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Accession of Edward I


Accession of Edward I., surnamed Longshanks - Adventures of Edward in the Holy Land - His return to Guienne - His Landing in England, and Coronation - Persecution of the Jews - Conquest of Wales.
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Immediately after the funeral of Henry III., the barons proclaimed his son Edward, then absent on the crusade, to be king. Walter Merton was nominated chancellor of the kingdom, and the Earl of Gloucester, the Earl of Cornwall, a son of the King of the Romans, and Walter Gifford, Archbishop of York, were appointed regents. So wise were the measures taken, and so general was the assent of all parties, that no disturbance of the public peace took place, as had hitherto frequently happened on the death of a king. Prince Edward was accepted by the people as their ruler, and his accession was attended with less difficulty or opposition than that of any of his predecessors.

When Louis IX. departed on his second expedition to the Holy Land, he turned aside to attack the Bey of Tunis, and, instead of proceeding direct to Syria, he landed on the shores of Africa. This deviation from his original course was probably due to the representations of his brother, Charles of Anjou, who, in the battle of Grandella (a.d. 1266), had won from Manfred the crown of Italy. There was some pretence of a claim to tribute possessed by the kings of Sicily against Tunis, but it is probable that the real object of the expedition lay in the hope of plundering that immense wealth which was supposed to be treasured up in the African cities.

The forces of Louis soon made themselves masters of the town of Carthage, but they had landed during the summer, and the excessive heat of that unaccustomed climate, added to the want of good water and provision, produced severe sickness among the crusaders. The character of Louis IX. is one with few parallels in any age. Perversions of the religious sentiment were common at the time in which he lived: he was not free from their influence, and his piety was mingled with superstition and austerity. But, in times of difficulty and danger, when the hypocrite falls away, and the true is distinguished from the false, his fine humanity and nobility of soul shone out in a manner which demands from posterity its highest meed of honour. While his soldiers were dying by hundreds around him, he was in the midst of them, giving up every comfort, and running every risk for the sake of giving them comfort. At length he was himself smitten with the disease, and feeling his death approaching, he lay down calmly to await the inevitable event. In his last moments we are informed that he thought only of the sufferings of his family} and of the best form of words which might tend to console them. "My friends," he said, "grieve not for me: I have finished my course. It is right that I, as your chief, should lead the way. One day you must all follow me; keep yourselves ready for the journey." Such were the last words of this remarkable man, known in French history by the name of Saint Louis.

When Edward received information of the course taken by his ally, he also proceeded to Tunis; but on his arrival there, he found that Louis was dead, and that less than one half of his army were remaining. The progress of the disease, however, had been stayed, and the remaining portion of the French army, deprived of the guidance of their leader, had made terms with the Bey of Tunis, and appeared rather disposed to stay where they were than to tempt further perils in the Holy Land. The English soldiers appear to have been in some degree infected with the same pusillanimous spirit. They re-crossed the Mediterranean to Sicily, and passed the winter at Trapani. Edward had restored unanimity to his troops by the declaration, which he made with all the solemnity of an oath, that if every man of them should desert him, he would go on to Acre attended by his groom.

On breaking up his winter quarters, Edward found that his effective force did not exceed 1,000 men. With these he set sail from Sicily early in the spring, and proceeded to Acre, one of the few conquests of the crusaders in the East which stiii remained to them. Small as the force was with which Edward landed, his arrival produced consternation among the Moslems, and proportionate joy among the Christians. The fame of Richard Coeur-de-Lion was still fresh in their minds, and Edward, already distinguished in the field of war, might be expected to emulate the deeds of that renowned king.

At the time of Edward's arrival, Acre was threatened by the Sultan of Babylon, who had assembled an army without its walls, and had made preparations for an assault. When the ships of the English prince appeared in the distance, the sultan at once retreated into the desert, and passed into Egypt. Edward led his army into the interior, and carried the city of Nazareth by storm. Nearly two hundred years had passed since the banner of the cross first waved over Jerusalem, and its streets ran down with blood shed by Christian hands. In those two hundred years the world had made some progress in humanity. The advance of the arts of life, and the spread of commerce, had done something to enhance the value of human life, and to promote that intellectual activity which is ever opposed to bloodshed. But over the spirit of fanaticism these things had no influence - the most cruel spirit that has oppressed mankind in the guise of an angel of light. The crusaders still believed that the blood of the Moslem was an acceptable sacrifice to Heaven; they still believed that the Saracens ought to be excluded from that mercy which every Christian might ask from his fellow, and that in deeds of wholesale murder they were doing God service. The Moslems at Nazareth were butchered as at Jerusalem; and the knightly Edward led and directed the slaughter.

Soon after the massacre, the prince, with many of his soldiers, was attacked by sickness, and was compelled to return to Acre. Here the army of the Cross remained for period of fifteen months, which seem to have been passed in inactivity. Some few skirmishes took place with the Saracens, during which the crusaders maintained their old reputation for valour, and some few incursions were made upon the surrounding country, which, in one instance, resulted in the plunder of a caravan, and in another in the capture of two castles; but these were the only advantages gained by the Christian troops during that period. This was not the result of indolence on the part of Edward, or of any lack of will for more important operations, but it appears that the force at his command was insufficient for such purposes. The number of his troops did not exceed 7,000 men, who were composed of all the nations of Europe, were imperfectly disciplined, and after a time showed themselves disaffected towards his authority. Such proved to be the case when they found that Edward had brought little money with him, and that he received no reinforcements.

On the other hand, the town of Acre had been so strongly fortified, in some degree by Edward himself, that the Moslem leaders were deterred from attacking it. The presence of the English prince, however, caused them great annoyance; and since open measures were out of the question, they determined to get rid of him by assassination. An elaborate scheme was contrived for that purpose. The Emir of Jaffa sent letters to the prince, with presents, expressing his desire of becoming a Christian. Edward returned a courteous reply, and on this pretence a lengthened correspondence took place between them. The messengers of the emir, frequently visiting the prince, were at length permitted to come and go without question or examination. One evening, when Edward was lying in his tent, unarmed and alone, the servant of the emir appeared at the door and made his usual obeisance. Edward bade him enter, and as he did so and knelt to present a letter, he suddenly drew a dagger with the other hand, and made a blow at the prince's heart. Edward, whose personal strength was little inferior to that of Coeur-de-Lion, caught his hand and turned the dagger aside, receiving a slight wound in the arm. He then threw the murderer to the ground and slew him with his own weapon.

The appearance of the prince's wound soon showed that the dagger had been poisoned, and Edward therefore made his will, and believed that his last hour was approaching. But there was an English surgeon at Acre whose skill appears to have been greater than was usual in his day, and who cut away the envenomed parts of the wound. The order of the Templars also were noted for their knowledge of medicine, and the Grand Master of the order sent his choicest drugs to assist the cure. These means, or a natural strength of constitution, subdued the effects of the poison, and the prince recovered. His wife Eleanor, who was famed for her virtues, and who was tenderly attached to him, may probably have given her best attentions to promote his recovery, but the account of her having sucked the poison from the wound must be rejected as void of truth. The story, like others which have been received as forming part of English history, is little else than a poet's fiction, and when referred to the chronicles of the time to which it refers, falls to the ground for want of evidence.

The sultan, who had other enemies to engage his attention, now adopted more legitimate means of getting rid of the troublesome invaders. He sent messengers to Edward with offers of peace, and a truce was ultimately concluded for ten years. Edward had received from his father urgent entreaties to return, and he was probably triad of an opportunity of putting an end to an irksome period of inactivity. At the close of the year 1272, he set sail from Acre for Sicily. On his arrival at Trapani, he was met by an invitation from Gregory X., the reigning Pope, to visit him at Rome. The Pontiff, who was newly elected, Lad, as Archbishop of Liege, accompanied Edward to Pales tine, and a firm friendship had arisen between them. The prince therefore accepted the invitation, and having crossed the Straits of Messina, he proceeded by land through the south of Italy.

On passing through Calabria, he was met by messengers K-ho informed him of the death of his father. The news appears to have affected him very deeply. Charles of Anjou, who was then with him, and who was a man of a remarkably unfeeling and ferocious character, expressed his surprise at such a demonstration of grief. Referring to an infant son of Edward and Eleanor, who had lately died, he told the prince that he appeared to mourn more for the death of his old father than for his own dill Edward replied, "The loss of my child is one that I may hope to repair, but the death of a father is an irreparable loss."

When Edward arrived at Rome (February, a.d. 1273), the Pope was absent at Civita Vecchia, and thither the prince followed him. Edward met with a warm and hospitable reception from the Pontiff, and while in his present he demanded vengeance upon the murderers of Henry d'Almaine. But the demand came too late. Simon de Montfort was already dead, his brother Guy had disappeared, and his place of refuge was not known, while the Count Aldobrandini was too powerful a noble to be proceeded against, otherwise than by a nominal examination, which produced no result. It was clear that the count was guilty, not of the murder, but only of giving shelter to the assassins, one of whom was his son-in-law; and under these circumstances, the English king was compelled to restrain his desire for vengeance.

Quitting Civita Vecchia, Edward continued his journey through northern Italy. Everywhere the ardent children of the South received him with welcome and honour. The enthusiasm for the crusades, soon to be altogether extinguished, showed itself as strongly now as in the days of Robert or of Richard, and the people hailed the young English king with the title of Champion of the Cross Their sympathies were excited less by his deeds of personal prowess in the East - which, limited as they were, were exaggerated by the imaginative colouring of the minstrels - than by the wound he had received in the holy cause. They remembered, too, that amidst the general apathy of Europe he was the only prince who yet remained to bear aloft the banner of the cross.

Edward crossed the Alps, and took his way through France to Paris, having received by the way various messengers, who made him acquainted with the state of affairs in England. At Paris he was honourably entertained by the French king, Philip le Hardi, to whom he rendered homage for those territories of which Philip was feudal suzerain. It is matter for surprise that after so long an absence, and when a throne was waiting his acceptance. Edward should show no desire to return to England. It is at least evident that he must have felt full confidence w the security of his succession or in his own power of suppressing rebellion. Instead of proceeding from Paris to his own country, he took the way to Guienne, where he remained for several months. The real motives for this step are by no means clear, but it is probable that Edward had cause to suspect the existence of certain plots against his life. The Pope had warned Mm to beware of the swards of assassins, and he had reason to dread the ambition of Philip, whose character was very different from that of his father, and who was believed to entertain designs for obtaining possession of all the continental provinces held by the English.

The suspicions of Edward appear to have been confirmed by an incident which took place in May, a.d. 1274, when lie was still in Guienne. According to the usages of chivalry, it was permitted for one knight to challenge another to a trial of skill in the tournament; and such a challenge would scarcely be refused by any man, whatever his degree, who had a regard for his knightly fame. The Count of Chalons, a distinguished soldier, sent a message of this kind to Edward, desiring to break a lance with him in the tournament. The warlike king had no desire to evade the challenge; and, waiving his high rank, he consented to meet the count upon even terms. On the day appointed, Edward rode to the spot, attended by an escort of a thousand men; but when he arrived there he saw to his surprise that his adversary was accompanied by nearly two thousand. The king had already heard rumours of some treachery said to be intended by the count, but, with the temper of a brave man, he had despised them. The warlike array before him now recalled these rumours to his memory, in a manner not to be disregarded. The intended tournament was converted into a sanguinary engagement, in which all the men of both sides took part, and Edward himself performed some gallant feats of arms.

The English, seeing the advantage of numbers so greatly on the side of the enemy, laid aside all the laws of chivalry, and determined to win the day as best they might. The cross-bowmen, whose skill was already noted throughout Europe, obtained an immediate advantage against the French foot-soldiers, and drove them from the field. They then joined in the unequal conflict of the cavalry, and stabbed the horses of many of the French knights, or cut their saddle-girths, and so brought them to the ground. The Count of Chalons, furious at the resistance he met with, forced his way to the king, and, after having in vain attempted to unhorse him with his lance, closed with him, and grasping him round the neck, endeavoured to drag him down. The count was celebrated for his great strength, but the king was no less remarkable for that quality, and he remained firmly in his saddle; while, forcing his horse suddenly to one side, the count was pulled from his saddle, and fell heavily to the ground. He was speedily remounted by some of his own party, but he was so severely wounded or bruised that he called for quarter. Enraged at his treachery, Edward dealt him several heavy blows by way of reply, and then, indeed, gave him his life, but compelled him to surrender his sword, and accept the boon from the hands of a common soldier - an act by which, according to the laws of chivalry, the count was disgraced for ever. In spite of the disparity of numbers, the result of this engagement was decidedly in favour of the English. They took many of the French knights prisoners, and great numbers of the foot-soldiers were butchered. So fierce was the affray, and so large a number of those engaged were slain, that it was afterwards known by the name of the "little battle of Chalons."

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