Heritage > Rulers

Edward III, 1327-1377

Edward was born in 1312. He was married to Philippa, daughter of William III, Count of Hainault in Flanders. Their children were: Edward (the Black Prince), Isabella, Joanna, William, Lionel, John (of Gaunt), Blanche, Edmund, Mary, Margaret, William and Thomas.

The start of Edwards life was in the shadow of his mother and her lover Mortimer. They used Edward as their puppet, controlling the government and the royal revenue. They arranged humiliating treaties with France. Their reign was resisted by some of the king's uncles.

Eventually at the age of 17 and already a father, Edward was ready to assert himself, and although for many years he lived in the shadow of his father's weak and costly reign, he soon gained the respect of England by following the solid foundations set by his grand father, Edward I.

His first step in asserting his rule, was to judicially murder Mortimer, his mother's lover, by plucking him out of his mother's bed, and then have him hanged through the Act of Attainder, and confining Isabella for the rest of her life.

Edward III was a popular, chivalrous King and picked his advisers wisely. He had a keen interest in the art of war and sought glory on the battlefield. His first taste of victory came in 1333 when his armies defeated the Scots at Halidon Hill. He soon turned his attention to France, believing that he had a strong claim to the French throne through his mother Isabella. Combined with a list of other grievances against the French. Edward gained the support of his nobles and fellow countryman and declared war on France. This period of hostilities which began in 1337 between England and France, became known as the Hundred Years War. The famous naval battle of Sluys in 1340 ended in defeat for the French, giving the English control of the seas around Britain. Difficulties in raising the money to wage war prevented Edward from campaigning with his soldiers in France until 1346.

With his son the Black Prince and an army which included three thousand armoured knights and ten thousand archers, Edward invaded France. He engaged the French forces near Crecy. Outnumbering the English by three to one, the French lunged at their foe in excitement and disarray. The intelligent use of archers caused huge casualties amongst them as they attacked the English persistently. Wave after wave of Frenchmen were struck down by the hail of English arrows leading to the destruction of their army. Edward went on to lay siege to Calais but even its defeat did not mean that he could control France.

Another notable victory for the English took place at the battle of Poitiers in September 1356. Edward's eldest son, Edward of Woodstock (The Black Prince) employed similar tactics to those used at Crecy.

Using defensive ditches and hedging to conceal themselves, the English archers rained showers of arrows onto the advancing Frenchmen breaking their assault. The Prince then ordered his knights to mount their heavy war horses and complete the rout of the French army once again.

King John II of France was captured and French resistance ceased for the time being. The treaty of Bretigny gave Edward sovereignty over Aquitaine and Calais but also entailed his renunciation of the French throne. The French warrior Du Guesclin soon fought back with his armies and regained much of the French territories from the English.

During Edward's reign the Black Death struck Britain and by 1350 one third of the population had been wiped out by the disease.

It was a sad end for Edward III. He died in 1377 of senile dementia, one year after his eldest son the Black Prince. He founded the Most Noble Order of the Garter, one of Europe's oldest and most distinguished orders of chivalry. He is buried in Westminster Abbey where his death mask is kept.

The Black Prince 1330-1376

Born at the royal palace of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, in June 1330 Prince Edward, eldest son of Edward III became one of the most famous medieval warriors of all time His famous nickname, The Black Prince, probably dates from two hundred years after his death, and there seems to be no evidence that he wore the black armour that inspired the name. The predominance of black on his shield of peace however, may be the reason. See inside back cover.

He excelled in the arts of knighthood and his inspirational command of armies throughout Europe became legendary in his own lifetime. His most notable military achievement was the defeat of the French forces at Poitiers in 1356 and the capture of the French king John II.

His interest in war and its related activities dominated his life. He often staged lavish tournaments and banquets to celebrate his victories. This arrogant display of wealth drew vast amounts of money from his estates which led to disorder in some areas. He was also capable of acts of cruelty during his campaigns in Europe.

The Prince caught a disease during his time in Spain which led to his premature death at the age of forty- six. He had a special devotion to Canterbury Cathedral, where according to his wishes he was buried in 1376. His crested helmet, shield and buckler are still to be seen close to his magnificent monument shown here.

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