In 1330 a group of Edward's friends gathered together at the foot of the rock on which Nottingham castle stands. They had learnt of a secret passage that led to Mortimer's private chambers, and were looking to free their lord from Mortimer's fierce grip. This week, then, the start of Edward's majority, a survey of how history has treated Edward, and a few of the Chroniclers we will talk about.
The end of Isabella and Mortimer's reign
Edward's friends snuck through Nottingham castle, captured Mortimer and Edward's majority had begun. Here are a few of the dramatis personae – worth noting, since one of the thing about Edward was the group of great captains that he gathered around him – and some of them were in this group.
There was Edward de Bohun; just 18 in 1330, and the son of the Humphrey de Bohun who had died with a spear in his bottom at Boroughbridge. He would die on campaign, but his brother William would become Earl of Northampton and one of Edward's most successful commanders
Ralph Stafford, was a knight with lands worth about £200; so not a loser, but not part of rarefied heights of the upper baronage either. His father had died when he was just 7, and most of his childhood had been spent with his mother’s relatives in the west midlands. Now he was 29 in 1330. He’d fought with Prince Edward in Scotland. He would become Earl of Stafford, and make it almost all theway through the reign.
Robert Ufford was a knight from Suffolk, 32 at this time. He’d fought alongside the Earl of Kent in Gascony, and was a banneret in the young prince’s household. He would become Earl of Suffolk.
William Clinton was another household knight. We don’t know exactly how old he was at the time, but certainly less than 30. He’d been part of the entourage that had brought Phillipa of Hainault over to England to marry the young prince. He would become Earl of Huntingdon.
A brief historiography of Edward III
Bishop Stubbs drew a parallel between Richard I and Edward III; and you can see that in other ways. Both were seen by contemporaries as the epitome of christian kingship; both later lost their reputation and became criticised as feckless war mongers and fun-havers.
The Contemporary view.
The Brut is typical; Edward was a shining example of Christian kingship:
Full gracious among all the worthy men of the world, for he passed and shone by virtue and grace given to him from God, above all his predecessors who were noble men and worthy’
The Early Modern Era
Through the 15th-18th century, Edward's reputation remained the highest, and he acquired even more praise. Ian Mortimer singles out Joshua Barnes' book 'The History of that most victorious monarch Edward III…'. Here's a quote from it:
He was of quick apprehension, judicious and skillful in nature, elegant in speech, sweet, familiar and affable in behaviour; stern to the obstinate, but calm and meek to the humble. Magnanimous and courageous above all princes of his days
And then we get the Victorians. They were not so keen – they saw history through their own lens; this was a view of history as progress towards the then modern glories. The idea that Medieval Christendom valued stability and consensus was not a a virtue in their minds. May McKisak commented on them:
‘Historians whose whole thinking has been conditioned by notions of development, evolution and progress sometimes find it hard to recognise fully or remember consistently that these meant nothing to medieval man’
So let us take Bishop William Stubbs, a wonderful historian and a great read – but very much NOT the modern historian. Here's his view of Edward III:
Edward III was not a statesman, although he possessed some of the qualifications which might have made him a successful one. He was a warrior; ambitious, unscrupulous, selfish, extravagant and ostentatious. His obligations as a king sat very lightly on him. He felt himself bound by no special duty either to maintain the theory of royal supremacy or to follow a policy which would benefit his people. Like Richard I he valued England primarily as a source of supplies, and he saw no risk in parting with prerogatives which his grandfather would never have resigned.
The Modern view
The modern view has swung back, by viewing Edward and his achievements in context. W. M Ormrod quotes George Holmes:
‘In Edward III the Plantagenet line found its happiest king. Not perhaps the greatest…, he was essentially a successful warrior, who loved fighting and was good at it.
But it's probably May McKisak who did most to rehabilitate him. Here are some quotes:
EIII succeeded, where nearly all his predecessors had failed, in winning and holding the loyalty of his people and the affection of his magnates….he raised that dynasty from unexampled depths of degradation to a place of high renown in western Christendom.
For all his failings, it remains hard to deny an element of greatest in him, a courage and magnanimity which go far to sustain the verdict of one of the older writers that he was a prince who knew his work and did it.
Read some more…
Some extra reading if you want to know more about how history has treated Edward
Ian Mortimer 'The Perfect King' pages 4-16
W.M Omrod 'The reign of Edward III' pages 197-203
May McKisak 'Edward III and the Historians', History Magazine, Volume 45 Issue 153 Pages 1-15