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The Role of King Edward I in Creating English Empire

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Edward I was known to be a controversial king in the eyes of historians, some believed him to the best English king in the Middle Ages while others believed him to be unsympathetic one. Edward I was most notably renowned for creating a ‘model parliament’ and making advancements to the English Legal system as the foundations of them are still used in today’s parliament and legal system. Thus this essay will argue that Edward I did create an English Empire because of the said advancements in the English parliament, government and legal system.

The years 1278-86 were key for Edward I and England as he have made major changes to the English government such as creating a ‘model parliament’ and restoring power and authority to the crown. The council was key for the success of Edwards I as they gave him advice and assistance that aided him to govern the country sufficiently. For example, when a problem arose that Edward I did not feel comfortable enough to make a clear decision on he would make a decision together with his council. Thus the role of the king’s councilors was key to the success of Edward I’s policies. The term ‘council’ was not used in the time of his reign, but by having frequent meetings with them Edward I essentially created a ‘privy council’ this led to the beginnings of a bigger council gathering with nobles and others eventually forming a ‘model parliament’. This nods towards the notion of Edward I created an English Empire as it shows positive advancements and drastic changes in the English government under the reign of Edward I. Edward I first summoned the parliament on the 13th of November 1295 to raise funds by taxing the civilians for future war efforts. The parliament during this time was made up by the aristocracy, clergy and even civilians as Stubbs comments how it was a ‘Remarkable assembly’. The summoning of the parliament became more regular as most of the meetings were in regards to taxing the civilians, however, according to Richardson and Sayles the parliament did more than discuss the topic of taxation as, ‘the central function of parliament was the dispensing of justice by the king or his representatives’. This is critical in regards to the creation of the English Empire as Templeman highlights that’s Edward I has achieved in creating a ‘model parliament’ with the foundation of it still being used in England and Commonwealth countries today. It is also worthwhile commenting on The Hundred Scrolls which had been the creation of reforms in terms of crown, land, feudal rights and liberties during the mid-1270s. Thus in 1279, the biggest survey in the Middle Ages has been sent out throughout England. Historian Kosminsky reports that the purpose of this survey was to provide ‘the completest possible picture of the division of rent and the tangle of feudal relationships’. This survey was important as it provided a foundation for taxation and highlights the feudal economy during the reign of Edward I. The Hundred Scrolls is also critical for Edward I’s reign as it shows a clear development of the government of England as he introduced new procedures that have never been done before in the Middle Ages.

However, it can be argued that creating a ‘model parliament’ in 1295 did not mean it should immediately translate to Edward I creating an English Empire. This is because Edward I solely created this ‘model parliament’ in 1295 for his own benefit which in this case was taxing the civilians to support his war efforts. Prestwich also points out the hardships of studying both the parliament and council during the reign of Edward I. This is because neither of the terms was truly established and the word ‘parliament’ was used very loosely. Notably, there is very little solid evidence to prove that these meetings/gatherings were indeed a parliamentary meeting and also the fact that it was never established as an institution with a clear function. During the years 1282-1303, the frequency of parliament has changed as these gathering slowly became less and less as Edward I only initially called for parliament for taxation purposes and solely came to these parliamentary gatherings for money. The parliament also did not meet up regularly and was mostly held in other parts of England thus the parliament had little to no administrative independence which essentially meant that it could not manage itself. This goes against the claim of Edward I creating an English Empire as it shows that the parliament was not a very solid function, was inconsistent and the fact that there is little solid evidence to prove that Edward I even created the parliament. This is also concerning as Edward I was most famous for the creation of the ‘model parliament’ and the fact that historians have problems finding solid evidence for this is deemed to be problematic. Thus the question of did Edward I really create an English Empire arises. In 1294 Edward I has changed the oath which was initially for council members to swear an oath to the king. However, he has changed the pledge so that council members had a duty to do whatever they can to strengthen the power of the Crown. This is critical as it highlights that Edward I’s intention was to manifest power for himself. These two counter-arguments go against the claim of Edward I created an English Empire as he ‘created’ the parliament for his own need for money and changed an oath to make himself more powerful thus is intentions were more geared towards greed rather than the advancement or progression of the English Empire. It also shows that the creation of the English Empire was not his first priority rather was power of the crown.

The reign of Edward I was one of the most important periods in the development of English law. Edward’s legislative development was one of the key reasons which made his reign significant. The purpose of these legislative developments was to make the law more efficient and to make justice a quicker process by introducing more advanced procedures as Carpenter comments that ‘for the first time it could be thought of as fully professional’. What Edward I and his advisors created was something that no one was able to achieve during the Middle Ages as Bishop Stubbs highlights the “importance of his legislation and dignity of his position in legal history, no English man will dispute”. Thus his advancement in the legal system is a key factor of creating an English Empire as he created a foundation and openings for today’s court and legal systems. The English legal system that Edward I created was very complex, and ranged in the type of courts from manorial, all they up to the parliament. There were also local courts and feudal courts which were adopted from the Anglo-Saxons. Another important development in the legal system under the rule of Edward I was the use of more informal methods at the beginning of court proceedings, for example, querela. This is important as it enables a defendant who has a judgment against him/her to seek relief of the consequences of the judgment when a new piece of evidence or defense that comes up. Simply this prevented a defendant from being immediately executed. This is important in the creation of the English Empire as it shows more advanced and professional techniques that are being introduced to the court thus improving the overall justice system. Edward I was also reputable for creating new statutes to the English law that had long term significance especially The Statute of Gloucester, The Statute of Mortmain, and The First Statute of Westminster. The Statute of Gloucester gave power to the king’s officers to scrutinize the writ of Quo Warranto which a form of legal action used to solve an argument on whether a person had legal rights to own civic businesses. Simply Barons had to have proof of owning franchises. The Statute of Mortmain also known as ‘the dead hand’ was simply to protect the kingdom’s revenue by preventing the land from going into the clutches of the church. Lastly, the first Statute of Westminster was the first of the Edwardian Statutes in which representatives of the commons are summoned and codifying the existing law in England. This is analytical to Edward I creating an English Empire as it shows a more in-depth analysis, professionalism and major advancements made to the English legal system. Especially compared to the other rulers during the Middle Ages as it had the long term significance in the English legal system. It is also critical as the foundations of the statutes are still used today Britain’s legal system thus showing its importance.

In conclusion Edward I have indeed created an English Empire through the fact that he had created a ‘model parliament’ and legislative reforms that are used as foundations for today’s parliament and legal system. However, most of Edward I’s action was for his greed for power and money as the ‘model parliament’ was created for the sole purpose of taxing the civilians for his war efforts. There is also very little solid evidence that shows Edward I created a parliament that can question the statement of Edward I creating an English Empire. However, Edward I’s achievements overshadow this as Templeman states that he was able to do what no King during his era was able to do.

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