Book Corner: Interview with Michael Jones

Myself and Michael Jones at the Harrogate History Festival, October 2015

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and broadcaster Michael Jones to the blog.

Hi Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview for my blog History…the Interesting Bits. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago. I seem to remember asking you to convince me that Henry IV and Henry V were worth reading up on. I must say, your own arguments and your book 24 Hours at Agincourt certainly piqued my interest; all 3 of Henry IV’s sisters will appear in my book. And your latest book is a biography of Edward III’s eldest son, The Black Prince. I don’t need any convincing with him, he’s a fascinating character and I am really enjoyed reading your book.

And so, without further ado, to the interview. I hope the questions are not too onerous for you.

What do you love most about history?

 Well, firstly, hello Sharon and thank you for your blog and website, and your enthusiasm for all things medieval. And good luck with your own book!

As a child, I loved history for its portrayal of men and women in challenging circumstances. I was fascinated by how they were – sometimes at least – able to triumph against all the odds. Now, as a historian, it is still those personal stories I am most drawn to. I wanted to write a biography of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII (The King’s Mother) because she showed such courage and resourcefulness in adversity – and it was through this that I got to know Philippa Gregory, first advising her on her book The Red Queen, and then writing with her and David Baldwin The Women of the Cousins’ War. And in my most recent work, The Black Prince – a biography of Edward of Woodstock (the oldest son of Edward III and foremost military commander of his age) – I have enjoyed depicting the Prince’s charisma as a leader, the way he forged a remarkable esprit de corps amongst his fellow fighters.

What is your favourite period of history – and why?

I write on a number of subjects – ranging from the late middle ages to World War Two – and, as a tour guide, lead military and cultural tours covering many historical eras. But the reason I focus on the late middle ages is because of the quality of teaching I received at Bristol University (as an undergraduate and postgraduate), particularly from Charles Ross and James Sherborne. They shaped my abilities as a historian and I remain grateful to them to this day. And the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are tumultuous yet vivid times, marred by plague and warfare yet possessing an acute sensibility to beauty and the uplifting power of ritual and display.

Which historical personality fascinates you the most – and why?

Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

People are so interesting – and history is full of fascinating characters. In the middle ages we have so many choices. I immediately think of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent and Richard III and Anne Neville. In these instances, to learn about these remarkable men I believe we also need to get to know the women who helped shape their views and guided their counsel.

You have written books on the battles of Agincourt and Bosworth, what is it about medieval warfare that fascinates you? 

Well, I have also written books on World War Two’s battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and these events remain, for me, incredibly moving.

However, Agincourt and Bosworth are indeed fascinating: clashes that shaped our history and where the key turnaround happened very quickly, within hours, even minutes – and I will always be interested in them. When I wrote 24 Hours at Agincourt I was particularly struck by the headlong dash of Anthony, duke of Brabant (the younger brother of the duke of Burgundy). In his rush towards the battlefield – desperate to join the French army – he rode day and night, leaving behind most of his retinue and all of his armour. When he finally arrived at Agincourt he was accompanied by only a dozen men – and he was killed within minutes. Some applauded his chivalric idealism; others marvelled at his crass stupidity. And writing The Black Prince gave me the chance to bring to life three more extraordinary battles – Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera – so I am grateful for that as well.

How did you get involved in the ‘Looking for Richard’ project with Philippa Langley?

I got to know Philippa through the publication of my book Bosworth 1485 – Psychology of a Battle, which offered a different way of seeing Richard III – a mirror opposite of the picture presented by Shakespeare. Instead of removing Richard from the story of his family, the house of York, I placed him at the heart of it. Philippa had been writing a screenplay about the king, but had become stuck and was on the point of giving up. After we met, she rewrote the screenplay with my interpretation underpinning it, and then set out to visit the places that were significant in his life. We had said to each other that the only counter to the power of Shakespeare’s play would be to actually find the king’s physical remains. And that journey took Philippa to a social services car park in Leicester in the summer of 2004. Later, when Richard’s remains had indeed been uncovered, under the very spot where she had had her intuitive feeling, we wrote a book about it, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III.

Michael Jones

The Black Prince is a controversial figure these days – what made you want to write his biography?

I admire the Black Prince and feel that modern scholarship has sometimes become overly critical of him, losing sight of the ideals that governed his life and won the respect of his contemporaries. While there is a place for such criticism, I wanted to write a sympathetic biography – putting the man back into the context of his times.

If you could talk to any person from history, who would it be and what would you ask them?

That has to be Richard III on the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

If you had a time machine, what specific event would you like to go back and witness – and why?

It would be the final stages of the battle of Poitiers, where the Black Prince turned the tables on a numerically superior foe and captured the French king, Jean II, by mounting up and charging straight at his opponent. It cannot be equalled for sheer drama.

What is your next project?

I am working on a book about the beginning of World War Two – and will then return to the late middle ages and write an account of the last stages of the Hundred Years War.

I owe huge ‘thank you’ to Michael Jones for taking the time to do this fabulous interview.

I can highly recommend Michael Jones latest book, The Black Prince, which is out now and is available from Amazon.

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History. He works as a writer, battlefield tour guide and media presenter. He is the author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, 24 Hours at Agincourt and co-author, with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, of The Women of the Cousins’ War; and, with Philippa Langley, of The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. He lives in South London.

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Photos from Harrogate and the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly. Photo of Michael Jones with thanks to Michael Jones.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

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

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Sir Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joan of Kent

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

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

By February 1341 Joan and Montagu were married.

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

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

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Otto Holland – Thomas’s brother and lieutenant

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

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

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

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

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

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Arms of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent

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

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

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

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

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Gatehouse of the Greyfriars at Stamford, Lincolnshire

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

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

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

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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

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William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury

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

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

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

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

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Joan of Kent

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

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

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

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

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Battle of Poitiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bisham Abbey Berkshire

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

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

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; oxforddnb.com; britannia.com; themcs.org.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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

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Constance of Castile

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

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

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

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

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King Peter of Castile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John of Gaunt

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

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

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

Catalina-de-Lancaster
Catherine of Lancaster

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

Constance was made a Lady of the Garter in 1378,

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

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

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

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Sharons book cover

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly