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Reign of Edward I. Part 1 page 4

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Edward landed in England in March, and again summoned the barons, with all the forces at their command, to meet him at York at the approaching feast of Pentecost. A still more numerous army than before was thus organised, and the king placed himself at its head, and marched triumphantly towards the north. Having reached Roxburgh, he proceeded thence along the coast, attended by a fleet which had been dispatched to furnish the army with supplies. During this part of his course he encountered no opposition, saw no enemy, and the few habitations which were to be found along the route had been deserted by their inhabitants.

The Scottish patriots were gathered together among the mountains, and the great and noble of the land once more ranged themselves beneath the standard of Wallace. Among them was Robert Bruce, who now finally declared himself on the side of freedom. With a cool judgment, which merited a more fortunate issue, Wallace for a time avoided coming into collision with the enemy, whose overwhelming numbers threatened to crush him in an open conflict. He hung upon the flank of the English army, unseen, but close at hand, ready to take advantage of any opportunity of inflicting damage upon it. The march of Edward was not unattended with difficulties. The scanty resources of the country were wholly insufficient to afford sustenance for his troops, and the store ships were detained and driven about by contrary winds. A quarrel also took place between the English and Welsh soldiers under his command; and the latter, to the number of 40,000, showed a disposition to desert, and go over to the Scots. This cruel and unprincipled king possessed at least the quality of a high-souled courage; and when the probable desertion of so large a portion of his army was reported to him, he is said to have treated the matter with disdain. "Let my enemies," he said, "go and join my enemies. One day I will chastise them all." Meanwhile the ships still failed to arrive, and the scarcity of provisions seemed likely to approach a famine. Edward was about to retreat to Edinburgh, when he learned that the Scottish army was encamped not far off in the wood of Falkirk. The news is said to have been brought to the king privately by two of the Scottish nobles, the Earls of Dunbar and Angus. He immediately determined to go forth to meet the insurgents, and on that night the royal army lay in the fields. Edward himself, sleeping beside his horse, received a kick from the animal, which broke two of his ribs. The news soon spread through the camp that the king had been killed, and a state of confusion ensued which threatened the complete demoralisation of the troops. Edward, however, restored discipline among them I y mounting his horse, and riding at their head, regardless of the pain he endured.

The English army began its march at dawn on the 22nd of July, A.D. 1298. Within a short time the enemy were observed to have taken up a position in a field which lay at the side of some rising ground in the neighbourhood of Falkirk. The force under the command of Wallace was greatly inferior to that opposed to him; but he had posted his troops with great judgment, and for a long time the Scottish infantry repelled the furious attacks directed against them. Not so the cavalry, of whom Wallace possessed no more than 1,000. These did not even attempt to resist the superior numbers of the enemy, but, without striking a blow, they turned and fled from the field. Cowardice is certainly not the characteristic of the race to which these men belonged, and therefore their fight can only be attributed to treason on the part of their leaders. Be the cause what it might, the loss of this division speedily decided the fate of the clay, and the heroic resistance of the infantry was rendered totally unavailing. The Scots at length gave way before the repeated charges of heavy cavalry, and the victory of the king was complete. Little or no quarter seems to have been asked or given, for we are told that 15,000 Scots were left dead upon the field.

Wallace effected his escape with a remnant of his army, and fell back on Stirling. The English followed fast on his steps; but when they arrived at that place he was gone, and the town was a heap of smouldering ruins. St. Andrews and Perth were afterwards also burnt to the ground; the first by the English, and the latter by the inhabitants themselves. As the king passed through the country, he laid waste the villages and the cultivated fields with fire and sword. But the land was poor, and not all the activity of the marauding forces could procure the necessaries of life for so large a body of men. Edward was compelled to retreat, and in the month of September he quitted Scotland, having regained possession only of the southern part of the country.

For several years after the signal defeat he sustained at Falkirk we hear no more of Wallace. He resigned the office of guardian of the kingdom, and, in an assembly of the barons, William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, John Comyn the younger, John de Soulis, and Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, were appointed guardians in his stead. The new appointments were made, like the old, in the name of Baliol, although that dethroned monarch was then a prisoner in London. It would appear that bitter feuds of long standing were buried in the arrangement by which Bruce and Comyn consented to act tog-ether in the name of the man who had successfully rivalled both of them in the contest for the crown. The events of the after life of John Baliol may be told in a few words. In the year 1299 the Pope Boniface VIII. interceded in his behalf, and the fallen king was liberated from his confinement, and conveyed to the estate of Bailleul, in Normandy, from which his ancestors took their name. There he passed the rest of his days in retirement, scarcely remembering his former high position, and little heeding the important events which were deciding the destinies of his country. He died in the year 1314.

Allusion has already been made to the heavy burdens entailed upon the English people by the repeated wars of their king. When constitutional means failed to raise the required sums, Edward did not hesitate to resort to any expedients which suggested themselves to enable him to fill his exhausted treasury. On one occasion he avowed that he had taken the cross, and should make a second journey to the Holy Land; a pretext by which he obtained a tenth of the entire income of the Church for six years. At a later period he seized a large portion of the wealth deposited in the religious houses, stating his intention of repaying it on some future day. This promise was accepted by the clergy for no more than it was worth; and when he subsequently made a demand upon them of one-half of their whole incomes, the whole body of ecclesiastics strongly resisted the exaction, and ultimately complied with great reluctance. A further demand of a fourth, which was made upon them in the following year (a.d. 1295), was successfully resisted, and the king was compelled to be satisfied with a tenth. In addition to these causes of complaint, the clergy were oppressed by the officers of the crown, who seized their stores and ransacked their granaries for supplies for the king's troops. At length they applied for aid to the Pope; but the only result of the application was to make their condition still more miserable. The Pope granted them a bull, directing that the Church revenues should not be devoted to secular purposes without the permission of the Holy See. But at this time Boniface was himself in a position of difficulty, and the bull being opposed in France, he was compelled within a year to issue another, which virtually restored matters to their former position, and removed the papal protection from the goods of the Church. Acting upon the authority of the first bull, some of the English clergy refused to satisfy the demands of the king, who then took the extraordinary course of outlawing the whole body. The whole of the property of bishops, abbots, and inferior clergy was seized, insomuch that in many cases they were left without bread to eat or a bed to lie upon. The influence of the clergy upon the people must at this period have been extremely small, as it does not appear that these arbitrary proceedings excited any indignation or interference on their behalf.

Having obtained all that he could from the Church, the king extended his proceedings to the nobles, merchants, and citizens of the kingdom, whose goods he seized without a shadow of pretext. The landowners and the burghers, however, were made of more stubborn stuff than the clergy, and the opposition he here encountered was of the most decided character. In February, A.D. 1297, Edward was engaged in collecting two armies to proceed, the one into Flanders, and the other to Guienne, when the Earl of Hereford, the constable of England, and the Earl of Norfolk, the marshal, who had been required to quit the country with their armed vassals, directly refused to obey. The king addressed the marshal, and swore by the everlasting God that he should either go or hang; and the earl repeated the oath, and swore that he would neither go nor hang. With these words the two barons quitted the royal presence together, and 1,500 knights immediately followed them. The king thus found himself deserted by his court, and he knew that at such a moment his crown or even his life was in imminent danger. With that ability for which he was distinguished, he occupied himself in quelling the storm. He employed all his art to conciliate the clergy, and having in some degree succeeded, he next addressed himself to secure the good-will of the people. The measure which he adopted for this purpose was as singular in design as it was successful in result. He mounted a platform in front of Westminster Hall, attended only by his son, the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Warwick, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and addressed the people assembled below him. The speech which he delivered was characterised by ability and utter insincerity, and the manner in which it was concluded proves him to have been an excellent actor. After a pathetic allusion to the dangers he was about to encounter for his subjects, and expressing a hope that, in the event of his death, they would preserve the succession to his son, the stern warrior-king shed tears before his audience; the archbishop also wept, and the people, overcome by these extraordinary demonstrations, rent the air with shouts of loyalty.

Edward now appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury to the head of the council of regency, and proceeded to embark on his expedition to Flanders. At Winchester he was met by a deputation, who, in the name of the lord-spiritual and temporal of England, tendered him a formal remonstrance. The nobles denied their liability to accompany the king to Flanders, in which country their fathers had never borne arms for the kings of England and that, moreover, their means were so reduced by the royal exactions, that they could not, if they would, obey his. command. They also designated the expedition as unnecessary and impolitic while affairs in Scotland remained in such a critical position. The king made no pet reply to the address, and feeling himself secure in lie loyalty of the people, he left the nobles to their discontent, and set sail for Flanders.

It is necessary here to relate the circumstances which led to the expedition in question. In the year 1294 had concluded a treaty of marriage between his son Edward and Philippa, the daughter of Guy, Count of Flanders. This union was opposed to the interests of the King of France, who exerted every means in his power to prevent it. Having in vain attempted to do so by a course of intrigues, Philip sent to invite the count to meet him at Corbeil, for the purpose of consulting on matters of importance. The old man, whose character was honest and unsuspicious, presented himself at the time appointed, when his person, with that of his wife, was seized by the orders of Philip, who conveyed them prisoners to Paris. This unknightly act of treachery excited general indignation throughout Europe, and the Pope having remonstrated with the king, he was obliged to set the count at liberty. Before doing so, however, he compelled him to make oath that he would abandon the alliance with England, and, in pledge of the fulfilment of the vow, Philippa was required to be sent to Paris as a hostage. These demands having been reluctantly complied with, the old count took a tender farewell of his child, who was then only twelve years old, and returned to his own dominions. An appeal which he addressed to the Pope for the recovery of his daughter was answered by a threat of excommunication against Philip; but that unscrupulous monarch retained possession of his fair hostage, in defiance of the thunders of the Church. It was at this time that the count entered into a coalition which had been recently formed by Edward, and which included the Emperor of Germany, the Duke of Austria, the Duke of Brabant, and the Count of Bar.

Such were the circumstances under which Edward entered on the expedition which terminated with so little success to the English arms. He landed at Sluys in the month of August, and immediately on his arrival quarrels broke out among the sailors of the fleet, who came from different seaports, and between whom there were longstanding feuds existing. Such was the extent to which these animosities were carried, that a regular engagement took place between the mariners of Yarmouth and those of the cinque ports, and twenty-five ships belonging to the former were burnt. It is related that, during the conflict, three of their largest ships, one of which carried the royal treasure, were taken possession of and conveyed out to sea.

"While such was the condition of the British navy at this period, the land troops were occupied with similar quarrels and disorders. Among the allies of Edward there was little more unity. The cities of Flanders, rivals in wealth and power, regarded each other with a jealousy which threatened the most serious dissensions. Among the various factions were some who adhered to Philip of France, and their numbers were greatly increased when that king marched into the country at the head of an imposing force of 60,000 men. The French gained a victory over the Flemings at Furnes, and obtained possession of a number of their chief towns. Damme had been occupied by Philip, who was compelled to retire before the English forces, and Edward then advanced into the country, making an unsuccessful attack on Bruges, and going into winter quarters at Ghent. Here the most deadly quarrels broke out between, the English troops and the townspeople; and in a riot which took place in the town 700 of the English were killed. Every effort was made by the king and Count Guy to repress these tumults; but the feud continued without abatement, and effectually prevented any combined movements against the enemy.

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