“We shall then defeat the whole lot of them in one go!” – Edward I of England
Edward I is known in popular culture as “Longshanks,” conqueror of Scotland and enemy of Sir William Wallace (in “Braveheart”). Yet this story comprises only the final chapter of the king’s action-packed life. Earlier, Edward had defeated and killed the famous Simon de Montfort in battle; traveled to the Holy Land; conquering by sheer will the territory of Wales, destroying forever its native rulers and building a magnificent chain of castles. He raised some of the greatest armies of the Middle Ages and summoned the largest parliaments; notoriously, he expelled all the Jews from England.The longest-lived of England’s medieval kings, he fathered sixteen children with his beloved wife, Eleanor of Castile.
5. Hammer of the Scots
In 1292, Edward interceded in a succession dispute in Scotland and appointed John Balliol as king. Balliol swore allegiance to Edward, but Edward’s intense demands pushed the Scottish into an alliance with France. Edward, furious at this, decided to invade and conquer Scotland. The Scots rallied around William Wallace, who was then captured by the English and executed in 1305.
It took Edward I six years to gain control of Scotland after the defeat of the Scottish army at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. The last stronghold of resistance to English rule was Stirling Castle. Armed with twelve siege engines, the English laid siege to the castle in April 1304. For four months the castle was bombarded by lead balls (stripped from nearby church roofs), Greek fire, stone balls, and even a type of of gunpowder mixture. Edward I also had sulphur and saltpetre, components of gunpowder, brought to the siege from England.
Impatient with a lack of progress, Edward ordered his chief engineer to begin work on a new, more massive engine called Warwolf (a trebuchet). The castle’s garrison of 30 were eventually allowed to surrender on 20 July after Edward had previously refused to accept surrender until the Warwolf had been tested. In 1306, the Scottish nobleman Robert the Bruce decided to rebel against England. Edward was on his way to fight Bruce when he died, on 7 July 1307.
4. Eleanor Crosses
Despite his reputation for being a fierce king, Edward appears to have been very much in love with his wife Eleanor of Castile. He is one of the few medieval monarchs thought to have been totally faithful to his wife. Edward and Eleanor never tired of each other even as the years went by. Even in the late stages of her many pregnancies; she could not be persuaded to leave her husband’s side. Her children were born all over the world as she followed Edward from one campaign to the next. Eleanor eventually had sixteen children with Edward. After her death, the king issued orders that memorial crosses be constructed at each stop of the funeral procession between Lincoln and Westminster. Based on crosses in France marking Louis IX’s funeral procession, these ornate monuments heightened the image of Edward’s kingship as well as witnessing his grief. There were a total of 12 crosses of which only 3 survive to this day.
3. A Very Intimidating King
Edward had a reputation for a fierce temper, and he could be extremely intimidating. One story tells of how the Dean of St Paul’s came before Edward to complain about the high level of taxation in 1295 and fell down and died once he was in the King’s presence. When his son, Edward of Caernarfon, demanded an earldom for his favorite knight Piers Gaveston, the King erupted in anger and reportedly tore out handfuls of his son’s hair. Edward I (6’2″) was a tall man for his era and had long arms and legs which led to his nickname “Longshanks”. His temperament, combined with his height, made him an intimidating man and he often instilled fear in his contemporaries. His features were accentuated with piercing blue eyes, a high pitched voice, and a drooping left eyelid.
2. Very Hard to Kill
Once, while Edward was on a crusade to the Holy Land and resting in his tent, a Muslim assassin broke in and stabbed him with a poisoned knife. Edward fought him off and managed to kill his assailant but was wounded in the arm. Soon the limb swelled, and the foul-smelling flesh grew black. Gangrene had apparently 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. Later storytellers exaggerated this incident, claiming Eleanor sucked the poison from the wound, thereby saving Edward’s life, but this tale has no foundation.
One Easter Sunday another near death experience visited the King: as the best-informed chronicler explains, ‘a great misfortune befell the king’. Edward was standing with his nobles in a certain solar (the topmost room in a tower) when the floor beneath their feet suddenly fell away. The assembled company tumbled from an estimated height of eighty feet. Many of them were crushed and some suffered broken bones. Three knights were said to have been killed, while others apparently walked away unscathed. As for Edward himself, he was not nearly so unlucky, nor quite so fortunate. Found under a Gascon knight who had broken his leg, the king emerged from the wreckage with a broken collarbone.
Another incident relates that when Edward was besieging a castle in Scotland, a missile pierced his saddle and passed between his legs. Edward was miraculously unhurt. It is said that Edward narrowly escaped death when a bolt from a crossbow was struck and lodged in his armour. But the king was able to maintain his composure. He dislodged the bolt, spat on it to show his contempt for the garrison, and threatened to hang the man who shot it.
1. Edward I Left a Very Weak Heir in Edward II
Edward II (who reigned England and Wales from 1308 to 1327), was married to Queen Isabella, but he seemed to show much more affection to a knight called Piers Gaveston than he did to his wife. His subjects were none too thrilled about this, and Piers Gaveston was eventually executed by the Earl of Warwick (who Gaveston had called “the black hound of Arden”) by having his head chopped off – homosexuality was a capital offence in England at this time.
After Gaveston’s death, Edward II then started an affair with another man – Hugh Despenser. Despenser was later executed but not before having his genitals cut off and burned before his eyes. Edward II was eventually overthrown by his wife and the Earl, Roger Mortimer. He was imprisoned and murdered in 1327.