Scientific study of the tomb of the Black Prince sheds light on royal medieval England

Press release, 27 October 2021

A scientific analysis of the tomb of the Black Prince – the infamous medieval knight and heir apparent to the English throne – has shed new light on the ingenuity of royal artists in the 14th century.

A team of researchers, led by 香港六合彩, used the latest scientific techniques and medical imaging technology to discover how the effigy, one of only six large-scale cast metal sculptures to survive from medieval England, was made.

The researchers conducted two studies using non-destructive methods. First, they used a handheld device that emits high-energy beams (known as a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) to analyse the metal composition of the gilt effigy that lies on top of the tomb.

For the next part of their study, they inserted a videoprobe (a long tube with a light and camera, more commonly used in medical procedures) inside the hollow figure through small existing openings. This provided the first glimpse inside this sculpture for more than 600 years.

Their analysis reveals evidence that the tomb was very likely to have been ordered by Richard II, the Black Prince鈥檚 son, as much as a decade after his father鈥檚 death in 1376 as a way of buttressing the sovereignty of the Crown and countering threats against him.

It was previously thought the tomb and effigy, which can be seen in the Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral, had been made shortly after the death of the Black Prince because the design of the tomb closely follows the instructions in his will. On his deathbed, the day before he died aged 45, he set down extraordinarily detailed directions for his tomb, asking to be shown 鈥榝ully armed鈥 as if for war. He demanded that his tomb was placed where everyone could see so that they would be moved to pray for 鈥渉is rotting corpse鈥.

The team鈥檚 analysis also reveals that the effigy is one of the most sophisticated castings from the Middle Ages, cleverly constructed with the collaboration of an armourer, who both ensured the armour鈥檚 accurate detail, and helped to disguise the ways the effigy鈥檚 pieces were assembled.聽 The new research reveals that the figure is one of a pair because of the striking similarities with the effigy of Edward III, the Black Prince鈥檚 father, at Westminster Abbey. The team believe the Black Prince鈥檚 son, Richard II, commissioned both the effigies of his father and grandfather at the same time.

Edward of Woodstock, described throughout history as the Black Prince, is thought to take his nickname either from his black armour or his brutal reputation – he is thought to have led a massacre of more than 3,000 soldiers at the Siege of Limoges in France in 1370.

He is mentioned in Shakespeare鈥檚 plays聽Richard II聽and聽Henry V. His key role in the Hundred Years鈥 War, among other events, has defined him as a contentious yet major historical figure of the Middle Ages.

Dr Jessica Barker, a senior lecturer in Medieval Art at The 香港六合彩, led the study with co-researcher Emily Pegues, a PhD student at The 香港六合彩 and assistant curator of sculpture at Washington DC鈥檚 National Gallery of Art, and Graeme McArthur, a conservator at University College London. The research was carried out in collaboration with Canterbury Cathedral and

Dr Jessica Barker said: 鈥淭here is something deeply affecting about the way his armour is depicted on the tomb. This isn鈥檛 just any armour鈥 it is聽his聽armour, the same armour that hangs empty above the tomb, replicated with complete fidelity even down to tiny details like the position of rivets.

鈥淯ntil now though, a lack of documents about the Black Prince鈥檚 tomb and effigy has limited our understanding of their construction, chronology and patronage so our scientific study of them offers a long-overdue opportunity to reassess the effigy as one of the country鈥檚 most precious medieval sculptures.

鈥淏y using the latest scientific technology and closely examining the effigy, we have discovered so much more about how it was cast, assembled and finished.

鈥淲e have tended to assume that the tomb and effigy were made shortly after the Black Prince died, on the instructions in his will. It now seems very likely that the Black Prince鈥檚 son, Richard II, ordered the tomb and effigy and we are able to re-date the work to a decade after the Black Prince鈥檚 death.

鈥淚t is very likely that Richard II was seeking to promote the enduring and immutable character of the Crown through the making of precious metal effigies of his father and grandfather, similar to those he would later order for himself and his wife, Queen Anne of Bohemia.鈥

The scientific analysis also reveals that the effigy was made by a team that unusually included an armourer and was based in part on the Black Prince’s own battle armour, which famously hangs above the tomb.

Emily Pegues said: 鈥淎lthough the names of the artists are lost to history, by looking very closely at how the sculpture was made, we have reconstructed the artistic processes, background and training of the artists, and even the order in which the sculpture鈥檚 many pieces were assembled.鈥

鈥淭his is a completely unique and innovative figure, and shows, contrary to widespread popular belief, how extremely technologically sophisticated the medieval period was.鈥

鈥淚t was thrilling to be able to see the inside of the sculpture with the endoscope: we found bolts and pins holding the figure together which show it put together like puzzle pieces, revealing evidence of the stages of its making which no one had seen since the 1380s.

鈥淧ortable technologies and interdisciplinary technical studies like this allow scientists and art historians to collaboratively find answers to questions which we couldn鈥檛 necessarily answer alone.聽 We see different things.鈥