Edward the Black Prince

Born: June 15, 1330

Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England

Died: June 8, 1376

Westminster, London, England (Age 45)

Black Prince in History

Edward of Woodstock was born the eldest child of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault on June 15, 1330. It can only be imagined how jubilant the royal couple was at the birth of a healthy son, not only for dynastic purposes (i.e. to keep the succession moving smoothly), but because of the political capital that came with possessing an heir. For Edward III, this was particularly important given the fact that he himself had been prematurely thrust onto the throne at the young age of fourteen, just three years earlier, when his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, the rebel marcher lord Roger Mortimer, had deposed (and more than likely murdered) the previous king, Edward II. At the time of the prince’s birth, the king was still only a youth of seventeen, but he was becoming increasingly anxious to throw off the tutelage that was being forced upon him by his overweening mother and her autocratic lover. With a royal heir born, Edward III stood on firmer ground and was successfully able to arrest and execute Mortimer and force Isabella into a quiet retirement. Before he reached his first birthday, the younger Edward had already proven to be a tremendous boon to his father.

Details of the prince’s formative years are fairly sparse, and there is therefore not much worthy of mention. He was created Earl of Chester, a position in the peerage reserved for the royal heir since the days of Henry III, in March 1333 and was considered for a diplomatic marriage with the daughter of Philip VI of France, though nothing came of this latter proposal. When Edward’s uncle, John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall, died suddenly in September 1336, the king saw an opportunity to enrich his son even further. In February 1337, the prince replaced his uncle not as Earl, but as Duke, of Cornwall, becoming the first member of the English peerage to hold this title which had been used on the continent for centuries.  Throughout the remainder of the first decade of his life, Edward continued to receive a solid education (including martial training) and played a symbolic role in state occasions alongside his father.

When war broke out between England and France, Edward’s role in governmental affairs (even if still primarily nominal) was amplified. In the summer of 1338, at the young age of eight, Edward was appointed as guardian (or “keeper” according to come sources) of England when his father departed for the continent to participate in the initial phase of the Hundred Years’ War in person. While the younger Edward’s power was, as earlier indicated, of a symbolic nature, he was still present at all major state functions, and it was he who the court followed. A major problem during the prince’s first guardianship was the financial situation, both within his own household and within the kingdom as a whole. These issues were caused primarily by the bloated staff that Edward employed and the king’s costly enterprise of pressing his long-shot claim to the French throne, respectively. Both Edwards would be haunted by financial difficulties for much of their lives.

When the king returned to England in February 1340 to request further funds, the prince’s first guardian ship lapsed – though it had undoubtedly provided him with crucial experience pertaining to matters of state. Edward again served as guardian of the realm when the king departed back to the continent in June to take part in the campaign which included his great naval victory at the Sluys. This guardianship came to an end about six months later, when the elder Edward returned to England to face what would arguably be the most serious domestic crisis of his long reign (unsurprisingly, it revolved around a lack of funds for the war with France – yet again). The prince’s third and final guardianship took place from October 1342 – March 1343. King Edward was in Brittany during this period providing support for his preferred ducal candidate in the lengthy Breton War of Succession.

Soon after the termination of his final guardianship of England, Edward was formally invested as Prince of Wales, yet another title that had become synonymous with the heir to the throne. Already being Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall, the investiture of the principality of Wales greatly increased the prince’s income and prestige, and he had still yet to become a teenager. By this point, Edward was deemed old enough to be given tasks and responsibilities that were not strictly nominal. This was proven by the fact that he journeyed to Flanders with his father in the summer of 1344 to discuss the likely renewal of the war with France with the elder Edward’s Flemish allies. While this purely diplomatic expedition would prove fruitless (and lasted for less than a month), Edward was about to acquire a vast amount of military experience by taking  part in the fateful, and ultimately successful, campaign of 1346.

The war with France was officially renewed by the beginning of 1346, and the king landed on the coast of Normandy in that summer. Unlike the previous campaign, in which the prince was far too young to participate, the younger Edward (now sixteen years of age) accompanied his father to the continent and was given nominal command of one of the contingents in the sizeable English army; the more experienced Earls of Warwick and Northampton were the de facto commanders and primary advisers to the young prince. The king’s strategy revolved around a scorched earth policy with two primary objectives: To discredit King Philip in the eyes of his subjects, making it seem as if he was not able to protect them from a foreign invader, and to draw the French king out into a pitched battle, in which the English would have had a built-in advantage due to their substantial contingent of longbow archers. Edward’s contingent shadowed that which was under the command of his father and mimicked many of their actions (i.e. burning and plundering).

The culmination of the 1346 campaign was, of course, the now famous Battle of Crecy, which was a decisive victory for the English. It is believed that the prince played a significant role in the battle, not only by nominally commanding the vanguard, which happened to be the division of the English army that bore the brunt of the French attacks, but also by immersing himself in the heavy hand-to-hand combat of the encounter. Certain chronicles will even credit the prince personally for the death of the blind King John of Bohemia, a French ally who made the decision to have his men lead him into the thick of the fighting for one last chance at glory, despite his obvious handicap. Though this claim is largely unsubstantiated, one fact is crystal clear: The prince had taken part in his first pitched battle, played a major role and came out victorious in the end, immediately earning him the reputation as a great soldier.

