Edward III

views updated Jun 11 2018

Edward III (1312–77), king of England (1327–77), claimant to the French throne (1340–60 and 1369–77). Edward came to the throne in 1327 in unpropitious circumstances, with the government in the hands of his unscrupulous mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. His reign witnessed demographic disaster with the Black Death. It did not see major measures of legal reform, such as featured under Henry II or Edward I; concessions to Parliament on a range of issues weakened the theoretical position of the monarchy. Yet Edward must rank as one of the most successful English kings. His war with France saw the great victories of Crécy and Poitiers. The king of France and the king of Scots were both captured and held for huge ransoms. The Order of the Garter epitomized the glittering chivalric glamour of courtly and military circles. Political stability of a type unknown since the 1280s was achieved in the middle years of the reign.

Edward's first independent political action was in 1330, when he led the coup against his mother and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham. In 1333 he took a major gamble, supporting Edward Balliol's cause in Scotland, and reopening a war which had appeared concluded with the ‘shameful peace’ in 1328. No doubt Edward in part wished revenge after a disastrously unsuccessful campaign against the Scots in 1327. The battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 was a triumph, but succeeding campaigns achieved little, partly because of French support for the Scots. War with France began in 1337. In part this was similar to previous conflicts, with dispute over the English-held lands in Gascony and commercial rivalry in the Low Countries, but a new element was provided by Edward's claim, through his mother, to the French throne.

The French war dominated Edward's reign. It saw the great triumphs at Crécy in 1346 and Poitiers ten years later, but also the disappointment of the 1359 campaign, which Edward had hoped would culminate in his coronation at Rheims. Instead, it brought an unsatisfactory truce until 1369. The reopening of the war saw the advantage largely gained by the French. The gains may have been mixed with losses, but Edward showed himself to be a great commander. He took great care in the detailed planning of his campaigns, and clearly had the capacity of inspiring his men. He was also an opportunist; the war went through several phases of very different character as chance made new strategies possible. Realization that the initial policy of attacking from the north with the aid of a massive coalition of allies was expensive and ineffective led to intervention in the 1340s in Brittany, followed by the unexpected invasion of Normandy in 1346. How far Edward carefully planned the strategy which led to the great success at Crécy is a matter for debate, but it is clear that arrangements were made for additional supplies to be brought from England, and that a march northwards was always intended.

The war was extremely expensive. By 1339 the king was effectively bankrupt, as were his main creditors, Italian bankers and English merchants. Heavy taxation at home was extremely unpopular, particularly at a time of severe bullion shortage. Political crisis came in Parliament in 1340–1, with the king's former chief councillor and chancellor, John Stratford, leading opposition to the crown, opposition in which the Commons, unlike the lay nobility, were very active. Edward rolled with the punches; he accepted the new statutes imposed on him in Parliament, only to repeal them once Parliament had been dissolved. He showed himself throughout more ready to compromise with his critics than any of his predecessors on the throne. He was even ready to concede on the question of military service in 1352, readily abandoning innovative concepts of military obligation in the knowledge that he would have little difficulty in recruiting troops by means of contracts with the main commanders. Parliament's demands were also accepted in 1352 over the question of treason. In an attempt to impose order on a lawless society justices had used charges of treason for offences which, though serious, hardly merited such a sledgehammer. Edward willingly accepted a considerable narrowing of the definition of treason in the interests of political peace. His reign saw the triumph of the Commons in Parliament in a wide range of areas; their power to grant taxes meant that it was impossible to deny them a major voice in public affairs. The king had to abandon useful techniques of raising money by negotiating with merchants' assemblies as a result of the claim that the Commons alone should grant taxes and customs duties. By 1376 the power of the Commons was dramatically displayed in the Good Parliament, with the impeachment of Lord Latimer, the chamberlain, Richard Lyons, a rich London government financier, many royal officials, and even the king's own mistress, Alice Perrers. Yet, as in 1340–1, Edward knew that once Parliament was dissolved, it would be possible to regain the lost ground. He can be accused of making concessions on a scale that seriously weakened the crown in the long run; at the same time, his concessions achieved many years of political stability and domestic peace, a remarkable achievement following the disastrous reign of Edward II.

Edward was extremely successful in his dealings with his own family, and with the magnates. He was able to provide adequately for his sons, while the war enabled him to provide them with sufficient independent scope, so that he never faced the internal family problems that had beset Henry II. The eldest, Edward the Black Prince, received the duchy of Cornwall in 1337, and was later given command in Aquitaine; John of Gaunt received the major duchy of Lancaster in 1362; Ireland was intended to serve as Lionel of Clarence's sphere of activity. The two youngest sons, Edmund (York) and Thomas, were less well treated, but they were still young at the end of the reign, and did not present a political problem.

The creation of six new earldoms in 1337, four of them going to important members of the royal household, was a courageous move which could have aroused hostility from the established nobility. In practice, Edward's use of patronage was cleverly judged, and he was consistently able to rely on the support of the magnates in war and in politics. Edward skilfully manipulated the chivalrous feelings of his followers, patronizing tournaments and founding the Order of the Garter. He did not attempt to curb the authority of his nobles as Edward I had done, and though it can be argued that the crown's control over them was in theory diminished, in practice the results of royal policy prove the wisdom of the king's approach.

Michael Prestwich


Ormrod, W. M. , The Reign of Edward III (1990);
Waugh, S. L. , England in the Reign of Edward III (Cambridge, 1991).

Edward III

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Edward III

Edward III (1312-1377) was king of England from 1327 to 1377. The Hundred Years War between England and France began during his reign.

The eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France, Edward III was born on Nov. 13, 1312, at Windsor. He was created Earl of Chester 11 days after his birth; he was made Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil on Sept. 2, 1325, and Duke of Aquitaine a week later. In October 1326 Edward was named guardian of the kingdom, and he succeeded to the throne on Jan. 25, 1327.

For the first 4 years of his reign, Edward III was a figurehead for the rule of his mother and Roger Mortimer, with a regency during his minority in the hands of Henry of Lancaster. On Jan. 24, 1328, Edward married Philippa of Hainaut, with whom he had seven sons and five daughters. Later in 1328 Edward was forced to give up all claims to Scotland by the Treaty of Northampton. This treaty caused Mortimer's unpopularity to grow. In November 1330 Edward was sufficiently strong to have Mortimer executed and to confine his mother for the rest of her life at Castle Rising.

With the government in his own hands, Edward resumed the conflict with Scotland, and by 1332 he had established Edward de Balliol on the Scottish throne. Soon Balliol was ousted, and Edward again invaded Scotland, defeating the Scots in July 1333 at Halidon Hill and conquering southern Scotland and the area north of the Forth.

Edward also concerned himself with the economic interests of the country. In 1332 he encouraged Flemish weavers to come to England and teach their skills. In 1337 he prepared for war against the French, who were hoping to cut into the Flemish wool trade with England. With the support of James van Artevelde of Ghent, Edward made an alliance with Ghent, Ypres, Bruges, and Cassel, as well as a treaty with Emperor Louis V for the hiring of troops. In July 1338 Edward went to Flanders, and the following year he laid siege to Cambrai.

Conflict with France

In order to retain Flemish support, Edward took the title of king of France in January 1340, thus reviving a claim that was to last throughout the medieval period and into the reign of George III. He returned to England for supplies, and that same year the English defeated the French in the naval battle at Sluis, the traditional beginning of the Hundred Years War. Edward returned to France in 1342, landing at Brest with the aim of securing Brittany, and laid siege to Tournai.

The following year plans were made at Sainte-Madeleine for a 3-year truce, but Edward claimed that Philip VI of France broke the truce and sent an English force to sack Harfleur, Saint-Lô, and Caen. Through a flanking movement, the English were able to destroy the French army at the Battle of Crécy near Abbeville on Aug. 6, 1346. After a year-long blockade and siege, Calais surrendered. Lacking supplies to continue the war, Edward returned to England in 1347.

Edward's activities in France had stripped England of troops, giving King David II of Scotland an opportunity to rise in revolt. Encouraged by Philip of France, Scottish troops crossed the border, raiding as far south as the Tyne, and conducted a drive to force the English out of Scotland. This attempt was foiled at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346. David was captured and the English recovered much of southern Scotland.

While war with France continued, with a Spanish fleet fighting for France being defeated off Winchelsea in 1350, Edward devoted his attention to internal matters. He founded the Order of the Garter, the senior British order of chivalry, probably in 1348. As a result of an out break of the plague, the Statute of Laborers was enacted in 1351 in an attempt to stabilize wages. To control the Church, the Statute of Provisors was enacted the same year and that of Praemunari 2 years later.

By the mid-1350s the war with France had been resumed, but the King now relied on his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, who led the English to victory at the Battle of Poitiers (Sept. 19, 1356) over King John II of France. The following year, on May 8, Edward III gained vast lands and ransom at the Treaty of Bretigny in return for a promise to abandon his claim to the French throne. This promise was not carried out, and warfare continued.

In 1362 Edward reorganized Gascony and Aquitaine in an attempt to control his French holdings. The following year a plan for the union of England and Scotland was agreed upon by King David but was defeated by the Scottish Parliament. The same period saw the rise of strong English nationalism. The use of French in the law courts ended in 1362, and the payment of Peter's Pence to the papacy was discontinued in 1366. The enactment of the Statute of Kilkenny in 1367 was an attempt to check English colonists in Ireland from adopting Irish customs.

Foreign military commitments continued. In 1367 the Black Prince was sent to help Pedro of Castile regain the throne of Spain, which had been usurped by his half brother, Henry of Trastamare, with the help of the French. Major fighting broke out in France again 2 years later as a result of English "free companies"; the Black Prince seized Limoges and killed all its inhabitants. Desultory warfare occurred in Poitou and Touraine, causing the French to burn Portsmouth in 1369 in retaliation.

Later Reign

Old before his time, Edward took a mistress, Alice Perrers, after the death of his queen in 1369. He allowed the government to be administered by John of Gaunt. He remained passive in the struggles between the barons and the Church, though he attached Church lands in 1371 to raise money for the continuation of the French war. In the struggle between the reforming members of Parliament led by the Black Prince and the Lancastrians led by Henry of Lancaster, his chief minister, Edward was almost a spectator. After the death of the Black Prince in 1376, Edward appears to have been almost deserted. He died the following year on June 21.

During the early years of his reign, Edward was an enlightened king. He made a strong effort to maintain economic ties with Flanders, and his interest in building a navy caused Parliament to call him "king of the sea." However, the military exploits of his reign in the conflict with France were of no lasting benefit to the nation. His victories were due more to superior manpower and supplies rather than to any great military or tactical skill on his part. His financial management had kept the country always in debt, and by the time of his death most of the fruits of his victories had vanished, especially with the loss of Aquitaine in 1374. During the last years of his reign, Edward was unable to cope with either constitutional or social crises.

Further Reading

For the general background of the reign of Edward III see Sir James H. Ramsey, Genesis of Lancaster, 1307-1399 (2 vols., 1913), and May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959). The conflicts with Scotland are treated in E. W. M. Balfour-Melville, Edward III and David II (1954), and Ronald Nicholson, Edward III and the Scots, 1327-1335 (1965). The causes of the French conflict are treated in Henry Stephen Lucas, The Low Countries and the Hundred Years' War, 1326-1347 (1929). For the war itself see Edouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (1945; trans. 1951); Alfred H. Burne's more detailed The Crécy War (1955); and H. J. Hewitt, The Black Prince's Expedition of 1355-1357 (1958). Foreign relations are dealt with in P. E. Russell, The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal in the Time of Edward III and Richard II (1955); religious matters in William Abel Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (1955); legal development in B. Wilkinson, The Chancery under Edward III (1929); and economic matters in George Unwin, ed., Finance and Trade under Edward III (1918). For information on the last years of Edward's life see F. George Kay's account of Edward's mistress, Lady of the Sun: The Life and Times of Alice Perrers (1966).

Additional Sources

Bevan, Bryan, Edward III: monarch of chivalry, London: Rubicon Press, 1992.

Packe, Michael St. John, King Edward III, London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. □

Edward III

views updated Jun 11 2018

Edward III (1312–77) King of England (1327–77), son and successor of Edward II. For the first three years of his reign, Edward was king in name only: his mother, Isabella, and Roger Mortimer wielded all political power. In 1330, Edward mounted a successful coup. He conducted inconclusive wars with Scotland, but the outbreak (1337) of the Hundred Years' War dominated his reign. Edward led several campaigns to France, won a famous victory at Crécy (1346), and claimed the title King of France – although only conquering Calais. Parliament divided into two Houses, and permanently sited at Westminster. In old age, his sons, Edward the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, took over government. His grandson, Richard II, succeeded him.

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