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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 5 July 2009

"Edward I: A great and terrible king" by Marc Morris

This is a biography written about a fascinating king whose life was full of chivalry and derring do: this is a swashbuckler of a biography. I absolutely loved this book. It is exactly my sort of history: kings, battles and politics. But there were also loads of interesting snippets about the middle ages and items that raised questions about what happens nowadays. Here are many snippets I adored:

Edward's father was Henry III, son of King John. Henry was a pretty feeble king, not very good at warfare and prone to policy reversals that veered from wimpishness to ferocity: the classic poor leader. One of the few good things about Henry was his reverence for Edward the Confessor, after whom he named his son (Edward was the first king to be given a Saxon name since the Conquest - there had been two Guillaumes, three Henris, a Ricard and a Jean). This reverence also led Henry to rebuild Westminster Abbey in the gothic form with which we are now familiar.

Edward's mother was Eleanor of Provence whose maternal uncle, Peter of Savoy, came to England to advise her. Henry gave Peter a house on the Strand in London (p7) which later became Savoy House and is now the Savoy Hotel and Theatre.

The later part of Henry's reign, whilst Edward was an active teenage prince, was taken with the struggle against Simon de Montfort. This was the 'Baron's War', a civil war in which de Montfort fought for the administrative reforms known as the Provisions of Oxford (1258). De Montfort won the Battle of Lewes (1264) against a numerically superior royalist force but was the defeated and killed at the Battle of Evesham (1265). In the intervening year, de Montfort ruled England at the head of triumvirate who 'advised' the king; he also summoned a parliament. This was not the first parliament (Henry had already been summoning parliaments which he expected would agree to new taxes but didn't). What made de Montfort's parliament a first was that he asked every county and selected boroughs to elect two representatives each and send them to Westminster. This was therefore the first elected representative parliament. His intention was clearly to pack it with his men because his support was strong among the towns but weak amongst the aristocracy.

Simon de Montfort's son, Guy, later took revenge for the death (and mutilation) of his father by assassinating Henry of Altmain, his cousin, in the church of St Silvester, in Viterbo near Rome (p106). For this act of wickedness he was placed in the seventh circle of Hell by Dante in the Inferno.

Hugh Bigod was the younger brother of Roger Bigod, a leading member of the council of fifteen set up by the provisions of Oxford. His father had been one of the 25 "sureties" of the Magna Carta. In 1258, Hugh was sent out on a "countrywide judicial tour to correct all manner of wrongdoings" (p41). He became Chief Justiciar of England between 1258 and 1260 and was succeeded by Hugh Le Despencer.

It was during Henry III's reign that the legends about Robin Hood began. When Henry wanted money he found himself unable to raise it via loans or taxes so he encouraged his officers (eg the sheriffs) to raise money via fines. The story about young Robert of Locksley, Earl of Huntingdon, being deprived of his inheritance may reflect the punitive measures adopted by Henry III after the Battle of Evesham: rebels were deprived of their lands and known as the Disinherited. "One group laid waste to the counties of East Anglia; others began to create similar havoc in the Midlands and in Hampshire." (p76) The Hampshire leader, Adam Gurdon, was based in Alton Woods. Prince Edward, heir to the throne, personally defeated Adam but was "so impressed with the skill of his adversary that he allowed him generous terms of surrender" (p76). Robin Hoodlike indeed!

When Edward decided to go on crusade he summoned a special parliament to Northampton, presumably "because of its spectacular Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by a knight of the First Crusade [Simon de Senlis] in imitation of the original he had seen in Jerusalem" (p83).

When Edward's queen (Eleanor, just like his mother, but she was Eleanor of Provence whilst he married Eleanor of Castille) dies Edward erected an Eleanor Cross at every place the funeral procession stopped overnight on the way from Lincolnshire to Westminster Abbey. Some crosses still survive (eg at Hardingstone in Northamptonshire) whilst others (Charing Cross) don't. After the funeral, Edward spent Christmas 1290 in Ashridge in Herfordshire. He held a parliament there.

About this time the Maid of Norway, who was the last heir of King Alexander III of Scotland, who had conquered the Isle of Man before riding his horse off the edge of a cliff during a storm, died on the sea voyage from Norway to claim her kingdom. As well as becoming Queen of Scotland she would have married Edward of Caernarfon, Prince of Wales, Edward I's last surviving son (one of his now dead elder brothers had been called Alfonso, Queen Eleanor having come from Castille, so we might have been ruled by King Alfonso!). Not only did the Maid's death ruin the chances of uniting the kingdoms of England and Scotland but it also threw the succession for the Scottish crown into complete confusion with 13 different claimants including Florence, Count of Holland (so Scotland could have had a King Florence!; later Edward arranged for Florence to be kidnapped, in the course of which he was murdered). Edward manipulated this confusion until he was granted overlordship of Scotland and appointed chair of the committee that eventually awarded the throne to John Balliol, son of the man who founded Balliol College in Oxford.

Scotland was, at this time an ethnic melting pot of ancient Britons (around Galloway), Anglo Saxons from Northumbria (around Edinburgh), Vikings (Hebrides and Orkneys) and Irish (the 'Scottii') (p241).

In 1293 Edward married his daughter Eleanor (confusing family, mother, wife and daughter all called Eleanor) to Henry III Count of Bar. Bar was where Joan of Arc came from some centuries later.

Edward used Italian bankers called the Riccardi. Basically he granted them customs duties from wool in return for loans. But when their bank failed (classically, by being unable to cash in investments when required to return deposits) Edward arrested them. Banking was still a dodgy business; only the Jews were allowed to practice usury. But anti-semitism built up in England partly because people borrowed from the Jews and then couldn't repay so their estates were forfeit but because the Jews couldn't hold land the estates were bought up for a song by speculators who included Edward's Queen. This got to the point at which the landowners who made up the parliament more or less forced a not very unwilling king to expel the jews in return for being granted a tax.

In April 1299 Edward held a parliament in Stepney! (p317)

In 1304, during the siege of Stirling Castle, Edward's troops used gunpowder (p343). They also used a huge trebuchet called the Warwolf (lup de guerre).

In 1303 the crown jewels were stolen from Westminster during a nationwide crime wave which included thugs called trailbastons (because they dragged big clubs called bastons along the ground behind them) (p 346).

Edward of Caernarfon (Prince of Wales) had a manor in Kennington (which was turned into a Palace by his great grandson the Black Prince) where today the Oval is part of the Duchy of Cornwall and thus owned by the present Prince of Wales.

Another royal residence mentioned is Sheen. This was a manor house just to the east of what is now Richmond Bridge; it later became Sheen Palace and then Richmond Palace. This was where, in 1305, the Commissioners for Scotland went down on their knees to pay homage to Edward I.

When Edward II was knighted vows were said over two golden swans which "set a fashion for swearing oaths on birds for the next two centuries." (p355)

Edward I died at Burgh on the Sands in Cumbria whilst preparing to invade Scotland again. His body was buried in Westminster Abbey in a plain box of black Purbeck marble. An inscription was added in the sixteenth century but this seems to have been a copy of one that dates from at least 1320. The inscription reads EDWARDUS PRIMUS SCOTTORUM MALLEUS HIC EST PACTUM SERVA. This translates as Edward I Hammer of the Scots is here. Keep the Vow. This would have been the vow that the nobility of England "had all sworn at Whitsun 1306 ... to avenge the rebellion of Robert Bruce" (p378).

Gosh I enjoyed this book.

July 2009, 378 pages



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