ENGLAND: EDWARD I AND EDWARD II
“The tomb had not even been closed when we all who were there present, with a multitude of your lieges, took an oath of fealty to yourself as lord and king, and did all that was fitting for your lordship and honour, as far as was possible in your absence.”
When Edward, son of Henry III, read these words in the letter, sealed by sixteen of the greatest English magnates, which brought to him at Trapani in Sicily the news of his father’s death, they must have surprised and gratified him. This was the first time that full legal recognition had been given to an heir before coronation, and Edward may have seen in the confidence thus displayed the reward for those long, patient, difficult years of youth and manhood in which he had done his full duty as a son to a father whose defects in some directions were as conspicuous as his merits in others, and yet had shown a spirit of reasonableness, an appreciation of other people’s position, a readiness to profit by experience, which had won him golden opinions. It was not all loss that Edward had had to live through a civil war, had added to the normal round of a king’s son experiences so unusual as confinement as a hostage and appointment as a sheriff, and had watched men and theories at a time when feeling and expression were at their most intense. He himself had for years been facing problems of his own, for from early youth he had been ruler of wide lands, not in England only, but in the Channel Islands, Ireland, and Wales, and above all in Gascony, where conditions were peculiarly difficult. His latest adventure had been on traditional lines, for the call to kingship reached him when on his way home from crusade. The double note, of conservatism and experiment, which was to sound throughout his reign, seemed already struck before he began it.
It was not till 19 August 1274 that Edward was crowned, and various matters, notably the need to do homage to Philip of France for his lands overseas and to establish order within them, kept him abroad till a few weeks before that date. When he did return, he was given a great welcome. The populace liked his kingly looks, his straight back and tall stature; the ring of great magnates, lay and clerical, found him congenial and sufficiently conventional; while those who had had business to do with him knew that he had qualities rarer among monarchs of his age, a power of application and an appreciation of the expert.
For the first twenty years of his reign Edward was in the main occupied with works of peace, with the exception of the war in Wales. He had not been in England more than three months, and his friend Robert Burnell had been chancellor for only three weeks, when an important step was taken. Commissioners armed with a list of some forty questions sought from juries in every county answers which filled the bulky documents which came to be called the Hundred Rolls. Many of these questions aimed at an exact definition of royal possessions—the number of the king’s domain manors, the value of the farms of hundreds and cities, and so on. Others concerned encroachments on royal rights. What lands and tenements have been given or sold to religious or others, to the king’s prejudice? What liberties “hinder common justice and subvert the royal power?” Others, again, searched into the carelessness or cheating of officials, “even servants of the king himself”—sheriffs who “for prayer, price, or favour” concealed felonies or neglected their duties, escheators too harsh or too complacent in consideration of a bribe, jacks-in-office of all sorts who made themselves a nuisance to others or put public money to private uses.
Now such questions were not very novel. Some of them had been gradually accumulating, from Henry Il’s time on, in the lists which itinerant justices took with them when they went on a general eyre. Others had precedents in special inquests or reforming legislation such as that due to the crises of Henry III’s reign. What was unprecedented was the persistence which Edward shewed in attacking these problems, and the lasting body of law he built up in his effort to find remedies. Masterful but not tyrannical, his general policy was to respect all rights and overthrow all usurpations.
A long list of great statutes stands to Edward’s credit. From his first parliament, in April 1275, there emerged the First Statute of Westminster. Many of its chapters dealt with the administrative abuses revealed by the recent commission, which had completed its work about a month before parliament met. Edward’s mistrust of the “franchises” which formed exceptions to administrative uniformity was shewn in the ninth chapter, which threatened the lords of these with confiscation if they or their bailiffs were negligent in the pursuit of offenders against the king’s peace. In 1278 the Statute of Gloucester went farther, ordering that the justices when next on eyre should enquire by writs of quo warranto, a process already in use in Henry III’s time, into the grounds upon which the magnates claimed such franchises. “We must find out what is ours, and is due to us, and others what is theirs, and due to them.” Edward’s aim, it is clear, was from the first not abolition but definition. Chartered privileges remained untouched, prescriptive right was accepted as warranty if it ran far enough back, the date being fixed in 1190 at the coronation of Richard I, and even unwarranted liberties were generally restored and secured by charter if an adequate fine was offered. The main usefulness of the enquiry was to remind the great feudalist that he had duties as well as rights, the more so if the possession of a franchise transferred to his agents work which would normally have been done by royal officers. In 1285 the Statute of Winchester attacked local disorder. “Robberies, homicides, and murders grow daily more numerous than they used to be,” said its preamble, and therefore stringent penalties were laid down for any persons concealing felons, the towns were ordered to shut their gates at night and keep watch on strangers, while every man, armed in proportion to his means, was to be ready to help when needed in pursuing offenders. In the same year was issued the Second Statute of Westminster, usually known as De Donis Conditionalibus. This was intended to protect the donors of “tenements which are often given away on some condition,” and did so by restraining the right of the donee to alienate. The interpretation of the statute at first was difficult, but by Edward II’s reign it was already considered that the donee’s heirs, as well as himself, were bound. Fees tail, or strictly limited estates, became common, and every capital lord, especially the king as the greatest of such, had something to gain from the increased chances of reversion opened by the limitation imposed. Another measure to the common interest of all landowners was the Third Statute of Westminster, or Quia Emptores, issued in 1290. This dealt with land held not upon condition but in fee simple, and while it preserved the right of alienation for all who held such estates, it stipulated that in future the buyer must hold his purchase from the lord of the seller by the same services and customs as were attached to it before the sale. It thus prevented “prejudice to magnates and others” caused by changes in the services due from their vassals, but was most of all to the king’s advantage because it increased the number of tenants who held in chief direct from himself, and by stereotyping feudal relations robbed them of some of their vitality.
Enacted law of the sort just analysed was only one of many means used by Edward in the pursuit of his ideal of efficiency. Side by side with it must be put his personal contact with his subjects by that incessant travelling for which he was praised in the Commendatio Lamentabilis, his encouragement of groups outside the central feudal ring, such as the burghers of towns which he founded or favoured, and the lesser magnates of the type who had helped him to secure the Provisions of Westminster; and above all his reliance upon expert professional help instead of upon the amateurish assistance of great feudalists staggering under the weight of their own dignity. By Edward’s time, the days were coming to an end when a member of the king’s court, in close attendance on the king’s person, could be a governmental man-of-all-work. Three great engines of administration were in action. One was the Exchequer, the board of finance which stored in its treasury revenue received, and, more important still, checked and superintended the accounts of the official world. This board had “gone out of court” into offices of its own at Westminster as early as the reign of Henry II, when master and disciple held the famous Dialogue concerning the Exchequer in “an oriel window close to the river Thames.” Less separate as yet, but no longer always in the king’s company, was the Chancery, a general secretariat which wrote and drafted innumerable royal charters, writs, and letters, authenticated them by the king’s great seal, and kept in a series of rolls registers of their contents. Finally, there was the Wardrobe, the staff of clerks attached to the evermoving royal household, who combined financial and secretarial functions, and might include in their purview anything and everything from a pennyworth of pepper bought by the king’s cook up to a continental war.
Now during Edward’s reign there was little friction between these departments, and few signs that outside critics thought any one of them less suitable than any other for dealing with matters of public importance. “The whole state and realm of England were the appurtenances of the king’s household,” and as the king was neither weak nor wicked no harm came of that. Experience gained in one office qualified for promotion in another. A typical civil servant of the time was Edward’s first chancellor, Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells—a man of easy morals, careless of his episcopal duties, but an industrious chief minister for eighteen years (1274-92). An Exchequer official, Walter Langton the treasurer (1295-1307), succeeded to the first place in Edward’s confidence, and resembled Burnell both in his preparation for office by long service in the royal household and in his view of his bishopric rather as a reward for his administrative skill than as an ecclesiastical obligation. The Wardrobe trained many capable men, among them the clerk John of Benstead, who became the keeper of Edward’s personal or privy seal.
Edward’s standard of efficiency, however, was too high for some of his servants, and when in 1289 he returned from a stay of three years abroad, he found that there had been a breakdown in every rank of official life, from the pettiest bailiffs up to great justices and heads of departments. Instantly he proceeded to enquiry and punishment. An anonymous contemporary satirist was able to make a good mock Scriptural story of the scandal. “The king... said to his servants, ‘Go through the land and walk round about it, and hear the voice of my people which is in Egypt. For the comfortless troubles’ sake of the needy, and because of the deep sighing of the poor, I will up, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.’” Some guilty consciences had already taken alarm. “The king...entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own land. Now the children of Israel were walking on dry land by the sea; and some of them adored with gifts, but some doubted.” Thomas of Weyland, chief justice of common pleas, a “Didymus who was not with them when the lord came,” fled “to the fount of Babylon, and was there in garments of sheepskin for fear of the judges.” In other words, he took refuge in Babwell, a house of friars minor, called to mind that long ago, before he was married, he had been a subdeacon, and put on the friars’ habit, only to be starved out ignominiously. The peccant Exchequer official, Adam of Stratton, once before disgraced, now met a second retribution. “The king...entered his paradise that he might seek the man he had created, and said, ‘Adam, Adam, where art thou?.. .Render an account of thy stewardship.’ Adam answered, ‘I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed.’ And when he was accused of many things he answered not a word. But at length came two false witnesses and said, ‘This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy your house in three days, and never to build it up again.” He spoke and it was done, he commanded and it was undone’. Then said the ruler unto him, ‘Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?’ And he answered him never a word, but went out and wept bitterly.” The satirist represents it as Edward’s chief anxiety to “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost,” and it is true that, since the supply of trained lawyers and men of business was not unlimited, Edward was content in many cases with the exaction of enormous fines, reinstating the culprit not very long afterwards. The lesson, perhaps, would none the less linger in their memories with salutary effects.
Secular matters were far from being Edward’s only preoccupation during these first twenty years. He had to make up his mind about his relation to the Church, a problem which confronted every king of the ages of faith, but which was acute for him because his father had allowed the Church to assume undue political influence. Edward, with a livelier sense than Henry of what was due to Caesar, was equally anxious to pay his dues to God. Circumstances, however, forced him on more than one occasion into an attitude of protest.
One almost inevitable source of friction was the question of the appointment of bishops. Ecclesiastical preferment was so natural a reward for good service, and a great bishop so important a factor in politics, that even the most high-minded of kings and Popes were tempted to ignore the injunction of the canons that a bishop should be elected by the free choice of his cathedral chapter, to bring influence to bear oil the electors, to utilise every chance of interference given by their disagreements or mistakes, and sometimes to over-ride their choice. During these years several elections were annulled to make room for papal nominees, while twice in succession Popes rejected the choice made by the chapter of Canterbury, and gave England two Mendicant Archbishops of their own nomination—Robert Kilwardby the Dominican (1272-78) and John Pecham the Franciscan (1278-92). Edward accepted both with what Pecham himself called “benignity,” and forbore in Pecham’s case to take advantage of the fact that the clerk who wrote to announce the appointment had forgotten to ask him to restore the temporalities of the see. He protested, however, against this “assumption of the power of providing” to Canterbury. “It seems to the king and his council that in this respect there may be prejudice to himself and to the Church of which he is the patron and defender, especially if the example is followed with regard to other churches in England”. His disapproval was sharpened by personal disappointment, since the Canterbury chapter in 1278 had selected his minister Robert Burnell, whom neither persuasion nor threats could induce them to choose at the previous vacancy. In 1282 the Winchester chapter was similarly obliging, but again in vain.
No bold advance of ecclesiastical claims seems to have been made during Kilwardby’s primacy, and it may have been for that reason that in 1278 he was removed by the most courteous method possible, being promoted to a cardinalate and thus recalled to Rome. His successor Pecham, however, netted himself round with activities of every possible kind, made many enemies, and left written records of his work so abundant that they have not yet been fully explored. When they are fully examined, it is likely that we shall have to revise our traditional conception of Pecham as the fussy prelate without a sense of proportion, and do more justice to the courage, high principle, and zeal with which he pursued his ends.
Pecham’s first provincial council was held at Reading within six weeks of his arrival in England (July 1279), and from it issued a large body of constitutions. The archbishop was mainly concerned with purely spiritual matters, though the abuse which angered him most, pluralities, touched politics closely, since kings were accustomed to use benefices, in such numbers as might be convenient, to supplement the salaries due to their servants. Edward, however, seems to have made no protest over this, but took alarm at a section entitled “Concerning the public announcement of sentences of excommunication,” which distinguished eleven categories of persons liable to such sentences. The first group comprised all who “maliciously deprived the Church of her right” by getting royal writs of prohibition to stop cases in progress in ecclesiastical courts, while the last included all who violated Magna Carta. “We order,” said Pecham, “that a copy of the charter of the lord king with regard to the liberties of the Church and kingdom granted by him, well and clearly written, shall be publicly posted in every cathedral and collegiate church, in a place where it can be seen by all who enter, and that at the end of a year, on the vigil of Easter or Pentecost, it shall be renewed, the old one being removed and replaced by another, well and freshly written.” To this Edward objected strongly, and when parliament met in the autumn, Pecham had to appear in person, declare “annulled and as though never issued” the clause about writs of prohibition, withdraw three other articles, and remove the copies of the charter from the churches. The king supplemented this protest by a counter-offensive in the shape of the Statute of Mortmain. Twenty years before, one of the Provisions of Westminster had forbidden religious persons, in the technical sense of those who had taken monastic vows, to acquire fiefs without the licence of the chief lord. This, said the new statute, had been disregarded. In future, every buyer and seller of land, whether a religious or not, must have licence before alienating it in such a way that it would fall “into mortmain,” that is to say, into the dead hand of a corporation whose grip would not be relaxed by the changes and chances of this mortal life. The clergy declared indignantly that this violated the opening promise of Magna Carta that “the English Church shall be free, and have her rights entire and her liberties uninjured.” The king’s answer was that all the statute had done was to compel men to seek a licence, which would not be withheld unreasonably. A glance through the Chancery enrolments of the next few years, indeed, shews plainly how little the pious founder was hampered by the new law.
Archbishop Pecham had swallowed, but not digested, the rebuke of 1279, and when in 1281 he summoned another provincial council, this time to Lambeth, Edward suspected that there would be fresh trouble. Accordingly, before the council met, he issued writs to all its members, forbidding them “to hold counsel concerning matters which appertain to our crown or touch our person, our state, or the state of our council,” reminding them that they were bound by oath to defend the rights of king and kingdom, and warning them to do nothing to the prejudice of either on pain of losing their temporalities. It has been generally assumed, as the contemporary historian Thomas Wykes assumed, though he ought to have known better, that hereupon “the archbishop in terror entirely withdrew from his presumption”. Quite the contrary. Pecham reinserted, in the legislation at Lambeth, almost verbatim, the eleven articles of Reading; prefaced them with an even more explicit assertion of ecclesiastical liberty; and ended, though without renewing the order for the publication of the charter, with instructions to the archdeacons to see that their clergy kept their flocks well informed as to the significance of the eleven clauses, including, of course, the article directed against violators of the charter.
A month later, Pecham followed this up by a remarkable letter to the king. “By no human constitution,” he wrote, “not even by an oath, can we be bound to ignore laws which rest undoubtedly on divine authority.” He went on to trace the “bitter dissension” which had often prevailed between clerics and kings, quoted Constantine, Canute, Edward the Confessor, and William I as examples of good conduct, and ascribed the beginning of oppression to Henry I and Henry II. “We are driven by conscience to write these things to you, most excellent lord, as we wish to answer at the dreadful day of judgment. We humbly pray you, incline your ear to our exhortations, for you are bound by oath to root out all evil customs from your realm.” “A fine letter,” commented an admiring clerk when he copied it out into Pecham’s register. Taken in conjunction with the Council of Lambeth’s defiance, however, it might well have provoked a crisis comparable in magnitude with the Becket controversy. Actually, Edward seems to have quietly accepted or ignored the fait accompli. Royal writs of prohibition, however, continued to be freely issued, the sheriff’s officers kept a jealous eye upon the proceedings n Church courts, and many of the provisions of the Second Statute of Westminster (1285) provoked loud criticism in clerical circles. In 1286 Edward went some distance in concession, for the writ Circumspecte agatis issued in that year to itinerant justices in Norfolk, where protest had been particularly vehement, recognised as within the purview of the ecclesiastical courts not only cases concerned with wills and marriages, but also cases of defamation, of spiritual correction, of violence done to clerks, and of disputes about certain tithes. Yet this was the grant of only part of the Church’s whole demand, and the dispute outlived both Pecham and Edward.
Very soon Edward’s attention was distracted from internal affairs to other matters. The Welsh war and its results occupied him from 1282 to 1285; delicate points about the Scottish succession were under discussion long before Alexander Ill’s death in 1286, and no long pause was possible in their consideration till John Balliol had been chosen king in 1292; and continental problems became so pressing that in 1286 Edward went abroad and did not come back to England for three years. Wales and Scotland are dealt with elsewhere in this volume, but foreign policy must now be considered.
When Edward I became King of England, the throne of France was occupied by his cousin Philip III (1270-85) and the official relations of the two countries rested on the Treaty of Paris of 1259, which had been intended to put an end to the uncertainties due to King John’s losses in northern France, but which in fact inaugurated a new set of problems. The situation as Edward confronted it on his accession was this. As “a peer of France with the title of Duke of Aquitaine,” he owed liege homage to each successive French king. He was in possession already of the main block of southern lands to which the treaty entitled him, namely “ Bordeaux, Bayonne, Gascony, and the islands,” but he had not secured the promised cession of the French king’s rights in the three dioceses of Limoges, Cahors, and Perigueux, nor had the “privileged” vassals in those districts been bribed or persuaded to transfer their allegiance from France to England. Further, though in 1271 Alphonse of Poitiers’ lands had escheated to the French Crown on his death without heirs, Philip had not handed over those portions, notably the Agenais and Saintonge south of the Charente, which were in such an event to go to England because Alphonse had acquired them through his wife Joan, a great-grand-daughter of Henry II of England. Edward’s double duty, then, was to fulfil his obligations and exact his rights, and he expressed this neatly in the formula he used when he duly did homage at Paris in 1273: “My lord king, I do you homage for all the lands that I ought to hold of you.” Though some chroniclers thought at the time that this referred to the lost northern lands, expansions of the same phrase used later seem definitely to connect it with the treaty. “I become your man for the lands which I hold of you on this side of the sea,” said Edward to Philip IV in 1286, “according to the form of the peace which was made between our ancestors.” A formula proposed for the homage that was never done by Edward II to Louis X combined this with the earlier wording: “I become your man for the lands which I hold and ought to hold on this side of the sea according to the form of the peace made between our ancestors.”
For some time relations remained amicable. In 1279, by the Treaty of Amiens, Philip agreed to hand over the Agenais, and did so, while making promises, which, however, remained unfulfilled, to enquire as to certain other English claims. On the same day he also recognised the succession of Edward’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, who had inherited from her mother the county of Ponthieu, a little fief all sand, salt-marsh, and forest, round the estuary of the Somme. Again in the same year, Edward was chosen to mediate, in a conference to be held at Bayonne, between the Kings of Castile and France. This friendly attitude might well have continued had not French politics become entangled in the struggle between the Papacy and the Hohenstaufen. Philip Ill’s uncle Charles, Count of Anjou and now, thanks to the Pope, established on the dismembered Hohenstaufen lands as King of Sicily, began to gain increasing ascendancy over his nephew, with the result that a breach gradually widened between France and England. Charles won the alliance of the King of the Romans, Rudolf of Habsburg, who thereupon threw over a project, much cherished by the English King, of a marriage between his son and Edward’s daughter. Little spurts of temper revealed Philip’s waning cordiality. He objected to Gascon charters being dated “regnante Edwardo rege Anglie,” instead of “regnante Philippo rege Francie,” though he consented as a compromise to the cumbrous formula “regnante Philippo rege Francie, Edwardo rege Anglie tenente ducatum Aquitanie.” Cumulative friction might even have brought about war, had not French attention been diverted when in 1282 the Sicilians suddenly drove out the Angevins and offered their throne to Peter III, King of Aragon. Pope Martin IV then declared Peter’s own throne forfeit, and offered it to Philip’s second son Charles, afterwards Count of Valois. In the struggle which followed to recover Sicily and conquer Aragon Philip fought, lost, and died alone, for both Charles of Anjou and the Pope predeceased him.
By 1285, therefore, the outlook for England seemed brighter. It was a great thing to have the influence of Charles of Anjou removed, and the new French King, Philip IV, seemed ready to be friendly. Edward did homage to him in June 1286, and in August concluded a treaty at Paris, by which France at last resigned Saintonge south of the Charente. Also, Philip welcomed Edward’s efforts, not very successful, to bring the Anjou- Aragon contest to a peaceful end. It was therefore without much fear of French interference that Edward now applied himself to the internal problems of his duchy of Aquitaine, which occupied him till 1289.
Neither Ponthieu, with its strong French traditions, nor Guienne, with the proverbial Gascon pride, fed, as a seventeenth-century author would have it, by their diet of “garlic, onions, radishes, and the headiest of wines,” were easy lands to rule. In the South, great nobles, fortifying themselves in their castles, terrorised the countryside, defied royal orders, plunged light-heartedly into anybody’s quarrel. The king-duke’s natural allies against such touchy lordlings would be found in the towns, whether the great ports of Bordeaux and Bayonne or the little walled settlements up the river-valleys. Most of these lived by the wine trade, most had therefore reason to value the English market, and all had an interest in maintaining peace as against war. Edward tried to encourage urban life both by a conciliatory policy to existing, and often exacting, towns, and by foundations of those artificial, privileged towns which in the South were known as bastides. All up and down the lands once English, there sleep in the sun to this day quiet villages, with their gates and walls, their arcaded central square, their straight streets, which are the remnants of such bastides. One, which Edward founded in the outskirts of Bordeaux during his long stay, was to keep green by its name of Bath the memory of his friend Burnell and Burnell’s English see. Edward carried to Gascony, too, his love of orderliness, trying to stimulate his officials as well as to insist on the obedience of his subjects. When domestic affairs recalled him to England, he had done much, but not enough to secure a peaceful future. By 1292 France felt that the time was ripe for fresh measures against a king-duke whose very presence within her borders, quite apart from his personal merits or defects, offended her pride.
New perplexities, therefore, opened with Edward’s twenty-first regnal year, and in meeting them he could no longer shew his former resilience and vitality. “Never was that king sad at heart,” wrote a contemporary, “save on the death of those dear to him.” But by this time Edward had often had cause for such sorrow. Three little sons had died, though in a fourth, his namesake, he now had a sturdy heir. The wife, whose gracious comradeship had meant so much to him, lay in Westminster Abbey, and not twelve months after her death Edward lost his mother also. Burnell died in October 1292, while two months later the death of Pecham removed an equally familiar, if less congenial, figure. This series of losses combined with external circumstances to make the years 1290 to 1292 a real dividing point in the reign. Alone, Edward had to turn to breast a sea of troubles.
Mutual irritation between France and England was now rapidly increasing. However little the details of the tale-telling on both sides can be trusted, there was certainly abundant excuse at any moment for either country to take offence. Disputes at sea or in the ports often developed de verbis ad verbera, and while peace still nominally reigned, in 1293 a great fight took place off Saint-Mahé (Saint-Matthieu) near Brest, between Norman and Gascon sailors and their respective supporters. In the autumn Philip summoned Edward to appear in January 1294, to answer before the Parlement of Paris for his subjects’ misdeeds. Edward did not go in person, but tried to arrive at an understanding through his brother Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, who was thought likely to be congenial because he was the step-father of the French queen and had for years shared with her mother the rule of the county of Champagne. The subsequent negotiations delayed but did not avert the outbreak of war, for though the English agreed to make a formal temporary surrender of six Gascon castles, in recognition of Philip’s rights as overlord, the Parlement of Paris declared Edward contumacious and his duchy forfeit. Whether Philip had or had not intended this from the first, at any rate he now approached the execution of the court’s sentence with the advantage that he was already in possession of the strongest places in Gascony.
The war which now began lasted in theory till 1303, but there was no fighting after October 1297, and even before that date there were lengthy intervals of truce or inactivity. Edward himself was long detained in England, and derived little good from expeditions dispatched to Gascony. For five years the French could not be dislodged from Bordeaux, and English occupations of towns higher up the Garonne, such as Rions (1294), Langon and Saint-Macaire (1297), proved to be only temporary. Bayonne opened its gates in the very first campaign, but little progress was made from this base, and in 1297 the English suffered a considerable defeat not far away, near Bonnegarde. Systematic efforts were made to organise English shipping, yet the French were active in the Channel and once raided Dover. In 1297 Edward, who had allied himself with the Count of Flanders and some of his neighbours, went over in person to lead an attack on France from the north, but found his allies quarrelsome and the enemy strong, and was glad to make a truce within two months. Philip, however, was busied with troubles of his own, and could not press his advantage. Successive truces culminated in the Treaty of Montreuil (1299), by which Edward was to many Margaret, Philip’s sister, while his heir Edward was to be betrothed to Isabella, Philip’s daughter. These marriage connexions, intended to increase cordiality, were practically the only satisfaction Edward got out of the war, which ended officially in 1303, when another Treaty of Paris restored the status quo ante. On domestic affairs the effect of the war was all to the bad, for it was an irritant, an expense, and a distraction, and it was used by English malcontents as a weapon of offence.
Edward had begun by explaining the whole ground of quarrel to a parliament of magnates at London in June 1294. “He sought their advice and their help,” says the chronicler Hemingburgh, “and he swore that, had he no better following than one boy and one horse, he would pursue his right even to death and avenge his injuries; but they all with one accord answered him and said that they would follow him to life or death.” Liberal aids were promised, the feudal army was to meet at Portsmouth on 1 September, available ships were organised into three groups under three leaders, envoys were sent abroad to make alliances with Adolf of Nassau, King of the Romans, and others, and criminals were offered pardons if they would serve in Gascony. But the war fever began to cool as the seriousness of the task in hand became clearer. Officials went round to take inventories of the treasures and coin of the religious houses, commandeering what they found for the use of the king whenever he should signify his need of it. The sheriffs were ordered to seize all wool, wool-fells, and leather—England’s great exports—even within liberties, and to permit merchants to regain their property only upon the payment of a customs duty of 40#. on the sack instead of the half mark (6s. 8d.) which had been granted by Edward’s first parliament in 1275. Indignant public opinion, which at the time had recognised a novelty in the custom of 1275, now began to label it, in contrast, the “ancient” custom, while the fresh demand was a “maletolt” hard to endure. In September came the turn of the clergy, who were ordered to contribute one-half of their revenues. “This they granted liberally and graciously,” say the royal letters patent, but as a matter of fact the demand excited great indignation, and the dean of St Paul’s, trying to voice his colleagues’ protests in the king’s own terrifying presence, fell down in a fit and died. In November, with the consent of a parliament to which county members were summoned as well as the magnates, and after consultation of the towns by royal officials, a tax was granted on the personal property of all persons whose moveables amounted in value to ten shillings or over, at the rate of one-tenth in the counties and one-sixth in the cities and boroughs. This grant was the fourth and highest of its sort made during the reign. As the collection of the taxes proceeded, feeling became sourer, and was further embittered as bad news came from abroad, French invasion seemed likely, and alarmist rumour mingled with disloyal talk.
One hindrance after another came in Edward’s way. At Michaelmas 1294 he was called away from Portsmouth, with the bulk of the forces assembled there, to put down revolts in Wales. When these were suppressed, by July 1295, he returned to find that Scotland had made an alliance with France, cemented by the betrothal of Edward Balliol, heir to the throne, to the daughter of that Charles of Valois whose invasion of Gascony in the spring had been so disastrous for the English. Edward took this as a disloyal action, and summoned King John to account for his conduct at Berwick in 1296. On his refusal to appear, war began, and though in five months’ campaigning Edward reduced Scotland, deposed John, and annexed his kingdom, the position could not be maintained, and for the rest of the reign war with Scotland was generally either smouldering or flaring.
The year 1295 was thus one of anxiety in several directions, and Edward determined to explain his difficulties to an assembly summoned to Westminster for 13 November. His desire to make a telling and extensive appeal is shown not only by the fact that in the writs to the prelates his Chancery clerks felt that this was an appropriate occasion on which to quote the tag from the Codex of Justinian, “What touches all should be approved by all,” while the archbishops and bishops were told to secure the presence of their archdeacons, the prior of each cathedral chapter, one proctor of that chapter and two of the diocesan clergy; not only by the stress laid in the writs to the lay magnates upon the “dangers which at this time threaten the whole of our realm”; but also by the instructions given to the sheriff’s to cause two knights from each county, with two citizens or burgesses from each city or borough within it, to be elected and empowered to act on behalf of those they represented at the same assembly. What Edward could never have foreseen was that after many centuries had gone their way, and England had developed a constitution in which a representative parliament with wide powers was a central feature, historians and politicians would go back to this assembly of November 1295 and see in it, as Stubbs saw, “a pattern to all future assemblies of the nation.” That idea, the use of the term “the Model Parliament,” and concentration upon the presence of representatives as the outstanding interest, has taken a surprisingly firm hold upon historical teaching and writing, so that even scholars who rightly challenge much that used to be said about Edward I’s parliaments themselves unconsciously take a tone which implies that, even to the thirteenth century, “parliamentary origins” were of vital interest. It seems desirable, therefore, to pause at this date, and to set forth three considerations which seem worth attention.
The first concerns the actual word “parliament”. This, like many other hard-worked medieval words, served a variety of uses, linked together by a common idea, which in this case was that of a parley, a conversation. Such a parliamentum might take place between envoys of different countries, or the clergy in convocation, or the king’s councillors met in smaller or greater numbers, or monks whom their superiors thought too talkative. Gradually, however, and quite naturally, the parliamentum which took place in a solemn court or assembly became more conspicuous and oftener on men’s lips than the others, and the term was transferred from the talk itself to the assembly in which the talk occurred. Plenty of instances occur in chroniclers of the thirteenth century. Official documents were slower about adopting the usage, and the phrase most common in Chancery writs summoning men to what we and the chroniclers should call a parliament is colloquium et tractatus. In judicial connexions, however, by 1290 at any rate, the law had come to recognise a special peace which protected men durante parliamento. Mr H. G. Richardson, to whose work, alone or in collaboration with Mr G. Sayles, on parliamentary antiquities medievalists owe much, infers from this that the judicial aspect of parliament’s activities outweighed all others. “We would, however, assert that parliaments are of one kind only and that, when we have stripped every non-essential away, the essence of them is the dispensing of justice by the king, or by someone who in a very special sense represents the king.”
Is it necessary, however, to draw this inference? Fads of office custom are often quite enough to account for the difference of phraseology used by clerks drawing up different records, and the lawyers would naturally stress that aspect of parliamentary activity which specially concerned them. From what can be seen of the working of the medieval mind in other fields, it seems exceedingly unlikely that in this one the thirteenth century had already worked out a water-tight division of functions. This modem criticism, however, has been of great value in warning us that it is misleading and dangerous to limit our definition of Edwardian parliaments by so naming them only when some great piece of legislation is in the wind, or taxation in progress. Still less, of course, should we nowadays be prepared to confine the term to assemblies in which a representative element was included. We shall think most sanely and most historically about Edward’s parliaments if we so name an assembly whether it is legislating, advising, granting taxes, or dealing with judicial business, and whether it does or does not contain representatives. There is no advantage, but rather actual danger, in seeking to introduce precise definition into an age that had not yet defined.
In the second place, however, we must admit that even if the thirteenth century itself did not feel that there was anything epoch-making about the addition to parliament of something besides the old magnate element, that addition undoubtedly has an interest for later ages in view of subsequent developments. Even granting that, we must remove the parliament of 1295 from its pedestal. The fortunate discovery in our own time of original writs addressed to four sheriffs, as well as fragments of returns from several counties, placed beyond doubt the fact that at the first parliament Edward ever met, in April 1275, there were arrangements for representation not unlike, though not identical with, those made in 1295. If Edward made a model at all, then, he made it twenty years earlier. But in fact there was no model. To Edward’s second parliament, in the autumn of 1275, he invited knights but no burgesses. Later on, sometimes representatives were summoned, sometimes they were not, and whether they were or were not present, chroniclers at any rate, if not officials, were ready to call the assembly a parliament. The inclusion of clerical representatives did not persist. All that can be said with certainty is that by the end of Edward I’s reign the custom of afforcing the magnate nucleus with representatives was less of a novelty than it had been in his father’s time. It is dangerous to try to reduce thirteenth-century doings to too rigid a system; to look for theoretical or deliberate constitutional ideas; to feel it necessary to explain action as due to imitation of similar action in other countries. Opportunism and the king’s initiative decided who should be summoned to any given parliament. And incidentally a warning may be added that the “model” is almost as unreal when applied to the magnate element as to the representative. Edward summoned his officials and his great men; he would have been surprised if anyone had told him that in so doing he was initiating anything like that “hereditary peerage” which later on served the aristocratic opposition so well as a weapon against royal aggression.
The third and last point worthy of notice is that one contemporary, at any rate, when enumerating Edward’s merits as king, drew attention to his parliamentary policy. This was John of London, author of the Commendatio Lamentabilis, who placed the allusion in the mouth of Edward’s widow Margaret. “Call on the Lord,” she cries to Mary and Martha, “if perchance He may rouse him from sleep. For had He been here, he had not died, my lord and my king, yea, a king terrible to all the sons of pride, but gentle to the meek of the earth. To the peace of the flock committed to his charge he gave every thought, every word, every deed. Well know we that for the peace of his people he assembled parliaments, made treaties, allied himself with strangers, threatened battle, struck terror into the hearts of princes.” The exact significance of such praise is hard to gauge. Possibly the writer had in mind Edward’s effort, frustrated by circumstance in the later part of his reign, to hold two parliaments a year with regularity, a practice which would have obvious advantages from the point of view of suitors and petitioners. Perhaps, on the other hand, the allusion has no legal flavour whatever, and merely approves Edward’s willingness to explain to his assembled subjects what he was about when demanding their help. At any rate, it is interesting to find that parliament was thought worthy of mention.
Opposition to the Crown, 1296-97
We must return, however, to the main thread of our story. Edward found his parliament of November 1295 very unresponsive. The laymen reluctantly granted a tax on personal property at the rate of one-seventh in the cities and boroughs and one-eleventh elsewhere, while the clergy were even slower about agreeing to pay a tenth for one year, or for a second if the war should last so long. Their reluctance was shared and supported by the new primate, Robert of Winchelsea, whose consecration had been delayed by a vacancy in the Papacy till September 1294, though he had been elected two years earlier. Scrupulous and obstinate, Winchelsea found his position very difficult, and doubly so when in February 1296 Pope Boniface VIII by the bull Clericis laicos forbade rulers to exact, or clerics to pay, extraordinary taxes without papal authorisation. When in the autumn of 1296 parliament met at Bury St Edmunds, Winchelsea pointed out to the clergy that their promise of a subsidy clashed with this prohibition, and after considerable delay they decided that they were “unable to discover for the present any sure way of giving help by means of a contribution or tax.”
There followed the worst dispute the reign had yet seen. The king outlawed the clergy and declared their lay fiefs forfeit; the archbishop and his agents retaliated by repeated publication of the excommunication of any who should disobey the papal decree. However, both sides gradually cooled. Before Easter 1296, Winchelsea agreed not to penalise any clergy whose consciences would allow them to ransom their possessions by a contribution of one-fifth, and in July he himself was publicly reconciled with Edward. Meanwhile the Pope had receded step by step, till in July, by the bull Etsi de statu, he surrendered completely. This news, with a victory of William Wallace followed by a raid so thorough that “the praise of God ceased in every church and monastery from Newcastle-on-Tyne to Carlisle,” brought the clergy to a more accommodating attitude, and in October they granted one-tenth in the southern province and one-fifth in the northern. The following year, however, opposition arose in a new quarter. In February 1297 Edward proposed to the earls and barons assembled at Salisbury that some of them should go to Gascony, while he himself was campaigning in Flanders. “Everybody began to make excuses.” Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, the constable, and Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, the marshal, declared that their hereditary functions could only be exercised in the king’s company. After sulking apart through the spring, they came with the rest when the army assembled at London in July, only to put their protest in a fresh form, which the king himself made public in letters patent issued before he sailed. The two officials, he said, refused to perform their duties on the pretext that to do so would be to admit an obligation, whereas they had come at request only. When he appointed substitutes they withdrew in anger refused repeated overtures, and spread a report to the effect that the king had refused to consider “certain articles for the common profit of the realm, whereas they had never placed any such before him. “Among the said articles, so it is said, there is mention of oppressive action which the king has taken in his realm, as well he knows, such as the aids which he has often demanded from his people; but to this he was forced by reason of the wars which broke out in Gascony, Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere.... It vexes him greatly that he has aggrieved and troubled his people so much, and he begs them to hold him excused, as one who did not do these things in order to buy land, or tenements, or goods, or towns, but to defend himself and themselves, and on behalf of the whole nation.”
The fact was that Edward’s views were longer than those of most of his subjects, and that until now he had shown little patience in explaining them. To carry out ends which roused no lasting general enthusiasm, he was using means which excited general alarm. Measures which to himself appeared regrettable but temporary expedients seemed to others to be dangerous precedents which might harden into custom. It was now three years since the first French expedition had been summoned, the first war subsidy imposed, the first maletolt exacted. Yet military demands were as insistent as ever, subsidies constantly required, and the maletolt had just been taken again at the same rate as in 1294. Recent assurances that the extraordinary taxes should not be made precedents, the offer of pay to those who would serve in Flanders as a matter of grace instead of obligation, satisfaction made in tallies to all whose wool was seized, and proclamations in mildly apologetic tone like the one quoted above came too late. The leaders of public opinion proceeded, as soon as Edward had left the country, to a decisive protest.
It had become the habit of the thirteenth century to put such protests into the shape of a demand for the confirmation of those two charters, the charter of liberties and the charter of the forest, which were the final version of the charter extorted from John. The magnates now made the usual request, and also drafted six additional articles. No tallage or aid was to be imposed in future except with the consent of spiritual and temporal magnates, knights, burgesses, and other freemen; corn, wool, and the like must not be seized against the will of their owners; clergy and laity of the realm must recover their ancient liberties; the two earls and any who agreed with them must suffer no penalty for their refusal to go to Gascony; the prelates must read aloud the present charter in their cathedrals, and cause to be proclaimed in every parish church, twice a year, the excommunication of all who should neglect it. Armed with this ultimatum, and in more than metaphorical readiness for battle, the magnates arrived in London for parliament, at which the absent king was represented by his heir Edward of Carnarvon, a boy of thirteen. The result was inevitable. On 10 October, under the great seal which remained in England, the charters were confirmed, and on 5 November, at Ghent, under the privy seal, the king ratified this confirmation, together with additional articles. The document he thus issued, written in French, summarised the demands which the magnates had drafted in Latin, but did not adopt the same order or translate the exact words, and added clauses which reserved to the Crown “the ancient aids and prises due and customary” and “the custom on wool, skins, and leather already granted by the commonalty of the realm.”
Both Edward and his subjects attached enormous importance to this concession, and for four years longer the king was suspected, probably with justice, of trying to withdraw, if not from his obligations, at any rate from these definite pledges. He failed to do so. The magnates lost no chance of giving publicity to his promises before assembled parliaments or armies, and pressed him steadily towards their execution. In 1298 a bishop and three earls had to swear on his behalf that he would give further security as soon as opportunity served; in 1299 a clause “saving the rights of our crown,” appended in Lent to a further confirmation, had to be withdrawn at Easter; in 1300 twenty Articuli super Cartas were issued; and on 14 February 1301 the king was driven at last, by the arguments and menaces of a parliament at Lincoln, to grant a new confirmation of charters and articles, thus giving solemn and final shape to the concession first made on foreign soil. Rather more than five years later Pope Clement V absolved the king from his oath to the charters and annulled the additional articles, but the only advantage Edward took of his release was to revoke certain disafforestments which had been made.
It was a curious fate which thus extorted from the well-intentioned Edward I constitutional securities comparable in solemnity with that first great charter wrung from King John, and it was the more exasperating to the king because his critics had applied logically principles he himself had commended to their notice. “It is abundantly clear,” Edward had said before the parliament of 1295, “that common dangers should be met by remedies devised in common.” In his own headlong pursuit of his military ambitions, flinging aside conventions, precedents, and safeguards, the magnates had discerned just such a common danger, and in the remedy devised for it they had defined explicitly common action as the consent “of archbishops, bishops, and other prelates, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and other free men.” Further, they had clung to their demands so perseveringly for years after the first outbreak, that Edward could not sweep them away as war clamour to be forgotten when better times came. So the Crown was once again committed solemnly and publicly to the principles of Magna Carta, viewed from a standpoint more than narrowly feudal. The concession was all the more valuable because remedies of actual recent abuses had been added to the nucleus consisting of the original charters. This was a real constitutional triumph.
In the last years of his life Edward became a lonely and wrathful old man. He had had much to disappoint him. His French efforts led only to an unremunerative peace; the Scottish war was a Penelope’s web where, as one chronicler said, every winter undid every summer’s work; there were terrible bills to pay, and the charter struggle had left a sting behind it. A new generation stood about the old king, and there were few magnates of age and dignity sufficient to oppose or adequately to advise him. Queen Margaret was young enough to be his daughter, and was sometimes, indeed, ally and spokeswoman of her step-children in their quarrels with their father. His heir Edward, created Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales in 1301, knighted and made Duke of Aquitaine in 1306, fell in 1305 into complete disgrace for months on account of his impudence to his father’s chief minister, Walter Langton. The earldom of Cornwall escheated to the Crown in 1300, and that of Norfolk in 1306, at a convenient time for its lands to be used to make provision for the king’s little sons by his second marriage, Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund of Woodstock. Twice Edward quarrelled with Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, and in revenge annexed the temporalities of that great see.
Windfalls of this kind, combined with the utmost ingenuity in securing all ordinary sources of revenue, and a great deal of borrowing besides, were insufficient to meet Edward’s increasing financial needs in these closing years. The political effect was bad, for Edward was sometimes led by a money lure into compromising with his usual desire for thoroughness, and at other times into pushing his legal rights in a way that was resented. In 1303 he made a bargain with the foreign merchants in the Carta mercatoria, which granted alien traders wide privileges in England in return for their promise to pay, on all goods exported or imported, additional duties beyond “the ancient customs due and accustomed.” This was much disliked, and English merchants firmly refused to follow suit. It is to Edward’s credit that in the spring parliament of 1305, when he imagined that his Scottish campaigns were over, he undertook work of his old kind for the improvement of public order by starting an enquiry into the misdeeds of “trailbastons,” or clubmen, who were terrorising the countryside. As war was renewed in 1306, however, there was little hope of further action of the same sort.
With the Church, Edward’s relations varied in these later years. Boniface VIII regarded him, at any rate in the language of written compliment, as an obedient son of the Holy See, and bent his energies, not as Pope but as a private person, to the settlement of the French quarrel. On the other hand, in 1299 he claimed Scotland as a papal fief, and assured Edward that “it was not, and is not, a feudal possession of either your ancestors or yourself.” In 1301, after consultation with his magnates at the parliament of Lincoln, Edward replied that a contrary belief had been inscribed upon the tablets of his memory by the pen of the Most High. After the fall of Boniface in 1303, and the short pontificate of Benedict XI, the election of a Gascon archbishop as Clement V gave Edward a friend in the papal chair, who not only released him from his oath to the charters, but also, out of respect for his accusations, suspended Archbishop Winchelsea and called him to account in the Curia. Winchelsea had continued to side with the opposition after the reconciliation of 1297, and had offended Edward further by a personal attack on his treasurer Langton. He remained in exile for the rest of the reign, while the temporalities of his see were administered by the papal agent, William de Testa.
Testa’s name is memorable because it was the centre of a protest made against papal oppression by “earls, barons, magnates, and commonalty” assembled at Carlisle in January 1307. The points brought forward were just such as those which were the basis of anti-Roman legislation half a century later—the preferment of foreigners by papal provision, the exaction of first-fruits, the introduction of innovations in the collection of Peter’s Pence, and so on. It was alleged that papal business was growing so much that the Pope intended in future to keep four agents in England instead of one. Little came of the protest except that the matter was taken up with Cardinal Peter of Spain, the papal legate who now arrived to proclaim the peace with France and to make final arrangements for the marriage of Isabella with Edward, Prince of Wales.
All the king’s thoughts were now bent upon the invasion and subjugation of Scotland. He had replied to Robert Bruce’s defiance in 1306 with terrible threats, and had sworn before the crowds in Westminster Abbey on the day on which his son was knighted that, “dead or alive, he would march into Scotland to avenge the injury of Holy Church and the death of John Comyn and the perjured faith of the Scots.” A man of sixty-eight has no time to spare, and Edward was impatient for his opportunity. Even as it was, he was too late. He was still south of Solway, on the marshes of Burgh-by-Sands, when he died on 7 July 1307.
The Articles of Stamford
Edward I’s death may not have seemed to contemporaries an unmixed evil. It led to a welcome pause in campaigning, and brought home some exiled victims of the old king’s wrath, such as Archbishop Winchelsea, Bishop Bek, and above all Peter of Gavaston. The son of a Gascon gentleman who had served Edward I well, Peter had been brought up with the heir to the throne, but had developed into such an empty-headed, extravagant, dragon-fly of a man that the old king had come to dread his influence, and in 1307 had banished him. He could not prevent his son from establishing the exile in idle comfort at Crecy, in his own county of Ponthieu, and now the new king at once recalled Peter, gave him the great earldom of Cornwall, and married him to Margaret, niece of the king and sister to the Earl of Gloucester.
Among the great families the king had many relatives and some staunch friends. The aged Earl of Lincoln, and the rising baron Hugh Despenser the elder, had both interceded for him when estranged from his father. The warmest partisan of all, his sister Joan, was now dead, but her son Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, kept up his mother’s tradition. Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, had royal blood in his veins, and it was to Aymer’s sister Agnes that Edward in his youth had written, “You are and wish to be our good mother....Command us as your son.” John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, had been brought up with Edward’s elder brothers; Humphrey, Earl of Hereford, had married his sister Elizabeth; Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Derby, was his first cousin.
In personality, Edward had much to commend him to his subjects. Though of a delicate family, he was unusually strong, a fine, upstanding young man. He was generous if prodigal, frank if indiscreet. He liked display and fine clothes, and found amusement in gambling, in practical jokes, and in the shows of actors1 and buffoons. Contemporaries thought it rather shocking that he was fond of bathing and swimming, and of the company of people who taught him to ditch and drive and thatch and work at a blacksmith’s forge. Probably they were not equally scandalised at his scanty education and inability to read Latin, for in 1312 the greatest of the magnates chose on one occasion to boast rather than confess that they “had no knowledge of letters, but were learned in knighthood and the use of arms.” In religion, Edward added to the conventional devotions and benefactions demanded by his position some personal tastes, especially a great affection for the Dominicans. Within four months of becoming king he gave a site in the park at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire, the home of his youth, for the erection of a Dominican priory.
Public opinion noted with rising disapproval Edward’s entire absorption in his friend Earl Peter. When he went over to France to be married in January 1308, he left Peter as custos of the realm during his absence. When he was crowned, in February, the order of the procession made his preferences scandalously plain. If to the Earls of Hereford, Lincoln, and Warwick, to the Marshal, Chancellor, and Treasurer, there were allotted honourable places and significant emblems; if Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, bore that sword Curtana which Matthew Paris had declared to be symbolic of the right of its bearer to coerce even a king; it was Peter who, flaunting in purple and pearls instead of the conventional cloth of gold, immediately preceded the king himself, bearing the most sacred of all the regalia, St Edward’s crown. The indignation excited by this and similar marks of special favour grew hotter when it was found that anyone who ventured a remonstrance became the butt of venomous witticisms on the part of Peter, received by Edward with delighted appreciation.
The situation soon became intolerable. In May 1308 Edward had to agree to Gavaston being exiled for a second time, though he gilded the pill by appointing him his lieutenant in Ireland, and within a year wheedled the magnates into permitting his return. However, Peter soon gave offence again, and when in 1310 a committee of magnates, who came to be called the Lords Ordainers from the work they had to do, drew up Ordinances for the reform of the realm, they were agreed that the condition precedent of such reform was to get rid of Peter. Accordingly, the twentieth Ordinance was devoted to his sins and their penalties, and he was sentenced to be for ever exiled not only from England, but from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the king’s lands on both sides of the sea. Edward and his protégé were quite blind to the seriousness and finality of this pronouncement. After a few weeks’ absence Peter again returned, and at York Edward reversed the magnates’ decision. The Chancery clerks were ordered to affix the great seal to letters they found already drafted for them on their arrival, announcing that Peter’s exile was “contrary to law and custom,” and that he had returned at the king’s bidding. Edward superintended the clerks in person, and “as soon as the writs had been sealed in his presence, took them in his hand and put them on his bed.” Two days later, writs for the restoration of Peter’s lands were “made in the king’s presence, by his order, under threat of grievous forfeiture.”
The magnates’ reply was to take up arms, and Edward and Peter found themselves hurrying from one place to another to avoid a rigorous pursuit. At Newcastle they were so nearly caught that they had to leave their arms, horses, and treasure behind them to fall into the hands of the Earl of Lancaster. Finally, Gavaston shut himself up in Scarborough Castle. That huge pile, strong as its position and defences were, needed more men and victuals than he could get, and after three weeks he surrendered on condition that his life should be safe, and that if negotiations between the Ordainers and himself came to nothing he should be replaced in the castle to begin the struggle afresh. Such terms sound strange to modem ears, and although the besiegers had confirmed them in all honesty with a solemn oath, angry human nature was too much for them. The Earl of Pembroke escorted Peter safely as far south as Deddington in Oxfordshire, but there, during his temporary absence, Guy of Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, succeeded in seizing his captive, and, on 19 June 1312, Peter was executed on Blacklow Hill near Warwick.
This lynch law, in disregard of a solemn safe-conduct, was as outrageous as anything of which Edward or Gavaston themselves had been guilty. The four earls chiefly responsible, Lancaster, Warwick, Hereford, and Arundel, found themselves criticised even by their own circle, and Pembroke and Warenne broke off relations with those who had forced them into the betrayal of their oath. The king alternated between heart-broken lamentations over his friend’s brutal end and violent threats of vengeance against those responsible for it. For six months at least it seemed as though the outcome would be actual civil war, both sides opposing obstinacy and abuse to the efforts of would-be mediators. By the end of December 1312, however, the adversaries came stiffly and unwillingly to an agreement, in which the king promised to take no action against those concerned in Gavaston’s death, while the magnates agreed to support the king’s demand for an aid to be used for a war with Scotland, to give up their recent habit of appearing at parliament in arms, and to make a solemn profession of loyalty in the great hall of Westminster. Deprived of the satisfaction of honouring Gavaston’s memory by revenge, Edward fell back upon the consolation of surrounding it with reverence and splendour. The body, which had been carried to Oxford after the execution, was in January 1315 transferred for burial to the new church of the Dominican priory at King’s Langley, close to the manor-house where Edward and his “dear Perot” had been boys together. Since the first grant of a site in 1307, Edward had three times increased the endowment of the community, which by this time numbered no less than a hundred friars, and as long as he lived he continued his favours. He never forgot Gavaston. As late as 1326, when in pursuance of a giant of his father he gave an advowson to Leeds priory for the maintenance of four canons and a clerk to say mass daily in the chapel in Leeds Castle for the soul of Queen Eleanor, he added a proviso that a fifth canon should celebrate in memory of Peter. The friendship, mixed up with all kinds of youthful memories, was probably much more innocent than scandalous tongues of the time alleged, and its cruel end remained for Edward one of the most vivid and outstanding things in his life.
To the magnates, on the other hand, Peter’s fate, though gratifying, was only part of a wider movement, which took written shape in three documents—the Articles of Stamford of 1309; the Ordinances, accepted in August, published in September 1311; and the second Ordinances, which Professor Tout recently assigned from internal evidence to a date between 25 and 30 November 1311.
The Articles of Stamford represent the bargain struck between the king and the magnates in order to secure Gavaston’s return from his second exile. The remedies sought in them were for time-honoured grievances, such as the encroaching jurisdiction of the royal household, or the collection of extra customs from foreign merchants. When next the magnates voiced their views, however, in the parliament of 1310, which met after Gavaston’s return and renewed offences, they spoke less generally. Edward, they said, had been reduced to disgrace and poverty by the advice of evil counsellors, had dismembered the inheritance received intact from his father, and had wasted the grants made for war with Scotland. On 16 March 1310 the king agreed that the magnates should choose a committee to sit till Michaelmas 1312, “to ordain and establish the state of our realm and our household.” So came into being the Lords Ordainers. They included seven bishops, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at their head, eight earls—Gloucester, Lancaster, Lincoln, Pembroke, Hereford, Warwick, Richmond, and Arundel—and six barons. They produced six preliminary Ordinances at once, and announced that while doing their further work they would sit in London so as to have records and legal advice close at hand. And there, indeed, most of them remained busy for many months, though Gloucester went off to the Scottish war in the autumn, and Lincoln died early in 1311. By August 1311 they had their draft ready to submit to king and parliament, “since,” as they remarked with an echo that may have been irritating, “what touches all should be approved by all.” Under coercion, and unwillingly, Edward confirmed their work. On 27 September some forty Ordinances, including the six of 1310, were published in London, and as quickly as possible copies under the great seal were sent out all over England.
The contents of the Ordinances were comprehensive and well-intentioned. The old formulae were repeated. Holy Church must have her liberties, the king’s peace must be kept, the Great Charter must be observed. Some clauses had a rather old-fashioned flavour, and suggested that complex problems created by new conditions could be solved by simple means based upon a return to past custom. Take, for example, the undoubted fact of the inadequacy of the royal revenue to royal needs. If no grants of offices or other profits were made till the king’s debts had been paid (Ordinance 7); if natives instead of aliens managed the customs, and saw to it that all issues went direct to the Exchequer (4 and 8); if foreign merchants who had been battening on the revenues were arrested and forced to account (5); then surely the king would once more be able to “live of his own” without making novel and excessive exactions. Or consider the follies and extravagances of the king, his advisers, and the executive which carried out their will. Was not the obvious remedy to restore the baronage to their place as the native and natural counsellors of the king? Let him never leave his country, or go to war, until the baronage, “and that in parliament,” had consented, and had arranged for the custody of the realm during his absence (9). Let all bad counsellors be removed, and better ones be substituted (13). Let all the great offices of State, not in England only, but also in Gascony, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as all posts of authority in the ports and on the sea-coast, be filled by the advice of the baronage in parliament, or, in emergency, at least by the help of the “good council” present with the king (14, 15, 16). Let sheriffs be substantial men, appointed by the Chancellor, Treasurer, and others of the king’s council (17). Many of the remaining ordinances reiterated prohibitions against encroaching jurisdictions, abuses in local government, and other evils of a kind repeatedly execrated, and never cured, in earlier times. One new safeguard, indeed, was provided. In future parliaments a bishop, two earls, and two barons were to hear complaints against delinquent officials (40). Moreover, while adopting the common device of exacting an oath to the scheme of reform from all the chief royal officials, the Ordainers struck a new note by including in that category the two leading domestic officials, namely the steward of the king’s household and the keeper of his wardrobe.
The king disliked this programme, and was disloyal to it from the first. Within two months of the expiration of their commission, the Ordainers found it needful to issue the so-called Second Ordinances, which are little more than a recital of the various points, numbering more than thirty in all, in which the stipulations made in the first Ordinances had not been fulfilled. In particular, enormous numbers of proscribed persons, varying in importance from Gavaston’s relatives down to the humblest of carters and porters, had not been ejected. The dissatisfaction felt over this naturally redoubled when Gavaston himself returned, and the personal fight which ended in his death was thus a fight not only for revenge but for the maintenance of the scheme of reform.
It might therefore be expected that the years immediately following the reconciliation of 1312 would be marked by a vigorous enforcement of the Ordinances, with a corresponding improvement in the general well-being. Not at all. It is true that in 1313 there was issued the famous “ Ordinance of the Staple,” which for the first time made it compulsory for all merchants, whether native or alien, to export their wool to a single foreign port, St Omer being chosen as the site of this “fixed staple.” As “the merchants of this realm” had the task of enforcing and executing the Ordinance, it worked to their advantage rather than to that of the foreigners, and was meant also to lead to greater efficiency and better organisation. However the innovation was by no means universally popular, either abroad or at home, and in any case could not bring in its results all at once. Meanwhile other circumstances persisted which were far from beneficial to trade. Bruce steadily extended his power in Scotland, while his brother Edward between 1315 and 1318 nearly succeeded in making himself king of Ireland. Not the northern counties only, but even far distant shires to which the huge death-roll of Bannockburn brought home the fact of the Scottish peril, began to live in a state of perpetual expectant depression. There was a general infection of misery, a general loosening of discipline. Conspicuous among many similar examples was the case of Bristol, where, not for two years only, as the chroniclers say, but for nearly four, as the records shew, trade, law, and order were paralysed while the townsfolk set at defiance both the king’s constable and their own governing oligarchy. It happened, too, that six successive bad seasons diminished supplies, spread disease among men and beasts, and caused general despondency. Parliament in 1315 tried to mend matters by fixing statutory prices for essential food-stuffs, but sellers thereupon ceased to bring their wares to market, and in 1316 the legislation was repealed. Vague popular thinking blamed the powers that were, not only for their mistakes and hesitations, but also for troubles for which no human agency could justly be held responsible.
Circumstances forced the Ordainers to choose as their leader a man calculated to do their cause more harm than good. After the death of Henry Lacy, Earl of Lincoln and Salisbury, in 1311, his two earldoms passed to his son-in-law Thomas of Lancaster, already lord of three, and made him, so far as landed power went, incomparably the greatest of the king’s subjects. When to this is added the fact of his royal blood, it is hard to see how, at this stage, his claims to leadership could have been disregarded. Earl Thomas’ personality, however, by no means corresponded with his dignities. He was both touchy and sulky—a deadly combination; he was unforgiving and revengeful; and he was as unwilling as the king himself to make the sacrifices demanded by a position of responsibility. After the defeat at Bannockburn had put the king at the Ordainers’ mercy, and Lancaster’s advice was required at every turn, he could rarely be induced to give it in person, but expected business to wait till there had been time for a deputy to report to him, or for letters to be exchanged.
Meanwhile, the king for his part was being as irritating as he dared. His response to the demand for dismissals in his household and elsewhere was partial, grudging, and temporary. In 1313 he said that he could not attend parliament because he was ill, an excuse which no one would accept from a monarch whose rude health was proverbial. In April of the same year he went off to France, ignoring Ordinance 9, which required him to ask the permission of parliament before leaving the country, and to seek the common consent to the appointment of a custos in his absence. He did not return at the date at which he was expected, and the magnates, after waiting for him a fortnight, went away indignant. He deeply resented the prominence of Lancaster, and by 1317 the domestic! of earl and king were at each other’s throats, while Edward was trying, but failing, to get the Pope to release him from his oath to the Ordinances, and Lancaster was protesting that it was as much as his life was worth to come near the king. Edward gave some colour to this assertion when in October, travelling south from York, he put his train into battle array as soon as he drew near Lancaster’s castle at Pontefract. It seemed as if civil war alone could decide between the rivals.
That this disaster was avoided was due to the efforts of a new “middle party” which had been built up during 1317, largely by the efforts of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, out of courtiers and moderates united by a common dislike of Lancaster. Its leaders actually succeeded, in August 1318, at Leake near Loughborough, in getting Lancaster to set his seal to one half of an indenture of agreement, to the other half of which were affixed the seals of two archbishops, eight bishops, eight earls, and twelve barons. Soon afterwards the king and the earl exchanged a kiss of reconciliation at Hathem, and writs were issued for a parliament to confirm and complete the settlement.
This parliament of York, which met on 20 October 1318, was in some ways the most notable of the whole reign, though there hangs about it the tragedy of work accomplished only to be undone. It remained in session for seven weeks, and addressed itself to its task in a spirit of greater energy and hopefulness than had been known for years. As had now become usual on solemn occasions, representatives were summoned, though by no means all of them attended, and those present played quite a subordinate part as compared with the prelates, earls, and barons, who, indeed, were definitely instructed to “treat apart” on various important matters.
Parliament’s first care was to fulfil the promises made at Leake. The indenture was read aloud and confirmed, and the king was induced to accept as permanent the arrangement which had been in provisional use since August, by which, “in all weighty matters which can or ought to be transacted without parliament”, he was to be advised by a standing council of two bishops, an earl, a baron, and a baron or banneret from the household of the Earl of Lancaster. To ease the burden to the magnate back, each group was to act for three months at a time only, and nine more names were added to the existing panel to make the turns come round at wider intervals. Charters of pardon were issued to Lancaster and his adherents, and the king made public announcement of his loyalty to the Ordinances. The whole matter was solemnly enrolled in the records of the Chancery, the Exchequer, the two Benches, and Parliament.
As a preliminary to the next business, both Magna Carta and the Ordinances were read aloud to the assembled company, and real vigour was shewn in following the example thus suggested. Household reform was entrusted to a committee of five, conferring with three prelates named by the king, and a few days before parliament dispersed the results of their work were embodied in the Household Ordinance of York. A revising survey of the king’s grants was undertaken, resulting in some cases in considerable reductions. Enquiry was made into the competence of every Crown official, high or low, central or local. Some were retained, some were dismissed, some were promoted. When, on the steward of the household being made seneschal of Gascony, Bartholomew of Badlesmere was appointed in his stead, Lancaster set up a very characteristic protest, losing sight of any question of general benefit in the alleged injury to his own right, as Steward of England, to appoint the steward of the household. His claim was treated courteously, but nothing was done to meet it, either then or when in 1319 he renewed it. Parliament attacked the old trouble of abuses in local government and delays in legal procedure, and issued the Statute of York, which contained many wise provisions, such as that which forbade any official in charge of the assize of wine to sell wine himself, or that which directed the bailiff of a franchise to return a writ to the sheriff in indenture form, so as to minimise the risk of falsification. Important debates were held with regard to the advisability of fixing staples in England instead of abroad, though in the midst of parliament’s great press of business no actual economic legislation resulted from the discussion. A vast number of petitions were dealt with, some of them of general interest. It was decided to summon the army to make a fresh effort against Scotland in June 1319, and to hold another parliament at York or Lincoln within a month of Easter (8 April).
Parliament’s activity, and the reconciliation of Leake, made the year 1318 a real turning-point. All the forces dangerous to moderation had been silenced. Future prospects seemed bright, and there must have been many other contemporaries who, like the author of the Vita Edwardi, believed that the king’s twelfth regnal year was to herald a period of peace and success.
From the summer of 1318 to the winter of 1320 the trend of events did undoubtedly, on the whole, bear out the prophets of good fortune. The famine ended, and wheat came down from 3«. 4d. to 6d. the bushel. Although no successes were won by the Scottish campaign, at any rate in December 1319 a truce was secured, and for two years England was able to draw breath. Advantage was taken of this to tackle the question of Anglo-French relations, which for some years had been menacing. Philip IV had died in 1314, and, during the reign of his successor Louis X (1314-16), Edward had never found time or opportunity to go to do the homage incumbent upon him, as Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Ponthieu, whenever a new king came to rule in France. After the accession of Philip V, Edward continued to postpone this duty, and intrigued against the French King as much as he dared. Philip had retaliated in kind, much acrimonious correspondence had been exchanged, and, without formal warfare, there had been constant friction on the narrow seas and wherever English lands touched French. Meanwhile, neither in Ponthieu nor in Gascony was English administration any more efficient than usual, and Philip as overlord lent a ready ear to complaints. France seized Ponthieu in 1317 or 1318; the Pope rebuked Edward for leaving Gascony sine lege et sine rege; and finally, when Bayonne broke a treaty arranged between its own sailors and those of Normandy, the Parlement of Paris sentenced Edward, as duke, to a fine. In this connexion, therefore, the pacification of England in 1318, followed by the truce with Scotland in 1319, gave a welcome opportunity for readjustment. Edward did homage to Philip by proxy in June 1319, and in June 1320 performed the same ceremony in person at Amiens. Though his stay in France was only for about six weeks, the good will established lasted for the rest of Philip’s reign. Ponthieu was restored to English rule, by no means to its entire satisfaction. Gascon troubles had meanwhile received attention, when in February a new seneschal was appointed and Hugh Despenser the elder and Bartholomew of Badlesmere were commissioned to enquire into the state of the duchy and the conduct of its officials. Their report led to the issue in August of a drastic ordinance for reform, which, for a time at any rate, acted as a deterrent and made many a petty tyrant conscious of observation. Abroad as at home, therefore, the period 1318-20 was marked by pacification and improved administration.
How was it that the hopes raised by this situation were so quickly disappointed? Before Christmas 1320 there were clear signs of coming trouble; in 1321 the middle party was broken up by armed conflict between the extremists on both sides; and a brief Lancastrian triumph in that year was succeeded in the following spring by a royalist victory, which found symbolic expression in the repeal of the Ordinances in May 1322. Thenceforward, till his deposition in 1327, Edward II remained master of his own actions.
The responsibility for the breakdown in 1320 must be divided. Something no doubt was due to the instability of Edward, something to the indecision of Pembroke, something to the jealousy among the magnates which prevented lengthy co-operation. The chief onus, however, must lie upon the man who gradually succeeded Gavaston in the king’s affections. This was Hugh Despenser, husband of Eleanor de Clare, one of the three heiresses among whom, in 1317, were divided the estates of Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, slain at Bannockburn. That inheritance, the first spur to Hugh’s ambitions, provoked him to a policy which in the end ruined both himself and the king.
Hugh Despenser the younger, as he was often called to distinguish him from his father and namesake, was a man of much more weight than Gavaston, both by birth and in personality. His family had been pushing its fortunes ever since Henry Ill’s day, when his grandfather was one of the baronial nominees on the committee which drew up the Provisions of Oxford, and afterwards twice acted as justiciar. His father, Hugh the elder, had thrown in his lot with the revived fortunes of the monarchy under Edward I, and under Edward II had been marked down for censure by the Ordainers and Lancaster. The younger Hugh’s intimacy with the king dated at least from the time when Edward was Prince of Wales. He had been knighted on the same day with him, and at the date we have reached held in the royal household the office of chamberlain, which ranked third in the domestic hierarchy and involved a specially close relation with the household’s head. Yet Hugh’s attitude, court official though he might be, had been hitherto one of such cool detachment that nobody feared his influence or his ambition. In 1318 the York parliament prayed the king to continue him in office, and confirmed, though with some redistribution, the grant to him of lands of the value of 600 marks yearly to meet the expenses of his residence at court. He was regarded as a safe man, treading his prudent course midway between extremes, whether of royalism or reform.
Once more, however, as so often in medieval England, central politics were deflected by causes originating in the March of Wales. When in 1317 an agreement was arrived at for the division of the great Clare inheritance between three co-heiresses, Despenser, as the husband of one, secured the marcher lordship of Glamorgan, prized not only for its size, but for its tradition of unusual dignity and independence. Lords of Glamorgan had had their own sheriff, denied any right of appeal from their court to the king of England, and welcomed such kings when they visited South Wales rather as fellow potentates than as superiors. Hugh felt that the cream of the inheritance had fallen to his lot, so that by an energetic use of his opportunities he might become the greatest of the magnates and secure an earl’s title. Even before the partition, he had tried to seize the great Clare castle of Tonbridge in Kent; after it, he sought to undermine the position of his brother-in-law Hugh of Audley, to whose share Newport had fallen. In both attempts, and in breaches of the peace along the borders of Glamorgan and Gower, he found himself checked by royal orders. He became convinced that his ambitions could be realised only by close co-operation with the king, and by 1320 he was leading Edward “like a cat after a straw,” as one annalist said, in pursuit of his own ambitions. There was something more revolting in calculating self-interest of this sort than in the haphazard irresponsibility of a Gavaston. To contemporaries, Hugh was a rival and a renegade. At the bar of history, he must stand convicted of upsetting for personal reasons a political equilibrium hardly won and much to the public advantage.
The course of events can here be traced only in the barest outline. The storm centre was the peninsula of Gower, coveted by Despenser because it lay between his Glamorgan lands and Cantref Mawr in Carmarthen, which had been granted to him for life. The lord of Gower, William de Braiose, having no son to succeed him, had been offering his lands for sale to various marcher neighbours, including the Mortimers, the Earl of Hereford, and his own son-in-law John of Mowbray. After William’s death in 1320, Mowbray entered into possession, but Despenser egged on the king to take Gower into his own hands, on the ground that since Braiose was a tenant-in-chief, he had no right to give his land, or Mowbray to take it, without the licence of his lord the king. It was typical of Despenser’s cleverness that he chose an argument apparently so much in keeping with the laudable efforts of Edward I himself to establish uniform authority inside as well as outside privileged areas. Every marcher lord, however, resented the claim as a breach of “the custom of the March,” and the sub-escheator sent to take possession of Gower found himself prevented by armed force. Commissions of enquiry, written expostulations, and a personal visit made by the king to the Welsh border in March 1321, could not quench the flame thus lighted. During May a league of marchers overran Hugh’s manors in South Wales, burnt his muniments, damaged what they could not carry away, and slew or put to ransom the few subjects who remained faithful to him. The infection of disorder spread far beyond Wales, and gave Lancaster his first chance since 1318. On 24 May all the chief magnates of the north met at his invitation in the chapter-house of Pontefract priory to make a league of mutual defence. A month later he brought together in the parish church of Sherbum-in-Elmet a much bigger assembly, which included not only lay magnates both from south and north, but abbots, priors, bishops, and the Archbishop of York himself, to consider a long list of grievances drawn up at Lancaster’s direction. Public opinion having thus been well drilled beforehand, it is not surprising that when, in July 1321, the king met a general parliament, including representatives of the counties, towns, and lower clergy, he found it set upon ruining the Despensers. Both father and son must be dismissed as “false and most evil counsellors, disinheritors of the crown and destroyers of the people.” In vain the Despensers challenged technical errors in the charges made, appealed to Magna Carta and the Ordinances, and offered to meet complaints in a legal way. Resistance and quibbles were bludgeoned down by the magnates’ determination, backed by the sight of the large armed forces they had brought to London. The Despensers left the country, the Chancery clerks were set to work on the drafting of innumerable pardons to those who for a great right had done a little wrong, and the magnates dispersed well satisfied.
As a matter of fact, they had done more harm than good. The temporary unity was broken up; the king was again enraged; the old devices of private warfare and armed parliaments had restored the old atmosphere of disorder and suspicion; and even the alliance of northern and marcher lords did not long outlive their victory. Pembroke could not hope to rebuild his middle party until both sides had forgotten renewed grievances, and before that could happen the king seized a chance to revive hostilities.
His perfectly respectable pretext was an insult offered to his queen. Isabella, travelling through Kent about Michaelmas 1321, was refused admission for the night to Leeds Castle by the wife of Bartholomew de Badlesmere. Now Badlesmere, still in name steward of the king’s household, had not actually visited it since the middle of June, though he had received a pardon in August like others who had joined the league against the Despensers. Fxlward was delighted to make the wife’s offence a pretext for summoning an army to punish the husband’s “disobedience and contempt.” To many correct feudal minds her breach of feudal etiquette seemed so gross that they willingly responded, while Badlesmere, on the other hand, found that he could secure little help. Lancaster hated him as the living evidence of the defeat of his own claim to appoint the steward of the household, and made no effort to rouse the northern baronage. Some of the Welsh marchers, indeed, hurried to the rescue, but when they got as far as Kingston-on-Thames they heard so much of the king’s strength that they dared advance no farther, and left Leeds Castle to its fate. By the end of October it was in the king’s hands, and its occupants were sentenced to death or imprisonment.
The matter was not to rest there. Badlesmere himself was still at large, and Edward was in a mood of concentrated obstinacy not uncommon in a weak man enraged. He followed the retreating marchers westward, recalled the Despensers under safe-conduct in December, kept Christmas on the Welsh border, and prepared to advance early in 1322. So firm was his attitude that before January was ended the Mortimers and many of the other marchers had submitted without striking a blow. A few stalwarts, however, notably those whose interests in South Wales clashed with Despenser ambitions, such as Humphrey, Earl of Hereford, Roger of Amory, and John of Mowbray, made good their escape to the north, and convinced Lancaster that the time had come to speak or for ever hold his peace. In February and March, accordingly, the quarrel put on wider aspects. It became a duel to the death between the royal cousins, and a conflict of principle between monarchy under control and monarchy free and independent.
The question was soon settled. Step by step the “contrariants” retired as Edward advanced. They abandoned the siege of Tickhill; they failed to hold the passage of the Trent at Burton; they moved north again after a temporary stand at Pontefract; and on 16 March 1322, at Borough bridge on the Ure, finding their way barred by forces brought down from the border under Andrew Harclay, they fought to a finish and lost. By Lady Day the more notable rebels had already paid the penalty. The Earl of Hereford had died fighting at Boroughbridge. Lancaster was beheaded on 22 March within sight of his own castle of Pontefract, though the more degrading accompaniments of a sentence for treason were remitted in deference to his royal birth. Many others had to drink the cup to the very dregs, and all over England there were hangings, drawings, and quarterings. Badlesmere himself was hanged at Canterbury. In some other cases, such as that of the Mortimers, sentence of death was commuted to lifelong imprisonment because they had surrendered early. It remained for the victors to distribute the spoils of conquest, and provide, if they would or could, for a better future. With 1322, therefore, there opens the last well-marked period of the reign. Lancaster was dead, Pembroke died in 1324, the Despensers, though authoritative, had not the same overwhelming influence which Gavaston had exerted. It followed that onlookers identified the policy of these years with the king in person, and that when in 1327 revolution overturned his ministers, he shared their fate.
On 14 March, two days before Boroughbridge, while the issue was still in suspense, writs had been issued for a full parliament, which in due course met, on 2 May, at York. Prelates and religious attended in their usual numbers, but the ranks of the lay magnates were thinned by recent events. The commons, on the other hand, were more numerous than usual, for besides proctors of the beneficed clergy, borough members, and knights from the counties, there were also present, for the first time in history, forty-eight representatives of Wales. The commons continued to be invited regularly to parliament as long as the Despensers held power, though as the expense of paid members soon mounted up, it was never thought desirable to keep them long in session. On this occasion, as we know from an interesting memorandum recently discovered and printed1, the king asked his council to discuss and formulate proposed legislation beforehand, “in order that the people who come to parliament may be the sooner set free.” Presumably they managed well, for the commons went home after eighteen days, though the magnates continued in session for another nine weeks.
“Let the council bear in mind the following things: first, the statute on the repeal of the Ordinances; second, the putting of the good points of the Ordinances into a statute.” These words, which opened the above memorandum, suggest one marked feature of the victorious party’s policy. It combined the assertion of liberty of royal action with the offer of orderly government. Such an aim could have been stated theoretically in terms which would have beseemed Edward I at his best. Its failure in practice must be explained, not by insincerity, only partly by incompetence, mainly by the facts that Edward II had not his father’s power either of terrifying enemies or attracting friends, that the Despensers were even more isolated and unpopular than he was, and that circumstances had changed so much that even an Edward I would have found himself hard put to it.
The form of the statute which repealed the Ordinances, and which was probably drafted by the council, shewed at once the trend of the new policy. A clause declaring void any ordinances or provisions made against the estate of the king or his crown was followed by a more famous reminder that “matters which are to be established for the estate of our lord the king and of his heirs, and for the estate of the realm and of the people, shall be treated, accorded, and established, in parliaments, by our lord the king, and by the assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and commonalty of the realm.” Mr Lapsley has suggested, and Prof. Tout has accepted, the view that this principle was to apply not to any and all legislation, but only to fundamental constitutional change. Dr Conway Davies would have it, on the contrary, that the statute drew a careful distinction between matters concerning the estate of the crown and the royal power, which are indeed questions of fundamental law, as against general legislation and administration, with which parliament, both magnates and commons, might rightly concern themselves. It is just possible that both interpretations are a little too subtle, and that all that the Despensers meant to do was to follow up a clause in which they asserted the royal right with another in which they gave assurance that the Crown intended to act in consultation with parliament.
To destruction succeeded construction. A statute embodying remedies for many standing grievances utilised for this purpose parts of the Articuli super Cartas of 1300 and the Ordinance concerning the forests of 1306; revived the Statute of Lincoln of 1316 with regard to the appointment of sheriffs, which was itself the amended form of Ordinance 17; and incorporated the very words of Ordinances 33, 35, and 36, which dealt with complaints against the Statute erf Merchants, the grievances of persons outlawed through malicious appeals of felony in counties where they had no land, and the encouragement of robbery and murder by the too easy abatement of appeals in the king’s court. All this shews that the desire of those now come to power was rather to remould than to destroy what they had shattered.
Enunciation of sound doctrine was to be backed if possible by efficiency in the routine of government. Processes of administrative reform, some of which had by fits and starts already begun, went on more rapidly during these years, partly by the efforts of officials in their departments, partly by the help of ordinances issued by the king and his council. The changes were particularly striking in the Exchequer. Three ordinances (1323, 1324, 1326) were directed to the clarifying of its records, the improvement of its accounting system, and the organisation of its staff. Already, as early as 1317, its central record, the Great Annual or Pipe Roll, had begun to shew signs of efforts to investigate and diminish the bad debts which had accumulated; now the process went forward steadily, and by the end of the reign a substantial clearance had been made. Such reforms came from men of varied political views. Two of the Exchequer ordinances were issued during the second treasurership (1322-25) of Walter of Stapledon, a moderate politician of the Pembroke type; the third belonged to the treasurership (1325-26) of William of Melton, a courtier all his life. Another curialist, Robert of Baldock, became Chancellor (1323-26) under the new government. Previously, combining the post of Keeper of the Privy Seal with that of Controller of the Wardrobe, he had been a living contradiction of the Ordainers’ principle that the Privy Seal office should be emancipated from the Wardrobe and be subjected to public control. Now, however, by sending three Chancery clerks in succession to act as Keepers, he tried to subordinate that office to his own after a fashion quite in tune with the Ordainers’ wishes.
One of the most remarkable and personal expressions of the Despenser triumph is to be found in the prominence and widening activities of the Chamber, of which the younger Hugh as Chamberlain was official head. The quiet rebuilding of that fortress, concealed from view by the commanding structures of the Wardrobe and Exchequer, had indeed begun earlier in the reign; and it is also true that in the early summer of 1322 the king gave up, very likely under pressure from Stapledon, a grandiose scheme by which so magnificent a bulk of “contrariants”’ lands were to be assigned to the Chamber that it would have become a state within the State, practically exempt from the ordinary national administrative and judicial system. Nevertheless, it is in these last years of Edward II’s reign that the power of the Chamber is openly displayed, and that by a deliberate policy, personal to Despenser and the king.
The weakness of Edward’s general position, politically, was shown by his relations with the Papacy. The Popes were not hostile to England, but their increasing demands, coupled with a gradual change for the worse in Anglo-French relations, soon created a very serious situation. Two notable events during the pontificate of Clement V affected England—the suppression of the Order of the Temple (1312), and the imposition (1306) of annates, i.e. of payments equivalent to a year’s revenue of a bishopric or benefice due to the Pope from each fresh holder. The former brought some gain to the king and to many private persons, besides the Hospitallers who were officially the Templars’ heirs. The latter, though described in the Statute of Carlisle (1307) as taxation of a kind “hitherto unheard-of,” became gradually an accustomed and therefore not an unbearable burden. On the whole Clement V and Edward got on very well, despite the intermittent exchanges of complaints and the laments of chroniclers which give a contrary impression. At Stamford in 1309 the forty-seven lay magnates addressed to the Pope ail almost hysterical appeal for that “widowed lady,” the English Church, destroyed by papal exactions and provisions; yet four out of the six episcopal vacancies which occurred between the king’s accession and Clement’s death were filled by the canonical choice of the electors, and only two by papal provision. Clement himself in 1310 made counter-complaints that payments due were in arrears, clerks and religious injured by laymen, and encroachments made on ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Yet in some ways Clement shewed himself very friendly. If he would not release Edward from his oath to the Ordinances, he was always ready in his official capacity to rebuke his enemies, and in a private capacity lent him £25,000. Meanwhile the see of Canterbury was occupied first by Winchelsea, returned older and wiser from exile, and next by Walter Reynolds, who had been for many years a trusted official in Edward’s household.
With the accession of Pope John XXII, however, the situation changed, and appointment by papal provision, hitherto exceptional, became almost invariable. Edward acquiesced as long as a reasonable proportion of the appointments made coincided with his wishes, but found the Pope as time went on less and less ready to humour him. So far as merits or learning went, there was rarely much to choose between royal and papal nominees. When Edward secured the promotion of Louis de Beaumont to the see of Durham (1317), the bull of provision described him as not only of royal stock and suitable age, but also as skilled in letters, commendable in conduct, wise in spiritual matters, circumspect in temporal. Perhaps the cardinals present at his consecration stopped their ears while this lettered prelate fought and lost his fight with the word “metropolitice”. “Take it as said”, was his counsel of despair. In 1321 Edward pressed the Pope to make an English cardinal, but without success. Sometimes he had to swallow very nauseous doses, as in 1317, when he told the Pope that his honour could not endure that Adam of Orleton should be made Bishop of Hereford—and had to accept him within two months. How meaningless were the praises bestowed by the jobber on the jobbed is illustrated by the case of Badlesmere’s nephew, Henry Burghersh. In 1319 Edward belauded him as a candidate for the see of Winchester, and in 1320 secured Lincoln for him. A year later, after the Badlesmere outbreak, Edward informed the Pope that his conscience was troubling him because of Henry’s “manifold unsuitability,” and begged that he might be rooted out. All this bargaining, which affected every sort of preferment, must have disgusted zealots, while it raised up many enemies among disappointed rivals, angry patrons, and offended chapters.
