Edward III of England

Edward III
By the Grace of God, King of England
and France and Lord of Ireland
Reign January 25, 1327 - June 21, 1377
Coronation February 1, 1327
Queen Philippa of Hainault
(c. 1314-1369)
Issue Edward, the Black Prince
Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke
of Clarence
John of Gaunt, 1st Duke
of Lancaster
Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke
of York
Thomas of Woodstock
Royal House Plantagenet
Father Edward II (1284-1327)
Mother Isabella of France (c.1295-1358)
Born November 13, 1312
Windsor Castle
Died June 21, 1377
Sheen Palace
Buried Westminster

Edward III (13 November 131221 June 1377) was one of the most successful English kings of medieval times. His fifty-year reign began when his father, Edward II of England, was deposed on 25 January 1327, and lasted until 1377. Among his immediate predecessors, only Henry III ruled as long, and it would be over 400 years before another monarch would occupy the throne for that duration.[1] Edward's reign was marked by an expansion of English territory through wars in Scotland and France. Edward's parentage and his prodigious offspring provided the basis for two lengthy and significant events in European and British history, the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses, respectively.

Early reign

Edward III was crowned on 1 February 1327, at the age of 14, and married Philippa of Hainault on 24 January 1328. The couple produced thirteen children, including five sons who reached maturity. Their eldest son and Edward's heir apparent, Edward the Black Prince (so called because he wore a black suit of armor) was born in 1330 and was a famed military leader. In the same year as Edward's marriage, his uncle Charles IV of France died without male heirs. Charles' brothers had also died without male heirs. Charles' sister, Isabella, was Edward's mother, making Edward the senior surviving male descendant of King Philip IV (Charles' and Isabella's father) and giving Edward a strong claim to the French throne. At the time Edward's younger brother John, Earl of Cornwall, was the only other living male descendant of Philip IV.[2]

Edward's accession to the English throne was of questionable legality as his father, Edward II, was still alive at the time and was deposed in order for Edward to become king. There is still a debate today whether anyone had the authority to depose him. As Edward was still a teenager at the time the main actors were his mother Isabella of France and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who proceeded to rule the country in Edward III's name.

In 1330, the seventeen-year old Edward seized control over the English court, overthrowing Mortimer, who was executed, and removing Isabella from power.

The reign of Edward III was marked by continued war with Scotland, but much more by the war with France. His first major military success was the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, which he won in support of his puppet, the new Scottish king, Edward Balliol, and to the detriment of his own brother-in-law David II of Scotland, the Bruce, claimant and husband of Edward's sister Joan of the Tower, princess of England.

The Hundred Years' War

Edward's claim to the French throne was contested by French nobles who invoked Salic law, which held that the royal succession could not pass through a female line (such as Edward's mother Isabella, or Queen Joan II of Navarre). The French nobles therefore asserted that the legitimate king of France was Philip VI, Edward's cousin and heir to Charles of Valois, a younger son of Philip III.

English Royalty
House of Plantagenet

Henry II
   William, Count of Poitiers
   Henry the Young King
   Richard I
   Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany
   King John
   Matilda of England
   Leonora of England
   Joan of England
Richard I
   Henry III
   Richard, Earl of Cornwall
   Joan of England
   Isabella of England
   Eleanor of England
Henry III
   Edward I
   Margaret of England
   Beatrice of England
   Edmund, Earl of Lancaster
Edward I
   Joan of England, Countess of Gloucester
   Alphonso, Earl of Chester
   Edward II
   Thomas, Earl of Norfolk
   Edmund, Earl of Kent
Edward II
   Edward III
   John, Earl of Cornwall
   Eleanor of England
   Joan of England
Edward III
   Edward, Prince of Wales
   Lionel, Duke of Clarence
   John, Duke of Lancaster
   Edmund, Duke of York
   Thomas, Duke of Gloucester
   Joan of England
   Isabella of England
    Richard II
    Philippa, Countess of Ulster
    Philippa of Lancaster
    Elizabeth of Lancaster
    Henry IV
    Catherine of Lancaster
    Edward, Duke of York
    Richard, Earl of Cambridge
    Constance of York
    Anne of Gloucester
Richard II

Edward concluded an alliance with Emperor Louis IV in July 1337, declared war on Philip VI and finally declared himself king of France on January 26, 1340. The conflict thus commenced eventually became known as the Hundred Years' War, continuing sporadically up to the 1450s. In 1346, Edward defeated the French at the Battle of Crecy, accompanied in this campaign by his sixteen year old son, the Black Prince.

The Black Prince commanded England's victorious army at the Battle of Poitiers, in 1356. The first phase of the Hundred Years' War was concluded in 1360 with the Treaty of Brétigny, marking the height of English influence in France and providing a three million crown ransom for the release of the captured French king, John II.

While these victories were eventually reversed, and then won and lost again in the resulting generations of war, English and, later, British monarchs would continue to claim the title "King of France" until the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Edward III quartered his coat of arms with "France Ancient", the Azure semé-de-lis (a blue shield with a tight pattern of small golden fleur de lis of the French royal house), and it remained a part of the English Coat of Arms until removed by George III.

Domestic events and personal life

Edward III depicted in Cassell's History of England (1902)
Edward III depicted in Cassell's History of England (1902)

While the king and the prince campaigned abroad, the government was left largely in the hands of the prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt. Economic prosperity from the developing wool trade created new wealth in the kingdom, but the ravages of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, had a significant impact on the lives of his subjects. Commercial taxes became a major source of royal revenue, which had previously been largely from taxes on land. The Parliament of England became divided into two houses. At the beginning of Edward's reign, French was still the language of the English noblesse, following the Norman invasion, but by the end this had changed - in 1362 English was made the official language of the law courts.

The king also founded an order of knighthood, the Order of the Garter, allegedly as a result of an incident when a lady, with whom he was dancing at a court ball, dropped an item of intimate apparel (possibly a sanitary belt, though sources describe it as being made of velvet). Gallantly picking it up to assuage her embarrassment, Edward tied it around his own leg, and remarked Honi soit qui mal y pense ('Shame on him who thinks evil of it'), which became the motto of the Order of the Garter. The woman in the incident is known only as the "Countess of Salisbury". Some say it was Edward's daughter-in-law, Joan of Kent, but a more likely candidate is Joan's mother-in-law from her first marriage. The Order of the Garter headquarters would become Windsor Castle, a castle that was largely improved upon by Edward himself. Windsor became England's premier royal residence and castle during his reign.

Despite having an unusually happy marriage, and producing thirteen children with Philippa, Edward was a notorious womaniser. After Philippa's death in 1369, Edward's mistress, Alice Perrers, became a byword for corruption.

Facing a resurgent French monarchy and losses in France, Edward asked Parliament to grant him more funds by taxing the wine and wool trades, but this was badly received in 13741375 as a new outbreak of bubonic plague struck. The "Good Parliament" of 1376 criticised Edward's councillors, including Alice Perrers' family, and advised him to limit his ambitions to suit his revenues.

Edward died of a stroke brought on by severe constipation in 1377 He was said to have been infected with gonnorhoea by Alice Perrers. Supposedly, she was there when he died and removed the rings from his fingers before fleeing. Edward was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son Edward, the Black Prince, predeceased him in 1376, and Edward III was succeeded by his young grandson, King Richard II of England, son of Edward, the Black Prince.


Edward III is "often described as the ancestor of the British upper-middle class" (Burke's Presidential Families of the USA, 1981) because he has many millions of living descendants, mostly through his sons John of Gaunt and Lionel of Antwerp.

The sons and the Wars of the Roses

Edward III and the Black Prince
Edward III and the Black Prince

The Wars of the Roses were a civil war over the throne of England fought among the descendants of King Edward III through his five surviving adult sons. Each branch of the family had competing claims through seniority, legitimacy, and/or the gender of their ancestors.

(1) Edward, the Black Prince (13301376), Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales

The eldest son of Edward III predeceased his father and never became king. Edward's only surviving child was Richard II who ascended to the throne but produced no heirs. Richard II designated as his heir presumptive his cousin Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, senior heir of the female line, the grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, but this succession never took place as Richard II was eventually deposed and succeeded by another of Richard's cousins, Henry IV, "Bolingbroke", who was senior heir of the male line.

(2) William (16 February 13378 July 1337), he was buried at York Minster.

(3) Lionel of Antwerp (13381368), Duke of Clarence

Lionel also predeceased his father. Lionel's only child, Philippa, married into the powerful Mortimer family, which as noted above had exerted enormous influence during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III. Philippa's son Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March was the designated heir of Richard II (but predeceased him, leaving his young son Edmund as heir presumptive). Anne Mortimer, Edmund's eldest sister, Lionel of Antwerp's great-granddaughter, married Richard, Earl of Cambridge of the House of York, merging the Lionel/Mortimer line into the York line.

(4) John of Gaunt (13401399), Duke of Lancaster.

From John of Gaunt descended legitimate male heirs, the Lancasters (Henry IV, who deposed Richard II, and then Henry V and Henry VI). This line ended when Henry VI was successfully deposed by Edward IV, of the York faction, and Henry's son Edward was killed. The Lancaster kings derived their ancestry also through Blanche, wife of John Gaunt, from Edmund of Lancaster the Crouchback, who was son of Henry III of England — a legend without foundation was developed claiming that Edmund was older than his brother Edward I but passed over in the succession because of physical infirmity.

John of Gaunt's illegitimate heirs were the Beauforts, his descendants through his mistress (later, his wife) Katherine Swynford. A daughter of the house, Gaunt's great-granddaughter Margaret Beaufort, married into the House of Tudor, producing a single child who would become Henry VII. While the Beaufort offspring had been legitimized after Gaunt's eventual marriage to Swynford, this was on the condition that they be barred from ascending the throne. Undeterred by this, upon the failure of the primary Lancastrian line, the Tudors claimed precedence to the Yorks and eventually succeeded them.

[Note: John of Gaunt also had legitimate descendants through his daughters Philippa, Queen of Portugal, the mother of King Duarte of Portugal; Elizabeth, Duchess of Exeter, the mother of John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter; and Queen Catalina of Castile, a grand-daughter of King Pedro I and the mother of King Juan II, but these Castilians engaged in their own wars over the Spanish succession and did not assert any claims to the English throne in the Wars of the Roses — and they all were of the female line, something the Lancaster Claim avoided because they were originally secondary to certain senior female descents such as the Mortimers.]

(5) Edmund of Langley (13411402), Duke of York.

His descendants were the Yorks. He had two sons: Edward, Duke of York, killed fighting alongside Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, and Richard, Earl of Cambridge, executed by Henry V for treason (involving a plot to place heir presumptive Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, Cambridge's brother-in-law and cousin, on the throne). As noted above, Richard had married Anne Mortimer, this giving their son (and the House of York), through Lionel of Antwerp, a more senior claim than that of both the House of Lancaster, which descended from a younger son than Lionel, and the House of Tudor, whose legitimized Beaufort ancestors had been debarred from the throne.

(6) Thomas (1347).

(7) William of Windsor (24 June 13485 September 1348).

(8) Thomas of Woodstock (13551397), Duke of Gloucester.

The Great Seal of Edward III
The Great Seal of Edward III

Thomas, who was one of the Lords Appellant influential under Richard II, was murdered or executed for treason, likely by the order of Richard II; his eventual heir was his daughter Anne, who married into the Stafford family, whose heirs became the Dukes of Buckingham. Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, descended on his father's side from Thomas of Woodstock, and on his mother's side from John Beaufort. He rebelled against Richard III in 1483 but failed to depose him. This failed rebellion left Henry Tudor as the Lancastrians' primary candidate for the throne.

Thus, the senior Plantagenet line was ended with the death of Richard II, but not before the execution of Thomas of Woodstock for treason. The heirs presumptive through Lionel of Antwerp were passed over in favour of the powerful Henry IV, descendant of Edward III through John of Gaunt. These Lancaster kings initially survived the treason of their Edmund of Langley (York) cousins but eventually were deposed by the merged Lionel/Edmund line in the person of Edward IV. Internecine killing among the Yorks left Richard III as king, supported and then betrayed by his cousin Buckingham, the descendant of Thomas of Woodstock. Finally, the Yorks were dislodged by the remaining Lancastrian candidate, Henry VII of the House of Tudor, another descendant of John of Gaunt, who married the eldest daughter of Yorkist King Edward IV.

The daughters


  1. ^ See: List_of_Kings_of_England#Plantagenets
  2. ^ Later, daughters of Louis X and Philip V produced further male issue, such as King Charles II of Navarre, Hereditary Duke Philip of Burgundy and Count Louis of Flanders)


Preceded by:
Edward II
King of England
Succeeded by:
Richard II
Lord of Ireland
Duke of Aquitaine
Title next held by
John II
Count of Ponthieu
Title next held by
Created by the Treaty of Bretigny Lord of Aquitaine
Merged with the French Crown
Preceded by:
English claimant to France
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
English claimant to France
Succeeded by:
Richard II

Monarchs of England
Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§
* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe

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