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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

A disastrous influence on affairs


Another

great crisis united them for the second time. As Edward led the forces of England year by year across the Tweed, to compel the Scots to acknowledge his overlordship by the edge of the sword, the Pope who assumed himself to be the Suzerain of the kingdoms of the world, Boniface VIII, met him with the assertion that Scotland belonged to the Church of Rome, the King therefore was violating the rights of that Church by his invasions. To confront the Pope, King Edward thought it best, as did Philip the Fair of France about the same time, to call in his Estates to his aid, since without them no answer to the claim was possible. The Estates then in a long letter not merely maintain the right of the English crown, but also reject the Pope's claim to decide respecting it as arbiter, as incompatible with the royal dignity: even if the King wished it, yet they would never lend a hand to anything so unseemly and so unheard of.[48] The King, without regard to the Pope, continued his campaigns against Scotland with unabated energy.

It marks the character of Edward I that he nevertheless did not break with the Papacy on this account; so too he still raised taxes that had not been voted, and held Parliaments in the old form: when representatives of the counties and towns were summoned it is not always clear whether they were elected or named.[49] Edward I could not free himself from the habits of arbitrary rule and the old ideas connected with them. But with

all this it is still undeniable that under him the monarchy took a far more national position than before; it no longer stood in a hostile attitude as against the community of the land, but belonged to it.

And his successors soon saw themselves forced to complete still further the foundations of a new state of things, which had been thus laid.

Under Edward II the old ambition of the barons to take a preponderant part in the government reappeared once more with the greatest violence. The occasion was afforded by the weakness of this sovereign, who allowed his favourite, the Gascon Gaveston, a disastrous influence on affairs. Discontented with this, the King's nearest cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, placed himself at the head of the great nobles, as indeed he was believed to have sworn to his father in law (whose rich possessions passed to him, and who feared a return of the foreign influences), that he would adhere to the interest of the barons, which was also that of the country. In the fourth year of his government Edward was obliged to accept all the regulations made by a Committee of the Nobles called the 'Ordainers.'

Without advice of the nobles he was forbidden either to begin a war, or to fill up high offices of State, or even to leave the country: the officers of the crown were to be responsible to them. Gaveston had to pay for his short possession of influence by death without mercy.

It was long before the King found men who had the courage to defend the lawful authority of the crown. At last the two Hugh Despencers undertook it: under their leadership the barons were defeated, and Thomas of Lancaster in his turn paid for his enterprises with his life. For in England, if anywhere, the assumption of power led inevitably to the scaffold.


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