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Hundred Years' War: Edward III of England

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Hundred Years' War: Edward III of England

King Edward III

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Edward III - Early Life:

Edward III was born at Windsor on November 13, 1312 and was the grandson of the great warrior Edward I. The son of ineffective Edward II and his wife Isabella, the young prince was quickly made Earl of Chester to aid in shoring up his father's weak position on the throne. On January 20, 1327, Edward II was deposed by Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer and replaced by the fourteen-year old Edward III on February 1. Installing themselves as regents for the young king, Isabella and Mortimer effectively controlled England. During this time, Edward was routinely disrespected and treated poorly by Mortimer.

Ascending to the Throne:

A year later, on January 24, 1328, Edward married Philippa of Hainault at York Minister. A close couple, she bore him fourteen children during their forty-one year marriage. The first of these, Edward the Black Prince was born on June 15, 1330. As Edward matured, Mortimer worked to abuse his post through the acquisition of titles and estates. Determined to assert his power, Edward had Mortimer and his mother seized at Nottingham Castle on October 19, 1330. Condemning Mortimer to death for assuming royal authority, he exiled his mother to Castle Rising in Norfolk.

Looking North:

In 1333, Edward elected to renew the military conflict with Scotland and repudiated the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton which had been concluded during his regency. Backing the claim of the claim of Edward Balliol to the Scottish throne, Edward advanced north with an army and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Halidon Hill on July 19. Asserting control over the southern counties of Scotland, Edward departed and left the conflict in the hands of his nobles. Over the next few years, their control slowly eroded as the forces of young Scottish King David II reclaimed the lost territory.

The Hundred Years' War:

While war festered in the north, Edward was increasingly angered by the actions of France who supported the Scots and had been raiding the English coast. While the people of England began to fear a French invasion, the King of France, Philip VI, captured some of Edward's French lands including the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu. Rather than pay homage to Philip, Edward elected to assert his claim to the French crown as the only living male descendent of his deceased maternal grandfather, Philip IV. Invoking Salic law which banned succession along female lines, the French flatly rejected Edward's claim.

Going to war with France in 1337, Edward initially limited his efforts to alliance building with various European princes and encouraging them to attack France. Key among these relationships was a friendship with the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV. While these efforts produced few results on the battlefield, Edward did win a critical naval victory at the Battle of Sluys on June 24, 1340. The triumph effectively gave England command of the Channel for much of the ensuing conflict. While Edward endeavored with his military operations, severe fiscal pressure began to mount on the government.

Returning home in late 1340, he found the affairs of the realm in disarray and began a purge of the government's administrators. At Parliament the next year, Edward was compelled to accept financial limitations on his actions. Recognizing the need to placate Parliament, he agreed to their terms, however quickly began to override them later that year. After a few years of inconclusive fighting, Edward embarked for Normandy in 1346 with a large invasion force. Sacking Caen, they moved across northern France and inflicted a decisive defeat on Philip at the Battle of Crécy.

In the fighting, the superiority of the English longbow was demonstrated as Edward's archers cut down the flower of the French nobility. At the battle, Philip lost around 13,000-14,000 men, while Edward suffered only 100-300. Among those who proved themselves at Crécy was the Black Prince who became one of his father's most trusted field commanders. Moving north, Edwards successfully concluded the siege of Calais in August 1347. Recognized as a powerful leader, Edward was approached that November to run for Holy Roman Emperor following the death of Louis. Though he considered the request, he ultimately declined.

The Black Death:

In 1348, the Black Death (bubonic plague) struck England killing nearly a third of the nation's population. Halting military campaigning, the plague led to manpower shortages and dramatic inflation in labor costs. In an attempt to halt this, Edward and Parliament passed the Ordinance of Labourers (1349) and the Statute of Labourers (1351) to fix wages at pre-plague levels and restrict the movement of the peasantry. As England emerged from the plague, fighting resumed. On September 19, 1356, the Black Prince won a dramatic victory at the Battle Poitiers and captured King John II of France.

Later Years:

With France effectively operating without a central government, Edward sought to end the conflict with campaigns in 1359. These proved ineffective and the following year, Edward concluded the Treaty of Bretigny. By the terms of the treaty, Edward renounced his claim on the French throne in exchange for full sovereignty over his captured lands in France. Preferring the action of military campaigning to doldrums of daily governance, Edward's final years on the throne were marked by a lack of vigor as he passed much of the routine of government to his ministers.

This period was also marked by the death of Queen Philippa who succumbed to a dropsy-like illness at Windsor Castle on August 15, 1369. In the final months of her life, Edward began a controversial affair with Alice Perrers. Military defeats on the Continent and the financial costs of campaigning came to a head in 1376 when Parliament was convened to approve additional taxation. With both Edward and the Black Prince battling illness, John of Gaunt was effectively overseeing the government. Dubbed the "Good Parliament," the House of Commons used the opportunity to express a long list of grievances which led to the removal of several of Edward's advisors. In addition, Alice Perrers was banished from court as it was believed she wielded too much influence over the aged king. The royal situation was further weakened in June when the Black Prince died.

While Gaunt was compelled to give into Parliament's demands, his father's condition worsened. In September 1376, he developed a large abscess. Though he briefly improved during the winter of 1377, Edward III finally died of a stroke on June 21, 1377. As the Black Prince had died, the throne passed to Edward's grandson, Richard II, who was only ten. Renowned as one of England's great warrior kings, Edward III was buried at Westminster Abbey. Beloved by his people, Edward is also credited for founding the knightly Order of the Garter in 1348. A contemporary of Edward's, Jean Froissart, wrote that "His like had not been seen since the days of King Arthur."

Selected Sources

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