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Reign of Henry III. Part 3

Continuation of the Reign of Henry III. - Interposition of the King of France - The Battle of Lewes - Popularity of Leicester - Escape of Prince Edward - The Battle of Evesham - Defeat and Death of Leicester - Restoration of Tranquillity - Departure of Edward to the Holy Land-Death of Henry III.
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The violence and fury of Leicester's faction had risen to such a height in all parts of England, that the king, unable to resist their power, was obliged to set on foot a treaty of peace, and to make an accommodation with the barons on the most disadvantageous terms. He agreed to confirm anew the provisions of Oxford, even those which entirely annihilated the royal authority; and the barons were again reinstated in the sovereignty of the kingdom. They restored Hugh le Despenser to the office of chief justiciary; they appointed their own creatures sheriffs in every county of England; they took possession of all the royal castles and fortresses; they even named all the officers of the king's household; and they summoned a parliament to meet at Westminster, in order to settle more fully their plan of government. They here produced a new list of twenty-four barons, to whom they proposed that the administration should be entirely committed; and they insisted that the authority of this junta should continue, not only during the reign of the king, but also during that of Prince Edward.

This prince, the life and soul of the royal party, had, unhappily, before the king's accommodation with the barons, been taken prisoner by Leicester in a parley at Windsor; and that misfortune, more than any other incident, had determined Henry to submit to the ignominious conditions imposed upon him. But Edward having recovered his liberty by the treaty, employed his activity in defending the prerogatives of his family; and he gained a great party even among those who had first adhered to the cause of the barons. His cousin, Henry d'Almaine, Roger Bigod, earl marshal, Earl Warenne, Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford, John Basset, Ralph Basset, Hammond l’Estrange, Roger Mortimer, Henry de Piercy, Robert Bruce, Roger de Leybourne, with almost all the lords marchers, as they were called, on the borders of Wales and Scotland, the most warlike parts of the kingdom, declared in favour of the royal cause; and hostilities, which had scarcely been suppressed, were again renewed in every part of England. But the near balance of the parties, joined to the universal clamour of the people. obliged the king and barons to open anew the negotiations for peace; and it was agreed by both sides to submit their differences to the arbitration of the King of France.

This virtuous prince, the only man who, in like circumstances, could safely have been entrusted with such an authority by a neighbouring nation, had never ceased to interpose his good offices between the English factions; and had even, during the short interval of peace, invited over to Paris both the king and the Earl of Leicester, in order to accommodate the differences between them, but found that the fears and animosities on both sides, as well a-the ambition of Leicester, were so violent as to render a! his endeavours ineffectual, But when this solemn appeal, ratified by the oaths and subscriptions of the leaders in both factions, was made to his judgment, he was not discouraged from pursuing his honourable purpose: he summoned the states of France at Amiens; and there, in the presence of that assembly, as well as in that of the King of England and Peter de Montfort, Leicester's son, he brought this great cause to a trial and examination. It appeared to him that the provisions of Oxford, even had they not been extorted by force, had they not been so exorbitant in their nature, and subversive of the ancient constitution, were expressly established as a temporary expedient, and could not, without breach of trust, be rendered perpetual by the barons. He therefore annulled these provisions restored to the king the possession of his castles, and the power of nomination to the great offices; allowed him to retain what foreigners he pleased in the kingdom, and even to confer on them places of great trust and dignity; and, in a word, re-established the royal power on the same footing on which it stood before the meeting of the parliament at Oxford.

But while he suppressed dangerous innovations, and preserved unimpaired the prerogatives of the English crown, he was not negligent of the rights of the people. Besides ordering a general amnesty for all past offences, he declared that his award was not in any way intended to derogate from the liberties enjoyed by the nation, in virtue of any concessions or charters from the crown.

The award of Louis may have been abstractedly just, and was certainly in accordance with the principles of the English constitution; but it involved measures which, under present circumstances, it was by no means expedient should be carried into effect. The barons might, indeed, have pressed too heavily upon the royal prerogative, and seized on every side, with little scruple, the securities they considered necessary; but it was certain that if those securities were suddenly and completely relinquished, the national charters would become as wholly inoperative as they were before the parliament of Oxford. The word of the king had ceased to have any weight whatever; and the barons determined to resist the award of Louis, and once more to take up arms. Again the country was desolated by civil war, which was renewed with more than its former fury.

The northern counties and those of the west remained attached to the cause of the king; while the adherents of the barons lay in the midland and south-eastern counties, the cinque ports, and in the neighbourhood of London. The citizens of the capital especially were conspicuous for the firmness with which they supported the barons, and the powerful assistance which they rendered to the insurgent cause. At the opening of the campaign various successes attended the movements of the row troops. Elated by his good fortune, Henry marched to the south with the view of gaining the adhesion of the cinque ports. Meanwhile Leicester had remained in London; and thence, while watching the successful career of the king, had employed himself, with the calmness of a skilful general, in concentrating a body of forces. Having accomplished this object, he marched from the capital, determined to meet the king in the south, and compel him to a decisive battle. The army of Henry was greatly superior in numbers to the force marching against him, and therefore he resolved to await his enemies in the spot where he was already encamped - in a hollow or valley at Lewes, in Sussex. Leicester marched his troops to the downs about two miles from Lewes, where he encamped for the night.

The interval of repose was not suffered to pass unimproved. Leicester employed it in arousing in his favour all the superstitious feelings of his soldiery. In time of war or peace he had always been noted for his strict observance of religious forms; and he compared his own life and the cause in which he was engaged with the perjuries and treacheries of Henry, which he said had withdrawn from that king all favour of Heaven. He commanded that his army should wear a white cross, in token that they were engaged in a sacred war; and the Bishop of Chichester, one of his associates, gave a solemn absolution to the troops, promising honour to those who lived, and to those who fell the welcome of martyrs in heaven.

The evening hours were thus spent in exciting to the utmost the enthusiasm of the troops. On 'the morning of the 14th of May (a.d. 1264), the earl prepared for the attack, and, leaving a reserve behind him, he descended upon the royal forces. On the king's side were the barons whose names have been already mentioned, together with John Baliol and John Comyn from beyond the Scottish border. On the side of Leicester were the Earls Gloucester, Warrenne, and Derby, Robert de Roos, John Fitz-John, Godfrey de Lucy, John de Vescy, Nicholas Seagrave, Richard Grey, William Marmion, and many other powerful nobles.

As the two armies joined battle, the attack was commenced by Prince Edward, who on this day displayed evidence of that military talent and gallantry which was afterwards to become so conspicuous. The prince led a body of troops upon a force "of ^Londoners, who had armed themselves in the cause they supported. Unskilled in the art of war, and probably much inferior in their appointments, the citizens gave way before the heavy cavalry of Edward, which cut them to pieces. The prince remembered the insults they had offered to his mother, and in his eagerness for vengeance he pursued the flying Londoners, perfectly regardless of what might happen to the rest of the royal army. Leicester meanwhile took advantage of this impetuosity, and collecting his forces into a compact and dense mass, he led them against the main body of the king's troops, and completely defeated them. Henry himself was taken prisoner, with his brother the King of the Romans, Robert Bruce, and John Comyn.

When the prince returned from the pursuit on which he was engaged, he perceived the fatal error he had committed. The ground was covered with the bodies of his friends, and he learnt from a few breathless fugitives that his father with many of his chief nobles were in the hand: of Leicester, and were shut up in the priory of Lewes. Scarcely had he received this news, when he was attacked by a troop of cavalry, and was compelled to surrender. The Earl Warrenne, and with him the king's half-brothers, escaped from the field, and reached the Continent. It is stated that in this battle 5,000 Englishmen were slain by the hands of their countrymen.

On the following morning a treaty, called the "Mise of Lewes," was entered into between the defeated king and his barons. It was arranged that Prince Edward, with Henry, the son of the King of the Romans, should remain in the hands of Leicester as hostages for their fathers, and that another attempt should be made finally to arrange matters by arbitration. The earl, however, who now found himself possessed of almost unlimited power, refused to release the king and his brother, and kept them, as well as their sons, in imprisonment. In this course of action he was supported by the people and by a large majority of the ecclesiastics; and when the Pope issued sentence of excommunication against Leicester and his party, many of the clergy defied the papal authority, and still held up to the admiration of their hearers the man who had been places under the ban of Rome. They described him as the reformer of abuses, the protector of the oppressed, the avenger of the Church, and the father of the poor.

The popularity which Leicester at this time enjoyed was unexampled: and here we see again the not unfrequent spectacle of a man, strong in the affections of the people, Becoming much more a king than he who wears the crown. The earl exercised his authority upon all those barons who still adhered to the royal cause, and compelled them to quit -heir strongholds, to give up their possessions, and submit to a trial by their peers. In the judgments passed upon these men we see the rapid advance which had lately taken place in civilisation. There were no sentences to death, or abominable torture, or chains; and in most cases the punishment inflicted consisted of a short exile to Ireland. The king's name was still employed in all acts of government, and his captivity was rendered as light as was consistent with the safe custody of his person. Every indulgence, together with all outward demonstrations of respect, was accorded to him, and a similar mildness was evinced towards the other royal prisoners.

Immediately before the battle of Lewes, the queen had escaped to the Continent, where she received offers of assistance from different foreign princes. To them the proceedings of the barons appeared only as a rebellion against the king; and they were interested in repressing such attempts against royal authority. With their assistance, the queen collected a large force of mercenaries, which was assembled at the port of Damme, in Flanders, in readiness to pass over into England. Leicester was not long in taking measures against this new danger. Secure in the good opinion of the people, he sent heralds throughout the country, summoning the men-at-arms from towns and castles, cities and boroughs, to meet him on Barham Downs. The call was generally responded to; and the earl having formed an encampment of his army on the downs, he took the command of a fleet which he had collected from the neighbouring ports. For some time he cruised about the Channel, waiting for the fleet from Damme to set sail, and intending to intercept it and prevent it from reaching the English shores. But the queen's supporters, who entertained a salutary fear of a sea-fight with the English, did not venture to leave their shelter; and eventually her troops were disbanded, and the enterprise was relinquished.

But the downfall of the earl was at hand. Gifted, as he undoubtedly was, with a most powerful intellect, he was not superior to the demoralising influences of his high position. Possessed already to its full extent of the substance of power, he further aimed at the enjoyment of its forms. He asserted in too marked a manner his superiority over the barons associated with him - a proceeding to which those haughty chiefs were little disposed to submit. Prince Edward, who had been placed with Ms father, and with him enjoyed considerable liberty of person, carefully observed this growing dissatisfaction, and fomented it by every means at his command. It is worthy of remark here that the Parliament assembled by Leicester to consider the case of Prince Edward, and by the decision of which he was placed with his father, was assembled early in 1265, and appears to have been the first Parliament at which representatives of the cities and boroughs were present.

The dissensions among the barons increased rapidly. The Earl of Gloucester declared himself the rival of De Montfort, and with the assistance of his brother, Thomas de Clare, who was an attendant of the prince, arranged a plan by which Edward might escape from confinement. The scheme succeeded; a swift horse was conveyed to the prince, on which he evaded pursuit, and reached Ludlow, where the Earl of Gloucester had fixed his head-quarters. The earl was not remarkable for prudence or good sense; but the temper of the nobles had shown itself in too marked a manner to be mistaken, and he perceived that they would require pledges for the fulfilment of the charters before they would render any support to the royal cause. He therefore caused the prince to take such pledges, and to undertake that he would govern according to law, and would expel the foreigners from the realm.

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