The Harrogate History Festival – Indulging the History Geek

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The New Blood Panel of debut authors

Last year I went to my first ever History Festival; the Harrogate History Festival, hosted by the Historical Writer’s Association. It was amazing – a chance to indulge my inner history geek with fellow history geeks.

Last year I had a chat with Elizabeth Chadwick in the lunch queue, and got my photo taken with the greatest writer of historical fiction, ever – Bernard Cornwell.

So, of course, this year – I went back!

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Meeting Neil Oliver at the book signing.

And, dare I say it was even better than last year? The 2014 Festival was heavily in favour of historical fiction, whereas 2015 was more balanced between non-fiction and fiction. The Festival is a combination of highlighting the work of established writers, and shining the spotlight on the newcomers, with an award for this year’s Crown for Debut Historical Fiction going to Ben Ferguson .

The event is a combination of interviews, panel discussions and easy-to-listen-to lectures, all followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

The Harrogate History Festival is a roll-call of wonderful writers and historians; Manda Scott, Michael Morpurgo, Neil Oliver, Ken Follet, Melvin Bragg, Princess Michael of Kent, Kate Mosse, Imogen Robertson, David Ebsworth, Toby Clements and Edwin Thomas to name just a few.

Every session was followed by an opportunity to meet the authors, take photos and get your books signed.

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My Era’s Better Than Yours

The event is incredibly well organised, and yet very friendly and informal. Panelists and attendees mingle together in the restaurant, the bar the book shop – and everywhere else!

The discussions on offered catered to all historical  tastes, from the Greeks to the Second World War and everything in between, from fiction focussed on women, to a history of perfume.

There was so much to choose from.

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Meeting Michael Jones

My favourite panel discussion had to be My Era’s Better Than Yours where 4 historical writers argued the case for which period of history is best. Janina Ramirez was very passionate about the Vikings; while Ben Kane’s promotion of the Romans, of course, mentioned the aqueducts and roads; and SJ Parris enthused about the Elizabethan’s birth of modern espionage.

The winner, after an audience clap-o-meter vote, was the Ancient Greeks, with Edwin Thomas having the easy role of promoting the greatest civilisation ever (I’m not biased).

Tracy Borman gave a wonderful lecture  on the Real Wolf Hall, giving a wonderful insight into the real Thomas Cromwell and comparing him to how he was portrayed in Hilary Mantel’s novel.

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Interviewing novelist Derek Birks

I had a lovely conversation with historian Michael Jones, who tried to persuade me of the virtues of Henry V; discussing with him the similarities with Edward IV, Henry V’s military successes and his relationships with his nobles. Michael was even kind enough to sign my copy of his book – I got the last one on the shelf.

I even got to do my first ever piece of journalism; interviewing Wars of the Roses novelist Derek Birks for The Review Blog with fellow Review admin Jayne Smith – I’ll let you know when it is published.

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My Festival Hoard

From a wonderful presentation by Michael Morpurgo – who managed to keep children and adults entertained for an hour with stories of how he gets his inspiration for his wonderful books – to the wonderfully jingoistic 600 Years of Beating the French; the talks were fascinating, educating and enthralling.

Everyone who attended got a ‘goody bag’ which included an advance copy of Alison Weir’s Katherine  of Aragon: the True Queen.

And, of course, the bookshop was a ‘go to’ place for writers and book-lovers alike.

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Agincourt 600th Anniversary

220px-King_Henry_V_from_NPGThis Sunday, 25th of October 2015, marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. One of the greatest battles in English history, it epitomises the pinnacle of English successes against their traditional enemy, France, during the epic struggle of the Hundred Years War. But what started it all?

The origins of the Hundred Years War go back 200 years before its outbreak, to Henry II. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine meant he was not only Duke of Normandy in the north of France, but Duke of Aquitaine in the south. And his accession to the English throne in 1154 brought all these French possessions to the crown of England. This made for the awkward position that the sovereign of England was technically a vassal of the King of France, causing no end of squabbles and friction for years to come.

Wars broke out frequently and the French gradually ate away at England’s French possessions.

It all came to a head with a crisis in the French monarchy. When Philip IV, the Fair, of France, died in 1314, he was successively succeeded by each of his 3 sons; Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV. Only one of these kings produced a son, King John the Posthumous was born 5 months after the death of Louis X, his father, and lived – and ruled – for only 5 days. Following the death of the baby king Philip V seized the crown, effectively disinheriting Louis X’s daughter, Jeanne.

