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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My Tottering TBR: About to Topple?

Well, that title might just reflect the state of mind I have been experiencing since some time: wanting so very much to read but often being unable to actually do it. For various reasons, this circumstance has the fine ability to create a fair amount of anxiety, putting my pile as well as myself into uncertain territory. However, there has been a nice turnaround lately and I am steadily working on keeping that leaning tower of pages all in one pile. Each time I close a book, I feel a similar sort of sensation as when I swipe my highlighter along the lines of a to-do list, perhaps a kick of adrenaline, especially if the work ended with a magnificent question or connection that brings the thrill of recognition, causing so many loose ends to come together.

Considering that this time in 2020 I was still working on my first book of the year, I’d say there has been some improvement, hey?

So what am I reading or recently read that has been so satisfying? Well, for the recently reads, you can click here to check out my material over at Goodreads. Not everyone loves this site, and at least one author has told me she avoids it like the plague, though I never really asked why. But, so far at least, it suits me fairly well, though for now I tend to use it only to record and have not been doing much exchanging or interacting on any of its threads. I did used to be in a few groups, but deleted them for my own lack of responding to the millions of notifications I received. Perhaps I ought to look into groups soon and see if anything catches my fancy.

In any case, moving forward I have some other cool reads going on right now, and am thrilled about this because I can feel an opening up also occurring, which sort of makes me imagine the top of my head on hinges and the information and stories being poured into my brain. Perhaps I’d better get to the books?

The Black Prince by Michael Jones –  I know, I know, I keep talking about it. But imagine if you had food in your cupboard you couldn’t get to. You reach and reach but just as your fingertips seem so close, the gap widens! Yes, dear readers, I’m comparing books to food – they nourish me and are as necessary as the air I breathe. And The Black Prince, which I have wanted to read so badly, has been hanging around my house since *checks Abe orders page* September 2019.

As of now I’m still in the first chapter, but I’ve been reading about Edward of Woodstock’s grandparents, Edward II and his queen, Isabella, inhabitants of an era I’m not overly familiar with, though I do remember something about a she-wolf in a documentary I watched ages ago. Yes, I’m fairly certain this is the same woman, though the documentary really portrays her in a terrible light, if memory serves, whereas here in Jones’s telling, her position is quite a bit more understandable. (Though Despenser’s end really was rather grisly.) Still, there is that thrill of recognition and excitement about finally, finally, finally getting to read about someone I’ve wanted to for so long it’s a bit ridiculous!

To the Land of Long Lost Friends by Alexander McCall Smith – This was a “for the heck of it” present from my teen son, who purchased it for me, oh maybe last summer. Not long after that he presented me with another AMS tale – I’m a big fan, by the way – and at Christmas yet another, a modern-day re-telling of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t recall what that middle book was called, and when you’ve lost track of what AMS books you own, you know you’re not keeping up with this very prolific novelist.

I’ve actually started this book – twice! – but have had to put it aside, also twice, both times starting at page 1. I’ll have to do that again this time, even if I do remember what was happening where I left off, because Mma Ramotswe isn’t just read, she is savored, and merely “picking up where one left off” just isn’t done. She deserves her proper attention, and besides, she might kindly relate to any of us the pitfalls of trying to carry on, say, a conversation, over the course of two days but months apart. You might remember everything but giving your fellow conversant a recap is just the polite thing to do. And anyway, you enjoy their company, so why not?

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer – Not a  place I’d really want to live, truth be told, though if an Elizabethan was smart, he would say the same about our era. Still, I’ve attempted to make this trip before, though this book as well I’ve had to put down. And so here I am, my first real reading, in perhaps my whole life, on this period that I willingly got on board for. It’s not that I don’t like the Elizabethans, I just somehow never really got around to them beyond associations with Shakespeare.

Because I’m in love with the ordinary – Mortimer writes for people like me – this book is amongst a set of works I truly cherish, alongside such other titles as this author’s Middle Ages version of time travel and Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Victorian. I have never either been a great fan of Victoria’s era – though I hasten to reassure that my “I’m not a fan” comment is not used here in the manner I often employ it, which is to mean I do not, in fact, like something – but I still enjoy knowing what life was like for ordinary men and women and how they went about their day-to-day concerns, what food was available, what was interesting to them. I especially love it if there is something I can replicate (or at least attempt), such as food or a craft. I wonder if I will recognize any of these people?

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn – When writer and Le Cordon Bleu graduate Flinn happens upon a woman in the grocery store and advises her on food choices and meal preparation, it marks the beginning of a huge change in her life. Inspired to gather novices together with the aim of revealing to them that cooking is not as frightening as they believed, she begins to learn about herself as well. What these lessons are I cannot precisely say, because I have only reached the portion of Flinn’s story in which she has taught her volunteers the real deal of kitchen knives (you really need only very few of them).

As far as I can tell, I haven’t exactly been yearning for this particular book, but that’s probably because it fell off my radar – more dangerous territory for both book and myself. I did spy it one day a few months back and pull it to my kitchen shelf so I would at least get visual reminders, but didn’t pick it up again until two days ago. As I was reading it this evening I happened to flip through and found within some later pages a Costco receipt dated October 4, 2012. Yes, you read that correctly. At first I thought perhaps I’d bought this secondhand and that must be the previous owner’s receipt. However, I admitted to knowing I’d purchased the book new, and the merchandise on the brief receipt are all items I would buy: Palmolive, strawberries, even this book itself. I must have gotten further I than I realized, because the last thing I remember, a recipe involving alfredo sauce, is quite a bit out from where I now am. Why did I stop reading? Well, I distinctly recall trying that recipe and it not working out.

Let me tell you that this shouts out that I – despite that I enjoy cooking and am not super afraid of making mistakes in the kitchen – fit at least part of the profile of the very people Flinn is attempting to reach out to when she speaks of cooking, good cooking, being very much within our reach. This is one of those books that moves you to say, “This book was written for me.”

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