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Reign of Edward I. Part 1

Continuation of the Reign of Edward I. - Affairs of Scotland - Election of Baliol - Hostilities between the French and English - Edward's Policy towards Scotland - War between Prance and England - Baliol deprived of the Functions of Government - War declared by the Scottish Parliament - The Massacre of Berwick - Campaign of Edward in Scotland - William "Wallace - The Battle of Stirling.
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The immediate result of the conference at Norham was the appointment of a number of commissioners, whose nominal duty it was to deliberate upon the question of the succession, and to examine the claims of the several competitors, On the 11th of June Edward was formally placed in possession of the Scottish kingdom, the regents relinquishing their authority in his favour, and the governors of the castles surrendering their trusts into his hands, with the reservation that within two months after the determination of the succession they should be restored to the sovereign who might be chosen.

Among the Scottish nobles there appears to have been but one who, during this period of national apathy, acted with, spirit and patriotism. While his compeers bent tamely before the foreign yoke, the Earl of Angus, Gilbert of Umfraville, custodian of the castles of Dundee and Forfar, refused to deliver those fortresses without an undertaking from Edward and the whole of the competitors to indemnify him for the act. The king considered it politic to comply with these conditions, the only instance in which he had met with opposition to his will. Robert Bruce, Baliol, and many of the Scottish chiefs, took the oath of homage to Edward on the loth of June, and immediately afterwards the peace of the King of England, as lord paramount of Scotland, was proclaimed throughout the country.

The commissioners chosen at Norham proceeded to Berwick, and there, on the 3rd of August, met in council in the king's presence. The number of candidates, increased by Edward's secret intrigues, now reached to twelve, and one more was afterwards added, in the person of King Eric of Norway. The enlarged list of claimants rendered the choice still more uncertain; "but, before the time came for the decision, the right of the descendants of the Earl of Huntingdon was clearly shown, and the rest of the competitors withdrew from the contest. A year elapsed before the cause was finally decided, On the loth of October, A.D. 1292, a Parliament held at Berwick declared in favour of the elder branch of the earl's family. The commissioners, who had failed to come to an agreement on this point, had previously resigned their functions. Another meeting was held in November, at which Edward declared his intention more plainly; and at length, on the 17th of that month, the king gave his award, at Berwick Castle, in favour of John de Baliol, On doing so, he declared, as he had previously done at Norham, that the election of a king for Scotland should not in any way affect Edward's property in that country; thus reserving to himself still a territorial right in that kingdom. The seal of the Scottish regents was broken into four pieces, and placed in the treasury of Edward, in token of the pretended subjection of Scotland. Oh the 30th of November Baliol was crowned at Scone, and on the 26th of December he appeared before Edward at Newcastle, and took the oath of homage to him. It will be necessary here to suspend our narrative of Scottish affairs, for the purpose of following the course of events in England.

The persecutions of the Jews, which had taken place at the beginning of the reign of Edward, had little power to check the increase or destroy the prosperity of that extraordinary people. Having no country; living among strangers and enemies; deprived of all political standing - of all legitimate objects of ambition, even of reasonable security, for his life - the Jew devoted those intellectual qualities, in which he was seldom deficient, to the pursuit of the one agent of power within his reach. "Wealth alone could raise him from a condition of utter misery and contempt, give him a certain standing and importance among his fellow-men, and offer employment for his energies. If the favour of the law was to be bought, the wealthy Jew might hope to buy it, while for the poor there was no mercy. If he was derided and persecuted by the haughty sons of a happier race, he returned scorn for scorn, and revenged himself where he could by trading upon their necessities. If he became grovelling and avaricious, absorbed in a mean and unworthy passion, perhaps the fault should be ascribed less to him than to those whose unconquerable prejudices isolated him in the midst of his kind, and condemned him to the fate of Ishmael.

Thirteen years had passed since 300 men and women of the despised race had been hanged in the streets of London, when Edward found himself again in want of money; and this time he put in force a measure even more arbitrary, and more in defiance of all law and justice, than before. He ordered that every Jew in England, young or old, male or female, should be seized on an appointed day, and cast into the dungeons of his castles. Here they were confined until they had paid collectively a sum of 12,000 to the royal treasury. Not long afterwards further measures were taken against them, and this time, as it appeared, rather from a spirit of fanatical cruelty than for the sake of gain. In the year 1290 the king issued a proclamation, commanding all the Jews to quit the country within two month, under the penalty of death. In spite of the cruelties they had suffered, their numbers had rather increased than diminished, and more than 16,000 persons were thus banished from the kingdom. They were permitted to carry with them only so much money as would pay the cost of their voyage, the rest of their goods and property being seized in the king's name. There is no doubt that large sums of money were thus obtained by the crown, and it may at first appear that such was the object of the king in directing this wholesale banishment. If so, it was certainly a shortsighted policy, inasmuch as the supplies which repeated exactions had continued to force from the Jews would now be permanently cut off.

The mariners of the king's fleet proved ready agents of his tyrannous commands, and perceiving how little apparent prospect the Jews could have of redress for any injuries inflicted on them, the sailors in many cases stole the little money which the proscribed people possessed, and even drowned a number of them during the passage. The murderers, however, did not entirely escape punishment, for the king was by no means desirous that the royal example of plundering and slaying should be followed by his subjects. Some of the sailors were arraigned, and suffered death as the punishment of their misdeeds.

It is remarkable that, at the very time of these shameful proceedings against the Jews, the king was engaged in enacting various admirable laws for the protection of his Christian subjects, and the reforms thus instituted were immediately put in force. Perversion of justice again prevailed throughout the kingdom, insomuch that a few years later, when all the judges were indicted for bribery, only two of the whole number were pronounced innocent. We may reasonably hope, however, that the corruption in the administration of the law was not so general as would appear from these facts. The judges were compelled to pay heavy fines as the result of their condemnation, and when such was the case, and the king in want of money, it might probably have been difficult for any of the accused to prove their innocence. Other measures taken by the king for increasing his revenues proved less successful. Proceedings were instituted for the recovery of portions of the royal domains, of which some of the barons had become possessed, and these nobles were required to show the titles by which they held their lands; but the demand excited such a determined resistance and such strong feelings of indignation, that the king was compelled to desist. It is related that when the royal commissioners presented themselves to Earl Warenne, and required to see the titles of his estates, the earl unsheathed his sword, and stretched it out before them. "This," said he, "is the instrument by which I hold my lands, and by it I mean to defend them! Our ancestors, who came to this realm with William the Bastard, obtained their possessions by their good swords. The conquest was not made by him alone, nor for himself solely; our fathers bore their part, and were participants with him." Such language was not to be mistaken, and Edward found it prudent to leave the great barons alone, confining himself to the seizure of a few estates from men whose weakness or whose known character offered less likelihood of resistance.

The recent successes of the English king necessarily excited attention and considerable alarm on the Continent. For a long time past the power of England had been increasing year by year, and the conquest of Wales and Scotland, which seemed to involve the union of the whole island under one ruler, made that power still further to be dreaded. Everything might be feared from a man of the character of Edward - ambitious, daring, and unscrupulous, and with the whole force of Britain at his command.

The animosity between the French and English kings seldom slept long, and on former occasions, when the Welsh or the Scots had been in arms against the King of England, they had received secretly either aid or encouragement from France. Now, however, Philip, surnamed Le Bel, the reigning monarch of that country, adopted a different policy; and, without attempting to revive the fainting patriotism of the Scottish nobles, he determined to avail himself of the moment when Edward was engaged in the north to attack the English territories on the Continent. Edward, however, was not unprepared for these hostile demonstrations; and, while directing his arms in other quarters, he had not neglected, by all those arts familiar to the state policy of the time, to protect himself against the probable designs of the French monarch. The Count of Savoy, one of the most powerful vassals of France, had been won to the side of Edward by gifts and promises, and similar means had secured the good-will of the Emperor of Germany. Edward also allied himself with the Count of Bar by giving him his daughter Margaret in marriage. Other measures are said to have been employed by him; and the disaffection of a number of the subjects of Philip is referred by French writers to the influence of the King of England.

Such was the position of affairs when a matter, apparently of the least possible importance, led to an outbreak of hostilities between the two countries. Some English and Norman sailors met together at a watering-place near to Bayonne, and a quarrel took place as to which party should fill their casks first. One of the English sailors struck a Norman with his fist; the Norman drew a knife, and attempted to stab his assailant, who immediately closed with him, and in the scuffle the Norman was killed. The Englishman was carried out of danger by his shipmates; and when the Normans demanded satisfaction for the injury, the authorities of Bayonne, which city was in possession of the English, are said to have refused the request. The Normans, baffled in their vengeance, put to sea; and having met with a small vessel belonging to the English, they took possession of it. There was on board a merchant of Bayonne, whom they hung up to the yard-arm with a dog tied to his feet.

Such a proceeding was necessarily followed by retaliation on the part of the English, and the Normans were made to pay dearly for the savage act they had committed. The mariners of the cinque ports attacked them continually in the Channel, and every Norman who fell into their hands was butchered. Before long the sailors of other nations began to take part in this irregular warfare, the French and the Genoese taking the side of the Normans, and the mariners of Ireland and Holland ranking themselves on the side of the English. Many bloody encounters took place between the opposite parties, without any interference from their governments, the latter remaining passive spectators of these proceedings. The Normans having collected a fleet of about 200 vessels, of different sizes, made a descent upon the coast of Gascony, hung a number of sailors whom they took prisoners, and carried off large quantities of stores, with which they returned to St. Malo, in Brittany. No sooner were they safely at anchor than an English fleet appeared at the mouth of the harbour. The sailors of the cinque ports, with only about eighty ships, had set out to meet the enemy. The Normans accepted the challenge to decide the matter by a pitched battle, which was fought, by mutual agreement, at a spot on the coast. The result of the battle was decisive in favour of the English, who took the Norman ships and massacred all on board, no quarter being given in any case. The two nations might thus be said to be at war for some time before their rulers took any part in the matter. The result of this battle was to excite to the utmost the vindictive feelings of the French and their desire for vengeance. Philip, who was himself enraged at the result of the engagement, perceived that the time was come when the people would hail with delight the declaration of war with England, and when such a war might be undertaken with the best chance of success.

Philip assumed the right to punish the English king, who, as Duke of Aquitaine, might be said to be a vassal of the French crown. Officers sent by Philip attempted to seize some of the English lands, but they were driven back by the troops in possession. He then summoned the "Duke of Aquitaine" to appear before his suzerain after the feast of Christmas. Edward considered it prudent not wholly to disregard this summons, and he sent his brother Edmund to arrange terms with Philip. On this occasion it would appear that Edward, influenced by the ties of blood, made choice of a bad instrument. The negotiation terminated by an agreement on the part of Edmund to surrender Gascony to the French king for a period of forty days as a satisfaction for his wounded honour, receiving the promise, of Philip that it should be faithfully given up at the expiration of that time.

The French king now declared himself satisfied; but when the forty days were over, and Edward demanded restitution of Gascony, he received the refusal which was to be anticipated. Philip now assumed a bolder front, declared that Edward had not fulfilled the duties of a vassal, and summoned him once more, as Duke of Aquitaine, to appear before his peers. The summons being disregarded, he declared him contumacious, and condemned him to the loss of all his estates in France. This declaration was immediately followed by active measures, while Edward, on his part, prepared for war with all his customary energy. He formally renounced his vassalage to the French crown, and assembled a powerful fleet at Portsmouth. For several weeks the winds were contrary, and during that time the impatient monarch was compelled to remain in a condition of inactivity.

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