Review: The Black Prince, Michael Jones

Rating: 3 out of 5

The name of the Black Prince often passes through the pages of other histories with the remarks of how history could have been different had it been him who was in charge. Mr Jones’ work takes on the task of evaluating the royal in an appropriate context, and it’s up to the reader to make that determination.

This is a time period I’ve read about in two other historians’ words as well: Ian Mortimer and Alison Weir. Though I often complain while reading Ms Weir’s books that they go too far into describing how many beds each bedroom has, this cultural aspect was near-entirely absent from Mr Jones’ work—and I missed it! The most vivid descriptions we get about the Black Prince relate to his skirmishes and battles with much of everyday life passed by very quickly. Meanwhile, actions (the tourney during the plague) that both Mr Mortimer and Ms Weir attributed to the strengths of Edward III, Mr Jones assigned to the king’s stupidity.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read with much new to take away, even having read other accounts of the period. The most interesting aspects were Gascony’s internal affairs plus the original logic of the chevauchée that saw the Black Prince so very successfully defeat cities. Similarly, English royal biographies rarely mention the assault on Castile which took on a far more central role in this book. In many ways, therefore, this book is much more relevant from the point of view of French medieval history and not English one, as so much of the Black Prince’s life was spent fighting and ruling in France.

Another thing to add is that much of Mr Jones’ descriptions rely on showing how the Black Prince was a chivalrous person. Yet, I didn’t think these statements were put into their right context, because later on in the book the author also shows how un-chivalrous people would achieve far more by lacking these self-imposed limitations. The protagonists piety was showcased quite well, however, and it was also interesting to read about how the Prince prepared for his own death.

Overall, a strong history that fills in many gaps though it could have been better.

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