18 May, 2009

The Siege of Berwick and the Chapter of Myton

Berwick-upon-Tweed is a port in the north-east of England which changed hands between England and Scotland over a dozen times in the Middle Ages. (It's been on the English side of the border since 1482, when the future Richard III captured it.) Edward I took the town in 1296, sacked it and massacred the inhabitants, the Scots re-took it after Edward's defeat at Stirling Bridge, then lost it to the king again in 1298.

In Edward II's reign, Robert Bruce attempted to take the town from the English three times, in March/April 1312, January 1316 and August 1317. He finally succeeded on 2 April 1318 thanks to, according to the Scalacronica and Lanercost chronicles, the treachery of an English inhabitant of the town called Peter Spalding, who was responsible for a section of the town wall and whom the Scots "bribed by a great sum of money…and the promise of land." The castle held out until around 20 July. Edward II, unwilling as always to accept his own culpability in failing to keep the north of England safe from Scottish incursions, declared himself "much enraged" and "justly incensed" at the "carelessness" of the burgesses of Berwick and seized their goods and chattels. In late May 1319, Edward relented somewhat and pardoned one Walter de Gosewyk "of the anger and rancour of mind which the king had conceived against him" because Berwick had fallen to the Scots, freed his son from prison and restored Gosewyk to his favour at the request of Hugh Despenser the Younger, though he added ominously that this pardon was conditional: "unless he can be lawfully charged with sedition or assent to the betrayal of the town."

It was vital for Edward's future military campaigns in Scotland to retake Berwick, and on 10 June 1318, he summoned his cousin the earl of Lancaster and many others to muster against the Scots. As so often happened with Edward II's Scottish campaigns, however, it failed to take place, Edward being far too busy feuding with Lancaster and allowing his kingdom to teeter on the brink of civil war. The campaign was postponed until 1319, giving Bruce ample time to strengthen the town fortifications and make it much harder for Edward to retake. Having come to terms with Lancaster, in November 1318 Edward once again summoned men to muster on 10 June 1319, but on 22 May, inevitably, he postponed it until 22 July. Such enthusiasm.

On 20 July 1319 at York, Edward asked both the archbishops and all the bishops of England to pray for him on his way to Scotland. Then he spent the rest of July and the whole of August in and around Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and didn't arrive at Berwick until 7 September - perhaps because it took longer than Edward had expected for his army to assemble. Despite the summons to muster the previous November, the Vita Edwardi Secundi implies that Edward only decided to attack Berwick on the spur of moment: on his way to Scotland, he "first came to Berwick with his whole army, and decided on advice that this should be the first place to be besieged, because it had renounced his authority." Edward II's utter brilliance as a military commander [/sarcasm] is apparent from his failure to bring along siege-engines and diggers, which had to be called up after the siege had begun. (Though to be fair, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone else either that siege-engines and diggers might prove useful in a siege.) Edward wrote to Chancery on 9 September to say that he had arrived at Berwick "and is lodged here until he has conquered it by the aid of God, and he has great need of diggers," and asked for "100 of the best" to be summoned and for "all the king's engines in the castle of York" to be loaded onto ships and brought to him as quickly as possible.

The importance of retaking Berwick was such that even the earl of Lancaster co-operated with Edward for once, and wrote to the king: "On that day we shall be there, with God's help, if we are alive and you are there. And, sire, if going there requires greater haste, then move there, sire, when you please and we will follow you in honour of you and for the salvation of your land and your person and of your people. And, for God's sake, sire, make haste to do it." The earls of Pembroke, Surrey, Hereford, Atholl and Angus also accompanied Edward to Berwick, as did the king's nineteen-year-old half-brother the earl of Norfolk, whom Edward had knighted on 15 July. The earls of Arundel and Richmond did not attend in person, but sent 260 men and 35 men respectively. Edward's court favourites Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, and his chamberlain and rising favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger, took along 82, 74 and 98 men respectively. Edward's force totalled around 14,000, including 2400 footmen from Wales, and the king paid just under £3050 in wages from 1 August to 24 September.

Predictably, given Edward's slap-dash approach and obvious lack of enthusiasm, the siege was unsuccessful. On 8 or 9 September, and again on the 13th, he ordered a simultaneous attack by land and sea, and although his force "almost scaled the wall in the first assault delivered with great fury…the inhabitants regained their courage and defended themselves with spirit," says Lanercost. The attack on 13 September took place at dawn, and the 'sow' which the English were using as cover for the miners trying to breach the town walls was smashed and burnt. Berwick's defenders stoned Edward's ships, and his troops were repulsed and forced to withdraw. Edward kept himself amused during the siege, and paid his minstrel Robert Withstaff and two musicians sent to him by his brother-in-law Philippe V of France for playing before him, ordered hunting dogs sent from Wales, and had two of his falcons brought from London. The falcons were named Damory after his friend Roger Damory, and Beaumont after his French cousin Henry Beaumont.

