Sunday 11th March 2018 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year
Mum is everyone’s favourite Heroine, in whatever era, and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a giveaway of a hardback copy of Heroines of the Medieval World.
About Heroines of the Medieval World
Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…
If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.
The draw will be made on Wednesday 7th March, so you should get the book in time for the day.
The winner is ….. Janet Carter.
The draw is now closed and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.
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.
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.
Coming in November!
Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.
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.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US and worldwide from Book Depository.
From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred 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. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amberley Publishing and 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.
Constance of Castile was born in 1354 at Castro Kerez, Castile. Her father was Peter, or Pedro, king of Castile. Although he had earned himself the nickname of Peter the Cruel, he was also known as Peter the Just. In 1353 Peter had married, in secret, Maria de Padilla, who would bear him 4 children; of which Constance was the 2nd oldest.
In the summer of 1353 Peter had been practically forced to marry Blanche de Bourbon, by his mother and had had to deny that a marriage ceremony with Maria ever took place. However, almost immediately after the wedding, Peter deserted his new bride and returned to Maria.
Peter and Maria were together until Maria’s death in 1361, probably from plague, and they had 3 daughters and a son. Although their son died young, their 3 daughters grew to adulthood. The eldest, Beatrice, entered the Abbey of Santa Clara at Tordesillas and so it would be Constance who eventually became her father’s heir.
Little is known of Constance’s childhood. She was around 7 when her mother died, her sister Isabella was a year younger and their baby brother, Alfonso was about 2. Alfonso would die in 1362.
Peter of Castile was engaged in constant wars with Aragon from 1356 to 1366, followed by the 1366 Castilian Civil War which saw him dethroned by his illegitimate half-brother, Henry of Trastamara.
Peter turned to his neighbours for help. He fled over the Pyrenees, to Aquitaine and England’s Prince of Wales, Edward the Black Prince. Peter brought his 2 daughters with him. The Black Prince agreed to mount an expedition to restore Peter to his throne, and would take his brother, John of Gaunt, along with him.
Constance and Isabella were handed over to the English as collateral against thee repayment of the costs of the expedition; a staggering £176,000 that Peter could never hope to repay.
In 1367 the Black Prince and John of Gaunt led an army across the Pyrenees, defeating Henry of Trastamara at the Battle of Najera, despite his being backed by the French. Trastamara fled Castile and Peter was restored to his throne, but could not repay the costs of the expedition. Unable to pay his army, and with his health in decline, the Black Prince left Spain for Aquitaine.
Peter was eventually murdered by Henry of Trastamara in March 1369; Henry usurped the throne as King Henry II, ignoring the rights of his niece Constance, who became ‘de jure’ Queen of Castile on 13th March 1369. However, Constance and her sister remained in English hands.
John of Gaunt’s wife of almost 10 years, Blanche Duchess of Lancaster, had died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague. Shortly after John started a liaison with a woman who would be his mistress for the next 25 years, Katherine Swynford.
However, John of Gaunt was not done with his dynastic ambitions and saw in Constance of Castile the chance to gain his own crown. John and Constance were married, probably at Rocquefort, in Guyenne on 21st September 1371.
From 1372 John assumed the title King of Castile and Leon, by right of his wife. Crowds lined the streets when, as Queen of Castile, Constance was given a ceremonial entry into London in February 1362. Her brother-in-law, the Black Prince, escorted her through the city to be formally welcomed by her husband at his residence of the Savoy Palace.
Constance’s sister, Isabella, came with her, and would marry Constance’s brother-in-law Edmund of Langley, 5th son of Edward III, in July 1372.
Little is known of Constance’s relationship with her husband’s mistress, Kathryn Swynford; except for in incident in June 1381. Amid the turmoil of the Peasant’s Revolt, John is said to have given up his mistress and reconciled with his wife, suggesting their relationship wasn’t all smooth. Kathryn returned to her manor in Lincolnshire where, it seems, John visited her from time to time.
Constance and John, King and Queen of Castile and Duke and Duchess of Lancaster, had 2 children. A son, John, was born in 1374 at Ghent in Flanders, but died the following year. Their daughter Catherine, or Catalina, of Lancaster was born at Hertford Castle, sometime between June 1372 and March 1373. She would be made a Lady of the Garter in 1384.
John had several plans to recover his wife’s Castilian crown, but suffered from a lack of finances. Until 1386 when John I of Castile, son of Henry of Trastamara, attempted to claim the crown of Portugal. John of Avis, King of Portugal, turned to John of Gaunt for help. John saw this as his opportunity to overthrow John of Castile and claim the crown.
Having landed in Galicia, however, John was unable to bring the Castilians to battle and his army succumbed to sickness. The opposing forces eventually agreed the Treaty of Bayonne, where in return for a substantial sum, John of Gaunt abandoned his claim to Castile. The treaty also saw a marriage alliance, between John of Castile’s son, Henry and Constance and John’s daughter, Catherine.
Catherine married Henry III of Castile in September 1388 at the Church if St Antolin, Fuentarrabia, Castile. Catherine therefore sat on the throne denied her mother. Catherine would have 3 children; 2 daughters, Katherine and Mary, and a son. Catherine and Henry’s son, John II, would succeed his father just a few months after his birth, with Catherine having some limited say in the Regency, and custody of her son until he was around 10. She died on the 2nd June 1418 and is buried in Toledo, Spain. Her great-granddaughter, Catherine of Aragon, would marry Henry VIII of England.
Constance was made a Lady of the Garter in 1378,
She died on the 24th March 1394 at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester, far away from her Castilian homeland. Just 2 years later her widower would marry his long-time mistress, Kathryn Swynford. When he died in 1399, however, John of Gaunt chose to be buried beside his 1st wife, Blanche of Lancaster.
It’s hard to imagine that Constance was happy with her husband’s living arrangements, a belief highlighted by the 1381 reconciliation. However, John of Gaunt had offered Constance the chance to be a part of the English royal family, and to recover her crown. Although he failed, he did manage to secure the crown for Constance’s descendants, through their daughter Catherine and grandson, John II of Castile.
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.
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 – 3 sons and a daughter – in the years between 1371 and 1379. They were supposedly born in John’s castle in Champagne, in France, and were given the name of the castle as their surname; Beaufort. However it seems just as likely that they were named after the lordship of Beaufort, which had formerly belonged to Gaunt and to which he still laid claim.
Meanwhile, John had not yet done with his dynastic ambitions and, despite his relationship with Katherine, married Constance of Castile in September 1371. Constance was the daughter of Peter I “the Cruel” and his ‘hand-fast’ wife, Maria de Padilla. Born in 1354 at Castro Kerez, Castile, she succeeded her father as ‘de jure’ Queen of Castile on 13th March 1369, but John was never able to wrest control of the kingdom from the rival claimant Henry of Tastamara, reigning as Henry III, and would eventually come to an agreement in 1388 where Henry married John and Constance’s daughter, Katherine.
Katherine was born in 1372/3 at Hertford Castle and was the couple’s only surviving child.
John and Constance’s relationship appears to be purely dynastic. There is some suggestion John formally renounced his relationship with Katherine and reconciled with Constance in June 1381, possibly as a way to recover some popularity during the Peasant’s Revolt, following the destruction of his palace on the Thames.
Katherine left court and settled at her late husband’s manor at Kettlethorpe, before moving to a rented townhouse in Lincoln. John of Gaunt visited her regularly throughout the 1380s, and Katherine was frequently at court. With 4 children by John of Gaunt but still only, officially, governess to his daughters, Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter in 1388.
Constance, however, died on 24th March, 1394, at Leicester Castle and was buried at Newark Abbey in Leicester.
John then went to Guienne to look after his interests as Duke of Aquitaine and remained in France from September 1394 until December 1395. When he returned to England, John wasted no time in reuniting with Katherine and they were married in Lincoln Cathedral in January 1396.
John then made an appeal to the Pope and his children by Katherine were legitimated on 1st September 1396, and then by Charter of Richard II on 9th February 1397. However, a later clause excluded the Beaufort children from the succession.
John was a man of renown, of culture and refinement. An amateur poet and friend of Chaucer, who had married Katherine’s sister, Philippa, he was also a patron of Wycliffe and encouraged the translation of the Bible into English.
His complicated love life would cause problems for future generations, with his son by Blanche of Lancaster, Henry, forcing the abdication of Richard II and usurping the throne on 30th September 1399. His Beaufort descendants would be prominent players on both sides of the Wars of the Roses. While his son John, Earl of Somerset was the grandfather of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, his daughter, Joan, was grandmother of the Yorkist kings Edward IV and Richard III.
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; womenshistory.about.com/od/medrenqueens/a/Katherine-Swynford; katherineswynfordsociety.org.uk.
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.
The eldest daughter, Philippa, was born on 31st March 1360 and would marry King John I of Portugal. Philippa was the mother of 8 children, known as the ‘Illustrious Generation’ in Portugal, including Edward, King of Portugal, Prince Henry the Navigator and Ferdinand the Holy Prince. Philippa herself would die of plague in 1415.
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 – and even the nature of it. One theory is that Blanche succumbed to the bubonic plague, the disease she most feared, in 1369. As a daughter, Isabella, who died young, was born in 1368 some have suggested Blanche died in childbirth. However, recent research by Amy Licence has discovered that Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague. Her husband was by her side when she died and a letter has come to light in which John arranged to have prayers said for the soul of his lost duchess.¹
Blanche was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London; where John of Gaunt arranged for a splendid alabaster tomb and annual commemorations for the rest of his life. And despite 2 subsequent marriages, John of Gaunt would be interred next to Blanche following his own death in 1399. The tomb was lost when the cathedral was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Blanche is one of the few ladies of the 14th century of whom we have several descriptions. The Chronicler Froissart noted that she was “jone et jolie” – young and pretty.
The best description, however, is from Geoffrey Chaucer, Katherine Swynford’s brother-in-law, who was commissioned by John of Gaunt to write The Book of the Duchess, also known as The Deth of Blaunche. The poem is said to depict Gaunt’s mourning for his wife, in the tale of a Knight grieving for his lost love.
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.
Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amberley Publishing and Book Depository.
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Alice Perrers is one royal mistress who did not fare as well as her contemporary, Katherine Swynford. Whereas Katherine eventually married her prince; Alice was not so lucky, despite the fact she had been mistress of the King.
Although it is impossible to find any definite date, it seems likely that Alice Perrers was born in the late 1340s. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Perrers, a prominent Hertfordshire landowner who had been both sheriff and Member of Parliament for his county.
Sir Richard had been in legal dispute with the Abbey of St Albans, which had caused him to be imprisoned, and even outlawed, for a time. This, and the fact Alice herself became involved in the dispute, could go some way to explain Alice’s dreadful reputation; the majority of what we know of Alice comes from the blatantly hostile St Albans Chronicle.
The Chronicler claimed Alice was the daughter of an Essex tiler and a former domestic servant, suggesting she made her way to court by humble channels. She was described as ‘extremely ugly’ and ruling the king through her clever tongue. The king was certainly known to like clever and attractive women.
Sometime in the early 1360s – and certainly before 1366 – Alice joined the household of Queen Philippa of Hainault and started her affair with the king, Edward III. Alice would have been in her mid-to-late teens. It isn’t clear whether Alice joined the Queen’s household before or after the affair started; it may be that Edward placed her there, so she was close by. It does appear that the ailing queen acquiesced to the situation, even if she did not wholeheartedly approve.
Before his relationship with Alice, there seems to have been few, if any, extramarital affairs on Edward’s part; there are certainly no suggestions of illegitimate children as had happened with previous monarchs. If Edward had affairs they had been of short duration and incredibly discreet. This makes his relationship with Alice Perrers all the more surprising.
By 1366 Alice had been installed as a lady of the queen’s bedchamber. In 1364/5, she had left court to give birth to Edward’s first illegitimate child. The boy, Sir John Southeray, would later marry Maud Percy, a sister of the future Earl of Northumberland. Two daughters were to follow, Joan and Jane, who were still young at the time of the king’s death in 1377. Jane later married Richard Northland and Joan married Robert Skerne, a lawyer.
Whilst in the queen’s household Edward granted Alice 2 tuns of wine; he also granted her wardships, land and jewels. Although the king gave gifts to all the queen’s ladies, those to Alice were particularly extravagant.
Following the queen’s death in 1369, Alice rose to greater prominence, she dominated the court. A devastated Edward leaned heavily on her considerable abilities; his own decline accelerated by his loss.
As a result Alice was blamed for the setbacks and financial scandals of the last years of Edward’s reign. She was accused of being scheming and grasping, and making the king’s final years a misery. The monastic chronicler, Walsingham, believed she had bewitched the king in order to secure his affections.
Whereas Queen Philippa had remained in the domestic environment, Alice Perrers had greater political ambitions. The court was dominated by a ‘narrow, exclusive and unpopular clique’¹. Along with Lord Latimer and Lord Neville, Edward’s chamberlain and steward respectively, Alice enjoyed almost total control of royal patronage; she became the king’s principal advisor and advanced her own friends into positions of influence.
Rumours arose that Edward had given Alice some of Queen Philippa’s jewels. It seems more likely that the jewels were a part of a collection previously given by the queen to Euphemia Hasleworth, rather than a part of the queen’s personal collection, but it further tarnished Alice’s reputation.The fact the gifts were recorded in the patent rolls suggests they were given on Edward’s personal order, rather than through Alice’s machinations.
By the early 1370s Alice had established her domination of the court. In 1371 she was granted the valuable manor of Wendover.
In 1375 a grand tournament was held at Smithfield in her honour. Alice rode from the Tower, through the city, dressed as the Lady of the Sun. Ladies led knights on silver chains.
In the early 1370s Alice had started looking to her future. The king was old and she was very aware that, without his protection she was likely to be thrown to the wolves. With this in mind she contracted a secret marriage to William Windsor and persuaded the king to appoint Windsor his lieutenant in Ireland, despite his record of previous maladministration of that same country.
By 1376, shortly after the death of the Black Prince – Edward’s eldest son and heir – parliament took the lead. Known as the Good Parliament and having been called to advance the king subsidies they demanded their own petitions were answered first.
According to Walsingham: “the Parliamentary knights complained bitterly about one Alice Perrers, a wanton woman who was all too familiar with Edward III. They accused her of numerous misdeeds, performed by her and her friends in the realm. She far overstepped the bounds of feminine conduct: forgetful of her sex and her weakness, now besieging the king’s justices, now stationing herself among the doctors in the ecclesiastical courts, she did not fear to plead in defence of her cause and even to make illegal demands. As a result of the scandal and great shame which this brought on King Edward, not only in this kingdom but also in foreign lands, the knights sought her banishment from his side.“²
The main accusations, voiced by Peter de la Mare, against Alice were that she had taken thousands of pounds from the royal purse and that she was notorious for the use of maintenance – protecting those accused in the king’s courts; Parliament stipulated that she and all women were prohibited from doing this. It was also during the parliament that Alice’s secret marriage to William Windsor was revealed. Assuming that, as a married couple, they had slept together this then made the king guilty of adultery.
Edward III swore an oath by the Virgin Mary that he did not know she was married. William Windsor was summoned from Ireland to be prosecuted. Edward is said to have bought a chest and locked in it the accusations against Windsor, who he saw as the guilty party.
Edward begged for Alice to be shown mercy. She avoided prison and further prosecution on condition she no longer saw the king. If she broke the conditions, the punishment would be perpetual exile.
However, once parliament had disbanded John of Gaunt, as virtual ruler of the kingdom, recalled all those banished. Edward “recalled his mistress, Alice Perrers, to his company; she had been legally banished from his presence, on account of the scandal and shame which came from her wantonness. This was against the oath by which Alice had bound herself and which the king himself had ratified…“³
Alice stayed with the king until his death.
Edward III died, probably from a stroke, on 21st June 1377. According to the St Albans Chronicler he was alone, save for his confessor. Walsingham went so far as to accuse Alice of stripping the rings from the king’s fingers; although she was never charged with the offence.
Following the king’s death, Alice’s sentence of banishment was reconfirmed, only to be reversed in 1379 at the request of her husband. William Windsor himself died in 1384 and Alice seems to have spent much of her final years in litigation over his will; Windsor left his estate to his 3 sisters.
As the king’s mistress Alice had dealt in property, and used her influence to guarantee a future income. She remained wealthy and was still litigating when she died in 1400. She was buried in the Church of St Lawrence, Upminster; her grave now lost to history.
Alice Perrers was the first king’s mistress to influence the courts of justice and the government of the kingdom. She had met the king when relatively young and naive; but was intelligent enough to realise the advantages and implications of her liaison with the king.
However, she was held up as an example of how a woman shouldn’t behave. She is thought to have been the inspiration for Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath.
Footnotes: ¹ WM Ormrod, The Reign of Edward III; ²&³ Thomas Walsingham, St Albans Chronicle
Pictures courtesy of 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 Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; The Plantagenets, the kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; britannica.com/biography/Alice-Perrers; historyinanhour.com; anneobrienbooks.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 moved her family to Bolingbroke in the Lincolnshire countryside. 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 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.
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