Claire Valente

title.none: Bothwell, Age of Edward III (Claire Valente)

identifier.other: baj9928.0209.025 02.09.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Claire Valente,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Bothwell, J. S., ed. The Age of Edward III. Woodbridge, UK: York Medieval Press, 2001. Pp. vi, 232. $75.00. ISBN: 1-903153-06-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.09.25

Bothwell, J. S., ed. The Age of Edward III. Woodbridge, UK: York Medieval Press, 2001. Pp. vi, 232. $75.00. ISBN: 1-903153-06-9.

Reviewed by:

Claire Valente

The Age of Edward III is a volume of collected papers presented at a conference at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York, in 1999. It thus contains some of the most recent scholarship, by established as well as up-and-coming scholars, on this crucial reign. Unlike some such volumes (and conferences), this one definitely has a coherent theme: the significance of the reign of Edward III for English history in general and the evaluation of Edward III's personal rulership in particular. Overall, the contributors agree that Edward III's reign witnessed important developments, particularly with regard to military service, justice, and royal use of propaganda, and that Edward himself was a successful king, deserving of his contemporary reputation. The papers are all of good quality, well-researched and well-written, if fairly narrow in their foci. For students and scholars of later medieval Europe (particularly fourteenth-century England and France), this collection is certainly useful, as the authors provide valuable details and case-studies of political, legal, military, and diplomatic assumptions and actions.

To a certain extent, any review of the individual papers is superfluous, because the collection opens with an excellent introduction (by Chris Given-Wilson and Michael Prestwich) that considers each paper in turn, evaluating arguments and evidence in rigorous faction and placing the works in historiographical perspective. Unlike many such introductions, this one is far from sycophantic and frequently takes issue with conclusions or proposes alternate routes of interpretation or research. As a result, readers not familiar with the ins and outs of debates on fourteenth-century England or looking for comparative material for their own research will find the volume easy to navigate. The editor, J.S. Bothwell, is to be commended for not commissioning an advertisement as an introduction; also for his logical organization of the collection, which begins with the accession of Edward III in 1330 then moves to issues of service and patronage, legal matters, and finally a variety of topics concerning the Hundred Years' War.

Three papers in particular deserve to be singled out for breaking new ground: Partington's examination of Edward III's flexible yet non-controversial use of sergeants-at-arms, McHardy's exploration of the virtual commissioning of Church sermons to talk up Edward III's campaigns, and Bennett's discussion of the later years of Edward's mother, Isabelle of France, a woman of great importance whose political (as opposed to romantic) career has not received anywhere near the attention it merits. The papers by Taylor, on Edward III's claim to the French throne, and Rogers, on negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Bretigny, provide valuable correctives, the first reminding us of that Edward III did have a real claim not easily dismissed on legal grounds, the second that nonetheless he did not aim at becoming king of France but used his claim to great advantage to achieve other goals. Other papers, by Bothwell (on Edward III's patronage and creation of new earls), Green (on the following of Edward the Black Prince), Ayton (on changes in military service), and Ormrod (on the nuancing of Edward III's formal title) are solid examinations bringing forth new details which help round out our understanding of service in the age of "bastard feudalism" and of relations between king, nobles, and community; this reader would have appreciated more explicit discussion of the significance of their conclusions, especially with regard to other reigns and kingdoms. The paper by Shenton on the coup of 1330 provides valuable new information concerning its participants, but its most significant suggestion, that Henry of Lancaster was probably involved, is not sufficiently supported by the evidence presented. Finally, the paper by Musson on Edward III's legal reputation valiantly attempts to recharacterize Edward III as meriting, like his grandfather, comparison with Justinian, but as it consists primarily of review of background legal developments for which there is no evidence of Edward III's direct involvement, its arguments are more thought-provoking than convincing.

If there is a flaw in the book, it is that the contributors have not engaged enough in comparison, limiting their focus quite tightly to England and Edward III and failing to relate their findings to medieval European developments more generally. English historians are known for being insular, and this collection, with the exception of the papers involving Anglo-French negotiations, does little to refute the stereotype. The papers also for the most part reinforce a prevailing trend in reviving Edward III's reputation, with the result that the collection as a whole cannot be considered strikingly original. Nonetheless, it has enough new research and new arguments to reward careful reading, and there is valuable material here for scholars of other lands and periods interested in the workings of kingship. In addition, this reader glimpsed in a couple of the contributions the possible beginnings of a new trend in medieval studies, and a very necessary one: taking medieval religiosity seriously as a factor in political history. Let us hope that McHardy's appreciation for how sermons contributed to Edward III's war effort and Rogers' suggestion that Edward III was motivated by a religious experience in lessening some of his demands mark a new turn, away from post-Enlightenment dismissal of religious language by political actors as "cover" and towards examination of how the faith that was so much a part of medieval culture played an integral role in the politics and diplomacy of the era.