Poitou, Saintonge, and the Angoumois yielded to his general Du Guesclin, and Rochelle was surrendered by its citizens. A great army under the King's third son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, penetrated fruitlessly into the heart of France. Charles had forbidden any fighting. "If a storm rages over the land," said the King, coolly, "it disperses of itself; and so will it be with the English." Winter, in fact, overtook the Duke in the mountains of Auvergne, and a mere fragment of his host reached Bordeaux. The failure was the signal for a general defection, and ere the summer of 1374 had closed the two towns of Bordeaux and Bayonne were all that remained of the English possessions in southern France.
It was a time of shame and suffering such as England had never known. Her conquests were lost, her shores insulted, her fleets annihilated, her commerce swept from the seas; while within she was exhausted by the long and costly war, as well as by the ravages of pestilence. In the hour of distress the eyes of the hard-pressed nobles and knighthood turned greedily on the riches of the Church. Never had her spiritual or moral hold on the nation been less; never had her wealth been greater. Out of a population of some three millions, the ecclesiastics numbered between twenty and thirty thousand. Wild tales of their riches floated about. They were said to own in landed property alone more than a third of the soil, their " spiritualities " in dues and offerings amounting to twice the King's revenue. The throng of bishops round the council-board was still more galling to the feudal baronage, flushed as it was with a new pride by the victories of Crécy and Poitiers. On the renewal of the war the Parliament prayed that the chief offices of state might be placed in lay hands.
William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, resigned the Chancellorship, another prelate the Treasury, to lay dependents of the great nobles; and the panic of the clergy was seen in large grants which they voted in Convocation. The baronage found a leader in John of Gaunt; but even the promise to pillage the Church failed to win for the Duke and his party the goodwill of the lesser gentry and of the burgesses; while the corruption and the utter failure of the new administration and the calamities of the war left it powerless before the Parliament of 1376. The action of this Parliament marks a new stage in the character of the national opposition to the misrule of the Crown. Till now the task of resistance had devolved on the baronage, and had been carried out through risings of its feudal tenantry; but the misgovern-ment was now that of a main part of the baronage itself in actual conjunction with the Crown. Only in the power of the Commons lay any adequate means of peaceful redress. The old reluctance of the Lower House to meddle with matters of State was roughly swept away therefore by the pressure of the time.
The Black Prince, sick as he was to death and anxious to secure his child's succession by the removal of John of Gaunt, the prelates with William of Wykeham at their head, resolute again to take their place in the royal councils and to check the projects of ecclesiastical spoliation, alike found in it a body to oppose to the Duke's administration. Backed by powers such as these, the action of the Commons showed none of their old timidity or self-distrust. The knights of the shire united with the burgesses in a joint attack on the royal council. "Trusting in God, and standing with his followers before the nobles, whereof the chief was John, Duke of Lancaster, whose doings were ever contrary," their speaker, Sir Peter de la Mare, denounced the mismanagement of the war, the oppressive taxation, and demanded an account of the expenditure. "What do these base and ignoble knights attempt?" cried John of Gaunt. "Do they think they be kings or princes of the land? "But even the Duke was silenced by the charges brought against the government, and the Parliament proceeded to the impeachment and condemnation of two ministers, Latimer and Lyons. The King himself had sunk into dotage, and was wholly under the influence of a mistress named Alice Perrers; she was banished, and several of the royal servants driven from the Court. One hundred and forty petitions were presented which embodied the grievances of the realm.
They demanded the annual assembly of Parliament, and freedom of election for the knights. of the shire, whose choice was now often tampered with by the Crown; they protested against arbitrary taxation and Papal inroads on the liberties of the Church; petitioned for the protection of trade, the enforcement of the statute of labourers, and the limitation of the powers of chartered crafts. At the death of the Black Prince his little son Richard was brought into Parliament and acknowledged as heir. But the Houses were no sooner dismissed than Lancaster resumed his power. His haughty will flung aside all restraints of law. He dismissed the new lords and prelates from the Council. He called back Alice Perrers and the disgraced ministers. He declared the Good Parliament no parliament, and did not suffer its petitions to be enrolled as statutes. He imprisoned Peter de la Mare, and confiscated the possessions of William of Wykeham. His attack on this prelate was an attack on the clergy at large. Fresh projects of spoliation were openly canvassed, and it is his support of these plans of confiscation which now brings us across the path of John Wyclif.