Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Monarch Moments (which, admittedly, is not a very catchy name)

Edward I (1272-1307)

You may remember Edward I from Braveheart--he's Edward Longshanks, the cruel old English king bent on destruction of William Wallace and Scotland. And while that description is not actually untrue (he could be pretty cruel, he was old by that time [especially for the Middle Ages], and he really wanted to have Scotland), neither is it complete.

Anyway, Edward's imbroglio with Scotland is a whole big thing unto itself, so that will be covered in the next Monarch Moment. For now, let's get to know Edward outside a Braveheart-related capacity.

Edward is sometimes called "The English Justinian," because his reign saw major reforms to English law. Edward emphasized justice and was the first king to regularly--and of his own will--summon parliaments.

Before he ascended to the throne, he led a Crusade to the Holy Land and, since he wasn't utterly humiliated, it seemed pretty successful. He had a lifelong ambition to lead another, larger, pan-European Crusade to win back Jerusalem, and to that end, he promoted peace throughout Europe. He sometimes acted as a mediator in disputes between other rulers, and he did his best to maintain good relationships with them himself. Edward was eventually drawn into a war with France, but only because Philip IV bullied him into one. Michael Prestwich, author of the book I just read on Edward I, even compared the over-eager diplomacy of Edward's agents in the run-up to the French war with Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler--that's how bad Edward wanted to stay friends.

Edward could be merciless to those he did not see as equals, though. He conquered Wales, after all.

My favorite Edward I story (this one made me laugh so hard the first time I read it that Neal came in the room to see what was going on) is from his father's reign, when Edward was captured by rebel forces. And, even though it's true he did escape from them, this story is almost certainly not true--which is a bummer:

. . . Edward went out riding from Hereford in the company of a number of knights . . . The classic account of what took place is that Edward asked to try all the horses in turn. Having found the swiftest, he dug in his spurs and rode off, shouting "Lordings, I bid you good day."

Michael Prestwich, Edward I
Edward was an able military commander, but he was also strangely lucky:

In Palestine he survived the murderous attack of the assassin by almsot a
miracle; in Paris the lighnting passed over his shoulder and slew two of his
attendants; at Winchelsea when his horse leapt the town wall he was uninjured;
at the siege of Stirling a bolt from a crossbow struck his saddle as he rode
unarmed and a stone from a mangonel brought his horse to the ground. Even illness seemed to pass him by and his last years found him as vigorous and upright as a palm tree with eyes and brain undimmed and the teeth still firm in his jaws, able to bite hard literally as well as figuratively, at the table as in the field.

L. F. Salzman, Edward I, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

In short, Edward I wasn't very nice, but he was pretty awesome. To be continued!

Bonus moment: the children of Edward I

Edward had two wives; the first was Eleanor of Castile, whom he apparently loved devotedly. She bore him fourteen verifiable children, though many died in infancy or childhood. The boy who would become Edward II was the last of her children, so he had three older brothers more likely to become king than he. But I think it's interesting that had the Medieval Infant Mortality Dice rolled differently, England could have had a King John II, a much quicker King Henry IV, or a King Alphonso. King Alphonso of England--that would have been weird.

Edward's second wife, Margaret of France, had three children. The first was Thomas of Brotherton:

According to Rishanger, Thomas was a patriotic baby, who rejected the milk of his French wet-nurse, and began to thrive only when he received good English milk.

I just think "patriotic baby" is an adorable phrase. (!)


Craig said...

Edward also issued the 1297 version of the Magna Carta, which I just saw in DC. I also perused the Wales section of the Smithsonian Festival.

Rachel said...

Yeah, I kept meaning to reply to your last comment--they kept renewing the Magna Carta; Henry III did it a few times and so did Edward. The 1297 is actually the version that (as Wikipedia will tell you) is still on the books in England today.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I just think "patriotic baby" is an adorable phrase.

Especially if you pronounce it with an English accent.

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