97 Above all Princes of his Age

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. 

97 Above all Princes of his Age


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 Nottingham as it was 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

Edward IIIBishop 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

The Victorians

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















9 thoughts on “97 Above all Princes of his Age

  1. Hi Rob…fab idea, you are really far too nice! I of course could have no possible objection…only problem might be that I’d get ordinary donators mixed up with the competition guys.. So when people donate and want to be entered they should point ‘coins’ into the message.., how would that sound ?

  2. OK, so it’s to run through July and August, then. You mentioned “ordinary donors” and “competition guys”. What’s the competition? Guess I’m too far behind. I just started in with Episode 89, but now that I listen to you on the go, I’m catching up rapidly! BTW, congrats in advance on your upcoming 100th episode!
    Re. the new coin giveaway- I could make one “first place” drawing and that person will get to pick which of the two prizes he or she prefers. Then the “second place” winner will get the remaining prize.
    OR… would you like the “first prize” (first choice) drawing to be for the donors, and then the remaining “second prize” (second choice) drawing could be drawn from July & August’s commenters?

  3. Ooh, actually competition was just..well me not thinking…don’t need a competition… and your first suggestion sounds great! It’s very nice of you again.
    So the plan is that I keep stumm?

  4. No, no need to “keep stumm”. (I had to look that one up.) Announce it as you see fit. I will launch the Collectors Universe threads soon.
    So we will go with my first suggestion, as you say. This means it will be for donors only. Two drawings. First place winner gets to pick one of the two prizes, and the second place winner gets the prize that’s left.
    I’ll just need donor names from you by the end of August, and the email addresses of the two winners so I can get their snailmails for shipping.
    I just gave away a 1789 gold half-guinea on Collectors Universe, as it happens:
    But that was a special circumstance, to thank MY donors who are sending me to your Green & Pleasant Land to dig in the dirt for buried goodies. I should be in England November 2-9, and I understand it is neither terribly green or pleasant then. I expect I shall have a damp and muddy time of it, in fact. But if I can pop some medieval silver pennies and Roman denarii and maybe a Cunobelin stater out of that mud, all of the physical discomfort will be quickly forgotten!

  5. Although I have only recently begun listening to your podcast, I enjoy it very much–especially while doing tedious data cleaning (I try to iron as little as possible). Since I do a lot of tedious data analysis, I have listened to more than 80 episodes in two to three weeks. Very interesting.
    I am also fond of both audible and traditional books. As a non-historian, I am unsure if historical fiction is considered rubbish, but you did recommend Bernard Cornwell’s and Ellis Peters’ books, so perhaps it is okay. The (mainly medieval) mysteries by PC Doherty (who also writes under various other names) are really excellent reads and tend to fix the historical events in my mind better than reading non-fiction tracts on battles and political machinations. When I have done (albeit scant) research into the various events, the sources have supported the fundamental events in the books or he has noted the deviations in the postscript. These books are sometimes difficult to find but are worth the search.
    Thanks for making my dissertation work easier and cramming my brain and those of my family full of history.

  6. Hi Rob – you must let me know where you are when you come over…and yes, brown and a bit grubby is what you’ll be looking at in November!
    Anyway, fab news – let me know when you launch it!

  7. Hi, um, M! In my humble opinion, as long as we don’t forget that historical fiction’s primary aim is to tell a good story, it definitely has a place – the freedom to speculate about motives and fill in gaps…
    Anyway, glad you are enjoying it, and good luck with the dissertation.

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