Warwick, the Kingmaker
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Title: Warwick the Kingmaker
Author: Charles Oman
Release Date: May 14, 2018 [eBook #57164]
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English Men of Action
WARWICK THE KINGMAKER
First Edition 1891. Reprinted 1893, 1899, 1905
(Prize Library Edition) 1903, 1909, 1916
CHARLES W. OMAN
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
|The Days of the Kingmaker||1|
|The House of Neville||12|
|Richard of Salisbury||19|
|The Kingmaker's Youth||29|
|The Cause of York||38|
|The Beginning of the Civil War: St. Albans||47|
|Warwick Captain of Calais and Admiral||60|
|Warwick in Exile||79|
|Victory and Disaster—Northampton and St.Albans||93|
|The Triumph of King Edward||128|
|The Pacification of the North||137|
|The Quarrel of Warwick and King Edward||159|
|Playing with Treason||175|
|Warwick for King Henry||193|
|The Return of King Edward||208|
THE DAYS OF THE KINGMAKER
Of all the great men of action who since the Conquest have guided thecourse of English policy, it is probable that none is less known to thereader of history than Richard Neville Earl of Warwick and Salisbury.The only man of anything approaching his eminence who has been treatedwith an equal neglect is Thomas Cromwell, and of late years the greatminister of Henry the Eighth is beginning to receive some of theattention that is his due. But for the Kingmaker, the man who for tenyears was the first subject of the English Crown, and whose figurelooms out with a vague grandeur even through the misty annals of theWars of the Roses, no writer has spared a monograph. Every one, it istrue, knows his name, but his personal identity is quite ungrasped.Nine persons out of ten if asked to sketch his character would find, totheir own surprise, that they were falling back for their informationto Lord Lytton's Last of the Barons or Shakespeare's Henry theSixth.
An attempt, therefore, even an inadequate attempt, to trace outwith accuracy his career and his habits of[Pg 2] mind from the originalauthorities cannot fail to be of some use to the general reader as wellas to the student of history. The result will perhaps appear meagreto those who are accustomed to the biographies of the men of latercenturies. We are curiously ignorant of many of the facts that shouldaid us to build up a picture of the man. No trustworthy representationof his bodily form exists. The day of portraits was not yet come; hismonument in Bisham Abbey has long been swept away; no writer has evendeigned to describe his personal appearance—we know not if he was darkor fair, stout or slim. At most we may gather from the vague phrasesof the chroniclers, and from his quaint armed figure in the Rous Roll,that he was of great stature and breadth of limb. But perhaps the goodRous was thinking of his fame rather than his body, when he sketchedthe Earl in that quaint pictorial pedigree over-topping all his racesave his cousin and king and enemy, Edward the Fourth.
But Warwick has only shared the fate of all his contemporaries. Themen of the fifteenth century are far less well known to us than aretheir grandfathers or their grandsons. In the fourteenth century thechroniclers were still working on their old scale; in the sixteenththe literary spirit had descended on the whole nation, and great menand small were writing hard at history as at every other branch ofknowledge. But in the days of Lancaster and York the old fountainshad run dry, and the new flood of the Renaissance had not risen. Thematerials for reconstructing history are both scanty and hard tohandle. We dare not swallow Hall and Hollingshead whole, as was thecustom for two[Pg 3] hundred years, or take their annals, coloured fromend to end with Tudor sympathies, as good authority for the doings ofthe previous century. Yet when we have put aside their fascinating,if somewhat untrustworthy, volumes, we find ourselves wandering in avery dreary waste of fragments and scraps of history, strung togetheron the meagre thread of two or three dry and jejune compilations ofannals. To have to take William of Worcester or good Abbot Whethamstedas the groundwork of a continuous account of the times is absolutelymaddening. Hence it comes to pass that Warwick has failed to receivehis dues.
Of all the men of Warwick's century there are only two whose characterswe seem thoroughly to grasp—the best and the worst products of theage—Henry the Fifth and Richard the Third. The achievements of the onestirred even the feeble writers of that day into a fulness of detail inwhich they indulge for no other hero; the other served as the text forso many invectives under the Tudors that we imagine that we see a realman in the gloomy portrait that is set up before us. Yet we may fairlyask whether our impression is not drawn, either at first or at secondhand, almost entirely from Sir Thomas More's famous biography of theusurper, a work whose literary merits have caused it to be received asthe only serious source for Richard's history. If we had not that work,Richard of Gloucester would seem a vaguely-defined monster of iniquity,as great a puzzle to the student of history as are the other shadowyforms which move on through those evil times to fall, one after theother, into the bloody grave which was the common lot of all.
In spite, however, of the dearth of good chronicles,[Pg 4] and of theabsolute non-existence of any contemporary writers of literary merit,there are authorities enough of one sort and another to make it bothpossible and profitable to build up a detailed picture of Warwick andhis times. First and foremost, of course, come the invaluable PastonLetters, covering the whole period, and often supplying the vividtouches of detail in which the more formal documents are so lamentablydeficient. If but half a dozen families, as constant in letter-writingas John and Margery Paston, had transmitted their correspondenceto posterity, there would be little need to grumble at our lack ofinformation. Other letters too exist, scattered in collections, suchas the interesting scrawl from Warwick himself, in his dire extremitybefore Barnet fight, to Henry Vernon, which was turned up a year agoamong the lumber at Belvoir Castle. Much can be gathered from rolls andinquests—for example, the all-important information as to centres andsources of local power can be traced out with perfect accuracy from thecolumns of the Escheats Roll, where each peer or knight's lands arecarefully set forth at the moment of his decease. Joining one authorityto another, we may fairly build up the England of the fifteenth centurybefore our eyes with some approach to completeness.
The whole picture of the times is very depressing on the moral if noton the material side. There are few more pitiful episodes in historythan the whole tale of the reign of Henry the Sixth, the most unselfishand well-intentioned king that ever sat upon the English throne—a manof whom not even his enemies and oppressors could find an evil word tosay; the troubles came, as they confessed, "all because of his falselords, and never[Pg 5] of him." We feel that there must have been somethingwrong with the heart of a nation that could see unmoved the meek andholy King torn from wife and child, sent to wander in disguise up anddown the kingdom for which he had done his poor best, and finallydoomed to pine for five years a prisoner in the fortress where he hadso long held his royal Court. Nor is our first impression concerningthe demoralisation of England wrong. Every line that we read bears hometo us more and more the fact that the nation had fallen on evil times.First and foremost among the causes of its moral deterioration wasthe wretched French War, a war begun in the pure spirit of greed andambition,—there was not even the poor excuse that had existed in thetime of Edward the Third—carried on by the aid of hordes of debauchedforeign mercenaries (after Henry the Fifth's death the native Englishseldom formed more than a third of any host that took the field inFrance), and persisted in long after it had become hopeless, partlyfrom misplaced national pride, partly because of the personal interestsof the ruling classes. Thirty-five years of a war that was as unjust asit was unfortunate had both soured and demoralised the nation. Englandwas full of disbanded soldiers of fortune; of knights who had lostthe ill-gotten lands across the Channel, where they had maintained aprecarious lordship in the days of better fortune; of castellans andgovernors whose occupation was gone; of hangers-on of all sorts who hadonce maintained themselves on the spoils of Normandy and Guienne. Yearafter year men and money had been lavished on the war to no effect;and when the final catastrophe came, and the fights of Formigny andChatillon ended the[Pg 6] chapter of our disasters, the nation began tocast about for a scapegoat on whom to lay the burden of its failures.The real blame lay on the nation itself, not on any individual; andthe real fault that had been committed was not the mismanagement of anenterprise which presented any hopes of success, but a wrong-headedpersistence in an attempt to conquer a country which was too strongto be held down. However, the majority of the English people chose toassume firstly that the war with France might have been conducted toa prosperous issue, and secondly that certain particular persons wereresponsible for its having come to the opposite conclusion. At firstthe unfortunate Suffolk and Somerset had the responsibility laid uponthem. A little later the outcry became more bold and fixed upon theLancastrian dynasty itself as being to blame not only for disasterabroad, but for the "want of governance" at home. If King Henry hadunderstood the charge, and possessed the wit to answer it, he mightfairly have replied that his subjects must fit the burden upon theirown backs, not upon his. The war had been weakly conducted, it wastrue; but