Posted by Michael Happy on August 26th, 2010
The sword of Edward III
On this date in 1349 Edward III led the English forces to victory over the French in the Battle of Crécy, one of many battles fought during the Hundred Years’ War through the reigns of four English kings — Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V — and which ultimately ended in English defeat after Joan of Arc appeared on the scene to rally the French in their cause.
Frye on Blake’s “King Edward the Third”:
“King Edward the Third” is an exercise in the idiom of Elizabethan drama, just as the songs are, if more successfully, exercises in the corresponding lyrical idiom. It is a very curious piece. Apparently, if one believes that England has always been the home of democracy and constitutional government, and France — at least until the Revolution — a hotbed of tyranny and superstition, one can also believe that the Hundred Years’ War was a blow struck solely in the interests of progress. The English are famous for transforming their economic and political ambitions into moral principles, and to the naive mercantile jingoism of the eighteenth century, which assumed that freedom of action was the same thing as material expansion, there seemed nothing absurd in thinking that the unchecked growth of England’s power involved the emancipation of the world. At any rate, Akenside, in his Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England, seems to have had a vague idea that war with France is somehow connected with the principles of Freedom, Truth and Reason as well as Glory, and refers to the Hundred Years’ War as a crusade in favor of these principles. Akenside was a Whig; Thomson and Young, who wrote a good deal to the same effect, were also Whigs, the liberals of their time, and it is not really surprising if the young Blake, looking for a historical example of the fight of freedom against tyranny, should have selected the exploits of Edward III. A good deal of the poem is simply “Rule Britannia” in blank verse. . . . (Fearful Symmetry, 179-80)