Edward III was the son of Edward II, who was deposed from the throne of England in 1327, by his Queen, Isabella (the "She-Wolf of France", as she became known), and Isabella's treasonous lover, Roger Mortimer.
To secure their rule, Isabella and Mortimer had Edward crowned forthwith and then, since he was only 14 years old, they set themselves up as regents for him. However Mortimer did little to secure his position with the young king, treating him with contempt, and continuing to use the power he and Isabella had amassed to secure for himself several noble estates.
They arranged his marriage, in 1328, to Philippa of Hainault, and she and Edward had a large family, with no less than 9 children suriviving to adulthood, well above the average for their period. His eldest son, born in 1330, was Edward Prince of Wales, who became known (later) as the Black Prince.
Shortly before his 18th birthday, Edward, with the help of a small group of trusted companions, executed a coup d'etat, and seized power. Mortimer was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and later executed, for his treasons. Isabella was also arrested, but was then simply committed to custody at Castle Rising in Norfolk. She would never regain power, but little by little her imprisonment was eased and her son listened to her counsel.
Edward sought to establish English control over Scotland by imposing a puppet-king, in the shape of Edward Balliol, son of the John whom Edward I had sought to introduce as king. In the event, Balliol's weakness, and the rise of the House of Bruce, meant that Scotland re-established its own monarchical line over the 1330s and 1340s.
At the same time, in the aftermath of the collapse of the line of Capetian kings of France, Edward claimed the French throne, as last male descendant of Philip IV. The French, however, invoked salic law, and made Philip VI their king. Thus began the Hundred Years War and in 1347 English forces captured Calais, the toe-hold on the Continent which they were not to lose until Tudor times.
By 1376 the failure, on every front, of Edward's military efforts, and the cost of them, led to a parliament which removed many of the king's advisers (as well as of his mistress, Alice Perrers). By then, however, the Black Prince was dead, and Edward was smitten with the illnesses that would kill him, and the effective government of the realm had fallen to John of Gaunt. Later in that year Edward died and, since the Black Prince had predeceased him, the kingdom fell to his grandson, Richard II.
Edward's reign is seen, by later analysts, as being notable for a number of reasons:
- That he ruled for 50 years, longer than anyone since Henry III
- That his reign saw the rise of the "middle classes" (those neither feudal peasants, nor nobles), and at the same time saw the power held by the nobility increasingly concentrated into fewer hands.
- That it was in his reign that the justices were allowed to try cases, as well as investigate them, thus establishing the fundamental level of the English common law in criminal jurisprudence
His was also the period of the establishment of the Order of the Garter, the transfer of the legal langauge in England from Law-French (which only lawyers understood) to English, thus allowing men to make their own cases before the King's judges, and the flowering in England of the ideals of chivalry (whilst war was carried on with a ruthlessness and fervour utterly alien to that idealism).
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