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Reign of Edward II. Part 2 page 2


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Fortified on this side, Edward still did not sit secure. Soon after the treaty he was startled by a plot to cut off the elder Spenser, and then by an attempt to release the prisoners taken at Boroughbridge from their dungeons. This failed; but the conspiracy in France grew, and circumstances favoured it. Charles le Bel, the brother of Edward's queen, now on the throne, having, or pretending, causes of complaint against Edward's officers in the province of Guienne, overran that province with his arms, and took many of his castles. Edward apologised, and offered to refer the causes of quarrel to the Pope; but Charles took advantage of his brother-in-law's difficulties, and endeavoured to deprive him of his French territories altogether. Edward sent out his brother, the Earl of Kent, to endeavour to negotiate matters, but without effect; and Isabella, who had long wished to quit the kingdom, now prevailed on the king to let her go over and endeavour to arrange the business with her brother. Edward fell into the snare: the queen found herself in Paris, and the centre of a powerful band of British malcontents. One common principle animated the queen and the refugees of the Lancaster faction, and bound them together - hatred of the Spensers. The queen had come attended by a splendid retinue - for she came not only as Queen of England and Princess of France, but in the character of an ambassador. Publicly, therefore, she was received with every honour; and, publicly, she appeared to be negotiating for a settlement of her royal husband's difficulties; but as the mode of solving them, she conceded that he should come over in person and do homage for his provinces. This proposal, which astonished both the king and the whole court, was strenuously resisted by the younger Spenser. He well knew the feelings entertained by the queen towards himself; and therefore would, on no account, trust himself in Paris with her. But to allow the king to proceed there alone was as full of danger. The king might there fall under the influence of some other person; and at home his own position would be a most dangerous one during the king's absence, surrounded as he was by universal hatred.

The king had advanced as far as Dover, where, no doubt, at the persuasion of the Spensers, he stopped, and, on the plea of illness, declined to proceed any further. Foiled in this scheme, Isabella hit upon another, which was that Edward should make over Guienne and Ponthieu to his son, who then could go instead of his father, and perform the requisite homage. This was more easily fallen into by the king, because it suited young Spenser by keeping the king at home. Edward resigned Guienne and Ponthieu to his son, now thirteen years old; he went over, did his homage, and took up his residence with his mother.

The plot now began to unfold itself palpably. The queen was not only surrounded by a powerful body of English subjects hostile to their king, but she had the heir to the throne in her possession, and she determined never to return to England till she could drive young Spenser thence, and seize the reins of power herself. When, therefore, the homage being completed, Edward urged the return of his wife and son, he received at first evasive answers, which were soon followed by the foulest charges against him by his own queen. She complained that Hugh Spenser had alienated the king's affection from her; that he had sown continual discord between them; had brought the king to such a feeling against her, that he would neither see her nor come where she was. She accused the Spensers of seizing her dower, and keeping her in a state of abject poverty and dependence, and that, beyond all this, they had a design on the lives of both herself and son. The king put forth a defence of himself, but nothing could clear him from the charge of having grossly neglected the queen for his favourites, or of having most thoroughly merited her contempt and aversion.

But while the queen was doing the utmost to disgrace and ruin her husband, her own conduct was notoriously scandalous. During the life of the Earl of Lancaster, she appears to have leaned very much on him for counsel and support; but now the Lord Mortimer was become the head of the Lancastrian party, and therefore necessarily was thrown daily into her society. Mortimer was handsome, brave, of insinuating address, and sufficiently unprincipled. The affairs of the party brought them into almost perpetual contact, and intimacy speedily ripened into intrigue and criminality. Very soon the position of the queen and Mortimer was universally known. They lived in the most avowed intimacy, and when Edward, made aware of it, insisted on Isabella's immediate return, she declared boldly that she would never set foot in England till Spenser was for ever removed from the royal presence and counsels. This public avowal won her instant and great popularity in England, where Spenser was hated, and threw for a while a slight veil over her own designs. An active correspondence was opened with the discontented in England; the vilest calumnies were propagated everywhere against the king, and this disgraceful family quarrel became the common topic of all Europe.

The King of France, from motives of policy, declared himself highly incensed against Edward for his treatment of his sister, and even threatened to redress her wrongs. He still protected her, even after her open connection with Mortimer; though both himself and his two brothers had thrown their wives into prison for irregularity of conduct, where the wife of his brother Louis had been strangled. But though Charles probably never seriously intended to take any active measures on behalf of Isabella:. Edward was greatly alarmed, and not only sent, in the name of Spenser, rich presents to the French king and his ministers, but also wrote to the Pope, earnestly imploring him to command Charles to restore to him his wife and son. This letter to the Pope was strongly backed, according to Froissart, "by much gold and silver to several cardinals and prelates nearest to the Pope." In: interference of his holiness afforded a sufficient plea for Charles to withdraw all countenance from Isabella, and even to command her to quit the kingdom. To save appearances, therefore, Isabella quitted Paris, and betook herself to the court of the Count of Holland and Hainault. That this was a step by no means disagreeable to Charles le Bel, is obvious from the fact that the count was his own vassal, and suffered no remonstrance for this reception of the English queen. The partisanship of the count was of the most decided kind. The queen, the more indissolubly to engage him in her enterprise, affiance her son Edward, the heir to the English throne, to Philippa, his second daughter. The brother of the count, John of Hainault, became a perfect enthusiast in the cause of Isabella, who, still young - only eight-and-twenty years of age - and eminently beautiful, seemed to inspire him with all the chivalrous devotion of the most romantic ages. He declared his full faith in Isabella's innocence of all impropriety, with the spectacle of her intimacy with Mortimer daily before his eyes; and he was deaf to all warnings of danger from the jealousies of the English, who, he was assured, were especially disgusted by the interference of foreigners. By this alliance, and the secret assistance of her brother, the King of Trance, Isabella soon saw herself surrounded by an army of nearly 3,000 men.

Edward, roused by the imminent danger, endeavoured to prepare measures of defence. But the danger was far more extensive than appeared on the surface. Conspiracy did not merely menace from abroad, but penetrated every day deeper, and into the very recesses of his own family. His brother, the Earl of Kent, a well-meaning but weak prince, who still remained on the Continent, was persuaded by Isabella and the King of France that it behoved every member of the royal family to join in the attempt to rid the kingdom of the Spensers; and this, they assured him, was the object of the expedition. Won over to what appeared so desirable an attempt, he also won over his elder brother, the Earl of Norfolk. The Earl of Leicester, the brother and heir of the Earl of Lancaster, had abundant motives of interest and vengeance for entering into the design. The Archbishop of Canterbury and many of the prelates approved of the queen's cause, and aided her with money; several of the most powerful barons were ready to embrace it on her appearance on the English coast; and the minds of the populace were embittered against the king by the industrious dissemination of calumnies and injurious truths.

Isabella set sail from the harbour of Dort with her little army, accompanied by the Earl of Kent; and on the 24th of September, 1326, landed at Orwell, in Suffolk. She was soon joined by the Earls of Norfolk and Leicester; thus receiving the high sanction of two princes of the blood; the Bishops of Lincoln, Ely, and Hereford met her with the sanction of the church and numerous forces. The fleet had been won over and kept out of the way, and the land forces sent against her at once hailed the young prince with acclamations, and joined her banner. Isabella made proclamation that she came to free the nation from the tyranny of the Spensers and of Chancellor Baldoc, their creature. The barons, who thought themselves secure from forfeiture in coalition with the prince, made a reconciliation with the barons of the Lancastrian faction, and the people poured in on all sides. Never was a miserable monarch so deserted by his people, and by his own blood. His wife, his son, his brothers, his nobles, his prelates, his people, all were against him. The queen and prince stayed three days in the abbey of the Black Monks at Bury St. Edmunds, where their partisans continually increased.

Meantime, the miserable king appealed to the citizens of London to maintain the royal cause, and issued a proclamation offering 1,000 to any one for the head of Mortimer - a pretty sum, equal to 10,000 at the present day. The appeal remained totally unheeded; and Edward fled from his capital, accompanied only by the two Spensers, Baldoc the chancellor, and a few of their retainers. Scarcely were they out of the gates when the populace rose, seized the Bishop of Exeter, whom the king had appointed governor, beheaded him, and threw his body into the river. They met with and killed a friend of the favourites - one John le Marshal. They made themselves master of the Tower, and liberated all the state prisoners - a numerous body, most of them suffering from the attempts to put down young Spenser - and they entered into an association to put to death without mercy every one who dared to oppose the queen and prince. Such was the fury of the populace against the king and his favourite; and this spirit appeared in every part of the kingdom.

The poor, forsaken king fled to the Welsh, amongst whom he was born; but they would none of him, and he was compelled to take to the sea with his favourite. The elder Spenser was left in Bristol as governor of the castle; but the garrison mutinied against him, and on the approach of the queen he was delivered up to her. The poor old man, now nearly ninety, was brought before Sir William Trussel, one of the Lancastrian exiles, who, without allowing him to utter a word in his defence, condemned him to death. He was taken without the walls of the city, hanged on a gibbet, his bowels torn out, his body cut to pieces, and thrown to the dogs; and, as he had been made Earl of Winchester, his head was sent to that city, and stuck on a pole. Such was the fate of this old man, who had borne a high character through a long life, till strange fortune lifted him aloft, and developed in him the lurking demons of rapacity and lust of his neighbour's goods, ending thus direfully.

The unhappy king, meantime, with the son of this old man, endeavouring, it was supposed, to escape to Ireland, had been tossed about for many days on a stormy sea, which seemed to enter into the rebellion of his people, and to reject him, and cast him up, as it were, on the coast of South Wales. His flight had furnished the barons with a fortunate plea for deposing him. They first issued a proclamation at Bristol, calling on the king to return to his proper post; and, as he did not appear, on the 26th of September, forming themselves into a Parliament, they declared that the king had left the realm without a ruler, and appointed the Prince of Wales guardian of the kingdom. The king, on landing, knowing what he had to expect, hid himself for some weeks in the mountains near Neath Abbey, in Glamorganshire. His place of retreat was very soon known, and young Spenser and Baldoc were seized in the woods of Lantressan, and immediately afterwards Edward came forth and surrendered himself to the Earl of Leicester, the brother of Lancaster, whom he had beheaded at Pontefract. Without a single sign of sympathy or commiseration from high or low, the wholly -abandoned king was sent off a prisoner to Kenilworth. Short and bloody work was made with the favourite. Trussel, the same judge who had condemned his father, condemned him to be drawn, hanged, embowelled, beheaded, and quartered; and the sentence was carried into execution with revolting minuteness. He was hanged on a gallows fifty feet high, and his servant, Simon Reding, was hanged on the same gallows, only a few yards lower. The Earl of Arundel, allied to the Spensers by marriage, and one of those active in the death of the Earl of Lancaster, was beheaded, with two other noblemen. Baldoc, as a priest, was exempt from the gallows; but, being sent to the Bishop of Hereford's palace in London, he was there seized by the enraged populace, as, probably, the senders foresaw, and, though rescued, died soon after in Newgate of his injuries. So terminated the fortunes of Edward's few adherents. His own fate, steeped in still deeper horrors, was fast hastening on.

A Parliament - one of those solemn mockeries which we often see in history - was summoned in the king's name to meet at Westminster on the 7th of January, 1327, to condemn the king himself. There Adam Orleton, Bishop of Hereford, one of the most violent partisans of the queen and enemies of the king, assumed the office of speaker. The very appearance of such a speaker indicated plainly - had all other circumstances been wanting - the determination of the barons to proceed to extremities with Edward. Orleton, for his attachment to the party of Lancaster, had been deprived of the temporalities of his see by the king, as supposed, at the instance of Hugh Spenser, and he had on every possible occasion since displayed the most vindictive animus against the king. He had spread everywhere with indefatigable activity the filth of the court scandal respecting Edward, and this might have passed for religious zeal in one of his profession and rank in the church, had he not winked as resolutely at the notorious vice of the queen. But he was one of her most energetic partisans in England; hastened to meet her on landing; and in the Parliament, and everywhere amongst the barons, when it had been proposed to allow the king to be reconciled to his family, and rule by advice of his nobles, had effectually quashed such sentiments, and turned the tide of opinion for the king's deposition. He now put the formal question, whether the king should be restored, or his son at once raised to the throne. For appearance sake the members were left to deliberate in their own minds on the question till the next day; but there could only be one answer, and that was for the father's dethronement. The public, on hearing that decision, broke forth into loudest acclamations, which were vehemently reiterated when the young king, a boy of fourteen, was presented to them. By a singular informality, Parliament deposed Edward first, and judged him afterwards.

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Berkeley Castle
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Deposition of Edward II
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