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Armour of the Black Prince

Armour of the Black Prince
Middle Ages Thursday, 14. March 2024

Armour of the Black Prince

 

Armour of the Black Prince

Edward of Woodstock, also known as the "Black Prince", is now almost a legendary historical person and one of the leading characters of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between England and France. The Black Prince himself, although the first-born son of Edward III and heir to the throne, did not receive the royal crown, for death overtook him during his father's lifetime. Just the prince's son became a king as Richard II.

Zbroj Černý Princ

Edward of Woodstock, however, has gone down in history even without the royal crown, as a brave and capable military leader who did not hesitate to mix chivalrous warfare with purely pragmatic military methods. It was this that won him victory and glory in the battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). It should be noted that the nickname 'Black Prince' has not been satisfactorily explained to this day. For first time it is documented in written sources only in the mid-16th century and, according to an unverified report, it was actually created during the Prince's lifetime when the French were supposed to have referred to him as such - presumably on the basis of the crushing defeats he inflicted to the French in battles and possibly also in connection with the fiscal oppression and massacres of the civilian population that were carried out on the Prince's orders. According to another non-confirmed theory the nickname may have been based on the fact that the plates of the prince's armour were blackened.

Černý princ

In Canterbury Cathedral we can still admire the tombstone with the plastic bronze relief of the black prince, depicted in full armour. Edward of Woodstock was depicted in the armour quite typicall for a mounted heavy cavalryman of the period of his death (1376). However, it is possible that such armour was worn by the prince at the time of his greatest glory in the battles of Crécy and Poitiers. There is pictorial evidence that armour of this design existed as early as the mid-14th century, but at that time it was a new fashionable hit, which could be accesible only to the kings, men members of the royal house and to the houses of high nobility. It was only at the time of the Prince's death that such armour (in a simpler design) was available also to the members of the lesser nobility.


The Prince's armour on the tombstone is characterised by complete plate protection of the upper and lower limbs. The clasped hands are protected by gauntlets of the so-called hourglass type (klepsydra), which came into use around the middle of the 14th century and were still worn in the early 15th century. The fitted silhouette of the torso with a stylized surcoat suggests that the prince wore either a fitted coat of plates armour underneath or one of the first type of the cuirasses, which gradually begin to appear at this time. The armour, however, also shows features that point to an earlier period – the shoulder guards are not accompanied by targets to protect the underarm sockets, which were quite common from the last quarter of the 14th century onwards, and the prince has a great helmet under his head. In the first half of the 14th century great helmet was worn over the lower helmet – originally called the skull helmet, later the basinet, which the prince wears on his head with a decorative crown - and during the second half of the 14th century it was replaced by new types of helmets with a movable visor, the so-called „Hounskull“ or later "Great basinet".

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