Edward I

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Pencil sketch of King Edward I (Edward 'the Longshanks') of England

Edward I, 1272-1307, also known as Edward 'the Longshanks' for his distinguishable tallness and Edward 'Hammer of the Scots' as a result of his dealings with Scotland, was named after the Anglo-Saxon King, Edward the Confessor, one of the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings by his father Henry III. Edward is often regarded as one of England's finest medieval Kings, but has in recent years received heavy criticism from certain historians and from Hollywood in the epic film Braveheart. Edward's reign saw a host of internal reform, notably the abolition of coin clipping, extensive statutes, local county militia reform and also the advent and increased role of Parliament in English society. In relation to foreign policy, Edward oversaw the conquest of Wales, a military expedition which finally brought the last Welsh principalities to their knees, and interference in Scotland which ultimately failed under his son, Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn, 24th June 1314.

Early Life

Edward was born in June 1239 at Westminster. He received a good education, due to the devotion of his parents to the arts (notably Eleanor of Provence) with emphasis on Latin and French. In 1254 he travelled to Spain to marry Eleanor of Castille and at around the same time he received Gascony from his father, a land he would share a lot of love for in the future and which would influence his foreign policy quite profoundly.

Civil War

Henry III was a weak king who constantly struggled with his barons. This struggle erupted into a Civil War in which Edward was forced to defend his father when he was only a young man. In this he managed to continue the legacy of the great warrior princes such as Richard I, with the notable difference being that while Richard rebelled against his own father, Henry II in Aquitaine on a regular basis, Edward I fought on the side of his father, leading the royalist troops to victory at Evesham on 4th August 1265.

Edward the Crusader

Edward went on Crusade with King Louis IX in August 1270 after receiving a grant of one twentieth of every citizen's wealth in a parliament held in April, 1270. Edward and Louis were the last medieval rulers and rulers-in-waiting to go on Crusade to retake the Holy Land. Subsequent Popes would use Crusades as a political tool at this stage of the Medieval Era. Louis IX was legendary for his holiness, and both men were acclaimed from throughout their realms for their zeal.

Louis died from plague when he reached Tunis but Edward vowed to keep going towards Acre despite the abandonment by the French, saying:

'by the blood of God, though all my fellow soldiers and countrymen desert me, I will enter Acre ... and I will keep my word and my oath to the death' [1]

Edward arrived in Acre in May 1271 with one thousand knights, but the crusade turned out to be an anticlimax. With his limited force divided by petty nationalisms and other problems, he could achieve little more than launching a few raids against enemy forces before finally signing a peace deal with the Baibars. In June 1272 he survived an assassination attempt by a Shi'ite Muslim, and having then left for Sicily that year, he was never to return on Crusade.

Coronation and early reign

Henry III died on 16 November, 1272, but Edward took a leisurely journey back to England from Sicily, stopping off to continental relations and possessions before finally arriving in London in August, 1274. He was thirty five and was already in possession of some of the key characteristics that made a good Medieval king - He was an excellent warrior, regarded as 'the best lance in all the world' by some contemporaries - was a brilliant general, rivalling even his grand uncle Richard I, a legendary Crusader who had captured the hearts and minds of generations of Englishmen. He also had a strong sense of community, law and order and a good grasp of diplomacy. In short, he was intelligent, brave and cunning, sinister even at times. Edward's early reign was dominated by the Welsh issue, as he looked to install English dominance over the last great Welsh principality - Gwynedd, led by Llywelyn the Last.

Major Achievements

War with Wales

When Edward returned to England following his Crusade, Welsh affairs began to dominate his free time. The Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had taken advantage of the political troubles in England in the 1260s; he failed to appreciate how the situation had changed by the 1270s. He refused to do homage to Edward I, invaded English territory, began building a threatening new castle at Dolforwyn, and planned to marry Simon de Montfort's daughter Eleanor De Montfort. His own brother Dafydd, and the powerful Welsh magnate Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, disliked his ambitions, and took refuge at the English court. War became unavoidable, and in the autumn of 1276 Edward I decided to act. In the summer of the following year an English army of 15,000 men advanced from Chester along the coast of north Wales to Deganwy. Naval support was essential, and ships were used to take English troops to Anglesey, where they reaped the grain harvest, so reducing Llywelyn's capacity to resist. No major fighting took place; Llywelyn appreciated the overwhelming strength of Edward's army, and came to terms in the treaty of Aberconwy. The Four Cantrefs, originally granted to Edward in 1254 but regained by the Welsh in 1267, were handed over to the English. Llywelyn's political authority was severely curtailed; he was in future to receive homage only from the lords of Snowdonia, not of all Wales. A massive war indemnity of £50,000 was imposed, though not in practice collected.

War broke out again in 1282. The imposition of English jurisdiction caused much discontent in Wales, and most notably the Welsh had trouble abiding by the English common law rather than their traditional justice systems. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had been involved in a complex and humiliating legal dispute over the cantref of Arwystli with his former enemy Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn. Llywelyn's appeal to Welsh law stressed the threat that Edward I presented to the very identity of the Welsh people. Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, ill rewarded by Edward for his part in the first Welsh war, made the first move in 1282, attacking Hawarden Castle on 21 April. Concerted attacks soon came on other English castles. Edward was quick to respond, making plans at a council at Devizes in April. The overall strategy was similar to that of the first Welsh war, with a major royal campaign in the north, and operations on a smaller scale by other commanders in the marches and the south. Logistical planning was on an impressive scale; the king even called on his overseas dominions of Ireland, Gascony, and Ponthieu for aid, and arrangements were made to link Anglesey to the Welsh mainland by a great pontoon bridge. By the autumn of 1282 Llywelyn's heartland of Snowdonia was threatened on all sides, notably by the royal army, which had advanced from Chester, and by a force under Luke de Tany, which had established itself in Anglesey. At this stage Archbishop John Pecham attempted to negotiate a settlement. Luke de Tany, disobeying orders, tried to take advantage of the peace negotiations by advancing across the bridge from Anglesey to the mainland. He was ambushed and killed; his force suffered heavy losses. The setback was no more than that. Edward's determination was hardened, and Llywelyn attempted to break out of the stranglehold in which he had been placed. A bold move into mid-Wales led to disaster. He was lured into a trap at Irfon Bridge, and was killed in battle. The war was continued by his brother Dafydd, but to little real effect. Castell y Bere, the last Welsh stronghold, surrendered in April 1283, and in June Dafydd himself was captured by men of his own nationality and handed over to the English for execution at Shrewsbury as a traitor.

The victory of 1283 was followed by a full-scale English colonization. The Statute of Wales of 1284 extended the English system of administration, and new counties of Flint, Anglesey, Merioneth, and Caernarfon were created with the full institutional complexity of sheriffs, county courts, and coroners, though at the local level of the commote it proved impossible to reconstruct local government on a purely English pattern. Welsh land law was not eradicated, but English criminal law was instituted for all major felonies. The settlement was limited to those areas of Wales under direct royal control, and did not extend to the marcher lordships. It was not therefore comprehensive, but it was statesmanlike. Disinheritance was on a huge scale for the nobility on the other hand. Llywelyn's dynasty was destroyed, and other Welsh princely families lost their lands. New lordships were created for Edward's followers, such as Bromfield and Yale for John, Earl Warenne, and Denbigh for the earl of Lincoln. Edward also named his son the Prince of Wales, a title which goes to the heir apparent of the English monarchy and lives on to this day.

Edward I and the rule of Law

Edward I's statutes are arguably one of the great achievements of the reign. The sweep of the legislation was extensive, and the majority of the statutes were not dedicated to a single topic, but covered a range of matters. They were not the work of a single legislator, and many clauses had their origins in specific issues that had arisen in the courts. The most important of the statutes were: Westminster I (1275); Gloucester (1278); Mortmain (1279); Acton Burnell (1283); Westminster II (1285); Winchester (1285); Merchants (1285); Quia emptores (1290); and Quo warranto (1290).

Edward I added to the bureaucracy initiated by Henry II to increase his effectiveness as King. He expanded the administration into four principal parts: the Chancery, the Exchequer, the Household, and the Council. The Chancery researched and created legal documents while the Exchequer received and issued money, scrutinized the accounts of local officials, and kept financial records. These two departments operated within the king's authority but independently from his personal rule, prompting Edward to follow the practice of earlier kings in developing the Household, a mobile court of clerks and advisers that travelled with the king. The King's Council was the most vital segment of the four. It consisted of his principal ministers, trusted judges and clerks, a select group of magnates, and also followed the king. The Council dealt with matters of great importance to the realm and acted as a court for cases of national importance.

Edward was not unlike many of his contemporaries in that he persecuted the Jews, formally expelling them in the Edict of Expulsion (1290). The Jews had been squeezed financially under Edwards predecessors and they had generally lost their traditional use to medieval Kings - that is, finance.

