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Edward III

Edward III. - Incursions of the Scots under Douglas and Randolph - Edward's First Campaign against them - Schemes of Mortimer - Execution of the King's Uncle, the Earl of Kent - Fall of Mortimer, and Imprisonment of the Queen Isabella - Enterprise of Edward Baliol and the disinherited Nobles against Scotland - War by Edward III. in Support of Baliol.
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The sceptre of England, taken by the indignant nation from the feeble grasp of Edward of Caernarvon, was once more in the hand of a strong man. Edward III., sprung immediately from a feeble parent, was, however, of the stock of mighty kings, and the grandson of the first of his name, the stern "Hammer of Scotland," and conqueror of Wales. In the youthful monarch all the vigour and ability of Edward I. revived; and in his reign the fame of England rose far higher than it had ever yet reached, bringing the two words of martial glory, "Cressy" and "Poictiers," into the language, and making them like the notes of a trumpet in the ears of Englishmen in every age. True, the conquests which they marked soon faded away; but the prestige of British valour which they created was created for all time. In no period of our history did the spirit of chivalry show more in the ascendant than in this reign, nor leave names of more knightly lustre on the page of our history; including not only the monarch and his illustrious son, but a numerous list of leaders in the field. Whether the practical utility or the political wisdom of the great deeds done, exclusive of the-renown conferred on the nation, was equal to their éclat, remains for us to determine after our record of them. But at the commencement of his reign the future conqueror of Cressy was but a boy of fourteen. The lion of England was yet but the ungrown and playful cub and was under the guardianship of a mother of tarnished reputation, and in the real power of her bold paramour, Roger Mortimer.

For appearance sake, indeed, a council of regency was appointed during the minority of the young king; and this council was composed of twelve of the most influential noblemen and prelates of the realm; namely, five prelates - the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, the Bishops of Winchester, Worcester, and Hereford; and seven lay lords - the Earls of Norfolk, Kent, and Surrey, the Lords Wake, Ingham, Piercy, and De Boos. The Earl of Lancaster was appointed guardian and protector of the king's person.

Having named this regency, the Parliament then passed an act of indemnity, including all those engaged in the deposition of the late king; reversed the attainders against the late Earl of Lancaster and his adherents confiscated the immense and ill-gotten estates of the Despensers; and granted to the queen-mother a large sum of money to discharge her debts, and a jointure of £20,000 a year - a sum quite equal in value to £100,000 now. This last enactment, in fact, established the supremacy of the queen and her paramour Mortimer: the council became, as they meant it to be, a mere empty figure of state policy; Mortimer, who had taken care not even to have his name placed on the council, as affecting the modesty of a private man, now all appeared secure, assumed the state and establishment of a king.

Boy, however, as the king was, his spirit was too active and inquiring to leave him with safety unemployed about the court: he would be sure there to be soon making observations, which, ere long, might bring trouble to the usurpers. Mortimer tried to keep him entertained by various frivolous amusements; but there needed something more active and engrossing, and which would lead him. to a distance from the court; and this was speedily furnished by the Scots. Their successes over Edward II., and especially their grand triumph at Bannockburn, had greatly elated them; and the present crisis, when there was a deposed king, and a mere boy on the throne, appeared too tempting to omit a profitable incursion into England. Robert Bruce was now growing, if not old, yet infirm; but he was as full as ever of martial daring.

At this distance of time it appears equally impolitic and ungenerous in the Scots to make this attack. There was a truce existing between the kingdoms, and it might seem as if it would have been more prudent every way for the Scots to strengthen and consolidate their internal forces than thus wantonly to provoke their old and potent enemies. But the state of rancour between the two countries no doubt impelled them to this course. Probably, too, the hope of regaining at such a period the northern provinces of England, which had formerly belonged to Scotland, was an actuating cause. Bruce appointed to this service his two great generals, the good Lord James Douglas and his nephew Thomas Randolph, now Earl of Moray, some of whose daring exploits we have had already to record. They were to lay waste the counties of Durham and Northumberland, and do all the injury to England that they could. They made an attempt on the castle of Norham, but were repulsed with heavy loss. They then increased their army to 25,000, summoning the vassals of the crown from every quarter, Highlands, Lowlands, and isles.

This army of Scots has been most graphically described by Froissart. He represents them as lightly armed, nimble, and hardy, and, from their simple mode of living, capable of making rapid marches or retreats, being totally unencumbered with baggage. There were 4,000 cavalry, well-mounted and well-armed; the rest were mounted on ponies, active, but strong, which could pick up a subsistence anywhere. The men carried no provisions, except a small bag of oatmeal, and, says the chronicler, "they had no need of pots or pans, for they cooked the beasts, when they had skinned them, in a simple manner." That is, they killed the cattle of the English, of which they found plenty on their march, and roasted the flesh on wooden spits, or boiled it in the skins of the animals themselves, putting on a little water with the beef to prevent the hides being burnt. They also cut up the hides for their shoes, fitting them, to their feet and ankles while raw, with the hair outwards; so that from this cause the English called them the rough-footed Scots, and red-shanks, from the colour of the hides.

Every man carried at his saddle an iron plate called a girdle, on which, whenever they halted, they could bake cakes of thin oatmeal. Thus armed, and thus provisioned, the Scots could speed from mountain to mountain, and from glen to glen, with amazing rapidity-, advancing to pillage, or disappearing at the approach of an enemy, as if they were nowhere at hand. With such forces Douglas and Randolph crossed the Tweed, ravaged Durham and Northumberland, and advanced into the county of York.

To oppose these invaders, the English raised rapidly an army said to amount to 60,000 men. They had recalled John of Hainault and some cavalry which they had dismissed; and the young king of fourteen, burning with impatience to chastise the Scots, marched hastily towards the north. His progress, however, suffered some delay at York, from a violent quarrel which broke out between the English archers and the foreign troops under John of Hainault. The archers, and especially those of Lincolnshire, who probably had an old feud with the natives of Flanders, displayed a dogged dislike to these troops, and in the streets of York they came actually to downright battle, and many men were killed on both sides. This difference quelled, if not settled, the English army moved on. Very soon they came in sight of burning farms and villages, which marked the track of the Scots. These Scots, however, themselves were nowhere visible, for they retreated with double the celerity with which the English, heavily loaded with baggage, could follow them. The Scots did not retreat directly north, but took, according to Froissart, their way westward, amongst the savage deserts and bad mountains and valleys, as he calls them, of Cumberland and Westmoreland. The English crossed the Tyne, trusting to cut off the homeward route of the enemy; but the utterly desolated condition of the country compelled them to recross that river, for no sustenance could be procured for the troops. After thus vainly pursuing this light-footed foe for some time, Edward, excessively chagrined in not being able to come up with them, or even to find them, offered a freehold worth £100 a year and the honours of knighthood to any one who would bring him intelligence of the enemy. After severe hardships, and enormous fatigue to the soldiers, wading through waters and swamps, a man, one Thomas of Rokeby, came riding hard to the camp, and claimed the reward offered by the king. He said he had been made prisoner by the Scots, and that they had said they should be as glad to see the English king as he would to see them. This was not very probable, as they might have waited for the king, which they had taken care not to do. There, however, they lay, at not more than three leagues distant.

The reason of the Scots now halting was visible enough when the English same up. They found them posted on the right bank of the Weir, where the river was deep and rapid, and there was no possibility of getting at them. Even could they cross the river, they must climb a steep hill in face of the enemy to attack them. Under these circumstances, Edward sent a challenge to the Scottish generals to meet him on a fair and open field, either by drawing back and allowing him to cross the river to attack them, or giving them the same option to cross over to his side. Douglas, piqued at this proposal, advised to accept the challenge; but the more politic Moray refused, and replied to Edward, that he never took the advice of an enemy in any of his movements. He reminded the king, as if to pique him to dare the unequal attempt of crossing in their faces, how long they had been in his country, spoiling and wasting at their pleasure. If the king did not like their proceedings, he added, insultingly, he might get over to them the best way he could.

Edward kept his ground opposite to them for three days; the Scots at night making great fires along their lines, and all night long, according to the chronicler, "horning with their horns, and making such a noise as if all the great devils from hell had come there." In the daytime some of the most adventurous knights from the English army swam their strong horses across the river, and skirmished with the Scots - rather to show their gallantry than for any real effect. On the fourth morning it was found that the Scots had entirely decamped, and were discovered after awhile posted in a still stronger position higher up the river. Here Edward again sat down facing that, confidently hoping that they must be forced, from want of provisions, to come out and fight. As, however, they did not do this, the young king's patience became exhausted, and he desired to pass the river at all hazards, and come to blows with the Scots. This Mortimer would not assent to; and while lying, highly discontented with this restraint, on the bank of the river, Edward had a narrow escape of being taken prisoner.

The brave Douglas, being held back by Moray, as Edward was by Mortimer, from a general engagement planned one of those heroic exploits in which he so much delighted. Making himself acquainted with the English password for the night, and taking an accurate survey of the English camp, lie advanced, when it was near midnight, with 200 picked horsemen, silently crossed the river, at some distance above the English position, and then, as silently turning', made for the English camp. He found it carelessly guarded, and, seeing this, he rode past the English sentinels, as if he had been an English officer, saying, "Ha, St. George! you keep bad watch here! " Presently, he heard an English soldier say to his comrades, as they lay by a fire, "I cannot tell what is to happen here, but somehow I have a great fear of the Black Douglas playing us some trick."

"You shall have cause to say so," said Douglas to himself. When he had got fairly into the English camp, he cut the ropes of a tent with his sword, calling out his usual war-cry, "A Douglas! a Douglas! English thieves, ye are all dead men." His followers immediately fell upon the camp, cutting down the tents, overturning them, and killing the men as they started up to seize their arms. Douglas, meanwhile, had reached the royal pavilion, and was as near as possible seizing the young king, but the chaplain, the chamberlain, and some of the king's household, being alarmed, stood boldly in his defence, and enabled him to escape under the canvas of the tent, though they lost their own lives. Douglas, being now separated from his followers, many of whom were killed, endeavoured to make good his retreat, but was in danger of being killed by a man who attacked him with a huge club. This man, however, he slew, and escaped in safety to his own camp; his party having, it is said, killed about 300 men.

Soon after this the Scots made an effectual retreat in the night by having beforehand cut a pathway through a great bog which lay behind them, and filling it with faggots; a road which is still remaining in Weardale, and called from this cause the "Shorn Moss." The young king, on entering the evacuated place of encampment the next day, found nothing but six Englishmen tied to trees, and with their legs broken, to prevent them carrying any intelligence to their countrymen.

Edward, disgusted with his want of success, returned southward, and the Scots arrived in safety in their own country. On reaching York the English king disbanded his army. He then returned to London, highly dissatisfied, young as he was, with the state of things. Mortimer had usurped all power. Edward believed that from cowardice, or from some hidden motive, he had prevented him taking ample vengeance on the Scots. At court he had set aside the whole of the royal council; consulted neither prince of the blood nor the nobles on any public measure, concentrating in himself, as it were, all the sovereign authority. He endowed the queen with nearly the whole of the royal revenues, and enjoyed them in her name. He himself was so besieged with his own party and parasites, that no one else could approach him, and the people of all ranks now hated him as cordially as they had once done Gaveston.

Sensible of this growing public odium, he now sought to make a peace with Scotland, to secure himself from attack on that side; and perhaps the king was not so far wrong in attributing his backwardness to attack the Scots to some private motive. Certain it is that the following year, 1328, he made peace with Robert Bruce on terms which astonished and deeply incensed the whole nation. To give the greatest firmness to the treaty he proposed a marriage between Joan or Joanna, the sister of Edward, then only seven years of age, and David, the son of Robert Bruce, then only five. That the Scots might accede promptly to this offer, he agreed to renounce the great principle for which the English nation had been so long contending, its claim of right to the crown of Scotland. These terms were of course eagerly accepted, and the treaty, to make all sure, was at once carried, into effect. About Whitsuntide a Parliament was called together at Northampton, which ratified the treaty, thus acknowledging the full independence of Scotland, and on the 22nd of July the marriage was solemnised at Berwick, where Isabella had brought her daughter. This young bride was significantly called by the Scotch "Joan Makepeace," and with her was delivered up many jewels, charters, &c, which had been carried away from Scotland by Edward I.

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