King Edward III's 50-year reign was, for the most part, an incredibly successful one.
He was a strong monarch, graced with an air of grandeur that extended to most of his actions. Remembered for the founding of the Order of the Garter, the Hundred Year War and the Black Death, Edward's long reign saw him change from an energetic and charismatic young king to a sadly feeble old man controlled by his mistress.
King Edward III's Rise to Power
Edward III was born in 1312, the son of King Edward II and Isabella of France. As a young teenager, he travelled to France with his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, where they plotted to overthrow his father. It was here that his marriage to Philippa of Hainault was arranged in exchange for armed aid in deposing Edward II.
When the party returned to England with their army in 1326, Edward II was indeed forced to flee and was later killed in 1327.
For the first few years of his reign, it was his mother, Isabella, and Roger Mortimer who ruled in his name. Edward felt a great deal of guilt for helping overthrow his father; in 1330, he had Mortimer arrested for assuming royal power and sentenced him to death without a trial. Isabella was pardoned but was essentially put under house arrest at Castle Rising in Norfolk – she was stripped of her power but allowed to live comfortably.
One of the recurrent themes that shaped Edward's reign was the Second Scottish War of Independence.
Like the English kings before him, Edward III wanted power over Scotland. In 1328, under the regency of Isabella and Mortimer, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton had been signed. The treaty declared peace between the warring countries and ended the First War of Scottish Independence.
But now, Edward III rejected the treaty and backed Edward Balliol's fight for the Scottish crown. They secured a number of victories, but David II, Robert the Bruce's son, had won back much of Scotland by 1337. Later, whilst Edward was busy fighting France, David II took the opportunity to attack England. Unsuccessful, he ended up being taken prisoner for 11 years.
In the middle of Edward III's reign, Europe was ravaged by the Black Plague, a disease that killed a huge percentage of Europe's population. Under Edward's rule, wealth had spread across the country thanks to the export of wool and England had prospered. But the Black Death reached England in 1348 and its spread devastated the country. Many, including three of Edward's children, Joan, Thomas and William, lost their lives to the disease. In an attempt to curb the social and economic upheaval that followed, Parliament introduced the Statute of Laborers in 1351 to fix prices and wages.
Perhaps one of the biggest focuses of Edward III's reign, however, was England's war with France.
The Hundred Year War
By 1340, the French Capetian dynasty was all out of male heirs and, under Salic law, females weren't eligible to inherit. King Edward III was actually related to the French royal family: his mother, Isabella of France, was the daughter of King Phillip IV. Because of this familial tie, Edward claimed the French throne. Edward's bold move led to the beginning of the Hundred Year War, which would end up long outlasting his reign.
Edward and his son, Edward the Black Prince, arrived in France in July 1346 and began fighting the French. The English did well in and had a number of victories, including winning a naval battle at Sluys and the Battle of Crécy, scattering the French army. Edward also managed to capture Calais.
Years later, the Black Prince secured a victory against the French once again at Poitiers, where the French King John II was captured. Peace was reached in 1360, with the Treaty of Bretigny. In return for keeping the whole of Aquitaine, Edward renounced his claim to the French throne.
The peace didn't last too long though; in 1369, war was declared once more. By this point, Edward was old and feeble and sent his sons to France in his absence. This time, the war wasn't so successful for England and much of the French territory they'd gained in 1360 was lost to the French again.
The Death of King Edward III
Old age changed Edward drastically. Once incredibly able, energetic and charismatic, he became weak and senile towards the end of his time as king. His wife, Phillipa, had died in 1369 and Edward became a victim of his greedy and manipulative mistress, Alice Perrers.
His son, Edward the Black Prince, died at the age of 45 and the king spent the final year of his life in mourning. He believed the early death of his son was God's revenge for playing a part in his father's forced abdication.
On the 12th of June 1377, King Edward III died of a stroke, his mistress taking the rings from his fingers before he was even cold.