Edward The Black Prince

Edward the Black Prince Of Wales

Also known as ‘Edward of Woodstock’, Edward the Black Prince was the eldest son of King III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Although he never became the king, he was the heir apparent to the English throne. His limited years did not limit his power and he made a name for himself through his military brilliance and achievements. Of all the battles he fought, his victories against the French in the Battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers are notorious.

There is no clear evidence as to why he became to be known as Edward The Black Prince Of Wales but some historians suggest that it was referred to his black shield and body armor while others argued that it referred to his cruelty to the French people. Moreover, he was given this name after about one hundred and fifty years after his death. In his life, he was only known as ‘Edward of Woodstock’.

Edward the black Prince of Wales
Edward The Black Prince. Source: Flickr

Early Life

Born on the 15th of June 1330 at Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire, Edward of Woodstock was the eldest son of King Edward III of England and was the heir to the English throne. Since he died a year before his father at the age of 45, his son Richard II succeeded the throne. Edward was given the following titles:

  • Earl of Chester
  • Duke of Cornwell
  • Prince of Wales
  • Prince of Aquitaine
  • Knight of the Garter

Marriage

The negotiations for Edward began when he was only 7 years old. He was married to his father’s cousin who was the divorced and widowed countess of Kent in October 1361 at Windsor castle. They had two sons, Edward and Richard. The eldest son Edward died of plague at the mere age of six, whereas the younger son Richard grew up to inherit the throne after his Grandfather and become to be known as King Richard II.

He also became the step-father to his wife Joan’s children from her previous marriage which included Thomas and John Holland. Apart from his two legitimate sons, he also had several illegitimate children which were not considered unusual at that time. His illegitimate children included Sir Roger Clarendon whom he had with Edith de Willesford and three other sons called Edward, Sir Charles FitzEdward, and Sir John Sounder.

Titles and achievements

He received his first suit of armour at the age of seven. Soon afterward he was granted revenue from the newly created Duchy of Cornwell by his father King Edward. However, if the future monarch did not have a son then the revenue from the Duchy would be reverted to the crown. Hence, eventually, Prince Edward was made theDuke of Cornwell.

At the age of 13, Edward was made the Prince of Wales and he proved his position 3 years later at the Battle of Crécy in North-Eastern France in August 1346. The English had a total victory over the French. During the Hundred Years’ War, Edward often fought with the French. Another major achievement for him came from the Battle of Poitiers when he defeated the French and even captured the French King as a prisoner. 

After his achievements in the Hundred Years’ War against the French, Edward’s reputation got stained in September 1370 due to the French town of Limoges. A friend of Edward and the godfather to his son, Johan De dross who was also the Bishop of Limoges betrayed Edward and defected to the french by welcoming a garrison into a part of the town.

A massacre followed upon Edward hearing the news where he put 3,000 men, women, and children to death. Despite them pleading for mercy, Edward listened to none and almost destroyed the entire population of Limoges. This cruelty shown by him is also suggested to be one of the reasons he is termed as the Black Prince of Wales.

After his military success in France, he turned towards Spain where he helped the deposed King Pedro the Cruel of Castile defeat his illegitimate brother known as the henry of Trastamara. He was defeated at Najera in Castile and hence Edward was awarded the Black Prince’s Ruby by the Spanish King. Moreover, Edward was also among the 25 founding knights of the Order of the Garter.

Hundred Years’ War

In 1337 CE, King Edward decided to expand his lands in France. Moreover, the King’s mother Isabella being from France (the daughter of Philip IV of France) gave him an excuse to have a right to claim the French throne. However, the king of France at the time, Philip VI refused to step down from his throne. Hence, the Hundred Years’ War between France and England began in which Prince Edward played a major role starting from the Battle of Crécy in 1346.

Battle Of Crécy

Edward was known to use the strategy chevauchée which was a common part of medieval warfare and is known to be used as far as back in 1066 CE by William the Conqueror. The strategy aimed to perform multiple functions such as instilling fear and terror in the locals, provide free food for an invading army, get booty and ransom for noble prisoners, and to ensure that the opposite army had a weak economic base.

Moreover, ordinary troops also caused mayhem and executed raids on the opponent’s army whenever they could get a chance. The potential outcome of this strategy was brutal economic warfare and provoking the enemy to attack. This is exactly what happened with the King of France and hence on the 26th of August, the two armies met when King Phillip of France decided to invade England’s army.

the Battle of Crécy
The English and French fighting at the Battle of Crécy. Source: Flickr

Prince Edward who was only 16 at the time led the English army with his right-wing and Sir Godfrey Harcourt. Although the prince fought with great bravery there came a point when the French seemed to be winning. Sir Godfrey called for reinforcements however the King upon hearing the news stated that if his son could extricate himself from the battle then he would win his spurs which was a sign of knighthood and were awarded in a full knighting ceremony.

Eventually, Edward the Black Prince’s army overcame their numerical disadvantage by taking a defensive position on the River Maie. The French army retracted after getting into a muddle. King Edward won the battle with only 300 casualties whereas the French had a great number of casualties of around 14,000. Not only that but the battle also resulted in their fallen reputation. The King John of Bohemia, the Count of Blois, and the Count of Flanders were also eliminated in the Battle of Crécy. Afterward, Prince Edward adopted the emblem and motto of the fallen king of Bohemia.

After the success at the battle of Crécy, England’s success continued when Edward the Black Prince backed an army of around 26,000 men and captured Calais after a year-long siege in July 1347 CE. The Black Prince’s reputation further grew when after three years, in January 1350 CE, along with his selected unit of knights, he protected the city against a French plot that Involved Italian mercenaries.

Chivalry and Garters

To celebrate the Prince’s medieval tournaments, he and his father participated in the great 15-day tournament in 1344 CE at Windsor Castle. The prince’s father, Edward III found the exclusive Knights club and epitome of medieval Chivalry of which the prince was also the founding member and was given the Order of the Garter in 1348 CE.

This order is known to be one of England’s most oldest and prestigious and included only 24 chosen knights, the King, and the Black Prince. The chosen knights had all fought in the battle of Crécy. The symbol of the order was a garter and its motto read, “evil on him who thinks it” referring to anyone who had doubted the king’s right to rule France. Moreover, The garter on the order had the royal colours of France; blue and gold.

Battle of Poitiers

The new King of France, John II was not any different from the previous one. He continued to war with England. Hence, in 1355 CE Gascony was raided and Bordeaux was captured by Edward the Black Prince which he used as his base. The Prince used the same strategy he used in the Battle of Crécy and torched cities and farmlands.

Again just as the previous king, this strategy also provoked the new French King to take the same steps, and hence, the French surprised the English army on the 18th of September 1356 CE. A mighty battle started the next day 4 miles from Poitiers. Once again the French army outnumbered the English army (35,000 vs 7,000). However, they could not handle the power and accuracy of the English longbow. Eventually, England won and the King John of France himself was captured along with 2,000 other French knights.

The Battle of Poitiers
The Battle of Poitiers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Edward gained further reputation because of the chivalrous behavior he showed to the King of France after capturing him as a prisoner and while escorting him back to England. Moreover, he also distributed gold and titles to his commanders and donated huge sums to churches such as the Canterbury Cathedral.

Although King Edward marched to Rheims and made himself the King of France, the harsh winters there reduced his army. Hence, he signed a peace treaty in 1360 CE between England and France which is called the Treaty of Bretigny. In 1362 CE, King Edward III, who was the Lord of Aquitaine, made his son, the Black Prince, the Prince of Aquitaine.

Castile and Najera

After the treaty of peace, the Black Prince turned to Castile in Spain. The fallen king of Spain Pedro wanted to reclaim the throne from his half-brother HenryII of Castile who had the support of the French. On 3rd April 1367 CE, Prince Edward won the Battle of Najera against the French at the Najerilla river. He even managed to sell one of the prisoners for a massive ransom.

Hence, he was titled the greatest knight ever, Bertrand du Guesclin, the ‘Eagle of Brittany’. He also received a memento from Pedro that became to be known as Black Prince’s Ruby. Although the Battle of Najera was a great military feat, it also proved to be a financial disaster for the Black Prince.

Death

Due to his ill health, the Prince returned to England in 1371. He resigned from his principality next year and started taking a more active part in England’s internal politics where he was known for the constitutional policy of the commons against the corrupt court and the party of Lancastrians.

Edward the Balck Prince of Wales died at the age of 46 on 8th June 1376 CE. The exact cause of his death is unknown but it is said that he suffered from many illnesses from dysentery to old war wounds and even cancer. Although the cause of his death might never be known, it is known that he died before ascending the throne.

A year after his death, his father, King Edward III also passed away and Edward the black prince’s son Richard inherited the throne. Moreover, due to his death, his work in the parliament remained undone and the year following his death, the parliament itself was resolved.

He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral where his black helmet, shield, and gauntlets are hung above. The space beside him was kept for his wife. However, she was buried next to her first husband. According to some theories, the prince chose Canterbury Cathedral as his burial place as his confession of his sins. This was because the Canterbury Cathedral was considered a place of penance and repentance. Moreover, The black prince also ordered the following French poem to be Inscribed around his tomb at Canterbury:

Such as you are, Sometimes was I.

Such as I am, So you shall be.

I thought little of Death

So long as I enjoyed life.

On earth, I had great riches…

Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money, gold…

But now I am a poor captive,

Deep in the ground, I lie…

My great beauty is all gone,

My flesh is wasted to the bone…

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