Edward III (1312-1377) was king of England from 1327 to 1377. The Hundred Years War between England and France began during his reign.

The eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France, Edward III was born on Nov. 13, 1312, at Windsor. He was created Earl of Chester 11 days after his birth; he was made Count of Ponthieu and Montreuil on Sept. 2, 1325, and Duke of Aquitaine a week later. In October 1326 Edward was named guardian of the kingdom, and he succeeded to the throne on Jan. 25, 1327.

For the first 4 years of his reign, Edward III was a figurehead for the rule of his mother and Roger Mortimer, with a regency during his minority in the hands of Henry of Lancaster. On Jan. 24, 1328, Edward married Philippa of Hainaut, with whom he had seven sons and five daughters. Later in 1328 Edward was forced to give up all claims to Scotland by the Treaty of Northampton. This treaty caused Mortimer's unpopularity to grow. In November 1330 Edward was sufficiently strong to have Mortimer executed and to confine his mother for the rest of her life at Castle Rising.

With the government in his own hands, Edward resumed the conflict with Scotland, and by 1332 he had established Edward de Balliol on the Scottish throne. Soon Balliol was ousted, and Edward again invaded Scotland, defeating the Scots in July 1333 at Halidon Hill and conquering southern Scotland and the area north of the Forth.

Edward also concerned himself with the economic interests of the country. In 1332 he encouraged Flemish weavers to come to England and teach their skills. In 1337 he prepared for war against the French, who were hoping to cut into the Flemish wool trade with England. With the support of James van Artevelde of Ghent, Edward made an alliance with Ghent, Ypres, Bruges, and Cassel, as well as a treaty with Emperor Louis V for the hiring of troops. In July 1338 Edward went to Flanders, and the following year he laid siege to Cambrai.

Conflict with France

In order to retain Flemish support, Edward took the title of king of France in January 1340, thus reviving a claim that was to last throughout the medieval period and into the reign of George III. He returned to England for supplies, and that same year the English defeated the French in the naval battle at Sluis, the traditional beginning of the Hundred Years War. Edward returned to France in 1342, landing at Brest with the aim of securing Brittany, and laid siege to Tournai.

The following year plans were made at Sainte-Madeleine for a 3-year truce, but Edward claimed that Philip VI of France broke the truce and sent an English force to sack Harfleur, Saint-Lô, and Caen. Through a flanking movement, the English were able to destroy the French army at the Battle of Crécy near Abbeville on Aug. 6, 1346. After a year-long blockade and siege, Calais surrendered. Lacking supplies to continue the war, Edward returned to England in 1347.

Edward's activities in France had stripped England of troops, giving King David II of Scotland an opportunity to rise in revolt. Encouraged by Philip of France, Scottish troops crossed the border, raiding as far south as the Tyne, and conducted a drive to force the English out of Scotland. This attempt was foiled at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346. David was captured and the English recovered much of southern Scotland.

While war with France continued, with a Spanish fleet fighting for France being defeated off Winchelsea in 1350, Edward devoted his attention to internal matters. He founded the Order of the Garter, the senior British order of chivalry, probably in 1348. As a result of an out break of the plague, the Statute of Laborers was enacted in 1351 in an attempt to stabilize wages. To control the Church, the Statute of Provisors was enacted the same year and that of Praemunari 2 years later.

By the mid-1350s the war with France had been resumed, but the King now relied on his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, who led the English to victory at the Battle of Poitiers (Sept. 19, 1356) over King John II of France. The following year, on May 8, Edward III gained vast lands and ransom at the Treaty of Bretigny in return for a promise to abandon his claim to the French throne. This promise was not carried out, and warfare continued.

In 1362 Edward reorganized Gascony and Aquitaine in an attempt to control his French holdings. The following year a plan for the union of England and Scotland was agreed upon by King David but was defeated by the Scottish Parliament. The same period saw the rise of strong English nationalism. The use of French in the law courts ended in 1362, and the payment of Peter's Pence to the papacy was discontinued in 1366. The enactment of the Statute of Kilkenny in 1367 was an attempt to check English colonists in Ireland from adopting Irish customs.

Foreign military commitments continued. In 1367 the Black Prince was sent to help Pedro of Castile regain the throne of Spain, which had been usurped by his half brother, Henry of Trastamare, with the help of the French. Major fighting broke out in France again 2 years later as a result of English "free companies"; the Black Prince seized Limoges and killed all its inhabitants. Desultory warfare occurred in Poitou and Touraine, causing the French to burn Portsmouth in 1369 in retaliation.

Later Reign

Old before his time, Edward took a mistress, Alice Perrers, after the death of his queen in 1369. He allowed the government to be administered by John of Gaunt. He remained passive in the struggles between the barons and the Church, though he attached Church lands in 1371 to raise money for the continuation of the French war. In the struggle between the reforming members of Parliament led by the Black Prince and the Lancastrians led by Henry of Lancaster, his chief minister, Edward was almost a spectator. After the death of the Black Prince in 1376, Edward appears to have been almost deserted. He died the following year on June 21.

During the early years of his reign, Edward was an enlightened king. He made a strong effort to maintain economic ties with Flanders, and his interest in building a navy caused Parliament to call him "king of the sea." However, the military exploits of his reign in the conflict with France were of no lasting benefit to the nation. His victories were due more to superior manpower and supplies rather than to any great military or tactical skill on his part. His financial management had kept the country always in debt, and by the time of his death most of the fruits of his victories had vanished, especially with the loss of Aquitaine in 1374. During the last years of his reign, Edward was unable to cope with either constitutional or social crises.

Further Reading on Edward III

For the general background of the reign of Edward III see Sir James H. Ramsey, Genesis of Lancaster, 1307-1399 (2 vols., 1913), and May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959). The conflicts with Scotland are treated in E. W. M. Balfour-Melville, Edward III and David II (1954), and Ronald Nicholson, Edward III and the Scots, 1327-1335 (1965). The causes of the French conflict are treated in Henry Stephen Lucas, The Low Countries and the Hundred Years' War, 1326-1347 (1929). For the war itself see Edouard Perroy, The Hundred Years War (1945; trans. 1951); Alfred H. Burne's more detailed The Crécy War (1955); and H. J. Hewitt, The Black Prince's Expedition of 1355-1357 (1958). Foreign relations are dealt with in P. E. Russell, The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal in the Time of Edward III and Richard II (1955); religious matters in William Abel Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century (1955); legal development in B. Wilkinson, The Chancery under Edward III (1929); and economic matters in George Unwin, ed., Finance and Trade under Edward III (1918). For information on the last years of Edward's life see F. George Kay's account of Edward's mistress, Lady of the Sun: The Life and Times of Alice Perrers (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Bevan, Bryan, Edward III: monarch of chivalry, London: Rubicon Press, 1992.

Packe, Michael St. John, King Edward III, London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.