1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] The 13th Century: Henry III; Edward I.

(Part 23)


Part 23: The 13th Century: Henry III; Edward I.

The next period in English history may be measured in different ways, according to the point of view from which that history is looked at. The English nation has now taken its later form. It has assimilated its Romance conquerors, and in so doing it has received a certain Romance infusion in language, laws, and manners. The connexion with Normandy has made England andEuropean power. The separation from Normandy has made England again an English power. The nation has now to struggle against a new form of foreign invasion. Englishmen, of whichever race, have to hold their own against the Poitevin and the Savoyard. They have to wage the long struggle of the thirteenth century at once against the king at home and against the pope beyond sea. This time is marked by the reign of Henry III. But the time of struggle is also a time of constitutional progress, and under Edward I. the law and constitution of England put on the essence of their later form. Here then, in a purely constitutional view, is one of the landmarks of our history, a landmark to be placed alongside of the Conquest and the Great Charter. But our former landmarks, the Conquest, the accession of Henry II., the reign of John, were not merely constitutional landmarks, but landmarks in the history of England as an European power. This last the legislation of Edward I. can hardly be said to be. The next great European landmark is the beginning of the long wars between England landmark is the beginning of the long wars between England and France. From the reign of John to the reign of Edward III., the foreign relations of England hold a secondary place as compared with her constitutional progress. There are frequent wars with France; but they are rather the wars of the duke of Aquitaine than of the king of England. Under Edward III. a wholly new state of foreign relations begins. The rivalry between England and France, which had grown out of the older rivalry between Normandy and France and which had survived the separation of Normandy from England and its union with France, now becomes, for a hundred years and more, the leading feature in English history, one of the leading features in European history. In this European aspect, the period which follows the claims of a French prince to the crown of England comes to its natural end when a king of England claims the crown of France. We take them our present start from the day when Lewis was driven out of England, and we next draw our breath when Edward III. invades France.

The reign of Henry III. was, down almost to our own day, the longest in our annals. The first forty years of it are, on the whole, the dreariest time in our history. No time of so great a length has so few events which stand out as prominent landmarks. First comes the minority of Henry, the time when, notwithstanding the vigour of the great Earl Marshal, England was largely ruled by papal legated. The homage of Jogn had, according to feudal principles, made the pope the guardian of his minor heir; and it was not the policy of Rome to let that guardianship be a mere same. The Charter is confined over and over again; but, as we have seen, with the loss of some of its most important clauses. In 1227 the king declares himself of age; presently he gets rid of his great minister Hubert of Burgh; he fills the land with Portevins and other kindred of his mother; he drives his nobles, his brother Earl Richard at their head, into discontent, and some of them into rebellion. The new struggle of Englishmen against strangers has begun. A new phase opens when help comes from the quarter from which it could least have been looked for, when Englishmen find a leader against strangers in one who was himself by birth a stranger. In 1238 Simon of Montfort first appears; he receives the king’s sister in marriage, with the earldom of Leicester to which he had an hereditary claim. Suspected at first as a foreigner, the earl grows into the truest of Englishmen. A reformer from the beginning, he gradually widens his basis, till he becomes, above all men, the leader of the people. Meanwhile the king’s marriage with Eleanor of Provence brings a second shoal of strangers to feed on the good things of England. A border war is waged against France with small good luck. In 1259 that war is ended by a treaty , by which Normandy is given up for ever, and the English kings keeps nothing on the continent except part of the Aquitanian heritage of the elder Eleanor. Meanwhile, during part of this time, Aquitaine is placed under the rule of Earl Simon, a ruler beloved of the cities and hated of the nobles. Meanwhile pope and king are draining the wealth of the nations; but their very extortions help the growth of freedom. Parliament after parliament meets to make grants indeed, but in making grants to protect and to assert its powers. In 1256, in 1257, new entanglements, new forms of extortion arose, while Earl Richard, the one Englishman who was ever called to the throne of the Caesars, passed into Germany to receive his almost nominal kingship. The crown of Sicily was offered by Alexander IV. to the king’s younger son Edmund. More money is demanded, more money is granted; but each grant leads to a fresh demand, and at last the spirit of nobles and people is thoroughly roused. Forty-two years after the accession of Henry, we reach the first great landmark of his reign, the famous Provisions of Oxford.

By these provisions the royal power was practically put in commission, very much as it had been by the Great Charter in the latter days of John. It is specially to be noticed that at this stage the king’s eldest son Edward, afterwards King Edward. I., appears on more than one occasion on the popular side. He and Simon were for a while fellow-workers. But Henry, like John, rebelled against the provisions which cramped his power, about the same time Edward was reconciled to his father. The matters at issue between the king and his people were now submitted to the judgment of the king of the French, St Lewis himself. But Lewis, if a saint, was also a king. By the mise of Amiens (1264) he annulled the Provisions of Oxford, as overthrowing the royal authority ; but at the same time he decreed that the nation should keep its ancient liberties. To men who held that the Provisions by Oxford were, like the Great Charter simply a re-enactment of ancient liberties, such an award seemed inconsistent on the face of it. There was now no hope but in arms. The civil war now begins ; Earl Simon, a stranger by birth, is the leader of the barons and people of England. King Richard of Germany, who once seemed destined to hold the place which Simon had come to hold, was now fighting on the side of his brother and fellow-king. So were the two kings’ sons, Edward of England and Henry of Germany kings and king’s sons were overthrown at Lewes (May 13, 1264), and the royal authority passed into the hands of the earl. By him, early in the next year, was held the great Parliament, the first to which representatives of the boroughs were summoned along with prelates, earls, barons and knights of the shire. But quarrels presently arose between Earl Simon and his fellow barons. Edward, kept for a while in ward with his father, escaped and gathered an army. In the fight of Evesham (4th August 1265) Simon was overthrown and killed, and was canonized, not by the Rome which he had always withstood, but by the popular voice of England. The war lingered at Simon’s the marches of Ely. Peace was at last made (1267); and the terms on which it was made, and the generally ciliatory character of Edward’s policy towards the vanquished, already showed how much he had learned from the uncle who had fallen before him, but whose work he was destined to bring to perfection. The peace of the last few years of Henry’s reign seems wonderful after the storms which had filled up the greater part of it. Edward could leave the land in safety to go on the crusade ; and, when his father died (1272) in his absence, his succession to the crown was at once recognized and his peace proclaimed. To say that he was the first king who reigned without election is almost a question of words. At no time in our history would there have been, in such a case as this, any chance of opposition to the eldest son of the last king. What really show how fast the new ideas of kingship had advanced is the fact that Edward reigned for nearly two years without coronation. Henry died November 16, 1272. The reign of Edward was held to begin with his proclamation four days later ; the doctrine that the king never dies is a later device still. Edward was then in Sicily, nor was his return a hasty one. He passed leisurely through several parts of Europe ; he passed leisurely through several parts of Europe ; he suppressed disturbances in his duchy of Aquitaine, an was crowned seventeen days after his arrival in England (August 19, 1274). Nothing could show more clearly than this how fast the office conferred by election and coronation was passing into the possession handed on by simple hereditary succession.

The reign of Edward which thus began is one of the most memorable in the whole course of English history. It is more than an accident that he was the first king since the Conquest who bore one of the ancient kingly names. Under him we fell at once that the work is done, that all traces of conquest, all traces of races, have passed away. We have again an united English nation, under a king English in name and in heart. For the first time since the Norman came, England has a king whose whole policy is thoroughly English, whose work seems in so many ways a falling back on the work of the old native kings, specially of the king whose name he bore. For the first time since the Conquest, we have a king who is neither surrounded by foreign favourites nor has his policy directed to foreign objects. As duke of Aquitaine, Edward could not avoid wars and controversies with France ; but wars and controversies with France were in his days something altogether secondary. His objects were those of the old West-Saxon kings, to be the lawgiver of England, and, as far as might be, to make England co-extensive with Britain. Still, like some other kings, Edward has been misunderstood through not attending to the chronology of his reign. His Scottish warfare, which is perhaps the first thing which is suggested by his name, takes up only the last nine years of a reign of thirty-five. He had been king nineteen years before the controversy as to the Scottish crown arose. So in the earlier part of his reign the Welsh warfare, which in the popular conception stands alongside of the Scottish warfare, has very much the air of an episode in a time mainly given to internal legislation. The reign naturally falls into two divisions. In the first, from 1272 to 1291, internal affairs are most prominent, though in also takes in the conquest of Wales and some important dealings with France. In the latter part, from 1291 to 1307, Scottish affairs are, or seems to be, predominant. And yet it is during this time that the greatest constitutional step of all is taken, and that parliament distinctly assumes its later form.

The immediate occasions of the Welsh war arose out of the disputes of the last reign. The Welsh prince Llywelyn who still held the north-western part of the Wales by the title of Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon, had been allied with Simon; his subjects had shared in the earl’s warfare, and he was himself betrothed to the earl’s daughter. Disputes arose out of Llywelyn’s refusal to meet the English king and do his homage. In 1276 he was declared to have forfeited his fiefs, and in the next year he was constrained to surrender the eastern part of his territory and to do homage for the rest. In 1282 a revolt began, in which David, the brother of Llywelyn, who had been hitherto in Edward’s favour and was enriched with English honours, seized the castle of Hawarden and massacred all who were in it. The revolt was put down ; the land was speedily conquered ; Llywelyn died in war his brother was put to death as a traitor. The part of Wales which had thus far kept its separate being as a vassal state was now forfeited to the overlord. Throughout a great part of the land English law was introduced. Shires, with their system of administration, were formed ;boroughs were founded; castles were built to keep down the malcontents. The principality was designed to form a separate apanage for a younger son of the English king ; but, as Edward the first English prince, succeeded to the crown by the death of his elder brother, the title of Prince of Wales has since commonly been borne by the eldest son of the English king. The Welsh revolted again, even in Edward’s own time ; but their revolt was only for a moment. Later revolts were of importance only when the malcontent contrived to connect themselves with English rebels or with foreign enemies of England. The general tendency of things was to closer union between the kingdom and the principality, down to the complete incorporation of Wales with England in the sixteenth century.

Fourteen years passed between the conquest of Wales and Edward’s first warfare with Scotland. In this interval much of the legislation of Edwards’s reign went on. He visited Gascony, and confirmed his power there ; and in 1290 he freed England from the presence of the Jews. The next year began those negotiations with Scotland which momentary conquest of Scotland, and to its fall final independence.

Rightly to understand this great controversy, we must look back to the older relations in which the various possessions of the Scottish crown stood to the crown of England. These were threefold. Between Scotland proper and England the relation was that degree of dependence, whatever it might be deemed to be, which arose, out of the old commendation to Edward the Elder. The special burthens imposed by Henry II. had been withdrawn by Richard. Over Scotland proper the utmost claim that could be made was that of a mere external supremacy, a supremacy older than the feudal law and undoubtedly carrying with it none of the recently devised feudal incidents. Scottish Cumberland, on the other hand, was a territorial fief in the strictest sense, though again a fief older than the later feudal jurisprudence. Lothian or northern Northumberland was in strictness an earldom within the English kingdom, just as Northumberland in the latest sense was when that earldom too came for a while into the hands of the Scottish kings. Here then, in strictness, were three district relations for three different parts of the Scottish dominions. But it had never been the interest of either side to define the claims very strictly. As long as the two kingdoms were at peace, as they had been through a large part of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the English king had been satisfied to receive the homage of the Scottish kings, without defining very strictly for what territories or on what terms it was rendered. In any case, English interference in the internal affairs of any part of those dominions was unknown. The distinction between the different tenures of Scotland, Strathclyde or Cumberland, and Lothian, passed out of sight. It was remembered on the English side that some king of homage was due from all. It was remembered on the Scottish side that the kingdom of Scotland at least was no territorial fief of the crown of England. But while the relations of the two kingdoms were in this uncertain state, the whole feudal jurisprudence had grown up, and neither side could any longer look on the matter in its strict historical bearing. The different tenures of different part of the Scottish dominions were forgotten on both sides, and the question finally took the shape, Are the Scottish dominions, as a whole, a fief of the English crown or not? It was hardly possible that the question should take any other form; yet such a form altogether confused ancient rights and distinctions. In claiming the ordinary superiority of a feudal lord over the whole Scottish dominions, Edward claimed more than his historic right over the kingdom of Scotland. He claimed less than his historic right over the earldom of Lothian. But the confusion was natural and unavoidable. It was only according to the ordinary workings of human nature, that the full feudal claims should be asserted on the one side, and that, on the other side, the only question should seem to be between accepting or denying them in their fulness. But it is eminently characteristic of Edward’s mind that, while his evident policy was to seize every opportunity for bringing the whole of Britain into a more perfect union, he should take care to be guided throughout by the rules of at least a formal justice.

His first attempt to unite the kingdoms was by the obvious means of a marriage between his son Edward and the Scottish queen Margaret. This scheme was put an end to by the young queen’s death. Then came the disputed succession, a dispute which Edward was in 1291 called on to decide. Such an opportunity was not to be lost ; Edward demanded to be first of all formally recognized as superior lord of the crown which he was called on to dispose of. He was so recognized ; the claims of the competitors were fairly heard before a mixed commission; and the judgment given was strictly according to the laws of hereditary succession, as they were now beginning to be understood. The question between John Balliol and Robert Bruce was a question between primogeniture and nearness of kin. That question was in truth settled by the decision in favour of Balliol. The crown of Scotland was assigned to the candidate to whom it would have passed by the later law either of England or of Scotland. The decision in truth created that later law. The new king John at once entered into a relation of homage which involved a more complete dependence on England than any Scottish king had ever before acknowledged. But, though it was to Edward’s manifest interest to have three weaker vassals rather than a single powerful one, he at once rejected the demand of Bruce and Hastings that the kingdom should be divided. It must be remembered that all three competitors, Bruce no less than Balliol and Hastings, though they held Scottish estates and came by female descent of the Scottish royal family, were essentially English barons, who felt no kind of degradation in a renewed homage to their own king. But it is plain that they did not carry with them the general feeling of what we must now begin to call the Scottish people. The older names of things are now strangely reversed. The English of northern Northumberland so long under Scottish rule, had adopted the Scottish name, and had learned to fell a national patriotism, distinct from, and even hostile to, southern England. They were the Scots from whom the English kings had to endure so stubborn a national resistance. The true Celtic Scots, the men of the highlands and islands, had in truth but little to do with the matter. Whenever they had any share in the dislike to the king of Scots, the nearer enemy, commonly drove them to the English side.

In 1292 John of Balliol received the Scottish crown as vassal of England. A claim which we may be sure was without precedent, but which was strictly according to the rules of the feudal jurisprudence which had grown up, was before long brought to bear upon him. From the courts of the vassals there was, according to that jurisprudence, an appeal to the courts of the lord. Scottish subjects, dissatisfied with the justice which they got in the courts of King John, appealed to the courts of King Edward. Just as in the case of the arbitration, an opportunity was thrown in Edward’s way, of which it was not in human nature to refuse to take advantage. John, having acknowledged himself a vassal, refused to do what was now held to be a vassal’s duty. He was presently found to be negotiating against his lord with that lord’s foreign enemies. That was followed was not woderful ; that, when John renounced his allegiance, he was held to have forfeited his leaf was according to received feudal notions. The fief was forfeited ; the kingdom was conquered ; the separate kingdom of Scotland was abolished ; it was incorporated with England, and was meant to have some share of representation in that parliament of England to which Edward had just given its perfect form. In 1304 the whole island Britain, so far as its most northern parts could be said to be under the obedience of any one, was under the obedience of the English king.

In all this Edward simply acted as any man would act in his view of the case. He carried out the law as he under stood it. There is far nothing to wonder at, nothing to blame. One the other hand, that the mass of the Scottish people—defined as above—should resist his claims was as little to be wondered at, as little to be blamed. Each side acted according to the ordinary working of human nature in their several positions. The real greatness of William Wallace is shown in the fact that he was essentially a popular leader, one who kept up the heart of a nation whose natural chiefs had forsaken it. On the other hand even setting aside the charges of special cruelties, William Wallace could not fail to seem, in the eyes of Edward and of every Englishman, a rebel who had despised the offers of mercy which accepted by every one else. That an English court condemned him as a traitor was in no way wonderful, in no way blameworthy; that Scottish patriotism revered him as a martyr was a little wonderful, as little blameworthy.

This first war of Edward with Scotland thus began with the taking of Berwick in 1296, and ended with the taking of Stirling in 1304. Meanwhile Edward was engaged in disputes and warfare with France, which began at nearly the same time as the Scottish war. The points in controversy between France and England supply a striking and instructive parallel to the points in controversy between England and Scotland.

As the king of Scots was the man of the king of England, so was the duke of Aquitaine the man of the king of the French. In both cases the vassalage was older than the new feudal jurisprudence. But the doctrines of that jurisprudence now began to be pressed against Edward himself. A quarrel arose between Gascons, subjects of Edward, and Normans, now subjects of Philip of France. The quarrel grew into a war which was waged by the subjects of the tow kings without any commission from their respective sovereigns. Edward, summoned to appear in the court of his lord to answer for the doings of his subjects, did not deny his obligation, though he appeared only by deputy. Presently his duchy was declared forfeited, by a process which in England at least was deemed unjust; and it was in the end recovered only by a negotiation and arbitration and a double marriage. In this war, as in earlier French wars, England had the alliance of Germany and of Flanders. And, as the same years saw the beginnings of the long alliance between Scotland and France, we may say that we have come to the beginning of European arrangements which lasted till very modern times.

The second Scottish war, the war of Bruce, was quite distinct from the first, the war of Wallace. The interval which divides them is short; but the change of circumstances was enough altogether to change the conduct of Edward. As long as the war took the form of resistance to the establishment of his authority, his general clemency was remarkable. Severity began only when the war took the form of revolt against established authority. The conquest of Scotland had been completed in 1304. Robert Bruce, the grandson of the original competitor, having lost all hope of Edward’s favour by the murder of his rival John Comyn, revolted and assumed the Scottish crown in 1306. In the next year, 1307, the cause of Bruce again altogether hopeless, when things were changed by the death of Edward on his march to Scotland. With the single exception of the execution of Wallace, the whole of Edward’s acts of severity in Scotland come within a single twelve-months, from July 1306 to July 1307. After the death of the great king and the accession of Edward II., the war naturally lingered; it was interrupted by truces; and a series of successes on the part of Robert Bruce were crowned in 1314 by the overwhelming defeat of the English at Bannockburn. Then comes, from 1315 to 1318, the attempt to establish Edward Bruce as king of Ireland. For ten years follows a time of truces and of occasional invasions on both sides, till, after Edward had been deposed in 1327, a peace between Scotland and England was concluded in the next year, by which the independence of Scotland was fully acknowledged. The old claims, of whatever kind or over whatever territory, must be looked on as being from this time definitely given. Scotland, in the sense which the word then bore, a sense which, with the exception of the fluctuating possession of Berwick, is the same which it bears still,1 must be looked on from henceforth as a kingdom absolutely independent of England. To carry on the analogy already drawn between the relations of Scotland to England and those of Aquitaine to France, the treaty of Northampton in 1328 answers to the treaty of Bretigny thirty-two years later.

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