chapter
INTRODUCTION
Pages 342

To divide English history into periods is to part the waters of a continuous river; yet the crisis of 1326-7 is an important bend in the flow. The “deposition of Edward II”, says Professor McKisack, “is the great divide in our later medieval history, the greatest since 1066”.1 Previous kings might have had their setbacks, but no king since the Norman Conquest had been deposed and murdered. The English monarchy had been strong at a very early date in the history of Western Europe; and this had differentiated the evolution of the English realm from that of other states of Western Europe. The disaster that had overtaken Edward II, at the instigation of his own queen, was therefore all the more a dark shadow over the early years of his son’s reign; and “the most urgent need for Edward II’s successor was the need at all costs to prevent a recurrence of the disaster of 1326-7”.2 A warrior by inclination, deeply imbued with the chivalric ideas of his age, Edward III was likely from the first, when he had overthrown the tyranny of Roger Mortimer and Isabella, to look to a policy of war abroad which should “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels”. The success of this policy depended on the maintenance of harmony at home with politically powerful elements and the reconciliation of former opponents or their sons. Here again, the needs of policy chimed in with the inclinations of the king. Affable and courteous to all, seldom giving way to anger, he felt no temptation to disgrace himself by shunning the company of his nobles for that of lowborn companions, such as “singers, actors, grooms, sailors, and others of this kind, artists and mechanics”.3 Edward’s only quarrel with leading magnates, that with John Stratford, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1340-1, ended in complete reconciliation; and it was a fitting symbol of his general policy that the descendants of two of the greatest rivals of his father’s reign, Hugh le Despenser and Roger Mortimer, served side by side in the Crécy campaign as brothers in arms along with the flower of the English baronage.4