Tag Archives: Richard of Cornwall

King John’s grandson murdered…by King John’s grandsons.

Henry-Almain-Guy-DeMontfort-It’s an interesting fact, and it must be true because it was mentioned by Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge, that Isabella of Angouleme – wife first to King John and then to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche had sixteen children, all of whom lived into adulthood. Not that all of her children and grandchildren lived very happy lives and at least one was murdered …by his own cousins. It’s always nice to see the Plantagenets getting along well.

Isabella’s second son to John was Richard of Cornwall. He in his turn married Isabella Marshal, daughter of William Marshal. Their third child was a boy called Henry who was born in Suffolk in 1235. He was murdered thirty-six years later by two of his cousins.

Henry, known as Henry of Almain (Allemagne) on account of his father’s links with the Holy Roman Empire had a problem. He was nephew to both Henry III and also via his aunt Eleanor to Simon de Montfort. Eleanor was married to Simon. The barons didn’t simply shrug their shoulders and return to ‘business as usual’ on the death of King John and accession of  Henry III they continued to seek additional liberties and changes to the feudal system – things such as accountability for actions.  Henry’s problem when the Second Barons’ war kicked off – was which uncle should he support?

After some indecision he ultimately he sided with the royal connection. It is possible that he was bribed by Edward to change sides but one thing is for sure Henry was troubled by taking up arms against his family. He told Simon de Montfort that he wouldn’t turn against his uncle the king but neither would he take up arms against de Montfort…Simon told him to bring his arms along – which suggests that Henry wasn’t terribly intimidating. After the Battle of Lewes in 1246, which de Montfort won a provisional government was set up, the royal family were effectively imprisoned whilst Henry became one of many hostages and was held captive in Wallingford Castle. It is also probable that Henry became an intermediary between the various members of the warring family.

Events continued to unfold. Young Prince Edward escaped his ‘house arrest,’ raised an army and took on the barons in the second key battle of the Second Barons’ War. The Battle of Eveham (4 August 1265) saw Fortune favour the royalists. It is unlikely that Henry was at Evesham. Uncle Simon lost the battle and lost his head. Simon’s eldest son (another Henry) was killed at the same time. Guy de Montfort was badly wounded and imprisoned. He bribed his captors and escaped abroad in 1266. He became an officer in the forces of Charles of Anjou. Simon de Montfort the Younger arrived in Evesham just in time to see his father’s head on a pike. Prince Edward had effectively saved his cousin from the wrath of the royalists.

In 1268 Henry, took the cross with his royal cousin Edward who would become King Edward I of England. The pair set off but when they arrived in Sicily they received word of problems in Gascony. Edward sent Henry home to deal with them but Henry got only so far as Italy. Whilst in Vitebo he attended mass and was murdered by Simon de Montfort the younger and his brother Guy de Montfort in revenge for their father’s death. It was such a shocking murder that Dante wrote about it over forty years later. Henry clutched the altar and begged for mercy as his cousins attacked him and then dragged him from the cathedral to finish the job off. Guy is purported to have said that Henry gave his father and brother no mercy and could expect to receive none himself.

The two brothers were swiftly excommunicated for their crime whilst Henry’s body was transported back to Hailes Abbey for burial. Edward, on his return from Palestine two years after the murder, told the pope that Henry had been on a peace mission. The problem was that the de Montfort’s thought that Henry had turned out just like the rest of the royal family in that he had been implicated in ceasing land some of which had belonged to the de Montforts before their fall and he had married Constance de Bearn in 1269.

Constance’s father had caused problems for de Montfort whilst he was Governor of Gascony. De Montfort had put de Bearn on trial (the Gascons were troublesome but de Montfort wasn’t very pleasant in his approach). Henry III had freed de Bearn and put de Montfort on trial. This didn’t help relations between de Montfort and Henry III. For the sons of de Montfort it must have seemed that Henry of Almain was up to his neck in the royalist cause.

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King John’s sons

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Plantagenets, unlike the Tudors, were prone to having huge families.  Today we tend to remember only the off spring that gained the throne for themselves or stood out from the rest of the crowd – usually by doing something fairly dramatic.

Most people with an interest in history will probably be able to say that King John had a son called Henry. Henry was born in 1207 meaning that he became king at the tender age of nine.  He was crowned in Gloucester Cathedral with one of his mother’s, isabella of Angouleme, circlets on account of his father having lost the crown jewels in The Wash prior to popping his clogs. Henry was fortunate in having the loyalty of William Marshal who helped the young king negotiate his way through invasion by the French and the barons remaining stroppy for a prolonged period of time – John had the First Barons’ War, Henry experienced the Second Barons’ War. It was during Henry’s reign that Simon de Montfort rebelled- effectively starting the aforementioned Barons’ War.  Henry sought to model himself on Edward the Confessor rather than his own father but sadly seems to have had some very similar problems both at home and abroad.

Less well known is the fact that two years after Henry’s  birth John and Isabella produced Richard – as in ‘the spare’ to go with the heir.  Richard became the Count of Poitou in 1225 but gave it back in 1243.  He was also the Earl of Cornwall, the King of Germany (he was elected to this title and only visited the Rhineland four times – no where else in Germany was very keen on him) and the King of the Romans.

Henry’s generosity to his brother cannot be underestimated.  The lands he gained with his Cornish title made him extremely wealthy – not that it stopped the brothers squabbling.  Richard rebelled against Henry on at least three occasions. In addition to the land that his brother gave him Richard also benefited from marriage to Isabella Marshal, the daughter of William Marshall.  After Isabella’s death following childbirth Richard went on to marry Sanchia of Provence who was the sister of Eleanor – conveniently married to big brother Henry. It was partly because of Eleanor’s influence that Richard found himself with the title king.

Richard spoke English at a time when most of the nobility were still only speaking French – not yet having grasped that King John had lost huge swathes of land over the Channel and that ultimately, despite various interludes in the various wars that would punctuate the Medieval period that they were not going to get it back and they certainly weren’t going to be successful during the reign of Henry III.

He went on the sixth crusade, fought against Simon de Montfort (he’d not been impressed when his sister Eleanor was married off to Simon) and managed to get himself taken prisoner after the Battle of Lewes. The story of the de Montfort link doesn’t get any happier. Ultimately Eleanor’s sons would murder one of Richard’s sons in revenge for Simon de Montfort’s death. Richard died in 1271 and was buried in Hailes Abbey of which he was a patron.

Ironically despite not getting on particularly well with his brother Richard, John named three of his sons Richard – a legitimate one and two illegitimate ones.  One of them was called Richard FitzJohn of Dover.  He became Baron of Chilham in Kent.  John cannily married this son off to an heiress called Roese who was conveniently a ward of the crown.  The third Richard became constable of Wallingford Castle.

Another son Oliver died during the Siege of Damietta (somewhere in modern Egypt) during the sixth crusade in 1219 – this particular royal bye-blow was carted home and buried in Westminster Abbey.There was also an Osbert, a Geoffrey, an Odo and a Henry who seems to have had a complex relationship with King John – “Henry, who says he is my son but who is truly my nephew”… leaving historians trying to calculate birth dates and whether it was possible that the Young King, Geoffrey or even the Lionheart himself could have fathered him. There was also a John who may have been a knight but equally might have been a clerk somewhere in Lincoln or possibly London depending on which source you refer to! Interestingly history knows more about John’s illegitimate daughter Joan because John married her off to Llewelyn the Great and because of her role as a negotiator between her husband and father.

One fact is very clear John fathered more illegitimate children than any other Plantagenet king except Henry I and seems to have provided for them- a fact which surely must be accounted a positive aspect of John’s complex character. Henry III recognised his brothers in that many of them held government posts – the Plantagenets recognised that a royal brother was to be trusted only if he couldn’t make a claim on the crown himself. However, and as always somewhat frustratingly, very often history knows little more than their names.

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