About a week ago, I finished reading Edward: the Prince of Wales and Aquitaine by Richard Barber. In researching its author, I discovered that he differs from newer medievalists in having fallen in love with the period through Arthurian romances rather than The Lord of the Rings. (Yours truly has a children’s book of Erik the Red’s adventures as the cause.) His vast bibliography reflected this as one can find numerous books on chivalry and King Arthur therein. The way he brought Edward the Black Prince and the personages of his times to life within the pages of this work is the happy product of his enthusiasm. At any rate, I am pleased that this enjoyable and accessible volume also happens to be the seminal biography of this English hero of the Hundred Years’ War.
Fans of Braveheart will be intrigued to learn that this book relates the events following the death of King Edward the Longshanks, who, despite the portrayal in the film, was actually a good king. The wife of Edward II, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, deposed the king and cruelly assassinated him. As for how cruelly, in imitation of his supposed sin of sodomy and trying to hide the unnatural cause of his death, they had a red hot iron thrust into his rectum. (Now, you know the most horrible death ever to have been inflicted on an English king. Quiz your friends!) This led to a brief period when Isabella and Mortimer held sway in England, though Edward III, son of Edward II, had been crowned in 1327. Two years later, Mortimer had angered enough noblemen with his corrupt favoritism that he himself and the queen were deposed by band of angry knights, Edward III among their party. And England could boast of a real king once more.
Our hero, Edward the Black Prince, was born on June 15, 1330, which would allow him to win his spurs on the field of Crecy just sixteen years later. As a knightly commander, few men of the time matched the reputation of the Black Prince, who purportedly earned his nickname for the black armor he wore. His four most famous victories were Crécy, Poitiers, Najera, and Limoges. Najera was the only one of these to have been fought outside of England. During Edward’s reign over Aquitaine, he assisted the Spanish King Pedro the Cruel against his enemies, during which campaign he won the Battle of Najera. The chronicler Walsingham has this to say about the prince on the occasion of his death:
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 a people whom he did not conquer, he never besieged a city which he did not take.
The other thing people remarked about the prince besides his chivalry and courage (He lived up to his motto, “Houmout, Ich dene” – “By high courage, I serve”), was his piety. His great devotion was to the Holy Trinity, whose icon was placed above his tomb in Westminster. One gets the impression that he tried to live according to the ideals of knightly literature. His invocations of the Holy Spirit in particular recall the great emphasis the twelfth century romantic author Chretien de Troyes placed on this Person of the Trinity. Edward greatly desired to die on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which God granted him on June 8, 1376.
May you have enjoyed this small sample of the history contained within this work. I highly recommend it to both general readers and those who want a good starting point from which to learn more about the Hundred Years’ War. Barber has a prodigious knowledge of primary sources, but doesn’t delve into so much minutiae that the book becomes dull.
As I mentioned in a prior post, this was the book I hoped to review last month. Stay tuned for another work on or from medieval times for November!