Skip to main content

Edward, The 'Black' Prince of Wales

The Black Prince

Edward, Prince of Wales, known as 'The Black Prince' was born in Woodstock, England on the 15th of June 1330. The eldest son of Edward the third and Philippa of Hainaut, his contemporaries knew him as Edward of Woodstock.

He was not known as the Black Prince until after the 16th century. His nickname is supposed to have been derived from his wearing of black armour. In 1333 he was made Earl of Chester and just four years later in 1337 he became the Duke of Cornwall, being the first duke ever created in England and a title held by the Prince of Wales even today!

Ich Dien

Edward Black Prince of WalesNominal warden of England during his fathers absences abroad in 1338 and 1342, he was not created Prince of Wales until 1343. It was Edward who introduced the feathers and motto "Ich Dien". The feathers are thought to have been part of his mothers court of arms. A more romantic theroy is he took the feathers from the helmet warn by the King John of Bohemia whom he defeated at the battle of Crécy. The motto is known to have formed part of the arms of King John. It's worth mentioning that 'Ich Dien' is actually german, 'I Serve'.

In 1345 the prince first accompanied his father on a foreign expedition. His real career begins, however, with Edward III's Norman Campaign of 1346. On landing at La Hogue he was knighted by is father, becoming one of the original 'Knights of the Garter' and took a prominent part in the whole of the campaign. After at the Siege of Calais in October 1347 he returned to England with his father.

In September 1355 he was sent to Gascony at the head of an English army. He was warmly welcomed by the Gascons and at once led a foray through Armagnac and Languedoc. By November he had got as far as Narbonne, whence he returned to Bordeaux, where he kept his Christmas court. In August 1356 he started another marauding expedition, this time in a southerly direction. He penetrated as far as the Loire, but was compelled to retire before the superior forces of King John of France. On the I9th of September the two armies met in the battle of Poitiers. It was the hardest-fought and most important battle of the 'Hundred Years War' and Edward's victory was due both to the excellence of his tactical disposition of his forces and to the superior fighting capacity of his army. Edward's own tactics and the captivity of King John attested the completeness of his triumph.

He treated his prisoner with almost ostentatious magnanimity, taking him to Bordeaux whence they sailed to England in May 1357. On the 24th of that month he led his prisoner in triumph through the streets of London. In 1359 he took part in his fathers invasion of Northern France. In October 1361 Edward married his cousin Joan, the daughter and heiress of the Earl of Kent who was the younger son of Edward I, by his second wife Margaret of France. Apparently the king had no knowledge of the marriage but approved of his sons choice anyway! In July 1362 handed over to him all his dominions in Southern France, with the title of Prince of Aquitaine.

Keeping a 'good peace'...

In February 1363 Edward and Joan sailed Gascony, which became his ordinary place of residence for the next eight years. He maintained a brilliant court at Bordeaux and did his best to win the support of the Gascons. He was not however, successful in winning over the greater nobles, who with John, Count of Armagnac at their head were dissatisfied with the separation from France and looked with suspicion upon Edward's attempts to reform the administration as being likely to result in the curtailment of their feudal rights. Edward was better able to conciliate the towns, whose franchises he favoured and whose trade he fostered, hoping that hey would prove a counterpoise to the aristocracy. He kept the chief posts of the administration mainly in English hands, and never really identified himself with the local life and traditions of the region. He kept good peace for nearly six years, not an easy task in those days!

In 1367 'Pedro the Cruel', the deposed king of Castile visited Edward at Bordeaux and persuaded him to restore him to his throne by force. In February 1367 Edward led an army into and over the pass of Roncesvalles. By the 3rd of April, after a difficult march Edward attacked and defeated Bertrand du Guesclin in the last of his great victories. He then proceeded to Burgos and restored Pedro to the throne of Castile. He remained in Castile for four months, living principally at Valladolid. His army wasted away during the hot Spanish summer and Edward himself contracted the beginnings of a mortal disease. In August 1367 Edward led a remnant of his troops back through the pass of Roncesvalles and returned to Bordeaux early in September. Having exhausted his resources on the Spanish expedition he was forced to take from the estates of Aquitaine extraordinary sources of supply. A hearth tax, for five years was willingly granted to him. The greater barons however saw this as a pretext for revolt.

The Count of Armagnac, who had already made a secret understanding with Charles V appealed against the hearth tax to the parliament of Paris. Edward was called to explain himself. In January 1369 he declared that he would answer them in Paris with sixty thousand men behind him. Needless to say, war broke out again and Edward III resumed the title of 'King of France'. Thereupon Charles V declared that all the English possessions in France were forfeited. Before the end of 1369 Aquitaine was in full revolt. With weak health and impaired resources the Black Prince showed little activity in dealing with his insurgent subjects or in warding off French invasion. Although too ill to ride on horseback he insisted on commanding his troops and on the I9th of September 1370 he captured the city of Limoges, putting the population to the sword. What would now be considered a horrendous war crime was common, even normal in those days.

Early in 1371 be returned England, leaving the impossible task of holding Gascony to John of Gaunt (another important character in early Welsh/English history). In August 1372 he joined his father in an abortive expedition to France but contrary winds prevented their landing. After this he abandoned military life for good. In October he resigned his principality on the ground that he could not afford to retain any longer so expensive a charge. His health in rapidly declined but he still followed politics with interest and did what he could to support the constitutional opposition of the great ecclesiastics to the administration of John of Gaunt and the anti-clerical courtiers. His last public act was to inspire the attack on Lancaster's influence made by the Good Parliament in the spring of 1376. The famous parliament was still in session when he died at Westminster on the 8th of July. Edward, the Black Prince was never king.

He was buried in the east end of Canterbury Cathedral on the 29th of September, where his magnificent tomb, erected in accordance the instructions in his will, may still be seen. By Joan,' The Fair Maid of Kent', who died on the 7th of August 1385, the Black Prince left an only son, afterwards King Richard II.

So in the end we see that he shared the Plantagonet obsession with the ancestral lands in France. Along with his forefathers he saw England as a cash cow, there to fund exploits in the European theatre rather than a enough in itself. And of Wales? Well out of sight, out of mind although he valued the contribution Welsh archers made to his fighting forces. Their longbow expertise being a major factor in his military success. He was also one of the first european leaders to introduce a uniform, half green, half white. Now, where have we seen that before?