Relationships between the British nations are tested and defined. Royal possessions in France are disputed during the reigns of the last four Plantagenet kings, the Hundred years War begins and the Black Death strains the social fabric.
Edward I arrived home from crusade twenty one months after his father died. He was very tall and well-built, hence the nickname ‘Longshanks’ by which he became known. A seasoned and valiant warrior aged 35, he had outlived his early reputation for intolerance, arrogance and vengeful treatment of opponents. He possessed the feared Plantagenet temper but was now acknowledged as a capable leader with a proven ability in statecraft. The English nobles who attended the coronation of Edward I were full of hope that he would bring order and certainty to the realm after the weakness and disorder of the previous reign.
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Consequently, Edward I was straightaway able to turn his attention to the persistent problems on his borders, most particularly in Wales. Neither King Henry nor the Marcher lords had managed to extinguish persistent Welsh attempts to throw off English rule. Edward was now prepared to use the full weight of his royal power to subdue Wales and become absolute ruler of the entire principality.
Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, like his grandfather Llewelyn the Great, was ruler of the mountain fastness of Gwynedd in North Wales and was acknowledged as foremost of the native Welsh leaders. After expanding his powerbase in the year when Henry III was re-establishing control in England following the collapse of the de Montfort rebellion, he was recognised as Prince of Wales at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. However, Llewelyn was soon in dispute with some of the Marcher lords and Welsh leaders in the south. His own brother was implicated in a plot to kill him and took refuge in England. Llewelyn, fearful of treachery and concerned about the king’s motives, refused to go to Chester to pay homage to Edward I in 1275. Furthermore, he also married by proxy Eleanor, the 23 year old daughter of Simon de Montfort and his wife, who was the youngest daughter of King John. Eleanor was, therefore, a full cousin to King Edward, who strongly opposed the marriage because of the de Montfort connection. The ship in which she was sailing from France to Gwynedd was captured off the Scilly isles and Eleanor was held prisoner in the king’s fortress at Windsor.
King Edward then led a powerful land and sea-borne force into North Wales in 1277 and Llewelyn was driven back into his heartland in Snowdonia. The island of Anglesey, Llewelyn’s bread-basket, was occupied and Gwynedd was starved into submission. Llewelyn was forced to accept the harsh terms of the Treaty of Aberconwy, whereby he lost the eastern part of Gwynedd. King Edward then released his wife Eleanor and was present when their marriage was celebrated at Worcester.
In 1282, Llewelyn’s brother David and some of the lesser Welsh leaders rose in rebellion against the heavy hand of royal authority and the imposition of English law. Llewelyn was unprepared for conflict, but felt obliged to join his countrymen. He was overtaken by personal tragedy when his wife died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Gwenllian. At the end of that fateful year Llewelyn himself was struck down and killed in an engagement with a contingent of Marcher lords. Gwenllian was taken by Edward and placed with the nuns at the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, where she spent the rest of her life. The Gilbertine order was founded by Gilbert of Sempringham, a friend of the king’s great grandfather Henry II.
David, who had provoked the war, was captured the following year and was gruesomely executed at Shrewsbury. Edward proceeded to strip Gwynedd of any trace of princely regalia and insignia, signifying the extinction of Llewelyn’s dynasty and the annexation of the entire principality of Wales by the crown. He divided the conquered land into counties which were governed in the English way. He encouraged English colonisation in new towns at Flint, Aberystwyth and Rhuddlan and four huge state of the art castles were constructed at Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech and Caernarfon in order to impress royal dominion on the Welsh population. Finally, the king invested his baby son, also named Edward, with the title Prince of Wales in 1301 and the title has been bestowed on the eldest son of the English monarch ever since.
Whilst he was intent on the annexation of Wales, Edward was also attending to matters of state in England. Following the breakdown in law and order during the previous reign, he intended to oversee an overhaul of administration and justice, most of which was drafted by Robert Burnell, a minor official who rose to become Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Bath and Wells. Edward placed great trust in Burnell, but attempts to promote him to the Archbishopric of Canterbury were refused by the pope.
Many sheriffs and local officials suspected of malfeasance were replaced once Burnell was installed in office. He then introduced a series of statutes which codified and renewed the existing laws of England. The Statute of Westminster 1275 enacted 51 chapters. Royal abuse, whereby the feudal rights of barons were overridden, was to end, elections were to be free of disturbance by malice or menace and many earlier legal provisions such as the inquest system set up by Henry II were updated. Two other Westminster Statutes were enacted in 1285 and 1290, which completed a major overhaul and restatement of the Laws of England and re-established royal rights which had been usurped or disregarded during the previous reign.
In 1279 Quo Warranto proceedings were instituted with the Intention of discovering who held lands, rights, and franchises, known as liberties, without a royal permit. As many original royal warrants and charters had been lost or destroyed, it was finally agreed in 1290 that anybody able to prove continuous enjoyment of a liberty since the beginning of the reign of Richard in 1189 was considered to have held it legitimately since ‘time immemorial’. Although few liberties were recovered, the king was successful in establishing that all liberties were granted by the Crown.
The Quo Warranto process was to be assisted by a survey of the land-holding population of England for judicial and taxation purposes. Filed in national records as the Hundred Rolls, the survey specified the services due from all tenants, including peasants, to their feudal lords. It was a more complete record than Domesday and was probably conceived as the legal recourse in disputes between lord and tenant and vice versa. Edward was certainly hoping to help the royal finances by recouping losses which he felt had been incurred on royal demesne lands, but the project was never completed, although it remains of great use to modern historians researching English medieval society.
Associated with these measures were attempts to protect royal revenues by preventing property being passed by frankalmoin, or ‘tenure in free alms’, into ecclesiastical ownership. Such properties were referred to as being held in mortmain or in a dead hand. The Church, being an institution, never dies or marries and there is therefore no feudal incident, such as the inheritance of an heir, the wardship of children, the marriage of a daughter, etc. when the superior lord, including the king, can benefit from any of the traditional feudal dues or payments. To prevent the continuance of this problem the Magna Carta issued in 1217 had forbidden the practice, but the pious Henry III ignored the charter and continued to grant licenses permitting property to be given to the Church. Edward I attempted to end the practice in 1279 with the Statute of Mortmain, but clever lawyers soon found ways of evading the proscription.
Royal finances had been strained to breaking point during all three previous reigns and by Edward’s Welsh campaigns. The programme of castle building made things a great deal worse. Casting around for methods of raising money, he raised duties on the Wool Trade, the revenue from which was used as security for loans from Italian bankers. He squeezed all the money he could out of the Jewish community and in 1279 executed about 300 heads of Jewish families for coin-clipping and began to confiscate Jewish property. By 1290 almost all the 2,000 Jews had been forced to leave England and their property was appropriated by the Crown. The Church, which regarded moneylending as sinful and the Jewish race as morally responsible for Christ’s death, encouraged these actions.
Edward also exploited the respect he had earned in the general population by frequent demands for lay subsidies, which were taxes on the movable property of all secular subjects. In 1295 the king, embroiled in a mounting Scottish impasse and also at war with France, summoned representatives of each county and every borough to attend the Model Parliament in order to secure their approval of his request for the levy of another unpopular subsidy. It marked the beginning of the regular attendance of the middling social order in parliament.
The clergy reluctantly paid up when he demanded a subsidy of one half of clerical revenues in 1294, but a further demand the next year was refused with backing from the pope. Edward outlawed any cleric who failed to pay. A Papal Bull in 1296 allowed a compromise to be reached, whereby the clergy could be taxed in cases of emergency. However, his excessive financial demands and the imposition of heavy feudal military service commitments were bringing the king to a confrontation with the most powerful nobles in the land, to the point where a new civil war seemed imminent in 1297.
Edward I had become involved in Scottish affairs when the Scottish king Alexander III died in 1286 leaving no surviving children. His unborn child by a late second marriage did not survive, leaving his three year old grand-daughter Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway, as his only heir. Her father, the King of Norway, and the Guardians of Scotland negotiated a marriage for her with Edward of Caernarfon, the five year old heir to King Edward, with the proviso that although the issue of the marriage would inherit the crowns of both England and Scotland, the latter kingdom should be "separate, apart and free in itself without subjection to the English Kingdom".
Margaret remained in Norway until it was judged she could safely make the journey to her new kingdom. Tragically, she became ill and died in the Orkneys on her way to Scotland in September 1290, leaving Scotland with no prospective monarch. The history of Great Britain might have been very different had Edward of Caernarfon and the Maid married and become, in due course, King and Queen of England and Scotland and possibly of Norway as well. However, it was not to be and events took a very different course.
Anglo-Scottish relations had been remarkably cordial for some years and, with thirteen different claimants to the Crown, the Scottish Guardians asked King Edward to institute a court which would decide who should become their next king. Matters soon condensed into a contest between John Balliol Lord of Galloway and Robert Bruce Lord of Annandale. Edward seized the opportunity to claim his feudal right to overlordship in Scotland; Balliol and Bruce both paid homage to Edward and the Guardians agreed to recognise his lordship, but made it clear they could not speak for the Scottish kingdom as such. In November 1291 the king announced the court’s judgement in favour of John Balliol based on the law of primogeniture. The decision had the support of most Scots nobles and he was declared King of Scots at Scone Abbey. In December he swore homage to King Edward for the kingdom of Scotland. Edward believed Scottish affairs were settled and regarded the country and its new king as his vassals.
He became involved in a dispute with Philip IV of France in 1294 concerning English and Gascon sailors sacking the city of La Rochelle. In an effort to resolve the problem, it was agreed that Philip would take back Edward’s French fief of Gascony and restore it after forty days. As part of the agreement, the recently widowed Edward was to marry Philip’s half-sister Blanche and Gascony would be returned as part of her dowry. The terms were to be agreed at a personal meeting of the two monarchs, but Edward refused to attend when he learned that the marriage had been taken off the table. Philip then claimed Edward had broken his feudal right to Gascony and intended to keep it in his own hands. Edward was infuriated and prepared for war, in alliance with the Duke of Burgundy and the Count of Flanders.
However he was distracted by a rebellion in Wales. Edward demanded the Scottish lords provide him with military support for his projected expedition to the continent. They rejected his demands and formed an alliance with France which was the beginning of the compact known as ‘the Auld Alliance’. A Scottish force attempted to take Carlisle. Edward then invaded Scotland and sacked Berwick on Tweed. The Scots were beaten at the battle of Dunbar, and Sterling castle the gateway to the Highlands, was taken. As he returned to England, he took the Stone of Destiny from Scone and placed it in Westminster Abbey, which was an absolute affront to Scottish national sentiment. John Balliol, hopelessly compromised by his allegiance to Edward, was publicly humiliated and abdicated the Scottish throne, which remained vacant until 1306. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time before retiring into obscurity in France.
It was 1297 before Edward was finally able to concentrate on affairs in France again, but by then his allies had splintered. He left for Flanders with a depleted force because the Earl Marshal and the Constable of England tried to prevent the collection of the subsidy Edward urgently needed to pay his soldiers. It looked as though England was returning to the sad state of affairs that prevailed when Simon de Montfort revolted against the king’s father, but once more events in Scotland took precedence. William Wallace was leader of a Scottish force which inflicted a devastating defeat on the English at Stirling Bridge, leaving most of the Scottish Lowlands in Scots hands and the English garrison at Stirling castle marooned. Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland.
Following this turn of events the Earl Marshal’s opposition crumbled. Edward confirmed Magna Carta again and agreed that taxation should be raised only by consent of the people. He negotiated a truce with France and led a powerful force, including over 10,000 Welsh longbowmen, into Scotland the following year. His army clashed with Wallace at Falkirk, where the Welsh bowmen proved devastatingly effective against the ‘hedgehog’ formations of Scottish infantry bristling with pikes. The king displayed great tactical skill in marshalling the different units of his army to achieve a shattering victory. Wallace resigned the guardianship but was ruthlessly hunted down. He was finally captured and executed by hanging, drawing and quartering in 1305.
Following Falkirk, Edward was able to turn his attention yet again to his French problems. Philip IV was also suffering problems with financing the drawn out conflict with Edward and his European colleagues. Both sides were looking for an end to the war, and a solution by a traditional marital alliance was at hand.
In 1290 Edward had lost Eleanor of Castile, his beloved wife and queen, the mother of his thirteen children. He erected Eleanor Crosses at each place where her body rested on its way to be buried in Westminster Abbey. In 1293 the plans for a marriage with Philip’s half-sister Blanche (who had already been betrothed to his son and heir Edward of Caernarfon) collapsed and contributed to the outbreak of war with Philip as outlined above. In an attempt to mollify Edward, Philip had offered Blanche’s sister, an eleven year old maid named Margaret, as a bride in her place. Edward was furious, refused the offer and declared war. In 1298, after five years of war, a truce was negotiated and a double marriage was arranged to help seal a treaty between the two kings. Edward married Margaret and the confiscated parts of Gascony were restored to him. Queen Eleanor’s land of Ponthieu in northern France was also handed over as part of Margaret’s dowry. His son was betrothed to King Philip’s only surviving daughter Isabella, who has earned enduring fame as ‘the she wolf of France’. Despite the great difference in their ages, Edward I’s second marriage was apparently cordial and he had three more children by Margaret.
It is often claimed that Edward’s judgement and character deteriorated following the deaths of his wife Eleanor and his Chancellor Robert Burnell, who both exercised a modifying influence upon him. Certainly, what began as a policy to re-establish suzerainty over Scotland finished as an outright war to extinguish any pretension to an independent Scottish kingdom. Although his military capabilities were still unimpaired, his political decisions in those later years sometimes appeared rash, provocative and unnecessarily harsh and involved England more and more deeply in a struggle which was personal to him but of no major importance to the people and nobility of England.
Furthermore, his methods of extracting money to pay for his wars became more and more unpopular, especially Maltolt, by which all wool and leather was seized and only released on payment of a heavy 40 shillings per woolsack duty. Another hated practice was Purveyance, which was used to supply the English army in Scotland, where the king’s officers could not find sufficient food for the soldiers. Sheriffs in England were instructed to buy farm produce at a low fixed price. It was then stored and conveyed to Scotland by a well-organised convoy system. In contrast to the slickness of the garnering and transport operation, government payments were often slow and purveyance was widely perceived as an abusive racket.
After the battle of Falkirk the Scots were unable or unwilling to meet Edward in open battle, but they kept up a campaign of raids and ambush which tied down royal military units and interrupted the orderly management Edward hoped to impose on the country. However, following the peace with Scotland’s nominal ally France in 1303, the recapture of Stirling castle in 1304 and the capture and execution of William Wallace in 1305, most of the Scots nobility, led by John Comyn the Red, pledged their allegiance to Edward. Scotland was finally under Edward’s control and he appointed English and loyal Scottish supporters to govern the country.
All was well until Robert le Bruce, grandson of the man who had vied for the crown with John Balliol, murdered John Comyn and was declared King of Scotland in 1306. He began a campaign to bring Scotland back to full independence under his rule. Bruce was soon forced to go into hiding whilst Edward’s forces rampaged around Scotland, brutally mistreating any Bruce relative or friend that could be found. His sister Mary was locked in a cage for four years and his younger brother was hanged, drawn and quartered. Edward regarded the uprising as a rebellion by disloyal subjects. Now elderly and suffering poor health, Edward set off to do battle in Scotland one last time but he was taken ill and died just south of the border.
In Scotland up to the present day Edward I is remembered as a cruel despot who failed to break the spirit of a proudly independent nation. He dissolved the nationhood of the Welsh, but they retained their ancient British language and maintained a separate identity as they shared the triumphs and tribulations of England throughout subsequent centuries. Many of his contemporaries in England and Europe admired and feared Edward as a great king; he was courageous and successful on the battlefield, he could be sagacious in the council chamber and actively shaped national history by reforming English laws and institutions and taking important steps towards the development of a parliamentary and constitutional monarchy. He checked the arrogant resistance of his great barons, but used the growing wealth of the commercial economy for his own purposes of maintaining his French possessions and trying to overwhelm Scottish resistance to his rule.
He was succeeded by Edward of Caernarfon, his only surviving son by Queen Eleanor, and the first Prince of Wales born into the English royal family. Edward II could never live up to his father’s hopes and it is doubtful that he wanted to. He was tall, handsome and an accomplished horseman, but his interests were music, acting, stylish accoutrements and - surprisingly - rural pursuits such as laying hedges and gardening. Unfortunately, he was also liable to fall under the influence of charismatic young male courtiers.
Shortly before ‘Longshanks’ death, his son asked him to give Ponthieu, the dower land of the queen, to his intimate friend and boon companion, the Gascon knight Piers Gaveston. The king was furious and reputedly tore out a handful of his son’s hair before sending Gaveston into exile. As soon as the old king died, Edward II recalled Gaveston and bestowed the Earldom of Cornwall, one of the kingdom’s richest entitlements, upon him. He also arranged the marriage of Gaveston to his niece Margaret de Clare. The established nobility was outraged at this promotion of a minor foreign knight to the highest ranks in the land.
In 1308 Edward went to Paris where he married his long-time fiancée, the French king’s daughter Isabella, and appointed Gaveston as regent during his absence. Senior barons made clear their displeasure and were supported by the queen’s father Philip IV, who was offended by the way his daughter was slighted, with her finest wedding jewels being given to Gaveston on her arrival in England. The king was forced to send his favourite once more into exile, but he was compensated with money and the Lieutenancy of Ireland which had become unruly whilst royal attention in the previous reign had been concentrated elsewhere. Gaveston succeeded in pacifying the area outside Dublin as far as the Wicklow Mountains. Eventually, Edward succeeded in mollifying most of the earls. Gaveston was recalled to England, but once more began giving grave offence to the establishment. The nobles’ discontent brimmed over and in 1310 they forced the king to appoint a group known as Lords Ordainers to reform his household.
In 1311 King Edward was in Scotland vainly trying to meet Robert the Bruce on the battlefield or at the conference table, but he was compelled to go back to London, leaving Gaveston as his lieutenant in Scotland. However, the Lords Ordainers insisted he be banished yet again, but he was soon back in England with his lands restored by the king. Both parties now prepared for war. Gaveston surrendered and was taken into custody whilst the barons negotiated with the king. On the way south, he was removed from the custody of his escort and taken to Warwick Castle where a group of barons found him guilty of violating the Ordinances. He was taken to Blacklow Hill held by the Earl of Lancaster, where he was beheaded. Edward was outraged and from then on regarded his cousin Lancaster with deep hatred.
Meanwhile, Robert the Bruce took Edinburgh and set siege to Stirling Castle. It was now essential that King Edward take action to assert his supremacy in Scotland. Backed by renewed loyalty from much of the nobility following the death of Gaveston, he raised a large, well-equipped army in 1314 to finally put an end to the Bruce ‘situation’. At Bannockburn close to Stirling Castle the English were first demoralised and then thrashed. King Edward fled the field with his bodyguard, leaving foot soldiers to be slaughtered on the battlefield or as they struggled back to the border. The Bruce’s womenfolk were released after being imprisoned for eight years. Bruce took control of his country, winning back Berwick on Tweed in 1318. His brother fought to win a crown in Ireland with some success until the famine years of 1315-17 forced him to plunder the Irish peasantry, who then turned against the foreign robber in their midst. He was eventually slain by an Anglo-Norman force at the battle of Faughart in the same year that his brother took Berwick.
Edward’s reputation never recovered after Bannockburn. The famine years added to his country’s woes and Thomas of Lancaster and other Ordainers virtually ruled England. Looking for relief from the problems of state, Edward bestowed affection and honours on his new Chamberlain, Hugh Despenser and his father of the same name. Hugh the younger was married to Eleanor de Clare, the king’s niece and sister of Margaret, widow of the king's former favourite Piers Gaveston, who inherited a third of her family’s possessions in Wales and the West when her brother was killed at Bannockburn leaving no offspring or male heirs. In 1321 the queen persuaded Thomas Earl of Lancaster and other nobles to force the Despensers into exile, but Lancaster was defeated at the battle of Boroughbridge and was executed, whilst another leading Ordainer, Roger Mortimer, was captured and briefly imprisoned in the Tower until he escaped to France.
With the baronial opposition now firmly squashed, Edward II finally moved against Scotland once more in 1322. He advanced as far as Edinburgh, but Bruce’s scorched earth tactics caused him to make an ignominious retreat and disband his starving army. Edward was nearly trapped at Byland and fled, leaving Queen Isabella, who had accompanied him and was three months pregnant, cut off at Tynemouth Abbey. She was forced to commandeer a ship to escape by sea. One of her ladies in waiting died in the melee as she boarded ship and another died soon after during a premature childbirth.
Meanwhile, following the fall of Lancaster, the Despensers’ greed now had free rein. Hugh the younger took control of numerous estates and castles spread throughout Wales and the Marches, either by royal gift or by threats of violence and extortion. The king even gave him Wallingford Castle which belonged to Queen Isabella - and her youngest children were placed in care with the Despensers. Edward and his young favourite were widely accused of sodomy. They were loathed and despised by lords and commoners alike.
Edward’s problems were increased in 1324 when his brother in law Charles IV, the new King of France, invaded the Agenais, part of Gascony. Edmund Earl of Kent, Edward’s half-brother, who had been trying to negotiate a settlement, was trapped with no support and was forced to surrender. French forces threatened Bordeaux. Queen Isabella was sent to Paris to negotiate an agreement by which her eldest son Prince Edward, was to come to Paris and pay homage to her brother for England’s French possessions. A new truce was agreed which effectively conceded the loss of the Agenais.
In Paris, Queen Isabella either began or renewed an affair with the exiled Roger Mortimer. English opponents of Edward and the Despensers gathered around the couple. They sought military aid from the Count of Hainault in Flanders and Prince Edward was betrothed to Philippa, the count’s daughter in return for the provision of naval assistance.
Mortimer, Isabella and the prince with a small military force landed at Orwell in Suffolk in 1326 and met no resistance. They were soon joined by enemies of the Despensers, including Henry Earl of Lancaster, who had succeeded his brother Thomas, and a range of senior clergy. Edward appealed for support from the citizens of London, but they rose against him and he decided to vacate the Tower, taking the Despensers with him. London descended into anarchy and prisoners locked up in the Tower were released. The king retreated into Wales, but Hugh Despenser senior was caught and executed in Bristol. His son was captured with the king near Caerphilly. He was quickly tried and executed in the usual horrific style reserved for traitors, plus castration.
There was no established procedure for removing a king from the English throne. King Edward II was a problem to his wife and her supporters, but eventually a Parliament was convened and agreed he should be removed and replaced by his son. Edward, in tears, accepted the inevitable and resigned his kingdom in 1327. He was removed into the custody of Mortimer’s son in law Thomas de Berkeley at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where his death was suddenly announced the following September. Most historians suspect he was murdered, though probably not by the grotesque method often suggested in novels and dramas.
Thus ended the reign of one of the least successful kings in English history. In character and deeds he fell far short of the example set by his father, but his son, who took the throne in the unhappiest of circumstances, would soon relight the torch which once blazed in the hand of Edward I.
The youth Edward III watched as his mother’s lover Mortimer behaved like a monarch. In the usual way of royal favourites, Mortimer began to gather to himself estates and titles, becoming known as the Earl of March. The English treasury was bankrupt and powerful magnates began to oppose the extravagance of Isabella and Mortimer. They made peace with Scotland with the Treaty of Northampton in 1328, which added to their unpopularity with the aristocracy, who regarded the treaty as an humiliation. A marriage between David the four year old son of Robert the Bruce and Joan, aged six, the daughter of Edward II and Isabella, was celebrated. The following year Robert the Bruce died, leaving Scotland’s crown to the boy David.
Prince Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault in 1328 and their first child, a son named Edward of Woodstock, was born in 1330. He decided it was time to take power into his own hands; with a small group of trusted friends he surprised Mortimer at Nottingham Castle and had him put to death by hanging at Tyburn.
His mother Isabella, the she-wolf of France, was treated with respect. After a short period of house arrest, she went to live at her property of Castle Rising in Norfolk where she entertained family visitors including the king and her favourite grandson Edward, later to be known as the Black Prince, who inherited Rising when she died in 1358.
Edward III took over a bankrupt state. The reliefs and other revenues from the Crown’s feudal rights had not kept pace with the increasing cost of waging war and running a centralised state. Like his predecessors, the young king looked to wool for extra funds. Wool was the country’s major product and it earned nearly half the total income of England. Weavers were setting up business in England, but their produce was, to begin with, probably inferior to the cloth produced in Flanders which was where most English wool finished up. Flemish cloth makers grew rich and powerful making fine materials for the tailors and garment makers throughout Europe. Flemish and Hanseatic control of the wool trade was broken when a Wool Staple (monopolist depot) was created for English wool merchants at St Omer in France in 1313. This allowed the Exchequer to impose and regulate a tax on wool. Once he was established in power, Edward looked to increase his income from the wool tax. In 1337 he offered a trading monopoly to the rich wool merchants of the Staple in exchange for a tax of 40 shillings per sack. The Commons in Parliament protested, but the customs duty on wool funded the Crown throughout the Hundred Years War. The Staple was eventually established in Calais after Edward took possession of the important Channel port and city in 1347.
However, the prosperous economy that prevailed throughout the thirteenth century had never fully recovered following the Great Famine of 1315-21. People were continuing to drift into towns where enterprise and luck could bring greater rewards than the drudgery of a peasant existence in their home village. Some villages ceased to function and were deserted because the soil and commons were worn out, or because the lord and his bailiff wanted to turn fields and wastes into open sheep walks which only needed the regular employment of a few shepherds. Some peasants were able to buy blocks of arable land and enclosed them with hedges or walls as protection against the sheep and other animals. They were the early yeomen farmers and the grain and other produce they grew was sold in the local market town. They were also a source for paid labour when extra help was needed and often held some office in the manor, such as highways inspector or dyke reeve.
Changes were also occurring in the higher reaches of society. Since King John’s time a superior group of nobles had evolved out of the baronial class. Royal relatives, friends, favourites and valuable allies were rewarded with the title of earl and received gifts of titles, honours, castles and manors. A grandee’s precedence would also be supplemented by marriage to the daughter of another great family, possibly the heiress of some other great title with no male heir. He lived in a palatial castle which was adapted for the maintenance of a great household, with tapestries, chimneys drawing smoke away from great fireplaces, a well-appointed chapel and a great kitchen to feed the large number of retainers who served him and his family. Wherever he went he was accompanied by a retinue of armed knights and men at arms dressed in his own livery. If young and fit enough he was expected to accompany the king on military campaigns. His leisure interests were hunting with hawk or hounds and testing his martial skills at tournaments. He presided over his own court and could punish a long list of crimes, short of those which required royal justice.
As we have seen, such power breeds arrogance. All too frequently, some of those powerful men would consider taking arms against the king himself. The king’s father had failed to earn the respect of his powerful grandees. Edward III would not fail in that respect.
He soon found a reason to show his mettle and avenge his father’s misfortunes in Scotland, now ruled by a regent on behalf of its boy king David II and his wife, who was Edward’s young sister. Edward Balliol, son of the king appointed and humiliated by Edward I, came forward to claim the throne. He defeated the young king’s forces at Dupplin Moor in 1332 and took the crown, but the Scottish nobility would not accept him. Led by Sir Andrew Murray they forced him to retreat over the border into England. Edward now took matters in hand. The following year he defeated the Scots at Halidon Hill and took back Berwick on Tweed. His sister and her husband David II were forced to flee to France. Edward Balliol handed over control of Lothian, including Edinburgh, to Edward III.
Balliol was never able to establish himself on the Scottish throne and was deposed every time he ventured into Scotland. By 1337, Edward’s interests were elsewhere and he was no longer taking a personal interest in matters north of the border, where Murray was rolling back the area of English control. Balliol made a last effort to regain the throne when he tried to create an uprising in Galloway after his rival David II was taken prisoner at Neville’s Cross in 1346. He failed again and finally gave up his claim to Edward III in return for a pension in 1356.
Edward's attention had turned to France where his uncle Charles IV had died in 1328 leaving no heirs. Edward was his nearest male relative, but the French prelates and nobility chose to crown Charles’ cousin Philip of the house of Valois. Philip VI welcomed David II to France and, to Edward’s annoyance, he continued to champion his right to the Scottish crown. Matters became even more strained when Philip decided, as overlord of Aquitaine, to take Gascony out of Edward’s hands when Edward would not extradite an enemy of Philip’s back to France in 1337. Edward responded by formally declaring his claim to the French throne.
France was rich and powerful, whilst Edward was struggling to improve the poor financial situation he had inherited. He even pawned the great crown of England to the archbishop of Trier to raise desperately needed funds. Nobody expected the two countries to remain at war for any length of time, but what started in 1337 came to be known as the 100 Years War.
French ships immediately started to raid the south coast of England; they disrupted the wool and wine trades, burned Portsmouth, Southampton and Hastings and established superiority in the Channel. In 1339 France had assembled a large number of ships at Sluys in Flanders in preparation for an invasion of England, but Edward, ignoring advice from senior advisors, led a fleet which destroyed most of the French ships and killed large numbers of their soldiers and sailors.
It was a significant victory, but Edward continued to have difficulties persuading parliament to fund the war and he defaulted on his debt to Florentine bankers. However, he managed to send a force led by Henry Grosmont, soon to be the Earl of Lancaster on the death of his father, to Gascony in 1345. Grosmont inflicted a series of defeats on the French. The following year Philip VI sent a powerful force south to deal with him, which allowed Edward to invade Normandy where the French were unprepared for war. He advanced close to Paris before retreating back to the Channel in face of an army hastily assembled by Philip. The French southern army, ravaged by disease and demoralised by another series of defeats which ended with Grosmont’s men storming the city of Poitiers, was called north, but arrived too late to prevent a crushing victory for Edward at Crecy, near Calais. King Philip was wounded and barely evaded capture. During the battle Edward’s sixteen year old son was hard pressed and sent a message to his father asking for assistance. Edward replied “let him win his spurs” and declined to send reinforcements. The son later won great fame for himself as Edward the Black Prince.
At the end of the year 1346 French military affairs were in a state of utter confusion. Philip called upon the young king David II of Scotland to come to his aid in the cause of the Auld Alliance. To crown a most successful year for the English, David II was wounded and captured at the battle of Neville’s Cross when he invaded northern England. He was to spend the next eleven years as a captive in England. The following year Edward besieged and captured the important Channel port of Calais to complete a comprehensive programme of victories.
The series of impressive English victories owed much to the longbow which had been used by English forces with increasing success ever since the time of Edward I. His grandson and his commanders used their bowmen so effectively that for several years to come their troops appeared virtually invincible. English and Welsh bowmen were capable of firing off 10 to 12 arrows per minute and they could be lethal over a distance of more than two hundred meters against both enemy foot soldiers and the armoured knight and his horse. A variety of arrows and arrowheads were used for different purposes. The longbow probably hastened the use of plate armour in place of chainmail by those who could afford it.
Although the coffers of both England and France were empty by this time, the conflict might have continued, but everyone was watching with mounting horror as a dreadful enemy approached from the East. Bubonic Plague, caused by bacteria called Yersinia Pestis hosted by the black rat and other rodents, began in central Asia and spread westward along the Silk Road and then by ship into southern Europe. It came to be known as the Black Death and its symptoms were painful and disgusting: it affects the lymph glands causing large swellings in the groin or armpits which erupt pus and blood. Most people died within three or four days of exhibiting the first symptoms. The pneumonic form of the disease was even more virulent and could kill within a matter of hours. Plague was transmitted from person to person and also by infection from bacteria-laden fleabites.
Plague arrived at Melcombe Regis in Dorset in June 1348, probably on a ship from Gascony. Its progress across the kingdom was horrifyingly swift. By September it had reached London and most parts of the country were affected before the end of the year. By 1350 it was in Scotland, carried there by a raiding force which contracted the disease after attacking the plague-stricken city of Durham. In Ireland, the English and Anglo-Norman settlers living in towns suffered worse than the Gaelic Irish who were dispersed on farms and isolated rural units. The Anglo-Norman area of control shrank back to the area around Dublin known as the Pale.
The usual estimate is that one third of the population died across Europe and the death rates across the British Isles would probably be similar. The Black Death affected all sorts and conditions. King Edward’s daughter Joan became a victim and died in Bordeaux on her way to marry the son of the King of Castile. Two of her siblings also died of the disease. The Abbot of Westminster and 27 of his monks were carried off by the plague as was John Stratford, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his successor.
Inevitably those who were poorer and more badly fed and housed suffered the greatest losses, especially those in the larger cities where sanitation was bad and the poor lived cheek by jowl in overcrowded conditions. In London, the Thames and tributaries such as the Fleet were heavily polluted. Streets were contaminated from over-flowing cesspits; scavenging livestock, such as pigs, added to the general squalor. As the plague swept through the population, it was difficult to find men to carry off the dead bodies and dig the pits in which they were buried.
However, in some villages the death rate was even worse, in some cases finishing off the diminished populations who remained after the decimation of the Great Famine and other damaging events earlier in the century. Many others, with a much reduced population, were forced to make drastic reduction in the amount of land under cultivation, due to the deaths of so many peasants. Instances of redundant ridge and furrow plough-works, which was either let go to waste or turned into sheep-walks at this time, can still be seen all over England. The enclosure of crofts by richer peasants also probably gathered pace. Landowners were faced with ruin for lack of tenants and they were compelled to replace labour services with money rents and paid wages to persuade labourers to work on their demesne. There was a general rise in wages for artisans in town and country. The ages-long feudal stratification of society was creaking. Parliament tried to put the clock back with the Statute of Labourers which intended to stabilise wages at pre-plague levels and attempted to stop peasants moving away from their manor in search of better conditions. It was not possible to enforce the statute in most areas, but it probably increased tension between the peasants and labourers and those in immediate authority over them, the manor bailiffs and reeves and the burgesses of the boroughs.
The Black Death is also marked by a clear change in ecclesiastical architectural style. The Church had taken a good share of the new riches generated by the wool trade in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; monastic buildings and churches in town and country were renovated, embellished and extended. Early English architecture was replaced by the Decorated or Flamboyant style, which flourished during the hundred years up to and just after the visitation of the Black Death. It is notable for larger windows, originally filled with medieval stained glass and graced with fantastic tracery, remarkable flying buttresses, crocketted pinnacles and graceful spires soaring out of the church towers. Elaborate lierne vaulting succeeded the simple tracery of Early English ceilings. After the Black Death, the ecclesiastical style of building changed. The British Isles was the only place where the Church employed the Perpendicular style of Gothic, whilst an early Renaissance classical style was being developed on the continent. The Perpendicular form reached its peak after the Plantagenet era with the chapel of Kings College Cambridge, a breath-taking expanse of late medieval coloured glass supported by exquisitely fine pillars and covered by the most elaborate form of Fan Vaulting.
Throughout the Plantagenet period the interior of many churches were also decorated to standards which must have been awe-inspiring to the ordinary worshipper. The walls were painted with depictions of Bible stories. The windows were glazed in coloured glass with more illustrations and commemorations, and religious emblems and statuary filled the body of the church. Wealthy patrons endowed their churches with precious objects and holy relics and the higher echelons of priests wore costly vestments ornamented with gold and precious stones. Great families and powerful guilds installed private chapels and memorials in the body of the church which remained at the very centre of communal life.
The plague never really ended. It revisited on several occasions in the 1360s, 1370s and thereafter. Those epidemics were not as severe as the Black Death of 1348-50 but it was claimed they particularly affected young men and boys. It is estimated that England’s population had halved by the 1370s and was not going to recover fully until the sixteenth century. Apparently animals as well as humans were victims of the plague, either by infection with the bacilli or through lack of peasants to care for them. The loss of sheep was so severe that there was a shortage of wool throughout Europe.
Nevertheless, limited war began again in 1351 when the new French King John II tried to retake some of the strongpoints held by Gascon troops in Saintonge. French troops were defeated again at Taillebourg and their marshal Guy de Nesle was captured. He was set free after payment of a heavy ransom and the following year he commanded troops in Brittany which were crushed at the battle of Mauron, where de Nesle was not so lucky and lost his life.
The war was fully resumed in 1356. The Prince of Wales commanded an army which was attacked near the city of Poitiers by a much larger force which included a Scottish contingent led by the Earl of Douglas. The result was another victory won by longbowmen and another French disaster, with King John II and his youngest son taken prisoner along with many of France’s most powerful nobles. France once more was left in confusion. Revolts broke out as news of the disaster spread across the country and the Dauphin Charles tried to raise a vast sum of money to pay for his father’s ransom.
With the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360, the first phase of the 100 years’ War ended. In a display of chivalrous honour, John insisted on returning to custody in England in 1363 after his son Charles, who was being held hostage in his father’s stead, escaped whilst John was in France trying to raise money to pay his ransom. John died in England the following year and his body was returned to Paris for burial.
Edward III was noted for his observation of the chivalrous ideals of the day and is always remembered for founding the Order of the Garter, the foremost of the chivalric orders, in 1348. The story is that a lady‘s garter slipped to the floor whilst she was dancing with the king, causing much mirth until Edward picked up the garter slipped it on his own leg and admonished them with the French phrase Honi soit qui mal y pense, or Shame on him who thinks evil of it which remains the order’s motto to this day. Chivalry was still practiced and observed as the essential code of a Christian nobleman, but was beginning to become archaic. Like the rest of the props of feudal society, it was becoming sapped by the recurring horrors of the plague and changes on the battlefield where knights in full attire no longer completely dominated the humble foot soldier.
Edward’s reign went into decline as he grew older. One by one he lost the friends of his youth, such as Henry de Grosmont, who had helped him win great honour and power. In 1369 his popular wife Queen Philippa died. Edward took a mistress and began to hand over control of military and civil matters to his sons. They were all given a dukedom, the first time the title had been used in England.
His second son Lionel Duke of Clarence, a giant of a man said to be nearly seven foot tall, was sent to reassert the culture of England’s ruling elite upon the increasingly autonomous Anglo-Norman nobility in Ireland. They had intermarried with Irish families and many had adopted the manners, customs and even the language of the country. Lionel left Ireland after the Statutes of Kilkenny were approved in 1366 and he died soon after. The statutes were never effective and the Anglo-Norman hierarchy continued on its way to becoming ‘more Irish than the Irish’. The Yorkist claim to the throne of England was founded on descent through the female line from Lionel and his only child Philippa, who married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March.
The eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, the most feared warrior of his age, was sent to rule Gascony in 1363. The wine trade was depressed and the economy was in a poor state. He found the local hierarchy uncooperative or hostile and he had little talent for diplomatic fence-mending. He won one more classic victory when he led an army of mercenaries and assorted nationals to victory on behalf of Peter of Castile at the battle of Nájera in Spain in 1367. However, he returned to Bordeaux with his health wrecked and his finances in ruin; the heavy costs of the Spanish campaign were never recovered. Revolts broke out across Aquitaine and, in retaliation, the Prince of Wales stormed the city of Limoges in 1370. Many citizens were put to the sword as he allowed or encouraged his army to run amok. He was now a sick and broken man and he retired into relative obscurity in England, where he died in 1376, leaving his son Richard aged nine as heir to the throne.
Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and fourth surviving son of Edward III took part in quite a few military expeditions to the continent but never found the opportunity to shine. He served the king in many important civil offices and outlived all his brothers, but left no lasting mark on English history except for being the father of the family which bred the Yorkist ruling dynasty in the next century.
The youngest son Thomas of Woodstock was born in 1355 and he became a notable personage in the following reign. Until then he was a youth overshadowed by his brothers, particularly the third brother John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
Throughout his life John of Gaunt cut a magnificent figure of wealth, ambition, glamour and power. He was regarded with a mixture of admiration and hatred among the people of England and in Europe. He looked and behaved like a royal prince, being both cultured and accomplished in the arts of war, but he was also arrogant and extravagant. He was a loyal son to his father and a devoted uncle to the weak youth who succeeded to the throne of England, even when his own family interests were threatened.
His wealth stemmed from his marriage to Blanche, the daughter and heiress of Henry Grosmont Duke of Lancaster, Edward III’s great lieutenant in the glory years of conquest in France and one of the founding knights of the Order of the Garter. John himself was active in the French war but was never able to win the glory which his brother the Black Prince earned.
John married his second wife Constanza of Castile in 1371. The following year Constanza’s sister was married to John’s brother Lionel, doubly linking England to the powerful maritime kingdom of Castile, just over the Pyrenees from England’s Gascon territory. The two new wives were daughters of Peter the Cruel King of Castile, on whose behalf the royal brothers fought the battle of Najera. Peter was later murdered and supplanted by his half-brother, and John of Gaunt claimed the crown on behalf of his wife, who was Peter’s heiress. In 1386 Gaunt made an unsuccessful attempt to take the throne, but finally gave up his wife’s claim and agreed that Catherine, his daughter by Constanza, should marry the heir to the incumbent king, thus uniting the two rival claims to the throne of Castile.
When Blanche died of plague in 1359, John of Gaunt had started a relationship with Katherine Swinford, one of Blanche’s ladies in waiting. They had four children outside marriage who were legitimised with the name of Beaufort when John married Katherine in 1396, shortly after Constanza died, but the children were debarred from inheriting the crown. Nevertheless, the Tudor royal dynasty descends from John of Gaunt through the Beaufort line and the Lancastrian royal house was founded by his legitimate son, Henry Bolingbroke, born to Blanche.
Meanwhile King Edward III, so honoured and powerful in his prime, was reduced to near senility. In about 1363 he began an affair with Alice Perrers, a lady in Queen Philippa’s entourage. She gave birth to three of his children whilst the queen was still alive. The powerful position of the old king’s attractive and clever young mistress quickly became apparent after the queen died in 1369. It is alleged Alice ruled the country indirectly as the ailing King's principal adviser from 1370-1376. He gave her expensive presents, including some of his late queen’s jewellery, and those aspiring to royal appointments were obliged to pay handsomely for her assistance. She was accused of intimidating judges and influencing the course of disputes in the law courts. Within a few years she had become the richest woman in the country. Her power aroused bitter envy and hatred at court and scurrilous tales were told of her low birth and murky background. She was finally accused of corruption in 1376 and banished by Parliament, but she was soon restored, thanks to the intercession of John of Gaunt. She was exiled once more after the king’s death the following year, but she had secretly married a courtier who won a pardon for his wife. She outlived her husband and died in comfortable retirement.
Edward III finally died after reigning for fifty years. Most of his early military achievements had crumbled into dust. In 1375 all the conquests achieved earlier in his reign, except Calais, were relinquished to France at the Treaty of Bruges. Even Gascony, the last remnant of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s realm, was lost, apart from rights in the cities of Bordeaux and Bayonne. But some solid achievements outlived him and movements put in train during his years on the throne were to bear fruit in years to come.
Edward had opposed the financial powers in England of the papacy, which at that time resided at Avignon and was regarded as a close ally, if not a pawn, of the French king. Statutes were put in place to restrict papal appointments to positions in the English church and the pope’s right to judge English subjects. The powers of popes to take money from England and impose their candidates into ecclesiastical benefices had long been a matter of concern to various English kings. The royal objections revived memories of similar royal struggles with papal power going back to Henry II and Becket and beyond. Finally, with the Statute of Praemunire 1366 the Pope’s suzerainty over England’s ecclesiastical offices was repudiated. The matter was finally put to rest by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.
A more deep rooted, philosophical objection to the power, wealth and teaching of the Church was posed by John Wycliffe, an Oxford scholar and theologian. He was disgusted by the pomp and luxury of the clergy and opposed monasticism and the very existence of the papacy. He denied the miraculous powers of relics and religious images and attacked the veneration of saints, requiem masses and the transubstantiation of bread and wine at the Eucharist. Wycliffe believed people should live by the word of the Holy Book and not the instructions of an often ignorant clergy. To assist that aim he translated the Bible into Middle English and the work was completed soon after King Edward’s death. He shared some aspects of the Cathars’ beliefs, which had been destroyed by a crusade in southern France in the previous century. His views concerning the relative powers of Church and State briefly found favour with John of Gaunt and other leading courtiers.
Long after his death Wycliffe was arraigned for heresy at the Council of Constance in 1415. His mortal remains were dug up, burned and thrown into the river at Lutterworth, Leics. in 1428. His followers were called Lollards and continued to preach his message after his death. Many were burnt at the stake, the last one being Thomas Harding burnt at Chesham in 1532, just two years before Henry VIII began the moves which led to a root and branch reformation of the Church in England. John Wycliffe has been described as the Morning Star of the English Reformation and is regarded as one of the foremost critics of the organised hierarchy of the Roman Church and its beliefs. Perhaps his major failing in the eyes of modern scholars was his fervent belief in “an invisible church of the elect” or Predestination.
In the political field, Edward III’s constant search for new taxes affecting a wider cross-section of the community had strengthened the development of the lower house in Parliament, whose consent was needed in order to impose the taxes. The House of Commons was well-established and began to widen its powers during Edward’s reign. The Good Parliament of 1376 confronted a government in disarray and in need of fresh funding. On its first day the House of Commons elected Peter de la Mare, a knight from Hertfordshire, to be its Speaker, the first to fill that office. The House also impeached Lord Latimer for corruption and the king’s mistress Alice Perrers was banished for interfering in the due process of the law. New counsellors were appointed, but all these actions were reversed when John of Gaunt reasserted his control. He imprisoned de la Mare and the following year coerced a new Parliament into overturning all the reforms. However, the Good Parliament marked the first time the middling sort of people in England took effective legal action against members of the ruling class.
A long-lasting statute passed in the reign of Edward III was the Justice of the Peace Act of 1361 which empowered local justices to safeguard the ‘king’s peace’ by binding over potentially unruly persons to be of good behaviour. By this time, justices were not only allowed to investigate crimes and make arrests but could also try cases, including those involving felony - a term for serious crime punishable by forfeiture of the accused’s goods and property, to which additional penalties including execution could be added. These powers nibbled away the judicial powers of the local nobility. Since then local justice has largely been administered by the JPs.
Edward III was succeeded by Richard II, son of the late Black Prince, a boy who soon became involved in a face to face confrontation with the ordinary men of England. Never before had such people been regarded as part of the country’s constitutional affairs. The social changes in England after the Black Death have already been touched on - the unrest in the countryside, the movement to growing towns, the growing wealth derived from the wool trade and the development of an urban commercial middle class, all presided over by a small French-speaking group of grandees and a Church which had amassed immense wealth and showed little regard for the temporal problems of the mass of people who propped up its privileges.
John of Gaunt continued to lead the king’s council aided by Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury. The grandees, however, were feeling the pressure of events; the glory won in the wars with France was long past, leaving debts to be paid and a middle class becoming vocal in Parliament against the constant demand for more taxation. In 1381 a third Poll tax was imposed on everyone over the age of fifteen. The tax collectors were to raise an average of 12 pence per head, with the poorest paying four pence, leaving any deficit to be made up from those whom the collectors considered able to afford it.
English rustics, especially those in southern England, knew all about a violent peasant rebellion, called the Jacquerie, which took place in northern France in 1356. Despite the brutal way in which the Jacquerie was put down, villeins and artisans in Essex felt so repressed and badly served by the officers of the crown that they refused to pay the 1381 Poll Tax and banded together with rebels in Kent led by Wat Tyler and a priest named John Ball. The two forces marched to meet in London where the citizens had their own grievances with the Crown - they particularly disliked John of Gaunt and his plans to take away some of their rights and independence. The gates of the city were opened and bands of rebels opened the gaols, ransacked business premises. The Savoy palace, magnificent London home of Gaunt who was absent in Scotland, was burnt down.
The following day the king rode out to meet the rebels at Mile End, where he promised to accept their demands, including an end to serfdom. Some of the rebels then managed to break into the Tower where they found and murdered Archbishop Sudbury and the Lord Treasurer. Matters were now dangerously out of control, but the king rode out again to parley with the rebels at Smithfield, where Tyler was killed. Richard rode up to the massed rebel ranks and, declaring he was their captain, he cooled a dangerous situation. William Walworth, London’s Lord Mayor, who was in the king’s retinue, then called out his militia and the rebels dispersed in confusion. The king quickly reneged on his promises and order was soon re-established in London. The fourteen year old king was much admired for displaying coolness in a very difficult situation. He would never again know such admiration.
Meanwhile, the rebellion was spreading across East Anglia. Flemish weavers were injured or killed where ever they were found. Corpus Christi College was ransacked in Cambridge and the university library was burnt. Thomas of Woodstock, the king’s uncle, headed a Commission which travelled around England holding trials and passing sentence on rebels who were eventually tracked down and killed as far west as Somerset and up in Yorkshire. Gaunt, the most experienced and powerful of the king’s uncles, remained powerless in Scotland for a time because Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland refused to allow him to pass south through his territory at Bamburgh.
Following the events of that momentous summer, Parliament met in November and the House of Commons, whilst continuing to support the Labour statutes, successfully requested changes to the royal council. It also concluded that military action on the continent should be substantially reduced. There were no further attempts to impose a Poll Tax. Feudal labour service continued to wither away to be replaced by leasing arrangements or straightforward cash rents.
However, there were early signs that Richard II, the courageous boy, was turning into a relentless sovereign determined to exact a full measure of vengeance on those who had so nearly upset the established order. He was beginning to develop an unstable character which, when upset, became inflamed with a brooding and vengeful version of the Plantagenet anger. He began to distance himself from John of Gaunt and appointed his own set of mainly young counsellors, including Robert de Vere.
Gaunt left England to support his wife’s claim to the throne of Castile in 1386, the same year that Richard attempted to raise an enormous sum in new taxation which was resisted by the ‘Wonderful Parliament’. They demanded the resignation of the Chancellor, Richard de la Pole Earl of Suffolk. He was one of the new middle-class, the son of a leading wool merchant and financier, much disliked by the nobility. Richard was furious, but in the end he was forced to dismiss de la Pole, who was impeached and sent to prison. A parliamentary commission was appointed to govern England for one year.
Richard obtained a legal ruling which declared the parliamentary commission was an infringement of the royal prerogative, but Thomas of Woodstock, now the Duke of Gloucester, and others, known as the Lords Appellant, refused a summons to appear before the king. Robert de Vere, the king’s favourite who had recently been created Duke of Ireland, came down from Chester to assist Richard, but was defeated at the battle of Radcot Bridge by Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, who had joined the Lords Appellant. De Vere fled to France, leaving Richard II in the hands of the Lords Appellant, who acted as his regents. The following year the ‘Merciless Parliament’ convened. Many of the king’s friends and advisors, who had assisted his plans to make peace with France, were found guilty of treason and were executed. Others fled to avoid the same fate.
Richard declared himself of age in 1389 and took back the reins of power, aided by John of Gaunt who had returned from his fruitless attempt to win the Castilian throne. In 1396 a truce was agreed with France which included the marriage of King Richard to Isabella, the six year old daughter of King Charles VI. There were no children born of Richard’s first marriage to Anne of Bohemia who died of plague in 1394 and courtiers worried that the royal succession would remain a concern for many years, until Isabella was of an age when she could produce an heir for Richard.
Meanwhile in Ireland the Anglo-Normans, penned into the Pale by Irish neighbours led by Art MacMurrough, chief or King of Leinster, appealed to the Crown for assistance. Richard took a large army to Ireland in 1394 and put on a magnificent show of Christmas hospitality to some of the Irish chiefs in Dublin. Two months later he met MacMurrough who did homage and promised allegiance. Richard left his cousin Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, in charge as Lord Lieutenant. Mortimer had a good claim to be heir presumptive to the Crown by descent from his mother Philippa, daughter of Edward III’s second son Lionel.
With the Irish success followed by the settlement with France, Richard probably felt secure enough to put into action a plan which had festered in his mind since the events of 1387/8. In 1397 he arrested Thomas Duke of Gloucester and the other two original Lords Appellant, one of whom was executed and the other imprisoned in the Tower. Gloucester died in prison in Calais, presumably murdered in secret so that the blood of a royal prince was not on the king’s hands. Richard made an attempt to maintain John of Gaunt’s goodwill by promoting his son Henry Bolingbroke to the Dukedom of Hereford and John Beaufort, his son by Katherine Swinford, to become Marquess of Somerset and Dorset.
However at the end of that year Bolingbroke and Thomas de Mowbray were involved in a furious dispute at court. Bolingbroke accused Mowbray of making the treasonous claim that both of them, as fellow Lords Appellant, were next in line for royal punishment. A parliamentary committee ruled the matter should be decided by combat, but the king exiled them: Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke for ten years. John of Gaunt died in February 1399 leaving the vast wealth of the Lancaster estate in Bolingbroke’s hands together with a tenuous claim to the crown should the king die childless. Richard took the opportunity to extend Bolingbroke’s term of exile to life and confiscated his Lancaster inheritance.
Richard had already secured Parliament’s approval for the removal of all legal restraint on royal authority and privilege, and parliamentary powers were delegated into the hand of twelve lords and six commoners, all friends of the king. Richard now had absolute authority with no restraints. His private military retinue, recruited largely in Cheshire, wore his livery badge of the White Hart. It was the largest retinue ever possessed by a King of England up to that time and was big enough to impress the grandest of his noble subjects. At court, art and culture were valued above military exploits. He spent large sums on costly fabrics, jewellery, paintings and manuscripts. Richard completed the great project of updating Westminster Hall, begun by Henry III, which became the centre for elaborate courtly protocol and ritual. The king was venerated in solitary splendour, someone sanctioned by God, above and beyond those over whom he ruled. Perhaps he convinced himself that he had overwhelmed all adversaries and was beyond reproach and retribution.
In 1399 he went once more to Ireland, where his cousin Mortimer had been killed and MacMurrough had taken up arms. Bolingbroke seized the opportunity and returned to England to claim his Lancaster inheritance. He met Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, who promised his support and began a triumphant march through middle England into the west, receiving further promises of support on the way. At some stage on the march, Bolingbroke became committed to taking Richard’s crown.
When Richard disembarked in Wales he was persuaded to restore Bolingbroke’s Lancastrian fiefdom, accompany him to London and surrender some of his counsellors for trial. However he was confined in the Tower until terms for his deposition were agreed by Parliament. Richard was then sent to Pontefract, where the constable of the castle was Thomas Swinford, son of Katherine Swinford by her first husband. Richard died there in mysterious circumstances; it is widely believed he was starved to death. Bolingbroke took the crown as Henry IV.
So ended the Plantagenet dynasty. It began and ended in turmoil over the succession to the crown. Richard II was in some ways a magnificent prince but he developed a meanness of spirit which led to his ultimate failure as a successful monarch. Bolingbroke was a twig of the Plantagenet tree, but he took the crown by force from the legitimate king and, unlike his grandfather Edward III, he lacked the justification of being the undoubtedly next in line. He was therefore regarded as the founder of a new dynasty named after his Lancastrian seat of power.
1274 Edward I is crowned at Westminster on his return to England.
~ Gilbert de Clare (1243-1295) extinguishes Welsh rule from Glamorgan.
1275 Statute of Westminster codifies 51 new laws, some based on Magna Carta. Trial by jury becomes compulsory instead of requiring the accused’s consent and Justices of the Peace are appointed.
~ Llewelyn ap Gruffudd marries by proxy Eleanor de Montfort (1252-1282) who is captured on her voyage to Wales and is imprisoned at Windsor.
~ The Edict of Jewry outlaws usury and encourages Jews to take up other professions.
~ A permanent Wool Duty is imposed.
1277 Edward I invades N Wales and takes Anglesey, the major source of food for Gwynedd, and subdues Llewelyn.
1278 Edward I enforces his overlordship of Wales with the Treaty of Aberconwy and begins building castles at Aberystwyth, Rhuddlan and others. Llewelyn agrees Welsh self-rule will end with his death. His wife is released and Edward pays for their marriage celebration at Worcester.
1279 The Hundred Rolls. A survey of the landholding population of England.
~ Statute of Mortmain enforces the Magna Carta 1217 clause forbidding tenants to transfer land by frankalmoin to the Church which never dies, resulting in all benefits accruing from the property being lost to the superior lord for ever.
~ Queen Eleanor inherits the country of Ponthieu in northern France from her mother.
~ Jews are executed for coin-clipping.
1280 Jews are ordered to take religious instruction from Dominican friars.
1282 Rebellion flares in Wales. Llewelyn ap Gruffudd is killed. Edward I subjugates Wales with a huge castle building programme at Conwy, Caernarfon, etc.
1283 Gwenllian (1282-1337), the baby daughter of Llewelyn and Eleanor de Montfort, is captured and confined to the priory of Sempringham, Lincolnshire where she died in 1337.
1284 Statute of Rhuddlan divides North Wales into counties and introduces English Common Law to Wales.
~ Edward, the king’s first son, later to be appointed Prince of Wales, is born at Caernarfon castle.
1286 Alexander III King of Scots dies leaving no surviving children.
~ Edward I pays homage to the new French king Philip IV for the Duchy of Gascony and spends about 3 years in the region.
1290 Queen Eleanor (born 1241) dies at Harby, Nottinghamshire. Her body is transported to be buried in Westminster Abbey and subsequently Eleanor Crosses are erected at each place where the body rested overnight on the journey.
~ Seven year old Margaret (born 1283), the Maid of Norway, dies en route to being acclaimed as Queen of Scots.
~ Edward I expels the Jews from England.
1291 An interregnum in Scotland. Scottish lords invite Edward I of England to adjudicate claims to the Scottish throne.
~ John Balliol (c1249-1314), Lord of Galloway, is chosen and is crowned King of Scots but is soon regarded by the Scots as a puppet of Edward I.
1292 Death of the Lord Chancellor Robert Burnell (born c 1239).
1293/4 La Rochelle is sacked by English/Gascon sailors. Louis IV declares Gascony is removed from English jurisdiction. A state of war exists for 5 years.
1295 The King summons 49 nobles and 292 of the commons to attend the Model Parliament, so called because its membership (2 knights from each shire, 2 burgesses from each borough and 2 citizens from every city) came to be the model for future parliaments.
~ A council of Scottish nobles conclude a treaty of mutual assistance with France – The start of the Auld Alliance.
~ A final rebellion in Wales is put down. Wales begins to be administered as part of England and the last of Edward’s great castles, is commenced at Beaumaris, Anglesey, the finest example of a medieval concentric castle.
1296 The wars with Scotland begin. Edward I defeats the Scots at the battle of Dunbar and John Balliol abdicates his throne.
~ The stone of Scone is removed and is placed in the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey.
~ The king outlaws clergy who refuse to pay a tax of one half of clerical income. The crisis is resolved by a compromise Papal Bull Etsi de Statu.
1297 The battle of Stirling Bridge. William Wallace defeats an English army at the entrance to the north of Scotland.
~ The king answers a remonstrance against unfair taxation by leading barons with a confirmation of Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest and adds a clause promising no taxation without consent of the whole kingdom.
~ Knights of the shires are elected to the Parliament of Ireland, whose membership is confined to Anglo-Normans. Two years later town burgesses are also elected.
1298 Edward I defeats Scots led by William Wallace at the battle of Falkirk.
1299 Edward I marries Margaret of France (c1279-1318) and his son Edward (1284-1327) of Caernarfon is betrothed to Isabella daughter of Philip IV (1268-1314) of France.
1301 Edward of Caernarfon is invested as Prince of Wales.
1304 Stirling Castle, an important stronghold in Scotland, falls to English forces.
1305 William Wallace (born 1270), leader of the Scots opposition to Edward I is captured and executed in London.
1306 Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) is declared King of the Scots at Scone. He starts to recapture most of the castles held in Scotland by the English King.
1307 Edward I exiles Piers Gaveston (c1284-1312), a Gascon knight, the intimate companion of his son Edward, Prince of Wales.
~ The king, ‘Longshanks’ or ‘Hammer of the Scots’ dies later in the year and his successor Edward II (1284-1327) recalls Gaveston.
~ The order of Knights Templar is disbanded by the Pope.
1308 Edward II marries Isabella of France (1295-1358), after a long betrothal.
~ Gaveston loses the Earldom of Cornwall, but is appointed Lieutenant of Ireland.
~ Duns Scotus, Franciscan philosopher and theologian educated at Oxford and Paris and probably born c 1266 in the Scottish Borders, dies in Cologne.
1309 Pope Clement V (c1264-1314), born in Gascony, leaves Italy and settles with his court at Avignon.
1311 Barons and bishops accuse the king of extorting money contrary to provisions of Magna Carta. They force the king to accept the appointment of 21 Lord Ordainers to reform the management of the kingdom.
1312 Gaveston is captured and executed as a traitor by rebels led by Thomas Earl of Lancaster (c1278-1322), ostensibly under terms of The Ordinances of 1311.
1313 Robert the Bruce takes Edinburgh and besieges Stirling Castle.
~ Ordinance of the Staple establishes a depot (Staple) at St Omer for gathering together all exports of wool in order to weaken Flemish control of the trade.
1314 Edward II flees the field as his army is destroyed at Bannockburn the decisive battle in the war against King Robert the Bruce.
~ Stirling Castle falls to the Scots.
1315 Unremitting bad weather results in seven years of bad harvests which become known as the ‘Great Famine’.
~ Edward de Bruce (c 1280-1318), brother of the King of Scots, leads an expedition to Ireland intending to create a Gaelic alliance and claim the Irish crown. Gaelic leaders regain much territory previously ruled by the Anglo Normans.
1317 The Justiciar of Ireland Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (1287-1330) drives the Scots back into Ulster.
1318 Edward de Bruce is defeated and killed at the battle of Faughart.
~ Scots take back Berwick on Tweed.
1320 The Declaration of Arbroath. A letter to the Pope drafted by the Abbot of Arbroath, on behalf of the Scottish barons declares Scotland is an independent, sovereign state.
1321 Rebels led by the Earl of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer seize the lands of the king’s new favourites Hugh le Despenser (c1286-1326) and his father, call for their dismissal and occupy London.
1322 Battle of Boroughbridge. Lancaster is defeated by royal forces led by Sir Andrew Harclay (c1270-1323). He is captured and executed.
~ Roger Mortimer is imprisoned in the Tower for his part in opposing the Despensers. He escapes into French exile the following year.
~ Edward II revokes the Ordinances and invades Scotland. He reaches Edinburgh, but Bruce’s scorched earth tactics causes him to make an ignominious retreat and disband his starving army.
~ Robert the Bruce makes large scale raid into England and defeats the English at the battle of Byland Moor. King Edward is forced to flee south. Queen Isabella, three months pregnant is cut off at Tynemouth and forced to escape by sea.
1323 Harclay, recently created Earl of Carlisle, negotiates a peace treaty with Scotland, is arrested for treason and is hung, drawn and quartered.
1324 The English lands of the proscribed Knights Templar are finally handed over to the Knights Hospitallers.
~ The pope calls William of Ockham, Oxford-educated Franciscan philosopher, to Avignon to face heresy charges.
1325 Anglo-French war breaks out in Gascony. Queen Isabella (1295-1358), ‘the she wolf of France’ is sent with her son Prince Edward, as an envoy to her brother the French king in Paris where she begins an affair with Roger Mortimer.
~ The Queen and Mortimer arrange the betrothal of Prince Edward with Philippa of Hainault (c1312-1369).
1326 Mortimer and the queen backed by a small force raised in Flanders and Ponthieu land in Suffolk and win London’s support. The Despensers are captured and put to death.
1327 Edward II is deposed by Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer.
~ Sir William Trussell MP (died 1347), representing the people, formally withdraws his homage. The King abdicates in favour of his son Edward III aged 14.
~ Edward II dies later (allegedly murdered) at Berkeley Castle.
~ Mortimer, accompanied by the young king, leads an army against Scots raiders. He is surprised and the king is nearly captured in a night attack on their camp at Stanhope Park.
1328 The queen and Mortimer, now Earl of March, acting on behalf of the new king, Edward III (1312-1377), recognise the independence of Scotland at the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, whose terms are unpopular with much of the English nobility.
~ David, aged 4, son of Robert the Bruce is married to King Edward’s 7 year old sister Joan (1321-1362).
1329 King Robert the Bruce of Scotland dies, succeeded by David II (1324-1371), a child.
1330 Edmund Earl of Kent (born 1301), son of Edward I by his second wife and the king’s uncle, is executed.
~ Edward III takes control in England. Roger Mortimer is executed for assuming royal powers.
1332 Edward Balliol (1283-1367), son of John, defeats the guardians of David II at the battle of Dupplin Moor. He is crowned King of Scots but is soon chased back to England.
1333 At war again with Scotland in support of Edward Balliol, Edward III takes back Berwick and decisively wins the battle of Halidon Hill. The young Bruce King is exiled and Balliol pays homage to Edward III and cedes all southern Scotland to him.
~ The Isle of Man is taken from Scotland by Edward.
~ William de Burgh (born 1312) Earl of Ulster is murdered. Various factions of the de Burgh family, renamed as Burke, begin a savage war for supremacy. The Crown loses control of their lands west of the Shannon.
1337 The Beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. The French king confiscates Gascony and the county of Ponthieu. In return, Edward III lays claim to the French throne as grandson of Philip IV.
~ Flemish weavers (from the queen’s homeland) are invited to set up business in England. The beginning of the switch from export of English wool to manufacture of cloth for export, which becomes England’s major product.
1339 The King, in desperate need of money to fund his alliances on the continent, pawns the Great Crown of England to the Archbishop of Trier and continues to rely on the English wool trade to provide collateral for foreign loans.
1340 He commands a fleet which inflicts heavy losses and casualties on the French invasion force at Sluys in Flanders.
1341 Parliament, concerned by the state of the royal finances, attempts to limit the king’s financial independence in return for a grant of taxation, but he soon repudiates the arrangement.
1342 Edward III invades and occupies most of Brittany.
1343 The king defaults on his debts to Florentine bankers, quickening their slide into bankruptcy.
1345 Henry de Grosmont Earl of Derby/Lancaster, sent with a small force to defend Gascony, inflicts severe losses on French forces in Aquitaine.
1346 The French King is heavily defeated at the battle of Crecy the beginning of a series of English victories in France.
~ David II, King of Scots, invades northern England. He is defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Neville’s Cross. He remains a captive in England for eleven years.
~ Edward Balliol again tries unsuccessfully to enforce his claim to the Scottish crown.
1347 Edward III takes and colonises Calais with English and Flemings. It remains in English hands for over 200 years.
~ Part of the Temple Church area in London is let to lawyers – the beginning of the Inns of Court.
1348 The Most Noble Order of the Garter is instituted by Edward III.
~ Plague is first reported at Melcombe Regis, Dorset. It reaches London by September.
1349 The Black Death ravages Europe. All parts of the British Isles suffer very severely. An estimated one third of the English population dies in a devastating outbreak of bubonic plague and the feudal system suffers a near fatal blow as a shortage of workers creates inflationary rises in labour costs.
~ Disproportionate effects of the plague and internal feuds lead to the Anglo Norman area of control in Ireland being reduced to the area around the pale of Dublin.
1350 St George replaces St Edmund as patron saint of England.
~ The Statute of Provisors overrules papal right of appointments to ecclesiastical benefices in England.
~ The Gough map of Britain is produced, showing the shape of the country and accurate distances.
1351 Statute of Labourers. Parliament attempts to fix wages at pre-Black Death levels and restrict the movement of labourers.
~ Battle of Taillebourg. The new French King John II sends a force to campaign against English garrisons in French Aquitaine. A Gascon force defeats and captures the Marshal of France.
~ Henry Grosmont is promoted to Duke of Lancaster.
1352 French are heavily defeated at battle of Mauron in Brittany. The freshly ransomed Marshal of France Guy de Nesle is killed.
1353 - The Statute of Praemunire I prohibits the assertion of supremacy in England by papal or any other foreign jurisdiction against the prerogative of the monarch.
1356 The war is resumed and Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376) captures King John II (1319-1364) of France, his youngest son and many French nobles at the battle of Poitiers.
~ Edward Balliol surrenders his claim to the Scottish throne to Edward III.
~ John Wycliffe (c1324-1384), English theologian, philosopher and forerunner of the Reformation, becomes a fellow of Merton College, Oxford.
1358 David II King of Scots is released from captivity in England on promised payment of 10 x 10,000 marks per year ransom.
1359 John of Gaunt (1340-1399), third surviving son of Edward III, marries Blanche of Lancaster (1342-1368) daughter of the Duke of Lancaster, the richest noble in the kingdom.
1360 Treaty of Bretigny. Edward III renounces his claim to the French throne but keeps all south west France, the Channel Islands, Calais and other territory in the Pas de Calais free and clear of French suzerainty. King John’s ransom is set at 3million ecu or nobles.
1361 The plague returns and devastates England again, killing the Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt succeeds to the title.
~ The Justices of the Peace Act.
1362 The Pleading in English Act stipulates that all courts must conduct their business in English, but continues to enrol the findings in Latin.
~ Prince Louis of France, held hostage whilst King John II tries to raise money for his ransom, escapes from Calais. The king honours his word and returns to captivity in England.
1363 For the first time Parliament is declared open in the English language, reflecting the growing influence of the House of Commons for approving taxes and expressing popular grievances.
~ All English wool exports are directed through the Calais Staple.
~ The Black Prince goes to France to rule Aquitaine.
1364 King John II of France dies in captivity in England. Succeeded by Charles V (1338-1380).
~ Scotland’s parliament, unable to pay the year’s ransom quota for their king, rejects proposal that Lionel Duke of Clarence (1338-1368), second surviving son of Edward III, should succeed David II.
1365 Statute of Praemunire II repudiates the Pope’s suzerainty over England and forbids appeals to the papal court.
1366 The Statutes of Kilkenny, formulated by the Irish Parliament summoned by Lionel Duke of Clarence attempt to arrest the Irishification of the Anglo Norman aristocracy who have allied themselves by marriage with the Gaelic Irish and have adopted their manners, customs and language.
1367 The Black Prince wins his last victory at Nájera in Castile Spain but returns to Gascony with his health and finances ruined.
1368 Blanche wife of John of Gaunt dies of plague.
1369 Queen Philippa dies. Alice Perrers becomes acknowledged as the king’s mistress.
1370 The Black Prince sacks Limoges, recently taken back by France.
1371 David II dies. Robert II (1316-1390) takes the Scottish crown for the House of Stewart or Stuart, beginning periods of unstable government and feuding with an intractable nobility.
~ John of Gaunt marries his second wife Constance of Castile (1354-1394) although he is in a relationship with Katherine Swynford (c1350-1403) by whom he has illegitimate children.
1372 Edmund Langley (1341-1402) Duke of York, the king’s fourth surviving son marries Isabella of Castile (1355-1392), sister to Constance, his brother’s wife.
~ Poitiers is lost. Charles V of France takes back Poitou.
1373 The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of Friendship, the oldest active treaty in the world, is signed as part of John of Gaunt’s attempt to claim the throne of Castile.
~ John of Gaunt launches a Grand Chevauchée with fast-moving mounted troops from Calais to devastate central France, but is forced to retire to Bordeaux with heavy losses.
~ Julian of Norwich (c1342-1417), an anchorite or female hermit, receives a series of visions. Her Revelations of Divine Love is the first book written in English by a woman.
1375 After suffering multiple reverses at the hands of Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-80), the Constable of France, English possessions in France are reduced to Calais, Brest in Brittany and Bayonne and Bordeaux in Gascony at the Treaty of Bruges.
~ Approximate date for Sir Gawain and Green Knight an anonymous poem written in the NW Midland dialect of Middle English.
1376 The death of the Black Prince, heir to the English throne and terror of the French, leaves the King with an ineffectual council which is in collusion with his unpopular young mistress Alice Perrers (1348-1400).
~ The Good Parliament, led by what may be termed the first Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Peter de la Mare (dates unknown), vents grievances about high taxation and bad administration. It impeaches ministers and Alice Perrers on suspicion of corruption but a new council, led by John of Gaunt the king’s eldest surviving son, reverses its judgements.
1377 King Edward III dies to be succeeded by his grandson Richard II (1367-1400), son of the Black Prince aged 10.
~ An unpopular Lay Subsidy or Poll Tax is raised from every lay person aged over 14. Two more Poll Taxes are levied in 1379 and 1381.
~ John of Gaunt attacks the privileges of the City of London.
~ French ships raid the Isle of Wight, burn Gravesend, Hastings and Rye.
~ Gregory XI, last of the Avignon popes, condemns tracts on divine and civil authority written by John Wycliffe.
~ The first recorded mention of the Robin Hood legend in the Sloane manuscripts at the British Museum.
1378 Parliament agrees to support the Roman Pope in the Great Schism between Avignon and Rome.
1380 Thomas of Woodstock (1355-1397), youngest son of Edward III, carries out an extensive raid through western and central France.
~ A new Poll tax on all over the age of 15 is imposed.
1381 The Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball (c1338- 1381) protests in part about the Poll Tax and signals the beginning of the breakup of the feudal system by which villeins are tied to the manor and hold land in return for services to their landlord.
~ The rebels kill Simon Sudbury (born c1316) Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury and burn the Savoy palace, home of John of Gaunt who takes refuge in Scotland.
~ Tyler is killed by the mayor of London in the presence of King Richard II, who meets the rebels at Smithfield and manages to quell their anger. After they disperse, the King’s promises are withdrawn and the revolt is savagely put down.
1382 John Wycliffe and his Lollard supporters complete translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, possession of which is declared to be an heretical act punishable by death.
~ Death of Philippa (born 1355), daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence, suo jure Countess of Ulster and widow of Edmund Mortimer (1352-1381) Earl of March. Her son Roger Mortimer (1374-1398) succeeded her as heir presumptive to the throne.
1385 Franco-Scottish force raids Northumberland. Richard II invades Scotland and burns various abbeys but the Scots avoid battle and little is achieved.
1367-1386 Piers Plowman, a poem by William Langland (c1332-c1386), is written and rewritten several times in unrhymed, alliterative, Middle English verse.
1386 John of Gaunt leaves England in an attempt to win the throne of Navarre on his wife’s behalf.
~ England is under threat of invasion by the King of France.
~ The ‘Wonderful Parliament’ successfully demands that the Chancellor Michael de la Pole (c1330-1389) Earl of Suffolk be dismissed for extravagant and capricious rule and responsibility for military failures in France. The King is forced to appoint a royal council, the Lords Appellant, approved by parliament.
1387 Geoffrey Chaucer (c1343-1400) begins writing the Canterbury Tales, demonstrating the final ascendancy in Britain of the evolved English language over Norman French.
~ The Lords Appellant, who include Thomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester, and Henry Bolingbroke (1367-1413) Earl of Derby son of John of Gaunt, defeat Robert de Vere (1362-1392) Earl of Oxford/Duke of Ireland at Radcot Bridge and take control of the government from the King.
~ John of Gaunt renounces his wife’s claim to the crown of Castile.
1388 The Merciless Parliament summarily convicts and executes many royal advisors and retainers for treason.
~ Scots, on a raid into Northumberland, win the battle off Otterburn. Sir Henry Percy known as Harry Hotspur is taken prisoner.
~ English traders are permitted to trade in hanseatic territory.
1389 John of Gaunt returns to England and Richard II proclaims the end of his minority, begins to regain control of his council and seeks peace with France.
1390 Robert II King of Scots is succeeded by his son John who rules as Robert III (1337-1406) but is incapacitated by injury from a horse kick.
1394 Richard II leads an army into Ireland and succeeds in obtaining the submission of a number of Irish leaders, including Art MacMurrough (1357-1417) King of Leinster.
~ Richard is grief-stricken when his wife Queen Anne of Bohemia (born 1366) died of plague this year.
1395 The Lollard Manifesto The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards is nailed to the doors of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
1396 John of Gaunt marries Katherine Swynford (1350-1403) his mistress throughout his second marriage. She bears him 4 illegitimate children who are given the name Beaufort. They become legitimised but are specifically barred from any claim to the throne. However, the Tudor dynasty descends from the Beaufort family.
~ King Richard II marries Isabella 6 year old daughter of Charles VI of France.
1397 Thomas Duke of Gloucester dies in royal custody in Calais. Of his fellow Lords Appellant one is executed and the other is imprisoned. Many lesser men are prosecuted and fined, resulting in large revenue to the Crown.
~ Richard Whittington becomes Mayor of London for the first time.
1398 Henry Bolingbroke is sent into exile by the king.
~ The Shrewsbury Parliament declares no restraint can be imposed on the King and delegates all parliamentary powers to a committee of the King’s friends.
~ Roger Mortimer (born 1374) 3rd Earl of March and heir to the throne by descent from his mother Philippa, the daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence, is killed in Ireland. His title and position in line for the crown is inherited by his son Edmund (1391 -1425).
1399 John of Gaunt dies whilst his legitimate son Henry Bolingbroke is in exile. Richard II confiscates the Lancastrian estates.
~ Bolingbroke returns to claim his estates whilst the King is absent in Ireland.
~ Richard II surrenders and is deposed. His death in captivity at Pontefract Castle marks the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.
~ Bolingbroke also by-passes the heir presumptive Edmund de Mortimer, who descends from Edward III via his grandmother Philippa Mortimer daughter of Lionel Duke of Clarence, and takes the crown for himself as Henry IV.