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Edward III

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia


King Edward III of England

Portrait of Edward from Cassell's History of England, 1902

Public Domain

EDWARD III. (1312-1377), "of Windsor," king of England, eldest son of Edward II. and Isabella of France, was born at Windsor on the 13th of November 1312. In 1320 he was made earl of Chester, and in 1325 duke of Aquitaine, but he never received the title of prince of Wales. Immediately after his appointment to Aquitaine, he was sent to France to do homage to his uncle Charles IV., and remained abroad until he accompanied his mother and Mortimer in their expedition to England. To raise funds for this he was betrothed to Philippa, daughter of the count of Hainaut. On the 26th of October 1326, after the fall of Bristol, he was proclaimed warden of the kingdom .during his father's absence. On the 13th of January 1327 parliament recognized him as king, and he was crowned on the 29th of the same month.

For the next four years Isabella and Mortimer governed in his name, though nominally his guardian was Henry, earl of Lancaster. In the summer he took part in an abortive campaign against the Scots, and was married to Philippa at York on the 24th of January 1328. On the 15th of June 1330 his eldest child, Edward, the Black Prince, was born. Soon after, Edward made a successful effort to throw off his degrading dependence on his mother and her paramour. In October 1330 he entered Nottingham Castle by night, through a subterranean passage, and took Mortimer prisoner. On the 29th of November the execution of the favourite at Tyburn completed the young king's emancipation. Edward discreetly drew a veil over his mother's relations with Mortimer, and treated her with every respect. There is no truth in the stories that henceforth he kept her in honourable confinement, but her political influence was at an end.

Edward III.'s real reign now begins. Young, ardent and active, he strove with all his might to win back for England something of the position which it had acquired under Edward I. He bitterly resented the concession of independence to Scotland by the treaty of Northampton of 1328, and the death of Robert Bruce in 1329 gave him a chance of retrieving his position. The new king of Scots, David, who was his brother-in-law, was a mere boy, and the Scottish barons, exiled for their support of Robert Bruce, took advantage of the weakness of his rule to invade Scotland in 1332. At their head was Edward Baliol, whose victory at Dupplin Moor established him for a brief time as king of Scots. After four months Baliol was driven out by the Scots, whereupon Edward for the first time openly took up his cause. In 1333 the king won in person the battle of Halidon Hill over the Scots, but his victory did not restore Baliol to power. The Scots despised him as a puppet of the English king, and after a few years David was finally established in Scotland. During these years England gradually drifted into hostility with France. The chief cause of this was the impossible situation which resulted from Edward's position as duke of Gascony. Contributing causes were Philip's support of the Scots and Edward's alliance with the Flemish cities, which were then on bad terms with their French overlord, and the revival of Edward's claim, first made in 1328, to the French crown. War broke out in 1337, and in 1338 Edward visited Coblenz, where he made an alliance with the emperor Louis the Bavarian. In 1339 and 1340 Edward endeavoured to invade France from the north with the help of his German and Flemish allies, but the only result of his campaigns was to reduce him to bankruptcy.

In 1340, however, he took personal part in the great naval battle off Sluys, in which he absolutely destroyed the French navy. In the same year he assumed the title of king of France. At first he did this to gratify the Flemings, whose scruples in fighting their overlord, the French king, disappeared when they persuaded themselves that Edward was the rightful king of France. However, his pretensions to the French crown gradually became more important. The persistence with which he and his successors urged them made stable peace impossible for more than a century, and this made the struggle famous in history as the Hundred Years' War. Till the days of George III. every English king also called himself king of France.

Despite his victory at Sluys, Edward was so exhausted by his land campaign that he was forced before the end of 1340 to make a truce and return to England. He unfairly blamed his chief minister, Archbishop Stratford, for his financial distress, and immediately on his return vindictively attacked him. Before the truce expired a disputed succession to the duchy of Brittany gave Edward an excuse for renewing hostilities with France. In 1342 he went to Brittany and fought an indecisive campaign against the French. He was back in England in 1343. In the following years he spent much time and money in rebuilding Windsor Castle, and instituting the order of the Garter, which he did in order to fulfil a vow that he had taken to restore the Round Table of Arthur. His finances, therefore, remained embarrassed despite the comparative pause in the war, although in 1339 he had repudiated his debt to his Italian creditors, a default that brought about widespread misery in Florence.

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This article is from the 1911 edition of an encyclopedia, which is out of copyright here in the U.S. See the encyclopedia main page for disclaimer and copyright information.

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