Part one of my series, on Margaret's sister Eleanor, is here, part two on Alice de Lacy is here.
Margaret de Clare was the second daughter and third child of Gilbert the Red, earl of Gloucester (1243-1295) and Joan of Acre (1272-1307). Her date of birth is not known, but her siblings were born in May 1291, October/November 1292 and September 1295. After the second child Eleanor was born, Joan would have been sexually 'off-limits' to Gilbert for forty days, until after the purification ceremony known as 'churching', so Margaret couldn't have been conceived until mid-November 1292 to mid-January 1293 at the earliest. Her earliest possible date of birth is thus around August 1293, and the latest around November 1294.
In my opinion, her likeliest date of birth is April or May 1294, which assumes a regular spacing between the Clare siblings. [Gilbert to Eleanor: 17 or 18 months. Eleanor to Margaret: 17 to 19 months. Margaret to Elizabeth: 16 or 17 months.]
Little is known about the childhood of the Clare sisters, until 1306/07. 1307 was an eventful year for Margaret; her mother Joan died on 23 April, and her grandfather Edward I on 7 July. On 1 November of the same year, Margaret's uncle Edward II married her to his great favourite, Piers Gaveston, the new earl of Cornwall, at Berkhamsted Castle. It's possible that she was fourteen, but I believe it's far more likely that she was only thirteen. Her sisters were thirteen at marriage, in May 1306 and September 1308 respectively.
Piers' date of birth isn't known either, but is assumed to be about 1281/83, which would make him 24 to 26 (Edward II was 23 in 1307). From a modern point of view, the marriage of an adolescent girl to a man more than a decade her senior, who was involved in an intense relationship with her uncle, seems callous, but of course nobody at the time complained about it on those grounds; only that the marriage disparaged Margaret, who was after all a king's granddaughter and whose marriage could have been more constructively used to make an alliance. Still, the marriage fulfilled Edward II's wish to bring his favourite into the royal family.
The marriage might have been part of an agreement between Edward II and his nephew, Margaret's brother Gilbert. Shortly after the wedding, Gilbert was given seisin of his earldom; as he was only sixteen, this was five years earlier than he could normally have expected. The reason is surely that King Edward - who was close to his nephew - needed allies, and Earl Gilbert was a far more powerful one than Gilbert the king's ward. Gilbert now had an income of 6000 pounds a year, second only to the earl of Lancaster, and Piers' income was also vast, thanks to Edward's great favour.
The wedding was a lavish affair. Edward gave the generous sum of 7 pounds, 10 shillings and sixpence in coins to be thrown over their heads at the church door. He also gave Margaret a palfrey worth £20, over £36 in gifts for her ladies-in-waiting, and £30 in jewels for the bride and groom.
Natalie Fryde's Tyranny and Fall of Edward II describes Margaret, without saying why, as "tragically married to Gaveston". Frances Underhill's (generally excellent) biography of Margaret's sister Elizabeth states that "Piers has been portrayed so unfavourably that it is easy to assume that his widow felt only relief [at his death], though perhaps she felt chagrin and shame at his execution."
Making assumptions about how people of 700 years ago 'must' have felt is always dangerous. I don't really see why we should assume that Margaret and Piers' marriage was unhappy, still less "tragic". Margaret, as a noblewoman, would have grown up with the knowledge that her marriage would be arranged and she would have no say in this. Given this, her attitude is likely to have been pragmatic. It's certainly possible that she detested Piers and resented her marriage to him. Possibly she felt disparaged that she, granddaughter of a king of England, should have to marry a member of the minor nobility of Gascony. Then again, maybe she adored him. Piers was certainly handsome, witty, charming when he chose to be, athletic and a great jouster. He had the kind of vivid personality that tended to either compellingly attract or repel people. I see him as a good-looking, cocky, swaggering young man - who might have been deeply attractive to a thirteen-year-old girl.
For all Piers' flaws, he wasn't a vicious or malevolent man, and there's no reason to assume that he treated Margaret badly. As for his relationship with her uncle, which was almost certainly sexual; who knows how she felt about it? Maybe she was revolted by it, maybe indifferent, maybe angry, maybe she closed her eyes to it. There's no evidence at all. Again, we shouldn't automatically assume the worst. Margaret was countess of Cornwall, one of the great ladies of the realm, and her husband was high in the king's favour; she may have thought that any extra-marital pleasures he enjoyed were his own business and a small price to pay for her exalted status. Medieval noblewomen probably expected their husbands to have affairs, and Margaret might have seen a homosexual affair as less of a threat than Piers' taking a mistress [although he may have done that too; he had an illegitimate daughter called Amie, date of birth unknown, perhaps conceived before his marriage.]
For reasons which I'll go into when I write a post on him, Piers was exiled to Ireland in June 1308. Apparently, Margaret accompanied him, which she didn't have to do. As she was the sister of the earl of Gloucester, nobody would have wanted to insult or demean her, and she wasn't included in Piers' exile. She evidently only went with him because she wanted to. In 1308, the exile was presumed to be permanent, which suggests that Margaret was happy enough to leave her home and family to be with her husband.
They returned in the summer of 1309, where Piers continued his best efforts to make the entire English nobility despise him and plot his downfall. In 1310/11, he and Edward were on campaign in Scotland; I mention this because it's at this time that Piers and Margaret conceived their only child, Joan.
The fact that they only have one child is usually taken as evidence that they didn't sleep together very often, because Piers was too taken up with Edward II. However, there are possible reasons why they only had one child. Margaret was almost certainly only thirteen at her marriage, so they might have waited a year or two before consummating it. She might have had miscarriages. And, as she also had only one child by her second husband, it's possible that she was sub-fertile.
There was a lot of sound and fury on Google Groups several years ago, stating that Piers couldn't have been the biological father of Margaret's child, because it was too dangerous to take her on campaign. However, it's been proved from Calendar Roll entries that Margaret did indeed accompany Piers to Berwick, where Edward II kept court; another niece, the countess of Surrey, was also there with her husband. From the dates, it appears that Margaret gave birth two or three weeks prematurely - understandable, given the stress she was under at the time of the birth - but there's no reason to doubt that Piers fathered her child.
In November 1311 Piers was exiled from England for the third time. Where he went is unclear, and possibly he never even left England - there were rumours he was in Cornwall. He returned in secret, sometime after Christmas 1311. Edward II collected Margaret from her castle at Wallingford - where Queen Isabella had sent her New Year presents - and took her north to York, where Piers joined them soon after. (This is my interpretation of events - the chronicles are very confused and contradictory). The reason for taking Margaret was presumably to stop her being taken as hostage by Piers' enemies, and because Piers wanted to see his wife and child. I assume that at least part of his reason for illegally returning to England was for the imminent birth of his heir.
Joan Gaveston was born in York around the 12 January, 1312. On 20 February, after Margaret's churching, Edward II threw a lavish celebration for the child, who was his great-niece, which ended up costing a knight's minimum annual income (£40) and lasting an entire week. Queen Isabella joined them a day or two after the party started. She and Edward II conceived Edward III around this time.
On 19 June 1312, disaster struck. Piers was run through with a sword and beheaded on the orders of several of the earls. How Margaret reacted to the news is unknown. I don't even know where she was at the time. Certainly, Edward II was enormously generous to her in widowhood. He awarded her an income of 2000 marks a year (1333 pounds), one of the largest incomes in England at the time, took her into his household, and paid all her expenses. Little Joan Gaveston grew up at Amesbury Priory, in accordance with Piers' wishes, apparently. (Amesbury was incredibly popular with royal women at the time, and was full of Joan's relatives.)
Margaret certainly spent much of her widowhood, maybe even all of it, in Edward II's household. Two years after Piers' execution (or murder, depending on how you look at it) her brother Earl Gilbert was killed at Bannockburn, and she and her two sisters became great heiresses. Edward needed to marry her to a man he trusted - allowing a great heiress to remain unmarried was unthinkable - and the man he chose was Hugh Audley, or d'Audley.
Hugh had been a household knight of Edward since November 1311, so it's possible that Margaret knew him reasonably well. His father Hugh Audley senior was Lord of Stratton Audley, and his mother was Isolde, or Iseult, Mortimer, who was either the much older half-sister of Roger, or his aunt. Hugh was therefore either Roger's nephew or his cousin. He wasn't much younger than Roger (born 1287), probably born between 1289 and 1293, and therefore close to Margaret's own age.
By 1315 or 1316, Hugh had worked his way into Edward's affections and was a court favourite. The exact nature of his relationship with Edward - whether it was sexual or not - is unknown, though it's certainly possible that both of Margaret's husbands were her uncle's lovers.
Margaret and Hugh were married at Windsor Castle on 28 April 1317, in the presence of the king. A few days later, her sister Elizabeth married another court favourite, Roger Damory. On the same day as Hugh and Margaret, Elizabeth's stepdaughter, thirteen-year-old Joan de Verdon, married John, son of yet another court favourite of the time, William Montacute.
"In oblations distributed in presence of our lord the King in his chapel in the park of Windsor for the nuptials of Sir Hugh de Audley, junior, and the countess of Cornwall, and those of John de Montacute and the daughter of Sir Theobald de Verdon, 13s 6d; and in oblations thrown over the heads of the said Sir Hugh and the said countess during the said nuptials, 3l" [from Edward II's Wardrobe Accounts. I love the repetition of 'said'!]
