Ordinances of 1311

The Ordinances of 1311 were a series of regulations imposed upon King Edward II by the peerage and clergy of the Kingdom of England to restrict the power of the king.[a] The twenty-one signatories of the Ordinances are referred to as the Lords Ordainers, or simply the Ordainers.[b] English setbacks in the Scottish war, combined with perceived extortionate royal fiscal policies, set the background for the writing of the Ordinances in which the administrative prerogatives of the king were largely appropriated by a baronial council. The Ordinances reflect the Provisions of Oxford and the Provisions of Westminster from the late 1250s, but unlike the Provisions, the Ordinances featured a new concern with fiscal reform, specifically redirecting revenues from the king's household to the exchequer.

Just as instrumental to their conception were other issues, particularly discontent with the king's favourite, Piers Gaveston, whom the barons subsequently banished from the realm. Edward II accepted the Ordinances only under coercion, and a long struggle for their repeal ensued that did not end until Thomas of Lancaster—the leader of the Ordainers—was executed in 1322.


Early problems

Edward I blessing his son – the future Edward IIprince of Wales.

When Edward II succeeded his father Edward I on 7 July 1307, the attitude of his subjects was generally one of goodwill toward their new king.[1] However, discontent was brewing beneath the surface. Some of this was due to existing problems left behind by the late king, while much was due to the new king's inadequacies. The problems were threefold. First there was discontent with the royal policy for financing wars. To finance the war in Scotland, Edward I had increasingly resorted to so-called prises – or purveyance – to provision the troops with victuals. Though a perfectly legitimate method of raising money, the peers felt that the purveyance had become far too burdensome and compensation was in many cases inadequate or missing entirely.[2] In addition, they did not like the fact that Edward II took prises for his household without continuing the war effort against Scotland, causing the second problem. While Edward I had spent the last decade of his reign relentlessly campaigning against the Scots, his son abandoned the war almost entirely. In this situation, the Scottish king Robert Bruce soon took the opportunity to regain what had been lost. This not only exposed the north of England to Scottish attacks, but also jeopardized the possessions of the English baronage in Scotland.[3]

The third and most serious problem concerned the king’s favourite, Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was a Gascon of relatively humble origins, with whom the king had developed a particularly close relationship.[c] Among the honours Edward heaped upon Gaveston was the earldom of Cornwall, a title which had previously only been conferred on members of the royal family.[4] The preferential treatment of an upstart like Gaveston, in combination with his behaviour that was seen as arrogant, led to resentment among the established peers of the realm. This resentment first came to the surface in a declaration written in Boulogne by a group of magnates who were with the king when he was in France for his marriage ceremony to the French king's daughter. The so-called Boulogne agreement was vague, but it expressed clear concern over the state of the royal court.[5] On 25 February 1308, the new king was crowned. The oath he was made to take at the coronation differed from that of previous kings in the fourth clause; here Edward was required to promise to maintain the laws that the community "shall have chosen" ("aura eslu"). Though it is unclear what exactly was meant by this wording at the time, this oath was later used in the struggle between the king and his earls.[6]

Gaveston’s exile

In the parliament of April 1308, it was decided that Gaveston should be banned from the realm upon threat of excommunication. The king had no choice but to comply, and on 24 June, Gaveston left the country on appointment as Lieutenant of Ireland.[7] The king immediately started plotting for his favourite's return. At the parliament of April 1309, he suggested a compromise in which certain of the earls' petitions would be met in exchange for Gaveston's return. The plan came to nothing, but Edward had strengthened his hand for the Stamford parliament in July later that year by receiving a papal annulment of the threat of excommunication.[8] The king agreed to the so-called "Statute of Stamford" (which in essence was a reissue of the Articuli super Cartas that his father had signed in 1300), and Gaveston was allowed to return.[9]

The earls who agreed to the compromise were hoping that Gaveston had learned his lesson. Yet upon his return, he behaved worse than ever, conferring insulting nicknames on some of the greater nobles.[d] When the king summoned a great council in October, several of the earls refused to meet due to Gaveston’s presence. At the parliament of February in the following year, Gaveston was ordered not to attend.[10] The earls disobeyed a royal order not to carry arms to parliament, and in full military attire presented a demand to the king for the appointment of a commission of reform. On 16 March 1310, the king agreed to the appointment of Ordainers, who were to be in charge of the reform of the royal household.[11]

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