An article by Mark Ormrod published in 2011 in the BBC History Magazine has always stuck in my mind. Essentially Edward was an indulgent father who made big plans for his dynasty that involved crowns for his children through adoption, marriage and conquest. His sons grew up believing that they might be kings of various countries if the odds were sufficiently stacked in their favour – and having created a series of royal dukes (Edward’s two younger sons were raised to dukedoms by their nephew Richard II) it is perhaps not surprising that there was disaffection within the family. Edward’s dynastic policy required a large family. He and his wife Philippa of Hainhault were fortunate in their love for one another – England was less fortunate in the size of the Plantagenet family all of whom thought themselves worthy of a crown at a time when the occupant of the throne, Richard II (Edward’s grandson) was unable to control his ambitious, conniving relations.
It seems as good a place to start as any. It also helps that popular history gives a degree of familiarity to Edward III’s sons.
Edward – “The Black Prince.” He was born at Woodstock so can also be styled Edward of Woodstock after his place of birth. He was created Earl of Chester in 1333 and then Duke of Cornwall when he was seven-years-old. He became Prince of Wales in 1343 at the age of thirteen. The duchy was made out of the earldom of Cornwall by Edward III for his son. The title is reserved for the eldest son of the monarch. Although Edward was the Earl of Chester as soon as he became a duke he would have been known by that title as a duke trumps an earl. Edward married his first cousin once removed – Joan of Kent. He eventually succumbed having wasted away, it is thought, to dysentry, caught whilst on campaign in France. He only had one child who survived to adulthood – Richard of Bordeaux who became King Richard II. The complication for this member of the family tree comes from Joan of Kent who had been married to Sir Thomas Holland prior to her marriage to the Black Prince. There is a large Holland clan to add into the equation not to mention some back tracking up the Plantagenet family tree to King Edward I.
- Lionel of Antwerp was betrothed to Elizabeth de Burgh Countess of Ulster when he was a child. He married her in 1352 but he had been styled Earl of Ulster from the age of nine. The earldom came to him through his wife. In 1362 he was created 1st Duke of Clarence. This was actually the third dukedom created within England but more of that shortly. Elizabeth de Burgh died in 1363 having produced one child in 1355 called Philippa who became the 5th Countess of Ulster in her own right. Philippa was Lionel’s only surviving legitimate child (hurrah!) He married for a second time to Violante Visconti the daughter of the Count of Pavia. Lionel went back to Italy with his new wife where his -in-laws poisoned him.
- John of Gaunt. John’s wealth and title came from his marriage to the co-heiress Blanche of Lancaster. Her father had been the 1st Duke of Lancaster but on his death with no male heirs the title died out. When John married Blanche he was given the title earl and through Blanche half of the Lancaster wealth. Blanche’s sister died in 1362 without children – the Lancaster wealth now all came to John. On the same day that Lionel received his dukedom from his father the dukedom of Lancaster was resurrected for John. Because the dukedom had been dormant and Edward III resurrected it John of Gaunt was also known as the 1st Duke of Lancaster (why would you want things to be straight forward!). John married three times – firstly to Blanche who was descended from Henry III via his second son Edmund Crouchback; secondly to Constanza of Castile by whose right John would try to claim the crown of Castile and thirdly to his long time mistress Kathryn Swynford with whom he had four illegitimate children surnamed Beaufort who were ultimately legitimised by the Papacy and by King Richard II.
- Edmund of Langley was born at King’s Langley. In 1362 when he was twenty-one he was created Earl of Cambridge. It was his nephew Richard II who elevated him to a dukedom in 1385 when he was created 1st Duke of York. Thankfully there is an example of a logical progression of the dukedom. When he died his son became the 2nd Duke of York. Edmund was married first to Isabella of Castile who was the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Constance. He married for a second time to Joan Holland who was Joan of Kent’s daughter from her first marriage – so the step-daughter of the Black Prince. Joan had no children but there were three children from the first marriage – although there is a question mark over the parentage of the last child from the union with Isabella of Castile.
Thomas of Woodstock married an heiress Eleanor de Bohun in 1374. In 1377 he was created Earl of Buckingham and in 1380 he became the Earl of Essex by right of his wife. In 1385 his nephew Richard II created him Duke of Aumale and Duke of Gloucester. Thomas’s nephew, Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son) would marry Eleanor de Bohun’s sister Mary – making Thomas both uncle and brother-in-law to Henry of Bolingbroke…demonstrating that sorting out the Plantagenet relationships is not necessarily a straightforward undertaking.
Nor for that matter is sorting out their titles a linear progression. Thomas of Langley’s dukedom of Aumale was given to him by Richard II in 1385 but was then passed on by Richard to Edmund of Langley’s son Edward of Norwich in 1397 when Thomas was marched off to Calais and murdered. However, Edward of Norwich was himself stripped of the title in 1399 when his cousin became Henry IV having usurped Richard II. It’s something of a relief to report that there were no more dukes of Aumale. Henry IV recreated the title as an earldom and gave it to his son Thomas at the same time as creating him Duke of Clarence and as a duke trumps an ear, Thomas is usually known as Duke of Clarence rather than Earl of Aumale. Thomas died without children and the title became dormant (though rather like indigestion an Aumale title does return at a later date.)
The Black Prince died from dysentery and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral where his effigy and shield can still be seen. Lionel of Antwerp was murdered by his Italian in-laws in 1368. I should add that it was never proven that he was poisoned. He was buried in Milan but eventually disinterred and transported home for burial in Clare Priory, Suffolk alongside his first wife. John of Gaunt died of old age at Leicester Castle on 3rd February 1399 and was buried beside Blanche of Lancaster in St Paul’s Cathedral. Edmund of Langley died in 1402 and was buried at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. Thomas of Woodstock was arrested on the orders of his nephew Richard II and placed in the custody of Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk), transported to Calais where he was murdered in 1397. He was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.
Ormrod, W. Mark. (2011) Edward III. Yale: Yale University Press
Weir, Alison. Britain’s Royal Families