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Edward III page 2

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In return for these unlooked-for advantages, Bruce agreed to pay the King of England 30,000 marks as compensation for damages done in his kingdom.

Edward himself, a few months previous to this marriage of his sister, had received his long-affianced wife, Philippa of Hainault, who had been brought to this country by Isabella's champion, John of Hainault, the young queen's uncle. Philippa proved one of the best wives and queens which the annals of England can boast.

We may here notice the death of Robert Bruce, which took place in the following year, 1329. He was by no means old, being only fifty-four, but he was worn down by the disease and infirmities contracted through the severe exertions, hardships, and exposures endured in his stupendous endeavours for the liberation of Scotland. Robert Bruce may be pronounced one of the ablest, most patriotic, and wise monarchs who ever lived. He entered into contest with an enemy who appeared to most men too powerful for any hope of success, and left his country at peace and independent. With some exceptions, even in that hard and iron age, his character was marked by great tenderness and amiability. His destruction of the Red Comyn was an act which, though dictated by policy, his conscience never approved. On his death-bed he reverted to it, declaring that he had always meant to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in expiation of the crime, but, as he could not do that, he commissioned his dearest friend and bravest warrior to carry his heart thither. In contrast to and palliation of the slaughter of the Red Comyn, we may place such actions as that in which he stopped his army in retreat in Ireland, because a poor woman, who had just given birth to a child, had no means of being conveyed on with the troops, and was heard by him lamenting that she should be left to the cruelties of the Irish.

No sooner did Bruce understand her complaint than he looked round on his officers with eyes which kindled like fire, and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, never let it be said that a man, who was born of a woman and nursed by a woman's tenderness, could leave a mother and an infant to the mercy of barbarians. In the name of God, let the odds and the risk be what they will, let us fight rather than leave these poor creatures behind us." The army halted and drew up in order of battle, and Edmund Butler, the English general, believing that Bruce had received reinforcements, hesitated to attack him; so that Bruce had opportunity to send on the woman and child, and retreat at his leisure,

Robert Bruce died at his castle of Cardross on the 7th of June, 1329; and Douglas some time after, setting on with several brave knights to carry the heart of the king to Jerusalem, enclosed in a silver case, and hung from his neck, stopped to fight the infidels in Spain, where he was killed; but his remains were brought back to Scotland, as well as the heart of Bruce, which was buried behind the high altar in the abbey of Melrose. The body of Bruce was interred in the church of Dunfermline, where some years ago the tomb was opened, and the remain of his bones were found, and clearly identified, after a rest of more than 500 years, by the breast-bone having been sawn through to take out the heart, and by fragments of the cloth of gold in which he was known to have been wrapped.

The peace thus concluded with Scotland did not make Mortimer feel as secure as he had hoped. Indeed it added greatly to the popular resentment against him. His haying so readily yielded up the claims of the nation on Scotland wounded the public feeling; whilst his arbitrary and ambitious conduct in domestic affairs drew upon him the hatred of the people and the jealousy of the nobles. He assumed a splendour eyen outvying royalty. He grasped, like all favourites, at riches and honours insatiably. At the Parliament held in October at Salisbury he caused himself to be created Earl of March, or Lord of the Marches of Wales. He grossly abused the prerogative of purveyance, thus robbing the public extensively. Amongst the barons who beheld this haughty career of Mortimer with disgust, were the Earls of Lancaster, Kent, and Norfolk, all princes of the blood. Lancaster was guardian of the king, yet he was kept carefully in the hands of Mortimer and the queen-mother. Lancaster therefore determined to assert the authority of his office, and put some check on Mortimer: but coming to a contest at "Winchester, he was obliged to retreat, and Mortimer then fell on his estates, and ravaged them as he would an enemy's country. When the three earls were summoned to Parliament at Salisbury, he strictly forbade them to come attended by an armed body; a common, though an illegal, practice in those times. They complied with the command, but found, on approaching the city, that Mortimer himself was attended by his party and their followers, all strongly armed. Alarmed for their personal safety, they made a hasty retreat, and were returning with their forces, when, from some cause unknown, the Earls of Kent and Norfolk suddenly deserted Lancaster, who was compelled to make a humiliating submission, and pay a heavy fine. Through the intercession of the prelates, the peace was apparently restored amongst these powerful men.

