Monday, November 29, 2010

Monarch Profile: King Edward I of England

HRH Prince Edward, who would go on to great fame as King Edward I of England, was born to King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence at Westminster Palace on June 17, 1239. When he was just fifteen years old his mother took him to Spain where he was married to the daughter of King Fernando III of Castile and Leon, the Infanta Leonor (Eleanor). Their marriage was to be a very happy one with the great devotion each spouse felt for the other never diminishing over the years. Yet, Edward also knew the hardships of life early on as well and grew up fighting in support of his father for royal rights against the barons, emboldened by the Magna Carta. In 1270, in an act of courage and religious devotion he left England to join the Crusades. His wife actually accompanied him and it was on the island of Sicily on their way back from the Middle East that he learned of the death of his father.

On August 19, 1274 King Edward I and Queen Eleanor were crowned together as King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey; the first such coronation of a husband and wife since the Norman conquest. As a monarch King Edward I was exemplary; intelligent, bold, practical and hard working with no time for frivolity. He first set about a considerable reorganization of the government, strengthening the royal authority that had been so weakened in all the quarrels leading up to his reign. Many new, sweeping statutes were issued dealing with everything from property rights to trade to law and justice. King Edward proved an adept statesman as well as a warrior king and the call to war came quickly. Skirmishing with the Welsh had been going on for some time and there had been internal troubles in Wales between the local prince and his brother. When Prince Llewellyn refused to do homage to Edward I as his feudal overlord, as past Welsh rulers had done, Edward I invaded Wales. The fighting was hard but by 1283 Wales was pacified and in the face of further minor rebellions against English rule King Edward had a series of great castles built across the country and in 1301 he named his son, the future King Edward II, Prince of Wales, beginning the tradition of that title being given to the English heir.

King Edward I, a former crusader, never gave up hope of leading another great crusade to retake the Holy Land and it was toward this end that he worked to negotiate a peace between France and Aragon who were at war over competing aims in the Mediterranean. However, the peace he arranged proved short-lived and disaster struck in 1291 when the Mamlukes captured the Christian stronghold of Acre. To make matters worse, in 1294 King Philip IV of France seized Edward’s lands in Gascony. Edward I made an alliance with several other princes but these were defeated prior to his arrival while he was dealing with problems at home. By the time he landed in Flanders there was no help from Germany and the war ground to a halt with Edward forced to make peace with France. The issue that had distracted Edward came from Scotland and, thanks to one highly successful and very moving but grossly historically inaccurate movie, it is now his war with the Scots for which Edward is probably best known.

King Edward I became involved in Scotland after the country was split by a succession crisis and Edward, given his reputation as an astute statesman and as prior Scottish kings had paid him homage as their feudal overlord. Edward then stepped in and chose one John Baliol as the King of Scots, whom he very much viewed as ‘his man’ in Scotland. This did not sit well with the Scots nor did his call for Scotland to contribute soldiers to his war with France. Instead, the Scots made an alliance with France and launched an attack on Carlisle in northwest England. So, in 1296 an outraged King Edward invaded Scotland, crushed all opposition, carried off the Scottish coronation stone, hauled John Baliol off to the Tower of London and assigned English governors to rule Scotland. These campaigns in Wales, France and Scotland caused a money crunch for Edward and his efforts to solve his financial problem has caused controversy in light of recent attitudes. King Edward I took a direct and straightforward view of the situation.

The King looked at the economic state of affairs and noticed that money transactions were disproportionately in the hands of the Jewish minority, mostly brought in with the branches of banks from the Italian city-state republics. The Jewish population had grown quite wealthy through money lending (loaning with interest being forbidden to Christians) and their riches stood out all the more as the rest of the country became poorer. At first, King Edward simply tried to redress the imbalance by confiscating the earnings made from high interest loans to Christians by the Jewish minority and later to forbid money-lending for Jews but none of this solved the problem completely. Finally, King Edward I ordered the expulsion of the Jews from England and banned them from ever returning. Of course, they could avoid this by converting to Catholicism and King Edward tried his best to get them to do this by forcing them to attend sermons by Dominican priests. It did not work. Finally, in 1290 King Edward formally expelled all Jews from England. They would not be allowed back in until the overthrow of the monarchy when Oliver Cromwell agreed to lift the ban in exchange for large loans from Jewish bankers on the continent. After so much trouble with money lending, King Edward tried to raise money on his own and this led to the establishment of much of the original system of parliamentary government that we know today. Particularly, the right of the members of Parliament to vote taxes. For the first time commoners sat in Parliament (originally knights) with full power to vote. This was the start of the House of Commons in England and, combined with his other administrative reforms, earned King Edward I the nickname of “the English Justinian”.

The tall, short-tempered but intelligent and admired King of England was beginning to show his age when rebellion broke out again in Scotland, led by the dynamic Scottish hero William Wallace. In a stunning upset Wallace led a small Scots army to victory over a much larger English force at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 using innovative tactics and the terrain to their advantage. The following year Edward I led a large English army and met Wallace at the battle of Falkirk, soundly defeating him, after which he returned home. However, though the Scots had been defeated the country had not been pacified and there were further campaigns into Scotland but the Scots simply concentrated on harassing tactics and refused open combat against the English forces. Yet, in 1305 Wallace was captured, taken to London and executed for treason after which English rule over Scotland was solidified. But, again, the trouble began again with the rise of Robert the Bruce who led a new wave of Scottish resistance. In 1307 the old and ailing Edward I took to the field again determined to lead his armies on another campaign to finally and forever subdue Scotland. However, while still in northern England King Edward took a turn for the worse and died just south of the Scottish border on July 7, 1307.

To summarize, King Edward I is frequently ranked among the greatest of English monarchs and there is ample evidence to support this. In every way that a successful sovereign of his era is defined, Edward I measures up. He was a devoted husband if a rather short-tempered father (his son Edward II being as unlike him as possible), he was a capable administrator and adept at government and he was a talented and courageous military leader. More to the point on that score he was a quite successful military leader at a time when warrior kings were not just a romantic ideal but something that was expected of royal leaders. Many rank him as the most successful King of England of the Middle Ages. This makes it all the more unusual that his tomb in Westminster Abbey is completely unadorned. He did, however, fare better in death than his second wife, Queen Margaret, whose monument was sold by the Lord Mayor of London for 50 pounds during the reign of Elizabeth I.


  1. Would this be the famous Edward "Longshanks", who makes an appearance in Age of Empires II?

    That's how I'll always remember him, from a game that taught me much about history and got me interested ins studying the past. Without it, I would not be a monarchist, I am sure.

    A good post, as always.

    I was going to ask as well, that while he may not be the most legitimate of monarchs, if you were going to cover Napoleon I's coronation of December 2nd?

  2. The very same. I remember that game too, also had St Joan of Arc and Genghis Khan as characters. As for Napoleon, I don't know if I'll be able to cover the coronation anniversary (though it is a thought). I certainly will deal with the Bonapartes at some point. I don't view Napoleon as legitimate of course but I'm also not as down on him as some. He was at least an improvement over the terror and given his victories I can understand a certain nostalgia regarding him considering the glory and all that. The same could be said for Napoleon III -not legitimate, not ideal but still better than the republic.

  3. Yes, it was a very good game. The Joan of Arc campaign was particularly good, I thought some of the battles were well directed.

    Obviosuly we disagree on the Napoleons. I consider the Empire to be definitely better than the Republic, but also the Monarchy (which is still better than the Republic). It was the perfect blend of old and new, of Liberalism and Conservatism, of Religious attachment and secularism.

    It goes with my feelings about he whole time period as well, which in my opinion was the best time to be a human being. Everything was much more... real, if that makes any sense.

  4. Napoleon was always a fascinating man to me, and, though my view of him changed as I grew older, I still think he was the best that could have been hoped for at the time he emerged, so I se him as Semi-Legitimate.

    But I shall save my commentary on him for later.

    Edward is forever demonised in the minds of many who saw “Braveheart”, but he wasn’t really that bad a King and it would be nice to contrast the Historical Edward (By no means perfect but not as bad as all that) with the film depiction, I think.

  5. In Braveheart, where did the idea of "First Rights" come from, given that it was the reason the movie gave for Wallace's rebellion?

    1. It's a concept that has been floating around for a very long time, however, I can say for a fact that such a thing never happened in Scotland nor has anyone ever produced any real evidence that it ever happened anywhere. Even aside from that lack of evidence, it rather flies in the face of reason. For one thing, this was a time when the Catholic Church was large and in charge and not in the business of giving legal sanction to blatant adultery. For another, this is not the sort of thing the peasant population could be expected to tolerate and there would have been massive peasant rebellions if it had been real. No, I assure you, that was complete fiction. As was the blue paint, as was Wallace knocking up the Princess of Wales (a literal impossibility) or even meeting her for that matter, and as were so many other things.


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