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The Hammer of the Scots and His Legacy

Edward, son of Henry the third, was crowned King Edward the first of England in August 1274. He is one of the most famous kings of England, known for his military prowess and nicknamed the Hammer of the Scots for reasons which will become clear. He was also nicknamed Edward Longshanks because at 6 foot two inches, he was extremely tall for the age.

Edward devoted the first years of his reign to organising and reforming the systems of government and law. Then in 1283, he completed a full-scale conquest of Wales, building many castles to subdue the population. He also claimed sovereignty over Scotland and supported John Balliol to become King of Scotland in 1292. He continued to meddle in Scotland's affairs, provoking the barons there to make an alliance with France in 1296. Edward responded by capturing the town of Berwick upon Tweed and massacring 20,000 inhabitants.

But the Scots were not completely crushed, and William Wallace destroyed an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Edward returned to Scotland with a new army and defeated Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in April 1298. Significantly, Edward deployed the English longbow for the first time in a major battle, and this new weapon proved decisive, as it would in battles over the next 100 years.

William Wallace evaded capture until 1305 when he was betrayed, taken to London, and hung drawn and quartered.

Edward the first controlled Scotland for a little while, but in 1306 Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland. Robert Bruce defeated an English army at the Battle of Loudoun Hill in May 1307. Edward traveled north with an army but developed dysentery and died in July 1307.

King Edward the first is remembered primarily for his military skill and his brutality against his enemies, but he also did much to reform the administration of government and, in 1295, established what became known as the Model Parliament – which laid out the form and function of Parliament for many years to come.

Edward the first had at least 14 children with his first wife and three with his second wife. Many died young. His son, also called Edward and born in 1284, succeeded him.

King Edward the second was crowned in February 1308. He reigned for only 19 years before being deposed and, possibly, murdered. He is one of the most unpopular monarchs England has ever had, and his reign was characterised by disputes with powerful barons and unsuccessful wars.

Disputes between powerful nobles and Edward arose soon after Edward's coronation and continued throughout his reign. Edward was forced to flee London in 1312 but agreed a compromise with the barons in 1313. However, trouble was brewing in Scotland, where Robert the Bruce had recaptured most of the country, expelling English troops occupying castles there. Edward the second raised an army of almost 20,000 men and marched to Stirling. Robert the Bruce had only around 6000 men but was the superior tactician and chose his ground well. In addition, Edward failed to deploy his archers effectively. The English army was destroyed, with some estimates arguing that 11,000 Englishmen were killed.

This crushing defeat further weakened Edward, and bad weather over successive winters caused a famine in which many died.

Civil War finally broke out in 1321, but Edward regained control and executed many of the rebel nobles. Edward advanced into Scotland again in 1322 with an army of 23,000 men, but Robert the Bruce refused to face him in battle, drawing his army deep into Scotland. Edward's supplies were cut off, and the army was forced to retreat. Conflict with France in 1324 caused him further humiliation. By this time, even his wife, Isabella, hated him, and she separated from him in the same year, taking their eldest son, called Edward of Windsor, to France.

By 1326 Isabella was in a relationship with Roger Mortimer, a baron who had been involved in the rebellion against Edward and had fled to France. By this time, King Edward the Second had little support. Isabella and Roger Mortimer landed a small force in the south of England in September 1326. They quickly gathered supporters while King Edward's support ebbed away. King Edward, the Second of England, was captured in Wales in November 1326. In London, Parliament agreed that Edward the Second should be removed from the throne and replaced by his son Edward of Windsor. King Edward agreed to abdicate in January 1327, and his son was crowned King Edward the Third in February of that year. The former King Edward was kept under house arrest for six months before he died in September 1327. It seems likely that he was murdered on Roger Mortimer's orders to avoid the possibility of plots against the new regime.

King Edward the Third was 14 when he was crowned, and his new government was dominated by Roger Mortimer. Relations between the two deteriorated, and the king had Mortimer arrested and executed in October 1330.

Edward was the archetypal medieval king, and his main interest appears to have been warfare. He won a significant victory against the Scots in 1332, although they eventually succeeded in regaining control of their country by 1338.

In 1337 King Edward the Third declared himself the rightful heir to the throne of France and started, what became known as the Hundred Years War. For twenty years, this war went in England's favour and winning famous victories at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 and the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. In both cases, the English longbow proved decisive against the French cavalry and infantry. Edward agreed a peace treaty with France in 1360, which gave him considerable territories in France in exchange for him renouncing his claim to the French throne.

Edward the Third was a popular king who quelled troubles at home. His victories in France enhanced his reputation as a leader. There was also a flowering of culture in England with Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the Canterbury Tales, the first writer to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

King Edward's first son, Edward the Black Prince, proved himself an able general in the king's army. However, he would not inherit the throne, dying in 1376. King Edward the third became ill around this time and died in June 1377. He had reigned for 50 years and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard, the son of Edward the Black Prince.

The new king was 10 years old when he was Crowned King Richard the Second of England in 1377. He ruled for 22 years. In the early years of his reign, his government was largely run by King Edward the Thirds sons John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Richard did not gain full control of the kingdom until 1389.

The Black Death, the bubonic plague, devasted England throughout the second half of the fourteenth-century, killing perhaps half of the population. The consequent economic upheaval was one of the main drivers of the Peasants Revolt in 1381. Led by Wat Tyler, a rebel army from Kent marched on London. In June 1381, the fourteen-year-old King Richard rode out to meet the rebels. Violence broke out, and Richard's forces killed Wat Tyler and dispersed the rebels.

Tensions with France flared up again and, at home, Richard faced a rebellion by some of his nobles in 1387. John of Gaunt helped Richard stabilise the kingdom and negotiate peace with France. In 1394 Richard invaded Ireland, crushing resistance there.

The period 1397 to 1399 is called the tyranny of Richard. The king had several nobles arrested and some executed. He imposed heavy fines on others he considered had been disloyal. However, his relations with John of Gaunt soured. In 1398 King Richard dissolved Parliament and declared himself absolute ruler, and when John of Gaunt died in February 1399, Richard seized his properties rather than let John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, inherit. Henry Bolingbroke had already been exiled to France.

However, in June 1399, the mood of the French court changed, and the policy of peace with England lapsed. Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, landed in Yorkshire with a small group of followers. By this time, King Richard the second was unpopular, and followers rallied to Henry. Richard the second surrendered to Henry Bolingbroke in August 1399. Parliament was called to discuss Richard's fate, and he was deposed in October 1399. Henry Bolingbroke was crowned King.

Henry had agreed to let Richard live in peace, but several lords, loyal to Richard and demoted by Henry, plotted an uprising. The plot was thwarted, but the dangers persisted. Richard was held in captivity and is believed to have been starved to death in early February 1400. He was 33 years old.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we cover the Wars of the Roses.

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Written by

Ross Maynard