In a state of intense euphoria after his glorious victory at Crecy, King Edward decided to march north and acquire himself a foothold on the northern French coast that would allow him land safely any time he decided to invade the country. He proposed to do this by laying siege to the near-impregnable fortress of Calais in September 1346. The siege of Calais lasted for a full year, and the prince remained stationed outside the castle’s walls with his father for the entire duration. When the city finally surrendered to the English in September 1347, the king and prince could indeed claim a great victory, and the latter could now boast of having a plethora of military experience under his belt, at the tender age of seventeen, when he returned to England less than two months after the completion of the siege of Calais.

The prince’s activities in the years following Crecy and Calais were decidedly less exciting, but he did take place in a number of significant events. He was one of the original Knights of the Garter upon the order’s creation by his father and was able to survive the arrival of the Black Death in England in the summer of 1348. In early 1349, Edward accompanied the king to Calais to successfully defend the newly-won town from a secret attempt by French loyalists to recapture it, apparently rescuing his father from an attack from a larger enemy force. In the summer of 1350, the prince took part in a more significant encounter as an English naval force defeated a French-allied Castilian force at the Battle of Winchelsea. While not as important as the victory at Crecy, Edward could now add a victory in a pitched naval battle to his resume. The next five years were almost eerily quiet for the prince, and there is not much worthy of mention. He spent much of his time within his lands in Chester and Cornwall administering justice and doing his best to increase revenues.

By the beginning of 1355, the prince’s period of relative dormancy was about to come to a very abrupt end. It was at this point that Edward III decided that his best plan of action would be to, once again, renew the war with France. The plan of action was uncannily similar to that of the Crecy campaign nearly ten years earlier: To send one army to Normandy and another to Gascony. Strangely enough, the prince was to lead the force into Gascony, despite the fact that he had been part of the contingent that landed in Normandy during the Crecy campaign. Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, one of the great military commanders of the time, was to lead the force into Normandy, despite the fact that he had been the one who had led the contingent into Gascony ten years earlier and had been responsible for substantially expanding English holdings in the region. At first glance, it seems highly illogical that the prince, who knew Normandy, was being sent to Gascony and that Lancaster, who knew Gascony extensively, was being sent to Normandy. Upon closer examination, however, the move makes more sense. It is at least a possibility that King Edward was already laying the groundwork for his son to rule over an independent Aquitaine (under its old boundaries, instead of just the small swathe of land that made up Gascony, the extent of English holdings at the beginning of the war) and wanted the local lords to become accustomed to their soon-to-be prince. The presence of Lancaster (who had made such great strides in conquering the lands that once made up the ancestral duchy of Aquitaine) in the north gave the prince an insurance policy of sorts, knowing that he would ultimately be able to join his army with that of an experience and trust worthy general and do battle with what would undoubtedly be a numerically superior French force. When looking at the situation from this perspective, the king’s strategy seems not only logical, but perhaps brilliant.

Whatever the elder Edward’s exact intentions may have been, it is clear that the prince was to serve as king’s lieutenant in Gascony and was provided with near-sovereign authority to accomplish his task of bringing the whole of Aquitaine back under English control. The campaign got off to a relatively rocky start, as there were major departure delays for both the prince’s and Lancaster’s forces, and money (or the lack thereof) was an issue from the very beginning. Luckily, when the prince finally set out for Gascony in September 1355, he and his fleet were able to safely land in Bordeaux. Two weeks after their arrival, the prince and his army set out on a massive, two-month-long raiding campaign across much of southern France. Nothing along the path of the English army, excepting religious houses, was spared. The army seized everything of value that was not tied down and burned whatever they could not take, including the entirety of many towns and castles. To show how serious he was about any town who refused to acknowledge his father as their true and rightful king, the prince even refused a large cash payment (despite his financial difficulties) from the citizens of the town of Carcasonne to spare them from his path of destruction – and the town was promptly burned to the ground.

The only real encounter with the enemy came when the English arrived at Narbonne (which would turn out to be the eastern terminus of the raid), where they were able to destroy the town but were repelled from doing any significant damage to the castle. At this point, the English force was suffering from a lack of supplies and subpar weather conditions and was forced to return westward to its base in English-controlled Gascony. In the end, the raid of 1355 must be considered to be a victory for the prince, as it had devastating financial implications for the French. Additionally, the prince had succeeding in painting the French king (now John II, as Philip VI had died in 1350) and his commanders as cowards who would rather allow their own people to lose their homes, their possessions and, in many cases, their lives just to avoid an encounter with the enemy’s forces. The lack of assistance provided by their own king pushed a number of the local Aquitainian lords towards the English cause, and this greatly assisted the prince in his quest to conquer this vast region so that he may ultimately rule over it in semi-autonomous fashion.

But the campaign was not a complete success. The prince was still deeply in debt, and the army that Lancaster was supposed to lead into Normandy had been diverted to Brittany (a land which was nominally under English control), with little or no success. A further army, under the personal command of King Edward, had arrived in Calais but was forced to turn around almost immediately when there was trouble with the Scots that needed tending to. Still, the prince was able to keep up the pressure on his French enemies, as his commanders continued to conduct raids throughout the winter months of 1355-56, while the prince himself wintered at Bordeaux and various other locations. This helped keep the French on their heels even during a time when campaigning was traditionally suspended. It appears that all of this winter activity was necessary to an extent to keep the English forces active because there were substantial delays in planning a new campaign, with the prince apparently waiting for orders from his father to plot his next course of action.

When the campaign begun the previous year finally resumed, in August 1356, the prince and his army marched north into Poitou. There are numerous reasons why this decision was made. Firstly, the southern portion of Aquitaine (those areas that were not already under English control) had been sufficiently softened by the raids of the previous year and the time had come to engage a similar strategy in the northern part of the ancestral duchy. In addition, it seems rational that the prince was looking to combine his own forces with those of the Duke of Lancaster, who had successfully landed in Normandy this time around and was likely proceeding southward. Together, they would be a formidable force against the French, while either army taken individually would be a decisive underdog against the enemy. Unfortunately, the prince was not able to join forces with Lancaster, as King John had discovered the former’s position. While the prince was able to continue his successful raiding policies of the previous year for some time, he was now isolated and outnumbered. Moderators were sent to negotiate a peaceful solution between the two sides, and the prince was willing to make numerous (and significant) concessions to avoid a pitched battle in which he most certainly would have been at a disadvantage. King John, however, was not willing to accept anything less than complete and unconditional surrender – a prospect that the prince would never concede to. 

The breakdown in peace talks, caused primarily by the French king’s stubbornness, meant that a pitched battle was now inevitable; so began the now famous Battle of Poitiers. Despite a numerical advantage, the French seemed to be highly disorganized, and their commanders could not seem to agree on a consistent strategy against the well-trained and well-disciplined English army. The English longbow archers, once again, played a major role in the battle and were able to decimate the French cavalry, evening out the playing field in the process. In the end, the English won the day. A whole slew of French knights and nobles were killed in the battle, with many others being taken prisoner – including, most significantly, King John himself. While the credit for the victory at the Battle of Crecy, ten years earlier, belongs mainly to Edward III (even if only for the mere fact that he was present at the engagement and was the sitting monarch), credit for the dominating defeat of the French at Poitiers belongs almost entirely to the Prince of Wales. The victory immediately cemented the prince’s reputation as a brave warrior and added yet more substance to his father’s claim to the French throne (let alone his far lesser claim to hold Aquitaine in full sovereignty), which had always been treated with skepticism even during the best of times.

As much as the prince would have loved to have reveled in the glory of his hard-fought victory at Poitiers, he was well aware that months, possibly years, of negotiations for a peace settlement between England and France were now necessary. Diplomacy was a field that the prince and his generals found tedious and, for this reason, it should come as no surprise that Edward played a very small role in the peace talks. As can be imagined, the negotiations were painfully slow at times, with the English looking to milk their advantageous position for all it was worth and the French not wanting to give them too much. After months of haggling, a two-year truce, to last until the spring of 1359, was all that the two sides could agree upon. Until the creation of a permanent peace agreement, all of the French nobles who had been taken prisoner at Poitiers, including King John, were to remain in English custody. The prince personally escorted the French king to England in the spring of 1357 and led him all the way into London, where he was to remain a prisoner in the Tower for the next three years as peace talks dragged on. Once again, the prince only played a nominal role in these diplomatic proceedings, preferring to dedicate his time to tending to his own lands. When the truce agreed to in Gascony had expired, the two sides had still not ratified a treaty. Therefore, King Edward felt that he had no choice but to, once again, invade France, renewing his claim to the French throne in the process.

The prince joined his father on this campaign, which began in the closing weeks of 1359, and led one of the three contingents, with the Duke of Lancaster and the king himself being the other two commanders. Being that Edward was supposedly pressing his claim to the French throne, it came as no surprise that his destination was Rheims, the ancestral city in which the Kings of France were crowned and anointed. If the English were able to take Rheims, it would be a major symbolic victory and would put even more pressure on the French to provide them with favorable terms. The Rheims campaign was no different than any of its predecessors in that there was no shortage of raiding on the way to Rheims, their primary destination. Unfortunately, when the English army laid siege to the city, they discovered that it was well provisioned and would not give in without a fight. The king ultimately decided that it would not be feasible (or even possible) to settle in for a long siege of Rheims. He therefore decided to abandon his initial plans and march towards Burgundy, where the duke was offering him a substantial payment to insure that the English army did not pillage and destroy his lands.

The negotiations for the ransom of Burgundy appear to have gone smoothly, after which the English forces returned to their policy of raiding, this time with the clear intention of drawing the dauphin Charles (serving as regent of France during his father’s captivity) into a pitched battle and proclaiming him a coward if he did not fall into their trap.  After causing mass devastation to its surrounding suburbs and exurbs, the English marched right up to the gates of Paris itself. Neither side was in a particularly strong position: The Parisians were short on provisions, being that much of the basic necessities for the city came from its surrounding areas, which the English had thoroughly destroyed. On the other hand, the English were in no way prepared to settle in for a lengthy siege, lacking the proper equipment and already having used up much of their resources on the unsuccessful siege of Rheims. With these facts taken into account, we can conclude that the French held a slight advantage, considering that they were on their home turf, whereas the English, to an extent, were strangers in a strange land. To make matters worse, the dauphin had absolutely refused to be sucked into the trap of meeting his enemies on the battlefield, and a violent storm wreaked havoc through English ranks. King Edward did his best to continue the campaign, but it was blatantly evident that his best strategy was to head back to the negotiating table while he was still in a relatively strong bargaining position.

The Treaty of Bretigny, a document which the prince does not seem to have played any role at all in creating, was drawn up in the spring of 1360, and its primary stipulations were fairly straightforward: King John was to be released from English custody after the first payment of an exorbitant ransom was received and was to renounce all claims he had to the duchy of Aquitaine (i.e. King Edward would hold the duchy in full sovereignty, not as a vassal of the French crown). In exchange, Edward was to renounce his claim to the French throne, as well as to all of the ancestral Angevin territories his ancestors had once held (i.e. Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine). The prince gave his approval for this preliminary agreement and was present when the final treaty was ratified at English-controlled Calais. It was here that King John and a number of other hostages were set free (though many others remained in English custody to ensure that the rest of their king’s ransom was paid). The most important part of the proceedings (which would have a dramatic effect on the prince’s future) were the mutual renunciations of sovereignty, Edward for the French throne and John for Aquitaine. It was agreed upon that the renunciations would take place simultaneously at a specified date, but the exact date was never really agreed upon; as can be imagined, there were major delays in the process, providing the peace treaty with an air of ambiguity and virtually assuring that there would be trouble between the two kingdoms in the not-too-distant future.

The months immediately following the ratification of the Treaty of Bretigny were relatively quiet for the prince on the military and diplomatic front. There was, however, plenty of activity going on behind the scenes and in the prince’s personal life. It was now clear that King Edward was intending to assign his son the task of ruling over a semi-autonomous duchy of Aquitaine, which was about to come under his direct control (as soon as the mutual renunciations stipulated in the Treaty of Bretigny took place). The king’s intentions for his son are made apparent by the fact that a majority of the officials that were appointed to administer the various regions within Aquitaine were men who were closely allied to the prince. Being given control over such a large swath of land, which was, for all intents and purposes, intended to be ruled over as a virtual palatine, would greatly increase the prince’s authority. Being that he was already Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester (as well as one of the great generals of the time), King Edward was clearly making sure that his son was thoroughly prepared to succeed him on England’s throne when the time came – a luxury he himself was never afforded.

The younger Edward’s investiture of Aquitaine was a major event, yet in some ways it was overshadowed by an unexpected, and borderline scandalous, incident in the prince’s personal life. In the fall of 1361, at the age of thirty-one, the prince finally decided to marry. It was certainly a necessary action for the prince to take, being that it was his responsibility to carry on the direct royal line, and he was already considered to be near middle age by medieval standards; his father was married at fourteen and was a father by seventeen. The scandal, however, did not lie in the fact that the prince was marrying, but in who he was marrying. Instead of customarily wedding a foreign princess, and gaining a valuable ally in the process, the prince decided to marry his father’s first cousin (and therefore his first-cousin-once-removed), Joan of Kent, the daughter of Edward I’s youngest son Edmund, Earl of Kent, who had been executed for treason under orders from Roger Mortimer in 1330. A recent widow, Joan was Duchess of Kent in her own right and was therefore one of the wealthier heiresses within England, but she was not considered to be a prime candidate for marriage to the royal heir. The union brought with it no rich dowry and no diplomatic advantages, and the two were in the forbidden degrees of consanguinity (meaning that a papal bull was required before the marriage could take place, which was easily enough gotten). It appears that the marriage was a genuine love match, a rarity in the Middle Ages amongst the upper classes. The fact that his son had married a woman he loved, however, did not particularly please the king, and there were even rumblings that he sent the prince to Aquitaine to rid himself of his presence, though these rumors are unsubstantiated, and it does not seem as if the king held any deep-seeded ill will towards his son or his cousin.

Meanwhile, King Edward’s plans to invest the prince with Aquitaine were progressing in earnest, despite the fact that the negotiations concerning the place and date of the mutual renunciations had seemingly collapsed completely. While the lack of the official renunciations would be a crucial factor in the long run, it did not stop the king from continuing the process of granting Aquitaine to his son and administering the region as if the renunciations had indeed already been unambiguously carried out; for the moment, the French were in no position to prevent him from doing so. In order to add more prestige to the prince’s position, and to add a sense of unity to a region which was notoriously resistant to any sort of central authority, the king upgraded Aquitaine from a duchy to a principality. The prince duly paid homage to his father for his new fife and arrived near Bordeaux in June 1362.

In his first year as Prince of Aquitaine, Edward spent much of his time establishing his authority, setting up his administration and taking the homage of his many vassals within the diverse regions of his new dominions. All but a handful of the local lords paid homage to the prince without resistance of any kind, though they required a certain amount of assurance that their local customs and traditions would not be violated. Even more surprising was that a vast majority of the Aquitainian lords agreed to pay the massive hearth tax that the prince levied at some point in 1364. Aquitaine was designed to be a financially independent region (with no funding necessary from the English exchequer), and taxation was therefore necessary to maintain the basic structure of government and defense of the region. The lords of Aquitaine, however, had never been easy to rule over, let alone tax. It goes to show that, in the early stages of his rule, the prince was fairly popular with his subjects, who clearly viewed him as a respectable and chivalric figure in an age (and in a region) where chivalry reigned supreme.

Unfortunately, the prince’s successes in Aquitaine were not meant to last for any extended period of time. The new French king, Charles V, was a much more assertive man than his father had been and was much less willing to overlook the fact that the French had not yet given up their sovereign rights in Aquitaine, therefore making the prince’s authority in the region dubious. Upon his accession to the throne, Charles V almost immediately began to stir up trouble in and around Aquitaine, making attempts to turn some of the prince’s own vassals against him and to form alliances with the Spanish kingdoms which bordered Aquitaine to the south. This policy put both the English and the French squarely in the middle of the Castilian civil war. The English had formed an alliance with the sitting Castilian monarch, King Pedro “the Cruel,” while the French (who had previously been allied with Castile) supported Pedro’s rival to the Castilian throne, his illegitimate half-brother Enrique of Trastamara, as well as King Pere III of the neighboring kingdom of Aragon, also a mortal enemy of Pedro’s. A wild card in the conflict was the notorious turncoat, King Charles “the Bad” of Navarre (yet another Spanish kingdom which bordered Aquitaine), a man who had switched his allegiance between the English and the French so many times in years past that it had become a prerequisite for any ruler thinking of forming an alliance with this wily monarch to treat him with grave suspicion; he would indeed continuously change his allegiance between English and French interests yet again during this latest conflict.

Forming an alliance with a neighboring monarch was a common practice (being that it was always a wise policy to maintain peaceful relations with adjacent kingdoms), but it was quite another matter to provide expensive military assistance and to become overly involved in that kingdom’s affairs; yet this is exactly what happened in the spring of 1366. It was at this point that Enrique of Trastamara, with French assistance, launched a highly successful invasion of Castile, forcing his brother Pedro to flee the kingdom and go into exile. Pedro almost immediately invoked the treaty he had made with the English to garner their aid. King Edward and the prince had few objections to providing military assistance at the particular point and time, being that it would not be beneficial to have an avid Francophile on the Castilian throne to cause trouble for them. Both the prince and Charles of Navarre (who, at least at this point in the proceedings, was allied with the Anglo-Castilian cause) demanded major territorial concessions from King Pedro in exchange for their military and financial assistance – demands that Pedro was in no position to reject. This tripartite alliance was made official in September 1366, and preparations to restore Pedro to his throne began in earnest. Soon enough though, the prince would come to regret becoming mired down in such a complex conflict with such duplicitous allies; it would indeed turn out to be his undoing as Prince of Aquitaine.

It does not seem that the prince had any intentions of invading Castile until the spring of 1367 when the mountainous passes that separated Aquitaine from its Spanish neighbors to the south would be clear. Unfortunately, he was forced to take action at least two months earlier when he discovered that Charles of Navarre had, once again, done what he did best and changed sides, forming an alliance with Enrique of Trastamara. Enrique had very few options at this point, as he was facing daunting financial and military shortages from his previous campaign and could find few allies that would be willing to stand up to the English forces. Charles was a natural ally because his own kingdom bordered that of Enrique, and they both faced threats from the marauding free companies (bands of mercenaries who destroyed everything in their paths when they did not have the distraction of employment). These companies had most recently been employed by Enrique himself, but he could not pay them anymore and lost their allegiance. Charles of Navarre had also suffered at the hands of these brutal forces, making an alliance with Enrique somewhat desirable, even if it meant turning on someone as powerful as the prince. As can be imagined, the prince did not take kindly to this betrayal (though it is doubtful he expressed any great deal of surprise, considering Charles’s devious past) and immediately ordered a preliminary force to invade Navarre as he made preparations for his own forces to march into Castile. 

The invasion of Navarre was extremely effective, as it forced Charles into returning to the English camp, not wanting a formidable army destroying his own kingdom. Yet, Charles still did not feel comfortable putting his full support behind the prince and completely cutting ties with Enrique and his powerful French allies; after all, the fortunes of war were always known to sway – sometimes significantly. Therefore, Charles thought of a way to remain “neutral” in the conflict by staging his own capture at the hands of the French, therefore preventing him from being personally involved with either side. Charles’s regent, however, kept his allegiance with the English, therefore completing Charles’s masterful quest of looking out for his own interests. Despite the fluctuating allegiance of Charles of Navarre, the prince proceeded into Castile with a sizeable army, and Enrique was in real danger of suffering the same fate which he had imposed on his brother Pedro. At first, however, Enrique and his French allies were successful in repelling the English forces, engaging in sporadic guerilla attacks and refusing to meet their enemies on the battlefield; these tactics were very much reflections of those of Charles the dauphin during the Rheims campaign seven years earlier. This strategy was only a temporary fix on Enrique’s part and, by April 1367, the two sides were poised to confront one another in a pitched battle; the result would not be beneficial for Enrique. At the Battle of Najera, the Anglo-Castilian forces inflicted a crushing defeat on their Franco-Trastamaran counterparts. Enrique was deserted by large portions of his army, who had no interest in falling victim to the famous victor of Poitiers, greatly decreasing his chances for victory. In the end, a majority of the commanders and important figures from Enrique’s forces were either dead or in English custody; Enrique himself managed to escape and go into hiding.

From a military viewpoint, the Battle of Najera was a major success for the prince which helped reinforce his reputation as a living legend on the battlefield; it was indeed a worthy predecessor to his last significant victory at Poitiers. In addition, the victory removed a powerful French ally, Enrique, from his position as monarch of a neighboring kingdom and replaced him with an avid Anglophile, Pedro, thereby putting Aquitaine in a considerably safer position. Unfortunately, the euphoria in the aftermath of the victory at Najera dissipated at lightning speed. The question of recompense for the prince at once became an issue, as the success achieved during the Najera campaign had come at a considerable cost – a cost which Pedro was supposed to be responsible for. Pedro, now back on his rightful throne, did make a sincere effort to raise the funds necessary to pay the prince and his supporters, but he had immense difficulties in doing so, as he was still fairly unpopular with his own subjects. Even had he been the most popular monarch in the world though, it is unlikely he would have been able to raise the amount of money which would be required to satisfy the prince’s demands in a timely fashion. To make matters worse, it appears that Pedro was dragging his feet when it came to transferring the lands he had promised to his allies at the beginning of the campaign over to their custody; it is highly likely that he had little intention of doing so, being that he had much work to do to reestablish his own authority in his kingdom and giving away lands was not the way to do so.

The prince, however, did not care what Pedro’s reasons were. He wanted prompt payment and was willing to do whatever was necessary to receive what was owed to him. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the prince and his forces spent the greater part of the next three months going on a grand tour of Castile, destroying everything in their path and taking as much as they could, reminiscent of the great raid that culminated in the Battle of Poitiers. Being that an army could only be maintained and provisioned for so long in a foreign land, the prince could not keep up the raiding party for long, and he was forced to return to Aquitaine with his disease-ridden army empty-handed, gravely ill (it appears he himself had succumbed to whatever sickness had been ravishing the English forces) and deeply in debt. Negotiations with Pedro for payment of the funds due dragged on for over a year, with Navarre, Aragon and even Enrique being involved at various points, but, in the end, nothing came of these negotiations. The proposal of governing Aquitaine as a finically-independent principality was now in jeopardy of failing, and the prince had learned the errors of his ways in becoming involved in the Castilian civil war.

With the prince’s administration in his principality now in near-financial ruins due to the ill-fated involvement in Castilian affairs, and with no recompense for services forthcoming , there was no other option but to pass down the cost of the campaign to the people of Aquitaine. It must be remembered that these particular citizens valued their autonomy, perhaps more so than people from any other region in the medieval world, and would not take kindly to having further taxes imposed on them – particularly to pay for a campaign which had been of no real consequence to their everyday lives and which brought them little or nothing in the way of rewards. When he first came into power, the prince had a surprisingly easy time in levying a relatively large tax on his new subjects; in many ways, this was truly remarkable and it went to show how much respect the prince garnered from the people of Aquitaine. However, if the prince wanted more of their money, he would need to give something substantial in return. Therefore, it came as no surprise that, in exchange for the grants of taxation that he so desperately required, the prince was forced to agree to acknowledge a series of charters in different parts of his territories which reaffirmed various local customs and traditions, in addition to providing reassurances that the central government would do its best to limit its reach into local affairs. These agreements were highly detrimental to the prince as they did much to weaken the authority of his administration, while scoring him very few political points with his subjects. In other words, the citizens of Aquitaine still did not want to be taxed, even with acknowledgment of their precious customs and traditions.

As the prince was flailing financially, Charles V of France was patiently waiting in the wings for the right moment to take advantage of his plight and take back most, or all, of the territories that had been lost to the English during his father’s reign. Charles looked to use the unpopular policies the prince was forced to put into effect to turn his own vassals against him. Count Gaston of Foix was an easy target, being that he had never fully acknowledged the prince’s suzerainty, while Count Jean of Armagnac had recently had somewhat of a falling out with the prince (unsurprisingly over financial matters). These two men were a good start to forming a coalition, headed by the French king himself, against English rule in Aquitaine, and Charles V had every intention of keeping up the pressure by turning more Aquitainian lords against the prince. The prince’s unpopular policies and the schemes of the French would prove to be a very dangerous combination.

As the prince and his officials did very little to reassure the locals that their customs would be honored and that the central government would be relatively inactive in their affairs, it was inevitable that there would be appeals and complaints against the prince’s increasingly unpopular government. According to feudal law, when a vassal had a complaint with his overlord, he would appeal to his overlord’s overlord in an attempt to acquire the justice which he sought; this is where the situation became complicated, at least under these particular circumstances. Under the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny, Edward III was to hold Aquitaine in full sovereignty. Being that he already had his own administration to run in England, the king granted Aquitaine to his son, the prince, who was to hold the principality as his father’s vassal. Therefore, any of the prince’s vassals who had a complaint with his administration would file an appeal with his overlord, Edward III. This was simple enough, but the complication arose due to the fact that neither Charles V or his father had never officially renounced sovereignty over Aquitaine, as he and Edward could never agree on a date for their mutual renunciations (of Aquitaine and the French throne respectively). Edward III had become impatient, seized Aquitaine under his own initiative, granted it to the prince and simply proclaimed that he held it in full sovereignty; at the time, the French, still recovering from their loss at Poitiers and the years of chaos that followed, were powerless to stop him. Now, the pendulum had swung in the other direction, towards the French, and Charles V meant to fully exploit this confused situation.

The direct series of events that would culminate in the end of the prince’s rule in Aquitaine began in the spring of 1368 when the Count of Armagnac formally filed an appeal against the prince with Charles V’s court at Paris, instead of the English court at Westminster, implying that the French king was still the rightful overlord in Aquitaine (since he had never officially renounced his sovereignty over the region). English diplomats did their best to attempt to persuade the French king not to accept the appeal, but Charles knew what he wanted to do by this point. He wholeheartedly accepted the appeal and duly summoned the prince (who he considered to be his vassal) to court to answer the charges that had been levied against him – a summons that was promptly rejected. A renewal of hostilities now a forgone conclusion, both sides appropriately began making preparations. The prince, who had never fully recovered from the illness (likely dysentery) which he contracted during the raid on Castile in 1367 and was now bedridden, faced more difficulties than Charles, as his vassals were now beginning to desert the English cause en masse. To make matters worse, in March 1369, Pedro of Castile was assassinated under orders from Enrique of Trastamara, ending any possibility that the prince would be paid for his services in the Najara campaign and making it even less likely that his vassals would remain loyal to him.

Despite these dire circumstances, the English made no effort to sue for peace with the French (not that the latter would have accepted it at this stage anyway), and Edward III renewed his claim to the French throne in June. For the next year  or so, both sides conducted raids into enemy lands, with relatively neutral results (though the French were successfully able to conquer the English-controlled county of Ponthieu in the north), but more and more Aquitainian lords were transferring their allegiance to Charles V, and it was clear that the momentum was clearly in his corner. The actual campaign did not begin in earnest until the summer of 1370, and it was at this point that Charles launched an all-out attack on Aquitaine. One of the first actions of the French was to take the city (though not the town and castle) of Limoges with the help of the local bishop, who had previously been a staunch supporter of the prince. When the prince discovered that the bishop had betrayed him, he was infuriated and decided to travel with his army to the city in person, despite his failing health. The English forces swiftly marched to Limoges and were able to chase off the French occupiers of the city with relative ease; what followed can only be described as destruction on a grand scale. The city was nearly completely demolished, and the loss of life was believed to have been astronomical (though the severity of the latter claim has been debated over the centuries and may not have been as serious as some of the chroniclers of the time have made it out to be). It can only be assumed that Limoges suffered so greatly as punishment for changing sides to the French and to set an example for any cities or towns that might want to follow suit. In the short term, the English success at Limoges can be looked at as a great success on the part of the prince, and it was indeed his last major militaristic act. When looking at the bigger picture though, the destruction of Limoges made little difference, and the English position in Aquitaine continued to deteriorate.

The prince’s participation in the action at Limoges seems to have caused his condition to worsen, and he was forced to return to his base at Angouleme, where he received the sad news that his elder son, another Edward, had passed away. By the spring of 1371, the prince, his wife and their other son, Richard, had returned to England, effectively ending the former’s tenure as the ruler of Aquitaine. For the next year, the prince engaged in minimal activity in his homeland as Charles V continued to make major progress in conquering Aquitaine. By the summer of 1372, it was agreed that Edward III and the prince would personally lead a force into northern France in order to stymie Charles’s momentum. Another English force, under the Earl of Pembroke, was sent to Gascony, but was decisively defeated in a naval battle near the important coastal town of La Rochelle. This setback forced the army under the king and prince to change their plans and sail to Aquitaine. Unfortunately, adverse weather conditions prevented them from leaving the English coast. When they were finally able to depart, they received news that La Rochelle had already been taken by the French; soon after, the army was disbanded. This was to be the final time which Edward III and his eldest son attempted to engage in any sort of military campaign. The prince officially surrender Aquitaine to his father by the end of the year, showing that he had little interest in affairs of state by this point anyway and that his illness was beginning to get the best of him.

There is virtually no information at all available pertaining to the prince’s activities for the next several years, a further indicator that any role he continued to play in government was strictly as a figurehead – a sort of relic of a past Golden Age. It does appear that the prince played a small role in the opening of the so-called Good Parliament, which began in the spring of 1376, and that the commons, led by their “speaker,” Peter de la Mare, looked to him to assist them in their call for reform and to help rid the kingdom of the king’s hated favorites (who were, for all intents and purposes, running the government while both the king and prince were ill). The prince gave signs of supporting their cause, but his time was nearing its end, and there was little he could do personally. In what must have been a relief after nearly nine years of intermittent illness, Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester and long-time heir to the English throne gave up the ghost on June 8, 1376, a week before his forty-sixth birthday, during the midst of the proceedings of the Good Parliament. The prince’s death meant that his nine-year-old son, Prince Richard, was now heir to the throne of the aged Edward III.

Assessment and Analysis

Edward of Woodstock has always been viewed as a surprisingly obscure figure, despite the fact that he was immensely famous during his own lifetime. Despite the relative obscurity that envelops his general character, the prince is a historical personage that cannot be ignored. After all, he was heir to the throne for the entirety of his life, a period just short of forty-six years, and was widely believed to follow in his father’s footsteps as one of the great rulers of the time. But, as we know, the prince predeceased his father by a year, therefore never getting the opportunity to sit on England’s throne. So, instead of gaining the reputation as a near-legendary king (as many historians consider his father to be), the prince merely holds the record for being the longest reigning heir to the English throne who never succeeded to said throne (though the current Prince Charles has the potential to surpass this record, as he has already been heir for sixty-one years and has yet to succeed to the throne). Despite never becoming King of England, the prince is not a figure that can be ignored; there are several reasons for this.

There were very high expectations for Prince Edward from the day he was born. For this reason, he was elevated to unprecedented levels of prestige when it came to titles, landholdings and monetary incomes. In infancy, he was provided with the royal title of Earl of Chester, giving him power over a palatine region in the Welsh marches. Before he reached his tenth birthday, he was created Duke of Cornwall, the first Englishman to hold this title which continues to remain to the highest in the peerage. When he became a teenager he added the title of Prince of Wales to his repertoire. Finally, it most certainly cannot be ignored that the Edward became the first and only Prince of Aquitaine, ruling over a substantial portion of land for a period of roughly eight years and, therefore, becoming a ruler in his own right. All of this was on top to being the eventual successor to the English crown and one of the great generals of the time. Yet, despite all of titles and territorial possessions, the prince displayed little interest for administrative work.

Prince Edward is, by far, most well-known for the victories that he achieved on the battlefield. Over the course of his memorable military career, the prince achieved three major victories in pitched battles at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Najara (1367). He also fought in the naval Battle of Winchelsea (1355), participated in the successful sieges of Calais (1346-47) and Limoges (1370) and engaged in massive (and also successful) raids throughout much of France. While Edward III will receive a certain amount of credit for this victories (even if he was not physically present) for the mere fact that he was the sitting monarch, the prince played a crucial role at Crecy, at the young age of sixteen, and was most certainly the most important commander at Poitiers and Najara. It was these latter two battles that had solidified the prince’s reputation of the one of the great generals of the Middle Ages. It is through his activities on the battlefield that the prince has gained his notorious nickname: the “Black Prince.” It is by this sobriquet, originating from the mid-sixteenth century, that the prince is most well-known, and it is believed that the name comes from the color of the army that he wore.

Despite his many titles, his prestigious positions and his glorious victories on the pitched battlefield, Prince Edward will remain a figure who we historians must treat as a story of what could have been. Edward had the misfortune of being born when his father was still a teenager and dyeing nearly twenty years earlier (in terms of age) than the king did. Never having personally sat on the throne is the major reason why the prince has never been given the attention that he rightfully deserves. Instead, England was left with a ten-year-old boy as king when Edward III followed his eldest son to the grave – and a reign that was so disastrous that it set off a series of events that would culminate in the downfall of the Plantagenet dynasty. As historians, we cannot help but wonder if this disastrous outcome would still have come to pass had the prince been able to succeed to the throne. After all, it would have prevented a minority reign, and the future Richard II would undoubtedly have received more guidance and training to prepare for the throne from his father. But this was not meant to be, and the people of England would have to wait another eighty years to get the King Edward IV that they had expected to get in the great victor of Crecy, Poitiers and Najara – but who had been kept desperately, and futilely, waiting for.

Black Prince in Shakespeare

Appears in: Edward III

Edward the Black Prince is all but immortalized in Edward III for his great victories at Sluys, Crecy and Poitiers. He is credited for the death of King John of Bohemia after the battle at Crecy and the capture of John II of France after Poitiers. Although, in reality, the black prince did play a major part in the Battles of Crecy and Poitiers, he was only ten at the time of Sluys (1340) and played no part. Also, it must be noted that, while referred to throughout the play as the Black Prince, the nickname was never used while the prince was alive, historically.

Black Prince in Woodstock

Edward III appears briefly in Thomas of Woodstock as a ghost to warn Woodstock, his brother, of the dangers he faces if he remains in prison in Calais.


Barber, Richard. Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince

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