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The History of England from the Accession of Henry III. to the Death of Edward III. (1216-1377)
Lancaster, Pembroke, And The Despensers
by Tout, T.F. (M.A.)

Bannockburn was almost welcomed by the ordainers, for it afforded new opportunities of humiliating the defeated king. While Edward tarried at Berwick, Lancaster was in his castle of Pontefract with a force far larger than his cousin's. Loudly declaring that the true cause of the disaster was Edward's neglect to carry out the ordinances, he announced his intention of immediately enforcing their observance. At a parliament at York, in September, Edward delivered himself altogether into Thomas's hands, ordering the immediate execution of the ordinances, and replacing his ministers and sheriffs by nominees of the ordainers. The only boon that he obtained was that the earls postponed the removal from court of Hugh Despenser and Henry Beaumont, the two faithful friends who had guarded him in his flight from Bannockburn. Despenser, however, thought it prudent to avoid his enemies by going into hiding. Edward's submission did not help him against the Scots. The earls resolved that the question of an expedition was to be postponed until the next parliament, on the ground that it was imprudent to take action until Hereford and the other captives had been released. It was a sorry excuse, for King Robert and his brother were devastating the northern counties with fire and sword, and it gave new ground to the suspicion of an understanding between the Scottish king and the ordainers. But the victor of Bannockburn showed surprising moderation. He suffered the bodies of Gloucester and the slain barons to be buried among their ancestors, and released Gloucester's father-in-law, Monthermer, without ransom, declaring that the thing in the world which he most desired was to live in peace with the English. He welcomed an exchange of prisoners, by which his wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, his sister, his daughter, and the Bishop of Glasgow were restored to Scotland. The release of Hereford soon added to the king's troubles.

In January, 1315, Edward's humiliation was completed at a London parliament. Hugh Despenser and Walter Langton were removed from the council. The "superfluous members" of the royal household, denounced as "excessively burdensome to the king and the land," were dismissed, and drastic ordinances were drawn up for the regulation of the diminished following still allowed to the king. Edward was put on an allowance of 10 a day, and the administration of his revenues taken out of his hands. The grant made was accompanied by the condition that its spending should be entirely in the hands of the barons, and the estates arranged after their own fashion for the new Scottish campaign. When summer came, Lancaster insisted on taking the command himself, and thus gave a new grievance to Pembroke, who had already been appointed general. Lancaster was henceforth the indispensable man. When parliament met at Lincoln, in January, 1316, the few magnates who attended would transact no business until his arrival. On his tardy appearance in the last days of the session, it was resolved "that the lord king should do nothing grave or arduous without the advice of the council, and that the Earl of Lancaster should hold the chief place in the council". It was only after some hesitation that the earl accepted this position. Once more the king was forced to confirm the ordinances. Liberal grants were made by the estates, and every rural township was called upon to furnish and pay a foot soldier to fight the Scots.

The commander of the army and the chief counsellor of the king, Lancaster, was in a stronger position than any subject since the days of Simon of Montfort. He could afford to despise aristocratic jealousy and royal malignity. To the commons he was the good earl, who was standing up for the rights of the people. He was the darling of the clergy, who looked upon him as the pillar of orthodoxy, the disciple of Winchelsea, and the upholder of the rights of Holy Church. The warlike and energetic barons of the north were his sworn followers, and, apart from his hold upon public opinion, he could always fall back on the resources of his five earldoms. But events were soon to show that the successful leader of opposition was absolutely incapable of carrying out a constructive policy. He had no ideals, no principles, no feeling of the importance of administrative efficiency, no sense of responsibility, no power of controlling his followers. He never understood that his business was no longer to oppose but to act. The clear-headed monk of Malmesbury paints the disastrous results of his inaction: "Whatsoever pleased the king, the earl's servants strove to overthrow; and whatever pleased the earl, was declared by the king's servants to be treasonable; and so, at the suggestion of the evil one, the households of earl and king put themselves in the way and would not allow their masters, by whom the land should have been defended, to be of one accord". Even the implied understanding with the King of Scots was not abandoned by the man on whom the responsibility rested of defeating him. When Bruce devastated the north of England he still spared the lands of the king's "chief counsellor," as of old he had spared the lands of the opposition leader. When, in 1316, Lancaster mustered his forces at Newcastle against the Scots, Edward repaid him for his inaction in 1314 by declining to accompany him over the border. "Thereupon," wrote the border annalist,1 "the earl at once went back; for neither trusted the other." Edward, who forgot and forgave nothing, secretly negotiated with the pope for absolution from his oath to the ordinances. He gradually built up a court party, and soon restored Hugh Despenser to his position in the household. As might be expected in such circumstances no effective resistance was made to the Scots.

1 Lanercost Chronicle, p. 233.
It was a time of severe distress in England. In 1315 a rainy summer ruined the harvest. Great floods swept away the hay from the fields, and drowned the sheep and cattle. In 1316 famine raged, especially in the north. For a hundred years, we are told, such scarcity of corn had not been known. A bushel of wheat was sold at London for forty pence, and the Northumbrians were driven to feed on dogs, horses, and other unwonted food. Pestilence followed in the train of famine. It was in vain that parliament passed laws, limiting the repasts of the barons' households to two courses of meat, and fixing the price of the chief sorts of victuals. The only result was that dealers refused to bring their produce to market. Then the legislation, passed in a panic, was repealed in a panic. "It is better," said a chronicler, "to buy things at a high rate than not to be able to buy them at all."

