King of England, b. at Windsor Castle Nov. 13, 1312; d. at Sheen, June 21, 137
Edward III, King of England (1312-77), eldest son of Edward II and Isabella, daughter of Philip IV of France; b. at Windsor Castle, November 13, 1312; d. at Sheen, June 21, 1377. He succeeded to the throne in his fifteenth year through the deposition of his father in January, 1327, Edward II being forced to agree to his own deposition, as the son refused to accept the crown without his father’s consent. His marriage to Philippa, daughter of the Count of Hainault, took place at York, January 24, 1328. In person Edward was graceful, strong, and active; he was fond of hunting, hawking, and all knightly pastimes, especially war. Ambition seems the most prominent point in his character, and his life, characterized throughout by selfishness and extravagance, was spoilt in later years by indulgence in a shameful passion. As a king, though he won great renown by his wars, he seems to have cared neither to maintain the royal prerogatives nor to follow any policy which would benefit his people.
For the first four years of his reign all power was in the hands of the queen-mother and Mortimer, and not till their overthrow in November, 1331, can Edward be said to have begun to rule. His first warlike experience was inglorious. In 1327 the Scots, led by Robert Bruce, bent on recovering their independence, invaded the North of England. Edward marched to meet them; but so quick and active were the Scots that Edward marched from York to Durham without gaining any definite news of their position, and, when he tried to cut them off and force them to fight, was completely out manoeuvred by them. The “Shameful Peace” of Northampton, made in 1328, by which Scotland‘s independence was again recognized, was one of the causes which brought about the downfall of Mortimer and Isabella. Edward renewed his struggle with Scotland in 1333, supporting Edward Baliol in an attempt on the Scottish throne. He defeated the Scots under Sir Archibald Douglas at Halidon Hill, and set Baliol on the throne. But the Scots quickly expelled Baliol, and, though Edward restored him, the quarrel with France prevented Edward from continuing the struggle. Further contests with Scotland took place during the Crecy campaign, when David Bruce, after securing his rightful place as king, took advantage of Edward’s absence in France to invade England, only to be defeated and captured at Neville’s Cross, October, 1346. David remained a prisoner for eleven years, but the Scottish raids continued. In 1355 the Scots took Berwick; Edward retook it in the following year, but, though he ravaged the Lothians in the campaign known as “Burnt Candlemas“, he was unable to bring the Scots to terms. When David was released, in 1357, and found himself unable to pay the stipulated ransom, he agreed to make Edward heir to the Scottish throne. But David died, in 1371, and left Edward in a position which prevented him from prosecuting his claim or interfering with Scotland‘s independence.
Partly caused by the war with Scotland in 1333 and 1334 was the great war between England and France known as the Hundred Years War. The Scots had been helped by money from Philip VI of France, and Edward’s anger at this was increased through the presence at his court of a French exile, Robert of Artois, who did all in his power to stir up enmity between the English and the French kings. Edward and Philip had been rival claimants for the French throne in 1328, and after Philip had been chosen king there was much dispute over the homage owed by Edward for his French fiefs. Philip, too, was anxious to be king over all France, a claim which involved the annexation of Guienne and Gascony, the parts still held by England. Thus personal and national rivalry combined to cause war. Edward’s personal share in the war which lasted from 1338 to 1360 was a distinguished one. The first campaigns, however, were more remarkable for the concessions won by Parliament out of the king’s needs than for successes in battle. By the end of 1339 he had agreed not to take a tallage of any kind without the consent of Parliament; and in 1341, to obtain further supplies, he submitted to his accounts being audited by a board chosen in Parliament, and promised not to choose ministers without the consent of his council. But, having received the money, Edward shamefully broke his promises, saying that he had “dissembled in order to avoid greater perils”. The campaign of 1340 is noted for Edward’s naval victory at Sluys over a fleet of five hundred French ships which attempted to prevent his landing; and this, taken with his victory off Winchelsea, in 1350, over the Spanish fleet, goes some way towards justifying his claim to the sovereignty of the seas.
The next campaign in which Edward took an important part was that of 1346. The Earl of Derby had been appointed to command in Gascony, and in 1346 Edward was about to lead an army to help him, when he was persuaded to attack, instead, the unprotected northern part of France. Landing near Cherbourg, he marched through Normandy, doing as much mischief as he could, and advanced almost to Paris. Then, crossing the Seine, he retreated towards Calais, pursued closely by Philip; and at Crecy, August 24, he won a complete victory over the French force. Continuing to Calais, he began a lengthy siege which ended in the surrender of the town, August, 1347. Truces frequently signed after this were as frequently broken till open war broke out again in 1355. Edward himself had small part in the warfare which followed till the campaign of 1359-60, when, after trying to take Reims, he concluded a treaty with the regent of France at Bretigny, May 8, 1360, by which all the ancient province of Aquitaine with Calais, Guines, and Ponthieu was ceded to him, and he renounced his claim to the French crown and to all French provinces except Brittany. The period between 1347 and 1355 was remarkable for the Black Death, a plague which in England swept off about half the people. Decrease in population caused increase in laborers’ wages. And in 1350 the king attempted to deal with the difficulty by proclaiming that laborers must work for the same wages as before the plague, under penalty fixed by statute. (See Gasquet, The Black Death, new ed., London, 1908.)
Ecclesiastically, Edward’s reign was marked by some legislation directed against the pope. The difficulties were caused partly by the heavy taxation levied by the pope on the clergy, and partly by the appointment of foreigners to English benefices by the pope; while the irritation of Englishmen at these grievances was increased by the pope’s residence at Avignon, under the influence of the French king. In 1351 the Statute of Provisors was passed. The king had, in 1344, complained to the pope against reservations and provisions by which English benefices were given to foreigners, and the rights of patrons were defeated; and this proving ineffectual, the statute now made all who procured papal provisions for benefices liable to fine and imprisonment. But the statute can hardly have benefited patrons, for preferments filled by provisions were declared forfeit to the Crown for that turn. In 1353, by the Statute of Praemunire, all subjects of the king were forbidden to plead in a foreign court in matters which the King’s Court could decide, and in 1365 the papal courts were expressly included under this. Urban V in 1366 demanded the annual tribute promised by King John, which was then thirty-three years in arrear; but, on Parliament refusing to pay, nothing more was heard of the claim.
The last years of Edward’s reign were a time of failure and disappointment. In France he had lost, by 1374, all possessions but Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne; at sea the English were badly beaten by the Spaniards in 1372; the king himself after the death of his wife, in 1369, was completely under the influence of Alice Perrers; the court became more extravagant than before, and ministers were suspected of corruption. The Commons, supported by the Prince of Wales and William of Wykeham, attacked some of these evils in the “Good Parliament” of 1376. Lord Latimer, the king’s chamberlain, and Richard Lyons, his financial agent, were impeached and imprisoned; and though Edward sent a message begging Parliament to deal gently with Alice Perrers for the sake of his love and his honor, she was banished from court. But the death of the Black Prince immediately afterwards was a great blow to the Commons. John of Gaunt was able, on Parliament’s dismissal, to recall the impeached ministers, and by Edward’s wish Alice Perrers returned. The struggle between the anti-ecclesiastical party, led by John of Gaunt, in alliance with John Wyclif, and the clergy, led by William of Wykeham, is scarcely connected with Edward personally, except in so far as this and other evils were due to Edward’s neglect of the affairs of his kingdom. Discontent and conflicts at home, and failure abroad brought his reign to a close. He died deserted by all except one priest who attended him out of compassion. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.