Alice Perrers, Mistress of the King

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Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

Alice Perrers is one royal mistress who did not fare as well as her contemporary, Katherine Swynford. Whereas Katherine eventually married her prince; Alice was not so lucky, despite the fact she had been mistress of the King.

Although it is impossible to find any definite date, it seems likely that Alice Perrers was born in the late 1340s. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers, a prominent Hertfordshire landowner who had been both sheriff and Member of Parliament for his county.

Sir Richard had been in legal dispute with the Abbey of St Albans, which had caused him to be imprisoned, and even outlawed, for a time. This, and the fact Alice herself became involved in the dispute, could go some way to explain Alice’s dreadful reputation; the majority of what we know of Alice comes from the blatantly hostile St Albans Chronicle.

The Chronicler claimed Alice was the daughter of an Essex tiler and a former domestic servant, suggesting she made her way to court by humble channels. She was described as ‘extremely ugly’ and ruling the king through her clever tongue. The king was certainly known to like clever and attractive women.

Sometime in the early 1360s – and certainly before 1366 – Alice joined the household of Queen Philippa of Hainault and started her affair with the king, Edward III. Alice would have been in her mid-to-late teens. It isn’t clear whether Alice joined the Queen’s household before or after the affair started; it may be that Edward placed her there, so she was close by. It does appear that the ailing queen acquiesced to the situation, even if she did not wholeheartedly approve.

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Queen Philippa of Hainault

Before his relationship with Alice, there seems to have been few, if any, extramarital affairs on Edward’s part; there are certainly no suggestions of illegitimate children as had happened with previous monarchs. If Edward had affairs they had been of short duration and incredibly discreet. This makes his relationship with Alice Perrers all the more surprising.

By 1366 Alice had been installed as a lady of the queen’s bedchamber. In 1364/5, she had left court to give birth to Edward’s first illegitimate child. The boy, Sir John Southeray,  would later marry Maud Percy, a sister of the future Earl of Northumberland. Two daughters were to follow, Joan and Jane, who were still young at the time of the king’s death in 1377. Jane later married Richard Northland and Joan married Robert Skerne, a lawyer.

Whilst in the queen’s household Edward granted Alice 2 tuns of wine; he also granted her wardships, land and jewels. Although the king gave gifts to all the queen’s ladies, those to Alice were particularly extravagant.

Following the queen’s death in 1369, Alice rose to greater prominence, she dominated the court. A devastated Edward leaned heavily on her considerable abilities; his own decline accelerated by his loss.

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Edward III

As a result Alice was blamed for the setbacks and financial scandals of the last years of Edward’s reign. She was accused of being scheming and grasping, and making the king’s final years a misery.  The monastic chronicler, Walsingham, believed she had bewitched the king in order to secure his affections.

Whereas Queen Philippa had remained in the domestic environment, Alice Perrers had greater political ambitions. The court was dominated by a ‘narrow, exclusive and unpopular clique’¹. Along with  Lord Latimer and Lord Neville, Edward’s chamberlain and steward respectively, Alice enjoyed almost total control of royal patronage; she became the king’s principal advisor and advanced her own friends into positions of influence.

Rumours arose that Edward had given Alice some of Queen Philippa’s jewels. It seems more likely that the jewels were a part of a collection previously given by the queen to Euphemia Hasleworth, rather than a part of the queen’s personal collection, but it further tarnished Alice’s reputation.The fact the gifts were recorded in the patent rolls suggests they were given on Edward’s personal order, rather than through Alice’s machinations.

By the early 1370s Alice had established her domination of the court. In 1371 she was granted the valuable manor of Wendover.

In 1375 a grand tournament was held at Smithfield in her honour. Alice rode from the Tower, through the city, dressed as the Lady of the Sun. Ladies led knights on silver chains.

In the early 1370s Alice had started looking to her future. The king was old and she was very aware that, without his protection she was likely to be thrown to the wolves. With this in mind she contracted a secret marriage to William Windsor and persuaded the king to appoint Windsor his lieutenant in Ireland, despite his record of previous maladministration of that same country.

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The abbey of St Albans; home to the Chronicler, Walsingham

By 1376, shortly after the death of the Black Prince – Edward’s eldest son and heir – parliament took the lead. Known as the Good Parliament and having been called to advance the king subsidies they demanded their own petitions were answered first.

According to Walsingham: “the Parliamentary knights complained bitterly about one Alice Perrers, a wanton woman who was all too familiar with Edward III. They accused her of numerous misdeeds, performed by her and her friends in the realm. She far overstepped the bounds of feminine conduct: forgetful of her sex and her weakness, now besieging the king’s justices, now stationing herself among the doctors in the ecclesiastical courts, she did not fear to plead in defence of her cause and even to make illegal demands. As a result of the scandal and great shame which this brought on King Edward, not only in this kingdom but also in foreign lands, the knights sought her banishment from his side.“²

The main accusations, voiced by Peter de la Mare, against Alice were that she had taken thousands of pounds from the royal purse and that she was notorious for the use of maintenance – protecting those accused in the king’s courts; Parliament stipulated that she and all women were prohibited from doing this. It was also during the parliament that Alice’s secret marriage to William Windsor was revealed. Assuming that, as a married couple, they had slept together this then made the king guilty of adultery.

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Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath

Edward III swore an oath by the Virgin Mary that he did not know she was married. William Windsor was summoned from Ireland to be prosecuted. Edward is said to have bought a chest and locked in it the accusations against Windsor, who he saw as the guilty party.

Edward begged for Alice to be shown mercy. She avoided prison and further prosecution on condition she no longer saw the king. If she broke the conditions, the punishment would be perpetual exile.

However, once parliament had disbanded John of Gaunt, as virtual ruler of the kingdom, recalled all those banished. Edward “recalled his mistress, Alice Perrers, to his company; she had been legally banished from his presence, on account of the scandal and shame which came from her wantonness. This was against the oath by which Alice had bound herself and which the king himself had ratified…“³

Alice stayed with the king until his death.

Edward III died, probably from a stroke, on 21st June 1377. According to the St Albans Chronicler he was alone, save for his confessor. Walsingham went so far as to accuse Alice of stripping the rings from the king’s fingers; although she was never charged with the offence.

Following the king’s death, Alice’s sentence of banishment was reconfirmed, only to be reversed in 1379 at the request of her husband. William Windsor himself died in 1384 and Alice seems to have spent much of her final years in litigation over his will; Windsor left his estate to his 3 sisters.

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Church of St Lawrence, Upminster

As the king’s mistress Alice had dealt in property, and used her influence to guarantee a future income. She remained wealthy and was still litigating when she died in 1400. She was buried in the Church of St Lawrence, Upminster; her grave now lost to history.

Alice Perrers was the first king’s mistress to influence the courts of justice and the government of the kingdom. She had met the king when relatively young and naive; but was intelligent enough to realise the advantages and implications of her liaison with the king.

However, she was held up as an example of how a woman shouldn’t behave. She is thought to have been the inspiration for Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath.

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Footnotes: ¹ WM Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III; ²&³ Thomas Walsingham, St Albans Chronicle

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; britannica.com/biography/Alice-Perrers; historyinanhour.com; anneobrienbooks.com.

Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Scandal

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Arms of Katherine Swynford

Katherine Swynford is, arguably, the most famous – or infamous – of English ladies  to have risen so high as to become the first lady of the kingdom, without ever being queen.

Born Katherine de Roet in Hainault, now in modern-day Belgium, in around 1350, her father was Sir Paon de Roet of Guyenne. Unfortunately, as can be the way with Medieval women, I could find no mention of her mother’s identity.

Sir Paon was a Hainault knight who travelled to England with its new queen , Philippa of Hainault, as part of her retinue. As a consequence, Katherine was raised at the English court of Queen Philippa and her illustrious husband, King Edward III.

Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, were eventually given positions as ladies-in-waiting to members of the royal family. Philippa joined the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Lionel of Antwerp, where she met her future husband, the literary giant of the age, Geoffrey Chaucer.

By 1365 Katherine was serving in the household of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, and her husband John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Lancaster. Sometime before 1367 Katherine married a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London. They had at least 2 children, Thomas and Blanche; John of Gaunt was Blanche’s godfather. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt’s and accompanied him to Europe in 1366 and 1370.

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John of Gaunt

In 1368 in order to avoid the plague, Blanche moved her family to Bolingbroke in the Lincolnshire countryside. She died in childbirth in September the same year. However, rather than leaving the household on Blanche’s death, Katherine was appointed governess to the 2 daughters of Gaunt and the late Duchess, Philippa and Elizabeth.

