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Reign of Edward III page 7


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In the early part of the following year he lost his eldest son, and his own health being now completely broken, he returned to England, quitting for ever, says an historian, the country where he had gained so much glory, and on which he had inflicted such extensive calamities. He left the Duke of Lancaster his lieutenant, who maintained a court at Bordeaux as gay and brilliant as the prince himself. At this court were residing the two daughters of the late Don Pedro the Cruel; and John of Gaunt, now a widower, but in the prime of his life, married Donna Constance, the eldest, and in her right assumed the title of j King of Castile and Leon; and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, married at the same time the second sister. This, as we have said of the Black Prince's expedition into Castile to reinstate the tyrant Don Pedro, was a most false and calamitous policy, for it made a firm ally of Enrique, now reigning King of Castile, to Charles of France; and of this the effect was speedily felt.

John of Gaunt went over to England to introduce his royal bride at court there; and the Earl of Pembroke going out to supply his place in June, 1372, with a fleet of forty ships, was encountered off the port of Rochelle by a powerful navy belonging to King Enrique. The battle was fiercely contested; but the Spanish ships were not only much larger than those of the English, but provided with cannon, now for the first time employed at sea. The English were completely defeated; the greater part of their ships were taken, burnt, or sunk, including one carrying the military chest, with 20,000. The Earl of Pembroke, with many other men of rank, remained prisoners.

Such was the immediate effect of the English alliance with the family of such a monster as Don Pedro; and nothing could demonstrate more strongly the degree to which the English had made themselves detested in France than the eagerness with which the people of Rochelle and its neighbourhood, though still English subjects, aided the Spaniards by every means in their power.

This defeat and loss laid open the country to the attacks of the King of France, through his valiant and wise constable, Du Guesclin, who took Benon, Surgere, Saint Jean d'Angely, and other towns. The Duke of Lancaster set sail from England with a fresh army, accompanied by the Earls of Suffolk, Warwick, Stafford, and Lord Edward Spencer, to repel the French forces. But these forces, divided into three hosts, under the Dukes of Burgundy and Bourbon, and Du Guesclin, still avoided any engagement, but watched the English army, harassed its rear, and cut off its foraging parties everywhere. In vain the Duke of Lancaster marched from Bordeaux to Calais and back; everywhere the enemy fled before him, and yet everywhere he suffered loss; so that the king his father declared, with irrepressible vexation, "that there never was a monarch at once so little of a soldier and who contrived to give so much trouble." The last town possessed by the English in Gascony was Thouars, then a considerable place. The constable invested it, and the English lords shut up in it--the best of those whom the long series of skirmishes and sieges had left - agreed to surrender it at the next Michaelmas, if the King of England or one of his sons did not relieve them within that period. Edward, on hearing this, put to sea with a considerable army; but winds and waves were steadily opposed to him, and he was compelled to put back, and leave Thouars to its fate. The last ally of Edward, the Count de Montfort, was driven from his duchy by Da Guesclin and Oliver de Clisson, and compelled to take refuge in England. The Duke of Lancaster marched to and fro, but gained no signal advantage; and Charles V., thinking that Edward's fortunes were too low again to reinstate the Count of Brittany, proposed to the estates of France to confiscate his territory and annex it to the French crown; but this the nobles of Brittany opposed, and recalled John de Montfort from his exile in England.

In 1374, but two years previous to the death of the Black Prince, and three to the death of Edward himself, a truce was signed at Bruges between France and England for one year. The Pope, by his legates, who followed both armies and attended both courts, had 'never remitted his Christian endeavours to put a stop to the barbarities of the war; but it was not till France had won almost all that it had lost that he could succeed. The truce was concluded, and was maintained till the death of the King of England; at which time all that was left of his French possessions were Bordeaux, Bayonne, a few towns on the Dordogne, and Calais in the north. Such were the miserable fruits of all the human blood and lives expended, and all the miseries inflicted in these unjust and impolitic wars of more than forty years' duration.

When the Black Prince returned to England, broken down in constitution, he found things far from agreeable. The king was become feeble, and ruled by favourites. Great abuses had sprung up, and were carried on in the king's name. The Duke of Lancaster had created a strong party for himself, and exercised the principal power. The prince, still growing weaker, yet roused himself to restrain the domination of Lancaster, and remove from about the person of the king his creatures. The Commons, as is supposed, by direct encouragement of the prince, impeached nearly all the ministers. They removed Lord Latimer from the king's council, and put him in prison. They deprived Lord Neville of the offices which he held, and arrested several farmers of the customs. They even carried their censures to the king's mistress, one Alice Pierce or Perrars. The excellent Philippa had been dead several years, and this Alice Perrars, who had been a lady of the bedchamber to the queen, had acquired the most complete influence over the old king. She was now banished from court.

Such were the unhappy affairs which clouded the last days of the celebrated Black Prince, and even tended to sow dissension between him and his father. He died on Trinity Sunday, the 8th of June, 1376, in the forty-sixth year of his age, to the immense regret of the people, who regarded his military achievements, though of no solid advantage to the nation, with a deep national pride, and, from, his opposition to corruptions at home, esteemed him as a most patriotic prince. It is clear that he must have been of a naturally noble nature, and possessed of personal qualities as engaging as his courage and military genius were unrivalled; but his warlike education had blunted many of the finest feelings of the heart, and led him to become the scourge of France, and in a great measure useless to his own country. His body was drawn by twelve horses from London to Canterbury, the whole court and Parliament following through the city; and he was buried in the cathedral, near the shrine of Thomas a Becket.

After his death the Duke of Lancaster recovered his ascendancy in the state and over the king, who, grown indolent, and devoted only to the society of his artful mistress, paid little attention to state affairs. John of Gaunt hastened to undo all that the Black Prince had effected. He caused his own steward, Sir Thomas Hungerford, to be made speaker of the House of Commons, He restored his faction there, and soon had Sir Peter de la Mare, the late speaker, arrested; and the celebrated William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, deprived of his temporalities, on charges of embezzlement which could not be proved, and dismissed from court. The duke went so far as not only to implore that the Lord Latimer, but Alice Perrars, should be freed from the censures passed upon them by the late Parliament in the name of the king, and restored to their former condition and privileges. The present Parliament, however, was not so completely packed by John of Gaunt but that it possessed a spirit of opposition, which insisted that the accused should be put upon their trial; and the bishops demanded the same justice towards William of Wykeham, one of the greatest men of the age, the architect of Windsor Castle, the founder of Wykeham's College at Winchester, and of New College at Oxford.

It is said that we owe it to the resentment of John of Gaunt against the bishops that he took up so earnestly the cause of Wycliffe, the great English reformer, and thus became a most effectual champion and guardian of the Reformation. Wycliffe, who was a parish priest at this time, living at Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, and the prebendary of Aust, in the collegiate church of West-bury, in the diocese of Worcester, had been a member of a legation sent by Edward to Pope Gregory XL, which met at Bruges; and it is remarkable that this glimpse of the papal court is said to have had the same effect on him as the visit of Luther afterwards to Rome. He became a decided Church reformer, and holding the theological chair of Oxford, had ample opportunity of making public his ideas. His denunciations of Church abuses, and opposition to many of its doctrines, had caused him to be cited by a convocation of the clergy to appear at St. Paul's on the 3rd of February, 1377, to answer to the charges against him. Here he was attended by John of Gaunt and the earl marshal, Lord Percy. These noblemen and the bishops became mutually very hot on the question, and the Duke of Lancaster is reported to have threatened to drag Courtney, the Bishop of London, who presided, by the hair of the head out of the church. A riot was the consequence, the Duke of Lancaster protecting Wycliffe; and the people, who were very jealous of Lancaster's overgrown power, resenting his insult to the bishop, broke both into his house and that of Lord Percy, killing Lord Percy's chaplain, and doing immense damage to the duke's palace. The two noblemen escaped across the water to Kennington, where the widow of the Black Prince, the "Fair Maid of Kent," and her son Richard, the heir apparent, resided. The riot ran so high that the debates of Parliament were interrupted, and the mob reversed the duke's arms as a traitor.

