Daily Archives: 23 February, 2010

A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris

Review by Scott Daly

For me, Edward I is one of the most misunderstood Kings in British History. The man known in his time as ‘Longshanks’, and who’s tomb in Westminster Abbey bears the inscription ‘Scottorum Malleus’ (Hammer of the Scots), has been given somewhat of a rough ride recently, largely thanks to a certain Hollywood film-maker. Marc Morris’s book A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, seeks to cast Edward in a new light.

And on the whole, Morris succeeds brilliantly. From the onset its clear that a massive amount of research has gone into this book. Edwards early life and his role during Henry III’s power struggle with Simon de Montfort is exhaustively explained. In fact during the first two chapters of this book I found myself wondering whether this book was about Edward I or Simon de Montfort. But all this detailed exposition only serves to paint a tapestry of the medieval world in which Edward inherited his Kingdom, and how his early experiences under the reign of his father shaped his Kingship. Unlike Henry III, Edward I would not be dominated by his nobility.

And by the end of this book, the reader is left in no doubt that Edward was a true Medieval Colossus. By the time he ascended to the throne in 1272, he had already been on (an albeit unsuccessful) crusade, and right up until his last days he harboured ambitions of retaking Jerusalem. His wars with Wales and Scotland were bloody and brutal, and its easy to think of Edward as a Warmongerer, a kind of Medieval George W. Bush. But Morris manages to judge Edward purely by the standards of his time. What medieval King could have allowed such rebellious threats to exist and expect to reign securely?

My only criticism of this book is that while it is thoroughly detailed and researched, its a little light on historical anecdotes, the small stories from primary sources that really bring Medieval history to life. When they are to be found, they are brilliant. The gruesome end of Simon de Montfort for example, when he was killed by Edwards forces at Evesham his genitals were cut off, placed in his mouth and his severed head presented to his wife. Or upon handing over control of Scotland to his leuitenant after the first war of conquest, Edward remarked, ‘A man does good business, when he rids himself of a turd’. But I read Morris’s account of the English sack of Berwick in 1296 with frustration, for I didnt feel the true gruesomeness of the assualt was captured. Instead Morris argues that Edward ‘acted entirely in keeping with the traditions of Medieval Warfare’. The author seems to be fearful of being too revealing at this point, incase the audience should be alienated against Edward too much, and it’s a shame.

However, despite this minor gripe, I found this book to be a highly enjoyable, educational read, since there aren’t too many modern books out there about Edward I. I would suggest this is an essential read for any fan of Medieval History.

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Filed under Book of the Week, Medieval history

Argentina claims regional support over Falklands

Argentina has claimed to have gathered support from other South American countries for its stance over the Falkland Islands, according to BBC News.

At a regional summit in Mexico a document has reportedly been drafted giving Argentina unanimous support. No official statement has been made, but the President of Mexico has reportedly said a document had been drawn up offering Buenos Aires full support in its territorial dispute with London. This regional support is hardly surprising, and has come with the usual anti-imperialist soundbites.

Cristina Kirchner, the Argentinian President, has apparently said that “I think the important thing is that we have achieved very strong support, something that legitimates our claims fundamentally against the new petroleum activity.” How somebody who happens to be the wife of the last President can claim any kind of legitimacy or expect to be taken seriously is beyond me. Also, it hasn’t been made clear exactly what international law has been violated by Britain.

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, said “Mrs Queen of England, the empires are over”. Clearly Mr Chavez’s grasp of history, british politics and indeed of democracy are slightly weak. The British Empire ended years ago. The people on the Falkland Islands want to be British, how they got there is immaterial. Is Mr Chavez going to hand Venezuela back to the Indigenous Venezuelan Indians?

The majority of people in South America, and certainly those who find themselves in power, are the descendants of the Spanish Empire. If they are advocating that the Falkland Islanders should be shipped home, shouldn’t they all go home to Spain too? Like it or not, the effects of Imperialism are a reality, and the make up of modern South American is exactly the same.

One cannot help but feel that the rumblings coming from Buenos Aires are being caused by two factors. Firstly, the economic and political situation is leading the Argentine Government to exploit the age-old Falklands factor to divert attention away from their own domestic failings. Secondly, Buenos Aires is unhappy about having to eat humble pie over the oil issue. They may make noises about Britain not negotiating or acting unilaterally, but in 2007 they withdrew from talks over the sharing of oil revenue. Now, when it seems that there is money to be made, they want a slice of the pie. I cannot help but think that this recent crisis is not so much about the Islands per se, but about Argentinian domestic factors and oil. Argentina is being less than altruistic in this.

Given the staunch support of the UK for recent US Foreign policy, including unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it might be expected that the US Government will support the British stance. However, with Barack Obama’s somewhat cooler approach to the special relationship, and a desire to engage more with regional governments, the UK might not be able to expect as much support as it received in 1982.

So where does this leave Britain? Clearly, in a very dangerous position. Argentina will feel emboldened by the support they have received from their neighbours – they are not as isolated as in 1982. But economically and militarily, Argentina is unlikely to act. All the same, it is important that the Foreign Office works hard to garner support, particularly from the US and the EU countries.

Theodores Roosevelt’s adage ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ still holds firm – it might not be a bad idea, if possible, to send an extra warship or two down south to patrol the drilling area. We might not have many ships available, but the deployment of one or two now might save a bigger headache later. The biggest mistake the British Government made in 1982 was not acting decisively over the South Georgia incident.

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Filed under Falklands War, Navy, News, politics