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Encyclopedia > Edward I
Edward I; illustration from Cassell's History of England circa 1902.

King Edward I of England (June 17, 1239July 7, 1307), popularly known as "Longshanks" because of his 6 foot 2 inch (188 cm) frame and the "Hammer of the Scots", achieved fame as the monarch who conquered Wales and who kept Scotland under English domination. He reigned from 1272 to 1307, ascending the throne of England on November 21, 1272 after the death of his father, King Henry III of England.

Edward was born at the Palace of Westminster on June 17 or 18, 1239. He married twice; his first marriage — to Eleanor of Castile — produced sixteen children, and her death in 1290 affected Edward deeply. He displayed his grief by erecting the Eleanor crosses, one at each place where her funeral cortege stopped for the night. His second marriage — to Marguerite of France (known as the "Pearl of France" by her English subjects), the daughter of King Philippe III of France (Phillip the Bold) and Maria of Brabant — produced a further three children.

Edward's character greatly contrasted that of his father, who reigned in England throughout Edward's childhood and consistently tended to favour compromise with his opponents. Edward had already shown himself as an ambitious and impatient man, displaying considerable military prowess in defeating Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. He gained a reputation for treating rebels and other foes with great savagery. He relentlessly pursued the surviving members of the de Montfort family, his cousins. In 1270 he travelled to Tunis, intending to fight in the Eighth Crusade alongside Louis IX of France, who died before Edward arrived; Edward instead travelled to Acre, in the Ninth Crusade. While in the Holy Land his father died; Edward arrived back in England in 1274.

Statue of Edward I in
Statue of Edward I in York Minster

One of Edward's early achievements was the conquest of Wales. Under the 1267 Treaty of Montgomery Llewelyn ap Gruffydd had extended Welsh territories southwards into what had been the lands of the English Marcher lords, and gained the title of Prince of Wales although he still owed homage to the English monarch as overlord. Edward refused to recognise the Treaty which had been concluded by his father. In 1275, pirates in Edward's pay intercepted a ship carrying Eleanor de Montfort, Simon de Montfort's only daughter, from France (where her family had lived in exile) to Wales, where she expected to marry Llywelyn the Last, then ruler of the principality The parties' families had arranged the marriage previously, when an alliance with Simon de Montfort still counted politically. However, Llywelyn wanted the marriage largely to antagonise his long-standing enemy, Edward. With the hijacking of the ship, Edward gained possession of Eleanor and imprisoned her at Windsor. After Llywelyn repeatedly refused to pay homage to Edward in 1274-5, Edward raised an army and launched his first campaign against the Welsh prince in 1276-77. After this campaign Llywelyn was forced to pay homage to Edward and was stripped of all but a rump of territory in Gwynedd. But Edward allowed Llywelyn to retain the title of Prince of Wales, and the marriage with Eleanor de Montfort went ahead.

However, Llywelyn's younger brother, Dafydd (who had briefly been an ally of the English) started another rebellion in 1282. Llywelyn died shortly afterwards in a skirmish. Subsequently, Edward destroyed the remnants of resistance, capturing, brutally torturing and executing Dafydd in the following year. To consolidate his conquest, he commenced the construction of a string of massive stone castles encircling the principality, of which Caernarfon Castle provides a notable surviving example. Wales became incorporated into England under the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 and in 1301 Edward created his eldest son Edward Prince of Wales, since which time the eldest son of each English monarch has borne the same title.

To finance his war to conquer Wales, Edward I taxed the Jewish moneylenders. However, the cost of Edward's ambitions soon drained the money-lenders dry. Anti-Semitism, a long-existing attitude, increased substantially, and when the Jews could no longer pay, the state accused them of disloyalty. Already restricted to a limited number of occupations, the Jews saw Edward abolish their right to lend money. After the manner of racism, anti-semitic feeling grew, until the King decreed the Jews a threat to the country and restricted their movements and activities. Edward decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow patch in the shape of a star attached to their outer clothing to identify them in public, an idea Adolf Hitler would echo 650 years later (compare Star of David, Yellow badge).

In the course of King Edward's persecution of the Jews, he arrested all the heads of Jewish households. The authorities took over 300 of them to the Tower of London and executed them, while killing others in their homes. Finally, in 1290, the King banished all Jews from the country.

Edward then turned his attentions to Scotland and on May 10, 1291 Scottish nobles recognised the authority of Edward I. He had planned to marry off his son to the child queen, Margaret I of Scotland but when Margaret died the Scottish nobles agreed to have Edward select her successor from the various claimants to the throne, and he chose John Balliol over other candidates. Edward was anxious to impose his overlordship on Scotland and hoped that John Balliol would prove the most biddable candidate. Indeed, Edward summoned John Balliol to do homage to him in Westminster in 1293 and made it clear he expected John's military and finicial support against France. But this was too much for Balliol, who concluded a pact with France and prepared an army to invade England.

Edward gathered his largest army yet and razed Berwick, massacring its inhabitants, proceeding to Dunbar and Edinburgh. The Stone of Destiny was removed from Scone and taken to Westminster Abbey. Balliol renounced the crown and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years before withdrawing to his estates in France. All freeholders in Scotland were required to swear an oath of homage to Edward, and he ruled Scotland like a province through English Viceroys.

Opposition sprang up (see Wars of Scottish Independence), and Edward executed the focus of discontent, William Wallace, in 1305, having earlier defeated him at the Battle of Falkirk (1298). His plan to unite the two countries never came to fruition in his era, and he died in 1307 at Burgh-on-Sands, Cumberland on the Scottish border, while on his way to wage another campaign against the Scots, energized by Wallace's martyrdom and under the leadership of Robert the Bruce. Edward was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son, King Edward II of England, succeeded him.

Preceded by:
Henry III
King of England
Succeeded by:
Edward II
Lord of Ireland
Duke of Aquitaine
Preceded by:
Matthew de Hastings
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by:
Sir Matthew de Bezille

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