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Edward, the Black Prince

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Edward the Black Prince - illustration from Cassell's History of England circa 1902
Edward the Black Prince - illustration from Cassell's History of England circa 1902

Effigy on the Black Prince's tomb in
Effigy on the Black Prince's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral

Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince (June 15, 1330June 8, 1376) was the eldest son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Born at Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire, he was created earl of Chester in 1333, Duke of Cornwall in 1337, becoming the first English Duke created, and Prince of Wales in 1343, and proved to have a prodigious military talent, as shown by his bravery at the Battle of Crécy when he was only sixteen. He followed this up ten years later with victory at the Battle of Poitiers, and in 1367 with the victory at Najera in northern Castile.

He continued the practice of using Welsh and English archers in the English army, and the English owed much of their subsequent military success to the supremacy of the longbow over the continental crossbow. He was also one of the first military leaders to introduce a uniform: he did so for his Cheshire and Flintshire troops, who were clothed in green and white cloth.

The emblem of the Prince of Wales's feathers and its accompanying motto, "Ich dien" (German for: I serve), are said to have been inherited by the prince from King John of Bohemia, against whom he fought in the Battle of Crécy. According to legend, after the battle of Crecy, the prince walked over to the king of Bohemia's dead body. The King was blind, and Edward admired his bravery. He picked up the King's helmet, lined with ostrich feathers, and took the King's motto, 'Ich dien', which means, I Serve. However, this emblem and motto were not exclusively used by the Black Prince, but also by his brothers.

Iconic image of the Black Prince
Iconic image of the Black Prince

Edward had been brought up with his cousin, Joan "The Fair Maid of Kent". After marrying her in October, 1361 (a controversial match), Edward was sent to rule the province of Aquitaine as prince on behalf of his father. In this period, he had two sons, Edward (who died in infancy) and Richard, who would later rule as Richard II of England. He was given the lordship of Biscay by Pedro I of Castile in 1367.

His military campaigning on behalf of Pedro, King of Castile, known to his enemies as 'Pedro the Cruel', ruined Edward's health as well as his finances, and he was forced to give up the administration of Aquitaine in 1371 and return to England. Whilst making an attempt to involve himself in the government of England, he soon had to give up any hope of resuming military activity, and he died at Westminster on Trinity Sunday, June 8, 1376, leaving his young son as heir to the throne. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

Edward is almost always now called the "Black Prince," but he was never known as such during his lifetime (instead being known as Edward of Woodstock after his place of birth). The "Black Prince" title was coined at least 200 years after his death, and it is believed to derive either from the colour of his armour or his foul temper.

In the movie A Knight's Tale, Edward is portrayed as a rather sympathetic man as opposed to a spiteful one.

Further reading

  • Richard Barber, The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince, ISBN 0851154697

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Edward III | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Duke of Aquitaine
1361–1376 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Richard II

Edward III of England
Philippa of Hainault

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46