The six-hundred-year-old name: tinkering with history

Step into Canterbury Cathedral – through the south west transept –  and turn sharp right.

Stroll up the south isle, oohing and ahhing at a building which began its days around  1070, and then experience a sharp intake of breath.

For there, lying on his stone mausoleum in eerie stasis: there on your left sleeps The Black Prince.


A person of such stature that he has remained there in his resting place for 637 years, his figure sets the storyteller itching to create fine cobwebs of myth around him, across that fine burnished armour  and the little dog that sleeps at his feet.


What a man the black prince must have been, with such a name and such a splendid eternal resting place. With that fearsome headgear, a great oval prison of a helmet with a great lion sitting atop scowling at his enemies.

And, indeed, he was a great warrior.

He never made it to be king. He died the year before his father. But he was the first ever Knight of the Garter, an order which endures today and of which the British queen is a part; he was the last of the chivalrous princes, the first of the knights to turn away from the crusades and focus on England and its power. He fought many brave battles across France, but was always scrupulously courteous to his enemies. Eldest son of Edward III and father to King Richard II, the man squandered an opportunity to make a politically astute union with a foreign land to marry his cousin Joan, known as The Fair Maid of Kent.

By all accounts, it was a love match.

He looked after the country ably in his father’s absence on campaigns; served as the King’s representative in Aquitaine, running a dazzling court which attracted foreign royal celebrities aplenty. He trounced France and Castile to reinstate Peter of Castile on the throne in a deal for a Lordship, which that Castilian bounder did not honour. And at the age of 45 he brought back a nasty case of Spanish dysentery and died.

The pomp of his burial was unprecedented. A hero cut off in his prime.

Let us reel forward six hundred years or so.

On October 2, 1950, folks all over America opened their papers to find there was a new dog in town. Snoopy, the canine hero of Peanuts, was not the only creature who was made popular by Charles M Schulz. My favourite arrived in the early sixties; a small self-possessed yellow scruffbird with anger issues.

picture source:

picture source:

He began as a flying ace’s mechanic; continued as Snoopy’s arm wrestling partner; and established himself as the little dog’s best friend.

But he didn’t get a name for a good while. Finally, Schulz cast around  and settled on the name of one of the most iconic events of the decade: Woodstock.

Woodstock: an aquarian exposition; three days of peace and music. Three days which rocked the world. Things were as free as they could be; tickets had been billed at $18 in advance and $24 on the day. Around 186,000 tickets were sold in advance, and organisers reckoned about 200,000 would turn up on the day.

The rest is history. 500,000 turned up at the dairy farm owned by Max Nasgur.

Photo via wikipedia

Photo via wikipedia

I have tried in vain to find out how the American town of Woodstock got its name. Created in 1787, it was the next step in settling a brave new world. It is possible it was chosen by those who knew another Woodstock; one in Oxfordshire, England, home of the magnificent Blenheim Palace.

And birthplace of The Black Prince.

No-one called him that during his lifetime. His life was spent as the more prosaic Edward of Woodstock. It was the historians and storytellers that took one look at his stuff and his resting place and coined the fearsome name which has lasted for centuries.

Angry birds, Aquarian expositions and a fearsome mediaeval warriors.

There’s no shortage of material for our myth-weavers here, is there?


34 thoughts on “The six-hundred-year-old name: tinkering with history

  1. Oh Kate you have no idea how precious this post is to me. Many years ago when I first travelled to England I looked forward to ‘feeling’ the history, but no matter where I went, St. Paul’s or Westminster something was always lacking. Then one day I followed a cobblestone street through an arch and became breathless the moment I came upon Canterbury. If I could I would be there every day.

    1. Chris, it’s wonderful you found Cantrbury, A magical city. We hoped at one time to live there; perhaps we will one day. I have LOTS of stories from Canterbury, so I’ll dig out a few more!

  2. I always loved Woodstock – the bird that is. There was such a loyal and unquestioning friendship between him and Snoopy. And his anger management issues just made him all the more likable. Or should I just admit that I identify with them.

  3. I love the weaving you do here. Thank you so much for the peek inside Canterbury Cathedral 🙂 One day Ill see it in person!

    1. Hi Morgan 🙂 Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you get to Canterbury Cathedral one day; it is very splendid. And if you have time, a few of the others are worth a visit: one of my favourites is Exeter, which has so much mediaeval decoration still in place.

  4. Another really well-woven-one. I did think for a minute you’d flipped your lid when Snoopy’s pal came into it!
    No wonder I had Black Princes (as goodies and baddies both) on the brain for my first Circle novel …

  5. This was quite an inspired connect-the-dots post, Kate, and for me, a whole new way of looking at Snoopy’s best friend next to that round headed kid who never got to kick the football.

  6. :-O <<< that's me as I sit here reading through this entry again and again! I'm fascinated by all of these things, very much so, and your writing about them has nearly stunned me to the point of not being able to string two words together!

    Ah, Woodstock. Must wonder whether today's attendees at various music camping events — ?! :-/ — will go down in history. Okay, more than likely not, but wondering doesn't hurt or cost. 🙂

    1. Miss Chili, thank you so much for coming along to read and comment! When you know the punchline it’s simple to write backwards through the ages and make a puzzle. It’s one of the things I enjoy doing most 🙂

  7. Loved this, Kate. Actually read it on Sunday, but, just now have the time to reread and comment. You are the best at weaving stories and themes and ideas together to form the tapestry that is your writing.

    Woodstocking. I have a handmade, felt ornament, Woodstock, given to me in 1975 by one of my first grade students as a Christmas present. Her mother made it, along with an inch worm, another tale for another day. It comes out each Christmas and hangs on our tree and I say “oh, I love this, Peggy gave it to me” and then we go off on a tangent about how Jennifer always called this little bird Woodstocking.

    1. Oh, what a lovely name. Kids come out with the best names! And to have it hitched to Woodstocking on a Christmas tree makes it such a perennial pleasure. I shall look out for Woodstockng next Christmas on your blog.

  8. I would never have made the Woodstock connections. Great fun! I have several books on Woodstock–U.S. style. I will have to go through them and see if anything is mentioned about the name origin. With a name like The Black Prince, it’s impossible not to be mythic!

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