England: King Edward I

King Edward I of England
Edward I. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Edward I was a noted warrior king who ruled England from 1271 to 1307. During his reign, he conquered Wales and oversaw a large scale castle-building program to secure control over the area. Invited north to settle a dynastic dispute in Scotland in the 1290s, Edward spent much of the latter part of his reign fighting in the north. Away from the battlefield, he invested considerable time reforming the English feudal system and common law.

Early Life

Born June 17, 1239, Edward was the son of King Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence. Trusted to the care of Hugh Giffard until 1246, Edward was later raised by Bartholomew Pecche. In 1254, with his father's lands in Gascony under threat from Castile, Edward was directed to marry King Alfonso X of Castile's daughter Eleanor. Traveling to Spain, he wed Eleanor at Burgos on November 1. Married until her death in 1290, the couple produced sixteen children including Edward of Caernarvon who succeed his father on the throne. A tall man by the standards of the day, he earned the nickname "Longshanks."

Portraits of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile
Edward I and Eleanor of Castile. Public Domain

Second Barons' War

An unruly youth, Edward clashed with his father and in 1259 sided with a number of barons seeking political reform. This led Henry to return to England from France and the two were ultimately reconciled. In 1264, tensions with the nobles again came to a head and erupted in the Second Barons' War. Taking the field in support of his father, Edward captured Gloucester and Northampton before being taken hostage after the royal defeat at Lewes. Released the following March, Edward campaigned against Simon de Montfort. Advancing in August 1265, Edward won a decisive victory at Evesham which resulted in Montfort's death.

Edward I of England

  • Rank: King
  • Service: England
  • Nickname(s): Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots
  • Born: June 17/18, 1239, London, England
  • Died: July 7, 1307, Burgh by Sands, England
  • Parents: Henry III and Eleanor of Provence
  • Spouse: Eleanor of Castile
  • Successor: Edward II
  • Conflicts: Second Barons' War, Conquest of Wales, First War of Scottish Independence

The Crusades

With peace restored to England, Edward pledged to embark on a crusade to the Holy Land in 1268. After difficulties raising funds, he departed with a small force in 1270 and moved to join with King Louis IX of France at Tunis. Arriving, he found that Louis had died. Deciding to press on, Edward's men arrived at Acre in May 1271. Though his force aided the city's garrison, it was not large enough to attack Muslim forces in the region with any lasting effect. After a series of minor campaigns and surviving an assassination attempt, Edward departed Acre in September 1272.

King of England

Reaching Sicily, Edward learned of his father's death and his proclamation as king. With the situation in London stable, he moved slowly traveling though Italy, France, and Gascony before arriving home in August 1274. Crowned king, Edward immediately began a series of administrative reforms and endeavored to restore royal authority. While his aides worked to clarify feudal land holdings, Edward also directed the passage of new statutes regarding criminal and property law. Holding regular Parliaments, Edward broke new ground in 1295 when he included members of the commons and gave them power to speak for their communities.

Portrait of Edward I
Edward I. Public Domain

War in Wales

In November 1276, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, declared war on Edward. The following year, Edward advanced into Wales with 15,000 men and compelled Gruffudd to sign the Treaty of Aberconwy which limited him to the land of Gwynedd. Fighting again flared in 1282 and saw Welsh forces win a string of victories over Edward's commanders. Halting the enemy at Orewin Bridge in December, English forces began a war of conquest which resulted in the imposition of English law over the region. Having subjugated Wales, Edward embarked on a large castle building program in the 1280s to consolidate his hold

The Great Cause

As Edward worked to strengthen England, Scotland descended into a succession crisis following the death of Alexander III in 1286. Dubbed the "Great Cause," the battle for the Scottish throne effectively devolved into a contest between John Balliol and Robert de Brus. Unable to come to a settlement, the Scottish nobles asked Edward to arbitrate the dispute. Edward agreed on the condition that Scotland recognize him as its feudal overlord. Unwilling to do so, the Scots instead agreed to let Edward oversee the realm until a successor was named.

After much discussion and several hearings, Edward found in favor of Balliol on November 17, 1292. Despite Balliol's ascension to the throne, Edward continued to wield power over Scotland. This issue came to a head when Balliol refused to provide troops for Edward's new war against France. Allying with France, Balliol dispatched troops south and attacked Carlisle. In retaliation, Edward marched north and captured Berwick before his forces routed the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April 1296. Capturing Balliol, Edward also seized the Scottish coronation stone, the Stone of Destiny, and took it to Westminster Abbey.

Issues at Home

Placing an English administration over Scotland, Edward returned home and was faced by financial and feudal problems. Clashing with the Archbishop of Canterbury over taxing the clergy, he also faced resistance from the nobles over increasing levels of taxation and military service. As a result, Edward had difficulty building a large army for a campaign in Flanders in 1297. This crisis was resolved indirectly by the English defeat at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Uniting the nation against the Scots, the defeat led Edward to again march north the following year.

Scotland Again

Meeting Sir William Wallace and the Scottish army at the Battle of Falkirk, Edward routed them on July 22, 1298. Despite the victory, he was forced to campaign in Scotland again in 1300 and 1301 as the Scots avoided open battle and persisted in raiding English positions. In 1304 he undercut the enemy position by making peace with France and swaying many of the Scottish nobles to his side. The capture and execution of Wallace the following year further aided the English cause. Re-establishing English rule, Edward's victory proved short-lived.

In 1306, Robert the Bruce, grandson of the earlier claimant, killed his rival John Comyn and was crowned King of Scotland. Moving quickly, he embarked on a campaign against the English. Aging and ill, Edward dispatched forces to Scotland to meet the threat. While one defeated Bruce at Methven, the other was beaten at Loudoun Hill in May 1307.

Seeing little choice, Edward personally led a large force north to Scotland that summer. Contracting dysentery on the way, he encamped at Burgh by Sands just south of the border on July 6. The following morning, Edward died as he prepared for breakfast. His body was taken back to London and buried at Westminster Abbey on October 27. With his death, the throne passed to his son who was crowned Edward II on February 25, 1308.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "England: King Edward I." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/england-king-edward-i-2360671. Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). England: King Edward I. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/england-king-edward-i-2360671 Hickman, Kennedy. "England: King Edward I." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/england-king-edward-i-2360671 (accessed March 22, 2023).

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