II. The Crucible
Surmounting difficulty is the crucible that forms character.
The Unlikely King
Crowned in Westminister Abbey with only a scattered crowd around him, Charles I ascended the throne of England in January 1456 with no pomp or ceremony. Outside the snowy walls Lord Carleton's army was camped, and there seemed no hope of relief from the royal guard. To many Londoners, Charles was a temporary monarch, his reign to last until the walls fell.
Forty-six years of age, the new king was a bit of an enigma. Having little claim to the throne, he was a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time. Having arrived in London from his native Cornwall in autumn, Charles was one of only a handful of Lancasters in London when the gates were shut. His silver tongue and his connections with the Southron lords helped sway not only his fellow lords but also Parliament, ambivalent about a coronation until his rousing speech on St. Wulfstan's Day moved them to enact a special bill to allow it. Although the words of the speech are lost to history, Shakespeare suggests some of his own in his history, Charles II:
"Charles: Shall we, o noble heirs to Priam Rex
Stand by unthinkingly while time corrects
That divine mistake, that most fair prince most foul?
For faring well, to muster Artemis' howl
Must heatedly bring this house to ruins.
For like to like Carleton will sing paeans
And give a chill welcome, yea, in Hades
For those boys who dare only watch levees
In storm! I shall not wait at Tartarus
For him; nor you, lest God struck with dumbness
Raise from suckling pups England's mastiff hound
And roar heat'dly south news that Britain's crowned.
This is the crucible that makes pure gold!
Malvolio: Whether 'tis fool's is still yet to be told."
Charles II, Act I, Scene I, 122-35
Cole's Notes says: In this scene Charles is addressing Parliament. He first reminds them of the myth that Britain was settled by fleeing refugees from the fall of Troy to suggest honor and courage in the face of a siege, then places the blame for the siege on mad Henry VI ("that most fair prince most foul"). To answer their fears of an angry Carleton's wrath, Charles suggests that Carleton would have them arrested regardless of their actions, and that by crowning a king in Westminster they could at least make their mark on history. The addition of Malvolio to end the last couplet with a pun (fool's gold = iron pyrite) takes away from an otherwise stirring speech, helping to remind the audience that Charles is, in fact, a villain in this play. Key point: This is the first allusion to precious metal in the play, a theme that Shakespeare comes back to throughout the play.
Whatever the case, Charles became the unlikely king of England. Even at the time there were rumors that the new king had arranged the civil war, but this seems unlikely. It is suspicious timing, however, that he arrived in London mere days before the rebels, and more suspicious that he was a Southron lord himself. It is for perhaps this reason that he is rarely portrayed in a sympathetic light in plays or literature despite having shepherded England through one of its darkest times; in Charles II, for example, he is portrayed as a scheming villain. Certainly there were more likely candidates for the throne!
Richard Plantagenet, who was at that time in Cumbria fighting Northumberland, was probably the most likely, having already proven his skill at arms, but although he rushed his horse back to London through the snows, he was unable to reach the city before Parliament crowned Charles. It is to his credit that he chose to continue fighting the rebellion, but perhaps also his greatest mistake.
The Siege of London
It was a bitter winter that year and Carleton's Southron lords did little campaigning, but as spring grew nearer so too did London's fate - and with it, Parliament. His support dwindling as the siege wore on, Charles desperately smuggled out messages and hired Scottish mercenaries, placing them under the command of Henry Percy. Percy's four thousand and Richard Neville's four thousand arrived in London to face Carleton's twenty-three thousand on February 6.
The Battle of London was a desperate one from the beginning, but things became much worse before they began. A scant three days before the battle, Richard Neville died from an infected wound. This left the advancing royalist armies without their best leader, but they still performed ably.
Richard Neville's death concentrated the Neville fortunes in the hand of his brother John
The mercenaries formed the center, having arrived early, while Richard's forces took up the flanks against a superior Oxfordshire force. Losing only 500 in the fighting, Percy's men dispersed some 4,000 rebels before losing the field. Lord Carleton was a savvy campaigner; he knew his own limitations and realized that he could not hope to match the tactics of either Lancastrian general, so he relied on attrition to defeat them, a strategy that worked again and again against the desperate royalists.
Forces align at London
The battle rages
A furious Charles put John Neville in charge of the combined forces and ordered them to try again. Meanwhile, Lord Northumberland pressed the defenders in Cumbria and the five Irish regiments were being overwhelmed in Ireland by earls who swore fealty to Northumberland.
With the spring rains, a second desperate assault on London was scheduled for May 1st. Arriving from the north, Richard of York led his 1,800 horse while Neville led 3,000 foot and 4,600 horse against the 16,000 Southron troops besieging London. The battle was short and painful. Carleton's numbers proved unstoppable and the disorganized royal guard scattered. On May 12, the city of London surrendered to Carleton. The newly crowned Charles I was allowed to leave the city only by paying a king's ransom - literally - that dragged England's name through the muck. Formerly respected in international circles, the Lancastrian dynasty had lost much of its lustre in a single defeat.
As soon as Carleton moved on to Anglia, Neville swept in and reconquered London. By the end of June 1456 it was back in royalist hands, but the damage had been done.
By midsummer things were turning around: most Irish earls had pledged fealty to Charles and the Irish troops were brought home. In the meantime, rebel strongholds in the Cinque Ports were retaken by royal forces; Northumberland was slain in battle in Cumbria and his estates under siege, while Blake, Lord Cornwall, was arrested and executed after his troops lost to the royal guard. This left only the indominitable Carleton leading the rebellion.
The war had been costly, however. With so much of the country under rebel control, Parliament was unable to pay its own armies. Rather than risk a mutiny, Parliament borrowed heavily to pay for the war. This sudden cash allowed the king to hire mercenaries, but only at the cost of his patrimony! Timely Irish plunder helped stave off a second loan and gave the king some respite. For the first time since the war began, victory seemed assured.
Carleton's defeat was slow but certain. With his support crumbling, he won victory after victory, losing men but always keeping his ground. His final stand was on Boxing Day, when he was slain along with all his remaining men. The Scottish mercenaries were sent home and despite a strong resurgence of piracy in the Cinque Ports, Charles returned to London in triumph to begin the trials of captured rebels. Tensions still simmered just under the surface, but the immediate threat was gone.
In August 1456 came a sign from God. The pope canonized St. Jasper, an 11th-century monk from Yorkshire. This happy news was celebrated, thought to be a sign of peace for years to come. It would be closer to months.
The War of the Roses
General Percy was the last casualty of the civil war, having caught pneumonia in the last battles of the war. His death left England with only two able generals, Richard of York, the ambitious cousin to Henry VI, and John Neville, the richest man in England. Both men were capable, both were ambitious, and both had greviances against Charles.
On October 6, 1457 Richard acted. Calling Parliament's coronation of Charles rash and illegal, he declared himself the true king of England. His house, the Plantagenets of Yorkshire, rallied to his side along with many of the defeated lords of the south and calling on his old friends in Ireland to once again heed his call. In total he raised some 20,000 men for his armies against the king's 11,000, a miracle of logistics in the exhausted nation and a testament to his martial ability. At the same time, mercenaries from the civil war began to take advantage of the realm's instability to pillage the countryside. What hope there was for peace dissappeared along with the green in the trees.
The War of the Roses begins
The Lancastrians under Charles achieved some early successes, for the king had maintained heavy garrisons in the south after successive problems with the Cinque Ports. The Yorkists failed to achieve surprise, but despite this, managed to defeat the initial royalist attacks.
In the war between Richard Plantagenet and John Neville, Neville proved the more able strategist, for his forces returned to rout the Yorkist heir again and again in England. By spring, the Yorkists were on the retreat in England and Charles decided to allow them to run, hoping to avert a full-scale war.
Not persecuting the rebels brought much-needed relief to many, but it also allowed the rebels to regroup
Richard regrouped his forces and laid siege to Lancashire in late 1458 for mostly symbolic reasons; he had already lost the true battlefields in the south. While Ireland again proved the hardest to pacify, Richard slipped away from England, seeking aid from his old friends in Burgundy. It would soon become apparent that he had been successful.
The Auld Alliance
The summer of 1459 was cool, but it failed to do much to cool down tempers in Europe. Hoping to take advantage of the chaos in England, France once again took up arms against England, bringing their many vassals and allies with them. Orleans, Provence, Armagnac, Auvergne, Foix, Bourbonnais, Scotland and Norway joined the war against England. England's Irish allies pledged their aid, as did the king of Portugal. Burgundy's duke, however, broke his promises and washed his hands of the war. Though Richard could not convince Burgundy to side against England, he could keep them from coming to their aid! There were even rumors that he had been behind the sudden declaration of war.
The war itself is an interesting one for historians; had France invaded earlier, they would have found an England helpless to resist; had Burgundy sided with Richard, he could have fought his way to the throne. But neither happened, and Charles was given some breathing space.
The first battle of the war was fought in the Channel, appropriately enough. It was an English victory, winning a prize ship from the French, l'Alexandre. It was a great victory, but not a decisive one. French fleets pounded away at the English until finally the remaining English warships were forced into port to avoid their complete annihilation. Once again, and not for the last time, England had lost the battle for the waves. The French seized this opportunity to attack Calais while the English looked on haplessly.
On land, things looked even grimmer. Scottish troops had begun pouring across the border into Cumbria and Northumberland, led by James II himself and the able General Gilchrist. It soon became apparent that the royal guard were outnumbered by the Scots. 24,000 Scotsmen invaded against 11,000 English troops. Charles used what monies Parliament allowed him to raise troops in the heartland while Neville bought time. He immediately split his forces, sending a few regiments of cavalry to harass the enemy in Cumbria while his main force pushed into Scotland. In two spring campaigns he fought James II repeatedly, all while holding the Scots to Cumbria. Like Carleton, James won pyrrhic victories - winning the battle, losing his troops.
By Lammas Day 1460, Neville pushed James back and laid siege to Edinburgh. Miraculously, mysteriously, the Scots were losing.
With fresh troops at his command, Neville pushed further north into Scotland. Around him Scottish resistance dissolved. Many of the captured prisoners were mercenaries. By the time English armies reached the highlands, the Scottish defenders were mainly boys and old men. Scotland had been bled white, unable to maintain its initial push.
To add to the excitement, the Army of the Pale won a decisive victory over the Yorkists in Ireland. Large parts of Eire would remain in Yorkist hands until 1461, but the last battle of the War of the Roses was over.
These great victories did little to lighten the king's spirits. Charles was under increasing pressure from Parliament to find a way to end the war. England's debts were coming due, and with the war raging Charles had no way to make ends meet, let alone save money for the debts. It was then that the church intervened.
England had always had a special relationship with the church, having been favored by the pope since 1453. Just when it seemed there was no choice but to take out more loans, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered Charles a deal. The church would pay the full loan in return for a special tithe for the next generation. Charles happily accepted.
The Pragmatic Sanction of Canterbury
The year ended with the death of James II, succeeded by Stuart I. Stuart was said to be a fine general, yet he was left with too few men to come back without French aid. Using their control of the sealanes, the French had managed to land several thousand troops in Scotland and Ireland, but they preferred to aid their Scottish allies rather than fighting themselves. By early winter that year the war in the north was assured, and Charles wanted to reopen the war for the waves.
Parliament refused to see things this way. They were infuriated with Charles for having made a deal with the church behind their backs, even though it paid off England's debts. His repeated demands for taxes to build a fleet was galling to them, and by this time some were convinced of his inability to rule. Finally, Charles had had enough; he dissolved parliament, taking its authority away and investing it in himself.
In the winter of 1461, a starving, freezing Scottish army surrendered to John Neville's men. It was a one-sided treaty where Scotland surrendered most of its territory to England and paid a massive reparation for the war. They would not soon forget it, but not in the way Charles intended. The treaty was roundly condemned by the pope, who was siding with the French. Charles had lost the services of Cardinal Somerset, a cousin to the late Lord Somerset who had been so close to his family, and the Roman curia was now aligned with England's enemies.
With the end of the war in the north, the front shifted to the channel again. In the spring, England's newly Christened navy sailed into the channel to contest it from the French. They attacked a small flotilla, but it turned out to be a trap! Admiral de Vibien was personally commanding a fleet of Carracks rather than the undefended cogs expected. The brave English sunk two enemy warships, but lost nearly the entire English fleet as a consequence. The English retreat of 1459 had saved the fleet, but the disaster of 1462 destroyed it.
With this last defeat, it became apparent the war would end in a stalemate. France could not conquer England, but it could and did control the sea lanes, sponsor piracy and harass English troops as well as occupy Calais. In the spring of 1463 a peace was finally brokered by Norway in which Charles gave up his ancestral claim to Armagnac in return for an end to hostilities.
A few days later, Richard Platagenet was dead, England was in the pope's favor again, and an era was at an end.
England at a Glance in 1463
Treasury: 105 million ducats
Estimated GDP: 218.4 million ducats
Standing Army: 12,000 infantry and 5,000 knights
Royal Navy: 2 small ships and 2 transports
Prestige: 17th highest (22.6)
Reputation: Slightly Tarnished (3.98)