Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

of the Scottish war that provoked the quarrel with Boniface. But, while Edward was successful in Wales,
he encountered in Scotland a growing national spirit not altogether unlike that upon which Edward

himself relied in England. Nor was English patriotism sufficiently developed to counteract the sectional

feelings which took advantage of the king's embarrassments. The king's necessity was his subjects'

opportunity, and the Confirmation of Charters extorted from him in 1297 stands, it is said, to the Great

Charter of 1215 in the relation of substance to shadow, of achievement to promise. Edward, however,

gave away much less than has often been imagined; he certainly did not abandon his right to tallage the

towns, and the lustre of his motto, "Keep troth," is tarnished by his application to the pope for absolution

from his promises. Still, he was a great king who served England well by his efforts to eliminate

feudalism from the sphere of government, and by his insistence on the doctrine that what touches all

should be approved by all. If to some catholic medievalists his reign seems a climax in the ascent of the

English people, a climax to be followed by a prolonged recessional, it is because the national forces

which he fostered were soon to make irreparable breaches in the superficial unity of Christendom.

The miserable reign of his worthless successor, Edward II, illustrated the importance of the personal
factor in the monarchy, and also showed how incapable the barons were of supplying the place of the

feeblest king. Both parties failed because they took no account of the commons of England or of national

interests. The leading baron, Thomas of Lancaster, was executed; Edward II was murdered; and his

assassin, Mortimer, was put to death by Edward III, who grasped some of the significance of his

grandfather's success and his father's failure. He felt the national impulse, but he twisted it to serve a

selfish and dynastic end. It must not, however, be supposed that the Hundred Years' War originated in

Edward's claim to the French throne; that claim was invented to provide a colourable pretext for French

feudatories to fight their sovereign in a war which was due to other causes. There was Scotland, for

instance, which France wished to save from Edward's clutches; there were the English possessions in

Gascony and Guienne, from which the French king hoped to oust his rival; there were bickerings about

the lordship of the Narrow Seas which England claimed under Edward II; and there was the wool-market

in the Netherlands which England wanted to control. The French nation, in fact, was feeling its feet as

well as the English; and a collision was only natural, especially in Guienne and Gascony. Henry II had

been as natural a sovereign in France as in England, because he was quite as much a Frenchman as an

Englishman. But since then the kings of England had grown English, and their dominion over soil which

was growing French became more and more unnatural. The claim to the throne, however, gave the

struggle a bitter and fruitless character; and the national means, which Edward employed to maintain the

war, only delayed its inevitably futile end. It was supported by wealth derived from national commerce

with Flanders and Gascony; national armies were raised by enlistment to replace the feudal levy; the

national long-bow and not the feudal war-horse won the battles of Crecy and Poitiers; and command of

the sea secured by a national navy enabled Edward to win the victory of Sluys and complete the

reduction of Calais. War, moreover, required extra supplies in unprecedented amounts, and they took the

form of national taxes, voted by the House of Commons, which supplemented and then supplanted the

feudal aids as the mainstay of royal finance.

Control of these supplies brought the House of Commons into constitutional prominence. It was no mere
Third Estate after the continental model, for knights of the shire sat side by side with burgesses and

citizens; and knights of the shire were the lesser barons, who, receiving no special writ of summons, cast

in their lot with the Lower and not with the Upper House. Parliament had separated into two Houses in

the reign of Edward II - for Edward I's Model Parliament had been a Single Chamber, though doubtless it

voted by classes - but the House of Commons represented the communities of the realm, and not

 

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