Born at Christmas 1249 to Richard, Edmund of Cornwall was nephew to Henry III and cousin to Edward I. His eventful childhood took him to Germany when his father was elected king there. He was captured at the battle of Lewes and imprisoned for more than a year. Returning from crusade, he witnessed the brutal murder of his half-brother, which left him as heir to his father, the richest man in the kingdom. Throughout his life, Edmund played a crucial role in medieval England. As Regent of England, Earl of Cornwall and the richest man in the land, he was a leading force of the late-thirteenth century. This book considers Edmund’s life, his use of his wealth to lend to the king and others and to be a major benefactor of religious houses. His piety saw him found two new religious houses, rebuild another and bring the Holy Blood relic from Germany to Hailes abbey. His record as Regent of England for three years is assessed. The wide spread of his lands, which included 13castles and more than 800 places in 27 counties, and his tenants are set out as is his place in the local community. The basis of his wealth and its sources, including money from his lands but also from tin mining and marine dues in Cornwall, is explored and his knightly affinity and his close associates and officials are considered. On a personal level, the book examines his unsuccessful, childless marriage with the sister of the Earl of Gloucester. Edmund was a key figure throughout Edward I’s rein and the late-thirteenth century. In this insightful account, the man behind England’s ‘greatest king’ is at long last brought to the fore.
Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is a fascinating study of a little-known but highly significant noble of the reign of Edward I. Edmund of Cornwall was the son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Richard was the younger son of King John and Isabelle d’Angoulême, and brother to King Henry III. The second son of Richard of Cornwall, Edmund’s mother was Sanchia of Provence, younger sister of Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence. Edmund may ever have become Earl of Cornwall, had his older brother, Henry of Almain, not been murdered by Guy de Montfort, son of the famous Simon de Montfort, in a church in Viterbo, Italy, in 1271.
With such a dramatic inheritance, it is no surprise that Edmund’s life and deeds were no less dramatic.
I do like this new tendency to look away from England’s monarchs and turn the spotlight on those who served them. It gives a more rounded approach to history and historical biography and greatly illuminates the reigns of the kings who are served. It also demonstrates how much is still left to study in history and how wide and deep historians can go in order to gain a greater understanding of the rule of medieval kings. The relationship between baron and king was, more often than not, one of mutual trust and reliance. Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray serves to demonstrate just how deep and essential this relationship was.
On 29 November and December 1272, Edmund and Bishop Giffard sent letters requiring Llywelyn to come to the Ford of Montgomery, the traditional place for meetings between the English and Welsh rulers, to render his homage to the new monarch and to send the 3,000 marks he owed to the King by Christmas at the latest. The King needed the money for his crusade. Llywelyn neither came nor paid and the impasse continued until well after the new King’s return.
Meanwhile neither Edmund, or his officials, were not always well-behaved in the land of the absentee King. In January 1273, Edmund’s men were accused of occupying lands belonging to Peter de la Mare which led to the Chancellor, Walter de Merton, ordering the escheator to remedy the position. Despite this, in June, Edmund was still being obstructive. A long-running dispute with the Bishop of Exeter led to a threat of excommunication. Even though Edmund was at the heart of government, he was pursued by the Exchequer over his father’s debts. However, this did not prevent Edmund from being amongst those ready to go to France to meet and welcome back Edward I. Edmund was granted protection until August 1273 but he was still in Paris in December when he received 2,000 marks from the King. Whilst Edward I did not finally arrive back in England until 2 August 1274, it seems likely that Edmund had already returned as he asked Robert Burnell to summon a council in March. Edmund was present at the King’s coronation on 19 August 1274.
From the start of the reign, tasks were entrusted to Edmund by the King. At the beginning of 1275 Edmund was ready to resolve a dispute with Flemish merchants but was unable to act as the Count of Flanders had not sent a representative. In March, the King stayed at two of Edmund’s manors, Cippenham and Risborough in Buckinghamshire, and it can be assumed that Edmund was present. The first of many royal charters to be witnessed by Edmund was attested at Westminster on 22 October 1274.
Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is an in-depth study of a man who was an integral part of Edward I’s government, but whose life and career has often been overlooked. Michael Ray expertly examines every aspect of Edmund’s life and career in great detail. With the use of chronicles and charter evidence, the author demonstrates the extent to which Edmund of Cornwall was an integral part of Edward I’s administration and court,, both as a cousin to the king, an administrator and a soldier.
Thoroughly researched and with extensive footnotes and bibliography, this is an excellent book in every way. t is a pleasure to read.
Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is an eminently readable book that could only be an asset to the study of medieval history and the reign of Edward I in particular. Whether you are studying medieval history for academia or simply as a hobby, this is a book which is not to be missed. I can highly recommend it.
To buy the book:
Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is available in hardback and Kindle from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon.
About the author:
After school in Shropshire, Michael Ray read geography and town planning at King’s and University Colleges, London. Retiring early from a planning career, he returned to KCL and obtained a PhD after a study of aliens in thirteenth-century England. He has since been published in books, journals and on websites including Academia.
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Alternate endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my stake what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.
You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.
©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.