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)Although Salic Law was known in France, it generally related to property and had never actually been used to decide the succession to the crown. However, Philip V made certain that it would be from now on, by having the Estates General declare that women were not eligible to succeed to the throne of France.

Unfortunately for the French royal family, both Philip V and his successor, his brother, Charles IV, only had daughters. Charles IV died in 1328, leaving his wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, pregnant; a regency council was set up to rule the country, until the child’s birth. However, Jeanne gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, and France had to find a new king.

One candidate was Edward III of England. Edward was the oldest grandson of Philip IV through his daughter Isabella of France, Queen of Edward II of England. However, Edward III was only 15 years old and England – and Edward – were controlled by Edward’s mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who had deposed and possibly murdered Edward’s father, Edward II. Edward’s claim came through his mother – and he was English.

The assembly of French notables, convened to decide who should be king, declared: “It had never been seen or known that the kingdom of France should be subject to the government of the King of England.

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As a result, they chose another as their king; the nephew of Philip IV, Philip of Valois, Count of Anjou and Maine. Philip was in his thirties, with a 9-year-old son, and had been Regent during Jeanne’s pregnancy.

Edward III initially agreed to pay homage to Philip VI, who was crowned in 1329, for his French possessions. However, he was still a minor and under the tutelage of his mother and Mortimer. When Edward took control of his kingdom, in 1330, he had a change of heart. Irked by Philip’s support for the Scots, and encouraged by local conflicts in Guyenne, Edward questioned the validity of his oath to Philip, made while he was still a minor. And in 1337 Edward III declared war.

Initial English successes devastated France: the  French fleet was destroyed at Sluys in 1340, and Edward III ravaged the French countryside, in a great chevauchee. In an attempt to bring the French to battle Edward’s ‘scorched-earth’ policy saw towns besieged, convents and monasteries ransacked and the people displaced. The French were eventually brought to battle at Crecy in 1346, where their cavalry was destroyed. The fall of Calais followed in 1347.

In 1356, at the Battle of Poitiers, the English, under the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales) captured France’s king, John II the Good. John was sent to England – where he died in 1364, still awaiting the payment of his vast ransom.

The 1360 Treaty of Bretigny was the crowning success of England’s war, with Edward III taking possession of almost a third of France.

Although technically at peace, the two countries kept picking at each other – each supporting opposing factions in places of mutual interest, such as Brittany. In then end, with the failing health of the Black Prince, and and aging Edward III, a resurgent France emerged under Charles V; which saw English possessions reduced to a few ports and their environs by 1380.

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After 1389 truces between France and England were almost continuous. Richard II married Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI, in 1396, as part of a 28 year truce.

Charles VI had suffered from madness since 1392 and France had started to implode. The king was surrounded by bad councillors and factions, such as the Armagnacs and Burgundians, had riven the country apart with their in-fighting. Many parts of France were ruled almost totally independent of central government.

However, with the turn of the century, the English had problems of their own and were unable to take advantage of France’s woes. Richard II was imprisoned and, later, murdered by the usurping Henry IV, who spent his reign preoccupied by troubles and rebellions in England.

Henry IV and his son, the future Henry V were divided as to which French factions they should support; Henry IV preferred the Armagnacs, while the Prince of Wales supported the Burgundians.

With the death of Henry IV, and the accession of Henry V, English ambitions turned to France yet again. Almost immediately, Henry laid claim to his inheritance in France. he made a pretense of negotiating for peace, while preparing for war. He would accept nothing less than the total reinstatement of the Plantagenet possessions in France.

There is an, almost certainly, apocryphal story  of Henry V taking up arms against the French after they jokingly sent him a set of tennis balls, suggesting that he stick to such ‘childish’ occupations, for which he had established a reputation during his father’s reign.

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Henry saw war with France as a way of diverting the interests of the great nobles away from internal conflicts, thus restoring and maintaining order at home. With peace negotiations faltering, and having dealt with several plots to displace him from his throne – the last of which, the Southampton Plot was foiled in the first week of August 1415 – Henry V and his army  arrived in Normandy on 13th August 1415 and laid siege to Harfleur.

Harfleur held until 23rd September, by which time Henry’s army of about 10,000 was greatly depleted by dysentery. He was making for Calais – and England – when, on 25th October, he came face-to-face with the French.

At Agincourt.

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Article originally published on The Review in October 2015.

Book Corner: Rebels and Brothers by Derek Birks

junefeudcoverDerek Birks‘ ‘Rebels & Brothers’ series of 4 novels is a tour de force in Wars of the Roses fiction.

Many books claim to be ‘in the best tradition of Bernard Cornwell’ or ‘a worthy successor to Cornwell’. But very few live up to such promise. however, when I read Derek Birks’ debut novel I thought that, just maybe, I had found one that lived up to such high praise. By the 2nd book I knew the praise was well-deserved.

The Rebels & Brothers series grabs you on the 1st page and keeps you hooked until the very end. And yet they leave you bereft once you have finished, as you know you are not going to read another book as good anytime soon.

The books interweave the personal stories of the Elder family with the wider political and martial drama of the Wars of the Roses. We follow the 3 Elder siblings, Ned, Eleanor and Emma, as they try to negotiate a safe passage through the war, whilst battling a family feud and making enemies at the highest levels of society.

Feud: In 1459, as England stands on the brink of the Wars of the Roses, Ned Elder, a Yorkshire knight, finds himself caught up in the wars when his family is brutally attacked by a local rival, Lord Radcliffe. Ned’s sisters, Emma and Eleanor, are abducted and he must find a way to rescue them. With only a few loyal companions, Ned is hounded across the land by the Radcliffes. Ned and his sisters fight back, but they are young and they make mistakes – and new enemies – along the way. All will be decided on the snowy battlefield of Towton – for Ned and for England.

A Traitor’s Fate opens in 1464. The feud with the Radcliffes is over and the Elder siblings have won a hard-fought peace. But one man can’t accept the outcome and finds a new ally to help him achieve his revenge.

Ned is sent to confront a Lancastrian revolt by the new king, Edward of York, he finds his enemies are on his own side, as well as that of the rebels. Branded a traitor by his own commander, the Earl of Warwick, Ned is soon a wanted man in hostile territory and the price on his head only rises when he stumbles upon a royal secret.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Emma watch over Ned’s pregnant wife, Amelie, wtraitorith only a small garrison of old men and boys to protect them.

A condemned man, Ned fights to escape his pursuers before his whole family suffers destruction.

Having read Feud I was expecting great things from the 2nd book – and it did not disappoint. The story is told in great detail, the action is fast-paced and the characters elicit a great deal of sympathy and empathy. A Traitor’s Fate is one of those increasingly rare stories which are impossible to put down – and yet, at the same time as you can’t wait to get to the end, you don’t want it to finish.

Book 3 of the series, Kingdom of Rebels, takes you on a journey through one of the most turbulent periods of the reign of Edward IV, through the eyes of this one Yorkshire family trying to survive the feuds and battles of the Wars of the Roses, whilst simultaneously trying not to destroy each other. It is impossible not to feel invested in the characters – they are flawed and damaged, but trying their best to survive and you find yourself willing them on.

The story sees Ned Elder exiled to Burgundy by the Earl of Warwick, but for his enemies this is still not enough. At the same time, but far away on the Scottish border, Ned’s sister Eleanor defends the small, beleaguered fortress of Crag Tower; with only a handful of men, she desperately awaits Ned’s return.

Set against the backdrop of a nervous kingdom, where its 2 most powerful men – Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick – are at loggerheads, Ned must fight – yet again – to save his family.

One by one Ned’s family and friends are caught up in Warwick’s web of treason. The fate of the Elders and those who serve them lies once more in the balance as all are drawn back to Yorkshire where they face old enemies once more.

The Last Shroud sees Ned Elder caught in the middle of Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV. The king has enemies on all sides and flees to the Low Countries, leaving his few loyal retainers to keep their heads down until his return; when they must take up their swords for one last campaign…

But is Ned the warrior he once was? As the kingdom spirals into civil war, divisions between Ned and his sisters, Emma and Eleanor, threaten the family’s very survival. Out of the turmoil of rebellion steps an old enemy who offers to help, but can he be trusted?

Will the Elder family stand together when it matters most? They must, if they are tkingdomo survive.

With The Last Shroud, the Elder family story comes to an end – and what an ending!

It has been a rollercoaster ride through the Kingdoms & Brothers series and this book is no exception. Following Ned and the rest of the Elders through the Warwick Rebellion against Edward IV and culminating with the Battle of Tewkesbury, the family fights to survive, mending some – but not all – bridges along the way, and still making new enemies.

As ever, the story telling is fast-paced and masterful, and the finale frenetic. A worthy final chapter to what has been a magnificent series.

There are several themes running through all 4 books.

The Elders face many enemies, and some change from book to book. But one enemy stays the same: the powerful Earl of Warwick. Offended by a young Ned at the Battle of St Albans, Warwick takes every opportunity to try to bring Ned down – and ruin his family. Using the feud with the Radcliffes he encourages and aids Ned’s numerous enemies in their endeavours.

Set in one of the most turbulent periods of Medieval history, the battle scenes are vivid, hectic and alive with action. The family doesn’t survive unscathed and it is the losses and hardships they suffer, and how they react to them, that makes them such sympathetic and likeable characters.

A great feature of the stories are the strong, independent women. They don’t just sit at home, sewing in the solar and waiting for their men to come home. They are not victimsshroud, nor powerless. They are fighters, women who take what life throws at them and battle on. But they find romance too, and face the trials and tribulations of love just as stoically as they do their enemies.

Derek Birks follows the historical story of the Wars of the Roses with great accuracy, dropping Ned and his family into the well-known events wherever they can cause the most drama, or see the most action. The Elders are present at all the key events, from the opening shots at the 1st Battle of St Albans, to the Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury.

To put it succinctly, this series is edge-of-your-seat action from start to end, leaving you breathless in your armchair. Believe me, you don’t want to miss a moment.

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For the Sake of a Crown – the Marriage of John of Gaunt and Constance of Castile

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Constance of Castile

Constance of Castile was born in 1354 at Castro Kerez, Castile. Her father was Peter, or Pedro, king of Castile. Although he had earned himself the nickname of Peter the Cruel, he was also known as Peter the Just. In 1353 Peter had married, in secret, Maria de Padilla, who would bear him 4 children; of which Constance was the 2nd oldest.

In the summer of 1353 Peter had been practically forced to marry Blanche de Bourbon, by his mother and had had to deny that a marriage ceremony with Maria ever took place. However, almost immediately after the wedding, Peter deserted his new bride and returned to Maria.

Peter and Maria were together until Maria’s death in 1361, probably from plague, and they had 3 daughters and a son. Although their son died young, their 3 daughters grew to adulthood. The eldest, Beatrice, entered the Abbey of Santa Clara at Tordesillas and so it would be Constance who eventually became her father’s heir.

Little is known of Constance’s childhood. She was around 7 when her mother died, her sister Isabella was a year younger and their baby brother, Alfonso was about 2. Alfonso would die in 1362.

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King Peter of Castile

Peter of Castile was engaged in constant wars with Aragon from 1356 to 1366, followed by the 1366 Castilian Civil War which saw him dethroned by his illegitimate half-brother, Henry of Trastamara.

Peter turned to his neighbours for help. He fled over the Pyrenees, to Aquitaine and England’s Prince of Wales, Edward the Black Prince. Peter brought his 2 daughters with him. The Black Prince agreed to mount an expedition to restore Peter to his throne, and would take his brother, John of Gaunt, along with him.

Constance and Isabella were handed over to the English as collateral against thee repayment of the costs of the expedition; a staggering £176,000 that Peter could never hope to repay.

In 1367 the Black Prince and John of Gaunt led an army across the Pyrenees, defeating Henry of Trastamara at the Battle of Najera, despite his being backed by the French. Trastamara fled Castile and Peter was restored to his throne, but could not repay the costs of the expedition. Unable to pay his army, and with his health in decline, the Black Prince left Spain for Aquitaine.

Peter was eventually murdered by Henry of Trastamara in March 1369; Henry usurped the throne as King Henry II, ignoring the rights of his niece Constance, who became ‘de jure’ Queen of Castile on 13th March 1369. However, Constance and her sister remained in English hands.

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The surrender of Santiago de Compostela to John of Gaunt, Constance of Castile is the lady on horseback

John of Gaunt’s wife of almost 10 years, Blanche Duchess of Lancaster, had died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague. Shortly after John started a liaison with a woman who would be his mistress for the next 25 years, Katherine Swynford.

However, John of Gaunt was not done with his dynastic ambitions and saw in Constance of Castile the chance to gain his own crown. John and Constance were married, probably at Rocquefort, in Guyenne on 21st September 1371.

From 1372 John assumed the title King of Castile and Leon, by right of his wife. Crowds lined the streets when, as Queen of Castile, Constance was given a ceremonial entry into London in February 1362. Her brother-in-law, the Black Prince, escorted her through the city to be formally welcomed by her husband at his residence of the Savoy Palace.

Constance’s sister, Isabella, came with her, and would marry Constance’s brother-in-law Edmund of Langley, 5th son of Edward III, in July 1372.

Little is known of Constance’s relationship with her husband’s mistress, Kathryn Swynford; except for in incident in June 1381. Amid the turmoil of the Peasant’s Revolt, John is said to have given up his mistress and reconciled with his wife, suggesting their relationship wasn’t all smooth. Kathryn returned to  her manor in Lincolnshire where, it seems, John visited her from time to time.

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John of Gaunt

Constance and John, King and Queen of Castile and Duke and Duchess of Lancaster, had 2 children. A son, John, was born in 1374 at Ghent in Flanders, but died the following year. Their daughter Catherine, or Catalina,  of Lancaster was born at Hertford Castle, sometime between June 1372 and March 1373. She would be made a Lady of the Garter in 1384.

John had several plans to recover his wife’s Castilian crown, but suffered from a lack of finances. Until 1386 when John I of Castile, son of Henry of Trastamara, attempted to claim the crown of Portugal. John of Avis, King of Portugal, turned to John of Gaunt for help. John saw this as his opportunity to overthrow John of Castile and claim the crown.

Having  landed in Galicia, however, John was unable to bring the Castilians to battle and his army succumbed to sickness. The opposing forces eventually agreed the Treaty of Bayonne, where in return for a substantial sum, John of Gaunt abandoned his claim to Castile. The treaty also saw a marriage alliance, between John of Castile’s son, Henry and Constance and John’s daughter, Catherine.

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Catherine of Lancaster

Catherine married Henry III of Castile in September 1388 at the Church if St Antolin, Fuentarrabia, Castile. Catherine therefore sat on the throne denied her mother. Catherine would have 3 children; 2 daughters, Katherine and Mary, and a son. Catherine and Henry’s son, John II, would succeed his father just a few months after his birth, with Catherine having some limited say in the Regency, and custody of her son until he was around 10. She died on the 2nd June 1418 and is buried in Toledo, Spain. Her great-granddaughter, Catherine of Aragon, would marry Henry VIII of England.

Constance was made a Lady of the Garter in 1378,

She died on the 24th March 1394 at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester, far away from her Castilian homeland. Just 2 years later widower would marry his long-time mistress, Kathryn Swynford. When he died in 1399, however, he choose to be buried beside his 1st wife, Blanche of Lancaster.

It’s hard to imagine that Constance was happy with her husband’s living arrangements, a belief highlighted by the 1381 reconciliation. However, John of Gaunt had offered Constance the chance to be a part of the English royal family, and to recover her crown. Although he failed, he did managed to secure the crown for Constance’s descendants, through her daughter Catherine and her grandson, John II of Castile.

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures taken from 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 Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

The Fascinating Marital Exploits of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent

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Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent

Joan of Kent was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent and brother of Edward II. Edmund was a younger son of Edward I by his 2nd wife, Margaret of France; he married Margaret Wake in 1325.

Joan was the 3rd of 4 children, and was born on 28/9th September 1328 at Woodstock. When she was just 18 months old, Joan’s father was beheaded for treason on the orders of the Regent, Roger Mortimer and his lover, Queen Isabella; after becoming convinced that his brother, Edward II, was still alive Edmund had become involved in a plot to free the erstwhile king.

Joan’s mother, Margaret Wake, was held under house arrest at Arundel Castle, along with all 4 of her children; Joan’s baby brother, John, was born a month after their father’s execution. Just a few months later, Edward III escaped Mortimer’s control and assumed power; he took over responsibility for the family and Joan, a favourite of Edward’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, was raised at court.

The leading beauty of her day, Joan had little to offer a potential suitor, beyond her looks and keen intelligence. She had grown up in the same household as Edward III’s oldest children; his son and heir, Edward and his daughters Isabella and Joan.

Sometime around the age of 11 it seems Joan secretly married, or promised to marry, Thomas Holland. However, shortly afterwards Holland left on Crusade to Prussia and during  his absence, Joan was married to William Montague, the Earl of Salisbury in 1340/41.

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William Montague, Earl of Salisbury

When he returned Thomas Holland became the steward to the Earl of Salisbury and found himself in the dubious position of working for the man who was married to his ‘wife’. In May 1348 Holland petitioned the pope, stating that Joan had been forced into her marriage with Salisbury. He went on to say that Joan had previously agreed to marry him and that their relationship had been consummated. He claimed her as his own wife, and Joan backed up his story.

It took 18 months for Joan’s marital status to be resolved, and for some of that time Salisbury kept Joan a prisoner; he was ordered to release her in order that she could give evidence at the inquisition looking into her marriage status.

In the mean time, England itself was in the grips of the Black Death, the bubonic plague. In order to lift the country’s spirits the king, Edward III, had arranged a grand tournament at Windsor, on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1349. The knights in contention were founder members of the Order of the Garter; England’s greatest chivalric order, consisting of the king and 25 founder knights, probably founded in 1348, though the date is uncertain.

Joan herself is a part of the legend of the foundation of the Order of the Garter. She is said to be the lady who lost her garter during a ball celebrating the fall of Calais. Edward III is said to have returned the item to the 20-year-old damsel with the words “honi soit qui mal y pense” (evil to him who evil thinks).

Although the story is probably apocryphal, Joan’s connection with the inaugural  tournament is all too true; she brought an added bit of spice to the St George’s Day tournament of 1349. Her current husband, the Earl of Salisbury, fought on the king’s team, while Sir Thomas Holland was on the side of Prince Edward. Joan’s 2 husbands faced each other across the tournament field, with the object of their affection watching from the stands.

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Sir Thomas Holland

Although I couldn’t find the results of the tournament, Joan’s marital status was decided by Papal Bull on 13th November 1349, when the pope ordered her to divorce Salisbury and return to Holland. Which she did.

Joan succeeded her brother, John, as Baroness Wake of Liddell and Countess of Kent in December 1352 and was confirmed in her new titles in February 1353. Sir Thomas Holland, therefore, became Earl of Kent by right of his wife.

Joan and Sir Thomas Holland had 5 children together; 3 sons and 2 daughters. Edmund was born in 1352 and died young. Thomas, Earl of Kent, married Alice, the daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel; he died in 1397.  Their 3rd son, John, was created Duke of Exeter in 1397 by his younger brother, King Richard II. He married Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, but was executed in 1400 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Henry IV and return his brother to the throne.

Of their daughters, Joan married John V, Duke of Brittany (who would marry Joanna of Navarre as his 2nd wife, the future queen-consort of Henry IV), but died in 1384. Their youngest child, Matilda, was born in 1359 and married twice; Sir Hugh de Courtenay, who died in 1377, and then Waleran of Luxembourg, Count of St Pol and Ligny. Matilda died in 1391.

At the end of 1360 Sir Thomas Holland, a veteran soldier who had fought in the Crecy campaign, died and Joan was left a widow.

Edward Prince of Wales – the Black Prince – may have offered comfort to the Lady Joan, his friend from childhood. Although a widow with 5 children, and bringing no beneficial foreign alliance to the marriage table, Joan and Edward appear to have fallen in love. It was not the political match his father had wanted for the heir to the throne, but all attempts at a marriage alliance with a princess from the Low Countries had come to nought; and it seems the king was quite happy to accept his son’s choice of wife.

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Edward, the Black Prince

It must have caused quite a scandal at the time. Although a reputed beauty, Joan’s bigamous marriage to William Montague was well-known – and he was still alive. She had 5 children by her 1st husband, Thomas Holland. Moreover, she was 33 years of age, 2 years older than her prince. She hardly appeared ‘queen’ material.

However, according to the Chandos Herald Joan was “a lady of great worth…. very beautiful, pleasing and wise”. Edward III sent one of his own people to the pope to ask permission for the marriage, which was swiftly granted.

With great ceremony Edward and Joan were married at Windsor on 10th October 1361, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Berkhamsted, where the king visited them after Christmas.

In 1363 they moved their entire household to Bordeaux, after the prince was given the Duchy of Aquitaine by his father. Their court there was lavish, exceeding the king’s own in brilliance.

In 1365 their first child was born; a son, Edward of Angoulême. His brother, Richard of Bordeaux, followed on 6th January 1367.

The chronicler, Froissart, tells the story:

In due course Joan, the princess, went into labour and by God’s grace was delivered of her child. It was a fine son, Richard of Bordeaux, born at Epiphany, 6 January , which that year fell on a Wednesday.

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Edward of Angouleme, from the Wilton Diptych

The child came into the world early in the morning to the great joy of the prince and the whole household, and was baptised the following Friday in the early afternoon on the holy font of St Andrew’s Church in the city of Bordeaux. The child was named Richard and he afterwards became King of England.”

Richard’s baptism was attended by 3 kings; Pedro of Castile, James IV of Majorca and Richard of Armenia. William Thorne, the Canterbury Chronicler, described them as the 3 ‘magi’ (or wise men), as Richard had been born on Epiphany, Twelfth Night; an auspicious sign for a bright future.

The Black Prince wrote fondly to his wife whilst campaigning in Spain: “Be assured, dearest companion, that we, our brother of Lancaster and all the great men of our army are, thank God, in good form.”

Froissart wrote of the Black Prince’s return from Spain, and his arrival in Bordeaux; “Where he was received with great celebrations. Princess Joan came to meet him and had Edward, her eldest son, carried with her; he was then about three years old.”

The Spanish campaign was aimed at supporting Pedro of Castile’s claim to the throne against that of his illegitimate half-brother, Henry of Trastamara. Although the Black Prince managed to re-establish Pedro’s rule, the Castilian king could not pay the English army and Edward, already with a reputation for heavy-handedness in Aquitaine, taxed the duchy in order to raise funds.

However, several of the lords appealed to France for aid. In 1370 Limoges rebelled against him; the Black Prince destroyed it completely, not a building was left undamaged, almost the entire population killed.

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Richard II

Sometime in late 1370 or early 1371 the young family suffered a heartbreaking tragedy. Little Edward of Angoulême died of bubonic plague. He was buried in Bordeaux, his funeral arranged by John of Gaunt and attended by all the great lords of Gascony.

The chronicler Walsingham describes the Black Prince’s actions following the sack of Limoges:

“When he had done this, Prince Edward hurried to return to England, as much because of the infirmities which troubled him, as because of lack of money. Therefore, at the beginning of January [1371], with his wife and small son Richard, and with  his household following behind, he reached Plymouth.”

The Black Prince’s health had been destroyed by a lifetime of campaigning. He returned to England a virtual invalid and died in 1376. Left a widow for a 2nd time, Joan still had custody of her young son and was in charge of Richard’s education until his accession to the throne in 1377.

Edward III died in 1377, leaving the throne to 10-year-old Richard of Bordeaux. In his will he gave to Joan, Princess of Wales, a thousand marks and the free restitution of jewels she had pledged too him.

Despite her marital history, and a reputation for extravagance – she was said to have spent £200 on a set of jewelled buttons – Joan was loved by the English people. It was with her that John of Gaunt sought refuge following the sacking of his Savoy Palace in 1376, when the people were discontented with his rule.

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The Wilton Diptych

Joan was seen as a calming influence of her son, Richard II, and was by his side during the dangerous days of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381; she sheltered in the Tower of London and rode in a whirligig to accompany her 13-year-old son to meet with the rebels at Mile End.

In 1385 Joan’s son, John Holland, while campaigning in Scotland, killed Ralph Stafford, son of the 2nd Earl of Stafford, in a quarrel. He fled to sanctuary at the shrine of St John of Beverley, but was condemned to death. Joan pleaded with her Richard for days, begging him to pardon his brother. She died at Wallingford Castle, sometime in August 1385. The King pardoned his half-brother the following day.

Although the Black Prince had built a chantry chapel for his wife, at Canterbury Cathedral, with ceiling bosses of her face, Joan was not buried at Canterbury with the Black Prince, but at the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her 1st husband, Sir Thomas Holland.

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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Pictures taken from 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 Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

The Mother of the House of York

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Arms of Philippa of Clarence

Princess Philippa of Clarence was born at Eltham Palace in Kent on the 16th August 1355.  She was named after her grandmother, Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III, who was one of her Godparents.

The first grandchild of Edward III she was the only child of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, and his 1st wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. Lionel was the 1st of Edward and Philippa’s children to marry.

Lionel was the 3rd son of Edward and Philippa, but the 2nd to survive childhood. Born in 1338, he was married to Elizabeth de Burgh in the Tower of London on the 9th September 1342. Lionel was almost 4 years old and his bride was 6 years older, born in 1332. Elizabeth was the daughter and heiress of William de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, who had died the year after her birth. It seems the couple lived together as husband and wife from 1352, when Lionel was 14 and Elizabeth 20. Lionel became Earl of Ulster by right of his wife and took possession of vast estates in Ireland and the Honour of Clare, in Suffolk; from which he was created Duke of Clarence by Parliament on 13th November 1362.

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Lionel Duke of Clarence

Philippa lost her mother when she was just 8 years old. Elizabeth died in Dublin in December 1363, she was buried  at Clare Priory in Suffolk. Lionel was married again in May 1368, in Milan, to Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Milan. He died at Alba just 5 months after the wedding, in October 1368, and was buried at Pavia; his body was later reinterred to lie beside Elizabeth at Clare Priory in Suffolk.

The dukedom of Clarence became extinct on Lionel’s death, but the earldom of Ulster and Honour of Clare passed to Philippa, his only daughter and heiress.

Although an orphan at the tender age of 13, Philippa’s future had been settled even by the time of her mother’s death in 1363. When only in her 4th year she was married, at the Queen’s Chapel in Reading, in February 1359, to 7-year-old Edmund Mortimer. Edmund was the great-grandson of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March and lover of Edward II’s queen, and Edward III’s mother, Isabella of France.

Mortimer had been executed on Edward III’s orders in 1330 and the marriage was viewed as a reconciliation with the Mortimer family, powerful lords on the Welsh Marches. The children’s wedding was also the 1st in a string of royal marriages. Philippa was married before any of her aunts and uncles; but weddings for her uncle John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster  and her aunt Margaret to John Hastings, 2nd Earl of Pembroke followed in May the same year.

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Arms of the House of Mortimer

The marriage alliances were all part of Edward III’s policy to provide for his large brood of children and tie the great baronial families of the kingdom to the crown, by bringing them into the Royal family.

Edmund Mortimer succeeded to his father’s earldom as the 3rd Earl of March in the year after the marriage and the couple spent their time between properties in England, Wales and Ireland.

Their 1st child was born when Philippa was 15; she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, at Usk in Monmouthshire, on 12th February 1371. 3 more children followed; Roger born at Usk on 1st September 1373, Philippa, born at Ludlow in Shropshire on 21st November 1375 and finally Edmund, who was born at Ludlow on 9th November 1377.

Marriage to Philippa had brought her husband power and influence. Through his steward, Peter de la Mare, he was instrumental in the Good Parliament of 1376, which argued against the influence of Edward III’s lover, Alice Perrers, and her friends, on the government of the kingdom. He spoke up for royal legitimacy and, using similar language to that used against his grandfather, Roger Mortimer, decried the influence an adulterous affair was having  on the dignity of the crown.

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Ludlow Castle, Shropshire

Following Edward III’s death in 1377, until her own death 6 months later, Philippa was, technically, heiress presumptive to the crown of her cousin, Richard II. However, in a supplementary document to his will, Edward III had practically disinherited his eldest granddaughter. He settled the inheritance of the throne on his grandson, Richard, son of his eldest son, the Black Prince and then, in turn, starting with John of Gaunt, on his surviving sons and their sons.

Edward had thus attempted to destroy any claim Philippa might have had to the throne whilst at the same time, revoking the royal status of the Mortimer earls of March.

Although there appear to be several death dates for Philippa, the most likely is that she died as a result of complications following Edmund’s birth, as she had made a will in November 1377, suggesting she was preparing for death. She passed away on, or shortly before, 7th January 1378 and was buried at Wigmore, Herefordshire, the burial-place of the Mortimers.

Edmund’s star, however, continued to rise and he was appointed Lieutenant of Ireland by Richard II on 22nd October 1380.  He died at Cork on 26th or 27th December 1381 and his body was brought back to Wigmore for burial. He was succeeded as 4th Earl of March by his eldest son, Roger; who had succeeded Philippa as Earl of Ulster on her death.

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Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy and Elizabeth Mortimer

Roger spent many years in wardship following his father’s death. He was courageous, but had a reputation for religious and moral laxity. He was killed in Ireland in 1398, while acting as the king’s Lieutenant. It is possible that, at some point, he was named heir to the throne by Richard II, although there is considerable doubt in this.

Of Philippa and Edmund’s other children Elizabeth married Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy sometime before May 1380. They had 2 children, but he was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. Elizabeth then married Thomas, 1st Baron Camoys, with whom she had a son who died young. Elizabeth died on 20th April 1417 and was buried at Trotton in Sussex, with her 2nd husband.

Philippa’s daughter and namesake, Philippa, married John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, son of the Earl of Pembroke who had married Edward III’s daughter, Margaret. Following his death in 1389, she married Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, who was executed in 1397. Her 3rd marriage was to Thomas Poynings, 5th Baron St John of Basing, around November 1399. She died in 1400 or 1401 and was buried at Boxgrove Priory in Lewes, Sussex.

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Richard, Duke of York

Edmund’s namesake, Philippa and Edmund’s youngest son was married in about 1402 to Katherine, the daughter of Owen Glendower. They had several children, but all died young. Edmund himself died sometime between 1409 and 1411.

Philippa’s grandson, Roger’s son, Edmund, succeeded his father as Earl of March and Ulster; he became the king’s ward following his father’s death and, following the usurpation he was kept in Henry IV’s family circle.

Edmund seems to have suffered from a lack of ambition and when some barons tried to place him on the throne in 1415, it was Edmund himself who revealed the Southampton Plot to Henry V.

Edmund died of plague in Ireland in January 1425, but it is his sister, Anne Mortimer, who had been married to Richard of Conisbrough, that Philippa’s claim to the throne was passed to Anne and Richard’s son, Richard, Duke of York; thus laying the foundations for the Wars of the Roses and the accession of Edward IV and, later, his brother, Richard III.

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Pictures taken from 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 Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones.