Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"The Black Prince".. a review

This was a Kindle bargain some time ago - bought on a whim, and purely because I've been fascinated by Edward, the Black Prince, ever since, as a considerably younger Steve the Wargamer, I  built the old Airfix 1/12th scale figure, but knew surprisingly little about him...  

So it was that after a run of fiction - some of it fluffy, some not - and in support of my aim to read more non-fiction in 2018, I came to the end of a book and then spotted this sitting in my 'to read' pile..

So what did I think? Well despite the almost universal belief that this is the best biography of the Prince out there, I have to say that for all it's length it's a little thin on direct evidence of the Prince himself....

The author focuses a lot on the people round the Prince, rather than the Prince directly - a major chunk of the first part of the book is about his grandfather, and how he might have influenced his father and hence the Prince's character - a lot of the book is about his enemies, friends, and family rather than him personally, but the bits about him are excellent...

Edward III, his father, gave the Prince (who was his eldest son) a lot of responsibility at a very early age, he is made "guardian of England" at least three times (aged 8, 10 and 12) while Edward III is in France on one of the many invasions he launches against the French, in support of his claim that France is rightfully his. He is given excellent advisors and tutors in this role but the Prince was seemingly a quick learner. His made Prince of Wales at 13, and knighted at 16.

At Crecy, still 16, he commanded the vanguard of the British army, and Edward showed no favours to his son, he was well and truly in harms way during the battle and was largely responsible for the victory.

He is clearly an excellent battle field commander, and has a good grasp of strategy as well - at 25 he was appointed the king's lieutenant in Gascony, and ordered to lead an army into Aquitaine on a chevauchée (basically a huge plundering raid), during which he pillaged Avignonet and Castelnaudary, sacked Carcassonne, and plundered Narbonne. The next year (1356 aged 26) on another chevauchée he ravaged Auvergne, Limousin, and Berry but failed to take Bourges. 

Takes you back..
By now his army was in a bad way, and an overwhelming French force had outflanked them near Poitiers but despite offering peace terms, the French King (John II) demands his surrender as part of the acceptance so the Prince refuses, and his army turns and fights - with the outcome that we all know so well, and where the French King is taken prisoner and is ransomed (in the end this was never paid, and the John's son was very adept and far cleverer than his father - the English would have been better off letting John free??)

This is the high point of the Princes life to be honest - from now on in it is a slow and steady decline...

Edward makes him Prince of Aquitaine and Gascony, which he administers fairly and well, but money is always an issue and Edward does not support him as much as he should have. An expensive and largely failed campaign in Spain in support of the prime plum Pedro in his attempt to recover his throne from his half brother Henry ends in the prince winning the battle of Najera, but Pedro not honouring his debts - the prince returns to Aquitaine broke both financially, and increasingly health'wise.

Money is now short and without the support of Edward III, Aquitaine, and the Prince are increasingly under attack from forces coordinated by John's son, the Dauphin which he is hard pressed to fight off - eventually, the Princes first son dead by the plague, and badly ill, he returns to England, eventually to die of a wasting illness that to this day has not been wholly identified (Wiki says dysentery, but the author disagrees). At the very end of his life there was a rapprochement with Edward (who was going senile, and that may explain his mishandling of the Najera/Aquitaine situation) but the close relationship of his youth had been lost..

So what do we have - for me, a figure that is still seen at one remove, but who was clearly a genuinely religious man, who loved his wife (he never slept with another woman after they married), lived the knightly life completely (he founded the order of the Garter), and was very generous* to those he relied on, both high and low born, a superb battlefield commander, a strategist, and a gifted administrator who was able to charm anyone he met..   worth reading? Yes! Steve the Wargamer rates this 8/10..

*if anything a little too generous, he was always short of cash.....


  1. Oh my ! I remember making that kit whilst a teenager - that takes me back !

    1. Doesn't it just... I also remember building Ann Boleyn, Richard the Lionheart, and Oliver Cromwell... :o)

    2. Gosh l remember these l think l had a lifeguard trumpeter as well as Cromwell.
      Interesting book review too.

    3. Did it come with a removable helm?

    4. Tradgard... it certainly did... with the animal crest.. :o)

  2. Mention of the Spanish affair makes me want to read the White Company again!

    Not sure being 1st born of any long lived sovereign is a ever a really good thing.

    1. Ross Mc. - yes! Kept thinking about doing that myself as Sir Nigel Loring was mentioned in this book a number of times... excellent suggestion...