Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Edward I and the Forging of Britain

by Marc Morris

Pub Date: March 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60598-684-5
Publisher: Pegasus

Richly contextual treatment of a pivotal Medieval English monarch who consolidated the British Isles, but at violent cost and future retribution.

In his age of chivalry and crusade, Edward I (1239-1307) had all the qualities of a successful, memorable leader—eloquence, decisiveness, piety, courage in battle, luck in marriage and health, and a keenness for building projects—but was he a good king? English historian Morris (The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England, 2013, etc.) gives Edward all the benefit of the doubt as the author sifts chronologically through the king’s significant legacy. The first Edward since the Norman Conquest, named by his father after his patron saint, Edward the Confessor, young Edward was pulled into his father’s political wrangling with insurgencies in Wales, Scotland and Gascony (Aquitaine) and inculcated with the importance of securing the rights of the crown against the resentments of the powerful earls. In 1258, he and his father were essentially shackled by the Provisions of Oxford, through which the earls had restrained the oppressive government. One earl, Simon of Montfort, nearly toppled the kingdom before Edward and his fellow royalists caught up with Simon at the slaughter of Evesham in 1265. Acceding to the crown in his mid-30s, Edward reaped the poisonous policy of disinheriting the vanquished. The dispossessed Welsh leader Llywelyn ap Gruffudd would prove the bane of Edward’s own early reign, while the policy of repression in Ireland and Scotland, as well as forced revenue for holy crusading and war with France, would continue to haunt him, causing enormous dislocation and lawlessness. Moreover, Edward has the dubious distinction of being the first European leader to expel the Jews from his kingdom, in 1290. In the end, Morris sees Edward’s legacy as one of “profound and lasting division.”

An elucidating though occasionally long-winded biography.