Eleanor of Woodstock

Eleanor of Woodstock

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

All blinged up – summer quiz 1 answers

  1. Cameos were originally carved in Ancient Egypt, somewhere around 15,000 BC. However, it is the Greeks and Romans who we are more likely to associate with cameos. They started to become popular in England during the Elizabethan period but really became very popular during the eighteenth century as a consequence of the Grand Tour.
Elizabeth I cameo from the Royal Collection Trust – it was exhibited in the collection of Queen Caroline, wife of George II.

2) The scarab beetle symbolises rebirth. It is symbolic of Khepri, an Egyptian sun god.

3) The oldest known jewellery is thought to be made from snail shells. A string of snails shell beads was found in a cave in South Africa. It’s thought to be 30,000 years old.

4) The Snettisham Hoard is an Iron Age treasure. It was found in 1948 during ploughing. The area was repeatedly dug and more treasure unearthed. It’s famous for its twelve torcs found in one pit.

5) Bakelite.

6) Cloisonné appears in the jewellery of Ancient Egypt – so back to the pharaohs again.

7) The spelling went wrong! I can only apologise. It should have said penannular which essentially means an incomplete ring – think Celtic and Viking.

Penannular brooch from the Penrith Hoard.

8) Viking women wore turtle brooches – named because of their typical shape.

9) Unicorn horn worked as an antidote to poison – so if you dunked your ring containing the unicorn horn in your goblet you would be completely safe. Lady Margaret Beaufort’s possessions included one such ring.

10) Queen Elizabeth I owned thousands of pearls. The earl of Leicester often gave her ropes of pearls as a New Year’s gift.

11) Alfred’s jewel fitted on the end of an aestel, or pointer, to follow words in a book.

12) Black jewellery associated with mourning – Whitby jet. Apparently when it’s worked it smells of rotting tree.

13) The Cheapside Hoard contains the largest collection of Tudor and Stuart jewellery in the world. it was probably during during the English Civil Wars and its location reflects the fact that it was an area known for its jewellers… wonder what happened to its owner?

14) The Crown Jewels have been kept in the Tower of London since the Fourteenth Century – although of course, Oliver Cromwell sold them off and melted them down so that the only medieval piece is the Coronation Spoon.

15) The Triskelion brooch is part of the Sutton Hoo treasure and can be seen in the British Museum.

16) Birmingham is famous for its jewellery quarter.

17) It’s a pie crust ring – love the name.

18) This is the Middleham Jewel, found in 1985 near to Middleham Castle, the home of Richard III.

19) Hans Holbein is famous for his portraits of Henry VIII and his court but he also designed jewellery.

20) The rosary beads were owned by Henry VIII.

The unfortunate demise of Uhtred of Galloway

King Henry I

Uhtred of Galloway, born in 1128, was the grandson of King Henry I. His mother married to Fergus of Galloway was one of the king’s illegitimate daughters. The alliance on the northern edge of England would have helped to secure the border through an extended kinship network. The same pattern of marriage to strategic border barons and lords can be seen across Henry’s domains. He married one daughter, called Alice, to Matthew of Montmorency. On that occasion the king’s ploy proved ineffective as Matthew later became the Constable of France. Rather than invading and maintaining an army in hostile territory Henry sought to absorb local nobles into a wider affinity of kinship to create a buffer zone. There is also the element of assimilation to consider in the case of Elizabeth Fitzroy, Uhtred, the grandson of a king was part of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy which led to resentment in the border region of Scotland.

As a boy Uhtred was sent to the court of Malcolm IV as a hostage. Malcolm’s mother, Ada or Adeline, was a great-grand daughter of the king. By 1157 Malcom did homage for his possessions in England at Peveril Castle in 1157. At the time Malcolm was granted the earldom of Huntingdon in exchange for Cumberland which he claimed by right of his father and grandfather.

At some point Uhtred married Gunhilda of Dunbar and became a father of a family of five sons and daughters. Through their father they were descended from the Normans and from their mother they were descended from the House of Dunkeld One of his daughters, Christina born about 1170, became the wife of William de Brus, the 3rd Lord of Annandale , making her the two times great grandmother of Robert the Bruce – assuming I’ve counted back up the family tree correctly.

In 1160 Fergus of Galloway died and Uhtred became a co-ruler of Galloway with his brother Gilla Brigte. The fought alongside William the Lion in the Scottish invasion of Northumbria in 1174. The result was a disaster for William the Lion but also for Uhtred. The Galwegians took the opportunity to rebel against the Anglo-Normans. Uhtred’s brother and nephew blinded and castrated him before killing him. Gille Brite took control of all of Galloway and allied himself with Henry II.

Summer quiz 1: All blinged up and no where to go…

It’s been a while, so here is a summer quiz to get you thinking about what you know about historical jewellery.

The Alfred Jewel

1)A piece of jewellery with a raised relief image on a background of different colour – early examples date back to the third century BC. Carnelian shell was often used. What is it?

2) Insect often found on Egyptian jewellery symbolising rebirth?

3) What is the oldest known jewellery thought to be made from?

4) The Snettisham Hoard dates from which period and what collection of neck jewellery is it best known for?

5) What new form of jewellery making material was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland?

6) Where does the earliest cloisonné jewellery come from?

7) What might be described as peninsular – they were popular from the Iron Age onwards?

8) Viking women often wore two brooches at the front of their clothes – what animal is the brooch named after because of its shape?

9) Why might a ring containing a piece of unicorn horn be very helpful in the medieval period?

10) Which gem was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite?

11) What’s the Alfred jewel’s purpose?

12) Which town grew wealthy on mourning jewellery during the Victorian period?

13) In 1912 workmen found the largest collection of Tudor and Stuart jewellery in the world. What part of London is the hoard named after?

14). What collection of jewellery has been kept in the same place since the fourteenth century? The collection includes a twelfth century spoon.

15) Where were the Triskelion brooch, shoulder clasps and enabled belt buckle dug up? And where can you find them today?

16) Which Midlands city is famous for its historic jewellery quarter?

17) What shape ring is the medieval style in the image?

18) Where was the jewel below discovered?

19) Who made jewellery for Henry VIII’s family as well as painting their pictures?

20). Who owned these rosary beads?

Answers next week!

St James’ Abbey, Northampton & William Peverel

Thomas Cromwell – Holbein

Peverel, the alleged son of William the Conqueror, was at Hastings and rewarded by the Conqueror with large land holdings in the Midlands. As well as founding Lenton Priory in Nottinghamshire he also founded St James’ and provided it with land near Duston as well as the mill and advowson of Duston. The advowson means that the monks had the right to appoint the priest at Duston. The abbey grew so that it held the advowson of ten churches as well as farms and other land holdings.

The abbey founded at the beginning of the twelfth century was for the black canons of St Augustine but it wasn’t until 1173 that the buildings in stone were completed. Building work continued into the next century with Henry III supplying two oaks for the building of the church tower. The king also granted rights to an annual fair which continued after the Dissolution in Northampton itself. In 1291 the abbey took control of landholdings outside their walls that belonged to the exiled jewish community and a new building project began.

On 19 May 1536 Cromwell’s commissioners arrived to find the monastery in good repair, the abbot a godly man and the black canons all doing what they should have been doing – so not music to Cromwell’s ears. The king believed that the commissioners had been bribed and although it was valued at more than £200 a year came under the scope of the SuppressionAct of 1536. The abbot died the same year but the canons paid the fine that gained them the right to remain open. It was an eye-watering £333 6s 8d. Eventually Dr Layton arrived at the end of Augst 1538 and the surrender document was signed. Abbot Brokden who oversaw the final years of the abbey was paid a pension of £11 6s 8d and gained the rectory of Watford.

The area where the abbey once stood is still known as St James’ End. The Abbey Works was built on the site of the abbey so there’s not much in the way of evidence above ground.

‘Houses of Austin canons: The abbey of St James, Northampton’, in A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, ed. R M Serjeantson and W R D Adkins (London, 1906), pp. 127-130. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/northants/vol2/pp127-130 [accessed 20 July 2021].

George III and Hannah Lightfoot

Oil painting on canvas, Called Hannah Lightfoot, Mrs Axford (1730-c.1759), ‘The Fair Quakeress’, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton 1723 – London 1792), circa 1756. A painted oval half-length portrait of a young woman, turned to the right, gazing to the right, brown hair dressed back with a pink ribbon, in white satin dress edged with lace and decorated with pink bows, with a pink ribbon frill around her neck.

Hannah Lightfoot, if you believe these things, was the mistress of George, Prince of Wales. She was born in 1730, the daughter of a shoemaker in Wapping. Three or so years later her father died and she was adopted by her uncle Henry Wheeler, a linen draper. So far so good. Hannah, a quaker, married clandestinely outside the Friends. it wasn’t long before she discovered her error and fled her husband, a man named Isaac Axford. This was 1755. There was nothing more heard of Hannah and in 1759 Isaac remarried. he either thought she was dead or since Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed in 1753 he believed that the union was invalid – clandestine marriages being banned at that time.

And then we start moving into the realms of gossip and conspiracy. Wheeler’s merchandise was sold at St James’ Market and it just so happens that the Young Prince of Wales noticed her there…or at a ball…take your pick. The Public Advertiser of 7 September 1770 calls her the ‘Fair Quaker’ and it suggests that she and the Prince of Wales were having an affair. In some versions of the story George persuaded her to marry Axford and in other versions she just marries George and moves to Peckham. In 1866 Mrs Lavinia Ryves went to court claiming that her mother was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland – the brother of George III. Her mother Olive, claimed that George III left her £15,000 as his niece. The claim was thrown out. More documents appeared including a marriage between George and Hannah in 1759 – in two different places! The first at Kew Chapel and the following month, May, in Peckham. The officiant on both occasions was James Wilmot.

There were two sons and a daughter.

And now for the conspiracy theories! in 1845 the parish records of St Anne’s Chapel Kew were stolen and later found in the Thames…without the records. And in Carmarthen the grave of Charlotte Dalton, the grand daughter of Hannah perhaps explains the presence of the George III pipe organ – made for the king in a church with no known royal connections. There was a television programme about it in the 1990s but in truth the genuine family history of the family purporting to be that of George III is a long way distant from royalty.

Tendered, Mary L., The Fair Quaker Hannah Lightfoot and Her Relations with George III (London: 1910)

Lindsay, John, The Lovely Quaker, (London, 1939)

And then we start moving into the mists

Ædric Streona – the Grasper

Edmund Ironside

Ædric was a Mercian who rose in Anglo-Saxon society to marry a daughter of Ætheldred the Unready and as though that weren’t enough managed to get himself voted as one of the BBC History Magazone’s ‘Worst Britains.’ It should be added that he didn’t come from a long line of Steonas it was a nickname given on account of his acquisitiveness.

William of Malmesbury has Ædric as taking a leading part in the massacre of the St Brice’s Day Massacre of the Danes in 1002 which doesn’t necessarily make him the worst person you could think of as an eleventh century historical figure. He began to notch up his chances of being the century’s most villainous person when Eadric first he invited Ælfhelm, earl of Northumbria to be his guest at Shrewsbury. He duly entertained the earl for two or three days, and then went hunting with him. At some point Ædric managed to separate Ælehelm from the rest of group and the town butcher who was also, very conveniently the town executioner, bumped him off. The account can be found in Florence of Worcester who made up what he didn’t know – so how reliable the tale is must be a matter of speculation. He rounded off the murder by arranging to have the earl’s sons blinded. He was made ealdorman of the Mercians in 1007, and by 1009 had married Ædgyth, one of the daughters of King Æthelred. Effectively the murders and the mutilation were part of a change in management. Our next interlude is Oxford in 1015. Ædric invited two Danish Athens to meet with him and then had them murdered as well. Again he was probably acting on the orders of Æthelred. Essentially the man broke every law of hospitality and as such he wasn’t terribly popular even in his own lifetime, let alone with a poll of modern readers.

When Cnut, the Dane, invaded England in the summer 1015, Ædric raised an army and joined forces with Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside. By this time there were two main court factions, one headed by Ædric and the other headed by Edmund. Æthelred for reasons known to himself sided with his son-in-law rather than his son. It was all going horribly wrong in terms of Viking aggression, Æthelred was very unwell and Ædric having a strong sense of self-preservation could see that if Edmund became king that his influence and power would be over, so he turned his coat and joined Cnut. In 1016 he was with Cnut’s army when it invaded Mercia. Earl Uhtred (think Bamborough Castle) found himself in a situation where he had to submit to the Danes. Cnut promptly had him murdered, it is thought on Ædric’s advice given that the two didn’t much like one another and there was a long term Northumbrian feud in the background.

Æthelred conveniently died. Cnut and Edmund slogged it out. Edmund was doing a grand job until our man Ædric met him in Aylesford and persuaded him that a) his turning of coat had been an act of great service on his part because he was secretly working for the Anglo-saxons all the time and b) not to attack the Danes at their base on the Isle of Sheppey. Instead Edmund took his army into Essex. At the battle of Assandun or Ashington in Essex, Ædric led the men of Herefordshire and promptly …turnedcoat….

On 30 November, Edmund died suddenly. Henry of Huntingdon, a later chronicler, blamed Ædric’s son for Edmund’s death. This meant that Ædric was able to go to Cnut and tell him that he was the only king in England. In 1017 Ædric is supposed to have advised Cnut to put Edward’s two sons to death – whether this is true or not is another matter entirely, but by this point in the story most chronicler’s believed that Ædric was responsible for almost every treacherous, murderous and unpleasant royal going on that happened at this Tim. Cnut rewarded Ædric with his old earldom of Mercia, but having met the man and been advised by him was under no illusion as to the man’s inability to demonstrate even a modicum of loyalty. When Ædric was in London the following Christmas he was murdered on Cnut’s orders. And because this is Anglo-Saxon England with a definite hint of the Dane about it – the story ends in a way that makes Game of Thrones look positively restrained – Ædric’s body was thrown over city wall and left to rot.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Whitehead, Annie (2020) Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, Amberley Press, Stroud

Joan of the Tower

Joan and David being greeted by Philip IV of France

Edward III’s youngest sister was called Joan of the Tower. She died in September 1362 at Hertford Castle four years after her mother died. They were both buried in Greyfriars Church in London. She spent the last years of her life living with her mother Queen Isabella (the one who got the She-wolf nickname thanks to deposing her husband and allegations of red hot pokers.) Edward III mourned for his sister and paid every year to commemorate her passing.

Joan, the daughter of Edward II and Isabella of France was seven when she married the son of Robert I of Scotland. The aim was to bring the Scottish Wars of Independence to a close with a treaty and a royal marriage. For the Scots it was an opportunity to be recognised as independent. In 1328 a border was recognised and negotiations for a royal wedding started in earnest. David was three years younger than Joan so the marriage would not be a true one until David reached the age of fourteen. If the marriage wasn’t consummated then the terms of the treaty were void – the treaty also stipulated that replacements could be founding the event of the death of the happy couple. What could possibly go wrong?

The treaty was signed by the English at Northampton in May 1328, the Scots having already signed it in Edinburgh. Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer were behind the treaty so perhaps it’s not a surprise that Edward III didn’t hurry north when his mother and sister went to Berwick where the groom was waiting – though his father Robert I was also absent. After the wedding Joan travelled to Scotland with her new family. Joan gained the name ‘make peace’ which wasn’t necessarily complimentary. The treaty was seen as the cowardly option.

It was two years before Edward III was able to take control of his own kingdom. Edward pursued different policies from his mother and her lover. He supported Edward Balliol’s claim to the Scottish kingdom rather than his own brother-in-law’s simply because he wa snot happy at having conceded independence to the Scots and he thought that the Balliol claimant would accept English overlordship. Needless to say Edward III’s interference in Scottish politics had an effect and before long Edward Balliol was king. King David’s forces gathered against Balliol and he was forced to flee to England. In July Edward III took an army north and on the 19 July 1333 fought the Battle of Halidon Hill. Sir Archibald Douglas’s army was defeated. Archibald was the Guardian of the Realm during David’s minority. To cut a long story short Balliol did homage to Edward III and recognised the English as Scottish overlords.

Moving swiftly on – King David and Joan were sent for their own safety to France. Philip IV was Joan’s cousin once removed. There remained there from 1334 until 1341 when Balliol lost power. Unfortunately David did not know how to rule. He had received no training so there was the usual faction fighting. To make matters worse, Edward III was now waging the Hundred Years War and won the Battle of Crecy in August 1346 triggering a Scottish invasion of England thanks to a Franco-Scottish treaty dating from 1295.

On 17 October 1346 the Scots lost the Battle of Neville’s Cross and King David was taken prisoner. He spent the next eleven years in England. Joan’s position was now more difficult than ever. She had insufficient funds. Queen Isabella provided her with clothes. She was effectively a hostage for the safekeeping of David although history knows that a safe conduct was issued for her to visit David at Windsor in 1348.. To make matters worse – if possible- David fell in love with Katherine Mortimer during his captivity. When he was allowed to return to Scotland he took Katherine with her. Joan packed her own bags and came home when she was issued with another safe conduct from her brother. Edward III gave his sister and annual pension.

The image comes from Froissart’s Chronicles

Robert de Vere, his ugly mistress and the king’s grand daughter

Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland

De Vere was a close friend of Richard II as well as being part of the extended family. He was married to Philippa de Courcy, whose mother was Edward III’s eldest daughter Isabella of Woodstock. He was such a good friend that Richard made him a duke – he was the first non-royal to be granted the title which probably didn’t go down terribly well with Richard’s relations.

During the mid 1380’s de Vere decided that he no longer wished to be married to Philippa, preferring instead to marry his mistress who was one of Anne of Bohemia’s waiting women. When the couple married in 1376 Philippa was under ten years old so when de Vere took up with his mistress and caused a national scandal she was still a young woman. Agnes Lancecrona may have been Czech and although she was one of the queen’s domicellas she had no family in England, no land, no money and no political clout. Monastic chroniclers described her as low born and ugly – they said much the same of Edward III’s mistress, Alice Perrers.

De Vere managed to persuade the Pope to annul his marriage and then it was a case of marrying his mistress and living happily ever after. The only down side to this scenario is that Agnes appears to have been abducted on the orders of the earl who appears not to have taken no for an answer, although equally given that he was a friend of Richard II it’s equally likely that the records were blackened by those wishing to vilify the earl and further discredit Richard II. Armed retainers carried Agnes to Chester where there seems to have been some form of marriage. That winter de Vere lost the Battle of Radcoat Bridge and fled the country. Agnes may have gone with him because there is no further reference to her.

As for Philippa, her mother-in-law, Maud de Ufford (a descendent of Henry III) backed her and in 1389 the annulment was reversed. De Vere never returned to England. He died in 1392 but Philippa was granted an annuity as well as her dower rights. And the Czechs, since we’re on the subject, got the blame for quite a lot aside from adulterous earls…apparently the fashionable pointy shoes of the period were entirely their fault.

https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/individual-studies/agnes-lancecrona-a-bohemian-at-richard-iis-court

Sir Richard Leveson

Sir Richard Leveson was named after his godfather, and cousin, Sir Richard Leveson of Lilleshall – who was one of Elizabeth I’s admirals. The admiral died without children and Richard inherited although his claim was contested by the Curzon family. In 1613 he also inherited his elder brother’s estates in Kent. The family was troubled by debts and contested inheritances so Richard was not particularly wealthy. Following his mother’s death he sold off his Kent estates and made Lilleshall his home.

Lady Katherine Leveson by Cornelius Jansen owned by the Lady Katherine Leveson Foundation

In 1629 he married, against the advice of his friends, Katherine Dudley the daughter of Robert Dudley who abandoned his family in 1605 when the Star Chamber concluded that his father the Earl of Leicester and his mother Douglas, Lady Sheffield had not been married. Poor Katherine was tarnished with the potential slur of illegitimacy herself as her father had declared himself to be clandestinely married to Frances Vavasour when he married Katherine’s mother. Nor did it help that Dudley’s estates, inherited from the Earl of Leicester, were confiscated by the Crown and that Sir Robert Sidney and his family claimed the lands by right of legitimate inheritance. When the matter was resolved he and Katherine were able to build a fine Manor House at Trentham outside Stoke. Trentham like Lilleshall had once been a monastic property. His and Katherine’s home was replaced by a Georgian building in 1690.

In November 1640 Leveson was elected to Parliament where he was initially neutral but eventually came to support the cause of Charles I. He was a cavalry commander and sat in the Oxford Parliament. During this time he and his brother-in-law Robert Holbourne persuaded the king to re-examine the Dudley case which resulted in his mother-in-law Alice Dudley being recognised as Duchess Dudley and his wife the place of a duke’s daughter. Lilleshall Abbey was eventually taken by Parliamentarian forces in 1645 and Leveson found himself imprisoned in Nantwich where his health suffered. In the aftermath of the wars he was forced to pay fines for his support of the royalist cause. When he drew up his will he arranged for trustees to look after his wife’s interest and for his nieces to inherit after her death. He died in 1661 and is buried in Lilleshall Church.

https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/leveson-richard-1598-1661