This month’s issue of BBC History Magazine features an article by Mark Ormrod that looks at how the English king Edward III tried establish positions of power for his various offspring and create what he calls a “loose confederation” among his sons that would rule over much of Western Europe.
With his wife Queen Philippa, Edward has nine children that survived into their teens, and from all accounts the King was a devoted and caring father. Ormrod contrasts this was Edward’s own childhood, which was marked by the fighting between his parents, King Edward II and Queen Isabella.
Often consumed with his struggles against France, King Edward III made use of his children to create marriage alliances that not only helped secure his power, but were meant to ensure his children would gain important political positions for themselves. Ormrod writing about Edward, states “for 40 years or more, his devotion to his children was the primary driver of policy.”
At one point the article points out, Edward had succeeded in arranging that his eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, would be Prince of Aquitaine and control large parts of present day France. His other sons had been taken care of too: Lionel of Antwerp would be his lieutenant in Ireland, John of Gaunt to be heir to the Kingdom of Scotland, Edmund of Langley to be heir to the County of Flanders and Thomas of Woodstock to be count of Poitou.
“How realistic was this great scheme?” Ormrod asks. “It rested on the idea of a loose confederation of dependent states bound together by family and feudal ties. This was very different from the highly centralised model of empire imagined by Edward I and from the concept of national sovereignty that was gradually being adopted by the rulers of England and France.”
In the end though, these various plans became undone, and by Edward’s death in 1377 his ambitions for his family members were not realized. But Ormrod gives much praise to Edward, noting that he had a “remarkable record of dynastic stability and harmony that prevailed in England from 1330 to 1380.”
The article appears in the November 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine. Ormrod, Professor of Medieval History of the University of York, also made headlines earlier this week when it was announced he would be leading a major research project focusing on the impact and extent of immigration into England in the Middle Ages.