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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Memorial to Edward

Edward I, statue, Burgh by Sands

Death, of course, is a pretty serious affair.  I know I’m not alone in finding something compelling about the places where people are known to have met their ends; and something was compelling me to visit the place where one of England’s most formidable medieval kings, Edward I, snuffed it on 7th July 1307.  No doubt a psychologist would be able to offer an explanation for both inducements.

In any event, there is something fascinating about Edward.  Well-educated and highly intelligent, he brought stability to the land after the civil wars that blighted his father’s reign and is renowned as an effective monarch, a just law-maker.  At 6’ 2”, Edward towered over the majority of his subjects – hence his nickname, “Edward Longshanks”.  He was ruthless - as you would expect - and intimidating, with a reputation for having a furious temper; the Dean of St Paul’s is said to have died of fear in the king’s presence.  Yet was he tender too?  When his beloved wife Eleanor died in Nottinghamshire in 1290, he was so heartbroken that he ordered memorials to be built at every place her body rested on the way back to London, ending at Charing Cross.  Edward and Eleanor were clearly a devoted couple and had at least fourteen children together; he had another two with Margaret, his second wife.  But Edward was also a warrior, a crusader, conqueror, subjugator of the Welsh, builder of castles, persecutor of Jews, famed for his wars in France, Gascony, Flanders – and Scotland.  Painted on his tomb in the 16th century were the words, Scottorum malleus – ‘hammer of the Scots’ – which he tried very hard to do, though I’m pretty sure Edward was motivated more by his own 13th century sense of order, and power; rather like ‘the Godfather’, this was business, and probably not personal.  Neither he, nor I suspect any of his adversaries, were nationalists – a meaningless term in those far-off days.

Were the Scots grateful for all this attention?  Surprisingly, they were not.  But, even in England, Edward doesn’t always get a great press.

Memorial to Edward I, Solway Firth, Cumbria

A memorial stands on the very spot where he died.  It is on the English side of the Solway Firth, the large body of water that since 1092 has marked the border with south-west Scotland and which forms the mouth of the rivers Esk and Eden.  Edward was on campaign at the time, with an enormous army poised to ford the water, invade Scotland and settle things once and for all with his one-time vassal, Robert the Bruce.  Aging and ill, the king allegedly had dysentery:  apparently, he just couldn’t keep going (so to speak) and expired in the arms of his servants, aged just 68.  A memorial was first erected in 1685 (why did they wait that long?), though the current one dates from 1803, and it’s placed exactly where his tent was; don’t ask me how they know that.

To reach the memorial, you need to go through the tiny Cumbrian village of Burgh by Sands, west of Carlisle.  It feels a bit like bandit country: a couple of locals stared at me as I drove through; surely, they’re used to seeing other people by now?  They must have TVs and everything.  I waved, beamed at them and, gratifyingly, they looked cross.  Burgh is a pretty village, built where Hadrian’s Wall ran, with a must-see church, St Michael’s, and – potentially – a welcoming looking pub.

Edward I's memorial, died in his tent, 1307, invade Scotland

About a mile north of the village, the car bumps to a halt on a piece of gravelly mud.  You can make out the shape of the memorial in the distance.  I knew from a previously aborted attempt that my customary sartorial elegance would be misplaced, so I’d made a point of sporting a pair of scruffy jeans and had brought a pair of waterproof boots to change into.  It was just as well, because the track was even soggier than it looked, and badly maintained.  There was a piece of no man’s land, where the track ended near a pair of wrecked cars and the memorial lay in another direction.  I negotiated a particularly boggy bit, crossed a stile, jumped from one strategically placed stone to the next and headed off on the final leg.  It had only taken about 10 minutes, but it seemed like a trek to the end of the world.  The only sounds were the wind, gusting hard and hissing through the coarse grass, and the faintly ethereal warbling whistle of a passing curlew.  There was no sign of the Solway Firth, as such – I was probably too close to the ground to see it - but it seemed to be seeping up all around anyway.

The memorial was guarded by cows; not nice, quiet, bovine creatures, but curious, faintly menacing, ones with mad, staring, eyes.  I’ve known cows all my life (well, you do, don’t you) and I swear they’re getting more aggressive.  Anyway, I didn’t like the way these ones looked at me.  I could see the headline: “Middle-aged fattish bloke with camera mauled by flock of cows”.  Not prepared to go down without a fight, I picked up a stick and they backed away.

