King Edward III (r. 1327-77) is one of the most famous kings in English history, and indeed in the medieval period. With his reign spanning fifty years in the High Middle Ages, it is little wonder that we think of Edward III as a warrior king, a chivalrous leader, and a huge persona of the medieval court. Throughout his reign, Edward undertook numerous battles, the majority of which were in the early stages of the conflict known as the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) with France. However, Edward also had battles to fight on the northern frontiers of his kingdom, with Scotland.
1. Edward III at Dupplin Moor, 10th – 11th August 1332
As mentioned earlier, the majority of Edward III’s battles took place against one of two foes: Scotland or France. In this instance, we turn to the Battle of Dupplin Moor, which took place against Scottish forces from 10th – 11th August 1332. Edward had only been king for 5 years at the time, and was still only 19 years old. However, this did not stop him from realizing that there was a war to be won. It was not the Hundred Years War (which had in fact not started yet), but part of a series of Anglo-Scottish conflicts, called the Scottish Wars of Independence.
In fact, the Battle of Dupplin Moor is often regarded as the first battle of the Second War of Scottish Independence, which lasted from 1332-57. At the Battle of Dupplin Moor, which was just to the south-west of Perth in Scotland, Edward III’s English forces were not faced with the terrifying prospect of William Wallace or Robert the Bruce (both of whom were dead), but instead, they faced Robert the Bruce’s son, and now Scottish king, David II.
Dupplin Moor was a significant battle because — having learned from his father’s defeats in Scotland (particularly the Battle of Bannockburn) — Edward III adopted a new military tactic: the longbow. From their vantage point on the top of the hill at Dupplin Moor, Edward III’s longbowmen slaughtered the majority of the Scottish army before they ultimately fled, which was an incredible achievement given that they numbered between 20,000 to 40,000 men according to the contemporary chronicler, Lanercost. Even key figures in the Scottish army including Robert the Bruce’s bastard son, and the Earl of Mar, were killed by Edward’s archers, according to Thomas Gray, a contemporary chronicler who authored the Scalachronica.
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Not only had the Battle of Dupplin Moor provided a crucial early victory in the reign of Edward III, but it had also shown that drawing the enemy into attack rather than going to the enemy was to be the new way of medieval warfare — something which Edward also applied in numerous other conflicts, including Halidon Hill, less than a year after the victory at Dupplin Moor.
2. Halidon Hill, 19th July 1333
Another battle against Scotland makes this list due to Edward III’s successful military tactics once again. Edward attacked the Scottish forces at Halidon Hill, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, which was a key border town that had been claimed by both Scottish and English forces during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Once again, Edward III’s use of archers helped secure a prominent English victory, with the English cavalry chasing and slaughtering the Scottish army when they retreated. An anonymous English chronicler claimed that 30,000 Scots were killed on the battlefield: a remarkable feat (from an English perspective), given that estimations of the Scottish army’s numbers ranged from 60,000 to 100,000. (Christopher Given-Wilson and Françiose Bériac, “Edward III’s Prisoners of War: The Battle of Poitiers and Its Context”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 468 (2001), p. 888; Ian MacInnes, Scotland’s Second War of Independence, 1332-1357 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2016), p. 78.
A second victory in as many years meant that the Scottish problem for Edward had been somewhat subdued — which meant that he could focus all of his attention on his enemy across the English Channel: France.
3. Sluys, 24th June 1340
With the Hundred Years War having formally started in 1337, Edward III was keen to gain some more French territory for the Plantagenet Empire. On 26th January 1340, Edward III landed at Flanders and proclaimed himself King of France, his claim coming from the lineage of Philip IV (r. 1285-1314), and Edward being his only male descendant left. At the beginning of February, Edward III left Flanders and returned to England to gather troops and resources for an invasion of France — but Philip VI (King of France, r. 1328-50) had also turned his sights on the North Sea and potential territory for his empire. Philip had gathered a fleet of just over 200 ships, whereas Edward had only managed 150.
Edward III entered the Bay of Sluys in northern Flanders on 24th June 1340, but Philip VI’s French fleet was already ahead of them, barricading the way to the port by creating a huge, impenetrable barrier of warships. Once again, the use of archers came up trumps for Edward. The English fleet bore down upon the French ships, while Edward’s archers fired arrows from afar and foot soldiers clambered over the decks and onto the French ships, fighting in hand-to-hand combat with their French counterparts. After about four hours of combat, Edward III’s forces had broken through the first line of French ships.
