THE DEATH OF THE BLACK PRINCE
Edward was born on 15th June 1330 at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. He was the eldest son of Edward III and as such was held the title of The Prince of Wales. During his lifetime he was a key player in his father’s military campaigns in France. When he was just sixteen he was heralded for his involvement in the Battle of Crecy and the defeat of the French army.
After being appointed his father’s lieutenant he led another victory against the French at Poitiers and took the French king prisoner. In 1362 Edward married Joan of Kent. There is a love story attached to their coming together in that another knight asked Edward for her hand in marriage. She refused saying that she had already been promised by god to another knight. When pressed by Edward to whom this other knight could be she professed that it was Edward himself. After this he declared he would marry no other than her.
These are the kind of stories that have attached themselves to Edward over the years as little is written about his actual life. We have only the dates and writings of significant events in his lifetime and that of his death. The name ‘The Black Prince’ conjures up all kinds of dark images and deeds but this would not have been a name attributed to him in his lifetime nor for some years after. After his marriage, he was created prince of Aquitaine and Gascony but he would have been known as Edward of Woodstock. Together Edward and Joan had two sons Edward (1365-71) and Richard who would go on to be King Richard II coming to the throne as a child after Edward III’s death.
In 1367 Edward went to Spain to aid the deposed King and once again returned as victor, however, he was now proving unpopular with the nobility due to the taxes he was issuing for his crusades. In 1371 Edward returned to England after an uprising against him and the massacre of 3000 people. Edward was already seriously ill at this point, thought to have caught something while in Spain. By 1372 John of Gaunt (Edward III’s brother) had become the Kings Deputy and policy maker. (For more on John of Gaunt, please see this post http://www.historynaked.com/john-of-gaunt/ )By 1375 after 3 years without summoning parliament, due to some serious defeats abroad, writs were finally sent out for an assembly in April. The Prince attended for the opening but fell seriously ill and retired to Kennington. By June the Prince had become gravely ill with dysentery and was not expected to last long. At this point he moved to the palace of Westminster and most of the rest of time he spent in prayer. The prince had prayed that hay may die on the festival of The Holy Trinity, he had always held this feast in high regard. On the eve of Trinity Sunday he made his last will in full view of Walsingham who was a monk at St Albans. The Prince passed away at Westminster on 8 June, on Trinity Sunday, as he had wished. His death was looked on sadly at home and abroad for not only had one of England’s great warriors passed away but the prophecy that had been made regarding the Prince leading England to an even greater future was dashed. Chroniclers of the time wrote this about him.
Thus died the hope of the English: for while he lived they feared no invasion of the enemy, no onslaught of battle. Never in his presence, did they do badly or desert the battlefield; and, as is said of Alexander the Great, he never attacked people whom he did not conquer, he never besieged a city he did not take.
Edwards’s funeral procession took him from London, through Rochester and on to Canterbury Cathedral. He asked that a man may carry a black pennon of ostrich feathers before him. I will tell you more about the significance of these feathers in another post. Edward had stated in his will he was to be buried under the high alter in the Chantry chapel, however, this was not considered grand enough for such a prince and in the end his shrine was erected in the Trinity Chapel next to the shrine of Thomas Beckett. Around his tomb are his arms of Peace and war and the two mottoes Houmout (high spirited) and Ich diene (I serve). His effigy is striking in its armour giving off a power lacking in the civilian effigy of his father.
The Prince’s effigy looks up at a canopy painted with the images of The Trinity which he had so devoutly worshipped and the armour and heraldic achievements he so richly deserved.
In a footnote it is still a mystery as to why he was named the black Prince so long after his death, it is not thought to be down to his reputation as a ruthless warrior whilst at war. It could be that he was thought to wear black armour on his crusades but this is doubted. A more plausible theory is that when Edward IV came to the throne Edward of Woodstock was not grand enough for those who would play him in pageantry nor could he be known as the Edward IV who might have been…..instead those who represented him had a tradition of wearing black armour and so he became ‘The Black Prince’ and it eventually came to be written as such by John Leland in his manuscript ‘Collectanea’.