Edward I is one of the most famous English kings. As a prince, he took part in important events during his father’s reign, Henry III, such as the wars of the barons, the rule of his uncle Simon de Montfort and the battles of Lewes and Evesham. And as king, he is well known for his wars and conquest in Wales and Scotland.

But this post is about a less known fact that took place in the last years of Henry III’s life. Until 1265, Henry and Edward focused in putting an end to the rebellion of the barons of the realm, led by Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. When Simon was killed in the battle of Evesham (or, as one chronicler put it, “the murder of Evesham, for battle it was none”) prince Edward pursued his followers (known as “The Disinherited”) who gathered especially in Kenilworth castle. When the rebellion was finally crushed, the young and physically impressive prince needed a battlefield to test his courage.

The ideal place for every European knight from the 13th century to develop himself as a warrior was to defend the Christian territories of Outremer. It took some time to gather the funds he needed to finance the expedition, but finally on August the 20th 1271, Edward, with his wife Eleanor of Castile and his troops, set off sailing to France. They intended to join forces with the army of the French King Louis IX, who was also heading to the Holy Land. But when Edward arrived in France, he was told that the French were on their way to the port of Aigues Tortes, the designated place to embark to Outremer. The English hastily crossed France, but when they arrived to Aigues Tortes there were no French army waiting for them, but some bad news. The first one: Louis IX had already set sail. The second one: he and his forces were not heading to the Holy Land, but to Tunisia. Louis’s brother, Charles of Anjou, was King of Sicily and asked his brother help to subdue his Tunisian subjects, who refused to pay him taxes.

To make things worse, the French army had been decimated due to a plague which even killed King Louis himself. From this moment on, the English depended on their own completely. The most reasonable thing to do was to put an end to the mission and return home. But Edward refused plainly and set sail to Outremer. The Christian possessions there were by this time limited to a narrow fringe of land in the coastline and the capital was Acre, where the English fleet landed.

Edward soon became aware of the real situation there. Not even joining forces with the Christian army in Outremer and the military orders had they the slightest chance to face the Muslim troops, led by sultan al-Zahir Baybars and his Mamluks. Edward sought and managed to sign an alliance with the Mongols of Agabha-Khan (grandson of the great Gengis). The Mongol cavalry launched an attack on Aleppo and the Muslim army set north to face them. And the Christian took advantage of this situation to strike and try to conquer back Jerusalem.

It was a complete failure. Not only the English were unable to conquer Qaqun castle, halfway between Acre and Jerusalem, but they soon learned that the Mongols had withdrawn their offensive and that the Muslims were coming back. Edward and his forces had to return to Acre; all they had done was plunder and kill in several surrounding villages.

Edward’s presence began to be uncomfortable both for his Mamluks enemies and for his Christian allies in Acre. They accepted each other’s presence and developed a flourishing commerce trade, very profitable for both of them. Muslims and Christians signed a ten years truce that Edward refused to accept, so he decided that he had to go on with his adventure and conquer Jerusalem.

And then an event took place that put an end to the Crusade and almost to Edward’s life. One of the Sultan’s lieutenants arrived in Acre with some companions, pretending to have deserted the Muslim side. Edward welcomed them, and suspected nothing when one of them requested a private interview, allegedly to inform him about the sultan’s weaknesses.

When the Mamluk found himself alone with Edward and the interpreter, he revealed his true purpose by dragging a dagger. Edward managed to kill him, but not before he was stabbed with a blade presumably poisoned.

Edward’s life was in peril for weeks and although he managed to slowly recover his strength, the Crusade was doomed. In September 1272, Edward and his wife Eleanor set sail to Sicily. They were welcomed by Charles of Anjou and they were still in Sicily when messengers arrived from England with the news of Henry III’s death. Prince Edward was now King of England.

Source| Marc Morris: Edward I, a great and terrible King

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