Gateway to the Classics: Richard II by Jacob Abbott
Richard II by  Jacob Abbott


In the days of the predecessors of King Richard the Second, notwithstanding the claim made by the kings of a right on their part to reign on account of the influence exercised by their government in promoting law and order throughout the community, the country was really kept in a continual state of turmoil by the quarrels which the different parties concerned in this government were engaged in with each other and with surrounding nations. These quarrels were of various kinds.

1. The kings, as we have already seen, were perpetually quarreling with the nobles.

2. The different branches of the royal family were often engaged in bitter and cruel wars with each other, arising from their conflicting claims to the crown.

3. The kings of different countries were continually making forays into each other's territories, or waging war against each other with fire and sword. These wars arose sometimes from a lawless spirit of depredation, and sometimes were waged to resent personal insults or injuries, real or imaginary.

4. The Pope of Rome, who claimed jurisdiction over the Church in England as well as elsewhere, was constantly coming into collision with the civil power.

From some one or other of these several causes, the kingdom of England, in the time of Richard's predecessors, was seldom at peace. Some great quarrel or other was continually going on. There was a great deal of difficulty during the reigns that immediately preceded that of Richard the Second between the kings and the Pope. The Pope, as has already been remarked, was considered the head of the whole Christian Church, and he claimed rights in respect to the appointment of the archbishops, and bishops, and other ecclesiastics in England, and in respect to the government and control of the monasteries, and the abbeys, and to the appropriation and expenditure of the revenues of the Church, which sometimes interfered very seriously with the views and designs of the king. Hence there arose continual disputes and quarrels. The Pope never came himself to England, but he often sent a grand embassador, called a legate, who traveled with great pomp and parade, and with many attendants, and assumed in all his doings a most lofty and superior air. In the contests in which these legates were engaged with the kings, the legates almost always came off conquerors through the immense influence which the Pope exercised over the consciences and religious fears of the mass of the people.

Sometimes the visits of the legates and their proceedings among the people led to open broils. At one time, for instance, the legate was at Oxford, where the great University, now so renowned throughout the world, already existed. He was lodged at an abbey there, and some of the scholars of the University wishing to pay their respects to him, as they said, went in a body to the gates of the abbey and demanded admission; but the porter kept them back and refused to let them in. Upon this a great noise and tumult arose, the students pressing against the gates to get in, and the porter, assisted by the legate's men, whom he called to his assistance, resisting them.

In the course of the fray one or two of the students succeeded in forcing their way in as far as to the kitchen of the abbey, and there one of them called upon a cook to help them. But the cook, instead of helping them, dipped out a ladle full of hot broth from a kettle and threw it into the student's face. Whereupon the other students cried out, as the ancient chronicler relates it, "What meane we to suffer this villanie," and, taking an arrow, he set it in his bow, having caught up these weapons in the beginning of the fray, and let it fly at the cook, and killed him on the spot.

This, of course, greatly increased the excitement. More students came in, and so great was the tumult and confusion that the legate was in terror for his life, and he fled and concealed himself in the belfry of the abbey. After lying in this place of concealment for some time, until the tumult was in some measure appeased, he crept out secretly, fled across the Thames, and then, mounting a horse, made the best of his way to London.

He made complaint to the king of the indignity which he had endured, and the king immediately sent a troop of armed men, with an earl at the head of them, to rescue the remainder of the legate's men that were still imprisoned in the abbey, and also to seize all the students that had been concerned in the riot and bring them to London. The earl proceeded to execute his commission. He apprehended thirty of the students, and, taking them to a neighboring castle, he shut them up there as prisoners.

In the end, besides punishing the individual students who had made this disturbance, the regents and masters of the University were compelled to come to London, and there to go bare-footed through the principal street to a church where the legate was, and humbly to supplicate his forgiveness for the indignity which he had suffered. And so, with great difficulty, they obtained their pardon.

