Bios

Edward I

King Edward I ascended to the throne of England upon the death of his father, King Henry III of England, in 1272. He married twice, to Eleanor of Castile, and to Marguerite of France.

Edward I, who became known as Longshanks due to his wars with the Scots and his height, was one of the greatest Plantagenet kings. He was born on 17 June 1239 at Westminster Palace - the first child of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence.

His father named his heir Edward after his favourite saint Edward the Confessor, who had been the king of England before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

He was a delicate child and suffered a life-threatening illness in 1246 but was nursed back to health by his mother at Beaulieu Abbey.

Edward grew to become a man of six foot two inches with long arms and legs. He inherited black hair from his mother and the fiery Plantagenet temper of his father. He also spoke with a pronounced lisp.

On 1 November 1254, Edward married his second cousin, the 13-year-old beauty Eleanor of Castile, to settle disputes about land in Gascony. They wed in Castile and Edward was given the lands of Gascony, which had been run inefficiently by Simon de Mountfort.

His father wanted Edward to have more experience of power and awarded him lands in Wales, Ireland and the Channel Islands that year. The married couple returned to England in October 1255.

Even though their marriage had been a political alliance, Edward and Eleanor became deeply attached and had 16 children together. Their first two sons died in infancy, while the heir Alphonso died at the age of 12. Their son Edward then became the heir.

Edward was an impatient man, displaying considerable military prowess in defeating Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and treating the rebels with great savagery. He relentlessly pursued the surviving members of the de Montfort family, who were his cousins.

In 1275, pirates in Edward's pay intercepted a ship carrying Eleanor de Montfort, Simon's daughter, on its way to Wales where she would marry Llywelyn the Last. Llywelyn wanted the marriage largely to antagonise Edward.

Edward imprisoned Eleanor until Llywelyn would concede his terms for peace. Unexpectedly, Llywelyn's younger brother, Dafydd started a rebellion in 1282. Llywelyn was killed shortly afterwards in a skirmish, and Dafydd was captured and killed.

To finance his war to conquer Wales, Edward I taxed the Jewish moneylenders. When the Jews could no longer pay, they were accused of disloyalty. Edward decreed that the Jews were a threat to the country. All Jews were made to wear a yellow patch in the shape of a star, an idea Adolf Hitler would adopt 650 years later.

Over three hundred Jews were taken to the Tower of London and executed, while others were murdered in their homes. Finally in 1290, the King banished all Jews from the country.

Eleanor also died in 1290 at the age of 49. She had been accompanying her husband on a journey to Lincoln when she fell ill with a fever she had previously suffered in 1287. They continued their journey to Harby in Nottinghamshire where the queen died on 28 November 1290.

The king, who usually showed little or no emotion, was deeply affected by his wife's death and had a memorial cross placed at every spot where her body had rested during the journey to London. This is where the name 'Charing Cross' comes from.

Her body was interred at Westminster Abbey. A magnificent bronze gilt effigy designed by William Torel surmounts her tomb.

In 1291, Scottish nobles recognised the authority of Edward I. He had planned to marry off his son to the child queen, Margaret I of Scotland, but when Margaret died he was invited by the Scottish nobles to select her successor, and he chose John Balliol (over Robert Bruce).

Balliol was effectively a puppet of the English which led the discontented Scots to rise up against him. An English army marched into Scotland in 1296 and Edward stormed Berwick upon Tweed, killing its inhabitants and sending the humiliated Balliol to the Tower of London. The Stone of Sconce, a venerated relic that Scottish kings had been crowned on, was moved to Westminster in 1296.

The banner of the Scots was taken up by William Wallace, who defeated the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The rebel then led a guerrilla war against Edward in the name of Balliol. He was defeated by the king at the battle of Falkirk in 1298 and Edward placed Scotland in the care of three regents, including Robert Bruce. Wallace then stormed Stirling Castle in 1304 but was handed over to the king.

At the age of 60, the king remarried. He wed Margaret of France, the 17-year-old daughter of King Phillip III of France and Maria of Brabant, and their marriage was celebrated in Canterbury on 8 September 1299. Despite the big age gap, the couple got on well and grew close, with Margaret giving birth to their first son within a year of their marriage. He was followed by another son and a daughter, named after his first wife Eleanor, was born in 1306.

Opposition sprang up, and Edward mercilessly executed the focus of discontent, William Wallace, in 1305. The painful and humiliating punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering was specifically designed for Wallace. Edward's plan to unite the two countries never came to fruition.

Edward died at Burgh in Sands on 7 July 1307, and was buried at Westminster Abbey. His 26-year-old widow Margaret never remarried and died ten years later.