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The Last of the Barons
by Edward Bulwer Lytton
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes


(1834)



Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (later the 1st Baron Lytton) of Norfolk was born on 25 May 1803 and died in 1873. The early death of his father, his discontent at school and an unhappy marriage may have contributed to his popular success as an author.

Abridged: JH

For more works by Edward Bulwer Lytton, see The Index



The Last of the Barons


I. - Warwick's Mission to France

Lacking sympathy with the monastic virtues of the deposed Henry VI., and happy in the exile of Margaret of Anjou, the citizens of London had taken kindly to the regime of Edward IV. In 1467 Edward still owed to Warwick the support of the more powerful barons, as well as the favour of that portion of the rural population which was more or less dependent upon them. But he encouraged, to his own financial advantage, the enterprises of the burgesses, and his marriage with Elizabeth Woodville and his favours to her kinsfolk indicated his purpose to reign in fact as well as in name. The barons were restless, but the rising middle-class, jealous of the old power of the nobles, viewed with misgiving the projected marriage, at Warwick's suggestion, of the king's sister Margaret and the brother of Louis XI. of France.

This was the position of affairs when young Marmaduke Nevile came to London to enter the service of his relative the Earl of Warwick; and some points of it were explained to the young man by the earl himself when he had introduced the youth to his daughters, Isabel and Anne.

"God hath given me no son," he said. "Isabel of Warwick had been a mate for William the Norman; and my grandson, if heir to his grandsire's soul, should have ruled from the throne of England over the realms of Charlemagne! But it hath pleased Him Whom the Christian knight alone bows to without shame, to order otherwise. So be it. I forgot my just pretensions - forgot my blood - and counselled the king to strengthen his throne by an alliance with Louis XI. He rejected the Princess Bona of Savoy to marry widow Elizabeth Grey. I sorrowed for his sake, and forgave the slight to my counsels. At his prayer I followed the train of the queen, and hushed the proud hearts of the barons to obeisance. But since then this Dame Woodville, whom I queened, if her husband mismated, must dispute this royaulme with mine and me! A Neville, nowadays, must vail his plume to a Woodville! And not the great barons whom it will suit Edward's policy to win from the Lancastrians, not the Exeters and the Somersets, but the craven varlets, and lackeys, and dross of the camp - false alike to Henry and to Edward - are to be fondled into lordships and dandled into power. Young man, I am speaking hotly. Richard Neville never lies nor conceals; but I am speaking to a kinsman, am I not? Thou hearest - thou wilt not repeat?"

"Sooner would I pluck forth my tongue by the roots!" was Marmaduke's reply.

"Enough!" returned the earl, with a pleased smile. "When I come from France I will speak more to thee. Meanwhile, be courteous to all men, servile to none. Now to the king."

Warwick sought his royal cousin at the Tower, where the court exhibited a laxity of morals and a faculty for intrigue that were little to the stout earl's taste.

It was with manifest reluctance that Edward addressed himself to the object of Warwick's visit.

"Knowst thou not," said he, "that this French alliance, to which thou hast induced us, displeases sorely our good traders of London?"

"Mort Dieu!" returned Warwick bluntly. "And what business have the flat-caps with the marriage of a king's sister? You have spoiled them, good my lord king. Henry IV. staled not his majesty to consultation with the mayor of his city. Henry V. gave the knighthood of the Bath to the heroes of Agincourt, not to the vendors of cloth and spices."

"Thou forgettest, man," said the king carelessly, "the occasion of those honours - the eve before Elizabeth was crowned. As to the rest," pursued the king, earnestly and with dignity, "I and my house have owed much to London. Thou seest not, my poor Warwick, that these burgesses are growing up into power. And if the sword is the monarch's appeal for his right, he must look to contented and honest industry for his buckler in peace. This is policy, policy, Warwick; and Louis XI. will tell thee the same truths, harsh though they grate in a warrior's ear."

The earl bowed his head.

"If thou doubtest the wisdom of this alliance," he said, "it is not too late yet. Let me dismiss my following, and cross not the seas. Unless thy heart is with the marriage, the ties I would form are but threads and cobwebs."

