How Did the Black Prince Got His Name?
Edward, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, founder knight of the Order of the Garter, hero of Crécy, victor at Poitiers, the Black Prince, died on 8th June 1376, Trinity Sunday, the feast day for which he had particular reverence. During his lifetime he was known as Edward of Woodstock. The title of Black Prince developed after his death and may refer to black armour that he wore, has no contemporary justification and is found first in Richard Grafton’s Chronicle of England (1568).
Leland named him as such in his Itinerary, and Holinshed used the term in his Chronicles, which may have been a source used by Shakespeare. The idea that the name derived from a penchant for black armour remains unsubstantiated, as does the theory that the name was of French origin, brought on by the brutal raids and his victories in battle.
Nonetheless, the prince’s reputation in France was certainly ‘black’ and is, for example, apparent in the Apocalypse tapestries Louis of Anjou commissioned in 1373 and which are said to depict Edward III as a demon followed by his five sons. His reputation, contradictory still, was set by the sixteenth century if not earlier, and perhaps before his death.
That reputation was indicative of the troubled times through which the prince lived and the stark contrasts between his triumphs at the battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera, and the debacle of the failure of the principality of Aquitaine and loss after 1368/9 of nearly all that the English had gained in the years since the war had begun. The contrast was intrinsic also in the prince’s health and character, and furthermore was evident in the changing nature of the chivalric ethic with which the prince was associated from a very young age and of which he had become an exemplar by the time of his death.