Edward of Woodstock acquired his chromatic adjective for his supposed 1370 massacre of 3,000 people in Limoges. Trust the French to besmirch the reputation of a great English hero.
Originally responsible for this calumny of the victor at Poitiers was the contemporaneous French chronicler Jean Froissart, who clearly had it in for Edward. In fact, as the English historian Michael Jones has established, the massacre was perpetrated by French soldiers, who went on a rampage because the denizens of the besieged Limoges had opened the gates to Edward’s troops.
By that time Edward had ruled Aquitaine for 10 years, and his Limoges subjects clearly preferred him to the city’s bishop Jean de Cros, who had treacherously delivered Limoges to the French the previous month.
Actually, the French like to play fast and loose with military history. Possibly driven by the same national inferiority complex that makes them enjoy playing second fiddle to Germany in the EU, they insist on describing most of their defeats as victories – if not of the military, then of the moral kind.
Much as I admire the French, the ability to lose graciously isn’t their most salient trait. Nous sommes trahis (we was robbed, in colloquial English) is their blanket explanation of all French defeats.
They never lose battles to superior, better-led armies. They only ever lose them to treason committed by the enemy, their own generals or, as at Waterloo, God. In any case, the moral victory is always theirs, and surely morality trumps brute force, n’est ce pas?
In that spirit, all appearances to the contrary, Edward didn’t really win the battle of Poitiers. He suffered a crushing moral defeat by using longbowmen of common birth to wipe out the chivalrous French knights. Every ping of those bow strings not only cut down yet another flower of French nobility (la fine fleur de la noblesse Française), but also testified to the triumph of French morality over English perfidy.
For all that, it’s good to see Britain and France for once acting as good neighbours rather than sworn enemies. This has been mutually beneficial.
The French have taught us gastronomy, Gothic architecture, scholasticism, advanced sexual variants, the use of long words that sound weird, tax avoidance, how to stay thin in spite of gorging ourselves (I haven’t learned that particular lesson) and how to sound sophisticated by slipping into the conversation the odd je ne sais quoi or tout court.
They haven’t yet taught all of us that the ‘s’ is actually pronounced at the end of fleur de lis and coup de grâce, but I’m sure they will, given time. It won’t be long before our socially aspiring countrymen will learn that grâce and gras, as in foie gras, sound different in their native habitat. But I’m relieved to see it hasn’t all been a one-way street (sens unique).
The patriot in me rejoices at the evidence of the French learning from us as well. For example, even 10 years ago there were no tattooing and piercing parlours in provincial France, but now they are spreading like chanterelles after a summer rain.
Also, French youngsters now routinely get drunk every weekend, and not just on wine. More and more often they fall into an alcohol-induced coma after consuming gallons of vile concoctions the British have perfected, if not invented. Lager is also becoming a favourite coma-inducer, and it’s good to see that the EU is succeeding in its stated goal of encouraging cultural exchange.
A French friend was commiserating the other day about the growing lager consumption in his native land, and he even chuckled politely at my feeble pun “à lager comme à la guerre”. He was also gracious enough not to suggest that the French are picking up English habits, so it fell upon me to elucidate the point.
It has to be said that, when I pass a group of French youngsters in our local village, they still say “Bonjour, Monsieur”, rather than an equivalent of “You wha’, mate?”, so cultural exchange isn’t as brisk as all that. Manny Macron has work to do, but we can rely on him to do his internationalist best.
Before long French youngsters, who naturally drop their aitches (though admittedly they didn’t learn that phonetic quirk from us), will be shouting “On me ‘ead, son” during their kickabouts, while the English will learn how to enunciate “Sur ma tête, mon vieux” or some such.
But all that is the future. It’s the past that interests me today, and specifically the posthumous reputation of Edward of Woodstock, who must henceforth be called the White Prince.
As Michael Jones writes, “It is time to remove this unwarranted stain on Edward’s reputation and restore one of our great heroes to their rightful position.” Hear, hear (shame about the grammar).