Posted by: secretperson | February 25, 2008

Edward III’s Round Table

I have just watched a Time Team special on Channel 4 on Edward III’s Round Table. Following recent criticism of English Nationalists history knowledge I have decided to try and add more history posts, to prove we are not ignorant and hopefully to educate on some of the less well known aspects of English history.

Edward III came to power in 1327, overthrowing his regent and his mother’s lover Roger Mortimer in 1330. Mortimer had previously deposed and probably murdered Edward’s father Edward II. He would go on to rule for 50 years. No monarch would match that until George III (1760-1820). That time saw constant war with Scotland and France, and this opposition led to a revival in English national identity.

The programme was based around the Round Table. Taking inspiration from King Arthur, seemingly a real figure to those at the time, and the heroic myths surrounding him, Edward established a chivalric order of 300 knights. To incorporate them he set about building a round building, containing a round table 200ft in diameter. Time Team found evidence of that building, under Windsor castle in 2006 and this programme reviewed it.

The impressive project was never finished, although extensive building orders exist for the start of its construction. It was abandoned as Edward, at the command of (an English) parliament headed off to war with France. This would continue for generations and be known lateras the Hundred Years War. Following victory at Crecy in 1346, Edward humbled the seemingly great French. He returned triumphant, having put a poor and militarily weak England at the start of his reign firmly on the map as a European power.

On his return the Order of the Round Table was abandoned for the new Order of the Garter. This was rather smaller and more elite, admitting just 24 members, and continues to this day in the same form. The motto chosen was the Royal Family’s ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Evil be to those who think bad of it) and the patron saint who’s cross forms the Order’s symbol? None other than Saint George, who would go on to become England’s patron saint. In times when King and Country were so closely linked, this can be seen as the first official adoption of our saint.

As well as success in war, there were other important events in the time of Edward. The Black Death struck England three times, and even the King himself lost a daughter. The shortage of labour and the resulting wage increases changed the position of the poor dramatically, and would lead to the Peasant’s revolt early in the reign of Edward’s successor Richard II.

The English parliament in this time developed as Edward needed tax money for his campaigns in France and Scotland, and parliament had the power to grant taxes, but demanded concessions in return. The Commons in particular grew in power, a merchant class was evolving, not to rival the power of the nobles but important in its own way. The office of Speaker, in the news recently, was created too at this time.

Both the law courts and parliament started to use the English language at this time. But don’t be mistaken Edward claimed the Kingdom of France through his mother and probably spoke Norman French as a first tongue. However in order to forge the national unity necessary for war an encouragement of English happened that started an unstoppable rise. One of middle English’s most famous authors, Geoffrey Chaucer worked on his vernacular compositions. His wife was a lady in waiting to Edward’s queen Philippa. The English language was no longer just for the peasants.

Unfortunately Edward weakened in his old age, and much of France was retaken. (We kept Calais for the cheap wine). However the England he left was in a much healthier state than he had found it. Edward had many sons, and there descendents would go on to fight the Wars of the Roses. It is claimed that as many as 80% of people of English origin could be descended from Edward III.

All in all a fascinating time in English history. I can recommend to you all Ian Mortimer’s Edward III – the Perfect King. But if you want more know I suppose you could use wikipedia.

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