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Reign of Edward II. Part 1 page 2


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The poor weak king, though he gave up his favourite for the time, still showed his folly to all the world. He endeavoured to soften the fall of Gaveston by accompanying him on his way towards the port. But instead of this port leading towards his own country, it proved to be Bristol, where it was soon discovered that he had only embarked for Ireland, over which Edward had appointed him Lord Lieutenant, with an establishment rivalling that of a king, Not only so, but before his departure, the infatuated monarch had actually bestowed fresh wealth and lands upon him both in England and Gascony. Gaveston, who really possessed much talent and learning, and might have made a distinguished and useful man, had he been employed by an able monarch, who would have called out his better, and kept in check his worst qualities, discharged his duties in Ireland as governor with vigour, repressed a, rebellion there, and promoted order. But during the year he was absent his royal master was inconsolable, and never ceased labouring for his return. To this end he employed every means to conciliate the barons. He conferred on Lancaster the high office of hereditary . steward; he nattered and promoted the Earl of Lincoln. the father-in-law of Lancaster; he heaped grants, civilities, and promises on Earl "Warenne. Having thus prepared the way, he next applied for and obtained from the Pope a dispensation for Gaveston from that oath which the barons had imposed, that he should for ever abjure the realm. "With this he instantly recalled Gaveston from Ireland, and new with joyful impatience to Chester to meet him on his way. There, on seeing him, he rushed , into his arms with every extravagance of joy. He then applied to the Parliament which had assembled at Stamford, for a formal permission to his re-establishment in England, and, won over by the gifts and flatteries of the king, they were equally weak, and allowed him to return. All now in the court of the imbecile monarch was rejoicing and festivity. That court was filled by every species of mimes, players, musicians, and frivolous hangers-on. Scotland was all but lost; every day Bruce and his adherents, taking advantage of the neglect of this unhappy king, were coming forth more and more openly from their hiding-places, taking fort after fort and even daring to make devastating inroads into the northern lands of England. In other parts of the kingdom outrages, disorder, and violence abounded; but nothing could rouse the wretched king, or withdraw his attention from the court, which was filled with revelry and feasting, and the centre and soul of which was his beloved Gaveston. The people looked on and openly expressed their contempt for the favourite. They refused to call him anything but simply "that Piers Gaveston," which, incensing the foolish man, induced him to prevail on the king to put forth a proclamation commanding all men to give him his title of Earl of Cornwall whensoever he was spoken of, which had only the effect of covering him with ridicule. The past experience was entirely lost on this thoughtless personage. No sooner was he freed from the consequences of his insults to the great barons and courtiers than he repeated them with fresh modes of offence. He laughed at and caricatured them amongst his worthless associates. He threw his jibes and sarcasms right and left, and let them fall with the vilest nicknames on the loftiest heads. The great Earl of Lancaster was the "old hog," and the "stage-player;" the Earl of Pembroke - a tall man, of a pale aspect - was "Joseph the Jew;" the Earl of Gloucester was "the cuckold's bird;" and the stern Earl of Warwick "the black dog of Ardenne." Dearly did the vain favourite rue these galling epithets. The "black dog of Ardenne" swore a bitter oath that the miscreant should feel his teeth. The queen, more and more disgusted and incensed by the folly of the king, not only complained querulously to her father the King of France, but gave all encouragement to the angry nobles against the insolent Gaveston.

The riot at court had its necessary consequence - the dissipation of the royal funds and the need of more. The barons already, before voting supplies, had several times obliged the king to promise a redress of grievances. But now, on being summoned in October, 1309, three months after Gaveston's return, to meet at York, they refused, alleging fear of the all-powerful and vindictive favourite. The necessities of Edward made him imperatively renew the summons, but the barons still refused to assemble, and the object of the general odium was compelled to retire for the time. The barons then came together at Westminster in March of the following year, 1310; but they came fully armed, and Edward found himself completely in their power. They now insisted that he should sign a commission, enabling the Parliament to appoint twelve persons, who should take the name of ordainers, having power thoroughly to reform both the government and the king's household. They were to enact ordinances for this purpose, which should for ever have the force of laws, and which, in truth, involved the whole authority of the Crown and Parliament. The committee, instead, however, of being confined to twelve, was extended to twenty-eight persons - seven bishops, eight earls, and thirteen barons. This powerful body was authorised to form associations amongst themselves and their friends to enforce the strict observance of their ordinances; and all this was said to be for the glory of God, the security of the Church, and the honour and advantage of the king and kingdom.

Thus had the imbecility of the king reduced the nation to the yoke of a baronial and ecclesiastical oligarchy. This suspicious junto, however, conscious that they would be regarded with a jealous eye by the nation, voluntarily signed a declaration that they owed these concessions to tie king's free grace; that they should not be drawn into a precedent, nor allowed to trench on the royal prerogative; and that the functions and power of the ordainers should expire at the term of Michaelmas the year following.

The committee sat in London, and in the ensuing year, 1311, presented their ordinances to the king and Parliament. Some of these ordinances were not only constitutional, but highly requisite, and tending to the due administration of the laws. They required sheriffs to be men of substance and standing; abolished the mischievous practice of issuing privy seals for the suspension of justice; restrained the practice of purveyance, where, under pretence of the king's service, enormous rapine and abuse were carried on; prohibited the alteration and debasement of the coin; made it illegal for foreigners to farm the revenues, ordering regular payment of taxes into the exchequer; revoked all the late grants of the crown- - thus aiming a direct blow at the chief favourite, on whom the crown property had been most shamefully wasted. But the main grievance to the king was the sweeping ordinance against all evil counsellors, by which not only Piers Gaveston, but the whole tribe of sycophants and parasites were removed from their offices by name, and persons more agreeable to the barons were put in their places. It was moreover decreed that for the future, all considerable offices, not only in the law, revenue, and military government, but of the household also - an especial and immemorial royal privilege - should be under the appointment of the baronage. Still farther, the power of making war, or even assembling his military tenants, should no longer be exercised by the king, without the consent of his nobility. This was a wholesale suppression of tho prerogatives of the crown, which the barons dared not have attempted in any ordinary reign; but this would probably have little affected Edward had not Piers Gaveston been declared a public enemy, and banished from the realm, on pain of death in case of his ever daring to return.

Nothing can show more decisively that Edward was not merely weak, as it regarded his favourite, but was totally unfit to rule a kingdom, having no serious feeling of its rights or desire of its prosperity, than the fact that he signed all these deeply important decrees with a secret protest against them, meaning to break them on the first opportunity; that he "sent Gaveston away to Flanders, intending as soon as possible to recall him, and the moment he was freed from the demands of Parliament, he set out to the north of England, pretending a campaign against the Scots. Once at liberty, he recalled Gaveston, declared his punishment quite illegal, restored him to all his honours, employments, and estates, and the two dear friends continued at Berwick, and on the Scotch borders, doing nothing to resist the advances of Bruce.

The barons now broke all measures of restraint. Provoked to exasperation by seeing the whole of their labours at once set aside, and the ruinous favourite restored to his whole fortune in defiance of them, they united in a most formidable conspiracy. At the head of it appeared his old enemy Lancaster; Guy, Earl of Warwick, "the black dog of Ardenne," entered into the alliance, according to one historian's expression, with "a furious and precipitate passion." Humphrey Bohun, Earl of Hereford, the constable, the Earl of Pembroke, and even the Earl Warenne, who hitherto had supported, on most occasions, the royal cause, now joined zealously in the confederacy. Winchelsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, led on the clergy, who declared themselves in a body against the king and Gaveston. Such a coalition was able, at that time, to shake the throne itself. Lancaster, at the head of an army, marched hastily to York, whence the king made a precipitate retreat to Newcastle. Lancaster made a keen pursuit, and Edward had only just time to get on board a vessel at Tynemouth, and escape to Scarborough with his minion. There Edward left him to defend the castle, while he again set out for York to endeavour to raise a body of troops. Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, whom Gaveston had ridiculed as "Joseph the Jew," laid brisk siege to the castle, which was in bad condition, and Gaveston, on the 19-th of May, 1312, was obliged to capitulate. Both Pembroke and Lord Henry Percy pledged themselves that no harm should happen to him, and that he should be confined in his own castle of Wallingford. But, with all the boasts of chivalry, no great faith was to be reposed in such promises in those times, and they marched him away to the castle of Dedington, near Banbury, where Pembroke, on pretence of meeting his countess somewhere in the neighbourhood, left him under a feeble guard. Pembroke, who was under oath, having thus on plausible grounds retired, Warwick, "the black dog of Ardenne," who had vowed to show Gaveston his teeth, now appeared upon the scene. He made a show of attacking the castle; the garrison refused to defend it - no doubt being well informed of the part they were to play - and in the morning the unhappy favourite-was ordered suddenly to dress and descend into the court. There he found himself, to his consternation, in the presence of the grim and vengeful Warwick, accompanied by a strong force. By his orders he was set on a mule and led to Warwick Castle with great triumph. His arrival there was announced by a burst of military music; great were the acclamations and triumph at seeing the long-detested favourite thus in their power. A council was speedily formed, at which Lancaster, Hereford, Arundel, and other barons assisted. Some one ventured to propose gentle measures, and to shed no blood, bur a voice from one of the party present exclaimed, "You have caught the fox; if you let him go, you will have to hunt him again." That hint decided Gaveston's fate. The certainty that the king would on the first possible occasion reinstate his favourite, and that their own lives might fall before his vengeance, determined them to put him to death, in disgraceful violation of the articles of capitulation, but in accordance with the ordinance passed by Parliament for his exile. Gaveston now stooped from his haughty insolence at the approach of death, and prayed for mercy from the Earl of Lancaster. It was useless; his enemies hurried him away on the road towards Coventry, and there, at a mile or more distant from, the castle, on the 1st of July, 1312, they struck off his head on a rising ground called Blacklow Hill, where the Avon winds through a pleasant scene, suggestive of anything but such a tragedy.

The king, as was to be expected, was thrown into violent grief at the news of the bloody death of his beloved friend. He roused himself to something like energy; vowed deadly vengeance on all concerned, and proceeded to raise and march troops for the purpose. The barons stood in arms to receive him, and for the remainder of the year they maintained a hostile attitude, but fought no battle. The king's resentment, as evanescent as his better purposes, then gave way; the barons consented to solicit his pardon on their knees; and this pretended humility nattered him into compliance. The plate and jewels of Gaveston were surrendered into his hands, and-he was implored to confirm their deeds by proclaiming the late favourite a traitor. Here, however, Edward stood firm; he not only refused, but declined also to confirm the ordinances they had passed. But they had accomplished the great object of destroying the hated favourite, and therefore were the more willing not to press the king too closely on other points. All classes in the nation now began to cherish hopes that they might be led to chastise the Scots, and to win back, if possible, the brilliant conquests of Edward I.

For seven years the feeble and inglorious Edward II. had now suffered the loss of his great father's acquisitions in Scotland, and the reverses and disgraces of the English arms to remain unavenged. Occupied with the society of his favourite, the effeminate pleasures of the court, and the consequent contentions with his barons, he had allowed Bruce to proceed, with all the activity and resources of a great mind, to reassure the people of Scotland, retake the castles and forts, and strengthen himself at all points against attack. He had gradually risen from a condition the most perilous and enfeebled to one of great strength. His soldiers now held every stronghold except that of Stirling; and the governor of that last remaining fortress, by the permission of Bruce himself, appeared in London to inform the king that he had stipulated that if the castle were not relieved by the feast of St. John the Baptist, the 24th of June, it should be surrendered.

Thus the reign of this weak monarch was the rescue of Scotland. Had not this spiritless king interposed between two such monarchs as the Edwards First and Third, it is impossible to suppose that Scotland could have maintained its independence. But, with the golden opportunity of an incompetent enemy, Providence had also sent Scotland one of the greatest men which it ever produced. Robert Bruce, driven to seek refuge in the most inaccessible wilds and mountains during the dominion of Edward I., and even pursued there by some of his own countrymen, such as the Lord of Lorn, and the relatives of the Red Comyn, no sooner saw the incapable ruler who had succeeded the "Hammer of Scotland," as Edward I. is styled on his tomb in Westminster Abbey, than he seized every favourable opportunity for regaining the castles and strongholds from the English. As fast as he mastered them he laid them in ruins, for he could not afford garrisons to defend them, and ho knew that the feeling of the country was with him.

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Pictures for Reign of Edward II. Part 1 page 2

Great Seal of Edward II
Great Seal of Edward II >>>>
Edward II
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Surprise of Edinburgh Castle
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The Battle of Bannockburn
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