Edward III of England

Edward IIIKing of England
Edward III
King of England


Edward III (13 November 131221 June 1377) was one of the most successful English kings of medieval times. His fifty-year reign began when his father Edward II of England was deposed on 25 January 1327, and lasted until 1377. Among his immediate predecessors, only Henry III ruled as long, and it would be over 400 years before another monarch would occupy the throne for that duration. Edward's reign was marked by an expansion of English territory through wars in Scotland and France. Edward's parentage and his prodigious offspring provided the basis for two lengthy and significant events in British and European history, the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses, respectively.


Early life

Edward, the son of Edward II of England and Isabella of France, daughter of King Philip the Fair, was born in Windsor Castle. In 1320, he was created Earl of Chester. In 1325, his father ceded the Duchy of Aquitaine to him, and the young Edward was sent to France along with his mother to meet his uncle, the French King Charles IV.

Upon their return from France, the powerful Queen and her lover, Roger Mortimer, forced the weak and unpopular Edward II to abdicate, installing Edward III as king in 1327.

Edward II was subsequently murdered, and Isabella and Roger Mortimer effectively ruled England during the young king's first few years on the throne.

Missing image
The Great Seal of Edward III

Early reign

Edward III was crowned on January 25 1327, at the age of 14, and married Philippa of Hainault, in 1328. The couple eventually produced thirteen children, including five sons who reached maturity. Their eldest son and Edward's heir, Edward the Black Prince, born in 1330, would become a famed military leader. In the same year as Edward's marriage, his uncle Charles IV of France died without male heirs, leaving a pregnant wife, thus making Edward (through Isabella) the senior surviving male descendant of King Philip IV, Charles' and Isabella's father, and potentially giving Edward the senior Capetian dynasty claim to the French throne. (Edward's younger brother John, Earl of Cornwall, was then the only other living male descending from Philip IV. Later, daughters of Louis X and Philip V produced further male issue, such as King Charles II of Navarre, Hereditary Duke Philip of Burgundy and Count Louis of Flanders.)

In 1330, the eighteen-year old Edward seized control over the English court, overthrowing Mortimer, who was executed, and removing Isabella from power but sparing her life.

The reign of Edward III was marked by continued war with Scotland, but much more by the war with France. His first major military success was the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, which he won in support of his puppet, the new Scottish king, Edward Balliol, in detriment to his own brother-in-law David II of Scotland, the Bruce claimant and husband of Edward's sister Joan of the Tower, princess of England.

The Hundred Years' War

Edward's claim to unite the English and French thrones was contested by French nobles who invoked Salic law, which held that the royal succession could not pass through a female line (such as Edward's mother Isabella, or Queen Joan II of Navarre), and who therefore asserted that the legitimate King of France was Philip VI, Edward's cousin and heir to Charles of Valois, a younger son of Philip III.

Edward declared war on Philip VI in 1337, and declared himself king of France on January 26 1340. The conflict thus commenced eventually became known as the Hundred Years' War, continuing sporadically to the 1450s. In 1346, Edward defeated the French at the Battle of Crecy, accompanied in this campaign by his sixteen year old son the Black Prince.

The Black Prince commanded England's victorious army at the Battle of Poitiers, in 1356. The first phase of the Hundred Years' War was concluded in 1360 with the Treaty_of_Brétigny, marking the height of English influence in France and providing three million crowns' ransom for the capture of the French King John II.

While these victories were eventually reversed, and then won and lost again in the resulting generations of war, British monarchs would continue to claim the title "King of France" until the Act of Union which led to the creation of the United Kingdom in 1801. Edward III quartered his coat of arms with "France Ancient", the Azure semé-de-lis (a blue shield with a tight pattern of small golden fleur de lis of the French royal house), and it remained a part of the English Coat of Arms until removed by George III. For more information see English Kings of France.

Domestic events and personal life

While the king and the prince campaigned abroad, the government was left largely in the hands of the prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt. Economic prosperity from the developing wool trade created new wealth in the kingdom, but the ravages of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, had a significant impact on the lives of his subjects. Commercial taxes became a major source of royal revenue, which had previously been largely from taxes on land. Parliament became divided into two houses. During Edward's reign, French was still the language of the English noblesse following the Norman invasion, but this was changed.

The king also founded an order of knighthood, the Order of the Garter, allegedly as a result of an incident when a lady, with whom he was dancing at a court ball, dropped an item of intimate apparel (possibly a sanitary belt, though sources describe it as being made of velvet). Gallantly picking it up to assuage her embarrassment, Edward tied it around his own leg, and remarked Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame on him who thinks evil of it'), which became the motto of the Order of the Garter. The woman in the case is known only as the "Countess of Salisbury". Some say it was Edward's daughter-in-law, Joan of Kent, but a more likely candidate is Joan's mother-in-law from her first marriage.

Despite having an unusually happy marriage, and producing thirteen children with Philippa, Edward was a notorious womaniser. After Philippa's death in 1369, Edward's mistress, Alice Perrers, became a byword for corruption.

Facing a resurgent French monarchy and losses in France, Edward asked parliament to grant him more funds by taxing the wine and wool trades, but this was badly received in 1374-1375 as a new outbreak of bubonic plague struck. The "Good Parliament" of 1376 criticised Edward's councillors, including Alice Perrers' family, and advised him to limit his ambitions to suit his revenues.

Edward died of a stroke in 1377 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The Prince Edward pre-deceased him in 1376, and Edward III was succeeded by his young grandson, King Richard II of England, son of Edward the Black Prince.


The sons and the Wars of the Roses

The Wars of the Roses were a civil war over the throne of England fought among the descendants of King Edward III through his five surviving adult sons. Each branch of the family had competing claims through seniority, legitimacy, and/or the gender of their ancestors.

(1) Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376), Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales

The eldest son of Edward III predeceased his father and never became king. Edward's only surviving child was Richard II who ascended to the throne but produced no heirs. Richard II designated as his heir presumptive his cousin Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, senior heir in female line, the grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, but this succession never took place as Richard II was eventually deposed and succeeded by another of Richard's cousins: Henry IV, "Bolingbroke", who was senior heir in male line.

(2) William (16 February 1335-8 July 1335), he was buried at the cathedral by York.

(3) Lionel of Antwerp (1338-1368), Duke of Clarence

Lionel also predeceased his father. Lionel's only child, Philippa, married into the powerful Mortimer family, which as noted above had exerted enormous influence during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III, and Philippa's son Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March was the designated heir of Richard II (but predeceased him, leaving his young son Edmund as heir presumptive. Anne Mortimer, Edmund's eldest sister, Lionel of Antwerp's great-granddaughter, married Richard, Earl of Cambridge of the House of York, merging the Lionel/Mortimer line into the York line.

(4) John of Gaunt (1340-1399), Duke of Lancaster.

From John of Gaunt descended legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters (Henry IV, who deposed Richard II, and then Henry V and Henry VI). This line ended when Henry VI was successfully deposed by Edward IV, of the York faction, and Henry's son was killed. The Lancaster Kings derived their ancestry also, through Blanche, wife of John Gaunt, from Edmund of Lancaster the Crouchback, who was son of Henry III of England - a legend without foundation was developed to claim that Edmund was elder than his brother Edward I but overpassed in succession of Henry III because of physical infirmity.

John of Gaunt's illegitimate heirs were the Beauforts, his descendants through his mistress (later, his wife) Katherine Swynford; Gaunt's great-granddaughter Margaret Beaufort married into the House of Tudor, producing a single child who would become Henry VII. While the Beaufort offspring had been legitimized after Gaunt's eventual marriage to Swynford, this was on the condition that they be barred from ascending the throne. Undeterred by this, upon the failure of the primary Lancastrian line, the Tudors claimed precedence to the Yorks and eventually succeeded them.

[Note: John of Gaunt also had legitimate descendants through his daughters Philippa, Queen of Portugal, the mother of King Duarte of Portugal, Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter, the mother of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter, and Queen Catalina of Castile, a grand-daughter of King Pedro I and the mother of King Juan II, but these Castilians engaged in their own wars over the Spanish succession and did not assert any claims to the English throne in the Wars of the Roses - and they all were of female line, something the Lancaster Claim avoided because they were originally secondary to certain senior female descents such as Mortimers.]

(5) Edmund of Langley (1341-1402), Duke of York.

His descendants were the Yorks. He had two sons: Edward, Duke of York, killed fighting alongside Henry V at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard, Earl of Cambridge, executed by Henry V for treason (involving a plot to place heir presumptive Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, Cambridge's brother-in-law and cousin, on the throne). As noted above, Richard had married Anne Mortimer, this giving their son and the House of York, through Lionel of Antwerp, a more senior claim than that of both the Lancasters, who were descended from a younger son than Lionel, and the Tudors, whose legitimized Beaufort ancestors had been debarred from the throne.

(6) Thomas (1347).

(7) William (24 June 1348-5 September 1348).

(8) Thomas of Woodstock (1355-1397), Duke of Gloucester.

Thomas, who was one of the Lords Appellant influential under Richard II, was murdered or executed for treason, likely by the order of Richard II; his eventual heir was his daughter Anne, who married into the Stafford family, whose heirs became the Dukes of Buckingham. Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, descended on his father's side from Thomas of Woodstock, and on his mother's side from John Beaufort, rebelled against Richard III in 1483 but failed to depose him. This failed rebellion left Henry Tudor as the Lancasters' primary candidate for the throne.

Thus, the senior Plantagenet line was ended with the death of Richard II, but not before the execution of Thomas of Woodstock for treason. The heirs presumptive through Lionel of Antwerp were passed over in favour of the powerful Henry IV, descendant of Edward III through John of Gaunt. These Lancaster Kings initially survived the treason of their Edmund of Langley (York) cousins but eventually were deposed by the merged Lionel/Edmund line in the person of Edward IV. Internecine killing among the Yorks left Richard III as King, supported and then betrayed by his cousin Buckingham the descendant of Thomas of Woodstock. Finally, the Yorks were dislodged by the remaining Lancastrian candidate, Henry VII of the House of Tudor, another descendant of John of Gaunt, who married the eldest daughter of Yorkist King Edward IV.

The daughters

See also : English monarchs family tree

External link

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Edward II of England
Isabella of France
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