John of Bohemia: A Heroic King Blind to His Fate

John of Bohemia: A Heroic King Blind to His Fate



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John of Bohemia was a king of Bohemia who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries. He was known also as John of Luxembourg, as well as John the Blind. The former indicates that John belonged to the Limburg-Luxembourg dynasty (also known as the House of Luxembourg), while the latter refers to the fact that he was blind for the last 10 years of his life.

John was one of the more popular heroic figures of his day, and went on military campaigns all over Europe, thus making him the perfect example of a knight errant. Today, however, John is best-known for his participation in the Battle of Crécy, one of the most significant battles of the Hundred Years’ War , during which the king lost his life.

Who was John of Bohemia?

John of Bohemia was born on August 10, 1296 in Luxembourg. His father was Henry VII, the Count of Luxembourg and his mother was a noblewoman by the name of Margaret of Brabant. John belonged to the Limburg-Luxembourg dynasty, which had been established by Henry IV, his great-grandfather, in 1240.

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Henry could consider himself the founder of a new dynasty as his son and heir, Henry VI, was born in that year. While Henry V and Henry VI both held the title ‘Count of Luxembourg,’ Henry VII made it two steps further, becoming King of Germany - formally King of the Romans in 1308 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1312. Henry was the first member of this dynasty to be crowned emperor and several of his descendants would attain this title as well.

As a child, John was brought up in Paris and was educated in the classic style by the French clergy. Thus, John’s education and upbringing made him French. Nevertheless, John was not destined to play a huge role in French politics, but became deeply involved in those of Germany. As mentioned previously, John’s father would become King of the Romans and later Holy Roman Emperor.

Henry’s attainment of these positions meant that the young John was moved from France to the Holy Roman Empire. John’s attachment to France, however, was not entirely severed, as will be seen later on. As king (and later emperor), one of Henry’s tasks was to secure the position of his family, and one of the moves he made was to obtain the throne of Bohemia for John.

14th century bust of John of Bohemia, St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. ( CC0)

Fighting for the Kingdom of Bohemia

The Kingdom of Bohemia was a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire, and is today the westernmost, and largest part of the Czech Republic. In 1306, the Přemyslid dynasty, which traces its origin to the 9th century AD, came to an end when its last male member, Wenceslaus III, was assassinated, which caused instability in the kingdom, as several contenders fought for the Bohemian throne.

Although Wenceslaus was the last male member of the Přemyslid dynasty, he had several sisters, including Anne of Bohemia and Elizabeth of Bohemia. In addition, there was the widow of Wenceslaus’s father (Wenceslaus II), Elizabeth Richeza of Poland. It was through these three women that the contenders made their bid for the throne of Bohemia.

Anne was married to Henry of Carinthia, while Elizabeth Richeza married Rudolf of Habsburg a year after her first husband’s death. In 1306, the throne of Bohemia was occupied by Henry. In the same year, he was deposed and Rudolf became the new king. Rudolf died in the following year and Henry returned. This time, he ruled until 1310.

In 1306, Elizabeth of Bohemia was the only princess in the family who was not yet married or betrothed. At that time, Elizabeth was 14 years old, which was considered a good age to marry at that time. In the subsequent years, Elizabeth did not play a large role in Bohemian politics. After Henry’s return to the throne in 1307, however, opposition to his rule began to grow and Elizabeth became the figurehead of this group.

John was a Capable King of Bohemia…

Henry tried to marry Elizabeth off to Otto of Löbdaburg for political reasons, but the princess refused to do so. In 1310, Elizabeth sought the support of the German king. In exchange for his assistance against her brother-in-law, Elizabeth offered to marry the king’s son, John, who had been made Count of Luxembourg in that year. The king agreed to princess’ proposal, and the 14 year old John and was married to the 18 year old Elizabeth on August 30, 1310.

Soon after, the newlyweds, accompanied by a German-Bohemian army, set out for Prague, and captured the city on December 19, 1310. John was named the new King of Bohemia and crowned in Prague on February 7, 1311.

Wedding of John of Luxemburg and Elise of Premyslid in Speyer 1310 / Hochzeit Johanns von Luxemburg mit Elisabeth von Böhmen (Elisabeth (Eliška) Přemyslovna) in Speyer 1310.

John proved to be a capable ruler. Together with a team of advisors, the king came to understand the problems affecting his newly-gained kingdom and took measures to address them. In a short period of time, the state was stabilized. For this achievement, John was appointed as one of the seven prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire . This was a highly prestigious role, as the prince-electors had the privilege (since the 13th century) of electing the King of the Romans, who would then be crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor by the pope.

…But His Subjects Didn’t Love Him

In addition to this, John was also a claimant to the thrones of Poland and Hungary, by virtue of his status as the successor of Wenceslaus. John also extended the kingdom’s northern borders by acquiring Upper Lusatia and Silesia during the 1320s. In spite of these contributions to the kingdom, John was not well-loved by his subjects.

This was due to the fact that he spent lavishly, which in turn required him to tax the Bohemians heavily. Moreover, John was regarded as a foreign ruler, especially by the nobility, which eroded his popularity even further. In addition, John’s marriage was not going smoothly either. Although John and Elizabeth had seven children together, the couple lived almost separate lives.

John of Luxemburg from medieval manuscript.

To make matters worse, rumors indicating that Elizabeth was involved in a plot against her husband began to circulate in 1323. John, who became anxious about losing his throne, decided to kidnap his three eldest children, Margaret, Bonne, and Charles, and sent them to France. The children never saw their mother again.

John was also involved in European politics beyond the borders of his kingdom. In 1313, John’s father set out from Pisa on a military expedition against the Kingdom of Naples. On the way, he attempted to capture the city of Siena, but was unsuccessful. Shortly after, the emperor fell ill with fever and died.

Two Dynasties, Two Kings

At the time of Henry’s death, the Holy Roman Empire was dominated by two major dynasties – the House of Luxembourg and the House of Habsburg . In 1314, when Henry’s successor was to be elected, John was only 18 years old and considered too young to be a viable candidate. Therefore, the Luxembourg faction settled for Louis IV (known also by his nickname ‘the Bavarian’), who hailed from the House of Wittelsbach.

Although Louis was elected King of the Romans, and was subsequently crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1328, his election was not without opposition. In fact, two elections had been held in 1314, and the Habsburg candidate, Frederick the Handsome (or ‘the Fair’), was elected during the first round. A second election (with different prince-electors) was held the next day by the Luxembourg faction, who were not satisfied with the result of the previous day.

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As a consequence, there were two kings of Germany, each claiming to be the rightful ruler. The conflict dragged on until 1325, when Frederick finally recognized Louis as the legitimate king. For much of the conflict between Louis and Frederick, John threw his support behind the former. John was rewarded accordingly when Louis emerged victorious.

Military Campaigns and John the Blind

John’s involvement in European politics was not limited to the conflict in the Holy Roman Empire, as he also went on various military campaigns around Europe, which gained him widespread fame as the ideal knight-errant. Incidentally, as John was quite frequently absent from Bohemia, he decided to leave the administration of the kingdom in the hands of his viceroys.

One of the most famous campaigns John participated in was the Northern Crusades, during which he aided the Teutonic Order against the pagans of Lithuania. It was also during this time that John went blind. In 1336, while on campaign with the Teutonic Order, John contracted ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye), which resulted in his blindness. According to one story (which may be apocryphal), the king lost the vision in one eye to cataract.

The physician hired to heal the king was unsuccessful and was therefore put to death by drowning. Later on, the king went to Avignon, where Guy de Chauliac, a physician famed for his expertise in ophthalmology, was living. de Chauliac, however, not only failed to cure the king, he even cost him his other eye. de Chauliac, however, was not drowned, saved, perhaps, due to the fact that he was the pope’s personal physician. In any case, there were rumors that John’s blindness was a punishment from God, but John simply brushed them aside.

John of Luxembourg in the Hundred Years’ War

In 1337, the Hundred Years’ War broke out and John decided to lend his support to the French. The emperor, however, was a supporter of the English, and the relationship between John and Louis grew increasingly strained as the years progressed. Eventually, in 1346, John allied himself with the pope, Clement VI, and secured a formal deposition of the emperor. Louis was replaced by John’s son, Charles, who was elected as King of the Romans. Subsequently, in 1355, Charles was crowned Holy Roman Emperor as Charles IV.

John died in the same year that Charles was elected King of the Romans. In 1346, the Hundred Years’ War had been going on for almost 10 years. On July 12 of that year, the English king, Edward III , landed an invasion force on the coast of Normandy. Edward’s’ goal was to conduct a large-scale raid through northern France in order to support his claim to the French throne.

The English army, which numbered about 14,000 men, began raiding the Norman countryside, and captured Caen on July 26. The French king, Philip VI, responded by assembling an army in Paris, about 20,000 strong. When Edward received news of Philip’s military preparations, he marched his army northwards and began moving along the coast.

The King of Bohemia at the Battle of Crécy

On August 24 the English won the Battle of Blanchetaque and crossed the Somme. After that, the English army camped near the forest of Crécy. In the meantime, Philip marched his army quickly to Crécy, as he was eager to defeat the English. Furthermore, as the English had crossed the Somme, Philip’s strategy of trapping them between the Seine and the Somme was foiled.

On August 26, two days after Edward had crossed the Somme, the English and French armies met for battle. Philip initiated the battle by assaulting the English with his 4,000 hired Genoese crossbowmen. These mercenaries, however, were no match for Edward’s 10,000 longbowmen, who were able to fire much further, and reload much faster.

Fresco by Lazzaro Tavarone at the Palazzo Cattaneo Adorno, depicting the crossbowmen of Genoa during the storming of Jerusalem.

Moreover, as a result of the brief thunderstorm before the battle, the crossbow strings became wet and slackened, rendering them much less effective than they should have been. The longbowmen, on the other hand, simply untied their bowstrings during the storm to keep them dry. As the crossbowmen retreated, the French knights began their charge against the English.

These knights fared no better than the crossbowmen before them. The knights’ initial charge was impromptu and therefore disorganized. The chaos was compounded by the fact that the crossbowmen were fleeing in the opposite direction, making collision between the two sides inevitable.

The knights’ advance was further hampered by the muddy terrain, the position of the English on a hill, and the obstacles placed by the English between them and the French. Finally, the longbowmen continued their firing, which killed many of the French knights. By evening, the English had repelled 16 French charges. Philip, who himself was wounded, realized that the battle was lost, and ordered a retreat.

John of Bohemia’s Legacy

The English lost between 100 and 300 men at the Battle of Crécy , whereas French losses are estimated to have been between 13,000 and 14,000. Among the dead were many of France’s noblemen, including the king’s brother, Charles II of Alençon, the Duke of Lorraine, and the Count of Blois. John was also in that group, though he is remembered for being chivalrous till the very end.

Painting by Julian Russel Story of the Black Prince at the battle of Crecy. At his feet lies the body of the dead King John of Bohemia.

A record of John’s final actions is found in the Chronicles of Jean Froissart. According to Froissart, when John learned about the order of the battle, he desired to go into battle. Being blind, however, the king would have easily lost his way on the battlefield. Therefore, John’s men tied the reins of their horses’ bridles to the king’s to guide him on the battlefield. Needless to say, they were killed by the English.

In another account, the Chronicle of Prague , John was informed that the battle was lost, and that he should flee. He replied by saying “Far be it that the King of Bohemia should run away. Instead, take me to the place where the noise of the battle is the loudest. The Lord will be with us. Nothing to fear. Just take good care of my son.”

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John of Bohemia at the Battle of Crécy.

John’s remains were first interred in Kloster Altmünster (the ‘Old Abbey’) in Luxembourg. When the abbey was destroyed in 1543, they were moved to Kloster Neumünster (the ‘New Abbey’). During the French Revolution , the abbey’s monks entrusted the king’s bones to the Boch family, who hid them in an attic in Meltlach on the Saar River.

Subsequently, the bones were presented by Jean-Francois Boch to Frederick William III, the king of Prussia, who claimed descent from John, when he visited the Rhineland in 1833. The king had John’s bones interred in a funeral chapel near Kastel-Staadt, on the German side of the border with Luxembourg.

John’s bones finally returned to Luxembourg in 1945. In that year, Nazi Germany was on the verge of defeat, and the government of Luxembourg seized the opportunity to retake the king’s bones (through a covert operation), and brought them back to their country, where they remain in the crypt of the Notre-Dame Cathedral until today.

Tomb of John of Bohemia in the crypt of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. (Dozura/ CC BY SA 4.0 )


Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great (1729 &ndash 1796), was Tsarina, or empress, of Russia from 1762 until her death. A German born princess, she ascended the throne after she had her husband, Tsar Peter III, assassinated. She continued the westernization work begun by Tsar Peter the Great, and by the end of her reign, Russia had fully joined the mainstream of European political and cultural life. Her regal reign was not to be matched by a regal and dignified death.

She was born Sophie Friederike August von Anhalt-Zerbst into a minor German aristocratic family. At age 14, she was married to the grandson of Tsar Peter the Great and heir to the throne, Grand Duke Peter. The marriage proved a disaster, as Peter was extremely neurotic, mentally unstable, and probably impotent. The following 18 years were full of humiliations and disappointment.

She took a series of lovers, and strongly hinted that none of the children born during her marriage were Peter&rsquos. When her husband became Tsar in 1761, he quickly alienated his court and nobles by making little effort to hide his contempt for Russia, and his preference for his native Germany. When he started making moves to rid himself of Catherine, she beat him to the punch, and joined a conspiracy which staged a military coup in 1762. Peter was seized and forced to abdicate, and 8 days later, was murdered.

Catherine was then crowned Empress, and ruled Russia for the next 34 years. During that period, the Russian Empire expanded rapidly with a combination of conquests and diplomacy. To the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned with Austria and Prussia, with Russia getting the lion&rsquos share. To the south, successful wars against the Ottoman Turks led to the conquest and annexation of the Crimean Khanate. The territories of Novorossiya &ndash the Russian speaking parts of today&rsquos Ukraine &ndash were colonized by Russians. Colonization also stretched far into the east, including Alaska and the foundation of Russian America. Domestically, she reformed the laws and administration of the Russian Empire, bringing them closer to contemporary European standards.

After a long and successful reign, her death came in an undignified manner. Rumors circulated that the insatiable Catherine had died after sustaining injuries from having sex with a horse. The truth was less scandalous, but embarrassing all the same for her imperial majesty. The empress had been feeling constipated, and during a heroic effort to force relief on the toilet, she overstrained herself and suffered a fatal stroke.

When her loud gruntings ceased, her maids waiting outside assumed that her majesty had finally found relief. They started getting nervous, however, as the minutes dragged on without Catherine emerging or summoning them. Eventually they delicately inquired if all was well. Hearing no answer, they took a peak, and found the Empress of All the Russias dead on the toilet.


File:Coat of Arms of John of Bohemia (the Blind) as King of Bohemia and Count of Luxembourg.svg

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Biography

Johann de Luxembourg was born on 10 August 1296 in Luxembourg, the son of Emperor Henry VII of Germany and Baroness Marguerite of Tafalla he was the brother of Maria de Luxembourg, who would marry Charles IV of France. In 1310, he married Elizabeth of Bohemia, and the two were accompanied by Holy Roman Empire guards on the trip to Prague they deposed King Henry of Bohemia, and John became the new ruler with his wife. John was disliked by the Bohemian nobility for being an "alien king", and he decided to live a life of travel rather than face issues at home. From 1326 to 1332, he supported the Teutonic Order against the Kingdom of Poland, and in 1335 King Casimir the Great was forced to bribe John to give up his claim to the Polish throne. In 1336, he lost his eyesight from ophthalmia, but King Philip VI of France would seek John's services, making him the governor of Languedoc in 1338. In 1346, he led the vanguard of the French army at the Battle of Crecy against England in the Hundred Years' War, and he fought blindly during the battle he was slain by the English. His son Wenzel, the future Karl IV of Germany, succeeded him as king.


The Emperor in Politics and Love: The Four Wives of Charles IV

1353 saw Charles IV of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, a married man again. The marriage between him and his thrid wife took place towards the end of May. The splendid wedding ceremony was carried out at Buda, Hungary, where his new bride had been raised under the wings of her great-aunt, Queen Elizabeth of Poland.

This was the third time Charles entered a marital union. Twice widowed, with only one surviving daughter from his first marriage he was determined to take another try. His reasons were purely political. Hoping to sire a son and heir, he planned to expand his dominions All in one shot. And he did. But before Anna of Świdnica there were two other wives and one more was to follow after her untimely death. Here are the stories of these four wives and their marriages to the emperor.

Blanche de Valois (Czech: Blanka z Valois)

Charles’s first marriage was arranged by his father, King John (the Blind) of Bohemia in 1323. The details were discussed and deal struck during meeting with Philip IV of France at Toulouse. Charles was to marry Philip’s niece, Margaret called Blanche, the daughter of Count Charles of Valois and his third wife Mahaut de Chatillon. At the time both Charles and Blanche were seven years old, and they were lucky to know each other as children.

The wedding ceremony took place on the occasion of Charles’ aunt Marie’s coronation as Queen of France. Blanche came to Bohemia in 1334 with a splendid retinue. Eighteen years old, famed for her beauty and grace she won the hearts of her new subjects easily, although she spoke no Czech, only French. But she was a fast learner and soon remedied that.

Bust of Blanche de Valois. St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The couple’s first child, a daughter named Margaret arrived in 1335. She was born at Křivoklát Castle, where her father spent a lot of time as a child. The common tale has it that upon her arrival Charles, overcome with joy gave an order to catch all the nightingales living in the surroundings so that they could sing for his beloved wife and newborn daughter. The next child, a daughter, Katherine was born in 1342.

After John the Blind’s death at the Battle of Crecy (1346) Charles and Blanche were crowned King and Queen of Bohemia on 2 September 1347 in Prague. A year later tragedy struck when Blanche was suddenly taken ill and died, aged 32. For her husband, it was a great personal loss, for he had come to love her dearly, but he could not stay a widower long. He still had a son and heir to sire.

Anne of Palatinate (Anna Falcká)

Charles married his second wife on 11 March 1349. Her name was Anne and she was the daughter of Rudolph II of Bavaria. This marriage was a result of Charles’s policy to break up the forming Wittelsbach coalition and consolidate his position in Germany, which he did. He was crowned King of the Romans on 25 July 1349 at Aachen.

Anne was crowned the following day. Her coronation as Queen of Bohemia did not take place until November, when the newlyweds travelled to Prague. Anne was seven months pregnant at the time. On 17 January 1350 she was safely delivered of a son, who was given a traditional name of the rulers of Bohemia.

Little Wenceslaus, the much-awaited heir, brought great joy to his father and the entire realm. Charles almost immediately began to make plans for the boy‘s future. He found a perfect match for him, one that would bring the last missing Silesian duchy into his domains. Bolko II the Small was the nephew of King Casimir the Great of Poland and the ruler of a small but strategically important duchy of Świdnica. Since Charles intended to annex the entirety of Silesia to the Kingdom of Bohemia, Bolko’s duchy, being the only missing part, was crucial to his plans. Loyal to his uncle, Bolko did not follow in the footsteps of other Silesian Piasts and did not pay homage to the kings of Bohemia. But he reconsidered his position after Casimir and Charles came to terms and signed the Treaty of Namysłów. Bolko agreed to marry his niece Anne to Charles‘ son Wenceslaus. The children who would come of this union were to inherit the duchy upon Bolko‘s and his wife‘s death.

These plans came to naught, however, when little Vaclav died in December in 1351, a month shy of his second birthday. Not a year passed and his mother, Anne was dead, too. A story has it that she was heartbroken and never recovered after her only child’s death, but according to another version of the events her untimely passing was the result of a fall from a horse. She was 23 at the time. As Blanche of Volis before her, she was buried at St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

Anne of Świdnica (Anna Svídnická)

Thirty-seven years old, widowed, and without a male heir, Charles decided to marry his late son’s fiancee and thus secure the Świdnica inheritance. The union received a papal sanction obtained by Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice.

Anne was the only child of Henry II of Świdnica, the grandson of King Władysław I of Poland (Ladislaus the Elbowhigh). On her father’s death, she was placed under the care of her uncle, Bolko II the Small, the last independent Silesian Piast.

Raised at a highly sophisticated royal court in Buda, Hungary, Anne received a first-class education. She married Charles in the closing days of May 1353, being fourteen. Shortly afterwards, the succession treaty was signed at Świdnica according to which the duchy was to be inherited by Anne and her children by Charles upon the death of Bolko and his wife Agnes of Habsburg.

Bust of Anne of Świdnica. St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 28 July 1353, Anna was crowned Queen of Bohemia and the following year, on 9 February 1354, German queen. The year 1355 saw the royal couple in Italy, where on Easter Sunday (5 April) they were crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Holy Roman Empress in the Basilica of Saint Peter, Rome. The couple’s first child, a daughter Elizabeth, was born three years later. Charles was overjoyed, although Anne herself felt she failed him (this we know thanks to her surviving correspondence with Petrarch). But in 1361 a much-awaited son and heir followed, named Wenceslaus. He was to become Charles’ beloved and favoured child.

The following year a tragedy struck and Anne died in childbirth, aged 23. She and the baby who also did not survive, were buried together in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Famed for her sweet and gentle nature Anne’s reputation as a great beauty rests on the surviving images created during her lifetime or shortly after her untimely death. According to the popular tradition, of Charles’ four wives, it was Anne he loved most.

Elizabeth of Pomerania (Eliška Pomořanská)

Stricken with grief after Anne’s death, Charles did not remarry until a political situation forced him to. There was a coalition forming against him. The kings of Poland and Hungary and the dukes of Austria and Bavaria had united against him. In July 1362 Kasimir the Great of Poland and his nephew Louis the Great of Hungary were gathering with their forces on the border of Bohemia. The opposing parties found themselves on the verge of war.

It did not break out, however, perhaps due to Anne of Schweidnitz’s untimely death. The rulers came to terms and a marriage was forged to consolidate their agreement. Charles was to marry Casimir’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. He was thrice Elizabeth’s age, her being fourteen, he, forty-seven. The fiancee was described as beautiful, full of life, and as fit as a fiddle. Stories had it that she could break horseshoes with her own hands. She was an avid horse rider and hunter.

Bust of Elizabeth of Pomerania. St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whatever her personal opinion of the match, both her grandfather and her bridegroom were sufficiently keen on it, and the wedding ceremony was celebrated in Kraków on 21 May 1363. Afterwards the couple travelled together to Prague where Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Bohemia. Five years later her imperial coronation at Rome followed.

Despite the age difference she and Charles got along well, being married for fifteen years, until Charles’ death in 1378. Their union produced six children, four of whom were to reach adulthood. Charles and Elizabeth’s eldest child, a daughter Anne, was to marry Richard II and become Queen consort of England. Her brother Sigismund was to be crowned King of Bohemia, Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor. Elizabeth herself was to outlive her husband for fifteen years. She died in 1393 and like Blanche and two Annes before her she was buried in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

It is worth noting that both Anne of Świdnica and Elizabeth of Pomerania were descended from Ladislaus the Elbow-high, the King of Poland (1320-33). They were his great-granddaughters.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik is a teacher, amateur historian and freelance writer. She works with different magazines and websites on Polish and European history. She runs a blog dedicated to Henry the Young King.

Top Image: Fresco made c.1357, of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, and his third wife Anne of Świdnica. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The Prince of Wales’s feathers

If you are reading this in Britain or Northern Ireland, you might be carrying the heraldic badge of the heir apparent to the throne of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms in your pocket, wallet or handbag it is depicted on the back of the old two pence coin. But why is a trio of white feathers used to represent the Prince of Wales?

The badge consists of three white feathers emerging through a golden coronet with the motto ‘Ich dien’ written on a blue ribbon entwined around the shafts of the feathers. As well as being engraved on the back of the pre-2008 series of 2p coins the feathers design is used in connections with the many charities, institutions and military units with which the Prince is involved.

It is perhaps most associated with Welsh rugby, being worn on the jerseys of the Welsh rugby union team and in the official logo of the Welsh Rugby Union. But why has a symbol of three white feathers come to be associated with the Prince of Wales?

To start with, there is nothing particularly Welsh about the design. The last Welsh Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and his brother Dafydd bore arms featuring four lions passant, two gold lions on a red background and two red lions against a gold background. This design is incorporated into the coat of arms of the Prince of Wales and is now used as part of the Welsh Assembly’s badge.

So where did the ‘English’ line of Princes of Wales pick up the feathers? One of the most widely recorded stories has a Prince of Wales literally picking up the feathers. The first to use the device was certainly Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son and heir apparent of Edward III of England. The Black Prince was one of the leading knights of his day, fighting for his father in the Hundred Years’ War.

At the Battle of Crécy his English force met the cream of French aristocracy and a host of France’s European allies. Amongst these was John I of Bohemia, famous for being both blind and brave. As the battle turned against France and her allies, John demanded to be led in to battle by his guiding knights. He was, of course, cut down and slain and the Black Prince plucked the ostrich feathers from the dead king’s helmet and adopted his motto of ‘Ich dien’ to emphasise his heroic victory.

It is one of the best legends to explain the origins of a heraldic device. It is also almost certainly a myth. There is no evidence of King John having ever worn ostrich feathers and plenty of contradictory evidence demonstrating that King John’s crest and motto were completely different.

What is much more likely is that the Black Prince assumed the device as a nod to his aristocratic mother. Philippa of Hainault was descended from the Counts of Hainault, whose heir apparent bore the courtesy title the ‘Count of Ostrevent’. It only takes a small sidestep and a heraldic pun to turn Ostrevent into Ostrich, and thus create a new device. Alternatively, it could have been picked up from the Counts of Luxembourg, also related to the Hainaults, who had a badge featuring an ostrich.

There are various stories accounting for the German language motto. Ich dien is a contraction of ich diene, or I serve. Some legends say it was the motto of King John of Bohemia, others that on winning the battle a German servant of the Black Prince dropped to his knees and proclaimed the words. Another has the Black Prince picking his way through the battlefield and spotting the shield of a dead German mercenary. A more credible reason is that it indicated his loyalty to his father, the King.

Some other sources point out its linguistic similarity to the Welsh phrase ‘Eich dyn’, or ‘your man’. As noted on Infoplease: “According to a Welsh tradition, Edward I promised to provide Wales with a prince “who could speak no word of English,” and when his son Edward of Carnarvon was born he presented him to the assembly, saying in Welsh ‘Eich dyn’ or ‘behold the man’”.

Another interesting point is that it is arguably more appropriate to refer to it as the badge of the Duke of Cornwall, or Heir Apparent, as it will apply before any prince has been invested officially as Prince of Wales.

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17. Confusing Thunder

Armed with only 168 conquistadors and outnumbered by the thousands, Pizarro’s Spanish army arrived at the Inca capital of Cajamarca to meet the Emperor Atahualpa. As things turned for the worse, the originally terrified Spaniards quickly realized their advantage of gunpowder, as it was still foreign to the Incas. They used its wildly baffling and violent effects to capture Atahualpa and assert command over the empire. Not a heart-warming underdog tale.

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Joan of Arc’s Early Life

Born around 1412, Jeanne d𠆚rc (or in English, Joan of Arc) was the daughter of a tenant farmer, Jacques d𠆚rc, from the village of Domrémy, in northeastern France. She was not taught to read or write, but her pious mother, Isabelle Romພ, instilled in her a deep love for the Catholic Church and its teachings. At the time, France had long been torn apart by a bitter conflict with England (later known as the Hundred Years’ War), in which England had gained the upper hand. A peace treaty in 1420 disinherited the French crown prince, Charles of Valois, amid accusations of his illegitimacy, and King Henry V was made ruler of both England and France. His son, Henry VI, succeeded him in 1422. Along with its French allies (led by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy), England occupied much of northern France, and many in Joan’s village, Domrémy, were forced to abandon their homes under threat of invasion.

Did you know? In a private audience at his castle at Chinon, Joan of Arc won the future Charles VII over by supposedly revealing information that only a messenger from God could know the details of this conversation are unknown.

At the age of 13, Joan began to hear voices, which she determined had been sent by God to give her a mission of overwhelming importance: to save France by expelling its enemies, and to install Charles as its rightful king. As part of this divine mission, Joan took a vow of chastity. At the age of 16, after her father attempted to arrange a marriage for her, she successfully convinced a local court that she should not be forced to accept the match.


8. Prince Edward earned his spurs

Although many French knights never even reached their opponents, those who engaged the English on the left side of their battle lines encountered the forces commanded by Edward III’s son. Also called Edward, the English king’s son earned the nickname “The Black Prince” for the black armour he possibly wore at Crécy.

Prince Edward and his contingent of knights found themselves hard-pressed by the opposing French, so much so that a knight was sent to his father to request aid. However, upon hearing that his son was still alive and wanting him to earn the glory of victory, the king famously replied:

The prince consequently won his fight.


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