"Nay," returned Edward irresolutely. "In these great state matters thy wit is older than mine. But men do say the Count of Charolois is a mighty lord, and the alliance with Burgundy will be more profitable to staple and mart."

"Then, in God's name so conclude it!" said the earl hastily. "Give thy sister to the heir of Burgundy, and forgive me if I depart to the castle of Middleham. Yet think well. Henry of Windsor is thy prisoner, but his cause lives in Margaret and his son. There is but one power in Europe that can threaten thee with aid to the Lancastrians. That power is France. Make Louis thy friend and ally, and thou givest peace to thy life and thy lineage. Make Louis thy foe, and count on plots and stratagems and treason. Edward, my loved, my honoured liege, forgive Richard Nevile for his bluntness, and let not his faults stand in bar of his counsels."

"You are right, as you are ever, safeguard of England and pillar of my state," said the king frankly; and pressing Warwick's arm, he added, "go to France, and settle all as thou wilt."

When Warwick had departed, Edward's eye followed him, musingly. The frank expression of his face vanished, and with the deep breath of a man who is throwing a weight from his heart, he muttered, "He loves me - yes; but will suffer no one else to love me! This must end some day. I am weary of the bondage."

II. - A Dishonoured Embassy

One morning, some time after Warwick's departure for France, the Lord Hastings was summoned to the king's presence. There was news from France, in a letter to Lord Rivers, from a gentleman in Warwick's train. The letter was dated from Rouen, and gave a glowing account of the honours accorded to the earl by Louis XI. Edward directed Hastings' attention to a passage in which the writer suggested that there were those who thought that so much intercourse between an English ambassador and the kinsman of Margaret of Anjou boded small profit to the English king.

"Read and judge, Hastings," said the king.

"I observe," said Hastings, "that this letter is addressed to my Lord Rivers. Can he avouch the fidelity of his correspondent?"

"Surely, yes," answered Rivers. "It is a gentleman of my own blood."

"Were he not so accredited," returned Hastings, "I should question the truth of a man who can thus consent to play the spy upon his lord and superior."

"The public weal justifies all things," said Lord Worcester, who, with Lord Rivers, viewed with jealous scorn the power of the Earl of Warwick.

"And what is to become of my merchant-ships," said the king, "if Burgundy take umbrage and close its ports?"

Hastings had no cause to take up the quarrel on Warwick's behalf. The proud earl had stepped in to prevent his marriage with his sister. But Hastings, if a foe, could be a noble one.

"Beau sire," said he, "thou knowest how little cause I have to love the Earl of Warwick. But in this council I must be all and only the king's servant. I say first, then, that Warwick's faith to the House of York is too well proven to become suspected because of the courtesies of King Louis. Moreover, we may be sure that Warwick cannot be false if he achieve the object of his embassy and detach Louis from the side of Margaret and Lancaster by close alliance with Edward and York. Secondly, sire, with regard to that alliance, which it seems you would repent, I hold now, as I have held ever, that it is a master-stroke in policy, and the earl in this proves his sharp brain worthy his strong arm; for, as his highness the Duke of Gloucester has discovered that Margaret of Anjou has been of late in London, and that treasonable designs were meditated, though now frustrated, so we may ask why the friends of Lancaster really stood aloof - why all conspiracy was, and is, in vain? Because the gold and subsidies of Louis are not forthcoming, because the Lancastrians see that if once Lord Warwick wins France from the Red Rose nothing short of such a miracle as their gaining Warwick instead can give a hope to their treason."

"Your pardon, my Lord Hastings," said Lord Rivers, "there is another letter I have not yet laid before the king." He drew forth a scroll and read from it as follows.

"Yesterday the earl feasted the king, and as, in discharge of mine office, I carved for my lord, I heard King Louis say, 'Pasque Dieu, my Lord Warwick, our couriers bring us word that Count de Charolais declares he shall yet wed the Lady Margaret, and that he laughs at your embassage. What if our brother King Edward fall back from the treaty?' 'He durst not,' said the earl."

"'Durst not!'" exclaimed Edward, starting to his feet, and striking the table with his clenched hand. "'Durst not!' Hastings, heard you that?"

Hastings bowed his head in assent.

"Is that all, Lord Rivers?"

"All! And, methinks, enough!"

"Enough, by my halidame!" said Edward, laughing bitterly. "He shall see what a king dares when a subject threatens."

Lord Rivers had not read the whole of the letter. The sentence read: "He durst not, because what a noble heart dares least is to belie the plighted word, and what the kind heart shuns most is to wrong the confiding friend."

When Warwick returned, with the object of his mission achieved, it was to find Margaret of England the betrothed of the Count de Charolais, and his embassy dishonoured. He retired in anger and grief to his castle of Middleham, and though the king declared that "Edward IV. reigns alone," most of the great barons forsook him to rally round their leader in his retirement.

III. - The Scholar and his Daughter

Sybill Warner had been at court in the train of Margaret of Anjou. Her father, Adam Warner, was a poor scholar, with his heart set upon the completion of an invention which should inaugurate the age of steam. They lived together in an old house, with but one aged serving-woman. Even necessaries were sacrificed that the model of the invention might be fed. Then one day there came to Adam Warner an old schoolfellow, Robert Hilyard, who had thrown in his lot with the Lancastrians, and become an agent of the vengeful Margaret. Hilyard told so moving a tale of his wrongs at the hands of Edward that the old man consented to aid him in a scheme for communicating with the imprisoned Henry.

Henry was still permitted to see visitors, and Hilyard's proposal was that Warner should seek permission to exhibit his model, in the mechanism of which were to be hidden certain treasonable papers for Henry to sign.

As we have seen, from Hastings' remark to the king, the plot failed. Hilyard escaped, to stir up the peasantry, who knew him as Robin of Redesdale. Warner's fate was inclusion in the number of astrologers and alchemists retained by the Duchess of Bedford, who also gave a place amongst her maidens to Sybill, to whom Hastings had proffered his devoted attachment, though he was already bound by ties of policy and early love to Margaret de Bonville.

Meanwhile, it became the interest of the king's brothers to act as mediators between Edward and his powerful subject. The Duke of Clarence was anxious to wed the proud earl's equally proud elder daughter Isabel; the hand of the gentle Anne was sought more secretly by Richard of Gloucester. At last the peacemakers effected their object.

But the peace was only partial, the final rupture not far off. The king restored to Warwick the governorship of Calais - outwardly as a token of honour; really as a means of ridding himself of one whose presence came between the sun and his sovereignty. Moreover, he forbade the marriage between Clarence and Isabel, to the mortification of his brother, the bitter disappointment of Isabel herself, and the chagrin of the earl.

However, Edward had once more to experience indebtedness at the hands of the man whom he treated so badly, but whose devotion to him it seemed that nothing could destroy. There arose the Popular Rebellion, and Warwick only arrived at Olney, where the king was sorely pressed, in time to save him and to secure, on specific terms, a treaty of peace.

Again Edward's relief was but momentary. Proceeding to Middleham as Warwick's guest, when he beheld the extent of the earl's retinue his jealous passions were roused more than ever before; and he formed a plan not only for attaching to himself the allegiance of the barons, but of presenting the earl to the peasants in the light of one who had betrayed them.

Smitten, too, by the charms of the Lady Anne, he meditated a still more unworthy scheme. Dismissing the unsuspecting Warwick to the double task of settling with the rebels and calling upon his followers to range themselves under the royal banner, he commanded Anne's attendance at court.

Events leading to the final breach between king and king-maker followed rapidly. One night the Lady Anne fled in terror from the Tower - fled from the dishonouring addresses of her sovereign, now grown gross in his cups, however brave in battle. The news reached Warwick too late for him to countermand the messages he had sent to his friends on the king's behalf. And, so rapid were Edward's movements that Warwick, his eyes at length opened to Edward's true character, was compelled to flee to the court of King Louis at Amboise, there to plan his revenge, hampered in doing so by his daughter Isabel's devotion to Clarence, who followed him to France, and by the fact that, in regard to his own honour, he could communicate to none save his own kin the secret cause of his open disaffection.

IV. - The Return of the King-Maker

There was no love between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. But his one means of exacting penance from Edward was alliance with the unlucky cause of Lancaster. And this alliance was brought about by the suave diplomacy of Louis, and the discovery of the long-existing attachment between the Lady Anne and her old play-fellow, Edward, the only son of Henry and Margaret, and the hope of the Red Rose.

Coincidently with the marriage of Clarence and Isabel on French soil, the young Edward and Isabel's sister were betrothed. Richard of Gloucester was thus definitely estranged from Warwick's cause. And secret agencies were set afoot to undermine the loyalty of the weak Clarence to the cause which he had espoused.

At first, however, Warwick's plans prospered. He returned to England, forced Edward to fly the country in his turn, and restored Henry VI. to the throne. So far, Clarence and Isabel accompanied him; while Margaret and her son, with Lady Warwick and the Lady Anne, remained at Amboise.

Then the very elements seemed to war against the Lancastrians. The restoration came about in October 1470. Margaret was due in London in November, but for nearly six months the state of the Channel was such that she was unable to cross it.

Warwick sickened of his self-imposed task. The whole burden of government rested upon the shoulders of the great earl, great where deeds of valour were to be done, but weak in the niceties of administration.

The nobles, no less than the people, had expected miracles. The king-maker, on his return, gave them but justice. Such was the earl's position when Edward, with a small following, landed at Ravenspur. A treacherous message, sent to Warwick's brother Montagu by Clarence, caused Montagu to allow the invader to march southwards unmolested. This had so great an effect on public feeling that when Edward reached the Midlands, he had not a mere handful of supporters at his back, but an army of large dimensions. Then the wavering Clarence went over to his brother, and it fell to the lot of the earl sorrowfully to dispatch Isabel to the camp of his enemy.

But Warwick's cup of bitterness was not yet full. The Tower was surrendered to Edward's friends, and on the following day Edward himself entered the capital, to be received by the traders with tumultuous cheers.

Raw, cold, and dismal dawned the morning of the fateful 14th of March, 1471, when Margaret at last reached English soil, and Edward's forces met those of Warwick on the memorable field of Barnet. All was not yet lost to the cause of the Red Rose. But a fog settled down over the land to complete, as it were, the disadvantages caused by the prolonged storms at sea. At a critical period of the battle the silver stars on the banners of one of the Lancastrians, the Earl of Oxford, being mistaken for the silver suns of Edward's cognisance, two important sections of Warwick's army fell upon one another. Friend was slaughtering friend ere the error was detected. While all was yet in doubt, confusion, and dismay, rushed full into the centre Edward himself, with his knights and riders; and his tossing banners added to the general incertitude and panic.

Warwick and his brother gained the shelter of a neighbouring wood, where a trusty band of the earl's northern archers had been stationed. Here they made their last stand, Warwick destroying his charger to signify to his men that to them and to them alone he entrusted his fortunes and his life.

A breach was made in the defence, and Warwick and his brother fell side by side, choosing death before surrender. And by them fell Hilyard, shattered by a bombard. Young Marmaduke Nevile was among the few notable survivors.

The cries of "Victory!" reached a little band of watchers gathered in the churchyard on the hill of Hadley. Here Henry the Peaceful had been conveyed. And here, also, were Adam Warner and his daughter. The soldiers, hearing from one of the Duchess of Bedford's creatures whose chicanery had been the object of his scorn, that Warner was a wizard, had desired that his services should be utilised. Till the issue was clear, he had been kept a prisoner. When it was beyond doubt, he was hanged. Sybill was found lying dead at her father's feet. Her heart was already broken, for the husband of Margaret de Bonville having died, Lord Hastings had been recalled to the side of his old love, his thought of marriage with Sybill being abandoned for ever.

King Edward and his brothers went to render thanksgiving at St. Paul's; thence to Baynard's Castle to escort the queen and her children once more to the Tower.

At the sight of the victorious king, of the lovely queen, and, above all, of the young male heir, the crowd burst forth with a hearty cry: "Long live the king and the king's son!"

Mechanically, Elizabeth turned her moistened eyes from Edward to Edward's brother, and suddenly clasped her infant closer to her bosom when she caught the glittering and fatal eye of Richard, Duke of Gloucester - Warwick's grim avenger in the future - fixed upon that harmless life, destined to interpose a feeble obstacle between the ambition of a ruthless intellect and the heritage of the English throne!




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