As a youth, Edward didn't show much promise as a soldier or anything else. Encouraged by his ambitious kinsmen, the Lusignans, he rode about with a band of cronies behaving like a vicious thug and making a fool of himself at tournaments. The chronicler Matthew Paris, no fan of the prince, reported with glee that Edward and the Lusignans were badly beaten at certain tournaments in France, and lost all their horses and armour. Paris also recounted a nasty story of Edward ordering his cronies to mutilate a peasant they met on the road, lopping off the luckless youth's ears and gouging out an eye. Whether the story was true or not, the teenage Edward doesn't come across as a pleasant individual. "If he does these things when the wood is green," wrote Paris, "what will he do once it is ripe?"
Edward's inconstancy, his willingness to break his word for the sake of advantage, was remarked on by contemporaries. The Song of Lewes, composed to praise the rebel barons, described him as "a lion in pride and fierceness, but a pard (a semi-mythical creature) by his inconstancy and changeableness...changing his word and promise, cloaking himself in pleasant speech." In fairness his enemies were no different. When a party of rebel barons surrendered to Edward at Bycarr's Dyke in Lincolnshire, promising never to rise in arms against the crown again, they promptly broke their oath and went on the rampage, burning and looting and ravaging the northern counties.
|'Use up the Irish'...etc etc|
The following campaign saw Edward out-fox and out-fight the de Montfort clan. At Kenilworth he fell upon the rebels quartered in the town, slaughtering and killing many, taking others captive. Simon de Montfort's son, another Simon, only escaped by swimming the moat in his nightshirt to the safety of the castle. Deprived of his son's troops, Simon senior was trapped inside the Vale of Evesham. The old man took a certain grim pleasure in the cleverness of Edward's tactics: "Our enemies come on well," he remarked as the royalists advanced on Evesham under false banners, "but they learned it from me." In the following battle de Montfort's outnumbered army was smashed and their commander's corpse hacked to pieces. Here Edward showed his savage and vengeful side, hanging the dead man's testicles either side of his nose and sending his severed foot in a box (gift-wrapped, perhaps?) as a present to the wife of a royalist baron. Edward's cruel streak, inherited from his Angevin forebears - the 'Devil's Brood' - never left him, though it was arguably softened for a while due to the influence of his wife, Eleanor of Castile.
After Evesham, Edward truly came to the fore. With his aged father gently fading into the background, the prince assumed full control of the royal armies. He was in the field for almost two years fighting to suppress the Disinherited, a second wave of rebel barons who sprang to arms shortly after Evesham. In the winter of 1265 and spring of 1266 he was constantly on the move, crushing a rebellion in Northumberland and besieging the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, where northern barons led by John de Eyvill had holed up. He also found time to rush south and flush out a gang of outlaws haunting the region of Alton Pass, which controlled the highway to Southampton. While his men stormed the barriers guarding the outlaw hideout, Edward engaged their leader, a gigantic knight named Adam de Gurdon, in single combat. Edward beat de Gurdon to his knees and had him carried away in chains to Windsor. There was no such mercy for the outlaw knight's followers, who were hanged on trees near their camp. After this exploit Edward was present at the epic siege of Kenilworth, the strongest castle in England. The bloody-minded rebel garrison held out until December 1266, when cold and starvation forced them to surrender.
The long civil war finally came to an end in the summer of 1267, when the last major baronial rebels laid down their arms and received a pardon at St Pauls in London. After receiving their submission, Edward reduced the last rebel outpost at the Isle of Ely, building a pontoon bridge and setting fire to the dry reeds (William the Conqueror's old strategy) to force the outlaws inside to surrender.
There's little doubt that without Edward's energy and leadership, the revolt of the Disinherited might have dragged on for much longer. Two years later, with England at peace, he felt confident enough to head off on Crusade, taking a few chums with him. Of his adventures in the Holy Land, and the wars in Wales, France and Scotland, more to come in Part Deux...