Great Englishmen - M. B. Synge

Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376)

On the 15th of June, in the year 1330, there was great rejoicing all over England, as the good news spread that the young king Edward III. and the fair Philippa had a little son, to be heir to the English throne. The happiness of the king seemed now complete, and the future hero of England was tended and nursed by his loving mother. He was a lovely child, with fair hair and blue eyes. A great man, writing of him, says, "a more beautiful child was not to be found in Christendom," and artists loved to draw him seated on his mother's knee.

When Edward was three years old he was made Earl of Chester, and four years later he received the title of Duke of Cornwall. He was taught with a small class of boys, about his own age, by Doctor Burley, but was considered "too sacred to be punished" if he was naughty.

His father trained him in all manly exercises, and tried to fit him for the station he hoped he was one day to fill. At the age of ten the Prince was sent to France, where he distinguished himself in tournaments, and promised fair to be some day a great soldier. When he was thirteen, the young Edward was made Prince of Wales. It was a beautiful May morning, when he was led to Westminster Palace, and there, amid the cheers of the people, presented with a silver rod, coronet, and gold ring, and given the title of Prince of Wales.

Two years later he accompanied his father to France, there to be present at his first battle. Edward III. was about to invade France, to try to win the throne. The King of France had died, leaving no children, and Edward, who was his nephew, thought he had more right to the throne than Philip, who had just been crowned king.

So leaving his second son, Lionel, then a boy of eight years old, to govern in his absence, he took Edward, the boy he had trained himself, to give him an opportunity of showing his courage, and using his arms.

Soon after their arrival in France, the king taking the boy and several of his companions into an open field, knighted them. The rivers were all carefully watched by a vast French army, but Edward knew one part of the river Somme which he could ford, though it was very dangerous. Bravely he dashed in, with a cry of "Let him who loves me follow." The Black Prince did not hesitate, but jumped in and went across with his father.

On the 26th of August, 1346, they met the French at Cressy. Edward placed his eldest son in the front line, at the post of honour. Never before had the command of an army been entrusted to one so young. But Edward knew his boy's mettle, and he wished the honour of the day to belong to the young soldier, though it was not without a pang that he stood by the windmill and watched the battle, knowing that at any moment a single blow might strike to the ground his beloved son.

It was raining fast, and the bows of the Genoese, who were helping the French, were too damp to shoot properly. The English had kept theirs dry, and now shot their arrows so thick and fast that the Genoese were thrown into great confusion. Philip, the French king, was so angry with the Genoese that he told his men to fall upon them and cut them to pieces. You may imagine what a terrible scene followed. Meanwhile the English, headed by their young and gallant leader, fought well. Suddenly some more of the enemy advanced near the Black Prince, and the struggle became very unequal, as the enemy now numbered forty thousand, and the English not half as many. Seeing the Prince's danger, two knights rushed to the king and begged him to come and help his son.

"Is the boy hurt or dead?" asked the king.

"No," answered the knight, "but he is badly matched, and hath need of your aid."

"Go back, then," said the king, "and tell those that sent you I command them to let the boy win all the honour he may, for, with the help of God, I determine that the glory of this day shall belong to him."

This message was delivered to the Prince, and he set to work with renewed vigour. At last the huge masses of French decreased, they were shot down by the hundred, and many were escaping for their lives. About this point, the blind old King of Bohemia, who was fighting for the French, asked his knights how went the battle. The two beside him answered it was going badly with the French, and they were afraid all would soon be over.

"Lead me to the field, that I may strike one blow in the battle," cried the old king.

The knights dared not disobey, so tying their bridles together, that they might be with him to the end, they led their brave master to the field. There, when the battle was over, and the English were left on the field victorious, the Black Prince found the dead body of the blind King of Bohemia, his horse's bridle still tied to those of his knights, who lay dead beside him, his snowy plumes lying stained and crushed. The Prince gazed at his royal enemy, and at the useless plumes. Then he took the three white feathers, and kept them for his own, together with the Bohemian king's motto, "Ich dien," meaning "I serve."

This motto, "Ich dien," and the three plumes have been borne ever since by "England's heir," the Prince of Wales, and whenever you see them you can think of the Black Prince and the blind King of Bohemia.

When the battle was over Edward quitted the hill; and hurried to the battle-field, where he folded to his arms his brave son. "You are indeed my son," he said; "nobly have you behaved, and worthy are you of the place you hold."

After this victory the Black Prince did not fight any more for some time. Indeed, there was a truce between England and France for a short time.

The truce ended! Edward the Black Prince went to Bordeaux, in France, where he ruled over a part of the country which belonged to his father. After a time, however, he determined to make an expedition into the French provinces. When King John of France, who had succeeded his father Philip, heard of this, he collected a very large army and met the Black Prince near Poitiers. The Prince sent a messenger to find out the size of the French army, and the messenger returned with the news that the enemy's forces were at least eight times the size of the English army. It seemed hopeless to attack such a vast army, but the Prince knew he must either yield or fight, and he chose the latter, with the words "God be our help."

On came the French, "decked in their brightest and best, with the lightest of hearts under the gayest of apparel."

"England shall never have to pay a ransom for me!" cried the noble young prince, as he dashed forward at the head of his men; "if I cannot conquer, I will die gloriously."

A fierce battle took place, the Black Prince "raged like a young lion through the field." John, the French king, fought bravely at the head of his enormous army, but they could not withstand the brave English army. The French began to yield, and fall into confusion; in vain did their leader try and recall them, he was taken prisoner:

"Faint grew the heart of each gallant foe,

Their leader was taken, their hopes were low."

The battle was lost to the French, and the Black Prince stood victorious on the battle-field of Poitiers, victorious for the second time in his young life over a huge French army.

"And did they chain King John of France?

Was he in dungeon laid?

Oh, little ye know what a generous foe

Our English Edward made . . .

He set King John on a lofty steed,

White as the driven snow,

And without all pride, he rode beside

On a palfrey slight and low."

The Black Prince was the pride of England before the battle of Poitiers; it is not easy to describe the joy of the nation when the victorious prince and his royal captive returned to England after the battle. All looked forward eagerly to the time when their beloved Prince should sit on the English throne.

Soon after the victory at Poitiers, the Black Prince married the "Fair Maid of Kent." She was very beautiful, and the Prince was very fond of her. After their marriage they went to live at Bordeaux.

Now there was a quarrel going on in Spain between Pedro and his brother Henry. Pedro was king, but he was hated by his people and his brother, who wished to dethrone him. The King of France took Henry's side, and Pedro asked the Black Prince to help him. The English were always ready to fight against the French, so the Black Prince said he would help Pedro against Henry and the French king.

He entered Spain with a large army, joined Pedro, and met the French. Scarcely had the battle begun, when the French fled. The Prince then attacked the Spaniards under Henry, and another battle was fought. After a severe struggle the English gained the day, and the Spanish army was obliged to flee.

Now Pedro was a very wicked man, he was known as "Pedro the Cruel." He promised the Black Prince that if he would help him to regain the throne they would share the spoils, and the English should be doubly repaid. But no sooner was the victory won, and Pedro restored to the throne, than he refused to pay the troops, and the Black Prince returned to Bordeaux, unable to pay his soldiers, weary, ill, and miserable. Again and again did he beg Pedro to send the money; the Spanish king made excuses from day to-day, and the money never came.

A fever broke out in the English camp, and the Black Prince caught it, and became very ill. When he was well enough he once more went to Spain. When he found that Pedro was really determined not to pay, he was very angry. The men were clamouring for their money. So the Prince raised a tax in the South of France, hoping in that way to pay the soldiers.

At this time the French king seized the town of Limoges, which belonged to the English. The Black Prince was worn out with disease, trouble, and anxiety. He recovered the town of Limoges, and then ordered that every man, woman, and child in the town should be killed. He was himself carried in a litter through the town, refusing the cries and entreaties of the helpless people, who crowded round his litter, begging for mercy. The Black Prince had won so many victories, he had become proud, and, perhaps, selfish, with all the praise and honour he had won. He was no longer

"A Christian conqueror,

Generous and true and kind,"

no longer the brave knight who knew how to show mercy in times of peace.

But then you must remember how ill he was, how worn out by fighting, how badly used by Pedro.

Ill health now obliged him to return to his native land. Once more he trod on his English ground, and the English air seemed to revive him. But not for long.

The English people soon saw that their beloved Prince would never rule over them, that their fond hope of having a king in the conqueror of Cressy and Poitiers would never be realized. Day by day the Prince grew weaker, and five years after his return, "the hope, the pride, and the glory of England was no more."

He left several children, the eldest of whom, Richard, succeeded Edward III. as king.

Long and deeply did the country mourn for the hero. He was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, and funeral services were held all over the country.

Perhaps one of the most impressive was that which the King of France had held in Paris, to honour the memory of his respected enemy, Edward the Black Prince of England.