He was one of the most successful English monarchs of the Middle Ages. He restored royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, he went on to transform the Kingdom of England into the most efficient military power in Europe. His reign saw vital developments in legislature and government, in particular the evolution of the English parliament, as well as the ravages of the Black Death. He remained on the throne for 50 years; No English monarch had reigned for as long since Henry III, and none would again until George III.
Edward was crowned at the age of fourteen, following the deposition of his father. When seventeen years old he led a coup against his regent, Roger Mortimer, and began his personal reign. After defeating, but not subjugating, the Kingdom of Scotland, he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337, starting what would be known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks, the war went exceptionally well for England; the victories of Crécy and Poitiers led up to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny. Edward’s later years, however, were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inertia and eventual bad health.
Edward III was a temperamental man, but also capable of great clemency. He was, in most ways, a conventional king, mainly interested in warfare. Highly revered in his own time and for centuries after, Edward was denounced as an irresponsible adventurer by later Whig historians. This view has turned, and modern historiy credits him with many achievements.
On 20th January 1327, when the young Edward was fourteen years old, the king was deposed by his queen, Isabella, and her consort Roger Mortimer. Edward, now Edward III, was crowned on 1st February, and a regency was set up for him, led by Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer, the de facto ruler of England subjected the young king to constant disrespect and humiliation.
Mortimer knew his position was precarious, especially after Edward and his wife, Philippa of Hainault, had a son on 15th June 1330. Mortimer used his power to acquire a number of noble estates and titles, many of them belonging to Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel. FitzAlan, who had remained loyal to Edward II in his struggle with Isabella and Mortimer, had been executed on 17th November 1326. However Mortimer's greed and arrogance caused him to be hated by many of the other nobles. All this was not lost on the young king.
Edward II and Philippa had the following children:
Edward married Philippa of Hainault at York Minster, on 24th January 1328 and was the Queen consort of Edward III
Philippa was born in Valenciennes (then in Flanders, now France) in c.1314 and was the daughter of William I, Count of Hainaut and Jeanne of Valois, the granddaughter of Philip III of France.
Some sources describe Philippa as being of African descent. However, there is no strong evidence for this and it appears to be based on one description of her facial features by a contemporary observer, and the fact that her eldest son, Edward was known as "the Black Prince" (a nickname which is generally attributed to the colour of his armour).
She married Edward eleven months after his accession to the English throne and, unlike many of her predecessors, she did not alienate the English people by retaining her foreign retinue upon her marriage or bringing large numbers of foreigners to the English court.
Philippa accompanied Edward on his expeditions to the Kingdom of Scotland in1333 and Flanders from 1338 until 1340, where she won acclaim for her gentleness and compassion. She is also remembered by history as the tender-hearted woman, who interceded with her husband and persuaded him to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais in 1346, whom he had planned to execute as an example to the townspeople. She acted as a regent on several occasions when he was on the continent.
Philippa died on 15th August 1369
Edward and Philippa had the following children
Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, KG was born on 15th June 1330, popularly known as the Black Prince, was father to King Richard II of England. Edward, an effective military leader and popular during his life, died one year before his father on 8th June 1376 and so never ruled as king, becoming the first English Prince of Wales to suffer that fate. The throne passed instead to his son Richard, a minor, upon the death of Edward III.
Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence was born on 29th November 1338. He was so called because he was born at Antwerp, Belgium.
Betrothed when a child to Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster who died in 1363, daughter and heiress of William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster who died in 1332 They married in 1352, but before this date he had entered into possession of her great Irish inheritance. He was called Earl of Ulster from 1347.
Having been named as his father's representative in England in 1345 and again in 1346, Lionel joined an expedition into France in 1355, but his chief energies were reserved for the affairs of Ireland.
Appointed governor of that country, he landed at Dublin in 1361, and in November of the following year was created Duke of Clarence, while his father made an abortive attempt to secure for him the crown of Scotland. His efforts to secure an effective authority over his Irish lands were only moderately successful; and after holding a parliament at Kilkenny, which passed the celebrated Statute of Kilkenny in 1367, he dropped the task in disgust and returned to England.
