Dr John Dee is probably England’s most famous alchemist thanks to his employment by Elizabeth I. He cast the horoscope which identified 15 January 1559 as an auspicious date for Elizabeth. Just in case you’re wondering, as well as being an astrologer and mathematician Dr Dee spent quite a lot of his time trying to talk to angels. Rather alarmingly he also managed to get involved in a scandalous wife swapping episode which probably also explains why Dee is notably absent from most school texts.
It turns out that the English had a bit of a reputation for alchemy. Elias Ashmole collated late medieval works in the Theatrum Chemicum Britanium of 1652 (and there is no one who knows me who will be surprised that I didn’t cover that during my recent Zoom class.) He began with the introduction “severall poeticall pieces of our famous English philosophers, who have written the hermetique mysteries in their owne ancient language.”
I was a bit perplexed to find Chaucer on Ashmole’s list until I read the Canon’s Yeoman’s tale and found a counterfeiter – well base metal does appear more precious than it started out! It turns out that the tale is based on a real case which can be found here on the National Archives blog: https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/geoffrey-chaucer-and-alchemy/
Ashmole did not comment on whether he believed in the Philosopher’s stone or not.
It also turns out – according to some “histories” that Edward III employed one the form of Franciscan friar Raymond Lull – who somehow or other convinced Edward that he could produce enough hard cash to fund a new crusade. You will all be delighted to hear that Edward’s investment paid off because his alchemist apparently turned several tons of lead into gold which Edward promptly used to pay for his war against the French – oddly I don’t recall reading about effective chrysopoeia during the reign of Edward III. Unsurprisingly Lull disappears form history leaving a tall tale behind him – the real Lull, a Catalonian, died when Edward was a toddler, though it is true that he spoke Arabic and studied various Islamic texts.
It turns out though that in this case there is fire to go with the smoke. A Patent Roll of 1330 identifies Edward III’s interest in alchemical transmutation of base metal and twenty years later John de Walden was arrested and sent to the Tower of London for relieving the Plantagenet monarch of 5,000 gold crowns and 20 pounds of silver to “work thereon by the art of alchemy.” His arrest would suggest that Edward wasn’t totally convinced by the end product.
Johnathan Hughes, The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth Century England, Bloomsbury Publishing
Episode 4 of the podcast is now available in the series No plan like yours to study history wisely. Having covered the Normans and Plantagenets in previous podcasts we have now arrived at the house of Lancaster, descended from John of Gaunt, the third surviving son of Edward III. This week we cover Henry IV, Henry IV, and Henry VI.
Feudalism was the method by which society was structured across the tenth to thirteenth centuries. Essentially the tenant-in-chief was the monarch. William the Conqueror regarded the whole of conquered England as his along with the deer, the boar and the wolves who were owned by no one except God and since God had clearly given William England by right of Conquest then the large beasts which roamed the land must also be his….
The monarch then distributed land or fiefs to his lords – the lands varied in size and location. There was a promise of military and legal protection along with the land. In return the monarch’s tenants, or vassals, promised obedience through an act of homage and payment in the form of military service and/or goods. Sometimes a lord might pay for mercenaries to take his place rather than offering military service himself – this was called scutage. One of the advantages for William was that he was able to call on a large army when he needed one but it was not a standing army which he would be required to pay for – it also ensured that he was able to reward is supporters.
The lords or barons as medieval history tends to term them, who received land from the monarch often had more than they could manage themselves and in different parts of the country. These vassal of the king would sub-let land, manors and estates to their own adherents, the knightly class or less important barons, in return for loyalty, military service and goods. Just as the baron expected protection so the baron’s tenant would expect the lord to protect him militarily and legally as the lord was himself protected by the king.
The knights might in their turn give land to freemen to hold in return for goods and service.
All of the above would be served by peasants who might hold their land in return for labour and a percentage of their crops or by serfs who were tied to the land.
Clearly it was more complicated than this but this is the basic pyramid that we learn at school.
Bastard feudalism was not what a serf might describe the social structure as being (sorry – couldn’t resist.) Bastard feudalism developed during the fourteenth century and was at its most influential during the fifteenth century. This system was different from feudalism in that it was based on a contract that involved much more than land in exchange for service and loyalty. Edward III had the twin problems of the black death and a weakened kingdom thanks to his mother and her lover deposing his father.
Put very simply, the black death meant that there were insufficient villeins/serfs to work the land. Rather than being tied to the manor where they were born or having no choice in how much they were offered for their services, land owners now found that the people who worked their land were valuable commodities that had to be paid for.
Edward III needed the support of his nobility. He did not require another Mortimer situation on his hands. Therefore he gave his nobility more concessions than earlier medieval monarchs had done. This ultimately weakened the crown – again this is putting things at their most straight forward.
Titled noblemen or important members of the gentry (we’ve moved away from barons) developed networks or affinities as a consequence of the greater freedoms that Edward III had been forced to grant them. He also created the “super-noble” in the form of his royal sons who he made dukes. John of Gaunt’s Lancaster Affinity is the most widely signposted example of an affinity. Basically the person at the centre of the affinity created a network of retainers who provided him and his family with military service, domestic service and political and legal support – there was no prerequisite for land to exchange hands- the affinity was superglued into place by extended family – someone who was part of an affinity might reasonably expect an advantageous marriage to be arranged within the affinity either for themselves or their children. In return the network of retainers would expect protection, office, power and money. Bastard feudalism and the widespread use of these powerful networks was once the reason given for the Wars of the Roses – think of the feuds between the Nevilles and the Percys. However, it would be fairer to say that feudalism and bastard feudalism required a strong monarch to control the various factions.
An additional factor in the equation of bastard feudalism and social structure is the Hundred Years War. When the English were winning it was an opportunity for younger sons and those lower down the social ladder to gain wealth which they spent on upping their position within the social hierarchy. Militarily talented men might gain battlefield knighthoods and jump up the social ladder at a stroke but they would need the patronage of someone more powerful if they were to continue their upward journey. Then when the English ultimately lost the Hundred Years War there were powerful nobles who had financed armies and put men in the field who were now looking for political influence. Again, I have presented the case in its most straight forward format.
Year seven pupils (eleven-year-olds) are required to have a grasp of the feudal pyramid as a social structure introduced by William the Conqueror. Clearly social structures were more complicated than this. The Church needs to fit into the equation along with the merchant classes and the impact of a changing economy.
It’s Friday already! it’s time to consider the royal beasts that can be found on armorial bearing down the centuries – in particular the supporters. The idea of having two armorial supporters- one on either side of a shield of arms is usually credited to medieval engravers with a space to fill in a circular seal according to H Stanford London in 1953.
The lion of England is first recorded in evidence during the reign of Henry I when his daughter Matilda married her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou from whom the Plantagenets are descended. From that time onwards lions appear on royal shields including that of William Longespée or Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury who was one of Henry I’s illegitimate sons.
It was probably during the time of Henry II that the two lions of the Conqueror were invented so that when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine – the lion of Aquitaine could be added to the royal coat of arms. Normandy had two leopards rather than lions.
Edward III reigned from 1322 until 1377. The beast most closely associated with him is the griffin as it was engraved on his private seal. It represented the qualities of guardianship and vigilance – so a polite statement that Edward III was in charge and caring for his country unlike his deposed father Edward II or mother Isabella of France.
Another of the beasts linked to Edward III on display during the coronation was the falcon and the fetterlock which was also associated with Richard II and both houses of York and Lancaster. Later Elizabeth of York used it as her badge as had her brother Richard, Duke of York. Another Tudor is also associated with the falcon – Elizabeth I- but hers is crowned and sceptred. It is a direction reference to her mother who used the falcon as her badge.
Richard II chose a white hart as his personal badge. It has links with his mother, Joan of Kent’s, white hind badge and is also a pun on Richard’s name. The white hart was not one of the royal beasts on display at the coronation in 1953 and given what happen to Richard II, it’s probably not surprising.
Henry IV and his son Henry V included a white swan amongst their armorial beasts – Henry IV’s wife and the mother of his children was the heiress Mary deBohun. The swan in question usually has a crown round its neck from which a chain is attached. Another Bohun beast to make into the royal stable was the white antelope but neither of these beasts featured as part of the display for the queen’s coronation.
Henry VI’s armorial bearings were the first English monarch’s to use supporters. They were a pair of de Bohun antelope such as can be seen on the gateway of Eton College which Henry VI founded. He also made use of the heraldic panther or panther incensed – i.e. with flames coming out of it’s ears and mouth. The panther is of course the third of the three heraldic moggies – lions, leopards and panthers. There were no panthers flaming or otherwise on display in Westminster in 1953. Presumably because its not a good auspice to be reminded of a king with mental health issues whose rule, though long, resulted in a bloody civil war ending by the monarch in question being bumped off whilst at prayer in the Tower.
Edward IV’s lion supporter isn’t actually the lion of England – it’s actually the badge of the Earls of March – the white lion. Unlike the lion of England the white lion of Mortimer is not depicted with a crown and it is always shown sitting with it’s tail curled between its legs – in fact it looks a bit like a dog begging. It made it on to the list of 10 coronation beasts unlike the black dragon of Ulster which he also used as a personal badge on occasion.
Edward IV also made use of the black bull of Clarence or Clare which was another of the Queen’s royal beasts in 1953. He was making a statement about his claim to the throne in the use of these two supporters which belonged to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Lionel Duke of Clarence respectively. Lionel was the elder of the royal brothers and so it was work who should have inherited the throne rather than Lancaster which was descended from John of Gaunt. The black bull continued in use as a royal beast until 1603.
Richard III is famous for his use of a white boar.
Meanwhile the Tudors introduced some new species to the proceedings. Margaret Beaufort is often associated with the emblem of the portcullis but she also used the yale as a personal badge. The yale is a bit like a cross between a goat and an antelope – clearly mythical! Margaret’s is silver with golden spots. Mane, hoofs, horns and tusks are also gold. Interestingly the yale turned up earlier as a supporter for John of Bedford’s arms (Henry V’s brother famous for incinerating Joan of Arc.) This suggests that the yale was more antelope than goat as it would have had a link to the de Bohun antelope. When the earldom of Kendal was passed to the Beaufort earls of Somerset after Bedford’s death in 1435 the yale passed with the title into the Beaufort family.
Next we have the white greyhound of Richmond which reflects Henry Tudor’s title of Earl of Richmond inherited from his father Edmund.
The greyhound is swiftly followed by the red dragon of Wales because as followers of the History Jar know, Henry VII saw himself as the descendant of King Arthur – or at least that’s what he tried to convince his subjects in order to steer them away from the fact that he took his crown on the battlefield and that his wife Elizabeth of York was actually the person most people regarded as royal.
Mary Tudor chose an eagle as one of her armorial supporters but it’s not one of the coronation beasts in 1953 – again no doubt because of the unfortunate life of the monarch in question.
With the Stuarts the royal arms acquired the unicorn and the pairing of the lion and the unicorn as supporters of the royal arms with which we are all familiar.
And finally – the white horse of Hanover which has never been a supporter of the Royal Arms and is not often listed as a royal beast but which none the less made it into the ten royal beasts identified in 1953.
An article by Mark Ormrod published in 2011 in the BBC History Magazine has always stuck in my mind. Essentially Edward was an indulgent father who made big plans for his dynasty that involved crowns for his children through adoption, marriage and conquest. His sons grew up believing that they might be kings of various countries if the odds were sufficiently stacked in their favour – and having created a series of royal dukes (Edward’s two younger sons were raised to dukedoms by their nephew Richard II) it is perhaps not surprising that there was disaffection within the family. Edward’s dynastic policy required a large family. He and his wife Philippa of Hainhault were fortunate in their love for one another – England was less fortunate in the size of the Plantagenet family all of whom thought themselves worthy of a crown at a time when the occupant of the throne, Richard II (Edward’s grandson) was unable to control his ambitious, conniving relations.
It seems as good a place to start as any. It also helps that popular history gives a degree of familiarity to Edward III’s sons.
Edward, the Black Prince, from the Bruges Garter Book
Edward – “The Black Prince.” He was born at Woodstock so can also be styled Edward of Woodstock after his place of birth. He was created Earl of Chester in 1333 and then Duke of Cornwall when he was seven-years-old. He became Prince of Wales in 1343 at the age of thirteen. The duchy was made out of the earldom of Cornwall by Edward III for his son. The title is reserved for the eldest son of the monarch. Although Edward was the Earl of Chester as soon as he became a duke he would have been known by that title as a duke trumps an earl. Edward married his first cousin once removed – Joan of Kent. He eventually succumbed having wasted away, it is thought, to dysentry, caught whilst on campaign in France. He only had one child who survived to adulthood – Richard of Bordeaux who became King Richard II. The complication for this member of the family tree comes from Joan of Kent who had been married to Sir Thomas Holland prior to her marriage to the Black Prince. There is a large Holland clan to add into the equation not to mention some back tracking up the Plantagenet family tree to King Edward I.
Lionel of Antwerp was betrothed to Elizabeth de Burgh Countess of Ulster when he was a child. He married her in 1352 but he had been styled Earl of Ulster from the age of nine. The earldom came to him through his wife. In 1362 he was created 1st Duke of Clarence. This was actually the third dukedom created within England but more of that shortly. Elizabeth de Burgh died in 1363 having produced one child in 1355 called Philippa who became the 5th Countess of Ulster in her own right. Philippa was Lionel’s only surviving legitimate child (hurrah!) He married for a second time to Violante Visconti the daughter of the Count of Pavia. Lionel went back to Italy with his new wife where his -in-laws poisoned him.
John of Gaunt. John’s wealth and title came from his marriage to the co-heiress Blanche of Lancaster. Her father had been the 1st Duke of Lancaster but on his death with no male heirs the title died out. When John married Blanche he was given the title earl and through Blanche half of the Lancaster wealth. Blanche’s sister died in 1362 without children – the Lancaster wealth now all came to John. On the same day that Lionel received his dukedom from his father the dukedom of Lancaster was resurrected for John. Because the dukedom had been dormant and Edward III resurrected it John of Gaunt was also known as the 1st Duke of Lancaster (why would you want things to be straight forward!). John married three times – firstly to Blanche who was descended from Henry III via his second son Edmund Crouchback; secondly to Constanza of Castile by whose right John would try to claim the crown of Castile and thirdly to his long time mistress Kathryn Swynford with whom he had four illegitimate children surnamed Beaufort who were ultimately legitimised by the Papacy and by King Richard II.
Edmund of Langley was born at King’s Langley. In 1362 when he was twenty-one he was created Earl of Cambridge. It was his nephew Richard II who elevated him to a dukedom in 1385 when he was created 1st Duke of York. Thankfully there is an example of a logical progression of the dukedom. When he died his son became the 2nd Duke of York. Edmund was married first to Isabella of Castile who was the sister of John of Gaunt’s wife Constance. He married for a second time to Joan Holland who was Joan of Kent’s daughter from her first marriage – so the step-daughter of the Black Prince. Joan had no children but there were three children from the first marriage – although there is a question mark over the parentage of the last child from the union with Isabella of Castile.
Thomas of Woodstock: London, British Library Cotton MS Nero D.VIII, f. 0
Thomas of Woodstock married an heiress Eleanor de Bohun in 1374. In 1377 he was created Earl of Buckingham and in 1380 he became the Earl of Essex by right of his wife. In 1385 his nephew Richard II created him Duke of Aumale and Duke of Gloucester. Thomas’s nephew, Henry of Bolingbroke (John of Gaunt’s son) would marry Eleanor de Bohun’s sister Mary – making Thomas both uncle and brother-in-law to Henry of Bolingbroke…demonstrating that sorting out the Plantagenet relationships is not necessarily a straightforward undertaking.
Nor for that matter is sorting out their titles a linear progression. Thomas of Langley’s dukedom of Aumale was given to him by Richard II in 1385 but was then passed on by Richard to Edmund of Langley’s son Edward of Norwich in 1397 when Thomas was marched off to Calais and murdered. However, Edward of Norwich was himself stripped of the title in 1399 when his cousin became Henry IV having usurped Richard II. It’s something of a relief to report that there were no more dukes of Aumale. Henry IV recreated the title as an earldom and gave it to his son Thomas at the same time as creating him Duke of Clarence and as a duke trumps an ear, Thomas is usually known as Duke of Clarence rather than Earl of Aumale. Thomas died without children and the title became dormant (though rather like indigestion an Aumale title does return at a later date.)
The Black Prince died from dysentery and is buried in Canterbury Cathedral where his effigy and shield can still be seen. Lionel of Antwerp was murdered by his Italian in-laws in 1368. I should add that it was never proven that he was poisoned. He was buried in Milan but eventually disinterred and transported home for burial in Clare Priory, Suffolk alongside his first wife. John of Gaunt died of old age at Leicester Castle on 3rd February 1399 and was buried beside Blanche of Lancaster in St Paul’s Cathedral. Edmund of Langley died in 1402 and was buried at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. Thomas of Woodstock was arrested on the orders of his nephew Richard II and placed in the custody of Thomas Mowbray (Duke of Norfolk), transported to Calais where he was murdered in 1397. He was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey.
Ormrod, W. Mark. (2011) Edward III. Yale: Yale University Press
The relationships between the children of Edward III, their spouses and their descendants ultimately resulted in the Wars of the Roses. During the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV various families with royal blood in their veins jockeyed for power, position and wealth. Some of this vying for power was through political negotiation. There were the inevitable marriages for land and to tie families together and of course there were rebellions.
There are so many strands that it’s difficult to know where to start.
This evening I shall take a “random” look at the Lords Appellants who sought to impeach Richard II’s favourites in 1386 and ultimately managed to control the king as a figurehead without any real power until Richard’s uncle John of Gaunt returned to England in 1389 having been absent during the period of turmoil. There were five Lords Appellant. The three primary appellants were Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester; Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel and Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
Thomas of Woodstock: London, British Library Cotton MS Nero D.VIII, f. 0
Thomas of Woodstock was the youngest surviving son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainhault – Richard II’s uncle. He was also the uncle of the fourth Appellant Henry of Bolingbroke Earl of Derby and Hereford. Henry was John of Gaunt’s son. He and Richard were first cousins. Indeed there was only three months between them so as Ian Mortimer says in his biography of Henry IV the two of them must have been well acquainted.
Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel‘s mother was Eleanor of Lancaster, a great grand-daughter of Henry III. He was also related though the maternal line to the Beauchamps. His wife was Mary de Bohun’s aunt. Mary de Bohun was married to Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. I’m not going to work out the exact relationship but there’s a tangled knot of cousinship and in-lawship – so best to describe him as part of the extended kinship of Richard II.
Thomas Beauchamp, the 12th Earl of Warwick was the son of Katherine Mortimer. His grandfather was Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March who became Isabella of France’s lover and deposed her husband King Edward II. So far so good, however, the Mortimers had married into the Plantagenet family when Edward III’s granddaughter Philippa, Countess of Ulster married Edmund Mortimer. Edmund was the grandson of Roger Mortimer mentioned earlier in this paragraph.
Feeling slightly dizzy? Well just to knot the families even more firmly together Philippa and Edmund Mortimer had four children. One of these children (the great grandchildren of Edward III), was a daughter also called Philippa (she was first cousin once removed of Richard II if you want to be picky). She became the second wife of Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel…yes, the Lord Appellant. Elizabeth de Bohun died in 1385. The marriage to Philippa took place in 1390 after the Lords Appellant had been forced to allow Richard to regain his power. The marriage was without royal licence and the earl was fined for not asking the king for Philippa’s hand first.
Richard II creating Thomas Mowbray Earl Marshal in 1386. British Library Cotton MS NERO D VI f.85r
For neatness sake the fifth Lord Appellant was Thomas Mowbray, the Earl of Nottingham. He was descended from Edward I – so another cousin of sorts. His wife was the Earl of Arundel’s daughter Elizabeth by his first wife Elizabeth de Bohun – making her a first cousin of Henry of Bolingbroke’s wife Mary de Bohun. You might find it helpful to draw a diagram!
If nothing else it becomes apparent that everyone powerful during this period was related to the other leading families in the land either through blood or through marriage. Interactions between historical figures of this period lay in the overlap between familial interaction and political interaction – the one influencing the other.
With that in mind I shall spend the period between now and Christmas exploring familial Plantagenet links – preferably with diagrams and possibly a large gin! You can read the posts with a drink of your choice in hand!
Mortimer, Ian. The Fears of Henry IV
Weir, Alison. British Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
The story of the Holland family begins with Robert de Holland from Upholland in Lancashire. He was born about 1283. He was a trusted part of Thomas of Lancaster’s household. He benefitted from being within the Lancaster affinity by acquiring land as well as a wife in the form of Maud de Zouche – a co-heiress.
He fought at Boroughbridge in 1322 but not on the side of the earl who was in rebellion against his cousin the king. This may well have been because Edward II was holding one of Robert’s daughters hostage at the time. However, the Lancaster faction were not quick to forgive the fact that the second earl was executed in Pontefract soon after the battle and that Robert, one of his most trusted men, had been a traitor to the earl’s cause.
Thomas of Lancaster was succeeded by his younger brother – Henry of Lancaster. Time passed. On 15 October 1328 Robert Holland, or Holand, was at Borehamwood. Unfortunately so were a number of Lancaster supporters. There was an argument. Robert was beheaded.
Thomas, Robert’s eldest son pictured at the start of this post in his garter robes, served Edward III. He was a man of no substantial wealth. His mother Maud had to borrow money so he could be outfitted as a knight. However, it would appear that Thomas had a great deal of charm, not to mention nerve and persistence. He wooed and won Edward III’s young cousin Joan of Kent. They married in a secret exchange of vows when she was eleven or twelve. He was more than ten years older than Joan. It would take another nine years, a bigamous marriage and a papal decree before he was allowed to live with his bride.
Thomas’s fortunes really changed when Joan’s brother died. He had no other heirs so Joan became the Countess of Kent in her own right (suo jure). Thomas effectively became an earl through the right of his wife. Thomas who had a proven military track record by this time now had the money and the position in society to fulfil a leading military role in the Hundred Years War. Thomas and Joan’s eldest son another Thomas became a baron after his father’s death but did not become the 2nd Holland Earl of Kent until Joan died in 1385.
Thomas died in December 1360. The following year his widow married her cousin Edward, the Black Prince. The Holland children now had access to patronage with a very heavy clout. Thomas (Joan’s son) gained a wealthy and aristocratic bride from the FitzAlan family. More importantly it was the Hollands’ half-brother, Richard, who ascended the throne after Edward III died in 1377.
Thomas and John Holland were loyal to their half brother, Richard II, and benefited from their close ties – John even managed to get away with murder. The Holland family found themselves spouses from some of the wealthiest families in the country, had the ear and trust of the Crown and continued to thrive whilst Richard II was on the throne. The second earl’s son, another Thomas not only became the 3rd Earl of Kent but from 1397 the 1st Duke of Surrey. This was a reward for loyalty. Thomas had arrested his FitzAlan uncle on behalf of his royal uncle Richard II. Perhaps because he felt a bit guilty about it he the founded of Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire the following year.
It is perhaps unsurprising that when Richard II was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke – Richard’s first cousin and the Hollands’ first cousin once removed- that they found themselves being demoted. The dukedom had to be handed back. As a consequence Thomas Holland the 3rd earl of Kent became involved with the Epiphany Rising of 1400. He was executed. He had no children.
Thomas’s uncle John (Joan’s second son) was executed at the same time. John Holland had married another wealthy royal cousin, Elizabeth of Lancaster (John of Gaunt’s daughter). This may have been because of the Black Prince’s patronage and it may have been because his mother Joan of Kent got on well with her cousin John of Gaunt. John became Earl of Huntingdon in 1388 and in 1397 became the Duke of Exeter. He was also involved in removing Richard II’s enemies. In John’s case not only had he arrested his uncle Richard FitzAlan (the 11th Earl of Arundel) he has gone to Calais to arrest Thomas of Woodstock, Richard’s youngest Royal uncle. Thomas had died whilst in Calais as pictured in Froissart – the story involves a mattress…
When Richard II fell from power John was stripped of his dukedom but was allowed to retain his earldom by his brother-in-law the new king Henry IV. This double relationship did not stop John from being involved in the Epiphany Rising of 1400 nor did it prevent his execution.
For the moment the fortunes of the Holland family looked bleak. It would continue to be dubious until 1415 when John Holland’s son, another John, would be able to regain the dukedom of Exeter from Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt. He would also continue the family tradition of marrying someone who was a cousin in a degree that required papal dispensation and which kept his family close to the line of succession!
Hicks, Michael. Whose who in Medieval History
P.S. A family tree will be forthcoming at some point soon.
Alice of Norfolk, was born about 1324. She was the daughter of Thomas of Brotherton and Alice Hales. She was the youngest of their three children.
Her story begins for the purposes of this post in October 1330 when Edward III pictured at the start of this post staged a coup to rid himself of the regency of Roger Mortimer and Isabella of France. The band of men who crept through the tunnels beneath Nottingham Castle were led by William Montagu or Montacute. In 1337 he was created Earl of Salisbury and remained a key influence on Edward III throughout his life.
Thomas was Edward II’s oldest half-brother but had been swift to align himself with his sister-in-law Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer. Now he had a problem. In October 1330 Edward III had regained control of the kingdom and Thomas, despite being Earl Marshal, was not what you might describe as a central political figure. It is evident from Edward III’s letters that Thomas was not his favourite uncle – that place had been reserved for Thomas’s younger brother, Edmund Earl of Kent whose execution may have decided Edward III to claim what was his.
It is perhaps not surprising then that Thomas used his youngest child as a political pawn and married her into the Montagu family in 1333. William Montagu had been raised alongside Edward III and had married into the extended royal family in the person of thirteen year old Joan of Kent. Unfortunately it had turned out to be a bigamous marriage. Joan having already married Thomas Holland before the knight went on crusade in Prussia. Eventually, after much wrangling, the pope told Joan to return to Thomas Holland.
Joan’s cousin, Alice, married Edward, William Montagu’s brother. The couple had five children of whom four were daughters.
Twenty years after her marriage Alice died as a result of injuries sustained during a violent assault by her husband and some of his retainers. They had a bit of a reputation in and around Bungay which is saying something given that this story unfolds against the backdrop of the Hundred Years War. Montagu fought at Crecy (1346) as did his more famous older brother.
After Alice’s death at the end of January 1352 Montagu and some of his retainers, no doubt heroes of Crecy, were charged with her murder but only one, William Dunche of Bungay, was convicted in and he was eventually pardoned in 1361.
Montagu eventually died in July 1361 having got away with the murder of his wife.
John of Gaunt owned more than thirty castles – many came though his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, others came by gift from his father Edward III. One of them, Liddel Strength, sitting on the banks of the River Liddel, quite close to the wonderfully named village of Moat in Cumbria, went through assorted hands until it came into the ownership of the Earls of Kent – John the 3rd Earl of Kent died in 1352. He was twenty-two. He died without children and his titles passed to his sister Joan.
Joan became the 4th Countess of Kent and Baroness Wake. History, on the other hand, knows Joan as the Fair Maid of Kent. Thomas Holland who married her secretly ultimately became the Earl of Kent when Joan extracted herself from a second bigamous marriage that her family had imposed upon her.
All of which was rather unnecessary in this post because John, Earl of Kent passed the castle to Edward III pictured at the start of this post who in turned passed it to John of Gaunt in 1357 after he had proved his martial ability. However, given that the Scots had destroyed the castle in 1346 and behaved rather unpleasantly to the chap responsible for the castle – one Sir Walter de Selby who according to one source was forced to watch two his his sons being strangled prior to his own beheading.
The castle was never rebuilt despite the fact that the area was prone to Scottish raiding given its position on the border. Edward III’s plan seems to have been that John should become a northern magnate and the lordship gave him the necessary political importance in the region. Edward was also in the middle of negotiations with King David of Scotland — so a handily placed son was not to be sneezed at in the eventuality of a substitution being required.
Certainly in the 1370s when the intermittent Anglo-Scottish war broke out once more Gaunt went north on Richard II’s behalf with the intention of ending them and had placed the Percy family in a position of greater power than ever on the borders by giving the earl of Northumberland the powers necessary to levy forces from across the marches to repel a Scottish army.
The title to the Lordship would pass to Henry of Bolingbroke in 1380.
England, until the Reformation, always had its share of clever clerics – think Cardinals Beaufort and Wolsey for example. Not only did they hold important places in the Church’s hierarchy they also held the reins of power in State matters as well. Whilst I’m at it, the other two clerics who people may immediately identify are Thomas Becket who became Henry II’s bête noire and Simon of Sudbury who managed to get himself beheaded by revolting peasants in 1381 – his head is still in Sudbury’s parish church if you’re of a ghoulish turn of mind.
So just who is Wykeham? William Wykeham is Edward III’s leading cleric and statesman and like the above named gentlemen he had the knack of irritating folk – well mainly John of Gaunt. Wykeham’s story is an interesting one in that he was not the second son of aristocracy or even a member of the gentry. Generally his family are described as poor. His father could afford for him not to labour on the land but it would have been a sacrifice as would the education that replaced manual labour. William’s natural talent was recognised and he must have had a sponsor who helped pay for his education. William was educated in Winchester and then found employment as a clerk (in minor orders) in Winchester. By 1349 (just in time for the Black Death) Wykeham was in the employ of the Bishop of Winchester. This would have brought him into the royal orbit as the bishop was Edward III’s treasurer. Winchester also has close associations with the court so it was a place of opportunity for a gifted young man.
Wykeham continued working for the bishop until the mid 1350s at which point he suddenly accrued a number of official roles at court. He was also made surveyor of the works for Windsor Castle and its park. He had arrived – the long path to overnight success had been trodden and from now on he made rapid advances in royal service. He turns up in Calais negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360.
Wykeham became more and more influential as the 1360s progressed. It did not make him very popular with the rest of Edward III’s advisors not least because having decided to undergo ordination he also squirrelled away some very lucrative livings at a point when there was peace with France and the rich pickings of earlier years were not so readily available. in 1366 on Edward III’s orders he was elected Bishop of Winchester. He also went on to become Edward’s chancellor.
It seemed as though there would be no stopping him but as ever the currents of political power eddy and swirl. Parliament ultimately petitioned the king to stop the practice of ecclesiastics having positions of power and not being liable to account for their actions, and that non-clerical laymen should replaced them. An important supporter of this action was John of Gaunt who was not keen on Wykeham – which is a bit rich coming from the man who used Edward III’s increasing infirmity as an opportunity to take control of the court and to reverse reforms made by the king.
In 1371 Gaunt had his way and Wykeham found himself transformed from one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom to being utterly reliant on the charity of his friends when he was kicked out of the See of Winchester and forced to resign the chancellorship. John of Gaunt tried to have Wykeham charged with corruption.
In 1377 when Richard II became king Wykeham received a full pardon although it should be noted that initially Wykeham was specifically excluded from the pardon and it was only after an ecclesiastical uproar that his name was added to the list. He went on to be one of the king’s councillors demonstrating that John of Gaunt did not control the regency council in the way that is often suggested given that he and Wykeham were at loggerheads with one another. Between 1389 and 1391 Wykeham was Richard II’s chancellor. In 1391 he was back on the case of the war with the French – by now the war was sixty years long on and off.
He died in 1404 having welcomed Henry of Bolingbroke to Winchester in 1400 as king.
So why is Wykeham important? Firstly he isn’t of noble birth – which no doubt caused quite a lot of resentment at the time. In an age when blood line was all important Wykeham is a role model for the self made man. He’s symptomatic of changing times. War and plague as well as some effective patronage opened up possibilities for his advancement. Second, we are used to hearing that Gaunt was all powerful. In 1377 Gaunt was unable to continue his campaign against Wykeham despite the fact that he is usually depicted as the leading member of the regency council. And thirdly, the reason usually given for Gaunt’s unrelenting campaign against Wykeham is that allegedly Wykeham spread the rumour that Gaunt was actually the son of a Ghentish butcher rather than Edward III – and well all know how history loves a good conspiracy theory.