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Reign of Edward III

Edward III. continued - Siege of Calais - Battle of Neville's Cross-Capture of the Scottish King - Attempt to re-take Calais by the French - Institution of the Garter - Disturbances in Trance excited by the King of Navarre - Battle of Poictiers - The King of France taken Prisoner and brought to England - Fresh Invasion of France - The Peace of Bretigni - Return of King John to France - Disorders of that Kingdom - The Free Companions - Expedition of the Black Prince into Castile - Fresh Campaign in France - Decline of the English Power there - Death of the Black Prince - Death of Edward III. - Character of his Reign and State of the Kingdom.
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Within six days of the victory of Crecy, Edward had sat down before the city of Calais. He had now fully adopted Sir Godfrey de Harcourt's plan of conquering France through Normandy; and the only remarkable thing is, that, having once entertained the idea of that conquest, he should have overlooked for a moment its unparalleled advantages. Guienne was distant, and only to be reached by a voyage which, at that time, must often be formidable, across the stormy Bay of Biscay. Even in sending succours to the much nearer parts of Brittany, we have just seen that they were detained by contrary winds forty days. Once there he was surrounded in a great measure by hostile provinces; while, on the other hand, Calais lay within twenty-four miles of his own coast, which gave him most easy access to Normandy, Picardy, and Artois. Seeking the alliance of the Flemings, this province lay within a short distance of their own, and no doubt he would have found that people much more disposed for an invasion of a rich and proximate country, than the remoter one of Guienne. Rouen, the capital of the province, could be approached direct by the Seine, and placed the king on the very highway to Paris, and only eighty miles distant from it.

These facts were now fully perceived by Edward, and lie invested Calais with his victorious army, determined to make himself master of it. He calculated on the effect which his destructive overthrow of the French must produce on the inhabitants, and on the certainty that Philip was for a long time rendered impotent of much annoyance. In fact, to secure his capital and northern provinces, Philip was compelled to recall his son, the Duke of Normandy, with his army. No sooner did he retreat than the Earl of Lancaster, formerly Earl of Derby, who had been much pressed by the French, and only enabled to hold his ground by assistance which Sir Walter Manny brought up from Brittany, leaving Bordeaux, crossed the Garonne and the Dordogne, took Mirabeau, Lusignan, Tallebourg, St. Jean d'Angeli, and laid waste the country as far as Poictiers, which he also took by storm and plundered. He thence extended his incursions to the Loire, and ranged through the southern provinces of the kingdom, carrying terror and devastation everywhere. His soldiers were so laden with spoil that they came to despise the richest merchandise, and cared only for gold, silver, and jewels, which they could readily transport, and for the feathers which were then worn by the soldiers in their helmets. With this treasure they returned loaded to Bordeaux.

All this time the war was raging in Brittany, where the Countess de Montfort was creating a powerful diversion in favour of her ally, the King of England, and against her enemy, the King of France. Uniting her forces with those of the English under Sir Thomas Dagworth, they raised the siege of Roch d'Arien, which her rival, Charles of Blois, was investing with 15,000 men, and took Charles of Blois prisoner. The countess sent him to London for safe keeping, where he was confined for nine years in the Tower, as her husband had been in the Louvre. On the captivity of Charles, his countess, Jane the Lame, took on herself the conduct of affairs, and for some time maintained valiantly the cause of her house; though neither she nor her husband, on his restoration to liberty, could ever overcome the brave-hearted Countess of Montfort, who transmitted her province to her descendants.

In this, truly called the age of great women, another of still higher rank, the Queen Philippa of England, was at the same time showing herself equally courageous, and capable of transacting public affairs. Philip of France, alarmed at the vast success and the military genius of Edward III., exerted his influence with David, King of the Scots, to make a diversion on his behalf by invading England during Edward's absence. David Bruce had passed many years with his young queen in France, and was, therefore, under great obligations to the king. He was recalled by the Scots to his throne in 1342, and had kept up a friendly correspondence with his old host. Though David was a brave young prince, he did not possess the sagacity, or his years did not give him the experience, of his father. He was equally impelled by his resentment to his brother-in-law, the King of England, who had driven him from his throne, and by the instigations of the French king, to make occasional raids into England. In the four years since he had been reinstated, he had made no less than three successful expeditions of this kind, and now that his old benefactor was so sorely worsted, he prepared for a still more decisive invasion. He placed himself at the head of 3,000 cavalry and 30,000 other troops, mounted on galloways. Marching from Perth, he reached the borders, numbering, it is said, then 50,000 men. He took the castle of Liddel, burnt Lanercost, sacked the priory of Hexham, advanced into the diocese of Durham, and encamped at Beaurepaire, or Bearpark, near the city of Durham. David calculated on an easy triumph over the English, nearly the whole of the nobility being absent at the siege of Calais. But Philippa, Edward's queen, assembled a body of 12,000 men, and, advancing rapidly northward, came up with the Scots as they were laying waste the country round Durham, and pitched her camp in Auckland Park. She gave the command of her army to Lord Percy, but, according to Froissart, she herself mounted her horse and rode through the ranks, exhorting the men to remember that their king was absent, that the honour and safety of England were in their hands, and appealing to them to defend the realm and punish the Scots for their barbarous ravages. She could not, according to this author, be persuaded to quit the field for a place of safety till the armies were on the point of engaging. It has been doubted how far this proceeding of the queen is strictly true, not being mentioned by the old English chroniclers; but, besides the testimony of Froissart, it is unquestionable that Philippa's bold and able management did much to ensure the victory which followed.

The Scots, who appear to have been thrown off their guard by over-confidence, and who were thinking more of plunder than of the enemy, were taken by surprise. Douglas, the famous knight of Liddesdale, was intercepted at Sunderland Bridge on his return from a raid as far as Ferry-on-the-Hill, and narrowly escaped being taken, 500 of his followers being cut to pieces. David, also taken by surprise, still mustered his troops, and took his stand at Neville's Cross, near the city of Durham. The English archers, securing themselves under the hedges, shot down the horses of the Scots, threw them, crowded as they were together, into confusion, and laid their riders prostrate in the dust. David fought undauntedly; but Edward Baliol, who commanded the reserve, made a skilful attack of cavalry on his flank, and his troops giving way on all sides, he was forcibly taken prisoner by one John Copeland,, a Northumberland squire - a man of huge stature and strength - but not before he had received two arrow wounds, and, refusing to listen to calls to surrender, had knocked out two of the front teeth of his captor by a blow of his gauntlet. Copeland conveyed his royal prize to his castle of Ogle, and was careful not to give him up except to properly authorised royal commissioners, when he received the title of banneret and an estate of 500 a year - equal to as many thousands now - and was made sheriff of Northumberland and governor of Berwick.

The joy of the people of Durham was unbounded, for their nobles and dignitaries of the Church fought in the foremost ranks, having the deepest hereditary hatred to the Scots from their numerous spoilings by them. The Bishop of Durham led off the first division with Lord Percy; the Archbishop of York led the second with Lord Neville; and the Bishop of Lincoln the third with Lord Mowbray. The Prior of Durham, it -was said, had been commanded the night before in a dream by St. Cuthbert, ''to raise the corporax cloth with which St. Cuthbert, during mass, did cover the chalice," as a banner on a spear point; and accordingly he and a body of monks, at a spot called the Red Hills, in sight of both armies, knelt round it in prayer, while another body of the brethren on the top of the great campanile, or bell tower of the cathedral, sung hymns of praise, which, says Knyghton, were distinctly heard by both armies. A third body of the clergy were engaged in the very hottest of the battle.

The third division of the Scots, under the Earl of Moray, was actually cut to pieces on the field, only eighty of them being left at the time of the king's surrender. With the king were taken the Earls of Sutherland, Monteith, Fife, Carrick, Moray, and Strathern; Sir William Douglas, John and Alan Stuart, and a long list of nobles and knights. Monteith was beheaded as a traitor, having accepted office under Edward.

Never did the Scots receive a more fatal overthrow; some historians say they had 15,000, others 20,000 slain, amongst whom were the earl marshal Keith and Sir Thomas Charteris. Of the English leaders only Lord Hastings fell. King David was conveyed to London and lodged in the Tower. This memorable battle of Neville's Cross took place on the 17th of October, 1346.

Having secured her royal prisoner, Queen Philippa went over to Calais, where she was received with all the triumph and honour which her meritorious conduct deserved. She found Edward in the midst of the siege, which continued obstinate. John of Vienne, the governor, supported by a strong garrison, and well provisioned, maintained a spirited defence. The place lying in a flat, swampy situation, was trying to the health of the English army, and was immensely strong, with its ditches, ramparts, and impassable morasses. The king, therefore, quite aware that it was not to be taken in a hurry, fixed his camp in the most eligible spot he could find, drew entrenchments round the city, built huts for his soldiers, which he thatched with straw or broom, and prepared by various means to render their winter campaign tolerable. His huts presented the appearance of a second town, called by the French chroniclers the Ville du Bois, or town of wood, and the harbour was blockaded to prevent the entrance of relief of any kind.

John of Vienne, perceiving the king's intention to starve them out, collected all the inhabitants of both sexes who were not necessary to the defence, and sent 1,700 of them out of the city. Edward not only allowed the poor creatures to pass, but gave them a good refreshment, and each a small piece of money. But as the siege continued, and John of Vienne again put out 500 more of what he considered useless mouths, Edward lost his patience, and is said to have refused them a passage; and the governor of Calais refusing them re-entrance to the city, they are reported to have perished of starvation between the town walls and the English lines. Such are, or were, a few of the tender mercies of war!

As the siege grew desperate, violent efforts were made to relieve the city. The King of France sent ships to force a passage, but in vain. The English fleet had gradually grown to upwards of 700 sail, carrying more than 14,000 men, and of these eighty of the largest ships, under the Earl j of Warwick, constantly swept the Channel. The King of France was meantime making the most strenuous exertions to raise a force sufficient to expel the invader. He succeeded in winning over the young Earl of Flanders as j he had done his father. This young nobleman appears to have been capable of playing a very mean part. The free towns proposed to him. to marry Isabella of England, a princess of great beauty, and the young man, pretending to fall in with their wishes, came to the English camp, and paid his addresses to the princess as if with the most serious intentions; but having carried on his dissimulation to a disgraceful length, he seized the opportunity afforded by a hawking excursion to slip away, and made off to the French camp.

Philip levied everywhere men and money, and compelled the clergy as well as the laity to yield their treasure, and even their church plate; a massive cross of gold belonging to the abbey of St. Denis being carried off. He at length appeared before Calais with an army which the writers of the age assert to have amounted to 200,000 men. The governor of Calais had, indeed, sent letters to him, announcing that the inhabitants had eaten their horses, dogs, and rats, and, unless relieved, must soon ea: each other. These letters were intercepted. The King of England, however, sent them on, tauntingly asking Philip why he did not come and relieve his people. But Philip found Edward so entrenched amongst marshes and fortifications that he could not force a passage anywhere. Two roads only were left to the town - one along the sea shore, and the other by a causeway through the marshes; but the coastway was completely raked by the English ships and boats, crowded with archers, drawn up on the strand, and the causeway was defended by towers and drawbridges, occupied by a great force of the most daring men in the army, under the command of the Earl of Lancaster and Sir Walter Manny, who had come hither from their victorious demonstration in Gascony, Guienne, and Poictou.

The King of France looked on this densely armed position with despair, and after vainly challenging King Edward to come out and fight in the open field, he withdrew. The starving people of Calais, who, on seeing the approach of the vast royal host, had hung out their banners on the walls, lighted great bonfires, and sounded all their instruments of martial music for joy, now changed their joyous acclamations into shrieks and groans of despair. They lowered all their banners but the great banner of France, which floated on the loftiest tower of the city, in their dejection, and the next day they pulled that down in desperation, and displayed the banner of England in its place in token of surrender.

To Sir Walter Manny, who was sent to speak with John of Vienne over the wall, that brave commander declared that they were literally perishing with hunger, and asked the lives and liberties of the citizens as the sole condition of surrender. Sir Walter told the governor that he knew well his royal master's mind, and that he could not promise them the acceptance of that proposal, the king being incensed at their obstinate resistance, and determined to punish them for it. It was in vain that the governor represented that it was this very conduct that a gallant prince like Edward ought to honour - that it was what he would have expected from an English knight. Sir Walter Manny acknowledged the justice of the sentiment, and returned to soften the king's resolution; but he could only obtain this mitigation, that six of the principal citizens should be sacrificed to his resentment instead of the whole people; and they were required to come to the camp in their shirts, bare-headed and bare-footed, carrying the keys of the city and castle in their hands, and with halters about their necks.

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