The Black Prince by Michael Jones
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|The Black Prince by Michael Jones|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: Generally known during and shortly after his lifetime as Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of King Edward III was arguably one of the Kings that never was. Jones' biography defends him against the blackening of his reputation at the hands of French historian Froissart, and praises him as a fine if sometimes flawed soldier.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: July 2017|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
Generally known during and shortly after his lifetime as Edward of Woodstock, after the palace in Oxfordshire in which he was born, the eldest son of King Edward III was arguably one of the Kings that never was. At last we have a modern biography to put him in his proper perspective.
Born in 1330, Prince Edward was the eldest of thirteen children of King Edward III and Queen Philippa. King Edward's father, King Edward II, had proved to be a disastrous military leader and his son was determined to restore something of the traditional glory to the English crown that had been so tarnished during his father's reign. His eldest son would be responsible for playing a major role in this, and in fact much of his life would be taken up with fighting the French in what was to become known as the Hundred Years' War. By the way, the nickname 'Black Prince' is thought to have been bestowed on him either because of the black armour he is alleged – on very slender evidence – at his first battle overseas, or possibly from the allegedly cruel way he waged war in France. We have the French historian Jean Froissart, who was hardly an unbiased source, to thank for the latter.
Of Edward's personal and family life, we know but little. The greater part of this book is inevitably taken up with his part in war overseas, a war which began successfully for the British but then stalled after a few victories. After the unhappy rift between Edward III and his own father, it was as if there would be political repercussions on the relationship in the next generation. Even in an age when children were expected to grow up very fast, there still seems something a little extraordinary about a role being planned as a figurehead for the heir to the throne at the age of only six, even if only on ceremonial occasions – and then being given his own suit of armour and war tent for military campaigns a year later. He was a hardened soldier by the age of sixteen, by which time it was a case of his father ordering the commanders at the battle of Crecy to 'let the lad win his spurs', as he did.
The war against France, with occasional short truces, dominated the Prince's short life. So to some extent did the plague, the Black Death which decimated the population of Europe during the middle years of the fourteenth century and did not spare members of his family. From his late thirties onwards he suffered with recurring bouts of some debilitating disease, probably dysentery and maybe some form of cancer as well. Father and son, both in failing health, eventually came to disagree on various issues. In the end, Edward had the melancholy distinction of being the first Prince of Wales to predecease his father and never ascend the throne. The King outlived both his wife and eldest son.
Jones has done an excellent job in telling the story of his life against the background of the war and providing some insights into what little is known about his personality. He is at pains to defend him against the blackening of his reputation at the hands of Froissart, praises him as a fine if sometimes flawed soldier who upheld chivalric principles of good lordship, yet could sometimes let his emotions overrule his better judgment, and in financial matters was often generous to a fault, particularly to his servants. It is not easy to make somebody so far back in history really come alive, but this book has pulled it off extremely well. It is supplemented with several pages of maps, battle plans and a detailed timeline.
For further reading about the plague which ravaged the country for much of the Prince's life and from which his family was not immune, The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles by Benedict Gummer is recommended, while The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer is an useful study of the times in which he lived.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Black Prince by Michael Jones at Amazon.com.
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