Probably Kent and Norfolk had been tampered with to induce them to desert Lancaster; certain it is that soon after, the weak but well-meaning Kent was made the victim of a gross stratagem by Mortimer. He surrounded Kent by his creatures, who asserted that his brother, Edward II., was still alive. The earl's remorse for the share he had had in his brother's ruin made him eagerly listen to a story of this kind. They represented to him that it was a fact well and widely known amongst the people, that the body said to be the king's, which was exhibited at Berkeley Castle, and afterwards buried at Gloucester, was not his, but that he was now actually a prisoner in Corfe Castle. Some monks lent themselves to the base scheme; and exhorted the Earl of Kent to rise to the rescue of his unfortunate brother, assuring him that his fate excited the deepest feeling, and that various nobles and prelates, from whom they professed to come, would at once join in the generous enterprise. No means were spared to lead their victim into the snare. Letters were forged as coming from the Pope, stimulating him to this course, as one required of him as a brother. The earl, completely deceived by this infamous conspiracy, wrote letters to his supposed captive brother, which were handed to Sir John Maltravers, believed by the earl to be cognisant of the poor king's incarceration, but in reality one of his murderers. These letters were duly conveyed to Mortimer and the queen-mother, and were speedily treated as ample proofs of the earl's treasonable designs. The earl was invited to come to Winchester, where a Parliament, consisting entirely of the faction of the wicked queen and Mortimer, arrested him on the charge of conspiring against the present government, and condemned him to death and loss of his estate. Lest the young king should take compassion on his uncle, the queen and Mortimer hastened his execution. But now was seen a singular sight. Not a man could be found who would take the office of executioner; and there was the son of the great Edward I. seen standing on the scaffold before the castle gate for many hours, for want of a headsman. Such was the detestation of that lascivious woman and of her base and murderous paramour, and such the veneration for that worthy nobleman, that not a man, of any degree whatever, either of the city or neighbourhood, could be induced by rewards or menaces to take up the axe, till a mean wretch from the Marshalsea prison, to save his own life, at length consented to take the life of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent. This was the more remarkable because great complaints were made by the public of the insolence and rapacity of the earl's retainers, who, on the plea of the royal right of purveyance, would take anything as they rode abroad without thinking of paying the parties to whom it belonged. This was, indeed, a great complaint which was frequently brought to Parliament against all the princes of the blood of those times, who used the privilege of purveyance to plunder the defenceless people at will. Personally, however, the Earl of Kent was much beloved; and though the king, his nephew, had signed the sentence, the guilt of it was charged on the queen-mother and Mortimer. The alleged accomplices of the earl were allowed to escape except Robert de Teuton and a poor prior, who had told the earl that he had raised a spirit to inquire whether Edward II. was really still living. This poor man was imprisoned for life.

The wickedness and rapacity of the queen and Mortimer did not cease there. Lancaster was thrown into prison. Numbers of the nobility and prelates were implicated, and Mortimer used this fear of treason to crush his enemies and aggrandise himself by their property. The estate of the Earl of Kent he gave to his younger son Geoffrey; the vast demesnes of the Spensers he seized for himself. His power became most ominous, and his deeds of arbitrary injustice were more and more complained of, till all parties forgot their mutual feuds and united against him.

It is the fate of overgrown upstarts never to foresee their ruin. Had not this blind fatality attached to Mortimer in common with his class, he must have been sensible that the young king was of a character and arriving at an age which would bring his destruction. There were not wanting rumours at the time that Mortimer did not overlook this probable issue, and had thoughts of destroying the king and assuming the crown. His own time, however, was come. Edward, long galled by the restraint in which he was held, now approached his eighteenth year, and his queen, Philippa, had already brought him a son, afterwards the famous Black Prince, who was born at Woodstock about three months after the execution of the Earl of Kent. The conduct of the queen and Mortimer was become more openly scandalous, and it was generally said that Isabella was about to become a mother. Edward resolved to act; but he was aware that he was closely surrounded by the spies of Mortimer, and he went to work with all the caution of a man conspiring against his sovereign. He fixed on the Lord Montacute as the nobleman in whose prudence and fidelity he had the most confidence. Lord Montacute entered cordially into his plans, and soon engaged some trusty and influential friends in the enterprise - the Lords Clifford and Molines, Sir John Nevil of Hornby, Sir Edward Bohun, and others.

The queen dowager and Mortimer were residing in the castle of Nottingham. The king and his coadjutors determined to make that fortress the scene of their enterprise. A Parliament was summoned to meet there in October of the year 1330. In order, however, as is supposed, to prevent suspicion of the king being bent on any high designs, he held a tournament in Cheapside, which continued three days, and in which he and twelve others jousted with all knights that appeared in the lists. The young queen presided, and was regarded with extreme favour by the people; an interest which was greatly heightened by an accident - the breaking down of the platform on which she sat with many other ladies of the court, but from which they all escaped without injury.

The time being arrived for the opening of Parliament, Edward, with all his barons, prelates, and retainers, repaired to the ancient town of Nottingham. The young king took up his quarters in the castle with his mother and Mortimer; an arrangement at once convenient, as gaining him access and exact knowledge of the lodging of the earl, and also as preserving him from any suspicion. The barons, bishops, and knights took up their quarters in the town. Mortimer appeared in high state, accompanied wherever he went by a strong body of devoted followers. The plans of Edward and his coadjutors were settled; and Lord Montacute was seen riding away into the country with a numerous body of his friends and attendants, as if going on a visit to some neighbouring baron. This, undoubtedly, was intended to divert suspicion; but the plot had not been so closely kept as to escape the quick ears of the emissaries of Mortimer. On the afternoon of that day he entered the council with a face inflamed with rage. He declared to the council that a base attempt was in agitation against the queen and himself, and charged Edward bluntly with being concerned in it. Edward as stoutly denied the charge, but Mortimer pronounced his denial false. The council broke up in confusion. The castle, standing on a lofty precipice overlooking the lovely valley of the Trent, was strongly fortified on the side of the town. A numerous guard was placed around it under these alarming circumstances, and Mortimer and his adherents were all on the alert to watch against surprise, and to plan schemes of defeat and vengeance on their enemies. It did not appear a very easy matter to secure the usurper in that stronghold.

But the town and castle of Nottingham are built on a soft sand rock, in which the ancient inhabitants had sunk many caves, deep cells, and subterranean passages. One of these descended from the castle court to the foot of the precipice near the small river Leen, where the entrance was at that time concealed by a wild growth of bushes. Probably the existence of this passage was wholly unknown to Mortimer and the queen; and the criminal couple, having the strong military guard placed at the gates at evening, and the keys conveyed to the queen, who laid them by her bed-side, deemed themselves perfectly secure. But the Lord Montacute had sounded Sir William Eland, the governor, who entered at once most zealously into the design. By him Montacute and his friends were admitted through this passage, still called "Mortimer's Hole," and on arriving in the court they were joined by the king, who led the way in profound silence and in darkness to an apartment adjoining the hall, in which they could hear the voices of Mortimer, the Bishop of Lincoln, and others of his friends, in anxious discussion. Suddenly the concealed party burst open the door, and killed two of Mortimer's friends who attempted to make a defence. Queen Isabella, who lay in an adjoining apartment, rushed in terror from her bed, imploring her "sweet son" to spare "her gentle Mortimer!" Her tears and entreaties for "her worthy knight, her dearest friend, her beloved cousin," were in vain; the Lord of the Marches and dictator of the kingdom was led away in safe custody, and on the morrow brought before Parliament and condemned to death on the? charges of having usurped the royal power vested in the council of regency; of having procured the death of the late king; of having beguiled the Earl of Kent into a conspiracy to restore that prince - that is, to restore a dead man; for having compassed exorbitant grants of the crown lands: dissipated the public treasures; embezzled 20,000 marks of the money paid by the King of Scots; and for many other high crimes and misdemeanours. A more general Parliament, summoned at Westminster on the 26th of November, confirmed this sentence, that he should be drawn and hanged as a traitor. In the informality of the times, Mortimer was not allowed to make any defence: nor were any witnesses produced for or against him. He was declared at once guilty from the notoriety of his crimes. On this ground, nearly twenty years afterwards, the sentence was reversed by Parliament in favour of Mortimer's son; the plea being the illegality of the proceeding.

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