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King Edward I: England's Warrior King

Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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A case can be made that Edward I was the greatest English king of the Middle Ages. A strong ruler, he was a man blessed with a strong sense of duty. Although he was no democrat, he believed the king should promote the general welfare and place himself above class or faction–a revolutionary concept in the 13th century. Although he has been called 'the English Justinian' because of his legal codes, Edward was first and foremost a military man, one of the great generals of the medieval world.

Edward was born in June 1239, the son of King Henry III. Weak and indecisive, Henry was not a bad man–just a bad king. He was devoted to his family and took great pleasure in art and architecture. One of his pet projects was the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey in the Gothic style that was just coming into vogue. Unfortunately, Henry's private virtues became public vices. Because of his devotion to his wife, he gave the queen's undeserving foreign relatives places at court. Worse still, Henry's building projects were a drain on the exchequer, and his excessive piety made him a dupe of the papacy. That mix of piety, politics and penury–he was always short of funds–bore bitter fruit. Simon de Montfort, leader of the baronial opposition, led an open revolt that defeated the king at the Battle of Lewes in 1264.

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Lewes gave Prince Edward his first real taste of combat. As a headstrong young blade of 25, he took exception to the London troops of Montfort's army, sincerely believing they had insulted his mother. When the battle opened on May 14, Edward led a cavalry charge that scattered the London burghers like dead leaves in a windstorm. Intoxicated by the chase, he began a single-minded pursuit of his fleeing quarry that took him miles from the battlefield. Once his thirst for vengeance was appeased, Edward returned to Lewes–only to find that Montfort had defeated his father's main army. Assailed from both flanks by Montfort's knights, the dumbfounded prince was forced to surrender. But a great lesson had been learned–from then on, with few exceptions, his intellect would govern his passions.

Eventually Edward escaped, joined forces with Roger Mortimer, Earl of Gloucester, and together they defeated Simon de Montfort at Evesham on August 4, 1265. By then, Edward was king in all but name, since his father was growing old and was as self-absorbed as ever. Fired with chivalric zeal and a surfeit of youthful energy, Prince Edward 'took the cross'–that is, declared himself a crusader pledged to free the Holy Land from the grip of the Muslim 'infidels.'

In 1271, Edward reached the Middle East with a small army of 1,000 men and amazed everyone by chalking up a series of victories over the Muslim forces of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars Bundukdari of Egypt. The prince captured Nazareth, scoring a moral victory by liberating the hometown of Jesus Christ, but his forces were too small to consolidate his gains.

Once, when Edward was resting in his tent, a Muslim assassin broke in and attacked him with a poisoned knife. The prince quickly killed his assailant but was wounded in the arm. Soon the limb swelled, and the foul-smelling flesh grew black. Gangrene had set in. Handicapped by the lack of medical knowledge at the time, the doctors were baffled and lost hope. But one brave physician cut away the blackened tissue and hoped for the best. By some miracle, Edward survived. The next year, 1272, a truce was arranged between Baybars and the Crusaders, enabling Edward to go home at last. While en route to England, he received word that his father was dead and he was now king in his own right.

On August 2, 1274, the new king landed at Dover after an absence of four years. Crowds gave a tumultuous welcome to their new monarch, who, at 6 feet 2 inches, towered over contemporaries. He was handsome, but his piercing blue eyes were slightly offset by a drooping left eyelid. Like most of his Plantagenet dynasty, Edward had a volcanic temper that sometimes erupted into murderous rages. Generally, though, he was too intelligent to let his anger get the better of him.

A few years after his accession to the throne, Edward was forced to deal with Wales, the mountainous land to the west of England. Politically, Wales was a confusing mosaic of divided loyalties. In the south and central portions of the country, Anglo-Norman barons, called Marcher lords, managed to subdue and pacify the Welsh tribesmen, but in the north the situation was different. There, a line of Gwynedd princes high in the mountains of Snowdonia refused to submit to the English yoke. One Welsh ruler, Llewellyn-ap-Graffyd, declared himself prince of Wales and set about expanding his domain at the expense of the Marcher lords.

Initially Edward had little interest in Wales, and he might have accepted Llewellyn's independence if the latter had rendered lip service to his feudal obligations to the English crown. But Llewellyn's arrogance seemed to grow with his power, and he refused to render homage to Edward. Thoroughly aroused, the king was determined to bring his rebellious vassal to heel.

In July 1277, in the town of Worcester, Edward gathered one of the biggest armies ever seen in Britain. The feudal levy summoned 1,000 armored knights, while a number of English shires–Cheshire, Derbyshire, Shropshire and others–supplied about 15,000 foot soldiers, including many Welshmen and Gascon crossbowmen.

The northern Welsh under Llewellyn were not prepared to meet Edward on his own terms, so they melted back into the misty valleys and snow-dappled peaks of their mountainous homeland. Natural guerrillas, they lived off the land when fighting and generally preferred ambushes to pitched battles.

The men of southern Wales generally had spears, but the northern tribes possessed a formidable new weapon–the longbow. One chronicler described it as 'made of wild elm, unpolished, rude and uncouth,' but in the hands of a trained archer it was a formidable weapon, hitting targets with such force that a longbow shaft could pierce chain mail and pin a man to his horse.

Edward advanced along the north Welsh coast, marching slowly up the valleys of the Severn and the Dee. Leaving a chain of rising fortresses in his wake, Edward continued on until he reached the mouth of the Conway River. There, the king unveiled his trump card–sea power. Just off the coast, on the island of Anglesey, was some of the most fertile soil in Wales, the breadbasket of Llewellyn's tribes. Thanks to ships provided by Edward's Cinque Ports, Anglesey was quickly taken.

Ringed in by hostile troops and threatened by starvation, Llewellyn sued for peace. After a few years' respite, however, Llewellyn's brother David raised the standard of revolt. The 1282 rebellion was a replay of the 1277 campaign, but this time Llewellyn was killed in a chance encounter, and his head was sent to adorn London Bridge. David was captured and executed, and the rebellion he had hatched collapsed.

Edward decided that only more castles could help sink English roots and stabilize the shifting political soil of Wales. Luckily for the king, his reign coincided with the great age of medieval military architecture, and he found a builder of genius in Master James of St. George.

Master James' fertile imagination produced a series of elaborate designs, each adapted to the particular needs of an individual site. Even today, Conway, Harlech, Rhuddlan, Beaumaris and Caernarvon castles give an overwhelming impression of strength and majesty.

Wales was pacified, at least for the moment, so Edward turned his attention to Scotland. The Scottish throne was empty, and there were no less than 13 claimants for it. To solve the impasse, the claimants asked Edward to be arbiter and choose a candidate among their number. The English king should have known better; the Scottish succession was a morass of claims and counterclaims.

After fevered consultations with barons, lawyers and churchmen, Edward chose John Bailol as king of the Scots. Bailol was a weakling, but the fractious Scottish nobles stiffened his backbone enough to defy Edward. Once again, Edward could brook no disobedience from a man he considered his feudal underling. The English monarch invaded Scotland with a large army, and in March 1296, he proceeded to besiege the important Scottish town of Berwick. Feeling overconfident, the citizens of Berwick shouted insults at Edward, in particular making fun of his 'long shanks.'

Mounted on his great warhorse Bayard, Edward personally led the assault on Berwick. Hooves flailing, Bayard leapt across a ditch, bounded over a low palisade and brought his royal master into the very heart of the city. Soon English troops poured into the narrow streets and fighting gave way to a general massacre of the inhabitants.

In short order Bailol was deposed, and Edward ruled the northern kingdom through a series of military garrisons. But Edward's brutal conquest had unleashed a sort of early nationalistic spirit among the Scots. A Scottish knight, William Wallace, gathered an army and managed to defeat an English force at Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297. With his prestige on the line, Edward–though he was now growing old–took to the field once again and invaded Scotland.

On July 22, 1298, the English and Scottish armies met at Falkirk. The backbone of Wallace's forces was his infantry, drawn up in four phalanx-style formations called schiltrons. Bristling with spears, the schiltrons seemed invulnerable to the kind of cavalry charge favored by medieval knights. And sure enough, before Edward could fully deploy his unwieldy army, his knights rushed forward in a headlong charge. Try as they might, the English knights could make no impression on the prickly Scottish formations, and round one went to the stubborn Celts.

But Edward had a surprise waiting in the wings–swarms of Welsh archers, who came forward in large numbers to discharge their deadly shafts. The schiltrons were quickly reduced to heaps of dead and wounded men, and the remaining Scottish infantry became easy prey for Edward's cavalry. Only Wallace and a handful of fugitives escaped the terrible slaughter, and the back of Scottish resistance seemed broken forever. At Falkirk, Edward Long Shanks acquired a new nickname: Scottorum malleus (Hammer of the Scots). The battle validated his reputation as a general and showcased his tactical skills. His adoption of the Welsh longbow foreshadowed the English triumphs at Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt.

Eventually, Wallace was captured and hanged, drawn and quartered, but his grisly fate left the Scots uncowed. Time and again, Edward had to return to Scotland in an attempt to crush the embers of revolt. Yet every time he returned home, the flame of Scots nationalism would blaze anew. A new Scottish champion, Robert the Bruce, declared himself king of Scotland and girded himself for another English invasion. It was not long in coming.

