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GREAT MONARCHS OF GREAT BRITAIN

 

 

King Edward I from the Altar Screen at York Minster. Photo © Home At First.
Photo © Home At First

HAMMER OF THE SCOTS
SUPPRESSOR OF THE WELSH
NATIONALIST VISIONARY

Eight generations removed from the Norman invasion
of Britain (1066 AD), William the Conqueror’s
direct descendant sought to finish the Conquest.
By so doing, King Edward I helped invent the future
and became an important leader both admired
and vilified during his time through to today.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN JUNE, 2004.                                                                         MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

 

dward was born in Westminster Palace in June, 1239, son of King Henry III and grandson of King John, whose reign brought England — despite his reluctance — an important step into the future when he signed the Magna Carta in 1215. Edward, named for the sainted penultimate Saxon monarch,

Edward the Confessor, whose death in the winter of 1065-6 led to the Norman invasion, became better known as "Longshanks" by the time he had grown to his then extraordinary height of 6’ 2". When, in 1272, he ascended to the throne, Edward proved to be less like Edward the Confessor or his weak father and grandfather, and much more like his most famous ancestor, William the Conqueror.


 YOUTHFUL EXPERIENCE CREATES A STRONG LEADER 

          Longshanks came to the monarchy with considerable experience in political intrigue, warfare, foreign travel, and leadership. He married at 15 to the Spanish princess Eleanor of Castile — she was 9 — with whom he had 14 children. For his wedding he was presented rights to rule over portions of Ireland, the Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey), and Gascony province in France. As a young man Edward studied administration in Gascony. This experience would serve him well, but his rule over Gascony would be a thorny problem throughout his monarchy.
          When the Magna Carta seemed to grant nobles some of the powers of the king, a series of prolonged civil skirmishes between the Crown and allied militias of rebellious barons, dukes, and earls. Edward’s father, King Henry III, was captured and imprisoned during this "Barons’ War" in 1265, leaving Longshanks in the position of acting monarch fighting for his father’s freedom, and eventually putting down the barons’ rebellion at the Battle of Evesham (North
Cotswolds) later that year.

 LAST OF THE MEDIEVAL CRUSADERS 

          With his father safely reinstated, Edward decided to pursue the highest adventure — and best political career-builder — of his time and became a Crusader, heading to the Holy Land — with his wife and children  — in 1270. Surprisingly, Longshanks joined French King Louis IX on the crusade, the often rival monarchs agreeing to combine forces to become the last European kings to set off in the chivalric medieval quest to reclaim the Holy Lands for Christianity. But Louis died of plague in North Africa (he would be canonized as St. Louis within seven years) before Edward could join him, and the French contingent stayed home. With a smaller fighting force, Longshanks Crusade was a relatively minor affair in all ways but two: its cost and its legacy. Every Englishman was taxed 5% of his worth to pay for Edward’s adventure in the Holy Land, a financial reality that resulted in crusading losing its romantic appeal to the folks back home. As a result of an attempt on the crown prince’s life in June, 1272, by hashish-using Shiite Muslims, a new word came into the language: assassin. A month later Longshanks was back in Europe, and the last of the medieval Crusades was over.                       Photo © Home At First

King Edward I on the Altar Screen at York Minster. Photo © Home At First.

  EDWARD TAKES THE THRONE  
  AND ATTENDS TO GASCONY & WALES  

          In Sicily following his assassination attempt in Syria, in 1274 word reached Longshanks that his father Henry III had died and that he had become King Edward I of England and portions of France, as well as overlord of Wales and Ireland. At 35 years of age Longshanks was ready to finish the job William the Conqueror had started 208 years earlier.
          First, Edward had to consolidate his power in France. English and French kings had been struggling to control portions of France ever since the Conqueror, William I, had split his kingdom between his sons — French lands to Robert and English to William II (Rufus). (The cross-Channel question continued to plague the kingdoms of England and France at least until the Tudors came to power in the 16th century, and perhaps until the Napoleonic wars concluded in the 19th century.) Longshanks was not about to lose control of Gascony — his second home — a province given him personally as a wedding gift.

 

        Next, in order to quell bothersome uprisings in

Conwy Castle, one of King Edward I's ring of great fortresses that suppressed the rebellious Welsh. Photo © Home At First.
CONWY CASTLE, CONWY, wales, one of King
Edward's ring of great fortresses BUILT
TO suppress the rebellious Welsh.

Photo © Home At First

remote northwestern Wales and affirm the English Crown’s power over the quasi-independent barons of the Marches (the English/Welsh borderlands), Longshanks orchestrated military campaigns for seven years (1277-84) and built a chain of state-of-the-art castles throughout Wales. Included in this expensive building project are the still-standing great fortifications at Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris, and Caernarvon — together comprising a UN designated World Heritage Site. His son, Edward II, was the first heir to the English throne invested Prince of Wales at Caernarvon shortly after its completion. By 1284 Wales had been incorporated into part of the realm. Longshanks’ nation-building plan was taking shape.

 

 

 FRANCE AGAIN, AND THE LOSS OF A QUEEN 

          With unrest in Wales quashed, Edward again looked across the English Channel to the French portion of his water-divided kingdom. From 1286-9 he moved his court to the province of Gascony and strengthened its status as part of the empire. By 1290 he was back in England, taking measures — some ruthless, others shrewd— to further consolidate the power of the Crown — his power. That year, 1290, was a painful one for King Edward. His queen, and wife of 36 years, Eleanor of Castile, died near Lincoln, England, of a fever shortly after giving birth to a 15th child, who did not survive. Some of her remains are buried in Lincoln Cathedral, her heart lies in London’s Blackfriars Church, and her body is interred at the feet of her father-in-law, King Henry III, in Westminster Cathedral. The 12 nightly stops of her funeral cortege from Lincoln to London were each marked with a cross, the last becoming Charing Cross in London. Theirs was an arranged childhood marriage that had become a long love affair, and Edward was deeply affected by the loss of his queen.

 

 THE MODEL PARLIAMENT 

          That same year — 1290 — Longshanks made Jews persona non grata in Britain, first confiscating their property and then by running them out of England. Then, oddly, Edward took the final steps in creating one of the world’s great democratic institutions, the Model Parliament of 1295, with representation from England, Wales, and  Scotland. The Model Parliament appeared at first blush to limit the absolute authority of the monarchy by giving official representation to the king’s opposition. But it also did much to consolidate the nation and create a central government inviting loyalty to the Crown and installing a forum that could deal effectively with divisive issues before they could foment rebellion or civil war.

 

 A UNITED KINGDOM? 

          Scotland? How could Scotland be included in any British Parliament? Wasn’t Scotland fiercely — defiantly — independent? Certainly Highland Scotland and even much of the Lowlands and even the western border counties with England were beyond the control of London. Despite his great army, King Edward I could not suppress the independent Scots. First Longshanks tried guile to bring these last unruly Britons into the fold by intervening as a friendly, neutral mediator in a question of Scottish royal succession. But when his plan backfired and the new Scottish monarchy refused allegiance to Edward, Longshanks was forced to apply military leverage to add a compliant Scotland to his United Kingdom. In 1296, Edward sent his army into Scotland, where their initial successes seemed to ensure that Scotland would indeed be part of the United Kingdom. The English army took Scotland’s Stone of Scone — the traditional coronation stone of Scottish kings — from Scone Abbey in Central Scotland to Westminster Abbey, symbolically bringing the leadership and destiny of Scotland to London. In July of that year Scotland’s King John Balliol — who had been installed on the Scottish throne when Edward intervened in the dispute over Scottish succession — gave up his kingship, handing it over to English overlords who became the effective power holders. These two events ensured Scottish resentment against England for centuries. (The Stone of Scone was stolen back from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalists in 1950, but recovered and brought back to London within four months. In 1996, the coronation stone was returned to Scotland by the British, an act anticipating the establishment of a Scottish Parliament three years later as Scotland became partially self-governing for internal affairs for the first time in 700 years.)

 

 HAMMERING SCOTLAND AND MARRYING FRANCE 

          King Edward I couldn’t keep his army and his focus on Scotland, however. When King Philip IV of France challenged Edward’s rule over Gascony, Longshanks was forced to take his army across the English Channel in 1297. Predictably, smoldering embers of rebellion in Scotland burst into flame when an uprising of Highlanders led by Scottish hero ("Braveheart") William Wallace caused great havoc in southern Scotland and northern England and forced Edward to return his army to Britain. At Falkirk, Scotland, in 1298, Longshanks’ regulars slaughtered Wallace’s

Caernarvon Castle, built by King Edward I in the late 13th century, a UN World Heritage Site, and setting of the investiture of Princes of Wales. Photo © Home At First.
CAERNARVON CASTLE, WALES, built by Edward in
the late 13th century: World Heritage Site,
& sITE of the investitur
e of Princes of Wales.
Photo © Home At First

guerrillas, and temporarily reinforced English

 

dominion over Scotland. Then, by engineering a shrewd marriage — another arranged union, this time to Margaret, the daughter of French King Philip III, to Longshanks himself in September, 1299 — Edward was able make peace with his long-term enemy and put the question of control of territories in France temporarily to rest.
          With the change of the century some things changed, and some didn’t. There were within short order at least three new children to the 60-something King Edward I — three for certain from Queen Margaret. His eldest son was named first English Prince of Wales in 1301 at
Caernarvon Castle, Edward’s grand castle that even today seems the impregnable cornerstone of northwestern Wales. In 1303 a formal peace treaty was made with France guaranteeing England’s right to Gascony and its other Continental and Channel territorial claims. Wallace’s Scottish rebellion flared again in 1303, and Longshanks went after Wallace, capturing him and executing him mercilessly at the Tower of London in 1305, then displaying Braveheart’s body parts around the realm as a warning to those who would disunite the kingdom. (By 1306, though, the Scots, now under their new king, Robert the Bruce, would rise again, crushing the English army under King Edward II at Bannockburn, near Stirling in Central Scotland in 1314, and gaining a chaotic independence.)
 

  A VISION OF THE FUTURE: CENTRALIZED POWER 
  AND A PARLIAMENTARY MONARCHY 

          At the end of Edward I’s reign power in Britain had become largely consolidated centrally in London. There was a Parliament that represented some of the middle class as well as nobles from throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. There was an Exchequer (treasury department) that reserved the national right of taxation and spending. And there were high courts that were the ultimate arbiters of disputes to be settled under a growing collection of judgments known as English Common Law. Ultimately, though, the power had become centered in a shrewd, forceful, mature monarch with a lifetime of political leadership behind him.

          Longshanks, known as "the Hammer of Scotland" died on July 7, 1307, on a last crusade. At the time he was practically at England’s northwestern border with Scotland while leading the forces of his united kingdom against Robert the Bruce. The 68-year-old king was a fighter to the end: it is said that he asked that his bones be carried with the English army wherever it went in Scotland, and that his heart be taken to the Holy Land. He was buried with his heart and bones in Westminster Abbey not far from where he was born. To his tomb was later added the Latin inscription Scottorum malleus ("Hammer of the Scots"). For two centuries following his death candles were kept burning at his gravesite in memory of the greatest of medieval Kings of England, whose vision of nation helped create the modern world. Appropriately, the coronation chair of King Edward I is used today in Westminster Abbey as the Coronation Chair for monarchs of the United Kingdom.

The Coronation Chair of King Edward I, still used by British monarchs on their coronation day. Scotland's Stone of Scone fits underneath the seat of the chair.
 
THE Coronation Chair
of King Edward I

 

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