Private wars raged from end to end of south Britain. On the upper Severn, Griffith of Welshpool, the younger son of Griffith ap Gwenwynwyn, laid regular siege to Powys castle, the stronghold of John Charlton, his niece's husband and his rival for the lordship of upper Powys. As Charlton was a courtier, Griffith attached himself to the ordainers. After Bannockburn, the captivity of Hereford, the lord of Brecon, and the death without heirs of Gloucester, the lord of Glamorgan, removed the strongest restraints on the men of south Wales. The royal warden of Glamorgan, Payne of Turberville, displaced Gloucester's old officers. One of the sufferers was Llewelyn Bren, "a great and powerful Welshman in those parts," who had held high office under Earl Gilbert. In 1315 Llewelyn, after seeking justice in vain at the king's court, rose in revolt against Turberville. He gathered the Welshmen on the hills, burst upon Caerphilly, while the constable was holding a court outside the castle, took the outer ward by surprise and burnt it to ashes. There was fear lest this revolt should be the starting-point of a general Welsh rising. Llewelyn's hill strongholds threatened Brecon on the north and the vale of Glamorgan on the south; and Hereford, then released from his Scottish captivity, was entrusted with the suppression of the revolt. Before long all the lords of the march joined Hereford in stamping out the movement. Among them were the two Roger Mortimers, the Montagues and the Giffords, and Henry of Lancaster, Earl Thomas's brother, and lord in his own right of Monmouth and Kidwelly. Overwhelmed by such mighty opponents, Llewelyn surrendered to Hereford, hoping thus to save his followers.

Lancaster himself suffered from the spirit of anarchy that was abroad. His own Lancashire vassals rose against his authority, under Adam Banaster, a former member of his household. Adam belonged to an important Lancashire family, which had long stood in close relations to Wales, and had committed a homicide for which he despaired of pardon. He now posed as the champion of the king against the earl, believing that anything that caused trouble to Thomas would give no small delight at court. Lancaster showed more energy in upholding his own rights than in maintaining the honour of England. He raised such an overwhelming force that Banaster, unable to hold the field against him, shut himself up in his house. His refuge was stormed and his head brought to Earl Thomas as a trophy of victory. While Banaster was raiding Lancashire and Llewelyn south Wales, the Scots were devastating the country as far south as Furness, and Edward Bruce, King Robert's brother, was conquering Ireland. There was little wonder that Edward Bruce hoped to cross over to Wales when he had done his work in Ireland, or that the Welsh, buoyed up, as in the last generation, by the prophesies of Merlin, believed that the time was come when they would expel the Saxons, and win back the empire of Britain.

Of much longer duration than the wars of Llewelyn Bren and Adam Banaster, were the formidable disturbances which raged for many years at Bristol. Fourteen Bristol magnates had long a preponderating influence in the government of the town. The commons bitterly resented their superiority and declared that every burgess should enjoy equal rights. A royal inquiry was ordered, but the judges, bribed, as was believed, by the fourteen, gave a decision which was unacceptable to the commons. Lord Badlesmere, warden of the castle, sided with the oligarchs, and thus the whole authority of the state was brought to bear against the popular party. But it was an easy matter to resist the government of Edward II. The commons took arms and a riot broke out in court. Twenty men were killed in the disturbances, and the judges fled for their lives. Eighty burgesses were proved by inquest at Gloucester to have been the ringleaders. As they refused to appear to answer the charges, they were outlawed. Indignation at Bristol then rose to such a height that the fourteen fled in their turn, and for more than two years Bristol succeeded in holding out against the royal mandate. At last, in 1316, the town was regularly besieged by the Earl of Pembroke. The castle was not within the burgesses' power, and its petrariae, breaking down the walls and houses of the borough, compelled the townsmen to surrender. A few of the chief rebels were punished, but a pardon was issued to the mass of the burgesses.

More dangerous than any of these troubles was the attack made by Edward Bruce on the English power in Ireland. That power had been on the wane during the last two generations. Edward I. had formed schemes for the better administration of the country, but little had come of them. The English government in Dublin gradually lost such control as it had possessed over the remoter parts of the island. The shire organisation, set up in an earlier generation, became little more than nominal. The constitutional movement of the thirteenth century extended to the island, and the Irish parliament, then growing up out of the old council, reflected in a blurred fashion the organisation of the English parliament of the three estates. But royal lieutenants and councils, shires and sheriffs, parliaments and justices had only the most superficial influence on Irish life. Real authority was divided between the Norman lords of the plain and the Celtic chieftains of the hills. Each feudal lord hated his fellows, and bitter as were the feuds of Fitzgeralds and Burghs, they were mild as compared with the rancorous hereditary factions which divided the native septs from each other. These divisions alone made it possible for the king's officers to keep up some semblance of royal rule. If they were seldom obeyed, the divisions in the enemies' camps prevented any chance of their being overthrown. Thus the Irish went on living a rude, turbulent life of perpetual purposeless war and bloodshed. Ireland was a wilder, larger, more remote Welsh march, and the resemblance was heightened by the fact that many of the Anglo-Norman principalities were in the hands of great English or marcher families, and that the Irish foot-soldier played only a less important part than the Welsh archer and pikeman among the light-armed soldiers of the English crown.

The easiest way to keep up a show of English government was to form an alliance between the crown and some of the baronial houses. Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, the most powerful of the feudal lords of Ireland, was the only one who at that period bore the title of earl. He had long been interested in general English affairs, and his kinswomen had intermarried into great British houses. One of his daughters married Robert Bruce when he was Earl of Carrick, and another was more recently wedded to Earl Gilbert of Gloucester. Despite the Bruce connexion, the Earl of Ulster was still trusted by the English party, and the king gave him the command of an Irish army which he had intended to send against Scotland in 1314. Richard was too busy fighting the Ulster clans of O'Donnell and O'Neil, and too jealous of the Fitzgeralds, his feudal rivals, to throw his heart into the hopeless task of gathering together the two nations and many clans of Ireland into a single host. The death of Earl Gilbert at Bannockburn broke his nearest tie with England, and the release of Elizabeth Bruce in exchange for Hereford gave his daughter the actual enjoyment of the throne of Scotland. His natural instincts as an Irishman and as a baron were to restrain the power of his overlord. When the news of Bruce's victory produced a great stir among the Irish clans, he stood aside and let events take their course.

Though the Gael of the Scottish Highlands played little part at Bannockburn, the Irish rejoiced at the Scots' success as that of their kinsmen. "The Kings of the Scots," said the Irish Celts, "derive their origin from our land. They speak our tongue and have our laws and customs." However little true this was in fact, it was a good excuse for some of the Irish clans to offer the throne of Ireland to the King of Scots. Robert rejected the proposal for himself, but was willing to give his able and adventurous brother Edward the chance of winning another crown for his house. Edward, "who thought that Scotland was too little for his brother and himself," cheerfully fell in with the scheme. On May 25, 1315, he landed near Carrickfergus and received a rapturous welcome from the O'Neils, the greatest of the septs of the north-east. Before long all Celtic Ulster flocked to his banners, and Edmund Butler, then justice of Ireland, strove with little success to make head against the Scottish invasion. The completeness of Bruce's union with the native Irish gave him his best chance of attaining his object. Up to this point the attitude of the Earl of Ulster had been most undecided. He at last threw in his lot with the justiciar. When parties began to shape themselves it was clear that "all the Irish of Ireland" were in league with Bruce. The danger was that "a great part of the great lords and lesser English folk" also joined the invader. Conspicuous among these were the Lacys of Meath.

Edward Bruce showed energy and vigour. He made his way southwards, and in September won a victory over the forces of the Earl of Ulster and the justiciar at Dundalk, then in the south of Ulster. After this he pushed into Meath and Leinster and was joined by the O'Tooles and the other clans of the Wicklow mountains, while the adhesion of Phelim O'Connor, King of Connaught, brought the whole of the Celtic west into his alliance. The barons, however, took the alarm. During the winter Butler contracted friendship with many of the Norman colonists. From that time the struggle assumed the character of a war between Celtic Ireland and feudal Ireland, the native clansmen and the Anglo-Norman settlers. Thus, though Bruce and his wild allies found it easy to make themselves masters of the open country, all the castles and towns were closed to them and could only be won by long-continued efforts. Before long, Butler drove them to the hills. Ere the winter was over, Edward found it prudent to retire to Ulster.

During 1316 the struggle raged unceasingly. Bruce was crowned King of Ireland, the O'Neil, it was said, having abdicated his rights in his favour. But the summer saw the utter defeat of the O'Connors by the justiciar at the bloody battle of Athenry, where King Phelim and the noblest of his sept perished. A little later the King of Scots came to the help of his brother. With his aid, Edward was able to reduce Carrickfergus, which had hitherto defied his efforts. Then the brothers led their forces from one end of Ireland to the other. Dublin prepared for a siege by burning its suburbs and devastating the country around. But though the two Bruces penetrated as far as Limerick, they did not capture a single castle or a walled town. They lost so many men during their winter campaign, that they were forced in the spring to retire to Ulster. The hopeless disunion of both parties in Ireland seemed likely to prolong the struggle indefinitely. The men of Dublin and the Earl of Ulster were at feud with each other, and the citizens captured the earl and shut him up in Dublin castle. However little the earl could be trusted, this was a step likely to throw all Ulster into the arms of the Bruces. But a stronger justice of Ireland then superseded Edmund Butler. Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, the mightiest baron of the Welsh march, and a man of real ability, rare energy, extreme ruthlessness, and savage cruelty, crossed over from Haverfordwest early in 1317 at the head of a large force of marcher knights and men-at-arms, versed from their youth up in the traditions of Celtic warfare. Mortimer set himself to work to break up the ill-assorted coalition that supported Bruce. He released the Earl of Ulster from his Dublin prison; he procured the banishment of the heads of the house of Lacy; he won over some of the Irish septs to his side; he stimulated the civil war which had devastated Connaught since the fall of the O'Connors. Edward Bruce was once more confined to Ulster, where he still struggled on bravely. In the autumn of 1318 he led a foray southwards, and met his fate in a skirmish near Dundalk on October 14, when his force was scattered in confusion by John of Bermingham, one of the neighbouring lords. The four quarters of the luckless King of Ireland were exposed in the four chief towns of the island as a trophy of victory, and Bermingham was rewarded by the new earldom of Louth.

Edward Bruce's enterprise ended with his death, and Ireland rapidly settled down into its normal condition of impotent turbulence. Though at first sight the invader utterly failed, yet he pricked the bubble of the English power in Ireland. His gallant attempt at winning the throne is the critical event in a long period of Irish history. From the days of Henry III to the days of Edward Bruce, the lordship of the English kings in Ireland was to some extent a reality. From 1315 to the reign of Henry VIII, the English dominion was little more than a name as regards the greater part of Ireland.

No one attained success, in the years after Bannockburn,—neither Banaster, nor Llewelyn Bren, nor the Bristol commons nor Edward Bruce and his Irish allies. Before long, the incompetence of Lancaster became as manifest as the incompetence of Edward II. Lancaster's failure led to the dissolution of the baronial opposition into fiercely opposing factions. Personal and territorial jealousies slowly undermined a unity which had always been more apparent than real. The Earl of Pembroke had never forgiven the treachery of Deddington. Though Warwick was dead, Pembroke still pursued Lancaster with unrelenting hatred. No partisan of prerogative, and an enemy of Edward's personal following, Earl Aymer separated himself from his old associates and strove to form a middle party between the faction of the king and the faction of Lancaster. Warerine, coarse, turbulent, and vicious, at once violent and crafty, still acted with him. The lord of Conisborough had long grudged the master of Pontefract and Sandal his great position in Yorkshire. The natural rivalries of neighbouring potentates were further emphasised by personal animosity of the deadliest kind. Lancaster had long been at variance with his wife, Alice Lacy. On May 9, 1317, the Countess of Lancaster ran away from him, with the active help of Warenne and by the secret contrivance of the king. Private war at once broke out between the two earls. Lancaster was too strong for his enemy. Before winter had begun, Conisborough and Warenne's other Yorkshire castles fell into his hands. Lancaster's partisans even laid hold of the king's castle of Knaresborough, while other Lancastrian bands occupied Alton castle in Staffordshire. Intermittent hostilities continued until the summer of 1318. Twice Edward himself went to the north, and on one occasion appeared in force outside Pontefract. But the more moderate of the baronage managed to prevent open hostilities between the king and the earl. Lancaster was, as ever, fighting for his own hand. His self-seeking narrowness gave Pembroke the chance of winning for his middle party a preponderating authority.

Pembroke found more trustworthy allies than Warenne in Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, the sometime instigator of the Bristol troubles, and a bitter opponent of Lancaster, and in Roger of Amory, the husband of one of the three co-heiresses who now divided the Gloucester inheritance. Edward, who had profited by the divisions of his enemies to revive the court party, formed a coalition between his friends and the followers of Pembroke. All lovers of order, of moderation, and of the supremacy of the law necessarily made common cause with them. Thus it followed that the same machinery, which Lancaster a few years earlier had turned against the king, was now turned against him. An additional motive to bring peaceable Englishmen into line was found in the capture of Berwick by Bruce in April, 1318. After this negotiations for peace began. The king and Lancaster treated as two independent princes. Lancaster was no longer supported by any prominent earl, and even his clerical friends were falling from him. Ordainers as jealous as Arundel, royalists as fierce as Mortimer, served along with trimmers like Pembroke and Badlesmere, in acting as mediators. Lancaster could no more resist than Edward could in 1312. On August 9 he accepted at Leek, in Staffordshire, the conditions drawn up for him.

The treaty of Leek marks the triumph of the middle party and the removal of Lancaster from the first place in the royal council. A pardon was granted to him and his followers, but Thomas gained little else by the compact. Pembroke and his friends showed themselves as jealous of Edward as ever the ordainers had been. The ordinances were once more confirmed, and a new council of seventeen was nominated, including eight bishops, four earls, four barons, and one banneret. The earls were Pembroke, Arundel, Richmond, and Hereford. Of these the Breton Earl of Richmond was the most friendly to the king, but it was significant to find so truculent a politician as Hereford making common cause with Pembroke. The most important of the four barons was Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Lancaster though not paramount was still powerful, but his habit of absenting himself from parliaments made it useless to offer him a place in the council, and he was represented by a single banneret, nominated by him. Of these councillors two bishops, one earl, one baron, and Lancaster's nominee were to be in constant attendance. They were virtually to control Edward's policy, and to see that he consulted parliament in all matters that required its assent. A few days after the treaty Edward and Lancaster met at Hathern, near Loughborough, and exchanged the kiss of peace. Roger of Amory and other magnates of the middle party reconciled themselves to Lancaster, and he condescendingly restored them to his favour. But he would not deign to admit Hugh Despenser to his presence, and declared that he was still free to carry on his quarrel against Warenne. In October, a parliament at York confirmed the treaty of Leek, adding new members to the council and appointing another commission to reform the king's household. From that time until 1321, Pembroke and his friends controlled the English state, though often checked both by the king and even more by Lancaster, who still stood ostentatiously aloof from parliaments and campaigns. These years, though neither glorious nor prosperous, were the most peaceable and uneventful of the whole of Edward II.'s reign. They are noteworthy for the only serious attempt made to check the progress of the Scots after Bannockburn. From 1318 to 1320 king and court were almost continually in the north. York became the regular meeting-place of parliaments for even a longer period.

Since 1314, the Scots had mercilessly devastated the whole north of England. The population made little attempt at resistance, and sought to buy them off by large payments of money. The Scots took the cash and soon came again for more. They wandered at will over the open country, and only the castles and walled towns afforded protection against them. Their forays extended as far south as Lancashire and Yorkshire, and, so early as 1315, Carlisle and Berwick were regularly besieged by them. It was to no purpose that in 1317 the pope issued a bull insisting upon a truce. The English welcomed an armistice on any terms, but the Scots' interest was in the continuance of the war, and they paid no attention to the papal proposal. The result was a renewal of Bruce's excommunication, and the placing of all Scotland under interdict. Yet no papal censures checked Robert's career or lessened his hold over Scotland. Next year he showed greater activity than ever. In April, 1318, he captured the town of Berwick by treachery. Peter of Spalding, one of the English burgesses who formed the town guard, was bribed to allow a band of Scots to seize that section of the town wall of which he was guardian. Then the intruders captured the gates and admitted their comrades. Thus the last Scottish town to be held by the English went back to its natural rulers. The English burgesses were expelled, though Bruce showed wonderful moderation, and few of his enemies were slain. Berwick castle held out for a time, until lack of victuals caused its surrender. In May the Scots marched through Northumberland and Durham into Yorkshire, burnt Northallerton and Boroughbridge, and exacted a thousand marks from Ripon, as the price of respecting the church of St. Wilfred. They then spent three days at Knaresborough, and made their way home through Craven.

Such successes show clearly enough that the treaty of Leek was not signed a moment too soon. It was, however, too late for any great effort against the Scots in 1318. A strenuous endeavour was made to levy a formidable expedition for 1319. In strict accordance with the ordinances, the parliament, which met at York in May of that year, agreed that there should be a muster at Berwick for July 22, and granted a liberal subsidy. An insolent offer of peace, coupled with a promise of freedom of life and limb to Bruce, should he resign his crown, provoked from the Scots king the reply that Scotland was his kingdom both by hereditary right and the law of arms, and that he was indifferent whether he had peace with the English king or not. On July 22, the feast of St. Mary Magdalen and the anniversary of Falkirk fight, the barons assembled at Newcastle. Thomas of Lancaster was there with his brother Henry. Warenne, newly reconciled with Lancaster by a large surrender of lands, also attended, as did Pembroke, Arundel, Hereford, and the husbands of the three Gloucester co-heiresses. There was a braver show of earls than even in 1314. An offer of lands, when Scotland was conquered, attracted a large number of volunteer infantry, while the cupidity of the seamen was appealed to by a promise of ample plunder. In August the host and fleet moved northwards, and closely beset Berwick.

The Scots were too astute to offer battle. While the English were employed at Berwick, Sir James Douglas led their main force into the heart of Yorkshire. Douglas hoped to capture Queen Isabella, who was staying near York. A spy betrayed this design to the English, and Isabella was hurried off by water to Nottingham, while Douglas pressed on into the heart of Yorkshire. The Yorkshiremen had to defend their own shire while their best soldiers were with the king at Berwick. A hastily gathered assembly of improvised warriors flocked into York. Archbishop Melton put himself at their head, and the clergy, both secular and religious, formed a considerable element in the host. Then they marched out against the Scots, and found them at Myton in Swaledale. The Scots despised the disorderly mob of squires and farmers, priests and canons, monks and friars. "These are not warriors," they cried, "but huntsmen. They will do nought against us." Concealing their movements by kindling great fires of hay, they bore down upon the Yorkshiremen and put them to flight with much loss. The fight was called "the white battle of Myton" on account of the large number of white-robed monks who took part in it The archbishop escaped with the utmost difficulty. Many fugitives were drowned in the Swale, and not one would have escaped had not night stopped the Scots' pursuit. The victors then pushed as far south as Pontefract. On the news of the battle, the besiegers of Berwick were dismayed. There was talk of dividing the army, and sending one part to drive Douglas out of Yorkshire while the other continued the siege. But the magnates, in no mood to run risks, insisted on an immediate return to England. Before Edward had reached Yorkshire, Douglas had made his way home over Stainmoor and Gilsland. Thereupon the king sent back his troops, each man to his own house. The magnificent army had accomplished nothing at all. So inglorious a termination of the campaign naturally gave rise to suspicions of treason. A story was spread abroad that Lancaster had received 4,000 from the King of Scots and had consequently done his best to help his ally. The rumour was so seriously believed that the earl offered to purge himself by ordeal of hot iron. In despair Edward made a two years' truce with the Scots. It was the best way of avoiding another Bannockburn.

Troublous times soon began again. Since Edward surrendered himself to the guidance of Pembroke and Badlesmere, he had enjoyed comparative repose and dignity. It was only when a great enterprise, like the Scots campaign, was attempted that the evil results of anarchy and the still-abiding influence of Lancaster made themselves felt. But Edward bore no love to Pembroke and his associates, and was quietly feeling his way towards the re-establishment of the court party. His chief helpers in this work were the two Despensers, father and son, both named Hugh. The elder Despenser, then nearly sixty years of age, had grown grey in the service of Edward I. A baron of competent estate, he inherited from his father, the justiciar who fell at Evesham, an hereditary bias towards the constitutional tradition, but he looked to the monarch or to the popular estates, rather than to the baronage, as the best embodiment of his ideals. Ambitious and not over-scrupulous, he saw more advantage to himself in playing the game of the king than in joining a swarm of quarrelsome opposition lords. From the beginning of the reign he had identified himself with Gaveston and the courtiers, and had incurred the special wrath of Lancaster and the ordainers. Excluded from court, forced into hiding, excepted from several pacifications as he had been, Despenser never long absented himself from the court. His ambition was kindled by the circumstance that his eldest son had become the most intimate personal friend of the king. Brought up as a boy in the household of Edward when Prince of Wales, the ties of old comradeship gradually drew the younger Hugh into Gaveston's old position as the chief favourite. Neither a foreigner nor an adventurer, Despenser had the good sense to avoid the worst errors of his predecessor. As chamberlain, he was in constant attendance on the king; and having married Edward's niece Eleanor, the eldest of the Gloucester co-heiresses, he sought to establish himself among the higher aristocracy. Royal grants and offices rained upon father and son. The household officers were changed at their caprice. The only safe way to the king's favour was by purchasing their good-will. Their good fortune stirred up fierce animosities, and the barons showed that they could hate a renegade as bitterly as a foreign adventurer.

The Despensers' ambition to attain high rank was the more natural from the havoc which death had played among the earls. "Time was," said the monk of Malmesbury, "when fifteen earls and more followed the king to war; but now only five or six gave him their assistance." The five earldoms of Thomas of Lancaster meant the extinction of as many ancient houses. The earldoms of Chester, Cornwall, and Norfolk had long been in the king's hands. If the comital rank was not to be extinguished altogether, it had to be recruited with fresh blood. And who were so fit to fill up the vacant places as these well-born favourites?

A little had been done under Edward II to remedy the desolation of the earldoms. The revival of the earldom of Cornwall in favour of Gaveston had not been a happy experiment. But the king's elder half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton, invested with the estates and dignities of the Bigods, was made earl marshal and Earl of Norfolk. In 1321 the earldom of Kent, extinct since the fall of Hubert de Burgh, was revived in favour of Edmund of Woodstock, the younger half-brother of the king. The titular Scottish earldoms of some English barons, such as the Umfraville earls of Angus, kept up the name, if not the state of earls, and we have seen the reward of the victor of Dundalk in the creation of a new earldom of Louth in Ireland. But there were certain hereditary dignities whose suspension seemed unnatural. Conspicuous among these was the Gloucester earldom which, from the days of the valiant son of Henry I. to the death of the last male Clare at Bannockburn, had played a unique part in English history.

Both the Despensers desired to be earls, and the younger Hugh wished that the Gloucester earldom should be revived in his favour. Assured of the good-will of the king, both had to contend against the jealousy of the baronage and the exclusiveness of the existing earls. The younger Hugh had also to reckon with his two brothers-in-law, with whom he had divided the Clare estates. These were Hugh of Audley, who had married Margaret the widow of Gaveston, and Roger of Amory, the husband of Elizabeth, the youngest of the Clare sisters. There had been difficulty enough in effecting the partition of the Gloucester inheritance among the three co-heiresses. In 1317 the division was made, and Despenser had become lord of Glamorgan, which politically and strategically was most important of all the Gloucester lands.1 Yet even then, Despenser was not satisfied with his position. His rival Audley had been allotted Newport and Netherwent, while Amory had been assigned the castle of Usk and estates higher up the Usk valley. Annoyed that he should be a lesser personage in south Wales than Earl Gilbert had been, Despenser began to intrigue against his wife's brothers-in-law. Each of the co-heirs had already become deadly rivals. Their hostility was the more keen since the three had already taken different sides in English politics. Despenser was the soul of the court faction; Amory was the ally of Pembroke and Badlesmere, the men of the middle party; and Audley was an uncompromising adherent of Thomas of Lancaster. There was every chance that each one of the three would have competent backing. To each the triumph of his friends meant the prospect of his becoming Earl of Gloucester.

1 See for this, W.H. Stevenson, A Letter of the Younger Despenser in 1321 in Engl. Hist. Rev., xii. (1897), 755-61.
Despenser, abler and more restless than the others, and confident in the royal favour, was the first to take the aggressive. He wished to base his future greatness upon a compact marcher principality in south Wales, and to that end not only laid his hands upon the outlying possessions of the Clares but coveted the lands of all his weaker neighbours. He took advantage of a family arrangement for the succession to Gower, to strike the first blow. The English-speaking peninsula of Gower, with the castle of Swansea, was still held by a junior branch of the decaying house of Braose, whose main marcher lordships had been divided a century earlier between the Bohuns and the Mortimers. Its spendthrift ruler, William of Braose, was the last male of his race. He strove to make what profit he could for himself out of his succession, and had for some time been treating with Humphrey of Hereford. Gower was immediately to the south-west of Hereford's lordship of Brecon. Its acquisition would extend the Bohun lands to the sea, and make Earl Humphrey the greatest lord in south Wales. At the last moment, however, Braose broke off with him and sought to sell Gower to John of Mowbray, the husband of his daughter and heiress. When Braose died in 1320, Mowbray took possession of Gower in accordance with the "custom of the march". The royal assent had not been asked, either for licence to alienate, or for permission to enter upon the estate. Despenser coveted Gower for himself. He had already got Newport, had he Swansea also he would rule the south coast from the Lloughor to the Usk. Accordingly, he declared that the custom of the march trenched upon the royal prerogative, and managed that Gower should be seized by the king's officers, as a first step towards getting it for himself.

Despenser's action provoked extreme indignation among all the marcher lords. They denounced the apostate from the cause of his class for upsetting the balance of power in the march, and declared that in treating a lordship beyond the Wye like a landed estate in England, Hugh had, like Edward I., "despised the laws and customs of the march". It was easy to form a coalition of all the marcher lords against him. The leaders of it were Humphrey of Hereford, Roger Mortimer of Chirk, justice of Wales, and his nephew, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, the head of the house, who had overthrown Edward Bruce's monarchy of Ireland. As Braose co-heirs their position was unassailable. But every other baron had his grievance. John of Mowbray resented the loss of Gower; Henry of Lancaster feared for Monmouth and Kidwelly; Audley wished to win back Newport, and Amory, Usk. Behind the confederates was Thomas of Lancaster himself, eager to regain his lost position of leadership. The league at once began to wage war against Despenser in south Wales, and approached the court with a demand that he should be banished as a traitor.

Edward made his way to Gloucester in March, 1321, and strove to protect Despenser and to calm the wild spirits of the marchers. But private war had already broken out after the marcher fashion, and the king retired without effecting his purpose. Left to themselves the marcher allies easily overran the Despenser lands, inherited or usurped. Neither Cardiff nor Caerphilly held out long against them: the Welsh husbandmen, like the English knights and barons of Glamorgan, were hostile to the Despensers. The king could do nothing to help his friends. In May, Lancaster formed a league of northern barons in the chapter-house of the priory at Pontefract. In June, another northern gathering was held in the Norman nave of the parish church of Sherburn-in-Elmet, a few miles to the north of Pontefract. This was attended by the Archbishop of York and two of his suffragans, and a great number of clergy, secular and regular, as well as by many barons and knights. It was in fact an informal parliament of the Lancastrian party. A long list of complaints were drawn up which, under fair words, demanded the removal of bad ministers, and among them the chamberlain. The clerical members of the conference met separately at the rectory, where they showed more circumspection, but an equally partisan bias.1

1 Bp. Stubbs works all this out, Chron. Ed. I. and II., ii., pref., lxxxvi.-xc.
The conferences at Pontefract and Sherburn showed that Lancaster and the northerners were in full sympathy with the men of the west. The middle party again made common cause with the followers of Lancaster. Amory's interests were sufficiently involved to make him an eager enemy of Despenser, and Badlesmere was almost as keen. Though Pembroke still professed to mediate, it was generally believed that he was delighted to get rid of the Despensers. Even Warenne took sides against them, though the discredited earl was fast becoming of no account. Such being the drift of opinion, the fate of the favourites was settled when the estates assembled in London in July. Edward had delayed a meeting of parliament as long as he could, and was helpless in its hands. Great pains were taken this time to prevent the repetition of the informalities which had attended the attack on Gaveston. There was an unprecedented gathering of magnates, who came to the parliament with a large armed following, encamped like an army in all the villages to the north of the city. The commons were fully represented, and the clerical estate was expressly summoned. Articles were at once drawn up against the Despensers. They had aspired to royal power; had turned the heart of the king from his subjects; had excited civil war, and had taught that obedience was due to the crown rather than to the king. This last charge came strangely from those who had urged that doctrine as a pretext for withdrawing support from Gaveston. It is a good illustration of the tendency of the Despensers to cloak their personal ambitions with loud-sounding constitutional phrases.

The peers pronounced sentence of banishment and forfeiture against both the elder and the younger Hugh. They were not to be recalled save by consent of the peers in parliament assembled. The easy revolution was completed by the issuing of pardons to nearly five hundred members of the triumphant coalition. The elder Despenser at once withdrew to the continent. The younger Hugh found friends among the mariners of the Cinque Ports. These at first protected him in England, and then put at his disposal a little fleet of vessels with which, when driven from the land, he took to piracy in the narrow seas.

The fall of the Despensers was brought about very much after the same fashion as the first exile of Gaveston. Like Gaveston, they speedily returned, and in circumstances which suggest an even closer parallel with the events that led to the recall of the Gascon. The triumphant coalition in each case fell to pieces as soon as it had done its immediate work. Once more the loss of his friend and comrade stirred up Edward to an energy and perseverance such as he never displayed on other occasions. But the second triumph of the king assumed a more complete character than his earlier snatched victory. Accident favoured Edward's design of bringing back his favourites, and throwing off once more the baronial thraldom. On October 13, 1321, Queen Isabella, on her way to Canterbury, claimed hospitality at Leeds castle, situated between Maidstone and the archiepiscopal city. The castle belonged to Badlesmere, whose wife was then residing there, with his kinsman, Bartholomew Burghersh, and a competent garrison. Lady Badlesmere refused to admit the queen, declaring that, without her lord's orders, she could not venture to entertain any one. Bitterly indignant at the insult, the queen took up her quarters in the neighbouring priory and attempted to force an entrance. The castle, however, was not to be taken by the hasty attack of a small company. Six of Isabella's followers were slain, and the attempt was abandoned. Isabella called upon her husband to avenge her; and the king at once resolved to capture Leeds castle at any cost, and prepared to undertake the enterprise in person. He offered high wages to all crossbowmen, archers, knights, and squires who would follow him to Leeds, and summoned the levies of horse and foot from the towns and shires of the south-east. His trust in the loyalty of his subjects met with an unexpectedly favourable response. In a few days a large army gathered round the king under the walls of Leeds. Among the many magnates who appeared among the royal following were six earls: Pembroke, Badlesmere's own associate; the king's two brothers, Norfolk and Kent; Warenne, Richmond, and Arundel, who as Despenser's kinsman felt himself bound to fight on his side. On October 23 the castle was closely besieged by this overwhelming force, and on October 31 was forced to surrender. Burghersh was shut up in the Tower and Lady Badlesmere in Dover castle. Thirteen of the garrison, "stout men and valiant," were hanged by the angry king.

During the siege of Leeds, the magnates of the march, headed by Hereford and Roger Mortimer, collected a force at Kingston-on-Thames, where they were joined by Badlesmere. But they dared not advance towards the relief of the Kentish castle, and, after a fortnight they dispersed to their own homes. Lancaster hated Badlesmere so bitterly that he made no move against the king, and sullenly bided his time in the north. His inaction paralysed the barons as effectively as in earlier days it had hindered the plans of the king. Flushed with his victory, Edward gradually unfolded his designs. His tool, Archbishop Reynolds, summoned a convocation of the southern province for December 1 at St. Paul's, and obtained from the assembled clergy the opinion that the proceedings against the Despensers were invalid. On January 1, 1322, Reynolds solemnly declared this sentence in St. Paul's. Edward did not wait for the archbishop. Attended by many of the warriors who had fought at Leeds, he marched to the west, occupying on his journey the lands and castles of his enemies. He kept his Christmas court at Cirencester, and thence advanced towards the Severn. As the inaction of Lancaster kept the northern barons quiet, Edward's sole task was to wreak his revenge on the marcher lords. They were unprepared for resistance, and waited in vain for Lancaster to come to their help. Without a leader, they made feeble and ill-devised efforts to oppose the king's advance. Their command of the few bridges over the Severn prevented the king from crossing the river, and leading his troops directly into the march. Foiled at Gloucester, Worcester, and Bridgnorth, Edward made his way up the stream to Shrewsbury. The two Mortimers, who held the town and the passage of the river, could have stopped him if they had chosen. But they feared to undertake strong measures while Lancaster's action remained uncertain. They suffered Edward to cross the stream and surrendered to him. The collapse of the fiercest of the marcher lords frightened the rest into surrender. Edward wandered back through the middle and southern marches, occupying without resistance the main strongholds of his enemies. At Hereford, he sharply rebuked the bishop for upholding the barons against their natural lord. At Berkeley, he received from Maurice of Berkeley the keys of the stately fortress which was so soon to be the place of his last humiliation. Early in February, he was back at Gloucester, where, on February 11, he recalled the Despensers.

Humphrey of Hereford, Roger of Amory, and a few other marchers managed to escape the king's pursuit, and rode northwards to join Thomas of Lancaster. Thomas had long been ready at Pontefract with his followers in arms. But he let the time for effective action slip, and was only goaded into doing anything when the fugitives from the march impressed him with the critical state of affairs. The quarrel of king and barons was not the only trouble besetting England. The two years' truce with Scotland had expired, and Robert Bruce was once more devastating the northern counties. But neither Edward nor Lancaster cared anything for this. Andrew Harclay, the governor of Carlisle, strongly urged the king to defend his subjects from the Scots rather than make war against them. Edward answered that rebels must be put down before foreign enemies could be encountered, and pressed northwards with his victorious troops.

Lancaster was then besieging Tickhill, a royal castle in southern Yorkshire. After wasting three weeks before its walls, he led his force south to Burton-on-Trent, which he occupied on March 10. Edward soon approached the Trent on his northward march. The barons thereupon lost courage, and, abandoning the defence of the passage over the river, fled northwards to Pontefract, the centre of Lancaster's power in Yorkshire. Edward advanced against them, taking on his road Lancaster's castle of Tutbury, where Roger of Amory was captured, mortally wounded. The Lancastrians were panic-stricken. They fled from Pontefract as they had fled from Burton, retreating northwards, probably simply to avoid the king, possibly to join hands with Robert Bruce. On March 16 the fugitives reached Boroughbridge, on the south bank of the Ure, where a long narrow bridge, hardly wide enough for horsemen in martial array, crossed the stream. The north bank of the river, and the approaches to the bridge, were held in force by the levies of Cumberland and Westmoreland which Barclay had summoned at the king's request, in order to prevent a junction between the Lancastrians and the Scots. Barclay was a brave and capable commander and had well learnt the lessons of Scottish warfare.1 He dismounted all his knights and men-at-arms, and arranged them on the northern side of the river, along with some of his pikemen. The rest of the pikemen he ordered to form a "schiltron" after the Scottish fashion, so that their close formation might resist the cavalry of which the Lancastrian force consisted. He bade his archers shoot swiftly and continually at the enemy.

1 For the tactics of Boroughbridge see Engl. Hist. Review, xix. (1904), 711-13.
Seeing this disposition of the hostile force, the Lancastrian army divided. One band, under Hereford and Roger Clifford, dismounted and made for the bridge, which was defended by the schiltron of pikemen. The rest of the men-at-arms remained on horseback and followed Lancaster, to a ford near the bridge, whence, by crossing the water, they could take the schiltron in flank. Neither movement succeeded. Hereford and Clifford advanced, each with one attendant, to the bridge. No sooner had the earl entered upon the wooden structure than he was slain by a Welsh spearman, who had hidden himself under it, and aimed a blow at Humphrey through the planking. Clifford was severely wounded, and escaped with difficulty. Discouraged by the loss of their leaders, the rest of the troops made only a feeble effort to force the passage. The same evil fortune attended the division that followed Lancaster. The archers of Harclay obeyed his orders so well that the Lancastrian cavalry scarcely dared enter the water. Lancaster lost his nerve, and besought Harclay for a truce until the next morning. His request was granted, but during the night all the followers of Hereford dispersed, thinking that there was no need for them to remain after the death of their lord. Lancaster's own troops were likewise thinned by desertions. The sheriff of York came up early in the morning with an armed force from the south, joined Harclay, and cut off the last hope of retreat. Further resistance being useless, Lancaster, Audley, Clifford, Mowbray, and the other leaders surrendered in a body.

Edward was then at Pontefract in the chief castle of his deadliest enemy. Thither the prisoners of Boroughbridge were sent for their trial, and there they were hastily condemned by a body of seven earls and numerous barons, presided over by the king himself. Lancaster, not allowed to say a word in his defence, was at once sentenced to death as a rebel and a traitor. In consideration of his exalted rank, the grosser penalties of treason were commuted, as in the case of Gaveston, to simple decapitation. On the morning of March 22 Thomas was led out of his castle, clad in the garb of a penitent and mounted on a sorry steed. He was conducted to a little hill outside the walls. The crowd mocked at his sufferings and in scorn called him "King Arthur". In two or three blows of the axe, his head was struck off from his body. Nor was he the only victim. Audley, spared his life by reason of his marriage to the king's niece, was, like the two Mortimers, consigned to prison. Clifford and Mowbray were hanged at York, and Badlesmere at Canterbury. In all, more than twenty knights and barons paid the penalty of death.

It is hard to waste much pity on Lancaster. He was the victim of his own fierce passions and, still more, of his own utter incompetence. His attitude all through the crisis had been inept in the extreme, and the poor fight that he made for his life at Boroughbridge was a fitting conclusion to a feeble career. But with all his faults he remained popular to the end, especially with the clergy and commons. He was hailed as a martyr to freedom and sound government. Pilgrimages were made to the scene of his death, and miracles were wrought with his relics. A chapel arose on the little hill dedicated to his worship, and a loud cry arose for his canonisation. The abuse made by his enemies of their victory only strengthened his reputation among the people. The tragedy of his fall appealed to the rude sympathies of the north-countrymen, and the merit of the cause atoned in their minds for the weakness of the man.

A parliament met at York on May 2, where the triumph of the king received its consummation. The Despensers had more advanced constitutional ideas than Lancaster, and pains were taken that this parliament should completely represent the three estates. It was a novel feature that twelve representatives of the commons of north Wales and twelve of the commons of south Wales attended, on this occasion, to speak on behalf of the region where the troubles had first begun. With the full approval of the estates, the ordinances were solemnly revoked, as infringing the rights of the crown. The important principle was laid down that "matters which are to be established for the estate of the king and for the estate of the realm shall be treated, accorded, and established in parliament by the king and by the council of the prelates, earls, and barons, and the commonalty of the realm". Thus, while the repeal of the ordinances seemed based upon their infringement of the royal prerogative, it was at least implied that they were also invalid because they were the work of a council of barons only, and not of a full parliament of the estates. This declaration of the necessity of popular co-operation in valid legislation is the most important constitutional advance of the reign of Edward II. It is a significant comment on the limitations of the baronial opposition that the ordinances should be the last great English law in the passing of which the commons were not consulted, and that a royalist triumph should be the occasion of the declaration of a vital principle.

The king's friends then received their rewards. Harclay was made Earl of Carlisle and the elder Despenser became Earl of Winchester. Fear of the marcher lords, even in their prison, withheld from the younger Hugh the title, though hardly the authority, of Earl of Gloucester. In other ways also the Despensers were anxious to prevent their victory suggesting too much of a reaction. Before parliament separated, it adopted a new series of ordinances confirming the Great Charter and re-enacting in more constitutional fashion some portions of the laws of 1312, which aimed at protecting the subject and strengthening the administration. Grants of men and money were made to fight the Scots, and once more the new customs were allowed to swell the royal revenue. Thus the revolution was completed. Edward, Gaveston, Lancaster, and Pembroke had each in their turn been tried and found wanting. Thanks to the jealousies of the barons, his own spasmodic energy, and the acuteness of the Despensers, Edward was still to have another chance, under the guidance of his new friends. We shall see how the restored rule of the Despensers was blighted by the same incompetence and selfishness which had ruined their predecessors in power. The triumph of the Despensers proved but the first act in the tragic fall of Edward II.


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