Thursday, 13 November 2014

13 November 1312: The Birth of Edward III

On 13 November 1312, future king Edward III was born at Windsor Castle to Edward II of England and his teenage wife, Isabella of France. Contemporaries wrote that 'on the feast of St Brice in the sixth year of the reign of our lord King Edward, second of that name after the Conquest', the firstborn son to the king and queen of England was born after four years of marriage.

Edward displaced his uncle Thomas of Brotherton as heir to the throne of England. He was only one of two sons born to King Edward and Queen Isabella (the second, John of Eltham, was born in 1316 and died in 1336). Edward would become one of England's greatest kings; in the words of historian Ian Mortimer, 'the father of the English nation'. He was, and is, renowned for his military successes and for restoring royal authority after the decisive and conflict-riven reign of his father. 

Edward II's contemporary biographer, the Vita Edwardi Secundi, commented shortly after the birth of Prince Edward that the king's reign had enjoyed only two positives: the prestigious marriage to Isabella and the birth of a prince. These years experienced factional conflict and tensions at court resulting from Edward II's close relationship with Piers Gaveston. Although historians continue to disagree about its exact nature, they generally agree that Edward courted danger through his obvious preference for the company of Piers, to the detriment of the barons at court. Piers was brutally murdered five months before the birth of Prince Edward, in June 1312, and Edward II was keen to exact revenge upon the murderers of his beloved favourite.

Above: Edward II of England and Isabella of France. The image of Edward is not contemporary.

Both the king and queen seem to have reacted with natural delight upon the birth of their son. The birth of a male heir offered the promise of a degree of stability and hope in a fractured, divided realm. On 16 November, the prince was baptised in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Windsor Castle by the cardinal-bishop of St Prisca, Arnaud Nouvel. The prince had seven godfathers: Arnaud d'Aux, bishop of Poitiers and papal envoy; John Droxford, bishop of Bath and Wells; Walter Reynolds, bishop of Worcester; Louis, count of Evreux, great-uncle of the prince; John of Brittany, earl of Richmond; Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke; and Hugh Despenser the Elder (who, of course, would be executed fourteen years later in the midst of Isabella's attempt to depose her husband). 

The French delegation had sought for the prince to be named Louis, but the English refused, and the prince was named after his father and grandfather. Contemporary chroniclers stated that Edward's birth brought some happiness to the king, who continued to grieve for Piers. The queen sent a letter to the city of London announcing the joyous news of the birth of an heir, and the city celebrated in style with dancing and drinking significant quantities of free wine for a week. Edward was raised to the earldom of Chester by his father and was granted numerous castles and manors alongside his own household. The queen was also rewarded with grants of lands in Kent, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.

In early 1327, at the age of only fourteen, Edward would accede to the throne as Edward III of England following the deposition, or abdication (there is some controversy), of his father Edward II, who may or may not have died at Berkeley Castle in September of the same year. Edward III enjoyed a glorious reign that lasted fifty years. He died in 1377, aged sixty-four, and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

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