As a decoying tactic, Robert Bruce's allies James Douglas and Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray, led an army into England and reached as far south as Boroughbridge, near York; Edward had heard by 3 September, four days before he even arrived at Berwick, that the Scots had entered Yorkshire "and are lying in wait for the city and castle" of York. Douglas came close to capturing Queen Isabella, who was staying at a small manor belonging to the archbishop of York, either Brotherton or Bishopthorpe. Fortunately, one of the Scottish scouts was captured and revealed the plans, and Isabella hastened to York, from where she escaped by water to the safety of Nottingham. A horrified and mortified Edward later gave her jewels and other gifts in consolation. The Vita points out that "if the queen had at that time been captured, I believe that Scotland would have bought peace for herself," and repeats a rumour, almost certainly a false one, that the earl of Lancaster had plotted with the Scots to capture his niece in exchange for £40,000. Perhaps to divert attention from himself, Lancaster in turn accused Hugh Despenser the Younger.

Despenser, an enthusiastic letter-writer, told the sheriff of Glamorgan "before he [Edward] had been there [Berwick] eight days news came to him that the Scots had entered his land of England with the prompting and assistance of the earl of Lancaster. The earl acted in such a way that the king took himself off with all his army, to the great shame and damage of us all. Wherefore we very much doubt if matters will end so happily for our side as is necessary." According to the Vita, Lancaster "blamed Hugh [Despenser] for the disgrace which had attached to his name at Berwick, and this he wished to avenge as occasion offered." An anonymous chronicle says that Despenser blamed Lancaster to divert attention from his own intriguing with the Scots to capture the queen. None of this proves anything much except that rumours and accusations were swirling around, though the fact remained that someone must have revealed the queen's whereabouts to the Scots. The real culprit, according to Annales Paulini and Flores Historiarum, was a knight called Edmund Darel.

On 12 September 1319, Douglas and Moray's force defeated an English army hastily cobbled together by William Melton, archbishop of York, near the village of Myton-on-Swale. So many clerics died – Lanercost says 4000, with another 1000 who drowned in the Swale – that the battle became known as the Chapter of Myton. The abbot of St Mary’s in York later founded a chapel in the village, "in honour of the Transubstantiation and the flesh and blood of Our Lord," to pray for the souls of the men who died. News of this latest military disaster reached Berwick on 14 September, and the earl of Lancaster left the port two days later, though whether to protect his lands, to cut off the Scots’ retreat or out of disgust with Edward is not clear.

Although relations between the two most powerful men in the country, the king and the earl of Lancaster, had been, prior to the siege, outwardly amicable, Edward proved what was really on his mind by ominously announcing "When this wretched business is over, we will turn our hands to other matters. For I have not forgotten the wrong that was done to my brother Piers." This threat to avenge Piers Gaveston's death was clearly aimed at Lancaster, and may have been a reason for his departure from Berwick - although Lancaster's biographer J. R. Maddicott says that the threat was made about a week before the earl's departure. The Bridlington chronicler claims that some people (unnamed) deliberately fostered dissent and conflict between Edward and Lancaster, falsely reporting Edward’s words to the earl and vice versa.

According to Lanercost, Edward summoned his council and told them that "he wished to send part of his forces to attack the Scots still remaining in England, and to maintain the siege with the rest of his people; but by advice of his nobles, who objected either to divide their forces or to fight the Scots, he raised the siege and marched his army into England, expecting to encounter the Scots." Edward himself told Chancery that "the king cannot depart from the siege without great dishonour," but he had little choice. The St Albans chronicler says that the king lay in wait for the Scottish force at Newminster, a Cistercian abbey near Morpeth in Northumberland, and Edward’s itinerary does indeed place him at Newminster on 19 September - he told the archbishop of York and the chancellor on the 18th that "the king is coming with his host against his enemies who have entered the land" - but they eluded him by returning to their homeland by the western route.

By this time, it is clear that Hugh Despenser had become close to Edward; the king promised to make his chamberlain keeper of the castle once Berwick fell, and also promised to make Roger Damory constable of the town – thus presumptuously handing out favours he hadn’t yet won. The author of the Flores, who loathed Edward, calls his friends – presumably referring to Roger Damory and Despenser – "despicable parasites." Edward and said despicable parasites were back in Newcastle on 20 September, then stayed in and around York until late January 1320.

And thus Edward II failed to retake Berwick-upon-Tweed and never again bothered to try to re-capture it, and signed a two-year peace treaty with Robert Bruce on 21 December 1319. The town remained in Scottish hands until July 1333, when Edward's twenty-year-old son Edward III - who had more military ability in his little fingernail than Edward had in his whole body - annihilated the Scottish nobility at the battle of Halidon Hill and captured Berwick. As for the earl of Lancaster, Edward II did avenge Piers Gaveston's death on him two and a half years after the unsuccessful siege. Edward's next, and last, Scottish campaign in September 1322 proved to be a disaster. But then, you'd probably already guessed that.

EDIT: This post hadn't even been up two hours when someone ran it through an online translator and re-posted it, with such gems as "brought to him as lickety-split as empathy," "In up to date charter brainy May 1319," "but they eluded him at close-fisted returning to their homeland at close-fisted the western itinerary," "By this age, it is clearly that Hugh Despenser had develop bashful to Edward; the ruler promised to frame his chamberlain attendant of the awesome in two shakes of a lamb’s tailpiece b together Berwick cut, and also promised to frame Roger Damory flatfoot of the municipality," and Edward III "had more military joking in his uncomfortable fingernail than Edward had in his unharmed association." Edward pardoned Gosewyk "of the paddywack and hatred of undecided which..." Brilliant.

Sources

Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1307-1357; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1317-1321; Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323; Foedera, II, i; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326.

Vita Edwardi Secundi, ed. N. Denholm-Young; The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. Herbert Maxwell; Scalacronica: The Reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III as Recorded by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight, ed. Herbert Maxwell; Flores Historiarum, vol iii, ed. H. R. Luard; Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley; Gesta Edwardi de Carnarvon Auctore Canonico Bridlingtoniensi, ed. W. Stubbs; Annales Paulini 1307-1340, ed. W. Stubbs; The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F. W. D. Brie; Le Livere de Reis de Britanie e le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. John Glover; Thomas Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, vol. i, ed. H. T. Riley; G. L. Haskins, 'A Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II', Speculum, 1939.

George Osborne Sayles, The Functions of the Medieval Parliament of England; J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II; J. R. S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke 1307-1324: Baronial Politics in the Reign of Edward II; G. W. S. Barrow, Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland; Ian Mortimer, The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III; Mary Saaler, Edward II 1307-1327; Paul Doherty, Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II.

13 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Poor Edward! How different things would have been if he had been a better military leader--or if the Scots had had worse ones.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Re: the translator. I look forward to a novel about Edward III entitled Uneasy Lies the Fingernail.

Alianore said...

I know, poor Edward! Just his luck to have to face the likes of Bruce, Douglas and Moray.

My favourite is 'as lickety-split as empathy', which is how the translator rendered 'as quickly as possible'.

Kate Plantagenet said...

Sorry Alianore, your post was WONDERFUL but it was overshadowed by the word "paddywack". Too funny. Love that translation.

I really appreciate that you are happy to point out poor Edward II's flaws. Fighting wasn't his thing. Perhaps he was a lover instead...? *winks*

Alianore said...

Kate: the translation's completely inspired, isn't it? Laugh out loud stuff. And now I have a vivid mental image of Edward singing 'I'm a lover not a fighter' to Piers Gaveston. :-)

Carla said...

Life in Berwick for the ordinary Joe must have been a real bundle of laughs in the Middle Ages, mustn't it? I sometimes wonder how the town survived at all.

Bruce, Douglas and Moray no doubt learned a lot (the hard way) about effective military action from Edward I. Fightng poor Edward II must have seemed like taking sweets from a baby in comparison.

Alianore said...

Carla: I agree. Berwick suffered particularly during the Great Famine of 1315-17, then Edward III more or less destroyed the town in 1333. It's a wonder the place still exists!

Good point about Bruce et al learning from a lot from Ed I's era. Bruce supposedly said at Ed II's accession that he feared the bones of the dead king more than he feared the living one, and that it was easier to get a whole kingdom from the son than a foot of land from the father. As it turned out, he was right.

Gabriele C. said...

Looks like there's something to generation jumps of genes - ED I and III got the military ones which Ed II totally missed out on. :)

Jeanne Tomlin said...

You know, I have a lot of sympathy with your view of Edward II, but your hatred of the Scots is a good deal less than attractive. Does it ever occur to you that they might have considered that they had a right to their own country without constant invasions of conquest?

Alianore said...

There's really nothing I can say to someone who thinks that I must hate the Scots simply because I write about a king of England attacking a Scottish town 700 years ago.

Ronnie Soak said...

Sadly for the Scots, The position was reversed in 1338, Edward III was the capable camander of The Scots force, without the capable William Douglas (Captive in ERngland) were led by rash young noblemen, desparate for glory... and Berwick fell utterly.
Of Course, Edward II had executed the young Thomas Seton of that Ilk during the seige, just to show the Scots that he was serious about wanting Berwick...
Also, he was Aided By Patric Dunbar, who was a self serving throne seeker, who had become keeper of Berwick Castle, as a way for the Scots to maeuver him out of c0ontrol of the MArches (A plot conceived by his Missus who though he was a self seving bastard with no loyalties) BAlck Agnes of Dunbar and MArch.. gotta love her.

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Gerald!