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LIVES OF SOME ENGLISH POPULAR LEADERS
IN THE MIDDLE AGES.'
THE object of the following series is threefold. First of all, to bring into prominence men whose place in history has been either ignored or misrepresented.
Secondly, by this means to give, so far as I am able, a new and fresh interest to the study of those events in which these men have taken so prominent a part.
Thirdly, to endeavour to show how the work done by each of these men has been necessary to the completion and ultimate usefulness of that of their predecessors.
It has often been suggested that history should
be written in biographies. There are many reasons for supposing that such a method would throw greater light on obscure parts of history, and would excite a more lively interest in ordinary readers than a mere narrative of events.
Especially would this be the case with regard to those times in which the men have either been lost sight of in the events, or misrepresented in such a way as to diminish the interest felt by the readers in those events.
Of the former case, the most remarkable example is to be found in the man whose life forms the first of these biographies.
Well acquainted as most Englishmen are with the mere outline of the great struggle against King John, there are perhaps many well-informed people who know little of the most important of the leaders of that movement. The result of that ignorance has been to lessen the interest felt in the details of the struggle, and to prevent its exact position in relation to the previous and subsequent history from being accurately recognized.
The other three biographies of this series supply instances of the second case of injustice
which I have mentioned above, that in which the prejudice against the man has produced indifference to the events in which he took part. Yet a right understanding of the character and work of Stephen Langton may serve to show why such men as Wat Tyler and Sir John Oldcastle, and such work as theirs, was needed in England to complete the labours of Langton and De Montfort. Thus I have endeavoured to set forth in the introductory chapter to the life of Stephen Langton the state into which England had fallen after the Norman Conquest. Yet even before that time, as will be seen from my introductory chapter to the life of Wat Tyler, there had been such a line between the different classes of the kingdom as made it inevitable when this distinction had been intensified by the Conquest, that the struggle for the formal constitutional liberties of the upper classes should separate itself to a large extent from the demands of the peasantry and the serfs. Thus Langton, though working for the good of all, was unable to reach those evils which were attacked by Wat Tyler.
But in spite of these distinctions one will find running through these, as well as the later struggles of English history, a common desire to appeal to the laws of God against those of man; taking, in the earlier days of English life, the form of the assertion of the Church as coextensive with and sanctifying the State, in the fiercer days which followed the preaching of the friars and of Wicliffe, finding its expression in the appeal to a Deliverer, alike from priestcraft and kingcraft.
The insurrection of Jack Cade, if it has less of this last quality on the surface than the earlier struggles which I have mentioned, yet is a fit conclusion to them, both from its combining some of the characteristics of the respective struggles of Tyler and Langton, and from the gross and cruel misrepresentations from which the leader of the movement has suffered. Like the struggle of Langton, it aimed at the securing of direct legal and constitutional checks on despotism; like that of Tyler it attracted the sympathies of many of the poorest classes by offering remedies for their grievances, and by giving more intelligible