Gateway to the Classics: Stories From English History, Book II by Alfred J. Church
Stories From English History, Book II by  Alfred J. Church

Hotspur And Glendower

It would have been well for King Richard if he had always behaved as well as he did on the day when he met Wat Tyler and his men in Smithfield. He was then but sixteen years of age, but unhappily he did not grow wiser as he grew older. At one time he allowed himself to be led by bad advisers; at another he seemed determined to have his own way, and was very tyrannical and unjust. One of his unrighteous acts was a chief cause of his fate. He had banished his cousin, Henry, Earl of Hereford, but had promised him that when Henry's father, John of Gaunt, should die, he should have his estates. This promise he did not keep. John of Gaunt died in 1399, and the King at once seized all his property. Henry came to England to claim his inheritance; many of the great nobles joined him; and Richard when he came back from Ireland, whither he had gone a few months before, found that he was no longer King. His cousin Henry had been declared King in his stead by Parliament.

This was the first time that Parliament had done such a thing as to declare who was to be King. Parliament was the people;  so it was the people saying who should reign over them. To us this seems all right, but it was not so clear then. Henry had to fight all his life against the rebellions and conspiracies of those who thought he had no right to be King. What great troubles came from this cause in after years we shall soon see.

The first rebellion that King Henry had to do with broke out in Wales. Rather more than a hundred years before this time an English King, Edward I., had conquered this country. The people had never been quite content, and now they saw a chance of getting their freedom again. Their leader was a certain Owen Glendower, who claimed to be descended from the last Prince of Wales, Llewellyn by name, the one who had tried in vain to resist the English conquest. Glendower had been one of King Richard's squires, and had been ill-treated when his master lost his throne. A neighbour, Lord Grey of Ruthyn, had been allowed to take possession of some of his estates. When he tried to get justice done to him, it was refused. Then he rebelled, and soon gathered a number of followers. Wales is a land of mountains, which Glendower and his men knew very well, and in which it was not easy for the English to find them. To the very end of his reign King Henry found this Welsh chief a very troublesome enemy. Twice did he invade Wales with a large army, and twice he was obliged to retreat. He made a third attempt, he and his son Prince Henry (afterwards Henry V.) and the Earl of Arundel attacking the country at different points. This time the Welsh rivers were so flooded by heavy rains that the English armies could not advance. Owen had the reputation of being a magician, and his followers believed that he had caused the floods by his arts. This made him more powerful than ever.


The Battle of Shrewsbury.

In one of his battles he had taken prisoner one Edmund Mortimer, uncle to the young Earl of March, who, according to the strict law of inheritance, had a better claim to the throne of England than Henry himself. As this is an important thing toward understanding the history of England for the next sixty years, I give a table which shows the descent of the two from King Edward III.


King Henry did not look with any favour on his family, and he would not allow Edmund Mortimer's relatives to ransom him. But by doing this he made enemies of another very powerful family, the Percies, Earls of Northumberland, for Henry Percy, eldest son of the Earl, known as Hotspur on account of his impetuous courage, had married Edmund Mortimer's sister. The Percies had for some time disliked the King. They had had much to do with putting him on the throne, and though he had rewarded them with grants of land and various honours, they thought that he had not done enough. So a great conspiracy was formed against King Henry. Owen Glendower released his prisoner Mortimer, and gave him his sister to wife, while Henry Percy made friends with a powerful Scotch noble, the Earl of Douglas. This Earl of Douglas had been taken prisoner by Henry Percy the year before at the Battle of Homildon Hill. He was now released without ransom, and joined the Percies with a large number of Scottish soldiers. Owen Glendower, on his part, promised to bring 12,000 Welshmen to help his friends. It was agreed that the Northumbrians and the Scotchmen should march southwards, and join Owen and his Welsh.

If this plan had been carried out it is quite possible that the rebellion might have succeeded. And indeed Henry was in great danger. He did not know what the Percies were thinking of doing. He heard indeed that Glendower and his Welshmen were about to invade Gloucestershire, and he sent letters to the lieutenant of that and of other counties on the Welsh border, telling them to muster their men and send them to join the Prince of Wales. He also knew that the Scotch were intending to attack England, and he sent instructions to the Percies themselves to resist them. This he did on June 16. A few days later he marched northwards himself, still knowing nothing about the Percies having rebelled. About July 12 he learnt the truth, and hurried back. And he was just in time. On July 18 he came up with Hotspur and his Scottish allies, before Glendower had been able to join them. They were three miles from Shewsbury, and so not far from the Welsh border. A fierce battle was fought, in which the rebels were defeated; Hotspur was killed, not, as Shakespeare describes, by the young Prince Henry, who was but a lad of fifteen, but by a chance arrow, as he was leading his men. The Earl of Douglas was taken prisoner. Prince Henry was in the battle, and was wounded by an arrow in the forehead.

We do not know what became of Glendower. He was certainly never conquered. In 1404, two years, that is, after the battle of Shrewsbury, we hear of his sending the Bishop of Asaph to make a treaty for him with the King of France, and nine years later still, Henry V., who was then about to start on the expedition which I shall describe in my next chapter, offered to pardon him if he would submit. He never did submit; very likely, as we hear no more about him, he died about this time.

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