Edward I at war


Wales: conquered by 1283

bullet Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (1220-82) had allied with Simon de Montfort and even after Simon's defeat had been able to obtain many concessions from Henry III in the Treaty of Montgomery (1267).

Caerphilly (Caerfilli) Castle built between 1268 and 1271 by Gilbert de Clare to counter Llywelyn's growing power

Prince Llywelyn controlled about 75% of territory in Wales, which by the 1290s had a total of about 300,000 inhabitants.

bullet Seizing the pretext of Llywelyn's failure to do him homage as overlord (as agreed in the Treaty of Montgomery,) Edward invaded Wales in 1277 with 800 knights and 15,000 infantry.

bullet Overwhelmed by this force, Llywelyn had to submit in the Treaty of Aberconwy (1277.) This stripped him of his control over the other Welsh lords, and confined his power to the northwest of Wales. Edward I built large castles at Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth to encircle Llywelyn.

bullet Edward I extended the English county system into his new territories and applied English law to its Welsh inhabitants. This provoked a revolt in northeast Wales in 1282 which Llywelyn assisted. The rebels took Ruthin, Aberstwyth and Builth castles, and Edward I responded in force.

"Let this be clearly understood:  his council will not permit him to yield  … and even if the prince [Llywelyn ] wishes to transfer [the Welsh] into the hands of the king, they will not do homage to any stranger as they are wholly unacquainted with his language, his way of life and his laws. If they were to accede, they may have to suffer imprisonment and cruel treatment as have the inhabitants of other cantrefi [localities] … in ways harsher than those of the Saracens."

(The councilors of Snowdonia to Llywelyn, 1282)

bullet In December 1282, Llywelyn was killed in a skirmish near Builth. His head was sent to London as proof of his death. When Llywelyn's brother Dafydd died (October 1283), the revolt petered out. The English conquest of Wales was now complete.

bullet The familiar story that Edward promised the Welsh a prince "Who spoke not a word of English" and then appointed his infant son dates from the 16th Century and is probably apocryphal. It is true however that in 1301 Edward made his eldest son Prince of Wales. [The eldest son of the English monarch has been invested with this title ever since.]


Caernafon The campaign of 1282-3 cost about ₤150,000 - an enormous amount by the standards of the day. It also cost about ₤60,000 to build the castles of Caernafon, Conwy, Harlech, Cricceth and Beaumaris after the conquest.

The Welsh Wars were expensive and destructive but by the middle of the 14th Century Wales was a clear source of profit to the English crown.

There were rebellions in Wales 1287, 1294-5 and 1316, but these were mostly minor. National tensions continued into and beyond the 1300s, but most Welsh gentry soon found they were doing well under English rule. Welsh archers were to find profitable employment in Edward I's next wars.


 Scotland: almost conquered.

bullet The 1200s were a period of comparatively amicable relations between England and Scotland. The royal families intermarried (Henry III's sister, Joan, married Alexander II; and Edward I's sister, Margaret, married Alexander III).

bullet In 1286, Alexander III died in a riding accident, and was succeeded by his infant grand-daughter Margaret "the Maid of Norway" who was living at the Norwegian court; she died four years later on the sea journey back to Scotland. This meant there was no clear heir to the throne.
[See Family tree].

bullet The two main claimants were John Balliol and Robert VI Bruce. John Balliol said that his claim was better, because he was descended from the senior line (Margaret was older than Isabella.) Robert VI Bruce argued for the superiority of his claim on the grounds that he was the son of David I's great-grand-daughter, while John Balliol was the grandson of the great-grand-daughter (i.e. Bruce was nearer in degree.)

Edward I (who believed himself the feudal overlord of Scotland) was accepted as arbitrator of the dispute, and he decided the "Great Cause" in favor of Balliol.
John Balliol owned land in the North of England and was therefore more likely to defer to Edward I, but it was also quite arguable that his claim was the better. John was crowned King of Scotland in December 1292.

John Balliol paying homage to Edward I


bullet Edward pressured John Balliol to accept his claim to overlordship and promptly began to exercise the power - encouraging appeals from Scottish courts to his own, and summoning the Scottish barons to perform military service against the French.

bullet By 1295 the Scottish nobility had had enough. Ignoring John, they made an alliance with Philip IV of France - Edward's enemy.
This Franco-Scottish treaty was the first pact in what became known as the Auld Alliance - a coalition of French and Scots against England that would last intermittently until the defeat of the last Jacobite rising in 1746.
[Map of Scotland in 1285]


Edward I invaded in 1296. He sacked Berwick and routed the Scottish army at Dunbar. Stirling castle surrendered - "the garrison having run away and left none but the porter, who did surrender the keys."


bullet Edward I intended to absorb Scotland into the English system of government. He placed John de Warenne, Earl of Warenne and Surrey in charge and moved the Stone of Scone to Westminster.

The Stone of Scone or "Stone of Destiny" was an ancient relic on which the ruler of Scotland sat when he was crowned king. Though Scotland was autonomous until the 17th Century, the stone remained at Westminster until 1996.

bullet The Scots barons soon rebelled, led by Robert the Bruce (grandson of Robert VI Bruce) and William Wallace (not himself a baron.) Robert was soon defeated, but William Wallace initially had more success. At the Battle of Stirling Bridge (11 September 1297), Wallace defeated Warenne's more numerous force by waiting in swampy terrain behind the single narrow bridge that crossed the Forth river. He attacked when only a part of the English army had crossed and was at its most vulnerable, and routed his opponents.
The Scottish soldiers captured the English Treasurer, Hugh de Cressingham, tanned his skin and used it to make purses and bridles.
William Wallace used similar tactics at the Battle of Falkirk (22 July 1298.) He drew up his heavy infantry, armed with 12 foot spears/pikes in defensive positions on a slight rise behind boggy ground. (The horses of attacking knights could not gallop rapidly over soft ground.)

Practicing shooting the longbow

The first impetuous charge of the English knights scattered a few Scottish archers, but made no impact on the phalanxes of pikemen. Edward I therefore changed tactics and used his longbowmen to  rain arrows down on the pikemen. After the archers had created gaps by inflicting many casualties, Edward's cavalry charged into them and broke the Scottish line.


bullet William Wallace carried on guerilla warfare for some time, but in August 1305 was captured and taken to London. Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head (crowned with laurel) was placed on a spike on London Bridge; and the four parts of his body sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Stirling for exhibition in the local marketplaces.

bullet Edward I had persuaded Robert the Bruce to accept a truce in 1302, and Robert had given him token support in 1303. But Edward did little to reward Bruce and instead denied him possession of his hereditary estates in Annandale.

bullet Robert Bruce decided to rebel and when one of the main Scottish barons, John Comyn, refused to join the revolt, Robert stabbed him to death (February 1306).

bullet Robert's first attempts at warfare were unsuccessful and he was forced to go into hiding, but he emerged to achieve a victory at the Battle of Louden Hill, Ayrshire (May 1307).

"…Thus in the hyllis levyt he
Till the mast part off his menye
Wes revyn and rent, na schoyn thai had
Bot as thai thaim off hydis mad.
Tharfor thai went till Aberdeyne	
Quhar Nele the Bruys come and the queyn
And other ladyuis fayr and farand
Ilkane for luff off thar husband
That for leyle luff and leawté
Wald partenerys off thar paynys be…"

(Excerpt from The Brus, John Barbour
Lowland Scottish c. 1375)

Thus in the hills [Bruce and his men] lived, till their clothing was ripped and torn; they had no shoes but those they made from hides. Therefore they went to Aberdeen, where they were joined by Neile the Bruce and the Queen and other fair and fine ladies, who even for the love of their husbands - for true love and loyalty - would be partners with them in their pains.
[There is a legend that, while sheltering in a cave, Robert the Bruce was inspired to continue his efforts by seeing a spider finally succeed after many failed attempts to spin a web. This story was apparently invented in the 18th Century.]

bullet Edward I decided to go to Scotland to remedy the problems there but died en route - 7 July 1307.

Ireland: not yet conquered.

bullet Edward I's determined efforts in Wales and Scotland were not matched in Ireland, which Edward I largely neglected.

The Red Earl's residence

The most powerful Anglo-Irish Earl was Richard de Burgo, Lord of Connacht and Earl of Ulster from 1280 to 1326. He was known as the "Red Earl" and extended the power and territories of the earldom of Ulster.

bullet Edward I was basically concerned with the revenue he could derive from Irish taxation. From 1275 onwards he derived significant income from customs on its wool, hide, and leather exports.
bullet The first Irish Parliament was summoned in 1297 by Edward I's viceroy, John de Wogan, to provide troops for Edward's Scottish wars.
bullet Many of the English colonists were gradually "going native" and direct English power shrunk to the area immediately around Dublin. Robert the Bruce tried to undermine English power still further during the reign of Edward II. He sent his brother Edward there in May 1315 to raise a rebellion.
bullet Edward Bruce routed the forces of the Red Earl at Connor in 1315, and on May Day, 1316 he was crowned "King of Erin."
bullet Robert the Bruce visited Ireland to rally support for the Celtic cause and returned to Scotland to raise more men and supplies. However, before these arrived Edward Bruce was defeated and killed by a force under John de Bermingham at the Battle of Faughart (October 1318).


bullet John de Bermingham was made Earl of Louth; the Red Earl recovered Ulster and Connacht, and English overlordship of Ireland was restored.


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