I N the summer of 1459, the year after the grand reconciliation took place which is described in the last chapter, two vast armies, belonging respectively to the two parties, which had been gradually gathering for a long time, came up together at a place called Blore Heath, in Staffordshire, in the heart of England. A great battle ensued. During the battle Henry lay dangerously ill in the town of Coleshill, which was not far off. Margaret was at Maccleston, another village very near the field of battle. From the tower of the church in Maccleston she watched the progress of the fight. Salisbury was at the head of the York party. Margaret's troops were commanded by Lord Audley. When Audley took leave of her to go into battle, she sternly ordered him to bring Salisbury to her, dead or alive.
Audley had ten thousand men under his command. The soldiers were all adorned with red rosettes, the symbol of the house of Lancaster. The officers wore little silver swans upon their uniform, such as Prince Edward had distributed.
The queen watched the progress of the battle with intense anxiety, and soon, to her consternation and dismay, she saw that it was going against her. She kept her eyes upon Audley's banner, and when, at length, she saw it fall, she knew that all was lost. She hurried down from the tower, and, with a few friends to accompany her, she fled for her life to a strong-hold belonging to her friends that was not at a great distance.
The king, too, had to be removed, in order to prevent his being taken prisoner. He was, however, too feeble to know much or to think much of what was going on. When they came to take him on his pallet to carry him away, he looked up and asked, feebly, "who had got the day," but beyond this he gave no indication of taking any interest in the momentous events that were transpiring.
This defeat, instead of producing a discouraging and disheartening effect upon Margaret's mind, only served to arouse her to new vigor and determination. She had been somewhat timid and fearful in the earlier part of her troubles, when she had only a husband to think of and to care for. But now she had a son; and the maternal instinct seemed to operate in her case, as it has done in so many others, to make her fearless, desperate, and, in the end, almost ferocious, in protecting her offspring from harm, and in maintaining his rights. She immediately engaged with the utmost zeal and ardor in raising a new army. She did not trust the command of it to any general, but directed all the operations of it herself. There is not space to describe in detail the campaigns that ensued, but the result was a complete victory. Her enemies were, in their turn, entirely defeated, and the two great leaders, the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick, were actually driven out of the kingdom. The Duke of York retreated to Ireland, and the Earl of Warwick went across the Straits of Dover to Calais, which was still in English possession, and a great naval and military station.
In a very, short time after this, however, Warwick came back again with a large armed force, which he had organized at Calais, and landed in the southern part of England. He marched toward London, carrying all before him. It was now his party's turn to be victorious; for by the operation of that strange principle which seems to regulate the ups and downs of opposing political parties in all countries and in all ages, victory alternates between them with almost the regularity of a pendulum. The current of popular sentiment, which had set so strongly in favor of the queen's cause only a short year before, appeared to be now altogether in favor of her enemies. Every body flocked to Warwick's standard as he marched northwardly from the coast toward London, and at London the people opened the gates of the city and received him and his troops as if they had been an army of deliverers.
Warwick did not delay long in London. He marched to the north to meet the queen's troops. Another great battle was fought at Northampton. Margaret watched the progress of the fight from an eminence not far distant. The day went against her. The result of the battle was that the poor king was taken prisoner the second time and carried in triumph to London.
The captors, however, treated him with great consideration and respect—not as their enemy and as their prisoner, but as their sovereign, rescued by them from the hands of traitors and foes. The time had not even yet come for the York party openly to avow their purpose of deposing the king. So they conveyed him to London, and lodged him in the palace there, where he was surrounded with all the emblems and marks of royalty, but was still, nevertheless, closely confined.
The Duke of York then summoned a Parliament, acting in the king's name, of course, that is, requiring the king to sign the writs and other necessary documents. It was not until October that the Parliament met. During the interval the king was lodged in a country place not far from London, where every effort was made to enable him to pass his time agreeably, by giving him an opportunity to hunt, and to amuse and recreate himself with other out-door amusements. All the while, however, a strict watch was kept over him to prevent the possibility of his making his escape, or of the friends of the queen coming secretly to take him away.
As for the queen and the little prince, none knew what had become of them.
When Parliament met, a very extraordinary scene occurred in the House of Lords, in which the Duke of York was the principal actor, and which excited a great sensation. Up to this time he had put forward no actual claim to the throne in behalf of his branch of the family, but in all the hostilities in which he had been engaged against the king's troops, his object had been, as he had always said, not to oppose the king, but only to save him, by separating him from the evil influences which surrounded him. But he was now beginning to be somewhat more bold.
Accordingly, when Parliament met, he came into London at the head of a body-guard of five hundred horsemen, and with the sword of state borne before him, as if he were the greatest personage in the realm. He rode directly to Westminster, and, halting his men with great parade before the doors of the hall where the House of Lords was assembled, he went in.
He advanced directly through the hall to the raised dais at the end on which the throne was placed. He ascended the steps, and walked to the throne, the whole assembly looking on in solemn awe, to see what he was going to do. Some expected that he was going to take his seat upon the throne, and thus at once assume the position that he was the true and rightful sovereign of England. He, however, did not do so. He stood by the throne a few minutes, with his hand upon the crimson cloth which covered it, as if hesitating whether to take his seat or not, or perhaps waiting for some intimation from his partisans that he was expected to do so. But for several minutes no one spoke a word. At length the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was in some respects the most exalted personage in the House of Lords, asked him if he would be pleased to go and visit the king, who was at that time in an adjoining apartment. He replied in a haughty tone,
"I know no one in this realm whose duty it is not rather to visit me than to expect me to visit him."
He then turned and walked proudly out of the house.
Although he thus refrained from actually seating himself upon the throne, it was evident that the time was rapidly drawing near when he would openly assert his claim to it, and some of the peers, thinking perhaps that Henry could be induced peaceably to yield, consulted him upon the subject, asking him which he thought had the best title to the crown, himself or the Duke of York.
To this question Henry replied,
"My father was king; his father was king. I have myself worn the crown for forty years, from my cradle. You have all sworn fealty to me as your sovereign, and your fathers did the same to my father and to my grandfather. How, then, can any one dispute my claim?"
What Henry said was true. The crown had been in his branch of the royal line for three generations, and for more than half a century, during all which time the whole nation had acquiesced in their rule. The claim of the Duke of York ran back to a period anterior to all this, but he maintained that it was legitimate and valid, notwithstanding.
There followed a series of deliberations and negotiations, the result of which was a decision on the part of Parliament that the Duke of York and his successors were really entitled to the crown, but that, by way of compromise, it was not to be in form transferred to them until after the death of Henry. So long as he should continue to live, he was to be nominally king, but the Duke of York was to govern as regent, and, at Henry's death, the crown was to descend to him.
The duke was satisfied with this arrangement, and the first thing to be done, in order to secure its being well carried out, was to get the little prince, as well as Henry, the king, into his possession; for he well knew that, even if he were to dispose of the old king, and establish himself in possession of the throne, he could have no peace or quietness in the possession of it so long as the little prince, with his mother, was at large.
So he found means to induce the king to sign a mandate commanding the queen to come to London and bring the prince with her. This mandate she was required to obey immediately, under penalty, in case of disobedience, of being held guilty of treason.
Officers were immediately dispatched in all directions to search for the queen, in order to serve this mandate upon her, but she was nowhere to be found.