The Little Lion – Edward III’s England, 1327-1347

Course Material 2022/23
Edward III Plantagenet of England pays homage for Aquitaine to French King Philip VI Valois by Jean Fouquet, Grandes Chroniques de France

England in 1327 was at a low ebb: defeated in war by the Scots, still recovering from a period of devastating famine and agrarian crisis, and consumed by political infighting that had brought down its king. Twenty years later, the English were regarded by Petrarch as a ‘fiercely warmongering people’, whose ‘unexpected success’ had ‘subjected the entire kingdom of France to steel and fire’. ‘The Little Lion’ examines this transformation by charting the political, diplomatic, economic and social structures of this period, and showing how developments in each of these areas helped to create the circumstances for English success in the opening phases of what became the Hundred Years’ War. The aim of the paper is not simply to chart those military successes, but rather to take a crucial and eventful twenty-year period and use it to explore the complex interactions between politics and economy that characterized later medieval England.

The course allows students to gain a richly detailed grasp of the period by working upwards from the abundant primary sources. By focusing on a relatively short period of just two decades, albeit one that was highly formative, it is possible to consider key episodes from a number of different angles, and to delve deep into the sources in search of fresh perspectives. We do this through a wide variety of primary sources: chronicles, parliament rolls and records of royal government, legal records, estate accounts, manor court records, bishops’ registers, and songs and poems of popular protest, as well as visual sources. By the end of the course, students will have a strong sense of how different kinds of evidence can be used to build up a picture of kingship, politics, economy, law and war.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the course provides insights into an era of warfare that had profound effects not just on England, but on all the states and economies of Western Europe. Although most of these effects will be examined during the course at the local or micro scale using England and English localities as case studies, wider connections and contexts are everywhere apparent.