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A History of Yorkshire
from Bulmer's Gazetteer (1892)


Part 13

YORKSHIRE UNDER THE EDWARDS.

In the Scottish campaigns of Edward I., which shed such a lustre on the English arms, the forces of Yorkshire were led by John de Warren, Earl of Surrey, a Yorkshire baron, whom the king, after the battle of Dunbar, appointed Warden of Scotland. Shortly after this, Sir William Wallace appears upon the scene, and transfers for a time the fortunes of war from the English to the Scots. One after another the captured fortresses were retaken by Wallace, and the star of Edward's military glory seemed as if it were about to set in irretrievable defeat.

Returning hastily from Flanders, the king summoned the parliament to meet him at York, in 1298, wherein he confirmed the Magna Charta and the Charter of the Forests. At this parliament the king abandoned his right to raise taxes without the consent of parliament, and thereon the Commons of the realm granted him the ninth part of their goods; the Archbishop of Canterbury with the clergy of his province, the tenth penny; and the Archbishop of York and his clergy, a fifth. In the July following, the English army wiped out the disgrace of former defeats by the victory at Falkirk.

After this battle Edward returned to York and held another parliament. In the following summer (1300), Yorkshire was called upon to furnish 5,900 men, to serve in the war against Scotland, a levy which must have been very excessive in the thinly populated state of the county at that time. With the capture of Stirling Castle, in 1304, the reduction of Scotland was complete, and Edward, on his return to York, ordered the sittings of the Courts of King's Bench and the Exchequer, which had been held for seven years at York, to be removed back to London.

By the death of Edward I., in 1307, the only man whom the Scots feared was removed, and the Crown of England fell to an unfortunate successor, who was as gentle and inoffensive as his father was brave and ferocious. Lamentably wanting in character, existence seemed impossible without someone on whom to lavish his favours. Edward had seen his son's weakness and banished from his court Piers de Gaveston, the corrupter of his youth. Disregarding his father's dying injunctions to prosecute the war against the Scots, he received his favourite back with open arms, and showered upon him favours which roused the jealousy of the barons. They rose in rebellion against the king, and compelled him to banish Gaveston, but he was recalled again and received into favour at York, where the king was resident from January to April, in 1312. A conspiracy, headed by the Earl of Lancaster, the king's cousin, was formed against him. An army, raised in Yorkshire, and led by the earl, marched upon York with the intention of seizing the favourite, but the king, hearing of Lancaster's approach; fled with Gaveston to Newcastle-on-Tyne. The barons followed, and the king had just time to escape to Tynemouth, where he embarked with his favourite and sailed to Scarborough. The castle of this place was one of the strongest in the kingdom, and the king, appointing Gaveston governor of it, went forward to York. The army of barons, commanded the earls of Surrey and Pembroke, Henry de Percy and Robert de Clifford, laid siege to the castle, which Gaveston defended with the courage of desperation and repulsed several assaults. All communication with the king was cut off, provisions were exhausted, and Gaveston was compelled to capitulate. He was conducted a prisoner of state to the castle of Deddington, near Banbury, where, with the connivance of Pembroke, he was seized by the Earl of Warwick, whom he had nicknamed the "Black Dog of Arden," and beheaded on Blacklow Hill, on the 20th of June, 1312.

The rupture between the king and several of his most powerful barons was a favourable opportunity for the Scots to strike again for independence. Led by Bruce, they ravaged Northumberland and Durham, giving to the flames each town and village which lay in the line of their route. Edward summoned his barons, earls, and knights to meet him, but the earls of Surrey, Warwick, and Arundel held aloof. On the 24th of June, 1314, he encountered the enemy at Bannockburn, and met with a disastrous defeat. The north of England now became the prey of the enemy, into which they made yearly incursions, pillaging and burning the towns and villages, and carrying off the cattle. The miseries of the people were further intensified by a famine and plague which raged about this time, and so malignant were the effects of the latter, and so numerous the deaths, that the interment of the dead was often accomplished with the greatest difficulty. Bread-corn rose to forty-two shillings a quarter, about ten times its usual value; and to such dire extremity were the poor reduced, that, it is said, men ate the dead bodies of their companions, and parents the flesh of their own children.

Bruce was now successful at all points; he had driven the English out of Scotland, and the horrors of war were transferred from his own kingdom to the north of England. The Scots invested Berwick, of which they obtained possession through the treachery of a man named Spalding, who betrayed to them the post where he kept guard, and a few days after the castle surrendered. The fall of Berwick was followed by the reduction of the castles of Wark, Harbottle, and Mitford; Northallerton, Boroughbridge, Scarborough, Knaresborough, and Skipton were burnt, and destruction carried almost to the gates of York. A commission of array was issued for raising 15,000 foot soldiers in the five northern counties, of which number Yorkshire was to furnish 10,000; and the Bishop of Durham was commanded to raise the men of the palatinate. Newcastle was the place of rendezvous, and, at the head of the assembled forces, Edward proceeded to Berwick. But so obstinately was it defended by the Scots, that all attempts to capture it proved futile; and whilst the English were thus engaged with the border town, the Earl of Murray and Lord Douglas, with 15,000 chosen men, were despatched by Bruce to surprise the queen, Isabella, at York, and to ravage the country. Isabella escaped with difficulty, and the archbishop, at the head of the posse comitatis - a motley array of cowherds, swineherds, town and country labourers, ecclesiastics, and others, without military discipline or spirit, - ventured to oppose them at Boroughbridge. The armies met at Myton, near that town, on the 12th of October, 1320. The Scots set fire to some haystacks, and under cover of the dense smoke, a division of the army crept round to the rear of the English, who were thus attacked in front and rear at the same time. They were thrown into disorder by this unexpected movement, and routed with great slaughter. Among the slain were so many clergymen (300 it is said) that it was playfully called, in the pleasantry of the times, the "White Battle," and by the Scots, with a spice of humour, the "Chapter of Mytton." The victors returned to their own country laden with spoil, and Edward, apprised of the disaster, and also of a conspiracy amongst some of the barons against his new favourite, Hugh de Spencer, raised the siege of Berwick and returned to York, to which town the Domesday Book and the other records had been removed from London.

Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the king's cousin, was again the leader of the discontented barons, but his force was too small to cope with the royal army, and he was still further weakened by the defection of Sir Robert de Holland, whom he had raised from the humble office of his butler to the dignity of knighthood. Failing to secure a position at Burton-upon-Trent, the earl and his followers retreated northward to his castle of Pontefract. Here a council of war was held, at which it was decided to march to Dunstanburgh in Northumberland, where they expected aid from the Scots. Arriving at Boroughbridge, they found the country people in arms, and Sir Simon Ward, Sheriff of Yorkshire, William, Lord Latimer, Governor of the city of York, and Sir Andrew Harcla, Governor of Carlisle and the Western Marches, ready to oppose their further progress. The forces met on the 16th of March, 1321; the first discharge of arrows from the archers of the royal army threw the Lancastrians into confusion, still they strove manfully to hold their ground against superior numbers. Hereford with the men-at-arms, attempting to force the passage of the river, was slain by a Welshman secreted below the wooden bridge, who thrust up his lance through one of the crevices. Lancaster led his men lower down the stream, but was repulsed by the archers on the opposite bank. He had in former times given Harcla his knighthood, and he now offered him one of the five earldoms in his possession, if he would desert the king's cause; but Harcla's loyalty was proof against the bribe. His courage now began to fail, and he solicited a truce till the following morning, in the hope that the expected Scottish help might arrive during the night. But this faint ray of hope vanished with the morning's dawn, and retiring to a chapel, he knelt before the crucifix in prayer, saying "Good Lord, I render myself to Thee, and put myself into Thy mercy." He was conducted first to York, where he was mocked by the crowd and pelted with dirt, and thence to Pontefract, where he was confined in the tower of his castle. Shortly afterwards the king arrived at Pontefract, and Lancaster was arraigned in the hall before the king, Aylmer, Earl of Pembroke, Edmund, Earl of Kent, John de Brittany, Earl of Richmond, and Sir Robert Malmethorpe. He was condemned, without the formality of a trial, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; through respect however to his royal blood, the punishment was changed to decapitation. Placed upon a wretched horse, he was paraded through the streets with a friar's hood upon his head, and subjected to the most ignominious insults. At the place of execution he was made to kneel with his face towards Scotland, and his head was then severed from his body. The fate of Lancaster involved that of many others. Never since the Conquest had such havoc been made among the ancient nobility; never since then had the scaffold been drenched with so much noble blood as on this occasion. No less than ninety-five barons and knights were taken prisoners, and afterwards tried for high treason. A number of his followers were executed the same day at Pontefract, and others afterwards at York.

The following year, Edward held another parliament at York, in which the sentences previously passed by the rebel barons against the Despencers was reversed, and a subsidy of fourpence in the mark was granted to the king by the clergy of the province, to enable him to carry on the war against Scotland. He assembled an army, crossed the border, and penetrated as far as Edinburgh; but, unable to obtain provisions in that beggarly country, he was compelled to retreat into England, whither he was closely followed by Bruce and his Scots. The English were suddenly surprised near Byland whilst the king was feasting in the abbey. The struggle was short; the English fled; and Edward only escaped through the fleetness of his horse. John, Earl of Richmond, was less fortunate; he was captured, and long held for ransom. The enemy returned to their own. country laden with spoil. Sir Andrew de Harcla, who had been created Earl of Carlisle, was accused of treachery in this affair, for not opposing the Scots in their pursuit of the English, arrested by order of the king, tried, and executed at Carlisle. On the question of his guilt much doubt exists. Soon after his execution a truce, signed at Bishopthorpe, near York, was agreed upon between the two nations. Five years afterwards, Edward was deposed and cruelly murdered in Berkeley Castle. His youthful son, Edward III., succeeded, and was crowned in 1327.

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