Book Corner: The Black Prince by Michael Jones

As a child he was given his own suit of armour; in 1346, at the age of 16, he helped defeat the French at Crécy; and in 1356 he captured the King of France at Poitiers. For the chronicler Jean Froissart, ‘He was the flower of all chivalry’; for the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, he was ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Edward of Woodstock, eldest son and heir of Edward III of England, better known as ‘the Black Prince’, was England’s pre-eminent military leader during the first phase of the Hundred Years War.

Michael Jones uses contemporary chronicles and documentary material, including the Prince’s own letters and those of his closest followers, to tell the tale of an authentic English hero and to paint a memorable portrait of warfare and society in the tumultuous fourteenth century.

The Black Prince by Michael Jones is a wonderful, comprehensive biography of one of the most controversial chivalric figures of history. At first sight Edward of Woodstock, oldest son of Edward III, appears to have been born for war. His childhood, education and experience were all geared to him following in his father’s footsteps and waging war on France. Michael Jones, however, looks deeper into this enigmatic prince; and finds a prince who did, in fact, build his household, his career, indeed almost every aspect of his life, around success on the battlefield; but he was also a pleasure-loving Prince and one of the few from his time who married for love.

Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

This biography is a fascinating read from the very first words. Michael Jones has a knack of drawing the reader in. He is so invested in his subject and has such a natural enthusiasm that it is impossible to put the book down. Every aspect of the Black Prince’s life is discussed, explained and analysed, revealing the Prince, the son, the husband, father and the soldier behind the armour.

The Prince’s martial exploits were the stuff of legend in his own lifetime. On 26 August 1346, at the age of sixteen, he fought heroically with his father in an army that crushed the French at Crécy. Ten years later, on 19 September 1356, by now a commander in his own right, he turned the tales on his numerically superior opponent, capturing King John II of France in battle at Poitiers, one of the great English victories of the Hundred Years War. In 1362, he became prince of Aquitaine, holding a magnificent court at Bordeaux that mesmerised the brave but unruly Gascon nobility and drew them like moths to the flame of his cause.

Michael Jones has an easy way of writing and addressing his readers without being condescending or too high brow. He presents his subject in a balanced, analytical manner but it is hard not to admire this English prince who became one of his country’s greatest heroes – even in his own lifetime. The author does not shy away, however, from the controversial aspects of the Black Prince’s military career, placing the chevauchée across France firmly in its historical context and presenting the true facts to the sack of Limoges, where he is accused of killing 3,000 citizens, a crime that has been highly exaggerated and which the Black Prince certainly does not deserve to have attached to his name.

The Black Prince is a fascinating insight into the greatest king England never had. It is also a portrait of the times in which he lived. Michael Jones does not present the Prince as living in a bubble and makes certain of highlighting the influences and people around him. These are discussed in great detail, from his loyal retainers, soldiers who were pardoned for crimes in England so they could fight abroad, to his extravagances and money woes. An interesting aspect of the book deals with the extent of his father’s influence on his career and decisions. The Black Prince’s life was, as with most Princes of royal blood, to a great extent dictated by the king, Edward III and the greater needs of England. Thus painting a portrait of a man who was guided by duty and responsibility throughout his life and career.

… in his prime, the Black Prince created a world of heroic enchantment for those around him, one that did not simply depend on personal charm and bravery. He won over the tough and independent-minded, both in Cheshire and in Gascony, not so much by living a chivalric life as by fully embodying it.

Making use of primary sources, Michael Jones has recreated every aspect of the Black Prince’s life – and death – from his early childhood, through his martial training and experiences, his marriage to Joan of Kent, to his not-always-successful rule in Aquitaine, the birth of his sons and campaigns on behalf of Pedro the Cruel in Spain and finally to his tragic early death. This very personal account of the Black Prince’s life and achievements, successes and failures, draws from the great  chroniclers of the day, from the likes of Froissart and the Chandos Herald; giving the reader a full and accurate picture of the Prince and the man, from friends and enemies alike.

The achievements of Edward, the lLack Prince, suspended above his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral

The Black Prince is at its best when presenting the Prince as a man, discussing his reputation as an exemplar of chivalry, a general without peer and, alongside his wife, the most glamorous couple of their time. It paints a picture of a prince who appreciates the value of pomp and ceremony as a diplomatic tool.

In short, this book is a must for any lover of the era or the man. A thorough account of the Black Prince’s life, Michael Jones does not shy away from criticising his subject, but does not attempt to impose 21st century values on a 14th century prince. Enjoyable, entertaining and engaging, this new biography is a wonderful insight into a world now lost and a man who never achieved his destiny – to be king.

“This Prince was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen.”

 

*

The Black Prince by Michael Jones is available from Amazon.

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History. He works as a writer, battlefield tour guide and media presenter. He is the author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, 24 Hours at Agincourt and co-author, with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, of The Women of the Cousins’ War; and, with Philippa Langley, of The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. He lives in South London.

*

Photos of the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

*

My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be available from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

*

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly