The English King Edward I is sometimes known as the “Hammer of the Scots”. Although he defeated the Scots in battle and invaded Scotland, he was never able to control the country. But he did succeed in conquering Wales.
Edward was born in 1239, the son of King Henry III. By the time he inherited the throne at the age of 33, Edward was already an experienced military commander. He had learned his skills at home in England fighting against his father’s enemies, and also overseas in the Crusades. In 1270 Edward led a force of about 225 knights to the Holy Land. While returning from the Crusades in 1272, Edward learned of his father’s death.
CASTLES IN WALES
The Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ab Gruffudd, refused to accept Edward’s authority over Wales so in 1277 Edward invaded. The English army defeated the Welsh in a series of battles. Llywelyn was killed in 1282, and his brother Dafydd was captured and executed. Edward made the English victory permanent by building strong castles, such as Caernarfon and Conwy, around the coast of northern Wales. This ensured that the castle garrisons could be supplied by sea. He also gave his son the title Prince of Wales, reinforcing the fact that Edward had killed the last of the native Welsh princes.
HAMMERING THE SCOTS
Alexander III, the king of the Scots, was killed in a riding accident in 1286. Edward tried to gain control of Scotland by marrying his son to Alexander’s daughter Margaret. This scheme failed in 1290 when Margaret died. In 1292 John Balliol was selected as the next Scottish king. Edward immediately began interfering in Scottish affairs, and tried to reduce Balliol’s power. In 1295 the Scots made an alliance with France against Edward, and in response Edward led his army into Scotland.
The English smashed the Scottish army in 1296 at the Battle of Dunbar and Edward deposed Balliol. He declared himself king of Scotland, and took the famous Stone of Destiny (upon which Scottish kings were traditionally crowned), back with him from Scone to London. The Scots, led by William Wallace, rebelled against Edward’s rule and defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In 1298 Edward marched north and once more defeated the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk. Wallace was captured, and later executed, but the Scots continued to resist English rule.
EDWARD THE LAWMAKER
Edward tried to rule England justly and wisely. During the first part of his reign he reformed government finances and the English legal system. He issued a series of statutes (written laws) beginning with the Statute of Westminster in 1275. Edward’s statutes set down the laws on property and inheritance and also how the criminal law was to be administered.
Edward was devoted to his wife, Eleanor of Castile. When she died in 1290, he marked her funeral procession from Lincoln to London with a series of 12 carved stone crosses, and these became known as the Eleanor Crosses (three of them still survive today). He spent his final years campaigning against the Scots and died in 1307 while marching to do battle against Robert the Bruce.