15. Edward I, Longshanks, A.D. 1272—1307
The son of Henry III. returned from the Holy Land to be one of our noblest, best, and wisest kings. Edward I.—called Longshanks in a kind of joke, because he was the tallest man in the Court—was very grand-looking and handsome; and could leap, run, ride, and fight in his heavy armor better than anyone else. He was brave, just, and affectionate; and his sweet wife, Eleanor of Castille, was warmly loved by him and all the nation. He built as many churches and was as charitable as his father, but he was much more careful to make only good men bishops, and he allowed no wasting or idling. He faithfully obeyed Magna Carta, and made everyone else obey the law—indeed many good laws and customs have begun from this time. Order was the great thing he cared for, and under him the English grew prosperous and happy, when nobody was allowed to rob them.
The Welsh were, however, terrible robbers. You remember that they are the remains of the old Britons, who used to have all Britain. They had never left off thinking that they had a right to it, and coming down out of their mountains to burn the houses and steal the cattle of the Saxons, as they still called the English. Edward tried to make friends with their princes—Llewellyn and David—and to make them keep their people in order. He gave David lands in England, and let Llewellyn marry his cousin, Eleanor de Montfort. But they broke their promises shamefully, and did such savage things to the English on their borders that he was forced to put a stop to it, and went to war. David was made prisoner, and put to death as a traitor; and Llewellyn was met by some soldiers near the bridge of Builth and killed, without their knowing who he was. Edward had, in the meantime, conquered most of the country; and he told the Welsh chiefs that, if they would come and meet him at Caernarvon Castle, he would give them a prince who had been born in their country—had never spoken a word of any language but theirs. They all came, and the king came down to them with his own little baby son in his arms, who had lately been born in Caernarvon Castle, and, of course, had never spoken any language at all. The Welsh were obliged to accept him; and he had a Welsh nurse, that the first words he spoke might be Welsh. They thought he would have been altogether theirs, as he then had an elder brother; but in a year or two the oldest boy died; and, ever since that time, the eldest son of the King of England has always been Prince of Wales.
There was a plan for the little Prince Edward of Caernarvon being married to a little girl, who was grand-daughter to the King of Scotland, and would be Queen of Scotland herself—and this would have led to the whole island being under one king—but, unfortunately, the little maiden died. It was so hard to decide who ought to reign, out of all her cousins, that they asked king Edward to choose among them— since everyone knew that a great piece of Scotland belonged to him as over-lord, just as his own dukedom of Aquitaine belonged to the King of France over him; and the Kings of Scotland always used to pay homage to those of England for it.
Edward chose John Balliol, the one who had the best right; but he made him understand that, as overlord, he meant to see that as good order was kept in Scotland as in England. Now, the English kings had never meddled with Scottish affairs before, and the Scots were furious at finding that he did so. They said it was insulting them and their king; and poor Balliol did not know what to do among them, but let them defy Edward in his name. This brought Edward and his army to Scotland. The strong places were taken and filled with English soldiers, and Balliol was made prisoner, adjudged to have rebelled against his lord and forfeited his kingdom, and was sent away to France.
Edward thought it would be much better for the whole country to join Scotland to England, and rule it himself. And so, no doubt, it would have been; but many Scots were not willing,—and in spite of all the care he could take, the soldiers who guarded his castles often behaved shamefully to the people round them. One gentleman, named William Wallace, whose home had been broken up by some soldiers, fled to the woods and hills, and drew so many Scots round him that he had quite an army. There was a great fight at the Bridge of Stirling; the English governors were beaten, and Wallace led his men over the border into Northumberland, where they plundered and burnt wherever they went, in revenge for what had been done in Scotland.
Edward gathered his forces and came to Scotland. The army that Wallace had drawn together could not stand before him, but was defeated at Falkirk, and Wallace had to take to the woods. Edward promised pardon to all who would submit—and almost all did; but Wallace still lurked in the hills, till one of his own countrymen betrayed him to the English, when he was sent to London, and put to death.
All seemed quieted, and English garrisons—that is, guarding soldiers —were in all the Scottish towns and castles, when, suddenly, Robert Bruce, one of the half English, half Scottish nobles between whom Edward had judged, ran away from the English court, with his horse's shoes put on backwards. The next thing that was heard of him was, that he had quarreled with one of his cousins in the church at Dumfries, and stabbed him to the heart, and then had gone to Scone and had been crowned King of Scotland.
Edward was bitterly angry now. He sent on an army to deal unsparingly with the rising, and set out to follow with his son, now grown to man's estate. Crueller things than he had ever allowed before were done to the places where Robert Bruce had been acknowledged as king, and his friends were hung as traitors wherever they were found; but Bruce himself could not be caught. He was living a wild life among the lakes and hills; and Edward, who was an old man now, had been taken so ill at Carlisle, that he could not come on to keep his own strict rule among his men. All the winter he lay sick there; and in the spring he heard that Bruce, whom he thought quite crushed, had suddenly burst upon the English, defeated them, and was gathering strength every day.
Edward put on his armor and set out for Scotland; but at Burgh-on-the-Sands his illness came on again, and he died there at seventy years old.
He was buried in Westminster Abbey, under a great block of stone, and the inscription on it only says, "Edward I., 1308—The Hammer of the Scots—Keep Treaties." His good wife, Queen Eleanor, had died many years before him, and was also buried at Westminster. All the way from Grantham, in Lincolnshire—where she died—to London, Edward set up a beautiful stone cross wherever her body rested for the night— fifteen of them—but only three are left now.