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Northern Europe: British Isles; Scandinavia; the Netherlands; France.

Medieval history. From end of western empire to the discovery of America (a.d. 476-1492). From the Crusade Period to the Discovery of America (a.d. 1270-1492).
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Edward I., eldest son of Henry III., came to the throne in 1272, when he was 33 years of age, and reigned until 1307. This ablest and best of all the Plantagenet kings, one of the greatest of English rulers, was noble alike in person and character. Courageous and skilful in war, the victor over the great Simon de Montfort at Evesham; learned and wise in legislation; truthful and just in all his dealings; energetic, watchful, sagacious in administration and policy; he lacked little of perfection as a king over men, and well won the fear, love, and admiration of his subjects. His faults were those of many monarchs of feudal days - pride, imperiousness, and occasional cruelty wrought on those whose resistance provoked his wrath. His wife, Eleanor of Castile, was worthy of her husband, and no higher praise can be given to her of whom Edward wrote, on her death in 1290, at Hareby, in Lincolnshire, to his friend the abbot of Clugny, in seeking his prayers for her soul: " We loved her tenderly in her lifetime, and we do not cease to love her in death." Her memory was kept alive by the famous "Eleanor Crosses," one of which was afterwards erected at every nightly halting-place, as her body was conveyed in solemn procession from Lincolnshire to London. The finest of all was that at Waltham Cross, in Hertfordshire; the erection of the last, at the village of Charing, near to the final destination at Westminster Abbey, gave its name to the thoroughfare now ever alive with the traffic of the world's greatest city.

The two great objects of Edward's policy were the bringing of the whole island of Great Britain under the rule of the English sovereign, and the founding of a stable monarchical system by sound legislation based upon the consent of the ruled. In the first of these objects he partially failed, though the final decision, as regarded Scotland, came under his weak and unworthy son and successor. In the second, he won eminent and lasting success. Dealing first with Wales, we find Edward, in 1277, marching into the north of the country from Chester, against Llewellyn, prince of that region, who refused to renew his predecessor's "homage" as vassal of the English crown. The castles of Flint and Rhyddlan were taken and held by garrisons, and a fleet from the Cinque Ports, patrolling the coast, cut off all supplies of provisions. Every outlet of the enemy's stronghold among the mountains was guarded, and starvation, in the winter, forced a surrender. The country as far west as the river Conway was ceded, and Llewellyn kept the Isle of Anglesea and the Snowdon district. Five years later, in 1282, a revolt made Edward resolve on complete conquest, which was effected in the north by the use in the English king's,army of Basques from the Pyrenees, men skilled in mountain warfare. Llewellyn was killed by a detachment as he made for South Wales. His brother David, the inciter of the revolt, was taken and beheaded at Shrewsbury. The year 1283 ended the independence of Wales, and the Statute of Wales, passed in a Parliament held at Rhyddlan Castle, sought to introduce the English law and judicial system. The northern country was held by the aid of strong castles erected at Conway and Caernarvon, and the birth, at that town, in 1284, of the king's second son, Edward, gave him the title of "Prince of Wales." When the death of the elder son Alfonso made the young Edward heir to the crown of England, his title remained henceforth that borne by the sovereign's eldest son. The division of the country into counties was begun, but Wales was not fully incorporated with England, returning members to Parliament, until the time of Henry VIII. Then English law was established, and the counties of Montgomery, Brecon, Denbigh, and Radnor were formed, while Monmouth was brought to its present limits, and ranked for the first time as a part of England.

The chance of intervention in Scotland came to Edward through a disputed succession, due to the death of the young Scottish queen Margaret, the "Maid of Norway," as she was called from her father Eric, king of that country. In 1291 Edward, as chosen arbitrator, awarded the Scottish crown to John Baliol, who accepted it with vassalage to the English crown. In 1296 war was caused by a Scottish alliance with France, then engaged in hostilities with England, and by a renunciation of allegiance to Edward. The struggle for Scottish independence had begun, and at first the English sovereign had great success. Berwick was stormed with dreadful slaughter. Dunbar, Edinburgh, and Stirling fell. Baliol was dethroned and went a prisoner to London, along with the famous coronation-stone from Scone and the Scottish regalia. Southern Scotland was being kept down by garrisons, and had been put in civil and military charge of English officials, as a conquered country, when the great patriot and hero, and able general, William Wallace, took the field in 1297. He at once gained a brilliant victory over an English army at Stirling Bridge, but in 1298 Edward, in person, routed his forces at Falkirk. On the renewal of the war in 1303, Edward reduced the south again to submission, and, two years later, Wallace was betrayed, taken to London, and executed, with gross injustice, as a traitor, though he had never sworn allegiance to the English sovereign. The. spirit of the feudal times is shown in the fact that such a king as Edward, in dealing with so gallant a foe, could have his head struck off, after hanging, and placed on a pole fixed over London Bridge, and then dispatch the four quarters of his body for public exhibition at Newcastle, Berwick, Perth, and Aberdeen. One of Wallace's partisans, Sir Simon Fraser, was also put to death in London, and his head was placed beside that of his great leader. These were the only victims. A scheme of rule was drawn up which left Scottish law in force for most affairs, and placed authority in the hands of Scottish nobles.

In 1306 a yet greater man than Wallace in ability, though not, perhaps, so pure a patriot, took up arms for his country. This was Robert Bruce, of English lineage, brought up at the English court, and having a good claim to the crown of Scotland. In July, Bruce was defeated by Edward's commander at Methven, in Perthshire, and he spent the winter as a fugitive in the little isle of Rathlin, off the north coast of Ireland. Many of his leading friends in Scotland were executed. In the spring of 1307 Bruce was back in Scotland, and severely defeated the victor of Methven, the earl of Pembroke, at Loudon Hill. The great English king, now not so much old in years (he was 68) as worn out by long and heavy toils in council and on the field of battle, died at Burgh-on-Sands, near Carlisle, as he made his way to take vengeance on the new "rebel." In 1293 there had been some warfare with France due to collisions between English and French mariners. Edward's refusal to appear in court at Paris and answer for his subjects' conduct caused Philip IV. to declare the forfeiture of the south-western territory in Gascony and Guienne. The war generally was in favour of France.

The legislation of Edward I.'s reign was of a very important character. One statute dealt with the undue possession of lands by the Church. Another favoured trade by enabling merchants to take prompt measures against defaulting debtors. A third, the Statute of Winchester, provided for the public peace by appointing a new class of magistrates, and clearing the highways of lurking-places for robbers. Another law created "entailed" estates, and favoured the rise and continuance of great landowning families by causing lands to descend from father to son or other heir, without any power of sale or other alienation resting in the actual possessor. The "Confirmation of the Charters" was due to the resistance of certain patriotic barons to the king's demands for money without assent of Parliament. A special and stringent clause was added to the Great Charter, which forbade the exaction of customs-duties and general revenue, as well as of feudal sums, without the consent of Parliament. It was thus that the "power of the purse" was wholly and formally vested in that body. In this reign was completed the creation of the Courts of Common Pleas, King's Bench, and Exchequer, which until very recent times had charge, respectively, of cases between subjects, of higher criminal offences and suits in which the Crown was concerned, and of revenue-matters. The Court of Chancery arose, under Edward III., for the decision of suits according to a just and equitable view, and not on the strict rules of the other courts, in cases devoid of any proper legal remedy.

The reign of the; worthless Edward II. (1307-1327) presents us with only one name of great significance - "Bannockburn." The new sovereign neglected for some years his father's injunctions to carry on the Scottish war, and Bruce was engaged in getting rid by warfare, of the English garrisons, until Stirling Castle, overlooking the historic field, the "Marathon" of Scotland, was the only remaining stronghold of his foe, and that was on the point of falling. Then Edward roused himself to action and advanced with a great host to relieve the place. The victory of Bruce on the great day of Scottish annals, June 24th, 1314, with 30,000 Scottish foot and but 500 cavalry, over more than thrice the number of Englishmen, half composed of heavy mailed horsemen, was due to skilful generalship. The Scottish spearmen were arrayed in solid circles capable of resisting the charges of horse. The right flank was covered by the rugged ground and by the broken banks of the stream called Bannockburn. The left wing was protected by pits and trenches, which limited the space for the movements of the English cavalry. The Scottish spearmen stood firm against all attempts to break them. The English archers were dispersed, as their fire began to gall the circles of Scots, by a happy charge of the few cavalry of Bruce on the left flank. As confusion arose among the foes, Bruce brought up his reserve and pressed hotly forward, and a panic soon arose which sent Edward in full flight from the field, leaving behind him in the dust above a score of barons, 200 knights, 700 "squires," and 30,000 of the common sort. A vast spoil was secured by the victors, with countless prisoners, including over 20 barons and 60 knights. The conquering Scots lost nearly 4,000 in all. There was further fighting on both sides of the Border, but in 1328 the Treaty of Northampton recognised Bruce as king, and renounced the claim to feudal "homage" from Scottish sovereigns. The reign of Edward II. was, in other respects, one of almost unbroken shame and misery. His Gascon favourite, Piers Gaveston, was hated by the barons, who, after his banishment and recall, took and hanged him, having then assumed the government of the country. The barons were equally hostile to the new royal favourites, the two Despensers, father and son, but Edward turned with a spasm of energy upon his nobles, and, defeating their leader, the earl of Lancaster, captured and executed him in 1322. Four years, later his wife, Isabella of France, in league with some of the barons, landed with her lover Roger Mortimer, and a body of men, in 1326, on returning from a diplomatic mission to her native country. The Despensers were then taken and hanged. The king was deposed by Parliament, and imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. There, in September, 1327, by order of Isabella and Mortimer, he was murdered with cruelty so atrocious, that "the shrieks of an agonising king," in the words of the poet Gray, who justly styles the wicked wife "She-wolf of France" - shrieks heard with terror by the neighbouring peasants amid the gloom of night - seem yet to ring through the ages, arousing ceaseless wonder as to what evil-doing of the victim - a crowned and anointed English monarch - could have led him to so terrible a doom.

Edward III. (1327-1377) was a fine specimen of the feudal king and warrior. Ambitious, energetic, a skilful commander, a generous giver, a wise and vigorous ruler for most of his long reign, he showed his masterful spirit at the age of 18 on assuming royal power in 1330. Roger Mortimer was seized at midnight, as he supped with Isabella at Nottingham Castle, brought up to Tyburn, in London, and hanged. The wicked queen became a life-long prisoner at Castle Rising, near King's Lynn, where her son paid her a one-day's annual ceremonious visit, and then rode away and left her alone to her reflections. Edward, married to the excellent Philippa of Hainault, a province of the south Netherlands, had many children, of whom we need only here notice that famous model of the warriors of chivalry Edward, "the Black Prince," the eldest son, who died before his father; the third son, Lionel, ancestor of the "House of York," in the female line; the fourth son, John of Gaunt (or Ghent, where he was born), duke of Lancaster, founder of the "House of Lancaster"; and Edmund, ancestor of the "House of York," in the male line. In 1333 some warfare with Scotland included a defeat of the Scots at Halidon Hill, near Berwick, and 13 years later David II., son of Robert Bruce, having crossed the Border in arms, was defeated at Neville's Cross, near Durham, and became for some years a prisoner in England. It was at this period that Scotland and France formed the close alliance which continued far into the Tudor period.

The chief event, or series of events, in Edward III.'s reign, is the beginning of the "Hundred Years' War" which was so disastrous to both countries. The claim of the English king to the throne of France was quite baseless, and the real causes of the war were various acts of French hostility against England in the Channel; in aid of Scotland; and in Guienne. It was in 1340 that Edward assumed the title of "King of France," and quartered the French arms (the fleur de lys) with his own (the leopards or lions), in order to please his allies, the Flemings, who were feudal vassals of France, and could only aid the English sovereign as also "King of France." Every British schoolboy knows the warlike events of the reign: the naval victory of Sluys, then on the seacoast, now some miles inland, near Ostend; the battle of Crecy, where the "Black Prince," at 16 years of age, "won his spurs"; the taking of Calais, afterwards held for over two centuries as our gate of entrance into France, and as a depot for the wool exported hence to Flanders; and the battle of Poitiers, with the capture of the French king, and his kindly treatment by the victorious Black Prince. The importance of Crecy and Poitiers in medieval history lay in the fact that, apart from skilful generalship in Edward and his son, those great triumphs were due to English archery - to long steel-tipped shafts shot strongly and with accurate aim from powerful bows carried by English yeomen and peasants. The foot-soldiers of the day, the lowest military class of feudal times, laid low in battle the armour-clad knights, and the mass of the people knew the power of their own right arms in self-defence. The strength of feudalism - the ascendency in war of barons, knights, and squires - was shaken to its base, and the power of the popular element had begun. We must also note the dreadful work done by the pestilence, an outbreak of Oriental plague, which raged through most of Europe in 1348-49, and was known as "the Black Death." Accurate statistics are, of course, impossible, but there is good reason to believe that from one-third to one-half of the people perished. The effect in England was to raise the rate of wages paid by landowners, who now tilled their lands mostly by hired labour, and to cause -some legislation to compel the peasants to work at fixed wages in their own localities. Much of the land ceased, from lack of labourers, to be tilled for corn, and became pasture for the raising of wool, which was a source of great profit by export for weaving in the looms of the Netherlands.

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