Isabel of Gloucester, the Lost Queen of England

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William 2nd Earl Of Gloucester

Isabel of Gloucester is a shadow in the pages of history. I could find no pictures of her. No one even seems certain of her name; she has been called Isabel, Isabella, Hawise, Avice….. Isabel, however, seems to be the most popular, so we’ll stick with that, for now.

Isabel was the youngest daughter, and co-heiress, of William, 2nd Earl of Gloucester and his wife, Hawise, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. Although her date of birth has been lost to history – most sources say between 1173 and 1176 – she was betrothed in 1176, possibly whilst still in her cradle, to Prince John.

The youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, John was 9 years old at the time of the betrothal. However the wedding did not take place until 1189, when John was 21. Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, opposed the marriage as the couple were related within the prohibited degrees, both being a great-grandchild of Henry I. John promised to seek a papal dispensation, in order to overcome Baldwin’s objections – although it appears this was never obtained.

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King John

John and Isabel were married on 29th August, 1189, at Marlborough Castle, Wiltshire. Although they were married for 10 years, it is possible they never, or rarely lived together. They never had any children and it is during this time in his life that John’s illegitimate children were born.

John succeeded to the throne on the death of his older brother Richard I – the Lionheart – on 6th April 1199. John was crowned on 27th May 1199; the fact that Isabel was not crowned alongside him, suggests that John was already looking for a way out of the marriage. Isabel would never be styled Queen.

Possibly as early as 30th August 1199, but certainly by 1200, John had obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity; the bishops of Lisieu, Bayeux and Avranches, sitting in Normandy, provided the required judgement.

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Coat of arms of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Gloucester

Keeping his hold on the substantial Gloucester lands, John detained Isabel in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next 14 years. He eventually arranged a new marriage for her, to a man who was over 16 years her junior.

In 1214 she was married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who had paid the considerable sum of 20,000 marks to become her second husband and Earl of Gloucester ‘jure uxoris’ (by right of his wife). Just 2 years later, in 1216, de Mandeville died from wounds he’d received in a tournament.

One of the Magna Cart sureties, de Mandeville was in a state of rebellion, against the crown, when he died; as a result, all his lands and titles – including the earldom of Gloucester – were forfeit to the crown.

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Hubert de burgh

It was not until 17th September 1217, that Isabel’s lands were returned to her. At about the same time – or shortly after – Isabel was married for a third and final time, to Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent. De Burgh had become Chief Justiciar of England in 1215 and would rise to be Regent during the minority of Henry III.

This final marriage was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabel was dead within months – possibly only a few weeks – of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.

In spite of 3 marriages, Isabel never had children and was succeeded to the Earldom of Gloucester by her nephew, Gilbert de Clare.

She was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

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Further Reading: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

Edmund Crouchback, Edward I’s Loyal Brother

Arms_of_Edmund_Crouchback,_Earl_of_Leicester_and_Lancaster.svgThe fourth child and second son of Henry III and his Queen, Eleanor of Provence,  and named to honour the Old English royal saint, Edmund was born in London on 16th January 1245.

From an early age, Edmund was involved in his father’s schemes to extend Angevin influence across Europe; in 1254 Henry accepted the crown of Sicily from the Pope for the 9-year-old Edmund, but this came to nought and he was to be officially deprived of the kingdom in 1266, when the Pope handed Sicily to Henry’s brother-in-law, Charles of Anjou.

Henry and Eleanor are known to have been devoted parents and had a very close relationship with all their children. However, Edmund grew up in a time of great upheaval in the kingdom. Henry was locked in a power struggle with his barons, led by his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. The barons were against expensive entanglements in Europe – such as Edmund’s claim to the Sicilian crown – and what they saw as Henry’s inept and ineffective rule in general.

BodleianDouce231Fol1rEdCrouchbackAndStGeorgeThe conflict known as the Barons’ War would lead to what is now seen as the first recognisable English parliament, and to the eventual defeat and destruction of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.

Although Edmund’s youth during the war years meant he took no major part in the conflict, following de Montfort’s death, Edmund was given his lands and titles, including the castle at Kenilworth, which was still holding out against the king. Edmund commanded the Siege of Kenilworth, which held out for 6 months, until starvation forced the garrison’s capitulation.

A less-than-chivalric move in 1269 saw Edmund and his older brother, Edward, conspiring against Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, a former Montfort supporter, depriving him of his titles and lands – all of which were passed to Edmund.

In April of the same year, Edmund married Avelina de Forz, daughter of the Earl of Devon and Aumale. The marriage produced no children and Avelina died in 1274.

In 1268 Edward and Edmund had both taken the cross, promising to take part in Crusade to the Holy Land. Although logistics meant they didn’t leave immediately, the brothers travelled separately and Edmund arrived in the Holy Land in September 1271. It is likely that his soubriquet of ‘Crouchback’ comes from him wearing a cross on his back during the Crusades, as there is no evidence of any physical deformity.

After some minor victories, but realising their force wasn’t big enough to retake the Holy Land, and reinforcements from Europe were not forthcoming, Edward signed a 10 year truce with the Muslim leader, Baibars. The following month, May 1272, Edmund sailed for home.

150px-BlancheArtoisHenry III died in November 1272 and Edmund’s older brother ascended the throne as Edward I. Edmund was loyal to his brother, throughout his reign, playing a supporting role, both militarily and diplomatically. In 1276, Edmund married again; to Blanche of Artois, the widowed Countess of Champagne, whose daughter, Jeanne of Navarre, would marry Philip IV of France in 1284, making Edmund step-father to the French Queen.

Blanche would outlive Edmund, dying in Paris in 1302. They had 4 children together. Thomas was born before 1280 and was executed on the orders of Edward II, following a failed rebellion and his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Their second son, Henry would eventually succeed to his brothers titles of Earl of Lancaster and Leicester. Born around 1281, he married Matilda, daughter of Sir Patrick de Chaworth, and they had 7 children together; their eldest son being Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. A third son, John, Lord of Beaufort and Nogent, was born before May 1286 and died around 1317, leaving no children. Their only daughter, Mary, died young in France.

In Edward’s 1277 Welsh campaign Edmund, the biggest landowner in south Wales, was given the command of the southern army. This second, smaller contingent of the invasion of Wales provided support to Edward’s main army. Having set out shortly after 10th July, Edmund’s force drove deep into Wales, facing little opposition compared to Edward’s army. The main landholders of the south had already capitulated, or had fled to join the Welsh prince, Llewellyn, in the north. Edmund’s army had reached their objective of Aberystwyth by 25th July and, at the start of August, began the construction of the castle there. By September the war was over, Edmund disbanded his army on the 20th – leaving a small contingent to garrison the castle – and returned to England.

Edmond1In 1294 Edmund used his familial connections with the French crown to broker a peace deal with France; an agreement intended to foster a long-lasting peace and to see his widowed brother Edward married to Margaret, Philip IV’s sister. Edmund agreed to hand over several cities, including Bordeaux, in Gascony, on the understanding they would be returned to Edward on his marriage.

The French had no intention of returning the Gascon lands, and in April 1294, Edmund realised he had been duped; the French ejected the English Seneschal of Gascony and Edward prepared an invasion force, ordered to muster on 1st September.

However, rebellion in Wales meant the postponement of the Gascon expedition and Edmund and his forces were ordered to Worcester. The Welsh having been subdued and Edmund having recovered from unspeicifed illness that struck him at the end of 1295, Edmund and his army finally set sail for Gascony in January 1296.

It was to be Edmund’s last campaign. The French were well entrenched and the English failed to retake Bordeaux, or any of the towns along the Garonne. His money running out, Edmund was forced to retire to Bayonne, where he fell sick, dying there on 5th June 1296.

A devastated Edward I called on his churchmen to pray for ‘our dearest and only brother, who was always devoted and faithful to us…and in whom valour and many gifts of grace shone forth’.

He was buried in Westminster Abbey, recently completed by his father, Henry III.

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Pictures of Edmund’s coat of arms, seal and Edmund with St George, and of Blanche of Artois, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Further reading: Marc Morris A Great and terrible King; Sara Cockerill Eleanor of Castile: Shadow Queen; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families.

