The History - I SERVE

You've already read I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, and you're wondering: how much of this book is history and how much is fiction? Where can I learn more about the Black Prince?  Read on and hopefully your questions will be answered.

Setting: The Hundred Years' War

This misleadingly-named war between England and France lasted from 1337 to 1453 A. D. Since the time of William the Conqueror, the English kings had owned substantial holdings in the land of France. The French monarchs insisted that the English kings pay homage for these lands and continually tried to remove them from English possession. This created an atmosphere of smoldering tensions between the two countries that would erupt in the fourteenth century with a struggle over the French throne.

In 1328, the French king died without any sons or brothers to succeed him. The closest relative (by virtue of his French mother) was Edward III of England. Edward was in his minority at the time, and the patriotic French passed over him in favor of Philip, a more distant relative from the house of Valois. Once Edward came of age and solidified his rule over England, he threw down his gauntlet at France, demanding the crown which was rightfully his. The French laughed at his claim; in response, he prepared an invasion.

In his first expedition against France, Edward bested Philip at the Battle of Crecy and captured the important harbor city of Calais. The descent of the Black Plague upon Europe ended the fighting temporarily, and it was not until ten years later that Edward's son, the Black Prince, returned to defeat the French at the Battle of Poitiers. With her king captured, France desired to come to terms. She surrendered the land that Edward III's ancestors had once held on the continent, and Edward agreed to waive his claim to the French crown. The first phase in the Hundred Years' War was over.

As Edward III weakened in his old age, the French grew bold to reclaim the land they had ceded. During the reign of Charles V, French commanders whittled away English holdings in France. In England, internecine struggles left little manpower to stave off the French. Eventually, Henry IV seized the English throne from his ineffectual cousin Richard II and established a strong monarchy. His son, Henry V, renewed the claim to the French crown that his great-grandfather Edward III had made, and a second invasion began.

Fighting against far superior numbers, Henry V conquered the French at the Battle of Agincourt and achieved the ultimate prize. At his death, his infant son Henry VI was crowned king of England and France. He would not hold the title long. The quarrelsome English nobles could not control affairs in France. A rebellion, led by the son of the former French king and Joan of Arc, swept through the land. When the war ended in 1453, England had lost every inch of land on the continent (besides the city of Calais).

Characters: Fictional and Non

Sir John Potenhale - The protagonist of the book, Sir John Potenhale is mostly fictional. His only claim to historicity is an entry in the Exchequer where he received 100 marks from Edward III "for the good services by him performed for the said Lord the King, and especially for taking Geoffrey de Charny." Potenhale exists in this book as a window to see into the life of the Black Prince and into the medieval world of chivalry, romance, and spirituality.

Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376) - The eldest son of Edward III, the Black Prince was one of the most famous men of his time. His participation in the Battle of Crecy and victory at the Battle of Poitiers comes straight from contemporary chroniclers. His protracted romance with Lady Joan of Kent is also historically based, though in places where the chronicles were silent, I was forced to embellish a little. After the peace treaty at Bretigny, the Black Prince went on to campaign in Spain and gained a fearsome reputation for valor and cunning. He had two sons by Lady Joan of Kent, the eldest becoming King Richard II. The Black Prince never became king himself since he predeceased his father.

Geoffroi de Charny (c.1300-1356) - Sir Geoffroi, the Christ-figure of the story, was a famous knight of his time but has few recorded details about his life. He is most famous for writing The Book of Chivalry, and many of the ideas in that book inspired the conversations which his character has with Sir Potenhale in I Serve. Sir Geoffroi is the first recorded owner of the illustrious Shroud of Turin, a relic that some think to be the burial cloth of Christ. He died bravely at the Battle of Poitiers, though perhaps not for the same reasons that I have attributed to him in the novel.

Margery Bradeshaw - Like Sir Potenhale, Margery Bradeshaw is a fictional character that allows us to see into the lives of historical characters in the novel. Her role in the book allows readers insight into Joan of Kent's life and illustrates the courtly love paradigm of the fourteenth century world.

Joan of Kent (1328-1385) - The half-cousin of Edward III, Joan of Kent is a striking example of a medieval noblewoman. Like many women of her time, she entered into a secret marriage at a young age. The second, projected marriage to Salisbury is factual, although I have embellished the episode somewhat for dramatic effect. Her secret interest in the Black Prince is also historical, and several of the chroniclers record that Queen Philippa intentionally kept the two apart. Once they finally were able to marry, it is reported that Joan and the Black Prince enjoyed great love and affection. Joan was a popular figure in England, well-loved for her beauty and her benevolent disposition. During the reign of her son Richard II, she protected and supported the Lollards, the followers of John Wycliffe, Morning Star of the Reformation.

Sir Thomas Holland (c.1314-1360) - The villain of the novel, Sir Thomas Holland was a commander in the English army at both Crecy and Calais. Though the details are unclear, the chroniclers assert that he did contract a secret marriage with Joan of Kent when she was of a very young age, probably while he was serving as steward to the Earl of Salisbury. Holland was appointed governor over the province of Guienne after the Battle of Poitiers and died while serving there.

Thomas Bradwardine (c.1290-1349) - A noted figure in the academic community of his day, Thomas Bradwardine was King Edward's chaplain, advisor, and friend. Bradwardine was famous for his work in mathematics and philosophy. At the end of his life, he was elected to the highest ecclesiastical position in England, Archbishop of Canterbury. Forty days after his consecration, he succumbed to the plague and was buried at Canterbury. In the Canterbury Tales, written just fifty years after Bradwardine's death, Chaucer ranks Bradwardine with Augustine and Boethius; this demonstrates in what high regard Bradwardine was held by his countrymen.

Timeline of Events in the Book

-Charles IV of France dies without male heir. Edward III of England (the closest relative) is passed over in favor of Philip of Valois for the throne.
-Joan of Kent, Edward III’s cousin, is born.

-Edward III seizes power in England, has his mother Isabella imprisoned, and executes her lover Roger Mortimer.
-The Black Prince is born to Edward III and his wife Philippa

-Edward III accepts Philip VI of Valois as king of France since he is unable to contest it militarily.

-Charles of Navarre is born (also a closer relative to the last king than Philip of Valois).

-Edward III goes to war with France and sends a small expedition.

-Edward III defeats the French at sea at the Battle of Sluys.

-Edward III launches a full invasion of France and defeats Philip VI at the Battle of Crecy.

-Edward III captures the French city of Calais.

-The Black Death reaches Europe.

-Philip VI of France dies and is succeeded by his son John II.

-The Black Prince leads an expedition to France.

-The Black Prince defeats the French at the Battle of Poitiers and captures the French king John II.

-The French and English sign a peace treaty at Bretigny; Edward renounces his claim to the French throne in exchange for full sovereignty in Guienne and a sum of money.

Sources for I Serve: Selected Bibliography

Appelbaum, Stanley, trans. and ed. Medieval Tales and Stories. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.

Barber, Richard. Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince. Great Britain: The Boydell Press, 1978.

_______, trans. and ed. The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince: from contemporary letters, diaries and chronicles, including Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. Great Britain: The Boydell Press, 1979.

Creighton, Louise. Life of Edward the Black Prince. London: Rivingtons, 1876.

Froissart, Sir John. The Chronicles of England, France and Spain. Translated by Thomas Johnes and edited by H. P. Dunster. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1961.

Froissart, Jean. Chronicles. Translated and edited by Geoffrey Brereton. London: Penguin Books, 1978.
Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Translated by Lewis Thorpe. London: Penguin Books, 1966.

Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry: the Plantagenet dynasty from 1216 to 1377: Henry III and the three Edwards, the era of the Black Prince and the Black Death. London: Salamander Books Ltd., 2002.

Houston, Mary G. Medieval Costume in England and France: the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996.

James, Francis Godwin, ed. The Pageant of Medieval England: Historical and Literary Sources to 1485. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1975.

Kaeuper, Richard W. and Elspeth Kennedy, trans. and eds. The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

McKisack, May. The Fourteenth Century: 1307-1399. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Muhlberger, Steven. Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France. Union City, CA: The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002.

Sedgwick, Henry Dwight. The Black Prince. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1993.

Tierney, Brian. Western Europe in the Middle Ages: 300-1475, Sixth Edition. USA: McGraw-Hill College, 1999.

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