The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation by Ian Mortimer - review by Richard Barber

Richard Barber

The Missing Monarch

The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation


Jonathan Cape 522pp £20 order from our bookshop

Edward III has had a hard time of it from historians and biographers. At the beginning of this book, Ian Mortimer rightly points out the often extreme prejudice of Victorian historians against him, and the lack of redress in the twentieth century: chivalric and warlike kings have long been out of fashion. Edward’s champions have been unlikely and few: Joshua Barnes, while professor of Greek at Cambridge, produced in 1688 a massive work which is the most comprehensive account of his reign, with footnotes which are still useful today, while at the other extreme, William Blake tried to create the play that Shakespeare never wrote, the missing prologue to the latter’s great series of historical dramas.

But Shakespeare was right to start with Richard II. We remember Edward III for the heroic moments – Halidon Hill, Crécy, Poitiers – and for the Order of the Garter. We may perhaps know something of the splendour of his court, his long and happy marriage to Philippa of Hainault,

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