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Reign of Edward I. Part 1 page 2

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Meanwhile the Welsh, who probably were incited by Philip, broke out into insurrection, took possession of many castles and towns on their borders, and slaughtered great numbers of the English. Edward immediately led the greater part of his army into Wales, having first sent a body of troops into Gascony, and commanded his powerful fleet to attack and plunder the French coast. A number of sanguinary sea-fights took place between the French and English, and in nearly every instance the French were defeated with heavy loss.

The campaign of Edward in Wales was by no means brief or unattended with danger. The mountaineers once more distinguished themselves by an obstinate resistance, and the rigours of winter approached to add to the privations and difficulties of the royal troops. Several months passed away before the Welsh were again reduced to submission. Madoc, their leader, the foremost and best man in this new struggle for liberty, was at length compelled to surrender, and he, with other of the most dangerous chiefs, were cast into dungeons for life. And thus, after the country had been again ravaged, and the homes of great numbers of the people lay in ashes, the rebellion was quelled. The story which has long been current respecting the hanging of the Welsh bards by Edward, rests on no contemporary authority, and therefore must be rejected as devoid of truth, There is no question that the king was capable of that, or any other savage act by which vengeance for the past or advantage for the future was to be obtained; but it is the business of history to illustrate a man's character by his actions, and not to deduce from, that character a confirmation of doubtful statements.

No sooner was the submission of the Welsh complete than the position of affairs in Scotland again demanded Edward's presence, and compelled him to relinquish his intention of crossing the Channel in person. The nobles of Guienne had lately declared themselves in his favour, and thither the king dispatched a small body of troops under the command of his brother Edmund. Soon after landing Edmund died, and the command fell upon the Earl of Lincoln, who attacked the French towns and fortresses with success, driving out the whole of the French garrisons. This state of things, however, was soon afterwards reversed. The towns were retaken by the forces of Philip, and his uncle, the Count d'Artois, at the head of a well-appointed and numerous army, defeated the English in several engagements, and ultimately drove them out of the country, with the exception of a few towns on the coast. Reprisals took place, and the whole seaboard of Brittany was plundered, by the English fleet, which inflicted great damage upon the inhabitants, and punished them with an discriminating cruelty. The French, with their allies, made similar attempts on this side of the Channel; and on one occasion they landed at Dover, and sacked the town while the male inhabitants were absent. The men of Dover returned to find many of their wives and children murdered, and they overtook the marauders before they could reach their ships, and slew several hundreds of them.

The policy of Edward towards Scotland had been insulting and imperious to a degree which can hardly be considered judicious. The king whom he had raised to the throne was thwarted in every assumption of independent sovereignty, and was made to feel that his oath of vassalage was no form, but a galling and bitter reality. Complaints against the government of Baliol were never wanting from his disaffected subjects, and these readily obtained the ear of Edward, who lost no opportunity of summoning the Scottish king to appear before him, and answer the charge of mal-administration. It appears that when Baliol submitted to these demands, and presented himself in the English courts, Edward treated him with consideration; but when the -Scottish monarch attempted to assert his independence, he was checked by measures of the utmost rigour. The submission of Baliol to his imperious master was complete, and although he at length was goaded to offer some resistance, this tardy show of spirit tends little to redeem his character from the unfavourable light in which it is viewed by history. Apologists for this degraded king have not been wanting, and have attempted to paint him as a man possessed of lofty qualities, who erred rather from over-estimating his strength than from weakness or pusillanimity. His contemporaries among his own countrymen thought otherwise, and gave him a nickname, attributing to him an utter want of energy and ability. Posterity has generally concurred in that opinion, and the name of John Baliol has been inscribed on the least honourable page of Scottish history.

