It is with great pleasure that I welcome historian David Santiuste to History … The Interesting Bits, with an article about Owain Glyn Dwr’s daughter, Catrin. Over to David.
Catrin ferch Owain Glyn Dŵr
I was very pleased to be invited to write something for History… The Interesting Bits – a blog I have followed for some time. Above all, I have appreciated Sharon’s efforts to raise awareness of some fascinating medieval women, whose stories are too often neglected. Another such woman is Catrin, a daughter of the Welsh hero Owain Glyn Dŵr, who ultimately paid a heavy price for her father’s ambitions.
Catrin was born after 1383, when Owain, then in his late twenties, married her mother, Margaret Hamner. Catrin was almost certainly one of his oldest legitimate children, although in time she would become part of a large family. Owain and Margaret had eleven children who survived infancy, in addition to Owain’s sons and daughters who were born outside marriage (probably when he was still a bachelor).
Catrin’s early years were presumably spent at her father’s house at Sycharth (near Oswestry). It was described by the bard Iolo Goch as a beautiful and lively place – ‘the fairest timber hall’ – where Owain offered lavish hospitality. Nevertheless, while he had evidently established himself as a man of some status, much of his early career was typical of the minor aristocracy. Through Owain, Catrin could claim descent from Welsh royalty, but her upbringing was surely intended to prepare her for an adult life within the same kind of setting – probably as the wife of a local gentleman who had connections with her family.
Naturally Catrin’s life changed in 1400, when her father launched a ferocious rebellion against King Henry IV of England. Sycharth was no longer safe – it was later destroyed by the English – although Catrin would soon find herself in much grander surroundings, as the rebels took control of many of Wales’s castles. Owain was acclaimed by his supporters as Prince of Wales, and for a time it must have seemed that Welsh independence had finally arrived.
In June 1402 Owain won a significant victory at the Battle of Bryn Glas, and the English commander, Edmund Mortimer, was taken prisoner. Edmund was treated with respect, and he became incensed when King Henry refused to pay his ransom – possibly because he was afraid of the Mortimers, whose strong claim to the throne had been passed over in his own favour. Edmund therefore decided to join Owain, who agreed to help him assert his nephew’s ‘right’ in England. The alliance was sealed in the time-honoured fashion, and Catrin became Edmund’s wife.
Catrin and Edmund had four children – a boy, Lionel, and three girls – although little else is known about their life together. However, their circumstances must have changed from 1405 onwards, as the English began to gain the upper hand in Wales. Owain avoided capture (his last recorded appearance was in 1412), but ultimately some of his family, including Catrin and Edmund, were pinned down at Harlech Castle. From this imposing fortress the Welsh continued to defy the English – and Edmund’s own exploits were celebrated by the bards – but the defenders were eventually starved into submission. The castle was surrendered in February 1409, by which point Edmund had already died.
After the fall of Harlech, Catrin and her surviving children were taken into custody, as was her mother, and they were later held in the Tower of London. They were all still there in June 1413, shortly after Henry V assumed the English throne, but Catrin passed away before the end of the year. The accounts of the Exchequer include a payment in December for her burial in St Swithin’s Church (which, intriguingly, is some distance from the Tower), together with her daughters.
Several historians, such as Terry Breverton, have suggested that Catrin and the others were put to death on the new king’s orders. This is partly based on the assumption that young Lionel was imprisoned with Catrin and subsequently disappeared; it is fair to say that Lionel, with his mixture of English and Welsh royal blood, might have posed a considerable threat to Henry if he had lived. Nevertheless, the evidence is ambiguous, as it is by no means clear that Lionel was taken at Harlech. It seems equally possible that he had already died, like his father – and that he was never in the Tower at all.
The fate of Catrin’s mother is also very uncertain, and one of Catrin’s daughters appears, in fact, to have outlived her; this is explicitly mentioned by the chronicler Adam of Usk, who was often well-informed. Besides, while Henry V could sometimes be a ruthless man, the notion that he ordered the murder of Catrin, and at least some of her children, does not sit well with the leniency he offered to other members of the Mortimer family (and even to Owain’s eldest son). Perhaps the conditions of Catrin’s imprisonment might have played a part, but it seems most likely that her death was due to natural causes.
Catrin was not entirely forgotten. She makes an interesting appearance, for example, in the first part of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Edmund tells her fondly that ‘I understand thy kisses and thou mine’, but Catrin and her husband remain hampered by the language barrier between them. There is also tension between Catrin and her father, as they exchange words in Welsh, and one begins to suspect that Owain is not always a faithful translator. At last she tells her father that she will sing. Somewhat mollified, Owain instructs Edmund to rest his head in Catrin’s lap: so that she can ‘sing the song that pleaseth you, and on your eyelids crown the god of sleep.’
It is no longer clear what Shakespeare intended: the direction simply states that ‘here the lady sings a Welsh song’. Owain hopes, it would seem, that his daughter will provide a moment of calm before the storms ahead, and in many productions this is the effect achieved. She has been presented rather differently, however, in one recent American production. While her exhausted husband does rest his head in her lap, in this case Catrin’s song is no lullaby. Instead she offers a powerful lament, regretting man’s propensity for self-defeating war.
In keeping with her father’s reputed gifts as a soothsayer, there is also an element of prophecy in the song, as Catrin rightly fears for the future of her ‘home’ (which is surely meant in a broader sense here). The text is adapted from a poem by Hedd Wyn a Welshman who was killed during the First World War, yet even those who cannot understand the words can still appreciate the sense of urgency and pathos. Previously denied the chance to speak directly to the audience, Catrin eventually finds a way to make her message plain.
Another writer to give Catrin a voice is Menna Elfyn, who has imagined her experience of captivity in a moving series of poems. At first Catrin is imprisoned with her children, but then her ‘chicks’ are taken from her: ‘without a farewell kiss, without wrapping them warmly’. ‘They were born to a traitor’, spits out one man, brusquely, although their fate remains uncertain (both for the reader and for Catrin). She pleads with the guards – ‘Take me too. There’s a knife in my heart’ – but she is left in her cell to meet a lonely end.
The medieval church of St Swithin’s was destroyed in the seventeenth century, during the Great Fire of London, and with it Catrin’s tomb. However, she is now represented by a modern statue, which can be found in a garden on the site of the church. The sculpture is intended not only as a commemoration of Catrin’s life, but also as a memorial to all the women and children who have suffered in war.
Terry Breverton, Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales (Stroud, 2009).
Chris Given-Wilson (ed.), The Chronicle of Adam of Usk, 1377-1421 (Oxford, 1997).
I would also like to thank Sara Hanna-Black for her help and encouragement.
All images from Wikipedia
About the Author
David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is The Hammer of the Scots. His other publications include Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, as well as various articles.
David’s website can be found at davidsantiuste.com [insert link: https://davidsantiuste.com/], where he writes an occasional blog. You can follow him on Facebook at David Santiuste Historian or on Twitter @dbsantiuste.
The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. 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. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.
You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.
The Wars of the Roses were a tumultuous period in English history, with family fighting family over the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor of these brutal and complex wars, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the crown? What made his Beaufort mother the great heiress of medieval England, and how exactly did an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy?
While the Houses of York and Lancaster fought brutally for the crown, other noble families of the kingdom also played integral roles in the wars; grand and prestigious names like the Howards, Mowbrays, Nevilles and Percys were intimately involved in the conflict, but none symbolised the volatile nature of the period quite like the House of Beaufort. Their rise, fall, and rise again is the story of England during the fifteenth century, a dramatic century of war, intrigue and scandal both at home and abroad. Many books have been written about individual members of the dynasty, but never has the whole family been explored as one.
This book uncovers the rise of the Beauforts from bastard stock of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, to esteemed companions of their cousin Henry V, celebrated victor of Agincourt, and tracks their chastening fall with the House of Lancaster during the 1460s and 1470s. The hopes and fortunes of the family gradually came to rest upon the shoulders of a teenage widow named Margaret Beaufort and her young son Henry. From Margaret would rise the House of Tudor, the most famous of all England’s royal houses and a dynasty that owed its crown to the blood of its forebears, the House of Beaufort. From bastards to princes, the Beauforts are medieval England’s most captivating family.
The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is a masterpiece of historical writing. Nathen Amin has written the story of a family from its very beginning, highlighting the heights of their success, and the depths of their failures. Covering almost exactly 100 years, the book provides a fascinating insight into a family who lived close to the crown, but looked like they would constantly be denied it.
From the love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, through the successes and failures of the Hundred Years War, and the devastation of the Wars of the Roses, Nathen Amin retells the fascinating story of the Beauforts in an insightful, balanced manner, which highlights their weaknesses as much as it does their strengths.
As the fourteenth century came to its dramatic close, the Beauforts were well placed to take advantage of their connection to the new regime. John Beaufort, earl of Somerset and the king’s chamberlain, was in his late twenties and evidently adept at dealing with a wide range of political and martial issues. Henry Beaufort was around twenty-five years old and learning the ropes as bishop of Lincoln, while Thomas Beaufort had recently reached adulthood and was ready to put his body on the line for his king. Their sole sister Joan, Meanwhile, had settled into married life as the countess of Westmorland, establishing a Beaufort-blooded Neville hegemony in the north.
As siblings to the king of England, a promising future beckoned for the foursome. Provided they retained the good grace of their half-brother, they had reasonable expectations of widespread patronage that included money, manors and titles…
The author clearly demonstrates his enthusiasm for one of the most famous medieval families; however, this is not a fan book. Their weaknesses and failings are highlighted just as much as their successes. Actions are analysed and dissected to provide insights into not only the family, but the history and politics of England itself.
The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is beautifully written and reads like a novel of a family saga. And of course, as with all of us, each character in the Beaufort story has human traits that means their actions are not always understood or easily explained. The author clearly comprehends and demonstrates the fickleness of human actions and brings to vivid life this complex family who had such an influence on English history.
The entire Beaufort family will find their stories told in this book, from the first and oldest, John Beaufort, through his brothers, nephews and nieces, sons and grandchildren. The story of Joan Beaufort queen of Scotland, is told with sympathy and compassion, as is the original love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. Characters who played a part in the lives and history of the family are also treated with fairness and compassion, such as their legitimate royal siblings and nephews, Joan of Arc and Richard, duke of York.
Any reader will have their favourite Beaufort, and one they love to hate. Thomas Beaufort comes across as the perfect and chivalrous soldier, whilst Henry is the devious but diligent churchmen. Thomas is my favourite, he’s the hero. However, I love that Henry is such an ambiguous character, he is probably the greatest recreation in the book. Nathen Amin has clearly thought through Henry Beaufort’s ambitions, motivations and his actions. He tells the story of a bishop who was not always in favour with the establishment, his personal ambitions putting him at odds with successive kings, despite the fact his abilities were impressive.
Nathen Amin’s passion for the Beauforts comes across in every page. His persuasive, perceptive arguments are all supported with ample evidence and explanation. These arguments and insight are balanced and reflective, even in the divided loyalties of the Wars of the Roses, there is no bias as the story is told.
Comprehensive and compelling, this is a book that should grace the shelves of any fan of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, of the royal Houses of Lancaster and York, and the Hundred Years War, or even for a simple lover of medieval history. This book will become a powerful research tool for anyone looking into the Beaufort family and their links to the crown of England and the momentous events of the Wars of the Roses
About the author: Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, was released in 2017 and became an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, for release in 2019.
Nathen is also the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.
The House of Beaufort: the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown is available from Amazon UK and Amberley Publishing and will shortly be released on Amazon US on 1st November.
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.
You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.
In July 1282 King Edward I was in the middle of subduing Wales when his wife, Eleanor of Castile, was reaching her final month of pregnancy. Unlike most royal wives, who would have stayed at home in one of their sumptuous, cosy palaces, Eleanor was in Wales with her husband. After all, Eleanor had been on Crusade with her husband and had even given birth to her daughter, Joan of Acre, in the Holy Land. Wales was no more of a difficulty.
Rhuddlan Castle had been ‘civilised’ for the queen’s use; with the addition of gardens, decorative seating and a fish pond to aid Eleanor’s comfort. However, it was still Edward’s headquarters, where troops were mustering and messengers were coming and going at all hours – hardly the most comfortable and peaceful place for a queen to give birth.
Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born around the 7th August 1282. She was the youngest surviving daughter of the king and queen’s 15 children – a 16th and final child, Edward (the future Edward II) would be born in 1284. Although the castle must have been hectic during Elizabeth’s birth, one can imagine the rooms surrounding the birthing chamber were kept as serene as possible. Indeed, it seems that Eleanor was allowed the ‘laying-in’ of a whole month following Elizabeth’s birth with her churching at the end of it – a luxury that did not arise all that often for Edward’s queen.
Eleanor’s wardrobe accounts show that the queen purchased several small items for her baby daughter’s use; a basin, some tankards, a storage chest and a bucket. And, unlike her siblings, Eleanor kept Elizabeth with her during the 1st few years of her life. It’s possible she was with her full-time until the age of 2, or was at least visited regularly by Eleanor. Elizabeth was still with her mother when her baby brother and the king’s heir, Edward, was born at Caernarfon in 1284.
When Edward was established in his own household, Elizabeth went with him. She spent most of her childhood in her brother’s company; her education supervised by her mother, often from a distance.
In 1285 Elizabeth and Edward spent the summer with their parents and older sisters. They visited Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury and spent a week at Leeds Castle in Kent before traveling to Amesbury in Wiltshire. Amesbury Priory was the retirement home of the dowager queen, Eleanor of Provence; and it was during the visit that Elizabeth’s 6-year-old sister, Mary, was veiled as a nun.
Edward I and Eleanor of Castile are famous for having had a close, loving relationship. They appear to have travelled everywhere together. Their children, however, were often left behind, usually in the care of their grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s queen and Edward I’s mother. In 1286, when Elizabeth was still only 3, they left England for the continent to broker peace between France and Aragon, in the hope of another Crusade. Although the Crusade never materialised, Edward and Eleanor were absorbed in their continental possessions until 1289.
However, the children were not forgotten. While in Paris Eleanor bought little items of jewellery for her daughters and sent them other pieces that had been given to her as gifts. She was also known to make offerings for her children’s health at any major shrines she visited.
Arriving at Dover after a 3 year absence, Edward and Eleanor were met by their children; 6-year-old Elizabeth and 4-year-old Edward probably had little or no memory of their parents. Following celebrations for their return in Canterbury, the royal family would spent the next 2 weeks at Leeds Castle, getting to know each other again.
Elizabeth and Eleanor were not especially close. Eleanor had spent half of her daughter’s life away on the Continent and Eleanor’s health began to fail shortly after her return. Elizabeth spent the summer of 1290 touring the countryside with her brother, only attending the court for the weddings of their sisters; Joan in April and Margaret in July.
In October 1290 Elizabeth was summoned to her ailing mother’s bedside at the royal hunting lodge of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire. Eleanor died at Harby in Lincolnshire on the 28th November 1290, the king accompanied her body back for burial at Westminster Abbey, ordering stone crosses to be erected at the places they stopped along the route.
We have no record of how Elizabeth reacted to her mother’s death, she was just 8 years old and had seen her mother rarely over the last 4 years. We can assume that she was saddened, but that life carried on pretty much as normal otherwise, with her day-to-day life remaining constant. In 1297 she and her sister Mary paid to have a special Mass held in honour of their mother, demonstrating their affection, and that she hadn’t been forgotten.
In 1297 Elizabeth’s marriage was celebrated; to John, Count of Holland. John had been educated at Edward’s court following his betrothal to Elizabeth in 1285. He had been one of the competitors for the Scots throne, though with only an outside chance. Elizabeth is said to have thrown a tantrum before the wedding, when not all her jewels were ready in time.
However, the royal wedding went ahead, at Ipswich Priory on 8th January 1297, when Elizabeth was just 14 years old and John was about 13. It seems Elizabeth was very fond of her father – there is some suggestion, too, that she was his favourite – and she was loath to leave him, and England. The king himself threw Elizabeth’s coronet into the fire during an argument over Elizabeth’s refusal to leave England with her husband. It took several letters from Count John, and cajoling from the king, to persuade Elizabeth to accompany her husband to her new country.
In the event, however, the arguing proved unnecessary as Count John died at Haarlem on 10th November 1299. Elizabeth, a childless widow at 17, returned home to her father’s court.
Almost exactly 3 years after the death of her 1st husband, on 14th November 1302, Elizabeth married again. This time there would be no arguments about leaving England as her husband was Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Before the wedding Humphrey had relinquished all his lands and titles to the crown; after the wedding they were re-granted, jointly, to Humphrey and his new wife.
Elizabeth’s 2nd marriage appears to have been highly successful. Humphrey and Elizabeth weathered the storms of change together. Humphrey had been a stalwart of Edward I’s Scottish campaigns and in 1306 had been rewarded with the forfeited estates of Robert the Bruce. When Elizabeth’s father died in 1307, Humphrey was initially a supporter of the new king, Elizabeth’s brother and childhood companion, Edward II. He is witness to the document that created Piers Gaveston, Edward’s controversial favourite, Earl of Cornwall.
However, in 1310 he was named one of the lords ordainers, set up to reform the king’s household and government. He was stripped of his position as Constable of England for refusing to accompany the king on his Scottish campaign of 1310/11, but was reinstated the following year.
In 1314 Humphrey was one of the commanders of the English forces facing Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. It is believed his arguments with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, over who should have precedence, was a major factor contributing to England’s defeat. Gloucester was killed in the fighting, but Humphrey was captured by the Scots; he was exchanged for Robert the Bruce’s queen, Elizabeth de Burgh, who had been held captive by the English since 1306.
Between 1303 and 1316, the couple were to have 11 children, including twin boys, 8 of whom survived childhood; 6 boys and 2 girls. Their eldest daughter, Eleanor, married James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormonde and, following his death, Sir Thomas Dagworth, who was murdered in 1350. While their youngest surviving daughter, Margaret, married Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon and lived until 1391.
Two of their sons would succeed, consecutively to the earldoms of Hereford and Essex; John and Humphrey. While William de Bohun, twin brother of Edward (who drowned in 1334), would be granted the title of Earl of Northampton by his cousin and close friend Edward III. The twin brothers had both been involved in Edward III’s escape from Nottingham Castle and the control of his mother’s lover, Roger Mortimer. Of the 2 remaining sons; Eneas died before 1343 and Edmund married Matilda, the daughter of Nicholas de Segrave, Baron Stowe.
Elizabeth died in childbirth on 5th May 1316; their last daughter, Isabella, died with her. They were buried together at Walden Priory (Waltham Abbey) on 23rd May.
Humphrey survived his wife by 6 years, being killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322, fighting with the forces of Thomas of Lancaster against the king. Despite his will requesting he be buried beside his wife at Walden Priory, he was laid to rest at the Church of the Friars Preachers in York.
Elizabeth and Humphrey’s great-granddaughter, Mary de Bohun, married Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and was the mother of 5 children, including Henry V.
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; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; oxforddnb.com; Edward I; A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Eleanor of Castile; the Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill.
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.
Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. her father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful.
Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.
The children shared a household for some of their childhood and were given the best education available. The reformer John Wycliffe, 1st translator of the Bible into English, was among their tutors.
The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague, as a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive, was born around the same time.
The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted. The Lancaster household was well-organised and by 1376 the girls had been appointed a new governess; Katherine Swynford, who was by this time also mistress to their father, John of Gaunt.
As with most high-born women of the time, Philippa’s marriage was in the hands of her father. John of Gaunt planned for her to contract a dynastic match which would benefit and complement his own dynastic ambitions. In 1374, Philippa was betrothed to Gaston, Count of Foix, but nothing came of it. In 1381/2 she was offered in marriage to Jean de Blois, claimant to the duchy of Brittany; and in 1383 her prospective husband was Count William of Ostrevant, the heir to Hainault, Holland and Zeeland.
In 1385 and 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took her on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his 2nd wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made between the 2 Johns at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386.
Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. The British Museum has a beautifully illuminated manuscript (above) which depicts the wedding, with John of Gaunt and his wife, Constance, looking on. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John was 3 years her senior and had been king for just short of 2 years.
Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.
A patron of literature, Philippa was sent a copy of John Gower’s poem “Confessio amantis“, which was translated into Portuguese by Robert Payn, an English canon of Lisbon Cathedral.
Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and was instrumental in fostering links between England and Portugal, a practice helped by the mixture of English and Portuguese servants in her household. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV.
In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne.
Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.
Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem well-matched. John had had 2 illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding.
In fact when court gossip reached the queen that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies – he must have had a great sense of humour, and confidence in his relationship to be so bold.
Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children, 5 sons and 1 daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’. Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438.
Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations – though he never undertook expeditions himself.
Their next youngest son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza.
The baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. Ferdinand had been held as a hostage for the return of Ceuta following the Disaster of Tangier, a siege led by his brother Henry. Ferdinand was held in increasingly severe confinement when it became apparent no ransom would be forthcoming, until he finally died in 1443.
John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; and become the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. As they were about to set sail Philippa fell ill.
She had contracted plague and died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415. She was 55. On her deathbed she gave her 3 eldest sons, each, a jewel encrusted sword, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods, and a piece of the true cross. Giving them her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition she exhorted “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”¹.
The expedition sailed just 5 days after her death and Ceuta fell after only 1 day of siege, becoming Portugal’s 1st African possession.
Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Portuguese historian Fernao Lopes, secretary to Philippa’s son, Fernando, held Philippa up as a model queen. Her piety was renowned; in later life she was said to regularly read the Book of Psalms.
Queen Philippa was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by her husband. King John arranged for a magnificent tomb to be built in the Capela do Fundador. Constructed between 1426 and 1434, it is topped by their effigies, clasping each others’ hands. King John himself was laid beside her after his death in August 1433.
Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.
Footnote: ¹ EdgarPrestage, The Portuguese pioneers.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.
Born sometime around 1382 Anne of Gloucester was the daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Eleanor de Bohun.
Anne’s parentage was impeccable. Her father was the youngest son of the late king Edward III and his queen Philippa of Hainault, making Anne first cousins with the 2 subsequent kings, Richard II and Henry IV. Along with Henry IV’s wife, Mary de Bohun, Anne’s mother was co-heiress of the earls of Hereford.
Anne’s childhood would have been marred by the political conflicts of Richard II’s reign. By the late 1380s her father had set himself up in opposition to the king’s tyrannical rule and his reliance on personal favourites. As a leader of the Lords Appellant he was responsible for the arrest of Richard’s favourites and the curbing of the king’s powers.
Anne was probably born at Pleshey Castle and it was also the scene of her first wedding. In June 1391, aged only 8 or 9, Anne was married to Thomas Stafford, 3rd Earl of Stafford, who was about 15 years her senior. Thomas died in 1392, before the marriage could be consummated. Even before Thomas Stafford’s death, it seems, provision had already been made for Anne to marry one of his younger brothers. The brothers, William and Edmund, were wards of Anne’s father. The year after the elder boy William, died in 1395 (aged about 19), Anne was married to Edmund, now 5th Earl of Stafford.
In the year following her marriage, Anne was to suffer further tragedy when her father was personally arrested by the king, whilst recovering from illness at the family’s home of Pleshey Castle, Essex. Thomas was transported to imprisonment in Calais to await trial, under the care of the earl of Nottingham, from where his death was reported in September of the same year. A later inquiry established that Thomas Duke of Gloucester had been murdered, most likely on the night of 8th September, smothered under a mattress.
The Duke was declared a traitor and his lands and property were forfeited to the crown. Anne’s only brother, Humphrey, was made a ward of King Richard II and was with the king in Ireland 2 years later, when Henry Bolingbroke invaded England and claimed the crown as Henry IV. The new king ordered Humphrey’s return to England, but he died on the voyage home in August 1399, aged just 18.
Anne’s life was hit by 2 further losses in close succession. Her mother, Eleanor de Bohun died on 3rd October 1399. The Chronicler, Walsingham, said she died of a broken heart following the deaths of her husband and only son. Anne’s unmarried sister, Joan, died in August 1400. With her only remaining sibling, Isabel, taking the veil at the Minoresses in London on her 16th birthday in April 1402, Anne became one of the greatest heiresses in the kingdom. From 1399 she was recognised as Countess of Buckingham, Hereford and Northampton and was made a Lady of the Garter in 1405.
In these same years Anne gave birth to 2 daughters and a son. Of her daughters Philippa died young and Anne would marry consecutively her cousins Edmund Mortimer, earl of March and John Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter. Anne’s only son by Edmund Stafford, Humphrey, was born in 1402 and would go on to become the Duke of Buckingham. Loyal to King Henry VI at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, he would be killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. Humphrey’s son, Henry, would be husband to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.
On 21st July 1403 Anne was made a widow for the second time, when Edmund was killed fighting for the king at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Still only in her early 20s Anne was left with 2 young children and a dower income of £1500 a year. However, with her dower properties stretched across the strategically important Welsh Marches Anne’s remarriage was of great interest to Henry IV.
Of immediate concern was the security of those dower properties, giving Henry IV’s ongoing conflict with Owain Glyn Dwr and the Welsh. Sir William Bourchier, Count of Eu, was dispatched to help protect Anne and her properties from any Welsh incursions. And it was with this same knight that Anne, taking her future into her own hands, contracted a secret marriage some time before 20th November 1405.
The king was displeased with the clandestine marriage and the couple were fined ‘great sums’. However, Bourchier it seems was highly charismatic, a capable soldier and valued administrator, all factors which, when added to his proven loyalty to the Lancastrian king, helped to ensure that the couple was soon forgiven.
Sir William Bourchier would continue his impressive career under Henry V; fighting at Agincourt in 1415, after which he was appointed Constable of the Tower of London and took responsibility of the high-profile French prisoners captured in the battle. In letters Anne described with pride ‘the valiant prowess, wisdom and good governance’ her husband .
The couple seems to have been genuinely in love and soon had a nursery full of children, with 4 sons and a daughter all born before 1415. Anne promoted the careers of all her children and arranged marriages for them.
William and Anne’s eldest son, Henry 1st Earl of Essex was married to Isabel of Cambridge, daughter of Richard of Consibrough. A Yorkist supporter, he fought at the Second battle of St Albans and at Towton, dying in April 1483.
