Edward I and II - Attempted Conquest of Scotland

Henry III, at his death in 1272, was succeeded by his son EDWARD I, a prince as warlike and sagacious as his father was the reverse. He distinguished himself 'by his attempts to add Wales to his kingdom, an object which he accomplished in 1282, by the overthrow and murder of Llewellen, the last prince of that country. In the meantime, from the death of William the Lion in 1214, Scotland had been ruled by two princes, ALEXANDER II, and III, under whom it advanced considerably in wealth, civilization, and comfort. On the death of Alexandria III, in 1285, the crown fell to his granddaughter MARGARET, a young girl, whose father was Eric, king of Norway. Edward formed a treaty with the Estates of Scotland for a marriage between this princess and his son, whom he styled Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, the young lady died on her voyage to Scotland; and the crown was left to be disputed by a multitude of distant relations, of whom JOHN BALIOL and ROBERT BRUCE seem to have the best right. Edward, being resolved to make Scotland his own at all hazards, interfered in this dispute, and being appointed arbitrator among the competitors, persuaded them to own in the first place an ill-defined claim put forward by himself of the right of paramountcy or superior sovereignty over Scotland. When this was done, he appointed Baliol to be his vassal king, an honor which the unfortunate man was not long permitted to enjoy. Having driven Baliol to resistance, he invaded the country, overthrew his army, and stripping him of his sovereignty, assumed to himself the dominion of Scotland, as a right forfeited to him by the rebellion of his vassal. After he had retired, a brave Scottish gentleman, named William Wallace, raised an insurrection against his officers, and defeating his army at Stirling in 1298, cleared the whole country of its southern invaders. But in the succeeding year, this noble patriot was defeated by Edward in person at Falkirk, and the English yoke was again imposed. It may be remarked, that this could have hardly taken place if the common people, who rose with Wallace, and who were wholly of Celtic and Saxon origin, had been led and encouraged by the nobility. The grandees of Scotland, and even the competitors for the crown, being recent Norman settlers, were disposed to render obedience to the English sovereign.

Some time after the death of Wallace, while Edward was engrossed with the French wars, Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, grand son of him who had competed with Baliol, conceived the idea of putting himself at the head of the Scots, and endeavoring by their means at once to gain the crown, and to recover the independence of the kingdom. After a series of adventures, among which was the unpremeditated murder of a rival named Comyn, Bruce caused himself, in 1806, to be crowned at Scone. For some time after he had to skulk as a fugitive, being unable to maintain his ground against the English officers; but at length he became so formidable, that Edward found it necessary (1307) to lead a large army against him. The English monarch, worn out with fatigue and age, died on the coast of the Solway Firth, when just within sight of Scotland, leaving his sceptre to his son Edward II. That weak and foolish prince immediately returned to London, leaving Bruce to contest with his inferior officers.

After several years of constant skirmishing, during which the Scottish king was able to maintain his ground, Edward resolved to make one decisive effort to reduce Scotland to subjection. In the summer of 1314, he invaded it with an army of 100,000 men. Bruce drew up his troops, which were only 30,000 in number, at Bannockburn, near Stirling. Partly by steady valor, and partly by the use of stratagems, the Scots were victorious, and Edward fled ignominiously from the field. The Scottish king gained an immense booty, besides securing his crown and the independence of his country. He soon after sent his brother Edward, with a body of troops, to Ireland, to assist the native chiefs in resisting the English. This bold young knight was crowned King of Ireland, and for some time held his ground against the English forces, but was at length defeated and slain.

The weakness of Edward II was chiefly shown in a fondness for favorites, into whose hands he committed the whole interests of his people. The first was a low Frenchman, named Piers Gaveston, who soon fell a victim to the indignation of the barons. The second, Hugh Spencer, misgoverned the country for several years, till at length the Queen and prince of Wales raised an insurrection against the king, and caused him to be deposed, as quite unfit to reign. The Prince was then crowned as EDWARD III (1327), being as yet only about fourteen years of age; and in the course of a few months the degraded sovereign was cruelly put to death in Berkeley Castle.

During the minority of the young king, the reins of government were held by his mother and the Earl of March. Under their administration, a peace was concluded with King Robert of Scotland, of which one of the conditions was a full acknowledgement of the independence of the Scottish monarchy, which had been a matter of dispute for some ages.