While proceedings were pending against Baliol for the resistance which he had at length displayed, Philip of France seized upon the province of Guienne, and war was declared between France and England. Edward now summoned Baliol and the chiefs of the Scottish nobility to render him assistance against his enemies, and to attend him with their armed vassals. But the insolent and overbearing policy which he had lately exhibited had roused the national pride of the Scots. They paid no regard to his summons, and, instead of arming their vassals in his service, they assembled a Parliament at Scone. The Parliament commenced its proceedings by dismissing all Englishmen from the Scottish court; and being thus relieved from the presence of spies on their measures, they determined to declare war against Edward, and to enter into negotiations with the French, king, which resulted in a treaty of alliance. The English barons who held estates in Scotland were banished from their lands, and the few Scottish nobles who still remained faithful to Edward were proceeded against in the same manner. Among these was Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale, whose broad lands were thus temporarily lost to him, and were given to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan.

Such proceedings as these excited the indignation of Edward, who sought for the instrument through whom he might counteract their tendencies. Such an instrument appeared in the younger Bruce, son of the competitor for the crown, to whom Edward now showed great favour, regretting his decision in favour of Baliol, and expressing his determination to place Bruce on the throne. In consequence of these promises, Bruce and his son, with other nobles of their party, renewed the oath of homage to the English king. The weak and vacillating character of Baliol was clearly displayed at this critical moment. He made little or no attempt to quell the rising storm; and the dominant party in the Scottish Parliament, fearing a submission on his part, excluded him from the functions of government, confined him in a mountain fortress, and placed the management of affairs in the hands of twelve of the leading nobles. The council began the exercise of authority with bold and patriotic measures. They formally threw off their allegiance to Edward, concluded a treaty of marriage between the eldest son of Baliol and the niece of Philip of France, and finally assembled an army, with which they marched against Carlisle, The attack upon that city proved unsuccessful, and the Scottish army was split up into factions, whom the bond of a common love for liberty with difficulty held together.

Edward had now prepared himself for the signal vengeance which he meditated. He collected an army of 30,000 foot and 4,000 horse, and was presently joined by 1,000 foot and 500 horse under the command of Anthony Beck, Bishop of Durham. This warlike prelate rode beside the king at the head of the troops, and with the sacred standards of St. John of Beverley and St. Cuthbert of Durham elevated above them, they marched towards Scotland. Baliol had been already summoned to attend at Newcastle as vassal of the English crown. Edward waited a few days for his appearance, and then crossed the Tweed, and led his army along the Scottish side to the town of Berwick, which was then in the hands of the Scots.

Berwick was at that time a place of great importance, celebrated for its wealth and the power of its merchants, and thus its capture offered to Edward other temptations than the prospect of revenge. He, however, made some show of clemency by proposing terms of accommodation. These being refused, a simultaneous attack was made upon the town by the English fleet and the troops of the king. The attack by sea was repulsed, with the loss of three ships, which were burnt by the townspeople; but the onslaught of the land forces bore down all opposition. Berwick possessed a castle of great strength, but the town itself was defended only by a dike. Over this outwork Edward led his troops in person, and, mounted on his war-horse, was the first to enter the town. The example stimulated the courage of his soldiery, and within a short time the town was in their hands.

The scene that ensued was characterised by deeds of horror which are a deep reproach to the manhood of the age, and an indelible stain upon the manhood of him who directed them. Seventeen thousand persons were put to the sword, without distinction of age or sex. The young and the innocent, the aged and the helpless, were mingled in the same slaughter with the strong man who resisted to the death. For two days the carnage was continued, until the dead were piled up before the doors of the houses, and the streets ran down with blood. From the cruelty of man the wretched inhabitants sought the protection of God, and, flocking to the churches, they flung themselves in terror before the altars. But the sanctuary was speedily violated by their enemies; the shelter of the sacred walls availed them nothing, and they were cut down by hundreds where they knelt. It is related that a party of Flemish merchants defended themselves in their factory - -a building of great strength - against the whole English army, until the assailants, exasperated by the opposition they encountered, set fire to the factory, and burnt it, with its brave defenders, to the ground.

Such was the terrible lesson which Edward was capable of giving to those who opposed him. The massacre of Berwick took place on Good Friday, the 30th of March, A.D. 1296, and on the 5th of April the Abbot of Arbroath arrived at the town, attended by three monks. Undismayed by the ruthless character of the king, the abbot appeared before him, and delivered to him Baliol'a formal renunciation of his homage. "What! is the traitor capable of such madness?" the king exclaimed. "If, then, he will not come to us, we will go to him."

The injury which the Scots had sustained excited the deepest feelings of indignation throughout the country. Eager for vengeance, the Scottish army, headed by the Earls of Ross, Monteith, and Atholl, entered England, ravaged Redesdale and Tynedale, and put the inhabitants of all ranks and ages to the sword. Towns, villages, and monasteries were burnt to the ground, and a war of extermination continued for awhile on both sides. But the vengeance of the Scots was short-lived, while that of Edward, deeply planned and unrelenting, was far more terrible and lasting.

The castle of Dunbar was one of the strongest and most important fortresses of Scotland. Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, was at this time fighting against his countrymen in the English army; but his countess, who held the castle, and whose hatred of the English was intense, entered into a treaty with the Scottish leaders to deliver it up to them. The offer was speedily taken advantage of, and the Earls of Ross, Atholl, and Monteith, with other powerful chiefs, and a body of thirty-one knights, and a number of foot, took possession of the castle. Having driven out the few soldiers who refused to join their standard, they prepared to maintain, at all hazards, the strong position they had obtained.

Aware of the importance of this movement, Edward dispatched the Earl Warenne, with 10.000 foot and 1,000 horse, to recover the castle. When the earl summoned the garrison to surrender, they agreed to do so, provided they were not relieved within three days. Meanwhile, the whole Scottish army was advancing upon the English, and having reached the high ground above Dunbar, took up a strong position there. Forty thousand foot and 1,500 horse were ranged in formidable array upon the hills, and the garrison of the castle jeered and insulted the English from the walls, as though they were already beaten. The relative positions and numbers of the two armies were such that nothing but the headlong precipitancy of the Scots could have lost them the victory. Undismayed by the number of the enemy, Earl Warenne advanced to meet them, and while passing through a narrow valley his troops fell for a short time into confusion. The Scots perceived this, and believing that the English were taking to flight, they abandoned their position, and rushed down upon their foes with shouts of triumph. Meanwhile the English leader had restored order among his troops, and the Scots found themselves, not among masses of fugitives, but face to face with a compact body of tried and well-appointed soldiers. They were driven back in the greatest disorder, and the earl gained a complete victory, which for a time decided the fate of Scotland. Ten thousand men were left dead on the field, and the greater number of the leaders were taken prisoners. This battle was fought on the 28th of April, and on the following day King Edward appeared on the scene in person, and the castle then surrendered.

Edward proceeded with his customary energy to complete the subjugation of the kingdom. He passed through the country, and took possession of the castles of Roxburgh, Dumbarton, and Jedburgh. Having received re-enforcements, he advanced to Edinburgh, which fortress surrendered to him after a siege of eight days. At Stirling he was joined by the Earl of Ulster, with 30,000 men, and passed on to Perth, where for a few days he sheathed the sword and occupied himself with the ceremonies of religion. While the English army were keeping the feast of John the Baptist, new messengers arrived from Baliol, who now sued for peace. Edward would not condescend to treat with the fallen monarch in person, but sent to him the Bishop of Durham, who communicated to him the pleasure of the English king. The terms offered were such as never ought to have been accepted. Baliol was required to submit himself absolutely to the mercy of the conqueror, and to renounce his kingly state under circumstances of the utmost humiliation. In the presence of an assembly of bishops and nobles the King of Scotland was stripped of crown and sceptre, and was compelled, with a white rod in his hand, to perform a feudal penance. The date of this disgraceful transaction was the 7th of July, A.D. 1296, and the scene, according to the statements of historians, as well as the details of local tradition, was the churchyard of Strathkathro, in Angus. Baliol placed his son Edward in the king's hands as a hostage, and the youth, with his father, was sent to England, where both remained for three years, imprisoned in the Tower.

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