Lordship and Principality: Colonial Policy in Ireland and Aquitaine in the 1360s

Lordship and Principality: Colonial Policy in Ireland and Aquitaine in the 1360s

By David Green

Journal of British Studies, Volume 47, Number 1 (2008)

Introduction: The political fortunes of the Plantagenet dominions, Edward III’s reputation, and, indeed, the balance of power in western Europe changed in the 1360s. It was, in many ways, the pivotal decade of the fourteenth century. In retrospect it proved to mark the beginning of an English decline that lasted fifty years, but, at the time, opportunities seemed limitless. Fortune, military success, and political machinations seemed to have brought England to the brink of imperial power; Edward appeared to be on the point of recreating the Angevin Empire.

First, the capture of Jean II at the battle of Poitiers (19 September 1356) changed the complexion of the Hundred Years’ War. It resulted, eventually, in the signing of the treaty of Brétigny‐Calais (8 May 1360), and with the kings of France and Scotland in captivity, Edward III’s political horizons widened. Briefly perhaps, the throne of France seemed within his grasp—that is, if one accepts the presence of a crown in Edward’s baggage during the Reims campaign (1359–60) as indicative of his aspirations. In general, however, Edward seems to have had more anachronistic, although no less ambitious, aims. The alliances and policies forged by the English in the late 1350s and early 1360s, according to Robin Frame, “chime with evidence that Edward was conscious of the Angevin past [and] the British Isles seemed on the point of forming part of a restored and reshaped European imperium.”

The major constituents of that empire were to be divided into units akin to appanages for Edward’s sons. Indeed, just at this time the Valois kings were beginning the series of political devolutions and establishment of the great principalities that reshaped French political geography for more than a century. These Plantagenet appanages were to be created through various means—marriages, treaties, force—and took advantage of remarkable political circumstances. The most important grants were made around the time of the king’s fiftieth birthday (12 November 1362): Edward, prince of Wales, received the principality of Aquitaine, and just prior to this Lionel of Antwerp, soon to be duke of Clarence, was dispatched to serve as the king’s lieutenant in Ireland.

Although shaped by political opportunism, Edward III’s policy was also determined by Angevin precedent, and, no doubt, like Henry II he was conscious of the pressures of a large family for which he had to make provision. But the scheme foundered for various reasons: the treaties were not concluded, the marriages were not contracted, and, in time, English power began to fade. As circumstances changed, the ambitions for a wider empire died: only in Ireland and Aquitaine were serious attempts made to extend English authority during the interval in the Hundred Years’ War, and in both lordships the new administrations failed. This essay seeks to explain these failures and will evaluate and compare the regimes of Lionel of Clarence and Edward the Black Prince during this period of “imperial” expansion.

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See also our Interview with David Green

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