Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Later Plantagenet Kings

Historical Note

THE Great Charter had done much for the freedom of the English, but the barons and prelates still made up the council. The extravagance and falseness of Henry III (1216-1272) brought into life a strong party pledged for popular rights. Earl Simon de Montfort was its leader. In 1265, he forced the king to issue writs for a Parliament, to which two knights from each shire and also two representatives from each city and borough were summoned. This was the first representative Parliament, the beginning of the House of Commons. Civil war arose, and in the battle of Evesham, De Montfort was slain. His ideas, however, lived; and during the following reign, that of Edward I (1272-1307), what was known as the "Model Parliament" was formed.

Edward III, who came to the throne in 1327, laid claim to the crown of France, and thus England became involved in the Hundred Years' War. In order to get money for this war and for the crusades, many privileges were granted to towns. The scarcity of labor brought about by the Black Death, a terrible plague which is said to have swept away half the population of England, increased its value; and the success of the yeomen in the war showed them the needlessness of their dependence upon the knights for protection. Throughout the land there was dissatisfaction and discontent. There was also a longing for the religious aid and comfort which the prelates of the Church had often failed to make manifest. A reformer arose, John Wiclif. He instituted an order of "poor priests," whose work it was to go about through the land, preaching to the poor. Wiclif's democratic teachings were believed to be responsible in part for the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which is said to have been punished by the execution of some fifteen hundred persons. Wiclif himself died peacefully in 1384, but his followers, the Lollards as they were called, suffered severe persecution.

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