Edward I is considered one of the greatest kings of England. He reigned from A.D. 1272 to 1307 and used the remnants of feudalism to strengthen his position as king and to fulfill his plans for England. Edward’s reign was an important time in England because of his wars in Wales and Scotland and because of his reforms in law, property, and the military.
Edward I had many law reforms. He took the common law digests of Henry II and combined them so they were unified and had continuity. Edward strengthened the King’s Peace and established customs, the rights and privileges of the king’s court. Because of the civil war during the time of his father, Henry III, Edward was concerned about the lands which were stolen. He therefore issued a writ of Quo Warranto. This writ made the nobles prove that the property they owned was rightfully theirs. It also forced nobles to fulfill their feudal duties if they wanted to keep their feudal holdings. The Quo Warranto gave Edward power of his unruly nobles.
Property reforms evolved from Edward’s law reforms. A great deal of land had been given to the Roman Catholic Church, and thus, could not be taxed by the king. Edward issued a statute of mortmain in 1279 which prohibited any further transfer of lands to the church without the king’s consent. In 1290 Edward issued a Quia Emptores which stated that feudal holdings had to be maintained and all duties and fees had to be paid to the crown. He also instituted the practice of entail which said family lands could not be sold outside the family. These reforms forced the nobles to keep their property, and the reforms gave Edward the revenue which he needed for his wars.
In 1285, Edward passed the Statute of Westminster which reformed the military. He stated that each man worth 15 pounds a year in land holdings had to support a knight and horse. The law also dictated that every person with the title “Sir” actually had to be a knight and fight. This statute changed the tone of the army significantly. Edward was now guaranteed an army that did not consist of a few self-made knights, but rather had hundreds of knights supported by any man who owned land. The greatest military achievement of Edward’s was the discovery of the longbow through the Welsh wars. Every Englishman was required to train with the longbow, because it enabled him to shoot 12-16 aimed shots per minute. It would prove to be a deadly weapon against the French in the Hundred Years’ War.
Edward’s conquest of Wales in 1277 started because the Welsh prince had supported Simon de Montfort in the Barons’ Wars. Edward claimed he the right to fight him since it was an act of treachery. Edward soundly defeated the Welsh prince and forced him to bequeath the title “Prince of Wales” to the heir of the English throne. Throughout the rest of history, Wales would be subject to England but still maintain some honor, because the English heir to the throne would always bear her name.
Edward’s biggest challenge during his reign was Scotland. When the Scottish king died in 1290, Scotland could not decide between the two men who claimed it, John Balliol and Robert Bruce. Edward declared himself Overlord of Scotland until the Scots made their own choice. They finally chose John Balliol. Edward treated Balliol as a sub-king which angered the Scots, so Balliol raised a French army to raid and pillage along the Scottish border. Edward eventually defeated Balliol.
After Edward massacred the city of Berwick on Tweed, William Wallace took the lead against Edward for Scottish independence in 1297. Wallace was a member of the lesser gentry and was therefore not backed by the nobles who viewed him as an inferior leader. He was not a titled peer so he could not sway the nobility to support him. Despite this problem, Wallace beat Edward’s army at Stirling Bridge. At the Battle of Falkirk, however, the English longbow beat the Scots, and Wallace was betrayed into English hands. He was then taken to London and executed as a traitor. Robert Bruce took the lead and was crowned king because Balliol had died. Since he was a noble and now the king of Scotland, the nobility gave him their full support. Bruce ultimately won independence for the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn against Edward’s son in 1314.
The reforms and wars of Edward I make his reign one of England’s most important. Wales was united to England, Scotland became independent, and standing armies were created so England was now ready for the Hundred Years’ War.
– Hannah S. Bowers