10 March, 2017

Chicken or Brave-Hearted? The Future Edward II at War, 1300-06 (Guest Post)

Today I'm delighted to welcome writer and researcher David Pilling to the blog! He's a man who knows a thing or two about Edward I and his reign, to put it mildly, and he's written a great post about Edward of Caernarfon's military career during his father's lifetime which sheds new light on Edward's dire military reputation.

Edward II, rated one of England’s most incompetent kings, presided over a sequence of appalling military disasters in his reign. His most famous defeat at Bannockburn in 1314 was followed by other, lesser-known reverses in Scotland and Gascony, all of which demonstrated the king’s strange inability to wage war. The Lanercost chronicler’s stinging description of Edward as ‘ever chicken-hearted and luckless in war’ was unfair - Edward was no coward, as his performance at Bannockburn demonstrates - but perhaps summed up the general opinion of him among contemporaries, especially in the north.

History loves a good pattern. By rights Edward’s military ineptitude should have been evident from the start; once a dud, always a dud. Yet the reality is more nuanced. As Prince of Wales, serving in the Scottish wars of his father, Edward I, the young Edward was perfectly competent. These early campaigns, often skated over in histories of Edward II, deserve closer attention. The startling discrepancy between Edward’s military performance as prince and king provides another slant on this most complex of men.

Edward was first summoned to military service, aged 15, on 1st March 1300, when his father mustered the English host ‘to punish the Scots’ upon the expiration of a truce. Edward I mobilised his army at Berwick-on-Tweed, on Midsummer’s day, while his son was ordered to muster on the same day at Carlisle. The latter was an independent command, though the prince was attended by the earls of Lincoln, Lancaster, Gloucester and Arundel. Henry de Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, was a veteran of the Welsh wars and clearly meant to guide the prince. Edward I wished his son to have the aid and advice of experienced men, yet be perceived as the leader of the Carlisle expedition: ‘so that the chief honour of taming the pride of the Scots may accrue to the prince,’ as the writ stated.

The 1300 campaign was not one of Edward I’s more successful wars. Hampered by the desertion rate of his northern levies, he could do little more than lay siege to the castle of Caerlaverock, south of Dumfries. A royal herald did his best to glorify the campaign by composing a long martial poem, The Siege of Caerlaverock, praising the courage and splendid appearance of Edward’s knights. The herald provided eloquent descriptions of the king and his son:

‘Edward King of England and Scotland, Lord of Ireland, Prince of Wales, and Duke of Aquitaine, conducted the third squadron at a little distance, and brought up the rear so closely and ably that none of the others were left behind. In his banner were three leopards courant of fine gold, set on red, fierce, haughty and cruel; thus placed to signify that, like them, the king is dreadful, fierce and proud to his enemies, for his bite is slight to none who are envenomed by it; not but his kindness is soon rekindled towards such as seek his friendship or submit to his power. Such a prince was well suited to be the chieftain of noble personages.’

‘The fourth squadron, with its train, was led by Edward the king’s son, a youth of seventeen years of age, and bearing arms for the first time. He was of a well proportioned and handsome person, of a courteous disposition, and intelligent; and desirous of finding an occasion to display his prowess. He managed his steed wonderfully well, and bore with a blue label the arms of the good King his father. Now God give him grace that he be as valiant and no less so than his father.’

If the herald can be relied on, we have a vivid image of the ferocious old king - ‘fierce, haughty and cruel’ - bringing up the rearguard with his usual iron discipline, while his dashing son was sent on ahead. Again, these contemporary accounts suggest the prince was being deliberately pushed into the limelight by his father. Now an old man by the standards of the day, Edward I had to convince the world of the fitness and capacity of his only adult male heir. For some reason (perhaps ignorance?) the herald also stuck two years onto the prince’s ages.

The prince’s actions during the siege of Caerlaverock went unrecorded. In August, after the castle had fallen, he had his first taste of combat in a fight on the nearby River Cree. After some skirmishing between the two armies, the Scottish host under Umfraville, Comyn of Badenoch and Buchan drew up on the banks of the river in three divisions. For a long while the missile troops of both armies shot at each other, though the king was wary. According to Rishanger, Edward suspected an ambush, and ordered the Earl of Hereford to recall some foot soldiers who had crossed the stream. Prince Edward is described venturing down to the riverside with his cohort so he could watch the exchange of missiles. The young man’s curiosity and eagerness to get close to the action hardly suggests a ‘chicken-hearted’ disposition.

The infantry on the other side of the river were in aggressive mood. They interpreted the Earl of Hereford’s approach as the signal to attack, and charged the Scots. At this moment the banner of the Prince of Wales was also seen to go forward; in a blaze of youthful exuberance, Edward led his knights across the river to join in the assault. Hereford, without meaning to do so, had triggered a general engagement. Word swiftly reached the king, who leaped aboard his destrier, ordered the trumpets and horns to sound the advance and galloped down to the river at the head of his battalion. Earl Warenne, the loser of Stirling Bridge, followed close behind. The result of this piecemeal and unintended charge might have been calamitous, but the English were saved by their king’s reputation. By now the Scottish nobles were completely unwilling to face the dreaded Longshanks in open battle. They fled in headlong rout, abandoning their infantry and baggage train to the enemy. Rishanger bemoans the desertion of the Welsh among the English army, who might otherwise have pursued the fleeing Scots into the ‘moors and watery shallows’ and destroyed them forever.

After this encouraging start, young Edward may well have felt that warfare suited him. The war fizzled out, but was renewed again the following year when Edward I laid siege to Bothwell Castle. He despatched his son, together with the Earl of Lincoln, to advance through the south-west of Scotland. No glorious battles were fought, but the prince installed a fresh garrison at Ayr and successfuly besieged Robert de Bruce’s castle of Turnberry and Comyn of Badenoch’s castle of Dalswinton. In late September Edward was at Loch Ryan, probably acting on orders from his father to cut off Scottish forces moving west to Galloway. Edward’s presence in the region effectively forced the Scots to move east. On October 23rd he wrote a letter to the treasurer at York, reporting that he had inspected the castles of Lochmaben and Dumfries and found them in a pitiful state: ‘feebly garrisoned with troops and lacking in victuals and other provisions’. Edward resupplied the castles and shortly afterwards rejoined his father’s main army. There is not the slightest glimmer of incompetence in the prince’s conduct.

Surviving accounts for the following years reveal how the prince was armed and equipped on campaign, and how he amused himself during the long, tedious hours of inactivity. An inventory from November 20th 1302 lists the cost of armour for the prince’s body:

‘3 bacinets, 20 shillings; 2 pair of ' jamber ' at 2 marks per pair; an iron headpiece with crest, 60s; another round one, 60s; a helmet with visor, 53s; another close one for the Scottish war this year, bought by John Dengaigne and Hugh de Bungeye, 151. To Bernard of Devon armourer o£ London, for 2 pairs of 'jamber' at 20s. a pair ; a pair of plate quisses, 6s. Sd. ; a pair of ' poleyns ' and 2 pairs of ' sabaters,' in all, 13s. 4:d. ; and a pair of gloves of plate, 10s.’

The inventory also mentions two urinals for Edward’s personal use, apparently carried along with the rest of the army baggage! Further entries list his expenses, including money spent at dice and on purchasing dogs to hunt in Scottish forests.

In 1303 Edward I embarked upon yet another gigantic effort to break Scotland to his will. Having recovered Gascony from the French, he could now focus all his energies on this, his final conquest. The Prince of Wales, now 19, was again given a measure of independent command. More details filter through the surviving records. A payroll for May-October 1303 revals the prince’s personal bodyguard consisted of Spaniards, seven crossbowmen and two lancers. It may be significant that Edward himself was half-Spanish through his mother, Eleanor of Castile.

On 5th March 1303 the King ordered his son to reinforce Sir Alexander de Abernethy at the fords and passes about ‘Dryppe’, and to despatch other knights for this purpose. This was to be done with all haste, said the king, since he could not see how the knights could ‘more honourably win their shoes and boots.’ The prince’s swift response greatly pleased his father, who sent him the following commendation:

’And we let you know that it seems to us that herein you have had good and wise advice, wherewith we hold ourselves well satisfied; and it seems to us that the matters are as well arranged as well may be until your coming to us.’

These letters, while not evidence of any particular warmth between father and son, at least implies something more than stiff formality or mutual antipathy. There is very little reliable evidence to suggest that Edward I was unimpressed by his heir. In pure military terms, away from court politics, the reverse appears to have been true.

On 8th June the king reached Perth, though his army didn’t arrive until the 18th. The elder Edward’s furious energy at this time, often racing days ahead of his infantry, was remarkable for a man in his early 60s. At Perth he halted for two months while supplies and reinforcements came up for the next stage of the campaign.

On 10th July Edward sent a special request to the monastic order of Chartreuse, begging them to pray for his family, subjects, adherents and the success of the war. This has been interpreted to mean the king had fallen ill, though there may have been a more obvious cause for his anxiety. At about the same time his son rode out from Perth on a two-week foray into Strathearn. The prince was accompanied by just eleven archers and their captain, William Wilde, and a small number of cavalrymen. On the 13th and 23rd this small raiding party fought two skirmishes with the Scots at Athol, losing six horses. One of the cavalrymen, Arnald Fytous, lost two.

The details of this foray, rarely mentioned in more general histories, must surely overturn Edward II’s ‘chicken-hearted’ reputation. At the Cree he had charged the Scots without waiting for orders (shades of his father at Lewes in 1264) and in 1303 risked his person on a dangerous raid into hostile territory with just a handful of men. It seems odd his father should have permitted the foray to go ahead. He had kept his son away from the tourney field, knowing the dangers of that violent blood-sport. If the prince had met his death in the skirmishes at Athol, dynastic catastrophe would have ensued. The next heir was Thomas of Brotherton, a three-year old. Edward I could not have reasonably expected to live to see Thomas grown to adulthood. A long minority government, with England embroiled in a war against Scotland, was the stuff of nightmares.

As it was, Prince Edward returned unscathed from his adventure. The army moved on to take Brechin Castle, and then marched on a long chevauchée round north-eastern Scotland. The king and his son advanced at the head of separate divisions, burning and plundering all in their path. Hamlets and towns, granges and granaries all went up in flames. Young Edward was no less ruthless than his father, and some documentary evidence survives of the destruction he wreaked: Walter, dean of the cathedral church of Elgin, requested a gift of timber to repair his houses destroyed by the prince’s army. Certain traditions survive of English troops besieging the castles of Urquhart and Cromarty at this time. It may be the prince was despatched to oversee these operations, another sign of his father’s faith in him.

All this grinding pressure was meant to target the estates of John Comyn, Guardian of Scotland, and pound him and his fellow Guardians into submission. The strategy succeeded: Comyn and his peers formally surrendered to Edward I at Strathord on 9th February. Prince Edward was kept busy. Earlier, on January 27th, he was recorded crossing Perth bridge in pursuit of the Scots. The Guardians at this time were in negotiations with the king, so this action may have been intended to hunt down William Wallace and his ally Simon Fraser. Fans of Braveheart may puzzle over the image of the heroic Wallace being chased by the supposedly foppish and ineffective Prince Edward. The reality is that Wallace was a desperate fugitive by this point, continually harassed and pursued by vengeful English forces. In the spring Wallace and Fraser were routed by the English at Happrew and lucky to escape. They would not remain at liberty for long.

On 5th March 1305, while laying siege to Stirling Castle, Edward I ordered his son to reinforce the Earl of Carrick, moving against Scottish ‘rebels’ near Stirling. Carrick was none other than Robert de Bruce, later victor of Bannockburn. Here the great hero of Scottish independence fought and served alongside the future Edward II, in order to crush the last flickering embers of Scottish resistance to Edward I! The king also ordered his son to provide the army with lead for siege engines. Some of this may have gone towards the construction of War Wolf, a monstrous trebuchet that allegedly brought down an entire section of castle wall with one shot.

The eventual fall of Stirling, and execution of William Wallace on 23rd August 1305, marked the final conquest of Scotland. Or so it seemed. In February 1306 Bruce murdered his great rival, John Comyn, before the altar in the Chapel of Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries. Soon afterwards he went into revolt against the English crown, and Edward I was obliged to conquer Scotland all over again. The sick and ageing king grimly sent his forces north, among them the Prince of Wales. On 13th September young Edward triumphantly reported a victory: he had captured the castle of Kildrummy, and inside it a great number of Scottish nobles, including one of Bruce’s brothers. Bruce himself had narrowly escaped. This was one of several heavy defeats suffered by Bruce in the early stage of his resistance, until he met that famous spider in a cave and learnt to ‘try, try again.’

With the benefit of hindsight - always the historian’s favourite conceit - Kildrummy marked young Edward’s last Scottish victory of any note. On 7th July 1307 his father died at Burgh-on-Sands near Carlisle, leaving the new king with a mountain of debt and unfinished business in Scotland. From this moment on the familiar narrative re-asserts itself, with the hapless Edward II stumbling from one defeat to the next. I hope this essay has at least demonstrated there was nothing inevitable about his later military failures. This may in turn serve to explain the shock and disappointment expressed by contemporary annalists.

(This is Kathryn again) Many thanks to David for this fantastic and enlightening post on a subject rarely written about and poorly understood. Just to confirm what he wrote in his last line, the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi wrote of Edward II in 1313: "God had endowed him with every gift, and had made him equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings. If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, they would not find his like in the land...If he had followed the advice of the barons he would have humiliated the Scots with ease. If he had habituated himself to the use of arms, he would have exceeded the prowess of King Richard [Lionheart]. Physically this would have been inevitable, for he was tall and strong, a fine figure of a handsome man...What hopes he raised as prince of Wales! How they were dashed when he became king!"


Anonymous said...

Well, that's all very enlightening and thank you for the post and your guest's interesting information.

My view is this: poor Edward's reputation really has been abysmally biased towards the 'weak, effeminate, lacking-in-character' personality portrayed in countless books, films and other media. My opinion is that, in these bygone days, clerks/monks/upper classes were the only literate ones in the realm and therefore only a minority were able to record for posterity THEIR views of occurrences in the kingdom, so, if said persons were feeling aggrieved their words stood. I realise that what I am saying is in contradiction to Edward being deposed as he was unpopular towards the end of his reign, but my point is that few were in a position to actually document that he was a fairly decent fellow with flaws but it all went horribly wrong and he may have taken appalling advice which led to the downfall.

All very simplistic I know, but it is endearing to know that for records sake, he wasn't a shrivelling coward; fearsome of war (important in those days); and did have some remarkably kind, generous and funny characteristics (which you have pointed out Kathryn in other posts).

As always in history, it's just a terrible shame that more documents don't survive to be analysed and discussed. I met someone a few weeks ago who was adamant that Edward was a totally useless, nasty hysteric - I calmly advised him to look at this site and books about his life and possible survival. I do like Edward so wanted to defend him. Amanda

Anonymous said...

Great post! I wonder what happened to the advisors that Edward I appointed to advise the then-prince. After all, the facts of Bannockburn show that Edward II wasn't chicken, but the string of disasters sure show that something happened to his competence.


Unknown said...

Hi, another wonderful article as always :)
I was just wondering if there is any where I can find more information about the 1306 siege of Kildrummy Castle, it is important for a project of mine but I can find precious little info about it online.

David said...

Thank you for the kind comments on my post, much appreciated. For Joseph Harris - the entry regarding the siege of Kildrummy, from Volume 2 of the Calendar of Documents for Scotland, is repeated below:

[1306.] 1828. Charges to be laid before Pope Clement [V.] against Eobert
Aug. (?) Wischart bishop of Glasgow, who swore fealty to the K. six times.
[Chapter House {Scots Documents), Portfolio 4, No. 2.]
Sept. 13. 1829. [No names.] The writer begs a protection for John de
Corbrigg', who is with Sir William de Rue keeper of the bishopric of
Glasgow. ' Semper valeatis in Christo.' Informs his correspondent
that the castle of Kildrummy was lately taken by the Prince(?). And
that the Prince and the other English magnates in Scotland have taken
the Earl of Carrick's brother. Sir Robert de Boyt, Sir Alexander(?) de
Lindeseye, and other traitors, and many knights and others. ' Semper
valeatis in Christo.' Written at Milbrugg', 13th September. [CJiancery
Miscellaneous Portfolios, No, |;^.]

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris y said...

Esther, a good question. I wonder if one of those mentors might have been the aforesaid Earl of Carrick, who was clearly (at least later) a brilliant and imaginative general who knew exactly how to make the most of the terrain he was fighting on.

Anerje said...

Really enjoyed this article - thank you.

sami parkkonen said...

Great stuff! I have always wondered how much the advisors, or lack of advice, contributed to the later failure? From what I have found out, in many cases, such as in Bannockburn, many of those magnates and lords who had egged Edward II to go to Scotland, did not follow him and/or did not send their full force to the army but the least minimum amount of men allowed by the rules and laws of the realm if at all. In one case one baron sent in a one man who shot a one arrow once he saw enemies at all and then came back, because the agreement between the crown and this lord could be interpreted this way (Michael Prestwick, Armies and Warfare in Middle Ages, Yale University Press 1996).

One thing which certainly contributed to the failures of king Edward II's later military failures was his reliance on feudal summons. Armies of 1314, 1322 and 1327 were summoned thus and all failed. Edward I had relied more on paid soldiers and had paid even to his lords and their hosts, and so did Edward III and he was successful.

Just to give examples how feudal summosn were going down, Piers Gaveston owed no more than three knights as the earl of Cornwall but his predecessor had owned fifteen. Earl of Warrick owned six and a half knights (what is a half knight??) in 1277 and five in 1310. Out of 200 tenants-in-chiefs in 1310 only a dozen served personally. Even in 1282 one man appeared on muster, ate his bacon and departed. Also, feudal summons were for 40 days only in most cases.

chris y said...

Sami, true, but Edward II inherited an empty treasury due to his father's wars. Did he ever overcome that sufficiently to field paid armies?

sami parkkonen said...

True, he may have not had enough money to pay for thousands of men.

April Munday said...

Thank you for such an interesting post. I'm a newcomer to this blog and I have to confess that I'm finding Edward II to be a mass of contradictions so far. I'm looking forward to learning more.

Jerry Bennett said...

After Edward Longshanks died, I believe Robert Bruce claimed that although he respected the old king, he had no fear of the new one. I have been trying to find that reference without success for the last two days. Is it another piece of historical fiction, or did Bruce see something in the young Prince Edward in the 1305 campaign that does not come through clearly in history?

I fully support the statement that Edward was personally brave, but I also wonder if he was also arrogant and foolhardy. Those latter traits would have been restrained while his father was alive and he had veterans like Lincoln and Pembroke around him, but once his father was dead he threw off any previous restrictions. At Bannockburn it was said that he saw the Scots kneeling in prayer on the morning of the second day, and claimed they were already kneeling in supplication to him. This was despite the reverses suffered the previous afternoon by Hereford and Robert Clifford. There is a deal of difference between bravery and common sense, and his decision to attack the Scots across the Bannockburn salt marshes was disastrous. Bruce knew what he was doing in that type of terrain but Edward was clueless.

Warfare was beginning to change at that time, but most European leaders were unaware of it. When Edward Longshanks had triumphed over Simon de Montfort he had done so in what was then the conventional manner, using mounted knights and men-at-arms. His early victory over the Scots at Dunbar reinforced that message. But once the mounted knight was fighting in terrain that didn't favour him, he was at the mercy of a skilled foot-soldier. William Wallace had shown that at Stirling Bridge, and in 1302 the foot-soldiers of the Flemish towns destroyed the pride of French chivalry in the battle of the Golden Spurs. The terrain on which the French were fighting them seems rather similar to Bannockburn in some respects. Fifteen months after Bannockburn the army of Leopold I of Austria was destroyed by the citizen militias of Uri and Schwyz in the confines of the Morgarten Pass.

The key to success in such circumstances was to think clearly and use the countryside to your advantage, and the Scots had four men who could do exactly that in Wallace, Bruce, Douglas and Moray. The English leaders on the other hand were all steeped in convention. They would have done well at the battle of Evesham, but tactics had moved on from then. Only Andrew Harclay showed any hint of originality - what in these modern days is called the ability to "think outside the box" - and he was too far down the pecking order to have any influence on Edward.

The English had two great advantages over the Scots, superior mounted men-at-arms and better archers. Use them well, and the Scots could be beaten. I don't think Edward was "luckless in war" as Lanercost claimed. Just clueless! At Byland he asked his army to assemble on top of Blackhow Moor in countryside that was too steep for heavy horses and too wooded for mass archery. What on earth was he thinking? The outcome of that battle - headlong flight around the east riding of Yorkshire with the Scots chasing him like a hunted fox was surely the basis for Lanercost's withering accusation.

He was brave, but hadn't the nous to confront Bruce effectively, and he was too arrogant to realise just how useless he really was. Neither did he have anyone around him who could advise him otherwise.

sami parkkonen said...

Actually Edward II specifically asked for more infantry for Bannockburn campaign just because he said that cavalry would not be the best against the Scots (Michael Prestwick, Armies and Warfare in Middle Ages, Yale University Press 1996). He is the first king of England to acknowledge that infantry made up of commoners is more vital than cavalry of noble men on the record.

Unfortunately he did not get support from most of the barons, all of whom had accused him of cowardice and egged him to go to war in Scotland (earl of Lancaster is the prime example, he was also absent from Bannockburn). They failed him too. Or betrayed, or what ever word one wants to use. Had they been there, they might have been able to give somekind of command structure to the army. Or not. We must remember that Lancaster himself failed at Boroughbridge himself despite having superior number of men.

Edward also fought bravely personally but failed as a commander. That being said, in Bannockburn the battle was started by younger knights at the day one when Bruce famously killed Henry de Bohun. Not one of the knights who clashed with Scottish schiltrons how ever informed their superiors or the king that these schiltrons not only changed formation but also moved unlike the ones under the command of William Wallace. This was fatal mistake.

The first sign that the English were unprepared came the very next morning. No one called alarm when the Scots appeared from the woods to the low land. Where were the guards? Why no one shouted the alarm or raised the call to arms? The king was woken up and told that the Scots are coming and he went to look at them in amazement. The famous praying scene displayed and it was only then that the king himself raised the alarm and call to arms. Where were the guards and sergeants? Where were the vinetars and other officers? The king had to call his army to arms. Big failure too by the guards and lower ranking officers.

The final day the battle was also started by young earl of Gloucester and sir Robert Clifford, who had failed to defeat the Scotts previous day, as well as sir John Comyn, who had personal vendetta against Bruce, and sir Edward Mauley, all of whom died in the first cavalry charge. So Edward was not the first to do so but never the less joined in.

Edward should have stayed behind and direct the troops, but as we know, he dove in head over heels and fought like a mad man, loosing one horse from under him and going back with a new one, BUT during his absence no one, Not One noble man, gave any orders nor directed the troops. Not one. So there was no one to lead them on. This was a failure of Edward but also of all those other noble men who were supposed to lead the men in his absence.

I think the biggest strategic mistake Edward made was to move his superior army over the Bannockburn to the carse. In front of him, just below the hills on the west, there was dry flat lands, the battlefield they imagined to be, but behind was the wet lands which were a trap for twenty thousand men. It was also a trap because the Pellstream on the north side and Bannockburn on the south. Edward probably thought that those would protect his flanks but they also placed his army into a pocket. Once Bruce came out and began to push on, the English army was trapped in a huge mass of men, horses and wagons and tents and no where to go.

But then again: why no one said the night before that moving the army during the darkness over the Bannockburn to the carse was a bad idea? Not one lord or noble man protested or said it is a bad move. Not one. On the contrary, everyone worked very hard to do so, from lords to footmen.

Yes, Edward was not a good king, he was not a top notch commander at all, but his underlings were not either. They all failed at Bannockburn and lost it all despite personal bravery displayed.

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, the 'arrogant' and 'useless' and 'clueless' comments struck me as a bit harsh too. Easy to be an armchair general 700 years later, I suppose.

Jerry Bennett said...

You are right Kathryn, hindsight is a wonderful thing. When I made those comments I was not considering the Bannockburn campaign so much as Edwards actions in 1319 and 1322. I consider the latter year to be particularly disastrous.

I also agree with Sami that Edward was not solely to blame for Bannockburn, and that the actions of those under him contributed to the defeat. But I want to know why that happened. Edward had at least two commanders with him - Pembroke and Clifford - who had a mass of experience in fighting in Scotland. They would surely have advised him to set guard pickets. If they didn't, why not?

Correct me if I am wrong on this, but I believe that on the second morning of the battle the earl of Gloucester advised Edward to let their men rest before confronting Bruce, and that he was not only over-ruled but accused of cowardice as well. That led to his futile attack on the Scots before the rest of the English army was fully ready to support him. I suspect Gloucester had a good point, but why did no-one else support him? What was the atmosphere like among the English leaders? Was there too much internal tension or jealousy, or fear of so angering the king that men who were experienced commanders in their own right kept their true opinions to themselves? No-one will ever know for sure, but we can all make assumptions. That accusation of cowardice - if true - just seems so plumb wrong.

Perhaps I am judging Edward by modern day standards, but there is too much in the military side of his reign where things went awry that should never have done so. Why besiege Berwick without bringing siege engines with you? Why claim to be attempting to trap the Scots after Myton by basing yourself in an abbey at Morpeth, leaving James Douglas fifty miles of largely unguarded border to ease his retreat? Hexham would have been a far more sensible base. That is not me being an armchair general - that comes from looking at a map.

Arrogance was the prerogative of a mediaeval lord, but it needed that lord to be aware that it had its limits. I do not think Edward was aware enough, and that led to so many of the problems of his reign, and not just military ones. Neither was it exclusive to Edward, as I think Thomas of Lancaster was just as bad and others not much better. But Edward fell out with too many people, not just earls or lords but bishops as well. That would have left many others reluctant to speak out, particularly if they were also scared of upsetting his favourites.

To be a successful king, or any other sort of leader, you had to be willing to listen to many other people, encourage them to say what they thought and pick their brains for the best ideas. You also had to create an environment where everyone knew that such was acceptable. I don't think that ever happened around Edward II, with ultimately disastrous consequences.

I have seen comments elsewhere on this blog about how Edward was so unlucky to be up against a brilliant commander like Robert Bruce. But Bruce was far from invincible, as Pembroke proved at Methven. Bruce was humble enough to learn from his mistakes. Sadly that seemed not to apply to Edward.

Perhaps my judgement was too harsh, particularly as I can see a similar climate of fear evolving in our two main political parties at the present time. What was that about "the more things change, the more they stay the same?"

Kathryn Warner said...

And the mighty Roger Mortimer, who we're so often told was a wonderful military leader, couldn't defeat Bruce's army in 1327 either, and nearly got Edward III captured. Utter humiliation. Apparently he wasn't able to learn from 20 years of Edward II's mistakes either.

Jerry Bennett said...

I completely agree with you. I carry no torch for Roger Mortimer. If anything his Irish experience should have warned him of the dangers inherent in that campaign. The attempt by the Hainault and English knights to emulate the Scots and chase them across the fells above the Allen valleys was pretty disastrous and showed just how much the Scots were masters of the north Pennines.

Six years later at Halidon Hill, the young Edward III showed that he had learned from his father's errors, while Archibald Douglas completely mis-interpreted Bruce's use of schiltrons. The result was a triumph for English archers, the first since Falkirk thirty five years before. Another Douglas would make the same mistake at Homildon in 1402. But archery would soon be surpassed by gunpowder, as the earl of Shrewsbury found to his cost at Castillon. To judge from the number of bows and arrows recovered from the wreak of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII still had to learn that lesson fully a hundred years later!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and immediate hindsight can change both the nature and outcome of a war or a campaign overnight. I think all the main Scottish leaders had the ability to learn swiftly, but the same did not apply to the English commanders, including Roger Mortimer.

sami parkkonen said...

Jerry Bennet...
It was actually the night before when Gloucester and some others recommended that the army should rest for a day. That would have been wise IF they would have had time which they did not have. Also medieval armies usually began to disperse at once when they paused.

The clashes of the first day made it clear that there would be fight the very next day so it was not realistic either to expect that the English would have a days rest. Unfortunately for Gloucester Edward asked if he was a coward which did cause his death the next morning.

But you brought up the point which I have been wondering too: what happened to all of the other noble men and officers who should have had the capacity to create some cohesion to the English efforts? Were where they and what they did? We do know that most of them rode to the battle for personal glory so I wonder if it was the same thing which caused the French disaster at Agincourt??

A knight was not a normal soldier. He was above the rabble and there were also mystical elements in it, so often ignored these days. That is why the Third knight in the whole Chirstendom Gilles D'Argentan did sometimes drop wars and participated to jousts and competitions instead for higher glory and personal reputation, and he also rode to his death at Bannockburn too because his personal honor. He rode alone against the schiltron of Edward Bruce once the king was safe. He did it because his personal honor would not let him run from any battlefield, he said.