Book Corner: The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts

51+1qeawUSL._AC_US160_The Anglo-Saxon age was one of great change and unrest. Lasting from the departure of the Romans in approximately AD 400 until the Norman invasion in AD 1066, this era was defined by the continued spread of Christianity, the constant threat of Viking raids and the first stirrings of a nation that would become known as England.

With its strange customs and unfamiliar names, the Anglo-Saxon era became mysterious and misunderstood, ironically by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, the English people themselves. Archaeological discoveries have forced us to re-evaluate these ingenious and skilled people, and to acknowledge the debt we owe to them. Martin Wall seeks to ‘de-mystify’ the period, breaking it down into easy-to-read, bitesize chunks, and to show that the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were by no means backward or inferior. It was a truly heroic age, whose exemplars, such as King Offa, Alfred the Great, Lady Aethelflaed or Athelstan, stand beside the giants of world history. In 100 excerpts from these turbulent, bloody and exciting centuries, a proud, complex, but ultimately doomed civilisation is revealed.

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall is one of those fascinating little books which are such fun to read. It’s 192 pages are packed full of stories from the Anglo-Saxon period which help to trace its history and define the era. Starting from the 5th century AD, the book traces the Anglo-Saxon story  all the way to the Norman Conquest… and beyond.

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Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians

In short, bite-sized chapters, The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts, is full of those little bits of history you may have missed, or overlooked. Weaving the stories together to build a beautiful picture of the now-lost Anglo-Saxon world. Not only presenting the great personalities of the era, the book also investigates the influence of the church, literature, politics and the Vikings. It helps to explain the drive behind King Alfred and his desire to unite England as one nation.

The book is written in such an easy-going, conversational manner, you don’t even realise you’re reading – it is as if the author is right there, talking to you.

Welsh malcontents murdered a Mercian abbot, Egbert, who was travelling with his companions in Brycheiniog, a small mountain kingdom in South Wales. Egbert was under the protection of Aethelflaed who was justifiably furious. Within three days she concentrated her army on the Welsh border and invaded the little kingdom, burning and ravaging as she went. Tewdr, the King of Brycheiniog, had no choice but to retreat to his fortified Crannog, a fort on a man-made island in Lake Llasngorse. The indefatigable Mercian queen was not to be denied, however, and the place was stormed and burned and Tewdr’s relatives taken as hostages, including his wife.

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Offa, King of Mercia

The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts is a very enjoyable read, full of facts and information, and a little bit of humour. All the main characters of the period are covered – from Offa to Harold II and beyond – and given their place in the larger history of the nation as a whole. Outside threats and influences – such as the church, the Normans and, of course, the dreaded Vikings – are discussed, analysed and assessed.

It’s amazing  how much information one writer can pack into less than 200 pages!

The author knows and loves his Anglo-Saxon history and it shines through on every page. Thoroughly and comprehensively researched, it is a fun read for anyone wanting to know ‘a little bit more’ about the time before the Normans, and the build-up to the Conquest from the Saxon point of view.

I just wanted to read the excerpts about Aethelflaed – for my research – and found myself devouring the entire book.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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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.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

The Atheling and the Tragedy of the White Ship

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William the Atheling

In the late summer of 1103 England’s queen, Matilda of Scotland, gave birth to a son. Named after his grandfather, William the Conqueror, the young prince would be known to history as William the Ætheling. He is one of those historical figures who resides in the shadows, more famous for his death than his all-too-short life as the heir to England’s throne.

William’s father, Henry, was a younger son of William the Conqueror. When his father had died in 1087, the patrimony of England and Normandy was divided between Henry’s older brothers;  the eldest, Robert Curthose, inherited Normandy while William II Rufus became King of England. It was intended that Henry would go into the church or maybe inherit their mother’s lands. However, the little brother seems to have set his sights on greater things and, as a result, was distrusted by William, who kept him close to home, so he could not cause any mischief.

On 2nd August, 1100, while out hunting in the New Forest, William was struck by a stray arrow and killed. Some say it was planned, others that it was an accident; I guess we’ll never know for sure…

Henry, however, did not waste the opportunity. With his older brother Robert still on his way back from Crusading in the Holy Land, Henry seized the initiative, the treasury and the kingdom; he was crowned at Westminster Abbey just 3 days after his brother’s death. Within months Henry had found himself a bride with impeccable parentage. Matilda had been born Edith of Scotland and was the daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots. Through her mother, St Margaret, she was the great-granddaughter of Edmund II Ironside, Saxon king of England. She changed her name on marrying Henry, as Edith was considered ‘too Saxon’ a name for Norman tastes.

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Matilda of Scotland

Henry and Matilda were married in November 1100 and within 3 years were the proud parents of 2 children. Their daughter, Adelaide, was born in 1102; she would adopt the name Matilda on her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, and would be known to history as the Empress Matilda (or Maude). Although some historians suggest they were twins, it is most likely that Matilda’s younger brother, William, was born in 1103; a message of congratulations was sent to Henry I by Pope Paschal II on 23rd November of that year.

The soubriquet of Ætheling is attributed to chronicler Oderic Vitalis and harks back to Saxon times as a title given to the king’s designated heir. According to William of Malmesbury, William, with a Saxon mother and Norman father, represented the hope of reconciliation between the conquered and conquerors of England.

Although the king and queen had only 2 children – a 3rd, Richard, is thought to have died young – the king had numerous illegitimate offspring by various women, several of whom were raised alongside his legitimate children. William and a number of his illegitimate brothers, including Robert, Earl of Gloucester,  were tutored by Otuel (or Othuer) Fitzearl, natural son of Hugh, Earl of Chester. Fitzearl had been made castellan of the Tower of London and so it is likely that the prince and his brothers were frequently in residence there, in order ton pursue their education.

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William’s sister, Adelaide; Empress Matilda

According to William of Malmesbury, William was trained for his future role ‘with fond hope and immense care’. In 1108, while their father was away in Normandy, William and his sister were entrusted to the spiritual care of Anselm, the revered Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1110 William’s sister, Adelaide/Matilda, left for Germany; she was to continue her education at the court of her future husband, but would not be married until January 1114, just before her 12th birthday. William was still only 6 years old when his sister left; Matilda was 8. It’s sad to think the young siblings would never meet again.

Following his sister’s departure, William’s education continued apace. By 1113, aged just 10, William began to attest royal documents. While still only 9, in February of that year, William was betrothed, at Alençon, to Alice (who changed her name to Matilda on her marriage), the daughter of Fulk V, count of Anjou and Maine. The betrothal formed part of his father’s wider diplomacy, which had also included his sister’s marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Henry I spent the early part of his reign fighting against his brother, Robert Curthose, and, later, Robert’s son, William Clito, trying to secure a smooth succession for William. Robert had been decisively defeated at Tinchebrai in 1106 and  spent his remaining years – until his death in 1134 – a prisoner of his brother. Henry subsequently claimed Normandy for the English crown, but William Clito was still a thorn in his side. Clito was supported by the French king, Louis VI; who used him as a counter to Henry’s attempts to conquer Maine.

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Henry I

In 1115, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Henry arranged for the Norman barons to do homage and swear fealty to William, in an attempt to counter the claims of William Clito. A similar ceremony was arranged in England in 1116, for all the great men and barons of England to swear fealty to William as the king’s heir. The Hyde Chronicle referred to William as ‘rex Norman-Angllorum, ut putabatur futurus’ (assumed to be the future king of the Norman-English).

On 1st May 1118 William’s mother, Queen Matilda, died at Westminster and was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. We do not know how the young prince felt at the loss of his mother – he was 15 at the time. However, it is from this point that William took on more responsibility, acting as regent whenever the king was away in Normandy.

In December 1118 Henry’s troops defeated the Angevins, under Fulk of Anjou, at Alençon. To counteract the defeat, William and Matilda were married, with the Count settling Maine on them as their marriage gift, thus deserting the cause of the French king. Inevitably, war with Louis VI followed.

On 20 August 1119, 16-year-old William was with his father at the Battle of Brémule. Henry won the fight against the forces of Louis VI of France and William Clito. During the battle, William had captured the palfrey of his cousin, William Clito, which he chivalrously returned at the end of the battle.

In the same year William witnessed a charter at Rouen, in which he was described as ‘dei gratia, rex designatus’ (by the grace of God, king designate). And continuing his education in diplomacy, in November 1119, William accompanied his father to a meeting with Pope Calixtus II, (William’s 2nd cousin once removed).

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Louis VI of France

At the turn of the year, it must have seemed to Henry that his dynasty – and the future of England – was secure in the hands of his son; at the age of 16 he was experienced in warfare and diplomacy and married to 12-year-old Matilda, who brought with her the county of Maine as her marriage portion (and the promise of Anjou should her father die whilst on Crusade).

In 1120 peace was finally achieved with France, with William being created Duke of Normandy by his father, and paying homage for the duchy to King Louis; a precedent that would be used  by future English kings, in order to avoid a king paying homage to a fellow king for part of his holdings. William, in turn, then received the homage of the Norman barons. Accompanied by his father, wife and several of his half brothers and sisters, it must have been a time of great rejoicing and festivities.

Indeed, when the large party prepared to cross the Channel, to return to England, it seems several of them were still celebrating. While Henry made the crossing in his own ship, taking with him several nobles and his daughter-in-law, the prince took the offer of a newly built ship, the Blanche Nef – or White Ship – which its owner, Thomas Fitzstephen, claimed would guarantee a swift, safe passage. William the Ætheling was accompanied by many of the young nobles of the great families of England, including his half-sister, Matilda, and half-brother, Richard of Lincoln.

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The Sinking of the White Ship

Most of the passengers and crew were still drunk from celebrating when the ship finally left the harbour of Barfleur, in the dark, on the evening of 25th November, 1120. Oderic Vitalis described the scene:

At length he gave the signal to put to sea. Then the rowers made haste to take up their oars and, in high spirits because they knew nothing of what lay ahead, put the rest of the equipment ready and made the ship lean forward and race through the sea. As the drunken oarsmen were rowing with all their might, and the luckless helmsman paid scant attention to steering the ship though he sea, the port side of the White Ship struck violently against a huge rock, which was uncovered each day as the tide ebbed and covered once more at high tide. Two planks were shattered and, terrible to relate, the ship capsized without warning. Everyone cried out at once in their great peril, but the water pouring into the boat soon drowned their cries and all alike perished.¹

William was ushered into a small boat and was being rowed to safety when he is said to have heard the cries of his half-sister, Matilda. The prince insisted on rowing to her aid, but the little boat was overwhelmed by those trying to make it to safety, and capsized, taking everyone with it.

William the Ætheling was 17-years-old.

With only one survivor, a butcher from Rouen, over 300 souls were lost – drowned – and only a handful of bodies were ever recovered. With the sinking of the White Ship Henry I lost his son, England and Normandy lost their next ruler.

Young Matilda had lost her husband. They had no children. Matilda had made the crossing of the Channel with the King, rather than her husband, and sometime after the disaster she returned to her father’s court. In 1121 Matilda became a nun, eventually becoming abbess of the convent at Fontevrault. She died in 1158.

With the uncertainty that followed, Louis VI renewed his support of William Clito, who continued to be a thorn in Henry I’s side until his death fighting in Flanders in 1128. Henry himself, in the hope of producing another son, married  again in 1121; to Adeliza of Louvain. Unfortunately, the marriage proved childless and Henry spent the final years of his reign trying to secure the throne for his daughter, Matilda. Matilda had returned to Henry’s court following the death of her husband in 1125 and was married again,  in 1128, to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in the hope that the union would strengthen her claim to the throne.

In the end, however, despite the fact Henry had made the barons of England swear fealty to Matilda as his successor Henry’s nephew, Stephen, claimed the throne on the old king’s death in 1135; thus ushering in 20 years of warfare, an era which became known as The Anarchy.

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Chapter house of Reading Abbey

William’s death was a tragedy, not only on a national scale, but also a personal one, for Henry I. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the disaster was ‘a double grief: first that they lost their lives so swiftly; second that few of their bodies were found afterwards’. The young prince’s body was never recovered, leaving no monument to his life, save for Reading Abbey, established as a priory – and later an abbey – in 1121 by Henry I ‘for the salvation of my soul and that of king William my father and king William my brother and William my son and queen Matilda my mother and queen Matilda my wife and all of my predecessors and successors.’

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Footnote: ¹Vitalis, Oderic, The Ecclesiastical History of Oderic Vitalis.

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Sources: oxforddnb.com; Oderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; David Williamson, Brewer’s British Royalty; the History Today Companion to British History; Dan Jones, the Plantagenets; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; medievalilsts.net; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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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

The Colourful Career of Edward, 2nd Duke of York

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Edward, 2nd Duke of York

Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, was born into wealth and privilege. Grandson of 2 kings and 1st cousin to 2 kings, his life story is full of ambition, glory and war, duty and service – and a hint of treason. All the ingredients needed for a rollicking good novel; with also the possibility of a strange love story.

Edward was born, probably at King’s Langley, in about 1373. A birthday of 1375 has also been suggested, but 1373 seems most likely. The fact he has Norwich after his name has suggested he could have been born there, but there is a theory that it is a derivation of “d’Everwick”, meaning “of York”.

Edward’s father was Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York and 5th son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. His mother was Isabella of Castile, daughter of Pedro the Cruel, king of Castile, and his mistress – and later, wife – Maria de Padilla. Although the couple had 3 children, their marriage doesn’t appear to have been a happy one and there were rumours of scandal surrounding Isabella, with a question mark raised over the paternity of her youngest son, Richard of Conisbrough. Edward also had a sister, Constance, who was close in age to him and born around 1374.

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Edward III

Edward was born into a time of great change in the English monarchy. His grandmother, Philippa, had died in 1369 and his grandfather, Edward III, king since 1327, was slipping into senility, allowing his mistress, Alice Perrers, and her cohorts too much control of his affairs. In 1376 Edward’s eldest son and heir – and England’s hero of the time – Edward, the Black Prince, died after years of debilitating illness. The prince’s death broke the old king,  who died the following year, leaving his 10-year-old grandson Richard of Bordeaux, son of the Black Prince, as king.

The government – and the country – was largely in the hands of Edward and Richard’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. John was the 4th son of Edward III and married to Edward of Norwich’s aunt, Constance of Castile. It was a time of uncertainty; many feared John would usurp the crown for  himself, but he stayed loyal to his nephew and Richard was crowned as King Richard II.

At only 4 years old Edward of Norwich attended the coronation, receiving his knighthood as part of the celebrations. Edward would be a loyal supporter of Richard II and received numerous royal grants, including the title of Earl of Rutland in February 1390. He was also given the title Earl of Cork when he accompanied Richard on his Irish campaign in 1394/5, leading several successful missions.

In the 1390s Edward emerged as a leading member of Richard’s circle of intimates. A man of considerable ability, Richard named him “the most able,wise and powerful man that he could think of”¹ and is even said to have considered leaving his crown to Edward. After the death of Richard’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, in 1394, Edward was one of the 3 feoffees of her estate, allowing him control of considerable patronage.

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Arms of Edward of Norwich

Richard practically showered Edward with lucrative positions, including: admiral of the North & West (1391), Constable of Dover and Warden of the Cinque Ports (1396), Constable of the Tower of London (1397) and Constable of England (1398). He was also involved in the king’s diplomacy in France and the Holy Roman Empire, undertaking diplomatic missions to both.

Richard even took personal interest in Edward’s marriage prospects. In 1381 Edward had been betrothed to Beatriz of Portugal as part of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance against Castile. However, when the Portuguese made peace with Castile, Beatriz was married to Juan I of Castile instead.

Richard II suggested the sister-in-law of Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan and also considered 3 relatives of Charles VI of France before suggesting Jeanne de Valois, younger sister of Richard’s proposed bride, Isabelle de Valois. Edward was addressed as ‘the king’s brother’ in recognition of their proposed marriages to sisters, even long after Edward’s planned marriage had fallen through.

By October 1398 Edward was married. His bride was a very curious choice for England’s most eligible bachelor. At 25 and likely to inherit his father’s dukedom in the not-too-distant future, Edward must surely have had the choice of every heiress in the kingdom of marriageable age. And yet his bride was twice widowed, 20 years his senior and with no dowry or inheritance to speak of.

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Effigy of Philippa Mohun, Duchess of York, from her tomb in Westminster Abbey

Philippa was the 3rd daughter of John Mohun, 2nd Baron Mohun and a founding member of the Order of the Garter, and his wife Joan Burghersh. She had first been married to Walter Fitzwalter, 3rd Baron Fitzwalter, who died in 1386 and secondly to Sir john Golafre who died in 1396. Having no male heirs, Philippa’s mother had sold the reversion of the Mohun estates to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell, leaving her daughters with no landed inheritance.

The fact this was hardly a glittering match for such an illustrious magnate greatly suggests that it was a love match. And, as with Philippa’s previous 2 marriages, the union was to remain childless; Edward would eventually name his young nephew as his heir.

While Edward was finalising the domestic arrangements for his new bride, England was falling into turmoil. Richard II had imprisoned one uncle Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, in Calais and was distrustful of another uncle, John of Gaunt.

In the 2nd half of the 1380s Gloucester and the Lords Appellants had been the focus of opposition against Richard’s personal rule and had attempted to curb the king’s excesses, forcing restrictions to his rule. John of Gaunt had restored order following his return from campaigning in Spain, but in 1397 Gloucester was murdered whilst imprisoned in Calais, most likely on  Richard’s orders. It was said Edward had played a leading role in the arrest of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick and he certainly benefited from the aftermath, receiving a significant share of the forfeitures that followed.

In September 1397 he was made Duke of Aumale and given the post of Constable of England – formerly held by Gloucester. As Constable, Edward would preside over Richard’s legal reforms, extending the court of chivalry to include treason and other offences which touched the king’s dignity.

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Richard II

Of the other 2 ringleaders of the Lords Appellant, Richard Fitzalan, earl of Arundel was beheaded and Thomas de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick was stripped of his titles and imprisoned on the Isle of Man. Two of the younger members of the Lords Appellants, Thomas of Mowbray, earl of Nottingham and Henry Bolingbroke earl of Derby, had initially escaped any severe retribution. However, in  1398 Richard found a pretext to exile them both from the country.

Bolingbroke was the son of the most powerful man in the kingdom – John of Gaunt – he was also cousin to both Richard II and Edward of Norwich. On Gaunt’s death in 1399, instead of passing his inheritance onto Bolingbroke, Richard appropriated it for the crown, putting some of the lands into Edward’s care – and extending his cousin’s exile to life.

Later that year Richard set off on campaign to Ireland, taking with him his cousin Edward and Bolingbroke’s 13-year-old son, Henry of Monmouth. We don’t know how Edward had reacted to his cousin Henry’s disinheritance, but it can’t have been an easy time for him, caught in the middle of his warring cousins, and he may have felt uneasy with the sudden change in Henry’s circumstances at the hands of the king. He later claimed that he had not drawn any of the revenues from the Lancastrian lands which had been put in his custody.

Whilst Richard was in Ireland Henry of Bolingbroke landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire, announcing that he had returned only to claim his inheritance. While Richard headed back to England to face him, Henry was progressing through the country, gaining support. Edward advised Richard to send John Montague, Earl of Salisbury, into north Wales while Richard gathered his forces. Montague raised 4,000 men, but his force had disintegrated by the time the king arrived. On arriving in south Wales, Richard had immediately pressed northwards, leaving Edward and his main force behind him.

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Henry IV

There seems to be some confusion as to Edward’s actions. He was reputedly attacked as he made his way through Wales, but by which side is unclear. He was said to be part of the delegation sent – by Bolingbroke – to Richard at Flint, wearing Bolingbroke’s livery.

Jean Creton, in his Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard II, says Edward ‘said nothing to the king, but kept at as great a distance as he could from him’². Creton stated there was no man alive that Richard had loved better and depicted Edward as a Judas deliberately betraying his king in 1399.

However, the transition of power from Richard II to Henry IV was far from plain sailing for Edward. Henry and Edward were 1st cousins, but Edward was one of the key personalities of Richard’s tyrannical reign, and a focus for revenge. According to the chronicler, Thomas Walsingham, Edward came close to being lynched as tempers ran hot during Henry’s 1st parliament. Edward was accused of urging Gloucester’s murder, a claim he was forced to vehemently deny. Henry resisted calls for the death penalty for Richard’s adherents, and settled instead for punishment by the confiscation of all titles and rewards granted since 1397.

Edward was one of the greatest losers; he lost the constableships of England and the Tower of London and his manor of Burstwick was granted to the earl of Northumberland. He was no longer Duke of Aumale and back to being, simply, earl of Rutland. However, when parliament finished, Henry confirmed Edward’s custody of the Channel Islands and his lordship of the Isle of Wight, suggesting the new king had confidence in his cousin’s loyalty, even if parliament didn’t.

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Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

By the end of 1399 Edward had become embroiled in the Epiphany Rising, the plot to murder Henry IV and his sons during a tournament at Windsor on Twelfth Night. Edward is said to have been a conspirator, but it was he who betrayed the plot to the king, and he was rewarded with the restoration of the lordship of Oakham in Rutland. The plot’s failure meant death for Richard II; Richard had been held at Pontefract Castle since his deposition, but the uncovering of the plot meant he was too dangerous to keep alive. He died around 14th February 1400, probably from starvation.

Edward served the Lancastrian dynasty in much the same way he had Richard II. In October 1400 he was appointed Keeper of North Wales and July 1401 he was dispatched to France as Henry’s lieutenant in Aquitaine, in response to an appeal from the archbishop of Bordeaux who described Edward as ‘the man closest to the king after the king’s sons’.

Whilst in Bordeaux Edward succeeded as the Duke of York, following his father’s death on 1st August 1402. In May of the following year Edward gave up his office to return to England and by the autumn he was campaigning in Wales. In October he was appointed the king’s lieutenant in south Wales for 1 year, but by November the appointment had been extended to 3 years.

Still owed money from his time in Aquitaine, and with Henry unable to meet the costs of the war in Wales, Edward was left in serious financial straits. His men were on the verge of mutiny. However, Edward was one of those rare commanders, who knew how to inspire men and command loyalty. Forced to mortgage his properties to release funds, he made a promise to his troops that, on his honour, he would receive none of his own revenues until they were paid.

The Duke of York’s duty in Wales stood  him in good stead in February 1405 after his sister, Constance, implicated him in a plot against the crown. York was imprisoned in Pevensey Castle for 17 weeks. But it was the Prince of Wales who came to his defence in parliament. Henry of Monmouth described Edward as “a loyal and valiant knight”.  Speaking of clashes against Owen Glendower, in  1407 Prince Henry said “If it had not been for the duke’s good advice and counsel he and others would have been in great peril and desolation.”

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1904 edition of Edward Duke of York’s “The Master of Game”

As far as the Prince of Wales was concerned, York “had laboured and served in such a way as to support and embolden all the other members of the company, as if he had been the poorest gentleman in the realm wishing to serve him in order to win honour and renown”.³

The Duke of York was an authority on hunting, translating the work Gaston Phebus, Count of Foix, Livre du Chasse” into English and adding several chapters himself. He dedicated the work, Master of Game to the Prince of Wales, the future Henry V. The book gives us a glimpse of the Duke of York’s personality and shows us why his men and peers thought so much of him:

“I ask of every person who reads this little treatise, or comes to hear of it, whatever their estate or condition, that in plain and simple language they will add to it anything they find useful and remove all that seems superfluous … so that this work may always grow through the advice and counsel of all hunters, and with this in mind, I tried to set out, as simply and clearly as I knew, what I understood of this craft, for the use and remembrance of all.”³

Edward and Prince Henry were particularly close. Edward was something of a mentor to the young Prince of Wales, as well as being his hunting master.

However, when Henry IV and the Prince of Wales quarreled over foreign policy, Edward sided with the king. In 1412 he accompanied the king’s 2nd son, Thomas, on campaign in France, to aid the Armagnacs against the Burgundians. Following the king’s death in 1413 he was preparing to defend Aquitaine in the June, and by August he was in Paris, negotiating a possible marriage between the new king, Henry V and Catherine of Valois.

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Henry V

Edward was back in England by October 1413, but was constantly involved in the diplomacy between England and France that led to Henry’s invasion of the country in 1415. In August 1415 Edward’s brother, Richard of Conisbrough, earl of Cambridge was executed for his involvement in the Southampton Plot to replace Henry V with his Mortimer cousin. For once, the Duke of York was above suspicion.

Shortly after the executions the fleet set sail for France and landed there on 13th August 1415. Almost immediately the army besieged Harfleur, finally taking the small town on 22nd September, but at great cost. During the siege dysentery had spread through the army, decimating Henry’s forces and leaving him with barely 6,000 men to continue the campaign.

As a result, Henry decided to make a run for Calais and safety, hoping to find a crossing of the River Somme whilst avoiding the French army amassing near Rouen. Edward, Duke of York, led the vanguard, taking part in several skirmishes from the harassing French troops and marching his men at an incredible pace. His men were starving and desperately ill – with more succumbing to dysentery every day.

Until they reached Agincourt.

According to historian Michael Jones, the Duke of York used his extensive hunting expertise to formulate the battle plan that would give Henry V the great victory that is still remembered today.

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Battle of Agincourt

His battle plan depended on a contingent of English archers being able to provoke the French into attacking down an enclosed valley, channelling them into the path of massed volley fire from a 2nd contingent of archers. The knights and men-at-arms would then enclose the survivors and destroy the remainder of the French army.

York was in the thick of the fighting, 90 men were killed defending his banner – the majority of the English casualties on the day. York fought valiantly but was killed as his helmet was smashed into his skull. His men protected their fallen leader’s body, preventing the French from breaking through the thin English line.

The London Chronicler wrote:

The Duke of York was slain,For his king he would not retreat, even by a foot, til his bascinet into his brain was brent [impaled].³

Edward Duke of York had led an illustrious and often controversial career. He had served 3 kings. He had written the first book on hunting in the English language. He could quote Chaucer, was a generous lord and a great military leader. The Chronicler of Godstow regarded him as a “second Solomon”. However, his reputation suffered damage during the Tudor era, when he was accused of being fat and dissolute – it was said he’d died at Agincourt after being suffocated in his armour because he was too heavy to rise after a fall.

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Elizabethan memorial to Edward, 2nd Duke of York

The reverence with which Henry treated Edward after his death proves the lie of the later propaganda. Edward’s will was honoured; his nephew Richard inherited his lands and title, gifts to his men were fulfilled, such as Sir John Popham who received armour, a horse and a life rent from one of the Duke’s manors.

Edward asked to be buried in the church at Fotheringhay, where he had recently founded a college of priests. He was laid to rest beneath the choir steps, the grave marked by a marble slab with his figure upon it, engraved in brass. A larger memorial was added in Elizabethan times.

Edward’s wife Philippa survived him by 16 years, spending her widowhood at Carisbrooke Castle as the Lady of the Isle of Wight. She died 17th July 1431 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Edward’s nephew Richard, 3rd Duke of York, would go on to challenge Henry VI for the throne, dying at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. His son Edward would take up the mantle and succeed as Edward IV in March 1461, just 3 months after his father’s death.

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Footnotes: ¹ Given-Wilson quoted in Oxford Database of National Biography; ² Jean Creton Histoire du Roy d’Angleterre Richard II quoted in Oxford Database of National Biography; ³ 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones.

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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; 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones; Agincourt: My Family, the Battle and the Fight for France by Ranulph Fiennes Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; britannica.com; upenn.edu.

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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.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Fascinating Marital Exploits of Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent

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Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent

Joan of Kent was the daughter of Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent and brother of Edward II. Edmund was a younger son of Edward I by his 2nd wife, Margaret of France; he married Margaret Wake in 1325.

Joan was the 3rd of 4 children, and was born on 28/9th September 1328 at Woodstock. When she was just 18 months old, Joan’s father was beheaded for treason on the orders of the Regent, Roger Mortimer and his lover, Queen Isabella; after becoming convinced that his brother, Edward II, was still alive Edmund had become involved in a plot to free the erstwhile king.

Joan’s mother, Margaret Wake, was held under house arrest at Arundel Castle, along with all 4 of her children; Joan’s baby brother, John, was born a month after their father’s execution. Just a few months later, Edward III escaped Mortimer’s control and assumed power; he took over responsibility for the family and Joan, a favourite of Edward’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, was raised at court.

The leading beauty of her day, Joan had little to offer a potential suitor, beyond her looks and keen intelligence. She had grown up in the same household as Edward III’s oldest children; his son and heir, Edward and his daughters Isabella and Joan.

Sometime around the age of 11 it seems Joan secretly married, or promised to marry, Thomas Holland. However, shortly afterwards Holland left on Crusade to Prussia and during  his absence, Joan was married to William Montague, the Earl of Salisbury in 1340/41.

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William Montague, Earl of Salisbury

When he returned Thomas Holland became the steward to the Earl of Salisbury and found himself in the dubious position of working for the man who was married to his ‘wife’. In May 1348 Holland petitioned the pope, stating that Joan had been forced into her marriage with Salisbury. He went on to say that Joan had previously agreed to marry him and that their relationship had been consummated. He claimed her as his own wife, and Joan backed up his story.

It took 18 months for Joan’s marital status to be resolved, and for some of that time Salisbury kept Joan a prisoner; he was ordered to release her in order that she could give evidence at the inquisition looking into her marriage status.

In the mean time, England itself was in the grips of the Black Death, the bubonic plague. In order to lift the country’s spirits the king, Edward III, had arranged a grand tournament at Windsor, on St George’s Day, 23rd April 1349. The knights in contention were founder members of the Order of the Garter; England’s greatest chivalric order, consisting of the king and 25 founder knights, probably founded in 1348, though the date is uncertain.

Joan herself is a part of the legend of the foundation of the Order of the Garter. She is said to be the lady who lost her garter during a ball celebrating the fall of Calais. Edward III is said to have returned the item to the 20-year-old damsel with the words “honi soit qui mal y pense” (evil to him who evil thinks).

Although the story is probably apocryphal, Joan’s connection with the inaugural  tournament is all too true; she brought an added bit of spice to the St George’s Day tournament of 1349. Her current husband, the Earl of Salisbury, fought on the king’s team, while Sir Thomas Holland was on the side of Prince Edward. Joan’s 2 husbands faced each other across the tournament field, with the object of their affection watching from the stands.

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Sir Thomas Holland

Although I couldn’t find the results of the tournament, Joan’s marital status was decided by Papal Bull on 13th November 1349, when the pope ordered her to divorce Salisbury and return to Holland. Which she did.

Joan succeeded her brother, John, as Baroness Wake of Liddell and Countess of Kent in December 1352 and was confirmed in her new titles in February 1353. Sir Thomas Holland, therefore, became Earl of Kent by right of his wife.

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

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

At the end of 1360 Sir Thomas Holland, a veteran soldier who had fought in the Crecy campaign, died and Joan was left a widow.

Edward Prince of Wales – the Black Prince – may have offered comfort to the Lady Joan, his friend from childhood. Although a widow with 5 children, and bringing no beneficial foreign alliance to the marriage table, Joan and Edward appear to have fallen in love. It was not the political match his father had wanted for the heir to the throne, but all attempts at a marriage alliance with a princess from the Low Countries had come to nought; and it seems the king was quite happy to accept his son’s choice of wife.

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Edward, the Black Prince

It must have caused quite a scandal at the time. Although a reputed beauty, Joan’s bigamous marriage to William Montague was well-known – and he was still alive. She had 5 children by her 1st husband, Thomas Holland. Moreover, she was 33 years of age, 2 years older than her prince. She hardly appeared ‘queen’ material.

However, according to the Chandos Herald Joan was “a lady of great worth…. very beautiful, pleasing and wise”. Edward III sent one of his own people to the pope to ask permission for the marriage, which was swiftly granted.

With great ceremony Edward and Joan were married at Windsor on 10th October 1361, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to Berkhamsted, where the king visited them after Christmas.

In 1363 they moved their entire household to Bordeaux, after the prince was given the Duchy of Aquitaine by his father. Their court there was lavish, exceeding the king’s own in brilliance.

In 1365 their first child was born; a son, Edward of Angoulême. His brother, Richard of Bordeaux, followed on 6th January 1367.

The chronicler, Froissart, tells the story:

In due course Joan, the princess, went into labour and by God’s grace was delivered of her child. It was a fine son, Richard of Bordeaux, born at Epiphany, 6 January , which that year fell on a Wednesday.

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Edward of Angouleme, from the Wilton Diptych

The child came into the world early in the morning to the great joy of the prince and the whole household, and was baptised the following Friday in the early afternoon on the holy font of St Andrew’s Church in the city of Bordeaux. The child was named Richard and he afterwards became King of England.”

Richard’s baptism was attended by 3 kings; Pedro of Castile, James IV of Majorca and Richard of Armenia. William Thorne, the Canterbury Chronicler, described them as the 3 ‘magi’ (or wise men), as Richard had been born on Epiphany, Twelfth Night; an auspicious sign for a bright future.

The Black Prince wrote fondly to his wife whilst campaigning in Spain: “Be assured, dearest companion, that we, our brother of Lancaster and all the great men of our army are, thank God, in good form.”

Froissart wrote of the Black Prince’s return from Spain, and his arrival in Bordeaux; “Where he was received with great celebrations. Princess Joan came to meet him and had Edward, her eldest son, carried with her; he was then about three years old.”

The Spanish campaign was aimed at supporting Pedro of Castile’s claim to the throne against that of his illegitimate half-brother, Henry of Trastamara. Although the Black Prince managed to re-establish Pedro’s rule, the Castilian king could not pay the English army and Edward, already with a reputation for heavy-handedness in Aquitaine, taxed the duchy in order to raise funds.

However, several of the lords appealed to France for aid. In 1370 Limoges rebelled against him; the Black Prince destroyed it completely, not a building was left undamaged, almost the entire population killed.

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Richard II

Sometime in late 1370 or early 1371 the young family suffered a heartbreaking tragedy. Little Edward of Angoulême died of bubonic plague. He was buried in Bordeaux, his funeral arranged by John of Gaunt and attended by all the great lords of Gascony.

The chronicler Walsingham describes the Black Prince’s actions following the sack of Limoges:

“When he had done this, Prince Edward hurried to return to England, as much because of the infirmities which troubled him, as because of lack of money. Therefore, at the beginning of January [1371], with his wife and small son Richard, and with  his household following behind, he reached Plymouth.”

The Black Prince’s health had been destroyed by a lifetime of campaigning. He returned to England a virtual invalid and died in 1376. Left a widow for a 2nd time, Joan still had custody of her young son and was in charge of Richard’s education until his accession to the throne in 1377.

Edward III died in 1377, leaving the throne to 10-year-old Richard of Bordeaux. In his will he gave to Joan, Princess of Wales, a thousand marks and the free restitution of jewels she had pledged too him.

Despite her marital history, and a reputation for extravagance – she was said to have spent £200 on a set of jewelled buttons – Joan was loved by the English people. It was with her that John of Gaunt sought refuge following the sacking of his Savoy Palace in 1376, when the people were discontented with his rule.

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The Wilton Diptych

Joan was seen as a calming influence of her son, Richard II, and was by his side during the dangerous days of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381; she sheltered in the Tower of London and rode in a whirligig to accompany her 13-year-old son to meet with the rebels at Mile End.

In 1385 Joan’s son, John Holland, while campaigning in Scotland, killed Ralph Stafford, son of the 2nd Earl of Stafford, in a quarrel. He fled to sanctuary at the shrine of St John of Beverley, but was condemned to death. Joan pleaded with her Richard for days, begging him to pardon his brother. She died at Wallingford Castle, sometime in August 1385. The King pardoned his half-brother the following day.

Although the Black Prince had built a chantry chapel for his wife, at Canterbury Cathedral, with ceiling bosses of her face, Joan was not buried at Canterbury with the Black Prince, but at the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her 1st husband, Sir Thomas Holland.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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

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My 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

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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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

The Mother of the House of York

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Arms of Philippa of Clarence

Princess Philippa of Clarence was born at Eltham Palace in Kent on the 16th August 1355.  She was named after her grandmother, Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III, who was one of her Godparents.

The first grandchild of Edward III she was the only child of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, and his 1st wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. Lionel was the 1st of Edward and Philippa’s children to marry.

Lionel was the 3rd son of Edward and Philippa, but the 2nd to survive childhood. Born in 1338, he was married to Elizabeth de Burgh in the Tower of London on the 9th September 1342. Lionel was almost 4 years old and his bride was 6 years older, born in 1332. Elizabeth was the daughter and heiress of William de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster, who had died the year after her birth. It seems the couple lived together as husband and wife from 1352, when Lionel was 14 and Elizabeth 20. Lionel became Earl of Ulster by right of his wife and took possession of vast estates in Ireland and the Honour of Clare, in Suffolk; from which he was created Duke of Clarence by Parliament on 13th November 1362.

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Lionel Duke of Clarence

Philippa lost her mother when she was just 8 years old. Elizabeth died in Dublin in December 1363, she was buried  at Clare Priory in Suffolk. Lionel was married again in May 1368, in Milan, to Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Milan. He died at Alba just 5 months after the wedding, in October 1368, and was buried at Pavia; his body was later reinterred to lie beside Elizabeth at Clare Priory in Suffolk.

The dukedom of Clarence became extinct on Lionel’s death, but the earldom of Ulster and Honour of Clare passed to Philippa, his only daughter and heiress.

Although an orphan at the tender age of 13, Philippa’s future had been settled even by the time of her mother’s death in 1363. When only in her 4th year she was married, at the Queen’s Chapel in Reading, in February 1359, to 7-year-old Edmund Mortimer. Edmund was the great-grandson of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March and lover of Edward II’s queen, and Edward III’s mother, Isabella of France.

Mortimer had been executed on Edward III’s orders in 1330 and the marriage was viewed as a reconciliation with the Mortimer family, powerful lords on the Welsh Marches. The children’s wedding was also the 1st in a string of royal marriages. Philippa was married before any of her aunts and uncles; but weddings for her uncle John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster  and her aunt Margaret to John Hastings, 2nd Earl of Pembroke followed in May the same year.

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Arms of the House of Mortimer

The marriage alliances were all part of Edward III’s policy to provide for his large brood of children and tie the great baronial families of the kingdom to the crown, by bringing them into the Royal family.

Edmund Mortimer succeeded to his father’s earldom as the 3rd Earl of March in the year after the marriage and the couple spent their time between properties in England, Wales and Ireland.

Their 1st child was born when Philippa was 15; she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, at Usk in Monmouthshire, on 12th February 1371. 3 more children followed; Roger born at Usk on 11th April 1374, Philippa, born at Ludlow in Shropshire on 21st November 1375 and finally Edmund, who was born at Ludlow on 9th November 1377.

Marriage to Philippa had brought her husband power and influence. Through his steward, Peter de la Mare, he was instrumental in the Good Parliament of 1376, which argued against the influence of Edward III’s lover, Alice Perrers, and her friends, on the government of the kingdom. He spoke up for royal legitimacy and, using similar language to that used against his grandfather, Roger Mortimer, decried the influence an adulterous affair was having  on the dignity of the crown.

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Ludlow Castle, Shropshire

Following Edward III’s death in 1377, until her own death 6 months later, Philippa was, technically, heiress presumptive to the crown of her cousin, Richard II. However, in a supplementary document to his will, Edward III had practically disinherited his eldest granddaughter. He settled the inheritance of the throne on his grandson, Richard, son of his eldest son, the Black Prince and then, in turn, starting with John of Gaunt, on his surviving sons and their sons.

Edward had thus attempted to destroy any claim Philippa might have had to the throne whilst at the same time, revoking the royal status of the Mortimer earls of March.

Although there appear to be several death dates for Philippa, the most likely is that she died as a result of complications following Edmund’s birth, as she had made a will in November 1377, suggesting she was preparing for death. She passed away on, or shortly before, 7th January 1378 and was buried at Wigmore, Herefordshire, the burial-place of the Mortimers.

Edmund’s star, however, continued to rise and he was appointed Lieutenant of Ireland by Richard II on 22nd October 1380.  He died at Cork on 26th or 27th December 1381 and his body was brought back to Wigmore for burial. He was succeeded as 4th Earl of March by his eldest son, Roger; who had succeeded Philippa as Earl of Ulster on her death.

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Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy and Elizabeth Mortimer

Roger spent many years in wardship following his father’s death. He was courageous, but had a reputation for religious and moral laxity. He was killed in Ireland in 1398, while acting as the king’s Lieutenant. It is possible that, at some point, he was named heir to the throne by Richard II, although there is considerable doubt in this.

Of Philippa and Edmund’s other children Elizabeth married Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy sometime before May 1380. They had 2 children, but he was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. Elizabeth then married Thomas, 1st Baron Camoys, with whom she had a son who died young. Elizabeth died on 20th April 1417 and was buried at Trotton in Sussex, with her 2nd husband.

Philippa’s daughter and namesake, Philippa, married John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, son of the Earl of Pembroke who had married Edward III’s daughter, Margaret. Following his death in 1389, she married Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, who was executed in 1397. Her 3rd marriage was to Thomas Poynings, 5th Baron St John of Basing, around November 1399. She died in 1400 or 1401 and was buried at Boxgrove Priory in Lewes, 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 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

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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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Fields of Glory by Michael Jecks

81Lj4afwfALThe year is 1346 and King Edward III is restless. Despite earlier victories his army has still not achieved a major breakthrough and the French crown remains intact. Determined to bring France under English rule and the French army to its knees he has regrouped and planned a new route of attack.

And on the beaches of Normandy his men now mass, ready to march through France to victory. But the French are nowhere to be seen. Edward knows that the worst thing he could do would be to take the battle to the French, where they will have the advantage and so he sets up camp near a small hill at Crécy and waits.

The Battle of Crécy will be a decisive turning point in the Hundred Years’ Wars. This is the story of that battle and the men who won it.”

A masterpiece!

Fields of Glory follows the English army from their landing on the beaches of Normandy, through the devastating destruction of the chevauchée through Northern France and to the gates of Paris itself, before the retreat ever north in search of a crossing of the River Somme, and the final confrontation with  the French army.

We experience the sieges, the skirmishes, the looting and death through the eyes of one of Edward I’s captains and his vintaine (company) of 20 men; hardened soldiers who all have their own secrets,  fears and superstitions.

We are also given snippets behind the decision-making of the great King Edward III and his 16-year-old son Edward, the future Black Prince. The army’s leaders are vivid, but distant, characters as the story concentrates on the experiences of the fighting men

The Vintaine’s captain, Berenger, leads his men through the armies skirmishes and their own personal battles and conflicts. Rescuing a French girl from the Welsh contingent brings its own problems, dividing the opinions and conflicts of the men while showing  the humanity that still existed among the devastation.

Berenger is a seasoned soldier and experienced captain, who needs his men as much as – if not more than – they need him. His men are real characters; Clip, with his prophecies of doom becomes a sort mascot of the company – only if he predicts their deaths are they confident of survival; and Geoff, who projects his own demons onto others in order to avoid their reality. And then there’s young Ed, just a boy wanting revenge on the french for all the ills of the world, and learning the realities of war through this small band of soldiers.

And then there is Archibald, the King’s gynour, a strange loner of a man who incites fear and loathing even from his own side. He is in charge of the king’s gonnes, the cannon which are slowly becoming part of the modern battlefield, but which are still distrusted by the common soldier.

One scene in particular leaves the reader cold and thoughtful. I don’t want to give too much away, but the king’s justice, meted out to his own men following the plundering of a monastery, left me with a sleepless night, so vivid was the imagery invoked by the scene:

Ed listened to the king’s words with breathless disbelief.

When the men had all been marched back to the army he had thought that there would be a court, an opportunity to explain – and yet here he was, with the sentence of death on him!”

How the scene plays out – well, I’ll leave that for you to discover, but it is thought-provoking, indeed.

Micheal Jecks’ treatment of the book’s climax – the Battle of Crécy itself – is gripping and masterful in its telling. While getting glimpses of the battle’s bigger picture, you are treated to the personal battles of Berenger’s men, the vicious hand-to-hand combat, the losses and victories. The devastation and risks wrought by the new battlefield science – gunpowder – are wonderfully described in great detail.

This is story-telling at its best.

The research is, as always, impeccable and the story of the Crécy campaign is told in all its devastation and glory. The interaction of the characters leaves the reader eager to know them better, to read on. The fight scenes are well though out and  realistic, the narrative of the Battle of Crecy itself being the highlight of the book.

Michael Jecks‘s Knights Templar Mysteries have been entertaining readers for many years. I have been reading and enjoying his books since The Last Templar started it all. The knowledge and detail of the early 14th century judicial system has fascinated many.

Fields of Glory takes Michael Jecks in a whole new direction and I can’t say I’m disappointed. The story-telling is masterful – and has taken on a frenetic energy of its own. It is hard to believe he could write anything better, but Book 2 of this Hundred Years’ War series, Blood on the Sand, is already in the bookshops and promises to be just as exciting and action-filled as the first.

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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.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

The Maid of Norway – The Tragic Story of Scotland’s First Queen Regnant

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The coat of arms of Norway

The story of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, is short and sad. The little girl died before her 8th birthday, and before she ever set foot in the country of which she was Queen. And her death set into a motion a chain of events that would see Scotland torn apart by war for years to come.

Margaret’s claim to the Scottish throne came from her grandfather, Alexander III. Alexander had come to the throne at the age of 8 and had proved to be a very capable and strong monarch. He had married, on 26th December 1251, Margaret, the daughter of Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence.

Margaret and Alexander had 3 children together. Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was born in February 1261 at Windsor Castle. And of their 2 sons; Alexander was born in 1264 at Jedburgh and David who was born in March 1273. However, their family was soon to face a succession of tragedies. Queen Margaret died in February 1275 at Cupar Castle. And 8-year-old David died in June 1281 at Stirling Castle.

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Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

One happy event in the midst of the tragedy, was the marriage of 20-year-old Margaret of Scotland to 13-year-old Erik Magnusson around the 31st August 1281. Erik had become King Erik II of Norway the year before, with a royal council ruling for the under-age king.

Eric came of age in 1282 and the following year, on the 9th April 1283, Margaret gave birth to a daughter, another Margaret. The queen died giving birth to Margaret; at Tonsberg, Norway, and was buried in Christ’s Kirk, Bergen.

For Alexander III, even more tragedy was to follow in January 1284 when his son and heir, Alexander, died aged just 20. Alexander’s death sparked a succession crisis for Scotland’s king. He had no brothers or uncles to succeed him; his only heir was his 8-month-old granddaughter, Margaret, in Norway. In the same year Alexander obtained, from his nobles, a recognition of Margaret’s right to succeed to the throne, should he fail to produce any further heirs.

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The coronation of Alexander III

However, the death of his last surviving child also prompted Alexander III to look for a new wife. And on 1st November 1285, at Jedburgh Abbey, Alexander married Yolande de Dreux, daughter of Robert IV, Count of Dreux, in the hope of producing an heir.

Shortly after the marriage, in March 1286, Alexander was on his way to visit his new bride, one night, when he got separated from his escort during a violent storm; his horse appears to have lost its footing and fallen down an embankment. The king’s body, with his neck broken, was found on the beach the next day, just a mile from where his wife was staying, at Kinghorn in Fife.

With the new queen pregnant 6 Guardians were appointed to rule the kingdom until the arrival of Alexander’s posthumous heir. However, Yolande either miscarried, or the baby was still-born and by the end of the year it was clear that Scotland had to look elsewhere for a ruler. Alexander’s only surviving heir was now 3-year-old Margaret of Norway.

Within weeks of Alexanders death Robert Bruce and John Balliol had both made attempts on the crown and the south-west was raised in rebellion. However the majority of Scots, represented by the 6 Guardians, gave their backing to Margaret, the Maid of Norway and Bruce and Balliol were forcibly held in check.

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Erik II Magnusson

As early as 1284 Alexander III had, following the death of his last son, floated the idea that England and Scotland might unite through marriage. In response to a letter of condolence from his brother-in-law, Edward I, Alexander had suggested that, through his tiny granddaughter, ‘much may yet come to pass’.

The prospect at the time had not been without risk, however; should Alexander have more children, England would have been committed to a disadvantageous marriage with a Norwegian princess. But with Alexander’s death, and the queen’s child dead, Margaret’s accession seemed certain.

With the Guardians maintaining an uneasy peace between the competing claims of Margaret, Robert Bruce and John Balliol, Erik II of Norway sought the help of Edward I of England. Messengers were sent between the English and Norwegian courts and in Spring 1289 serious negotiations began.

On 6th November 1289 an international summit was held at Salisbury. The Norwegian ambassadors met with Edward and his advisers. It’s possible the Scottish Guardians had also sent representatives, but some sources say the Scots were excluded from these initial talks. The summit proved successful and it was agreed that Margaret would marry Edward of Caernarfon, Edward I’s son and heir, within the next 12 months.

For the Scottish, the marriage alliance promised an end to the years of uncertainty and to the latent threats they had been facing since 1286. For Margaret, a marriage alliance with England gave the Maid a powerful protector.

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Alexander III of Scotland (left) with Edward I of England (centre) and Llewelyn, prince of Wales (right)

In March 1290 the community of Scotland, comprising over 100 Scotsmen of substance, met to ratify the marriage agreement. They wrote to Edward expressing their will to proceed with the wedding. The Guardians of Scotland, however, had sworn an oath to preserve Alexander III’s kingdom intact and undiminished for his eventual heirs, and their overriding concern now was to safeguard Scotland’s future independence.

It was agreed at Brigham that, although Edward and Margaret were not yet of marriageable age, the would be regarded as married on Margaret’s arrival from Norway – and Edward of Caernarfon would be King of Scotland from that moment. The business of Scottish government and law was to remain in Scotland and be run by a resident Viceroy or lieutenant.

There was no common ground, however, on the issue of royal fortresses: Edward I wanted to appoint all custodians as a guarantee of security but the Scots saw this as a demand for the surrender of sovereignty. In the final agreement, ratified at Northampton, the point is glossed over with an agreement that keepers would be appointed by the ‘common advice of the Scots and the English king’.

The reason Edward acquiesced on – or, rather, failed to push – the castles issue was the news that Margaret had already left Norway. Edward wanted the deal signed and sealed before the Scots’ hand was strengthened by the physical possession of their queen.

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Edward of Carnarvon

In the final agreement, the Scots got a clear statement safeguarding their independence. Edward promised that Scotland should remain ‘free in itself, and without subjection from the kingdom of England’.

Margaret set sail in September 1290; accompanied by Bishop Narve of Bergen, she was bound for Leith. In preparation for the Maid’s arrival, Edward I sent gifts for his future daughter-in-law; and the magnates of Scotland began to assemble at Scone Abbey, Perth, in anticipation of the enthronement of their new queen.

However, storms drove the Maid’s ship off course and she landed at St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, on Orkney. Scottish and English representatives rode north to Orkney to meet her. Margaret died at Orkney, in the arms of the Bishop, supposedly from the effects of a severe bout of seasickness. She was 7 years old.

As the Scottish and English messengers returned south with news of the Maid’s death, Margaret’s body was returned to Norway. She was buried beside her mother, in the north aisle of Christ’s Kirk, in Bergen.

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Margaret, Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland

Her father confirmed the identity of the body before her burial, an act that proved significant in 1300, a year after Erik’s death, when a woman turned up in Bergen. claiming to be Margaret. Reports say the woman appeared to be 40 years old, when Margaret would have only been 17, and she gained popular support, despite the king’s identification Margaret’s body, before finally being convicted as ‘the False Margareth’; she was burned at the stake in 1301.

The tragedy of Margaret’s death brought an end to the rule of the House of Dunkeld, begun with Malcolm III Canmore in 1058, and plunged Scotland into crisis. Edward I’s intervention with his judgement of the 13 Competitors for the crown, and his backing of John Balliol as the next King, saw the beginning of Scotland’s Wars of Independence. Marred not only be English invasion, but also the in-fighting among the Scottish nobles, it was not until Robert the Bruce emerged victorious that Scotland found her feet again.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia, except that of Edward I, Alexander III and Llewelyn, which was taken from castlewales.com

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Sources: castlewales.com; Marc Morris Edward I: A Great and Terrible King; David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History edited by John Cannon; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Plantagenets by Derek Wilson; The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; royal.gov.uk; britroyals.com; undiscoveredscotland.co.uk; englishmonarchs.co.uk; educationscotland.gov.uk.

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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.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015


The Complicated Love Life of John of Gaunt

200px-JohnofgauntThe third surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault John of Gaunt was born in 1340 at the Abbey of St Bavon, in Ghent in modern-day Belgium. At the height of his career he was the most powerful man in the kingdom after the king. He was virtually regent for his father, Edward III, in his old age, thus getting the blame for military failures and government corruption. His reputation was further damaged when he blocked the reforms of the Good Parliament of 1376, which had tried to curb the corruption of Edward III’s and limit the influence of the king’s grasping mistress, Alice Perrers.

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

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

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

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Wedding of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Lost Prince – John of Eltham

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The Great Hall of Eltham Palace

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

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

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Eltham Palace today

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

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

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

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Coat of arms of John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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.

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster

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

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

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

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Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster

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

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

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

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

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John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

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

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

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

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Tomb of Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre, Canterbury Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Book of the Duchess’

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; unofficialroyalty.com; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com.

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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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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly