The Lost Prince – John of Eltham

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The Great Hall of Eltham Palace

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

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

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Eltham Palace today

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

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

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

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Coat of arms of John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince John of Eltham
Prince John of Eltham

In 1325 Queen Isabella was sent to France to negotiate peace with her brother, King Charles IV. John and his sisters remained in England, but Isabella managed to persuade Edward II to send his son Edward of Windsor, newly created Duke of Gascony, to France to do homage for his French lands. With the heir in her custody Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, planned their return to England.

On Mortimer’s invasion in 1326 there was anarchy in London. The mob broke into the Tower of London, intending to set up 9-year-old John of Eltham as ruler of the city. However, Edward II was soon captured and in January 1327 he was forced to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, 14-year-old Edward III.

Edward II was probably murdered at Berkeley castle in September 1327, although some historians now argue he escaped and lived on the Continent as a hermit, under papal protection.

Although Edward was now king, Roger Mortimer was de facto ruler of England. John was a natural ally to his brother against the growing oppression of Mortimer. When Mortimer demanded he receive the Earldom of March at the forthcoming Salisbury Parliament, Edward countered by insisting his brother be given a rich earldom. And in October 1328, on the last day of parliament, John was created Earl of Cornwall.

From May to June of 1329 John was appointed Guardian of the Realm while Edward III travelled to France to pay homage for his French possessions; he was briefly appointed Guardian again in April 1331 when Edward went on pilgrimage to northern France.

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Halidon Hill memorial

Married to Philippa of Hainault, with a son, Edward, in the cradle; in October 1330 Edward III had managed to overthrow the hated Mortimer and began his personal rule. In the lead up to the coup John must have been with his brother almost constantly; he witnessed 66 charters between January and October 1330, 10 more than Mortimer himself.

Edward was very fond of his brother. They had shared the terror of Mortimer’s dictatorship. John had benefited from the flood of estates and rewards following Mortimer’s downfall; Edward had been too cautious to distribute such largesse to his non-royal friends.

While their sisters married – Joan to David of Scotland and Eleanor to the Count of Guelders – John remained very much a stalwart of Edward’s lavish court. A writ in March 1334, for clothing for the court, has John sharing the costs of pearls used to decorate 7 hoods; while Edward footed the bill for 2 of the hoods, John financed 5 of them.

Several brides were proposed for him; Jeanne, a daughter of the Count of Eu, Mary of Blois and Mary of Coucy among them. In October 1334 John received a papal dispensation to marry Maria, a daughter of Fernando IV, king of Castile and Leon. However, the marriage never took place.

When Edward turned his attentions to Scotland, John was with him. Edward III supported the claims of Edward Balliol, against David II Bruce, for the Scots crown. David’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Halidon Hill. While Edward III commanded the central division the king’s uncle, the Earl of Norfolk, led the right with Prince john by his side. Hand-to-hand combat followed a terrifying onslaught of arrows, and the Scots were routed.

Tomb of John of Eltham, Westminster Abbey.
Tomb of John of Eltham, Westminster Abbey

John was also by his brother’s side during the 1335 and 1336 campaigns in Scotland. In June 1335 John joined the muster at Newcastle. The 1335 war was without compromise: looting, raping, killing and burning.

John appears to have been a competent and ruthless commander. Trusted by his brother he commanded a force in southern Scotland, putting down opposition to Edward Balliol. It is said that Joh burned down Lesmahagow Abbey when it was filled with people who had sought sanctuary from the English troops.

In 1336 John led a great council in Northampton while his brother was still in Scotland. The council decided to send an embassy to France to seek a compromise over the developing hostilities (France were promising to aid the Scots). John was soon back with Edward III in Perth where he died on 13th September 1336, just a month after his 20th birthday.

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Weepers on the tomb of John of Eltham

Thomas Gray, writing in 1355, said John died a ‘good death’, it is thought he died of a fever, brought on by his military exertions. There were, however, rumours of foul play and the Scots even suggested John was stabbed by an enraged Edward at the altar of the Church of St John, angry at his brother’s ruthlessness against the Scots.

Edward III was very upset by John’s death. He ordered 900 masses to be said for his brother’s soul, and even a year later his accountant noted extra alms-giving by the king in john’s memory.

John was buried in Westminster Abbey on 13th January 1337 and Edward III had an alabaster monument erected in St Edmund’s Chapel. The effigy has a moustache and is wearing a mixture of mail and plate armour, with John’s coat of arms on the shield. The Weepers surround the base of the tomb and could be representative of John’s family members.

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Photographs: The Weepers © the V&A Museum, London; Tomb of Prince John of Eltham © Westminster Abbey; all other pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Perfect King, the Life of Edward III by Ian Mortimer; The Life and Time of Edward III by Paul Johnson; The Reign of Edward III  by WM Ormrod; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s’ Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made Britain by Dan Jones; edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk; westminster-abbey.org.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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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 UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

James I and Joan Beaufort: A Royal Love Story

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James I

The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is one of those rarities in Medieval history; a true love story. He was a King in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court.

Following the murder of his brother, David, Duke of Rothesay, James was the only surviving son of Robert III of Scotland. He had been on his way to France, for his safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only 11, he was handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Shortly after his capture, James’s father died and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release him.

James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and was an accomplished musician and poet. He was held at various castles, including the Tower, Nottingham Castle – where he was allowed to go hunting – and Windsor Castle.

Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and legitimated son of John of Gaunt (himself the 3rd son of Edward III) by his mistress and, later, wife Kathryn Swynford. Joan’s mother was Margaret Holland, granddaughter of Joan of Kent (wife of Edward the Black Prince) from her marriage to Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent.

Joan was very well-connected; she was a niece of Henry IV, great-niece of Richard II and  great grand-daughter of Edward III. Her uncle, Henry Beaufort, was a cardinal and Chancellor of England.

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Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland

Little seems to be known of her early life, but she was at court in the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. James wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time while walking her little lap-dog in the garden, below his window.

His narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;

“Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote, Are ye a worldy creature? Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature? Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here, To loose me out of bonds”

One morning James managed to drop a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for him to be released.

Their romance grew apace, but was interrupted when James had to accompany Henry V on his French campaign. Henry was hoping that James’s presence would make the Scots, fighting with the French, think twice about engaging with him. However, the strategy had little effect.

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Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

James’s imprisonment lasted for 18 years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne for himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check.

However, when he died in 1420 control passed to his son Murdoch (who had also been imprisoned by the English for 12 years, but was ransomed – instead of James – in 1414) and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy.

Henry V had finally decided that it was time for James to return to Scotland when he died. It was left to Henry’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, as Regent for the infant Henry VI, to agree the terms of James’s freedom. James was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for 18 years, it was claimed. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry the Lady Joan Beaufort.

James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie, Southwark, on 2nd February 1424. James was released on the 28th March and the couple returned to Scotland shortly after. They were crowned at Scone by Henry de Warlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, on 21st May 1424.

James and Joan had 8 children together, 7 of whom survived childhood. Their 6 daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The oldest, Margaret, was born around Christmas 1424. At the age of 11 she was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the future Louis XI – narrowly escaping her father’s fate when the English fleet tried to capture her en route. She died in 1445, leaving no children.

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Isabella of Scotland

Isabella married Francis I, Duke of Brittany; she had 2 daughters and died in 1494. Eleanor married Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, and died in 1480. Joan was born mute and married James Douglas, Earl of Morton and had 4 children – her eldest son, Sir John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, was probably killed at Flodden in 1513. Joan herself died in 1486.

Mary was created Countess of Buchan in 1444; she married Wolfert, Count of Grandpre, of the Netherlands, having 2 sons who died young before she died in 1465. A last daughter, Anabella, married, firstly, Louis of Savoy but following their divorce in 1458 she married George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. They had 2 children together before divorcing on the grounds of consanguinity in 1471.

James and Joan finally had twin sons in 1430. Born on 16th October, Alexander died the same year, but James would go on to succeed his father and married Mary of Gueldres in 1449.

On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages to the payment of his ransom.

James and Joan ruled Scotland for 13 years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. His reforms, however, and desire for a firm but just government made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his son.

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Blackfriars Monastery, Perth

Due to his long imprisonment in the fortresses of England, James tended to avoid castles. On 21 February 1437 the King was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when his chamberlain dismissed the guard and, having removed the locking bar to the King’s quarters, let the assassins into the priory.

James and Joan were alone with the queen’s ladies when they heard the men approaching. On seeing the locking bar missing, Joan’s lady, Kate Douglas, used her own arm to bar the door. The queen hid the king in an underground vault as Kate’s arm broke and the plotters gained entry. They dragged James from his hiding placed and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.

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James II

The plotters, led by Walter, Earl of Atholl, had expected to seize power, but were arrested and executed as the nobles rallied around the new king, 6-year-old James II.

James I was buried in Perth and Joan took an active role the government for her son, getting caught in a contest of power between Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton. Her second marriage to Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, led to her arrest by Livingstone, under the pretext that she may abduct the child-king.

Joan and her new husband were only released on the condition that she give up her custody of James II and leave the court.

They would go on to have 3 sons together before Joan died at Dunbar Castle in 1445. She was buried in the Carthusian Church at Perth.

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens and British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; History Today Companion to British History Edited by juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My books

Out Now! 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.

 

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Coming out in Paperback on 15 March: 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 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 in the US on 1 June 2019. It is available for pre-order from both Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly