Edward, the Black Prince

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Edward of Woodstock
Prince of Wales; Prince of Aquitaine
Edward, Prince of Wales as Knight of the Order of the Garter, 1453, illustration from the Bruges Garter Book
SpouseJoan, 4th Countess of Kent
Richard II of England
HouseHouse of Plantagenet
FatherEdward III of England
MotherPhilippa of Hainault
Born(1330-06-15)15 June 1330
Woodstock Palace, Oxfordshire
Died8 June 1376(1376-06-08) (aged 45)
Palace of Westminster
BurialCanterbury Cathedral, Kent
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Edward of Woodstock
Prince of Wales; Prince of Aquitaine
Edward, Prince of Wales as Knight of the Order of the Garter, 1453, illustration from the Bruges Garter Book
SpouseJoan, 4th Countess of Kent
Richard II of England
HouseHouse of Plantagenet
FatherEdward III of England
MotherPhilippa of Hainault
Born(1330-06-15)15 June 1330
Woodstock Palace, Oxfordshire
Died8 June 1376(1376-06-08) (aged 45)
Palace of Westminster
BurialCanterbury Cathedral, Kent

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Aquitaine, KG (15 June 1330 – 8 June 1376) was the eldest son of King Edward III of England and his wife Philippa of Hainault as well as father to King Richard II of England.

He was called Edward of Woodstock in his early life, after his birthplace, and since the 16th century has been popularly known as the Black Prince. He was an exceptional military leader, and his victories over the French at the Battles of Crécy and Poitiers made him very popular during his lifetime. In 1348 he became the first Knight of the Garter, of whose Order he was one of the founders.

Edward died one year before his father, becoming the first English Prince of Wales not to become King of England. The throne passed instead to his son Richard II, a minor, upon the death of Edward III.

Richard Barber comments that Edward "has attracted relatively little attention from serious historians, but figures largely in popular history."[1]


Edward, the Black Prince is granted Aquitaine by his father King Edward III. Initial letter "E" of miniature, 1390; British Library, shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero D VI, f.31

Edward was born on 15 June 1330 at Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire. He was created Earl of Chester on 18 May 1333, Duke of Cornwall on 17 March 1337 (the first creation of an English duke) and finally invested as Prince of Wales on 12 May 1343 when he was almost thirteen years old.[2] In England, Edward served as a symbolic regent for periods in 1339, 1340, and 1342 while Edward III was on campaign. He was expected to attend all council meetings, and he performed the negotiations with the papacy about the war in 1337. He also served as High Sheriff of Cornwall from 1340–1341, 1343, 1358 and 1360–1374.

Edward had been raised with his cousin Joan, "The Fair Maid of Kent."[3] Edward gained permission for the marriage from Pope Innocent VI and absolution for marriage to a blood-relative (as had Edward III when marrying Philippa of Hainault, his second cousin) and married Joan on 10 October 1361 at Windsor Castle. The marriage caused some controversy, mainly because of Joan's chequered marital history and the fact that marriage to an Englishwoman wasted an opportunity to form an alliance with a foreign power.

When in England, Edward's chief residence was at Wallingford Castle in Berkshire (since 1974 in Oxfordshire), or at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire.

He served as the king's representative in Aquitaine, where he and Joan kept a court which was considered among the most brilliant[clarification needed] of the time. It was the resort of exiled kings such as James IV of Majorca and Peter of Castile.

Peter of Castile, thrust from his throne by his illegitimate brother Henry of Trastámara, offered Edward the lordship of Biscay in 1367, in return for the Black Prince's aid in recovering his throne. Edward was successful in the Battle of Nájera (April 3), in which he soundly defeated the combined French and Castilian forces led by Bertrand du Guesclin. However Peter did not pay fully and excused to yield Biscay alleging lack of consent of its states. Edward retreated to Guienne by July.[4]

The Black Prince returned to England in January 1371 and died on 8 June 1376 (a week before his 46th birthday), after a long-lasting illness that was probably amoebic dysentery contracted ten years earlier while campaigning in Spain.[5]

Time line of Edward's life[edit]

Timeline of Edward, The Black Prince

Marriage and issue[edit]

Edward had illegitimate sons, all born before his marriage.[citation needed]

By Edith de Willesford (d. after 1385):

By unknown mothers:

Edward married his cousin, Joan, Countess of Kent (1328-1385), on 10 October 1361. She was the daughter and heiress of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, the younger son of King Edward I by his second wife Margaret of France. They had two sons from this marriage. Both sons were born in France, where the Prince and Princess of Wales had taken up duties as Prince and Princess of Aquitaine.

From his marriage to Joan, he also became stepfather to her children, including Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent whose daughter, Joan Holland, would marry Edward's brother, Edmund of Langley. Edward's other stepson, John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, would marry Edward's niece, Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of his brother, John of Gaunt.

Edward and chivalry[edit]

Edward lived in a century of decline for the knightly ideal of chivalry.[citation needed] The formation of the Order of the Garter, an English royal order of which Edward was a founding member, signified a shift towards patriotism and away from the crusader mentality that characterised England in the previous two centuries. Edward's stance in this evolution is seemingly somewhat divided. Edward displayed obedience to typical chivalric obligations through his pious contributions to Canterbury Cathedral throughout his life.[citation needed]

On the one hand, after capturing John the Good, king of France, and Philip the Bold, his youngest son, at the Battle of Poitiers, he treated them with great respect, at one point giving John permission to return home, and reportedly praying with John at Canterbury Cathedral. Notably, he also allowed a day for preparations before the Battle of Poitiers so that the two sides could discuss the coming battle with one another, and so that the Cardinal Périgord could plead for peace. However, some argue "he may have been playing for time to complete preparation of his archers' positions."[8] Though not agreeing with knightly charges on the battlefield, he also was devoted to tournament jousting.[citation needed]

On the other hand, his chivalric tendencies were overridden by expediency on many occasions. The Black Prince's repeated use of the chevauchée strategy (burning and pillaging towns and farms) was not in keeping with contemporary notions of chivalry, but it was quite effective in accomplishing the goals of his campaigns and weakening the unity and economy of France.[citation needed] On the battlefield, he favoured pragmatism over chivalry in the massed use of infantry strongholds, dismounted men at arms, and longbowmen. Moreover, he was exceptionally harsh toward and contemptuous of members of the lower classes in society, as exemplified by the heavy taxes he levied as Prince of Aquitaine and by the massacres he perpetrated at Limoges and Caen.[citation needed] Edward's behaviour was typical of an increasing number of English knights and nobles during the late Middle Ages who paid less and less attention to the high ideal of chivalry. This growing disregard for chivalry's demands and the accompanying decline in martial and general conduct was soon to influence the nobility of other countries.[citation needed]

List of major campaigns and their significance[edit]

Death and burial[edit]

Tomb effigy

Edward died at Westminster Palace. He requested to be buried in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral rather than next to the shrine, and a chapel was prepared there as a chantry for him and his wife Joan, Countess of Kent. (This is now the French Protestant Chapel, and contains ceiling bosses of her face and of their coats of arms.) However, this was overruled after his death and he was buried on the south side of the shrine of Thomas Becket behind the quire. His tomb consists of a bronze effigy beneath a tester depicting the Holy Trinity, with his heraldic achievements hung over the tester. The achievements have now been replaced by replicas, though the originals can still be seen nearby. The tester was restored in 2006.

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 am I,
Deep in the ground, lo here I lie.
My beauty great, is all quite gone,
My flesh is wasted to the bone.

-Epitaph inscribed around his effigy

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

The Black Prince's coat of arms, as heir-apparent to the English throne.

Arms and heraldic badge[edit]

Arms: Quarterly, 1st and 4th azure semée of fleur-de-lys or (France Ancient); 2nd and 3rd gules, three lions passant guardant or (England); overall a label of three points argent. Crest: On a chapeau gules turned up ermine, a lion statant or gorged with a label of three points argent. Mantling: gules lined ermine. As Prince of Wales, Edward's coat of arms were those of the kingdom, differenced by a label of three points argent.[10]

The Black Prince's "shield for peace".
A painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, Oxford, depicting the badge of the Prince of Wales.

Edward also used an alternative coat of Sable, three ostrich feathers argent, described as his "shield for peace" (probably meaning the shield he used for jousting). This shield can be seen several times on his tomb chest, alternating with the differenced royal arms. His younger brother, John of Gaunt, used a similar shield on which the ostrich feathers were ermine.

Edward's "shield for peace" is believed to have inspired the badge of three ostrich feathers used by later Princes of Wales.

The name "Black Prince"[edit]

Although Edward is often referred to as the "Black Prince", there is no record of this name being used during his lifetime, nor for more than 150 years after his death. He was instead known as Edward of Woodstock (after his place of birth), or by one of his titles. The "Black Prince" sobriquet is first found in writing in two manuscript notes made by the antiquary John Leland in the 1530s or early 1540s: in one, Leland refers in English to "the blake prince"; in the other, he refers in Latin to "Edwardi Principis cog: Nigri".[11] The name's earliest known appearance in print is in Richard Grafton's Chronicle at Large (1569): Grafton uses it on three occasions, saying that "some writers name him the black prince", and (elsewhere) that he was "commonly called the black Prince".[12] It is used by Shakespeare, in his plays Richard II (written c.1595) and Henry V (c.1599). It later appears prominently in the title of Joshua Barnes's The History of that Most Victorious Monarch, Edward IIId, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland, and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account Of the Life and Death of the said King: Together with That of his Most Renowned Son, Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, Sirnamed the Black-Prince (1688).

The origins of the name are uncertain, though many theories have been proposed. These fall under two main heads:

The black field of his "shield for peace" is well documented (see Arms above). However, there is no sound evidence that Edward ever wore black armour, although John Harvey (without citing a source) refers to "some rather shadowy evidence that he was described in French as clad at the battle of Crecy "en armure noire en fer bruni" – in black armour of burnished steel".[13] Richard Barber suggests that the name's origins may have lain in pageantry, in that a tradition may have grown up in the 15th century of representing the prince in black armour. He points out that several chronicles refer to him as Edward the Fourth (the title he would have taken as King had he outlived his father): this name would obviously have become confusing when the actual Edward IV succeeded in 1461, and this may have been the period when an alternative had to be found.[14]

Edward's brutality in France is also well documented, and David Green believes that this is where the title has its origins. The French soldier Philippe de Mézières refers to Edward as the greatest of the "black boars" – those aggressors who had done so much to disrupt relations within Christendom.[15] Other French writers made similar associations, and Peter Hoskins reports that an oral tradition of L'Homme Noir, who had passed by with an army, survived in southern France until recent years.[16] In Shakespeare's Henry V, a reference by the King of France to "that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales" suggests that the playwright may have interpreted the name in this way. There remains, however, considerable doubt over how the name might have crossed from France to England.

Cultural references[edit]


Edward the Black Prince features prominently as a character in Edward III, a sixteenth-century play possibly partly attributable to William Shakespeare.

Edward is referred to in Shakespeare's Richard II and Henry V.

Clipper ship Black Prince

Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery devoted his 1667 play The Black Prince to Edward.

Edward the Black Prince is an important character in the play King Peter the Cruel in Scribd, and El Rey Don Pedro el Cruel in Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes. Both plays written by Santiago Sevilla.



The statue of Edward the Black Prince in Leeds City Square



See also[edit]



  1. ^ Barber, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ Chandos Herald (1883). The life & feats of arms of Edward the Black prince. J. G. Fotheringham. p. 294. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Edward I was Joan's grandfather and Edward's great-grandfather.
  4. ^ PETER THE CRUEL DON PEDRO I, page 23, Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain), volumes 17-18, 1840.
  5. ^ MACNALTY AS (1955). "The illness of Edward the Black Prince.". Br Med J 1 (4910): 411. PMC 2061131. PMID 13230513. 
  6. ^ Weir, Alison., Britains royal families (London, 2008) pg., 95
  7. ^ The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain (1958, 1962) p 387
  8. ^ Tuchman, Barbara (1978). A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-40026-7.
  9. ^ H. E. Marshall, Our Island Story, ch XLVII
  10. ^ Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family
  11. ^ Barber 1978, p. 242.
  12. ^ Richard Grafton, A Chronicle at Large (London, 1569), pp. 223, 293, 324
  13. ^ Harvey 1976, p. 15.
  14. ^ Barber 1978 pp. 242-3.
  15. ^ Green 2007, pp. 184-5.
  16. ^ Hoskins 2011, p. 57
  17. ^ Interviewed by John Cullinan (2 December 1972). "The Art of Fiction No. 48, Anthony Burgess". Paris Review. Retrieved 19 September 2012. 
  18. ^ Judith Barker: The Tournament in England, 1100-1400 (Woodbridge, Boydell 1986), p. 86.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Edward, the Black Prince
Born: 15 June 1330 Died: 8 June 1376
English royalty
Title last held by
Edward of Carnarvon
Prince of Wales
Title next held by
Richard of Bordeaux
New titleDuke of Cornwall