The months of April, May, June and July saw the continuation of Edward’s preparations for his Scottish campaign. As well as the on going mustering of the country’s footmen, archers and men-at-arms, the logistical side also had to be taken into consideration.
As the saying goes: ‘an army marches on it stomach’, so Edward had to ensure there was enough food to supply his troops as they marched northwards. In addition to the purveyance orders mentioned in the last post, he also issued orders to make sure that no foreign merchants, bringing essentials supplies into the country, were arrested or molested in any way, although in some places the tax on the sale of wine and wool was increased as a way of raising money to pay for it all (adding to the money from the collection of forfeited monies and goods of rebels, clerical subsidies and scutage). Hugh the younger’s eldest son (Hugh), who was about 14 at the time was sent out with huntsmen, dogs and larderers to go and take ‘fat venison of this season in the king’s forests, chaces and parks’.
Another important piece of the jigsaw puzzle was transport. After all, the food had to be got to the right places at the right times. Edward conscripted a number of ships from the Cinque and other ports to form a naval force for this purpose and also to carry the Irish contingent across the Irish Sea. They were to take the victuals to Tynemouth and Newcastle Upon Tyne, ready to be carried further north to resupply the army when required.
However, the shipping ran into a very big problem in the form of the Flemish fleet. For some reason that I have not yet discovered, the Count of Flanders had decided to informally ally himself with the Scots and was intent on harassing Edward’s ships. Edward sent a letter to him on the12th April about a peace treaty but this was seemingly ignored and just under a month later word reached England that all Englishmen were being made to leave Flanders under pain of death. An order, sent out to the eastern ports on April 20th, sums up the situation quite neatly:
“To the bailiffs and men of Great Yarmouth. Order to prepare, together with all others of the ports of Norfolk and Suffolk and of the other ports of those parts, ships and men-at-arms in as great force as possible, so that they be ready when summoned by the king to repress the malice of the Flemings and others, and of other enemies of the king, who understands that the Flemings and others lie in wait about the coast with a naval force for his men, and that they pursue and the ships of his men and despoil them, and that they do not fear inflicting the last punishment upon innocent persons, sparing no man of this realm, and that they do not permit the victuals ordained for the war in Scotland to be taken to that land, so that it may be conjectured that they are scheming, as aiders of the Scots, to carry on war against the king at his back.”
However, these ships do not seem to have had much effect on the Flemings’ piracy and menace at all – a situation that was later to have a devastating effect on the war.
While Edward was busy making all of these preparations, Robert Bruce decided to take advantage of the slow-moving war machine that was England and raid over the border. This was one of his most audacious raids yet, entering England by Carlisle on the western side on June 17th and pushing southward as far as Lancaster. They plundered and despoiled the countryside and towns they encountered (apart from those able to pay him protection money) and even left Preston in flames before they headed back up north again.
The King had, by now, changed the date for the muster at Newcastle Upon Tyne from the previous one of the octaves of Trinity to the eve of St James the Apostle (July 24th) and by that date most of his army had, indeed, gathered. But there was still a wait before the march north (as it was, Edward himself didn’t arrive until August 1st and there were plenty of other latecomers), and in the intervening period there were reports of the English and Welsh fighting amongst themselves and with the citizens of Newcastle. Not an auspicious start.
By August 7th, however, all was at last ready and Edward’s banners were unfurled as his large army headed out of Newcastle towards the Scottish border which they crossed on August 10th. As Natalie Fryde points out in The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, the numbers making up the English army are hard to calculate due to the number of its contingents constantly fluctuating (late arrivals, deserters etc), but a reasonable estimate of its size during late August is around 300 knights, 950 fully armoured men-at-arms and around 21700 infantry and hobelars. There were also around 6300 Welsh footmen and archers as well as an elite band of 200 Gascon bowmen (figures taken from Fryde’s book, above).
All in all it was a huge army, quite an achievement considering it had been raised in the wake of a destructive civil war. On the other hand, that same civil war meant that England was without some of its most experienced warriors – as they had been among the executed and imprisoned rebels caught after Boroughbridge. It also meant that the army’s cavalry contingent was smaller than usual – though whether this was a good or bad thing is hard to say, especially after Bannockburn.
Edward’s route took him via Roxborough (13th August), Lowder (17th August) and Musselburgh (19th August). But Bruce, as always, was already one step ahead of him. Predicting the English route, he drove off all of the livestock and burned any crops along the way, thus denying Edward any easy way of resupplying his men from the land. To add to the misery, the English ships were also having trouble getting through – thanks to the Flemish fleet, so hunger became a new enemy.
As for the Scots themselves, they seemed to have vanished – pulling their usual trick of not meeting the English in open battle. In fact, it seemed as if the whole countryside was devoid of life. The poet chronicler Barbour recounts (although it could just be a case of ‘embroidering’ his tale) that the earl of Surrey, upon seeing one lame cow, remarked that it was ‘the dearest beef that ever I saw: surely it has cost a thousand pounds and more.’
Upon reaching Leith, in Edinburgh, at least one piece of good news reached the troops: some supplies had got through at last. But they obviously weren’t enough and it seems that no others were to be forthcoming. It wasn’t just the fear of the Flemish which was now causing problems for the fleet, but also severe storms which managed to sink 14 of the ships. Adding to the misery, Edward’s army began to disintegrate. Dysentery had struck a large proportion; others just melted away back to their homes. After a few days in Edinburgh it must have been clear to Edward and his counsellors that they had no choice but to head back to England and abandon any hopes of defeating the Scots.
The Close Rolls 1318-1323
The Patent Rolls 1321-1324
Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland
Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke 1307-1324, J.R.S. Philips
The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, Natalie Fryde
Edward II 1307-1327, Mary Saaler
King Edward II, Roy Martin Haynes
The Itinerary of Edward II and His Household, Elizabeth Hallam