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Accession of Edward I page 2

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The English, seeing the advantage of numbers so greatly on the side of the enemy, laid aside all the laws of chivalry, and determined to win the day as best they might. The cross-bowmen, whose skill was already noted throughout Europe, obtained an immediate advantage against the French foot-soldiers, and drove them from the field. They then joined in the unequal conflict of the cavalry, and stabbed the horses of many of the French knights, or cut their saddle-girths, and so brought them to the ground. The Count of Chalons, furious at the resistance he met with, forced his way to the king, and, after having in vain attempted to unhorse him with his lance, closed with him, and grasping him round the neck, endeavoured to drag him down. The count was celebrated for his great strength, but the king was no less remarkable for that quality, and he remained firmly in his saddle; while, forcing his horse suddenly to one side, the count was pulled from his saddle, and fell heavily to the ground. He was speedily remounted by some of his own party, but he was so severely wounded or bruised that he called for quarter. Enraged at his treachery, Edward dealt him several heavy blows by way of reply, and then, indeed, gave him his life, but compelled him to surrender his sword, and accept the boon from the hands of a common soldier - an act by which, according to the laws of chivalry, the count was disgraced for ever. In spite of the disparity of numbers, the result of this engagement was decidedly in favour of the English. They took many of the French knights prisoners, and great numbers of the foot-soldiers were butchered. So fierce was the affray, and so large a number of those engaged were slain, that it was afterwards known by the name of the "little battle of Chalons."

Having thus read a lesson to all conspirators against his person, Edward at length made preparations to return to England. Having sent directions for his coronation, he took his way through France, passing through the town of Montreuil. Here he stopped to arrange some disputes which had arisen in the previous reign between the English and the Flemings, and which are worthy of notice, as illustrating the commercial relations of the two countries in those days. For a certain number of years previously, the Counts of Flanders had been accustomed to supply for the service of the Kings of England a certain number of foot-soldiers, who were received on hire. In the reign of Henry III. these supplies ceased to be demanded; but the Countess of Flanders claimed a sum of money as arrears of pay, and on payment being refused, she seized all the English wool - then largely exported from the country - to be found in her territory. The Flemings were then the chief manufacturers of woollen and other cloths, and Henry retaliated by detaining all their manufactured goods then in England, and by prohibiting all commerce between the two countries. This prohibition caused great loss and damage to the Flemings, whose looms were thus rendered idle, and their workmen left without employment. The object of the countess was the renewal of trade with England, and to this end she made application to Edward, and offered a public apology for the wrong which had been committed. The king acted with wisdom on this occasion, and, having sought the advice of some London merchants, he removed the prohibition.

Edward landed at Dover on the 2nd of August, A.r>. 1274, and seventeen days afterwards he was crowned, with his wife Eleanor, at Westminster. The return of the king from the Holy Land was hailed by the people with great demonstrations of joy. According to Holinshed, the king and queen were received "with all joy that might be devised. The streets were hung with rich cloths of silk, arras, and tapestry; the aldermen and burgesses of the city threw out of their windows handfuls of gold and silver, to signify the great gladness which they conceived of his safe return; the conduits ran plentifully with white wine and red, that each creature might drink his fill." So readily did the people forget the injustice and cruelties of their former monarchs, and so enthusiastically did they welcome each new ruler, whom they were willing to hope might bless the land with peace and prosperity.

Edward's first exercise of power was by acts of extreme and merciless tyranny, directed, not towards his Christian subjects, whose liberties he showed no disposition to invade, but towards the unhappy Jews, who had already suffered such repeated persecutions that it may almost be considered matter for surprise that any of their race were left in the country. On ascending the throne, Edward found the Royal treasury almost exhausted, and there is no doubt that his proceedings against the Jews were dictated by the necessity of raising money. That fanatical spirit which had led him to direct the slaughter of unresisting Moslems, may probably have justified him in his own eyes in his cruel persecutions of Jews, who were no less regarded as infidels, and as unworthy of the protection of the laws. The pretext put forward - for the day had arrived when at least some pretext was required - was that the Jews had tampered with the coinage of the realm, which had been found to be generally clipped and adulterated. There was no evidence whatever to fix upon this unhappy people as the authors of the crime, but their riches offered a temptation to cupidity, and their helplessness admitted of their being condemned without fear of the consequences. The hatred against the Jews was universal, and the appearance of one of them before a Christian court was followed as a matter of course by his condemnation.

The clipped coin was so common as to be found all over the kingdom; but immediately that such a piece of money was discovered in the possession of a Jew, he was seized, submitted to the form of a trial, and hanged without mercy. It is related that 280 of both sexes were executed in London, besides which, great numbers were put to death in other towns. The property of all those who were thus judicially murdered reverted to the crown; and, therefore, it is not difficult to see why these acts of persecution were pushed to so great an extent.

When the royal coffers had been replenished by such means as these, Edward directed his attention to carrying out certain schemes, on which he entered with calmness and determination. Influenced by as restless an ambition as any of his predecessors, he directed his efforts to a field, on which, as it appeared, they had the best prospect of ultimate success. Instead of carrying his army across the Channel to subdue provinces between which and his throne the sea would continue to flow, he proposed to himself the conquest of the whole island of Great Britain. He asserted his right to do so by virtue of a feudal superiority - a claim which, as far as it had reference to Scotland, was wholly without foundation.

The first expedition of Edward was directed against the Welsh, whom so many of the Anglo-Norman kings had in vain attempted to subdue. Politically considered, there is no doubt that this expedition was wisely ordered, and that the early conquest of those brave mountaineers has proved in the highest degree beneficial to this country. At the time of the accession of Edward, civilisation had made important progress in England, while in Wales it had been stationary; but if we examine the social condition of that people after the conquest, as described in the writings of a contemporary, and one of their own countrymen, we shall find their national character depicted in colours which attract our respect and admiration. In time of war they were brave, or even fierce; but when the war was over, they showed that they could appreciate the blessings of peace, and they betook themselves to their ordinary avocations, and exchanged the rites of hospitality. In spite of the aggressive wars made upon them from time to time, any Englishman who visited them in their mountains, as a simple traveller without arms, was sure of safe conduct and a kind reception. If he arrived in the morning he was entertained until the evening by the young women, who played and sang to him with the harp. There was a harp in every cottage, and with it was to be found at least one person whose skill could bring out its sweetest sounds. The people are described as possessed of great natural dignity and freedom of speech, which gave them confidence even in replying to princes.

If we may credit this account of one of their countrymen, we find here one of the rare instances given in history of a people displaying many of the amenities of social life while yet in the infancy of civilisation; deriving their code of honour, laws, and manners from the influences of unwritten memorials of the past - from songs and traditions. The mountain maidens, who cheered the tired traveller with the music of the harp, had no better clothing' than the skins of sheep and goats. The chiefs, whose sway over a thousand warriors was absolute, and who bore themselves with undaunted mien in the presence of kings, kept state among bare walls and benches, and rode out to meet the English chivalry upon the rough ponies of the mountains. It is related that when Henry II. passed through the country, he looked with a contemptuous eye upon the poverty of the inhabitants, until he perceived among them a pride greater than his own, and based not upon gaudy trappings or outward show, but upon the consciousness of a manhood which had no need of decorations. "These people are poor," said a mountaineer to the king, "but such as they are, thou shalt never subdue them; that is reserved for God in his wrath."

It has been already related that during the contests between Henry III. and the De Montfort faction, Llewellyn,, the chief of the north principality, had supported the cause of the Earl of Leicester, and, at the Battle of Evesham, had fought on his side. When that final struggle was over, and the Welsh chieftain had returned to his native hills, he still retained his regard for the fallen family of De Montfort, and sent to offer his hand in marriage to Eleanor, daughter of the deceased earl. The offer was accepted, and the young lady, in company with her brother Emeric, set sail from France to reach her affianced husband; but the vessel having been intercepted by some English ships, the bride and her escort were conveyed to the court of Edward, who detained them prisoners. Exasperated by this act of oppression, Llewellyn collected together his men-at-arms, and determined to revenge himself for the insult he had sustained. It is not certain when the first acts of hostility took place on the part of the Welsh or English; but there is no doubt that Edward had for some time past been pursuing, by various covert measures, the schemes he had in view. He administered bribes without stint among the mountain chiefs, and, profiting by long-standing feuds which existed between them, he secured many of them to his side. Actuated by a feeling of jealousy, David, the brother of Llewellyn, placed himself among those who gathered round the royal standard, and with him was Rees-ap-Meredith, the chief or prince of South Wales.

The ground of quarrel which Edward preferred against Llewellyn was that the latter had refused to obey the summons to appear before the king, and render homage as one of the vassals of the Crown. On receiving that summons, Llewellyn replied that his life was in danger from the number of his enemies, who, in violation of a recent treaty between him and Edward, had been received at the court. The Welsh prince demanded that a safe conduct should be granted to him; that ten hostages, chosen from the English nobility, should be sent as security for his safe return, and that his bride should immediately be given up to him. Edward refused these conditions, with the exception of the safe conduct, and it is evident that he had no real desire that his vassal should withdraw his refusal. The king's preparations for the intended expedition were now matured; a large army was ready to take the field, and the Church had excommunicated the Welsh prince as a traitor to the crown.

At Easter, a.d. 1277, Edward began his march to Wales, and having crossed the Dee near Chester, he entered Flintshire. A fleet, which had been dispatched for the purpose, co-operated with him, by cutting off from Llewellyn all supplies from the Isle of Anglesey. The expedition was well-timed; for when these operations had been effectually carried out, and the Welsh prince driven to the mountains, the storms of winter aided the attacks of his enemies. Deprived of food and succour, the condition of Llewellyn soon became wretched in the extreme, and he was compelled to submit to such terms of peace as Edward might please to offer. Those terms were hard indeed. A payment of 50,000 was demanded, together with the cession of the whole of Llewellyn's territories, except the Isle of Anglesey, which was also to revert to the crown in case the prince died without heir male, and for which, during his life, he was to pay a yearly rent of 1.000 marks. The king afterwards remitted the enormous ransom demanded; and, had he not done so, it may be questioned whether it would have been possible to raise so much money throughout the principality. In return for these concessions of Llewellyn, Edward promised to release Eleanor de Mont-fort; but he showed considerable reluctance to fulfil that promise, and many months elapsed before the Welsh prince obtained his bride.

Edward spared no pains to secure the advantage he had obtained. He rewarded liberally those among the Welsh chiefs who had supported him, and bestowed what are called honours upon those traitors to their native soil. David received the order of knighthood at the king's hands, and with it the hand of the daughter of the Earl of Ferrers. But when the Welsh prince had escaped from the influence of the court, and breathed once more the free air of the hills, he regretted the folly which had induced him to sell the independence of his country, and to league himself with its oppressors. Other causes soon operated to increase this feeling. The English, not content with the large territories they had conquered, made inroads upon the land secured by treaty to the natives, cutting down the timber and committing other depredations. If the chiefs were exasperated by these proceedings, the people were unanimous in their hatred of their enemies, and in cries for vengeance. Allusion has been already made to the prophet Merlin, and to the effect exercised upon his fellow-countrymen by the predictions which bore his name. One of these, which was now remembered and repeated, was to the effect that when the English money should become circular, the Prince of Wales should be crowned in London. Edward had lately ordered a new coinage of round halfpence and farthings, and had issued a decree forbidding the penny to be divided into quarters, as had previously been done. The Welsh, therefore, thought they saw the time arrived to which the prediction referred, and interpreting that dark saying according to their own wild wishes, believed that it foreshadowed nothing less than the subjugation of the whole island to the countrymen of the prophet.

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