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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Reading Challenge 2021: The Year of My Neglected Bookshelves

It just occurred to me that I’ve lost track of whether my opening entries for each year, these past few years, have been titled with a nod toward the revolution ‘round the sun just completed or the one newly embarked upon. Looking at last year’s entry doesn’t provide much aid, given it was late and that I also began to wonder if I used to do one for each. Well, no matter. Some might say 2020 doesn’t really deserve recall, but that’s not why I’m just going to roll it and looking ahead into 2021 into one entry this time. The year 2020 should be remembered even though by any account it bred the suck. I’ve always been an advocate of remembering the past, because it’s essential for effectively moving forward.

In terms of reading, how do I do in 2020? Well, last year’s reading—there wasn’t much to it.

Continue reading “Reading Challenge 2021: The Year of My Neglected Bookshelves”

My Tottering TBR: The Black Prince by Michael Jones

Before I get started, a quick note: I’m currently going through the blog’s previous entries and doing lots of re-organization. One thing I’m super pleased to announce is that at least some of the series I’d started before will resume, the content still aiming to approach its topic from more than one angle and also a bit more often.

“My Tottering TBR” is one such series, and here it will, as its name implies, focus on books I have not yet read. Sometimes a relationship or various events may have developed with or around a work, despite its status as unread; it may be a serious contender for re-read; or it might be an introductory type of posting to share something new for all of us. Life being what it is, these and other angles may mix and match—usually at the will of the books, as opposed to my own choice(!).

Whatever the case, I hope you will enjoy and, if you haven’t already, follow the blog to come back for more of this and other series or standalone entries new or resurrected as we make our way through this crazy thing called life.

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Our current item comes from a long history of knowing about Edward of Woodstock, though not precisely what his story was. Over time I gathered a few tidbits about him, including that he was a superstar warrior in his day, but predeceased his son (1376), who then succeeded to his grandfather’s throne as Richard II (1377). For a very long time Edward was quite mysterious to me, not just owing to the conflicting reports of his reputation—a “nasty piece of work” or man of valor?—but also because I had never seen any likeness of him at all. When a household ghost, whose demeanor somehow reminded me of the Black Prince*, took up residence in a corner of one room, I determined I really did need to learn more about this historical figure.

I found there isn’t really a shortage of books about Edward Plantagenet, and the one I eventually decided upon is the focus of today’s entry: The Black Prince by Michael Jones. This is in large part because a piece over at Murray and Blue (where yours truly very occasionally also writes) appeared in 2017 and shared that new evidence had been revealed by a French source and is discussed in Jones’s biography. (For more on this, click here. You can also follow and search within Murray and Blue.)

And also because, well, the cover is quite attractive. This isn’t merely the visual, but also how it relates: depicting the Prince as he rests in his tomb, it returns my thoughts to those of my ghost, always just as still while breathing an aura of contradiction into the air, quietly aware of everything going on around him yet revealing nothing. In 2019 I finally purchased the book and am, sadly, still trying to find the time to read it. Happily, it has now made it to the small pile of books on a shelf near my bedside table, silently haunting me morning and night. A December 31 deadline keeps me from picking it up just yet, but I have officially added it to my Reading 2021 Challenge, so it won’t be long now. I’m really looking forward to finally exploring the life of this enigmatic individual as well as Jones’s new information on him. The last time I chose to read about a major medieval figure—intending to read one book and move on—he became a significant research and study focus, so I’m quite intrigued to see where Edward of Woodstock will lead me.

Book Information and Blurb:

The Black Prince by Michael Jones

Published: 2017 by Head of Zeus Ltd. | ISBN: 978-1784972936

Format: Hardcover | Pages: 404

In 1346 , at the age of sixteen, he won his spurs at Crécy; nine years later he conducted a brutal raid across Languedoc; in 1356 he captured the king of France at Poitiers; as lord of Aquitaine he ruled a vast swathe of southwestern France.

2019 edition, also available in various formats.

He was Edward of Woodstock, eldest son of Edward III, but better known to posterity as ‘the Black Prince’. His military achievements captured the imagination of Europe: the chronicler Jean Froissart called him ‘the flower of all chivalry’; and for the man known as Chandos Herald, who fought with him, he was ‘the embodiment of all valour’.

But what was the true nature of the man behind the chivalric myth, and of the violent but pious world in which he lived? Drawing on contemporary chronicles and a wide range of documentary material, Michael Jones tells the remarkable and inspiring story of one of the great warrior-princes of the Middle Ages – and paints an unforgettable portrait of warfare and chivalry in the fourteenth century.

*This entity struck me as having some sort of martial background, and his discipline of stillness was astounding, combined with his ability to remain this way while nonetheless making his presence quite known. He never struck me as the Black Prince, but merely reminded me of him given the similar nature of the missing countenance (his face was covered) and that I could never quite determine if in life he had been a dangerous individual, protective, or perhaps a bit of both.
My copy

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Note: This post was updated to include blurb combined from the
book’s online description as well as front flap of the 2017 edition.