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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

To the characteristic traits of the Plantagenets


In

itself we must rate it as important that he made good the birthright of the house of York, independent as it was of the maxims of Parliament, or rather contradictory to them, and maintained the throne. He deemed himself the direct successor of Richard II; the three kings who had since worn the crown by virtue of Parliamentary enactments were regarded by him as usurpers. We have Fortescue's contemporary treatise in praise of the laws of England, which (written for a prince who never came to the throne) contains the idea of Parliamentary right which the house of Lancaster upheld: but Edward IV did not so apprehend it. He allowed the lawfulness of his accession to be recognised by Parliament, because this was of use to him: but otherwise he paid little regard to its established rights. We find under him for five years no meeting of Parliament; then a Parliament that had met was prorogued some four or five times without completing any business, till it at last agreed to raise the customs duties, included under the names of Tonnage and Poundage; a revenue which being voted to the Kings for life (and this came gradually to be regarded as a mere formality) gave their government a strong financial basis. Other Parliaments repaid their summons with considerable grants, with large and full subsidies: yet Edward IV was not content even with these. Under him began the practice, by which the wealthy were drawn into contributions for his service in proportion to their property, of which the
King knew how to obtain accurate information; these contributions were called Benevolences because they were paid under the form of personal freewill offerings, though none dared to refuse them:[70] we may compare the imposts which in the Italian republics the dominant parties were wont to inflict on their opponents. Though holding Church views in other points, and at any rate a persecutor of the Lollards, he did not however allow the clergy to enter on their temporalities without heavy payments: he created monopolies in the case of some especially profitable articles of trade. In short, he neglected no means to render the administration of the supreme power independent of the money-grants of Parliament. He made room for the royal prerogative as understood by the old kings, as well as for the right of birth.

But yet he had not established a secure position, since the party of the enemy was still very powerful, and after his early death a quarrel broke out in his own house which could not fail to destroy it.

To the characteristic traits of the Plantagenets, their world-wide views, their chivalry abroad, their versatility at home, the ceaseless war they waged with each other and with others for power, their inextinguishable love of rule, belongs also the way in which those who held power rid themselves of foes within their own family. As formerly King John had murdered in prison Arthur the lawful heir to the throne, so Richard II imprisoned and murdered his uncle Thomas of Gloucester, who was dangerous to himself. Richard II, like Edward II, died by the hand of a relative who had wrested the crown from him; of the details of his death we have not even a legend left. Another Gloucester, who had for many years guarded the crown for the infant Henry VI, was, at the very moment when he might become dangerous to the new government, found dead in his bed. So Henry VI perished in the Tower the day before Edward IV made his entry into London. Edward IV preferred to have his brother Clarence, though already under sentence of death, privately killed. But the most atrocious murder of all was that of the two infant sons of Edward IV himself; they were both murdered at once, as was fully believed, at the behest of their uncle Richard III, who had put himself in possession of the throne. I know not whether the actual character of Richard answered to that type of inborn wickedness which commits crime because it wills it as crime, such as following the hints of the Chronicle[71] a great poet has drawn for us in imperishable traits, and linked with his name: or whether it was not rather the love of power, that animated the whole family, which in Richard III grew step by step into a passion that made him forget all laws human and divine: enough, he did such deeds that the world's abhorrence weighs justly on him.


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