King Edward I of England, known as Edward Longshanks, died on 7 July 1307.
As I have explained before, Edward’s historical legacy is complicated; he was a good man who did horrible things. Longshanks was on his way to Scotland to battle Robert the Bruce, who had recently rebelled against English rule and had declared himself king of Scots. Edward saw as Bruce as disloyal subject who needed to be punished, but the Scots viewed him as a renown freedom fighter. History is full of these parallel conceptualizations, and “truth” is often subjective to who wins the battle and writes the records.
Bruce had won several significant battles against English forces, but whether or not he would have stood against Edward is a question that will never be answered. The king died of dysentery before he could cross into Scotland. His death was the cause of much rejoicing for the Scots, but a great sorrow to his English subjects.
Edward’s body was embalmed and transported southward to lie in state at Waltham Abbey, which was the site of a major English pilgrimage at the time.The king’s body was finally interred at Westminster Abbey in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor on 27 October 1307. England was broke after all the wars and castle building of Edward’s reign, so the king’s tomb was a plain grey marble sarcophagus without effigy or decoration.
“Edwardus Primus Scotorum Malleus. Pactum Serva” (Edward the First, Hammer of the Scots. Keep Troth) was not painted on it until the 16th century. In 1774 his tomb was opened and inside a Purbeck marble coffin his body was found nearly entire, wrapped in a waxed linen cloth and wearing royal robes of red and gold with a crimson mantle. He had a gilt crown on his head and carried a sceptre surmounted by a dove and oak leaves in enamels.
His tomb is near the resting place of the queen he loved so dearly in life, Eleanor of Castile. Unlike his austere marble box, the queen’s tomb is heavily decorated as befitting her rank and the esteem in which her whole kingdom held her.
Regardless of which side of Edward you look at – the evil invader and religious zealot or the family man who held was steadfast in his beliefs – there are few kings in English history that can approach his level of statecraft and military skill. He may fascinate you or repel you or make you feel a combination of both, but he is a monarch to whom few can be indifferent. I think he’d like that.