House of Lancaster

Henry IV proved a prudent prince, and comparatively a good ruler. The settlement of the crown upon him by parliament was a good precedent, though perhaps only dictated under the influence of his successful arms. He was much troubled by insurrections, particularly a formidable one by Percy, Earl of Northumberland - and one still more difficult to put down in Wales, where Owen Glendower, a descendant of the British princes, kept his ground for several years.

On the death of Henry IV in 1413, he was succeeded by his son, who was proclaimed under the title of HENRY V. The young king attained high popularity, on account of his impartial administration of justice, and his zeal to protect the poor from the oppressions of their superiors. His reign is less agreeably marked by the persecutions of the Lollards, a body of religious reformers, many of whom were condemned to the flames. Being determined to use every endeavor to gain the crown of France, which he considered his by right of birth, he landed in Normandy with 30,000 men (August 1415), and gave battle to a much superior force of the French at Agincourt. He gained a complete victory, which was sullied by his afterwards ordering a massacre of his prisoners, under the apprehension that an attempt was to be made to rescue them. The war was carried on for some years longer, and Henry would have probably succeeded in making good his claim to the French crown, if he had not died prematurely of a dysentery (August 31, 1422), in the, thirty fourth year of his age, leaving the throne to an infant nine months old, who was proclaimed as HENRY VI, King of France and England.

Under Henry VI, whose power was for some time in the hands of his uncle the Duke of Bedford, the English maintained their footing in France for several years, and at the battle of Verneuil, in 1424, rivaled the glory of Cressy and Poitiers. At that conflict, a body of Scotch, 7000 strong, who had proved of material service to the French, were nearly cut off. In 1428, when France seemed completely sunk beneath the English rule, the interests of the native prince were suddenly revived by a simple maiden, named Joan of Arc, who pretended to have been commissioned by Heaven to save her country; and entering into the French army, was the cause of several signal reverses to the English. By her enthusiastic exertions, and the trust everywhere reposed in her supernatural character, Charles VII was crowned at Rheims in 1430. Being soon after taken prisoner, the heroic maiden was, by the English, condemned for witchcraft, and burnt. Nevertheless, about the year 1453, the French monarch had retrieved the whole of his dominions from the English, with the exception of Calais.

Henry VI was remarkable for the extreme weakness of his character. His cousin, Richard, Duke of York, descended from an elder son of Edward III, and therefore possessed of a superior title to the throne, conceived that Henry's imbecility afforded a good opportunity for asserting what he thought his birthright. Thus commenced the famous Wars of the Roses, as they were called, from the badges of the families of York and Lancaster the former of which was a white, while the latter was a red rose. In 1454, the duke gained a decisive victory over the forces of Henry, which were led by his spirited consort, Margaret of Anjou. In some succeeding engagements the friends of Henry were victorious; and at length, in the battle of Wakefield (December 24, 1460), the forces of the Duke of York were signally defeated, and him self, with one of his sons, taken and put to death. His pretensions were then taken up by his eldest son Edward, who, with the assistance of the Earl of Warwick, gained such advantages next year, that he assumed the crown. Before this was accomplished, many thousands had fallen on both sides. Henry, who cared little for the pomp of sovereignty, was confined in the Tower.

Scotland, in the meantime (1424), had redeemed her king from his captivity in England; and that prince, styled JAMES I, had proved a great legislator and reformer, not to speak of his personal accomplishments in music and literature, which surpassed those of every contemporary monarch. James did much to reduce the Highlands to an obedience under the Scottish government, and also to break up the enormous power of the nobles. By these proceedings, however, he excited a deep hatred in the bosoms of some of his subjects; and in 1437 he fell a victim to assassination at Perth. He was succeeded by his infant son, JAMES II, the greater part of whose reign was spent in a harassing contention with the powerful house of Douglas, and who was finally killed, in the flower of his age, by the bursting of a cannon before Roxburgh Castle. His successor, JAMES III, was also a minor, and, on reaching man's estate, proved to be a weak, though not ill-meaning prince. He fell a victim, in 1488, to a conspiracy formed by his subjects, and which was led by his eldest son. The morality of princes in this age seems to have been much upon a par with that ascribed to the Turkish sovereigns of a later period. They never scrupled to destroy life, either within the circle of their own family, or out of it, when it suited their interests or their ambition to do so.