Chaucer and the de la Poles.

chaucer3This is one of those surprising connection posts.  It also reflects the way in which society changed as a consequence of the Black Death and the decline of feudalism.  The descendent of an inn keeper became a Duke of Suffolk and was embroiled in the bloody aftermath of the Wars of the Roses.

The Chaucer family were upwardly mobile, of that there’s no doubt.  Geoffrey’s great-grandfather was a inn  in Ipswich, his grandfather was a shoemaker – not a humble cobbler- think wholesale shoe sales with entrepreneurial tendencies; he was also a vintner.  In addition, he had the good sense to marry a pepperer’s widow called Mary Heron which added a further very lucrative string to his bow.

Their son, Geoffrey’s father, John Chaucer was an established merchant and freeman of the City of London.  He was sufficiently wealthy for his aunt to attempt to kidnap him in order to marry his cousin when he arrived at a marriageable age.  The plot was foiled but it demonstrates how much the Chaucer family circumstances had changed in four generations.

As the Chaucers climbed the social rungs they became soldiers and served in royal households.  Geoffrey Chaucer was talented not only as a poet but also as a diplomat.  It helped that he was married to the sister of John of Gaunt’s mistress – Katherine Swynford – which is in itself a fairly unexpected connection but one of history’s more well-known links.

However it is in Geoffrey’s descendants that the really unexpected connection begins to take shape.  Geoffrey’s son Thomas- there are some suggestions that Thomas was in fact John of Gaunt’s son but there is no evidence to confirm this- had a daughter called Alice who married three times.  Her final husband was William de la Pole – who became the Duke of Suffolk.  They had one son – John who married Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth which turned the de la Poles into Plantagenets which was an excellent step up the social ladder in the world before the Wars of the Roses but was not so useful in the Tudor world.

Alice’s grandson John took part in the ill-fated  uprising against Henry VII  with Lambert Simnel.  He was killed.  His younger brother Edmund took on the family title but fled to Europe where he found protection at the court of the Hapsburgs. Unfortunately Philip the Handsome was shipwrecked on the English coast and Henry VII was able to have the troublesome Plantagenet returned to his care and a comfy room in the Tower of London.  In 1513 Henry VIII had Edmund executed.  The third de la Pole brother was called Richard who became a soldier of fortune and was killed at the Battle of Pavia – an event which Henry VIII celebrated.

But who would have thought that any of the three were related to Geoffrey Chaucer?

 

 

Princess Joan of Kent

joan of kentJoan of Kent was the daughter of Prince Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent and his wife Margaret Wake; wife of the Black Prince and mother to King Richard II.  She is unusual in that on the death of her brother, the 3rd Earl of Kent and 4th Baron Wake, Joan inherited the titles in her own right.

She may well be named after her maternal grandmother who was Princess Joan, King John’s illegitimate daughter who married Llewelyn the Great of Gwynedd.  Just to add to the family tangle, Princess Joan was also cousin to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  And Roger Mortimer was the man who was Queen Isabella’s lover and the man responsible for the judicial execution of Joan of Kent’s father who had continued to be loyal to the deposed Edward II (Kent’s half brother).  Once the usurping Earl of March had been done away with and Edward III assumed control of the throne he arranged for Joan and her sister to come to court.  The two girls were raised alongside his own children.  So Joan grew up with the Black Prince.  Eventually Joan became Edward III’s ward.

 

Clearly Joan was an important member of the royal family.  Whoever won her hand in marriage would gain many points in the medieval power game.  Joan had other ideas.  She fell in love with Sir Thomas Holland.  She was twelve.  He was twenty-six. His grandmother was Ela Longespee whose grandfather was the Fist Earl of Salisbury and the illegitimate son of Henry II which puts a whole new meaning on the saying ‘keep it in the family.’  Suffice it to say Thomas Holland wasn’t someone of the make.  His ancestry was as illustrious as that of Joan.

 

The problem was that because the pair had run away to get married it wasn’t strictly legal though very romantic.  Joan, and indeed Thomas, required the king’s consent to get married.  Her guardians at the time wanted Joan to marry their son Sir Thomas Montague, who was the second Earl of Salisbury.  They didn’t see Joan’s marriage to Thomas as a problem.  They simply waited for him to leave the country to go on crusade and then forced Joan to marry their son. In 1341 Holland returned home and wasn’t terribly pleased to discover that his wife was married to another man.  Undeterred he set about winning fame in France in what was to become the Hundred Years War as a military commander and then set about regaining Joan.  Salisbury put up a fight but in the end Pope Clement VI annulled Joan’s marriage to Salisbury.

 

Joan’s firstborn son Thomas Holland who became the Earl of Kent was an ancestor of Katherine Parr which is definitely an unexpected connection – though given the medieval penchant for familial marriages it probably shouldn’t be quite such a surprise. Another son married one of John of Gaunt’s daughters. And yet another child was an ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.  Sir Thomas died in 1360 leaving Joan a rich widow.  She was eventually buried beside her first husband.

 

As well as being wealthy and well-connected with the royal family Joan was also one of the beauties of her age.  She was known as ‘the fair maid of Kent’. Many offers of marriage were made.  Joan turned them all down.  According to one version of events, one of the Black Prince’s men asked  Edward to intercede with Joan on his behalf.  Edward found himself falling in love with his childhood companion.  They were cousins within the degree prohibited by the church so before they could marry a papal dispensation was required.  On her marriage she became the first Princess of Wales.

When she became the Queen Mother her life continued to be the stuff of historical novels and mini-series.  She was so loved by the people of England that when she encountered Wat Tyler and his men at Blackheath they let her pass unharmed with an escort (you can’t help wondering who let such an important personage as the king’s mother meander into the path of revolting peasants?).  In any event the tale demonstrates that as well as being regarded in the light of national treasure she was also conventionally religious.  She was returning from pilgrimage to Canterbury when her path crossed with that of Wat Tyler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very surprising connection

History meets fiction and royal family history in this post.  A clue to the link is the word ‘vampire’ which first entered the English language in 1732.  Any idea yet who the surprising connection might be?

170px-VladOriginalVlad III was born in 1431. In 1442 he was handed over to the Turks along with a brother as a hostage. Five years later Vlad’s oldest brother took up arms against the Turks and his father – Dracul- made a treaty with the Hungarians. There wasn’t a happy ending. Dracul was beheaded by the Hungarians and his eldest son was murdered. It would have to be said that starving Richard II to death in Pontefract Castle or inserting red hot pokers into the royal personage of Edward II seems fairly mild in comparison to the end of Dracul’s son. His eyes were put out and he was buried alive.

The Turks took the opportunity to send young Vlad home where he attempted to seize the throne. He ruled for a short time but when he lost his army he was forced to flee to Moldavia. And that might have been the story of Vlad, son of Dracul except for one thing. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. Vlad was able to make a treaty with Hungary and in 1456- the year of a comet- he took back his throne.

During the next decade he came to be known as Vlad Tepes. Tepes means impaler and he ruled Wallachia (modern day Romania) and bits of Moldavia. The name gives a clue as to how he turned a lawless border kingdom into a model of good behaviour (possibly heavily tinged with overtones of terror). Legend has it that Vlad had a gold cup put by a well in Targoviste so that ordinary people could draw water and drink. It was stolen. When the thief was tracked down, Vlad had the thief’s family impaled. The second time the cup was stolen the thief’s family handed the foolish thief straight over to Vlad. The cup wasn’t stolen for a third time.

He founded the Order of the Dragon to fight infidels and heretics. In fact, he spent most of his reign campaigning against the Ottoman Empire which was seeking to expand into the Balkans during this time. He also sought to improve trading opportunities for his own citizens. His methods weren’t terribly subtle. One of the more memorable strategies involved…impaling. He is famous, or perhaps infamous for impaling people prior to enjoying a hearty breakfast and also for nailing ambassadoral hats to ambassadorial heads. In fact, one way and another he put a whole new meaning on the word head count.

And the surprising link? Well, the Queen can allegedly trace her lineage back to Vlad the Impaler’s half-brother through her grandmother Queen Mary.

 

Surprising Connections

After a while, if you study medieval history as you struggle to untangle who is who it’s perfectly possible to believe two things: first, that all the leading families in the land were related and second, that there were only a hand full of names available. Take Matilda for example. Most famously there’s the Empress Matilda – also known as Maud – there’s even room for confusion there. And then it’s worth taking a look at her mother, also a Matilda- Matilda of Scotland. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Matilda was a good Norman name while the Scottish princess who King Henry I married was baptised by the name Edith. It’s no wonder that I sometimes get very confused about who was who. I know some people study the medieval history of the English monarchy with a family tree at their side. I can see why.

I’m going off track. My surprising connection is much more recent and doesn’t involve anyone royal. Did you know that Josiah Wedgewood -the fine china maker- was the grandfather of Charles Darwin? So the sale of tea services and dinner plates funded the theory of evolution. How wonderful is that?

I should point out that I discovered this surprising fact whilst watching an interesting programme about the River Trent.

It’s set me thinking about other unexpected connections- a sort of historical six degrees of separation. That’s the theory that everyone is a maximum of six steps away from any other person in the world. Obviously once you’re outside six generations it wouldn’t count and monarchs would be a bit of a cheat on the grounds that there are any number of verses to help people remember their links- I resorted to a wooden ruler with the rulers on when I was at school as an aide memoire. I still have it.

I am going to add surprising connections as a category to this blog because I love the unexspectedness of the link. I can’t add a picture at the moment because I’m typing on my iPad and apparently I need another app for that. I will tackle that learning curve tomorrow.