A great and terrible King; Edward I and the forging of Britain – Marc Morris

A biography of King Edward I of England, a King I know a bit about having read the biography of his first Queen, Eleanor of Castile, last year.

It is interesting to read more than one account of the same events from different perspectives and by different authors so it was useful to have what I learned from the book about Eleanor in the back of my mind whilst reading this book.

I hadn’t realised before reading this and the book about Eleanor just what an impact Edward I had on the development of the UK.  It could have become a very different nation had different decisions been made during Edward’s reign.  A policy of inclusion, rather than a policy of seeking submission, in Wales, Ireland and Scotland would have seen the 4 nations develop along very different lines.

Also, the expensive war waged by Edward to regain his Duchy of Gascony had a significant impact on the development of England as a nation-state.  Edward used every possible means to raise the money for his war and left England, Wales and Ireland in poverty to do so.

On the plus side Edward tried to make England a more law-abiding country with fewer injustices and fewer less corruption than during his father’s reign.

Edward comes across as an interesting character, full of energy and very active up until the end of his life.  He certainly doesn’t come across as a modern man although a lot of what we would see as his bad qualities now were what was expected of Kings in the 13th century.

As always with a biography of a medieval character, chunks of the book seemed quite superficial and there are a lot of inferences made about where the King might have been and why.  I understand the practicalities and lack of evidence but it does make it difficult to piece together a cohesive picture of what a person was like and I find it a bit frustrating.

On the plus side I am building up a better understand of the Plantagenet dynasty and the Kings and Queens of England.

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