Monday, December 27, 2010

The Black Prince

Historian Richard Barber knows how to tell a good story: Just get out of the way and let the story tell itself. In “Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince,” Barber collects and selects the most interesting contemporary source materials about his subject, Edward of Woodstock, and only appears occasionally to point out and clarify certain aspects of the writings that otherwise may be confusing.

The Black Prince was the eldest son of Edward III. He played an important role at the Battle of Crecy and at Poiters captured the king of France. Barber begins his book by presenting the prince’s own letters home and reports from his fellow soldiers. There is also a large section from the fourteenth century chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, one of the sources used by Froissart for his well-known chronicles. The final section is devoted to Chandos Herald’s poem ‘Life of the Black Prince.’ Through these materials you can trace Edward’s evolution from human to hero to legend.
A good companion piece is ‘Edward III’, a play sometimes attributed to William Shakespeare. More and more experts have added this to his list of works, and their arguments are convincing (one computer analysis seems to indicate that about 40% of it was written by Bill). More importantly (to me, at least): it is a good play and well worth reading. But first, clarify its historical background by reading Barber’s book.

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