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Edward I, Longshanks
1272-1307 AD

Edward I, nicknamed "Longshanks" due to his great height and stature, was perhaps the most successful of the medieval monarchs. The first twenty years of his reign marked a high point of cooperation between crown and community. In these years, Edward made great strides in reforming government, consolidating territory, and defining foreign policy. He possessed the strength his father lacked and reasserted royal prerogative. Edward fathered many children as well: sixteen by Eleanor of Castille before her death in 1290, and three more by Margaret.

Edward held to the concept of community, and although at times unscrupulously aggressive, ruled with the general welfare of his subjects in mind. He perceived the crown as judge of the proper course of action for the realm and its chief legislator; royal authority was granted by law and should be fully utilized for the public good, but that same law also granted protection to the king's subjects. A king should rule with the advice and consent of those whose rights were in question. The level of interaction between king and subject allowed Edward considerable leeway in achieving his goals.

Edward I added to the bureaucracy initiated by Henry II to increase his effectiveness as sovereign. He expanded the administration into four principal parts: the Chancery, the Exchequer, the Household, and the Council. The Chancery researched and created legal documents while the Exchequer received and issued money, scrutinized the accounts of local officials, and kept financial records. These two departments operated within the king's authority but independently from his personal rule, prompting Edward to follow the practice of earlier kings in developing the Household, a mobile court of clerks and advisers that traveled with the king. The King's Council was the most vital segment of the four. It consisted of his principal ministers, trusted judges and clerks, a select group of magnates, and also followed the king. The Council dealt with matters of great importance to the realm and acted as a court for cases of national importance.

Edward's forays into the refinement of law and justice had important consequences in decreasing feudal practice. The Statute of Gloucester (1278) curbed expansion of large private holdings and established the principle that all private franchises were delegated by, and subordinate to, the crown. Royal jurisdiction became supreme: the Exchequer developed a court to hear financial disputes, the Court of Common Pleas arose to hear property disputes, and the Court of the King's Bench addressed criminal cases in which the king had a vested interest. Other statutes prohibited vassals from giving their lands to the church, encouraged primogeniture, and established the king as the sole person who could make a man his feudal vassal. In essence, Edward set the stage for land to become an article of commerce.

Edward concentrated on an aggressive foreign policy. A major campaign to control Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales began in 1277 and lasted until Llywelyn's death in 1282. Wales was divided into shires, English civil law was introduced, and the region was administered by appointed justices. In the manner of earlier monarchs, Edward constructed many new castles to ensure his conquest. In 1301, the king's eldest son was named Prince of Wales, a title still granted to all first-born male heirs to the crown. Edward found limited success in extending English influence into Ireland: he introduced a Parliament in Dublin and increased commerce in a few coastal towns, but most of the country was controlled by independent barons or Celtic tribal chieftains. He retained English holdings in France through diplomacy, but was drawn into war by the incursions of Philip IV in Gascony. He negotiated a peace with France in 1303 and retained those areas England held before the war.

Edward's involvement in Scotland had far reaching effects. The country had developed a feudal kingdom similar to England in the Lowlands the Celtic tribal culture dispersed to the Highlands. After the death of the Scottish king, Alexander III, Edward negotiated a treaty whereby Margaret, Maid of Norway and legitimate heir to the Scottish crown, would be brought to England to marry his oldest son, the future Edward II. Margaret, however, died in 1290 en route to England, leaving a disputed succession in Scotland; Edward claimed the right to intercede as feudal lord of the Scottish kings through their Anglo-Norman roots. Edward arbitrated between thirteen different claimants and chose John Baliol. Baliol did homage to Edward as his lord, but the Scots resisted Edward's demands for military service. In 1296, Edward invaded Scotland and soundly defeated the Scots under Baliol Baliol was forced to abdicate and the Scottish barons did homage to Edward as their king. William Wallace incited a rebellion in 1297, defeated the English army at Stirling, and harassed England's northern counties. The next year, Edward defeated Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk but encountered continued resistance until Wallace's capture and execution in 1304. Robert Bruce, the grandson of a claimant to the throne in 1290, instigated another revolt in 1306 and would ultimately defeat the army of Edward II at Bannockburn. Edward's campaigns in Scotland were ruthless and aroused in the Scots a hatred of England that would endure for generations.

Edward's efforts to finance his wars in France and Scotland strained his relationship with the nobility by instituting both income and personal property taxes. Meetings of the King's Great Council, now referred to as Parliaments, intermittently included members of the middle class and began curtailing the royal authority. Parliament reaffirmed Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest in 1297, 1299, 1300, and 1301; it was concluded that no tax should be levied without consent of the realm as a whole (as represented by Parliament).

Edward's character found accurate evaluation by Sir Richard Baker, in A Chronicle of the Kings of England: He had in him the two wisdoms, not often found in any, single; both together, seldom or never: an ability of judgement in himself, and a readiness to hear the judgement of others. He was not easily provoked into passion, but once in passion, not easily appeased, as was seen by his dealing with the Scots; towards whom he showed at first patience, and at last severity. If he be censured for his many taxations, he may be justified by his well bestowing them; for never prince laid out his money to more honour of himself, or good of his kingdom."

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