Grim Facts About Edward The Black Prince, The King Who Never Was

Well, his nickname says it all: He was Edward the Black Prince, not Edward the Black King. But despite that spoiler, Edward endures as one of the most (in)famous royal commanders in European history, gaining a record of violent conquests and romantic scandals without ever actually sitting on the throne. Live fast, die young, and leave a sickly corpse to these grim facts about Edward The Black Prince, The King Who Never Was.


1. He Was Born Into A Maelstrom

Being born heir apparent to the English throne pretty much sets you up for a cushy—albeit pressure-ridden—life. But that wasn’t really the case for Edward of Woodstock, AKA the Black Prince. After all, he was born just a few years before the infamous Hundred Years’ War—a conflict in which he’d go on to play a major part.

And it didn’t take long for his family to throw Prince Edward right into the middle of the drama.

2. They Didn’t Waste Any Time

To say that Edward’s childhood was a whirlwind would be an understatement. His father, who’d become King at 14, prepared Edward for a similar trajectory. He tried to arrange a marriage for Edward when the kid was barely out of infancy and made him Earl of one of England’s most powerful kingdoms at the ripe old age of…two.

Edward then became the youngest Duke of Cornwall of all time. But this period wasn’t all plans for the future—a sword hung over Edward the whole time.

3. He Had To Be On The Run

Edward’s early life was, as we’ve established, filled with drama—but during his most vulnerable years, he was also in grave danger. When he was just five, whispers began to spread that France wanted to invade England. As heir to the throne, Edward would be one of the first to go. His father quickly had to come up with an escape plan for the Prince and his sisters.

The threat never materialized, but that would be the first of many brushes with danger for young Edward.

4. He Was Already Ruling On His Own

Edward wasn’t the only one in peril during this time—his father, King Edward III, was walking the thin edge of a blade with France. A major conflict was on one side, and peace on the other. As such, when the King set out for Flanders in 1338, he left Prince Edward as protector of the kingdom for the first time. The boy was just eight! And his father didn’t stop there.

5. He Had To Face His Own Mortality

Edward joined his father on the battlefield for the first time in his teens—but that’s not even the most twisted part. Considering the dangerous situation he was about to get in, he had to prepare his own will at just 15 years old. But despite the fact that Edward’s father spent his entire childhood thrusting the boy into uncomfortable situations, the young Prince took to the battlefield well.

Perhaps a little too well.

6. He Had A Hidden Talent

Shortly after his 16th birthday, Prince Edward went into battle for the first time—and quickly revealed that he had a serious dark side. Edward had a flair for brutality, and on his very first campaign, he left a legendary trail of destruction in the Cotentin area of Normandy.

And this was just what he did on the way to the battle.

7. He Made A Grave Error

At the beginning of the Battle of Crécy in 1346, a still-teenaged Edward said goodbye to his father and took his position at the head of some 2,000 men. As they entered battle and created chaos among the French, Edward went ahead and began to attack the second line. He and his men soon found themselves up against the Count of Alençon—and realized they’d made a terrible mistake.

8. His Father Refused To Save Him

Word spread throughout the battlefield that Prince Edward was in trouble, and it went all the way back to the King. His reaction was utterly chilling. He asked if the Prince was injured, and upon learning that he was not, he refused to send aid to the boy. The King had already made Prince Edward a knight, but that day he claimed that he wanted his son to “win his spurs”—or, at the very least, give his opponents the opportunity to win honorably.

Yeah, he picked chivalry over his own son’s life. And back on Prince Edward’s side of the battlefield? Things were getting serious.

9. He Almost Didn’t Make It

Prince Edward’s father might not have run to come to his aid, but he did have someone he could rely on—Sir Richard FitzSimon, his standard-bearer. FitzSimon quite literally stood over the heir’s battered body and beat back the men who sought to end him until more English forces arrived to help them.

When he met his father again after the battle, the King congratulated him for his efforts. But the next time they saw battle together, the roles would be reversed.

10. He Came To The Rescue

On the first day of 1350, during the battle at Calais, the French forces easily outnumbered King Edward’s unit. Despite some excellent maneuvering, the King found himself in trouble—until the Edward the Black Prince’s forces stormed in. Not only did Prince Edward and his men force the French back, they also captured three leading commanders.

Luck was often on his side—but that wasn’t always a good thing.

11. He Lost Many Loved Ones

When it came to making “an heir and a spare,” Edward’s parents took their duties pretty seriously. He had a whopping 12 siblings—but this was the Middle Ages, and that meant not all of them would make it to adulthood. In 1348, three of his siblings fell victim to the bubonic plague and didn’t survive. It’s entirely possible that Edward the Black Prince avoided falling ill thanks to the fact that he was constantly away from home.

Not that he was in any less danger out there on the battlefield…

12. They Nearly Cornered Him

Following his triumph at Calais, Edward took to the seas to face Castilian forces at the Battle of Winchelsea. While it seemed like they had the upper hand, there was one crucial problem. Their ship was so full of leaks that it was in danger of sinking at any minute. Thankfully, the Duke of Lancaster swept in at the last minute to help them.

With Lancaster’s aid, Prince Edward and his men managed to board the Spanish ship and throw the Spaniards overboard, just as his own vessel sunk.

13. He Still Had Time For The Ladies

Edward the Black Prince was barely 20, the commander of a large force, and had territories in Chester and Cornwall to maintain. His father had been trying to arrange his marriage since he was a kid, but despite his many commitments, Edward still had time to sow his wild oats. He had a number of mistresses throughout his 20s—and while none led to marriage, they did lead to some, ahem, other things.

14. He Started Early

Edward the Black Prince was prolific on the battlefield…and in the bedroom. Throughout his 20s, he had between two and four illegitimate sons. While little information survives about them, one, Roger Clarendon, managed to rise to historical prominence—but as we’ll later see, he fell more on the side of infamy than anything else.

15. Things Got Serious

In 1356, the King tasked Edward the Black Prince with his most important mission yet. He wanted to restart the conflict with the French—and for his eldest son to lead the first charge into Aquitaine. This time, he wasn’t just acting with his men on one puny ship. He was leading hundreds of ships and thousands of men. It was Edward’s biggest challenge yet—but was he up to it?

16. He Wanted One Thing

The King may have had orderly plans for his invasion in mind—but Edward the Black Prince was there to let his greedy side out. Both he and the nobles he was leading were far more interested in plunder and spoils. And anyone who got in his way? Well, they weren’t going to like what he had in store for them.

17. He Didn’t Like It When He Couldn’t Win

When Edward entered an area that the Count of Armagnac was occupying, the count refused to engage him in battle. By now, the prince’s brutal reputation preceded him. With the chivalric code in mind, Edward passed on by—and then went on to burn and pillage each territory he subsequently passed through afterward. And that’s not even the darkest part.

18. He Laid Waste To Them

The people in these areas weren’t used to battle, which made them easy victims for Edward the Black Prince. He and his men slaughtered many men, women, and children in southern France, then robbed whoever was left blind. The damage was so grave that the papal court begged him to consider peace negotiations.

Edward’s reaction was chilling. He basically shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn’t possibly stop without knowing his father’s will. Luckily, the battlefield called, giving the area some reprieve…

19. He Lost A Friend

In 1356, Edward the Black Prince traversed France in order to reach Normandy, where his father had allies. He continued to leave a trail of destruction in his wake, and expected to easily decimate a group of French knights at Romorantin. However, the knights managed to slay one of the Prince’s friends—a move that he was determined to make them regret.

20. He Was Burning Mad

Edward the Black Prince was furious at the loss of his friend—and he decided to get a brutal vengeance. I guess they hadn’t invented the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold” yet, because the Prince went straight for heat. He besieged the fort using Greek fire (basically an unstoppable ancient flamethrower) and burned it to the ground.

Overkill? Maybe…

21. They Outnumbered Him

The next time that enemy forces took on Edward the Black Prince, they knew to come prepared. Edward showed up at the Battle of Poitiers with a few thousand men—and he was in for a terrifying surprise. The French king had gathered some 50,000 men to meet him. Edward’s men stood no chance. Thus, Edward went from a fearless leader to a helpless pawn in the negotiations for peace.

22. He Tried To Make A Truce

Edward was actually quite generous in the negotiations, saying that he’d give back all the castles and towns he’d taken, release his prisoners, and promise not to go against the French king for seven years. But King John II of France knew what a valuable bargaining chip that the English heir to the throne was. He wanted the Black Prince and 100 of his men as prisoners.

John gave them a day to decide—and it was a serious mistake.

23. He Moved In Silence

Prince Edward’s men spent the day fortifying their position and digging trenches. The next day, they struck. Within a few hours, the English had stolen the upper hand straight out of the French king’s grip. In fact, they even captured him. They declared a truce and carted King John II of France straight back to England.

Prince Edward treated his captive with great honor on the journey, even allowing him to ride a much more stately horse into London. It was just the kind of behavior you’d want to see from a future king…

24. He Was Desperate

Back at home, the people of England celebrated both Prince Edward’s victories and the man himself. He spread the good cheer to the men who’d accompanied him—but all the while, he was hiding a dark secret. All these impressive victories came at a cost, and Edward was broke. And he wasn’t the only one.

25. He Had A Fatal Flaw

Edward and his father had at least one thing in common: They were both bad with money. Financial problems haunted both Edwards their entire lives—an issue partly related to the abnormally huge staffs they employed. Also, Edward III’s expensive project of “get the French throne” put a hole in his wallet that his son never learned to fill.