Philip VI panicked, and the rest of the French ships attempted to escape — but Edward III’s skilled admirals managed to capture all but 23 of the 213 ships. As for casualties, it was estimated that between 16,000 and 18,000 French seamen and soldiers had lost their lives, including all of Philip’s admirals.
The victory at Sluys is not only one of the greatest English victories of all time, but it was a key naval battle of the Middle Ages. Edward III showed how — using archers — the English were a force to be contended with at sea as well as on land.
4. The Bloodbath of the Hundred Years War: Crécy, 26th August 1346
Another infamous battle under Edward III was fought at Crécy on 26th August 1346. Once again, the odds were stacked against him, so much so, that the English forces were outnumbered by 8 to 1 by the French. However, Edward relied on his longbowmen again, and the archers proved a superior force. They were coupled with cannons, which marked another turning point in military history: the first use of artillery in a European battle.
The French army fled the battlefield and left thousands of foot soldiers and 4,000 knights dead. Following the battle of Crécy, the contemporary French chronicler Jean Le Bel wrote:
“It was found that there were nine great princes lying there, and around 1200 knights, and a good fifteen or sixteen thousand others — esquires, Genoese, and others — and they found only 300 English knights dead.”
There is no doubt that Crécy was a bloodbath, but it was certainly a key victory for Edward III and the English forces. Knowing that the longbow was superior to the French short bow (the French had adopted both crossbows and short bows after Sluys), and adding in the factor of cannons, Edward came away confident in his military abilities. However, he did not have much time to celebrate, as while he was in France, the Scottish king David II had raided northern England.
5. Neville’s Cross, 17th October 1346
The Auld Alliance was a military alliance between France and Scotland against England, meaning that whenever one was in danger of being attacked by the English, the other should come to their defense. Even before the battle of Crécy, Philip VI of France had contacted David II of Scotland, urging him to undertake an invasion of Edward’s kingdom while he was away in France. Initially hesitant following the debacle of Crécy, David led a force into England, where they met an English force at Neville’s Cross, County Durham.
As Edward was still returning from France, he was not present at the battle, so the Archbishop of York led the English forces. Had David II been victorious at Neville’s Cross, he would have gained the upper hand in the Wars of Independence. The fact that Edward III was victorious meant that he had solidified his reputation as a great warrior king for winning battles on two fronts against Scotland and France respectively. The last time that England had defeated both Scotland and France simultaneously was during the reign of Edward III’s great-great-great-grandfather, Henry II (r. 1154-89) in 1174 (Nicholas Vincent, A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485: The Birth of the Nation, 2011).
One of the most significant elements of the battle was that David II was captured. There are various arguments both for and against how David was captured, including that his capture was instrumental in bringing peace between England and Scotland, whereas other arguments suggest that David’s capture was an underestimation on the Scottish side of how well-defended England would be: Robert the Bruce had successfully raided northern England for almost twenty years in the previous generation.
However, the result was that David II was indeed captured, and would not leave his (albeit comfortable) captivity in England for another eleven years. Amazingly, David II was not the only king captured by Edward III’s forces. We turn back again to the Hundred Years War and cross the Channel to discuss the Battle of Poitiers.
6. Edward III’s Greatest Victory: Poitiers, 19th September 1356
When the Hundred Years’ War is mentioned, usually the first battle that comes to mind is either Agincourt or Poitiers. Poitiers was one of the most famous victories of the conflict and turned the war in England’s favor.
Yet one of the most prominent figures from Poitiers was Edward III’s son, also called Edward but known as the Black Prince, due to his black armor. As in all of the aforementioned conflicts of the Hundred Years War, the English longbowmen were far superior to the French forces, and the Black Prince led the English forces to victory. To top it all off, he even managed to capture King John II of France, who was known as John the Good. The fact that, in two separate conflicts, Edward III’s forces had captured two rival kings highlighted how successful his military tactics were, and that the 1340s and 1350s were his prime military years. The victory at Poitiers has also been described as:
“The climax of Edward’s wars, the greatest victories England had achieved for over a century and a half.”
(David Starkey, Crown & Country: The Kings and Queens of England: A History, 2011).