The Man who Won the Hand of the Fair Maid of Kent

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Sir Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent

Having recently written about William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury and husband of Joan of Kent, I thought it only fair to write an article on William’s love rival, Thomas Holland.

The 2nd son of Robert Holland, Lord Holland of Upholland, Lancashire, Thomas was born around 1315 and grew up to be quite a renowned soldier. His mother was Maud, daughter and co-heiress of Alan Zouche, Lord Zouche of Ashby. Thomas grew up with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. His older brother, Robert, succeeded to the Holland estates and  resided at Thorpe Waterville in Northamptonshire. Thomas’s 2 younger brothers, Alan and Otto, followed their brother into military service, and are often noted as having accompanied him on campaign.

The number of sisters seems to be confused; some sources put it at 5, while others mention only 3. Of the 3 known sisters the eldest, Isabella, became the mistress of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey who had married to Edward II’s cousin, Joan of Bar.  Another sister, Margaret, died in 1349 and had been married to John de la Warr, while the last, Matilda or Maud, had been the wife of John (II) Mowbray, Lord Mowbray.

Thomas Holland’s father had been a chief supporter of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had attempted to curb the malevolent influence of Hugh le Despener the Younger on King Edward II and, by extension, the country. Holland, however, turned his coat at the last-minute and joined the king’s faction just months before Lancaster was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322.

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Coat of arms of Sir Thomas Holland, Knight of the Garter

Lancaster was executed but Robert Holland did not get the reward he was probably expecting; he was imprisoned, with his lands confiscated. It was only in 1327, after Edward II’s deposition and the accession of Edward III, that Holland’s lands were restored. However, in October 1328 Robert Holland was murdered in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, probably by supporters of the new Earl of Lancaster, Thomas’s brother Henry.

A landless young knight, and the son of a disgraced lord, Thomas Holland had very little going for him when he started his soldiering career, probably in Scotland in the early 1330s. However, as the 1330s progressed he was making a reputation as an able soldier. In 1337 he was fighting in Bordeaux with Robert d’Artois, but by 1338 he was a knight of the royal household; serving in Flanders the following year and at Sluys in 1340.

In 1339 Thomas managed to pull off the marriage coup of the century – but no one was to know about it for 10 years. At the age of 24 Thomas married 11-year-old Joan Plantagenet, daughter of Edmund, earl of Kent, granddaughter of Edward I and cousin of King Edward III. Despite her family links, at the time of the marriage Joan was no great heiress; her brother was earl of Kent and it was only his death in 1352 and the earlier death-without-heirs of her maternal uncle, Thomas Lord Wake, in 1349, that made her a wealthy woman in her own right.

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Joan of Kent

Modern sensibilities will make us cringe at Joan’s tender age, but, although it was young even for the period an 11-year-old bride was not unheard of. We know, from Joan’s later testimony, that the marriage was consummated almost immediately; however, the couple did not settle down to marital bliss and Holland was soon on his travels.

In 1341, while Holland was away crusading in Prussia, Joan’s mother, Margaret Wake, arranged an advantageous marriage for her daughter to William Montagu, 2nd earl of Salisbury. Whether Margaret knew about the extent of Joan’s relationship with Holland is uncertain – maybe she believed Joan was infatuated with the landless knight and hoped that marrying her to Montagu would cure the pre-teen of this puppy love?

By February 1341 Joan and Montagu were married.

Thomas Holland, however, didn’t appear to be in a rush to return to claim his wife; he spent the next few years campaigning in Europe. In 1342-3 he fought in Brittany with the king and was probably in Granada with the earl of Derby by 1343. In 1345 he was back in Brittany and was at the Siege of Caen in 1346; a battle in which Joan’s other husband, Montagu, may also have taken part – awkward!

Holland played a prominent part in the Siege of Caen, capturing the Count of Eu, constable of France, who surrendered himself to Holland based on the knight’s chivalrous reputation. The count was then sold to Edward III for 80,000 florins, possibly making Holland very wealthy indeed (if he ever received the full balance owed). Thomas Holland’s eminence rose further during the 1346 Crecy campaign, seeing action at Amiens and Rouen; he was wounded at a castle on the Seine and commanded the rearguard on the march from Caen.

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Otto Holland – Thomas’s brother and lieutenant

Recognition of his exploits came from the King in 1348, when Holland was made one of the Founder Knights of the Order of the Garter. His brother and lieutenant, Otto, was also awarded with the same honour – as was William Montagu, earl of Salisbury and the ‘other’ husband of the fair Joan. Montagu was also, at this  time, employing Thomas Holland as his steward – I wonder if Joan had had a hand in the appointment?

Holland now found himself in a position to petition the papal court to confirm the validity of his marriage and have Joan returned to him. The inaugural Garter tournament on St George’s Day, 1349 must have caused great interest, seeing Joan’s current husband, the Earl of Salisbury, fighting on the king’s team, while Sir Thomas Holland was on the side of Prince Edward, the Black Prince (Joan’s future husband, just to make things more confusing). It is not hard to imagine the highly charged atmosphere, with Joan’s 2 husbands facing each other across the tournament field, with the object of their affection watching from the stands.

If you’re wondering who Joan cheered for, my guess is Thomas Holland as, when called to testify to her marriage with Holland, Joan confirmed that, not only had she married Holland but the marriage had also been consummated. In November 1349 the court publicised the verdict; Joan’s marriage to Montagu was declared null and void and she was ordered to return to Holland.

Holland’s fortunes were certainly on the rise,  his wife restored to him, and with her brother’s death in 1352, Joan inherited estates in 16 counties, making Holland (by right of his wife) a lord of vast estates. His military career blossomed, he was given independent commands and in August  1352 was made Captain of Calais Castle; from 1354 he was summoned to parliament as Lord Holland.

Joan and Sir Thomas Holland had 5 children together; 3 sons and 2 daughters. Their 1st son, Thomas, Earl of Kent, was born in 1350 and married Alice, the daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel; he died in 1397.  Edmund was born in 1352 and died young. 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 Blanch of Lancaster, but was executed in 1400 for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Henry IV and return his brother to the throne.

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Arms of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent

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.

Thomas Holland’s military prestige continued to rise throughout the 1350s, with his appointment as the King’s lieutenant in Brittany in 1353-4, receiving funding from the local revenues. Thomas also had custody of the young heir to the duchy, John V, who was later married to the Holland’s daughter, Joan.

In June 1356 Holland was appointed Keeper of the Channel Islands and tasked with the recovery of the Islands’ Castle Cornet, then in French hands; Holland’s brother, Otto, soon recaptured it for the English. In the subsequent years, Holland was placed in charge of various castles in Normandy; until October 1359 when he was appointed joint lieutenant of Normandy with Philip of Navarre.

The apotheosis of Holland’s military career came in September 1360 when he was appointed the king’s captain and lieutenant in France and Normandy. It was at this time, also, that he was finally given the title earl of Kent – to bolster his authority and prestige among friends and enemies alike, in order to  aid in his task of carrying out the provisions of the Treaty of Bretigny of October 1360.

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Gatehouse of the Greyfriars at Stamford, Lincolnshire

However, before this duty could be fulfilled, and at the height of his fame and prestige, Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, contracted an illness and died at Rouen on 26th December 1360. He was buried in the church of the Friars Minor at Rouen, but was later moved to the Church of the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire.

His widow, Joan, would marry Prince Edward, the Black Prince and heir of Edward III, in the following year and their son, Richard would be crowned in 1377 as King Richard II. Holland’s children by Joan would be half-siblings to the King of England.

When Joan herself died in 1385 she chose to be buried beside her 1st husband in Lincolnshire, rather than with her prince in Canterbury Cathedral.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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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; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.

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Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Isabella of Gloucester, the Lost Queen of England

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King John

Isabella of Gloucester is a shadow in the pages of history. I could find no pictures of her. Until recently, no one even seemed certain of her name; in the history books she has been called Isabel, Isabella, Hawise, Avice – probably due to different language interpretations and translations. However, Rich Price, who has done extensive research on primary sources from King John’s reign has clarified that The Close Rolls definitely name her as ‘comitissa Isabella’ and ‘Isabella filia Willielmi comitis’, so we’ll stick with Isabella.

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

The youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, John was 9 years old at the time of the betrothal. However the wedding did not take place until 1189, when John was 21. Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, opposed the marriage as the couple were related within the prohibited degrees, both being a great-grandchild of Henry I, and ordered that they should not live together as husband and wife.

John promised to seek a papal dispensation, in order to overcome Baldwin’s objections – although it appears this was never obtained. Nonetheless, John and Isabella were married on 29th August, 1189, at Marlborough Castle, Wiltshire. Even though they were married for 10 years, it is possible they never, or rarely lived, together. They never had any children and it is during this time in his life that most of John’s illegitimate children were born.

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

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

Within months of his succession, possibly as early as 30th August 1199 (the day after their 10th wedding anniversary), but certainly by 1200, John had obtained a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity; the bishops of Lisieu, Bayeux and Avranches, sitting in Normandy, provided the required judgement.

However, in order to keep his hold on the substantial Gloucester lands, John detained Isabella in ‘honourable confinement’ for the next 14 years. When John remarried, to Isabelle d’Angouleme, his new, young wife (she was no more than 12 on her wedding day and possibly a year or two younger) was lodged with Isabella of Gloucester, her allowance raised from £50 to £80 to cover the extra expenditure that comes with housing a queen. John’s wife and ex-wife were housed together until a few weeks before the birth of Isabelle’s first child by John, the future King Henry III, who was born in 1207.

The king eventually arranged a new marriage for Isabella, to a man who was over 16 years her junior. In 1214, although possibly past child-bearing age – certainly safe child-bearing age – she was married to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who had paid the considerable sum of 20,000 marks to become her second husband and Earl of Gloucester ‘jure uxoris‘ (by right of his wife). Just 2 years later, in 1216, de Mandeville died from wounds he’d received in a tournament in London.

One of the Magna Cart sureties, de Mandeville was in a state of rebellion against the king when he died; as a result, all his lands and titles – including the earldom of Gloucester – were forfeit to the crown. Isabella was now a widow and although virtually penniless appears to have revelled in her first taste of freedom, styling herself on one charter ‘Countess of Gloucester and Essex in my free widowhood’. It was not until 17th September 1217, almost a year after the death of King John, that Isabella’s lands were returned to her.

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Hubert de burgh

At about the same time – or shortly after – Isabella was married for a third and final time, to Hubert de Burgh. Hubert De Burgh had become Chief Justiciar of England in 1215 and would rise to be Regent during the minority of Henry III. It was only several years after Isabella’s death that he would be created Earl of Kent.

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

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

She was laid to rest in Canterbury Cathedral, Kent.

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

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.

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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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly