Thanks to Medical Technology, the Black Prince’s Tomb Reveals its Secrets – Smithsonian

An overhead view of the armor-clad effigy on the Black Prince’s tomb at Canterbury Cathedral in England.
Dean and Chapter of Canterbury

Historians have long wondered how the realistic knight’s armor on the tomb of the infamous Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock and heir to the English throne who died in 1376, was crafted. Now they think they know.

Using x-rays and other medical imaging equipment, researchers have discovered that the metal armor on the effigy was likely made by an actual armorer, reports Maev Kennedy of the Art Newspaper. A team of historians and scientists from the Courtauld Institute of Art used noninvasive techniques to look inside the effigy on the tomb at Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Their examination of the protective plating on the prostate figure shows an intricate system of bolts and pins holding it all together, demonstrating the designer had a detailed knowledge of medieval armor, according to Jennifer Ouellette of Ars Technica. The effigy armor is very similar to knight’s armor actually worn by the Black Prince, which is displayed at the cathedral.

“There is something deeply affecting about the way his armor is depicted on the tomb,” team co-leader Jessica Barker, a senior lecturer in Medieval Art at the Courtauld, says in a statement. “This isn’t just any armor—it is his armor, the same armor that hangs empty above the tomb, replicated with complete fidelity even down to tiny details like the position of rivets.”

The tomb of Edward of Woodstock with armor and artifacts he wore in battle above it.

Jessica Barker

It is not known how Edward of Woodstock, son of King Edward III and father of King Richard II, acquired his nickname. Some historians believe it may trace back to the dark armor he wore in battle. Others claim it comes from his savagery as a military commander, states the Art Newspaper. In 1370, the Black Prince ordered the slaughter of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of men, women and children following the Siege of Limoges in France.

Edward of Woodstock died six years later of dysentery at the age of 45. Before his passing, he left detailed instructions on how his tomb should look, the Courtauld team states in its findings published in the Burlington, a monthly magazine covering the fine and decorative arts.

According to researchers, the Black Prince wanted his tomb effigy to be made of metal and “fully armed in plate of war,” which …….


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