Thomas Bourchier, most likely Anne and William’s second son, went to Oxford and then joined the Church. He rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1454 and was made a cardinal in 1467. Although he was Chancellor for a short time, in the reign of Henry VI, Thomas was a loyal supporter of and it was Edward IV himself who wrote to the pope urging for Thomas’s promotion to cardinal. In his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas crowned both Richard III and Henry VII. He died in 1486 and was buried next to the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
Of their other sons; William Bourchier became Baron Fitzwarin in right of his wife and Sir John Bourchier who was created Baron Berners following his marriage to Margery Berners and was Constable of Windsor Castle in the 1460s. Anne and William’s only daughter, Eleanor Bourchier, married John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and was the mother of another John, the 4th Duke.
Although they seem to have been on opposing sides of the political spectrum, Humphrey Stafford remained close to his mother and his Bourchier half-siblings.
Anne was widowed for a third and final time when William died at Troyes in 1420. His body was sent back to England for burial at Llanthony Priory in Gloucestershire. Anne had an enduring friendship with the Prior, John Wyche, and corresponded with him in both French and English.
Although not yet 40 Anne never remarried. Throughout her marriages – and after – she was personally involved in estate management and her letters demonstrate a sound business acumen. Anne had loyal and talented administrators who helped her fight for her interests. As earl of Buckingham, Anne’s father had revenues of £1,000 a year from the lordships of Oakham (Rutland) and Holderness (Yorkshire). While Oakham was returned to Anne in 1414 she only recovered Holderness in 1437, the year before she died.
While Anne was cousin to the king, Henry V, both he and his father had resented the unequal division of the Bohun inheritance in her favour. Henry V was to eventually force a new settlement on the recently widowed countess in 1421, this time heavily weighted for the king’s benefit, leaving Anne just £1200 a year from her mother’s inheritance; and even this often fell into arrears.
Anne had shared a love of the church with her mother and was known for her piety and love of learning. She died in October 1438, aged around 55. Her will, written “in the Englyshe tonge for my most profit redyng and vnderstandyng”, remembered her “most trewe and diligent” reatiners (Register of Henry Chichele.
Anne of Gloucester, mother to combatants on both sides of the Wars of the Roses and granddaughter of Edward III, was buried beside William at Llanthony Priory where, in 1453, her children set up a perpetual chantry for the welfare of their souls.
Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon.; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; oxforddnb.com; geni.com; thepeerage.com.
Blanche of Lancaster is one of those ladies of history more famous because of her children and the antics of her husband. Blanche’s life was pitifully short, but her legacy would see the unravelling of peace in the fifteenth century, and the decades of civil war called the Wars of the Roses.
Blanche of Lancaster was born around 25th March 1345, at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire. She was the 2nd and youngest daughter of illustrious parents; Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster and Isabella de Beaumont. Henry of Grosmont was the grandson of Edmund Crouchback and a great-grandson of Henry III. Isabella was the daughter of Henry, 1st Baron de Beaumont and Earl of Buchan by right of his wife, Alice Comyn.
Blanche had only one sibling, her older sister, Matilda, who was married, 1st to Ralph de Stafford and later to William V, Duke of Bavaria, Count of Holland, Hainault and Zeeland. Blanche herself was betrothed to John de Segrave as a child, but this seems to have been set aside soon afterwards.
By the late 1350s Blanche was a part of King Edward III’s plans to provide for his growing number of sons. As one of the country’s richest heiresses, Blanche was chosen as the bride for Edward’s 3rd surviving son, John of Gaunt. Blanche and John were 3rd cousins, being great-great-grandchildren of Henry III.
The couple was married on the 19th of May 1359 at Reading Abbey in Berkshire. Blanche had just turned 14 and John was 19 years old.
In 1361 Blanche suffered a double tragedy; her father died of bubonic plague in Leicester in March and her mother succumbed to the same disease before the end of the year. While her sister inherited the earldoms of Leicester and Lincoln, John of Gaunt inherited those of Derby and Lancaster by right of his wife; however, the title of Duke of Lancaster became extinct with Henry of Grosmont’s death.
By April 1362 Blanche’s sister had also succumbed to the Black Death; there were some rumours of poison, but this seems unlikely. Maud had died childless and so Blanche inherited the remainder of her father’s estates. Blanche – and by extension John of Gaunt – now added the earldoms of Leicester and Lincoln to their vast holdings. John was invested with the title of Duke of Lancaster and was now the most powerful magnate in England; holding more than 30 castles, his lands and possessions were second only to those of the king.
Blanche herself was pregnant for most of her married life, giving birth to 7 children between 1360 and 1368. 3 sons, John, Edward and a 2nd John, and a daughter, Isabella, died young. Two daughters and a son did, however, survive into adulthood.
Their eldest daughter, Philippa, was born on 31st March 1360 and would marry King John I of Portugal. Philippa was the mother of 8 children, known as the ‘Illustrious Generation’ in Portugal, including Edward, King of Portugal, Prince Henry the Navigator and Ferdinand the Holy Prince. Philippa herself would die of plague in 1415.
A 2nd daughter, Elizabeth, was born around 1363 at Burford, Shropshire. Although her 1st marriage to John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, was annulled, her 2nd marriage, to John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, would end with his execution for treason in 1400; they had 5 children. Elizabeth would marry for a 3rd time to John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope, with whom she had a daughter before she died in 1426.
Blanche and John’s last surviving child, Henry of Bolingbroke, was born at Bolingbroke Castle in 1367, probably on 15th April. Having been exiled in the later years of the reign of his cousin, Richard II, Henry would return to England following the death of his father and confiscation of his inheritance by the king. Richard was forced to abdicate and Henry succeeded to the throne as King Henry IV.
Henry’s 1st marriage, to Mary de Bohun, produced 7 children, including the future King Henry V; his 2nd marriage was to Joanna of Navarre, Duchess of Brittany. Henry IV died on 20th March 1413 and was buried at Canterbury Cathedral; Joanna would be buried beside him following her own death in 1437.
By 1365 Blanche had taken Katherine Swynford into her household. Katherine was the wife of one of John of Gaunt’s Lincolnshire knights. Moreover, John was godfather to their daughter, Blanche, who was named after the Duchess. Young Blanche Swynford was lodged in the same chambers as the Duchess’s daughters, Philippa and Elizabeth and accorded the same luxuries as the princesses.
Having lost her parents and sister to the Black Death it is not surprising that Blanche was fearful of the disease. In the summer of 1368 she is said to have moved her family away from the city, to Bolingbroke Castle to escape the pestilence.
There seems to be some doubt over the year of her death – some sources say 1368, some 1369 – and even the nature of it. One theory is that Blanche succumbed to the bubonic plague, the disease she most feared, in 1369. As a daughter, Isabella, who died young, was born in 1368 some have suggested Blanche died in childbirth. Recent research by Amy Licence has discovered that Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague. Her husband was by her side when she died and a letter has come to light in which John arranged to have prayers said for the soul of his lost duchess.¹
Blanche was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London; where John of Gaunt arranged for a splendid alabaster tomb and annual commemorations for the rest of his life. And despite 2 subsequent marriages, John of Gaunt would be interred next to Blanche following his own death in 1399. The tomb was lost when the cathedral was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Blanche is one of the few ladies of the 14th century of whom we have several descriptions. The Chronicler Froissart noted that she was “jone et jolie” – young and pretty.
The best description, however, is from Geoffrey Chaucer, Katherine Swynford’s brother-in-law, who was commissioned by John of Gaunt to write The Book of the Duchess, also known as The Deth of Blaunche. The poem is said to depict Gaunt’s mourning for his wife, in the tale of a Knight grieving for his lost love.
Chaucer describes Blanche’s neck (yes, her neck) as “whyt, smothe, streght and flat. Naming the heroine “White”, he goes on to say she is “rody, fresh and lyvely hewed”. Blanche (White) was “bothe fair and bright” and Nature’s “cheef patron of beautee”.
Despite his marrying Constance of Castile just 2 years later, and his eventual marriage to his mistress, Katherine Swynford, being singled out as one of the great love affairs of the age, it was said that Blanche was the love of his life.
Chaucer’s poem and the lavish tomb and commemorations are said to highlight Gaunt’s love for his 1st wife; the fact he was eventually buried beside her has been seen, by many, as the final proof of this love.
Footnote: ¹Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence.
Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; unofficialroyalty.com; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com.
Katherine Swynford is, arguably, the most famous – or infamous – of English ladies to have risen so high as to become the first lady of the kingdom, without ever being queen.
Born Katherine de Roet in Hainault, now in modern-day Belgium, in around 1350, her father was Sir Paon de Roet of Guyenne. Unfortunately, as can be the way with Medieval women, I could find no mention of her mother’s identity.
Sir Paon was a Hainault knight who travelled to England with its new queen , Philippa of Hainault, as part of her retinue. As a consequence, Katherine was raised at the English court of Queen Philippa and her illustrious husband, King Edward III.
Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, were eventually given positions as ladies-in-waiting to members of the royal family. Philippa joined the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Lionel of Antwerp, where she met her future husband, the literary giant of the age, Geoffrey Chaucer.
By 1365 Katherine was serving in the household of Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, and her husband John of Gaunt, 3rd surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Lancaster. Sometime before 1367 Katherine married a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, at St Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London. They had at least 2 children, Thomas and Blanche; John of Gaunt was Blanche’s godfather. Sir Hugh was a tenant of John of Gaunt’s and accompanied him to Europe in 1366 and 1370.
In 1368 in order to avoid the plague, Blanche is said to have moved her family to Bolingbroke in the Lincolnshire countryside. By the end of summer, she was at Tutbury, where she died in childbirth in September, the same year. However, rather than leaving the household on Blanche’s death, Katherine was appointed governess to the 2 daughters of Gaunt and the late Duchess, Philippa and Elizabeth.
Katherine’s husband, Sir Hugh, died in 1371 and shortly afterwards rumours started arising of a relationship between John of Gaunt and the young widow. Whether the affair started before Sir Hugh’s death is uncertain and some sources suggest this was the case.
Although John married his 2nd wife, Constance of Castile, on 21st September 1371. John and Constance’s marriage was a dynastic one; John was hoping to gain a kingdom for himself, through his wife. From January 1372 John assumed the title King of Castile and Leon, by right of his wife, although he was never able to consolidate his position. John’s younger brother, Edmund, would marry Constance’s sister, Isabella.
Constance gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, in 1373 and a son, John in 1374 – he died the following year. Catherine would marry Henry III of Castile, becoming Queen Consort of Castile and Leon and thus fulfilling her father’s ambition of his descendants sitting on the throne of Castile.
By 1372 Katherine’s status within Gaunt’s household had risen, indicating their developing relationship. While continuing in her post of governess to Philippa and Elizabeth, Katherine bore 4 children between 1373 and 1379, acknowledged by John of Gaunt as his own; John, Henry, Thomas and Joan. They were given the surname of Beaufort, probably after their father’s lost French lordship in Anjou.
I could find no record of Constance’s – or Katherine’s – reactions to Gaunt’s living arrangements. It’s hard to imagine that either was completely happy with the situation, but Gaunt does appear to have fulfilled his obligations to both women.
There is some record that John of Gaunt formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with his wife in June 1381, possible as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt. The revolt blamed 13-year-old King Richard II’s counsellors as the cause of the country’s problems. John of Gaunt was one of the main targets for the rebels’ anger and his Savoy Palace on the Strand was burned to the ground, despite Gaunt’s absence from the centre of proceedings; he was on his way to Scotland at the time.
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. However, her situation changed again following Constance’s death at the end of 1394.
At Lincoln Cathedral, in January 1396 and a quarter of a century after the start of their relationship, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford were married. Styled Lady Katherine, Duchess of Lancaster, she was, briefly, the 1st Lady in England after the death of Queen Anne of Bohemia.
Once they were married John of Gaunt wasted no time in legitimising his children by Katherine. They were legitimated by the Pope on 1st September 1396, and by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. A further Charter in the reign of Henry IV also excluded the Beauforts from the succession.
Their final happiness was of short duration, however, as John of Gaunt died on the 3rd of February 1399; he was buried beside his 1st wife, Blanche of Lancaster, in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. His son and heir, Henry Bolingbroke, had recently been exiled to the Continent for 10 years. Richard II extended that exile to a life term and confiscated the Lancastrian lands.
Following Gaunt’s death Katherine returned to her townhouse in Lincoln; close to the east end of the Cathedral. Her son, Henry Beaufort, had become Bishop of Lincoln shortly after being legitimised.
Katherine died at Lincoln on 10th May 1403. She was buried, close to the High Altar, in the cathedral in which she had married her prince just 7 years earlier. Her daughter Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, was laid to rest beside her, following her death in 1440, with a slightly smaller tomb. The tombs themselves are empty, with Katherine and Joan buried beneath the floor of the Cathedral.
Katherine appears to have had a good relationship with John of Gaunt’s children; she was very close to Philippa and Elizabeth. Henry IV, Katherine’s stepson, referred to her in her widowhood as ‘The King’s Mother’.
And together, through their children Katherine and John left a legacy that would change the course of English and Scottish history.
Henry Beaufort would rise to the position of Bishop of Winchester and Cardinal. Thomas would rise to become Duke of Exeter and serve on the council of his great-nephew, Henry VI.
Less impressively, their grandson Edmund (son of John, Earl of Somerset) was responsible for great losses of territory whilst Regent of France for young Henry VI.
