Edward I was the son of King Henry III of England and succeeded his father on the throne at the age of 33 in 1272, though he had had a lot of power beforehand as Henry had been a weak ruler. He was known as the "Hammer of the Scots" because he spent so much time trying to conquer Scotland. He also subjugated Wales and had many castles built there as English strongholds. He summoned several Parliaments, setting a precedent for English government, and when his first wife Eleanor died on a journey to Scotland in 1290, he was so grief-stricken that he erected a memorial cross in each place where her body stayed overnight on the trip back to London. (He did marry again, about nine years later.) At the age of 68 he was still fighting around the Scottish border and died of dysentery in 1307 on one of those campaigns. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Edward II.

Don't ask me why he's Edward I when he reigned after Edward the Confessor and a few other kings named Edward. (Wertperch tells me it's because the numbering of kings started after the Norman Conquest. That makes sense, I guess.)

Edward I, King of England, (r.) 1272 - 1307
Father of Parliament, uniter of England, Hammer of the Scots

Early life

"Let us commend our souls to God, because our bodies are theirs ... they are approaching wisely, they learned this from me."
~ Simon de Montford before his death at the Battle of Evesham

The second Plantagenet King, Edward I was named by his father Henry III after the latter's hero, Edward the Confessor (whose body Henry personally carried from its old resting place to the new shrine he had constructed for it to rest in.) Whilst his father was a weak King with more interest in art than politics, Edward I would be a strong administrator, a prolific reformer, a sagacious lawmaker but an anti-Semite (in an age when it was the rule and not the exception). And although the weaknesses of Henry III gave England years of civil war, perhaps we should look in a slightly favourable light on them because of what they evidently taught Edward about the need for good government, disambiguity over local rights, and the uncompromising attitude sometimes needed when dealing with enemies of the realm.

When Edward took up the throne at the age of 33, he was already a most capable leader of men and a skilled general. In the Baron's War he fought Simon de Montford1, slaying him and and his followers and saving his father. The battle was won so easily (the Welsh deserted de Montford at the last minute) that it quickly turned into an unadultered slaughter in which King Henry himself almost died, crying just in time "Slay me not! I am Henry of Winchester, your King!" The death of de Montford, who was generally seen as a champion of the rights of both the nobility and the commons against the King, left a large proportion of England disenfranchised, and when confiscation of de Montford's followers' land began there was general anarchy. When the Crown decided the best way to stop the anarchy would be to return the land to his followers, there was more general anarchy amongst those who had benefited from the confiscations. Eventually Prince Edward advised that there should be no more disinheritance, but rather nobles should be compensated for land taken from them (it was repurchased at full rates).

When his father died, Edward was in Sicily, coming home after the Eighth Crusade. Led by St. Louis IX (King of France and a Saint in his own lifetime), the Eighth Crusade had been a disaster because Louis died before it got seriously underway. Edward and his 1,000 knights ploughed on regardless, but they achieved little beyond the capture of Acre (Acco) and a few punitive raids. He made truce with the Infidel and survived an assassination attempt by an Assassin (an order of Shi'ite Muslims) and then headed home. In Sicily, he learnt of his father's death and that the people of England had universally declared him to be their next King.

Edward the lawmaker

"We must find out what is ours and due to us, and others what is theirs and due to them."

~ King Edward I of England

Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells was one of those great men in English history who, despite humble birth, rose to great stature in the service of the Crown and achieved far-reaching reform2. As Lord Chancellor to Edward his first act was to carry out a most complete survey of local government in the counties to investigate the corruption of Royal officials - be it harshness or susceptibility to bribing - and also to identify what belonged to the King and ensure that he received full satisfaction from it. These were called the Hundred Rolls because hundreds were subdivisions of counties.

The survey completed, a burst of nineteen years of lawmaking activity followed. The first Statute of Westminster (1275) pertained to abuses by royal officials - severe penalties for such individuals and codified rights of procedure in criminal and civil law courts to prevent officials being "flexible". It also introduced defined penalties for rape and trespass. The Statute of Mordmain (1279) made grants of land by laymen to the Church illegal without Royal licence. Church land was not as profitable for the Crown as land held by laypeople because they could not tax it so harshly nor exact certain feudal dues from it. The Statute of Winchester (1285) codified the system of local policing to the better maintaince of order whilst in the same year the Statute of Westminster II dealt with property law (for instance, it allowed landowners to endow their heirs in their own lifetime, not just after their death). The Statute of Westminster III (1290) stopped "subcontracting" of feudal rights and dues from a baron to someone else.

Edward and the Jews

"Forasmuch as the King hath seen that divers evils and the disinheriting of good men of his land have happened by the usuries which the Jews have made in time past, and that divers sins have followed..." {sic}

~ Statute of Jewry 1285

Because Edward was keen to encourage the rights of all and not just a particular faction in the interest of stability, it was he that encourage the growth of Parliament as an institution. And in 1275, the House of Commons passed its first statute: the Statute of Jewry. Over the centuries a significant proportion of land had concentrated in the hands of English Jewry, which was tolerated by the Crown because it found the Jews to be a useful source of money. The practice of usury, illegal to Christians, was practiced rapaciously by Jews, who often neglected to pay full taxes to the Crown. Spurred by the interests of spendthrift nobles who owed the Jews money and the commons who believed the stories of ritual murder, the Crown encouraged the Statute which made usury illegal, prohibited the alienation of land and made Jews pay a special tax. Most shockingly of all -

"And that each Jew after he shall be seven years old, shall wear a badge on his outer garment that is to say in the form of two tables joined of yellow fait of the length of six inches and of the breadth of three inches."

Many Jews were imprisoned because they were unable to pay taxes due to the Crown. But that wasn't the end of the matter - in 1290, Edward expelled all the Jews from England by Royal edict. Some 17,000 souls were flung to Africa, Spain, Flanders and France. Edward had been encouraged by the Papacy (which held usury to be illegal and contact between Jews and Christians sinful) and spurred on by his own subjects. Bigotry was taken as a fact of existence in the age (especially with the Great Chain of Being theory) and we should not judge Edward too harshly for following what was an accepted absolute of his time.

Foreign affairs

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men."
~ Romans 12:18

Desirous of peace yet wanting to hang on to the English territories in Southern France (by this time merely the Duchy of Gascony), Edward was eventually driven to war with the French King Philip the Fair. A dispute over the port of Saint-Mahe in 1293 and an ensuing naval battle led Philip to declare the Duchy of Gascony forfeit. He demanded the surrender of its garrison and it was clear to Edward he would have to fight. This was one of the first wars were a King had to deal with the institution of Parliament, and it was them who initially consented for the war to take place. Yet once it had commenced they would be a barrier to the King, refusing to accept the high demands of taxation which inevitably accompanied a Continental campaign. Discontent spread through the land, but at least the institution allowed it to be focused in discussion. The Church also proved most obstinate, refusing the tax of one half of its possessions demanded by the King. The Archbishop of Canterbury threatened excommunication to anyone paying extraordinary taxation to the King, as was sanctioned by the Papacy.

The Parliamentary machinery was quick to make itself felt as check on the balance of the Crown - Edward tried to send some of his leading nobles to fight overseas whilst he was busy on another campaign. Unwilling to do so, they waited for him to leave and marched into London with an armed host. A Parliament at Lincoln was called in the King's absence to establish the rights of the baronage. It confirmed once again Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest and Edward, abroad, could do nothing but submit to it. This had been an important event for Britain, as the barons had not sought to redress their problems by civil war as they had done some fifty years earlier. It also meant that the King could no longer despatch his nobles to war wherever he wished (although they would continue to do this with consent for centuries), which led to the rise in standing, paid armies in the following century.

When the war with France was over, with no territorial change, Edward turned his eyes North towards Wales and Scotland. Wales was still an independent principality, and the frontier was guarded by the so-called Lords of the Marches, who were themselves frequent opponents of the Crown (sedition by the nobles on the frontier with Scotland was common right up until the unification). Edward sought not only to curb the rights of these Lords but to bring Wales under his control. Wales at this time was controlled by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd who claimed that his rights were completely seperate to those of England and refused to do homage to the English King. Edward had no time for someone seeking to disturb the peace (for the Welsh princes had used the Baron's War to extend their power), and his decision to annex Wales was one carried through swiftly and skillfully. An army of 15,000 men smashed the army of Wales, and Edward constructed a series of fortresses and castles to consolidate his rule. Parliament was even involved in bringing Wales into the English legal system - the Statute of Wales in 1284 extended English rule as far West as it could go in Britain.

aneurin has done a marvellous job of noding the First Scottish War of Independence which Edward I fought against the Scots. This 'Great Cause' dominated the second part of his reign, and his dream would not be complete until the ascension of James Stuart to the English crown in 1603. The Scots invited the calamity onto themselves by calling in Edward to sort out a dispute between themselves over the successor to the Scottish crown after the premature death of Alexander III in 1286 (he rode his horse over a cliff). The war was bloody and complicated by the intrigues of the French, in one of the early expressions of the 'Auld Alliance' (the fact Scotland provided a back door into England for her Continental foes was one of the reasons she was so keen to subdue it for centuries.)

In conclusion

"Here lies Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots. Keep troth."
~ Inscription on Edward's tomb

Edward died on the road to Scotland, and his wish was that his bones be carried on the campaign which would eventually subdue the hardy Northern race. His son, Edward II, whom history has deemed unworthy of this great ruler, succeeded to the throne in 1307.

One of the great nation builders of English history, Edward I handed to the national heritage institutions and systems of government that provided equity to his people and fame to his name. Whilst he inflamed his subjects by making advancements on their power, he never kept it for himself; rather distributing it to a broad base of his government. He founded the Exchequer as a means of good finance and administration, and it would remain as such until the Yorkist practice of chamber finance took over in the reign of his namesake, Edward IV. And whilst many questions remained unanswered about the power of Parliament and Crown, they would be fleshed out by precedent and expediency in the generations to come.

Although in his old age he became wrathful and isolated in a court of people different to those he had grown up around and achieved so much with, history remembers him as one of the greatest English Kings.


1. Simon de Montford's father of the same name was particularly active in the Albigensian Crusade, which was the Papacy's attempt to wipe out the Cathars in Southern France. Simon (the son) came to England to marry Henry III's sister and was much hated by the domestic aristocracy.

2. Other men in his service were Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham; Edmund, Earl of Lancaster and William Langton.


Sources

Churchill, Winston. A history of the English-speaking Peoples vol. 1: Cassell, 1956.

The Edict of Expulsion of 1290, http://www.heretical.com/British/jews1290.html

The Statute of Jewry, http://www.heretical.com/British/jews1275.html

Edward I, http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page61.asp

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