Image of the Month: Edward, the Black Prince

Not long ago I wrote of my determination to finally read Michael Jones’s biography, The Black Prince, which details the life of Edward of Woodstock, son of King Edward III of England. Having owned the book since 2019, I’d been really ancy to get going, and not too long ago, at last, I made a start to it.

One thought that often lingered in my mind regarded how Edward appeared, probably because I didn’t know much about him. Seeing someone, whether in real or by way of an image, gives us an idea of their personality, what they are (were) like, or at least we seem to think so. Having none of this—at the time I found only dozens and dozens of sites with images of his tomb—then pushed me toward the book, and here we are.

My copy’s cover has only a drawing of the Prince’s effigy (though I hasten to say it is beautiful), but another edition carries a painting of Edward: Edward, Prince of Wales, 1330-76, The Black Prince by Benjamin Burnell (c. 1820).

Edward looks to me like a serious man, which fits in with how I had begun to imagine him—humored, perhaps at times, with some of life’s peculiarities, though never really showing it. I thought the image was a little bit attractive, and I especially liked his nose and beard. Still, it is halved, perhaps for dramatic effect, and I really wanted to see it all. Without the entire picture, something seemed unsettled, not quite right. I found the full painting in a few pages, such as here and, for a fuller image, here (scroll down at link).

I was right to wonder about it. On Jones’s cover, the prince appears to be focused, even “contemplative,” as this blogger notes; in the full painting he looks, well, sort of steely. Oddly, this rather fits in with the divisive portrait of him within society, at least that segment of modern society that knows enough about him to ask: warrior hero or villain? According to History Extraeven Edward’s contemporaries challenged his hero status, and one of the theories as to his sobriquet lays the blame on his brutal treatment of civilians at Limoges in 1370. Victorian children’s author Meredith Jones referenced his “angry flashing eyes,” which may or may not have been influenced by Burnell’s treatment of the Prince, itself perhaps born of historian Jean Friossart’s embellished records of Edward’s career.

Ostrich-feather crest ~ Early 17th-century painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, he was said to be generous to a fault, and seemed to have well learned the lessons taught to him by his father, who endured a four-year regency overseen by his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, after they drove Isabella’s husband, Edward II, off the throne, brutally executed his abusive gatekeeper and brought England dangerously close to civil war. In his own time he is also perceived as chivalric, and he famously adopts the motto of the blind Bohemian King John, whom he fights against at the battle of Crécy in 1376. It reads, Ich dien, “ I serve.”

So if we ask, “Who was Edward of Woodstock?” and are presented with the same image of opposing perspectives, it leaves us with as much mystery about who he was as when we started. A little bit of knowledge, however, could go  long way, in this case after having a look at the black armor Edward wears, and French historian Dr. Guilhem Pepin provides this in the article linked above. Black being rare in heraldry, he reasons, it then would be “completely feasible” for such a nickname as “Black Prince” to arise. After all, with so many Edwards—and so close together—to name, it also makes sense that at some point someone would have come up with something else to call him in order to avoid confusion.

For me it seems telling that Edward is said to have adopted King John’s motto, a piece of history that Jones writes of in The Black Prince. Edward defeated the blind king at Crécy, but seemed to have no barrier to speaking his admiration for John’s actions. From the small amount I have read about Edward in Jones’s book, he does indeed seem to have been contemplative by nature, however sneeringly the blogger above uses the word, and this may be his state of mind in the painting after all. Given that I’ve come across very little on Burnell thus far, it’s nearly impossible to say. What I can relate with accuracy, however, is that the Black Prince’s image gives nothing away, paving a path for further necessary investigation into this remarkable historical figure.

Previous Image of the Month: I’m Just Gonna Leave this Right Here

See also Stephanie’s Image of the Month: Proserpine (Persephone)

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Image of the Month: I’m Just Gonna Leave This Right Here

…and not really say very much tonight, mainly because these images lend so many contemplations, and my own words would just narrow what others might bring to mind.

As you can see, I made these pics back in August at nearly 9:00 pm. It was still broad daylight, so it’s a tad bit harder to see, but in the background the mountains casually sit for the session. Just past the bushes is a pond.

These are screenshots of previous images. I cropped out the thumbnails at bottom, but left the date stamp to stay (time above the date is from today). The pond, unseen, is now to my left. The mountain range is still obscured a bit by the rain. 

Continue reading “Image of the Month: I’m Just Gonna Leave This Right Here”

Image of the Week: The Hollow Hills (Book Cover)

This week’s “Image of the Week” entails a mixture of sorts: between a cover crush and look back in time, as well as my own experience of how an image can lead to something that touches one much more deeply. For it is the cover of Mary Stewart’s The Hollow Hills that initially beckoned to a teen me, transporting me deeper into the world of Merlin, surrounding me even more with the magic of his time.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my mother told me stories of Arthur and Merlin as I grew up, and was delighted to see The Crystal Cave on the booklist we received the summer before I began high school. We were meant to choose three works and be able to discuss and write about them during the school year—I rejected The Crystal Cave in favor of The Turn of the Screw. Disappointed, she purchased the books I listed, but also, unbeknownst to me, the entire Merlin Trilogy: the aforementioned initial installment as well as The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. I rolled my eyes when I saw them, but allowed her to line them up on my night table bookshelf anyway.

