Edmund was born the year after John of Gaunt at Langley in Hertfordshire. When he was twenty-one he was created the Earl of Cambridge. He was created Duke of York by his nephew in 1385.
Edmund married twice. His first marriage was to Isabella of Castile. She was the sister of Constanza of Castile who was John of Gaunt’s second wife – he claimed the kingdom of Castile by right of his wife who was the elder of the sisters. Edward III had sought to marry Edmund into the royal house of Flanders during the period when he was looking to provide wealth and title to his sons but in 1372 Edmund married Isabella. By that time he was about 31 and Isabella was about 16.
It doesn’t appear to have been a very happy marriage if Isabella’s will is anything to go by. She died in 1392. She left property to her children, to Richard II and to the Duke of Lancaster but nothing to her husband. Despite this the pair had three children: Edward of Norwich born in 1373, Constance born in 1374 and Richard born in 1375 at Conisburgh Castle.
The chronicler Thomas of Walsingham was rather sniffy about Isabella’s morals. The reason for this is that Isabella had an affair with John Holland (they do get everywhere don’t they?) John Holland was the Duke of Exeter and Richard II’s half brother (executed in 1400). The affair appears to have started in 1374 which raised an interesting question about the legitimacy of Richard of Conisburgh who was the grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III. Remember though that even if he wasn’t Edmund’s son, and indeed Edmund left him nothing in his will, the Yorkist claim to the throne came from Richard’s marriage to Anne Mortimer – a descendant of Lionel of Antwerp rather than the York connection which was the junior line because Edmund of Langley was a younger brother.
Perhaps I’d better go back to the start with this one. John Holland has cropped up in a recent post because he had to marry John of Gaunt’s daughter Elizabeth when she became pregnant by him. This caused a scandal because her first marriage had to be annulled, her husband was too young to have consummated the marriage, so that she could marry John. John’s affair with Isabella was before he seduced Elizabeth. Even Chaucer wrote about about the affair – he describes Mars (John) kissing Venus (Isabella) but it would seem that whilst it was an open secret Edmund did acknowledge his youngest son and the affair fizzled out.
Isabella gave the bulk of her estate to Richard II when she died but asked that her youngest son should be provided by the king with a pension. Richard of Conisburgh was the king’s godson as well as being a royal cousin. The allowance that was granted was £500 but it was only paid occasionally and after the deposition of Richard II, Richard of Conisburgh was reliant on the generosity of another cousin Henry of Bolingbroke who was now Henry IV. Unfortunately Edmund of Langley and his children were counter appellants and had benefited from Richard II banishing Henry. They had been granted some of his lands for example.
Not only was this impecunious younger son not mentioned in Edmund of Langley’s will but Edward of Norwich also failed to mention him in his will either – Richard had been executed shortly before Edward’s death due to his part in the Southampton Plot which sought to depose Henry V. Richard was executed on 5th August 1415 for his part in the plot. Edward of Norwich was killed on 25 October 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt (he had no heirs.)