1902 Encyclopedia > Edward III, King of England

Edward III
King of England

EDWARD III. (1312-1377), king of England, the eldest son of Edward II. and of Isabella, was born at Windsor, November 13, 1312. He was appointed guardian of the kingdom October 26, 1326, and received the crown February 1, 1327. On the 24th January 1328 he was married to Philippa, daughter of the count of Hainault. During his minority the government of the kingdom was intrusted to a body of guardians with Henry of Lancaster at their head, but was virtually usurped by Roger Mortimer, until the king, irritated by his arrogance, caused him to be seized at Nottingham on the 15th October 1330, and conveyed to the Tower. He was executed at Tyburn on the 29th November. It is said to have been chiefly through Mortimer's influence that, on the 24th April 1328, a peace was concluded between England and Scotland, the chief provisions of which were that the Scots agreed to pay England the sum of £20,000, and that Edward agreed definitely to recognize the independence of the Scotch crown. The treaty was very unpopular in England, and it is not surprising, therefore, that, when Edward Baliol in 1332 made his attempt to mount the Scotch throne, Edward III. gave him indirect assistance, and that after Baliol's dethronement in 1333 an invasion of Scotland was resolved on. On July 19 Edward defeated the Scots at the battle of Halidon Hill, and receiving as the result of his victory the submission of the principal Scotch nobles, he annexed the whole of Scotland south of the Forth to his own crown, and allowed Baliol to reign over the remainder as titular king. Soon after, Baliol was again a fugitive, but was again aided by Edward to mount a nominal throne. After a short period of peace Edward in July 1336 ravaged and burned Scotland as far as Aberdeen, but growing complications with France compelled him in the same year to return to England. Though he professed to have a claim, through his mother, on the French throne against Philip of Valois, that claim was left in abeyance until several acts of aggression on the part of Philip brought about a rupture between the two kings. The count of Flanders, at Philip's instigation, had broken off commercial relations with England; French privateers were daily committing ravages on English commerce; Aquitaine was continually threatened by desultory attacks; and Philip, though he hesitated to accept the responsibility of being the first to declare war, scarcely attempted to conceal his endeavours to throw that responsibility on Edward. Edward sailed for Flanders July 16, 1338, and at Coblentz held a conference with the emperor Louis V., at which the latter appointed him his vicar-general, and gave orders for all the princes of the Low Countries to follow him in war for the space of seven years. In 1339 Edward laid siege to Cambrai, but soon afterwards raised the siege and invaded France. Philip advanced to meet him, but declined battle, and Edward concluded his first campaign without achieving anything to compensate him for its cost. In 1340 he defeated the French fleet before Sluys, and after landing in France laid siege to Tournai, but before he succeeded in capturing it he was induced through money difficulties to conclude a truce of nine months with France. In 1342 a truce for two years was concluded between England and Scotland, and at the end of the same year Edward again set out on an expedition against France, but at the intercession of the Pope he agreed to a truce. Shortly after his return to England a great tournament was held by him at Windsor in memory of King Arthur. In 1346 he set sail on the expedition which resulted in the great victory of Crecy and the capture of Calais; and in 1348 he again concluded a truce with France. This year and the following are darkly memorable in English annals from the outbreak of the "black death," which spread terror and desolation throughout the whole country, but on account of the reduction it made in the population, was the ultimate cause of the abolition of serfdom and villanage in England. From this time Edward as a warrior retires somewhat into the background, his place being taken by the prince of Wales (See EDWARD THE BLACK PRINCE), who in 1356 won the battle of Poitiers, and took King John prisoner. In 1359 Edward again invaded France, and in 1360 he signed the peace of Bretigny, according to which the French agreed to pay for King John a ransom of three million crowns, and Edward renounced his title to the throne of France, but retained his full sovereignty over the whole of the ancient duchy of Aquitaine, the counties of Ponthieu and Guignes, and the town of Calais. Peace was again broken in 1369 by Charles of France, and when he concluded a truce with England in 1375 all of France that remained in Edward's hands was Bayonne and Bordeaux in the south, and Calais in the north. The last years of Edward's reign form a sad and gloomy close to a career which had had a vigorous and energetic commencement, and had afterwards been rendered illustrious by great achievements. His empire in France was virtually overthrown; the vast expenditure which had had such a fruitless result was sorely burdening his subjects, and awakening increasing discontent; and he himself, through the gradual decay of his mental faculties, had become a mere tool in the hands of Alice Ferrers and of ministers whose only aim was their own aggrandizement. In 1367 the "Good Parliament" virtually seized the helm of the state from the hands of the king and his ministers. It compelled Alice Perrers to swear never to return to the king's presence, suspended the ministers Latimer and Lyons, protested against the means then adopted for raising taxes, and demanded a vigorous prosecution of the war. The Black Prince was the chief agent in urging these reforms, but his death, in the midst of the Parliament's deliberations, for a time rendered almost abortive the good work he had begun. Edward died 21st June 1377. The splendour of his reign belongs properly rather to the people than to the monarch. Both in his home and foreign relations he showed considerable prudence and sagacity, and he may be allowed the merit of having endeavoured as much as possible to keep on good terms with his subjects; but under him the progress of constitutional reform was due either to his money difficulties or to events entirely beyond his control. Although endowed with high courage and daring, there is no proof that he possessed more than average ability as a general. His expeditions were planned on a scale of great magnificence, but he entered on his campaigns without any definite aim, and his splendid victories were mere isolated achievements, won partly by good fortune, but chiefly by the valour of Welsh and Irish yeomen and the skill of English archers.

See History of Edward the Third, by W. Longman (1869); Edward III., by Rev. W. Warburton, M.A. (1876); Pearson's England in the Fourteenth Century (1876); and essay on Edward III., by E. A. Freeman (Essays, first series).

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