Edward I and Wales: 1254-1307, by David Pilling


A new history of the campaigns and conquering of Wales
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Edward I & Wales

After two centuries of conflict between the Welsh princes and the English crown, Edward I finally conquered Wales in the latter half of the 13th century. Edward – better known to many by the epithet ‘Longshanks’ – had accomplished something which had eluded English monarchs since Harold Godwinson’s successful campaign in 1066. It would be easy to take the broad facts in at a glance and not consider the highly complicated and nuanced interplays of power and culture behind events. Wales during the 13th century was a country in a process of transition.

The old division of smaller Welsh kingdoms with their royal families was breaking down. The Welsh border now held a population that was neither specifically English nor Welsh, but both, and loyal first and foremost to themselves under the governance of Marcher lords. Amongst the Welsh people, there was a great diversity of opinion and agenda, with some devoted to the old Welsh royal lines and some finding their interests lay with the English monarchy rather than their countrymen. There was also a rising Welsh gentry class. This hotbed of political infighting and violence formed the backdrop for a series of campaigns – both punitive and conquest driven – by Edward I in one of Wales’ most tumultuous periods of history.

David Pilling’s clear, engaging prose allows the character of Edward I to shine through as a many layered, mercurial figure who was intensively driven to succeed. His relationship with the Welsh was often difficult, but as Pilling leads the reader to conclude, the fact that Edward was a man with whom the Welsh princes and Marcher lords would treat was an accomplishment in itself. Edward I is often remembered for being utterly ruthless in putting down rebellion and dealing with his enemies, however this book leads the reader through the intricacies of situation and allows us to enter the mindset of the time when expedient cruelty was often an effective tool to prevent further war. Nor does Pilling conclude that the conquest of Wales ended in 1282 with the death of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, as many sources state, instead offering the view that subjugating the Welsh was an ongoing process that would take Edward another decade.

Pilling presents an exhaustively researched treatment of this period in Welsh history and Edward’s life, drawing extensively on previously untranslated archive material. Edward I and Wales was a fascinating and insightful read – a must for any enthusiast of the history of the relationship between England and Wales, or for scholars of Edward I’s life.

J.A.Ironside is the author of The King’s Knight series of novels.