On this date in 1323, Andrew Harclay was hanged, drawn and quartered in London for having attempted to conclude peace with Scotland.
A commoner whose abilities lifted him into the nobility, Harclay may have been northern England’s ablest military commander during ceaseless warfare between Robert the Bruce of Scotland (yes, that one) and the English King Edward II, the latter struggling to maintain the conquests of his father, Edward I “Longshanks”.
It was the defeat of a domestic enemy — Edward had no shortage of foes — that elevated Harclay into the peerage; he engineered English victory at the Battle of Boroughbridge over the rebellious Earl of Lancaster.
Campaigns against the Scots were less to the king’s liking; Robert the Bruce consistently thwarted English expeditions, establishing an ever-firmer grasp on Scotland and raiding into the frontiers — Harclay’s lands included. Settlement of the fruitless conflict was the order of the day, and it was Edward’s intransigence that withheld it. As a century-old volume on England’s political history puts it, “To such a pass had England been reduced that those who honestly desired that the farmers of Cumberland should once more till their fields in peace, saw no other means of gaining their end than by communication with the enemies of their country.”
Secretly, Harclay ventured to work out the terms of a peace with Scotland, an act outside his station which he evidently intended to present as a fait accompli. Here is the contemporaneous account from the Chronicle of Lanercost:
Wherefore, when the said Earl of Carlisle perceived that the King of England neither knew how to rule his realm nor was able to defend it against the Scots, who year by year laid it more and more waste, he feared lest at last he [the king] should lose the entire kingdom ; so he chose the less of two evils, and considered how much better it would be for the community of each realm if each king [Edward II and Robert the Bruce] should possess his own kingdom freely and peacefully without any homage, instead of so many homicides and arsons, captivities, plunderings and raidings taking place every year. Therefore on the 3rd January  the said Earl of Carlisle went secretly to Robert the Bruce at Lochmaben …
Now the Earl of Carlisle made the aforesaid convention and treaty with the Scots without the knowledge and consent of the King of England and of the kingdom in parliament; nor was he more than a single individual, none of whose business it was to transact such affairs. … But after all these things had been made known for certain to the King and kingdom of England, the poor folk, middle class and farmers in the northern parts were not a little delighted that the King of Scotland should freely possess his own kingdom on such terms that they themselves might live in peace. But the king and his council were exceedingly put out (and no wonder!) because he whom the king had made an earl so lately had allied himself to the Scots, an excommunicated enemy, to the prejudice of the realm and crown, and would compel the lieges of the King of England to rebel with him against the king; wherefore they [the king and council] publicly proclaimed him as a traitor.
[A]lbeit he merited death according to the laws of kingdoms, his aforesaid good intention may yet have saved him in the sight of God.
Debate continues over just how treasonous — grossly so, or only “technically” — was this fatal negotiation; that it was practical cannot be gainsaid. Twelve weeks after Edward sent this key noble to the block for his unauthorized collaboration with the enemy, England herself concluded a similar truce. Although this version did not acknowledge the Bruce’s kingship, the peace it established would, ere the decade was out, lead to England legally recognizing Scotland’s independence.
On this day..
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- 1562: Sophie Harmansdochter, "Gele Fye" - 2019
- 1882: Dead Shot, Dandy Jim and Skippy, mutinous Apache scouts - 2018
- Themed Set: The Ordinary of Newgate - 2017
- 1708: Thomas Ellis and Mary Goddard - 2017
- 1903: Edgar Edwards, sash weight killer - 2016
- 1882: Bob Jones and Billy Miller, murderers on the open road - 2015
- 1522: Vicent Peris, of the Revolt of the Brotherhood - 2014
- 1676: George Bromham and Dorothy Newman, on the Combe Gibbet - 2013
- 1865: Antone Richers, Galveston deserter - 2012
- Unspecified Year: Bigger Thomas - 2011
- 1955: Gerald Albert Gallego, like father like son - 2010
- 1999: Walter LaGrand, a German gassed in America - 2008