15 May 2018

Tuesday Talk: The Perfect King...

Edward III
Edward III
King of England: 25 January 1327 – 21 June 1377
Coronation: 1 February 1327
House: Plantagenet
Father: Edward II of England   Mother: Isabella of France
Born: 13 November 1312 at Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Died: 21 June 1377 aged 64 at Sheen Palace, Richmond
Buried at: Westminster Abbey, London

Wife: Philippa of Hainault
ChildrenEdward, the Black Prince, Isabella, Countess of Bedford, 
Joan, Lionel Duke of Clarence, John Duke of Lancaster,
Edmund Duke of York, Mary Duchess of Brittany, Margaret Countess of Pembroke, 
Thomas Duke of Gloucester.

Edward III
Edward III is noted for his military success and for restoring royal authority after the disastrous and unorthodox reign of his father, Edward II. Edward III transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe. His long reign of fifty years was the second longest in medieval England and saw vital developments in legislation and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death.

Edward III's Coronation
Edward was crowned at the age of fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover Roger Mortimer. At seventeen he led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign. After a successful campaign in Scotland he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337. This started what became known as the Hundred Years' War. Following some initial setbacks the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny, in which England made territorial gains, and Edward renounced his claim to the French throne. Edward's later years were marked by international failure and domestic strife, largely as a result of his inactivity and poor health.

He was a temperamental man but capable of unusual clemency. In many ways he was a conventional king whose main interest was warfare. Admired in his own time and for centuries after, Edward was denounced as an irresponsible adventurer by later Whig historians. This view has been challenged and modern historians credit him with significant achievements... so...

A Review (and a few thoughts) of  Ian Mortimer's The Perfect King
by Nicky Galliers

"He ordered his uncle to be beheaded; he usurped his father's throne; he started a war which lasted for more than a hundred years, and taxed his people more than any other previous king. Yet for centuries Edward III was celebrated as the most brilliant king England had ever had, and three hundred years after his death it was said that his kingship was perhaps the greatest that the world had ever known.

In this first full study of the man's character and life, Ian Mortimer shows how Edward personally provided the impetus for much of the drama of his fifty-year reign. Under him the feudal kingdom of England became a highly organised nation and experienced its longest period of domestic peace in the middle ages.

Nineteenth century historians saw in Edward the opportunity to decry a warmonger, and painted him as a self-seeking, rapacious, tax-gathering conqueror. Yet as this book shows, beneath the strong warrior king was a compassionate, conscientious and often merciful man - resolute yet devoted to his wife, friends and family. He emerges as a strikingly modern figure, to whom many will be able to relate - the father of both the English nation and the English people."

There are few historians like Ian Mortimer. The average history tome is dry and sterile and based on a range of facts selected to illustrate a point. They push kings and princes around like chess pieces on a board, and we are told that so-and-so did something because of some political ideal or expectation or every action is twisted around a tinted veil of bias.

Mortimer isn't like that. Mortimer gets under the skin of the people he writes about, he understands them, knows they were human with human failings, wants and desires, are shades of grey and are never wholly good or evil. So when he turned his hand to Edward III, the Perfect King of the title, he wrote a compelling narrative history that can move you to tears.

Edward III has not come to us with a glittering story. There is no Edward III society and novels about him are thin on the ground. This is the first reason Mortimer's book, therefore, ought to be required reading. He finds an Edward in the scrolls and chronicles and wardrobe accounts who is larger than life, who is so charismatic that his followers competed among themselves to serve him; a man who knew his worth, and knew when to let others lead; whose personal acts of heroism stand out in an era of great feats of arms. Who had fun and enjoyed dressing up and larking around.

He explores the stories that surround Edward and uses facts and evidence to assess their validity and examines factual accounts as well as chronicles to gain insight untainted by emotion. He quashes some of the most lurid through revealing the total lack of evidence to support them.

And that is the second reason this book should be required reading for all historians and history students, and writers of historical fiction. Evidence. No other historian writing today can examine evidence with the same objectivity as Ian Mortimer.

I was taught by my A Level history teacher how to assess evidence objectively. Mortimer is of the same mould as that A Level teacher. He looks at evidence and sees what is there, not what he thinks ought to be there. He sees what is written, not what he wants to be written. He doesn't constantly say 'he meant to say this or that' but 'these are the words he chose and this is what he wanted to say'. It is not a naive reading of the sources, but an unbiased one, an open-minded one. He challenges the status quo because the status quo is not supported by cold, hard fact.

But one thing this volume is not is cold. Edward leaps off every page, his personality uncovered, so this history text book does what no other has ever done - it can make you cry. You can feel poignant sympathy for the king who lost the love of his life in his loyal queen, Philippa, and you feel affronted that this remarkable man was so poorly treated in his old age by those who enjoyed the peace he had shed blood for.

The Perfect King is an exceptional piece of research into the life of a medieval personality and an exceptional tutorial in how to approach history as a subject, how to research and how to interpret what you find.

In short, The Perfect King is a Perfect History.

© Nicky Galliers

Nicky at Crécy
Buy the book
AMAZON UK £9.49 (kindle)
AMAZON US $13.23 (kindle) 

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