John Baliol—The Siege of Berwick
John Baliol was made king in 1292 a.d. , two years after the death of the Maid of Norway. The crown of Scotland had indeed been placed upon his head, but in order to win that crown he had been obliged to own himself to be the King of England's subject. Perhaps he thought that to do homage to Edward was only a form, and that once he was safe upon the throne he would be able to defy the King of England. But Edward very soon showed him that he was mistaken. Edward was a great king, and to his own subjects at least, a just one. But he loved power. He believed, perhaps, that he had really the right to be Scotland's over-lord, and he meant to insist on that right, not in name only, but in deed.
Whenever King Baliol tried to act as any free king would, Edward would send for him and scold him, and ask him how he dared act without leave from his over-lord. If Baliol punished a rebellious noble, the noble would go to Edward and complain. Then Edward would take the side of the noble and be angry with Baliol, not perhaps because he cared whether the noble had been justly or unjustly punished, but because he wanted to make Baliol feel that he was under the King of England, and must do what he was told.
No man, however unworthy of the name of king, could long suffer such tyranny, and soon Baliol, weak though he was, rebelled.
Edward was at war with France, and as he wanted more soldiers he sent to Baliol, ordering him to come with some of his best men to fight for England against France.
But the Scottish people were tired of the insolence and tyranny of the English King. They had never agreed to Baliol's bargain, so now they refused to send a single man to fight against the French. Instead, they drove all the English from the Scottish court, and agreed to help the French to fight them.
Edward was very angry at this, and gathering an army, he marched into Scotland. The Scots too gathered an army. Their Parliament declared, in the name of their King, that they no longer considered Edward as over-lord. and, in case Baliol should be weak enough to yield again, they shut him up in a strong castle, and went to war without him.
But, unfortunately, all the Scottish people were not united. As many of the great lords owned lands in both countries, they owed obedience both to the King of Scotland and to the King of England. In times of peace that did not matter much, but in times of war it caused great difficulties, for as you know, they only held their lands on condition of fighting for their over-lord in battle. So, as their two over-lords were fighting against each other, many of them, as was natural, sided with the stronger, which was Edward.
Besides this, many of the Scottish lords were angry because Baliol was kept a prisoner, so they would not join in fighting Edward.
Among those who fought for Edward was Robert Bruce, the husband of Lady Marjorie. Bruce joined Edward, because he was an English as well as a Scottish lord, because he hated Baliol, and because he hoped Baliol would be driven from the throne, and that then Edward would help him to become King.
Edward marched north as far as Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From there he sent a message to the King of Scotland, ordering him to come to him. But, after waiting a few days, and finding that Baliol did not come, he marched on again, and crossing the Tweed, laid siege to the town of Berwick. Berwick was at this time the most important seaport in Scotland.
To lay siege to a town means to surround it on all sides, so that the people in the town cannot come out, and so that no one can go in carrying help and food. Sometimes, if a siege lasts a long time, the people within a town suffer terribly from hunger.
As the English lay before Berwick, the Scots taunted King Edward, and made a song about him.
This was considered very scornful and very funny, and, although it is difficult now to understand why, it is said to have made King Edward very angry. Perhaps he did not like being called "Long Shanks." He got that name because he was tall, and had long, thin legs.
The siege of Berwick did not last long, for although the town was protected by the sea on one side, on land there was only a low mud wall to keep the enemy back. Edward attacked it both by land and sea. The Scots set the English ships on fire, and drove them back. But on land, the English army broke down the walls, and entered the town.
The King himself, mounted upon his great horse Bayard, was the first to leap over the wall. After him swarmed his soldiers, eager to kill.
There was terrible bloodshed and slaughter. Such was the fury of the English, that none were saved, and the streets ran red with blood.
In the town was a place called the Red House. It belonged to Flemish merchants, who had come to live in Berwick, and who had helped to make the town rich and prosperous. It was a very strong place, and when the rest of the town had been taken, the merchants of the Red House still held out and fought bravely. These gallant men, although they were not Scotsmen, had made up their minds to die for the land in which they had found a home.
When the English saw that they could not take the Red House, they set it on fire. Still, these brave Flemish merchants would not yield to the English King, and they died, every man of them, amid the roaring flames, and were buried beneath the ruins of their Red House.
Then King Edward, lest the Scots should take their town again, dug a ditch, and built a wall round it to make it strong. King although he was, he wheeled a barrow and used a spade himself, so eager was he to encourage the men, and help on the work. The remains of these fortifications can be seen to this day. Fortification comes from a Latin word which means "strong," so, to fortify means to make strong.