The most skillful and ruthless ruler of his age, Edward “Longshanks” expanded the size of England at the expense of its neighboring peoples. Born at Westminster, Edward was the son of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence. He married Eleanor of Castile in 1254.
Edward’s early years were plagued by the “Baron’s War” that pitted King Henry III against the most ambitious of his lords. Edward won the culminating vic¬ tory in the war in 1266. Then he fol¬ lowed his admired uncle, King Louis IX of France, on a cru¬ sade to North Africa.Following Louis death, Edward went to Syria, then returned to Europe.
His father had died during the crusade;Edward put down a revolt in Aquitaine and made his way to London where he was crowned in 1274.
Edward faced an immediate challenge in the person of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, the leading prince of Wales, who refused to acknowledge the English king as his overlord. Edward waged a series of fierce campaigns in the Welsh Wars (1277—1284), which ended with the death of Gruffudd and the execution of his brother.
Edward incorporated Wales fully into the kingdom, bringing English common law to Wales. In 1301, his son became the first Prince of Wales, and this is still the title traditionally held by the heir apparent to the British throne.
France and Scotland posed even greater threats to Edward’s status as the great king of his day. A succession crisis in Scotland, fol¬ lowing the death of King Alexander III, played into Edward’s hands.
He declared his preference for John de Baliol in the struggle for the Scottish throne. In 1296, Edward invaded Scotland, defeated the assem¬ bled clans, and brought the Stone of Scone, the symbol of Scottish power, to England. (It sits today in London’s Westminster Abbey.)
Sir William Wallace (commemo¬ rated in the 1995 movie, Braveheart) resisted Edward’s attempts to rule Scotland indirectly. Edward marched north in 1298. Through skillful use of archers and caval¬ rymen, he complete¬ ly vanquished Wallace’s army at the Battle of Falkirk.
Remarkably, the Scottish independence move¬ ment did not collapse. Even the capture and execution of Wallace in 1305 did not bring Scotland to heel.
Edward marched to Scotland one more time. He died near Carlisle, leaving a much expanded kingdom to his son, Edward III.
He had inaugurated some crucial English tra¬ ditions that remain important today: the sta¬ tus of the Prince of Wales, the calling of Parliament to raise funds, and the sovereignty of England over Wales and Scotland.