EDWARD II by Harold F. Hutchison


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Excoriated both by his subjects and contemporary historians, Edward II, the early 14th century king of England, has found an able defender in Hutchison (The Hollow Crown, 1961). While acknowledging the king's fatal proclivity for making foreign-born minions into overmighty subjects, Hutchison in general argues that the devolution of royal authority, the disastrous military defeats in Scotland, and the baronial rebellions which plagued the reign cannot be laid to Edward's personal deficiencies. The fateful battle of Bannockburn where the English soldiery was crushed by Robert Bruce's Scots represents ""not so much the defeat of a leader as the defeat of an established military tactic now hopelessly out of date,"" i.e., the obsolescence of the mailed, mounted knight all over Europe. Whatever their ultimate significance for the constitutional history of England, Hutchison depicts the promulgation of the Ordinances of 1311 as a sordid overbearing attempt on the part of the rapacious baronage to invade royal perogatives and deplete the sovereign's full ""regality"" in the interests of nothing more lofty than greed and jealousy. Stressing the many continuities between the policies of Edward II and his more successful father, Hutchison dwells on the rise of such sinister figures as the Earl of Lancaster to make the point that this was ""an age when the English baronage was distinguished by some of its least attractive personalities."" By contrast Edward, who enjoyed the company of artisans, kept a camel as a pet and patronized musicians and actors, emerges as an attractive, loyal and personally brave albeit luckless monarch. Mainly for scholars but not so recondite as to dissuade amateur enthusiasts of English history.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1972
Publisher: Stein & Day