THE BLACK PRINCE

Posted: July 26, 2014 in Chat
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There is a farmhouse in my village, with a plaque dating its construction to 1365. It was supposedly visited by Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince. It that was so, it must have been in those last furious years before he died, in June 1376, aged 45.

BPplaque (2)

What was he doing around here, on the edge of the Peak District? It must have been all to do with Royal Forests – the local town was based on one, and we have this:

 “On his deathbed, Edward did an extraordinary thing,” says Booth, honorary senior research fellow at Keele University. “He issued a charter disafforesting Wirral in Cheshire, which had been under his rule as earl of Chester. The inhabitants were subjected to hardship and corruption under the forest system, and the pressures of war meant Edward often turned a blind eye to these excesses.

But still, what was he doing so far from the coast?

When we look at the farmhouse in the village we can see it was in those days quite a large size – these obviously were not your regular farmers. The village is almost equidistant between two other long settled communities.

BPplaque (1)

The photo is off-centre – that is because the house is still very much lived-in, and I did not want to intrude too obviously onto their property!

In Prestbury, now an affluent commuter town, we have a Norman chapel; in fact Domesday records do not show a community existed there: there were no living inhabitants. Pre-Christian pottery has been found in the vicinity, though. Speculation has it that that the community must have resisted the new Norman overlords, and paid the price: death. By the 14th Century the community was once again well-established around the chapel and new church of St Stephen. Prestbury, the name has been suggested derived from ‘priest’s enclosure’.

At the other side of this farmhouse is the village of Pott Shrigley, now an isolated community. It does have an old established church, and Shrigley Hall, once owned by the Downes family for 500 years until early 19th Century. Another interesting aspect of Pott Shrigley, and to give some indication of its importance to the region is that when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army entered the local town, his army swollen with volunteers from Manchester, the Mayor of the town could not do his duty to the King and give them hospitality. Rather than confront them, he left the town to them – they were, records show, very courteous and well behaved. Their return journey was a different story. Shrigley Hall became a Salesian college for a period. Here we have perhaps indication of an old and long-standing Catholic family surviving in private and out-of-the-way parts of Cheshire.

So, where did the Mayor go? Pott Shrigley, of course. The church is the sister church of St Stephen’s in Prestbury.

It could well have been Pott Shrigley that Edward was on his way to visit from the local Royal Forest. From there possibly on to Stockport; Stockport is supposed to be the home of the author of both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Pearl poem around this period. By the time of authorship though it is speculated the writer was most likely part of the royal or county retinue. Sir Gawain was part of the alliterative revival of Chaucer’s period, which coincided with the period of the Black Prince. Edward of Woodstock died before Chaucer had got fully into his stride as a writer. The Green Chapel itself is generally said to be based on Lud’s Church:

LudChch

a few miles south of the main town and on the edge of the Royal Forest.

2

Edward of Woodstock was the eldest son of English King Edward III. He married his cousin Joan, ‘the fair maid of Kent’, with the Pope’s dispensation. His legitimate child Richard became king Richard II, following Edward III’s death. The Black Prince died the year before; missed out completely.

Why the ‘Black’ Prince? It seems we have Froissart to thank for that. In his Chronicles he relates the tale of the massacre of Limoges in 1370:

In late summer 1370, the Bishop of Limoges, Johan de Cross – a friend of Edward’s and godfather to his son – betrayed the prince and defected to the French. He welcomed a garrison into part of the town, and held it against the English.

According to the chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward was incensed at the news and stormed it. A massacre followed, says Froissart.

“It was a most melancholy business – for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day.”

Like most things, events, people in history there is always leeway for other interpretations.

“Edward of Woodstock was probably not virtue personified, but based on the testimonies I’ve seen, I would say he was probably more virtuous than the average princes of his time,” says Pepin.

Edward was struck down with diseases from his Spanish campaign in 1369. His health just got worse and worse, so much so that he had to be carried into Limoges in 1770 on a litter.

He never got better. He returned to England, his home base at Berkhamsted. In 1371 he attempted another foray into France but it was a failure; both he and the King his father were forced to call it off by bad weather.

This leaves a narrow window of time for us to plot this journey to the farmhouse.

It could well be, times coinciding, that this journey that took in the farmhouse, was one his few in the area and also his last. His destination, in all probability was Peveril Castle, Castleton in Derbyshire. Peveril Castle was his younger brother’s acquistion: it belonged to John of Gaunt.

He could not have been a good house-guest – his temper, never pleasant was made worse by illness. It could well be he and his retinue called in the farmhouse due to illness.

Was this journey, that took in this farmhouse, a journey of self-discovery of how his neglect of the Royal Forests caused much misery and poverty amongst the populace of these regions?

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Comments
  1. Daedalus Lex says:

    You should run the tourist office in your village. After reading this, I want to go there!

    • No, I wouldn’t if I were you: we lived here for literally 10 years before anyone spoke to us. And then all of a sudden they all did. There is a story all here are related: it is THAT sort of place. We’re still trying to get out!
      A case of the other man’s grass… do you think?

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