Edward I

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Edward I (1239–1307), king of England (1272–1307). When Edward came to the throne he was already an experienced general and politician. He had played the major role in the defeat of Simon de Montfort in 1265, the battle of Evesham being very much his own personal triumph; he was in control of the mopping-up operations that lasted into 1267; and he had taken a leading role in the deliberations of his father's council before departing on crusade in 1270. He returned with a considerable reputation, and for the rest of his life was widely considered as the expected saviour of the Holy Land. His experience of the traumas and the issues of the civil war of the 1260s informed his approach to English affairs when he became king. He appreciated that reform was needed and that Parliament was a necessary institution. The first 20 years of the reign were remarkably successful in this regard, the period marked especially by a great series of statutes which had an enduring significance, and which largely proceeded in response to the grievances of his subjects. These same years also saw Edward's successful scotching of Welsh independence, following his two campaigns of 1277 and 1282–3, symbolically marked by the ten great castles, including Caernarfon, Conwy, and Beaumaris, that he constructed.

The early 1290s proved to be the turning-point in the reign and in Edward's fortunes. Increasing financial problems and domestic political tension, associated with the wars against the French and the Scots, replaced the more relaxed atmosphere of the 1270s and 1280s. It culminated in the crisis of 1297, but it is a measure of Edward's power and authority that although rebellion threatened, none actually rose in revolt—then, or at any other time—something that cannot be said of any of his predecessors since 1066, or of many of his successors.

On his tomb in Westminster abbey Edward is described famously as the ‘hammer of the Scots’. But this is far from the truth. He acted as arbitrator between the claimants to the Scottish throne (the Great Cause of 1291–2), but on the understanding that he be accepted as feudal overlord of the kingdom. The throne was adjudged to John Balliol, rather than his chief rival, Robert Bruce, and Edward's attempts to secure Balliol and exercise his overlordship proved to be the beginning of the long-drawn-out Scottish War of Independence. The campaign of 1296 was intended to be as decisive as the conquest of Wales. Edward was victorious, symbolically removed the ‘stone of destiny’ from Scone to Westminster abbey, and established his own administration. But it was only a temporary settlement and Edward soon found himself in something of a medieval Vietnam from which he could not withdraw. He lived to see Robert Bruce crowned king in 1306, and it is highly indicative of his dogged determination that he should die leading yet another expedition to Scotland in 1307.

Edward ‘Longshanks’ was physically impressive and even in old age retained his physical presence. He stood head and shoulders above most men: when his tomb was opened in 1774, the body was measured at 6 feet 2 inches. He met most of the contemporary expectations of a king. He was a very able soldier and general, who possessed considerable courage. He was also a very competent organizer who, like his great-uncle Richard I, appreciated the importance of supply and transport. His military career was notable, although his victories against the Montfortians and the Welsh need to be balanced against defeats by the Scots and French. In most ways he lived up to the chivalric ideals of his age. As a young man, in particular, he was conspicuous for his enthusiasm for tournaments and other chivalric pursuits, and his devotion to the crusading cause is especially notable. (He took the cross again in 1287, but the matter of the Scottish succession and the outbreak of war with France unhinged all plans for departure.) But he could be cruel, as when he imprisoned Bruce's sister Mary, the countess of Buchan, in apparently inhuman conditions in 1306. He may well have sought to make a public example of them, and by then the Scottish war had become extremely savage. His violent temper, shared with his Angevin predecessors, may also have contributed. An account book records the cost of repairs to his daughter Elizabeth's coronet in 1297 after Edward had hurled it into the fire. And on one occasion he even assaulted his eldest son and heir, the future Edward II, tearing out his hair.

Yet, his eldest son apart—at least in Edward I's later years—he was devoted to his family. In particular, his love and fondness for his first queen, Eleanor of Castile, is legendary and the marriage was plainly both happy and fruitful. (There were probably fourteen children in all.) Indeed, it is possible that the marked change in character of the reign following her death in 1290 owed not a little to Edward's sense of personal loss. He grieved her deeply, and in the famous Eleanor crosses, twelve in all, one constructed at each stopping-point of the funeral cortège between Harby (Notts.), where she died, and Westminster abbey, where she lies buried, Edward constructed the most elaborate series of monuments ever created for an English queen (or king).

In his considerable achievements, especially in legislation and government, Edward was one of the most notable of English medieval kings, but those achievements have to be set against equally considerable failures, and the poisoned chalice of Anglo-Scottish relations, combined with chronic financial difficulties, which he bequeathed to his son.

S. D. Lloyd


Prestwich, M. C. , Edward I (1988);
—— The Three Edwards (1980);
Salzman, L. F. , Edward I (1968).

Edward I

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Edward I

Edward I (1239-1307), known as the "Greatest of the Plantagenets," was king of England from 1272 to 1307. His reign witnessed the growth of parliamentary power, the enactment of extensive reforms, and the spread of English control over Scotland and Wales.

The eldest son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, Edward was born on June 17/18, 1239. In October 1254, at the age of 15, he married Eleanor of Castile, by whom he had 10 children. She died in 1290, and in September 1299 Edward married Margaret of France, by whom he had three children.

Soon after Edward's first marriage, Henry III gave him Gascony, Ireland, Bristol, and the march between the Dee and the Conway rivers. In the latter area, as the Earl of Chester, he gained experience in warfare with the Welsh. His attempt to introduce the English system of counties and hundreds provoked Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales. During the Parliament of Oxford in 1258, Edward sided with his father, but in the following year he became a leader of the "Bachelorhood of England" in support of Simon de Montfort and the Provisions of Westminster. Again in support of his father, Edward attacked the Welsh who were supporting the rebellious barons, and in 1264 he attacked the barons at Northampton. Edward caused his father's defeat and his own capture at the Battle of Lewes. After his escape Edward led the victory over the barons at Evesham, and in the next years, as he received the submission of the barons, Edward became an advocate of a policy of healing.

Edward was made the steward of England in 1268 as well as warden of the city and the Tower of London. He gained popularity by abolishing the levy of customs and by urging laws against the Jewish moneylenders. He left for the Crusades in 1271 and fought bravely at Acre and Haifa. While Edward was on the way home, his father died, and he succeeded to the crown on Nov. 20, 1272.

Domestic and Foreign Policies

After his coronation on Aug. 19, 1274, Edward initiated an active legislative program to overthrow feudalism and to develop the parliamentary system of government. He earned the name of "English Justinian" as a flood of legislation was passed. The first important reform was the Statute of Westminster I, passed in 1275 to amend the evils of the earlier civil war. It was followed by the Statute of Gloucester (1278), which reformed territorial jurisdiction; the Statute of Mortmain (1279), which reformed ecclesiastical landholding; the Statute of Quia Emptores (1290), which enabled land sales; the Statute of Westminster II, which reformed legal rights; and the Statute of Winchester, which reformed the national military force.

Edward was also busily engaged in the first years of his reign in his attempts to control Wales. Prince Llewelyn at first refused to attend Parliament but submitted to the English in 1276. This submission did not last long, however, and Edward was forced to take up arms, killing Llewelyn in 1282 and bringing his brother, David, to trial in 1283. This victory over the Welsh rebels resulted in the Statute of Wales, which brought the English pattern of administration to Wales.

By 1292 Edward was also involved in Scotland, where 13 claimants sought the throne. After the Scotch asked for arbitration by the English, Edward placed John Balliol (the third son of the founder of Balliol College, Oxford) on the Scottish throne. Balliol was forced to surrender Scotland in 1296, and a second expedition was made in 1300, when the Scottish lords asked that Balliol be allowed to reign. Edward defeated the Scottish rebels under William Wallace at Linlithgow Heath in 1298 and eventually executed Wallace in London.

In addition to attempting to control Scotland and Wales, Edward was active in holding his possessions on the Continent. From 1286 to 1289 he spent much time in France and Gascony. After the loss of Gascony to Philip IV in 1294, he was able to receive support for military activities from a Parliament of all three estates in 1295, and he received financial help from the clergy in 1297. Although the barons opposed the campaign to Gascony, Edward sailed for Bruges to help the Count of Flanders against the French. The following year, at the persuasion of Boniface VIII, he deserted his ally to make a truce with France in order to recover the lost territory.

The last years of Edward's reign were spent in conflict with his barons, who were against his military activities both at home and abroad. To obtain their support, he was forced to reissue the Great Charter in 1299. While traveling north to deal with the threat of Robert Bruce, the new leader of the Scottish rebels, he died at Burghon-Sands on July 7, 1307. His burial took place at Westminster Abbey on October 27.

Further Reading

An informative biography of Edward I is E. L. G. Stones, Edward I (1968). For Edward's early life see F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (2 vols., 1947). Various aspects of the reign are covered in John E. Morris, The Welsh Wars of Edward I (1901), and in two works by T. F. T. Plucknett, Legislation of Edward I (1949) and Edward I and Criminal Law (1960). General histories of the period include Sir James H. Ramsay, The Dawn of the Constitution (1908), and F. M. Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (1953; 2d ed. 1962).

Additional Sources

Chancellor, John, The life and times of Edward I, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.

Edward I and Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988.

Prestwich, Michael., Edward I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. □

Edward I

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Edward I (1239–1307) King of England (1272–1307), son and successor of Henry III. His suppression of the Barons' War, led by Simon de Montfort, made him king in all but name. In 1270 Edward joined the Ninth Crusade, and was crowned on his return (1274). His foreign policy was aggressive. He conquered Wales and incorporated it into England (1272–84). In 1296 he captured the Scottish coronation stone from Scone, but William Wallace and Robert I (the Bruce) led Scottish resistance. Edward's domestic reforms are central to Britain's legal and constitutional history. The Statutes of Westminster codified common law. Edward's foreign ambitions led to the formation of the Model Parliament (1295). His son, Edward II, inherited high taxation and the enmity of Scotland.

Edward I

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Edward I


English king known, among other things, for reforms, such as his standardization of measurements. During his reign (1272-1307), Edward greatly curtailed the power of feudal lords and in 1295 summoned England's first parliament. In 1305 he standardized the acre as a unit of land measurement. A participant in the Ninth Crusade (1270-72), Edward was among the monarchs that Bar Sauma, the Chinese-Turkish Nestorian monk, met during his trip to Europe in 1287-88. Edward spent a good deal of his reign suppressing revolts in Wales and Scotland—he was the English king depicted in the 1995 Academy Award-winning film Braveheart—and died on his way to suppress a revolt in Scotland under Robert the Bruce.

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