Edward III (1327-1377)
Edward III, the eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France, was born in 1312. His youth was spent in his mothers court , until he was crowned at the age of 14, in 1327. Edward was dominated by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, until 1330, wen Mortimer was executed and Isabella was exiled from court. Philippa of Hainault married Edward in 1328 and bore him many children.
The Hundred Years War occupied the largest part of Edwards reign. It began in 1338-1453. The war was carried during the reign of 5 English kings. Edward III and Edward Baliol defeated David II of Scotland, and drove him into exile in 1333. The French cooperation with the Scots, French aggression in Gascony, and Edwards claim to the throne of France (through his mother Isabella, who was the sister of the king; the Capetiance failed to produce a mail heir) led to the outbreak of War. “The sea battle of Sluys (1340) gave England control of the Channel, and battle at Crecy (1346), Calais (1347), and Poitiers (1356) demonstrated English supremacy on the land. Edward, the Black Prince and eldest son of Edward III, excelled during this first phase of the war.”(24)
Throughout 1348-1350 the epidemic of a plague so called “The Black Death” swept across England and northern Europe, removing as much as half the population. This plague reached every part of England. Few than one of ten who caught the plague could survive it. If in Europe 1/3 of population died within a century , in England 1/3 of population died during two years. The whole villages disappeared. This plague continued till it died out itself. English military strength weakened considerably after the plague, gradually lost so much ground that by 1375, Edward agreed to the Treaty of Bruges, which only left England Calais, Bordeaux, and Bayonne.
Domestically, England saw many changes during Edwards reign. Parliament was divided into two Houses Lords and Commons and met regularly to finance the war. Treason was defined by statute for the first time (1352). In 1361 the office of Justice of the Peace was created. Philippa died in 1369 and the last years of Edwards reign mirrored the first; he was once again dominated by a woman, his mistress, Alice Perrers. Alice preferred one of Edwards other sons, John of Gaunt, over the Black Prince, which caused political conflict in Edwards last years.
Edward the Black Prince died one year before his father. Rafael Holinshed intimated that Edward spent his last year in grief and remorse, believing the death of his son was a punishment for usurping his fathers crown. In Chronicles of England, Holinshed wrote: “But finally the thing that most grieved him, was the loss of that most noble gentleman, his dear son Prince Edward…. But this and other mishaps that chanced to him now in his old years, might seem to come to pass for a revenge of his disobedience showed to his in usurping against him….” (25)
There is one more point about Edwards reign, concerning the English language. Edward had forbidden speaking French in his army, and by the end of the 14th century English once again began being used instead of French by ruling literate class.
Richard II (1377-99)
Richard IIs reign was fraught with crisis economic , social, political, and constitutional. He was 10 years old when his grandfather died, and the first problem the country faced was having to deal with his monitoring. A “constitutional council” was set up to “govern the king and his kingdom”. Although John of Gaunt was still the dominant figure in the royal family, neither he no his brothers were included.
The peasants revolt.
“(1381) Financing the increasingly expensive and unsuccessful war with France was a major preoccupation. At the end of Edward IIIs reign a new device, a poll tax of four pence a head, had been introduced. A similar but graduated tax followed in 1379, and in 1380 another set at one shilling a head was granted. It proved inequitable and impractical, and when the government tried to speed up collection in the spring of 1381 a popular rebellion the Peasants Revolt ensued. Although the pool tax was the spark that set it off, there were also deeper causes related to changes in the economy and to political developments.”(26) The government in practical, engendered hostility to the legal system by its policies of expanding the power of the justices of the peace at the expense of local and monorail courts. In addition, popular poor preachers spread subversive ideas with slogans such as : “When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?” (27) The Peasants revolt began in Essex and Kent. Widespread outbreaks occurred the southeast of England, taking the form of assault on tax collectors, attacks on landlords and their manor houses, destruction of documentary evidence of villein status, and attacks on lawyers. Attacks on religious houses, such as that at St. Albans, were particularly severe, perhaps because they had been among the most conservative of landlords in commuting labour services.
