Leicester and Rutland
Rutland, the smallest county of England, is realiy like a corner of Leicestershire. It is a very pleasant and pretty county, with hills and vales, woods and streams, blooming orchards, and many fine houses and parks. There is some rather high land in the north, and there is the beautiful Vale of Catmoss, with its woods and green pastures. In the south of the shire there is part of the green and rather flat Welland Valley, as well as the valleys of the streams which join the Welland, little valleys, not a mile across, running from east to west, and divided from one another by ranges of low hills.
Often a noble mansion stands on one of these swelling hills, half hidden among great oaks and beeches; and there are green lawns, soft as velvet, about the house; and, beyond, the park, with its clumps of trees and open glades, and deer browsing in herds. Rutland is altogether a farming county, and both its wheat and barley are thought particularly good; so, too, is its cheese; the kind called Stilton is made in the Vale of Catmoss. There, and in the east of the county, where the rivers meet, are broad pastures where many cows are fed.
This little county has only two towns of any note, both clean, neat, market-towns: Uppingham, where there is a well-known school, and Oakham, the county town, where was born Jeffrey Hudson, the dwarf who amused the ladies of Charles I.'s court.
Leicestershire, also, is a farming county, a county famous for "Leicester sheep," for long- and short-horned cattle, and for horses. The raising of "stock," as it is called, is the kind of farming for which Leicestershire is most noted; perhaps because a Mr. Bakewell, of Dishley, near Loughborough, did a great deal to improve the breeds both of sheep and cattle. Great quantities of butter and cheese are made too; and the county of Leicester, with its green pastures, high hedgerows, and corn crops and green crops growing up to the tops of the low hills, with its woods and* green meadows, streams and vales, is as pleasant to look upon as any in England.
The highest point in the county is Bardon Hill, near Charnwood Forest. Though only 850 feet high, it rises in such a flat district, that from the top of it on a clear day you may see nearly right across England, from the Welsh hills on the one side to Lincoln Cathedral on the other; such a wide view as is not to be had from any other point in the country. Charnwood Forest is a forest no longer; it is the highest land in the county, with hills and heaths and rugged wastes, though most of it is now under cultivation.
Nearly filling the corner of the county west of Charnwood Forest is the coal-field of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, measuring about ten miles every way. The chief collieries are at Ashby-de-la-Zouch—named after Alan de la Zouch, to whom the land belonged in the reign of Henry III.—and at Moira, Coalville, and Swannington.
Leicestershire is not only a farming county and a mining county, it is also a great manufacturing county. The chief manufactures are, like those of the neighbouring shire of Nottingham, stockings, mostly woollen, and bobbin-net lace. There is scarcely a village in the county where the cottagers may not be seen at work upon stocking-frames. In the large towns there are "mills," like those of Lancashire, where the frames are worked by steam power. Scarves and hoods, sleeves and vests, and other garments made with the stocking stitch, are produced upon these frames.
The chief stooking- and lace-making towns are Leicester, Loughborough, Lutterworth, Hinckley, and Melton Mowbray, which is a pleasant market-town, famous for its pork pies, and more so as the centre of a well-known hunting country.
III. Leicester and Wolsey
Leicester itself is a large and important manufacturing town, with many mills and many work-people. It is built chiefly of red brick, and, notwithstanding the smoke, looks bright and clean. Boots and shoes are largely made here, and a market is held for the sale of the cheese and other farm produce of the county. It is an old town, and was one of the five Danish burghs. The ruins of Leicester Abbey, which stand in a pleasant meadow, are the most interesting remains. Here died Wolsey, the great prince-cardinal, who was raised to almost royal state by his master, Henry VIII., and then, falling under the king's displeasure, was suddenly degraded. Messengers were sent] to bring him to London, that he might answer to a charge of high treason:
He was buried in the abbey church. Almost his last words were, "If I had served my God as diligently as I have served my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs."
IV. Lady Jane Grey
In Leicester, the Duke of Suffolk proclaimed his daughter, Jane, Queen of England. The gentle Lady Jane was the favourite cousin and companion of the young king, Edward VI.; and while he lay a-dying her father and her husband's father worked upon tho king to leave the crown to her, instead of to his sister Mary, who was a Roman Catholic. But the king had no right thus to will away the crown, and the people preferred the rightful sovereign. So the Lady Jane Grey was never crowned, but was made a prisoner in the Tower, and was shortly beheaded. Poor young lady! she suffered for the pride of her parents; and hard parents they had been to her, who "with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways," made her life sad. The ruins of Bradgate Hall, where she was brought up, are still to be seen on the edge of Charnwood Forest, about four miles from Leicester. Here Roger Asscham, the schoolmaster who taught Queen Elizabeth, came to pay the Lady Jane a visit, of which he has left us the story. He found her alone in her chamber reading Greek, while the Duke and Duchess with all the household were hunting in the park. He asked why she was not taking her pleasure with the rest, and she told him that learning was her only pleasure, so kind was her schoolmaster and so severe were her parents.
V. The Lollards
Lutterworth has still the gown worn by John Wyclif, and the pulpit from which he preached. He was rector of this town in the days of Edward III.—days when the English Church was under the rule of the Pope of Borne, and when many of the priests of that Church were rich and proud and lived evil lives. Wyclif taught the truth about religion, partly by means of a company of "simple priests," whom he sent all over the country, and who preached plain sermons that every one could understand, and spake true words that the people believed. So there were followers of Wyclif everywhere, and the country was full of "Lollards,"—that was the nick-name given to them, perhaps because they sang many hymns to rather dull tunes.
Wyclif did another thing for the English people; he gave them "Wyclif s Bible" in their own tongue,after long labour in his rectory at Lutterworth. For nigh two hundred years copies of parts of this precious Book, a gospel or an epistle, were hidden away as the dearest treasures of many a household. These portions of the Bible were hidden in secret places, in the roof, or under the floor, because the Church of Kome was very powerful, and days came when if a man were known for a Lollard he might be burnt at the stake.
Wyclif himself was allowed to die in peace at his Lutterworth rectory; for, though he had many enemies he had friends who loved him well, and were able to, protect him. Among these was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the son of the king.
VI. Bosworth Battle
In Bosworth Field, olose by the pleasant town of Market Bosworth, was fought the last battle in the thirty years' long Wars of the Koses. Here Henry Tudor (who was descended from John of Gaunt), at the head of 6000 men, met Richard III. with an army twice as large. The tyrant king cast his eyes round the field, and, seeing his rival at no great distance, he drove against him with fury, in the hope that either Henry's death or his own would decide the victory between them. He killed with his own hands Henry's standard-bearer; he dismounted another knight; he was now within reach of his rival, who declined not the combat. Then Sir William Stanley, breaking in with his troop, surrounded Richard, who, fighting bravely to the last, perished by a fate too mild and honourable for his detestable crimes. The body of Richard, thrown carelessly across a horse, was carried to Leicester amid the shouts of the crowd, and was buried at the Grey Friars' Church of that place. Crown Hill, close by Bosworth Field, is still shown as the spot where Lord Stanley placed the crown upon Henry Tudor and proclaimed him king, Henry VII., the first of our Tudor sovereigns.
We must not omit to notice the beautiful Vale of Bever, "large, and very plentiful of good corn and grass," which lies to the north of Melton Mowbray. At the head of it is Bever, or Belvoir, Castle, upon a steep hill of red gritstone, such another "princely brow" as Windsor, with a wide view over a pleasant and fertile land.