Skip to page content | Skip to submenu

Richard II's treasure

the riches of a medieval king

sources » Edward III

Edward III


Edward III (1327-77), grandfather and predecessor of Richard II, was born in 1312. He was the son of Edward II and of Isabella, daughter of the French king, Philip IV. In 1327 his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, secured Edward's betrothal to Philippa of Hainault. Through this alliance they won military support for their invasion of England. After Edward II's abdication and murder, they seized control of the realm, but in 1330, just before his eighteenth birthday, Edward arrested Mortimer and assumed power.

Wars with Scotland and France

Edward's long and successful reign saw repeated military campaigns in Scotland and in France. In 1337 he laid claim through his mother to the French crown and embarked on the first hostilities of the Hundred Years War. Long periods of diplomacy and warfare were punctuated by famous victories: the naval battle at Sluys (1340), Crécy (1346) and Calais (1347). At Poitiers (1356), the English led by Edward's eldest son, the Black Prince, captured a great prize, Jean II, the French king.

Jean was held 'prisoner' in the Tower of London and elsewhere while his huge ransom was negotiated. It was fixed at the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 at the enormous sum of three million gold écus (£500,000), but was never paid in full. Edward also held captive King David II of Scotland. His ransom was fixed in 1357 at the lesser but still huge sum of 100,000 marks (£66,666). Jean II died in England in 1364. The throne of France descended to his son, Charles V (1364-80), a strong and effective ruler, making the resumption of the war a certainty.

A photograph of Edward III's tomb effigy

Edward III, tomb effigy. Detail (London Westminster Abbey)

Larger image (45KB)


Edward III's court was maintained with great splendour. By 1369 his chamber held a personal treasure which must certainly place him among the richest of medieval kings. War had nevertheless devastated the crown's (the public) finances. The 'Good Parliament' of 1376 mounted an attack on Edward's household and government. Some of those implicated were imprisoned. Alice Perrers, his mistress, was banished and her jewels and pearls were confiscated. In 1377, as the king lay dying, and under renewed threat of war from France, these decisions were reversed.


Edward's tomb in the Confessor's chapel in Westminster Abbey was erected after 1386 when payments were made for the Purbeck marble base. The gilded bronze effigy of the king resembles in style the effigy of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral. They were probably cast by the same craftsman.


Edward III was seen by his contemporaries as a great soldier and a chivalric king. He arranged splendid tournaments and in 1348 founded at Windsor the knightly Order of the Garter, dedicated to the Virgin and to St George. He borrowed vast sums from Florentine bankers to cover the cost of his wars, resulting in the collapse of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks, but successfully reintroduced a gold coin, the noble, in 1344 (see coinage).

Building works

A painting from St Stephen's Chapel

St Stephen's chapel, copy of the paintings on the north-east altar wall by Richard Smirke, 1800-11 (Society of Antiquaries of London)

Larger image (260KB)

Edward spent enormous sums on building works at Windsor Castle, at his new castle and town of Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent (named in honour of Queen Philippa), and in many other palaces and manors. St Stephen's Chapel in the palace of Westminster, begun under Edward I and Edward II, was completed at great expense by Edward between 1331 and 1363. The interior was splendidly decorated and adorned with wall-paintings. On the north-east altar wall of the upper chapel, beneath scenes of the Adoration of the Magi and the Infancy of Christ, Edward knelt with his five sons, presented by St George to the Virgin and Child. Philippa and three of her daughters faced them on the south side. The paintings were copied by Richard Smirke (1778-1815) during demolition when the Parliament chamber was enlarged in 1800. The upper chapel was destroyed in the fire of the Houses of Parliament in 1834.


When Edward died in 1377 he left a large treasure to be administered by his executors. Many of Edward's valuables were pawned in London soon after his death to finance the war, but were no doubt recovered. Others were sold, but some were still among the royal treasure at the end of Richard II's reign. An example is a magnificent chapel set in gold and set with gems, which included a chalice, patenpaten - shallow dish or plate on which the bread is laid during the celebration of the Eucharist and usually made to match a chalice  and spoon. The gems on the chalice were both on the foot and on the knop, meaning the bulge or knob in the stem.

980 Item, j chaleis ove j patyn tout d'or garnisez de perri, c'est assavoir sur le pee du dit chalis xix balais, xj saphirs, viij diamand', viij troches chescun contenant iiij perlez et j diamant en milieu, xvj autres trochez de perlez, dont un troche de deux perlez et xv autres chescun de trois perles ove flat diamand' dedeinz, sur la knopp' du dit chalis iiij baleis et iiij perles grosses, et sur la patyn du dit chaliz xv balais petitz, xv diamantz et xxx perlez, un quiller d'or pur la dit chalis ove j grand' perle au maniere d'un acron' a la fine, pois' viij lb. viij unc', et vaut outre C li., dont la somme, CCxxj li. vjs. viijd.

[Item, a chalice with a paten all of gold set with gems, that is to say on the foot of the said chalice nineteen balas rubies, eleven sapphires, eight diamonds, eight clusters each containing four pearls and a diamond in the middle, sixteen other clusters of pearls, one of the clusters of two pearls and fifteen others each of three pearls with a flat diamond in the centre, on the knop of the said chalice four balas rubies and four large pearls, and on the paten of the said chalice fifteen little balas rubies, fifteen diamonds and thirty pearls, a gold spoon for the said chalice with a great pearl like an acorn on the end, weighing 8 lb. 8 oz., additional value £100, total, £221 6s. 8d.]

Not everything once in the possession of Edward III had come directly to Richard. A great mazermazer - drinking vessel made of maple or other wood often with a metal rim  decorated with an enamel of the Three Kings of Cologne, to whom Edward had a special devotion, had belonged to his youngest son, Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, and had been seized from him with his other treasures when he was condemned as a traitor in 1397 (see Lords Appellant).

R 706 Item, j large maser coverez, garniz d'argent endorrez ove j haut pee endorre ove les armes le roi E en le fonce ove iij roies de Coleyn aymellez amont, pois' iij li. ij unc', pris, iiij li. xviijs. ixd.

[Item, a large covered mazer, mounted with silver-gilt with a tall silver-gilt foot with the arms of King E[dward] inside in the bottom with the three kings of Cologne enamelled on top of the cover, weighing 3 lb. 2 oz., worth £4 18s. 6d.]

sources | back to top