III. The Redemption
"A peace is of the nature of a conquest; for then both parties nobly are subdued, and neither party loser."
The King's Peace
Charles I, from a line of long-lived monarchs, reigned for twenty years. The first seven of those were turbulent years for England. It can be said with little exaggeration that the country was exhausted and vulnerable after its humiliation abroad and the tensions of a still-smouldering civil war. What the country needed was peace. Not the King's Peace of Henry VI in which England had been plagued by feuds, riots and piracy, but a real peace. It is a tribute to Charles that he spent most of his reign working towards such a lasting peace for England. The remaining years of his reign were a much-needed respite from the intense conflicts that had characterized England for the past decade. At the same time, they were far from peaceful years, and Charles ultimately died without bringing an end to England's problems.
In March 1463 Richard of York returned to England, landing at Wessex with his sons Edward and Richard. There is some evidence to suggest that he had become a political liability to his Burgundian allies now that the war with England was over, and what was intended as his triumphant return, a rallying cry for the Yorkist cause, ended up being a massacre. The Army of the Channel was stationed not two day's march from his landing site and Richard's unprepared followers were forced into battle by his Lancastrian counterpart.
With Richard dead, the House of York lost its most ardent champion in England. His son Edward, who survived the massacre of Salisbury, took up the Yorkist cause, but although the War of the Roses would continue in the form of mistrust and dissent in England, the white rose of York would not blossom again in England's garden.
That summer, the royal navy hunted down the remaining privateers who had refused to return to France after the war. Emboldened by these successes and wary of future attacks of piracy, Charles decided to invest heavily in the navy.
This investment was helped made possible by the wholesale auctioning of church functions in England to various noble houses, including several Lancastrian lords, who paid the crown handsomely for the right to benefices and appointments. With the earlier agreement with the church still in force for more than a decade to come, this began to noticeably drag on the finances of the crown. Charles, however, showed great foresight when he spent most of the sudden largess to help encourage small-scale industry in the south, most notably in the Cinque Ports. By creating jobs, Charles was hoping to lure young men from lives of piracy into legitimate work that would increase the country's fortunes as a whole. What is common economic practice today was simply visionary at the time.
In the autumn, the plague moved from Ireland into the Pale. This was largely ignored at the time. We know about the plague today more because of its indirect effects than because of any fear of it spreading to England. Did the English think St. George's channel protected them from disease? Perhaps it would have had English soldiers not been still stationed there. Those same troops were called upon to aid the King's Irish Allies, as the Earls who had pledged fealty to Charles were called. The plague had hit them as well, and revolts broke out that the Earls, bled by their wars with England, could not stop. The royal treasury, by autumn almost empty, could not bear the added strain, and much like a butterfly flapping its wings causing a rainstorm halfway around the world the fighting in Ireland caused shortages and higher prices in London. The chaos in Ireland would continue well into 1465 as the Earls proved incapable of restoring order themselves. Fearful of losing his new vassals, Charles continued to prop them up with English troops.
Charles called upon the church for aid in restoring peace to England. Perhaps hoping to avoid any single country becoming too powerful in the West, His Holiness had once again taken his blessing from France and bestowed it upon England. Capable and effective bishops were sent to help restore order, most notably the bishops of Gwynedd and Wessex, where dissent was at its worst.
It is a testamount to how marginalized the War of the Roses had become by 1465 that when the harvest failed that summer, the peasants who revolted in Cornwall did so without claiming that Charles was not the legitimate king. This must have been cold comfort to the monarch, however; these food riots were to become increasingly common during lean years.
The summer of 1463 was a particularly cool one
The riots were particularly galling to Charles since he had had the opportunity to prevent them. Arriving at London with a list of greviances, peasant leaders had given him the chance to back down gracefully and supply them with food as was his obligation under feudal contract. Unfortunately for Charles, the wars of the last seven years had left the treasury bare, and it would have required dealing with the infamous moneylenders of London to prevent the riots. Charles reluctantly ordered the army in, a fact which did not endear him to his people at the time.
With this failure in mind, Charles decided to take advantage of Parliament's curtailment to raise taxes. This did little to enhance his good name in England.
The taxes of 1465 helped to keep Yorkist sympathies alive and ultimately failed to create a liquid treasury in his lifetime
The Northern War
That year, a man named John Knox led a revolt in Scotland. Since the ignomious defeat of Scotland, the occasional rebels against England had been crushed, but this was different: Knox blamed the defeat squarely on Stuart I and, in a single day of battle, his 2,000 Highlanders defeated Stuart and his 1,200 Scots on the field outside Ediburgh castle, slaying the Scottish king and capturing the town.
Knox's revolt was a tremendous opportunity, and up to August 1467 many in the Lancastrian court were urging war
Scotland's suffering was a blessing for England, and many of Charles' confidants urged him to attack while the northern country was in chaos. He refused, noting that the Scots were still allies of France. England needed more than two scant years to recover from its defeat.
As it turns out, he may have been wise to have waited. 1466 was notable for two things. First, a split among the Yorkists; with Richard's defeat, the House of York was divided into those who supported his son Edward and those that were considering accepting Charles as king in return for clemency. The two sides could not agree and Yorkshire broke out in bloodshed. Charles openly supported the Redemptionists, as the Yorkists who recognized him were called, and in a short campaign crushed Edward's supporters.
The second event of importance in 1466 was the plague. With the returning soldiers came fleas and rats. It began to spread first in Wales, where the local governor decided to quarantine ships, homes, and even whole villages where the plague had struck. This was a draconian measure and tales of the suffering inside those deathtraps are now legendary, but his actions probably helped save England from the worst of it. As it was, it would be an action repeated again in the near future. But for now, other events took precendence.
In the summer of 1467, Scotland's self-proclaimed King John declared war on England. Mad with his unlikely success, filled with a revanchist spirit and willing to accept nothing less than the total recovery of Stuart's kingdom, he convinced France and Norway to support his cause. England was at war!
This time, however, England had recovered. Its armies were filled with veterans from Ireland and Scotland, and English troops had been stationed in the Highlands to deal with revolts and to keep a wary eye on Knox's rebellion since 1465. Was Knox a Quixotic figure, tilting at windmills out of misplaced idealism? Was he touched in the head? Or was he simply a tool of the French, hoping to repeat their successes of the last war and force the English to give up all claims on the continent? The latter is most likely, yet Knox remains a figure of great interest to many in the years after his death.
The opening salvo of the war was not, however, in Scotland, but rather in the cold waters of the Moray Firth, where English warships were stationed while they watched a rebellion in the Orkneys that could have spilled over to England - or handed Orkney to them. Caught off guard by a Scottish attack, the English found themselves in a vise as French ships sailed in from behind. All seemed lost until Portuguese reinforcements arrived. The Portuguese had proven to be the most loyal and able of all England's friends, and once again they brought their fleets to the war against France.
The battle was a nominal victory for England, but it made little difference in the war. Crippled, the English ships were forced to return to port, while France did not notice the loss of a handful of ships. Once again, Charles had sacrificed the war of the waves in return for a victory on land. While the Channel remained under French control, the English fleet, bolstered by new warships, went pirate-hunting along the northern coasts of England and Ireland. These battles were largely successful, albeit at some cost. Nevertheless, their actions helped keep England in the war and solvent.
That victory was delayed in 1468 when John Neville died, leaving England without its most able commander. Luckily, Knox had already been defeated and Edinburgh was under siege, as were the Orkneys. That summer, worse news came when the pope condemned England for the war, although he did not go so far as to excommunicate Charles. France, it seems, was once again in the pope's blessing.
This new status for England revealed itself almost immediately, as around Christmas the new bishop of Yorkshire was allowed to shirk his duties there, instead spending his time in London where he spent his considerable income on wine, women and song. Rome turned a blind eye to this. Could it have been coincidence? Certainly this sort of absenteeism happened a great deal...to other countries. For England, it was a first - and it was suspicious timing. Not only was Yorkshire still a centre of Yorkist sympathies, but the previous bishop of Yorkshire had passed away from the plague that had just reached there.
The bishop of Yorkshire was a deeply unpopular man. Charles complainted bitterly to Rome, but was largely ignored.
With one of its primary governors absent and his replacement incompetent, the plague caused more deaths and more chaos than it would have otherwise. This first taste of church corruption left a bitter aftertaste for Charles. The following year, Simony became an issue as well. Only when papal blessing was revoked did Charles come to see how lucky England had been to have had it.
Yorkshire was by then not an isolated case. Again and again the plague struck England. While Charles initially ordered each village to be quarantined as the plague hit, this strategy proved to be unsustainable on the level required. Soldiers refused to seal up towns with family members inside and entire towns took up arms against the crown rather than be condemned. The social chaos of the plague did not help matters, either. With people dying with no rhyme or reason, some began to doubt the teachings of the church. Some took to enjoying themselves now before the inevitable end, selling their possessions, leaving husbands, wives or children, or committing terrible crimes. Others believed it was a sign of the End Times and prepared themselves for the Second Coming. Those who survived could end up wealthy as they inherited or stole property and land from the dead, but they could also end up traumatized or insane from the sights and experiences they had suffered.
When in 1469 the Pope was forced to flee Rome as the city fell to the Milanese, Charles was too exhausted to celebrate the victory as divine punishment. By then the plague was out of control. The crown could no longer enforce quarantines, and in Yorkshire, Wessex and Meath where controls broke down the plague hit again and again, each time seeemingly worse to exhausted governors and townspeople. The ongoing war was secondary to the plague, and England's ability to fight either was severely curtailed. Only too late was the wisdom of the quarantines evident; provinces where the royal guard had strictly enforced it were hit harshly, but were rarely hit again. Yorkshire became a mass grave. Despite doing everything humanly possible, new outbreaks were only a few weeks apart and riots were constant. When in 1471 the plague struck Ireland again, it became painfully obvious that the small garrison kept there was unprepared for the scope of the disaster.
