An historian exonerated the Black Prince for a massacre that took place more than 600 years ago, after discovering it was actually committed by vengeful French soldiers.
Edward of Woodstock’s reputation was tarnished by the account of a French chronicler who said he ordered the massacre of 3,000 innocent people in the French town of Limoges during the Hundred Years War between England and France.
The prince, who was the eldest son and heir of Edward III, has been known as The Black Prince since the 16th century because of the massacre and is still vilified in some quarters in France to this day.
However, evidence emerged in 2017 suggesting the prince, who was the ruler of Aquitaine in south-western France, did not order the massacre during the sack of Limoges on September 19, 1370.
In fact, it was the French forces who butchered 3,000 of their countrymen because they opened the gates of Limoges to let the English in.
The fascinating findings are in a biography of the prince by military historian Michael Jones who says he wants to ‘remove an unwarranted stain on the prince’s reputation’.
A provocative account by French chronicler Jean Froissart of the sack of Limoges described the ‘indiscriminate’ slaying of men, women and children who had thrown themselves before the prince and begged for mercy but whose pleas were ignored.
He wrote: ‘The English broke through the main gate and started to slay the inhabitants, indiscriminately – as they had been ordered to.
‘It was a terrible thing. Men, women and children cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy, but he was so overcome with anger and an all-consuming desire for revenge, that he listened to no one.
‘All were put to the sword, wherever they were found.
‘There was not that day in Limoges any heart so hardened, no one possessed of even a shred of pity, who was not deeply affected by the events taking place before them.
‘Upwards of 3,000 citizens were put to death that day.’
However, Mr Jones has examined archives in Limoges and Paris and uncovered compelling new evidence which casts doubt on Froissart’s version of events.
The discovery of a letter the prince wrote three days after the capture of the city contains no mention of a wholesale slaughter of inhabitants.
Furthermore, the account of a local chronicler has come to light who witnessed a body of citizens make their way to the main gate, raise the banner of France and England in a pre-arranged signal and fling it open.
A large number of people in Limoges were supportive of the prince who had ruled over them for the past 10 years and wanted nothing to do with the city’s treacherous bishop Jean de Cros who orchestrated the French re-taking of Limoges the previous month.
The bishop spread the rumour that the prince had died of a sudden illness in a bid to persuade his fellow clergymen to accommodate John the Duke of Berry’s (brother of Charles V of France) French forces.
Crucially, Mr Jones has unearthed documents pertaining to a law suit between two merchants of Limoges held in the Paris Parlement (court) on July 10, 1404 which reveal that as English troops flooded into the city, the enraged French garrison killed those inhabitants who let them in.
The testimony concerned the rival claimants’ suitability to hold royal office and the deposition referred to the appellant’s father, Jacques Bayard, who with a body of of other poor people allowed the prince’s soldiers into Limoges.
His father ‘carried the banner of the English to the main gate, where he was captured by the captain of the (French) garrison, who then beheaded him’.
Subsequently, the garrison fired the houses around them and retreated towards the bishop’s palace.
Following the sack of Limoges, the prince adopted a conciliatory tone which Mr Jones argues is entirely at odds with someone who supposedly ordered the massacre of 3,000 people.
The prince stated: ‘As a result of the treason of their bishop, the clergy and inhabitants of the cite (in Limoges) suffered grievous losses to their bodies and possessions, and endured much hardship.
‘We do not wish to see them further punished as accomplices to this crime, when the fault lay with the bishop and they had nothing to do with it.
‘We therefore declare them pardoned and quit of all charges of rebellion, treason and forfeiture.’
Edward of Woodstock was England’s pre-eminent military leader during the first phase of the Hundred Years War which ran from 1337 to 1453.
In 1346, aged just 16, he won his spurs at Crecy where the French nobility were annihilated by English longbowmen.
Ten years later, he led the vastly outnumbered English to victory at the Battle of Poitiers that forced the captured French king John II to bow to the terms of a treaty which marked the peak of England’s dominance in the conflict.
As lord of Aquitaine he ruled over a large amount of territory in south-western France and held court at Bordeaux. He died on June 8, 1376 after suffering from dysentery.
Mr Jones, 62, of South London, said: ‘Edward is one of our great heroes who inspired those around him to fight and achieved phenomenal military victories.
‘His reputation was tarnished by Froissart’s account of the sack of Limoges which I have always been suspicious of because it seemed out of character.
‘The prince was a tough warrior but a very pious man.
‘The more I looked at Froissart’s account, the more it didn’t add up.
‘My gut instinct, followed by archival research, has painted a very different story of what happened.
‘Froissart does not seem to have ever visited Limoges and his account was almost certainly fanciful.
‘The Prince had decided on a policy of clemency towards those towns that had transferred their allegiance to the French, most of Limoges had stayed loyal and was still holding out for him and the remainder had been tricked into admitting the duke of Berry’s troops by a subterfuge.
‘The townspeople, who were on good terms with the prince, were furious when they found out they had been misled about his death and let the English in.
‘Froissart’s love of a good story led him to invent passages of his history – to simply make things up.
‘His highly coloured account of the sack of Limoges has held sway in our imagination for too long.
‘It is time to remove this unwarranted stain on Edward’s reputation and restore one of our great heroes to their rightful position.’