Eight Kings Named Edward
King Edward I
King Edward I was born in 1239, and he reigned from 1272 until his death in 1307. He was the eldest son of King Henry III, who reigned from 1216 to 1272, and supported him on the battlefield during the “Barons War” of 1264 to 1267. His most notable success was the defeat of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.
After becoming king, Edward subdued the Welsh princes during conflicts lasting from 1277 to 1284 and emphasized his overlordship of Wales by building a series of strong castles that included Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech.
He then turned his attention to Scotland, firstly by supporting the claim of John de Balliol to become King of Scotland in 1292 and then launching a full invasion in 1296, which provoked a fierce response. Edward was on his way to do battle with King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) when he died in 1307.
King Edward II
Born in 1284, Edward was the fourth son of Edward I, but the first three died in childhood. Edward was nothing like his father in temperament or ability. He was declared Prince of Wales – the first English prince to be given this title – in 1301, and became king in 1307 at the age of 23.
Edward showed considerable favour to his friend – and probable homosexual lover – Piers Gaveston, to the extent that he provoked a revolt by the English barons who passed ordinances to reduce the king’s powers and demand the expulsion of Gaveston, who was later murdered.
Edward lost control of Scotland after defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
With Gaveston dead, Edward found new favourites in Hugh le Despenser and his son, also called Hugh. Opposition now came from his wife, Isabella, and her lover Roger Mortimer, who were forced to flee to France in 1323. However, they returned in 1326 and were able to depose Edward and place his son, another Edward, on the throne. The Despensers were captured and executed and Edward died in captivity at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. He was almost certainly murdered.
King Edward III
Born in 1312, Edward succeeded his father in 1327, at the age of 15, and reigned for 50 years. At first, Edward was subject to the controlling influence of his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. However, in 1330 Edward asserted his authority and began reigning for himself. Mortimer was executed and Isabella was forced out of public life.
Edward’s reign was marked by the outbreak of the Hundred Years War with France in 1337 with Edward claiming sovereignty over France as well as England and Scotland. Victories at Sluys in 1340 and Crecy in 1346, followed by a period of truce. Hostilities resumed in 1355, with victory at Poitiers achieved by Edward’s son Edward, known as the Black Prince.
The Europe-wide plague known as the Black Death reached England in 1348, with devastating consequences for people of all social classes.
The Black Prince pre-deceased his father, so Edward was succeeded by his 10-year-old grandson Richard II.
King Edward IV
Born in 1442 as the son of Richard, Duke of York, Edward gained the crown in 1461 through conquest and spent most of his reign in a bitter struggle with the opposing dynasty of the House of Lancaster, the conflict being known to history as the Wars of the Roses.
Victories at Mortimer’s Cross and Towton led to Edward becoming king, helped in large measure by his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The Lancastrian monarch, King Henry VI, was captured and held in the Tower of London.
Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a move that greatly displeased the Earl of Warwick, who changed sides and plotted to restore Henry VI to the throne, which he did in 1470. However, Edward fought back and defeated and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. His final victory was secured against the forces of King Henry at Tewkesbury the following month, after which Henry was murdered and Edward resumed his reign.
The rest of Edward’s reign was relatively peaceful and English commerce was promoted. Edward died suddenly from natural causes in 1483, leaving his 13-year-old son and heir Edward in the guardianship of his brother Richard, who would soon afterwards seize the throne as King Richard III.
King Edward V
Edward was a king who reigned in name for a short time but never ruled.
He was aged 13 when his father, King Edward IV, died unexpectedly on 9th April 1483. His uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester, took him under his protection and housed him (and his younger brother Richard) in the Tower of London, which was a royal residence and the usual place where a monarch at that time was prepared for his coronation.
However, Edward was never seen in public again. He was deposed by his uncle on 26th June and the short reign of King Richard III began. The mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” continues to this day, but the likelihood is very strong that they were murdered on Richard’s orders.
King Edward VI
Born in 1537, the son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was only nine years old when his father died in 1547
Effective power was exercised firstly by Edward’s maternal uncle Edward Seymour, Earl of Somerset, and then by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
Edward was studious and unemotional, and far more fervently Protestant than his father. He endorsed the Church of England prayer books written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and 1552 and took steps to remove signs of Roman Catholic influence from English churches.
Edward fell ill with tuberculosis in February 1553 and it soon became clear that his illness was terminal. Edward was determined that his Catholic sister Mary should not become Queen and so gave his blessing to a plot to make his cousin Lady Jane Grey the next monarch. However, after Edward’s death in July 1553 (aged 15) the plot fell apart and Mary did indeed become Queen and tried her hardest to undo Edward’s work in promoting Protestantism in England.
King Edward VII
Born in 1841 as the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who was to have the longest reign of any British monarch to date, Edward spent many years as Prince of Wales before becoming king in 1901.
Edward and his mother did not get on well, due largely to his playboy lifestyle as a rich young man with little to do apart from enjoy himself. Victoria blamed Edward for hastening the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861. This came about when Albert, already ill with typhoid, journeyed to Cambridge, where Edward was studying at Trinity College, to remonstrate with him after an affair involving an actress. Albert’s health worsened after the trip and he died two weeks later.
As a result, Victoria would not involve Edward in matters of state and he therefore had even more free time in which to indulge his passions for horseracing, shooting, gambling and women. His marriage to a Danish princess (Alexandra) in 1863 did nothing to slow him down in these respects.
However, when he eventually became king in 1901, at the age of 59, everything changed. He carried out his royal duties with full responsibility and was very popular with the British people. The short “Edwardian Age” was one of relative prosperity and liberality that people would later look back on with fond nostalgia.
Edward was also very active as an ambassador for his country, both in Europe and the British Empire.
However, Edward’s late arrival on the throne meant that his reign was unlikely to last long. He died in 1910 at the age of 68.
King Edward VIII
Like his predecessor Edward V, Edward VIII was fated never to crowned as king, but for a very different reason. Born in 1894 as the eldest son of the future King George V, Edward was a popular Prince of Wales whose career came to a juddering halt when he became infatuated with a divorced American socialite named Wallis Simpson (she was technically still married to her second husband). As a royal match she was quite unsuitable at that time and Edward was forced to choose between being king or the husband of Wallis Simpson. He chose the latter.
As a result, despite Edward being declared king on the death of his father in January 1936, he abdicated the throne and passed the crown to his younger brother (who reigned as King George VI) in December of the same year.
Edward and Wallis married in 1937 when Wallis’s second divorce came through. Edward was granted the title Duke of Windsor and the couple moved to Paris. Shortly after this moved they visited Adolf Hitler in Germany, which made many people wonder if Edward harboured Nazi sympathies.
In 1940 Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas, a post that he held for the rest of World War Two. He spent the rest of his life in France, dying in 1972 at the age of 77.