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.”

 

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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.

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

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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.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Fields of Glory by Michael Jecks

81Lj4afwfALThe year is 1346 and King Edward III is restless. Despite earlier victories his army has still not achieved a major breakthrough and the French crown remains intact. Determined to bring France under English rule and the French army to its knees he has regrouped and planned a new route of attack.

And on the beaches of Normandy his men now mass, ready to march through France to victory. But the French are nowhere to be seen. Edward knows that the worst thing he could do would be to take the battle to the French, where they will have the advantage and so he sets up camp near a small hill at Crécy and waits.

The Battle of Crécy will be a decisive turning point in the Hundred Years’ Wars. This is the story of that battle and the men who won it.”

A masterpiece!

Fields of Glory follows the English army from their landing on the beaches of Normandy, through the devastating destruction of the chevauchée through Northern France and to the gates of Paris itself, before the retreat ever north in search of a crossing of the River Somme, and the final confrontation with  the French army.

We experience the sieges, the skirmishes, the looting and death through the eyes of one of Edward I’s captains and his vintaine (company) of 20 men; hardened soldiers who all have their own secrets,  fears and superstitions.

We are also given snippets behind the decision-making of the great King Edward III and his 16-year-old son Edward, the future Black Prince. The army’s leaders are vivid, but distant, characters as the story concentrates on the experiences of the fighting men

The Vintaine’s captain, Berenger, leads his men through the armies skirmishes and their own personal battles and conflicts. Rescuing a French girl from the Welsh contingent brings its own problems, dividing the opinions and conflicts of the men while showing  the humanity that still existed among the devastation.

Berenger is a seasoned soldier and experienced captain, who needs his men as much as – if not more than – they need him. His men are real characters; Clip, with his prophecies of doom becomes a sort mascot of the company – only if he predicts their deaths are they confident of survival; and Geoff, who projects his own demons onto others in order to avoid their reality. And then there’s young Ed, just a boy wanting revenge on the french for all the ills of the world, and learning the realities of war through this small band of soldiers.

And then there is Archibald, the King’s gynour, a strange loner of a man who incites fear and loathing even from his own side. He is in charge of the king’s gonnes, the cannon which are slowly becoming part of the modern battlefield, but which are still distrusted by the common soldier.

One scene in particular leaves the reader cold and thoughtful. I don’t want to give too much away, but the king’s justice, meted out to his own men following the plundering of a monastery, left me with a sleepless night, so vivid was the imagery invoked by the scene:

Ed listened to the king’s words with breathless disbelief.

When the men had all been marched back to the army he had thought that there would be a court, an opportunity to explain – and yet here he was, with the sentence of death on him!”

How the scene plays out – well, I’ll leave that for you to discover, but it is thought-provoking, indeed.

Micheal Jecks’ treatment of the book’s climax – the Battle of Crécy itself – is gripping and masterful in its telling. While getting glimpses of the battle’s bigger picture, you are treated to the personal battles of Berenger’s men, the vicious hand-to-hand combat, the losses and victories. The devastation and risks wrought by the new battlefield science – gunpowder – are wonderfully described in great detail.

This is story-telling at its best.

The research is, as always, impeccable and the story of the Crécy campaign is told in all its devastation and glory. The interaction of the characters leaves the reader eager to know them better, to read on. The fight scenes are well though out and  realistic, the narrative of the Battle of Crecy itself being the highlight of the book.

Michael Jecks‘s Knights Templar Mysteries have been entertaining readers for many years. I have been reading and enjoying his books since The Last Templar started it all. The knowledge and detail of the early 14th century judicial system has fascinated many.

Fields of Glory takes Michael Jecks in a whole new direction and I can’t say I’m disappointed. The story-telling is masterful – and has taken on a frenetic energy of its own. It is hard to believe he could write anything better, but Book 2 of this Hundred Years’ War series, Blood on the Sand, is already in the bookshops and promises to be just as exciting and action-filled as the first.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

Alice Perrers, Mistress of the King

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Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

Alice Perrers is one royal mistress who did not fare as well as her contemporary, Katherine Swynford. Whereas Katherine eventually married her prince; Alice was not so lucky, despite the fact she had been mistress of the King.

Although it is impossible to find any definite date, it seems likely that Alice Perrers was born in the late 1340s. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers, a prominent Hertfordshire landowner who had been both sheriff and Member of Parliament for his county.

Sir Richard had been in legal dispute with the Abbey of St Albans, which had caused him to be imprisoned, and even outlawed, for a time. This, and the fact Alice herself became involved in the dispute, could go some way to explain Alice’s dreadful reputation; the majority of what we know of Alice comes from the blatantly hostile St Albans Chronicle.

The Chronicler claimed Alice was the daughter of an Essex tiler and a former domestic servant, suggesting she made her way to court by humble channels. She was described as ‘extremely ugly’ and ruling the king through her clever tongue. The king was certainly known to like clever and attractive women.

Sometime in the early 1360s – and certainly before 1366 – Alice joined the household of Queen Philippa of Hainault and started her affair with the king, Edward III. Alice would have been in her mid-to-late teens. It isn’t clear whether Alice joined the Queen’s household before or after the affair started; it may be that Edward placed her there, so she was close by. It does appear that the ailing queen acquiesced to the situation, even if she did not wholeheartedly approve.

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Queen Philippa of Hainault

Before his relationship with Alice, there seems to have been few, if any, extramarital affairs on Edward’s part; there are certainly no suggestions of illegitimate children as had happened with previous monarchs. If Edward had affairs they had been of short duration and incredibly discreet. This makes his relationship with Alice Perrers all the more surprising.

By 1366 Alice had been installed as a lady of the queen’s bedchamber. In 1364/5, she had left court to give birth to Edward’s first illegitimate child. The boy, Sir John Southeray,  would later marry Maud Percy, a sister of the future Earl of Northumberland. Two daughters were to follow, Joan and Jane, who were still young at the time of the king’s death in 1377. Jane later married Richard Northland and Joan married Robert Skerne, a lawyer.

Whilst in the queen’s household Edward granted Alice 2 tuns of wine; he also granted her wardships, land and jewels. Although the king gave gifts to all the queen’s ladies, those to Alice were particularly extravagant.

Following the queen’s death in 1369, Alice rose to greater prominence, she dominated the court. A devastated Edward leaned heavily on her considerable abilities; his own decline accelerated by his loss.

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Edward III

As a result Alice was blamed for the setbacks and financial scandals of the last years of Edward’s reign. She was accused of being scheming and grasping, and making the king’s final years a misery.  The monastic chronicler, Walsingham, believed she had bewitched the king in order to secure his affections.

Whereas Queen Philippa had remained in the domestic environment, Alice Perrers had greater political ambitions. The court was dominated by a ‘narrow, exclusive and unpopular clique’¹. Along with  Lord Latimer and Lord Neville, Edward’s chamberlain and steward respectively, Alice enjoyed almost total control of royal patronage; she became the king’s principal advisor and advanced her own friends into positions of influence.

Rumours arose that Edward had given Alice some of Queen Philippa’s jewels. It seems more likely that the jewels were a part of a collection previously given by the queen to Euphemia Hasleworth, rather than a part of the queen’s personal collection, but it further tarnished Alice’s reputation.The fact the gifts were recorded in the patent rolls suggests they were given on Edward’s personal order, rather than through Alice’s machinations.

By the early 1370s Alice had established her domination of the court. In 1371 she was granted the valuable manor of Wendover.

In 1375 a grand tournament was held at Smithfield in her honour. Alice rode from the Tower, through the city, dressed as the Lady of the Sun. Ladies led knights on silver chains.

In the early 1370s Alice had started looking to her future. The king was old and she was very aware that, without his protection she was likely to be thrown to the wolves. With this in mind she contracted a secret marriage to William Windsor and persuaded the king to appoint Windsor his lieutenant in Ireland, despite his record of previous maladministration of that same country.

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The abbey of St Albans; home to the Chronicler, Walsingham

By 1376, shortly after the death of the Black Prince – Edward’s eldest son and heir – parliament took the lead. Known as the Good Parliament and having been called to advance the king subsidies they demanded their own petitions were answered first.

According to Walsingham: “the Parliamentary knights complained bitterly about one Alice Perrers, a wanton woman who was all too familiar with Edward III. They accused her of numerous misdeeds, performed by her and her friends in the realm. She far overstepped the bounds of feminine conduct: forgetful of her sex and her weakness, now besieging the king’s justices, now stationing herself among the doctors in the ecclesiastical courts, she did not fear to plead in defence of her cause and even to make illegal demands. As a result of the scandal and great shame which this brought on King Edward, not only in this kingdom but also in foreign lands, the knights sought her banishment from his side.“²

The main accusations, voiced by Peter de la Mare, against Alice were that she had taken thousands of pounds from the royal purse and that she was notorious for the use of maintenance – protecting those accused in the king’s courts; Parliament stipulated that she and all women were prohibited from doing this. It was also during the parliament that Alice’s secret marriage to William Windsor was revealed. Assuming that, as a married couple, they had slept together this then made the king guilty of adultery.

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Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath

Edward III swore an oath by the Virgin Mary that he did not know she was married. William Windsor was summoned from Ireland to be prosecuted. Edward is said to have bought a chest and locked in it the accusations against Windsor, who he saw as the guilty party.

Edward begged for Alice to be shown mercy. She avoided prison and further prosecution on condition she no longer saw the king. If she broke the conditions, the punishment would be perpetual exile.

However, once parliament had disbanded John of Gaunt, as virtual ruler of the kingdom, recalled all those banished. Edward “recalled his mistress, Alice Perrers, to his company; she had been legally banished from his presence, on account of the scandal and shame which came from her wantonness. This was against the oath by which Alice had bound herself and which the king himself had ratified…“³

Alice stayed with the king until his death.

Edward III died, probably from a stroke, on 21st June 1377. According to the St Albans Chronicler he was alone, save for his confessor. Walsingham went so far as to accuse Alice of stripping the rings from the king’s fingers; although she was never charged with the offence.

Following the king’s death, Alice’s sentence of banishment was reconfirmed, only to be reversed in 1379 at the request of her husband. William Windsor himself died in 1384 and Alice seems to have spent much of her final years in litigation over his will; Windsor left his estate to his 3 sisters.

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Church of St Lawrence, Upminster

As the king’s mistress Alice had dealt in property, and used her influence to guarantee a future income. She remained wealthy and was still litigating when she died in 1400. She was buried in the Church of St Lawrence, Upminster; her grave now lost to history.

Alice Perrers was the first king’s mistress to influence the courts of justice and the government of the kingdom. She had met the king when relatively young and naive; but was intelligent enough to realise the advantages and implications of her liaison with the king.

However, she was held up as an example of how a woman shouldn’t behave. She is thought to have been the inspiration for Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath.

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Footnotes: ¹ WM Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III; ²&³ Thomas Walsingham, St Albans Chronicle

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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 and worldwide from Book Depository.

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

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; britannica.com/biography/Alice-Perrers; historyinanhour.com; anneobrienbooks.com.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly