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A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the…
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A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain

by Marc Morris

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4.5 stars

Well-written and balanced book. Edward's never been one of my favourite kings but this made me nearly like him at times. ( )
  Elysianfield | Nov 16, 2016 |
Marc Morris’ work was been advertised as the first biography of Edward I in years, and in many ways it may have been a necessary one.

Edward I ‘Longshanks’ stands today as arguably one of the most notorious and despised Kings of Medieval England (perhaps in part with good reason), many people may know him only as the baddie in Braveheart. Some (as a result of the said movie) have seem even to regard him as a ‘pagan’ King.
Morris explores Edward’s life in its entirely to present a more well-rounded view of Edward the man, far removed from the diabolical movie baddie.

From his birth and early childhood, to his turbulent teenage years in which the England was in the grip of political upheaval, to his ascension and reign spanning thirty years, revealing Edward’s varying roles as warrior, crusader, ruler, lawmaker, friend, adversary, and faithful husband.
Perhaps most significantly, the author generally tries to avoid the pitfalls of judging the King by modern standards, though I did not feel that this prevented him from being critical upon occasion.
One reviewer said that this biography ‘bordered on hagiography’. I disagree, not everything Morris says about Edward was positive as far as I could see, and sometimes a rather unflattering picture of the King or Prince emerges.

This said, the author does shed light on some of the perhaps more controversial and unpalatable actions of Edward by the standards of the time, by which they might not have been considered so heinous.
For instance, the infamous massacre at Berwick upon Tweed, as terrible as it was, was consistent with the medieval laws of war regarding sieges. Also England’s relationship with Scotland, before Edward’s fateful decision in the 1290s is also examined, and perhaps surprisingly is revealed to have been positive.

Other aspects of the social background of the political and military events of Edward’s reign are also shed light upon, such as the common attitude towards the Welsh, or the challenges posed by the last King of Wales in ruling his own Kingdom, as well as Edward’s turbulent relationship with his nobles. Also there are other interesting details, such as the assassination attempt on Edward by none other than Sultan Baybars himself.

On a personal level, I found the chronological examination supported a belief I have long held- that Edward’s wife died, and he faced rebellion and war not long after expelling all the Jews from England, and so his ‘ill-fortune’ was a direct consequence of such. In the Jewish and Christian scriptures it says of the Jews that God would ‘bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you’ and it seems what happened to Edward was the latter.

Though towards the end I found the book became a little slower, bogged down perhaps with relating the King’s extortions of money from his nobles to fund his wars, and it may sometimes be a little too detailed, I believe it is still a fascinating and valuable work on the King.
I also wasn’t sure if I agreed with all the author’s conclusions made in the final chapter, especially regarding the King’s temper, but his overall summary of the characters and reign of Edward may be hard to undermine.
Hate him or view him more sympathetically, Edward was indeed A Great and Terrible King, admired by many of his contemporaries, missed when he died, and shaped by his times.
( )
  Medievalgirl | Oct 4, 2016 |
It started slowly, but has grabbed my attention now. ( )
  winterslights | Jun 12, 2016 |
Being a biography of England's Edward I, yclept Longshanks. An effective king bracketed by two duds, Edward is one of the most important monarchs in English history. This is an interesting book, a model of how to write a medieval narrative history; the author is painstaking and his account may fairly be called definitive. He assumes very little prior knowledge, explains the background of the events thoroughly and he isn't afraid to deploy a touch of wit to leaven his account. That said, this is an extremely long book, as befits a life of a major monarch, and few will be sorry to reach the end. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Jul 22, 2015 |
This is biography of Edward I of England is written by an academic but aimed at a general audience. There are no really new insights here—Morris is working from secondary sources, not from primary ones—but it's very readable and I think is quite accessible. Morris has a good eye for an engaging anecdote. That said, I don't think that Morris's mostly laudatory conclusion on Edward quite bears up in the light of the evidence presented in previous chapters. There are also places where I thought Morris' phrasing was not quite felicitous—there's a difference between saying that the medieval English thought their neighbours in Ireland and Wales were uncivilised, and saying that the medieval Irish and Welsh were uncivilised. I would accept the former but absolutely dispute the latter—difference is not the same as inferiority! ( )
1 vote siriaeve | Jul 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Morris tells Edward's story fluently and conveys a compelling sense of the reality, and the contingency, of personal rule; but we rarely see the king in intimate close-up.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099481758, Paperback)

This is the first major biography for a generation of a truly formidable king – a man born to rule England, who believed that it was his right to rule all of Britain. His reign was one of the most dramatic and important of the entire Middle Ages, leading to war and conquest on an unprecedented scale, and leaving a legacy of division between the peoples of Britain that has lasted from his day to our own.

Edward I is familiar to millions as ‘Longshanks’, conqueror of Scotland and nemesis of Sir William Wallace (‘Braveheart’). Yet this story forms only the final chapter of the king’s astonishingly action-packed life. Earlier Edward had defeated and killed the famous Simon de Montfort in battle; travelled across Europe to the Holy Land on crusade; conquered Wales, extinguishing forever its native rulers, and constructing – at Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris and Caernarfon – the most magnificent chain of castles ever created. He raised the greatest armies of the English Middle Ages, and summoned the largest parliaments; notoriously, he expelled all the Jews from his kingdom. The longest-lived of all England’s medieval kings, he fathered no fewer than fifteen children with his first wife, Eleanor of Castile, and after her death he erected the Eleanor Crosses – the grandest funeral monuments ever fashioned for an English monarch.

In this book, Marc Morris examines afresh the forces that drove Edward throughout his relentless career: his character, his Christian faith, and his sense of England’s destiny – a sense shaped in particular by the tales of the legendary King Arthur. He also explores the competing reasons that led Edward’s opponents (including Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Robert Bruce) to resist him, and the very different societies that then existed in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The result is a sweeping story, immaculately researched yet compellingly told, and a vivid picture of medieval Britain at the moment when its future was decided.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:42 -0400)

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"This is the first major biography for a generation of a truly formidable king - a man born to rule England, who believed that it was his right to rule all of Britain. His reign was one of the most dramatic of the Middle Ages, leading to war and conquest on an unprecedented scale, and leaving a legacy of division between the peoples of Britain that has lasted from his day to our own." "In this book, Marc Morris examines afresh the forces that drove Edward throughout his relentless career: his character, his faith, and his sense of England's destiny - a sense shaped in particular by the tales of the legendary King Arthur. He also explores the competing reasons that led Edward's opponents (including Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Robert Bruce) to resist him, and the very different societies that then existed in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The result is a sweeping story, immaculately researched yet compellingly told, and a vivid picture of medieval Britain at the moment when its future was decided."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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