Eleanor was born in 1318 was Edward II’s and Isabella of France’s eldest daughter. Edward was so pleased that he gave the queen 500 marks. For the first six years of her life she and her elder brother John and younger sister Joan remained in the custody of their mother Isabella of France at Wallingford Castle. Her eldest brother Edward also lived there until he was given his own household. Edward ensured that the family were provided for with manors in Macclesfield and the castle and the honour of High Peak, Derbyshire providing income.
In 1324 the little family were taken from the queen and taken into the care of Eleanor de Clare the wife of Hugh Despenser the Younger. Despenser had taken the opportunity of an Anglo-French conflict to state that Isabella, as a Frenchwoman, was a dangerous alien. Her lands were confiscated, her servants sent away or arrested and her children taken from her.
Eleanor and her sister Joan of the Tower left Eleanor’s care and were handed over to Ralph de Monthermer and Isabel Hastings at Marlborough Castle. Isabel was Hugh Despenser’s sister which perhaps explains his decision but equally Ralph was his brother-in-law having been married to Joan of Acre. John remained in Despenser’s household.
In 1328, a year before Isabella and Mortimer were toppled from power, Eleanor found herself in the household of her brother Edward III’s wife Philippa of Hainault. By that time negotiations were underway for a marriage to the Crown of Aragon. This match fell through and Eleanor was betrothed then married to Reinoud II of Guilders. He had something of a reputation but the whole family were aware of the difficulties of royal marriages – Eleanor’s mother, Isabella of France, having had enough of her husband’s male favourites, went to France, began an affair with Edward II’s enemy Roger Mortimer, invaded the country and allegedly arranged for her erstwhile spouse to have a nasty accident with a poker before being toppled from power by her eldest son. Eleanor was nine when her father died.
Eleanor sailed from Sandwich with a luggage full of Spanish cloth of gold and crimson velvet. The people of Guilders were pleased with their new countess – she was an English princess after all and might be able to provide a male heir. Reinoud had four daughters already. She gave birth to a son the following year in 1333 and three years later provided a spare heir called Edward.
In 1336 she was sent from her husband’s court and he began proceedings for an annulment of their marriage. He claimed that she had leprosy. There’s no evidence to support the story, nor for that matter her resolution of the problem. She arrived at court wearing a cloak which she removed to reveal…well… all of her…without a stitch on. She was very clearly not leprous so her husband had to take her back. Reinoud was shown to be a liar. It can’t have helped domestic bliss.
Reinould fell off his horse and died in 1343 leaving a nine-year-old son. Eleanor assumed power as regent but in 1350 her son confiscated all her lands. She retired to a convent where she lived in poverty for five years before she died in 1355 – at the start of the 1360s her son Edward usurped his brother and made himself Duke of Guilders but kept his brother in prison rather than murdering him. After Edward died his elder brother, Reinoud, was released from captivity – by that time he had put on a bit of weight and would be known in the history books as Reinoud the Fat.
Alison Weir, Isabella She-wolf of France, Queen of England