More is known about the details of their lives than about Margaret's life with Piers, thanks to the survival of one of their household accounts, from 1320. Therefore, we know that this year they had a household of 96 people, and 42 horses, including five sumpter-horses, eight cart-horses and two destriers named Ferant de Roma and Grisel le Kyng. Margaret had a coach pulled by five destriers. They bought 150 bowls in time for Easter, on 27 January 1320 they spent 15 pence on a fresh pig, their household consumed between ten and twenty gallons of cider every day from May onwards, and they bought three leather bags for the storage of flour. Margaret resided at Tonbridge Castle in Surrey for the entire 183 days of the account, though Hugh made some short journeys away with a small group of attendants.
Margaret and Hugh's daughter Margaret Audley was born sometime between early 1318 and late 1322. I would assume later in that time period than earlier, as she was abucted and forcibly married in March 1336. As she was the sole heir of her mother's vast inheritance by then, it would be odd if she was seventeen or eighteen and still unmarried. Fourteen or fifteen seems more likely. Her abductor, Ralph Stafford, was a widower in his mid-thirties.
Unfortunately for Margaret and Hugh, they were soon caught up again in the volatile politics of Edward II's reign. Margaret's brother-in-law the younger Despenser forced them to exchange some of their Welsh lands for English manors of less value. He was able to do this because he had displaced Hugh Audley and Roger Damory in Edward's affections, and was as firmly ensconced there as Piers Gaveston had ever been.
The years 1321/22 saw a civil war in England. Audley and Damory turned against the king. Damory was killed fighting against the royal army at Tutbury in March 1322, and shortly afterwards, Audley was captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge. Edward II wanted to execute him, as he did dozens of the other rebels, but Margaret successfully pleaded for his life. This suggests that she still had some influence with Edward, and also that her marriage to Hugh can't have been a total disaster!
However, Edward was furious with his niece, with whom he had always enjoyed a close relationship. Apparently, he placed her under armed guard at this time. While Hugh and his father were imprisoned at Wallingford Castle, Margaret spent the rest of Edward's reign at Sempringham Priory, with her daughter Margaret Audley. One sister, Elizabeth, also suffered during this time, while the other sister Eleanor enjoyed wealth, power and position as the wife of the younger Despenser. I wish I knew what the relationship of the Clare sisters was like after the upheaval of the early 1320s.
Sadly for Margaret, her elder daughter Joan Gaveston died in Amesbury Priory on 13 January 1325, around the time of her thirteenth birthday. Edward II had arranged her betrothal to John de Multon (born 1308), eldest grandson of the earl of Ulster, but the marriage was destined never to take place.
Jennifer Ward in her English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages states that Audley escaped from Wallingford in 1325. I'm not sure about that, but certainly he was freed in late 1326, when his uncle or cousin Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella led their successful invasion. Hugh and Margaret, presumably, resumed their married life, but English political life was still in a state of upheaval, and Hugh joined the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against Mortimer and Isabella in 1328/9. (The couple were no more successful at keeping the loyalty of their family than Edward II had been.) The rebellion failed, and Hugh was fined the impossibly huge sum of 10,000 pounds - which he never paid. There's some dispute about whether he was forced to flee the country, though I tend to think he wasn't.
Hugh Audley was the only one of Edward II's favourites to survive the reign, and also survived Mortimer and Isabella's regime. Like most people in the country, he and Margaret no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when Edward III took over control of the country in late 1330. English politics, finally, returned to something like normality. Hugh was an envoy to France in 1331, and fought with Edward III in Scotland, and later in France. As mentioned above, Hugh and Margaret's daughter was abducted in 1336. Perhaps to mollify the couple, Edward III made Hugh earl of Gloucester in 1337. Margaret was a countess for the second time.
Margaret died on 9 April 1342, probably 48, or close to it. Apparently she was in France at the time, which presumably means that she was accompanying Hugh. This tends to suggest that, 25 years after their marriage, they enjoyed a close relationship. Her sister Elizabeth paid for prayers to be said for her soul at Tonbridge Priory. Hugh Audley died on 10 November 1347, in his mid to late fifties.
Margaret de Clare Gaveston Audley had few choices in her life. But to see her simply as a victim and 'tragic' is unfair to her. She was one of the richest women in England, and from the scraps of evidence available, seems to have been fond of both husbands, her uncle's lovers or not. Her life illustrates the problems medieval noblewomen faced, especially in a reign as volatile as Edward II's, but also the ways in which women could make the best of difficult situations, and survive them.