Sunday, August 13, 2006

The "Black Prince" allusion in The Case of Charles Dexter ward

Once, for example, an alternately raging and sullen figure was questioned in French about the Black Prince's massacre at Limoges in 1370, as if there were some hidden reason which he ought to know. Curwen asked the prisoner - if prisoner it were - whether the order to slay was given because of the Sign of the Goat found on the altar in the ancient Roman crypt beneath the Cathedral, or whether the Dark Man of the Haute Vienne had spoken the Three Words. Failing to obtain replies, the inquisitor had seemingly resorted to extreme means; for there was a terrific shriek followed by silence and muttering and a bumping sound.

HPL extracted the most obscure facts and plunked them down in his narratives. I daresay not 1 of 1000 would know where the "Haute-Vienne" province could be located or who the Dark Prince was - in Lovecraft's day or ours.

Chrispy loves history and it took me quite a bit to locate this obscuritum.

First, The Hundred Years War was a religio-political battle between England and France. From the tenth century, the Limousin province, later known as the Haute-Vienne section, was divided feudally. The north was cut off and became the County of Marche whiile the remainder became Poitou, Auvergne, Limoges, Comborn, Turenne, Ventadour, and Angoumois.

From 866 they had been vassals of the Duke of Aquitaine (i.e.. Elanor of Aquitaine) and this became a dowry to Louis VII (The Young) in 1137. Then, when that marriage was annulled, she became bride to Henry Plantagenet which embattled the Capetians and Plantagenets.

This is important in Lovecraftiana, because I am convinced this is the very political backdrop of "The Alchemist" which HPL penned decades earlier. That story and this snippet, is all about Lovecraft's interest in the Capets and that may have derived from Susan's interest in French literature.

In 1214 the area fell, but Henry III recovered some rights in the Paris Treaty of 1259. It became a battlefield in the Hundred-Years War (1337-1453), and subsequently overrun by the British at the Battle of Poitiers. The obtained the land in the Treaty of Bretigny of 1360 and the French retook it in the battle of 137-1374.

In its pre-Roman days it was a Gallic tribal enclave of the Lemovices. They were powerful and had large civic centers at places (Acitodunum=Ahun, Excingidiacum=Yssandon, and Uxellum=Ussel).

HPL would have read Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico (Gallic Wars) and that mentions this tribe as the first of the Vercingetorix to enter against him at the "alliance of 52 BCE". Ten thousand troops surged to the relief at the Seige of Alesia and were routed by the Romans. Sedulius their general was slain.

The tribe's name means "they who fight with the elm", an elm spear was their trademark. [limo=elm, wikelo=fight].

I think this is a tip of the hat to "Two-Gun Bob's" memory and the Celtic barbarians he and HPL often disagreed on.

Later, the Romans enjoyed generations of civilization there, and many catacombs were created.

Anyway, In 1370, Edward (the Black Prince) burned the city and massacred its inhabitants. More on that in a bit.

The famous Limoges enamel industry was fully developed by the 13th cent. and culminated in the work of LĂ©onard (of) Limousin, but it declined when Limoges was once more devastated in the Wars of Religion.

Turgot, who was intendant from 1761 to 1764, brought back prosperity by introducing (1771) the china manufactures. Limoges has a cathedral (chiefly 13th-16th cent.), a notable ceramics museum, and an art gallery containing many works by Renoir, who was born there. Limoges University is notable.

Back to the Black Prince, Edward's birth was exciting to the British people as confirmation of the line of the Planetgenet. In his late career, despite being a gambler and a dandy-like clotheshorse, he was also quite brutal.

The Black Prince is associated with at least two major allegations of atrocities in war: commanding the slaughter of some 3,000 civilian inhabitants, including women and children, of Limoges in 1370 after a siege provoked by the bishop of Limoges inviting the French to retake the city; and taking part in the raid of Caen during the Normandy Chevauchee of 1346 during which 2,500 civilians were slaughtered.

We know him as the Black Prince due to history's view. The Chronicles of Froissart paint him as a butcher, but contemporary records fail to support. Froissart's portrait of the massacre.

Lovecraft's allusion to the "dark man" as a synonym of the Black Prince is anachronistic. The 'dark man" was a satanically possessed medium such as were consorts with witches in Salem. It has nothing whatsoever to do with racial characteristics.

As to the "sign of the goat" and "the three words", that will have to wait another blog entry in the future.


Julilla said...

Wow, great work! Thanks for that, it was very interesting!

Chris Perridas said...

I was always appreciate you stopping by with a word of encouragement!!


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