1307AD was the most important year in Carlisle’s history.
The population of 2000 must have doubled with the lords and burgesses and prelates and soldiers and servants crowding into the tight walls of the medieval city. Edward I, Longshanks, tall – six-foot two and a giant in those days – old, - 67 - gaunt and ill, set up his residence in the priory alongside the cathedral. The rest found accommodation where they could in the city or the castle or the country beyond. Prince Edward stayed in Wetheral Priory. He paid Joan of Botcherby ten shillings to compensate for diverse journeys through her croft and garden and many other citizens, the purveyors of food and especially the women brewers, benefited similarly from the sudden influx of considerable wealth into this poor, troubled city on the edge of the kingdom.
Edward had started planning to come in April, 1306. A wooden chapel was built for his queen, Margaret of France, in the castle’s inner bailey, “and steps were taken to meet a more private need by the provision of a bath for her majesty”. Twenty one cartloads of timber were needed to construct the king’s apartments.
On 3rd November, 1306, writs convoking a parliament to be held on 20th January were sent out and Irish lords and others who wished to be dubbed knights were invited to a ceremony at Candlemas.
Edward was king of an increasingly peaceable country. The long war with France was ended and matters settled with his barons. William Wallace had been executed and a fresh Scottish insurrection under Robert the Bruce was on the point of defeat. “Edward must have expected, and intended, that the Carlisle parliament would mark, and celebrate, the final extinction of Scottish independence.”
He spent the winter at Lanercost, too ill to travel to Carlisle even for his parliament. When he and his court did make the journey in early March, it was a slow progress of ten days before he entered the city, “doubtless through the Rickergate gate, which had only recently received a grisly ornament in the form of a Scottish head”.
The parliament “was a genuinely two-way process of consultation”, the king making pronouncements and receiving petitions and grievances. It dealt with matters as local as the merchants of Cockermouth complaining about a Sunday market at Crosthwaite and as international as the trading concerns of merchants in Gascony and Brabant. The Statute of Carlisle forbade English monasteries to send money to their mother houses on the continent.
The Pope’s nuncio, Philip the Spaniard, came to conclude the protracted negotiations over the marriage of Prince Edward to Princess Isabella of France and thereby set the seal on the peace between the two countries.
The needs of the court and its entertainment required the exchequer to send the vast sum of £4333.6s.8d. to Carlisle in the months from March to the end of June.
On 26th June, Edward, suffering from dysentery but needing to make a show of action for “the suppression of the rebellion of Robert de Brus”, left the city on horseback. He and his army made a slow progress, eventually setting up camp on Burgh Marsh on July 5th. “The king was now so weak that he never rose before noon, and it was at that hour, on Friday, 7 July, as his attendants were raising him in his bed in order to give him some food, that Edward’s strength finally gave out and he died in their arms.”
If Edward had triumphed in Scotland, Carlisle’s future would have been secured. Edward II was not to prove the “good heir from his seed” and Carlisle found itself the focal point of Border warfare and unrest for the next two centuries.
Henry Summerson’s masterly study of Medieval Carlisle is one of the finest histories of any city in the country. In this short book, through extensive original research in medieval documents, he has provided a wonderfully detailed account of those few months in 1307 when Carlisle was at the very centre of national politics. It is essential reading for anyone interested in our history.