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Edward III. Of England

      Edward III., King of England, the eldest son of Edward II. and of Isabella, was born at Windsor, November 13, 1312. He was appointed guardian of the kingdom, October 26, 1326, and received the crown February 1, 1327. On January 24, 1328, he was married to Philippa, daughter of the Count of Hainault. During his minority the government of the kingdom was intrusted to a body of guardians with Henry of Lancaster at their head, but was virtually usurped by Roger Mortimer, until the king, irritated by his arrogance, caused him to be seized at Nottingham on October 15, 1330, and conveyed to the Tower. He was executed at Tyburn on November 29.

      The overthrow of Mortimer made Edward, at the age of eighteen, a king in fact as well as in name. In person he was graceful; and his face was 'as the face of a god.' His manners were courtly and his voice winning. He was strong and active, and loved hunting, hawking, the practice of knightly exercises, and, above all, war itself. Considerable care must have been spent on his education, for he certainly spoke English as well as French, and evidently understood German. He was fearless in battle, and, though over-fond of pleasure was, until his later years, energetic in all his undertakings. Although according to modern notions his ambition is to be reckoned a grave defect in his character, it seemed in his day a kingly quality. Nor were his wars undertaken without cause, or indeed, according to the ideas of the time, without ample justification. His attempts to bring Scotland under his power were at first merely a continuation of an inherited policy that it would have been held shameful to repudiate, and later were forced upon him by the alliance between that country and France. And the French War was in the first instance provoked by the aggressions of Philip, though Edward's assumption of the title of King of France, a measure of political expediency, rendered peace impossible.

      He was liberal in his gifts, magnificent in his doings, profuse in his expenditure, and, though not boastful, inordinately ostentatious. No sense of duty beyond what was then held to become a knight influenced his conduct. Although the early glories of his reign were greeted with applause, he never won the love of his people; they groaned under the effects of his extravagance, and fled at his coming lest his officers should seize their goods. His commercial policy was enlightened, and has won him the title of the "father of English commerce" but it was mainly inspired by selfish motives, and he never scrupled to sacrifice the interests of the English merchants, to obtain a supply of money or secure an ally. In foreign politics he showed genius; his alliances were well devised and skilfully obtained, but he seems to have expected more from his allies than they were likely to do for him, for England still stood so far apart from continental affairs, that her alliance was not of much practical importance, except commercially. As a leader in war Edward could order a battle and inspire his army with his own confidence, but he could not plan a campaign; he was rash, and left too much to chance. During the first part of his reign he paid much attention to naval administration; he successfully asserted the maritime supremacy of the country, and was entitled by parliament the "king of the sea;" he neglected the navy in his later years. Little as the nation owed him in other respects, his achievements by sea and land made the English name respected.

Edward III. and the burghers of Calais.

      It is said to have been chiefly through Mortimer's influence that, on April 24, 1328, a peace was concluded between England and Scotland, the chief provisions of which were that the Scots agreed to pay the sum of £20,000, and that Edward agreed to recognize the independence of the Scotch crown.

      The treaty was very unpopular in England, and it is not surprising, therefore, that, when Edward Baliol in 1332 made his attempt to mount the Scotch throne, Edward III. gave him indirect assistance, and that after Baliol's dethronement in 1333 an invasion of Scotland was resolved on. On July 19 Edward defeated the Scots at the battle of Halidon Hill. His army was in great danger, and was hemmed in by the sea, the Tweed, the garrison of Berwick, and the Scottish host, which far outnumbered the English. On the 20th he drew up his men in four battles, placing his archers on the wings of each; all fought on foot, and he himself in the van. The English archers began the fight; the Scots fell in great numbers, and others fled, the rest charged up the hill and engaged the enemy hand to hand. They were defeated with tremendous loss; many nobles were slain, and it was commonly said in England that the war was over, for that there was not a Scot left to raise a force or lead it to battle. Edward ordered a general thanksgiving for this victory. Receiving as the result of his victory the submission of the principal Scotch nobles, he annexed the whole of Scotland south of the Forth to his own crown, and allowed Baliol to reign over the remainder as titular king. Soon after, Baliol was again a fugitive, but was again aided by Edward to mount a nominal throne.

      After a short period of peace Edward, in July, 1336, ravaged and burned Scotland as far as Aberdeen, but growing complications with France compelled him in the same year to return to England. Though he professed to have a claim, through his mother, on the French throne against Philip of Valois, that claim was left in abeyance until several acts of aggression on the part of Philip brought about a rupture between the two kings. The Count of Flanders, at Philip's instigation, had broken off commercial relations with England; French privateers were daily committing ravages on English commerce; Aquitaine was continually threatened by desultory attacks; and Philip, though he hesitated to accept the responsibility of being the first to declare war, scarcely attempted to conceal his endeavors to throw that responsibility on Edward. Edward sailed for Flanders July 16, 1338, and at Coblentz held a conference with the Emperor Louis V., at which the latter appointed him his vicar-general, and gave orders for all the princes of the Low Countries to follow him in war for the space of seven years. In 1339 Edward laid siege to Cambrai, but soon afterward raised the siege and invaded France. Philip advanced to meet him, but declined battle, and Edward concluded his first campaign without achieving anything to compensate him for its cost.

      In 1340 he defeated the French fleet before Sluys. The French fleet of one hundred and ninety galleys and great barges was superior to his in strength, for many of his ships were small. Nineteen of their ships were the biggest that had ever been seen, and grandest of all was the Christopher that had been taken from the English. Edward's fleet seems to have been "to the leeward and westward" of the enemy, and about noon he ordered his ships to sail on the starboard tack, so as to get the wind which presumably was north-east, and avoid having the sun in the faces of the archers. Then, having made their tack and got the wind, his ships entered the port and engaged just inside it. The French ships seem to have hugged the shore, and could not manœuvre, for they were lashed together in four lines. All in three of the lines were taken or sunk, the Christopher and other English ships being retaken; the fourth line escaped in the darkness, for the battle lasted into the night. The king's victory was complete, and the naval power of France was destroyed.

      Shortly after his return to England a great tournament was held by him at Windsor in memory of King Arthur. In 1346 he set sail on the expedition which resulted in the great victory of Crecy[15] and the capture of Calais. It was a strong place, and the inhabitants had done much harm to the English and Flemings by their piracies. He built a regular town before the walls, sent for a fleet to blockade the harbor, and laid siege to the town with about thirty thousand men. Meanwhile the Scots, who at Philip's instance had invaded England, were routed at Neville's Cross, Durham, on October 17, and King David was taken prisoner and confined in the Tower. In April some stores were brought into Calais by sea, and after this Edward ordered a stricter blockade; his fleet dispersed a convoy of forty-four ships laden with provisions on June 25, and the next day a letter was intercepted from the governor to the French king informing him of the starving condition of the garrison, and asking for relief. Edward sent the letter on to Philip, bidding him come to the relief of the town. In July Philip led an army toward Calais. A portion of it sent to dislodge the Flemings, who were acting with Edward at Quesnoy was defeated. He appeared at Sangatte on the 27th. He was unable to get at the English who were securely posted behind the marshes, and challenged Edward to come out to battle. It is said that Edward declared that he accepted the challenge; but it is probable that he answered more wisely. Anyway, two days later, on August 2, the French decamped. The next day the town surrendered at discretion. The garrison came forth with swords reversed, and a deputation of the townsmen with bare heads and ropes about their necks, prostrated themselves before Edward, offering him the keys of the city. He at first intended, or made as though he intended, to put the inhabitants to the sword as a punishment for their piracies, but spared them at the intercession of his queen. During the summer his army suffered much sickness, arising from lack of good water. With some few exceptions he banished the people of Calais; and sent over to England offering grants and privileges to those who would colonize the town. After agreeing to a truce for nine months, he returned home with his wife and son, and after a stormy passage, landed at Sandwich on October 12. All England was filled with the spoils of Edward's expedition, so that there was not a woman who did not wear some ornament, or have in her house fine linen or some goblet, part of the booty the king sent home from Caen or brought back from Calais.

      One more great sea-fight there was in 1349, when the Spanish fleet was defeated, and now, indeed, the English were masters of the sea. From this time Edward, as a warrior, retires somewhat into the background, his place being taken by the Prince of Wales, who in 1356 won the battle of Poitiers, and took King John prisoner. In 1359 Edward again invaded France, and in 1360 he signed the peace of Bretigny, according to which the French agreed to pay for King John a ransom of three million crowns, and Edward renounced his title to the throne of France, but retained his full sovereignty over the whole of the ancient duchy of Aquitaine, the counties of Ponthieu and Guignes, and the town of Calais. Peace was again broken in 1369 by Charles of France, and when he concluded a truce with England in 1375 all of France that remained in Edward's hands was Bayonne and Bordeaux in the south, and Calais in the north. The last years of Edward's reign form a sad and gloomy close to a career which had had a vigorous and energetic commencement, and had afterward been rendered illustrious by great achievements. His empire in France was virtually overthrown; the vast expenditure which had had such a fruitless result was sorely burdening his subjects, and awakening increasing discontent; and he himself, through the gradual decay of his mental faculties, had become a mere tool in the hands of Anne Travers, and of ministers whose only aim was their own aggrandizement. In 1367 the "Good Parliament" virtually seized the helm of the state from the hands of the king and his ministers. The Black Prince was the chief agent in urging these reforms, but his death, in the midst of the Parliament's deliberations, for a time rendered almost abortive the good work he had begun. Edward died June 21, 1377. Both in his home and foreign relations he showed considerable prudence and sagacity, and he may be allowed the merit of having endeavored as much as possible to keep on good terms with his subjects. His expeditions were planned on a scale of great magnificence, but he entered on his campaigns without any definite aim, and his splendid victories were mere isolated achievements, won partly by good fortune, but chiefly by the valor of Welsh and Irish yeomen and the skill of English archers.

      It has been observed, in regard to Edward III., by Sir James Mackintosh, that "though his victories left few lasting acquisitions, yet they surrounded the name of his country with a lustre which produced strength and safety; which perhaps also gave a loftier tone to the feelings of England, and a more vigorous activity to her faculties."

      "During a reign of fifty years," it is added, "Edward III. issued writs of summons, which are extant to this day, to assemble seventy parliaments or great councils: he thus engaged the pride and passions of the parliament and the people so deeply in support of his projects of aggrandizement, that they became his zealous and enthusiastic followers. His ambition was caught by the nation, and men of the humblest station became proud of his brilliant victories. To form and keep up this state of public temper was the mainspring of his domestic administration, and satisfactorily explains the internal tranquillity of England during the forty years of his effective reign. It was the natural consequence of so long and watchful a pursuit of popularity that most grievances were redressed as soon as felt, that parliamentary authority was yearly strengthened by exercise, and that the minds of the turbulent barons were exclusively turned toward a share in their sovereign's glory. Quiet at home was partly the fruit of fame abroad."

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