The Black Prince by Hilda T. Skae
Edward III., King of England, was a very warlike prince. When the King
of France died he was succeeded by his nephew Philip, but Edward
declared that he, being a grandson of the late king, had a better right
than a nephew; and he set off with a gallant army and many knights and
nobles to enforce his claim.
The war proved a much longer one than Edward had expected. Six years
after the English king's first march into France the two nations were
still fighting. By this time King Edward's eldest son was fifteen
years of age, and he implored his father to let him accompany him to
the French war.
This young prince was a fine spirited youth, and skilful at all manly
exercises. In appearance he was very fair, with light hair and
laughing blue eyes. Perhaps he was a little vain of his appearance,
because in order to show off the fairness of his complexion he always
wore dark-coloured armour, a habit which led to his being known in
after life as Edward the Black Prince.
Seeing his boy's courage and warlike spirit, the king consented to his
accompanying him upon his next expedition into France.
In the month of July, 1346, the king and the prince set sail with an
army of thirty thousand men, ten thousand of whom were archers.
For seven weeks the English marched through the fair and smiling
country of France, meeting with very little opposition, and plundering
and burning wherever they went.
At last, by the little village of Crecy on the banks of the river
Somme, the English came in view of the French army.
It was not difficult to tell that the army of the King of France
numbered at least eight times as many men as were on the side of the
English; but King Edward decided that it would never do to betray fear.
'We will go in,' he said calmly to his men, 'and beat, or be beaten.'
It was too late to fight that day; and the English lay down within
sight of the enemy.
Early in the morning the English king set his army in order of battle.
King Edward himself was to command one division; two of his earls
another; and the eager young prince, assisted by the Earls of Warwick
and Oxford, was given the charge of a third.
When the troops were all drawn up in fighting array, the king mounted
his horse and rode from rank to rank, cheering and encouraging the men
and their leaders.
'He spoke so sweetly,' says an old writer, 'and with so good a
countenance and merry cheer, that all such as were discomfited took
courage in seeing and hearing him.'
By the time King Edward had gone round the whole army it was about nine
o'clock, and the sun was shining warm and bright upon what was soon to
be the field of battle. The king sent orders that his men were to 'eat
at their ease and drink a cup'; and the whole army sat down upon the
grass and breakfasted. Then they returned to their ranks again and lay
down, each man in his place, with his bow and helmet beside him,
waiting until the enemy should be ready to begin the fight.
In the meanwhile the French army was approaching. By the time the king
had brought his men within reach of the English lines, the bright
morning had clouded over. The day had become dark and threatening, and
soon the thunder began to growl, and the lightning to flash overhead.
The frightened birds flew screaming for shelter, and the clouds broke
and fell in a heavy shower upon the French king's army.
One of his captains advised King Philip not to fight until the morrow.
The king gave the order to halt; but the men in the rear, not
understanding the message, pressed forward and forced the others to
advance, thus throwing the army into confusion.
Finding that it was too late to put off the battle, King Philip ordered
to the front a great body of Genoese cross-bowmen, whom he had hired to
fight against the English.
By this time the rain was over and the sun had come out; but it shone
full in the faces of the cross-bowmen, and prevented them from seeing
the enemy. Their bows, too, had become wetted with the rain, and the
strings were slackened.
When they heard the king's order the Genoese moved forward; 'then,'
says the historian, 'they made a great cry to abash the English; but
they stood still and stirred not for all that. A second and a third
time the Genoese uttered a fell cry—very loud and clear, and a little
stept forward; but the English removed not one foot.'
At last the Genoese sent a shower of arrows into the ranks of the calm,
The English received the shower quietly; then their reply was prompt.
A quick movement went along the line of archers; the ten thousand men
advanced one pace, and 'their arrows flew so wholly together and so
thick that it seemed as if it snowed.'
The Genoese required time to wind up their cross-bows before they could
re-load; and in the meantime the English longbowmen shot so
continuously that the ranks of the Genoese broke in terror and fled.
Still the archers sent their deadly hail upon the French army, while a
number of Welsh and Cornish soldiers, armed with long knives, crept in
under the horses and stabbed them, so that both horse and rider fell
heavily to the ground. The confusion was rendered still more dreadful
by means of a weapon which King Edward used for the first time in
battle; small 'bombards,' or cannon, as they were afterwards called,
'which with fire threw little iron balls to frighten the horses.'
While the battle raged with great fury on both sides, King Edward was
sending out his orders from a windmill from which he could overlook the
progress of the fight.
Presently a messenger came from the Earl of Warwick, beseeching the
king to send aid to his son, the Black Prince.
Warwick's messenger asking for aid to be sent to the Black Prince.
'Is my son killed?' asked the king.
'No, Sire, please God,' replied the messenger.
'Is he wounded?'
'Is he thrown to the ground?'
'No, Sire, not so; but he is very hard pressed.'
'Then,' said the king, 'go back to those that sent you, and tell them
that he shall have no help from me. Let the boy win his spurs; for I
wish, if God so order it, that the day may be his.'
The messenger carried back these words to the prince, who fought harder
than ever, and drove off his assailants.
For hours the battle raged, both sides fighting with great fury and
determination. On the French side was the old blind King of Bohemia,
who remained somewhat apart, mounted upon his warhorse, listening to
the din and noise of the battle in which his son was engaged.
After some time he heard a French knight approaching, and asked him how
the fight was going.
'The Genoese have been routed,' was the reply; 'and your son is
Then the king called to him two of his vassals and said to them,
'Lords, you are my vassals, my friends, and my companions; I pray you
of your goodness to lead me so far into the fight that I may at least
strike one blow with my sword.'
Then the two knights drew up, one on each side of their aged king; and
all three fastened their bridle-reins together and rode into the fray.
'The king,' says the old story-teller, 'struck one blow with his sword;
yea, and more than four; and fought right valiantly'; until he and his
knights disappeared under the heaving, struggling mass of men, never to
In the meantime the King of France was fighting as hard as any man on
the field. Twice he was wounded, and once he had his horse shot under
him; but after having had his wounds bound up, he mounted again and
rode back into the fight. Many times he led his men in furious charges
against the English; but nothing could overcome the coolness and
determination of the English forces.
At last the French were vanquished, and had to retire from the field.
Their sacred banner, the Oriflamme, or Flame of Gold, was nearly
captured, but a brave French knight broke his way through the crowd
which was struggling around it, cut the banner from its staff with his
sword, and winding it round his body, rode away with it in safety.
The French king, refusing to leave the field, was dragged away, almost
by force, by some of his followers.
After riding for some miles, they came to a castle and knocked at the
'Who is there?' shouted the gate-keeper.
'It is the Fortune of France,' was the reply.
Then the lord of the castle came down himself and opened the gates, and
let in his weary, broken-hearted king.
Night was closing in, and the English were lighting their watch-fires
upon the battlefield, when King Edward rode forward to meet the son who
had fought so bravely. Taking the lad in his arms, he kissed him, and
he told him that he had acted nobly, and worthy of the day and of his
Next morning the king and the prince went to look at the slain, and
found among them the old King of Bohemia, lying dead between his two
knights. Beside the king lay his shield and helmet, bearing his
device, three ostrich feathers, with the motto 'ich dien.'
King Edward gave orders that the old hero should be borne from the
field and buried with royal honours; and then he and the prince moved
away in a very thoughtful mood.
'Truly,' said Prince Edward, 'I think that was well said; "ich dien,"
meaning that a king's duty is to serve his country.'
'As thou hast served it well this day, my son,' replied his father,
'wilt thou take this device for thine own?'
So the prince took for his crest the three ostrich feathers with the
motto, in remembrance of his gallant enemy, and the device is borne by
the Princes of Wales to this day.
Ten years later, the Black Prince had become a man, and the war was not
yet at an end. King Philip was dead, and had been succeeded by his son
John, a brave and chivalrous king.
Edward being engaged in fighting with the Scots, the Black Prince took
command of the army in France. Near the town of Poitiers he believed
that the French king lay somewhere in readiness to give battle; but the
English could not find out where he was.
The prince gave orders that the French peasants were to be made to tell
him where their king lay encamped; but these poor people were so loyal
that neither money nor threats could make them give any information.
Prince Edward was in great perplexity, for his army was now reduced to
about ten thousand men; and if the King of France had a larger force,
the prince felt that it might be more prudent for him to retire.
One day, quite unexpectedly, the English came in view of the French
army, encamped near the town of Poitiers. The whole country, far and
near, seemed to be occupied by the force which was to oppose the
Prince's little body of ten thousand men.
'There was all the flower of France,' says the historian, 'for there
was none durst abide at home without he were shamed for ever.'
'God help us,' said the Black Prince; 'we must make the best of it.'
He posted his army very strongly upon a hill, while the French king
marshalled his forces upon the plain below.
That night the two armies lay, strongly guarded, within sight of each
In the morning the battle was about to begin when a cardinal came
riding in haste to the French king, and implored him to give him leave
to try to save the small body of English from rushing upon certain
'Sire,' he said, 'you have here all the flower of your realm against a
handful of people, for so the English are as compared to your company.
I pray you that you will allow me to ride to the prince and show him
what danger you have him in.'
The king gave permission, and the cardinal came riding over to the
Black Prince, who received him courteously.
'Save my honour,' he said, when the cardinal offered to try to arrange
terms for him, 'and the honour of my army, and I will make any
He offered to give up all the towns and castles he had taken, and to
make a truce with the French king for seven years; and the cardinal
rode back to his own side with this message.
After an interval of suspense he came riding to the English camp again.
'The King of France consents to make peace,' said the cardinal, 'on
condition that you will yield yourself up a prisoner, with a hundred of
The prince's face darkened.
Here would be shameful news to send to his father and the people of
As the King of France refused to make peace upon any other conditions,
Prince Edward broke off the treaty and turned to his army, saying
quietly, 'God defend the right; we shall fight to-morrow.'
All that day the English worked hard to make their position more
secure. The sides of the hill were covered with woods and vineyards,
and the principal approach was by means of a lane with hedges on either
side, behind which a number of archers posted themselves. All the
weaker places were strengthened by means of palisades.
On the following morning, when all was in order of battle, the prince
addressed his men.
'Sirs,' he said, 'although we be but a small company compared with our
enemies, we must not lose courage. If it is to be our good fortune to
win the day, we shall be the most honoured people in all the world; and
if we die in our right quarrel, I have the king my father and my
brothers, and you have good friends and kinsmen, and they will avenge
our deaths. I beg that each of you will do your duty to-day, and if
God be pleased and St. George, this day you will see me a true knight.'
After this the battle began.
The French cavalry charged up the lane, hoping to break the lines of
archers, but the men who were posted behind the hedges received them
with such a volley of arrows that the horses refused to advance, and
some of them fell, blocking up the way.
Then a body of English knights, galloping down the hill, threw the
foremost of the French lines into confusion.
Lord James Audley, who during the first part of the battle had been by
the side of the prince, now said to him, 'Sir, I have always truly
served my lord your father and yourself also, and I shall do so as long
as I live. I once made a vow that in the first battle that your father
or any of his children should be in, I should be the first setter-on
and the best combatant, or else die; therefore I beg of you that you
will allow me to leave you in order that I may accomplish my vow.'
The prince took him by the hand and said, 'Sir James, God give you this
day the grace to be the first knight of all'; and Lord James rode away
into the battle and fought until he had to be carried, sorely wounded,
from the field.
In the meantime the battle raged with great fury upon all sides, and
many French and English knights were engaged in deadly combat.
An English knight, Sir John Chandos, who had never left the prince,
said to his master, 'Ride forward, noble prince, and the day is yours;
let us get to the French king, for truly he is so valiant a gentleman
that I think he will not fly, but may be taken prisoner; and, sir, I
heard you say that this day I should see you a good knight.'
'John,' said the prince, 'let us go forth; you shall not see me turn
back this day, but I will ever be with the foremost'; then the prince
and his friend rode into the thickest of the fight.
Where the battle raged most fiercely the French king, with his young
son Philip by his side, was laying about him with his battle-axe. When
the nobles around him were slain or had fled, the brave lad refused to
leave his father, who made his last stand with the blood streaming down
from a wound in the face.
At last the king was forced to yield, and he gave his glove to a
banished French knight, Sir Denis de Marbeke, in token of surrender.
When the French were fleeing from the field, the Black Prince had
become so exhausted with fighting that Sir John Chandos persuaded him
to retire to his tent and take some rest.
Presently the news came to the royal tent that the king had been taken
prisoner, and was on his way to the English camp. The prince
immediately sent two of his lords to meet him, and had him brought to
his own tent, where he received his brave enemy with the greatest
The French King brought prisoner to the Black Prince after Poitiers.
After the king had rested and refreshed himself, the prince invited him
and the other captive nobles to a supper in his tent, and Prince Edward
himself waited upon King John, saying that he was not worthy to sit at
table with so great a prince and so valiant a man.
Soon after this the English returned to their own country, bringing
with them the French king and many other prisoners.
The victorious army was received with the greatest joy; and on the day
when the Black Prince entered London, the people crowded by thousands
into the streets to see him pass as he rode on a little pony by the
side of his prisoner, King John of France, whom he had mounted upon his
own magnificent cream-coloured charger.
King John was kept, an honourable prisoner, until a peace was made with
France. Then he was allowed to return to his own country upon
condition that the French should pay, within six years, a sum of money
for his ransom.
Until the ransom should be paid, the French king's three sons agreed to
remain as hostages in the town of Calais, which belonged to the
English. They were allowed to ride into French territory as often as
they pleased, provided that they gave their word of honour not to
remain away longer than four days at a time. King Edward and his son,
knowing how honourable their father was, trusted in the honour of these
One day, however, one of the princes yielded to temptation, rode away,
and never came back to Calais at all. Upon hearing the news the French
king was so shocked that he returned to England and yielded himself up
a prisoner once more.
'If honour is to be found nowhere else,' he said, 'it should find a
refuge in the breast of kings.'
King Edward gave him a palace to live in, and he and his people did all
they could to show the imprisoned king how much they loved and admired
him for his noble conduct.
But King John never returned to his own country. Three months after
his arrival in England he died, his end hastened by sorrow at the base
and thoughtless conduct of his son.