(EUROPE: 1001 to 1212 – continued)
William's dynasty, known as the House of Normandy, lasted until the mid-1100s. That was a little more than a century before another succession crisis, accompanied by anarchy, brought to power Henry II. Henry was the great-grandson of William the Conqueror but on the side of the family that would give a new name to England's dynastic rule: the House of Plantagenet. Henry was the first to use the title "King of England" as opposed to "King of the English".
Under the Plantagenets were improvements in trade and improvements in legislation, including the signing of the Magna Carta. The latter came in 1215 when a frustrated nobility forced King John of England to sign a document they hoped would protect them from imprisonment or loss of property without trial. It was a product of the increased power of kings and the desire by nobles to mitigate an arbitrary use of that power. The English monarchs were Roman Catholics, and Pope Innocent III opposed the Magna Carta. He was not inclined to favor any demand for rights. Rights, he believed, belonged only to those with authority. He complained that the Magna Carta impaired King John's rights and dignity, and he annulled it partly on the grounds that John had signed the document under duress.
After John and the Magna Carta there was King Henry III who reigned from 1216 to 1272. It was in the year 1216 that the Celts of North Wales pressed on with their centuries-old national identity, at least as far back as the Roman withdrawal in the 400s. These were Celtic Britons whom the Anglo-Saxons had driven westward from England's fertile midlands. Welsh territory had mountains, valleys, forests, rivers and marshes. The terrain made the Welsh pastoral rather than farmers, which made them mobile with seasonal migrations. And mobile people were more difficult to control.
With with the coming of the Normans in the eleventh century, the Welsh resisted their attempt at occupation and control. Welsh leaders learned to avoid ground that favored the Norman knights and harassed the slower moving Normans. The Normans took control of lowlands and also emerged with control over the coastal plains along the southern portion of the Welsh territory.
Into the 1100s the Welsh learned from the Normans and began imitating them, using castles and armored cavalry and improving themselves militarily against the Norman kings.
In the early 1200s, Welsh princes agreed to recognize and pay homage to one of their number, Llywelyn, as the paramount ruler among them. This gave birth to the Principality of Wales, with Welch, of course, as its language. Henry III recognized Llywelyn's kingship but not completely. He wanted LLywelyn and his successors to recognize that they were vassals of the King of England and to follow accepted rules of succession as laid down by the Pope, which excluded illegitimate sons. And Henry extended to LLywelyn the title "Prince of Wales."
Edward I, son of Henry III, became King of England in 1272, and he moved to establish control over the Welsh. In 1276 and '77 he fought the Welsh. In 1282 and '83 he accompanied his army in a war of conquest. He overwhelmed Welsh resistance, and to better secure his rule he built a series of castles and towns in the Welsh countryside and populated them with his fellow English.
In 1272 the rule of Henry III was followed by Edward I. Royal families in Scotland and England had intermarried. With help from the Church, Scotland had become Anglicized, but with the border between Scotland and England not clearly defined, from the late 1000s through the 1100s wars over border territories erupted. The 1200s were more peaceful, until the death of Scotland's king Alexander III, which was followed by conflicts over succession and intervention by England's Edward I, who, after his success against the Welsh directed his efforts toward Scotland.
Rising to prominence at this time was William Wallace, from Renfrew, who led the resistance to the English, whom the Scots were to celebrate as one of their great national heroes. According to sources used by the English, Wallace had been wanted for killing an Englishman in response to an insult, and he had gathered around him some other desperate men who took to rebellion against the English. Soon Wallace was joined by various Scottish nobles. The rebels burned down the quarters for English soldiers at Barns of Ayr and performed other exploits. Edward sent an army against Wallace. Wallace was defeated, and, in mid-1297, Scottish nobles signed a submission to Edward. Wallace and his army fled north, and he gathered more men for his army. More battles followed. Wallace defeated the English army at Stirling in September, 1297, and was then able to drive Edward's army back to England.
The Scots by now were suffering from famine, and to relieve the suffering Wallace organized raids into England and devastated lands to the gates of Newcastle. A hero among the Scots, he was elected guardian of the kingdom. Then in 1298 Edward came with a great army. Wallace retreated. Because of the famine, the English started to pull back. Wallace pursued them to Falkirk, where Edward's army defeated him. Again Wallace retreated north, this time with only a remnant of his army. He was captured on August 5, 1305 and taken in chains to London.
Edward chose to charge Wallace with treason, although Wallace had never sworn allegiance to Edward. But the charge of treason brought an execution worse than would otherwise have been suffered by Wallace. Wallace was hanged, but cut down while still conscious. He was drawn, emasculated, his belly cut opened and his intestines, heart, liver and lungs were thrown upon a fire. He was decapitated for his outlawry. His head was placed on a pole on London Bridge. His body was hacked into four pieces, one quarter exhibited above a sewer at Newcastle for the enjoyment of the people there who recalled Wallace's invasion of their district. Another quarter was sent to the town of Berwick and a third to the Scottish town of Perth. What happened to the fourth quarter of Wallace's body is unknown or in dispute.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.