It’s not a spoiler alert to say Edward “the Black Prince” of England did not live to be crowned ruler of England. After all, hence he was known to the French as the “Black Prince,” not the “Black King.” Nevertheless, Prince Edward endures as one of the more (in)famous royal commanders in European history, gaining a record of violent military conquests and romantic scandals without ever actually sitting on the throne.
Edward’s life proves we don’t need a crown to be valid: we just need a cool nickname, a history of violence, and a kidnapped French monarch or two in there for fun. Live fast, die young, and leave a sickly corpse forth to these 42 grim facts about Edward the Black Prince, The King Who Never Was.
42. That’s Not My Name
Edward is known to history as the “Black Prince,” but he was probably never called that name. The first reference to him as a “Black Prince” was by John Leland in the 1530s or even early 1540s—some 165-plus years after Edward’s death.
41. Dark Days Are Coming
Despite his nickname’s anachronisms, there are generally two believed origin stories for it: (1) his famous shield and armor were black or (2) his grim, or “black,” reputation for military violence against the French Aquitanians.
40. Too Many Edwards
Although he never made it to the throne, Edward was sometimes referred to in chronicles as “Edward the IV.” Note how this became drastically confusing when a real Edward IV ascended the throne in 1461. Scholars think the “Black Prince” thing took off to help writers split the difference.
39. An Impressive Lineage
Edward might have been mixed race. His mother Phillipa of Hainault descended from the Low Countries, where Moorish tribes once reigned. Most notably, a contemporary description of Phillipa at her wedding to Edward’s father describes the bride as “brown of skin all over.”
38. Starter Kingdom
At the tender age of eight years old, Edward was appointed guardian of the kingdom. While his father, Edward III, went on campaign to Flanders in 1338, the little prince was left in charge. He probably didn’t have a huge part of the council. Probably.
37. Play With This
Oh, you got some plastic toys for your third birthday? For his third years, Prince Edward was gifted the titles to Earl of Chester and Prince of Wales.
36. First is the Worst
Edward’s first major military success was in 1356 in Aquitaine. Although he was outflanked at first, Edward eventually defeated his enemies at Poitiers and even captured the French king himself on September 19.
35. In the Wings of Style
We’re tickled to let you know that Edward’s “shield for peace” probably depicted three ostrich feathers. What else says peace like a good tickle fight?
34. Test Run Babies
As with many medieval princes of his era, Edward “got around” before his marriage to Joan of Kent. This sowing of wild oats is evidenced by the four illegitimate children he produced throughout the 1350s. Only one rose to any historical prominence: Sir Roger Clarendon, who is also best remembered for being hanged and beheaded for treason by Henry IV.
33. Princes Don’t Take Sick Days
In 1370, Edward was too sick to ride a horse. Nevertheless, he got so inflamed by the surrender of Limoges to France that he managed to pull himself out of bed, be carried down to the city via litter—a type of carriage—and oversee its demolition himself.
32. Learner’s Permit in War
Edward achieved the first victory in his military career—the Battle of Crecy—when he was only 16 years old.
31. It Skips a Generation
Edward died just one year before his father, Edward III. As a result, it was the king’s grandson, future Richard II, who succeeded to the throne next. Too bad Prince Edward couldn’t hold out just a little longer, or that could have been his coronation.
30. You Won’t Like Me When I’m Angry
It goes without saying that Edward was desperately unpopular with the French. In addition to all that conquering, he levied taxes on his French subjects in order to fund his Spanish wars. This tension reached its breaking point in 1370, when the city of Limoges rose in rebellion against the Black Prince. Some say Edward massacred as many as 3,000 people in retaliation, but in fact…
29. Too Many Zeroes?
Historians raise increasingly high eyebrows towards that “3,000 massacred by Edward” figure in the rebellion of Limoges. The huge death toll in this most infamous chapter of the Black Prince’s life was popularized by a Victorian historian. However, in 2008, another historian suggested that this death toll could really be as low as 300 soldiers in total. I guess you just had to be there…
28. Mortality is the Ultimate Glass Ceiling
Edward is the first titled Prince of Wales who did not become King of England. The “Prince of Wales” is usually a precursor to the crown, but that whole “early death” thing got in the way of his promotion.
27. It’s Not a Phase, Mom
According to some theories, Edward suffered from a long-running case of amoebic dysentery. This may rationalize his “dark” personality and mood swings, but I hardly think that qualifies as an excuse.
26. Petri Dish of Fun
We aren’t 100% sure how Edward died. It might have been anything from the lovely sounding nephrites to cirrhosis or even edema. It’s also possible—or even probable—that old battle wounds died hard. Nevertheless, the Black Prince died on June 8, 1376, aged only 45 years old.
25. Deadly Threads
Edward was laid to rest with his battle swag: his surcoat, helmet, shield, and gauntlets were preserved for longevity in bronze. Today, these tokens remain kept in glass at Canterbury Cathedral, where he is buried.
24. Remember Me As I Lived
Edward’s bronze effigy displays him resting in his battle armor. Essentially, he is showcased how he lived for all eternity: ready for battle.
23. Where’s Sunblock When You Need It?
During Oliver Cromwell’s 17th century revolution, Edward’s tomb was ransacked and damaged in a critical way. Armies shattered the glass which overlooked his tomb, which let damaging sunrays into the then almost 300-year-old work.
22. This is Why You Wash
The Black Prince’s armor might never have been black at all. Over time, and due to damaging sun rays, the bronze medieval armor in his tomb took on an ominous black patina. Some say this led to misconceptions about the color of his character (and outfits) and perhaps even led to his posthumous nickname. Talk about letting your outfit speak for you.
21. The Crown Is in My Court
A captured French king makes for a handsome bargaining chip. Having seized John II of France as his POW in 1360, Edward was able to negotiate a peace treaty that was overwhelmingly in his favor. The Treaty of Bretigny essentially gave Edward complete control of new French provinces with no pesky interference—all in exchange for the king’s life. It’s good to be a king’s captor.
20. You Can’t Put a Price on Pride
Edward and his father had at least one thing in common: they were both bad with money. The lives of both Edwards are haunted by financial problems—an issue partly related to the abnormally huge staffs they patronized. Also, Edward III’s expensive project of “get the French throne” put a hole in his wallet that his son never learned to fill.
19. Golden Strings Attached
In 1362, Edward III granted his son official control of Aquitaine and Gascony. In return for being Prince of these lands, Edward just needed to pay his dad an homage of one ounce of gold a year—we’re sure that’s way more after inflation.
18. Back to Business
Did Edward achieve redemption on his deathbed? One of his last acts his acts was to “disafforest” Wirral in Cheshire. In layman’s terms, this freed the people living there from the corruption of the forest system and meant he was finally turning his attention to ruling the land properly—you know, once all the conquering was over.
17. Leader of the Pack
Edward was his parents’ oldest child and the first of their 13 children. Good thing royal siblings didn’t have to share a bathroom…
16. Family Feud
Having four brothers to survive with him to adulthood, Edward didn’t lack for relatives and back-up heirs. However, this means Edward was part of the generation whose claims would kick off the infamous War of the Roses, or Cousins Wars. Generations later, the descendants of Edward and his brothers would press this tangle of multiple claims from multiple siblings to cause a civil war.
15. Three Strikes
In 1348, three of Edward’s siblings—his sister Joan and infant brothers Thomas and William—died at once from the infamous Black Death.
14. Try Uber Next Time
After capturing the French King John II, Edward rode back home into London on a magnificent white charger… as his royal hostage was kept behind on a small black horse.
13. Stand by Your Man
Later in life, Edward defended a Spanish king against a controversial plot to put his illegitimate half-brother on the throne. The prince’s support was not universally well-received by his lords. Nevertheless, Prince Edward felt it would be an insult to royalty itself to watch someone be replaced with a baseborn relative. Edward’s king-dad gave the A-OK and Prince Edward put his full support behind Peter of Castile against his illegitimate sibling, Henry of Trastamara.
12. Love Has a Price
Edward’s support of Peter of Castile wasn’t all about altruism and royal rights. The Spanish king had offered Edward’s son the Kingdom of Galicia in the event the war was won. He also agreed to let Edward hold three of his daughters as hostages in fulfillment of various grant loans and land passages.
11. Trickle Down Economics Works?
During the Spanish campaign, Prince Edward also finally received his “cut” of the French king’s ransom. His royal dad sent down a payment of 100,000 francs; Edward took out part of this ransom to be used as payment for his soldiers.
10. There’s Such a Thing as Too Many Death Drops
For much of his last bout of illness, Edward’s servants thought he was already dead. Not the case—he was just stricken with a really bad case of dysentery, fainting on them so often that it just looked like he died several times.
9. Old Sins Die Hard
On Edward’s deathbed, his priest begged the dying prince to ask forgiveness not just from God but from all those who he had injured in his life. Although this was a pretty standard thing to do for a dying medieval Christian, it takes on a whole different tone in light of Edward’s military career…
8. Stubborn as an…
The Archbishop of Wittlesey openly called the Black Prince an “ass” for refusing to give into Pope Gregory XI’s demand for a subsidy. While the bishops of England sided with the Pope, Prince Edward refused to spill the gold. Hence the unprincely nickname.
7. This Time It’s Personal
Edward lost one of his good friends during the siege upon Romorantin in 1356. Enraged, the prince reportedly intensified his efforts and set the whole fortress aflame with Greek fire.
6. Too Much in Common
The Black Prince’s romance with Joan “the Fair Maid of Kent” goes down as the stuff of Arthurian legend: she was a beautiful lady with a swarm of other suitors behind her while he was an athletic and accomplished Prince. However, they were also first cousins once-removed from his father’s side. Kind of puts a damper on things when your marriage might not be 100% legal—even by their times—due to the consanguinity.
5. No Waiting Period
Joan of Kent’s ex-husband was still alive when Edward began to court her. Fortunately, the third wheel passed away by Christmas 1360, after which Edward wasted little time in pressuring his dad to let him and Joan marry. After less than nine months after her husband’s death—plus one handy dispensation from the Pope on account of them being close cousins—Joan got a new beau in the Black Prince.
4. Drink Me Up, Girl
A gifted silver cup is the earliest testimony to Edward’s love for his future wife, Joan of Kent. It’s said the cup was party of the “booty” from an early military raid. In other words, it was “pre-used” but very pretty. Was Edward trying to say something about his much-married love interest?
3. Swipe Left at The Next Gravestone
In the end, Edward’s wife was not buried next to him. Although Edward predeceased her by about a decade, Joan of Kent chose to be buried next to her first husband, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent.
2. I Want to Wake Up Next to Your Face
While Edward was not buried next to his beloved wife Joan, he would not go to the grave without a reminder of her. He had reproductions of Joan’s face carved and affixed to the ceiling of the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, where he was eventually buried.
1. Blink and You’ll Miss Him
Edward had two sons. However, the oldest—also named Edward—died the most stereotypically medieval death: he caught the bubonic plague when he was only six years old.
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