Edward the Black Prince

The English soldier-statesman Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376) was heir apparent to the English throne. Active in the military affairs of the period, particularly in the English conflict with France, he earned fame as a skillful and valorous fighter.

Born on June 15, 1330, Edward the Black Prince, also known as Edward of Woodstock (after his place of birth), as Prince of Wales, and sometimes as Edward IV, was the eldest son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainaut. On March 18, 1333, shortly before his third birthday, he was created Earl of Chester, and he was made Duke of Cornwall on March 3, 1337. During the next few years he was guardian of the kingdom while his father was absent on the Continent, and on May 12, 1343, Edward was created Prince of Wales. At the age of 15 he was knighted by his father at La Hogue, and the following year Edward took an active role in the winning of the Battle of Crécy against the French. It was at this battle that he obtained the name of "the Black Prince," possibly because he wore black armor.

In the following years Edward was active in the military expeditions of his father, taking part in the expedition to Calais in 1349. By 1355 he was the King's lieutenant in Gascony and leader of an army in Aquitaine that was invading southeastern France. In 1356 he was outflanked in battle by King John. After a failure to negotiate a peace, Edward defeated the French and captured their king at the Battle of Poitiers (September 19).

In October 1361 Edward married the 33-year-old Joan, Countess of Kent, who was the widow of Sir Thomas Holland. As an orphan, she had been brought up in the household of Edward III along with Edward. Known as the "Fair Maid of Kent," Joan had two sons by the Black Prince.

Edward continued to play an active role in the government and in military matters. On July 19, 1362, he was created prince of Aquitaine and Gascony, and during the next years he was busy in France, attempting to check the "free companies" that continued to war against the French. In 1367 he undertook an expedition into Spain to assist Don Pedro of Castile, who had been deprived of his throne by Henry of Trastamare with French aid. With an army of 30,000 men Edward crossed the Pyrenees and won a third great battle at Navarrete. Due to illness, he was forced to return to his holdings in France. When war broke out with Charles V of France in 1369, Edward laid siege to Limoges. Upon its capture all its inhabitants were put to death.

Ill health caused Edward to return to England in 1371, and in the following year he resigned his principality and began to take an active part in English internal politics. He became the champion of the constitutional policy of the Commons against the corrupt court and the party of the Lancastrians. Edward was active in the reform plans as set forth in the "Good Parliament" of 1376, but his death caused much of this work to remain undone. He died on June 8, 1376, a month before the Parliament was dissolved.

Although he is known to history as a great soldier, the Black Prince's victories were due more to superior numbers than to great skill on his part. His greater contribution was his attempt to deal with the political situation in England.

Further Reading on Edward the Black Prince

The primary sources on the Black Prince are Jean Froissart, The Chronicle of Froissart, translated by Sir John Bourchier (6 vols., 1901-1903; repr. 1967); The Life of the Black Prince by the Herald of Sir John Chandos, edited by Mildred K. Pope and Eleanor C. Lodge (1910); and The Register of Edward, the Black Prince (4 vols., 1930-1933). There is a short study of Edward by Dorothy Mills, Edward, the Black Prince (1963). Older works are G. P. R. James, A History of the Life of Edward the Black Prince (2 vols., 1836); R. P. Dunn-Pattison, The Black Prince (1910); and Marjorie Coryn, The Black Prince (1934). Edward's military activities are related in H. J. Hewitt, The Black Prince's Expedition of 1355-57 (1958), and his burial in Sir James Mann, The Funeral Achievements of Edward the Black Prince (1950). For historical background on the period see May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century, 1307-1399 (1959), and Arthur Bryant, The Atlantic Saga, vol. 2: The Age of Chivalry (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Barber, Richard W., Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: a biography of the Black Prince, New York: Scribner, 1978.

Chandos Herald, Life of the Black Prince, New York, AMS Press, 1974.

Cole, Hubert, The Black Prince, London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1976.

Emerson, Barbara, The Black Prince, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.

Harvey, John Hooper, The Black Prince and his age, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976.

The life and campaigns of the Black Prince: from contemporary letters, diaries and chronicles, including Chandos Herald's Life of the Black Prince, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

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