Book Corner: The Peasants' Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary

By Lewis Connolly

Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law.

Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods.

Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. Read all about it here!

This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.

It has been a strange week for us all, I’m sure. And on Tuesday evening we got a message from my son’s school saying it was closed until further notice, so Wednesday morning was my first day of home schooling. School have been amazing and set tons of work to keep the child occupied. However, on Wednesday, there was no English so I had to set some myself; which was basically for said child to write a review of Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I received this book as a review copy from the publishers, Pen & Sword, but the child got to read it first, and loved it. He’s a die-hard fan of Horrible Histories, so this book was right up his street.

So, it’s over to Lewis:

I liked, no I LOVED Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I would recommend it for people who are age 13+ (due to minor swearing content) and you will not need to know your history because this book educates you in the revolting and hard life of the peasant.

Opening with ‘Norman Nastiness’, the book gives you a vivid taste of peasant crimes right up until the ‘Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains’ and beyond.

The last witch

After seeing a smiling ‘medium’ at a psychic fair, a friend of mine punched her. When I asked him why he would do such a thing, he replied, ‘My father always taught me to strike a happy medium’,

In 1944, Helen Duncan was a Scottish spiritual medium, working in Portsmouth. She began broadcasting information from the port’s gullible sailors wjhho came ot consult her. D-Day was approaching and she was a security risk. She had to be stopped.

Duncan was originally charged under the Vagrancy Act 1824, relating to fortune telling, astrology and spiritualism. Then there was a change of plan. The paranoid government’s legal experts sent her to be tried by jury at the Old Bailey for contravening section 4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735, which carried the heavier penalty of a prison sentence.

Winston Churchill even described the whole episode as ‘obsolete tomfoolery’ but Helen went to prison for nine months.

The 1753 Act was later repealed and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.

So, no more witch trials.

You could call it hex-it

In this book, you will explore various ages of history, from the Middle Ages to the Stuarts, to the vicious, unforgiving Victorian era and the modern era. You will hear various quotes from all sorts of people, from William Shakespeare, to Martin Luther King and many, many others as you explore the book.

I particularly like the funny jokes like “Bring a man a fire and he will be warm for a day. Give a man a fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life” and “Will Shakespeare. Great writer, dodgy historian”. There are various other jokes, which are scattered throughout the book.

There was nothing to dislike about this book, despite its gory and bloody moments. It will tickle your funny bone for hours on end, so much so you will never put it down!

In conclusion, this is a great book for children and adults alike. It is not only comedy but it also used 100% historically accurate. You should order it now. What are you waiting for?

Huge thanks to Lewis for a fabulous, entertaining review!

The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES by Terry Deary is available from Pen & Sword and Amazon.

About the author:

Terry Deary is the esteemed author of the immensely popular Horrible Histories series. This is his first title for Pen and Sword Books, to be followed next year by The Peasants’ Revolting Lives.

My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Competition Closed: And the winner is Carolyn Hester

Sunday 22nd March 2020 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year and what better way to celebrate the 1st birthday of the paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World, than a giveaway for everyone’s favourite Heroine – MUM?!?!

“As Connolly ably demonstrates, knowing about these fascinating women is essential to filly understanding medieval Europe.” (Publishers Weekly)

About Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…

And don’t worry, the offer is open worldwide – even if it isn’t Mother’s Day for you just yet.

It’s easy to enter!

To win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World dedicated to a heroine of your choice – your mum, aunt, sister, grandmother, daughter or yourself (I won’t judge!), or someone else’s mum – for Mother’s Day, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 18th March, so you should get the book in time for the big day.

Good luck!

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

The Infamous Jane Shore

The Penance of Jane Shore by William Blake

Jane Shore is one of the most renowned of medieval royal mistresses, rivalling only Katherine Swynford in her fame. However, Jane was not so fortunate as Katherine; there was no ‘happily ever after’ with her royal lover. As she has gone down in history, the poor woman didn’t even get to keep her own name.

So, who is Jane Shore? Well, she’s not called Jane, for starters. In fact, that name seems to have only been attributed to her more than 50 years after her death, and by a playwright, of all people.

The young woman in question was born Elizabeth Lambert; she was the daughter of John Lambert, a citizen and mercer of London who died in 1487. Her mother, Amy, was the daughter of Robert Marshall, a London grocer, and died in 1488, the year after her husband. Elizabeth was probably born sometime before 1450 and was married, in her middle or late teens, to William Shore, a London goldsmith.

Elizabeth eventually became mistress to King Edward IV, the larger-than-life king who reigned from 1461 to 1483, except for a little interval in 1470-71 when Henry VI briefly regained the throne. Mistress Shore first appears in the historical record in the mid-1470s, possibly when she was already mistress to the king, when she petitioned for an annulment to her marriage. The grounds for the petition was her husband’s impotence.

The recent petition of Elizabeth Lambert alias Schore, of London states that she continued in her marriage to William Schore, layman of the diocese of London, and cohabited with him for the lawful time, but that he is so frigid and impotent that she, desirous of being a mother and having offspring, requested over and over again the official of London to cite the said William before him to answer her concerning the foregoing and the nullity of the said marriage and that, seeing the said official refused to do so she appealed to the Apostolic See.¹

King Edward IV

While it was not unheard of for a wife to petition for the dissolution of a marriage, it was certainly a rare occurrence; such appeals were expensive and rarely granted against the husband. It may well be that Elizabeth was already mistress to the king when she brought the divorce petition, it would certainly explain her ability to finance the case. The whole proceedings would have been as humiliating for Elizabeth as it was for her husband, William; but her developing relationship with the king may have given her the encouragement to endure it. However the petition came about, a woman’s right to bear children was considered sacrosanct and the annulment was granted, the papal mandate being dated to 1 March 1476.

Edward IV is as famous for his love life as he is for his prowess in battle. His irregular, secret marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville  provided enough ammunition and doubt for his brother, Richard of Gloucester, to declare his sons, Edward V and Richard (the Princes in the Tower), illegitimate and take the crown for himself. Gloucester claimed that Edward IV had already been married – again secretly – to one Eleanor Butler when he married Elizabeth Wydeville, making his children by Elizabeth illegitimate and therefore unable to inherit the throne. Of course, proof was lacking, but Edward’s own record with women provided sufficient doubt to enable Richard to seize the throne.

There is little doubt that Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth, were happily married; the couple had numerous children together, of which 6 girls and 2 boys survived infancy. However, this did not prevent Edward from taking mistresses, of which Elizabeth Shore is said to have been his favourite.

There is a near-contemporary description of Mistress Shore, from Thomas More, who described a bright, intelligent woman;

“Proper she was and fair … yet delighted not men so much in her beauty, as in her pleasant behaviour. For a proper wit had she, and could both read well and write, merry of company, ready and quick of answer, neither mute nor full of babble, sometimes taunting without displeasure and not without disport … The merriest [of Edward’s mistresses] was this Shore’s wife, in whom the king therefore took special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved, whose favour to say truth … she never abused to any man’s hurt.”¹

Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Wydeville

Of course, we cannot truly say whether or not Edward loved Elizabeth Shore, nor how deep was their relationship. Nor can we say how Elizabeth Wydeville felt about her husband’s relationship with Mistress Shore. In fact, very little contemporary evidence exists to prove the existence of a relationship. At least, not while Edward was alive. However, when Edward died in 1483 and his brother, Richard seized power, Elizabeth Shore was brought into the limelight, caught up in the power struggle following the king’s death and the accession of his 13-year-old son.

On the king’s death, Elizabeth Shore was in need of a protector and transferred her allegiance and affection to William, Lord Hastings, the late king’s best friend. As the political situation deteriorated in 1483, following Richard Duke of Gloucester’s arrest of Anthony Wydeville, the new king’s uncle and brother of Queen Elizabeth Wydeville, the queen fled to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth Shore was accused of carrying messages between the queen in sanctuary and Lord Hastings, who was serving on the Privy Council. Whether she did or not, or even whether the queen and Hastings were plotting, we’ll probably never know.

Richard, now Lord Protector for his nephew Edward V, accused Hastings of treason and had him summarily executed within the Tower of London, on 13 June 1483. Elizabeth Shore was caught up in Hastings’ downfall; her goods being attached by the sheriffs of London, she was made to do public penance ‘for the lyfe that she ledd with the said lord hastyngys and other grete astatys’.² More praises Mistress Shore’s demeanour during her penance, stating;

“In which she went in countenance & pace demure so womanly, & albeit she were out of all array save her kyrtle only: yet went she so fair & lovely … that her great shame won her much praise.”²

There is some suggestion that, following the king’s death, Elizabeth Shore was a mistress of both Hastings and the late king’s stepson, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset. In October 1483, when Grey joined Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III, he was accused of holding ‘the unshameful and mischievous woman called Shore’s wife in adultery.’²

After her public penance, Elizabeth Shore was imprisoned in Ludgate Gaol for a time. During the same period, she attracted the attention of Thomas Lynom, the King’s Solicitor, who wanted to marry her. An undated letter, written to the Bishop of Lincoln by Richard III, himself, asks the bishop to intervene and persuade Lynom against the marriage, saying Lynom had been ‘merveillously blynded and abused.’²

Elizabeth was eventually released from gaol, into her father’s custody, on the payment of sureties; however, it seems Lynom was not dissuaded by the entreaties of the king and the bishop. He and Elizabeth were married before her father’s death on 1487, as is made clear in his will, in which he left his daughter a bed of arras and a painted cloth of Mary Magdalen and Martha.

Thomas Lynom survived the regime change of 1485, successfully transferring his services to the Tudors; he served bother Henry VII and Henry VIII and was a councillor for Arthur, Prince of Wales and controller of the rolls for the prince’s household.

Theatre poster for ‘Jane Shore’

Thomas Lynom was dead by July 1518 and, according to More, Elizabeth fell on hard times after that, even claiming she had to resort to begging, although this seems unlikely.

Elizabeth Shore probably died around 1527, although she had long since retreated from the limelight. There is no evidence that she ever had any children – the reason for the dissolution of her first marriage – and her story may have ended there, were it not for the Tudor playwrights.

Her literary life was born through the works of William Shakespeare, Thomas Heywood and Nichols Rowe. It was Thomas Heywood who rechristened her ‘Jane’ and made her the focal point of his play, Edward IV, in 1599. However, despite the name change, the plays have, to say the least, guaranteed Elizabeth Shore’s place in history.

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Footnotes: ¹Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence; ² quoted by Rosemary Horrox in Oxforddnb.com.

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Sources: Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence; Elizabeth Shore – Jane by Rosemary Horrox in Oxforddnb.com; Richard III, England’s Black Legend by Desmond Seward; Edward IV, Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James; Elizabeth Woodville, Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin; Lancaster & York, The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir, Richard III by Michael Hicks; Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses by David Santuiste.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

new

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Anne of Gloucester, Daughter of a Traitor

Arms of Anne of Gloucester, Countess of Stafford_of_stafford-svg
Arms of Anne of Gloucester, Countess of Stafford

Born sometime around 1382 Anne of Gloucester was the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Eleanor de Bohun.

Anne’s parentage was impeccable. Her father was the youngest son of the late king Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault, making Anne first cousins with the 2 subsequent kings, Richard II and Henry IV. Along with Henry IV’s wife, Mary de Bohun, Anne’s mother was co-heiress of the earls of Hereford.

Anne’s childhood would have been marred by the political conflicts of Richard II’s reign. By the late 1380s her father had set himself up in opposition to the king’s tyrannical rule and his reliance on personal favourites. As a leader of the Lords Appellant he was responsible for the arrest of Richard’s favourites and the curbing of the king’s powers.

Anne was probably born at Pleshey Castle and it was also the scene of her first wedding. In June 1391, aged only 8 or 9, Anne was married to Thomas Stafford, 3rd Earl of Stafford, who was about 15 years her senior. Thomas died in 1392, before the marriage could be consummated. Even before Thomas Stafford’s death, it seems, provision had already been made for Anne to marry one of his younger brothers. The brothers, William and Edmund, were wards of Anne’s father. The year after the elder boy William, died in 1395 (aged about 19), Anne was married to Edmund, now 5th Earl of Stafford.

300px-ThomasWoodstock
Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester

In the year following her marriage, Anne was to suffer further tragedy when her father was personally arrested by the king, whilst recovering from illness at the family’s home of Pleshey Castle, Essex. Thomas was transported to imprisonment in Calais to await trial, under the care of the earl of Nottingham, from where his death was reported in September of the same year. A later inquiry established that Thomas Duke of Gloucester had been murdered, most likely on the night of 8th September, smothered under a mattress.

The Duke was declared a traitor and his lands and property were forfeited to the crown. Anne’s only brother, Humphrey, was made a ward of King Richard II and was with the king in Ireland 2 years later, when Henry Bolingbroke invaded England and claimed the crown as Henry IV. The new king ordered Humphrey’s return to England, but he died on the voyage home in August 1399, aged just 18.

Anne’s life was hit by 2 further losses in close succession. Her mother, Eleanor de Bohun died on 3rd October 1399. The Chronicler, Walsingham, said she died of a broken heart following the deaths of her husband and only son. Anne’s unmarried sister, Joan, died in August 1400. With her only remaining sibling, Isabel, taking the veil at the Minoresses in London on her 16th birthday in April 1402, Anne became one of the greatest heiresses in the kingdom. From 1399 she was recognised as Countess of Buckingham, Hereford and Northampton and was made a Lady of the Garter in 1405.

Humphrey_Stafford,_Duke_of_Buckingham_by_William_Bond,_after_Joseph_Allen
Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

In these same years Anne gave birth to 2 daughters and a son. Of her daughters Philippa died young and Anne would marry consecutively her cousins Edmund Mortimer, earl of March and John Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. Anne’s only son by Edmund Stafford, Humphrey, was born in 1402 and would go on to become the Duke of Buckingham. Loyal to King Henry VI at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, he would be killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. Humphrey’s son, Henry, would be husband to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.

On 21st July 1403 Anne was made a widow for the second time, when Edmund was killed fighting for the king at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Still only in her early 20s Anne was left with 2 young children and a dower income of £1500 a year. However, with her dower properties stretched across the strategically important Welsh Marches Anne’s remarriage was of great interest to Henry IV.

Of immediate concern was the security of those dower properties, giving Henry IV’s ongoing conflict with Owain Glyn Dwr and the Welsh. Sir William Bourchier, Count of Eu, was dispatched to help protect Anne and her properties from any Welsh incursions. And it was with this same knight that Anne, taking her future into her own hands, contracted a secret marriage some time before 20th November 1405.

The king was displeased with the clandestine marriage and the couple were fined ‘great sums’. However, Bourchier it seems was highly charismatic, a capable soldier and valued administrator, all factors which, when added to his proven loyalty to the Lancastrian king,  helped to ensure that the couple was soon forgiven.

BourchierImpaling_ThomasOfWoodstock_TawstockChurch
The Bourchier arms quartered with those of Thomas of Woodstock, Anne’s father

Sir William Bourchier would continue his impressive career under Henry V; fighting at Agincourt in 1415, after which he was appointed Constable of the Tower of London and took responsibility of the high-profile French prisoners captured in the battle. In letters Anne described with pride ‘the valiant prowess, wisdom and good governance’ her husband .

The couple seems to have been genuinely in love and soon had a nursery full of children, with 4 sons and a daughter all born before 1415. Anne promoted the careers of all her children and arranged marriages for them.

William and Anne’s eldest son, Henry 1st Earl of Essex was married to Isabel of Cambridge, daughter of Richard of Consibrough. A Yorkist supporter, he fought at the Second battle of St Albans and at Towton, dying in April 1483.

Thomas Bourchier, most likely Anne and William’s second son, went to Oxford and then joined the Church. He rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1454 and was made a cardinal in 1467. Although he was Chancellor for a short time, in the reign of Henry VI, Thomas was a loyal supporter of and it was Edward IV himself who wrote to the pope urging for Thomas’s promotion to cardinal. In his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas crowned both Richard III and Henry VII. He died in 1486 and was buried next to the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.

Cardinal_Thomas_Bourchier
Cardinal Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury

Of their other sons; William Bourchier became Baron Fitzwarin in right of his wife and Sir John Bourchier who was created Baron Berners following his marriage to Margery Berners and was Constable of Windsor Castle in the 1460s. Anne and William’s only daughter, Eleanor Bourchier, married John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and was the mother of another John, the 4th Duke.

Although they seem to have been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, Humphrey Stafford remained close to his mother and his Bourchier half-siblings.

Anne was widowed for a third and final time when William died at Troyes in 1420. His body was sent back to England for burial at Llanthony Priory in Gloucestershire. Anne had an enduring friendship with the Prior, John Wyche, and corresponded with him in both French and English.

Although not yet 40 Anne never remarried. Throughout her marriages – and after – she was personally involved in estate management and her letters demonstrate a sound business acumen. Anne had loyal and talented administrators who helped her fight for her interests.  As earl of Buckingham, Anne’s father had revenues of £1,000 a year from the lordships of Oakham (Rutland) and Holderness (Yorkshire). While Oakham was returned to Anne in 1414 she only recovered Holderness in 1437, the year before she died.

While Anne was cousin to the king, Henry V, both he and his father had resented the unequal division of the Bohun inheritance in her favour. Henry V was to eventually force a new settlement on the recently widowed countess in 1421, this time heavily weighted  for the king’s benefit, leaving Anne just £1200 a year from her mother’s inheritance; and even this often fell into arrears.

330px-Remains_of_Llanthony_Priory_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1118627
Llanthony Secunda Priory, Anne’s burial place

Anne had shared a love of the church with her mother and was known for her piety and love of learning. She died in October 1438, aged around 55. Her will, written “in the Englyshe tonge for my most profit redyng and vnderstandyng”, remembered her “most trewe and diligent” reatiners (Register of Henry Chichele.

Anne of Gloucester, mother to combatants on both sides of the Wars of the Roses and granddaughter of Edward III, was buried beside William at Llanthony Priory where, in 1453, her children set up a perpetual chantry for the welfare of their souls.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.com; geni.com;  thepeerage.com.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Constance of York, the Rebel Countess

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Conisbrough Castle, possible birthplace of Constance of York

Constance of York was born around 1374, possibly at Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire (although that is far from certain). She was the 2nd of 3 children born to Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and 5th son of Edward III, and his wife, Isabella of Castile. Edmund and Isabella also had 2 boys, Edward of Norwich in around 1373 and Richard of Conisbrough, who is thought to have been born around 1375/6, but could have been born as late as the early 1380s.

Contemporary sources suggest that Edmund and Isabella were an ill-matched pair and their relationship was a rocky one, with Isabella accused of having an affair with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother to Richard II. Holland has also been suggested as the father of Isabella’s youngest son, Richard.

Constance’s childhood was short-lived. At the age of 4, in April 1378, she was betrothed to Edward le Despenser. However, young Edward appears to have died shortly after the betrothal as by November 1379 Constance was married to his only surviving, younger brother, Thomas, who was about 6 at the time.

Isabella_of_Castile-Langley
Isabella of Castile, Constance’s mother

It is highly likely that 4-year-old Constance remained in her parents’ household for several years after her marriage, although she may have spent time also in the household of her mother-in-law, who retained wardship of young Thomas despite her husband’s death.

Thomas le Despenser was a great-grandson of the infamous Hugh le Despenser the Younger, despised favourite and alleged lover of Edward II, who was executed on a 50-foot high gallows in 1326. The marriage was seen as a good match on both sides: the Despenser family had a considerable fortune and were among the 12 richest families in the country, while Constance was a granddaughter of Edward III. Her hand in marriage completed the rehabilitation of the Despenser family.

In 1386, at just 12-years-old Constance was made a Lady of the Garter by her cousin, Richard II; she was one of the youngest ever recipients of the award. In 1392 Constance’s mother died and the following year her father re-married. His new bride was about 6 years younger than Constance and was a niece to Richard II; Joan Holland was the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd earl of Kent and granddaughter of Joan of Kent, Princess of Wales. In a bizarre twist, she was also the niece of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, the late Duchess of York’s alleged lover.

Thomas, meanwhile, was learning his trade as a soldier. He served with Richard II in Scotland in 1385, probably as a page or squire, given his tender years. In 1388 he was knighted by the Earl of Arundel, following his involvement in a naval expedition against the French. In 1391 Thomas travelled to Prussia to join the “crusade” against the Lithuanians.

It seems likely that, by 1394 with Thomas back in England, Thomas and Constance were finally living together as a couple.  In March of that year, Thomas had been granted full possession of his lands; he had been a ward of his mother, Elizabeth de Burghersh, since his father Edward’s death in 1375.

Coat_of_Arms_of_Sir_Thomas_le_Despencer,_1st_Earl_of_Gloucester,_KG
Arms of Thomas le Despenser, 1st Earl of Gloucester

It’s possible the couple had as many as 5 children, but only 2 survived infancy; a son, Edward, died young, Hugh died around 1401 and a daughter, Elizabeth, born around 1398, also died young.

The 1st definite date of birth of a child is Richard, possibly their 2nd son but the 1st to survive childhood, who was born 30th November 1396. Richard would inherit his grandmother’s title of Baron Burghersh on her death in about 1402. Richard married his 2nd cousin Eleanor, daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland, and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

Unfortunately, Richard and Eleanor had no children before Richard died, still only in his 20s. His title passed to his younger sister, Isabella, who had been born around 1400 and was married successively to 2 men, cousins, of the same name; she married firstly Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Worcester and secondly Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Isabella’s daughter by Warwick, Anne, would later marry Richard Neville, known as the Kingmaker, and be the mother of Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville.

Thomas le Despenser was a great supporter of Richard II, he was involved in the arrest and prosecution of the Appellant lords, the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Arundel in 1397; in return for which he received a share of their lands. And on the 29th September 1397, le Despenser was created Earl of Gloucester.

In spite of his close links with Richard II, Gloucester initially supported the accession of Henry Bolingbroke as Henry IV, after usurping Richard’s throne. However, after he was attainted for his role in the death of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and deprived of his earldom he became disillusioned with the new regime.

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Painting of Pontefract Castle by Alexander Keirincx

Fearful of losing his estates, and possibly his life, in January 1400 he joined in a conspiracy with the earls of Kent, Salisbury and Huntingdon. Known as the Epiphany Rising, the earls planned to seize the king during a tournament at Windsor, intending to kill Henry IV and replace him with Richard II – still imprisoned at Pontefract Castle. The conspiracy was betrayed to the king by Edward of Norwich, Constance’s older brother and the conspirators were arrested and executed.  Richard II himself became the prime victim of the plot, which led Henry IV to believe it was too dangerous to keep the erstwhile king alive; he died shortly afterwards, still in custody at Pontefract Castle, probably from starvation.

Thomas le Despenser was executed on 13th January 1400. It is tempting to feel sorry for Constance of York, former Countess of Gloucester, mother of several infants and pregnant with her late husband’s child. And, indeed, it must have been difficult for her; a young, pregnant widow of a convicted traitor. With her husband’s lands forfeit, she could well have wondered what was going to happen to them all, especially following the death of her father in 1402. However, Constance herself was not beyond plotting.

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Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York

In February 1405, during Owain Glyn Dwr’s rebellion, Constance became involved in the plot to abduct Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March from Windsor Castle. March had the greatest claim to the throne of all Henry IV’s rivals, being descended from Edward III’s 2nd surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp. The plan was to deliver March and his younger brother, Roger, to their uncle, Sir Edmund Mortimer, who was married to Glyn Dwr’s daughter.

The boys were successfully released from Windsor, but recaptured before entering Wales. Although Constance does not seem to have suffered retribution for her part in the plot, she did implicate her brother Edward of Norwich, Duke of York, who was imprisoned in Pevensey Castle for 17 weeks as a consequence.

Constance was also to cause scandal in her love life. As a young widow, she started a liaison with Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent and the brother of Constance’s step-mother, Joan. A daughter, Eleanor, was born to the couple at Kenilworth in about 1405. She would later marry James Touchet, Lord Audley.

Whether or not Eleanor’s parents married became a bone of contention for the young woman when she attempted to lay claim to her father’s lands and titles in 1430. Although she produced witnesses to prove the marriage of her parents, in about 1404, on the petition of Edmund’s sisters, Joan Duchess of York (Eleanor’s step-grandmother) and Margaret Holland, Duchess of Clarence, Eleanor was adjudged illegitimate and unable to inherit from her father.

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Reading Abbey

Edmund was killed at the Battle of Ile-de-Brehat in September 1408 and buried on the island of Lavrec.

Constance outlived her lover by 8 years, dying on the 28th November 1416, the last survivor of the 3 York children. Her younger brother, Richard, had been executed in August 1415, for his part in the Southampton Plot to assassinate Henry V; and older brother Edward, Duke of York, was killed at Agincourt in October of the same year.

Constance of York, Countess of Gloucester, was buried at Reading Abbey in Berkshire.

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Pictures: Conisbrough Castle is ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly. All other pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources:Sources: 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; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; yorkistage.blogspot.co.uk; richard111.com; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.

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My books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Isabella of Castile, the Controversial First Duchess of York, c.1355-1392

Isabella_of_Castile-Langley
Isabella of Castile

The third daughter of Peter the Cruel of Castile and his long-term mistress (and sometime wife) Maria of Padilla, Isabella of Castile‘s childhood was marred by her father’s battles to hold on to his throne and almost constant warfare with Aragon.

Peter received support from Edward III’s son the Black Prince, but his failure to pay the costs of the campaign,  his faithlessness, and the failing health of the black Prince, meant he was left to his own devices by 1367. Peter’s own nobles backed his illegitimate brother, Henry of Tastamara, who eventually defeated and killed Peter in March 1369.

Isabella’s mother had died in 1361 and her 3-year-old brother, Alfonso, in 1362. On Peter’s death, Isabella’s older sister, Constance, inherited her father’s claim to the crown of Castile and, taking Isabella with her, took refuge in the English territory of Guyenne. Constance married John of Gaunt (third son of Edward III) at Roquefort in September 1371, Gaunt seeing the marriage as an opportunity to gain a kingdom of his own.

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Following Constance’s official entry into London, Isabella married John’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, the fifth son of Edward III who would later become the first Duke of York, in 1372. Their first son, Edward was born the following year – he would become the second Duke of York, and be killed at Agincourt in 1415 – followed by a daughter, Constance, in 1374.

Chroniclers of the time reported that Isabella and Edmund were an ill-matched pair; Thomas of Walsingham, in particular, commented on Isabella’s ‘loose morals’, probably referring to her affair with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother to the king, Richard II. The affair is believed to have started as early as 1374 and has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Edmund and Isabella’s third child Richard of Conisbrough, grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III, born in 1375.

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Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire

Isabella died on 23rd December 1392 and is buried at King’s Langley. In her will, she made Richard II her heir and asked that he provide a pension for her youngest son and Richard II’s godson, Richard. Richard was given an allowance of £500 by the king, but this was only paid sporadically following Richard II’s deposition by Henry IV.

Richard was not even mentioned in the wills of his father and brother and G.L. Harriss, of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, has speculated this could be proof that Richard was not the son of the Duke of York.

Edmund married again, to his cousin Joan Holland, niece of his first wife’s lover, John Holland. In another bizarre family twist, it was Joan’s brother, Edmund Holland, 4th Earl of Kent, who had an affair with Constance of York – the daughter of Edmund and Isabella.

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Sources: Ian Mortimer, Edward III The Perfect King; englishmonarchs.co.uk; womenshistory.about.com; History Today Companion to British History; WM Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III; Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire.

Photos from Wikipedia, except Conisbrough Castle which is © Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly