Longsword by David Pilling

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Edward and Llewellyn, Part One

In August 1267 the ageing Henry III of England travelled with his court to the Welsh border at Montgomery. There he met with Llewellyn ap Gruffydd and granted the Welsh prince all he had long desired, including the Four Cantrefs of Perfeddwlad, the castle and lordship of Builth, and the greatest prize of all, formal recognition by the English crown of Llewellyn's title and supremacy over Wales.

Llewellyn's arms as prince of Gwynedd
Among the signatories to the deal, known as the Treaty of Montgomery, was Henry's eldest son, Edward. This was the first time Edward and Llewellyn had met in person, though they had stood on opposite sides in the recent baronial wars and fought over territory in the Welsh March. An army of mercenaries, sent into Wales on the young Edward's behalf, had been destroyed by Welsh forces at Coed Llathen in 1256. Edward's former lordship of Builth, taken by Llewellyn in 1260, was now officially given over to the prince. Yet despite this long history of antagonism the two men seemed to have got on rather well: two years later, Llewellyn wrote of his 'delight' at a second meeting with Edward. After Edward had departed for the Holy Land, Henry wrote back to Llewellyn, describing in warm terms the prince's friendship with his eldest son.

Thirteen years later, Llewellyn was fated to die in a ditch, slain by Edward's troops. His head was cut off and paraded on a spear through the streets of London, crowned with a wreath of ivy, in mockery of his princely status. Wales itself was conquered and occupied and turned into an English colony, while Llewellyn's regalia was broken up and sent to London, and his living descendants (children of his brother, Dafydd) locked up in convents or English prisons. How, from a promising start, did his relations with Edward collapse so dramatically?

The decline was slow, and far from inevitable. Relations were still amicable in 1269, when Edward intervened on Llewellyn's behalf in a violent territorial dispute with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Edward risked much in doing so, for de Clare was one of the most powerful and volatile nobles in England. He had fought on both sides in the civil wars, and Edward needed his support (and cash) for the planned Crusade. De Clare was furious at Edward's judgement, and chose to stay and fight it out with Llewellyn rather than go east with his royal master.

Llewellyn's failure to prevent de Clare building his impressive castle at Caerphilly in Glamorgan might be seen as the turning point in the prince's fortunes. Up until now his career had been one long success story. Now the Marcher barons detected signs of weakness. In 1273 Humphrey de Bohun, heir to the earldom of Hereford, started to push his ancestral claims to the lordship of Brecon. He moved troops into the region, secure in the knowledge that the regent Edward left behind to govern England, Roger de Mortimer, was himself an aggressive Marcher baron and no friend of Llewellyn.

From Edward's point of view it made sense to leave Mortimer as gatekeeper: he was a strong hand and England was unlikely to fall back into civil conflict with him in charge. For Llewellyn the appointment of Mortimer was a disaster. When he complained to the English court over de Bohun's illegal invasion of Brecon, Mortimer and his advisors responded with shameless duplicity. Having checked the Treaty of Montgomery, they found that 'the land of Brecon' had indeed been ceded to the prince. However, the terms said nothing of who should hold the castles in the region. De Bohun, therefore, was perfectly within his rights to occupy and fortify those castles as he pleased, and hold them against all comers. They finished with an expression of shock and dismay that Llewellyn 'had presumed to besiege and occupy those castles' and warned him to keep the peace in future.

Dolforwyn Castle
Fully aware that he could not afford to let the Marchers get on top, Llewellyn ignored the warning and started work on his new castle at Dolforwyn. When the regents ordered him to cease construction, his bitingly sarcastic response was addressed to the absent king instead of them: "We received letters in your majesty's name," he wrote, "but we are sure they did not have your consent...if you were present in your kingdom. as we hope, we are sure they would not have been sent." Ironically, considering later events, Llewellyn appears to have regarded Edward as his saviour at this point. Only the King of England had the power to stop his over-mighty Marchers from building castles on Llewellyn's lands and doing all they could to expand their power and influence at his expense.

When Edward finally returned in 1274, having survived an assassin's knife in the Holy Land, one subject loomed large in his mind: money. The crusade might have done his reputation a power of good, but it achieved little in material terms and incurred massive debts. He needed cash, fast, and expected large sums from Wales. As the price for his acknowledgement in 1267, Llewellyn had promised to pay the English crown the enormous sum of 25,000 marks (£16,667). For the prince of a proud but poor country, with an estimated annual customs revenue of about £17 (the comparative revenue of England was £10,000 per annum) this was optimistic to say the least. After some bartering, it was agreed he could pay off the amount at a rate of 3000 marks (£2000) a year. At the height of his power, in the mid-1260s, Llewellyn's total income was no more than £6000, so he had effectively waved goodbye to over a third of his annual revenue.

By the early 1270s, Llewellyn's slender finances were creaking under the strain. He was three years in arrears on the annual payments, and had resorted to crippling taxation in order to pay for the arms race with the Marchers. The prince of Wales, as Gwyn A. Williams noted, taxed the subjects of a small country with no major towns and a severely restricted currency to the hilt, built castles on their backs, used every method he could think of to raise money. In this he was no different to any other 13th century princeling, but in Llewellyn's case the available resources did not match his ambition.

In the end he tried to use the fraught political situation as a way of putting off his debts: "The money is ready to be paid to your attorneys," he wrote to the regents in February 1274, "provided you compel the Earl of Gloucester, Humphrey de Bohun and the other Marchers to restore to us the lands they have unjustly occupied." The result was an unsustainable Catch-22. Llewellyn knew that Mortimer would not order the Marchers to desist, which in turn meant Llewellyn was justified in not stumping up the £6000 he owed. Whether he really did have the funds available, as he claimed, is open to doubt.

Edward I 
Edward - perhaps surprisingly, for those who regard him as incapable of compromise - did his best to patch up the situation. His own debts were pressing, and he couldn't afford to let his avaricious Marchers ruin any chance of payment from Llewellyn. He ordered the Sheriff of Shropshire to bring an end to hostilities, stressing that he 'did not want Llewellyn to have any cause for complaining about the settlement made'. If the prince had no cause for complaint, he reasoned, there was no further excuse for defaulting on the arrears.

By now (1274) Llewellyn was in his early fifties, and there was little sign of the final disaster to come, just eight years later. Some compromise over the money and territorial squabbles in the March might yet have been reached. Certain English baronial rebels, such as John de Eyvill, had negotiated favourable terms with Edward under similar circumstances. Edward and Llewellyn were scheduled to meet at Shrewsbury in the autumn to hammer out terms, but Edward fell sick and couldn't attend. If that meeting had gone ahead, Llewellyn - and his country - might yet have been saved.

The fly in the ointment came in the shape of Llewellyn's younger brother, Dafydd. More of him, and the wars of 1277 and 1282, in part two.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Ed One, Part One

King Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) isn't everyone's cup of mead these days. His reputation has taken a battering in recent times, thanks in part to his villainous turn in Braveheart and popular novels by Edith Pargeter and Sharon Penman. My intention here isn't to try and give his character a polish, or tip another bucket of slime over it, but to take a look at him as a fighter. His career was a long one, so I'll divide it into two parts.

Ned Longshanks
Sandwiched between two kings (Henry III and Edward II) with little military capacity, Edward has traditionally been held up as a great soldier and battlefield commander. Some doubt has been cast on that recently - were all those huge castles in Wales really necessary? Wasn't the invasion of Scotland nothing but a massive waste of time and resources? Etc. Personally I'm not convinced by the revisionism, and want to steady General Longshanks on his wobbling pedestal.

As a youth, Edward didn't show much promise as a soldier or anything else. Encouraged by his ambitious kinsmen, the Lusignans, he rode about with a band of cronies behaving like a vicious thug and making a fool of himself at tournaments. The chronicler Matthew Paris, no fan of the prince, reported with glee that Edward and the Lusignans were badly beaten at certain tournaments in France, and lost all their horses and armour. Paris also recounted a nasty story of Edward ordering his cronies to mutilate a peasant they met on the road, lopping off the luckless youth's ears and gouging out an eye. Whether the story was true or not, the teenage Edward doesn't come across as a pleasant individual. "If he does these things when the wood is green," wrote Paris, "what will he do once it is ripe?"

Matthew Paris
There were hints of something more to Edward. Men were drawn to him, and he showed a definite talent for leadership. When the tension between his father Henry III and Simon de Montfort exploded into civil war, Edward was keen to prove his worth. In April 1264 he stormed Northampton via a clever ruse, sending troops through a side-entrance to catch the rebel barons in flank while they were busy fending off an attack on the gatehouse. Edward also showed his devious side: at Gloucester he was almost caught by his hated rival, Robert de Ferrers, but persuaded the gullible Henry de Montfort, one of Simon's sons, to strike a truce - long enough for Edward to slip out of the town and get away.

Edward's inconstancy, his willingness to break his word for the sake of advantage, was remarked on by contemporaries. The Song of Lewes, composed to praise the rebel barons, described him as "a lion in pride and fierceness, but a pard (a semi-mythical creature) by his inconstancy and changeableness...changing his word and promise, cloaking himself in pleasant speech." In fairness his enemies were no different. When a party of rebel barons surrendered to Edward at Bycarr's Dyke in Lincolnshire, promising never to rise in arms against the crown again, they promptly broke their oath and went on the rampage, burning and looting and ravaging the northern counties.

'Use up the Irish'...etc etc
At the Battle of Lewes in May 1264 Edward famously lost the battle for the royalists, charging off after the beaten Londoners and only returning after the rest of his father's army had been routed. The prince had no choice but to surrender to the victorious de Montfort. He spent the next year as a hostage, and the sheer humiliation and danger of his position seems to have forged a new resolve in him. With the Earl of Gloucester's connivance, he engineered a clever escape, riding away from his baffled guards to raise a new army in the Welsh Marches.

The following campaign saw Edward out-fox and out-fight the de Montfort clan. At Kenilworth he fell upon the rebels quartered in the town, slaughtering and killing many, taking others captive. Simon de Montfort's son, another Simon, only escaped by swimming the moat in his nightshirt to the safety of the castle. Deprived of his son's troops, Simon senior was trapped inside the Vale of Evesham. The old man took a certain grim pleasure in the cleverness of Edward's tactics: "Our enemies come on well," he remarked as the royalists advanced on Evesham under false banners, "but they learned it from me." In the following battle de Montfort's outnumbered army was smashed and their commander's corpse hacked to pieces. Here Edward showed his savage and vengeful side, hanging the dead man's testicles either side of his nose and sending his severed foot in a box (gift-wrapped, perhaps?) as a present to the wife of a royalist baron. Edward's cruel streak, inherited from his Angevin forebears - the 'Devil's Brood' - never left him, though it was arguably softened for a while due to the influence of his wife, Eleanor of Castile.

After Evesham, Edward truly came to the fore. With his aged father gently fading into the background, the prince assumed full control of the royal armies. He was in the field for almost two years fighting to suppress the Disinherited, a second wave of rebel barons who sprang to arms shortly after Evesham. In the winter of 1265 and spring of 1266 he was constantly on the move, crushing a rebellion in Northumberland and besieging the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, where northern barons led by John de Eyvill had holed up. He also found time to rush south and flush out a gang of outlaws haunting the region of Alton Pass, which controlled the highway to Southampton. While his men stormed the barriers guarding the outlaw hideout, Edward engaged their leader, a gigantic knight named Adam de Gurdon, in single combat. Edward beat de Gurdon to his knees and had him carried away in chains to Windsor. There was no such mercy for the outlaw knight's followers, who were hanged on trees near their camp. After this exploit Edward was present at the epic siege of Kenilworth, the strongest castle in England. The bloody-minded rebel garrison held out until December 1266, when cold and starvation forced them to surrender.

As a general, Edward had showed he could move swiftly when the need arose, taking even skilled veterans like Simon de Montfort by surprise. He also seemed to be trying to improve the quality of English infantry. In 1266 he and his chief lieutenant, Roger de Leyburn, were engaged in clearing Essex of rebels and retaking the Cinque Ports, which controlled the Channel and English trade with France. The surviving pay rolls for this brief campaign show that Edward was employing hundreds of Welsh archers, expert longbowmen from Gwent and the Marches. More archers and crossbowmen were recruited to serve in the Nottingham garrison and fight outlaws in Sherwood. Edward, it seemed, had come to appreciate the value of missile troops and the longbow in particular.

The long civil war finally came to an end in the summer of 1267, when the last major baronial rebels laid down their arms and received a pardon at St Pauls in London. After receiving their submission, Edward reduced the last rebel outpost at the Isle of Ely, building a pontoon bridge and setting fire to the dry reeds (William the Conqueror's old strategy) to force the outlaws inside to surrender.

There's little doubt that without Edward's energy and leadership, the revolt of the Disinherited might have dragged on for much longer. Two years later, with England at peace, he felt confident enough to head off on Crusade, taking a few chums with him. Of his adventures in the Holy Land, and the wars in Wales, France and Scotland, more to come in Part Deux...