History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER II: Edward II of Cærnarvon 1307-1327

1. [1] Prince , now twenty-three years old, was a strong, handsome young man, brave, well-spoken, and able, but headstrong, careless of all but his own pleasures, and given overmuch to the companionship of those beneath him, idling his time away with actors, jugglers, craftsmen, and labourers, when he ought to have been learning and doing his duty as a peer and counsellor. His folly angered his father, who drove him from court for six months when he broke the treasurer's park and slew his deer, and could not refrain from striking him when he begged the earldom of Ponthieu, his mother's portion, for his bosom friend . or Peter of Gaveston was the son of a Gascon knight who with his wife had been put to death by the French; Queen Eleanor had brought the orphan to her court and made him the playmate of her son, over whom he got the most un bounded power. is spoken of as a good knight, a gifted man, and a skilful soldier; but his pride and greed made him hateful, and his power over was not used for any good. The new king began his reign by breaking his father's dying wishes.


He sent his father's body to Westminster to be buried; went south himself, though there was every hope, if he had used the power he had, of crushing the rebellion of at one blow; and recalled , making him Chamberlain, Earl of Cornwall, marrying him to his niece, and enriching him with his father's treasure and the jewels of the crown. He then dismissed the treasurer and others of the Council who had offended himself or his friends in times past, and appointing the newly-made earl Warden of the Realm, crossed to Boulogne. Here, having done homage for his duchy of Aquitaine, he married the French princess, Isabel, January 28, , amid great feasting and merry-making. On his return he was crowned at Westminster, February 25, when he swore a special oath

"to hold and keep the laws and righteous customs which the commonalty of the realm should choose."

Very soon the king's folly and extravagance, and 's open contempt of the Earls of Hereford, Warenne, Pembroke, Warwick, and Lancaster, whom he thwarted in the Council, overthrew in the tournament, and mocked with nicknames (calling Pembroke Warwick and Lancaster or ), led to the exile of the favourite at the Council of London. The king made him Warden of Ireland, and there he ruled well and was much liked. However, in , the Parliament of Westminster brought forward certain Articles prohibiting (a) the wrongdoings and illegal tolls taken by the king's officers; (b) the delays and evasions of justice; (c) the new customs upon the foreign merchants, who were not protected by the Charter; (d) the wrong use of the king's right of purveyance. The king agreed to these at Stamford , and by the persuasion of the Earl of Gloucester the Parliament allowed of 's return.

2. But the greatest of the English barons, the king's cousin Thomas, son of Edmund Crouchback King of Sicily, and Blanche dowager Queen of Navarre, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Derby, and heir by marriage to and Salisbury, was by no means pleased with the king's rule. And as there were many men, rich and poor, who had grievances which they saw little chance of getting removed by the careless, ease-loving king or his proud and lazy ministers, Earl Thomas soon had a large party at his back. The king forbade armed gatherings, but the barons paid no heed to his decree and came in full force to a Parliament at Westminster in Lent , and chose a board of seven bishops, eight earls,


and six barons, of whom the Archbishop Robert was the chief, to draw up Ordinances

"to the honour and welfare of Holy Church, the king, and the people of the realm, according to the oath the king took when he was crowned."

[2]  While the Ordainers were sitting the king and made a raid into Scotland, in which they drove their foes before them, but did not succeed in stopping the war by the capture of the rebel leaders.

In , leaving at Bamborough, came back and met the Parliament at London. He had already agreed to the first six Ordinances ere he went north, touching-

(a) The keeping of the Charters, (b) the peace, and (c) the rights of the Church; (d) forbidding the king to make any gifts without the Ordainers' consent; (e) ordering the customs to be paid to English collectors, and (f) making the foreigners to whom they had hitherto been paid give account of their receipts.

He now had to agree to a second set of Ordinances, by which-



, " who had misled the king, turned away his heart from his people, and wrought all kinds of wrong-doing," was to be banished and forfeit his estates; the Italian merchants who had lent the king money and taken the taxes were to be sent out of England; and Henry of Beaumont, whom


had made King of Man (which had been lately taken from the Scots), was to leave the Council. (b) All the king's ministers in England, Ireland, and Gascony are to be chosen by the king with the counsel and consent of the baronage. (c) The king may not go to war, leave the realm, raise an army, or change the coinage without consent of the barons in Parliament. (d) Parliaments are to be held once at least every year to hear and decide suits and complaints. (e) The new prises [forced tolls], customs, afforestings, taxes on foreign merchants, are forbidden. (f) Justice was made more sure and severe. (g) The former Ordinances, Statutes, and Charters are confirmed.

complained that he was treated like an idiot, since he was no longer allowed to rule his own house or choose his own servants; but after in vain praying the barons to forgive

"his brother



he gave way, sent to Brabant, and sealed the Ordinances. However, as soon as he got back to by counsel of certain French lawyers he set aside the articles touching and replaced him in his former rank and estates. Earl Thomas and his friends at once armed, and beset in Scarborough till he gave himself up on the understanding


that he should be kept safe till peace was arranged. But as he was being taken to Wallingford the Earl of Warwick, his deadly foe, seized him by a sudden surprise from the Earl of Pembroke, in whose safeguard he was, and took him before the Earls of Lancaster and Hereford. As he was led to his enemies he cried,

" Where are all my riches with which I bought friends, and where are the friends in whom I put my trust? It is my pride, the king's favour, and the court that have brought me to this hopeless pass."

He prayed the Thomas for pity, and some present would have sent him back to Pembroke, but others said,

" We have got the wolf by the ears, shall we let him go to hunt him again ?"

and Earl Thomas bade two Welsh soldiers take him away forthwith and strike off his head, for as he was a Roman citizen and a kinsman of the Earl of Gloucester by marriage they would not put him to a shameful death. So his head was cut off at Blacklow at noonday and borne by a black friar to , June 19, . The king was furious at the murder of his friend and made ready to revenge him. It was only by the good offices of the Earl of Gloucester, the Pope, and the King of France that a civil war was stopped, and the king reconciled to the four earls, Lancaster, Hereford, Warren, and Warwick, October 16, . The birth of his eldest son, November 13, , had delighted , and from that moment he began somewhat to forget his grief for his dead friend.

In Pope Clement sent a bull to the English bishops saying he had found the Templars in France guilty of heresy, idolatry, murder, and evil living, and ordering the archbishop to see into the state of the Order in England. The English Templars were not proved guilty, but it was thought well to break up the Order in , its property being given to the Knights of St. John, who were still engaged in fighting the Saracens.

3. All this while had been profiting by the divisions in England to win back castle after castle from the English garrisons by stratagem or storm, and at last he beset Stirling so straitly that the governor promised to yield it unless he were relieved by St. John's Day, . was willing to fight the Scots, but Lancaster and his friends, who cared only to hold power, pretended that a Parliament must be called ere the king could lawfully set out, and refused to join his host. , however, made up his mind to save Stirling, and with Gloucester and a great host he faced King Robert, who was by the brook of Bannock, covering the way


to the castle, posted in a strong place which he had honey-combed with pits to stop the English cavalry.
On the 23rd June an attempt to relieve the castle was balked by the Scottish spearmen, and King Robert, who was mounted on a little hackney marshalling his men, with his own hand slew a fully-armed English knight who challenged him, parrying his lance-thrust and cleaving his head with his axe. Next morning the English archers began the attack, but the Scottish cavalry drove them back, and the English knights were forced to charge the unbroken squares of pikemen. In the confusion a number of the Scottish camp-followers were seen coming down the hill with flags and pikes, and the Englishmen took them for a fresh host, and turned in flight. The Earl of Gloucester was left to die fighting bravely alone, the English king, whose horse was killed under him, was forced out of the fray against his will, and saved by the unselfish courage of Sir Giles of Argentein. The Scots pursued fiercely, killing all they could come up with, and winning great spoil. Stirling yielded, and save Berwick, King Robert now held


the whole realm of Scotland. Nor was he content, but in order to force to acknowledge his independence, he carried the war into Ireland and Wales. Bren rose in , and Sir Gruffydd Llwyd afterward; but the Welsh did not dislike the king, and were easily quieted.

Across the sea things went worse. By the wish of the O'Neils, who passed their own right over to him, of Brus was crowned King of Ireland at Dundalk in . With an army of Irish clansmen and 6000 Scottish soldiers he defeated the English troops of the Pale till he was checked at Athonree, where 11,000 of the O'Connors fell. But his brother Robert came to his help in the fall of the same year, , and the two kings swept through the whole land from Belfast to Killarney with fire and sword. However Robert was soon called home, where he busied himself with the siege of Berwick and raids into North England, and now the English of the Pale under Lord Mortimer defeated, and under John of Birmingham overthrew, the invaders at Faughard, near Dundalk, October 14, , where was slain by John Malpas. The invasion had done great harm to Ireland, by raising fresh feuds, throwing back the settlers into their old lawless habits, and destroying much fertile land.

4. [4] In England Lancaster was more powerful than ever, for the defeat of Bannockburn and the ensuing loss of Scotland had lowered the helpless king in men's eyes, while the death of Gloucester had removed the only unselfish and wise man whose name had weight with the people. 's ministers, Walter Reynolds, his old tutor (who had succeeded Robert of Winchelsea as Archbishop of ), and Hugh the Despenser (son of Hugh the Proud, Montfort's Chief Justiciar, who fell at Evesham) were fair-spoken men, but they were self-seeking and not liked by the barons. So in Lancaster and his friends made the king dismiss them, and put him on an allowance of L10 a day, insisting that he should live on his own, that is, be content with the regular income of the Crown lands and dues without calling for more money from his people. But Lancaster, though he was now in power, governed no better than or his friends had done before; he would neither do his duty in the Parliament or in the field against the Scots. And all this while the people were suffering from bad seasons, famine, cattle plague, the cruel forays of the Scots, and the lawlessness of the barons and the royal officers. During these evil years wheat


rose to 40s. a quarter, ten times its usual price, and after the dearth-

"To crush down all the poorer sort in misery and care,

The cattle all died suddenly and left the land all bare,

And when this plague was stinted of beasts that bear a horn

Then God sent down upon the earth a second dearth of corn.

One's heart must sure for pity bleed to hear the doleful cry

That went up from the poor man's lips, 'For hunger I must die !"

Decrees went forth stopping the malting of grain because of the lack of barley for bread, and fixing the maximum price for meat and flour and beer and other food. The rich had scarce enough to live on, and were obliged to withhold their usual alms of meat and drink from the poor. The people were driven to live on carrion; many were killed by the bands of hungry robbers that roamed about seeking for food, and many were starved to death. At last a third party was formed by the Earl of Pembroke, who had not forgiven Lancaster for the dishonour he did him in seizing while under his safeguard: and when Berwick was taken by King Robert, a second peace was patched up between Earl Thomas and the king, by which the Ordinances was agreed to, and a Standing Council of eight bishops, four earls, four barons, and a knight, named. But still nothing was done to better matters, Lancaster kept up a secret understanding with the Scots, who, 20th September , beat the shire levy under the archbishop in a battle called The Chapter of Mytton, from the number of clergy that were slain there, and had to make a truce with the victors. A quarrel now broke out on the Welsh borders between Roger Mortimer, the grandson of 's friend, and the son of Hugh the Despenser, who had married one of Gloucester's sisters. Hereford and Lancaster took Lord Mortimer's part, and at a Parliament in the Despensers, father and son, were exiled for abusing their influence over the king, for preventing the peers from seeing and speaking to him, for raising civil war and hindering justice. The outlaws left the kingdom, and the younger Despenser fitted out a small fleet of ships and plundered the merchants in the Channel. But they were not long in exile. Lady Badlesmere refused to let Queen Isabel into Leeds Castle in , and slew some of her followers. The barons, disgusted at this insolence, came to help , and Lancaster, who had a quarrel with Lord Badlesmere, did not raise his hand to help him. Leeds soon fell, and passed on to the Welsh marches to punish the Earl of Hereford for his many misdeeds. The Mor


timers were forced to yield, and ere Lancaster, who was now alarmed, could gather his troops the king had won all the strongholds of the Midlands. Still Thomas would not take the king's offer of pardon, but with the Earl of Hereford turned to bay at Borough Bridge, March 16, , where Sir Andrew Harclay, the royal general, won the day, slaying Hereford and taking Thomas himself. The earl was brought to Pomfret, tried by the Peers for treason, and led out by the Gascon soldiers to be beheaded in an old striped coat and broken hat, seated on a white nag, bridleless and saddleless, the people pelting him with mud and mocking him as

" King Arthur."

At a little hill outside the town he was made to dismount and kneel down with his face to the north,

"toward his friends the Scots."

he said, and a headsman from London struck off his head. Eight barons and thirty knights and squires met the same end. In a Parliament at the Acts against the Despensers were annulled, all the old articles of the Ordinances confirmed, but the new ones set aside as not having been rightly made in full Parliament. It was at the same time laid down solemnly that

" all matters to be established for the estate of our lord the king and his heirs, the realm and people, shall be treated, granted, and established in Parliaments by our lord the king, and by the consent of the clergy, earls, and barons, and the commonalty of the realm."

The king now had a good chance of governing well, but he left all to his new favourites the Despensers, made a truce with the Scots, angered the Londoners by his stern justice, and let his prisoners escape. The taxes were not paid, the law was not kept, the people in their despair held Earl Thomas for a martyr and a saint, and grew bitter against the careless king and the greedy ministers.

We have many notices of the sufferings of the poor. One song says-

" To seek the silver for the king I all my seed have sold,

Whereby my land must fallow lie and learn to idly sleep.

And then they fetched my cattle fair away from out the fold.

When I think on the wealth I've lost I wellnigh fall to weep.

In this way they have made a breed of many a beggar bold,

And all our rye is rotten too and rusty ere we reap.

Yea, all our rye is rusty and rotten in the straw,

By reason of the cruel storms on hillside and on plain.

There wakeneth in this sorry world both Woe and wondering Awe.

It were as good to starve at once as thus to toil in vain.


But just the same the beadle comes with his big talk and boast,

'Come, pay me up the silver that is due to the Green Wax [sheriff's tax-paper];

For thou art down upon my writ, as very well thou know'st.'

Yea, more than ten times over I have had to pay the tax !"

Another poet bears witness to the evils of the time, blaming the knights for dressing like minstrels, chiding like scolds, neglecting their duties,

" lions in hall are they now and hares in the field."

The squires he rebukes for their great hoods and new-fashioned coats, rich living and idleness, saying that they pass all their time at feasts and plays. Of the clergy and nobles he says:-

" Great need it were to pray to God that Peace were hither brought To save the nobles of the land, that so much woe have wrought; The foul fiend egged them on so hard to murder one another, That not for very kindred's sake would cousins spare each other at all.

So that it seemed that England was just about to fall. And while these mighty barons in heaps have thus been slain, The prelates of our Holy Church too long asleep have lain; They woke at last but all too late, great pity 'twas indeed They could not see the Truth, they were so blinded by their Greed in mist;

They cared far more their lands to save than win the love of Christ! For had the clergy of our land but kept themselves together, And not gone wavering like the wind now hither and now thither, But sought on which side stood the Truth and held to that alone, Those barons all would be alive that now lie dead and gone to clay.

Through Falsehood and through Pride it is that England's cast away. Pride hath in his pit-fall caught the high and eke the low, So that 'tis hard for any man Almighty God to know. With Envy and with Wickedness Pride pricketh all about, And Peace and Love and Charity from this poor land hie out, full fast. Lest God should shortly end the world we well may be aghast!"

5. In the new King of France, Charles the Fair, sent to bid come and do homage for his duchy; but the Despensers, fearing the barons would rise against them if he were to leave England, would not let him go. accordingly sent his wife to treat with her brother, and handing over his earldom of Ponthieu and duchy of Aquitaine to his little son, bade him do homage in his stead, . But when Isabel was in France she met Lord , and forgetful of her duty to her husband, under pretence that the elder Despenser was plotting against her life, joined


in a plan for invading England, putting down the ministers, and governing in their stead. The queen's open fondness for at length forced her brother Charles to send her out of France, but she went to Hainault, and betrothing her son to the earl's daughter Philippa, got 2000 soldiers from him with which to carry out her plans. Money she had already borrowed from her brother and the Italian bankers in France. In vain wrote kindly to her, urging her return to her duty.[1]  In vain he bade his little son make no promise of marriage without his father's consent, but come back to England at once, [1]  In vain too he called out troops and got Reynolds toexcommunicate the invaders. The queen landed at Orwell, 24th September , with Lord and the king's brother Edmund, Earl of , declaring that she came to avenge the blood of Earl Thomas and punish the Despensers. She was joined by the fleet sent to stop her, by most of the English barons and bishops, and by the Londoners, bands of whom, called [5]  rose, plundered the houses of the king's friends, and murdered the Bishop of , keeping the city in such disorder that no courts could be held for months. The little Duke of Aquitaine was made Warden of the Realm, and not a hand was raised on his father's behalf. The Despensers, who had fled to the west, were caught, tried, and hanged as traitors. The king, after hiding for a while in Wales, where the yeomen and monks favoured his flight and helped to conceal him, gave himself up, and was sent a prisoner to Kenilworth. At a Parliament at Westminster, Adam of Orleton, Bishop of Hereford, a deadly enemy of the king's and a man without pity or fear, asked those present whether they would have the father or son as their king. Save four bishops all voted for the son. was charged with having been foolishly led by evil counsellors ; with neglecting the business of his state, and trifling his time away unbecomingly; with having lost Ireland, Gascony, and Scotland; with harming the Church, and slaying, exiling, and outlawing many great men; with breaking the oath he made at his crowning to do justice to all, and with having ruined the realm, being incapable of ruling better or of mending his ways. Twenty-four commissioners-earls, barons, abbots, priors, judges, friars, monks, knights, and citizens--were sent to Kenilworth to renounce the homage and fealty they had sworn to the king, who agreed to give up his crown to his son and to become a


private person again without any manner of royal dignity, 20th January . Eight months afterward the wretched man, who had been moved about as a prisoner from one dungeon to another, was cruelly murdered by 's orders at Berkeley Castle, 21st September .

was justly put from the throne, for he had shown himself unfit to rule, and had brought great misery on his people by his neglect of his duty; but those that had withstood him were selfish and greedy men, who cared only for their own advancement, and they were only successful in the end because the people in their sore distress (for a drought was now killing off the cattle the plague had spared) believed that the bad seasons were sent as a punishment for their rulers' sins, and therefore thinking that any change must be for the better, were willing to have a young king who would learn to govern well.

In this reign the power of the Parliament grew greater, and the Estates set about getting the whole control of the taxes into their hands; but it was not yet found possible for the king to rule save by ministers whom he himself chose, though it was settled that he must choose men who would not be hateful to the nation.


[1] Edward and Piers of Gaveston, 1307-1309

[] 1311-1314.]

[2] The Ordinances and the murder of Piers, 1310-1312.

[] [1314.

[3] The loss of Scotland at Bannockburn, June 24, 1314.

[4] The bad rale and sudden fall of Lancaster, 1314-1322

[] [1319-1322]

[1] Edward un-kinged and murdered, 1327

[1] " as you wish to escape our wrath and heavy anger, and love your own welfare and honour."

[5] "Riflers,"

[] [1327.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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