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[bear] over the se, That suld mak many man to fle”
-Laurence Minot, c.1352
1Thomas Wright (ed.), Political Poems and Songs Vol 1 (London, 1859) p. 75
How effective was the use of propaganda by Edward III to support his foreign wars? Edward III is considered by many historians to have been one of the most successful kings ever to rule over England. In a reign lasting 50 years – one generation – Edward was able to transform England from a politically-ruined nation into a country that dared to take on the might of France and went on to win a number of historical battles on their own land. Thus, when dealing with Edward III’s reign, historians often debate over events on the battlefield and how domestic and foreign influences were able to contribute to these drastic changes of fortunes. We are going to focus on the effects of propaganda for a number of reasons. First, there is ample evidence pointing towards Edward having an idea of how to manipulate his people into supporting his foreign campaigns – this could explain why the king was able to continue funding the costly Hundred Years War. Second, propaganda may explain why those back home – especially the clergy – were so supportive of Edward’s campaigns at the peak of his popularity. Edward’s use of propaganda can also give us clues as to the origins of public relations, as Edward was able to maintain a working relationship with parliament – an ever-growing institution – thus avoiding the fate met by his father (and would meet his successor, Richard II). To fully assess the effects of Edward’s propaganda, we need to look at the methods he used, who they were aimed for, and obviously how the propaganda affected that target audience. We shall see how Edward’s priors preached his propaganda from the pulpit. We shall see how his carefully worded messages to parliament and his people created a sense of anxiety in regards to foreign threats and how, subsequently, he was able to exploit their fears and foster a sense of nationalistic pride. We shall also
examine symbolism and the views of contemporary accounts from the time – each contributing to Edward’s image similar to the role played by public relations experts today. Overall, we shall see that although propaganda appears to have greatly benefitted his image amongst his people and nobles, it was not so effective in extracting material benefits, in particular money, for his wars. Based on W.M. Ormrod’s description, Edward possessed perfect qualities for a medieval, charismatic leader for he was “bluff, brave, generous, slightly boorish, heartily heterosexual, fair-minded and, on the whole, even-tempered”.2 Yet, as a result of his father’s disastrous reign, Edward came to the throne at a time of both domestic and international hardship for England. The Scots, led by Robert I, had won the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and were raiding England as far south as Yorkshire – unthinkable during the reign of Edward I.3 France, England’s old enemy, was in a strong position, they too having a new king with the coronation of Philip VI in 1328. To put things into perspective at the gulf in strength between the two countries, there were 21 million people living in France during Philip’s reign – five times the population of England.4 Whereas London had a population of 30,000, Paris alone was home to 150,000 Frenchmen. 5 Edward’s greatest problem, as we shall see, is the issue of money. By 1340 alone, the cost of maintaining the Hundred Year’s War was in the region of £500,000. 6 Thus, it is likely that when Edward begun to use propaganda to build support for his foreign wars, it was his funds that he was hoping it would benefit the most.
2 W.M. Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III (Yale University Press, 1990) p. 44 3 Desmond Seward, A Brief History of The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453 (Constable and Robin son Ltd, 2003) p. 26 4Seward, Hundred Years War, p. 25 5 Ibid 6 Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272-1377 2nd Edition (Routledge, 2003) p. 193
Propaganda was not a new phenomenon during Edward III’s reign. His grandfather, Edward I, also used propaganda. For instance, during his war against Wales in 1295, he portrayed the Welsh as murdering, thieving rapists.7 When studying Edward III’s propaganda, however, we are first going to examine his prime tactic: the use of the Church. It could be argued that the churches in those days were the news channels of today; the priors would preach from the pulpits, and the people would listen. Prayers and processions were vital for spreading news of events in France. They were, as Allison McHardy puts it, “psychologically shrewd, for it meant that the whole community could join in; everyone could feel that they had a part to play”. 8 Orders for prayers were quite regular from the king. A close roll dated 16th July 1338 states that Edward made a “request for a safe journey...in his expedition beyond the sea and to cause the clergy and people under him...to pray for the same”.9 The Church’s role was not just limited to mere praying: Edward also ordered the friars to inform the public of his activities and reasons for going to war and laying claim to the French throne10 - a medieval equivalent of 1930s US President Franklin Roosevelt’s radio-broadcasted Fireside Chats, perhaps. Some historians argue that the Church took this role seriously: Ormrod says, for instance, that “with such attitudes prevailing among the clergy, it is no surprise to find that a strong sense of political nationalism and moral superiority developed in mid-fourteenth century England”.11 This speaks volumes for the effects of Edward’s propaganda
7 Prestwich, Three Edwards, p. 17 8 Allison McHardy, “Some Reflections on Edward III’s Use of Propaganda”, J.S. Bothwell (ed.), The Age of Edward III (York Medieval Press, 2001) p. 177 9 Calendar of Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, Edward III, 1327- 1337-1339 (London, 1891-1916)p.520 10 W.R. Jones, “The English Church and Royal Propaganda During the Hundred Years War”, The Journal of British Studies Vol. 19 No. 1 (University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 21 11 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 133
– and there is certainly evidence supporting this argument. A patent roll dated 15th November 1342 states that the bishop of Chichester, having been in possession of one of the king’s letters requesting prayers, was attacked by a group of thugs. The bishop, worried about the king’s possible reaction to the news, asked for commission of oyer and terminer, demanding that the thugs be held accountable for their actions.12 This certainly indicates that Edward enjoyed a degree of authority over the clergy, which in turn suggests he had a powerful way of broadcasting propaganda. McHardy stresses a simple fact can be easily overlooked, however: the target audience of Edward and the clergy was not primarily the people, but the Lord.13 W.R. Jones also stresses this point, stating that “God’s blessing was seen as vital to the success of a particular military of diplomatic venture”14. With this kind of power over the Church, the king had the potential to extract as much finance as he could to fund his wars, and yet, figures from between 1328-1331 show that out of £54,000 raised in royal loans, only a few hundred of that came from the Church. 15 His later attempts to extract greater funds resulted in failure, for in March 1338, in an attempt to include the Church in the wool tax to make up for his embargo on foreign trade with Flanders, the clergy demanded exemption as a result of being exempt from paying subsidies from the laity.16 Thus, the clergy may have been really useful for spreading news and propaganda to his people, but Edward appeared to have lesser success in regards to extracting that all important finance for his wars.
12 Calendar of Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, Edward III, 1327- 1340-1343 (London, 1891-1916) p. 587 13 McHardy, “Reflections”, p. 181 14 Jones, “English Church”, p. 20 15 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 135 16 Ibid p135
Fig 1: Edward's new coat of arms, portraying him as king of both England and France c. February, 134017
We have not yet commented on how Edward’s propaganda affected the laity for there were other influences than just the Church at his disposal. For instance, a common tactic of propaganda is to portray your opponent as the villain and yourself as the hero – we certainly see this through the writings of chroniclers and Edward’s proclamations as his relationship with Philip deteriorated. We see the beginning of Edward’s reputation as a chivalric leader during his battle against the Scots at Halidon Hill in 1333: an English account of the battle comments on how “the valiant and noble King Edward of England and his men...vigorously chased the Scots!”18 We also see propaganda against the Scots in the build up to Burnt Candlemass in 1356, when Edward demanded full control over the sovereignty of Scotland. Robert of Avesbury recalls seeing the Scottish
17“Royal Arms (Edward III and Descendents)”, http://home.gwu.edu/~jhsy/chaucerroyal.html (c. February, 1340) 18 Clifford J. Rogers (ed.), The Wars of Edward III: Sources and Interpretations (The Boydell Press, 1999) p. 38
banner flying amongst the king’s army19 - this is certainly an attempt by Edward to instil a defeatist attitude into the Scots; trying to make them believe that he is “already” king of their country. As the king turned his attentions to France, whom under Philip was increasingly eager to seize Gascony from England, (although it was French territory the king of England was the region’s vassal 20) his propaganda too shifted focus, and appears more blatant than it did against the Scots. For instance, prior to the Hundred Years War, the Foedera mentions that on the 28th August 1337, Edward asked the Archbishop to Canterbury to inform the clergy to persuade his people, “by all the ways and means you can, to help us freely each of them...since that King [Philip] threatens us with war”.21 Edward is portrayed as the peacemaker while Philip, inevitably, is portrayed as a war-mongering scoundrel. When it became clear that war was going to break out, we see the most blatant propaganda from Edward. With the symbolic merging of his coat of arms with the French lilies (see fig1), the king made a proclamation to the French people on the 6th February, 1340: “We are firmly intent upon acting graciously and kindly with those who wish to do their duty towards us; it is not in any way our intention to deny you your rights, for we hope to do justice to all, and to take up the good laws and customs which existed at the time of our progenitor, St. Louis, King of France.”22 We see for the first time attempts by Edward to influence not just his own people, but those on the other side. The king, like a politician of today, is insinuating to the French that they have a choice in their ruler – he, of course, is
19 W.J. Ashley (ed.), English History by Contemporary Writers: Edward III & his Wars 1327-1360 (London, 1887) p. 167 20 Daniel Waley, Peter Denley, Later Medieval Europe 1250-1520 3rd Edition (Pearson Longman, 2001) p. 132 21 Rogers (ed.), Wars Edward III, p. 51 22 Ibid p. 80
the “right” one. It is unlikely that his proclamation had any effect on changing their opinion; Philip was resented largely as a result of his own actions such as his harsh reprisals against Flemish peasants at the battle of Cassel23 and his abandonment of Calais in July 1347 when they were under siege by the English – the horrified inhabitants allegedly “threw the royal standard down into the ditch”24. As the Hundred Years War wore on, we see the respective kings’ reputations strengthen – further benefitting Edward’s propaganda. For instance, after winning the naval battle of Sluys on the 23rd June 1340, Edward issued a commemorative gold coin. The effects of this propaganda could clearly be seen, for his people spread a poem that originated from the coin: “foure things our Noble showeth unto me; King, ship, and sword, and power of the sea” 25. Contemporaries also contributed to Edward’s heroic image. For instance, while Philip’s reputation worsened at the siege of Calais, Jean Froissart strengthens Edward’s chivalric reputation at the very same event. Upon seeing the English approaching Calais, Sir Jean de Vienne, the military commander, ordered the poor to leave the city. Edward, according to Froissart, allowed them safe passage and gave them all a “hearty meal...and...two pence. This merciful act was highly praised, with good reason”.26 Thus, at just one event, Philip is portrayed as a coward and Edward a compassionate king.
23 Waley, Denley, Later Medieval Europe, p. 133 24 Seward, Hundred Years War, p. 69 25 Ibid p. 46 26 Geoffrey Brereton (ed.), Froissart: Chronicles (Penguin, 1968) pp. 97-98
Fig 2: The gold coin c. 1340, issued after the victory at Sluys27
Although solidifying a chivalric reputation and vilifying your opponent could be beneficial for your prestige, we need to assess the more practical gains from Edward’s propaganda. This, of course, concerns the most important problem regarding Edward’s wars that we highlighted earlier: money. Thus, Edward did whatever he could to generate funds and save money – and propaganda to a degree played a role in these attempts. His money problems came from a variety of sources. For instance, a huge drain in his finances came from paying his soldiers indentures. In an age when fealty, the act of swearing loyalty to the king, was dying out, Edward had to rely on hiring leaders to select men who would fight for him for a certain period of time on a fixed salary (it is estimated that of the men selected, about 12% of them were outlaws – a further concern to the king).28 Edward also spent extravagantly on alliances: huge bribes were paid to secure alliances with the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig IV and Jacob van
27 “Battle of Sluys, 1340” http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/displayRepro.cfm? reproID=E3806%2D2&picture=2#content (c.1340) 28 Seward, Hundred Years War, p. 33
Artevelde of Flanders, for instance.29 As a result of parliament’s increasing reluctance to grant funds to Edward, especially after his costly campaigns in Scotland, the king turned to anybody for money. This included the Italian banking houses of Bardi and the Peruzzi, who between 1338 and 1339, lent Edward over £125,000.30 The king also turned to wealthy merchants such as William de la Pole, who alone raised over £100,000 for his campaigns.31 Edward’s financial problems were further compounded with his failed gamble on the wool trade, for this was the method he had hoped to use to pay back his creditors. A complex scheme involving English merchants investing heavily in exporting wool in return for profits was expected to generate £200,000 for his war – this money, unfortunately, failed to materialise and merchants became increasingly unwilling to aid the king in his enterprises.32 With such financial problems, Edward again used propaganda to try and ease his financial worries. Thus, we shall now properly examine the practical gains Edward extracted from the laity other than mere moral points against Philip and the Scots. H.J. Hewitt appears to argue that the most effective way for Edward to gain support was through the exploitation of fear, especially by making the public believe that invasion, particularly by the French via the coast, was a very real danger.33 Thus, propaganda such as convincing the people that the pope, based in Avignon, was pro-French along with public readings of Philip’s secret document recovered at the sack of Caen in 1346 (that spoke of a joint FrenchNorman invasion of England) fuelled xenophobic feelings against anyone or
29 Ibid p35 30Prestwich, Three Edwards, p. 194 31 Ibid p194 32 Seward, Hundred Years War, p. 32 33 H.J. Hewitt, The Organisation of War under Edward III 1338-62 (Manchester University Press, 1966) p. 164
anything French or Scottish.34 Indeed, by 1344 the king had succeeded in convincing parliament that the French were aggressively planning an attack on England.35 Although taxation reaped benefits early on, (£114,000 was gained in 1337 alone36), Edward, as with the Church, struggled to gain funds from his people. The corrupt actions of purveyors, whom were appointed to collect taxes from the people, were greatly resented and further added to their reluctance to aid the king with his finances – especially after he had already overstretched taxation for his Scottish campaigns.37 Throughout his whole reign, it is estimated that Edward gained £1,260,000 from taxation.38 Edward did, however, enjoy more success with parliament: in 1344 alone he was granted two tenths and fifteenths of the strict conditions that all of the money would be spent on war.39 Edward would have had no problem with that stipulation. Another style of propaganda came in the form of the Order of the Garter. Edward already had plans in 1344 to establish an elite group of knights known as the Round Table, which was to be announced on the same day of the great tournament at Windsor that was celebrating his victory in Brittany. 40 Yet, campaigns in Flanders and Normandy in 1345 and 1346 respectively put this ambitious project on hold.41 Hugh Collins argues that the Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, “occupied a practical political role in the English monarch’s relations with his nobility – and for Edward III in particular, a role in galvanizing aristocratic support behind the
34 Hewitt, Organisation of War, pp. 164-66 35 Ibid p176 36 Prestwich, Three Edwards, p. 193 37 Hewitt, Organisation of War, p. 171 38 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 165 39 Prestwich, Three Edwards, p. 199 40 Hugh E.L. Collins, The Order of the Garter 1348-1461: Chivalry and Politics in Late Medieval England (Clarendon Press, 2000) p. 7 41 Collins, Garter, p. 9
war in France”.42 It could thus be argued that, since the purpose of the Garter was the celebration of chivalry and to issue patronage in the form of titles to the bravest of knights and nobles in the kingdom, that Edward, although chivalric in nature, used this form of patronage to save rewarding his nobles with more materialistic benefits such as land or money – thus minimising costs and maintaining revenue. Ormrod appears to hold this sceptical position also, stating that Edward was “able to play on the chivalric pretentions of the nobility and use membership of the order as a supplement to other more costly forms of patronage”.43 Thus, while Edward would have certainly have had aspirations to create an Arthurian atmosphere amongst the finest people in England, it is possible that he also exploited the propaganda value of the Order to make patronage an easier and cheaper way to gather support for his wars.
Fig 3: Edward III as founder of the Order of the Garter.44
42 Ibid p. 20 43 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 19 44 “King Edward III of England 1327-1377”, http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/edward3.htm (c.1348-50)
However, it is most likely that rather than propaganda being a main contributor to easing his financial issues, three other factors played greater roles. First, the collapse of the Italian banking giants of Bardi and Peruzzi. With their bankruptcy as a result of Edward’s inability to repay their loans went the loans themselves – they took a huge slice of Edward’s debt with them.45 Second, the influential role of William Edington who became chancellor in 1356. With his skill in centralising government finance under the exchequer, Edward was able to improve his relations with parliament and was gradually able to manage his wars without asking for too much in taxation.46 Third, and arguably the greatest factor of all, was the market potential of ransom. Edward’s raids in France, better known as chevauchees, enabled him to capture many a noble and authority figure which he would sell back to their people for a price – the two famous examples being kings David II of Scotland and John II of France (John’s capture alone poured 400,000 gold crowns into the royal coffers – just two-thirds of his original ransom fee).47 Ransoms also had the extra bonus in recruiting Edward’s army new soldiers; they, too, could get lucky and earn themselves a life-changing payment from the king himself or the captive’s allies.48 Thus, while propaganda may have helped to a degree in easing Edward’s money problems, it is likely that the above factors had a far greater effect on funding his wars than propaganda. On reflection of the facts, we believe that our argument – of propaganda benefitting Edward more on emotional grounds rather than material – is a valid position to hold. Although it is likely that his early victories at Sluys, Poitiers and
45 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 88 46 Seward, Hundred Years War, p. 82 47 Ibid p. 100 48 Ormrod, Reign Edward III, p. 150
Crecy gave him propaganda value to press parliament for more finance, overall, the king had an element of luck in being able to maintain support in his wars. For instance, had Philip been a more aggressive and tactically aware king, then portraying him as an incompetent coward would have been a very difficult task. Second, Edward most likely could have never have repaid his creditors for the war: thus there is an element of luck there too, for no amount of propaganda would have saved him from the shoddy results of his gamble on the wool trade nor made lenders such as the unfortunate Italian banks refrain from asking him for repayments. Thus, it appears that as Edward became more successful in
France, the room for propagandistic manoeuvre became bigger and bigger. In conclusion, propaganda appears to have played a great role in maintaining support for Edward’s wars, but when one looks at the bigger picture, it is factors such as Philip’s poor kingship and money spinning avenues such as ransoms that not only instigated success in France, but ultimately led to Edward’s material gains in his wars. This, in turn, gave his propaganda fertile ground to influence the actions of others.