King Edward I the Ruthless Warrior King

King Edward I was born in Westminster on 17 June 1239, and was the eldest son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. He was named after his father’s favourite saint, King Edward the Confessor, a saxon name which was not often given to aristocracy after the Norman conquest.

King Edward I was a fine soldier, earning the respect and loyalty of his subjects at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Here he defeated Simon de Montfort, saving his father Henry III from imprisonment. Later, Edward left for the 8th and 9th Crusades where he learned that he had succeeded to the throne of England.

Edward was a quick tempered Plantagenet, with relentless determination to succeed as king. His ambition was to rule over the entire island of what is now known as Great Britain, but Scotland would prove to be a very difficult kingdom to subdue. With continued Scottish resistance and Welsh rebellion, King Edward I’s reign would be dominated by castle building and battles, in a life-long effort to rule the kingdom outright.

King Edward I earned the epithet ‘Longshanks’ due to his height of 6’2, which was tall for men in the middle ages. Long after his death, Edward earned his second epithet ‘The hammer of the Scots’ in the 16th century. This rather inappropriate nickname refers to his vow to avenge the rebellion of Robert Bruce, and his furious campaigns against the Scots.

King Edward I Marries Eleanor of Castile

In 1252, Alfonso X king of Castile made a claim to the duchy of Gascony, which was part of the Angevin Empire owned by King Henry III, and all his predecessors back to King Henry II.

Eleanor Of Castile

During negotiations, King Henry III agreed that his son Edward, then fifteen, would marry thirteen year old Eleanor of Castile, Alphonso’s sister. This marriage would bring both claim’s to Gascony together, and unite them. Edward and Eleanor married on 1 November 1254 at the monastery of Las Huelgas, in Burgos, Spain.

At peace talks between the two countries in 1254 it was agreed that King Henry III‘s fifteen year old son son Edward (pictured below left) would marry the thirteen year old Eleanor and in return Alfonso would transfer his claims on Gascony to them. The couple, who were second cousins, were married at the monastery of Las Huelgas, in Burgos on 1st November 1254. Edward was knighted by Eleanor’s half-brother, Alphonso X, to mark the occasion.

King Edward I the Crowned Crusader

In June 1268, Lord Edward, who was yet to be crowned king, took up the cross at Northampton to join the Crusade led by King Louis IX of France. Edward agreed to serve under Louis on the Crusade, in exchange for 70,000 livres tournois (pounds of the standard of Tours).

After months of preparations, Lord Edward left Dover in August 1270 with is wife Eleanor, bound for Tunis to join the French army. However, upon arrival in November, King Louis IX had died from dysentery and the siege of Tunis was abandoned. A peace treaty was made, and Edward set sail for Sicily to sit out the winter.

By May 1271, Edward reached Acre for the 9th Crusade alongside Louis’ brother Charles of Anjou. Edward’s brother, Edmund also joined in September. Together, they formed an alliance with Mongol ruler of Persia, Abagha. Edward ordered the Mongols to attack the mamluks and their leader Baibars, while he would raid the town of Qaqun, which served as a bridgehead to Jerusalem. However, both missions failed through a lack of soldiers.

Further disruption to the Crusade followed, when Edward was attacked by an assassin loyal to the Emirs, in June 1272. He was stabbed in the arm by the assassin’s poisoned dagger, but managed to kill the attacker in the struggle. The wound festered, and nearly proved fatal until the skills of his surgeon saved him. Legend has it that Edward’s wife, Eleanor, sucked out the poison from the wound, helping him to survive.

In November 1272, Edward had already left Acre and arrived in Sicily, where word reached him of his father’s death. This sad news and the slow recovery of his near-fatal wound, hindered Edward’s plans to return home. He chose to travel overland through Italy and France, visiting Pope Gregory X on the way. When he finally landed in England two years later, he was crowned king of England on 19 August 1274 at Westminster Abbey, aged 35.

King Edward I’s Subjugation of Wales

Not long into his reign, King Edward I insisted he should rule over the entire British Isles. His first priority was to conquer Wales.

Treaty Of Montgomery

After the Norman invasion, Wales was split up into independent territories, each ruled by a Marcher Lordship, owing allegiance to the English crown. Through the 11th and 12th centuries, the Welsh fought back and regained parts of Wales. By 1267, at the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery by king Henry III, Wales had a powerful leader in Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales.

In 1274, Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys and Dafydd ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn’s younger brother) defected to the English, seeking protection after a failed assassination attempt against Llywelyn. Edward demanded Llywelyn to pay homage, but he refused. Further tensions came from dissatisfied Marcher Lords, such as Gilbert de Clare, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, who were constantly battling Llywelyn. The final provocation came when Llywelyn made plans to marry Eleanor, daughter of rebel Simon de Montfort. In November 1276, King Edward I declared war on Llywelyn.


In July 1277, Edward invaded Wales with 15,000 men, over half of which were Welshmen. Support for Llywelyn was falling among Welsh rulers, whose lands he had absorbed into his own. With the prospect of facing Edward’s huge army,  Llywelyn surrendered without fight. In November 1277, the Treaty of Aberconwy was signed, stripping Llywelyn of all his lands except Gwynedd, but allowing him to retain the title Prince of Wales. This major redistribution of power and territory favoured Edward’s ambition to rule Wales entirely.

In 1282, rebellion struck from an unlikely source. The defector, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, was unhappy with his reward for fighting for King Edward I. The Marcher Lord, Reginald de Grey had made a claim to part of the Four Cantrefs, which Dafydd believed to be his. Dafydd attacked Hawarden Castle, coordinating with Edward’s defected vassals, who took other key Norman Castles. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd hesitated, before joining his brother in the uprising.

King Edward I led his army into North Wales, while his Marcher Lords attacked the uprisings in mid and south Wales. At the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr in June 1282, the Earl of Gloucester was killed, being replaced by the Earl of Pembroke. Further set back came for Edward when his knight Roger Mortimer was killed in October. In November, at the Battle of Moel-y-don, the Welsh ambushed Luke de Tany, commander of Anglesey, while they crossed a bridge to the mainland, and the English suffered heavy losses.

Battle of Orewin Bridge

The misfortune of Edward’s invasion of Wales took a positive turn for the king. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd marched south towards Builth in mid-Wales, where a royal castle stood. The Welsh took up position facing Orewin (Irfon) bridge, waiting for the English to appear. However, locals who supported the English, directed the English army to a ford across the river two miles downstream. This allowed the English to flank the Welsh position, and inflict heavy damage on Llywelyn’s forces.

Llywelyn Ap Gruffydd

Llywelyn himself had gone to speak to local leaders, and returned after the battle had started. It is said that a lone knight, Stephen de Frankton of Shropshire, killed Llywelyn on the edge of the battle without knowing who he had killed. It was only after he discovered regalia of the Prince of Wales on Llywelyn’s person, that he realised the Welsh leader was dead.

The successful conquest of Gwynedd was completed in June 1283, when Dafydd Prince of Wales, who had instigated the rebellion a year before, was captured. Dafydd was executed as a traitor in Shrewsbury.

Further rebellions occurred in 1287, 1288 and 1294. A distant relative of Llywelyn, Madog ap Llywelyn, gave cause for King Edward I’s attention due to its significance, but the rebellions were crushed.

Statute of Rhuddlan

King Edward I divided the Welsh principality between himself, more Marcher Lordships and his Welsh allies. Two thirds of Wales had been taken by force, in response to the act of treason by Llywelyn’s rebellion, and so the principality became annexed to the English crown.

In 1282, the Statute of Rhuddlan was issued from Rhuddlan Castle in North Wales, which was one of the iron ring fortresses built by Edward. The Statute provided the constitutional basis for the government of the Principality of North Wales. South Wales was already being governed by Edward through his Marcher Lordships since 1240.

Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle

The Statute divided the kingdom of Gwynedd into the counties of Anglesey, Merionethshire, Caernarfonshire, and Flintshire. It also introduced English common law to Wales, with the exception of settling disputes, where the Welsh practice of arbitration outside of courts was retained. Welsh inheritance practices also continued, such as daughters could inherit family lands if there was no son; widows were entitled to a third of their late husband’s land; and bastards were excluded from all inheritance.

King Edward I Builds the Ring of Iron

King Edward I is well known for castle building, especially in Wales. There were two main phases of Welsh castle building, which eventually formed the ‘Ring of Iron’ around Wales. Edward knew that invading Wales was difficult because the Welsh could use the local mountainous terrain to cut off supply lines . To solve this, Edward would build fortresses along the northern Welsh coast, which could easily be resupplied from the sea.

King Edward I Ring Of Iron

The first phase came in 1277 before the conquest of Wales, around the mountainous region of Snowdonia, starting with the construction of Flint Castle. The design of each fortress was influenced by Edward’s travels through France on Crusade. Each castle was built as a concentric stone castle, using the latest techniques and architectural practices.

Rhuddlan and Builth were also built in 1277, and a rebuild of Aberystwyth followed too. In 1281, Hawarden Castle was rebuilt in stone, and was later attacked by Dafydd ap Gruffydd in 1282. New castles Harlech and Denbigh were built in 1282.

The second phase of building began after the conquest of Wales. In 1283, Caernavon and Conwy castles were designed and built by master castle builder, James of St. George. Later in 1295, he would design and build Beaumaris Castle on the Isle of Anglesey too. These three castles feature huge round and polygonal towers, providing the best possible protection.

King Edward I Creates a Model Parliament

With his recent conquest of Wales complete, King Edward I realised that he would need to levy taxes for future campaigns. In 1295 he summoned the Model Parliament, which included two knights from each county, two elected officials from each borough, and two citizens from each city. This became the standard representation of Parliament, which also included members of the aristocracy and clergy.

King Edward I had called his first Parliament back in 1275, but it is this Parliament in 1295 that formed the model going forward. It is through this Parliament that Edward was able to raise extraordinary taxes with the Parliament’s assent, but as with all Parliaments, there is a bit of give and take. Edward may have been granted the tax income he wanted, but he would also have to concede in other areas to the benefit of others.

King Edward I the Hammer of the Scots

With Wales successfully governed by the English, King Edward I looked north to Scotland for his next phase in his ambition to rule the British Isles.

John Balliol

Relations between England and Scotland where relatively peaceful in the 1280s. King Alexander III of Scotland paid homage to Edward as agreed. The issues began when King Alexander’s three children died in quick succession. In 1286 the king died too, leaving his three year old granddaughter, Margaret, as heir to the Scottish throne.

John Balliol

The Treaty of Birgham was signed, agreeing that young Margaret ‘the Maid of Norway’ would marry Edward of Caernavon, King Edward I’s six year old son. While Scotland would remain free from English over-lordship. However, tragedy struck in 1290 when Margaret died from illness after crossing the sea from Norway. Now with a lack of a Scottish heir, the struggle for succession began. This became known as The Great Cause.

Fourteen claimants put forward their rights to the title, but the real contest was between John Balliol and Robert V de Brus (Grandfather to Robert the Bruce). Scottish magnates asked Edward to oversee the outcome of the contest, to which he agreed, so long as the winner would recognise King Edward I as their feudal overlord. The Scottish could not agree to this, but did agree that Scotland would be handed over to Edward until such time as the rightful heir was selected. John Balliol possessed a stronger hereditary right to the throne that Robert, and so with the help of Edward, John Balliol was chosen as the King of Scotland on 17 November 1292.

Auld Alliance

King Edward I continued to press his authority over Balliol and Scotland. But the tide turned when Edward called for Scottish barons to provide military service in the war against France. The Scottish could not accept such demands. Instead they chose to ally themselves with France, and the Auld Alliance treaty was signed by John Balliol and Philip IV of France in 1295. The treaty stated that should the English attack either country, the other must invade England. Edward now decided to try and conquer Scotland, rather than just rule it.

In March 1296, after an unsuccessful Scottish attack on Carlisle, King Edward I invaded Scotland and ravaged Berwick upon Tweed with 25,000 men. Furthermore, Edward seized the Stone of Destiny, which was the ancient coronation stone of Scotland, and brought it back to Westminster. John Balliol was forced to surrender, and was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edward then appointed three English magnates to govern Scotland on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, France had taken possession of Gascony. King Edward I did not have to send troops to regain his territory, however, as the Pope intervened. Edward and King Phillip IV of France made a truce, and Gascony was returned to Edward.

William Wallace

William Wallace

In 1297, the Scots were in full rebellion of their English governors, led by the infamous William Wallace. Wallace was a member of minor nobility, but had the passion and charisma to lead men into conflict. He was a Balliol supporter, and defiantly opposed English rule.

In May, Wallace assassinated the High Sheriff of Lanark, William de Heselrig. Following that, he joined forces with William Douglas the Hardy and raided the city of Scone, routing the local chief justiciar.

Battle of Stirling Bridge

The Scots began to notice Wallace’s successful uprising, and so did King Edward I. William Wallace and Andrew de Moray joined forces and by August 1297 they controlled most of Scotland north of the Forth. In September 1297, Wallace and Moray brought their army to face John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham at Stirling Bridge, a key location point to the north of Scotland.

The English were stationed south of the River Forth, while the Scots were camped on Abbey Craig, to the north. A Scottish knight, who had defected to the English cause, offered to cross the river at a ford a few miles upstream, and then outflank the Scots on his return. This offer was rejected by John de Warenne, on the advice of Hugh de Cressingham, who then ordered a direct assault across Stirling Bridge.

The bridge’s width would only allow two horsemen at a time, and the crossing was slow. The Scots waited for as much of the enemy to cross as they could handle, and then attacked. Very quickly, they were able to seal off the bridge, preventing further English troops from crossing. With the limited English force now trapped across the river, Wallace and his men slaughtered them.

The Earl was still south of the river with his archers and the bulk of his force. But after witnessing the rout, he ordered the bridge to be destroyed and fled back to Berwick, leaving his garrison at Stirling Castle on their own.

Scottish nobility named William Wallace and Andrew de Moray as joint Guardians of Scotland.

The location of Stirling Bridge is 180 yards upstream from the stone bridge you see today. Wallace monument is located on the summit of Abbey Craig, overlooking the site of the battle.

William Wallace Monument
The William Wallace Monument Credit to BusterBrownBB

Battle of Falkirk

King Edward I was away in France, when he learned of his humiliating defeat at Stirling. Upon his return in March 1298, Edward’s preparations for a second Scottish invasion were well underway. He decided to move his government to York, where it remained for the next six years, and summoned the Scottish magnates. However, none arrived and a furious Edward labelled them all traitors. Further still, William Wallace had led a raid into Northumberland.

In June 1298, King Edward I marched his 15,000 men into the Scottish borders at Roxburgh Castle. William Wallace did not want to face the English head on, instead he chose to harass the English supply lines. He hoped that Edward would run out of supplies, and be forced to retreat. This soon became close to reality after Edward had taken Linlithgow Castle. His supply ships could not land nearby due to strong winds. With a withdrawal imminent, King Edward I received some vital intelligence that would change his fortune.

William Wallace and his troops were seen camping on the Stirling road seven miles away. With haste, Edward gathered his army and on 22 July 1298 he engaged the Scots at Falkirk. The English had veteran troops from campaigns in France, and Welshmen with their infamous longbows among their superior numbers of men-at-arms. The Scots were outnumbered, almost 2 to 1, according to some sources.

The English cavalry charged but had to divert to each flank of the Scottish position, because of the boggy ground in front of the Scots. This slowed the charge, but did not stop the onslaught. The Scots held their position, while Edward’s men-at-arms and archers assaulted the centre. The Scottish archers were wiped out by the cavalry, and soon the battle became a slaughter.

William Wallace managed to escape with his reputation significantly damaged. In September 1298, he resigned as Guardian of Scotland in favour of Robert the Bruce. Wallace evaded capture for a further seven years, until he was betrayed by a Scottish knight loyal to Edward, John de Menteith on 5 August 1305.

King Edward I ordered Wallace to be brought down to London, where he was tried for treason and atrocities to civilians in war. In response Wallace replied:

I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.

On 23 August 1305, Wallace was taken to the Tower, stripped and dragged by his heels to The Elms, Smithfield, London. He was hung until semi-conscious then stretched. He was then castrated, his heart, lungs and bowels torn out and burned in front of him. Finally he was beheaded, drawn and quartered. His head was placed on a pike on top of London Bridge as a grim reminder to those who would betray King Edward I!

Trial of William Wallace
Trial of William Wallace

King Edward I Appoints the Prince of Wales

In 1301, King Edward I bestows his son, Edward of Caernavon, with the title of Prince of Wales. The title had always belonged to Welsh princes, but since the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and with the Welsh under English rule, the title was free. From then on, every male heir has received the same title to this present day.

Not all succeed, however. Since Edward, there have been seven Prince of Wales’ that have not become king. These are the Edward the Black Prince, Edward son of Henry VI, Edward son of Richard III, Arthur son of Henry VII, Henry Frederick son of James I, James Stuart son of the Old Pretender and Frederick son of George II.

Every Prince of Wales since Edward the Black Prince has had the motto: “Ich Dien” (I serve).

King Edward I and Robert the Bruce

King Edward I was suffering from ill health when the Scots rose up again. Robert the Bruce had himself crowned king of Scotland in 1306, through his inherited claim from his grandfather, Robert V de Brus 5th Lord of Annandale. This act enraged Edward, and Robert’s uprising did not go well, fleeing into hiding after the defeat at the Battle of Methven. Edward was once again as ruthless as ever upon his enemies, and suspended Robert’s sister, Mary, in a cage outside of Roxburgh Castle for four years!

Robert The Bruce
Robert the Bruce Credit to Wknight94

But determined to succeed, Robert gathered a new army of supporters, and in February 1307 he defeated the English at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. King Edward I marched north to address this new situation. However, the king contracted dysentery and had to rest at Burgh by Sands, just south of the Scottish border. The next day, on 7 July 1307 King Edward I died.

The king’s dying wish was for his Earls to look after his son, Edward Prince of Wales, and to ensure Piers Gaveston never sets foot in the Royal Court. A dying wish that would never be fulfilled.

Robert the Bruce went on to recapture towns held by the English. In June 1314, King Robert besieged Stirling Castle, which was an English stronghold. King Edward II responded, and marched a huge army to Bannockburn. The two sides engaged on 24 June at the Battle of Bannockburn. The vastly outnumbered Scots broke the English lines, forcing King Edward II and his men to flee in defeat. It would take another fourteen years for England to recognise Scotland’s independence by the Treaty of Edinburgh.

King Edward I Facts

  • Edward was born on 17 June 1239, Westminster
  • His father was King Henry III
  • His mother was Eleanor of Provence
  • He was crowned on 19 August 1274 at Westminster Abbey, aged 35
  • He married Eleanor of Castile, and later Margaret of France
  • He had 19 children, including Edward II
  • He died on 7 July 1307 at Burgh-by-Sands, Cumbria, aged 68
  • He was known as Edward Longshanks and later Edward Hammer of the Scots
  • He subjugated Wales, but never Scotland
  • He built the Ring of Iron, a ring of castles, around Wales
  • He is most famous for executing the infamous freedom fighter, William Wallace

Main feature image has been edited under the Creative Commons Licence. The original image source is © The Carlisle Kid (cc-by-sa/2.0)

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