We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
 Edward III (1312–1377), tomb effigy, late 14th cent. Edward III (1312–1377), tomb effigy, late 14th cent.
Edward III (1312–1377), king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine, was the first child of and .

Childhood

Edward was born at Windsor on 12 November 1312. The queen was attended at the birth by Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to her father, Philippe IV of France (r. 1285–1314). Isabella herself wrote to the citizens of London to announce the birth, and the news was greeted with great celebrations. Her yeoman John Launge and his wife, Joan, the queen's lady, were later granted a joint annuity of £80 out of the fee farm of London for bringing the news to the king; the information was said to have consoled briefly Edward II for the recent loss of his friend Piers Gaveston. The prince was nursed by Margaret Chandeler and Margaret Daventry.

Edward was baptized on 16 November 1312, in St Edward's Chapel, Windsor, by the papal nuncio Arnold, cardinal-priest of Santa Prisca: his godparents included Louis, count of Évreux (the queen's brother), and John, duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond (d. 1334). The French contingent present at the time requested that the child be Philip after his maternal grandfather, but Edward II insisted on calling him Edward after his own father.

On 24 November 1312 the prince was granted the counties of Chester and Flint; there is no record of his formal creation as earl of Chester, but this was to be his style throughout childhood and the title under which he first received a summons to parliament in 1320. He never became prince of Wales or earl of Cornwall, though he was supported by revenues from both these lordships; he was also given control of the king's lands on the Isle of Wight. A separate household was quickly constituted for the prince, and later also provided for his younger siblings. Edward passed his first Christmas with the court at Windsor, but thereafter spent much of his time away from both his father and mother: throughout the first half of 1313, for example, he resided at Bisham.

Doubts have been expressed about the tradition reported by the late fourteenth-century Durham chronicler William Chambre that the distinguished scholar Richard Bury (d. 1345) acted as Edward's tutor. It is clear, however, that Bury was closely associated with the prince's administration in Chester, and was a member of his household by 1325. John Paynel, parson of Rostherne, Cheshire, is also recorded as having superintended the prince's education in letters. Edward could read and (at least to a limited extent) write Latin: he spoke French and English and, through his later experiences on the continent, was presumably able to communicate in Flemish and German. It is probable, though, that much of his youth was spent not in book learning but in perfecting the knightly arts of horsemanship and skill in arms in which he was later to excel.

France, 1325–1326

Little further is known of Edward's life until the mid-1320s, when he became a pawn in the power games of his competing parents. In 1325 it was decided that Edward should be given the titles of duke of Aquitaine and count of Ponthieu in order that his father, a reigning monarch, could avoid paying homage in person to the king of France for his lands on the other side of the channel. The prince was dispatched to France and performed the required homage to Charles IV (r. 1322–8) at Vincennes on 24 September. Queen Isabella, who had already been sent to France to negotiate a settlement to the recent Anglo-French dispute in the Agenais, then took control of her son and let it be known that she had no intention of allowing him to return to England, where her enemies, the Despensers, had established such an invidious influence over her husband.

From December 1325 Edward II repeatedly demanded the return of his heir, but without success. Whereas the king had been in negotiations since 1324 for a marriage between the prince and an Aragonese or Castilian princess, the queen now proposed a match between her son and , the second daughter of William (I), count of Hainault, in return for the military assistance she needed to mount an invasion of England. Edward II was apprised of these illicit negotiations by March 1326, and sent a force to Normandy in September possibly with the intention of capturing the prince. But Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer (d. 1330) sailed with the young Edward from Dordrecht on 23 September 1326 and landed at Orwell on the following day. Their advent signified nothing less than a direct challenge to the throne of England.

Accession, 1326–1327

Edward II, who had fled into Wales, was deemed to have abandoned his kingdom, and on 26 October 1326 the queen and her party issued a proclamation at Bristol declaring Prince Edward keeper of the realm. When the king was captured by Henry, earl of Lancaster (d. 1345), he was required to give up the great seal to Sir William Blount, who delivered it to the queen and her son at Martley near Worcester on 26 November. Thus equipped with the essential instrument of government, Isabella and Mortimer issued writs for a parliament to be held at Westminster on 14 December, later postponed to 7 January 1327. In this assembly the queen's ally, Bishop Adam Orleton (d. 1345), presented the young prince as the new king to the general approval not only of the great lords but also of the crowd of Londoners gathered outside the royal palace demanding the deposition of Edward II. Four bishops, however, refused to renounce their homage to the old king, and this resistance, coupled with obvious concern over the legality of an act of deposition, forced the queen's regime to concoct a series of articles justifying the removal of the king, and to send several deputations to Edward II, now imprisoned at Kenilworth, demanding his formal abdication.

The proclamation announcing Edward III's accession on 24 January 1327 stated that the former king had given up the throne and willed that it pass to his eldest son. Legitimacy thus established, the new reign was formally deemed to begin the next day. The king was knighted by the earl of Lancaster, and crowned by Walter Reynolds, archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey on 1 February. Despite the speed with which the coronation was effected, it appears to have been an occasion of some ceremony: the Dunstable annals preserve what are claimed to be royal household accounts for the day recording expenditure of over £2800.

In a formal sense Edward III was deemed to have taken full control of his regime from the moment of accession. It was agreed in parliament that a council of four bishops, four earls, and six barons be appointed under the presidency of the earl of Lancaster; a quorum was to be constantly in attendance upon the new king and to give its assent to all important acts of government. Very quickly, however, Mortimer and Isabella assumed effective control of the regime and rendered this council inoperative. The king himself had virtually no opportunity for independent action.

Relations with France and Scotland, 1327–1330

The new administration inherited a very difficult military and diplomatic situation. On 31 March 1327 a humiliating treaty was sealed with France: not only was Charles IV allowed to remain in control of extensive sections of the duchy of Aquitaine occupied by his forces since 1324, but the English were also required to pay reparations of 50,000 marks for the damages inflicted in those territories during the intervening period. Then, on 31 January 1328, Charles IV of France died without a direct male heir; when his pregnant wife gave birth to a daughter, Charles's cousin Philippe de Valois immediately had himself proclaimed king as Philippe VI. It was important that Edward III's own claim to the French throne should not be allowed to fall into abeyance, and in May the bishops of Worcester and of Coventry and Lichfield were dispatched to register the claim in Paris. Philippe, who was duly crowned at Rheims on 29 May, lost no time in demanding that Edward render homage for his lands in France, backing this up with military threats when the English prevaricated. On 26 May 1329 Edward finally set sail from Dover and on 6 June performed simple homage to Philippe for Aquitaine and Ponthieu in the choir of Amiens Cathedral, thus implicitly confirming Philippe's superior claim to the French throne.

In their relations with Scotland, Isabella and Mortimer at first maintained the stance of Edward I and Edward II, denying the kingship of Robert Bruce (Robert I) and regarding the northern kingdom as a ‘land’ in subjection to the English throne. The Scottish raid on Norham Castle on the very day of Edward III's coronation was little more than a warning shot to the new regime in England, and on 6 March 1327 the two sides confirmed the thirteen-year truce established in 1323. On 5 April 1327, however, a feudal summons went out for a campaign against the Scots. This offered the youthful Edward III the prospect of his first real military action. The campaign had an inauspicious start when the company of Hainaulters employed by Queen Isabella for the expedition was set upon by English archers in the streets of York and retaliated by burning sections of the city. Setting out for Durham early in July, the king and his forces spent some weeks in futile pursuit of the Scottish army that had recently entered the kingdom. On the night of 4 August Sir James Douglas launched a raid on Edward's own quarters at Stanhope Park and very nearly captured the king; the following night, when the English were properly prepared for an engagement, the Scots slipped away, causing the exasperated Edward, so it was said, to weep tears of vexation.

Thereafter the English had little choice but to open negotiations with Robert I. A formal peace was agreed at Edinburgh on 17 March 1328 and ratified on 4 May in a parliament held at Northampton. Not only did Edward III's government accept Robert's title as king of Scots; it also had to acknowledge the superiority of the existing Franco-Scottish alliance over the new Anglo-Scottish one. The Scots' promise of £20,000 in war reparations was little compensation for such humiliating terms, and the treaty of Edinburgh was to rankle with Edward III for some time: one of his earliest demonstrations of independence came in July 1328 when he refused to attend the marriage ceremony organized under the terms of the treaty between his sister Joan (d. 1362) and the infant David Bruce.

Marriage and domestic politics, 1327–1330

Meanwhile, Edward's own marriage with Philippa of Hainault, first projected in 1326, had taken place. The papal dispensation permitting the match (the couple were second cousins) was issued on 30 August 1327 and Philippa took part in a proxy marriage ceremony in November. The wedding was confirmed by William Melton, archbishop of York (d. 1340), in York Minster on 24 January 1328. The northern metropolitan cathedral was chosen only because the archbishop of Canterbury had died on 16 November 1327; it is however a touching coincidence that one of the children of this match, William of Hatfield, who died in infancy, was later buried in the north choir aisle at York.

The revolution of 1326–7 had received widespread support, but the regime of Isabella and Mortimer was highly divisive and rapidly alienated some of the most powerful men in the land. The earl of Lancaster and other magnates refused to attend the parliament held at Salisbury in October 1328, where the title of earl of March was conferred on Roger Mortimer, and rose in rebellion, though they were subsequently forced to surrender at Bedford in January 1329. In 1330 the king's uncle, Edmund, earl of Kent, who had assisted Lancaster in 1328, was arrested and executed on the grounds that he had believed his half-brother Edward II to be alive and had plotted the latter's restoration to the throne. It was against this troubled background that Edward III prepared to assume control of his own regime.

Mortimer was highly suspicious of the boy king, and, according to the charges later drawn up against him in parliament, set spies in the royal household to track his movements. The king therefore had to proceed by stealth. A letter written in late 1329 or 1330 reveals the degree of subterfuge necessary: aggrieved that he could not even secure patronage for his household servants, Edward secretly contacted Pope John XXII and indicated that the only royal correspondence sent to Avignon that reflected his personal wishes would bear the words pater sancte (‘holy father’) written in the king's own hand. Edward assured the pope that only his secretary, Richard Bury, and his close friend William Montagu (d. 1344) knew the secret password. The specimen phrase supplied on the extant letter by Edward III is the earliest existing autograph of an English king.

Edward's opportunity to seize power came late in 1330, after Mortimer had insisted on interrogating the king and his followers before a great council at Nottingham. On the night of 19 October, in the company of Montagu and a small group of personal followers, Edward entered Nottingham Castle by way of an underground passage and, after a brief struggle, arrested Mortimer and took charge of the keys of the castle. The next day the king issued a proclamation announcing that he had taken the government of the realm into his own hands; shortly before his eighteenth birthday Edward III's personal rule had begun.

Political reconciliation at home, 1330–1334

The parliament that met on 26 November 1330 witnessed not only the condemnation of Mortimer and his adherents but also the rehabilitation of the earl of Lancaster and other nobles who had fallen victim to the minority regime. The queen's offence was not addressed publicly: Isabella was simply deprived of the executive authority she had assumed as unofficial regent and granted a generous allowance. A carefully judged restraint also presumably explains the king's reluctance to punish those accused of the murder of Edward II, though it has also been suggested that he gave some credence to the rumours that his father had escaped death and fled the country.

As far as the aristocracy was concerned, political reconciliation was certainly the order of the day. The tournaments attended by the king in the spring and summer of 1330 at Dartford, Stepney, and Cheapside were important opportunities for social and political interaction between king and nobility. In the parliament of October 1331 Edward made a compact with the peers by which the latter undertook not to protect criminals from prosecution, that they would no longer disturb the law but assist the king and his agents in upholding it, and that they would not usurp the king's right of purveyance by seizing crops and foodstuffs from the peasantry.

Domestic political harmony was all the more necessary since the king was quickly faced by problems abroad. Philippe VI had begun to apply renewed pressure on Edward to perform liege homage for Aquitaine and Ponthieu. Faced with the confiscation of Saintes, Edward was forced to make a secret journey to France in April 1331, disguised as a merchant, and to acknowledge that the homage of 1329 should be considered to have been liege. Nothing was said about the restitution of the contested lands in the Agenais. In the parliament that convened at Westminster on 30 September the chancellor, John Stratford (d. 1348), asked the estates whether the matter ought to be settled by war or by negotiation. They called for diplomacy, pointing out to the king the more urgent need for military intervention in his lordship of Ireland.

War in Scotland, 1332–1336

Scotland was also demanding attention. Following the treaty of Northampton, King Robert had accepted the claims of certain English lords—notably Henry Percy, Henry Beaumont, and Thomas Wake—to lands in Scotland, but little had been done to effect restitution either under Robert or under the regime of his young son, David II, who succeeded in 1329. By 1331 the ‘disinherited’ were beginning to agitate for action. Beaumont in particular was responsible for bringing over from France Edward Balliol (d. 1364), who had a rival claim to the throne of Scotland, and for organizing a group of magnates who applied to Edward III for permission to invade Scotland through England. This was refused, but a degree of tacit support may have been given by the king to the subsequent seaborne expedition that sailed from Ravenser, landed at Kinghorn, and won a crushing victory over the Scots at Dupplin Moor on 11 August 1332.

The parliament that met at Westminster in September 1332 advised Edward to defer his journey to Ireland; it also suggested that Balliol, who was crowned king of Scots at Scone on 24 September, should be summoned before a parliament at York as a vassal of the English king. On 23 November Edward Balliol acknowledged that Scotland was a fief of the English crown for which he owed homage and fealty to Edward III. Both the king and the English aristocracy, however, remained ambivalent about this apparently tempting submission: lengthy discussions in the parliament that met at York in the winter of 1332–3 failed to reach a decision on the matter. In the end it was the sudden flight of Balliol into England that forced Edward III into a decision. In February 1333 writs were issued for the removal of the exchequer and the court of common pleas to York; most of the chancery staff quickly followed. The offices of state were to reside in the northern capital for five years as Edward devoted considerable time and money to the restoration of a Balliol king of Scotland.

In March 1333 Edward Balliol and his allies laid siege to Berwick; Edward III himself arrived at Tweedmouth in early May, leaving his queen at Bamburgh. The defenders of the town eventually agreed that, unless they were relieved by 20 July, they would surrender to the English army. Sir Archibald Douglas advanced on the town, but was decisively defeated at Halidon Hill on 20 July. The English took a defensive position and employed the new mixed formation of dismounted men-at-arms and archers already used at Dupplin Moor. Edward III derived considerable advantage and prestige from the victory. Berwick surrendered, a number of Scottish magnates gave homage to the English king, and Balliol was restored to the Scottish throne. In February 1334 Balliol surrendered the whole of Lothian to Edward III, and on 12 June, at Newcastle, performed liege homage to the English king for the throne of Scotland.

The formalities completed, Edward soon discovered that Scotland was by no means subdued. Balliol was quickly expelled and Edward was forced to undertake a northern campaign in the winter of 1334–5, though he spent almost the whole of this time at Roxburgh Castle. In mid-July 1335 a more ambitious campaign began, as Edward set out from Carlisle and Balliol marched from Berwick; the two armies converged near Glasgow and advanced to Perth, where a truce was eventually agreed in August. In June 1336 the king again set out from Newcastle for Perth; the campaign is chiefly notable for the heroic foray which Edward made into the highlands in July and August to raise the siege of Lochindorb and rescue Katherine, countess of Atholl, from this island castle. After returning to England to meet with a great council at Nottingham in September, Edward immediately marched north again, reaching his base at Bothwell at the end of October but retiring to Berwick in December. Edward III's interest in Scotland was already waning, and he was soon to be preoccupied with affairs in France.

The beginning of the Hundred Years' War, 1337–1340

On 24 May 1337 Philippe VI formally confiscated the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu on the grounds that Edward III was harbouring Philippe's cousin, brother-in-law, and mortal enemy, Robert, count of Artois. In fact, larger issues had already made war more or less inevitable: the talks over contested lands and rights in the Agenais had reached an impasse in 1334; the pope, who had been proposing a joint Anglo-French crusade, cancelled the project in March 1336, allowing Philippe VI to divert his fleet from Marseilles to the channel and menace the south coast of England; and by the spring of 1337 Edward III may already have been contemplating a revival of his own claim to the French throne. In the Westminster parliament of March 1337 the king created six new earls specifically to restock the ranks from which the crown traditionally selected its military commanders; in apparent imitation of the French monarchy he also introduced the title of duke into England by creating his eldest son, , born in 1330, duke of Cornwall. The two greatest powers in western Europe prepared themselves for war, though neither the scale nor the duration of that conflict could have been imagined on either side.

It was natural and appropriate for Edward III to use the strategy earlier adopted by Edward I during his dispute with Philippe IV in 1294–8 and look for support in the Low Countries and Germany: conventions were quickly arranged with Hainault, Gueldres, Limburg, Juliers, Brabant, the county palatine, and, in August 1337, the German emperor, Ludwig of Bavaria. Such alliances were secured only with generous offers of subsidies: the first instalments due to Edward's new allies by the end of 1337 alone totalled £124,000. Much of the king's time during 1337 and the first half of 1338 was therefore taken up in devising the means to pay for such an expensive policy: Edward borrowed heavily from Italian bankers, notably the Bardi and Peruzzi, negotiated taxes with parliament and the clergy, and manipulated the overseas trade in wool for financial gain. Such was the expenditure on the preliminaries, however, that when Edward sailed from Orwell on 16 July 1338 his government was already acutely short of money. This was to be the recurring theme of this first phase of the French war.

In August 1338 Edward set out from his base at Antwerp and travelled to Koblenz to meet Ludwig of Bavaria, who on 5 September appointed Edward vicar-general of the empire and thus, in theory, put the military resources of the entire imperial confederation at the disposal of the king of England. The relationship was, however, uneasy from the very start, and in 1341 Ludwig was to deprive Edward of the vicariate in order to enter into independent negotiations with Philippe VI. A similar ambivalence was encountered in the Low Countries: although the counts of Gueldres, Juliers, and Hainault and the duke of Brabant supported Edward's first and much delayed military expedition into the Cambrésis (which was part of the empire) in September 1339, even Guillaume d'Hainault expressed his concern about the legitimacy of crossing the border and facing Philippe de Valois within the latter's own kingdom of France.

In theory these ambiguities and problems were resolved when Edward III, who badly needed the support of the Flemish, was persuaded by Jacob van Artevelde of Ghent publicly to assume the title and arms of king of France on 26 January 1340. In practice, however, Edward's strategic position improved little. An emphatic victory over a Franco-Castilian naval force at Sluys on 24 June restored English superiority in the channel and put an end to French raids on the south coast, but Edward's first proper campaign into northern France in July 1340 failed: the siege of Tournai had to be abandoned and a nine-month truce was established at Esplechin on 25 September.

The strains of war, 1340–1341

Edward needed an explanation for his failure, and not surprisingly set upon the domestic administration. Faced with debts of some £400,000, he had already been forced to return to England in the spring of 1340 to negotiate with parliament for further supplies. The tax that resulted, a levy in kind based on the ecclesiastical tithe, was poorly administered and failed to alleviate the king's impending bankruptcy. In November, with his cousin Henry of Grosmont (d. 1361) and other English lords already in custody as hostages for the debts owed in the Low Countries, Edward departed secretly from Ghent and took ship for England. Amid scenes reminiscent of the Nottingham coup he landed unannounced at the watergate of the Tower of London early in the morning of 1 December and immediately dismissed the chancellor, Robert Stratford (d. 1362), and the treasurer, Roger Northburgh (d. 1358), and imprisoned several leading judges, chancery and exchequer clerks, and merchant financiers. Determined to demonstrate that his ministers should be answerable for their actions and not able to claim clerical immunity from the secular courts, he appointed laymen and common lawyers to the highest offices of state. Inquiries were also launched at the shire level into the maladministration of the country during the king's absence.

The real target for Edward's wrath, however, was the president of the regency council, John Stratford, archbishop of Canterbury. On 18 November, before his departure from Ghent, Edward had sent envoys to the pope claiming that Stratford had failed to supply him with funds at Tournai, intending, ‘by lack of money, to see me betrayed and killed’ (Déprez, 425). A war of words ensued. Edward denied Stratford admission to the parliament that assembled at Westminster on 26 April 1341, and tried to press on with a series of charges against the archbishop. But a number of the magnates insisted that Stratford be allowed to answer before his peers, and the king was sufficiently alarmed to be prepared to admit the archbishop to the council on 28 April and to full parliament on 3 May. He also agreed to issue a statute confirming the right of the great men of the realm to be tried before their peers and that the ministers of the crown should be made answerable before the Lords, to whose judgment the king would thereafter be bound.

Edward undoubtedly emerged bruised and, to some extent, chastened by this confrontation. Its political significance can, however, be exaggerated. On 1 October 1341 the king annulled the recent statute on the grounds that it infringed his prerogative and had been extracted by force. The king and the archbishop were publicly reconciled in Westminster Hall on 23 October 1341; in the parliament of 1343 Edward declared that all the charges against Stratford were annulled, and the written materials relating to the case were destroyed. He also promised to restore such sections of the statute which he had just repealed as were acceptable to him, though in the event nothing was done. The most important reason why the magnates chose not to magnify or prolong the political crisis of 1341, however, lay not in the king's personal relationship with Stratford but in the necessity for concerted action against the king's enemies in both Scotland and France.

The war resumed, 1341–1346

Edward III's neglect of affairs in the north and the resurgence of the Bruce party had meant a serious retreat for the English in Scotland. In April 1341 Edinburgh fell, and in the summer Stirling was taken. David II, who had sought refuge in France, returned to Scotland in July. This forced the king into action. He held a great council at the end of September and appointed Henry of Grosmont as lieutenant of the army of Scotland. The king himself marched north at the end of the year and spent Christmas at Melrose. But although Edward led raiding parties into the surrounding countryside, there were no significant engagements: indeed the English and Scots passed the time by holding a number of tournaments similar to those that were to be such a feature of the military experience during the ensuing war in France.

Meanwhile, the death of John (III), duke of Brittany, in April 1341, and the subsequent succession dispute, offered Edward III an important opportunity to test the value of his new title as king of France. While Philippe VI supported the claims of Charles de Blois to the duchy, Edward recognized John de Montfort; and between October 1342 and March 1343 he campaigned in Brittany on Montfort's behalf. After the latter's death in 1345, Edward III asserted his suzerainty and assumed control both of Montfort's heir, another John, and of the duchy. The Breton war of succession was one of a series of disputes within the French provinces that were to be exploited to great effect by Edward III during the middle decades of the fourteenth century.

In 1344–5 the English government prepared for a major offensive against France. The earls of Derby and Northampton were sent with expeditionary forces to Aquitaine and Brittany. Edward at first planned to revive the Flemish alliance and attack the French from the north, and he visited Flanders in July 1345 to make preparations. But the murder of Jacob van Artevelde rendered such a scheme impracticable, and Edward instead announced to his English subjects a major royal expedition to assist the royal armies in Brittany and Gascony.

Crécy and Calais, 1346–1347

Edward kept secret the exact destination of the great army gathering at Portsmouth in the spring of 1346, and it remains uncertain whether a landing in Normandy was planned in advance, or (as Sir Bartholomew Burghersh thought) decided suddenly when the fleet had already departed and was blown off its course for Gascony. The chroniclers attributed the change of policy to Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, a Norman baron who had defected to Edward's side and whose support guaranteed a safe landing at St Vaast-la-Hougue on the Cotentin peninsula on 12 July 1346. What is clear is that the ensuing campaign created considerable panic in the French camp and, no less importantly, inspired great enthusiasm among the English soldiers, who had their first real experience of the profit to be made from the indiscriminate plundering of enemy territory.

The king's army marched in three columns via Carentan and St Lô to Caen, which was taken on 27 July; because the count of Eu and the lord of Tancarville decided to defend a portion of the city, the inhabitants were slaughtered indiscriminately, and an orgy of rape and looting followed. Edward then intended to make for Rouen, but finding all the Seine bridges broken, moved southwards to Poissy, where the bridge was repaired sufficiently to secure the safe crossing of his troops on 16 August. Heading northwards, Edward crossed the Somme at the ford of Blanchetaque on 24 August, now pursued by the army of Philippe VI which had marched from Amiens to Abbeville.

The English army drew up on high ground on the right bank of the River Maie just outside the village of Crécy in the formation already used to great effect at Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill: three divisions of dismounted men-at-arms, led by the king, the prince of Wales, and the earl of Northampton, flanked by two wings of longbowmen. The French attacked in the late afternoon of 26 August. The superior tactics of the English army and the lack of discipline among the French cavalry ensured a relatively speedy and decisive victory for Edward, and a final assault by a detachment of men-at-arms led by the duke of Lorraine on the following morning was rapidly scattered. Not least of the notable features of the battle of Crécy was the use by the English of a small number of cannon, the first recorded example in the West of the employment of such firearms in a pitched battle.

On 28 August the English forces moved off to the north and arrived before Calais on 3 September. Edward proceeded to lay siege to the town. Meanwhile, on 17 October, the Scots, who had been encouraged by Philippe VI to invade northern England, were defeated at Nevilles Cross, near Durham, and David II was taken prisoner. This, together with the improving English fortunes in Brittany and Aquitaine, provided encouraging news for the otherwise demoralized army of Calais. Dysentery and desertion both took a heavy toll on this force. But when the French abandoned hopes of raising the siege, the garrison was finally forced to submit on 3 August 1347. According to a famous story told first by Jean le Bel and repeated by Froissart, Edward had at first refused any terms to the besieged, and relented only so far as to require six of the leading townsmen to place themselves at his mercy. His stubborn resolve to put these six burghers to death was finally overborne only by the entreaties of Queen Philippa, who was pregnant. Nevertheless, most of the inhabitants of Calais were expelled, and proclamations were issued at home to encourage settlement in the town. After agreeing a truce for nine months Edward III returned to England with his army, landing at Sandwich on 12 October.

The Order of the Garter

The winter and spring of 1347–8 passed in celebration. After spending Christmas at Guildford Edward hosted a series of tournaments at Westminster, Reading, Bury St Edmunds, Lichfield, Windsor, Canterbury, and Eltham. It was apparently at one of these meetings that he conceived the idea of founding a new secular order of chivalry. Earlier, in January 1344, at the conclusion of another series of tournaments, Edward had announced the establishment of a ‘round table’ and had begun a circular building in the upper bailey at Windsor Castle to act as its headquarters. But for some reason—possibly lack of funds—this scheme had never come to fruition. Then, in 1347–8, Edward revived the idea in modified form in an order of knighthood dedicated to the Virgin and St George. Its emblem, the garter, remains enigmatic: the later story that it represented an item of clothing dropped by the countess of Salisbury has been discredited, and it seems more likely to have been a sword belt, thus exemplifying the martial values of this new exclusive band of twenty-six knights. The college of priests and poor knights that would provide spiritual services for the order at St George's Chapel, Windsor, was formally instituted on 6 August 1348, and the Order of the Garter seems to have had its first formal meeting at Windsor on the feast of St George in 1349 [see also ].

The Garter encapsulated much of the Arthurian imagery that had been such a feature of court life under both Edward I and the young Edward III. The list of founder members also makes it clear that it was intended as a permanent memorial to the victories of Crécy and Calais. But the symbolism of the order—the blue robes (rather than the traditional English royal colour of red) and the choice of the French motto Honi soit qui mal y pense (‘Shame upon him who thinks ill of it’—a replacement for Edward III's more usual preference for English epigrams)—suggests that it was also designed to promote Edward's claim to the French throne. Certainly, in these heady times, some of Edward's English subjects thought the kingdom of France stood within his grasp and urged him not to accept a diplomatic compromise. Edward himself may have been rather more flexible, not least because the stream of complaints that confronted him in the parliaments of January and March 1348 suggested that the almost unprecedented level of military commitment experienced in 1346–7 (the army of Calais numbered as many as 32,000 men) was politically, if not economically, unsustainable.

Domestic affairs, 1348–1356

The biggest disruption to Edward's wars, however, was the demographic catastrophe suffered by England between the autumn of 1348 and the spring of 1350. The epidemic of bubonic plague known as the black death arrived in England in the summer of 1348 and reached London in October; in little over a year it killed perhaps a third of the entire population. The king, who crossed briefly to Calais on 30 November in order to complete negotiations with his new ally, Louis de Mâle, count of Flanders, understood the dangers of the plague all too well, for his daughter Joan had already succumbed to the disease at Bordeaux in August. He deliberately avoided the capital on his return to England, spending Christmas at Otford and then moving via Kings Langley (where the royal relic collection was delivered) and Windsor to Woodstock. Here he was joined by the privy seal office and some staff of the chancery. The parliament summoned for early 1349 was abandoned, and the courts of king's bench and common pleas both adjourned for the Trinity term of 1349.

Yet government was very far from being in abeyance. On 18 June 1349 the king and council meeting at Westminster issued the ordinance of labourers, the precursor of the Statute of Labourers of 1351. The legislation aimed to respond to the acute shortage of manual labour by requiring agricultural and other workers to take up contracts in their places of residence and to accept wages pegged at pre-plague levels. Although England was not the only state to produce such measures in the aftermath of the black death, it was the only one to create a comprehensive mechanism for their enforcement: the emergence of the justices of the peace owed much to the structure developed for the implementation of the labour legislation.

Despite some small-scale military activity, the continuation of the truce with France also allowed for the resolution of some of the major political issues that had arisen from the pressures of war during the previous two decades. In 1352 the crown agreed to give up its earlier attempts to require military service on the basis of landed wealth; thereafter, in fact, most of the men-at-arms and the majority of mounted archers in English expeditionary forces were raised by voluntary contract. The Statute of Treasons of 1352 set a fairly limited definition of high treason, thus ending the arbitrary use of this charge in the royal courts. The Statute of Provisors (1351) and the Statute of Praemunire (1353) responded to the anti-alien sentiments of the Commons by restricting the practice of papal provision to ecclesiastical benefices in England; as a result, the crown's own patronage was significantly increased. In 1351 there was a major reform of the coinage, which for the first time successfully introduced a gold currency, in the form of the noble, into internal circulation, and created a new silver coin, the groat. In 1353 the administration effectively agreed to abandon its earlier practice of creating monopolies over wool exports by temporarily banning all English merchants from overseas trade in this commodity, encouraging foreign traders into the country, and setting up a series of domestic wool staples.

It is difficult to judge Edward's personal influence upon these and other measures for the government of England, though there is no doubt that he was active in those areas that traditionally demanded the attention of the sovereign: the audience of petitions, the dispensation of patronage, and the settlement of disputes between the great men of the realm. Perhaps Edward III's most important contribution was to select able and loyal ministers—men such as William Edington (d. 1366), John Thoresby (d. 1373), and William Shareshull (d. 1370)—who undertook much of the routine business of government through the administrative council. These ministers were also instrumental in securing from parliament an unbroken series of direct taxes from 1346 to 1355. The only serious breach that occurred between the king and his government came in 1355, when Edward brushed with his council over his decision to challenge clerical privilege and punish Thomas Lisle, bishop of Ely (d. 1361), for crimes committed against the king's cousin Blanche, Lady Wake.

Wars with France and Scotland, 1349–1357

During the Christmas celebrations at Havering in December 1349 Edward received news that Calais was about to be betrayed to the French. In the company of his eldest son and a small military contingent, he left immediately for Calais, where he was able to pre-empt the treachery of the governor and defeat a French force led by Geoffroi de Charny; according to Froissart, the king fought incognito, under the banner of Sir Walter Mauny (d. 1372). The death of Philippe VI in August 1350 may have encouraged Edward III to plan a more ambitious invasion of France, possibly with the intention of seizing the vacant throne, but this was thwarted by a strong Castilian presence in the channel, and on 29 August the king put to sea to defeat this fleet, in the naval engagement off Winchelsea known as ‘les Espagnols sur Mer’.

Although the war continued in Brittany and Aquitaine, Edward himself undertook no further campaigns in France until 1355. During the ensuing years the king was more actively occupied in diplomacy. In 1351 an alliance was effected with Charles II (Charles the Bad) of Navarre, who himself had a claim to the throne of France and was an important political figure in Normandy; in 1353 Edward also came to terms with his captive Charles de Blois and seemed about to renounce his support for the Montfort party in Brittany. Charles of Navarre subsequently defected from Edward's cause and was reconciled with Jean II. This serious setback for the English may explain why Edward III was prepared to consider Jean's proposals for a final settlement to their own dispute in the draft treaty of Guînes of 1354, by which the king of England would have obtained Aquitaine, the Loire provinces, Ponthieu, and Calais, all in full sovereignty, on condition that he renounce his claim to the French throne for ever.

In the end, however, neither side would ratify this treaty, and in 1355 Edward planned a two-pronged attack on France through Gascony and Normandy. The Gascon expedition led by the prince of Wales set sail on 14 September, but the duke of Lancaster's departure for Normandy was delayed by adverse winds and by the news that Charles of Navarre, with whom Edward had been in negotiation, had once more reached an understanding with Jean II. The army of Normandy had also to be diverted to Calais on news that the French king was threatening the town: Edward III led this expedition in person, disembarking at Calais on 2 November and marching south to within a few miles of Jean's army, though retreating without an engagement. He was then forced to leave Calais rapidly on news that Berwick had fallen to the Scots; in January 1356 Edward led his last campaign into Scotland, taking control of Berwick on 13 January and inflicting such extensive damage on Lothian that the expedition became known as ‘the burnt Candlemas’.

The success of the great chevauchée led by Edward, the Black Prince, through southern France, which culminated in the capture of Jean II at the battle of Poitiers in September 1356, put Edward III in a very powerful negotiating position. By the end of 1356 both David II of Scotland and Jean II of France were captives of the English crown. Edward had to weigh the advantages of recognizing their titles and negotiating large ransoms for their release against claiming their thrones for himself and committing the country to further expensive wars of conquest. The settlement reached with the Scots at Berwick on 3 October 1357 was a tacit acknowledgement of the Bruce monarchy, since it fixed the terms for David II's release on the payment, by instalments, of a ransom of 100,000 marks (£66,666). Edward Balliol had surrendered his own claim to the Scottish throne to Edward III at Roxburgh on 20 January 1356, and it was now theoretically possible for the English king to demand suzerainty over a Bruce monarchy; but the treaty made no mention of English lordship over Scotland, an omission which the Scots at least regarded as a major victory.

The campaign of 1359 and the treaty of Brétigny

With regard to France, Edward seems at first to have had no hesitation about ransoming—and thereby recognizing—Jean II; but he was equally determined to ensure a very substantial territorial settlement in return for his necessary renunciation of the French crown. The draft treaty of London of 1358 proposed terms not dissimilar to those eventually agreed in 1360—English sovereignty over Calais, Ponthieu, and an enlarged duchy of Aquitaine, and a ransom of 4 million gold écus (£666,666) for the release of Jean II—and it is possible that the treaty failed only because the French regency administration was unable to find the money needed for the first instalment of the ransom. By January 1359 plans were already taking shape for a new invasion of France. In the second draft treaty of London, dated 24 March 1359, the English king demanded sovereign control not only of greater Aquitaine, Ponthieu, and Calais but also of Normandy, Maine, Touraine, and Anjou and the suzerainty of Brittany, in return for his renunciation of the crown of France. This would have given Edward III control of the whole of the western seaboard of France from Calais to the Pyrenees. These terms were so outrageous that historians have normally assumed they were indeed tantamount to a declaration of war.

Edward embarked from Sandwich on 28 October and arrived at Calais on the same day. The king was accompanied by his three oldest sons and a large proportion of the English nobility and knightly class: in total the army numbered approximately 10,000 effective combatants. It advanced, in three columns, upon the city of Rheims, to which the king laid siege on 4 December. Edward III had brought a crown with him on the campaign, and evidently intended to have himself installed formally as king of France in the traditional coronation place of his Capetian ancestors. But Rheims was strongly defended. Edward made no attempt to take the city and raised the siege after only five weeks, on 11 January 1360. He then led his army on a chevauchée through Burgundy. This was not necessarily a deviation from the king's original plan: the duke of Burgundy was forced not only to offer a ransom of 700,000 gold écus (£116,666) for the withdrawal of the English army but also to promise, as a peer of France, that he would support Edward's coronation at some future date. Thereafter, however, the campaign lost momentum. After failing to provoke the dauphin into battle by marching on Paris, Edward led his forces off down the Loire valley. At Chartres on 13 April there was a sudden and dramatic storm in which both men and horses died; the weather throughout the winter had been exceptionally bad, and the English army was clearly weakened and demoralized. Edward had no choice but to submit to negotiations.

Talks opened at Brétigny on 1 May: the English and French kings were both represented by their eldest sons. By 8 May a draft treaty had been prepared. The ransom of Jean II was now reduced to 3 million gold écus (£500,000); Edward III was offered the territorial settlement of 1358 in return for his renunciation of the French throne. This settlement was reached, however, with no apparent reference to the kings, and its terms were provisional upon confirmation by Edward and Jean II. On 18 May Edward crossed from Honfleur, landed at Rye, and made for Westminster; the army itself returned to England via Calais. Meanwhile, the French government set about the daunting task of raising the first instalment of their king's ransom.

On 9 October Edward III landed at Calais for the ceremony of ratification. Talks were already under way, and continued for several weeks. The sticking point proved to be the renunciation clauses requiring Jean II to give up sovereignty over the ceded territories and Edward III to abjure the French crown. In the end these clauses had to be taken out of the main text of the treaty and put into a separate agreement to be effected only after the transfer of territory, which was to take place at the latest by 1 November 1361. This allowed the two sides to confirm the peace on 24 October without actually fulfilling all its terms, and for the following nine years both England and France prevaricated over carrying out their sections of the renunciations. Such delaying tactics certainly benefited the French, but it is possible that the compromise adopted at Calais was really the work of Edward III, who was dissatisfied with the terms offered at Brétigny and still clung to his more grandiose ambitions for the conquest of large parts of the kingdom of France. On the other hand, the peace was evidently popular in England, where it was ratified in parliament in January 1361 and celebrated with great ceremony by the king and royal family at Westminster Abbey.

Family settlements, 1358–1362

The resolution of conflict with Scotland and France gave Edward III the opportunity to implement the dynastic strategy towards which he had been moving for a number of years. Edward and Queen Philippa had at least twelve children between 1330 and 1355, of whom nine—five sons and four daughters—survived to maturity. By 1358, however, only one of these children, , had been married off, and the king, who had been a father at seventeen, found himself in his late forties with a solitary granddaughter, Philippa of Ulster. In 1358–9, however, three important marriages were arranged: Princess Margaret was betrothed to John Hastings, earl of Pembroke (d. 1375); Philippa of Ulster to Edmund (III) Mortimer (d. 1381), the heir to the earldom of March; and to Blanche of Lancaster, coheir of Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster. These matches had important implications for Edward's lordship of the British Isles. In particular, the Ulster–March alliance was destined to create the largest landed interest in Ireland; with this in mind, Edward appointed Lionel of Antwerp lieutenant of Ireland in 1361, and in 1362 created him duke of Clarence. In the 1360s the king also revived earlier attempts to persuade the childless David II to recognize John of Gaunt, now the pre-eminent lord in the north of England, as the heir to the throne of Scotland.

Similar patterns emerged in the marriages and settlements devised for Edward's other children on the continent. John de Montfort, whom Edward was still supporting as a candidate for the duchy of Brittany, was married in 1361 to the Princess Mary; although she died shortly after the wedding, Montfort had agreed not to remarry without Edward's permission, and in 1366 took as his second wife Joan Holand, stepdaughter of Prince Edward, the Black Prince. Although Edward formally renounced the suzerainty of Brittany in 1362, the duchy could still for a few years be regarded as falling within the Plantagenet orbit. Edward also entered into negotiations for a marriage between his fourth son, , and Margaret, heir to the counties of Flanders and Burgundy; these talks had reached an advanced stage by 1364. In 1362 he also pre-empted the fulfilment of the renunciation clauses of 1360 and created his eldest son prince of Aquitaine.

This series of marriages and titles negotiated or created for his children in these years suggest that Edward III was attempting to act in the same way as Henry II, employing his family to establish a confederation of Plantagenet states bound together by personal and feudal bonds. In the event, this strategy came to little: the opposition of the pro-French pope, Urban V, to the Flemish marriage was a particular setback to Edward's diplomacy, and resulted in a series of reprisals against the curia which included the reissue of the statutes of Provisors and Praemunire in the parliament of 1365. For some years, however, the prospect of advantageous marriages and foreign titles probably helped to satisfy the ambitions of Edward's large brood and to preserve the remarkable spirit of amity and unity that characterized the royal family in this period.

Domestic affairs, 1360–1369

In 1362 Edward III celebrated his fiftieth birthday; no doubt he had more than usual cause to celebrate this achievement, since the plague had returned to England in 1361–2 and a number of his closest companions had died. In the parliament that coincided with his birthday Edward granted a general pardon and issued an important statute defining and restricting the royal right of purveyance. These concessions were popular; they were also necessary, for the king had to ask the Commons to renew the wool subsidy, the levy charged over and above the regular customs duties, in order to pay off the considerable debts that the government claimed to have accumulated during the war years. The Commons agreed to do this, thereby drawing an important distinction between direct taxes, which could usually be levied only in wartime, and indirect taxes, which thereafter became more or less permanent. Rather less straightforward was the government's proposal, presented to parliament in 1362, for the removal of the domestic staples and the setting up of a single compulsory entrepôt for English wools in the port of Calais. The Commons could not agree on the matter, so the government proceeded unilaterally and set up the new staple of Calais in 1363. Some at least had no doubt that this was intended to benefit not the English economy but the merchant company appointed to run the staple.

Edward III's contribution to the government of the realm in the 1360s is again largely to be judged in terms of his selection and management of ministers. The commanding figure in the administration during this period was William Wykeham (d. 1404), who became keeper of the privy seal in 1363 and chancellor in 1367. However, the sureness of purpose that had characterized the government during the 1350s now seemed lacking. A notable case in point is its indecision over whether the justices of the peace should be allowed to retain the authority they had enjoyed during the 1350s to give judgments and deliver sentences: in the course of a decade these powers were successively confirmed (1362), withdrawn (1364), and finally restored (1368). There were accusations of corruption in the exchequer in 1365, and both the chief baron of the exchequer and the chief justice of king's bench were dismissed on unspecified charges. In 1368 Sir John Lee, the steward of the royal household, was imprisoned after protests over the abuse of his special judicial powers. As yet there was little sign of public disquiet over the quality of government dispensed by the crown, but such scandals at least hint at a certain loss of momentum for which the king himself may have borne some responsibility.

The war renewed, 1369–1375

The death of Jean II of France in 1364, and the succession of the dynamic and charismatic Charles V, made it increasingly less likely that the settlement of 1360 would be carried through into a lasting peace. Charles was instrumental in blocking the marriage of Edmund of Langley with the heiress of Flanders and secured Margaret's hand for his own brother, Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, in 1369. He also asserted his suzerainty over John, duke of Brittany, and came to terms with Charles of Navarre. The spark for the renewal of conflict, however, came from within Aquitaine. Certain of the Black Prince's new subjects defied his sovereign authority and made appeals to the parlement of Paris. Charles V, who had still not formally renounced the lordship of Aquitaine, summoned the prince before his court. When the latter failed to appear, he was pronounced a contumacious vassal and the duchy of Aquitaine was declared forfeit. The Brétigny settlement was thereby contravened, and the English king had no choice but to reassert his own dynastic claims in France. After consultation with parliament Edward III formally resumed the title of king of France on 11 June 1369.

English strategy in the war of 1369–75 was modelled, not surprisingly, on that of the 1340s and 1350s. But the personal and diplomatic links that had earlier allowed Edward III to intervene effectively in the northern French provinces now broke down. Furthermore English domination at sea collapsed in 1372 when the earl of Pembroke's fleet was defeated by the Castilians off La Rochelle. As a result the garrisons in Aquitaine could not be reinforced, and Charles V's forces promptly overran much of the northern part of the duchy. The English now controlled only a narrow strip of coastal territory from Bordeaux to Bayonne. The prospects of success seemed brighter in Brittany when John de Montfort renewed his alliance with the English in 1372; but in 1373 the duke himself had to take refuge in England, and the relief expedition planned under the leadership of John of Gaunt never reached Brittany, preferring instead to make a grand chevauchée through eastern and southern France, from Calais to Bordeaux.

Edward III was still actively engaged in military planning during this phase of the war, and despite his advanced years still seems to have aspired to leading his armies in person. In the summer of 1369 he was preparing to cross with an army to Calais, though the expedition was eventually led by John of Gaunt, the king perhaps being detained by the death of Queen Philippa on 15 August. Again, the defeat and capture of Pembroke in 1372 roused Edward—and the infirm prince of Wales—to announce a great expedition to Aquitaine, and a large army was gathered at Southampton. The king went aboard his own ship, the Grâce de Dieu, on 30 August 1372, having appointed his grandson, the five-year-old , as nominal regent. But adverse weather conditions meant that the expedition never reached its destination, and after five weeks the king had to order the fleet to return to England. Edward was destined never to see Aquitaine; his campaigning days were now over.

In 1374–5 Pope Gregory XI offered to mediate between the kings of England and France, and a truce for one year was agreed at Bruges on 27 June 1375. Although allowing a holding operation in Aquitaine, this truce seriously compromised the English position in parts of northern France. In particular, an expeditionary force in Brittany under John de Montfort and the earl of Cambridge was obliged to break off the siege of Quimperlé and withdraw from the duchy. This tacit admission of defeat does much to explain the hostility with which the truce of Bruges was greeted by the political community in England.

Political crises, 1371–1377

The initial stages of the new war were paid for from the profits of the royal ransoms and the income from indirect taxation and clerical subsidies, and it was not until 1371 that the crown approached parliament for direct taxes. After a decade of freedom from such impositions the Commons proposed an experimental levy, designed to raise £50,000, to be collected by setting a standard charge on every parish in the land and allowing assessors to raise or lower the amount according to local circumstance. Edward had to pay a high political price for this tax, being required to dismiss the chancellor, Bishop Wykeham, the treasurer, Thomas Brantingham, bishop of Exeter, and the keeper of the privy seal, Peter Lacy, and to replace them with laymen. Parliament—and particularly the parliamentary Commons—was thus pursuing very much the same line that the king had adopted during the earlier crisis of 1340–41; its ability to dictate the course of government is demonstrated by the fact that ecclesiastics were not appointed to the chancellorship and treasurership again until January 1377.

By 1376 the taxes authorized in the parliaments of 1371 and 1373 had all been spent and the government was desperately short of money. Despite the renewal of the truce of Bruges for a further year in 1376, the crown's finances were in so parlous a state that parliament had to be called and asked for further supplies. The Good Parliament, as contemporaries subsequently referred to it, met in April 1376. It refused to the last to authorize direct taxes, though, as in the years of peace during the 1360s, it did agree to the extension of the wool subsidy. Before it did so, however, it had carried out the most dramatic and damaging attack on royal government yet witnessed in a medieval parliament.

Edward III was too ill to attend the Good Parliament and his eldest son was to die in the course of the session, so the assembly was presided over by John of Gaunt. It may be that the king's absence made the Lords and, more specifically, the Commons less reticent about their grievances against the crown. The Commons, meeting in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, selected Sir Peter de la Mare as their spokesman. After some delay, they secured the appointment of a new council, including the earl of March and Bishop Wykeham, both of whom had personal grievances against members of the court. Then, on 12 May, de la Mare appeared before Gaunt and, on behalf of the Commons, laid certain accusations against William Latimer, the king's chamberlain, John Neville of Raby, the steward of the household, Richard Lyons, a London merchant, and a number of other financiers. Latimer and Lyons, the principal targets of the Commons' wrath, were accused of profiting from controversial financial schemes designed to raise money for the king's coffers. Also accused was , the king's mistress, who had replaced Queen Philippa in Edward's bed and affections during the mid-1360s, and with whom the king had at least three illegitimate children. Her alleged greed, resulting from her influence at court, made her a controversial figure. The Commons' charges were heard before the Lords (thus establishing the procedure for parliamentary impeachment), and the government had no choice but to dismiss Latimer and Neville, to imprison Lyons, and to banish Alice Perrers from the king's company. By the time the session was concluded on 10 July the court was in complete disarray.

The political victory of the Good Parliament was, however, short-lived. By October 1376 the displaced courtiers had been pardoned and restored to their titles, if not to their offices. The parliament that assembled at Westminster in January 1377 proved extraordinarily amenable to Gaunt's will, accepting the reversal of the earlier impeachments and authorizing further direct taxation in the novel form of a poll tax fixed at the rate of 4d. per head on all those over the age of fourteen. As in 1341 parliament was apparently forced to accept that the crown had the right to renege on political concessions made against its will. More immediately it had to face the imminent renewal of war and the rumour of a French invasion. During this crisis it also became clear that the one element of stability in the regime—the king himself—was about to be removed.

Old age, illness, and death

The first direct evidence of the king's failing health occurs in 1369, when his personal physician, John Glaston, was out of court for nine days between 13 February and 9 May 1369 ‘preparing medicine for the king's body’ (TNA: PRO, E101/396/11). Between June 1371 and July 1372 Glaston's absences for this reason numbered sixty-seven days. Such periods of indisposition were not, however, necessarily connected with Edward's later infirmity, the precise nature of which also remains uncertain: although historians have conventionally described the aged king as senile, there is no direct evidence of dementia, and it seems most likely that his mental faculties were impaired by a series of strokes. Nor should the speed of his decline be exaggerated: at least until the mid-1370s there is evidence that he continued to take an active, if sporadic, part in the business of government.

On the other hand, Edward's commitment to this work undoubtedly waned. Already in the 1360s his movements had tended to become restricted to the south, and more particularly the south-east, of the kingdom, as he passed ever longer periods at the royal residences of Havering atte Bower, Woodstock, Sheen, Eltham, Queenborough, and particularly Windsor. Since the council increasingly tended to hold its sessions at Westminster, the centre of government consequently became somewhat dissociated from the court. Furthermore, by 1375 the convention had developed that the chamberlain of the royal household was entitled to endorse petitions received at court with notes purporting to represent the king's personal wishes. This strongly suggests that Edward had now become a mere cipher, and that both courtiers and government officials were having to maintain a fiction of active kingship.

At Whitsuntide 1376 Edward was taken from Havering to Kennington to visit the deathbed of his eldest son. About Michaelmas he himself fell seriously ill at Havering with a large abscess; in preparation for impending death he appointed trustees of his personal estates on 5 October and made his will three days later. After the abscess burst, on 3 February 1377, he rallied somewhat, and his physicians were able to find him a suitable diet of ‘meat broths and … soups of best white bread done in warm goat's milk’ (Anonimalle Chronicle, 95). On 11 February Edward was removed from Havering to Sheen; as his boat passed the palace of Westminster, where the Good Parliament was in session, all the Lords came out to cheer him. On 23 April he was also present at Windsor when a large number of young nobles and royals were knighted and two of his grandsons, Prince Richard and Henry Bolingbroke, were admitted to the Order of the Garter. But the king was taken back quickly to Sheen, and died there on 21 June 1377. Edward III's wooden funeral effigy, the earliest to survive, was probably carved from a death mask, and bears signs of the twisted face that is normally associated with a fatal stroke.

The obsequies of Edward III were performed with great solemnity. The king's body was embalmed by Roger Chandeler of London at a cost of £21 and transported from Sheen to London in a journey that took three days: no fewer than 1700 torches were used in the procession. Masses were said at St Paul's Cathedral on 28 June, in the presence of Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, and on 4 July, when John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley were both present. The funeral itself took place in Westminster Abbey on 5 July; the deceased king was interred on the south side of the chapel of Edward the Confessor. The tomb, which still survives, was evidently not constructed until 1386, when expenditure was recorded on the Purbeck marble used for its base; but there is no documentary evidence by which to date or to attribute the principal gilt bronze effigy, which represents Edward III in idealized form as a venerable sage, or the miniature effigies of the king's children which decorate the sides of the tomb.

Under the terms of his will Edward III left the lands he had acquired in fee or in reversions to complete the endowments established for two of his own religious foundations, the Cistercian abbey of St Mary Graces outside the Tower of London and the college of secular canons attached to St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, and for the Dominican priory of Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, where a number of his family were buried. However, the government of Richard II attempted to use the designated estates to create a landed endowment for the new king's tutor, Sir Simon Burley (d. 1388), and it was not until 1401 that the legal wranglings were concluded and the terms of Edward's will finally fulfilled.

Image and personality

Not surprisingly, Edward III was known by his contemporaries and honoured by posterity chiefly as a warrior. Although nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholarship tended to deny him the status of a great strategist, more recent research has emphasized his abilities as a commander by stressing his active involvement in the administration of war, his ability to inspire confidence and discipline in his troops, and his extraordinary success in applying the tactics of the chevauchée and the mixed formation on the battlefields of France. Certainly, much of the credibility he enjoyed among the rulers and nobles of fourteenth-century Europe derived from the deference, not to say the considerable fear, shown to English armies operating on the continent.

This is not to say that Edward was interested only in feats of arms. Once regarded as somewhat boorish in his tastes, the king is now seen as a more rounded, if not necessarily more complex, individual who not only enjoyed martial sports and gambling but was also the patron of some of the finest artistic achievements of the day. In particular, his major building works provided a fit environment for courtly ritual and chivalric display and served as material statements of the grandeur of his kingship. The great rebuilding of Windsor Castle, carried out in the 1350s and 1360s, is especially important in that it shifted the royal cult of Arthur away from centres such as Glastonbury and Winchester and focused it on the king's own birthplace: thus were the contemporary allusions to Edward's role as the new Arthur given tangible and permanent expression. Other major building works were undertaken at the royal residences of Westminster, Eltham, Sheen, Leeds (in Kent), Woodstock, and Kings Langley. Queenborough, on the Isle of Sheppey, begun anew in the 1360s and intended primarily for the defence of the Thames estuary, was also lavishly equipped for royal visits. Edward may indeed have had something of a penchant for modern conveniences: it was during his reign that hot water was first piped into the king's baths at Westminster, Windsor, and Langley, and that mechanical clocks began to appear in the royal palaces.

Much of Edward III's construction of kingship, however, depended on his adherence to the rules of chivalry. The contemporary chronicler Jean le Bel of Liège paid him a very significant compliment by repeatedly prefixing his name with the epithet ‘noble’; many English chroniclers followed suit, contrasting the honourable Edward with the ‘tyrant’ Philippe VI. In a courtly context, the chivalric code was principally maintained by lavish display and highly stylized protocol. In particular, the exalted place that Edward accorded to women was an important measure of his credibility as the model of chivalry: by rescuing the countess of Atholl, giving way to Queen Philippa's prayers at Calais, and taking on the role of champion for Lady Wake, he publicly advertised his honourable intentions towards the opposite sex. Not everyone was taken in by such posturing. The curious and convoluted story of Edward's rape of the countess of Salisbury (which was later transmuted, in suitably sanitized form, into the foundation myth of the Order of the Garter) may be dismissed as a piece of French propaganda, but it is less easy to ignore the accusations of licentiousness directed against the court by contemporary writers in England. In particular, his association with Alice Perrers did considerable harm to the king's reputation in his last years.

Posthumous reputation

Nevertheless the cult of Edward III developed rapidly in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Richard II's attempts to make peace with France and the factional domestic politics of his reign caused chroniclers and poets to hark back to the middle years of the fourteenth century as the golden age of a golden king. When Henry V reopened the war with France there was much interest in the military achievements of the king's illustrious great-grandfather, and accounts of the campaigns of Edward III and the Black Prince, such as those contained in the Brut chronicles, circulated in considerable numbers. Moreover, as the common root from which the Lancastrian, Yorkist, and Tudor dynasties all sprang, Edward's reputation was never jeopardized by changes in the political regime. The anonymous late sixteenth-century history play, The Reign of King Edward III (which has been attributed, with some plausibility, to William Shakespeare), gave Edward's achievements in war a new relevance to contemporaries by comparing the battle of Sluys with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Nor did Edward's posthumous reputation depend solely on his military accomplishments. Both Henry IV and Edward IV were exhorted to behave like Edward III in their fiscal and legislative policies; and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries transcripts were made of the customs accounts of the 1350s to demonstrate the wealth of the monarchy and the favourable balance of trade during Edward's reign. In particular, the seventeenth century saw Edward as a constitutional king in whose reign crown and parliament had worked together for common profit: it is significant that Joshua Barnes's substantial and scholarly biography of Edward III was published in 1688, the year of the ‘glorious’ revolution.

In the nineteenth century attitudes changed. William Stubbs criticized Edward on three fronts: he was a voluptuary; he drained England of her wealth to subsidize irresponsible wars; and he lacked a policy, buying popularity by alienating the prerogatives of the crown and thus driving the monarchy into the constitutional paralysis that caused the Wars of the Roses. Twentieth-century scholarship, exemplified in the work of K. B. McFarlane and May McKisack, tended to be rather kinder, not least because it placed much greater emphasis on judging medieval rulers by the values of their own times. In the final assessment it remains uncertain whether Edward III can indeed be credited with an overall political strategy: he rarely indulged in grand statements of constitutional theory, and many of his acts of government were merely designed to placate a political community whose moral and material support was so vital to his military enterprises. On the other hand, with rare exceptions, he achieved enormous and remarkable success in inspiring the loyalty of his subjects: his reign marks one of the longest periods of domestic peace in the history of medieval England. Edward was one of the first of his line to make concerted and self-conscious use of a whole range of media—the proclamation, the sermon, religious ceremony, art and architecture, even his own clothing—to create an image of monarchy that advertised his purpose and commanded respect not only among the nobility but in the country at large. In particular this involved a new identity with the language of the ordinary people: it was during this reign that Middle English first began to establish itself as the spoken and written language of the élite. It is a nice irony that Edward III, who claimed the throne of France, was in certain cultural respects the first ‘English’ king of post-conquest England.

W. M. Ormrod

Sources  

M. McKisack, The fourteenth century (1959) · M. Prestwich, The three Edwards (1980) · G. L. Harriss, King, parliament and public finance in medieval England to 1369 (1975) · W. M. Ormrod, The reign of Edward III (1990) · J. Le Patourel, Feudal empires: Norman and Plantagenet (1984) · M. Vale, The Angevin legacy and the Hundred Years War, 1250–1340 (1990) · R. Nicholson, Edward III and the Scots: the formative years of a military career, 1327–1335 (1965) · J. Vale, Edward III and chivalry: chivalric society and its context, 1270–1350 (1982) · E. Déprez, Les préliminaires de la guerre de cent ans (1902) · J. Sumption, The Hundred Years War, 1 (1990) · K. Fowler, The king's lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, 1310–1361 (1969) · K. B. McFarlane, The nobility of later medieval England (1973) · J. Barnie, War in medieval society: social values and the Hundred Years War (1974) · W. A. Morris and others, eds., The English government at work, 1327–36, 3 vols. (1940–50) · Tout, Admin. hist. · N. M. Fryde, ‘Edward III's removal of his ministers and judges, 1340–1’, BIHR, 48 (1975), 149–61 · W. M. Ormrod, ‘Edward III and his family’, Journal of British Studies, 26 (1987), 398–422 · G. Holmes, The Good Parliament (1975) · TNA: PRO · Œuvres de Froissart: chroniques, ed. K. de Lettenhove, 25 vols. (Brussels, 1867–77) · V. H. Galbraith, ed., The Anonimalle chronicle, 1333 to 1381 (1927) · Adae Murimuth continuatio chronicarum. Robertus de Avesbury de gestis mirabilibus regis Edwardi tertii, ed. E. M. Thompson, Rolls Series, 93 (1889) · Chronica Johannis de Reading et anonymi Cantuariensis, 1346–1367, ed. J. Tait (1914) · RotP · Scalacronica, by Sir Thomas Gray of Heton, knight: a chronical of England and Scotland from AD MLXVI to AD MCCCLXII, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club, 40 (1836) · Chronique de Jean le Bel, ed. J. Viard and E. Déprez, 2 vols. (Paris, 1904–5) · J. de Trokelowe, ‘Annales’, in Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneforde … chronica et annales, ed. H. T. Riley, pt 3 of Chronica monasterii S. Albani, Rolls Series, 28 (1866), 63–127 · Historiae Dunelmensis scriptores tres: Gaufridus de Coldingham, Robertus de Graystanes, et Willielmus de Chambre, ed. J. Raine, SurtS, 9 (1839) · Ann. mon., 3.1–420 · E. A. R. Brown, ‘The prince is father of the king: the character and childhood of Philip the Fair of France’, Mediaeval Studies, 49 (1987), 282–334 · C. G. Crump, ‘The arrest of Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabel’, EngHR, 26 (1911), 331–2 · G. P. Cuttino and T. W. Lyman, ‘Where is Edward II?’, Speculum, 53 (1978), 522–43 · R. Cazelles, Société politique, noblesse et couronne sous Jean le Bel et Charles V (1982) · J. Sherborne, War, politics and culture in fourteenth-century England, ed. A. Tuck (1994) · W. M. Ormrod, ‘The personal religion of Edward III’, Speculum, 64 (1989), 849–77 · R. A. Brown, H. M. Colvin, and A. J. Taylor, The history of the king's works, 2 (1963) · C. J. Rogers, ‘Edward III and the dialectics of strategy, 1327–1360’, TRHS, 6th ser., 4 (1994), 83–102 · M. McKisack, ‘Edward III and the historians’, History, new ser., 45 (1960), 1–15 · J. Barnes, The history … of Edward III (1688) · W. Stubbs, The constitutional history of England in its origin and development, new edn, 3 vols. (1906) · D. A. L. Morgan, ‘The political after-life of Edward III: the apotheosis of a warmonger’, EngHR, 112 (1997), 856–81 · R. Proudfoot, ‘The reign of King Edward the Third (1896) and Shakespeare’, PBA, 71 (1985), 159–85 · Rymer, Foedera, 2nd edn · DNB · E. B. Fryde and others, eds., Handbook of British chronology, 3rd edn, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 2 (1986)

Archives  

BL, wardrobe accounts, Add. MS 46350 · S. Antiquaries, Lond., wardrobe accounts, MS 541 · TNA: PRO · University of Leicester, letters [official copies]


Likenesses  

manuscript illumination, 19 Sept 1343, Cambridge University muniments, charter · tomb effigy, 1360–99, Westminster Abbey, London [see illus.] · S. Hadley, funeral effigy, 1377, Westminster Abbey, London · oils, 17th cent., NPG · R. Smirke, engraving (after wall painting at St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, now destroyed), repro. in J. Topham, Some account of … St Stephen, Westminster (1811) · choir screens, Canterbury · electrotype (after a tomb effigy), NPG · manuscript illumination, St John Cam. · manuscript illuminations, BL, Cotton MSS and Royal MSS; see illus. in David II (1324–1371) · statue, choir screens, York Minster · wax seal, BM