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England-Wycliffe and the Bible


mented him on the courage he had displayed in battle, and waited upon him at supper that evening.

A peace was made at Bretigny in May, 1360, which checked the endless fighting for the time. By the terms of this treaty, Edward yielded his claims to the throne of France, but retained Aquitaine, Calais and some other districts, while John was given permission to ransom himself for three million gold crowns. Being ruler at Bordeaux, as Prince of Aquitaine, the Black Prince aided the dethroned King of Castile, Pedro the Cruel, and by a victory at Navarette regained his kingdom for him. Pedro had promised to pay the expenses of Edward, but now refused to do so. The prince was not only deeply involved in debt, but his health was broken and he went back to Bordeaux a changed man. He levied a burdensome tax, and the resentful nobles appealed to the French king, Charles V., who immediately renewed the dreadful war. The prince, though weak in body, made a brave fight, and, retaking Limoges, stained his name by a general massacre of the inhabitants.

After this cruelty, the Black Prince returned to England and another truce was declared. The King's third son, the Duke of Lancaster, called on account of his birthplace John of Ghent, or Gaunt, took control of affairs, for the Black. Prince was near death, and his next brother was worn out and feeble. The last days of the King himself were sorrowful, for the Black Prince passed away, and Edward fell into the power of selfish schemers, one of whom was an unprincipled woman named Alice Ferrers, who, after the death of the Queen, obtained absolute control of the King, and, when he was dying, plucked the jewelry from his person and fled from the palace (1377).

Before proceeding with the story of Edward's successor, we must take note of a remarkable man, who was his opposite in every respect. This was John Wycliffe, who was a scholar at Oxford, when England was desolated by the Black Death. He was born near Richmond in Yorkshire, and first drew notice to himself by attacking the order of the Black Friars, who, though once humble and devout toilers for the good of their fellow-men, had become lazy, and in some cases vicious and depraved. Moved to indignation, Wycliffe assailed the religious and political corruption of the times. He organized the "Poor Priests," who went about clothed in red sackcloth cloaks, barefooted and dependent upon the alms given them, while they preached God's word and labored to carry on the reforms that had been abandoned by the Black Friars.

The only Bible in use at that time was the Latin version, a language of which the poorer people knew nothing, and which was understood by only a few of the priests. Wycliffe translated the Bible into plain English, and had it circulated by his Poor Priests. Since printing was not yet known, the volume was too costly to be generally used, but many gave nearly their all for

copies of some portions of the Scriptures. Still, there must have been a good many complete works written, for to-day there are a hundred and sixty-five copies, more or less perfect, preserved in England. The disciples of Wycliffe were nicknamed Lollards or Psalm Singers. They, to a large extent, became communists, who demanded that all ranks should be abolished and all property equally divided. The Church looked upon them as heretics, and forty-four years after the peaceful death of Wycliffe, in 1384, at his rectory of Lutterworth, his body, by decree of the church council of Constance, was dug up and burned. But he had cleared the way for Luther's Reformation, which came in the sixteenth century.

The first work in English prose was written during the reign of Edward III. It was a volume of travels purporting to be by Sir John Mandeville, who had spent thirty years in the East. He deemed what he saw there of so much interest that he prepared an accourt in Latin for the learned, one in French for the nobles, and one in English for the common people. The most remarkable thing in the work was the author's statement that the earth is round, and can be circumnavigated,—a declaration at which the wildest dreamer of those days in England laughed.

And now, with the death of King Edward III., a boy was once more heir to the throne; for Richard, son of the Black Prince, was only eleven years old when he became King in 1377. Parliament decreed that the government during his minority should be vested in a council, but it did not take John of Gaunt long to gain control of affairs. He was unprincipled, extravagant, an enemy of reform, and detested by the laboring classes.

England was in a critical condition, for war had again broken out with Scotland and France, the national treasury was empty, and debts were rapidly piling up. So desperate, indeed, were affairs that it was determined to raise a poll tax, that is, a tax upon the head of each person. All over the age of fifteen were included, and it was so heavy that the tax upon a family of three persons was equal to their whole pay for two weeks.

Before this the country was ready for revolt, and the poll tax was the spark that fired the magazine. A brutal collector went into the house of a workman named Wat Tyler, and so shamefully insulted his daughter that the father caught up a hammer, ran in, and with a single blow stretched the ruffian dead on the floor. The news of what had been done spread like wildfire, and the excited peasants left their huts and fields, armed themselves with clubs or any rusty weapons upon which they could lay hands, and, with Wat Tyler at their head, hurried to London to demand justice.

They felt that the only way of securing what they wished was by violence, and gave full vent to their anger. When they passed near a deer park, they

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England-Wat Tyler's Uprising


levelled the fences and slew the animals. Reaching London they held the city for three weeks, burnt the law-courts and killed the lawyers, looking upon them as their enemies. Then, with their numbers swelled to a hundred thousand, they straggled on to Smithfield, still eager for violence. There the young King rode boldly out to meet them. He assured them that from that time forward they should all be free men and never again be held as serfs. Some were satisfied and went home. But in a few days the storm broke again, and once more the King rode out to meet them. Wat Tyler laid his hand on Richard's bridle, whereon Walworth, mayor of London, struck the rebel down with a dagger. His death caused consternation in the ranks of his followers, and the insurrection. collapsed as quickly as it had risen. Parliament set on foot a series of merciless executions, and refused to discuss any of the schemes that Richard had promised, and which he was disposed to favor; so it may be said the last condition of the peasants was worse than the first.

You would suppose, from the courage displayed by Richard in the presence of the furious mob, that he would make a spirited and excellent king, but unhappily such did not prove to be the case. He was excessively proud and vain, with a disagreeable temper, and was extravagant and childishly fond of shows and pageants. He too had his favorites, who easily persuaded him to do what they wished. In 1387, the opponents of the King gained the upper hand and banished or executed a number of Richard's friends; but he soon secured control, and took savage vengeance upon those who had offended him. He governed well for nine years, when his first wife, who gave evidence of liking the doctrines of Wycliffe, died. This was in 1394, and two years later the king married Isabel, daughter of Charles VI. of France, a girl only eight years old. His purpose in taking this amazing step was to secure an extended truce with France, but the act was very unpopular with his own countrymen, who hated France. Since his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, had led the opposition to him, Richard by a daring act of treachery had him seized in 1397, and carried off to France. He was placed in charge of the governor of Calais, who soon sent back the desired message that he had died. Since there was no doubt that the duke had been murdered by order of the King, his enemies were terrified into quietude.

Two of the noblemen who had aggrieved him remained still unpunished. They were Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, and Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, a son of John of Gaunt. Each suspected the other of betraying him, and a duel was arranged. Just as they were about to fight, Richard stopped the contest and banished Hereford for ten years, Norfolk for life. John of Gaunt died shortly afterward, and the King seized his estates which should have passed to Hereford. The latter, now Duke of Lancaster, waited until Richard

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