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The 13th Century


At the beginning of the 13th Century, King John I was the ruler of England. He had succeeded his brother Richard to the throne in 1199, although he had been acting king for the past 10 years in the absence of Richard the Lionheart, who was busy leading the Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his father, Henry II had ruled large parts of France but John lost control of much of Normandy to Philip II of France.

Perhaps King John’s most significant act was the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 with the Barons of England. It was signed on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede near Eton and a memorial marks this historic spot. Written in Latin this became the basis for English Common Law and later for the US Constitution.

John I was a keen promoter of education and during his reign, Cambridge University was established. He died in 1216 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Some of the key events during the 13th century were:

1215 Civil War
1215 King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede
1216 Henry III was crowned king
1272 Edward I was crowned king
1282 Llewellyn ab Gruffydd was killed and Edward I conquered Wales
1296 Edward I invaded Scotland and captured the Stone of Scone
1297 The Scots, led by William Wallace, defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge
1298 King Edward defeated William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk

John I was succeeded by his son, Henry III, and the Plantagenet dynasty began. Henry was just 9 years old when he was crowned King of England but he did not take control until he was 20. His reign lasted for 56 years and he became the longest serving English (not British) monarch.

In 1264, during the Civil War, he set up a Parliament which was the beginning of the House of Commons. He established many cathedrals and enlarged others including those at Wells, Lincoln, Peterborough and at Winchester where the Great Hall was added. Salisbury Cathedral was started in 1220.

Henry III was succeeded by his son Edward I who went on to rule England for 35 years. He was nicknamed Edward Longshanks as he was over 6 feet tall. Edward tried to subjugate Scotland by arranging a marriage between his son and Princess Margaret, the heir to the Scottish throne.

Unfortunately the young Margaret died on the journey from Norway leaving the Scottish throne open to several claimants. John Balliol declared himself King of Scotland but he refused to give his support to the English king, Edward I, who defeated him in a bloody battle at Dunbar in 1296 and took away the Stone of Scone on which all Scottish kings were crowned.

Opposition to Edward was strong and William Wallace led the resistance at Stirling Bridge and was victorious. Unfortunately Edward’s army regrouped and crushed Wallace and his followers at Falkirk leading to Edward being known as the "Hammer of the Scots", particularly in his later battles with Robert the Bruce.

During his reign, Edward I had many defensive castles built including Harlech Castle, Caernarvon Castle and Conwy Castle in Wales. He also formed the Model Parliament in 1295, which brought together the influential clergy, nobility and burgesses for the first time.

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