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Edward I: Best of Kings, Worst of Kings?

Warmongering anti-semite, or constitutionalist and family man? Marc Morris takes a fresh look at the career of Edward I, whose reputation has suffered a roller-coaster ride over the centuries.

On an otherwise unremarkable building opposite Holborn tube station, some five or six storeys above the commuter throng, sits a serene and noble-looking Edward I (r. 1272-1307). The work of a young sculptor Richard Garbe (1876-1957), he was placed there in 1902, and evidently intended as a tribute: on the opposite corner of the same building sits a similar statue of Edward VII, who was crowned that same year.

The accession of a new King Edward, the first in 350 years, clearly prompted some of his subjects to look back through the annals of English history in search of a similarly named exemplar. No doubt they quickly dismissed as unsuitable the two boy kings, Edwards V (r.1483) and VI (r. 1547-53), the usurper Edward IV and the unspeakable Edward II (r. 1307-27), and ignored the three unnumbered pre-Conquest Edwards on the grounds of their comparative obscurity. Today they might have considered the merits of Edward III (r. 1327-77), a successful king whose reign witnessed the greatest English triumphs of the Hundred Years' War. But at the start of the twentieth century no one was in the mood to celebrate a man who appeared to have gone looking for glory on the battlefields of Europe; the victor of Crécy and the founder of the Order of the Garter was at that time regarded as a feckless and irresponsible warmonger.

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