Famous Men of the Middle Ages/Edward the Black Prince
One of the most famous warriors of the Middle Ages was Edward the Black Prince. He was so called because he wore black armor in battle.
The Black Prince was the son of Edward III who reigned over England from 1327 to 1377. He won his fame as a soldier in the wars which his father carried on against France.
You remember that the early kings of England, from the time of William the Conqueror, had possessions in France. Henry II, William’s grandson, was the duke of Normandy and lord of Brittany and other provinces, and when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine she brought him that province also.
Henry’s son John lost all the French possessions of the English crown except a part of Aquitaine, and Edward III inherited this. So when Philip of Valois (val-wah’) became king of France, about a year after Edward had become king of England, Edward had to do homage to Philip.
To be king of England and yet to do homage to the king of France—to bend the knee before Philip and kiss his foot—was something Edward did not like. He thought it was quite beneath his dignity, as his ancestor Rollo had thought when told that he must kiss the foot of King Charles.
So Edward tried to persuade the nobles of France that he himself ought by right to be the king of France instead of being only a vassal. Philip of Valois was only a cousin of the late French King Charles IV. Edward was the son of his sister. But there was a curious old law in France, called the Salic Law, which forbade that daughters should inherit lands. This law barred the claim of Edward, because his claim came through his mother. Still he determined to win the French throne by force of arms.
A chance came to quarrel with Philip. Another of Philip’s vassals rebelled against him, and Edward helped the rebel. He hoped by doing so to weaken Philip and more easily overpower him.
Philip at once declared that Edward’s possessions in France were forfeited.
Then Edward raised an army of thirty thousand men, and with it invaded France.
The Black Prince was now only about sixteen years of age, but he had already shown himself brave in battle, and his father put him in command of one of the divisions of the army.
Thousands of French troops led by King Philip were hurried from Paris to meet the advance of the English; and on the 26th of August, 1346, the two armies fought a hard battle at the village of Crécy.
During the battle the division of the English army commanded by the Black Prince had to bear the attack of the whole French force. The prince fought so bravely and managed his men so well that King Edward, who was overlooking the field of battle from a windmill on the top of a hill, sent him words of praise for his gallant work.
Again and again the prince’s men drove back the French in splendid style. But at last they seemed about to give way before a very fierce charge, and the earl of Warwick hastened to Edward to advise him to send the prince aid.
“Is my son dead or unhorsed or so wounded that he cannot help himself?” asked the king.
“No, Sire,” was the reply; “but he is hard pressed.”
“Return to your post, and come not to me again for aid so long as my son lives,” said the king. “Let the boy prove himself a true knight and win his spurs.”
The earl went to the prince and told him what his father had said. "I will prove myself a true knight,” exclaimed the prince. “My father is right. I need no aid. My men will hold their post as long as they have strength to stand.”
Then he rode where the battle was still furiously raging, and encouraged his men. The king of France led his force a number of times against the prince’s line, but could not break it and was at last compelled to retire.
The battle now went steadily against the French, although they far outnumbered the English. Finally, forty thousand of Philip’s soldiers lay dead upon the field and nearly all the remainder of his army was captured. Philip gave up the struggle and fled. Among those who fought on the side of the French at Crécy was the blind king of Bohemia, who always wore three white feathers in his helmet. When the battle was at its height the blind king had his followers lead him into the thick of the fight, and he dealt heavy blows upon his unseen foes until he fell mortally wounded. The three white feathers were taken from his helmet by the Black Prince, who ever after wore them himself.
As soon as he could King Edward rode over the field to meet his son. “Prince,” he said, as he greeted him, “you are the conqueror of the French.” Turning to the soldiers, who had gathered around him, the king shouted, “Cheer, cheer for the Black Prince! Cheer for the hero of Crécy!”
What cheering then rose on the battle-field! The air rang with the name of the Black Prince.
Soon after the battle of Crécy King Edward laid siege to Calais; but the city resisted his attack for twelve months. During the siege the Black Prince aided his father greatly.
After the capture of Calais, it was agreed to stop fighting for seven years, and Edward’s army embarked for England.
In 1355 Edward again declared war against the French. The Black Prince invaded France with an army of sixty thousand men. He captured rich towns and gathered a great deal of booty. While he was preparing to move on Paris, the king of France raised a great army and marched against him.
The Black Prince had lost so many men by sickness that he had only about ten thousand when he reached the city of Poitiers. Suddenly, near the city, he was met by the French force of about fifty-five thousand, splendidly armed and commanded by the king himself.
“God help us!” exclaimed the prince, when he looked at the long lines of the French as they marched on a plain before him.
Early on the morning of September 14, 1356, the battle began. The English were few in number, but they were determined to contest every inch of the ground and not surrender while a hundred of them remained to fight. For hours they withstood the onset of the French. At last a body of English horsemen charged furiously on one part of the French line, while the Black Prince attacked another part.
This sudden movement caused confusion among the French. Many of them fled from the field. When the Black Prince saw this he shouted to his men, “Advance, English banners, in the name of God and St. George!” His army rushed forward and the French were defeated. Thousands of prisoners were taken, including the king of France and many of his nobles.
The king was sent to England, where he was treated with the greatest kindness. When, some time afterwards there was a splendid procession in London to celebrate the victory of Poitiers, he was allowed to ride in the procession on a beautiful white horse, while the Black Prince rode on a pony at his side.
The Black Prince died in 1376. He was sincerely mourned by the English people. They felt that they had lost a prince who would have made a great and good king.