Seldom has a shameful and violent death been better merited than by a double-dyed traitor like David, false by turns to his country and his king; nor could justice be better honored than by making the last penalty of rebellion fall upon the guilty Prince, rather than on his followers.
Edward I Conquers Wales, featuring a series of excerpts selected from History of England During the Early and Middle Ages by Charles H. Pearson published in 1876.
Previously in Edward I Conquers Wales.
Llewelyn, dying under church ban, was denied Christian sepulture. His head, crowned with a garland of silver ivy-leaves, was carried on the point of a lance through London, and exposed on the battlements of the Tower. The prophecy that he should ride crowned through London had been fatally fulfilled.
With the death of Llewelyn the Welsh war was virtually at an end. With all his faults of temper and judgment, he had shown himself a man of courage and capacity, who identified his own cause with his people’s. But David, though now implicated in the rebellion beyond hope of pardon, had fought under the English banner against his countrymen, with the wish to dismember the principality. The Welsh cannot be accused of fickleness if they became languid in a struggle against overwhelming power and a king who had shown them more tenderness than their leader for the time. David’s one castle of Bere was starved into surrender by the Earl of Pembroke, and David himself taken in a bog by some Welsh in the English interest. His last remaining adherent, Rees ap Walwayn, surrendered, on hearing of his lord’s captivity, and was sent prisoner to the Tower. For David himself a sadder fate was reserved. His request for a personal interview with his injured sovereign was refused. Edward did not care to speak with a man whom he had no thought of pardoning. He at once summoned a parliament of barons, judges, and burgesses to meet at Shrewsbury, September 29th, and decide on the prisoner’s fate. It is evident that Edward was incensed in no common measure against the traitor whom, as he expressed it, he had “taken up as an exile, nourished as an orphan, endowed from his own lands, and placed among the lords of our palace,” and who had repaid these benefits by a sudden and savage war.
Nevertheless, the King, from policy or from temperament, resolved to associate the whole nation in a great act of justice on a man of princely lineage. The sentence, which excited no horror at the time, was probably passed without a dissentient voice. David was sentenced, as a traitor, to be drawn slowly to the gallows; as a murderer, to be hanged; as one who had shed blood during Passion-tide, to be disembowelled after death; and for plotting the King’s death, his dismembered limbs were to be sent to Winchester, York, Northampton, and Bristol. Seldom has a shameful and violent death been better merited than by a double-dyed traitor like David, false by turns to his country and his king; nor could justice be better honored than by making the last penalty of rebellion fall upon the guilty Prince, rather than on his followers.
The form of punishment in itself was mitigated from the extreme penalty of the law, which prescribed burning for traitors. Compared with the execution under the Tudors and Stuarts, or with the reprisal taken after Culloden, the single sentence of death carried out on David seems scarcely to challenge criticism. Yet it marks a decline from the almost bloodless policy of former kings. Since the times of William Rufus no English noble, except under John, had paid the penalty of rebellion with life. In particular, during the late reign, Fawkes de Breaute and the adherents of Simon de Montfort had been spared by men flushed with victory and exasperated with a long strife. There were some circumstances to palliate David’s treachery, if, as is probable, his charges against the English judiciary have any truth. We may well acquit Edward of that vilest infirmity of weak minds, which confounds strength with ferocity and thinks that the foundations of law can be laid in blood. He probably received David’s execution as a measure demanded by justice and statesmanship, and in which the whole nation was to be associated with its king. Never was court of justice more formally constituted; but it was a fatal precedent for himself, and the weaker, worse men who succeeded him. From that time, till within the last century, the axe of the executioner has never been absent from English history.
Edward was resolved to incorporate Wales with England. The children of Llewelyn and David were honorably and safely disposed of in monasteries, from which they never seem to have emerged. The great Welsh lords who had joined the rebellion were punished with deprivation of all their lands. Out of the conquered territory Denbigh and Ruthyn seem to have been made into march lordships under powerful Englishmen. Anglesey and the land of Snowdon, Llewelyn’s territories of Carnarvon and Merionethshire, with Flint, Cardigan, and Carmarthenshire, were kept in the hands of the Crown. The Welsh divisions of commotes were retained, and several of these constituted a sheriffdom, which bore pretty much the same relation to an English shire that a Territory bears to a State in the American Union. The new districts were also brought more completely under English law than the marches, which retained their privileges and customs.
The changes, where we can trace them, seem to have been for the better. The blood-feud was abolished; widows obtained a dower; bastards were no longer to inherit; and in default of heirs male in the direct line, daughters were allowed to inherit. On the other hand, fines were to be assessed according to local custom; compurgation was retained for unimportant cases and inheritances were to remain divisible among all heirs male.
Continued on Sunday, August 9th.