28 January, 2007

Fourteenth-Century Noblewomen: Some Case Studies

I thought it might be really interesting to take a look at the lives of some fourteenth-century noblewomen - kind of 'snapshots' of their lives, how old they were when they married, gave birth, etc. The only condition is, they must have lived part of their lives in Edward II's reign, or be related to him in some way.
Today I'm looking at Joan and Isabella de Verdon, and Elizabeth Damory....plenty more to come! :)

Joan de Verdon, the niece of Roger Mortimer, was born on 9 August 1303, almost exactly a year after her parents' wedding on 29 July 1302. Her father, Theobald de Verdon, later Justiciar of Ireland, was born on 8 September 1278, and was therefore almost twenty-five when Joan, the eldest of his four daughters, was born.

Joan's mother was Maud Mortimer, daughter of Edmund Mortimer and Margaret de Fiennes - and sister of Roger. Her date of birth is unknown, but her parents married in September 1285, and her brother Roger was born on 25 April 1287. It's just possible that Maud was older than Roger, but the chronology is very tight, and it's much more likely that she was younger, born probably 1288 or 1289. This would make her thirteen or fourteen at marriage and about ten years younger than her husband. Maud died on 18 September 1312, aged about twenty-three or twenty-four.

Theobald married Edward II's niece, the widowed Elizabeth de Clare, in Bristol on 4 February 1316. This was an illicit marriage, without a royal licence, which was necessary for the marriage of wealthy widows. Theobald was thirty-seven, Elizabeth twenty. He died just under six months after the marriage, on 27 July 1316, not yet thirty-eight.

Joan de Verdon was nine years old when she lost her mother, and not quite thirteen when her father died. Theobald had been one of the king's tenants-in-chief, so the wardship and marriage rights of his under-age children passed to the king. Even if Maud Mortimer had still been alive, she would have had no say whatsoever in her daughter's marriage - a perfectly normal situation at the time. Shortly after Theobald's funeral, Edward II gave Joan's wardship and marriage rights to William Montacute, one of his great court favourites at the time. At this time, she probably went to live with the Montacutes, or possibly, she went to a convent for a few months.

On 28 April 1317, still aged thirteen, she was married to his son, John Montacute, at Windsor Castle, in the presence of King Edward II (her stepmother's sister Margaret de Clare married Hugh Audley at the same time, as I mentioned in my Margaret post). I can't find John's accurate date of birth; his brother, William Montacute the younger - the future close friend of Edward III and earl of Salisbury - was born in 1301. It's not clear if John was older or younger than William. Some websites gave his date of birth as 1299, but I'm not sure how accurate they are. Anyway, John was somewhere between thirteen and eighteen when he married Joan.

John died suddenly in the summer of 1317, only a few weeks after the wedding. Again, I can't find the exact date, only that he was 'dead by 14 August'. As Joan was born on 9 August 1303, she was widowed either just before or just after her fourteenth birthday. The poor kid.

On 28 February 1318, aged fourteen and a half, Joan de Verdon married for the second time. Her new husband was Thomas Furnivall, the son of Thomas Furnivall Sr and Joan Despenser, sister of Hugh Despenser the Elder. He was apparently born in 1296, which means his mother must have been over thirty when she gave birth to him, as her father Hugh Despenser the Even Elder died in 1265. Thomas Jr, who had three sisters, was in his early twenties at the time of his marriage to Joan de Verdon.

I don't know when Joan Despenser died, but on 8 June 1322, the widowed Thomas Furnivall Sr was pardoned for marrying without royal licence. His second wife Elizabeth de Montfort was the widow of Edward II's friend William Montacute Sr, who had died in Gascony in 1319...and the mother of John Montacute. Joan de Verdon's former mother-in-law was now her husband's stepmother. You couldn't make medieval family trees up, could you?!

Thomas Furnivall Jr was, apparently, not involved in the nefarious activities of his Despenser uncle and cousin, and survived Edward II's reign. He and Joan produced two children: their son and heir, also Thomas, inevitably, was born on 22 June 1322, when Joan was almost nineteen. Another son, William, was born on 23 August 1326; he eventually succeeded his childless elder brother as Lord Furnivall. A month after William's birth, Joan's uncle Roger Mortimer and his lover Queen Isabella invaded England.

Joan de Verdon died on 2 October 1334, at the age of thirty-one. Her husband outlived her by five years. Their sons died in 1365 and 1383. Joan's younger sisters, Elizabeth (born circa 1306) and Margery (born 10 August 1310) lived until 1360 and 1363, respectively.

EDIT: I've just seen an entry about Thomas Furnivall in the Patent Rolls, 3 March 1322:
Writ of aid directed to the men of the counties of York and Nottingham, for Thomas de Fournival, the younger, appointed to levy all the forces of Hallumshire to go against the king's rebels.

So apparently he stayed loyal to Edward II in 1322. I don't know if he took sides in 1326, though - having to choose between his cousin and his wife's uncle...

Isabella de Verdon, born in Amesbury Priory, Wiltshire, on or just before 21 March 1317, was the half-sister of Joan, Elizabeth and Margery de Verdon. Her mother, Elizabeth de Clare, was aged twenty-one at the time (born 16 September 1295). Her father Theobald died eight months before she was born.

An entry in Edward II's Wardrobe Accounts records her birth:

To Michael de Anne, valet of the Lady Maria, the King's sister, bringing to the King the news of the birth of a daughter of the Lady Elizabeth de Burgh [the name of Elizabeth's first husband], kinswoman of our Lord the King, of the King's gift, being the price of a cup silver-gilt, with stand and cover. Clarendon, 21st of March. 1 pound 10 shillings.

Theobald de Verdon's four daughters shared his inheritance equally; the law of primogeniture, 'the eldest son inherits everything', did not apply to women. Isabella's wardship and marriage rights belonged to her stepfather Roger Damory, as did her half-sister Margery's. After his rebellion in 1322, they were forfeit to the Crown, and eventually passed to Queen Isabella, after whom Isabella de Verdon was almost certainly named.

Isabella was married to Henry Ferrers, Lord of Groby in Leicestershire, in about 1328. Henry was much older, born sometime before 1304 - perhaps as early as the 1290s. (His father William was born in 1271.) Confusingly, Henry's paternal grandmother was Anne Despenser, sister of Hugh the Elder and Joan, mother of Thomas Furnivall, above. The Ferrers family had been earls of Derby from 1139 to 1266; Henry's great-grandfather Robert rebelled against Henry III, who awarded his lands and earldom to his second son Edmund. Henry's much younger sister, Anne, married Isabella de Verdon's cousin Edward Despenser in 1335; he was the son of Hugh the Younger, and the second cousin of Henry and Anne Ferrers.

Isabella gave birth to her first child in about February 1331; her mother sent gifts for her churching in March of this year. In February 1331, Isabella was not even fourteen years old. Unsurprisingly, the child did not survive, and I can't even find out if it was a boy or a girl. It's possible that the pregnancy didn't go full term.

Her second child, a son named William, was born on 28 February 1333 (he died in 1371, and married Margaret, the daughter of Robert Ufford, first earl of Suffolk). Isabella was almost sixteen.
She and Henry would have three more children who survived into adulthood:
- Ralph, who married Joan, the daughter of Richard de Grey, Lord of Codnor
- Philippa, who married Guy, the eldest son of Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and grandson of Roger Mortimer. Guy would have succeeded as earl of Warwick, but he died in 1360, a few years before his father
- Elizabeth, who married David de Strathbogie, earl of Atholl.

Henry died on 15 September 1343; Isabella was widowed at the age of twenty-six. She died on 25 July 1349, almost certainly of the Black Death, which was raging through England at the time. She was thirty-two.

Elizabeth Damory was also the half-sister of Isabella de Verdon, only fourteen months younger, born shortly before 23 May 1318. Her parents Roger Damory and Elizabeth de Clare had married on or around 1 May 1317, only a few weeks after her mother gave birth to Isabella de Verdon. Edward II put huge pressure on his niece to marry Roger, currently his great favourite; he sent her a letter to this effect even before Theobald de Verdon's funeral. (No doubt he was furious with her for marrying Theobald without his permission.) Elizabeth's pregnancy (with Isabella de Verdon) merely delayed the inevitable.

Again, an entry in Edward II's Wardrobe Accounts records Elizabeth's birth:

To John de Pyrro, valet of Sir Roger Dammori, of the King's gift, for the news which he brought to our said lord the King, of the delivery of the Lady de Burgo, wife of him the said Roger. Westminster, 23rd of May. 20 pounds.

Notice the huge discrepancy between what Edward paid for news of the births of Isabella de Verdon (1 pound 10 shillings) and Elizabeth Damory, although they were both his great-nieces. This is a good indication of his feelings for Roger Damory, who would, however, soon lose his position as favourite, and ultimately rebel against the king.

Roger Damory and Elizabeth de Clare had no more children, although Elizabeth was only twenty-two. This might indicate an unhappy relationship, or that Elizabeth Damory's birth was a difficult one. Roger's date of birth is uncertain, but his father Sir Robert died in 1285, so Roger was well into his thirties by the time his daughter was born, probably born in the early 1280s and a little older than Edward II.

Elizabeth Damory was not yet four years old when her father died in rebellion against the king on 12 March 1322. Elizabeth de Clare was widowed for the third time, still only twenty-six. (She lived as a widow for almost forty years.)

Elizabeth Damory was very well-connected by birth: she was the first cousin once removed of Edward III, the half-sister of the earl of Ulster, and her niece Elizabeth de Burgh married Edward III's son Lionel. However, her potential to make a great marriage was severely limited by the fact that she wasn't an heiress. Roger had been a younger son, and the Damory lands - which weren't extensive, anyway - passed to Elizabeth's cousin Richard Damory. Besides, any lands Roger owned were forfeit to the Crown.

She was married to Sir John Bardolf, of the brilliantly-named Wormegay in Norfolk, in about 1327. John was born about 13 January 1313, so he wasn't too much older than Elizabeth. It wasn't a brilliant match, considering Elizabeth's family connections, but it kept her in the peerage at least.

The date of Elizabeth's marriage means that she was about nine at the time, but she remained with her mother for a few years. She and John had three children: Agnes, Isabel and William. The birthdates of her daughters are uncertain, sometime between 1337 and 1342. Her son William was born on 21 October 1349, when Elizabeth was the advanced age of thirty-one; her half-sister Isabella de Verdon died when Elizabeth was six months pregnant.

Elizabeth de Clare's 1355 will leaves some items to her Bardolf granddaughters: plate, beds and coverlets "in aid of their marriage". Isabel is called "ma joefne fille", 'my young daughter' and Elizabeth Damory is called "my daughter Bardolf". (Confusingly, Elizabeth de Clare's will doesn't distinguish between daughters and granddaughters.) Unfortunately, I've been unable to discover who Isabel and Agnes Bardolf married, or when they died. William Bardolf married Agnes Poynings and became a father in December 1369, at the age of twenty.

Elizabeth de Clare died on 4 November 1360 at the age of sixty-five. Elizabeth Damory Bardolf was the only one of her three children to outlive her, although the date of her death is uncertain. The Complete Peerage states that she died on 5 February 1361, but I haven't found any confirmation of that date so far. Every other source states only that she died 'before July 1363'. Sir John Bardolf went to Italy after his wife's death, where he died on 29 July 1363, and was buried in Assisi. Their son William died in 1386.

One of the modern-day descendants of Elizabeth and John was Walt Disney! :)


Susan Higginbotham said...

Great information, especially about the Verdons. All of those relationships make my head spin.

Unknown said...

Great post!

The part about Elizabeth de Clare not distinguising between daughters and granddaughters reminds me of something; Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, done something similar, since she referred to her 'children' Humphrey and Katherine in her will. Since no such children are recorded in any other contemporary list of Cecily's children, the reference is thought to be of her grandchildren, Humphrey and Katherine de la Pole, children of her daughter Elizabeth.

Kathryn Warner said...

Same with me, Susan!

Thanks, Liam. That's interesting about Cecily - maybe it was fairly common in the later Middle Ages not to distinguish between children and grandchildren in written documents. I think the word 'grandchild' is a much more recent coinage, come to think of it.

Elizabeth de Clare had masses said for her "daughter Margaret", but this girl or woman's identity is a mystery - whether she really was a daughter, or granddaughter, is unknown.

Carla said...

Where's Hallamshire, in modern terms? Is it related to Sheffield Hallam, by any chance?

Mary Queen of Scots had a tendency to refer to all the Scots nobles as 'cousin'. She was probably right, and it must have saved a lot of confusion :-)

I'm sure I've come across the use of 'child' to mean grandchild or even great-grandchild, too, as if it could mean 'junior member of family'. Also I heard recently that one of the Vindolanda Letters has a Roman lady addressing another Roman lady as 'dear sister' though they were friends rather than related (Which reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest, naturally). But anyway, maybe that suggests that loose usage of relationship terms may have been around a while. Certainly the relationships that are thought worthy of specific names vary in different times and places; Old English had different words for maternal and paternal relatives.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla: yes, Hallamshire covered an area of South Yorkshire around Sheffield, exact boundaries unknown. Here's the Wiki page.

I remember doing some Old English literature at university and noticing the word swestersunu(sp?) or 'sister's son' to mean 'nephew' - I presume there was another word for your brother's son, or daughter. It's similar in modern Polish, AFAIK - different words for nieces and nephews depending on whether they're your brother's or sister's children.