There are certain names that can intrigue you, people, present or historic, it can be places, sometimes even things, or for me, in this case; The Black Prince.
The truth is that the name the Black Prince did not come into use until about 200 years – during the Tudor Era – after the death of Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.
But this is the day on which he was born in 1330, during a calamitous time of his father´s reign. For the past three years, England had been de facto ruled by the lover of Edward III´s mother, Roger Mortimer who – supported by Isabella (the queen of Edward II and mother of Edward III – after a lengthy war had imprisoned Edward II and allegedly had him murdered at Berkley Castle in 1327, only months after Edward III had been crowned king.
This year, after the birth of Edward of Woodstock, the actual name of the Black Prince, things started to turn around. Accused of a number of crimes, one of which was assuming the Royal power, Roger Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn on November 29th 1330.
But this post isn´t about Roger Mortimer, Edward II or Edward III, who undoubtedly DO deserve a line or two on the blog. But this one is about, as earlier mentioned, another Edward; Edward the Black Prince.
Edward III and Philippa of Hainult would have several children – without being able to really verify this straight up, it is said that the majority of the English people are actually decedents of this fertile royal couple – but Edward was the one meant to carry the dreams of a continued dynasty, the heir to the crown, and at the age of sis he was made Duke of Cornwall. This was actually the first time that the English word “Duke” was used, as up until now the French wording of “Duc” had been used.
Another one of Edward´s titles was of course the Prince of Wales.
During his entire life, the Hundred Years War would be raging, and he turned out to be a highly talented soldier who took part in the invasion of Normandy already at the age of 16, on which occasion he was knighted as he got off the ship in France, maybe slightly ironical it took place side by side of another Roger Mortimer, the grandson of the man Edward III had seen executed 16 years before. Only days after, the English army engaged in the Battle of Crecy of August 26th 1346, in which Edward of Woodstock led the vanguard, but considering his – at the time – limited military experiences, it is likely he was advised by more experienced military commanders such as the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Northampton.
The Battle of Crecy, which the English won not least through the force of the English longbows, came to be a defining point of the young Prince, and came not only to determine how the English would execute the war in France, would influence his household, most likely his view of himself, and not least his reputation which would live on through the centuries.
From Crecy the army marched on towards Calais to embark on an almost year-long siege after which the French surrendered due to the French king Philip VI failing to deliver aid. This was part of a recapture of France after king John had lost most of the vast territory held by his father, and England would hold Calais until 1558 when it was finally lost by Mary I.
The battle of the Hundred Years War in which Edward of Woodstock played a prominent role did not, however, only take part on dry land.
In 1350, he and his father Edward III engaged the kingdom of Castile in the Battle of Winchelsea, a bloody confrontation at sea in which the English captured somewhere between 14 and 26 Castilian ships while they themselves lost two during the battle.
The mentioned battles and siege would only be the beginning of a long line of battles, negotiations, victories and losses during the Black Prince short life, and I will not list them all here, after all, the blog is not intended to be a dictionary, but aim to inspire those of you who hopefully read the posts to find out more about what may interest you.
But I´m not quite done with Edward yet. Amidst all the fighting, he built up a reputation which almost can be seen as dual, and of course, which version would be told depended on one which side the one telling the story would find themselves.
His troops where noted for an extreme brutality in the sacking of Limoges in September 1370, when men, women and children were said to have been killed indiscriminately.
After a period of siege, the town was stormed on September 19th, when the commander in charge of the town, the Duke of Berry, had left it with only 140 men to defend it left in the town.
The English forces was led not only by Edward the Black Prince, but also by his brothers John of Gaunt – through whom Margaret Beaufort would have her claim to the throne – and Edmund of Langley.
At this point the illness which would later claim his life already struck Edward, and he was carried on a litter.
The account of how over 3 000 people died in a massacre after the town of Limoges had fallen comes from the French author and court historian Jean Froissart, and has been claimed to be French bias, but the fact is that at the time of the massacre of Limoges, Froissart was at the service of Philippa of Hainault, mother of Edward, Edmund of Langley and John of Gaunt. The recent discovery of a letter in Edward´s own hand in a Spanish archive by the French historian Dr Guilhem Pepin sheds a different light on the story. Combined with other evidence, it seems that 100 soldiers and 200 civilians died.
Regardless, the sack of Limoges has been seen as the absolute opposite of chivalry, something for which Edward the Black Prince had otherwise been noted. He is however said to let expediency override the chivalry on a number of occasions.
Edward married Joan, countess of Kent and baroness Wake of Liddell, a widow two years older than Edward and known for her beauty; so much so that she was called by already mentioned Froissart “the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving”. She had five children from a previous marriage, and also already at the age of 12 had married without the Royal consent needed for a woman of her station.
Needless to say, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault was less than thrilled by their oldest son´s choice of consort. Two sons were born, one of whom – Edward of Angouleme – only lived until the age of six and Richard, who after the death of his grandfather, only a year after the Black Prince, would be crowned Richard II.
After having been invested Prince of Aquitaine the royal couple lived there, to return to England only when Edward´s ill health prevented him from performing his duties in the territory.
Edward the Black Prince died in his bed at Westminster Palace on June 8th 1376, only a week before his 46th birthday.
By request he was buried at the cathedral of Canterbury, and his tomb can be seen on the south side of where the shrine of Thomas Becket used to be. Above the tomb, replicas of his heraldic achievements can be seen, and not far from the tomb, one can still see the actual originals behind a glass pane
The poem below can be seen on his tomb;
Such as thou art, sometime was I
Such as I am, such shalt thou be
I thought little on th´our of Death
So long as I enjoyed breath
But now a wretched captive I am,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone
One last word, well, quite a few, about the name the Black Prince; as said before, it didn´t appear until 150-200 years after his death, and of course there has been speculations as to where and why it originated. One suggestion has been made that it was due to his brutality in the field, other suggestions has been that it is related to his black shield (posted above), and maybe also that his armour could be perceived as black, as it has been described as being of dark brown metal.
Edward the Black Prince, power in Medieval Europe – David Green
The Plantagenets; the warrior kings and queens that made England – Dan Jones
Article: Was Edward the Black Prince really a nasty piece of work – BBC Magazine 2014-07-07