King Edward III - Part 2
Although Edward III committed very large armies to the Scottish campaigns, by 1337 the vast majority of Scotland had been recovered by the forces of David II, leaving only a few castles such as Edinburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling in Plantagenet possession. These installations were not enough to impose Edward's rule and by 1338/9 Edward had moved from a policy of conquest to one of containment.
By this time, Edward faced military problems on two fronts; the challenge from the French monarchy was also of great concern. The French represented a problem in three areas: first, they provided constant support to the Scottish through the Scottish-French alliance. Philip VI protected David II in exile, and supported Scottish raids in Northern England. Secondly, 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 trying to find 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 year 1346, Edward invaded France and this particular campaign culminated in a famous victory at Crécy (Right) which took place on 26 August when a much larger French force led by King Philip VI was easily defeated by an army of professional English soldiers and Welsh longbowmen. In the course of this battle, the only English casualties were 42 dead and a few dozen Welsh infantry were also killed but on the French side, 10,000 was the death toll. During the battle, the French knights, protected by mail reinforced with plate, had been almost exhausted by having to charge several miles into the fray and having to walk through a quagmire of mud before ascending a shallow hill into English and Welsh arrow storms. Accordingly, they were easily cut down. The result was that much of the French nobility died, perhaps even a third (estimates of the actual numbers in each army vary considerably, depending on the source).
Above right: Vintage engraving showing depicting the Battle of Crecy with the castle of Broc in the distance from the Chronicles of Jean Froissart.
Probably the most important figure in Edward's French campaign was his son Edward, the Black Prince - Prince of Wales. He was apparently known as the Black Prince purely because of the black armour which he liked to wear into battle. The Black Prince had been knighted by his father at the age of 16 in 1346 and he fought bravely at Crécy where he killed the King of Bohemia taking the Kings emblem of three feathers and the motto Ich Dien (I Serve) as his own. In 1346, the Black Prince once again led the English to another resounding victory at the Battle of Poitiers where a relatively small English army numbering no more than 8000 were able to defeat a French force of 50,000. During the course of this battle, many of the French nobility were killed and the French king Jean II was captured. This was really the point at which the English fortunes in France were at their highest peak. Unfortunately, King Edward and his leaders were not able to translate military victories into a more lasting power and English fortunes in France declined from that time onwards. Under the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, Jean II was returned to France after being captive in England for four years. The ransom for his release was 3 million gold crowns. At this point Edward renounced his claim to the French throne and the French recognised English rights in Calais, Gascony and Poitou. Over the next two decades, the French were to win back many of these lands and ironically, the great warrior King Edward III was to possess less land in France at his death than he had had at his accession to the throne in spite of the great and heroic victories which had been fought and won on French soil!
Above left: The Tomb of Edward the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral