Today it is a pleasure to welcome my son, Lewis Connolly, to the blog. In commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War, Lewis has written a beautiful poem inspired by the 1914 Christmas truce.
France, Trenches, Christmas Day 1914
A soldier in the Great War, I am,
A soldier, destined to kill sons and fathers, I am.
A soldier who is one-in-a-million remembered, I am.
A soldier who committed the sin of killing, I am.
God help us all.
My father once told me what it takes to be a good soldier.
One of the things he said was once a soldier saw his enemy as a human being,
He’s no longer a good soldier.
At Christmas, none of us were good soldiers.
God help us all.
Soldiers in the Great War, we are.
Soldiers born to kill, we are.
Soldiers who made a truce, we are.
Soldiers who found peace in war, we are.
God help us all.
On the day of peace, Christmas 1914,
We found ourselves once more in this madness.
We traded, sported and talked,
Instead of letting the guns sing.
God help us all.
I owe a great big ‘thank you’ to Lewisfor allowing me to publish his poignant poem.
And I would like to take this opportunity thank all my readers for your wonderful support in 2018, and to wish you all a Merry Christmas; and love, happiness and peace for 2019.
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Philip II Augustus had acceded to the throne of France in 1180, at the tender age of fifteen. He married his first wife, Isabella of Hainault the same year; she was only ten-years-old. Isabella was the daughter of Baldwin V, count of Hainault, and Margaret I, countess of Flanders. At just one year old she had been betrothed to Henry, the future count of Champagne and nephew of Adele, queen of France. However, Isabella’s father later reneged on his promises, and arranged Isabella’s marriage to Philip, the son and heir of Louis VII. Philip had been crowned junior king of France in 1179. Isabella and Philip were married on 28 April 1180 and Isabella was crowned queen exactly one month later, even though her father-in-law was still king. With Louis VII’s death Philip and Isabella acceded to the throne as sole king and queen in September of the same year.
Philip was a capricious being when it came to his wives, indeed, he attempted to repudiate Isabella when she was only fourteen. Isabella’s father had taken the side of his enemies in war against Flanders, but he cited her failure to produce an heir as his reason for putting her aside, despite her still-tender age. Unfortunately for Philip, Isabella appeared before the council at Sens, called to support his repudiation of her, barefoot and penitent. Isabella was a popular queen and the people were so taken with this act of humility that their protests forced the king to take her back.
She gave birth to the desired son and heir, the future Louis VIII, three years later, in 1187. However, on 14 March 1190 she gave birth to twin boys, Robert and Philip, but died from complications the next day, aged just nineteen; the babies died three days after their mother. The Chronique rimee of Philippe Mouskes described her as “Queen Isabelle, she of noble form and lovely eyes.” Philip II left on Crusade just a few short months after Isabella’s death; however, with only one living son, he was soon looking around for a new wife.
Ingeborg was the daughter of Valdemar I the Great, king of Denmark, and Sofia of Minsk, and was the youngest of their eight surviving children. Born around 1176, it was only six years later, in 1182, that her father died. Valdemar was succeeded by Ingeborg’s older brother, Knut (or Canute) VI; and it fell to Knut to arrange Ingeborg’s future. I could not find any details of Ingeborg’s childhood, although she was probably educated to the standard expected of princesses of the time, in order to make her attractive in the international royal marriage market. A princess was expected to be able to manage a household, to sew, play music, sing, dance and much more.
Ingeborg held many political attractions for the king of France, her brother not only had a claim to the English throne, stretching back to the time of Cnut the Great, who ruled England in the eleventh century, but he also possessed an impressive navy, one which Philip would rather have with him, than against him. Such an alliance also helped France and Denmark to stand up to the expansionism of the Holy Roman Empire, under Emperor Henry VI.
On the conclusion of negotiations with Knut’s representatives, Philip sent an embassy to Denmark, to escort his bride back to France. The envoys were afforded a lavish reception at the Danish court, where the formal arrangements for the marriage were finalised. Ingeborg was provided with a dowry of 10,000 marks in gold and set out for a new life in France, accompanied by the French envoys and many Danish dignitaries, probably not expecting to ever see her homeland again. Ten years older than Ingeborg, Philip met his bride for the first time on their wedding day, 14 August 1193, in the cathedral church at Amiens. Ingeborg was crowned queen of France the next day, by the archbishop of Reims; her name changed to Isambour, to make it more acceptable to the French language, though what she thought of this, we cannot say.
At seventeen years of age, contemporary sources extolled her excellent qualities; in addition to the obligatory courtly praise of her appearance, comparing her beauty with that of Helen of Troy, she was a model of virtue. Ingeborg was described as ‘very kind, young of age but old of wisdom’ by Étienne de Tournai, who knew her well and said that the beauty of her soul overshadowed that of her face. Remarkably, given subsequent events, even those chroniclers devoted to her Philip II, such as Guillaume le Breton, spoke of the new queen with respect.
Unfortunately, no one knows what happened on the wedding night, but poor Ingeborg had one of the shortest honeymoon periods in history; and by the end of the coronation ceremony he had such an aversion to Ingeborg that he tried to get the Danish envoys to take her home with them. Ingeborg, however, refused to go, saying that she had been crowned queen of France, and her place was now in France. Queen Ingeborg sought sanctuary in a convent in Soissons, from where she wrote an appeal to the pope, Celestine III. Three months later, Philip established a friendly ecclesiastical council in Compiègne, in an attempt to have the marriage annulled. Ingeborg was present, but, speaking no French, had little understanding of the proceedings until they were interpreted for her.
Philip claimed that Ingeborg was related to his first wife, and the marriage was therefore within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, going so far as to falsify his family tree to provide proof. As a result, the churchmen, sympathetic to their king, determined that the marriage was void. When Ingeborg was informed of the decision, she appealed to Rome, protesting loudly “Mala Francia! Roma! Roma!” Her homeland finally took notice of Ingeborg’s plight and following a meeting with a Danish delegation, who produced their own genealogy showing that Ingeborg and Philippe had very little blood in common, the pope declared the decision by Philip’s ecclesiastical council to be invalid and ordered that Philip should take back his wife, and was not to remarry.
Thwarted by Ingeborg’s stubbornness, Philip decided to force her to acquiesce, by making Ingeborg’s life as uncomfortable as possible. She was placed under house arrest; first at an abbey near Lille, then at the monastery of Saint Maur des Fossés and at various other convents afterwards, her treatment becoming gradually harsher the longer she refused to give in. For seven years, the French court saw nothing of her; Étienne de Tournai reported, to the archbishop of Reims, that “she spent all her days in prayer, reading, work; solemn practices fill her every moment”.
Ingeborg would spend twenty years, incarcerated in various castles and abbeys, contesting any annulment. The longer her imprisonment, the more desperate her situation became; Ingeborg was forced to sell or pawn most of her possessions, even down to her clothing, in order to sustain herself. She later described herself, in a letter to the pope, Celestine III, as “…discarded like a dried and diseased branch; here I am, deprived of all help and consolation.”
As the consanguinity argument was not working for Philip, in pursuit of his divorce, and with his counsellors already having an eye on a new bride for the king, another argument was advanced; that of non-consummation. Ingeborg, however, remained steadfast, insisting that she and Philip had slept together on their wedding night. The pope again took Ingeborg’s side. Philip disregarded the pope’s decree to return to Ingeborg and took a new wife, Agnes of Merania, a German princess, in 1196. They had two children together, Philip and Marie, illegitimate due to their father’s bigamous marriage with their mother. However, in 1198, the new pope, Innocent III, asserted his authority by declaring the marriage invalid, he announced that Philip was still married to Ingeborg and ordered the king to return to his true wife.
Philip responded by making Ingeborg’s imprisonment even harsher. Following vigorous correspondence between Paris and the papacy Innocent responded with his most powerful weapon; excommunication. On 15 January 1200, the whole of France was put under interdict, all churches were closed. There were to be no church services or offices; no sacraments were to be performed, save for the baptism of new-borns and the last rites of the dying, until Philip acquiesced to the pope’s demands and, at least, renounced Agnes, even if he didn’t return to Ingeborg. Indeed, Philip’s own son, Louis, had to hold his wedding to Blanche of Castile, daughter of Eleanor of Castile, in Normandy due to the interdict.
Towards the end of the year Philip finally gave in. Poor Agnes was stripped of her status as Philip’s wife and exiled from court; she died in July 1201, heartbroken. Her two children by Philip were legitimised by the pope shortly afterwards. For Ingeborg, however, nothing changed. Philip refused to take her back and appealed again for an annulment, this time claiming that she had bewitched him on their wedding night. The appeal, again, was refused and Ingeborg was only released – finally – in 1213. Philippe’s change of heart was not out of any sense of guilt, affection or justice, but more for practicality. With King John’s barons risen against him, the situation in England was ripe to be exploited, and Philip needed peace with Denmark in order to concentrate his attentions on the greater prize; the English throne.
Ingeborg had been a prisoner in France for twenty years. Now, because of political expediency, she was not only free, but reinstated as queen, accorded the respect and dignity she had had a right to since her wedding day in 1193. However, her husband never returned to her bed; it was for outward appearances only. His son, Louis, now had his own son and heir, and so there was no need for Philip to be with Ingeborg, physically, in order to secure the succession. On his deathbed, in 1223, Philip II Augustus asked his son to treat Ingeborg well; while in his will, he left her 10,000 livres. The new king, Louis VIII, and his son, Louis IX, would both treat Ingeborg kindly and accord her all the respect due to her rank as dowager queen of France. Such an action was politically preferable to Louis; by recognising Ingeborg as legitimate queen of France he emphasised that Agnes had not been, and that, therefore, her children, especially Louis’s half-brother, Philip, had no right to the throne (despite his legitimisation by the pope).
After Philip’s death Ingeborg paid for masses to be said for his soul, whether out of duty, or as a sign of forgiveness, we’ll never know. A dignified and pious widow, she then retired to the priory of St Jean de l’Île, Corbeil. She died in 1238, surviving her husband by more than fourteen years and was buried in a church in Corbeil, having spent twenty of her forty-five years, as queen, a prisoner of her husband.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Géraud, Hercule, Ingeburge de Danemark, reine de France, 1193-1236. Mémoire de feu Hercule Géraud, couronné par l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres dans sa séance du 11 août 1844. [Première partie.] Article; Étienne de Tournai, quoted in Géraud, Hercule, Ingeburge de Danemark, reine de France, 1193-1236. Mémoire de feu Hercule Géraud, couronné par l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres dans sa séance du 11 août 1844. [Première partie.] Article; Anna Belfrage Weep, Ingeborg, weep, (article) annabelfrage.wordpress.com; Goubert, Pierre The Course of French History; histoirefrance.net; historyofroyalwomen.com.
Coming 31st May!
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.
My favourite book of all time has to be The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Nothing else comes close to this amazing story. It is full of everything; friendship, intrigue, betrayal, swashbuckling adventure and a doomed love story. The central character is D’Artagnan; he does not become a Musketeer until the very end, but he is the hero, his courage, skill and intelligence are unsurpassed.
But did you know d’Artagnan was real and so were the Regiment of Musketeers?
The Regiment of Musketeers were formed in France in 1622, as part of King Louis XIII’s personal bodyguard. Originally a compliment of 100 men, the regiment was made up of gentlemen and members of the nobility who were also proven soldiers; a candidate had to have served in the regular army before being considered for enrolment in the Musketeers.
The Musketeers were a mounted regiment, armed with swords and muskets. The 1st and 2nd companies were distinguished by the colour of their horses; grey for the 1st Company of Musketeers and black for the 2nd. Their captain was, in fact, the king; however, their everyday command was left to a captain-lieutenant, with a sub-lieutenant, an ensign and a cornet as junior officers. Their uniform comprised a blue, sleeveless, tunic with a cross of white velvet on the back and front, which was worn over a scarlet coat.
One thing that does hold true in the Dumas novels, is the Musketeers rivalry with the Cardinal’s Guard. Formed by Cardinal Richelieu for his own protection, the Guard and Musketeers kept up an ‘unhealthy’ rivalry, and competition was fierce between France’s 2 elite regiments.
The Musketeer captain-lieutenant was a Captain Troisvilles (Tréville); while other members of the regiment included Armand de Sillègue d’Athos d’Autevielle (Athos), Isaac de Porteau (Porthos) and Henri d’Aramitz (Aramis). Of course, the most famous Musketeer of all is d’Artagnan or, to give him his full name, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, sieur d’Artagnan. D’Artagnan was born around 1613/15 in the château of Castelmore in Lupiac in Gascony.
His father was Bertrand de Batz, seigneur de la Plaigne, while his mother was Françoise de Montesquiou, daughter of Jean de Montesquiou, seigneur d’Artagnan; and from whom the hero took his nom de guerre. D’Artagnan was one of 7 children with 3 brothers and 3 sisters. Paula and Jean, who became captain of the guards, were older, whilst Arnaud was younger and became an abbot. His 3 sisters, Claude, Henrye and Jeanne, all made good marriages.
No one could join the Musketeers without having proved themselves in the regular regiments. D’Artagnan joined the guards in the mid-1630s and served under Captain des Essarts. The regiment saw much action in the early 1640s, taking part in sieges at Arras, Aire-sur-la-Lys, la Bassée and Bapaume in 1640-41 and Collioure and Perpignan in 1642. Whether or not d’Artagnan was personally involved is unclear, but it is likely he took part in some – if not all – of these sieges.
D’Artagnan managed to find himself a great patron, in the form of Cardinal Mazarin, Richelieu’s protégé and successor as First Minister of France. With the death of Louis XIII, in 1643, Mazarin was also regent for the new king, Louis XIV, who was only 5-years-old at his accession. With Mazarin’s patronage, aged about 30, d’Artagnan joined the Musketeers in 1644. Unfortunately for d’Artagnan, the Musketeers were disbanded only 2 years later, in 1646.
D’Artagnan, however, continued in the service of Cardinal Mazarin. He was active during the Fronde, the French civil wars that marred Louis XIV’s minority and gave the young king an abiding distaste for Paris. D’Artagnan carried out various missions and acted as a go-between for the Cardinal and his allies, when Mazarin was exiled from France in 1651.
D’Artagnan was ever in the thick of the fighting and narrowly escaped being killed, in 1654, at Stenay, while under the command of Turenne. He fought in sieges at Lancrecies and Saint-Ghislaine and, aged about 40, earned himself promotion, becoming captain of the Guards. When the Musketeers were reinstated, in 1657, d’Artagnan went ‘home’ and the following year he became sub-lieutenant, replacing Isaac de Baas. With Philippe-Julien de Mancini, duc de Nevers and Mazarin’s nephew, in the post of captain-lieutenant, the day-to-day command fell to d’Artagnan.
Although Alexandre Dumas’ hero stayed resolutely single, after the death of Constance, his true love, in reality d’Artagnan married, in 1659, Charlotte-Anne de Chanlecy, baronne de Sainte-Croix. They had 2 sons, born in 1660 and 1661 and both named Louis – after their godfathers, Louis XIV and his son Louis, the Dauphin. The marriage did not last long and the couple officially separated in 1665, possibly due to d’Artagnan’s long absences on duty.
The last few years of his marriage coincided with d’Artagnan’s duty as gaoler to a high-profile political prisoner; Louis XIV’s former Superintendant of Finances, Nicholas Foucquet. D’Artagnan had been ordered to arrest Foucquet in September 1661, on charges of embezzlement and High Treason. The prosecution process was to take 3 years, with Foucquet becoming the ‘fall guy’ for decades of financial mismanagement and corruption; although most believed his real crime was to be more regal than the king himself. D’Artagnan’s duty as gaoler was only finally discharged in January 1665, when Foucquet was delivered to the prison-fortress of Pignerol, in the Italian Alps.
An initial sentence of banishment had been considered too lenient, and so Louis had changed it to one of perpetual imprisonment and solitary confinement, although he was allowed a valet. Foucquet died 15 years later. Some sources suggest that it was Foucquet’s valet, who had served the disgraced minister in prison, who became known as the Man in the Iron Mask, the prisoner in the Bastille, and the inspiration for the character in Dumas’ concluding Musketeer novel, The Vicomte de Bragelonne (Ten Year Later). Another d’Artagnan link to the Iron Mask story is Saint-Mars, d’Artagnan’s friend and second-in-command during the Foucquet affair, and eventual Governor of the Bastille – he was, in fact, still governor there at the time of the Man in the Iron Mask’s death.
With the failure of his marriage, d’Artagnan concentrated on his career as a soldier. In 1671 he was again involved in a high-profile arrest, that of the Duc de Lauzun, who had dared to marry the Duchesse de Montpensier, la Grande Mademoiselle, cousin of Louis XIV. D’Artagnan and his Musketeers again made the journey across the Alps, delivering Lauzun to Pignerol on 16 December; his rooms were those directly below Foucquet, in the Angel Tower.¹
In 1672 d’Artagnan was appointed Governor of Lille, replacing the Mareschal d’Humières. However, by 1673, he was back in his rightful place, at the head of his regiment of Musketeers in the Dutch Wars. In May, 1673, Louis XIV had marched on Maastricht at the head of his troops, several thousand strong. By 10 June the town was surrounded, not only by French forces, but also their English allies, and the siege began in earnest. The artillery bombardment began on 19th June and lasted for 5 days and was followed by an assault which included 4 battalions, 8 squadrons of the King’s Horse, 300 Grenadiers and the 1st company of the Musketeers, led by d’Artagnan.
D’Artagnan’s company attacked a demi-lune (half-moon) fortification, which protected the Tongres Gate. Within half an hour of fierce fighting, d’Artagnan’s men had control of the demi-lune, a flag of the fleur-de-lis planted firmly on the parapet. The Duke of Monmouth, on e of the English commanders, then decided to cross the open ground that separated the demi-lune from the Tongres Gate. It is likely that d’Artagnan, a more experienced soldier, advised against such foolhardy action, but once Monmouth led the charge, d’Artagnan could do nothing but follow, leading his Musketeers into the foray.
D’Artagnan made it to the ramparts of Maastricht before falling mortally wounded from a musket ball:
It was on this occasion that Monsieur D’Artagnan was killed. The intensity of musket fire was such that even hail could not fall more abundantly. Two musketeers trying to pick up Monsieur D’Artagnan were killed at his side, and two others who had taken their place and given themselves the same duty, were killed in the same way next to their captain, without even having the time to pick themselves up …. This battle went on for five hours in the light of day and out in the open, and one could almost say: “And the combat ceased due to a lack of combatants.”³
D’Artagnan died on 25th June, 1673, aged about 60; he was buried in Maastricht. Having lost their brilliant, legendary captain, the Musketeers were grief-stricken. As was Louis XIV, who, that evening, wrote to his wife, Maria Theresa, ‘Madame, I have lost d’Artagnan, in whom I had the utmost confidence and who merited it in all occasions.’²
Intelligent, loyal, steadfast and brave, d’Artagnan was as much a hero in real-life as on the page; but thanks to Alexandre Dumas his legend not only lives on, but grows…
Footnotes: ¹The Man Behind the Iron Mask by John Noone; ²The Death of D’Artagnan (article) Dr Josephine Wilkinson, Facebook page; ³Mercure Galant, June 1673, quoted by Dr Josephine Wilkinson
Thanks to Cindy Barris-Speke who informed me via Facebook that d’Artagnan is buried in Maastricht.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Man Behind the Iron Mask by John Noone; The Death of D’Artagnan (article) Dr Josephine Wilkinson, Facebook page; jospha-josephine-wilkinson.blogspot.co.uk; sirclisto.com; Forgotten History, Unbelilevable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu; awesomestories.com.
By Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers (Les Trois Mousquetaires); Twenty Years After (Vingt Ans Apres); Dix And Plus Tard (Ten Years After, which includes the story of the Man in the Iron Mask)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
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.
In 1312 a baby girl was born into the French royal family. Although some sources say she was born as early as 1309 or 1311, most seem to settle on January 1312. According to Isabella of France’s biographer, Kathryn Warner, the news was delivered to Edward II and Queen Isabella by Jeannot de Samoys, usher to Margaret of Burgundy, in March 1312, with the baby having been born on 28th January of that year.
Jeanne de France was to be the only surviving child of her parents, Louis of France and Margaret of Burgundy. Louis had become King of Navarre on the death of his mother in 1305 and was married to Margaret later in the same year, when Louis was 16 years old and Margaret was about 15.
Louis was Dauphin of France, the eldest of 3 surviving sons of Philip IV le Bel, king of France and Navarre, and of Jeanne I, queen of France and de jure queen of Navarre. Louis’ sister, Isabella, married Edward II of England. His brothers, Philip and Charles, were married to 2 sisters, Blanche and Joan of Burgundy, the daughters of Otto IV, Count of Burgundy.
In 1314 a scandal rocked the French monarchy to its very core, leaving a question mark over Jeanne’s legitimacy that is still there today. The Tour de Neslé Affair saw 2-year-old Jeanne’s mother, Margaret, convicted of adultery, and imprisoned in the Chateau-Gaillard for the rest of her life. Margaret’s cousin and sister-in-law, Blanche, was convicted alongside her. Although Blanche’s sister, Joan, with the support of her husband Philip, was cleared of the charges, she was held under house arrest for a short time as it was believed she knew of the adulterous liaisons of her sisters-in-law.
The 2 knights in question, the D’Aunay brothers, were tortured and castrated before being brutally executed by being ‘broken on the wheel’ and decapitated.
How much Jeanne would have known of these events is uncertain. Hopefully she was shielded from events in the royal nursery, but it is not inconceivable that she was treated differently after the discovery of her mother’s adultery. Margaret’s betrayal meant Jeanne’s legitimacy was now in question.
However, events were to change again within in months. In November, 1314, Jeanne’s grandfather Philip IV died and her father succeeded to the French throne as King Louis X. Louis was now desperate to produce a male heir and with the papacy dragging its heels on his divorce from Jeanne’s mother, it’s possible he took matters into his own hands. Whether it was from natural causes after her rough treatment – or, more likely, strangulation on Louis’ orders – Margaret died shortly after Louis’ accession.
Louis then married Clementia of Hungary and the couple were crowned jointly at Reims in August 1315. Nothing is recorded of the relationship between Jeanne and her stepmother, or of how Jeanne’s status changed as the daughter of the King. However, doubts over Jeanne’s legitimacy must still have been at the forefront of people’s minds as Louis X, on his deathbed in June 1316, made a point of stating that Jeanne was his legitimate daughter. Clementia was pregnant at the time of Louis’ death, after a particularly strenuous game of tennis; their son John the Posthumous was born 5 months later and died just 5 days after that, causing a succession crisis.
In most countries, Jeanne would automatically have become queen regnant on the death of her baby brother. However, her uncle Philip argued that French Salic Law, which determined the inheritance of French property and which stated that females could not inherit, also extended to the crown of France. Fearing the accession of a weak and feeble woman, the French nobles readily agreed.
Salic Law, however, did not extend to Navarre and Jeanne’s maternal grandmother Agnes of France, Duchess of Burgundy, and maternal uncle Odo IV, Count – later Duke – of Burgundy, tried to press Jeanne’s claims to the crown of Navarre, but were unsuccessful. In 1318 Odo came to an agreement with Philip that, should he have no male heirs, the counties of Champagne and Brie would go to Jeanne, while Jeanne would relinquish her claims to the thrones of France and Navarre – and would swear to this once she reached her majority, probably at the age of 12.
In the same agreement Odo was to marry Philip V’s daughter, Joan, and Jeanne would marry her cousin, Philip d’Evreux. Philip was the grandson of Philip III of France and his 2nd wife, Marie of Brabant; he was the son of Louis d’Evreux, half-brother of Jeanne’s grandfather, Philip IV.
At just 6 years old Jeanne was married to 12-year-old Philip on 18th June 1318. She was then given into the care of Philip’s grandmother, the dowager queen Marie of Brabant, to continue her education.
There’s no evidence that Jeanne did relinquish her claims to the thrones of France and Navarre on her 12th birthday and the situation changed, again, when Philip V died in 1322 and was succeeded by his brother, Charles IV. A succession crisis arose yet again when Charles himself died on 1st February 1328, leaving France with a regency once more, until his pregnant wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, was delivered of a daughter, Blanche, on 1st April 1328.
This left Jeanne as the senior claimant to the French and Navarrese thrones. However, with Salic Law still in place, the French crown was offered to Philip of Valois, a descendant of Philip III, who acceded to the throne as Philip VI. Philip, however, had no claim to the crown of Navarre as it had come to the French crown through the marriage of Philip IV with Queen Jeanne I of Navarre.
Not subject to Salic Law, therefore, and after the extinction of the male line, the crown of Navarre finally came to Jeanne, her inheritance was publicly acknowledged by the new king of France. The general assembly of Navarre proclaimed Jeanne as queen in May 1328, with a stipulation that Philip would reign jointly with her, but only until their eldest son attained his majority.
After years in the shadows and aged just 17, Jeanne and her husband were crowned jointly, as King Philip III and Queen Jeanne II of Navarre, at Pamplona on 5th March 1329. Several property agreements with the French crown left Jeanne and Philip with extensive lands in Normandy, Champagne and Philip’s county of Evreux, as well as their kingdom of Navarre.
Their marriage also appears to have been successful, with at least 7 children being born between 1326 and 1341, 3 of which were boys. Their eldest child, Maria, became the 1st wife of Peter IV of Aragon; while the next eldest, Blanche, born in 1330, was betrothed to John of France before marrying his father, Philip VI – who was 40 years her senior – in 1349, just months after her mother’s death.
Of their other daughters Agnes, born in the mid-1330s, married Gaston, Count of Foix. According to Froissart Gaston accidentally killed their only son, another Gaston, during a quarrel. Jeanne’s youngest daughter, Joan, was born in 1339 and would marry John II Viscount Rohan.
Some sources mention another daughter, Joan, born around 1324, who would become a nun at Longchamp. However, it seems highly likely that Joan was an illegitimate daughter of Philip d’Evreux, rather than the eldest daughter of the Philip and Jeanne.
Jeanne and Philip’s eldest son and heir, Charles II the Bad, was born in 1330 and married Joan, daughter of John II of France. Charles was implicated in the assassination of the Constable of France, Charles de la Cerda, and intrigued with the English, against the French, during the Hundred Years’ War. He even escaped from imprisonment in Chateau-Gaillard, but was ultimately defeated by the French, who allowed him to remain as King of Navarre.
A son, Philip, Count of Longueville was born in 1336 and married Yolande of Flanders. While their youngest son, Louis, was born in 1341 and would become Duke of Durazzo in Albania by right of his wife, Joanna.
Jeanne and Philip shared their time between all their lands, with French governors installed to rule Navarre during their absences. As rulers of Navarre, Jeanne and Philip had active legislation and building programmes and tried to maintain peaceful relations with neighbouring states. As a couple they appear to have worked closely together, more than 41 decrees were issued jointly in their names.
Philip died in 1343, aged 37, whilst on Crusade against the Muslim Kingdom of Granada in Spain. He was mortally wounded by an arrow during the Siege of Algeciras and died shortly after. His body was returned to Pamplona for burial, while his heart was taken to Paris and interred at the Couvent des Jacobins.
From then on Jeanne ruled alone, dying of the plague on 6th October 1349 at the Chateau de Conflans. She was just months short of her 38th birthday, having ruled Navarre for 21 of her 38 years. Jeanne was buried in the royal Basilica of St Denis but her heart was laid to rest beside her husband’s in the Couvent des Jacobins, the taint of bastardy no longer an issue.
Sources: The Course of French History by Pierre Goubert; Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty; Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen by Kathryn Warner; The Waning of the Middle Ages by J Huizinga; Medieval Europe 400-1500 by H.G. Koenigsberger; passion-histoire.net; maison-hantee.com; herodote.net; histoire-france.net; A history of France from the Earliest Times to the Treaty of Versailles by William Stearns Davis; History of France by Charlotte Mary Yonge; Histoireeurope.fr.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.
Thanks to Kathryn Warner for her extra information regarding Jeanne’s date of birth.
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.
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.
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; first to 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.
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.
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.
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 , 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.
Joan was seen as a calming influence of her son, Richard II, and was by his side during the dangerous days of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381; she sheltered in the Tower of London and rode in a whirligig to accompany her 13-year-old son to meet with the rebels at Mile End.
In 1385 Joan’s son, John Holland, while campaigning in Scotland, killed Ralph Stafford, son of the 2nd Earl of Stafford, in a quarrel. He fled to sanctuary at the shrine of St John of Beverley, but was condemned to death. Joan pleaded with her Richard for days, begging him to pardon his brother. She died at Wallingford Castle, probably on 7 August 1385. The King pardoned his half-brother the following day.
Although the Black Prince had built a chantry chapel for his wife, at Canterbury Cathedral, with ceiling bosses of her face, Joan was not buried at Canterbury with the Black Prince, but at the Greyfriars at Stamford in Lincolnshire, beside her 1st husband, Sir Thomas Holland.
Pictures taken from Wikipedia.
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; The Black Prince by Michael Jones.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.
“The 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.”
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.
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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The third surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault John of Gaunt was born in 1340 at the Abbey of St Bavon, in Ghent in modern-day Belgium. At the height of his career he was the most powerful man in the kingdom after the king. He was virtually regent for his father, Edward III, in his old age, thus getting the blame for military failures and government corruption. His reputation was further damaged when he blocked the reforms of the Good Parliament of 1376, which had tried to curb the corruption of Edward III’s and limit the influence of the king’s grasping mistress, Alice Perrers.
John of Gaunt’s wealth meant he could form the largest baronial retinue of knights and esquires in the country. He alone provided a quarter of the army raised for Richard II’s Scottish campaign in 1385. A stalwart supporter of his nephew, Richard II, he was the target for the rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt; his London residence, the Savoy Palace, was burned to the ground in 1381.
He was a soldier and statesman whose career spanned 6 decades and several countries, including England, Belgium, France, Scotland and Castile. However, by far the most fascinating part of his life is his love life. John married three times; his wives being two great heiresses and a long-time mistress.
John of Gaunt’s first marriage, at the age of 19, was aimed to give him prestige, property and income and was arranged as part of his father’s plans to provide for the futures of several of his children. John and 14-year-old Blanche of Lancaster, youngest daughter of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, were married on 19th May 1359 in the Queen’s Chapel at Reading.
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.
Katherine was the daughter of a Hainault knight, Sir Paon de Roet of Guyenne, who came to England in the retinue of Queen Philippa. She had grown up at court with her sister, Philippa, who would later marry Geoffrey Chaucer. Whilst serving in Blanche’s household, she had married one of John of Gaunt’s retainers, a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London.
Following Blanche’s death Katherine stayed on in the Duke’s household, taking charge of the Duke’s daughters. However, it was only shortly after her husband’s death in 1371 that rumours began of a liaison between Katherine and the Duke; although it is possible the affair started before Sir Hugh’s death, this is far from certain.
John and Katherine would have four children. They had 3 sons, John, Thomas and Henry, and a daughter, Joan, in the years between 1371 and 1379. They were supposedly born in John’s castle in Champagne, in France, and were given the name of the castle as their surname; Beaufort. However it seems just as likely that they were named after the lordship of Beaufort, which had formerly belonged to Gaunt and to which he still laid claim.
Meanwhile, John had not yet done with his dynastic ambitions and, despite his relationship with Katherine, married Constance of Castile in September 1371. Constance was the daughter of Peter I “the Cruel” and his ‘hand-fast’ wife, Maria de Padilla. Born in 1354 at Castro Kerez, Castile, she succeeded her father as ‘de jure’ Queen of Castile on 13th March 1369, but John was never able to wrest control of the kingdom from the rival claimant Henry of Tastamara, reigning as Henry III, and would eventually come to an agreement in 1388 where Henry married John and Constance’s daughter, Katherine.
Katherine – or Catalina – was born in 1372/3 at Hertford Castle and was the couple’s only surviving child.
John and Constance’s relationship appears to be purely dynastic. There is some suggestion John formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with Constance in June 1381, possibly as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt, following the destruction of his palace on the Thames.
Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court. With 4 children by John of Gaunt but still only, officially, governess to his daughters, Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.
Constance, however, died on 24th March, 1394, at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester.
John then went to Guienne to look after his interests as Duke of Aquitaine and remained in France from September 1394 until December 1395. When he returned to England, John wasted no time in reuniting with Katherine and they were married in Lincoln Cathedral in January 1396.
John then made an appeal to the Pope and his children by Katherine were legitimated on 1st September 1396, and then by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. However, it is claimed a later clause excluded the Beaufort children from the succession.
John was a man of renown, of culture and refinement. An amateur poet and friend of Chaucer, who had married Katherine’s sister, Philippa, he was also a patron of Wycliffe and encouraged the translation of the Bible into English.
His complicated love life would cause problems for future generations, with his son by Blanche of Lancaster, Henry, forcing the abdication of Richard II and usurping the throne on 30th September 1399. His Beaufort descendants would be prominent players on both sides of the Wars of the Roses. While his son John, Earl of Somerset was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, his daughter, Joan, was grandmother of the Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III.
Katherine would outlive John and died at Lincoln on 10th May 1403. She was buried, close to the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince just 7 years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was laid to rest beside her, following her death in 1440. Their tombs, however, are empty and they are buried beneath the floor of the cathedral.
John himself died on 3 February 1399, probably at Leicester Castle. He was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, beside his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. This has often been seen as his final act of love for his first wife, despite the problems John went through in order to finally be able to marry his mistress, Katherine Swynford.
Personally, I think the two ladies, Blanche and Katherine, were his true love at different parts of John’s life. And I hope he had some feelings for poor Constance, who frequently appears as only a means to his dynastic ambitions.
Sources: Williamson, David Brewer’s British Royalty; Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn History Today Companion to British History; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; Paul Johnson The Life and Times of Edward III; Ian Mortimer The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III; WM Ormrod The Reign of Edward III; Edited by Elizabeth Hallam Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry; Amy Licence Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford;.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington is attributed with saying that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (although he didn’t actually say it); however, the training ground for many of the officers who commanded at Waterloo was a much more hazardous school – and certainly had nothing to do with cricket.
2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final battle in the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo was the culmination of over 20 years of fighting. Wellington’s officers had earned their experience and reputation in Portugal and Spain, in the Peninsular War of 1807-1814, Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Spanish ulcer’.
Having risen through the ranks via the army system of purchase – where rank went to those who could buy it, rather than on merit – he was a colonel by the age of 27 and a major-general at 34. Many officers in the British army advanced this way and, although the system was flawed, it did give us the greatest British general of all time.
Practical and meticulous to detail in the day-to-day army administration, Wellington was determined his officers would train their men so they could beat any force they opposed.
He was a master of the battlefield.
Generally, the officers of the Peninsular War were the ‘stiff upper lip’ types. Their letters home spoke of action and adventure, but few officers spoke of their feelings in battle. These officers were gentlemen who desired glory and lived within a code of honour. Life in war, to them, was a grand experience and the battlefield was where glory could be achieved, if you survived it.
An officer’s life was generally better than that of the men. The officer’s had packs – or haversacks – containing rations (including a charge of rum) and spare equipment, but these were conveniently transported on carts, rather than their backs, like the common soldier.
Retreat, however, showed a less than honourable attitude of some of the officers. Some rode in carts while their men struggled to march – often barefoot. During the retreat to Corunna, in January 1809, there was an incidence of one officer climbing on the back of one of his men, so as not to get his feet wet while crossing a river. This proved a great morale booster for the men, when an even more senior officer ordered the soldier to drop his charge into the river.
It was during retreat discipline was most likely to break down. The retreat to Corunna was harrowing for the men and officers; the Spanish winter was harsh and the French were constantly nipping at the army’s heels. Officers used a mixture of encouragement and punishment to cajole the men along. Punishment was harsh; floggings and hangings were inflicted for various crimes.
The army’s discipline depended on the diligence of the regimental officers; men convicted of robber with violence or desertion were hanged, while looters and stragglers risked the lash. The chance of reprieve from punishment was dangled over regiments as a way of getting the men to fight harder when the enemy was close by.
Generals were loved, feared and admired in equal measure. ‘Black Bob’ Craufurd of the Light Brigade was seen as a harsh disciplinarian, but he looked after his men; he led them and suffered with them, marching in their midst and sharing in their miseries. General Roland Hill earned the nickname of ‘Daddy’ due to his care for his troops; his men adored him. And Sir John Moore, killed at the Battle of Corunna having brought the army safely through a harrowing retreat, was mourned deeply, his memory often invoked to encourage the men in the thick of battle.
Officers were expected to be brave, to lead their men from the front, wherever possible. An officer was proud to fall injured in front of the regimental colours – leading their men, rather than following. They often waxed philosophical about the “beautifully romantic and heroically sublime”¹ battlefield, while describing the piteous moans of the wounded – men and horses – and the fury of the combatants. The chivalrous sense of honour was a code; one rode straight, spoke the truth and never showed fear.
Many officers considered themselves content and happy in the military life, thinking little about the enemy, except on the few occasions when they were brought to battle. Campaign life for an officer was a combination of adventure, enjoyment and discomfort; although they were expected to lead their men, they rarely kept company with them when not on the march. Officer and soldier were billeted separately wherever possible; the coarse behaviour of the men grated on the refined officer.
If they looked after their men, however, their men would look after them. There are numerous anecdotes of soldiers trying to protect their officers from the enemy, providing their officers with food and souvenirs taken from the enemy. According to Rifleman Harris, an act of kindness from an officer had often been the cause of his life being saved in the midst of battle.
There were exceptions, of course. An area of Lisbon, known as Belem, was full of officers avoiding the fighting, who fell ill even when only within earshot of a battle. Wellington was happy for unsuitable officers to return home, or at least stay away from the army.
Of those who remained, every officer was a volunteer; they saw the military life as a way of advancement in later civilian life – or as a way to be useful to their king and country. The majority were gentlemen; although their were rare instances of officers having risen from the ranks, these failed to gain the full respect of the common soldier and were not, as a rule, successful.
To many the army was a home. The military life was a profession, officers lived and died to “promote its honour and glory”².
And Wellington was the heart of the army, his presence inspired confidence. Even with all his ambivalence of character, he exerted an extraordinary sense of loyalty among both officers and men. Sir John Kincaid said there was “not a bosom in the army that didn’t beat more lightly, when it heard the joyful news of his arrival.”³
And it was with the confidence and experience gained from 7 years of war in the Iberian Peninsular that Wellington led his army against the French for one last time. It would be the 1st time that Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, would face Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French; at Waterloo on 18th June 1815, 200 years ago.
Footnotes: ¹& ² A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney ; ³ Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, Sir John Kincaid, quoted by John Strawson.
Article adapted from my own dissertation of 1992, entitled For King, Country and Glory? The British Soldier in the Peninsular War, 1808-1814.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney; Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, John Strawson; The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, edited by Christopher Hibbert; On the Road with Wellington: The Diary of a War Commissary in the Peninsular Campaigns, August Schaumann; A British Rifleman: Journals & Correspondence during the Peninsular War and Campaign of Wellington, Major George Simmons; Memoirs of Sir Harry Smith, Sir Harry Smith; The Letters of Private Wheeler, William Wheeler; The Sword and the Pen, edited by Michael Brander; The British Soldier, JM Brereton; The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command, John Keegan; Wellington: the years of the Sword, Lady Elizabeth Longford; Soldiers. A History of Men in Battle, John Keegan and Richard Holmes.
From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing,Book Depository and Amazon US.
Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
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