Lionel's wife died in Dublin in 1363, leaving behind a daughter, Philippa, whose descendants would one day claim the throne for the House of York. A second marriage was arranged for Lionel with Yolande or Violante from c. 1353 - November 1386, daughter of Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Pavia who died in1378; the enormous dowry which Galeazzo promised with his daughter being exaggerated by the rumour of the time. Journeying to fetch his bride, Lionel was received in great state both in France and Italy, and was married to Violante at Milan on 28 May 1368. Some months were then spent in festivities, during which Lionel was taken ill at Alba, where he died on 7th October1368 . There was strong speculation at the time that he had been poisoned by his father-in-law, although this has never been proven.
The poet Geoffrey Chaucer was at one time a page in Lionel's household.
Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York born on 5th June1341. Like so many medieval princes, Edmund gained his identifying nickname from his birthplace: Kings Langley in Hertfordshire. At the age of twenty-one, he was created Earl of Cambridge. On 6th August 1385, Edmund was created Duke of York. He was the founder of the House of York, but it was through the marriage of his younger son, Richard, that the Yorkist faction in the Wars of the Roses made its claim on the throne.
Although marriages within the royal family and between royal families are the rule, it is interesting to note Edmund's marital ties to his older brother, John of Gaunt. Edmund's first wife was the sister of John of Gaunt's wife, and Edmund's second wife was the sister of John of Gaunt's daughter-in-law.
His first wife, Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York, was a daughter of Pedro "the Cruel" of Castile and María de Padilla.
After Isabella's death in 1392, Edmund married Joan de Holland, his second cousin (she was a granddaughter of Joan of Kent; Joan of Kent and Edmund were both descendants of Edward I. Langley and Joan produced no children.
Edmund of Langley died in his birthplace on 1st August 1402, and was buried there, in the church of the mendicant friars. His dukedom passed to his eldest son, Edward.
Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester was born on 7th January 1355 He was the fifth of the five sons of Edward III who survived to adulthood.
Thomas was born after two short-lived sons, one of whom had also been baptised Thomas. He was born at Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire. He married Eleanor de Bohun in 1376, and inherited the title Earl of Essex from his father-in-law, Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford. Woodstock's wife's younger sister, Mary de Bohun, was subsequently married to Henry "Bolingbroke," who eventually became Henry IV of England.
At the age of 22, in 1377, Woodstock was created Earl of Buckingham. In 1385 he received the title Duke of Aumale, and at about the same time was created Duke of Gloucester.
Thomas was the leader of the Lords Appellant, a group of powerful nobles whose ambition to wrest power from King Richard II of England , Thomas' nephew, culminated in a successful rebellion in 1388, which significantly weakened the king's power. Richard II managed to dispose of the Lords Appellant in 1397, and Thomas was imprisoned in Calais to await trial for treason. He was, however, murdered the same year by Nicholas Colfox, presumably on behalf of Richard II, causing an outcry amongst the nobility of England which is considered by many to have added to Richard's unpopularity.
Thomas and his wife had one son and four daughters. Following his murder his title was forfeit and did not pass to his son, Humphrey.
His eldest daughter, Anne of Gloucester, married into the powerful Stafford family, who were Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham, and four generations after Thomas, the disposition of the de Bohun estates may have been a motivating factor in the involvement of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham in plots against the crown during the period of Richard III. She later married into the Bourchier family (the Earls of Bath) and established a long American line of descendants.
Thoma sdied on 8th or 9th September 1397
Joan of England was born in February 1335. in the Tower of London. She was the favorite daughter of King Edward and Philippa. Joan, also known as Joanna. As a child she was put in the care of Marie de St Pol, wife of Aymer de Valence, who was the foundress of Pembroke College. She grew up together with her sister Isabella, her brother Edward and their cousin Joan of Kent.
At the age of two, Joan was betrothed to Frederick of Austria, son of Otto of Austria and Margaret of Hainault. At the age of five Joan travelled to Austria to be educated there. However, Edward III withdrew her due to mistreatment by the Austrian Court in 1340.
In 1345 she was betrothed to Pedro of Castile, son of Alphonso XI of Castile and Maria of Portugal. In early August of 1348 Joan left England with the blessing of her parents, and thanks to a heavily armed retinue she was, perhaps, the most protected woman of Europe in those days. It's said that her trousseau alone required an entire ship, and the travel schedule included a visit to a castle of her family in Bordeaux.
Edward III spared no expense in the preparation of Joan's journey, equipping her in the most impressive and wonderful way he could. The King loved his daughter, but it's very likely that he also wanted to make a display of prowess and wealth toward his allies in Castile.
The fleet that carried the Princess and her retinue consisted of four English ships, which departed from Portsmouth and were received in Bordeaux by the awestruck mayor Raymond de Bisquale. Some say that he immediately warned Joan and her companions about the danger of the Plague, but they didn't listen and proceeded to settle in the royal castle overlooking the estuary of the Gironde.
Joan's entourage included three leading officials: Robert Bouchier, the former royal chancellor; Andrew Ullford, a diplomatic lawyer; and the cathedral priest of Bordeaux, Gerald de Podio, who was to take care of the Princess's spiritual needs. Joan also had a remarkable Castilian minstrel, Gracias de Gyvill, who had been dispatched to England by Prince Pedro in order to entertain her with music and songs of the land of which she was to be Queen.
The Princess was protected by over a hundred formidable English bowmen, some of them veterans of the Battle of Crecy, and she even traveled with a luxurious portable chapel so she could enjoy Catholic services without having to use the local churches all along the way to Castile.
Joan's wedding dress was made with more than 150 meters of rakematiz, a thick imported silk, but she also had a suit of red velvet, five corsets woven with gold patterns of stars, crescents and diamonds and at least two elaborate dresses with an inbuilt corset.
As Princess Joan embarked on her journey to Castile, the Black Death had not taken hold of England yet and it is unlikely that they were aware of the dangers that laid ahead. Joan and her retinue were travelling into the centre of a tragedy the likes of which Europe had never seen, and arrows and walls would not be enough to save her.
Despite the severe outbreak that was taking place in Bordeaux, at first it did not occur to Joan and her advisors to get out of town. Very soon she watched in horror as the members of her entourage began falling sick and dying, and Robert Bouchier, the main leader of the retinue, died on 20th August of the Plague.
Joan feared for her life, and was moved probably to a small village called Loremo where she remained for some time. Sadly, they could not escape from the terrible disease and Joan was it's first victim in the camp, suffering a violent and quick attack and dying on 2nd September 1348, never reaching Castile and leaving her family in sorrow and fear.
Some say that Joan was buried in Bayonne Cathedral, and her statue, in Westminster Abbey, is on the South Side of her father's tomb.
Andrew Ullford, the diplomatic lawyer, was not affected by the Plague and very soon he took off for England, in order to inform the King what had occurred. He did so ion 1st October, and the royal family, horrified, realised the true danger of the disease that had already started to attack their kingdom.
on 15th October1348, Edward III sent a letter to King Alfonso of Castile terminating the marriage arrangements and describing the sorrow that he and his family were suffering after the sudden and tragic death of the Princess.
He described Joan as a martyred angel looking down from Heaven to protect the royal family, and concluded with traditional and formal piety:
"We have placed our trust in God and our life between his hands, where he held it closely through many dangers"
On 25th October 25, Edward III sent an expedition to Bordeaux that was supposed to find the body of Joan and bring it back for burial in London. The leader was a northern ecclesiastical lord, the bishop of Carlisle, who was overpaid by the King because of the terrible risk involved.
It is unknown what happened next. There is no record of Joan's remains being returned to England, nor any account of a funeral of any kind. Joan was taken away by the Plague and turned into a legend, and there is no doubt that her death altered European history for centuries to come.
Today very little about Joan's life and death is know, which is rather strange given how important and significant her family was.
Isabella Plantagenet, also known as Dame Isabella de Coucy was born on 16th June 1332.
Isabella was the royal couple's second child, and eldest daughter. Named after her paternal grandmother, Isabella is believed to have been her father's favorite daughter.
Born at Woodstock Palace, in Oxfordshire, she spent the first years of her life in the household of William and Elizabeth St Omer, which also included Isabella's older brother Edward and younger sister Joan. When she was 3 years old, her father attempted to arrange a marriage between Isabella and Pedro of Castile, the Castilian King's heir; however, Joan later became Pedro's chosen bride.
Described as being over-indulged, willful, and wildly extravagant, Isabella, unusually for the times, remained unmarried until the age of 33. She had previously been the subject of various betrothal proposals, however, which had failed. Eventually, she was permitted to marry Enguerrand VII, Lord of Coucy, a wealthy French lord. He was a son of Enguerrand VI, Lord of Coucy and Katharina von Habsburg.
Her husband had been brought to England in 1360 as a hostage exchanged for the freedom of John II of France, an English prisoner. They married on 27th July 1365, at Windsor Castle. Her father, Edward III, gave her a large lifetime annual income, together with expensive amounts of jewelry and lands; de Coucy was restored his family lands in Yorkshire, Lancaster, Westmorland and Cumberland, and was released as a hostage without any need for ransom.
In the November of 1365, Isabella and her husband were permitted to enter France; their first daughter, Marie, was born at the family lands at Coucy in April 1366. They later returned for a visit to England; on this occasion, Enguerrand was made Earl of Bedford on 11th May 1366, which made Isabella the Countess consort of Bedford as well as the Lady consort of Coucy. After the birth of Isabella's second daughter, Philippa, in 1367, Enguerrand and Isabella were also made Count and Countess of Soissons by Edward.
Because her husband also served the King of France as a military leader, he was frequently away from home; consequently, Isabella, though living principally with Enguerrand at Coucy, made frequent visits to her family in England. She was made a Lady of the Garter in 1376.
Isabella bore two children by her marriage to Enguerrand de Coucy:
After the accession of Richard II, Isabella's nephew, in August 1377, Enguerrand resigned all of his English ties and possessions. Isabella then died in England under mysterious circumstances, separated from her husband and eldest child. Her death was either in April 1379, or between 17th June and 5th October 1382. She was buried in Greyfriars Church, Greenwich, London.
After her death, her husband remarried, to Isabelle, daughter of John I, Duke of Lorraine and Sophie of Württemberg.
Shortly before his 18th birthday, Edward, with the help of a few trusted companions, staged a coup d'état at Nottingham castle on 19th October 1330, resulting in the arrest of both his mother Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was sent to the Tower of London, and hanged a month later. Isabella was forced into retirement at Castle Rising. With this dramatic event, the personal reign of Edward effectively began.
Edward chose to renew the military conflict with the Kingdom of Scotland in which his father and grandfather had engaged with varying success. Edward repudiated the Treaty of Northampton that had been signed during the regency, thus renewing claims of English sovereignty over Scotland and resulting in the Second War of Scottish Independence.
Intending to regain what the English had conceded, he won back control of Berwick and secured a decisive English victory at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 against the forces of the infant David II of Scotland. Edward III was now in a position to put Edward Balliol on the throne of Scotland and claim a reward of 2,000 librates of land in the southern counties - the Lothians, Roxburghshire, Berwickshire, Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and Peebleshire. Despite the victories of Dupplin and Halidon, the Bruce party soon started to recover and by the close of 1335 and the Battle of Culblean, the Plantagenet occupation was in difficulties and the Balliol party was fast losing ground.
At this time, in 1336, Edward III's brother John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall died. John of Fordun's Gesta Annalia is alone in claiming that Edward killed his brother in a quarrel at Perth.
Although Edward III committed very large armies to Scottish operations, by 1337 the vast majority of Scotland had been recovered for David II, leaving only a few castles such as Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling in Plantagenet possession. These installations were not adequate to impose Edward's rule and by 1338/9 Edward had moved from a policy of conquest to one of containment.
Edward's military problems, however, were on two fronts; the challenge from the French monarchy was of no less concern. The French represented a problem in three areas: first, they provided constant support to the Scottish through the Franco-Scottish alliance. Philip VI protected David II in exile, and supported Scottish raids in Northern England. Second, the French attacked several English coastal towns, leading to rumours in England of a full-scale invasion. Finally, the English king's possessions in France were under threat. In 1337, Philip VI confiscated the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu.
Instead of seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict by paying homage to the French king, Edward laid claim to the French crown as the only living male descendant of his deceased maternal grandfather, Philip IV. The French, however, invoked the Salic law of succession and rejected the claim, pronouncing Philip IV's nephew, Philip VI, the true heir and thereby setting the stage for the Hundred Years' War.
In the war against France, Edward built alliances and fought by proxy through minor French princes. In 1338, Louis IV named him vicar-general of the Holy Roman Empire, and promised his support. These measures, however, produced few results; the only major military gain made in this phase of the war was the English naval victory at Sluys on 24th June 1340, where 16,000 French soldiers and sailors died.
Meanwhile, the fiscal pressure on the kingdom caused by Edward's expensive alliances led to discontent at home. In response he returned unannounced on 30th November 1340. Finding the affairs of the realm in disorder, he purged the royal administration. These measures did not bring domestic stability, however, and a standoff ensued between the king and John Stratford, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Edward, at the Parliament of England of April 1341, was forced to accept severe limitations to his financial and administrative prerogatives. Yet, in October of the same year, the king repudiated this statute, and Archbishop Stratford was politically ostracised. The extraordinary circumstances of the 1341 parliament had forced the king into submission, but under normal circumstances the powers of the king in medieval England were virtually unlimited, and Edward took advantage of this.
After much inconclusive campaigning on Continental Europe, Edward decided to stage a major offensive in 1346, sailing for Normandy with a force of 15,000 men. His army sacked the city of Caen and marched across northern France. On 26th August he met the French king's forces in pitched battle at Crécy and won a decisive victory. Meanwhile, back home, the returned David II was defeated and captured at the Battle of Neville's Cross on 17th October. With his northern border pacified, Edward saw an opportunity to stage a major offensive against France and laid siege to the town of Calais. The town fell in August of 1347.
After the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV in October of 1347 his son Louis V, Duke of Bavaria negotiated with Edward to compete against the new German king Charles IV, but Edward finally decided in May 1348 not to run for the German crown.
In 1348, the Black Death struck Europe with full force, killing a third or more of England's population. This loss of manpower, and subsequently of revenues, meant a halt to major campaigning. The great landowners struggled with the shortage of manpower and the resulting inflation in labour cost. Attempting to cap wages, the king and parliament responded with the Ordinance of Labourers in1349 and the Statute of Labourers in 1351. The plague did not, however, lead to a full-scale breakdown of government and society, and recovery was remarkably swift.
In 1356, while the king was fighting in the north, his oldest son, the Black Prince, won a great victory at the Battle of Poitiers. Greatly outnumbered, the English forces not only routed the French but captured the French king, John II. After a succession of victories, the English held great possessions in France, the French king was in English custody, and the French central government had almost totally collapsed. Whether Edward's claim to the French crown originally was genuine or just a political ploy, it now seemed to be within reach. Yet a campaign in 1359, meant to complete the undertaking, was inconclusive. In 1360, therefore, Edward accepted the Treaty of Brétigny, whereby he renounced his claims to the French throne but secured his extended French possessions.
While Edward's early reign had been energetic and successful, his later years were marked by inertia, military failure and political strife. The day-to-day affairs of the state had less appeal to Edward than military campaigning, so during the 1360s Edward increasingly relied on the help of his subordinates, in particular William Wykeham. A relative upstart, Wykeham was made Lord Privy Seal in 1363 and Lord Chancellor in 1367, though due to political difficulties connected with his inexperience the Parliament forced him resign to the chancellorship in 1371.
Compounding Edward's difficulties were the deaths of his most trusted men, some from the 1361-62 recurrence of the plague. William Montacute, Edward's companion in the 1330 coup, was dead by 1344. William de Clinton, who had also been with the king at Nottingham, died in 1354. One of the earls of 1337, William de Bohun, died in 1360, and the next year Henry of Grosmont, perhaps the greatest of Edward's captains, gave in to what was probably plague. Their deaths left the majority of the magnates younger and more naturally aligned to the princes than to the king himself.
The king's second son, Lionel of Antwerp, attempted to forcefully subdue the largely autonomous Anglo-Irish lords in Ireland. The venture failed, and the only lasting mark he left were the suppressive Statutes of Kilkenny.
In France, meanwhile, the decade following the Treaty of Brétigny was one of relative tranquillity, but on 8th April 1364 John II died in captivity in England, after unsuccessfully trying to raise his own ransom at home. He was followed by the vigorous Charles V, who enlisted the help of the capable Constable Bertrand du Guesclin. In 1369, the war started anew, and Edward's younger son John of Gaunt was given the responsibility of a military campaign. The effort failed, and with the Treaty of Bruges in 1375, the great English possessions in France were reduced to only the coastal towns of Calais, Bordeaux and Bayonne.
Military failure abroad and the associated fiscal pressure of campaigning led to political discontent at home. The problems came to a head in the parliament of 1376, the so-called Good Parliament. The parliament was called to grant taxation, but the House of Commons took the opportunity to address specific grievances. In particular, criticism was directed at some of the king's closest advisers. Lord Chamberlain William Latimer and Lord Steward John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby were dismissed from their positions. Edward's mistress, Alice Perrers, who was seen to hold far too much power over the aging king, was banished from court.
Yet the real adversary of the Commons, supported by powerful men such as Wykeham and Edmund de Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, was John of Gaunt. Both the king and the Black Prince were by this time incapacitated by illness, leaving Gaunt in virtual control of government. Gaunt was forced to give in to the demands of parliament, but by its next convocation, in 1377, most of the achievements of the Good Parliament were reversed.
Edward himself, however, did not have much to do with any of this; after around 1375 he played a limited role in the government. Around 29th September 1376 he fell ill with a large abscess. After a brief period of recovery in February, the king died of a stroke at Sheen on 21 June. He was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson, King Richard II of England, son of the Black Prince, since the Black Prince himself had died the previous year.
The middle years of Edward's reign was a period of significant legislative activity. Perhaps the best known piece of legislation was the Statute of Labourers of 1351, which addressed the labour shortage problem caused by the Black Death. The statute fixed wages at their pre-plague level and checked peasant mobility by asserting that lords had first claim on their men's services. In spite of concerted efforts to uphold the statute, it eventually failed due to competition among landowners for labour. The law has been described as an attempt "to legislate against the law of supply and demand", making it doomed to failure. Nevertheless, the labour shortage had created a community of interest between the smaller landowners of the House of Commons and the greater landowners of the House of Lords. The resulting attempts at suppression of the labour force angered the peasants, leading to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
The reign of Edward III coincided with the so-called Babylonian Captivity of the papacy at Avignon. During the wars with France, opposition emerged in England against perceived injustices by a papacy largely controlled by the French crown. Heavy papal taxation of the English Church was suspected to be financing the nation's enemies, while the practice of provisions, the Pope providing benefices for clerics, often non-resident aliens, caused resentment in an increasingly xenophobic English population. The statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, of 1350 and 1353 respectively, aimed to amend this by banning papal benefices, as well as limiting the power of the papal court over English subjects.The statutes did not, however, sever the ties between the king and the Pope, who were equally dependent upon each other. It was not until the Great Schism in 1378 that the English crown was able to free itself completely from the influence of Avignon.
Other legislation of importance includes the Treason Act of 1351. It was precisely the harmony of the reign that allowed a consensus on the definition of this controversial crime. Yet the most significant legal reform was probably that concerning the Justices of the Peace. This institution began before the reign of Edward III, but by 1350, the justices had been given the power not only to investigate crimes and make arrests, but also to try cases, including those of felony. With this, an enduring fixture in the administration of local English justice had been created.
Parliament as a representative institution was already well established by the time of Edward III, but the reign was nevertheless central to its development. During this period membership in the English baronage, formerly a somewhat indistinct group, became restricted to those who received a personal summons to parliament. This happened as parliament gradually developed into a bicameral institution. Yet it was not in the House of Lords, but in the House of Commons that the greatest changes took place. The widening of political power can be seen in the crisis of the Good Parliament, where the Commons for the first time, albeit with noble support, was responsible for precipitating a political crisis. In the process, both the procedure of impeachment and the office of the Speaker were created. Even though the political gains were of only temporary duration, this parliament represented a watershed in English political history.
The political influence of the Commons originally lay in its right to grant taxes. The financial demands of the Hundred Years' War were enormous, and the king and his ministers tried different methods of covering the expenses. The king had a steady income from crown lands, and could also take up substantial loans from Italian and domestic financiers. To finance warfare on Edward III's scale, however, the king had to resort to taxation of his subjects. Taxation took two primary forms: levy and customs. The levy was a grant of a proportion of all moveable property, normally a tenth for towns and a fifteenth for farmland. This could produce large sums of money, but each such levy had to be approved by parliament, and the king had to prove the necessity. The customs therefore provided a welcome supplement, as a steady and reliable source of income. An 'ancient duty' on the export of wool had existed since 1275. Edward I had tried to introduce an additional duty on wool, but this unpopular maltolt, or 'unjust exaction', was soon abandoned. Then, from 1336 onwards, a series of schemes aimed at increasing royal revenues from wool export were introduced. After some initial problems and discontent, it was agreed through the Ordinance of the Staple of 1353 that the new customs should be approved by parliament, though in reality they became permanent.
Through the steady taxation of Edward III's reign, parliament and in particular the Commons, gained political influence. A consensus emerged that in order for a tax to be just, the king had to prove its necessity, it had to be granted by the community of the realm, and it had to be to the benefit of that community. In addition to imposing taxes, parliament would also present petitions for redress of grievances to the king, most often concerning misgovernment by royal officials. This way the system was beneficial for both parties. Through this process the commons, and the community they represented, became increasingly politically aware, and the foundation was laid for the particular English brand of constitutional monarchy.
Central to Edward III's policy was reliance on the higher nobility for purposes of war and administration. While his father had regularly been in conflict with a great portion of his peerage, Edward III successfully created a spirit of camaraderie between himself and his greatest subjects.
Both Edward I and Edward II had conducted a policy of limitation, allowing the creation of few peerages during the sixty years preceding Edward III's reign. The young king reversed this policy when, in 1337, as a preparation for the imminent war, he created six new earls on the same day. At the same time, Edward expanded the ranks of the peerage upwards, by introducing the new title of duke for close relatives of the king.
Furthermore, Edward bolstered the sense of community within this group by the creation of the Order of the Garter, probably in 1348. A plan from 1344 to revive the Round Table of King Arthur never came to fruition, but the new order carried connotations from this legend by the circular shape of the garter. Polydore Vergil tells of how the young Joan of Kent, Countess of Salisbury, the king's favourite at the time, accidentally dropped her garter at a ball at Calais. King Edward responded to the ridicule of the crowd by tying the garter around his own knee with the words honi soit qui mal y pense—shame on him who thinks ill of it.
This reinforcement of the aristocracy must be seen in conjunction with the war in France, as must the emerging sense of national identity. Just like the war with Scotland had done, the fear of a French invasion helped strengthen a sense of national unity, and nationalise the aristocracy that had been largely Anglo-French since the Norman conquest. Since the time of Edward I, popular myth suggested that the French planned to extinguish the English language, and like his grandfather had done, Edward III made the most of this scare. As a result, the English language experienced a strong revival; in 1362, a statute ordered the English language to be used in law courts and, the year after, Parliament was for the first time opened in English. At the same time, the vernacular saw a revival as a literary language, through the works of William Langland, John Gower and especially Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Yet the extent of this Anglicisation must not be exaggerated. The statute of 1362 was in fact written in the French language and had little immediate effect, and parliament was opened in that language as late as 1377. The Order of the Garter, though a distinctly English institution, included also foreign members such as the John V, Duke of Brittany and Sir Robert of Namur. Edward III, himself bilingual, viewed himself as legitimate king of both England and France, and could not show preferential treatment for one part of his domains over another.
Edward III enjoyed unprecedented popularity in his own lifetime, and even the troubles of his later reign were never blamed directly on the king himself.