According to recently published research, the famous “Black Prince” metal tomb effigy of Edward, known as an “unprecedented” artwork, was likely built as a medieval propaganda symbol in an attempt to consolidate his son King Richard II’s failing rule, as Live Science reported.
Edward of Woodstock, the English throne’s heir, was born in 1330. He received worldwide recognition with military victory chains in France during the Hundred Years’ War, the most notable being the capture of the French King Jean II.
In the 16th century, he became known as the “Black Prince”. However, how he got this name remains a mystery.
Before his death in 1376, apparently of dysentery, he wrote his will expressing his wish for his own tomb effigy to be built in metal and “fully armed in a plate of war,” something “unprecedented” in England at that time, as the researchers reported.
The Black Prince’s father, King Edward III, also passed away the following year, forcing the Black Prince’s eldest surviving son Richard II, to ascend to the throne at the age of 10.
The Black Prince’s effigy is above a marble chest at Canterbury Cathedral in southern England.
According to an article published in Burlington Magazine, the new research found that the metal alloys used in the Black Prince’s effigy and that of his fathers are almost the same.
Furthermore, both effigies share the same design with various similarities, including the lettering’s style for the tomb epitaphs, raising the possibility that the two artworks were constructed by the same person or group of people, taking the same materials’ source, at about the same time.
Additionally, historical documents revealed a ship transporting marble for Edward III’s tomb in 1386, also considered to be the building time of Edward II’s effigy. During this period, Richard II was facing serious challenges during his reign, after putting down a peasants’ revolution when the Tower of London was stormed.
The coincidence makes the researchers believe that both constructions serve to assert the image of King Richard II.
In an email with Live Science, Jessica Barker, a senior lecturer in medieval art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and lead author of the new research, said:
“It’s likely Richard II took up his father’s tomb project in 1386 in part as a way of asserting his authority now [that] he had reached adulthood.”
So as to celebrate his family’s achievements, Richard carried out different projects, such as asking renown author Chandos Herald to write a poem of the Black Prince in 1385 called “La vie du Prince Noir.”
According to Emily Pegues, a curatorial assistant at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and co-author of the new research, during difficult political times, leaders typically conducted large-scale visible projects as a symbol of power.
“We see this happen even today when politicians announce grand building plans to distract from damaging political problems and visibly assert their power,” Pegues said.
However, Richard II’s attempt to prop up his reign finally failed, and in 1399 his cousin deposed him to become King Henry IV. Richard passed away a year later.