Texts and Documents

Copyright, image use
and linking information

Contact information


Henry the Seventh by James Gairdner (pub. 1899)

 

 

CHAPTER X

DOMESTIC HISTORY


ONE great cause of Henry's stability at home was his financial credit. In the first year of his reign he had asked the city for a loan of 6000 marks -- that is to say, £4000 -- but the city only agreed to give him half the sum, which the king accepted graciously without showing any disappointment. It was punctually repaid, and in July 1488 the city advanced a further sum of £2000, or, according to another authority, £4000, which was duly repaid likewise. Henry could not but have seen that considerable caution was necessary in the matter of borrowing until the confidence rudely shaken by revolution and civil war had returned. But punctual repayment soon restored confidence, which no doubt was all the more confirmed as it became known that he was gradually accumulating treasure. Much of the money he laid by he appears to have invested in the purchase of jewels, which while they were in use added brilliance to his Court and at other times could be employed as security for further loans. Thus, during the first half of his reign, although certainly he was growing continually richer even then, his privy purse expenses show him to have been a very frequent borrower, as frequently repaying the sums advanced to him.

But when the war with France appeared imminent he found it necessary to have further aid of his subjects than by way of loan, and notwithstanding the Act of Richard III., he resolved to have it by way of benevolence. Nor did he even ask authority to do so from Parliament, as Lord Bacon informs us that he did -- at all events, not from what we should call a Parliament now. The body to which he applied was really a Great Council only. Great Councils, often loosely called Parliaments, had often been summoned at important crises in public affairs, and as they consisted of lords and leading men and representatives of important towns, the weight of their decisions was hardly inferior to that of Parliament itself. So that when about June 1491 a Great Council sanctioned the revival of benevolences with a view to the coming war, the decision, though it could hardly have been popular, appears to have been acquiesced in by the nation without a murmur.

The legal objection probably did not stand very much in the way. The war was clearly in accordance with the wishes of the nation, and the method of raising funds was not an unreasonable one in itself, provided there was no undue pressure amounting to extortion. Manifestly, however, a direct application from the head of the State to private individuals and wealthy corporations for money was a practice very liable to abuse, and all the more so when it had received a kind of sanction almost equivalent to that of statute law. No one thought of disputing the authority of the commission, and the instructions given to the commissioners were so cunningly worded that the pressure brought upon individuals was severely felt. Cardinal Morton had the credit of drawing up these instructions; and one article suggested an argument familiarly known as "Morton's fork." In it the commissioners were directed, according to Lord Bacon, "that if they met any that were sparing they should tell them that they must needs have, because they laid up; and if they were spenders they must needs have, because it was seen in their port and manner of living; so neither kind came amiss." Arguments like this were a little cruel; and they were felt all the more so when it appeared by the sequel that the king, to use the language of Lord Bacon again, had only "trafficked with that war," making thereby a double profit, "upon his subjects for the war, and upon his enemies for the peace." His subjects, however, had not all paid in advance; and as the demand was, strictly speaking, illegal, those who had not done so before naturally expected to keep their money to themselves when the peace with France was concluded. But they were not allowed to escape so easily; for three years later Henry obtained an Act giving retrospective validity to the exaction, and compelling every one who was in arrear to pay up the full amount that he had promised.

This may be regarded as the beginning of those extortions which formed such a painful feature of Henry's reign, for it was in the same year as this Act of Parliament that Alderman Sir William Capel first fell a victim to the pettifogging ingenuity of Sir Richard Empson, and was condemned in the sum of £2700 under certain obsolete penal laws, though he was allowed to compound with the king for £1600. This and the long series of later persecutions with which the names of Empson and Dudley are associated, appear to have been due to a double policy, having two aims, each of great importance to a king in Henry's position -- first to enforce a higher respect for law, and secondly to fill his treasury in a way that could not be com plained of. It was a considerable object with the king to secure for himself an ample reserve of treasure without burdening his subjects at large with too severe taxation. The desire of Englishmen, and even of states men and judges like Sir John Fortescue, for a whole generation and more, had been to see their king "live of his own," so as to make parliamentary grants unnecessary; and Henry realised more clearly than any previous sovereign that money was a source of power. He kept his own accounts very carefully, and many of his account books remain to this day with annotations in his own hand as to particular items of income and expenditure.

But to make the law feared was a still greater object than to fill his treasury, and while many and even serious offences could be compounded for, it was necessary that in prominent cases severity should be used. For the dis closures made by Sir Robert Clifford as to the intrigues at home in favour of Perkin Warbeck it was the general opinion that Henry was very well prepared beforehand, and in particular that he had long suspected the guilt of Sir William Stanley. Of the extent of that guilt it is difficult for the modern reader to form any clear estimate, because there is no record of the precise acts or sayings of which he was found guilty. Every one knows that the law of treason was in those days severely interpreted; and the tradition reported by Lord Bacon may be true that the case against him rested merely on his having said to Sir Robert Clifford that if he were sure the young man (Warbeck) was King Edward's son, he would never bear arms against him. But a contemporary writer says expressly that Stanley had promised to help Perkin with money; and this is really more likely in itself, as it is very improbable that Henry would have needlessly put to death the man who had rescued him from danger on the field of battle, and whom he had in consequence made his chamberlain.

The people were simply appalled by his execution, especially those who had in any way committed themselves to the cause of the pretender or of the House of York. For, apart from the consideration of past services and of the high honour in which he seemed to be held, there was a sort of affinity between Stanley and the king, inasmuch as his brother, the Earl of Derby, had married the king's mother, the Countess of Richmond; so that the blow struck home, and could not but be felt grievously even by those most nearly related to the Crown. Henry, indeed, must have felt that he was to some extent chastising himself. His object, however, was to show that no such ties could be pleaded in mitigation of condign punishment in a matter which concerned not only his own safety but the peace of the kingdom as well. In fact the offence was greatly aggravated by these very circumstances, and whatever pain it might give, he was determined that the sentence should be carried out. It was done, and no doubt the result was salutary in the long run, but it led, as a first effect, to the diffusion of a multitude of libels, containing invectives against the king and his Council, for the dispersion of which five men were apprehended and after examination put to death.

It was perhaps the more important, after Sir William Stanley's case, that the king should show his desire to rule with clemency; and in the Parliament which met in October he caused a law to be passed, so little in keeping with the spirit of those times that even Lord Bacon, writing more than a century later, calls it "of a strange nature, rather just than legal, and more magnanimous than provident." It was to protect from impeachment, and even from attainder by Act of Parliament in future, all who fought for a de facto king, whatever might be thought of his title afterwards. For it seemed unjust that a subject should be punished for his allegiance even to a usurper like Richard III., who had a right to command his services, and might have punished him if he withheld them. Otherwise it was the duty of every subject to investigate the king's title, -- a doctrine which it would have been dangerous even to insinuate in those days. The enactment, therefore, was indisputably just, the objection that it was not "legal" being merely founded on the fact that one Parliament can never tie the hands of succeeding Parliaments as to attainders or any other questions. But when Bacon adds that it was "more magnanimous than politic," we may perhaps be permitted to doubt whether a mind like his, great as it was in many things, fully appreciated magnanimity even as a matter of policy. No doubt, as he observes, it might weaken the hold the king had over his own party by protecting their lives and fortunes whether they fought for him strenuously or not; but, as he likewise remarks, "it could not but greatly draw unto him the love and hearts of the people, because he seemed more careful for them than for himself." More over, "it did the better take away occasion for the people to busy themselves to pry into the king's title, for, howsoever it fell, their safety was already provided for." Thus Bacon himself seems to answer his own criticism. The terror expressed by the Croyland monk, even at the comparatively few attainders at the beginning of Henry's reign, had hardly counterbalanced the sense of injustice that they aroused, and the new law, though it did not exclude all risk, was doubtless a very effective means of counteracting Yorkist intrigues.

It was in this Parliament that the Act was passed for compelling payment of arrears of the benevolence, which was artfully put as an act of justice towards those who had paid before, and was pretended to be passed at their request. But with it some wholesome enactments were made for the better administration of justice, especially to allow suing in forma pauperis, which was a new remedy against oppression, and to punish juries returning false verdicts by a writ of attaint. Whole some legislation, in fact, grew naturally with the sense of the king's security upon the throne, and it was clearly appreciated by his subjects that his interests were their own. It was only in this growing state of tranquillity that just laws could be passed, old iniquities redressed, and the precedents of legal severity put aside. The king was growing strong both at home and abroad. Perkin, who was now in Scotland, had been disowned by the archduke, and commerce was re-established with Flanders by the Intercursus Magnus. No English rebels could be harboured any more in the Netherlands, even in the lands of the Duchess Margaret; and with the exception of Charles VIII. and Maximilian (whose interests were opposed to each other and were safe to keep each other in check), there was not a prince on the Continent who did not assiduously cultivate friendly relations with England.

Scotland alone was a source of present trouble, and soon after the invasion of the Northern Marches by James and Perkin Warbeck, Henry called a Great Council at Westminster, to which all the principal towns in England sent representatives, and which, after sitting nearly a fortnight, agreed that the king should have a grant of £120,000 for defence against the Scots, and loans to the extent of £40,000 besides. The grant, it would seem, was only a recommendation to Parliament, which met within three months after, on the 16th of January 1497, and passed it in the form of a subsidy. But the king's agents at once set about soliciting the loan, first from the city of London and afterwards from other quarters throughout England; and notwithstanding that full payment of the benevolence had been recently extorted from everybody then in arrears, a sum of money seems to have been procured about £18,000 in excess of that which he had been authorised to borrow. Bacon's remark that Henry's wars "were always to him as a mine of treasure" is fully borne out by the accounts of this loan.

But a loan first and a subsidy afterwards, both following rather close upon the compulsory payment of the arrears of a benevolence, created naturally not a little irritation. The hardy men of Cornwall, in particular, began to murmur at these repeated exactions, and said it was intolerable to be thus ground down merely on account of "a little stir of the Scots, soon blown over." A lawyer named Thomas Flammock added to the excitement by telling them that a subsidy for such a purpose was unprecedented, if not illegal; that the legitimate way of obtaining service in war was by the old feudal custom of escuage; and that the case was such as to justify a strong remonstrance to the king, which might be made by a large body of Cornishmen going up to London, armed merely in self-defence. As usual in dangerous movements of this kind, the malcontents were to disown any thought of disloyalty; they would merely pray for the removal of those councillors (Morton and Bray were intended) who had given the king mischievous advice. A blacksmith or farrier of Bodmin named Michael Joseph was no less busy than Flammock in fanning the flames, and the two put themselves at the head of the cxpedition that was to march to London. A rude multitude, armed chiefly with bows and arrows, bills, and other simple weapons, passed onwards through Devon shire peacefully enough till they came to Taunton, in Somersetshire, where they killed a commissioner for the subsidy. At Wells they were joined by a nobleman, Lord Audley, who then became their leader and conducted them to Salisbury and Winchester. Finding no resistance as they advanced, they expressed a desire to be led into Kent, where the people, Flammock said, were the freest in all England. But the men of Kent, though they had given trouble enough to previous kings under a Wat Tyler or Jack Cade, had been only moved to sedition by injustice and disorderly government. They had no sympathy with rebellion against legally authorised taxation, and were encouraged to persevere in their loyalty by the king's approbation. So the insurgents, though they reached the borders of the county, found even less sympathy there than they had done elsewhere along their line of march.

The rising took the king by surprise and put him in some perplexity, seeing that he was at that very time sending an army northward against the Scots, under Lord Daubeney. These troops he recalled, and sent the Earl of Surrey into the north merely to defend the country in case the Scots should stir, while he himself left Sheen and proceeded westward as far as Woodstock. But he forbore to attack the rebels, deeming it more prudent that they should be allowed to march on a long way from their own country, and thus wear themselves out before joining battle. One little encounter, however, they had with Lord Daubeney's troops near Guildford. At last they encamped upon Blackheath, in full view of London. Henry meanwhile had gradually returned from Woodstock, and joined Lord Daubeney in St. George's Fields. The city, which was at first somewhat alarmed, was now reassured; for besides the king's own forces and those of Lord Daubeney, there were other detach ments near at hand, commanded by the Earls of Oxford, Essex, and Suffolk. On the morning of Saturday, the 17th of June, these were directed to encircle the rebels where they lay, while Daubeney advanced upon them direct from the side towards London. The rebels, already disheartened by not meeting with so much sympathy as they expected from Kent, were soon put to flight, although Daubeney at the beginning of the action was for a while surrounded and in considerable danger. Of their company, amolmting, as it was said, to 15,000, no less than 2000 were slain. The rest were taken alive; among whom were the three leaders -- Lord Audley, the blacksmith, and Flammock.

Henry used his victory with extreme moderation. Lord Audley was executed on Tower Hill after being led through the city in a torn paper coat painted with his own arms reversed. Flammock and the blacksmith were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. But, with the exception of the three leaders, all the rest were pardoned -- a clemency in marked contrast to the severe punishment of Perkin's followers captured after their landing at Deal, who had been executed to the number of one hundred and fifty. But there was all the difference in the world between men who, being severely taxed and deluded by popular oratory, had yet passed through the land in orderly and quiet fashion till it came to a pitched battle, and a mercenary crew of ruffians engaged to support an adventurer. Yet it is questionable whether Henry's lenity on this occasion was not a little in excess of what was politic, for it seems rather to have emboldened the Cornishmen to further acts of disloyalty. The king, they said, could not afford to be severe, for if he hanged all who objected to taxation as much as they did, he would have very few subjects left. They had begun to sympathise with Perkin Warbeck, who in his proclamation had glanced at the king's extortions and promised to put an end to them. They accordingly sent messages over to Ireland, where Perkin now was, intimating that if he would only land in Cornwall he would be sure to find plenty of followers.

The message wonderfully revived the drooping spirits of Perkin and his Council, of whom the three leading members were Heron, a mercer who had fled for debt; Skelton, a tailor; and Astley, a scrivener. The unprofitable campaign in Ireland was at once abandoned for a descent on Cornwall, whither Perkin and his little company found their way in four small barks, which seem to have narrowly escaped capture on the voyage. They landed at Whitesand Bay in September, and went on to Bodmin, where about 3000 of the Cornish people actually joined them. A march on Exeter was naturally the next move in the game, and cajolery was employed to induce the city to be the first to open its gates to one who claimed their allegiance as their lawful sovereign. The citizens, however, paid little regard to this appeal, and prepared to make good their defence till succour came from the king. The rebels were without artillery, and the only thing they could do was to set fire to one of the city gates. But before the fire had burned down to clear a passage for the besiegers the citizens piled up a great barrier of faggots and other fuel, which continued to burn while they made ramparts and trenches within. So the besiegers gained no advantage by their attempt upon the gate, and their efforts to scale the walls were equally unsuccessful.

Perkin must have known very well by this time that his cause was hopeless, and that his long career was coming to a close. Often as he had gained support abroad, or in Scotland or Ireland, he had but once been on English ground before, and his pretended subjects would have nothing to do with him. Now he had landed in England again, and although he received encouragement from those who were disaffected already, he doubtless saw that in the end the result would be much the same -- only that he was never again to escape and seek sympathy with foreign princes. The king rejoiced at the news of his advance on Exeter, feeling that his retreat was now practically cut off. He sent Lord Daubeney, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and others at once to succour the town; but before their arrival in the west the Earl of Devonshire and his son, with the local gentry, made haste to do the work uncommissioned, while the Duke of Buckingham and many others tendered their services to the king with such forces as they too had got ready. Fearing to be surrounded at Exeter, Perkin led his men on to Taunton, in Somersetshire, making as if he were ready to fight his way to London. But during the night he escaped with a small company of horsemen to Beaulieu Abbey, in Hampshire, where he and his attendants took the benefit of sanctuary. The sanctuary was soon surrounded by a body of horse, sent by the king in the hope of intercepting them before they reached it, and Perkin remained a prisoner till further orders.

His followers, deserted by their leader, naturally submitted to the king's mercy without striking a blow, and Henry marched on to Exeter, where he was joyfully received, and presented his own sword to the mayor, to be carried before him thenceforth in processions. A few of the Cornish ringleaders were executed for the trouble they had given to the city, and counsel was taken what to do with Perkin himself. There was some argument for taking him out of sanctuary by force and putting him to death, an act which the Pope could easily have been got to ratify by an indulgence. But this wonld have made the adventurer of too great importance, and the king preferred to spare his life and obtain from him a full confession of his imposture. He was sent up to London and paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens; and he made a full confession, which the king caused to be printed and sent about the country, showing who he was and what his life had been; giving also the precise names of his father, mother, and various other relations at Tournay. His wife, Katharine Gordon, whom he had left behind him at St. Michael's Mount, was sent for by the king when he was at Exeter, and received from him the consideration due to her rank, her beauty, and her misfortunes. He sent her to keep company with his queen, and gave her an allowance to maintain herself with, which she continued to enjoy long after the king's death.

This time Henry did not give a free pardon to the rebels generally, but he adopted a mode of punish ment both merciful and characteristic. He appointed Lord Darcy and others as commissioners to impose fines -- great or little, according to the value of their property -- on those who had given any countenance either to Michael Joseph or to Perkin, thus showing that he was not daunted, as they had expected him to be, by the previous rising against taxation. The commissioners went through the whole of the western counties, hundred by hundred. No one who had been in any way implicated in the rebellion was passed over, many abbots and heads of religious houses, among others, being obliged to compound for their pardon. The payments, however, were only to be made by instalment during years to come, so that men felt that they were personally answerable for their good behaviour long after the rising was put down. The proceeds of the fines were entered upon special rolls, of which at least two remain to us, not referring to the counties most seriously in fault, but only to Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. Their added totals amount to over £13,000, and from two memoranda in the king's own hand it appears that the first levy of the money was to be at Easter 1501, three and a half years after the rebellion, and that the last payment made by one of the collectors, Sherbourne, Dean of St. Paul's, who had by that time become Bishop of St. David's, into the royal treasury was a sum of £80 still remaining due on the 24th of March 1506.