Three French Hens – Queens of England from France

isabella of franceI did consider titling this post “three foul french fowl”but decided it was an alliteration too far.

Richard I, a.k.a. the Lionheart,  should have married Alys of France – the dispensation for that marriage would have been interesting given that Richard’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alys’ father, Louis VII of France had once been married.  Alys arrived in England aged eight as Henry II’s ward following a treaty agreed in 1169.  However, the marriage never progressed which didn’t help Richard’s relationship with fellow monarch Philip II of France who was Alys’ brother.

In 1175 Henry II began to seek an annulment from his marriage to Eleanor.  It has been suggested that rather than marrying Alys to his son Richard, that he intended to marry her himself. Certainly it is thought that he began an affair with her after the death of Fair Rosamund in 1177.  All things considered it is relatively easy to see why Alys didn’t become one of England’s French hens.

On the other hand, Alys’ sister Margaret should be on the list of French hens because she married Henry II’s oldest son also named Henry in 1162.  Technically she became a royal consort when the Young King as he became known was crowned in 1172.  Henry II and his son being the only occasion when there have been two official monarchs on the English throne (excluding the Wars of the Roses and the joys of the Anarchy when Stephen and Matilda both claimed the Crown – and Matilda never had a coronation.)

I am not including women who would be defined as French by today’s geography but were daughters of independent or semi-independent realms in their own times: Matilda of Boulogne who was King Stephen’s wife or even Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Henry II’s wife come under this category of consort.

Which brings us to our first indisputable French hen – Margaret of France who was the second wife of Edward I.  She was swiftly followed by Isabella of France who is better known as a “she-wolf” on the grounds that she and her lover Roger Mortimer deposed Isabella’s husband Edward II and according to official histories arranged for his dispatch – purportedly with a red hot poker.

French consort number three was Isabella of Valois who was married to Richard II after his first wife Anne of Bohemia died. She was married to Richard at the age of seven in 1396.  Four years later Richard was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke.  Richard was fond of his young wife and she returned the feeling.  She refused to marry Henry IV’s son and went into mourning.  She died aged nineteen in childbirth following her return to France and second marriage to Charles of Orleans.

Henry V ultimately married Catherine of Valois in 1420 following his victory at Agincourt.  After Henry’s death Catherine went on to be associated with Edmund Beaufort but when the laws changed  specifying that if the dowager queen married without her son’s consent that the new husband would loose his lands, Beaufort swiftly lost interest. Catherine went on to make an unequal marriage with Owen Tudor.

In 1445 Catherine’s son, Henry VI, married Margaret of Anjou as part of a policy to bring the Hundred Years War to an end.  Margaret had no dowry and was plunged into a difficult political situation which resulted in her ultimate vilification by the winning Yorkists.  Her hopes for the Lancaster Crown ended on 4 May 1471 when her son, Prince Edward, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Henry VI was killed in the Tower shortly afterwards.  She eventually returned to France.

Isabella of  France and Margaret of Anjou are the two consorts that popular history remembers most clearly.  The third of English history’s three foul French fowl arrived in 1625.  Henrietta Maria married Charles I shortly after he became king.  Initially she had to contend with Charles’ reliance upon the Duke of Buckingham.  Her Catholicism made her an unpopular choice in England despite Charles’ insistence that she be known as Queen Mary, as did her ability to buy armaments and mercenary forces  on her husband’s behalf during the English Civil War. She also decided on a new title for herself – Her She-Majesty, Generalissima.

 

 

Richard III and Great Malvern Priory

DSCF2426Richard donated funds for the west window of the nave. It was  largely destroyed  but some fragments are now in other windows scattered around the priory church most notably the arms of Richard. The boar supporters are noticeable.  The same window also depicts Edward IV’s arms as Earl of March. Anne Neville’s arms are in the first window of the north quire; the so-called Museum Window.  The coat of arms is a modern reproduction but the heads of the bear supporters of Warwick are original.

Clearly the leading families of the day vied with one another to contribute to the alterations in Great Malvern Priory.  One of the reasons that the Duke of Gloucester and his wife would have made a donation was that Richard at that time was the Lord of Malvern Chase.

The reason for this goes back to the Scottish Wars of Independence.  One Gilbert de Clare died without children.  This made his sisters Eleanor and Margaret heiresses.  Their mother, as a matter of interest, was Joan of Acre one of Edward I’s daughters.  Eleanor was married to Hugh Despenser the Younger when she was about thirteen. Eleanor’s grandfather (Edward I) died the following year and her uncle became king (Edward II).  This was not necessarily good news for a marriage made by politics rather than in Heaven as Hugh was Edward II’s favourite.  He’s the one that Edward II’s wife, Isabella, the so-called she-wolf had hanged, drawn and quartered when the opportunity arose after having him tattooed with all sorts of Biblical verses beforehand.  Warner’s book mentions that Eleanor’s relationship with uncle Edward was close.  So close, in fact, that contemporary chroniclers drew some decidedly dodgy conclusions about the king and his niece, as though there wasn’t already enough scandal surrounding Edward II.

The younger sister, Margaret, was married to Piers Gaveston – Edward II’s other favourite. Sometimes, you just couldn’t make it up.

Malvern Chase fell into the hands of the Despensers via Eleanor. The chase left the family when Isabel Despenser, three generations on, married Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Richard managed to get himself killed in foreign parts during the Hundred Years War and his son died without issue meaning that the whole lot passed to Richard’s daughter Ann who was married to Richard Neville a.k.a. The Kingmaker.

Bear with me, we’re nearly there.  Ann Beauchamp had right and title to the land after the death of her king making husband at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  However, in order that the lands, titles and money should end up in the paws of his brothers, Edward IV had Anne declared legally dead.

So that was how Richard, Duke of Gloucester came to be lord of Malvern Chase.  He was married to Anne Neville and, of course, that’s not without a tale of its own. Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence was married to Isabel Neville, Anne’s older sister.  He wanted to keep Warwick’s wealth for himself so tried to prevent the marriage between Anne and Richard from happening.  Legend has Anne being disguised as a kitchen maid having been briefly married to Henry VI’s son Prince Edward but widowed at Tewkesbury and then placed in the custody of her sister and brother-in-law.  Who needs Game of Thrones when there’s this amount of intrigue happening?

What the west window, to get back to the priory,  does demonstrate is that Malvern was part of Anne’s portion rather than Isabel’s and that it was commissioned and created prior to 1483.

The original window depicted the Day of Judgement.  This has been largely lost.  In one account it is put down to a storm.  Wells suggests that the window also experienced vandalism. The glass in the current west window remains fifteenth century but it has been relocated from other sites within the priory.

An interesting feature of the window is that the lower panels are filled with stone, apart from two small windows or ‘squints’ designed to allow monks who were unable to attend services – through poor health or great age for example- to watch.

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Warner, Kathryn. (2016)  Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen Stroud:Amberley Publishing

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of  Great Malvern Priory

 

Battle of Crecy anniversary

Battle_of_crecy_froissart.jpgIt’s the 670th anniversary of the Battle of Crecy this year on August 26th, so no doubt I’ll return to the subject in due course.

The Hundred Years war commenced in 1337 as these things do with an exchange of views about the import of wool into Flanders. Nor were the English terribly happy that the French were encouraging the Scots to rebel so Edward III put his thinking hat on and came up with his family tree. His mother, was of course, Isabella of France a.k.a. the She-wolf. England didn’t have a salic law and Edward couldn’t see that the fact that the French prohibited women from inheriting the throne being a particular problem. He calmly announced that although he had supported Philip of Valois in 1328 when Charles IV had died without sons that he had decided, upon careful reflection, that his own claim was a better one.

 

The war kicked off with a few cross-channel raids. In 1340 things changed. The English navy defeated the French at Sluys ensuring control of the English Channel or La Manche as the french prefer to call it. This was followed by a full scale invasion of France by an English army of 12,000 of whom more than half were longbow men. These men were veterans of the Scottish campaigns. The English enjoyed a holiday in Normandy doing what medieval soldiers did – think pillage and rape.

 

The French massed their army of 12,000 plus 6,000 or so mercenaries with crossbows. It should also be added that there were huge numbers of peasants who’d been pressed into service as foot soldiers – so plenty of bill hooks and scythes in evidence. Philip moved this army to the Somme thinking to place Edward at a disadvantage.

 

Edward ignored the water hazard and made for the top of a hill where he divided his force into three groups and instructed them to dig ditches and plant sharpened stakes in the ground. The French had not encountered the power of the longbow men against foot soldiers or cavalry before but it was this battle that made their name and ensured that the weapon came to dominate the war. By the end of the afternoon the French had been soundly beaten.

 

In other news of the battle the Black Prince, a sixteen-year-old novice at warfare, was in charge of the English right flank and when it looked as though the French might be successful at that end of the battlefield the king told his commanders to let his son get on with it – something of a steep learning curve. It was in this battle that the blind King of Bohemia managed to get himself killed along with the King of Majorca and a thousand or so French knights. Philip of Valois was lucky to escape capture.

 

Our account of the battle comes from Froissart who was born in 1337 or thereabouts so not on the scene of the battle itself but employed at the age of twenty-four by Phillipa of Hainault (Edward III’s lady wife) in a literary capacity. He is recorded as making careful research and asking lots of questions before putting quill to parchment– he’s also more or less the only detailed chronicler of events. For his report of events click on the picture at the start of this post to open up a new window.  The picture is an illustration from Froissart’s Chronicles.

 

It is worth remembering that the Hundred Years War is the backdrop to the reign of Richard II, the social unrest of his reign and his deposition by Henry IV.  It returns to the forefront of popular history with King Henry V of Agincourt fame and his marriage to Katherine of Valois and lingers during much of Henry VI’s reign- think Joan of Arc- resulting ultimately in Richard of York becoming decidedly aggrieved about Henry VI’s reliance upon the Beauforts  and Margaret of Anjou’s advice.  Henry VI’s failure to repeat his father’s victories and the decades of constant warfare are all part of the fateful mix that contribute to the Wars of the Roses.  And, of course without Katherine of Valois and a certain Clerk of the Wardrobe there would have been no Henry Tudor.

 

Edward II and his favourites

edwardiiPiers Gaveston was the son of a Gascon lord. When Edward I chose suitable persons for his eldest surviving son’s household young Piers was selected on account of his father’s loyalty and the fact that Edward thought he’d make a good role model – Piers was apparently a bit of a charmer.

The Prince of Wales and Piers were both about 16 when they met. They certainly took to one another though how close their friendship was is a matter of speculation. After all, Edward went on to have four children with his wife Isabella. Many at the time thought Edward and Piers were having a homosexual relationship (it explained why Edward could refuse Piers nothing), but some modern historians see it as more like close brotherly love. Edward referred to Gaveston as ‘my brother Piers’. Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, it was a disaster for the kingdom.

In 1307 Edward I banished Gaveston from England, though he was to be paid an allowance. The king asked the men gathered round his death-bed to ensure that Gaveston did not return (one of them was Robert Clifford) unfortunately for England all the men gathered around Edward at the time appear to have had their fingers crossed when they promised Edward that Gaveston wouldn’t be allowed back.

The new king, Edward II, immediately brought Gaveston back to his side, made him Earl of Cornwall and bestowed on him an aristocratic wife, land  and money. Edward II was not like his father – medieval kings were supposed to be successful warriors. Edward II was more interested in digging ditches and chatting to ordinary men – preferably burly ones with a good set of biceps if some accounts are to be credited. He was also prone to doing slightly silly things such as burning Wetheral Priory on an evening out (well it saved the Scots a job) and it was swiftly becoming clear to all around him that he was not a good judge of men.

 

In 1308 Edward allowed Gaveston a prominent role in his coronation and later at his wedding banquet, at which he paid so much attention to the favourite that Queen Isabella’s French relatives walked out. It probably didn’t help that Gaveston had ordered tapestries for the occasion – they depicted the king’s arms quartered with his own. There was also the matter of Piers wearing the queen’s jewelry ‘for safe keeping.’

The king was forced to send Gaveston away to Ireland later that year, but he was back in 1309 and resumed his position at court as Edward’s principal adviser. This effectively meant that if you wanted to get the king you had to go through Piers. He controlled royal patronage and used his position to get rich.

By March 1310 opposition had mounted to such a point that the king had to agree to the appointment of the Lords Ordainers, a committee of 21 earls, barons and bishops who were to draw up rules for the management of the royal household and the realm. At the forefront of this drive to curtail Edward’s power was his cousin Thomas of Lancaster.

Gaveston was exiled by the Lord Ordinancers in November 1311. He returned without permission in January 1312 and was captured. He was effectively kidnapped on his journey south by Thomas of Lancaster at Warwick. He sentenced Gaveston to death and had the sentence carried out as soon as possible. The problem was that the execution wasn’t entirely legal. Lancaster had exceeded his authority. This caused a rift between some of the Lord Ordainers and although Edward II couldn’t act against them immediately he stored up his anger and took his revenge at a later date when he felt that he was in a position of strength.

 

Meanwhile the king led a military campaign in Scotland that failed to subdue Robert the Bruce. It would eventually culminate with a crushing defeat for the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. Edward had no idea of strategy or good positioning for an army.   He thought that it was enough to turn up with lots of men.  The north of England found itself open to wave after wave of Scottish invaders and raiders. Skipton Castle came under attack in 1317, 1318, 1399 and 1322. It was partly because of this that Sir Roger Clifford, second Lord of Westmorland joined with the king’s enemies.

 

It didn’t help either that the harvest failed in 1315. The famine was not the king’s fault but it was symptomatic of the problems besetting his realm. The country was descending into chaos and just to make matters worse Edward found himself a new best friend. Hugh Despenser and his dear old dad also called Hugh Despenser. Hugh Despenser the Younger was married to Edward II’s niece so he was already part of the family.

Edward was clearly attracted to arrogant and greedy men. The Despensers made Gaveston look positively mild in comparison. They seized castles that didn’t belong to them, bullied women (by which I mean breaking their legs) and were probably unkind to small animals.  Things came to a head when they took possession of land in the Welsh marches that definitely didn’t belong to them. It was at this point that court politics erupted into open rebellion. Parliament caused the two men to be banished in 1321 but Edward called them home the following year.

 

At first Edward was victorious. His army quelled the Mortimers and then another army loyal to him was victorious at the Battle of Boroughbridge. The army was led by Sir Andrew de Harcla who knew that Thomas of Lancaster had called upon the Scots for support. Lancaster is supposed to have said that Sir Andrew would find himself in a position similar to that of Lancaster before the year was out. It turned out to be true. Roger Mortimer found himself in the Tower of London and Thomas of Lancaster found himself without a head. The following year Sir Andrew de Harcla, who had lost confidence in his king’s ability to protect the people of the north following the Battle of Byland in 1322, was found guilty of treating with the Scots. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in Carlisle. Ironically Edward was forced to make terms with the Scots shortly afterwards because he’d had his best warriors executed.

 

It was just after this in 1325 that Queen Isabella took the opportunity to go home to France for a holiday along with her son where she wreaked havoc upon her family as well as meeting and falling in love with Roger Mortimer who had managed to escape from the Tower.

 

Isabella and Mortimer invaded England from the Continent in 1326 with only 1500 men. Such was the unpopularity of the king and his favourites that people flocked to join them. The Despensers suffered unpleasant deaths. Hugh Despenser the younger was taken to the market place in Hereford covered in tattoos outlining his many sins which included rape (Alison Weir has a theory that Despenser raped the queen) before being hanged, drawn and quartered.

 

Edward was forced to abdicate in January 1327, in favour of his son another Edward. Edward II was murdered at Berkeley Castle. He is the king purported to have been killed with a red-hot poker shoved somewhere unmentionable. However Dr Ian Mortimer presents an intriguing theory that the king’s death was feigned.

 

 

 

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March – from the House of Mortimer to the House of York.

white rose

Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March (born in 1391), was descended from the second surviving son of King Edward III – Lionel of Antwerp. Lionel had only one legitimate child (well at least that’s straight forward). Her name was Philippa. Her mother was Elizabeth de Burgh, Daughter of the Earl of Ulster.  Edmund is not a York claimant to the throne.  He is a Mortimer claimant – but he is the link that takes us from the Mortimers to the House of York.

Philippa, Lionel’s daughter,  married Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March – his grandfather had run off with her great-grandmother (Isabella of France) and plotted to overthrow and possibly murder her great-grandfather (Edward II). Philippa had four children. The one we are interested in for the purposes of this post is her eldest son Roger although the others will get a mention before the end. He became the 4th Earl of March as well as Earl of Ulster. So far so good – the Mortimer claim to the succession is good – though female in origin.

There are no Salic Laws in England to prevent a female claim to the throne.  Henry IV tried to argue that his claim was better than Philippa’s and her descendents because he was a male.  However, this was the same man who fought in France basing the English claim to the French throne on the fact the Edward III was Isabella of France’s son.  When Charles IV of France died, Isabella and her descendants were the next closest claimants to the French throne – a fact which the French refused to accept based on their Salic Law.  Henry IV was essentially trying to have his cake and eat it.

 

But back to the Mortimers – Roger, Philippa’s son, married Eleanor Holland- who adds to the blue blood running through the veins of the Mortimers with the blood of the Earls of Arundel and Henry III.

 

Roger, managed to get himself killed by the Irish when young Edmund, who this blog is about, was just six. This was unfortunate because Roger Mortimer’s claim to the throne was better than that of Henry Bolingbroke who went on to become King Henry IV. Roger was descended from the second son of Edward III while Henry was descended from the third son- John of Gaunt.

Richard II had recognized Roger as heir to the throne in 1385 according to one source. Other accounts suggest that Roger was walking a difficult tightrope in his cousin Richard II’s affections from which he could have easily fallen. Certainly after Roger’s death Mortimer’s lands were swiftly set upon by an avaricious king (Richard II as averse to Henry IV who was just as bad so far as Mortimer land was concerned).

Things went from bad to worse after Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne. Edmund (now the 5th Earl of March) and his younger brother Roger became royal wards – they were in line for the succession after all and family as well…  In reality, they were largely brought up in Windsor as prisoners.  Edmund was not permitted anywhere near his estates.

Henry IV did have reason to feel nervous of the Mortimers. The boys had an uncle- helpfully also called Edmund- who felt that young Edmund had a better claim to the throne than Henry. Uncle Edmund felt so strongly about it that he joined up with Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. Elizabeth Mortimer- the 5th earl’s aunt, wasn’t to be trusted either. She had been married to Henry “Hotspur” Percy who had died at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403). In short Henry IV must have looked at his Mortimer cousins and regarded them as treacherous nuisances.

Just to complicate things that little bit further another cousin, Constance Plantagenet who was the daughter of Edmund of Langley, the 4th surviving son on Edward III, attempted to free Edmund and Roger Mortimer from Windsor in 1405. She thought if she could get them to Wales and Glyndwr that Edmund could be declared king. She wasn’t terribly keen on Henry IV although she’d kept her feelings hidden long enough to be trusted to care for Edmund and Roger. She was the widow of Thomas le Despenser, Earl of Gloucester who was executed for treason in 1400. Cousin Constance managed to get the two boys as far as Cheltenham before Henry IV caught up with them. What a happy family reunion it must have been for all concerned!

Things changed somewhat when Henry V ascended the throne in 1413. Edmund was knighted and finally allowed to inherit his estates. He married Anne Stafford, the daughter of the Duke of Buckingham and appears to have done so without asking Henry V’s permission because he was fined a huge amount of money for doing so. Interestingly there is no evidence that it was paid. In any event the 5th Earl of March, perhaps because of his somewhat dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was a loyal and quiet subject to the Lancastrian Henry V before he died of plague in Ireland – and I’m sure by this stage you’re just as pleased as the regency council of baby Henry VI must have been- without any heirs.

Edmund’s younger brother Roger also died without an heir.  So that was that, so far as a direct Mortimer claim to the throne was concerned.

However, a claim remained within the family – (I’ve nearly arrived at the York claim to the throne – hurrah!)  Roger, the 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland had four or five children – Edmund, the 5th Earl who died without an heir in 1425; Roger who died sometime around 1410 without an heir; Eleanor who did get married but when widowed became a nun – died without an heir; Alice, who according to Alison Weir might not even have existed and finally the eldest child of the family – Anne Mortimer.

 

Perhaps Henry IV would have been better locking her up because she married another cousin – Richard, Duke of Cambridge the son of Edmund of Langley.  Edmund of Langley (the fourth surviving son of Edward III) was also the Duke of York. Richard’s sister was the rather daring Constance who managed to extract two small boys from their imprisonment in Windsor and get to Cheltenham with them before she was caught.

 

If Plantagenet family gatherings look as though they might have been somewhat difficult by the time of Henry VI’s birth in 1421 it is also worth remembering that Richard, Duke of Cambridge was part of the Southampton Plot of 1415. The plan was that the plotters would get rid of Henry V and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law – i.e. Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

 

Edmund may have been involved in the plot up to his neck or there again he might not. The information is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa of history. Clearly Edmund got to thinking about the chances of the plot succeeding. He didn’t have to worry about hurting his sister’s feelings. She’d died four years previously. Edmund went to see Henry V to tell him all about the plot. Richard of Cambridge was executed.

However – Anne Mortimer left a son called Richard.  He became Duke of York and never forgot that his claim to the throne was much better than that of King Henry VI.