Destiny of King Edward III and His Impact in the Modern History
Royal families have intrigued us for hundreds of years. Of all these royals, many will remember King Edward III. He wasn't like any other King and faced unique challenges and scandals. If there was one thing that defined his reign, it was war. In the long years of his reign, England was embroiled in one conflict or another, including one of the most devastating wars in European history. But while Edward’s military accomplishments loom large in English history, there is far more to the man than just his highlights. Continue reading here to find out more about this world-renown monarch.
THE KING WHO HAD GREATEST TRUST UPON HIM
Edward III was just a baby when he became an Earl. Some may say that while he wasn't born great, he had greatness thrust upon him from the moment he left the womb. He was militant yet humble and managed to shake off years of unpopularity left behind by his ancestors. Not only did he battle physical wars, but hithered great battles as well.
He faced battles of the heart, religious uprisings and waves of illnesses and plagues that were debilitating for his kingdom. Yet, he remained on his throne for many decades. He changed the trajectory of England and despite his young age was able to come up from under the shadows of his power-hungry mother and step-father.
Many historians attempted to describe him in the passing years and he has been called every name under the sun. There was one well and fully encapsulating description of the king. Despite being a man of everchanging persona, Wiliam Stubbs described the king like this in his pieces, The Constitutional History of England:
Edward III was not a statesman, though he possessed some qualifications which might have made him a successful one. He was a warrior; ambitious, unscrupulous, selfish, extravagant and ostentatious. His obligations as a king sat very lightly on him. He felt himself bound by no special duty, either to maintain the theory of royal supremacy or to follow a policy which would benefit his people. Like Richard I, he valued England primarily as a source of supplies.
FROM A BABY TO A KING
Edward was born on November 13 in the year 1312. He was the son of King Edward II of England and Isabella of France. Rare for English kings, Edward was never given the title “Prince of Wales” before he was crowned king. Of course, despite this omission, Edward never lacked royal titles. Edward was a member of the House of Plantagenet.
They ruled until 1485, with the death of Richard III in battle at Bosworth Field. By the time Edward was born, things were going downhill for his father. Edward II was not the people's favorite because of his tendency to heap honors and wealth upon a few favorites in his royal court including his lover, Piers Gaveston.
THE KING'S UNPOPULAR POSITION
Edward II’s position was so bad that the birth of Edward III was considered a significant improvement for his popularity since he now at least had a male heir. Edward II even leaned into this newfound goodwill by making his then-12-day-old son the Earl of Chester. This was uncommon. The Kings of England claimed ownership of several regions of France.
Prior to ruling England, the Plantagenet kings had been noblemen in France. The Duchy of Aquitaine was a region they claimed, though it made them vassals to the King of France - at least according to the French. As you can imagine, Edward’s father was in a pretty bad position by 1325, having lost control of Scotland. He was less popular than ever.
THE TEENAGE KING
It was at this point that the King of France (who also happened to be his brother-in-law), insisted that Edward II come to France and perform homage in order to maintain control over Aquitaine. Edward’s father saw this as a humiliation, but there was no way to refuse without incurring war. Trying to keep the peace, Edward’s father did something unusual.
He appointed the teenage Edward as the Duke of Aquitaine so that Edward was the one traveling to France to give homage. Partly due to his very young age at the time of his coronation, Edward reigned for over half a century as King of England. Only one other English king from the medieval era ruled longer than that. That king was Edward’s great-grandfather.
THE INFAMOUS ROGER MORTIMER
Unfortunately for Edward’s father, his sending Edward to France in 1325 proved to be a massive error in the long term. Edward’s mother, Isabella, was well and truly fed up with her husband, and when she returned to her native France with the young Edward, she became intimately acquainted with an exiled English baron named Roger Mortimer.
A plan was hatched between Isabella, Mortimer, and Isabella’s brother, the King of France, to invade England and depose Edward II. Edward III, meanwhile, was distracted by an engagement to a young noblewoman named Philippa of Hainault. Early in his reign, Edward III was profoundly obsessed with bringing chivalry to knighthood.
THE ORDER OF THE GARTER
Soon, he created a new, elite brotherhood of knights known as the Order of the Garter. No more than thirty men were allowed in this order at any one time (two of whom were the King and the Prince of Wales). The Order of the Garter exists to this day, ranking only behind the Victoria Cross and the George Cross in prestige.
But why would Edward call his elite knight brotherhood the Order of the Garter? The legend behind the name stems from a court ball where the Countess of Salisbury’s garter slipped off her leg and fell to the ground to great ridicule. Edward, witnessing this faux pas, picked up the garter from the ground and returned it to the countess.
He then said a Latin phrase which meant “Shame on him who thinks ill of it.” This phrase later became the order’s motto. This legend has gone down in history books, but was first recorded in the 1460s, long after Edward’s death. It’s thought that the story was first written to justify why this knighthood was named after women’s clothing.
They were forgetting, of course, that in the 14th century, garters were part of men’s fashion as well. In 1326, teenage Edward returned home from his homage in France as part of an invasion fleet that was led by his mother and Roger Mortimer. Edward’s father was quickly defeated in battle and was forced to give the kingship of England to his son.
THE YOUNG KING EDWARD
Only 14 years old, the young Edward was crowned as Edward III on February 1, 1327. Given his age upon attaining kingship, Edward was overshadowed by his mother, Isabella, and Roger Mortimer, her lover and regent. However, they proved to become even less popular than Edward’s father had been once they took power from him.
Mortimer was greedy for lands and wealth, disrespecting the young king in the process. Moreover, Mortimer and Isabella suffered a serious military setback against the Scots in 1328. Edward was forced to sign his name onto a humiliating treaty with Scotland. Edward makes a short appearance and is frequently discussed in a book.
That book was Ken Follett’s bestselling 2007 novel, World Without End. The book depicts the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death, which both took place during Edward’s reign. During Edward’s Siege of Calais, a brutal episode played out as the residents of Calais starved behind their walls. This was a horrible time in the kingdom.
THE KING HAD NO MERCY
In an act of desperation, many women, children, and other non-combatants were sent out of the castle to fall upon the mercy of the besiegers. This was a common gesture made by castles under siege during that time. However, there was no mercy to be found; Edward had no intention of making things easier on the people who were resisting him.
So he refused to take responsibility for the hungry civilians. They were left to starve to death in the ditches around the castle, literally caught between the two sides of the conflict. Despite Edward’s admiration for chivalry, the hard truth was that he was quite willing to throw it all away in favor of total war- even if innocent people were at risk.
In 1346, Edward laid siege to the fortified city of Caen. Much to everyone’s surprise, the English quickly seized control of the city in just a single day, though they failed to capture the castle of Caen. While the castle stood, however, the English troops committed a barbaric massacre, slaughtering at least half of Caen’s population. A true travesty!
We know that this was swept under the rug and the Order of the Garter didn’t mention this episode whenever they met up afterward. In 1337, King Philip VI of France seized the Duchy of Aquitaine. This was the ancient property of the Plantagenet kings and the same one that Edward had paid homage for when he was in his early teens.
THE CLAIM TO THE FRENCH THRONE
In response, Edward not only demanded them back, but also claimed the Kingdom of France itself. He was able to do this because of his French mother and his maternal links to the French throne. Edward might not have planned for it, and Philip VI might not have predicted it, but these actions led to the Hundred Years’ War.
One thing which separated Edward’s reign from that of his father, Edward II, and his grandfather, Edward “Longshanks,” was his approach to peerages. Given the trouble that the barons and nobles gave to his father and grandfather during their lives, neither was interested in making more of them. But Edward had something unique which his forefathers lacked...
A GOOD PERSONALITY CAN GO A LONG WAY
Edward was able to befriend his noblemen and win them over with his personality, something no king before him had done. As a result, he was only too happy to create new titles. They also proved useful to lead armies and units into war.
In 1337, when Edward was on the cusp of the Hundred Years War, he created six new earls in a single day! One of those men was named William de Bohun. Distantly related to Edward through his paternal grandfather, King Edward I, Bohun was one of the men who assisted Edward in overthrowing Roger Mortimer.
He also became the 1st Earl of Northampton for his troubles. Bohun became one of Edward’s most reliable military commanders, leading campaigns in Scotland and France, including the Battle of Crecy. Unlike many English kings, Edward III has very rarely been portrayed in films or television. In 1911, Charles Kent portrayed the king in the silent short film The Death of King Edward III.
THE KING'S GOOD WIFE, PHILIPPA
Decades later, Edward was portrayed by Michael Hordern in the 1955 historical adventure film The Dark Avenger. Most recently, Edward was portrayed by Blake Ritson in the 2012 mini-series World Without End, which was adapted from Ken Follett’s book. Edward III’s wife, Philippa of Hainault, was one of the main reasons why his popularity was kept.
She was very active in supporting Edward when she was Queen of England, either ruling as regent when Edward was absent, or accompanying her husband on military campaigns in Scotland, France, or Flanders. Her kindness and compassion were renowned, displayed on such occasions as the Siege of Calais. Oxford’s own Queen’s College is named after her.
With his wife, Edward had a total of eight sons and six daughters. Four of them died young, while the others all either gained or married into noble and royal titles. Edward’s children were Edward (the Black Prince), Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, Thomas of Woodstock, Isabella, Joan, Mary, and Margaret.
HAVE MERCY ON YOUR PEOPLE
While Edward was known to have had a temper and a reckless disposition, he was not without mercy. He completely forgave his mother for conspiring against his father with Roger Mortimer. For that matter, Edward didn’t hold a grudge against the Mortimer clan either. Mortimer’s grandson was even named Roger showing how forgiving the king must have been.
He not only served his king loyally but was even made a Knight of the Order of the Garter. From 1337 until the early 1340s, Edward’s policy in the Hundred Years’ War wasn’t as much about personal invasions as it was about developing alliances wherever they could be found. This was an expensive and most successful venture.
KING EDWARD FOUGHT LIKE A MAN
More success was found when the direct conflict was committed. In 1340, Edward personally oversaw the naval battle fought at Sluys. The French fleet was utterly defeated, giving Edward control of the English Channel, and leading to active military campaigning. Edward’s father, Edward II, was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle.
This was by forces loyal to Isabella and Roger Mortimer. Despite his previous unpopularity, there existed plots to free him from captivity, which put pressure on Mortimer’s rule as regent. On September 23, 1327, Edward was informed that his father had died. Given the timing of this death, most historians believe his death was unnatural.
A MURDER ON THE KING, A MURDER ON THE KINGDOM
Rumors of murder began as early as the 1330s, with a particularly gruesome one claiming that Edward’s father had been killed by the insertion of a red-hot poker into his anus. While this rumor gained a lot of traction, modern historians have mostly dismissed it as being a slander related to Edward II’s alleged homosexuality.
Despite initial victories at Sluys, Caen, Crecy, and Calais during the Hundred Years’ War, Edward was unable to conquer France. For it was in the late 1340s that he faced a threat far greater than anything manmade. The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, swept Europe during the 14th century, hitting England in 1348.
THE POWER OF THE PLAGUE
At least a third of England’s workforce was killed by the plague, making the Hundred Years’ War almost immovable. In 1348, Edward was offered the chance to become the Holy Roman Emperor, as if he didn’t already have enough power! Apparently, he thought the same thing, because he turned the offer down!
For all of Edward’s success in warfare, he was less motivated to excel at administration. Ruling England was made even more difficult by the effects of the Black Plague, which created crises within the feudal system. Many of the nobles died of the plague, leading to power vacancies, and the working class suddenly wielded power.
THE DEPICTION OF A BRAVEHEARTED KING
Edward III made no appearance in the 1995 medieval epic Braveheart. However, it is clearly implied in the film’s final act that William Wallace impregnated the Princess of Wales. Meaning that Edward’s father wasn’t Edward II (portrayed as a foppish stereotype in the film), but the Scottish freedom fighter played by Mel Gibson.
As much as this makes for good drama, this would have been impossible. In real life, Edward’s mother was only ten years old at the time of Wallace’s execution in 1305. And as we mentioned before, Edward was born in 1312, a full seven years later. It’s worth pointing out that the Black Prince, like his father, grew up very fast and was forced into his role.
THE BATTLE FOR PEACE
He proved a highly capable military leader. He was fighting on the front lines of the Battle of Crecy at the age of 16, later winning the Battle of Poitiers in his own right. Sadly, Edward predeceased his father by one year, dying of dysentery in 1377. One of the most important pieces of legislation was passed during Edward’s reign.
It involved the Justices of the Peace. While the process predated Edward’s reign, it was during his rule that the Justices gained the authority to investigate crimes, arrest suspects, and try cases in court. The English justice system continues to be influenced by this decision to this day. It was truly a history-making treaty.
During Edward’s year-long Siege of Calais, he gathered a fleet of over 700 ships and an army of more than 30,000 men from England and Wales, along with 20,000 Flemish allies. It was the largest fleet and army that England had ever assembled up to that point, nor would they muster a larger army until after 1600. He was a true military albatross.
One impact that the war had was that it helped form an English identity separate from French identity. The process began during Edward’s reign, and although Edward had grown up speaking Norman French, he actively encouraged the popularization of English amongst his subjects. In 1362, it was made a law that English had to be used in courts.
THE END OF AN ERA AS THE KING BOWS DOWN
Edward cheerfully began to spread rumors that the French were hoping to wipe the English language off the face of the earth. The rumor was enough to create a defiant stance amongst the English populace. In 1376, Edward suffered from a large abscess. He regained some of his health by 1377, but not for long.
Edward died of a stroke in February of that year. He was 64 years old. Following Edward’s passing, the crown passed to the 10-year-old son of the deceased Black Prince, who became Richard II. Despite all of Edward’s military accomplishments, England did not win the Hundred Years’ War. Edward didn’t live long enough to see fortunes return to the French.
THE ENGLISH CITY OF CALAIS
It was the French who drove the English out even as the Wars of the Roses erupted in England itself. The most lasting military achievement by Edward was the maintenance of the city of Calais, which remained in English hands until 1558. One of the more memorable anecdotes regarding Edward occurred when the Siege of Calais was over.
Following his victory at capturing the castle and its town, Edward proceeded to confiscate all the loot to be found in Calais, turn out the civilian population, and replace them with English settlers. Edward also declared that six men who’d held the castle against him would be executed as a message. Six civilians volunteered to spare others.
THE GOOD KING TURNS BLOODTHIRSTY
However, Edward’s own queen, Philippa of Hainault, begged her husband to spare the men, insisting that to have them so cruelly put to death would curse the fate of her unborn child. Moved, Edward spared the six burghers, whose likeness was later carved into stone as a memorial. Edward spent centuries being praised as a good king.
His military exploits started receiving particularly positive attention. One historian even called Edward “the greatest general in English history.” However, the 19th century saw a marked change in how historians viewed Edward’s reign, with his pursuit of war being seen as bloodthirsty and leading to great economic strain.
Others accused Edward of relinquishing too much power to his sons in his later years. Another aspect of Edward’s rule that has proved to be an anomaly in English history is the fact that throughout his reign, none of his five sons ever rebelled or took actions against him. Even when Edward bestowed military responsibility on his boys.
WARS OF THE WILTING ROSES
Still, none of them used this newfound power to try and get rid of their father and install themselves on the throne. Despite Edward’s good relations with his progeny, however, things didn’t last that way forever. Years after the deaths of Edward and his sons, their descendants fought the destructive Wars of the Roses. The wars that truly wilted their nation.
A civil war that tore England apart and resulted at the end of Edward’s Plantagenet dynasty. In case you’re wondering, the House of Lancaster and the House of York were both descended from Edward through his third and fourth sons, respectively. Additionally, one of Edward’s grandchildren married into the House of Tudor.
It’s safe to say that Edward and the power-hungry Roger Mortimer, his regent, never saw eye-to-eye, with Edward also discreetly ignoring the fact that his mother, Isabella, was bringing Mortimer into her bed for years. Things got worse when Edward married his fiancée, Philippa of Hainault, in 1328 and immediately had a son of his own in 1330 at the age of 18.
That same year, Edward decided that he was old enough to rule in his own right. He led a small group of loyal men to Nottingham Castle on October 19 and had Mortimer arrested and executed, despite his mother’s desperate plea: “Fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer.” You might be wondering what Edward did with his mother, Isabella.
Well, once he took power from Roger Mortimer after having him killed he didn't do much. She was still his mother, after all, and Edward didn’t want to pull an Orestes on her. To be fair, Edward did remove all her political power and most of her lands, but he made sure that she could live comfortably for the rest of her life.
Edward and his children maintained a close relationship with her, presumably while never allowing the name “Roger Mortimer” to ever be uttered. Regarding Edward’s deceased father, Edward II, there exists an old conspiracy theory that Edward’s father wasn’t actually murdered on September 21, 1327, as was claimed.
A CONSPIRACY IN THE FAMILY
The theory claims that Edward II was able to escape his captivity, to live out his days in hiding like a hermit on the European continent. This escape was covered up but was allegedly revealed in a letter that was taken to Edward by a priest, Manuel Fieschi. This letter, called the Fieschi Letter, remains a part of Edward and his father’s legacies.
As if it wasn’t weird enough that Edward should receive a letter claiming that his father was still alive, something happened in 1338 which added a whole new layer to this conspiracy. Edward traveled to Germany, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. While there, he met with a man who was named William. His surname has been disputed.
The conspiracy theory states that William was none other than Edward’s father, the deposed King Edward II, in disguise. We will, of course, never know if that’s true, but it’s worth pointing out how dangerous it would have been to claim to be a dead king back in those days. The outcome of Edward’s meeting with William will never be known.
A later article, from the 1960s, pointed out that a medieval king could not be expected to work towards some future ideal of a parliamentary monarchy as if it were good in itself; rather, his role was a pragmatic one—to maintain order and solve problems as they arose and at this, Edward III excelled. Edward had also been accused of something bad.
This accusation painted him a father endowing his younger sons too liberally and thereby promoting dynastic strife, which had been labeled one of his core weaknesses. Many question him for his lack of love and compassion towards his own young children. But the King, like many before and after him, had an array of skeletons in his closet.
He was in some regards a very well balanced king but in others not. From conspiracy theories to rumors about his sexuality, he was spoken about on all accords. When trying to determine whether he was a good or bad king, one struggles. He had his strengths but he most certainly also had a few weaknesses. What do you think about this great king?