And despite their victories, things were only going to get more expensive.

26. He Finally Fell In Love

Edward 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, there was a seriously gruesome side to their romance. They were first cousins once-removed from his father’s side.

Kind of puts a damper on things when your marriage might not be 100% legit—even by their times—due to the consanguinity. And that wasn’t the only problem.

27. There Was Someone Else In The Way

As if the whole “cousins” thing wasn’t enough of an issue, Joan of Kent’s ex-husband was still alive when Edward began to court her. Fortunately, the third wheel got sick and succumbed to his illness by Christmas 1360. Problem solved! Edward wasted little time in pressuring his dad to let him and Joan marry. Less than nine months after her husband’s passing—plus one handy dispensation from the Pope on account of them being close cousins—they tied the knot.

And that wasn’t all Edward had going for him…

28. They Got What They Wanted

It turns out that 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 family’s favor. The Treaty of Bretigny essentially gave the English 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.

29. He Made A Move

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 worth way more after inflation, but don’t worry: he could afford it). He sailed off with his bride for his new domain, and everything was going according to the plan.

His people received him with grace…at first. Emphasis on: at first.

30. He Had A Family

Edward the Black Prince and his wife Joan of Kent made themselves right at home in their new domain. She’d brought along the children she’d had with her first husband, and she also fulfilled her duty as the heir’s wife when she gave Prince Edward two sons. Unsurprisingly, they named the first Edward, just like the men who came before him. The second became Richard.

However, despite Edward’s riches, only one of his sons would make it to adulthood.

31. He Went Back Out For More

Settle down and enjoy family life…now, does that sound like something Edward the Black Prince would do? He was itching for a reason to get back on the battlefield, and when Peter of Castile lost his throne to his illegitimate brother, Edward found his cause. In exchange, Peter promised Edward that he’d make his son ruler of Galicia. What a deal, right? Well…

32. His Ally Turned On Him

Edward quickly gained the upper hand for Peter—but as they marched across Spain, he began to sniff out a cruel sense of betrayal. They’d spent two years as allies, but Peter had fallen behind on paying his share. With each passing day, he owed Edward more money. Peter told Edward to wait at Valladolid while he went to get funds.

However, money wasn’t going to be his only problem.

33. They Left Them Out To Die

The heat of Spain did not agree with Edward and his men. They spent the summer slowly falling prey to dysentery and other diseases, though dark rumors prevailed that someone was poisoning them. Sure, not a great way to pass the time—but it’s so much worse than it sounds. Some historians estimate that the illnesses took out four out of five of the Prince’s men.

Edward didn’t escape unscathed either. After his time in Spain, illness plagued him for the rest of his life. And on top of that, it really didn’t look like Peter was coming back with that money…

34. He Retreated

Realizing that he wasn’t about to get Peter owed him, Edward beat it back to his domain in Aquitaine while he still had a danger-free path to get there. And when he returned, he didn’t exactly get a warm welcome. After all that he’d done, Edward was desperately unpopular with the French. On top of all the conquering, they’d footed the bill for his time in Spain.

Now that he was back, they were ready to express their anger.

35. They Turned On Him

The free companies, organized bands of mercenaries that roved France at the time, tailed Edward back to Aquitaine. He’d hired them to help fight in Spain—and they wanted their money. Between them, other unpaid bills, and the fact that he’d spent a whole summer sick in Spain, Edward was reaching code-red levels. He began angering nobles left and right, and whole towns began to turn against him by the hundreds.

He warned his father that things were bad, and he was right. In fact, they were about to get so much worse.

36. He Lost His Closest Friend

Finally, England and France declared war once again. The French wanted Aquitaine back from Edward—but the loss of his domain was nothing compared to the personal loss he experienced as the conflict broke out. After a brutal attack and hours spent in agony, Edward’s closest friend and constant ally, Sir John Chandos, succumbed to injuries sustained in battle.

But this time, Edward’s response wasn’t like the others…

37. He Wasn’t Quite Himself

Normally, Edward the Black Prince would’ve rained down all sorts of brutal vengeance on the forces that took out his friend. But, to add insult to injury, Edward was just too sick to go into battle himself. He still did get some blood on his hands, though. 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…

38. They Might Have Fudged The Numbers

Historians raise increasingly high eyebrows towards that “3,000 massacred by Edward” figure in the rebellion of Limoges. The huge of casualties 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 number could really be as low as 300 casualties in total.

I guess you just had to be there? Either way, it almost looked like Edward was losing his touch.

39. Loss Tore Him Apart

As he retreated, Edward the Black Prince grew even more ill. Soon, he couldn’t even ride his horse—but the worst was yet to come. In 1371, shortly after his devastating losses on the battlefield, he returned home and received the news of a horrific loss at home. His eldest son had perished of the bubonic plague at just five years old.

His grief made him even more sick—just a shell of the man who’d once conquered such large swathes of Europe. After a lifetime of fighting, it seemed like maybe the Black Prince just didn’t have any fight left.

40. He Had To Flee

Fearing for his life and safety, Edward’s doctor sent him back to England. There, he languished—but when he got back into the politics game, he began to recover, just like a good workaholic does. Unfortunately, the hits kept coming.

41. He Had To Give His Land Back

Prevailing circumstances forced Edward the Black Prince to give up the territories he’d once ruled over in Aquitaine and Gascony. Between that and the passing of his eldest son, it was as if he’d lost everything he’d fought so hard for in the decade before. Did Prince Edward deal with it well? Ahem…not exactly.

42. He Tried To Rule Without An Iron Fist

Edward’s talents on the battlefield did not translate into diplomatic skill. Still, despite some missteps—like gravely insulting an archbishop—he did manage to make some moves, and even atone for some of the damage he’d done. He helped free some residents of Cheshire from a corrupt system. But there may have been a disturbing reason behind this change of heart.

43. He Knew His Time Had Come

It seemed as though Edward was finally turning his attention to ruling the land properly. You know, now that all the conquering was over. But really, it may have all been because he knew that the end was near. Edward was sicker than ever, and by 1376 was sure that he wasn’t going to make it much longer. Edward the Black Prince, England’s most formidable warrior, had likely once believed he’d perish on the battlefield.

But now, it looked like he’d die writhing in agony, suffering a brutal and undignified illness.

44. He Was The Walking Dead

By May of 1376, Edward was incredibly ill. It was so bad that he’d regularly faint. On some occasions when he collapsed, his own staff would suspect that he’d given his last breath, only for him to pop back up to live another day. Finally, on June 8, just a week before his 46th birthday, he succumbed to his illness. The man everyone thought would make a legendary king—never even got the chance.

Of course, he was given a send-off worthy of a fearsome warrior…but lest we forget, he was also the heir to the throne. And that made things complicated.

45. His Son Was Put In The Line Of Fire

King Edward III had survived his eldest son, which put the succession of the throne in question. Prince Edward’s surviving legitimate son, Richard, was next in line for the throne. But at the same time, he was still only a child. The King immediately signed papers putting John of Gaunt, his fourth son (and a Lancastrian) second in line.

Within a year, Edward III would follow his son into the afterlife—creating a chaos that mirrored the one his son had been born into.

46. He Set Up A Wicked Game Of Thrones

In many ways, the dark fate of Edward the Black Prince led to the Wars of the Roses. The battles between his remaining siblings and their offspring for the throne during the reign of Edward’s son, Richard II, were utterly legendary. And Richard wasn’t the only one who found himself in the middle of that hot mess, either…

47. His Son Was In The Line Of Fire

It’s not easy being the illegitimate son of a prince who perished before his time—especially when so many descendants are jockeying for the English throne. No one knew this better than Roger Clarendon, Edward’s son from an affair who was born about 1350. Roger lived peacefully (as far as we know) for years, but after his father’s passing, he suddenly found himself on the radar of the English royal family.

48. He Suffered A Cruel Fate

Roger Clarendon unfortunately wound up paying the price for his father’s sins. In 1402, King Henry IV had him hanged on suspicion that he was a pretender. Was Roger, by then 52, actually in fact trying to take the throne? It’s unclear, but those who rebelled against Henry IV didn’t think so—and that he might have just been another innocent pawn lost in the Wars of the Roses.

If only Edward had known what happened to his children—or what his wife had done after he passed.

49. She Turned Her Back On Him

When the Black Prince perished in 1376, he made sure that his crypt was decorated with stone sculptures featuring his beloved wife’s visage. But soon after, she dealt her husband a heartbreaking betrayal. When she passed, she chose to be buried next to her first husband, Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent. The guy wasn’t even a prince! Ouch.

50. He Was Really, Really Sick

So, what was the brutal illness that eventually took the life of Edward the Black Prince? It might have been anything from the lovely-sounding nephrites to cirrhosis or even edema. But the prevailing theory is a lot more gruesome. Many historians suspect that a long-running case of amoebic dysentery—yup, bad creatures in the ol’ gut—was what took him down.

After that experience in Spain, it makes sense. The fact that he was suffering from serious stomach issues may rationalize his “dark” personality and mood swings, but I hardly think that qualifies as an excuse.

51. His Nickname Was Fitting

There are multiple theories as to why Edward the Black Prince had such an intimidating nickname. For one, there’s another famous Prince Edward taking up space in English history. Some say it was because his bronze armor had taken on a black patina. But many agree that it all had to do with his bad temper and history of utter brutality. When it fits, it fits.

52. He Wanted To Save His Soul

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 barbarous history.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

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