In 1328 Edward III had claimed the French crown, but his claim was rejected. It was not forgotten. He spent most of the 1330s demonstrating to his barons that he was capable of ruling his own kingdom. He had to show that he was no longer influenced by his mother and that he was not like his father.
His first step was to punish very few of those who had rebelled against his father. Only two men were executed when Edward led the coup that won him his kingdom in 1330 – Roger Mortimer, his mother’s lover and the instigator of the rebellion, and Simon Bereford, Mortimer’s henchman. Edward had to be very careful when dealing with those who had helped to depose his father. He needed the support of his barons, many of whom had supported Isabella and Mortimer. He learned not to be vindictive and to punish only those he could not use.
Then he dealt with the humiliating and unpopular peace treaty with Scotland that had been made in his name. This was the ‘Shameful Peace’ negotiated by Queen Isabella and Mortimer in 1328. He did this by going to war against the Scots. This also served to show that he was a very good soldier. His first victory against the Scots was at Halidon Hill in 1333. This campaign was so successful that he was able to replace the Scottish king, the child, David II, with a claimant to the crown who pleased him more, despite the fact that his ten-year-old sister was married to the king. David was taken into exile in France. France and Scotland were allies and Philippe VI eagerly espoused the young king’s cause as another reason to take on and destroy Edward III.
As well as being king of England, Edward III was also duke of Aquitaine, the last remnants of the Plantagenet empire that had stretched from the border with Scotland in the north to the Pyrenees in the south and sprawled across France. His ancestors had ruled more of France than the king of France himself. All that remained of this in the 1330s was Aquitaine. Despite its diminution in size, the duchy was coveted by French kings. Most of the Atlantic ports on the French coast were in English hands. Due to its wine trade, Aquitaine was rich. In order to retain Aquitaine its duke was supposed to swear allegiance to the king of France and promise not to bear arms against him. The kings of England had never been happy about doing this and the situation had become even more difficult since Philippe had become king. Edward III could hardly pay homage to the man he later called ‘the usurper’.
Edward II had more or less banned tournaments. He did not take part himself and feared them as gathering points for those who opposed him. His son participated as much as he could and held tournaments to celebrate important occasions – the births and marriages of his children, St George’s day, victories over his enemies. He performed bravely in tournaments, demonstrating his valour to his barons. This was important, because tournaments were training grounds for soldiers.
In 1337 Philippe confiscated Gascony on the grounds that Edward III was giving refuge to his mortal enemy. Robert d’Artois was Philippe’s cousin and brother-in-law and had gone into exile in England after a quarrel with the king. Philippe demanded his return and Edward refused to comply.
By 1337 Edward III was ready to make his claim for the French crown with force and he did so, but it was really a sleight of hand designed to distract Philippe from Gascony. It wasn’t until 1340 that he began to call himself King of France. He adopted a new coat of arms, which showed the three lions of the king of England quartered with the fleur-de-lis of the king of France. The three lions have been the arms of the kings and queens of England since the late 12th century and have not changed since the reign of Richard I. Edward III was the first to add to them, but it has been done many times since.
The fleur-de-lis was first used by French kings as a symbol of saintliness on their coronation robes in the 12th century and it became part of the royal arms in the 13th century.
In 1359 Edward began a campaign in France that was designed to have him crowned king in Rheims cathedral. Although it failed to achieve its stated aim, it led to the Treaty of Brétigny, which increased the size of Aquitaine in return for Edward’s giving up his claim to the crown of France. Although his great-grandson, Henry V, took the claim seriously, eventually winning the crown for his son, Edward III was always more interested in safeguarding Aquitaine than in becoming king of France.