Regardless of the existing truce, only a few years of which had expired, Bruce seized the opportunity to try and win from the young king the renunciation of that superiority which had been claimed by his father and grandfather. He collected an army of 24,000 men, and marched for the borderland. This force, under the Earl of Murray and Lord Douglas, ravaged the counties of Cumberland and Durham. Edward summoned his military tenants, and men of the north, to meet him at York. He had also, for the sum of £14,000, purchased the services of John of Hainault and his foreign troops; but here again troubles arose. The insolence of the Hainaulters irritated the Lincoln archers; a riot arose in the city between the two bodies; and many hundreds were killed on both sides before the revolt was suppressed.
With a force variously stated at 40,000 and 60,000, Edward went in search of the invaders; but the Scots, lightly armed and mounted on small, but active horses, accustomed to a hilly country, were able to elude a large army encumbered with a heavily-laden commissariat. Day after day the English forces passed through burning villages, which had been destroyed by the Scots only a day or two before, but they could not obtain sight of the enemy. Becoming at length impatient, the young king issued a proclamation, offering the honour of knighthood and an annuity of one hundred pounds (£1,500 of present money) for life, to the first man who should bring him intelligence of the enemy. A few days afterwards a gentleman named Thomas de Rokeby, a Yorkshireman, came galloping into the camp, and thus addressed the king:- " Sire, the Scots are at the distance of three leagues, posted on a mountain, where for the last week they have expected you. I have seen them myself, having been made prisoner, and released that I might claim the reward which you have promised."
Next morning, guided by Rokeby, the English sighted the enemy, whom they found encamped on a steep hill rising from the opposite bank of the Wear. The Scottish position was too secure for any attack to be successfully made. Edward sent a message of defiance to the Scottish generals, proposing that one of the two nations should retire to a certain distance, and allow its adversary to cross the water, and form on the opposite bank. Douglas replied that he had come there against the will of the king, and would not leave the mountain to please him. If Edward were not content, he might cross over and drive him away if he could.
Determined not to lose sight of the Scots, the English fixed their camp on the opposite side of the river, but when the morning of the third day broke, the enemy had disappeared, and in the afternoon they were discovered posted on another hill, still more difficult to approach than the one they had first occupied. The king followed, and fixed his camp in Stanhope Park, opposite the enemy. Here Douglas performed one of those deeds of daring, which have made his name famous. In the dead of the night, with a band of 200 chosen men, he silently crossed the river, entered the rear of the English camp, and, galloping towards the royal tent, cut the rope, calling out "A Douglas! A Douglas! die, ye English thieves!" The alarm roused the camp; in the confusion, Douglas got separated from his followers, and was in great danger of being slain by an Englishman, who encountered him with a huge club. The man dealt his blows hard and fast, which Douglas skilfully parried, and at last succeeded in cutting him down with his sword. The Scots returned to their camp with very little loss, though upwards of 300 Englishmen were killed.
The following night, the English were again foiled. Apprehensive of another nocturnal attack, Edward placed his troops under arms; the Scots on the other side lighted great fires, and, says Froissart in his quaint style, "set up such a blasting and noise from their horns, that it seemed as if all the great devils from hell had assembled together." Next morning, before the English were astir, the Scots had crossed the river, and were miles away, on their march towards the border. This inglorious campaign was followed by a treaty of peace, signed at Northampton; and, to cement the friendship of the two nations still further, Edward's sister, the Princess Johanna, then seven years of age, was affianced to David, the son of Robert Bruce, who was two years her junior.
In the January of the following year, York was the scene of feasting and rejoicing on an unprecedented scale of magnificence. The occasion was the marriage of the young king with Philippa of Hainault, which was celebrated in the cathedral, amidst all the pride of pomp. "Upon these happy nuptials," says Froissart, "the whole kingdom teemed with joy." For three weeks the feastings were continued without intermission, and on these occasions ,the poor were not forgotten; jousts and tournaments occupied the day, and masks and revels, with songs and dances, the night. But the mimic fights were accompanied by one in real earnest. Jealousies arose between the Hainault soldiery that formed part of the retinue of Philippa and the English. Remembering their quarrel with the Lincoln archers, the Hainaulters took advantage of the carnival, to treat the inhabitants with outrage and violence. Wives and daughters were assaulted, and the suburbs fired, by which a whole parish was nearly destroyed. Enraged at such conduct the citizens armed themselves, and challenged the Hainaulters to battle. The encounter took place in Watlingate (now Lawrence Street), and was fought with such desperate fury, that 527 of the foreigners and 242 Englishmen were killed or drowned in the Ouse during the contest.
Bruce died in 1329, twelve months after the ratification of the treaty, and was succeeded by his son David, a boy four years of age, who was placed under the guardianship of the Earl of Murray as regent of the kingdom of Scotland. Edward I. had made very considerable grants of land in Scotland to English knights, but when Bruce had achieved the independence of his kingdom he very properly confiscated all the Edwardian grants, and also disinherited those Englishmen who possessed lands that had descended to them from Scottish relatives. The claims of the former were ignored by the treaty; but it was stipulated that the latter should be restored to their inheritance. Bruce, however, notwithstanding his acceptance of the treaty, refused to comply with its provisions in this respect; and, after his death, the disinherited lords determined to enforce their claims by the sword. They assembled with their followers, under Lords Wake and Beaumont, in Northumberland and the other northern counties, and were joined by Edward Baliol, the son and heir of John Baliol, whom Edward I. had placed on the throne of Scotland. Their total force did not exceed 5,000, and, with this small army they proposed to invade a country which had successfully resisted armies ten times more numerous and better equipped in the previous reign.
At first, Edward III. observed, or feigned to observe, the conditions of the treaty, and instructions were issued to the sheriffs of the five northern counties, enjoining them to forbid, under pain of forfeiture and imprisonment, any invasion of Scotland from the English frontier; but the royal prohibition did not extend to an incursion by sea. Baliol and his followers, therefore, collected a small fleet at Ravenspurn, on the coast of Yorkshire, and sailed for the coast of Fife. With the exploits of this resolute little army we are not concerned; suffice it to say that, in the short space of seven weeks, Baliol won his way to the Crown, and secretly entered into a treaty with Edward III., acknowledging that he held Scotland as a fief of the English crown, and transferring to Edward the town and castle of Berwick.
Baliol's success, though brilliant, was but temporary; the tide of victory soon turned against him, and in less than three months he was compelled to flee half-naked, and on a saddleless horse, to Carlisle.
Edward espoused the cause of Baliol, marched against the Scots, and inflicted on them a crushing defeat at Halidon Hill in 1333. Baliol was again placed on the throne, and as long as he could rely on the assistance of the English, he trampled down all opposition to his sovereignty; but from the moment that Edward determined to claim the crown of France, the war was suffered to languish; fortress after fortress surrendered to the adherents of David, and in 1341, the young prince returned from France, whither he had fled, to prosecute the war in person.
Whilst Edward and his young son, the Black Prince, with the flower of the English army, were achieving in France the victories which have shed a halo of glory around their names, David, at the head of a large army, seized the opportunity to invade England, ravaged the country with fire and sword as far as York, and set fire to the suburbs. Philippa, the heroic consort of Edward III., who was then keeping her court in the city, summoned the barons and people of the north to her aid. The Scots were pursued; the two armies met at the Red Hills, outside the walls of Durham, on the 17th of October, 1346, and a sanguinary battle ensued. David, wounded by two arrows, was taken prisoner; the flower of Scottish knighthood perished, and 20,000 men were left dead on the field. The English lost about one-fifth of that number. Philippa returned with the royal prisoner to York, and conveyed him thence to London.
England was very prosperous at this time ; vast quantities of wool were exported to the continent, where it brought a high price; and Brabant weavers were induced to settle in York, Kendal and other towns where they commenced the woollen manufacture. In 1354, the wool exported from England was valued at £193,978, equivalent to about two millions of present money.
In 1348-9, a pestilence of a most fatal character, called the Black Death, raged through the northern counties, and in some other parts of the kingdom; and so malignant were its effects, that one-third of the inhabitants are said to have fallen victims to it. Its ravages were chiefly confined to the lower class, and hence there arose a scarcity of labourers and artisans. The working classes refused to take the wages which had prevailed before the plague broke out, when corn was tenpence a bushel and wages fifteen pence a week. Instead of allowing the supply and demand to regulate the scale of payment, the strong arm of the law was called into requisition, and an act was passed "to restrain the malice of servants," who insisted upon extravagant wages; and it was further enacted, that no servant should in summer quit the town or parish where he usually resided in winter, if he could obtain employment there.