King Edward III was a warrior-king in his grandfather’s (Edward I) mould. Despite his heavy taxation to fund many wars, he developed into a genial, pragmatic and popular king, and his name is closely associated with the Hundred Years’ War. But his determination to re-establish the greatness of his dynasty led to a futile and expensive goal trying to take the French throne.
Through his military campaigns in France, Edward transformed England from being a vassal of French kings and nobles into a military power that led to English victories against France’s King Philip VI’s forces and winning battles due to the superiority of English longbowmen against Philip’s crossbowmen.
Here are 10 facts about King Edward III.
1. He had a contested claim to the French throne
Edward’s claim to the French throne through his mother, Isabella of France, was not recognised in France. It was a bold claim that was to eventually lead to England becoming embroiled in the Hundred Years’ War (1337 – 1453). The war was largely futile due to the thousands of lives lost and the depletion of England’s treasury to fund battles.
Edward’s army did have successes, such as the naval victory at Sluys (1340) which gave England control of the Channel. Other victorious battles for the English were at Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), where they were led by Edward’s eldest son, the Black Prince. The only long-lasting gain from Edward’s French wars was Calais.
2. Edward’s son was nicknamed the Black Prince
Edward III is often confused with the Black Prince, his eldest son, Edward of Woodstock. The young man gained the moniker due to his striking jet black military armour.
The Black Prince was one of the most successful military commanders during the conflicts of the Hundred Years’ War and took part in expeditions to Calais, seizing the French city after which the Treaty of Bretigny was negotiated, ratifying terms of agreement between King Edward III and King John II of France.
3. His reign was marred by the Black Death
The Black Death, a bubonic pandemic originating in Afro-Eurasia in 1346, spread to Europe causing the deaths of up to 200 million people and killing between 30-60% of the European population. The plague in England claimed Edward’s 12-year-old daughter Joan on 1 July 1348.
As the disease began to deplete the backbone of the country, Edward implemented a radical piece of legislation, the Statue of Labourers in 1351. It sought to address the shortage problem of labourers by fixing wages at their pre-plague level. It also checked the right of peasants to travel out of their parishes, by asserting that lords had first claim on their serfs’ services.
4. He was embroiled in complicated Scottish politics
Edward assisted a group of English magnates known as the Disinherited to reclaim lands they had lost in Scotland. After the magnates staged a successful invasion of Scotland, they attempted to replace the Scottish infant king with their own alternative, Edward Balliol.
After Balliol was expelled, the magnates were forced to seek the help of King Edward who responded by laying siege of the border town Berwick and defeating the Scottish at the Battle of Halidon Hill.
5. He oversaw the creation of the Commons and the Lords
Certain English institutions took recognisable form during Edward III’s reign. This new style of governing had Parliament divided into two houses as we know today: the Commons and the Lords. The procedure of impeachment was used against corrupt or incompetent ministers. Edward also founded the Order of the Garter (1348), while justices of the peace (JPs) acquired more formal status under his rule.
6. He popularised the use of English rather than French
During Edward’s reign, English began to replace French as the official language of mainland Britain. Before, for some two centuries, French had been the language of English aristocracy and nobles, while English was only associated with peasants.
7. His mistress, Alice Perrers, was deeply unpopular
After the death of Edward’s popular wife Queen Philippa, he acquired a mistress, Alice Perrers. When she was seen to be exercising too much power over the king, she was banished from court. Later, after Edward suffered a stroke and died, rumours circled that Perrers had stripped his body of jewels.
8. His father was probably murdered
Edward III is associated with one of the most controversial English kings in history, his father Edward II, known for his idiosyncrasies and more shockingly for the time, his male lover, Piers Gaveston. The love affair irritated the English court which led to the brutal murder of Gaveston, possibly instigated by Edward’s French wife, Queen Isabella of France.
Eleanor and her lover Roger Mortimer plotted to depose Edward II. His capture by their army and imprisonment resulted in one of the most alleged gruesome deaths of a monarch in history – that by a red-hot poker inserted into his rectum. Whether this savage and violent act was carried out of cruelty or simply to kill the king without leaving visible signs is still debated.
9. He championed chivalry
Unlike his father and grandfather, Edward III created a new atmosphere of camaraderie between the crown and nobles. It was a strategy born out of reliance on the nobility when it came to purposes of war.
Prior to Edward’s reign, his unpopular father was in constant conflict with members of the peerage. But Edward III went out his way to be generous creating new peerages and in 1337, at the outset of war with France, created 6 new earls on the day of conflict commencing.
10. He was accused of sleaze and corruption in later years
In Edward’s last years he suffered military failures abroad. At home, discontent grew amongst the public, who believed his government to be corrupt.
In 1376 Edward made attempts to restore Parliament’s reputation with the Good Parliament Act: it sought to regorm the government by cleaning up the corrupt Royal Court and calling for close scrutiny of the Royal accounts. Those believed to be pilfering from the treasury were arrested, put on trial and imprisoned.