Saturday, June 7, 2014

Road to Bannockburn: Edward II, No Longshanks

In the lead up to the historic commemoration of the landmark Scottish Battle of Bannockburn lets travel back in time ...700 years ago today, 7th June 1314:

The English King:

Edward II was no Longshanks like his father, but he was tall, athletic and good-looking, and had been king for seven years. Born in 1284, he was thirty years old when he invaded Scotland, heading for Stirling Castle and Bannockburn. It was not his first trip north. From the age of sixteen, he had accompanied his father, Edward I (of Braveheart fame), many times as he ‘hammered’ the Scots. This did not endear the king to the Scottish people.

When Longshanks died, the English nobles bustled for power, and unfortunately the new King did not quite have the strong grip of his father. Edward II’s relationship with his nobles were like a wealthy boarding school lad warily staring down a bunch of bullies. He controls them with his rank and money, but they run around him doing whatever they please most of the time. From the age of sixteen, Edward had a special ‘friend’, Piers Gaveston, and many historians have placed various suggestions as to the depth of their ‘relationship’. Suffice to say, the man held so much power over the king that the English nobles captured him and executed him in 1312. Not the best way to endear yourself with your king, but it does illustrate the nobles’ disdain of the king’s power over them.

As Edward II marches north his nobles do join the crusade, one by one, but each want the highest rank, and are prepared to fight for it. If we think of a canine analogy, the king would be best served by a team of eight huskies (the nobles) in a dog sled race... each pulling, each sharing the strain, each working in harness with each other, pulling the sled towards Stirling Castle.

In reality it is far more like the king is standing with eight pit-bulls on separate leashes, each trying hard to pull the king off his feet and use the excuse to fall on his neck, in for the kill. They pull at their leashes, while biting and snarling at each other, none of them co-operate, and the only way the king can get them to move in one direction is to throw them a bone. The bone being Stirling Castle.

From the outset, Edward has a difficult job on his hands. And he has to liberate the castle before 24th June, less than three weeks away.
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