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days,1 he was kept under the close questioning of prelates, priests, doctors, and lawyers—men deeply skilled in all the learning and all the subtleties of the metaphysical theology. Their interrogations were pressed upon him in every form; the subject of them was not any matter of fact, but only his own opinion and belief. Upon the answers he might give depended his fate; and not only was he compelled thus to furnish proof against himself, but the purport of his statement was to be judged by the court, and his guilt or innocence was to depend upon the opinion which they might form of his doctrines. Then the judges, or rather inquisitors, who were thus to weigh his merits, were so far from being impartial that they represented the party against whom he had thought, and spoken, and acted—the party who for their own interest, the cause of their spiritual order and temporal emolument, had put him upon his trial. The multitude of his adversaries assembled to judge him were supported by a surrounding multitude of their retainers; the court-house was filled with clerks, and canons, and friars, and parish clerks, bellringers, pardoners, in short, all who were sure to feel the most \iolent prejudice against him, who regarded him as their implacable and powerful enemy, and, adding spiritual to secular bitterness, "derided him," we are told, "with innumerable mocks and scorns, reckoning him to be a horrible heretic, and a man accursed before God."1
1 The day seems to have been far spent on the second examination; for Dr. Kemp speaks of " the day passing away."
But all this dismayed him not. The sentence itself he heard with an equal mind. With a cheerful countenance he addressed the court in a few but solemn words: "Though ye judge my body,"said he, "which is but a wretched thing, yet I am sure ye can do no harm to my soul. He that created will, of His infinite mercy, save it according to His promise, by whose eternal grace I will stand to what I have rehearsed, even to the very death." Then, turning to the people and spreading out his hands, he bade them be well aware of these men, who would lead them to their perdition, blind leaders of the blind. When he had ended, falling on his knees and raising his hands and eyes to heaven, he prayed for his persecutors: "Lord God eternal! I beseech Thee, for Thy great mercy's sake, to forgive my pursuers, if it be Thy blessed will!"
Surely, whether we regard the greatness of the occasion, a strenuous fight with the arms of reason, piety, and faith, against the most pernicious error, the most enormous abuse—or the condition of the party, both in his worldly and his religious capacity— or the noble demeanour, the signal ability, the unshaken fortitude displayed by him in the most trying circumstances, when exposed to the greatest earthly peril without any thing like a crime or even fault laid to his charge, and cheerfully sustaining himself when assailed by the united oppression of unlimited regal power and unmeasured popular obloquy—we must allow that history presents for our reverent admiration few passages more striking than this.
1 Bale, Harl. Mis., ii. 263.
When the sentence was passed, which under the statute1 was one of death, to be inflicted by the sheriff, the prisoner was conveyed back to the Tower. The Primate still hoped to extort a recantation from him by the fear of an impending punishment; and willing, at the same time, as he had been throughout the trial, to make a false show of compassion for his victim, when he delivered his certificate for the execution, he desired the King to postpone it for a short period. A respite for six weeks was accordingly granted. This interval the priests employed in circulating a fabricated confession and retractation pretended to come from Cobham, but drawn up by them for the purpose of disheartening his followers and imposing upon the rest of the people. It does not appear that this weak invention of his persecutors ever came to his knowledge; but he found means to escape from his confinement, and appears to have forthwith fled towards Wales, where he had partisans, and might hope, from the difficulty of the country, to maintain himself in safety.
Soon after his flight, a concourse of people, said to be principally Lollards, took place in the fields near St. Giles's, close to the city of London, on the Sunday evening following Epiphany. The King was then keeping the festival of Christmas at the residence of Eltham, in Kent, and he is supposed to have beforehand received secret information of the intended assemblage, with an account, probably exaggerated if not false, of its purpose; for he suddenly removed without an escort to his palace at Westminster. The mob collected in the night; whether to hear one Beverley, a favourite preacher, or with riotous intentions, still seems doubtful. The King was strongly advised not to act against them until daylight should enable him to distinguish friends from foes. This suggestion, however, he disregarded, being apprehensive, from the statements made to him, that the people, if not immediately opposed, might destroy the monasteries in the capital and its neighbourhood. With such force as he could collect, therefore, he repaired soon after midnight to the ground, and there took post to await the daybreak. He adopted the further precaution of ordering the gates of the city to be shut, as he had been told of an apprehension entertained that there might be a rising of the serving-men and apprentices. Thus none were allowed to leave the walls but such as went to join him. But it happened that some persons from the country, who were supposed to intend joining the mob, mistook their way, and coming to the King's quarters were taken and sent to prison. This spread a panic amongst the rest; for it was rumoured, say the accounts, that the soldiers were in great force; and the multitude are represented to have been further discouraged at finding that they were not joined by the citizens, as they had expected. There was in consequence a general dispersion in all directions; some were taken, some slain, and the riot, if any there had been, was effectually quelled. On being asked whom they intended to join, the prisoners said, Lord Cobham. This gave rise to a belief that he was their leader, and that he had escaped; but no tradition represents him as ever having been present. A reward, amounting to nearly 8000/., was offered by royal proclamation for his apprehension; and the promise even went to the unheard-of length of perpetual exemption from tallage and all other imposts to any town in which he might have taken refuge and which should deliver him up.1 It is hardly necessary to add, that none ever claimed these rewards; probably no expectation of such a claim was entertained. There can be no doubt whatever that Cobham was still in Wales. No one has ever pretended that any act of riot or any disturbance of the peace took place, or that any noise or even outcry was made, or in short, that the people assembled ever did or said any thing whatever. It is confessed that the soldiers were made to act
1 De Heretico comburendo, 2 Henry IV. c. 15. Unless the'sheriffs had been summoned to attend the trial, which it was optional in the court to do or not, a writ of execution was issued from the crown upon the bishop's certificate simply.
'Rym., ix. 90. The sum offered was 1500 merks, equal to 8000/. of this day. The answer to the question whom they meant to join, proves nothing unless we knew the very terms of the question. Suppose, as is very likely, it was, "Who is your leader?" and that they only came to hear Beverley preach, they would say, "Lord Cobham."