Whoever said that history is written by the victors never considered the legacy of Edward I. Whenever a movie is made about Scottish independence during the Middle Ages, the villain will always be King Edward Longshanks, “the Hammer of the Scots.” No matter who plays him, he has a deliciously macabre sense of humor, a ruthless ambition, and a devious Machiavellian mind. But was he all that bad? Was his hatred of the Scots his only policy? Is there anything else to his life or legacy? Find out more below!
Facts About King Edward Longshanks
1. “Stretch” Was Already Taken
First of all, you’re probably asking why he was called Longshanks. The answer is far simpler than you’re probably guessing. Edward was a very long-limbed man, which inspired the nickname. We here at Factinate assume the first person to suggest it was a butcher.
2. Hello Up There!
Speaking of Edward’s long limbs, he was said to be 6’2″, making him one of the tallest kings in English history. What can we say, the man’s shanks were long!
3. The King is Born
Edward was born in the Palace of Westminster in the city of London. His date of birth was either June 17 or 18, 1239.
4. Cognitive Dissidence
Like all the English kings in the generations immediately following William the Conqueror, Edward and his parents spoke French. However, Edward was named after King Edward the Confessor, one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings before William the Conqueror’s invasion of England. Edward’s father, King Henry III, named his son after the Confessor out of respect for the man’s legacy.
Henry was also on board with making the Confessor a saint, despite being descended from the man who toppled the Anglo-Saxon monarchy!
5. Nobody Laughs to Mike Tyson’s Face Either
Descriptions of Edward depict a child who was frequently ill. Health concerns were also augmented by a drooping eyelid and a lisp. Despite the latter concern, Edward overcame his initial frail health and matured into a very tall, physically imposing man with a very “persuasive” manner of speech. The lisp, of course, never went away, but really, who’s going to mock Edward to his face for how he talks?
6. Keeping the Peace
During Edward’s youth, various factions among the nobles were threatening the stability of England. While Edward’s father, Henry III, had a reputation for generosity and tried to reconcile the factions with peaceful negotiations, the young Edward didn’t try to rise above the squabbles. He initially took sides, leading to a lot of friction with his father.
7. A Rivalry Begins
Long before William Wallace ever started giving Edward trouble in Scotland, he was dealing with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last sovereign Welsh prince. Gruffudd would prove to be a thorn in Edward’s side for years, but it began in 1263 when Edward was 22 and his father sent him west to lead a campaign against the Welsh.
This expedition would be cut short due to a much more serious conflict drawing Edward back to England, but he and Gruffud would cross swords again (more on that later).
8. Minor Civil War
The first real challenge in Edward’s life was the Second Barons’ War from 1264 to 1267. Widespread famine across England, coupled with Henry III trying to raise finances from his cash-strapped barons, led to a lot of resentment against Henry and his son, Edward. The troubles became especially personal when Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, married Henry III’s sister without asking his permission, turning the question of royalty vs. nobility into a family problem as well.
When conflict erupted, Montfort was the leader of those barons who insisted on curbing Henry’s royal power. Edward naturally fought for his father, as it was his future inheritance at risk.
9. Talk About BFFs
One of Edward’s closest companions during boyhood was his cousin, Henry of Almain. They grew up together, and when the Second Barons’ War broke out, Almain sided with Edward against Simon de Montfort (who was also their uncle by marriage by that point). Almain would also accompany Edward eastwards during the Ninth Crusade (more on that later though).
10. That Could Have Gone Better…
The first major battle of the Second Barons’ War was the Battle of Lewes. At first, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Edward and his father would win; their forces outnumbered the rebellious barons’ army by two to one. Early in the battle, Edward led a cavalry charge which broke part of the enemy’s flanks and caused a partial retreat. Unfortunately, Edward’s hubris got the better of him and he chased after his retreating foe.
This left his father and the infantry unsupported and forced to make an advance uphill. By the time Edward returned to the main battle, Henry III was in retreat. Father and son would both be captured, no doubt leading to a very awkward imprisonment together.
11. Not a Bad Redemption!
Edward remained a hostage of the barons after Henry III was released, ensuring his father’s complacency to the barons’ demands. However, Edward managed to escape after a few months, and the conflict started up anew.
12. Love and Marriage
When Edward was 15, his father was worried that his territory in Gascony would be invaded by the kingdom of Castile (central Spain). To prevent this, Henry III arranged for his son and heir to marry Eleanor, daughter of Castile’s king. Despite the obvious political motivations, Edward and Eleanor would have a very close bond throughout their married life.
Eleanor followed her husband on the Crusades and actively advised him when they ruled England.
13. Trouble in Paradise
Eleanor’s active participation in business and politics was actually seen as a negative character trait which affected her husband’s reputation. Edward saw to it that Eleanor was financially independent, which led to her becoming involved in land deals which were later revealed to be very corrupt (history is uncertain how involved Eleanor was in such corruption).
14. I Thought I was the Hero!
It didn’t take long for people to write about Edward. As far back as 1593, English dramatist George Peele released a play titled The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First. While the story places Edward in the morally righteous position of uniting Great Britain under one banner, the play offers a very sympathetic look at the Welsh enemies of Edward, portraying them as heroic outlaws fighting for freedom.
Even a story which sided with Edward couldn’t help but make him look like a dick.
15. Anti-Semite King
One of the most negative aspects of Edward’s reign was his treatment of Jews living in England. For many years, they had been persecuted by the Christian power structure, yet a number of them had still managed to prosper. Once it was Edward’s boot on their necks, he pressed harder. As part of his campaign against usury, Edward had hundreds of Jews executed before passing a decree which expelled all Jews from England.
Typically, he made sure that they left all their wealth and property behind for him to take.
16. It was a Terrible Time
Edward’s expulsion of English Jews in 1290 AD lasted a very long time. The Edict of Expulsion (as it was called in Parliament) wasn’t undone until 1656 by Oliver Cromwell. That’s around 366 years, in case you weren’t sure. As bad as this action was, however, Edward was just one of several rulers to push for such an action.
The French had beaten Edward to the punch by more than fifty years.
17. Time to Drain the Swamp Properly!
Following the tempestuous reign of his father, Edward put through sweeping changes in the government of England. Firstly, he fired nearly all the local officials of the day and replaced them. This was done just before Edward launched a country-wide inquest against the corruption within the power structures that led to such discontent during the reign of Henry III.
18. Well Done, Protagonist!
In 1950, the historical action film The Black Rose was released to considerable fanfare and financial success. Played by Michael Rennie, Edward makes an appearance in a more-or-less neutral position; he rewards the main character with a knighthood for his accomplishments during the film.
19. Phase Two, Sucker!
During the Second Barons’ War, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had supplied forces to the barons against King Henry III and Edward. He also used the chaos gripping England to secure a strong position for himself in Wales, making the Henry recognize him as its lawful ruler. By 1276, however, Edward had taken over. He declared Gruffudd to be a rebel and invaded.
20. Sealing the Deal, Medieval-Style
After a bloody campaign, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was forced to acknowledge Edward as his king. In return, Gruffudd married Edward’s first cousin, Eleanor de Montfort (yes, she was also the daughter of Simon de Montfort). The marriage between Gruffudd and Monfort was by all accounts a very happy one, despite the concessions Gruffudd had to make in order for it to happen!
21. Can Dead People Sue for Defamation?
By far the most famous film portrayal of Edward was the 1996 historical epic Braveheart. Irish actor Patrick McGoohan portrays Edward as a sinister tyrant, who is also a “pagan” according to the film’s narration. Given the film’s historical inaccuracy, we can only imagine how Edward’s ghost reacted to the claim that he died while listening to William Wallace screaming “FREEDOM!”
22. That’s Not Cool…
Although Edward had defeated Simon de Montfort, the rebellious Earl’s family struck a final blow against Edward that hit hard. His cousin and friend, Henry of Almain, was murdered by Montfort’s sons, Guy and Simon the Younger. Since the two Montforts had basically murdered their cousin (blaming him for their father’s execution), they were seen as cursed.
To further this belief, both men died within two years of the murder.
23. It’s not the Taj Mahal, but It’ll Do
In 1290, Edward’s beloved wife and queen, Eleanor of Castile, died of sickness (it remains unclear which particular sickness it was). Overborne with grief, Edward ordered a series of twelve memorial crosses to be erected in her honor. Though only three of these survive today, they are still known as “Eleanor crosses” and can be found at Geddington, Hardingstone, and Waltham Cross.
24. More Problems to Solve
Despite Edward’s devastation at his wife Eleanor’s death, there were issues he couldn’t ignore. He was down to just one living son, and the conflict with Scotland showed no sign of abating any time soon. As a result, Edward turned to the powerful kingdom of France. By 1291, Edward arranged for a match between his own son, Edward of Carnarvon, and Blanche, the sister of King Philip IV.
25. You’re Kidding!
As politically savvy as it was, this marriage arrangement between Edward’s son and heir to the King of France’s sister was undone almost immediately. Though Edward had heard enough reports about Blanche’s beauty that he decided he would marry the woman himself, he was soon infuriated to learn that the whole arrangement was a sham.
Blanche was already engaged to marry, and the King of France offered another sister, Margaret, instead. In an act of irony, this attempt at political alliance resulted in Edward declaring war on France for the insult!
26. Double Wedding
The conflict between England and France was only settled by a truce in 1299 that was overseen by Pope Boniface VIII, who presumably came in to shake his head and tell the English and French kings to get a grip. The arrangement was that Edward would marry Margaret of France (keep in mind that she was 40 years younger than him), while his son would marry King Philip IV’s daughter, Isabella. Frankly, we wish that scene had been reenacted for Braveheart!
27. Why Sure I’ll Settle This!
Incredibly, Edward’s takeover of Scotland first began at the invitation of Scotland’s nobles! Scottish king Alexander III had died without a male heir, leaving his granddaughter, a child in Norway, his successor. This led to such contention among the Scottish nobles that Edward was invited to come to Scotland and arbitrate a smooth transition of power.
28. That was a Fast Coup!
As you can imagine, Edward gleefully took advantage of the invitation to arbitrate the Scottish monarchy. He declared himself to be the Lord Paramount of Scotland before supporting John Balliol as a weak king who would submit to him. When Balliol tried to be independent, Edward defeated him in battle and forced the puppet-king to abdicate.
29. Embrace Your Softer Side
As Queen of England, Edward’s second wife, Margaret, followed in the footsteps of her predecessor, Eleanor. She followed her husband on his military campaigns and she bore him several children, but unlike Eleanor, she actively softened his image and actions. There were so many cases of Margaret convincing her husband to be merciful or lenient to those who angered him that the phrase “Pardoned solely on the intercession of our dearest consort, Queen Margaret of England” came into regular use.
30. French Flakes
We won’t go too deeply into the campaign by William “Braveheart” Wallace against the English. We will say, however, that his war against the English peaked with a great victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297, followed by a massive raid on northern England. At the time, meanwhile, Edward was campaigning in France, which had formed an alliance with the Scots years before.
Now, however, the King of France was willing to sign a separate truce with Edward to stop the war, knowing that Edward would be free to turn on the Scots instead.
31. Hungary? Where’s That?
In the 19th century, Hungarian poet Janos Arany was told to write a poem to praise Franz Joseph I, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. In an act of subtle defiance, Arany wrote The Bards of Wales, a poem about the bards condemned to a cruel death by Edward because they refused to praise his name. The poem was a not-so-subtle critique of Hapsburg rule in Hungary, and it has since become deeply important in Hungarian history, becoming required reading in Hungarian schools years later.
Even in countries he’d never heard of, Edward is remembered as a villain!
32. Busy Father
It’s unknown just how many children Edward had with his two wives, but the number ranges between 17 and 19. Of those children, only three sons and three daughters outlived their father, including his son and heir, the man who became crowned as Edward II.
33. Stannis Finally Became King!
The most recent portrayal of Edward was in the high-budget Netflix film Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine and directed by David Mackenzie. Following events in the life of Robert the Bruce, the film portrays Edward as a ruthless king with a very dry sense of humor. He is portrayed by Stephen Dillane, who’d already had plenty of practice playing a similar role on Game of Thrones.
34. The King is Dead
During his campaigns in Scotland, Edward developed a serious case of dysentery. At the age of 68, Edward died in Cumberland on July 7, 1307.
35. Don’t Tell Me What to Do!
Even during Edward’s own lifetime, he was labeled as the bad guy for invading Scotland, by no less a figure than the Pope! As a response to appeals made by the Scots, Pope Boniface VII issued a papal bull which insisted that Edward leave Scotland alone. Edward, meanwhile, ignored the finger-wagging from the Pope and pressed on with his military campaigns against Scotland.
36. I Hate Piers!
Edward grew to hate Piers Gaveston (his son’s favorite) so much that he had the young man banished from England. When the old king was dying, he summoned a number of his noblemen together. As well as demanding that they look after his son when he became king, Edward also insisted that they make sure Piers Gaveston was never allowed back to England.
Of course, Edward II would ignore that command and Gaveston returned anyway.
37. The Fall of Wales
Although the conflict in Wales seemed to have been resolved with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s capitulation and marriage to Edward’s first cousin in 1277, peace didn’t last. Firstly, many of Gruffudd’s subjects began a rebellion in 1282 against the English, and Gruffudd felt there was no choice but to support his people into war. Secondly, his beloved wife died in childbirth the same year that conflicts began.
Edward saw all of it as the chance to settle things once and for all. From 1282 to 1283, the English overran Wales, executed Gruffudd, killed or captured his family, and put an end to Welsh independence. The Welsh have never again come close to such independence again.
38. The General and the King
The one time that Edward and William Wallace engaged in combat was the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Despite Wallace’s earlier successes, he was now facing 15,000 forces under Edward’s command with only 6,000 Scottish warriors. Contrary to how the battle was portrayed in Braveheart, Wallace ordered his infantry into four blocks of men, bristling with long spears to deter Edward’s cavalry.
Wallace’s archers and cavalry, however, were not as lucky, and they broke under a combination of English heavy cavalry and Welsh longbowmen. Even the heavy infantry of Wallace’s forces was overcome by said longbowmen.
39. A Brutal End
The Battle of Falkirk broke Wallace’s power in Scotland. While he himself was able to flee from Edward’s troops, he’d lost a third of his forces on the battlefield. He would never command a large army against England again, living as an outlaw for the next few years. He was finally captured in 1304, whereupon he was brought to London naked while being dragged behind a horse.
He was subsequently drawn, quartered, castrated, beheaded, and dismembered so that various body parts were hung across England as a warning to any further Scottish rebellion.
40. Not Until I’ve Had My Fun!
In 1304, during one of his military campaigns in Scotland, Edward laid siege to Stirling Castle, which lay very close to the location of William Wallace’s surprising 1297 victory. For three months, Edward battered at the castle with trebuchets that he’d brought north at great expense. When the defenders offered to surrender after those three months, Edward actually refused!
The reason why is because he’d just set up a brand-new trebuchet that he called the Warwolf, and he wanted to demonstrate its power. Edward wouldn’t accept the surrender until an extra day of bombardment.
41. Be Ruthless
After the death of William Wallace, King Robert the Bruce took up the role of leader of the rebellion against the English. Unfortunately for Robert’s family, they became a target for Edward’s wrath. Robert’s younger brother, Neil, was drawn and quartered by Edward’s forces. Meanwhile, Bruce’s sister, Mary, and his ally, Isabella MacDuff, were left suspended in cages for four years!
42. And Now the Rains Weep O’er Montfort’s Halls
Edward’s time for revenge against Simon de Montfort came when they fought at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. As before, the royal forces outnumbered the barons, but this time, Edward had taken the high ground in the middle of a thunderstorm. Despite Montfort’s best efforts, the barons and their army were completely defeated. In an example of his ruthlessness as king, Edward ignored the tradition of prisoners and ransoms, preferring to wipe out his enemies on the battlefield, even when they were hoping to surrender.
Montfort was forced to watch his son brutally killed before he himself was put to the sword. In a final act of spite and vengeance, Edward ordered that Montfort’s body be mutilated; his head, hands, feet, and testicles were all removed from his body. The scene was called “an episode of noble bloodletting unprecedented since the Conquest [of William the Conqueror].”
43. Fighting Dirty
Edward was known for his fearsome temper, and he didn’t spare his own children from his wrath. His son and heir, also named Edward, once insisted that his father make Piers Gaveston, a favorite companion of his, into an earl. Edward so infuriated by his son’s demand that he physically attacked his son and tore clumps of hair from his head!