The men of Essex and Kent moved to London to attack the kings councilors. Admitted to the city by sympathizers, they attacked John of Gaunts place of the Savoy as well as the Fleet prison. On June 14 the young king made them various promises at Mile End; on the same day they broke into the Tower and killed Sudbury, the chancellor, Hales, the treasure and other officials. On the next day Richard met the rebels again at Smithfield, and their main leader, Wat Tyler, presented their demands. But during the negotiations Tyler was attacked and slain by the mayor of London. The young king rode forward and reassured the rebels, asking them to follow him to Clerkenwell. This proved to be a turning point, and the rebels, their suppliers exhausted, began to make their way home. “Richard went back on his promises he had made saying, “Villeins you are and villeins you shall remain.”(28) In October Parliament confirmed the kings revocation of charters but demanded amnesty save for a few special offenders.
“The events of the Peasants Revolt may have given Richard an exalted idea of his own powers and prerogative as a result of his success at Smithfield, but for the rebels the gains of the rising amounted to no more than the abolition of the poll taxes.”(29) Improvement in the social position of the peasantry did occur, but not so mach as a consequence of the revolt as of changes in the economy that would have occurred anyhow.
“Religious unrest was another subversive factor under Richard II. England had been virtually free from heresy until John Wycliffe, a priest and an Oxford scholar, began his career as a religious reformer with two treaties in 1375 76. He argued that the exercise of lordship depended on grace and that therefore, a sinful man had no right to authority. Priest had even the pope himself , Wycliffe went on to argue, might not necessarily be in state of grace and thus would lack authority. Such doctrines appealed to anticlerical sentiments and brought Wycliffe into direct conflict with the church hierarchy, although he received protection from John of Gaunt. The beginning of the Great Schism in 1378 gave Wycliffe fresh opportunities to attack the papacy, and in a treaties of 1379 on the Eucharist he openly denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. He was ordered before the church court at Lambeth in 1378. In 1380 his views were condemned by a commission of theologians at Oxford, and he was forced to leave the university. At Lutterworth he continued to write voluminously until his death.”(30)
Political struggles and Richards desposition.
Soon after putting down the Peasants Revolt, Richard began to build up a court party, partly in opposition to Gaunt. A crisis was precipitated in 1386 when the king asked Parliament for a grant to meet the French treat. Parliament responded by demanding the dismissal of the kings favorites, but Richard insisted that he would not dismiss so much as a scullion in the kitchen at the request of Parliament. In the end he was forced by the impeachment of the chancellor, Michel de la Pole, to agree to the appointment of a reforming commission. Richard withdrew from London and went on a “gyration” of the country. He called his judges before him at Shrewsbury and asked them to pronounce the actions of Parliament illegal. An engagement at Radcot Bridge, at which Richards favorite, Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford was defeated settled the matter of ascendancy. In the Merciless Parliament of 1388 five lords accused the kings friends of treason under an expansive definition of the crime.
“Richard was chastened, but he began to recover his authority as early as the autumn of 1388 at the Cambridge Parliament. Declaring himself to be of age in 1389, Richard anounced that he was taking over the government. He pardoned the Lords Appellant and ruled with some moderation until 1394, when his queen Ann of Bohemia, died.”(31) After putting down a rebellion in Ireland, he was , for a time, almost popular. He began to implement his personal policy once more and rebuilt a royal party with the help of a group of young nobles. He made a 28- years truce with France and married the French kings seven-year-old daughter. He built up a household of faithful servants, including the notorious Sir John Bushy, Sir William Bagot, and Sir Henry Green. “He enlisted household troops and built a wide network of “kings knight” in the counties, distributing to them his personal budge, the White Hart.”(32)
The first sign of renewed crisis emerged in January 1397, when complaints were put forward in Parliament and their author, Thomas Haxey, was a