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as grandson of Edward III. But his father was only third son of that monarch, Richard's father, the Black Prince, being the eldest, and Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the second. Therefore, if Richard should die, whose title had been solemnly recognised in parliament, and who had the possession for above twenty years, Lionel's daughter, married to the Earl of March, and her son, the young earl, also recognised by the parliament, became undoubted heirs to their grandfather. Next, he set up a yet more preposterous claim, as being descended from Henry III. through the former Dukes of Lancaster, whom he pretended to represent from his mother. But Richard and the Lady March, or, after her decease, her son, were all descended from Henry III., and all in the male line, unless credence were given to a vulgar tradition, which no one affected to believe, that Edward of Lancaster was the eldest brother of Edward I., and had been set aside on account of his personal deformity, a tale the more notoriously false that Edward was known, both in England and on the Continent,1 as a man of ordinary aspect and form. Thus, nothing could be more fanciful than the pretensions of Henry, or more gross and flimsy than the device by which he sought to give his usurpation the colour of hereditary right. He was, however, so popular at the moment that the country did not nicely examine his title; and the parliament, either partaking of the same feelings, or overawed by his troops, did not hesitate to accept him as successor to the vacant throne.
1 He was chosen King of the Romans, and served abroad with distinction.
The audacity of this prince was guided by the cunning and sustained by the firmness which enables offenders to perpetrate crimes. His disposition was cruel as well as calculating. Beside the murder of the ministers at Bristol, he had in Wales put to death Sir Piers Legh, one of Richard's servants, merely because he remained faithful to his master, and had caused his head to be fixed on a turret at Chester as a warning to all others against siding with the unfortunate King. After he seized upon the crown, a conspiracy to restore Richard was discovered, headed by his uncles. The ringleaders were put to death; and some of them, with all the barbarous torments practised upon persons executed for treason—a punishment only of late years abrogated, but which in modern times used seldom to be inflicted.1 That Richard's partisans might no longer have any motive for again moving in his favour, the usurper resolved to destroy him in his prison. Traditions differ, as did the belief of men at the time, with respect to the manner of his destruction; but the more probable account is that which represents him as having been starved to death after lingering fifteen days in the anguish of hunger, a plentiful repast being placed before him, which he was not suffered to touch.2 Men persisted, however, in believing that he was still alive; and Henry, after making his obsequious par- 1 Note XXI. « Note XXII. Hall, 20. Hoi., iii. 23.
liament denounce the severest penalties against the propagators of such a rumour, caused ten persons to be executed for this offence, of whom nine were friars, and one a natural son of the Black Prince.1
That he displayed as little principle in his religious as in his secular conduct, we have already had occasion to observe. After showing, while in a private station, his opinions to be in favour of the reformed sect, he became the warm partisan and patron of their persecutors, and was the first King of England who stained his hands with the blood of men dying for conscience-sake.
In weighing the merits of men who lived at a period remote from our own age, we are bound to regard the opinions and the feelings prevailing in their day; because, although the great distinctions between right and wrong are eternal, yet the light in which actions are viewed varies, as far as the degree of praise or blame is concerned, in different stages of society; and the historian ill discharges his duty who neglects to take such changes into his account. The crimes prompted by ambition, and absolutely necessary to the compassing of its purposes, have been in all ages too easily excused, or palliated; the success so far dazzling the eyes of the world as to hide the guilt which gained it. In the feudal times, the turbulence of the barons was so ordinary a spectacle, that the crime of civil war created little abhorrence, and indeed the duty towards a chief made the 1 Note XXIII.
vassal blind to that which his country might more justly exact from him. Even Henry's bloody executions at Bristol and in Wales were likely to be overlooked during his advance upon the crown; but no peculiarity of the time could make men forget, and no struggle in which he was engaged could erase from his own remembrance for one moment, that Richard was his nearest kinsman; the feelings cherished by all the laws, and usages, and manners of the age, made the duty he owed him as the head of his house most sacred; and the same feelings necessarily presented to his mind any violence committed upon the person of his Sovereign as the most heinous of human crimes. The vile fraud by which he was enabled to seize him; the casting him into prison; the mockery of making him abdicate, with an extorted confession of his offences and incapacity; the carrying him about from gaol to gaol; the making him die a lingering death, during the slow progress of which, a daily report must have been received of his sufferings, and of his progress towards the extinction of life; and then destroying the wretched King's surviving natural brother, for the offence of declaring his fond belief that he yet lived—forms altogether a picture of as detestable wickedness as any page of human history has enrolled; and, while none of the habits and prejudices of the age in which the scene was enacted could shut men's eyes to its atrocity, sentiments of singular force then prevailed to make both the great criminal who perpetrated those acts regard them with the consciousness of peculiar guilt, and strike all who witnessed them with feelings, however stifled, of disgust and horror.
Such was the father of Henry the Fifth; such the steps by which he ascended and kept possession of the throne; such the title by which he made it hereditary. But to that throne the son succeeded without any opposition, or even a murmur from any quarter. He had already become familiarly known to the country by his habits of associating with the people; and he had acquired some celebrity by his conduct in the war against Owen Glendower, having been wounded in the face at the great battle of Shrewsbury. It must, however, be added, that the usurper had not only fortified his title by the proceedings which we have related on the deposition of Richard, but had likewise, at a later period of his reign, obtained a statute, entailing the crown upon his sons by name, and the other heirs of his body.1 This, indeed, might not of itself have sufficed to make the succession to him peaceable—for he had quite outlived his early popularity; the murder of the dethroned prince had transferred to him the pity once felt for the fate of Gloucester, and to his successor the odium with which that crime had covered himself; and the strong prejudices in favour of hereditary right, only to be conquered by glaring misconduct on the throne, had been revived after the delinquent's death, rendering him who had broken 1 7 Henry IV., c. ii.