A newly discovered letter that has lain unread for over 600 years is forcing a rethink of a 14th Century prince with a controversial reputation, writes Luke Foddy.
He was the superstar of his age, winning his spurs in battle aged just 16.
But the reputation of Edward of Woodstock – or the Black Prince, as he has become known to history – is still the subject of the same type of dispute that rages over the reputations of Richard III and Oliver Cromwell.
A persistent theory runs that Edward’s nickname refers to the cruelty he inflicted upon the French during the Hundred Years War – the dynastic struggle for the crown of France.
The blackest stain upon Edward’s reputation is the sack of the French town of Limoges in September 1370.
An English possession, it was ruled by Edward as Prince of Aquitaine.
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.”
Despite some academics dismissing Froissart’s account, the sack of Limoges has become a well-known aspect of Edward’s career to modern schoolchildren and history buffs.
In a recent episode of the BBC’s QI, host Stephen Fry described how the prince “almost destroyed the entire population of Limoges”.
But now, a previously unknown letter written by the prince is shining new light on the controversy.