The Black Prince in Gascony

Assignment for HIST 4505, February 6, 2002


In 1366, King Pedro the Cruel of Castile was deposed by his illegitimate half-brother, Henry of Trastamara. Pedro fled to his cousin, Edward Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), who was then ruling Aquitaine under his father Edward III. The prince committed himself to Pedro's cause. Froissart shows that there was debate about the wisdom and rightness of Edward's actions, and that they had many unexpected consequences.

Book I, ch. 231 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 343-46). [King Pedro is isolated in Corunna, with only a single supporter.]

 Don Pedro then demanded from his knight, don Fernando de Castro, complaining of his evil fortune, which was so much against him, what was best to be done. "My lord, replied the knight, "before you leave this place, I think it would be proper that you send some person to your cousin the prince of Wales, to know if he will receive you, and to entreat of him, for God's sake, that he would attend to your distress. He is in a manner bound to it, from the strong connection that has subsisted between the king, his father, and yours in former times. The prince of Wales is of such a noble and gallant disposition that, when he shall be informed of your misfortunes, he will certainly take compassion on you: and, if he should determine to replace you on your throne, there is no one, sir, that could oppose him, so much is he redoubted by all the world, and beloved by soldiers. You are now safe where you are; for this fortress will hold you out until some intelligence shall be brought you from Aquitaine."

 [The prince of Wales agrees to receive Pedro.]

 Before the arrival of don Pedro at Bordeaux, some lords, as well English as Gascons, who had much wisdom and forethought, were of the prince's council, and by inclination as well as duty, thought themselves bound to give him loyal advice, spoke to the prince in words like the following: "My lord, you have often heard the old proverb of 'All covet, all lose.' True it is, that you are one of the princes of this world the most enlightened, esteemed, and honoured, in possession of large domains and a handsome principality on this side of the sea, and are, thank God, at peace with every one. It is also well known, that no king, far or near, at this present moment dares anger you; such reputation have you in chivalry for valour and good fortune. You ought, therefore, in reason, to be contented with what you have got, and not seek for enemies. We must add likewise, that this don Pedro, king of Castile, who at present is driven out of his realm, is a man of great pride, very cruel, and full of bad dispositions. The
kingdom of Castile has suffered many grievances at his hands: many valiant men have been beheaded and murdered, without justice or reason; so that to these wicked actions, which he ordered or consented to, he owes the loss of his kingdom.

 "In addition to this he is an enemy of the church and excommunicated by our holy father. He has been long considered as a tyrant, who without any plea of justice, has always made war on his neighbours; such as the kings of Aragon and Navarre, whom he was desirous to dethrone by force. It is also commonly reported, and believed in his kingdom, and even by his own attendants, that he murdered the young lady, his wife, who was a cousin of yours, being daughter to the duke of Bourbon. Upon all these accounts, it behoves you to pause and reflect before you enter into any engagements; for what he has hitherto suffered are the chastisements of God, who orders these punishments as an example to the kings and princes of the earth, that they such never commit such like wickedness."

 ...But to this loyal advice they received the following answer: "My lords, I take it for granted and believe that you  give me the best advice you are able. I must, however, inform you, that I am perfectly well acquainted with the life and conduct of don Pedro, and well know that he has committed faults without number, for which at present he suffers: but I will tell you the reasons which at this moment urge and embolden me to give him assistance. I do not think it either decent or proper that a bastard should possess a kingdom as an inheritance, nor drive out of his realm his own brother, heir to the country by lawful marriage; and no king, or king's son, ought ever to suffer it, as being of the greatest prejudice to royalty. Add to this, that my lord and father and this don Pedro have for a long time been allies, much connected together, by which we are bounden to aid and assist him, in case he should require it." These were the reasons that instigated the prince to assist the king of Castile in his great distress, and thus he replied to his council. No one could afterwards make the smallest change in his determination, but every
day it grew firmer.

When don Pedro arrived at Bordeaux, he humbled himself to the prince, offering him many rich presents, and the promise of further advantage; for he said, he would make his eldest son, Edward, king of Galicia, and would divide among him and his people the great riches he had left in Castille, where it was so well secured and hidden that no one could find its situation except himself.   The knights paid a willing attention to these words; for both English and Gascons ar by nature of a covetous disposition.  The prince was advised to summon all the barons of Aquitaine to an especial council at Bordeaux, so that there might be a grand conference held; when the king don Pedro might lay before him his situation, and his means of satisfying them, should the prince undertake to conduct him back to his own country, and to do all in his power to replace him upon his throne.  Letters and messengers of Comminges, the lord d'Albret, the earl of Carmaing, the captal de Buch, the lord de Tande, the viscount de Chatillon, de Pincornet, and other barons of Gascony and Guienne.  The earl of Foix was requested to attend; but he would not come, and excused himself, having at the time a disorder in one of his legs, which prevented him from mounting on horseback: he sent, however, his council in his stead.

Book 1, ch. 232

To this conference this conference, which was holden at Bordeaux, there came all the counts, viscounts, barons and men of abilities, in Saintonge, Poitou, Quercy, Limousin, Gascony, and Aquitaine.  When they were assembled, the formed a parliament; and having entered upon the business of their meeting, they for three days discussed the situation and future prospect of this don Pedro, king of Castile, who was all the time present, placing himself near his cousin the prince, who spoke in his behalf , and gave the best account he was able of his affairs.  It was at last resolved, that the prince should send sufficient ambassadors to the king, his father, in England, to know his opinion on the subject; and that, as soon as they should have the king's answer, they would then assemble, and give the prince such good advice as reasonably ought to be satisfactory to him...

[When the answer came back from England] another conference was determined upon: and, a day being fixed for holding it in the city of Bordeaux, all those who were summoned attended.  The letters from the king of England were publicly read, who clearly and decidedly gave his opinion, that the prince his son, in the names of God and St. George, should undertake the restoration of don Pedro and his heritage, from which he had been driven unjustly, and, as it would appear, fraudulently....When the barons of Aquitaine had heard these letters read, and the commands and requests of the king and of the prince their lord, they cheerfully made the following answer:  "Sir, we will heartily obey the commands of the king our sovereign lord.  It is but just that we should be obedient both to him and to you: this we will do, and will attend you and don Pedro upon this expedition; but we wish to know from whom we are to have our pay, as it is not customary for men at arms to leave their habitations to carry on a war in a foreign country without receiving wages."

The prince, on hearing this, turned towards don Pedro, and said, "Sir king, you hear what our people say:  it is for you to give them an answer; for it behoves you to do so who are about to lead them into action."  Don Pedro made the following reply to the prince:  "My dear cousin, as long as my gold, my silver, and my treasure will last, which I have brought with me from Spain, but which is not so great by thirty times as what I have left behind, I am willing it should be divided among your people."

Upon which the prince said:  "My lord, you speak well: and for the surplus of the debt, I will take that upon myself towards them, and will order whatever sums you may want to be advanced to you as a loan, until we shall be arrived in Castille."

"By my head," replied Don Pedro, "you will do me a great kindness."


Book 1, ch. 233 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 349-51)

...When it was publicly known through Spain, Aragon and France, that the intentions of the prince of Wales were to replace don Pedro in the kingdom of Castile, it was a matter of great wonder to many, and was variously talked of. Some said, the prince was making this expedition through pride and presumption; that he was jealous of the honour sir Bertrand du Guesclin had obtained, in conquering Castile in the name of king Henry, and then making him king of it. Others said, that both pity and justice moved him to assist don Pedro in recovering his inheritance; for it was highly unbecoming a bastard to hold a kingdom, or bear the name of king. Thus were many knights and squires divided in their opinions.


The prince was at this time in the full vigour of youth, and had never been weary or satiated with war, since the first time he bore arms, but was always looking forwards to some achievement of high renown.  This Spanish expedition occupied his mind entirely.  Both honour and compassion urged him to replace on his throne, by force of arms, a king who had been driven from it.

He conversed frequently on this subject with sir John Chandos and sir William Felton, who were his principle advisers, and asked them their opinions.   These two knights truly said:  "My lord, this is without comparison, a much more difficult enterprise than driving him [Pedro] out of his realm; for he was detested by his subjects, insomuch that they all fled from him when he most wanted their help. ...It behoves you then to have a sufficient number of archers and men at arms; for you will find, on your entering Spain, work enough for them.  We advise you also to melt the best part of your plate and treasure, of which you ar abundantly furnished, that it may be coined into money, for you to distribute liberally among the companions who are to serve under you in this expedition, and who, from affection to you alone, will engage to do so; for as to don Pedro, they will do nothing on his account...You ought also to collect money wherever you can procure it (for you will have need of an immense quantity), without taxing your subjects or country; by which means you will be more beloved by them."

These and such like counsels, equally good and loyal, were at times given by those two knights, and followed by the prince.  He had his plate, both gold and silver, broken and coined into money, which he liberally distributed among the free companies.  He also sent to England, to request that he might obtain from the king the hundred thousand francs before mentioned.  The king of England, who knew the wants of the prince, immediately complied, wrote to the king of France on this subject, and sent him proper acquittances for the sum he was to pay him.  The hundred thousand francs were by this means paid to the prince, who divided them among different men at arms.

During the time when the prince was at Angouleme, he was one day amusing himself in his apartment with many knights of Gascony, Poitou, and England, joking each other alternately upon this Spanish expedition (sir John Chandos was at the time absent, on his journey to retain the companies), when he turned himself towards the lord d'Albret, and said; "My lord d'Albret, how many men can you bring into the field for this expedition?"  Lord d'Albret was quick in his answer, replying, "My lord, if I wished to ask all my friends, that is, all my vassals, I can bring full a thousand lances, and leave a sufficiency behind to guard the country."

"By my head, lord d'Albret, that is handsome," returned the prince;: then looking at sir William Felton and other English knights, he added in English, "On my faith, one ought to love that country well where there is a baron who can attend his lord with a thousand lances."

Then again addressing  himself to the Lord d'Albret, he said; "Lord d'Albret, with great willingness I retain them all."

"Let it be so, then, in God's name, my lord," answered lord d'Albret.   This engagement was the cause of much mischief hereafter, as you will see in the course of this history.


Chapter 240 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 368)[A letter sent by Edward on the eve of battle with Henry of Trastamara:]

"Edward, by the grace of God, prince of Wales and Aquitaine, to the renowned Henry earl of Trastamare, who at this present time calls himself king of Castile: Whereas you have sent to us a letter by your herald, in which, among other things, mention is made of your desire to know why we have admitted to our friendship your enemy, our cousin the king don Pedro, and upon what pretext we are carrying on a war against you, and have entered Castile with a large army: in answer to this, we inform you, that it is to maintain justice and in support of reason, as it behoveth all kings to do, and also to preserve the firm alliances made by our lord the king of England, with the king don Pedro, in former times. but as you are much renowned among all good knights, we would wish, if it were possible, to make up these differences between you both; and we would use such earnest entreaties
with our cousin, the king don Pedro, that you should have a large portion of the kingdom of Castile, but you must give up all pretensions to the crown of that realm, as well as to its inheritance. Consider well this proposition; and know further, that we shall enter the kingdom of Castile by whatever place shall be most agreeable to us. Written at Logrono, the 30th day of March, 1367."

[Edward, Prince of Wales and Don Pedro are victorious and expel Henry from Castile.]

Book I, ch. 243

The prince of Wales and the king don Pedro celebrated the festival of Easter in the city of Burgos, where they tarried upwards of three weeks.  On Easter-day the deputies from Asturias, Toledo, Leon, Cordova, Gallicia, Seville, and from all the other provinces and towns dependent on the crown of Castille, came to Burgos, to do homage to don Pedro.  That loyal knight of Castille, don Ferdinand de Castro, came also thither to pay his respects, whom they handsomely entertained, and were very happy in seeing.

When the king don Pedro had resided in Burgos rather more than the time I have mentioned, and had learnt from exact information that the rebellion was at an end, all having returned to their allegiance, the prince of Wales, in order to satisfy his army, and to act conformably to what was becoming him, said to the king:  "Sir king, you are now, thanks to God, king and lord over your country: all rebellion and opposition to you are at an end: we therefore remain here at such very great expense that I must desire you will provide yourself with money sufficient to pay those who have replaced you in your kingdom, and that you will now fulfil all the articles of the treaties which you have sworn and sealed to perform.   We shall feel ourselves obliged by your so doing, and as speedily as it may be possible, which will be the more profitable to you; for you know that men at arms will live, and, if they be not paid, will help themselves."

"The king don Pedro replied as follows:  "Sir cousin, we will punctually perform, as far as shall be in our loyal power, whatever we have sworn to:  but at this moment we have no money:  we will therefore set out for Seville and its environs, and will there collect a sufficiency to satisfy every one.   If you will march to Valladolid, which is a fertile country, we will return to you as soon as it shall be in our power, but at the latest by Whitsuntide."

This answer was agreeable to the prince and his council.  The king don Pedro left the prince abruptly, and went to Seville with the intention of procuring money.  The prince marched to Valladolid, where he fixed his quarters.  The army was spread over the country about that town, in order to find provision for themselves and horses; they continued there with little profit to the peasants, for the companies could not refrain from pillaging.


The prince had continued at Valladolid until after the feast of St. John the Baptist, expecting don Pedro, who did not return, nor could he learn any certain tidings of him.  He became very melancholy, and assembled his council, that they might deliberate what was best to be done.  The council advised the prince to send tow or three knights to remonstrate with the king on his situation, and to demand the reason why he did not keep to the agreement he had made, nor return the day he had himself appointed.  Sir Nele Loring, sir Richard Pontchardon, and sir Thomas Banister were ordered to make themselves ready to wait on don Pedro.  The knights of the prince set out immediately, and rode on until they came to the city of Seville, where don Pedro was, who, in outward appearance, received them with great joy.

The knights delivered their message punctually and literally, as they had been ordered by the prince.  The king don Pedro replied, and by way of excusing himself, said:  "It is, my lords, very displeasing most certainly to us, that we have not been able to perform what we had covenanted to do with our cousin the prince.  We have remonstrated ourselves, and made others do so with our subjects, frequently on this business; but our people excuse themselves, and say they cannot collect any money as long as the free companies remain in the country; for they have already killed three or four of our treasurers, who were carrying sums of money towards the prince our cousin.  You will therefore tell him from us, that we entreat he will have the goodness to send out of our kingdom these wicked companies, and that he will leave with us some of his knights, to whom, in his name, we will pay such sums of money as he demands, and which we hold ourselves obliged and bound to pay him."

This was all the answer the knights could obtain.  They took leave of don Pedro, and returned to the prince at Valladolid; to whom, and to his council, they related all they had seen or heard.  This answer made the prince more melancholy than before, because he clearly found that, though the king don Pedro entered into agreements, he put off fulfilling of them.

[Edward leaves Spain.]

Book I, ch. 244

We will now relate how sir Bertrand du Guesclin obtained his liberty. After the prince was returned to Aquitaine, his brother the duke of Lancaster to England, and all the other barons to their different homes, sir Bertrand du Guesclin remained prisoner to the prince and to sir John Chandos; for he could not by any means obtain his ransom; which was highly displeasing to king Henry [the deposed king of Castile], but he could not remedy it.

Now it happened (as I have been informed) that one day, when the prince was in great good humour, he called sir Bertrand du Guesclin, and asked him how he was. "My lord," replied sir Bertrand, "I was never better: I cannot otherwise but be well, for I am, though in prison, the most honoured knight in the world."

"How so?" rejoined the prince.

"They say in France," answered sir Bertrand, "as well as in other countries, that you are so much afraid of me, and have such a dread of my gaining my liberty, that you dare not set me free: and this is my reason for thinking myself so much valued and honoured."

The prince, on hearing these words, thought sir Bertrand had spoken them with such good sense; for in truth, his council were unwilling he should have his liberty, until don Pedro had paid to the prince and his army the money he had engaged to do: he answered, "What, sir Bertrand, do you imagine that we keep you a prisoner for fear of your prowess? By St. George, it is not so; for my good sir, if you will pay one hundred thousand francs, you shall be free."

Sir Bertrand was anxious for his liberty, and now havIng heard upon what terms he could obtain it, taking the prince at his word, replied, "My lord, through God's will, I will never pay a less sum."

The prince, when he heard this, began to repent of what he had done. It is said, that some of his council went farther, and told him; "My lord, you have acted very wrong, in thus granting him so easily his ransom." They wanted to break through the agreement; but the prince, who was a good and loyal knight, replied, "Since we have granted it, we will keep to it, and not act any way contrary; for it would be a shame, and we should be blamed by every one for not agreeing to his ransom, when he has offered to pay so largely for it as one hundred thousand francs."

From the time of this conversation, sir Bertrand was taking great pains to seek the money, and was so active that by the assistance of the king of France and the duke of Anjou, who loved him well, he paid in less than a month the hundred thousand francs, and went to the aid of the duke of Anjou, with two thousand combatants, in Provence, where the duke was laying siege to Tarascon, which held out for the queen of Naples.

You have before heard of the expedition which the prince of Wales made into Spain...When he arrived at Bordeaux, he was followed by all the men of arms... At the time of their return, the prince had not been able to collect money sufficient for them as speedily as he could have wished; for it was wonderful to imagine how much this expedition had impoverished and drained him: for which reason, those men kept their quarters in Aquitaine, and could not be prevented from doing mischief, as they were upwards of six thousand fighting men.  The prince had them spoken to, and entreated that they would change their quarters, and seek elsewhere for a maintenance, for he could no longer support them.

The captains of these companies...were not willing to anger the prince; they therefore quitted the principality as soon as possible, and entered France, which they called their home, by crossing the river Loire... they made incursions through the kingdom of France, where they did so much damage and such wicked acts, as caused great tribulation.  Complaints were frequently made of them to the king of France and to his council; but they could not remedy it, for they were afraid of risking a battle, and some of those who had been made prisoners from the French garrisons said that the prince of Wales encourage them underhand.   Many in France were astonished at this conduct of the prince.  At last, the king of France sent for the lord of Clisson, and appointed him captain against these disorderly companies, because he was a good and hardy knight, for which the king was very fond of him.

At this time, a marriage was concluded between the lord d'Albret and the lady Isabella de Bourbon [a member of the French royal family], which was not very agreeable to the prince of Wales, who would have wished that he had chosen his wife from another house.  He spoke very coarsely and rudely both of him and his bride.  The principal persons of his council, as well knights as squires, made excuses for him as well as they could, by saying, "Every one advances and aggrandizes himself in the best way he can' and a gallant knight ought never to be blamed, if he seek for honour and profiting the way most agreeable to himself, provided he do not fail in his service to the lord whose vassal he is."   By these and such like words was the prince answered, in hopes of appeasing him: but nevertheless, in spite of appearances, he was very far from being satisfied; for he was well aware that this marriage would cause an estrangement of affection from him and from his party, as in truth it happened, according to what will be hereafter more fully explained.

During the time the companies were quartering themselves in France, the prince of Wales was advised by some of his council to lay a tax on the lands of Aquitaine: the bishop of Rhodez on Rouergue, in particular,, took great pains to persuade him to it.  The establishments of the prince and the princess were so grand, that no prince in Christendom maintained greater magnificence.

The barons of Gascony, Poitou, Saintonge and Rouergue, who had the right of remonstrating, as well as those from the principal towns in Aquitaine, were summoned to a council on this tax.  This parliament was held at Niort; when the bishop of Rhodez, chancellor of Aquitaine, in the presence of the prince, explained fully the nature of the tax, in what manner it was to be levied, and that the prince had not any intentions to continue it longer than for five years, or until he should have satisfied the large debt which had been caused by the Spanish expedition.

The deputies from Poitou, Saintonge, Limousin, Rouergue and La Rochelle, were agreeable to this imposition, provided the prince would keep his coin to the same standard for seven years: but it was refused by those from the upper parts of Gascony, namely, the earl of Armagnac, the lord d'Albret, his nephew, the earl of Comminges, the viscount of Carmain, the lord de la Barde, the lord de Cande, the lord de Pincornet, and severl great barons form the counties, cities and good towns under their jurisdiction, saying, that "in former times, when they were under the vassalage of the king of France, they were not oppressed by any tax, subsidy, imposition or gabelle, and that they never would submit to any such oppressoin so long as they could defend themselves:  that their lands and lordships were free from all duties, and that the prince had sworn to maintain them in this state.  Nevertheless, in order to leave the parliament of the prince in an amicable manner, they declared, they would, when returned to their own country, consider this business more fully:  and that they would consult several prelates, bishopes, abbots, barons and knight, to whom it belonged to speak more deliberately on this demand than had hitherto been done."

The prince of Wales and his council not being able to gain more at this time, the parliament broke up at Niort, and each person returned to his own home; but they were commanded by the prince to return again by a certain day, which had been fixed upon before they broke up.

These lords and barons of Gascony being arrived in their own country, and having their opinions strengthened, were resolved neither to return again to the parliament of the prince nor to suffer this tax to be imposed upon their lands, even should they be obliged to oppose force in preventing it.  Thus this country began its rebellion against the prince.  The lords of ARmagnac, d'Albret, de Comminges, the earl of Perigord, and several great prelates, barons, knihgts and squires of Gascony, went to France, to lay their complaints before the court of the king of France (the king and his peers being present) of the wrongs the prince was about to do them.   They said, they were under the jurisdiction of the king of France, and that they were bound to return to him as to their sovereign lord.

[Henry returns to Castile and Pedro is killed; war breaks out between England and France.]