Liddel Strength – John of Gaunt on the borders

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)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.

 

The House of Lancaster – the basics

 

The House of Lancaster - kingsi.jpgThis afternoon I’ve been learning how to convert a word document into a jpeg.  It is rather a straight forward process as it turns out.  The word document needs to be saved as a pdf which can then be saved as a jpeg.  I am therefore a very happy woman and well under way with planning the first part of the forthcoming day school on the Beaufort  family.

Here then is a brief reminder of why the House of Lancaster ended up wearing the crown.

Edward III was a long lived king.  He became king in 1327, at the age of 14, when his father Edward II “abdicated” at the suggestion of Edward III’s mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  Three years later Edward III overthrew his regents and took charge of his kingdom. In part it was because Edward was now a young man but other factors must have included the fact that Roger Mortimer’s military campaign in Scotland didn’t go terribly well and there was the all important factor that Isabella of France had become pregnant with Mortimer’s child.  It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Mortimer in charge that Edward III was a hindrance to perhaps placing his own child upon the throne.  Edward became involved in a coup of his own. Men loyal to Edward III burst in to Nottingham Castle through a secret passage and arrested Mortimer who was promptly carted off to London where he was executed. Alison Weir speculates that the child that Isabella was carrying was either still born or miscarried.  There certainly isn’t any further reference to an illegitimate child of the queen’s.

Meanwhile Edward III had married, the year after he became king in name only, Philippa of Hainhault. Edward and Philippa had thirteen children not all of whom survived infancy which is rather impressive since Edward III was busy governing his kingdom and launching the Hundred Years War base don the fact that his mother was a french princess, there was a vacancy and no one had explained salic law to him.   In addition to his heir, also called Edward (of Woodstock) and whom History knows as the Black Prince he had four other sons who lived into adulthood. Edward wished to ensure that all his sons were well provided for so turned them into dukes and ensured that they were all married to heiresses.

Unfortunately the Black Prince instead of settling down to beget plentiful heirs of his own became embroiled in a love story to compete with that of his younger brother John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.  He settled his heart upon Joan of Kent who was the granddaughter of Edward I and his second wife (Margaret of France).  Young Joan or the Fair Maid of Kent as she is sometimes called had a bit of a reputation.  The Black Prince aside from being quite closely related to her was her third husband – husbands one and two had both been alive at the same time and there had been quite some scandal over the whole affair when she selected the knight Thomas Holland to be her spouse rather than the heir of the Earl of Salisbury. She had several children but only one child, Richard of Bordeaux, who survived infancy with her third husband the Black Prince.  The Holland children and their descendants turn up throughout the Wars of the Roses having married into various families adding to the general sense of internecine quarrelling.

The Black Prince careered around France, irritating the French, winning battles and inconveniently dying of dropsy in 1376 the year before his father which meant that the heir to the throne was a nine-year-old boy with four wealthy adult male uncles…and for those readers who enjoy a good pantomime this was clearly not a good position to be in.

It says something for the stability of the kingdom that Richard II became king in 1377 aged just ten.  Four years later the Peasants were revolting and Richard showed his metal by riding out to meet their leader Wat Tyler at Mile End and then at Smithfield.  The rebellion was unsuccessful and this is not the post to explore it any further. Let’s just say that the reign didn’t go well after a promising early start.

Richard’s lords, the so-called Lords Appellant plotted against him.  One of the men was his uncle – Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester.  He would have a nasty accident in Calais with a mattress which suffocated him on his nephew’s orders. Another uncle Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence was already dead – poisoned it would appear by his Italian father-in-law. The Duke of York (Edmund of Langley) kept his nose clean and receives mention in Richard II’s will as a potential heir along with Lionel’s grandson by his only child Philippa who married Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (a descendent of Isabella of France’s lover)- which just leaves us with the most powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  Everyone believed that Gaunt wanted to be king but he was never anything but loyal to his nephew.

The same can not be said of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry of Bolingbroke (the Earl of Derby). Henry had joined the Lords Appellant in 1387 to plot against Richard who bided his time until he had gained sufficient power to take his revenge.  Henry meanwhile had learned the error of his ways and John of Gaunt had returned from making his claim to the throne of Castile to help keep order in the family. Henry of Bolingbroke reported an alleged treasonous comment in 1398 made by Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk.  The pair were to fight a duel at Coventry but Richard changed his mind and banished Mowbray for life.  Henry was banished for a period of ten years, ostensibly to avoid further blood shed.  The following year John of Gaunt died and rather than send the revenue from the Lancaster estates to his cousin Henry, Richard II now took the opportunity to banish Henry of Bolingbroke for life and claim all of his uncle’s lands.  Richard had cousin Henry’s young son, also called Henry with him as a hostage for Henry of Bolingbroke’s good behaviour when he sailed off to Ireland to deal with the Irish.

Henry of Bolingbroke, now returned to England claiming that he wanted nothing more than what was rightfully his. He swiftly gained sufficient power to claim the kingdom for himself and bingo Henry of Bolingbroke, a.k.a the Earl of Derby transformed overnight into King Henry IV (though he did spend the rest of his life looking one this shoulder for potential plotters and assassins).  Richard II was carted off to Pontefract Castle where someone (Thomas Swynford as it happens) forgot to feed him and he died. Young Henry the hostage would turn into Henry V,

The house of Lancaster now seemed secure on the throne as Henry IV had many sons. Unfortunately his eldest son Henry V contracted dysentery and died leaving a nine month old child, also called Henry on the throne. After a while the hold of the House of Lancaster unravelled – Henry VI aside from not wanting to thrash the French actually married one of them, failed to produce an heir for such a long time that when Prince Edward finally turned up there were plenty of rumours about paternity.  It didn’t help that Henry VI had suffered a mental breakdown and was incapable of ruling let alone acknowledging his son.

The descendants of all those dukes began to look back up their family trees.  Factions formed and it was one short step from angry words to drawn swords on various battle fields.  Ultimately Prince Edward of Lancaster would died at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 meaning that the house of Lancaster would have to look back up its own family tree for a potential heir.

Henry V’s brothers were as follows:

Thomas who died in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge.  He had no legitimate children.

John, the Duke of Bedford who took over the campaign and governance in France after the death of his brother Henry V.   He had been married twice for reasons of allegiance, firstly to Anne of Burgundy and then to Jacquetta of Luxembourg (yes, that one who was mother of Elizabeth Woodville).  Neither wife had produced a little scion of the house of Lancaster.

Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester who took over ruling in England on behalf of his little nephew Henry VI counterbalanced by the child’s half great-uncle Cardinal Beaufort.  Humphrey is known as the “Good Duke.”  His first wife was Jacqueline of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault (all very useful for waging war against the French).  The marriage was annulled  and Humphrey married his mistress Eleanor Cobham.  In 1441 Humphrey’s grip on political power was removed when his wife was convicted of witchcraft and the pair were forcibly divorced.  There were no children and Humphrey died unexpectedly in 1447…possibly from poison.

For the House of Lancaster to continue to vie for the throne after the death of Henry Vi and his son in 1471 it would have to look elsewhere for its sprigs – which is, of course, where the House of Beaufort comes into the equation.

Meanwhile there’s always an opportunity for spotting heraldic devices on modern pubs.  The white hart was Richard II’s favoured heraldic device whereas Henry IV used several including the fettered swan of his wife Mary de Bohun.  Henry V sometimes used the fettered swan as well.  And then of course there is Henry VI’s spotted panther  incensed (means its shooting flames) which is rather wonderful but which so far as I am aware does not feature as a pub.

 

Richard II – birthday boy

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Richard, son of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent was born on January 6th 1367. Ten years later the Black Prince died pre-deceasing his aged and increasingly infirm father Edward III. It says something about the changes in society that a child was successfully able to inherit his grandfather’s throne. It probably also says rather a lot about Richard’s uncles, particularly John of Gaunt that there was no take over bid.

 

Richard’s reign tends to be remembered, in popular imagination at least, for two things. The first event was the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Richard demonstrated personal bravery in order to ride out to Smithfield to meet Wat Tyler – and remember that Richard’s chancellor, even though he did resign shortly before, Simon of Sudbury had been brutally murdered by the mob and that John of Gaunt’s palace, The Savoy, had been utterly destroyed.

 

Richard, married to Anne of Bohemia introduced the word Majesty to court circles, no doubt helping his uncles and relatives to remember who was in charge. It was this period that saw curly toed footwear, Geoffrey Chaucer and the building of Westminster Hall. Despite these things which seem on their own to indicate a period of culture and learning (shoes aside) but Richard failed to live up to his early promise.  In addition to not being particularly keen on fighting the french he liked bathing, reading and clothes as well as getting his own way. The death of Anne of Bohemia in 1394 didn’t help matters very much nor did his second marriage two years later to Isabella of Valois who was a child so unable to curb his despotic tendencies or desire to have his entire court on their knees:

 

‘After this on solemn festivals when by custom [Richard II] performed kingly rituals, he would order a throne to be prepared for him in his chamber on which he liked to sit ostentatiously from after dinner until vespers, talking to no one but watching everyone; and when his eye fell on anyone, regardless of rank, that person had to bend his knee towards the king …’

Continuatio Eulogii, pp. 371-9

 

 

To cut a long story short Richard didn’t look to his relatives for support once he reached adulthood – a fact which irritated them immensely. One of Richard’s uncles (Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester) waited until John of Gaunt (yet another of Richard’s uncles) was out of the country and then used the law to curb Richard’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Many of Richard’s favourites were executed. The event is recalled by the title that the 1388 Parliament is known by – the Merciless Parliament.

 

Richard had to wait nearly a decade to get his own back and during that time he ensured that there was a cohort of men loyal to him as well as a crack troop at his command. In 1397 Richard arrested and banished his opponents including his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was also John of Gaunt’s son. The Duke of Gloucester having been arrested and sent to Calais had a fatal ‘accident’, allegedly involving a mattress, on his nephew’s orders.

 

When John of Gaunt died, Henry of Bolingbroke thought that his banishment would be over. Instead Richard made the banishment permanent and stripped Henry of his lands. Henry landed at Ravenspur with the intent of reclaiming the Duchy of Lancaster. Which leads to the second event of Richard’s reign which most folk know – his usurpation and death from starvation at Pontefract. No wonder Shakespeare found plenty of material to write about.

Froissart’s Chronicles, somewhat sympathetic to Richard, gives an account of the period but ultimately seems to indicate that Richard brought his own downfall upon himself through his authoritarianism and failure to make war on the French.

 

Two generations on, problems resulting from Richard’s removal would arise when the Lancaster line failed to produce a strong king. Henry IV as Henry Bolingbroke became held on to his crown though in constant fear that someone would do to him what he had done to Richard.  Henry V was probably the most martial king of the period and then there was Henry VI.  That would be the time when a swift investigation of the family tree would remind the nobility that the Lancaster line was descended from Edward III’s third surviving son.  Unfortunately for England, Lionel of Antwerp, Edward’s second surviving son, had a child Philippa who had married into the Mortimer family.  Richard II had named Philippa’s son (Roger Mortimer) his heir. At a time when the Lancaster line weakened this inconvenient fact would become very important indeed. And it would be another Richard – Richard of York – descended on both his mother and father’s side from Edward III who would demand that attention be paid to the previously ignored rights of the Mortimers.

Princess Joan of Kent

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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