Also notably under his reign was the advent of Parliament, which began to take a much more important role in national affairs, culminating in the first model parliament of 1295.

Tension with France

In the first half of the reign relations with the French monarchy had been reasonably good. A French request that Edward, who as duke of Aquitaine was a vassal of the French monarchy, should serve in the campaign of 1285 in Aragon created problems, but the failure of the campaign and the death of Philippe III averted crisis. In 1286 Edward did homage to the new king, Philippe IV at Paris, and good relations were re-established. The war with France that broke out in 1294 was, from Edward's standpoint, unexpected. He was the victim of an aggressive French monarchy, which regarded Edward, in his capacity as duke of Aquitaine, as an overmighty vassal whose subjection to French sovereignty and jurisdiction needed to be emphasized. Philippe was presented with his opportunity by a private naval war, which began in 1293 between English and Norman sailors. The involvement of some Gascons provided the French king with the opportunity to summon Edward to appear before the parlement of Paris. Edmund of Lancaster, Edward's brother, was sent to try to negotiate a settlement. Early in 1294 a secret agreement was reached. Edward was to marry Philippe IV's sister Margaret (1279?–1318). Gascon hostages, fortresses, and towns were to be handed over to the French for a period, and then returned to the English. The summons to the parlement would be withdrawn. The English negotiators were duped. Edward kept his part of the bargain; but the French did not withdraw the summons, and declared Gascony forfeit when Edward failed to appear.

In October 1294 the first English contingents sailed to Gascony, to achieve some success at Bayonne, though none at Bordeaux. Edward's war plans, however, extended much further than campaigning in south-western France. On the advice of Antony (I) Bek, bishop of Durham and a long-standing supporter of the king, an elaborate series of continental alliances was planned, above all with princes in the Low Countries, Germany, and Burgundy. The main assault against Philippe IV would come from the north, not from Gascony. The English schemes prospered at first. Agreement was swiftly reached with the German king, Adolf of Nassau, while the duke of Brabant, Edward's son-in-law, readily accepted English subsidies. The counts of Gueldres and Holland joined the alliance, and the promise of the marriage of his daughter to Edward's son, together with a large subsidy, won over the count of Flanders. In 1295, however, Philippe IV succeeded in detaching the count of Flanders from the alliance, and early in the following year the count of Holland also abandoned Edward's cause. The Welsh rebellion of 1294–5, followed by the Scottish campaign in 1296, meant that the planned English campaign in concert with allies was put off until 1297. Early in that year Edward managed to win the count of Flanders over once again, and in May he added to the alliance an important group of Burgundian nobles. The alliance was at long last ready to act.

The English, meanwhile, had mixed fortunes in Gascony. A substantial expedition sailed early in 1296, led by Edmund of Lancaster, who died in June of that year. In January 1297 the earl of Lincoln suffered a significant defeat at Bellegarde, though in the following summer he was able to conduct a successful raid into French territory. The outcome of the war did not depend on these events, but on Edward's own expedition to Flanders, which eventually sailed on 22 August. By that time his allies had suffered defeat at the battle of Veurne, and the city of Lille had surrendered. The most serious fighting that Edward encountered was that between his own sailors from the Cinque Ports and those of Yarmouth, at the time of disembarkation. The small English army moved first to Bruges, and then to Ghent, but the assistance that had been hoped for from the German king never materialized, and on 9 October a truce was agreed with the French. It took time for Edward to extricate himself from the Low Countries; he faced serious riots early in February 1298 in Ghent, and there were problems in paying off his allies. He eventually returned to England in March 1298 after an ignominious campaign. It took until 1303 to agree a final peace with the French, but Edward's marriage to the French princess Margaret took place in 1299, and there was little danger of further hostilities. For both the English and the French the war had proved expensive and unrewarding. The war account for Gascony alone showed expenses approaching £360,000. The various allies were promised some £250,000, and paid about £165,000. The Flanders campaign probably cost over £50,000.

Strife with Scotland

Statue of William Wallace in Stirling

Edward's assertion that the King of Scotland owed feudal allegiance to him, and the embittered Anglo-Scottish relations leading to war which followed, were to overshadow the rest of Edward's reign in what was to become known as the Great Cause.

Under a treaty in 1174, William the Lion of Scotland had become the vassal to Henry II, but in 1189 Richard I had absolved William from his allegiance. Intermarriage between the English and Scottish royal houses promoted peace between the two countries until the premature death of Alexander III in 1286.

In 1290, his granddaughter and heiress, Margaret the 'Maid of Norway' (daughter of the King of Norway, she was pledged to be married to Edward's then only surviving son, Edward of Caernarvon), also died.

In the absence of an obvious heir to the Scottish throne, the disunited Scottish magnates invited Edward to determine the dispute. In order to gain acceptance of his authority in reaching a verdict, Edward sought and obtained recognition from the rival claimants that he had the sovereign lordship of Scotland.

In November 1292, Edward and his 104 assessors gave the whole kingdom to John Balliol or Baliol as the claimant closest to the royal line; Balliol duly swore loyalty to Edward and was crowned at Scone.

John Balliol's position proved difficult. Edward insisted that Scotland was not independent and he, as sovereign lord, had the right to hear in England appeals against Balliol's judgements in Scotland.

In 1294, Balliol lost authority amongst Scottish magnates by going to Westminster after receiving a summons from Edward; the magnates decided to seek allies in France and concluded the Auld Alliance with France (then at war with England over the duchy of Gascony) - an alliance which was to influence Scottish history for the next 300 years.

In March 1296, having failed to negotiate a settlement, the English led by Edward sacked the city of Berwick near the River Tweed. Balliol formally renounced his homage to Edward in April 1296. Edward's forces overran remaining Scottish resistance. Scots leaders were taken hostage, and Edinburgh Castle, amongst others, was seized. Balliol surrendered his realm and spent the rest of his life in exile in England and Normandy.

Having humiliated Balliol, Edward's insensitive policies in Scotland continued: he appointed a trio of Englishmen to run the country. Edward had the Stone of Scone - also known as the Stone of Destiny - on which Scottish sovereigns had been crowned removed to London and subsequently placed in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey (where it remained until it was returned to Scotland in 1996). Edward never built stone castles on strategic sites in Scotland, as he had done so successfully in Wales - possibly because he did not have the funds for another ambitious castle-building programme.

By 1297, Edward was facing the biggest crisis in his reign, and his commitments outweighed his resources. Chronic debts were being incurred by wars against France, in Flanders, Gascony and Wales as well as Scotland; the clergy were refusing to pay their share of the costs, with the Archbishop of Canterbury threatening excommunication; Parliament was reluctant to contribute to Edward's expensive and unsuccessful military policies; the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk refused to serve in Gascony, and the barons presented a formal statement of their grievances.

In the end, Edward was forced to reconfirm the Charters (including Magna Carta) to obtain the money he required; the Archbishop was eventually suspended in 1306 by the new Gascon Pope Clement V; a truce was declared with France in 1297, followed by a peace treaty in 1303 under which the French king restored the duchy of Gascony to Edward.

In Scotland, Edward pursued a series of campaigns from 1298 onwards. William Wallace had risen in Balliol's name and recovered most of Scotland, before being defeated by Edward at the battle of Falkirk in 1298. Wallace escaped, only to be captured in 1305, allegedly by the treachery of a fellow Scot and taken to London, where he was executed.

In 1304, Edward summoned a full Parliament (which elected Scottish representatives also attended), in which arrangements for the settlement of Scotland were made. The new government in Scotland featured a Council, which included Robert the Bruce. Bruce unexpectedly rebelled in 1306 by killing a fellow counsellor and was crowned king of Scotland at Scone. Despite his failing health, Edward was carried north to pursue another campaign, but he died en route at Burgh on Sands on 7 July 1307 aged 68.

According to chroniclers, Edward requested that his bones should be carried on Scottish campaigns and that his heart be taken to the Holy Land. However, Edward was buried at Westminster Abbey in a plain black marble tomb, which in later years was painted with the words Scottorum malleus (Hammer of the Scots) and Pactum serva (Keep troth).

Popular portrayal

Edward I appeared in the Hollywood epic, Braveheart, which Mel Gibson acted in and directed. The film portrays the Scottish general William Wallace as a hero and patriot defending Scottish freedom from English domination, and Edward as the archetypical villain, aiming to destroy Scottish identity and Scotland as a nation. He was commonly referred to as The Longshanks in a derogative manner. The film does ignore the fact that Wallace was a Scottish nobleman of medium rank who owned castles and commanded peasants, and as such cannot be deemed as anything other than historically inaccurate.


  1. Costain, Thomas Bertram; The Three Edwards - Page 3

preceded by
Henry III
succeeded by
Edward II