Katherine’s husband, Sir Hugh, died in 1371 and shortly afterwards rumours started arising of a relationship between John of Gaunt and the young widow. Whether the affair started before Sir Hugh’s death is uncertain and some sources suggest this was the case.

Although John married his 2nd wife, Constance of Castile, on 21st September 1371. John and Constance’s marriage was a dynastic one; John was hoping to gain a kingdom for himself, through his wife. From January 1372 John assumed the title King of Castile and Leon, by right of his wife, although he was never able to consolidate his position. John’s younger brother, Edmund, would marry Constance’s sister, Isabella.

Constance gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, in 1373 and a son, John in 1374 – he died the following year. Catherine would marry Henry III of Castile, becoming Queen Consort of Castile and Leon and thus fulfilling her father’s ambition of his descendants sitting on the throne of Castile.

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Delaroche’s painting of Cardinal Henry Beaufort (son of Katherine Swynford) interrogating Joan of Arc

By 1372 Katherine’s status within Gaunt’s household had risen, indicating their developing relationship. While continuing in her post of governess to Philippa and Elizabeth, Katherine bore 4 children between 1373 and 1379, acknowledged by John of Gaunt as his own; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan. They were given the surname of Beaufort, probably after their father’s lost French lordship in Anjou.

I could find no record of Constance’s – or Katherine’s – reactions to Gaunt’s living arrangements. It’s hard to imagine that either was completely happy with the situation, but Gaunt does appear to have fulfilled his obligations to both women.

There is some record that John of Gaunt formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with his wife in June 1381, possible as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt. The revolt blamed 13-year-old King Richard II’s counsellors as the cause of the country’s problems. John of Gaunt was one of the main targets for the rebels’ anger and his Savoy Palace on the Strand was burned to the ground, despite Gaunt’s absence from the centre of proceedings; he was on his way to Scotland at the time.

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Lincoln Cathedral today, viewed from the walls of Lincoln Castle

Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court.

With 4 children by John of Gaunt but still only, officially, governess to his daughters, Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter in 1388. However, her situation changed again following Constance’s death at the end of 1394.

At Lincoln Cathedral, in January 1396 and a quarter of a century after the start of their relationship, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford were married. Styled Lady Katherine, Duchess of Lancaster, she was, briefly, the 1st Lady in England after the death of Queen Anne of Bohemia.

Once they were married John of Gaunt wasted no time in  legitimising his children by Katherine. They were legitimated by the Pope on 1st September 1396, and by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. A further Charter in the reign of Henry IV also excluded the Beauforts from the succession.

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Tombs of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, and her daughter Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. Lincoln Cathedral

Their final happiness was of short duration, however, as John of Gaunt died on the 3rd of February 1399; he was buried beside his 1st wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. His son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, had recently been exiled to the Continent for 10 years. Richard II extended that exile to a life term and confiscated the Lancastrian lands.

Following Gaunt’s Katherine returned to her townhouse in Lincoln; close to the east end of the Cathedral. Her son, Henry Beaufort, had become Bishop of Lincoln shortly after being legitimised.

Katherine died at Lincoln on 10th May 1403. She was buried, close to the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince just 7 years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was laid to rest beside her, following her death in 1440, with a slightly smaller tomb. The tombs themselves are empty, with Katherine and Joan buried beneath the floor of the Cathedral.

Katherine appears to have had a good relationship with John of Gaunt’s children; she was very close to Philippa and Elizabeth. Henry IV, Katherine’s stepson, referred to her in her widowhood as ‘The King’s Mother’.

And together, through their children Katherine and John left a legacy that would change the  course of English and Scottish history.

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Katherine Swynford’s tomb, 1809

Henry Beaufort would rise to the position of Bishop of Winchester and Cardinal. Thomas would rise to become Duke of Exeter and serve on the council of his great-nephew, Henry VI.

Less impressively, their grandson Edmund (son of John, Earl of Somerset) was responsible for great losses of territory whilst Regent of France for young Henry VI.

Katherine and John’s daughter, Joan, was the mother of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who would be the mother of 2 kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III. Their son John, Earl of Somerset, was grandfather of Margaret Beaufort and great-grandfather of the 1st Tudor King, Henry VII. John’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, married James I of Scotland in another of history’s great love stories.

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Photographs of Lincoln and Katherine Swynford’s tomb are © Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015. All other pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Holy Lance

Holy+LanceIt’s 1191 and Richard the Lionheart is leading the Crusaders against Saladin’s Muslim army.

The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham is a fantastic piece of fiction. From the first page, you are drawn into the final battles of the Siege of Acre. English Templar Michael Fitz Alan leads his men to victory in a counter-attack against the Saracen army, saving the Crusaders from defeat. As part of the peace negotiations, Richard has demanded the return of the fragment of the True Cross, in Saracen hands since the Crusaders’ defeat at the Horns of Hattin. However, Richard decides against putting all his faith in the return of the True Cross, and sends Fitz Alan on a quest to retrieve the Holy Lance – the lance that pierced Christ’s side while he was on the Cross.

Fitz Alan and his hand-picked team of Knights Templars journey through hostile territory, battle Saracens and face down Assassins, to complete their quest, all the time guided by a Knights Hospitaller priest they just don’t quite trust….

Andrew Latham’s The Holy Lance is a wonderful story, filled with action, intrigue and adventure. Set during Richard the Lionheart’s Third Crusade, the action is fast and furious; the battle scenes are frantic and vivid. The novel is full of political intrigue and hidden agendas; Fitz Alan never knows quite who to trust, except his faithful Templars. The book works on many levels. The tension is palpable. The success of the mission is in no way guaranteed…..

Fast-paced and full of suspense, the story is absorbing, and draws you in. As if without trying, the author gives you a good grounding in the history of the Holy Land and in the differing objectives of the various combatants. There are some minor spelling errors – such as the use of ‘there’ when it should be ‘their’ – but they don’t detract from the story and after a while you don’t even to notice them. Every paragraph and chapter is filled to the brim with amazing detail, keeping the reader absorbed to the point that time just drifts away….

The book’s hero, Michael Fitz Alan, is a wonderfully complex character, with a past that is frequently alluded to, a man of the world who dedicated himself to the Fellow-soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, becoming one of their most effective captains. There are hints from the beginning of some sort of disagreement between Fitz Alan and Richard I – just enough teasing to get you curious. Fitz Alan is a model Templar Knight, trying to make amends for something; his desire to leave the material world behind and his past experiences clearly direct his current actions. Andrew Latham has made his character incredibly human, susceptible to doubts, fears and prejudices. He begins to learn that the Holy Land is not as black and white/good and bad as he thought before he arrived. A very likable character: you find yourself egging him on, wanting him to succeed.

All the lead characters of the Third Crusade have their parts to play. The portrayal of Saladin is surprising – and refreshing, looking at the Muslim leader from a whole new perspective. Richard the Lionheart is portrayed as the hard soldier you’d expect, with an intelligence which allows him to deal with the machinations of the incumbent Western leaders, Conrad of Montferrat and Guy de Lusignan. The relationships of all involved are deep and complex, but explored with such energy and passion, you almost feel you know them personally.

The novel provides a great depiction of the Third Crusade and of the motivations of the various combatants. The Templars and their rule are sympathetically and accurately depicted – the hard, trained knights and sergeants who fought for God and each other, while following monastic rules. You can almost feel the heat of the Levant’s sun and hear the sounds of battle. The battle scenes are marvelously choreographed; they are hectic and realistic.

As a debut novel, Holy Lance is incredible. It is one of those amazing books that grips you from the first page and won’t let you go until the last – and yet you never want it to end. Great as a stand-alone novel and yet, as the first in a series, it leaves you eager to read the next installment.

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Article originally published on The Review in July 2015.

 

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Poor Little Marjorie Bruce

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Tomb of Marjorie Bruce, Paisley Abbey

I’ve always had a soft spot for little Marjorie Bruce. Dead before her 20th birthday, her short life was filled with tragedy and adversity from the moment of her birth. I could find no pictures of her, just ones of her tomb; which just about sums it up for poor Marjorie.

Marjorie was born at a time of great upheaval for Scotland; Edward I was claiming overlordship of the country, and the right to choose its next king. John Balliol was picked as king, only for Edward to humiliate and dethrone him a short time later.

Marjorie’s father, Robert the Bruce, was one of the chief claimants of the Scots crown.

Marjorie was the only daughter of Robert the Bruce, Lord of Annandale and Earl of Carrick, and Isabella of Mar. Isabella was the daughter of Donald, 6th Earl of Mar, and Helen, possible illegitimate daughter of Llewelyn the Great, Prince of Wales (although this seems to be far from certain).

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Marjorie’s parents; Robert the Bruce and Isabella of Mar

Isabella and Robert had married in 1295 and Marjorie arrived about 2 years later. At the age of only 19, Isabella died shortly after giving birth and poor Marjorie was left motherless, with a father who was fighting, alternately, for and against the English.

Marjorie was named after her paternal grandmother, Marjorie, Countess of Carrick in her own right. It seems highly likely that Marjorie’s care was handed to one of her father’s sister, either Mary or Christian.

At 6 years old Marjorie acquired a new step-mother when Robert married Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster, and god-daughter of Edward I. Although Edward I appears to have arranged the marriage in order to keep the Bruce’s loyalty, it was only a short while after the marriage that Robert the Bruce finally decided to join William Wallace and fight for Scotland.

In 1306, following his murder of his rival for the throne, John Comyn, Robert the Bruce defied Edward I by having himself crowned King of Scots at Scone Abbey. Little 8-year-old Marjorie was suddenly a Princess of Scotland as the daughter of  King Robert I; although her uncle Edward Bruce was designated Robert’s heir.

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Robert the Bruce and his queen, Elizabeth de Burgh

Unfortunately Robert’s coronation infuriated Edward I even more. After King Robert was brought to battle, and defeated, at Methven in June 1306 he and his family became fugitives in their own land. Edward I of England was determined to hunt him down; sending men after Robert and all his adherents.

In August 1306 Robert split his party; while he headed west he sent Marjorie and Elizabeth to the north-east, possibly hoping they could escape to Orkney and onto Norway, where his sister, Isabel, was queen.

Accompanying Elizabeth and Marjorie were Robert’s other 2 sisters, Christian and Mary, and Isabella, Countess of Buchan, who had crowned Robert at Scone. They were escorted by John of Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, and Robert’s younger brother, Sir Niall Bruce.

By September 1306, the women and their escort had reached Kildrummy Castle in Aberdeenshire; where Edward’s forces caught up with them. While Sir Niall Bruce and the garrison stoically attempted to hold off the English troops, the Earl of Atholl escaped with the women. Having made it to the far north of Scotland, but were apprehended at Tain, near Inverness, by the Earl of Ross, a supporter of the Comyns.

Kildrummy had fallen in the mean time.

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Edward I

Sir Niall Bruce and the Kildrummy garrison were handed over to the English and executed; Sir Niall suffered hanging, drawing and quartering at Berwick. The Earl of Atholl and the Bruce women, along with the Countess of Buchan, were sent south to King Edward.

When they reached London, the Earl of Atholl suffered the same fate as Sir Niall, the first earl to ever suffer a traitor’s execution.

Although Edward did not order the executions of the women folk, it cannot be said he treated them kindly. They were used to set an example; a demonstration of the price of rebellion against Edward.

For Mary Bruce and the Countess of Buchan, he ordered the construction of iron cages. Isabella, Countess of Buchan, who had set the crown of Scotland on Robert the Bruce’s head, was imprisoned in one such cage suspended high from the walls of Berwick castle; open the elements and the mockery of the people of Berwick. The same was ordered for Mary Bruce at Roxburgh.

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Watton Abbey, where Marjorie was confined for 8 years

Christian Bruce, whose husband had recently been executed as a traitor at Dumfries, was ordered to be confined at a convent at Sixhills in Lincolnshire; while Elizabeth de Burgh was confined to various manors and treated more kindly due to her father’s friendship with the king.

For Marjorie Bruce, these events must have been terrifying. Edward ordered her confined in an iron cage in the Tower of London, where no one was to speak to her. Whether Edward relented of his own free will, or was advised against such treatment of a child of not yet 10 years old, the order was rescinded and she was confined to a convent at Watton in Yorkshire.

Although loyal to their king, we can only hope that the nuns took pity on the poor child, and treated her kindly. She was held at Watton for 8 years and it was only her father’s victory at Bannockburn, in 1314, that eventually secured her freedom.

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Paisley Abbey

Robert the Bruce’s resounding victory over Edward I’s son and successor, Edward II, in the 1314 battle meant Bruce was finally in a position to insist on the return of his queen, daughter, sisters and the Countess of Buchan. With so many English nobles taken prisoner, the women were the price demanded in the exchange of hostages.