Ice Age Caves and Mummified Rats

161Every school holidays my 9-year-old son and I like to find somewhere new to go for an adventure. In the past we have explored castles and abbeys, been knights and ghosts and peasants. This week, in the gorgeous February sunshine, we went prehistoric.

The Ice Age is a little out of my Medieval comfort zone, but I’m always up for learning new things. With that in mind, we headed over to Creswell Crags, on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire borders.

There are usually 2 tours to choose from; Life in the Ice Age and Rock Art. The Rock Art Tour doesn’t open until after Easter, however, as a result of those caves being a breeding ground for endangered bats; and so they are out-of-bounds until breeding is over.

178No matter, it was the Ice Age Tour we were really keen to go on. And what a treat! An hour-long explore of the Robin Hood Cave with our tour guide, Liz.

The caves are high up on the sides of a wonderful limestone gorge, with a lake at its base. In Victorian times, the Duke of Portland dammed the river to make the lake – and prevent the railway being built through the centre of the gorge.  The Victorians were good for some things, although we could have done without them using dynamite to expose relics within the cave system; a lot of archaeology was lost thanks to such a heavy-handed approach.

130On the bright side, the Robin Hood Cave was named by those same Victorians. Local legend says that Robin Hood once hid out there, having crossed the border into Derbyshire, to escape the dreaded Sheriff of Nottingham.

At least there has still been plenty to find. Liz told us that the cave system has been occupied by humans over 50,000 years ago, probably by up to 30 people at a time. The hunter-gatherers followed the big game to the area – this was the furthest that the animals would come, everything north of it was under ice. Animals such as lions, bears, mammoths, wolves and hyenas are known to have frequented the Creswell gorge.

Once inside the caves our hard-hats and headlamps came in very useful. There were no stalagmites or stalactites – thanks to those Victorians and their dynamite, but the rock formations were wonderful to look at and the kids were suitably impressed by the ‘dragon snot’ on the walls, and not so impressed by the Victorian and modern-day graffiti.

133Cave spiders, spider sacks and cobwebs were in sufficient supply, but they didn’t overrun the place, thankfully. We were allowed to handle artifacts which included a 60,000 year-old handaxe, a flint knife and a leather bag, made using urine and some post-urine-soaking chewing (yuk, basically).

The last part of the tour took us into the deepest, darkest part of the caves, and turned the lights out; we were surprised to find it wasn’t fully dark. A second dimly-lit entrance, partly blocked by a rockfall, was apparently the entrance and exit route taken by the bats!

Having held a mammoth leg bone, and been shown a lion skull, we made our way to the cave entrance, past the 3 mummified rats. Apparently, this particular cave has a constant temperature of 7 degrees and the rats have not decomposed as would have been expected, even though they have been there for about 30 years.

141At the end of the tour, we had a look at the permanent exhibition, where you could see the artefacts found in the caves: handaxes, animal bones, flint and antler tools. There was an interactive video of the rock art and a display of the archaeology tools used on-site.

All-in-all, Creswell Crags is a wonderful experience. A pleasant walk in the sunshine on one side of the gorge – the other side seems to be in almost permanent shade. A wonderful exploration of some incredible caves. And just a glimpse of what life was like there 60,000 years ago.

After all that, the only thing left to do was visit the gift shop…..

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For more information, go to www,creswell-crags.org.uk

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Isabella de Warenne, Queen of Scotland?

Whilst researching for my post on Ada de Warenne I discovered that 100 years later, a kinswoman of hers also, briefly, made an appearance on the stage of Scottish history.

Isabella de Warenne was the daughter of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Alice de Lusignan. Alice was the daughter of King John of England’s widow, Isabella of Angouleme, and Hugh X de Lusignan and half-sister to Henry III of England. Isabella was, therefore, Henry’s niece. Through her paternal grandmother, Maud Marshal, Isabella was also a great-granddaughter of the ‘Greatest Knight’ William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and onetime Regent of England.

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John Balliol and Isabella de warenne

Born around 1253 Isabella married John Balliol, Lord of Bywell, sometime before 7th February 1281.

In the early 1290s, John was one of the 13 Competitors for the Scottish throne. He was the great-grandson of Ada de Warenne’s youngest son, David of Huntingdon, by David’s daughter, Margaret.

With 13 claimants to the Scottish throne it was Edward I of England who was given the duty of selecting Scotland’s next king. Isabella’s close family links to the English crown may have helped Edward decide in John’s favour and he was installed as King of Scotland in November 1292.

John and Isabella had at least 2, but probably 3, children together.

A daughter, Margaret, died unmarried. There is mention of another daughter, Anne; but there is  doubt as to whether she ever existed.

Their eldest son, Edward, was born around 1283. With English support, Edward made his own bid for the Scottish throne in the 1330s, and was crowned king following his defeat of David II at the Battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332. David and Edward struggled against each other, until David II’s triumph – and Edward’s deposition – in 1336.

Edward finally surrendered his claim to the Scottish throne in 1356 whilst living in English exile; he died in Wheatley, Doncaster, probably in 1363 or 1364. Although his final resting place has recently been claimed to be under Doncaster Post Office, the former site of Doncaster Priory, it remains elusive.

John and Isabella’s younger son, Henry, was killed on 16th December 1332 at the Battle of Annan, a resounding victory for supporters of David II against Henry’s brother, Edward.

Although Edward was briefly married to Margaret of Taranto, the marriage was annulled. Neither Edward nor Henry had any children.

Very little is known of John and Isabella’s life together. Her death date and final resting place are both unknown. It is by no means certain that Isabella was still alive when John became king. She was no longer living, however, when her own father defeated John and the Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar in April 1296; John abdicated in July of the same year and died in French exile in 1314.

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Picture: John Balliol and Isabella de Warenne from britroyals.com.

Further reading: britroyals.com; royal.gov.uk/HistoryoftheMonarchy/ScottishMonarchs; englishmonarchs.co.uk; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families; David Williamson, Brewer’s British Royalty; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens; Nigel Tranter, The Story of Scotland.

Ada de Warenne, Mother of Scotland’s Kings

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Prince Henry of Scotland

Ada de Warenne was born around 1120, daughter of William de Warenne 2nd Earl of Surrey and Isabel de Vermandois. Through her mother, she was a great-granddaughter of Henry I of France and half-sister to Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester and Hugh de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Bedford. Her niece, Isabel de Warenne, would marry William of Blois, the younger son of King Stephen and, following his death, Hamelin, half-brother of Henry II of England.

Ada’s family connections were of the highest quality. As a consequence, in 1139 she married Henry of Scotland, only surviving son and heir of David I, King of Scotland. On her marriage, she became Countess of Huntingdon and Countess of Northumbria. The marriage produced 3 sons and 3 daughters.

Ada never became Queen of Scotland as Henry of Scotland died in 1152, a year before the death of David I. On his son’s death, David recognised his grandson and Ada’s eldest son, Malcolm, as his heir.

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Malcolm IV

Born in 1142, Malcolm succeeded to the crown at the age of 11 as Malcolm IV. Also known as Malcolm the Maiden, he died, unmarried, at Jedburgh in December 1165. Ada had been trying to arrange a suitable marriage for him when he died.

He was succeeded by Ada’s 2nd son, William I the Lyon. William was one of the longest reigning king of Scots in history, reigning for 49 years. He married Ermengarde de Beaumont, a granddaughter of Henry I of England by his illegitimate daughter, Constance. William and Ermengarde had 2 daughters and a son, who succeeded his father as Alexander II in 1114.

Ada and Henry’s 3rd son, David, Earl of Huntingdon, married Matilda of Chester and it is through David that Robert the Bruce and John Balliol both laid their claims as Competitors to the Scots crown in the 1290s.

Of the 3 daughters: Matilda died young, in 1152:

Ada of Huntingdon married Floris III, Count of Holland, in 1161. She had 4 sons and 4 daughters before the count died at Antioch while on the 3rd Crusade, in 1190. Ada’s great-great-grandson, Floris V, Count of Holland, was one of the 13 Competitors for the Scots crown in 1291;

Margaret married Conan IV, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond in 1160. She was the mother of Constance, Duchess of Brittany, wife of Henry II’s son Geoffrey and mother of the tragic Arthur of Brittany who was murdered by King John, and Eleanor, the Pearl of Brittany who spent all her adult life in ‘honourable imprisonment’ in England.

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St Martin’s Kirk, Haddington

Following her husband’s death Ada played little or no part in the politics of Scotland; she retired to her dower lands at Haddington in East Lothian, given to her by David I and possibly the 1st Royal Burgh in Scotland.

A generous patroness of the Church, Ada de Warenne died in 1178, shortly after founding the nunnery at Haddington She is believed to be buried in the Haddington area, although the exact location of her grave is lost to history. In 1198 her grandson, the future Alexander II, would be born in her old palace at Haddington, after her dower-lands were passed on to Queen Ermengarde.

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Pictures from Wikipedia: a coin of Henry of Scotland, Malcolm IV of Scotland and the remains St Martin’s Kirk of the Cistercian abbey, founded by Countess Ada.

Further Reading: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter.

Princess Isabella, a Royal Exception

It has always amazed me that so little is known of the princesses of England, daughters of the kings. The lives of their fathers and brothers are, in the most part, well documented; but the Princesses are often shadowy figures, hidden in the background.

Many of these ladies were married off to foreign courts or dedicated to convents, their lives and futures decided by the king, their father. 220px-Woodstock_Palace

Isabella of Woodstock is, to some extent, an exception. She appears to have been very close to her parents, and spent most of her life at the English court. The eldest daughter and 2nd child of Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault, Isabella was born in June 1332 at the royal Palace of Woodstock.

Edward and Philippa had a large family, with at least 12 children (possibly more) of whom 9 survived infancy. They maintained a close relationship with their children often travelling with them; the older children, including Isabella, were with Philippa, in Antwerp, when their baby brother, Lionel, was born.

150px-EDuard_FilpaFrom her infancy, Edward was making plans for Isabella’s marriage: in 1335 negotiations were opened for her to marry the son of the Count of Flanders; in 1344 it was a son of the Duke of Brabant and in 1349 it was Emperor Charles. But these plans came to nought.

In 1351, aged 19, Isabella pointedly refused to embark on the boat waiting to take her to Gascony to marry Bernard, heir to the Lord Albret. Edward III does not seem to have been too ‘put out’ by this. He continued to support Isabella and described her as ‘our very dear eldest daughter, whom we have loved with special affection.’

Edward indulged Isabella, she was with him almost constantly – more than any of his other children. In 1348, during a tournament in Lichfield, she was one of the ladies given blue and white robes – to match those of the knights – by the King. In 1354 Edward paid for a new balcony to be built outside Isabella’s suite of rooms at Woodstock, so that she would have a better view of the park.

By late 1361 Isabella was her parents’ last surviving daughter. Her sister, Joan, 18 months her junior, had died, in 1348, of plague in France whilst on her way to her marriage in Castile. And her younger sisters Mary and Margaret, just teenagers, died within a short time of each other in 1361.250px-Dessin_Château-de-Coucy_Rempart_011

Isabella finally married in 1365, at the rather late age of 33, in what appears to have been a love match. Her husband, Enguerrand VII Lord of Coucy, was 7 years her junior, and a hostage for the fulfilment of the Treaty of Bretigny. On marrying Isabella he was released, without ransom. In the hope that Enguerrand and Isabella would remain in England, Edward made Enguerrand Earl of Bedford in 1366 and, later, Count of Soissons.

Two daughters followed quickly, in 1366 and 1367. Mary was born at the Chateau of Coucy, France and would later marry Henry of Bar; and Philippa, who was born at Eltham, and would later marry Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland.

Within a few years of the marriage, the couple were separated. Enguerrand left England for the continent and went on to fight in Italy, he renounced all his English titles following Edward III’s death.

Isabella remained at her father’s court, with her daughters. Edward’s will gave to his ‘very dear daughter’ Isabella, an income of 300 marks per year, until her daughters were married.

Isabella had had a greater control over her own life than most English princesses, before and after her. She died, probably in 1379 – although 1382 also has been suggested – and was laid to rest at the Greyfriars Church in Newgate, London.

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Further reading: Ian Mortimer The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; WM Ormrod The Reign of Edward III; Paul Johnson The Life and Times of Edward III; Roy Strong The Story of Britain.

Pictures: the Palace at Woodstock, effigies of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault and the Chateau de Coucy, all taken from Wikipedia.