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Jacob Abbott

Birth of a Prince

A FTER the death of Suffolk the queen was plunged into a sea of anxious perplexities and troubles, which continued to disturb the kingdom and to agitate her mind, until at length, in 1453, eight or nine years after her marriage, she gave birth to a son. This event, strange as it may seem, aggravated the difficulties of her situation in a ten-fold degree.

The reason why the birth of her child increased her troubles was this. It has already been said that the Duke of York claimed to be the rightful sovereign of England on account of being descended from an older branch of the royal family; but that, since Henry was established upon the throne, he was inclined to make no attempt to assert his claims so long as it was understood that he was to receive the kingdom at Henry's death. In order to keep him contented in this position, it had been Margaret's policy to treat him with great consideration, and to bestow upon him high honors, but, at the same time, to watch him very closely, and to avoid conferring upon him any such substantial power within the realm of England as would enable him to attempt to seize the throne. She accordingly gave him the regency of France, and afterward, when she recalled him from that country in order to send Somerset there, she sent him to Ireland.

After the death of Suffolk, Somerset came home from France. Indeed, he was on his way home at the very time that Suffolk was killed, the English possessions there having been almost entirely lost. As soon as he returned, the queen received him into high favor at court, and soon made him the chief minister of the crown. The people of the country were displeased at this, and soon showed marks of great discontent. They would very likely have risen in open rebellion had it not been that Henry's health was so feeble, and the probability was so great that he would die without issue—in which case the crown would devolve peacefully to the Duke of York and his heirs.

"Let us wait," said they, "for a short time, and it will all come right. It is better to bear the evils of this state of things a little longer than to plunge the country into the horrors of civil war in attempting to change the dynasty by force before Henry dies."

In the mean time, however, although this was so far the prevailing public sentiment as to prevent an actual outbreak, it did not by any means save the community from being unnecessarily agitated by anxieties and fears lest an outbreak should  take place, nor did it prevent innumerable plots and conspiracies being formed tending to produce one. The country was divided into two great parties—those that favored the Duke of York and his dynasty, and those who adhered to the house of Lancaster. The nobles took sides in the quarrel, some openly and others in secret. As these nobles were continually moving to and fro from one castle to another, or between the country and London, at the head of armed bodies of men more or less formidable, no one could tell what plans were being formed, or how soon an explosion might occur. The Duke of York was, of course, the head and leader of one side, and the Duke of Somerset, as the confidential counselor and minister of Henry and the queen, was the most prominent on the other side, and each of these great leaders regarded the other with feelings of mortal enmity.

This state of things kept both the king and queen in continual anxiety. The queen began to find that, by her manœuvrings and management, she had involved herself in difficulties that were beyond her control, and the poor king was so harassed by his troubles and perplexities that his health, and, at last, his mind, began to suffer severely.

At length the Duke of York, without permission from the government, crossed the Channel from Ireland and landed in England. He soon collected a large armed force, and began to move across the country toward London. The government were much alarmed. He professed not to have any hostile object in view, and declared that he still acknowledged his allegiance to the Lancaster line; but there were no means of being sure that this was not a mere pretext, and that he might not, at any time, throw off his mask and rise in open rebellion.


The Temple Garden.

It was about this time that the famous symbols of the red and the white rose were chosen as the badges of the houses respectively of York and Lancaster, as has already been mentioned. The story goes that at a certain time, while several nobles and persons of the court were walking in what is called the Temple Garden, a piece of open and ornamental ground on the bank of the river in London, Somerset and Warwick, who were on different sides in this quarrel, gathered, the one a white, and the other a red rose, and proposed to the rest of the company to pluck roses too, each according to his own feelings and opinions. From this beginning the two colors became the permanent badge of the two lines, so much so that artificial roses of red and white were manufactured in great numbers at last, to supply the soldiers of the respective armies.

But to return to the Duke of York. When it was found that he was advancing toward London, Somerset urged the king to put himself at the head of a body of troops and go out to meet him, and call him to account for his proceedings. The king did so, the queen accompanying the expedition. She was very anxious, and felt much alarmed for the safety of the king. After various marchings and manœuvrings, the two armies came near each other in the county of Kent, to the southeastward of London. King Henry, who was eminently a man of peace, being possessed of no warlike qualities whatever, and being extremely averse to the shedding of blood, instead of attacking the Duke of York, sent a messenger to him to know what his intentions were in coming into the country at the head of such a force and what he desired.

The duke replied that he had no designs against the king, but only against the traitor Somerset, and he said that if the king would order Somerset to be arrested and brought to trial, he should be satisfied, and would disband his forces.

The king, on receiving this message, was much troubled and perplexed, but at length he concluded, under the advice of some of his counselors, to comply with this demand. He caused Somerset to be arrested, and notified the Duke of York that he bad done so. The Duke of York then disbanded his army, or at least sent the troops away; and made an appointment to come unattended and visit the king in his tent, with a view to conferring with him on the terms and conditions of a permanent reconciliation.

This interview resulted in a very extraordinary scene. It seems that the queen had contrived the means of secretly releasing Somerset after his arrest, and bringing him by stealth to the king's pavilion, and concealing him, there behind the arras at the time the Duke of York was to be admitted, in order that Somerset, might be a witness of the interview. While he was thus secreted, the Duke of York came in. He commenced, his conference with the king by repeating earnestly what he said before, namely, that he had not been actuated in what he had done by any feeling of hostility against the king, but only against Somerset. His sole object in taking up arms, he said, was that that arch traitor might be brought to punishment.

On hearing these words, Somerset could contain himself no longer, but, to the astonishment of the Duke of York and to the utter consternation of the king, he rushed out from his hiding-place, and began to assail the duke with the most violent reproaches, alleging that his pretensions of friendship for Henry were false, and that the real design of his movements was to usurp the throne. The duke retorted with equally fierce denunciations and threats. During the continuance of this altercation, the king remained stupefied and speechless, and at length, when the duke retired, officers were ready at the door to arrest him, having been stationed there by the queen.

He was held a prisoner, however, but a short time, for his son, who afterward became Edward IV., immediately commenced raising an army to come and release him. It was considered, for other reasons, dangerous to attempt to hold such a man in durance, since probably more than half the kingdom were on his side. So he was offered his liberty on condition that he would take the new and solemn oath of fealty to the king.

This he consented to do, and the oath was taken with great ceremony in St. Paul's Cathedral, and then he was dismissed. He went off to one of his castles in the country, muttering deep and earnest threats of vengeance.

It was about a year after this that Margaret's babe was born. It was a son.

Of course, the birth of this child immensely increased the difficulties and dangers in which the kingdom was involved, for it seemed to extinguish the hope that the quarrel would be settled by the York family succeeding peaceably to the crown on the death of Henry. Now, at length, there was an heir to the Lancastrian line. Of course Margaret, and all those who were connected with the Lancastrian line, either by blood or political partisanship, would resolve to support the rights of this heir. On the other hand, it was not to be supposed that the Duke of York would relinquish his claims, and he would no longer have any inducement to postpone asserting them. Thus the birth of the young prince was the occasion of plunging the country in new and more feverish excitement than ever. Plots and counter-plots, conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, were the order of the day. Every body was taking sides, or, at least, making arrangements for taking sides, as soon as the outbreak should occur. And no one knew how soon this would be.

The child was born on a certain religious holiday called St. Edward's day, and so they named him Edward. In a few months after his birth he was made Prince of Wales, and it is by this title only that he is known in history, for he never became king.