Thursday, October 11, 2007
Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377) was one of the most successful English monarchs of the Middle Ages. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, he went on to transform the Kingdom of England into the most efficient military power in Europe. His reign saw vital developments in legislature and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death. He remained on the throne for 50 years; no English monarch had reigned for as long since Henry III, and none would again until George III.
Edward was crowned at the age of fourteen, following the deposition of his father. When seventeen years old he led a coup against his regent, Roger Mortimer, and began his personal reign. After defeating, but not subjugating, the Kingdom of Scotland, he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337, starting what would be known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks, the war went exceptionally well for England; the victories of Crécy and Poitiers led up to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny. Edward's later years, however, were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inertia and eventual bad health.
Edward III was a temperamental man, but also capable of great clemency. He was, in most ways, a conventional king, mainly interested in warfare. Highly revered in his own time and for centuries after, Edward was denounced as an irresponsible adventurer by later Whig historians. This view has turned, and modern historiography credits him with many achievements.
Edward was born at Windsor on November 13, 1312, and was thus called "Edward of Windsor" in his early years. The reign of his father, Edward II, was fraught with military defeat, rebellious barons and corrupt courtiers, but the birth of a male heir in 1312 temporarily strengthened Edward II's position on the throne. Mortimer used his power to acquire a number of noble estates and titles, many of them belonging to Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel. FitzAlan, who had remained loyal to Edward II in his struggle with Isabella and Mortimer, had been executed on 17 November 1326. However Mortimer's greed and arrogance caused him to be hated by many of the other nobles. All this was not lost on the young king.
Shortly before his 18th birthday, Edward, with the help of a few trusted companions, staged a coup d'état at Nottingham castle (19 October 1330), resulting in the arrest of both his mother Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was sent to the Tower of London, and hanged a month later. Isabella was forced into retirement at Castle Rising. With this dramatic event, the personal reign of Edward effectively began.
Edward chose to renew the military conflict with the Kingdom of Scotland in which his father and grandfather had engaged with varying success. Edward repudiated the Treaty of Northampton that had been signed during the regency, thus renewing claims of English sovereignty over Scotland and resulting in the Second War of Scottish Independence.
Intending to regain what the English had conceded, he won back control of Berwick and secured a decisive English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 against the forces of the infant David II of Scotland. Edward III was now in a position to put Edward Balliol on the throne of Scotland and claim a reward of 2,000 librates of land in the southern counties - the Lothians, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire, Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and Peebleshire. Despite the victories of Dupplin and Halidon, the Bruce party soon started to recover and by the close of 1335 and the Battle of Culblean, the Plantagenet occupation was in difficulties and the Balliol party was fast losing ground.
At this time, in 1336, Edward III's brother John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall died. John of Fordun's Gesta Annalia is alone in claiming that Edward killed his brother in a quarrel at Perth.
Although Edward III committed very large armies to Scottish operations, by 1337 the vast majority of Scotland had been recovered for David II, leaving only a few castles such as Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling in Plantagenet possession. These installations were not adequate to impose Edward's rule and by 1338/9 Edward had moved from a policy of conquest to one of containment.
Edward's military problems, however, were on two fronts; the challenge from the French monarchy was of no less concern. The French represented a problem in three areas: first, they provided constant support to the Scottish through the Franco-Scottish alliance. Philip VI protected David II in exile, and supported Scottish raids in Northern England. Second, the French attacked several English coastal towns, leading to rumours in England of a full-scale invasion.
After much inconclusive campaigning on Continental Europe, Edward decided to stage a major offensive in 1346, sailing for Normandy with a force of 15,000 men. it now seemed to be within reach. Yet a campaign in 1359, meant to complete the undertaking, was inconclusive. In 1360, therefore, Edward accepted the Treaty of Brétigny, whereby he renounced his claims to the French throne but secured his extended French possessions.
Fortunes of war
While Edward's early reign had been energetic and successful, his later years were marked by inertia, military failure and political strife. The day-to-day affairs of the state had less appeal to Edward than military campaigning, so during the 1360s Edward increasingly relied on the help of his subordinates, in particular William Wykeham. A relative upstart, Wykeham was made Lord Privy Seal in 1363 and Lord Chancellor in 1367, though due to political difficulties connected with his inexperience the Parliament forced him resign to the chancellorship in 1371. He was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, King Richard II of England, son of the Black Prince, since the Black Prince himself had died on 8 June 1376.
Achievements of the reign
The middle years of Edward's reign was a period of significant legislative activity. Perhaps the best known piece of legislation was the Statute of Labourers of 1351, which addressed the labour shortage problem caused by the Black Death. The statute fixed wages at their pre-plague level and checked peasant mobility by asserting that lords had first claim on their men's services. In spite of concerted efforts to uphold the statute, it eventually failed due to competition among landowners for labour.
Parliament as a representative institution was already well established by the time of Edward III, but the reign was nevertheless central to its development. During this period membership in the English baronage, formerly a somewhat indistinct group, became restricted to those who received a personal summons to parliament.
Parliament and taxation
Central to Edward III's policy was reliance on the higher nobility for purposes of war and administration. While his father had regularly been in conflict with a great portion of his peerage, Edward III successfully created a spirit of camaraderie between himself and his greatest subjects.
Both Edward I and Edward II had conducted a policy of limitation, allowing the creation of few peerages during the sixty years preceding Edward III's reign. The young king reversed this policy when, in 1337, as a preparation for the imminent war, he created six new earls on the same day. Edward III—himself bilingual—viewed himself as legitimate king of both England and France, and could not show preferential treatment for one part of his domains over another.
Chivalry and national identity
Edward III enjoyed unprecedented popularity in his own lifetime, and even the troubles of his later reign were never blamed directly on the king himself.
Assessment and character
See here for a comprehensive family tree of British monarchs.
Posted by so2374 at 8:33 AM