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.

 

Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk – father of Lady Jane Grey.

henry-greyHenry Grey was the great grandson of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband Sir John Grey of Goby – and incidentally it’s pronounced ‘Grooby’. He died at the second Battle of St Albans in February 1461 leaving Elizabeth a widow with two sons.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Henry Grey’s father was the second marquis and on of Elizabeth of York’s closest relatives.  He found that his credentials were suspect under the new Tudor regime not least because of his suspected conspiracy in the Lambert Simnel affair.  What saved his bacon was his skill at jousting and his friendship with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk.  When he died in 1530 it is perhaps not surprising that young Henry found his wardship in the hands of Brandon.  And with that knowledge it is unsurprising that he ended up married to Charles’ daughter Frances.  His links to the crown mad whim a suitable match for a girl of royal blood – Frances’ mother was, after all, Princess Mary or the French Queen as she was known during her lifetime.

Henry did what nobles did – he jousted. He gambled. He wandered around looking magnificent whilst being short of cash.  He took part in ceremonies such as Henry VIII’s funeral.

To all intents and purposes he does not appear desperately interesting, until that is he became embroiled involved with Sir Thomas Seymour at the beginning of Edward VI’s reign. Seymour convinced Henry and Frances that he could arrange a marriage between their oldest surviving child, Lady Jane Grey, and the new king, young Edward VI.  With this in mind and perhaps on account of Henry’s rather sizeable gambling debts, Henry sold the wardship of his daughter to the king’s uncle and was drawn further and further into Seymour’s web.  Whilst  Jane was at Chelsea in Katherine Parr’s household all initially seemed to be well.  Young Jane was in receipt of a first rate education and a step closer to the crown. All that can be said with the clarity of hindsight  is that Grey was either extremely ambitious and took gambling to the extreme or that he was incredibly naive to believe that any of Seymour’s schemes would work. Not only that of course but it soon became clear that Seymour was behaving inappropriately by romping with Princess Elizabeth. For reasons best known to themselves, even after they’d heard the rumours Jane’s parent allowed her to remain in Seymour’s care. She did refer to him as a beloved father and there is no evidence of any untoward behaviour on Seymour’s part.

Grey was a man of the time.  He had  Protestant sympathies. He was father to three of the potential claimants to the throne and husband of the fourth.  He was a man worth cultivating. Perhaps for this reason he was appointed to the privy council in 1549 after the fall of the duke of Somerset. He certainly started to extend his collection of lands at this time, he rounded up some of the property of the duke of Somerset when he was convicted of treason, and added to his offices. In 1551 he became a warden of the marches but didn’t really seem to know what to do.  It was something of a relief to all concerned, apart possibly from the Scots, when he handed in his notice. Even if he was fairly nondescript as a politician or a military commander his role as head of the family of female Tudors made him important in the Tudor political world so it is fairly unsurprising that Dudley made him duke of Suffolk following the death of his father-in-law and two young  half-brothers-in-law. There was also a handy little grant of £2000 a year.

lady-jane-grey

Suffolk, as I shall now call him in line with his title, must have felt as though everything was falling into place when Northumberland persuaded Edward, who was seriously ill by the beginning of 1553, that it would be a good idea if his own son were to marry Lady Jane Grey and that she should be nominated heir to the throne given her protestant credentials. There was the small matter of persuading Jane that it was a good idea but it was effectively a done deal with the marriage being celebrated in May 1553 along with the nuptials of Jane’s younger sister Lady Katherine Grey to William Herbert, heir of the earl of Pembroke on the same day.  At the same time as the Grey girls acquired husbands the duke of Northumberland’s daughter, also called Katherine and not yet twelve years old, married Henry Hastings, son of  the earl of Hastings – another man with Plantagenet blood threading through his veins. Northumberland was binding his party together through promises of power and through the traditional medium of marriage.  Edward VI died on 6 July 1553.
 On the 9th July 1553 Suffolk together with the privy council declared Jane queen.  A few days later Suffolk declared Mary queen outside the Tower before tearing down the canopy of state from over his daughter’s head.  He then left her to face the music.
Somehow or the other Suffolk managed to avoid being  incarcerated in the Tower and having the key  to his cell thrown into the Thames. He was imprisoned, along with Frances, on the 27th  May 1553. After a few days he was released without charge, unlike seventeen year old Jane. She was a hostage and Mary’s pro-catholic council, featuring amongst its number men who’d made her queen, were looking for an excuse to end her life. Under those circumstances you’d have thought that Suffolk would manage to keep his head down and his nose clean.
Of course, he didn’t. Whilst Frances and their two  younger daughters returned to court where they were welcomed by Queen Mary, Suffolk having paid a fine made disgruntled noises about the prospect of a return to Catholicism.  It was for this reason that he became involved with Sir Thomas Wyatt who wished to prevent Queen Mary from marrying Philip of Spain.  Suffolk thought that as a leading gentleman of the Midlands that he could raise support for a rebellion.  He also thought that the Earl of Hastings would support him. Hastings was very busy at that particular time back tracking as fast as he could. Unfortunately  Suffolk was just about as good a rebel as he was a politician and had failed to spot that the band of nobles who’d sealed their deal with the marriages of their children were now backtracking rather rapidly – poor Katherine Grey was virtually kick rout of the Pembroke house despite the young couple having taken rather a shine to one another. The plot was betrayed by Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire, who also happened to have quite a lot of Plantagenet blood and who Wyatt thought would make a better royal spouse.
It wasn’t long before the Privy Council asked Suffolk to pop around for a cosy little chat.  Had he heard anything about a rebellion?  Would he take command of men in order to put the insurgents down? Suffolk panicked and scarpered home to Bradgate where the locals showed a determined line in being loyal to the Crown.  Leicester and Coventry turned him away.
Suffolk realising the game was up thought that it would be sensible to leave rather rapidly…he wasn’t terribly good at being a fugitive either. He decided that he would flee to Denmark but wasn’t quite sure about the direction he needed to take. Unsurprisingly he was softly captured and returned to the Tower where he was executed on 23rd February 1554. His actions were the excuse that Mary’s government needed to execute his daughter. Grey, attainted of treason,  went to his death grieving for his daughter who was executed along with her husband on the 12th.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for Henry Grey. He played at the top table of Tudor politics without having any real aptitude for the game. His eldest daughter paid with her life.

Robert C. Braddock, ‘Grey, Henry, duke of Suffolk (1517–1554)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11535, accessed 27 Feb 2017]