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King Edward I of England: Biography & Conquests

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Edward I is often seen as one of the most successful of England's medieval kings. In this lesson, we'll explore the life of this monarch and see what role he played in England's long history.

Edward Longshanks

Several kings throughout history have held important nicknames. Richard was known as the Lionhearted for his bravery and Edward the Confessor for his piety and faith. Edward Longshanks, however, was uniquely identified by his legs. King Edward I of England was a medieval monarch, ruling from 1272 to 1307. He was exceptionally tall for the time, around 6 feet 2 inches, which earned him the nickname of Longshanks - a name that's stuck through time.

However, we shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that Edward I is only remembered for his height. Edward I would go on to become one of the most influential medieval kings. With those long legs, he took large strides in redefining the monarchy.

Edward I
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Early Life

Edward was born in 1239, son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. By the age of 14, he'd married a Spanish princess (Eleanor of Castile), owned many acres of land, and was becoming active in his father's regime. By his early 20s, he was beginning to take a more adversarial approach to politics, supporting some of his father's opponents in various political conflicts. In particular, Edward started sympathizing with the English barons, who were protesting against the king for greater rights. Edward formally joined their cause in 1259.

Not surprisingly, the result was a few years of extreme tension in the royal family. Eventually, however, Henry forgave his son, and Edward returned as a staunch defender of his father's royal authority. In 1264, the barons broke into full rebellion, which we call the Second Barons' War. Edward led many of the forces for his father, making a few mistakes as a young commander but ultimately proving his mettle. After being taken hostage, Edward escaped captivity, took charge of another army and helped lead the charge at the Battle of Evesham, where the leader of the rebellion was killed.

The Battle of Evesham
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After the rebellion began to quiet, Edward decided to secure his reputation as a man of action and faith and embarked on the Holy Crusades. While abroad, he received the tragic news in 1272 that his father had died. Henry III was dead, which meant that Edward I was the new King of England.

Royal Conquests

Edward came into power and immediately defined the tone of his reign by looking beyond his borders. Like many English kings, Edward envisioned a unified British kingdom (under his reign, obviously) that brought Wales, Scotland and England together. He first turned his attention to Wales.

Wales

During the reign of Henry III, the sovereign Prince of Wales (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd) had used England's instability to consolidate his own power to secure the continued autonomy of Wales. This increased tensions between England and Wales, tensions that were heightened further after Llywelyn's enemies were granted refuge in England. As a result, the Welsh prince refused to pay homage to Edward, and then announced his plan to marry the daughter of the man who had led the barons' rebellion.

In 1276, England and Wales went to war. The war with Wales did not last long, and Edward defeated Llywelyn in 1277. However, a strong Welsh national identity pushed back, and war reignited in 1282. At this point, Edward marched back into Wales, this time with the expressed intent of conquering it and adding it to his kingdom. Llywelyn was killed, and in 1284, Wales was incorporated into England by the Statute of Rhuddlan.

Edward soon started importing English customs, such as dividing the land into counties, implementing English common law, and building English towns to be filled with English settlers. Edward also became fascinated with Arthur, legendary hero of ancient Britain, used Arthurian imagery in many of his castles, and even had his own round table. Arthur is believed to have been Welsh, so this was likely also an effort to establish legitimate authority over Wales. Finally, Edward named his own son (Edward II) as the Prince of Wales. It is a title held by the heir apparent to the English throne to this day.

Edward names his son the Prince of Wales
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