English Literature

Life of Edward the Black Prince by Louise Creighton

Life of Edward the Black Prince by Louise Creighton.jpg


Early Years of the Black Prince.

On the 15th June, in the year 1330, there were great rejoicings in the Royal Palace of Woodstock. One Thomas Prior came hastening to the young King Edward III. to tell him that his Queen had just given birth to a son. The King in his joy granted the bearer of this good news an annual pension of forty marks. We can well imagine how he hurried to see his child. When he found him in the arms of his nurse, Joan of Oxford, overjoyed at the sight, he gave the good woman a pension of ten pounds a year, and granted the same sum to Matilda Plumtree, the rocker of the Prince’s cradle.

Perhaps with Edward’s thoughts of joy at the birth of his son were mingled some feelings of shame. It was three years since he had been crowned, and yet he was King only in name. He was nothing but a tool in the hands of his unscrupulous mother Isabella, and her ambitious favourite Mortimer. He was very young, not quite eighteen, and had not had sufficient know[Pg 2]ledge or experience to know how to break the bonds within which he was held. But with the new dignity of father came to him a sense of his humiliating position. He would wish that his own son, on reviewing his youth, should have different thoughts of his father than he had.

He can hardly have borne to look back upon his own youth, with its shameful memories. He had seen his father, Edward II., by his dissipated life and his slavish devotion to his favourites, alienate the affection of his subjects, and provoke the Barons to rise against him. Then, when peace had for awhile been restored, he had gone with his mother to France. He had seen her refuse to return to England at the King’s demand; he had watched the growth of the disgraceful intimacy between her and Roger Mortimer, one of the rebel earls. At last, a powerless instrument in their hands, he had been taken by her and Mortimer to invade England, and Edward II.’s throne was attacked and overthrown by his own wife and son.

The rebellion was entirely successful. None were found to espouse the cause of the despised King. He was obliged formally to give up the crown to his son, and on the 20th January, 1327, Edward III., then only in his fourteenth year, was proclaimed King. All we know of the part taken by Edward III. himself in these proceedings is, that he refused to receive the crown without the sanction of his father. But he had no real power: all was in the hands of the Queen and[Pg 3] Mortimer. Before the end of the year, feeling insecure whilst Edward II. was still alive, they caused him to be secretly murdered in the castle where he was imprisoned. Soon after they married the young King to Philippa, daughter of the Count of Hainault, a union destined in every way to contribute to his happiness and to the good of the kingdom.

The power of Queen Isabella and Mortimer continued unchecked till the birth of Prince Edward. It was a troubled world in which the little Prince first saw the light. For three years the English people had been subjected to a rule they detested, and their discontent had been gradually growing. One attempt at rebellion had been made by the King’s uncle, Edmund Earl of Kent; but it had only ended in the execution of the simple, high-minded Earl. This had increased tenfold the hatred with which Mortimer was regarded. Edward III. felt that as a father he was no longer a mere boy, and could not continue to submit to his own degradation.

It was not difficult to find people ready and eager to enter into his plans. A conspiracy was formed, of which the Queen and Mortimer seem to have had dim suspicions. They tried to avert the danger by keeping Edward with them in Nottingham Castle. But he succeeded in gaining over the governor of the castle, and a body of armed men was introduced at midnight through a subterranean passage. They broke into the[Pg 4] room where Mortimer was, and after a short struggle made him prisoner. The Queen, who was in the next room, burst in with agonized entreaties, “Fair son, fair son, oh spare the gentle Mortimer!”

Soon afterwards Mortimer was brought to trial, before a Parliament summoned by Edward, and was sentenced to be hanged. Queen Isabella was kept in honourable confinement till her death, twenty-seven years after.

Edward III. now took the entire management of affairs into his hands, and soon found that he had plenty to do. Whilst the little Prince was still in his cradle, his father was already perplexed by the events which were to lead to those wars in which both played such a brilliant part.

Edward III.’s grandfather, Edward I., had cherished the dream of uniting under his own rule England, Scotland, and Wales. At times he had been very near the fulfilment of this dream; but Scottish love of independence had been too strong for him. The Scots found powerful leaders; they struggled fearlessly against apparently hopeless odds, and at last secured the throne to Robert Bruce.

The English however would not give up the hope of conquering Scotland. One of the most unpopular acts of Queen Isabella and Mortimer had been the conclusion of a peace with Scotland, called the Treaty of Northampton, in which they had recognised Robert Bruce as King. Edward III.[Pg 5] therefore was acting quite in accordance with the wishes of his people when he interfered with Scottish affairs.

The moment seemed hopeful. Robert Bruce was dead, his son David was a mere child, and a new claimant to the throne had arisen in Edward Baliol, whose father in former days had struggled for the crown against the Bruces. Baliol was successful, and David Bruce had to fly to France. Then Edward demanded that Baliol should recognise him as suzerain, that is, should acknowledge the over-lordship of the English King, and do him homage as one of his vassals.

Baliol consented, and this in the end lost him his crown. The Scottish nobles, who had fought so bravely for their independence, would own no allegiance to a monarch who could tamely submit to the King of England; they revolted, and chased Baliol from the throne. It was then that Edward was called upon to interfere actively; he summoned an army, and marched against the revolted Scots; they were completely crushed at the battle of Hallidon Hill, near Berwick. Berwick itself fell into Edward’s hands, and remained part of the English dominions ever afterwards. Baliol was restored to the throne, and maintained there by Edward III.

The Scottish barons, however, still clung to the house of Bruce; they would not recognise Baliol, the sub-King of the King of England. They turned to France for help, and France was willing enough[Pg 6] to listen to them and seize this opportunity of striking a blow at the growing power of the English Crown. Already, in the reign of Edward I., she had aided the Scots against the English; and it soon became clear to Edward III. that he could not hope for submission from Scotland until he had put an end to the intervention of France.

So we see that it is in the struggle between Scotland and England that we must look for the chief cause of the great French war, which was to drain the resources of both countries for a hundred years. We shall see, as we follow the course of events, how brilliantly this war opened, and how eager the English were to engage in it.

England, since Edward III. had become King in fact as well as in name, seemed inspired with a new life. The King was young and ambitious, anxious to promote his people’s good, and eager to gain glory for himself. Commerce was extending on every side, and largely increasing the wealth of the country. National life beat vigorously, as we see, amongst other things, in the increased use of the English tongue. Formerly French had been the common language taught in the schools; but now it began gradually to fall into disuse, and before the end of Edward’s reign the English language was to win its final triumph by the appearance of Chaucer, the first great English poet, and Wiclif, the first great English prose-writer. The English people were eager for some great undertaking, and from the very first the idea[Pg 7] of the French war was extremely popular. The people wished it more than Edward himself, and the Parliament urged him to assert his claim to the French Crown.

It is not likely that any one ever thought this claim to be serious, or considered it to be any thing but a useful pretext for the war. Such as it was, Edward’s claim to the French Crown came through his mother Isabella, granddaughter of Philip III. the Bold, King of France. Her three brothers had reigned one after another, and all died without male issue. On the death of the last, Charles IV., the crown passed to his cousin, Philip of Valois, son of Charles of Valois, the second son of Philip the Bold. Edward III., in asserting his claim, had to maintain, that though, according to the Salic law, females could not inherit the crown, they could transmit it to males. He could never have seriously urged such a plea, if other causes had not led to a war with France, and in time made it useful for him to assume the title of King of France.

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There can be no doubt that Edward was grievously provoked by the French before he made up his mind to engage in war. The restless ambition of Philip of Valois produced a general feeling of insecurity. His pirate ships interfered with the trade of the channel. He made constant encroachments upon the English possessions in France, and frequently threatened an invasion of England, whilst he thwarted in every possible way Edward’s policy with regard to Scotland. Under these circumstances it was natural for the English King to go to war, though if the war had not aimed at conquest it would have been better for England in the end. Edward III., however, was full of youthful ambition. He did not care to look into the future, but rushed into the war as if it had been a great tournament, in which he and his knights might distinguish themselves.

So active were the fears of French invasion during the first years of Edward III.’s reign, that we find orders for putting the Isle of Wight and the southern coast into a state of defence; and in 1335 the young Prince was sent to Nottingham for safety. He must have been early accustomed to hear war talked of, and probably the chief part of his education was concerned with military exercises. We know little of his youth, except that he was educated under the direction of Dr. Walter Burley, of Merton College, Oxford, which, since its foundation by Walter de Merton, the Chancellor of Henry III., had produced most of[Pg 9] the men distinguished in England for their learning. Dr. Burley, on account of his fame for learning and piety, had been appointed Queen’s almoner; as his reputation increased at Court, he was finally appointed tutor to the Prince. In accordance with the custom of the times, many other young gentlemen were educated in common with Prince Edward, so that companionship might lend an increased interest to his studies. Amongst others, Simon Burley, a young kinsman of Dr. Burley’s, was admitted to share these advantages. He became a great favourite with the Prince, and in time was made Knight of the Garter, and was entrusted with the education of the Prince’s son, Richard of Bordeaux.

We can form a pretty good idea of the kind of education received by Prince Edward and his companions. Chivalry was then at its height, and it was necessary for every gentleman to be skilled in all knightly exercises. An accomplished knight must be endowed with beauty, with strength and agility of body; he must be skilled in music, be able to dance gracefully and run swiftly, to wrestle and sit well on horseback; above all, he must be skilful in the management of arms, and must thoroughly understand hunting and hawking. In these accomplishments were young Edward and his companions trained, and we cannot doubt that he, who was the very type of the chivalric spirit in its highest development, early learnt to excel in all knightly exercises.

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There exists a rhyming chronicle in French of the life of Edward the Black Prince, by the Herald of Sir John Chandos, who was so constantly with the Prince, that we may believe that his herald writes from personal knowledge of the Prince’s character. He says:

“This frank Prince of whom I tell you,Thought not but of loyalty,Of free courage and gentleness;And endowed was he with such prowessThat he wished all the days of his lifeTo give up all his studyTo the holding of justice and integrity.And in that was he nurturedFrom the time of his infancy.Of his own noble and free willHe learned liberality;For goodness and noblenessWere in his heart perfectly,From the first commencementOf his life and youth;And he was, it is well known,So preux (chivalrous), so hardy, and so valiant,So courteous and so wise,He loved so well holy church,With all his heart, in every form,The most holy Trinity,The festival and holiday.”

There is a tradition that Prince Edward studied at Queen’s College, Oxford, and this may perhaps have been the case, as Queen’s College was founded by his mother, Queen Philippa; but the story rests on no authentic evidence.

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During his early youth various honours and dignities were bestowed upon him. He was made Duke of Cornwall at the Parliament held at Westminster in 1337. This is the first time that the title duke appears in English history. In 1338, when Edward III. was about to leave England to begin his war with France, he appointed his son Prince Edward to be guardian of the kingdom during his absence. As the Prince was then but eight years old, this was naturally only a nominal office. It was not till 1343 that he was created by Parliament Prince of Wales.



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