With the recent news of the forensic archaeological discovery of King Richard III‘s remains under a parking lot in the English city of Leicester, I went immediately to my tree of ancestors to see if or how we might have been related.  

Today’s Washington Post Newspaper wrote that this story has “thrilled history buffs around the world. But the news meant a winter of discontent for the rival city of York, and now the two are doing battle over the royal bones.”  And, here’s where my story of medieval rivalries picks up:

The 5th Longest Reigning King In England’s History:

  • King Edward III (a Plantagenet), reigned for 50 years, 4 months, and 25 days:
  • He was the father of my husband, Bob’s, 16th great grand aunt
  • His domination during the 14th century was a time of Medieval warfare
  • He remained on the throne longer than an average 14th century person’s life span
  • He lived 64 years, 7 months, 9 days
  • He died from a likely stroke at Windsor Castle where he was born
  • His 10-year-old grandson, Richard II, succeeded him

It was Edward’s claim to the throne that heated old flames about sovereignty between England and France and their allies that ultimately led to ‘The Hundred Years’ War–a term invented by historians to encompass a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453. The disagreement over sovereignty to the French throne dated back to 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England while remaining as Duke of Normandy. As other dukes of Normandy and other lands on the European continent had traditionally done, English kings were to pay homage to the King of France. When Edward III took the throne in 1337, he refused.  French King Philip VI retaliated and confiscated Edward’s lands in Aquitaine. Edward then declared that he, not Philip, was the rightful King of France through the right of his mother Isabella, daughter of Philip IV. Instead, the son of Philip IV’s younger brother, Charles of Valois, had been crowned king. This question of legal succession to the French crown was at the crux to the disagreements over generations.

Time Line 100 Years War

Click on image to enlarge.

The war is commonly divided into three or four phases, separated by truces:

European conflicts directly related to this argument about sovereignty were: the Breton War of Succession, the Castilian Civil War, the War of the Two Peters, and the 1383-1385 Crisis.

A portrait of King Edward III

A portrait of King Edward III

The war owes its historical significance to multiple factors. Although primarily a dynastic conflict, the war gave impetus to ideas of French and English nationalism. Militarily, it saw the introduction of weapons and tactics that supplanted the feudal armies dominated by heavy cavalry. The first standing armies in Western Europe since the time of the Western Roman Empire were introduced for the war, thus changing the role of the peasantry. For all this, as well as for its duration, it is often viewed as one of the most significant conflicts in medieval warfare. While most of the fighting took place on the continent, over time English political forces came to oppose the costly venture. In France, civil wars, deadly epidemics, famines and bandit free companies of mercenaries reduced the population by about one-half.

Family and childhood

Edward III lived from 13th November 1312 – 21st of June 1377, and was the eldest child of King Edward II and his wife, Isabella of France.

The politest word for Edward and Isabella’s marriage is “disastrous”. Known also as Edward of Carnarvon / Caernarfon after his Welsh birthplace, he married Isabella, daughter of the King of France, in 1308.

Edward II had two successive male “favorites” who were allowed to run riot with the country; Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Both were eventually killed by irate barons.

In a further twist to Edward III’s childhood harmony, Edward II was then deposed by his angry and humiliated wife, Queen Isabella, and her lover Roger Mortimer, and then died quietly in captivity, probably murdered on Isabella’s orders.

Effigy of Queen Philippa of Hainault

Accession to the throne

Thus, Edward III came to the throne at the age of 14, with the country effectively ruled by Mortimer. Edward married Phillipa of Hainault when he was 15, and she was 16, and then instituted a coup of his own when he was 17, arresting and executing Roger Mortimer, and exiling his mother, Queen Isabella.

Edward’s Reign

Despite a background which could only be described as dysfunctional, Edward and Phillipa seem to have had a happy marriage – far fewer mistresses and bastards than was common for medieval Kings. Edward’s only known mistress, Alice Perrars, entered his life when Queen Philippa was frail and terminally ill, and he had no bastard children. They had 9 children who survived to adulthood – Edward the Black Prince, Isabella, Joan, Lionel of Antwerp, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, Mary, Margaret and Thomas of Woodstock, as well as 5 others who died in childhood.Edward III’s reign was, in many ways, successful and busy. He succeeded in winning famous battles against the French, including Poitiers and Crecy, and did the traditional Scots-bashing, too.Edward also calmed things down in the country after the turmoil and rebellion of his father’s reign. One obvious bleak spot in his reign was the Black Death, which made its first appearance in the early 1350s, and killed an estimated third to half of the population, including two of King Edward’s own children.

Edward was succeeded by his grandson, King Richard II. Richard’s father, Edward the Black Prince, died before his own father.

One long-standing and unforeseen consequence of King Edward’s many surviving children was the growth of the wealthy, royal aristocracy who helped kick off the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.


‘To Claim on Not to Claim’ the Royal Plantagenet Family as Kin is the Question

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