» Biography Home
» Biographies A-F
» Biographies G-M
» Biographies N-S
» Biographies T-Z
Edward I. Of England
Edward I., King of England, was the elder of the two sons of Henry III., by his queen, Eleanor, daughter of Count Raymond Berenger of Provence, and was born at Westminster, June 17, 1239. His name was given him by his father out of reverence for the memory of Edward the Confessor, and in its English sound, as well as in the honest English temper, no less than the yellow hair and stalwart figure with which the young prince grew up, Englishmen might well have read the promise, that once more, after two hundred years, England would be ruled by a native English king. Edward was brought up at Windsor, was given by his father in 1252 the government of Gascony, and in 1254 married, in the monastery of Las Huelgas, Eleanor, sister of Alfonso X. of Castile, receiving immediately thereafter from his father Gascony, Ireland, and the Welsh march betwixt the Conway and the Dee, where, in fighting with the turbulent Welshmen, he learned his first lessons in warfare.
At the Parliament of Oxford (1258) he took part with his father in his contest with his troublesome nobles, but thereafter appears to have at first sided with the great Earl Simon de Montfort, the leader of the barons or national party, without, however, impairing his own personal loyalty and affection for his father, with whom ere long he was reconciled. It was his rash eagerness in pursuing an advantage gained over the Londoners, who were devoted to the party of Simon, that lost the battle of Lewes (1264), one immediate consequence of which was the prince's imprisonment as a hostage for his father's pledges. Conditions for his liberation, discussed at Simon's famous parliament of 1265, were frustrated through Edward's escape by a stratagem from Hereford Castle; and at the final battle at Evesham (August 4), where Simon recognized in the skilful disposition of his enemy's forces a fatal lesson learned from himself, the struggle practically ended with the great popular champion's death on the battle-field. Edward gained much influence by the wise prudence and moderation with which he stamped out the last embers of rebellion.
In 1270 he started, at the instigation of Louis IX. of France, to join the last of the Crusades, but when he reached Tunis, found that king dead, and the expedition already desperate of success. He went on to Acre, and won great renown as a knight, but failed to save the Frankish kingdom in the East from its inevitable fate. In June, 1272, while sitting alone on his bed, his own strength and energy saved him from being murdered by one of the infamous sect of the Assassins. Hastily guarding himself with his arms, and receiving a desperate wound, from which he afterward suffered much, he tore the knife from his assailant's hand, and buried it in his heart. The ancient story that his queen Eleanor, who had followed him in his pilgrimage, saved his life at the risk of her own by sucking the poison from the wound, unfortunately lacks historical support, but fits well with the romantic temper of the times, as well as with the deep affection that survived throughout life betwixt husband and wife.
Two months later he started for home, and at Capua, in the January of 1273, heard of his father's death two months before. Meantime he had been quietly proclaimed king, and as things went well in England, he visited the pope, did homage at Paris for his French provinces, and did not return to his kingdom till the August of 1274. At his coronation he received the homage of Alexander III. of Scotland for his lands in England, but Prince Llewelyn of Wales neglected the summons to attend, and only did his homage in 1276, under the combined terrors of excommunication and the royal army. Edward at once commenced that wise and large policy of domestic consolidation and financial as well as legal reform, that has shed such lustre upon the reign of the English Justinian, as he has been called, and made it almost the most important epoch in the constitutional history of England.
His first warfare was with the turbulent and disaffected Welshmen, who had profited by the intestine turmoil of the preceding reign, and intrigued perpetually with the rebellious nobles of Henry III. for their own ends. The forced peace of 1277, and the national dissatisfaction at the stringent terms granted by Edward, which was not abated by the personal favors he heaped upon the princes Llewelyn and his brother David, were but the preludes to the final struggle which commenced three years later, and ended in the complete suppression of Welsh nationalism, with the defeat and death of Llewelyn, near Builth, in Brecknockshire, and the cruel execution of David at Shrewsbury, as a traitor, in 1284. By the famous Statute of Wales in the same year, the ancient principality was finally annexed to the English crown, while English laws and English institutions were forced upon the conquered people.
Edward devoted the next year to legislation, then went abroad to mediate, without success, in the quarrel between France and Aragon. He had soon to return to quell fresh disturbances in Wales, and even in England, where the great Statute of Winchester, which had been passed in 1285 to place the defence of the country on a really national basis, had not yet had time to effect its end. Finding that most of his judges had been corrupting justice, he punished them with an iron hand, next banished in 1290 all the Jews to the number of over sixteen thousand from the kingdom, on the plea of extortionate usury. Earlier in the reign he had hanged 280 for money-clipping and forgery.
Just at this time the death of the young Scottish queen, the Maid of Norway, whom Edward had caused to be betrothed to his eldest surviving son, Edward of Caernarvon, opened up a fatal contest for the Scottish crown, which gave Edward his opportunity to assert anew the old but somewhat shadowy claim of the English crown to the over-lordship of Scotland. The southern half of that composite kingdom was inhabited by people of English blood and English institutions; its southeastern part, the Lothians, had undoubtedly once formed part of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria; while its southwestern, Strathclyde or Scottish Cumbria, the population of which was in great part Celtic, had in 945 been given by the English king Edmund I. to Malcolm as a fief. The northern portion of the kingdom was purely Celtic in blood, and had at no time been subject to English influences, but though the reigning family was itself of Celtic origin, its authority hardly extended effectively beyond the region inhabited by men of English blood. Undoubtedly the Scottish king in 921 chose Edward the Elder "to father and to lord," and the right then acknowledged was claimed successively by William the Conqueror, Rufus, and other English kings. Moreover, from the twelfth century it had been customary for the Scottish kings or their sons to receive English earldoms, and do homage for them, but it continued to remain somewhat vague whether such homage was understood to be extended beyond these earldoms, so as to include the Lowland provinces and the whole Scottish kingdom. William the Lion, taken prisoner at Alnwick in 1174, for his freedom acknowledged the supremacy of Henry II. in the treaty concluded at Felaise on December 7; but on his return found his subjects ill-disposed to accede to his cowardly submission; and fifteen years later the claim founded on this special act of submission was formally renounced for a sum of 10,000 merks by Richard I., who was eager to raise money for his Crusade. Such was the ill-defined position of this ancient controversy, when fate seemed to fling into Edward's hands the opportunity of defining it anew with all the clearness dear to his legal mind. It was easy for him to secure a recognition of his superiority from the selfish and eager candidates for the crown, and meantime he secured the Scottish castles, and after a deliberate examination of the rival claims, decided in favor of John Baliol, who, on his accession, paid homage distinctly for the whole kingdom of Scotland. He soon found his position as a vassal-king intolerable, betwixt the unruly turbulence of his subjects and the imperious demands of his overlord, who allowed appeals to be led from Baliol's subjects to himself.
Meantime the ambitious projects of the new King of France, Philip IV., involved Edward in anxieties for the safety of Guienne and his other possessions in France. Ere long the high-handed conduct of the French king made war necessary, and Edward, with characteristic energy, at once began his preparations, and summoned in 1295 an assembly of the estates of the realm, which was practically the beginning of the modern parliaments.
The ever-increasing exasperation of the Scots at length broke out into open warfare in 1296. Edward at once marched northward, captured Berwick, and carried his victorious arms as far north as Aberdeen, Banff, and Elgin, taking the great castles on the way, formally accepted Baliol's surrender of the crown at Montrose, and returned to Berwick (August 22), carrying with him the famous coronation-stone from Scone, after having subdued the whole kingdom in about five months. Here, six days later, he received the fealty of the clergy, barons, and gentry of Scotland, whose names fill the thirty-five skins of parchment known as the "Ragman Roll."
At length he was at liberty to turn to France, but the great cost of his late expenditure had already driven him to make such heavy demands upon the revenues of the Church, that the clergy now refused fresh subsidies, headed by Archbishop Winchelsea and supported by the bull "Clericis Laicos" of Pope Boniface VIII. The king retaliated by placing the clergy of the kingdom in outlawry. At the Salisbury parliament in February, 1297, the great barons also refused to take part in foreign war, while the merchants were exasperated because their wool had been seized. A compromise was soon effected with the clergy, and a temporary illegal grant for the immediate purposes of the war was procured from the nobles and commons who were with him. Edward sailed for Flanders, and at Ghent confirmed the Charter with such supplementary clauses as were demanded by his refractory nobles, thus finally establishing the right of the people themselves to determine taxation.
This is only second in importance to Magna Charta itself as a landmark in the history of England. The suspicious fears of his people compelled Edward to repeat the confirmation at London in 1300, and again at Lincoln in 1301-an insult to his honesty which the king never forgave, and to which his subsequent banishment of Winchelsea was due. In 1303, and again the year after, Edward, in desperate straits for money, levied, by agreement with the foreign merchants, some new customs-the beginning of import duties, without consent of the estates, and collected a tallage from the royal demesne; and again, in 1305, he obtained from Clement V. a formal absolution from the obligations of 1297. It is true that the first two measures were contrary to the spirit rather than the letter of his promise, and that he never sought to avail himself of the dangerous power granted him by the papal absolution, yet these three facts, says Bishop Stubbs, "remain on record as illustrations of Edward's chief weakness, the legal captiousness, which was the one drawback on his greatness."
It was the dangerous aspect of affairs in Scotland that forced the king to submit so easily to the demands of his barons. Already, in the spring of 1297, Wallace, without any countenance from the Scottish nobility, had commenced a guerilla warfare, and his handful of desperate men soon increased into an army, which completely defeated Earl Warenne and Cressingham at Cambuskenneth (Stirling Bridge), in September, 1297, and ravaged England, with the most atrocious cruelties, from Newcastle to Carlisle. Edward's expedition to Flanders had been a failure, but he hastened to conclude a truce, so as to find time to chastise the Scots, cementing it by his betrothal to Philip's sister Margaret. The good Queen Eleanor had been already dead nine years.
Meantime, Wallace's success had merely earned him the bitter jealousy of the Scottish nobles, and his power was finally broken in the disastrous defeat by Edward's army at Falkirk in July, 1298. The king had two of his ribs broken by a kick from his horse on the morning of the battle, but rode throughout the day as if unhurt. The struggle lingered on some years under various leaders, as Edward found his energy paralyzed the while by the intrigues of Philip, and the constitutional struggle with his barons. Pope Boniface, in 1301, put forth a claim to the over-lordship of Scotland, which was repudiated by the whole body of the estates at Lincoln. It was not till the June of 1303 that the king was able to resume his conquest. Accompanied by a fleet carrying his supplies, he penetrated again into the far North, tarried a while in Dunfermline, and settled the kingdom after the reduction of Stirling, the last place of strength that held out. In 1305 Wallace was betrayed into his hands, sent to London, and cruelly executed as a traitor. The fate of this noble-hearted patriot is a fatal blot upon his conqueror's memory, but it should not be forgotten that Edward was profoundly convinced of the legality of his own claims over Scotland, and that Wallace to him was merely a pestilent rebel, who had earned his doom by treason to his lord and by the cruelties he had inflicted upon Englishmen. The same year the king prepared a new constitution for the conquered kingdom, divided it into sheriffdoms like the English counties, and made arrangements for the representation of the Scots in the English parliament-a measure which, had it been successful, might have anticipated by four centuries the benefits of the union.
It might now have been expected that Scotland was effectively subdued, but ere long Robert Bruce, who had hitherto played a dubious game, raised a revolt in the beginning of 1306, got rid of the regent Comyn, his most serious rival, by a foul murder in Dumfries church, was crowned king at Scone, and kept up an incessant but varying struggle during the winter of 1306 and the spring of 1307. The treachery of those who had sworn fealty to him, and whom he had trusted implicitly, roused Edward to the pitch of exasperation, and at the knighting of Prince Edward at Westminster, he swore a solemn vow to be revenged upon Bruce. He at once despatched a force to Scotland, and though now old and infirm, began preparations for his fourth expedition; but he was attacked with dysentery on the march, and his malady increased so much upon him that he died on the 7th of July, 1307, at Burgh-on-Sands, near Carlisle, within sight of Scotland, leaving for his son Edward the dying command not to bury his body till he had utterly subdued the Scots, but to carry his bones with the army until the victory was complete. Eleven days later the young prince reached Carlisle, but returned a few weeks after to London, and buried his father's body in Westminster, where it still rests under a slab, with the simple but truly descriptive inscription: "Eduardus primus, Scotorum malleus, hic est."