Eleanor de Clare – a bartered, imprisoned and then kidnapped bride. Tough times for royal women in the fourteenth century.

eleanor de clare.jpgEleanor 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.

 

Gilbert de Clare the 8th and last de Clare Earl of Gloucester

gilbert de clare.jpgThe 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.

 

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