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Reign of Edward II. Part 2 page 3


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Five days after declaring the accession of Edward III. a charge was drawn up against him, in which some eminent historians have appeared to discern, the malice of his enemies rather than impartial grounds of complaint. They say that, notwithstanding the violence of his opponents, no particular cause was laid to his charge. True, those which were loudly enough proclaimed by the public of a scandalous nature were omitted, probably out of respect to his son, who was present during the whole proceedings. But what they did charge him with were incapacity for government, waste of time on idle amusements, neglect of business, cowardice, being perpetually under the influence of evil counsellors, of having by imbecility lost Scotland and part of Guienne, with arbitrary and unconstitutional imprisonment, ruin, and death of different nobles.

Surely these, if not all crimes, had all the politic-id effect of crimes on the nation. They were fraught with mischief, public discord, and decay, and must be regarded as ample grounds for deposition. In fact, the whole kingdom was weary of the incurable king; not a single voice was raised in his behalf; and on the 20th of January a deputation was dispatched to announce his deposition to him at Kenilworth. This deputation consisted of certain bishops, earls, and barons, with two knights from each shire, and two representatives from each borough. The most glaring feature of harshness in the selection cl the deputies was, that the spiteful Adam Orleton, and the savage Sir William Trussel, who had passed such barbarous sentences on Edward's friends the Spenser, were amongst its leading members. At the sight of Orleton the king was so shocked that he fell to the ground. The interview took place in the great hall of Kenilworth, and the king appeared wrapped in a common black gown. Sir William Trussel, as speaker, pronounced the judgment of Parliament, and Sir Thomas Blount, the steward of the household, then broke his white staff of office, and declared all persons discharged and freed from Edward's service, the ceremony being the same as practised on a king's death. On the 24th King Edward III. was proclaimed, it being declared to be by the full consent of the late king; on the 28th the young monarch received the great seal from the chancellor, and re-delivered it to him; and on the 29th he was crowned at Westminster by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The extreme youth of the king enabled Queen Isabella, his mother, to have the chief power of the crown vested in her. But her unconcealed connection with the Lord Mortimer made her very soon lose the popularity which her pretence of driving away the Spensers had obtained her. Both barons and people looked with ill-suppressed jealousy and disgust at the dangerous position of Mortimer; and, however completely the late king had forfeited public favour, it was not long before the people began to feel that it was not the part of a wife to have invaded the kingdom, and deposed and pursued to death her husband and the father of her children. Isabella had indeed pretended to lament over the necessity, and to bewail the afflictions of her husband ] but her actions belied her words and tears, for she still pressed on his abdication, and was all the time living in open adultery with her paramour Mortimer. Thus public feeling, the inspiration of nature, grew, and there were not wanting monks who boldly denounced from the pulpit the scandalous life of the queen, and awoke a feeling of commiseration for her captive husband. Those who beheld the proud Mortimer actually occupying, in the name of the queen, the seat of royal power, burned with natural indignation at the degradation of the throne; those who beheld the unfortunate Edward, gentle and depressed in his fallen fortunes, became touched with compassion for him. The Earl of Leicester, now Earl of Lancaster, though he had a brother's blood in his remembrance, could not help being affected with generous and kindly sentiments towards his prisoner, and was even suspected of entertaining more honourable intentions towards him.

These things were whispered to Isabella, and the king was speedily removed into the care of Sir John Maltravers, a man of a savage disposition, and embittered against the king by injuries received from him and his favourites. Maltravers appeared to study the concealment of his captive, removing him from time to time from one castle to another in the space of a few months. At length Lord Berkeley was added to the commission of custody, and the unhappy captive was lodged in Berkeley Castle, near the river Severn. While Lord Berkeley was there he was treated with the courtesy due to his rank and to his misfortunes; but that nobleman being detained at his manor of Bradley by sickness, the opportunity was taken to leave him in the hands of two of the most hardened and desperate ruffians that the world ever produced, named Gournay and Ogle. These men appeared to take a savage delight in tormenting him. They practised upon him daily every indignity which they could devise. It is stated that one day, when Edward was to be shaved, they ordered cold and filthy water from the castle ditch for that purpose; and when he desired it to be changed, they refused it with mockery, though the unfortunate prince burst into tears, and declared that he would have clean and warm water.

These modes of killing were, however, too slow for those who wanted to be secure from any popular revulsion of feeling in favour of the deposed monarch; and one night, the 21st of September, 1327, frightful shrieks were heard from the castle, and the next morning the gates were thrown open, and the people were freely admitted to see the body of the late king, who, it was said, had died suddenly in the night. Of the nature of that disease there was no doubt on the minds of any one, for the cries of the sufferer's agony had reached even to the town, waking up, says Holinshed, "numbers, who prayed heartily to God to receive his soul, for they understood by those cries what the matter meant." The murder of Edward of Caernarvon is one of the horrors of history. The fiends who had him. in custody, it came out, had thrown him upon a bed and held him down violently with a table, while they had thrust a red-hot iron into his bowels through a tin pipe. By this means there appeared no outward cause of death; but his countenance was distorted and horrible to look upon. Most of the nobles and gentlemen of the neighbourhood went to see the body, which was then privately conveyed to Gloucester, and buried in the abbey, without any inquiry or investigation whatever.

Edward, at the time of his murder, was forty-three years old. He had reigned nineteen years and a half, and spent about nine months in his woful captivity after his deposition.

Maltravers, Gournay, and Ogle were held in universal detestation. Gournay was some years afterwards caught at Marseilles, and shipped for England; but was beheaded at sea, as was supposed, by order of some of the nobles and prelates in England, to prevent any damaging disclosures regarding their accomplices or abettors. Maltravers found means of doing service to Edward III., and eventually obtained a pardon.

This reign presents a melancholy example of the miseries which befell a nation in those days from a weak king. In those rude times, the throne was not fenced about and supported by the maxims and institutions which now-a-clays enable very ordinary kings to fill their high post without any public inconvenience, and verify the observation of the celebrated Swedish chancellor, Oxenstjerna, "See, my son, with what very little sense a kingdom may be governed." In the time of Edward II. the convenient maxim was not introduced that a king can do no wrong. The monarch seemed to stand alone amid a race of powerful and ambitious barons, who were always ready to encroach on the throne, and could only be restrained by a strong hand. The king had not, as now-a-days, his council, his ministers, and various officers to share his responsibilities, and afford him their united talents and advice. He acted more fully from his own individual views, and therefore the consequences to the nation were the more directly good or evil as the king was wise or not. In this king's reign we find the arms of the nation disgraced, its hold on Scotland and France weakened, and the existence of internal discord and much civil bloodshed. We do not find those great enactments of laws which distinguished the reign of his father, and the estates of the crown were greatly wasted on unworthy favourites. Yet, even in this reign the people gained something, as they have always done, from the necessities of kings. The barons, by the ordinances which they wrung from the weak hands of this king, extended the privileges of Parliament, and circumscribed the power of the crown. They decreed that all grants made without consent of Parliament should henceforth be invalid; that the king could not make war or leave the kingdom without consent of the baronage in Parliament assembled, who should appoint a regent during the royal absence; that all the great officers of the crown, and all governors of foreign possessions, should at all times be chosen by the baronage, or with their advice and assent, in Parliament, Those were all important conquests from the crown, and came by time to be the established privileges of Parliament at large, not exclusively of the peers.

The very usurpations and arbitrary deeds of the favourites produced permanent good out of temporary evil; for the barons compelled Edward to renew the Great Charter, and introduced a new and most valuable provision into it - namely: ''Ferasmuch as many people be aggrieved by the king's ministers against right, in respect to which grievances no one can recover without common consent of Parliament, we do ordain that the king shall hold a Parliament once a year, or twice, if need be." Thus, out of this king's fatal facility to favouritism came not only his own destruction, but also that grand security of public liberty, the annual assembling of Parliament.

Besides the troubles related, the kingdom during this reign was afflicted by a severe famine, which lasted for several years. The dearth was not produced by drought, but by continued rains and cold weather, which destroyed the harvests, and produced great mortality amongst the cattle, and, of course, raised the price of everything to an enormous pitch; which Parliament, not having at that day the benefit of Adam Smith and political economy, endeavoured to keep down by enacting, in 1315, a tariff of rates for all articles of life, which they very soon discovered was useless, and therefore repealed it.

In this reign also took place one of those great political changes which spring of necessity from the progress of society; this was the abolition of the celebrated order of the Knights Templars. This famous order was one of three religious military orders which arose out of the crusades. The other two were the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, commonly called Knights Hospitallers, and the Teutonic Knights of St. Mary of Jerusalem, or German Knights of the Cross, all of which arose in the twelfth century. The foundation of the order of Knights Templars, or Brethren of the Temple of Solomon, or Soldiers of the Temple, or Soldiers of Christ, is said to have taken place in 1118 or 1119. Nine knights, all French, took a vow to maintain free passage for pilgrims to the Holy Land. To this vow they added those of poverty, chastity, obedience, and battle against the infidels. For six or seven years they did not add to their numbers, but in 1128 Pope Honorius II. confirmed a rule of the Council of Troyes on their behalf, thus fully recognising them as an orthodox body, the Pauperes Oommilitones, or Pauper Soldiers of the Holy City. Honorius appointed them to wear a white mantle, and in 1146 Eugenius III. added a red cross on the left breast, in, imitation of the white cross of the Hospitallers, whose business it was to attend the sick and wounded, and entertain pilgrims. This red cross borne also on their banners, became famous all over the world, from the valour of these knights, who hence acquired the common cognomen of Bed Cross Knights.

The order speedily grew into fame and popularity. Young men of the noblest families of every nation in Christendom eagerly sought admittance into it. They became extremely numerous, in time admitting priests, and persons of lower order, or esquires. Their chief seat after the expulsion from Jerusalem by Saladin was in Cyprus, but they had also provinces in Tripolis, Antioch, Portugal, Spain, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Sicily. Their history is the history of all the wars of the Christians against the infidels in the East, and for 170 years they formed the most renowned portion of the Christian troops. But with fame came also immense wealth, with its usual sequence, corruption, Their vows had become a mockery. Instead of poverty and chastity, they became notorious for the splendour of their abodes, and the pomp, luxury, and licentiousness of their lives.

In the time of Edward II. they had incurred the resentment of his brother-in-law, Philip le Bel, of France. They were suspected of exciting the Parisians to a resistance to the debasement of the coin, which Philip was noted for; but there needed no other temptation to their destruction with this needy prince than their immense wealth. In 1306 the grand master of the Temple, Jacques de Molay, was summoned to Europe by Pope Clement V., who had secretly agreed with Philip to suppress the order. De Molay was summoned on pretence of consulting with the Pope on uniting the two orders of the Templars and Hospitallers. Witnesses were soon found to charge the whole order of the Templars with the systematic practice of the most revolting crimes, and on the 12th of September, 1307, secret orders were sent to all the governors of towns in France, by which in one night the whole of the Templars in France, including De Molay, the grand master, were seized and thrown into prison. Their houses and property were everywhere seized, and their great stronghold, the Temple, in Paris, was taken possession of by Philip himself. For the space of six years there now followed the most extraordinary and terrible scenes. The members of the order were put to the most savage tortures to compel them to confess to the most incredible crimes, and on recanting their forced confessions, they were burnt at the stake. In Paris, Rheims, Sens, Vienne, and various other places these dreadful cruelties and butcheries were perpetrated, till on the 22nd of March, 1312, the Pope abolished the order for ever. On the 18th of March, 1314, De Molay, the grand master, and Guy, commander, or grand prior of Normandy, were burnt on one of the small islands of the Seine.

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Deposition of Edward II
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