"Good" Edward and his son, "Bad" Edward - how it really went
Edward I gets all the good press. He is virile, a strong character, wise diplomat and statesman, and most of all: a true warrior. His son, on the other hand, is none of these. Edward II is nothing like his superman dad. Edward II is a bit slow, spends his days fondling men and playing the Celtic lute, digs ditches and swims in the winter, and most of all, has no clue how to run a medieval kingdom and can't make any decisions. And on top of that, he is a coward.
At least this is what we are told by several writers, modern and medieval. But how it really went down? Was Edward the Longshanks a super hero? Was his son a dumb-witted slob who could not make up his mind on anything? Well, not exactly. Edward I was no more a warrior than anyone. According to Peter Traquair (Freedom's Sword, p. 54) he actually was in a battle only three times: at Lewes in 1264, Evesham in 1265 and in Falkirk 1298. That is three battles in which he was at present during his lifetime. He directed his captains, organised military campaigns but was at present only at these three battles and at least in Falkirk he did not even draw his sword at all. One wonders how come he was such a "warrior king" at all. He was not Alexander the Great, who fought at the front of his cavalry in every battle. He was, well, just a king. Not much of a warrior at all.
His take on ruling was not nice either. He bullied his subjects, he was ready to go to war against his barons and bullied them more than once into submission, and bullied others too. It was his bully boy tactics which started the war against Scotland in the first place. In Wales he was a conqueror who used terror tactics to subdue the population, occupied the country and built castles, armed strongholds, to remind the population who is the Boss. And when the Welsh dared to rise up again in 1295, he smashed them without any mercy or pity.
The treaty of Brigham-Northampton in 1290 required him to respect the Scottish realm. He did not. The Guardian's Oath of 1286 which stated that the (Scottish) realm should be preserved "as it was left to them [the Scots]" was also ignored when Edward I wanted to rule Scotland as well. In the negotiations with the Scots in Norham in 1292, Edward The Bully Boy did not arrive with a diplomatic finesse. He arrived with an army and fleet, ready to block all the Scottish harbours if he gives the command. Understandably the Scots did not want to rub him the wrong way and went through the motions, which they later recanted because "previous admissions were made under a great stress". We can only imagine what that was. By his classy diplomatic tactics he got what he wanted: castles in Scotland and the admission that he was the overlord of Scotland. He also sowed the seeds for war, which he for some reason could not see, though he was "the elder statesman" and "great diplomat" of his times.
Back at home Edward, who had been on crusade earlier, raised taxes for a new one. When Acre fell, there was no new crusade, but the taxes remained. He also began to raise new taxes for war in Scotland, which is a bit weird, since there was no war in Scotland yet. The barons rose up against him, as they had done few times before, and refused to be taxed. Edward told them to go ** themselves and loaned huge sums from Italian bankers. He never repaid his loans, and never even tried, which makes him also an international bank robber. There was the said rebellion in Wales in 1295, which he smashed, but also problems in Gascony. He was not willing to make any deals with the king of France and so the only solution was war, despite him being the "great diplomat". The king of France played his hand and made a deal with the Scots. Now Edward I faced a war on two fronts because of his own attitudes. One guy called Adolf Hitler was later called a stupid leader when he made a similar mistake, but Edward The Super Man was not making mistakes for he was a "great diplomat" of his times, according to some modern writers.
He massacred the men of Berwick, all of them, and killed of thousands of Scots at Dunbar in 1296 and claimed victory of sorts. When Scots went on the war path again in 1297 Edward responded like a "warrior king". He sailed to the continent in August to take care of his estates over there and left his 12-year-old son as a regent. No wonder he was a bit mad in the movie Braveheart! After all, it was him who left the Scottish war at the hands of a 12-year-old boy. As expected, the war did not go too well. Edward's captains were not up to their tasks and were soundly defeated by the Scots in the battle of Stirling, lead by one William Wallace, a greatly feared man and a real warrior and murderer.
Now Edward had a small problem. He had no money, he had war on two fronts, and no army. So what a true "warrior king" does? Of course, he calls for feudal levy! And what happened? The barons refused to answer to the call. This made Eddie the Short Fuse a bit angry. When he faced the barons at the parliament of Salisbury in 1297 and the earl of Norfolk explained to him why they were not too keen to go to war in Scotland, Edward the "Great Diplomat" used his skills as a negotiator to win over the barons. - By God earl, you either go or hang! he told the representative of the barons. We have no knowledge how many men-at-arms were at present, I guess a few hundred, but the barons got the message.
Edward invaded Scotland again, did some general massacres and destruction, and defeated the Scottish army at Falkirk in 1298. He claimed a victory again, but unlike in the movie Braveheart, did not capture William Wallace, who went on to fight the English for seven more years. He was finally captured and executed in 1305 in a way which the splatter movie fans would have been excited about. When our "great diplomat" and "true warrior king" Edward I finally threw in the towel in 1307, the Scottish war was still going on. He had not won it. He had not won on the continent either. Actually, the only place where he had won, sort of, was in Wales. Other than that, he left his problems to his son.
When troubles began again, he sent immediately orders to his captains and soldiers in Scotland to take care of business. He could not attend himself since he had serious state business elsewhere. He was going to marry the daughter of the king of France, a must if he wanted to keep the peace on the continent and not make the same mistake his father had done: to have wars on two fronts. These do not look like the actions of a man who has no clue nor can make any decisions. Actually they look like decisions of a king who does all he can to avoid complete military and diplomatic disaster.
But Edward II had a big problem. He had no money, thanks to his dad who had spent all the tax money and loaned, and stolen, money from international bankers. In the parliament of April 1309, barons, perhaps taking a lesson from his father, arrived in arms. They told Edward that he had been ill-counselled by wicked men, mainly Piers Gaveston, who had to go. And oh, on the same note, barons wanted more powers to themselves. In 1310 the earls refused to attend parliament and they would not show up either in the council of York if Piers was present. So Piers had to go away for the duration of the council. Now, you might think that the earls would respect that suggestion from the king's side. He had sent away his closest male companion and adviser, his back up guy, and showed a pretty big will to reconcile with the barons. So what did the barons do?
Yep, they showed up in arms. They told the king that he had to name Lord Ordainers from among them, make them the real government of the country, and they also told Edward that it was his fault that he had not gone to war in Scotland, where the former ally of the English, Robert the Bruce, was waging a war. Never mind that Edward had negotiated a peace with the support of the pope and Bruce had broken it. Never mind that he had no money and no army and bunch of barons refusing to participate at that war. Edward had called for an army already in 1309 but had cancelled the expedition because the Welsh had asked him to show some mercy. An expedition during a winter would have been disastrous according to them, so Edward had canned that war. Not because he did not want to go, but because his subjects had asked him not to go during the winter. But that was nothing in the eyes of the barons.
Edward tried to negotiate a new peace in 1310 but Robert the Bruce was not a man who wished peace. He was on a mission. He wanted to be recognised as the king of independent Scotland, period. Fine, Edward decided to go to war, but this time nobody answered the call. He wrote a personal appeal to Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, but this "great warrior" and "best officer" did not even answer the letter. Edward tried again in July 1310 but the most powerful barons told him that they had more important business in London. Valence, Hereford, Lancaster and Arundel all refused. This does not look like a slob king avoiding his duties. This looks like a bunch of self-serving noble men betraying their own king.
Only three earls answered. Warenne, Cornwall and Gloucester came with decent troops, the others sent only a token force, a minimum required by the law. Edward knew that he could not invade Scotland the way he wanted and so he went up north with his army and enforced the English strongholds as best he could. Many modern writers blame him for this "pathetic" walkabout and about the fact that Edward did not engage the Scottish army. It looks like these writers forget one thing: you need the enemy accept the battle. And Robert the Bruce, who was a brilliant general, did not want to meet the English army yet. He would do it on his own terms at the place of his choosing at the time he wanted. Edward could not draw him into one no matter what. But that is also his fault too, in the eyes of these writers. At the same time behind the king's back, Thomas the earl Lancaster began to flex his muscles, which was quite easy since he was not taking any part in the protection of England.
Once again, many modern writers accuse Edward for this failure, but it is pretty hard to see what more he could have done. He wanted to go to war, but none of his subjects shared his ambition or appetite for war. Question is: who were the cowards? The king who desperately wanted to go to war, or all those great barons who time and time again betrayed their king? And why they get all the praise in this mess in the minds of modern writers? Strange indeed. Eventually Edward had no choice but go to the parliament with his cap in his hand. Those brave barons, who had refused to go to war in Scotland for years and then had blamed the king for the Scottish attacks, now showed up to face the king they all had betrayed. And they did not just show up, they came at arms.
Does it look like they were not afraid of the king? If you just go for parliament in full confidence you do not wear steel plate armour and carry war sword or mace into the session. But these men did. Why? Perhaps Edward II was not such a sissy boy we have been told he was. Perhaps the barons were cautious in case the king comes after them personally at the meeting? After all, he was not a small guy or physical weakling. Actually he was considered as one of the strongest men in the whole kingdom. So it was probably a good idea to wear a steel helmet and hauberk this time, particularly after you had betrayed him many times during the past couple of years. The barons at arms placed Edward under their council, Piers Gaveston was exiled again, the king was denied to raise new funds via customs and his Italian bankers were told to take a hike. Agreed then.
But a little later Gaveston returned and this was a big mistake. Perhaps he got lonely and showed up uninvited, perhaps Edward was missing him too much and called him back. We do not know. But it was all the barons in their high needed. They went nuts. They demanded more powers, they wanted to purge Edward's whole administration and what have you.They went on a war footing. They actually rose up against their king in arms in 1312. Edward tried to keep his friend, and perhaps his loved one, alive, but the barons chased them and finally caught Gaveston. Thomas of Lancaster gave the order to execute him, under what right one might ask, and that excuse was done. Now Warenne, Valence and Percy came back to the king's side. Their beef had been with Gaveston. But the others were still fuming and at arms. In 1312-13 a real threat of civil war was hanging above the whole realm. It was a tense stand-off, but notice: not even the richest man of England, the most powerful earl and future saint-like figure and champion of democracy of modern writers, the earl of Lancaster, dared to go to war against the king.
Now, if Edward was humbled and taken down by the barons, without funds and friends, everybody and their dogs hating him from serfs to archbishops, one wonders why the earl of Lancaster did not go through his intentions? We know from later years that he wanted to be a king, he actually tried it later. But why not now, when Edward had lost his best buddy and was down and out? Perhaps he still had friends? Perhaps he was not such a loser as modern writers want us to believe? Maybe the earl of Lancaster was actually afraid of this big man with enormous strength and abilities most men of his time did not have. He could swim in the frozen waters, he could swing a shovel like any engineer, was a keen hunter and not so easily intimidated. Thomas of Lancaster knew about William Wallace, another big and strong man. He knew about Robert the Bruce and his way of fighting a war for years without castles and massive armies. What if Edward slipped into the woods, collected a guerilla army and really came after them? Perhaps this was in the earl's mind during the time when Edward was at his weakest.
According to many writers all of this was Edward's fault. He did not act like a real king and save his castles and towns. He did not go to war. He did not do anything. He was scared and lazy, fiddling his lute and checking out good-looking guys instead of making war on Robert the Bruce. Really? Edward knew quite well that even if he would march into Scotland with a million men, Bruce would not come out to meet him. That guy was not an idiot. He had fought all kinds of English at one time or another. He knew that his troops were no match for full English field army with its thousands of archers and armoured horsemen. Unlike William Wallace, who was a good tactician, Robert the Bruce was also a brilliant strategist. He was also totally immoral. He was ruthless and a killer on a personal level. But where as Wallace had nice ideas of freedom or such, Robert the Bruce had only one idea: him being the undisputed king of Scotland. And he would not risk anything unless it suited in his plans. Edward knew this. He had to wait. He had to buy time. He had to let Bruce to draw himself out. Nobody else could force this guerilla captain out in the open. It had to come from himself.
Modern writers who blame Edward usually also forget the situation in England at this time. King and the barons were still on a war footing. Civil war could break out at any moment. So Edward had to keep that fragile peace up and play for time up north until the right moment would arrive. He also had to make sure that nothing would happen behind his back in case of war in Scotland. For this reason Edward travelled into France to attend to the knighting of his three brothers-in-law, one of them the king of Navarre. This is seen by many present-day writers as an indication how stupid Edward was. Look at this party boy, he goes to the parties in France instead to war in Scotland! They think this royal occasion was a similar event as a rave in Ibiza. It was not. It was a political move which Edward made in attempt to secure a peace with France, for he had already made his mind up about Scotland. If France would stay put, he would sooner or later meet Robert the Bruce on the battle field. And Edward, far from being the whining fairy of the movie Braveheart, would do something his father had never done as a king. He would actually go to war personally.