On Marjorie’s return to Scotland, King Robert almost immediately set about arranging her marriage. With the queen not yet having produced a child, the now-17-year-old Marjorie was needed to produce an heir for the Bruce dynasty.

Just 5 years older the Marjorie, Walter Stewart, the wealthy and powerful 6th High Steward of Scotland was the ideal candidate as a husband. Walter had distinguished himself as a commander at the Battle of Bannockburn, and was the man entrusted by Bruce to bring his family home for their English captivity.

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Robert II of Scotland

Walter and Marjorie were married shortly after, with Marjorie’s dowry including the Barony of Bathgate in West Lothian. Whatever happiness – if any – Marjorie derived from the marriage, however, was short-lived.

In 1316, whilst heavily pregnant, she fell from her horse when out riding near Paisley Abbey. Going into premature labour, Marjorie was taken to the Abbey, where she was delivered of a son, Robert, on 2nd March 1316. It is possible that Robert was delivered by caesarian as his mother was close to death. Marjorie survived the birth by just a few hours and died the same day.

Poor little Marjorie Bruce was dead at the tender age of 19 – the same as her mother before her – having lived through some of the most turbulent years of Scottish history.

Had she lived she would have seen her son succeed her brother, David II, on the Scots throne as King Robert II, founder of the Stewart dynasty.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Edward I, A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The Plantagenets, The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of the Kings & Queens of Britain by Charles Phillips; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; englishmonarchs.co.uk; educationscotland.gov.uk; Sisters of the Bruce; electricscotland.com.

The Remarkably Resilient Jacqueline d’Hainault

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Jacqueline of Hainault

Jacqueline of Hainault, also known as Jacoba of Bavaria, is one of those Medieval ladies who seems to have slipped under the radar of history. Until last week I knew very little about her; and yet her life is one of the most colourful I have ever come across.

Born on the 25th July 1401 at Le Quesnoy, Flanders, Jacqueline was the daughter of William VI, Count of Holland, and Marguerite of Burgundy; her grandfather was Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Although she had at least 9 illegitimate siblings, Jacqueline was her father’s sole heir. And in order to strengthen her position, William arranged a marriage for Jacqueline while she was still an infant. In 1406 she was betrothed to John of Valois, Duke of Touraine, the fourth son of King Charles VI of France, and only 3 years older than Jacqueline. With little chance of inheriting the French throne, and with a view to him eventually ruling Hainault, the responsibility for John’s education was handed over to  Count William; he would be raised alongside his future wife.

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John, Duke of Touraine

The young couple married in 1415 at The Hague. Only 4 months after the wedding John’s older brother Louis, Dauphin of France, died and John became Dauphin and heir to the French throne.

Within 2 years John himself was dead, on 4th April 1417, with rumours circulating that he was poisoned, although this is far from certain. His younger brother, Charles, became Dauphin and Jacqueline was a widow at only 16.

In the meantime, although Holland was not subject to Salic Law (where a woman could not inherit), Jacqueline’s father had been having a hard time getting his people and Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, to accept Jacqueline as his heir. They finally refused outright in 1416.

When Count William died only 2 months after her husband, on 31st May 1417, Jacqueline was accepted as Countess of Hainault; however Holland and Zeeland recognised her uncle John of Bavaria, backed by Sigismund, as their count.

At this point Jacqueline’s mother and uncle stepped in. Margaret of Burgundy and her brother, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, started looking around for a suitable husband for Jacqueline. Unfortunately they decided on her cousin John IV, Duke of Brabant. The Duke of Burgundy saw the marriage as an opportunity to expand his influence over Jacqueline’s lands, and applied for a Papal Dispensation. The Dispensation was given, but withdrawn just over 2 weeks later, following pressure from Sigismund.

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John IV Duke of Brabant

The couple married anyway, in March 1418. The marriage was a disaster, politically and personally. John managed to antagonise both his wife and her subjects. Initially Jacqueline’s husband helped in the fight against her avaricious uncle, John of Bavaria and in 1419 John the Fearless settled the dispute in his niece’s favour; only for John of Brabant to then mortgage Holland and Zeeland to John of Bavaria for a period of 12 years.

Jacqueline ran away; first to her mother in Hainault and then on to England, where she was welcomed by Henry V. The king granted her a pension, and made her godmother to his only son, the future Henry VI.

In  1421 Jacqueline repudiated her marriage to John of Brabant, with the support of Antipope Benedict XIII in Avignon. And in 1422, with a view to strengthening England’s position against France, she married the king’s younger brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The public were behind the marriage and even supported Humphrey’s attempts to recover Jacqueline’s lands.

As Duchess of Gloucester, Jacqueline was made a Lady of the Garter in 1423, and, at some point, accepted Eleanor Cobham into her household as a lady-in-waiting; Eleanor would later go on to become Humphrey’s 2nd wife. In 1424 Jacqueline gave birth to her only recorded child, who was stillborn.

In 1424 Humphrey and Jacqueline led an army to the Low Countries, to recover Jacqueline;s inheritance. Though Humphrey managed to recover much of Hainault, he came up against opposition from the new Duke of Burgundy, Philip III The Good, destroying the Anglo-Burgundian alliance.

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Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Many of Jacqueline’s subjects, however, considered Humphrey an invader and, refusing to recognising him as count, gave their support to Burgundy. So, in 1425, Humphrey returned to England; Jacqueline’s mother had objected to her returning with him, so she moved on to Mons.

The officials of Mons had promised to protect Jacqueline, but once Gloucester was gone, she was handed over to the Duke of Burgundy and imprisoned in Ghent. In the same year her uncle, John of Bavaria, died and her lands were handed over to Burgundy, as regent, by John of Brabant.

Jacqueline escaped her imprisonment, dressed as a man, and escaped escorted by 2 knights, to Gouda. From Gouda, she led the Dutch resistance to the Burgundian takeover. However, when Burgundy besieged Gouda, she was forced to surrender.

In the meantime, Pope Martin V had authorised an investigation into the state of Jacqueline’s marriages. In 1428 he declared her marriage to Humphrey of Gloucester null and void, as her marriage to John of Brabant was legally valid. John of Brabant had died in 1426, so a remarriage between Humphrey and Jacqueline would have been acceptable – had Humphrey’s attentions not already turned to Eleanor Cobham.

220px-Jacoba_van_Beieren_(1401-1436),_gravin_van_Holland_en_Zeeland
Jacqueline of Hainault

Jacqueline still had sympathisers in England, however and the ladies of London petitioned Humphrey, according to the chronicler Stow their letters  “containing matter of rebuke and sharpe reprehension of the Duke of Gloucester, because he would not deliver his wife Jacqueline out of her grievous imprisonment, being then held prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy, suffering her to remaine so unkindly, contrary to the law of God and the honourable estate of matrimony”.

Humphrey had managed to get a 9,000 marks grant from the king’s council, in 1427, to help Jacqueline recover her lands; however John, Duke of Bedford, put a stop to the expedition by opening up negotiations with the Duke of Burgundy.

So, in 1428, Jacqueline of Hainault is a prisoner of the Duke of Burgundy, with no prospect of help from England. With few options left to her, she came to an agreement with Philip the Good. In the Treaty of Delft, of 3rd July 1428, Jacqueline retained her title of countess, but administration for her 3 counties passed to Philip. Philip the Good was confirmed as her heir, should she die childless; and she was not to marry without the consent of Philip, her mother and the 3 counties.

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Francis van Borselen

Philip, however, broke the treaty by mortgaging the revenues of Holland and Zeeland to members of the Borselen family from Zeeland.

In 1432 Jacqueline secretly married one of the Borselen family, Francis, Lord of Zuilen and St Maartensdijk.

Whether or not this was a plot to overthrow Burgundian rule in Holland, Philip the good certainly saw it that way. Francis was imprisoned in October 1432 and Jacqueline was forced to abdicate as countess in 1433, relinquishing her titles in return for an income from several estates. After years of civil war, Jacqueline’s financial position prior to the settlement had been desperate.

Jacqueline and Francis’ relationship appears to have been a love match and, in July 1434 they had a 2nd, public, marriage ceremony at Maartensdijk Castle. After such an adventurous life, and having fought so hard for her inheritance, Jacqueline settled down to married life. Her happiness was short-lived, however, as Jacqueline died at Teilingen on 8th October 1436, probably of tuberculosis. She was buried at the Hague.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; medievalists.net; r3.org; susanhigginbotham.com; britannica.com; historyofroyalwomen.com.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly