- Edward was born in 1284 in Carnarvon, according to legend Edward I presented his new-born on a child to the Welsh as a prince who spoke no English.
- Edward’s parents were King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile – remembered by the Eleanor Crosses.
- Edward was supposed to have been killed in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire on 21 September 1327. By Tudor times he was supposed to have met his demise by the insertion of a red hot poker in an unmentionable and eyewaterinw location – a reference to his alleged homosexuality. Whilst medieval chroniclers placed the blame on Roger Mortimer’s doorstep no one suggested an incident with a poker although by 1326 his enemies did accuse him of sodomy. Ian Mortimer suggested in 2005 that he did not die. He pointed out that only the Brut written at the time gave his death as 1326. The discovery of the Fieschi Letter in the 1870s cast doubt on the events that history generally accepts as having happened and there is contemporary evidence that Edward was still alive at the end of 1327. There are two theories and it is up to you to consider the evidence provided and weigh the evidence to decide which one is more likely.
- Edward granted the earldom of Cornwall to his friend Piers Gaveston but not until after his father died.
- Pope Boniface VIII arranged the marriage between Edward II and Isabella of France to bring an to the warring over Gascony which Edward claimed as his.
- The Lords Ordainers demanded that Edward II reform his household and get rid of his favourite. They passed a series of ordinances – hence the name.
- Battle of Bannockburn June 1314 – Edward II didn’t win but he is on record as digging a lot of ditches.
- Thomas of Lancaster was executed on 22 March 1322 near Pontefract Castle following the Battle of Boroughbridge which took place on 16 March 1322.
- Hugh Despenser the Elder was the only baron who remained loyal to Edward II throughout his life. His son Hugh Despenser the Younger became Edward’s hated favourite. On the Marches his desire for land resulted in the so-called Despenser War.
- Isabella of France became Edward II’s wife.
- Isabella’s lover was Roger Mortimer of Wigmore.
- Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer invaded England at Orwell in Suffolk.
- Hugh Despenser the Elder was executed at Bristol then fed to the dogs.
- Edward II is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. Robert Curthose, the deposed Duke of Normandy, brother of William Rufus and Henry I is also buried in Gloucester Cathedral. At the time it was St Peter’s Abbey.
- Edward had four legitimate children, Edward who became King Edward III and started the Hundred Years War; John of Eltham who died aged twenty; Eleanor of Woodstock who married Reginald or Renauld II, Count of Guilders and was forced, according to the story, to show that she didn’t have leprosy and Joan of the Tower who was married to King David II of Scotland to bring an end to the Anglo-Scottish Wars. Edward also had an illegitimate son called Adam.
- Edmund of Woodstock, the Earl of Kent , Edward’s half brother by Margaret of France, was executed in 1330 for his part in a plot to depose Mortimer and Isabella. The death of his uncle was one of the factors which spurred seventeen-year-old Edward to act against his mother and her lover.
- The English and the French fought over Gascony. Edward I spent many years in Gascony. It was part of his personal possessions as was Aquitaine.
- Edward II kept a camel at Langley.
- He took a lion on campaign to Scotland.
- Christopher Marlowe wrote a play about the monarch ensuring he remained within the public eye.
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
Thomas of Brotherton was the oldest son of Edward I’s second wife Margaret of France. Margaret was never crowned. Her son Thomas was born on 1 June 1300 near Pontefract. It was a difficult labour which is why Thomas is named after Thomas Becket. Margaret and her ladies prayed that the sainted bishop would intercede on Margaret’s behalf for a safe delivery.
A year after he was born Thomas had his own household. When he was two years old Edward I created his new son the Earl of Norfolk. As readers of the History Jar have probably come to expect by now, there isn’t much information about Thomas’s childhood other that what can be gleaned from the account books.
On the 7th July 1307 Edward I died and Thomas’s half brother, Edward, became king in their father’s stead. Thomas was just seven years old but he was heir tot he throne. Not that Edward II lavished titles and estates upon his little brother. Edward I had meant to make Thomas the Earl of Cornwall – that particular title went to Piers Gaveston. It didn’t impress Margaret of France (pictured above) or other members of the royal family that such an important title should be wasted on a favourite like Gaveston.
Eventually, in 1312, after the birth of his own heir, Edward II confirmed his half brother as Earl of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England. He also appears in the legal record as being an executor of his mother’s will. We also have records of Thomas’s half sister Mary visiting him regularly when he was a child. Mary was a nun at Amesbury.
The conformation of Thomas as Earl of Norfolk would normally have made him politically important. It was confirming his seat on the royal board. However he was still only twelve years old at the time. As he grew to maturity the barons became increasingly restive. Political uncertainty ultimately gave rise to rebellion. Interestingly as a young man he was at the funeral of Piers Gaveston. Edward II clearly felt that his brother should be seen to side with him at that point in time. As Thomas grew up he demonstrated the Plantagenet temper. He also fell victim to Hugh Despenser’s greed – he was required to hand over valuable land to the Royal favourite including Chepstow which had a lucrative taxation on imported wine. It is perhaps not surprising that he allied himself to his sister-in-law Isabella of France and took the opportunity to do a spot of looting from the Despensers along the way. Thomas was one of the judges that found both the Despensers guilty. He then settled into the new regime with the bonus of several large grants and estates.
The ties that held Thomas to Isabella and Mortimer were further strengthened when Thomas’s son Edward married Beatrice Mortimer, the daughter of Isabella’s lover Roger. However, within three years Norfolk had changed his allegiance to his nephew who was of age to rule without the regency of his mother and Roger Mortimer.
Ultimately Thomas became on of his nephew’s advisors when in 1330 Edward III reclaimed the throne for himself. Thomas was after all, the Earl Marshal of England. However, it appears that his nephew preferred other advisors than his uncle.
Sometime between his sixteenth and twentieth birthdays Thomas married Alice Hales of Harwich. Her father was the coroner for Norfolk. It seems odd that the son of a king would marry so far down the social ladder. They had three children – a boy and two girls. Their son Edward died without children so the earldom of Norfolk was passed to Thomas’s daughter Margaret who is know in history as Margaret Marshal because the Dukes of Norfolk hold the title of Earl Marshal of England. Two of Margaret’s descendants would marry Henry VIII.
As for Thomas’s other daughter, she was called Alice. Alice was married to Edward Montagu. His brother, William, was one of Edward III’s favourites. It may have been that Thomas was trying to rebuild his political capital. She died in 1352 – murdered by her own husband.
Thomas died on the 20th September 1338 and is buried in the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. He does not appear to have been very popular or very successful for that matter.
Eleanor de Clare was the eldest of Gilbert de Clare 7th Earl of Gloucester’s three daughters. She was also the eldest granddaughter of Edward I, her mother being Joan of Acre. You would think under those circumstances that her marriage would have been fairly auspicious. Unfortunately her royal grandfather owed a Marcher Lord 2,000 livres. Eleanor was what you might describe as “settlement of the debt” that Edward I owed to Hugh Despenser the Older. Her wedding to Hugh Despenser the Younger took place in 1306. It included a dowry that settled an annual income on Eleanor. She was thirteen years old. The Despensers were an old family but they were somewhat cash strapped. Eleanor gave their family added prestige, took them a step closer to court and there was also the promise of future patronage.
When Edward II became king in 1307 it appears that Eleanor’s fortunes looked up. There is evidence of land settlement and in 1308 she appears as a lady-in-waiting to Edward’s new queen, Isabella of France. Not only that but her young uncle paid for her place at court. At around this time Eleanor’s sisters were also married off. Margaret found herself married to the king’s favourite Piers Gaveston. Meanwhile Eleanor was producing a family. By 1325 she had nine children.
In 1314 the family’s fortunes changed with the death of Eleanor’s brother Gilbert. For the next three years they waited for Gilbert’s wife Matilda to give birth. She insisted that she was pregnant throughout. Eventually though the three sisters, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth were declared co-heiresses. Glamorgan fell into Hugh Despencer’s lap and his power at court increased accordingly when Eleanor was named sub jure Lady Glamorgan. Unfortunately he was land and power greedy. A Welsh land dispute with Roger Mortimer ended in the imprisonment of Roger and his uncle in the Tower not to mention a nationwide reputation that eventually resulted in Edward II’s wife Isabella taking the opportunity to flee to France with her eldest son Prince Edward.
Hugh tricked his sister-in-law Elizabeth out of some of her inheritance – the Welsh lands of Usk. Elizabeth was captured by her brother-in-law and sent to Barking Abbey. Her husband died and then Edward II “persuaded” her to swap Usk for Despencer’s lands in the Gower. She only got her property back in 1326 when Isabella of France and her lover, Roger Mortimer (who escaped the Tower and went to France) invaded in the name of Prince Edward.
It would have to be said that the whole family situation of the de Clare girls looks rather fraught given the land grabbing tendencies of Hugh and the fact that he and Piers Gaveston were both Edward II’s favourites. Historians are conflicted as to the extent of the relationships but it must have made life difficult and if it wasn’t then the arrival of Isabella in 1326 from France with an army at her back certainly made life very difficult for Eleanor.
The Despencers were captured. Eleanor’s father-in-law was hanged whilst her husband was put on trial and brutally executed on the 24 November 1326 in Hereford. As the wheel of fortune turned up for Elizabeth it turned down for her sister. Eleanor was carted off to the Tower and three of her daughters were forced to become nuns. Even more cruel they weren’t even sent to the same nunnery. Margaret Despencer who was probably a toddler at the time was sent to Watton. Her sister Eleanor went to Sempringham and the third daughter, Joan, was sent to Shaftesbury. This was perhaps revenge for the fact that Edward II had sent three of Roger Mortimer’s daughters to live as nuns in 1324. However, the Mortimer girls hadn’t been forcibly veiled whereas the Despencer sisters, even the toddler, would only ever know the world of the nunnery.
Eleanor de Clare remained the Tower for two years with her youngest children.. When Eleanor was eventually released her dower lands were restored to her making her a rich widow. She was promptly abducted from Hanley Castle by William de la Zouche who had participated in the Siege of Caerphilly Castle which had seen the capture of her first husband. She was promptly re-arrested and thrown back into the Tower on charges of jewellery theft. Her lands were confiscated and she was told that she would have to pay a fine of £50,000 to get them back.
Interestingly when Edward III toppled Roger Mortimer in 1330 Eleanor did not petition for an annulment of her “forced” marriage. The fine for the return of her lands was dropped to £5,000 and it still wasn’t paid when she died.
You’d have thought that would have been sufficient drama for any woman but even after 1330 she wasn’t allowed any peace. A knight called Sir John Grey claimed that he had married her before de la Zouche arrived on the scene. Edward III and the Pope rejected Grey’s evidence -though we don’t know what it was as it has disappeared from the record.
The image of the naked lady with no clothes on, to be found in one of the windows of Tewkesbury Abbey (where she’s buried), is thought to be Eleanor.
Eleanor died on the 30 June 1337.
The 7th Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert, the Red Earl, was born in 1243. He took part of the second Barons War in 1262 which saw the barons rise against King Henry III. He was one of Simon de Montfort’s supporters and took part in the Battle of Lewes. They were turbulent times and although de Montford effectively toppled the Crown it wasn’t long before there was a falling out amongst the barons. This resulted in Gilbert changing sides and fighting on the side of Prince Edward at the Battle of Kenilworth and the Battle of Evesham where de Montfort was killed.
When Henry III died whilst Edward I was in Sicily, de Clare found himself Guardian of England. On the home front however, the story remained rather more complicated. Gilbert was married to his first wife in 1253 when he was just ten years old. She was Alice de Lusignan – King Henry III’s niece – a possible reason for the relatively leniency with which Gilbert found himself being treated by Henry III during the baron’s war. Having said that the pair separated in 1267. Apparently Alice had taken a shine to her cousin young Prince Edward who would one day be Edward I. The marriage was annulled in 1285.
In 1290 Gilbert married the twenty-two year old Joan of Acre, a daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile (not sure how that works on the laws of consanguinity marrying the daughter of your first wife’s cousin –dispensation was required.) The pair had a son also called Gilbert and three daughters; Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth. He died in 1295 and was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.
Gilbert junior was born in 1291 and became the 8th Earl of Gloucester when he was four. Just a reminder here – his grandfather was Edward I who had some seventeen children in total by his two wives. Joan of Acre was born in 1272 whilst Edward was on crusade. He was raised, in part, at court in the household of his grandfather’s second wife Margaret of France.
It is sometimes thought that he was in his uncle Prince Edward of Carnarvon’s household. In 1305 there was a dispute that resulted in Edward I cutting his son’s household. The prince wrote to his sister Elizabeth to ask her to write to their step-mother to ask their father to restore two members of his household to him: one was Gilbert de Clare the other was Piers Gaveston. The following year both men were knighted prior to war with Scotland at the so-called Feast of the Swans. However, and you probably shouldn’t be surprised by this, there was a second Gilbert de Clare who was approximately three years older than Prince Edward and it was he who was in the prince’s household. The two Gilberts were cousins – but let’s not get into the genealogy.
Unfortunately once Edward of Carnarvon became king our Gilbert became increasingly disgruntled with the king’s relationship with Gaveston and in 1310 became one of the Lords Ordainers seeking to reform the king’s household resulting in Gaveston’s exile from England in 1311 and his death in 1312 when he returned to England – Edward II having announced that Gaveston’s sentence was unlawful and effectively reducing the country to a state of civil war. Gilbert as a royal relation was able to smooth troubled waters between the two groups. He would go on, with the demise of Gaveston to be one of Edward’s loyal supporters. Possibly one of the reasons for his dissatisfaction was that when he inherited his titles at the age of sixteen he was quickly immersed in border warfare serving in border warden roles and as Captain of Scotland.
On 24 June 1314 Gilbert was part of his uncle’s army in Scotland at Bannockburn. He was killed. The body was sent back to England with due honour. He was only twenty-three had no children so the de Clare estates were divided between his three sisters who were now co-heiresses.
There is a final sting in the tale of this post. In 1308 Gilbert married Maud or Matilda de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster. The pair did apparently have a son called John in 1312 who did not survive long after his birth. However, when her husband died in 1314 Maud claimed she was pregnant so that the estates of the Earldom of Gloucester could not be split. The law required that everyone wait for a posthumous child to be born. Three years later it was decided that she really couldn’t have been pregnant for twice as long as an elephant and the earldom was broken up between Gilbert’s three sisters.
Maud died in 1320 and was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey beside her husband who is pictured in one of the abbey’s stained glass windows as depicted at the start of this post.
So who are the de Clare family from yesterday’s post who seemed to be loitering in the New Forest when William Rufus met his end? Complicated – that’s what rather than who. Richard son of Gilbert arrived with the Conquest. Gilbert was a son of the Count of Brionne. Gilbert was actually one of Duke William’s guardians during his childhood and was killed in a bid to control William. Richard fled Normandy along with his brother only returning when Duke William was able to control the duchy. He was also one of Duke William’s extended family (Gilbert’s father was one of Duke Richard of Normandy’s illegitimate sons).
Richard Fitz Gilbert was with the Conqueror in 1066 and did rather nicely from the whole affair, acquiring more than 170 holdings including Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk. The Domesday Book identifies him as a very wealthy man indeed. Not only rich but trusted by William who left him in England with the justicar role while he returned to Normandy in 1073. It was in this capacity that Richard helped to suppress the so-called Earls Rebellion in 1075.
Whilst more of Tonbridge Castle stands today than the castle at Clare in Suffolk, it was at Clare that the family chose to make their administrative seat- hence the de Clare element of the name. All that remains today of the castle is the motte – the mound of earth on which the wooden keep once stood. It must have been an impressive sight given that the motte is over 60ft tall today and can be something of a surprise to a casual visitor to the town. In the thirteenth century the wooden keep was replaced with a stone shell keep structure.
Rather interestingly, after William the Conqueror died Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare (to give him his full name) was one of the Norman lords who rebelled against William Rufus in favour of Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose. He died in 1090 having retired to the priory at St Neot’s in 1088. He and his wife had re-founded the priory in the years after the Conquest and it should be noted that the de Clares were important monastic patrons wherever they held land.
Despite his retirement from worldly affairs Richard de Clare left a tribe of powerful sons. There were at least six of them as well as two daughters, not to mention a wife, Rohese Gifford, who owned land in her own right. The de Clare family were well placed for power – they were related to the ruling house and were extremely wealthy. They were marriageable and therefore families sought alliances with the de Clares – which meant it wasn’t long before they were related to most of the other powerful Anglo-Norman families in the country adding to their political power.
Roger, the eldest son, inherited the Norman de Clare land. Gilbert who was the second of the de Clare sons inherited the English estates. In 1088 Gilbert and his brother Roger rebelled against William Rufus at Tonbridge. William promptly turned the motte and bailey castle into rubble – let’s not forget it was a wooden structure at the time. Gilbert and Roger were captured. Interestingly the family despite having rebelled against the king; being suspected of being involved with Bishop Odo’s conspiracies in 1083; and were undoubtedly part of Robert de Mowbray’s conspiracies against William Rufus, kept hold of their lands.
Gilbert turns up in William Rufus’s army fighting the Scots. The de Clare brothers appear at William’s side as part of the hunting party in August 1100 when he was killed. Had it been an ordinary hunting party it would have been evidence that the de Clares were reconciled with William but since William suffered his rather nasty accident it is almost inevitable that historians point out the earlier hostility as circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy. In 1101 Gilbert was at court with Henry I. It could all be perfectly innocent but there are rather a lot of coincidences – sadly all without the necessary documentary evidence to suggest conspiracy.
Gilbert remained hugely wealthy and influential. He founded Cardigan Priory having been given the area around Cardigan by Henry I (no thought was given to what the local population might think- essential you have the land providing you can keep hold of it!). Gilbert did secure Cardigan and Aberystwyth. It is almost impossible to write about Welsh Castles without mentioning the de Clare family.
Brother Robert, another of the hunting party was the Baron of Little Dunmow and steward to Henry I. Walter de Clare would found Tintern Abbey. He was a marcher lord in South Wales having been granted land by Henry I near Chepstow.
Between the brothers there were many children ensuring that de Clares married into important families, acquired land and a name for themselves but that’s an entirely different story which should include Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke better known to History as “Strongbow.” His daughter married William Marshal. The two families would intermarry thereafter. The Earls of Gloucester were de Clares and stood surety for the Magna Carta. Eventually the de Clares would marry back into the royal family with the 7thEarl of Gloucester – another Gilbert de Clare- marrying Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I ensuring that the family were knee deep in the Scottish Wars of Independence and Edward II’s familial difficulties over the Despensers. This must have caused some head scratching as Hugh Despenser the Younger’s wife, Eleanor, was another member of the de Clare family.
Eleanor was the 8thearl’s sister. She and her two other sisters became co-heiresses after the 8thearl died at Bannockburn. She was sent to the Tower when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer deposed Edward II. Three of her daughters were forced to become nuns at that time. Eleanor’s story is a complicated and cruel one – she escaped only by signing over most of her de Clare inheritance to the Crown. It was only when Edward III took control of his throne that Eleanor was able to regain her lands (she’s going to get a longer post another day.)
Whilst we’re at it let’s not forget Walter Tyrel the man who is supposed to have shot William Rufus – he was Richard de Clare’s son-in-law. All of which brings us back to the starting point – was William Rufus’s death an accident? Yes – it still might have been but when you start to look at the de Clare family and their previous relationship with William you do have to wonder.
And before I forget Gilbert Fitz Richard’s son was also called Gilbert. His wife was Isabel de Beaumont. The Beaumont family had also fought at the Battle of Hastings but more important to this post is the co-incidence that Isabel was a mistress of Henry I – what a tangled web.
Brinkburn is an Augustinian Priory. Usually I’m not terribly keen on buildings that have been restored during the Nineteenth Century. The Victorians were not always terribly sensitive in the changes that they made. However, in this instance the priory church is a truly splendid thing.
Augustinian monasteries, as a rule, were always smaller than their Benedictine and Cistercian counterparts. Exceptions include Carlisle and Hexham. The twelfth century was the apex of the monastery building period in England and Brinkburn fits nicely into the timeframe being founded in the early 1130s, during the reign of Henry I, by William Bertram.
The first prior came from Pentney Priory in Norfolk. In addition to their riverside dwelling which can be accessed down a tree dappled hill the monks also owned approximately 3500 acres nearby. They had other pastureland elsewhere in Northumberland as well as buildings in Newcastle including an inn. Pilgrim Street in Newcastle is supposed to have gained its name from the pilgrims who lodged there. They came to worship at Our Lady’s chapel at Jesmond. There was also a Franciscan Friary where there were supposed to be relics of St Francis. In the copy of a grant of a house to Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland, dated 1292, this street is called Vicus Peregrinorum. In 1564, after the Dissolution of the monasteries the inn, or one of the inns on the street, was mentioned for coining false money. In any event whilst the canons at Brinkburn may have not had the huge amount of acres of their Cistercian counterparts they knew how to turn a profit as in addition to the inn they also owned a shop in Corbridge. More traditionally they gained income from bequested advowsons, that is to say the right to appoint the priest, at Felton and Longhorsely.
So far, so straight forward. Unfortunately Brinkburn is north of Newcastle and it became apparent during the reign of Edward II that living anywhere near the Scottish border wasn’t necessarily a very good idea. In 1315 Robert Bruce destroyed Brinkburn and its thirteen canons had to flee their home and beg for their bread.
The story goes that on one occasion the Scots raided as far south as Brinkburn but the priory was spared because of a thick fog. The raiders passed them by. The canons being a grateful sort of bunch rang the bells to give thanks to God and in so doing directed the Scots to priory. The canons having realised that ringing the bell wasn’t necessarily the smartest move they could have made had fled to the other side of the River Coquet. The story continues to say that as the Scots burned the priory the bell which had summoned them ended up in the river – I’m not sure if this was as the result of the fire or some enterprising Scottish person trying to remove them for their scrap value. In yet another version of the story it was the monks who hid the bell in the river – presumably not wanting one of their number to ring it anymore. And finally, the poor monks were so strapped for cash that they sold the bells to the Bishop of Durham but when they moved the bells up the hill one of them ended up in the river. Take your pick!
The canons must have been delighted by the news that the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Unfortunately three years later the Black death arrived and killed half of Northumberland. Things really seem to have gone from bad to worse for the canons. During the early years of the Fifteenth century they suffered from reiver cattle raids and in 1484 the Scots turned up again and having stripped the place burned it to the ground. Then there was the murder. In 1521 Richard Lighton, one of the Canons, was killed by Humphrey Lisle in a property dispute.
When Cromwell’s visitors arrived the priory was valued at only £69 so it was suppressed in 1536. There were only six canons left at that time. After the dissolution Brinkburn changed hands several times. On two occasions, Brinkburn’s owners lost their heads. For a fair portion of the time the property was in the hands of the Fenwick family. Eventually it passed into the hands of Richard Hodgson. His son did some demolition work on the old manor house which contains the west range of the monastery. The manor house he rebuilt was designed to be a picturesque building so much of the monastic masonry remains in situ.
The style of the church, for those folk who like to know these things, is somewhere between Norman and Gothic – the correct term is transitional.
Eneas Mackenzie, ‘The present state of Newcastle: Streets within the walls’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 160-182. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp160-182 [accessed 6 July 2018].
English Heritage (2003) Brinkburn Priory
I had thought three parts to this little series but having written today’s post which is largely about the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries I shall be extending it to four parts.
Generation 10 of Topcliffe/2 of Alnwick:
Henry Percy Junior was only sixteen when his father died in 1314. Initially John de Felton held his lands in ward but by the time he was twenty Edward II had granted Henry more lands in Northumbria than his father held. These had been part of Patrick Earl of March’s territory. Patrick was Scottish and the land offer reflects the way in which northern territories fluctuated between Scotland and England during troubled times. Henry was no more impressed with Edward II’s choice of male favourite than his father had been nor with the foreign policy and military prowess that saw the Scots raiding deep into Yorkshire.
In no particular order, Percy conspired against the Despensers and was made governor of both Pickering and Scarborough Castle. The northern Percy powerhouse was further built upon when he married into the Clifford family and Edward III granted him Warkwarth Castle. In 1346 he was one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham against the Scots which must have been a bit irritating given that he had gone to Scotland in 1327 to help negotiate a peace treaty with them.
Generation 3 of Alnwick:
The next generation Henry Percy was at the Battle of Crecy – so should probably be regarded as the Hundred Years War Percy. His correct title was the 3rdBaron Percy of Alnwick. His first wife was Mary of Lancaster – the best way of thinking of her is as Blanche of Lancaster’s aunt. Blanche was the first wife of John of Gaunt who is commemorated in the Book of the Duchess by Chaucer and whose land ensured that Gaunt was the wealthiest man in the country. Mary was a daughter of Henry III. With each marriage the Percy family made the wealth and the prestige of the family rose, as did the amount of land that they held and their proximity to the throne.
Generation 4 of Alnwick – 1st Earl of Northumberland:
The Percy family now found itself elevated to the earldom of Northumberland – after all Mary of Lancaster was a Plantagenet princess so it is only reasonable to suppose that her first born son should have a sufficiently impressive title. The first earl, yet another Henry Percy, was born in 1341. He supported Edward III and then he supported Richard II in his various official capacities on the borders. It was Richard who created him an earl at his coronation in 1377. Unfortunately despite being having been married to Margaret Neville, Percy was distinctly un-amused when his power base was eroded by Richard II who created his rival (and nephew-in-law) Ralph Neville the earl of Westmorland. The First Earl of Northumberland now had a hissy fit because of the creation of the First Earl of Westmorland. He swapped sides. Instead of backing Richard II against his enemies he supported Henry of Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son, against Richard II. Bolingbroke duly became Henry IV and Percy found himself swaggering around with the title Constable of England.
Unfortunately in 1403 the earl swapped sides once more. He was slightly irritated by the outcome of the Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402. It was an English-Scots match that the English won. Percy stood to make rather a lot of cash from ransoming his Scottish prisoners. Unfortunately Henry IV was feeling the financial pinch and besides which felt that the Percys had too much power in the north. So he demanded all the hostages and gave Percy a fraction of their value. The earl was underwhelmed but didn’t immediately voice his irritation.
Having been given the task of subduing the Welsh in 1403, Percy and his son Harry Hotspur now joined with Owain Glyndwr. Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 but Henry IV couldn’t pin anything on the earl who hadn’t taken part in the battle. The most that Henry IV could do was remove the office of constable from Percy who didn’t learn the lesson and continued to conspire against Henry IV. In 1405 Percy decided to take a long holiday in Scotland for the sake of his health. He took Hotspur’s son with him. The earl returned to England in 1408 where he managed to get himself killed at the Battle of Bramham Moor near Tadcaster. This was the final battle in the Percy family rebellion against cousin Henry IV.
2nd Earl of Northumberland:
Hotspur’s son another Henry had spent most of his childhood in Scotland because both his father and grandfather were at loggerheads with the monarch. Very sensibly after his grandfather was killed the second earl remained safely in Scotland. It was only when Henry IV died that Henry Percy took the opportunity to be reconciled with the Crown. He was officially recognised as the 2ndearl in 1413.
He arrived back in England and settled down to a spot of feuding with his Neville relations. The Nevilles, particularly Richard Neville (aka the Kingmaker) and his father the Earl of Salisbury were associated with Richard of York so naturally the Percy family supported Henry VI and the Duke of Somerset. Ironically the 2ndearl’s mother was Elizabeth Mortimer, the grand-daughter of Lionel of Antwerp, so you would have thought that he would have been more sympathetic to Richard of York who based his claims on his descent from Lionel. Not only that but his return to the earldom had been smoothed by Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. She also arranged his marriage to Eleanor Neville – her second daughter with the Earl of Westmorland – making the Earl of Salisbury Percy’s brother-in-law and the Kingmaker his nephew. Talk about a tangled family web.
I’ve blogged about Eleanor Neville and the Battle of Heworth Moor before so there is no need to write about it again. Enough to say that it demonstrates the depths to which the feud had sunk. And things were about to get worse. The earl was born in 1393 and died on 22 May 1455 at the First Battle of St Albans. It was a comprehensive victory for the Yorkists and according to the chronicles of the time an opportunity for Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to settle some personal scores – the death of the Earl of Northumberland being on his “to do” list. Obviously it didn’t help the relations between the Percy and Neville families as the Wars of the Roses spiralled towards the bloodiest battle in English history.
3rd Earl of Northumberland:
Another Henry Percy, swearing vengeance for his father’s death was one of the commanders of the army that surrounded Richard of York and the Earl of Salisbury at Wakefield. The deaths of Richard, his son Edmund and the Earl of Salisbury on the 30 December 1460 were part of the continuing vendetta.
The victors of Wakefield were now joined by Margaret of Anjou’s army. They marched south and won the Second Battle of St Albans but stopped short of taking London. Various armies marched back and forth but for the purposes of this post the next time we need to focus is at the Battle of Ferrybridge – 27 March 1461. Northumberland was supposed to stop the Yorkists from crossing the River Aire at Castleford whilst Lord Clifford held Ferrybridge for the Lancastrians. Lets just say that Northumberland arrived at Castleford late allowing Lord Fauconberg and his men to cross the river and come around behind the Lancastrians who retreated to Dintingdale (28th March) where Lord Clifford was killed by an arrow.
On the 29thMarch 1461, blinded by a snowstorm the 3rdEarl commanded the van of the Lancastrian army. Closing with the enemy he was killed.
Edward IV was now the only king in England and issued an act of attainder against all the Lancastrian nobility who had fought at Towton. Edward now rewarded the Nevilles who supported the House of York and punished the Percys who supported the house of Lancaster.
John Neville, Earl of Northumberland.
John was the Kingmaker’s younger brother. He was created Earl of Northumberland in 1464 after he had spent three years finishing off the Lancastrian threat in the north. Unfortunately for John, the Kingmaker became increasingly dissatisfied with Edward IV who, in return, became increasingly suspicious of his cousin. In 1470 Edward removed John from post and gave him the tile the Marquis of Montagu and assorted lands to compensate for the loss of the earldom of Northumberland. It did not go down well with the Neville family who did not see any need for the balance of power in the North to be restored by the return of the Percy family.
Edward was forced to flee his realm in October 1470 but returned in 1471. John had not regained his title to Northumberland despite his brother effectively ruling England with a puppet king in the form of Henry VI on the throne. Rather than attack Edward when he landed at Ravenspur, Neville simply shadowed the returned Yorkist king. Ulitmately Neville would died at the Battle of Barnet along with his brother.
4th Earl of Northumberland:
Henry Percy (what a surprise) was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison in the aftermath of Towton (he was about 12 at the time) and from there he was sent to the Tower in 1464. In 1469 after swearing fealty to Edward IV he was released. He then set about trying to get his estates returned. He petitioned for the reversal of his father’s attainder though this was not granted by Parliament until 1473.
Interestingly his wife was Maud Herbert, the girl who Henry Tudor should have married had events not unfolded as they did in 1470. They had eleven children.
Henry Percy went back to doing what the Earls of Northumberland had been doing for a very long time – i.e. ruling vast tracts of land and skirmishing with the Scots. He held many of the important government posts in the north of England which were traditional in his family including from 10 May 1483, as protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confirmed the fourth earl of Northumberland’s appointment as warden-general of the east and middle marches ‘during the space and time of a whole year’, after which it was renewed for five months but perhaps it would appear not as much power from Richard III as he had hoped. Naturally enough he fought at Bosworth where he commanded the right wing of Richard III’s army. The Percys were naturally Lancastrian by inclination. Percy’s father and grandfather had died for Henry VI. Some historians says that Percy betrayed Richard III by holding his forces back from action. Percy’s northern levies weren’t committed to the battle.
If Northumberland had been a metaphorical spoke in Richard’s wheel he wasn’t very well rewarded by Henry Tudor who now became Henry VII. Northumberland, along with the earls of Westmoreland and Surrey was taken into custody and kept in prison for several months, being released only under strict conditions of good behaviour. He was restored to his position as warden but with curtailed powers. Henry may not have trusted him but Percy knew how to protect England’s northern border. He was also at hand to help defeat the Yorkist forces that gathered during the Lambert Simnel rebellion in 1487.
In 1489 Northumberland was part of the king’s administration gathering £100,000 of tax. This led to the Yorkshire Rebellion. Northumberland had to deal with the resistance of Yorkshiremen to the tenth of incomes demanded for Henry’s Breton war and for the raising of a force against the Scots. Things can’t have gone well for the Earl as his own tenants were up in arms. He was so alarmed that on Saturday, 24 April, he wrote to Sir Robert Plumpton from Seamer, close to Scarborough, ordering him to secretly bring as many armed men as he could to Thirsk by the following Monday. It didn’t do him much good.
On Wednesday, 28 April, having gathered a force estimated at eight hundred men, he came into conflict with the commons, whose ringleader was one John a Chamber, near Thirsk, at a place variously called Cockledge or Blackmoor Edge, and was killed. Popular history claims it wasn’t so much the tax collection that irritated the locals as the fact that as good Yorkshire men their loyalty lay with Richard III.
Margaret Holland, duchess of Clarence was born in the later part of the fourteenth century, the daughter of Thomas Holland. He was the fifth earl of Kent and his half-uncle was Edward II through his mother Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, meaning that Margaret Holland was the great granddaughter of Edward I if I’ve counted back right. This is important because Margaret Holland whose family had a bit of a torrid time when Richard II was deposed had married John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, the eldest illegitimate son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford meaning that she was the other more famous Margaret Beaufort’s granny.
Margaret Holland’s husband seems to have been a bit more on the ball that her Holland brother and uncle who managed to get themselves executed in a plot in 1400 to remove Henry IV from the throne. John Beaufort benefited from his half-brother’s rise to power by becoming Constable of England before he died in 1410 leaving his wife a wealthy widow with a royal pedigree and a title.
Margaret now married her husband’s half nephew – Thomas of Lancaster, the second son of Henry IV- just in case the waters weren’t already muddy enough. Thomas, in the way of younger sons, wasn’t terribly well off and there was a fairly complicated dispensation required before the marriage could go ahead because, of course, they were related twice over in that they were both descended from Edward I – i.e. consanguinity and they were related through marriage – i.e. affinity.
Thomas when the marriage finally received papal dispensation became the duke of Clarence. History now enters the glory days of the Hundred Years War with Henry V being all martial thus allowing Shakespeare the opportunity to write dramatic speeches on the subject in the sixteenth century. Unfortunately despite the fact that Henry V ended up married to Katherine of Valois in the aftermath of Agincourt and the Treaty of Troyes he ultimately failed in his bid to rule France successfully because he died leaving his infant son Henry VI on the throne for a lengthy minority and the Wars of the Roses.
Thomas of Lancaster managed to die at the Battle of Baugé on 22 March 1421. As though this wasn’t bad enough Margaret’s sons John and Thomas Beaufort were captured. John Beaufort would remain in captivity for the next seventeen years and when he did get out he was heavily in debt thanks to the ransom he was required to pay. This John Beaufort would become Duke of Somerset and he would also be the father of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor.
Meanwhile Margaret Holland decided that two husbands were enough for any woman and decided that she wouldn’t marry again. She didn’t need to. She was wealthy in her own right. She spent a lot of time trying to negotiate for her sons’ release. She also, as many wealthy widows did at this time, developed close links with a monastic community. She is particularly associated with Syon. When she died in 1439 she was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
R. L. J. Shaw, ‘Holland , Margaret, duchess of Clarence (b. in or before 1388, d. 1439)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2008; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/98133, accessed 22 April 2017]
PS Apologies for lack of posts – wifi is erratic to put it mildly at the moment!
Three kings plus a spare – what could be more festive than that?
The first of today’s faces is outside my usual time period but it is a significant event so far as the British monarchy is concerned. On the 11 December 1936 King Edward VIII, uncrowned king of the United Kingdom, renounced the throne, not by proclamation but through the very modern medium of a radio broadcast. He then joined Wallis Simpson on a boat bound for France. He’d been king for less than a year. In his abdication speech Edward was eager to observe that as a constitutional monarch he’d never done anything in opposition to his parliament. Churchill made much the same comment in a speech given in the House of Commons on the subject. He also said, “ What is done is done. What has been done or left undone belongs to history, and to history, so far as I am concerned, it shall be left.”
Since then history, journalists, biographers and anyone with an interest have speculated as to the whys and wherefores of the case of the only king in English history to voluntarily renounce his throne.
Edward’s decision was the result of a constitutional crisis bought about by his love for Wallis Simpson, an almost twice divorced American. I say almost because her second divorce from Ernest Simpson was still pending at this time. If Edward had hoped that the political elite would be tolerant of his love for Wallis he was sadly mistaken even though there was probably a big clue in the fact that his own father, George V, had refused to meet her in 1934.
Edward even went so far to ask Stanley Baldwin, the then prime minister, if it would be possible for him to have a morganatic marriage. A morganatic marriage in this context is a marriage between a couple of unequal rank in society. Although the marriage is recognized any children resulting from the union would not be permitted to inherit the throne. Nor would Wallis have attained the rank and privileges of her husband. This was a reasonably common approach to marriage in European royal houses but would have been unique in British history – no one dared mention to Henry VIII, of instance, that his marriage to Anne Boleyn, even with her drip of Plantagenet blood, was not a marriage of equals.
Baldwin’s cabinet deemed that the British public would not take to a twice divorced American with a scandalous reputation so said no to a morganatic union. This left Edward with three choices: he could say goodbye to Wallis and marry a woman deemed appropriate; abdicate or ignore the prime minister and marry Wallis anyway. This would have led to a direct confrontation between king and his ministers as they would have resigned resulting in a constitutional crisis.
By the beginning of December the scandal was all over the papers. Edward made his decision and ‘lay down the burden’ of kingship – which rather suggests he felt there was a choice in the matter. The pair got married on June 3 1937. Edward’s younger brother Albert, now King George VI, created him duke of Windsor. Edward and Wallis spent the rest of their lives in exile.
Of course, other kings have abdicated in English history – just they didn’t do it voluntarily and they certainly weren’t sent off to be the governor of the Bahamas. The demise of deposed medieval kings reflects the way in which parliament gradually became more important as the centuries progressed and the kings themselves gradually found their power being eroded. Edward II was deposed in January 1327 when he was captured by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Parliament named his son Edward III as king. There wasn’t a great deal of debate about the matter but it is significant that parliament was called upon to recognise the transition. Edward II disappeared into Berkeley Castle where he was murdered – the medieval way of getting rid of a king who’d worn out his welcome.
Two generations later Richard II renounced the throne in 1399. In reality, he too was deposed but his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, recognized the importance of popular acclaim and legal justification for his actions- no need to discuss the fact that Richard II was being held captive at the time nor the fact that he didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. Like his great grandfather Richard found himself being escorted to a large castle (Pontefract) and quietly removed from the scene (starved).
During the Wars of the Roses, Lancastrians and Yorkists alike were careful to have parliament identify their reign as beginning prior to the key battle that saw them taking hold of power. This ensured that the loosing side could all be attained for treason.
By the reign of Charles I the law and parliament had evolved even further, though now is not the time to explore the reasons for that. Charles found himself on trial for treason. The rationale for this came from the Roman idea that a military body could overthrow a tyrant and even then many people had doubts about the legitimacy of such an action. The Parliament of 1648 was notable for the way in which MPs were excluded from the House of Commons if they were not in support of Oliver Cromwell’s drastic actions. This parliament was known as the Rump Parliament.
The idea that there were fundamental laws and liberties which a monarch was required to uphold or to face penalties imposed by parliament and the law would have come as a surprise to Charles I’s predecessors. Having seen the power that they could wield parliament now invited Stuart monarchs to ascend to the throne, kicked them out if they didn’t like their religion and laid down statutes as to who could inherit the throne. This meant that with the advent of the protestant Hanoverian monarchs, the British monarchy was a constitutional monarchy. Kings and queens are heads of state but within defined parameters – their role became increasingly ceremonial whilst the business of laws and governing rest in the hands of Parliament.
Who would have thought that this centuries long evolution would resolve itself in the first half of the twentieth century with the abdication of a monarch for the love of a woman?