What I'm Reading
Edward I and the Forging of Britain.
He gave Jews yellow stars to wear hundreds of years before Hitler, and yet he is still one of my favourite monarchs. Edward I, also known as 'Longshanks' and the 'Hammer of the Scots' and to some, 'The Leopard' was born in 1239 to the great Plantagenet dynasty. To a lot of people he was the wimpy English king portrayed in the film Braveheart set against the brilliant William Wallace but as any historian will tell you, this was not how Edward really was.
Edward was, as Marc Morris said in his biography, A Great and Terrible King. Great because he defined the English. The first English monarch to actually speak the English language since the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror, he decided that he would create an English identity. He re-discovered the myths of King Arthur and held him up as an English ideal. Edward's grandson, Edward III, continued with the theme and helped develop the perfect English chivalrous knight by utilising King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
A part of that English identity involved ruling all of the British Isles. There were many wars with the Welsh and Scottish and the ramifications are with us today. Morris gives a great insight into the background and preparations to these wars. Wales has been left with the visual reminder of Edward's English dominion in the many castles he had built, from Conwy, Harlech and Aberystwyth. Personally I love these castles and they have surely boosted Wales's tourism. Not really sure how the Welsh view them today.
The book shows how Edward established parliament and was involved in law-making as he restored royal power, which had been fading with previous monarchs. He also went on crusade, which further added to the English identity of Christian morality. It is reported that he was one of a very small number of monarchs who actually loved his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and was devastated by her death puts a great romantic spin on his story. A good dutiful husband to his second wife, too. These are the things that make him a great king.
He was physically a big man, hence his nickname of 'Longshanks'. He also had a temper so many people were afraid of him. Edward's military campaigns contributed to his fearful reputation as well as his expulsion of Jews when money became an issue. These are things that made Edward a terrible king.
It is not by chance that people reviewing the biography of Edward found it as exciting as a novel, although it is definitely a non-fiction book. The writing is fluent and easy to read, and at times is quite the page-turner. Not the typical history text book.
He is one of my favourite monarchs because he is so interesting. He had a full life, from birth to death, always intoxicating as Morris demonstrates throughout. This book does him justice and is well balanced in depicting him as both great and terrible. Highly recommended.
Published by Pegasus 15 June 2017.