Memorial to Edward I, Cumbria, Burgh by Sands

I had wanted to spend some time at the memorial pondering on the life of this terrible and intriguing king.  I had even brought a Kit-Kat with me, as an aid to concentration.  However, it was not a place for quiet contemplation.  It was hard to picture a massive army camped hereabouts, banners waving, armour clanking, men calling to one another, the smoke from cooking fires in the air.  All I could think was, “What a miserable place to die”. The monument itself is pretty unexceptional and surrounded by a rusting iron fence – presumably to keep cows, Scots, Welsh etc out.  Depressed by the damp bleakness of the place, I just took a few snaps and left, making vaguely threatening noises at the cows as I went.

Cows, Solway Firth, Edward, monument

The Kit-Kat was eaten in the comfort of the car.  Not much of a visitor experience, I thought; but that wasn’t really the point.  Back in Burgh by Sands, which is definitely worth more than a casual glance, there’s a fine modern statue of Edward I on the village green, a gift from Story Construction to mark the 700th anniversary of the king’s death in 2007.  It was sculpted by Christopher Kelly and unveiled by the Duke of Kent.  It depicts a vigorous man in armour, brandishing a sword; Edward would have preferred to be remembered that way, rather than as a sick old man, expiring as his tired body failed him in a remote part of his kingdom on his way to yet another war.  His body lay in state for awhile in nearby St Michael’s, before its long journey south and burial in Westminster Abbey on 27th October.  The new king, Edward II, packed his father’s army up and sent it home.

Statue, Edward I, Burgh by Sands, Cumbria

41 comments:

  1. What a difference 700 years can make to the quality of your memorial. Notwithstanding the delight of an afternoon kit-kat I'm not sure I will be tempted to visit this god forsaken part of the world.

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  2. A fascinating piece Mike. Thoroughly enjoyed, thank you.

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  3. A fascinating piece Mike. Thoroughly enjoyed, thank you.

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  4. One wonders how they could know exactly where the tent stood. It does feel like the edge of the world.

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  5. oh...now I have to go read about Edward II

    Enjoyed...as always

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  6. What a lonely place to expire.

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  7. That was quite an adventure you had! ;-))

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  8. A Kit-Kat as an aid to concentration! ha It's a great statue, but please tell me why Edward the Confessor isn't counted as the first Edward??

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    1. I think it's because the Normans didn't think anything mattered before 1066; but I could be wrong. Curiously enough, I believe Edward I was named after Edward the Confessor. Don't underestimate Kit-Kats...

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  9. Wow, that statue is beautiful! He may have been a brute, but at least the sculptor made him a handsome brute. I think it's cool that the memorial is out on the spot where Edward died. I can't believe those sweet ruminants in the photo had anything but gentle thoughts toward you, even though you were obviously invading their territory. And I would never ever cross soggy terrain like that without someone accompanying me with a long rope to reel me in if the ground should start to swallow me (or does that only happen in Campion movies?) I'm serious. I don't know. Anyway, fascinating post. I think the obsession with death could be alleviated somewhat by more frequent attendance at Evensong. ;-)

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  10. Now why is it that I'd wish you'd taken a picture of those two wrecked cars? Silly I know, but still fascinating to see what was foreign vehicle was rotting away. You say you felt it a bit forlorn, but for me it's incredibly interesting and I'd really enjoy covering these grounds and bringing history back for the day! Your last photo really speaks of their life!

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    1. Y'know, I actually thought, "shall I photograph those cars?". But I didn't - I thought it was off the point (and besides, they were foreign). But, actually, it would have added to the story!

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  11. What a depressing place. Maybe that's why Edward I expired there. I do like the statue. After reading about him, I'm sure he would prefer to be remembered horizontal rather than vertical. He was quite a fighter.
    Wonderful post. I enjoyed it. Glad you survived the local savages. *giggle* ~:)

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    1. Don't you think he would have preferred vertical? Lol!

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  12. A rather desolate looking place to expire.
    Edward wasn't too bad in the breeding stakes was he?
    16 kids!!!!!!

    Maybe the cows as they look like Holstein / Friesian, thus from Europe,
    objected to a "pom" coming onto their "patch".

    Very informative history lesson.
    Oh yes and the "gum boots" were very sensible footwear.
    Cheers
    Colin (Brisbane. Australia)

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    1. No - racist cows aren't allowed in the UK... :-)

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  13. The joy of your blog is that you take us to out-of-the-way places many British folks might not be familiar with. I feel like I'm seeing all this through your eyes.

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  14. I agree about the desolation of the place. A great statue and yet again I learned something here!

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  15. That does look like a bleak place to visit. I had a Kit Kat Chunky today. One of my favourites. Oh and cows are very intimidating. And nosy. :)

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  16. Now Edward I is an interesting character, isn't he! I'm not sure many Scots would describe him as an "effective monarch"! After the Sack of Berwick he got a pretty bad reputation in Scotland. His character seems to be one of the best examples of history written from different viewpoints - to the English he was a great king, to the Scots he was an evil king!
    And then there's the story that when he died there by the Solway Firth, he told his son to boil his body til the bones were clean, and take him to continue the fight against the Scots. His son, Edward II, was smart enough not to do so! Do the English historians ever mention that story?or is that maybe a Scottish myth?
    Interesting period in history no matter how you look at it.

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    1. It's the contrasts that get me; Edward was many things. But he was King of England, and an effective English king. That doesn't mean the sacking of Berwick (now in England) can be seen as anything other than a barbaric, sick, act in our eyes. We also need to remember than many of the rulers of Scotland were, like Edward, of Norman blood (including Robert the Bruce); it was a different world. English historians do mention the story of the bones - there are different versions of it.

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  17. Methinks William Wallace would vehemently disagree with your very favorable assessment of Edward I.

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    1. He may well have done, but I don't think that Edward should be defined purely by his actions in Scotland, or his cruel execution of Wallace (which is covered elsewhere on A Bit About Britain). I don't think my assessment of Edward was particularly favourable. We should also be wary of judging a medieval king by the standards of today - and certainly by Mel Gibson's.

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    2. Well, certainly have a point about Mel Gibson, as it turned out. (LOL?)

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  18. That is a super fine statue and an excellent summary of the time. Don't you know that tent was one miserable place to make one's final journey--cold and damp and blustery and the fire just kept on going out! Busy man both at home and afield. 16 kids.Yikes!

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  19. I'm learning so much from your blog, like kit-kat can help with concentration!

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  20. Love the statue and your hilarious story. It is a shame that the memorial isn't kept better.

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  21. I am often drawn to these places too, but after your description of this one I think I will give it a miss ;-)

    I like the modern sculpture more, that would be worth seeing :-)

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  22. I found your account very evocative, though it sounds like you felt your actual visit rather a disappointment.
    Oh well. At least it wasn't raining.
    And there was that Kit-Kat.

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    1. No, I decided not to go when it was raining; it would have been too much... :-)

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  23. Thank you for facing your own battle to get there for us. It does sound bleak and I agree what an awful place to die. At least you had chocolate to celebrate your quest!

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  24. You tell great stories Mike. Love the Kit-Kat reference. (I like the plain chocolate ones). I can picture you enjoying eating it in the comfort of your car after visiting such a forlorn place. Your last photo is excellent, he deserves a fine statue. As for the cows, a walk I once did with the ramblers took us through a farmer's yard, a group of cows were in a pen, as we walked round to the other side, they all ran towards us, thank goodness they were penned in.

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    1. Thanks, Polly. I'm getting quite suspicious of cows in general...

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  25. I've been crowded by cows and it's a bit frightening, but they are just curious. Bulls -- another story! I enjoyed seeing the monuments around the countryside honoring Edward. I like the dramatic angles of some of your photos in this post.

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  26. I LOVE your blog! The information and your wit are priceless. On my bucket list is to live in the UK for at least 6 months, preferably a year. So believe me, I am very much enjoying your "travelogue".

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    1. Thank you very much! Keep dropping in - and good luck with TWD.

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  27. I didn't know that about Edward. Anything before about 1600 seems a blur to me, which is a pity, because clearly he was a fascinating man and a great leader. As for it being a bleak place to die, though - I don't suppose he thought about that, when it was a battlefield. Dying in hand to hand battle sounds like a hideous way to go anyhow.
    Once again you've shown me something I wouldn't have found for myself.

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  28. Thanks for making the trek so we lesser mortals don't have to! Not sure I'd have braved the mud - never mind the cows! I like the modern sculpture and I'm pleased he was given something more fitting than an isolated lump of stone.

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  29. I thought I had commented on this but may be it was another one. Great rendition of the his end though I'm afraid you would have been mauled by a flock of sheep not by the herd of cows.

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.