The fourth child and second son of Henry III and his Queen, Eleanor of Provence, and named to honour the Old English royal saint, Edmund was born in London on 16th January 1245.
From an early age, Edmund was involved in his father’s schemes to extend Angevin influence across Europe; in 1254 Henry accepted the crown of Sicily from the Pope for the 9-year-old Edmund, but this came to nought and he was to be officially deprived of the kingdom in 1266, when the Pope handed Sicily to Henry’s brother-in-law, Charles of Anjou.
Henry and Eleanor are known to have been devoted parents and had a very close relationship with all their children. However, Edmund grew up in a time of great upheaval in the kingdom. Henry was locked in a power struggle with his barons, led by his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. The barons were against expensive entanglements in Europe – such as Edmund’s claim to the Sicilian crown – and what they saw as Henry’s inept and ineffective rule in general.
The conflict known as the Barons’ War would lead to what is now seen as the first recognisable English parliament, and to the eventual defeat and destruction of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.
Although Edmund’s youth during the war years meant he took no major part in the conflict, following de Montfort’s death, in October 1265 Edmund was given his lands and titles, including the castle at Kenilworth, which was still holding out against the king. Edmund commanded the Siege of Kenilworth, which held out for 6 months, until starvation forced the garrison’s capitulation. He would also receive the earldom of Lancaster, which was created for him in 1267 by Henry III.
A less-than-chivalric move in 1269 saw Edmund and his older brother, Edward, conspiring against Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, a former Montfort supporter, depriving him of his titles and lands – all of which were passed to Edmund.
In April of the same year, Edmund married Avelina de Forz, daughter of the Earl of Devon and Aumale. The marriage produced no children and Avelina died in 1274.
In 1268 Edward and Edmund had both taken the cross, promising to take part in Crusade to the Holy Land. Although logistics meant they didn’t leave immediately, the brothers travelled separately and Edmund arrived in the Holy Land in September 1271. It is likely that his soubriquet of ‘Crouchback’ comes from him wearing a cross on his back during the Crusades, as there is no evidence of any physical deformity.
After some minor victories, but realising their force wasn’t big enough to retake the Holy Land, and reinforcements from Europe were not forthcoming, Edward signed a 10 year truce with the Muslim leader, Baibars. The following month, May 1272, Edmund sailed for home.
Henry III died in November 1272 and Edmund’s older brother ascended the throne as Edward I. Edmund was loyal to his brother, throughout his reign, playing a supporting role, both militarily and diplomatically. In 1276, Edmund married again; to Blanche of Artois, the widowed Countess of Champagne, whose daughter, Jeanne of Navarre, would marry Philip IV of France in 1284, making Edmund step-father to the French Queen.
Blanche would outlive Edmund, dying in Paris in 1302. They had 4 children together. Thomas was born before 1280 and was executed on the orders of Edward II, following a failed rebellion and his defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Their second son, Henry would eventually succeed to his brother’s titles of Earl of Lancaster, Lincoln, Salisbury, Derby and Leicester. Born around 1281, he married Matilda, daughter of Sir Patrick de Chaworth, and they had 7 children together; their eldest son being Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster and father of Blanche of Lancaster. A third son, John, Lord of Beaufort and Nogent, was born before May 1286 and died around 1317, leaving no children. Their only daughter, Mary, died young in France.
In Edward’s 1277 Welsh campaign Edmund, the biggest landowner in south Wales, was given the command of the southern army. This second, smaller contingent of the invasion of Wales provided support to Edward’s main army. Having set out shortly after 10th July, Edmund’s force drove deep into Wales, facing little opposition compared to Edward’s army. The main landholders of the south had already capitulated, or had fled to join the Welsh prince, Llewellyn, in the north. Edmund’s army had reached their objective of Aberystwyth by 25th July and, at the start of August, began the construction of the castle there. By September the war was over, Edmund disbanded his army on the 20th – leaving a small contingent to garrison the castle – and returned to England.
As a loyal and loving brother, in 1290 Edmund was involved in organising the funeral arrangements for his sister-in-law, Eleanor of Castile. Historian Dean Irwin has told me of a letter which includes many current events and explains that Edmund had had to cancel a planned trip to Canterbury in order to help with the late queen’s funeral.
In 1294 Edmund used his familial connections with the French crown to broker a peace deal with France; an agreement intended to foster a long-lasting peace and to see his widowed brother Edward married to Margaret, Philip IV’s sister. Edmund agreed to hand over several cities, including Bordeaux, in Gascony, on the understanding they would be returned to Edward on his marriage.
The French had no intention of returning the Gascon lands, and in April 1294, Edmund realised he had been duped; the French ejected the English Seneschal of Gascony and Edward prepared an invasion force, ordered to muster on 1st September.
However, rebellion in Wales meant the postponement of the Gascon expedition and Edmund and his forces were ordered to Worcester. The Welsh having been subdued and Edmund having recovered from unspeicifed illness that struck him at the end of 1295, Edmund and his army finally set sail for Gascony in January 1296.
It was to be Edmund’s last campaign. The French were well entrenched and the English failed to retake Bordeaux, or any of the towns along the Garonne. His money running out, Edmund was forced to retire to Bayonne, where he fell sick, dying there on 5th June 1296.
A devastated Edward I called on his churchmen to pray for ‘our dearest and only brother, who was always devoted and faithful to us…and in whom valour and many gifts of grace shone forth’.
He was buried in Westminster Abbey, recently completed by his father, Henry III.
Pictures of Edmund’s coat of arms, seal and Edmund with St George, and of Blanche of Artois, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Further reading: Marc Morris A Great and terrible King; Sara Cockerill Eleanor of Castile: Shadow Queen; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Dean Irwin.
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Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
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Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
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