Edward I (1239-1307), known as the "Greatest of the Plantagenets," was king of England from 1272 to 1307. His reign witnessed the growth of parliamentary power, the enactment of extensive reforms, and the spread of English control over Scotland and Wales.

The eldest son of Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, Edward was born on June 17/18, 1239. In October 1254, at the age of 15, he married Eleanor of Castile, by whom he had 10 children. She died in 1290, and in September 1299 Edward married Margaret of France, by whom he had three children.

Soon after Edward's first marriage, Henry III gave him Gascony, Ireland, Bristol, and the march between the Dee and the Conway rivers. In the latter area, as the Earl of Chester, he gained experience in warfare with the Welsh. His attempt to introduce the English system of counties and hundreds provoked Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales. During the Parliament of Oxford in 1258, Edward sided with his father, but in the following year he became a leader of the "Bachelorhood of England" in support of Simon de Montfort and the Provisions of Westminster. Again in support of his father, Edward attacked the Welsh who were supporting the rebellious barons, and in 1264 he attacked the barons at Northampton. Edward caused his father's defeat and his own capture at the Battle of Lewes. After his escape Edward led the victory over the barons at Evesham, and in the next years, as he received the submission of the barons, Edward became an advocate of a policy of healing.

Edward was made the steward of England in 1268 as well as warden of the city and the Tower of London. He gained popularity by abolishing the levy of customs and by urging laws against the Jewish moneylenders. He left for the Crusades in 1271 and fought bravely at Acre and Haifa. While Edward was on the way home, his father died, and he succeeded to the crown on Nov. 20, 1272.

Domestic and Foreign Policies

After his coronation on Aug. 19, 1274, Edward initiated an active legislative program to overthrow feudalism and to develop the parliamentary system of government. He earned the name of "English Justinian" as a flood of legislation was passed. The first important reform was the Statute of Westminster I, passed in 1275 to amend the evils of the earlier civil war. It was followed by the Statute of Gloucester (1278), which reformed territorial jurisdiction; the Statute of Mortmain (1279), which reformed ecclesiastical landholding; the Statute of Quia Emptores (1290), which enabled land sales; the Statute of Westminster II, which reformed legal rights; and the Statute of Winchester, which reformed the national military force.

Edward was also busily engaged in the first years of his reign in his attempts to control Wales. Prince Llewelyn at first refused to attend Parliament but submitted to the English in 1276. This submission did not last long, however, and Edward was forced to take up arms, killing Llewelyn in 1282 and bringing his brother, David, to trial in 1283. This victory over the Welsh rebels resulted in the Statute of Wales, which brought the English pattern of administration to Wales.

By 1292 Edward was also involved in Scotland, where 13 claimants sought the throne. After the Scotch asked for arbitration by the English, Edward placed John Balliol (the third son of the founder of Balliol College, Oxford) on the Scottish throne. Balliol was forced to surrender Scotland in 1296, and a second expedition was made in 1300, when the Scottish lords asked that Balliol be allowed to reign. Edward defeated the Scottish rebels under William Wallace at Linlithgow Heath in 1298 and eventually executed Wallace in London.

In addition to attempting to control Scotland and Wales, Edward was active in holding his possessions on the Continent. From 1286 to 1289 he spent much time in France and Gascony. After the loss of Gascony to Philip IV in 1294, he was able to receive support for military activities from a Parliament of all three estates in 1295, and he received financial help from the clergy in 1297. Although the barons opposed the campaign to Gascony, Edward sailed for Bruges to help the Count of Flanders against the French. The following year, at the persuasion of Boniface VIII, he deserted his ally to make a truce with France in order to recover the lost territory.

The last years of Edward's reign were spent in conflict with his barons, who were against his military activities both at home and abroad. To obtain their support, he was forced to reissue the Great Charter in 1299. While traveling north to deal with the threat of Robert Bruce, the new leader of the Scottish rebels, he died at Burghon-Sands on July 7, 1307. His burial took place at Westminster Abbey on October 27.

Further Reading on Edward I

An informative biography of Edward I is E. L. G. Stones, Edward I (1968). For Edward's early life see F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (2 vols., 1947). Various aspects of the reign are covered in John E. Morris, The Welsh Wars of Edward I (1901), and in two works by T. F. T. Plucknett, Legislation of Edward I (1949) and Edward I and Criminal Law (1960). General histories of the period include Sir James H. Ramsay, The Dawn of the Constitution (1908), and F. M. Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (1953; 2d ed. 1962).

Additional Biography Sources

Chancellor, John, The life and times of Edward I, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1981.

Edward I and Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988.

Prestwich, Michael., Edward I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.