17. Edward III, A.D. 1327—1377
For about three years, the cruel Queen Isabel and her friends managed all the country; but as soon as her son—Edward III., who had been crowned instead of his father—understood how wicked she had been, and was strong enough to deal with her party, he made them prisoners, put the worst of them to death, and kept the queen shut up in a castle as long as she lived. He had a very good queen of his own, named Phillipa, who brought cloth-workers over from he own country Hainault (now part of Belgium), to teach the English their trade, and thus began to render England the chief country in the world for wool and cloth.
Queen Isabel, Edward's mother, had, you remember, been daughter of the King of France. All her three brothers died without leaving a son, and their cousin, whose name was Philip, began to reign in their stead. Edward, however, fancied that the crown of France properly belonged to him, in right of his mother; but he did not stir about it at once, and, perhaps, never would have done so at all, but for two things. One was, that the King of France, Philip VI., had been so foolish as to fancy that one of his lords, named Robert of Artois, had been bewitching him—by sticking pins into a wax figure and roasting it before the fire. So this Robert was driven out of France and, coming to England, stirred Edward up to go and overthrow Philip. The other was, that the English barons had grown so restless and troublesome, that they would not stay peacefully at home and mind their own estate;—but if they had not wars abroad, they always gave the king trouble at home; and Edward liked better that they should fight for him than against him. So he called himself King of France and England, and began a war which lasted—with short space of quiet— for full one hundred years, and only ended in the time of the great grandchildren of the men who entered upon it. There was one great sea-fight off Sluys, when the king sat in his ship, in a black velvet dress, and gained a great victory; but it was a good while before there was any great battle by land—so long, that the king's eldest son, Edward Prince of Wales, was sixteen years old. He is generally called the Black Prince—no one quite knows why, for his hair, like that of all these old English kings, was quite light and his eyes were blue. He was such a spirited young soldier, that when the French army under King Philip came in sight of the English one, near the village of Crecy, King Edward said he should have the honor of the day, and stood under a windmill on a his watching the fight, while the prince led the English army. He gained a very great victory, and in the evening came and knelt before his father, saying the praise was not his own but the king's, who had ordered all so wisely. Afterwards, while Philip had fled away, Edward besieged Calais, the town just opposite to Dover. The inhabitants were very brave, and held out for a long time; and while Edward was absent, the Scots under David, the son of Robert Bruce, came over the Border, and began to burn and plunder in Northumberland. However, Phillipa could be brave in time of need. She did not send for her husband, but called an army together, and the Scots were so well beaten at Neville's Cross, that their king, David himself, was obliged to give himself up to an English squire. The man would not let the queen have his prisoner, but rode day and night to Dover, and then crossed to Calais to tell the king, who bade him put King David into Queen Philippa's keeping. She came herself to the camp, just as the brave men of Calais had been starved out; and Edward had said he would only consent not to burn the town down, if six of the chief townsmen would bring him the keys of the gates, kneeling, with sackcloth on, and halters round their necks, ready to be hung. Queen Philippa wept when she saw them, and begged that they might be spared; and when the king granted them to her she had them led away, and gave each a good dinner and a fresh suit of clothes. The king, however, turned all the French people out of Calais, and filled it with English, and it remained quite an English town for more than 200 years.
King Philip VI. of France died, and his son John became king, while still the war went on. The Black Prince and John had a terrible battle at a place called Poitiers, and the English gained another victory. King John and one of his sons were made prisoners, but when they were brought to the tent where the Black Prince was to sup, he made them sit down at the table before him, and waited on them as if they had been his guests instead of his prisoners. He did all he could to prevent captivity being a pain to them; and when he brought them to London, he gave John a tall white horse to ride, and only rode a small pony himself by his side. There were two kings prisoners in the Tower of London, and they were treated as if they were visitors and friends. John was allowed to go home, provided he would pay a ransom by degrees, as he could get the money together; and, in the meantime, his two elder sons were to be kept at Calais in his stead. But they would not stay at Calais, and King John could not obtain the sum for his ransom; so, rather than cheat King Edward, he went back to his prison in England again. He died soon after; and his son Charles was a cleverer and wiser man, who knew it was better not to fight battles with the English, but made a truce, or short peace.
Prince Edward governed that part of the south of France that belonged to his father; but he went on a foolish expedition into Spain, to help a very bad king whom his subjects had driven out, and there caught an illness from which he never quite recovered. While he was ill King Charles began the war again; and, though there was no battle, he tormented the English, and took the castles and towns they held. The Black Prince tried to fight, but he was too weak and ill to do much, and was obliged to go home, and leave the government to his brother John, Duke of Lancaster. He lived about six years after he came home, and then died, to the great sorrow of everyone. His father, King Edward, was now too old and feeble to attend to the affairs of the country. Queen Philippa was dead too, and as no one took proper care of the poor old king, he fell into the hands of bad servants, who made themselves rich and neglected him. When, at length, he lay dying, they stole the ring off his finger before he had breathed his last, and left him all alone, with the doors open, till a priest came by, and stayed and prayed by him till his last moment. He had reigned exactly fifty years. You had better learn and remember the names of his sons, as you will hear more about some of them. They were Edward, Lionel, John, Edmund, and Thomas. Edward was Prince of Wales; Lionel, Duke of Clarence; John, Duke of Lancaster; Edmund, Duke of York; and Thomas, Duke of Gloucester. Edward and Lionel both died before their father. Edward had left a son named Richard; Lionel had left a daughter named Philippa.