Scotland's History Articles Edward I, King of England. Born 1239, died 1307. Reign 1272 – 1307

Edward I, King of England. Born 1239, died 1307. Reign 1272 – 1307

Portrait of Edward I of England

One of the most effective English kings, Edward was also one of Scotland's greatest adversaries. Through his campaigns against Scotland he would come to be known after his death as 'Scottorum malleus' – the Hammer of the Scots.

Intelligent and impatient, Edward proved to be a highly effective king. The reign of his father, Henry III, was marked by internal instability and military failure. Upon succeeding to the throne on 1272 Edward did much to rectify these issues. He managed to control and placate the unruly English barons and unite them behind him.

A learned scholar, Edward also took great personal interest in matters of administration and government and introduced reforms and ideas learnt whilst staying abroad in the family-held territory of Gascony. He also made great use of his Parliament – a strategy that helped maintain stability in the country and, more importantly for Edward, brought in regular sums of money to enable Edward to pursue his ambitions. Edward also devised far uglier means of raising money.

In 1275 Edward issues the Statute of Jewry that persecuted the Jewish population of England and imposed severe taxation on them. Proving both lucrative and popular, Edward extended this policy further. In 1290 the Jews were expelled from England – minus their money and property. The money raised from this dark practise was used to fund his his ambition to be overlord of the Scotland and Wales.

As a younger man Edward forged an impressive reputation as a man of action. Domestically and abroad Edward proved himself as a soldier and a leader of men. In 1266 Edward received international accolade for his role in the 8th and 9th Crusades to the Holy Land where he helped secure the survival of the beleagured coastal city of Acre.

It was while returning from the Crusade that Edward learned that his father, Henry III, had died and that he was now the King of England. Ambitious and impulsive, Edward wasted no time in enforcing his will on his neighbours.

As an ominous precursor for his plans for Scotland, Edward attacked Wales.

Edward attacks Wales

During the 1250s Edward's father, Henry III, had mounted military campaigns in an attempt to control and dominate Wales. After a series of disastrous defeats Henry was forced to negotiate a peace that saw the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd extend his territories into England. Henry also had to recognise the royal status of Llewelyn as Prince of Wales. Llywelyn in turn was to acknowledge Henry as his overlord.

Edward had experienced these failed campaigns first hand as part of his father's retinue and was determined not to repeat the same mistakes. Using the pretence of Llywelyn's refusal to pay homage to him in 1274 Edward raised a sizeable army and invaded Wales. Llywelyn was defeated and stripped of his territories.

In another uncanny foreshadowing of events to come in Scotland Edward's complete conquest of his neighbour was to be thrown into doubt by a courageous campaign for liberation.

In 1282 Llywelyn's brother Dafydd sparked a rebellion to rid Wales of English dominance. With Edward caught off-guard the rising had initial success. The death of Llywelyn in battle turned the tide for Edward however. Soon after Dafydd was captured and executed. Without strong leadership the Welsh rising failed.

To consolidate his stranglehold, Edward built a series of impressive castles across Wales (such as Caernarfon Castle) and in 1284 Edward issued the Statute of Rhuddlan that effectively annexed Wales and made it a province of England. The title Prince of Wales was handed to Edward's eldest son, Prince Edward (later Edward II) – a practise that continues to this day.

Edward plots against Scotland

In 1287 Alexander III, King of Scots, died suddenly after falling from his horse at Kinghorn. The succession crisis that followed presented Edward with a golden opportunity to expand on his conquest of Wales.

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With the absence of an immediate heir, the Scots throne looked likely to pass to Alexander's infant granddaughter, Margaret (the 'Maid of Norway') – the daughter of the King of Norway.

Rival Scottish claims for the right to succeed as the next monarch led to the Norwegians approaching Edward. Edward planned to wed his own son Edward to Margaret and thus control Scotland via matrimonial rights.

The Scots nobles, fearful of such a takeover, agreed that Margaret should be queen – but at the expense of Edward's marriage plans. Events were thrown into turmoil when Margaret died en route to Scotland.

Edward the Kingmaker

With the succession crisis still looming large and rival claimants still in fierce competition the Guardians of Scotland needed to find someone to adjudicate the claims and help break the deadlock. The perfect candidate was Edward.

As an internationally respected king and a recognised expert on legal matters of state Edward was a logical choice. With the benefit of hindsight this may seem to be the worst of decisions until you consider that England and Scotland had enjoyed an extended period of relatively peaceful co-existence. Claims of English overlordship over Scotland were seen to be a thing of the distant past. The Guardians were in for a very rude shock.

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In a series of political manouverings Edward insisted that he be recognised as feudal overlord of the Scots before a new Scots king be appointed. The Guardians refused but Edward, the legal expert, got his wish.

While there were two rival claimants (Robert Bruce and John Balliol) Edward's role was adjudicate. If there were more than two then, under medieval law, only a judge could be expected to pronounce a verdict. As a judge Edward had to have authority – and in royal matters authority meant overlordship.

Edward found other claimants for the vacant throne to put pressure on Bruce and Balliol. The plan worked and one by one they came forward to swear allegiance. From that point, with all principle claimants as his vassals, it did not matter who became king. Ultimately Balliol took the crown.

Edward's subsequent heavy-handed treatment of the Scots (demanding taxes and soldiers to help fight his wars) led to the first inklings of rebellion.

In 1295 the Scots signed a mutual aid treaty with France (later to be known as the Auld Alliance). This pact with Edward's enemy brought about swift retaliation from Edward.

Edward destroyed Berwick, slaughtering thousands of the town's inhabitants, before pushing deeper into scotland. The Scots met Edward in battle at Dunbar but was decisively beaten. repeating his accomplishments in Wales, Edward had now conquered Scotland.

In a similar tactic to the those he employed in Wales Edward stripped the country of its treasures and symbollic icons of nationhood as easily as he stripped Balliol of his status as king. Most notably the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny was removed to be sent back to England. The message was clear – there was to be no other king in Scotland but Edward.

Edward's campaigning, however, had left him seriously short of funds. He could no-longer afford to build costly castles to control his new domain as he had in Wales.

Wars of Independence

Just as he had with the welsh, Edward had underestimated the Scots. Within a year rebellions to English control broke out – notably led by Andrew Murray in the north and William wallace in the south of the country.

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Edward left the matter of crushing the rebellion to his representative, John de Warenne, rather than take control personally. At Stirling Bridge Warenne's force was routed by Wallace and Murray's army.

Edward marches north and took control of his army and defeated Wallace's army at Falkirk. Wallace was later captured and executed. Once again Edward assumed that Scotland was conquered.

An interesting point to note is that the expense incurred in subjugating the Welsh meant that the same pattern of conquest and castle-building was not open to Edward. The success of that campaign could not so easily be emulated.

Enter the Bruce

Waiting in the wings for Edward was Robert the Bruce. Bruce's ambition to be king was finally realised in 1306. News of the coronation of a new Scots king brought Edward's army northward.

A series of swift victories saw Edward victorious and the new King of Scots on the run. Once again Edward assumed the job was done.

News of Bruce's return with a handful of followers was given scant regard. Edward would rue this inattentiveness. Within a year Bruce had defeated larger English forces and regained control of swathes of Scotland. A minor rebellion had become a sizeable rising. Not even the capture and execution of key Bruce supporters (including members of Bruce's own family) could reverse the tide.

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In Bruce Edward had met a formidable, ruthless and determined opponent – a man cut from the same cloth.

A Job Worth Doing...

Despite ill health and advancing years Edward, Hammer of the Scots, marched his army north to rid himself of Bruce once and for all.

In 1307, with Scotland in sight, Edward died at Burgh-on-Sands. The campaign for the conquest of Scotland passed on to his son, Edward II. The Scots were relieved to find that the brutal and effective military prowess displayed by the father were absent in the son.

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In 1314 Bruce routed a larger English force at Bannockburn. Recognition of Scotland's sovereignty came years later in 1328.

On his death bed accounts credit Edward's dying wish to be that his bones be left unburied as long as Scotland was unconquered. Mercifully this request was ignored. As arguably, England's greatest king (and Scotland's greatest enemy) his temporary interment would have lasted an awful long time.

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