Jonathan Sumption

Hammer of the French

Edward III


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Edward III earned the loyalty of his subjects by behaving as kings were supposed to behave. He cut a fine figure. He led his armies in successful wars. He spent money generously. And, until the end of his reign, he surrounded himself by men who conformed to the contemporary stereotypes of leadership, not the parvenus favoured by his father and grandson. Venerated as the greatest warrior of his day, victor of Sluys and Crécy, conqueror of much of western France, and founder of the Order of the Garter, Edward’s posthumous reputation cast a shadow over his successors, only one of whom, Henry V, was ever able to live up to the model. A century and a half after his death, Henry VIII, the last English king to toy with the idea of conquering France, consciously modelled himself on his famous ancestor. In the 1630s, officials copied documents from the public records to discover how it had been done. Joshua Barnes, whose biography of 1688 stood for nearly two centuries as the standard account, beatified him as ‘the best King, the best Captain, the best Lawgiver, the best Friend, the best Father and the best Husband in his days’.

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