No triumph of Edward over his private enemies was notable enough to enable him to rally the country to a firm stand against Scotland. In March 1323 Andrew Harclay, who had been rewarded for his services at Boroughbridge with the title of Earl of Carlisle, was executed as a traitor for going to Bruce to suggest a peace on the basis of England’s recognition of “King Robert.” In June the government itself made a thirteen years’ truce, which could not become a peace because touchy stupidity forbade it to recognise accomplished facts by admitting the royal title. Still, so long a pause was welcome indeed, and it may well have been that some of Edward’s advisers felt in the summer of 1323 that the time had come for reconstruction undisturbed by storm abroad or at home. They were sadly deceived. In that very year there arose a little cloud like a man’s hand, which was destined before long to blacken all the heavens, and finally to sweep away the king and his friends in a great rain of revolution.
In January 1322 Philip V of France had been succeeded by Charles IV, who forbore for many months to trouble his English brother-in-law to do homage, in view of the “grantz empeschementz” which detained him in England. The truce with Scotland, however, seemed to remove the last reasonable excuse, and Charles accordingly required Edward to come to do homage at Amiens by 1 July 1324. Edward, while replying politely, began at once those delays which were the stock device for such occasions. Like a tenant who tries to get repairs out of his landlord before he renews a lease, so the Gascon Duke made his renewal of homage an opportunity for protest on all the time-worn grievances—the French officials who “put their reaping-hooks into our harvest,” the encouragement of appeals to the suzerain over the head of the duke, the vexations inflicted upon French subjects over-loyal to England. This time, however, the ordinary diplomatic game could not be played with the usual calm, for there had already occurred that “affair of Saint-Sardos” which was to embitter the relations between the two countries to a point that could only end in war.
Saint-Sardos stands on the top of a little hill in the Agenais, in the pleasant rolling country immediately east of the confluence of the Lot and the Garonne. To this day a Romanesque doorway and some splendid fragments of early capitals in its little church recall the twelfth century, when the land already belonged to the abbey of Sarlat in Perigord. Now the abbey of Sarlat was one of those “privileged” tenants in the three dioceses of Limoges, Cahors, and Perigueux whom Louis IX had excepted, when by the Treaty of Paris of 1259 he surrendered royal rights in those dioceses. In 1279, by the Treaty of Amiens, Philip had handed over the Agenais, and Edward I had agreed that no further effort should be made to induce privileged tenants in the three dioceses to transfer their allegiance from France to England. Did this, however, apply to lands which the privileged held elsewhere? “Certainly,” said the French. “Not at all,” said the English; and when in 1289 the Abbot of Sarlat effected a pariage of his land at Saint-Sardos with the King of France, who proposed to construct a bastide there, Edward’s view was that a subject in his land of the Agenais was acting with undue independence. He had obvious reasons for disliking the idea of a centre of French influence established in the heart of a district so recently ceded to England. Again and again he appealed on the legal point to the Parlement of Paris. One decision was given in his favour, but this was soon challenged and reversed, and in 1323 French officials entered Saint-Sardos to begin building. Before fresh diplomatic protests had had time to take their course, a host of English sympathisers, led by Ralph Basset, seneschal of Gascony, swept down upon the little place, murdered, burnt, and ravaged, hanged the French official to the post on which he had displayed the royal arms, and made off to the neighbouring castle of Montpezat, whose lord, Raymond Bertrand, had been prominent in the attack. The French King cited the culprits before the Parlement of Toulouse. Some forty submitted, the rest shut themselves up in their strongholds, and were condemned in absence to banishment and the confiscation of their possessions. When, in execution of this decree, a French representative arrived to seize Montpezat, he was captured and put to ransom. Outraged at this second insult to authority, Charles prepared to send armed forces to avenge it and to enforce the sentence. During the first six months of 1324, though Edward disavowed the action of his officials to an extent for which he almost apologised to them in subsequent letters, and though embassy after embassy exhausted all the resources of diplomacy in efforts to stave off reprisals, Charles quietly continued to make ready to defend his dignity. The last of the English envoys, making for the coast with all speed in July lest they should get caught in the campaigning, wrote to Edward that they heard it commonly said that Charles was tired of “words and parchment.” Meanwhile 1 July, the date fixed for the reception of Edward’s homage, had passed by without any attempt on his part to appear, and so sure had Charles made of his default that even before that date, so said the envoys, he had declared Gascony and Ponthieu forfeit.
In the actual fighting which followed in August and September 1324, the French had much the best of it. Here and there, at Penne, at Saint-Sever, at Puymirol, strongholds resisted, but when Charles of Valois invaded the Agenais, Agen soon surrendered, and though the king’s brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, with such loyalists as could reach him, stood a five weeks’ siege behind the walls of La Réole, on 22 September they gave in, and made a truce to last till April 1325. Meanwhile in England Edward had been fuming ineffectively, and with gross misjudgment had included among his war-time precautions the seizure of the lands of Queen Isabella. She put down the measure to Despenser spite, and bided her time. By and by papal envoys, seeking a bridge between French and English demands, suggested that the queen might be sent over to France to intercede with her brother. She reached Poissy on 21 March, secured a new truce to last till June (later prolonged to July), and obtained the consent of both kings to a treaty by which Charles was to take formal possession of Gascony, but, as soon as Edward had done homage, surrender all except his recent conquests, as to which there was to be a judicial enquiry. Even when, in August, Edward once more failed to keep his appointment, on the ground or the pretext of illness, Charles was still sufficiently complacent to agree that if his young son Edward were invested with Ponthieu and Guienne he might act in his father’s stead. On 14 September, accordingly, the boy performed this duty, and by November the French were ready to hand over everything except their recent conquests. But quite suddenly, Edward flared up at the idea of this retention, committed to it though he was by treaty. The war cloud gathered again.
As so often in this reign, a personal reason was directing political action. Scandalous stories reached Edward concerning his wife and Roger Mortimer, who had been in France since he escaped from the Tower in 1323. The king’s one idea was to undo all that Isabella had done, recall her, and remove her son from her influence. The queen, however, ignored all orders to return, and Edward struggled in vain. He resumed responsibility for the overseas lands by taking the title of “governor and administrator” for the young duke. He set a watch on the coasts, and sent Mortimer’s mother to a nunnery for addressing meetings of disaffected persons. In May he made a bid for the support of the merchants by the Ordinance of Kenilworth, which abolished the foreign staple and set up eight places in England, three in Ireland, and three in Wales, as staples for wool, wool-fells, and leather. Isabella was now in open defiance, and had been dismissed from her brother’s court. She found a new refuge in Hainault, betrothed her son to the daughter of its count, used the marriageportion to equip troops, and invaded England in September. General hatred of the Despensers, and pleasure at her declaration of affection for the Ordinances, brought her many adherents, including her brother-inlaw Thomas, Earl of Norfolk, and Henry, Earl of Leicester, to whom had been granted many of his brother Lancaster’s forfeited lands. With her had come Roger Mortimer, Edmund, Earl of Kent, the Bishops of Winchester and Norwich, who had been envoys to Paris, and many others.
The modem historian will not want to linger over the grim details of the final conflict, dear as they were to the contemporary chroniclers. The most brutal concerned the murder of Edward’s loyal treasurer, Bishop Stapledon, outside St Paul’s. Other scenes took place in Wales or the March. The elder Despenser was hanged at Gloucester in October. Edward himself, and the younger Hugh and Baldock the chancellor, were captured as they tried to make their way in a great storm of rain and wind from Neath Abbey to Llantrissant Castle. Hugh was hanged at Hereford, while Edward was put into the care of his cousin Henry of Leicester at Kenilworth.
Careful of appearances, the victors called a full parliament to seal their triumph. It met at Westminster on 7 January 1327, and contained representatives of the commons of England and Wales as well as the magnates. The magnates present swore to uphold the queen and her son, and Orleton, Bishop of Hereford, after haranguing the assembly on the queen’s wrongs, gave it a day to consider whether Edward or his son should reign in future. William of Melton, Archbishop of York, with four other prelates, protested on Edward’s behalf, but the rest, and all the laymen, accepted the substitution of son for father. Six crimes were laid to the disgraced king’s charge. He had followed evil counsellors, despising the advice of the great and wise; he had neglected public business for his own amusements; he had lost Scotland, Ireland, and Gascony by bad government; he had injured the Church; he had put many great men to death; he had broken his coronation oath. On 20 January 1327, at Kenilworth, Edward accepted his own fate and his son’s elevation. For a little longer he lived in captivity, and even for a brief space was rescued from it by old friends, whose sympathy became doubly eager when in April he was transferred from the care of Henry of Leicester to harsher custody in Berkeley Castle. He was recaptured, and in September 1327 either died a natural death, as the government took pains to make all men believe, or, more probably, was murdered to save them the anxiety of the plots which would continue as long as he was known to be alive. A persistent tradition asserted that the body buried was not that of Edward at all, and that the king made good his escape to Ireland, France, and finally Italy, where he lived out his days in seclusion. The chief documentary evidence for such a belief is a strange letter written to Edward III by a Genoese priest, who said that his information came from what he had heard in confession. A man might have many motives, however, for telling such a story to the late king’s supplanter, and on the whole it is probable that the crowds who flocked on pilgrimage to the tomb of the “martyred” king in St Peter’s Abbey at Gloucester were right in believing that it contained the bones of Edward II.
Modern research, which has been very busy of recent years with the period reviewed in this chapter, has not so far altered traditional values as to make Edward I a small man or Edward II a great one. It has, however, demonstrated unmistakably that the two reigns are far more closely connected than used to be supposed. Contemporaries, many of whom had a tale to adorn or a moral to point, exaggerated surface contrasts, and moralisers of later generations found the opportunities opened by such treatment too tempting to be abandoned; as late as 1640 a pamphleteer of the Fronde was using Gavaston’s fate as an awful warning to Mazarin. Yet the records and literature of the period, when studied impartially, make it clear that Edward I could on occasion be as violent, as overbearing, as unscrupulous as his son; that before he died he was already faced with a growing opposition which made the execution of his policy increasingly difficult; and that this, combined with the general drift of historical development and the huge expenses entailed by his manifold activities, created problems which had to be met by Edward II.
With the exception of the conquest of Wales, every great problem of the period is common to both reigns. The independence of Scotland was already foreshadowed when Edward I died, and it is unlikely that the prolongation of his own life, or a more desperate energy on the part of his son, could long have delayed its establishment. The miserable treaty which, shortly after Edward II’s deposition, reduced the English lands in France to a mere shadow of their former greatness, was the outcome of a situation which dated from the Treaty of Paris of 1259, which amid a rising sense of nationality became increasingly impossible, and which could only temporarily be readjusted even by such later victories as those of the more glorious periods of the Hundred Years’ War. Turning from political to constitutional matters, it is clear that both reigns were marked by experiment, friction, and misunderstandings, while to both Edward I’s enthusiasms and Edward II’s follies the baronial party opposed suspicion and narrowness as well as legitimate criticism. As to the widening of the parliamentary circle, begun by Edward I’s experiments and continued as a growing habit in his son’s time, it was due to Edward I’s needs rather than to his ideals, and its full consequences were not to be felt till long afterwards. Meanwhile, in the daily routine of government it might almost be said that Edward IIs indifference proved more beneficial than Edward I’s energy, for whereas the father found great difficulty in securing trustworthy and efficient helpers, under his son the efforts of inventive and intelligent officials made the reign a great turning-point in administrative history. In general social conditions there is little to choose between the two reigns; while in economic matters, whereas for the expelled Jews Edward I had substituted the Italians, Edward II’s reign saw the ruin of the Frescobaldi, competition between other Italian firms and a rising class of English capitalists, considerable municipal growth, and a start made with some devices which were to be fully developed under Edward III. As to ecclesiastical affairs, though it is true that in the later years of Edward II England became more and more a vineyard with a broken hedge, whose grapes could be plucked by every passer-by, her exploitation was not due to the king, but to general conditions in the Church after the establishment of the Avignon Papacy. On the whole, therefore, a prudent historian will refuse to stress the personal aspects of the two reigns, or to exaggerate the contrast between them, and will prefer to treat the two together as a single episode in the story of the medieval world during one of the most vital periods of its development.