Edward III of England

1312 - 1377
Rex: 1327 - 1377

Edward III was a warrior; ambitious, unscrupulous, selfish, extravagant and ostentatious.

The fifty-year reign of Edward III was a dichotomy in English development. Governmental reforms affirmed the power of the emerging middle class in Parliament while placing the power of the nobility into the hands of a few. Chivalric code reached an apex in English society but only masked the greed and ambition of Edward and his barons. Social conditions were equally ambiguous: the export of raw wool (and later, the wool cloth industry) prospered and spread wealth across the nation but was offset by the devastation wrought by the Black Death. Early success in war ultimately failed to produce lasting results. Edward proved a most capable king in a time of great evolution in England.

Edward's youth was spent in his mother's court and he was crowned at age fourteen after his father was deposed. After three years of domination by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Edward instigated a palace revolt in 1330 and assumed control of the government. Mortimer was executed and Isabella was exiled from court. Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault in 1328 and the union produced many children; the 75% survival rate of their children - nine out of twelve lived through adulthood - was incredible considering conditions of the day.

War occupied the largest part of Edward's reign. He and Edward Balliol defeated David II of Scotland and drove David into exile in 1333. French cooperation with the Scots, French aggression in Gascony, and Edward's claim to the disputed throne of France (through his mother, Isabella) led to the first phase of the Hundred Years' War. The Naval Battle of Sluys (1340) gave England control of the Channel, and battles at Crecy (1346) and Calais (1347) established English supremacy on land. Hostilities ceased in the aftermath of the Black Death but war flared up again with an English invasion of France in 1355. Edward, the Black Prince and eldest son of Edward III, trounced the French cavalry at Poitiers (1356) and captured the French King John. In 1359, the Black Prince encircled Paris with his army and the defeated French negotiated for peace. The Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 ceded huge areas of northern and western France to English sovereignty. Hostilities arose again in 1369 as English armies under the king's third son, John of Gaunt, invaded France. English military strength, weakened considerably after the plague, gradually lost so much ground that by 1375, Edward agreed to the Treaty of Bruges, leaving only the coastal towns of Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne in English hands.

The nature of English society transformed greatly during Edward's reign. Edward learned from the mistakes of his father and affected more cordial relations with the nobility than any previous monarch. Feudalism dissipated as mercantilism emerged: the nobility changed from a large body with relatively small holdings to a small body that held great lands and wealth. Mercenary troops replaced feudal obligations as the means of gathering armies. Taxation of exports and commerce overtook land-based taxes as the primary form of financing government (and war). Wealth was accrued by merchants as they and other middle class subjects appeared regularly for parliamentary sessions. Parliament formally divided into two houses - the upper representing the nobility and high clergy with the lower representing the middle classes - and met regularly to finance Edward's wars and pass statutes. Treason was defined by statute for the first time (1352), the office of Justice of the Peace was created to aid sheriffs (1361), and English replaced French as the national language (1362).

Despite the king's early successes and England's general prosperity, much remained amiss in the realm. Edward and his nobles touted romantic chivalry as their credo while plundering a devastated France; chivalry emphasized the glory of war while reality stressed its costs. The influence of the Church decreased but John Wycliff spearheaded an ecclesiastical reform movement that challenged church exploitation by both the king and the pope. During 1348-1350, bubonic plague (the Black Death) ravaged the populations of Europe by as much as a fifty per cent. The flowering English economy was struck hard by the ensuing rise in prices and wages. The failed military excursions of John of Gaunt into France caused excessive taxation and eroded Edward's popular support.

The last years of Edward's reign mirrored the first, in that a woman again dominated him. Philippa died in 1369 and Edward took the unscrupulous Alice Perrers as his mistress. With Edward in his dotage and the Black Prince ill, Perrers and William Latimer (the chamberlain of the household) dominated the court with the support of John of Gaunt. Edward, the Black Prince, died in 1376 and the old king spent the last year of his life grieving. Rafael Holinshed, in Chronicles of England, suggested that Edward believed the death of his son was a punishment for usurping his father's crown: "But finally the thing that most grieved him, was the loss of that most noble gentleman, his dear son Prince Edward . . . But this and other mishaps that chanced to him now in his old years might seem to come to pass for a revenge of his disobedience showed to his in usurping against him."


Edward, The Black Prince (Coat of Arms)

We, Edward, eldest son of the King of England and France, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester, the 7th June, 1376, in our apartment in the Palace of our Lord and Father the King at Westminster, being of good and sound memory, &c. We bequeath to the altar of Our Lady's chapel at Canterbury two basons with our arms, and a large gilt chalice enamelled with the arms of Warren. To our son Richard the bed which the King our father gave us. To Sir Roger de Clarendon a silk bed. To Sir Robert de Walsham, our Confessor, a large bed of red camora, with our arms embroidered at each corner; also embroidered with the arms of Hereford. To Mons. Alayne Cheyne our bed of camora powdered with blue eagles. And we bequeath all our goods and chattels, jewels, &c. for the payment of our funeral and debts; after which we will that our executors pay certain legacies to our poor servants. All annuities which we have given to our Knights, Esquires, and other [of] our followers, in reward for their services, we desire to be fully paid. And we charge our son Richard, on our blessing, that he fulfil our bequests to them. And we appoint our very dear and beloved brother of Spain, Duke of Lancaster; the Reverend Fathers in God William Bishop of Winchester; John Bishop of Bath; William Bishop of St. Asaph;our Confessor, Sir Robert de Walsham; Hugh de Segrave, Steward of our Lands; Aleyn Stokes; and John Fordham, our executors. In testimony of which we have put to this our last will our privy seal, &c. Proved 4 idus June, 1376.

From Testamenta Vetusta, Being Illustrations from Wills, of Manners, Customs, &c., vol. 1, pp. 12-13. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Barrister at Law, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. London: Nichols & Son, 1826.


Edward III, The King of England and France (Coat of Arms)

We, Edward, by the grace of God, who hold the sceptres of the Kingdoms of England and France, according to the custom of our ancestors, Kings of England, we appoint our royal burial to be in the Church of St. Peter of Westminster. We bequeath, &c. to found masses for our soul, and the soul of Philippa, our dear consort, late Queen of England. We give to our future heir Richard, son of Edward Prince of Wales, our eldest son, an entire bed, marked with the arms of France and England, now in our palace at Westminster. To Johanna, late wife of the aforesaid Edward, our eldest son, one thousand marks. To our dear daughter Isabel, Countess of Bedford, for her support, and that of her daughter, three hundred marks per annum, arising from the lands of the son and heir of the Earl of Oxford, lately deceased, which Thomas Tirell, Knt. holds from us, so long as the said heir shall be under age. We appoint executors of this our will, our son John, King of Castile and Leon and Duke of Lancaster; John Bishop of Lincoln; Henry Bishop of Worcester; John Bishop of Hereford; and our dear and faithful knights William Lord Latimer; John Knyvet, Chancellor; Robert de Ashton, Treasurer; Roger de Beauchamp, Chamberlain; John de Ipres, Steward; and Nicholas de Carew, Keeper of the Privy Seal. We also appoint supervisors of this our will the Reverend Fathers in Christ Simon Archbishop of Canterbury, and Alexander Archbishop of York. Given, written, and ordained in our royal manor of Haveryngge atte Bower the 7th of October, 1376, and of our reign in England the 50th, and of our reign in France the 37th, in the presence of our trusty and beloved John de Burleye, Richard Sturreie, and Philip de Vache, Knights; William Strete, Comptroller of our Household; John de Beverlye; Walter and John de Salesbury, Esquires of our Chamber; and many others, with Walter de Skirlawe, Doctor of the Canon Law. Proved before Simon Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth, 25th June 1377.

From Testamenta Vetusta, Being Illustrations from Wills, of Manners, Customs, &c., vol. 1, pp. 10-12. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, Barrister at Law, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. London: Nichols & Son, 1826.

Roger Mortimer and Isabella

Roger Mortimer and Isabella

Edward, the Black Prince of Wales (1330-1376)

Burial Crypt of the Black Prince

Henry II of England
First Plantagenent Monarch

Henry II-First Plantagenet King

Edward III of England
Claimed the French Throne

Isabella of France

Isabella of France

Medieval Life & The Hundred Years War

100 Years' War

The Jacquerie: 1358 (Peasant Revolt)


Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

Arms of Edmund of Langley

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399)

John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster

The House of York

The House of York

The House of Lancaster

The House of Lancaster

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