Detail of belt featuring lions. The effigy of the Black Prince. Canterbruy Cathedral © Jessica Barker

Camera reveals details of the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral

When the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock, died in 1376, he left precise specifications for his burial as well as his effigy. New studies of the cast gilded brass sculputure have yielded a new understanding of the sculpture

The Black Prince, edward of Woodstock. Head of effigy © Imgur
The Black Prince, edward of Woodstock. Head of effigy © Imgur

Edward of Woodstock – The Black Prince – famously won his spurs at Crécy in 1346 at the age of sixteen and under the military tutelage of his father, King Edward III. Later, he went on to win an astounding victory at Poitiers in 1356. Afterwards, the Prince created a splendid and renowned court at Bordeaux before ending his days as a bedridden cripple in Westminster in June 1376. At this point, he had not been able to sit astride a horse since 1370.

His last will, signed on his deathbed, is a pronounced statement of his identity as a highly successful military general and master of the chivalric spectacles mounted by his father and later himself. After his death, his confined body lay state at Westminster to be brought at Michaelmas to his final resting place in Canterbury Cathedral. At the gate into Cantebury, the hearse was met by two fully mounted knights wearing his armour, one bearing his arms of France and England, and another the ostrich feathers, his emblem. His plans for his final resting place, the crypt, were later set aside by the chose, which chose a spot close to the shrine of St. Thomas.

In his last will, the prince had ordered a tomb of marble embellished with an effigy or “image of work in relief of gilt brass, in memorial of us, fully armed in plate of war with our quartered arms and half the face exposed, with our leopard helm set beneath the head of the image”. Above the tomb was placed a tester featuring the Holy trinity. And above this hung the original heraldic achievements of Prince Edward – the sword, shield, gauntlets, helmet, maintenance cap, and his surcoat.

Recent scientific studies on the tomb, the effigy and the heraldic achievements, which hung above his tomb until 1956, have yielded fascinating new evidence of the construction and former use of the different items.

For instance, the helmet was shown to be made of low-quality steel, lightweight and battle-scarred, while the surcoat (jupon) in a parallel project was faithfully recreated to figure out how it had been made. Also, the new studies have shown that the cast figure was made of eight pieces cleverly fitted together beneath the seams of the armour.

A significant conclusion of the new studies concerns the date for the creation. Likely, the cast effigy was produced by the same artist who made the effigy of Edward III, but approximately ten years after the death of both son and father. Ordered by Richard II, both effigies were created by an artist willing to study the remains. The likeness between the face of the king and his death mask has long been acknowledged. Furthermore, we now know the artist also took a keen interest in basing the cast of the Black Prince on the preserved achievements. Presumably, a death mask of the prince was made as well at the time of his death. Likely the artist had this to work with as well. Perhaps the achievements were first worn by a wooden effigy of the prince lying in state until the effigy was cast. at this point, they were hung above the tester.

Currently, the original achievements are on show in connection with the new exhibition at Canterbury Cathedral.

Cap of maintenance. Part of the acchivements from the grave of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral. © Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral
Cap of maintenance. Part of the acchivements from the grave of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral. © Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral

FEATURED PHOTO:

Detail of belt featuring lions. The effigy of the Black Prince. Canterbruy Cathedral © Jessica Barker

SOURCE:

“Fully armed in plate of war”: Making the Effigy of the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral
by Jessica Barker, Graeme McArthur, Emily Pegues and Diana Heath Graves
in: Burlington Magazine, November 2021

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