The History of England from the Accession of Henry III. To the Death of Edward III. (1216-1377)

By T. F. Tout | Go to book overview

This narrower Gascony was a thoroughly feudalised land: the absentee dukes had little authority, domain, or revenue: and the chief lordships were held by magnates, whose relations to their overlord were almost formal, and by municipalities almost as free as the cities of Flanders or the empire. The disastrous campaign of Taillebourg lessened the prestige of the duke, and Henry quitted Gascony without so much as attempting to settle its affairs. In the following years weak seneschals, with insufficient powers and quickly succeeding each other, were unable to grapple with ever-increasing troubles. The feudal lords dominated the countryside, pillaged traders, waged internal war and defied the authority of the duke. In the autonomous towns factions had arisen as fierce as those of the cities of Italy. Bordeaux was torn asunder by the feuds of the Rosteins and Colons. Bayonne was the scene of a struggle between a few privileged families, which sought to monopolise municipal office, and a popular opposition based upon the seafaring class. The neighbouring princes cast greedy eyes on a land so rich, divided, and helpless. Theobald IV., the poet, Count of Champagne and King of Navarre, coveted the valley of the Adour. Gaston, Viscount of Béarn, the cousin of Queen Eleanor, plundered and destroyed the town of Dax. Ferdinand the Saint of Castile and James I. of Aragon severally claimed all Gascony. Behind all these loomed the agents of the King of France. Either Gascony must fall away altogether, or stronger measures must be taken to preserve it.

In this extremity Henry made Simon of Montfort seneschal or governor of Gascony, with exceptionally full powers and an assured duration of office for seven years. Simon had taken the crusader's vow, but was persuaded by the king to abandon his intention of following Louis to Egypt. He at once threw himself into his rude task with an energy that showed him to be a true son of the Albigensian crusader. In the first three months he traversed the duchy from end to end ; rallied the royal partisans ; defeated rebels; kept external foes in check, and administered the law without concern for the privileges of the great. In I249 he crushed the Rostein faction at Bordeaux. The same fate was meted out to their partisans in the country districts. Order was restored, but the seneschal utterly disregarded impartiality or justice. He sought to rule Gascony by terrorism

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