Edward III: Domestic Developments

Domestic Developments

Edward's long reign saw many constitutional developments. Most important of these was the emergence of the Commons as a distinct and increasingly powerful group within Parliament. The king's constant need for money for his wars enabled the Commons to assert their right to consent to all lay taxation and gain other substantial concessions.

Considerable social change was also brought about by the decimation of England's population by visitations of the Black Death (see plague), which struck first in 1348–49 and again in 1362 and 1369. The resulting labor shortage allowed the lower classes to demand higher wages and social advancement and accelerated the breakdown of the system of serfdom. Parliament attempted to curb this development with the Statute of Labourers (1351), which froze wages, but it proved impossible to enforce.

Edward's initially good relations with the church were damaged by the Statute of Provisors (1351) and the Statutes of Praemunire (first issued 1353), which were aimed at reducing papal influence on the English church, and by the king's attempts to get more money from the church. In 1371 the king's clerical councilors were dismissed. By this time Edward was under the influence of his greedy mistress, Alice Perrers, and the political scene became one of rivalry between the court party headed by John of Gaunt and the clerical party led by the Black Prince.

Supported by Alice Perrers, John of Gaunt gained control of the government, but the so-called Good Parliament of 1376 forced the expulsion of Alice Perrers from court, and several of John's supporters were impeached. John once again seized power after the death of the Black Prince. Edward III died soon afterward, and the son of the Black Prince came to the throne as Richard II. Of Edward's seven sons, five figured importantly in history: Edward the Black Prince; Lionel, duke of Clarence; John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster; Edmund of Langley, duke of York; Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester.

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