The statue of the Black Prince is something you can’t fail to notice in Leeds’ City Square. Opposite the Queens Hotel, the imposing figure of the Prince astride his horse is hard to miss, even if you’re whipping by in your car in your rush to work in the morning. The statue, which was gifted to the city by former Leeds Lord Mayor Colonel Thomas Walter Harding in 1903, is one of many statues in the square.
There is a rumour that the Prince’s arm is pointing to the bar of the Queens Hotel. Apart from this fact, many Leeds residents don’t investigate further into the metal man with the pointy shoes and the slightly irritated-looking horse. The man who inspired the statue is in fact an interesting figure.
Edward of Woodstock was the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Aquitaine, and the eldest son of King Edward III. Born during the Hundred Years’ War, Edward was known as a chivalrous knight at home, a fierce warrior abroad, a romantic soul, and a tragic figure – sounds a lot to live up to!
Power came early to Edward. He was invested as Prince of Wales when he was just thirteen year old, but by this time he was an old hand at the ruling game. Being the heir to the throne during a time of war meant some duties fell on him while his father was away fighting, and Edward served as king when aged nine, ten and twelve. Even before that, at age seven, Edward was negotiating with the Pope about the war. Whether young Edward was a diplomatic prodigy or just a bored child in a meeting room, some of the experience must have sunk in, because he spent his whole life waging battles that gave his allies a strategic advantage. Twice in his lifetime, he helped beat back the French so thoroughly that it would take their army over a decade to recuperate. His Rheims Campaign also led to the Treaty of Bretigny.
In some ways, this hardened battler was a bit of a romantic. Raised with his second cousin Joan, Edward petitioned the Pope for special dispensation to marry her. As Joan had already been married, and the pressure was on to make alliances with European rulers, it’s a fair bet that the marriage was a strong love match.
This romantic image doesn’t sit with Edward’s nickname, which was given to him through the eyes of history. The Black Prince was a romantic figure at home, but ruthless while abroad. Edward was known to abandon his chivalric ideals when waging war, in particular burning down villages that got in his way and starving out the masses. This gave him a reputation for fierceness that has inspired playwrights and novelists from Shakespeare to George Bernard Shaw and Graham Greene.
During all of his heroic adventures, Edward battled a long-standing illness, today thought to be cancer or possibly multiple sclerosis. When Edward III died in 1377, Edward was already one year dead, the first Prince of Wales to die without gaining the throne. His son, Richard, became the ten-year-old successor to the throne, and would later be held responsible for the War of the Roses.
When sculptor Thomas Brock began designing Edward’s statue, he probably kept all of this in mind. Today, busy Leeds office workers hurry past under the Prince’s gaze, their thoughts aren’t on chivalry and battles. They’re just looking for the way to the Queens Hotel bar.