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

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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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. They had 3 sons, John, Thomas and Henry, and a daughter, Joan, 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 – or Catalina – 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, it is claimed 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; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford;.

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

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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 two 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.

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

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.

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.

Prince John of Eltham
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

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

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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.

Their 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, some 1369 – 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. 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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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Alice Perrers, Mistress of the King

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Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

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

Although it is impossible to find any definite date, it seems likely that Alice Perrers was born in the late 1340s. For many years she was believed to be the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers, a prominent Hertfordshire landowner who had been both sheriff and Member of Parliament for his county. However, recent research has suggested that she is the daughter of either William Salisbury, a goldsmith, or one of his possible kinsmen, John or Gilbert Salisbury. Her mother was likely the Joan Salisbury involved in a joint purchase of a messuage in Canterbury with Alice Perrers and others in 1371. A John Salisbury was identified as her brother in a petition of 1377 or 1378 from John Cobham seeking payment of debts. Her first husband was Janyn Perrers, who may had been apprenticed to William Salisbury (Alice’s possible father or kinsman). He died in 1361 or 1362.1

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

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

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Queen Philippa of Hainault

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

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

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

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

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Edward III

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

Whereas Queen Philippa had remained in the domestic environment, Alice Perrers had greater political ambitions. The court was dominated by a ‘narrow, exclusive and unpopular clique’2. Along with  Lord Latimer and Lord Neville, Edward’s chamberlain and steward respectively, Alice enjoyed almost total control of royal patronage; she became the king’s principal advisor and advanced her own friends into positions of influence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Walsingham: “the Parliamentary knights complained bitterly about one Alice Perrers, a wanton woman who was all too familiar with Edward III. They accused her of numerous misdeeds, performed by her and her friends in the realm. She far overstepped the bounds of feminine conduct: forgetful of her sex and her weakness, now besieging the king’s justices, now stationing herself among the doctors in the ecclesiastical courts, she did not fear to plead in defence of her cause and even to make illegal demands. As a result of the scandal and great shame which this brought on King Edward, not only in this kingdom but also in foreign lands, the knights sought her banishment from his side.3

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

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Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath

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

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

However, once parliament had disbanded John of Gaunt, as virtual ruler of the kingdom, recalled all those banished. Edward “recalled his mistress, Alice Perrers, to his company; she had been legally banished from his presence, on account of the scandal and shame which came from her wantonness. This was against the oath by which Alice had bound herself and which the king himself had ratified…4

Alice stayed with the king until his death.

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

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

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Church of St Lawrence, Upminster

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

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

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

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Footnotes: ¹ C. Given-Wilson, Oxforddnb.com; 2WM Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III; 3&4 Thomas Walsingham, St Albans Chronicle

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

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My books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Scandal

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Arms of Katherine Swynford

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

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

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

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

By 1365 Katherine was serving in the household of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, and her husband John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Lancaster. Sometime before 1367 Katherine married a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, possibly at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London. They had at least 2 children, Blanche and Thomas (born May 1367 and September 1368, respectively); John of Gaunt was Blanche’s godfather. A third possible child was Margaret Swynford (born c. 1369), who was nominated as a nun at Barking. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt’s and accompanied him to Europe in 1366 and 1370.

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John of Gaunt

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

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

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

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

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

By 1372 Katherine’s status within Gaunt’s household had risen, indicating their developing relationship. While continuing in her post of governess to Philippa and Elizabeth, Katherine bore 4 children between 1373 and 1379, acknowledged by John of Gaunt as his own; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan. They were given the surname of Beaufort, possibly after their father’s lost French lordship in Anjou, but that is not certain.

I could find no record of Constance’s – or Katherine’s – reactions to Gaunt’s living arrangements. It’s hard to imagine that either was completely happy with the situation, but Gaunt does appear to have fulfilled his obligations to both women. In 1377, John granted Katherine the manors of Wheatley and Gringley in Nottinghamshire, with an annual income of £150. The gift was seen as a public acknowledgement of Katherine’s position – and a slight to Gaunt’s wife. Contemporary chroniclers denounced Katherine as ‘une deblesce et enchantresce‘ (a devil and enchantress).

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

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Lincoln Cathedral today, viewed from the walls of Lincoln Castle

Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court. John of Gaunt kept a stable of 12 horses for her use and her relationship with Gaunt and his family remained cordial. She is known to have lent him money for his Castilian expedition of 1386 and in 1387 received a New Years’ gift from the countess of Derby, the wife of John’s eldest son, Henry.

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

At Lincoln Cathedral, in January 1396 and a quarter of a century after the start of their relationship, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford were married. Styled Lady Katherine, Duchess of Lancaster, she was, briefly, the 1st Lady in England following the death of Queen Anne of Bohemia. Although the marriage undoubtedly caused surprise and upset among members of the royal court, it had a very practical outcome.

Once they were married John of Gaunt was able to petition the pope for the legitimisation his children by Katherine. This was achieved by papal bull on 1st September 1396, and confirmed by Richard II’s royal patent on 9th February 1397. The result was the children’s exalted position in court society and a marked improvement in their marriage and career prospects. A further Charter in the reign of Henry IV also excluded the Beauforts from the succession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Katherine Swynford’s tomb, 1809

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Richard of Conisbrough, the Traitorous Earl

Richard_of_Conisburgh,_3rd_Earl_of_Cambridge
Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge

Richard of Conisbrough seems to have been a very controversial figure throughout his life, from questions of his paternity, through his secret marriage, to his untimely death for his involvement in a particularly ill-thought-out plot.

He and I were born within 3 miles (and, of course,  6 centuries) of each other. As a student, I even gave guided tours at the Castle in which he was born. And the man is a completely fascinating, and yet such a shadowy, figure. The grandfather of both Edward IV and Richard III, he seems to have been a mediocre diplomat and soldier, and his eventual treason barely registers in the history books.

Richard’s birth is obscured by time. Although sources seem undecided, the most likely date of his birth appears to be 1386 (although some place it as early as 1375). He was a grandson of Edward III through his father, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York; and his mother, Isabella of Castile (sister of John of Gaunt’s wife, Constance), was described by chronicler Thomas of Walsingham as having ‘loose morals’. She and Edmund appear to have been an ill-matched pair from the beginning.

Isabella_of_Castile-Langley
Isabel of Castile

Edmund and Isabella married in 1372, two children soon followed; Edward of Norwich in c.1373 and Constance in c.1374. It seems the couple’s relationship cooled soon after, as no other children were forthcoming for over 10 years. As a result, the arrival of Richard of Conisbrough in 1386 appears to have raised some eyebrows and most people – even of the time – suspected that he was the son of Isabella’s lover, rather than the Duke of York.

Isabel’s relationship with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother of the king, Richard II, was probably an open secret. The fact that his father and brother, both, left him out of their wills has fuelled this theory. However, leaving a son out of your will was not entirely unusual – Edmund of Langley was, in fact, left out of his own father’s will (that of Edward III) – and, my research suggests that Richard of Conisbrough was already dead by the time his brother, Edward, made his will.

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Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

Isabella died on 23rd December 1392. Her will made Richard II her heir, but specifically asked him to provide an annual pension of 500 marks for her youngest son. Richard’s allowance was paid regularly until 1399, but following the deposition of Richard II and accession of Henry IV, payments were made only sporadically and Richard of Conisbrough became the Royal Family’s ‘poor relation’.

Richard of Conisbrough’s father, Edmund of Langley, died in 1402 and the dukedom of York passed to Richard’s older brother, Edward.

Although his regular pension petered out under Henry IV, Richard’s career was largely unremarkable. In 1403/4 he was given command of a small force to defend Herefordshire against the last native prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr. Richard was able to make several connections in the area; most notably with the Mortimer family. The Mortimers were cousins of Richard’s through the marriage of Lionel, Duke of Clarence’s daughter Philippa (Edward III’s granddaughter) to Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March.

Edmund_of_Langley_remonstrating_with_the_King_of_Portugal_-_Chronique_d'_Angleterre_(Volume_III)_(late_15th_C),_f.186r_-_BL_Royal_MS_14_E_IV
Edmund of Langley and the King of Portugal

Richard of Conisbrough secretly married Anne Mortimer (Philippa’s granddaughter) sometime in 1406. The couple had married without parental consent, or the papal dispensation required due to their being 2nd and 4th cousins. The dispensation was finally obtained in 1408.

Probably a love-match – Anne seems to have been as destitute as her husband. Born in December 1390 Anne’s family were close to Richard II; her father, Roger Mortimer, being seen as his possible heir until his death in 1398. Seen as rivals claimants by the new King, Henry IV, Anne’s fortunes changed in 1399 and  she was described as ‘destitute’ after her mother’s death in 1405.

The marriage of Anne and Richard produced 2 children; Isabella was born in 1409 and Richard, later Duke of York, was born in 1411. Not yet 21 years old, Anne herself died in September 1411, probably due to complications following the birth of her son. She was buried at Kings Langley, alongside Edmund of Langley and Isabella of Castile.

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Tomb of Edmund of Langley

Richard would marry as his 2nd wife, sometime between 1411 and 1415, Maud daughter of Thomas, 6th Baron Clifford and divorced wife of John Neville, 6th Baron Latimer. Following his death, Maud continued to live at Richard’s birthplace of Conisbrough Castle, dying there in 1446.

Richard was knighted by Henry IV in 1406, probably with a view to his escorting Henry’s daughter, Philippa, to Denmark, for her marriage to King Erik. Richard’s stay in Denmark was short and unremarkable; he was back in England 2 months after witnessing the wedding.

Little more is heard of Richard until he was created Earl of Cambridge in the reign of Henry V, in 1414. The earldom did not improve his prospects, as it came without the usual grants of land or revenue to support the title; Richard was thought the poorest of England’s Earls.

ConisbroughCastle
Conisbrough Castle

Fuelled by resentment Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, began plotting with Sir Thomas Grey and Henry 3rd Baron Scrope. Their scheme was to murder Henry V and his 3 brothers at Southampton, before their embarkation  for the invasion of France, and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

However, it seems unclear whether March himself was in on the plot as it was the Earl who revealed it to the king on the 31st July 1415.

Cambridge and his co-conspirators were quickly rounded up. Arrested as the ringleader and at just 30 years old, Cambridge’s honours and estates were declared forfeit. Despite pleas for mercy he was beheaded for treason at Southampton Green on 5th August 1415. He was buried in the Chapel of God’s House, Southampton.

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Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York

Although his honours were forfeit, Richard of Conisbrough was not attainted and his son remained his heir and was therefore able to inherit the dukedom of York, from his uncle Edward, following his death at Agincourt just 2 months later, in October 1415.

The 4-year-old Richard, Duke of York, was made a royal ward. He was raised by the Nevilles, a powerful northern family, and would marry Cecily Neville, youngest daughter of Ralph, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and his second wife, Joan Beaufort. The combination of his York and Mortimer inheritances not only made the Duke of York the wealthiest of English landowners, but also gave him a strong claim to the English throne. As a result, during the ineffectual reign of his cousin, Henry VI, Richard of York made a play for the crown.

His defeat and death at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460 meant he never became king, but his eldest son Edward took up the mantle and was proclaimed king on 11 April 1461, following his overwhelming victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461.

With just a short interlude of 6 months in 1470/71, the Readeption of Henry VI, the Yorkist dynasty would rule for the next 24 years.

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Photos: taken from Wikipedia, except that of the tomb of Edmund of Langley which is taken from findagrave.com

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Sources: The History Today Companion to British History, edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by J.P. Kenyon; The Oxford Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Wars of the Roses by Martin J Dougherty; englishmonarchs.co.uk; womenshistory.about.com; findagrave.com; conisbroughcastle.org.uk; hrionline.ac.uk.

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, 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

James I and Joan Beaufort: A Royal Love Story

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James I

The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is one of those rarities in Medieval history; a true love story. He was a King in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court.

Following the murder of his brother, David, Duke of Rothesay, James was the only surviving son of Robert III of Scotland. He had been on his way to France, for his safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only 11, he was handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Shortly after his capture, James’s father died and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release him.

James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and was an accomplished musician and poet. He was held at various castles, including the Tower, Nottingham Castle – where he was allowed to go hunting – and Windsor Castle.

Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and legitimated son of John of Gaunt (himself the 3rd son of Edward III) by his mistress and, later, wife Kathryn Swynford. Joan’s mother was Margaret Holland, granddaughter of Joan of Kent (wife of Edward the Black Prince) from her marriage to Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent.

Joan Beaufort was very well-connected; she was a niece of Henry IV, great-niece of Richard II and  great grand-daughter of Edward III. Her uncle, Henry Beaufort, was a cardinal and Chancellor of England.

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Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland

Little seems to be known of her early life, but she was at court in the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. James wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time while walking her little lap-dog in the garden, below his window.

His narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;

“Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote, Are ye a worldy creature? Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature? Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here, To loose me out of bonds”

One morning James managed to drop a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for him to be released.

Their romance grew apace, but was interrupted when James had to accompany Henry V on his French campaign. Henry was hoping that James’s presence would make the Scots, fighting with the French, think twice about engaging with him. However, the strategy had little effect.

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Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

James’s imprisonment lasted for 18 years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne for himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check.

However, when he died in 1420 control passed to his son Murdoch (who had also been imprisoned by the English for 12 years, but was ransomed – instead of James – in 1414) and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy.

Henry V had finally decided that it was time for James to return to Scotland when he died. It was left to Henry’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, as Regent for the infant Henry VI, to agree the terms of James’s freedom. James was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for 18 years, it was claimed. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry the Lady Joan Beaufort.

James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie, Southwark, on 2nd February 1424. James was released on the 28th March and the couple returned to Scotland shortly after. They were crowned at Scone by Henry de Warlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, on 21st May 1424.

James and Joan had 8 children together, 7 of whom survived childhood. Their 6 daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The oldest, Margaret, was born around Christmas 1424. At the age of 11 she was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the future Louis XI – narrowly escaping her father’s fate when the English fleet tried to capture her en route. She died in 1445, leaving no children.

Isabella_of_Scotland
Isabella of Scotland

Isabella married Francis I, Duke of Brittany; she had 2 daughters and died in 1494. Eleanor married Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, and died in 1480. Joan was born mute and married James Douglas, Earl of Morton and had 4 children – her eldest son, Sir John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, was probably killed at Flodden in 1513. Joan herself died in 1486.

Mary was created Countess of Buchan in 1444; she married Wolfert, Count of Grandpre, of the Netherlands, having 2 sons who died young before she died in 1465. A last daughter, Anabella, married, firstly, Louis of Savoy but following their divorce in 1458 she married George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. They had 2 children together before divorcing on the grounds of consanguinity in 1471.

James and Joan finally had twin sons in 1430. Born on 16th October, Alexander died the same year, but James would go on to succeed his father and married Mary of Gueldres in 1449.

On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages to the payment of his ransom.

James and Joan ruled Scotland for 13 years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. His reforms, however, and desire for a firm but just government made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his son.

Blackfriars_monastery_perth
Blackfriars Monastery, Perth

Due to his long imprisonment in the fortresses of England, James tended to avoid castles. On 21 February 1437 the King was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when his chamberlain dismissed the guard and, having removed the locking bar to the King’s quarters, let the assassins into the priory.

James and Joan were alone with the queen’s ladies when they heard the men approaching. On seeing the locking bar missing, Joan’s lady, Kate Douglas, used her own arm to bar the door. The queen hid the king in an underground vault as Kate’s arm broke and the plotters gained entry. They dragged James from his hiding placed and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.

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James II

The plotters, led by Walter, Earl of Atholl, James’ own uncle, had expected to seize power, but were arrested and executed as the nobles rallied around the new king, 6-year-old James II.

James I was buried in Perth and Joan took an active role the government for her son, getting caught in a contest of power between Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton. Her second marriage to Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, led to her arrest by Livingstone, under the pretext that she may abduct the child-king.

Joan and her new husband were only released on the condition that she give up her custody of James II and leave the court.

They would go on to have 3 sons together before Joan died during a siege at Dunbar Castle on 15 July, 1445; although whether her death was caused by illness or the violence of the siege has not been determined. She was buried in the Carthusian priory in Perth alongside her first husband, King James I.

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens and British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; History Today Companion to British History Edited by juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Princess Isabella, a Royal Exception

It has always amazed me that so little is known of the princesses of England, daughters of the kings. The lives of their fathers and brothers are, in the most part, well documented; but the Princesses are often shadowy figures, hidden in the background.

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Palace of Woodstock

Many of these ladies were married off to foreign courts or dedicated to convents, their lives and futures decided by the king, their father.

Isabella of Woodstock is, to some extent, an exception. She appears to have been very close to her parents, and spent most of her life at the English court. The eldest daughter and second child of Edward III and his queen, Philippa of Hainault, Isabella was born on 16 June 1332 at the royal Palace of Woodstock. As a child, Isabella shared a household with her older brother, Edward, later to be known as the Black Prince, and sister Joan, who was a year younger than her. The royal children’s household was governed by William of St Omer and his wife, Elizabeth.

Edward and Philippa had a large family, with at least 12 children (possibly more) of whom 9 survived infancy. They maintained a close relationship with their children often travelling with them; the older children, including Isabella, were with Philippa, in Antwerp, when their baby brother, Lionel, was born in 1338.

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Edward III and Philippa of Hainault

From her infancy, Edward was making plans for Isabella’s marriage: in 1335 negotiations were opened for her to marry Pedro the Cruel, the eldest son of the king of Castile, but Joan was sent in her place. Two of Pedro’s daughters, Constance and Isabella, would later marry Isabella’s brothers, John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, respectively. In 1338, plans were in motion for Isabella to marry the son of the Count of Flanders, in place of her sister Joan, now promised to Pedro; however, the count’s allegiance to the French Valois dynasty, added to English support for Flemish rebels, meant the proposals came to nought. In 1344 the proposed groom was a son of the Duke of Brabant, though as he was a descendant of Edward I, a papal dispensation was required. Whilst awaiting the dispensation, however, the proposed marriage with the count of Flanders’ son, Louis de Male, was revived. The count’s death at Crecy in 1346 meant Louis was even less inclined to the match than his father, but he was facing increasing pressure from his subjects, who saw great advantage in an English alliance. The couple met in March 1347, where Louis promised to marry Isabella within a fortnight of Easter. Louis fled before the marriage could take place and instead married Marguerite de Brabant. In 1349 Isabell was offered in marriage to Charles IV of Bohemia, King of the Romans. But these plans came to nought.

In 1351, aged 19, Edward III gave his consent for Isabella to marry Bernard, heir to the Lord Albret. Five ships were prepared to escort Isabella to Gascony and her new husband, but the English princess pointedly refused to embark and the marriage plans were abandoned. Edward III does not seem to have been too ‘put out’ by this. He continued to support Isabella and described her as ‘our very dear eldest daughter, whom we have loved with special affection.’ Edward indulged Isabella, she was with him almost constantly – more than any of his other children. In 1348, during a tournament in Lichfield, she was one of the ladies given blue and white robes – to match those of the knights – by the King. In 1354 Edward paid for a new balcony to be built outside Isabella’s suite of rooms at Woodstock, so that she would have a better view of the park. In 1358 King Edward gave her an annuity of 1,000 marks and in 1364 she was give the valuable wardship of Edmund (III) Mortimer, Earl of March and Ulster.

Marie de Coucy, Countess of Soissons

By late 1361 Isabella was her parents’ last surviving daughter. Her sister, Joan, 18 months her junior, had died of plague in France in 1348 whilst on her way to her marriage in Castile. And her younger sisters Mary and Margaret, just teenagers, died within a short time of each other in 1361. though there is no evidence that she exerted any political influence, Isabella was a regular at court, participating in the feasts for the Order of the Garter and in hunts; she was a frequent spectator at tournaments and was present at the Siege of Calais of 1346-7.

Isabella finally married in 1365, at Windsor, at the rather late age of 33, in what appears to have been a love match. Her husband, Enguerrand VII Lord of Coucy, was 7 years her junior, and a hostage for the fulfilment of the Treaty of Bretigny. On marrying Isabella he was released, without ransom, and created a knight of the Garter. In the hope that Enguerrand and Isabella would remain in England, Edward made Enguerrand Earl of Bedford in 1366 and, later, Count of Soissons.

Philippa de Coucy and her husband, Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland

Two daughters followed quickly, in 1366 and 1367. Mary was born at the Chateau of Coucy, France, and would later marry Henry of Bar; and Philippa, who was born at Eltham and made a lady of the Garter in 1379, and would later marry Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland; de Vere, a favourite of Richard II, would cause a great scandal in 1387 when he rejected Philippa for a Bohemian woman.

As England and France moved towards war, Enguerrand left England for the continent and went on to fight in Italy. Isabella appears to have returned to England and remained at her father’s court, with her daughters. Edward’s will gave to his ‘very dear daughter’ Isabella, an income of 300 marks per year, until her daughters were married. Isabella and Enguerrand were briefly reunited in France in 1374, but Isabella then returned to England while Enguerrand pursued his claims to lands in Aargau and Alsace, as a grandson of Leopold I, duke of Austria. After another reunion in 1376, Isabella again returned to England, remaining there with her daughter Philippa. Mary remained in France with her father, becoming heir to her father’s French possessions. Enguerrand was now totally committed to France, his loyalty firmly with the Valois’. On 26 August 1377, he renounced all his English honours in order to serve France.

Isabella received robes of the Order of the Garter in 1376. In 1379, she did so again, after her husband’s resignation of his English lands and titles, under the style ‘countess of Bedford’. Isabella had had a greater control over her own life than most English princesses, before and after her, maintaining a great deal of independence, even within her marriage. She was always figure in her own right. She died before 4 May 1379 – although 1382 also has been suggested – and was laid to rest at the Greyfriars Church in Newgate, London. Isabella was one of the figures that graced her father’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, though it has not survived. Neither has the statue that Enguerrand de Coucy erected, alongside his own, in the Celestine church at Soissons.

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Further reading: Ian Mortimer The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; WM Ormrod The Reign of Edward III; Paul Johnson The Life and Times of Edward III; Roy Strong The Story of Britain.; Oxforddnb.com; 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; The Chronicles of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson

Pictures: courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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

Isabella_of_Castile-Langley
Isabella of Castile

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

Peter was known in some areas as Peter the Cruel and in others as Peter the Just, depending which side of the conflict people were on. He received support from Edward III of England’s eldest son and heir Edward, the Black Prince, but Peter’s failure to pay the costs of the prince’s campaign,  his faithlessness, and the failing health of the Black Prince, meant the king of Castile was left to his own devices by 1367. Adding to Peter’s woes, his own nobles backed the king’s illegitimate brother, Henry of Tastamara, as an alternative candidate. Henry eventually defeated and killed Peter in March 1369.

Isabella’s mother had died in 1361 and her 3-year-old brother, Alfonso, in 1362. On Peter’s death, Isabella’s older sister, Constance, inherited their father’s claim to the crown of Castile, but was unable to pursue this claim. This situation in Castile was precarious, to say the least. Taking Isabella with her, the two princesses took refuge in the English territory of Guyenne. The English took the princesses in and soon after, in September 1371, Constance was married to John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of Edward III, at Roquefort. John of Gaunt had become duke of Lancaster on marrying his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, who had died in 1368; saw this second marriage as an opportunity to gain a kingdom of his own. When the newly married couple returned to London, they brought Constance’s sister, Isabella, with them.

Edmund_of_Langley_remonstrating_with_the_King_of_Portugal_-_Chronique_d'_Angleterre_(Volume_III)_(late_15th_C),_f.186r_-_BL_Royal_MS_14_E_IV

Following Constance’s official entry into London, Isabella married John’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, the fifth son of Edward III, on 11 July 1372, at Wallingford. In marrying Isabella, Edmund was likely following his father’s instructions, in pursuit of the English policy of the time, to reinforce the dynastic link between England and Castile and thus ensuring that both heirs of Peter of Castile were married into the English royal line. On her marriage to Edmund, Isabella became Countess of Cambridge, and would become the first ever Duchess of York when Edmund was created Duke of York by his nephew, King Richard II, on 6 August 1385. She was appointed a Lady of the Garter in 1379.

The couple’s first son, Edward was born the following year – he would become the second Duke of York, and be killed at Agincourt in 1415. A daughter, Constance, was born in 1374.

Chroniclers of the time reported that Isabella and Edmund were an ill-matched pair; Thomas of Walsingham, in particular, commented on Isabella’s ‘loose morals’, probably referring to her not-so-secret affair with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother to the king, Richard II. The affair is believed to have started as early as 1374 and has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Edmund and Isabella’s third and youngest child, Richard of Conisbrough. Richard, grandfather of both Edward IV and Richard III, was born at Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire, sometime between 1375 and 1386. He was executed for his involvement in the Southampton Plot, against Henry V, in 1415.

conisbroughcastle
Conisbrough Castle, Yorkshire

Isabella died on 23rd December 1392, aged about 37, and was buried at the church of the Dominicans, in King’s Langley, on 14 January 1393. In her will, she made Richard II her heir and asked that he provide a pension for her youngest son and Richard II’s godson, Richard of Conisbrough. Richard was given an allowance of £500 by the king, but this was only paid sporadically following Richard II’s deposition by Henry IV.

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

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

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

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

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Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly