Edward III - Richard II

Edward III, who soon after assumed full power, was destined to make good the remark prevalent at this time, that the kings of England were alternately able and imbecile. He was a warlike and sagacious monarch, and inspired by all his grandfather's desire of conquest. In 1329, Robert Bruce died, and was succeeded by his infant son DAVID II, to whom a young sister of the English king was married, in terms of the late treaty, Notwithstanding this connection, Edward aided a son of John Baliol in an attempt to gain the Scottish crown. Edward Baliol overthrew the Regent of Scotland at Duplin, September 1332, and for two months reigned as King of Scots, while David and his wife took refuge in France. Though now expelled, Baliol afterwards returned to renew his claims, and for many years the country was harassed by unceasing wars, in which the English took a leading part.

But for his attention being diverted to France, Edward III would have made a more formidable effort to subdue Scotland, and might have succeeded. He was led into a long course of warfare with France, in consequence of an absurd pretension which he had made to its crown. In the victories which he had gained at Cressy (August 26, 1346) and Poitiers (September 17, 1356), the national valor, his own, and that of his celebrated son, the Black Prince, were shown conspicuously; but this lavish expenditure of the resources of his kingdom, in which he was supported by his parliament, was of no permanent benefit, even to himself, for whom alone it was made. In those days, almost all men fought well, but very few had the art to improve their victories. John, king of France, who had been made captive at Poitiers, and David, king of Scotland, who had been taken in 1346, while conducting an invasion of England, were at one time prisoners in England; but no permanent advantage was ever gained over either of the states thus deprived of their sovereigns. In 1361, after about twenty years of active fighting, the English king left France with little more territory than he had previously enjoyed. Edward had invaded Scotland with a powerful army in 1356, but without making any impression. The Scots, under David's nephew, Robert Stuart, effectually protected themselves, not only from his arms, but from a proposal which David himself basely undertook to make, that Lionel, the third son of the English king, should be acknowledged as his successor. Edward died in 1377, a year after the decease of his son the Black Prince; and notwithstanding all their brilliant exploits, the English territories in France were less than at the beginning of the reign.

England was at this time affected more than at any other by the fashions of chivalry. This was a military enthusiasm, which for some centuries pervaded all Christian Europe. It prompted, as one of its first principles, a heedless bravery in encountering all kinds of danger. Its votaries were expected to be particularly bold in behalf of the fair sex, insomuch that a young knight would sometimes challenge to mortal combat any one who denied his mistress to be the loveliest in the world. Tournaments were held, at which knights clad in complete armor would ride against each other at full speed with leveled lances, merely to try which had the greatest strength and skill; and many were killed on these occasions. It was a system full of extravagance, and tending to bloodshed; but nevertheless it maintained a certain courtesy towards females, and a romantic principle of honor, which we may be glad to admire, considering how rude was almost every other feature of the age.

Edward III, was succeeded by his grandson, RICHARD II, then a boy of eleven years of age, and who proved to be a person of weak and profligate character. The Commons took advantage of the irregularity of his government to strengthen their privileges, which they had with difficulty sustained during the more powerful rule of his predecessor. Early in this reign they assumed the right, not only of taxing the country, but of seeing how the money was spent. Indignant at the severity of a tax Imposed upon all grown-up persons, the peasantry of the eastern parts of England rose, in 1381, under a person of their own order, named Wat Tyler, and advanced, to the number of 60,000, to London, where they put to death the chancellor and primate, as evil counselors of their sovereign. They demanded the abolition of bondage, the liberty of buying and selling in fairs and markets, a general pardon, and the reduction of the rent of land to an equal rate. The king came to Confer with them at Smithfield, where, on some slight pretense, Walworth, mayor of London, stabbed Wat Tyler with a dagger a weapon which has since figured in the armorial bearings of the metropolis. The peasants were dismayed, and submitted, and no fewer than fifteen hundred of them were hanged. Wat Tyler's insurrection certainly proceeded upon a glimmering sense of those equal rights of mankind which have since been generally acknowledged; and it is remarkable, that at the same time the doctrines of the reformer Wickliffe were first heard of. This learned ecclesiastic wrote against the power of the Pope, and some of the most important points of the Romish faith, and also executed a translation of the Bible into English. His writings are acknowledged to have been of material, though not immediate effect, in bringing about the reformation of religion.