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The kings did not live in peace; first one and then another tried to get mastery over the rest. In the end Wessex became the leading kingdom. Its king was owned by the rest as overlord; afterwards some of the other kingdoms ceased to have kings of their own; and lastly, all were united under one ruler, who was then king, not of Wessex, but of England.
The union was helped forward by the invasions of the Northmen. At first these dreaded rovers came on plundering raids, but in the days of the great King Alfred they began to settle, and it was agreed that they should have half the country. Alfred's successors won this half back little by little, and the Danes mixed with the older inhabitants. But during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, other Danes from beyond the sea invaded and, in the end, conquered England. After three sovereigns of Danish blood had reigned, Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred, became king.
In thought and feeling Edward was French, and after his death his kinsman, William, Duke of Normandy, claimed the throne. Harold, the king chosen by the English, was slain at Senlac, and then there was no one left to withstand the victor. Still it took him three years of fighting to conquer the whole country.
All the wealth and power of the land passed into the hands of the Normans; probably for three hundred years there was no king who could speak English. But the conquerors and the conquered after a while began to mingle; it was by their united efforts that the Great Charter was wrung from John. During the reign of John's son, Simon de Montfort brought Parliament nearer to its present form than it had ever been before, by summoning representatives from the towns.
All the sovereigns from William I. to Henry III. had aimed at spreading their power on the Continent; Edward I. tried to spread his power in Britain. He conquered Wales without very much difficulty, and for a time he seemed to have conquered Scotland, but its people won back from the weak son what they had lost to the strong father.
From the Norman Conquest to the beginning of the thirteenth century, part of France was under the rule of the kings of England; the French possessions of Henry II. stretched from the Straits of Dover to the Pyrenees, but Henry's tyrant son John lost all except the southern portion of them.
Edward III. lost even this portion. In his reign a
long and cruel 4 war began between England and France. After twenty years of fighting, during which the English had won several famous victories, peace was made at 5 Bretigny. But the war was soon renewed, and then success lay ever with the French. Little by little they won back Edward's conquests, till barely half a dozen towns were left in his hands. During the reign of his successor, Richard II., the dreary struggle dragged on, always with the same result.
While the kings were striving after power abroad, good men at home were striving after holier lives and purer beliefs. Their leader was John Wiclif.' He attacked the greed and worldliness of the clergy, the laziness and impudence of the friars, while he denied the truth of some of the chief doctrines of the Church. His teachings were warmly welcomed by the people at large, and he was supported for a while by powerful nobles; but after the great revolt of the peasants the wealthy classes grew suspicious of any one who was unwilling to leave things as they were, so Wiclif and his followers were persecuted.
1 Unavailing, useless. 2 Caradoc, in Latin Caractacus. 3 London, Colchester, and St. Alban's, then called Londinium, Camalodunum, and Verulamium. 4 war, the Hundred Years' War. 5 Bretigny, near Chartres, about forty miles south-west of Paris.
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THE GOVERNMENT OF RICHARD II. The Black Prince was greatly beloved of his fellowcountrymen, so when he died Parliament sent for his young son Richard " in order that the Lords and Commons might see and honour him as l heir apparent to the crown.” Next year Edward III. died, and Richard, then a lad of eleven, became king. As he grew up he turned out to be weak (though with now and then a gleam of % energy), revengeful, fond of show, and given to pleasure. The history of the greater part of his reign is a dreary 3 record of unsuccessful war abroad and of bad government at home, of reasonable discontent among the people, and of mean struggles for power among the nobles.
At first 4 John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the king's uncle, possessed the greatest authority. Then two of Richard's own 5 favourites became the leading men. Parliament asked him to turn one of them out of office, but he replied that he would not at the request of Parliament dismiss the lowest servant in his kitchen. This angered the members greatly, and they refused to go on with any other business till their request had been granted. The king was forced to yield, and to agree to a 6 commission for the carrying on of the government.
In the hope of recovering his power, Richard summoned the judges, ? sheriffs, and magistrates to meet at Nottingham, and got them to declare that the doings of Parliament had been unlawful. But his triumph was short 8 lived; next year the “ Wonderful Parliament” met and punished all his chief supporters, some with death and some with loss of property.
Then for a little time power was mostly in the hands of 9 Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the king's uncle. One day at a meeting of the council Richard suddenly turned to him and said, “Tell me how old I am." "Your highness,” answered the duke, “is in your twenty-second year.” “Then surely,” replied the king, “I must be old enough to manage my own affairs. ... I thank you, my lords, for the trouble you
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have hitherto taken on my behalf, but I shall not require your services any longer.”
RICHARD II. 'Heir apparent, the person who is sure to be heir if he lives ; while the heir presumptive is the person who will be heir if no one be born having a better claim. energy, vigour, force, strength. 3 record, account, history. 4 John of Gaunt, the fourth, but eldest living son of Edward III. “Gaunt” is only another form of Ghent, the town where he was born. 5 Michael de la Pole, whom he made Earl of Suffolk, and Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, whom he made Duke of Ireland. 6 commission, the people to wbom a certain business is committed ; those appointed to do it. 7 sheriff, shire-reeve, an officer having charge of a county. 8 lived; pronounced to rhyme with dived. 9 Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Edward III.