The ruinous issue of the great struggle with France roused England to a burst of fury against the wretched government to whose weakness and credulity it attributed its disasters. Suffolk was impeached, and murdered as he crossed the sea into exile. When the Bishop of Chichester was sent to pay the sailors at Portsmouth, and strove to put them off with less than their due, they fell on him and slew him. In Kent, the great manufacturing district of the day, seething with a busy population, and especially concerned with the French contests through the piracy of the Cinque Ports, where every house showed some spoil from the wars, the discontent broke into open revolt. The rising spread from Kent over Surrey and Sussex. A military levy of the yeomen of the three shires was organized; the insurgents were joined by more than a hundred esquires and gentlemen, and two great landowners of Sussex, the Abbot of Battle and the Prior of Lewes, openly favoured their cause. John Cade, a soldier of some experience in the French wars, took the significant name of Mortimer, and placed himself at their head; and the army, now twenty thousand men strong, marched on Blackheath. The "Complaint of the Commons of Kent" which they laid before the Royal Council, is of high value in the light which it throws on the condition of the people.
Not one of the demands touches on religious reform. The question of villeinage and serfage finds no place in the "Complaint" of 1450. In the seventy years which had intervened since the last peasant rising, villeinage had died naturally away before the progress of social change. The Statutes of Apparel, which from this time encumber the Statute-Book, show in their anxiety to curtail the dress of the labourer and the farmer the progress of these classes in comfort and wealth; and from the language of the statutes themselves, it is plain that as wages rose both farmer and labourer went on clothing themselves better in spite of sumptuary provisions. With the exception of a demand for the repeal of the Statute of Labourers, the programme of the Commons was now not social, but political. The " Complaint" calls for administrative and economical reforms, for a change of ministry, a more careful expenditure of the royal revenue, and for the restoration of freedom of election, which had been broken in upon by the interference both of the Crown and the great landowners.
[Authorities. - No period, save the last, is scantier in historical authorities. We still possess William of Worcester, Fabyan, and the Crowland Continuator, and for the struggle between Warwick and Edward, the valuable narrative of " The Arrival of Edward IV.," edited for the Camden Society, which may be taken as the official account on the royal side. " The Paston Letters " (edited by Mr. Gairdner) are the first instance in English history of a family correspondence, and throw great light on the social history of the time. Cade's rising has been illustrated in two papers, lately reprinted, by Mr. Durrant Cooper. The Rolls of Parliament are, as before, of the highest value].
The refusal of the Council to receive the "Complaint" was followed by a victory of the Kentishmen over the royal forces at Sevenoaks; the entry of the insurgents into London, coupled with the execution of Lord Say, the most unpopular of the royal ministers, broke the obstinacy of his colleagues. The " Complaint " was received, pardons were granted to all who had joined in the rising; and the insurgents dispersed to their homes. Cade, who had striven in vain to retain them in arms, sought to form a new force by throwing open the gaols; but his men quarrelled, and Cade himself was slain by the sheriff of Kent as he fled into Sussex. The " Complaint " was quietly laid aside. No attempt was made to redress the grievances which it stated, and the main object of popular hate, the Duke of Somerset, took his place at the head of the Royal Council.
Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, as the grandson of John of Gaunt and his mistress Catharine Swynford, was the representative of a junior branch of the House of Lancaster, whose claims to the throne Henry IV. had barred by a clause in the Act which legitimated their line, but whose hopes of the Crown were roused by the childlessness of Henry VI. He found a rival in the Duke of York, heir of the houses of York, of Clarence, and of Mortimer, who boasted of a double descent from Edward III. In addition to other claims which York as yet refrained from urging, he claimed as descendant of Edmund of Langley, Edward's fifth son, to be regarded as heir presumptive to the throne. Popular favour seems to have been on his side, but in 1453 the birth of the King's son promised to free the Crown from the turmoil of warring factions; Henry, however, at the same time sank into a state of idiotcv which made his rule impossible, and York was appointed Protector of the Realm. But on Henry's recovery the Duke of Somerset, who had been impeached and committed to the Tower by his rival, was restored to power, and supported with singular vigour and audacity by the Queen. York at once took up arms, and backed by the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, the heads of the great House of Neville, he advanced with 3,000 men upon St. Albans, where Henry was encamped.
A successful assault upon the town was crowned by the death of Somerset; and a return of the King's malady brought the renewal of York's Protectorate. Henry's recovery, however, again restored the supremacy of the House of Beaufort, and after a temporary reconciliation between the two parties there was a fresh outbreak of war. Salisbury defeated Lord Audley at Bloreheath, and York with the two Earls raised his standard at Ludlow. The King marched rapidly on the insurgents, and a decisive battle was only averted by the desertion of a part of the Yorkist army and the disbanding of the rest. The Duke himself fled to Ireland, the Earls to Calais, while the Queen, summoning a Parliament at Coventry, pressed on their attainder. But the check, whatever its cause, had been merely a temporary one. In the following Midsummer the Earls again landed in Kent, and backed by a general rising of the county, entered London amidst the acclamations of its citizens. The royal army was defeated in a hard-fought action at Northampton, Margaret fled to Scotland, and Henry was left a prisoner in the hands of the Duke of York.