Edward III (2011)

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A note on Edward, the Black Prince

Edward III

By W. Mark Ormrod (1957-  )

Professor, University of York

Series Editor: Robert Baldock

Ormrod’s huge volume on an equally eventful reign is in length second only to Warren’s book on Henry II, but not by much. In this title Ormrod returns to his subject of speciality to provide the definitive account of Edward III. His final chapter is a fascinating summing up of the changing views of Edward over the ages, how Edward was largely ignored in the Twentieth Century, and looks also at the few accounts of the reign that have been published.

Edward III was published by Yale hardback in October 2011 in the UK, and January 2012 in the USA. The paperback followed in 2013. While Robert Baldock is credited here as Series Editor, by the time this book saw publication the role had become less supervisory and more that of a traditional publishing editor. During 2011 this function seems to have been transferred to Heather McCallum, although for this title Robert Baldock seems to have completed the long gestation period of Edward III.

The cover of Edward III continues the rather dour style of the tomb effigy image, started with the Edward II book (2010), and continued with the following book on Henry IV (2016). Another and more attractive cover style can be seen for King Stephen (2010) and Cnut (2017). I’m sure readers would have preferred the wonderfully colourful portrait of Edward III which can be seen at Windsor Castle (or at least was in the 2012 exhibition marking his 700th anniversary of his birth) which shows the king in all his splendour, if a somewhat romanticised image of him at least it would have been a brighter cover to attract the eye in bookshelves. Alternatively, and even better, the portrait from the Hornby Castle set, held by the National Portrait Gallery. The effigy style of cover, though, has a long history. The original cover of King John (1961) was of his tomb effigy and it is an image to which Yale have returned for the new 2018 cover. At least it is an improvement of the inferior image used for the first Yale issue of King John in 1997.  

Chris Given-Wilson, reviewing the book in The English Historical Review, Volume 127, No. 526 (June 2012), put Ormrod’s book in context by showing that it is an important work, rescuing the reputation of Edward III from the low place it was given by Victorian and early-twentieth century historians. Indeed, Ormrod’s pre-eminence in studies of Edward and his work over the previous twenty-five years is specifically noted. Most impressive was his ability to “untangle the convoluted history of the financial experiments employed by the king and his ministers to pay for his wars.” Given-Wilson explains that to approach this long and complex reign the book is divided up into “chunks (corresponding, very roughly, to decades)” which he finds works well at the cost of some repetition. Ormrod is found to have placed Edward’s personality at the heart of his study “...and demonstrates forcefully how it shaped his kingship and the reign”. "This monumental work comfortably supersedes earlier biographies and will immediately establish itself as the definitive study of both the king and his reign."

Edward III was originally to be written by Professor John Le Patourel (1909-1981), of the University of Leeds, but he gave up the contract for the project in the early 1970s, necessitating the appointment of another writer. The second writer assigned to the biography was Professor A.R. Myers (1912-1980), of the University of Liverpool, who had not completed it at the time of his death. Myers was an eminent scholar of the middle ages and under the editorship of David Douglas (see William the Conqueror) wrote 'The History of England in the Late Middle Ages' (1952) for the Pelican History of England series. After his death, Professor Ormrod was approached by the English Monarchs series editor J.J. Scarisbrick in the late 1980s to attempt the work, and it took from then until 2011 to complete.

If Edward III has had few biographers in recent years, even fewer have written about his queen, Philippa of Hainault. The first attempt at a life of Philippa was by B.C. Hardy, published in 1910. Over a century passed before a second and  updated account of Philippa’s life was attempted. Reproductions of the B.C. Hardy book are available for purchase at Amazon or other online vendors such as ABE and Alibris. The book is in the public domain and a digital copy can be read online or downloaded from Archive.org here. Despite the age of the book it is essential reading for researchers delving into the mid-14th Century, and gives a wonderful portrait of Philippa's life and actions in Edward's court. Kathryn Warner has written a new biography of Philippa which was published at the end of 2019 by popular history publisher Amberley Publishing, but tends to be a list of Philippa's movements and relationships in England and Europe. It is less of a biography of her role as consort. It is a welcome biography, although the author really should have known, as an historian, that the year 1299 was not the last year of thirteenth century but the second-last. It is an understatement to say that a modern biography of Philippa was long overdue.

Yale 2011/2013

and Kindle (UK & USA)

Book Number: 28

Cover: Photograph from Edward’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.