punish the king of that island for ill-treating some of his soldiers who had been shipwrecked on its coast.  At last he arrived in Palestine, and no sooner was he there than he began to quarrel with Philip, who soon turned back to France, ill and disgusted.  No doubt Richard was very brave, and capable too of being generous; and it was thought the finest thing in those days to be able to wield a huge battle-axe and break everybody’s head who came in the way.  So according to the ideas of his age Richard was great.  He was the biggest and strongest man of his time, and he laid about him with a huge battle-axe and broke the heads of countless Saracens; and he worked at the defences like a common workman, and quarrelled with the Duke of Austria because he would not do the same.

Then the Crusaders made a three years’ truce with the sultan, Saladin, who was as good a fighter as Richard, and a truly noble-spirited man.  Under his protection the English were allowed to visit the tomb of Jesus Christ; and having secured this Richard turned towards home.  Being shipwrecked in the Adriatic, he determined to go overland through Germany; but he disguised himself so ill that he was taken prisoner by that very Duke of Austria whom he had insulted.  By him he was given up to the German Emperor, who kept him in prison, no one knew where.

A singular story is told concerning his discovery.  It is said that Blondel the minstrel, his faithful follower, wandered about Germany trying to find out where the king was detained, by singing the songs he knew under the walls of every castle he came to, and at last he came to the right one; for when he sang a captive answered, and then Blondel cried for joy, “O Richard! O my king!” and hastened to carry the tidings back to England.  At any rate they did not dare to kill Richard; but offered to release him on the payment of a great ransom.  This ransom was raised and Richard was set free, and was soon once more in England, after an absence of nine years.

He had need to be there, for things had been going wrong in his absence.  When kings put their duties into other people’s hands, their subjects are apt to think that they might do as well without them.  The two bishops Richard had left in charge had quarrelled with each other.  His brother John, with the help of Philip of France, had tried to make himself king, and the people had begun to murmur at the way in which they were taxed and misgoverned.

But the king did not remain long in England.  He went over to France to punish the French king for his treachery.  John came to him, abjectly begging pardon — which he got, but in rather contemptuous fashion, Richard himself being anything but treacherous.  The French War was still going on, when the Count of Limoges, one of Richard’s vassals, found a treasure in his field.  He sent the half of it to Richard, but this did not content the latter.  He would have it all.  The count refused.  Richard besieged his castle and met his death before its walls.  One Bertrand de Gourdon took aim at him with an arrow which lodged in his shoulder.  Richard’s army stormed the castle and hanged every man in it except Bertrand, whom they brought before the king.  The king was dying then, and he asked the young man, who stood boldly forward, “What have I done to thee that thou shouldst take my life?”  “What hast thou done to me?” was the swift answer; “with thine own hand thou hast killed my father and my two brothers.  Kill me as thou wilt, I know thou too must die, and through me the world is quit of a tyrant.”  “Youth,” said Richard, “I forgive thee; go unhurt.”

Then the king gave orders to set Bertrand free and to give him one hundred shillings; and he had hardly given the order when he sank exhausted, and shortly died.  His last command, I am sorry to say, was not fulfilled, for Bertrand de Gourdon was cruelly put to death.


A.D. 1199 to 1216.

WITHIN a few weeks after his brother’s death John was crowned at Westminster, and turned out to be one of the worst kings that ever sat on the throne of England.  It was to his nephew Arthur that the crown belonged according to Norman law; but Arthur was only a boy of twelve, and his uncle soon made up his mind to get rid of him.  The French king, Philip, pretended to take the poor boy’s part, but it was only for his own ends, and he gave up his cause when it suited him.

Arthur had stayed two years at the court of Philip, and during that time he had lost his mother — his father he had never known — when the king sent him out at the head of a handful of men to fight against his uncle John.  He began by besieging his grandmother, Eleanor, at Mirebeau, and she shut herself up in the castle and waited for John, who speedily came and took the poor young prince prisoner as he lay in his bed, and carried him off to prison in the castle of Falaise.  There he came to him, and asked him to trust in his kindness.  But the boy answered, “Give me back my inheritance first.”  So John went away, telling the warder to keep him close.  Soon after he sent two wretches to put out the boy’s eyes — a piece of horrible cruelty sometimes practised in those days.  But Arthur wept, and entreated Hubert de Burgh, the warder or keeper of the castle, to save his eyes, and Hubert, who already loved him, would not stiffer the cruel deed to be done.  Upon hearing this John removed the prince from Hubert’s care.

That Arthur was speedily murdered there is little doubt; how it was done is not so clear.  The story goes that King John saw it done with his own eyes to make sure of it; but whether this be true or not, there is no doubt that Arthur was taken to Rouen, and it is said that John came in the night with a hired murderer, and taking his nephew to the foot of the tower, had him stabbed and thrown into the river Seine, which runs under the castle walls.

The murder cost John dear enough.  Both in England and in France it caused him to be hated still more deeply.  The barons of Brittany, which was Arthur's inheritance, complained to the King of France, their feudal superior, and he cited John to appear and answer to the charge.  When he did not appear, he was condemned to forfeit all the lands which he held in France.  The English barons refused to fight in his cause.  John went over to France, but he was too much of a coward to make himself respected, and had to return to England covered with disgrace.

His next quarrel was with the English bishops, and the pope took their part, and sent a sentence of interdict and excommunication to John, and at last deposed him — that is, proclaimed him to be King of England no longer.  But when John, having been thoroughly frightened, yielded everything, even his very crown, which he promised to hold of the pope, then the pope turned round, and was ever after on the side of the base and wicked king.  But the pope had done one good thing: he had appointed Stephen Langton to be Archbishop of Canterbury, a great and good man, who set himself fearlessly against the king and his evil deeds.

Stephen Langton was the principal mover in the grand event of this reign, which was the obtaining of the great charter.  The king’s injustice and oppression were such as could no longer be submitted to.  When the barons met to complain, Stephen bade them demand a charter of their rights and liberties, and swear one by one, on God’s altar, to have it, or wage war upon the king.  It was this noble bishop who read to the king a list of his people’s wrongs, and told him that they were determined to have redress.  Then John tried falsehood, but Stephen Langton was not to be deceived.  The barons took arms, helped by the towns, especially by London, and only seven of their number remained by the king.  At last he promised to sign the charter, and the barons fixed the day and the place — the 15th of June and Runnymead.

They met there on the appointed day, in the year 1215.  The green meadow, under the open sky, where the Thames runs between Staines and Windsor, was crowded with people — barons, gentlemen, and commoners.  The king came from Windsor Castle, with only a few attendants and advisers.  The charter was signed — the great deed which is the root of all our liberties.  It provided that the king should respect the property and lives of his subjects, that no freeman should be imprisoned, or fined, or punished in any way, except by the judgment of his equals and the law of the land.

But John did not intend to keep the solemn promise which he had entered into by putting his name to the charter.  He sent for foreign soldiers, whom he smuggled into the country; he sent also to his friend the pope for help; he took Dover Castle, and wanted to hang every man in it; but the foreign soldiers would not let him hang the knights, so he had to content himself with hanging all the common people.  Through his own kingdom he went slaying, and burning, and spoiling, and even setting fire to houses with his own hands.  Then some of the barons, in despair, brought over the son of Philip, King of France, to make him king instead of John; but while this French prince was besieging Dover Castle the reign of John came suddenly to an end.

