William Montagu, the Man Who Married – and Lost – the Fair Maid of Kent

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William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

Born on the 28th June, 1328, at Donyatt in Somerset, William Montagu – or Montacute – was the son of William Montagu, 1st Earl of Salisbury and Katherine Grandison (died 1349), 3rd daughter of William Lord Grandison. Young William was the eldest of the couple’s 2 sons and 4 daughters.

William Montagu was a friend and contemporary of Edward, the Black Prince, son and heir of Edward III, who was raised alongside William in the Salisbury household. Also among the young aristocrats in the care of the Earl of Salisbury was Joan of Kent, daughter and heir of Edmund, Earl of Kent.

Before 10th February, 1341, young Montagu and Joan were married; a union arranged by the young couple’s parents and the King, Edward III, seeing as they were both only 12 years old at the time. Although it is possible Montagu and Joan lived together as husband and wife from the moment of their marriage, they were still very young and may well have delayed consummating the marriage for another year or so. It is more than likely that they carried on with their education, much the same as before, with Lady Joan learning how to manage a  noble household and Montagu continuing his knightly training.

On 30th January 1344, still only 15, Montagu became the 2nd Earl of Salisbury when his father died after receiving heavy bruising in the Windsor jousts. He was knighted at La Hogue, during the 1346 expedition to France, though whether this was by the King or the Prince of Wales seems to be in question. During the hostilities Montagu assisted in the Siege of Caen and may have been at the Battle of Crécy.

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Joan of Kent

Following the successes of the French campaign, Montagu became one of the Founders of the Order of the Garter when it was created by Edward III in April 1348. However,  in the following month poor Montagu became embroiled in the biggest bigamy scandal to hit medieval England, when Thomas Holland, Montagu’s steward and recently returned from crusading in Eastern Europe, petitioned the pope for the nullification of the marriage between Montagu and Joan, on the grounds of his prior marriage to Joan.

William contested the annulment; after all, Joan was only 12 when he married her and Holland was claiming that his marriage to Joan had been consummated about 2 years earlier, making Joan 9 or 10 at the time. However, when it came time for Joan to testify, she supported Holland’s claims; the annulment was granted on 17th November 1349 and Joan returned to her 1st husband.

Montagu wasted little time in finding himself another wife and married Elizabeth de Mohun shortly after the annulment had been granted. Elizabeth was the daughter of John, Lord Mohun of Dunster and, given that she was born around 1343, was only 6 or 7 at the time of the marriage. They would have one child, a son, William, who was born in 1361.

No longer a minor, in 1349 William Montagu had made proof of his age and was given the livery of his lands, as Earl of Salisbury. His mother passed away in the same year and he succeeded to her dower lands.

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Battle of Poitiers

The 1350s saw Montagu pursuing a highly successful military career. In 1350 he had served at Winchelsea, which saw the defeat of the Castilian fleet. In 1356 he distinguished himself serving as commander of the rearguard, alongside the Earl of Suffolk, in the Black Prince’s march through southern France; however, it was Montagu alone who commanded the rearguard during English victory at the battle of Poitiers. Some sources credit Montagu with having chosen the English defensive position, along the gap of a hedge, which proved invaluable to the Black Prince’s forces. He defeated the 1st major French attack, led by the marshals, Clermont and d’Audenahm; Clermont was killed and the other leaders captured.

William Montagu saw more fighting with the king, Edward III, in his expedition of 1359, before taking part in the negotiations for the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360.

During the relative peace of the 1360s Montagu served as a justice of the peace, at various times,  in Hampshire, Somerset and Devon; and he served on various commissions in Somerset and Devon. He was also embroiled in a legal dispute with the Mortimer earls of March over Denbigh, which had originally been a Mortimer possession, but was given to Montagu’s father for his part in the overthrow of Roger Mortimer in 1330. Montagu had done homage for it in 1353, but by 1355, due to his gaining royal favour, it was back in the hands of the Mortimer heir, Roger.

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Coat of Arms of Sir William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

The dispute rumbled on during the minority of the next Mortimer heir, Edmund, earl of March. Resolution was delayed even after Mortimer came of age, due to technicalities and Mortimer’s subsequent departure for duties in Ireland; where he died, and the Mortimer lands fell subject to yet another minority. By 1396 the earl of Salisbury was prepared to give the Mortimer’s a quitclaim, but this remained undelivered at William’s death and was left to his heir to resolve.

By the late 1360s war had resumed and William Montagu was sent to Calais with the earl of Warwick, in a futile raid commanded by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He was part of the king’s 1372 expedition to the relief of Thouars, which was forced to return to England due to unfavourable winds. In 1373 after commanding the English fleet which destroyed 7 Spanish ships in the harbour of St Malo, he relieved Brest; which had promised to yield if not relieved within 40 days. Negotiations ensued, thus avoiding a battle but enabling Montagu to resupply Brest and prevent its capture.

Still fighting the French, in 1377 Montagu served alongside the Earl of Arundel in a raid around la Rochelle, but was beaten off by local forces. By 1379, following the accession of Richard II, he was serving as Captain of Calais when he captured and burned the French fortified monastery of Beaulieu.

Montagu must have wondered at the strange twist of fate that had him serving a king, Richard II, who just happened to be the son of his 1st wife, Joan of Kent, and his childhood companion, Edward, the Black Prince.

On a personal front, 1378 had seen the marriage of Montagu’s son and heir, another William, to Elizabeth Fitzalan, daughter of the earl’s companion in arms Richard, Earl of Arundel. Their happiness was short-lived, however, when William died after only 4 years of marriage. In a tragedy that must have rocked Montagu to the core, on 6th August 1382 at Windsor, young William was killed in a tilting match by his own father, the earl. It must have been a horrendous scene to behold.

In the same year, 1382, Montagu had become involved in a legal dispute with his younger brother, John, concerning a statute merchant whose conditions were violated by John. The proceedings would rumble on and on; although a court of chivalry was established, with John Montagu being steward of the king’s household, no one was in a hurry to pronounce judgement on him. The case was not settled until after John’s death in 1390 and John’s son surrendered the disputed statute merchant in 1391.

The family disputes appear to have prevented Montagu from playing a major role in the reign of Richard II, as you might expect from the earl of Salisbury. He is thought to have stayed with the king throughout the Peasants Revolt of June 1381, and advised Richard II to show mercy to the rebels. Loyalty to the crown was a family tradition, but he seems to have been well-regarded by the Lords Apellant who opposed Richard’s favourites. And when Richard II resumed power on a more moderate basis, Montagu cooperated with him. He served in various commissions during the 1390s, but appears only on the periphery of national politics.

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Bisham Abbey Berkshire

Unfortunately the case had served to alienate William Montagu from his brother and nephew – both called John – who were also his heirs. As a result, Montagu started selling off substantial parts of his property, in order to keep them out of his brother’s hands. In 1393 he sold the Isle of Man to William Scrope and in his will, he left half of his goods to his wife and the rest to servants and the church, leaving nothing of his disposable property to his nephew, the new earl. John Montagu was left to inherit the title and landed estates not mentioned in the will.

Montagu had lived through the worst years of plague and the resultant Peasants’ Revolt; he had survived war with France on numerous occasions and suffered the personal tragedy of accidentally killing his only child. The last survivor of Edward III’s great captains of the Hundred Years War, William Montagu died on 3rd June 1397, just shy of his 69th birthday. He was buried at Montacute Priory at Bisham in Berkshire; unfortunately nothing remains of his tomb. His wife, Elizabeth, survived him by 18 years, later becoming a nun; she was received into the sisterhood of the convent of St Albans on 10th October. Having made her will in 1414, leaving her sister, Philippa, Duchess of York, and her nephew Richard, Lord Strange of Knockyn, as her heirs, she died on 14th January 1415.

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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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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.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Illustrious Queen

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Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal

Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. her father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful.

Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.

The children shared a household for some of their childhood and were given the best education available. The reformer John Wycliffe, 1st translator of the Bible into English, was among their tutors.

The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague, as a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive, was born around the same time.

The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted. The Lancaster household was well-organised and by 1376 the girls had been appointed a new governess; Katherine Swynford, who was by this time also mistress to their father, John of Gaunt.

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Wedding of Philippa and King John

As with most high-born women of the time, Philippa’s marriage was in the hands of her father. John of Gaunt planned for her to contract a dynastic match which would benefit and complement his own dynastic ambitions. In 1374, Philippa was betrothed to Gaston, Count of Foix, but nothing came of it. In 1381/2 she was offered in marriage to Jean de Blois, claimant to the duchy of Brittany; and in 1383 her prospective husband was Count William of Ostrevant, the heir to Hainault, Holland and Zeeland.

In 1385 and 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took her on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his 2nd wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made between the 2 Johns at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386.

Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. The British Museum has a beautifully illuminated manuscript (above) which depicts the wedding, with John of Gaunt and his wife, Constance, looking on. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John was 3 years her senior and had been king for just short of 2 years.

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John I, King of Portugal

Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.

A patron of literature, Philippa was sent a copy of John Gower’s poem “Confessio amantis“, which was translated into Portuguese by Robert Payn, an English canon of Lisbon Cathedral.

Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and was instrumental in fostering  links between England and Portugal, a practice helped by the mixture of English and Portuguese servants in her household. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV.

In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne.

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John and Philippa’s daughter Isabella, Duchess of Burgundy

Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.

Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem well-matched. John had had 2 illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding.

In fact when court gossip reached the queen that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies – he must have had a great sense of humour, and confidence in his relationship to be so bold.

Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children,  5 sons and 1 daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’. Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438.

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Prince Henry the Navigator

Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations – though he never undertook expeditions himself.

Their next youngest son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza.

The baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. Ferdinand had been held as a hostage for the return of Ceuta following the Disaster of Tangier, a siege led by his brother Henry. Ferdinand was held in increasingly severe confinement when it became apparent no ransom would be forthcoming, until he finally died in 1443.

John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; and become the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. As they were about to set sail Philippa fell ill.

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Tomb of John and Philippa

She had contracted plague and died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415. She was 55. On her deathbed she gave her 3 eldest sons, each, a jewel encrusted sword, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods, and a piece of the true cross. Giving them her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition she exhorted “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”¹.

The expedition sailed just 5 days after her death and Ceuta fell after only 1 day of siege, becoming Portugal’s 1st African possession.

Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Portuguese historian Fernao Lopes, secretary to Philippa’s son, Fernando, held Philippa up as a model queen. Her piety was renowned; in later life she was said to regularly read the Book of Psalms.

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Tombs of the Infantes, the 4 younger sons of John and Philippa

Queen Philippa was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by her husband. King John arranged for a magnificent tomb to be built in the Capela do Fundador. Constructed between 1426 and 1434, it is topped by their effigies, clasping each others’ hands. King John himself was laid beside her after his death in August 1433.

Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.

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Footnote: ¹ Edgar Prestage, The Portuguese pioneers.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.

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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.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Kidnapped Countess

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Denbigh Castle

The story of Alice de Lacey is like something straight from a novel, with rebellion, kidnappings and love all wrapped up in the life of this one was born Countess. Alice was born at Denbigh Castle on 25th December 1281. She was the daughter of Henry de Lacey, 5th Earl of Lincoln and, through her mother Margaret, granddaughter of William (II) Longspee, Earl of Salisbury.

Alice was one of 3 children. With 2 brothers, Edmund and John, she was, of course, not  expected to inherit her father’s earldom. However, 2 family tragedies made Alice one of the richest heiresses in England. Young Edmund, it appears, drowned in a well at Denbigh Castle and John fell to his death from the parapet at Pontefract Castle, leaving Alice as her parents’ sole heir.

In 1294 Alice’s marriage was arranged by no-less than the king – Edward I – who saw her as a suitable bride for his nephew Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and son of the king’s brother Edmund Crouchback. Alice and Thomas were married on or before 28th October 1294; he was about 16 years old and Alice was not yet 13.

Edward I had shown his unscrupulous nature in the marriage settlement in that Thomas was given part of the Lacey inheritance on the marriage, with the rest to pass to Thomas on Henry de Lacey’s death. The settlement further stipulated that the de Lacey lands would pass to Lancaster in the event of Alice’s dying without issue; thus excluding all collateral heirs to the earldoms of Salisbury and Lincoln.

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Seal of Henry de Lacey

Alice’s mother Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in her own right, died in 1309 and by June 1310 her father had remarried; probably in the hope of securing an heir for his earldom. In the event, it wasn’t to be and the Earl of Lincoln died in 1311, with his estates passing through his daughter, to Thomas Earl of Lancaster and Leicester.

With 5 earldoms to his name, Thomas now became one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom. Although he was initially a supporter of the new king, his cousin Edward II, he would soon turn against him and his favourites, making enemies along the way.

Poor Alice got caught in the middle of one of Thomas’s feuds.

According to the chronicler Walsingham:

The Countess of Lancaster … was seized at Canford, in Dorset, by a certain knight of the house and family of john, Earl Warenne, with many English retainers called together for the detestable deed, as it is said, with the royal assent. … With them was a certain man of a miserable stature, lame and hunchbacked, called Richard de St Martin, exhibiting and declaring constantly his evil intentions towards the lady, so miserably led away.

Alice was kidnapped in 1317 from her manor in Canford, Dorset, by John de Warenne’s man, Sir Richard de St Martin, supposedly with the king’s knowledge. Several reasons for the abduction have been put forward; one is, of course, that Alice and St Martin were having an affair while another is that the affair was between Alice and John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, himself.

Given the king’s involvement, a more likely explanation is that the kidnapping was organised by de Warenne in retaliation for Lancaster’s objections to de Warenne’s attempts to divorce his wife, Joan of Bar, in 1315/16. Joan was a cousin of Thomas of Lancaster and niece of King Edward II, but her marriage to John de Warenne was a disaster and John openly lived with his mistress, Maud Nerford. When he attempted to divorce Joan, Lancaster was one of his most vocal opponents; the divorce was eventually refused and de Warenne was even excommunicated for a time.

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Arms of Thomas and his father as Earls of Lancaster and Leicester

Alice was held at Reigate Castle, Surrey. Her abduction set off a private war between the 2 magnates, with Lancaster targeting Warenne’s Yorkshire estates and successfully besieging the Earl’s castle at Conisbrough in retaliation. Although he seems to have made little effort to actually rescue his wife and there is no record of how and when she was eventually released.

Alice and Thomas’s marriage does not appear to have been a happy one and there is some evidence that they were actually divorced in 1318, with Thomas retaining Alice’s earldoms after enforcing the marriage contract. The divorce was supposedly on account of her adultery with the Earl of Surrey’s squire, Sir Eubolo Lestrange (although this may be a confusion of facts from her abduction and her later marriage). It has also been claimed that Alice and her abductor, Richard de St Martin, were pre-contracted before her marriage to Thomas of Lancaster. However, although this is not impossible, it does seem unlikely, given Alice’s tender age on her wedding day.

Whether or not Alice and Thomas did divorce is still open to debate. If the divorce occurred, it did not protect her from the reprisals meted out after her husband’s failed rebellion and defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge on 16th March 1322. While Thomas was executed Alice, along with her step-mother, Joan, was imprisoned in York Castle.

It must have been a truly terrifying time for the 2 women; with no protectors they were at the mercy of the king’s favourites, the Despensers, father and son. Threatened with execution by burning they were forced to turn over the majority of their estates. Having paid an enormous ransom of £20,000 Alice was finally released, securing her titles, a small number of estates and the right to remarry.

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Lincoln Castle

Her step-mother, Joan, died in October 1322; we can only surmise as to whether or not her demise was as a consequence of her imprisonment.

Alice would eventually recover Lincoln Castle and the Earldom of Lincoln, but many of her estates were given to her erstwhile abductor, John de Warenne, and only returned to her by Edward III, many years later.

By November 1324 Alice had married again, this time to a minor baron from the Welsh Marches, Sir Ebule, or Eubolo, Lestrange of Shropshire. The  marriage demonstrated that Alice had managed to come out of the disaster of her first husband’s downfall with enough income and  property to make her an attractive proposition as a wife. Although, it does seem possible that this marriage was a love-match.

This marriage appears to have been a happier one, given that Lestrange moved over to Lincolnshire to look after his wife’s interests, and that it was with Sir Eubolo that Alice chose to be buried, when the time came. Alice and Sir Eubolo were married for over 10 years, although towards the latter part Lestrange was away campaigning in Scotland, where he died in September 1335. Alice was named as one of his executors and he was buried in Barlings Abbey, Lincolnshire.

Following his death, Alice took a vow of chastity and looked determined to settle into a life of quiet retirement. However, her adventures were not quite at an end. In 1335, or early 1336, Alice was kidnapped for a 2nd time; she was abducted from her castle at Bolingbroke and raped, by Sir Hugh de Freyne. Freyne was a Herefordshire knight and royal keeper of the town and castle of Cardigan.

There appears some suggestion that Alice was in collusion with Sir Hugh, with the theory being that her abduction was a way for her to escape her vow of chastity. It seems more likely that Alice acquiesced to a situation over which she had little control. Edward III was furious and ordered the imprisonment of the couple, but they were reconciled with the king 1336 and allowed to marry. The marriage did much to improve Freyne’s status and brought him a summons to Parliament in November 1336.

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Barlings Abbey

However, such success was short-lived as he died at Perth in December 1336 or January 1337.

Shortly after her 3rd husband’s death, the Bishop of Lincoln issued a demand that Alice keep her prior vow and chastity. As there were no further marriages – or abductions – we can probably assume that she did. Alice died on the 2nd October 1348 at the grand age of 66. She was buried with her 2nd husband at the Premonstratensian House of Barlings, in Lincolnshire.

Having had no children from any of her 3 marriages, Alice’s lands and titles, as according to her marriage settlement 54 years earlier, passed to the house of Lancaster and her husband’s nephew, Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and father of Blanche of Lancaster, John of Gaunt’s 1st wife.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Lincoln Castle © 2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  findagrave.com; oxforddnb.com; royaldescent.net.

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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 still available in hardback in the UK from both 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 from Amberley Publishing  and Amazon.

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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.

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©2016 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.

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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.

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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

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, on Kindle and in hardback, 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, 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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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 her widower would marry his long-time mistress, Kathryn Swynford. When he died in 1399, however, John of Gaunt chose 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 manage to secure the crown for Constance’s descendants, through their daughter Catherine and grandson, John II of Castile.

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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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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, Book Depository and 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 Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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, probably on 7 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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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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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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©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 11th April 1374, 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 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; mortimerhistorysociety.org.uk.

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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

The Complicated Love Life of John of Gaunt

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John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

The third surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault John of Gaunt was born in 1340 at the Abbey of St Bavon, in Ghent in modern-day Belgium. At the height of his career he was the most powerful man in the kingdom after the king. He was virtually regent for his father, Edward III, in his old age, thus getting the blame for military failures and government corruption. His reputation was further damaged when he blocked the reforms of the Good Parliament of 1376, which had tried to curb the corruption of Edward III’s and limit the influence of the king’s grasping mistress, Alice Perrers.

John of Gaunt’s wealth meant he could form the largest baronial retinue of knights and esquires in the country. He alone provided a quarter of the army raised for Richard II’s Scottish campaign in 1385. A stalwart supporter of his nephew, Richard II, he was the target for the rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt; his London residence, the Savoy Palace, was burned to the ground in 1381.

He was a soldier and statesman whose career spanned 6 decades and several countries, including England, Belgium, France, Scotland and Castile. However, by far the most fascinating part of his life is his love life. John married three times; his wives being two great heiresses and a long-time mistress.

John of Gaunt’s first marriage, at the age of 19, was aimed to give him prestige, property and income and was arranged as part of his father’s plans to provide for the futures of several of his children. John and 14-year-old Blanche of Lancaster, youngest daughter of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, were married on 19th May 1359 in the Queen’s Chapel at Reading.

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Wedding of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

It is quite likely that John had already fathered one child, a daughter, Blanche, by Marie de St Hilaire before his marriage. Blanche was born sometime before 1360 and would go on to marry Sir Thomas Morieux before her death in 1388 or 1389.

Blanche of Lancaster was described as “jone et jolie” – young and pretty – by the chronicler Froisssart, and also “bothe fair and bright” and Nature’s “cheef patron of beautee” by Geoffrey Chaucer. She brought John of Gaunt the earldom of Lancaster following her father’s death from plague in 1361, and those of Leicester and Lincoln when her older sister, Matilda, died of the same disease in 1362, making him the largest landowner in the country, after the king.

The marriage proved very successful, with 7 children being born in just 8 years, 3 of whom survived infancy; daughters Philippa and Elizabeth and a son, Henry of Bolingbroke.

It has always been believed that Blanche died in 1369, when John of Gaunt was away in France, having moved her young family to Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, to escape a fresh outbreak of the Black Death, but that she succumbed to the plague while there. However, recent research has discovered that Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague, following the birth of her daughter, Isabella, who died young. Her husband was by her side when she died and arranged to have prayers said for the soul of his lost duchess.

She was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. John of Gaunt arranged for a splendid alabaster tomb and annual commemorations for the rest of his life. John also commissioned Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Book of the Duchess, also known as The Deth of Blaunche; a poem that is said to depict Gaunt’s mourning for his wife, in the tale of a Knight grieving for his lost love. In it Chaucer describes Blanche as “whyt, smothe, streght and flat. Naming the heroine “White”, he goes on to say she is “rody, fresh and lyvely hewed”.

Before 1365 Blanche had taken into her household a lady called Katherine Swynford, wife of one of her husband’s Lincolnshire knights. John was godfather to the Swynfords’ daughter, Blanche. Katherine later became governess to Blanche’s two daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth and young Blanche Swynford was lodged in the same chambers as the Duchess’s daughters, and accorded the same luxuries as the princesses.

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Surrender of Santiago de Compostela to John of Gaunt. Constance is the lady on horseback (Froissart)

Katherine was the daughter of a Hainault knight, Sir Paon de Roet of Guyenne, who came to England in the retinue of Queen Philippa. She had grown up at court with her sister, Philippa, who would later marry Geoffrey Chaucer. Whilst serving in Blanche’s household, she had married one of John of Gaunt’s retainers, a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London.

Following Blanche’s death Katherine stayed on in the Duke’s household, taking charge of the Duke’s daughters. However, it was only shortly after her husband’s death in 1371 that rumours began of a liaison between Katherine and the Duke; although it is possible the affair started before Sir Hugh’s death, this is far from certain.

John and Katherine would have four children – 3 sons and a daughter – in the years between 1371 and 1379. They were supposedly born in John’s castle in Champagne, in France, and were given the name of the castle as their surname; Beaufort. However it seems just as likely that they were named after the lordship of Beaufort, which had formerly belonged to Gaunt and to which he still laid claim.

Meanwhile, John had not yet done with his dynastic ambitions and, despite his relationship with Katherine, married Constance of Castile in September 1371. Constance was the daughter of Peter I “the Cruel” and his ‘hand-fast’ wife, Maria de Padilla. Born in 1354 at Castro Kerez, Castile, she succeeded her father as ‘de jure’ Queen of Castile on 13th March 1369, but John was never able to wrest control of the kingdom from the rival claimant Henry of Tastamara, reigning as Henry III, and would eventually come to an agreement in 1388 where Henry married John and Constance’s daughter, Katherine.

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Tombs of Katherine Swynford and her daughter, Joan Beaufort, Lincoln Cathedral

Katherine was born in 1372/3 at Hertford Castle and was the couple’s only surviving child.

John and Constance’s relationship appears to be purely dynastic. There is some suggestion John formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with Constance in June 1381, possibly as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt, following the destruction of his palace on the Thames.

Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court. With 4 children by John of Gaunt but still only, officially, governess to his daughters, Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.

Constance, however, died on 24th March, 1394, at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester.

John then went to Guienne to look after his interests as Duke of Aquitaine and remained in France from September 1394 until December 1395. When he returned to England, John wasted no time in reuniting with Katherine and they were married in Lincoln Cathedral in January 1396.

John then made an appeal to the Pope and his children by Katherine were legitimated on 1st September 1396, and then by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. However, a later clause excluded the Beaufort children from the succession.

John was a man of renown, of culture and refinement. An amateur poet and friend of Chaucer, who had married Katherine’s sister, Philippa, he was also a patron of Wycliffe and encouraged the translation of the Bible into English.

His complicated love life would cause problems for future generations, with his son by Blanche of Lancaster, Henry, forcing the abdication of Richard II and usurping the throne on 30th September 1399. His Beaufort descendants would be prominent players on both sides of the Wars of the Roses. While his son John, Earl of Somerset was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, his daughter, Joan, was grandmother of the Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III.

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Drawing of the tomb of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, etching by Wenceslas Hollar, 1658

Katherine would outlive John and died at Lincoln on 10th May 1403. She was buried, close to the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince just 7 years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was laid to rest beside her, following her death in 1440. Their tombs, however, are empty and they are buried beneath the floor of the cathedral.

John himself died on 3 February 1399, probably at Leicester Castle. He was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, beside his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. This has often been seen as his final act of love for his first wife, despite the problems John went through in order to finally be able to marry his mistress, Katherine Swynford.

Personally, I think the two ladies, Blanche and Katherine, were his true love at different parts of John’s life. And I hope he had some feelings for poor Constance, who frequently appears as only a means to his dynastic ambitions.

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Article originally published on English Historical Fiction Authors in September 2015.

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Sources: Williamson, David Brewer’s British Royalty; Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn History Today Companion to British History; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; Paul Johnson The Life and Times of Edward III; Ian Mortimer The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III; WM Ormrod The Reign of Edward III; Edited by Elizabeth Hallam Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry; Amy Licence Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except the tomb of Katherine Swynford, © Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015.

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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 will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on 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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Coming out in Paperback in the UK on 15 March:

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 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 from Amberley Publishing and  Amazon.

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Lost Prince – John of Eltham

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The Great Hall of Eltham Palace

John of Eltham was the 2nd child and youngest son of Edward II of England and Isabella of France. He was born on 15th August 1316 at Eltham palace in Kent. Edward II had given Eltham to his queen, as a gift and she stayed there often.

John’s birth was a reassurance of the continuation of his father’s dynasty; his elder brother Edward of Windsor – the future Edward III – had been born in 1312. Although he had lost Scotland after the Battle of Bannockburn 2 years earlier, Edward’s throne was relatively secure when John was born. Edward II himself was not personally under pressure; as he had been when his eldest son was born.

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Eltham Palace today

The St Albans Chronicler reported how happy the king was, with the birth of his new son. Eubolo de Montibus was rewarded £100 for bringing the news of the birth to the king in York on 24th August. On the same day Edward II himself wrote to the Dominican friars, asking them to pray for the king, the queen, Edward of Windsor and John of Eltham, ‘especially on account of John’ who was not yet 10 days old.

Although miles away in York, Edward arranged for coverings of cloth-of-gold to be delivered for the font in Eltham’s chapel, to be used during John’s baptism. He also ordered a robe of white velvet to be made for Isabella’s churching ceremony.

Edward II also saw to the practicalities of his new son’s finances, ordering Edward of Windsor’s Justiciar in Chester, Sir Hugh Audley the Elder, to pay the rents, from the manor of Macclesfield, to the queen to cover John’s expenses. When a daughter, Eleanor of Woodstock, was  born in 1318, all 3 children were housed together at Wallingford Castle, near Oxford.

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Coat of arms of John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall

In 1320, however, their household was rearranged again and John and Eleanor went to live with their mother, Queen Isabella, while 8-year-old Edward joined the king’s household.

Edward and Isabella’s relationship seems to have been cordial, at least, until after the birth of their last daughter, Joan of the Tower, in 1321.

At the age of 6, in August 1322, John was given the Lancastrian castle of Tutbury.

Edward’s defeat of his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, and rebel barons at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 seems to have precipitated the final breakdown of the marriage. With the defeat of the rebels, Edward was able to lavish power on his favourite Hugh le Despenser the Younger.

As Despenser’s authority and influence over the king grew, Isabella’s waned. She had to turn to Hugh’s wife Eleanor, the king’s niece, as intermediary to get the king’s approval of her requests.

In 1323 and 1324 Isabella spent a lot of time in London, seeing a great deal of her children, including John. However, in September 1324 John and his sister, Eleanor, were removed from their mother by the king. They were placed in the care of Eleanor Despenser.

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Prince John of Eltham

In 1325 Queen Isabella was sent to France to negotiate peace with her brother, King Charles IV. John and his sisters remained in England, but Isabella managed to persuade Edward II to send his son Edward of Windsor, newly created Duke of Gascony, to France to do homage for his French lands. With the heir in her custody Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, planned their return to England.

On Mortimer’s invasion in 1326 there was anarchy in London. The mob broke into the Tower of London, intending to set up 9-year-old John of Eltham as ruler of the city. However, Edward II was soon captured and in January 1327 he was forced to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, 14-year-old Edward III.

Edward II was probably murdered at Berkeley castle in September 1327, although some historians now argue he escaped and lived on the Continent as a hermit, under papal protection.

Although Edward was now king, Roger Mortimer was de facto ruler of England. John was a natural ally to his brother against the growing oppression of Mortimer. When Mortimer demanded he receive the Earldom of March at the forthcoming Salisbury Parliament, Edward countered by insisting his brother be given a rich earldom. And in October 1328, on the last day of parliament, John was created Earl of Cornwall.

From May to June of 1329 John was appointed Guardian of the Realm while Edward III travelled to France to pay homage for his French possessions; he was briefly appointed Guardian again in April 1331 when Edward went on pilgrimage to northern France.

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Halidon Hill memorial

Married to Philippa of Hainault, with a son, Edward, in the cradle; in October 1330 Edward III had managed to overthrow the hated Mortimer and began his personal rule. In the lead up to the coup John must have been with his brother almost constantly; he witnessed 66 charters between January and October 1330, 10 more than Mortimer himself.

Edward was very fond of his brother. They had shared the terror of Mortimer’s dictatorship. John had benefited from the flood of estates and rewards following Mortimer’s downfall; Edward had been too cautious to distribute such largesse to his non-royal friends.

While their sisters married – Joan to David of Scotland and Eleanor to the Count of Guelders – John remained very much a stalwart of Edward’s lavish court. A writ in March 1334, for clothing for the court, has John sharing the costs of pearls used to decorate 7 hoods; while Edward footed the bill for 2 of the hoods, John financed 5 of them.

Several brides were proposed for him; Jeanne, a daughter of the Count of Eu, Mary of Blois and Mary of Coucy among them. In October 1334 John received a papal dispensation to marry Maria, a daughter of Fernando IV, king of Castile and Leon. However, the marriage never took place.

When Edward turned his attentions to Scotland, John was with him. Edward III supported the claims of Edward Balliol, against David II Bruce, for the Scots crown. David’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Halidon Hill. While Edward III commanded the central division the king’s uncle, the Earl of Norfolk, led the right with Prince john by his side. Hand-to-hand combat followed a terrifying onslaught of arrows, and the Scots were routed.

Tomb of John of Eltham, Westminster Abbey.
Tomb of John of Eltham, Westminster Abbey

John was also by his brother’s side during the 1335 and 1336 campaigns in Scotland. In June 1335 John joined the muster at Newcastle. The 1335 war was without compromise: looting, raping, killing and burning.

John appears to have been a competent and ruthless commander. Trusted by his brother he commanded a force in southern Scotland, putting down opposition to Edward Balliol. It is said that Joh burned down Lesmahagow Abbey when it was filled with people who had sought sanctuary from the English troops.

In 1336 John led a great council in Northampton while his brother was still in Scotland. The council decided to send an embassy to France to seek a compromise over the developing hostilities (France were promising to aid the Scots). John was soon back with Edward III in Perth where he died on 13th September 1336, just a month after his 20th birthday.

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Weepers on the tomb of John of Eltham

Thomas Gray, writing in 1355, said John died a ‘good death’, it is thought he died of a fever, brought on by his military exertions. There were, however, rumours of foul play and the Scots even suggested John was stabbed by an enraged Edward at the altar of the Church of St John, angry at his brother’s ruthlessness against the Scots.

Edward III was very upset by John’s death. He ordered 900 masses to be said for his brother’s soul, and even a year later his accountant noted extra alms-giving by the king in john’s memory.

John was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13th January 1337 and Edward III had an alabaster monument erected in St Edmund’s Chapel. The effigy has a moustache and is wearing a mixture of mail and plate armour, with John’s coat of arms on the shield. The Weepers surround the base of the tomb and could be representative of John’s family members.

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Photographs: The Weepers © the V&A Museum, London; Tomb of Prince John of Eltham © Westminster Abbey; all other pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The 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; edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk; westminster-abbey.org.

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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

Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster

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The wedding of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt, painted by Horace Wright, 1914

Blanche of Lancaster is one of those ladies of history more famous because of her children and the antics of her husband. Blanche’s life was pitifully short, but her legacy would see the unravelling of peace in the fifteenth century, and the decades of civil war called the Wars of the Roses.

Blanche of Lancaster was born around 25th March 1345, at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire. She was the 2nd and youngest daughter of illustrious parents; Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster and Isabella de Beaumont. Henry of Grosmont was the grandson of Edmund Crouchback and a great-grandson of Henry III. Isabella was the daughter of Henry, 1st Baron de Beaumont and Earl of Buchan by right of his wife, Alice Comyn.

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Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster

Blanche had only one sibling, her older sister, Matilda, who was married, 1st to Ralph de Stafford and later to William V, Duke of Bavaria, Count of Holland, Hainault and Zeeland. Blanche herself was betrothed to John de Segrave as a child, but this seems to have been set aside soon afterwards.

By the late 1350s Blanche was a part of King Edward III’s plans to provide for his growing number of sons. As one of the country’s richest heiresses, Blanche was chosen as the bride for Edward’s 3rd surviving son, John of Gaunt. Blanche and John were 3rd cousins, being great-great-grandchildren of Henry III.

The couple was married on the 19th of May 1359 at Reading Abbey in Berkshire. Blanche had just turned 14 and John was 19 years old.

In 1361 Blanche suffered a double tragedy; her father died of bubonic plague in Leicester in March and her mother succumbed to the same disease before the end of the year. While her sister inherited the earldoms of Leicester and Lincoln, John of Gaunt inherited those of Derby and Lancaster by right of his wife; however, the title of Duke of Lancaster became extinct with Henry of Grosmont’s death.

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John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

By April 1362 Blanche’s sister had also succumbed to the Black Death; there were some rumours of poison, but this seems unlikely. Maud had died childless and so Blanche inherited the remainder of her father’s estates. Blanche – and by extension John of Gaunt – now added the earldoms of Leicester and Lincoln to their vast holdings. John was invested with the title of Duke of Lancaster and was now the most powerful magnate in England; holding more than 30 castles, his lands and possessions were second only to those of the king.

Blanche herself was pregnant for most of her married life, giving birth to 7 children between 1360 and 1368. 3 sons, John, Edward and a 2nd John, and a daughter, Isabella, died young. Two daughters and a son did, however, survive into adulthood.

The eldest daughter, Philippa, was born on 31st March 1360  and would marry King John I of Portugal. Philippa was the mother of 8 children, known as the ‘Illustrious Generation’ in Portugal, including Edward, King of Portugal, Prince Henry the Navigator and Ferdinand the Holy Prince. Philippa herself would die of plague in 1415.

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Tomb of Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre, Canterbury Cathedral

A 2nd daughter, Elizabeth, was born around 1363 at Burford, Shropshire. Although her 1st marriage to John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, was annulled, her 2nd marriage, to John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, would end with his execution for treason in 1400; they had 5 children. Elizabeth would marry for a 3rd time to John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope, with whom she had a daughter before she died in 1426.

Blanche and John’s last surviving child, Henry of Bolingbroke, was born at Bolingbroke Castle in 1367, probably on 15th April. Having been exiled in the later years of the reign of his cousin, Richard II, Henry would return to England following the death of his father and confiscation of his inheritance by the king. Richard was forced to abdicate and Henry succeeded to the throne as King Henry IV.

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Bolingbroke Castle, Lincolnshire, where Blanche of Lancaster was born, and died.

Henry’s 1st marriage, to Mary de Bohun, produced 7 children, including the future King Henry V; his 2nd marriage was to Joanna of Navarre, Duchess of Brittany. Henry IV died on 20th March 1413 and was buried at Canterbury Cathedral; Joanna would be buried beside him following her own death in 1437.

By 1365 Blanche had taken Katherine Swynford into her household. Katherine was the wife of one of John of Gaunt’s Lincolnshire knights. Moreover, John was godfather to their daughter, Blanche, who was named after the Duchess. Young Blanche Swynford was lodged in the same chambers as the Duchess’s daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth and accorded the same luxuries as the princesses.

Having lost her parents and sister to the Black Death it is not surprising that Blanche was fearful of the disease. In the summer of 1368 she is said to have moved her family away from the city, to Bolingbroke Castle to escape the pestilence.

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1658 etching by Wenceslas Hollar, of the tomb of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

There seems to be some doubt over the year of her death – some sources say 1368 – and even the nature of it. One theory is that Blanche succumbed to the bubonic plague, the disease she most feared, in 1369. As a daughter, Isabella, who died young, was born in 1368 some have suggested Blanche died in childbirth. However, recent research by Amy Licence has discovered that Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague. Her husband was by her side when she died and a letter has come to light in which John arranged to have prayers said for the soul of his lost duchess.¹

Blanche was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London; where John of Gaunt arranged for a splendid alabaster tomb and annual commemorations for the rest of his life. And despite 2 subsequent marriages, John of Gaunt would be interred next to Blanche following his own death in 1399. The tomb was lost when the cathedral was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Blanche is one of the few ladies of the 14th century of whom we have several descriptions. The Chronicler Froissart noted that she was “jone et jolie” – young and pretty.

The best description, however, is from Geoffrey Chaucer, Katherine Swynford’s brother-in-law, who was commissioned by John of Gaunt to write The Book of the Duchess, also known as The Deth of Blaunche. The poem is said to depict Gaunt’s mourning for his wife, in the tale of a Knight grieving for his lost love.

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Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Book of the Duchess’

Chaucer describes Blanche’s neck (yes, her neck) as “whyt, smothe, streght and flat. Naming the heroine “White”, he goes on to say she is “rody, fresh and lyvely hewed”.  Blanche (White) was “bothe fair and bright” and Nature’s “cheef patron of beautee”.

Despite his marrying Constance of Castile just 2 years later, and his eventual marriage to his mistress, Katherine Swynford, being singled out as one of the great love affairs of the age, it was said that Blanche was the love of his life.

Chaucer’s poem and the lavish tomb and commemorations are said to highlight Gaunt’s love for his 1st wife; the fact he was eventually buried beside her has been seen, by many, as the final proof of this love.

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Footnote: ¹Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence.

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Photograph of the tomb of Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre are © Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015. All other pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; 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; unofficialroyalty.com; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly