Berkhamsted Castle | Edward the Black Prince

Berkhamsted Castle

Edward the Black Prince
1330 –1376

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince (15 June 1330 – 8 June 1376), was the eldest son of King Edward III of England. Edward is renowned as one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years’ War against France, and one of the greatest knights of the age. Although he was heir to the English throne, Edward never became king; he died before his father and so his son, Richard II, succeeded to the throne instead.

Edward was created Duke of Cornwall in 1337, a new honour that superseded the former title of Earl of Cornwall. The king invested considerable amounts in restoring Berkhamsted Castle at this time.

In the eleventh year of the reign of Edward III (1337) he gave the castle to his son, Edward, as part of the newly created Duchy of Cornwall. In that year , an inquisition was held on St. Valentine’s day, concerning the castle and its restoration, and also regarding “divers wastes” and destructions made in the woods and other places appertaining to the castle; it was therein shown that William the turner and Robert the shoveller, and other persons, had been guilty of cutting down and taking away the King’s timber.

Two Lectures on the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted
John Wolstenholme Cobb,  1883, pp.108-111
Translation from original documents by Rev. J.R. Crawford

When the Black Prince left Berkhamsted to fight at the battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) he took with him archers from Berkhamsted and district. Berkhamsted archers practised shooting in ‘butts’ near the centre of the town on what is now called Butts Meadow.

On 10 October 1361 the prince, Edward married his cousin Joan, countess of Kent. Because they were related, they had to obtain special permission for their marriage from Pope Innocent VI. The wedding took place at Windsor Castle in the presence of King Edward III, and the couple honeymooned at Berkhamsted Castle. The extensive deer park behind the castle was a favourite hunting ground for the prince.

In 1862, the North Devon Journal wrote of “the marriage, in 1361, of Edward the Black Prince with the ‘Fair Countess’ – the buxom, warm-hearted, regal Joan of Kent”:

That was a rare love-match, albeit the bridegroom was over thirty years of age, and his brilliant English wife was a young widow of a former husband. But there was ‘heart’ in the whole matter. England had known of no such hero as Edward, from his youth up, since the days of King Arthur, and all the realm of beauty, it is said, would have been hard put to it to produce altogether such a peerless lady as Joan; – a little too sharp, perhaps, with her wit, which sometimes made good Queen Philippa look serious. But England loved the pair, and the pair loved one another. What joyous house they kept – not in Pall Mall ! but in their princely mansion between Crooked-lane-end and Fish-street-hill ! What gay and rather costly doings – for Joan, it must be said, was a lady who loved such doings – went on at their palace at Berkhampstead! what ridings and joustings, and laughing, and love-making, about that smaller bower they built at Princes Risborough!”

Edward the Black Prince died at the Palace of Westminster on 8 June 1376, aged 45, and he was buried with great state in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 September. His tomb is a medieval chest tomb topped with a bronze recumbent effigy of the prince, adorned with his heraldic achievements.

A brass plaque commemorating John Raven (1385), squire to the Black Prince, can be seen in St. Peter’s Church. Also in St. Peter’s is a medieval chest tomb, thought to be the tomb of Henry of Berkhamsted and his wife. Henry fought with Edward at the Battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), and the Black Prince appointed him Constable of Berkhamsted Castle.


Further reading

Two Lectures on the History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted
Rev John Wolstenholme Cobb
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Video: Investigating an Effigy - a team of scientists and art historians take a closer look at the tomb of Edward the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral

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