With the army which he had gathered against his people he was crossing the Wash, near Wisbeach, when the tide came up, and while he and his army narrowly escaped drowning, he saw his baggage-wagons, with his treasure and the crown of England, swallowed up by the waves.  Cursing his ill fortune, he hastened to an abbey in the neighbourhood, where he ate and drank immoderately, as was his habit, and lay all night in a burning fever.  Next day they had to carry him to the castle of Newark-upon-Trent, where he died miserably.


A.D. 1216 to 1272.

KING JOHN left an heir to the throne in his son Henry, who was only ten years old when his father died.  But though he was so young the barons preferred him to Prince Louis of France, who claimed the throne in right of his wife Blanche, daughter of John’s sister, Eleanor.  So they crowned Henry at Gloucester, naming as his guardian the Earl of Pembroke.  The earl was a good and wise man, and faithful to his trust.  He drove out the foreigners, and established Henry on the throne, but he had no sooner done this than he died.  After his death the barons began to behave very ill.  There was no one, while the king was still a boy, to restrain them, so they robbed their weaker neighbours, and even their young king, oppressed their vassals, and broke the great charter which they themselves had made.

When Henry grew to be a man he made a miserable king; he was not cruel like his father, but very weak and worthless.  All he wanted was money for himself and his favourites, and he would have taken it lawlessly, as his father had done, only the barons, though they broke the charter themselves, would not allow the king to break it.  They had made a law that the king was to tax his subjects, and not to take money from whomsoever he chose; but Henry abused this power so greatly that the barons had to make another law that the king should only tax the people with their own consent.  Now the knights, as well as the barons, were required to pay taxes; they were therefore called on to attend Parliament.

At last the barons took the power into their own hands, and appointed twenty-four of their number to govern for the king.  At first these barons ruled well, but they soon took to governing for their own ends, just as the king wanted to rule for his, and the people cried out against them.  It was like having a great many kings, which was worse than one.  This conduct of the barons brought over many to the king’s side, till at length war broke out between the barons and the king, and there was never peace again till Henry’s life and reign were nearly over.

The chief of the barons’ party was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who had once been one of the king's favourites.  He soon succeeded in getting Henry into his power, and he led him about from place to place almost like a prisoner.  But at Evesham, in Worcestershire, Leicester was met by an army commanded by Prince Edward, the king’s eldest son, and was totally defeated.  The old king had been forced into the battle by Leicester, and was very nearly being killed by one of Prince Edward’s soldiers, but just as the man was about to strike, he called out, “I am Henry of Winchester, your king.”  The soldier at once led him out of the battle to Prince Edward, who put him in a safe place, and then returned to the fight, in which he was completely successful.  Both Leicester and his son were killed, and their army dispersed.

Soon after this Prince Edward went away on a crusade to the Holy Land, taking with him his wife Eleanor, who was greatly attached to him.  It is said that one day he received a wound from a poisoned arrow, which might have proved fatal, but that she saved him by sucking the poison out of the wound with her own lips.

While Prince Edward was away in the Holy Land the old king died.  The great events of Henry’s long reign — he had been king fifty-six years — were the calling to Parliament of the knights, and then of the burgesses, to represent the towns.  This last took place in the year 1265, and made the first Parliament of the people.


A.D. 1272 to 1307.

EDWARD was proclaimed king while he was still in Palestine; but the country was at peace, and no one disputed his right.  When at length he came back to England, with his good wife Eleanor, who had nursed him when he was wounded in the Holy Land, he was joyfully received, for the people had great hopes that he would govern well.  And they were not disappointed, for Edward did govern well, and do good to his country, and he might have done much more, for he was wise and liberal and just; but he was very ambitious, and liked nothing so well as fighting.  His ambition made him do many cruel and some unwise and unjust things.  He wanted to make his kingdom larger than it was, and set his heart on joining to it Wales, which up to that time had been ruled by its own princes.  So he took advantage of the quarrels of the Welsh princes, which I need not tell you about here, and added Wales to the kingdom of England.  The last of the Welsh princes, and his brother also, he beheaded, and stuck their heads over the Tower gate in London.

But the Welsh nobles were still rebellious, and so to gain them over he promised that their next sovereign should be a prince born in their own country, and called upon them to come and acknowledge him.  When the Welsh nobles came, you may imagine that they were rather disappointed, for King Edward brought out to them his own son, who he said was born in Carnarvon Castle, and so was a native of the country.  However, they were bound to acknowledge the baby prince, and from that time the eldest son of the sovereign of England has always borne the title of Prince of Wales.

Four years after this King Edward told his Council that he had it in his mind to subdue Scotland, as he had subdued Wales; so he pretended that he had a right to be supreme Lord over Scotland.  Now, as the English kings had never had possession of Scotland, this was not true.  The Scottish kings, however, held what had once been part of England, for in the time of the Saxons even Edinburgh was an English town.  They had also part of Cumberland and Northumberland, for which they owed fealty, as it was called, to the English Crown, just as the Kings of England owed fealty to the King of France for their dominions there.

The people of Scotland had been making great progress under their native kings; but at the time when Edward set his mind on subduing the country, her last king had died childless.  His little granddaughter, who had been betrothed to Edward’s son, had died also, on her way from Norway, when she was only eight years old.  Several nobles laid claim to the crown of Scotland; but the choice really lay between two cousins, John Balliol and Robert Bruce. The first of these had the best right, according to birth, and him Edward supported.  In return John Balliol did homage to the King of England; and, so far as this could do it, gave up the independence of Scotland.

But Edward took every opportunity to insult the king whom he had placed on the Scottish throne. Balliol’s subjects, who had little respect for him, carried their complaints to Edward, and Edward was always calling him to account for his acts; and so reminding him that he was a king only in name.  At length he was provoked to resistance, which was just what Edward wanted.  Edward was at war with France, and he summoned the king and nobles of Scotland as his vassals, to fight against his foes.  Instead of obeying the summons, they held a Parliament, declared war against Edward, and entered into a treaty with the King of France.

Edward was now determined to dethrone Balliol and take Robert Bruce into favour, and Robert Bruce was willing to hold the crown on the same terms.  But in the meantime the Scottish nobles took matters into their own hands, shut up their make-believe king, and raised an army to defend their country.

On this Edward marched a large army into Scotland, and went as far north as Elgin, everywhere victorious.  He was no sooner safe back in England, however, than the Scots rose again.  They might be beaten, but they certainly were not conquered.  Edward found that he had all his work to do over again: for there had risen up in Scotland a hero, and all men were flocking to his standard.  This was Sir William Wallace.  He soon drove the English from the fortresses which they had taken, and at length gained a great victory over the English army at Stirling, and so restored his country to freedom.

At this time Edward was in Flanders engaged in a war with the King of France; but he at once concluded peace, and ordered the English barons, with every soldier that could be mustered, to meet him at York.  They waited for the king, who placed himself at the head of a hundred thousand men, and a second time invaded Scotland.  The Scottish army was greatly inferior, but Wallace met the English host and gave battle.  He lost the day, however, the English horse being four times the number of the Scotch.  Edward laid waste the country; but was compelled to retreat, as he could not find food for his army.  This was in 1298.  He was in Scotland again the next year, and again the year after that, always finding his work to do over again.  In 1303 the south country was once more won from the English, and Edward once more prepared to win it back, and take terrible vengeance on such troublesome people.

Again Edward was victorious; and the Scotch nobles, with the exception of Sir William Wallace, submitted.  The king set a price upon his head, and the hero was betrayed.  To his everlasting disgrace, Edward caused his noble opponent to be hanged as a traitor.  He was taken to Westminster Hall, crowned in mockery with laurels, dragged at the tails of horses to the gibbet, and there put to death with horrible cruelty.

It was a foolish as well as a wicked deed.  The whole Scotch nation burnt with fury to avenge it.  The younger Robert Bruce at once resolved to devote his life to his country, and the struggle began afresh.  Edward himself appeared at the head of his forces; but he was now an old man, worn out with toil and war.  On the border of Scotland he sank exhausted and died.

By his wars Edward had impoverished and oppressed his people; but by his wise laws he laid the foundation of England’s future greatness.


A.D. 1307 to 1327.

THERE is nothing great to tell of the reign of Edward the Second.  He was a foolish king, who spent his time in foolish pleasures and with foolish favourites, for whom he was ready to risk his very crown.  He married a princess of France, a beautiful but hard-hearted women, who became a wicked queen.  She hated the king’s favourites, and despised the king himself, till at last she joined the barons, who hated the favourites too, and went to war against her husband.  The poor weak king was imprisoned, and put to death with great barbarity, after having to undergo a long course of cruelty and insult.  In this reign Scotland entirely got back her independence, defeating the English in the famous battle of Bannockburn.


A.D. 1327 to 1377.

EDWARD THE THIRD was but a boy of fourteen when his father was put to death.  For some time he was in the hands of his bad mother; but before he was eighteen he had freed himself from her control and taken the government himself.  He shut his mother up in her own house, where he paid her a visit once a year.  He put to death the bad man who had caused her to seek her husband’s death.  Young Edward then began to re-establish authority and order in the kingdom.

The great fault of Edward’s character was his desire of making conquests: he was ambitious, and did not care how much misery he made to gain his ends.  War was his delight, and he was never at peace.  First he went to war with Scotland, though his own sister Jane was married to David Bruce, the young king of that country.  He fared just as his father had fared — defeated the Scots by force of numbers, returned to England, and had to go back and defeat them over again.  Next he went to war with France, because he said he had a better right to be King of France than the reigning king.  He claimed through his mother, who was the last remaining heir, in direct succession, of the French Royal Family, but she had no real right to the crown, because the French people had a very old law, called the Salic law, which forbade the sovereignty being held by a woman.  He won many battles, and gained much glory; but he inflicted the greatest misery on the people of France, and made them hate the English people for ages.

Two of the battles won by Edward, Crecy and Poitiers, were long the boast of Englishmen.  Both the king and his son, Edward, the Black Prince, fought at Crecy.  There were three times as many French as English, and the slaughter was terrible among the former.  Two kings fell on the battlefield, and nobles without number.  The prince, who was only sixteen, fought like a hero.  His father told him that he had shown himself worthy to be a king.

Ten years after the prince gained the victory of Poitiers.  This time the French were five to one, yet they lost the battle; many of their nobles were slain, and their king and his son taken prisoners on the field.  They were brought to the Black Prince in his tent, where he received them with the greatest politeness.  Supper was set before them, and the prince waited on them himself.  They were brought to England, where the king received them and treated them equally well, though King John of France remained prisoner in England for the rest of his life.  It all ended, however, in Edward the Third having to give up his unjust claim.  Nothing was left to him on French soil but the town of Calais, which was kept by England two or three hundred years longer, to be a constant trouble, and to be lost at last.

When Calais was taken, after the battle of Crecy, it had been besieged by the English for nearly a year, and its brave people were starving to death in the streets before they offered to give up the town.  This they did on condition that they were suffered to go free with their lives.  Edward was so angry at the trouble they had given him, that he wanted to hang all who were left, so he refused.  At last he said he would spare them if six of their chief citizens would bring him the keys of the city, bareheaded and barefooted, and with ropes round their necks, by which they were immediately to be hanged.  The townspeople made up their minds that they must die, when Eustace de St. Pierre, one of their chief men, offered himself, and then his son offered, and then four others.  And they went out from the city, bareheaded and barefooted, carrying the keys, and with the ropes which were to hang them round their necks.

When they came to King Edward, he ordered them to be hanged immediately; but his queen, Philippa, fell on her knees, and would not rise till he had promised to spare their lives, which at last he did, to the joy of the good queen.

In this reign lived Wickliffe, the first reformer.  You will hear a great deal about the Reformation in succeeding reigns.  A reformation means forming or making over again that which has fallen into disorder.  Wickliffe condemned the evil lives and misused wealth of the monks.  He studied the Scriptures for himself, and sent out his disciples — the poor priests or Lollards — to persuade the people to a simpler and purer worship than that of the time.  He was called upon to appear before the Bishop of London, and then John of Gaunt, the king’s son, stood forward as his defender.  Though he was loved in the country, Wickliffe was hated in London, and the mob, breaking in, brought the trial to an end, and burned John of Gaunt’s palace to the ground.

Towards the end of Edward the Third’s reign his son, the Black Prince, died.  He lost his health fighting in Spain to restore a perfect monster of cruelty to his throne, which he had no right to do.  One year after Edward himself died.  By his cruel and worse than useless wars he had done more harm than good, though he was one of the greatest kings of England.  Of all his conquests nothing remained in France, and a grandson of Robert Bruce, a Stuart, sat on the Scottish throne, placed there by the Scottish Parliament.


A.D.1377 to 1399.

RICHARD, the son of the Black Prince, was made king at eleven years old — a very bad thing for him, for he was so flattered and indulged by his mother and the courtiers that he was completely spoiled before he grew up.

When he had been king about five years there broke out in England an insurrection, or rising of the people.  It was caused in this way.  The people were still to a great extent slaves.  Their masters, the barons, treated them harshly and contemptuously, and the kings taxed them into the bargain.  But the people of the towns were free, and as the knowledge of freedom spread, so did the desire for it.  At this time a poll-tax — that is, a tax on every head — was to be collected, and this tax was more disliked than any other.  All who were over the age of fourteen were to pay.  One day the tax-gatherer called on Wat, or Walter, a tyler, and asked payment for each member of the family; he went into the cottage, and saw Wat’s wife and daughter, and the tax-gatherer said the latter was of age to be taxed.  Her mother said she was not, and the man took hold of the girl, and was so rude to her that she and her mother screamed aloud.  Wat Tyler heard their cries, and came running in, and when he saw his daughter in the hands of the brutal tax-gatherer, he gave him such a blow that he killed him on the spot.

Wat Tyler’s neighbours all took his part, and he placed himself at their head, proposing that they should go and tell the king how badly they were used, and get him to give them relief.  The company gathered as it went, and other companies came to join them from other counties, till when they drew near London they were as many as one hundred thousand men.  They made known that they wanted the king, and would yield to none but him; so the king came down the river to meet them at Greenwich, but they set up such a shout when they saw him that the timid courtiers were frightened, and made him turn back.

The mob were very angry at this, and came on to London, where they rioted all day, eating and drinking till their senses left them, and killing all the rich men, whom they supposed to be their enemies.  Then they were told that the king would meet them at Mile End, which he did, behaving with a good deal of spirit on the occasion.  And what do you think they begged for?  No doubt something very absurd, or very hard, you think.  They asked four things, the most reasonable in the world. (1) That they should no longer be slaves; (2) that they should be allowed to pay rent for their land, instead of service; (3) that they should buy and sell in the markets freely; (4) that they should be pardoned for what they had done.  Richard promised everything, though I am afraid he did not mean to keep his promise.  But Wat Tyler was not with them; he and his men were riding armed about the City, and while the rest of the insurgents were meeting the king, his party had killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Treasurer.

Next day the king came out again, with the Lord Mayor (Sir William Walworth) and sixty gentlemen. Wat saw him, and rode up to him, and not being too civil the Lord Mayor drew his sword, and killed him.  When his followers saw him fall they rushed forward, and would doubtless have made an end of king and mayor, and the rest; but the king went up to them, and said, “I will be your leader,” at which they all shouted for joy, and followed him.  It was a brave enough action for a boy, and encouraged people to hope that he would prove as brave a man as his father.  He led the crowd to a place where there was a large body of soldiers able to keep them in check; and the end of it was that the poor blind people got nothing but heavy punishments for their pains.  Everywhere their bodies were hung up in chains.  However, the poll-tax was remitted, and that was something.

Richard married a princess of Bohemia, who was called “the good Queen Anne,” and it was not till after her death that he began to lose his power; his uncles gave him a good deal of trouble, and he continued to punish them in his treacherous fashion.  After the death of Anne, Richard married a princess of France, who, poor child, was only seven years old.  From this time he became worse and worse, leading a life of riot and folly, and spending vast sums on his pleasures and vices.  He caused his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, to be killed; then he seized the property of his cousin, the Duke of Hereford, and, indeed, took every dishonest plan for getting money, till his subjects, high and low, were heartily tired of him.

During his absence in Ireland, that cousin whose property he had taken came back to claim it by force.  He was not opposed; on the contrary, welcomed, and finding everybody so tired of the king, he got the great nobles to join him, no doubt with the intention of winning the crown for himself.  When the king came back he found all the power in his cousin’s hands, who met him, and said he was going to help him to govern better, to which the king answered falsely he was well pleased.  He was then carried prisoner to Chester, and thence to London.

The Parliament was called, and the day before it met a deputation went to the king and asked him to resign.  He said he was quite ready to do it, and signed a paper, giving up his crown.  Perhaps he meant treachery, as usual; but he was kept a close prisoner in Pomfret Castle, where he died, some say was murdered.

The Parliament crowned his cousin as Henry the Fourth.


A.D. 1399 to 1413.

HENRY THE FOURTH, being descended from a younger son of Edward the Third, had really no right to the throne, except the choice of the people, which, indeed, was the best of all rights; but the throne had long been hereditary, and there were many who considered Henry a usurper.  The French king would not acknowledge him, nor yet the King of Scots.  He was surrounded with enemies, who threatened his life, and made the beginning of his reign full of trouble.  Richard had been hidden away no one knew where, till his body was brought from Pomfret Castle, and shown to the people.  This did not do away with the idea that he had been murdered.  His poor little queen, after much delay, was sent back to her friends in France, but Henry had stolen her jewels and kept her dowry; he was mean and covetous and grasping, though he was a good deal wiser than poor Richard had been.

Henry the Fourth invaded Scotland, but the Scots prevented his getting any provisions, so he was soon starved out, and had to retire.  It is to his honour that in this war he was more humane than any king who had gone before him, taking care that his army should neither pillage nor destroy; he burnt no villages, and he killed no peaceful people.  He put down rebellion in Wales and in the north of England, and at length had peace in the land.  But he had no peace in himself: he was a miserable man, and soon he became afflicted with a dreadful disease, which disfigured his face so that he would not allow himself to be seen.  He died in the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster, having taken a fit while at prayer in the abbey.  It was he who introduced into England the horrible practice of burning heretics — that is, those who did not believe about religious things exactly what the bishops wanted them to believe.


A.D. 1413 to 1422.

HENRY THE FIFTH was twenty-four when his father died.  He was brave and handsome, but there was not much hope that he would be a good king, for he had spent his time with a number of wild companions in the taverns and on the very highways.  Still the people loved him, for he was frank and generous, even in his maddest pranks.

But no sooner was his father dead than he gave up all his follies.  Perhaps he thought how serious a matter it was to have the welfare of a nation depending upon him.  He called together his wild companions, and told them that he was no longer their companion, but their king, and that they could only become his friends by following his example, and becoming grave and virtuous men.

Those who had fawned on him and flattered him he turned from in disgust, while those who had honestly rebuked his follies he favoured.  Chief among the latter was Judge Gascoigne.  One of the prince’s companions had been brought before the judge, charged with a crime, for which he was justly put in prison.  The prince appeared before the judge, and demanded that his companion should be set free.  The judge refused to do anything so contrary to justice, and the prince drew his sword and threatened him.  Upon this the judge quietly ordered him to be marched off to prison himself, telling him that he was the greatest offender of the two, for that he was bound, as a prince, to maintain the law, instead of setting it at defiance.  Accordingly to prison he was taken, acknowledging that the judge was right.  And this same judge became afterwards one of his chief friends and advisers.

Henry remembered poor King Richard’s kindness to him, and gave him an honourable burial in “the Abbey.”  He pardoned all who had been concerned in the rebellions against his father, and instead of treating the young Earl of Marche who was the heir of Richard, with distrust or worse, he showed him every kindness, and made him a very fast friend.

This was a man to love, as well as a king to serve; and all England did love him heartily while he lived.  And he may be said still to “live” in the pages of the greatest of English poets, Shakespeare, who has described him so well that we know him almost better than we do those among whom we dwell.

Unhappily, Henry was ambitious, with the old ambition of reigning over France as well as England.  Unhappily, for though he gained great glory, yet he did no good, and very likely shortened his own most useful life, while he sacrificed the lives of others.  This, however, he never did wantonly.  He was as humane as he was brave, and his soldiers dared not harm the country through which they passed, or even take food when they were starving on pain of death.

I am sorry to record one bad thing which Henry did, though he doubtless did it in ignorance.  He persecuted the Lollards, as the followers of Wickliffe were called.  One of those old companions of his had become a pious and good man; but he had also become a reformer.  His name was Sir John Oldcastle.  Henry tried to convince him that he was wrong, and when he failed gave him up to the bishops, who condemned him to be burnt.  The king put off the burning for fifty days, and Sir John made his escape, as perhaps the king intended; but some years after they caught him, and the king allowed them to burn him after all.

And now I shall tell you of Henry’s conquests in France, and of the great battle which made him so famous as a soldier.

The French nobles of that time were fearfully wicked, and under a poor half-witted king they quarrelled so fiercely that they had nearly ruined France.  Henry seized the opportunity to claim the crown, to ask for the Princess Catherine, the daughter of the mad king, to be his wife, and to demand a large sum of money besides.  Of course, all this was refused; and so Henry went to war.  He began by taking the town of Harfleur, where half of his little army fell sick and died.  But with those that remained Henry marched on to Calais.  When advised to return to England he said, “France was his own, and he would see a little more of it first.”  He set out on the 8th of October, and marched for twelve days through France, with very little food and no lodging for his men; many of them fell sick by the way, and there was a great army of one hundred thousand Frenchmen following behind him.  Henry could not get across the river Somme, and for several days this army marched almost alongside of him on the other bank.  At last the French army got before the English one, and they were bound either to fight or give in: for there was no retreat.

Henry had left England with about thirty thousand men, of whom twenty-four thousand were the famous English archers.  The French nobles would not trust the common people with arms, and they themselves thought it beneath them to fight with the bow.  They were chiefly mounted and in armour.

Henry placed his force in a very good position, but the night before the battle it rained so as to make the clayey ground a perfect swamp.  At break of day Henry rode among his men and cheered their spirits by his encouraging words.  They were provided with stout staves, tipped with iron, which they were to plant in front of them.  Then they were to let fly their arrows and retire, and those horsemen whom the arrows spared the staves would overthrow.

Twelve hundred French men-at-arms first came on, their horses floundering in the miry clay, and the English arrows flew so thick and fast that only a few score of these so much as reached the staves, and only three got inside them.  The first division of the French army was soon utterly routed.  The second was sunk up to the saddle-girths in a ploughed field, where Henry caused his light-armed archers, who had taken off their shoes that they might run along the slippery ground with ease, to attack them.  This division was led by the Duke d’Alençon, who had made a vow to take King Henry dead or alive, or die himself in the attempt.  Henry’s life was often in danger.  His brother, the Duke of Clarence, fell wounded beside him, and he strode across the body and fought like a lion.  Then attacked by eighteen French knights at once, he was down on his knees, with his men fighting over him till the whole eighteen were slain.  The Duke d’Alençon fought his way to the spot.  With one blow he killed the Duke of York, with the next he split the crown on Henry’s helmet.  At this the English pressed round their king, and every weapon was raised to slay his enemy.  Then the duke cried out, “I yield.  I am Alençon,” and Henry held out his hand; but it was too late, the blows had fallen, and Alençon lay dead.

This was the turning point of the battle, and soon after the French fled in great confusion.  A little later Henry asked the French herald, “With whom is the victory?”  “With the King of England,” replied the herald.  “And what is the name of yonder castle?” asked the king.  He was told that it was the Castle of Agincourt.  “Then,” said the king, “let this be called the battle of Agincourt.”  And by that name it is still known as among the most wonderful battles that have ever been fought.

After this Henry hastened home to England, where he remained for two years.  Then the French tried to expel the English from their country once more, and partially succeeded, which soon brought him back again with another army.

Concerning this fresh war and the faithlessness of the French nobles, I shall not tell you much; it belongs more to the history of France than or England. Henry conquered a great part of Normandy, and when Rouen fell the French thought it time to treat for peace.  Henry agreed, on condition of keeping what he had won, of getting the princess for his wife, and being made King of France on the death of the present king.

He married Catherine, who was very beautiful, and brought her over to England, where they were received with rejoicings everywhere.  But while he was in the midst of these he was roused by the tidings of fresh fighting in France.  The Scots were lending their aid, the English had lost a battle, and the king’s brother had been slain.  Henry made haste back to France once more, taking with him the young King of Scotland, whom his father had taken prisoner nineteen years before.

There was more fighting, while tidings came to Henry that a son was born to him at Windsor Castle.  Soon after Catherine left her infant at home, and joined her husband in Paris.  Henry was ill, and there was more fighting still to be done, but not by him; he was dead before his little Henry was nine months old, and they brought him to Westminster Abbey with such a mourning as had never before been held for an English king.


B. 1411, D. 1431.

ENGLAND was now governed by a council of regency — that is, a number of noblemen who consulted together before they did anything in the name of the reigning king, who you know was an infant.  Under this regency the fighting in France still went on; the English were everywhere victorious, and it seemed as though they would conquer France altogether, when a peasant girl rose up to change the destiny of her nation.

Joan of Arc, when she was a little girl, kept her father’s sheep among the hills, and when she grew a little older became a servant at a country inn, at Domremy, where, no doubt, she heard a great deal about the misery of France and the young king, for the old mad king was dead, and his son was trying to get back his kingdom.  She was a good, pious girl, and when she went to church she thought she saw saints and angels, and heard voices telling her to deliver France.

No one believed in her; no one would help her to go to the king.  So at last, after the soldiers had been to Domremy, and had burnt the church and spoiled the village, she ran away to an uncle, an old wheelwright, and got him to take her to the governor of the town where he lived, that she might ask the governor to take her.

The governor threatened to send her back to her parents, and said she should be whipped; but people were beginning to believe in her, and at last he undertook to send her to the king, who was distant one hundred and fifty leagues.  But Joan could ride well, and mounted on a horse, in a man’s dress, she rode away with two squires and her brother Peter.

The little band came safely to Chinon, where the king was, who burst out laughing when he heard about her.  But Joan picked him out from among his courtiers, though he was dressed just like one of them to deceive her.

The English were then laying siege to Orleans, and she undertook to go and raise the siege.  She asked for an old sword which she said lay in an old cathedral, with five crosses on the blade.  The sword was found as she described, and armed with this, and clad in a suit of armour, and riding a white charger, she put herself at the head of the troops, who were going to carry provisions to the starving city.  She could do no harm, the king and his courtiers thought, and the soldiers took to her wonderfully.

When the English heard of her, and saw her riding on her white horse, they took her for a witch, and grew fearful and dispirited, so that they allowed Jean and the provisions to get safely into Orleans.  They allowed her to get out again too, and attack them at the head of the soldiers; and when she was wounded and fell, and afterwards rose and led them on again, they lost all heart in their fear of her, and soon after burnt their forts and went away.  So the siege was raised, and Joan was called the Maid of Orleans, and everybody believed in her then.  Several other fortresses fell, or were given up to her, and she defeated the English army in the field, and got the Dauphin to go to Rheims and be crowned again.  Then she fell at his feet, and said her work was done, and that she would go back to her fields.

But the young king would not let her go, for he was a great coward, and did not want to lead his armies himself.  So she stayed, and was very unhappy.  At length she was sent to raise the siege of Compiegne, and was taken prisoner by the party in league with the English.  The base king deserted her at once; all turned against her.  Those who had taken her sold her to the English, and she lay for nearly a year in prison.  Then she was tried for a witch, and at last — for it was difficult to convict her of any crime — condemned to be burnt.  The shameful sentence was executed at Rouen, where she died calling on the name of Christ in the midst of the fire, and making the very bishops who had come there to see her burnt, rise up and rush away from the horrid scene.  You will not after this mind hearing that ere long the English were driven out of France once more.


A.D. 1422 to 1461.

MEANTIME Henry the Sixth had grown up, but he was weak in mind and body, like his mother’s father, the poor mad King of France.  When he was three-and-twenty he was married to Margaret of Anjou, a bold, cruel, clever woman, who made him do exactly as she pleased.  Among other things she made him accuse of treason his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, who had taken care of him from his infancy.  “The good Duke Humphrey,” as Gloucester was called, was put in prison, and found dead there.  The general belief was that he had been murdered by the queen’s orders.

The poor king, who was all his life pious and gentle, now became more and more weak in mind.  The kingdom began to be very ill governed, and the people to complain, especially against the queen and her favourites.  One Jack Cade, who called himself the king’s cousin, made an insurrection in Kent.  He behaved very much as Wat Tyler had done, and, like him, was speedily got rid of.  But another kind of trouble was rising, which was not to be so easily put down, and which was to lead to the spilling of the best blood in England, and to treachery and murder without end.  The cause of this I must make as clear to you as possible.

You will remember that Henry the Fourth took the kingdom from his cousin Richard the Second.  At that time Richard had another cousin who had a better right to the throne than Henry.  That cousin was the Earl of Marche, and of course his descendants had a better right than the descendants of Henry.  But they had never claimed that right, for Henry the Fourth was chosen by the nation, and Henry the Fifth, his son, was secure in their affections.  You will remember he was very kind to the Earl of Marche, and the earl had acknowledged him his king.

Now the Duke of York was the grandson of this earl.  He and his connections were called “the House of York,” while the king and his connections were called “the House of Lancaster.”  The badge of the House of York was a white rose, that of the House of Lancaster a red one, and when it came to fighting, those who fought on the York side wore white roses, and those who fought on the Lancaster side, red ones.  Very soon every one in the country, from the highest to the lowest, took one side or other, and the long and bitter strife is called the Wars of the Roses.

The queen was very unpopular, and she now made a favourite of the Duke of Somerset, who was more unpopular still; for the people blamed him for the loss of France, which he had been sent to govern.  York, on the other hand, was exceedingly popular.  He came to the king and demanded a Parliament, which Henry promised to call.  Then he went back to his Castle of Ludlow, and raised an army to defend himself against the plots of the queen and Somerset.  The king led an army against him; but Henry was no fighter, so he sent the duke some kind messages, and made him some fine promises; and York at once submitted, disbanded his army, and came bareheaded before the king.  There and then he was treacherously taken prisoner, and Somerset would have had him put to death at once, if he had had his will.  However, it was agreed to set him free if he swore to be faithtul to the king, which he did.

Soon after the birth of his son, who was called Edward, the poor king became insane again.  The Parliament sent for York, who opened it in the king’s name, and was appointed protector.  Then the king got better and the queen got back her power over him, put down York and set up Somerset.  York went back to his castle, and with the Earl of Warwick and other nobles of his party raised another army.  Again Henry went forth against him, and this time the Duke of York and his friends asked the king to deliver up to them the Duke of Somerset.  The king refused, and they fought.  It was the first battle of the war, and took place at St. Albans.  The Duke of Somerset was among the slain.

After the battle, the Duke of York again made peace with the king, who soon relapsed into his sad state of insanity, and York was once more protector, a post which he resigned again as soon the king was better.  But the queen hated York, and could not rest till she had revenge for the death of her favourite Somerset.  York and his party were in arms as before.  The next battle was fought at Northampton, and the White Roses, under the Earl of Warwick, had a complete victory.  The king was taken prisoner; the queen fled with her little son to Scotland.

The Duke of York now laid claim to the crown.  When the claim was laid before Henry, he answered with dignity, “My father was king: his father also was king.  I have worn the crown forty years from my cradle.  You have all sworn fealty to me as your sovereign, and your fathers have done the same to my father: how then can my claim be disputed?”

After much arguing it was decided by the peers that York’s claim was just; but that Henry should be king as long as he lived.  On his death the crown was to go to the house of York.  This decision was accepted by York; but Queen Margaret would not accept it.  She raised an army in the north of England and marched against the army of the Duke of York.  They met near Wakefield, and this time it was the Red Roses that triumphed, and the Duke of York was among the slain.  They brought his head on a spear to the queen, and she laughed for joy to see it.  The youngest son of the unfortunate duke was also murdered in cold blood, by one of the queen’s nobles.  The poor boy was only seventeen, and, unarmed, was fleeing with his tutor, when the savage Lord Clifford stabbed him as he knelt imploring mercy.

There was another battle at St. Albans, as the queen went on her way to London, in which her troops defeated the Earl of Warwick.  But Edward, the new Duke of York, was marching to avenge his father and brother.  He was met by an army under Owen Tudor, the son of Catherine, Henry the Fifth’s widow.  At Mortimer’s Cross, in Herefordshire, Edward defeated this army with a great slaughter, and afterwards beheaded their leader.  Then he joined Warwick, and together they marched on London, where the queen was hated, and where her army had been plundering like robbers.  Edward was hailed as a deliverer, and entered the capital in triumph.  Very soon the Londoners were crying, “Long live King Edward!”  Then a council met which declared that Henry had broken his word and forfeited his crown, and Edward was proclaimed king.  The White Rose reigned.


A.D. 1461 to 1485.

EDWARD, Duke of York, was a very young man (scarcely twenty) when he began to reign.  He owed his elevation to the Earl of Warwick, who was hereafter to earn for himself the title of King-maker.

Edward soon showed himself brave and able, but also vindictive, cruel, and selfish.  Only three days after he had entered London, he sent Warwick after the queen, who was resolved to fight to the death, and in a day or two followed himself.  They came upon the van of the queen’s army at Ferrybridge, in Yorkshire, and defeated it there.

Next advancing to Towton, one of the fiercest battles took place which was ever fought in Britain.  Edward commanded his troops to give no quarter.  All day they fought, and at its close Edward was once more victorious.  Henry and Margaret, with their son, fled to Scotland; and thence Margaret went to France, where she sold Calais to Louis the Eleventh, and with the money raised a little army.  When that was defeated, in 1462, she raised another in 1464.  This also was defeated at the battle of Hexham, and Margaret fled again.

She had with her a number of jewels and vessels of gold and silver, and she and her party fell into the hands of robbers.  While they were dividing the jewels and quarrelling over the division, the queen fled again with her son.  Fainting with fatigue and hunger in the midst of a wild forest, they met with another robber, and before him Margaret fell on her knees, saying, “Here, my friend, save the son of your king, and he will one day reward you.”  The man was touched by her distress, and took her and the boy to his cave, where his wife fed them and waited on them, while the robber went in search of their friends.  He found some of them in a day or two, and so Margaret and the prince once more got away.

Henry fell at length into the hands of his enemies.  Warwick treated him very badly on his way to the Tower, and allowed the crowd to abuse and even strike the fallen king, who bore it all with Christian meekness.  But the new king, for whom Warwick had done so much, did not long remain his friend.  About this time Edward married one Elizabeth Wydville, a widow, who was very beautiful, but beneath him in rank.  This lady was no sooner made queen than she ennobled and enriched her father, her brothers, and all her family, and caused Warwick, who was against her marriage, to be out of favour with the king.  Soon there was actual enmity between them, and mutual insults were given.  Edward pretended to believe that Warwick was now siding with the house of Lancaster, and people very often end by doing that which they are falsely accused of.

King Edward had two brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and Clarence, the latter, a weak young man, married at daughter of Warwick’s.  They were at Calais when Edward wrote for them to come and help him to put down a revolt headed by several powerful nobles, who were against the queen and her family.  Instead of helping him, they came with a strong force and took him prisoner.  So England had two kings, and both of them were captives.

Edward, however, was set free again very soon.  Warwick was not yet prepared to make another king.  Edward defeated the insurgents, and denounced Warwick and his brother as traitors.  They fled to France.  Then a most extraordinary thing happened.  Warwick and Queen Margaret were reconciled, and the Earl promised to place Henry once more on the throne of England.

And he kept his promise.  With money borrowed from the King of France, he raised an army and invaded England; took Edward by surprise, and entered London in triumph on the 6th of October, 1470.  He went straight to the Tower and brought out King Henry, who had been prisoner there for five long years, and once more placed him on the throne.  Edward was declared a usurper.  The party of the Red Roses flourished again.

But their season was soon over.  Before six months were ended, Edward was back in London, and Henry was in the Tower again.  The armies of the Roses met on Barnet Common, and Warwick was defeated and slain.

The next battle was fought at Tewkesbury.  Here Henry’s son was in command of a division.  He was now eighteen, and had just married Warwick’s second daughter.  He was taken and brought to Edward’s tent, who asked him how he dared take the field against his king?  “To recover my father’s crown and my own inheritance,” he replied.  This answer so enraged Edward that he struck him on the face with his mailed hand, and Gloucester and Clarence then fell upon the brave young prince and stabbed him.

The unhappy Margaret was also taken and sent to the Tower.  The same night on which she entered it her husband was found dead there.  No one doubted that he was murdered, and by Gloucester.  Margaret lived five years there and several more abroad, till worn out with ceaseless grief and rage, she found rest at last in the grave.

Edward now had peace from his enemies.  Most of them lay in bloody graves; but at home he had no peace.  His brothers, Gloucester and Clarence, quarrelled like robbers over the property of the Earl of Warwick.  Clarence had married one of that nobleman’s daughters, and Gloucester now forced the other, the widow of the young prince whom he had murdered, to be his wife.  Then Clarence offended the king, to whom he had been false all his life, and he was encouraged by Gloucester and the queen.  Edward accused his brother of a design to dethrone and destroy him, and Clarence was condemned to die.  A few days after he was drowned in a butt of malmsey wine in the Tower.  Edward lived five years after this.  He died a young man, worn out with wickedness, hated by most, feared by many, loved by none, leaving two young sons to the tender mercies of a murderer.


B. 1470, reigned 1483.

AGAIN the kingdom had come to a child.  The eldest son of Edward the Fourth was only thirteen.  His uncle, Gloucester, pretended great friendship for him and his mother.  Edward, who was with his grandfather, Lord Rivers, engaged in his studies, had to be brought up to London for his coronation.  His uncle, Gloucester, went to meet him, accompanied by a body of armed men, and on the way to London he arrested all the friends of the young king on a charge of treason, and the poor boy was a prisoner in his hands.

The queen and her remaining son, on hearing this, fled to Westminster, and took sanctuary there.  Gloucester lodged the young king in the Tower, as if to await his coronation.  His next step was to get possession of the queen’s second son, the Duke of York, saying the king wanted a playfellow.  He sent to the queen to take him.  At first she refused to give him up; but knowing resistance was useless, she yielded, and sent him away with many tears, praying the lords who had come for him to be true to her children.  Gloucester received him with hypocritical fondness, and sent him to the Tower to keep his brother company.

Gloucester next spread a report that the queen and her family, who were unpopular, had formed a plot to murder him; and on this pretence he made away with those who would have saved his nephews out of his treacherous hands.  Then he caused base men to go about saying that Edward and the young Duke of York were not sons of the king his brother at all. Others cried, “Long live King Richard!”  London was full of armed men, everybody feared the duke, and so he seated himself without opposition on the throne.

Meantime the young princes played but sadly in the Tower.  Edward was heard to sigh and say, “I would mine uncle would let me have my life, though he take my crown.”  And the poor boy gave up his games and sat close to his little brother, two years younger than himself.

Gloucester had asked the governor of the Tower to get rid of them, but he refused.  Then he sent one Sir James Tyrrel to be in command for one night, and in the morning the princes were gone.  Two murderers were hired to do the dreadful deed.  One of them confessed afterwards how they came and found the two children sleeping in each other’s arms, and how they smothered them, and buried them at the foot of the stairs.

The murder was hidden for a time, but when it became known a feeling of horror ran through the whole nation against the inhuman murderer.


A.D. 1483 to 1485.

RICHARD was not allowed to enjoy his ill-gotten power long.  His cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, who had helped him in everything but the murder of the princes, rebelled at that, and raised an army.  He was unsuccessful, and lost his head, as did many of the noblemen who had joined him; but a proposal had been made, which Richard had cause to fear, and that was to unite against him the houses of York and Lancaster, by marrying his cousin,

Henry Tudor, to Elizabeth, the sister of the murdered princes, and setting him on the throne.  Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, had very little claim indeed to the throne.  The widow of Henry the Fifth had married Owen Tudor, a yeoman of the guard.  This Henry, Earl of Richmond, was their grandson.

And now Richard held court at Westminster, and invited the queen, whose sons he had murdered, to come.  It turned out that he wanted to marry the Princess Elizabeth to his son.  But his son died, and then he proposed to marry her himself.

Every day the nobles were going over to Richmond, who landed at length with a small army at Milford Haven, and was joined by great numbers of the nobility as he came to meet Richard.  They met at Bosworth.  Richard saw in the ranks of Henry many whom he had tried to win.  His own army was four times as great; but he could not depend upon a man in it.

It was said the king had bad dreams, and no wonder; but that day he fought like a lion, trying to get at Henry and kill him with his own hand.  He could see Lord Stanley go over to the enemy, and the Duke of Northumberland stand still and never strike a blow, and crying, “Treason, treason!” he rushed on Henry, and killing his standard-bearer, aimed at him a deadly blow.  But at that moment Richard was surrounded and slain, while the army shouted, “Long live King Henry!”


A.D. 1485 to 1509.

THERE is not much to tell of Henry the Seventh.  He gave England peace after long war; but he gave it little else.  He was fonder of money than of honour; indeed, he was a thorough miser, filling his coffers with locked-up gold, much of it gotten by accusing people of crimes against his government before it existed.

Two very curious impostures were played off in his reign.  A very handsome boy, by name Lambert Simnel, the son of a baker, was declared by the priest who educated him to be the young Earl of Warwick, who was at the time a prisoner in the Tower.  A good many people believed in him, among others the old Duchess of Burgundy, the sister of Edward the Fourth.  She helped him with men and money, and he was taken over to Ireland and crowned.  Then he and his friends invaded England; but they were soon defeated, and Henry took the boy into his kitchen, perhaps to show his contempt for him.

The next was more important.  All at once there appeared in Ireland a handsome and clever young man, who declared himself to be Richard, Duke of York, the youngest of the two princes supposed to have been murdered in the Tower.  His real name was Perkin Warbeck, and he told a clever story about his escape, and seemed to know everything which the prince might have been supposed to know.  The Duchess of Burgundy believed in him too, or said she did.  So did the King of France.  Several English noblemen took up his cause, and Henry had them put to death at once.  Then the young man went to the Court of Scotland and told his story, and was believed, and King James the Fourth of Scotland called him cousin, and gave him for his wife Lady Catherine Gordon, a beautiful lady of high birth.  He made an attempt to invade England from the north; but turned back again without effecting anything.

There is no doubt he was an impostor, and not at all adapted for a conqueror.  He had to leave Scotland, because Henry made a treaty with James, who saw him safe out of the kingdom before he would sign it.  Then he wandered about with his beautiful young wife, and at last came to Cornwall.  The brave Cornish men rose on his behalf, and were going to fight a battle for him; but just before the battle he ran away, so there was no fighting, only some of the brave Cornish men were hanged for being there.  He left his wife behind him, and she was taken by Henry; but to do him justice he was very kind to her, and placed her with the queen.

Lastly Perkin delivered himself up, and was made to stand a whole day in the stocks in front of Westminster Hall proclaiming himself a cheat.  He was sent to the Tower, beside the real Earl of Warwick, who had been there the best part of his life, poor youth.  Some time after the king discovered a plot between them — little enough harm it could have done — and Henry had them both executed, the earl beheaded, and poor Perkin hanged at Tyburn.

Two marriages in this reign were to play an unusually important part in history.  Henry married his daughter Margaret to James the Fourth, King of Scotland, and from this came the union of the two kingdoms under the Stuarts.  He married his eldest son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  They were betrothed the year that Christopher Columbus discovered America.  Arthur was then eleven and Catherine was twelve years old, and the pair were the most learned little lady and gentleman in the world, and wrote to each other in Latin.

They were married when they were fifteen and sixteen.  Catherine came over under the care of a Spanish duenna and a number of Spanish grandees, who were all very solemn and stately, and would not let King Henry so much as see her.  It was not Spanish manners, they said, for a bride to be seen till she stood at the altar.  But Henry said he didn’t care for Spanish manners, and now they were in England they must put up with English manners; so he did see her, and though she could not speak English, nor he Spanish, they made signs of friendship to each other, and the young prince came and spoke Latin to her, and she seemed going to be quite happy.

But she was fated to be very unhappy indeed.  The marriage took place with great splendour; and a few mouths after the boy husband died: the girl wife was a widow.  Her father and mother wanted her back, and half her dowry with her.  Henry would not part with the money, and so he kept her in England, saying he would marry her to his second son, Henry, in three years, as soon as Henry was fifteen.  Henry kept the princess so poor that she could neither get food for her household nor clothes for herself, though she had been promised a third of Arthur’s income.  She wanted very much to go back to Spain and not marry another English prince, and if her mother had lived she would have had her way, and never have been Queen of England and wife of Henry the Eighth.

She was not married when Henry the Seventh died.  He was very much afraid of the life after death, and left some of his money to say masses for the salvation of his soul.


A.D. 1509 to 1547.

HENRY THE EIGHTH was much liked at first.  He was showy and accomplished, and made very free with the contents of his father’s money-boxes.  He married Catherine of Aragon immediately; she was both beautiful and clever, and he said he loved her very much, and indeed showed that he did.  He was at peace with all the world, and spent a great part of his time in the pursuit of learning.

But this did not last long.  Henry was led to meddle with foreign affairs, and drawn into a foolish war with France, and another with Scotland, which proved very unfortunate for the latter country.  The Scotch and English armies met at Flodden ###Field. The English were commanded by Lord Surrey, and the Scotch were led by their king himself, who was killed along with the flower of his nobles, leaving his wife, Henry's own sister, a widow, with a son only sixteen months old.

Nothing important resulted from these Wars. The war with France ended in a treaty of peace, and in Henry giving his sister, at beautiful girl of sixteen, to the old French king, who was between fifty and sixty, and was very ill with gout, and so ill-natured that he sent away her governess and all her friends, except one or two little maids, one of whom was called Anne Boleyn.  However, he died before three months were over, and left Mary free to marry the young Duke of Suffolk, whom she loved.  He was sent to bring her home, and he married her on the way, and Henry never forgave them afterwards for neglecting to ask his leave.

For the next ten years everything went well with Henry the Eighth.  He lived happily with the queen.  They had one little daughter, called Mary, who lived, and several other children who died in infancy.  Catherine was very religious, and Henry attended the services of the Church along with her.  He led a pleasant life too.  There was nothing gloomy or dull about him.  He hunted, and played, and read, and wrote, and talked with learned men, of whom there were many in England now; for Oxford was beginning to be famous for its teaching.  Erasmus, one of the great reformers about whom I must tell you presently, had come from Holland to learn Greek there, and he wrote a delightful account of Henry’s court and domestic life, and called him “the best of husbands.”

Now I have to tell you how all this was changed, and “the best of husbands” came to have six wives, two of whom he divorced, and two of whom he beheaded, one who died and one who survived him.  In this way I will give you his private life, and keep the public events of his reign, especially the great Reformation which began in it, for another chapter.

Henry had got tired of Catherine.  Sickness and the loss of her children had wasted her beauty and made her sad and discontented.  She could not have a son to sit upon the throne, and this Henry wanted above all things.  The nation wanted it too; for they feared that if the king died without a son to succeed him, the fighting for the crown would begin again.  So Henry wanted to put Catherine away and marry some one else; and he said his conscience would not allow him any longer to live with his brother’s wife; but this was, no doubt, a mere excuse.

Among Catherine’s maids of honour was Anne Boleyn, who had come back from France, young, beautiful, and witty.  With her the king fell in love.  She could not have been a good woman to allow the king to love her and give her presents while his wife lived, who was her mistress, and had always been kind to her; but Henry was resolved to marry her, and so he tried every plan to get rid of his queen.  Catherine opposed him.  He tried to bribe her to yield; but she would not be bribed.  She said she was Queen of England, and Queen of England she would be till she died.  His great minister, Cardinal Wolsey, opposed him, and he ruined him.  His next chancellor, who was equally good and great, opposed him, and was sent to prison, and then beheaded.  The pope opposed him, and Henry destroyed the power of the pope in England.

At last he got men to work his will, divorced Catherine, and married Anne.  She bore him Elizabeth, afterwards the great queen; but she could not keep his heart.  He believed her guilty of the grossest sin, and unfaithful to him.  It was more easy to believe because of her disloyalty to her royal mistress — that, I think, was her worst sin — and he had her beautiful head cut off in the Tower.  Before she died she begged the king to be kind to her little daughter.

The third wife was Lady Jane Seymour.  She died in giving birth to a son, afterwards Edward the Sixth.

The fourth was Anne of Cleves, whom he sent away as soon as he saw her, because she was so very plain.  An Italian duchess, whom he asked at this time to marry him, is said to have replied, that if she had two heads she might have thought about it; but having only one she preferred to keep it.

The fifth was a certain Lady Catherine Howard, who seems really to have been guilty of bad conduct.  She was not so wise as the Italian duchess, and she met the same fate as Anne Boleyn.

The sixth and last was a widow named Catherine Parr, and she was very nearly losing her head too, for contradicting her husband, so great had his self-will become; but she contradicted herself next time, and so pleased the king that he made no attempt to get rid of her; and she waited upon him in his last illness, and nursed him till he died.


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