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Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see:


William the B … er, Conqueror

This piece, by Marc Morris in History Extra, describes the events that followed the previous usurpation from France. A lot more violent, indeed, than the early reign of the first “Tudor”, although his son and grandchildren changed that ..The Death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings, 1066.

The Black Prince whitened at last….?


On 8th June 1376, Edward, the Black Prince, died. From then until 29th September his body lay in state in Westminster Hall, and then was taken to Canterbury Cathedral to be buried on 5th October at Canterbury Cathedral.

His passing was greatly mourned through the land, and lamented because the elderly monarch, Edward III, was no longer the man he had once been, and the new heir was a little boy, the eventual Richard II. Not a satisfactory situation, with the prospect of a minority rule, with all the dreadful prospects that entailed.

Black Prince - garter

No one knows why Prince Edward was nicknamed the Black Prince (or when) but if something said at the time, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, can be taken at face value, it wasn’t because the Black Prince was of dark colouring. Sudbury said that although Edward was dead, he had left behind a fair son, his very image, as heir apparent. Right, before you all rush to draw my attention to the ambivalence of the word “fair”, let me point out that I did mention something about “face value”. So, if Sudbury was speaking of colouring, and linking father with son (Richard II), dark doesn’t enter into it. We all know Richard II was fair, as in blond, with a complexion that flushed easily.

Richard II

Richard II- Wilton Diptych

Edward was idolized in his lifetime, and there was really only one thing that has always marred and dogged (blackened?)his reputation. That was at the sack of Limoges on 19th September 1370, when Edward was the ruler of Aquitaine. He is accused of ordering the slaughter of 3,000 inhabitants, and has always been vilified for this. Yet in every other way he was lauded and admired.

Sack of Limoges - 1370

However, it now seems that new evidence has come to light in France, from a French chronicle, that it wasn’t the English who committed the massacre, but the French themselves, who were enraged because Limoges supported the English.


Black Prince book

This new information has been brought to light in Black Prince, a new biography by Michael Jones. To read more about the discovery (and decide whether or not to spend the published price of £30 to read the book itself – cheaper elsewhere, e.g. Amazon) please go here.

Now, having said all that, I am pleased that new sources do appear from time to time, no matter how many centuries pass. So I have not given up hope that old documents, chronicles and rolls will turn up out of nowhere, proving that Richard III wasn’t guilty of all the crimes of which he’s accused. Not least the murder of his nephews. It’s waiting somewhere, folks. Don’t despair!

Douce Dame Jolie: Machaut’s ghostly music of love and death

Giaconda's Blog


Douce Dame Jolie was composed in the C14th by Guillaume de Machaut who lived between 1300 and 1377 around the area of Rheims in France. It follows the conventions of the ‘Ars Nova’ style which flourished in France and the Low Countries during the C14th and the structure of a ‘virelai’, a verse of three stanzas with a repeated refrain before the first and after each subsequent stanza.

Machaut was a master of this form and Douce Dame is probably the best known and most performed of his virelai pieces. Many contemporary performers continue to sing versions of the song with different tempi and voice styles but it remains consistently haunting and intoxicating to the ear.

The virelai was one of the three ‘Formes Fixes’, along with the ballade and rondeau which were popular in the C13th – C15th and together with motets and lais formed the basis of secular musical…

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We know Richard III’s mottos, but what about other nobles….?

Cartoon Knight

Is anyone out there hot on chivalric mottos? Everyone knows Richard III’s motto, “Loyaulte mie lie”, and we even know of more he used, but it’s not so easy to find other mottos belonging to lesser known English figures of the 14th-century. Well, one gentleman in particular.

I am trying to discover what “Rendere Vero”. It’s Italian, or maybe Latin, but online translators do not give me an acceptable answer in either language. At least, nothing a Mediaeval knight would wish to boast in front of his peers. To me, it seemed to simply mean “Render the truth”, as in “give only the truth”. But that might not be the nitty-gritty of it at all.

To begin with, let me admit to being only 95% sure the motto is “Rendere Vero”. It appears almost complete on a site dealing with accurate, hand-painted diecast models of various times, including the 14th century. I can no longer find the particular model that has set me off on this quest, only an out-of-date picture of it. Its figures are holding aloft the windblown banner of Sir John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter, the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers. The banner is correct to show Sir John’s wheatear emblem, but I have never come across the motto before. Did he use it? Did he use any motto? I haven’t come across even one.

John de Holande's banner on left - wheatear badge

Paul Martin Remfry has kindly suggested that ‘Rendere’ means [You] Think, Believe, Deem, Reckon or Suppose, and that ‘Vero’ means Yes, Truly, In truth, However and Certainly. Thus he arrives at “Believe in Truth”. Which sounds promising to me. Thank you, Paul.

Sandy Swanson wonders if it’s “Return truly” or “Pay back in kind”. Diana Whitty suggests “Bring the truth”, and Frances Quinn offers “Give only the truth” or “Render the truth”. Regarding the latter, Frances – snap! <g>

And I am very grateful to Merlyn Macleod for going to the trouble of investigating at, which, at the bottom of each translation, gives the origins of words and their original meaning. For “Render” it has:-

Late 14c., “repeat, say again,” from Old French rendre “give back, present, yield” (10c.), from Vulgar Latin *rendere (formed by dissimilation or on analogy of its antonym, prendre “to take”), from Latin reddere “give back, return, restore,” from red- “back” (see re- ) + comb. form of dare “to give” (see date (n.1)).

Meaning “hand over, deliver” is recorded from late 14c.; “to return” (thanks, a verdict, etc.) is attested from late 15c.; meaning “represent, depict” is first attested 1590s. Irregular retention of -er in a French verb in English is perhaps to avoid confusion with native rend (v.) or by influence of a Middle English legalese noun render “a payment of rent,” from French noun use of the infinitive. Related: Rendered ; rendering.

It seems there are endless possibilities!

Now Brian Wainwright tells me of a 1988 illustrated book called Knights at Tournament by Christopher Gravett, ISBN: 9780850458367.

Elite book cover

It apparently contains an illustration of Sir John Holland, mounted, in jousting armour, being led to a tournament by his lady. Possibly his wife, Elizabeth of Lancaster? Needless to say, that particular picture does not appear when I “Look inside”. Fortunately I have been able to find a copy, and eagerly await its delivery tomorrow. Fingers crossed that his motto is shown. Too much to hope for? Probably. But I will keep trying. To use another motto: “Nil desperandum”!

So, if anyone knows anything more, or of a site that deals in some depth with mediaeval mottos, please, please let me know.





A Chivalrous Plantagenet Tradition, Discontinued by the Tudors

The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348. ( Its 25 members include the Sovereign and 24 “knights-companion” who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally. When it was founded by Edward III, however, it stood for something more mythical and political.

According to the website of the College of St. George in Windsor: “In 1344 Edward III made a spectacular demonstration of his interest in Arthurian legend during a massive joust at Windsor. On this occasion he promised to renew King Arthur’s celebrated fraternity of knights, the Round Table, with its complement of 300 men. Work even began on a gigantic circular building two-hundred feet across within the upper ward of the castle to house this so-called Order of the Round Table. The renewal of war with France intervened with this project but in 1348 it was revived in a different guise. When founding the new college of St George at Windsor Edward III associated with it a small group of knights, each of whom was provided with a stall in the chapel. This comprised twenty-five men in all with the king at their head and was entitled the Order of the Garter after the symbol of the garter worn by its members.”


“The use of what seems – to modern sensibilities – such a curious emblem has given rise to a popular legend about the foundation of the order. According to this, the Countess of Salisbury lost her garter during a court ball at Calais and Edward III retrieved it, rebuking those who had mocked her embarrassment with the words ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ – shame on him who thinks evil of it – But this phrase, the motto of the order, actually refers to the king’s claim to the French throne, a claim which the Knights of the Garter were created to help prosecute. As to the emblem of the Garter, it may perhaps less interestingly, derive from the straps used to fasten plates of armor.” (


One of the traditions started by Edward III was the summoning of women to be “ladies of the Garter” – not on the same footing as the male companion knights, but an honorary achievement by such ladies that gifted them with a Garter robe and permission to wear a Garter ribbon around their left arm. These always included the Queen Consort, and usually the wives of the Sovereign’s male sons. However, other highly-ranked peeresses of the kingdom were invited too. The first female to be admitted in this fashion was Edward III’s queen, Philippa, in 1358. No doubt, the placement of women within this prestigious order was symbolic of the extension of chivalric concepts to “gentle ladies”.

In total, 67 women were summoned to the Order of the Garter during the following 127 years of the Plantagenet dynasty, a tradition adopted by both the Houses of Lancaster and York. ( John of Gaunt’s second and third wives, Constance of Castile and Katherine Swynford, were inducted in 1378 and 1387 respectively. Bolingbroke’s first wife, Mary de Bohun, was inducted in 1388 and his queen Joanne of Navarre in 1408. Henry V’s consort, Katherine of Valois, appears to have been summoned to the Order prior to her coronation.


(The effigy of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk, d. 1475, showing a Garter Ribbon on her left forearm.  Photo from

Yorkist women joined the ranks of “lady companions”. Both of Edmund of Langley’s wives (Isabella of Castile and Joan Holland) were inducted, in 1378 and 1399, as well as Philippa de Mohun, the wife of his son Edward, second Duke of York, in 1408. The year 1399 also saw the summoning of Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland (and mother of Cecily Neville) to the Order. In 1432, Isabel, Countess of Warwick, was created a Garter lady companion, and was to become maternal grandmother to Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen.

Edward IV summoned 6 women as ladies of the Garter, almost all of them during his “second” reign (1471-1483). In 1477, his wife-consort Queen Elizabeth, daughter Princess Elizabeth, and sister Elizabeth de la Pole, the Duchess of Suffolk, were admitted. Two more daughters, the Princesses Cecily and Mary, were inducted in 1480.

Although Richard III made 7 men knight-companions of the Garter*, his short reign did not include the summoning of any ladies. Nor did it include creating his own son, Edward, Prince of Wales, as a Garter knight-companion. This is most certainly due to the fact that his son and queen died not very long after his accession to the throne, and his 26-month long reign was cut short by his defeat and death at Bosworth. The average length of time between a queen-consort’s coronation and her admission to the Order of the Garter was 3.6 years. It would be fair to say that had Richard III retained the throne, he would have eventually followed his ancestors’ and brother’s tradition of inviting his consort and female children to it.

This tradition, however, was soon discontinued in the following Tudor dynasty. Henry VII made only one summons of a lady companion to the Garter, and that was his mother, Margaret Beaufort, in 1488. It is unclear whether his daughters (Margaret or Mary) received Garter robes, but an archivist at The College of St. George contends they did.  (Dr Clare Rider –  In any case, it is undisputed that the Tudor dynasty did not sustain the Plantagenet tradition of summoning ladies, as it would take another 513 years for the Order of the Garter to see its next Lady Companion when Edward VII summoned Queen Alexandra in 1901.

Thus, we may say that a Plantagenet tradition of chivalry was soon to die following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

* Francis Lovell, Thomas Howard, Richard Ratcliffe, Thomas Stanley, Thomas Burgh, Richard Tunstall, and John Conyers were made Knights of the Garter during the reign of Richard III.

(Image of Stallplates and Garter Ribbon from the website of the College of St. George; see link, above.)

We Need Neither The Bard Nor The Prince

prince2White Lily’s “Richard III: The Murderous Machiavel?” post, here in Murray & Blue on 31 January 2015, is beautifully presented and argued, with the subject deserving extensive research and multiple books on its own. But I think we’re playing into anti-Ricardian hands if we set Richard III beside Machiavelli’s The Prince. There is another way.

What White Lily presented opens a topic for discussion that deserves to be broken wide open. Shakespeare had his fictional Richard III take Machiavelli to heart and ruthlessly apply some of The Prince’s lessons. But it’s important to remember that while Shakespeare read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and made the treatise central to his fictional Richard III, the real Richard never read The Prince. The treatise was not published until 1532, so it’s both illogical and unreasonable for anyone to argue that Machiavelli influenced the real Richard in any way.

We need to set aside Shakespeare’s 16th-century fictional play, its 16th-century Machiavellian source, and its fictional Richard III. If we want to know how the real Richard viewed warfare and governance, first as Duke of Gloucester and then as King of England, we need to put him back into his own life and times and consult the 15th-century English “mirror for princes” manuscripts Richard actually had access to.

We might begin with two books we know Richard owned: De regimine principum and Vegetius’ De re military. The latter included Secrets of Philosophers by Lydgate & Burke, which was so important to the warriors/governors of the age that it was inserted into five warfare manuscripts between 1450-1474. We may assume that Richard’s contemporaries were taught the same principles and behaviors as presented in these particular “mirrors for princes.” (We may also assume that Machiavelli had access to Italian translations of various titles in the “mirrors for princes” genre. A book contrasting the morals and principles of behavior presented in those Italian translations, versus what Machiavelli presented in The Prince would also be interesting, but, once again, it would not apply to the real Richard III.)

The medieval mind interconnected success in warfare and success in governance, but what exactly were the moral and chivalric boundaries of the 15th-century prince? Since chivalry was dying by the time Richard was born, was a knight or prince of Richard’s time expected to abide by the chivalric code developed in the 12th century? Or was the code by then so degraded, it was only a quaint notion applicable only in silly romances read by medieval ladies to pass the time while embroidering?

Other questions we might ask as we study these manuscripts are:

  1. Can we trace how Richard, as duke and as king, applied the principles and behaviors recommended in these texts?
  2. Can we trace how Edward IV applied the principles and behaviors recommended in these texts, and contrast it with Richard’s application?
  3. Can we trace how the nobles of the day applied the principles and behaviors recommended in these texts and contrast it with Richard’s application?
  4. Can we trace how any of these men violated the principles and behaviors recommended in these texts?

By way of further research, we can consult Reading and War in Fifteenth-Century England, by Catherine Nall. She begins her discussion with De re military, and goes on to discuss how such works – and contemporary fiction as well – influenced the nobility and rulers of the 15th century.

Nall also discusses a verse version of De re militari that was written anonymously during the Wars of the Roses, and which has basically been ignored, called “Knyghthode and Bataile”.

We have no need to look to Shakespeare or to Machiavelli as legitimate sources of the principles Richard was taught, or those he lived by.

What we have is the opportunity to dive some of the original 15th-century manuscripts that Richard himself read and applied, and discern how they affected his life and his behavior.

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