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Edward I (June 17/18, 1239 – July 7, 1307), also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots (Latin: Malleus Scotorum), was King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1272 to 1307. Before his accession to the throne, he was commonly referred to as The Lord Edward. The first son of Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence, the second daughter of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence (1198–1245) and Beatrice of Savoy (1198–1267), the daughter of Thomas I of Savoy and his wife Margaret of Geneva. Edward was involved from an early age in the political intrigues of his father’s reign.

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Edward I was a tall man (6’2″) for his era, hence the nickname “Longshanks”. He was temperamental, and this, along with his height, made him an intimidating man, and he often instilled fear in his contemporaries. Nevertheless, he held the respect of his subjects for the way he embodied the medieval ideal of kingship, as a soldier, an administrator and a man of faith.

Modern historians are divided on their assessment of Edward: while some have praised him for his contribution to the law and administration, others have criticised him for his uncompromising attitude towards his nobility. Currently, Edward I is credited with many accomplishments during his reign, including restoring royal authority after the reign of Henry III, establishing Parliament as a permanent institution and thereby also a functional system for raising taxes, and reforming the law through statutes.

At the same time, he is also often criticised for other actions, such as his brutal conduct towards the Welsh and Scots, and issuing the Edict of Expulsion in 1290, by which the Jews were expelled from England. The Edict remained in effect for the rest of the Middle Ages, and it was over 350 years until it was formally overturned under Oliver Cromwell in 1657.

The end of his reign was once again occupied with the subjugation of the Scots. The situation changed on February 10, 1306, when Robert the Bruce murdered his rival John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, and a few weeks later, on March 25, was crowned King of Scotland by Isobel, sister of the Earl of Buchan. Bruce now embarked on a campaign to restore Scottish independence, and this campaign took the English by surprise.

Edward was suffering ill health by this time, and instead of leading an expedition himself, he gave different military commands to Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and Henry Percy, 1st Baron Percy, while the main royal army was led by the Prince of Wales. The English initially met with success; on June 19, Aymer de Valence routed Bruce at the Battle of Methven. Bruce was forced into hiding, while the English forces recaptured their lost territory and castles.

Edward acted with unusual brutality against Bruce’s family, allies, and supporters. His sister, Mary, was imprisoned in a cage at Roxburgh Castle for four years.

It was clear that Edward now regarded the struggle not as a war between two nations, but as the suppression of a rebellion of disloyal subjects. This brutality, though, rather than helping to subdue the Scots, had the opposite effect, and rallied growing support for Bruce.

In February 1307, Bruce resumed his efforts and started gathering men, and in May he defeated Valence at the Battle of Loudoun Hill. Edward, who had rallied somewhat, now moved north himself. On the way, however, he developed dysentery, and his condition deteriorated. On July 6 he encamped at Burgh by Sands, just south of the Scottish border.

When his servants came the next morning to lift him up so that he could eat, he died in their arms. King Edward I of England was aged 68.

Various stories emerged about Edward’s deathbed wishes; according to one tradition, he requested that his heart be carried to the Holy Land, along with an army to fight the infidels. A more dubious story tells of how he wished for his bones to be carried along on future expeditions against the Scots.

Another account of his deathbed scene is more credible; according to one chronicle, Edward gathered around him Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln; Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick; Aymer de Valence; and Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron de Clifford, and charged them with looking after his son Edward. In particular they should make sure that Piers Gaveston was not allowed to return to the country. This wish, however, the son ignored, and had his favourite recalled from exile almost immediately. The new king, Edward II, remained in the north until August, but then abandoned the campaign and headed south. He was crowned king on February 25, 1308.

Edward I’s body was brought south, lying in state at Waltham Abbey, before being buried in Westminster Abbey on October 27. There are few records of the funeral, which cost £473. Edward’s tomb was an unusually plain sarcophagus of Purbeck marble, without the customary royal effigy, possibly the result of the shortage of royal funds after the King’s death. The sarcophagus may normally have been covered over with rich cloth, and originally might have been surrounded by carved busts and a devotional religious image, all since lost.

The Society of Antiquaries of London opened the tomb in 1774, finding that the body had been well preserved over the preceding 467 years, and took the opportunity to determine the King’s original height. Traces of the Latin inscription Edwardus Primus Scottorum Malleus hic est, 1308. Pactum Serva (“Here is Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, 1308. Keep the Vow”) can still be seen painted on the side of the tomb, referring to his vow to avenge the rebellion of Robert Bruce. This resulted in Edward being given the epithet the “Hammer of the Scots” by historians, but is not contemporary in origin, having been added by the Abbot John Feckenham in the 16th century.