Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (The Black Prince)

by Susan Flantzer

Edward, Prince of Wales as Knight of the Order of the Garter, illustration from the Bruges Garter Book 1453; Credit -Wikipedia

Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales was born at Woodstock Palace near Oxford in Oxfordshire, England on June 15, 1330. He was the eldest of the fourteen children of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Today, Edward of Woodstock is commonly referred to as “The Black Prince” although he was not called that in his lifetime. The first appearance of the reference occurred more than 150 years after his death. It is thought it may refer to Edward’s black shield, and/or his black armor or from his brutal reputation, particularly towards the French in Aquitaine.

Edward of Woodstock was one of the seven Princes of Wales who never became King. The others are:

Edward had thirteen siblings:

In 1333, three-year-old Edward was created Earl of Chester and four years later, he was created Duke of Cornwall, the first creation of a dukedom in England. In 1343, he was created Prince of Wales.  Marriage negotiations for a bride for Edward started when he was seven-years-old. His father’s first choice was a French princess, hoping that such a marriage would break up France and Scotland’s alliance, but nothing came of this possibility. Likewise, nothing came of negotiations with King Afonso IV of Portugal or John III, Duke of Brabant for the hands of their daughters.

Queen Philippa chose her almoner, philosopher Walter Burley, as Edward’s tutor. Edward was educated with a small group of companions. One of these companions, Simon de Burley,  a relative of Walter Burley, became a life-long friend of Edward and later was trusted with the education of Edward’s son, the future King Richard II. Edward’s knightly and military training was conducted by Walter Manny, 1st Baron Manny.  Manny taught Edward the code of chivalry as well as the art of jousting. Edward participated in small tournaments and served as a page to his father at large tournaments.

Battle of Crécy from an illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles; Credit – Wikipedia

Best known for his military career in the Hundred Years War, Edward accompanied his father to France in the summer of 1346 and participated in the Battle of Crécy, his first major battle, on August 26, 1346, where the English had a decisive victory. 16-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales commanded the vanguard with John de Vere, 7th Earl of Oxford, Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick, and Sir John Chandos.  Edward was one of the 25 founding knights (the second knight after his father King Edward III) of the Order of the Garter in 1348. On September 19, 1356, Edward distinguished himself by winning a great victory at the Battle of Poitiers where he took King John II of France prisoner. Edward served as Lieutenant of Aquitaine from 1355 – 1372 and was created Prince of Aquitaine in 1362.

Edward, the Black Prince, is granted Aquitaine by his father King Edward III; Credit – Wikipedia

Edward married Joan, 4th Countess of Kent, his father’s first cousin, on October 10, 1361 at Windsor Castle.  Joan was the daughter and heiress of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, the younger son of King Edward I of England by his second wife Margaret of France. In 1362, Edward was invested as Prince of Aquitaine, a region of France which belonged to the English crown since the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II.  Joan and Edward then moved to Bordeaux, the capital of Aquitaine, where they spent the next nine years. Both of their children were born in France:

Edward of Angouleme and Joan of Kent, depicted on the Wilton diptych, 1395; Credit – Wikipedia

Richard II of England, portrait at Westminster Abbey, mid-1390s; Credit – Wikipedia

Around the time of the birth of his younger son, Edward was lured into an unsuccessful war on behalf of King Pedro of Castile.  Edward contracted an illness during this war that ailed him until his death in 1376. It was believed that he contracted dysentery, which killed more medieval soldiers than battle, but it is unlikely that he could survive a ten-year battle with dysentery. Other possible diagnoses include edema, nephritis, or cirrhosis. By 1371, Edward was no longer able to perform his duties as Prince of Aquitaine and returned to England. In 1372, he forced himself to attempt one final campaign in the hope of saving his father’s French possessions, but the prevailing winds off the shores of France prevented the ships from landing and the campaign was aborted.

Edward’s health was now completely shattered. On June 7, 1376, a week before his forty-sixth birthday, Edward died at the Palace of Westminster. His father King Edward III died a year later, on June 21, 1377, and was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson King Richard II, the surviving son of Edward the Black Prince. Edward had requested to be buried in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral. However, his request was overruled and he was buried in a tomb with a bronze effigy on the south side of the shrine of Thomas Becket behind the choir. Edward’s heraldic helmet and gauntlets were placed above his tomb. Today, replicas hang above his tomb and the originals are in a glass case nearby. The epitaph inscribed around his effigy:

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.

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Tomb of Edward the Black Prince; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

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Replicas of Edward’s heraldic helmet, gauntlets, etc. above his tomb; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

Wikipedia: Edward the Black Prince

Works Cited
“Edward, the black prince.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Nov. 2016. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
Joelson, Annette. England’s Princes of Wales. New York: Dorset Press, 1966. Print.
Toulouse illustrée, Histoire de. “Édouard de Woodstock.” Wikipedia. N.p.: Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 1330. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.
Williamson, David. Brewer’s British Royalty. London: Cassell, 1996. Print.