17 February, 2007
Eleanor and Margaret de Bohun
Continuing my 'case-studies' of fourteenth-century noblewomen, here's the lowdown on two of Edward II's nieces and their families. Eleanor de Bohun, the second but oldest surviving child of Edward II's sister Elizabeth and Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, was born at Knaresborough Castle on 17 October 1304 [EDITED TO ADD, 2020: no, this is wrong; she was born c. 1310] two years after her parents' marriage at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth, the widow of Jan, Count of Holland, was twenty-two at the time of Eleanor's birth, Humphrey twenty-eight. Eleanor was presumably named after her grandmother, Eleanor of Castile. It's likely that her birth caused her father some disappointment, as she was his second child and second daughter, and he returned to London shortly after the birth. Both King Edward I and the twenty-year-old Lord Edward gave Elizabeth's valet forty marks for bringing them news of Eleanor's birth. Elizabeth and Humphrey's eldest child, Margaret, had been born in late September 1303 but died young, probably in 1305. This child was perhaps named after Elizabeth's stepmother, Queen Marguerite, to whom she was close. Countess Elizabeth gave birth extremely regularly: her third child Humphrey was born in October 1305 (he also died young), and her fourth child John was born on 23 November 1306. He would succeed his father as Earl of Hereford in 1326 (a few years after Humphrey's death in battle). Between 1306 and 1309, Elizabeth had a well-deserved break from childbearing. But she had plenty more children to come: another Humphrey, born on 6 December 1309, who succeeded his brother John as Earl of Hereford; another Margaret (see below), born on 3 April 1311, twins Edward and William, born in 1312 or 1313, the oddly-named Eneas, born in 1314 or 1315, who was still alive at the time of Hereford's death in 1322 but died unmarried before 1343, and Isabel, born 5 May 1316. This was the day that Countess Elizabeth died, aged thirty-three, in childbirth. Little Isabel died soon afterwards. Given Elizabeth's frequent childbearing, her death in childbirth is hardly surprising. Eleanor de Bohun was eleven when she lost her mother. On 16 March 1322, when Eleanor was seventeen, her father was horribly killed at the Battle of Boroughbridge when an iron pike pushed up between planks of the bridge where he was fighting skewered him through the anus. Eleanor grew up at Amesbury Priory, in the care of her aunt Mary, Edward II's sister. The king gave the priory a very generous allowance of 100 marks annually for the upkeep of Eleanor and her younger cousin, Joan Gaveston. Some of Eleanor's other cousins were there, such as Isabel of Lancaster and Joan de Monthermer - they were later professed as nuns. The 1320s were a difficult time for the de Bohun siblings; although they were nieces and nephews of the king, their father had died in rebellion against him. If Elizabeth, arguably Edward II's favourite sister, had still been alive, their situation would surely have been a lot easier, but as it was, the de Bohun boys - at least, the older ones, John and Humphrey - were imprisoned at Windsor Castle. In late 1326, Eleanor's brother Edward was with their uncle Edward II during his flight to South Wales - Edward sent his nephew, aged about fourteen, to negotiate with Queen Isabella. The young Edward was one of the men who took part in Edward III's coup against Isabella and Roger Mortimer in 1330. Rather oddly, Eleanor didn't marry until some time in 1327, when she was in her early twenties - a pretty advanced age for a noblewoman at this time. However, given her family's status in the 1320s and Edward II and Hugh Despenser's tyranny, disruptions in familial affairs were quite normal. There seems to have been quite a rush on noble weddings in 1327! Eleanor's brother John had married in 1325, but his bride was Alice, daughter of the Earl of Arundel, who was loyal to Edward II and whose son was married to the Younger Despenser's daughter, so this was a 'safe' marriage. Likewise, Eleanor's sister Margaret also married in 1325, to Hugh de Courtenay - whose paternal grandmother was the Elder Despenser's sister. I'm not quite sure why the much younger Margaret de Bohun was chosen for Courtenay, who was born in 1303 and was therefore much closer in age to Eleanor. Several websites claim that Eleanor was married to Roger, Lord Clifford (born 1300), who was badly wounded at Boroughbridge in March 1322 and finally died of his wounds in 1327. It's possible that they were married, or at least betrothed, but I'm not totally sure. It would be one explanation for her late marriage. At any rate, Eleanor was married in 1327 to James Butler, who was created first Earl of Ormond in 1328. James was born in about 1305, so was probably a little younger than his wife. He and Eleanor had several children: - John, born 6 November 1330, died young - James, born 4 October 1331. He succeeded his father as second Earl of Ormond, married Elizabeth Darey in 1346, and died in 1382. - Petronilla, or Pernel, date of birth unknown, married before 8 September 1352 to Gilbert, Lord Talbot. She married several years later than her brother, so was presumably younger. James Butler died on 6 January 1337, and Eleanor was a widow at the age of thirty-two. Around 1340 - or 1343, according to some authorities - she was remarried to Thomas Dagworth. Thomas was one of the lieutenants of Eleanor's brother William, who was created Earl of Northampton in 1337. William was one of the great commanders of the Hundred Years War, and Thomas Dagworth was his deputy in Brittany, where he won a famous victory at La Roche-Derrien in 1347. Although she was in her mid to late thirties at the time of her marriage, Eleanor bore Thomas two children: - Thomasine, died 20 July 1409, who married William, Lord Furnival (born 1326) - son of Joan de Verdon from my previous post! - Nicholas, died January 1401. He owned and rebuilt Blickling Hall in Norfolk, which later belonged to the Boleyns. A full-length brass of him can still be seen in the church of St Andrew, Blickling. Thomas Dagworth was killed in an ambush in Brittany, in 1352. Eleanor de Bohun outlived him by eleven years, dying on 7 October 1363 - ten days before her fifty-ninth birthday. She outlived all but one of her siblings. Eleanor's descendants include: dukes of Beaufort, Newcastle, Norfolk, earls of Ormond, Desmond, Shrewsbury, Dorset, Rochester, Sandwich, Arundel, Stafford, etc etc...:) Margaret de Bohun, the sixth child and second surviving daughter of Humphrey and Elizabeth, was born on 3 April 1311. She was five when her mother died, and almost eleven when her father was killed. On 11 August 1325, at the age of fourteen, she was married to Hugh de Courtenay; he was twenty-two, born on 12 July 1303. Part of her dowry was the manor of Powderham, near Exeter, which she left to her son Philip. Hugh's father, also Hugh, became Earl of Devon in 1335, when he was past sixty; he died on 23 December 1340, so Margaret was twenty-nine when she became Countess of Devon. Margaret de Bohun and Hugh de Courtenay had - lots of children. Ascertaining exactly how many is difficult! Leo van de Pas' Genealogics, a site I trust, gives them eight sons and nine daughters, a whopping seventeen children altogether. Their eldest son, named Hugh, inevitably, was born on 22 March 1327 - so Margaret became a mother shortly before her sixteenth birthday. (Hugh is sometimes said to have been born on 22 March 1326, but as that is only about thirty-two weeks after his parents' wedding, it seems highly unlikely.) Young Hugh died in September 1349, perhaps of the plague. Other children of Margaret and Hugh included: - William, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381-96. His predecessor Simon Sudbury was beheaded in the Tower of London, during the Peasants' Revolt. He married Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in 1382, and crowned Anne as Queen of England. William was an avowed enemy of John Wycliffe and the Lollards. - Philip, died 1406, said to be the the sixth son of Hugh and Margaret, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. His son Richard was Bishop of Norwich. - Elizabeth, died 1395, Lady of the Garter in 1386. Hugh de Courtenay, Earl of Devon, died on 2 May 1377, a few weeks before the death of his wife's cousin, Edward III. He was almost seventy-four; he and Margaret had been married an incredible fifty-two years, which must make them strong contenders for the longest marriage of the Middle Ages. Their eldest son Hugh was long dead, and his son, (yet another) Hugh, had died several years previously, so Hugh was succeeded as Earl of Devon by his twenty-year-old grandson Edward, son of his second son Edward. Earl Edward lived until 1419 and was known as the 'Blind Earl'. Margaret de Bohun de Courtenay, sixty-six when she was widowed, died on 16 December 1391, at the age of eighty. She had outlived all her siblings by decades, and also outlived all but one of her cousins, Edward I's grandchildren (Margaret Marshal, daughter of Edward II's half-brother Thomas of Brotherton, lived until 1399). She was buried in Exeter Cathedral.