Edward, the Black Prince

"The Black Prince" redirects here. For other uses, see The Black Prince (disambiguation).
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
Born (1330-06-15)15 June 1330
Woodstock Palace, Oxfordshire
Died 8 June 1376(1376-06-08) (aged 45)
Palace of Westminster
Burial Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
Spouse Joan, 4th Countess of Kent
Edward of Angoulême
Richard II of England
House House of Plantagenet
Father Edward III of England
Mother Philippa of Hainault

Edward of Woodstock KG (15 June 1330 – 8 June 1376), called the Black Prince, was the eldest son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, and the father of King Richard II of England. He was the first Duke of Cornwall (from 1337), the Prince of Wales (from 1343) and the Prince of Aquitaine (1362–72).

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 was made a Founding Knight of the Garter.

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 fashionable 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 refused 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]

Edward and chivalry

Edward lived in a century of decline for the knightly ideal of chivalry.[6] On 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 he gave John permission to return home, and reportedly prayed 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."[7]

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.[6]

List of major campaigns and their significance

Marriage and issue

Signet ring of the Black Prince in the Louvre

Edward had illegitimate sons, all born before his marriage.

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.


Original Black Prince Heraldic achievements on display in Canterbury Cathedral

Edward the Black Prince seemed to have good health until 1366. It was not until his campaign in Spain to restore Don Pedro the Cruel to the throne of Castille that he became ill.[5] On this expedition, his army suffered so badly from dysentery that it is said that one out of every five Englishmen would not return home.[5][12] Edward the Black Prince contracted an illness on this expedition that would ail him until his death in 1376. It is widely believed that he contracted amoebic dysentery but some argue against the likelihood that he could sustain life with a ten-year battle with dysentery.[12] Other possible diagnoses include edema, nephritis, cirrhosis or a combination of these.[5][12] His illness prevented him participating on the battlefield. However, in 1370, the Prince had to leave his sick bed and raise an army to defend Aquitaine against Charles V of France.[5] In 1371, Edward the Black Prince’s health declined to the point where his physicians advised him to leave Bordeaux and return home to England. After much rest and dieting in England, the Prince saw improvement in his health. In 1372, he sailed on an expedition with King Edward III but failed to land on the French Coast due to contrary winds.[5] After the attempted expedition with King Edward III, the Prince’s health declined drastically. He would often faint because of weakness. This run of poor health continued until his death in 1376, aged 45.[5]

Death and burial

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.
On earth I had great riches
Land, houses, great treasure, horses, money and gold.
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[13]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Arms and heraldic badge

The Black Prince's coat of arms, as heir-apparent to the English throne.
The "shield for peace" used by the Prince of Wales, with the ich dien motto, use of which was attributed to Edward according to a long-standing but unhistorical tradition.[14]
A painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, Oxford, depicting the badge of the Prince of Wales as it was in the early 17th century; the three feathers are believed to derive from the heraldic device used by Edward.

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.[15] 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"

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".[16] 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".[17] 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".[18] 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.[19]

Edward's brutality in France is also well documented, and this may be where the title had 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.[20] 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.[21] 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. In 1642, Thomas Fuller commented that the Black Prince was "so called from his dreaded acts and not from his complexion".[22]

Recently however, his name being associated to any misdeeds or brutality have been in doubt by several historians. The greatest stain on Edward's dark reputation was the 1370 sack of Limoges, in which chronicler Jean Froissart describes "It was a most melancholy business – for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day."[9] However a more contemporary document written by Edward himself was recently discovered in a Spanish archive. The letter was written to the Count of Foix and describes how, during the invasion of Limoges, the Black Prince took "200 knights and men-at-arms prisoner". A local contemporary source from an abbey at Limoges documented "300 fatalities total in the city." There is no mention of a massacre of 3000 people or more.[9] It is possible Froissart greatly exaggerated the events that gave the Black Prince his name, but possible that Edward did not produce a truthful account of the campaign.

In France Edward is seen as a villainous invader who ruled the occupied territories with an iron fist. The 1963–66 French television series Thierry la Fronde dramatized the era, following the exploits of a young disenfranchised lord who fights gallantly against the Black Prince and English occupation.

See also



  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". Penny Cyclopaedia. 18. London: Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge / Charles Knight and Co. 1840. pp. 22–23 https://books.google.com/books?id=6c9PAAAAMAAJ&lpg=RA1-PA23&ots=S7rkjZB0lk&pg=RA1-PA23#v=onepage. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 MACNALTY AS (1955). "The illness of Edward the Black Prince.". Br Med J. 1 (4910): 411. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.4910.411. PMC 2061131Freely accessible. PMID 13230513.
  6. 1 2 Green, David. Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe. Taylor & Francis, 2007, p. 73.
  7. Tuchman, Barbara (1978). A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-40026-7.
  8. H. E. Marshall, Our Island Story, ch XLVII
  9. 1 2 3 http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28161434
  10. Weir, Alison., Britains royal families (London, 2008) pg., 95
  11. The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain (1958, 1962) p 387
  12. 1 2 3 Green, David (2009). "Masculinity and Medicine: Thomas Washington and the Death of the Black Prince". Journal of Medieval History. 35 (1): 34–51. doi:10.1016/j.jmedhist.2008.12.002.
  13. Dan Jones, "The Plantagenets", p.524
  14. Siddons, Michael Powell (2009). Heraldic Badges in England and Wales 2.1. Woodbridge: Society of Antiquaries/Boydell. pp. 178–90.
  15. Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family
  16. Barber 1978, p. 242.
  17. Richard Grafton, A Chronicle at Large (London, 1569), pp. 223, 293, 324
  18. Harvey 1976, p. 15.
  19. Barber 1978, pp. 242-3.
  20. Green 2007, pp. 184-5.
  21. Hoskins 2011, p. 57
  22. Fuller, Thomas (1642). The Holy State. Cambridge. p. 342.

Further reading

  • Barber, Richard (1978). Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: a biography of the Black Prince. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-0861-0. 
  • 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. ISBN 0-85115-435-2. 
  • Green, David (2001). The Black Prince. Stoud: Tempus. ISBN 0752419897. 
  • Barber, Richard (2008) [2004]. "Edward (Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince), prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 8 October 2011.  Subscription resource.
  • Green, David (2007). Edward, the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe. Harlow: Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-78481-9. 
  • Green, David (2009). "Masculinity and medicine: Thomas Walsingham and the death of the Black Prince". Journal of Medieval History. 35: 34–51. doi:10.1016/j.jmedhist.2008.12.002. 
  • Harvey, John (1976). The Black Prince and his Age. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-3148-2. 
  • The Herald of Sir John Chandos (1910). Mildred K. Pope & Eleanor C. Lodge, ed. Life of the Black Prince. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Available online
  • Hoskins, Peter (2011). In the Steps of the Black Prince: the Road to Poitiers, 1355-1356. Woodbridge: Boydell. ISBN 978-1-84383-611-7. 
  • Pattison, Richard Phillipson Dunn (1910). The Black Prince. London: Methuen. 
  • Pepin, Guilhem (2006). "Towards a new assessment of the Black Prince's principality of Aquitaine: a study of the last years (1369–1372)". Nottingham Medieval Studies. 50: 59–114. 
  • Tuchman, Barbara (1978). A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-40026-7. 
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Edward, the Black Prince
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English royalty
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