Katherine and John’s daughter, Joan, was the mother of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, who would be the mother of 2 kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III. Their son John, Earl of Somerset, was grandfather of Margaret Beaufort and great-grandfather of the 1st Tudor King, Henry VII. John’s daughter, Joan Beaufort, married James I of Scotland in another of history’s great love stories.
Sources: katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; The mammoth Book of British kings & Queen by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Life and Times of Edward III by paul Johnson; The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford.
Jacqueline of Hainault, also known as Jacoba of Bavaria, is one of those Medieval ladies who seems to have slipped under the radar of history. Until last week I knew very little about her; and yet her life is one of the most colourful I have ever come across.
Born on or shortly before the 16th July 1401 at Le Quesnoy, Flanders, Jacqueline was the daughter of William VI, Count of Holland, and Marguerite of Burgundy; her grandfather was Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
Although she had at least 9 illegitimate siblings, Jacqueline was her father’s sole heir. And in order to strengthen her position, William arranged a marriage for Jacqueline while she was still an infant. In 1406 she was betrothed to John of Valois, Duke of Touraine, the fourth son of King Charles VI of France, and only 3 years older than Jacqueline. With little chance of inheriting the French throne, and with a view to him eventually ruling Hainault, the responsibility for John’s education was handed over to Count William; he would be raised alongside his future wife.
The young couple married in 1415 at The Hague. Only 4 months after the wedding John’s older brother Louis, Dauphin of France, died and John became Dauphin and heir to the French throne.
Within 2 years John himself was dead, on 4th April 1417, with rumours circulating that he was poisoned, although this is far from certain. His younger brother, Charles, became Dauphin and Jacqueline was a widow at only 16.
In the meantime, although Holland was not subject to Salic Law (where a woman could not inherit), Jacqueline’s father had been having a hard time getting his people and Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, to accept Jacqueline as his heir. They finally refused outright in 1416.
When Count William died only 2 months after her husband, on 31st May 1417, Jacqueline was accepted as Countess of Hainault; however Holland and Zeeland recognised her uncle John of Bavaria, backed by Sigismund, as their count.
At this point Jacqueline’s mother and uncle stepped in. Margaret of Burgundy and her brother, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, started looking around for a suitable husband for Jacqueline. Unfortunately they decided on her cousin John IV, Duke of Brabant. The Duke of Burgundy saw the marriage as an opportunity to expand his influence over Jacqueline’s lands, and applied for a Papal Dispensation. The Dispensation was given, but withdrawn just over 2 weeks later, following pressure from Sigismund.
The couple married anyway, in March 1418. The marriage was a disaster, politically and personally. John managed to antagonise both his wife and her subjects. Initially Jacqueline’s husband helped in the fight against her avaricious uncle, John of Bavaria and in 1419 John the Fearless settled the dispute in his niece’s favour; only for John of Brabant to then mortgage Holland and Zeeland to John of Bavaria for a period of 12 years.
Jacqueline ran away; first to her mother in Hainault and then on to England, where she was welcomed by Henry V. The king granted her a pension, and made her godmother to his only son, the future Henry VI.
In 1421 Jacqueline repudiated her marriage to John of Brabant, with the support of Antipope Benedict XIII in Avignon. And in 1422, with a view to strengthening England’s position against France, she married the king’s younger brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. The public were behind the marriage and even supported Humphrey’s attempts to recover Jacqueline’s lands.
As Duchess of Gloucester, Jacqueline was made a Lady of the Garter in 1423, and, at some point, accepted Eleanor Cobham into her household as a lady-in-waiting; Eleanor would later go on to become Humphrey’s 2nd wife. In 1424 Jacqueline gave birth to her only recorded child, who was stillborn.
In 1424 Humphrey and Jacqueline led an army to the Low Countries, to recover Jacqueline;s inheritance. Though Humphrey managed to recover much of Hainault, he came up against opposition from the new Duke of Burgundy, Philip III The Good, destroying the Anglo-Burgundian alliance.
Many of Jacqueline’s subjects, however, considered Humphrey an invader and, refusing to recognising him as count, gave their support to Burgundy. So, in 1425, Humphrey returned to England; Jacqueline’s mother had objected to her returning with him, so she moved on to Mons.
The officials of Mons had promised to protect Jacqueline, but once Gloucester was gone, she was handed over to the Duke of Burgundy and imprisoned in Ghent. In the same year her uncle, John of Bavaria, died and her lands were handed over to Burgundy, as regent, by John of Brabant.
Jacqueline escaped her imprisonment, dressed as a man, and escaped escorted by 2 knights, to Gouda. From Gouda, she led the Dutch resistance to the Burgundian takeover. However, when Burgundy besieged Gouda, she was forced to surrender.
In the meantime, Pope Martin V had authorised an investigation into the state of Jacqueline’s marriages. In 1428 he declared her marriage to Humphrey of Gloucester null and void, as her marriage to John of Brabant was legally valid. John of Brabant had died in 1426, so a remarriage between Humphrey and Jacqueline would have been acceptable – had Humphrey’s attentions not already turned to Eleanor Cobham.
Jacqueline still had sympathisers in England, however and the ladies of London petitioned Humphrey, according to the chronicler Stow their letters “containing matter of rebuke and sharpe reprehension of the Duke of Gloucester, because he would not deliver his wife Jacqueline out of her grievous imprisonment, being then held prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy, suffering her to remaine so unkindly, contrary to the law of God and the honourable estate of matrimony”.
Humphrey had managed to get a 9,000 marks grant from the king’s council, in 1427, to help Jacqueline recover her lands; however John, Duke of Bedford, put a stop to the expedition by opening up negotiations with the Duke of Burgundy.
So, in 1428, Jacqueline of Hainault is a prisoner of the Duke of Burgundy, with no prospect of help from England. With few options left to her, she came to an agreement with Philip the Good. In the Treaty of Delft, of 3rd July 1428, Jacqueline retained her title of countess, but administration for her 3 counties passed to Philip. Philip the Good was confirmed as her heir, should she die childless; and she was not to marry without the consent of Philip, her mother and the 3 counties.
Philip, however, broke the treaty by mortgaging the revenues of Holland and Zeeland to members of the Borselen family from Zeeland.
In 1432 Jacqueline secretly married one of the Borselen family, Francis, Lord of Zuilen and St Maartensdijk.
Whether or not this was a plot to overthrow Burgundian rule in Holland, Philip the good certainly saw it that way. Francis was imprisoned in October 1432 and Jacqueline was forced to abdicate as countess in 1433, relinquishing her titles in return for an income from several estates. After years of civil war, Jacqueline’s financial position prior to the settlement had been desperate.
Jacqueline and Francis’ relationship appears to have been a love match and, in July 1434 they had a 2nd, public, marriage ceremony at Maartensdijk Castle. After such an adventurous life, and having fought so hard for her inheritance, Jacqueline settled down to married life. Her happiness was short-lived, however, as Jacqueline died at Teilingen on 8th October 1436, probably of tuberculosis. She was buried at the Hague.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; medievalists.net; r3.org; susanhigginbotham.com; britannica.com; historyofroyalwomen.com.
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Born around 1400 and probably at the castle of Sterborough in Kent, Eleanor Cobham was the daughter of Sir Reginald Cobham of Sterborough and his wife Eleanor, daughter of Sir Thomas Culpeper of Rayal.
As is often the case with Medieval women, nothing is known of Eleanor’s early life. She appeared at court in her early 20s, when she was appointed lady-in-waiting to Jacqueline of Hainault, Duchess of Gloucester.
Jacqueline had come to England to escape her 2nd husband, the abusive John IV Duke of Brabant. She obtained an annulment of the marriage from the Antipope, Benedict XIII, and married Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1423. He would spend a large amount of their marriage trying to recover Jacqueline’s lands from the Dukes of Brabant and Burgundy.
Humphrey was a younger brother of King Henry V and John, Duke of Bedford. He had fought at the Battle of Shrewsbury at the age of 12 years and 9 months and would go on to fight at Agincourt in 1415. On Henry V’s death, Humphrey acted as Regent for his young nephew, Henry VI, whenever his older brother, the Duke of Bedford, was away fighting in France. However, he seems to have been little liked and was never trusted with full Regency powers.
In 1428 Pope Martin V refused to recognise the annulment of Jacqueline’s previous marriage to John of Brabant and declared the Gloucester marriage null and void. However, John of Brabant had died in 1426 and so Humphrey and Jacqueline were free to remarry – if they wanted to. In the mean time, Humphrey’s attention had turned to Eleanor of Cobham and he made no attempt to keep Jacqueline by his side.
This did not go down too well with the good ladies of London, who petitioned parliament between Christmas 1427 and Easter 1428.
According to the chronicler Stow their letters were delivered to Humphrey, the archbishops and the lords “containing matter of rebuke and sharpe reprehension of the Duke of Gloucester, because he would not deliver his wife Jacqueline out of her grievous imprisonment, being then held prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy, suffering her to remaine so unkindly, contrary to the law of God and the honourable estate of matrimony”.
Humphrey paid the petition little attention and married Eleanor sometime between 1428 and 1431. It has been suggested that Eleanor was the mother of Humphrey’s 2 illegitimate children – Arthur and Antigone – although this seems unlikely as Humphrey made no attempt to legitimise them following the marriage (as his grandfather John of Gaunt had done with his Beaufort children by Katherine Swynford).
Described by Aeneas Sylvius as “a woman distinguished in her form” and “beautiful and marvellously pleasant” by Jean de Waurin, Eleanor and Humphrey had a small but lively court at their residence of La Plesaunce at Greenwich. Humphrey had a lifelong love of learning, which Eleanor most likely shared, and the couple attracted scholars, musicians and poets to their court.
On 25th June 1431, as Duchess of Gloucester, Eleanor was admitted to the fraternity of the monastery of St Albans – to which her husband already belonged – and in 1432 she was made a Lady of the Garter.
Eleanor’s status rose even higher in 1435, with the death of John Duke of Bedford. Whilst Henry VI was still childless, John had been heir presumptive. He died having had no children and so the position passed to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
With her heightened status, Eleanor received sumptuous Christmas gifts from the king; and her father was given custody of the French hostage Charles, Duke of Orleans – a prisoner since Agincourt.
But in 1441 came Eleanor’s dramatic downfall.
Master Thomas Southwell, a canon of St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster, and Master Roger Bolyngbroke, a scholar, astronomer and cleric – and alleged necromancer, were arrested for casting the King’s horoscope and predicting his death.
Southwell and Bolyngbroke, along with Margery Jourdemayne, known as the Witch of Eye and renowned for selling potions and spells, were accused of making a wax image of the king, ‘the which image they dealt so with, that by their devilish incantations and sorcery they intended to bring out of life, little and little, the king’s person, as they little and little consumed that image’.
Bolyngbroke implicated Eleanor during questioning, saying she had asked him to cast her horoscope and predict her future; for the wife of the heir to the throne, this was a dangerous practise. Did she have her eye on the throne itself?
On hearing of the arrest of her associates Eleanor fled to Sanctuary at Westminster. Of 28 charges against her she admitted to 5. Eleanor denied the treason charges, but confessed to obtaining potions from Jourdemayne in order to help her conceive a child. Awaiting further proceedings, as Eleanor remained in Sanctuary, pleading sickness, she tried to escape by river. Thwarted, she was escorted to Leeds Castle on 11th August and held there for 2 months.
Having returned to Westminster Eleanor was examined by an ecclesiastical tribunal on 19th October and on the 23rd she faced Bolyngbroke, Southwell and Jourdemayne who accused her of being the “causer and doer of all these deeds”.
Eleanor was found guilty of sorcery and witchcraft; she was condemned to do public penance and perpetual imprisonment. Of her co-accused; Bolyngbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, Southwell died in the Tower of London and Margery Jourdemayne was burned at the stake at Smithfield.
Eleanor’s own chaplain, Master John Hume, had also been arrested, although he was accused only of knowing of the others’ actions and was later pardoned.
On 3 occasions Eleanor was made to do public penance at various churches in London; on the 1st of such, 13th November 1441, bareheaded and dressed in black carrying a wax taper, she walked from Temple Bar to St Paul’s Cathedral, where she offered the wax taper at the high altar. Following 2 further penances, at Christ Church and St Michael’s in Cornhill, Eleanor was sent first to Chester Castle and then to Kenilworth. Her circumstances much reduced, Eleanor was allowed a household of only 12 persons.
Eleanor’s witchcraft conviction discredited her husband; Humphrey was marginalised and on 6th November 1441 his marriage was annulled. Humphrey’s enemies, Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen) and the Earl of Suffolk, convinced the king that his uncle was plotting against him. In February 1447, Humphrey was arrested and confined in Bury St Edmunds. He died a week later, on 23rd February; some claimed it was murder, but the most likely cause of death is stroke.
Eleanor was moved to Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, in 1446 and one final time in 1449 when she was transferred to Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey.
Eleanor Cobham, one time Duchess of Gloucester and wife to the heir to England’s throne, having risen so high – and fallen so low – died still a prisoner, at Beaumaris Castle on 7th July 1452; she was buried at Beaumaris, at the expense of Sir William Beauchamp, the castle’s constable.
Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who made England by Dan Jones; The Plantagenets, the Kings that Made Britain by Derek Wilson; madameguillotine.co.uk; susanhigginbotham.com; The Medieval Mind.