Mary of Woodstock, Royal Nun

Mary of Woodstock

To many noble women, the religious life was a career that had been decided for them by their parents when they were still children, as with Mary of Blois. However, for some, this did not necessarily mean they spent their entire lives in the seclusion of the convent. This was the certainly case with Princess Mary, daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

Mary of Woodstock was born in March 1279, the 6th daughter of King Edward and Queen Eleanor. Edward and Eleanor were quite a nomadic couple, travelling among their domains, so their children were raised in the royal nursery, based largely at the royal palaces of Woodstock and Windsor; visits from their parents were quite infrequent and from Edward, their father, even less so.

Eleanor of Castile endured a remarkable number of pregnancies, the first was when she was about 13 or 14, resulting in a child who was stillborn or died shortly after birth. The fact that several children died before they reached adulthood has been suggested as a reason for her keeping her distance from her children when they were young; however, it is just as likely that the simple fact Edward and Eleanor ruled a vast kingdom, including their lands in France, meant their responsibilities necessitated long absences.

Eleanor’s almost-constant pregnancies, resulting in a total of sixteen children, meant there were regular additions to the nursery, which also housed a number of children from noble families, sent to be raised alongside the king’s children. Mary would have had many companions, including her brother Alphonso, who was heir to the throne and 5 years her senior, and her sister Margaret, who was 4 years older than Mary. She would be joined by another sister, Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, 3 years later.

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral

In 1285, a year after the death of Prince Alphonso, the king took his family on a progress into Kent. Edward went on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas Becket, at Canterbury, before spending a week at Leeds Castle with his family, followed by some hunting in Hampshire. It was at the end of this family holiday that they arrived at Amesbury priory in Wiltshire, where little Mary, still only 6 years old, was veiled as a nun; much to the delight of her grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, but to the consternation of her mother, the queen. Indeed, the Chronicle of Nicholas Trivet emphasises that Mary’s veiling was done by her father, at the request of her grandmother, but only with the ‘assent’ of her mother.1

It may well be that Eleanor had reservations about her daughter’s vocation being decided at such a young age, or that she feared it was only being done so Mary’s grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, would have a companion in the abbey. After a long and eventful life, and with her health failing, the dowager queen took her own vows at around the same time and retired to Amesbury Priory for her final years, dying there in June 1291. Mary’s veiling had been in the planning for some years; Edward I had been in correspondence with the abbey at Fontevrault, the mother house of Amesbury, since 1282, when the little princess was barely 3 years old.

Eleanor’s reluctance, therefore, was probably more to do with when Mary was to become a nun, rather than the vocation itself; after all, the conventual life was considered a good career for a noble lady. The timing of her veiling may have been advanced not only by the failing health of Eleanor of Provence, but also by the imminent departure of Mary’s parents. Edward and Eleanor were about to embark for the Continent and were expecting to be in France for a considerable time, years rather than months.

The Priory Church, now the parish church, Amesbury

The actual veiling ceremony must have been very moving. It took place at Amesbury Abbey on 15 August 1285, where Mary was one of 14 high-born girls who took their vows together. It may well be that her cousin, Eleanor of Brittany – another granddaughter of Eleanor of Provence – took her vows at the same time; Eleanor would later demonstrate a great dedication to the religious life and, eventually, become Abbess of Fontevrault.

Mary’s life at the abbey was probably a very comfortable existence; in the year she was veiled, Mary was awarded an annual income of £100, rising to £200 a year in 1292, following the death of Eleanor of Provence. As she was still only a child, the nuns at Amesbury would have been responsible not only for Mary’s spiritual life, but also for her education. However, the cloistered life by no means meant that Mary was confined and separated from her family for any length of time. She made frequent visits to court throughout her life, and was present for most family occasions.

Having taken the veil in August 1285, Mary returned to be with her family in the autumn, to see the unveiling of the newly created Winchester Round Table and the creation of 44 new knights by her father, the king. She visited her family again in March and May of 1286, each visit lasting about a month. These visits also meant Mary had the chance to bid farewell to her parents, who departed for an extended stay in France in 1286. On 13 August
1289, Mary, her 4 sisters and little brother Edward were at Dover to welcome their parents home, after a 3-year absence.

King Edward I

Mary visited court again in 1290 and stayed for the wedding of her older sister, Joan of Acre, to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford; Joan and Gilbert were married in a private ceremony at Westminster on 30 April. It is likely that she was back at court later in the year for another wedding, this one at Westminster Abbey in July when her sister, Margaret, married John, the future Duke of Brabant.

Mary would have seen quite a lot of her parents in the spring of 1290 as her father chose Amesbury as the location for a special meeting, convened to settle the arrangements for the English succession. Edward may have chosen the abbey so that his ailing mother could be present for the discussions. The Archbishop of Canterbury and 5 other bishops, in addition to Edward, Eleanor of Castile and Eleanor of Provence, were all present to formalise the settling of the succession on Edward’s only surviving son, 6-year-old Edward of Caernarvon. Should Edward of Caernarvon die without heirs, it was decided that the succession would then pass to Edward I’s eldest daughter, the newly married Countess of Gloucester and Hereford, Joan of Acre.

Eleanor of Castile was a distant mother when her children were young, but she seems to have developed closer relationships as they grew older, so it is not hard to imagine her taking the opportunity to spend time with 12-year-old Mary while they were staying at the abbey. It was probably one of the last times that Mary spent any real time with her mother, who died at Harby, near Lincoln, on 28 November 1290.

The viscera tomb of Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln cathedral

Indeed, it may well have been one of the last times they saw each other; Eleanor was at the king’s palace of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire when it was realised that her illness was probably fatal. Some of her children, Joan, Edward and Elizabeth, were summoned to the queen’s bedside; although Mary is not mentioned, it does not mean that she did not visit her mother one last time.2 Mary’s deep affection for her mother was demonstrated in 1297 when she and her younger sister, Elizabeth, jointly paid for a special Mass in their mother’s honour.

Mary’s career in the Church was far from spectacular; although her high birth gave her some influence, she never made high office and was never given a priory or abbey of her own. However, she was given custody of several aristocratic nuns at Amesbury, trusted to oversee their education and spiritual training. Convent life seems to have held few restrictions for her. Mary was regularly away from the cloister. She was frequently at court, or with various members of her family. In 1293 Mary spent time with her brother, Edward, and in 1297 she spent 5 weeks at court, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her sister, Elizabeth, who had been recently married to John, Count of Holland, and was preparing to join him there. In the event, news of John’s death arrived before her departure and Elizabeth never left England.

Nicholas Trivet

Mary had many cultural interests and was a patron of Nicholas Trivet, who dedicated his chronicle, Annales Sex Regum Angliae, to her. Mary was probably Trivet’s source for many of the details of Edward I’s family and the inclusion of several anecdotes that demonstrated Edward’s luck, such as the story of the king’s miraculous escape from a falling stone while sitting and playing chess. He had stood up to stretch his legs when the stone from the vaulted ceiling landed on the chair he had just vacated.3 The stories that Mary passed on to Trivet also serve to demonstrate that she was at court on a regular basis. The financial provisions settled on her by Edward I meant that Mary did not have to suffer from her vows of poverty.

In addition to the £200 a year she received from 1292, Mary was also granted 40 cocks a year from the royal forests and 20 tuns of wine from Southampton. In 1302, the provision was changed and she was given a number of manors and the borough of Wilton in lieu of the £200, but only for as long as she remained in England. Given that a proposed move to Fontevrault had been dropped shortly after the death of Eleanor of Provence, the likelihood of Mary leaving England seems to have been only a remote possibility.

Mary had a penchant for high living; she travelled to court with an entourage big enough to require 24 horses. By 1305, despite her income, she was substantially in debt, with the escheator south of the Trent being ordered to provide her with £200 in order to satisfy her creditors. Mary also had a taste for gambling, mainly at dice, and her father is known to have paid off at least one gambling debt.4 Following her father’s death in 1307, her younger brother, now King Edward II, continued to support Mary financially and she continued to make regular visits to court.

Mary died sometime around 1322 and was buried where she had lived, at Amesbury Priory. She was a princess whose future was decided for her at a very young age. She doesn’t seem to have excelled at the religious life, in that she never achieved significant office, but she did make the most of the life chosen for her, making frequent pilgrimages and taking charge of the young, aristocratic ladies who joined the convent. Despite her dedication to the Church, she found her own path within it and seems to have achieved a healthy (for her) balance between the cloister and the court.

The Warenne coat of arms

There was, however, one moment of scandal; although it did not arise until more than 20 years after Mary’s death. In 1345, in a final, desperate attempt to escape an unhappy marriage John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, claimed that he had had an affair with Mary and that, therefore, his marriage to her niece, Joan of Bar, was invalid due to the close blood relationship of the 2 women. Although it is highly unlikely that the claim was anything more than Surrey’s desperate attempt to find a way out of his marriage, it cannot be ignored that Mary was frequently at court and such an opportunity may have arisen; Mary was only a few years older than John de Warenne. The ecclesiastical court, however, refused to believe the earl’s claims and Mary’s reputation remains – largely – intact.

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Footnotes:

1 Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill; 2 A Palace for Our Kings by James Wright; 3 Annales Sex Regum Angliae by Nicholas Trivet; 4 Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill

Images

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the statues of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile and Eleanor’s viscera tomb at Lincoln Cathedral, which are ©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; OxfordDNB.com; findagrave.com; susanhigginbotham.com; womenshistory.about.com; Daughters of Chivalry by Kelcey Wilson-Lee; Nobility and Kingship in Medieval England by Andrew M. Spencer; Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volumes I and II by Rev. John Watson; Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill; A Palace for Our Kings: The History and Archaeology of a Medieval Royal Palace in the Heart of Sherwood Forest by James Wright

My Books

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 & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Mother’s Day Treat

Sunday 11th March 2018 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year

Mum is everyone’s favourite Heroine, in whatever era, and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a giveaway of a hardback copy of Heroines of the Medieval World.

About Heroines of the Medieval World

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

 

If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 7th March, so you should get the book in time for the day.

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The winner is ….. Janet Carter.

The draw is now closed and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.

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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.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, Daddy’s Girl

Membrane with genealogy of the kings of England.
Elizabeth of Rhuddlan

In July 1282 King Edward I was in the middle of subduing Wales when his wife, Eleanor of Castile, was reaching her final month of pregnancy. Unlike most royal wives, who would have stayed at home in one of their sumptuous, cosy palaces, Eleanor was in Wales with her husband. After all, Eleanor had been on Crusade with her husband and had even given birth to her daughter, Joan of Acre, in the Holy Land. Wales was no more of a difficulty.

Rhuddlan Castle had been ‘civilised’ for the queen’s use; with the addition of gardens, decorative seating and a fish pond to aid Eleanor’s comfort. However, it was still Edward’s headquarters, where troops were mustering and messengers were coming and going at all hours – hardly the most comfortable and peaceful place for a queen to give birth.

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born around the 7th August 1282. She was the youngest surviving daughter of the king and queen’s 15 children – a 16th and final child, Edward (the future Edward II) would be born in 1284. Although the castle must have been hectic during Elizabeth’s birth, one can imagine the rooms surrounding the birthing chamber were kept as serene as possible. Indeed, it seems that Eleanor was allowed the ‘laying-in’ of a whole month following Elizabeth’s birth with her churching at the end of it – a luxury that did not arise all that often for Edward’s queen.

Eleanor’s wardrobe accounts show that the queen purchased several small items for her baby daughter’s use; a basin, some tankards, a storage chest and a bucket. And, unlike her siblings, Eleanor kept Elizabeth with her during the 1st few years of her life. It’s possible she was with her full-time until the age of 2, or was at least visited regularly by Eleanor. Elizabeth was still with her mother when her baby brother and the king’s heir, Edward, was born at Caernarfon in 1284.

360px-Rhuddlan_Castle,_May_2012
Rhuddlan Castle, Flintshire, Elizabeth’s birthplace

When Edward was established in his own household, Elizabeth went with him. She spent most of her childhood in her brother’s company; her education supervised by her mother, often from a distance.

In 1285 Elizabeth and Edward spent the summer with their parents and older sisters. They visited Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury and spent a week at Leeds Castle in Kent before traveling to Amesbury in Wiltshire. Amesbury Priory was the retirement home of the dowager queen, Eleanor of Provence; and it was during the visit that Elizabeth’s 6-year-old sister, Mary, was veiled as a  nun.

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile are famous for having had a close, loving relationship. They appear to have travelled everywhere together. Their children, however, were often left behind, usually in the care of their grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s queen and Edward I’s mother. In 1286, when Elizabeth was still only 3, they left England for the continent to broker peace between France and Aragon, in the hope of another Crusade. Although the Crusade never materialised, Edward and Eleanor were absorbed in their continental possessions until 1289.

However, the children were not forgotten. While in Paris Eleanor bought little items of jewellery for her daughters and sent them other pieces that had been given to her as gifts. She was also known to make offerings for her children’s health at any major shrines she visited.

Edward_II_-_British_Library_Royal_20_A_ii_f10_(detail)
Edward II, Elizabeth’s childhood companion

Arriving at Dover after a 3 year absence, Edward and Eleanor were met by their children; 6-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Edward probably had little or no memory of their parents. Following celebrations for their return in Canterbury, the royal family would spent the next 2 weeks at Leeds Castle, getting to know  each other again.

Elizabeth and Eleanor were not especially close. Eleanor had spent half of her daughter’s life away on the Continent and Eleanor’s health began to fail shortly after her return. Elizabeth spent the summer of 1290 touring the countryside with her brother, only attending the court for the weddings of their sisters; Joan in April and Margaret in July.

In October 1290 Elizabeth was summoned to her ailing mother’s bedside at the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire. Eleanor died at Harby in Lincolnshire on the 28th November 1290, the king accompanied her body back for burial at Westminster Abbey, ordering stone crosses to be erected at the places they stopped along the route.

We have no record of how Elizabeth reacted to her mother’s death, she was just 8 years old and had seen her mother rarely over the last 4 years. We can assume that she was saddened, but that life carried on pretty much as normal otherwise, with her day-to-day life remaining constant. In 1297 she and her sister Mary paid to have a special Mass held in honour of their mother, demonstrating their affection, and that she hadn’t been forgotten.

330px-Jean_Ier_de_Hollande
John Count of Holland

In 1297 Elizabeth’s marriage was celebrated; to John, Count of Holland. John had been educated at Edward’s court following his betrothal to Elizabeth in 1285. He had been one of the competitors for the Scots throne, though with only an outside chance. Elizabeth is said to have thrown a tantrum before the wedding, when not all her jewels were ready in time.

However, the royal wedding went ahead, at Ipswich Priory on 8th January 1297, when Elizabeth was just 14 years old and John was about 13. It seems Elizabeth was very fond of her father – there is some suggestion, too, that she was his favourite – and she was loath to leave him, and England. The king himself threw Elizabeth’s coronet into the fire during an argument over Elizabeth’s refusal to leave England with her husband. It took several letters from Count John, and cajoling from the king, to persuade Elizabeth to accompany her husband to her new country.

In the event, however, the arguing proved unnecessary as Count John died at Haarlem  on 10th November 1299. Elizabeth, a childless widow at 17, returned home to her father’s court.

Almost exactly 3 years after the death of her 1st husband, on 14th November 1302, Elizabeth married again. This time there would be no arguments about leaving England as her husband was Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Before the wedding Humphrey had relinquished all his lands and titles to the crown; after the wedding they were re-granted, jointly, to Humphrey and his new wife.

Humphrey_de_Bohun,_4th_Earl_of_Hereford
Humphrey de Bohun, 4th earl of Hereford and Essex

Elizabeth’s 2nd marriage appears to have been highly successful. Humphrey and Elizabeth weathered the storms of change together. Humphrey had been a stalwart of Edward I’s Scottish campaigns and in 1306 had been rewarded with the forfeited estates of Robert the Bruce. When Elizabeth’s father died in 1307, Humphrey was initially a supporter of the new king, Elizabeth’s brother and childhood companion, Edward II. He is witness to the document that created Piers Gaveston, Edward’s controversial favourite, Earl of Cornwall.

However, in 1310 he was named one of the lords ordainers, set up to reform the king’s household and government. He was stripped of his position as Constable of England for refusing to accompany the king on his Scottish campaign of 1310/11, but was reinstated the following year.

In 1314 Humphrey was one of the commanders of the English forces facing Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. It is believed his arguments with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, over who should have precedence, was a major factor contributing to England’s defeat. Gloucester was killed in the fighting, but Humphrey was captured by the Scots; he was exchanged for Robert the Bruce’s queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, who had been held captive by the English since 1306.

Between 1303 and 1316, the couple were to have 11 children, including twin boys, 8 of whom survived childhood; 6 boys and 2 girls. Their eldest daughter, Eleanor, married James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde and, following his death, Sir Thomas Dagworth, who was murdered in 1350. While their youngest surviving daughter, Margaret, married Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon and lived until 1391.

330px-MargaretDeBohunExeterCathedral
Margaret de Bohun, Countess of Devon

Two of their sons would succeed, consecutively to the earldoms of Hereford and Essex; John and Humphrey. While William de Bohun, twin brother of Edward (who drowned in 1334), would be granted the title of Earl of Northampton by his cousin and close friend Edward III. The twin brothers had both been involved in Edward III’s escape from Nottingham Castle and the control of his mother’s lover, Roger Mortimer. Of the 2 remaining sons; Eneas died before 1343 and Edmund married Matilda, the daughter of Nicholas de Segrave, Baron Stowe.

Elizabeth died in childbirth on 5th May 1316; their last daughter, Isabella, died with her.  They were buried together at Walden Priory (Waltham Abbey) on 23rd May.

Humphrey survived his wife by 6 years, being killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, fighting with the forces of Thomas of Lancaster against the king. Despite his will requesting he be buried beside his wife at Walden Priory, he was laid to rest at the Church of the Friars Preachers in York.

Elizabeth and Humphrey’s great-granddaughter, Mary de Bohun, married Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and was the mother of 5 children, including Henry V.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  oxforddnb.com; Edward I; A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Eleanor of Castile; the Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly