Stories from English History: I - Alfred J. Church

The Story of Prince Edward

When King John died, his son Henry III was a boy of ten years old. He reigned for fifty-six years, longer than any English sovereign, except George III. and Queen Victoria. When he was married, at the age of thirty, he had been King for twenty years already.

His eldest son was born on the 18th day of June, in the year 1239, and had the name of Edward given to him, to the no small pleasure of the people. For near a hundred and fifty years the kings had had French names, as William and Henry and Richard and John. But Edward was an English name, and the King that bore it would be English. He grew to be a tall and handsome youth, a brave soldier, one who loved to do justice, and who kept his word.

In his youth, while his father was alive, Prince Edward had many troubles. For the King was weak and favoured foreigners, as, for example, the kindred of his wife. These he put in offices of State, and handed over to their keeping the strongest castles in the land. After a while the nobles of the land banded themselves together, and compelled the King to banish the strangers from England, and to put the castles into their hands. There was also to be a council of twenty-four who were to manage all the affairs of the kingdom. The King took an oath that he would do these things, and abide by the agreement which he had made. This oath Prince Edward also took.

After a while, the King, finding that the nobles had all the power in their hands, desired to depart from his agreement, but Prince Edward was not willing, for he was steadfast in keeping all the promises that he made. After much strife and contention it was settled that King Louis of France should be made judge of the whole matter, and then, having heard the cause of the King on the one hand and of the nobles on the other, should decide between them. These, therefore, he heard, and afterwards gave his judgment, which was this: "Let the agreement be annulled, and let the King have his castles again and his government as before." The nobles were greatly displeased at this judgment and would not accept it; but Prince Edward, feeling that he was now quit of his oath, took sides with his father, a thing which he had before been unwilling to do.

And now war broke out. It was proclaimed on the 3rd day of April, in the year 1264; and on the 13th day of May in that year the two armies met in battle, near the town of Lewes in Sussex. Simon de Montfort, who called himself Earl of Leicester, commanded the army of the nobles, while the army of the King was led by the King himself and his brother and Prince Edward, this last being at the right end of the line.

It so chanced that a great company of the Londoners were ranged in that part of the line which was opposite to the Prince. Now some months before, the men of London had grievously insulted the Queen, the Prince's mother, pelting her with stones and mud, as she came up the river Thames in her barge. The cause of their anger was that they blamed her more than any other for the favour shown to foreigners, as has been said before. The Prince was eager to take vengeance for this insult, and he charged the men of London with great fury, breaking their line, and driving them before him with much slaughter.

But while the Prince was pursuing his enemies, which, indeed, he did with more zeal and fierceness than was expedient, Simon de Montfort, who was skilful as a general before all the men of his time, fell upon the other part of the King's army, and overcame it. Many fled, many were slain, and not a few were taken prisoners.

That night Simon de Montfort sent certain friars to the King with this message: "I greatly desire peace; to the end that it may be made, I will set free all the prisoners whom I have taken. As for the matters that are in dispute, let us appoint six wise and honourable men to decide what shall be done. Only for a pledge let the King and Prince Edward give themselves into my keeping."

[Illustration] from English History Stories - I by Alfred J. Church


When he heard this, the Prince, who had before desired to renew the battle on the next day, consented to become a prisoner. For a time Simon carried him about whithersoever he went. But after a while he escaped in this manner. A certain noble who visited him sent him as a present a very swift and strong horse. This on a certain day he bade a servant take out as if for exercise, only the man was to take care that wherever the Prince might be, the horse should be near at hand. The Prince then proposed to the men that were with him, watching him that he did not escape, that they should ride races. This they did, but when the horses of all were well tired, the servant came bringing with him the horse which he had in his charge. On this the Prince mounted and rode away, at the same time bidding farewell to his guards, and saying that he had had enough of their company. For a while they pursued him, but were easily outstripped. And when, having gone some way, they saw a party of horsemen come forth to greet him, they perceived that he was now out of their reach, and so returned to their own people.

So soon as the Prince was at liberty, many left the side of the nobles and joined themselves to him, so that day by day he grew stronger and they weaker. At last the end came about in this manner. The Prince came by surprise on the army which Earl Simon's son was leading to the help of his father. He and his men should by right have taken up their abode in the Castle of Kenilworth, but for comfort's sake they lodged in the village; nor, so careless were they, did they set any guard. The Prince's men fell on them while they slept, for it was scarcely dawn. Some were slain, some taken, and many fled without their arms, and also in a single garment. Among the prisoners were twenty knights with their banners.

Having done this, the Prince made as if he would march northward. But when the Earl Simon's spies had gone to him with this news, he turned suddenly to the east, and so approached before Earl Simon was aware. But when he had come so near that his men must needs be seen, he put in the front of his army the banners which he had taken. When Simon saw them, he said, knowing them to be the banners of his own friend, "It is well; my son comes to my help." Being thus deceived, he suffered the Prince to take up a strong place upon a hill that was near, without seeking to hinder him.

In the meanwhile one Nicholas, that was the Earl's barber, climbed to the top of a church-tower that was close by, and when he saw what had happened he cried out, "My lord, this is not your son's army, as you think, for I see in the front the Prince's banner, and on one side the banner of the Earl of Gloucester, and on the other the banner of Roger Mortimer." Thereupon the Earl himself went up to the top of the tower, and when he saw them, he said, "They come on right skilfully; but they have learnt it from me." And when, looking further, he saw how many there were of them, and how he must needs be surrounded, he said again, "The Lord have mercy on our souls! our bodies belong to the Prince." His son would have had him flee while he had yet time, but the old man was not willing. "Far be it from me," he said, "so to end an honourable life!" There was no hope of victory; not only was the Prince's army by far the stronger, but the greater part of Earl Simon's men fled when they saw the enemy approach. He, with many nobles and knights about him, stood firm, and for some time Prince Edward, for all that he could do, could not break the line. But when the Earl of Gloucester came upon him from behind, there was an end of the battle. Earl Simon himself was killed, as were most of his comrades and followers; few were spared that day, for the hatred between the two parties that fought was very bitter, as it always is in civil war. King Henry himself, who was with the Earl's army, was at one time in no small danger, being attacked by his son's soldiers. Not till he cried out, "I am Henry of Winchester," did they leave him alone.

And now the Prince set himself to establish peace and order throughout England. Those that had taken part with Earl Simon were punished with fines; but none were put to death, for Edward was always inclined to mercy. But when the civil war was ended, much still remained to be done. In many parts of the country there were men who had taken occasion by the late troubles to plunder their neighbours. It is said that the Prince, having heard of one of these, named Adam Gordon, who had his hiding-place in part of the New Forest, went to seek him. When he found him he challenged him to fight, bidding his followers leave them alone. Both were strong and skilful in arms, but at last the Prince wounded his adversary, who thereupon gave himself up and was pardoned. From that time this robber became a faithful follower of Prince Edward.

And now, all things being quiet, the Prince bethought him of a vow which he had made, namely, that he would make a journey to the Holy Land. It so happened that at this time King Louis of France was preparing a Crusade. He was glad to have so valiant and skilful a soldier with him, and persuaded the Prince to join him. As for King Louis, he never reached the Holy Land. He and his army went to Tunis, in Africa, where he died of the plague, as did many of his soldiers. Prince Edward waited long for him, but at last, losing all hope of his coming, went with such men as he had, scarcely a thousand in all, to his journey's end. The town of Acre, which alone remained of all that had been won by the Christian armies, was besieged by the Turks, and hard pressed. The Prince, while he waited for King Louis, had promised the garrison that he would help them, and was resolved, according to his custom, to keep his word. Some of his followers would have persuaded him to return to England, and some actually left him. But the Prince would not be persuaded. "Nay," said he, "to Acre I will go, though none but my groom go with me." Setting sail, he reached Acre just in time to save it from being taken. The garrison had agreed to surrender the town to the Turks on the fourth day, unless help should come to them before. Many Christians now joined the Prince's army, till he had nine thousand men. With these he marched to the town of Nazareth, and took it by storm.

Not long after this he narrowly escaped death. An assassin, sent by the enemy, made some pretence of having a message for him, and so got into his tent. He then stabbed him three times with a dagger. Then the Prince leaping up threw him to the ground, and killed him with his own dagger. But, though the wounds were not mortal, the surgeons that waited on the Prince could not heal them, and, fearing lest perchance the dagger had been poisoned, began to fear for his life. He saw that they whispered, and said, "Why do you whisper? Can I not be cured? Tell me without fear." They said, "We can cure you, but you must suffer great pain." "And then you promise that you will cure me?" "Yes, we promise." "Then I put myself in your hands. Do with me what you will."

Not many days after this the enemy sent messengers to treat for peace, and the Prince, seeing that he had not sufficient strength to accomplish that for which he had come, namely, to take the city of Jerusalem, consented.

Peace having been made, the Prince set out on his return to England. While he was on his way, he became King, his father having died. Everywhere he was received with great honour, excepting at one town in Burgundy. The Count of this place invited him to a tournament, and Edward, though he had been warned that some evil was meant, did not refuse to go. At the tournament the Count himself encountered the King, but, though he was very tall and strong, gained no advantage over him. Being angered at this, he threw away his sword and lance, and catching the King round the neck, sought thus to drag him from his horse. This he could not do, but was himself dragged from his saddle, when the King spurred his horse. Edward, wroth at such behaviour, which was contrary to the rules of a tournament, beat the knight as he lay upon the ground with the staff of his lance; nor would he receive the Count's sword, when he would have submitted himself, but bade him give it into the hands of a man-at-arms. The Count's followers were much enraged by this, and fell upon the English. What had begun as a game was turned into a fight, and not a few were killed. Then, when the Burgundian knights had been driven off the field, the townspeople took up their cause, and wounded many of the English, nor would they cease till the King threatened that he would burn the town.

The history of King Edward cannot be conveniently told in this place. It must be enough to say that he conquered Wales, which country has remained since his time a part of England, and that he came near to conquering Scotland, and that he was as wise a king as ever ruled this realm. But of what he did, and of what laws he made, with the consent of the people—for that he looked for this is a notable proof of his wisdom—you will read elsewhere.