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the right of sanctuary

the right of sanctuary

Certain it is that Abbot Litlington was something more than a monk. For when, during the reign of Richard, there was a great scare that the French were about to invade England, he, though at that time seventy, armed himself and set off with some of his monks to the coast to defend his country. And we find that "one of these monks, Brother John, supposing his courage equal to his stature, was a very proper person for a soldier, being one of the largest men in the kingdom. His armour, the invasion not taking place, was carried into London to be sold, being so big that no person could be found of a size that it would fit."

One other part of vanished Westminster comes into prominence in this reign, and that is its Sanctuary, which stood where now is Westminster Hospital. It was a massive square keep built of stone, each side nearly eighty feet long, with a heavy oak and iron door, stone stairs, strong dark rooms and thick walls, and besides a belfry tower, in which hung those bells which rang for coronations and tolled for royal funerals; it contained two chapels. This place was the haven of refuge alike to innocent and to guilty; so long as they remained within its walls the Church protected them and kept them. Of course, originally these sanctuaries attached to the religious houses had been intended to protect the weak, the helpless, and the oppressed, but gradually all manner of men, thieves, debtors, and law-breakers, gathered round it, and at Westminster, where all the Abbey buildings were counted as sacred ground, strange and lawless crowds assembled; but
was jealously guarded.

Outside the world of Westminster the country was full of discontent, which showed itself in parties and in plots. John of Gaunt had fled, and his place had been filled by his brother, Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, who, with Gaunt's son, Henry of Bolingbroke, and other nobles, had forced Richard, still a minor, into accepting several of their demands. But directly he was of age Richard had his revenge; and in the Council Chamber he made it clear that he intended to keep all the authority in his own hands or in the hands of those he himself should choose. Francis, a scribe, and the lame Clerk to the Council, has left us a vivid picture of the scene.

"Then Richard stood in the doorway; upon his head he wore a crown; in his hand he carried his sceptre; on his shoulders hung a mantle of ermine, and through the door I saw a throng of armed men, and heard the clank of steel.

"Since the time of David there had not been a more comely prince in the world to look upon than King Richard.... Yet let no one say that his eyes were soft. This morning they were like the eyes of a falcon.

"'Good, my lord,' began the Duke of Gloucester.

"The King strode across the room and took his seat upon the throne.

"'Fair uncle,' he said, 'tell me how old I am.'

"'Your Highness,' said the Duke, 'is now in his twenty-fourth year   The entire room was faced with polished granite..'

"'Say you so? Then, fair uncle, I am old enough to manage mine own affairs.'

"So saying, he took the Great Seal from the Archbishop, and the keys of the Exchequer from the Bishop of Hereford. From the Duke of Gloucester he took his office, he appointed new judges, he created a new council. 'Twas a gallant prince. Alas! that he was not always strong; twice in his life Richard was strong—that day and another. That night there was high revelry in the Palace: the mummers and the minstrels and the music made the Court merry. And the king's fool made the courtiers laugh when he jested about the Duke's amazement and the Archbishop's discomfiture."
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