As it happens, I was a compulsively clean child and habitually performed such chores as pull my bed away from the wall to wipe down the floorboard or ensure there was no developing mark from the mattress. So it was that one day I pulled the table away from the wall to get at the dust behind it, when the books on the lower level attracted my attention—the shifting probably upset them—and I crouched to pick them off the floor.

(Click page for larger view)
(Click image for larger view)

It was a moment that lasted a couple of hours, for I glanced at the cover of The Hollow Hills—was it providence that I happened to pick that one up first?—and began to look deeply into the image as it motioned, called to me, pulled me toward the dusky swirl of a time I could easily melt into, felt I could become part of.

The figure on the cover was not difficult to take in. Handsome, with tousled red hair and rosy cheeks, he gripped a sword and held himself in a defiant stance, as if he were perceiving enemies in the distance and taking measure of his next actions. He seemed to me immensely strong, somewhat daunting, but still someone I wanted to be in the presence of. As a rather quiet child, my mind instinctively flew to the query of what birthed such potency, and I drew open the leaves.

It was Arthur, of course, and the second book in the series, but I do recall flipping through and reading passages here and there, wondering which one of them might tell me more about the world of such a man and how he came to be.

[B]elow me the grass, grey with rime, was barely distinguishable in the thick mist that held the whole place shrouded, from the invisible sea below the invisible cliffs to the pale blur where the winter sun fought to clear the sky. Below the blanket of mist the sea was quiet, as quiet as it ever was on that raging coast.

 Then, on the third night, the wind came. A small wind from the west, that crept across the battlements and in under the doors and set the flames fluttering blue round the birch logs.

As a reader, I had always been able to close my eyes and envision what the words communicated, as if I were watching a big screen behind my lids—at least most of the time—and the images in my mind on this day, brought forth by words more beloved than ever, were enchanting. The castle Tintagel I had dreamt of, the furious wind on a night portending the greatest event for the future of an empire. Something passed through my very soul on that afternoon, and I felt—in words as close as possible to the experience I lived—as if I had made a discovery of utmost importance, that I had uncovered something from my past and simply could not stop now. I must, I felt then, continue on this path and retrieve what it is I knew I had lost.

As I gazed once more upon the cover, the storm raging behind King Arthur seemed not unlike the one I had just witnessed, with a red sky over the castle, beckoning him to his destiny, the same he was directed to that squally night that the baby he, the one for whom the storm summoned, is carried away from his birthplace to his very purpose, to his future.

Why had I never been this mystified by the tales my mother told me? She was an able storyteller, and a gifted reader: her out-loud recitations of Poe were absolutely ghostly and filled with mysterious meaning. Well, she liked King Arthur—King Arthur—but she absolutely adored Poe, who I never took to quite as she did. Perhaps there was a connection between the darkness of his images and the ghosts she regularly told me about and I shrunk from. Her stories were delicious but frightening, and despite her assurances that the manifestations I frequently encountered couldn’t hurt me, I resented their invasion of my space (though I may not have had those words at the time) and how their almost-constant presence assaulted my very being. Only my room—the smaller one I had longed for years to move into, away from the large one I shared with my sister—offered a haven from them, and perhaps, in addition to natural inclination, was why I took such meticulous care of it.

I invited Merlin to my room. Merlin, protector of the future high king, magical, mysterious, occupant of memories that returned in a flood, present in a dissipating mist and the once invisible internal landscape existing amongst a raging sea.

The mist was lifting, drawing back from a sparkling sky. Faintly, high over the castle promontory, grew a hazy moon of light. Then the last cloud blew clear, billowing before the west wind like a sail blowing towards Brittany, and in its wake, blazing through the sparkle of the lesser stars, grew the great star that had lit the night of Ambrosius’ death, and now burned steady in the east for the birth of the Christmas King.


An earlier edition of The Hollow Hills, with a smaller, but more complete, view to the castle behind Arthur.
An earlier edition of The Hollow Hills, with a smaller but more complete view to the castle behind Arthur.

“Month of Mary Stewart” concludes next weekend with a review for The Prince and the Pilgrim and a bit more from my own story of meeting with Merlin. 


This post has been updated to include links to related entries.

Image of the Week: Mariana

Image of the Week: Mariana by John Everett Millais

Perhaps it was reading Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” that drew me in, for it is so that many of the topics that interested me as a teenager were happened upon in connection to others I had read about. Rossetti’s brother Dante was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English artists whose works are recognized by millions not only from the paintings themselves, but also facsimile in the form of greeting cards and other commercial products.

The Pre-Raphaelites, as they were later known, were not fond of the academic style of art taught at the time, which focused on strong light matched by dark shadows. Instead they favored bright color and great attention to detail. My eyes marveled at the massive amount of fine line and brilliant color; it would take days, weeks to “read” such paintings and drink it all in, for consuming it was what one did.

It is difficult to decide which painting could possibly be the best, for the group deliberately avoided any sort of dogma that would inhibit the individual artistic interpretation of its members. Later growing from the original three—Rossetti, Millais and William Holman Hunt—to seven, with the addition of Rossetti’s brother William, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner, the group inspired such artists as Edward Burne-Jones and John William Waterhouse.

Nevertheless, there were some I particularly favored, including Burne-Jones’s The Beguiling of Merlin, given my lifelong affinity for the wizard. Spotting the image on a book cover led me to being a reader of the novelist A.S. Byatt, and I made the connection after reading Possession (which itself is filled with an abundant amount of detail), that just as reading an entire book gives you a greater appreciation of its story, so too could the taking in of a painting. I recall learning in class about how an image is meant to draw your eye to one portion, a center of interest. For me, however, that point alone left the painting’s story untold; the narrative unfolded as more of the canvas was explored.

Wikimedia Commons

That moment came for me when I saw Millais’s Mariana. Apart from its connection to Tennyson’s poem “Mariana,” I admired the subject’s dress; it accentuates her hips, those of womanhood, today often brushed, or worse starved, out of photography and painting. The color is lovely and the soft feel of the velvet extends the sensory effect of the image.

Mariana seems tired, perhaps a bit stiff, as evidenced by her arched stance that indicates a need to stand up and stretch. She is looking outside, perhaps an implication of longing in the days of women’s confinement; ahead is the light, behind her the dark. In this manner the painting points to a distinction between indoors and outside, as well as gloomy days, hinted at by the shadowy background with its bed curtains, perhaps suggesting a life not of literal sleep, but a dull one in which a person exists rather than lives.

She waits for her love, but the passage of time does not bring his arrival and

She only said, “My life is dreary,

He cometh not,” she said;

She said, “I am aweary, aweary;

I would that I were dead!”

 Thickly-crusted flower pots, rusted nails and broken sheds denote a passage of time that Millais also demonstrates with the embroidery Mariana had been doing, though she leaves it sitting on the table in front of her. Neither Tennyson nor Millais indicate any movement in their respective narratives: Mariana is stuck in her painful position, living a life of discomfort and mental anguish.

Though not a singularly cheerful focus, the painting enables the observer to see and have what Mariana cannot: a view to lovely details and opportunity for choice. Are the leaves, for example, symbol of the outdoors that could present a piece of another world to Mariana? Or do they merely represent to her the dying season that she would become part of?

Mariana hears the passage of time in her state of non-movement, with the ticking of the clock. There is a sparrow chirping as well, though at the point she hears more, she has begun to lose her mental agility, and what she sees matches the mood of her auditory abilities: the sunlight represents not cheer, but only something to reveal how

[…] most she loathed the hour

When the thick-moted sunbeam lay

Athwart the chambers,

the dust serving as one more mocking reminder of the passage of time, and her aloneness within it.

Connected via Tennyson to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Mariana utilizes a Victorian context to present an historical view of women. This connection furthered my own journey through art and literature and through the Rossettis (Dante illustrated Christina’s first volume) the same could be seen, as

Day after day, night after night,

Laura kept watch in vain

In sullen silence of exceeding pain.

She never caught again the goblin cry,

‘Come buy, come buy’;

She never spied the goblin men

Hawing their fruits along the glen:

But when the moon waxed bright

Her hair grew thin and grey;

She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn

To swift decay and burn

Her fire away.

 Though sisters Laura and Lizzie experience a completely different circumstance in “Goblin Market” to Mariana, it too reveals historical context within its composition: of women, the author and society at large. (Brief consideration of where one could go with a fuller compare/contrast of Mariana and “Goblin Market.”) At the time, untested as I was in the world, I found it fairly astounding—and intriguing—how one could glean history from fiction of various sorts: art, music, poetry, even, as I learned later, textiles and cuisine. Moreover, one could build from an extant foundation—I mean utilizing more than inspiration. I supposed it could be flippantly stated that Mariana is a sort of Victorian fan art (though of course of a greater quality than most of what we see today), which led me to wonder how long people have been doing this sort of fan art/fan fiction thing.

Which isn’t to make little of such endeavors—people are generally aware of their abilities and shortcomings; they don’t typically engage in fan followings for fame or fortune. They simply recognize their own connections to various art forms and the many practitioners of it, and through them, with varying linkage and results, build the narratives of their own—our own—lives.