No share in the enormities which accompanied the expulsion of the Jews can fall upon Edward, for he not only suffered the fugitives to take their wealth with them, but punished with the halter those who plundered them at sea. But the expulsion was none the less cruel, and the grant of a fifteenth made by the grateful Parliament proved but a poor substitute for the loss which the royal treasury had sustained. The Scotch war more than exhausted the aids granted by the Parliament. The treasury was utterly drained; the costly fight with the French in Gascony called for supplies, while the King was planning a yet costlier attack on northern France with the aid of Flanders. It was sheer want which drove Edward to tyrannous extortion. His first blow fell on the Church; he had already demanded half their annual income from the clergy, and so terrible was his wrath at their resistance, that the Dean of St. Paul's, who had stood forth to remonstrate, dropped dead of sheer terror at his feet. "If any oppose the King's demand," said a royal envoy, in the midst of the Convocation, "let him stand up that he may be noted as an enemy to the King's peace." The outraged churchmen fell back on an untenable plea that their aid was due solely to Rome, and pleaded a bull of exemption, issued by Pope Boniface VIII., as a ground for refusing to comply with further taxation.
Edward met their refusal by a general outlawry of the whole order. The King's courts were closed, and all justice denied to those who refused the King aid. By their actual plea the clergy had put themselves formally in the wrong, and the outlawry soon forced them to submission, but their aid did little to recruit the exhausted treasury, while the pressure of the war steadily increased. Far wider measures of arbitrary taxation were needful to equip an expedition which Edward prepared to lead in person to Flanders. The country gentlemen were compelled to take up knighthood, or to compound for exemption from the burthensome honour. Forced contributions of cattle and corn were demanded from the counties, and the export duty on wool - now the staple produce of the country - was raised to six times its former amount. Though he infringed no positive charter or statute, the work of the Great Charter and the Barons' war seemed suddenly to have been undone. But the blow had no sooner been struck than Edward found himself powerless within his realm. The baronage roused itself to resistance, and the two greatest of the English nobles, Bohun, Earl of Hereford, and Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, placed themselves at the head of the opposition.
Their protest against the war and the financial measures by which it was carried on, took the practical form of a refusal to lead a force to Gascony as Edward's lieutenants, while he himself sailed for Flanders. They availed themselves of the plea that they were not bound to foreign service save in attendance on the King. "By God, Sir Earl," swore the King to Bigod, "you shall either go or hang!" "By God, Sir King," was the cool reply, "I will neither go nor hang! " Ere the Parliament he had convened could meet, Edward had discovered his own powerlessness, and, with one of those sudden revulsions of feeling of which his nature was capable, he stood before his people in Westminster Hall and owned, with a burst of tears, that he had taken their substance without due warrant of law. His passionate appeal to their loyalty wrested a reluctant assent to the prosecution of the war, but the crisis had taught the need of further securities against the royal power. While Edward was still struggling in Flanders, the Primate, Winchelsey, joined the two Earls and the citizens of London in forbidding any further levy of supplies till Edward at Ghent solemnly confirmed the Charter with the new clauses added to it prohibiting the King from raising taxes save by general consent of the realm.
At the demand of the barons he renewed the Confirmation in 1299, when his attempt to add an evasive clause saving the rights of the Crown proved the justice of their distrust. Two years later a fresh gathering of the barons in arms wrested from him the full execution of the Charter of Forests. The bitterness of his humiliation preyed on him; he evaded his pledge to levy no new taxes on merchandize by the sale to merchants of certain privileges of trading; and a formal absolution from his promises which he obtained from the Pope showed his intention of re-opening the questions he had yielded. His hand was stayed, however, by the fatal struggle with Scotland which revived in the rising of Robert Bruce, and the King's death bequeathed the contest to his worthless son.
Worthless, however, as Edward the Second morally might be, he was far from being destitute of the intellectual power which seemed hereditary in the Plantagenets. It was his settled purpose to fling off the yoke of the baronage, and the means by which he designed accomplishing his purpose was the choice of a minister wholly dependent on the Crown. We have already noticed the change by which the "clerks of the king's chapel," who had been the ministers of arbitrary government under the Normans and Angevins, had been quietly superseded by the prelates and lords of the Continual Council. At the close of his father's reign, a direct demand on the part of the Barons to nominate the great officers of state had been curtly rejected; but the royal choice had been practically limited in the selection of its ministers to the class of prelates and nobles, and, however closely connected with royalty, such officers always to a great extent shared the feelings and opinions of their order. It seems to have been the aim of the young King to undo the change which had been silently brought about, and to imitate the policy of the contemporary sovereigns of France by choosing as his ministers men of an inferior position, wholly dependent on the Crown for their power, and representatives of nothing but the policy and interests of their master.