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Edward III

(1312—1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine

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king of England (1327–77), claimant to the French throne (1340–60 and 1369–77). Edward came to the throne in 1327 in unpropitious circumstances, with the government in the hands of his unscrupulous mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Yet he must rank as one of the most successful English kings. His war with France saw the great victories of Crécy and Poitiers. The king of France and the king of Scots were both captured and held for huge ransoms. The Order of the Garter epitomized the glittering chivalric glamour of courtly and military circles.

Edward's first independent political action was in 1330, when he led the coup against his mother and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham. In 1333 he took a major gamble, supporting Edward Balliol's cause in Scotland, and reopening a war which had appeared concluded. The battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 was a triumph, but succeeding campaigns achieved little, partly because of French support for the Scots. War with France began in 1337. A new element was provided by Edward's claim, through his mother, to the French throne.

The French war dominated Edward's reign. It saw the great triumphs at Crécy in 1346 and Poitiers ten years later, but also the disappointment of the 1359 campaign, which brought an unsatisfactory truce until 1369. Edward showed himself to be a great commander, taking great care in the planning of his campaigns, and inspiring his men. How far he planned the strategy which led to the great success at Crécy is a matter for debate, but it is clear that arrangements were made for additional supplies to be brought from England, and that a march northwards was always intended.

The war was extremely expensive. By 1339 the king was effectively bankrupt. Political crisis came in Parliament in 1340–1, with the king's former chief councillor and chancellor, John Stratford, leading opposition to the crown. Edward rolled with the punches, accepting the new statutes imposed on him in Parliament, only to repeal them once Parliament had been dissolved. He was even ready to concede on the question of military service in 1352, in the knowledge that he would have little difficulty in recruiting troops by means of contracts with the main commanders. Parliament's demands were also accepted in 1352 over the question of treason, Edward agreeing to a considerable narrowing of the definition of treason in the interests of political peace. By 1376 the power of the Commons was dramatically displayed in the Good Parliament, with the impeachment of Lord Latimer, the chamberlain, many royal officials, and even the king's own mistress, Alice Perrers. Yet, as in 1340–1, Edward knew that once Parliament was dissolved, it would be possible to regain the lost ground.

Edward was extremely successful in his dealings with his own family, and with the magnates. He was able to provide adequately for his sons, so that he never faced the internal family problems that had beset Henry II. The creation of six new earldoms in 1337 was a courageous move which could have aroused hostility from the established nobility. In practice, Edward skilfully manipulated the chivalrous feelings of his followers, patronizing tournaments and founding the Order of the Garter. He did not attempt to curb the authority of his nobles as Edward I had done, and though it can be argued that the crown's control over them was in theory diminished, in practice the results of royal policy prove the wisdom of the king's approach.


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