The king, completing the fiftieth year of his reign and the sixty-fourth of his life, published a general amnesty for all minor offences; still, however, through the influence of Lancaster, excluding the great Wykeham of Winchester. He was now fast failing, and passed his time between Eltham Palace and his manor of Shene, near Richmond. The last days of this great monarch were like those of many others who during their lives ruled men with a high hand. It was desolate and deserted. The great nobles and courtiers were looking out for the rising sun, and paying it their assiduous adoration. By some this was held to be the Duke of Lancaster, against whose designs on the throne the people had called on the king, before the death of the Black Prince, to guard; and he had named his grandson Richard, then not six years old, his successor. By others Richard was deemed the true fountain of future favour, and all deserted the dying king, except his deeply-interested mistress, who, after securing everything else of value that she could, drew the diamond ring from the finger of the dying monarch, and - departed. The servants had gone before to plunder the house, and only a solitary, faithful priest, preferring his duty to the things of this world, hastened to the bedside of the departing monarch, held aloft his crucifix, and remained in that position till the once mighty king had breathed his last.

Englishmen look with pride to the reign of Edward III., as one of those which stamped the martial ascendancy of their race; and unquestionably it is an era of great military glory. But, beyond the glory, what was the genuine advantage won by Edward III. and his heroic son? Neither in France nor Scotland, the scenes of his feats of arms, did he retain a foot of the land which he conquered, except Calais and its little circle of environs. In fact, in France he had lost much territory which he inherited. Of all the time - a great and invaluable lifetime - spent, of all the human lives destroyed, and the taxes wrung from his people, consumed, there remained no fruits but the little district of Calais, destined to furnish fresh cause of feud, and a heritage of eternal hate towards this country in France. Truly, we cannot wonder at the hereditary repugnance of Frenchmen towards the English, were this only grounded on the wars of this and succeeding reignss in which we marched our armies like destroying demons time after time over the whole country, burning towns and villages, laying waste the country, plundering and murdering, as if the object were not conquest but extermination. With us the name of Dane has come down as a fierce and sanguinary savage - the scourge of our ancestors; to the French the English of these ages must stand in their history in the same characters of savagery and wanton cruelty. As we have said, nothing could be so insane as this wholesale carnage and ruin inflicted on the French and Scotch if conquest were the object. But the ideas so plain and prominent to us do not seem to have entered the conception of men of those times, that to win a land you must win the people, and to win a people you must conciliate them; offering them even greater advantages than they possess under the dynasty you would displace, and releasing them from old oppressions. None of these things revealed themselves to the warriors of those feudal ages. Indeed, the true and sound policy of the Edwards was to annex Scotland, combining the island into one noble kingdom; and to have achieved this they should, of all things, have kept their attention and their resources undivided, and have made the name of England an attraction to their northern brethren, not a horror.

But, so far as Edward III.'s foreign expeditions led abroad his great and factious nobles, they ensured a long and settled quiet at home, That quiet, it is true, was not free from oppressions and from great plunders of the people by the practice of purveyance. Edward ruled with a high hand, and kept both his nobles and people in subjection; but the exactions of the crown were, at their worst, far more tolerable than those of a crowd of barons and their vassals, and the horrors which civil dissensions inflicted on the people. With all the drain of men and barones minores, or lesser nobility, to the wars, there were constant complaints of robberies, murders, and other outrages committed under protection of the great; but in no degree so extensive as at times when the restless and quarrelsome nobles were all at home. The king, too, driven to straits by the constant want of money for his wars, always made very free in levying taxes without consent of Parliament, and in procuring provisions by what was styled purveyance. When the king had no money his family must subsist, and therefore he was obliged to send out his servants as purveyors, who seized provisions wherever they could find them, and gave tallies or wooden memorandums of what they took, at what rate they pleased; the price to be obtained as best it might, or stopped in the next taxes.

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Pictures for Reign of Edward III page 7

Queen Philippa
Queen Philippa >>>>
Edward the Black Prince presenting King John of France to his Father, Edward III
Edward the Black Prince presenting King John of France to his Father, Edward III >>>>
The Battle of Poictiers
The Battle of Poictiers >>>>
Combat between English and French Knights
Combat between English and French Knights >>>>
The Death of Edward III
The Death of Edward III >>>>

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