|Youre here: Home » eDigg Biographies » Biographies A-F » Edward The Black Prince|
Edward The Black Prince
Edward, Prince of Wales, commonly called the Black Prince, was born in 1330. He was the eldest son of Edward III., and a model of the highest virtues of his times, a loyal son, and a brave, yet merciful, warrior. He sailed with his father to attack the French in 1346, and though only sixteen was knighted by the king immediately on reaching France. He "made a right good beginning," for he rode with a small force on a daring foray, and then distinguished himself at the taking of Caen and in the engagement with the force under Gondemar du Fay, which endeavored to prevent the English army from crossing the Somme. King Edward and his small army compelled to face a far larger French force, made some of the most daring and successful marches on record in the annals of warfare.
The soldiers now had permission to refresh themselves, while waiting the enemy's approach. They accordingly ate and drank at ease, and afterward lay down in ranks on the long grass, with their bows and steel caps beside them.
Meantime the French army had approached very near. Four knights had ridden forward, and observed King Edward's plan of battle; when, having seen how fresh and vigorous the English troops appeared, they advised Philip, the French king, to delay the engagement till next day, by which time his troops, now hungry and wearied, would be refreshed. Philip at once saw the wisdom of this counsel, and one of his marshals immediately galloped to the front, and the other to the rear.
"Halt your banners, in the name of God, the king, and St. Denis!" was the command given to the leaders. The advanced troops instantly obeyed; but the others pressed on, hoping to be among the foremost. This obliged the soldiers in front to move on again. In vain the king commanded, and the marshals threatened; hurrying forward in disgraceful confusion, the French, passing through a small wood, suddenly found themselves in the presence of the English. The surprise caused the first line to fall back, and thus increase the confusion.
The English soldiers now rose steadily from the grass, and stood in fair and martial order on the hillside, with the standard of the Black Prince in their front.
The sky had by this time become clouded; a thunder-storm came on, and torrents of rain soon fell-slackening the strings of the cross-bows of the Genoese archers, who had advanced to break the firm front of the English bowmen. The clouds cleared quickly away, and the western sun soon shone out bright and clear, full in the faces of the French. At the moment the Genoese drew their arbalists, and commenced their discharge, each English archer stepped forward a single pace, as he took his bow from the case in which it had been protected from the rain; and a flight of arrows fell among the Genoese, piercing their heads, arms, and faces, and causing them instantly to retreat in confusion among the horsemen in their rear.
The passionate French king, instead of trying to rally the fugitives, at once ordered the men-at-arms to fall upon them. The cavalry, the heavy troops, and the cross-bow men, soon formed a wild and reeling crowd, amid which the English poured a continued flight of unerring arrows, and not a single bowstring was drawn in vain.
Meantime the Count of Alencon, dividing his men into two parties, swept round on one side of this scene of confusion; while the Count of Flanders did the same on the other side, and, avoiding the archers, furiously attacked the men-at-arms around the prince. England's chivalry, headed by the gallant boy, met the impetuous charge with equal valor and with greater success; and as each headlong effort of the French deranged the ranks for a moment, they were formed anew, each man fighting where he stood, none quitting his place to make a prisoner, while growing piles of dead told of their courage and vigor. The two counts were slain, and terror began to spread through their troops. A large body of German cavalry now bore down on the prince's archers, and, in spite of the terrible flight of arrows, cut their way through, and charged the men-at-arms. By this time nearly forty thousand men were pressing round the little English phalanx; but the combat was renewed, hand to hand, with more energy than ever, while the Earls of Northampton and Arundel moved up with their division, to repel the tremendous attack.
King Edward still remained with his powerful reserve, viewing the battle from the windmill above. The Earl of Warwick now called a knight, named Thomas of Norwich, and despatched him to the king.
"Sir Thomas," demanded Edward, "is my son killed, or overthrown, or wounded beyond help?"
"Not so, my liege," answered the knight; "yet he is in a rude shock of arms, and much does he need your aid."
"Go back, Sir Thomas, to those who sent you," rejoined the king, "and tell them from me, that whatever happens, to require no aid from me, so long as my son is in life. Tell them, also, that I command them to let the boy win his spurs; for, God willing, the day shall be his, and the honor shall rest with him, and those into whose charge I have given him."
The prince, and those around him, seemed inspired with fresh courage by this message; and efforts surpassing all that had preceded were made by the English soldiers. The French men-at-arms, as they still dashed down on the ranks, met the same fate as their predecessors; and, hurled wounded from their dying horses, were thrust through by the short lances of the half-armed Welshmen, who rushed hither and thither through the midst of the fight. Charles of Luxembourg, who led the German cavalry, seeing his banner down, his friends slain, his troops routed, and himself wounded severely in three places, fled, casting off his rich surcoat, to avoid recognition.
This prince's father, the veteran King of Bohemia, was seated on horseback at a little distance from the fight. The old man had fought in almost every quarter of Europe; but, though still full of valor, he was now blind. Unable himself to mark the progress of the fight, he continued to inquire anxiously, and soon discovered that the day was lost.
"My son," demanded the veteran monarch of his attendants; "my son!-can you still see my son?"
"The King of the Romans is not in sight, sire," was the reply; "but doubtless he is somewhere engaged in the melee."
"Lords," continued the old king,-drawing his own conclusions from what he heard, and resolved not to quit the field alive-"Lords, you are my vassals, my friends, and my companions; and on this day, I command and beseech you to lead me forward so far that I may deal one blow of my sword in the battle."
They linked their horses' bridles to one another, and placing their venerable lord in the centre, galloped down into the field. Entering the thickest strife, they advanced directly against the Prince of Wales. Here the blind monarch was seen fighting valiantly for some time; but at length his banner went down. Next day he was found dead on the field of Crecy-his friends around him-their horses still linked to each other by the bridles.
It was growing dark ere the angry Philip could force his way through the confusion he had himself chiefly caused by the imprudent command he gave at the commencement of the battle. The unremitting arrows of the English still continued to pour like hail; and his followers fell thickly around him. Many fled, leaving him to his fate; and presently his own horse was killed by an arrow.
One of his attendants, John of Hainault, who had remained by his side the whole day, mounted him on one of his own chargers, and entreated him to quit the field. Philip refused; and, making his way into the thickest battle, fought for some time with great courage. At length-his troops almost annihilated, himself wounded in two places-he suffered John to half force him from the field; and, with a few of his lords, and only sixty men-at-arms, reached his nearest castle of Broye in safety. At midnight he again set out, and did not slacken his flight till he reached Amiens.
The gallant Prince of Wales still held his station firmly in the battle; the utmost efforts of the French had not made him yield a single step. By degrees, as night fell, the assailants decreased in numbers, the banners disappeared, and the shouts of the knights and the clang of arms died away. Silence at last crept over the field, and told that victory was completed by the flight of the enemy. Torches were then lighted, in immense numbers, along the English lines to dispel the darkness.
King Edward now first quitted his station on the hill; he hastily sought his conquering boy, and clasped him proudly to his bosom.
"God give you perseverance in your course, my child!" cried the king, as he still held him. "You are indeed my son! Nobly have you acquitted yourself, and worthy are you of the place you hold!"
The youthful hero had hitherto, in the excitement and energy of the battle, felt only the necessity of immense exertion, and had been unmindful of all but the immediate efforts of the moment; but now, the thought of his great victory-which his father's praise seemed first to bring fully to his mind-overcame him, and he sank on his knees before the king, and entreated his blessing, after a day of such glory and peril. And thus ended the battle of Crecy.
The prince had now fully established his character as a warrior. Two or three years afterward, he showed that he could display equal courage at sea as on land; this was in an engagement with the Spaniards.
Peter the Cruel-as he was termed-was at that time King of Castile, and encouraged, to a great extent, the pirates who infested the English seas. His own fleet even, in passing through the British Channel, had captured a number of English merchantmen, returning from Bordeaux, and after putting into Sluys, were preparing to sail back in triumph with the prizes and merchandise.
King Edward determined to oppose their return, and collected his fleet off the coast of Sussex, near Winchelsea. When he heard that the Spaniards were about putting to sea, he immediately embarked to command the expedition in person. The Black Prince, now in his twentieth year, accompanied him, and commanded one of the largest vessels. The day on which the Spanish fleet would make its appearance had been nicely calculated. Edward waited impatiently for its approach, and, to beguile the time, made the musicians play an air which the famous Chandos, who was now with him, had brought from Germany. During the concert, the king, from time to time, turned his eye to the watcher at the masthead. In a short time the music was interrupted by the cry of-"A sail!" Ordering wine to be brought, Edward drank one cup with his knights, and, throwing off the cap he had worn till now, put on his casque, and closed his visor for the day.
The Spanish ships came on in gallant trim. The number of fighting men which they contained was, compared with the English, as ten to one; and their vessels were of a much greater size. They had also large wooden towers on board, filled with cross-bowmen, and were further provided with immense bars of iron, with which to sink the ships of their opponents. They approached, with their tops filled with cross-bowmen and engineers, the decks covered with men-at-arms, and with the banners and pennons of different knights and commanders flying from every mast. They came up, in order of battle, a few hours before night. King Edward immediately steered direct against a large Spanish ship; endeavoring, according to the custom of ancient naval warfare, to run her down with his prow. The vessel, which was much superior to his own in magnitude, withstood the tremendous shock-both ships recoiling from each other. The king now found his ship had sprung a leak, and was sinking fast. In the confusion the Spanish vessel passed on; but Edward immediately ordering his ship to be lashed to another of the enemy, after a desperate struggle, made himself master of a sound vessel.
The battle now raged on all sides. Showers of bolts and quarrels from the cross-bows, and immense stones, hurled by powerful engines, were poured upon the English. The Black Prince, imitating the example of his father, had fixed on one of the largest ships of the enemy; but, while steering toward her, the missiles she discharged pierced his own vessel in several places. The speedy capture of his enemy was now necessary; for, as he came alongside, his barque was absolutely sinking. The sides of his opponent's vessel being much higher than his own rendered the attempt very hazardous; and while, sword in hand, he attempted to force his way, bolts and arrows poured on his head from every quarter. The Earl of Lancaster, sweeping by to engage one of the enemy, saw the situation of the prince, and immediately dashed to the other side of the antagonist, and after a fierce but short struggle, the Spanish ship remained in the hands of the prince; and scarcely had he and his crew left their own vessel, before she filled and went down.
Twenty-four of the enemy's ships had by this time been captured; the rest were sunk, or in full flight; and, night having fallen, King Edward measured back the short distance to the shore. Father and son, then mounting horse, rode to the Abbey of Winchelsea, where Queen Philippa had been left, and soon turned the suspense she had suffered, since darkness had hidden the battle from her sight, into joy and gratitude.
The French king, Philip, was now dead, and had been succeeded by his eldest son John. Some proceedings, on the part of the new monarch, were regarded as a signal to break the truce which had subsisted for a short time between the English and the French. Various displays of hostilities followed, and many negotiations were entered into without success. The Black Prince, being appointed captain-general, sailed for Bordeaux in August, 1355, and arrived there after an easy passage. His first movements were always successful; and, even when winter set in, the judicious manner in which he employed his troops enabled him to add five fortified towns and seventeen castles to the English possessions.
Spring and summer passed by-the prince still continuing active. At length, the French king collected an immense army, and marched to intercept him. Though well aware that John was endeavoring to cut off his retreat, the Black Prince was ignorant of the exact position of the French army, until, one day, a small foraging party fell in with a troop of three hundred horsemen, who, pursuing the little band across some bushes, suddenly found themselves under the banner of the Black Prince. After a few blows they surrendered, and from them the prince learned that King John was a day's march in advance of him.
A party, despatched to reconnoitre, brought back intelligence that an army of eight times his force lay between him and Poitiers. Though without fear, the prince felt all the difficulties of his situation; yet his simple reply was-"God be our help!-now let us think how we may fight them to the best advantage."
A high ground, commanding the country toward Poitiers, defended by the hedges of a vineyard, and accessible from the city only by a hollow way scarcely wide enough to admit four men abreast, presented to him a most defensible position. Here he encamped, and early next morning, disposed his troops for battle. He dismounted his whole force; placed a body of archers, drawn up in the form of a harrow, in front, the men-at-arms behind, and stationed strong bodies of bowmen along the hedges, on each side of the hollow way. Thus, while climbing the hill, the French would be exposed to the galling flights of arrows, while the nature of the ground would further render their superiority in numbers of little avail.
The French host now began to advance;-yet, as its ocean of waving plumes rolled up the hill, the prince, in the same firm tone which had declared the day before, that England should never have to pay his ransom, now spoke the hope of victory.
Three hundred chosen horsemen soon reached the narrow way, and, putting their horses at full gallop, poured in to charge the harrow of archers. The instant they were completely within the banks, the English bowmen along the hedges poured a flight of arrows, which threw them at once into confusion.
The bodies of the slain men and horses soon blocked up the way; but a considerable number, forcing a path through every obstacle, nearly approached the first line of archers. A gallant knight, named James Audley, with his four squires, rushed against them; and thus, almost single-handed, he fought during the whole day, hewing a path through the thickest of the foe, until late in the evening; when, covered with many wounds, and fainting from loss of blood, he was borne from the field.
Meantime the shower of arrows continued to pour death, while the English men-at-arms, passing between the lines of the archers, drove back the foremost of the enemy, and the hollow soon became one scene of carnage. One of Edward's officers, named the Captal de Buch, at the same time issued from a woody ravine situated near the foot of the hill,-where, with three hundred men-at-arms and three hundred archers on horseback, he had lain concealed,-and attacked the flank of one of the divisions of the French army, commanded by the Dauphin, as it commenced the ascent. This, with the confusion in front, and a rumor that part of the army was beaten, carried terror into the rear ranks, and vast numbers, who had hardly seen an enemy, galloped madly from the field. The arrows discharged by the horse-archers now began to tell on the front line of the enemy:-the quick eye of Sir John Chandos marked it waver and open.
"Now, sir," he exclaimed, turning to the prince, "ride forward, and the day is yours. Let us charge right upon the King of France, for there lies the fate of the day. His courage, I know well, will not let him fly; but he shall be well encountered."
"On! on! Chandos," replied the prince, "you shall not see me tread one step back, but ever in advance. Bear on my banner! God and St. George be with us!"
The horses had been kept in readiness; and each man now springing into saddle, the army bore down on the enemy with levelled lances, the Captal de Buch forcing his way onward to regain the main body. The hostile forces met with a terrible shock, while the cries of "Denis Mountjoye!" "St. George, Guienne!" mingled with the clashing of steel, the shivering of lances, and the sound of the galloping steeds. The sight of the conflict struck terror into a body of sixteen thousand men, who had not yet drawn a sword. Panic seemed to seize them; and these fresh troops, instead of aiding their companions, fled disgracefully with their commander, the Duke of Orleans. This probably decided the day.
King John was now seen advancing with his reserve, in numbers still double the force of the English at the commencement of the battle. He saw his nobles flying, but though indignant, felt no alarm; then, dismounting with all his men, he led them, battle-axe in hand, against the English charge. The black armor of the young leader of the English rendered him also conspicuous; and, while the French king did feats of valor enough to win twenty battles if courage could have done all, the prince was seen raging like a young lion amid the thickest of the enemy. Knight to knight, and hand to hand, the battle was now fought. The French were driven back, step by step, till John found himself nearly at the gates of Poitiers, now shut against him. While, however, the oriflamme waved over his head, he would not believe the day lost; but, at length it went down, and his hopes fell with it. Surrounded on every side by foes eager to make him prisoner, he still wielded his battle-axe, clearing at each stroke the space around him and his little son, who had accompanied him through the fatal field. A knight of Artois, of gigantic height, who had been outlawed and had taken service with England, seeing that the monarch's life would be lost if he protracted his resistance, suddenly rushed into the circle.
"Yield, sire, yield!" he exclaimed in French.
"Who art thou?" inquired John.
"I am Denis de Mortbec, a poor knight of Artois," answered the outlaw, "but now in the service of England, because a banished man from my own country."
"Well, I yield me to you," cried the king, giving him in sign of surrender, his right gauntlet.
By this time nothing was seen but dead and dying on the field, with groups of prisoners, and parties of fugitives escaping over the distant country. The prince, by the advice of Chandos, now pitched his banner on a high spot; and, while the trumpets sounded a recall to the standard he dismounted, and, unbracing his helmet, took a draught of wine with the band of knights who had accompanied him throughout the arduous day.
The unfortunate French king was soon brought to him by the Earl of Warwick and Lord Cobham. The prince received his vanquished adversary with deep and touching respect. Bending his knee before John, he called for wine, and, with his own hands, presented the cup to the unhappy king.
By mid-day the battle was over; but, as the pursuing parties did not return till evening, it was only then that the prince learned the greatness of his victory. With eight thousand men he had vanquished more than sixty thousand, and the captives were double the number of the conquerors.
At night a sumptuous entertainment was served in the tent of the Black Prince to the King of France and the principal prisoners. John, his son, and six of his chief nobles, were seated at a table raised higher than the rest; but no place was reserved for the prince himself. Great was the surprise when the victor appeared to officiate as page. This in the days of chivalry implied no degradation, though it showed the generous humility of the young hero. John repeatedly entreated the prince to seat himself beside him, and could scarcely be persuaded to taste the food while his vanquisher remained standing, or handed him the cup on bended knee. The respectful manner in which the prince conducted himself, and the feeling he expressed for the misfortunes of his foe, so touched John, that at last the tears burst from his eyes, and mingled with the marks of blood on his checks.
The example of their leader was followed throughout the English camp; every one treating his prisoners as friends, and admitting them to ransom on terms named, in most cases, by the vanquished themselves.
After this event the prince again distinguished himself in France, for the claims of his father, which the treaty had in part recognized, were again disputed. Many battles were fought, and much negotiation was carried on, extending over several years; while in the midst of these harassments, the prince, who had long been ill, became worse. His surgeons advised his return to England. He complied; but day after day his strength failed him, and fainting fits of long continuance often led those around him to suppose him dead. At length, on Sunday, June 8, 1376, he closed a life which for years had been one sad scene of suffering. He was interred with due pomp in Canterbury Cathedral, his favorite suit of black armor being suspended over his tomb. Thus, scarcely past his prime, died "the valiant and gentle Prince of Wales, the flower of all chivalry in the world at that time."
|Copyright © 1999-2008 eDigg.com. All rights reserved.|