Edward, white-haired and ailing, must have felt he was an English Sisyphus, condemned to roll the rock of conquest forward again and again. At 69–something akin to 90 by the standards of the Middle Ages–the king had little reason to find happiness in his waning years. His son and heir, Prince Edward of Caernarvon, was a homosexual and a worthless spendthrift, more interested in fine clothes than the arts of war.

King Edward moved forward toward Scotland, but his battle-scarred and aging body could not obey the commands of his iron will. He died on July 6, 1307, a short distance from the Scottish border at Burgh-on-Sands. Later, Edward II would return to Scotland in force–only to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, on June 23, 1314, by which Scotland won its independence from England.

Although he was not the equal of a Caesar or Napoleon, Edward I was still a great commander who grasped the essentials of war. Even his enemies recognized his military greatness. Comparing Edward I to his son Edward II, Robert the Bruce once declared, 'I am more afraid of the bones of the father dead, than of the living son; and, by all the saints, it was more difficult to get a half a foot of the land from the old king than a whole kingdom from the son!'

 


This article was written by Eric Niderost and originally published in the December 1995 issue of Military History magazine.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!


25 Responses to “King Edward I: England's Warrior King”


  1. 1
    Amy says:

    who was king after king Edward was dead because he never have nonone ealse to be king next

  2. 2
    nick says:

    his son came after him, Edward II

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    and it has been said that Edward II was gay!!!!!!!!!!!!! Edward I was so ashamed. if you watch Braveheart the "advisor" of his son he pushes out the window was acctually his boyfriend!!!!!!!! Try that on for size…..

  4. 4
    Khalid says:

    This is such bullshit. Edward was never able to defeat Baybars in a pitched battle despite having allied with the mongols. The ninth crusade was a Mamluk victory. Edward returned to his wretched island having accomplished nothing of importance.

  5. 5
    Khalid says:

    And edward certainly had more than a thousand men at his diposal. The combined force of crusaders, armenians, and mongols is said to have numbered 50,000.

  6. 6
    sarah says:

    hey peps king edward (dont know anything about him xx).

  7. 7
    andrew borrill says:

    Edward I is a great king in my opinon

  8. 8

    [...] upon a time there was an Edward.  Edward was a King and he wanted some boats.  Edward fought many wars and wars can be very [...]

  9. 9
    shaun grainger says:

    king edward 1 was a good king in hard times a great military tactition and leader. i dont agree with some of his decisions but he was fordging our empire and as a king in medievil times that must have been tough on everybody

  10. 10
    lalalaa says:

    woww , iim doing this project of him, he has alot of stuff on him!!

  11. 11
    Edward 1st Supporter says:

    Long Live Edward 1st – the greatest of the Plantagent Kings — and remember, Flush Hard – it is a long way to Scotland!

    • 11.1
      John Douglas Kilcrease Plemons says:

      I am a direct descendant of King Edward 1st and I am also a member of Clan Maclachlan. My Grandfathers fought against each other. Thank You for the complements and Khalid is correct. The Crusades were a failure and a waste of money. And not only was Edward the Second gay, Richard the Lion Heart was as well.

      • 11.1.1
        Jaq Hammer says:

        Since Edward II is known to have had at least two illegitimate children (aside from 4 children by Isabella of France), it's obvious that he had no qualms about sexual relations with women. There are allegations of homosexuality in his relationship with Gaveston, and they may well be true, though there is no direct historical evidence to support any such claims. Very probably, Edward II was bi-sexual.

        As for Richard I, there is absolutely no evidence of homosexuality, and quite a bit more of heterosexuality, including a number of illegitimate children and a reputation for sleeping with women while on campaign. The accusations of Richard's homosexuality stem mostly from a graduate thesis written by an Oxford historian in the 1950s, which sparked quite a bit of controversy and subsequently caught the attention of any number of authors and artists just as the sexual revolution was beginning to dawn and the view of traditional sexual roles were being challenged.

        People need to stop getting their history from the movies.

        Finally, though the Crusades were a humiliating calamity for European armies (only the First Crusade achieved any notable success; the others were largely failures), they must be viewed in context of the religio-militarism of the late Dark Ages and early Medieval Period, and specifically as a reaction to the Islamic Crusades that conquered Spain and very nearly conquered Europe three centuries previously.

      • 11.1.2
        AuntBee says:

        I have to agree with Jaq Hammer – there is no evidence that Richard Lionheart was ever gay or bisexual and he was never called this in contemporary times andhis enemies would have jumped atthe chance to do just that. His reputation was actually as a womanizer. Perhaps some of these rumors come from the fact that his marriage to Berengaria of Navarre was unsuccessful and he spent little time with her and the comment that he slept in the same bed as King Philip of France, such was their closeness. In those days, sleeping in the same bed was common practice,especially of people of the same sex when beds were not readily available and would have been extremeley costly. His interests and priorities remained largely on the crusades and warfare for which he is famous, and not his marriage. Though his treatment of his wife has been seen in a negative light, the fact that he did not have a successful marriage or children hardly qualifies him or anyone else as a homosexual or otherwise. His public penitences were for all of his sins – more likely for his cruelty and his womanizing. By the way, being called a sodomite in the middle ages meant that someone was a sinner – nothing more.

        The same goes for Edward II whose relationship with Piers Gaveston was never referred to as anything but overtly familiar and as a love for a brother to a brother or a father to a son. He treated and often called Piers his brother. Relationships can be complicated. It is not so simple as pigion-holing someone into a homosexual or heterosexual box. And our modern views were certainly not the same as medieval views. My opinion is that he loved Piers above all others as a brother and that his love and devotion to him blinded him to everything else. He may have even been in love with him but I don't believe there was a sexual relationship. I do not believe and there is no evidence that he had a relationship with Hugh le Despenser, his other great favorite. While I think it is highly unlikely, it is possible he was bisexual but certainly not homosexual.

      • 11.1.3
        Wendye Bone pettit says:

        King Edward I is my 23 great grandfather.

  12. 12
    Edward 1st Supporter says:

    Wendye — OK, and this is important because —–

  13. 13
    keithm says:

    Edward was nothing less than a tyrant.

    The article tasks of Llewelyn's arrogance. Wales was a separate country and Llewelyn was legitimate Prince of Wales – prince not in the English feudal meaning of the word but in the Romano British meaning 'Principle leader'- the Roman empire in the west ended not in the 5th century but in 1282 with the death of Llewelyn. The prince of wales was agreed as leader of wales from the 3 separate princedoms of Deheubarth, Powys and Gwynedd- the triparpite agreement. Llewelyn had no cause to bow to Edward. The Welsh despised the English as they had disposessed the British(welsh) and Llewelyn was the last in the line of Cunedda- a dynasty that had reigned as the high Kings of the British for a millenia. Not just did Edward destroy Wales as sovereign state but he killed the royal family and dismantled the history of Wales by destroying and stealing the offices and regalia of state. Another Anglocentric view of history.

    Try reading the letters of Garth Celyn if you want to get a more balanced histrorical account. I sure the Irish and scots would tell a similar story.

  14. 14
    Anstapa says:

    Who cares?

    The last English king was Harold and all we hear about him is the defeat at Hastings.
    Did history begin in 1066? I don't think so.

    What about Alfred? The only ruler in England ever to be called 'The Great'.
    What about Aethelstan? United England and booted out the Danes.

    The Welsh make me laugh. I wonder, do they realise that Wales is Saxon word for 'Foreign'?

    I read the above waffle about Edward. There was no mention of his kicking the Jews out of England and no mention of Andrew Murray either. Why is it that William bloody Wallace gets such a mention? Before that stupid film, nobody had ever heard of him.

    As for Edward II being gay…. Possibly, or was it a rumour spread by his wife so she could be with her lover?

    Anyway, no matter who the monarch is, the same thing always obtains:

    England, tiny country but kicks everyone's arse.

  15. 15
    spongebob says:

    this is weird

    • 15.1
      696969 says:

      spongebob, this is weird and funny. i was doin homework but instead i read all this.

  16. 16
    goetterfunken7@yahoo.de says:

    Entschuldigung, aber was ist das für ein Deutsch ?

    Goethe und Schiller würden sich im Grabe drehen, wenn sie das lesen müssten !

    BING TRANSLATION:
    Sorry, but what is it for a German?

    Goethe and Schiller would turn in his grave if they need to read this!

  17. 17
    james mcginty says:

    Edward 1st was a sub-human savage who built concentration camps for the Jews, he borrowed money from them to fight his wars. Then he put them in concentration camps in order to escape repaying them.

  18. 18
    Horseglu says:

    I must say I was with you until you made that silly comment at the end. The English, try as they might, could not defeat the United States. They lost twice. To go further, you're welcome about those pesky little World Wars where the United States saved you from those Germans.

  19. 19

    [...] File Name : King edward i: england's warrior king – history net: where Source : http://www.historynet.com Download : King edward i: england's warrior king – history net: where [...]



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