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."
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. 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.
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.
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.
Edward lived in a century of decline for the knightly ideal of chivalry. 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.
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." Though not agreeing with knightly charges on the battlefield, he also was devoted to tournament jousting.
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. 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. 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.
List of major campaigns and their significance
The 1345 Flanders Campaign on the northern front, which was of little significance and ended after three weeks when one of Edward's allies, Jacob van Artevelde, a former brewer and eventual governor of Flanders, was murdered by his own citizens.
The Crécy Campaign on the northern front, which crippled the French army for ten years, allowing the siege of Calais to occur with little conventional resistance before the plague set in. Even when France's army did recover, the forces they deployed were about a quarter of that deployed at Crécy (as shown at Poitiers). Normandy came virtually under English control, but a decision was made to focus on northern France, leaving Normandy under the control of England's vassal allies instead.
The Siege of Calais, during which the inhabitants suffered greatly and were reduced to eating dogs and rats. The siege gave the English personal and vassal control over northern France before the temporary peace due to the Black Death.
The Calais counter-offensive, after which Calais remained in English hands.
The Great Raid of 1355 in the Aquitaine–Languedoc region, which crippled southern France economically, and provoked resentment of the French throne among French peasantry. The raid also 'cushioned' the area for conquest, opened up alliances with neighbours in Aquitaine, the one with Charles II of Navarre being the most notable, and caused many regions to move towards autonomy from France, as France was not as united as England.
The Aquitaine Conquests, which brought much firmer control in Aquitaine, much land for resources and many people to fight for Edward.
The Poitiers Campaign in the Aquitaine-Loire region, which crippled the French army for the next 13 years, fomenting the anarchy and chaos which would cause the Treaty of Bretigney to be signed in 1360. Following this campaign, there was no French army leader, there were challenges towards Charles the Wise, and more aristocrats were killed at Crécy and Poitiers than by the Black Death.
The Reims Campaign, following which peace was finally achieved with the Treaty of Bretigny. But, on the same terms, England was left with about a third of France rather than a little under half which they would have received through the Treaty of London. This is due to the failure to take Reims which led to the need for a safe passage out of France. As a result, a lesser treaty was agreed to and Edward III was obliged to drop his claims to the French throne. France was still forced to pay a huge ransom of around four times France's gross annual domestic product for John the Good. The ransom paid was, however, a little short of that demanded by the English, and John the Good was not returned to the French. Thus, this campaign yielded mixed results, but was mostly positive for Edward. One must also remember Edward III never actually dropped his claim to the throne, and that about half of France was controlled by the English anyway through many vassals.
The Najera Campaign in the Castilian region, during which Peter of Castile was temporarily saved from a coup, thus confirming Castilian dedication to the Prince's cause. Later, however, Pedro was murdered. As a result of Pedro's murder, the money the prince put into the war effort became pointless, and Edward was effectively bankrupt. This forced heavy taxes to be levied in Aquitaine to relieve Edward's financial troubles, leading to a vicious cycle of resentment in Aquitaine and repression of this resentment by Edward. Charles the Wise, king of France, was able to take advantage of the resentment against Edward in Aquitaine. However, the prince temporarily became the Lord of Biscay.
The Siege of Limoges in 1370 on the Aquitaine area, after which the Black Prince was obliged to leave his post for his sickness and financial issues, but also because of the cruelty of the siege, which saw the massacre of some 3,000 residents according to the chronicler Froissart. Without the Prince, the English war effort against Charles the Wise and Bertrand Du Guesclin was doomed. The Prince's brother John of Gaunt was not interested with the war in France, being more interested in the war of succession in Castile.
King Edward III and the prince sailed for France from Sandwich with 400 ships carrying 4,000 men at arms and 10,000 archers, but after six weeks of bad weather and being blown off course, they were driven back to England.
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
The Black Prince's coat of arms, as heir-apparent to the English throne.
Arms and heraldic badge
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.
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.
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 antiquaryJohn 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". 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". 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:
that it is derived from Edward's black shield, and/or his black armour.
that it is derived from Edward's brutal reputation, particularly towards the French in Aquitaine.
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".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.
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. 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. 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.
Edward the Black Prince features prominently as a character in Edward III, a sixteenth-century play possibly partly attributable to William Shakespeare.
Edward appears as a participant in the Crécy campaign in Bernard Cornwell's novel Harlequin (published in the U.S. as The Archer's Tale). He also features in the sequel "1356".
The character of Robert Godwin in Susan Howatch's historical novel The Wheel of Fortune is based on Edward.
Edward plays an important role in two novels by Rebecca Gablé, a German writer of historical fiction.
Edward makes an appearance in the novel By Right of Arms, by Robyn Carr, as a supporter and friend of the main character.
Edward appears as the Prince of Wales in World Without End, by Ken Follett, during the battle of Crecy, where he is rescued by one of the main characters, Ralph FitzGerald (later Earl of Shiring).
Edward and Canterbury Cathedral are mentioned in Chapter 52 of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: "Yet the bells, when they sounded, told me sorrowfully of change in everything; told me of their own age, and my pretty Dora's youth; and of the many, never old, who had lived and loved and died, while the reverberations of the bells had hummed through the rusty armour of the Black Prince hanging up within, and, motes upon the deep of Time, had lost themselves in air, as circles do in water."
Anthony Burgess claimed in a 1972 interview to have written a plan for a novel about the Black Prince which would incorporate John Dos Passos' narrative techniques: however, the actual novel remains unwritten and/or unplublished.
Edward, Prince of Wales is the main role played by Errol Flynn in The Dark Avenger (1955). The film was also known as The Warriors in the USA, and The Black Prince in the UK although the latter seems to have been a working title. In Greece it was aired on TV as The Black Knight.
Edward, The Black Prince of Wales, was portrayed by James Purefoy in the 2001 film A Knight's Tale. Though never intended to be a historically accurate tale, the film puts an odd spin on Edward. He is portrayed as a kind and benevolent prince who enjoys sneaking into jousting tournaments to compete, and he is very kind to the protagonist, who is of peasant ancestry, even knighting him. However, appearing incognito in tournaments was not uncommon, taking its inspiration from chivalric romances. Indeed, Prince Edward's father, Edward III, enjoyed participating in tournaments dressed in the arms of other English knights.
English SSvolunteers in the 1965 alternate history film It Happened Here are part of the Black Prince Division as seen briefly on their cuff titles at the end of the film when being massacred after surrendering.
Edward is portrayed in the 2007 PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 video game Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War by Koei. Within this video game, he is seen as the inspirational commander of English forces, aspiring to conquer France for his father, though remaining compassionate to the feelings of the French peasantry, knowing that they would be his people upon success in France.
Edward appears under the name of Black Prince in the game Empire Earth in the English campaign in the fourth and fifth scenario.
Barber, Richard, ed. (1986). The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince: from contemporary letters, diaries and chronicles, including Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. Woodbridge: Boydell. ISBN0-85115-435-2.