07 July, 2015

7 July 1307: Death of King Edward I

708 years ago today, Edward I, king of England and lord of Ireland, died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle (or as the official memorandum recording his death puts it, apud Burgum super Sabulones extra Karliolum) on his way to yet another military campaign in Scotland.  He was sixty-eight years old and in the thirty-fifth year of his reign, having succeeded his father Henry III in November 1272.  Of the numerous children Edward I fathered - at least seventeen and probably more - only seven outlived him: his and Eleanor of Castile's daughters Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth, and Eleanor's only surviving son Edward of Caernarfon; and his three children with his second queen Marguerite of France, Thomas, Edmund and Eleanor (who died as a child in 1311).  The chronicler of Lanercost Priory seventeen miles away, recording his death, called him "this illustrious and excellent king, my lord Edward...Throughout his time he had been fearless and warlike, in all things strenuous and illustrious; he left not his like among Christian princes for sagacity and courage."

Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, duke of Aquitaine, earl of Chester and count of Ponthieu, was about 315 miles away either in London or Lambeth at the time, and heard the news that he had succeeded to the throne on 11 July.  Although Edward I on his deathbed had ordered his son not to recall Piers Gaveston, whom he had sent into exile on the Continent some months before, almost certainly Edward II's very first act as king was to do exactly that.

There is no real reason to suppose that Edward I had found his son and heir particularly disappointing or unpromising, as is usually stated nowadays; this is simply hindsight based on the knowledge of Edward II's disastrous reign and of his unregal love of rustic pursuits and so on.  The two had clashed on occasion, most notably when Edward I apparently tore out handfuls of his son's hair, called him an ill-born son of a whore - Eleanor of Castile must have turned in her grave - and banished him from court for a while, but as Edward II's academic biographer Professor Seymour Phillips has pointed out, clashes between the king and his heir were common in the Middle Ages.  Henry II's sons went to war against him in the 1170s and 1180s, and Edward I himself had fallen out with his father Henry III in his youth.  We shouldn't read too much into their occasional rows.  The author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, one of Edward II's clerks who knew him well, says that before his accession he raised his subjects' hopes (though dashed them when he became king).  The Vita also says that God had endowed Edward II with every gift, and that he was "equal to or indeed more excellent than other kings.  If anyone cared to describe those qualities which ennoble our king, they would not find his like in the land."  Edward II frustrated his contemporaries beyond measure, not because he was lacking in abilities, but because, in stark contrast to his father, he so rarely bothered to exercise them.


Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

The historians always judge Henry the Young King and his short career with the benefit of hindsight - so I know perfectly well what you mean, Kathryn :-(

RIP, the great and terrible king.

Kathryn Warner said...

So much of what people think and write about Edward II is based on hindsight, and I seem to be coming up against it really often in the Isabella bio, most notably the idea that their marriage was an unhappy, doomed disaster from start to finish :/

Anerje said...

Yes, Edward's start seemed promising. You just know though that the letter to re-call Piers was written and waiting before the old king died;)

Kathryn Warner said...

I suspect so :-)

Anonymous said...

Great post. Can't help feeling a little sorry for Edward II, with such unrealistically high expectations. Maybe, he could lead another support group!


Sami Parkkonen said...

Hammer of Scotts was tough act to follow, would have been for anyone, even though now a days it is rarely mentioned that it was Edward I who ruined the economics of the crown by his borrowing and faulting loans (robbing bankers actually by not paying them and thus forcing them to bankrupcy)becaise he needed the money fvor his wars.

Unlike Eddie Edward I was not a man of the people, he was almost an epitome of a medieval king: ruthless, calculating, vicious but cool as ice if need be. He has been called a warrior king even though he was at present in only three battles in his life time, so he was mpore of a war king than a warrior in the mould of Alexander the Great who always fought in his battles. But medieval king was not supposed to fight hand to hand but to over see wars, organise them etc. and in that Edward i was pretty good. Or bad if you ask the welsh and scotts whom both he treted harshly and pretty rough way.

I think he was propably more frustrated by his son than anything else. Edward was not supposed to be The king originally and when it became so that he would be, Edward I propably knew that Eddie was as interested on kingship as much as a bedouin on ice hockey. Piers would have irritated him, yes, but I think the very fact that his son was giggling at some barons and not always taking state matters seriously must have been really annoying to this very kingly king.