By 1472, the plague had ended in England, and despite sporadic outbreaks afterwards, it never again threatened England the way it had for those 9 years. Although most historians point to the chaos of 1469-70 as a failure of Charles' governance, it is important to note that he did successfully keep the plague out of London. Despite the fears of many, the city on the Thames never had to be quarantined and the royals evacuated, something which could have resulted in a revolution. Charles was no superman capable of stemming the plague entirely, but what he was able to do prevented the worst.
Charles' Last Days
The constant wars led to innovations in war, and in 1469, as the siege of Edinburgh continued, Charles passed into law the Man-At-Arms bill which codified many of the changes that individual commanders had been practicing since the Irish wars of 1454. The commander whose changes had been most successful was Archibald Norfolk, who was knighted in 1469 and made commander of the army in place of the deceased Neville. He was only a pale shadow of Neville's genius, but the new style of fighting was a noticeable improvement.
By the end of that year, Edinburgh fell to English forces and Charles claimed the throne of Scotland, adding it to the crown. Although a coronation was talked about, the growing problems of the plague prevented that from becoming a reality.
With Scotland out of the war and having had no success invading England, France reluctantly agreed to a white peace shortly thereafter. It was not the victory they had hoped for; England resisted getting drawn into a war it could only lose, and France had its own troubles. By 1469 France had decided to cut its losses and gave back the coastal strongholds of Calais, Dunkirk and Bourgoine. It was not long thereafter that they added their vassal Provence to the crown, completing the unification of France beyond Brittany and Burgundy, both of whom staunchly refused to accept French sovereignty.
The new balance of power in Europe after the Northern War
Now that the war was over, Charles was able to turn his full attention to the plague. In 1470, to help cover his costs, he forced Parliament to pass a Bill of Attainder in which he seized the property of Yorkist sympathizers and their heirs - what few remained after the plague of Yorkshire. It is a common misconception that the bill was primarily motivated by greed. As it had in the 13th century, the plague had concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, creating a new, more powerful aristocracy. The Lancasters of the 14th century had gained power because so many properties had been concentrated in so few hands; the Nevilles of the 15th century did the same, and became the most powerful family in England.
The 1470 Bill of Attainder has become one of the most-studied laws in English history
Had Parliament not passed the bill into law, it is likely that the power of the House of York and several lesser houses besides would have been concentrated in the hands of a few men, perhaps only one. This would have given the Yorkists a champion the likes of Richard, and that was something Charles could never accept. The bill of Attainder was draconian but necessary. It is thus tragic that it did not end the War of the Roses, a conflict which was to persist longer than his reign, although it would never again be as dramatic or as dangerous as it had been in the 1450s.
That year Charles also had the happy occasion to show mercy to the pope, who came begging for aid for his fiefdom in Italy to be restored. Charles gave the pope a place to stay in his court, but what began as a grandiose gesture turned into real conflict in the court and the pope eventually departed to seek aid from the rest of Europe.
Charles briefly considered rejecting the Pontiff utterly after the betrayals of 1468 but his diplomatic nature reasserted itself and he offered the pope a place in his court for some months instead
That autumn was a poor harvest; many fields lay entirely barren because of the plague, and merchants and farmers were slow to trust the highways again despite royal proclamations of safety. Hoping to find a new source of grain to prevent such famines in the future, Charles cast envious eyes on Ireland, where Ulster fed the island with its wheat and rye. From his diaries it appears obvious that had he lived another 5 years, Ireland was liable to have been added to the crown. As it was, he passed on his ambition to his son.
Charles lived the last two years of his life in increasingly ill health. A middle-aged man when he took the crown, he was an old man when he died in 1476. He lived just long enough to see the pope restored to power by the French, who donated Auvergne to him as a personal fief. Not fifty miles from his old seat of Avignon a French pope reigned. Charles was deeply bitter about this fact and, knowing he was dying, urged his son to swear vengeance on France.
Charles I passed away in his sleep on a chill morning in February 1476. His son ascended the throne, an energetic, thoughtful man that has come to been known as Charles II the Great. Before that, however, Charles II was known as simply Charles of Cornwall, a Lancastrian noble of little importance in the annals of history save one brief mention already in this history, a detail that was to have vast importance for the kingdom of England...
Charles II was as good a king as his father in every way and better in most
England at a Glance in 1476
Treasury: 63 million ducats
Estimated GDP: 298.8 million ducats
Standing Army: 13,000 men-at-arms and 6,000 knights
Royal Navy: 6 small ships and 2 transports
Prestige: 32nd (21.0)
Reputation: Respectable (1.47/23)