FRANCE AND ITS KINGS
According to William Shakespeare no great political event should be without its ghosts, malignant or benign. The practice of monarchs and many others down the ages to conduct gatherings of high state at or close to the tombs of the deceased of noble memory suggests that he did not exaggerate.
In the case of the Declaration of Arbroath some of the ghosts were King Philip IV The Fair, died 1314, the father of Queen Isabel, wife of King Edward II; his eldest son King Louis X, The Quarrelsome, died 1316; the second son King Philip V The Long, was alive at the time and reigned 1316 to 1328.
The matter of France was an integral part of the pattern of war and peace between the King of England and the Scots, and could no more be ignored than the intricacies of the family links and their implications. Certainly, the problems of the relationship between Scotland and England may have been the main event for the Scots, but for the King of England there were other priorities.
There are two interesting tests of those of the Kings of England, one is marriages that they made, and the other is their image. A simple answer for England would have been for a King or his heir to marry a daughter or potential heiress of the King of Scots. After King Henry I none did, and it is arguable that although his wife Matilda (Eadgith) was the daughter of King Malcolm III, Caennmor, it was her claim to the throne of England through her mother, St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and the Princess Heiress of England, that was more significant in the year 1100.
The Kings of England married French and other Princesses from Europe, to bolster their claim to the throne of France on the one hand and for size of the dowries on the other. Some daughters married into Scotland and in the genealogies of the major English families there are some references to marriages to the daughters of Scots Kings, none reliable, but they occur in families of lesser nobility and knights, for example, the Hoo.
In the marriage market of the Middle Ages, Scotland did not do well. It was when the kin of the Kings of England had engaged in their mutual destruction of the Wars of the Roses followed by the paranoia of the Tudors that the market improved for the Scots Stuarts, King James IV was given the hand of Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII.
The arrogant military pretensions of King Henry VIII in his wars against France and Scotland, led to closer Scots links to France, the marriage of a De Guise to King James V and that of Mary, their daughter, first to the Francis II of France then and later a widow to Darnley and a claimant to the Throne of England and left them positioned to gain the Throne of England in 1603 and the levers of full power.
As for the image, until the beginning of the 18th Century, the Arms of the King of England had the Fleur-de-Lis of France in the first and fourth, the major quarters, and of Anjou (the three lions) in the minor second and third. So the statement was to insist on the principle that the King of England was de jure the King of France, and that England was the secondary fief by virtue of the descent from the House of Anjou. If this seems strange to the modern mind, it would not be to the medieval.
The modern estimates of population for the lands of the King of France at the turn of the 13th and 14th Centuries in the time of King Philip IV vary between ten and twenty million. It was a rich, fertile, cultured political entity whose elite was long standing origins, and with a system of Roman and Feudal Law that had developed its own characteristics.
In comparison, England was populated by only about three million souls; was poorer, less cultured, plagued by brigandage, and suffered persistent instability amongst the magnate families. It was a land where an intruded and small minority elite caste had held sway for eight generations over a rabble of surly burghers and peasants who had maintained adherence to their pre Conquest Common Law, Parish administration, and the concept of the Hundreds and Wapentakes.
Eventually this was to compromise the type of Feudal Law fastened on after 1066. The Norman Ascendancy needed the revenues, manpower, and organisation that the old system could deliver. It did not have the numbers to man twelve thousand parishes with its own men, only to dominate the larger entities, the centres of power, and key areas.
To a Norman-French King of England in the early 1300’s, the Robert de Brus, who had become King of Scots, was a dangerous potential rival and had to be put in his place as a vassal or eliminated, like several others. The Brus began as liege men to the Montgomery kin of the Conqueror, all being members of the Norman Ascendancy and then in fief to the King of England. Some of the turbulent Montgomerys’ and their liege men, including the Brus had been sent north to remove them from the Welsh Marches.
Since then the de Brus family had gained ground, and had made marriages of crucial importance, putting them within the networks of some of the great magnate families of England and France. Not only did the de Brus connection to the De Clare family bring potential allies, but blood kin as well, King Robert I was directly descended from King Henry I of England; son of King William The Conqueror; through his bastard son by an unknown mistress, Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester.
In England the magnate families, De Clare, Mortimer, Mowbray, FitzAlan, and others were still close to cousins across the Channel. The disasters of the reign of King John had lost them their feudal rights in the Duchy of Normandy. The French upstart Kings, entrenched by the early 1300’s could be dislodged only by a substantial campaign. To make such an effort meant the back door, Scotland, had to be secured, and the miserable failure of King Edward II in 1314 meant that the brief period of opportunity offered by the death of King Philip IV was lost.
For the Scots, they were faced by a real dilemma. In theory one might expect Normans to remain close to Normans, and Angles with Angles, and there were plenty of both in the Scottish Lowlands; as well as Norse in the north and in Cumberland to the south.
Moreover, there was a scattering of other groups down both the western and eastern coasts of Britain, for example old Scotti located in East Anglia as well as elsewhere. Also there were the forgotten simple migrants of the Middle Ages, the descendants of those driven North by William the Conqueror when he devastated much of Yorkshire and beyond. Then were added the smugglers, the slavers and peripatetic traders who did not concern themselves much about the finer points of nationality. But the immediate political picture was much more complex.
Close association with an England at war would affect Scottish trade with France and the Low Countries badly and disproportionately. Also, as a fief of the King of England they would be expected to provide men and treasure for the continuing conflict with France. With the very fine margins of the Scottish economy at the time, again Scotland could suffer disproportionately if the wars went on. Given that most Scots trade goods were in competition with those of England, the advantage lay in direct trade with the continent to reap the full added value of their produce, and France was a prime market.
If the simple question were asked, where were the major sources of wealth and power in the Europe of 1320, the answer was France, the Low Countries and Burgundy, Saxony and Bavaria, the Hanseatic League, the city states of Northern Italy, and inevitably, the Papacy. The commercial logic was to demerge from England and look for the best deal available on the market.
In 1320 this had to be one that would benefit both the leading religious and the secular interests in Scotland, and meet the political needs of Scotland at the time. The logic of applying to a Papacy linked to the Kings of France appeared to the small Scots oligarchy to be inexorable.
Any address to the Pope was indirectly for the consumption and sympathetic ear of the French through the major intermediary available in Christendom. If the Scots were to maintain their separation from and discourage immediate incursions by the King of England then Papal approval allied to the support of the French was critical. The haplessness of the reign of King Edward II and the existing confusion and turmoil in England would not last forever so long as it remained a single political entity under one king.
The reign of King Philip IV The Fair is said by some to represent the apogee of the France of the Medieval Age, before the emergence of France the nation state. It had grown by taking in, and sometimes grabbing, overlordships within its grasp. Navarre had been included, with failed attempts to expand in Spain.
The difficulty for a potential client principality was that the King of France could be as arbitrary and unpredictable in taxation and trade matters as any King of England. Additionally any direct approach to the French by the Scots seeking an arms length overlordship might have the effect of enabling a truce between the King of England and some of his Northern Lords, who had their own ambitions, to resume warfare.
In 1302 Flanders had risen against the King of France, and King Philip IV moved to deal with it. The Army of the King of France at that time was the most formidable force in Europe, having a mass of heavy horse to deploy in the charge as well as trained bands of other troops in support. The Flemings had militia on foot, in effect infantry with few heavy and other horse. At Courtrai when these armies faced each other, it was assumed that the French would overwhelm the rebels.
However, the tactics the Flemish militia’s adopted, massing groups of long pikes protected with trenching and other obstacles, perhaps advised by Captains from parts of what is now Germany, broke up the French cavalry charge and led to a massacre of the French chivalry, five times greater than the losses of King Edward II in 1314.
King Robert de Brus learned the lesson, but King Edward II did not, perhaps under the influence of his Queen and her friends, and the result was the famous victory at Bannockburn of 1314. Later, King Edward III of England did learn the lesson, and added massed longbow men to his battle plans. The French, however, proudly carried on charging with massed heavy horse, and losing, until after Agincourt in 1415.
The effect of the settlement in Flanders after 1302 was to stimulate a series of large-scale consultation meetings in France, together with the issue of Charters and Liberties. These formed a critical part of the settlement in Flanders, addressed problems with the Barons of France, and dealt with the sensitivities of newly acquired overlordships, to maintain the impetus of French expansion under King Philip IV and his successors.
Between what was happening in France and in the Church in dealing with its subordinate agencies in the period 1300-1320 in Europe there was a continuing blizzard of vellum documents representing political and religious settlements and organisational arrangements of one sort or another.
Another relevant European set of events occurred in what is now Switzerland. In 1291 three of the mountain cantons under the rule of the Habsburgs formed the Eternal Bond Of Brothers. In 1315 they went on to defeat a Habsburg attempt to exercise direct control and the Pact of Brunnen allowed them a quasi-independent status as a part of the Germanic confederation.
This arrangement suited both the French, anxious to curb the Habsburg ambitions, and the Pope, by creating a buffer state between the Papal States in Italy and southern Savoy and the lands of Louis of Bavaria in the north.
The Swiss, possibly linked to the early types of the Landsknecht pike men of the southern territories in what is now Germany, proved impossible to defeat by the use of horsed troops and the conventional mobbed foot levies of the time.
In that period the Declaration was not unique, it was one part of a complicated and connected set of events in a Europe where conflict and change were endemic over a long period.