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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/427

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John
John
421

into the first place as adviser of the crown. The popular discontent at the ill-success of the renewed war with France had manifested itself in the parliament of 1371, when the clerical party was driven from power, the clergy compelled to contribute heavily to the cost of the war, and new ministers chosen from the feudal party of which Lancaster was the head. But the events of the next following years completely changed the popular feeling. Lancaster had failed most ignominiously in his conduct of the war,there was no alleviation of taxation, the new ministers were accused of embezzlement, and a return of the plague added to the general discontent. The king's growing infirmities, the prince's mortal illness, and the fuct that the next heir was but a child, naturally directed men's thoughts to the succession; and the position held by Lancaster and his increasing unpopularity prompted the suspicion that he was aiming at the crown. This distrust of his brother was apparently shared by the Black Prince, who also could not fail to be exasperated at the mismanagement of the war since his retirement. Matters came to a crisis when parliament met on 23 April 1376. The commons, supported in their action by the Black Prince and led with intrepidity by their speaker, Sir Peter de la Mare [q.v.], proceeded to demand reform of abuses. Lord Latimer, the chamberlain, was impeached and dismissed from office. Other creatures of Lancaster's were attacked and punished; and Alice Perrers, the king's mistress, was banished from court. But while the 'Good parliament' was still pursuing its course of reform, its principal supporter, the Prince of Wales, died on Trinity Sunday, 8 June. Within a month it was dissolved (6 July); but before this step, in order to guard, if possible, against the reversal of their measures, the commons demanded and obtained the king's consent to the addition of ten or twelve bishops, lords, and others to the council, William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, who had taken a prominent part in supporting the action of the commons, being of the number. They also petitioned the king for the recognition of Richard of Bordeaux as heir-apparent to the crown, in consequence of which the young prince was in fact presented to them and formally acknowledged. The St. Albans chronicler (Chronicon AngliƓ), to whom we owe the detailed account of the proceedings of this particular period, but whose bitter hostility to Lancaster renders it necessary to accept with caution what he says to the duke's disparagement, declares that he proposed in this parliament that the succession should be settled in case of the deaths of the king and the young Richard, and that, in order to secure it for his own line, the French law excluding females should be adopted.

As soon as the Good parliament was dissolved the supreme power once more passed to Lancaster. The new council was dismissed. The late speaker, De la Mare, was sent prisoner to Nottingham; the impeached minister, Lord Latimer, and others who had been disgraced were recalled, and Alice Perrers returned to court. Two powerful opponents of Lancaster alone remained to be disposed of. Wykeham, as the most important, was first attacked. Charges of maladministration during his chancellorship, an office from which he had been removed as far back as 1371, were brought against him in October, and in November he was condemned to lose his temporalities, and forbidden to come within twenty miles of the court. The motives which actuated Lancaster in this prosecution of the bishop are plainly to be ascribed to the activity displayed by Wykeham in the late parliament. But popular prejudice sought for more hidden reasons. Hence we have the scandalous story given by the St. Albans chronicler and others of his contemporaries of the doubtful birth of John of Gaunt. It was said that the queen, when brought to bed at Ghent, was delivered of a female child, which she accidentally overlay, and that, fearing the king's anger, she substituted for it the son of a Flemish woman. On her deathbed the queen had confessed the secret to the Bishop of Winchester, with the injunction that, should the time ever come when there might be a prospect of John of Gaunt succeeding to the crown, the truth should be made known. It was the publication of this secret which had engendered in Lancaster his deadly hatred of Wykeham. That such a story could be fabricated and find acceptance is a sufficient indication of the extreme unpopularity of the duke, and of the widespread suspicion of his designs in regard to the succession. Wykeham was specially excepted from the general pardon which was granted in commemoration of the king's jubilee year.

Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, next experienced the duke's resentment. As the husband of Philippa, daughter of Lionel of Clarence, he was a natural object of jealousy to Lancaster, as one whose children would have a prior claim to the throne. He held the office of marshal, and in that capacity was called upon to proceed to Calais and report upon its defences. Rather than quit England, he laid down the marshal's staff, which was bestowed upon Lord Henry Percy,