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Edward I of England

Background Information

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Edward I Longshanks
Portrait in Westminster Abbey, thought to be of Edward I
King of England (more...)
Reign 16 November 1272 – 7 July 1307
Coronation 19 August 1274
Predecessor Henry III of Winchester
Successor Edward II of Carnarvon
Consort Eleanor of Castile
m. 1254; dec. 1290
Marguerite of France
m. 1299; wid. 1307
Eleanor, Countess of Bar
Joan, Countess of Hertford and Gloucester
Alphonso, Earl of Chester
Margaret, Duchess of Brabant
Mary Plantagenet
Elizabeth, Countess of Hereford
Edward II of Carnarvon
Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk
Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent
House House of Plantagenet
Father Henry III of Winchester
Mother Eleanor of Provence
Burial Westminster Abbey, London

Edward I (17/18 June 1239 – 7 July 1307), also known as Edward Longshanks, was King of England from 1272 to 1307. The first son of Henry III, Edward was involved early in the political intrigues of his father's reign, which included an outright rebellion by the English Barons. In 1259 he briefly sided with a baronial reform movement, supporting the Provisions of Oxford. After reconciliation with his father, however, he remained loyal throughout the subsequent armed conflict, known as the Barons' War. After the Battle of Lewes, Edward was given as hostage to the rebellious barons, but escaped after a few months and joined the fight against Simon de Montfort. Montfort was defeated at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and within two years the rebellion was extinguished. With England pacified, Edward left on crusade to the Holy Land. The crusade accomplished little, and Edward was on his way home in 1272 when he was informed that his father had died. Making a slow return, he reached England in 1274 and he was crowned king at Westminster on 19 August.

Edward's reign had two characteristic phases. He spent the first years reforming royal administration. Through an extensive legal inquiry, known as the Quo warranto proceedings, Edward investigated the rights through which various feudal liberties were held. The law was reformed through a series of statutes regulating criminal and property law. Increasingly, however, Edward's attention was drawn towards military affairs. After suppressing a minor rebellion in Wales in 1276–77, Edward responded to a second rebellion in 1282–83 with a full-scale war of conquest. After a successful campaign, Edward subjected Wales to English rule, built a series of castles and towns in the countryside and settled them with Englishmen. Next, he directed his efforts towards Scotland. Initially invited to arbitrate a succession dispute, Edward claimed feudal suzerainty over the kingdom. In the war that followed, the Scots persevered, even though the English seemed victorious at several points. At the same time there were problems at home. In the years from 1294 to 1297, the war in Scotland combined with another rebellion in Wales and a wasteful campaign to protect the English possessions in France. The result was an unbearable burden of taxation on the English people, and Edward met with resistance both from lay and ecclesiastical lords. These crises were initially averted, but issues remained unsettled and when the king died in 1307, he left behind a number of financial and political problems to his son Edward II, as well as an ongoing war with Scotland.

Edward I was a tall man for his age, hence the nickname "Longshanks". He was also temperamental and this, along with his height, made him an intimidating man and he often instilled fear in his contemporaries. Nevertheless, he held the respect of his subjects for the way in which he embodied the medieval ideal of kingship, both as a soldier, administrator and a man of faith. Modern historians have been more divided on their assessment of the king; while some have praised him for his contribution to the law and administration, others have criticised him for his uncompromising attitude to his nobility. Currently, Edward I is credited with many accomplishments during his reign, including restoring royal authority after the reign of Henry III, establishing parliament as a permanent institution and thereby also a functional system for raising taxes, and reforming the law through statutes. At the same time, he is also often criticised for other actions, such as his brutal conduct towards the Scots, and the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

Early years

Childhood and marriage

Edward was born at the Palace of Westminster on the night of 17/18 June 1239, to King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. Although the young prince was seriously ill on several occasions, in 1246, 1247, and 1251, he grew up to be strong and healthy. Edward was in the care of Hugh Giffard– father of the future Chancellor Godfrey Giffard– until Bartholomew Pecche took over at Giffard's death in 1246. Among his childhood friends was his cousin Henry of Almain, son of King Henry's brother Richard of Cornwall. Henry of Almein would remain a close companion of the prince, both through the civil war that followed, and later on the crusade.

Early fourteenth-century manuscript initial showing Edward and Eleanor. The artist has perhaps tried to depict Edward's drooping eyelid, a trait he inherited from his father.

In 1254 English fears of a Castilian invasion of the English province of Gascony induced Edward's father to arrange a politically expedient marriage between his fourteen year old son and Eleanor, the half-sister of King Alfonso X of Castile. Eleanor and Edward were married on 1 November 1254 in the monastery of Las Huelgas in Castile. As part of the marriage agreement, the young prince received grants of land worth 15,000 marks a year. Though the endowments King Henry made were sizable, they offered Edward little independence: He had already received Gascony as early as 1249, but Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester had been appointed as royal lieutenant the year before and, consequently, drew its income, so in practice Edward derived neither authority nor revenue from this province. The grant he received in 1254 included most of Ireland, and much land in Wales and England, including the earldom of Chester, but the king retained much control over the land in question, particularly in Ireland, so Edward's power was limited there as well, and the king derived most of the income from those lands as well.

From 1254 to 1257, Edward was under the influence his mother's relatives, known as the Savoyards, the most notable of whom was Peter of Savoy, the queen’s uncle. After 1257, he increasingly fell in with the Poitevin, or Lusignan faction– the half-brothers of his father Henry III– led by such men as William de Valence. This association was significant, because the two groups of privileged foreigners were resented by the established English aristocracy, and would be at the centre of the ensuing years' baronial reform movement. There were tales of unruly and violent conduct by Edward and his Lusignan kinsmen, which raised questions about the royal heir's personal qualities. The next years would be formative on Edward's character.

Early ambitions

Edward had shown independence in political matters as early as 1255, when he took sides in a local conflict in Gascony, a stand that ran contrary to his father’s policy of mediation. In May 1258, a group of magnates drew up a document for reform of the king’s government– the so-called Provisions of Oxford– largely directed against the Lusignans. Edward stood by his political allies, and strongly opposed the Provisions. The reform movement succeeded in limiting the Lusignan influence, however, and gradually Edward’s attitude started to change. In March 1259, he entered into a formal alliance with one of the main reformers Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Then, on 15 October, 1259 he announced that he supported the barons' goals, and their leader, Simon de Montfort.

The motive behind Edward’s change of heart could have been purely pragmatic; Montfort was in a good position to support his cause in Gascony. When the king left for France in November, Edward's behaviour turned into pure insubordination. He made several appointments to advance the cause of the reformers, causing his father to believe that his son was considering a coup d'etat. When the king returned from France, he initially refused to see his son, but through the mediation of the Earl of Cornwall and the archbishop of Canterbury, the two were eventually reconciled. Edward was sent abroad, and in November 1260 he once more united with the Lusignans, who had been exiled to France.

Back in England, early in 1262, Edward fell out with some of his former Luisignan allies over financial matters. The next year King Henry sent him on a campaign in Wales against Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, with only limited results. Around the same time, Simon de Montfort, who had been out of the country since 1261, returned to England and re-ignited the baronial reform movement. It was at this pivotal moment, as the king seemed ready to resign to the barons' demands, that Edward began to take control of the situation. Whereas he had so far been unpredictable and equivocating, from this point on he remained firmly devoted to protecting his father's royal rights. He reunited with some of the men he had alienated the year before– among them his childhood friend, Henry of Almain, and John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey– and retook Windsor Castle from the rebels. Through the arbitration of King Louis IX of France, an agreement was made between the two parties. This so-called Mise of Amiens was largely favourable to the royalist side, and laid the seeds for further conflict.

Civil war

The years 1264–1267 saw the conflict known as the Barons' War, where baronial forces led by Simon de Montfort fought against those who remained loyal to the king. The first scene of battle was the city of Gloucester, which Edward managed to retake from the enemy. When Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby, came to the assistance of the rebels, Edward negotiated a truce with the earl, the terms of which he later broke. Edward then proceeded to capture Northampton from Montfort's son Simon, before embarking on a retaliatory campaign against Derby's lands. The baronial and royalist forces finally met at the Battle of Lewes, on 14 May 1264. Edward, commanding the right wing, performed well, and soon defeated the London contingent of Montfort's forces. Unwisely, however, he followed the scattered enemy in pursuit, and on his return found the rest of the royal army defeated. By the agreement known as the Mise of Lewes, Edward and his cousin Henry of Almein were given up as a prisoners to Montfort.

Medieval manuscript showing Simon de Montfort's mutilated body at the field of Evesham

Edward remained in captivity until March and even after his release he was kept under strict surveillance. Then, on 28 May, he managed to escape his custodians, and joined up with the earl of Gloucester, who had recently defected to the king's side. Montfort's support was now dwindling, and Edward retook Worcester and Gloucester with relatively little effort. In the meanwhile, Montfort had made an alliance with Llywelyn, and started moving east to join forces with his son Simon. Edward managed to make a surprise attack at Kenilworth Castle, where the younger Montfort was quartered, before moving on to cut off the earl of Leicester. The two forces then met at the second great encounter of the Barons' War– the Battle of Evesham, on 4 August 1265. Montfort stood little chance against the superior royal forces, and after his defeat he was killed and mutilated in the field. Through such episodes as the deception of Derby at Gloucester, Edward acquired a reputation as untrustworthy. During the summer campaign though, he had began to learn from his mistakes, and acted in a way that gained the respect and admiration of his contemporaries. The war did not end with Montfort's death, and Edward participated in the continued campaigning. At Christmas he came to terms with the younger Simon de Montfort and his associates at the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, and in March he led a successful assault on the Cinque Ports. A contingent of rebels held out in the virtually impregnable Kenilworth Castle, and did not surrender until the drafting of the conciliatory Dictum of Kenilworth. In April it seemed as if Gloucester would take up the cause of the reform movement, and civil war would resume, but after a renegotiation of the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth the parties came to an agreement. Edward, however, was little involved in the settlement negotiations following the wars; at this point his main focus was on planning his upcoming crusade.

Crusade and accession

Edward took the crusader's cross in an elaborate ceremony on 24 June 1268, with his brother Edmund and cousin Henry of Almain. Among others who committed themselves to the ninth Crusade were Edward's former adversaries—like the earl of Gloucester, though the earl did not end up going. With the country pacified, the greatest impediment to the project was providing sufficient finances. King Louis IX of France, who was the leader of the crusade, provided a loan of about £17,500. This, however, was not enough; the rest had to be raised through a lay tax, which had not been levied since 1237. In May 1270, Parliament granted a tax of a twentieth, in exchange for which the king agreed to reconfirm Magna Carta, and to impose restrictions on Jewish money lending. On 20 August Edward sailed from Dover for France. Historians have been unable to determine the size of the force with any certainty, but Edward probably brought with him around 225 knights and all together less than 1000 men.

Originally, the Crusaders intended to relieve the beleaguered Christian stronghold of Acre, but Louis had been diverted to Tunis. The French king and his brother Charles of Anjou, who had made himself king of Sicily, decided to attack the emirate in order to establish a stronghold in North Africa. The plans failed when the French forces were struck by an epidemic which, on 25 August, took the life of King Louis himself. By the time Edward arrived at Tunis, Charles had already signed a treaty with the emir, and there was little else to do than to return to Sicily. The crusade was postponed until next spring, but a devastating storm off the coast of Sicily dissuaded Charles of Anjou and Louis's successor Philip III from any further campaigning. Edward decided to continue alone, and on 9 May 1271 he finally landed at Acre.

Operations during the Crusade of Edward I

By then, the situation in the Holy Land was a precarious one. Jerusalem had fallen in 1187, and Acre was now the centre of the Christian state. The Muslim states were on the offensive under the Mamluk leadership of Baibars, and were now threatening Acre itself. Though Edward's men were an important addition to the garrison, they stood little chance against Baibars' superior forces, and an initial raid at nearby St Georges-de-Lebeyne in June was largely futile. An embassy to the Mongols helped bring about an attack on Aleppo in the north, which helped to distract the Baibar forces. In November, Edward led a raid on Qaqun, which could have served as a bridgehead to Jerusalem, but both the Mongol invasion and the attack on Qaqun failed. Things now seemed increasingly desperate, and in May 1272  Hugh III of Cyprus, who was the nominal king of Jerusalem, signed a ten–year truce with Baibars. Edward was initially defiant, but an attack by a Muslim assassin in June forced him to abandon any further campaigning. Even though he managed to kill the assassin, he was struck in the arm by a dagger feared to be poisoned, and became severely weakened over the next months.

It was not until 24 September that Edward left Acre. Arriving in Sicily, he was met with the news that his father had died on 16 November. Edward was deeply saddened by this news, but rather than hurrying home at once, he made a leisurely journey northwards. This was partly due to his health still being poor, but also due to a lack of urgency. The political situation in England was stable after the mid-century upheavals, and Edward was proclaimed king at his father's death, rather than at his own coronation, as had up until then been customary. In Edward's absence, the country was governed by a royal council, led by Robert Burnell. The new king embarked on an overland journey through Italy and France, where among other things he visited the pope in Rome and suppressed a rebellion in Gascony. Only on 2 August 1274 did he return to England, and was crowned on 19 August.


Administration and the law

Upon returning home, Edward immediately embarked on the administrative business of the nation, and his major concern was restoring order and re-establishing royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father. In order to accomplish this he immediately ordered an extensive change of administrative personnel. The most important of these was the appointment of Robert Burnell as chancellor; a man who would remain in the post until 1292, as one of the king's closest associates. Edward then proceeded to replace most local officials, such as the escheators and sheriffs. This last measure was done in preparation for an extensive inquest covering all of England, that would hear complaints about abuse of power by royal officers. The inquest produced the so-called Hundred Rolls, from the administrative sub-division of the hundred.

Groat of Edward I (4 pence)

The second purpose of the inquest was to establish what land and rights the crown had lost during the reign of Henry III. The Hundred Rolls formed the basis for the later legal inquiries called the Quo warranto proceedings. The purpose of these inquiries was to establish by what warrant (Latin: Quo warranto) various liberties were held. If the defendant could not produce a royal licence to prove the grant of the liberty, then it was the crown's opinion– based on the writings of Bracton– that the liberty should revert to the king. This caused great consternation among the aristocracy, who insisted that long use in itself constituted license. A compromise was eventually reached in 1290, whereby a liberty was considered legitimate as long as it could be shown to have been exercised since the coronation of King Richard I, in 1189. Royal gains from the Quo warranto proceedings were insignificant; few liberties were returned to the king. Edward had nevertheless won a significant victory, in clearly establishing the principle that all liberties essentially emanated from the crown.

The 1290 Statute of Quo warranto was only one part of a wider legislative effort, which was one of the most important contributions of Edward I's reign. This era of legislative action had started already at the time of the baronial reform movement; the Statute of Marlborough (1267) contained elements both of the Provisions of Oxford and the Dictum of Kenilworth. The compilation of the Hundred Rolls was followed shortly after by the issue of Westminster I (1275), which asserted the royal prerogative and outlined restrictions on liberties. In Mortmain (1279), the issue was grants of land to the church. The first clause of Westminster II (1285), known as De donis conditionalibus, dealt with family settlement of land, and entails. Merchants (1285) established firm rules for the recovery of debts, while Winchester (1285) dealt with peacekeeping on a local level. Quia emptores (1290)– issued along with Quo warranto– set out to remedy land ownership disputes resulting from alienation of land by subinfeudation. The age of the great statutes largely ended with the death of Robert Burnell in 1292.

Welsh wars

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd enjoyed an advantageous situation in the aftermath of the Barons' War. Through the 1267 Treaty of Montgomery he officially obtained land he had conquered in the Four Cantrefs of Perfeddwlad, and was recognised in his title of Prince of Wales. Armed conflicts nevertheless continued, in particular with certain dissatisfied Marcher Lords, such as the earl of Gloucester, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. Problems were exacerbated when his younger brother Dafydd and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys, after a failed assassination attempt against Llywelyn, defected to the English in 1274. Citing ongoing hostilities and the English king harbouring his enemies, Llywelyn refused to do homage to Edward. For Edward, a further provocation came in the form of Llywelyn's planned marriage to Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort. In November 1276 war was declared. Initial operations were launched under the captaincy of Mortimer, Lancaster (Edward's brother Edmund) and William de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Support for Llywelyn was weak among his own countrymen. In July 1277 Edward invaded with a force of 15,500– of whom 9,000 were Welshmen. The campaign never came to a major battle, and Llywelyn soon realised he had no choice but to surrender. By the Treaty of Aberconwy in November 1277, he was left only with the land of Gwynedd, though he was allowed to retain the title of Prince of Wales.

When war broke out again in 1282, it was an entirely different undertaking. For the Welsh this war was over national identity, enjoying wide support, provoked particularly by attempts to impose English law on Welsh subjects. For Edward it became a war of conquest rather than simply a punitive expedition, like the former campaign. The war started with a rebellion by Dafydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. Llywelyn and other Welsh chieftains soon joined in, and initially the Welsh experienced military success. In June, Gloucester was defeated at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr. On 6 November, while John Peckham, archbishop of Canterbury, was conducting peace negotiations, Edward's commander of Anglesey, Luke de Tany, decided to carry out a surprise attack. A pontoon bridge had been built to the mainland, but shortly after Tany and his men crossed over, they were ambushed by the Welsh, and suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Moel-y-don. The Welsh advances ended on December 11, however, when Llywelyn was lured into a trap and killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge. The submission of Wales was complete with the capture in June 1283 of Dafydd, who was taken to Shrewsbury and executed as a traitor the following autumn.

Caernarfon Castle, one of the most imposing of Edward's Welsh castles.

Further rebellions occurred in 1287-8 and– more seriously– in 1294-5 under Madog ap Llywelyn. This last conflict demanded the king's own attention, but in both cases the rebellions were put down. By the 1284 Statute of Rhuddlan, the Principality of Wales was incorporated into England, and Wales was given an administrative system like the English, with counties policed by sheriffs. English law was introduced in criminal cases, though the Welsh were allowed to maintain their own customary laws in some cases of property disputes. After 1277, and increasingly after 1283, Edward embarked on a full-scale project of English settlement of Wales, creating new towns like Flint, Aberystwyth, and Rhuddlan. An extensive project of castle-building was also initiated. The assignment was given to Master James of Saint George, a prestigious architect whom Edward had met in Savoy on his return from crusade. Among the major buildings were the castles of Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. In 1284, King Edward's son Edward– the later Edward II– was born at Caernarfon Castle, and it was also here, in 1301, that the young Edward was the first English prince to be invested with the title of Prince of Wales.

Diplomacy and war on the Continent

Edward never again went on crusade after his return to England in 1274, but he maintained an intention to do so, and took the cross again in 1287. This intention guided much of his foreign policy, until at least 1291. To stage a European-wide crusade, it was essential to prevent conflict between the greater princes on the Continent. A major obstacle to this was represented by the conflict between the kingdom of Aragon in Spain and the French House of Anjou ruling southern Italy. In 1282, the citizens of Palermo rose up against Charles of Anjou, and turned for help to Peter of Aragon, in what has become known as the Sicilian Vespers. In the war that followed, Charles of Anjou's son Charles of Salerno was taken prisoner by the Aragonese. The French began planning an attack on Aragon, raising the prospect of a large-scale European war. To Edward it was imperative that such a war be avoided, and in Paris in 1286, he brokered a truce between France and Aragon that helped secure Charles' release. As far as the crusades were concerned, however, Edward's efforts proved ineffective. A devastating blow to his plans came in 1291, when the Mamluks captured Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land.

Homage of Edward I (kneeling) to Philip IV (seated). As Duke of Aquitaine, Edward was a vassal of the French king.

After the fall of Acre, Edward's international role changed from that of a diplomat to an antagonist. He had long been deeply involved in the affairs of his own Duchy of Gascony. In 1278 he assigned an investigating commission to his trusted associates Otto de Grandson and the chancellor Robert Burnell, which caused the replacement of the seneschal Luke de Tany. In 1286 he visited the region himself, and stayed for almost three years. The perennial problem, however, was the status of Gascony within the kingdom of France, and Edward's role as the French king's vassal. On his diplomatic mission in 1286, Edward had paid homage to the new king, Philip IV, but in 1294 Philip declared Gascony forfeit when Edward refused to appear before him in Paris to discuss the recent conflict between English, Gascon, and French sailors (that had resulted in several French ships being captured, along with the sacking of the French port of La Rochelle)

In the war that followed, Edward planned for a two-pronged attack. While the English forces focused on Gascony, alliances were made with the princes of the Low Countries, Germany, and Burgundy, who would attack France from the north. The alliances proved volatile, however, and Edward was facing trouble at home at the time, both in Wales and Scotland. It was not until August 1297 that he was finally able to sail for Flanders, at which times his allies there had already suffered defeat. The support from Germany never materialised, and Edward was forced to seek peace. His marriage to the French princess Margaret in 1299 put an end to the war, but the whole affair had proven both costly and fruitless for the English.

The Great Cause

The relationship between the nations of England and Scotland by the 1280s was one of relatively harmonious coexistence. The issue of homage did not reach the same level of controversy as it did in Wales; in 1278 King Alexander III of Scotland paid homage to Edward I, but apparently only for the lands he held of Edward in England. Problems arose only with the Scottish succession crisis of the early 1290s. In the years from 1281 to 1284, Alexander's two sons and one daughter died in quick succession. Then, in 1286, King Alexander died himself, leaving as heir to the throne of Scotland 3 year old Margaret, the Maid of Norway, born in 1283 to Alexander's daughter Margaret and King Eric II of Norway. By the Treaty of Birgham it was agreed that Margaret should marry King Edward's then 1 year old son Edward of Carnarvon, though Scotland would remain free of English overlordship.

19th-century drawing of the Stone of Destiny. The Scottish coronation stone remained at Westminster until it was returned to Scotland in 1996.

Margaret, now 7 years of age, sailed from Norway for Scotland in the autumn of 1290, but fell ill on the way and died in Orkney. This left the country without an obvious heir, and led to the succession dispute known to history as the Great Cause. Even though as many as fourteen claimants put forward their claims to the title, the real contest was between John Balliol and Robert Bruce. The Scottish magnates made a request to Edward to arbitrate in the dispute. At Birgham, with the prospect of a personal union between the two realms, the question of suzerainty had not been of great importance to Edward. Now he insisted that, if he were to settle the contest, he had to be fully recognised as Scotland's feudal overlord. The Scots were reluctant to make such a concession, and replied that since the country had no king, no one had the authority to make this decision. This problem was circumvented when the competitors agreed that the realm would be handed over to Edward until a rightful heir had been found. After a lengthy hearing, a decision was made in favour of John Balliol on 17 November 1292.

Even after Balliol's accession, Edward still continued to assert his authority over Scotland. Against the objections of the Scots, he agreed to hear appeals on cases ruled on by the court of guardians that had governed Scotland during the interregnum. A further provocation came in a case brought by Macduff, son of Malcolm, Earl of Fife, where Edward demanded Balliol appear in person before the English Parliament to answer the charges. This the Scottish king did, but the final straw was Edward's demand that the Scottish magnates provide military service in the war against France. This was unacceptable; the Scots instead formed an alliance with France, and launched an unsuccessful attack on Carlisle. Edward responded by invading Scotland in 1296, and taking the town of Berwick in a particularly bloody attack. At the Battle of Dunbar, Scottish resistance was effectively crushed. Edward confiscated the Stone of Destiny – the Scottish coronation stone– and brought it to Westminster, deposed Balliol and placed him in the Tower of London, and installed Englishmen to govern the country. The campaign had been a great success, but the English triumph would eventually prove deceptive.

Finances, Parliament and the Persecution of Jews

Edward I's frequent military campaigns put a great financial strain on the nation. There were several ways through which the king could raise money for war, including customs duties, money lending and lay subsidies. In 1275 Edward I negotiated an agreement with the domestic merchant community that secured a permanent duty on wool. In 1303 a similar agreement was reached with foreign merchants, in return for certain rights and privileges. The revenues from the customs duty were handled by the Riccardi; a group of bankers from Lucca in Italy. This was in return for their service as money lenders to the crown, which helped finance the Welsh Wars. When the war with France broke out, the French king confiscated the Riccardi's assets, and the bank went bankrupt. After this, the Frescobaldi of Florence took over the role as money lenders to the English crown.

16th-century illustration of Edward I presiding over Parliament. The scene shows Alexander III of Scotland and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Wales on either side of Edward; an episode that never actually occurred.

Another source of crown income was represented by England's Jews. The Jews were the king's personal property, and he was free to tax them at will. By the 1280 the Jews had been exploited to a level where they were no longer of much financial use to the crown, but they could still be used in political bargaining. Their usury business– a practice forbidden to Christians– had made many people indebted to them, and caused general popular resentment. In 1275, Edward had issued the Statute of the Jewry, which outlawed usury and encouraged the Jews to take up other professions; in 1280 he ordered all Jews to attend special sermons, preached by Dominican friars, with the hope of persuading them to convert, but neither of these exhortations were followed. In 1279, in the context of a crack-down on coin-clippers, he arrested all the heads of Jewish households in England and had around 300 of them executed. The final attack on the Jews in England came in the form of the Edict of Expulsion in 1290, whereby Edward formally expelled all Jews from England. This not only generated revenues through royal appropriation of Jewish loans and property, but it also gave Edward the political capital to negotiate a substantial lay subsidy in the 1290 Parliament. The expulsion, which was not reversed until 1656, followed a precedence set by other European territorial princes; the king of France had expelled all Jews from his own lands in 1182; the duke of Brittany drove them out of his duchy in 1239; and in the late 1240s Louis IX had expelled the Jews from the royal demesne prior to his first passage to the East.

One of the main achievements of the reign of Edward I was the reforms of the institution of the English Parliament, and its transformation into a source for generating revenues. Edward held Parliament at a more or less regular basis throughout his reign. In 1295, however, a significant change occurred. For this Parliament, in addition to the secular and ecclesiastical lords, two knights from each county and two representatives from each borough were summoned. The representation of commons in Parliament was nothing new; what was new was the authority under which these representatives were summoned. Whereas previously the commons had been expected simply to assent to decisions already made by the magnates, it was now proclaimed that they should meet with the full authority (plena potestas) of their communities, to give assent to decisions made in Parliament. The king now had full backing for collecting lay subsidies from the entire population. Lay subsidies were taxes collected at a certain fraction of the moveable property of all laymen. Whereas Henry III had only collected four of these in his reign, Edward I collected nine. This format eventually became the standard for later Parliaments, and historians have named the assembly the "Model Parliament".

Constitutional crisis

The incessant warfare of the 1290s put a great financial demand on Edward's subjects. Whereas the king had only levied three lay subsidies up until 1294, four such taxes were granted in the years 1294–97, raising over £200,000. In addition to this came the burden of prises (appropriation of food), seizure of wool and hides, and the unpopular additional duty on wool, dubbed the maltolt. The fiscal demands on the king's subjects caused resentment, and this resentment eventually led to serious political opposition. The initial resistance was not caused by the lay taxes, however, but by clerical subsidies. In 1294, Edward made a demand of a grant of one half of all clerical revenues. There was some resistance, but the king responded by threatening with outlawry, and the grant was eventually made. At the time, the archbishopric of Canterbury was vacant, since Robert Winchelsey was in Italy to receive consecration. Winchelsey returned in January 1295, and had to consent to another grant in November of that year. In 1296, however, his position changed when he received the papal bull Clericis laicos. This bull prohibited the clergy from paying taxes to a lay authorities without explicit consent from the Pope. When the clergy, with reference to the bull, refused to pay, Edward responded with outlawry. Winchelsea was presented with a dilemma, between loyalty to the king and upholding the papal bull, and responded by leaving it to every individual clergyman to pay as he saw fit. By the end of the year a solution was offered by the new papal bull Etsi de statu, which allowed clerical taxation in cases of pressing urgency.

By God, Sir Earl, either go or hang
Roger Bigod
By that same oath, O king, I shall neither go nor hang

Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough

Opposition from the laity took longer to surface. This resistance focused on two things: the king's right to demand military service, and his right to levy taxes. At the Salisbury parliament of February 1297, Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, in his capacity as Marshal of England, objected to a royal summons of military service. Bigod argued that the military obligation only extended to service alongside the king; if the king intended to sail to Flanders, he could not send his subjects to Gascony. In July, Bigod and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Constable of England, drew up a series of complaints known as the Remonstrances, where objections to the extortionate level of taxation were voiced. Undeterred, Edward requested another lay subsidy. This one was particularly provocative, because the king had sought consent only from a small group of magnates, rather than from representatives from the communities in parliament. While Edward was in Winchelsea, preparing for the campaign in Flanders, Bigod and Bohun turned up at the Exchequer to prevent the collection of the tax. As the king left the country with a highly reduced force, the kingdom seemed to be on the verge of civil war. What resolved the situation was the English defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The renewed threat to the homeland gave king and magnates common cause. Edward signed the Confirmatio cartarum– a confirmation of Magna Carta and its accompanying Charter of the Forest– and the nobility agreed to serve with the king on a campaign in Scotland.

Edward's problems with the opposition did not end with the Falkirk campaign. Over the following years he would be held up to the promises he had made, in particular that of upholding the Charter of the Forest. In the parliament of 1301 the king was forced to order an assessment of the royal forests, but in 1305 he obtained a papal bull that freed him from this concession. Ultimately it was a failure in personnel that spelt the end of the opposition against Edward I. Bohun died late in 1298, after returning from the Falkirk campaign. As for Bigod, in 1302 he arrived at a agreement with the king that was beneficial for both: Bigod, who had no children, made Edward his heir, in return for a generous annual grant. Edward finally got his revenge on Winchelsea in 1305, when Clement V was elected pope. Clement was a Gascon sympathetic to the king, and on Edward's instigation had Winchelsea suspended from office.

Final years: return to Scotland

Reconstruction of Edward I private chambers at the Tower of London

The situation in Scotland had seemed resolved when Edward left the country in 1296, but resistance soon emerged under the leadership of the strategically gifted and charismatic William Wallace. On 11 September 1297, a large English force under the leadership of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham was routed by a much smaller Scottish army led by Wallace and Andrew Moray at Stirling Bridge. The defeat sent shockwaves into England, and preparations for a retaliatory campaign started immediately. Soon after Edward returned from Flanders, he headed north. On 22 July 1298, in the only major battle he had fought since Evesham in 1265, Edward defeated Wallace's forces at the Battle of Falkirk. Edward, however, was not able to take advantage of the momentum, and the next year the Scots managed to recapture Stirling Castle. Even though Edward campaigned in Scotland both in 1300 and 1301, the Scots refused to engage in open battle again, preferring instead to raid the English countryside in smaller groups. The English managed to subdue the country by other means, however. In 1303 a peace agreement was reached between England and France, effectively breaking up the Franco-Scottish alliance. Robert the Bruce, the grandson of the claimant to the crown in 1291, had sided with the English in the winter of 1301–02. By 1304 most of the other nobles of the country had also pledged their allegiance to Edward, and this year the English also managed to re-take Stirling Castle. A great propaganda victory was achieved in 1305, when William Wallace was captured by his own, and turned over to the English, who had him taken to London where he was publicly executed. With Scotland largely under English control, Edward installed Englishmen and turncoat Scots to govern the country.

The situation changed again on 10 February 1306, when Robert the Bruce murdered his rival John Comyn and few weeks later, on 25 March, had himself crowned king of Scotland. Bruce now embarked on a campaign to restore Scottish independence, and this campaign took the English by surprise. Edward was suffering ill health by this time, and instead of leading an expedition himself, he gave different military commands to Aymer de Valence and Henry Percy, while the main royal army would be led by the Prince of Wales. The English initially met with success; on 19 June Aymer de Valence routed Bruce at the Battle of Methven. Bruce was forced into hiding while the English forces recaptured their lost territory and castles. Edward responded with severe brutality against Bruce's allies, it was clear that he now regarded the struggle not as a war between two nations, but as the suppression of a rebellion of disloyal subjects. This brutality though, rather than helping to subdue the Scots, had the opposite effect, and rallied growing support for Bruce. In February Bruce reappeared and started gathering men, and in May he defeated Aymer de Valence at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. Edward, who had rallied somewhat, now moved north himself. On the way, however, he developed dysentery, and his condition deteriorated. On 6 July he encamped at Burgh by Sands, just south of the Scottish border. When his servants came the next morning to lift him up so that he could eat, he died in their arms.

Various stories emerged about Edward’s deathbed wishes; according to one tradition, he requested that his heart be carried to the Holy Land, along with an army to fight the infidels. A more dubious story tells of how he wished for his bones be carried along on future expeditions against the Scots. Another account of his death bed scene is more credible; according to one chronicle, Edward gathered around him the earls of Lincoln and Warwick, Aymer de Valence and Robert Clifford, and charged them with looking after his son Edward. In particular they should make sure that Piers Gaveston was not allowed to return to the country. This wish, however, the son ignored, and had his favourite recalled from exile almost immediately. Edward I's body was brought south, and after a lengthy vigil he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 27 October. The new king, Edward II, remained in the north until August, but then abandoned the campaign and headed south. He was crowned king on 25 February 1308.

Character and assessment

Physically, Edward was an imposing man; at 6 foot 2 inches he towered over most of his contemporaries. He also had a reputation for a fierce temper, and he could be intimidating; one story tells of how the Dean of St Paul's, wishing to confront Edward over the high level of taxation in 1295, fell down and died once he was in the king's presence. This fear was not unwarranted; Edward could have a violent temper. When Edward of Caernarfon demanded an earldom for his favourite Gaveston, the king erupted in anger and supposedly tore out handfuls of his son's hair. Some of his contemporaries considered Edward frightening, particularly in his early days. The Song of Lewes in 1264 described him as a leopard, an animal regarded as particularly powerful and unpredictable. Despite these frightening character traits, however, Edward's contemporaries considered him an able, even an ideal, king. Though not loved by his subjects, he was feared and respected. He met contemporary expectations of kingship in his role as an able, determined soldier and in his embodiment of shared chivalric ideals. In religious observance he also fulfilled the expectations of his age: he attended chapel regularly and gave alms generously.

Bishop William Stubbs, in his Constitutional History (1873–78), emphasised Edward I's contribution to the English constitution.

Modern historians have been more divided in their view of Edward I. Bishop William Stubbs, working in the whig tradition of historical writing, praised Edward as a king deliberately working towards the goal of a constitutional government. "...the self-regulating action of the body politic", according to Stubbs "was very much the work of Edward." Stubbs' student T. F. Tout departed from this view. In Tout's opinion, "Even the parliamentary system grew up in obedience to the royal will. It was no yielding to a people crying for liberty, but the shrewd device of an autocrat, anxious to use the mass of the people as a check upon his hereditary foes among the greater baronage." F. M. Powicke offered a more positive perspective in his extensive work on Edward I in King Henry III and the Lord Edward (1947) and The Thirteenth Century (1953). K. B. McFarlane, on the other hand, criticised Edward's restrictive policy towards his earls, and concluded that "…he belonged less to the future than to the past."

In 1988, Michael Prestwich released what has been called "…the first scholarly study devoted exclusively to the political career of Edward I." Prestwich's work, which is considered authoritative, tries to assess Edward by the standards of his own age, and concludes that his reign was a great one. His contributions to the development of the law, parliament and a functioning system of taxation, as well as his military exploits, stand out in particular. At the same time, he left a legacy of financial difficulties, political distrust and an unresolved situation in Scotland. The roots of the disasters of the reign of Edward II can be found in the reign of Edward I. Other contemporary writers have been more willing to criticise Edward for his failings, particularly his severe treatment of the Jews. There is also a great difference between English and Scottish historiography on King Edward. G. W. S. Barrow, in his biography on Robert the Bruce, accused Edward of ruthlessly exploiting the leaderless state of Scotland to obtain a feudal superiority over the kingdom. This view of Edward is reflected in the popular perception of the king, as can be seen e.g. in the 1995 movie Braveheart's portrayal of the king as a hard-hearted tyrant.

Name and epithets

Edward, being an Anglo-Saxon name, was not a common name among the aristocracy of England after the Norman Conquest. Henry III was devoted to the veneration of Edward the Confessor, and for this reason decided to name his firstborn son after the saint. Though the first post-Conquest king to carry that name, Edward I was not the first English king named Edward; he was preceded by the Anglo-Saxon kings Edward the Elder, Edward the Martyr, and Edward the Confessor. Numerals, however, were not commonly used in Edward's time; the king was referred to simply as "King Edward", "King Edward, son of King Henry", or "King Edward, the first by that name after the Conquest". It was only after the succession of first his son and then his grandson– both of whom bore the same name– that "Edward I" came into common usage.

Tomb of Edward I, from an illustration made when the tomb was opened in 1774.

The epithet under which Edward I is best known is probably "Longshanks"– meaning "long legs" or "long shins"– in reference to his tall stature. On 2 May 1774, the Society of Antiquaries opened Edward's tomb in Westminster Abbey. They reported that his body had been well preserved over the preceding 467 years, and measured the king's body to be 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm). At this length, he would tower over most of his contemporaries. Another epithet applied to Edward I is "Hammer of the Scots". This comes from the Latin inscription on his tomb, which reads Edwardus Primus Scottorum Malleus hic est, 1308. Pactum Serva ("Here is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, 1308. Keep Faith"). This inscription, however, referring to his incessant campaigns against the Scots in the later years of his reign, is from a later date, probably the sixteenth century. The seventeenth-century lawyer Edward Coke called Edward the "English Justinian". This was a way of highlighting the king's legislative accomplishments, by comparing him to the renowned Byzantine law-maker Justinian I. Unlike Justinian, Edward did not codify the law, but as William Stubbs pointed out, "if it be meant to denote the importance and permanence of his legislation and the dignity of his position in legal history", the comparison is still a valid one.


Eleanor of Castile died on 28 November 1290. Edward was very devoted to his queen, and was deeply affected by her death. He displayed his grief by erecting twelve so-called Eleanor crosses, one at each place where her funeral cortège stopped for the night. As part of the peace accord between England and France in 1294, it was agreed that Edward should marry the French princess Marguerite. The marriage took place in 1299.

Edward and Eleanor had at least fourteen children, perhaps as many as sixteen. Of these, five daughters survived into adulthood, but only one boy outlived Edward– the future King Edward II. Edward I was reportedly concerned with his son's failure to live up the expectations of an heir to the crown, and at one point decided to exile the prince's favourite Piers Gaveston. By Marguerite Edward had two sons, both of whom lived into adulthood, and a daughter who died as a child.

Children by Eleanor of Castile
Name Birth Death Notes
Daughter 1255 1255 Stillborn or died shortly after birth
Katherine 1261/63 5 Sept. 1264 Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Joan Jan. 1265 Shortly bf.
7 Sept. 1265
Buried at Westminster Abbey.
John 13/14 July 1266 3 Aug. 1271 Died at Wallingford, while in the custody of his granduncle, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Henry Shortly bf.
6 May 1268
14/16 Oct. 1274 Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Eleanor c. 18 June 1269 19 Aug. 1298 Married, in 1293, Henry III, Count of Bar, by whom she had two children. Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Daughter 1271 1271 Born, and died, while Edward and Eleanor were in Acre.
Joan 1272 23 Apr. 1307 Married (1) in 1290 Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford, who died in 1295, and (2) in 1297 Ralph de Monthermer. She had four children by Clare, and three or four by Monthermer.
Alphonso 23/24 Nov. 1273 19 Aug. 1284 Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Margaret Probably
15 Mar. 1275
11 Mar. 1333
Married John II of Brabant in 1290, with whom she had one son.
Berengaria 1 May 1276 6–27 June 1278 Buried at Westminster Abbey.
Daughter On or soon aft.
3 Jan. 1278
On or soon aft.
3 Jan. 1278
Little evidence exists for this child.
Mary 11/12 Mar. 1279 29 May 1332 A Benedictine nun in Amesbury, Wiltshire, where she was probably buried.
Son 1280/81 1280/81 Little evidence exists for this child.
Elizabeth c. 7 Aug. 1282 5 May 1316 She married (1) in 1297 John I, Count of Holland, (2) in 1302 Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. The first marriage was childless; by Bohun Elizabeth had ten children.
Edward 25 Apr. 1284 21 Sept. 1327 Succeeded his father as king of England. In 1308 he married Isabella of France, with whom he had four children.
Children by Marguerite of France
Name Birth Death Notes
Thomas 1 June 1300 4 Aug. 1338 Buried in the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. Married (1) Alice Hales, with issue; (2) Mary Brewes, no issue.
Edmund 1 Aug. 1301 19 Mar. 1330 Married Margaret Wake with issue.
Eleanor 6 May 1306 1310
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