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Edward I [r. 1272-1307]

Edward I (of the Norman line), king of England, son of Henry III, was born at Winchester in 1239. The contests between his father Henry III and the barons called him early into active life. The purely baronial conception of the English Parliament had hardly been formulated when its inadequacy became self-evident. Even in Norman and Angevin times the authority of the Crown had been largely based on the mute but hearty support which the average Englishman gave to the one power which could maintain order, and save him from the caprice of the local feudal tyrant. The machinery by which this popular backing of the royal authority had been effected still survived in the popular local courts, and the jury system of Henry II had enlarged the representative principle by affording facilities for representative committees of the shire moots to treat directly with the king or his agents.

Administrative convenience and financial necessity brought about during the first half of the 13th century a further extension of the idea of representation. It became not unusual for knights, representing the shires, and burgesses, chosen from the boroughs, to be gathered together in a single assembly to voice complaints, frame laws, testify to ancient customs, and make extraordinary grants of money. Such was the state of things when the narrowness and selfishness of the triumphant baronial oligarchy provoked a strong reaction among their own more enlightened supporters, and gave a unique chance to the broader-minded friends of the monarchy to rescue it from the impotence into which it had fallen. Simon of Montfort, Earl of Leicester, made himself the leader of the former; Edward, the king's son, the future Edward I, put himself at the head of the latter movement.

The momentary triumph of Earl Simon over both his baronial colleagues and his royalist enemies was marked by the Parliament of 1265, which, if not the "first House of Commons," was at least the first occasion when the new machinery of representation was applied to the determination of grave political issues. The effect of Simon's work was that the lesser landholders and the citizens were called upon to enlarge the narrow circle which had hitherto alone aspired to control the crown. Though Simon perished within a few months on the field of Evesham, his enemy and supplanter, Edward I, carried on and completed the work. Edward I finally quelled all resistance to the royal authority, by the decisive defeat of Leicester, at the battle of Evesham, in 1265.

Edward I then proceeded to Palestine, where he signalized his valor ou many occasions, and inspired So much terror, that an assassin was employed to despatch him, from whom he received a wound in the arm, which, as tradition reports, being supposed to he from a poisoned weapon, was sucked by his faithful consort, Eleanor of Castile.

In the year of grace 1274, on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady [19th August], Edward the son of Henry, with his wife Eleanor, were crowned and anointed at Westminster by Friar Robert of Kilwardby, Archbishop of Canterbury. The great street of Cheap and the others through which this Edward rode to his coronation were covered with carpets and silken tapestry. The citizens flung gold and silver from the windows for anybody who cared to take it. The conduit on one side of Cheap ran with white wine, on the other side with red. King Alexander of Scotland was there, and the Duke of Brittany (who was the premier duke after the earls present), the wives of both being sisters of the said Edward, and also the Queen-mother. Which seigneurs, with all the other Earls of England, were clothed in garments of gold and silk, with numerous retinues of knights, who, on dismounting, turned their horses loose for anybody to take who chose, in honor of the coronation of this Edward, who at this time was thirty-six years of age.

On assuming the government, he acted with great vigor in the repression of the lawlessness of the nobles, and the corruption in the administration of justice; but often evinced an arbitrary and grasping disposition. In 1276, he summoned Llewellyn, prince of Wales, to do him homage, and, upon his refusal, except ou certain conditions, commenced the war which ended in the annexation of that principality to the English crown in 1263.

Edward then spent some time abroad, in mediating a peace between the crowns of France and Arragon, and, on his return, commenced his attempt to destroy the independence of Scotland. The expense attendant upon this strong, but unprincipled policy, was such that Edward was necessitated to use every expedient to raise supplies; and, for this purpose, in the twenty-third year of his reign, he summoned to parliament representatives from all the boroughs in the kingdom: this is therefore considered by some authors the true epoch of the formation of a house of commons in England. After his return from the Scottish expedition in 1296, which terminated in the capture of Baliol, he became involved in a quarrel with his clergy, who, supported by the pope, refused to submit to a tax which he had imposed on them. Edward forced their compliance, by placing them out of the protection of the law.

In the year of grace 1284, his [King Edward's] son, Edward, was born in the castle of Carnarvon, in Wales, and in the same year his other son, Alfonso, died at Windsor, being the King's eldest son; and his daughter, Mary, became a nun at Amesbury. King Alexander of Scotland after the death of the King's sister, took to wife the daughter of the Count of Flanders, by whom he had no offspring.

His frequent expedients to raise money at length produced great discontent among the nobles, and people also, which obliged him to confirm the great charter, and charter of forests, and also to give other securities in favor of public liberty. He then made a campaign in Flanders against France, which terminated with the recovery of Guienne, and his second marriage with Margaret, the sister of king Philip. Meantime new commotious took place in Scotland, under the guidance of the celebrated William Wallace. These transactions recalled Edward from Flanders, who hastened to the borders with an army of 100,000 men. The ignominious execution of the brave Wallace, in 1303, as a traitor, forms a blot in the character of Edward.

Neither did it avail, since Robert Bruce was able in 1306 to place himself at the head of a new confederacy. Highly indignant at this determined spirit of resistance, Edward vowed revenge against the whole Scottish nation, and, assembling another army, was on the point of passing the border when he was arrested by sickness, and died at Burgh-upon-Sahds, near Carlisle, in 1307, in the sixty-ninth year of his age and thirty-ninth of his reign.

Edward was every inch a king, and loved power too well to abandon any of it willingly. But he dreaded the might of the greater barons and of the still independent Church: he appreciated the advantage of having the people on his side; and he was the first king after the conquest who was in a real sense an Englishman. Up to now the progress made in England had been on lines common to all Christendom. There is nothing specifically English in the Church, the friars, Gothic art, scholastic philosophy, the universities, feudal warfare, or even in the system of representative control of the Crown by the estates. At last under Edward I a newer and more specially national note is sounded.

Under this great king the constitutional system became perfected; the council of the nation became permanently strengthened with a popular and representative element; the baronial parliament was enlarged with the three estates of barons, clergy, and commons. Edward I was even less of an innovator than Henry II, but old ideas took new shapes under his direction. The materials of the Constitution had been supplied during the creative period of the barons' wars. His work, as Stubbs has truly said, was a work of definition. Henceforward the main outlines of the Constitution were clearly marked out and defined. As far as outward forms went, they remained as Edward established them, until quite modern times.

The most permanent result of Edward I's work was the creation of the English parliamentary system. Edward's other ambitions were less completely realized. He aspired, with but little success, to maintain his position in Gascony and on the Continent against Philip the Fair, the greatest of the mediaeval Kings of France. He aimed at playing a prominent part in Europe, and checking the ever-growing usurpations of the Church in the political sphere, and at establishing his authority over all the British Islands. In most of these directions he was not very successful, except that by the destruction of the state of Llewelyn of Wales he made the English monarch supreme over southern Britain. Even in his lifetime his attempt to absorb Scotland showed no great prospect of success.

Few princes have exhibited more vigor in action or policy in council than Edward I. His enterprises were directed to permanent advantages rather than to mere personal ambition and temporary splendor. Nor was he less intent upon the internal improvement of his kiengdom than its external importance. The laws of the realm obtained so much additional order and precision during his reign that he has been called the English Justinian. He passed an act of mortmain, protected and encouraged commerce, and in his reign first originated the society of merchant adventurers. The manners of this able sovereign were courteous and his person majestic, although the disproportionate length of his legs gave him the popular surname of Longshanks.

This King Edward caused the Jews to be expelled from his realm, wherefore he took a tax of a fifteenth from the laity and a tenth from the clergy. He left a son and three daughters by his first wife, Eleanor, who died in 1290, and two sons by his second wife, Margaret of France.

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Page last modified: 25-01-2013 18:56:32 ZULU