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

Commissioning Editor: J.J. Scarisbrick

Book Editor: Robert Baldock

When it was published, W. Mark Ormrod’s long volume on an equally lengthy reign was in size shorter than only two books: Warren’s book on Henry II and J.R.S. Phillips' Edward II from the previous year, but not by much; Ormrod's book itself has more numbered pages than either of these books, but Warren's book has twenty-seven more pages of text and narrowly qualifies as the longer, while Edward II exceeds Edward III by ten pages. All of these three were to be exceeded by the 2020 release 'Henry III' by David Carpenter, and that was only the first of two volumes on that king! Edward III was published by Yale hardback in October 2011 in the UK, and January 2012 in the USA. The paperback followed in 2013. Robert Baldock is credited here as Editor, although at this time this role was transitioning to Heather McCallum, later to be Yale UK's Managing Director.

Edward III originally was 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. In 'Edward III' 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.

The cover of Edward III continues the use of a tomb effigy image, started with the Edward II book (2010), and continued with the following book on Henry IV (2016), then skipping the William the Conqueror book of 2016 for the obvious Bayeux Tapestry image, and a lovely image for the cover of the 2017 Cnut book by Matthew Paris we return to an effigy cover for Henry III in 2020 - a wise choice because there are precious few images of Henry III for cover designers to choose between. In contrast, we are fortunate to have several portraits of Edward III who is much better served by illustrators than most of early kings. Alternative candidates for the cover of Edward III might be 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). This shows the king in all his splendour, if a somewhat romanticised image of him. Alternatively, the portrait from the Hornby Castle set, held by the National Portrait Gallery was available. The effigy style of cover, though, has a long history in historical history books. The original cover of King John (1961) was of his tomb effigy and it is an image to which Yale has returned for the new 2018 paperback reissue.

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."

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 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 vivid 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 narrative describing a list of Philippa's movements around England, mostly with Edward's court, and her relationships in England and Europe. It is less of a biography and more of her role as consort. Though a welcome book, 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.