The students in those days, as students are apt to be in all countries and in all ages, were a very impulsive, and, in some respects, a lawless set. Whenever they deemed themselves injured, they pursued the object of their hostility in the most reckless and relentless manner. At one time a member of the University became so excited against the king on account of some injury, real or imaginary, which he had suffered, that he resolved to kill him. So he feigned himself mad, and in this guise he loitered many days about the palace of Woodstock, where the king was then residing, until at length he became well acquainted with all the localities. Then, watching his opportunity, he climbed by night through a window into a bedchamber where he thought the king was lying. He crept up to the bedside, and, throwing back the clothes, he stabbed several times into the bed with a dagger. He, however, stabbed nothing but the bed itself, and the pillow, for the king that night, as it happened, lay in another chamber.

As the student was making his escape, he was spied by one of the chambermaids named Margaret Biset. Margaret immediately made a great outcry, and the other servants, coming up, seized the student and carried him off to prison. He was afterward tried, and was convicted of treason in having made an attempt upon the king's life, and was hanged. Before his death he said that he had been employed to kill the king by another man, a certain William de Marish, who was a noted and prominent man of those days. This William de Marish was afterward taken and brought to trial, but he solemnly denied that he had ever instigated the student to commit the crime. He was, however, condemned and executed, and, according to the custom in those days in the case of persons convicted of treason, his body was subjected after his death to extreme indignities, and then was divided into four quarters, one of which was sent to each of the four principal cities of the kingdom, and publicly exhibited in them as a warning to all men of the dreadful consequences of attempting such a crime.

Great pains were taken in those days to instill into the minds of all men the idea that to kill a king was the worst crime that a human being could commit. One of the writers of the time said that in wounding and killing a prince a man was guilty of homicide, parricide, Christicide, and even of deicide, all in one; that is, that in the person of a king slain by the hand of the murderer the criminal strikes not only at a man, but at his own father, and at Christ his Savior, and God.

A great many strange and superstitious notions were entertained by the people in respect to kings. These superstitions were encouraged, even by the scholars and historians of those times, who might be supposed to know better. But it was so much for their interest to write what should be agreeable to the king and to his court, that they were by no means scrupulous in respect to the tales which they told, provided they were likely to be pleasing to those in authority, and to strengthen the powers and prestige of the reigning families.

The neighboring countries with which the kings of England were most frequently at war in those days were Scotland, Wales, and France. These wars arose, not from any causes connected with the substantial interests of the people of England, but from the grasping ambition of the kings, who wished to increase the extent of their territories, and thus add to their revenues and to their power. Sometimes their wars arose from private and personal quarrels, and in these cases thousands of lives were often sacrificed, and great sums of money expended to revenge slights or personal injuries of comparatively little consequence.

For instance, one of the wars with Wales broke out in this manner. Leolin, who was then the reigning Prince of Wales, sent to France, and requested the King of France that he might have in marriage a certain lady named Lady Eleanor, who was then residing in the French king's court. The motive of Leolin in making this proposal was not that he bore any love for the Lady Eleanor, for very likely he had never seen her; but she was the daughter of an English earl named Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who was an enemy of the King of England, and, having been banished from the country, had taken refuge in France. Leolin thought that by proposing and carrying into effect this marriage, he would at once gratify the King of France and spite the King of England.

The King of France at once assented to the proposed marriage, but the King of England was extremely angry, and he determined to prevent the marriage if he could. He accordingly gave the necessary orders, and the little fleet which was sent from France to convey Eleanor to Wales was intercepted off the Scilly Islands on the way, and the whole bridal party were taken prisoners and sent to London.

As soon as Leolin heard this, he, of course, was greatly enraged, and he immediately set off with an armed troop, and made a foray upon the English frontiers, killing all the people that lived near the border, plundering their property, and burning up all the towns and villages that came in his way. There followed a long war. The English were, on the whole, the victors in the war, and at the end of it a treaty was made by which Leolin's wife, it is true, was restored to him, but his kingdom was brought almost completely under the power of the English kings.

Of course, Leolin was extremely dissatisfied with this result, and he became more and more uneasy in the enthralled position to which the English king had reduced him, and finally a new war broke out. Leolin was beaten in this war too, and in the end, in a desperate battle that was fought among the mountains, he was slain. He was slain near the beginning of the battle. The man who killed him did not know at the time who it was that he had killed, though he knew from his armor that he was some distinguished personage or other. When the battle was ended this man went back to the place to see, and, finding that it was the Prince Leolin whom he had slain, he was greatly pleased. He cut off the head from the body, and sent it as a present to the king. The king sent the head to London, there to be paraded through the streets on the end of a long pole as a token of victory. After being carried in this manner through Cheapside—then the principal street of London—in order that it might be gazed upon by all the people, it was set up on a high pole near the Tower, and there remained a long time, a trophy, as the king regarded it, of the glory and renown of a victory, but really an emblem of cruel injustice and wrong perpetrated by a strong against a weaker neighbor.

Not long after this the King of England succeeded in taking Prince David, the brother of Leolin, and, under the pretense that he had been guilty of treason, he cut off his head too, and set it up on another pole at the Tower of London, by the side of his brother's.

It must be admitted, however, that, although these ancient warriors were generally extremely unjust in their dealings with each other, and often barbarously cruel, they were still sometimes actuated by high and noble sentiments of honor and generosity. On one occasion, for instance, when this same Edward the First, who was so cruel in his treatment of Leolin, was at war in Scotland, and was besieging a castle there, he wrote one day certain dispatches to send to his council in London, and, having inquired for a speedy and trusty messenger to send them by, a certain Welshman named Lewin was sent to him. The king delivered the package to Lewin inclosed in a box, and also gave him money to bear his expenses on the way, and then sent him forth.

Lewin, however, instead of setting out on his journey, went to a tavern, and there, with a party of his companions, he spent the money which he had received in drink, and passed the night carousing. In the morning he said that he must set out on his journey, but before he went he must go back to the castle and have one parting shot at the garrison. Under this pretext, he took his cross-bow and proceeded toward the castle wall; but when he got there, instead of shooting his arrows, he called out to the wardens whom he saw on guard over the gate, and asked them to let down a rope and draw him up into the castle, as he had something of great importance to communicate to the governor of it.

So the wardens let down a rope and drew Lewin up, and then took him to the governor, who was then at breakfast. Lewin held out the box to the governor, saying,

"Here, sir, look in this box, and you may read all the secrets of the King of England."

He said, moreover, that he would like to have the governor give him a place on the wall, and see whether he could handle a cross-bow or not against the English army.

Gunpowder and guns had not been introduced as means of warfare at this time; the most formidable weapon that was then employed was the cross-bow. With the cross-bow a sort of square-headed arrow was used called a quarrel.

The governor, instead of accepting these offers on the part of Lewin, immediately went out to one of the turrets on the wall, and, calling to the English soldiers whom he saw below, he directed them to tell the King of England that one of his servants had turned traitor, and had come into the castle with a box of dispatches.

"And tell him," said the governor, "that if he will send some persons here to receive him, I will let the man down to them over the wall, and also restore the box of dispatches, which I have not opened at all."

Immediately Lord Spencer, one of the king's chief officers, came to the wall, and the governor of the castle let Lewin down to him by a rope, and also passed the box of letters down. The King of England was so much pleased with this generosity on the part of the governor that he immediately ceased his operations against the castle, though he caused Lewin to be hanged on a gallows of the highest kind.

But to return to Wales. After the death of Leolin and his brother the kingdom of Wales, was annexed to England, and has ever since remained a possession of the British crown. The King of England partly induced the people of Wales to consent to this annexation by promising that he would still give them a native of Wales for prince. They thought he meant by this that they should continue to be governed by one of their own royal family; but what he really meant was that he would make his own son Prince of Wales. This son of his was then an infant. He was born in Wales. This happened from the fact that the king, in the course of his conquests in that country, had seized upon a place called Caernarvon, and had built a castle there, in a beautiful situation on the Straits of Menai, which separate the main land from the isle of Anglesea.

When his castle was finished the king brought the queen to Caernarvon to see it, and while she was there, her child, Prince Edward, who afterward became Edward the Second, was born.

This was the origin of the title of Prince of Wales, which has been held ever since by the oldest sons of the English sovereigns.


Caernarvon Castle

This first English Prince of Wales led a most unhappy life, and his history illustrates in a most striking manner one of the classes of quarrels enumerated at the head of this chapter, namely, the disputes and contentions that often prevailed between the sovereign of the country and his principal nobles. While he was a young man he formed a very intimate friendship with another young man named Piers Gaveston. This Gaveston was a remarkably handsome youth, and very prepossessing and agreeable in his manners, and he soon gained a complete ascendency over the mind of young Edward. He was, however, very wild and dissolute in his habits, and the influence which he exerted upon Edward was extremely bad. As long as the common people only were injured by the lawless behavior of these young men, the king seems to have borne with them; but at last, in a riot in which they were concerned, they broke into the park of a bishop, and committed damage there which the king could not overlook. He caused his son, the young prince, to be seized and put into prison, and he banished Gaveston from the country, and forbade his son to have any thing more to do with him. This was in 1305, when the prince was twenty-one years of age.

In 1307, two years later, the king died, and the prince succeeded him, under the title of King Edward the Second. He immediately sent for Gaveston to return to England, where he received him with the greatest joy. He made him a duke, under the title of Duke of Cornwall; and as for the bishop whose park he and Gaveston had broken into, and on whose complaint Gaveston had been banished, in order to punish him for these offenses, the young king seized him and delivered him into Gaveston's hands as a prisoner, and at the same time confiscated his estates and gave them to Gaveston. Gaveston sent the bishop about from castle to castle as a prisoner, according as his caprice or fancy dictated.

These things made the barons and nobles of England extremely indignant, for Gaveston, besides being a corrupt and dissipated character, was, in fact, a foreigner by birth, being a native of Gascony, in France. His character seemed to grow worse with his exaltation, and he and Edward spent all their time in rioting and excess, and in perpetrating every species of iniquity.

Edward had been for some time engaged to be married to the Princess Isabel, the daughter of the King of France. About six months after his accession to the throne he set off for France to be married. It was his duty, according to the ancient usages of the realm, to appoint some member of the royal family, or some prominent person from the ancient nobility of the country, to govern the kingdom as regent during his absence; but instead of this he put Gaveston in this place, and clothed him with all the powers of a viceroy.

Edward was married to Isabel in Paris with great pomp and parade. Isabel was very beautiful, and was a general favorite. It is said that there were four kings and three queens present at the marriage ceremony. Edward, however, seemed to feel very little interest either in his bride or in the occasion of his marriage, but manifested a great impatience to get through with the ceremonies, so as to return to England and to Gaveston. As soon as it was possible, he set out on his return. The bridal party were met at their landing by Gaveston, accompanied by all the principal nobility, who came to receive and welcome them at the frontier. The king was overjoyed to see Gaveston again. He fell into his arms, hugged and kissed him, and called him his dear brother, while, on the other hand, he took very little notice of the nobles and high officers of state. Every body was surprised and displeased at this behavior, but as Edward was king there was nothing to be said or done.


Portrait of Edward the Second

Soon afterward the coronation took place, and on this occasion all the honors were allotted to Gaveston, to the utter neglect of the ancient and hereditary dignitaries of the realm. Gaveston carried the crown, and walked before the king and queen, and acted in all respects as if he were the principal personage in the country. The old nobles were, of course, extremely indignant at this. Hitherto they had expressed their displeasure at the king's favoritism by private murmurings and complaints, but now, they thought, it was time to take some concerted public action to remedy the evil; so they met together, and framed a petition to be sent to the king, in which, though under the form of a request, they, in fact, demanded that Gaveston should be dismissed from his offices, and required to leave the country.

The king was alarmed. He, however, could not think of giving his favorite up. So he said that he would return them an answer to the petition by-and-by, and he immediately began to pursue a more conciliatory course toward the nobles. But the effect of his attempts at conciliation was spoiled by Gaveston's behavior. He became more and more proud and ostentatious every day. He appeared in all public places, and every where he took precedence of the highest nobles of the land, and prided himself on outshining them in the pomp and parade which he displayed. He attended all the jousts and tournaments, and, as he was really a very handsome and well-formed man, and well skilled in the warlike sports in fashion in those clays, he bore away most of the great prizes. He thus successfully rivaled the other nobles in gaining the admiration of the ladies of the court and the applause of the multitude, and made the nobles hate him more than ever.

Things went on in this way worse and worse, until at last the general sentiment became so strong against Gaveston that the Parliament, when it met, took a decided stand in opposition to him, and insisted that he should be expelled from the country. A struggle followed, but the king was obliged to yield. Gaveston was required to leave the country, and to take an oath never to return. It was only on these conditions that the Parliament would uphold the government, and thus the king saw that he must lose either his friend or his crown.

Gaveston went away. The king accompanied him to the sea-shore, and took leave of him there in the most affectionate manner, promising to bring him back again as soon as he could possibly do it. He immediately began to manœuvre for the accomplishment of this purpose. In the mean time, as Gaveston had only sworn to leave England, the king sent him to Ireland, and made him governor general of that country, and there Gaveston lived in greater power and splendor than ever.

At length, in little more than a year, Gaveston came back. His oath not to return was disposed of by means of a dispensation which King Edward obtained for him from the Pope, absolving him from the obligation of it. When he was reinstated in the king's court he behaved more scandalously than ever. He revenged himself upon the nobles who had been the means of sending him away by ridiculing them and giving them nicknames. One of them he called Joseph the Jew, because his face was pale and thin, and bore, in some respects, a Jewish expression. Another, the Earl of Warwick, he called the Black Dog of Ardenne. When the earl heard of this, he said, clenching his fist, "Very well; I'll make him feel the Black Dog's teeth yet."

In a word, the nobles were excited to the greatest pitch of rage and indignation against the favorite, and, after various struggles and contentions between them and the king, they at length broke out into an open revolt. The king at this time, with Gaveston and his wife, were at Newcastle, which is in the north of England. The barons fell upon him here with the intention of seizing Gaveston. Both the king and Gaveston, however, succeeded in making their escape. Gaveston fled to a castle, and shut himself up there. The king escaped by sea, leaving his wife behind, at the mercy of the conspirators. The barons treated the queen with respect, but they pressed on at once in pursuit of Gaveston. They laid siege to the castle where he sought refuge. Finding that the castle could not hold out long, Gaveston thought it best to surrender while it yet remained in his power to make terms with his enemies; so he agreed to give himself up, they stipulating that they would do him no bodily harm, but only confine him, and that the place of his confinement should be one of his own castles.

When he came down into the court-yard of the castle, after signing this stipulation, he found there ready to receive him the Earl of Warwick, the man to whom he had given the nickname of the Black Dog of Ardenne. The earl was at the head of a large force. He immediately took Gaveston into custody, and galloped off with him at the head of his troop to his own castle. The engraving represents a view of this fortress as it appeared in those days.

When they had got Gaveston safe into this castle, the chiefs held a sort of council of war to determine what should be done with their prisoner. While they were consulting on the subject, intending apparently to spare his life as they had agreed, some one called out,

"It has cost you a great deal of trouble to catch the fox, and now, if you let him go, you will have a great deal more trouble in hunting him again."

This consideration decided them; so they took the terrified prisoner, and, in spite of his piteous cries for mercy, they hurried him away to a solitary place a mile or two from the castle, and there, on a little knoll by the side of the road, they cut off his head.


Warwick Castle

One would have supposed that by this time the king would have been cured of the folly of devoting himself to favorites, but he was not. He mourned over the death of Gaveston at first with bitter grief, and when this first paroxysm of his sorrow was passed, it was succeeded with a still more bitter spirit of revenge. He immediately took the field against his rebellious barons, and a furious civil war ensued. He soon, too, found a new favorite, or, rather, two favorites. They were brothers, and their names were Spence. They are called in history the Spencers, or the Despensers. The quarrels and wars which took place between the king and these favorites on one hand, and the barons and nobles on the other, were continued for many years. The queen took sides with the nobles against her husband and the Spencers. She fled to France, and there formed an intimacy with a young nobleman named Mortimer, who joined himself to her, and thenceforth accompanied her and made common cause with her against her husband. With this Mortimer she raised an army, and, sailing from Flanders, she landed in England. On landing, she summoned the barons to join her, and took the field against her husband. The king was beaten in this war, and fled again on board a vessel, intending to make his escape by sea. The two Spencers, one after the other, were taken prisoners, and both were hung on gibbets fifty feet high. They were hung in their armor, and after they were dead their bodies were taken down and treated as it was customary to treat the bodies of traitors.

In the midst of these proceedings the barons held a sort of Parliament, and made a solemn declaration that the king, by his flight, had abdicated the throne, and they proclaimed his son, the young Prince of Wales, then about fourteen years old, king, under the title of Edward the Third. In the mean time, the king himself, who had attempted to make his escape by sea, was tossed about in a storm for some days, until at last he was driven on the coast in South Wales. He concealed himself for some days in the mountains. Here he was hunted about for a time, until he was reduced to despair by his destitution and his sufferings, when at length he came forth and delivered himself up to his enemies.


Kenilworth Castle

He was made prisoner and immediately sent to Kenilworth Castle, and there secured. Afterward he was brought to trial. He was accused of shameful indolence and incapacity, and also of cowardice, cruelty, and oppression, and of having brought the country, by his vices and maladministration, to the verge of ruin. He was convicted on these charges, and the queen, his wife, confirmed the verdict.

Not being quite sure, after all, that by these means the dethronement of the king was legally complete, the Parliament sent a solemn deputation to Kenilworth Castle to depose the monarch in form. The king was brought out to meet this deputation in a great hall of the castle. He came just as he was, dressed in a simple black gown. The deputation told him that he was no longer king, that all allegiance had been withdrawn from him on the part of the people, and that henceforth he must consider himself as a private man. As they said this, the steward of the household came forward and broke his white wand, the badge of his office, in token that the household was dissolved, and he declared that by that act all the king's servants were discharged and freed. This was a ceremony that was usually performed at the death of a king, and it was considered in this case as completely and finally terminating the reign of Edward.

The delegation also exacted from him something which they considered as a resignation of the crown. His son, the young prince, it was said, was unwilling to ascend the throne unless the barons could induce his father voluntarily to abdicate his own rights to it. They were the more desirous in this case of completely and forever extinguishing all of King Edward's claims, because they were afraid that there might be a secret party in his favor, and that that party might gain strength, and finally come out openly against them in civil war, in which case, if they were worsted, they knew that they would all be hung as traitors.


A Monk of Those Days

Indeed, soon after this time it began to appear that there were, in fact, some persons who were disposed to sympathize with the king. His queen, Isabel, who had been acting against him during the war, was now joined with Mortimer, her favorite, and they two held pretty much the whole control of the government, for the new king was yet too young to reign. Many of the monks and other ecclesiastics of the time openly declared that Isabel was guilty of great sin in thus abandoning her husband for the sake of another man. They said that she ought to leave Mortimer, and go and join her husband in his prison. And it was not long before it began to be rumored that secret plots were forming to attempt the king's deliverance from his enemies. This alarmed the nobles more than ever. The queen and some others wrote sharp letters to the keepers of the castle for dealing so gently with their prisoner, and gave them hints that they ought to kill him. In the end, the fallen monarch was transported from one fortress to another, until at length he came to Berkeley Castle. The inducement which led Mortimer and the queen to send the king to these different places was the hope that some one or other of the keepers of the castles would divine their wishes in regard to him, and put him to death. But no one did so. The keeper of Berkeley Castle, indeed, instead of putting his prisoner to death, seemed inclined to take compassion on him, and to treat him more kindly even than the others had done. Accordingly, after waiting some time, Mortimer seized an opportunity when Lord Berkeley, having gone away from home, was detained away some days by sickness, to send two fierce and abandoned men, named Gourney and Ogle, to the castle, with instructions to kill the king in some way or other, but, if possible, in such a manner as to make it appear that he died a natural death. These men tried various plans without success. They administered poisons, and resorted to various other diabolical contrivances. At last, one night, dreadful outcries and groans were heard coming from the king's apartment. They were accompanied from time to time with shrieks of terrible agony. These sounds were continued for some time, and they were heard in all parts of the castle, and in many of the houses of the town. The truth was, the executioners whom Mortimer had sent were murdering the king in a manner almost too horrible to be described. The people in the castle and in the town knew very well what these dreadful outcries meant. They were filled with consternation and horror at the deed, and they spent the time in praying to God that he would receive the soul of the unhappy victim.


Berkeley Castle

After this, Mortimer and the queen for two or three years held pretty nearly supreme power in the realm, though, of course, they governed in the name of the young king, who was yet only fourteen or fifteen years of age. There was, however, a great secret hatred of Mortimer among all the old nobility of the realm. This ill-will ripened at last into open hostility. A conspiracy was formed to destroy Mortimer, and to depose the queen-mother from her power, and to place young Edward in possession of the kingdom. Mortimer discovered what was going on, and he went for safety, with Edward and the queen, to the castle of Nottingham, where he shut himself up, and placed a strong guard at the gates and on the walls.


Caves in the Hill-side at Nottingham Castle

This castle of Nottingham was situated upon a hill, on the side of which was a range of excavations which had been made in a chalky stone by some sort of quarrying. There was a subterranean passage from the interior of one of these caves which led to the castle. The castle itself was strongly guarded, and every night Isabel required the warden, on locking the gates, to bring the keys to her, and she kept them by her bedside. The governor of the castle, however, made an agreement with Lord Montacute, who was the leader in the conspiracy against Mortimer, to admit him to the castle at night through the subterranean passage. It seems that Mortimer and the queen did not know of the existence of this communication. They did not even know about the caves, for the mouths of them were at that time concealed by rubbish and brambles.

It was near midnight when Montacute and the party who went with him entered the passage. They crowded their way through the bushes and brambles till they found the entrance of the cave, and then went in. They were all completely armed, and they carried torches to light their way. They crept along the gloomy passage-way until at last they reached the door which led up into the interior of the castle. Here the governor was ready to let them in. As soon as they entered, they were joined by young Edward at the foot of the main tower. They left their torches here, and Edward led them up a secret staircase to a dark chamber. They crept softly into this room and listened. They could hear in an adjoining hall the voices of Mortimer and several of his adherents, who were holding a consultation. They waited a few minutes, and then, making a rush into the passage-way which led to the hall, they killed two knights who were on sentry there to guard the door, and, immediately bursting into the apartment, made Mortimer and all his friends prisoners.

The queen, who was in her bed in an adjoining room at this time, rushed frantically out when she heard the noise of the affray, and, with piteous entreaties and many tears, she begged and prayed Edward, her "sweet son," as she called him, to spare the gentle Mortimer, "her dearest friend, her well-beloved cousin." The conspirators, did spare him at that time; they took him prisoner, and bore him away to a place of safety. He was soon afterward brought to trial on a charge of treason, and hanged. Isabel was deprived of all her property, and shut up in a castle as a prisoner of state. In this castle she afterward lived nearly thirty years, in lonely misery, and then died.


Mortimer's Hole

The adjoining engraving represents a near view of the subterranean passage by which Lord Montacute and his party gained admission to the castle of Nottingham. It is known in modern times as Mortimer's Hole .

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Richard's Predecessors  |  Next: The Black Prince
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.