King Edward embarked on a highly ambitious plan to conquer the whole of Britain. He lead an army into Wales in 1277. The first invasion proceeded along the North Wales coast. Llywellyn ap Gruffyd, Prince of Wales, was the husband of Eleanor, Edward’s niece and the daughter of Simon de Montfort. The campaign was successful and the Welsh Prince surrendered to the English king, by the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1287 he was compelled to accept humiliating peace terms.
In 1282 the Welsh, led by Llewelyn’s brother Dafydd, rose against English rule. Edward again marched an army into Wales. Llywelyn joined the revolt which experienced some initial success, the castles of Builth, Aberystwyth and Ruthin were wrested from English hands and an English army defeated at the Menai Straights in Gwynedd. Llywelyn was killed at the Battle of Irfon Bridge on the 11th December 1282, crushing Welsh hopes. In accordance with the barbaric custom of the time, his severed head was sent to London to be displayed at the Tower. Dafydd continued to lead the Welsh resistance, but was handed over to Edward in June 1283, when he too, was tried and executed.
Following his conquest of Wales, Edward I built a formidable Iron Ring of Castles, a days march from apart, to defend his aquisitions from Welsh rebellion. Subsequent to Edward’s first Welsh campaign when he succeeded in isolating his adversary, Llywelyn the Last in Snowdonia and Anglesey, the English king erected the castles of Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth Wells and Aberystwth.
After the failure of Llywelyn’s second uprising in 1282, the Iron Ring was extended to include castles at Conway, Caernarfon and Beaumaris.
Edward’s attention was turned north to Scotland. Alexander III, King of Scots, Edward’s brother-in-law, had recently died, leaving his young granddaughter, Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway, as his sole heir. Edward proposed a marriage alliance between Margaret and his eldest surviving son and heir, Edward of Carnarvon, Prince of Wales, by which he hoped to gain control of Scotland. Margaret died on the journey to her new kingdom, leaving the Scottish succession disputed between a number of candidates, among whom the English King was asked to arbitrate by the Scottish lords. His choice fell upon John de Balliol, who did possess a strictly superior hereditary right.
Balliol was effectively a puppet of the English, the discontented Scots promptly rose in rebellion against this arrangement and an English army was marched north into Scotland in 1296 to deal with them. Edward stormed the inadequately defended border town of Berwick upon Tweed, slaughtering its inhabitants and overun Scotland. King John Balliol was humiliated and sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London.
The Stone of Scone, a venerated relic, which Scottish Kings had been crowned on since the Dark Ages, was taken in 1296 and removed to Westminster. It was incorporated in a coronation chair specially built for this purpose at Westminster Abbey and has only recently been returned to Scotland.
The banner of Scottish resistance was taken up by the patriot William Wallace, he was both a brave and resourceful opponent and defeated Edward’s forces at Stirling Bridge in 1297. He then continued a guerilla war in the name of King John, gaining the support of the Scottish clans, although he never gained the loyalty of the nobles.
William Wallace was defeated by Edward I at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and three regents appointed to rule Scotland, the Bishop of St. Andrews, Robert the Bruce and John Comyn. The spirited William Wallace, unbowed, stormed Stirling Castle in 1304, but was later treacherously handed over to the English by one of his own countrymen, he suffered the horrendous death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. Robert the Bruce, after murdering his rival, Comyn, in the church at Greyfriars, was crowned King of Scots. Abandoning conventional methods, Bruce tried to starve the enemy out and made efforts to capture the English strongholds.
Making his way north to deal with the Scots yet again, the great Edward I died at Burgh on Sands, Cumberland at the age of sixty-eight on 7 July, 1307. Apprehensive of his son Edward’s ability to continue his work, he was purported to have asked his flesh to be boiled from his bones, so that they could be carried with the army on every campaign into Scotland and that his heart be buried in the Holy Land. His son instead buried his body in Westminster Abbey, the mausoleum of English Kings, in a robe of imperial purple. The place where he lies is marked by a simple stone slab which bears the epitaph ‘Here lies Edward, the Hammer of the Scots’.
Edward’s 26 year old widow, Margaret of France, retired to Marlborough Castle after his death and never remarried, she is recorded as saying “when Edward died, all men died for me”. She lived on for ten years after her husband’s death, dying at the age of 36 and was buried at Greyfriars Church, Greenwich.