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.
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.
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
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
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.
ALFRED THE GREAT.
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
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
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.
THE SIX BOY KINGS.
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
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
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.
CANUTE AND THE DANES.
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
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
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.
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR.
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
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.
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.
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
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.
THE NORMANS IN POSSESSION.
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
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
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
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
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.
STEPHEN, MATILDA, HENRY II.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
JOAN of ARC.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.