Historical Figures Gallery
Bio for Edward I
Edward I was the first King of England to make government accountable to its supporters, and he instituted reforms that created the country's first parliamentary body.
Edward was the oldest son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. When he married Eleanor of Castile, his father gave him authority over the administration of Ireland and Wales, as well as Gascony in France. He inherited the throne of England when his father died in 1272.
As a young man, Edward distinguished himself in the military. In an uprising of the nobility sometimes called "The Baron's War," he led the King's army and killed his father's rival, Simon de Montfort. He also played an important part in the eighth crusade.
Edward's monarchy was noteworthy for his efforts to use the rule of law to improve conditions in his country. He believed that the nobles who paid for the government should have a say in how it was run, and he expanded the Great Council until it actually had parliamentary powers. He also created the first Statute of Westminster to deal with administrative abuse, issued the Quo Warranto to protect feudal power, and the Statute of Mortmain to stop the unlicensed donation of land to the Catholic Church.
Much of Edward's reign, however, was spent on unsuccessful efforts to enforce his authority over outlying parts of the kingdom. Unable to negotiate, he had to go to war in order to annex Wales.
His efforts to overcome Scotland were even more complex. Initially, Alexander III cooperated by turning over Scottish lands in England to Edward. However, Edward's efforts to formally link the two countries were undermined when a proposed marriage of the heirs to the two counties in infancy was undone by the death of the Scottish King's daughter.
When the Scottish throne became vacant, Edward was called on to choose a successor. Although Robert Bruce was the popular choice, Edward appointed John Balliol who was prepared to take an oath of loyalty to England.
At this time, Edward was also having difficulty controlling his French territories and was becoming increasingly unpopular at home. To deal with his domestic problems, he called the first assembly of the three estates, which came to be known as the Model Parliament. His difficulties in France were reduced by his second marriage, for which he chose the French King's sister.
This freed him to focus on the further problems that had erupted in Scotland. Edward's first act was to take the stone that was used in Scottish coronations and bring it to England. When the Scotch took up arms, Edward led his troops north and defeated them. Eventually, their leader, William Wallace, was captured and put to death.
In defiance, Robert Bruce took over the leadership of his country and arranged to have himself crowned King Robert I. When Edward marched north to fight Robert, he was brought down by his own old age and ill health. He died near Carlisle in Scotland.
1254 - Married Eleanor of Castile.
1265 - Defeated Simon de Montfort.
1270 - Eighth Crusade.
1274 - Crowned King of England.
1275 - First Statute of Westminster.
1282 - Conquest of Wales.
1290 - Death of Eleanor.
1295 - Model Parliament.
1296 - Removed Scottish coronation stone to England. Married Princess Margaret of France.
1298 - British victory at Falkirk.
1305 - Executed William Wallace.
1306 - Crowned Robert Bruce.
Did you know?
Edward's first wife, Eleanor, went with him on the eighth crusade.
Copyright © 1994 Bureau of Electronic Publishing
EDWARD I (r. 1272-1307)
Born in June 1239 at Westminster, Edward was named by his father Henry III after the last Anglo Saxon king (and his father's favourite saint), Edward the Confessor. Edward's parents were renowned for their patronage of the arts (his mother, Eleanor of Provence, encouraged Henry III to spend money on the arts, which included the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey and a still-extant magnificent shrine to house the body of Edward the Confessor), and Edward received a disciplined education - reading and writing in Latin and French, with training in the arts, sciences and music.
In 1254, Edward travelled to Spain for an arranged marriage at the age of 15 to 9-year-old Eleanor of Castile. Just before Edward's marriage, Henry III gave him the duchy of Gascony, one of the few remnants of the once vast French possessions of the English Angevin kings. Gascony was part of a package which included parts of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the King's lands in Wales to provide an income for Edward. Edward then spent a year in Gascony, studying its administration.
Edward spent his young adulthood learning harsh lessons from Henry III's failures as a king, culminating in a civil war in which he fought to defend his father. Henry's ill-judged and expensive intervention in Sicilian affairs (lured by the Pope's offer of the Sicilian crown to Henry's younger son) failed, and aroused the anger of powerful barons including Henry's brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. Bankrupt and threatened with excommunication, Henry was forced to agree to the Provisions of Oxford in 1258, under which his debts were paid in exchange for substantial reforms; a Great Council of 24, partly nominated by the barons, assumed the functions of the King's Council.
Henry repudiated the Provisions in 1261 and sought the help of the French king Louis IX (later known as St Louis for his piety and other qualities). This was the only time Edward was tempted to side with his charismatic and politically ruthless godfather Simon de Montfort - he supported holding a Parliament in his father's absence.
However, by the time Louis IX decided to side with Henry in the dispute and civil war broke out in England in 1263, Edward had returned to his father's side and became de Montfort's greatest enemy. After winning the battle of Lewes in 1264 (after which Edward became a hostage to ensure his father abided by the terms of the peace), de Montfort summoned the Great Parliament in 1265 - this was the first time cities and burghs sent representatives to the parliament. (Historians differ as to whether de Montfort was an enlightened liberal reformer or an unscrupulous opportunist using any means to advance himself.)
In May 1265, Edward escaped from tight supervision whilst hunting. On 4 August, Edward and his allies outmanoeuvred de Montfort in a savage battle at Evesham; de Montfort predicted his own defeat and death 'let us commend our souls to God, because our bodies are theirs ... they are approaching wisely, they learned this from me.' With the ending of the civil war, Edward worked hard at social and political reconciliation between his father and the rebels, and by 1267 the realm had been pacified.
In April 1270 Parliament agreed an unprecedented levy of one-twentieth of every citizen's goods and possessions to finance Edward's Crusade to the Holy Lands. Edward left England in August 1270 to join the highly respected French king Louis IX on Crusade. At a time when popes were using the crusading ideal to further their own political ends in Italy and elsewhere, Edward and King Louis were the last crusaders in the medieval tradition of aiming to recover the Holy Lands. Louis died of the plague in Tunis before Edward's arrival, and the French forces were bought off from pursuing their campaign. Edward decided to continue regardless: 'by the blood of God, though all my fellow soldiers and countrymen desert me, I will enter Acre ... and I will keep my word and my oath to the death'.
Edward arrived in Acre in May 1271 with 1,000 knights; his crusade was to prove an anticlimax. Edward's small force limited him to the relief of Acre and a handful of raids, and divisions amongst the international force of Christian Crusaders led to Edward's compromise truce with the Baibars. In June 1272, Edward survived a murder attempt by an Assassin (an order of Shi'ite Muslims) and left for Sicily later in the year. He was never to return on crusade.
Meanwhile, Henry III died on 16 November 1272. Edward succeeded to the throne without opposition - given his track record in military ability and his proven determination to give peace to the country, enhanced by his magnified exploits on crusade. In Edward's absence, a proclamation in his name delcared that he had succeeded by hereditary right, and the barons swore allegeiance to him. Edward finally arrived in London in August 1274 and was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Aged 35, he was a veteran warrior ('the best lance in all the world', according to contemporaries), a leader with energy and vision, and with a formidable temper.
Edward was determined to enforce English kings' claims to primacy in the British Isles. The first part of his reign was dominated by Wales. At that time, Wales consisted of a number of disunited small Welsh princedoms; the South Welsh princes were in uneasy alliance with the Marcher lords (feudal earldoms and baronies set up by the Norman kings to protect the English border against Welsh raids) against the Northern Welsh based in the rocky wilds of Gwynedd, under the strong leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffyd, Prince of Gwynedd. In 1247, under the Treaty of Woodstock, Llywelyn had agreed that he held North Wales in fee to the English king. By 1272, Llywelyn had taken advantage of the English civil wars to consolidate his position, and the Peace of Montgomery (1267) had confirmed his title as Prince of Wales and recognised his conquests.
However, Llywelyn maintained that the rights of his principality were 'entirely separate from the rights' of England; he did not attend Edward's coronation and refused to do homage. Finally, in 1277 Edward decided to fight Llywelyn 'as a rebel and disturber of the peace', and quickly defeated him. War broke out again in 1282 when Llywelyn joined his brother David in rebellion. Edward's determination, military experience and skilful use of ships brought from England for deployment along the North Welsh coast, drove Llywelyn back into the mountains of North Wales. The death of Llywelyn in a chance battle in 1282 and the subsequent execution of his brother David effectively ended attempts at Welsh independence.
Under the Statute of Wales of 1284, Wales was brought into the English legal framework and the shire system was extended. In the same year, a son was born in Wales to Edward and Queen Eleanor (also named Edward, this future king was proclaimed the first English Prince of Wales in 1301). The Welsh campaign had produced one of the largest armies ever assembled by an English king - some 15,000 infantry (including 9,000 Welsh and a Gascon contingent); the army was a formidable combination of heavy Anglo-Norman cavalry and Welsh archers, whose longbow skills laid the foundations of later military victories in France such as that at Agincourt. As symbols of his military strength and political authority, Edward spent some £80,000 on a network of castles and lesser strongholds in North Wales, employing a work-force of up to 3, 500 men drawn from all over England. (Some castles, such as Conway and Caernarvon, remain in their ruined layouts today, as examples of fortresses integrated with fortified towns.)
Edward's campaign in Wales was based on his determination to ensure peace and extend royal authority, and it had broad support in England. Edward saw the need to widen support among lesser landowners and the merchants and traders of the towns. The campaigns in Wales, France and Scotland left Edward deeply in debt, and the taxation required to meet those debts meant enrolling national support for his policies.
To raise money, Edward summoned Parliament - up to 1286 he summoned Parliaments twice a year. (The word 'Parliament' came from the 'parley' or talks which the King had with larger groups of advisers.) In 1295, when money was needed to wage war against Philip of France (who had confiscated the duchy of Gascony), Edward summoned the most comprehensive assembly ever summoned in England. This became known as the Model Parliament, for it represented various estates: barons, clergy, and knights and townspeople. By the end of Edward's reign, Parliament usually contained representatives of all these estates.
Edward used his royal authority to establish the rights of the Crown at the expense of traditional feudal privileges, to promote the uniform administration of justice, to raise income to meet the costs of war and government, and to codify the legal system. In doing so, his methods emphasised the role of Parliament and the common law. With the able help of his Chancellor, Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Edward introduced much new legislation. He began by commissioning a thorough survey of local government (with the results entered into documents known as the Hundred Rolls), which not only defined royal rights and possessions but also revealed administrative abuses.
The First Statute of Westminster (1275) codified 51 existing laws - many originating from Magna Carta - covering areas ranging from extortion by royal officers, lawyers and bailiffs, methods of procedure in civil and criminal cases to freedom of elections. Edward's first Parliament also enacted legislation on wool, England's most important export at the time. At the request of the merchants, Edward was given a customs grant on wool and hides which amounted to nearly £10,000 a year. Edward also obtained income from the licence fees imposed by the Statute of Mortmain (1279), under which gifts of land to the Church (often made to evade death duties) had to have a royal licence.
The Statutes of Gloucester (1278) and Quo Warranto (1290) attempted to define and regulate feudal jurisdictions, which were an obstacle to royal authority and to a uniform system of justice for all; the Statute of Winchester (1285) codified the policing system for preserving public order. Other statutes had a long-term effect on land law and on the feudal framework in England. The Second Statute of Westminster (1285) restricted the alienation of land and kept entailed estates within families: tenants were only tenants for life and not able to sell the property to others. The Third Statute of Westminster or Quia Emptores (1290) stopped subinfeudation (in which tenants of land belonging to the King or to barons subcontracted their properties and related feudal services).
Edward's assertion that the King of Scotland owed feudal allegiance to him, and the embittered Anglo-Scottish relations leading to war which followed, were to overshadow the rest of Edward's reign in what was to become known as the 'Great Cause'. Under a treaty of 1174, William the Lion of Scotland had become the vassal to Henry II, but in 1189 Richard I had absolved William from his allegiance. Intermarriage between the English and Scottish royal houses promoted peace between the two countries until the premature death of Alexander III in 1286. In 1290, his granddaughter and heiress, Margaret the 'Maid of Norway' (daughter of the King of Norway, she was pledged to be married to Edward's then only surviving son, Edward of Caernarvon), also died. For Edward, this dynastic blow was made worse by the death in the same year of his much-loved wife Eleanor (her body was ceremonially carried from Lincoln to Westminster for burial, and a memorial cross erected at every one of the twelve resting places, including what became known as Charing Cross in London).
In the absence of an obvious heir to the Scottish throne, the disunited Scottish magnates invited Edward to determine the dispute. In order to gain acceptance of his authority in reaching a verdict, Edward sought and obtained recognition from the rival claimants that he had the 'sovereign lordship of Scotland and the right to determine our several pretensions'. In November 1292, Edward and his 104 assessors gave the whole kingdom to John Balliol or Baliol as the claimant closest to the royal line; Balliol duly swore loyalty to Edward and was crowned at Scone.
John Balliol's position proved difficult. Edward insisted that Scotland was not independent and he, as sovereign lord, had the right to hear in England appeals against Balliol's judgements in Scotland. In 1294, Balliol lost authority amongst Scottish magnates by going to Westminster after receiving a summons from Edward; the magnates decided to seek allies in France and concluded the 'Auld Alliance' with France (then at war with England over the duchy of Gascony) - an alliance which was to influence Scottish history for the next 300 years. In March 1296, having failed to negotiate a settlement, the English led by Edward sacked the city of Berwick near the River Tweed. Balliol formally renounced his homage to Edward in April 1296, speaking of 'grievous and intolerable injuries ... for instance by summoning us outside our realm ... as your own whim dictated ... and so ... we renounce the fealty and homage which we have done to you'. Pausing to design and start the rebuilding of Berwick as the financial capital of the country, Edward's forces overran remaining Scottish resistance. Scots leaders were taken hostage, and Edinburgh Castle, amongst others, was seized. Balliol surrendered his realm and spent the rest of his life in exile in England and Normandy.
Having humiliated Balliol, Edward's insensitive policies in Scotland continued: he appointed a trio of Englishmen to run the country. Edward had the Stone of Scone - also known as the Stone of Destiny - on which Scottish sovereigns had been crowned removed to London and subsequently placed in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey (where it remained until it was returned to Scotland in 1996). Edward never built stone castles on strategic sites in Scotland, as he had done so successfully in Wales - possibly because he did not have the funds for another ambitious castle-building programme.
By 1297, Edward was facing the biggest crisis in his reign, and his commitments outweighed his resources. Chronic debts were being incurred by wars against France, in Flanders, Gascony and Wales as well as Scotland; the clergy were refusing to pay their share of the costs, with the Archbishop of Canterbury threatening excommunication; Parliament was reluctant to contribute to Edward's expensive and unsuccessful military policies; the Earls of Hereford and Norfolk refused to serve in Gascony, and the barons presented a formal statement of their grievances. In the end, Edward was forced to reconfirm the Charters (including Magna Carta) to obtain the money he required; the Archbishop was eventually suspended in 1306 by the new Gascon Pope Clement V; a truce was declared with France in 1297, followed by a peace treaty in 1303 under which the French king restored the duchy of Gascony to Edward.
In Scotland, Edward pursued a series of campaigns from 1298 onwards. William Wallace had risen in Balliol's name and recovered most of Scotland, before being defeated by Edward at the battle of Falkirk in 1298. (Wallace escaped, only to be captured in 1305, allegedly by the treachery of a fellow Scot and taken to London, where he was executed.) In 1304, Edward summoned a full Parliament (which elected Scottish representatives also attended), in which arrangements for the settlement of Scotland were made. The new government in Scotland featured a Council, which included Robert the Bruce. Bruce unexpectedly rebelled in 1306 by killing a fellow counsellor and was crowned king of Scotland at Scone. Despite his failing health, Edward was carried north to pursue another campaign, but he died en route at Burgh on Sands on 7 July 1307 aged 68.
According to chroniclers, Edward requested that his bones should be carried on Scottish campaigns and that his heart be taken to the Holy Land. However, Edward was buried at Westminster Abbey in a plain black marble tomb, which in later years was painted with the words Scottorum malleus (Hammer of the Scots) and Pactum serva (Keep troth). Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Exchequer paid to keep candles burning 'round the body of the Lord Edward, formerly King of England, of famous memory'.